Monday, January 16, 2017

Das Boot


I was off work today for Martin Luther King's birthday, so Bloody Rob (retired and almost always available for geocaching, the miserable old rat) and I headed over to the American Tobacco Trail in Wake County to finish the "Boot Print" geoart, which we had begun back in October (see "Getting the Boot," October 16, 2016). Dummy coordinates form a boot print on the map; to get the actual coordinates for the caches in the pattern, you must correctly answer a question on each cache listing page about Wake County Parks. There are 40 caches in total, which we've picked up on three separate hiking trips to the ATT. I was hoping at least a couple of the irregular Old Farts and Cupdaisy might join us today, but it was not to be. Thus, we had to tangle with all kinds of monstrous critters, such as the one you see to the left, all by our aging lonesomes — and tell me that big old beast right there wouldn't spoil your picnic. Our cache hider, the dastardly and devious NCBiscuit, a.k.a. Linda, concealed many of the caches in the series in such fashion, some of them even scarier than a big-ass fire ant (such as this mean old rotten bastard).

On a sad note, I understand that Linda's faithful canine caching companion, Miss Biscuit (for whom she adopted her geocaching handle), just passed away. Miss Biscuit was a constant companion to her, I know, so I send out my deepest sympathies. I could never get along without a houseful of critters, and I know how hard it is to lose them. Adieu, Biscuit!

My appreciation for a clever and fun series of caches.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Another Paranoid Shizophrenic


Another Songwriters' Showcase at the Daily Grind in Martinsville, and another fun racket, courtesy of the old man and a slew of other talented individuals from all around Virginia, North Carolina, and even as far away as LA — as in Los Angeles, not Lower Axton, as some Martinsville natives have dubbed the neighboring community. The first songwriters' event, back in September, drew a respectable crowd. This one, with twice as many musicians, drew what appeared to be about three times the number of attendees.

Ms. Brugger and I got there a little early to partake of their wine tasting, which proved decent enough, as did the paninis we attacked with ferocious delight, as neither of us had eaten in about a month. Our friends/fellow geocachers Tom and Linda Imbus from Browns Summit showed up to heckle me, as did old friends Ashby and Lynn Pritchett from Martinsville, and to their credit, none of them took it upon themselves to hurl undesirable objects or epithets my way. Sporting souls, our fine friends.

The event ran from roughly 7:30 to 10:00 PM, with eleven musicians, including me, signed up to play. My set consisted of three original songs, "Paranoid Schizophrenia" (again), "Ice Blossoms" (whose origin is recounted here), and "The Watcher" (yet again). I was hoping to include the video of "Ice Blossoms" here, as it's my favorite of the lot, but between electronic glitches and crowd noise, the video didn't turn out very well. I may go ahead and upload it to YouTube regardless, and I'll leave it to you to decide whether to give it a look or avoid it all costs and preserve your sanity.

I'll post the lyrics to "Paranoid Schizophrenia" — which is the second song I ever wrote, back in 1978, while I was at Ferrum College — beneath the videos below. Enjoy or run like hell, your choice.



Paranoid Schizophrenia
Talked with him just yesterday because I was all alone.
I heard his voice and what he said; it's different now you've gone.
In darkened halls and haunted paths, I hear him sing his song.
He told me what I thought I felt; he told me I was wrong.

Run away, I told myself. Run away, I cried.
I'm mad, I must be mad. Run away.

He told me to calm myself. He told me never run.
He told me to help myself. He told me never cry.

He's right again, he's never wrong; how could he ever lose?
I've talked with him, I can't believe there's nothing left to choose.
Talked with him just yesterday because I was all alone.
I've heard his voice inside of me — my heart, my guide, my soul.

Run away, I told myself. Run away, I cried.
I'm mad, I must be mad. Run away.

"Paranoid Schizophrenia," ©1978, 2017 Stephen Mark Rainey

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Songwriter's Showcase — Friday, January 13, 2017

Coming up next Friday — the dreaded 13th of January — I'll be making a racket at The Daily Grind in Martinsville, VA, at their second Songwriters Showcase. At their first event back in September, along with several other musicians, I played to an enthusiastic crowd, with nary a tomato or rotten egg chucked at the performers. It's all original music, no covers allowed, and I can tell you that the first such event featured some accomplished and innovative talents. I'll be playing several of my originals, including a couple I did not perform at the first ("Ice Blossoms" being one of them, the origin of which can be found in yesterday's blog, here). There will also be a wine tasting, which might entice you further, and certainly Brugger and I will look forward to it. If you're in the vicinity, or in comfortable traveling distance, please come round and enjoy yourself.

Songwriters Showcase at The Daily Grind
303 E. Church St., Martinsville, VA 24112
7:30 PM–10:00 PM



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ice Blossoms

The obligatory snow selfie. I feel impelled
to watch The Shining.

A nice big snowfall last night and this morning. So far, it's one of those where it's just snow, rather than that god-awful mix of snow and ice that takes out the power, which is what we more frequently get around here.

Here's a semi-random snow story from way back when....

After graduating from UGA in December 1981, I spent a little over a year in Martinsville, trying to make enough money to move to Chicago, which I eventually did, mostly by selling my artwork and teaching art. All the while, I entertained myself and tortured others by playing guitar, singing, and writing original music (I still occasionally torture others with this very endeavor; in fact, next Friday, 1/13/17, I'll be playing at The Daily Grind in Martinsville). It was one night in either late '82 or early '83 when we had a pretty big snowfall, and I went out walking in the neighborhood, and by the time I got back home, many hours later, I had the lyrics to a new song, called "Ice Blossoms," composed in my head. It's about freezing to death, and I plan to play it at The Daily Grind next week.

