Sunday, December 29, 2013

Kindle Countdown Deal: The Gods of Moab

JUST FOR NEW YEAR'S...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Christmas Sunset on the Red Trail


Christmas morning, 1968: it must have been around 5:00 AM; I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. In those days, at the height of the U.S. space program, the Major Matt Mason astronaut toys by Mattel were the big thing, especially for this nine-year-old science-fiction and space exploration uber-geek. I was anticipating receiving a Major Matt Mason space station, among other space-related goodies, and adrenaline had been coursing like magma through my weenie little body since early on Christmas Eve. We were at my grandparents' place in Gainesville, GA, and, as always, my folks slept on the pullout sofa bed in the living room — where all the toys lay waiting for us under the Christmas tree. My brother and I had strict orders not to set foot out of our bedroom until 7:00 AM, but come 5:30 or so, it became clear to me that something was wrong with the clock on the nightstand next to our bed. I had been lying there fidgeting for most of forever, and only a measly half hour had passed? WTF? Thinking only of being helpful, I ran the clock up about ten minutes, thinking this would be a much more realistic time of morning. I lay back down, confident I had done the right thing. For the next hour and something I lay there, my body still blazing with adrenaline, my mind constructing all kinds of great scenarios for Major Matt Mason and his buddies Sgt. Storm, Jeff Long, and Doug Davis. When I finally looked back at the clock, it showed that only fifteen minutes had passed. Clearly, this clock was defective! So I ran it up another ten minutes for good measure.

Several more times this happened. I'd lie back down, wait and wait and wait and wait, and only a few minutes would have gone by. Impossible. If I didn't get this clock set right, I figured, I was really going to be in trouble.

Finally. Finally, 7:00 AM arrived. I woke my little brother, and the two of us went tearing into the living room. There it was — the Major Matt Mason space station! Yahoooooooo! It was beautiful, stunning, glorious. Not only that, the whole room was absolutely jammed with fantastic toys and games. Santa Claus had outdone himself! Mum and Dad, of course, stood no chance remaining in bed with all this ruckus and racket, but after a bit, Mum asked me, "Are you sure it's seven o'clock?" Well, of course I was sure. I had fixed the defective clock.

Next thing you know, I'm being sent back to bed, this time till 8:00 AM, since, according to all the other clocks in the house, it was only 6:15, and my folks, in a rare display of poor judgment, believed them.

This was perhaps my most memorable Christmas. If I remember right, Mum and Dad did let us come back into the living when 7:00 AM actually rolled around because they always were, at heart, very sporting and willing to make amends for their errors.


This year, I didn't get any Major Matt Mason stuff, but if your Christmas was half as wonderful as mine was, I expect it would be ten times as wonderful as any other day of your year. The presents were great and all, but it was just a good day all around, spent in the company of Ms. Kimberly, my mum, and our friend Mary Clifton; alas, my brother couldn't be there. We slept in, exchanged gifts during the morning, had a big meal at midday, and then Brugger and I headed up to Rocky Mount, VA, to get in some hiking and geocaching at Waid Park, an extensive area of woodland a short distance out of town, with a decent network of trails and lots of elevation changes. By the time we got there, it was fairly late in the day, and we appeared to be the only human beings for miles around, which we both found quite pleasant. One of the caches was called "Red Trails in the Sunset" (GCH22K) which couldn't have been more apt, since we were, indeed, on the Red Trail, and the sun was setting just as I found the cache. Both peaceful and invigorating, this outing; it could scarcely have made me happier — well, except for not finding one of the caches out there, which I gather may just be plain missing.

From there, we drove around the campus at Ferrum College, where I went to school for a couple of years back in the dawn of man. Ferrum is the model for "Beckham College," which has been referenced in any number of my short stories and novels. I gave it that name, not so much as a play on Lovecraft's Arkham, as some have suggested, but after Ferrum College's founder, Samuel Beckham. Then things got a bit surreal. Kimberly and I didn't really care to have leftover ham for supper, so we ended up finding a Chinese buffet that was open. The food wasn't very good, and the clientele looked not unlike the Walking Dead, but damn, it was kind of a hoot. We quite enjoyed ourselves. To end the evening, we watched Insidious: Chapter 2, which turned out to be a lot of fun. I suppose "unconventional"would be an apt description of the day. And I'm all over that.

