Strangers in Darkness

 Dedicated to J. Rush

 The train whisked down the tracks cutting through the night. Only blurred blackness now passed across the windows, perhaps an occasional glimmer of light reflected from somewhere outside. The car rested in near silence. All but a few remaining sallow, sleeping, and weary faces remained within. The train was headed home, to the end of its line. Only one final stop left in which to vacate those remaining strangers. Outside against the metallic bulk of the beast the wind whispered as air slid along its sleek sides. The wheels upon the rail rocked in a steady rhythm. The clatter became a source of comfort through the passing hours of the night. There is something oppressive about the feeling of the darkness outside. It hangs like a heavy pressure against the glass of the windows. Skin pricks beneath the presence of it, and it makes those unfortunate enough to still be out long for the comfort and sanctuary of the walls of a familiar house around them. There is a feeling of security within the train keeping the nighttime outside at bay and causing a tingle of excitement to stir for those who sit and watch, feeling the power of the metallic beast beneath them.

Vicki was among those cradled within on the last ride home. Her head pressed just against the cool glass of the window. Moth-like eyelids fluttered closed, burgundy red lips parted open just so. The touch of the fingers of a black velvet glove rested softly against her cream white cheek, her other hand hung placidly across her lap. It was perched atop an angled knee with her gazelle legs crossed. A tumble of curly dark tresses fell against her and spilled over flowing off of her shoulders half veiling the side of her face which was turned away from the window. Settled upon her head, gently as a bird’s nest upon her hair was a pill box hat of rich dark sapphire trimmed in raven feathers and pinned with a silver broach. She wore a straight black dress which clung against the curves of her body, born of a day when a woman knew how to reveal more by showing less. Deception was the game and it was ruled by sophisticated elegance that put all the mini skirts and halter tops to shame. A slit ran along one leg of the dress, seeming to ride dangerously high, yet offered nothing but suggestion, denying the traveling eye. Who was this creation of the night that seemed to have stepped off the silver screen into another era? Yet, still even in her sleep she held herself with self-assurance and almost angelic poise.

This lovely, eccentric creature has not passed unnoticed. Though there remained few to observe her within the car, there was one who had followed her with a steady gaze since her first appearance upon the train. It is no wonder that she should attract some attention. In addition to her peculiarities in dress there was an allure like a lingering exotic perfume which followed her and she was inexcusably beautiful. A beauty of the classic period which she seemed to emulate, a beauty that is so very rarely seen today. How easy it is to become lost in her, but as to the other, the watcher he must be given due attention now. He sat a few benches behind her, but unlike her own repose he was coiled like a cat preparing to pounce, all tension and anxiety. His hands moved restlessly between his knees and his eyes held a fixed and almost hungry look. The features of his face struggled to stay under in control. He was no cool customer. But if it were not for his agitated manner, within a crowd he could have passed without notice, yet that is not to say there was nothing outwardly remarkable about him. The close observer would recognize something within him, something they would walk away from in a baffled state. Something they could not have named or explained, but would not soon forget, and perhaps by the time their mind finally retrieved what it was that unsettled them it would be long too late. On the street, in a crowd, within the public, to the average pedestrian or passenger he was inconspicuous. Just another working Joe.

His clothes were unimaginative, but that perhaps is not a fair statement, in contrast to the sleeping beauty who would not be unimaginative? His clothes were but a reflection of current trends and fashion. The middle ground which was neither too trendy nor outdated. A plain gray hoodie sweatshirt, so much in vogue, particularly thanks to Jack Bower, and the clothing of choice for a wide age and social range, from hoodlums to college kids, loose fitting blue jeans with wide dragging cuffs that hung over what looked to be three year old sneakers. He was not what one might consider traditionally handsome, but nor was he repulsive. There was a ruggedness to his appearance, perhaps he would not turn any heads, but under the right circumstances, with the right personality, he could fair rather well if he put some effort into it. His features were sun dark and his hair looked as if it would benefit from a good washing. It consisted of chaotic strands of dark brown which spilled from beneath the hood of his sweatshirt. His hands were rough and had known in their time physical labors which may also explain his complexion. One might judge him to be in his mid-thirties. Perhaps it was because of his mode of dress, or a heaviness in his body, not a heaviness of size or weight, but of physicality. Something about him that seemed much more corporally connected to the earth compared to the fair creature who obtained his attention. Even so there was an element of abstraction which hovered around him and withdrew him from the world at large.

The train continued to roll onward to its final destination of this inky night oblivious to the occupants which resided inside. Dead to their secrets and their inner and outer lives, it was on the vessel to transport their bodies across terrestrial distances, but in this, innocently also heading either toward or away from the workings of fate. The blessed or cursed few who resided within that car with those two strange souls who have been placed in each others way remain inconsequential, as well as whatever other activity might be stirring throughout the rest of the train is of no importance to the two destined passengers.

Vicki stirred within her seat. Her eyes flicked open as she began to rouse herself. Lifting her head from the cool press of the glass she cast a glance around the near empty compartment. Gloved fingers delicately touched her lips as she concealed a passing yawn. Boldly her eyes turned to face the outer darkness looking through the window into the great vast nothingness. It is a strange notion held by so many cultures, that the eyes are windows into the soul, while windows themselves seem to be thresholds which allow us to peer into other worlds beyond, while at the same time acting as barriers. Humanity has a fascination with portals and a fear of reflections. So much myth wrapped up into windows, mirrors, eyes, cameras, clear pools of water….anything that captures images of ourselves and the world beyond us and freezes them into place, or distances us from our surroundings. But there is something perversely appealing about private voyeurism. Sometimes it can be taken too far.

