Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GUEST POST: Ink by Glenn Benest & Dale Pitman

Ink by Glenn Benest & Dale Pitman

His studio has become his refuge and his prison - a place of boundless imagination and lonely isolation. Brian Archer, creator of a series of successful graphic novels about a vengeful supernatural being called “The Highwayman,” 
has become a recluse after the adoration of a female fan turned to rage and violence.

But all that changes when he meets a renowned and beautiful illustrator, A.J. Hart, who carries emotional scars of her own. Their work together is fueled by the unrequited passion they share, and a mysterious bottle of black ink that arrives one day at Brian’s doorstep.

The impossibly dark liquid has mystical properties, making their characters appear so real they eventually come to life, reigning terror on those who mean them harm and if not stoppedthreatens to unleash an apocalypse on all mankind. Brian must break free of his self-imposed exile and solve the mystery that allowed these terrible creatures into the world.


Here I am again on earth, this time in a frigid and desolate land. The ice on the ground is broken like glass, and the air . . . the air is so cold a man’s blood will have frozen like ice crystals after his last breath.

If I feel anything at all, it is for this animal, my warhorse, the black nightmare, Devlin. We have been together for so long now, and the beast has never let me down, not once. Neither Devlin nor I feel the bitter cold as we cross these haunted skies through the black, whirling vapors on currents of air. We can only imagine the bitter chill, like two actors pretending, because he, like me, is spirit.

I used to feel as mortals feel, but it was so long ago. Memories impose upon me such emptiness. What is the point of more sadness and regret? Hasn’t the world had enough? To bear my burden, with the curse I’ve been given, would crush it completely. So I must control these . . . memories. I must push them down, each fragment like the shattered ice below.

I have a job to do. I seek a human, and not just any human, but one who has just been killedmurdered, through no fault of his own. My services are required. So I continue.

I’ve been around for a very long time. Too long to even considermillions, billions or maybe even trillions of years. That is the nature of curses. You lose time, which is another thing I dont really like to think about, for it weighs heavily upon me.

Charnel winds accost us as Devlin and I cross a burial ground down below. I will surely plant another body here (or maybe three) before the night is through. The thought brings a sly smile.

I have seen it all. Things that would make humans shudder. The inhumanity of the Pharaohs, who put the youngest of their kind to deathstill, to this day, their innocent cries echo in my ears. Ive seen Roman emperors crucifying Christians for sport, and here, now, in the New World of America, I see the slaughter of native people and other terrible injustices at the hands of those who wield power. My task is to level the playing field. To bring order out of chaos. To exact justice. Though I take comfort in my purpose, I grow weary of man’s appetite for violence.

Devlin and I arrive on the shoreline at Boston Harbor. The dead man’s disembodied spirit rises from the deep water, confused at his predicament. I wait in the shadows. I don’t want to frighten the poor creature unnecessarily, as I am not pleasant to look upon.

Finally, he spots me and howls. It is a lot to take in. He sees, under the blackness of my cloak, my purplish skin. He sees my nose, skeletal and fleshless, my mouth, misshapen and my eyes, pupil-less and unearthly; not to mention the three fingers protruding from each claw-like fist. I howled, too, the first time I saw myself as I am now. Not a welcome dinner guest, I can assure you. But once . . . long ago . . . I somehow recall that I was rather nice-looking. A strong nose, with heavy eyebrows that rested above pale blue, unsettled eyes.

I struggle to push the memory down but find myself wondering if I had ever loved a woman like that of the man I have come to bury. Devlin snorts, tearing me away from my thoughts. We stand by and linger patiently in the shadows. I stroke Devlin’s withers. When you have been doing this as long as I have, you know when the time is right.

“Lord Jesus Christ,” the soul weeps. “Holy Mary, Mother of all Salvation.” He realizes now that his body had died and his soul is in its unfinished state.

“Where am I?” he screams. “What has become of me? Surely I am in Hell, to look upon a demon such as you!”

Not all had cried out for their gods, but all had said the same regarding my appearance. I cannot hold it against them. I must wait until he is ready. He cannot feel his physical body, only the unbearable pain of loss and anguish. Like a drowning man, he grasps to hold on to a life that is no longer there. He struggles to hold on to memories of all that he shared with those he loved.

“Do not fear,” I assure him, “I am no demon.” His eyes search me for trickery. “It seems to me a soul in your predicament might requirejustice. I know the word is sweet music, and so the spectral form before me draws closer.

“Yes,” the dead man cries. “Retribution against those who killed my beloved wife and child.”

