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Inspirational Reads

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXXXIX

October 29, 2010

Salvete, amici!

For the past three Fridays, I've delved into some historical Halloween-related topics as they appeared in Roman myth and legend, starting with witches (strigae) and moving to ghosts (larvae and lemures) and ending with vampires (striges). As I alluded to last Friday, I was going to weave them together in some fashion; that was the story that I posted over the past four days.

And, wow, what a rush that was. I conceived of the story about two weeks ago and I quickly went through and plotted it out in that I saw the four breaks in the tale that I could make in order to post on four different days. I did, honestly, try to write some material ahead of time, but I still ended up starting the fourth part of the story on Wednesday night and writing furiously throughout the evening in order to get it finished in time for Thursday morning.

The titles of the chapters were all in Latin and I tried for obvious words that I've already used here in various translations over the past 88 lessons (damn, really?). Anyway, they were victoria (victory), senex (the old man), striga (witch) and veniunt (they come, they do come, they are coming).

Again, thanks much for the compliments; if my ego could swell any further, I promise you it would.

I thought I would go through and cap off the theme here in October with as quick a post as I can muster (research has already been done, largely) before I crawl exhaustedly into bed and prod and fondle my wife's backside fall into a blissful, accomplished sleep.

Dacia was, by and large, in the area where modern-day Romania is located. Some of it overlapped our modern borders into Serbia and Slovakia, but it was mostly in Romania. Dacia itself had long been a coveted piece of land by the Romans, dating back to the time of Julius Caesar. He, however, could not finish the conquest of the Dacians, and so the kingdom remained free and independent for the next two hundred years or so.

The Emperor Domitian tried to conquer Dacia, but failed miserably, and ended up signing a treaty with the Dacians--led by a man named Decebalus--which pretty much made Rome look like a bunch of pansies. The Romans paid reparations to the Dacians, and then also sent military leaders, teachers and slaves into Dacia to teach the Dacian army tactics, teach the Dacian nobility the knowledge garnered in the empire, and to work for the Dacian ruling class. None of this sat well with the Romans.

Domitian eventually died and was replaced by a man named Nerva, who was even less liked than Domitian, especially by the army. Fearing a revolt, Nerva quickly named a young military commander named Traianus as his adoptive successor. Trajan, as we know him, was wildly popular with the military units, and when Nerva stepped aside, Trajan took his place without bloodshed.

He immediately wiped his ass with Domitian's treaty and sent soldiers into Dacia. Around 100 AD, the first forays into Dacian territory were made and by 106 Decebalus was dead (by his own sword), the capital city of Sarmizegetsua was razed, and Dacia was Roman. Colonists moved in, Latin spread throughout the region and Dacia was thoroughly integrated into the Empire. This held up for about 150 years, but then the Huns and the Visigoths began "pressing their influence in the region" and Roman influence in Dacia was lost.

The main reason for Rome's desire to conquer Dacia--aside from pride--was that Dacia held rich mines of gold, silver and salt. These were especially plentiful in a region we today call Transylvania. Transylvania, of course, is a Latin term meaning "on the other side of the forest" and was first named Ultra-sylvanam...which essentially means the same thing. Trans- is just a little nicer looking.

Transylvania, of course, was the home to one Vlad Dracul, who was a Wallachian Prince hellbent on exacting revenge upon those who had murdered his father. Vlad started out as a puppet ruler used to keep the Magyars away from the Ottoman Empire, but soon Vlad was a bit out of control, impaling anyone and everyone who crossed him. Vlad's last name is derived from the Latin word for dragon, draco, but in Slavic languages it means "Devil". His title "Tepes" (pronounced, if I remember correctly, "Seppesh" of my best friends in high school was the son of the leading Western scholar on Romanian history...not that I'm bragging or anything) means "impaler prince".

Vlad Dracul was the model (allegedly) for Bram Stoker's Dracula, and ever since then Transylvania has been connected with the sinister, the dark and creepy, and especially vampire lore.

But, it's Halloween weekend, and I'm sure there's parties to be attended and costumes to be...admired. Yes, we'll go with that. Here's something that might be useful if you come across a particularly...interesting...outfit.

Totum dependeat!

Pronounced: "Toh-toom day-pen-day-aht!"

Dangly translation in the hovertext!

However, if you're given the correct opportunity this weekend, seize it! Seize it immediately! Seize it, and use this slightly different take on an old classic:

Vidi, vici, veni!

Pronounced: "Wee-dee, wee-kee, way-nee!"

It's good to be the king...

One final little note: This has to do with Roman names. Typically, Romans had three names: the praenomen, the nomen and the cognomen. Your praenomen was the name your parents gave you when you came down the chute. Your nomen was the name of your family or clan. The cognomen was a bit like a nickname, usually something that described a trait of yours. If you were really special, you would pick up extra cognomina; Trajan had two. Most of the time, we refer to historic Romans by their cognomina, e.g. Caesar, Augustus, Trajan.

The narrator and main character of my story's name was Gaius Flavius Licinus. Gaius was a very popular praenomen in Roman times; Caesar's praenomen was Gaius (pronounced "Guy-us"). Flavius was a historic nomen whose meaning was "blond", and Licinus is a cognomen meaning "spiky haired". I liked how the names flowed together, and I certainly don't know of any spiky-haired blond guys famous for carrying swords. If you do, feel free to clue me in...

Have a good weekend, my friends, and a Happy Halloween!

Pro Glōriā Rōmae: Veniunt

October 28, 2010

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

4. Veniunt

At the forest's edge, I looked back at the massacre upon the hill. The creatures--spirits, shades...whatever they were--had finished their grisly task and had been alerted to our flight. However, the witch's spell must not have extended beyond the trees. As I stood, watching, I drew my blade to try and frighten back the black shapes. I backed slowly under the shaded edges of the trees, holding the iron blade of my sword aloft, hoping that it would hold back the demons that chased us.

To my surprise, the spirits simply dissipated as they reached the edge of the trees. Like smoke wafting away from a campfire, the dark shapes broke apart and drifted upon the breeze. The entirety of the mass of dark shadows came hurtling toward the edge of the forest, but each fell into wispy vapors and passed away on the wind, their howls hanging in the air like the glare of the sun one sees after he stares into the sky and then closes his eyes.

Eventually, the world grew silent once more. My fellows had fled deeper into the forest, seeking the shelter promised by the trees. Transfixed, I watched the end of the battle that had raged atop the hill. Now, I stood alone.

Across the meadow, still standing in the middle of the road, the woman remained. Her eyes were no longer trained on the hilltop where the army--my army--had attempted to build their fortifications. Now, she looked at the place where my companions and I had disappeared into the trees; truth be told, though I was hidden beneath the shadows of the canopy above, I knew she was staring directly at me.

Without another word, she let her staff fall to the ground. It fell, the impact silenced by the distance. Raising her arms, the voluminous sleeves of her cloak flapped in the gentle breeze so that she looked like some tall, upright winged creature. I gasped as I watched her torso shift and change. Her form shrieked an otherworldly sound and the cloak was lifted by the wind and carried away. Where she had stood for so long, silent and still, she was now transformed into something that was a mixture of a woman and a large, black bird.

Again, the creature shrieked, and, flapping ebony wings, she flew directly toward the forest.

At last, I turned. I carried my sword clenched tightly in my fist as I stumbled and staggered across the leafy ground, the unseen fingers of low branches clawing at my face and upper torso as I fled into the depths of the woods. Roots, hidden by both the deepening shadows of the evening and the thick layer of leaves on the forest floor, conspired to trip me as the branches above raked at me. Somewhere above the canopy of the forest, I sensed more than anything the flapping of massive black wings, as if some enormous bird of prey was circling overhead preparing to swoop down and pluck me from the forest floor. Above all, I heard the screeching of that foul beast from hell, and it spurred me forward.

I do not know how long I ran, nor in what direction. I simply fled. I felt my life depended upon it. It might very well have depended on it.

