Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Blue Devil Squadron To Soar Again

Blue Devil Island cover art by M. Wayne Miller

With its former publisher, Marietta, permanently shuttered, my World War II novel, Blue Devil Island, has been put into the hangar for repairs and is just about ready to soar off again, courtesy of Crossroad Press. It will be first released as an e-book, followed by trade paperback and audio editions. Crossroad Press, for a relatively youthful publisher, has become a first-rate enterprise, with an extensive catalog of work by many of the biggest names in the industry. They've done a killer job with my novels The Nightmare Frontier, The Lebo Coven, and The Monarchs (plus the audio book of Balak), and I couldn't be more pleased they'll be giving Blue Devil Island the kind of treatment it's needed for quite some time. Happily, the Crossroad editions will retain M. Wayne Miller's beautiful cover art, pictured at left.

AUTUMN, 1943: The beginning of the American offensive against the Japanese in the South Pacific. Just west of the Solomon Islands lies a remote, desert island called Conquest, where the U.S. Navy stations a new fighting squadron, led by Lieutenant Commander Drew McLachlan, an ace pilot and veteran of the Battle of Coral Sea.

With his group of air warriors, who call themselves the Blue Devils, McLachlan soars into frequent combat with the Japanese, inflicting serious casualties upon the enemy. However, on the squadron's island home, signs appear that it may not be entirely alone, for in nearby volcanic caves, McLachlan finds evidence of habitation by unknown natives — natives that resemble no known living race, and that may yet exist in the mysterious subterranean catacombs. As the tension on the island mounts, McLachlan is forced to fight on two fronts: against their known enemy, the Japanese, and an unknown, predatory force that leaves mutilated victims as the only evidence of its presence.

As the Solomons campaign enters into its final skirmishes, the Japanese at last turn their attention to Conquest Island. In the final conflict, the Blue Devils find themselves the target of an overwhelming assault by the desperate Imperial Japanese forces—and McLachlan must face the reality that the key to his men’s survival lies deep in the dark and deadly caves of Conquest Island itself.

"...An enjoyable World War II adventure with a science-fiction plot twist. Readers nostalgic for the era's war movies and pulp fiction will enjoy the ride." — Publisher's Weekly

You may read an excerpt here. And do stay tuned for all the news that is the news across the nation....

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Willow Creek: Fearing the Unseen

I seem to have stumbled into a mess of found-footage horror movies lately, not so much because the style appeals to me (it really kinda doesn't) but because several of the subjects I do enjoy — ghosties, trolls, and bigfeet — apparently also appeal to movie makers with an affinity for the form. Bobcat Goldthwait's Willow Creek is the latest of these I've checked out, and I did so mainly because a couple of writers whose opinions I trust gave it high marks. With some caveats, I will do the same.

Here there be spoilers.

Willow Creek is about a young couple who set out in search of Bigfoot. Their destination: Bluff Creek, in Six Rivers National Forest, CA, the site of the infamous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film. Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a confirmed believer looking to make a documentary about the legendary beast. His girlfriend, Kelley (Alexie Gilmore), though skeptical of the critter's existence, is sporting enough to accompany Jim on his venture. They head out to the wilderness, via the town of Willow Creek, a.k.a. the Bigfoot Capital of the World. We have a few lighthearted moments here, especially at some of the establishments that actually exist, but soon enough, things start looking a bit hairy. In town, they find posters displaying a photograph of a woman who has recently gone missing. And immediately they reach the old logging road that leads to the filming site, an unfriendly local accosts them and warns them to get the hell out of there and return to town. But having come this far, Jim refuses to abandon his plans and finds another route to his destination.

Once the couple has set up camp, they take a swim break at a nearby stream. However, when they return to their campsite, they find it in shambles. Figuring it to be the work of a curious bear, they resolve to be more cautious, but the incident does little to dampen Jim's mood. After sundown, though, exuberance gives way to trepidation as the couple hear strange noises in the darkness. Indeed, the sounds — ranging from inexplicable knocking to bizarre vocalizations — move steadily closer. And it isn't long before Jim and Kelley — and we, the audience — discover the source of the sounds.

It's sort of what you expect, but sort of not.

Willow Creek breaks no new ground, none, following the formula established by The Blair Witch Project to a tee. A crucial difference, however, is the fact that the two main characters in Willow Creek, unlike the former film (and so many other horror movies with youthful protagonists), are not obnoxious idiots. While perhaps myopic and foolish enough to make you want to give each of them an occasional swift kick, Jim and Kelley make for a believable couple, and even his Bigfoot mania isn't so over the top as to be ridiculous. Having some positive emotional investment in the characters shouldn't be such a breath of fresh air, but this is an aspect of characterization that movie makers have failed to understand from time immemorial — particularly in the realm of horror movies, where I would argue that a positive emotional connection is most needed.

Until Jim and Kelley retire to their tent after dark, there hasn't been much in the way of suspense. But when it kicks in, it kicks in, and I can safely say that, as one who frequents the woods and has been an avid camper, I haven't been so riveted by a movie scene since a nurse got her head chopped (just off camera) in William Peter Blatty's mostly excellent Exorcist III. The power in the scene in Willow Creek comes not from any visual effect; in fact, for 17 full minutes, the camera is focused solely on Jim and Kelley, listening, inside their tent. And the sounds coming from the woods could not be more disconcerting. As the camera comes on, we see Jim gazing into space wearing a curious expression, and Kelley stirs beside him. He tells her he has heard a knocking sound in the forest, but she doesn't hear anything. Neither do we — until a few moments later, a distinct knocking does echo from the distance. Gradually, more sounds rise out of the night: weird, muted sounds that might be voices, or perhaps low, non-human vocalizations; rustling; increasingly loud knocking. And as the source of these noises draws nearer, it's easy to feel as if we are right there with the characters. As Jim's fascination turns to fear, one might just feel compelled to get the hell out of, well, wherever the hell you're watching the movie.