At the time, my brother, Phred, was seeing a young lady named Leslie, and earlier that evening he'd driven up to her house, a mile or so away. I decided to take a walk in that general direction, figuring that I'd eventually run into him on his way home, and he could give me a ride back. Well, I got as far as the corner of her street, and he still hadn't left, so, being the adventurous soul I was (and still strive to be), I found myself a tall tree that offered a good view of the neighborhood and climbed up it — way up it, figuring I'd be able to spot my brother's car coming well in advance.

I sat up in that tree for at least an hour, freezing my hind end off, eventually questioning the wisdom of my decision and wondering whether I should just get down and walk back home.

No. No, no. I sat up there well into the wee hours, at least partially bolstered by select botanical compounds I'd had the foresight to bring with me. By the time I finally saw my brother's car coming, I had the following lyrics firmly in my head, and the accompanying music written by the next afternoon.

Ice Blossoms
Wind in your hair, the snow in your eyes,
Feeling the chill of a cold winter's night.
Breathing the air brought by winds of the north,
Ice blossoms blooming forever.

Clear songs from forests a-glaze under ice,
Joining the spirits who dance in the night,
Who call to you in a crystal clear voice,
Reaching your soul from the nether.

Snowfall soft, open your eyes aloft,
You feel no cold, no pain. Open your eyes again.
There is no fear of the night, only hope inside.
There is a song calling you, so strong.

Then, in the sky, colors dance, glowing bright.
And your lifeline's gone. Spirits howl their song.
Colors bright.

Ice blossoms blooming in cold morning light.
Forests breathe songs that arise to the sky.
Standing alone torn by winds of the north,
Silently brooding forever.

Eyes dead and glazed under snowfall so fine,
Hands clutching nothing thrown wild at your sides.
Spirit has gone with your brothers of ice,
Singing your sad song forever.
 #

Fortunately, I didn't freeze to death, but I was probably as close to hypothermia as I've ever come. Mighty cold in that tree, I was.

Today's snow, so far, has been pretty, and I took an enjoyable mile-long walk through the neighborhood this morning while it was still coming down. Currently, there's about nine inches of accumulation. No ice blossoms.

"Ice Blossoms," ©1982, 2017, by Stephen Mark Rainey

The homestead as the snow falls
L: devilish hoofprints leading to my back door? R: Corner of Martin Ave. and Wilcox Dr.
I had never noticed there was a little footbridge — now half-collapsed — over a stream,
a short distance down the street
A little hidden glen near Martin Ave.
Heading north on Martin Ave., toward Pine Needle Dr.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Next Chapter, Please

Old dude getting up close and personal with some fire
Unlike some past years' festivities, last night's New Year's Eve celebration was fairly low-key, with dinner, drinks, and fireworks with friends at Ms. Brugger's house. While I almost always enjoy New Year's Eve, I've never cared for the whole business of changing the calendar, which primarily serves to remind one that the clock is ticking, the countdown drawing ever nearer to zero. These past few years, the clock has been zipping right along, and it just keeps speeding up. No like! No like!

For me, 2016 had many wonderful moments. But every moment of every day, my mom's declining health, which has required me to manage almost all her affairs, is a specter that takes no holiday. My day job, which I have held and loved for going on 18 years, has seen all kinds of changes due to our owner putting the company up for sale, the results of which will soon be revealed. While I'm very thankful that I will, in all probability, keep my job, I'll be facing a whole different daily dynamic, involving considerably more commute time, far less convenience for shopping and personal appointments, and lord knows what other changes; I can only hope that any new level of stress will be relatively minor, for my health's sake. I can feel how much dealing with Mom's diminished capacity has worn me down, and that aspect of life is not going to get any easier. Quite the contrary.

It's no secret that I have little but contempt for President-elect Donald Trump, and I cannot have anything like high hopes for where he and his cabal of billionaire bitches will lead this country. I've never been much stressed out over politics before, but there is nothing normal about what's happening in the USA, and I think we're going to have a hell of a bad ride. I want to be wrong; I pray to be wrong. But I bet I'm not.

The passing of people, famous and infamous... holy cow. Again, I've never been one to get shook up by the deaths of individuals who may be high profile but that I've never personally known. But this year... so many personalities that I have greatly admired, such as Mohamed Ali, David Bowie, William Christopher, Carrie Fisher (followed almost immediately by her mom, Debbie Reynolds), Ron Glass, John Glenn, Florence Henderson, George Michael, Prince, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, and so many others. It's just about enough to rattle one. Not to mention several deaths that did impact me personally, such as our friend, Dan Shannon, who died of cancer this past summer, as well as a number of old acquaintances from my hometown, many taken too young.

Some good stuff:

Several of my stories published or accepted for publication in very reputable markets. I was more prolific in the fiction department this past year than I have been for some time. My story "The Nothing" very recently came out at BuzzyMag.com. My novelization of the Smith Brothers' movie, Young Blood was published early in the year. My short-short nonfiction piece, "Arachnid Alley — Or 'How I Learned to Stop Screaming and Love the Spider'" appeared in the anthology of geocaching stories titled GPS: Great Personal Stories of Geocaching Firsts. And I'll have quite a few new ones coming up in the near future, all quite gratifying.

Shin Godzilla. Far from a perfect movie, but it was great to have a theatrical release of a film with so many powerful, impressive moments.

Star Wars: Rogue One. Me, a Star Wars geek? Well, some people would say so. I quite enjoyed this one, maybe a bit more than last year's The Force Awakens, which I also liked a lot.

Numerous gatherings and/or geocaching outings with some of the best friends and family in the world — my daughter, Allison; my brother, Phred; Joe and Suzy Albanese; Doug Cox and Jenny Chapman; Scott Hager; Faun de Henry; Tom and Linda Imbus; Rob Isenhour; Tom Kidd; Bridget Langley; Robbin Lee; Terry and Beth Nelson; Debbie Shoffner; Cortney Skinner and Beth Massie; Sarah Stevens; Beth Walton (whom I'd not seen in too many years), Gretchen and Todd Wickliffe; and lots of others — forgive me if I didn't drop your name. And at the risk of being mean, this year saw the (hopefully permanent) departure of an individual or two from my sphere of influence who really needed to depart, for their sake and mine.