Eventually--I do not know when--the shrieking stopped. I did not sense the massive wings flapping; I did not feel as if I was being hunted. Exhausted, I tried to push myself forward. I succeeded in taking a few more staggering steps before another hidden root wrapped itself around my boot and I pitched forward. My sword was jarred from my hand and spun into the leaf litter somewhere ahead of me. Face first, I collapsed onto the side of a knoll, gasping for breath, tears leaking unbidden from my eyes. I could taste the loam and the rot of the forest floor and the thick leaf litter into which I had tumbled, but I did not care. I only wanted to rest a moment before fleeing once again. I would run all the way back to civilization if I had to. I only wanted to be away from this godless land.

"Licinus?" a voice asked, timid in the darkness. For a second, I thought I had imagined it, until it called once more, a bit more assertive this time.

"Lupercus?" I asked, barely recognizing the dark mass that huddled next to a tree ahead of me.

"It is I, Lupercus," he stated. "The others are with me, as well." He stepped forward and his features resolved themselves slightly from the shadow.

I pulled back, reviled and terrorized, rolling onto my back and pushing at the soft, moist soil with the heels of my boots. For the briefest of moments, I thought that it was another creature. After allowing my head to clear, I recognized Lupercus, though his face was scratched and a bloody trail, now dried, marked his forehead, down his temple, and around his eye.

"Sorry, old friend," I apologized as he helped me to my feet, "I have seen more this day than most men see in their lives. I am a bit on edge."

Lupercus nodded silently and then bid me to follow. We stomped through the leaves and wove our way between the low branches until we came upon the other three squatting around a small clearing in the forest. Above, a circle of ruddy, gray-streaked clouds could be seen between the tops of the surrounding trees. Nothing moved, except for the clouds scudding by. The heavens grew darker as the hidden sun disappeared and night continued to fall.

None of us spoke; the others simply looked up when Lupercus and I joined them in the clearing. I knelt down next to the bough of a great oak and allowed myself to sink back against it. The bark was rough, the tree hard, but I relaxed into it. Lupercus suddenly loomed over me.

"Your sword, commander," he said. Without another word, he offered me the hilt of the weapon.

I accepted it from him, gratefully, and laid it across my lap. The iron of the blade glinted, despite the low light. I thought of the lives that I could have saved with it--the lives that I could have saved--and suddenly all the emotions that I had endured over the previous few hours welled within me and washed me away.

I felt tears upon my cheeks and I sobbed gently. As I wept, I heard the other men, as well, releasing their emotions. Glad that the darkness hid my shame, I buried my face in my hands and allowed the emotions carry me with them until darkness and sleep took me.

I woke several hours later. The darkness of the night was complete, though the clouds were beginning to break overhead. I heard something and sensed movement in the darkness. My eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and what I saw caused my heart to leap into my chest.

A great, shadowy creature loomed before me, different from the creatures that had attacked on the hilltop. This one was more substantial, more real. It's face--what I could see of it--was pale and sleek not disfigured as the other monsters had been on the hillside.

It was aware of me watching it, and as I began to sit up, it turned, dropping something into the leaf litter below. My eyes looked at the thing it had dropped and I gasped as the lifeless eyes of Hilarius looked back at me.

Hilarius' face was completely white, as if the blood had drained from it. His mouth opened slackly, and I noticed a splash of blood at his throat. Terrified, I looked up at the monster which stood over him, looming even larger, more menacingly now. It made a sound that was a mixture of hissing and growling, and it flashed blood-stained white teeth as it opened its twisted maw.

The creature lunged toward me, apparently unsatisfied with having feasted upon Hilarius. My fingers groped in the darkness for any sort of weapon to use to fend it off when they found the hilt of the sword that Lupercus had returned to me earlier in the day. I held the blade forward, the tip pointed at the creature's foul heart...though I do not know whether it had a heart or not.

The monster stopped and stared at me with soulless, yellow eyes and half-snarled, half-hissed once more. It held its arms aloft, much like the woman had done earlier in the day, and swept itself away in a flurry of shadow. I looked at the space where it had been moments before, but it was gone. There was no sign it had ever been there. It was as if it had not even disturbed the leaves and litter on the forest floor, either coming to the camp or slipping away.

With the creature gone, I rediscovered my courage. I moved over to where Hilarius lay--or, more aptly--where Hilarius' body was left. I touched the mass on his neck and felt the sticky circle of blood that the creature left. Hilarius was not breathing; there was no pulse beneath my touch.

I hurried to the positions of the other three men in our crude camp, rousing them from where they slept. None of the others had seen the creature, but when I showed them the wounds on Hilarius' neck and the blood, they nodded.

"We should leave," I instructed. "There is nothing else we can do for Hilarius now. I fear that the creature might return."

Lupercus nodded, but Agorix protested. "Where are we to go?" he pressed.

"We need to make our way back to the civilized world," I instructed, "We need to warn the others of the evil that is in this land." I looked to the trees, at the surrounding shadow. "I do not know if even Traianus can tame this land," I admitted. Suddenly realizing what I had said, I looked at the others. Instead of outrage, I saw sage nods of agreement.

"Let us be gone," I said, "and may the gods protect Hilarius now."

We trooped off through the forest, picking our way carefully through the night.
That was three nights ago.

We wandered, lost, through the labyrinth of trees. We would rest when possible during the day, sleeping fitfully in turns. We tried to find sustenance in the forest, and there were some fresh shoots and plants that we were able to eat. The first day, Lupercus killed a squirrel and we roasted it over a low fire. We cut the beast into quarters and devoured it. After that, game was difficult to find.
At night, we would watch the shadows carefully. Again, we would draw lots for guard duty while the others slept shallowly and without dreams. Those who remained awake would watch for any other demon of the forest and raise the alarm if something moved from out of the shadows.

It did no good.

The creature returned that night and claimed Herculius while he was on guard duty with Lupercus. Lupercus raised a cry, but it was too late. The beast already had sunk its fangs into Herculius' neck, and I awoke just in time to watch the last vestiges of life flicker in his eyes and go out.

I have seen many men die in my lifetime; watching Herculius' death will remain with me until my final days.

We fled again, pressing south, away from the monster, away from the carnage on the hilltop, away from the witch woman. Again, that night, we waited, watching for the creature. Again, it came, silent and lethal. Agorix was the victim this time. The creature swept in from the shadows, grabbed Agorix by the throat, and flung him into the darkness. We heard a small struggle, and then there was silence.

Lupercus turned to me.

"It is toying with us," he said. I agreed. I felt powerless, however.

"We need to get away," I returned. It was all I could offer. Lupercus nodded, and we were off once more.

Through the day and into the night we hurried away, though we could now feel the eyes of the creature upon us. As the gloaming began to fall across the forest, a sense of helplessness set in. Together, we found the sturdiest oak tree we could find and made our meager camp near it.

"I will take the first watch," Lupercus offered, "though I am exhausted."

"No, my friend," I offered, but Lupercus held up a silencing hand.

"If I am to die this day, I will do it on my feet," he responded. Nodding, I unsheathed my sword and handed the hilt to him.

"Take this, then," I instructed. "They fear the iron." Lupercus nodded, and I sat at the base of the tree, shaking, though the air was warm and I was covered in sweat. I leaned my head back against the rough bark of the tree's trunk and waited. I would watch, too.

But, my eyes drifted shut.

I was awakened by the clatter of my sword hitting the ground. I turned and found Lupercus in its grip, his eyes already dim and dead, blood dribbling from the creature's mouth.

"Monster!" I screamed, grabbing my sword and swinging it at the creature that held my the lifeless form of my friend in its grip. The monster retreated, and I continued swinging my blade at it in a frenzied, desperate attempt to injure it. When the monster had moved beyond the length of my wild swinging, it swept itself into the shadows once more.

With tears on my cheeks, I shouted wordless challenges into the depths of the forest. My voice echoed throughout the tree-lined hills. No sound returned, but I could feel the darkness gathering around me. My turn was next.

I fled. It was all I could do. I was not proud. I was angered to leave my friend there. I knew, though, that I had to get back to civilization. So, I ran.

Throughout the night, I staggered between the trees, shouting as my anger and frustration overwhelmed me time and again. As the dawn broke over the land, I collapsed into a heap and slept where I fell. Finally, sometime around midday, I awoke once more and pressed on. I knew the creatures of the darkness could not follow me as easily during the daylight.

