Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bummed


Our next-door neighbors of the past four years, Paul and Jamie (whom I've mentioned many times hereabouts, pictured), left today to move out west, so a big old wave of depression has fallen upon me. They're a young couple — about the same age as our daughter — and Jamie is well on her way to becoming a psychologist, as she passed her dissertation last month. When they moved in back in 2004, we hit it off right away, and we've good friends ever since. Since March of this year, they've been our regular geocaching partners, and we've had a slew of great adventures out on the trail (not to mention underground). We knew they were going to be moving at some point, but it always seemed somewhere off in the future. Not anymore.

In all the years Peg and I have been married, we haven't really had neighbors that we could just pop in and out with, share dinner on one of our respective patios whenever we felt like it, look after each other's critters, watch movies on weekends, and all that nice stuff. They are just good, good people, and I'm glad we had these past few years to spend together. I really hope their move is everything they want it to be.

Last night, we had a final dinner together. They left us a photo of them and a really beautiful note, so we have that reminder.

I am so going to miss these folks.

I did get a little cheerer-upper this evening; a noteworthy and well-paying publication wants to use one of my older stories in an upcoming issue, so that's one of those deals I can't rightly refuse. No details just now, but definitely later.

And I hiked four miles on the trail this afternoon. A wee bit pooped, yes we are.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yellowjacket Hell

That was our front porch for the past couple of weeks. We've had this old chair sitting out there, which should have been dumped years ago, but Mrs Death has always enjoyed sitting in it when going out to have a smoke. Several days back, she sat down, and a couple of very rude yellowjackets came round and stung her on the arm. I took a look at the chair, and sure enough, a horde of the little bastards had made a nest underneath it. I hit the nest with some Raid, but that was only sufficient to kill a handful; the rest of them got riled. Four stings on the leg for me.

So I let them be for a time, but the nest got bigger and bigger, and after a time, the porch pretty much no longer belonged to us.

Last night, we hosted a surprise party at our place for Sir William Bill Trotter, so I made up my mind to wage all-out war on the interlopers before our guests arrived.

Phase 1: Removing the Nest
I have to get dangerously close to the nest to loop a long cord around the legs of the chair, and several buzz by on a recon mission, but I just smile and wave, allaying their suspicions. "Stupid human would not have audacity to meddle in yellowjacket affairs," and all that. Guess what, rabble.

Giving myself a good twenty feet of slack, I go out into the yard and began pulling. I drag that chair clean off the porch and into the yard, and now the horde is all abuzz, zooming here and there, creating one helluva dark cloud over the chair. I tug that chair to the edge of the yard, now having to dodge the occasional angry scout.

Phase 2: The Garden Hose
With the chair and the main part of the nest now a good fifty feet from the house, I hit the nest with a high-pressure stream, which in no time dislodges it from the chair and stirs up yet another cloud of critters, which soon cover up the whole sky. I'm about thirty feet from the chair, but one of the fuckers finds me and zaps me on the shin. An ugly war wound.

After about ten minutes, the chair is a sopping mess but appears critter-free. Now I return my attention to the front porch, which is alive with the things, and I realize there was a second nest (or perhaps an outpost of the first) in a big cardboard box that had been behind the chair. I turn the water on the box for a full half hour and watch streams of dead and dying yellowjackets gushing over the edge of the porch into the shrubs. But the main cloud shows little sign of thinning, and I realize that, in order to turn off the water, I must get within ten feet of the furious horde.

I make a fast dash to the spigot, then a quantum leap back out to the yard. No stings this time.

Phase 3: First Raid!
For good measure, I bring out the bug spray and hit the chair, which actually still contains quite a few very angry vescula squamosas. Five minutes later, there appears to be nothing left alive. However, there are still plenty crawling around the devastated nest on the ground — which is now surrounded by thousands of larva that have fallen out of it. Ants are carrying away larva by the score, and though I'm tempted to let them have their way, I'm taking no chances. A few good barrages of Raid, and this corner of battlefield is a graveyard: nothing, absolutely nothing is left alive.

Phase 4: Second Raid!
The porch remains abuzz for another four hours. With guests on the way, I know it will be bad news if they come to the front door, so I put up a sign directing them around back. Then, as the sun begins to set, the yellowjackets retreat into the drenched but evidently still functional box. Let no mortal combat interfere with the regularly scheduled beauty sleep!

WIth the garden claw, I open up the top of the box and am stunned — STUNNED, I tell you — to see that THOUSANDS of the enemy still survive, and are arranged in the most beautiful, symmetrical rows in the bottom of the box. Their numbers make my heart tremble, for if they should suddenly converge on me...

