From the Desk of the Editor;
Hello and welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! In this issue we life, honor, and suffering. This is life through dark days and darker nights. This is Larks.
In news we are proud to offer a link to Jerry Guarino's new book 40 Slices of Pizza. It is presented as fiction for people too busy to read a novel. Coming from Jerry it should be an enlightening and fantastical literary romp. Check it out on his website at Cafe Stories: http://cafestories.net/Cafe_Stories/home.html
Also coming out November 30th from Eric Dulin is Deus Ex Machina: Condemned. Eric was the mind behind Segmentus Invictus from October 2011 and is now releasing his full science fiction novel about a hardened killing machine. Check it out here: http://deusexcondemned.weebly.com/
Thank you and make sure to see our library of indie literature right here on Larks!
Daniel J. Pool
By Charles Bernard
Echoes, darkness, screams and loud noise
Put on the demonic allured poise
Ear drum cracking
Heart beats clacking.
Evil has unleashed it rage on human race
A plague has been cast in thousands we perish
Another day of bloody existence we deeply cherish
Moments before death passing through a furnace
Great anarchy has risen to prominence
Perfected arson bestowed on the populace
From dark clouds agony befell the world
Silence followed as ghosts pass to the great beyond
Now put off the black garments
Roast your flesh, sear by the night sun
It is the dark days; thrill the torments
Jaws bones on the floor, too late to run!
Hasten and listen to soulless songs
Forget the light, the clock clicks backward
Eat your rotten mind, and remember the mark
Dance to the entrance of evil's throng.
Aroma of rotten flesh and fresh blood arouses
Dews of blown brain settling on roses
Sudden darkness has befallen the minds of men
Threading on hot thorns to Hell’s Gate
Yeah, receive on your fore-head
Open your heart with pleasure, the code!!
Hack it not, flee with it to the next episode
For the sun is never coming out again
Spilt blood on the rail tracks
Stained walls, soaked in deep black
Step upon skulls, float on mortals' blood
Scold the light from your eyes in the cold
You hack it and you die
Said the voice "it is dark days!"
The sand you stood upon shall fly
Fright is a fight, stab and slay.
Thunder, red lighting and black hailstones
Fire like wild fire, hell fire
You shall live and die so frail
It is a sweet nightmare, indulge the fire
Walk bloody like the roaming cloud
Burn to ash, beat the satanic gongs
And the weak souls be strong
This time the ugly voice is loud.
The night shall come to past
Evil shall be lead to rest
A new dawn shall erupt
Scares would litter men’s thoughts
For more about Charles follow him @chalzz619 and see his blog at http://greendiarynotes.wordpress.com/
Hand painted folk art
Photo by Jessica Rowse
Sextus Pompeius Filius Neptuni
By Eric Rexroat
My earliest memories are of my father. He was often away when I was a boy, but when he was around I was always ecstatic. All of Rome would cheer his return—Gnaeus Pomepeius Magnus, the greatest general the Romans have ever known. My brothers and I would work so hard to impress him, to appear worthy of the name Pompeius. His countless military victories and his control of all the seas were just some of the exploits for which he was respected. My father was the man I tried to be, the man I knew I would someday become.
When my stepmother Cornelia and I arrived in Cyprus, my father was a broken man. His dreams had been shattered, his detailed plans had become worthless, and his fleet, once the largest ever assembled by the Roman people, was scattered and missing somewhere in the Mediterranean. All that remained were a handful of ships swaying just off the shore. Though the civil war was not yet over, one look in his eyes said that it was. He no longer walked with such dignity and pride.
“So Caesar has won then?” I asked Cornelia, the woman who had cared for me for nearly five years, my mother having died when I was very young. Because of my youth, I could not help my father prosecute this war—I was stuck in Italy while he and my brothers were fighting for the freedom of our country, for the rights of the Senate and the people.
“Hush my child,” she whispered softly as she approached my father. As she began to embrace him, he threw her away and approached me.
“Sextus,” he began, “Caesar’s men…they are animals. For weeks they sustained themselves on wild roots, plants not fit even for horses; I could not starve them out. Somehow that drunkard Antonius evaded my fleet in the Adriatic and brought fresh reinforcements. And then, by the will of Mars and at the whim of Fortune, all was lost at Pharsalus.” He began to weep, something I had thought my father incapable of. “Many good men have fallen, among them Marcus Cato.” This was a shock; while I had no love for that staunch traditionalist, he and his family were staples of the republic. Cato the Younger, slain by Caesar’s men? “We sail for Egypt tomorrow, and Ptolemy will be awaiting us at Pelusium.” Nothing more was said as we dined, and after a short sleep, we set sail.