However, the sun inexorably moved toward the western horizon, and I knew my time was limited. This time, however, I grabbed as many stout branches as I could find. I sat beneath the spreading canopy of another oak and sharpened the sticks into stakes. When the light of the day failed me, I pressed my back against a tree and shouted my defiance once more toward the forest. This time, a sort of malicious sentience pressed back. It was silent, but it was an acknowledgment of my challenge, and a willingness to take it up.

My name is Gaius Flavius Licinus. I am a Legate in the glorious army of Rome, serving under the command of the wise and just Emperor Traianus. If you are reading this, then I am most likely already dead. I have written these words as a warning to those who would follow. This is a diseased land, a cursed land. It cries out for the civilizing hand of Rome, and yet I do not know if Rome can civilize it.

With my back pressed to the sturdy trunk of a tree, I await my enemies. I know they lurk in the shadows; I know that they want me dead. I will fight them to the death. I will fight them to honor my fallen comrades. I will fight them to honor my fallen men. I will fight them for the glory of Rome.


They are coming, and I am ready for them.

Pro Glōriā Rōmae: Striga

October 27, 2010

Chapter 1
Chapter 2

3. Striga

"Who?" I asked, "Who is coming?"

The old man would not respond with any further detail. He simply kept babbling on about some nameless group identified only with the vague "they". Frustrated with the one-eyed bastard, I turned and gazed out over the flat ground stretching between the hill and the road where the woman stood. She gazed back at our position. She made no move but stood, watching. For a long period, she simply gazed at the hilltop where the army was garrisoned behind the fortifications that we had thus far erected.

Her face was hidden by the distance and the deepening shadows of the evening, but I could see that she wore voluminous robes. A hood was pulled over her head, hiding what appeared to be dark hair and hiding her features further. Her gown was a plain, black homespun fabric bearing no marking or decoration. She carried nothing but a long, gnarled staff, though unlike the old man, I did not think that she needed it to move from one place to another.

I suddenly got the feeling that her arrival and the old man's babbling about some unknown, unnamed "they" were related. Turning, I meant to press the old man further about the identity he cunningly avoided as well as the identity of the woman on the road in front of the fortified hilltop.

The old man was not there.

"Where did he go?" I asked the two men who were supposed to guard him.
Neither of the men could answer; both of them looked about as if they could simply summon him into being with their gaze. However, no sign that the old man had been sitting by the fire moments earlier could be found. The only markings indicating that he had been there was a word scratched in the hard-packed earth near the fire's side: "Striga"

I swore lightly under my breath.

"Find him," I ordered the men. I turned to one of my commanders, Lupercus, the man who had slit the Dacian scout's throat.

"Ready the men. I do not like the feel of the air. Something is amiss." I cast my eyes to where the riderless horses were being brought through the front fortifications to a paddock that had been built inside the perimeter of the palisade, though neither palisade nor paddock had been yet completed. "An ill omen, the return of those horses without their riders."

Lupercus, ever faithful, nodded curtly without a word, but turned and began organizing men to defend the hilltop. Fires were blazing to life around the inside of the walls and torches were being lit atop them. The gloom of the approaching storm and the lowering of the hidden sun were enough to cast a late day shadow across the land. I returned to the point where I could hold my vigil on the woman.

She remained on the road, watching the fortification, her eyes hidden within the gloom of her hood and the deepening shadows of the afternoon. Behind me, I could hear the men preparing for battle. My commanders were trooping up and down the lines, barking orders, arranging the men in a manner most defensible.

Without warning, the woman raised her arms, slowly, until they were held above her head. The staff that she carried was held aloft, the head of the staff above her own head. Hushed conversations could be heard behind me as the men discussed what it was that the woman was doing. I motioned them to silence with a brief wave of my hand, but it was to little avail. The men still spoke in whispers back and forth, trying to discern what it was that the woman was doing.

The wind suddenly changed directions and carried with it brief snippets of a high, lilting voice chanting in a lyrical fashion. Any words--any pieces of words--were lost in the gusts and the distance, and I did not recognize anything that the woman was chanting. My heart pounded within my chest and I found it difficult to swallow; it was almost as if my body involuntarily tensed, preparing itself for battle.

Suddenly, she swung the staff down, the butt of the stick striking the ground and sending gouts of blue lightning in all directions. The flash was brief, but intense. After the suddenly flurry of activity, she remained motionless, her gaze still fixed on the fortified hilltop.

"We've been cursed," Lupercus offered, the words barely audible.

"Superstition," I said, halfheartedly, yet with an edge of annoyance. "The men don't need to be any further on edge. Hold your tongue until--"

From the south, there suddenly came the long, moaning sound of an immense warhorn sounding from behind the black canopy of the trees. All heads turned as one to face the forest, and half the men raised their shields as if preparing for an incoming salvo of arrows. Many of the men began waving their fingers in the air, trying to ward off hexes and curses. The woman remained on the road, always watching.

"See what you've done," I said to Lupercus. I was prepared to upbraid him further when someone shouted. It was a warning, almost wordless, and yet it was enough to draw everyone's attention toward the forest's edge.

"The forest is coming toward us!" someone else screamed. I watched as a line of dark shapes moved forward from the tree line. Rank upon rank moved, slowly but surely, away from the sheltering edges of the woods and toward the woman who stood before us. She was alone no more.

The shadows resolved themselves into shapes that were vaguely human. From the distance, it was difficult to discern their features, but they had the look of fighting men. At least, it appeared that they wore some sort of battle dress. Hundreds and hundreds of these things moved from the forest's edge, transforming themselves from amorphous shadows into the shades of dead men, spirits of ancient battles.

"Striga," I said softly, looking upon the woman who had come to stand before the hill and to summon forth this host from beyond the grave.

"Prepare for battle!" I roared, reaching to find my own weapons and shield. "To arms, men. The enemy is upon us!"

"What of the old man?" someone questioned, and I realized that I had completely forgotten about the guest-turned-prisoner who had given the warning that this woman was a harbinger of something far worse than what we had faced in the forest a few days earlier.

"Forget him!" I shouted, "The real enemy is before us! To arms! Prepare the lines! To arms!"

The orders were echoed up and down the lines. As I strapped a helmet on my head, I returned my gaze to the road before the hillside. There, hundreds of dark creatures had amassed around the woman; more continued streaming from the forest. Even if it was possible to tell where one beast ended and another began, I could not have begun to count how many of the dark forms stood before us. My heart pounded within my chest.

The woman raised her staff once more--a shining beacon of humanity amidst the shadowy horde of death surrounding her--and allowed it to crack loudly upon the road's surface. If more pyrotechnics flew from the end of the staff, I could not see them. With an otherworldly howling, the host began to move forward, their progress toward the hillside as slow and inexorable as their movement from the forest's edge.

"Prepare yourselves!" I shouted, hoping to lend the men at least a bit of courage that I, myself, suddenly was lacking. "Remember men! You are Rome's finest warriors! Nothing can stand in our way." I wish that I could have believed my own words.

Without any other warning, the host suddenly broke and began flying toward the hilltop fortifications. The creatures loped easily up the side of the hill. I drew my blade, holding it aloft to signal the men to charge, but it was almost too late. The shadowy host hit us, and wherever they went, death was quick to follow.

As they poured onto the top of the hill and around what meager fortifications we had been able to erect in the weeks we had been here, I was able to get a good look at the enemy. They were hideous. I wish I could summon words that could describe them, but they fail me, even now. What I once thought were the spirits of dead men I swiftly learned were twisted, grotesque abominations that may have, at one point, been somewhat human in shape. That, however, was where the similarities ended.

They had huge, misshapen, foul faces from which sprouted horns and knobs and antlers and any other variance of protuberance. Some had huge tusks, like boars; others simply had dagger-like teeth. Their bodies were as misshapen as their faces, but they moved at such a speed that it was difficult to tell if they all had similar bodies or not. They seemed to flow from one place to another, as if they were crafted of something that wasn't quite solid, but not yet liquid either.