But no...they're right where I want them.

I close the box except for one corner, which I bend upward to create an opening. Then, through it, I apply a constant stream of Raid until the can is almost empty. A few of the beasts come buzzing out and attack the porchlight, making themselves relatively easy targets for the remaining spray. They weave in the air and then plummet. Others stagger out of the box and keel over, and as more and more of them pile up on the porch, the floor becomes a vast, mass yellowjacket grave. This is a grim but awe-inspiring sight.

Within ten minutes, no sign of life remains.

Later, a few solitary survivors zoom around the house in confusion. Before bedtime, I take a final look at the porch.

It is done.

The Aftermath
This morning, I take a look into the box. It's loaded with corpses, and thousands of them litter the floor. The chair is removed to the street, where it will be picked up with the trash this week.

But now I am hearing a constant buzzing, somewhere in the distance. I'm not sure I like the suggestion of airborne shapes that flicker past my window or even through the living room. I've seen a couple of wasps watching me suspiciously, as if aware that I might have had something to do with the wanton destruction of a number of their distant kin. Now and again, I feel the creepy-crawlies, as if something is walking around the back of my neck.

If something happens to me, I want you to know I only did what I had to. It was a righteous battle, and I regret nothing.

I fear I must soon visit WalMart to buy more Raid.

Yes. I must have more.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Back in the Shadows Again


Dark Shadows, that is. I've written an audio drama script for Big Finish Productions (UK), tentatively titled Dark Shadows: Path of Fate, and it's currently in production. David Selby and Lara Parker, from the original TV series, appear their respective roles as Quentin Collins and Angelique Bouchard. (Well, their voices "appear," anyway.)

The release date has not been finalized, but I anticipate late 2008, early 2009. The production will be available on CD and MP3 download.

Yes, that's the script, whose deadline(s) kept me hopping for a while. Whee-ew!

Friday, July 25, 2008

If You Know About It, It Knows About You...

Want an autographed copy of the trade paperback edition of my new collection, Other Gods, from Dark Regions—for free?

"If you know about it, it knows about you. If you see it, it will come for you."

That's a quote from one of my stories. The title of that story appears in several places on my Web site, including the Other Gods info page. Visit The Realm of Stephen Mark Rainey, find the story's title in the text or contents list of one or more of my books (not in a head or subhead), and click on it. It doesn't appear as a regular link, but you'll know if you find it.

Note: a purchase is required, but I think you'll find it one helluva bargain. Enjoy....

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wampus Cat

A couple of weeks back, I made mention of the Wampus Cat (Grendel? Wampus Cat? Larry Talbot?). Here's the answer:

The Wampus Cat is a critter out of southern folklore—originally eastern Tennessee, I'm told, but the legend also found a comfortable home in the mountains of western North Carolina. When I was a youngster and went to summer camp in the NC mountains, it was easily the most chilling of the many tales that counselors and elderly locals told us to scare us out of our pants. Let it be known that I left at least a drawerful of pants back at Camp Cheerio, circa 1968.

Now, I love me some folklore. The legend tells us that, once upon a time, a young Indian woman, curious about the magical powers of the tribe's medicine man, dressed herself in the skin of a mountain lion and followed him so she could watch him do his thing. Alas, in those distinctly non-feminist days of yore, women were strictly forbidden from witnessing acts of magic. The medicine man caught her and, to punish her for her wicked ways, turned her into a half-woman, half-cat creature, doomed to roam the Appalachian forests from there on out. Eventually, in her misery, she went insane, which—as you might guess—did not bode well for the local population.

Back at camp, nobody knew where the Wampus Cat came from. They only knew that it was real and preyed on youngsters who converged on the NC mountains every summer from points all over the country. My introduction to the Wampus Cat was the story of a couple of young campers who didn't heed their counselors' warnings and wandered into the woods by themselves late one afternoon. They never came back, so a search party went looking for them. Just as the sun was going down, the men came upon a big wall made out of fallen timber, and atop a couple of the posts were the heads of the missing children. About that time, a huge catlike creature that walked on two legs appeared and leaped right at the rescuers. One of them shot the thing several times—which didn't kill it but dissuaded it from attacking just long enough for the men to run to safety—with the monster on their heels the whole way.