Peace be unto ye.

Click images to enlarge.

L: Mary Clifton & Mum; R: A not-so-welcome Christmas Eve visitor
Hell, yeah!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Beating the Devil and Haw, Haw, Haw

Old Rodan at the Devil's Tramping Ground

Any weekend is a good weekend for geocaching, and on this one, the caching was good indeed. Lots of high-quality hides — from Siler City to Sanford to Pittsboro, from underground to far higher than folks rightfully ought to put their feet. Saturday, Bridget "Suntigres" Langley and I got together and headed south toward the Devil's Tramping Ground, not far from Siler City. Several years ago, I had gone there in what proved a vain attempt to make the cache there my 2,000th find, and again the following year to hunt a most excellent night cache ("Hell on Earth," GC1GZNP). My target, "Devil's Caching Ground" (GC1GKYR), missing when I had previously hunted it, had been replaced, and yesterday's hunt proved successful, making it find #6,499. Thanks to some ornery briers, I managed to shed some blood at Tramping Ground, so there's no telling what evil may result. Beware. After that, we targeted several other well-conceived hides, such as "True Love Always" (GC3CEMX), a very engaging multi, and "Sanford's RbC" (GC2BM3B), which allowed me to enjoy some deep, deep shade on a ridiculously warm December day.

No sleeping in this morning. Up before dawn to meet Rob "Robgso" Isenhour to head over to the Haw River, near Pittsboro, where we joined a group of about 18 folks for a hike along the rather rugged, exceedingly scenic river trail. Rob and I had gone caching there several months ago, along with Shoffner (a.k.a. Cupdaisy) but had been unable to find four out of ten bison tube hides along the trail. This time, with all those eyes and tactile appendages, we were able to find those and make a clean run of the series. The Haw River in this area is wide and very rocky, the west side oftentimes very steep and strewn with giant boulders. The climbing is strenuous, but the views are often spectacular.

One of the caches we visited involved walking across a narrow dam for fifty or sixty feet to reach an old pump house. Audra "Homestyle" Webb and her son, Zachary, were frothing at the mouth to undertake this particular terrain challenge, so off they went, accompanied by Lonnie "MBD" Drain for moral support. It took a bit of time, but they finally managed to find the cache, and they made the crossing both ways without ending up as fish food. Good for them, bad for the fish. Sorry, fish.

The hunt for what turned out to be my favorite cache of the day — "TowerLand" (GC235TA) — took us to an old fire tower just outside Pittsboro. Posting here that the cache is somewhere on the tower spoils nothing, as the cache page itself gives you a fair idea of the sort of challenge you face. The tower has clearly stood there for many, many years, and it's seen better days. Just getting to the level where we might begin our ascent in earnest required some serious effort, and a few of our number inadvertently provided some entertaining acrobatics both coming and going. After finding the cache, some of the crew continued all the way to the top; I opted to forgo this particular pleasure, mainly because, every now and then, MBD would give the tower a good shake, and I was never quite certain the whole construct wasn't going to come crashing down. At any rate, it was on our party's descent that the real entertainment began. A couple of the climbers, whom I will call Karen "e-bird67" Grigg and young Homekid, absolutely could not find their way off the tower. Coaching, coaxing, cajoling, pleading, and threatening proved ultimately useless. These poor souls may yet be up there, soon to become mere skeletons swaying in the breeze to warn others from undertaking such frightfully energetic adventures.

Do beware, and have a happy and safe holiday season.

Click images to enlarge.
"Mom! Uncle Rob is getting high!"
Can Audra be trapped in this prison drain forever? Let's hope not!
L: Audra and Lonnie make their way across the dam to find the cache. R: Rocking the tower!
Smile!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Here We Come, A-Geocaching

