Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Demons of El Dorado: Part 3


Swords flashed and clanged in a rapid blur of steel. Luis de Guerra jumped back and disengaged from his opponent, but kept his sword poised, ready to block any new attack. He was at the centre of a sun dappled courtyard, a discordantly peaceful space lined with lush green plants. 

He was faced by a burly man with a thick black beard and leering grin: his older brother, Angel de Guerr. Tanned and barrel chested, the older man strutted about with what Luis thought was almost cartoonish swagger. Angel let out a hearty laugh. “Too much for you, eh? Need a rest?”

Luis wiped the sweat from his baby face. His chin was tipped with a faint, scraggly beard he’d been trying to grow to give himself greater gravitas, but without success. His indignant eyes glared at Angel out of soft, boyish features, as if demanding justice. “You wish.”

Angel smirked like the jovial sadist he was, and he straightened up out of his fencing crouch. He was richly but, Luis noted, slovenly dressed. Wealth without rigor, as their father might say. Angel was the eldest son, four years older; always been bigger, stronger, and more experienced. He’d never let Luis forget that, a fact which Luis resented. He suspected his brother kept Luis around just to have someone to bully. An audience for endless braggadocio. 

As a point of contempt, Angel gripped a flask of amontillado in his free hand. He took a sloppy swig while keeping one eye on Luis. Half on. Taunting. Daring Luis to pull a fast one.

Luis held his position. He’d already fallen once for this trick. 

Angel lowered the flask. “Piss, you’re hopeless. Drunken monkeys fence better, little brother.” And, of course, he emphasized the word ‘little’. Luis gritted his teeth.

“I’ve never lost to a drunken monkey.” Luis flexed his knees and snap swirled the sword tip. Ready. Eager. “Defend yourself!”

“Ha! Hardly have to.”

“You underestimate me. So!” Luis lunged. The swords flashed and blurred and clanged again. Luis’ gambit was easily turned aside.

Angel laughed again and he jauntily turned to three sultry ladies, prostitutes Angel had on retainer, who lounged at the courtyard edge. He only dared have them around while their father was away, which had been the case for the last month. During that time, Luis has gotten to know them more than he’d have liked. There was Hermenia, the cunning red headed Basque; Genova, the sycophantic follower from Barcelona who laughed like a hyena at all of Angel’s vulgar jokes and reaped the reward in the form of jewelry; and the mysterious Celestina, who had the bearing of a noble woman and the milky white breasts of a seductress. Angel gave them a lecherous, toothy grin, displaying his gold teeth.

“Show him your tits!” Angel barked.

Their cheeks aglow with rouge, the trio laughed and wrenched open their corset tops, allowing bosoms to spill out. 

Luis blushed red and gaped.

For a second. 

It was enough. 

Angel deftly slipped under Luis’ guard, thwacked him on the waist with the flat side of the sword, hooked a foot, and tripped Luis, who sprawled onto hot red cobblestones.
“Damn it, Angel,” blurted Luis, turning over and glaring up at his brother. “What was that? Of all the dirty, low, underhanded tricks. Tricks! Gave my knee a twist, you know.”

Angel rolled his eyes. “Stop whining, little brother. You sound like a woman.”

Luis heard a curse from the shadows: he spotted a dark figure slouched against the wall leading to stables. Arms crossed. It was Esteban the Moor, servant and slave and now personal trainer. Esteban shook his head in disapproval, causing Luis to feel a wave of shame. He’d not been utilizing the advice he’d been given effectively.

The ladies giggled at Luis’ expense.

“You like, little boy?” cooed Hermenia, glancing down at her bosom.

Luis ignored her and sat up. He couldn’t look. His cheeks were burning crimson.

Celestina bit her lower lip. “So shy. You know, he’s kind of cute.”

Angel glowered at her, and strode around Luis, placing himself between him and Celestina. “Isn’t he? Like a puppy. All concerned with right and wrong and love and God. Studying to be a priest. He reads. Me? I act.” He sneered. “Oh, stop dawdling, brother. Up! Up! You have more lessons to learn. Your Moor pet isn’t doing the job.” And he thrust out an open hand.

Luis shook his head. “Not… that’s not true. If you fought fair, I could beat you.”

