Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Summer of Lovecraft

I has a happy! My story, "Short Wave," has been accepted for the upcoming anthology, The Summer of Lovecraft, edited by Brian Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass. It's a collection of stories set in the 1960s, which, needless to say, is the decade of my most formative years. My story is set in July 1969, just after the Apollo 11 moon landing. As a fun coincidence, my acceptance note came on the exact date — plus 45 years — that the events take place in the tale.

Table of Contents:
"Night Trippers" — Lois H. Gresh
"Crystal Blue Persuasion" — Jeffrey Thomas
"Being for the Benefit of Mr. Sullivan" — Lee Clark Zumpe
"Dreamland" — David Dunwoody
"Lost In the Poppy-Fields of Flesh" — Konstantine Paradias
"Five To One" — Edward M. Erdelac
"Keeping the Faith" — Sam Stone
"Mud Men" — Sean Hoade
"Misconception" — Jamie D. Jenkins
"No Colors Anymore" — Joe L. Murr
"Operation Alice" — Pete Rawlik
"Shimmer and Sway" — Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
"Short Wave" — Stephen Mark Rainey
"Project AZAZEL" — Christopher Slatsky
"The Song that Crystal Sang" — Tom Lynch
"Through a Looking Glass Darkly" — Glynn Owen Barrass & Brian M. Sammons
"The Color from the Deep" — William Meikle
"The Long Fine Flash" — Edward Morris
"The Summer of Love" — C. J. Henderson
"Wonder and Glory Forever" — Scott R Jones
"Just Another Afternoon in Arkham, Brought to You in Living Color" — Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr.

The book is slated to be published by Chaosium in 2015. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Universe is Doomed...

...and it's my fault. Well, sort of. Let me tell you about it.

My kitchen garbage disposal has acted up lately, requiring the motor to be cranked and reset. To do this, one needs an Allen wrench. Lacking one of sufficient size, I booked on over to Lowe's, purchased a set, and figured I was good to go. And in a healthy, normal, sane universe, by rights, I would have been.

It happened thusly:

I inserted a quarter-inch Allen wrench into the socket in the bottom of the disposal unit. It fit nicely, so I attempted to turn it counter-clockwise, in prescribed fashion. Alas, the damned thing wouldn't budge. I gave it another good tug, and the freaking Allen wrench slipped out of my hand and vanished into the darkness of the cabinet beneath the sink. Oddly, it made no sound. You'd think nice-sized hunk of metal making contact with any number of hard surfaces would make a racket. But it didn't.

I proceeded to remove some items from the cabinet. Boxes of aluminum foil, waxed paper, sandwich bags, and garbage bags. Bottles of cleaning solutions, bug spray, lamp oil. A basket of dust rags, steel wool, and Swiffer cleaning pads. Vases. Jars. Where did all this stuff come from? What do you know — there's that can of WD-40 I'd been looking for a while back.

The Allen wrench is nowhere to be seen.

OUT comes everything. Every last item in the cabinet. I'm shaking out rags, dumping sandwich bags out of their boxes, unrolling foil and waxed paper... searching, searching, searching... and I'm yelling, "Where are you, you vile fuck?" I check the rug around the outside of the cabinet. Under the kitchen table. Around the refrigerator. In my shoes.

The damned thing isn't there. It isn't anywhere.

Suffice it to say, there was not one item, not one object, not one space I didn't turn inside out looking for that Allen wrench. There is but one explanation, and that is that the little metal bastard slipped into a wormhole and is now drifting through parallel time and space, aimed at the center of everything, where it's going to collide with something and destroy reality as we know it. And you're all gonna blame me. Look, I'm telling you, I'm sorry, I hunted EVERYWHERE, and it still disappeared.

So, prepare yourselves; this the end coming... unless Droolie somehow happens upon the thing. Wouldn't surprise me if I get up some morning, and the little fuck wrench will be on the kitchen floor because Droolie has managed to fish it out of some nonexistent dimension.

On the up side, I then tried a metric Allen wrench — the 6mm, I think — and it worked like a charm. At least, when the universe goes, I can grind up all the pieces in the garbage disposal. And I have a very clean and nicely organized kitchen cabinet.

I guess that's the way to go.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Congregating Divine Llamas

I spent most of this weekend over in Winston Salem at ConGregate 2014, which turned out to be a decent little con. It was run by many longtime organizers of StellarCon and other local conventions, so there was plenty of prior experience and talent to keep the machine running smoothly. Programming was varied and ran on time, attendance appeared fair-to-middlin', and as far as the convention area went, the Marriott hotel was great. Can't speak about its other services, as I didn't stay overnight, but for an event such as this one, it appears worth returning to. Downtown Winston has plentiful restaurants, bars, and parking, and the hotel is easily accessible, even with lots of other events happening in the area, as there clearly were this weekend.

I had a fairly long break between panels yesterday during the day, so after wandering about the con for a while, mostly in the dealers' room, I headed out geocaching. I had already cleared out most of downtown Winston some time ago, so I had to go a bit farther afield for the majority of them — and since it was bleepin' hotter than Looney's little brother out there, it is well that I brought a change of clothes. One particular favorite hide was "Odd Fellows Cemetery" (GC54BNM), near the Liberty Classic Fairgrounds, which is one atmospheric, haunted-looking place. The cache is a multi, requiring the hunter to find information from a certain gravestone to determine the coordinates to final stage, which lurks nearby. Not far from that one, there is another neat little graveyard cache, "Peace at Last" (GC40B0X), which Ms. B. and I visited on our way out to Divine Llama Vineyards, in East Bend, just a short jaunt over from Winston Salem.

