Would you make a pact with the devil!

st-p   tartini2

One of my short stories in my book Flight of Destiny is called “The pact” it is about a desperate man, whose wife is dying, who is forced into making a pact with the devil.

History is littered with people who have taken this dramatic step.

There is even a Pope, namely Pope Sylvester II, who seemingly was way ahead of his time, and of high intellect. This French pope is credited with inventing the hydraulic organ, pendulum clock, and introducing Arabic numerals to Western Europe, on top of this he also wrote books on mathematics, natural science, music, theology and philosophy. Due to his incredible intelligence, highly tuned scientific mind,  and ingenuity  people suspected he had made a pact with the devil. He is not the only senior church figure to turn to the devil. Saint Theophilus the Penitent turned to the devil to make a deal, in order to gain a high ecclesiastical position. The contract signed in his own blood proved to be a heavy burden for Theophilus. German alchemist Faust also  is supposed to have made a pact with the devil, in order to pursue his “boundless desire for knowledge” for the next 24 years.

It seems a recurrent theme that if you are highly talented, it seems there is the possibility you have formed a pact with devil, this was the case of virtuoso violin musician Nicolo Paganini. His great virtuoso performances led people to believe he had formed a pact with the devil, and that it was the devil who was aiding him during the course of his performances. He was  refused the last rites,  and it took a while before he was finally laid to rest.  Paganini was not the only violinist to come under the microscope. It seems to be an Italian thing, Giuseppe Tartini, claimed that he dreamed that The Devil appeared to him and asked to be his servant, not only this, the devil composed piece for him, which Tartini transcribed when he awoke.  The devil is also accredited for turning Robert Johnson  a noted American blues artist into a genius. Rather than quash rumors he encouraged them.  There are quite a lot of modern day musicans who it is claimed have a made a pact with the prince of darkness, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z? Led Zeppelin, to name but a few.

Below is an exert from Flight of Destiny as Jarret encounters a man who says he can save his sick wife and unborn baby and Jarret is forced into making a pact with the devil.

pact-2014

Suddenly, he became aware his was not alone. A well dressed

man with shiny patent leather shoes was walking purposefully

towards him, as if he had something important to say.

“Jarret Lamb?” the dapper man asked in a sweetly scintillating

voice, pausing before the distraught Jarret.

Jarret froze, astonishment momentarily replacing pain.

“I can see you’ve a lot on your mind just now,” the man said

calmly, examining Jarret minutely in profile.

Jarret eyed him suspiciously, not knowing what to say.

“It’s your wife and child, isn’t it? They’re in mortal danger,”

declared the man.

“And how could you possibly know that?” demanded Jarret,

stunned.

“I just know,” the man replied matter-of-factly. “And, what’s

more, I can help.” The man’s eyes had a chillingly hypnotic draw, as

did the mesmeric tone of his voice. The man’s clothes, posture and

demeanor echoed confidence. He also emitted an enchanting aroma,

rather like an orchard of ripe fruit trees.

“How?” faltered Jarret.

“Your wife and child will survive,” avowed the man, resting a

hand gently on Jarret’s shoulder, like a father might when consoling a

son. Then his voice dropped and took on a more cautionary tone. “But

only if you do something for me in return.”

“And what exactly might that be?” asked Jarret confused, but

desperate for any shred of hope.

“You need only shake my hand, and everything will be righted. In

a few days you will receive a letter with instructions. In exchange for

your wife and child’s lives, you must carry out the instructions exactly

as written.” The man’s voice lowered to a rasping whisper. “You have

no alternative, really.”

“I see,” replied Jarret. Though trembling, his heart racing, he

couldn’t help but think, What do I have to lose? This man is probably

just a lunatic, but regardless, he’s seems more purposeful and sincere

than the doctors, who’ve thus far offered no concrete solutions or hope.

Crazy or not, he’s all I have at the moment. Jarret shrugged his

shoulders and slowly offered the man his hand. The man’s hand felt

strangely cool, and Jarret felt an icy-cold electric spark jump from the

man to him as they shook.

“There. Done and agreed,” said the man with a sense of agreeable

formality, like some of the businessmen Jarret dealt with at work.

