Read My Short Story “Porter’s Window”

I wrote this short story for a Lovecraft-themed/influenced literary journal. It was supposed to be about drawing influence and style from Lovecraft’s short story “Pickman’s Model,” about the truth regarding a peculiar artist’s influence. It’s a nasty and interesting little bit with a twist that I like, albeit being a little predictable to modern sensibilities. 

Anyway, it was rejected, and since I did it specifically for that submission there’s really no other place I’d want to show it to anyone, might as well share it here. I like it, I specifically tried to mimic the style of older epistolary 19th-century fiction as best I could in framing it as a letter.

So here it is, “Porter’s Window.”

My Dear Friend Legrasse,

My Old Friend, I bid you well. It has been a long time since we spoke, since I came to New Orleans and we spoke, colleague to colleague, policeman to policeman. I write this to you with a heavy heart, already laden down with the death of my beloved Alfred, my poor boy and knowing of your own recent troubles.

But larger things than our own griefs are at play here Raymond, and I feel I must begin at the start.

Some six months ago, I was called to the scene of a particularly ordinary murder, a boarding-house in one of Boston’s mostly-Italian immigrant communities. It was, to be honest, notable as a place where men and women lived as dogs, children ran wild, and lives ended violently. Just the week before we had been called to that very area to the sight of a horrific killing, a young woman murdered in the alley behind that boarding-house. It was a truly horrific sight, my friend, and I cannot bring myself to give you any details other than the poor woman’s soul rests better, considering what unspeakable things her mortal flesh must have been dealt that dark night.

Myself and several constables ascended to the second-floor room where two men had, we determined, murdered each other over a few scraps of gold, no doubt stolen from some uptown house at the other side of the city. As per the routines our department were beginning to establish, we started rousting and questioning the rest of the inhabitants of the building, seeking answers. I myself knocked on one door, the only room occupied on the third floor above us, finding the door unlocked, though the room clearly inhabited.

What compelled me I cannot say, but something drew me into the room. I feel now that it was perhaps a connection to evil, a sense that something must be found in there, but I cannot say for sure. Regardless, Legrasse, I entered the room, revolver at the ready, but found nothing. It was a filthy squalor, one of those places where even the brightest of sunlit days can only barely bring warmth and light. Clearly, it was an artist’s abode, with stacks of wrapped canvases against one wall, a dirty unmade bed in the center of the room, and small books, sketchbooks, were stacked everywhere. There was an easel against the wall by that dirty window, and I looked out, looking down at the street through the grimy glass. It was, I realized with a shock, the rear of the boarding-house, looking down at the alley where that poor woman had died the week before!

I wondered, as I heard an officer approach me through the door, if the inhabitant of this room had witnessed that murder. As I picked up one of the sketchbooks, dirty pages splattered with black ink in shapes I could barely comprehend, I ordered the constable to question the landlord as to who rented this room. The entirety of the place reeked of desperation, but also, I thought to myself, of hermitage, of solitude. There were empty plates clearly once-used for food, empty bottles of wine, and many candles about for light. On the bed, I found shears and a suit, an outfit that a man of some means would wear about-town. Whoever this room belonged to, they clearly had some means. Who had lived here? I turned back to the sketchbook I held as the men reappeared, telling me that a “Porter” had rented this room. I ordered the sketchbooks collected as evidence to be taken with us, and for this Porter to be found and brought in as soon as he returned to the room. The canvasses against the wall, I realized, were blanks, and the sketchbook I held still, as I started at the pages, I realized were the same thing over and over.

Whoever Porter was, the man had been at the window, drawing over and over, the alleyway below, as if figuring out the look of it. But why, I asked myself.

Lord forgive me for asking, my friend, for the answer was too much for me to bear!

One of the men, while leaving the room, asked me what I wanted done with the package under the bed. I came to my senses, telling the man I would look at it myself before joining the rest of them downstairs. Leaning down to slide the paper-wrapped rectangle, possibly a wrapped canvas painting, out from out under the bed into my hands, I stood up. I snatched up the rusty shears, cut the wrapping, and shuddered as the paper and twine came away.

