Thursday, May 11, 2017


Now, at dusk, I wait. A Lamplighter cannot walk these streets until he is needed. The gods watch by day but at night they must sleep and then it is up to us.

What is a Lamplighter? How did I become old watching over this city? Ah, how did this old man become the Winter Watchman of Stroya? That is a long and difficult tale and one day I will tell it, but not now. Now, I will tell you what a Lamplighter is, what I am, what the other’s are.

Others? Oh, yes, there are others. There must be others. Three of us, one for each season. I for the winter, long and longer every year now,  Levta of the red beard for Autumn, sighing softly as he carries his torch, and my poor sweet Nika, Watcher of the Spring, my love, my green-eyed wife. How I miss her!

They are seldom awake now-Levta for a moon and a little more. My sweet Nika has only a few weeks, while I nod at my short nap and then shoulder the burden again when the snows pile high and the ice flows like ships of war down the blessed Voy, crashing like thunder.

And so we go walking the snow covered cobbles in our boots of walrus, lifting our long pole high to the metal and glass. Come with me now and you will see that each post is different, each is carved with sigils difficult to read. Each post is weathered black, red, ochre, and green, and each has a name. Do you know the names, my mortal friend? Which is Div, which is Siv? Mav with it’s yellow sun? Ruv, the howling wolf? But I know them and whisper the names to awaken them as I hold the torch to light them. In all Great Myra, the world, they are unique. They are my friends and my care of centuries.

We begin with the street of Wolves where the Great Houses stand all in a row. They are alive, you will see. There! This lamp, Irda,which stands proudly before Merulov House! Watch as it casts it’s glow. Do you see how it breathes out the Holy Light upon this sad House? The House is old but Irda is older still and this torch I hold, that light was made by He who created the gods. Blessings upon it!

Merulov is an old House, and a sad one. The windows tall and wide and cased in black oak, blink back frosty tears. You can see the fire’s glow inside. Stones and heavy oaken beams cannot keep out misery and even the Dumya Merulov must put his head in his hands when the winds of fate blow open his doors to the cold night air. What? You do not know the tale? But, everyone in Stroya knows of it! Come then and walk with me as I tell it to you, shivering son of man. Wrap yourself in bearskin and listen while we walk for tomorrow is the end of it, if I find my allies well.. but walk. The lamps come first, always first, for they protect.

Now, old Merulov House is sad because it’s daughter, sun-haired Dinka, lies in state in a coffin with a ruby glass lid, cold and dead, with the Snowdrop of Stroya upon her breast. She has lain there these three weeks, fresh as a spring flower, and some say that Old Man Death is reluctant to take her, that it is a miracle and St. Aliada the cause. Perhaps. Look, there she is, the saint, standing high and severe in heaps of snow, over the Elder Graveyard. Don’t go there at night, my friend, without me. Can one be both severe and loving? I hope so. I pray so.

And so poor Dinka lies with the Snowdrop upon her breast while Vrehoja, the Gypsy fiddler, her young lover, formerly so gay, dreams dark revenge against Merulov and all Stroya-garth. He sits in his tent by the ice-locked Voy and a dank mist has entered his soul, all because of  the Tzenti-witch from far Yarai.

This witch, curse her unknown name, covets the Snowdrop because she once possesed it and believes that what she once achieved is hers forever. But the Snowdrop is tied to the city. How, you ask? Ha! Like the hidden dolls one tale fits inside another and you will never uncover it’s beginning. But tonight it is the tale of Dinka and Black Vrehoja and so forward to Kerkovy Square!

And here we are where Kerkovy Square stands, dark already, yet the moon rises soon. Still, we will light it for a blessing. Here is where I first saw Black Vrehoja. Here he would come to watch little Varya muster the Kerkovy Guard. The Rhadice Palace stands at the other end, overlooking the blustery flatness. Each morning the Prince marches out the brave guardsmen from under the bulbous towers, which rise in a bunch over the halls of the Great Rhadice.

Vrehoja wished to join the guard. It is true that he wanted to wear the bearskin boots that come over the knee, and the green coat with brass buttons. He wanted to grow his black moustache long down the sides of his face and weight them with green ribbons won on campaign against the golems. He wanted to march with a long curved headcutter resting over his shoulder, bravely singing the old ballads. But the guardsmen laughed and the Prince would not look at him. You are a Gypsy, they said! There are no Gypsies in the Kerkovy Guards! Vrehoja smiled and played his fiddle. He danced and struck a brave posture, to no avail. His dark Gypsy eyes grew sad and his fiddle hung at his side and it was then that Dinka saw him. She fell in love with his romantic soul and his brooding, secret eyes. Soon she was meeting him in the Elder Graveyard behind the tomb of the Karonevsis, where the is a mourners bench and the black lilies bloom in winter. Together they drank red wine and Vrehoja played his wandering tunes for her. He laughed and his dark eyes captured her soul. Soon enough a passionate kiss sealed their fate.