“Justice requires sacrifice. Come, be with me and you shall have it. I assure you, no demon would make that promise.” And I would know, as there was One that was sure to come for him if he did not accept my offer.

As my soul-traveler and I unite, the transformation takes placeevery cell of my body explodesevery one of my nerve endings impaled by tiny burning blades of fire. No man could endure such torture, but I am no man. I hesitate to share the agony, and those of you of delicate constitutions should probably skip this part, but how else could you understand my story?

To make it brief, my eyes feel as though they are being wrenched from their sockets; my blood, though not like yours, boils; my heart, though not of human composition, feels as if a giant hand of molten lava has torn it from my chest and incinerates it to ashes in its fist.

This is the curse my Creator imposes: He who made me what I am. And now you understand my predicament as the pain of this man's life consumes me, and I finally feel truly alive once again.

At last it is over, and the innocent one I’ve joined with is fully a part of me now and under my control. I breathe a huge sigh of relief, and become aware of my surroundings once again.

I take another look around, breathing in the briny air of the sea. Strangely enough my senses are quite acute, though I have no sense of taste. It’s unusual, as taste has so much to do with smell; but I am, if nothing else, a bundle of contradictions.

Finally, we are now fully joined. I experience each of his thoughts and emotions as if they were my own: the rage of betrayal, the horror of losing a loved one. He is furiousas they all are. As you would be. It is quite exciting what they feel. I am not being mordant. I am merely stating a fact.

When death comes, as it will for you and all whom you love, you will, at that moment, hunger more for life than you have in your entire existence. Perhaps the telling of my story will help you humans grab life, as death will mercilessly grab youwith fearless wonder. As for me, the experience of your death is as close to being alive as inhumanly possible.

As I envelope him in the shell of my being, I let the grieving soul know that loneliness and anguish are no longer his concern. At least for a whileno more sorrow. I offer him the one thing he desires more than all elsejustice. He glows and pulses within me and we understand each other as only true confidants can.


As I take flight on Devlin, I see Will’s life flash before me. It happens in an instant, in the time it takes to snuff out a candle. I can see Will and his wife Liza celebrating her pregnancy, when three men burst into their humble dwelling and murder them in cold blood. I feel Will’s pain, loss and torment just as he does, and yet something else stirs within. Long forgotten images flood my mind and infuse my senses, like ink bleeding into coarse paper.

I sense a connection to Will, that somehow his story parallels mine. Could that be? For once I don’t suppress memories, but struggle to resurrect them. I see an ancient city of titan blocks and monoliths of dripping stone. I see faces that are so familiar to me. Did I once live there as a human? Were these my friends? I cannot tell you how this moves me, when a voice interrupts from within.

 “It was Robert,” my fellow traveler says. “I do not call him brother, but executioner. His murderous plan proved a success.”

“Or so it seems,” I reply.

I know of course of whom he speaksbecause every memory Will possesses is a part of me as wellRobert, his wifes brother, who had pledged Liza to another to pay off gambling debts. Thats why the couple fled to the colonies. When their father died unexpectedly, his only son squandered his inheritance. So Robert murdered his sister and Will for her half of the family fortune.

As I continue my flight, the haunting of my hidden past fades away. The winds die down and the bloated moon disappears from sight. Overhead, the new-risen sun shines bright onto glistening fields. As Devlin carries me across the sky, I feel Will’s wrath as well.

“Patience,” I counsel my passenger. “It won’t be long now."


That evening, three men emerge from a tavern: Robert, his lawyer and the magistrate, who has just bequeathed Robert the titles and monies for which he murdered. Robert’s mood is buoyant. He gives each man a bag of coins and slaps them on the back. Numbed by grog, the lawyer and the magistrate stumble off in one direction, Robert in another.

We watch them from a factory roof, satisfied with the knowledge that Will’s soul will soon find release. I’m unseen by humans, as we blaze across the night sky on my warhorse, a flood of energy surging through me, a force so powerful, the very elements join in.

Thunder crashes, lightning illuminates the sky. I am in my element all right, as the inhabitants of Boston recognize at once that a dark, powerful presence is at hand. Everyone looks up and runs toward home. Do they sense some dark magic in the air? Certainly they would not be too far off, for it is a kind of witchcraft that my Creator employs to draw me and my kind into existence.

Nearby, Robert’s two hired assassins share a pint of rum in the abandoned town square. A frigid, ferocious gale blows so fiercely, it tears the flask from their hands and throws both men to the ground.

“Guess who?” I settle gently to earth.

