Truly Gothic Literature


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Daniel Keats was a little known writer when he was alive. Like many aspiring authors he banged away endlessly at his keyboard each day, hoping to write that one novel that would make him famous. But as the rejection slips piled up even higher than the volume of books he wrote, he fell to a despair.

With his last dwindling funds he self published one book – one special book. He called it his gothic masterpiece, a rambling self indulgent manifesto about the power of creativity and the vacuity of the modern world. Every last drop of his disappointed soul bled into the pages. Once published by a local vanity press, he cajoled a friendly librarian to place a copy on their shelves, and there it would no doubt gather dust from a lack of readership.

He visited for a few weeks, hoping to see it taken out, borrowed by someone, but the book remained unopened. And with that his last hopes died, and he followed soon thereafter, at his own hand.

But much of Daniel had more than figuratively bled into those pages. A year to the day from his death someone did take the book out. The title of the book “Gothic Yearnings’ fit the broad requirements of an academic research piece into gothic literature, and the researcher who took out the work was hardly discerning or well-informed on who was established as a Gothic author, as opposed to anyone who might just have written something with the word ‘gothic’ in the title.

This was all it took, however, for Daniel’s ghost to escape. The first time the book opened the researcher saw something like smoke rising from its pages and decided he was overwrought and over-tired and put it down to his imagination. But those smoky needs surrounded him and he found he couldn’t stop reading the book. Once finished he couldn’t stop extolling its virtues. And then, each time someone read the book at his, or another’s instance, the same spectre rose and captured another soul, entrancing them.

That’s how Daniel Keats’ ‘Gothic Yearnings’ became a bestseller posthumously. It’s how it transfigured the whole genre of gothic literature, and not, I can tell you, for the better. But it is what it is, and gothic sensibilities are now indistinguishable from Daniels’ and all it really shows is the power of the written word.

Or the power of ghosts, depending on how you look at it. I’ll leave the final analysis to you.

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2020

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This time they chose the wrong one to traffic.

It’s funny how sometimes it’s the most usual of things that bring an operation undone, and this certainly was instant karma, rough justice really. They’d done their usual sweep of the city in its darkest shadowy corners, finding its most broken and lost and abandoned women and children. Sometimes even flagrantly grabbing less unfortunate off the streets when they looked well suited to a particularly wealthy client’s taste.

Just another run in a grand international operation, as organised and bureaucratised as a government department, and no doubt secretly sponsored by some behind the scenes.

But then, they grabbed her. A young girl, barely out of her teens, wandering the less darkened streets on the way home from school. She cried and screamed prettily, as they’d expect, and one or two of them took the opportunity to grope the merchandise as they drugged her and put her in her cage, her box, her transportation device.

But what they didn’t know was that she was just playing possum. She could have escaped and killed them right from the outset. She was impervious to their drugs too. But she wanted to get them all together and do it right because she understood what her capture meant.

And frankly she’d had enough of the darkness. Other darknesses had trained her, made her what she was. Now it was time to pay it all back. Or pay it forward, depending on your view of things.

They didn’t think much when they saw her hand grasping out of the cage. They just figured she’d woken from the drugs a bit more quickly. They dragged the cage out to the centre of the human marketplace precisely for that reason, because she could come out and show herself to the high rollers encircling them now.

And she came out alright, a fire in her eyes blazing and the power of her will shimmering and striking with the intensity and precision of a nuclear strike. Within seconds every foul creature in the room was dead and her only regret was that they didn’t last long enough to really see it coming, or to suffer.

Never mind. She knew about hell too. She’d been there and back, literally, in her training. Once she’d freed the other victims she’d take a trip down there, to the icy inner circle where she knew they’d be found.

Vengeance is a dish best served cold, after all.

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2019

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Art Show


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Davis: I swear to god I warned them. Priest’s art shows were always bizarre and frankly in poor taste if you ask me, but my bosses didn’t care. As long as it sold, and controversy sells, that’s what they say.

Detective Webb: Well, they got controversy this time, that’s for sure. But how did they pull it off, that’s the material question.

Davis: I have no idea! You’re asking the wrong person. I just put the exhibits up and do the promo materials. This time it gave me nightmares even before all…that.. happened. All those skulls screeching out of the plastic base canvas. And those things with broken dolls. I mean. Ugh. He was demented.

Detective Webb: That’s one way of putting it. But how did he and half his patrons on opening night end up in the exhibits, that’s what we need to understand. How did he end up spreadeagled and impaled on the ‘kitchen sword’ display, for instance? Or the entire assembly from the East Side Art Appreciation club end up mauled in the mouths of those skulls? I mean, there’s art appreciation – even audience participation – and then there’s just..I don’t even know what that was.

Davis: And how would I know? I was on the reception counter the whole time! I didn’t see anything. mean, I heard stuff, but that frightened me so much I didn’t go looking. I’m not like those idiots in horror movies…

Detective Webb: But you said yourself, you warned the gallery owners. So what did you think you were warning them about?

