Monday, November 30, 2015

Miller Masterworks

Seriously, check out that stuff up there. Somewhere back in Deathrealm's ten-year run, artist M. Wayne Miller came to my attention. Whether he sought me out or vice-versa, I have no recollection, but it turned out he lived down the street from me, and it wasn't long before he became the go-to man whenever I needed art of exceptional caliber, be it for Deathrealm or some project of my own. Over the years, Wayne provided numerous illustrations for stories I ran in the magazine, and soon enough, the covers for my own novels and short-fiction collections. It doesn't hurt that Wayne is a fan of both Thai food and Godzilla — we get together now and again to celebrate these things. Truly, it's a rare and honorable soul what relishes the spectacle of miniature cities falling beneath the feet of monstrous, radioactively mutated rubber reptiles as much as I do, and Wayne is all there. Keeps us young and healthy, it does.

Wayne is currently the featured artist at GrayDogTales, and you need to check it out: M. Wayne Miller: An Artist Speaks. Go now.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Black Friday Trout Slayer

For me, Black Friday is the day to stay the hell away from any population center, particularly anything resembling a shopping area, and there is geocaching traditionally involved. This year's Black Friday was no exception, and it was, in fact, one of the most enjoyable such day in years — probably since 2011, when Ms. B. and I ventured out to the countryside around Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, to escape the Shopping Dead. Yesterday, we determined that a spot of wine and decent food would be a welcome switch from the spot of wine and decent food we'd been made to suffer on Thanksgiving, the day before. Thus it was off to Villa Appalaccia Winery (for that spot of wine) and Chateau Morrisette (for the decent food) in the Blue Ridge Mountains, by way of Kibler Valley, where a wunnerful little geocache called "Trout Slayer" (GC102WQ) awaited my attention. Once again, geocaching took us to one of the most beautiful, secluded little corners of the earth that we would have never otherwise discovered.

Kibler Valley is located in Patrick County, Virginia, just north of the North Carolina state line, a few miles southeast of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Dan River passes through the valley, and, somewhat surprisingly, a hydroelectric dam here provides power for the city of Danville, some 70 miles distant. The drive along the river toward the dam is truly one of the most picturesque locations I've ever encountered in the southeast United States. After weeks of torrential rains in the area — which had washed out a section of US 58, the main highway through the area — the river was running high and fast, but the winding gravel road out to the dam was passable and in fair condition. There are numerous dwellings along the route — everything from sprawling farmhouses to tiny, rustic cabins — many on the far side of the river and accessible only by narrow, rickety bridges, few of which appear all that sound. One geocacher who hails from Vermont described the location as virtually identical to the Green Mountains in that state, and it does, in fact, so resemble the Vermont countryside described in H. P. Lovecraft's classic horror tale, "The Whisperer in Darkness," that I could have been fooled into thinking I was on my way to the Akeley farmhouse featured in that story. We encountered precious few other human beings out there — nor any of them there "outer ones," probably to our good fortune — and at the parking location near the cache, the river ran through prodigious rock-strewn cliffs that rose so high and steep they appeared poised to collapse on our heads. Unfortunately, the above photo does not begin to convey the almost dizzying scale of the steep mountainside above the river. Happily, the geocache itself wasn't far up the hillside on the near side of the river, and I managed to locate it quickly. "Trout Slayer" was hidden in 2006, and it was good to find the container and contents in almost pristine condition.

After making the find, we drove back out of Kibler Valley, up the Parkway, and to Villa Appalaccia, which we'd had the pleasure of visiting just a few weeks ago, on Halloween (see "Stonewalling for Halloween," November 2, 2015). The wine here can scarcely be beat, and the weather was more than conducive for sitting out in the remote terrace area, which Ms. B. and I have traditionally had all to ourselves — as we did yesterday. After a delicious glass of wine each, we then made our way over to Chateau Morrisette, just a mile or so down the road. Actually, our reason for return to the area so soon after our recent visit was due to a nice incentive Chateau Morrisette provided us. As I mentioned in my blog at the time, our previous experience there was a bit underwhelming. I had also mentioned this in a review of the restaurant for OpenTable, through which we had made our reservation. For our dissatisfaction, the folks at Chateau Morrisette very kindly offered us a free bottle of wine on our next visit, and since we had the opportunity, we decided to take them up on the offer right away. This time, we could hardly have had a more enjoyable experience, both at the winery and at the restaurant. For them, it was an excellent investment; for offering us a bottle of wine, in return, we purchased several bottles at the winery (Ms. B. and I both have had a disconcerting number of empty slots in our respective wine racks) and had a near-perfect dinner, none of which would have happened had they not gone the extra mile for us. It's simply good business when the folks running an establishment understand they could have done better and then take the steps necessary to make things right. You can bet Ms. B. and I will be returning to Chateau Morrisette at the first available opportunity, and rather than a negative review at various online sites, they have a glowing one. In this day of the amazing power of the interwebz, I think that actually means something.