Did I mention Devlin and I can materialize in physical form as well? Yes, it’s true, and not that hard to do. As I matured over countless millennia, my Creator allowed my powers to grow, and thus I appear before their eyes.

The killers gape at my face and tremble. In my bottomless orbs they both see what they have donethe murder of innocent Liza, Wills pregnant wife, and the death by torture of her husband, Will. They witness the crime in all its gory detail and shudder at its consequences.

“WhaWhat are you?one of the men gasps.

“Your escort to the beyond.”

“‘Tis a terrible thing, it tis,” the other killer manages to say. “But it weren’t us.”

I want to laugh out loud at that moment but restrain myself, turning to the one who resides within. For it is he who must decide their fatenot I.

“So what shall it be?” I ask Will in silence. “Which will bring you justice? Vengeance or mercy?”

Of course, I know his answer before he does.

“Vengeance,” he answers.

“Well said,” I reply, as Devlin rears up at my command, then rains down. His formidable hooves bash the thugs’ skulls to mush.

I can feel Will’s terrible joy as he gazes at his killers’ broken bodies, their blood nourishing the frosty soil.

That finished, we have yet just begun. We spot Robert as he turns toward a Gothic cathedral. Devlin takes flight again, climbs high at my behest. Barely a blur, we plummet toward our target. I sweep Lord Robert off his feet and carry him away.

The newly titled nobleman kicks and claws as I hold him, vice-like, then dangle him a hundred feet above St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

He screams with unholy dread: “God’s blood, let me go, I beseech thee!”

I turn his face toward my hideous semblance of one and make him gaze into the inky blackness of my eyes. It is there that he finally sees what he has done.

“Oh, Jesus, God, forgive my sins, I pray thee, please!”

I scan his innermost being to find what humans call a soul, only to discover it was lost long ago. I allow Robert to see Will’s face in my eyes, for only Will can choose between vengeance and mercy.

“This was not supposed to be, Will,” Robert pleads. “No real harm was intended, but now, because those murderers couldn’t be trusted, you and my beloved sister are dead. And for that, I deserve to die as well.”

 He is bluffing and lying. I sense with growing alarm something even more malevolent lurking within. It is the Other. My nemesis. With this realization, I almost drop my prize.

I can feel Will’s rage building. He wants nothing more than to take his revenge and quell the terrible pain of loss.

But then she appears, hovering above. It is Liza, not her body, of course, but it is she nevertheless, as plain as any mortal who ever walked the earth. I sense her, feel the bright light she emanates, beauty and goodness glowing in the air all around us as she
manifests. I am suddenly paralyzed by her appearance, as if struck by a bolt of lightning.

She calls out to her beloved: “Let it be, Will,” she says to him. “Come with me now. Join me forever.”

I sense Will hesitating, fighting himself from within. I can feel his heart break as he turns to her, their love dragging him away from the task at hand.

I want to tell him to finish thisfor there are greater stakes involved than just one man’s death. I want to tell him that this murderer dangling from my fist has been corrupted, and there is nothing for Will left to forgive. I want to tell him that the balance of good and evil can only be restored if he finishes this one last act.

But I cannot speak. Not while this shining creature hovers above our heads.

Liza fills Will’s heart with the passion they shared, destroying any rancor lurking there. And because we are joined, I experience it, toothe sacrifice and the rapture of true love. To feel as humans do makes me shudder with pain, a terrible heartache I have tried to bury since my birth.

Before me, Will finally surrenders his hatred to join her one last time.

“Let him be,” says Will inside me. “It is, at last, what Liza desires. He is her flesh and blood, after all. My lust for vengeance is fulfilled.”

He turns and speaks to the reprobate before us. “I forgive you, Robert.”

 “But Will,” I finally manage to say, “he is not worthy.”

And then I sense Liza’s eyes turn towards mine and it is I to whom she speaks.

“Will you let him go?” she entreats me, softly.

Her words are much sweeter than mine, and I only feel shame as she speaks to me. All my dark deeds rise up in my throat like bile and I feel nothing but self-reproach and regret. No one in my endless existence has ever asked what she has. I cannot speak for what seems like an eternity, but finally I am unable to deny her.

“He is yours now.”

I give up my prize like a doting father bidding farewell to his dearest son, knowing full well he will never see him again.

“Go,” I tell Will. “She is waiting for you.”

I watch with envy as he joins his beloved. And then, how can I describe the terrible loss I feel as he departs from my form and this world? It is worse than any parting in my endless past, for this being and his loved one have touched me in a way I cannot fathom.

Now that Will and Liza are gone, I am just a
hollow vessel once again, facing nothing but loneliness and exile for as long as time stretches out into the vast sea of eternity.

