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“I need you to bring back a body.”
Bone decided to drive off the end of the pier, but his foot had already slipped from the accelerator to the brake, a betrayal so automatic that the opportunity was missed before he could seize it.
Wind leaned against the hearse, rocking it on its springs as he sat and considered his orders. He considered corpses and the function of the vehicle he drove. He considered the drifting nature of his movements since the accident and slid out of the hearse before the spiral became inescapable, a long man wearing a black raincoat and fresh facial scars.
Dawn was a red rim of anger on the horizon as the storm gathered its strength and the wind tried to rip the door from his grip. Waves detonated against the rocks with loud explosions of white foam, the ocean matching the swirling fury of the storm clouds overhead.
“I need you to bring back a body.” Marching orders. He looked away from the hearse, remembering the last time he had seen such a car, freshly waxed and gleaming in the October sun. This one was dirt-streaked and hunched against November. He thought it more appropriate to its function. The Atlantic beckoned to him, and he touched the change in his pocket, thinking about coins for the ferryman.
“Some sonofabitch is standing out on North Pier,” old Vic said from the window inside the cramped Dock Office. His big-knuckled, arthritic hands were holding a bulky pair of binoculars he had owned since his time in Vietnam, and he adjusted the focus to see better.
“Yep,” the dock boss said from his perch at the rickety metal desk. The white paint was mostly gone and salt air had rusted the legs, but it held his ledger, dock schedule and overstuffed ticket book—he was a demon for writing tickets—and worked “well enough” as he liked to say about anything that didn’t need change. “Bastid asked to charter a boat out to the Isle.”
Vic turned away from the window with its view of fishing boats bobbing at anchor in the small bay. “Ain’t no one fool enough to run ‘im out there,” he said.
The dock boss leaned over and spit a mass of phlegm and tobacco juice into the Folger’s can he kept on the floor for just that purpose.
“Could be I mentioned that, and could be that’s why he’s standin’ over there on North Pier waitin’ on the Isle boat herself.”
Vic returned to looking out the window at the slim, black figure waiting alone. “Well I’ll be. Is that his hearse parked out there?”
The front door banged open just then and two fishermen bundled inside. “Gonna get big weather today,” a bearded fisherman in a thick sweater said as he headed over to the coffee pot and poured dubious-looking sludge into a Styrofoam cup.
“What you looking at?” the other newcomer asked, nicknamed Babyface for the obvious reason.
“Fella wants to charter a boat out to the Isle.”
Babyface and his partner exchanged looks.
“Isle folk are awfully jealous about their waters,” the bearded man said.
“Ain’t no one fool enough to run him out there,” Babyface said.
“If another body repeats that phrase, I believe I will shoot him,” the dock boss said, spitting a wad that rocked the Folger’s can. The bearded fisherman glanced in the can and gave the dock boss a nod of respect before taking a sip of coffee.
“Jesus Christ, this is awful,” he said, frowning at his cup.
“Second pot,” Vic said, and the other man nodded. The dock boss was in the habit of using coffee grounds at least twice to save money.
“Say,” Vic said as Babyface held out a hand for the binoculars. “What’d he want out there?”
The dock boss shrugged. “Didn’t rightly say, but he showed me a badge. A Federal badge no less.”
“FBI, DEA?” the bearded man asked as he put on a new pot of coffee. The dock boss ignored him.
“So you get a man with a Federal badge, which means he’s carryin’ a Federal gun, and he shows up drivin’ a hearse. Ain’t too hard to jump to a certain conclusion,” the dock boss said, not entirely sure what that conclusion was but enjoying the expressions on the faces of the two younger men.
“If Old Jenny gets her teeth into him, this Federal man might be finding himself in the back of that hearse on the return trip, badge or no badge,” Vic said.
“Yep,” the dock boss said.
“Yep,” the bearded man said.
Babyface surrendered the binoculars and echoed the common wisdom. Hell, everybody knew to avoid that stretch of the Atlantic. Boats that didn’t had a habit of not returning to port.
A mason jar
of blooming thistles
on the mantelpiece,
the same belligerent blossom
inked into my left forearm.
Nemo me inpune lacessit,
or, in Scots, Wha daur meddle
wi me? or, in hillbilly
Nobody fucks with me
and gets away with it.