There are, in fact, llamas at the winery, though we didn't see any this time around. They do have a wine club one can join for a modest fee, and one of the perks is a llama tour — you get to load up your necessities on a llama's back and take a tour of the entire vineyard. All their wines are made from grapes grown there, and while their selection is modest, the quality is generally quite good. Brugger and I were most taken with their Reserve Cabernet Franc, so we sat in the shade of the front porch and shared a bottle, which proved to be the highlight of the day, despite the muggy heat. Afterward, we returned to downtown Winston and had a very enjoyable dinner at Hutch & Harris Pub — their Southside burger, with pimento cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, and jalapeno peppers absolutely sold me. Ms. B. had their Steakhouse burger, with horseradish, mushrooms, and onions, also more than satisfactory.

Finished the evening with a reading ("I, Krall," actually one of my oldest stories), and a late-night panel ("I'm Friends With the Monster Under My Bed"). After all this, the old man was exhausted, so it was back home to crash with my own bunch of monsters, who menaced me with hollering and meowing until I gave them extra food as recompense for having left them alone all day.

A view of the graves at Odd Fellows Cemetery
A convention bonus: false eyelash on the floor of the men's restroom
Tasting room at Divine Llama Vineyards

Friday, July 4, 2014

White Pines Tree Monkeys

(Or "Team Old Fart Rides Again")

There's almost nothing better for Independence Day than a nice geocaching trip with Rob "Robgso" Isenhour and Rob "Rtmlee" Lee — heretofore and generally known as "Team Old Fart." Today, it was off to the White Pines Nature Preserve, just south of Pittsboro, NC. The preserve occupies about 275 acres at the confluence of the Deep River and Rocky River, with terrain varying from steep, densely wooded slopes characteristic of the Uhwharrie mountains to low-lying coastal swamp. Ten geocaches hide back in this area, and, most happily, we found the lot of them. A couple of the tougher ones stymied us so that we almost called it quits on our hunts for them, but in the end perseverance paid off. One of the most enjoyable of the bunch required me to play spider monkey and make my way up a tree to a pretty fair altitude. Fortunately, I did this without breaking my head or any other bones, and that makes for a good day.

Afterward, we snagged several other caches, a couple at a little park in Pittsboro where we found ourseves being watched by a big honking chimpanzee. No joke.

For the evening, there were hot dogs, drinks, and fireworks with Ms. Brugger and friends Doug, Jenny, and Chad. The neighborhood where Doug and Jenny live is apparently quite keen on big fireworks displays — in the end, far better than going to any of the local "official" fireworks.

Live free and climb trees.
Two-thirds of Team Old Fart
Nice river view
Random picture of chimpanzee in a park
Brugger carries a torch

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ConGregate 2014

Next weekend — July 11–24 — I'll be a guest at ConGregate, a new speculative fiction convention held in Winston-Salem, NC, at the downtown Marriott hotel. I'll be participating in several panel discussions, helping out with Allen Wold's "Famous writing workshop" (which has limited room for attendees and requires advance sign-up) and reading one of my very scary short stories. Schedule for the weekend is as follows:

Friday, July 11
8:00 PM: "Writing the 'Other'" (with Edmund Schubert, John Hartness, Debra Killeen, Nicole Givens Kurtz)

Saturday, July 12
9:00 AM: "Allen Wold's Famous Writing Workshop" (pre-registration required; with Allen Wold, Darcy Wold, Diana Bastine, Edmund Schubert)

10:00 PM: Reading ("The Jack-o'-Lantern Memoirs")

11:00 PM: "I'm Friends With the Monster Under My Bed" (moderating; with Gail Z. Martin, Tony Ruggerio)

Sunday, July 13
10:00 AM: "Allen Wold's Famous Writing Workshop Recap" (pre-registration required; Allen Wold, Darcy Wold, Diana Bastine)

For more information about the con, visit www.con-gregate.com.

Join us.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Mommy, Make the Bad People Stop."

Old dam and waterfall on Cascade Creek in Stokes County, NC
That's the name of an old and distinctly difficult geocache hidden in Stokes County, NC, and it was today's target cache. It's a multi-stager, each stage providing its own unique challenges, ending at a particularly scenic area not far from Hanging Rock State Park.

An amusing item we found near the final
stage. Someone was clearly one toke
over the line, sweet Jesus.

Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, Jeanne "Cantergirl" Allamby, and I got together once again this weekend, starting out bright and early to make the trip out to Stokes County and hopefully conquer this aging but still vicious beast. It was originally hidden in 2004 and has been modified by the cache owner a few times over the years. To get from stage 1 to the final, you end up taking a fairly lengthy, very scenic tour of the county, so this hide is anything but a quick park-and-grab. We had trouble on more than one occasion due to our GPS coordinates bouncing all over creation, and at the final, Diefenbaker's ground zero coordinates and mine differed by a good hundred feet or so. In the end, my decrepit but trusty old Garmin eTrex H, which is held together by duct tape, put me within two feet of the hide. Signing the logbook on this one was a real pleasure, especially after having undertaken a good physical challenge or two to get where we needed to be.

Well, Diefenbaker and I undertook a good physical challenge. Cantergirl opted for the longer but considerably less hazardous route. She, no doubt, was the smart one, for after it was all over Diefenbaker and I rightly took turns calling each other Dumb Ass.