Front: Sunpoppy42, Spring1, Strikergirl, Keith; Back: Homekid, Bill, Homestyle, HDJP, Klaussinator,
Damned Rodan, MJ, Esddan Sr., Esddan Ms., JJ
The other day, I got a call from Audra (a.k.a. Homestyle), one of my good friends in the geocaching community, who informed me that another of our mutual friends, Norman (a.k.a. Spring1), had suffered a medical crisis and had been hospitalized for a time. Now he was back home, it was her idea that a bunch of us local cachers should get together and pay him and his wife, Lynn, a little visit so that we might regale them with Christmas carols. Splendid, indeed. So tonight after work, I booked on up to Danville, met the group at a little shopping center, near Spring1's house, and headed out to do this nefarious deed. Yes, Norman and Lynn's daughter, Robin, was a willing accomplice, having made sure her parents were at home for our arrival — she told them that UPS would be arriving between six and seven p.m. with an important delivery. Well, between six and seven, the delivery was made, but it wasn't from UPS. An even thirteen of us exploded into song, assaulting the senses of our poor victims and everyone else within about a four-block radius. Several were good old standbys, but Audra had composed a fun little geocaching carol, done as "The Twelve Days of Christmas" — twelve hide-a-keys, eleven piles of fake poo, ten rolls of duct tape, nine sets of batteries, eight lock-&-locks, seven phone-a-friends, six bags of swag, five ammo cans, four plastic birds, three trackables, two gel pens, and a film can in a holly tree. We did this, and Spring1 did not forcibly eject us from their property. That right there is class. Finally, several of us noisemakers headed off to Ham's for a slightly late dinner.

Norman and Lynn were among the very first geocachers I ever met — at one of my own caches, in Martinsville, in early 2008. They have been among the kindest, warmest, most thoughtful folks I've ever met, and I very much hope our little musical venture made for an uplifting evening for them. Here's hoping Norman will see some serious improvement in his physical condition.

Be well, my friends.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dark Intruder

Lovecraft eZine posted this today: a video link to Dark Intruder, an unsold TV pilot from 1966 with Lovecraftian overtones. It stars Leslie Nielsen as a rather suave 19th-century Carl Kolchak. You'll also see lots of familiar names from the era — it's produced by Jack Laird (Night Gallery), written by Barre Lyndon, with music by Lalo Schifin (Mission Impossible) — and also stars Mark Richman, Werner Klemperer, Judi Meredith, and Bill Quinn. I gave it a look tonight and found it quite entertaining; the Lovecraft influence is definitely there, and not done badly. Rick Lai gives a decent overview, as well as a link to the video itself here. Check it out if you've got an hour.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Horror in the Vines


Well, no, the photo over yonder doesn't really show horrors or vines or any such things. That's just my little fiber-optic Christmas tree, brightening up one dark corner of Casa de Rodan. The horrors and vines and such may be found in my latest short story, "When Jarly Calls," which I finished writing and sent out to the editor this weekend. It's about things that go amiss at a rather bizarre winery — for which I might say I conducted extensive research. If editor is happy with tale, you may get to read that sucker before you know it. It'll chill ye worse than an icy winter wind, it will.

Spent most of the weekend at Mum's in Martinsville, and the better part of that pounding out the story. I also helped her get her Christmas tree set up, the final result being a bit more impressive than little fiber optic tree shown here. Then it was writing the afterword for James Robert Smith's collection of short fiction, A Confederacy of Horrors, slated for release from Hippocampus Press in 2014. (Some of you may recall that Mr. Smith used to write reviews and assist with the fiction editing for Deathrealm back in the day, and a few years back, we co-edited the anthology Evermore for Arkham house.) It's a fine collection of horror, full of ghosts, blood, vengeance, and obsession, with numerous stories that linger long after they're put to bed. I'll post a note here when the book is in release.

On Saturday, I had intended to go geocaching in Roanoke with Todd "tbbiker" Briggs, but nasty weather prevented it. This morning, though, I hit Anglers' Park in Danville to grab a new cache on my way back to Greensboro, and who should I run into but Mr. Briggs his own self. Not quite the big hiking trip we had anticipated, but it was fun enough, and a cache is a cache. In fact, heading up to Martinsville on Friday night, I went up through Caswell County to replace a cache for Mr. Stumpwater Dunn, near Yanceyville, and while out in those rural wilds, I thought I might be witnessing the eye of Azathoth in the sky — a brilliant orb, far smaller than the moon but every bit as bright — burning through a thick layer of clouds. Turns out, it was the planet Venus, which I've seen countless times, but never so brilliantly as this. Quite the little spectacle on the drive along those lonely back roads, it was. And a delicious sushi dinner waited for me at Tokyo Grill in Danville.

