Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aura You Ready for Another Night Odyssey?

Robgso and Rtmlee showing off their auras on the trail
It's been a good week for some night caching, not to mention geocaching in general. I picked up find #7,777 today, which is kind of a fun number (although I ended the day with a couple of extra finds in the total). There is at least a pair of entertaining nighttime hides over in Winston-Salem, which Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, and I went after last night. The first of them, "Aura You Ready?" (GC4XYJW), in historic Bethania Village, can actually be done day or night, though it's recommended at night due to the first stage's unique properties, which — unfortunately — did not function quite as expected for us. In theory, using a special implement, one can determine the color of one's "aura," and then, with a bit of mathematical calculation, determine the coordinates of the cache. Happily, with a bit of improvising, we persuaded the stubborn little cock at the site to give up its information, and we soon afterward had the cache in hand. (I'm not sure what anomaly caused my phone camera to take what appears to be an infrared image out on the trail, but I kind of like the effect above.)
Robbin Lee, zombified

From there, we moved on to Bethabara Park and a slightly more extensive, regulation night cache called "Night Odyssey" (GCHGJ7), which had us following glowing reflectors through several stages in the woods before reaching the final stage, which was a well-stocked ammo can. We finished up with a late dinner and drinks from the cache bar at the Village Tavern in Reynolda Village, which quite hit the spot.

This morning, several of us got together to attempt a new, apparently difficult and daunting hide called "Haters Gonna Hate" (GC5KNXG), hidden in an extensive marsh over near Piedmont Triad International Airport. We were not entirely successful in this venture — beyond having a hootin', hollerin', helluva lot of fun, we didn't find the cache. That's going to require another trip, maybe with a helicopter, sonar device, and a diving bell.

If you find, expect a call from me looking for a hint.
In Bethania Village: My old eyes first read "Wolf-Monster" on this sign. I think it really should say that.
Haters Gonna Hate: "I don't care how cold it is, Rob, don't come out of there yet — I gotta take a photo!"


Friday, January 23, 2015

Dweller in Darkness

Night caches — geocaches specifically set up to be hunted at night, usually by way of reflector tacks placed along a trail — are particular favorites of mine, and I am the proud owner of a couple of fun ones. Just about a year ago, I adopted an older one called "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB), which had fallen into disrepair, so I spent several nights out on the Greensboro watershed trails restoring it to mint condition (see "Restoring 'Darkness Falls,'" February 21, 2014 and "'Darkness Falls' Restored," February 24, 2014). My other, called "Dweller in Darkness" (GC3G3N7), has a rather spooky theme based on some of my Lovecraftian fiction, particularly the stories "Threnody" and "The Spheres Beyond Sound." To find the cache, one goes to the Reedy Fork trail head on Lake Brandt Road in Greensboro — preferably with a bright flashlight — and follows the trail deep into the woods, where he will encounter numerous glowing eyes to help lead him to the final resting place of Dr. Maurice Zann (see the story below). The cache has been out there for a few years and was reported to be in need of a maintenance visit, so last night I decided to jump right on it. I invited frequent caching partner Rtmlee (a.k.a. Robbin) to accompany me since the cache was still on his unfound list, and I knew he'd be more comfortable in that hostile darkness with someone familiar with territory. So, after braving the perils of night, Rob was able to claim the cache without going missing himself, and with only minimal nudging from the cache owner. (I'm sure he would have found it completely on his own, but we decided to waste little time, for there were evil stirrings nearby in the woods that Rob did not like.)

If you're not afraid of being out in the woods in the dark, then night caching might be just the ticket for you. If you are afraid, then so much the better....


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bloody Marys, Bloody Trees


"You've found your own personal heaven." That's what Ms. B. texted me when I sent her the photo you see here of the Bloody Mary menu at the Village Tavern at Reynolda Village in Winston-Salem. Yeah, that is one happy list of adult beverages — and difficult as hell to choose from. I ended up going with the Clamato one, mainly because I quite enjoy Clamato Bloody Marys; I've been known to make them from time to time. This one was quite good, though I'd have preferred it spicier. I was told by Robgso and Diefenbaker, who ordered the Spicy Pete, that it did, in fact, have a fair measure of kick. Next time, perhaps.

That was our lunch break during geocaching today — in and around Winston Salem, mostly the northwestern side of town. We went after a couple of rather beastly multi caches, one (On My Honor, GCJ4EG) being tough because three old brains made an error in calculations, the other (Thousand Island Cache: Cancun #5, GCT4FX) being tough because it's placed in an area of extreme coordinate bounce and jungle-like terrain, complete with carnivorous vines and man-eating trees, barely passable even now in the dead of winter. Mr. Rob, Ms. Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, and I had attempted this cache last year at the height of the growing season and very nearly became casualties of the malevolent flora, finding stage one but not the final. Today, much like last time, we barely escaped with our lives, only because we promised the preeminent evil tree that we would return and leave Cupdaisy as a tribute. At least this time we managed to sign the log.