And, of course, Kimberly Brugger remains the one human being in my life who keeps me sane and relatively stable. This year will make seven years together, all of which were made better — even damn near perfect — by her presence, her energy, and her love. At times in the past, I thought I knew what it meant to love, to be in love. The hell I did. I wish I had, as it would have been fairer to all involved. Sometimes, I think, it takes a rough ride, even a wrong ride, to get where one is meant to be, if this is even possible. Maybe, just maybe, it is.

To all my readers, my friends, my peers, and the rest of you out there: please, be good to each other. Lord knows, if there's anyone who has a hard time with that, it's me, but I'm working at it. Truly.

Happy New One Day Closer to Death to all of us.

video 
The video of the fiery maelstrom shown in the photo above — one of several fiery maelstroms we produced.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

It's Time Again — Put Some Fear into Your New Year

JUST FOR NEW YEAR'S...

STARTING TODAY — 12/29/16 — and running for the next six days, you can 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 appreciated. Thanks!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Krakens, Krampuses, and Krankies

It was a fairly low-key Christmas for the Raineys, mainly due to Mum's ongoing health limitations. But it was generally good family time, with plenty of vittles, nice presents, and even a spot or two of exercise for the old man. For me, Christmas vacation began on Friday, which I spent on the hunt for a couple of caches in Burlington/Alamance County. Once home, I spent most of the rest of the day wrapping presents and preparing a big old pot of chili for Christmas Eve dinner.

Saturday, Brugger and I made our way to Martinsville by way of the nearby Grove Winery, same as we did last year on Christmas Eve. However, we didn't realize that they were closing at 3:00 PM this year, and it was 2:45 when we arrived. The proprietor, however, was kind enough to give us a couple of glasses, and I picked up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for later. Nice lady and I decided to proceed to M'ville and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine at the bar at Rania's, which, as I have no doubt indicated in this blog before, served as the inspiration for the bar in my novel, The Lebo Coven way back when. Once at Mum's, Ms. B. and I discovered a special visitor on the back porch — a Christmas bat, which was hanging on the wall beside the back door. I suspect the poor little guy was old and/or infirm, as he remained back there the whole weekend, alive but seemingly only just. Kind of sad, as I do like bats. Anyway, Ms. B. and I at last proceeded to get the chili fired up, which turned out perfect, and then we worked off a calorie or two on a long walk through the neighborhood around Lake Lanier, during which time I regaled the lady with endless stories about my childhood, most of which she had heard umpteen times. But taking these long walks does bring forth many vivid memories, and most are entertaining, at least to one of us. To continue one of our favorite annual Christmas Eve traditions, we finally planted ourselves in Mum's sunroom and watched the 10:00 PM showing of A Christmas Story, which still turns both of us into madly laughing fools. To be sure, this year, we're needing as many mad laughing fits as possible, so this was time well-spent. Some Kraken rum with eggnog made for the perfect nightcap, and finally something akin to Christmas spirit managed to settle in.

Christmas morning came a bit dreary but not cold, and I spent some time listening to Christmas tunes and sending scary, animated images of the Krampus to friends on Facebook before returning to the kitchen to help Ms. B. prepare a big dinner of chicken-ham-swiss cheese roll-ups with cheese and mushroom sauce, fresh asparagus, smashed potatoes, and assorted pies and cakes for afters. Brother Phred arrived late morning, and we proceeded to hurl gifts at each other. Made out nicely, with a new shirt, a CD collection of Ennio Morricone western scores, Lara Parker's newest Dark Shadows novel, a Michigan-shaped cutting board, and lots of other items both necessary and fun — some Krankies coffee from Brother Phred being among the most necessary.

Following the feast, naps overtook at least a couple of the troops, while I went out on walkabout through the woods and about wore myself out going up and down many of Martinsville's rolling hills, which have apparently gotten considerably longer and steeper than they were just a few years ago. Then came one of the day's true highlights — a visit from Todd and Gretchen Wickliffe, of whom I see far too little these days, since they rarely make it up from Atlanta, at least when I'm at Mum's. We spent a good couple of hours talking about life here and there, then and now, and shocking Mum with stories about how certain of us barely survived our childhoods. Of course I'm referring to the Wickliffe kids, as I would never have taken brazen risks or done anything monumentally foolish when I was a youngster.

For our evening's viewing pleasure, Ms. B. and I settled in the den and streamed Don't Breathe and Insidious on Amazon.com, which kept us occupied until well past midnight.

We arrived back in Greensboro early this afternoon, and I immediately headed out after a new cache over at the Laurel Bluff trail head on Lake Brandt Road. Retrieving this one required a fun terrain challenge, which I made doubly difficult by attempting it the old fashioned way — by climbing the tree — before playing it the way it was more or less meant to be played: by getting a boost from an appropriate elevation-increasing device, in this case, my car (see the sequencing diagram below).

Later this week, I anticipate a bit more geocaching and probably an enjoyable evening or two with Ms. B., but there is more than plenty of work to keep me busy, including a new piece of fiction I'm laboring over. Overall, it's bound to be better than this time last year, when Mum's health situation reached a crisis point. It's still very, very difficult for me, and knowing that she simply will never get better is both emotionally and physically taxing. The past few days have been more melancholy than truly happy, but there were many transcendent moments, with Mum, Brother Phred, Kimberly, and the Wickliffes. It's these times of recharging that keep me going, I think.

