Thursday, June 26, 2014

a fragment of a florentine manuscript

translated by horace p sternwall

illustrated by konrad kraus

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

this the story of the duke of s---------, an evil man who plotted against earth and heaven, and of the fate which attended him, a fate which may serve as a most terrible warning to those who would question the ancient wisdom of our ancestors.


the duke was in a rage.

his plans had all gone awry.

the night which he had planned so carefully, the night which was to be the beginning of his triumphant campaign to seize effective control of the empire, if not of the imperial crown itself, had ended in disaster.

many of the most powerful nobles of the empire, carefully selected as to those who not only had the greatest grievance against the empire, but had some wherewithal to actually defy it, had been brought to the duke's remotest and most secure castle.

there they had been attended with the greatest luxury and respect the duke's fortune could bestow, preparatory to a splendid banquet - a banquet calculated to not only make them amenable to the duke's proposals but impress upon them the power and wealth he already held, a power and wealth that made resistance to him foolish.

he had obtained the blessing of the pope for his plans, and although his holiness had made his excuses for not attending the banquet himself, his emissary, cardinal g--------, had arrived with a particularly splendid retinue.

fortune seemed to be smiling on the duke.

but in the event it was the duke who had been made to look foolish. who had been made the target of both politely raised eyebrows and boisterous guffaws.

the duke had been humiliated - humiliated as no one of his ancient race had ever been humiliated before.

his oldest and trusted servants feared to approach him, but watched silently from the shadows as he paced the battlement of his ancient castle.

back and forth he paced, as the torches of the trains of his departing guests grew more distant, and eventually vanished in the darkness.

for all the guests save two had - after the disaster of the dinner - decided to return to their own castles rather than continue to enjoy the duke's hospitality.

the more refined among them, including cardinal g-------------, felt that they had already abused the duke's good will by joining in the laughter at him.

the more fearful among them feared that the duke would have them murdered in their beds, that they might not spread the word of his humiliation.

only two guests remained - the elderly count of ------- x, who had long enjoyed the reputation of a practitioner of the black arts, and the young countess of c-----------, whose fabulous beauty had already brought so many to despair and doom.

at last his most trusted servant - alfonso, his major domo, apothecary, astrologer, torturer, and mage, ventured on to the parapet to enquire as to whether the duke would like his evening wine.

at this the duke, as if waking from a dream, murmured "of course, of course," and followed alfonso back into the castle.

when the duke had been settled into his comfortable chair, and his wine brought to him, alfonso gently broached the subject of what to do with the culprit.

"should a gallows be prepared, my lord, or a stake? perhaps some torture would be in order - at your convenience, of course…"

the duke's face darkened again, but he retained his self-control. "a stake, a stake by all means … we shall burn the vile creature at dawn."

"of course, my lord. and who shall be witnesses to the event?"

the duke managed to laugh. "witnesses? what care i who witnesses it? just so she be well and truly turned to ash."

"very good, my lord. do you wish some torture…?"

the duke considered for a moment. "bring her to me."

"of course, my lord, of course. do you wish some instruments?"

"bah! a few stout birch rods will do. i do not wish to spend all night with the wretch."

the duke stood up and looked around him. "i really only wish to look at her - to see if she be human, or, as i suspect, a demon sent from hell by my enemies to confound me."

alfonso withdrew.

the duke went over to the window and opened it.

the night was dark and cloudy, with no moon, a cold wind and a threat of snow.

how quickly his prospects had vanished! vanished like one of the snowflakes which were sure to be falling by morning.

a noise was heard in the corridor, and the door opened.

alfonso had returned. behind him came two of the duke's tallest and brawniest guardsmen.

and held tight between the two guardsmen, a young servant girl, no more than eleven or twelve years old and small for her age, with a tearstreaked face and her strawlike hair falling in her face.

the guardsman threw her down on the floor at the duke's feet.

without a word, alfonso handed the duke three birch rods, each of slightly different length and thickness.

without bothering to look at them closely, the duke selected one and tossed the others aside.

"oh, my lord!" cried the child. "mercy! have mercy!"

when the duke did not reply she continued, " i am so sorry, my lord! but it was a mistake - an honest mistake!"

the duke laughed, and flexed the birch rod in his hands. "i am afraid i have naught to do with mistakes - or, for that matter, with honesty."

alfonso and the guardsmen laughed at this.

"oh, my lord, what are you going to do to me?" the girl wailed.

"what am i going to do with you? well, to start - but only to start - i am going to turn your snow white little bottom a thundering sunset red."

"no, no!"

the duke nodded to the guardsmen and they seized the girl and quickly flipped her over with her back to the duke and tore her skirt off.

the duke raised the rod and stopped.

for on the girl's "snow white little bottom" were some blue markings - an inscription of some sort.

the duke gave a short laugh. he was vaguely aware that the lower classes were given to the barbarous practice of tattooing themselves, but somehow the sight gave him pause.

he looked closer. it was indeed an inscription, and it read:

- duc de s------------, prepare to meet your doom -

he felt a thrill of fear, not so much at the words themselves, as at the delicate artistry of the perfectly formed letters - for how could - how could -

the duke felt powerful hands on each of arms.

the rod fell from his hand. he looked up.

the two guardsmen were gripping him, and they had been transformed into two grinning red demons - one with a blue face, one with a green.

he heard cackling laughter at his feet. the girl had turned into a hideous little gargoyle-demon, with a second head where her buttocks should have been,

and alfonso - his faithful alfonso! was now the very twin brother of beelzebub - if not the old one himself!

the duke cried out in terror, and in an instant the laughing demons had him out the door .