 The watcher was achingly aware of every movement which his object of attention began to make. He shifted in his seat with new found disquiet sparking in his hunter’s eyes. It was as if an invisible cord ran between the two of them and he was connected to her. So attuned he was to her presence and every change within her demeanor but behind the apprehension lurked a deep inexplicit fear. The fear that haunts and excites all voyeurs, the fear of detection. The dread that all she had to do was by chance turn her head and catch sight of him and everything, all of his inner thoughts, his untold desires, would be writ upon his face. It is one of the difficulties of the guilty, at every moment they anticipate that someone will look right into their eyes to their very soul, cliché perhaps, but no less true, perhaps this is the meaning of myth and supersistion. It is based on some simple truth. The things we wish to hide, or those we are most aware of on the continence of every face we pass. Just consider the misfortunate figures that haunt the pages of Poe’s work, alas how many perfect murders may have been committed if only the narrator did not already convince himself that his crime must be known by all. The ever beating heart of our victims, or the yowling of the furies.

To return back to the fay, for quite the reverse of her admirer, she was the picture of pristine calmness. One might wonder about this, if one can forgive some ghastly stereotypes (which to be fair often proven truer than some may like to admit), her complete serene self-confidence may be more unsettling than the twitching eagerness of the nameless stranger. For one might question how so peculiar a woman traveling alone at night in such desolation might remain so self-possessed. Her timing was impeccable; perhaps it was an act of habit, an inner clock which activated from practiced routine. Shortly after she awakened the breaks of the train began to squeal disrupting the peaceful, if unsettling quiet and calling into the night. The metallic beast rolled into a halt. The last stop had arrived. The doors slid open now letting the night in, disrupting the barrier, but it offered a welcome of being able to return into familiar territory. The ultimate sanctuary of home. Once the train settled itself Vicki rose from her seat balanced expertly upon a pair of her break neck heals.

            She made music all of her own as she exited the train. Her heels signing upon the ground with every step she took. Folded just beneath one of her arms she carried her evening purse. Her long graceful legs carried her in an even, determined glide to one of the stone pillars which stood as silent sentinels in the darkness casting long shadows. Vicki leaned back against the cool solid rock with a definitive snap the purse clicked open. Her gloves dived within as her fingers picked out a package of cigarettes and elegantly drew one out to place against her lips. A secret smile graced her face and in her eyes was a look miles away from her angelic repose during her easy slumber. She turned with perfect precision just in time to stand face to face with her pursuer.

            It should come as no surprise that he, who should be called Thom, perhaps that sounds too sophisticated for this elusive but ever present figure, but one does not always get to choose one’s names, be it the names others give us, or the names we give ourselves, it seems the names choose us more than the other way around, so it is Thom, because that is the name which chose him, was not far behind in rising after her and not once lost sight of her. With predatory care he slid out of the train and prowled through the shadows. It was evident he was not new to this game so it fell as an appalling surprise to find her eyes looking into his own with shocking electricity.

            From a distance one might be led to believe she arrived at this very spot, at this very moment for no other purpose than to meet him here. “You don’t have a light by any chance do you?” Her voice was direct and fluid with a sultry air and caressive effect. Her gaze never wavered. A disquieting smile of clandestine understanding poised upon her lips. Thom was rattled and his senses began to elude him. He had not prepared for this moment. Perhaps he was not so clever a hunter as he fancied himself, or his history of easy prey began to weaken his senses, but when faced with something so unprecedented he stumbled, and lacked for an instant, an instant which can be the beginning or end of a person when the stakes are so high, the ability to regain control over himself and the situation.

His previously nervous hands fumbled within his pocket before producing a book of matches. One might not peg him for a gentleman, and that would not under most accounts be an inaccurate presumption, but now he found himself striking one of the matches and touched the flame which sparked through the darkness between them against the tip of her fag. During this reception her eyes took the occasion to drink him in steadily and unwavering. “Thank you dear!” She spoke smoothly as the smoke filled her lungs in guilty delight before being released back into the atmosphere once more. “I know you have been following me.” She stated it with such simplicity, without question, and without accusation, but as if it was only the natural order of things. “You look like you could use a drink darling. What do you say?” She offered the faintest shrug of one of her shoulders. Her question laced with understated demand, she did not wait for an answer, did not expect one, but clearly she had every expectation of being obeyed. She pivoted without looking black, and in her slinky dress her hips sashayed as she began to weave through the emptiness of the train station. But each ring of her heals against the stone floor appeared as a command of a master calling his dog to heal.

What was Thom to do? A wise hunter knows when to give up the chase, and how to avoid a fight, but they say some wild animals once they have the taste of blood, become insensible. It grows into an addiction, a need, which surpasses reason and teeters upon madness. Perhaps he needed a new thrill. Whatever derogatives one may wish to prevail upon him (and not unfairly) he was still a thinking, relatively intelligent (as much as we humans ever can be) being, and all thinking beings that live on the edge of danger become bored with too much success and crave the next elevation. It is the same old story of the big game hunter who becomes too much the master of his prey and begins to loose that edge, becomes too confident, and feels he has conquered all there is in the wild kingdom. Seeking something new, a worthier challenge, he turns to human game. So what happens when someone starts out preying upon humanity? What is the next step from that?

A few words should be said about Thom now. Thom is a sociopath. Did his mother not love him enough? Or did she love him too much? Was his step father a pervert who got off on little boys? Whatever other typical reasons that seem to most commonly drive those like Thom are irrelevant. What is important in is the fact that he is a predator and a killer and has been preying upon women in gruesome and grotesque ways for a long time now. He is clever and vicious, though perhaps not want one might call a genius of the art, he has developed the instinct and skill of an animal. He has learned to cover his tracks and to move under the radar. He has become quite good at what he does. Now a wise hunter knows when they encounter circumstances that are unknown to them, when they sense inexplicable danger, the best thing to do is to retreat but Thom is as mentioned an addict. He has had it too easy for too long, desperation has set in which leads to sloppiness. A conscious sloppiness, which usually eventually leads to capture. It is born out of the need to feel that thrill of danger again which starts to fade. So Thom was compelled, by the enigmatic danger that hovered around this woman who seemed to defy all logic, sense and basic nature. A new thrill was born within him and he felt alive in a way he had not since his very first kill. There was nothing he could do but follow her command. In part driven by the infernal desire to command and dominate the woman who so boldly defies him and in part to conquer over the self-hatred that he allows such women to arouse him.