It almost makes me want to re-read Scott Smith's The Ruins, whose ill-fated characters might have had it marginally easier than we did today.
Evil, hungry tree. Don't try to feed it.
Rob, unaware of the evil trees sneaking up on him
Diefenbaker trying to find a way out of the woods

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Monk Punk & The Shadow of the Unknown


Coupla nice new things happening, writing-wise. Hazardous Press and editor Aaron French have released a new omnibus edition of Monk Punk & the Shadow of the Unknown, two separate Lovecraftian anthologies which originally came out some time ago, now combined under one cover, this one including my dark fantasy story, "Visionaire," among many others. "504 pages of Lovecraftian goodness," according to editor French, with work by authors such as Gary A. Braunbeck, Richard Gavin, Willie Meikle, John R. Fultz, Joshua M. Reynolds, Gene O'Neill, James Dorr, Erik T. Johnson, Michael Bailey, Mike Lester, Glynn Owen Barrass, David West, Adrian Chamberlin, Jay Wilburn, K. Trap Jones, P. S. Gifford, R. B. Payne, John Claude Smith, and many others. You can get it in both paperback ($16.62) and Kindle ($4.99) editions at Amazon.com. Here are the links (separate because, at the moment, Amazon.com doesn't show both editions under one link; no doubt this little glitch will be rectified in due time).

Monk Punk & the Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus — Kindle

Monk Punk & the Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus — Paperback

"Visionaire" is an old story of mine, which originally appeared in Jeffrey Thomas's one-shot periodical called The End, back in 1993. It's a tale of magic, dark tidings, and a grim future, set in a mysterious netherworld that might have been eons ago or centuries hence. I'm very pleased that this volume gives the story a shot at an entirely new audience.

Also, my most recent story, "The Nothing," has been accepted for publication at BuzzyMag — Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror. Not sure of the exact publication date yet, but it is slated for 2015. Naturally, when I know more, you will hear about it.

Till then.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Caching and Intercaching Chapel Hill

Jazz hands (photo by Rob Isenhour)

Team Old Fart — Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, and Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager — spent a drizzly but highly pleasant day geocaching in Chapel Hill today, logging a relatively small number but finding several worthy of inclusion on our respective lists of favorites. We started out on the trails at Carolina North Forest, initially in a light mist but which graduated to a downpour, mercifully short-lived. We found a fun little multi-stage cache that required deciphering a puzzle made of Lego blocks, which even our four simple minds managed to solve. There was a bison tube hanging a ways up in a leaning tree that I quite enjoyed going after. (Just to put the photo at left in come kind of context, Mr. Isenhour happened to click the shutter just as I was pulling myself forward to grab one vertical branch after releasing the one behind me.) We conquered a type of cache known as an "intercache," for which you use a smart phone app that leads you from waypoint to waypoint, indicating whether you are getting "warmer" or "colder" in relation to the actual geocache. We quite enjoyed the one on the UNC campus. And we had to plot a course for a fun little hide using the clues "Brick arch; stairway to nowhere; and the bridge of death," which proved challenging to both our brains and bodies. Getting to and crossing the bridge of death did give us a bit of a charge.

While working our way through the intercache, called "Hot Spot" (GC4VZYZ), we encountered fellow geocacher htomc42 (a.k.a. Wayne), who joined up with us to hunt a few. Lunch was at Fitzgerald's Irish Pub on Franklin Street, which I had visited just about a year ago. Good bloody marys, though they didn't have them with bacon this go-round, which was a little disappointing (see "Super Bowl Blowout," February 4, 2014).

Another day of surviving the geocaching trail, and this is always a good thing.
We walked with a purpose, clearing multitudes fore and aft. (Photo by Rob Isenhour)
Three of four Old Farts, plus Wayne
Old Fart #4 on camera duty (photo by Rob Isenhour)

L: Talking shit in Chapel Hill; R: Scott wishes he was taller.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Kindle Countdown — Last Day for The Gods of Moab

JUST FOR NEW YEAR'S...

Today is the last day to pick up my novella, The Gods of Moab, for your Kindle at the special discounted price of 99¢ (regular price $2.99).

"A pleasant New Year's Eve outing becomes an experience in otherworldly horror when two close-knit couples discover a shocking secret in the darkest corners of the Appalachian mountains. At an opulent mountain inn, Warren Burr, his fiancee, Anne, and their friends, Roger and Kristin Leverman, encounter a religious zealot named John Hanger, who makes it his business to bear witness to them of his peculiar...and disturbing...faith. His efforts rebuffed, Hanger insidiously assumes control of the couples' technological devices, leading them to stumble into unexpected, surreal landscapes...landscapes inhabited by nightmarish beings that defy explanation and rationality. To return to the world they thought they knew, Warren and his friends must not only escape the deadly entities that pursue them but somehow stop John Hanger's nightmare-plague from spreading to the outside world.

"The Gods of Moab is a chilling novella of Lovecraftian horror by Stephen Mark Rainey, acclaimed author of Balak, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Nightmare Frontier, Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie), and former editor of the award-winning Deathrealm Magazine."