Of course, that's all as may be. In the end, all three of us dirtied up the cache's logbook with our signatures. It's all in a day's work to earn those smileys. That makes number 7,114 for Old Rodan.

Click on images to enlarge.
Cantergirl considering the best route to take across the stream. Hint: I'm not
certain it was the one Diefenbaker and I took.
L: Diefenbaker making his way across the very slippery waterfall; R: Damned Rodan following in Diefenbaker's
footsteps, unaware that Diefenbaker has booby-trapped the route. What a brute!


Friday, June 27, 2014


Damn near as old as I. The first episode of Dark Shadows premiered on June 27, 1966 on ABC-TV. I was seven years old, and I saw that first episode while my family was visiting my grandparents in Gainesville, GA, as we often did in the summertime. Although the show didn't initially delve into the supernatural as it most famously did in later years, something about its air of mystery — and particularly its opening theme — grabbed my recently-turned-seven-year-old imagination, and, perhaps more than any other single property, paved the way to my becoming an enthusiastic writer of all things dark and creepy. When we came back home to Virginia a few days later, I discovered that our local ABC-TV affiliate didn't run Dark Shadows, and this rightly upset me. In Martinsville, unless you had cable TV and could pick up WLVA channel 13 out of Lynchburg, VA, you didn't get to see Dark Shadows, and in 1966, not so many people had cable as do today. A few friends of mine did, however, so I took every opportunity to invite myself over to their houses after school so we could get our Dark Shadows fixes. By late 1969, when my family finally got cable and I could watch the show daily, I was already a diehard fan.

If you've ever read a word I've written, you're probably already aware that Dark Shadows, to me, remains something of a magical property. I've been fortunate enough to write a licensed Dark Shadows novel — Dreams of the Dark (HarperCollins, 1999), along with Elizabeth Massie — as well as several scripts for Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio series, which features numerous members of the original cast, as well as an unlicensed Dark Shadows novel titled The Labyrinth of Souls, which, though it never progressed beyond first-draft stage, I honest-to-god believe turned out to be one of my best writing efforts. Perhaps most meaningful of all, these projects have allowed me to get to know some of the cast members who, almost to the person, have proven themselves fascinating, personable, and exceedingly decent human beings. As a kid, if I had known I might grow up to undertake these particular endeavors, I might well have had a heart attack and thus never grown up to write any Dark Shadows. I reckon it's a good thing life sometimes offers one surprises.

A little over a year ago, I took it to heart to watch the entire original series from start to finish, something I haven't done  in several decades. I'm currently about three-quarters of the way through, and I find myself enjoying it — from its most polished to its roughest edges — perhaps more than ever. Though the show is often known mostly for its campiness and frequently amusing bloopers, usually due to its severe budget limitations, it is also balanced by countless moments of creative brilliance, and it's the latter that, to me, continue to make the show magical.

As a kid, I half-believed this, and as an adult, I want to believe it... that if you're a person of good character and vivid imagination, when you die you'll go to Collinwood.

This suits me, it surely does.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Maneater of Hydra

Now and again, I get one of those mighty cravings to catch a moldy oldie horror movie or several, and I expect it's no surprise to anyone who visits here that I have a fair number of them at my disposal. The most recent was The Maneater of Hydra (a.k.a. Island of the Doomed, a.k.a. The Blood Suckers [UK]), a movie I caught at least once in the very early 70s and which has lingered in my memory quite vividly over the decades. It's a 1967 English-dubbed, Spanish-German co-production, directed by Mel Welles, who is perhaps best known for his role as flower shop owner Gravis Mushnik in Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors from 1960. Welles also wrote and oversaw the film's English dubbing (as he did the US release of the Japanese TV series Spectreman, so the dubbed voices may sound familiar to fans of that particular serial). Aptly, The Maneater of Hydra features a vampire plant, this one bred by a reclusive mad scientist — one Baron von Wester, played by well-known actor Cameron Mitchell — who lives on an isolated, unnamed island, which, according to local legend, is haunted by a vampire. Ostensibly to pay his exorbitant research bills, the baron has opened his sprawling island villa to tourists, and one particular party of six suffers a rather traumatic time during their stay.

The party consists of All-American Hero David Moss (George Martin); the too-sweet-to-be-real Beth Christansen (Elisa Montes); wealthy retiree James Robinson (Rolf von Nauckhoff); his promiscuous wife, Cora (Kai Fischer); the obnoxiously noisy Myrtle Callahan (Matilde Sampedro); and the amiable if overly enthusiastic botanist Julius Demerest (Herman Nelsen). Things go wrong right from the start, for upon their arrival on the island, their car runs over an old fellow who seems to be fleeing from something. A very polite Baron von Wester greets them, assuring them that the dead man was suffering from a fatal disease and had lost his mind, thus the accident was actually a blessing in disguise. But to the group's shock, a man who appears to be the accident victim appears to serve them dinner. The baron tells them the servant, named Baldi (Mike Brendel), is actually the dead man's twin brother.

The baron is a geneticist of no small ability and has bred all sorts of exotic plants, which excites the interest of Mr. Demerest. He proudly shows off one plant that is similar to a Venus flytrap, only much larger, as it devours a mouse. It isn't long, though, before some grisly human deaths follow. The driver of the car that killed Baldi's brother is found dead inside his car, his body drained of blood. The highly irritating and very slutty Mrs. Robinson meets a mysterious if well-deserved end, her body also bloodless. Loudmouth Myrtle buys it while walking around the villa's grounds in the dark. The victims' bodies all bear strange puncture wounds, a fact that incites the survivors to start talking anew about the local vampire legend. Unfortunately, the only escape from the island — at least until the return of their ferry in a couple of days — is a small boat that has been conveniently scuttled by party or parties unknown.