Just as I’m about to be swallowed whole by this emptiness, another sensation fills my mind with sudden dread. From the corners of my consciousness, I feel her power grow, even before I see her.

A midnight blue, reptilian tongue snakes forth from Robert’s mouth, and his entire body grows larger before me, hovering in the air, until it bursts apart at last like an over-ripe melon.

It is my nemesis, the Ancient One, who wants nothing more than to destroy humankind. I glimpse a massive head with large, liquid eyes. Instead of hair, eels curl and hiss around a leering face and slither down her monstrous, curvaceous body.

She enjoys my revulsion as the blood of Robert’s dead body drips down her face. It is the nauseating, orange-scaled creature with the murderous, lascivious nature and yellow eyes. Morrigan.

Queen of demons and all that is unholy.

She is responsible for Robert’s murderous bent. She gained access to his soul when Robert first turned to darkness. Robert’s evil nature allowed her to fester there, and then like the tapeworm she mimics, she slowly devoured her host’s last vestige of human decency.

“Hello, old friend,” she calls to me, licking the gore from her face. “If you like, keep the carcass, I have the soul!”

She loves that line and can’t help taunting me every chance she gets. She clutches the noisome appendage, Robert’s spirit, a dying orb, pulsating in the darkness.

I shake with rage. If only Will had allowed me to kill Robert, then I could have delivered him to the in-between world and freed him from Morrigan’s clutches. Every being the monster imprisons increases her might. If the scales tipped in her favor, she would unleash her forces to destroy every life form known on earth. I am the only power in the universe that can stop her.

But today I must accept another setback. The last thing I see as I fade away is my enemy, grinning triumphantly. Above, the sky cracks apart, revealing a Stygian legion of the damned. In her grasp, the once luminescent soul glows like hot lava, then turns to a flat, flaming disc in her clutches. Robert’s tortured face appears on the disc as she flings it skyward to join her evil army waiting there, welcoming yet another soldier to their ranks.

Sometimes, at moments like this, I am ashamed to confess, I long for one thing and one thing onlydeathan end to my ordeal. But then, who would take up this burden and who would care for Devlin, my one dear friend in the entire cosmos?

As my consciousness fades and I’m relegated to the netherworld, where not even light exists, I hold onto the joy I experienced for that one golden moment: the love shared between Will and Liza. It wells up in my cold, empty heart and somehow allows me a glimpse into the darkness that is my past. I, who have existed since man’s very beginning (in that land of monolithic stone, perhaps?), I know now, for I feel it, toothat once I loved and was loved in return.

I keep that one cherished thought safe and protected in the innermost recesses of my mind, as I sink back into oblivion and wait for another voice to summon me. It won’t be longbut it will seem an eternityuntil I am called upon once again to host another soul’s quest for its release; but for now I wait in silence. In darkness as black as ink. Such is my curse.

I am The Highwayman.


           Ink began as a screenplay I wrote with my writing partner, Dale Pitman.  We won some awards for this script, but never got over the hurdle of getting it sold or optioned.
So a good friend of ours–who later became our manager–Mary Louise Gemmill of Artists Ascending, recommended we write it as a novel.  I had never written one–so I was a bit hesitant.  Finally, I saw the value of Gemmill's suggestion.  I could see the story becoming quite effective in its intended genre.
So we started and, four years later, here we are.  We had many beta readers give us feedback, and there were many re-writes to follow.  We never considered things like what P.O.V. should we write this novel in; should it be first, third person, or omniscient?  And we had to find the voice of the narrative, which is something you don't really think about much in a screenplay.  Questions such as "who is telling the story" and "is this voice compelling" also came to mind.  
It took a lot of trial and error, but eventually we discovered our protagonist.  The protagonist is a graphic novelist, who has a series of successful books called The Highwayman.  The Highwayman himself is a cursed, supernatural entity who's been around for thousands of years.  When a person is wantonly murdered, The Highwayman appears to that person's soul and asks:  "Do you want justice?"  Should the soul answer yes, The Highwayman orders the soul to come with him.  That soul then enters the host of The Highwayman to take his or her vengeance.
So there are really two stories taking place.  The first story follows the protagonist, Brian Archer, and his love affair with his illustrator, A.J. Hart.  Both have been damaged, but together they find love.  Then there's the chapters featuring the perspective of The Highwayman.  When we finally decided to write The Highwayman chapters in the first person, and the protagonist's story in the third, that became our breakthrough.


Ink & Authors' Site

Ink on Amazon

Ink on Goodreads

No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews