It’s taken me a while to get back into this, into my Alternative Facts universe and the State of Amarak.
A lot of stuff gets lost in transition, and translation when I write these stories, I’m afraid. I think I go into it a lot more in my article Alternative Facts, where I discuss how this entire thing began, but to summarize the issue with my stories is that the language I attempt to create — the poetics — is by its own evolution very inaccessible, or limited. This is the language and syntax of a people — or populii — that has changed over at least a thousand years, if not more. I just attempt to extrapolate based on what I know, and what little I have read on the matter, and go with it.
But there is another issue as well. After talking about translation, there is transition to consider. I realize that most of my stories in this series are not really standalones as I might have originally planned them to be. I realized after “Freedom” and “The Spectrum” that I was essentially world-building from the roots of “Lost Words.” So here you have my poor readers trying to read my attempts at Newspeak and remember the context of groups and ideas from previous stories in that same vein.
Sacrifice is supposed to be different.
The first draft was very short and it was direct. At the same time, it lacked focus. It referred to other ideas, and it didn’t put emphasis on the Gilder Booms nearly as much as this one does. The Gilder Booms have existed ever since “Freedom” and they get talked about a little more in “Our Secret.” I don’t like to explain my stories, even if I did basically create a whole new language — or a basic attempt at such — for the world of Amarak. But I would like to discuss, briefly, the idea that led to this particular short story or, perhaps, chapter of this dark political speculative landscape.
I was, of course, paying attention to the recent school shootings in the United States. A lot of my friends and peers had been reposting and commenting on various articles. There were two ideas that came to me, one possibly in the back of my mind for a while, and the other more blatant. Let me start with the second one.
I thought about the Gilder Booms, as they are a group in the sub-cult of the Repo Party in Amarak: near or in the Borderlands away from the Repolitik proper. They are the cannon fodder, the militias, that go in and unleash the most bombastic and physical damage on those around them. I began to look at the religion or spirituality I extrapolated and formed around the Repo Party leadership and I wondered what the Gilder Booms thought of their “hallowed armaments.”
At one point, I came across this New York Review Daily article on my social media feed entitled Our Moloch by Garry Wills. It posited the idea that guns and firearms have a god: that this particular one is modeled after, or is, Moloch: an ancient god demonized by Judeo-Christian theology, and ultimately represents human — and especially child — sacrifice. The article, if you read it — and I hope you do — makes its point clear about guns and shootings in the United States along with its victims.
But then, I just couldn’t see the Gilder Booms blatantly worshiping Moloch: even with their time distorted idea of the Bible and folklore. So I thought of a deity that could represent the creation and power of firearms instead, on a warfare level. Unfortunately, Neil Gaiman beat me to it with his American version of the Roman blacksmith god Vulcan in his television series adaptation of American Gods. If you haven’t been watching the series, it is interesting, though I think the novel is better. Even so, Vulcan in that world represents gun deaths, and the military industrial complex of the United States. He is a perfect symbol and I realized I just couldn’t match that.
Even so, it still didn’t sit well with me. Two Mediterranean deities becoming the god of guns just didn’t feel … I don’t know, like they would be a part of Amarak. I tried thinking of Amaraki versions of them, but it didn’t work. And then, I remembered something about how the ancient Greeks, at least, thought of deceased children as heroes: and they were specifically buried in a ritualistic manner to almost deify them. I’d already touched on this in “Freedom” and “The Spectrum,” of course but I wanted to see what the Gilder Booms would do with it: how they would express it, and distort it to suit their spiritual and religious views.
And I realized that perhaps I was going about it the wrong way. The guns didn’t need a god. They already have spirits. It’s true that, in their theology, the Gilder Booms see the spirits of their hallows — as they call them — as extensions or servants of the Lohim, just as the Lohim has divine Masks or aspects representing specific old Amaraki ideas and figures. But I wanted to give the guns a life of their own, an animistic element, that ties them to the idea of nativity as part of the Land or the earth. The hallows themselves are a vessel of the spirits that they have … and the ones that they take.
I’m not sure when I started thinking about the Winchester Mansion. I know there is a film that had been released not long ago about it, and I’d always thought about the story in the back of my mind. It’s strange, when you think about it. I mentioned American Gods, and it has this idea that its holy places are specific focal points in the earth that attracts worship and belief. In America, according to Neil Gaiman’s novel, they are generally tourist attractions: the House on the Rock, and such.
The Winchester Mansion is definitely one of those focal points. It was created by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the man who owned the company that created Winchester rifles: which took many, many lives by design. The legend is that she started building an estate, after the deaths of her husband and child, to appease the spirits of all those killed by the family’s guns … or to get away from their curse. I wanted to find a quote about the Winchester Mansion and Sarah Winchester, but all I could actually retrieve was an old 1911 column about it: which I included as an epigraph in my story.
I … did the equivalent of meditate on that epigraph. I wrote some notes that, unfortunately, I deleted off of my phone. But what I realized was that according to the unnamed writer of the column, Winchester believed all would be well “so long as so long as the sound of hammers did not cease in the house or on the grounds.”
And then I started to think about it. What if the hammers are those in guns? What if the House is something more political? And what if the grounds are the Land, or a State, or a nation? What if Sarah Winchester and her actions, as fact, fiction, legend, or myth were a metaphor for a nation that profits from the construction, and deliverance of weapons? What if there is this large tract of grounds with different passageways leading futilely nowhere, or doubling back on themselves in circular logic, or hiding other secret places from those who would want to find them, or get out? What if there is a place that is made to hide rich people, or entrap the living, and attempts to forget about the growing dead?
What if America is the Winchester Mystery House? It was this idea, this image, that I ran with when I wrote this story, and then rewrote it and honed it down further. Perhaps I failed in telling this story properly in my Alternative Facts universe if I had to go into a digression about it here.
But it reminds me of something the narrator says in “Lost Words” when they are attempting to reconstruct the time before “The First Disunity” and a card game: about how the “House always wins.” And then there is also the idea, that can’t be discounted, of Sarah Winchester attempting to keep building on the House to actually pay restitution to the spirits, even with the problematic means of using the system her family made and the blood money to do so. Part of the column reads that her friends keep “persisting to visit her.” And either way you look at it, there is also that image of Sarah Winchester claiming that all will be well as long as construction keeps going … as long the House and the grounds keep expanding .. or the Land.
Sometimes, some things just speak for themselves, I find. I hope that you will sleep well tonight. Take care, everyone.