The Gods of Moab is just the ticket to put a little fear in your new year. Check it out from Amazon.com here: The Gods of Moab by Stephen Mark Rainey

Love it or hate it, Amazon.com reviews are always appreciate. Do enjoy!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year's Last Sunset

New Year's Eve 2014: All done now, and an evening befitting the year as a whole — spent with Kimberly, filled with moments of beauty, of reflection, of humor, of angst, and of renewed commitment. Late afternoon, we hit the road for Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards, near Dobson, NC, in Surry County, where we also had last year's New Year's Eve dinner. We had been so taken with the place that we decided to do it over again, though last year we were staying at the nearby Vineyard Cabin; this year, alas, we had to truck ourselves all the way back to Greensboro. On the trip up, I had stopped for a couple of caches (and grabbed a couple of more on our way back to Greensboro). The moment we turned into the vineyard's entrance, we saw the spectacular sunset pictured above, so we had to stop and snap several photographs. Of course, none of them did the view justice, but it was a unique and rather special sight for the final sunset of the year 2014.

Shelton's wine is decent enough, and we quite enjoyed our tastings of five wines each, all neatly presented in a wine "tree," arranged from lightest to most full-bodied; however, relative to other wineries in the Yadkin Valley, their products are merely satisfactory. None are standouts compared to the wines produced by many of their smaller neighbors, the Merlot we had with dinner being the best of the lot. That said, dinner itself was fantastic, the atmosphere at the grill warm and intimate, our server(s) prompt, cordial, and efficient. Kimberly and I left well satisfied, and who knows but that we may make Harvest Grill a New Year's Eve tradition.

Despite having been together five years now, Kimberly and I still most enjoy celebrating holidays just the two of us. Not to dismiss any of our many treasured friends, with whom we've celebrated any number of special occasions, but the fact we still find real joy in each other's company at times such as these has helped us retain a true "specialness" about our relationship. I hope we can continue this particular brand of bonding for the rest of our days, whatever our personal circumstances. But as with the events and emotions of the year itself, the evening also forced us to face and reflect on some of our own personal foibles, the details of which are certainly not to be related here. In the end, I believe we ended our night and our year with entirely new perspectives and resolutions regarding each other's innermost selves. In vino veritas.

Our New Year's Eve ended somewhere around 3:00 AM, accompanied by plenty of gunfire in lieu of fireworks from the neighborhood brain trust.

New Year's Day saw the continuation of a geocaching tradition that began four years ago: the Polar Plunge, an event held at nearby Belews Lake, where daring, brave, and foolish geocachers leap from the pier into the frigid water. This year, attendance was good, but only one man, our brash event host, Mr. Rich "Night-Ranger" Colter, up and took the plunge. It did make its way to video, and you may catch the action right here: Night-Ranger Takes the Plunge

Afterward, Mr. Rob "Robgso" Isenhour and I went after a couple of nearby caches that daunted me on previous excursions, but this time we were victorious. Happy day.

May your 2015 be happy, prosperous, profound, and silly. We all need a little silly.


Friday, December 26, 2014

We All Float Out Here

Floating Christmas tree at Lake Lanier
Spending Christmas in Martinsville, VA, with Mum and however much of our small family can make it home is every year a joy, despite the fact I'm always still plenty full up with Halloween spirit, which really does take a long time to even diminish a little; thankfully, for me it never really goes away. For a few weeks prior to Christmas I'd been keeping the good spirit alive by running bunches of the old Universal horror movies — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, and all their assorted sequels. (Much to my satisfaction, this Christmas I did get the DVD set of The Creature From the Black Lagoon movies, which I had been lacking.)

Prior to the holiday, prospects for our gathering seemed a bit shaky, for Kimberly had spent the previous week in Michigan at her folks' place, and the weather forecast up her way wasn't looking promising for flying. However, much to our relief, her flights ran smoothly, and she flew in early Christmas morning, arriving at Mum's place just before lunchtime. We also didn't know whether Brother Phred would be able to make it up from Winston-Salem, but he did — at least long enough to have dinner and spend a little time visiting. Mum's good friend Mary joined us, so our rag-tag gathering was complete. We had a fair feast of dead pig, scalloped taters, green beans, cranberry salad, and a couple of pies, including my traditional pumpkin pie, which I had painstakingly baked (using the recipe from the back of Libby's can).

The past few years, folks in Martinsville have really done up some nice Christmas decorations, especially at Lake Lanier, just down the street from Mum's. This year, in addition to a fair display of lights at the boathouse and a couple of lit-up boats out on the water, they've added a huge, illuminated Christmas tree floating next to the lake bank where I won't admit to having fallen in some years ago (you can read about me not admitting it right here: "Anchors A-Weigh: A Random Klutz Story," November 27, 2014). Last night, to burn off a handful of the calories we consumed, Kimberly and I took a long, brisk walk through the neighborhood, which for me proved a highlight of the holiday. And we managed to fit in our annual viewing of A Christmas Story, which, I don't care what you say, is one of the most perfect comedies every made.

Today, it was back to Greensboro for Kimberly and me, but I detoured over Danville way to hunt a couple of challenging geocaches. So, yeah, this has been a winner of a Christmas in my book. Next week, I do work the days before New Year's, but I've still got a bit of time off to enjoy before settling back into the regular daily rigors.