And I'll keep going, as there are people to see, stories to write, and caches to find.
Christmas lights at Lake Lanier. What the L?
The cauldron of Christmas Eve chili
Our little Christmas bat, who seems to have seen better days. Poor chap.
The bonny swans down at Lake Lanier. They came to see if I had any goodies for them. When they
determined that I did not, off they swam.
The emblem of our Kung Fu club when I was in ninth grade, circa 1974, carved in a beech tree back in
the woods behind the old homestead. "Marakumo no Tsurugi," it says, which I think means pretty much
nothing, although I had intended it to mean "Sword of Swords" or something such.
Krank up the Krankies, men!
How to find a little cache out on a long, narrow limb, step 1
How to find a little cache out on a long, narrow limb, step 2
How to find a little cache out on a long, narrow limb, step3

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Wretched Canticle


It's a rare and pleasant surprise when I learn that a band or musician has recorded a song based on one of my works of fiction, and last night, guitarist and vocalist (and former editor) Steve Sommerville, of the band Gates of Endor out of Raleigh, informed me that they had recorded a song inspired by my tale “Sabbath of the Black Goat,” which originally appeared in the Chaosium anthology The Shub-Niggurath Cycle (1994), edited by Robert M. Price. My story involves the discovery of a coven of witches in a remote area of North Carolina, and — naturally enough for one of my stories — these are not benign practitioners of Wicca or any such business but malevolent followers of the Lovecraftian title character. The Gates of Endor song is titled "A Wretched Canticle," and it takes the malevolence portrayed in my story to a whole new level. It's a heavy, driving heavy metal dirge that forgoes any of the quiet build-up of the story and skips straight to nerve-shattering terror, with pounding percussion; growling, screaming guitars; and coarse, raging, animalistic vocals by Mr. Sommerville. Now, make no mistake, I've never been a knocked-out fan of heavy metal, but once in a spell I enjoy a good dose of decibels, and there's a sense of sly fun about this piece that I find endearing.

You can can listen to "A Wretched Canticle" using the embedded link below, and visit Gates of Endor's Bandcamp site, featuring several of their compositions, here.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Orchestra of the Antisemite


I just chanced upon a kind review in a blog — from 2014 — of my story "Orchestra," which appeared in CD Publication's October Dreams some years ago. It's the same story that led at least one reviewer to conclude that I must surely be antisemitic because "only someone who harbors a hatred of Jewish people could come up with such a story." My character was an exceedingly nasty entity who sprang from Old Testament days; he did despise the Jews and acted on his hatred in unabashedly brutal fashion. However, attempting to psychoanalyze an author based on a single work is, to my mind, an exercise in futility, not to mention less than professional. In the case of "Orchestra," my delving into the character's deviant mindset was neither easy nor pleasant, yet in the context of the story, it served a crucial dramatic purpose. It's natural enough for readers to attempt to glean what they can of writers' personalities based on their writings; however, If authors — particularly those in the business of horror — were to be defined by the actions of their characters, most of us would have to be chained up and locked away. In my experience, many writers who've portrayed the worst possible human beings in their work are themselves individuals of the highest caliber. I'll not necessarily make that claim, but I think it's fair to say I'm anything but antisemitic. I'm actually a fairly well-rounded misanthrope. I'm pleased that this particular reviewer "got it."

Read the review here: "Orchestra" by Stephen Mark Rainey

Order October Dreams from Amazon.com

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Nightmare Music and More

This one goes out to my author friends, particularly those who specialize in works of the scary persuasion and who enjoy writing with something other than silence in the background. When I'm hard at work, I actually find silence distracting, so I generally write with music playing at low volume — preferably mellow tunes, with few or no lyrics, and that are rich in atmosphere. I listen to lots of smooth jazz, lounge music — samba, bossa nova, et. al. — and dark, ambient compositions that evoke the spirit of Halloween, regardless of the season. Relatively recently, I discovered the perfect writing companions on YouTube: several collections of moody, nightmarish music on the Cryo Chamber label, known as the Atrium Carceri project. Several videos are available, each running over an hour, with titles such as “Nightmare Music” (embedded above), “Ambient Winter Music,” “Alien Abduction Music,” “Dark Gothic Music of Abandoned Castles and Forgotten Temples,” and many others. For me, these provide the ideal soundtrack for whatever dark piece happens to be forthcoming from my brain at any given moment.

From the Cryo Chamber website:

“Atrium Carceri is a Swedish musical project by Simon Heath. Atrium Carceri’s albums incorporate cinematic themes that help make the sound that much more haunting. The perfect soundtracks to untold horror movies.... Atrium Carceri is typically described as dark ambient and industrial ambient music. Similar to projects like Lull and Lustmord, Atrium Carceri uses synthesizers, sound effects, field recordings, piano and other instrumentation to create 'slow rhythms, bitter melodies and complex textures' generally based on themes of desolation, loneliness (especially solitary confinement) and environmental decay.”

Naturally, one mustn't be a writer to enjoy these works — I figure they're bound to please about any aficionado of the outré, especially when played with the lights out. Hell, I'd happily write in the dark listening to this stuff if my eyes wouldn't think the rest of me was stupid. So listen to some Atrium Carceri for yourself, check out the many other offerings at Cryo Chamber, and have yourself some pleasant little nightmares.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Nothing at BuzzyMag.com

My investigative report of ghastly paranormal activity in your area... er... rather, my short story, "The Nothing," is now live at BuzzyMag.com. It's a tale I wrote a couple of years ago about a nothing that is actually something, and if you don't watch out, it might just do you in. Very scary.

Check it out for free right here: "The Nothing" at BuzzyMag.com

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Poor Ellen Smith, Haunted by the Grue, and Others

A fine and fun bunch of diverse geocaches I turned up in Winston-Salem yesterday, I can tell you. Everything from an unexpected venture into subterranean darkness; to a couple of healthy trail hikes; to navigating over bodies of water via rocks, logs, and pipes; to finding the site of a Victorian-era murder; to ascending trees. That right there is seriously good geocaching. Ms. B. and friend Beth had gotten together for a day of crafting in Winston, so my plan was to spend the day caching and then meet up with Terry, Beth, and Ms. B. for wine and dinner in the evening. The plan proved perfect.

