Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day Reflections


I have on occasion written about my dad here in ye old blog, but for Father's Day I am inclined to record a few more in-depth thoughts about him. Last week, he would have celebrated his 86th birthday. Fair warning — this will probably be long, and it is mainly for my own edification and perhaps for any readers who knew Dad. I might mention that it's a hot, muggy day, and I wish I was at the beach. From the time I was 18 until my mid 30s, we owned a time-share unit at Regency Towers in Myrtle Beach, SC, and our assigned period was the third week in June, which usually encompassed Dad's birthday and/or Father's Day. I always looked forward to going, particularly when I was in my 20s because, well, it was the beach, and there were lots of young women to chase after (though I can't say I was all that good at catching them). But it became a tradition of special family time, for relaxation and togetherness. The good old days, those were. And though cynics will always tell you there was never any such thing, it's all subjective. To me, the good old days were when the people I loved most were still alive. So many are gone now.

Dad came from a family of meager means, but he was smarter than a whip and dedicated to building a comfortable life for himself and his family. For 30 years, he worked for Dupont, mostly in Martinsville, VA, where I grew up. He had simple tastes and was pretty frugal, but he was sometimes known to splurge on the family, especially around Christmastime. For weeks before the holiday, right up through Christmas Eve, he'd often have to "run up the street" to pick up something he'd thought of for my brother and me. He did enjoy his shopping, and he was a bargain hunter. If he bought something but saw it cheaper somewhere else, he'd turn right around, return the item, get his money back, and go purchase it at the better price. (This could sometimes be frustrating for us young 'uns when we just wanted to go back home.) His main indulgence for himself came in the form of a couple of Ford Mustang convertibles, one a 67 model (pale yellow with a black top), the other a 72 (fire-engine red with a black top). I learned how to drive in that 72 Mustang, and Mom used to quip that Dad wanted to be buried in that car. It didn't last that long, but he did keep that car until sometime in the late 1980s.

His favorite avocation was stamp collecting. He had a massive collection of postage stamps from all over the world, and in the late 60s or early 70s, he started a stamp business called Virginia Stamp Exchange, which became quite lucrative for him. As an adolescent, I took a brief shine to the activity, but it wasn't one of those that lasted. Still, I knew enough about it that, in my late teens, he paid me some small wages to help him out with it when the business overwhelmed him.

Dad loved his golf. He wasn't exactly a great player, but for years he golfed with a regular bunch of gentlemen at Forest Park Country Club, and when I was a teenager, I took up the game and spent many weekends on the course with him and his cronies. Now, at home, he rarely uttered language stronger than "Dadgummit!" or "Friggit!" but on the course, he could sure let some words fly. Most of the epithets I currently use for bad drivers and other annoying assholes I learned from Dad on the golf course.

Now, Dad was generally a patient man — to a point. Once you passed that point, you needed to watch out. He probably swatted me a time or two when I was a kid, and lord knows I deserved it, but his main disciplinary power came from his voice. He could bend steel with a few words, sometimes low and growling, sometimes sharp and piercing, designed to paralyze his target with dread. Whenever Mum caught me doing something terribly wrong (a not infrequent occurrence), the worst thing I could possibly hear was "I'm going to have to tell your father about this." Chilling, horrifying words, those. Along those lines, back in the late 90s, his brother Gordon came for a visit, and we were all sitting around the sunroom table while the two of them reminisced about their sordid past (and my lord, did they have some stories). Deadpan, Gordon said, "Carl, you may not be able to relate to this, but our dad had a temper." I thought Dad was going to choke to death laughing. I have largely inherited my father's disposition, which came down from his father before him. Clearly, we came by it honestly.
Dad on his honeymoon, circa 1956

Like Mom, Dad was a Christian — his father was a Methodist minister, as a matter of fact — with simple faith; no fire and brimstone judgment, no biblical scholarship, just a heartfelt following of the Golden Rule and trusting that the lord would lead him where he needed to be in life. Perhaps the most telling example of Dad's faith was when several church members were gathered at our place for dinner. Dad knew that the choir was trying to raise money for a trip — I can't remember specifically where — and they had come up short on funds. Quietly, Dad called the choir director into his office, asked how much they needed, and then wrote a check for that amount. He gave it to the choir director on the condition that he not reveal where that money came from. He didn't want any attention drawn to himself, only that those folks get to go on their trip. That was largely how he lived his faith. No showmanship, no fanfare, just quiet sincerity and deep care for others.

Politically, Dad was conservative, of the Eisenhower persuasion; the current GOP would have revolted him. He instilled in me a deep sense of personal responsibility and compassion. But one of his strengths was seeing and understanding alternative viewpoints, and whenever we had discussions of any depth, he always presented me with thoughtful counters to my points, regardless of whether he believed in them himself. He wanted me to understand that personal decisions are not made in a vacuum, and to make sound ones, I needed to gather as much information as possible before committing to an idea or goal. Yet, almost paradoxically, he hated indecisiveness in others, and he always pressed me to not waffle at decision-making time. This has been a powerful motivator in my life, the downside being that, especially in my younger days, I made lots of quick decisions, either not understanding or ignoring the consequences of rash action. A difficult balancing act, to be sure, but it was one Dad mastered from an early age.

In the late 1960s, Dad was afflicted with a very severe case of diabetes, the complications of which eventually took his life. Despite dedicated effort on his part, and Mom's, he could never keep his blood sugar regulated, and he had terrible insulin reactions that one could have mistaken for epileptic fits. These were violent and painful, and they scared me to death when I was a kid. In later years, he lived with endless pain, eventually to the point that he could no longer work. Fortunately, Dupont offered him early retirement, with excellent benefits, at age 52, so he was able to still have a few quality years with Mom before he became completely physically debilitated. He died in 2001, at the too-young age of 70.

Dad and I had our conflicts, diverging opinions and philosophies, and outright personality clashes from time to time. But according to Mom, at no time did he ever stop being proud of me or respecting my views, even when he could not understand them (I was a bit weird). He supported me when I didn't deserve it more times than I could count. Yes, Dad had plenty of flaws, but as an increasingly self-aware individual, he never ceased struggling to overcome them. His life was testimony his success. He made me proud to be his son, and to this day, he is my hero. With my mom's health failing, and me having to take over more and more of her personal affairs, I feel I need him more than ever. And he is with me.

I miss you and love you, Dad.
Dad coached my City Recreation League basketball team, circa 1970.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Con*Gregate 3: Geek Summer Camp

It's a-coming — Con*Gregate 3 at the Radisson Hotel in High Point, NC, July 15–17, 2016. I'll be on hand once again for panels, booksignings, a reading, Allen Wold's famous writing workshop, and general trouble-making. Con*Gregate is a mid-size convention, essentially the successor to StellarCon, which was an NC staple for almost three decades. The organizers and staff are top-notch and have done a fine job making Con*Gregate a convention worth returning to.

Guests of Honor this year include Stephen Barnes (Writer GoH), A. J. Hartley (Writer, Special GoH), Lindsey Look (Artist GoH), and Valentine Wolfe (Special Musical Guests). There will be the usual costume contest, charity auction, live performances, gaming, and video screenings.

You can find my schedule here: Con*Gregate: Stephen Mark Rainey

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hot, Tired, and Lonesome, but Serene

A bit of pedaling and geocache maintenance on the
Dick & Willie Trail. Yeah, yeah, pipe down.