The next story was accompanied by photographic evidence. In this one, a number of campers and counselors went for an overnight campout on Snake Island, which was a tiny little island at one end of the local lake (this was also the place where I saw my first copperhead in the wild; a cute little thing). Just at sunset that evening, a rustling noise came from the lake bank. One of the counselors produced a camera just in time to photograph a huge, catlike creature leaping into the air, onto the island, and then to the opposite lakebank. The photo was posted in the camp's main office, and was frequently passed around to show us kids that, yes, the Wampus Cat was out there, and, no, we ought not wander off anywhere on our own.

Sure, as far as I knew, the blurry photo of the creature silhouetted against the sky might have been some counselor's housecat that he tossed up in the air, but back in those days...holy canoli, it was proof. There really was a Wampus Cat, and that sucker could do some serious leaping. I was so impressed that, when our group went out to Snake Island for an overnight campout, I was not among them. I stayed safe and snug in the cabin that night and listened to great horned owls laughing at me.

I did, however, work up the nerve to sleep out under the stars one night right outside the cabin, along with several other intrepid campers.

Oh, it was a dark night; no stars, no moon; just a lot of nightbirds and insects yammering away. And the sound of something nearby going thump.

Thump. And THUMP! Getting closer and closer.

Yeah, there went one pair of drawers.

Then something went THUMP!—right on my little noggin, and young Mark screamed so loud people heard me at Myrtle Beach, 400 miles away.

Turns out that we had parked our sleeping bags right under an apple tree, and the apples were engaged in a series of Newtonian experiments, to which we were unwitting witnesses.

Apart from that really special photo, I never actually saw hide or hair of the Wampus Cat. But let me tell you, that pussy sure made a man out of me. From that night night on, I've never had the slightest fear of apples. I must wonder if those young campers who were with me could make the same claim.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hell Is Just Ahead

In my near-daily hunt for geocaches, I'm continually discovering new places in and around Greensboro. There are still miles and miles of trails I haven't gotten to yet, and each trail I find strikes me as more scenic or interesting than the last. Yesterday, I put in three miles on a portion of the Nat Greene trail that I'd never hiked, and today, despite high heat and humidity, I did a good four miles on the Laurel Bluff trail. I'm bushed and a little sore, but the hike was a real experience, and I wish I had taken my camera with me. At one point, I passed a cairn-like pile of stones with an old, rusted tricycle mounted atop them. That's not really something I see all that often.

In these southern woods, beech trees are everywhere, and if you've ever seen a beech, you probably saw lots of initials and messages carved into its trunk. After all, what else is that smooth, gray bark there for? One beech on the Laurel Bluff trail bears the message, "Hell Is Just Ahead," and it's dated 1961. (Needless to say, there's a nearby cache bearing the same title.)

In contrast to the Nat Greene trail, which was brimming with hikers and mountain bikers yesterday, there appeared to be nary a soul besides myself in the woods today. It was remarkably quiet, though the wildlife was plentiful. Saw quite a few deer, rabbits, frogs, a luna moth caterpillar, and...a black squirrel. Now I've seen plenty of gray squirrels and red squirrels, but I've never come upon a black one. Okay, maybe he had been playing under a parked car somewhere and gotten covered in grease, as my dog used to do when I was a kid, who knows? But anyway...he was black.

I saw this harbinger of odd things just as I came upon Hell Is Just Ahead. And right about then, a great horned owl started hooting somewhere nearby. A beautiful, melancholy sound; a little eerie, even. I do love those owls, even if they are not what they seem. Appropriately, I dropped a Twin Peaks postcard into the cache. The next one wasn't too far away, so I decided to bushwhack straight to it rather than return to the trail. This was when things got a little odd.

Apparently, I had entered the wrong coordinates in my GPS for that next cache because I ended up heading south rather than north, which was away from where I knew the cache ought to be. Soon, I came upon the foundation of an old house out in the woods, and then I heard low, furtive voices not too far away. I felt distinctly uncomfortable, so I started back toward the trail, heading due north.

I walked...and walked...and walked...but the trail seemed to have vanished. By this time, I'm starting to feel like I'm in The Blair Witch Project—though in a version cast with a lone dude who is far more dashing and resourceful than the original cast members, and armed with a bamboo whacky stick. I bring up the coordinates to the next cache, which is about a half mile away, and head straight for it. When I get there, I find the trail again. For the rest of the hike, I resolve to stay on it.

On the way back, the trail did nothing funky; it ran pretty much true east-west, and I never did see the divergence that had led me up to the old foundation. What happened, I'm fairly certain, is that bizarre forces altered space for a brief period, intending to deliver me to those unknown parties carrying on furtively near the old remains. However, when said forces realized that, yow, that guy's got a bamboo whacky stick, they thought better of it and put me right back where I belonged.