Mr. Demerest, meantime, discovers on the estate a huge, tentacled, monster plant that sucks the blood from animals. He excitedly reports the thing's existence to the baron, stating he believes it is the result of one of the baron's experiments inadvertently gone wrong. However, the baron informs Demerest that the plant is not a failed experiment but a successful one, and he kills Demerest by forcing him into a knife that emerges from a statue of the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer. Mr. Robinson is next, ax-murdered by the highly irate baron when he discovers the truth about his wife's death.

To hero David and now-girlfriend Beth, the baron feigns innocence, blaming the murders on his servant, Baldi. They pursue Baldi to his death, but David discovers the monster plant and hacks it with an ax. The baron, grief-stricken over the mortal wounding of his beloved "baby," sacrifices himself in a vain attempt to restore the plant with his blood. Presumably, David and Beth wait around for the ferry and eventually go off to live happily ever after.

For its limited budget, The Maneater of Hydra displays some pretty effective gore effects, the vampire plant appearing reasonably convincing in design and execution. The story follows the classic whodunit mystery format, with a group of people stranded in a remote location with no hope of escape. Cameron Mitchell plays the twisted but well-mannered baron with reserve, at least until the end, when everything goes well over the top. In general, the rest of the characters are dull or irritating — particularly our good lady Myrtle, whose ever-grating voice is dubbed by well-known American actress Anne Meara, and who never really shuts the hell up. Poor Mr. Demerest, the botanist, is the most agreeable of the lot; even the baron, after murdering him, instructs Baldi to show some care disposing of the body, for Demerest was a "nice man."

The musical score, by Antón García Abril and José Muñoz Molleda, is pure 1960s European pop-jazz, with a main theme that at times sounds remarkably like Ennio Morricone's score to Svegliati e Uccidi (Wake Up and Die). It's often loud and frenetic, and quite perfect for rattling your nerves just a bit.

Unfortunately, The Maneater of Hydra has never received a decent US DVD release. As far as I know, it is available only as half of an Elvira's Movie Macabre double-feature set, paired with The House That Screamed. The video is pan-and-scanned, and taken from what appears to be a poor VHS copy of a TV broadcast. Regardless, the movie is a very 1960s, very European horror hoot that, for me, brings back some very fond memories from the past. You could hardly ask for a more entertaining bit of cheese to accompany some decent Tempranillo.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Game Changers

M. Wayne Miller — fellow connoisseur of Thai food, rabid Godzilla fan, and artist extraordinaire — has unveiled his illustration for my story, "The Game Changers," coming up in the Dark Regions' Press anthology, World War Cthulhu: A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories, edited by Brian Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass. And here's the illustration — scaring me to pieces it is. I reckon it's a good thing I know how the story ends. (Or is it?)
World War Cthulhu is due out later this year and features all new fiction by Neil Baker, David Conyers, Tim Curran, Ed Erdelac, Cody Goodfellow, Ted Grau, C. J. Henderson, David Kernot, William Meikle, Christine Morgan, Edward Morris, Konstantin Paradias, Robert M. Price, W. H. Pugmire, Peter Rawlik, John Shirley, Darryl Schweitzer, Jeffrey Thomas, and Lee Zumpe. Cover art is by Vincent Chong, interior illustrations by M. Wayne Miller. Visit Dark Regions Press for more info.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Smiling at Lake Lure

This was one of those days where I come home, pick up the nearest cat, look him right in the eye, and say, "Daddy tired."

A mighty good kind of tired, though. A full weekend of geocaching — yesterday here in NC's Piedmont with Jeanne "Cantergirl" Allamby and Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager; today in the mountains in the western part of the state with Bridget "Suntigres" Langley. The old feets are a bit achy from many miles of walking, I can tell you, and though I applied the DEET liberally, the bitey bugs laughed it off and bit the hell out of me anyway.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Out at Lake Lure, not far from Chimney Rock State Park, NC, there's a geoart smiley — a smiley pattern on the map formed by geocache icons — made up of 53 separate caches, which are located all around the lake itself. Cell service in that area is spotty, to say the least, and since we at least partially relied on our phones for navigation, we occasionally ended up in slightly different areas than we had anticipated. No biggie; we got to see lots of impressive scenery. Though we finished the day with 50 or so cache finds, we didn't complete the entire smiley pattern, so we'll no doubt make a return visit to claim the rest of the hides.

Lake Lure is pretty touristy, with lots of muggle-friendly attractions, such as golfing, ziplining, boating, swimming, a few restaurants, bars, shops, etc. Along US Highway 64 through town, there's very a very high concentration of human-type animals, mostly quite annoying, but away from the hordes on the numerous narrow, windy back roads, the atmosphere is far more placid. Happily, we found a few spots possessed of an enjoyably eerie quality, such as a ravine from which rose the ominous baying of the Hounds of Tindalos, complete with a skull and crossbones warning sign.

It feels like it's time to crash and burn, so thus it shall be. Nighty-night. Mind those hell hounds.

L: Don't go there. R: Suntigres hastens to sign the log before the Hounds of Tindalos come hauling
out of the ravine to maim, murder, and mutilate.