“Now finish your walk, and return to your wife and child.”

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The fear of being followed, alone late at night…

woman-alone

Ever had that terrible feeling that somebody is following you? Perhaps you have caught a late night train and while you are walking home, the streets are deserted.  Suddenly you  are aware of footsteps.  You want to turn round to see who is behind you, but your growing anxiety prevents you from doing so.  You increase your pace in the hope that you can lose this unknown person who you perceive to be following your trail.  When you finally get home the relief is palpable.

In my book of short stories, Flight of Destiny,  at the end of my story called “Cast from Hell” ,  there is a similar situation to the above scenario.

The train arrived late in the evening at the station nearest my parents’ house. It was dark and deserted, and I felt truly alone. I breathed a sigh of relief and began dragging my case down the dark road to my parents’ house. Wisps of fog slowly crept in, obscuring the stars, then the moon, and finally the local scenery. A few moments later, it began to drizzle.I heard a twig break behind me, followed by the repetitive click of heels on tarmac. I didn’t immediately panic, but I recall feeling increasingly uneasy. I picked up my pace, only to hear the sound of the footsteps behind getting closer rather than more distant. I turned abruptly to try a gain a cursory look at my stalker, but the combination of darkness, fog and drizzle, made it impossible to see anything more than a foot away. I turned and further upped my pace, but my effort was frustrated by having to drag the case. The dense fog parted momentarily and turned and caught a glimpse of a person not far behind me, the face shadowy and undefined. The fog immediately re-engulfed the elusivefigure. The person appeared to be wearing a hooded cloak and riding boots, which would account for the pronounced clicking noises that eerily reverberated along the road. The footsteps behind me slowed, crunched some slushy leaves, then resumed moving at a faster pace.My sense of dignity stopped me from calling out for help, but I nonetheless discarded my luggage and ran, hampered this time by the high heels I was wearing. I couldn’t shake off my pursuer, who, to my  horror, was now almost within touching distance of me. I became aware of my pursuer’s labored breathing, and for a moment, I could swear I caught the briefest whiff of perfume. It even seemed familiar,but in my anxiety, I wasn’t able to place it. My body froze when a hand touched my shoulder, and I turned to face the grey specter in what seemed like slow motion.

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O is for Opium

Serpent and Apple
Serpent and Apple — Image by © 68/GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Ocean/Corbis

“Opium”  is another of my short stores in my book Flight of Destiny. A town called Jacksonville has fallen into disarray, many under the influence of the celestial drug opium. A preacher (known as Preacher Moon) is sent to stop the town falling deeper into the mire into moral collapse. He is a pious man, a kind of John the Baptist figure, who believes his strong voice and powerful words putting the fear of God into the inhabitants will bring the town into line.

A town council meeting was called by the church elders. A new force needed to be summoned to counteract this seemingly unstoppable slide into moral iniquity, and, at their behest, that force arrived the next day on a spavined, overworked, mangy-looking brute of a horse, scarcely able to navigate the town streets. The rider didn’t care about appearances. He put his trust in God to provide for all his earthly needs, including those of his horse. With his wild, shoulder length hair and scraggly beard, he looked a wild man, eyes full of zeal, capable of digging deep within a person’s soul. In other rail towns he’d proven a bastion against any evil that stood in his way. His fire and brimstone sermons were legendary, and he had a reputation for smiting even the most heinous of sinners, those acting as consorts of the very devil himself.

The preacher finds himself confronting an adversary, who he deems responsible for the evil that is prevalent in the town.

And before the day was out, there was one man in particular he had placed his sights on: the local gangster chief of the Green Triad Gang, known to everyone simply as “Gecko.” The preacher’s first move would be to locate and confront this source of all the evil scourging the town. Once he encounters Gecko he finds him to be somewhat different to what he imagined, in that Gecko, is wise and witty and more than a match for him verbally. 

“You will henceforth stop your activities, or be smitten by the Right Hand of God!” Gecko considered the threat calmly. “And what form would this punishment likely take?” he asked, as if the preacher’s answer might make a difference.

“You and your family will suffer the heat of Hell’s fire throughout all eternity,” he clarified, pointing the head of his staff menacingly at Gecko, who remained completely unruffled.

“Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man,” Gecko sighed philosophically.

Ultimately  Opium is a story about temptation.  The Preacher is drawn into eating a piece of cake. He is also tempted by Gecko’s beautiful daughter.

Gecko smiled sweetly at the preacher, twiddling the dragon ring on his finger, then glanced at the cake.

“Will you not have something to eat with us, Preacher? I’m about to cut this cake,” Gecko said in a relaxed, convivial way, reaching for a gilded knife.

The preacher’s face soured. It was clear to him that Gecko’s offer was a gesture of hospitality rather than threat, and he was extremely hungry from the long ride. In truth, he’d lost count of the time since he had last eaten, and then, it had been mostly grasshoppers he’d come across on his travels. Still, how could he accept food from such a loathsome sinner?

“Food from the devil’s hand no doubt,” he growled in a bitter tone, shaking his head in the negative and averting his eyes from the cake and the exotic fruits the young girl had placed on the table.

“No,” contradicted Gecko, “A cake baked by my daughter, here.”

Gecko beamed proudly.

“Never,” replied the preacher, lifting his eyes and hands towards the heavens as if holding up a massive rock and waiting for God to cast it onto the tempter before him Gecko shook his head.

“Isn’t it equally sinful to spurn gifts provided by God. Surely this magnificent cake is such a gift. Wouldn’t it be wrong not to take advantage of an offer of food in order to keep yourself strong in his service? Even Jesus, if I’m not mistaken, indulged in local weddings and feasts.”

Gecko cut a large slice of cake and as he brought it to his mouth, a look of anticipatory pleasure and contentment swept across his face.

ENJOY OPIUM (the short story…I mean)

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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M is for Maggot

Serpent and Apple

Maggot is one of my short stories, it is about a circus owner, who has run into debt and is forced to sell his daughter in order to be debt free.  He is a buffoon, an oaf, with no evidence of any real likable traits. The story starts with him bargaining with Excellency, the cruel tyrant who he hopes will give him a good price for his daughter. His daughter is brought in, like some kind of merchandise.

The young girl beneath the veil might have been Cleopatra, except that but for a fine gold thong, she was entirely naked. Gold coins strung on golden chains hung from all four sides of the palanquin, making chinking sounds with each of her carriers’ steps

She has been coerced into being sell-able  goods, having been cruelly beaten by her father.

She couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her long black hair flowed  over her shoulders down to her waist, barely covering her adolescent breasts. Every male in the room stared greedily at her, none noting the smudged makeup highlighting her deep brown eyes, the result of a copious flow of tears at having been coerced.

After the young girl Apollonia is presented, some crude bartering takes place.

“Is she…pure?” demanded her would-be purchaser, shooting a quick glance in Maggot’s direction, as if this would have direct bearing on the “price” of the goods he was considering purchasing.

“Of course, Excellency,” said Maggot boldly. “She’s never been touched.”

 Finally the two men come to an agreement and Maggot’s greed is seen through the way takes the money.

 Maggot grasped the money in his gnarled fingers, trying his best to give the impression he really wasn’t interested, though, in fact, he undeniably was. His beady eyes drifted from the coins in his hand to the remaining ones flashing and glinting inside the treasury box.

 The unwilling merchandise makes one final plea to stop the sale…which will inevitable end up with the slimy tyrant violating her.

The girl’s fate decided, the four strong men shouldered the palanquin while Apollonia searched her father’s eyes a final time, beseeching him to change his mind. It was a useless gesture, as Maggot was busy counting and ogling the gold coins. To her dismay,he never gave her a second glance, and she was carried, wailing inconsolably, through the massive banquet hall doors and down a short hallway.

Maggot is a despicable man without scruples, what kind of man would sell his own daughter?

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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L is for laughter is killing me!

L for Twitter

I hope at least that there are some strong elements of humor in my book Flight of Destiny, sometimes humor naturally evolves in a story. If humor is evident, it is doubtlessly dark. I am British, so this perhaps accounts for a dosage of dark humor in my stories.  The humor is often surreal.

In my story Fire and Brimstone,  for some reason I came up with a Danish character called Helga, who is sent to a correctional school for delinquents by the Danish Bible society.  She is a very rotund young lady, who is seduced by a morally corrupt Night warden.