By an act of good timing which seems to defy all reality and perhaps bends the laws of time and space itself, be it through well practiced precision, or perhaps a simple fluke of luck which conveniently showed itself at the very moment that Vicki exited the train station a black Cadillac appeared before her. “Our chariot has arrived.” She spoke without sparing a single look behind her. One can suppose she must have heard his footsteps behind her for that is much more likely then the suggestion that she does have eyes in the back of her head, or perhaps she has a particularly deep and assured understanding of human nature. Of course if this were the case it leads to question why she was bringing Thom home like a stray dog, but it has already been established that there is something fey about her and she does not obey the typical laws of reason and logic, but works upon her own agenda. One might even venture that she herself was no armature and all eccentricities aside it would be difficult to peg her as a naïve fool. Her eyes spoke of things that even Thom could not imagine.

Now one might think that the presence of a personal chauffeur ought to be the last and final straw to bring this charade to an end. After all witnesses are generally considered to be detrimental to one’s health for those who are in the business of death and depravity. It is understandable if the idea of applying any sense of reason or logic to a cold blooded sociopathic murder might make one uncomfortable at best, but they are called serial killers for a reason. It implicates more than one, more than even a few, and once when does make the ranks of a serial killer you can count that it is not all luck that gets them by. So they must use some form of deductive reasoning and basic common sense in their degenerate minds. At the very least, it should go without saying not to kill a woman when there is someone else who has seen your face and can directly link you to the victim and places you as being the last person she has been seen with while alive.

Thom unfortunately seemed now beyond the ability to consider this element, or perhaps it added to the exhilaration. He did not even hesitate at following her into the back of the car the black leather seats groaning beneath him, but before preceding a word should be said about the driver. Even the most genuine and innocent of people would have been reluctant to trust themselves to this most singular figure. There was nothing about him which may suggest that he is inept behind a vehicle, but after stepping into the car one might be left to wonder at the chances they might in fact be led to an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods. He was a tall lanky figure with rather gaunt features and deep set dark eyes. He did not appear to be a man who has ever smiled in his life and carried a rather dour expression. His brows were alabaster bushes, and his own flurry of white hair could put Albert Einstein to shame. He had a long hawkish beak of a nose and thin tightly compressed lips and one might wonder if he ever in his life spent a day in the sun for his completion. In fact he appeared to only be a few shades away from translucence. His fingers were long and slender twigs, one might say he was born to play the piano, but apparently circumstances have dictated otherwise. He was dressed in a black tailed coat over a pressed white short and a pair of black slacks, driving gloves fitted over his hands. For those flighty fingers one can imagine the gloves were custom ordered. He was quick to exit the car, and for his form moved with a surprising spry grace as he opened the back door to allow the entrance of his client offering a formal bow in the process. He said nothing of her guest and displaying nothing on his face. Once he saw the pair well seated he closed the door to retain his seat as the driver.

“Charon has been in the family for years” Vicki spoke to an unasked question as well Thom had yet to produce a single word, a fact which Vicki seemed oblivious or unaffected by. The declaration came almost in way of apology for Charon’s manner, and she put a particular emphasis on the word “years,” as if to suggest a passage of time beyond the normal human understanding of the word. Yet there was nothing of sympathy within her voice. It was not a suggestion that it was only some familial pity which induced her to keep him on, but rather that his services were deeply respected and valued. 

The hearse like funeral car pushed its way down near empty streets. Its tires made a gentle hush against the pavement as its lights cut through thick blackness which surrounded them. There were no other lights along the road; one might wonder that the abandoned cabin idea might not be too far from the truth. Nothing to be seen outside of the windows but vague outlines. Vicki sat back within her seat, once again with a subtle movement which spoke volumes one of her legs crossed over the other. Her gaze remained fixed ahead of her. On occasion her eyes trailed toward the windows. She seemed to admire the shadowy scenery with appreciation; perhaps it was the elation of knowing she was on the stretch home. During the journey she appeared to have forgotten about the presence of Thom. She was in her own reflections and had the atmosphere of a contented cat. Those he were at all familiar with the feline race generally know this is often cause for great concern and weariness.

What can be said of Thom at this time? What could he possibly say? It may be understood that serial killers the a whole are not great conversationalists, they do not on the whole spend a great deal of time among human society. He was thrown in a situation of which he was completely unprepared, quite out of his element, and bursting with the need. He could all but smell her. It took every bit of whatever rationale he still had left to control himself from striking right now, but he could not rush it. Too long he has savored this moment. Played it out in his mind, he couldn’t risk a critical err now. Though things were not progressing according to his own plans, there was still the opportunity to regain dominance over the situation. Sweat collected upon his brow and his hands clenched and unclenched nervously between his knees. He could not prevent himself from stealing infrequent glances towards her. He tried to restrict himself and fix his thoughts out into the darkness, but with every fiber of his being he felt her presence close to him.

How long passed was unknown. Time gave the impression of no longer existing within the distinguished car. But as it were after this unmarked period of time the vehicle began to pull into the drive of the house, correction the use of the word house here is a gross understatement. It was at worst a mansion, and at best a palace all its own. The grounds cast now within concealing darkness, but the driveway was at least a mile long. In silhouette the building provided a rather eerie spectacle, a classic haunted house. It loomed up within the darkness almost as if it grew right out of the ground to climb toward the sky. The architecture appeared to be straight out of medieval Europe, with a touch here and there of classic Victorian. Strangely enough this synchronism worked.  In the front was a pair of high arched windows. The doorway consisted of a pair of heavy towering wooden doors with an arch curved over the doors which was intricately carved with the scene of Dante’s first ring of hell. A twisted whirlwind of souls which are swirled together indistinguishable, ever passing each other, never able to grasp hold. Within the etching occasional grotesque limbs emerge trying to break free. A screaming face, pain and torment, bodies twisted together. Just above the door was a wooden plaque with the words etched within gothic letters that read “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.”