Ms. Brugger is gone for a long weekend with a bunch of rowdy women to the mountains of Virginia, leaving me lost, lonesome, and left to fend for myself. Those wretched women! But this was my regular weekend to go to Martinsville to look after Mum anyway, so I hit the road last night after work, grabbed a couple of caches en route, and arrived in the 'Ville just in time to go to dinner with Mum at Chopstix, a relatively new Asian establishment with an extensive, varied menu and decent sushi. Their food and service are commendable, but I don't recommend ordering one of their mixed drinks — I've given them two tries, one a Long Island Iced Tea, another a specialty drink called The Chopstix Stix, either of which — theoretically — should have knocked me on my ass, but which — in reality — struck me as little more than flavored water. Sadly, that's pretty much the case anywhere I've ordered a mixed drink in the past couple of years, so I've about sworn off anyone's but my own (with the notable exception of The Third Bay, in the 'Ville). A sad, sad state, I tell you.

Last night, after taking care of Mum's business, I managed a good spell of writing, much needed since I've got three stories either brewing or in the works, and a couple of deadlines I don't want to miss. And this morning, after helping out with some errands, I went out to the Dick & Willie Rail Trail (yeah, yeah, shut up), where one can borrow a bicycle for the exorbitant cost of absolutely nada, and took off pedaling to one of my geocaches ("The Quiet Earth," GC2D0WQ) that had gone missing and needed replacing. That done, with me about done in by the heat and humidity, I went and grabbed some chicken tenders from the nearby Hardee's and hied myself over to the shady woods at Lake Lanier for a little one-man picnic lunch. I did venture a ways down the little walking trail to find a bench, but I didn't fall in the water. Not this time, friends!

Then, it was back to Greensboro to spend a lonesome night at home without the bestest girlfriend in the world. On the way, I stopped for a baker's dozen geocaches in and around Summerfield, a few of which were pretty entertaining, particularly LY #312 (GC6CAN7), which would no doubt have had any uninitiated witnesses scratching their heads in bewilderment over what the old dude in the hat was doing shoving a pine branch into some metal tubing on a kids' playset.

I've got plenty more writing lined up for the evening, and to assuage my bitter loneliness, I figure I'll either watch Seven Samurai or The Brady Bunch, I haven't decided which.

Good night, Lucy.
Lake Lanier looks about the same as it has all these years since I was a kid. Love the place, I do.
Notice the conga line of turtles on the log in the lower right-hand corner of the pic.
I found the cache here. Yep, that's me — the geocachevangelist.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Return of the Old Ones

Look what's coming out of the darkness from the frightening folks at Dark Regions Press! It's Return of the Old Ones, a new anthology of Cthulhu Mythos stories, edited by Brian M. Sammons. The book includes stories set in three distinct time periods: just before the stars come right to release the Great Old Ones to spread calamity over the earth; during those moments that civilization falls and the earth trembles beneath the onslaught of its new, horrific masters; and after the fall, when those few humans who survive must eke out an existence in an unimaginable hell.

My story, "Messages From a Dark Deity," takes place during the days leading up to the eve of destruction, seen through the eyes of an investigative journalist. As the world around him becomes increasingly more bizarre, he attempts to deny the evidence of his senses, attributing the horrors he witnesses to some kind of hysteria, but Nyarlathotep — the messenger of the Great Old Ones — refuses to allow him even this dubious comfort.

Return of the Old Ones features 19 stories by some of the finest storytellers working today. The amazing cover art you see above is by Vincent Chong. The full table of contents appears below.

IN THE BEFORE TIMES
"Around the Corner" – Jeffrey Thomas
"Tick Tock" – Don Webb
"Causality Revelation" – Glynn Owen Barrass
"The Hidden" – Scott T. Goudsward
"The Gentleman Caller" – Lucy A. Snyder
"Scratching from the Outer Darkness" – Tim Curran
"Messages from a Dark Deity" – Stephen Mark Rainey

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE WORLD ENDED?
"Time Flies" – Pete Rawlik
"Sorrow Road" – Tim Waggoner
"The Call of the Deep" – William Meikle
"Howling Synchronicities" – Konstantine Paradias
"Chimera" – Sam Gafford
"The Last Night on Earth" – Edward Morris
"The Incessant Drone" – Neil Baker

LIFE IN THE SHADOWS OF THE LIVING GODS
"Breaking Point" – Sam Stone
"The Allclear" – Edward M. Erdelac
"The Keeper of Memory" – Christine Morgan
"Shout/Kill/Revel/Repeat" – by Scott R Jones
"Strangers Die Every Day" – Cody Goodfellow

Return of the Old Ones, coming in Fall 2016 from Dark Regions

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Healthy Insane

That's us, all right — the Healthy Insane. Well, it makes for an apt geocaching team name, don't you think? What do you mean where are the wine glasses? Well, the wine flowed yesterday, mates.

This has been a memorable couple of days for Ms. Brugger and me, complete with unwelcome interlopers, not-quite-exotic food and drink, high-risk geocaching, horrific movies, and blasphemous storytelling. Friday evening, those diabolical fiends Cortney Skinner and Elizabeth Massie (with whom I co-wrote Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark) darkened my doorstep and proceeded to menace my cats for the duration of the weekend. Upon their arrival, I took these awful folk out and forced them to seek geocaches in singularly hazardous places, followed by a tortuous, habanero-spiked Mexican dinner. To keep the theme of inhuman pain and suffering going through the rest of the evening, we settled in to watch The Sound of Horror, a review of which I posted here just the other day ("The Sound of Horror," Sunday, May 29, 2016), followed by a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Sometimes, you have to think inside the box.

But of course there was wine, at least for those of us who have been known to partake. (Happily, our trespassers were considerate enough to bring a bottle of Virginia wine for Ms. Brugger, who drinks.) Saturday morning, after beginning the day with the prerequisite caffeine and some acceptable treats from Starbucks, we ventured out into Greensboro's urban wilderness, procured the necessary items for a poisonous picnic, and hied our asses out to Stonefield Cellars in Stokesdale, which is one of our favorite venues for locally produced vino. On our arrival, we discovered there was to be a wedding on the premises — poor sods — but much to our delight, a short distance from the main facility, there hid a pleasant, secluded table, complete with an umbrella to block the hated, blazing day star, where we set up our picnic and savored some particularly nice wine — sangria for Mr. Skinner and Dread Pirate Robert's Red Blend for Ms. B. and me. There were a couple of caches near the winery that I had hunted unsuccessfully not too long ago, one at a haunted house, so after our picnic, we decided to seek revenge on the offending containers. This time, success!
Artist and writer in their natural environment

Once back home, Ms. Massie devoted some more time to menacing my cats, and then Kimberly and I prepared a Pho dinner, which the two of us quite enjoyed and our company appeared to survive (we'll see how things go over the next few days). For dessert, we enjoyed some Klondike bars and It Follows, which our guests had not previously seen (reviewed here by the Old Dude some time ago). After lights out, I heard some intriguing sounds from upstairs, but I did not go to investigate because I'm pretty sure the cats were setting traps for our trespassers. However, as often happens with devices devised by cats, the traps didn't really work. It's kind of like when Frazier, after plotting long and hard to give Dad what-for, conceals himself, lies in wait for God knows how long, and then, when opportunity arises, comes barreling out to accost me. However, since he really doesn't know what to do when he catches me, he just sits down.