The staging in these last few minutes is not quite spot on. Once Jim and Kelley do leave their tent, too much time is spent with the camera simply aimed at their faces. It only stands to reason that if there's something out there in the woods, and you're bound and determined to keep that camera running, you'd be trying to record whatever is out there and not your every facial expression. To put a more positive spin on it, at least this keeps the shaking, weaving, lurching camera work — the single biggest blunder of found-footage movies — to a bare minimum.

Without completely giving away the ending, I'll mention that at no time do we actually see Bigfoot — and in this movie, that's a clear positive. We don't need to see Bigfoot. The things we've heard are far more convincing than any image. The movie Exists (reviewed here), which in many ways blew beans, did present us with an excellent visual depiction of ye Sasquatch; but in Willow Creek, we're better left with the one disturbing visual it does afford us just before the movie ends. And because there is at least some emotional investment in these characters, there's a deeper sense of tragedy than one could derive from Exists, or The Blair Witch Project, or (insert most any teenage victim movie title here) during which most of us are praying for the characters to die and thus put us out of their misery.

I haven't read many positive reviews of Willow Creek, and to some extent, I can understand the lack of love. As I said, we're not breaking any new ground. There's no big visual payoff. Some viewers find the protagonists as vacuous those in The Blair Witch Project; I disagree but I do grant that these people are not colorful, deep, or particularly clever. I find them to be individuals who might be my next-door neighbors (actually, sadly, my former next-door neighbors). In this movie, these characters are just made to order.

What shines in Willow Creek is its superior immersion factor. I am in this movie. I am loving the gorgeous forest scenery. I am hearing those inexplicable noises in the dark. And I am feeling the terror build as the sounds move nearer. And what happens in those 17 minutes in the dark in that tent, well, that is precisely what pushes my fear buttons.

3.5 out 5 Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Jim interviews Bigfoot for his documentary in the town of Willow Creek, the "Bigfoot Capital of the World"
Jim and Kelley enjoy Bigfoot Burgers at The Bigfoot Restaurant in Willow Creek — a real treat at a real location.
Jim gives an on-the-spot report at Bluff Creek, the site of the infamous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film clip
Noises in the dark wake Jim and Kelley in the middle of the night.
Something is out there. But Bigfoot beware! Kelley is brandishing a big stick!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Equinox Devil, Part Deux

I love it when there's a perfect storm of some of my favorite things in life — my lovely girlfriend, geocaching, scary stuff, wine, autumn, and a picturesque location — such as last night's Autumn Equinox geocaching event in the quaint village of Bethania, just up the road from Winston-Salem, NC. The host, Ms. Vicky "Honeychile" Hallenbeck, put together a wonderful little event at Belle La Vie Studio, featuring geocachers, wine, delicious snacks, personalized trackable items, and... the Fugue Devil! If you've read "Fugue Devil" or any of my blogs about it (such as "The Equinox Devil" from September 3), you'll know that the Fugue Devil is known to appear at midnight on the Autumn Equinox. If you know about it, it knows about you. And if you see it, it will come for you. A few weeks ago, I had mentioned in my "will attend" log for the Equinox event that this just might be the night the Fugue Devil appears to go about its ugly business. Much to my surprise, Ms. Honeychile apparently took the story to heart.
Ms. B. looking a little dangerous herself

The business wasn't terribly ugly, but the Fugue Devil did appear last night. Ms. Honeychile not only placed a new cache called "Fugue Devil" near the Bethania Village Mill Shoppes, where the event was held, she also created a set of trackable buttons bearing the beast's image as it appears on the back cover of my collection Other Gods (art by M. Wayne Miller). These turned out to be so nice that, as an impromptu door prize, I decided to offer up one of my very few copies of the original edition of Fugue Devil & Other Weird Horrors, published by Macabre, Inc., in 1992 — long out of print and exceedingly rare. When I drew the name of the unlucky winner, who should it turn out to be but Mr. Tom "Night-hawk" Kidd — at which time a certain spontaneous expletive came unbidden to my lips. (No, I don't have Tourette's or anything; it's merely my involuntary response to insurance men.) I do hope no one was offended! (Sorry, Pastor Jay!) In any event, congratulations to the old man, and may he enjoy his prize without an accompanying visitation.

To make a nice evening nicer, Ms. B. and I had an excellent dinner at Silos Bistro in Reynolda Village, I got a first-to-find on a new cache in Winston, and we finished up with a last glass of wine at Rioja Wine Bar in Greensboro.

All I can say is, after these last few weeks, some good horror was just the ticket. I'm so pleased to have been able to share it with a great bunch of folks.
The (un)lucky winner with the writer and a lovely lady

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Marsh-a, Marsh-a, Marsh-a

It pains me to say I've had a rather disagreeable summer, with more things going wrong — hellishly and expensively so — in a short span of time than the law ought to allow. However, on the positive side, the geocaching this summer has been most satisfying, as I've managed to claim a number of old nemeses. A few weeks ago, I found "Pirates of the Seven Lakes," an aged but recently refurbished multi-stage cache that required hikes of varying degrees of difficulty on several different trails ("Pirates," August 11, 2015); last weekend, I picked up "Vanishing Point," which had been doing its best to drive me to excessive drinking ("Arch-Nemesis," September 13, 2015); and today, at least two years since finding its first few stages, I finally knocked out "Marsh-a, Marsh-a, Marsh-a" (GC18NT4), one of the few trail hides in Greensboro I had yet to claim. Marsh-a is the work of my frequent caching partner, "Bloody" Rob Isenhour, and his cohort, Sarah "Sssharkie" Stevens, though the cache been out there in the wild since before I even knew either of them.

As you might guess, Marsh-a is so named for the very dense, very wild marsh along Reedy Fork Creek, which connects Lakes Brandt and Townsend, just north of Greensboro. The first few stages are close to the Reedy Fork Trail, and while they're challenging enough in their own right, they don't really take you into the thick of it. That's reserved for last couple of stages, and the final, more often than not, is only accessible by boat or by swimming. Since I don't have the first item and am not overly keen on the second — at least in this environment — hunting that final stage has not been number one on the priority list. I had found the first few stages a couple of years ago, but at that time, the lake was high, so old Rodan ended up retreating in defeat. Recently, though, the lake levels have been very low, so today I decided to have another go at it. After hiding a new cache of my own on the nearby Blue Heron Trail, I made the lengthy hike out the Reedy Fork Trail, and — what do you know — reaching ground zero on foot looked more promising than it had on previous excursions.

