Post Mortem Press Newsletter - October 2016
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Strange. Familiar. Ephemeral.


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“Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

— Groucho Marx

Concerto for an Execution in C minor
Music to Read By
The Wake by Ashley B. Davis
Halloween Poetry
Implied Ascent by Kenneth MacGregor
New & Upcoming PMP Releases
Special Offer for Newsletter Readers
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I don't know about you, but I have music on almost all the time. Hell, I even sleep to music if I can get away with it. I do my best to match the music to the task at hand. If it's work, I listen to something familiar that blends into the background. Driving is a different story - think AC/DC Back in Black or Nine Inch Nails - but watch out for speeding tickets. When I read though, I tailor the music to the book - at least the type of book. If it's a mystery, I listen to classic rock. A scary book leads me to harder edged music and so on. 
What do you listen to?
We asked a few Post Mortem Press authors what they listen to when they read ...
"It depends what I'm reading. I find funeral doom like Skepticism or Disembowelment goes well with Robert E. Howard and HP Lovecraft. Synthwave stuff like Lazerhawk or Gunship works with William Gibson. For some reason, Guns n Roses pairs well with Lee Child."  - Brad Carter, author of BIG MAN OF BARLOW, (DIS)COMFORT FOOD, SATURDAY NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ONLY THINGS, and BARLOW AFTER DARK. 
"I don't listen to music while I read. I usually have either sports news (usually the MLB channel) or complete quiet." - Kenneth W. Cain, author of UNITED STATES OF THE DEAD, THE SAGA OF I series, and too many excellent short stories to mention. 
"I usually listen to my Zune which has a mix of 80's punk and new wave along with other bands that fit into those categories. I guess when I am listening and reading it is generally because I am relaxing and I find that most relaxing." - KT Jayne, author of "They Taste Better with Ketchup", "Press Button, Get Bacon", and other darkly comic and subversive short stories.  
"Usually sleepy time stuff."
- Jessica McHugh, author of RABBITS IN THE GARDEN, PINS, the DARLA DECKER series, and many more novels and stories that will keep YOU awake at night. . 
"The nobleman Franz Zahlheim, convicted of murder, shall be taken to the Hoher Markt, where glowing hot pincers shall be applied to his chest… His body will be broken on the wheel from the feet upward, then displayed on a gibbet.”
In 1786, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph II, who abolished medieval style executions, was so horrified by the crimes of Franz Zaglauer von Zahlheim that he made a special exception to allow it.

Franz Von Zahlheim, a nobleman, hatched a plan to resolve some significant gambling debt. It was simple enough. He found a wealthy widow, wooed her, promised marriage. Then he murdered her and took her money.  It should not be a surprise that he was quickly caught. 

The high society of Vienna was shocked, and the Emperor most of all. In an unusual act of savage punishment, Joseph literally went "medieval on his ass." On the day that Franz Von Zahlheim was to be executed over 30,000 spectators turned out for the event. The style of his execution was about as bad as it gets. It took many hours and Zahlheim was kept concious during the entire event as he was burned and every bone in his body - starting with the feet and working upwards - one by one. 

But while Zahlheim screamed, a mere 200 hundred yards away, another of Austria’s sons, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was busy composing his next brilliant work. 

Concerto in C minor Number 24 is considered one of Mozart’s greatest works, with its “dark eruptions” and “explosions of tragic, passionate emotion.” This was the piece Mozart was working on when Zahlheim was hung, less than a block from his house. It is unknown if Mozart saw the hanging, though if he almost certainly would have been aware it was taking place. Had he been anywhere near his home during the four hours the gruesome event took place in, he certainly would have heard the screams of the crowd. 

Fourteen days after the execution, Mozart entered the grim concerto into his catalog. 

(Atlas Obscura)

Halloween Poetry
For 20 years Ms. B has taught grammar 
In a pleasing and likable manner
Until one day this saint
When a student said "ain't"
Punctuated his head with a hammer.
Andrew Miller
My thighs burn. I drag my foot up the next step. The stone is concave in the center, worn down by centuries of feet: climbing, striving, aching.

My big toes poke through holes in the tops of my mauve canvas shoes. The sole is worn cotton-thin; I can feel the cool of the stone.