At her approach to the door before Vicki even thought of rising her hand the doors swung open and they were greeted by a handsome youth. His skin had a rich dark complexion and his eyes were intense brown. His age could be placed around thirteen years, but there was an unwavering seriousness about him. Dark brown hair hung down his back tied with a crimson ribbon at the middle in a gentleman’s tail, if that gentleman happened to be from the 17th century. He wore a fine, elaborative vest of blood red with silver buttons lining each side, beneath of which a crisp white shirt, and a pair of black slacks. A sash to match his hair ribbon and vest wrapped around his waist. He cut quite the fine figure. When Vicki entered the house a smile flushed with pleasure upon her lips at crossing the threshold. Her fingers graced the top of the young butler’s head, as a master offering affection of a loyal dog come to eagerly greet its master. “He was an orphan when I found him the poor thing, half-starved living in the streets, surviving as a pick pocket. He shall never forget how lucky it is that I was the one who caught him and not someone else.” At these words a private smile graced her lips, as if at some covert joke shared between the two of them, though the lads face never wavered or reveled anything.

Down the passage of the hallway only dim light flickered from candles mounted upon the walls, until opening into the parlor. The parlor was a vast open sitting room. The walls were lined with works of art that would leave one to question if they truly were authentic, or prints. The fireplace was man sized, with a pair of great columns one upon each side holding up the hearth’s mantel. Grecian urns sat atop of the mantle, and above it upon the wall what looked to be a coat of arms hung. Within the hearth the fire cracked and popped emitting a warm glow throughout the room. From a ceiling as high as vaulted churches, a great chandelier hung with what looked to have been thousands of lights. A beautiful Persian rug covered the floor within the sitting room which included an arrangement of plush comfortable chairs to sit.

Vicki walked over to the elliptic wooden table within the room as she pulled off her gloves with care and laid them aside before her fingers curled around the cool crystal of a decanter, pulling out the plug she began to fill a glass than pausing she looked back to Thom. “How about a drink dear? I do strongly recommend it, it will help you to relax.” Thom of course is not to be forgotten though it seems he has been left within the shadows of this substantial building, given no choice but to follow obediently behind. It is time to return back to him for a moment. One can only imagine the impression all of this had upon him. Perhaps we have neglected to treat Thom like a human being but than, perhaps his stake in the human race has been compromised long ago, and it is only suiting to perceive him with the same regard as a wild animal.

            It can be reasonably deduced that Thom has never stepped foot into a residence such as this, has not even dreamed of such establishments (perhaps it is best to stray far from the subject of what serial killers do dream about). It is a fair assessment that serial killers are not typically born out of wealth, not to say that wealth often ( does it ever really?) produces emotionally and psychologically stable environments, but it takes a very particular type of depravity to nurse the likes of Thom. While money cannot by happiness or a healthy outlook on life and relationships, it can buy drugs, and other outlets for eccentric deviations. Poor Thom was denied these advantages, and so was left to his own devices. Upon entering the house, there was something about the angelic and exotically beautiful Louis, the boy butler, that aroused a spark within Thom. His eyes devoured the boy, stricken by his own perpetual stare. There was something most singular in the boy, it was hard to imagine he had once lived such a ragged life upon the streets, yet at the same time there was a strange homogeneous quality about him between a rare maturity for his age with an equally rare purity. A purity that clearly is distinguished from naivety and innocence. Young boys were not generally Thom’s M.O. but than Louis was a most extraordinary young boy, and how could a ravenous killer turn down a two for the price of one opportunity. Fantasies of fresh young blood for the moment had to be repressed as Thom proceeded to follow Vicki further into the depths of the house.

            To say the least one can understand why Thom would desire to keep a clear head and unclouded thoughts so with the offer of the drink, he spoke his very first word for the evening. “No!” Was his plain reply spoken in a deep ruff-edged voice, while he remained standing within the room, his eyes fleeting around before being drawn back upon the quarry. She gave a shrug of her shoulders as she started to drift toward the hearth turning to face him. “Suit yourself, but do take a seat.” Elegantly one of her arms extended as her fingers gestured to one of the chairs within the room, there was a subtle command in the action. Her eyes burned into him, as if to move him with the sheer force of her will. Thom resentfully obeyed and sunk into a deep velvet chair, it was quite the touch of irony that this scene paradoxes the train, now he appeared to be the one who was out of place and seemed not to belong. If the room were packed full all eyes would be automatically drawn to him. A thousand regrets played across his mind. Why was he here? What had gone wrong? Never had he before found himself trapped in such a situation. He should have done it back at the station, no games, no hassle, but he reasoned with himself that there was too much risk in the public place. Someone else by chance could have passed and interrupted his work. He fought the impulse to get it over with now, to end things before they went too far, but something stopped him. He could not allow someone else to take control over him, when he acted, he had to be of clear and focused mind, he could not act out of desperation. No! He would not let this strange woman disrupt his plans, now he had all the time to savor, they were alone (relatively) within the house in the middle of nowhere, nothing to disrupt him, he could take his time and wait until he felt the moment was right.