Still — ye gods, what a monster! Though the water had receded, the reeds, briers, and brambles between the trail and ground zero looked ominous, almost impenetrable. But with the cache only 500-some feet away, there was nothing for it but to make my way into this darkest of marshy thickets. For about half the distance, I had to hack my way through grasses that rose higher than my head, and just beyond my line of sight, I could hear things slithering through the reeds and hopping into murky pools. It's been a mean season for Copperheads, and as they're particularly active at this time of year, I took pains to make my presence known to any lurking specimens well in advance. As I emerged from the reeds, I came upon the dry creek bed, where I discovered a very large pile of bones; perhaps a deer, perhaps something... other.

The last hundred feet was the most difficult. Tangles of briers and creepers made forward progress painfully slow. But when I was about 50 feet from ground zero, I spied the cache: an ammo box tethered to a huge, partially collapsed tree. I knew it had been out here since early 2008 and had not been found for well over a year. Much to my delight, I found the can in excellent condition, the contents clean and dry, almost pristine. Apart from the age of the some of the items within (particularly certain devices that would have been considered high-tech in their day), one might think the cache had been hidden yesterday.
The cache is in there somewhere....
With my signature on the log, the deed was done, and now I had to make my way back to the trail. Easy enough, I figured, if I retraced my steps. I had certainly left a mean geotrail through the reeds. Or so I thought. The first hundred feet or so, I managed to stay on a true course, but somewhere I lost the trail I had hacked, and now I was having to hack my way through it anew. Checking the track record on my GPS, I discovered I had veered some 40 to 50 feet from my inbound path. Simple enough to get back on track, no? Well, no. The marsh had eaten my geotrail. Even when my GPS indicated I was in the middle of the ground I had previously covered, there was no sign of trail. Nothing to do but push onward. And that was when a barbed wire–like strand of briers came whipping forth, slashing me across the face, dislodging my glasses. Thank Yog I was wearing them, though, or I would have ended up stumbling blindly out of there — quite literally. The wounds were not as painful as all that, but there was lots of blood, which was all over my shirt in no time. Once I got a look at the lacerations, it turned out they were fairly small, but deep. And that is one of many reasons I carry a little bottle of Purell with me everywhere I go.

So, finally, I reached the trail safe and sound, if shy a few milliliters of blood. But as Bloody Rob says, "No blood, no glory," and I reckon it's only fitting to shed copious quantities of blood on one of Rob's caches.

At least it wasn't my nose.
No blood, no glory

Monday, September 14, 2015


Up goes the bucket... down come the limbs.


It's a helluva job, I reckon, going up and down in a bucket with chainsaws and ropes, securing limbs so they don't fall where you don't want them to, buzzing them off the trunk, finally reducing a towering tree to a mere stump in the backyard. I don't think I'd want to do such a job, as an accident in that environment is probably not going to be minor. If you're reading this, and you're one of those guys, then you've got some thoracis.

I hate to lose trees, and if I had my way, I'd live in the middle of a forest rather than surrounded by grass, but sometimes, a tree just has to go. Years ago — sometime in the mid 90s, I guess — a hurricane came through and set one of the big trees in the backyard to leaning. It was otherwise still healthy, so the tree people we called cabled it to a nearby poplar, which helped keep it upright and stable for a good couple of decades. Lately, though, water running through the yard has eroded the soil at the roots to the point the tree has been looking too precarious for comfort. So today it came down. Hated to lose it. Hated to spend the money. But I'd have really hated for it to fall on the neighbors and/or take out my storage shed out back.

Well, then again, neighbors can always be replaced....

Sunday, September 13, 2015


This one is all about the geocaching, but whether you're into the activity or aren't, feel free to read along.

From almost the time I was the greenest of geocachers, "Vanishing Point" (GC1Z6RM) has been my arch-nemesis. I must confess I found it in the most roundabout way possible, and only after several years of trying.

This is what happened....

About four years ago, I had planned to hide a cache near, but not on, one of Greensboro's watershed trails. I had constructed a unique container, located an excellent hiding spot, and actually placed the cache. However, as I was making my egress from the woods, I came upon a camouflaged packet containing only a photograph, about 200 feet from my new hide. I realized I had stumbled upon a stage of a cache, but I didn't know which cache. I suspected "Vanishing Point," since I had already found most of the other puzzle and multi-caches in the area, but I didn't know for sure until I began making some queries among other geocachers. Sadly for me, my new cache was too close to this physical stage, so I went back, removed it, and ended up using that container for another cache in that area.

It was not long after finding the packet that I realized I had made a critical error: I had left without marking its coordinates on my GPS (a clear example of brain death on old Rodan's part) so that I could go back and make use of the information it contained. When I learned that my discovery was, in fact, the penultimate stage of "Vanishing Point," I decided to return to the site of my ill-fated hide, attempt to retrace my steps, and perhaps find the packet again. Over the next couple of years, I came back to the area numerous times, spending lord knows how many hours hunting my quarry, always in vain. It became something of a personal mission for me to find the final stage based on that fateful accident rather than by working on the cache from scratch — a process involving finding numerous other stages and sorting out puzzles, which might be a daunting, perhaps impossible task since the cache owner is no longer active.

I never was able to locate the packet again; I'm fairly certain that, over the years, it must have fallen (or was taken) from its hiding place, and that it is no longer there.

Eventually, from a couple of previous finders, I received some useful intel about the final stage, and I returned to the woods on at least three occasions, spending countless hours at a couple of likely hiding sites, dividing my time between searching for the final stage and that confounded packet, which I knew could help me close in on the correct hiding place. Each time, I ended up leaving empty-handed.

Today, however, "Bloody" Rob Isenhour — one of the group who had last found the cache, back in 2010 — offered to accompany me on another hunt, though it had been long enough since his finding it that even he wasn't certain where we ought to search. In looking back at previous finders' logs, we discovered a clue we thought might assist us, if only we could decipher it. Much to our joy, in the end, we did. Yet, even then, as we went back and forth over a particular section of woods, scrutinizing its every inch — one of the areas I had meticulously searched on several previous visits — it appeared the effort was again going to come to naught.

