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Topic: SEASON'S CREEPINGS

From: Bill Goodwin
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: 10/16/2009

Another year gone by, time for another Halloween poem! I'm sure the cats from City At The End Of Time are in here somewhere (they're never far away, are they?)

Careful; if you post this one, it becomes a tradition!

--Bill


Algol

I

Those of a romantic cast
Will understand that when at last
One's eyes too long have had to labour
Over lantern-litten paper
Comes an impulse so sublime
It's surely borne from beyond time
To get outside all walls that bind
The body or, indeed, the mind
And wander after-midnight heath
Perhaps with pipe alight beneath
Blue stars unknown to sleeping people

Like a church without a steeple
Is the grass and summer night
So sacred that you feel no fright
As feet away from doorway bear
You through a still eternal air
So quiet you might e'en declare
You hear the heavens hiss
Even thus, perhaps amiss,
But earnestly, that night, did I
Away from desk and inkwell fly
My project hidden in my coat
(I'd cause for guarding what I wrote)
Keen to baptize mind and soul
A rare-fine blend inside my bowl
Pipe-sparks like a firefly-swarm
Aswirling now and then in warm
Surrender to the evening cool
Like goldfish in a starry pool

My nerves were raw from city life
I had no friends, no pets, no wife
But merely was a civil servant
Neither somnolent nor fervent
Till at last I found a cause
Concerning things with little paws
My plan was bold in many ways
But fools kebt nibbling at my days
I needed time away from town
To write my manifesto down
Just when I thought I would crack
I learned I owned a little shack
A country cousin with no will
Had hanged himself out on some hill
My mother's-father's-sister's son
Who went by Gid--for Gideon--
And I, who'd never known his name
Was next of kindred all the same

The letter from his county seat
Contained a photo, small and neat
A rustic clothed in what must pass
For Sunday-best at backwoods mass
And in the background, hung on nails
Some fuzzy things that looked like tails
The sultry eyes were widely set
And on him hung an amulet
That looked too fancy for his kind
A gemstone pendant, strange-designed
It seemed familiar but was blurred
I frowned awhile and then demurred
Tomorrow's puzzle! But by dawn
The photo and the note were gone

Summer nights are kind to such
As maybe watch the sky too much
The hermit's is a desert heart
Which, loving order, lives apart
Algebra--an Arab name--
And in the sky one finds the same
While just a lad, with brush equipped
I'd learned to write that flowing script
The bedouin of old I think
Were much like me who paused to drink
From this their best and deepest well
El Nath, Dhanab, Ar Rijel...

Autumn Square was high and bright
Alpheratz and Algenib white
While in the east, and on the rise
That pair so much like feline eyes
Marfak on the left, aglow, and Algol on the right
Sultry Algol, demon-star, awinking in the night

Those last made me feel somehow robbed
Marfak was filmed, and Algol throbbed
Deceptive eyes just like those beasts'
Who torment rats before their feasts
I lowered mine in resignation
And went on with my exploration

Soon it seemed I'd gotten turned
Around, and pipe no longer burned
Yet somehow I perceived a trail
That led me forward without fail
Through what was now alarming quiet
I'd have rather braved a riot
Than that silent winding way
Beyond all memory of day
And yet, as if by Mesmer tranced
I held, and without wit advanced
Advanced, and toward the forest turned
And if the turf smelled slightly burned
Still who was I to doubt or dare
Mistrust the whim that took me there?

II

"Hiram's Wood" the locals named it
For a man whose fate defamed it
Born in eighteen sixty-four
And dead a hundred years or more
This "Hiram" hunted all alone
Along trails that remain unknown
Dark and strong but dim and daft
He kicked a cat one day, whereaft
The beast removed into a birch
And when old Hiram went to search
It out (because no game was found
The night before, the tale goes 'round)
He somehow wandered much too deep
Perhaps in a moon-shiny sleep
And when at last the cat came out
It was (some say) alarming stout

Silly, but of course such flings
Must serve in lieu of civil things
Where days are long and nights are wild
And grown adults think like a child
Myself, I'd never kicked a cat
I'd never gone so close as that