Of all their features, however, it was their eyes that were the most haunting, the most frightening. Big and orb-like, they seemed to glow with an internal, ghastly light. As they would attack, they would blink, slowly and surely, and the eyes would disappear for a moment so that something of pure shadow, something crafted of pure hatred and evil, as upon you and then it was gone. Their eyes would open again, glowing afresh, and they would move on to their next target.

Worst of all, however, was how ineffective our weapons were against the putrid beasts. Our spears and javelins simply passed through them. The shields did nothing to hold them at bay. Not even the armor donned by the infantry was of any service. Within seconds, hundreds of men were dead upon the ground, they bodies rent open in innumerable, ghastly fashion. Most of them died with their features frozen in the shapes of permanent, silent screams.

As one creature came toward me, I did what I could and swung my sword at it, cleaving a large gap across its chest. Another fell victim to my blade as I fended off a sweep of a mighty arm ending in a handful of dagger-like claws. I held the sword before me, and the creatures actually shied away from it.

"Iron!" I screamed. The cold, blue blade before me was the only thing that the creatures feared. "Iron!" I yelled to the men behind me. "Use your blades! They fear iron!"

It was, I must say, too little, too late. By the time my warning was passed along the lines, we were overwhelmed. Half of the army was dead or dying. The lines were broken and men were breaking into small bands trying to fend off the enemy, or to fall to their knees and pray for a leniency that the creatures did not know.

"Licinus!" a voice called to me. It was Lupercus. In his wake, Agorix and Hilarius and another man, Herculius, trailed. "Licinus, the day is lost! We must flee or else be slaughtered like sheep!"

I simply nodded, looking upon the rout as it unfolded before me. "We must sound a retreat!"

"There is no time!" It was Agorix who spoke this time. "When the men see you fleeing, they will know not to stand and fight any longer."

Again, I nodded. While I held my blade, the creatures seemed to melt away, holding back to avoid the deadly touch of the cold, blue steel.

"Let us be gone!" I offered, though it shamed me.

"But where?"

I turned and looked to the one place that I dreaded going more than anywhere else.

"The trees will slow them. We can gather there, hide until her summoned demons have gone, and regroup." I looked to the other four men, hoping that they had a better solution.

Lupercus nodded. "Lead the way," he said, "and I will follow."

I nodded in return, and without a further word, I bolted. I wished that I had readied a horse, but there was no time now. I could hear the screams of the steeds in their paddock being slaughtered as quickly and efficiently as had my men. I dared not look back as I ran.

I could hear the unearthly howls of the creatures as they realized that we fled and the screams that they offered as they gave chase. Still, I did not dare look back. The sounds of their pursuit was enough to spur me forward, though fear tried to force me to turn from the forest's edge.

Above all, however, I heard a soft, lilting, lyrical laughter chasing us to the forest's edge and beyond.

Pro Glōriā Rōmae: Senex

October 26, 2010

Chapter 1

2. Senex

The following morning, we broke the camp and marched away from the site of the battle. The scouts had reported a wider, more open hilltop that we might use to build a camp and from which we could scout and easily defend the country for miles around. I immediately wanted to claim the place in the name of Rome and the wise and just Emperor Traianus.

The hill that the scouts found was outside of the forest. Wide and with a flat top, it overlooked a broad valley. The brown ribbon of a road ran through the valley's floor, and the vantage from the top of the hill allowed one to view the entirety of the road from where it emerged from the forest's dark edge until it curved out of sight several leagues to the north and west. In the distance, the dark, implacable faces of the mountains overlooked the entire valley like stoic, ancient gods watching the course of history pass before them.

We immediately established a camp upon the crown of the hill. As soon as camp had been established, we began to build fortifications upon the top of the hill. In addition to drawing out the attackers from the Dacian cities, we were to help establish supply lines for the assault on the capital and feeder cities by the larger force that the Emperor Traianus would be dispatching across the Danubius soon.

The men, well-trained and disciplined, immediately began breaking into companies. Some of the men dug ditches, both for defense and for foundations for a palisade that would help secure the camp and the top of the hill. Others moved down the road and into the forest where they began felling trees. Others were preparing the lumber that had been harvested and still others were firing it and moving it into position. By evening, the beginning of a crude fortification had been erected.

In the morning, I dispatched scouts to explore the wider valley. I sent a handful of messengers back to where we had crossed the Danubius to give word of our victory and to send the news that we would be securing the valley and preparing the course for the supply lines for the army. I requested another small force be dispatched to help secure the route we had already crossed so that the Dacians could not move in behind us and sever our ties with the civilized world.

I also dispatched small infantry units to ensure the security of the valley. We had not killed all of the Dacians that had attacked us two days earlier, and if they regrouped they could perhaps muster an attack against our position before we were completely fortified.

Occasionally, merchants would be seen on the roads. We would stop them, searching their wagons to ensure that they were not harboring soldiers. If they were compliant, if they did not argue or try to hinder us, we would let them go. Most of them were poor farmers moving some shriveled vegetables or fruits to some unknown market in a nearby village that we had not come across in our explorations.

However, if they argued with was the final thing they ever did.

More rare than the merchants were the riders that would sometimes try to gallop past our position. Those who were not cut down with arrows were ridden down. If they fought, they were killed, but those who were subdued were brought back to the camp as prisoners. As we were not a large force, the prisoners would be questioned and then put to death, far away from the camp so that their shades would not cling to the area and haunt us.

From time to time, the infantry units or the scouts would come across small bands of soldiers that they would battle. Any surviving enemy units were captured and brought back to the camp where they were questioned and dispatched in the same way as the riders.

Every day our soldiers would range further afield from our position, scouting and mapping the area. Every day they would return with more reports of soldiers being seen further away from our encampment, but there were no details of major army units in the area. We had taken and secured the area; it was as good as Roman.

Nearly two weeks after we had claimed the hilltop and had captured the valley and secured it, a most curious thing occurred. The morning was clear and bright. I was standing atop the hill, surveying the land around and the work that had been completed on the fortifications. Everything seemed to be progressing easily and well: two wide ditches had been dug around the base of the hill to slow attacking enemies, the walls were slowly but surely being built, and the hillside itself was being staked. The archers were restocking their supply of arrows that had been spent during the battle within the woods.

That is when I spied a single figure upon the road emerging from the woods and slowly, yet surely, moving toward us. I sent three men on horseback and, within seconds, they had surrounded the figure. It seemed that they spoke briefly before turning and returning to the hill. The figure walked, albeit slowly, amongst the soldiers. They picked their way up the hillside, and I could see that the figure was a man.

As he approached, I saw that he was old. Perhaps old does not describe him. He looked as ancient as the hills that surrounded us. Snowy white hair hung around his shoulders, emerging from beneath the brim of a wide, black hat. Above his mouth was an equally wispy, equally white moustache. He walked with a slight stoop and an even slighter limp, balancing himself on a long, gnarled staff. When he smiled--which was often, as he wore a simple sort of grin on his face at all times--he revealed that he had few teeth, and those that he did have were broken and discolored. A terrible odor poured from his mouth as he neared, and it was all I could not to rear back and away from him.

More disconcerting, however, were his eyes. One of them--his right one--was milky and useless, cataracted over with an opaque covering so that iris looked little different from the rest of his eye. His left one, however, was clear and piercingly blue, the color of the sky on a cold winter's day. There was a deep, almost unsettling sentience about it that did not quit align itself with the vapid grin writ upon the man's face nor on the stooped, halting manner in which he walked and carried himself. I did not trust him for a moment, and yet, I could not bring myself to order the man's execution.

He babbled in the incomprehensible manner of barbarians, with speech that was rough and grating on the ears. I disliked it immediately upon hearing it and asked him--time and again--if he spoke a more civilized language, like Greek or Latin or, if nothing else, something that resembled the sputterings of the Germanic tribes I had faced while serving with the wise and just Traianus.

The old man offered a wide smile and then began speaking in something that resembled a crude, provincial form of Latin. He told to us that he was a journeyman, wandering from town to town in the region. He was able to describe the area around the camp in generalities rather than specifics. Though it was not valuable information from a military standpoint, it was still information that could be useful. For that reason, along with the fact that I pitied this half-blind, stooped creature well into its dotage, I allowed him to live and accepted him as, officially, a guest within the camp. In truth, I assigned two guards to him at all times, ready to slit his throat if he showed even a hint of malice or subordination.