At last, however, with the two of us literally crawling over the site we knew had to be the correct ground zero, we turned up the cache. More specifically, Bloody Rob turned up the cache, though his previous experience finding it proved to be of only marginal assistance. But to finally have this one in the bag is, for me, a substantive victory, and, quite frankly, I don't know whether it's possible to locate the final stage as the cache owner actually intended. If that packet is gone, my guess is that so is any hope of making the find by starting at stage one.

A years'-long adventure, finally come to satisfying end.

Afterward, Rob and I treated ourselves to a keen lunch at Mexico Restaurant, and then we had a puzzle cache to solve down at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. The listing — "Elizabeth Teaches Alexandria the Violin" (GC6264J) — had popped up this morning and appeared to be an intriguing combination of decryption and detective work. At the first stage, just outside the music building, it turned out that we did have a code to decipher, which we managed to do with relative ease ("relative" being the operative word). Heading to the next location to discover whether we had solved the puzzle properly, we ran into our old pal (and also arch-nemesis) Tom, a.k.a. "Night-hawk," who had also beaten the cipher and was on an earnest hunt. Putting our heads together, we figured out what we had to do from there, a step that Tom facilitated by turning on some of his legendary charm. (Note: the degree of sarcasm employed in that last sentence I leave for the reader to determine.) Happily, the cache proved to be quite ingenious, all the more so since the hider appears to be new at the game.

Anyway, a fine day on the caching trail to be sure, and now it's back to doing a spot of revising on my novel, Blue Devil Island, some news of which I will be announcing in the near future.

Happy landings to you.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Equinox Devil

No, the title of this blog entry does not reference the 1960s horror movie, Equinox, although, in its way, it's not all that far removed. It references the smiling chap you see to the left, which is the beastly demon from my novelette "Fugue Devil," as realized by artist Phillip Reynolds for my first fiction collection, Fugue Devil & Other Weird Horrors (Macabre, Inc., 1994). More by happenstance than design, this particular critter came up in conversation on two separate occasions over the past couple of days, which put me in a mood to reflect on this dear, deadly old friend of mine. Permit me to share some of those reflections with you. There is no charge. Well, there is if you'd care to buy the novelette, which I would of course appreciate, but you can read on here, and I shan't send you a bill.

Many of you who follow this blog likely have already read "Fugue Devil." It's one of my more well-known stories, I think, even though it's over twenty years old. While the original collection in which it appeared is long out of print — and exceptionally difficult to find — the novelette (as well as its sequel, "Devil's Eye") may be found lurking in two of my other collections, The Last Trumpet and Other Gods, both readily available from Wildside Press and Dark Regions Press, respectively.

"Fugue Devil" arose out of the most intense nightmare I ever had as a child (I was about 12 at the time), and I still recall its details more clearly than I remember most waking memories. In the dream, the beast haunted the woods behind my family's house (where my mom still lives, as a matter of fact). The woods are not very large; maybe a dozen or so acres that create a buffer between streets in the old neighborhood. In the spring and summer, though, when the woods are in full bloom, it feels like a massive forest because you can't see the houses that, in reality, aren't very far away.

Let's go back to the summer of 1971, there or about....

The dream opened like a scene from a movie, on a beautiful summer afternoon, with my friends, Robert Cox and Chuck Neely, and I playing just down the street from my house. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something moving in the sky, and when I looked up, I saw a black shape, insect-like but huge, zig-zagging rapidly across the sky, trailing black smoke. I asked if anyone knew what it was, and in an excited voice, Chuck told me it was the "real" Tazmanian Devil, which was nothing like the Bugs Bunny cartoon character. If you saw it and you were the last person to turn away from it, you would be marked for death.

Well, guess who was the last person to turn away.

In the next scene, I was in my backyard with my younger brother (who would have been about 6 or 7 at the time) and my dad, who was grilling steaks — a frequent weekend activity in those days. Dad went into the house, and I heard something moving on the wooded hillside behind the house. Out from the trees came a dog that resembled a blue-hued greyhound — only this one was massive, about the size of a horse. Then, from behind it, strode a ten-foot-tall thing, which had the ridged, scaled body of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, colored bluish-gray, the same as the dog; the wolf-like head of the demon from Curse of the Demon; and huge golden wings that resembled King Ghidorah's, from Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. The beast looked down at me and grinned.
Artist M. Wayne Miller's conception of the Fugue Devil, from
my fiction collection, Other Gods (Dark Regions, 2008)

I woke up in a cold sweat, shivering, which I have never otherwise experienced in all my 56 years. It took me quite a while to go back to sleep, and when I did, the dream took up precisely where it left off.

The sun had just gone down, and my brother and I were home alone. He realized he had left some of his toys down on the driveway and wanted to go after them. I advised him against this because I knew the Tazmanian Devil must out there somewhere. But I could not convince him to stay inside, so I went out to the back deck to watch over him as he went after his toys. He had just picked them up and was on his way back up the stairs when I heard something moving in the woods. The back porch light shone only a short distance into the trees, but it revealed something coming out of the woods, and I realized that it was the huge dog. Then, again from behind the dog, the Devil appeared, but this time its scaled body was bright green (if any of you ever owned the Aurora plastic model kit of the Creature From the Black Lagoon way back when, well, that was its exact color).

Again, the demon looked right at me, and again, I woke in a cold sweat, crying my young eyes out. It was now about 4:00 AM, and though I tried like hell to stay awake till daylight, I just couldn't manage it.

When I fell back to sleep, the dream continued yet again. This time, I was at my friend Bob Cox's house, believing I might be safe if the critter didn't know where to look for me. We were hiding out in his upstairs bedroom, and for a long time, nothing happened. But then something crashed downstairs, and after a few moments, I could hear heavy footsteps below. They started coming up the stairs to the bedroom, and I realized we were trapped because there was no other way out. The door burst open, and there was the Tazmanian Devil, having to crouch to get through the door because it was so tall. Now its body was a fiery, blood red, and it grinned real big as it reached out to get me.

