There once was a vampire named Thume, Who took a succubus up to his room,
Where they argued all night,
Over who had the right,
To drain away what, and from whom.
There once was a vampire named Thume, Who took a succubus up to his room,
Where they argued all night,
Over who had the right,
To drain away what, and from whom.
I was at ArmadilloCon 2018 this past weekend. Didn’t stay for the whole event, but I got in on the critique panel, and got a short story of mine reviewed! Got some really great advice for it all around.
I plan on finishing up another short story this month and then I’m back to revising Spymancer again.
Hope all of you readers are doing well (and I hope this post comes out nice looking because I’m doing this on my phone). I hope remember to post something else before this month is over. Haha!
This article was definitely a lot of fun to write! It’s been awhile since I’ve had to really think about how I go about writing a story, so this was certainly a fun exercise. Sarah Linders, as well as TLDR Press are to thank for providing the platform for me to sound off on this particular subject (as well as encouraging me to write the article in the first place). I’ll provide the link below, but you should definitely check out their stuff since their work and published anthologies all go to several different charities around the world! Thank you for giving this a read!
Back inside, Jack and Crystal eyed the couple from the second story terrace overlooking the hotel lobby. They watched a crowd slowly form around their two targets while they swapped use of the Chem-Thermo goggles that had been provided for them.
Among the crowds of cosplayers interspersed with the banner advertisements and kiosks showcasing the newest trends in manga, anime, and fantasy there they stood among them all. Even dressed in costumes like the other con goers, it was frightening yet intriguing spectacle to see these kinds of predators blending in with the other humans down below.
The vampire looked no older than perhaps twenty as he spun his cape and flashed his fangs for the adoring fans that took photos of him and his poses. The young Dracula cosplay look that he was going for must have been some sort of meta-joke of his, or a blatant invitation for someone to stake him right then and there. Even so, he fit right into the costumed clientele of this particular convention. Crystal zoomed in on him, noticing his thin, smooth, innocent, and androgynous looking face with piercing, pale-blue eyes. Crystal raised an eyebrow as he pouted at one of the cameras that coaxed him for another photo. Under the therm-optic filter his body took on a greyish blue hue in a sea of deep red pedestrians that stood or passed him by.
The succubus — the vampire’s partner — was able to spoof her heat signature better among the crowd, but she also shared her undead boyfriend’s meta sense of humor. She was standing next to him with her bat wings and black horns on full display. They looked real, but could just as well be chalked up to being the product of well done prosthetic make up and accessories. Like the vampire, she had a conventional beauty and confidence in the way she carried herself. She wore armor, but nothing that could be considered practical. It reminded Crystal of Xenia the Warrior Princess, but with a shorter leather skirt. Not much left to the imagination. Jack and Crystal switched to the chemical tracer filter on the goggles and could see that she was already releasing pheromones into the crowd. People who
might have been uninterested in the impromptu photo shoot in the lobby, were now transfixed and slowly growing attached to this attractive couple posing together. On the surface, things looked innocent enough, but Jack and Crystal saw it for what it was: lambs being lead to slaughter in some anonymous hotel room later tonight.
As the crowd grew from a dozen to nearly twenty in a matter of minutes, Jack and Crystal got up from their table and began to walk down to the lobby area. They were dressed in post-apocalyptic duster jackets. A cosplay grab that fit with the eclectic dress code of the nerd convention. As they walked, they fingered the holstered, plastic-looking guns that were actually loaded with silver and holy relic tipped subsonic ammo. They were suppose to take this demon and vampire in alive, but if worse came to worse, the subsonic ammo and suppressors would quietly dispose of them. Jack and Crystal each put on their shades and pulled on their gas masks to counter the vampires hypnosis and the pheromones of the succubus.
Now in the lobby, they walked casually into what was now turning into a fan mob. Not a single person among the crowd of ninjas, transformers, and alien princesses noticed nor raised an eyebrow at the Mad Max cosplay couple making their way to the front to see the vampire and succubus “models” gaining attention.