I hope you had a merry one too.
Dude, Mum, Phred

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Haunting of Horrors


If you've not read my novel, The Nightmare Frontier, you've got a chance to get it as part of a rather massive bundle of reading material from Crossroad Press. Twenty friggin' books in a Kindle package from Amazon.com — all of $2.99. As you can see from the contents shown on the cover image here, this is some killer company I'm keeping, so you really can't go wrong.

So I'll tell you a little about The Nightmare Frontier. The novel was inspired by a waking dream — for me a very rare thing, and in this case, one that gave me one of the most terror-filled moments of my adult life. It was late evening, and I was drowsing on the couch in the living room, dark but for a few streamers of light filtering in through the venetian blinds. I was aware that I was lying on the couch, yet I was beginning to see images creeping up from my subconscious. As I lay there, I noticed a pool of warm, golden light forming at the corner of my vision. I shifted just enough to peer around the arm of the couch, and then I saw the source of the light.

Creeping across the living room floor, perhaps six feet away, there was a gigantic centipede, five feet long, its body glowing gold and red, as if a flame were burning within it. Its head resembled a human skull, and as I watched, the thing slowly turned toward me, and I became aware of a horrifying, malevolent intelligence, observing and appraising me. It made no further move, yet my fear rapidly intensified until I jerked violently awake. The most disturbing thing at that moment was that I knew I was fully awake, yet I could see a circle of golden light on the floor, slowly fading, vanishing only after several seconds had passed.
The original cover of The Nightmare Frontier
by Chad Savage; Sarob Press, 2006

It took some time before my nerves settled enough for me to drag myself off the couch and retire to my bedroom. By the time I finally drifted off to sleep again, I had a rudimentary plot in my head for the novel that was to become The Nightmare Frontier. So, yes, in the novel, you will encounter the thing that crept out of my darkest imaginings to pay me a visit that night. You will meet the individuals responsible for calling up such a thing from the remotest depths of hell. You will find yourself trapped in a town cut off from the rest of the world by some inexplicable force, rendering you helpless before the advance of these murderous monsters, known as Lumeras.

This for just one-twentieth of $2.99. You've got a limited time, and if I were you, I'd go for it — right about now. Here's the link:

A Haunting of Horrors, Volume 2: A Twenty-Book eBook Bundle of Horror and the Occult

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hunger Games at Falls Lake

Cyclopean horror along the trail near one of the caches.
The thing damn near swallowed Robgso.

"The Hunger Games" is a series of 22 geocaches on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along Falls Lake, near Durham, NC. The caches are all food. Steaks, hamburgers, sub sandwiches, grapes, peppers, ice cream cones, you name it. Well, yeah, they're dog chew toys with bison tubes hiding inside them, but it is kinda fun going through the woods and finding an ice cream cone hanging in a little cedar tree. Out on the trail today with Rob (a.k.a. "Robgso") and Robbin (a.k.a. "Rtmlee"), I was thinking, if a smart phone were really smart, when I entered the cache description into my notes, the phone would reply, "You just said you found an ice cream cone hanging in a little cedar tree. That's messed up." To date, my phone has never indicated that level of smartness to me.

All total we hiked about six miles, and we managed to find the lot of the caches. Terrain here isn't too rugged, though neither is exactly flat and level. Since we had to go all the way to one end of the series and then hike back, we skipped every other cache so we'd have some to find going both directions. Good weather — mostly cloudy and gray, but about 45–50 degrees. We ran into one other geocacher of our acquaintance, and a couple of others we didn't know. As we neared the end of the trail, we kept hearing the howling of a dog (or, by the sound of it, possibly a werewolf) drawing distinctly nearer, and right about the time we were signing the log sheet, a couple of deer came bounding past, followed moments later by a rather less-than-ferocious-looking but highly spirited beasty dog. Once he saw us, Dog put the brakes on his pursuit, apparently bamboozled by our sudden appearance. By his prolonged hesitation and thoughtful expression, it was clear he was trying to reconcile in his mind how two bounding deer had transformed themselves into three old farts. Dog contemplated this anomaly for a couple of minutes, then shrugged and continued on his chase, presumably having come to the firm conclusion that nature is just plain strange. We weren't sure what he was going to do if he caught the deer, but my guess would be sit down and have a deep discussion about the things one sometimes encounters in the woods.

Sometimes you find old farts.
Mr. Lee, looking almost not unpleasant
Old Trail Dawg playing with his meat
If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Damned Rodan's Manhattan Project Clam Chowder

It's recipe time! Yes! I love me some clam chowder, I do, and I much prefer the Manhattan style (red) to New England style (white) — though make no mistake, I will dive into either. My recipe, of course, is for the bloody red, and it's guaranteed to blow your eyeballs out of your head — which, if you frequent this place at all, you already know is my favorite kind of thing. The recipe below makes about six servings (do note that you can vary seasonings to your taste). So, take notes and abandon all hope ye who consume.