Nearly every inch a thorn
or prick, guarding
that lavender bloom
soft as duckling feathers,
as a man’s glans, hair-
rimmed areola or musky
Scent of summer meadows,
of the sweaty hayfields,
a sword, born to shield
what is beloved, what is tender.
Stick your rules up your ass,
is its snarled language.
Don’t get too close.
I will live as I please.
I will grow where
it is isolate and free,
far from groomed lawns,
in the rebels’ lofty bastions,
in the outlaws’ waste places.
Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of essays, Edge and Binding the God; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; six novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, Salvation, Country, and Insatiable; and three volumes of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, Desire and Devour, and Consent. The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and two Pauline Réage Novel Awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech. His website is jeffmannauthor.com
Introduction • Steve Berman
The Tattered Boy • Lee Thomas
Yours is The Right to Begin • Livia Llewellyn
Self-Portrait as Jonathan Harker • Ed Madden
Seven Lovers and the Sea • Damon Shaw
The Calm of Despair • Jason Andrew
Bloofer Ladies • Elka Cloke
The Powers of Evil • William P. Coleman
My Arms Are Hungry • Traci Castleberry
Protect the King • Jeff Mann
Hungers • Rajan Khanna
The Letter that Doomed Nosferatu • Steve Berman
Ardor • Laird Barron
A Closer Walk with Thee • Sven Davisson
Unhallowed Ground • Seth Cadin
Bram Stoker was a fan of Walt Whitman. Does that seem odd? I am not suggesting that Stoker was himself attracted to other men. But his devotion cannot, should not, be ignored by critics:
“When he was twenty-two, Stoker read and fell in love with Walt Whitman’s poetry, finding solace and joy between the covers of Leaves of Grass. And, like many fans, he wanted the connection that he felt to Whitman to be real. Late one night, cloaked in the comfort of darkness, Stoker poured his soul out to Whitman in a shockingly honest letter that described himself and his disposition. That letter, when Stoker finally mustered the courage to mail it, would begin an unexpected literary friendship that lasted until Whitman’s death.”1
Stoker’s idolization of one of the most prominent and lasting homoerotic literary voices ever known did not begin with blind appreciation. Few copies of the unabridged Leaves were available to British readers. But Stoker’s earlier dismissal of Whitman’s verse gave way to insight and awareness of the poet’s talent. To a government clerk with a fondness for literature, Whitman was mythical, supernatural, otherworldly. And seductive in his power.
Perhaps his appreciation became a direct influence on Stoker’s desire to write (the short stories began in 1872). Whitman returned Stoker’s letters (as mentioned in With Walt Whitman in Camden) with encouragement. At this time Whitman was no longer the vibrant man of his poems. He was more akin to the earlier views of the Count: aged but possessing an unmistakable charisma that demanded attention. Whitman’s blatant homoerotic elements did not fare well with much of the establishment and certainly many reviewers.
Years later, Stoker, involved with his Lyceum tour in Philadelphia, did finally meet his idol in the flesh. Dennis R. Perry considered the link between Whitman and Stoker’s most well-known novel in a 1986 Virginia Quarterly Review article. Most convincing to gay readers of both authors are the scenes from “Song of Myself” which may have influenced Stoker’s image prey’s mouth to the vampire’s breast.
Did Stoker ever remark about Whitman being a “poof”? I have yet to read any disparaging remarks by him. I suspect his involvement in the theater inured him to homosexuality.
Stoker had a deep fondness for the romantic elements of Gothic literature. This part of his tastes may have made his fascination with both Whitman and Henry Irving, dramatic and imposing actor and manager of the Lyceum troupe, utterly natural. Dracula cannot be honestly termed the first homoerotic vampire; in the course of the novel, he never sinks his teeth into a male victim—but the reason for Suffered from the Night will soon be apparent after a brief discussion of more queer-themed undead.
Samuel Coleridge’s “Christabel” is regarded as the first vampire poem in English literature…and its Sapphic elements cannot be ignored. Its influence on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, one of the most well-known homoerotic vampire tales ever written, cannot be denied and the story has not diminished in its allure despite the passage of over a century.