Partially complete geoart smiley over Lake Lure

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spooky Sticks and Crazy Bitches

Several years ago, up in Martinsville, I placed a geocache called "Sticks" (GC1WNG9), inspired by Karl Edward Wagner's horror story of that title. The story has been one my favorite works of dark fiction since the day I read it, many decades past, and it seemed only fitting that one of my caches should pay tribute to it. The other day, an out-of-town cacher notified me he was particularly keen on hunting this one in a couple of weeks, and since I haven't revisited the hide in several years, I figured it was high time to give it a look-see and perform any necessary maintenance.

The cache itself was in pristine condition. Some of the stick figures I had placed had fallen into disrepair, so I spent several hours making new ones and hanging them at strategic locations in the woods. Yeah, it was kind of creepy out there — absolutely dead quiet, for the most part. Scarcely a breath of breeze, and virtually no sounds of wildlife — except for a few buzzing, marauding insects that made the work uncomfortable. In the end, though, I escaped with my life and my sanity. Most of it, anyway.

Thanks to a new cache hidden by my friend Ed "Kuykenew" Kuykendall, I did discover a relatively new trail along the Smith River in the Bassett area, just north of Martinsville. It's the Lauren Mountain Preserve, and what a gorgeous trail it proved to be. At the moment, there's only the one cache there, but I saw several spots that are screaming for one, including a couple that could present interesting terrain challenges. I foresee placing a new hide or two out that way. Be warned.

Leaving Bassett, I experienced an interesting and inexplicable case of road rage on the part of some crazy bitch, whom I shall, for convenience's sake, hereby call "Crazy Bitch." From a side road, I turned onto Riverside Drive, and the driver of a car approaching from the left apparently didn't like me doing so — the fact she was a tenth of a mile down the highway notwithstanding. She threw the car into overdrive, raced down the road to overtake me, and proceeded to remain on my bumper for the next few miles. If she wanted to go around me, she had more than ample opportunity, so it was clear Crazy Bitch was intent on pursuit. Since there are numerous ways to get where I was going, I took the most circuitous route possible, most often at excruciatingly slow speed, and, after quite a few miles, fatigue must have set in, for she finally went on about her merry little way. I went and had an enjoyable lunch.

So, Crazy Bitch, if you have by chance found me here, let me just say, you are one crazy bitch, and you might want to check your crazy bitch ass in a place where they have nice sedatives. And just by way of a little advice, you might wish to consider that not everyone is as good-natured as I, and the next person you fuck with might check you in somewhere you really don't want to be.

Just a little something to consider from your friendly neighborhood horror writer.
Not much sense of scale in the photo, but that is one big-ass water tower across the Smith River
from the Lauren Mountain Preserve Trail.
Big ol' concrete slab from some ancient structure out in the middle of the river.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Geocaching Trail of Tears

The mob descends upon the Reidsville Flash Mob event, 2014-06-07.

Some of you men out there — particularly if you're my age or older — may be able identify with this rather uncomfortable personal revelation, though you probably wish you couldn't. And some of you will no doubt cry "TMI! TMI!" but them's the risks you take when you visit a blog written by a writer of things dark and horrible, be they imagined or be they real.

Two words: Acute prostatitis.

I did, I had a full week of this ungodly condition, and it's only just abating. Rather than put you through an overly vivid description, I'll just ask you to imagine a bunch of hyperactive razor blades trotting around in your innards, goading you to pee every five minutes. Most of the time, you just can't, but when you eventually do, one or more razor blades comes slicing through.

There. There's your happy, sanitized version.

The doctor prescribed an antibiotic, and it's sure enough doing the trick; just not very quickly. Regardless, this weekend, I determined I was going to work in some geocaching or know the reason why. Thus, by gummy, I went geocaching. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but I added a few numbers to the total, which now stands at 7,044.

May the blessed antibiotic send this raging microscopic beast back to burning hell, where it rightly belongs.

A couple of hipsters hanging out in a graveyard. Dig it.

I told her, I said, Bridget, like, don't have a cow. But it was it too late.

Lots of water from the water plant at Dam Micro — just no cache.

Rodan Mobile in front of haunted house, near Dam Micro.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Evil Spirit of Gravity Hill

There are numerous locations around the earth where, to our physical senses, gravity appears to go utterly haywire. Happily, geocaching has taken me to a couple of them, both of which are within relatively short driving distance of NC's Piedmont Triad. At such locations, you park your car at the base of a clear uphill slope, put your car in neutral, and disengage the parking brake. Your vehicle will then begin to roll uphill, gathering momentum as it goes.

The one I visited yesterday is in Rowan County, NC, near Morgan Ridge Vineyards, where Ms. Brugger and I spent a pleasant afternoon with some very benevolent spirits. There is another such site in Rockingham County, NC, just south of Danville, VA, where this singular phenomenon is perhaps even more pronounced. The stories around such locations, at least in this region of the country, go more or less as follows: Back in the 17th century, a young woman was convicted of practicing witchcraft and executed by hanging. Before dying, she uttered a curse that, for the rest of eternity, her spirit would drag anyone who visits the place of her execution away to the gallows. After so many years, her spirit remains weak, but it is perpetually gathering strength, and the more people who visit the site, the stronger she gets. Eventually, anyone who trespasses on the cursed ground will be found dead.