And then we returned to Mum's, visited a bit, and availed ourselves to a bit of The Walking Dead. It was kind of like watching Black Friday from a comfortable distance. Nice, it was.

I trust your day was as awesome or better.
An intense rock formation near the Dan River in Kibler Valley
Kibler Park stone marker, placed August 26, 1950
Ms. B. next to the rushing Dan River
Old Rodan with the logbook at "Trout Slayer" (GC102WQ)
A return to the Land of Happy — Villa Appalaccia, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fat Thursday

Nice Thanksgiving Day. Ms. B. and I had procured most all the food for the feast and hit the road bright and early for Martinsville so we could begin the prep post-haste. Big ol' turkey, stuffing, gravy, smashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry salad, pumpkin pie, apple pie... enough vittles to feed a small army of the undead. Had a nice little gathering: Ms. B., Mum, Brother, and two Wickliffes —  Dick and Gretchen. Spent some quality time with all, drank a little wine, and then took a walk back on the old Sam Lions Trail, where I burned off two turkeys, a potato, and half a pie. Ahh, some much-needed exercise as well as tranquility.

Next up for the evening: a tad more wine and some episodes of The Walking Dead, which might make me start feeling peckish again.

I hope you had a happy one.
Back in the woods on the old Sam Lions Trail. No walking dead visible in the photo,
but they were out there, I tell you. One of them was stuffed on turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Black Friday at Crossroad Press

Crossroad Press — publisher of my novels The Lebo Coven, The Nightmare Frontier, The Monarchs, and Blue Devil Island — has a nice Black Friday special for you: 25% off any single order, which means you can get all kinds of scared for less than the cost of a movie ticket and popcorn.

To get the goodies you see above, go to the Crossroad Press store, select the items you want, and at checkout, enter CPBLACKFRIDAY in the Coupon Code field. Note: As of this writing, Blue Devil Island is not showing up in the list of titles due to some site maintenance issues, but I understand it will be back in place shortly, if not already. Sally forth! No need to wait till Friday — the deal is good from now through 11/30.

You can check out the Crossroad Press blog here.

Have a happy, scary Thanksgiving and a horrifying Black Friday.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Why I Don't Drink White Wine

If you've ever read an entry in this blog or followed me on Facebook, you're surely aware I have some affinity for wine. Red wine, mind you. White wine has not set well with me since my college days. And since my previous entry was pretty gross, I think I'll stick to that theme here.

Fall 1977: I was a freshman at college, and a very fresh freshman at that. It was only a few days into the school year, and I had just joined the college newspaper staff. The professor who sponsored the paper decided to open the year with a nice wine and cheese party at his apartment.

I'm sure you can guess where this one's going.

Prior to the party, the sports editor for the paper and I went to the student cinema to see the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was the first time I had seen it — in fact, it was one of the earliest movies of its ilk that I experienced, and I have to admit, on that first viewing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre disturbed me a bit. It was quite the send-off to a hoity-toity wine party, I can tell you.

As I mentioned, I was a freshman.

I didn't drink much at all in those days, and when I did, it was usually beer. No one had informed me that, at a rather classy little soirée, one should not get into a race with the sports editor to see who could chug the most wine the fastest. For a little while, at least, I was convinced Sauvignon Blanc was nectar of the gods. I was a feeling great, and there was a lovely young woman who appeared to be taking interest in me. College life was going to be awesome! For some time, I sat comfortably at the dining room table with the young lady pressed close to me, the wine flowing, the almost-adult world looking finer than I might have anticipated.

Next thing I knew, a fellow named Gary was shaking me, telling me it was time to leave. I looked up, and the young lady was gone. In fact, most everyone was gone. Really? Seriously? Dismayed, I started to stand up, and as I did, I felt something moving about in the inner regions that really ought not move about. Yeah... up it came. All that wine, flooding the professor's dining room table, and sending people scurrying in panic. My buddy took me by the arm and dragged me out to the balcony, where I leaned  over the railing and urped onto the downstairs neighbor's terrace for quite some time. When I finally managed to take a breather, I drew my car keys from my pocket, handed them to Gary, and said, "You drive."

I have vague recollections of arriving back at my dorm, though I don't remember Gary recruiting another helper, which he apparently did, because when I hit the bed, I realized it had taken two people to drag me from the car to my room. Gary put some aspirin on my nightstand and said, "Take those now. You're not going to want to wait till morning."

Sound advice, I discovered in later days, but on this night, I was too far gone to get those pills down. I was out like a light and didn't stir again until sometime late the next morning. Upon sitting up, I swore then and there I would never, ever, ever drink again, and I realized that, just then, my life depended on getting some fluid into my dehydrated young body. I guzzled a bunch of water, but every move, every breath, every sound was a vivid sample of hell on Earth. Despite this agony, which was unlike any I had ever experienced, I was starving. I made my way to the cafeteria, a quarter mile across campus, every footstep sending blazing steel daggers into my brain, only to find that breakfast had just ended. No food for me! The cafeteria lady took one look at me and said I could have some orange juice.

Have you ever drank orange juice after a prolonged, violent urp?