What you need:
2 cans (6.5 oz.) minced clams (or whole clams, if you prefer)
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. (approx.) Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp. (approx.) lemon pepper
rubbed sage (dash)
4 celery stalks, diced
3 large carrots, sliced into coins
1 large onion, chopped
1 red hot chili pepper
1 can (10 oz.) HOT Ro-tel diced tomatoes with habaneros
1 can (1/2 cup) condensed tomato soup
2 cups Clamato juice
habanero sauce (several dashes)

What you do:
  1. Into a large soup pot, pour clams (with juice) and Worcestershire sauce; heat on stove top at medium-high until the pot begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  2. Add Old Bay, lemon pepper, and sage; let simmer for about 15 minutes.
  3. Stir in celery, carrots, onion, chili pepper, tomato soup, and Clamato juice.
  4. Add splashes of habanero sauce as desired.
  5. Let simmer on very low heat for at least two hours; this allows for a good blending of flavors while retaining just a touch of crispiness about the vegetables.
  6. Serve to unwitting victims, sit back, and laugh like the Controller of Planet X from Monster Zero.
  7. Enjoy some of this unholy concoction yourself.
And that's the works.

While, to some, red wine with any recipe involving sea creatures may be considered gauche, the chowder is red and spicy, so red wine is perfectly apt. To me, white wine is anathema to all that is holy anyway, so don't do it. (Perhaps someday I shall relate the experience from my dim, dark past that permanently put me off of white wine.) At any given time, I quite enjoy a bold, full-bodied dry red — a Zinfandel or Primitivo, maybe a Petite Syrah or Shiraz, a Malbec, or — as I did this evening — a rich California blend, which I found perfectly complementary to the chowder. Tonight's selection, Gnarly Head Authentic Black, is a limited release; very inexpensive, most satisfying.

Note: As with any Damned Rodan recipe, Spontaneous Human Combustion may result from even careful and conscientious handing of ingredients. Do not smoke cigarettes or imbibe this product near any open flame, inflammable materials, children, most animals (including hedgehogs, pygmy goats, and llamas), and overly sensitive individuals.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Designs by Droolie® — A Missed Opportunity


Some time has passed, but the story ought be told.

October 6, 2014. In anticipation of having company for the next evening's dinner, the ostensible master of the house put a couple of pounds of chicken in the crock pot to cook overnight. Early on the morning of the 7th, immediately upon awakening, the
gentleman went downstairs to turn off the crock pot, which he determined to have performed its job quite admirably. Fully aware that certain young feline family members might display at least a passing interest in pot's contents, the gentleman maneuvered the device in question into a difficult-to-reach corner of the countertop — behind the coffeemaker and a few assorted condiment jars — and went to take a shower. Once done, some fifteen minutes later, he returned to the kitchen, anticipating that the chicken would have cooled sufficiently to be transferred to a different container. However, much to the gentleman's shock, the crock pot's contents were now strewn over the floor, the lid shattered into thousands of glittering pieces, the pot itself cracked, empty, and useless. Further to his bewilderment, the coffee pot and condiment jars remained exactly where he had left them, completely undisturbed, the crock pot apparently having been deftly maneuvered by something akin to Harry Potter magic. A quick examination of the nearby environs revealed three pairs of feline eyes peering at this new masterwork from various points around the kitchen, the artists apparently feeling quite bashful after rendering a composition unlike any they had heretofore attempted. Not to be outdone, our gentleman of the house spontaneously composed an original litany of growled, gargled, and shouted syllables, rather in the style of Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story, though augmented by original vocal flourishes and occasional threats of juggling cats at very high speed. What the man did not do — and history has likely not forgiven him for this — was take photographs of what surely would have proven to be a timeless masterwork.

It is possible that there are plans in motion for some new, similarly grand composition; and in the occurrence of such an event, one can only hope that, for the sake of posterity, it will be better documented.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lights in the Night

UFOs! I swearz, the sky was full of 'em!
I imagine one can find them anywhere in the US these days, but apart from here in North Carolina, I've never seen the dazzling arrays of light balls that have become so popular in recent years. They're quite impressive, particularly when hung in vast profusion, such as in a nice wooded neighborhood here in Greensboro, where literally every tree is loaded with them; in fact, I'm led to understand they originated in Greensboro. They're just balls of chicken wire strung with Christmas lights and hung high in the trees. Yesterday, Ms. B. and I paid visits to a couple of wineries over in the Yadkin Valley, and upon leaving Hanover Park, as we drove along this dark, lonely country road, we suddenly came upon the spectacle you see above. Of course, the photo can't do it justice, but the glowing spheres lit up the sky just about as far as the eye could see. Since there was no other traffic on the road, we just stopped the car and took a few photos (it's a pity neither my phone nor my digital camera are particularly suited for taking nighttime shots).

I'm pretty sure I heard the strains of the five-note alien theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind echoing from out of the darkness. These Christmas decorations do provide pretty damned good camouflage for drone spacecraft, you know.
We had a pretty fair glow about us as well after our visit to Raylen Vineyards, near Mocksville, NC.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Masque of the Queen

Here's just what you need to get a little holiday spirit: an excerpt from my story, "Masque of the Queen," now appearing in Celaeno Press's In the Court of the Yellow King, available in paperback and e-book. It's a great Christmas present for all your friends — and even your enemies, yes! Here you go. You read.
#
Sometime in the night, she woke to an odd flapping noise, unlike anything she had ever heard in her apartment. She rose and peeked into the darkened living room. Yumiko was not on the pullout sofa bed, and she didn't see Koki anywhere. The heavy flapping came again, and she now determined it originated outside her window, which overlooked the narrow alley. She drew up the venetian blinds and then staggered backward with the realization that she was not awake but dreaming.