When Jack and Crystal reached them, the two supernaturals noticed them, and momentarily paused their act. For a split second, it felt like a connection was made between the four of them. Fight or flight began to take hold. The vampire and succubus noticed the gas mask and shades Jack and Crystal were wearing and tensed up. The fear in their eyes seemed to surprise Jack momentarily before realizing that he had already put his hand on his gun.
Writing fiction is tough, teaching about writing is straight-forward, but critiquing about writing is as simple as one’s willing to make it. Despite that last bit of inflammatory bait, I often do find critics to be a very important, if not a mysterious aspect of the writing ecosystem. Even though writers put a great amount of effort being readers themselves, book critics are one of the few groups of people out there who are actually willing to obsessively read anything any writer or author puts out anymore. They’re the only ones parsing and dissecting a piece of fiction or non-fiction for any biases, literary meanings, or political leanings that the author might be projecting in their paper bound tombstone of textual art. This level of attention to detail can’t be sanely justified without the person being given an opportunity to talk about what they thought about the book to somebody. Whether it’s done via one-on-one with a friend, a starred rating on Good Reads, or as a book review columnist for the New York Times is none of my business. However, as a hopeful writer and author, myself, I often contemplate the evolution of the critic and how that eye for critique is often trained at novels from the past as much as novels being produced in the present.
Maddie Crum’s “12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When The First Came Out” is a great analysis and a compelling piece of insight into how critics often get it wrong when guessing what books ought to be worthy of our time and praise. Most of the books mentioned on the list are, as of this date, firmly a part of major literary canon as well as being taught in several schools and universities across the Western World. However, there’s also the flip side to that coin as presented in John Glionna’s LA Times Article “Mark Twain: Inexcusable Racist or Man of His Time?” This article presented as a counterpoint and a piece of reinterpretation of a 19th century pro-abolitionist, and anti-slavery activist whose controversial, but ultimately acclaimed novel Huckleberry Finn is still read and presented as a piece of anti-racist literature.
I’m not here to debate the merits of the critics stated above me, but simply provide a perspective using the two examples.
These sets of critiques (or “opinions,” if you’re inclined to feel technically correct while being truthfully dismissive) often reveal a source of perceived inconsistency. That inconsistency which often –rightfully– frustrates the particular kind of author and reader that’s looking for a definitive “yes or no” in terms of whether such a book is worthy of anyone’s time.
The truth of the matter is that critics are human; and like the writers who bring in their own baggage of personal history and experiences into account when producing their fiction, critics, too, suffer from historical biases of their own. Most critics worth their salt, come into the fold with an academic background, or at the very least a knowledgeable backlog of past novels and writers. That academic and historical background has its own baggage to unpack. Critics have no choice in the matter when having to compare a book to not only the current zeitgeist, but also history, culture, and previous books already written. It’s the only way they can measure themselves in the face of backlash and scrutiny. This analysis also applies when revisiting older pieces of work or authors decades or centuries after their books and lives have long since been recorded. Literary figures have experienced falls from grace as well as being lifted up as misunderstood paragons. Conversely, current authors experience the same level of ups and downs in the critic sphere of publishing.
These roller coaster interpretations in the literary world and the critics who run them shouldn’t be seen as a possibility, but simply an inevitability. As an author or writer, once you put something out there and the critics get a hold of it, how they interpret the work and its intentions is simply out of your hands. And much like history is in the business of interpreting and re-interpreting past events, so too will critics recast and reclassify authors and books in a different light well after the author and their original readership is long dead.
However, this shouldn’t be thought of as something at all negative. Critics can bring a newfound understanding of an author that provides context, and historical perspective not yet considered, as well as help in bringing in new fans into the fold after an authors death. It can also help in bringing exposure to a current author whose work remains obscure.