If I'd had any voice left, I would have screamed. As it was, all that came out was a hiss and a ragged moan, and I staggered back to my dorm, sans orange juice, swearing again that my drinking days were done forever.

Much to my surprise, the professor whose table I had surely destroyed never mentioned the incident to me or in any way indicated that he considered me a damned young fool. Now, I don't know whether this is true because it's only hearsay, but I was later told that, during the fateful urp episode, he had already gone and passed out in his bedroom. He didn't know the culprit was I, and no one snitched. I sort of have my doubts, but, then again, that night was far from the last time I saw the good professor in his cups.

Since then, my fondness for wine has been limited to dry reds. Now, I had plenty of bad drinking experiences in my college days (though I did uphold my temperance pledge for three whole days, when I might have overdone it a bit with Miller High Life), but this being the first and most extreme example, I guess it had the most notable impact on me. Live and learn, you know? I certainly came to understand that white wine was not my drink of choice. I'll drink a little every now and then, mostly at wine tastings, and though I no longer have flareups of physical revulsion, as I did for many years afterward, the stuff just doesn't do it for me. So if you see me drinking red wine with fish, or some other vittles for which white wine should be the preferred accompaniment, It's not simply because my habits are gauche.

I don't drink Miller High Life anymore either — not due to any lingering aftereffects but because it's an affront to decent beer.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Bloody Youth

A totally random tale for you. And it's gross, so be warned.

One day in fifth grade — sometime in 1970, I expect — at Druid Hills School (pictured above), I happened to drink a glass of tomato juice at lunchtime. I rarely drank tomato juice (I was always an apple juice kind of guy), but I reckon I had a craving. Anyway, it wasn't long after lunch that I went into the restroom to go pee, and the moment I stepped through the door, I knew something was rotten in the state of Denmark. All over the floor, there were numerous piles of poo, big old turds of obviously recent vintage, though surely more than a single human being could have produced at one time. Not only that, poo was smeared on the walls, on the mirrors, all over the backs of the toilets and urinals. Pretty damn gross. And it stank to high heaven. Still, I had to pee like a bear, so being a trooper, I figured I'd hold my breath and make the best of it.

For a little while, that worked. I got my business mostly done before I had to breathe again. But when I did — oh, my god — the stench up and did me in. Thar she blows! Major urpage, almost all tomato juice, redder than red, which just made it worse. I spewed all over the wall, all over the floor, all over the happy piles of poo.

My fifth grade math teacher, Mrs. Davis (who later died under mysterious circumstances) heard the gagging and retching and came rushing in to see what was wrong. When she caught sight of all that poo and me urping streams of bright red, she let out a pretty good holler, reached to grab me, and then drew back because I had not quite finished. Once I did, she was in a state all right, clearly worried my innards had exploded in bloody fury. It took some time to convince her it was only tomato juice and even longer to make her believe I was not the mad poo bomber.

To the best of my recollection, the mad poo bomber never was identified. I was pretty sure I knew who it was, but I could never have proven it. Bastard. Anyway, I reckon the statute of limitations for poo bombing has expired.

I don't drink tomato juice much these days, though I confess I'm all about a good Bloody Mary now and again.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

GeoWoodstack III

Noisy Rodan
GeoWoodstack: the very name is sufficient to instill mind-numbing horror into the general population, but one to bring ecstasy to the hearts and minds of geocachers everywhere. This year was the third such conflagration, held last night in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, at the residence of the legendary Tom "Night-hawk" Kidd, an event featuring geocachers from all over the state (and beyond), food aplenty, fireworks, live music, and the biggest eruption of hellfire since Krakatoa.
A magnificent winged fire demon erupts from
unfathomable depths. Photo by Dan Flye

Initially, yesterday's weather appeared ominous, with rain coming down for most of the day, but by nightfall, the skies began to clear, and for the rest of the evening, there were no more tears. Ms. B. and I arrived shortly before the lighting of the twenty-some-foot stack of wood, which, no doubt due to the all the recent rains, was a bit more stubborn than its predecessors about catching fire. Several attempts to light her up by armed drone attack ended in failure, and so we resorted to the more traditional means of igniting the beast: a barrage of fire from several batteries of roman candles wielded by an army of fearsome, fire-starved geocachers. At last, success! The stack began to burn, sending  flames a hundred feet into the sky, lighting up the landscape so that it could almost certainly be seen from outer space. Shortly afterward, the fireworks began, and I'm not talking a bunch of little poppers. We had some explosions fit to make the neighbors think they had fallen into a war zone. At times, massive eruptions of sparks showered the landscape, so it is no doubt well the ground was saturated with water.

At the last of these events, two years ago — see "GeoWoodstack II," October 13, 2013 — Ms. B. and I performed a few musical numbers for a raging, bloodthirsty crowd from whom we narrowly escaped at the end of the event. This year, Kimberly decided to forego the personal danger and settled for making the requisite video of Old Rodan as, following a beautiful performance by Ms. Kristina Kidd (a.k.a. Little Night-hawk), he commandeered the stage and made a racket that forced the evacuation of several nearby properties and may have caused the demise of at least one fried chicken. If you're brave, check out the video of "Ride, Ride, Ride" below, or "Spring Hill Mine Disaster" on YouTube here.