Small before great strength, I stood
Beneath the eaves of that dark wood
That is how it felt, at least
Each tree a black and massive beast
And ranks of them, ascending high
Eclipsing star-encrusted sky
Darker than its darkest region
Was that leaning, leafy legion
Foolishly I struck a light
As if one match could banish night
It vanished in a heartbeat and
Its final flutter burned my hand
I fancied wood had thus repaid
My insult, for the airs betrayed
Blew steady as the breath of sleep
From out its dank and fungal deep

Still enchantment must have been
Upon me, for I stepped within
The border of that hoary hall
Its odor like a sudden wall
Of mildewed velvet on my skin
It smelled like rot and ancient sin
My legs, they swung like metronomes
My feet avoiding mushroom domes
Made visible by some weird glow
A drapery of age and woe
Bluish-white and ghostly pale
And haunting every twig and vale
My eyes, adjusting, saw the light
Came from a sort of silky blight
Filaments that dimly shone
Were webbing every branch and stone
Even from the trampled peat
They lifted, clinging to my feet

Trampled, yes, the path now clear
To eyes as well as formless fear
A heavy tread had gone these ways
Not just for one, but many days
Or nights, I thought, and felt quite sick
For I'd not even walking stick
And black and crusted was that road
Black as if a gory load
Had often smeared those paw-prints burned
Dragged by something unconcerned
Careless of revealing traces
Ruler of these dreadful places

I wish that I'd remained entranced
And not, just for a moment, glanced
Along the way that I had come
I would have yelled, but was struck dumb
The forest hall surrounding me
Went back as far as I could see
As if I'd walked that phosphorescing
Road for hours beyond guessing

III

Then at last, and over-late
My reason started to debate
"A local trapper's made these tracks
I followed suit, for pipe relaxed
It's known that the subconscious eye
Is sharper, in some ways, and I
Saw subtle hints, or heard some sound
That weary thought would not have found
Well walk is fine, and air is good
But now the matter's understood
I must return to fruitful work
Who knows what beasts may nearby lurk
A bear might make this sort of trail
But roads run two ways, THAT won't fail!"

With effort, then, I turned about
Turned, and then, THE LIGHT WENT OUT

I wonder if I can convey
The shock, to citizens of day
When utter night strikes in a place
So far from normal time and space
My heart near-stopped, my blood turned cold
The stench increased a thousandfold
More perilous than any beast
The silence readied for its feast
My legs were numb as if now dead
I fancied I could feel the thread
Of pale, unearthly fungus-hair
Swarm up them in a fiendish layer
Of needle-ice soon to invade
My flesh till I was but some shade
Adrift in endless horror-dreams
Of strangling roots and drowning streams
In mind, a million spiders dropped
From canopies all skyfire-topped
And in deep clefts of rock and slime
Menageries were marking time

Wrenched by spasm more than will
I spun, and saw the wood refill
With that same sickly-pale illu-
mination, and that's when I knew
If ever there were hope to find
The way must ever-forward wind

IV

Through a mossy catacomb
Did I, like a sleepwalker, roam
Massive roots with curving flanks
Confining trek like riverbanks
That reared and twisted, high and low
And filmy with that fiendish glow
Here and there I caught a peek
Of an elusive forest creek
That flirted from the shadows, fickle
Just a slow and murky trickle
Still it lent me hope to see
Another moving thing than me

Finally when the sense of dream
Conspired to silence even stream
So any moment I might doze
In everlasting dark repose
I came around a massive stone
And suddenly was not alone
Horrid on its heavy rope
A mauled cadaver beyond hope
Was gaping as if for its breath
In awful effigy of death
Although mummified up top
Its feet were dripping like a mop
Bloated like balloons, and black
Their oozes puddling on the track

The broken neck and bulging eyes
Shew clear the cause of this demise
Yet wounds like furrows from a plow
Ran up and down the body now
Not gory quite so much as CHARRED
I prayed the man'd been thusly scarred
Well after he was good and dead
Then memory stirred in my head
Even blank I found that gaze
Familiar in the strangest ways
So wide apart, those orbs of mould
--A bit like mine if truth be told--
The final shock hung on a chain
So obvious it took my brain
Some time to see, beneath the stricture
The fetish from the little picture