I had always been nervous on the sea as a boy. Tales of monsters and the wicked fury of Neptune left me paralyzed every time I boarded a ship. This trip was no exception, but the port city of Pelusium appeared sooner than I had expected. It was a magnificent city in a wealthy country, and it seemed to be the perfect base from which to prepare our counter-attacks against the Caesarians.
“Cornelia,” my father said as he embraced her, “I shall return briefly. And Sextus,” he turned to me, “straighten up. Walk with pride. Your name is still Pompeius, and that means something, even in these terrible times.” It was almost as if he knew what was about to happen, though we had no warning.
“I shall come with you father. I have waited long enough to serve my country.”
He looked at the horizon, where the sun was beginning to set, and spoke, “Remain with my wife. I wish to speak with the king alone.” His voice was low and coarse; he was a man unaccustomed to defeat.
A small boat was detached from our ship, and he and one of his remaining loyal soldiers, a man called Varrus, slowly rowed to the shore. I couldn’t see much, but there was an extravagant procession of men, led by a boy younger than me adorned in so much gold that the sun blinded me with its reflection. He waved and began yelling something in Greek, and my father shouted back. Two of Ptolemy’s armed escorts sat in a boat and began rowing toward my father—when they met just off the shore, my father stepped into their boat.
“Stay here until we have finished negotiating,” my father called to Varrus. As the men began to drift away, just out of Varrus’s reach, the blade struck.
Cornelia screamed, “What have you done? Varrus!” There was nothing he could have done anyway.
I was too stunned to say or do anything. The other Egyptian struck next, and this blow severed my father’s head completely. Now I was yelling, using every bit of Greek I knew, “Animals! You don’t know what you have done. The full fury of the Roman Republic will tear your kingdom to the ground.”
These villains had just murdered the greatest Roman alive while he was unarmed and seeking refuge. Varrus now began rowing quickly toward our ship; Cornelia was hysterical, and the rest of the men on the ship who had been awaiting Ptolemy’s decision to allow us refuge began to shout at the oarsmen under deck.
“Make haste, make haste!” they screamed. I fell to my knees, still confused but mostly angry. Disbelief flooded my mind, and I quickly realized that this was no temporary setback—my father was never coming back. I considered jumping into the ocean to my death but quickly regained my senses. Our ship turned westward and our destination was Africa, where there were still loyal forces fighting Caesar, including my eldest brother. It was time for me to prove my worth on the battlefield; I wanted to avenge my father.
However, Caesar would take that away from me too. He arrived two months later in Egypt; when the Egyptians presented him with my father’s head, he fell into a rage and deposed the young king, eventually having him executed in Rome. The message was clear: only a Roman has the right to kill a Roman.
“Lay down your sword,” Cornelia told me after my brother was killed in vicious fighting. She was departing to return to Rome, “Caesar has offered clemency to all of your father’s veterans of Pharsalus. He will do the same for you, in spite of your name.”
I replied, “Have you no respect for your husband or the virtues he fought for?”
“You lose no honor by clinging to life. Come with me, and take your place in Rome as a patrician and a Senator. Will you fight Caesar forever? Look what became of your brother.”
I snapped at her rudely, “Leave my sight woman; you disgrace my father’s memory.” She sighed and boarded a ship bound for Cumae. I never spoke to her again.
Her idea was laughable; my father would never have bowed to such a snaky man as Caesar. He riled up the plebeians as if they constituted the Roman people, and his army was little more than a band of vicious thugs with no respect for tradition, honor, or Roman virtue.
After briefly continuing resistance in Spain, I returned to the seas, where I no longer felt uncomfortable. I now felt at home on the ocean, and the rocking of the waves and the stench of salt were my only escapes from the reality of my situation. I could never return to Rome—that much was certain. Caesar was named perpetual dictator, and his puppet Antonius, a drunkard who excelled at military command but little else, was his fellow consul.
Together, they completed the painful murder of liberty and began our country’s slow descent into despotism. I found haven in Sicily, and I remained there for some time. Letters arrived almost weekly to express condolences for my father, promises that his former allies and clients would seek my re-enfranchisement; all of father’s property had been confiscated, and the rumor was that Antonius was actually living at my father’s villa in Rome. I yearned for the day I would regain my family’s dignity, but I doubted it would ever come.
Everything changed one bright spring morning. A letter arrived for me, carried by a wealthy trader who had been a client of my father’s, Titus.
