December 2021

Twas the night after virus, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The IV bags were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the CDC soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
With ventilator straps dancing about their heads;
And mamma with her face shield, and I in my mask,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon shone bright on a yard without snow
Climate change means a balmy Christmas, you know,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But an anti-vax horde, all mongering fear,

They deployed on my lawn, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment they were going to be dicks.
More rapid than eagles the assholes they came,
And they whistled, and shouted, and played their refrain;

“There’s no, COVID, no PLAGUE, it’s all dirty LIES!
Your VACCINES are TOXIC, now OPEN your EYES!
MASKS are OPPRESSIVE and horse meds a CURE-ALL!
United we stand and divided we fall!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the front door the protestors flew,
With their arms full of signs, and armaments too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard at the door
The anti-van slogans growing into a roar.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Through the door the invaders swept bound.

They were dressed all in t-shirts, with slogans thereon,
On their heads were all ballcaps for QAnon;
Heavy assault rifles were slung on their backs,
And it goes without saying that none of them wore masks.

Their eyes — how they burned! Their temples, how veiny!
Cheeks lit up like roses, their noses like cherries!
The sneers on their mouths were drawn down like a bow,
And it goes without saying their hair was white as the snow;

They were all breathing heavily through clenched-up teeth,
Viral particles they exhaled ‘round their heads like a wreath;
Thought-terminating cliches tumbled out of their mouths
Their poles festooned with flags of the defeated South.

They took all our masks, hand sanitizer too
Tore up our vaccine cards, and we had a few
Said they were saving us from a tyranny,
But you’ll understand it seemed quite different to me;

Preliminaries done, they redoubled their work,
Unplugged the ventilators, gave their cords a jerk,
Replaced them with chloroquine, given out by the vial
Gave the kids ivermectin to las them a while

Their mission complete, the team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
They didn’t hear me exclaim, ‘ere they drove out of sight,

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“It is therefore my pleasure, as your President Emeritus, to call this meeting of the Deerton Explorer’s Club to order,” Ruby Kilgore said.

“What the heck is an eh-merit-us?” said Heath Kilgore. “Is that something they teach you in college?”

‘Lady’ Simona Osborne, wrapped in her shawl, chuckled. “It means someone who, while they no longer hold a particular position, is allowed to retain its title and sometimes even some of its powers and privileges as a sign of respect.”

“You’re not the President Emeritus then, you’re just the president,” Jayda Benning said. “Nobody stepped up after you left.”

“What?” Ruby said. “Who’s been running the meetings?”

“W-we’ve just been kinda talking,” said Laars “Stoops” Stoup. “Y’know, sharing stuff.”

“Well, yeah, but who’s been setting new exploration goals and adding new mysteries to the mystery board?” Ruby exclaimed. “Who’s been updating the website?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you quit school and came back then,” Ash Duran said. “Who knows how far the club would fall, without you to guide us.”

“Hey,” Ruby said, her finger jabbing toward Ash, daggerlike. “I did not quit. I dropped out. There’s a difference.”

“That’s like saying there’s a difference between eating dinner and eating supper,” said Jayda.

“P-pretty lame,” agreed Stoops.

“Quitting is something a spoiled child does when they’re flunking out of all their classes,” Ruby said. “Dropping out is a conscious choice, when someone decides school just isn’t for them.” She pulled a slip of paper from her bag. “See? I had all As.”

“But it’s still important enough for you to carry a paper report card around,” Simona laughed. “You had to print that out with real paper and real ink instead of just AirDropping it to me.”

“Artists and thinkers drop out,” Ruby continued. “William Faulkner dropped out; Bill Gates dropped out.”

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So it was that Hamur declared the altar to be for the memory of the departed orcs of his tribe. He invited the community to come and inscribe their loved ones’ names and deeds upon the stone, offering the services of his allies who could read and carve stone for those who could not.

This first Memory Hall was not explicitly such, for it remained a shrine devoted to the false gods of the tribe. But the tribesmen, Hamur’s friends and relations, responded with enthusiasm. Soon the great deeds of their departed ancestors were write large upon the stone, and began to overtake the false gods’ possession of the place.

Hamur soon led the first memory services there, during which he counseled the people not to pray to the dead. Whether there was an afterlife or not was beyond their power to know, and immaterial; far better to learn from an ancestor’s noble and memorable deeds than to pray to their insensate remains.

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It seemed clear that this was the answer Hamur had long sought. If there were or were not gods was immaterial; if they existed but did not deign to respond to the entreaties of their supplicants, they may as well not exist. Whether through their own inaction, or because they did not exist, Hamur lived in a world devoid of gods.

In a stroke, this revelation brought clarity and peace. There was no need to war on other tribes or other peoples simply because they followed different false gods, any more than there was need to war on one’s neighbor because he had an inordinate affection for a particular tool.

But this clarity brought with it another problem. The reverence of false gods was central to the lives of every people Hamur had come across, save the elves. If he were simply to rip the false worship out of the community and hold it aloft like a beating heart, that void could become filled with chaos or violence.

Hamur needed to create something to fill that void that was neither superstitious nor violent–something that would unite a community without recourse to false idols and superstition.