            Vicki lifted the glass to her lips and tilted it back, tasting the liquid fire against her tongue before it slid down her throat. “Did it ever occur to you, that the act of taking another life is really a barbaric and perverse deviation of the grail quest?” She began to speak with one of her arms propped against the mantle of the hearth as she stood before one of the marble columns her eyes level upon Thom. “If you think about it, in its most primitive base form it begins with the need for personal sustainability, animals are designed by nature, or God, whatever you wish to call it to continue life through the consumption of other life forms. And as we begin to evolve, become more intelligent, more sophisticated, if you wish to call it that, more complicated, instead of seeking a way to end or limit this brutal cruel need, it is ritualized, integrated in religion. You know, some cultures believed by consuming the heart, and other vital organs and body parts of their enemies they would gain their strength, courage, power, knowledge. Have you ever heart of Elizabeth Bathory, poor dear that she was, she believed that she could preserve her immortal youth through bathing in and consuming the blood of young virgin maidens. It was all very gruesome and grotesque, the way she would torture and kill these young girls for their vital life force. Of course speaking of blood one must come to vampire lore, the idea that a once human creature preserves and continues its own immortality through the blood of its victims. Even the Christians are guilty of the temptation of blood rites.” A deep chuckle passed from her lips as it seemed to have purred up through her throat, and a smile of quick wit flashed across her features. “But what if they have neared the truth, in their misguided attempts? What if the true fountain of youth lay within the essence, the life force, energy, soul, whichever definition makes you happy, of life? If one could find a way to capture that essence, to extract it from these physical substances the possibilities may be endless.   

            She moved in closer to Thom standing just before him as her eyes looked directly into his own. “You cannot deny that feeling you get when you kill someone. It is as if in that very moment you are more alive then you have ever been before. Something deep inside of you awakens, in their death you can taste life’s sweetness, like the nectar of the gods.” She spoke without question, and without a flinch, there could be little denying now that she knew. She knew all along and yet she led him here, which brought the question, did she bring him here in spite of knowing, or because she knew? She leaned over him one of her hands propped herself against the couch so her eyes were level with his own and her words seemed to lance through him. “Do you ever look into the eyes of your victims during their last moments? Do you watch as the life goes out of them and the spark dies, have you ever felt the touch of the soul brush against you as it departed? Have you ever wanted to try and take a little something of them for yourself?”

            For the first time in his life, since his childhood and that one defining moment that set his fate upon this gruesome path, Thom felt something close to real panic, bordering upon fear. He was stripped of all his control and power. Here before him was a woman, a would be victim completely misconstruing her role. There was nothing about her of begging or pleading for life, there was not even that bestial rage driven by the fight and flight symptoms. There was only a cold collectiveness pinning his soul against his spine with a pair of arrowhead blue eyes locked onto his own, and a smile of condescending mockery. Thom was emasculated both as a man and a predator by this solitary woman, who should be at his mercy. Perhaps he was taken back to that moment as a child again when he was first stripped of all that he was and forced to replace it with this thing he has now become, and he was forced into action.

            The usual cold calculation which marked his killing was replaced by a burning hot rage and the need to reclaim himself through the complete destruction of this woman. Vicki recognized the frantic half-crazed look within his eyes and her voice tinkled like the sound of rattling glass in her laughter. The drink which was balanced still between her fingers within her right hand was tauntingly moved before him. “Perhaps you will reconsider? I told you a drink would help you relax.” Thom sprang forward from the couch, one of his hands swung up and sent the glass she held flying out of her hand. The clear liquid was sent in a spray across the priceless rug, as the glass hit with a soft thud and rolled away. Vicki was forced back a couple of steps by the physical presence of Thom appearing now in the spot where she formerly had been standing. His rough powerful hands closed around the delicate paleness of her throat. Her eyes flashed in nothing less than sheer delight at stirring the rise within him.

            She brought one of her hands up and placed it against his chest just over his heart, feeling its quickening beat against her palm. Her eyes stayed locked onto his own, looking not at him but through him. His pupils dilated opening like small black portals which granted her admittance and she traveled inside. A rush of coldness ran through his spine. Her hand pressed against him and her nails pierced into his flesh, feeling the blood start to warm over her fingers before with the tear of flesh his chest cavity opened, her hand slid inside of him and she touched the warm pulsing of his heart beneath her fingertips. A smile parted upon her lips and she squeezed the life out of him, inhaling deeply as he released his very last breaths. She drunk the very essence of his life, feeling him grow weaker and weaker as the pulsing of his heart slowed. The fingers of his hand uncurled from her throat and dropped to his side.

            It was not long before she stepped away and withdrew her hand and Thom’s body dropped to the floor. A contented smile rested on her lips as she watched his motionless body for a moment. She walked over to the table and picked up a cloth napkin as she began to wipe the blood away from her hand. “Louis!” She called out sweetly and when the boy protégé arrived she looked upon him fondly. “Please be a darling and take Mr. Thom to Henrick and tell him that Thom is to be prepped for the position of our new grounds keeper.”

            Louis gave an elegant bow in compliance with her wishes. By the pulling of a velvet cord which hung near the mantle a loud gong was sounded within the house, and summoned forth a pair of goon like servants. Not so elegant or refined, they were like Igor’s; they were not intended to be viewed by the public but were put to menial tasks and grunt work. Under the direction of Louis the body of Thom was gathered up to be carried away to the chambers of the mysterious Dr. Henrick.

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The Chamber

The Chamber

I awoke as if
from a dream
into these dark halls
where shadows emerge
to close in on me.

My heart beats clang
within my chest
as the gong of the antique
clock, whose hands now stopped
as if too mark this hour
of my doom.

How those voices
plague after me,
harsh whispers,
sultry giggles,
ever mocking
my inspired fear.

So I flee on this
strange yet familiar ground,
heavy drapes, white luminescent
cloth, by an unseen breath
stir at my passage
as if to enshroud me.

Prickles, as electricity
run across my skin,
wild eyed searching
for some escape.

Behind the doors
something coming,
I hear the scrape and rattle,
tantalizing stirring.

Something seems to
slither just behind me.

In my fright
dark halls seem to stretch
endlessly
while the walls heave
and breathe,
painted eyes follow me.