The first gay-male-themed vampire to survive the passage of time would be found in The House of the Vampire, a novella published in America a decade after Dracula. George Sylvester Viereck is probably more known today for his Nazi sympathies and his 1952 memoir of prison life Men into Beasts (which some consider among the first examples of the “gay pulp” genre) than for the verse that made him famous in the first two decades of the twentieth century or, indeed, his vampire novella. The House of the Vampire’s fiend, Reginald Clarke, preys upon the psyche of young artist Ernest Fielding, who is no stranger to a Hellenistic bond with men. Consider this exchange:
The strange personality of the master of the house had enveloped the lad’s thoughts with an impenetrable maze. The day before Jack had come on a flying visit from Harvard, but even he was unable to free Ernest’s soul from the obsession of Reginald Clarke.
Ernest was lazily stretching himself on a couch, waving the smoke of his cigarette to Reginald, who was writing at his desk.
“Your friend Jack is delightful,” Reginald remarked, looking up from his papers. “And his ebon-coloured hair contrasts prettily with the gold in yours. I should imagine that you are temperamental antipodes.”
“So we are; but friendship bridges the chasm between.”
“How long have you known him?”
“We have been chums ever since our sophomore year.”
“What attracted you in him?”
“It is no simple matter to define exactly one’s likes and dislikes. Even a tiny protoplasmic animal appears to be highly complex under the microscope. How can we hope to analyse, with any degree of certitude, our souls, especially when, under the influence of feeling, we see as through a glass darkly.”
“It is true that personal feeling colours our spectacles and distorts the perspective. Still, we should not shrink from self-analysis. We must learn to see clearly into our own hearts if we would give vitality to our work. Indiscretion is the better part of literature, and it behooves us to hound down each delicate elusive shadow of emotion, and convert it into copy.”
“It is because I am so self-analytical that I realise the complexity of my nature, and am at a loss to define my emotions. Conflicting forces sway us hither and thither without neutralising each other. Physicology isn’t physics. There were many things to attract me to Jack. He was subtler, more sympathetic, more feminine, perhaps, than the rest of my college-mates.”
“That I have noticed. In fact, his lashes are those of a girl. You still care for him very much?”
“It isn’t a matter of caring. We are two beings that live one life.”
“A sort of psychic Siamese twins?”
“Almost. Why, the matter is very simple. Our hearts root in the same soil; the same books have nourished us, the same great winds have shaken our being, and the same sunshine called forth the beautiful blossom of friendship.”
Ahh, “Indiscretion is the better part of literature” could have been spoken by Oscar Wilde.
Dracula conquered where so many other vampires (Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, Southey’s Oneiza, or even the infamous penny-dreadful Varney) faltered. Perhaps because Stoker’s novel found an ideal zeitgeist in Victorian British xenophobia and fears of contagion brought by foreigners. Perhaps the medical elements introduced into a profoundly supernatural tale possessed the lure of sciencefiction to the turn-of-the-century reader. Perhaps the potency of the sexual imagery meant that none could resist the taboo images it brought to mind. And let us not forget that love so many of us feel when reading horror.
None of this has changed, even though some twenty-first century readers might be distressed by the epistolary style of the novel and those early elements of the vampire folklore that have been discarded from the canon by later films and fiction. Yet every day of the year some website is offering a daily excerpt from Stoker’s book. Dracula does not die easily.
Beyond Viereck’s Reginald Clarke, modern and contemporary authors have deepened the role of vampire in the queer bestiary. Ann Rice treats them with an almost religious awe. The lost Jeffrey N. McMahan still owes readers more stories, though it seems sadly unlikely we’ll see them. Jewelle Gomez ensures that ethnicity is not forgotten. The author formerly known as Poppy Z. Brite created one of the most vocal and youthful fan bases. Jeff Mann has never felt tied to the smooth androgyny of any bête noire.
But back to the vampire proclaimed king of his kind by the entertainment industry. Stoker’s novel has never been out of print, making it the second work of fiction to achieve this honor (the various permutations of the Bible being the first such work). More versions of Dracula have appeared in print, on the radio, on television programs and a commercials, and in cinematic and video releases than any other Western character, trailed only by that other Victorian creation, Sherlock Holmes (and how many times have these two figures meet on the page?). Dracula does not die easily.