as he was hurried down the winding steps of the castle, he saw two figures on the last landing before they reached the front gate.

the old count of x-----------, looking more malevolent than ever.

and the young countess of c---------, looking more beautiful than ever.

both laughed merrily as the duke was carried past.

the duke could hardly grasp all that met his eyes when they arrived in the courtyard.

the courtyard was lit up as for a carnival.

a troop of demons - surely the entire population of hell - was gathered, laughing and shouting, around a raised gallows.

and there, swinging from the gallows in the night wind, in all his golden finery though without his crown, was the duke's erstwhile ally - the pope!

the demons capered, cheered, and banged on drums.

then, suddenly the laughter of the demons stopped.

the green-faced demon holding the duke's right arm pointed to the horizon.

the little two headed gargoyle, who had followed down the stairs, hopping like a toad, gave a shout.

three riders appeared on the horizon.

on the left, on a red horse, was joan of arc.

on the right, on a golden horse, was mary magdalen.

between them, on a white horse, was the virgin mary.

had they come to save the duke?

or to drag him to an even deeper pit of hell?

(here the manuscript breaks off)

Monday, June 23, 2014

the book

by samantha monday sternwall

illustrated by danny delacroix and pete palomine

everybody has a book
being written inside their head
and no one will ever read it
not even when they are dead

in the book is the story of everyone
who will ever live and die
and if you could only read one page
you would sit right down and cry

everybody has a story
that only they can tell
and it all gets written down in a book
a book that will never sell

everybody is a dragon
a dragon they slay themselves
everybody is a wizard
with a book of spells on their shelf

everybody is a princess
leading the hero to his doom
everybody is an evil queen
plotting in a dark-draped room

everybody is friar tuck
hoisting a tankard of ale
everybody is guinevere
so beautiful and pale

everybody is blackbeard's cat
watching the wind fill the sails
everybody is a bulldog
wagging its stumpy tail

everybody is tarzan
swinging in the trees
everybody is sherlock holmes
watchng his bees in the breeze

everybody is robin hood
hiding in the woods
everybody is long john silver
bringing home the goods

everybody is cleopatra
floating down the nile
everybody is oscar wilde
stepping out in style

everybody is jesse james
shot in the back so sad
everybody is salome
born to be bad

everybody is samson
trying so hard to do right
everybody is delilah
whispering good night

everyone is dracula
taking what he can get
everybody is lucy
who can never forget

everyone is medusa's child
slowly turning to stone
everybody is a monster
walking the world alone

Thursday, June 19, 2014

the arrangements

by sutcliffe lovingood

illustrations by konrad kraus

the day had ended. the last streaks of sunset were disappearing behind the yew trees.

adelaide did not light the lamp, and was sitting in the dusk when constance entered.

in the little light that came from the landing, adelaide could see that constance's face was hard. adelaide avoided looking directly at her.

"have you made your decision, adelaide?"

"yes, i have."

"and your decision is - ?"

"i do not agree to the trustees' proposal."

constance sighed. "i did not expect you to be so stubborn."

"i do not agree to the trustees' proposal."

constance made a sound between a laugh and another sigh. "the consequences of this decision have been explained to you. often enough."

adelaide did not reply.

"very well. excuse me." constance left the room.

the room was almost completely dark when constance returned five minutes later. this time she switched on a small lamp beside the chair adelaide was sitting in.

"a car will be here in twenty minutes. the arrangements have been made."

again, adelaide made no reply.

"there is still time to change your mind,"

"i am not going to change my mind." adelaide ran her hand over her face. "i suppose i should pack."

"there is no need for that. you will not be allowed to bring in anything with you when you get there."

"i think i will pack all the same."

"suit yourself. i suppose it will give you something to do until the car arrives."

constance stepped over to the french windows and made sure they were tightly closed.

behind her, adelaide laughed. "do you think i am going to try to escape? where would i go?"

"where indeed?" constance replied.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

down the last road

by horace p sternwall

illustrations by konrad kraus

the mysteries of this world add up
sum to sum to sum
and yet there are depths, and depths and depths
no human should ever plumb

every grain of sand is a riddle
laughed at by the beach
every star is a laughing sage
with nothing to teach

every street has no beginning
every road has no end
every sunset has a message
that it will never send

there is a light in every window
that goes out as you draw near
there is promise in every smile
that dissolves in desperate fear

the beautiful people beckoned
but only in your dreams
now the streets are all deserted
as rain in the gutter streams

no cat or dog or police car
as far as you can see
or even a fellow drunkard
for pathetic camaraderie

the party goers have all gone home
vanished without a trace
there is a picture pasted on the lamp post
"wanted" - of your own face

Monday, June 2, 2014

lydia and magenta

the hunter and the animal

by fred flynn

illustrated by roy dismas

one day a hunter was walking in the forest.

he spotted a small animal lying in the grass.

it was too small and scrawny to eat.

the hunter took it home to his cottage.

he fed it scraps and gradually it grew a little bigger.

it began following the hunter on his trips into the woods.

one night, when the animal was asleep under the hunter's table, the hunter went out into the woods and set a trap for the animal.

the next morning the hunter and the animal went out together.

the hunter walked slowly, and let the animal run ahead of him as it often did.

the animal fell into the trap.

the hunter chuckled as he heard its piteous cries.

after a while the hunter rescued the animal from the trap.

the animal was grateful to the hunter, and loved him and obeyed him more than ever.

the animal remained devoted to the hunter, until one day the hunter was bitten by a snake and died.

the animal never forgot the hunter, and thought of him and missed his company every day.

one day the animal was hit by a bolt of lightning and killed.