This morning, it was back to Starbucks for a final social gathering, featuring plentiful tall tales and imparting of Wisdom, largely provided by one Wisdommamus Evughwemuya, who desperately desired friendship with Ms. Massie on Facebook. By searching his face on the interwebs, we discovered that the good Wisdommamus possesses dozens of different names, nationalities, and professions, so if he comes looking for you — beware!

Finally, it was time for an emotional parting of the ways (the cats danced for joy). All in all, another memorable run-in with our hated enemies, and I truly hope it is not so long before our next opportunity to clash. I shall celebrate their departure and eventual demise with some leftover Pho.

Adieu, my fiendish foes.
Geocacher, gecocache, and haunted house in Stokesdale
Beware this man, who desires to impart only the wisdom of the scam!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Sound of Horror



This review is from an earlier blog, but worth a revisit, as this little jewel may be on the menu in the next few days...

Back in the early 70s, I remember watching on TV a 1964 Spanish monster flick called The Sound of Horror and thinking it just might be the worst piece of crap ever put to film. Except...it kind of left me feeling unnerved. A while back, I picked up the Alpha Video DVD for something like $3.99, watched it, and came out thinking exactly the same thing.

It's about an invisible dinosaur. I am not lying; it's true. The budget was so small, they made the dinosaur invisible. But you know what? It makes a hell of a scary noise. It shreds people in right gory fashion. And like some of the best SF/horror movies — The Thing and Alien coming foremost to mind it features characters confined in a location from which they cannot escape. As a bonus, it stars a young Ingrid Pitt and Soledad Miranda (Lucy in Jess Franco's Count Dracula), who, in her day, was about the hottest thing on two legs. The moviemakers realized this and even stopped the film in its faltering tracks so that Pitt and Miranda could dance for the camera. No complaints from me.

Make no mistake, it's a dumb, dumb film, but, in its way, it's also a bit brilliant. A group of former Nazi fighters, along with the aforementioned beautiful women, meet at a remote location in Greece to seek treasure that was buried in a cave before the war. In the process of digging it up, they unearth both a remarkably preserved mummy (identified first as a "homo sapien neanderthal" and then as a fighter at the sacking of Troy) and a couple of very large, petrified eggs. The mummy stays dead, but the eggs hatch. One releases said invisible carnivorous dinosaur; the other provides us with a glimpse of a pair of creepy, glowing eyes, but their owner is bashed and burned before it can camouflage itself and join in the blood feast. Several of the treasure-hunting party are killed as the invisible horror continually attacks the house where they are trapped, until they finally figure out a way to best the noisy, unseen brute.

From scene to scene, the movie yo-yos from outright inept to chillingly atmospheric. The creature's murderous raids are surprisingly — and realistically— graphic. There's a rather poignant scene in which the household caretaker, a superstitious woman named Calliope (whose forecasts of doom are quickly borne out) is brutally savaged by the monster, and the others trapped in the house watch helplessly...almost casually. In reality, it was probably just a matter of lackadaisical direction, yet the scene comes across as depressingly authentic.

Overall, the characters are not terribly heroic, though the WWII veterans in the group evidently once fought with great honor. Their motivation is greed, yet they are played as mostly sympathetic and humane individuals. I can just imagine this movie being remade today, with every one of these folk portrayed as vile scum, each of whom deserves to die, and the sooner the better. I find it refreshing to be able to care about, and to some degree identify with, a group of not-quite-perfect people, depicted far more realistically than the despicable stereotypes that populate far too many of today's horrific features. For one thing, there's no annoying conflict-for-conflict's-sake between a bunch of foul-mouthed imbeciles, which is the main reason I so often want to strangle every character in most modern horror films, particularly when the protagonists are youthful.

Of course, the characters do some pretty dumb things, but by and large, they're smarter than most of their modern monster movie counterparts. The final scene, though, brings us to a mishmosh of cluelessness, heroism, and a display of one of the worst monster effects ever shown on the screen. It's the film's quintessential moment, where brilliance and ineptitude collide and create something like a cinematic black hole.

If you haven't seen The Sound of Horror... well, you just gotta. You can still pick it up on Amazon.com for cheap.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Surfside Sojourn

LLLadies....

Back from spending a couple of relaxing days with some good friends in Surfside Beach, SC. There was geocaching, of course; other fun and games, my favorite being the ever-popular cornhole; numerous refreshing walks on the beach; excellent food and drink; and some reasonably painful sunburn. In fact, both Ms. Brugger and I came home with unique patterns imprinted on our skin due to uneven applications of sunscreen (I blame the lady). Sunday was our friend Doug's birthday, so we even had cake. The forecast for the weekend had looked anything but promising, but just to reinforce the idea that meteorologists are overpaid carnival fortunetellers, the weather turned out damn near perfect — mostly warm and sunny, with a few clouds and an almost constant light breeze. We did get rain for a spell late on Sunday afternoon, but it was while we were all inside anyway, so we barely noticed. On the way home, after picking up a geocache, I got pulled over by a South Carolina state trooper, as I had apparently rolled through a stop sign on my return to the main highway, but he was kind enough to give me a warning rather than a ticket. I'm sure you're thinking I have done far worse things, and you might be right, but we will not discuss those.

Heading down on Saturday morning, Ms. B. and I stopped for geocaches at a couple of fascinating locations. The first was "Great Falls Mill" (GC1RJ8P) in Rockingham, NC, which took us to the crumbling remains of a cotton mill built in 1869 atop the foundation of an earlier mill burned by General Sherman during the Civil War. The Great Falls Mill closed during the Great Depression and then burned in 1972. The structure has been steadily crumbling over the years and, for safety's sake, is best viewed from a distance. Photos taken just two years ago show considerably more of the structure intact.

My other big favorite was "Blenheim Mineral Springs" (GC20DQ9) in Blenheim, SC, the site of natural mineral springs from which Blenheim Ginger Ale is made. The springs were discovered in 1781 by James Spears, a Whig, who was attempting to elude Tory troops. As legend has it, Mr. Spears lost his shoe in a water hole. When he attempted to recover it, he sampled the water and discovered its potent mineral contents (and presumably the distinct bouquet of shoe leather). News of the spring circulated around the countryside and, before long, it became the center of a bustling hub of commerce. In the late 1800s, Dr. C. R. May counseled his patients with stomach troubles to drink the spring water, but his patients complained about the its iron-like taste. To make the water's flavor more appealing, Dr. May began supplementing it with Jamaican Ginger — and thus was born Blenheim Ginger Ale. In 1903, Dr. May and A. J. Matheson founded the Blenheim Bottling Company, and the remains of the old bottling works can be found near the spring, from which you can still drink. Ms. B. and I explored the site for some time and sampled the spring water, which did taste not unlike rust from an old iron pipe. I'm sure it was very healthy for me.

Just before arriving in Surfside, we stopped at a cache that's up in a tree, which I had to climb after. And that is how you top off an enjoyable road trip. I did manage a little caching around the beach area — and had a bit of a fright when I thought my phone had gone missing. After coming to the conclusion that someone must have stolen it, since at one point I had foolishly left it unattended in the unlocked car, I discovered it in my back pocket.