So, after Lethe Press released an anthology queering Holmes (A Study in Lavender), I knew that we could not deny Dracula his due. I sought stories that would be interstitial, fill in the cracks in the original novel with gay themes. The sailors aboard the Demeter are no different than so many men who found comfort in the arms of each other. Mina and Lucy’s friendship on Stoker’s page is revealed to be more than sisterly. Not all the gypsies protecting the Count do so out of fealty; one among them succumbs to ardor. One or two authors went further, inspired by the effect Stoker’s work had on the oeuvre of horror that just so happens to feature gay characters.
But I have begged your patience for too long. Night has fallen—somewhere in the world. Don’t bother to bolt windows and doors or drape fragrant strands of garlic. If you are reading this anthology, your desire is to encounter nosferatu, the vampyre, Homo sanguinus. If you happen to get a paper cut while turning the page, do not forget to share the little crimson drops with someone who you cannot resist.
1 Meredith Hindley, Humanities, November/December 2012, Volume 33, Number 6
The symbol which has become known as the Sigil of Lucifer is from a cluster of symbols found in the Grimorium Verum (Latin for “Grimoire of Truth”) which are supposed to be used in the calling forth of “Lucifer” (literally “Light Bringer” in Latin,) the archetype of discovering hidden knowledge and approached as an entity in the context. This sigil is believed to have most likely derived from a magic square, the origins of which are now lost. Other than this, very little has been written describing the meaning of the various components of this Sigil. Here I will share the various insights that I have personally gained over the years through contemplation. You may have your own insights and you are encouraged to explore these symbols further on your own.
The Sigil of Lucifer includes two downward pointing triangles. There is a large one and also a smaller one formed in part by the X. The smaller one is a symbol of elemental Water – the realm of the emotions. In addition, it is a representation of the Subconscious Mind and a symbol of the Feminine polarity. This is appropriate because Lucifer is the Latin word for the planet Venus (named after the Roman goddess of the same name) in its aspect as the Morning Star. In every culture that I can think of, past and present, the planet Venus has been considered feminine. Also, in the Left Hand Path of Hindu Tantra (the origin of the term “Left Hand Path”) the divine feminine is heavily focused on. The term Left Hand Path itself is sometimes said to have originated from the Hindu Tantric custom of having the woman sit to the left of her male partner during their practices.
Based on the shape of the larger triangle it could easily be thought of as the bottom point of an inverted pentagram. The pentagram itself is also associated with the planet Venus. If we track the movement of Venus against the backdrop of stars, it traces a pentagram in the sky every forty years.
Of course a pentagram (inverted or otherwise) has five points and if this triangle is one of these, it would be the point related to the element of Spirit. In an inverted pentagram this Spirit is considered to be incarnate in Matter. It is my opinion that the term Quintessence is more accurate than Spirit. Quintessence is the Fifth Element. It comes into existence when the element of Earth is broken down into its component elements of Water, Fire and Air (sometimes called Salt, Sulphur and Mercury in the art and science of Alchemy), each of which is then separated, purified and recombined. In a sense we can say that Earth is the corrupt and mortal form whereas Quintessence is the perfected and immortal form. Therefore, this larger triangle represents the alchemical process of turning Earth into Quintessence. This process is called Apotheosis, or becoming divine. This is one of the primary goals on the Left Hand Path.
The letter “V” is at the bottom of the Lucifer sigil. There are many ways to interpret this element. Here are a few of the ideas that have come to me while contemplating it. V stands for Victory. Victory is any manner of achievement. Along with victory comes a well-deserved sense of Pride, one of the folkloric attributes of Lucifer. This needs to be distinguished from an overinflated sense of pride, which is simply delusion. A genuine sense of Pride is a result of achieving your goals. The V hand sign or “mudra” is made with the index and middle fingers extended and spread apart while the rest of the fingers are curled in. When displayed with the palm facing outward it represents both Victory and Peace. To reverse this and show the sign with the palm facing inwards is considered a vulgar sign and is used to insult another person.
In occult tradition, the V posture, standing with each arm up at a 60° angle is referred to as the Sign of Typhon.