Shane stood watching through the smudged, cracked second storey window . Her back was mostly turned to the brick wall as she leaned against it and brought a cigarette to her lips. On the street below a woman with bobbed black hair and pale skin had just left the same building. She pulled her black trench coat tighter around her thin frame when she paused on the street corner, quickly looking both ways before hurrying across the street.
Shane felt little relief when the woman disappeared down a dark alley on the other side; she had not glanced up to see the red eyes watching her. Laughter from behind made her turn, a slight annoyance in her eyes as she narrowed them at the brick room’s other occupant. One could have thought him her brother, with his asymmetrical blond bob being only a few shades lighter than her long locks. Her skin was pale but his was nearly translucent; blue-grey eyes teased her.
“One would think you’d worry less about your old partner considerin’ what y’all have pulled off.”
“That was years ago and I do trust her,” Shane replied stoically. She spoke with the cigarette dangling haphazardly between two fingers.
Vael picked up the near empty pack from where he sat on the floor and pulled a fresh one from it. He patted the pockets of his jeans, searching for his lighter. When he found nothing he looked up at her again, his brow knit in accusation. She tossed it to him without a change in her expression.
“When the hell did you get that?” he asked from around the cigarette in his mouth. He flicked the lighter and sheltered the flame with his hand. After a few test puffs to see if it was lit, he shoved the lighter into his back pocket and cheekily added, “But I do like the idea of those fingers down my pants.”
Shane rolled her eyes, a gesture he could see easily despite the blue-green haze that silhouetted her against the window. The fungal streetlamps of the Underground and their slightly superior vampiric vision were all they had; the electricity had long gone out in this building.
Vael was finishing up a cigarette when he spoke again. “I always pegged her for the older ‘sister’ in this duo.”
Shane cocked one eyebrow at him, turning her visage into one of skepticism. She sat on the old bed - a rusty tin frame and a motheaten mattress - cleaning her gun which lay in separate silver and black parts on a towel in front of her. (She didn’t want her precious magnum on that dirty old mattress.)
“We’re the same age, dumbass.”
“I know that!” Then he laughed.
And laughed again, and again, until he was laughing loudly.
“What the fuck are you cacklin’ about!? Shut up before somebody fuckin’ hears you!”
He stopped at once as he snapped his head to look at her. There was a large grin splitting his face that she wasn’t sure she liked. “You’re calling me names again. That’s a good sign.”
“A good sign that you’re fuckin’ insane.” But for reasons she couldn’t understand her left hand lifted to gently grasp the gold ring that dangled around her neck on a silver chain.
“You can miss him without being sad.”
Shane opened her mouth to retort, but only closed it again. What Vael said was a rare moment of genuine compassion from him and she would not disrespect it with words.
“Now stop bein’ a cunt and roll a blunt.” But he sure would.
The woman who returned to the brick room hours later held a black wig in her hand. Her hair, a striking color of turquoise, was coming loose from the pins that had held it close to her skull. With restrained frenzy, brown eyes scanned the hazy, smoke-filled room before settling on Shane.
“We’ve been found,” she said and then moved to join the incited frenzy. Guns were unearthed from the floorboards, disguises ripped out of the dingy closest.
It wasn’t until they were halfway down the back fire escape that Shane asked, “Lenny, what happened?”
“Did they see you without your disguise?” Vael followed up immediately. He hadn’t stopped glancing over his shoulder every couple of seconds. The black duffle bag full of their disguises was slung across his back; Shane carried the extra firepower in an identical bag.
“That’s the least of our worries. They know our names.”
Shane stopped dead on the steps and Vael nearly crashed into her.
“Our real names? Are you sure?”
“I saw it on the computers, with pictures too. It clearly said Lenora Kavanagh, Shane Reynard, and Vael Rins.”
They took the dark back alleys in silence, kicking homeless drunks out of the way. No one spoke again until they reached the East Sector, a good ten miles from the stake-out point. Lenora opened the dumpster behind a multi-story condominium, holding the lid while Shane and Vael heaved their cargo over into it.
“We’ll split here and meet a my place,” Shane said quietly, looking from Lenora’s eyes to Vael’s and back. Each nodded in assurance and they turned their backs on each other. Vael and Shane reached for cigarettes, and the trio split into separate directions.
Like with all genres of music, there isn’t a clear cut definition for what constitutes “freak folk.” To those involved names like Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom make regular appearances in their music players, and once one has immersed himself into the culture he’ll be able to understand. But for the rest of us the words “freak folk” raise eyebrows and draw skeptical looks.