Apart from a nasty traffic jam on our egress from the beach that took over an hour to get through, things went pretty smoothly. Was notified of an issue with my mom that may take some sorting out, but that is a bridge to burn on another day.
The remains of Great Falls Mill
Ms. B. among the ruins of the old bottling works at Blenheim Mineral Springs
Inside the ruins
The view from "Fiddlin' in the Marsh" (GC491MA). Dammit, I forgot my fiddle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Monster Museum


One of my most genuine pleasures is finding a copy of some old book that frightened, inspired, or otherwise made memories in my youth. I grew up an avid reader, and I'm sure you'd be stunned to learn that my favorite books were the scary ones. One of the most influential — an anthology I found myself consciously thinking about when concocting my earliest works of fiction — was Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, which I discovered at my school library when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I hadn't seen a copy of this old classic in more years than I could remember, but I recently acquired one in decent condition, and I was so excited to receive it I put all else aside so I could delve into its pages. The volume boasts "Twelve shuddery stories for daring young readers," and to be sure, as a youngster I shuddered at several of them, but a number of pivotal horror/dark fantasy tales for all ages can be found herein — such as "The Day of the Dragon" by Guy Endore; "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan; "The Microscopic Giants" by Paul Ernst; "Shadow, Shadow on the Wall" by Theodore Sturgeon; "The Desrick on Yandro" by Manly Wade Wellman (which I referenced in some detail in my recent entry about The Legend of Hillbilly John); and "Homecoming" by Ray Bradbury.

Although Alfred Hitchcock's name adorns the cover of this, and numerous other volumes of terror tales — he merely licensed his name to be used on various book projects — Monster Museum was actually edited by mystery and speculative fiction author Robert Arthur. The selection of stories runs the gamut from grim and suspenseful ("Day of the Dragon," in which genetic experiments on alligators produce huge, winged dragons straight out of legend; "Slime," a story about a ravenous, flesh-eating horror from the depths of the sea; "The Microscopic Giants," about tiny, subterranean humanoids whose composition is so dense they can walk through stone) to whimsical ("Henry Martindale, Great Dane" by Miriam Allen deFord, in which a writer, in Kafka-esque fashion, physically becomes a great dane while retaining his human personality as well as power of speech; "The Wheelbarrow Boy" by Richard Parker, about a teacher who can turn unruly children into any object of his choosing; "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" by Idris Seabright, a futuristic tale about a traveling salesman's ultimate nightmare). My youthful favorites, of course, were the darker ones — and they still are — but upon re-reading these recently, I found myself unexpectedly taken with some of the more humorous ones, particularly "Henry Martindale, Great Dane," which also manages a certain poignancy. And upon finishing "The Wheelbarrow Boy," which I was reading in bed just before conking out for the night, I fear I startled the cats by unleashing a barrage of laughter. Yes, this resulted in long, withering stares of consternation from which I have scarcely recovered.

Having have read these stories during my formative years, I suppose it's no wonder they have lingered, in some cases like half-remembered, eerie melodies, haunting but vague, influencing in subtle, if at all identifiable ways. But upon re-reading them, most for the first time since I was a youngster, the memories came flooding back, in many cases with crystal clarity, transporting me to a time when reading was truly exciting, oftentimes as much as or more so than watching the most spectacular monster epics on television or at the theater. Most of the stories in Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum are vivid and full of imagery, perfect for bringing life to the movie screen inside any adolescent's mind. Or even an adult's.

And now my batteries are recharged and set to get me moving on a new story for an upcoming anthology. Sometimes a pleasant return to your roots can do that for you.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rum Collins


I suppose it's the most intense writing experience I've ever had. It was Autumn 1998, and I was working on Dreams of the Dark, which I co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie for the HarperCollins Dark Shadows series. Dark Shadows was, for me, a magical property, one I grew up with, dreamed about, plotted new episodes in my spare time. I knew the original television series, the movies, the Marilyn Ross novels inside and out. I was the consummate Dark Shadows fanboy. I had decided way back when, and I've said it many times since, that in a perfect universe, if I lived a good and worthy life, after I died I would go to Collinwood.

Ms. Massie and I had intricately plotted the novel, had virtually all the details worked out, and had divvied up the chapters for which we would each be responsible. I had developed a new character, a vampire, named Thomas Rathburn who would insinuate himself into Collinwood and thereby become the reader's eyes and ears as events at the great estate unfolded. It was via Rathburn that the reader would meet the Collins family — most notably, Barnabas Collins.

It was a Friday afternoon when I started working on the scene where Rathburn was to meet Barnabas for the first time, and I found myself as excited as if I were there, at Collinwood, about to come face to face with the characters I had known so intimately for so many years. I had armed myself with some rum, but as I began to paint the scene, I felt giddy, intoxicated, far in excess of the effect of any alcohol. It was the first time — perhaps the only time, really — that the process of writing transported me wholly into the world in which I was working. It was a world I knew better than any I could create from my own mind. In those moments, Collinsport, Maine, the place and its people, was as real, as corporeal, as the most familiar corner of my own hometown. I could see Barnabas Collins with perfect clarity, hear every word he spoke — in Jonathan Frid's inimitable, mellifluous voice — as if he were standing before me, performing for me only.

I wrote and drank for several hours, and sometime around midnight my (now ex-) wife reminded me that I'd had no dinner. I took a brief break for some vittles, recharged my glass (again), probably took a pee, and settled back in to continue the scene. It was all coming out like lightning, as natural, as real as if I were merely transcribing events happening in the tangible world around me. At some point, Mrs. Death went to bed, while I kept writing and drinking.

Eventually, I realized the sun was coming up.

I was beginning to feel the effects of the night's alcohol, so I made coffee, took a few minutes' breather, and went back to writing. And by noon, the rum was flowing again.

I finished that chapter sometime after sundown and finally, at some point, collapsed, pretty well enervated. I think I napped for a couple of hours before getting back to it, this time sans rum. Well, at least for the next few hours. By Sunday afternoon, I was writing and rumming again as if all that previous rumming had never happened.

When I look back at Dreams of the Dark, that chapter specifically, I can happily say it is not the work of an excited drunk. It's the work of an enthusiastic spirit who, for just a little while, visited the place of his dreams. I'd say there aren't any other media properties that could have done that for me, not then, not ever. I'm mighty glad I had the chance to work in that universe, not once but several times, because it opened a door for me — inside me — that few, if any, of my own unique creations have ever done. No right or wrong about it. It just was.

Fortunately for me, in the days since then, I have managed to write just as enthusiastically (if for much shorter spells) but without quite so much drink. I'm pretty sure I would never — could never — even attempt to repeat or recapture that experience. That was a singular, isolated time where passion and spirits overcame everything else. It's a fine thing to remember. I'm glad I can remember. For a while there, it was iffy.

Write on.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Time Keeps on Slippin'...

Yeah, this past week was my birthday, and this coming week is Ms. Kimberly's birthday. I just had my previous birthday a few days before, so I really can't figure what's up with that. But since these things somehow keep coming around again, we figured we'd make the best of them and do a bunch of celebratory stuff. Most of my birthday festivities went on last weekend, but on Friday night, I got a little bonus celebration going caching around Greensboro with my old friend Beth "Bogturtle" Walton and Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner. It had been at least two or three years since I'd seen Beth, who lives in Florida these days, so it was great catching up, signing logs, and making a stop at one of our local cache bars afterward.