“Whine, whine, whine.”

Luis took Angel’s hand. Half way up, Angel let go, and he fell flat on his ass to uproarious laughter.

Angel spread his arms. “Fighting isn’t fair, Luis.” And he winked. “Remember that.”

Luis got up on his own and dusted off his pants. “I have The Devil for a brother.”

Angel took another swig and grunted. “Saint Nick has nothing on me.”

“His ass isn’t as fat.”

Angel’s grin vanished and a scowl appeared. “Don’t push me, you little–”

At that moment Don Rodrigo de Rivera marched into the courtyard, regal and immaculately garbed in armour and burgundy raiment. He scanned the courtyard with sharp, dark eyes that missed nothing.

“Father!” bellowed Angel with enthusiasm. “You’re back. Welcome!”

Rodrigo raised an eyebrow. “To my own home? I should think so. I arrived three nights ago by yacht. I’ve been staying at the church. If you’d been paying attention as you were supposed to, rather than having picnics and getting drunk, you’d have damn well known that.” He turned to Luis. “Stop sitting there like a school boy. Get up.” Rodrigo’s baleful gaze fell upon the prostitutes, who lowered their eyes and submissively covered their chests. They seemed to shrink into themselves. Rodrigo grunted and crooked a finger at his sons. “Come! There is much to discuss.”

Don Rodrigo spun about on a heel and strode out.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Demons of El Dorado: Part 2


Lapping waves and blazing sun. 

Macro squinted down at the raft as it bobbed against the galleon’s hull, borne on brilliant turquoise waters. He felt the sharp tang of the sea in his nostrils. Two tanned sailors slipped down a net of ropes and onto the unraveling craft. It had been tied together with vines that were now coming apart. There was a man lying on it. He looked dead. Gaunt and clad in rags. The sailors slipped a loop around the man’s chest and Marco’s comrades hauled him up and onto the deck while he watched. Marco felt his bandaged chest. Still sore, but the wounds had mostly healed. The grapeshot that killed his friend Tomas had only grazed Marco. Even so, he wanted to conserve his strength, in case another catastrophe befell the San Cristobel

The body of the bedraggled stranger was laid gently down on the hot, dry deck. Marco and the other sailors crowded around, shoving for a good look. Marco leaned in close, his grizzled, sun-weathered features wrinkling with curiosity.

The unconscious man’s belly rose and fell. 

“He’s alive,” declared Marco, grinning and jabbing a finger at the stomach. “Send for the doctor.”

“Fat lot of good that butcher will do,” snarled Ricardo, the Catalan, and he spat onto the deck. Amputees were convalescing below. They stank of rum and rotten flesh. “Wager this poor bastard will be dead by nightfall.”

Marco shrugged and knelt down beside the unconscious man, whose hair was an unruly mess streaked with grey and matted with blood and dried mud. There was a gash in his forehead. Could be anywhere from forty to fifty or more. Marco found it hard to tell given the man’s poor condition. But the rags he wore were definitely the remains of priestly robes. A Hound of The Lord, then. The rags were dry and stiff, cooked by the heat of the sun. There were even pockets in the man’s undergarments. Marco eagerly dug into them, fingers roughly probing, seeking valuables. 

Nothing. This whole damn voyage was cursed, thought Marco bitterly.

Then he noticed the glint of metal in the man’s clenched fist. It was tightly wrapped around something. 

Something gold. 

“He’s got something,” said Ricardo, licking his lips. “What’s that, eh? What’s he got?”

Marco cursed. He’d hoped to secret it away before anyone could see. No chance of that now. He reached over and tried to uncurl the gnarled fingers.

The man let out a loud gasp, causing everyone to jump back. His eyes snapped open, revealing all black eyes. Marco leapt up to his feet and made the sign of the cross. “Madre de dios!” 

“Stand aside,” said a commanding voice. Don Rodrigo de Guerra pushed his way through the clutch of sailors and looked down at their disheveled guest. Rodrigo wore finely woven garments and had the bearing of a man used to getting his way. Marco knew better than to cross the man, who had a fiery temper and was prone to having minor infractions met with the lash. Their recent defeat had left Senor de Guerra in an even more unpredictable mood than usual. Everyone knew the hidalgo had invested everything in the treasure fleet which now lay either at the bottom of the Caribbean, or in the hands of the English heretics. Some of the mercenaries had grumbled about how they were going to be paid now that Don Rodrigo’s wealth was fifty fathoms below the glittering surface. And their wrath would be nothing compared to that of the king, who was desperate for funds to carry war to the Protestants. 

