The genre of Horror has fascinated audiences since Beowulf followed Grendal’s blood trail across the moors. It touches on archetypal memories, evoking primal images that have lost none of their impact over the millennia. Working with such an established genre presents certain creative challenges: one feels compelled to observe the traditional elements of the form yet at the same time present the reader with a fresh treatment of the material. With Ashes, I have attempted to do just this.
Ashes seeks to intertwine and balance divergent elements not always associated with the genre. Placed in a small community on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, it strives to create a realistic, contemporary setting that coexists with a gothic underworld. In addition, it reaches into the distant past in order to fuse elements of fantasy into the narrative.
In terms of action, it focuses on the lives of two protagonists who have been bound for centuries by an oath of vengeance – one hunting the other over the surface of two continents. Although it is vengeance that drives the action of the story, I have tried to do something more: love and a quest of meaning play a secondary but pivotal role as undercurrents flowing beneath the main events of the narrative. The character for whom the manuscript is named, the vampire Ashley (nicknamed Ashes), is present for only half of the story and has no connection with the motif of vengeance, but her influence touches all of the major characters and determines the nature of the story’s resolution.
* * *
The manuscript is still in rough condition, but for anyone interested in the process of its creation, I’ve included the following excerpt that should be regarded purely as a work-in-progress.
From Book One: The Faith of Blood
Randall needed blood.
He dressed absentmindedly, already considering where to locate his prey for the evening. In the past, he would have selected an easy victim from within the crowds that frequented The Drake. It was there, however, that he was to meet Jennifer that evening, and whereas they would no doubt hunt together once she had become as he was, at present, she displayed a fierce jealousy when his attentions, predatory or otherwise, were focused on someone other than herself.
Lacking the ambition or imagination necessary for more interesting game, Randall decided to make his way to the railway yards in hopes of discovering a vagrant whose disappearance would not be missed. He’d found such victims there before.
Canmore was not too sizable a town, large enough for a person to disappear, but not so large that it was necessary to travel by car. Randall set forth walking. He’d waited too long to feed, and his blood need had become acute. The very cells in his body ached, and a faint discordance of weakness echoed throughout his limbs. He understood that his own force was waning, and, without a kill, he would eventually slip into the lethargy – the living death of a vampire unable to sustain itself.
The lethargy was a slow, somnolent slide into oblivion where the undead let loose, willingly or otherwise, of the unholy force that bound and animated the corpse they truly were. Except for those fascinated by the macabre, the final stages of lethargy were a ghastly exhibition where the desiccated lips of the cadaver rattled out its own eulogy, and the child of the night surrendered its unsanctified hold on existence. Then, in a definitive act of ownership, the earth would reclaim the body so long withheld from its unsentimental grasp, converting the brittle façade to a silver ash, burned by the horrid vitality that had animated it for so long.
More horrific than the physical aspects of the lethargy would be those metaphysical considerations that would occupy the children of the night as they neared oblivion and comprehended the eternal consequences of their unholy existence. If, before a sudden natural death, one’s life flashes before one’s eyes, the prolonged immolation of the damned must produce such recollections as to make even the most corrupt weep with regret – or the least imaginative tremble with fear.
Such thoughts, however, were of little concern to Randall. He’d learned of the lethargy, but had not witnessed it and did not care to speculate as to its spiritual implications.
The railway tracks were not too distant; little time had passed before he came upon them and discovered that his luck was true. Distant from the station lights and half-hidden in darkness, a man sat slumped against a boarded-up kiosk. His legs were sprawled before him, one bent at the knee with its heel pulled close to his urine stained groin. His head was hanging forward, appearing limp and lifeless. Thin, greasy hair hung over his face. Randall considered momentarily that the man was already dead, but when he leaned close, he could sense a life force, and with it the warm scent of blood mingled with alcohol. There were other odors as well, altogether repugnant reminders of the bestial nature of mankind.
Randall paused, revolted. He considered the mixture of liquor and blood distasteful. Still, his own life force was waning, and the man looked to be a safe kill: no one would notice one less vagabond. Disgusted or not, Randall knew that it was his nature to feed.
Others of his kind would have regarded the circumstances within which he contemplated that evening’s kill as being beneath them, but Randall cared little for the niceties of a murder. The terror experienced by his prey added nothing to the satisfaction he received through killing. It wasn’t that he lacked imagination, although many believed that he did; the truth of it was that Randall cared nothing for artistry, he hunted simply to survive.
Though he was not of a complicated nature, there were certain things which held a fascination for him. Randall thought often about hate and believed that he understood it fully. He found too a keen interest in the nature of death, although he entertained no delusions of experiencing it personally. His relationship with mortality, although an intimate one, was one-sided. He was a deliverer – one who brought death to others but failed to apprehend the true nature of his gift.
Randall also understood a great deal concerning the nature of pain. Oddly enough, he did not recognize his own pain for what it truly was; to Randall pain was simply a longing that he felt most often masked as a bloodlust, the blood-need, or sometimes an unidentifiable sensation of emptiness. A humanist would identify it as loneliness, a philosopher, as metaphysical angst. Someone concerned less with categorization and more with truth, may recognize that it was a combination of both. To Randall pain was little more than a vague sense of unease readily dispelled by the bliss of slaughter.
There had recently occurred in his life, however, a circumstance that had precipitated a cascade of forgotten emotions and stirred within Randall a remembrance of what he thought might be love. This he was loath to admit to himself. What he did accept was that the mortal Jennifer had become the focus of his existence to the extent that he found himself standing before a drunkard rather than feeding on a clean, young life force taken from within The Drake.
* * *
Canmore, on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, is a beautiful city in a stunning location, and it’s the perfect place for a horror story. One of the most notable elements of its storied skyline is the jagged summit of The Three Sisters. For me, each of the peaks represents one of the central characters in the novel.
On one of Canmore’s main streets, one can find The Drake, a cosy bar with an outdoor terrace. In Ashes, The Drake becomes a hunting ground for the undead, as they set their sights on the scores of backpackers and hikers who are drawn to the natural beauty of the Rockies.
Ha Ling Peak overlooks the town of Canmore, but the beautiful mountain setting is deceptively peaceful. Unbeknownst to the myriad tourists who gather near this edge of the Rocky Mountains, the small community of Canmore hides a nefarious secret.
In my mind, this tiny church in Canmore became the home of William Stark, the confused priest who befriends the lycanthrope, Michael. Don’t expect it to look the same as it does in the story: reality gets bent in the mind of a writer, and we shape things to suit our own ends.