This then was Gid, whose splintered hut
I owned, and no one come to cut
Him down...I understood their fears
But felt I ought to muster tears
Instead my hand shot forth to wrest
The charm loose from the leathern chest
A gem it was, of deepest red
In likeness of a feline head
And etched on the reverse, five runes
In script as liquid as the dunes
Thus did chaos claim its toll
Two syllables I read: ALGOL
Two syllables of dread: ALGOL
A warning from the dead: ALGOL

V

Walking now become a hobble
Heavily I bore the bauble
Smouldering with desert heats
Inside my coat with smoking sheets
Of paper scribbled in black ink
It now seems strange I didn't think
It ominous the thing should brand
Like red-hot iron, my written hand
I wondered though how Gid had come
To own a treasure whereupon
A heathen from a land afar
Had named that variable star

The trail I tread now swirled and hissed
With cobalt curls of shining mist
And worse, a soft and sandy sound
That seemed to fill the woods around
Sly like sliding sheets of fur
And modulated like a purr
The whisper of inhuman shades
Aflow like rivers through the glades
And swelling with a wicked pride
As bristling whiskers, side by side
Caressed against their kindred kind
Above, below, before, behind

Choking on a sob of fright
I broke and ran in heedless flight
An awful pounding in my head
And looming nigh, a worser dread
As blowing boughs betrayed black skies
Of stars that peered like wicked eyes
Into the core of this mad sleep:
A POOL OF WATER, DANK AND DEEP
That thrust from out its lily-layers
Such shape as nightmare never dares!
A man-shaped shadow big as trees
Arearing in the searing breeze
A mighty basilisk of rage
Abhorrent in its dripping age
And smoking like an ebon oven
At the center of its coven
With eyes like coals within in a face
From some forgotten feline race

Oh the jumping, oh the jig!
From rugged root and tender twig
They came to caper, leap, and glide
Spit and hiss and slink and slide
Ten thousand shrieking, spectral cats
All soaring like blue burning bats
Into the blazing, whirling ring
Whose center was that smoking king
His ears, his eyes, his fearsome cheeks
Just like the jewel whose charnel reeks
Had burned my coat as black as jet

I offered up the amulet
Unto that muscled mountain, cruel
It laughed, a spray of molten drool
And turned to show what lay beyond
--Hid in the middle of the pond--
A slab of slate where, laid in state
On polished rock as black as fate
Shew clear a shape of chilly mould
My own dead body, pale and cold

The star called Algol, fierce and red
Flared like a furnace overhead
And cast a stream of crimson light
Into the howling horror-night
A column of unearthly heat
Cascading from the void to meet
My waxen twin, and raise it high
Until it vanished in the sky
To tune of wind and frightful wails
From things whose wildly whipping tails
Were just like those still hanging, dead
Inside my country cousin's shed

I searched in sudden panic, or
In understanding, maybe, for
The ruler of the blue-lit bowers
I found him peering from the flowers
Pirouetting 'round my waist
And knew old Hiram'd been replaced
His debt to ancient Aegypt done
My own accounting just begun

For mirrored in those waters, murked
My PANTHER SHOULDERS darkly lurked
And scattered through the fragrant steams
Like butterflies aloft in dreams
Were pages writ from my black head
Even to the first, which read:
FELICIDE: A FINAL PLAN
FOR CAT-CONTROL BY MODERN MAN

In my claws, an ember smoked
A trinket from a corpse all-choked
I gave it to a slender cat
Who sallied forth as quick as that
To do the work of her sly clan
The final cat-control OF man!

Then into water black as tar
I sank, beneath a winking star
One of a pair like feline eyes
Beneath whose stare t'was no surprise
That I, whose fur was black and coarse
--The New Lord Algol--must enforce
The highest edict, which is that
NO ONE SHALL HARM THE TRIBE OF CAT!

End


Re: SEASON'S CREEPINGS

From: Greg Bear
Date: 10/20/2009

Tradition it is! Excellent work, Bill--Lovecraft would love it.

Re: SEASON'S CREEPINGS

From: Bill Goodwin
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: 10/20/2009

You're a gracious host. It's got some rough edges needing sanding...the first draft was actually written at one sitting, between midnight and dawn of a 90+ degree heatwave night, with a bottle of wine and a large black cat on my lap. A literal feline fever dream; thanks for endulging it!

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