For the ten-thousandth time, I think about stopping, giving up. I could simply sit on this step, this one right here, close my eyes and go to sleep. Maybe just rest for a minute. But, I don’t. I can’t. What if the top is around the next bend? Or the one after that?

But, I have a history of taking the easy way out, and I’m trying to get better about that.

I lift my other foot, scraping the toes along the riser to the next step. I blink sweat from my eyes, lean precariously to the left and slap a palm to the wall.

It occurs to me that I can’t remember the last time I slept, or ate something. The last time I had water.

I remember details about my life before the stairs. Tiny, ephemeral snatches of imagery: the taste of salt on Veronica’s lips when I kissed her; a white-frosted birthday cake with nine candles; the twitch of the leather steering wheel in my hands; the hot shame of my first period in algebra class; the smell of my mother’s shampoo; my father’s deep and infectious laugh.

These are things I know I experienced, but there’s a disconnect, a distancing. There’s no emotional substance to it. I’d like to believe I felt something for Veronica; I know she was pretty in an asymmetrical way, explosively funny and shockingly sarcastic. Did I love her? I’m sure I loved my father. Who wouldn’t? He was a great guy.

But, it’s all flat now. I am flat.

There is only the stairway, the constant curve of the wall, the ache in my hips, my ankles, my lower back. There is also the certainty that this will end. I will find the top. When I do, it will have been worth the climb, the pain, the suffering.

My mother, Grace - I remember her name but not her face - told me that good girls go to Heaven. I wasn’t good all the time, though I tried. I know I sinned plenty, but I was kind, mostly, and rarely cruel. I think I did right by the ones I loved. I made Daddy proud, he told me, and Daddy wasn’t one to lie. I took care of Veronica when she was so sick she puked all over everything, including me.

Grace stopped speaking to me when I came out.
I stop on the stairs.  I had forgotten that until just now. That should hurt. I know it did then and for years after. I kept thinking she’d get over it. That she would call me, in tears, and tell me she loved me no matter what.

She never called.

My foot is hovering over the next step. How long have I been standing like this? I shake my head. Sweat sprays off my bangs and spatters the wall. I stomp my foot down. The impact jars my spine and I gasp. I lift my other foot and continue. The worn steps curve up and to the left interminably. How long have I been on the stairs? Hours? Days? Years?

I hear something. Not far. Around the next bend maybe. Though my thighs scream in protest, I move faster. This is the first time I’ve heard a noise. My thin soles slap against the stone as I run.

It’s louder now: a sliding, scraping sound.


A door.

On the right wall, a single rough wooden door, slightly ajar. The steps continue past it. I can smell something through the crack. Grass maybe? Hay? Wheat? I grew up in St. Louis. I have no idea what it might be.

I push on the door. Turns out it’s grass: tall and yellow-green and it goes on forever. The cerulean sky is vast. Not a single cloud to mar its perfection. No sun either, though it is clearly daytime.

Is this it? Have I made it?

I take off my shoes, sit on the door’s sill and push my feet into the soft blades of grass. I smile for the first time in eons. A slight breeze sighs over me, cooling the sweat on my forehead and cheeks. It feels so good I laugh aloud. The breeze picks up, whistling, pushing the grass towards me. I lift my chin, savoring the cool air.

Another memory sweeps over me, so vivid it’s like it’s happening now: empty pill bottle in one hand; vodka bottle in the other. The sharp, icy feel as the latter washes the former down my throat. The clarity of my thought, it’s easier this way burns in green neon letters across the surface of my brain. Again, no emotional content. Just sensations.

Beneath my feet, the ground trembles. Earthquake? I look up, scanning the horizon. Huge, tan shapes lumber toward me, too far to make out clearly. I pull my feet back onto the stone floor. The shapes, animals, I suppose, are coming fast. They are the size of houses, bony ridges extend around their heads and horns protrude from them. Dinosaurs? Dragons? Monsters? I’m not waiting to find out. I stand, though my legs balk and I almost fall. I pull the door closed on the sound of huge hammering feet. My heart is slamming inside my chest.
There are only two directions. Up and down.

I climb. I’m a climber. It is what I have become.