The Critic is neither good nor evil, but simply serves as a function in the literary sphere to interpret stories and give a simple “yea or nay” on whether the book is worth picking up. A single critic and its audience is a microcosm of a particular kind of reader. A fantasy critic and their audience would never give a five star review to a slice of life novel, much less be inclined to read such a thing. Nor is a feminist critic going to have anything good to say about the James Bond novels. And while we’re at it, no male-supremacist is going to like The Handmaid’s Tale, either. In the end, authors should instead view critics with a certain level of respect, but with a hefty dose of ambivalence. Easier said than done. However, when facing the possibility of any author having to face down a brigade of anonymous one star reviews on the internet, or a twitter-led hate campaign, having thick skin appears to be a must.
“Hello, sir! How are you today?”
“Fuck you, that’s my fucking morning! How can you fucking say that to me??”
“Are you being serious?”
“Yeah, I am!”
“It’s like 6:30 in the morning, there’s no way your morning can be this bad.”
“I don’t fucking care.”
“Oh, really do you have to work today?”
“How about yesterday?”
“…You have a good day, sir.”
“There you fucking go again!”
“I hope you have a great day today!”
“I wanna speak to your manager!”
“In fact, I HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT WEEK!”
“I’m gonna get your ass fired you little shit!”
Kind of late news, but it’s cool to know someone is reading! Has some definite, fair criticisms; but overall a decent review that you can read here. Once I finish my novel, I hope to get back to this series again at some point. Although, I’ve recently begun to consider possibly turning it into an audio series….
Maybe. We’ll see! Check out the first twelve chapters of AbN here, and expect another Cashier Confessions short later this week!
Never meet your heroes
Lives well lived and read
For there is a reason theirs ends in prison
And only lauded after they’re dead
I carried her body out of the room. My left hand holding the pistol I had hidden earlier as the rest of my arm propped up her legs. I made a jog back to the elevator, but I didn’t make it so far as a few meters before I saw an angel rounding the corner after us.
“Magus!” he shouted, before raising his wings to fire a barb of sliver feathers into my chest.
Three sharp feathers pierced my body armor, nearly cutting into my heart. My growl echoed into the dark hallway. I gritted my teeth as I struggled to support the weight of Cassidy’s body. I stumbled for a moment, almost into a half-kneel, but I still managed to raise my longinus hand canon and squeeze off several pincer shots that pinned the angel to the wall. The angel scream was deafening with a wave of anger that nearly stopped me in my tracks. Not wanting to waste anymore time, I took a deep breath, held on tightly to Cassidy, and lifted off into a sprint around the corner. As I pasted the angel he continued to spit out a string of curses at me as he slowly died from his wounds. Finally, I made it to the elevator, and using the same enchantment once again, I transformed my hand into that of Agather’s and summoned the elevator via the palm print scanner. The elevator responded with banal, womanly approval in the lyrically brutal, ancient language of Sanctum-Lilim Orthodox. I looked behind me and saw that several portals within the corridor were forming down the hall as more angels warped to my location. I took cover with Cassidy behind one of the protruding walls.
“There’s no way out, James!” one of the angels called out to me, “you’re not going to make half a kilometer before we run you down! Give up Cassidy and we promise you a swift death.”
“Really good at negotiating, aren’t you?” I mumbled.
I switched my pistol to fully automatic and fired blindly from around my small corner as the elevator was in its last moments of descent. There was a moment of pause before I heard there counter offer.
“Say your prayers, half-blood whore!” one of them yelled back in my direction.
I pulled out another loginus grenade from inside my suit and activated the trigger.
“How original,” I said to myself.
Just as the elevator doors opened, I tossed the grenade towards the pack of angels and jumped into the elevator with Cassidy in my arms. I could feel several feathers piercing into my back like knives as I shielded her from the barrage. I could hear the shrapnel exploding behind us as the elevator doors closed and began its ascent up towards the surface to a shrill burst of torturous screams. I kneeled down, placing Cassidy gently down on the floor and pulling out one of the sharp, knife-like feathers from my back. I could feel myself bleeding under the layers of my clothes.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
Cassidy slowly propped herself up and looked up at me. I could see that she was coming out of her fog, but her face told me that seeing me before her was a shock to her system.
“Is this a dream?” she asked.
“No, I’m getting you out of here.”