Where the opposite brick wall should have been there was vast, dizzying space: a midnight blue sky lit by alien stars over an endless body of inky water. High above and to the right, a huge, blood-red star lit the night sky, and she knew this was Aldebaran, the sun that blazed above the city of Alar. Around it, a cluster of stars — the Hyades — glittered like the jewels adorning Cassilda's diadem. And now, slowly, the rim of the silver moon breached the farthest edge of the Lake of Hali and rose until it resembled a cyclopean eye, its gaze burning through her body straight to her hammering heart.

Then, on the horizon: an impossible array of gleaming, dizzying spires that wavered like ghostly tendrils before taking solid form behind the bright, full moon.

Carcosa.

Moments later, it came: the thin, childlike dream voice she had heard before; distant, barely comprehensible.

"Doggy!"

No. The word only sounded like "doggy." That wasn't what it had really said.

"Joggy!"

It was still too far away, too difficult to understand. The flapping sound came again, and now, in front of those distant, luminous spires, a silhouette appeared in the sky, its contours vague, imprecise. It was coming toward her, trailing black smoke, as if it were on fire.

"Bloggy!"

A little clearer now, the reedy voice sounded excited. The shape in the sky was no clearer to her eye than the voice was to her ear. It seemed ghostly in its way, surrounded by an aura of indeterminate color. Was this what it was like to be color blind? It was neither gray, nor silver, nor white, nor violet. But it was color.

"Byakhee!"

Now the thing was rushing toward her, and she could see its eyes, burning with that indefinable, radiant gleam. She backed away from the window, knowing the thing was aware of her, had targeted her.

Then a hand touched the small of her back. She spun around and looked down. Standing before her was the child she had seen at the play rehearsal. Even now, she couldn't tell whether it was a boy or a girl. Curly dark hair hung low over big blue eyes, its short, slightly pudgy frame garbed in a pale blue robe. Those eyes were too mature to belong to a child.

The tiny, cherubic mouth spread into an overly huge grin, revealing two rows of polished, very large, very adult teeth.

"Grandmother!" it said.
#
Now, that didn't hurt too much, did it? You can double your pleasure and/or pain and read the rest of the tale — along with others by many of dark fiction's finest talents. Less than the price of a decent bottle of wine, and much longer lasting....

Monday, December 8, 2014

Pride Goeth Before a Fall


Seven miles, forty-eight finds, two DNFs, and one spectacular tumble down a hill. Not me, of course; Rob. T'was Rob what fell down the hill. That was our tally at the end of yesterday's big hike on the Richmond & Danville Rail Trail, out a ways east of Danville, VA. The Virginia Star is a relatively new piece of geoart, in which the cache icons on the geocaching.com map form a piece of art. There are star geoart formations in several states, and I've gone after the ones in Virginia and North Carolina — though I've unfortunately come up a cache or two short of completing both, which only means I'll eventually have to go back to find them. Sunday, December 7, Pearl Harbor Day: braving a relentless, oftentimes frigid nor'easter, a team of four old farts — Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, and I — set out to conquer the 50 caches that made up the star. There were a couple of other caches on the trail to snag as well, so we had our work cut out for us. Unlike some geoart series, the caches in this one were not all similar to each other; they came in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of difficulty. Bison tubes stuffed in rubber rats; cut cedar logs with little trap doors that open to reveal the container; large, camouflaged boxes containing prodigious amounts of swag. All out there. End to end, the journey took about six hours and resulted in a few pairs of a slightly sore feet.

Mostly better today.

One of our favorites along the trail actually wasn't a part of the star. It was called "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," and was located in a low-lying area just off the rail trail. Here, in addition to the cache, we found a little scenic creek and a cool stone culvert that ran deep beneath the trail. This is also where old Rob put his pride before a fall and fell down. Happily, neither far nor hard, since it was a long way back to any sort of civilization or non-hoofing-it transportation. With typical Rob panache, he just adjusted his position slightly and posed for the camera.

We will not speak of certain less-than-graceful descents into other areas while on the hunt, for they are not worth remarking upon.
Pride goeth before a fall. Notice there's a brown pool near Rob's feet. There be his pride.
The smileys, of course, represent the caches we found. Two stinkin' DNFs,
which will require a return visit.
Three of the four old farts; the fourth is behind the camera, licking his wounds.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Blame the Parents


When kids do stupid things, sometimes ultimately costly things, too many of us are quick to automatically — and self-righteously — jump on the Blame the Parents bandwagon.

There have been several instances in the news lately where youngsters — anywhere from preadolescence to late teens — have blown it big time. Locally, the most dramatic example was a teenage boy and his friends sneaking out in the middle of the night, taking his grandfather's car, and going joyriding, sadly ending in a high-speed crash that killed three of the four youngsters. I can't imagine the parents' grief. By all accounts, they were responsible people, doing the best they could to raise decent kids.