When Kimberly and I arrived to hunt the cache at that location, we came upon some folks in a vehicle testing out Gravity Hill for themselves, but they drove off as we approached. After I found the cache — which is housed in a most appropriate container for the site — I parked my car at a point that is, to my senses, absolutely the bottom of the slope; shifted into neutral; and sat back to let the witch do her worst.

She didn't do too badly. My little Ford Focus gathered momentum and rolled well over a hundred feet up the rather steep slope before shaking itself free of the witch's grasp.

Here's a more mundane explanation of the phenomenon, but it was clearly devised by some poor soul who had not the nerve to reveal the reality of ye olde witch and her curse: wikipedia.org/Gravity_hill.

You've no idea how lucky I consider myself for having survived not one but two of these infernal cursed places — not to mention having tramped with my own little feet upon ye old Devill's Tramping Ground, down south of here a ways. I tempts me some fate, I do.

Monday, May 26, 2014

So Awful It's Awesome: The Vulture (1967)

My friends... Can your heart stand the shocking facts of atomic vultures from out of the past?

I never saw this 1967 British-made horror movie as a kid; I was in my 30s, I believe, and it was on a late-night picture show on television. I ended up falling asleep on it periodically, but I saw enough to later recall that it was weird and mostly terrible, yet strangely atmospheric, featuring a character or two that damn near gave me the creeps. The Vulture has never been released domestically on VHS or DVD, and since the early 90s, I've never seen it listed on broadcast television. For years, I've been hoping to catch it again just to satisfy my occasional (certain of my acquaintances might say frequent) craving for bizarre entertainment. Just today, I discovered that the entire movie is available to watch for free on YouTube, and though the video quality is none too great, the film is there, all right, in all its ridiculous glory.

To describe the plot might suggest that I have reverted to my college days when my fondness for mind-altering substances ran rather high. (The statute of limitations for such things has expired, right?) Regardless, I'll run through it here, and there be spoilers. On a rainy night in Cornwall, a lady gets off a bus and takes a shortcut through an old graveyard to get home. As she passes though, a gravestone falls over and something that makes nasty screeching sounds comes out and takes to the air. Lady ends up in hospital, hair turned all white. The police pay a visit to local nobleman Brian Stroud (Broderick Crawford) to inform him that the ruined grave belonged to one Francis Real, an 18th century practitioner of black magic who was buried alive by the Strouds' ancestors. Stroud's niece, Trudy (Diane Clare), and her husband, Eric Lutens (Robert Hutton), an American nuclear physicist, decide to investigate this strange case, and they learn that Francis Real revered the Easter Island god, Tongata Manu, a half-vulture, half-human creature, and even owned a vulture as a pet, which — along with a crapload of Spanish doubloons — was buried with him. The police, and most everyone else, conclude that the grave was despoiled by someone who was aware of the old legend and intended to relieve the grave of its treasure. Lutens, on the other hand, comes to the quick conclusion that a sophisticated nuclear experiment has revived the long-dead Real and transmutated him and the vulture into a half-man, half-bird monster bent on killing the descendents of the family that buried him alive.

No one believes Lutens, of course, except Trudy and a good friend of the Strouds — the elderly, kindly, crippled Professor Koeniglich (Akim Tamiroff), who is, coincidentally, one of Francis Real's direct descendents. Sadly, Brian Stroud and his brother, Edward (Gordon Sterne), are brutally murdered, the only clue left behind some vulture feathers. Occasionally, the local church's creepy sexton (Edward Caddick) appears for the sole purpose of warning everyone against interfering with this murderous, supernatural force from the past. Lutens believes that the guilty party can be tracked down by discovering whether anyone has been using vast amounts of electricity to carry on the suspected nuclear experiments. As it turns out, the guilty party is none other than the elderly, kindly, crippled Professor Koeniglich. According to Lutens, the nice professor had intended only to resurrect Real to pick his brain about how they did things back in the day, but Koeniglich hadn't counted on the vulture being in the coffin. Thus his experiment transformed him into a half-human, half-bird monster, bent on wreaking vengeance against the Strouds.

In a very brief scene in the final minutes of the movie, the vulture-man Koeniglich appears and menaces Trudy. Lutens, just in the nick of time, arrives and shoots him dead. Rather than preserve the creature's body so he might prove his wild theory correct, he takes the body out to sea in a rowboat and dumps it overboard. Then he and Trudy go back to New York on a ship.

It's probably fair to say that The Vulture is one big plot hole. By far, its most appealing aspect is that it drips with eerie atmosphere. Since I first saw the movie all those years ago, the creepy sexton has stood out in my memory, and though the character is essentially pointless, his manner does provide an authentic shudder. The story is part mystery, part science fiction, part traditional horror. Apart from sheer zaniness of the plot, though, there are also numerous unintentional laughs, such as the "driving theme" that plays whenever a character is in a car. It's a rambling, orchestral motif with a shunting rhythm, like a train passing over the rails. Dr. Koeniglich is really too sweet to make a convincing murderous vulture, and apart from his ludicrous bird outfit, he doesn't even get any scary facial makeup. He's just too damn cute.