It was a painting, the view from the window down at the alleyway below, set at night, dark blues with black shot through it to give the impression of nighttime, a dark and moonless night. Ever brush stroke must have been carefully applied for it appeared more of a photographic image than a painting to my eye, so detailed and perfect. I must confess I am a simple man, and known nothing of what the modern “upper crust” consider art, but this, this was almost painfully unique, too horrific to be amazing but “amazing” being the closest I can come to describing it.

A…good god, a woman, a woman in a in a blue dress is in the painting, passing by a shadow in the alley, a shadow emerging from two other buildings, and an arm is reaching from the shadow, long and furred with thick fingers, grasping her in the hand and a waterfall of red emerging from between those monstrous digits. Lord forgive me, but it was Hell on canvas, a sight of horror and murder, exquisitely portrayed as if it had truly happened, as opposed to being a creation of the artist’s mind’s eye. The limb and the gaping maw from the darkness were so detailed, musculature and even what appeared to be rank froth from a foaming beast’s lips were visible

It was the woman murdered here the week before, it had to be!

I put the painting down and, though I dreaded it, my friend, I left the building, telling the officer downstairs to not allow anyone besides police officials, not even any of the building’s inhabitants. I crossed the street, towards the alley, looking up at the window to make sure I was at the right window. Upon securing my position, I looked towards the smaller side-alley, and in my mind’s-eye, I could picture the painting, the arm, the mouth and eyes, the screaming woman. I stepped forth towards the little odd bend in the walls, a sort of alley-within-the-alley, as it were, and I froze. The walls here were new, as if just shorn back up, the back of some large building, no doubt one of the newfangled cold warehouses built up over the old homes and other buildings that, like our murder scene, once made up this part of Boston.

I reached out and touched the wall, leaning close towards it, my ear tilted and listening for anything. May the Lord above protect me Legrasse, but…I cannot!

No, no I must. My good friend, you must know, for I know that you must add it to the black book you keep, the account of those horrific things that fascinate you so.

Legrasse, I could hear a titanic beast breathing, gnashing, living behind those walls! There was still a spot where the newly-repaired wall was wet, and in a sudden frenzy of fear and rage, I pulled and tore at it with my hands, yanking one, two wet and cement-covered bricks away, and…the stench, the wet thick rot of animal and blood, I nearly very retched, right at that moment! As if…as if something, something foul and unwashed, from the bowels below civilization, from the center of precious mother-Earth under Heaven, was there. It was…it was the beast, my friend, the one from the painting! Within the walls!

I do not remember much from then, and the other officers from the scene told me that I stumbled back to them and fainted, and I was taken to rest at the local hospital. I lay, in a fever of nightmares and prayers, for a full month, before I could recover. My dreams, from what I’ve been able to remember, have bene plagued with horrific visions of giant limbs and tooth-filled mouths, gaping maws of unholy hell that consume both red human flesh and precious human souls.

I knew for sure that I must return to the site, I remembered that much for certain, that we must make a search for this “Porter” man and do a thorough search of the boarding-house, to say nothing of arming some men with stout rifles and looking at the off-alley where I swore I knew the beast dwelt and slept. Alas, it was all too late. By the time my mind and body both returned to me and I could return to that little dirty room overlooking that blood-soaked and secret-filled alleyway, it was gone!

The buildings and alleys, upon my inquiry (and a good deal of using my official police identification to bully answers, which I feel a twinge of shame over) were revealed to have been purchased and torn down, both the boarding-house as well as the warehouse! The sketchbooks my men collected from the boarding-house room remain, but the paintings are all gone, rubble turned into the detritus of the local city dump, if not turned into firewood for the hearth by someone. There is no trace left of this Porter. I implore you, if you find him, if you find this man, this “P” or whatever he calls himself, for obviously Porter was a false name. You must seize him, and find out what he knows. What are these beings that he painted, how did he know it was there?