But their future was bleak for when Dinka told her Father, Merulov of the Merulov’s, of their love he thundered like a storm in the Balbous mountains. A daughter of Merulov with a Gypsy? Never! He would burn the ancient House to the ground before a Gypsy entered it’s high doors! Dinka was never to see him again!

The lovers met again in secret while she told Vrehoja of her father’s verdict.

But now the Tzenti-witch saw her chance. She had flown from the Yarai swamps on the back of an owl, riding on a foul wind, to cast destruction upon fair Stroya. She whispered into Black Vrehoja’s ears and the words turned into black snakes in his brain and Vrehoja cast his spell upon pretty Dinka: Bring me your father’s treasure, the Snowdrop of Stroya, the gem which glows in the light of the northern star, and together we will leave cold Stroya and fare across the sultry south where Gypsies sing, and we will make sweet love and live forever in bliss!

Dinka walked as if asleep. She entered her father’s closets and opened the great chest. She took the gem and wrapped it in a scarf of blue spiral silk. The wind was cold and all the stars shone down upon her as she walked to the graveyard to hand her father’s treasure to the exulting boy.

But the plans of the Tzenti-witch went awry and the Dumya awakened, and seeing his daughter gone from the house, guessed the truth. Calling the Kerkovy Guards to aid him, he scoured the streets for his daughter, crying Dinka, Dinka, your father needs you! Three guardsmen attending close upon the Dumya found the pair hiding behind the tomb of Keronevsis and Dinka awakened from the spell at the sound of her father’s voice. The fearless guardsmen held their headcutters aloft but the Tzenti-witch cast darkness into their eyes while Vrehoja killed them, one, two, three, with a curved dagger. No more will they march behind Prince Varyatsin Elverus Karonevsi singing the old ballads. No more will they tramp the hills before the Balbous mountains hunting golems. No more will they drink fiery kvelt and dance before the fire when the sun has sunk in the west. Their blood has melted into the snow and their bones rest in Myra’s bosom.

Poor Dinka tried to reach her father but the Gypsy pulled her back with a hawk’s grasp. Stretching, she handed the gem to her father, wrapped in blue silk, just as the gypsy plunged the wicked curved blade into her chest, crying that is was she who had killed their love. Sobbing, her soul escaped through the hole in her chest and Black Vrehoja and the Tzenti-witch escaped on the back of the giant owl. All of this happened in the blink of a man-child’s eyes and I appeared too late to stop it. The Dumya Merulov put his head in his hands and wept tears which turned to ice, for he had traded his only daughter for the Snowdrop of Stroya. Tomorrow the Kerkovy guards will march in a row, green ribbons flying in the frozen wind. They will play the drums and chip away the ice from the doors of the Tomb of the Merulovs. They will pick up little Dinka, she who was so warm and happy,and place her there within the cold stone and there she will lie until the Flamebird returns and the world ends.

And the Snowdrop which her father will lay upon her breast in his grief? You ask this? How can you not know? The Tzenti-witch will return with Black Vrehoja and take it, and brave Stroya will go under the glazed ice forever.

Unless I stop her, oh son of man. Unless I stop her.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Boulevard Place appears on no map. Denied in ink on scrolls of any provenance and unreliably pinpointed by rebellious archangel satellites, it remained a blank spot to all in the metropolis of Atlanta but those few lost denizens who happened to wander a street or two over from the carbon monoxide haze of Ponce De Leon Avenue to discover what the eponymous explorer himself could not: the fountain of youth in drinks poured out by old Nick, the demiurge of Nick’s Quixotery. The Quixotery was housed within a ramshackle manse built near the turn of the last century and was owned by an unnamed and rarely seen individual who was supposed to appear only on holidays and at odd hours. Nick was noncommittal and, when questioned closely, roundly cursed the owner in terms that made even the decadent regulars of the Quixotery blush.

“I’m only the caretaker, you bastards. You’re lucky to have me. Who would feed you booze in your sorrowful condition if I weren’t here?”

The Quixotery itself bloomed along a line of houses of similar nature, all in ill repair, which rolled down Boulevard place, each leaning on the other another, invalids of wood and stone, waiting for a medieval king to notice them and place a hand on their broken pons and heal the crumbling shingles. Dripping and sagging the straggled down the forgotten street. Each side was home to the cast off, the disappeared, those who had taken a wrong turn while walking without a guide. Messages were chalked on the broken pavement, read upside down by walkers huffing it up the hill and were skipped over in the same fashion modernity had leapt the plaintive cries of a cargo cult, with a sense of lost purpose and with grave doubt that any angel could read them from above. Nick’s Quixotery sat surely in the middle of this scribbling of the soul, secure, ancient, a pumpkin proud of its rotting innards, noisy in a quiet way, an odd anthill of hope and scorn.