Behind every door
my throat swells at the
thought of some lurking
imagined monster,
that I dare not
touch the knob.

Lost in the maze
of twisting corners,
artifacts by night’s gloom
appear menacingly alive,
curse this tombed museum
of a house I made,
that by day was my soul comfort.

For now I see only
the dead and whispers
of their tortured memories.

I have fallen into my
own abyss, my eyes affixed,
a click, scrape, slith,
just behind, ever advancing,
my heart caught,
my limbs to rubber,
dark and damp my skin.

When there before me,
a door opens, a chilling
proffer of escape,
but so my fear that
soon I know I will be
rendered into shreds.

Into the darkness
I plunge myself,
echo of a slamming door
follows after me,
but there I find…..

SCREAM!!!

Women and the Brotherhood

Shallott

With their stunning, powerful, and beautiful images, it is hard not to become drawn into the world of the Pre-Raphaelites. It was Waterhouse who was one of the first to introduce me into this delightful world, and I have been fascinated ever since, and urged on to pursue the subject and delve into their fantasies. While I ponder over their extraordinary works of art there is one question which has echoed in my mind and peeked my intrigue, and thus causes me to explore the depths of it. At a glance the question may produce on instant and obvious answer, the evidence at first appearing to be blatantly before you, but when looking beyond the surface, deeper than the outer beauty, prodding into the symbolism, and peeling back the layers the question might become gradually more complex and murky. Now before I reveal this tantalizing question, which has haunted me throughout their paintings, I will take a brief moment to introduce just who the  Pre-Raphaelites are.
 
The  Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as it was so called (though there were in fact some women also involved in the “brotherhood” women painters influenced by the  Pre-Raphaelite ideals, and women who played an important if lesser known role within the brotherhood) was first established in 1848 and was like many art movements, a reaction against the former current brand of art at the day. This group of revolutionary artists were tired of what they saw as the “formula driven art” commonly produced. They wished to return back to what they viewed as being more genuine art that was based in realism, nature, and truth. The Brotherhood was founded by  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, but there is a long list of other artists who became a part of the movement.
 
The meaning behind their name Pre-Raphaelite:
 
To quote John Ruskin (Victorian art critic among many other things) the current approach to art was as follows:
 
 “We begin by telling the youth of fifteen or sixteen that Nature is full of faults, and that he is to improve her; but that Raphael is perfection, and that the more he copies Raphael the better; that after much copying of Raphael, he is to try what he can do himself in a Raphaelesque, but yet original manner: that is to say, he is to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something is to be properly subjected to Raphaelesque rules, is to have a principal light occupying one seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one third of the same; that no two people’s heads in the picture are to be turned the same way, and that all the personages represented are to have ideal beauty of the highest order…”
 
The Pre-Raphaelites were a reaction against this very way of thinking, this Raphael worship in art, and so they coined their name. It was their idea, that nature should not be idealized but painted as it truly is, and that all human figures should be painted from a human model and they should be painted as they appeared in their true and real form and figure. Everything should be painted as it appears to the eye, and not rearranged or altered according to any artistic standard.
 
While one could go on for several pages discussing the nature of the Pre-Raphaelites, I think this was enough to give you the general idea of who they were and thus allow me to proceed as I am sure you are waiting in anticipation to the question which has so gripped me into exploring.
 
That question being, are the Pre-Raphaelites in their artwork, truly showing reverence, respect, admiration, and worship of women? Or in fact are their paintings yet another way to reinforce Victorian ideals and stereotypes regarding women and reflect their own apprehensions and fears about women and the idea of women independence and power?
 
To see one of their paintings one might at first think it obvious the positive light in which women are portrayed. For one thing women are the primary focus of almost any Pre-Raphaelite painting, and they are larger than life women who take center stage, and immediately draw the eye in. Women portrayed in bold bright colors, women of power and independent, beautiful women who stand tall and proud in complete confidence of themselves. They are women of the likes of Morgan Le fay,  Belle Dame Sans Merci, Queen Guinevere, Lady Shallot, and so froth. They were mythical women, Greek Nymphs, Sirens, Elemental sprits, Egyptian Priestesses, and Magical women, sorceresses, witches, enchantress. Women portrayed in unashamed sensual nudity.
 
One might at first think the answer to the question posed is a resounding Yes! For how could such women, how could one who portrays women in such a way, do so without the greatest worship, respect, and reverence, how could anyone looking upon a Pre-Raphaelite painting think that it could have been created with anything other than the greatest of admiration? As well one might be tempted by the fact that they are creations of men who must surely be more Enlightened, more radical, and liberal considering their role as revolutionary artists, and they did work with independent women within their community. The sister of one of the founders of The Brotherhood, Christina Rossetti was a poet and of some renown.
 
So how than could such images created by such men be brought to doubt and question in considering their intentions and true meaning in regards to these women? To explore this possibility we must now look beyond the surface and delve into the symbolism that is presented to us within these paintings. In considering these women, what do they truly represent within the Victorian Era?
 
We shall have to resist the temptation now to view these paintings from a modern eye, and from the feminist eye, and look at them through the principles of the age in which they were created, uncover some of the complications of the society in which their creators lived to try and come close to the truth, though it may now never be fully grasped.
 
 While I have mentioned some of the powerful female figures which present themselves in Pre-Raphaelite paintings there are two basic types of women who can be found present within the art work of The Brotherhood.
 
There are the bold, daring, independent, powerful and sometimes even dangerous women whom are often usually unnatural in someway, possessing of some magic quality or drown from mythology and then there are the women who present themselves in the form of the proper Victorian lady. Prim, proper, demure, shy, and chaste maidens. These women are those who are often being courted by some gallant brave knight, but she cannot bring herself to meet his eye. She knows to show embarrassment and dignity and turns her face away when her love attempts to kiss her and pays her compliment.
 