So, if after all that, you feel you're up to it, you can watch The Vulture right on YouTube. Here it is below, in fact, Scream away, do.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Young Blood: Evil Intentions — The Novel

Zoe Cox and Autumn Ward in Young Blood: Evil Intentions (2012)
In 2012, brothers Mat and Myron Smith made a fun little indie movie called Young Blood: Evil Intentions, in which I had a bit part as a Highly Concerned Citizen of a little town that gets overrun by a veritable horde of juvenile vampires. Alternately grim and hysterically funny, Young Blood has played in numerous theaters around the region, appeared at film festivals, and been released on DVD. With cameos by The Munsters star Butch Patrick (Eddie Munster), Troma Entertainment founder/actor Lloyd Kaufman, and horror host/musician Robert "Count Smokula" Miles, the movie has gained a sizable cult following.

And it's about to become a book.

I have been contracted to write a novelization of the movie, and this fun endeavor is currently well in progress. A teaser chapter will soon be foisted upon the public at large, and you will be encouraged to run screaming... for a whole lot more. Be afeared. Be very afeared.

The Smith brothers are currently wrapping up their latest movie, Invasion of the Killer Cicadas, in which I play mad scientist Dr. Werner von Schwartztotten. Look for it this summer, and you can become even more afeared.

For now, be sweet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

THE MONARCHS — Daily Deal on Amazon.com

Not much time to jump on it, but The Monarchs, my most recent novel, is one of today's Daily Deals on Amazon.com, which means you can purchase it for your Kindle for 99¢. You're dying to be scared, aren't you? Well, here you gothis one ought to fix you all nice and proper.

A bit of the story:

"After her husband murders their daughter and then commits suicide, Courtney Edmiston, devastated and homeless, accepts an invitation to move in with her old college friend, Jan Blackburn. Jan lives with her brother, David, and eccentric Aunt Martha in the town of Fearing, North Carolina, at the edge of the Dismal Swamp. The Blackburn family has suffered its own recent tragedies — and Courtney learns that Jan and David have more than their share of enemies in the town. Because of her association with them, Courtney soon finds Fearing a very dangerous place to live. For reasons Courtney cannot comprehend, many of the townspeople fear old Martha Blackburn. However, she begins to understand why when Martha threatens the Surbers with swift retribution — by way of a ghostly entity known as the Monarch — and gruesome death does indeed visit the Surbers. And to her horror, Courtney, caught between the two feuding families, at last becomes the focus of Aunt Martha’s fury.

In desperation, two of the Surber brothers abduct Courtney and Jan and threaten to kill them unless the Blackburns meet their demands. However, Martha unleashes the horrific Monarch against her family's rivals. And Courtney, whom Martha now considers an enemy, becomes as much a target for its inhuman wrath as the remaining members of the treacherous Surber family...."

Check it out: The Monarchs by Stephen Mark Rainey

"I would recommend The Monarchs to anyone who enjoys their horror intelligently written, character driven, and bloody. Without giving too much away, I can say that The Monarchs has one of the most exciting endings to a novel that I’ve read in the last year. You really shouldn’t pass this one by."—TT Zuma, Horrorworld

If you miss out today, fret not overmuch. On any given day, the Kindle price is only $4.99 — you won't go broke. Or if you do, you can at least have a grand old time in the process.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

No Acercarse

River rats
Some geoaching milestones come and go without me paying much notice, but for my 7,000th find, I figured I should attempt something memorable. A kayak run down the Yadkin River with a number of friends seemed just the ticket, and a boat park-n-grab hide — "Another 'DAM' Skirt Lifter" (GC3W0G6) — struck me as agreeably whimsical. Ms. B. and I met up with Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, and a couple of Mr. Lee's friends in Greensboro, dropped a car at the Old 421 boat access point, and made our way up to Rt. 67. At first, we figured we were going to have a chilly day on the water, but it wasn't long before the sun came out and the temperature warmed up to just about perfect. We enjoyed a mostly leisurely paddle down the river to the dam where the cache resides. Here the current was enjoyably challenging. On the upper and lower sides of the dam, there are concrete ramps and a walkway for boat portage, and a big sign that reads "No Acercarse" admonishes you not to go over the dam in your boat (it would be bad). Once we were all feet-dry... more or less... on the walkway, I drew the cache from its hiding spot and laid my moniker on the log. Find #7,000 — yay! We soon got ourselves back in the kayaks and started on our way, only to realize that Mr. Lee's boat was going downriver without him. Where's Mr. Lee? Oh, there he is... a wee bit wet. Or perhaps more than a wee bit. Anyway, it wasn't long before we were all properly mounted up again to make our final run back to the Old US 421 River Park. Indeed, #7K was a memorable cache — an excellent day on the river, followed by wine and good company at nearby Flint Hill Vineyards.

I sleep now.

Photos by Scott Hager:
Ms. B. stylin' with paddle.
Hey, Rob! Wait... where's Rob?
Merrily, merrily, merrily...
Mandatory portage
No acercarse.
Team 7K

Return of the King?

The spectacular trailers and advance positive reviews of Legendary's new Godzilla led me to feel guardedly optimistic that director Gareth Edwards' big-ass monster romp might be a real Godzilla movie, an effort worthy of the sixty-year-old iconic monster that I have loved beyond the bounds of reason ever since I saw the 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters around age four. I purposefully shied away from spoilers so I might go in with as open a mind as possible, and, on this count, I succeeded. Knowing relatively little about what I might actually be getting into, I caught Godzilla in IMAX/3D yesterday, which did provide me with an agreeably stimulating sensory experience.

It was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.

Though I'm not revealing much of the plot here, there are some spoilers, so if you don't want 'em, don't read 'em.