Yesterday, Ms. B. and I headed to Chapel Hill to hit a few of our preferred destinations for shopping and entertainment (and for me to find a few geocaches). We took the scenic route through Hillsborough to have lunch at Hillsborough BBQ Company (in my experience, their beef brisket is second only to Blues BBQ Company's in Roanoke); then, after going walkies around Chapel Hill and grabbing a handful of caches, we each suffered through a glass of delicious wine at the Weathervane bar at A Southern Season; we checked out West End Wine Bar in downtown Chapel Hill, of which we both approved mightily; and finally, we had dinner at Thai Palace, where the fare has been consistently excellent for us. Once back at Ms. B.'s, we watched Cold Mountain, which I had never seen, and, in general, I quite liked it. A bit overlong, but for the most part engaging.

After gorging myself on way too much, way-too-delicious food yesterday, I ended up not eating much of anything today — go figure — and getting in enough exercise to burn off at least the cole slaw from Hillsborough and all but wipe me out for the evening. I spent the better part of the day on the trails at Bryan Park North, hiding a new series of caches inspired by The Walking Dead, and things couldn't have worked out much better. I discovered a few prime locations in the woods, put in several miles of strenuous hiking (plus a bit of running when it looked like rain was going to set in), and undertook a physically taxing and moderately perilous tree climb. There are four caches in the series, which I call "Terminus," after the storyline in TV series, and I think I'm pleased with the results. Those who hunt and find the hides will be the final arbiter of their quality. They should publish in the next day or two.

And for this coming week, it's back to the salt mines.
Searched long and hard and couldn't find that cache.
Enjoyed running into a few local young geocachers in Chapel Hill
One of the intriguing fixtures I discovered in the woods while setting up "Terminus."
Near the final location of "Terminus." A scary cache!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wine, Witches, and Watery Awakenings

As is customary, yesterday's Spring Book Festival at Brewed Awakening in Danville, VA, opened in the great outdoors, with a quite a few authors in attendance, but by the end of the first hour, gathering clouds had begun to ooze a pervasive mist, which eventually turned to rain, and in the interest of preserving our wares, most of us moved quickly inside. Fortunately, the shop, which is half café, half bookstore, is large enough that it accommodated both authors and customers without undue discomfort. The weather definitely had a negative impact on attendance and sales, but at the end of the day, it still proved profitable, and both Kimberly and I quite enjoyed the event. Brewed Awakenings, owned by John and Bonnie Helms-Hale of Martinsville, VA, occupies the lower floor of one of the historic buildings in Danville's newly renovated warehouse district and, in addition to a respectable stock of literature, offers a wide variety of coffee, tea, sandwiches, and other deli items.

Ms. B. and I had gone to Martinsville on Friday, where we spent a pleasant evening at Mum's in the company of some decent wine. It turned out to be a beautiful night for sitting under the stars on the back deck, with tiki torches burning. I might mention that Martinsville is known for its population of sizable arthropods, and we met a couple of them this weekened — a great big june bug, which dropped in unannounced for a personal wine tasting (fortunately, Kimberly's glass, not mine), and a dragonfly of prehistoric proportions that we discovered hanging on her bedroom window. And after the book festival yesterday, we decided to check out 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Company in Danville, where we each enjoyed a glass of Cabernet Franc on their expansive covered porch, sheltered from the rain. Currently, 2 Witches offers only a handful of wines, mostly still young, but a large selection of craft beers, which we didn't try on this visit, but which I imagine I could be convinced at something less than gunpoint to sample on a future trip.

And since my 5,700th birthday is coming up on Monday, Kimberly treated me to a nice celebratory dinner at The Golden Leaf Bistro, which we have enjoyed on several previous visits. And though I have long since cleared the list of geocaches in Danville, a particularly daunting cache awaited me on the way back to Greensboro. After a couple of fruitless attempts to find the mean little bastard during this past week, this time I managed to lay claim to it. Some caches require you to think outside the box; this one, not so much.

Happy bleepin' birthday to me.
Still life with wine and tiki torches at Mum's
Prehistoric beast on the bedroom window at Mum's place. That sucker is every bit of five inches long.
Some geocaches require you to think outside the box. Others, not so much.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Brewed Awakening Spring 2016 Book Festival

COMING UP: Brewed Awakening's Spring Book Festival, on Saturday, April 30, at the store, located at 610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541.  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 terror tales, 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.

Mark your calendar and join us.

Brewed Awakening Book Festival 
Saturday, April 30, 2016 • 10 AM–2 PM
610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541
(434) 483-2138

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What a Long, Strange Trip, Part II

In our last episode, after a nerve-wracking flight into Islip, Long Island, ye olde drowned rat had sunk a couple of Bass Ales at good Molly Malone's (now permanently closed, I'm sad to report) and boarded the ferry to Fire Island with a contingent of intrepid Dark Shadows fans. When we arrived at our semi-rustic lodgings, both Ms. Massie, whose journey had been scarcely less taxing than mine, and I collapsed for long afternoon naps. In fact, if I recall, I think several of us decided to crash for a while, as the severe storms had done a pretty good number on everyone's nerves, and it was good to finally relax. Fortunately, for the next two days, the weather ceased to be a complicating factor, and spending time among some good friends served as much-needed tonic. There were no cars in our particular corner of Fire Island, so we either walked or rode bicycles to whatever areas we saw fit to explore. I believe it was on our second evening there, I remember we had to hoof it quite some distance to find vittles, at a restaurant whose name I can't recall but that proved most enjoyable. At the time, I was working on the opening chapters of Dark Shadows: The Labyrinth of Souls, and I read at least the first chapter to an enthusiastic crowd — which was actually a motivating reason for finishing the novel even when it appeared that an official release by either HarperCollins or Tor was not destined for the offing.

No, for those couple of days, I thought perhaps I had left the bizarro realm behind me, but on that last day on the island, I discovered it had been but a brief respite.

On that Sunday, I bid my companions adieu, for I had to return to work the following day. It was particularly sad for me because the group was planning to visit Dark Shadows actor Louis Edmonds at his home nearby. Fortunately, I had met him once before he passed away in 2001, but I have always regretted not being able to spend time with him on that particular trip. Anyway, as planned, my fellow Air Warrior staffer "Mojo" Wayne met me at the ferry station early that afternoon, and we decided that Molly Malone's would make a perfectly fine destination for lunch and drinks before heading to the airport. As it turned out, Molly Malone's was equally appealing to the church crowd as the seafaring set, and before we knew it, battalions of patrons in their Sunday best, accompanied by countless raucous children, descended on our positions. Mojo said he knew a place close to the airport, so off we went to escape the onslaught of Christian soldiers.

Little did I know, Mojo's favorite spot was a strip club. Now, I am far, far from prudish, but I have just never taken much pleasure in such adult venues. We settled ourselves in a relatively secluded corner, and I was enjoying a well-made gin and tonic when he stood up and hollered, "Famous writer here! A famous horror writer!" So much for remaining incognito. A couple of attractive young ladies came around to check out my credentials, and when they learned I had written a Dark Shadows novel, they were both ecstatic. Longtime fans, apparently, and how nice! I ended up grabbing a couple of copies of the book from my (finally dried out) suitcase and donating them to the cause here, for which I was offered all kinds of favors, and which I all kinds of refused because, well, Mrs. Death. (I was still married in those days.) Anyway, after all this, Mojo drove me on to Islip Airport, where I anticipated, finally, an uneventful flight home.