That's when I woke up, and dawn was just beginning to brighten the sky. I didn't go back to sleep again.

I wrote the story, "Fugue Devil," in 1991, some 20 years after the dream. The theme of the story diverges radically from the dream itself, but the creature's main appearances are all there. I can attest that we do dream in color, for the various hues to which its body changed were brilliant. Needless to say, because the creature came out of the woods (which adjoin Bob Cox's house as well), I looked upon them with a certain amount of fear for some years afterward. And while I consider these woods among the most friendly, beautiful, and welcoming places on earth, they still hold a somewhat dark place in my heart because of that wonderful, memorable night horror from my youth.

In the story, the Fugue Devil appears every 17 years, at midnight on the Autumn Equinox. It was actually brought into being by musicians who, though music, found a key to opening doors to other dimensions (indirectly chronicled in my earlier story, "Threnody", which also appears in both The Last Trumpet and Other Gods). I gave the story something of a tag line, which reads "If you know about it, it knows about you. And if you see it, it will come for you." Words to heed, I can tell you!

While I can't objectively state that "Fugue Devil" is one of my best tales, it certainly is one of my most personally meaningful tales. It was one of those special stories that, as a writer, I had to write.

May all your nightmares be as memorable and lovely.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

You Gotta Have Heart

Working on my best "get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-
right-the-fuck-now" face.

Surprise of surprises. I've just spent the past 36 hours in the hospital, after having been hit with severe chest pain over a prolonged period starting last Friday. I didn't figure it was a heart attack, since I keep up a pretty good cardiac exercise routine, but for the fact I also experienced some symptoms that were unusual for the chest pain I've suffered from acid reflux in the past, and I do have some hereditary risk factors. So, yesterday morning, with a pain level exceeding one I could reasonably ignore — against my better judgment, since I generally won't go to the ER unless I'm spewing copious quantities of blood — I asked Kimberly if she'd be kind enough to haul me to the ER to be checked out. Well, after seven hours in the ER, featuring some exquisite bloodletting and several EKGs, for the first time in over 31 years, I was admitted to the hospital as an in-patient. Yeah, there was a shitload of testing — including more EKGs, even more copious bloodletting at regular intervals, a treadmill stress test, an ultrasound, four different doctors, countless nurses and radiology techs, blah blah blah.

Dammit, all I really wanted them to tell me was whether I'd had a heart attack or not. All that other shit, they could have kept.

Long story short, I'm fine. All the results showed not only no heart attack, but no blockages, "exceptionally good" heart strength, and I don't have to follow up with a cardiologist at this point, just my notify my primary care provider. The most likely culprit for the pain is the stress of having to deal with my mom's deteriorating physical and mental condition, as well as a host of expenses way beyond the norm (of which this little vacation will help not at all). I'll tell you this, the endless waiting, the general hospital noise level (thank Yog I had a private room), the endless waiting, the round-the-clock schedule for getting stuck with big needles, and the endless waiting turned me into possibly the grouchiest (but surely most polite) son of a bitch in that entire hospital. Despite the maddening tedium of the experience, for the most part, I can't fault the hospital staff. They were at all times professional and amiable, and I did feel that, if nothing else, I was in good hands (even if I wanted them all the hell off me). And that lovely Ms. Brugger — without whom I would have been pretty far up the creek — she proved herself the bestest girlfriend in the world. (I already knew that, of course.) And thanks to Mr. Shannon Newsome for the visit.

I fear that you, my lovely herd, are likely to be stuck with me for some time to come.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Fine First Fest

Ms. B. proved to be the main draw at my table.
I think I'll keep her.

As I had posted last week, Brewed Awakening Café in Danville, VA, formerly Binding Time in Martinsville, VA, hosted its first annual book festival yesterday, continuing the tradition it had begun at its original location several years ago. I have participated in each, and while I miss having the shop in my old hometown, the owners — John and Bonnie Hale — appear to have made the right decision by relocating. Since its grand opening last week, the café-slash-bookstore has already made an indelible mark in town, generating remarkably positive publicity and drawing substantial crowds since day one. All my copies of my novels Blue Devil Island and The Monarchs sold out quickly. I kept replenishing my stock with various books lurking in my devilish bookbag, and those, too, departed post haste, all having been rightly devalued with my distinctive John Hancock.

Brewed Awakening, at 610 Craghead Street, Danville, VA, occupies an old brick warehouse building, one of many that has been renovated after years of disuse in what had, decades ago, been a thriving industrial district. With tobacco and textiles, once the city's economic foundation, now moribund in the southeastern US, Danville has taken admirable steps to rebuild its infrastructure and its image, and while it still has a long way to go, its efforts are showing measurable results. There are numerous new, upscale restaurants, taverns, and shops, a first-class library, countless historical buildings and monuments, Averett University, and parks and trails that are unrivaled in the region. Not only did Brewed Awakening's book fest draw a bigger crowd than the past two or three fests in Martinsville combined, the economic benefit spilled over to other businesses in the area. After the event, Kimberly and I visited the new, nearby Golden Leaf Bistro to celebrate with a couple of glasses of wine, and who should appear but veritable hordes of festival attendees — including writers and patrons — all but storming the castle.

One of many distinctive old buildings
in Danville's warehouse district
If you like antiques, you could have yourself a rectangular spasm in Lou's Antique Mall at 231 Main Street, Danville, VA. It's located in what appears to be a typical, mid-size retail store on a downtown street corner, but what you get is a three-story labyrinth of goods from countless ages past, of varying quality and prices. I am admittedly not so much an aficionado of antiques and such, yet I couldn't help but be sucked in by the sheer quantity of wares both familiar to me from my youth and just outright neat/fascinating/weird. Now, some of the items I saw were priced way beyond what I would have ever considered paying, but the proprietor was friendly and attentive, and even insistent that we not pay full price for whatever items caught our eye. I did end up leaving with at least one Christmas present that I think will be quite meaningful for the recipient. And finding that, I must admit, meant the world to me.