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“Safety rules are written in blood, petty rules are written in bile.”

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Those and other experiments led Hamur to reflect: did the gods not respond because they refused to respond, or did they not respond because they did not exist?

He thought upon this long and hard, and at length he spoke to his good friend Aynak.

“How are we to know what the gods want of us, or if there are indeed any gods at all?” Hamur asked.

After thinking for some time, Aynak pointed to a bird in the distance, a desert hawk perched on a cliff. “Can you tell me what that bird is thinking?”

“It is hungry and wants to hunt,” Hamur replied.

“That is what you imagine it thinks, but do you know for sure?” Aynak said.

Hamur admitted that he did not.

“Can you be sure the bird is up there?” Aynak added.

“I see it with my own eyes,” was Hamur’s reply.

“I have often seen a rock, or even a lizard, that I fancied a bird, especially on a hot day when the mirages are strong,” replied Aynak.

This discussion led Hamur to a revelation. “I can react to what the hawk does, but I can never know what it is thinking or if it is real, at least not until it makes itself unambiguously known by perching on my arm.”

The question was not, and never had been, whether the gods were real or not. The answer was not, and never had been, about which god or gods to worship. They were all as birds, unknowable and possibly mirages. Hamur came to realize, sitting there, that to act as if there were no gods and to simply react to the depredations of life as they arose…that was true wisdom.

But it was not a complete thought, not yet. It was not yet the Hamurabash. It was simply the musing of two friends in the desert.

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The deserts of Naïx were Hamur’s birthplace and home, and he did not see the splendor of the Seven Sisters and darken the gates of noble Gaiza until he was already grown. That which was told to Hamur was the story his people had clung to for centuries in the desert, since before the Crimson Empire arose and fell.

The orcs of Naïx held that the land was full of spirits and the sky was full of gods. Gods of earth and fire, spirits of stones and rocks. To live a good life without hardship was to please these gods and satisfy these spirits, and many rituals to that effect were conducted.

Hamur’s tribe held one Numas-Ara, the supposed god of sand and stone, in particular regard. A shrine stood in the oasis village, and small totems were made of rock during every hunt and for every herd. The people were devout, and always gave to Numas-Ara even when they had but little themselves.

It could escape no one’s eye that Numas-Ara did not reward such devotion. The tribe was often hungry, was ceaselessly warred upon by stronger neighbors, and was often befallen by misfortune. Hamur, in his travels, found the same to be true for many of the desert orcs, many of the human nomads, and even the odd dwarven traders. They were almost always devout, and their efforts were almost always rewarded with fresh hardship.

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This is the testament of Hamur, the Hamurabash. Hamur set this down with his own hand, and if there be fault with it, that fault is Hamur’s own and none but his.

In his studies and in his travels, Hamur read many testaments written by many prophets for many gods. He read of Creator Dead and Dreaming; of Muolih the Spreading Darkness; of Dvangchi and Qingvnir whom many dwarves revere; the Old Gods of the orcs, and even what remains in the Codex of the Ogres. All claimed to be absolute truth, set down divinely inspired and perfect save Tsianlwyn the elf, whose people are set apart from this Hamurabash, under its protection but exempt from its provisions.

All that is promised by this Hamurabash is that it is the truth as Hamur understands it to be. Never forget that all truths are as mortal as the beings who carry them, and that blind acceptance of a truth can be as pernicious as a lie. Seek the truth in all things, be honest and true and forthright. But be prepared regardless to be wrong, to embrace error as truth and falsehood as wisdom, and to learn from the mistake.

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Is it an act of civil disobedience
A red banner flapping in the breeze
Using a thing past planned obsolescence
Hiring skilled hands for repairs
Steady hands with soldering irons
Capacitive touch screens slid into place
In a world yelling “shop, buy, upgrade”
Saying “I’ll make do; I’ll get it fixed”
A secret celibacy, a monastic vow
Going without when all around indulge
But only up to a point, to an extent
There is no digital era equivalent
For driving the same car 50 years on
The upgrade comes for us all, eventually
Grim reaper of silicon and glass
As I slide an old smartphone home
Into a recycled cardboard mailer
Sailing off on eBay waters
Replaced, not repaired, 5 years obsolete

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Robert W. Chambers was a writer of short stories and novels who dabbled in cosmic horror themes early in his career before moving on to more conventional stories which were the bulk of his output. He would probably be completely unknown today if not for one dedicated fan: H. P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft particularly enjoyed Chambers’ The King In Yellow, a tale of a play that drives readers mad, and incorporated references to it and the aforementioned King’s Yellow Sign into his later works. Other Chambers stories also influenced Lovecraft, such as The Harbor-Master, which has thematic similarities to The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

Chambers himself, though, mostly wrote ordinary stories that are held in disdain by weird aficionados; one edition of The Harbor-Master describes Chambers’ descent into “hackneyed romances which are now universally and deservedly forgotten.”

Perhaps that is the true horror. From beyond the grave another, more popular, author has forever tarred him with a genre he only dabbled with. Chambers’ other works, his bread and butter and passion, have been reduced to forgotten footnotes.

He wanted to be remembered as a writer of romantic historical fiction yet the weird is all that abides.

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