Smart, those bizarre forces.

It was a good hike. Six out of six caches found. That makes a total of 407, I believe.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Dark Regions Special

I usually try to avoid a lot of noise and bluster and keep salesmanship fairly low-key around here. However, YOU GOTTA GO GET THIS PACKAGE FROM DARK REGIONS. It's a four-book lot that includes the trade paperback edition of my new collection, Other Gods, along with Proverbs for Monsters by Michael A. Arnzen, Vectors: A Week In The Death of a Planet by Charlee Jacob & Marge Simon, and Songs of Silver by Laura J. Underwood. You get the lot for 40% off, and right now, there's probably not a better deal on the planet, unless you get, like, free gasoline for the rest of your life or something.

I always recommend ordering from Horror Mall, as it's proven to be as speedy and reliable as booksellers come. So go here: Dark Regions 40% Off Sale. That's four books for $39.95 plus shipping. It's very safe to say you'll get more than more your money's worth.



(Read mine first.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

It Ain't Just Bastille Day...



...It's also Mrs Death's birthday. Happy birfday, Mrs Death! (For anyone who isn't aware, Mrs Death is the wife.) She sure is old!



(Okay, I'll be back in a couple of years, after the wounds heal.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Happiness Is...


1,200 tracks by Akira Ifukube (Godzilla, kith and kin) on your iPod.

A dirty martini with habanero pepper–stuffed olives.

A contract for the script you've labored over for weeks, with payment on the way.

A new short story acceptance.

Enough money to buy gasoline to get to the friggin' office this week.

Well, four out of five ain't bad. Who needs to go to the office anyway?

Monday, July 7, 2008

P.S. Chicago

Oh, yeah. Some things have changed in Chicago. Used to be that if you stopped your car at a stoplight, somebody would come out, clean your windshield, and hope you'd fling a couple of bucks his way. I guess too many of them got run over doing that, because now I've discovered that if you stop walking, some fucker will come up, start cleaning your shoes before you can say "My kingdom for a Hoveround," and demand eight dollars.

Well, no, I didn't run over the guy. I didn't give him eight bucks, either.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

RDU to ORD and Back

Chicago is still there, all right. I saw it with my own eyes. Lived there back in the 80s and have visited many times since. In all my days, though, this recent long weekend was the first time I've stayed down in the Loop for several days doing mostly touristy stuff. I gots to say, touristy stuff has its charms.

Thursday morning, Mrs Death and I flew to O'Hare from Raleigh-Durham and met up with our friends, Daryl and Melissa, whom we've known since the absolute darkest of ages (not that I'd know anything about dark ages). Partook of much good food and drink, and went down to Taste of Chicago at Grant Park—initially with plans to see the fireworks. Eventually, though, due to several factors, we opted to return to the hotel. (Turns out this might have been a good thing, as several people got shot at the park.) So we hung out at a really nice little bistro next to the hotel for a while, and after our friends retired, Mrs Death and I went out for some late-night geocaching (found three).

Friday was a good day of sightseeing and partaking of more food and spirits. Hung out at Navy Pier, where the men dressed as ladies, and...oh, wait, wrong tale. Hung out at Navy Pier, where we sought a particular geocache, but to no avail. Walked many miles, made feet sore. Had to drink some more to cool the toes. Friday night, we celebrated Mrs Death's upcoming birthday at a rowdy little piano bar called Howl at the Moon, where Mrs Death bamboozled the piano player by requesting "Sweat Leaf" by Black Sabbath. Since he was so thoroughly bamboozled, he made Peg come up on stage so he might serenade her with a marvelously indecent rendition of Happy Birthday. That Mrs Death.

Spent most of yesterday hunting caches in a forest preserve in Streamwood, one of Chicago's far northwest suburbs. Found five. Got home late this afternoon after—you guessed it—hunting caches between Raleigh and Greensboro. Found 15 or so.

Tomorrow, it's to work on some revisions on the Big One I've been laboring over for the past few weeks.

I leave you with these.


"Emergency! Emergency! Rodan is approaching!"


A beautiful day to arrive in the city.


A wild bunch partaking of Things Wet.


The Bean. There's some weird shit in Chicago anymore.


Like I said.


Caching at the Water Tower.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

-30-

Finished the big ol' project I've had my face buried in for several weeks. Turned it in, along with a long synopsis, a short synopsis, the name of my daughter's first boyfriend, and all that accompanying business.

Next comes revision stage. At least there's a little breathing room, and I've got a couple of extra days off for Independence Day. Hoo-wah.

Have a great Fourth.