I smiled, but winced from the effort as I felt another sharp twinge of one of the feathers digging into me. Cassidy got up and held me by my head.
“Cassidy,” I said, gritting my teeth, “do the have the strength to heal me?”
“We’re going to need to help each other out of this if we want to get out of here alive,” I told her, “there’s going to be more of them waiting for us on the surface.”
“I’m sorry James, but I’m not going to heal you.”
I looked up at her. My mouth was open, nearly slack jawed over what I was hearing.
“Cassidy, what the fuck are you doing?”
“I wanted to look into your eyes and see the man that left me for dead,” she said, before grabbing one of the feathers and shoving it into my heart.
I doubled over, falling on my back as she looked down on me. I could hear the elevator screeching, sparks started to fly, and a massive inferno erupted inside the box car. As the fire quickly engulfed us, Cassidy bent down and looked at me, a sadistic smile spreading across her lips. Her beautiful eyes melted and in their place were embers of fire that slowly cracked the skin of her face as if her head was made of pottery.
“Come and die with me, James,” her voice echoed in the flames as the fire consumed us, “die like the cowardly traitor you are.”
I could feel my body shaking, unable to look away from her as the fire became hotter and more intense. Somewhere, I heard someone screaming, the wail becoming louder and louder until that’s all I could hear.
Once again, I found myself in the familiar position of being at least a kilometer underground This time, however, I was the buyer and not the product being sold inside this angel-controlled outpost of maximum security and imprisonment of my fellow mages. The spell that I had cast on myself was working so far. I had come in disguised as a well-dressed businessman. A respectable incubus looking to buy one of the several half-demon bred magi girls whose sole purpose or punishment was to have their essence drained. This ritual would be conducted through an act of sexual conquest that would provide a lifespan two-to-three times that compared to any normal human that fell victim to this routine act of life extension.
I looked away from my corner of the elevator and towards the white-haired angel who stared back at me with unblinking, golden eyes. He had a face so pale that I almost thought he might be an underfed vampire. As an almost fitting bit of contrast to my black, three-piece suit, he wore a white blazer and tie, along with white leather shoes. In fact, it’d be easier to describe him as being white from head-to-toe, as if accentuating the purity of his supernatural lineage. He was holding a tablet in front of me with a stylus, the screen fixed on a set of digital paper work that needed to be co-signed. I smiled, hoping the horns on my head looked real enough to pass as an ancient looking demon who often made these sorts of transactions on a regular basis.
“Yes, of course,” I said, taking the stylus and signing the name of the old demon baron that I was impersonating before handing it back to him, “you didn’t expect to see me so soon, I suppose?”
“No,” said the angel, who sounded polite, but with a twinge of annoyance, “you’re back again much earlier than we had anticipated.”
I smiled apologetically and shrugged in an attempt at dispersing the cloud of suspicion that was beginning to form around me, but I could see that he was already trying to look into my mind. However, the additional spell that I had cast upon myself was just going to give him a series of memories that I had crafted based on ones I had pulled from the incubus in question. Most angels wouldn’t doubt my identity after doing this kind of cursory view of my mind, but this was no ordinary facility, and I wasn’t the first magus to try to break into such a place.
“Now the secondary audit,” droned the angel, as he glanced back at his tablet.
“Yes, let’s finish this,” I said, with perhaps too much eagerness.
“Your sister’s name?”
“Trick question: no siblings,”
“Private herd count and mistresses?”
“Three herd members, one mistress,”
“Herd is human stock, the mistress is another succubus,”
“Genevieve would be a very sorry demoness if she knew your extramarital appetites,”
“False: she knows and accepts these lifestyle choices,”
“Your date of birth and place of birth?”
“Name three emotions from your childhood,”
“Fear, desire, and…” I paused for a moment, as did Agather from the countless video logs I managed to procure of these conversations in order to analyze his speech patterns, “…happiness.”
I waited as the angel finished whatever notes he was taking before he looking back up at me and handed the tablet back for another signature.
“Very good,” he said, “once again you passed, but then again I wouldn’t dream of some magus crazy enough at trying to disguise themselves as you anyway.”