The most enjoyable cache of the day was surely one called "Haunted by the Grue" (GC6AYAY) which took me to a restaurant near where my brother used to live. To my surprise, I found that the building had been constructed over Silas Creek, which flows beneath it, and the cache itself lay somewhere down below. The hint on the cache page gave me an idea of where I'd need to look, but I made the mistake of going underneath the building on the wrong side of the river. Once I determined my error, rather than take the long way around by clambering back up to ground level, I found a handy-dandy pipe to cross — only slightly precarious — and then managed to lay eyes on the cache readily. This is one of those that may not be for the claustrophobic or those who fear dank, dark spaces and/or subterranean monsters.
Handy-dandy bridge across Peters Creek
Although the cache itself was hidden in traditional manner, "Poor Ellen Smith" (GC6BV1C) took me to the reputed scene of a murder back in Victorian days, the story of which goes roughly as follows: Ellen Smith was a young woman who worked at the Zinzendorf Hotel (which itself had a brief, tragic history) and became enamored of a reckless, hard-drinking, pistol-carrying rake named Peter DeGraff, who may have also worked at the hotel. During their relationship, DeGraff may have fathered a child with her. Predictably, things went south for them, and at one or the other's request, Ellen went to meet DeGraff in the woods behind the hotel (now the site of the cache). DeGraff shot her at close range with his pistol and left her there to die. At first, the authorities did little to apprehend him, until he was reportedly seen in the woods, attempting to bring Ellen back. Supposedly, he was heard to exclaim "Ellen, if you are in heaven, arise. If you are in hell, remain there." DeGraff was eventually captured and sentenced to be hanged. He protested that he was innocent until the end, yet as he went to the gallows, he proclaimed, "I stand here today to receive my just reward. I again say to the people here, beware of bad women and whiskey. Don't put your hands on cards, bad women, and dice. Hear my dying words."
The famous Walking Tree of Dahomey

The hotel Zinzendorf was a massive, four-story wooden structure, completed and opened in early 1892, only to burn to the ground later that same year.

More information about Ellen Smith and Peter DeGraff may be found at "Murder by Gaslight." There is also a recording on the site of a folk song about the murder by Estil C. Ball.

Horror of horrors, at one cache, I lost my pen, which resulted in me having to scratch my initials in the log book of the next with a mud-covered stick. However, on returning to the previous cache, I found not only my original pen but another stuck in the mud along Silas Creek, so, as that pen still worked, I not only came out to the better, I avoided a lifelong loss-of-writing-pen trauma. At another cache, I found what I'm certain must be the famous Walking Tree of Dahomey, pictured above left. And while strolling along a roadway near Winston-Salem State University, I happened upon a single reindeer antler lying in the gutter, the ghastly remains of some hideous crime, almost certainly the work of a grandma, driven by vengeance after Rudolph's merciless mowing down of one of her aged compadres.
Someone call the fire department, please.

The last cache of the day found me up a tree. Not all that high up a tree, but somehow at an angle that made it difficult to twist around that I might lower myself gracefully back to earth. While I pondered my situation, I sat in the limbs typing out my cache notes and online log, all the while watching the sun go down and wondering whether I might ought to call the fire department to rescue me. After some time and effort, I managed to extricate my foot from the branches that were causing my dilemma, and with a stylistic flourish, I dropped to the ground, only to catch my arm on the limb that had caused my foot to hang, abrading my forearm sufficiently to elicit a very minor naughty word. But as my friend Robgso says, "No blood, no fun," so this little bloodletting just meant that the fun was flowing.

The only damper on the day was discovering that some useless piece of shit masquerading as a human being got hold of my bank card information and had been attempting to make a significant number of purchases between here and Durham. Fortunately, the bank caught things pretty quickly, and I'll get the missing money back. I'll be without a bank card for a few days. But it's been scam-and-theft central lately, and I'm of a mind that setting these motherfuckers on fire is way too good for them. May they burn for extended periods, no ifs, ands, or buts.

May your holidays be merry and scam-and-theft free. Don't fall out of any trees.
Reindeer got run over by a grandma.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Eat, Drink, and Be Wary

Whatever its historical significance, Thanksgiving Day, for all of my days, has been reserved for family and dearest friends, a Rainey tradition that I value above most others. Particularly these past few years, as life has become more complicated with age, celebrating Thanksgiving has served as a kind of bleeder valve for the accumulated stress of the year, especially now that dealing with my mom's health situation is taking an ever-increasing percentage of my life. This year especially, politics has become such a consuming, contentiousness thing between friends, neighbors, and families, I think a lot of people need a big time out to evaluate their priorities. So much because of the media — social and otherwise — the country has become a big pressure cooker, and the longer things go on this way, the more violent the release is bound to be. I've resolved to do my best to be as positive an influence as I can be, I don't care who you are or what your politics are. I figure that either we build bridges now, or there's going to be a conflagration somewhere down the line that none of us are going to like. Personally, I'd like to see more good years ahead, for you, for me, for all of us.