So what is it? And where did it come from? In the late 1960s psychedelic culture in the United States was at a high (no pun intended). With so much emphasis already placed on getting back to one’s roots, it was only natural that artists would turn to good ole folk music, and from there the “freak” emerged as the youth of the time began to introduce psychedelic and avant-garde musical styles, themes, and vocalization; such artists include The Incredible String Band, The Fugs, The Godz, Vashti Bunyan, and many more. In the 1990’s the genre was reborn as albums from the 60’s and 70’s were re-released as lost treasures. In 2004, Banhart released a compilation disc called The Golden Apples of the Moon which encapsulated the movement with artists such as Newsom, Bunyan, Espers, CocoRosie, and more onto one CD. Also that year, Newsom made her debut and Animal Collective released their LP Sung Tongs, which proved to be very influential to aspiring artists.
Despite Banhart and Newsom spreading it across the nation, freak folk hasn’t gained much popularity in mainstream culture. However, there is a strong cult following and it’s become a staple in the underground music industry with groups such as Bowerbirds and Rio en Medio. “Neo-hippies” has been used to describe both the artists and fans of freak folk as most are defined by their bushy beards, long hair, and hippy dress.
Though just because there is an emphasis on the acoustic doesn’t mean that is all freak folk is: Artists employ many different instruments and sounds, including (but not limited to) the sitar and tabla, synthesizers, and elaborate audio effects like panning, reverb, and backwards tapes. For example, Joanna Newsom’s voice is her trademark as a nontraditional lyrical element, yet the instrumentation of her music is that of chamber music (the harp, violins, the piano, you get the gist).
Like all genres of music, and especially its sub-genres, it’s impossible to fully define what is and what is not “freak folk.” To better understand, give a listen to Sufjan Stevens, the Holy Modal Rounders, Fleet Foxes or any of the artists mentioned above. Jam on, America!
by C.A. Swaim, 2012
For a moment, Shane just lay on her back and looked up at the ceiling. Her chest rose and fell with heavy breaths, a light sheen of sweat causing her to shiver as the air ghosted over her body. She rolled to her right, trapping her arms beneath her as she lay on her stomach and gazed over at the man beside her.
His black and blue hair was disheveled, plastered to his face and neck with sweat. His chest, too, rose and fell with deep breaths, and his skin shone. When he felt her eyes on him, he turned his head to look at her, half a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“We’ve been married a year, why the fuck didn’t we do that sooner?” asked Shane with a cheeky grin. They both knew the for real, no fun reason why, but at the moment that didn’t matter in the least.
Kiyoshi laughed, and Shane admired the roll of his Adam’s apple as the sound fell from his lips. Unable to resist, she released one hand from beneath her and ran her palm across his chest. Her fingertips felt the strength of the muscle, the taunt feel of the skin. In response he rolled to his side, wrapping one arm around her waist to pull their bodies together. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and then put his own forehead against hers.
Shane smiled, feeling the flutter of happiness overtaking her mind. She hadn’t felt this euphoric in a long time, and she couldn’t describe the feeling as anything other than what it was: Love. When she looked in his eyes, she saw it. She felt it when he kissed her, his lips moving passionately against her own. The protection she felt when his strong arms were around her, it was nothing like she had ever felt before. She could submit to this man – she could trust him.
He chuckled, his hand moving to cup her face and direct her eyes to look into his. “What are you thinking about?” he asked, but she did not feel the probing sensation in her mind that indicated he was using his natural born power to read her mind. He only wanted to know if she wanted him to know.
She felt so grateful in that moment, and the only way she felt she could express it was to lean forward and kiss him. She lingered there for a long time, completely engulfed in the feeling of how his lips conformed to hers, how her nerves danced when his fingers brushed across her bare skin, and the warmth of skin – it was intoxicating.
“I think,” she purred in his ear, “I would like to fuck you.” She smirked.
Kiyoshi smirked as well, their moment of tenderness easily erased by a feeling of primal lust. Without warning, he gripped her biceps and rolled her onto her back as he came to straddle her. She yelped in surprise and then giggled, grinning up at him.
He memorized how she looked in this moment – her blonde hair splayed over the mattress like strands of gold, her red eyes twinkling with mischief. Her long canines glinted in the light of the lamps, adding an edge to her smirk.
And he felt a surge of true love.
by C.A. Swaim (2013)
The widow Ms. Marteens waited to receive her guest in her husband’s study. It was a small, modestly furnished room; the nicest pieces were the two armchairs that sat in front of the fireplace with the marble hearth. When the door opened and the tall man of twenty-nine stepped through the older woman had to hold back an appreciative purr.