This morning, Bloody Rob Isenhour came round for breakfast, and then we went geocaching. Not bad weekend for the caching contingent. The Old Man's total find count now stands at 8,287.
Bloody Rob, Damned Rodan, and Bonehead at Geowoodstack III, Oak Ridge, NC

Monday, November 2, 2015

Stonewalling for Halloween

Halloween weekend could hardly have been more perfect for Kimberly and me, as we returned to one of our favorite haunts in the world — the View Cabin at the Stonewall Inn, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, VA. Stonewall was our first getaway together, back in the very early days of our relationship, and we also spent New Year's 2012 there. For us, it's a place of pure magic: rustic, secluded, intimate, comfortable. No place could be better suited for us to celebrate our favorite time of year.
At "A Nice Place for Eternity" (GC248QW)

We even managed to start out on an ideal note, with one of the geocaches along our way taking us to a very old, scenic family graveyard out in Stokes County, NC. Here, while I sought the cache, Ms. B. made sandwiches for our lunch on the road. Cache log signed and lunch in hand, we continued on our trip into the mountains of Virginia. Upon arriving at the Blue Ridge Parkway, our first stop was Villa Appalaccia Winery, another of our favorite places for liquid refreshment, now blanketed with colorful leaves that the moaning breeze was plucking and tossing down from the trees with considerable enthusiasm. For my money, Villa Appalaccia's Aglianico is their standout red wine, and their Cabernet Franc comes in a close second.

Then it was on to Stonewall, which is owned by Scott and Sally Truslow, both hosts par excellence. Shortly after checking in, we were ensconced in the View Cabin, about a quarter mile up in the woods. When I say it's rustic, I do not exaggerate. There is electricity, but no running water. It's a single room with a bed, a wood stove, a TV with DVD player, a porch swing, and an outhouse for taking care of personal business. Now, down at the main house, there are two dogs and three cats, which make one feel very welcome and also help take the edge off missing our own critters during our stay. It's a step above tent camping, to be sure, but for the most part, it's pretty primitive. And I just can't imagine a better place to be than out there in the woods on Halloween night.
Heating up by the campfire
For dinner that night, we journeyed forth to Chateau Morrisette, about ten or twelve miles down the Parkway. Generally, it's another of our favorite dinner venues, and while we enjoyed it, there was a good-size crowd, and the staff didn't seem quite up to the task of managing it. Our dinner was a bit more than leisurely — Kimberly and I both had their specialty pasta, hers with chicken, mine with shrimp — but at the end of the day, to us, the lengthy wait proved inconsequential. Our server was great, the wine was superb (their Archival I red blend), and we didn't exactly have a deadline to meet. So we just enjoyed ourselves for the duration; returned to the cabin rather late in the evening; and, to honor personal tradition, settled into the porch swing with a bit more wine to commune with the Halloween spirits.
Ms. B. and a wee sapling we discovered in Floyd

Yesterday, we decided to visit the little town of Floyd, a few miles to the west. Back in the days when I attended Ferrum College, not too far away, I had a good many adventures in Floyd County, few of which I could relate with a clear conscience to the world at large. I've passed through the one-stoplight town many times over the years, but to the best of my recollection, never actually stopped there. Since there were four geocaches in town awaiting my attention, it was only proper to go on a little walking tour of the community. For the most part, I was quite taken with its character and some of the novel Halloween decorations about the place. Once I had found all four caches and signed their attendant log sheets, I followed Ms. B. into downtown Floyd's antique shop, which was enjoyable enough, especially since there were a few fun Halloween-themed items to be seen on display (note the photo below). Then we had a fairly late lunch at a rather artsy little place called Oddfella's Cantina, where the barbecue sandwiches we had equaled or exceeded in quality just about any we've found in North Carolina. The fries were pretty damn good as well.

Upon our return to the cabin, I spent some time on the front porch making a racket with the ol' guitarbox, getting my fingers and vocal organs geared up for Geowoodstack III, coming up Saturday next at the domicile of one Tom "Night-hawk" Kidd, where I anticipate horrifying the individuals in attendance with several less-than-uplifting musical numbers.
The office

Dinner last night was hot dogs and s'mores — hardly as elegant as the fare at Chateau Morrisette, but every bit as satisfying. And it just wouldn't do to spend another night in the cabin without a scary movie or two, so we put on Willow Creek, which I had seen a month or so again, but Kimberly had not. Say what you will about the movie itself, but it was apt entertainment for our dark, secluded little spot in the woods. We followed this with a few episodes of The Walking Dead. And there might have been a tad more wine in the bargain.

This morning, sadly, we had to take our leave of the place, after a weekend that zipped by so fast it really ought to get a citation for speeding. For me, there was scarcely a moment during which I wasn't feeling at least a smidgen of ecstasy, and while I shan't carry on about the many stressors that have recently seemed bent on doing me in, I can safely say that this particular getaway at this particular time may have extended my life expectancy by at least as many days as we were there — hopefully more.