Davis: Just him, just what they say about him. that he’s not just an artistic, that he’s..sorry he was.. a magus and that all his works were elaborate rituals. You hear stories, in the industry, of other galleries being under some kind of curse after showing him..though nothing like that..nothing like the art actually killing the artist and his patrons.that’s a whole other level of horrorshow..that is..So I said don’t show him, it isn’t worth it, but they never listen.

Detective Webb: And you didn’t see anything, nothing at all?

Davis: Only other patrons running screaming out of the exhibition area. I wasn’t going looking then, as I said. I’m not a fool. Why bother me? Why not watch the security camera footage if you want details?

Detective Webb: It went on the blink. Convenient, wouldn’t you say?

Davis: I guess.

Detective Webb: But maybe not for you, given part of your job description is also..let me just check, oh security? So why wouldn’t we think you had more than a general idea of what was going to happen?

Davis: What are you saying? I had nothing to do wth this! I tried to stop it!

Detective Webb: Then why did we find this?

(Detective holds up a photo of the scene to the camera. In blood, next to the cannibal skulls, is a short sentence written in blood “It’s all for you Davis, all for you”)

Davis: Shit.

Detective Webb: Yes, that’s about the size of it champ. So why don’t we start again? What happened?

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2019

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Follow Me


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She said follow me into the forest. I heard her, so clear. Even though she, herself, was indistinct and never came too near.

She wavered in the moonlight. I saw her shadowy form. And even though it frightened me, she looked so lost and so forlorn, I followed through the wispy night until the breaking dawn.

She said that she was quite alone, and had been all her life. And while I thought that she was dead, a spectral wavering ghost instead, she whispered of the coolest knife to cut us all from strife.

She promised we’d be free. She beckoned brightly yet to me. I followed her through brush and trees, my breath so smoky by degrees. Her promises were soft and sweet, and if I’d doubt she’d keep her vow, it did not stop me now.

She only comes one night a year, this much is told to all and clear. I thought any moment she’d disappear, so I followed her sweet call. As all around me night would fall, I didn’t care at all.

And now we two upon the road, where stars have died and moons have glowed, call others to the spectral world, a song of innocent lost girls. Only on that special night, our path is clear and very bright, offering secrets and delight, and all these blessings we’ve bestowed.

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2019

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These days we levitate
On words and thoughts of indiscriminate hate
From partisanship we’ll not deviate
No matter the chaos we create

These days the truth will fly
For but a moment whereas a lie
Traverses the globe in a blink of an eye
Without us questioning why

The devils all dance upon our belief
Traffic in points scored through death and grief
And never a moment of calm or relief
When power is but a thief

These days deluded we watch the news
Stoking our certainty on similar views
And so unaware that with each day we lose
The right to independently choose

These days we levitate
On words and thoughts of indiscriminate hate
From partisanship never deviate
No matter the chaos we create

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2019

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Special Room


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My uncle Wilson lived in a very old house that he’d inherited from his grandfather. Sometimes we’d visit around Christmas time because mother said he was lonely.

“He always was, even as a boy” she said with mix of fondness and sadness for her sibling. “And now I think his inheritance has swallowed him up into that part of his nature and he hides in it. It’s only right we try to draw him out, at least at Christmas. Even Wilson should have some time in the sun.”

So we visited the old, dark, quiet house. Wilson would greet us but then lurk, out of reach, day upon day, until my formidable mother dragged him to the Christmas dinner table and ordered he do the honours carving the turkey. Then we’d see him smile and sometimes he’d even joke a bit. Under everything he was as human as any of us.

“Not that you’d know it,” my father would growl when my mother couldn’t hear him.

The thing is, I think both my parents were right. Uncle Wilson could be very normal sometimes and even seemed to enjoy our company eventually, like it seeped into him over the days each time we stayed. But he was also so full of secrets. And the biggest one of all was his special room.

Down the hallway from all the bedrooms was one room with a perpetually locked orange door. Uncle Wilson never told us what was inside and said no-one but he could enter. My mother didn’t remember there being such a room when they visited their grandfather as children.

“It’s like it sprung up out of nowhere after grandpa died,” my mother would marvel. “I don’t remember a room being here at all.”

Uncle Wilson wouldn’t be drawn on the subject, no matter how I tried. I developed the theory that my great grandfather morphed into the room on his death, just so he could remain in the house. If so, Uncle Wilson was the only one welcome in his company.

But I noticed something else, after a few years of Christmas visits. Every time Uncle Wilson looked thinner, frailer, and less substantial. It was really like looking at someone turn into a ghost. And every year the orange of the door turned brighter, like it drank him in.

So I reckon one day we’ll visit and he won’t be there. Not as himself, anyway. He’ll be part of the house and merged with his Grandfather.

And I bet you anything on that day the orange door will be so bright it will almost be red. Just like the life-force itself, like blood.

Helen M Valentina (c) 2019

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They say never go to where the trees meet in that forest. Where their branches and roots clasp to one another like some silent, waiting web.

If you go there, they say, you don’t return. The trees are hungry, they say. They consume. Those that venture, not believing, disappear.