In the evenings, before I returned to my quarters to sleep, I would sit at the fire with some of the commanders of my army. They would report on what they had found in their forays into the countryside that day--any enemy soldiers seen, any skirmishes fought, any people moving along any of the roads in the area. When my men were done, the old man--I never learned his name--would babble on, talking of local legends and stories. He would reveal more of the countryside in his simple, vulgar manner, and I often found his stories, if not captivating, at least mildly interesting. The entertainment value alone was worth what we paid him in food and shelter.

Despite the fact that I tried to speak a more true, more noble version of our native language, the old man would still click his tongue in the roof of his mouth and rock back and forth, his good eye closed, when reports of fighting came in through the patrols. I would watch the old man and he would fix me first with his senile smile followed by the piercing iciness of his blue eye. While his smile grew wider as I watched him, the joy never crept into his stare. I began to think that the man knew more than he was showing. Still, I did not have the heart to kill such a pitiful creature.

Three days after the old man was captured, I dispatched a group of scouts to the south. They were instructed to ride through the forest we had just marched through weeks earlier. None of the messengers I had dispatched back to Roman lands had returned, and I wanted to know what had happened to them and if we could be expecting reinforcements.

The day had started out well enough. The morning temperatures were cool but not cold, the skies were clear and blue. The sun shone brilliantly down upon the valley. To the west, the dark mountains continued to sit, dark and brooding, upon the horizon. On our right, the southern forest was dark and foreboding, a massive green-black sea stretching out to some indeterminate ending. The horsemen rode into the tree line; I watched as they disappeared into the forest and went back to attending to our daily tasks.

After the sun came to its zenith, low clouds scudded in from the south. They were flat and whitish gray and promised a change in the weather. I felt my mouth curl into a sneer as I watched them moving in. Most likely, it would rain during the night. Almost as if the thought summoned it, a chill began to descend in the air.

The old man sat by the fire and chuckled.

As the clouds formed into a more solid bank and overtook most of the sky, six horses suddenly appeared at the edge of the forest and walked, riderless, toward the encampment. Recognizing the beasts, I sent men to gather them. I stood and watched as they corralled the listless creatures and brought them back toward the camp. There was not a sign of the riders who had departed on the backs of those steeds.

The old man continued to chuckle, mostly to himself, as he sat by the fire. The vapid grin on his face suddenly looked less simple and more demonic.

I had turned to question why the old man was laughing when someone raised a cry of warning in the camp. I turned to see a woman on the road, alone. She emerged from the edge of the forest, which now looked dark and menacing--more menacing than earlier when the sun's light was fully upon it.

The old man laughed now. Instead of a dull, drumming chuckle, he laughed with a throaty cackle. The smile on his face, combined with his cold, glaring left eye seemed far more menacing.

"What?" I asked, ready to strike this vile creature down. "What is it that makes you laugh so, old man?"

"Veniunt," he said, his mouth open wide as he did so. "Veniunt, young soldier. They are coming."

Pro Glōriā Rōmae: Victoria

October 25, 2010

I Victoria

My name is Gaius Flavius Licinus. I am a Legate in the glorious army of Rome, serving under the command of the wise and just Emperor Traianus, Defender of the Rhinelands and Scourge of Antonius Saturninus. May he be luckier than Augustus and mightier than Caesar.

It is 854 ab urbe condita, and I am leading an expeditionary force across the Danubius river into the western portions of the Kingdom of Dacia. Our mission is a simple one: draw the Dacians away from their larger cities to enable a larger force to besiege and capture the capital. It is a good plan, a solid plan. I served with Emperor Traianus while he was securing the borders along the river Rhenus and putting down Saturninus' rebellion. I know him. I know this plan. This plan will work.

When we crossed the Danubius into Dacia, we were met with no resistance. If any eyes watched us, they were the impassive eyes of commoners, of men or women whose interest in the army would be little more than idle curiosity. Since Domitian's foolish treaty, the people living along the river are familiar with the Roman presence.

It is Domitian's folly that has brought us to this place. The peace he negotiated with the Dacians has since been flaunted by those living across the safety of the wide waters of the Danubius. While the Dacians had managed to raid and sack villages in Moesia for some years, the might of the Roman army was brought down upon them. And yet, with the full glory of Rome's majesty bearing down upon Dacia, Domitian negotiated peace and granted the Dacians sovereignty rather than taking their heads and claiming their lands in the name of Rome.

Now the people watch Roman legions moving throughout the area, training and exercising and considering us lesser beings because of one man's lapse in judgment. The people here are used to us and the people here do not fear us.

However, this is a wild place, a place of savagery and witchcraft. Even though we were not met with hostilities when we crossed the border out of Roman lands, I could feel the change in the surrounding country. Here, the land cries out, demands to be civilized. Ancient forests, filled with ancient spirits and ancient magics, stretch across rough, hilly land between high mountains looming over the country like the faces of ancient, angry gods. This land is wild. This land needs us.

Though the mountains look down upon us menacingly, they hold the key to the strength of the Roman Empire. The wise and just Traianus seeks control of not only the Dacian people, but also the mines hidden within the mountains' heights. From the back of my horse, I watched the black faces of the mountains sliding in and out of view behind the leafy canopy of the trees, and I knew that soon they would be in Roman hands.

We marched for six days, making camp every evening, building fires and letting them burn deep into the night. On the third day, a Dacian scout was captured. He spoke in the barbaric tongue of the region, and little information could be gleaned from him. We kept him as a captive, hoping that he would offer something useful amid his constant blathering. Finally, on the morning of the fifth day, I had had enough of him and ordered his throat slit as a sacrifice to the gods before the march that day.

He struggled briefly, but two of my strongest men--Agorix and Hilarius--held him while my Camp Prefect Lupercus performed the act. The man stared off into the trees defiantly as long as he could, until his body finally grew limp. Agorix and Hilarius dropped him there, and I turned my horse to stare off into the woods as defiantly as the prisoner had. If they were watching, I wanted them to see me, to see my men. I wanted them to be angry and wrathful and ready to seek vengeance upon the murderers of their friend.

On the sixth day, our scouts reported that a sizeable force of fighting men was seen a few leagues ahead of us. I dispatched more scouts to search the area, to find a suitable place where we could make our stand. By the time the sun had reached its zenith, the scouts returned, describing a ridge not far ahead of our position where we could easily camp and defend ourselves. I ordered the ranks ahead, pausing to watch as they passed. These were my men, their lives entrusted to me by the wise and just Emperor Traianus. I was going to show them my respect.

Once the camp was erected, the soldiers went about fortifying the ridge. Stakes were pounded into the ground to slow their ascent up the ridge. Rocks and boulders were harvested from the hillside so that we could roll them into the oncoming ranks of enemy soldiers. We built hasty, temporary walls along our flanks to protect them. For the better part of a day and a half, we prepared for the coming attack.

On the second day after we had established our camp--the eighth since we crossed the Danubius--the Dacians came. Despite the young canopy of leaves clinging to the branches of the trees, we watched as their numbers filled the void between the boughs of the forest below. Like the savages they were, they came forward, naked, unruly and in disorganized ranks. There were few archers and fewer horses. Clearly, this was not the army that had been trained by Roman military leaders; they were ragged, undisciplined and wild. They were a perfect reflection of their homeland.

As they occupied the forest floor below our position, they formed up into rough ranks and held crude wooden shields aloft. It was like watching a satirical reenactment of Roman tactics, and I knew that we would be easily victorious. Men bearing spears moved up through the ranks, forming a prickly front wall that would serve as extra protection, but I knew that the front ranks of this crude army would never trouble the entrenched soldiers on the hill.

Some men on horses--some of the few men in the entire army wearing any sort of armor--barked orders and the army began to move haltingly toward the stream running at the base of the ridge we occupied. As they neared the water, our archers released scores of arrows into the ranks of the soldiers below us. Immediately, screams of agony and death echoed through the forest. I commanded the arrows to continue while the men below forded the small stream. A pitiful return of arrows fell harmlessly among our fortifications. I could already see dead bodies littering the forest floor below.