My flight had been canceled.

Well, the attendant said, there wasn't another flight to PHL until late that evening, and I wouldn't be able to make a connection to Greensboro till the following day. However, if I wanted to catch a direct flight home, they could put me in a limo, free of charge, to LaGuardia, an hour or so away, which was due to depart in about three hours. I settled on taking the limo ride to LaGuardia and the direct flight, so off we went. The driver was courteous enough, a big fan of Rudy Giuliani, who turned out to be the sole subject of a very one-sided conversation. Now, for whatever reason, after leaving the strip club, I had kept a copy of Dreams of the Dark in my hand and stuck my plane ticket between its pages. When we arrived at LaGuardia, the driver dropped me off at the terminal, I grabbed my suitcase, and began heading toward the doors. The limo pulled away.

And I realized I had left my book — and plane ticket — in the car's back seat.

In a burst of panic, I took off running after the limo, hoping the driver would see me in his rear-view mirror. No such luck! By now, the police officers manning the terminal entrance came hauling ass my way, yelling at me to get the hell out of the road.

"My ticket's in that limo!" I shouted back.

Another limo was just pulling out, and an officer yelled, "Grab that one!"

Sure enough, as the limo pulled by me, I flagged the driver down and, while the car was still moving, flung myself into the back seat.

I pointed to the vehicle ahead I had so recently quitted. "Follow that car!"

The driver, a very cordial young African American fellow, nodded politely and said, "Hold on, sir!"

The G force was terrible. I was smashed into the back seat under what felt like a ton of bricks as the limo rocketed after our quarry. I could see that, not far ahead, the road divided, the right lane leading to the expressway, the left lane circling back around the airport. Naturally, my former limo was heading for the expressway.

In his rear-view mirror, my driver must have noticed my consternation, for he said in a placating tone, "No worries, sir."

Next thing I know, we're pulled up right beside my old limo, and the driver is honking his horn. My former driver noticed us, and I rolled down my window. "MY TICKET IS IN THE BACK SEAT!"

The driver looked around, noticed my book with the ticket inside, and in one smooth motion, reached back, grabbed the book, and flung it out the window toward me. The book came flying in and smacked me in the chest. "THANK YOU!" I hollered, and our dexterous fellow gave me a big thumbs' up. Then he was disappearing in the direction of the expressway, and I had my ticket in hand.

Now, quite unperturbed, my driver carried me back to the terminal at a far more reasonable speed, and when he dropped me off at the doors, I gave him a $20 bill for going around that circle, which back then was probably not a bad tip for a quick round trip.

In the end, I caught my flight back to Greensboro, this time sans inordinate turbulence, on time, with dry clothes, and at least some of my wits intact. When I got home and Mrs. Death asked me how my trip had gone, I told her it was fine, a few things a bit out of the ordinary. I wasn't sure she would believe the whole story. I wasn't sure I believed the whole story.

But that's what happened. And now I suddenly have a craving for Bass Ale. Anyone care to join me?

Friday, April 15, 2016

What a Long, Strange Trip, Part I


Back in May 2000, not long after Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark was released, I accepted to an invitation to attend a gathering of Dark Shadows fans at Fire Island, NY. I anticipated it being an entertaining weekend spent in the company of some nice folks with a similar fondness for certain supernatural soap operas. I was delighted to find that Ms. Elizabeth Massie, my co-writer on the novel, would also be attending. The part about about hanging out with some nice folks proved true enough, but what I did not expect was a surreal, at times disconcerting experience that began the moment I left home and didn't end until my plane touched down safely again in Greensboro two days later.

At the time, I was the head game op on AOL's Air Warrior flight simulator, and it so happened that one of the other staffers with whom I'd gotten to be friends lived in that area of New York. We decided that, on the last day of my trip, he would pick me up at the Fire Island Ferry Station, we'd have a few drinks somewhere, and then he'd take me to the airport. A little bonus to look forward to before my return home.

My plane departed on a cold, drizzly Friday morning, bound for Islip, Long Island, by way of Philadelphia. The flight out was normal enough, though the turbulence was considerable. It was when I arrived at PHL to make my connection that things really went south. By now, the drizzle had become a relentless deluge, and my flight to Islip was on a tiny commuter aircraft that resembled a shoebox to which someone had glued wings as an afterthought. However, rather than at the main terminal, the airplane was parked on the tarmac somewhere at the farthest reaches of the airport, to which we few passengers had to take a bus. Our baggage followed in an open trolley, and as you might guess, my canvas suitcase fared rather poorly in that driving rain. Once the plane was airborne, some coffee seemed just the ticket, so I acquired a cup from the flight attendant. I had barely taken the first sip — hot! — when we hit the first serious turbulence. Fortunately, the seat next to me was empty, and I held my cup out over that seat to keep the scalding coffee from sloshing all over me.

And just in time too. WHOMP! Big air pocket, and the plane dropped a hundred feet, my stomach rushing to my throat, every last bit of coffee splashing onto the empty seat beside me. Beverage service was immediately terminated, and for the next 45 minutes, we bounced along in the air, my head every now and then striking the overhead compartment when we hit a particularly rough stretch. It was the landing, though, that almost put me off flying, for as we made our descent, the little aircraft began swaying mercilessly back and forth, occasionally so sharply that, through the windows, I found myself looking straight down at the earth below. Soon enough, treetops were rushing past at high speed, and then — WHAM! — the left tire touched down on the runway. WHAM! The right tire touched down. Finally — BAM! THUD! — the nose wheel came down, and my head hit the back of the seat in front of me hard enough to send stars dancing across my field of vision. People around me were screaming, and I mean screaming, and this I found far more upsetting than the pain of impact. But outside the window, I could see that we were rolling along on level ground, gradually slowing down. The worst, it would seem, was over.

Indeed, I had survived more or less unscathed, but when my suitcase and I were reunited, it appeared to have been salvaged from some underwater catastrophe. Inside it, everything — and I mean everything — was soaked through and through. Where I was going, I didn't anticipate finding a handy retailer to replace anything that had been ruined, but my spirits were far less dampened than my belongings. I caught a ride with a friendly limo driver who carried me to the Bayshore-Fire Island Ferry Station, now under merely cloudy skies. However, immediately upon our arrival, the bottom fell out again, a blinding torrent, and I really wasn't sure where I had to go to meet my party. Oddly, the parking lot was deserted. The driver and I appeared to be the only human beings at the ferry station. He offered to wait with me until Ms. Massie and the others arrived, but I saw in the distance what appeared to be a tavern called Molly Malone's, and it was open, so I asked the driver to drop me there that I might enjoy a drink while waiting for the Dark Shadows contingent. He obliged, but in the fifty feet between the limo and the establishment's front door, I ended up so drenched I might as well have leaped into Great South Bay. With my waterlogged suitcase in hand, I staggered into the tavern, immediately to encounter a young hostess who, upon taking in my appearance, gave an involuntary snicker and said, "Sir, you need a drink."

I quite agreed, and she led me past a crowded bar, where a group of clearly drunken, burly seafaring types were belting out "Sweet Molly Malone" at the top of their collective lungs. I think it was at this moment that I realized I had become an active participant in some surreal, possibly preordained scenario, and there was nothing for it but to go along for the ride and see where it led me. I ordered myself a Bass Ale, and, if I recall, I ended up having another before I saw, through a rain-splashed window, the arrival of a vehicle from which, blessedly, Ms. Massie and several other familiar figures emerged. For quite some time afterward, whenever it rained, I found myself craving Bass Ale, and now upon reflection, it seems a tradition worth revisiting.