Today was the perfect day for focusing on bringing down my blood pressure, which, despite a daily regimen of Losartan HCl, has crept upward to levels I can't sustain (though the amount of butter and salt in some of the day's feast might not have been quite the recipe for vascular health). I'm at my mom's in Martinsville more than frequently, yet I rarely get out and about visiting my old haunts except on holiday visits. So, this evening, after the Big Eat, I hoofed it around some of the woods in the neighborhood that are thankfully still intact after all these decades. As a wee youngster, those woods were a source of both wonders and nightmares, for in those days there were things out there that made strange sounds, that kept me awake at night, that surely watched me from the shadows with anything but benevolent intentions.
A massive, five-trunk Ghostwood that towers
over the surrounding trees

Down in the valley along Indian Trail, there's a meandering creek where I frequently played (and where I once managed to step, barefoot, into the shards of a broken bottle, resulting in a passel of stitches and some of the worst physical pain I've ever known). I encountered my first copperhead down there, which, in its anger at being disturbed, pursued me for what must have been many miles up the street. Around age eight or nine, I happened upon an injured opossum stuck in a mire; at first, I noticed only its thrashing tail, which I thought was a snake. "Snake!" I yelled in warning to my little brother. Then, when I realized it was actually a critter with burning red eyes and great big tuskies sticking out of its mouth, I hollered, "No, it's an armadillo or a rat or a pig or something!" This one didn't like me any better than the copperhead had, but at least it didn't chase me. A bunch of us kids used to play army down there, in an area that was greener and lusher than any of the rest of the woods, and that we called "Vietnam." I wouldn't be surprised if, somewhere down there, the remains of countless plastic model tanks that I set on fire and blew up with firecrackers are buried and awaiting excavation. There's something of gorge across which lots of fallen trees made handy bridges, though if my parents had known we were crossing them at admittedly dangerous heights, they would have killed me dead, such that I could not be writing about them all these many years later. This particular spot we called The Spider Pit, after the ravine in the original King Kong. I'm pretty sure that real dinosaurs lived there.

As a history buff, I would love to know more about the actual location. Along the hillside, paralleling the residential street, there are remains of what was once a road of some sort. In the years before I was born, it was clearly part of a large farm, and even when I was a youngster, there was an old, abandoned horse's stable (I seem to recall the horse's name was Frankie) and a wooden bridge across the creek, both now long gone, although one rotting beam of the old bridge remains. The story went that, as the horse was crossing the bridge, either the bridge collapsed or something caused the horse to fall, but in any event, the horse died. Other kids told me that, at night, you could still hear the horse crying out, and though I listened for it, I never heard any such thing. Alas! Many years ago, either from something I read or was told, I gathered a spur from a rail line ran through this area, which possibly could account for the cut along the hillside. But this is mere speculation, and I'd have to do some serious research to learn about this immediate area in the days before I lived here. The most famous local legend is that of Sam Lions, a slave from pre-Civil War days who escaped a heartless landowner, who eventually had him killed. One of the roads in the neighborhood is named for him. An account may be found here: The Legend of Sam Lion

As I was heading home, I came upon a massive flock of turkey buzzards settling into the trees for the evening behind Lakemont Court. I made a video, though it doesn't capture the magnitude of the sound they made — hundreds and hundreds of the huge scavengers, their wings beating and rustling, the trees alive with them, limbs thrashing beneath the weight of the interlopers. If one weren't aware of what was actually making that noise, one might think the sky was falling.

Thus draws another Thanksgiving Day to its close — gratifying, relaxing, stimulating. And it's put me right where I needed to be to get to work on my next terror tale. Scary? You betcha.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.
All that remains of Frankie's Bridge. In all my years here, unfortunately, I never heard
the crying of a ghostly horse.
The area that I used to call "The Spider Pit," after the ravine scene in King Kong. There were always trees fallen
across the gorge — obviously not the same ones seen here, 40+ years later.
All that remains of what might have been a road or rail bed from the days long before I was born.
The mouth of a little underground channel at the creek along Indian Trail

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Old Farts at the Center of the Earth

Evil Rodan in the deep, dark underground

It's been many moons since Team Old Fart — Rob "Robgso," Robbin "Rtmlee" (a.k.a. "Yoda Rob"), Scott "Diefenbaker," and Old Rodan — got together for big a day of geocaching. But at long last, get together we did, and today we hit the northern Chapel Hill area, primarily to get in some hiking and caching at Hollow Rock Park, but afterward figuring to go hunting wherever the wind blew us. Happily, that wind (quite a brisk one) blew us a) into the depths of the earth, and b) to Dickey's BBQ Pit for lunch. We had not really pre-planned an underground venture, although I had noted there were a couple such caches in close proximity to the park — at least one of which I had visited in my earliest days of geocaching, before I had any idea there might be caches hidden in the drains, culverts, and hidden passages deep below ground. Here, the hider is one who is known to possess an exceptionally evil mind (Christian "Vortexecho," sometimes called "Gone2Far"), and the two we found today, while enjoyable and even a little challenging, were far from his most insane (see "Pandora's Box" for a fine example of his devilish mind at work). So after our hike, we decided to see what we could see by the lights of our puny little flashlights in the depths of the earth.
Looking down from the cache at "Concrete Tomb"

"Concrete Tomb" (GC1JZBX) was the first of our subterranean targets. The method of accessing this one became quickly apparent, and getting into the pipe without falling into some deep water proved to be a challenge that a casual onlooker probably would have found hysterical. Once inside, it was not far to ground zero, but snagging the cache itself required a relatively minor physical challenge that, had it gone wrong, likely would have resulted in either extreme wetness or a concussion. Nothing so untoward happened, but I was a little nonplussed when I pulled the container from its hiding place and Diefenbaker, with a nasty chuckle, told me I had just missed grabbing a rather sizeable spider that was lurking behind the cache. Whoopee shit, Mr. D. Anyway, getting back out involved something of a reprise of the maneuver we used to get inside, only in reverse, and I credit Yoda Rob's timely presence that prevented me swamping myself in the swamp.
Diefenbaker signs the log at
"I'll Show You Evil!"