The story also seems to have an obsession with fish.  Jonathon Noteworthy (who is sent to the correctional school, arrives home to find his mother having sex with a local fishmonger).

The boy had been sent to the school following “a fire incident.” He’d come home early from school one day and noticed a distinct smell of fish. Looking about, he noticed a bloodstained striped apron, a white hat, an oiled sweater, a pair of heavy woolen trousers and two rubber boots scattered about the living room. Upstairs, he heard the repetitive sound of his mother’s beds prings. Running up the stairs three at a time, he burst into her bedroom, thinking somebody was attacking his mother. His eyes caught sight of Mr. Lucius Pike, the fishmonger, his thin sallow face with two tiny polka dot eyes, naked on top of his mother.The shock of this discovery, forces Jonathon to seek revenge on Lucius Pike. Retribution came exactly two days later, when Noteworthy broke into Pike’s Fish Mongers during the night and filled a large sack with every kind of fish he could lay his hands on. Bass, eel, haddock, mackerel, mullet, sturgeon, turbot, it didn’t matter. He dragged the sackto Pike’s house and peeked into the man’s living room window. Pike was curled up asleep in his favorite chair pulled close to the hearth for warmth, a woolen blanket draped over his skinny legs,snoring loudly, while the television across from him announced the latest fishing news.

Noteworthy rummaged about outside, located a ladder left by  some workmen, and climbed it, carrying the stuffed sack over his  shoulder like a coal miner a sack of coal onto Pike’s roof, and then began dropping the fish, one by one, down the chimney. The fish landed on the fire, and soon the living room was filled with the acrid smoke and the smell of charred fish. Just before Pike awoke, the sizzling, fire made a popping noise and leaped from the hearth onto the man’s blanket. As Pike’s living room burst into flames, a neighbor noted a boy on Pike’s roof stuffing a huge halibut into the chimney.

The image of a boy dropping fish down a chimney, might not appear funny to some, in the same way perhaps the famous Parrot sketch involving an irate  customer Mr Praline (played by John Cleese) and a shopkeeper (Michael Palin), who hold contradictory positions on the vital state of a “Norwegian Blue” parrot, while poking fun at the many euphemisms for death used in British culture, might appear lacking in humor or at least sensibility. This brings me onto the subject of “death”.  Would you like to die laughing?  Members of the Monty Python team were responsible (inadvertently)  for the death of a man named Ole Bentzen whose demise was brought about by the scene where Ken (Michael Palin)  gets chips up his nose that caused him to laugh into oblivion.  Imagine the indignity of dying from hearing a dirty joke…Pietro Aretino, an Italian author, suffocated from the hysterics that ensued after his sister told him a dirty joke. I guess the sister must  have rued killing her brother by laughter.

The British comedian/magician Tommy Cooper, may not have died laughing, but he died during the course of his penultimate show.  The audience were certainly laughing when Tommy suddenly

Slumped to the floor during an onstage comedy routine in 1984 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Audience members believing it was part of the act expected him to get up. When the realization that Tommy had passed away, they stopped laughing.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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H is for how to write a killer short story.

 

 

h finished 2

To write a good short story, you need immediate impact, meaning your first sentence has to be a killer. You have to create an opening sentence like no other, that grabs the reader’s attention.   For example my story “Bugeyes” from Flight of Destiny  begins with… Bug-eyes was due a life of toil. Seed begins with Captain Spender’s wife was ovulating.  Cast from Hell begins with There it was: I was to be banished from hell.

Your plot is going to be vital as to whether your short story is a success. Deborah Eisenberg states that “the plot of a good story is likely to be a stranger, more volatile and more evanescent sort of thing than the plot of a novel”. You can’t meander with a short story.  A short story,  can’t  evoke the expanse  and diversity of life, and takes the reader’s attention towards a more limited aspect.  With full novels, the author is forced to wrap things up,  whereas the short novelist can afford to be ambiguous.  So a novel and short story have different constraints.