“That would be a bit full hearty of them, wouldn’t it?” I answered back, as I concentrated on making Agather’s signature look as authentic as possible.
“What brings you back, Baron Agather?”
“Well,” I said, handing the tablet and stylus back to the angel, “a recent scare has prompted me to make another request for your services. I know this is one of the busier times of the year for people like yourself.”
“Yes,” the angel answered somberly as he looked down at the tablet, the lids of his eyes drooping a fraction, “you also requested a specific half-breed magus to source from, a Ms. Cassidy Wells?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“A little old, don’t you agree, Mr. Agather?”
“My proclivities are none of your business, angel,”
“True, but there are plenty of eighteen-year-olds you can harvest from if it’s simply life-extension you’re seeking. You do understand that there is a rate of diminishing returns as these magi get older.”
I bit my lower lip and wondered how this conversation would go if he knew who he was really talking to, or that I was packing — optically and magically camouflaged — “angel killer” equipped grenades and pistols inside my suit. I changed tactics in order the steer the conversation away from the current subject, but looking back, I realized then that this slight loose in composure would mark the beginning of a series of fatal blunders.
“My good friend Carmilla wants this one gone as quickly as possible,” I said, “this Cassidy did a lot of damage to my friend’s assets in Europe and in turn my own. I know she sold Cassidy to your organization, but this is also a personal favor from me to an old friend of mine. I get my allotment early and help tie up some loose ends.”
The additional name dropping of the infamous succubus, Camilla, added the weight I needed to expedite this process.
“Very well,” said the angel, reverting back to the dull professionalism he displayed earlier, “we’ll take you to her.”
When the elevator stopped, we were met by a small entourage of three other angels waiting to escort us down the dark, neon-blue lit cell block. One of these angels, a woman, greeted me with a slight bow.
“Mr. Agather,” she said, “so good to see you again!”
“And you as well, Abby,” I said, recalling her name and face in a dossier I looked over prior to coming here, “still purifying the wicked?”
“Only the ones that transgress the natural order,” she said with reverence.
“And what about me?” I asked, gesturing at myself with a half-cocked smile.
“Your kind were once angels too, you know,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “You exist because God allows it.”
“Hence why we’re all here today,” I mocked, as I clasped my hands and rubbed them together, “so, let’s see Ms. Wells, shall we?”
As we started our walk towards our destination, I continued to make conversation.
“I’ve noticed that the prices in magi essence and blood has spiked recently in the past month or so,” I continued, “I take it the commodities market has been favoring your recent change in live stock?”
“Oh yes,” said Abby, excited, “our investors are very happy. These magus farms of ours have seen an increase in business over the last year. Even vampires are ordering from us now.”
We rounded a corner and down another hallway.
“So I take it you get complaints from the Warlock Human Rights Organization everyday then?” I asked with a laugh.
“Those half-breed, spawns of whores at the W.H.R.O can send as many petitions as they want,” seethed Abby as we continued our stroll down the hall, “as long as they all stay in Geneva and Stockholm where they belong, it won’t hurt our bottom line.”
Our pace began to slow as we approached what I assumed to be Cassidy’s cell; a black cement rectangle of a door with no windows and a blue-neon keypad that kept it locked.
“Sometimes I wonder if a member of my herd birthed something like one of those mages, but didn’t tell me,” I mused, “it’s a scary thought.”
“Your kind still executes incubi who procreate with humans, don’t they?” asked Abby, as she started to punch in the code to unlock the cell.
“The laws are changing what with the business community lobbying to build more magus farms,” I answered, pulling the facts from reading business quarterly I remembered reading a month or so back, “but yes, that’s still a common practice.”
“That’s too bad,” said Abby somberly, as the cell doors slid open and a fog of cool mist greeted us from inside, “we’d make a killing with the profits that would bring.”
A shiver went down my spine as she said this to me and I became reacquainted with the fear I thought I’d left behind in a place like this.