Find him, Legrasse. Find this devil-sighter, this prophetic artist, if that is what he calls himself, of monsters!

Find “P”!

Yours In Friendship –

Cxxxxx

Heavy Homes

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(Lotta spoilers, so proceed with caution)

Death is dumb.

All death is dumb, it feels pointless and heartless, like somehow in some fashion life has gone out of its way to fuck you in the ass. Even when we expect it, when we know it’s coming, or what we logically and rationally know that it can’t be helped, that it might even be a good thing in the long run, it just feels like shit. My grandfather died a few years ago about this time of year and even though he lived a year over the time the doctors gave him, the last few months were torturous for him and I knew that when he finally did die, it was in a way an alleviation of the pain that I knew was racking his body along with the cancer and the constant discomfort of pissing himself and always having to lay in a hospice bed we had in the house.

It was still dumb and it still makes me sad and mad to think about it.

How people deal with death is another matter, in that coping varies so much we never really know how well people are feeling or if they can even figure out how to move on from something so shitty. The idea of coping, and the myriad of ways in which it can both help and harm someone, is the root of the video game What Remains of Edith Finch.

What Remains of Edith Finch (from developers Giant Sparrow) has been a game we’ve been anticipating for a while in this little household, so when it was available to preorder we jumped on it. A walking/exploring game (which is pretty popular these days for better or worse) where the titular character explores her weird old family house discovering the secrets of various family members, we see that the Finch house is rooted in sadness and denial and tragedy that has led varying members of the family to think they’re “cursed.” You’d think it’s true based on just how messed up the family appears, and by how many of them ended up meeting tragic ends. One poisons herself by accident as a child, while another witnesses his sister’s savage assault and murder, retreating to live in a bunker underneath the house unknown to other family members for years…for starters.

The title’s ultimately the biggest giveaway, because of the dual definitions of “remains”, in being a verb as well as a noun. As a noun, remains are a term for what’s left behind from a death. As a verb, it means to leave behind. Edith’s both left her remains somewhere (because she’s dead, as revealed at the end of the game) but also is looking at literally what she left behind in that house throughout the game via the extended flashback that is the gameplay.

Reliving the very history of your own lineage and seeing not horror, but depressing tragedy, in those stories as Edith does throughout the game gives you a real sense of why the family might think they’re cursed, and how it could feel tragic enough to actually influence people into putting a supernatural spin on it. The way that Edith actually experiences these moments throughout the book intersperses supernatural elements with reality, creating a difficult thing to interpret, with the implication of heavy subjective experiences. What really did happen? What really did cause it, and what does it mean that we don’t fully understand and get more clues and implications?

There’s a lot here in the game’s story that is left undiscovered and unsaid, employing a lot of what we’ve seen in other exploratory walking/narrative games to fill in background and story that we’re not allowed to fully know. What are the entirety of the secrets of the Finch house? What was the great-grandmother trying to tell young Edith the night they left? What’s the full story of the family’s need to identify themselves as “cursed,” which is a self-fulfilling prophecy but also a convenient excuse when it comes to not wanting to discuss uncomfortable family things like mental illness, unspoken feuds, and bottled-up feelings/aggression. While this can definitely be frustrating, at the same time it’s arguably more realistic in trying to mimic the fallibility of memory, of family memory, and of the limitations of someone’s personal patience, personal feelings, and (importantly, though another big dangling thread in this story) the limitations of being able to help someone who is suffering from mental health issues and you don’t understand why.

As I’ve mentioned before when talking about games like this, leaving some of that unspoken creates a definitely stronger line between short stories/novellas and these kinds of games and further emphasizing a game like Edith Finch’s primary role as an interactive story as opposed to a competition.

Sometimes, we don’t get over it. We just can’t. We’re scarred by death, scarred by our pasts, scarred by the burdens placed on us by other people that we’re unable to shake. We don’t always really acknowledge it, but sometimes, death wins in ways beyond just simply taking someone away. Sometimes it breaks, cracks, leaving nothing but remains. You can’t always put something back together from remains, no matter how hard you try. Edith Finch tried, and it didn’t work for her, thought it does make an interesting experience to play.