With short stories, you face limits, you have  create characters, that the reader will immediately identify with.  You have to create strong dialogue.  An important element in writing  for me in writing a great story is to come up with a really nasty evil character, who during the course of the story does the most despicable things. Writers  might contrive a cocktails of character flaws (don’t create a one dimensional character) into their characters, to come up with an interesting and memorable deviants.   A mindless slasher killing for no obvious reason is not going to engage readers, whereas a murderer with a lot of previous baggage and an air of sophistication will.  Writers really need to delve deep to create their deviants. Readers love an evil character, literature is strewn with them.  I would say an interesting evil character is often multi-faceted,  never straight forward,  they themselves are often in a way victims.

Being short story writer, so I am constantly looking out for ideas for new stories.  My stories are dark and surreal,  so I rely on a supply of dark thoughts flowing through my mind, as well as other sources drawn from real events, read a newspaper, they are usually brimming with ideas for short stories.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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D is for death and the afterlife.

D Finished

 

What happens after we pass over to the other side? It is a question that dogs us as soon as we become conscious of what death  is all about.  Of course points of view on this subject are colored  by  the religion that a person follows.   It is a commonly banded about  idea that some Muslims  believe  they are promised 72 virgins,  upon entry to paradise,  particularly those who fight in the way of Allah.

What do Catholics believe? At the moment of death, the soul is separated from the body and no longer sustains order within the natural body; as a result, the body begins to corrupt and left to its own will decompose. The soul, however, is immortal and never ceases to exist, once created. Immediately upon death, the soul of each person is judged by the Lord, either to eternal life or the damnation of hell.

There must be many permutations depending on which religion a person follows. Buddhists give two permutations,  If you still have unresolved kamma (Sanskrit: karma), if the conditions for rebirth are present, “you” are reborn. Alternatively If you have achieved nibbana (Sanskrit: nirvana) during your life, you will have no more kamma, and so the conditions for the creation of the five clinging-aggregates will no longer be present. Consciousness will cease, activity in your brain will cease, and your body will decay. Meaning you will die, and that’s your lot.

The Buddhist  version of life after death,  seems to not only be more appealing than the threat of damnation in Hell  but also seems to  be more logical, as well giving a meaning to life, in that through a life we learn and develop until we reach the point whereby it is unnecessary to learn any more.

From my point of view it is only when we all finally embrace death itself  will this vexing question about what happens after death will finally be answered.  There are those who have recently had their quest  to answer this  question satisfied.  David Bowie is no longer with us, having succumbed to cancer.  He was the type of man a person might imagine could live forever, he was such a part of my life as surely he was for many others.  Is he now in some other dimension  working on celestial music? Has he been interacting with other departed souls,  other geniuses,  departed family  members of the Jones family  (Jones was his real family name).

In my book Flight of Destiny, I present an image of both Heaven and Hell. In my story cast from Hell,  a man is rejected by Hell (for being too good)  and is sent back in the guise of a woman to wreak havoc.  This is his take on Hell.

As you can tell, my expectations of hell were quickly dashed.It was far removed from William Blake’s famed illustrations of Dante’s Inferno, and it didn’t even remotely resemble a Brueghel painting.To my surprise, there was no evidence in Hell of people being  grievously punished. The slothful were not being goaded with burning coals. The gluttons were not being tormented with thirst and hunger.There were no hedonists being bathed in burning pitch and stinking brimstone, or envious individuals howling with grief over that which they could never possess. The proud were not being brought down.The covetous were not being denied. In fact, the damned seemed to be living in a modicum of comfort. I never detected any weeping, wailing or gnashing of teeth. The place, called by some gehenna, the bottomless pit, was admittedly no holiday camp, but things there had grown shoddy and dysfunctional. It would require major rehabilitation to scare even a child. Being lodged with fellow rejects was sobering experience, not unlike being in a holding center for suspected criminals, refugees or illegal immigrants.

This is his take on Heaven.

I took a last look survey of Hell. It looked like a vast airport terminal: vacuous, tedious, and hum-drum. By now I couldn’t wait to leave. By contrast, I have often tried to imagine Heaven. To me it would be one long party in a great vivant night club, not unlike this second life to which I was now looking forward to I closed my inner eye as instructed and waited while Charon transported me to earth’s dimension.

What happens after death, is the ultimate, unanswerable question.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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