They trusted that the youngsters had more sense than to go and do something so stupid. And fatal.

And of course, before the kids' bodies have even cooled, here comes the condemnation from the masses. Oh, lord, the it was parents' fault. They should have done this. They should have done that. Why did they not lock up the car keys? Where were the damn parents?

Where the hell do you think they were at 2:00 AM? They were asleep and unaware.

The problem is that kids, even those who have been raised by the absolute best of parents, will rebel, they’ll sneak, they’ll do things that their folks can’t foresee, no matter how brilliant the parents are — or think they are. Peer pressure, for one thing, has more power than just about any parental influence. And you simply can’t be there all the time for a kid — not unless you’re a helicopter parent, which is an awful, awful way to raise a kid, almost bound to have more negative than positive consequences in the long haul. Do not mistake these words as some misguided defense of irresponsible parenting; they are not. I do not and will not defend lazy, half-assed, uninvolved parents. My point is about good parents whose children do bad things. Let me ask you. Do you remember what it was like to be a kid — especially during your teenage years? I sure do. I did a hell of lot of things that mortified my parents, as saintly as they were ("saintly" really is a good word for them). I did things that would have gotten me grounded for life if they had caught me. I barely escaped being killed on at least two occasions. And relative to... ahem... some folks of my acquaintance, I was one of the “good” kids; I knew there were certain limits set for my own good, and I usually respected them. Take note of the "usually" back there. Those times I did not, I was lucky, lucky, lucky enough not to get myself killed. But peer pressure can be powerful, and it can be insidious. I caved to it; the best of kids will cave to it. And the worst of kids... well, that speaks for itself, doesn't it? Conversely, as a parent, I had to deal almost daily with situations I couldn’t have foreseen in a lifetime. There aren’t always cut-and-dry solutions; what may work in one parent-child relationship won’t work for another.

Falling back on blaming the parents always feels so good; it’s quick, easy, and doesn’t require much thought. But life and people are a lot more complicated than that. No one comes with an instruction manual. There are hereditary handicaps. Just because a kid is a kid doesn't mean his mind isn't independent and functioning quite differently than you think it is. There are infinite variables that shape a human life. Rarely can parents see or foresee all of them.

For God's sake, get off your high horses. Your kids aren't as perfect as you think they are. They probably got away with a lot of stuff you don't know about. If you're lucky, it didn't kill them.

Maybe try offering a little compassion before blindly spitting out blame.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Return of the Caching Dead

Nothing like taking a caching selfie and discovering there's
a freaking zombie lurking right behind you.

A couple of old farts — Robgso (a.k.a. Rob Isenhour) and I — embarked this morning on a mission out to Caswell County to find a fairly new multi-cache called "Return of the Caching Dead" (GC5EHKW), set up by frequent geocaching companion and aspiring old fart himself, Rtmlee (a.k.a. Robbin Lee). Back in February 2013, an earlier version of the cache existed (see "The Caching Dead"), but a clandestine government organization took issue with Mr. Lee's revealing of certain dark, damning secrets, and he was forced to alter the setup significantly. Pity for Mr. Lee, but good for us as far as having a new, high-quality multi-cache to seek on a near-perfect late autumn morning. As it happened, just before we left in the Damned Rodan Mobile, two new caches were published not far from the domicile, so we made a side trip that netted us a pair of very nice first-to-finds. Then we were on our way to an experience that we suspected might be fraught with terror and intrigue. After all, we know the cache hider and have at least some clue as to how his deviant mind works. This fact worried us more than you could know.

Like the "The Caching Dead" before it, this cache has four stages, and I knew stage one would be something different from the original. Indeed. Once we arrived at ground zero, we saw immediately we could be venturing into dark, forbidding territory. As you can see in the self-portrait above, you never know what sort of strange things the camera is going to capture. We managed to find the stage without undue difficulty, though we heard bizarre sounds in the woods — issuing from things unseen, whispering and gibbering, possibly speaking some unearthly language. Once we had recorded the coordinates for the next stage, we made haste from there, escaping with our lives if not our sanity.
We could only guess at the kinds of secret
experiments that once occurred here.

The coordinates to stage two led us to a familiar installation — ostensibly, an abandoned community center far out in the middle of nowhere, but it seems clear that at one time this facility was used for some nefarious purpose. The interior, as seen from without, appeared just as it had a couple of years ago — all signs indicating some sudden, catastrophic event that resulted in total evacuation. Reaching our objective here required us to follow a path into the woods similar to that of the original cache, but this time, we did encounter some honest-to-god horror: it was becoming clear that whatever malign, inhuman influence resided here, it had begun to work on Mr. Isenhour. I managed to get a photo or two before he came to his senses; and once he did, we rushed out of those woods, followed by the disconcerting voices of the unseen things that still clearly lurked in the forests. As we put some distance between the old installation and the Rodan Mobile, Mr. Rob seemed a bit more himself. Regardless, I kept a close eye on both my hands, as I wasn't particularly keen on losing one.
For a brief time, Rob succumbed to the siren-song of the things in the woods
and treated himself to a nice handwich.
Stage three coordinates again led us to relatively familiar ground. I had a feeling what we might find there, and I was quite correct. It wasn't pretty. Some poor sod — perhaps also a geocacher — had come to a bad end here, but we knew that if we interpreted the evidence properly, we would find a clue — hopefully — to lead us to our final objective. A thorough examination revealed all we needed to know. We left the remains exactly as we found them because it's only a matter of time before someone else follows in our footsteps, seeking the answers to the forbidden lore concealed by the diabolical Mr. Lee. We would so hate to see them disappointed — or worse, end up like the chap whose decomposing skull we discovered.
Rob doing his best to get ahead.