Director Edwards does a lot right with the monsters. By dropping hints and offering only glimpses of the creatures before revealing them in all their glory, he capably builds suspense leading up to their appearances. The pair of Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) creatures work exceedingly well; in fact, it could be argued that they have the more substantive monster roles. Godzilla does not appear in full until about halfway through the film, and though I've heard a few complaints about this fact, I find its slow revelation effective in context. While I remain far more enamored of the traditional suitmation monsters and miniature sets that have been the mainstay of Godzilla films over the decades, the special effects work here proves to me that a CGI Godzilla can, in fact, ultimately succeed. However, the Godzilla design, while endlessly superior to the silly big iguana in Roland Emmerich's insipid 1998 Godzilla, still falls short of the Toho's best suitmation Godzillas. This one looks like a big scaly grizzly bear with dorsal fins and a long tail, and its stubby, non-functional-looking feet, which ought to be reserved for a quadrupedal creature, actually annoy the hell out of me. Not to say Godzilla as a monster isn't oftentimes visually impressive; it is, sometimes with a vengeance. Its powerful bellow, which retains at least some of the contrabass-produced rumbling-and-scraping timbre of the original Toho monster, couldn't have been more well-done.

The best aspect of the monster scenes is that, unlike many of this film's contemporaries — including Pacific Rim, a movie I generally enjoyed — they aren't all presented with jump-cuts, super-fast action, and close-ups that are so close you have no idea what you're looking at. Most of the time, you get long, lingering shots of the creatures, a stylistic touch perfectly in line with longstanding Godzilla movie tradition. In the Toho films, you always got to see plenty of monster. No ridiculous, dizzying camera work but real, honest-to-god cinematography that shows you exactly what you want to see: majestic, impressive, larger-than-life daikaiju.

In the story, Godzilla and the Muto creatures are revealed as essentially products of mother nature in her earliest days; unlike the original Japanese monster, Godzilla is not a result of nuclear testing gone horribly wrong. Though the creatures in the film thrive in a radioactive environment, none of the allegorical elements about the horrors of atomic energy that formed the heart of the original Godzilla remain here. If anything, nuclear weaponry is retained as the last hold-out of hope for the American military. This downplaying of a once-crucial tenet has more in common with the Heisei-era (1984–1995) Godzilla films, in which nuclear power is generally reduced to a convenient catalyst for monster appearances (most egregiously in 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah).

Alexandre Desplat's musical score for Godzilla complements the visuals well enough, and there are a few motifs that effectively underscore the emotions conveyed in any given scene. A brief portion of György Ligeti's "Requiem for Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano," originally made famous in 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, provides a dark, ethereal backdrop to a dramatic scene in which a Special Forces team makes a HALO drop into San Francisco to recover a nuclear bomb scavenged by the Muto creatures. However, as with most contemporary film scores, Desplat's incorporates few memorable themes or full-fledged compositions that go beyond controlled cacophony — certainly nothing like Akira Ifukube's original classic monster themes or Michiru Oshima's rousing, distinctive scores to several of Toho's Millennium-era Godzilla movies. At the risk of portraying myself as the consummate old fart... I so miss the good old days of movie scores, when they were truly music, not just staccato blasts of orchestral noise to punctuate the action on the screen at any given time.

The real test of a daikaiju picture... or most any picture... is whether the story holds up. Do the actors portray characters you can relate to on some level? Do the moviemakers create a world you can believe in? Do you want to believe in it? In Godzilla, the human drama runs perilously thin. None of the actors — even the capable Bryan Cranston as nuclear engineer Joe Brody (who meets his demise much sooner than I might have expected) and distinguished Ken Watanabe as scientist Ichiro Serizawa — manage to overcome the inherent flatness of their characters. Juliette Binoche is wasted Brody's wife, who meets her demise within minutes of her introduction. Brody's son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is a likable enough heroic character, and he actually gets to do some stuff, rather than stand around watching the action, but even he is at the mercy of a script that takes us down too many familiar boulevards. In fact, most of the timeworn disaster movie conventions can be found here: the devoted scientist whose warnings of dire events on the horizon go unheeded; an element of strife between family members (in this case between Brody and Ford, who believes his father has just gone over the deep end); the young child separated from his parents and the inevitable quest for a reunion. It's by-the-numbers people plot, and while it beats the hell out of the 1998 Godzilla and even some of the later Toho Godzilla movies, particularly those from the Heisei era, it falls distressingly flat in a movie where every resource was in place to make the drama riveting from top to bottom. Shinichi Sekizawa and Kaoru Mabuchi, two of the premier screenwriters of the original Godzilla series, offered plenty of lessons in great monster stories. No one seems to have noticed.

In the end, Godzilla succeeds on many levels, particularly in the spectacle department, yet, despite its clear aspirations, from a dramatic standpoint, it is neither moving nor engrossing. It offers no real thematic depth, especially compared to many of the early Toho Godzilla films, which, even at their simplest, addressed real human issues, such as unchecked use of atomic weaponry; rampant human greed; the need for people to respect each other and view even those with whom they differ as brothers; the dangers of spreading toxic pollution over the face of Mother Earth. Gareth Edwards may be a true fan of everything Godzilla stands for, and he clearly sets out to entertain audiences, at which, on many counts, he clearly succeeds — yet he also stops right there. Coming up so thematically empty is a disservice to audiences, not to mention the legacy of one of the longest-lived icons in cinematic history.

I kind of liked this Godzilla. But I surely didn't love it. I may be completely wrong — I rather hope so — but I have a feeling the Godzilla to love exists only in the past.