Cassidy was strapped into a leather chair that protruded from the ceiling wrapped up with cords, and hooked into a virtual reality headset. The chair that Cassidy was sitting on looked like it had sprouted from the ceiling like a post-modern fungus of furniture and wires. Her clothes were basic, white inmate fatigues that had long since been yellowed and dirtied by years of neglect. Her hair was a blond mess that fell over her shoulders and chest as she remained slumped forward, tuned into whatever program the VR simulation was running. She appeared to be in a vegetative state as she drooled all over herself, lost in her world of forced media coma. I felt myself clearing my throat, trying to stifle the urge end this quickly and risk getting sloppy for just a few moments longer.
“Tell me something,” I asked the four angels in the room with me, “how long has she been in this state?”
The angels looked at each other confused.
“How is this relevant to…” one of them started to say, but I interrupted them.
“Indulge me,” I insisted, holding up a hand to counter their protests.
“Almost a year,” one of them finally answered, “we feed them well, of course, and keep them on a steady media diet so that they remain docile.”
“What kind of media diet are we talking about?” I asked. I could feel my jaw tightening as I struggled to maintain composure.
“Nothing that would violate any current treaties, I assure you,” answered Abby, her sales pitch straddling the border between offering a clean conscience and client happiness, “we can pull images from their mind. Previous lovers or crushes can be used to implant fantasies into them while they sleep. On the rare occasion that they are woken up, they often choose to go back into VR, but the fantasies themselves use digital actors. Approximations of their ideal man or woman that are tailored to their preferences.”
As she stated this, Abby got a better look at my face and paused mid lecture.
“I have to say, you of look like one of the men Cassidy fantasies about the most,” she said.
While Abby’s comment proved that my face and memory enchantment had worked further in disguising myself from her, I still felt the unconscious need to glance up at Cassidy in an attempt to avoid eye contact.
“And you’ll collect her soul…after I’m done with her?”
“After it’s husked, yes,” answered Abby, “tainted or not, it’s still a useful byproduct and can be refined later for us to use in our ongoing quest for eternal life.”
All this so a few can live forever, I thought.
I could feel myself starting to sweat despite the chill within the dark chamber while the other angels watched me. My heart was pounding as the pressure began to mount. I remembered how this other mover sight proved to be another fatal error, but at the time I was too nervous knowing that my window of opportunity was starting to close.
“Do I hear….” it was the first male angel that I had met in the elevator, “your heart beating?”
I turned to him and smiled. The bastard had asked this knowing that Cassidy’s should be the only beating heart human in the room right now.
“Perhaps its my aura giving off palpitations of excitement?” I said hopefully.
“No, an incubus does not have a beating heart,” said the angel, his voice becoming more threatening.
I turned away from the angels and looked up a Cassidy. Worse case scenario I can at least say I made it this far. I took a breath and allowed myself to succumb to the anger festering within me.
“I know,” I responded softly, “but it’s not for lack of trying.”
Silence filled the room before the first one responded.
As soon as the first angel swore, I was already crouching towards the floor to avoid the longinus shrapnel grenade that I had activated. The grenade’s cylindrical chassis popped up from the floor and fired a series of demonic-tipped knives that fired an even circle towards all targets. When I activated the grenade I made sure that I was low enough and Cassidy was high enough to avoid the blast arc as each pincer found their mark and turned the angels into combustible, blue embers of ash.
I snapped my fingers, which deactivated all of my enchantments that maintained my incubus disguise, and scrambled up the platform that Cassidy was hanging from. From here on out, I knew I was going to need every ounce of my energy if I was going to use magic to get her and myself out of here alive. I removed the wires wrapped around Cassidy and pulled the VR headset off of her. The pupils of her eyes looked like square, white cataracts of digital haze from hours of media bombardment as she slumped into my arms. I patted her cheek softly, trying to break her from her trance. I could already hear the alarm going off.
“Hey,” I whispered, “hey, hey! It’s James. Remember? I promised you. I’m getting you out.”
Cassidy’s eyes fluttered as she looked at me. “I don’t,” she moaned, “I can’t feel my legs.”
“I’ll help you, but we have to leave now.”