And may there be far fewer years between this and our next visit to Stonewall than there were since our last.

Click on images to enlarge.
Villa Appalaccia Winery, viewed from our favorite spot in the courtyard
The author and his horny girlfriend, who drinks
Say hello to my little friend — a happy fellow we discovered in Floyd
A random corner of the antique shop we visited
Out in front of the Green Man Inn, Floyd, VA
A view of our front yard on this dreary morning, just before leaving

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Geohaunter of the Dark

Among local geocachers, it's fairly common knowledge that I write scary fiction. And lots of my readers are aware that I'm an avid geocacher. I've found that, when it comes to creepy, between geocaching and writing fiction, there can be quite a bit of crossover. To be sure, on my cache hunts, I've been taken to all kinds of eerie, atmospheric settings. But I've also placed over a hundred caches in the field, and it's safe to say the better part of them are horror- or dark fantasy–themed. Hey, if I can't scare you one way, I'll try for another. Most of my hides are either in Piedmont Triad of North Carolina or in Martinsville/Henry County, Virginia. If you're within shouting distance of the area, I'd encourage you to come check some of them out. Just for fun, I'll list a few that some of you intrepid treasure hunters would probably enjoy now that it's the Halloween season.

First off, I'll hit you with a little challenge: on Halloween night, hie thee after a night cache. Night caches are great fun, in that they're generally set up so that you use a flashlight to follow a trail of reflector tacks through the woods, often to several different stages before you reach the final cache. I own two night caches — a lengthy, Star Wars–themed cache called "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB), which I adopted some time ago (see "Darkness Falls Restored," February 24, 2014), and "Dweller in Darkness: The Missing" (GC3G3N7), which is loosely based on my Lovecraftian short story, "Threnody." The latter is the one I'd most recommend for a Halloween outing. It's a fairly straightforward but hopefully disconcerting venture into the woods near Lake Brandt, just north of Greensboro, a round trip of approximately two miles. It can usually be completed in about an hour — so long as you avoid the fate of poor Professor Zann, whose secret you seek to find....

Very close to "Dweller in Darkness" — on the parallel trail on the other side of the lake — I have a cache titled "Hellraiser" (GC4D26T), and you can guess where the inspiration for that one came from. It's not a night cache, but it can be done relatively easily at night, as long as you have a good flashlight (and you don't try to work the Lament Cube you might find in the cache container). This particular cache is located near a large beech tree bearing the inscription "Hell Is Just Ahead," which was apparently carved there in 1962. I don't know whether anyone actually knows the nature of this particular hell, but it's an intriguing locale that was just screaming for a cache to be placed there.

Over at Northeast Park, along the Haw River in northeast Guilford County, you'll find "Day of the Dead" (GC371JE), a two-stage multi-cache, which I placed on the day after Halloween a few years ago. What makes this one personally memorable was that, apparently, there had been a haunted trail set up at Northeast Park for Halloween, and when I went out to hide the cache, all the props remained in place. I seemed to be the only human being in the woods that day, and as I went down the trail, I chanced to bump into the gentleman you see in the photo at the top of this page — not to mention quite a few other horrifying thingummies in the woods. To me, that was more enjoyable than actually going to the attraction as it was intended. The props may not still be there, but the trek out to the stages of this one might provide you with a shudder or two.

At the Richardson-Taylor Preserve in northern Greensboro, there's a trail named the Bill Craft Trail, but to me, and a few other local cachers, it's The Bigfoot Trail. Before the official trail opened and I was caching regularly back in those woods, I frequently heard something quite large slogging through the marsh, which I naturally assumed to be Bigfoot. Out in those woods, you will find "Bigfoot's Library" (GC2XMG1), which was initially filled with a number of scary books, including some of my own. I don't know whether any of them remain, but the cache itself is still in place. Also out that way is "The Nightmare Frontier (Redux)" (GC3MNR6), which, as you might gather, gets its title from my novel of the same name.
For fans of Twin Peaks, I've placed a couple of different caches inspired by the series. The first is "Fire Walk With Me" (GC35QJY), located in Gibson Park, near High Point. This one poses some slight risk to life and limb, but no one has ended up wrapped in plastic after attempting it, at least to my knowledge. And just off the Beech Bluff Trail, near Lake Higgins in Greensboro, you can hunt "Let's Rock" (GC5W99P) — if you're able to figure out the cache coordinates from the clue on the web page.