Don Rodrigo adjusted the cross of St. James that hung round his neck, below the frill ringing his throat. His beard was neatly trimmed, as always, his high forehead beaded with sweat.

Marco cleared phlegm from his throat. “Don Rodrigo, his eyes. His eyes are black as the night!”

Don Rodrigo glared at Marco, who immediately cast his eyes downward. The Don then put a hand on his sword hilt and knelt down beside the half-dead priest, who’d shut his eyes and was rolling his head from side to side. He reached out and placed his right hand on the priest’s bony shoulder. “Easy, old man. You are safe now.”

The man swallowed and moistened his cracked lips. “Where… where am I?”

“You are aboard the galleon San Cristobel. What is your name?”

“Abuljar. Friar Jose Martin de Abuljar.”

Don Rodrigo seemed to consider this. “Where do you come from, Friar Abuljar?”

The man shuddered, then leaned his head forward and opened his black, soulless eyes. “El Dorado,” he blurted, voice filled with emotion.

The word sent a chill down Marco’s spine.

Abuljar’s clenched fist relaxed, and a statue of a hideous, bejeweled creature clattered onto the deck. 

Before Marco could get a good look at it, Don Rodrigo scooped it up. “Madre…” The hidalgo bit it. “Gold,” he breathed, as a hungry grin spread across his face. His eyes glittered. 

“Fool!” snapped Abuljar. “It is the gateway to damnation. They’ll kill you all,” he moaned, his voice rising in volume and strength until it became a shout. “God help us. The Gates of Hell have opened, and the hell spawn are unleashed!”

Rodrigo stepped back, alarmed.

Perhaps, thought Marco, it was Don Rodrigo who was cursed. Bad things seemed to follow the man. 

Marco decided to slip away the moment they reached shore. 

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Demons of El Dorado: Part 1

An adventure / horror story I've been playing around with... 


They were being hunted.

It went against all reason, yet was still happening. Jose Martin de Abuljar had come to the New World to spread the Word of God, but found instead the yawning chasm of the Gates of Hell. 

He stood at the center of a rickety raft, between his two remaining comrades. The raft careened down the churning river at an incredible pace, on the back of thousands of tons of water that would wait for no one. It was inky black, lit only by a sliver of moon. Flecks of foam were the only warning they had of rocks that could smash their raft to bits. 

That didn’t frighten him. 

It was what was in the water that filled him with horror.

Only minutes ago he’d dared to think they’d made good their escape, that they were safe. He’d even secreted away an object as evidence of their travails. They’d come back, in force and with fire, to visit the wrath of God upon the beast. Pope Sixtus V would know what to do with them. His mind had brimmed over with thoughts of righteous vengeance. 

“There!” Miguel thrust out an arm, pointed at a flash of gold specks slipping by in the water. “Salatoc!”

The hell spawn had found them. 

“Aim for the eyes,” advised Franco, his voice quavering. 

Abuljar tightened his grip on his rough hewn spear and watched the water with wide eyes. The tattered remnants of riestly robes hung from his gaunt frame. He’d not eaten in days, and his stomach was a knot, his neck rigid from stress. He had a fever from drinking river water. Franco was even worse off. His long time friend could hardly stand. Abuljar felt a dizzy spell coming on, but there was no time for that.

“Do you see it?” demanded Miguel. “Do you see? There!”

Abuljar scanned the blackness at which Miguel pointed. He could see nothing.

There was a sudden explosion of foam and a dark shape surged upward and hit the front of the raft hard, lifting it. Miguel lost his balance, and with a cry of despair, the man toppled into the river and was gone.

The creature approached again, and this time slapped a great, webbed claw onto the deck and hauled its sleek torso up out of the water. It had a broad, flat head and wide set eyes, and its back glittered with flecks of gold. The lipless maw opened and flashed rows of razor sharp teeth. 