“Sextus,” he shouted as he approached me, “I bring news from Rome.” He could barely contain his excitement.
“I care little for the gossip of my former country,” I said with contempt. Too often the letters that reached me contained just that.
He sat on ground beside to catch his breath, “No, you don’t understand. The tyrant is dead, slain in the Senate house. Liberty is once again to grace our lands.”
“What sort of jest is this?” I asked, not allowing myself to believe this could be possible.
He explained that a group of men, led by Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius, had carried out a plot to dispose of the dictator, though it was unfortunate that they had stopped with Caesar. Antonius deserved a similar fate.
“But the conspirators had only wanted to act legally—tyrannicide is quite legal, indeed just, while the simple murder of a presiding consul is heinous. Don’t you see? They’ve saved our state,” he said.
I was exalted, happy for the first time in nearly four years. Free men can only tolerate a tyrant for so long before they must rise up, as our ancestors did against Tarquinius, the last king of Rome, so many centuries ago.
“Antonius and the Senate have ordered your immediate recall to Rome. You may return with me tomorrow if you desire, or I can take with me word of your intentions. Apparently a commission for your services has been requested.”
I was puzzled, “What sort of commission?”
He smiled and said, “As commander of the entire Roman fleet, just as your father was. The pirates of Silicia and Illyria have returned during the confusion of our civil wars, and they prey once again on our shipping.”
Tears fell from my eyes, and I immediately began packing up my things and making the necessary arrangements to return to Rome.
No longer fearing the seas, my short crossing of the Tyrrhenian was quite relaxing. Neptune was especially quiet this day, an omen of good fortunes. When I arrived in Rome there were certainly men exalted at the prospect of my return, though the atmosphere was different than I had hoped. No statutes of Marcus Brutus or Gaius Cassius were being built to stand proudly in the forum.
I asked some citizens about the fate of the liberators, “Where are they? Surely they shall receive their gratitude from all of Rome?” Nearly all of the people I spoke to seemed to think I was joking.
“I’ll be grateful when they’re floating in the Tiber,” one woman told me.
Antonius had riled up the mob (just as Caesar would have done) into a riotous state. The late dictator was now deified, and a cult of his worship was rapidly spreading throughout Italy. Even so, I was no longer outlawed and could resume my life as a patrician in Rome, something which had stolen from me in my teenage years.
I took my place as admiral of the fleet and began to make preparations to prosecute my war against the pirates. I felt deeply honored to carry out the same task as my father—he would have been proud of his youngest son. I was never given the opportunity, as the political climate of Rome changed abruptly the following year.
Titus arrived one day while my fleet was docked in the city of Brundisium, on the eastern coast of Italy. He informed me of my recall, and warned me not to return to Rome.
He looked disturbed as he spoke, “Antonius and Caesar’s son, Octavius, have seized control of the state through force. The people have proclaimed them to be the legitimate rulers of the republic, and they have drafted a proscription list of hundreds, perhaps thousands. Any man on the list has forfeited his life and his property.”
“How could this have happened?” I asked, though I knew the answer. I had already seen Caesar seize the state years earlier. He chose to slaughter his opponents on the battlefield however, not through a legal decree. “You mean to say that I am on this list, do you not?”
He looked at the ground. “As am I.”
We stood silent for awhile before I spoke. “Join me my friend, and together we shall avoid the certain death that awaits us in Italy,” I said to him. “We shall take to the seas and resist this tyranny until our last breaths. Control of this fleet is still mine, whether Antonius or the young Caesar will it or not.”
For my part, I took the fleet, still legally under my command until I agreed to relinquish it, and began to recruit men that would stand with me against the Caesarians. Making no distinction between criminals and outlaws, free men and slaves, or the rich and the poor, our numbers quickly swelled. Plenty of highly-esteemed Romans from ancient families had been proscribed by the Caesarians, and they were eager to escape death and to fight back against this second wave of tyranny. Instead of hunting down the pirates, I welcomed them into my service with promises of pay and glory. Many of them accepted, and the rest were free to carry on their business so long as they wreaked havoc on Antonius and Octavius.
During a brief visit to the Greek islands, I met a group of men who were vocally opposed to my fleet. After rejecting my offer to join us against Antonius, one of these men beat his slave mercilessly for something trivial, right in our presence. My men, many of whom had been slaves themselves, intervened, and two Greeks were killed in the struggle. I offered the man, called Menas, a place on my ship. He eagerly accepted, and we quickly became acquainted with one another. He had been a slave since his childhood but was educated before that. We would play games of strategy, and he quickly showed himself to be a brilliant tactician. He also understood the ocean and was familiar with ships and sailing after living on the island for over two decades.