And geocaches? Danville is full of them; in fact, there's one at the farmer's market directly across the street from Brewed Awakening — "The Crossing," (GC1BR2C), and another, "The Forgotten Door," (GC5PKJ2) which is particularly memorable for me (story here), just two blocks away. My favorite recollection of the book fest was talking to a rather striking and most assuredly engaging young lady who turned out to be the local library's book acquisition manager, who is also, of all things, a geocacher. As fate would have it, there just happens to be highly challenging geocache — which I have not yet found — inside the library where she works. We enjoyed trading a few stories about books, writing, local history, and geocaching, though, when I suggested she might be able to shed some light on the location of the cache, she went close-mouthed as if her lips had been sewn together with barbed wire. However — ha! — I have years of experience, well over eight-thousand caches to my credit, and more than a passing familiarity with the cache's setting. Make no mistake, I will surmount this geocaching challenge, and our reticent young book acquisitions manager shall bear witness, this I promise.

It was a good day.
All set up and rarin' to go
The local turkey buzzard population must have known something was up because,
just about the time the book fest opened, the scavengers began circling.
Rudolph (apparently, the sun had filtered into the alley sufficiently to scorch one's nose) and ye old
geocaching horror writer at Golden Leaf Bistro, celebrating an excellent book festival
Still life with flowers, a brusque sign, and razor wire

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Reason We've Never Gone Back to the Moon...

Since its release in 2011, I've read very little positive about Apollo 18, another found-footage science fiction/horror thriller à la The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, et. al., but its premise struck me as appealing enough, so I figured I'd eventually give it a look. This evening, eventually came to be, and, while the film is no masterpiece, I am inclined to be a little kinder to it than most reviewers. If the title isn't enough to give it away, it's about an "undocumented" Apollo moon mission following the last official moon shot (Apollo 17 in 1972). The movie is cobbled together from videos ostensibly shot by the crew on its ill-fated mission, and while I tend to look down my nose (way the hell down my nose, as a matter of fact) at endless, dizzying shaky-cam footage, there are enough steady shots and suggestive, weird images to make the visual experience generally palatable.

There be spoilers ahead.

Three astronauts — Mission Commander Nate Walker (Lloyd Owen), Captain Ben Anderson (Warren Christie), and Lieutenant Colonel John Grey (Ryan Robbins) — are sent to the moon on a top-secret mission to place DEW (Distant Early Warning) devices on the lunar surface to detect possible attacks from space by the Soviet Union. Once the Apollo spacecraft, named Freedom, achieves lunar orbit, astronauts Walker and Anderson descend to the surface in the Lunar Excursion Module Liberty, while astronaut Grey remains in orbit aboard the command module. Walker and Anderson venture outside their spacecraft, plant the American flag, place their sensors, and collect some lunar rock samples. During their subsequent communications with Earth, they hear strange sounds over the radio, which they believe to be interference from the transmitters they have placed. Then they find one of their rock samples, which had been stowed away, on the floor of the cabin. On their next outing, in their lunar rover, Walker and Anderson discover human footprints — which lead them to the remains of cosmonaut and a Russian lunar lander. They report their discovery to Mission Control, which orders them to continue their mission as planned.

The next day, the astronauts wake to find their flag missing. Realizing something is terribly wrong, they begin preparation to take off and return to space to rendezvous with the Freedom, but something violently assaults the landing craft and damages it so they can't take off. Outside, they discover the tracks of some non-human entity — and Walker suffers an attack by a spider-like creature inside his spacesuit. Anderson rescues him, but Walker is now infected by an unknown organism that spreads through his system, making him paranoid and irrational. In a violent rage, he smashes the onboard oxygen system. Hoping to find an oxygen supply aboard the Russian lander, they set out in the rover, but Walker again becomes violent and wrecks the vehicle. Anderson realizes the arthropod-like aliens camouflage themselves as rocks, and he is surrounded by them. He manages to reach the Russian lander, but Walker again attacks and attempts to smash the lander's window with a hammer. This time, though, the alien creatures swarm over him and kill him, allowing Anderson to take off and go into orbit.

Unfortuately, as he soon discovers, the lander is filled with lunar rocks....

Before the launch: astronauts Anderson (Warren Christie), Grey (Ryan Robbins), and Walker (Lloyd Owen)
Lunar rover and astronaut on the surface of the moon
The film necessarily focuses on the three astronauts, with Anderson as the primary protagonist. The actors do a capable enough job, and as their faces are not necessarily familiar to the public at large, they convey a sense of verisimilitude that more recognizable actors probably would not. They look and act more or less as one might expect real astronauts to look and act, and Anderson in particular comes off as a sympathetic character. With a blend of actual footage from lunar missions and well-crafted sets — from the claustrophobic spacecraft interiors to panoramic expanses of lunar surface — there is a genuine sense of remote isolation. While the sets and scenery come off as quite realistic, inside the lander, the characters move and operate as if in normal earth gravity, belying the actual location filming; on occasion, however, the use of odd camera angles and quick cutting helps insinuate the effect of reduced gravity.

To get around the absence of sound in a vacuum — without resorting to the totally unrealistic trope of outer space being an ultimately noisy place — the soundtrack often provides low, surreal thumping, bumping, whooshing sounds, simulating the kind of noises the astronauts might hear within the confines of their spacesuits while operating in a void. In addition, the alien noises that emanate from the radio set have an organic, insect-like quality that early on betray the fact that there's something happening beyond mere electronic interference.

The creatures themselves appear mostly as strangely deformed rocks that move. Quick cuts and mere suggestions of something moving at the edge of one's perception work to build a bit of suspense. Eventually, once the creatures appear in earnest, they're still a bit vague — obviously crab- or spider-like, but the camera's eye never quite gives you the full picture. Not a bad way to present them, all in all. There's never any explanation or even supposition of what these things are, which, within the scope of the story, is the way to go. Unfortunately, it's revealed that the government has sent the astronauts up as human guinea pigs, on a mission not unlike the Nostromo's in Alien. It's a tired device, and I suspect the story might have worked better if the mission had been all about detecting Soviet missiles, with the creatures being discovered in the process, instead of the mission being a secret attempt to gain superiority over the Russians by way of capturing and controlling dangerous alien life forms.