Sometimes unanswered questions are OK.

Wet Rags

So I’ve been doing little tiny notebook sketches, working to get into the habit of fully filling pages and not waste space, as well as being able to be more precise at smaller spaces. It’s been a good way to do little warmups, drawing exercised, what have you.

…then I forgot the notebook in my pants pocket and threw those pants in the washer. So much for that.

Mouth Full Of Feelings

I drew a new WORKING TITLE page, a strange one where a horror idea I’ve been rolling around in my head (and is in a short story that I wrote as well) just sort of played out.

This page probably more than any other illustrates the “role” of WORKING TITLE, which isn’t to really tell a story but to just do something strange and try new things. I’ve always felt like I’m a less-than-competent cartoonist whose panels and final pages overall never look as good as notes and thumbnails, and I’ve been realizing that I need to go hard on really filling in the page.

I’ve always fallen back on minimalism to cover up what I think is a shitty art style and uneven lines (my love of minimal newspaper comic strips, which are VERY minimal, is part of it) but I’m trying to get more and more confident about filling space and adding stuff, so yeah…that’s where WORKING TITLE comes in.

Anyway, enjoy the comic.

Check Out “Hit The Till” At MONDAYS ARE MURDER

I’m really excited that my short story “Hit The Till” is being featured as a part of Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder story series, available at their website.

You can read it here!

Akashic Books are a great publisher with a variety of awesome titles, including their NOIR short story  collection series like Haiti NoirTwin Cities Noir, Brooklyn Noir, and they’re the home of author Joe Meno, who wrote some of my favorite books, The Boy Detective Fails and Hairstyles Of The Damned.

Seriously, what else have you got going on on a Monday? Check out “Hit The Till” and other Mondays Are Murder stories, spread the word!

A Strange Wolf Nipping At My Heels

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So to celebrate getting a little time off, I wrote and drew a new page in what I consider my “weird workbook comic,” WORKING TITLE. Nothing really happens, it’s mostly for stretching weird strange joke and story ideas out, trying drawing/cartooning things I haven’t really done before. I’m gearing myself up to write and draw some more comics, which I haven’t done in a while, so I figured this was a good way to get back into the swing of it.

It’s weird, I always tell myself I’m not going to work on comics but I can’t help but get sucked back into it, even though I never really think they’re that good. Always learning, always trying new things, I guess, hard to shake off a way of telling stories when you actually do like doing it.

Anyway, besides this there’s some more work coming out in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned.

Black Ink Is Back…Kinda

Hey, remember BLACK INK, the serialized mystery novella I used to do, featuring my character Ben Miles? If not, don’t worry, because now you can get the whole thing online for free.

I recently sat down and finished the whole thing, cranking out a semblance of an ending. I hate to leave a good idea hanging, and hey, if it’s free, you can’t be mad at me if it sucks.  I like writing Ben Miles stories, he’s a hard dude to shake, even if he’s not very good at his job sometimes.

Anyway, it’s free via my Smashwords author page to grab and read digitally, on your phone, tablet, computer, or whatever it is you use to read stuff digitally (like a Kindle? Do people still use Kindles? I feel like they do, along with bootleg tablets compared to fancy brand-name iPads, but what do I know) so let me know what you think of it, spread it around. Give yourself something quick to read for a commute or while you’re on the can, which is where I do all my serious reading these days.

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Manta Books brings in PI/part-time bondsman Ben Miles to track down a missing piece of comic book art. Simple, right? But nothing is what it seems when it comes to a Ben Miles case, and more than likely he’s gonna end up getting his ass kicked over a comic book.

 

There Are No Titles

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So we went to The New Museum, to see the new Raymond Petition exhibit.

