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Here’s another work-in-progress (WIP) post. It’s passage from what will eventually be my break-out novel — if I ever win the lottery and actually have the chance to write the damn thing, that is!
The scene is post-First World War — spring 1919. A Canadian officer on a fact-finding mission for one of the many ancillary committees that constitute the Paris Peace Conference finds himself in a remote inn in rural Rumania. It’s night. He’s bored, and he’s tired, and he starts to amuse by thumbing through a tattered copy of Dracula that his traveling companion has left behind in their room. This is a book — he quickly advises us — very much not to his taste, but which he admits, nonetheless, that he has heard of before.
Okay, when I write it out like that in black and white it sounds kind of hokey, but it’s not another vampire book — really! It’s more about shifting layers of meaning — both textual and contextual. It’s about the kind of losses that can haunt families for generations. It’s a book mystery and a political thriller. And a spy novel. And probably a love story — or, more probably, a failed love story.
Whatever it’s about, here’s an early passage that I really like.
* * * * *
I remember Collins telling me that, no matter where he went, Dracula needed to rest amongst the soil of his native Transylvania — hence the crates of it he shipped to England when he made his voyage there. And that the satanic count’s existence was always a nocturnal one, roaming by night for his blood-prey and sleeping during the daytime — the sunlight being anathema to him — in his own coffin.
Such a creature would have felt right at home with us in the trenches it suddenly occurs to me, right down to the “deathly sickly odour . . . of old earth newly turned.” How we longed for the night, a cloak of darkness to hide the chronicle of our evil, life-taking excursions into that soulless, black no-man’s-land. And, like vampires, our best days were those we spent below ground, safe in the crypts of our dugouts. Our very own death-in-life. Buried alive with all the creatures of the ground about us, the dirt above constantly trickling down our collars, reclaiming our animated corpses to the earth grain by grain.
And, oh, how we despised the day. The rounds from the German guns ripping through our flesh like javelins of daylight through an army of ghoulish pre-dead as we poured over the parapets at dawn to the shrill warble of the attack whistle. And it was this clarion, we soon realized, that was further heralding the last vestiges of empire. An empire upon which, ironically, the sun was now setting. But the sun wasn’t setting on us those mornings. We were walking into it, ever eastward, like lambs to the slaughter, falling as it rose.
The day’s weariness is washing over me again. I sink deeper into the lumpy mattress with every breath. Deeper, sliding down now beneath consciousness, the pages of the book falling open in front of me. Deep enough that I’m soon swallowed up again by the blessed soil, as I had been at the front. Protected and vulnerable at once. A dreary, troglodyte Job, run to ground. And the darkness is one with the embrace of the damp earth, its profound sour chemistry returning all it encounters to loam, to vestigial mineral and first principles. Here, the darkness is the only truth, a void created not where there is no light, but where there has never been light. Yet I ache to see, if only to dress the scraping and scratching all around me in familiar guise, striping fear from sound. The darkness and the earth are suffocating and I am gulping for air to try to re-gain my bearings, closing my eyes against the darkness only to uncover yet another realm of pitch.
It’s in me now, the darkness and the fetid earth. It’s pouring in through my closed eyes, absorbing through my skin, being drawn deep into my lungs with every ever-more stifled breath. My encased body throbs at the pneumatic “thwump” of the incessant mortar fire above, the concussive force of each landfall pulling any remaining air from my trapped body. I am paralyzed. The weight of the darkness above me is the weight of the world, and, though blinded, I see him, nonetheless, recumbent atop his grotesque death-mound, deep within this private sepulchre.
Blinded as I am, all is awareness. I am compelled forward, toward him. His eyes, too, are closed, and I know if they open to me I will be lost completely, buried forever in this unending night. The fiend’s eyelids flutter and start to part and there is no mechanism by which I have the opportunity or strength to look away . . . .
This passage is from a short story, Inexorable, I’m working on for the 2013 Island Literary Awards. Stan — our hero? — is obsessed with recording how long it takes him to drive home every night. Why? You’ll have to read the story to find out.
“Stan was fascinated with the spreadsheet. Loved to watch it compound from day to day, month to month. Loved to trace the arcing progression of the data sets plotted against the x-axis chronology of his life. The geometry would grow tighter and tighter with each passing month, constrained by the finite size of the screen upon which he was able to view the entire graph at once. But the hidden essence of the data, the unyielding, undulating rhythm of what? — truth? Truth? — maintained its fluid, elaborate arabesque regardless of constraint.”