The Hymn of Consola is a short story that I conceived of more than a year ago. Its chief influences are H. P. Lovecraft, Gene Wolfe, and Lord Dunsany, perhaps with a bit of Graham Greene tossed in for good measure. In terms of genre, it belongs with weird tales as a sub-genre of fantasy. Weird tales have an aim of unsettling the reader, but unlike most of the so-called new weird, I'm hoping this story will leave you unsettled in a good way. If I may borrow from the estimable C. S. Lewis, I might call it "numinous".
Now that I am swimming the waters of self-publishing (thank you James Wood for your invaluable assistance and encouragement!), my plan is to forge ahead with another four published short stories by year's end. You can expect more of the same sort of genre mixed with some adventure fantasy I've been working on for the last few months.
Then it's off to try my hand at a novel. But for now, for your reading pleasure, the opening lines of The Hymn of Consola:
To what lengths will you go to spirit yourself away from the agonies that flood this decaying world? What if there was a place to which you could escape into a perfect peace that nothing could touch?If you are so inclined, you may purchase the whole of it for $0.99 at Amazon.com.
Don't misunderstand me. I am not speaking in some mystical or metaphysical sense, as if by mental exercise or self-delusion we might convince ourselves that the pains of this world are somehow unreal. Neither am I speaking via poetry or metaphor of death, for only a fool believes that death leads always beyond suffering. No, I speak of a tangible place, a haven tucked away out of the ordinary paths of the world, a place (and perhaps time? I do not know) where one might rest in perfect peace.
You do not believe me. Of course you don't! How would you know of such a place except by extension of the vestigial hopes of childhood lost in the forgotten vaults of your mind? You can be forgiven for doubting. I was chief of doubters until I found my way accidentally to Adportam Hospital.
In the interest of telling the whole truth, when I was admitted, I was unwell both in body and spirit. All that I loved—all that I was, in fact—had been ripped from me by a tragic accident (though there are no accidents, only the angry skein of wills we cannot fathom). I wandered for a time, in and out of my mind, in the care of faceless doctors and nurses, my body a misshapen prison of gnarled flesh.
But with the passage of time, I was well enough to return to my home—or my house rather, empty now as it was in the wake of the event. I sat alone with my anguish for days and nights, venturing out only when great hunger threatened or some other flicker of earthly desire drew me forth to quench it.
On some such foray, in desperate search of companionship, I ventured into one of those dimly-lit places that draw haunted souls from the highway late at night. Among its patrons, I'd thought I'd found respite in the whispers of a willing lover. She beckoned me to follow her into the hills along a narrow track far from the city. I followed, though the pains of my body continued unabated, fueled by the greater agonies of my soul. I remember striving, straining to lose those agonies in the pursuit of her along that overgrown track, fleeing from the pain which anchored me in a fiery past that would not let me go.
At last we emerged onto a high hill of wind-bent grasses. Dawn broke all around us and laid wreaths of brilliant gold on a vast alabaster edifice that towered like a crown on the brow of the hill. Miles of rustic farmlands stretched from us in all directions, here and there punctuated by stands of fearfully ancient pines of enormous size. Animals and broad-shouldered men labored in the fields. I noticed the men's faces seemed always hooded against the threat of storms.
My eyes drank in the sight of that magnificent edifice. Though its architecture was richly ornamented, reminiscent perhaps of the ancient world with its colonnades and porticos, upon close consideration it seemed older still, as though the palaces of Minoa or Babylon had thought to imitate its enigmatic appointments. Strangely, only the highest floors had windows, as if one had to ascend great heights before being permitted to gaze upon the wild and dangerous world outside.
Lush gardens of gnarled oak, strange, drowsy flowers, and richly laden fruit trees of genera unknown to me sheltered in its watchful, paternal shadow. It seemed the place stood on the high hill like an old weathered traveler, resting for a moment, surveying the curve of the world with determinative gaze, as if deliberating on whether to turn and make for fields beyond the ken of mankind.
The woman I had pursued named the place Adportam and bade me come inside.
Foolishly, I followed.