I’m not usually a modern art type, but of course the subculture connection to his work drew me in, and every so often we try to go to museums to see something interesting, or see if we’ll enjoy it. The last time there was a Basquait exhibit in Brooklyn we went, and despite only being passively aware of his work (knowing who he was in a larger pop culture context) I hadn’t been a “fan” or truly appreciative. Anyway, I’d never heard of, much less been to, The New Museum before, so it was a two-fold experience. Semi-related, the museum was not only NOT new, but was small enough that the Pettibon exhibit was the whole of the museum (except the top two floors, one of which was an empty white floorspace with a balcony you can go out onto, which I guess was the entirety of the installation? There was more too one floor down, but other than saying “it looks like an unfinished construction site,” I can’t think of anything else nice to say.

The only time Pettibon’s been in my radar recently was his work on the cover for the 2015 The Best American Comics collection, but honestly if you’re not A) constantly collecting old punk stuff or B) actively following modern art I don’t see how you’d be aware of who he was.

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I was pleased that while obviously, you can’t do something on Pettibon without touching on the fact that his art was the face of Black Flag and the 1980s SoCal hardcore scene, the whole of the exhibit didn’t focus entirely on that. Yeah, here were his zines and early zine art, but there was also his post-“punk” work that took what he did and expanded on it, utilizing what he was probably best known with Flag/Minutemen cover and flyer art (almost out-of-context text combined with obscene and bordering-on-outright corruption of conventional pop art to create confusing but striking contrasts) and pushing it forward.

It was a nice fucked-up immersion, looking at how he’s continued since the 70’s and 80’s to continue to expand on creating uncomfortable experiences on paper with ink and paint, almost purposely making lines thick, making paint piled up, and making some work dark and detailed and some so barely-there it looks like a mess of lines half-finished. The overall theme, though, where even minimal drawing clashes with the text to manage to imply there’s something bad and gross and jarring going on around us, one we can’t necessarily escape from, only try to navigate.

The exhibit’s title is “A Pen of All Work,” which seems to be a pretty good way to sum up the whole of the thing. So much of his work is literal pen, but it also seems to imply that there’s this sweeping connection to it all, that all of the work falls under his pen with a theme and connective web we just don’t see. While that seems obvious, it’s more in a workman-aspect that’s similar to say, older writers who would write anything and everything rather than limit themselves to a particular genre, knowing that ultimately all work that you create reflects your voice, whether or not it seems it.

Anyway, if you’re in NY and want to see some weird fucked-up art (as well as guys in old 80s punk band t-shirts awkwardly milling around) The New Museum’s “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” is on until April 9th.

Mothers

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So, I powered through Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel in a day. It was a slow work day, and I haven’t gone through a book like that in a while.

I didn’t know what to think going into it, mostly because despite the fact that I loved her previous memoir comic work Fun Home, that one’s a weird book that’s basically a critical and thematic literary analysis of not only her relationship with her father and his death, but also her own sexuality, lesbianism, and her father’s sexuality. This one was a lot of the same, but also different, in that the relationship Bechdel has/had with her mother (who died in 2013) wasn’t the entirely abstract thing that the one with her dad was.

A lot of the book deals with the history of psychoanalysis, the application of psychoanalysis and the great minds involved in it, as well as interweaving Virginia Woolf in there as well. But when you boil it down, the really important (or at least impactful to me, but more on that in a second)  elements are the ones where her intensely sloppy but passionate relationship with her mother is examined. It’s really clear that Bechdel, in trying to accurately depict her relationship with her mother, does the same thing that she did when describing what she had with her father;

Something complicated.

Still, and for reasons I haven’t fully gotten through and been able to articulate, the story of her and her mother didn’t have the same impact on me that the one with her father did. I feel, in a way, that the form in which she writes and draws about it is why, drawing as she does on a lot of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Her intertwining her own growth (or at least mental unwinding) during therapy felt, at times, kind of draining. While I understand that in a narrative sense, her own mental well-being was tied into the growing and reinforcing of a positive relationship (as much as it could be) with her mom, I personally couldn’t really find any connection to that. However, that’s also in synch with the fact that her mother is alive through the story of this book and that Bechdel actively struggles to make a connection to her mother in a conventional child-mother way, a conventional daughter-mother way. While not all of her issues (and there are a lot of issues, many of which I can’t really understand) dealt with through the book and through her therapy relate to her mother, a lot of them seem to orbit around her, at the very least.