The oldest woman in our town even says she saw this once, the greedy roots clasping the poor foolish brave one, dragging them down so swiftly it was but a blink of an eye, an instant, of fear and knowledge, then nothing. The trees again content, still and satiated.

I’ve gone close many times, on the edge of twilight, lurking just out of their reach. I’ve thought about grabbing an animal – something wild, and throwing it into their circle and seeing what happens. It could be a thing, I reason and not just an old town myth. You never see any animals in there, after all, so maybe they know.

It’s tempting, but it also seems cruel. I’m not a cruel person, not really, and I love my pet dog Trish, and I’d hate to see her consumed. So who am I to grab some other living thing and give it to them?

But still, I wait and watch. Maybe one day an animal will be foolish and try the pathway over the roots, and I will see. So I sit, far enough for safety, and wait.

One day maybe, I’ll see it’s all rubbish, and the wild thing goes past uncaptured and free. Or one day maybe I’ll see it’s all true. That’s what I really yearn for, if I’m honest, to see something that extraordinary. And if so, if that day ever comes, I’ll see them for what they are, those trees. I’ll see them consume.

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2019

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Lucy, Lucy


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Lucy, Lucy hear my call
I would give my love to all
Heard you weeping on the stair
Know that you are hiding there
In your room, beside your bed
Can’t fool me just ’cause you’re dead
Lucy, Lucy take my hand
Promise that I’ll understand

Lucy, Lucy though you hide
I know how you feel inside
Just like you I felt the whip
Where the crueler parents slip
Under cover of the night
Thinking that they’re safe from sight
Lucy, Lucy we both know
Where the darker people go

Lucy, Lucy I’ve a plan
Something that you’ll understand
In their rooms we can both creep
Find them when they’re fast asleep
Cut the thread that gives them life
Give them back their share of strife
Lucy, Lucy be my friend
We’ll avenge you at the end

Lucy, Lucy hear my call
Children should be loved by all

Helen M Valentina (c ) 2019

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The Wild One

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They called her ‘the Wild One’. It might have been her red eyes, peering out from the room in which she was held. It might have been the groans and growls she emitted anytime someone passed by. It might have been the savagery of her tastes in food and how her left overs looked each time. It might have been any of these things.

For me, the name was wrong. She wasn’t wild. She was no animal, any more than she was truly human. Not anymore at least, after whatever they did to her in that other place.

No, she was transformed, an evolutionary oddity, a mistake perhaps. But she was still something, she was still someone. They forgot that. All their experiments, all their aims and desires, overcame the one simple truth: what she was before was like them, and what they made her was something entirely other.

So they locked her up each night after cruel days of study during the sunlight hours. They’d test her, prod and poke and provoke. How could she be anything but wild? They’d be the same in her position.

No, they’d be worse.

I’m just the admin assistant. I just record their outcomes and file them away, putting order into the chaos they create every day. Nobody sees me, I’m invisible to them. But I see truer than they do, I see her.

And one day I’ll gain her trust. I work on it, each day, and now when her eyes watch me I can see a recognition. I can see something glitter, the birth of belief. And one day, when I’m sure she understands, I’m going to set her free.

And if she attacks them, takes them down, I don’t care. That’s what Wild Ones do, after all, and they made her. No, I won’t give a damn. I’ll just watch it all, and laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Helen M Valentina ( c) 2019

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Reggie was never a normal boy, let’s be honest.

He was hopeless at school. Bright enough, but never in sync with the other kids. A loner they said, though you could see him sometimes, sitting on his own, gazing at the groups of children with a kind of longing that would break your heart.

But what can you do with childhood gangs and groups? They have their own rules and if adults tried to force someone on them they’d move pretty quickly from just being outcast to being the target of bullying.

No, it was best to leave it all be and hope for Reggie’s sake it would pass. These things have their time, we’d tell ourselves, watching from the teacher’s lunchroom. In time he’ll find his groove and be accepted. Just leave it aloe.

Except, this time, he just never did. And I watched him through middle school, his fear and anger and rage growing. By the time he was going to high school he’d started acting up in class, but not in a way that brought him friends. I think if any of the children had tried by then he’d have rejected them anyway. He wore his strangeness like a cloak, like the big dark coats he always wore as he reached teenage years.

They say he’d skip school a lot by high school. His parents gave up on him, or as I suspected had never really been that interested. Surely that social isolation, that dislocation, he evidenced had to have begun at home? No real intimate relationships, no real caring, no normal interactions to model his behaviour on?

That’s my theory anyway.

Now he lurks in the forest, and I’ve heard stories of people going missing there. People whisper its him, but if it is, the police haven’t gotten anything on him yet.

I like to think it’s because he hasn’t done anything to them. That if something dark happens to them in that forest it has nothing to do with the strange, dark loner Reggie has become. Yes he seems angry. Yes, sometimes if you get physically close to him he shakes, like rage is just about to explode out of him. But still, I like to think that lonely little boy hasn’t gone that bad.

It’s ok not to be normal. That’s all I’m saying. Being different doesn’t make you bad. It’s not enough, is it?

(c ) Helen M Valentina 2019

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