The place itself was certainly illegal. No certificate of business was evident on its stained walls. Kudzu creeping up from a deep ravine behind the manse closed off any possibility of inspection of water, power, or sewage lines. The saturnine leaves climbed the chipped wooden columns to write its name on the roof in a green sans serif. Inside, an old parchment nailed to the wall above the sinuous cracked bar stated that the Government of the Confederate States recognized the de-facto existence of the establishment behind enemy lines and was signed with an indecipherable scrawl. Another beside it declared it anathema by the Pope where it was listed among a dozen establishments recommended closed as dens of the utmost iniquity, spreaders of false doctrine, and exemplars of Dante’s worst moral fears. Swords from various ages hung on the plaster walls alongside war clubs of Creek and Cherokee indians. Stone totems sat collecting dust in the corners mugging at the bibulous crowd who hunched over the bar where they watched Nick set up drinks like rows of tombstones. An old Confederate battle flag, scarred by Yankee bullets which had killed the last true aristocracy, hung to one side, occluding the entrance to the Tartarus Room, where the weekly game of Crawdad was being held. It was this game, one I had attended every Wednesday evening for the last three years, which drew me to the Quixotery just before a lazy mosquitoed dusk.

From the noisy traffic of Boulevard I made a sharp left turn onto Boulevard Place and, vaulting over the daemonic sigils of despair, strolled down the sidewalk and up the dozen wooden steps to the foreboding front door of the Quixotery, curses and imploring calls from lost denizens flying over my head. My hat, inscribed prophylactically with the inscription ‘Harris Tweed’, kept me safe as usual and I ducked through a double door blackened by the soot of a thousand chimneys and the bug-speckled grime of a southern summer blown against its vertical plane.

Nick was in the back as usual, squinting through a frosted  monocle as he stirred yet another uncountable martini. The monocle was circled by a gold band and was supposed to have been given to Nick sometime during World War II by a Sicilian Baron who was later paralyzed in an air raid in Salzburg. Nick said it was a gift for some advice about women but no one believed him since Nick didn’t look a day over a hard-drinking thirty-eight. A stocky goateed man, with forearms a thick as Popeye’s, Nick was a consummate liar and known to fib about the weather among other things. When the innocent went to verify his assertion through a grimy cracked  portal he returned to find his untasted whiskey or ale gone and no amount of cursing could induce Nick to pour a replacement-the tantalized cherub must order another at full price. Nick was, however, known to be charitable to those who exhibited a real drinking problem, providing drinks gratis when sobbing reached a crescendo. Asked about this behaviour he invariably replied that moralizing was the least of the world’s problems considering the precarious state of the human soul. “It needs to be moved, one way or the other, and not just talked about.”. And when a vestigial conscience motivated one of the stone-faced gargoyles seated at the long forensic slab of a bar to call to the prickly bartender’s attention that tying an anchor to a drowning man was unlikely to result in saving even one soul the monocle would point, a foggy kaleidoscope, at the inquisitor and Nick would proceed to give an exhaustive and  unchallenged encyclopedia of all that was wrong with humanity, including its propensity to love too much and get itself in trouble through utopian ideology. Did the soul really want to be saved? Duly admonished, the gargoyles went mum and raised their glasses in a fascist salute, toasting an indisputable and infernal wisdom.

Nick disdained to enter the Tartarus room except on rare occasion and so I ordered my poison across the bar.

“Booze, brown and pungent.”

“Legal or cheap?”


Nick scrutinized me through the monocle, lifted my hat and gave the shape of my skull an appraising look. Then he nodded. “Ripe.”

“Ripe what?” I tossed off the unnamed spirit and narrowed my eyes. “Ripe what?”

Nick put the bottle back under the table and turned his back, making a show of moving dust around on miraculous crocks from ages gone. Nick’s cellar must be spectacular, the regulars speculated, but no one had ever seen him enter it to bring up any nectar.

“Ripe what?” I repeated, throwing a glance over my shoulder at the curtain separating the Tartarus room from the common room.

Nick declined to answer but poured out a second of the volcanic spirit, which resembled something from an alchemist's alembic, redolent of smoky beams running through an old cob house, tarred at the corners and sweating with new grass on the thatched roof. I coughed and opened my eyes. Then I entered the Tartarus Room.