R. David Fulcher returns to the realm of the macabre, the strange and the fantastic with his new collection of short stories, The Cemetery of Hearts. Using his signature style of intense imagery and eerie atmosphere, he pens tales that take readers to an ancient planetoid, the pungent sewer, all-American small towns and a medieval city.
Once again, his vivid characters leap from the stories into the minds of the readers as their tortured tales play out on the page.
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It was utterly breathtaking—amazing I would say but the word does the piece no justice. Somehow, Michael Spectra had managed to create four masterpieces in one. I was beginning to think that he might be the best after all. The holomorph was entitled “The Four Corners of the World.” The landscapes alone would have generated critical acclaim. But the women raised the piece from contemporary statement to eternal treasure. There was no question about it. Spectra liked to do women. Conceptually the morph is absurdly simplistic. At the top of the world, which is seen by rotating the body skyward in the VR harness, fantastic snow-covered peaks reach towards the steel-blue heavens. Beasts of prehistoric times own the slopes, thunderous wooly mammoths and silent saber tooth hunters. The nerve manipulators prickle the senses with icy flashes, and the cyclic moan of the wind through the high mountain passes floods the auditory senses. Spinning the body towards the ground so that one hangs suspended upside down reveals the equatorial zone—lush and green and venomous plants climbing over Mayan ruins. The sun dominates the red sky overhead, and the nerve manipulators raise the body temperature until you are covered in beads of sweat. Large reptiles with emerald eyes slither in and out of the shadowy jungles. Leveling out and spinning the body to the right one sees Spectra’s interpretation of the Far East. Prayer bells and incense fill the senses, and throngs of bicyclists stream around you on the claustrophobic New Tokyo streets in an avalanche of squeaky wheels and color. Hindu temples ring the distant hills, towering portraits of the strange and mysterious pantheon of the Upanishads. Spinning the body to the left one is greeted by the majestic American West. Insects glide and buzz around the viewer in minute choreography as eagles wheel and cry above the swaying fields. The seemingly impregnable peaks of the Rockies beckon in the scented summer breeze. But greater than these things, and always the central element in each of the visual novellas, is the woman. Under certain conditions of light her skin appears cream-colored. In other times her skin is dark olive like virgin dirt. One would be tempted to say that her sparkling eyes are amber, but they unmistakably throw off glints of blue in direct sunlight. Her breasts are full and voluptuous, and her torso and legs slim and contoured. Sometimes she seems innocent and sincere, perhaps no more than eighteen or nineteen years of age. In other poses her predatory smile portrays a much older spirit. On the northern slopes she rests seductively on a ledge, covered only by a string of sapphires across her lower torso. A single saber tooth hangs suspended from a black cord around her neck. This was the woman as concubine. In the lush tropics she is a plaintive innocent, laid out on a stone dais for sacrifice atop a Mayan temple. This was the woman as a virgin. In the East she is a ferocious Kali, her breasts and torso wildly painted and knives in each of her eight arms. Thousands bow to her in worship in the cities and along the hills. This was the woman as death. In the American West she sits on a checkered blanket in the fields, her hair streaked with blond highlights. She wears a white blouse knotted above her belly button and what the early Americans called “jeans.” Her smile is welcoming, and a large picnic basket at her side reveals bread and meats. This was the woman as fertility. Undoubtedly, she was all women. And undoubtedly Michael Spectra was the strangest of men. As the curator of the first museum dedicated solely to Virtual Art I’ve met all kinds of electronic artists. They range from the vicious and inhuman to the simply drug-induced and morose. The one common thread between them is that they all have amazing egos when it comes to their work and cyberart in general. All of them come from one school of thought or another and “run” with artists of similar thought. Not Spectra. He had no family or personal contacts whatsoever, and rarely attended even his own gallery openings. He was a recluse in the truest sense of the word. And to say that he was disinterested with the rest of the art world would be an understatement. I was then astonished to discover him in the museum near closing time quietly pondering “The Four Corners of the World.” I tactfully waited until he exited the VR chamber. “Excellent piece, isn’t it?” I asked coyly, as if he were a stranger to me. “Better than reality,” he replied. Maybe he is arrogant after all, I began to think to myself. “Do you believe that?” I asked. The artist’s eyes became fevered. “How could it not be? Everywhere you look people continue their empty lives, being false to one another and to themselves. That woman . . . ,” he said, taking a deep breath and gesturing towards the VR chamber, “. . . that woman is truth. She is the feminine spirit of the universe, the four quarters of the moon. She is truth. You, me, all of this . . . it’s nothing.” “But I thought art imitates life?” I asked, playing along. “Hardly. Life attempts to imitate art. And it never achieves it.” “That is your subjective opinion, Mr. Spectra. Others would disagree with you, even other artists.” “They are mistaken. I speak the truth. The truth is absolute, not one man’s subjective reality.” I changed my opinion once again. Not only was Spectra arrogant, he was a pompous ass. “But Mr. Spectra, if you could but prove it—” He turned his shaggy black locks so that his emerald green eyes met my own firmly. His eyes were mysterious and bright, and I was strongly reminded of “The Four Corners of the World.” “Now that is an excellent idea! Brilliant!” he exclaimed, gripping my shoulders with glee. A moment later he was sprinting down the exhibit hall playfully running his hands through the floating holograms. Then he was gone. Over the following months I did not often think of Michael Spectra. The gallery was christening a new wing and I was occupied with preparing for a visit by the board of directors. The rumors were that Spectra was buried in a new project, and that was fine with me. The last thing I needed during this hectic period was another bizarre encounter with the odd man. The new wing was to contain free-standing holomorphs. Unlike the VR exhibits, free-standing holomorphs could be enjoyed without a pair of VR goggles or a harness. Secretly I was partial to the VR experience. There was something intensely intimate conveyed between the artist and the viewer as one hung suspended in a gyro harness in a darkened, solitary chamber (although unlike Spectra I would not describe the experience as being better than reality, despite the fact that the timeless woman from his masterpiece haunts me nightly). In any case, it showed good political acumen to support the new wing and its creations.