One of my favorite but seldom visited caches, in Martinsville, VA, is "Sticks" (GC1WNG9), based on Karl Edward Wagner's well-known horror short story. Locating this one requires that you find and follow a trail of sticks woven into shapes such as the one you see in the photo below. Finding the sticks can be a challenge all its own, and a misstep in these woods might draw down from the stars the ghastly entity known as Nyarlathotep, the Messenger of the Great Old Ones. If this should happen, well... I shudder to think.
A short distance north of Greensboro, in the town of Eden, NC, hidden away from any of the main roads, you can find an old, abandoned, crumbling bridge over the Dan River. If you're willing to risk life and limb (again), you may wish to seek "Abandon Hope All Ye..." (GC325VM), which is not large enough to hold any swag, but may in fact contain more evil than many that, on the surface, seem menacing as all getout.
These are just the tip of the iceberg, as I have placed dozens of other spooky-themed caches in the area. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they may be located in deep woods; in long-lost, forgotten corners of the local landscape; in shadowed, ancient neighborhoods where you're as likely to find ghosts as anyone living. In any event, come on out and do some geocaching. Even if you're nowhere near my area, look around you — there are caches everywhere, and there's no shortage of hides with scary themes wherever you are. And you just never know where I might hide my next one. Or what you'll find when you go after it....

Visit for the answers to all your questions about caching. Go forth, have fun, and... beware.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Haunting Reidsville Again

This one is just a quick personal memoir. After returning to Greensboro from a nice visit with Mom yesterday, I set to work turning Casa de Rodan into a proper haunted house for the evening's supper club gathering — putting the jack-o'-lanterns (Ernst and Emilio) into their proper outdoor perches, laying out interior decorations to horrify the unwary guest, and getting dinner (authentic Mexican tacos with chicken and chorizo) underway. We ended up with the full gang in attendance, which made for a somewhat crowded house, but everything came together well enough. After dinner, we had the annual celebratory viewing of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which means that Halloween can actually happen now. It was clearly quite fun for Joe Albanese, who hadn't seen the show since childhood. Mortifying, I know.

After the gathering broke up, Ms. B. and I inaugurated the fire pit I had won at the office Employee Appreciation Day back in the spring. Very pleasant out there, to be sure, despite getting dribbled on by a bit of rain.

This morning, Bloody Rob and Bridget came round so that we could hit the road and snag a few caches up Reidsville way. I only needed three, which I found, but because I'm the nicest rotten bastard geocacher in town, I took them around to get a bunch of others I had picked up on past excursions. Happily, I was rewarded with a fantastic lunch at The Celtic Fringe, where I had chicken wings with their ultra-potent Welsh Dragon sauce.

Something tells me I'm going to be having leftover chicken tacos for dinner tonight.
Just a few goodies for anyone feeling peckish before dinner last night
Ernst, standing vigil as the guests began to arrive
A couple of ghouls searching for delectables around the old Governor Reid house in Reidsville

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Bold Moon and the Sandy Level Creep

Last night, I headed up to Martinsville to take my mom out for a slightly belated birthday dinner — it was her 80th last week — and returned to Greensboro today, which I did, as I often do, by way of the back roads of Henry County, VA. The route takes me through a little rural community called Sandy Level, which I pretty much consider the southern redneck version of H. P. Lovecraft's Dunwich. There's not much to Sandy Level; just a few houses, a business or two, and a rather spooky old church — the Gospel Light Church, for which a relatively new building has been constructed, but the original still stands nearby. Not far from the church, an old fellow I call the Sandy Level Creep stands by the road side with an arm raised in greeting. This is not a Halloween prop (although he may have started that way); he's out there 365 days a year, and he always has a smile and a wave for passersby. Yep, that's him in the photo there. Today, he was accompanied by a tall, bony, shambling figure that sent me a long, hard stare as I drove by; almost certainly one of the local walking dead, of which I'm told there are many. I made it through without mishap, but this is not a place I'd much care to have my automobile break down.
Red oak and red maple trees growing as one
at the Bold Moon Preserve

From there, it was off to the Bold Moon Nature Preserve, where a new geocache had been published. I had been there last year (see "Bold Moon at Twilight," November 11, 2014), and I'd found it a slightly creepy and very endearing location out in northeast Guilford County. When I arrived at the trail head this morning, the place was deserted, mine the only car in the little parking area. It's an easy hike out to where the cache was placed, but just before arriving at ground zero, I had to cross Reedy Fork Creek, which in this area is fairly wide and fast-moving. I did so without mishap, but the briers on the other side did a number on my clothes and exposed skin. I was first to find the cache, which made me happy, but I had just signed the log when I heard the sound of someone — or something — approaching. My god, it was more of the undead! A pair of zombies, sometimes known as the McTwins, were having a time of it getting across the river, so I very cleverly goaded them into crossing at the riskiest point. And then — success! — a wee bit of a splash, and one of the carnivorous monsters uttered a few words of dismay, for there were now wet feet. However, because I can be sporting even when it comes to the walking dead, I offered to share in the first-to-find honors on the new cache.

On the way out, the parking area was no longer empty. More like full and then some, as there was apparently a grand opening ceremony about to commence, which struck me as a little odd since the trail opened over a year ago. No matter, it was kind of nice to be coming off the trail as those folks were preparing to get on it, especially since I had a couple of dangerous-looking zombies in tow. There's always a little spectacle involved with that.

A good morning it was. Tonight... our regular monthly supper club gathering, this time at my place, appropriately Halloween-themed, with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in the lineup. Yay!
The old Gospel Light Church building in Sandy Level
Clearly the lair of an unearthly horror, not far from the cache. Possibly the McTwins' summer hideaway?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Messiah of Evil

1973's Messiah of Evil, written, produced, and directed by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, somehow got on my radar several years ago; I recall not the specific circumstances. I do remember that the big draw for me was Anitra Ford, who was one of the original models from The Price Is Right. I might as well confess that in my young teens, I watched The Price Is Right from time to time because... well... Anitra Ford. Our main female protagonist, however, is a young woman named Arletty, played by Marianna Hill, who comes to a small town on the California coast to find her missing father, an eccentric artist, played by familiar character actor Royal Dano (fresh from Night Gallery). Another familiar face is Elisha Cook Jr. (fresh from just about every movie from the 60s and early 70s). Now and then, especially during the Halloween season, I find it necessary to load up the DVD and give it a look, largely because of Anitra Ford, but also because it's a creepy-as-hell movie. More than a tad Lovecraftian, with a dash of Mario Bava and George Romero thrown in, Messiah of Evil offers a handful of gory moments, but it's the pervasive sense of the locale and its inhabitants being pretty far off-kilter that makes the film suspenseful and occasionally unnerving.

Indeed, as soon as Arletty arrives in the town of Point Dune, it's clear that something about the town is out of whack. Most of the time, the place is deserted, and the few people in evidence usually appear quiet, sullen, furtive, bringing to mind Lovecraft's description of the town of Innsmouth and its strange, quasi-human population. In her father's studio, Arletty discovers that he has been producing some rather disconcerting artwork: stylized, distinctly creepy portraits painted in duo-tone, a rendering of a huge staircase, a life-sized painting of a figure that resembles Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone. But of her father there is no sign, and no one at the local art shop even knows him.

Soon, Arletty makes the acquaintance of an odd trio who have arrived in town: a young, aristocratic chap named Thom (Michael Greer) and two young women, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford), who appear fascinated by a local legend — that when a blood-red moon appears, as it did a hundred years earlier, a strange darkness will overtake the town. Thom interviews an old man (Elisha Cook Jr.), who claims he has seen the blood moon, a "dark stranger," children eating raw meat, and other bizarre goings-on that suggest everyone in town — except for him — has gone mad. He says the townspeople don't kill him because he's a harmless drunk (a strong parallel to old Zadok Allen in Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"). However, due to their association with with the old man, the threesome is ordered by the motel manager to leave. Reluctantly, Arletty allows them to take up residence with her at her father's place.

To her horror, Arletty begins to have strange cravings for blood, and she feels no pain when she accidentally burns herself — the very kinds of things the old drunkard indicated was happening to others. Her companions appear to be immune to this seemingly contagious condition. Laura, however, desperate to get away from the oppressive studio, ventures out for a walk, only to encounter a truckload of townspeople who appear almost catatonic — except for the driver, a strange albino (Bennie Robinson) who offers her a ride. Against her better judgment, she accepts. To her shock, the driver presents her with a live rat, apparently to eat. When she refuses, he gleefully chows down on it. Disgusted, she gets out of the truck and goes to a nearby supermarket, which, like so many places in town, appears deserted. However, inside, she finds a number of townspeople gathered in the meat department, happily gorging themselves on raw meat. Upon seeing her, they chase her down and, in rather Romero-esque fashion, happily devour her alive and screaming.

Shortly afterward, unaware of her companion's fate, Toni visits the local cinema. Once she goes inside, the theater staff close and lock the building. At first, there is only a handful of people in the auditorium, but as the movie runs (a western featuring Sammy Davis Jr.), more and more townspeople fill up the seats, all silent and robotic in manner. When Toni realizes they are closing in around her, she panics and tries to escape, but the crowd traps her and are soon enjoying a feast of flesh and blood.

Arletty has found her father's journals and, as she reads them, discovers that he underwent the same cravings and lack of pain she has been experiencing. He relates that, in years past, during the blood moon, a dark stranger — a survivor of the Donner Party — came to Point Dune and began converting the locals to a new "religion," which involved worshipping an unknown, evil deity and eating human flesh. While her father is fighting this strange conversion, which is as much physiological as psychological, his will is beginning to falter. He finally appears to her and warns her to get away from Point Dune and never return, but now the evil cravings overwhelm his resistance and he attacks her. To save her life, Arletty throws an oil lantern at him, which sets him alight and finally destroys him.

She and Thom attempt to escape from town, but the rabid townspeople pursue them as they run along the beach. Thom drowns in the ocean, the zombie-like horde captures Arletty, and, at last, the "dark stranger" manifests himself. This character is never fully revealed, though it seems clear that, at least in body, the stranger is Thom. Rather than kill her, he charges Arletty to go forth and spread his evil influence wherever she goes. At the end, we see that she has complied with the stranger's order — only to end up confined in a mental institution.