The route to the final stage led us to a remote lake, deep in the hostile woods, a location I had visited once before — not only for the predecessor of this cache but for an entirely different quarry. The setting seemed the same, but there was a subtle change from before: an almost corporeal presence, something we knew would prove quite dreadful if we happened to encounter it. So far, we had been lucky in that the coordinates provided by Mr. Lee had all been good, allowing us to quickly find the clues we needed to reach this last stage of the game. We were forced to park the Rodan Mobile some distance from ground zero, so we had to make our way on foot farther than was comfortable under the circumstances. But thanks to Rob's sharp eyes, we almost immediately had the secret, hidden container in hand so we might complete our mission. Yes! Done! Now we had to vacate the premises with all haste because we both were beginning to feel the terrible pangs of an unspeakable appetite.

Happily, we were able to satisfy our carnivorous cravings at one of our favorite dining establishments — The Celtic Fringe in Reidsville. A good pale ale helped calm my nerves as well. It was, indeed, an incredible venture out in the wilds of Caswell County today, and I'm pleased to say we conquered every obstacle placed before us, not only without dying but with some semblance of style and grace.

Next time Mr. Lee joins us for a caching outing, he may find himself having to look over his shoulder perhaps a bit more than usual. Old farts never, ever forget.
Some ghostly apparition captured by the camera?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Anchors A-Weigh: A Random Klutz Story

Not sure I understand it, but that is, in fact,
a boat anchor hanging from a tree.

After an almost sinfully huge Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon, I took the overstuffed body out for a much-needed walk in the brisk breeze around my old neighborhood in Martinsville. It was quite pleasant; I always enjoy roaming the paths I frequented as a youngster, particularly at Lake Lanier, just down the street from my mom's. I confess I was intrigued to find a boat anchor suspended from a tall tree along the lake bank. I'm not sure it's actually keeping that tree from drifting away, but then, I'm no expert in nautical matters.

In my reckless youth, I took great pleasure in riding my bicycle on every local trail — or anything that even remotely passed for a trail — no matter how primitive or dangerous it might be. In recent years, the once-rugged trail, now called The Blue Heron, around one side of Lake Lanier has been leveled and partially graveled, and the lake association has constructed a few elevated wooden walkways over the steep-sided inlets that I used to zoom up and down on my bike. Quite miraculously, back then I never did end up in the water. I reserved that ignominious feat for adulthood, when I was on foot on the upgraded trail. No, not today, but several years ago, on a similarly frigid, windy day. I was enjoying the scenic view, which has changed little since my days of enthusiastic bike riding, and instead of watching where I was going, I was looking uphill at an attractive house built into the woods that hadn't been there in my youth. A few days before, there had been some rain, but for the most part the trail was dry. I hadn't anticipated there being any lingering slickery spots.

Never, ever fail to anticipate.
The very spot where I will not admit to
having fallen in the lake, except I did.

Next thing I know, I'm hearing a disturbingly heavy splash, and I'm looking at my feet way up in the air above me, and bone-chilling water is rushing over me like a cataract. I'm frantically pulling things out of my pockets — my cell phone, my wallet, my keys, anything the water might ruin — and mentally composing an aria of old, new, and spontaneously concocted swear words (think of Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story). I feel something between my teeth, and thinking it might be important, I clench my jaw shut so that whatever it is won't escape. After a few moments, I realize it is a leaf. Reluctantly, I set it free.

Once I finally dragged my sorry, soaked ass out of the shallow water, I determined with some relief that my cell phone had escaped submersion, and — above all things — that no one had been on the trail nearby to witness this act of unparalleled brilliance. On my frigid, three-quarter-mile walk back home, I did pass several walkers who raised their eyebrows at my obviously waterlogged figure, but I gave them my best nonchalant smile and continued on my way.

Today on my walk, I did encounter an old buddy, David Vogelsong, whom I've not seen except on Facebook in several decades. Nice indeed. I did venture into the nearby woods to check on one of my geocaches — "Castle Rock" (GC1BWV2) — where, a couple of years ago, the lovely Kimberly took a less-than-graceful tumble herself. That, however, can be a story for another day.

Click on images to enlarge.
The old boathouse at Lake Lanier. When I was a kid, I'd ride my bike down to it
with friends to get sodas, candy, and ice pops here.
Walkways along the Blue Heron Trail. They weren't there when I used to tempt fate
on my bike zooming up and down around the inlets.
The wind was really whipping across the lake today. At least I stayed dry.
I've always loved this lake view. It's changed little in half a century.