This very black and white, and dual way of viewing women is often referred to “the virgin and the whore” and it is something which sprang out of a period in which society was unable to view woman in other way than fitting into one of these roles, it is also a concept that dates all the way back to the Bible with the Virgin Marry and Mary Magdalene, and is present throughout many literary sources and artistic images.
 
But of course there was a gray area as the members of The Brotherhood knew quite well, for they lived in that space between the virgin and the whore if you will. Their views and ideas about women would be challenged and confused, in a society which on the outside had such a rigid morality, while beneath also had a dark underbelly. They were left to struggle with their anxieties as well as their sexuality in relation to women. Not only where they in close contact with women who went against the grain. Strong, intellectual, intelligent, well educated women who worked as artists, poets, writers, and challenged their “proper” place in society, but there was also their own personal exploits to consider. The members of The Brotherhood were lovers, and affairs between artist and model were not uncommon occurrences.
 
In considering the values of the society and the tug-a-war between different worlds in which the Pre-Raphaelites often found themselves we will give a deeper evaluation of their works to try and uncover a fuller meaning of just where women truly fit in, and what might be revealed of their true thoughts upon the subject of women. Perhaps these spectacular works of art are their own way of trying to make sense of their confused thoughts, and trying to seek that middle ground, like the era itself, and their lives, there is nothing simple in their paintings.
 
 Now to take a closer look at some of the types of images previously mentioned. As stated above, many of the figures of strong, powerful, and independent women that appear within these paintings seem to have some quality about them which is not quite human, or unnatural in someway. These are women that are not fully of our world. Their physical attributes seem to reflect their nature, for they are acting in a way that was not seen at the time as “natural” for women to act. They are thus cast outside of the norms of accepted society.
 
To further explore this idea and the meaning which lies behind it, we will examine some specific paintings and explore the symbolism behind them.
 
labella
This is one of the most well known images of La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee. Let us look at some of the most interesting elements of it. First the interesting status of the woman being placed “above” the man by having her upon the horse, and he upon foot below her. This places her in a position of dominance over him. The horse itself is portrayed as a rather powerful animal but with its bowed head, it can be seen what full command she has of him. Most notably though is her bold direct state into the man’s eye. She is being quite forward, and her free unbound hair falling wildly about her. In examining the posture of the male, we can see that he is taken aback by her, startled at her bold actions, and perhaps even apprehensive. Though transfixed by her gaze, he does not appear to be completely receptive. Also interesting, the position of his arms, almost Christ like suggesting a sort of martyrdom in the face of this temptress. In spite of his armor and his sword, he is rendered helpless before this woman.
 
Another interesting one worth a look The Beguiling of Merlin by Sir Edward Burne-Jones
 
nimue
The title in itself with the use of the word beguiling is suggestive of the intentions behind this painting, and once more we are dealing with a woman enchantress. There are some strong similarities between this painting and the other. The male is again placed at a disadvantage from the female. He is left lying upon the ground, while she stands tall before him. Towering over him. There is also the same unashamed dead on, bold stare and hard set of the face. The holding of the book here is suggestive of wisdom, knowledge, education, traits generally at this time associated with men. So in both these paintings there is a hint of role reversal. Now looking at the figure of Merlin, he appears pitiful, limp, at her mercy. He cannot bring himself to look at her, and the pallor of his face suggests something sickly, possibly even death.
 
A really telling, and personal favorite image of my own The Fisherman and the Siren by Frederic Lord Leighton.
siren
This image is bursting with sensuality, the rather bold figure of this inhuman female creature thrusting herself upon the figure of innocent youth. The poor young lad, who clearly does not stand a chance in the face of such temptation. The allusions to Christ and martyrdom is very overt in this image in the pose of the lad, and even the tumbling basket of fish falling into the water. There is also something particularly serpent like about the sirens tale. It is ensnared around the poor lads leg, as if she is ready at any moment to drag him down into the watery depths of his doom. With his close eyes, and arms spread out he can be seen as impassive, unreceptive to her charms. The look upon his face having something of a serene calm to it, yet he is left helpless to resist her. He is caught within her clutches. After all what chance could he possibly have against such a foe?
 
 Of course I had to include one of the marvelous works of Waterhouse, who may be one of the most easily recognized painters from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
numph
This image reflects many of the same elements as seen in the image of the Siren and the Fishermen. There is depicted a young innocent lad who has fallen asleep, when unknown to him there comes up creeping out of the waters a nymph with a hint of sultry suggestion upon her face. She appeared ready to prey upon the sweet innocents of the sleeping boy. The fact that he is asleep puts him in a position of vulnerability and at the mercy of this watery maid. In her posture, and pose, and the hint of her expression there is some tale tale signs of predatory intention. Her position between the trees, and the leaves which crown her head suggest that she is something wild, and untamed, and the fact that she is emerging out of the depths of the water is filled with symbolic meaning of its own. There is also something peculiar that seems to be occurring below her waist, something which offer the possibility of the not quite human. What is she hiding just behind the rivers bank? It could almost be a satyr’s haunches or some fishy or serpent like tail? Or is she as a dryad, and made of the trees, rooted in and made a part of them? There is also offered the juxtaposition of the “tamed” wildness of the young lad. There is something significant in the animal skin draped across his midsection. It suggests something perhaps of the wild within him, but it is also a civilized and controlled wilderness. The skin coming from an animal that has fallen under the dominance of man and the fact that he is modestly and decently covered, while she herself is not.
 
 
While to the modern eye these images might at first appear to be done in great praise of women, in an understanding respect of her power, independence, and strength, beneath the deeper analysis a different possible story is revealed. In fact these images may serve as a warning to men to avoid the very sort of women that are depicted here. They are women who are not quite human, not to be trusted, but post a threat and some possible danger to man. Men of the Victorian world should beware of women who step out of their proper role, who become too forthcoming, or bold, too direct, express their sensuality. For they may corrupt man and lead the innocent victim astray down a frightful path, which may seem tempting but in the end lead to his destruction.
 