The rest, brief though it was, has made the pain, the exhaustion, worse. Each step takes all my strength, my will. Somehow, I keep going. I left my shoes in the grass. I wonder if the monsters are eating them, savoring the sweat-stink of my feet. The step is wet here. That’s new. Oh. It’s my blood.
I have a sudden vivid flashback. I was 22, maybe 23, sitting at an outdoor patio of a bar not far from the Arch. My friends Jenny and Gil had been with me. A fight broke out and escalated fast. In seconds, it went from two people yelling to a guy getting a glass smashed against his head. Blood was everywhere. One of the combatants threw a blood-soaked rag toward the bartender, who jerked out of the way.

Every other step has a little blood smear on it now. It doesn’t hurt. Small favors, I guess. Maybe they’ll have a first aid kit at the top. Probably they will. Probably all hurts and wounds go away up there. You can’t bleed in paradise, right? “Bleeding in Paradise” would be a great name for a band. Maybe an album instead. Band could be “Broken Angels” or something. Maybe this isn’t paradise. Maybe it’s Purgatory. Or Hell.
I wonder if I’m delirious.

I am counting the steps again. The last time I did that, I got to 700-something and lost count. I’m up to 246 now. There have been hundreds, if not thousands I forgot to count.

I swipe away sweat from my forehead with an arm already moist with it. Staggering off-balance, my shoulder hits the wall. I groan, blink several times and pull my leaden foot off the step. The next one up has blood on it. Two steps higher up has a splat of blood, too. I stare at it. My blood.

I have been here already.

I sit. I bleed. I think I should cry. I don’t.

I give up.

Time passes. Nothing changes. There is nowhere to go. Nowhere but up.

After a while, I stand. My legs hate me for it. My feet must weigh thirty-pounds each. I drag the left one just high enough and let it fall on the next step.

My thighs burn. The stone of the steps is worn from thousands of footfalls.

I climb.
 We mill into the darkened room like pigs to slaughter. The air itself is sweating, all the mirrors and pictures covered to protect the living. I notice the black crepe slipping from one of the portraits and, with a wry smile, recognize my own grey eye peeking out.

The pine box stands in the corner to make room. Cousin Hugh, who had been imposed upon to provide the wood from his shop, stares down at the bed with a set jaw and mean eye.
Through the obstruction of my veil, I glare at the flowers situated around the bed, merely a sentimental means to mask the smell.

Cleaned and dressed, Aunt Esther lies in a bottle green brocade, her best dress. I could never infer the point of this. Mother always tells me I have an unflinchingly cold eye and heart. I would rather that than the phantasm of superstition which shadows her every step.

A dark spot on Aunt Esther’s sleeve catches my eye. I walk up to the bed and push back the material of the dress.

“Margaret!” Mother chides, but I cannot look away.

The forearm is so swollen from an infected wound that the skin has split.
“She was bit by some sort of animal just before she took ill,” Uncle George says.
“But this wound should not be festering still. Not if…”

I look up to find everyone watching me, the shadows cast by the lanterns turning their faces into gargoyle grimaces.

I can just hear my mother’s thoughts: Let it alone, Margaret. You don’t have to take everything to task.
One of the coins on Aunt Esther’s eyes falls to the floor. I look down as the other follows. Someone drops their handkerchief, no longer wary of the stench. Aunt Esther is stirring.
Hugh looks overjoyed. I suspect it has less to do with Aunt Esther’s resurrection and more to do with the reclamation of his wood.

“A miracle,” Mother whispers.

I take up the lantern and hold it to Aunt Esther’s face, her pallor an unusual hue. Her breathing is labored as she looks around, her eyes so shot with blood as to eradicate the color.

I look at the others. They do not appear as gargoyles to me now but rather like the Legion, determined to protect their master from me. Me, the scientific mind that would doubt a miracle.

Mother approaches but draws back at the last. Aunt Esther starts violently convulsing. Her husband and brothers try to secure her, looking down as though at a stranger, afraid of the unholy yowls escaping from her throat.

I get closer though, fascinated by those bloody eyes. Whatever kept Mother back screams at my muscles to recoil, but what illness could cause such symptoms, such strange circumstance?

Suddenly, a force pulls me to the creature that could no longer be my Aunt Esther. As her teeth bite into my cheek—as her sickness moves through me like fire in the wood, burning up my history, my sentience—I realize it is no supernatural force that draws me to her but her clawing hand hooked round my neck.
I relax into her worrying maw. The pain will soon fade as the nerves are razed by her gnashing teeth, and I will soon experience this curious ailment firsthand. I embrace the fire.
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