{Feature} Jacqueline Ess – Her Last Will And Testament: Paul Flewitt – The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar (Door 8)

The Books Of Blood Advent Calendar

Door 8

Jacqueline Ess – Her Last Will And Testament

Paul Flewitt

KR: Door 7: Hell’s Event – Cody Langille

Jacqueline Ess – Her Last Will And Testament

I’ll begin this post with a couple of warnings. Firstly, this post will contain big spoilers for this story and, perhaps, other novels by Clive Barker. If you haven’t read any Barker, or Jacqueline Ess in particular, proceed with caution.

Secondly, I’m a huge Clive Barker fan. This post will come with lots of fanboy gushing, praise and sycophancy. I make no apology for that.

So, with those two pieces of housekeeping out of the way, let the fun commence …

A Blueprint For Future Tales

Of course I searched for her. It’s only when you’ve lost someone, you realize the nonsense of that phrase “it’s a small world.” It isn’t. It’s a vast, devouring world, especially if you’re alone.” – Clive Barker

Books of Blood is the gateway drug for Barker. On any given thread across social media on where to start with Clive Barker, this collection is often the most popular suggestion. Not without good reason. We are served with bite-sized chunks of one of the most unique imaginations in literature. The horror, the beauty, the sweep of poetry, the eroticism, the fantastical nature of Barker’s mind is all present within the six volumes. These few short stories helped to change the face of horror and dark fiction, tore up the rule book and made Stephen King question whether he and James Herbert had been “sleeping for the last ten years.” It’s not difficult to see why King would’ve said that, because Barker was something different, something new.

In Books of Blood, we have a whole swathe of stories with cinematographic potential. The fact that only a handful have been adapted to date is a real shame, and a crime really. Every story in this collection is very good, with a smaller number of stone cold classics thrown in for good measure. Others will talk about Dread, Pig Blood Blues, Midnight Meat Train, In The Hills, The Cities and Rawhead Rex, but I’m here to talk about one of the unsung, unadapted stories which fall into the classic story bracket: Jacqueline Ess; Her Last Will and Testament.

Jacqueline Ess appears in the second volume of Books of Blood. Released in 1984, this volume also contained Dread, Hell’s Event, Skins of the Fathers and his own homage to Edgar Alan Poe; More Murders in the Rue Morgue. All high quality stories, but Jacqueline Ess possibly offers more of a clue to Barker’s future direction than any of the others.

In later stories, Clive displays a fascination and respect for women that is often missing in horror. He seems enraptured by the sacred feminine, the power of womanhood and the wronged woman becoming hero. Kirsty Cotton (Hellbound Heart,) Lori (Cabal,) Tesla Bombeck (The Great and Secret Show and Everville,) Rachel Palenberg (Galilee) and Norma Payne (The Last Illusion and Scarlet Gospels) all portray this vision of strong womanhood in Barker’s stories, colouring the female in a way that horror just wasn’t doing in the 70’s and 80’s. Remember, we’re still around a decade away from Buffy the Vampire Slayer here, and the only real heroine we have in horror at this point is Ripley, in the Alien movies. Other than that, they’re generally fodder for the slashers. Barker went somewhere else.

Jacqueline Ess is an interesting tale in that it tells the tale of a woman with immense power, but she fears and shuns it. Her power, in the end, scares her to such a degree that she sells herself to destruction. It’s a sad tale, but also a tale of the ultimate empowerment of the female.

Our most important narrator in the story is Oliver Vassi, the only man who truly, pathetically, loves Jacqueline Ess. He loved her and, so far, lived to tell the tale. He begins his account with “to you who dream of sweet, strong women I leave this story.” Is this a warning? A cautionary tale against loving a strong-willed woman? Or is this to be a treatise on the proper treatment of the sacred feminine? I guess that’s up to the reader to decide.

We open the tale with a view of the woman as bored housewife, constantly annoyed by a coddling, overbearing husband. She will not remain that way for very long. In the depths of a depression, her husband sends her to a condescending psychiatrist. The man flirts with her, and Jacqueline responds in a way which surprises even her … she thinks “make him a woman,” and so it comes to pass. The description of the transformation is graphically wonderful, and is the least of the atrocities we’ll witness in the next few pages. Something is unlocked in Jacqueline Ess at this moment, and its apotheosis is breath-taking to behold.

From here, we view the scene as Jacqueline discovers that her husband has been unfaithful. Far from being a pleading housewife, she employs her newfound skills of transformation on her husband. He’s always been a messy man, and so she bundles him up and makes him a whole lot neater.