It was back in 2008 that I first visited "I'll Show You Evil!" (GC1FBNG), and I spent lord knows how long poking around a sealed manhole cover, thinking there must be a brilliantly camouflaged container somewhere around it. Nope. Not around it — somewhere under it. But the only way to access the passage is to find the pipe that leads to it. Here, that could have been one excruciating challenge, had not Mr. Lee already experienced the joy of this particular evil hide. He led us to where we needed to be, and we knew by way of our GPS coordinates that we were in for a lengthy underground journey. Now, Old Robgso has never developed a fondness for the underground cache set, and initially it was his intention to sit it out while the rest of us went culvert diving. But peer pressure can be a powerful thing, and by the time we hunched ourselves over and crept into the pipe, Old Rob was with us. Now, I won't come out and say there followed a lot of swearing, caterwauling, and peeing of drawers, but there might have followed a lot of swearing, caterwauling, and peeing of drawers. Regardless, by the time we reached our destination, it wouldn't be unfair to say that Old Rob was enjoying himself. I've done enough of these underground hides that I'm relatively comfortable in the dark depths, but this one was of sufficient length to require a couple of rest stops, and there were sounds in the distance that made us think a) there might be a monster in there with us or b) there might be a monster in there with us. Clearly, since I'm here composing this account, the monster didn't get us, but the thing I glimpsed when I looked back, just before exiting the pipe, appeared not a little bit friendly and even less human.*

As I mentioned above, the ill wind that blew us underground also blew us right to Dickey's BBQ Pit for lunch, and a fine lunch of beef brisket and onion tanglers it was. For a chain restaurant, Dickey's pretty damn well rocks.

We picked up a good many other caches over the course of the day, but it was the challenge of the underground that made it all quite special. That, and the great company of old farts, who have been much missed on recent caching excursions. Old Farts Unite!

*I realized later that this was just Diefenbaker.
Mad men
L: What do you suppose that is up there? R: And the old man swore he'd never cache in such a place!
Rob and Rob taking a break from the rigors of traveling through the pipe — uphill, both ways.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Arts, Crafts, Caching, and Cowfish

Old Rodan amid the ruins of some mysterious, ancient 20th-century civilization
As a respite from the political madness in the aftermath of the November 11 election, Ms. B. and I ventured forth to Raleigh at the crack of dawn this morning, she for an arts-and-crafts seminar she's been wanting to take, and I for some geocaching, topped off with possibly the strangest lunch I've ever eaten at Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar and then some wine at Vinos Finos. Didn't find all that many caches — several were clearly gone after some serious flooding a while back, and I spent a good while on ill-fated hunts for a couple of very difficult ones — but I did get in some very enjoyable hiking in a few different wooded areas in north Raleigh. Somewhere along the line, I managed to shed the tiniest amount of blood, so I guess by Robgso's definition of fun, I had me some.
Not much sense of scale in this photo,
but this wall of boulders, with a number
of bore holes in them, along the Crabtree
Creek Trail, is quite huge

Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar is an interesting little joint, offering all kinds of strange fusion dishes (known as "burgushi") featuring sushi and other Asian treats blended with traditional American burgers and general comfort food. I had "Nature Boy's WOOOOO-shi BuffalOOOOO-shi Roll," consisting of sautéed chipotle bison, fried green tomato, grilled onions, feta cheese, and tempura flakes, topped with fresh green tomato, chipotle aioli, diced tomato, red onion, and jalapeño pepper. Yeah, it was good, not something I'd want very frequently, though. Ms. B. ordered "The Taste Explosion Roll," with beef, applewood bacon, jalapeños, spicy mayo, and tempura flakes, topped with Roma tomato, pepper jack cheese, and cashew cilantro pesto. We swapped a few pieces, and I might have actually preferred hers.

Happily, with all the reports of threats and attacks against minorities of every sort, in Raleigh, we saw people of every color, young, old, some no doubt gay, perhaps a few transgender folks, all going on about their business, playing with their kids, generally making the world move as it ought. I hope this will continue to be the norm in America.

Thank you very much and good-night.
A little waterfall at Lassiter Mill Park
Entertaining structures in a green area near Eastgate Park
Lunch — a bison sushi roll

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Damned Rodan's Doomsday Chicken Salad

It's been some time since I've posted a recipe, and since I just whipped up what is easily the best chicken salad I've ever et, perhaps it's time I did. Naturally, with a spur-of-the-moment concoction such this, all kinds of variations are possible, so I'll just share with you How I Did It. This recipe makes about two large sandwiches; adjust amounts accordingly.

WHAT YOU NEED:
Meat from one roasted chicken breast, shredded
Hard-boiled egg, chopped
Large stalk of celery, diced
1/4 medium yellow onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped very fine
1/4 cup chopped green olives
1/2 Carolina Reaper pepper, chopped very fine (for peppers of lesser megatonnage,
     such as habanero, use a whole pepper)
Tbsp mayonnaise
Tbsp cracked pepper Ranch dressing
Tsp sriracha (or chili garlic sauce)
Bread for two sandwiches (I prefer Arnold honey wheat sandwich thins)
Dash cracked black pepper
Dash celery salt
Dash garlic salt

WHAT YOU DO:
Mix ingredients together and dump on your bread, preferably with a couple of lettuce leaves to help cool things. Consume with glee, and then run around the neighborhood screaming, "MOTHER OF GOD, what have I done?"

You're welcome.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Secret History of Twin Peaks


I've been a knocked-out Twin Peaks geek since I sat in my living room on April 8, 1990, got halfway through the pilot, and blurted out to whoever was in the room with me, "This is the best damn television show I've ever seen." After having watched the original two seasons and the follow-up/prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, countless times over, my opinion has changed little. While the critical consensus that the show went off the rails after the first half of the second season is anything but ill-founded, even those episodes still engage, and the second-season finale, directed by David Lynch, is a mind-blowing masterpiece. And yes, damn those cliff-hangers, yet and still it was the not knowing that sparked so much speculation about the show — more specifically, about the characters and their fates — and spurred fan interest that has only blossomed over the decades. My view of Fire Walk With Me also bucks the majority opinion that it was a train wreck featuring a few scattered moments of brilliance. No ma'am, the more times I watch that film, the more I find to dissect, to revel in, to question, to be glad in not knowing all the answers. It's David Lynch doing what David Lynch does best, and oh, my lord, would I ever love to see a director's cut of this monster. Of course I am all revved for the Showtime revival set for next year; at the moment, I don't have Showtime, but there is always a way.