It was no secret that Alan Parker was the most sought after bachelor in all of Merrisport. The three daughters of the three lords all competed for his hand in marriage, yet he was aloof to the whole ordeal, merely swept up in the madness of it all. The fact was, Alan had never seen himself as anything more than just Alan Parker. His hair was jet black, yet thick and unkempt. He was constantly pushing his bangs out of his face, only to groan in frustration when they simply flipped back over into his eyes. His eyes were as gray as a storm, set against a pale complexion. Sometimes he fancied that he could see through himself in the mirror.
“Right on time, Mr. Parker, as always,” Ms. Marteens commented with a coy smile. She turned to the tea table behind her and picked up the white envelope that sat beside the kettle. Alan Parker’s name was scrawled across the front in her shaky hand. “I have all that you asked for here.”
Alan smiled politely as he strode forward, hand outstretched to take the letter, but suddenly Mrs. Marteens seized it to her chest and turned slightly from him. She gazed downwardly, for a moment looking shocked at her own action.
Disquieted, Alan stopped halfway to the small woman and let his arm drop to the side. His smile slipped from his face to reveal his anxiety. “I’m sorry, Miranda. I shouldn’t have been in such a hurry.”
Ms. Marteens tucked a strand of curly brown hair back into her bun before turning to face Alan again, a quivering smile on her face. “No, I’m being silly, my lord. The money is yours, it’s just that…with the war, and the expenses of Rickard’s school…”
“Then Rickard can go to a universal school like many other children,” reasoned Alan Parker with a soft smile. He closed his eyes for three seconds, then opened them. “The war strains us all my dear woman.”
“You speak only truth, my lord.” The quiver left her smile and she held the check out to him, her hand shaking.
Alan Parker pocketed the envelope before taking the woman’s wrist and stepping forward, worry etched into his face. “My dear Miranda, why are you shaking?”
She pulled her hand from him and turned away, cradling it against her chest in place of the envelope. “I’m afraid I have a touch of the palsy. Only a smidge.”
“No one only has a smidge of the palsy, Miranda.” After all, didn’t you just bury your lord husband because of it?
He could practically see her close up, the warmness in her smile draining. “You have what you came for, Lord Parker. Is there anything else?”
“Miranda - “
“Anything else?” she interjected, enunciating each word with heavy meaning.
For a moment they locked gazes and stared each other down, until Alan sighed and stepped back, running a hand through his hair. It curled just past his ears. “I understand,” he murmured and then turned to leave the study, shutting the door softly behind him.
by C.A. Swaim, 2012
As she laid in the dark, curled up on the disheveled bed like an aborted babe, a realization dawned on her. Her body cried out in pain as she reached a hand to the open wound on her neck. It came back slick with blood. For a moment she admired the substance, her life substance; it was darker than any other species’ blood, and was so thin it was nearly water – she needed to feed.
Three years. That’s how long she’d been at the mercy of Sadakuno Frey. The neck wound which bled so profusely now had been originally made that first night he came to her room. She was only thirteen then, and so naïve; she had fancied herself in love with him!
She closed her eyes and saw flashes – his body forcing hers against the door, the tearing of fabric, the excruciating pain, his teeth tearing away the skin of her neck, marking her as his, the humiliation from such a violation had been more than her mind could handle. The mark was nearly as big as a tea saucer, corded and disfigured, and every time she saw it the memories of that night threatened to overwhelm her.
When she opened her eyes they were glowing with hatred, but unlike any other time before, she showed determination now.
Clenching her teeth until she thought they would crack, she pushed herself onto her hands and knees. She inched and crawled her way to the floor, and immediately wished she’d stayed on the bed. The non-sanded wood planks were rough and cold, but she believed it would work better down here.
She dug deep into her mind for her young memories. She was eleven when all of Thomas’s careful training paid off: she successfully summoned her first demon. Granted, it had been a lesser shade from the surface of Inferno, and she hadn’t done it since, but she knew she could.
She wiped her hand along her neck, hissing as her skin came in contact with the laceration, and then smeared the collected blood across the floor. She let the splinters dig into her palm – she barely felt them now. Turning her wrist to face her, she sunk her fangs into the white skin. Blood flowed freely into her mouth and she could taste the coppery-sweet tang. She turned her wrist and clenched her fingers, forcing the blood to drip and trickle onto the floor.
Then she began to whisper: “Beschwören um mir einen schaduw der meine zu helfen kann.” (Summon to me a shade that can assist my need.) The environment changed instantaneously. The air became thick and heavy with the smell of musk, brimstone, and charred flesh. “Demon!” she cried, “Fordere ich Sie!” (I summon you!) and energy exploded from the blood stained floor. Everything became dark, and then she watched as a shiny, slick oil grew outward like a wave from her blood offering. It jumped, curled, and writhed underneath her like the surface of the sun – if it were black sludge.