 As I made my way out of Molly Malone's, the rain stopped, and I met Ms. Massie, Mr. Bob Issel, and a few other folks whose acquaintances I had made at a previous Dark Shadows festival. We boarded the ferry, and, for the moment, it appeared that things might actually settle down and allow for a pleasant, mellow weekend at a cozy summer house on the island.

I only hoped I had some place to hang my soaked clothes and that they might dry out quickly.

Part II to follow.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hey, Ray!

Another random tale of mischief and woe from my adolescence...

It was during that period — 1972 or 1973 — when my friend Charles and I made it our business to prank call as many people in the town of Martinsville, VA, as was humanly possible. Perhaps you'll remember the story of The Pinocchio Lady, who doubtlessly suffered more at our hands (or our voices) than any other single individual. However, there was the case of Mr. Ray Bocock, whom we started out pranking, only to have the table somehow turned on us. Sort of. Anyway, witness the following account:

When I was thirteen years old, I considered Ray's son, Ken, my fiercest rival for the affections of one Mary Beth Hughes, with whom I was madly in love. For reasons that can perhaps be fathomed only by a very peculiar thirteen-year-old lad, I determined that it was up to me to make Mr. Bocock the Elder pay for the sin of having sired said rival by way of the prank phone call. Charles, being the devoted friend and all, was perfectly willing to help me on my quest — mainly because he enjoyed playing on the phone as much as I did — and so we set about plotting Mr. Bocock's demise with evil glee. The man was clearly a monster and needed to be dealt with.

As was our custom, we set up my Lloyd's cassette recorder to tape record the call. I wanted this take-down preserved for posterity. It was going to be brutal.

Ringggg....

"Hello?"

"Hey, Ray!"

"Hey there. Who's this?"

"This is Ronald! Don't you know anything?"

"Oh, Ronald. I didn't recognize your voice."

"Are you deaf?"

"No. Are you sure this is Ronald?"

"Are you sure this is Ray?"

"Pretty sure."

It occurred to me then that, for all our scheming, Charles and I had no plan at all. Now that I had Mr. Bocock on the line, I had no idea how to bring this terrible man to his knees. This could be serious. With the most hostile inflection I could manage, I said, "So, whatcha doing?"

"I was about to go mow the yard."

"Yeah? You know, I just got me a new riding lawn mower."

"Really? Sounds nice. What kind did you get?"

"Uh, a Sears, I think."

"You didn't get a Toro? That's a lot better."

"Uh, no."

Holy cow, this was falling apart quickly. Mr. Bocock actually sounded very nice. But how could that be? His son was trying to steal the love of my life, the maiden who had stolen my heart, the girl with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life — or at least the next couple of months. This simply could not stand. It was time to get ugly.

"Uh, hang on, Ray, my wife's calling me." (Charles makes some noise in the background.) "I'm back. She's a real nag, you know?"

"I bet she wouldn't nag you if you'd get on that riding lawn mower and mow the yard."

"Really?"

"Pretty sure."

"Uh, yeah. I guess I will then."

"That's good. Well, give her my best, will you?"

"I will!"

"All right then. Well, thanks for calling, Ronald. Talk to you later."

"Bye, Ray!"

I hung up, not quite sure I had achieved my objective. I'd had the man square in my sights, but he was so... so... cordial I just couldn't bring myself pull the trigger. Of course, it wouldn't do to let on to Charles that our wicked little plan had been derailed, so I gave him a sly grin and said, "We sure got him, didn't we?"

"Oh, yeah! I bet he doesn't even have a riding lawn mower."

Big laughs all around. "Yeah, and you know his wife nags him."

"All the time!"

After that, Charles and I called Mr. Bocock a couple more times, and the conversations went just about the same way. Those I did not record, alas. I never could bring myself to say anything bad to him, even about his son, and it wasn't long before it didn't matter anyway because Mary Beth Hughes had pretty much spurned the both of us. And a couple of years later, Ken Bocock and I took to playing golf together. What do you know — Ken was pretty much all right! And in my later teens, when I played a lot of golf with my dad, we often ended up in a foursome with... Ray Bocock. Damn, he was a great guy! Fun-loving, witty, sometimes a bit acerbic, in an endearing way.

Hell, no, I never told him I was Ronald. Would you?

I understand Mr. Bocock passed away a good many years ago — not long after my dad, as a matter of fact. I have to admit, I'm kind of glad Ronald made his acquaintance. Ronald probably learned something. I think he really needed to.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Haunted, Hurting, and Happy


Oh, my achy-breaky knees. I have surely put in some hiking this past couple of weeks, and the old bones are feeling it. I suppose it's a good kind of ache, except that it's not; oh yes, it means I've been getting back to some pretty serious cardio and overall muscle workouts, but unfortunately, I have the feeling the occasional ache in the knee is more arthritis than exercise related. Still, I'm more than happy to be hiking many miles, climbing trees, adding to my geocache count, all that good stuff. I also had to do some maintenance on several of my own caches the past couple of days, which involved additional hiking and tree climbing. Such suffering!

Now, the caching did take me to some scenic, creepy, and otherwise pleasing locations this week, such as the back roads of Guilford County; Farris Park, near Mayodan, NC; and one of my mostest favoritest trails ever, the Fieldale-Smith River Trail in Henry County, VA. I tell you this, heading out to on the latter trail to replace the log in my cache, "Haunted Island" (GC1P9Z3) — yes, it is on an island, and it is haunted — the wind was a-howling, the trees a-creaking and a-groaning, kind of like my old bones. And from the trail, you get a good view of the old Koehler Warehouse, which served as the area Jaycees' Halloween haunted castle back in the 70s. In my late teens, I had the pleasure of helping the Jaycees out, playing a mad vivisectionist (using real organs from a butcher shop) and skulking around the dark corridors in a monster costume scaring the hell out of the patrons. Ah, the good old days when you could touch, grab, tickle, and otherwise startle folks without worrying about lawsuits. To this day, I think of the old warehouse as "The Spooky Place." It really kind of is....

I did spend the past couple of days helping my mom out, so it was hardly all fun and games, but the time was pleasant enough. Today, back home, but unfortunately, Ms. Brugger is down with a flu bug. She needed some provisions, and while I don't love her enough to go to Walmart for them, I do love her enough to travel miles out of the way to get them at a non-Walmart. And though I almost never drink beer anymore, I noticed that strange brew called Oculto you see in the photo above, and I figured I might as well try it. Nothing to brag about, for sure, though it blends well enough with bloody mary mix (in this case, Clamato juice and scorpion pepper sauce). Now and again, a good old red-eye hits the spot.
Cute little cache guardian I discovered in the woods in Greensboro
Thought I might buy this little fixer-upper out in Guilford County for Ms. Brugger
as a summer cottage. Cozy, wot?
Purty view at Farris Park, near Mayodan, NC
The Spooky Place, in Koehler, VA

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Daisy Zoo


Back in the days of Deathrealm, I tended to read more poetry than I do in my current old age. I cannot lie, poetry has never been one of my favorite mediums — I know, my loss — but for the magazine I certainly managed to home in on some brilliant dark verse from numerous authors, and Jessica Amanda Salmonson's work was something of a Deathrealm mainstay. She contributed both short stories and poetry to the magazine, and her work often managed to define, as much as such is possible, the unique brand of weirdness I sought to present in its pages. From her heartfelt tribute to Wilum H. Pugmire, simply titled "Wilum" (which I think appeared in the premier issue — forgive me if I can't recall them all specifically without digging into the vault) to the psyche-stabbing "The Gorgeous Beast," to the Jonathan Carroll–inspired "In the Looking Glass, Life Is Death," Jessica's poems held an allure for me that few other poets could rival. Author/poet Fred Chappell once told me that reading poetry made him feel smarter, and I think there's something to that. After reading Jessica's latest poetry chapbook, Daisy Zoo and Other Punk-Ass Nonsense, I'm quite sure I got a dose of smartness that I'd never have come by otherwise.