I picked up The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, the show's co-creator, knowing little about the book, only that it fills in some gaps while leaving many unaddressed, and that it ostensibly sets up some plot points and possible characterizations for the upcoming series. For a book like this, reviewing it without spoilers is a tricky prospect, so if you proceed, you may encounter them. Be on your guard.

Though it's called "a novel," the book is structured as a dossier compiled by an individual known as "The Archivist," who clearly has connections to both Twin Peaks and certain government agencies (fans of the show will almost certainly guess his/her identity quickly). In turn, the dossier is being investigated by an FBI agent, whose hand is shown primarily in the copious footnotes that accompany the text. The documents in question include top secret government papers, personal correspondence and diaries, excerpts from local news stories, transcripts of interviews, and more. From these documents, a picture of the strange forces at work in and around Twin Peaks begins to take shape, starting in the earliest days of the nation, with fact and fiction intermingling so that one is barely recognizable from the other. From writings by explorers Lewis and Clark, we learn of the discovery of two mountains near a river with a great waterfall, a small circle of sycamores, and a mysterious cave. A fair portion of the book focuses on the plight of the Nez Perce tribe in the area and their interactions with both the US government and those same otherworldly forces first encountered by Lewis and Clark. From there, the mysterious 1947 incidents at Roswell, NM, occupy a significant portion of the novel's word count, tying into the alluring but little-explored events in the series that involved Major Garland Briggs (Don S. Davis).
Doug Milford after joining
the US Army, circa 1941

Throughout the novel, we do get to discover more about some of the local personalities that were prominent in the series, with the most attention paid to Sheriff Harry Truman (Michael Ontkean); Deputy Tommy (Hawk) Hill (Michael Horse); Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn); Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie); Josey Packard (Joan Chen); Mayor Dwayne Milford (John Boylan); Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill); Nadine Hurley (Wendy Robie); Margaret Coulson, a.k.a. "The Log Lady" (Catherine Coulson); Carl Rodd (Harry Dean Stanton, from Fire Walk With Me); and others, including relevant information about their parents, siblings, and various significant family members. Perhaps the most surprising revelation of character involves the mayor's brother, Doug Milford (Tony Jay ), who, in the show, was the most minor of minor players, known primarily as the publisher of the town newspaper (The Twin Peaks Post) and the ill-fated husband of vixen Lana Buddig (Robyn Lively). In The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Doug Milford comes out front and center, with author Frost building a complex, lifelong history for him that, within the context of the TV series, one would never have suspected (very possibly the reason Frost chose this particular character to imbue with such dramatic significance). At first, Frost's decision to center the story on Doug Milford didn't ring quite true, but over the course of the story, that focus became less jarring and more comprehensible, especially as its ultimate scope became apparent.

The murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and the fate of her father, Leland (Ray Wise), are granted little more than passing mention near the end of the book, but given that the first season and a half of the series — plus Fire Walk With Me — revolved almost entirely around that mystery, further delving into the superficial facts of it here would have seemed redundant. Happily, however, a number of loose ends from the series are given closure, such as the outcome of the explosion in the bank at which Audrey Horne (Sherilynn Fenn), Pete Martell (Jack Nance), and Andrew Packard (Dan O'Herlihy) were present. We have a tribute to the Log Lady, ostensibly for the Twin Peaks Post, as lovingly rendered as if it were intended for the late actress who played her, Catherine Coulson.
Page from the journal of explorer Wayne Chance,
circa 1875, showing a rendering of the map
discovered on the wall of Owl Cave

The most intriguing aspects of The Secret History of Twin Peaks are the back stories for the characters that offer insight into their personalities that may or may not have been exposed during the series' run, and the explorations of outré events related to but not necessarily showcased in the series. Given the book's focus on mysteries and secrets, which include but are not limited to Twin Peaks, geographically and thematically, one might expect more delving into the Black Lodge and its inhabitants, yet these are given relatively little coverage. However, at the end of the book, the Archivist's conclusions regarding universal mysteries absolutely encompass the essence of the Lodge, and in fact open the way for continued exploration, likely to be set up in the upcoming Showtime series.

To be sure, The Secret History of Twin Peaks is not aimed at the casual reader, but rather to those geeks such as myself who have made the show not just a source of entertainment but a passion. Given Twin Peaks' structure, open to so much individual interpretation, it is natural that this book might not jive with conclusions drawn by many fans over the 25 years since the show aired. But with this book, Mark Frost has done a commendable job drawing fans back into the town, the characters, the mysteries of Twin Peaks. I blazed through the book cover to cover, but there's enough material within to warrant a revisit, especially in that — just like the series — repeated visits may reveal secrets missed in the initial experience.

The audio book features members of the cast — including Kyle MacLachlan (Special Agent Dale Cooper), Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Lawrence Jacoby), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings), David Patrick Kelly (Jerry Horne), Amy Shiels, James Morrison, Robert Knepper, and Annie Wersching — narrating passages that pertain to the characters they played (or will play). That, as well, may be a purchase worth making.

Without question, I will be revisiting this book, perhaps as often as I have revisited the series itself. Four and a half out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
The Twin Peaks sign for the upcoming Showtime series. Twin Peaks' actual population is supposed to be 5,120—
the extra digit is explained away as a "misprint." In reality, the network insisted that the show appear to take place
in a larger town as, in 1990, since it felt audiences wouldn't be receptive to another series set in a small town.