Messiah of Evil takes its time getting where it's going, relying on an atmosphere of wrongness to keep the viewer engaged — an aspect of the film that earns my whole-hearted approval. I am beyond weary of the slam-bang cuts and endless crashes of deafening noise that are the hallmark of most contemporary horror movies. These tricks do not for horror make. The long, slow scenes that introduce Point Dune, with its weirdly mesmerized inhabitants, these instill far more dread than any clashing, clanging, jumping, and screaming. Most of the more frenetic scenes in Messiah are accompanied not by deafening bursts of sound but by a warbling, whistling electronic score that generates a sense of other-worldliness, of emotional rather than mere physical discomfort.

The first truly bizarre character we meet is the albino played by Bennie Robinson. With his deep baritone voice and penetrating glare, he conveys a unique and ominous presence. When he stops to give Laura a ride and shows her the rats he is carrying, she asks what he's going to do with them. With a hellish chuckle, he says, "I'm going to eat them, that's what I'm going to do with them!" He then proceeds to bite the head off a rat, turn, and smile at her with blood running from the corner of his mouth. It's his delivery of that line and his smile, more than the actual chomping of the rat, that make this scene so disconcerting. Given his early introduction and remarkable screen presence, he appears to be a character bound to play a more significant role in the film than he actually does. After his first few scenes, he fades more or less into the background. Less a shortcoming than a surprise, I would say; still, not presenting him as the actual "dark stranger" seems a wasted opportunity.

The true standout set pieces in the movie are Laura and Toni's death scenes, in the grocery store and the movie theater, respectively. Both are nerve-wracking in their build-up — excruciatingly so. However, both scenes, while ending on violent notes, only suggest the brutality of the young women's deaths; unlike the gory violence of George Romero's zombie films, the less-graphic depiction of these young women being devoured by animalistic humans nonetheless has the power to make one squirm.

Messiah of Evil is a true product of its time — featuring characters, settings, pacing, and a style that couldn't be reproduced in today's world. But much like Night of the Living Dead, the open window to the past it presents admits a chill that is right here and right now. Certainly, this film is fraught with imperfections and at times falls short of its promise. However, I'll spare you specific examples to keep from going overlong and because, for its better part, the film does deliver, in spades.

Fans of Lovecraft, Romero, and atmospheric horror in general can't go wrong with this one. I rate Messiah of Evil a pretty good slew of Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Creepy cannibal albino, played by Bennie Robinson
Arletty (Marianna Hill) visits the local art shop in search of her father.
The odd traveling trio: Thom (Michael Greer), Laura (Anitra Ford), and Toni (Joy Bang)
Laura (Anitra Ford) is nonplused by the goings-on at the supermarket.
The goings-on at the supermarket
The Last Picture Show, at least for Toni (Joy Bang)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The High-Walking Dead

Team Old Fart — "Bloody" Rob Isenhour, Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, "Yoda" Rob Lee, and Old Rodan — reunited after way too long apart on the geocaching trail, sadly still minus Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, whose family obligations have kept her too busy for much caching in recent months. It was a damn fine day for it, so we Old Farts made our way out to the game lands/waterfowl impoundment zone between Chapel Hill and Durham for some enjoyable, occasionally rugged hiking and caching. There was a lot of bog, swamp, and mire to make our way through after all the recent rains, but we managed without major mishap or injury, although Bloody Rob lived up to his piratical epithet, as usual. We worried a little about Yoda Rob ascending a precarious, mostly rotten tree to get a cache that needed to be got, but he made it up and down with only a few minor abrasions and a less-than-gentle bumpity-bump on a backward slide that left him with a slightly higher pitched voice for a few minutes. And being such thoughtful souls, we signed a log sheet or two as "Shoffnerless," since we were, in fact, without.

Best location of the day really looked like an apt home for the Walking Dead: a long-abandoned water treatment facility out in the woods, down a forgotten little spur road road off Highway 54. Something was making a heavy clumping and bumping in there as we made our approach, but whatever it was beat a hasty retreat before we could get our eyeballs on it. Make no mistake, any creature that wouldn't beat a hasty retreat at our approach would worry the hell out of me. Just look at us.

I am the winner of today's inadvertent social faux pas. As we were passing a little place called Chubby's Tacos (I shit you not), I noticed on the window of the establishment a cartoony rendering of a hefty mouse or some such critter holding a taco. I said, "Hey, that must be Chubby!" only to realize a second later that a somewhat not really petite woman was at that moment going in the door. She stopped, turned, and gave me a death stare, which highly amused my caching companions. I am sure apologies would ring hollow, though I did not intend to be rude. Not to the woman in question, anyway.

Nineteen finds logged today, with one unfortunate DNF (Did Not Find) — which I just learned from the cache owners was missing because they had picked up the container to make some reparations. Ah, well. I'll be back. Current total number of finds stands at 8,268.

L: How low can you go? R: Shoffnerless
Maybe that thumping and bumping in the old water treatment facility was Mom Zombie.
Scary place.
Why, yes, they do impound waterfowl. Careful; they might impound you too.
No. Just no.