There's not so much darkness in Daisy Zoo; it's more full of whimsy, of vivid sensuality, of quirkiness, of cynicism in many guises. For want of a better term, it's just damn fun. Smart fun. Sometimes gentle and touching and sometimes a kind of "what the fuck?" fun. I don't want to excerpt but so much because most of the poems are quite short, but one of my favorite WTF poems, called "Gotta Love Rats," features this:
     "I love rats — wo yeah
     Love 'em wearing hats — wo yeah
     Love 'em in my trousers — wo yeah
     Make me yell 'yowzehs' — wo yeah."
And there's plenty more. How about this, from "Stop! Stop Right Now!" —
     "I want you to know
     Your haiku are stupid
     Please stop writing them."
For me, that just does it.

For the most part, these are simple-structured rhymes, but in their simplicity they pack all the more wallop. You can read the entire collection in a sitting or two, and while you might get a few chuckles — even more than a few — you may also come away from it feeling as if your emotions have been scraped just a little raw. Jessica pokes and prods your brain perhaps more than you realize, at least until you step away from the verse and take stock of what just happened.

Sometimes feeling smarter is funny. Sometimes it hurts.

While supplies last, you can get your own copy of Daisy Zoo and Other Punk-Ass Nonsense from Jessica for $10 via Paypal. Use jessicasalmonson@gmail.com.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Legend of Hillbilly John


The Legend of Hillbilly John is a relatively obscure little relic from the early 1970s, based on Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories. I saw the movie when it came round to the Rives Theater in Martinsville, VA, most likely in 1973, when I was in junior high school. I have vague recollections of being in old Ronnie Townsend's physics class and making plans to go see the movie with a buddy of mine named Edmond. At some prior movie show, I had seen the trailer, which featured a stop-motion-animated giant bird, and this naturally set off some serious fireworks in my juvenile head. At the time, the name Manly Wade Wellman meant nary a thing to me, though I had actually read "The Desrick on Yandro" in that most wonderful horror anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, probably that very same year. Apparently, my youthful mind did not pick up on the association between the story and the movie, although in later years, it was actually my vivid recollections of the "Desrick on Yandro" segment from the film that prompted me to seek out more of Wellman's works. Two decades or so ago, I picked up a copy of this movie on VHS, which I still own and keep safely stored, since, as best I can tell, no official digital version exists. I recently re-read "The Desrick on Yandro" — not just one of my favorite Wellman tales but one of my favorite horror/fantasy stories — and I got the bug to up and revisit the film.

For a low-budget picture with relatively limited appeal, The Legend of Hillbilly John features the contributions of several noteworthy names, such as stars Denver Pyle (Bonnie & Clyde, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Dukes of Hazard), R. G. Armstrong (Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, My Name Is Nobody, Race With the Devil), Harris Yulin (How the West Was Won, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Law & Order), Severn Darden (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Day of the Dolphin), and Susan Strasberg (The Trip, The Manitou, The Brotherhood); director John Newland of One Step Beyond fame; and country music legend Hoyt Axton, who provided the movie's main tune, "The Devil," among others. Though the plot ostensibly chronicles Hillbilly John's travels through the southland, putting down the devil wherever he may be found by way of a silver-stringed guitar (the devil, of course, cannot withstand the pure power of silver), the movie plays more like a number of cobbled-together set pieces, linked by the common characters of John (Hedges Capers); his girlfriend, Lily (Sharon Henesy); his dog, Honor-Hound; and the enigmatic Mr. Marduke (Darden). Two of the pieces are relatively faithful adaptations of Wellman's Silver John tales "The Desrick on Yandro" and "O Ugly Bird," featuring mostly convincing southern characters and authentic backwoods atmosphere (the movie was filmed in North Carolina and Arkansas). Unfortunately, the character of John himself departs rather drastically from the source material. Wellman drew the character as an educated, worldly, sometimes cynical veteran of the Korean War, whereas the John of the film is a naïve, rather effeminate flower child. While the set pieces themselves move at a fair pace and occasionally generate some tension, between them we are subjected to interminable interludes with John, Lily, and Honor Hound, usually accompanied by meandering, unmemorable ballads, some written by Capers himself.

Screenwriter Melvin Levy and director John Newland managed to conjure a few memorable moments, such as Denver Pyle performing his ill-fated "defy" on guitar (which culminates with the film appearing to actually break); Mr. Yandro's dramatic first appearance at a rather somber country church shindig; the animated Ugly Bird's attack on John; and John's confrontation with a powerful Haitian witch doctor-cum-slave driver named Captain Lajoie H. Desplaines IV (Percy Rodrigues). Our most intriguing character is actually Severn Darden's dowser/magician/narrator Marduke, who is not a Wellman creation but an apparent incarnation of the Babylonian deity Marduk, his nature and motivations unclear from start to finish. While he appears a benevolent enough character, he exudes a certain dark mystery, partly due to Severn Darden's perpetually dour countenance. He is clearly possessed of occult powers (not to mention he owns a mule named Asmodeus), but while he occasionally lends John a hand — such as replacing his guitar which was destroyed as he battled Ugly Bird — he doesn't actively participate in any conflicts with the antagonists. More than once, he goads John to question his own motivation, going so far as to tell him that, if he goes on to defy the devil, those who benefit from his victory will likely not appreciate it. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact.

Apart from Ugly Bird, special effects work is less than sparse. I can't imagine today's audiences, accustomed to the casting of spells by way of flashy CGI laser strikes, suspending their collective disbelief by anything as simple as a few simple camera tricks, staccato music, and slightly over-the-top acting. One scene that almost impresses is near the end of the film, when John and Lily arrive at the cotton plantation run by Captain Desplaines. They approach a tall wooden gate, and upon opening, find themselves facing a landscape and sky colored a lurid orange. Only after Captain Desplaines has been vanquished by John's silver-stringed guitar does the color return to normal.

Unquestionably, The Legend of Hillbilly John has heart, and at times it has brains. Hoyt Axton's "The Devil" over the opening credits does a commendable job of setting up a dark, expectant mood. In its better moments, the movie can draw some approving nods. At no time, however, does anything in it come close to making you stand up, thump your chest, and holler, "God damn, that was good!" Quite unlike Wellman's stories, which have, for me, done this very thing. It's difficult to find this film, as I don't believe it's available either on DVD or at any digital service. My old VHS tape of it doesn't get much business, but I do like having it on hand, just for when I get in that mood. I expect I'll give it another look in some future year.


Hoyt Axton's "The Devil," as it opens the picture.