One of the criticisms I'd seen that I quite agree with is that, though the film runs less than 90 minutes, it seems much longer. Yes, it does. While much of the drama is effective and the sensory effects produce the desired results, the varying camera angles, the dizzying transitions, the indistinct images, and confusing cuts also tend to produce fatigue. I recently reviewed Troll Hunter, which includes found footage, but it also provides a much smoother viewing experience, with less chaotic camera work, making for a less fatiguing and more appealing movie. If Apollo 18 had gone that route, I expect it would have been better received.

Nope, it's not all that it ought to have been, but Apollo 18 does offer more, drama- and production-wise, than it gets credit for. I'd give it a solid three out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
The remains of a Russian cosmonaut, whose mysterious fate soon becomes all too clear
The Russian lunar lander, whose spider-like contours provide an appealing visual irony
There's something inside Astronaut's Walker's space helmet....
An interesting — moving — rock formation, wot?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Community Dead Zones, Iron Furnaces, and Others

Old Rodan and a pair of Rob zombies
This morning, the original Team Old Fart — Old Rodan, Robbin (a.k.a. Yoda Rob), and Robert (a.k.a. Old Rob, Bloody Rob, Robgso, et. al.) — headed out into the wilds of Stokes County for a day of geocaching in some of North Carolina's most scenic rural surroundings. We picked up a modest ten caches, but today, quality exceeded quantity by a long shot. We experienced lonely, shadow-laden graveyards; the remains of a 19th-century iron furnace; a hidden walkway beneath an old stone bridge, featuring a cache aptly called "Welcome to Jurassic Park" (GC61H34); the ruins of an abandoned prison farm; and the village of Danbury, which is rich in Civil War history, raided by Union General George Stoneman in March of 1865.

"Community Dead Zone #1" (GC2YCZC): a picturesque little graveyard tucked away from civilization — such as it is, out here in the sticks — where you will find the graves of mass murderer Charlie D. Lawson and his wife and children, whom he shot dead in the year 1929. The story is thus (excerpted from Wikipedia):

"Charles Davis Lawson (May 10, 1886–December 25, 1929) was a Stokes County tobacco farmer who is remembered for having committed one of the most notorious mass murders in the state's history. On Christmas Day, 1929, Lawson killed his 37-year-old wife, Fannie, and their children Arthur, 18; Marie, 17; Carrie, 12; Maybell; 7, James, 4; Raymond, 2; and Mary Lou, 4 months.

"Lawson began the slaughter with his daughters, Carrie and Maybell, as they were setting out to visit their uncle and aunt. Lawson waited for them with his shotgun behind the tobacco barn, and when they were in range, he shot them. He then placed their bodies in the tobacco barn.

"Next, he returned to the house and shot Fannie, who was sitting on the porch. Inside the house, Marie, upon hearing the gunshot, screamed in terror, while the two small boys, James and Raymond, attempted to find a hiding place. Lawson entered the house, shot Marie, and then found and shot the two boys. Lastly, he killed the baby, Mary Lou. After the murders, he went into the nearby woods, where he finally shot himself. The only survivor was his eldest son, 19 year-old Arthur, who had gone out on an errand.

"Many people had learned of the gruesome event and gathered on the property when the gunshot signaling Lawson's suicide rang out. The bodies of the family members were found with their arms crossed and rocks under their heads. The police officer who found Lawson's body also discovered several letters to his parents, which he had written prior to his killing spree.”

The serene beauty of this old graveyard provided a most inviting contrast to the macabre story of the Lawson murders. While hunting the cache, which is just outside the boundary of the graveyard, I was standing at a spot that, according to my GPS, was one foot from the cache, looking down. Yoda Rob suddenly hollered, "It's there!" and pointed to where I was standing. When I looked up, the cache container smacked me right in the face. How handy — better, I suppose, than encountering a ghost with a ghostly shotgun.
The Lawson family graves
Not far away, we find Moratock Iron Furnace, which was built by Nathaniel Moody and John Pepper in 1843. During the Civil War, iron from the furnace was used to make swords and munitions for the Confederacy, which was cut off from outside sources of iron. In April 1865, Union General George Stoneman destroyed the furnace’s outbuildings, though they were eventually restored to operating condition, and the furnace continued to operate until the 1890s. The Moratock furnace is one of only a handful of iron furnaces that remain intact in North Carolina. There are two nice multi-caches to be found in Moratock park. No ghosts here; just a pair of Rob zombies, who would not stop following me.

Historic Danbury is a small village at the edge of the mountains in Stokes County, with many restored 19th century buildings still in use today. When General Stoneman raided Danbury in 1865, he set up his headquarters in Moody's Tavern in the center of town. Though the building remains in near-pristine condition, the tavern itself has long since closed; I suspect that if restored, it would do a brisk business. We hoofed it from one end of town to the other, gathering clues to the location of the final cache. Once again, we discovered a scenic, historical graveyard that brought much joy to this geocaching writer of all things horrific.

However, rather sadly for me, this trip cleared out all the caches I had yet to find in and around Danbury. I'd love it if some fine geocacher whose sphere of influence includes this community would populate the area with a few more nice hides so the Old Farts might ride again out that way. Hope shambles eternal.
Moratock Iron Furnace
Yoda Rob and Bloody Rob, inmates at the old prison
The zombies followed me, they did.
Stokes County courthouse in Danbury
Ol' Rodan beating the heat at Moratock Iron Furnace

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August Book Festival at Brewed Awakening

Binding Time Café & Bookstore in Martinsville, VA, has moved to Danville, VA, and changed its name to Brewed Awakening — in fact, the new location just opened for business this week. For the past several years, as some of you will recall, Binding Time has put on a regular book festival featuring numerous local authors, including the old dude, and Brewed Awakening will be continuing the tradition. The next festival will be held on Saturday, August 29, from 10 AM till 2 PM, and I'll be on location to sell and sign books (yes, my own; I get fussed at for signing other writers' books). I plan to have copies of The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Gaki, and possibly others on hand, so if you are in traveling distance and possessed of exceptional intestinal fortitude, by all means, stop by. I'd love to see you.