Abuljar and Franco jabbed at the bulging black eyes in a mad frenzy. Franco began to scream, as if he had become completely unhinged.

Wood pierced jelly. 

There was an inhuman howl of agony. 

Saliva coated fangs snapped shut around Franco’s head, cutting his cries short; the river beast then dropped low, flexed sinewy arm muscles and pushed off the deck, heaving backward into the water, and dragging the limp body of Franco along with it.

The raft spun about into foaming rapids. Abuljar staggered and lost his balance as the raft tipped forward, then back, and he smacked face first into the deck, cracking his skull. 

Everything went black.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale mini-review

"The El Royale is run-down hotel that sits on the border between California and Nevada. It soon becomes a seedy battleground when seven strangers -- a cleric, a soul singer, a traveling salesman, two sisters, the manager and the mysterious Billy Lee -- converge on a fateful night for one last shot at redemption before everything goes wrong."

And how!

I liked it. 

After sleeping on it, I liked it more, despite some of the out-of-the-blue twists.

You could say it’s about faith in the service of others vs. faith in the service of the self.

One is beautiful, the other isn’t. One is a gift that helps and consoles and loves, while the other is manipulative, exploitive and deceitful.

We see both in Drew Godard's Bad Times at the El Royale. 

There’s the undying faith we have in a sibling, the faith we have in our government institutions and leaders, faith in money, faith in higher ideals and more.

The film touches on this theme from multiple angels. Basic human decency, and the struggle of ordinary people, is pitted against preening narcissism. 

Some characters reveal traits that aren't even hinted at, leading to a bit of a disconnect, but it didn't destroy the flow for me.

It's got a Quentin Tarantino vibe, just softer, not as eccentric. It's also not bubbling over with pop culture quotables. 

But the themes are deeper.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Steampunk life drawing pics

I was playing around on the iPad Pro, and did these up. If you look close, you can tell the drawings have no texture. They look like they're drawn on glass because, well, they are.

The drawing app I used was CreateSpace, or something like that, and I've only scratched the surface of what it can do.

It certainly has lots of potential.

I just need the time to use it!

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Myths, Monsters & Machines: more pics

A few more pics from opening night....

Tanya Marriott

Andrew Foerster
Friederike Ablang
Andrew Zbihlyj

Jennifer Phelan

Friday, 5 October 2018

Opening night of Myths, Monsters & Machines!

My deepest thank to all the amazing artists, and everyone who came out to the show. It was a jam packed house, despite the ominous weather. 
The inimitable Scarlet Black put on a breathtaking fire dance (so good!), and Erica Balon painted up a storm while dramatically lit by car headlights, and all the wonderful art shone bright. 
The show will be up until October 21st, so if you couldn't make it to the opening, pop on down and give the exhibit a gander. 
You'll be glad you did. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Myths, Monsters & Machines artist spotlight: the superb Jessica Shirley!

I love Jessica’s work; her painting style reminds me of the Symbolists I admire so much.

Jessica is a freelance illustrator who works in both digital and traditional media. She likes to create an elusive quality in her work by incorporating elements of fantasy.  

Find more of her work on her site: https://www.jessicashirleyart.com

And visit her blog here: http://jessicashirley.blogspot.com

And, of course, her Instagram!: https://www.instagram.com/jessicashirley_art/

Come and see the fabulous medieval steampunk creations of Monika and 25+ other world class artists this September 28th at Northern Contemporary gallery!

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Myths, Monsters & Machines artist spotlight: The marvellous Monika Mitkute!

I was blown away the first time I saw Monika's work, and when you see it in person at Northern Contemporary Gallery on September 28th, I'm sure you will be too!

Monika Mitkute adapts parts of the natural world and creates new creatures in surroundings with hidden elements.

The hand drawn pieces are made with fine tipped pens, graphite pencils and brush pens on hot pressed watercolour paper. 

“The Lithuanian and German fairytales of my childhood are a huge influence on my work.”

Monika has a background in print-making, and has produced commissioned works for LinkedIN. 

As an artist she is open to collaborations and has lived in Dublin for over a decade. 

You can find more of her work here.

Come and see the fabulous medieval steampunk creations of Monika and 25+ other world class artists this September 28th at Northern Contemporary gallery!

See the event page here.