“Menas,” I said to him one evening while enjoying some expensive wine we had seized from a merchant ship. We were now in complete control of the western seas, and few ships escaped our clutches. “Shall we give thanks to Neptune for bestowing his favor upon us?”
He laughed at my suggestion and poured some wine on the floor of my cabin, which was hot and cramped. “Indeed, your patron god loves us much. We have been very fortunate these last months.” We both wore lavish clothing confiscated from one of Octavius’s convoys; I had given Menas three shares of gold from this take, and he no longer had the air of a freedman. He was now my friend and my second-in-command. “You are certainly blessed, Sextus Pompeius, Son of Neptune. Fortune has a way of finding the truly deserving, though sometimes she gets lost and takes her time.”
We had been looking for a title the men could call me. I needed something simple that still reflected my growing power and privileged lineage. “Excellent! Sextus Pomepeius, Son of Neptune? That is a title I can feel comfortable with.” The name soon appeared on all of my coins.
We had both been through unthinkable years and seen terrible things, but now Menas and I lived like rulers of the world. Sicily was again my base of support, especially the city of Messana, and we controlled the seas for seven long years. No grain left the island without my command, and little trade reached Italian shores without being intercepted by my ships. Neptune and I became even closer, and Sicily flourished under my rule. Meanwhile, Rome began to wither without such a vital source of grain.
Starving my own people was not enjoyable for me, but it was the only way I could strike back at Octavius. In the spirit of deference, I agreed to meet him and Antonius off the shore of Misenum to discuss our grievances. Menas and I boarded a small platform and were greeted by the two men and one of their partners.
“Antonius. Octavius. Lepidus,” I said as we exchanged polite greetings. I sat at the only table in the small room beside Menas and across from my enemies. “Where do we begin?”
Characteristically drinking, Antonius murmured, “The young Octavius would like to open this discussion.”
Octavius no longer kept the facade of civility. “Pirate,” he said in a bitter voice, clearly trying to infuriate me, “you have kept up your brigandage for far too long; the people do not support you, and your army of slaves and criminals does not intimidate us.” I wanted to dispute that claim, but I bit my tongue. “Now, what would you like in exchange for renewed trade and grain shipments?” The man was seething.
“Several things,” I said while glancing at Menas who sat silently, studying the faces of our adversaries. “The proscribed men in my company are to be reinstated; likewise, all the slaves in my army are to be freed, and I want my position as governor of Sicily and Sardinia legalized. I shall also be named consul within five years as I would have been without your proscriptions.” Nothing I asked for was unreasonable, but Octavius would surely not concede so easily. “And I want my father’s property returned to me—with interest.”
Antonius smiled at the last remark before he began, “These are all reasonable demands. Surely we can agree on this and end the hostilities. We are all Romans here, after all.” It was a shot at Menas, who was visibly not a Roman.
“It would serve you for me to concede all his demands in my half of the republic, would it not Antonius?” Octavius asked. “That cannot be done. You can have Sicily and your other demands, but in place of Sardinia you will be granted something from Antonius’s provinces.” The two men began to argue before Lepidus intervened. They asked for privacy, and Menas and I stepped outside.
Gentle waves rocked the large wooden platform, erected hastily for this meeting. It was connected to the shore by a series of cables, and hundreds of soldiers were watching us from the land. My ships completely surrounded the platform, and it was an awe-inspiring sight: nearly a thousand men on shore staring down a hundred ships anchored only a few hundred feet away
“Would you like me to cut the cables and make you master of the whole world, not simply one third of it?” Menas asked. I was astonished.
“It would have been a great idea if you hadn’t mentioned it to me. Now, honor will allow no such thing.” I said proudly. It sounded like a vile act of murder that Octavius would have had no problem committing. A plot like that was too similar to the way my father was murdered for me to participate in it.
“Surely you are not serious Sextus,” he said looking puzzled. He was putting on a show; he must have known that I had more pride than that.
“We shall reach an agreement like civilized men. Barbarians stab one another in the back.” I didn’t know it then, but he may have taken that remark as an attack on him.
It was less than a year before Octavius and Antonius violated our agreement. All of the slaves and proscribed men who tried to return home that day were captured en route, and many were slaughtered; some were even crucified. Furthermore, they never intended to make me consul or grant me any eastern provinces—we went back to war and began to starve out the peninsula. Menas and I were successful for about six months until Octavius launched a massive attack from three directions involving hundreds of newly constructed ships he was able to build in an inland harbor.