Boulders and logs began falling down among the enemy as they neared the base of the hill, crushing several as they rolled toward the floor of the valley below us. Arrows claimed many men where the boulders left holes in their defense. Soon the stream was flowing red with Dacian blood.

As the front ranks of the enemy began to pick its way up the hill, the encamped soldiers began hurling their javelins among the Dacian soldiers. Again, they were forced to pick their way carefully up the hillside, more irritated by the small spears than heavily damaged. I watched as the ranks of the enemy began to break down. More than once they hesitated on their ascent. All around them, their fellows were being slain easily and readily, and I could begin to see the worry and regret taking their toll on the enemy troops.

"Infantry!" I barked, drawing my sword and holding it above my head. "Prepare for march!" More arrows whistled over my head and crashed amongst the enemy soldiers. "Spearmen, on my command!"

My soldiers, disciplined and well-trained, formed easily into ranks at the crest of the hill, their shield held in front of them to protect them from the meager assault being offered by the Dacians. Their weapons were drawn and ready. I barked an order, and they moved into a defensive position, the crest of the ridge bristling with spear tips that promised nothing but death and pain for the attackers.

The stakes pounded into the side of the hill were funneling the enemy into one column, causing them to stretch out their ranks. The arrows were falling into unprotected ranks of soldiers now, causing the hillside to be littered with wounded, dead and dying men. Blood colored the leaves of years past that lined the hill, returning them to their once crimson brilliance.

"Infantry," I shouted, dropping the sword and pointing toward the oncoming force of Dacians, "forward!"

As one, the men atop the crest of the hill moved forward carefully and precisely, moving into positions where they could hold the lines defensively and also dispatch the oncoming forces with ease.

"Archers," I shouted once, turning myself in the saddle to look upon the ranks of the army I commanded, "halt." No more missiles flew through the air, a silent signal to my soldiers that the battle was about to change.

Through the forest came a thundering, and down from the flanks of the hillside swept two ranks of cavalry. They swept around behind the Dacian force, which was busy trying to find purchase upon the hillside and to penetrate the wall of shields and spears protecting the crest of the ridge. The back ranks of the Dacians were decimated within seconds. Infantry that had been positioned with the cavalry swept in as the Dacian soldiers turned to defend against the mounted assault, crashing into the flanks of the enemy.

"Infantry!" I shouted once more, "full attack!"

The soldiers who had been holding the crest of the hill moved forward. Confusion and chaos now commanded the Dacian ranks. I watched as they were slaughtered, ultimately and completely. The glorious Roman army would know victory this day.
Within minutes, the Dacian ranks broke and began fleeing down the hillside. The archers took up their weapons once more, firing into the retreating army. Within a few minutes, the battle was over. The last few enemy soldiers had fled and I ordered my army to regroup and refortify.

Looking down upon the hillside, very few of the Roman soldiers had been killed. Our losses were minimal; our casualties were light. The wounded could easily be tended to. Already, the men were celebrating.

"Let us celebrate tonight!" I told them. "Tomorrow we will move to a better camp and begin establishing supply lines for the other legions in the area." I paused and I felt the slightest of smiles creasing my face. "But, for tonight, let us revel in our victory."

Friday Morning Latin Lesson, Vol. LXXXVIII

October 22, 2010

Well, here we are again, on a lovely Friday morning. But, we're not together, dear blog readers. Chances are, if you're reading this in the morning, then you're alone. I'm in bed. I'm not sick. I'm just lazy. I'm burning a day of vacation, filing it under mental health, and perhaps--just perhaps--working on a story. Maybe it's for you. Maybe it isn't. It depends: how much you willing to pay?

You might have picked up on a theme for the past few Latin Lessons, and I'm going to continue that trend today. Bear with me; you'll see where I'm going and what I'm doing next week. I hope.

Vampires...or vampiric spirits...are as old as mankind itself. Much like ghosts, vampires have existed since man first developed the ability to imagine. From the dawn of human sentience, vampires have crept through the dark spaces of the night, looking to pray on those victims whose guards had been dropped, even if for just a few moments. Vampires have survived through countless generations of tales, and even in Roman times there were vampires, vampire hunters, and cults surrounding the bloodsucking ghouls.

And not a fucking one of them sparkled.

I've mentioned before that the Romans liked to incorporate a lot of religions and religious practices from other peoples they had conquered and assimilated into the Empire. If you think about it, a lot of the ancient gods could be considered vampires in nature: many of them demanded blood sacrifices in order to keep the smiting at a minimum. It makes sense, too; if you lose your blood, you lose your life. There has to be some piece of the divine in the blood. Right?

As more conquered peoples were imported into the Empire, too, they brought with them their local legends and lore. As they were serving as slaves, they would tell of their mythologies surrounding blood, which, again, had a certain element of logic to it. Women with fertility issues should drink the blood--preferably menstrual--of fertile women; men should drink the blood of other men in order to gain strength, virility, and a great smile.

And this gave rise to some of the first vampire cults. we know nowadays...a lot of nasty shit can be transferred through the blood. People who were drinking the blood of other humans were ending up sick and dying in great numbers. This concerned the local government, not for any altruistic reason, but more because if they people out there were getting sick and dying...why that might just spread into here! We should put a stop to this!

So they did. Blood drinking was outlawed, but that didn't stop those who were truly dedicated to the practice. This is when the Imperial officials began hiring assassins to seek out those who were breaking the law by drinking human blood and kill them. For a small fee, naturally. This gave rise to the first vampire hunters. Their preferred weapon to dispatch the bloodthirsty lawbreakers was a small dagger. One notable exception to this was Simonius Belmontius, who preferred to do all his vampire fighting and hunting with a whip.

A more demonic precursor to the vampire was the strix, which was a sort of nocturnal bird-like demon that fed on the blood of its victims. These, of course, were typically young women, the prettier the better, but a desperate strix was a desperate strix, and so would settle for older women and men in a pinch. This is related to the term for witch, striga that we saw two weeks ago.

More importantly, strix leads directly into the Romanian term Strigoi (and the Slavic word Strzyga) which both mean "vampire". It is the Slavic legends and traditions that figure into our modern interpretation of vampires...and, again, you'll not find a single one of their vampires glittering in the sunshine.

The word vampire comes into English via French, vampyre, which itself came to France via German, vampir after Germany adopted it once the Austrian Empire gained control of northern Serbia, where it appeared as (transliterated) "vampir" as well. It possibly came from a proto-Slavic word upir which is a term for a witch. So, you can see that witches and vampires are knitted together in several different cultures, though they've deviated a bit more in recent times, thanks in large part to Bram Stoker.

There are far too many vampiric legends to get into here; whole volumes of books could be dedicated to the subject...and not shitty books, either. In fact, in remote villages in Eastern Europe--places where the modern versions of the vampire myths had their roots--funerary practices are still performed to prevent loved ones from becoming vampires. Or, suspected vampires are dealt with through various burial rites and rituals. There is a deep and cultural identification with the vampire lore, though it's not a positive one, to be sure. Vampires are evil, blood-sucking, disease-spreading entities that are to be loathed. Stake one as soon as you can.

What would a vampire in the old Roman Empire say? Good question. I can only imagine it'd be something like this (all translations are sparkle-free):

Tuum sanguinem volo sugere!

Pronounced: "Too-oom sahng-wee-naim woh-loh soo-gair-aye!"

Hovertext for the bloody good translation!

And then there's this one, which I've included because it really amuses me. Not to mention, I can work in the Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes angle.

Pro sanguine, quies bonus est!

Pronounced: "Proh sahng-wee-nay, quee-ace boh-noose est!"

Frightful translation in the hovertext

And then there's this one, which is just silly:

Volo volare!

Pronounced: "Woh-loh woh-lahr-aye!"

Principle part translation in the hovertext!

Oh, okay. I'll throw one in, just because I can't resist the temptation:


Pronounced: Soo-goh!

Double-meanings in the hovertext!