This of course makes me immediately jump to the conclusion that because it’s a book about therapy (in a stripped-down oversimplification), I don’t like it because therapy is boring. After all, it’s just people talking to each other back and forth,* and on a comic book page. Why would anyone want to read that?

That doesn’t mean, like I said, that it’s a bad book, because there are amazing elements that are right up there with Fun Home, which I really adore. The ending of the book has the same impact that the first did, a concise moment capturing an adult realization against a childhood visual, which creates an effective stamp of an ending, something literature in general can struggle with. It’s hard to stick a landing.

What I do think though is, what does it say about me that the elements of a book dedicated to relationships and interaction which talk about the roots of how those relationships work is what I like the least? Part of me wants to admit some anti-snobbery brutalist attitude, but at the same time, I know that’s not entirely true. Part of me also wants to express it as some kind of denial thing, like I dislike the psychoanalysis because I need it or connect to it more than I care to. Again though, not something I think is actually true.

The older I’ve gotten, the less self-introspective I’ve gotten, feeling more and more self-aware of knowing who I am, what I am, and how my brain and psyche probably work. Yeah, part of it is because I’m a simple kind of person (read: boring), but part of it is also in growing more and more certain with my own sense of self. On the other hand, in the book, Bechdel isn’t sure of herself, of her own identity (constantly feeling a need to not only be there for other people but also to push herself to the limits in terms of self-introspection and self-harm, metaphorically through self-criticism).

I am aware though, that in the end this isn’t a book meant for me. I mean, it is, it’s out there, and it’s not like it’s labeled “NOT FOR COSTA FUCK THAT GUY” on the cover. However, I’m a heterosexual white male who has a set of alligator-luggage privilege for getting through life and for building my sense of self, nevermind a relationship with my family that’s drastically different with what Bechdel has/had with hers in her work. It’s inevitable that my own lens will be skewed when reading this work and when I strain to make a connection, because my brain, so used to automatically and easily finding connections to art, is floundering here, making me work for what few tenuous connections I can find.

Basically, in this book I see the shadow of who I was and who I could have been, rather than the kind of person I feel like am now. Now, at 33, I’m more confident in my self, in my role in the world, in my own power, and in my own voice, which makes me appreciate Bechdel’s work, but not connect with it. I connect with Fun Home because it’s about coming to terms with self, in the end, as opposed to Are You My Mother‘s battle between an evolving sense of self and how that strains the limits of a difficult relationship. It’s a relationship, and a book, that I’m going to come back to over and over, that I know, but it’ll probably be a slow-going process to fully be able to empathize with it, if I ever do. And I’m OK with that.

*)Cheap shot, I know.

Breaths

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Above is the desk, 2017.

Mostly paperwork, essays to read and grade, and my to-do list, but there’s usually project notebooks and whatever I’m reading or referencing. Actually, I think there’s a D&D handbook off-frame I was using as a reference for something Nightmare Party-related.

Oh, and of course the knife I keep around in the desk drawer for opening mail.

To get done;

  • THE SECRET PROJECT – Something I’ve been working on slowly. Involves working with other people. The script is haunting me, forever haunting me.
  • THE ACTUAL WORK – There’s a stack of essays to read and I’m working hard to stay on top of it all, better than previous semesters.
  • A FINAL SUBMISSION – The last of the batch of short stories and nonfiction essays I’ve been working on and shopping around, submitting since the end of last year.
  • CHAPTER 2 OF “PIONEERS” – I have…three pages of notes and haven’t even technically started yet. I should probably start.
  • THE THING ON THE THING – There’s a few blog posts to do, which I guess count as essays, with one in particular coming up next.

Alright, enough procrastinating.