Not only does Brewed Awakening sell books, they serve first-class sandwiches, wraps, and beverages (I'm especially fond of their hazelnut latte). And for you intrepid souls who enjoy geocaching as much as braving Rainey's horrifying books, Danville is a geocaching mecca — in fact, there is a cache ("The Crossing," GC1BR2C) directly across the street from the café. Good books, good refreshments, good geocaching. A regular hat trick, wot?

Mark your calendar and join us.

Brewed Awakening Book Festival 
Saturday, August 29, 10 AM–2 PM
610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541
(434) 483-2138

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pirates of the Seven Lakes

For me, the best part of geocaching is getting out on woodland trails; discovering the deepest, darkest, most hidden corners of even the most familiar territory; working out the muscles and refreshing the mind. When I started caching in early 2008, I found that, within just a few miles of home, more trails existed than I could have ever dreamed. Miles and miles and miles of them. In those early days, I hiked almost every day, more fired up about exploring the woods than since I was a wee young 'un, when I was a regular woodland troll (a mischievous one too, I'll have you know). In Greensboro proper, there are thousands of caches, a good percentage of which reside on the trails, and since 2008, I've claimed virtually all of them — with a couple of exceptions.

"Pirates of the Seven Lakes" (GCJ37H) is one of the most notable. It's been out there since long before I started caching (it was placed in 2004, as a matter of fact), and after all these years, I've finally scrawled my moniker on the logsheet in that big ol' ammo can in the woods. In its original incarnation, "Pirates" was a multicache with at least nine separate stages, which included puzzles, brain twisters, and all sorts of logistical nightmares to challenge the hardiest geocacher. It was spread out over many miles and many trails, requiring some ten miles of hiking and visiting trails at each of Greensboro's watershed areas. One stage included a DVD, which you either had to watch on a portable player in the field or take home so you could solve the video puzzle to get the coordinates for the next stage. All these challenges resulted in "Pirates" being rated 5 for overall difficulty and 5 for the terrain challenge — the most difficult ratings possible for a cache. Alas, some years back, the original cache owner moved away or retired from the activity, leaving the stages to languish out in the woods. Some went missing, some were destroyed, and during the past few years, a scant handful of cachers have searched for it, and most of those who found it did so by receiving help from previous finders so they could get past the stages that were no longer viable.
One of the clue puzzles to solve along the way — quite useless out of context.
All this has changed, thanks to my old — and I do mean old — caching buddy Robgso (a.k.a. Robert, the Old Trail Dawg, or sometimes Bloody Rob), who has adopted and restored the cache to functional status.

Over the years, I had tentatively arranged to head out after "Pirates" with one group or another, but, for whatever reason, no solid plans ever came together. On at least two or three occasions, I had given the first stage a fair look, yet I just couldn't spy the bloody thing — despite knowing, both from the hint on the cache page and from anecdotal evidence, that I was searching the correct location. Ah, the frustration! When it came to my attention that several of the stages lay in disrepair, for the longest time I ended up just ignoring the cache altogether. However, in recent days, ye old Trail Dawg divulged to me that, because this cache is such an old classic, he was committed to fixing the wayward waypoints rather than archiving the whole sheboygan. At last, I figured, I would be able to take my shot at it. Sure enough, last week, Bloody Rob placed a cache in the woods on his birthday (which he does every year), and my outing to claim it took me to the Nat Greene Trail up at Lake Brandt. So — just on a whim — I gave stage 1 of "Pirates" another look. And this time — holy freaking banana oil — there was the container, plain as day, right where it's always been, in excellent condition. So, on the spot, I decided I'd start working on this cache — but over more than a single trip because I prefer to maximize my opportunities for hiking, what with so few local trail hides to go after anymore. For the past few days, I've picked up a stage or two, steadily working my way toward acquiring the final coordinates. At last... done. And this afternoon, I headed out to the trail head, made the near two-mile hike to the final, and, after a relatively brief search, found that great big ol' ammo can. But Sweet Freaking Yuggoth, the humidity! Old Rodan was one sweaty, melty, drippy mess while signing the log. But... by what ethereal dances, by what eternal streams... "Pirates of the Seven Lakes" was at long last conquered.
Buddha tree along the greenway,
near Owl's Roost

Now, to be fair, what was once a near-unthinkable monster in the woods is now more a straightforward multi, with only a couple of field puzzles — perfect for the more simple-minded among us to conquer. While I've no doubt the original experience was a masterpiece of geocaching engineering, this incarnation represents everything I love about caching: getting away from my damn computer (I'm on one most of the waking hours of my life) and out into the woods, exercising my muscles as much as or more than my brain, and stalking that elusive goal until I have conquered the rotten old bastard with the cheapest of ink pens. This one may no longer be a true 5/5, but it is a 5x favorite for this old caching dude. This one is la bombe surprise.

Curiously, while I was unaware of it at the time, several years ago — 2008 or 2009 — I had actually had a run-in with a stage of "Pirates." I was out on the Laurel Bluff Trail, searching for an appealing location to hide a cache of my own, and after much exploration of the woods, I found what I considered a perfect spot — only to a discover, rather to my chagrin, there was already a cache container in that spot. Since it wasn't listed anywhere on the geocaching.com site, I knew it had to be a hidden stage for some multi or puzzle cache, but I had no way of determining which one it was, for the container was empty and unlabeled. The other day, as I was following my GPS to the coordinates to stage 4 on the Laurel Bluff Trail, I knew immediately where I was going to be heading: yes, the very spot in which I had found that empty container all those years ago. This time, the container there contained exactly what it was supposed to contain, and once I worked out the necessary information from the clues it gave me, I was able to reach the next stage — in a secret place I cannot reveal here.

Completing "Pirates" was kind of like revisiting some of my earliest, most exciting days of geocaching, particularly since I haven't been out on some of the watershed trails for way too many moons. "Invigorating" is the word.

That's a really good word.
Saw lots of these out along the trail, no doubt placed by John Many Jars.
That would be some gigantic fungus among us.
Pleasant scenery along the Owl's Roost Trail