There are a few bits of lore that are pretty common among non-Mormon vampires. Since they are creatures of darkness, the sunlight kills vampires; because bats are nocturnal, they get a bad rap for being evil thanks to their nightly activities. Plus, they're fucking creepy. The transformation idea is a holdover from the notion of the striges (plural of strix) could transform themselves into some sort of night time hell beast. It's kind of a logical step: creature of darkness turns into another creature of darkness. A few centuries later, this notion was repeated again with werewolves.

Owls, too, were given the same treatment. Even today, the genus name for the screech owl is Strix, and the screech owl is certainly the most evil-sounding owl out there, so it deserves the devilish connotations.

The above third translation is silly because the Latin verb volo, volare means "I want" and "I fly". Volare survives into modern Italian, and you should know this thanks to Domenico Modugno's impassioned rendition of "Nel blu, dipinto di blu". The only thing is, Italian has the modern /v/ sound on the front.

If there's any justice in the world, that fucking song is stuck in your head like it will be in mine all weekend long. Valete, mei amici!

Chauffeur for None

October 21, 2010

My mother is the world's finest driver. Unser? Pisshh. Andretti? Puh-leez. Earnhardt? Never heard of him! Petty? Oh, now you're just being ridiculous.

Whenever my mother would set the key in the ignition of her car--any car--Jesus would fart a rainbow down the road along her intended destination clearing animals, cars, drunken hobos, old people, surly county deputies with ticket quotas to fill, and invisibul driving hazards out of the way. She's never hit an animal, gotten into an accident, been issued a citation, had a flat tire, nor veered anywhere outside of the white and yellow lines that confine her lane on the road.

Though, I do find this all hard to imagine. My mother grew up in the fifties, and we all know that women from that time can't drive. Don't you pretend like you didn't see the films in driver's ed. That balding man with the horn-rimmed glasses driving along, hands at ten-and-two, saying "I'll just give her a little honk on my horn to let her know I'm here." Never mind that the honk probably distracted her, causing her to plow through a troupe of nuns on their way to bless the sick. At least she knew you were there!

My mother is this man with the impeccably clean driving record, just with more blue eye shadow. A lot more blue eye shadow.

I know that my mother's driving record is spotless because she began regaling me with anecdotes about what a sinfully perfect driver she was when I was nine years old. Never mind that I was more interested in the day-to-day activities of the Chicago Cubs or whether or not Kelli Vogleman would ever see fit to go with me (the answers: shitty and not-on-your-fucking-life, bud).

You see, at that point in time, it would only be a scant seven years until I was behind the wheel of a car, and so she needed to start the brow-beating then in order to have me properly cowed when I was sixteen to the point where I wouldn't even dream of getting behind the wheel, let alone ask her for the keys to the car.

Her plans failed*. One of my favorite things to do is drive. In that year between college and graduate school, when I was stuck in a dead-end job that I disliked earning far less than a living wage and my relationship with the Ex- was flourishing and subsequently crumbling and I was living with my parents, too boot, I spent a lot of time on the roads of northeastern Indiana, northwestern Ohio and southern Michigan. I would drive and think and dream and see parts of the world I probably would not normally see.

That's kind of gone by the wayside as gas has gotten a lot more expensive, my free time has shrunken dramatically, and North Carolina's roads are not laid out on the convenient grid system that the Great Lakes states enjoy (and, well, anywhere west of the Appalachians).

Anyway, my mother would tell me--nearly daily--about what a terrible driver I would be. She claimed she would not get in the car with me until I was much older and those youthfully exuberant urges of youth--excessive speed, one hand on the wheel--had faded from my psyche. Though, it was her self-imposed calling to prevent those silly notions from ever finding purchase within me in the first place.

She was loathe to teach me how to drive a car, even when I had my learner's permit. This is one of the chief reasons that I had no idea what I was doing when I was told to park her minivan in the garage. My only frame of reference--and you'll probably agree that this is quite a brilliant turn of logic--is that there are two pedals in a car with automatic transmission and--lo and behold!--there are two feet on my body. Oh, and I have a foot on each leg, as well. Ladies. *wiggles eyebrows*

I plunked down in the car and put one foot on the gas, one on the brake, and I tried gallantly to move the car by alternating which foot did what. I did an admirable job moving the car forward in lurching, jolting movements, and got it into the garage--mostly--without incident. The final few feet, I let up on my right foot, and the car slowly pulled forward. I watched as the back of the garage moved toward me. When I was in far enough, I decided it was time to brake. Except, I forgot which foot was on the brake.

I gunned it. For about six inches before I remembered my mistake, but that was all it took. I had hit the back of the garage and--most importantly, most deviantly, most dreadfully--I hit my bike, which caused the handlebars to cut a large gouge in the hood of my mother's minivan.

She was livid. The combination of my imbecility--or, truth be told, my innocent naivety--and my bike meant that I would not be driving any time soon. I was sent to my room, told I better have my homework done, and then sent to bed. It was around five o'clock pm.

I did feel a little bad, but not about her fucking minivan. My father had been standing in the garage, trying to guide me in. If he hadn't stepped out of the way before my error of footing, he probably would have been crushed. Fortunately, no one was hurt, save for the hood of the minivan.

As my mother was one to constantly seek sources of embarrassment for me, she has not stopped bringing up the minivan incident to this day. Gathering of people? Let me tell you about the time my idiot son couldn't park a car! Amazing, isn't it? No one told him the proper way of holding his feet, and he goofed. Why, you might even be inclined to call it an "accident".

My father later corrected me on what to do with my feet. I have been largely without incident since. It's not to say I'm claiming to be the world's greatest driver. I'm a good driver, but probably not a great driver. My mind tends to wander from time to time while I'm driving. Especially when the college girls return in the late summer.

Anyway, when I was in college, my dad got me a summer job at his company. I was to drive a mail route (see how that works?) in Fort Wayne. Unfortunately, my hours and his hours didn't coincide very well, so I had to drive myself. While I was working there, my mother started working there, too, doing data entry and such. She was part time-y, which meant that she did not have to be there all day. This meant that she could ride in with me and go home with my father.


Coupled with the fact that my mother is the world's greatest driver is the fact that my mother is the worst backseat driver. You're going to fast. You're in the wrong lane. Pass this guy. Slow down. There's a curve up ahead. Watch for deer. And on and on and on she would natter.

Well, this simply was not going to do. I had no desire to drive my mother around at all. And so, I decided that she would ride with me...once. After that, she would be my father's problem. He married her. He should drive her around.

The route from our house to work went along a rather quiet stretch of northern Indiana highway, which meant it was straight, flat and easily navigable. I could have driven it blindfolded. I could probably still drive it blindfolded. And so we loaded up that fateful morning. I pulled out of the driveway and immediately began punching in the calculations for the jump to light speed.

When we got to the highway, I sped up. And not just sped up. For a second before I truly accelerated, the world became long and tinted blue. Dimensions warped around the front of my car. In my rearview, I could see the road catching fire in my wake, and the asphalt rolling up like a Swiss cake roll.

And then I kicked it up a notch. I passed on double yellow. I didn't use my turn signal. I honked and gave people the finger for no apparent reason. The town of Zanesville was just a dark blur clinging to the sides of the road. The bridge over I-469 was gone in the blink of an eye.

The entry into Fort Wayne from this particular direction involved a wide, sweeping turn which was banked at a most pleasing angle. Trial and error had told me the best way to handle this curve on a good day. That day was a great day, a fantastic day.

And so I took the curve around 80 mph. My mother was already screaming some incomprehensible bullshit in the passenger seat when a red truck pulled out in front of us. It was driven by a clueless old man, which meant that he pulled out and started doing five miles under the speed limit. My mother's scream became a fevered-pitch. She braced for impact and began stomping on an invisible brake. I chuckled.

I waited until the last possible second, when I was mere centimeters from smashing into the back of the old man's truck to make my move. I laid on the horn, flipped the man the bird, and slid up the banking curve in the road like I was making the final pass at Talladega. The old man's hair was fluffed in my wake--never mind his windows were up--and papers hung in the air, spinning wildly on the eddies and swirls of the air currents as I zoomed past. My mother had not stopped screaming. Her eyes were pressed shut and tears leaked from them, smearing her blue eye shadow and mascara.