Titus, still faithful to me after all this time, was ordered to defend the southern waters, where an invasion fleet was attempting to land on the island. “Fight with spirit men,” he had yelled while departing, “tonight we complete this endless conflict.” I had faith in him, but there were tens of thousands of men heading towards Sicily, and only a few thousand could overrun the few land troops I possessed.
“We must repel this invasion, or all is lost. We cannot afford defeat here, and there are more men depending on us than those in fleet,” I said to Menas, referring to the inhabitant of Sicily, just minuted before we boarded our ships. “Octavius will react ruthlessly to the cities that have supported us, especially Messana. He will crush it completely.” Menas was commanding the western waters as I sailed around the straits of Naulochus.
“Perhaps you and I should consider an alternative in case we are unsuccessful. I will not be enslaved again.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Octavius would never be satisfied with simply enslaving him. He was out for blood and vengeance since we had humiliated him for years. “A retreat plan, perhaps?”
“No,” I countered, “we win or lose here today. Pray Neptune grants us his favor once more.” I should have noticed his disapproval as he walked away, but I was preoccupied with the preparations for war.
The sun was just rising when the battle began. Cold winds were blowing as the winter approached. My ships were aging, while Octavius’s were newer and faster, but I held far more experience on the ocean; being the Son of Neptune didn’t hamper my chances either. Trying to draw his ships out into the open waters where they might become separated was unsuccessful; his captains were too clever for that. They held tightly together in formation for nearly an hour as mine banged together by the wind. I lost sight of Menas’s and his ships as they sailed into the thick morning fog. Panicked commands were being leveled from ship to ship, and flags were raised and lowered frantically.
Finally, a handful of ships approached and were set upon by my men—two were captured and one was sunk. The other three retreated, and I gave the order not to follow. Neptune would take care of me if only I was patient. Occasionally, I could hear the agonizing shouts of the oarsmen beneath the deck. When the time felt right and the winds had shifted, I screamed at my men to move onward as we raced toward the enemy.
Thunderous crashes began and the painful screams of drowning men were clearly audible. Falling to my feet, I turned to see one of my ships smashing violently into mine, but luckily the damage to my vessel was minimal. Water splashed onto deck as wood splinters flew through the air. The other ship began to collapse.
“Pull back and defend Messana,” I screamed; the advantage was nearly lost.
Several of Octavius’s ships were falling into the abyss, but there were still dozens afloat. Neptune still supported me, and I began to regain my composure as I suddenly noticed something very peculiar. I could not initially comprehend it, but once the denial faded rage set in and then despair. Several distant ships had fallen into place behind the enemy’s; they weren’t attacking, but they bore my banner.
Menas, what have you done?
I never did understand why Menas had betrayed me, but I assume he was afraid of defeat and sought the easy way out. Or perhaps it was my unwillingness to ruthlessly slaughter my opponents at Misenum. Either way, seeing those ships was the most painful thing that could have happened. He had been my comrade, my second in command, and, most of all, my dear friend.
“Let us sail away with you,” pleaded one of the prominent men of Messana who had long been my ally. “The Caesarians have already begun their atrocities, and Messana will be razed, burned to the ground. We have children; we have families—please.”
There was nothing I could do. “I’m sorry—all is lost. The battles are over, and I lack the ability to defend the island. I scarcely have room for myself and my men on this ship, and we may yet be sunk on the voyage east. Even when we arrive there, Antonius will not offer us safe passage. I shall perish within a year,” I said prophetically.
I loaded the last of my things onto the only ship remaining—some spoils, written records, and food for a week or so. A crowd of men and women were surrounding the harbor, desperately seeking a place on the boat. Pushing and shouting began.
“Keep them off the ship,” I yelled. “Push them back.” Ten of my men began heaving people backward. One man was trampled and did not stand up as the oarsmen began to row. “Surrender at once to Octavius and beg for forgiveness. I captured these cities through force. No one collaborated with me!” I screamed advice as long as I could, until the harbor of my favorite city was only a memory.
Sailing away was one of the most difficult things I had ever done in my life, knowing many of these men would be enslaved or worse.
Looking back at Sicily while sailing away, I realized that Roman Republic was dead; in its place was a military state where one was more likely to be stabbed in the back than treated fairly as a citizen of his country.
About the Author;
Eric Rexroat is a student of creative writing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He enjoys novels, short fiction, and poultry.
Join us next week for more great independent literature right here at Larks Fiction Magazine!