But to gain the fullest understanding of this complex subject, let us now explore the other side of the coin, the fair maidens of purity and virtue.
 
You can hardly talk of The Brotherhood without mentioning Rossetti himself, so this painting of his The Marriage of St. George and the Princess Sabra offers a perfect example of the other side of women in Pre-Raphaelite art.
knight
The differences in the posture and pose in this one can be seen distinctly from the others we have viewed. One important factor which will be seen time and again in these paintings is the fact that here the eyes of the maiden are closed, opposed to the direct stare down previously seen. As well her head is turned slightly away from him rather than pointed straight on at him. Another important detail, in this painting it is she who is clearly in the vulnerable one, not him. Her weight is being supported by him, and while he is seated within a chair she is kneeled devoutly before him. Now the man is the dominant and has elevated position over the woman. Her clothing is also much more conservative and concealing. Even her hair, while still quite long can be seen as more orderly, more “tamed” than the hair of the previous maidens which often was much more of a wild mane. In the male figure there is an aspect of complete confidence and strength. He is comforting and supporting her.
 
This image of Tristan and Isolde by Edmund Blair Leighton is one of which I am quite found of
Isole
In this painting we see the male being the pursuer as it were. He is leaning in toward her to seek her favors, while she in all proper modesty does not meet his gaze, but has her head turned coyly just so off to the side. She is showing her humility by looking away from him, keeping a chaste distance between them. Instead of returning his affection she keeps the space between them. Also once more her more elaborate and lady like manner of dress can be noted. She is shown as much more civilized then the previous women we have examined. That is another important difference. She is not out alone in some woods somewhere, but rather she is within human society, and again her hair is nearly and orderly kept. Adorned here not with leaves but with gold.
 
In both of these paintings we can see examples of the wild, of nature being firmly conquered. St. George has the dragons head severed and stored away within a box and Isolde has her feet firmly planted upon what looks to be a wolf skin rug. They are not part of the natural world, nor do the posses any unnatural elements, but they are conquers over nature, with their humanity firmly established.
 
Here we have another image by Dicksee to view how the same artist can portray women in two completely different ways.
comehome
The woman seen here is a far cry from La Belle Dame Sans Merci. There is something almost fragile looking about this maiden, she appears frail as well as being quite pale, particularly in comparison to her suitor. Indeed it looks as if she is about the faint at any moment, while it is only the act of his hands holding her own delicate hands that keep her supported. Once more it can be noted that while she is facing him her eyes are closed, and so she does not meet his gaze. Another interesting factor in this image, is that though we see the man kneeling before the woman here, while she is seated, she appears almost to be upon a pedestal to reinforce the idea of the way women were “worshiped” under the rules of chivalry. As being chaste virgin maids not to be despoiled or touched, but to have their virtue protected at all costs. There is also the heavy drapery of her clothing, and the way in which here her hair is in fact completely restrained.
 
To offer one last example this image by John William Godward
courting
There are here many of the same things we have seen in prior images. The tilted head, and closed eyes. The appearance of vulnerability and weakness within the woman, relying upon the man to support her. In this case she appears as if she is about to fall, she does not look to be truly standing by her own volition, but one of her legs is bent and kneeling upon the stone wall, while her suitor has one hand supporting her just against her neck, another hand holding her own. She appears to be quite overwhelmed. While he is the picture of strength and assurance, and in the position of being above her. Her hair here can be seen as being visible bound up by ribbon.
 
Hair and how hair is treated and approached is a powerful symbol. The image of a woman’s hair has a long term association with sensuality and sexuality within women. For a woman to wear her hair down, and completely free, long and unadorned through history was to suggest something of loose morality within the woman. There are striking differences in the preparation of the hair between the powerful, independent “wild” women and the much more docile and submissive women. It is interesting to note, that in the images of  La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Nimue, and the nymph of Waterhouse the hair is bond with something of nature, flowers, what appears to be vines or tree branches, and leaves, while in the previous images, it is some much more civil and man made adornment within the hair.
 
This of course only scratches the depths of the symbolism and meaning behind Pre-Raphaelite art, and all that their paintings convey, it is not in the least cut and dry, or black and white. There are other works of art that can be seen as being contradictory to these very ideas, and throw ones attempt at understanding into doubt, but in this we can begin to better grasp their own struggles with trying to comprehend women and how to view women within their world.
 
 
One interesting analogy is to view the paintings of women within The Brotherhood in the same light as the American romantic pastoral paintings, at a time when the west was not yet fully conquered and men were stricken in awe be the vast nature they saw, coming from Europe which by this time has already been civilized, they were filled with a sense of the sublime. Their paintings were then their way of taming the wild frontier of “framing” it so it would be within their control in which they could put some human order to it. Through capturing the images on canvas they dealt with their awe of what they were confronted with. So perhaps it is with the Pre-Raphaelites, they create these larger than life women, who look as if they are about to break free and they cage them within frames where they are frozen without the ability to truly escape. Upon the canvas they work out their own awe for these women. Contain them where they can safely study them.
 
Within their works there is a mix of both admiration and fear. It just may be that during a time in which women were treated little more than children, rarely taken seriously in intellectual pursuits, (and often according to the science of the day, thought too much education would be overtaxing on their minds) and viewed as fragile and delicate creatures, often little more then commodities for displaying their beauty and producing heirs, that the idea of women gaining power and independence could strike such fear within men, is itself a form of respect all of its own.
 
The Pre-Raphaelite’s may not have been great forbears of women’s liberation and may have had their own skewed ideas and perceptions regarding women, but nor would I venture to say they were complete chauvinists, they struggled with societies view of women, and where they themselves fit into the spectrum. In their paintings they try to make sense of their own fears and anxieties, while still showing through an appreciation for the goddess that lives within woman.