I turned and looked at her after we had come mere inches from the old man's bumper and, slapping on my most yokel-ish voice, uttered: "Kinda gets yer heart racin', don't it?" She looked at me as if Satan himself were driving the car.

We got to work in record time. I got out and my car heaved a sigh or relief. My mother kissed the earth. She stomped into the building, stammering and swearing, went to my father's office. For the next hour she regaled my father with her harrowing trip to work that day, and when I saw him next, he had a sort of glazed, faraway look in his eye.

"Your mother wants you to slow down," he uttered, only halfheartedly. My father is a college-educated man. I'm fairly certain he saw through my plan and that the distant gaze in his eye was an artifact of knowing that he would now be the one chauffeuring my mother from point A to point B.

But the important thing was, the following morning, she rode to work with dad.

*Her plans failed with me, at least. My brother was terrified of driving when he came of age and didn't get his license until he was 17 or maybe older, and only then because it was a pain-in-the ass to walk to work.

That's Fine, Dear

October 20, 2010

I guess that it is kind of a sad commentary on our modern society that, nowadays, the tenth anniversary is considered the diamond anniversary. Not the sixtieth or the seventy-fifth, but the tenth. Traditionally, the tenth anniversary was the aluminum or tin anniversary, but neither of those are exactly very eye-poppingly appealing. Aluminum compounds are prone to simultaneously combusting upon exposure to air; tin compounds smell like boiled ass and can kill you as soon as look at you.

As you may have surmised, today is my tenth wedding anniversary. To celebrate, I'm working all day, up until about ten o'clock tonight; my wife is staying home with a sick child. Or, at least, a child who thinks he is sick. And who thought that all night long last night, at five minute increments.

At one point, my wife had enough, told me that she was leaving, and I said "That's fine, dear." There's a certain point--some time around 2:55 am, I believe--where you could tell me that you're going to stomp on my testicles and grind them into a fine paste, smear it on a cracker, and feed it to a dog, and I'd probably respond with "What? Oh, that's fine dear."

In the early part of our marriage, she plucked my eyebrows once doing this. Exhausted from having sold my soul to science, i.e. working in a graduate lab, I fell back upon the soft, cushiony delight of the pillows on our bed. My eyes fluttered shut as I relaxed and relished in the velvety, purple paradise of our bed pillows.

"Your eyebrows are a bit ragged," she pointed out as the warm and muzzy embrace of an illicit afternoon nap was pulling me in. "Do you want me to pluck them?"

Smacking my lips with a bemused smile upon my lips, I offered up my typical sleepy time response, "That's fine, dear."

Two seconds later, fire raced across my brow, ripping me from my sleep. Blood gushed from the open wound left in the wake of her dastardly, betweezered fingers, my vital essence spurting in ruby gouts from my brow.


"Well," she responded, with a genteel sort of aplomb, the tweezers still in her fingers, a hair with seven inches of my flesh dangling from the end of it still gripped in the jaws of the metallic device, "you said that I could."

You would think that, after having been flayed in such a manner, I would have learned my lesson. But, sadly, comedically, no.

"I'm going to go sleep in his bed," she announced last night in the wee-est of the wee hours of the morning. "He's all yours."

"That's fine, dear," I offered, smacking my lips and burying my head further into the pillows (they are no longer purple or velvety...and I must say that, I am a little saddened by this in retrospect). For the most part, it was fine, because at three o'clock in the morning, when even God is asleep, exhaustion has set in so readily and so deeply that even a six year old who thinks he has polio is ready to sleep. Certainly, he still squirms and flops about and you'd swear that he was seventeen feet tall and twenty-three feet wide, with arms and legs to match those Brobdingnagian proportions.

Unfortunately, somewhere around five o'clock, he is curious about the relativistic nature of time, and so he wakes you and starts asking if it's morning yet.

"Daddy," he offers, with his sweet little voice. You pull yourself from your reverie enough to acknowledge that someone is speaking to you, and that you can't simply respond with "That's fine, Dear." "Is it morning yet?" The question has been completed.

"Well, technically, yes," you offer, because it is after midnight and it is morning, by definition. "But, there's still plenty of time to sleep." You close your eyes, hoping that you will once again be cavorting naked with various high school crushes and girlfriends--you know, how you remember them and not how they appear on Facebook.

Satisfied, he rolls over...only to be curious again five to fifteen minutes later. When the alarm finally goes off, you can safely assure him that it's morning.

"I'm going to go tell mom good morning!" he proclaims, bounding out of bed, temporarily forgetting that he's sick. Remembering that he's supposed to be sick, he crawls into bed with her and curls up and whines. Really whines. The kind of whine that makes you contemplate throwing some crackers on the floor, locking the doors and driving for Montana.

"Well, I'm ready to go," I say at the bedside, after finishing my morning ablutions and rituals. "I'll see you this evening. Have a good day."

There's a pause, and then she responds with, "That's fine, dear."

And you know your marriage has come full circle.

So, happy anniversary to my wife, the Comely and Buxom and Sleep-Deprived Bouddica.

That's right, baby: that's all yours.

I'll be home later with a tin can full of beans wrapped in aluminum foil. I mean, that's the traditional gift for the tenth anniversary, right?

Totally Blowing Shit Up Tuesdays: Pumpkin Time!

October 19, 2010

One of my favorite things about this time of year used to be pumpkin ales. I love them. Er, loved them. *heaves a heavy, dramatic sigh* Post Road (acquired some years ago by Brooklyn Brewery) and Dogfish Head had two of my favorite pumpkin ales. I'm not sure if one can really pull that much pumpkin flavor from the beer, but the mixture of the spices and the smoothness of the beers were what really drew me in. Plus, I love fall, and the flavors of the beers always seemed to mix well with the gradual changeover from green to red, yellow, and orange of the fall leaves.

However, as you know, I'm not a big fan of pumpkins themselves, stemming from a traumatic childhood experience in which a pumpkin started talking to me. It might have not been just the pumpkin suddenly finding its voice as I drew near; the entire scene was scary, because that house looked like it should be haunted.

Anyway, nearly three decades later, and I still stare at those cold, cruel, demonic faces carved into the empty orange gourds and I fantasize about them suddenly being no more. Thankfully, we have the internet these days. And when you mix the internet, some pumpkins, and some bored people, you get videos! Here's a newer video involving the detonation of pumpkins that I had not seen before. Enjoy!

The one blowing up under water was a nice touch.

Jack O' Lanterns (or Jack O' The Lantern) were not originally pumpkins. The tradition started in Ireland and on Great Britain back around the time when Roman influence was still felt in that part of the world. The pumpkin is a North American vegetable, so it stands to reason that there weren't any pumpkins around for the old Celtic peoples to carve up into garish, illuminated faces. Thus, before the rise of the pumpkin, people used turnips to carve into Jack O' Lanterns.

The Jack O' Lantern was used to frighten off evil or bad spirits that might be hanging around the fields and crops. In the ancient Celtic tradition, the end of the summer was celebrated during a festival called Samhain (which means "summer's end"). Like many other cultures, the Celts celebrated the harvest by thanking and venerating various fertility gods and goddesses during the months of the harvest. The Celts also believed that the boundaries that existed between our world and the world that housed the spirits of the dead and demons grew very thin during Samhain. Thus, the Jack O' Lantern was used to ward off those dastardly spirits that might otherwise spoil the harvest and ruin everyone's good time.

Do you know what the Chinese used to frighten off evil spirits hellbent on wrecking the harvest? Explosives!!! I wonder if it would be possible to carve a pumpkin using explosives???

Well, I'll be damned. I guess it is possible.

Anyway, thanks to the prevalence of witchcraft...or alleged witchcraft in North America, the pumpkin became associated with witches. It was a natural progression to make pumpkins associated with the supernatural. Plus, I can only imagine that it's a helluva lot easier to carve a pumpkin than it is to carve a turnip, but that is purely conjecture.

So there you have it. Pumpkins: they make great beer, better pie, excellent demon protection and fucking fabulous shrapnel.