Here is where we first meet Oliver Vassi, as he tells us of his first encounter with the love of his life. He is a lawyer, and old college friend of Jacqueline’s very dead husband. She visits Vassi to help put her husband’s affairs in order, telling him that her husband died of cancer. From that first meeting, Vassi is utterly besotted with her. He tells us that he forgets his work and speaks with her, putting aside everything to be in her presence. He finds out later that she is lying to him, but at that moment he cares little for the truth. He only wants to be there, to look at Jacqueline.

They strike up a relationship and she moves in with Vassi, indulging him in his sexual desires. Soon enough, Vassi’s contacts come to him with the truth; that Ben Ess has been brutally murdered, and Jacqueline is the prime suspect. He confronts her with this news, only wanting to know why she lied to him, and she offers a glimpse of her powers to him. Whether this is a warning or a simple display of power is never ascertained. She tells him that she needs someone to teach her how to use her power and control it, and that he is not that person. He’s just a man who loves her, and who will continue to love her even knowing what she’s capable of. She leaves then, and Vassi knows that all she said about him is true. He loses himself, his work and his material possessions. He is bereft without her, and cares little for anything but her.

We follow Jacqueline then, as she searches for someone who can teach her how to wield power. She, quite predictably for the 1980’s, looks in all the wrong places. She looks to those who control money, the most powerful people in the world. She becomes their mistress, offering her sex in return for an education in the use of power. This brings her to Titus Pettifer, one of the most powerful business magnates in the world. She’s done her research, and offers herself to him. They have an affair, and once again she is disappointed. Titus is just a man like any other, with petty fears and ambitions. He holds no secrets, wields no real power. Her past is discovered by Lyndon, Pettifer’s assistant, and Pettifer breaks off their affair. In return, Jacqueline offers Pettifer a glimpse of real power, then pays Lyndon a visit. He doesn’t get away so lightly.

Next we return to Vassi as he searches for Jacqueline. He has scraped enough of himself together to decide what he has to do, and he’s devoted his life to finding her. He tells us of this search, of the curious tales which surround a woman he has loved, but grown to mythical proportion. Now, it seems to Vassi, that she has grown to godesshood, and he wants her more than ever.

Jacqueline’s encounter with Pettifer isn’t at an end. She made a crucial error in letting him live, and no mistake is ever left unpunished. She is kidnapped and taken to a remote house, where Pettifer visits her. He tells her he can’t live without her, that he needs her in his life. Unfortunately for Titus, she has outgrown her need of him and knows he has nothing of value to offer her. He tells her that he would die without her, and take her with him. She resolves not to be goaded into killing him, but that changes when he threatens her own life. Here, we are treated to a view of Jacqueline’s power unbridled, as she transforms his hired henchmen and him. She doesn’t kill Titus Pettifer, but she renders him unrecognisable. The murder is done by one of Pettifer’s own men, who fears what Titus has become. From here, Jacqueline disappears from the world.

Finally, we are back to Vassi. He has visited the house where Pettifer died, heard the tales of Jaqueline’s encounter with the man. He speaks to Pettifer’s murderer, who tells Vassi where his love can be found. And so, we journey to Amsterdam, and meet with the pimp, Koos. It takes Vassi seven weeks, but he finds her at last. The cost of an evening with the woman is scant, only everything Vassi owns, and he gives it gladly. He is taken to a squalid room, where he finds Jacqueline naked and bound to a bed. She tells him that this hasn’t been done to her, but by her own request. Men come to lose themselves in her, and none offer her anything. The only man to ever give her anything is Vassi himself. What follows is a beautiful coupling, where both Jacqueline and Vassi give themselves to each other … and are gone.

Jacqueline Ess is a strong woman with power. To me, the power is metaphorical of intelligence and independence, both qualities often frowned upon by previous generations who expected women to be servile and pliant. Here, Barker offers us a woman wanting to find an equal, but finds only grovelling, incompetent males. They can’t handle her, see her as a threat. All except Vassi, who treats her with humanity even when he discovers the truth of her. This is the first example of Barker exploring the power of the feminine, but it’s by no means the last. In the very next volume, he couches the debate in Rawhead Rex, the monster who can only be defeated by women. That Barker understands the feminine condition, and writes from the female perspective so effectively is a testament to his skill as a writer. In a world of male writers who objectify women, focussing on badly drawn portrayals of the way women see themselves, we need more Clive Barkers who really seek understand. Jacqueline Ess stands as a blueprint for the novels Barker will write in the future, and is arguably among the best of them.

All hail the sacred feminine.

Paul Flewitt

Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author with the CHBB/Vamptasy press. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.

Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.

In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.

In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes; A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.

2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. “Poor Jeffrey” was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.

In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies; Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane and more.

In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue; The Silent Invader for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.

Paul continues to work on further material.

He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.

You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…

Facebook; My-Storytrees-Leaves

Amazon; Paul-Flewitt

Twitter; @RealPaulFlewitt

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