Some stress about the day job put a little damper on some of my enthusiasm over the weekend, but by and large, it was a productive and generally enjoyable time.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Collinsport Horror

Author Rick Lai has written a pretty extensive article about connections between the original Dark Shadows TV series and H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, which covers in detail the crossover in some of my contributions to each property. It's an informative and entertaining piece, now posted at Lovecraft eZine. Give it a look here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright

There is much to appreciate about Stonefield Cellars, one of the many wineries in this area, and the wine is just one of them. Noah, the owners' Bengal cat, always stands ready to greet you when you arrive, and even on a particularly chilly day, he has certain wily ways of keeping warm. Brugger and I hadn't been to Stonefield in a while, so yesterday we decided to pay it a visit for a tasting and a spot of wine in the scenic garden area. Happily, they had a fire burning in the fire pit, and we met another pleasant couple who enjoyed wine and cats about as much as we do. It proved an excellent way to spend a near-frigid afternoon — so different from the previous day when I worked up a sweat just by setting foot outdoors.

Stonefield Cellars features a decent selection of white, red, and sweet wines, all made from the grapes they grow at the vineyard. Brugger and I aren't much for whites or sweets, but their dry reds are distinctive, particularly their reserve wines — Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a pair of blends called Beneficence and Barrel X. Also noteworthy are their Sangiovese and a blend of all their grapes called Mountain Mama Madness. With rare exception, I am not overly fond of Merlot, but Stonefield's aptly named Gato, which features Noah on the label, goes down very smoothly. Today, Stonefield is having their holiday open house, with live music, warm mulled wine, and some special discounts; it's unfortunate there's freezing rain out there, making the weather not so conducive for getting out and about. I do hope they have a decent turnout. If you're a local oenophile and haven't been over to Stonefield Cellars, hie thee there at once. You won't regret it.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Eighty Degrees in December...

...and the snakes are out and about. I came upon a happy little black snake while after a cache at the Beech Bluff Trail today. Not sure whether he was a rat snake or a black racer, but he proved to be quite neighborly.

Today was our annual office holiday lunch gathering, which we was held at the Proximity Hotel, one of Greensboro's more upscale establishments. The food was okay — I wouldn't pay top dollar for it — and the event was pretty enjoyable. Per tradition, we got to leave early, and so I went geocaching. I'd had it in my head that I might head over to Durham to catch the original 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla at the Carolina Theater, but in the end, I opted to do the hiking. Sometimes, I am weirder than I realized. Forbidden Planet was also on the bill. Doubly weird.

Anyhoo, on a day like today, I'm quite glad I hit the woods. At least I got to visit with a reptile.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Occoneechee Speedway, Yuggoth VI: The Twisted Grove, The Stoned Poet, and Others

A long stretch of the old speedway, now
overtaken by the forest

What a great day for finding old things... even including a Great Old One or two. It was a day for geocaching with a fun group of local folks: Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, and Sarah "Sssharkie" Stevens. Our target was Hillsborough, just west of Durham, NC. It's a small, picturesque town with a surprising number of historic and unusual sites. In the past, I've passed through Hillsborough any number of times, and even found a few caches there, but it wasn't until today that I got to visit just about every corner of town, by way of our quest for caches.

The thing that drew us there in the first place was the old Occoneechee Speedway (later known as the Orange Speedway), a former NASCAR racetrack that operated from 1948 to 1968. It has since been completely overtaken over by pine, sycamore, and cedar forest, and the track itself, as well as the auxiliary roads, have been turned into hiking trails — over three miles of them, and we covered just about the lot of them. The original grandstands and several other structures still exist, almost ghostlike amid these beautiful woods. Several high-quality caches are hidden along the trail, and our group found the lot of them while enjoying the unusual scenery.
There's nothing odd happening here.
Move along.

Adjacent to the speedway — just across the Eno River — lies the sprawling Ayr Mount Plantation, which dates back to 1815. A beautiful nature trail winds around the estate, and on this trail, we found a nice cache-letterbox hybrid called Yuggoth VI: The Twisted Grove (GC22VYV), based, of course, on H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. The grove itself was, indeed, beautifully twisted, and even though we successfully ventured into it, as far as I know, none of us have been beset by anything Awful. Of course, the night is not yet over. Also at the plantation was a fun puzzle cache called The Stoned Poet (GCXYQV), which required solving a daunting puzzle to acquire coordinates to the hidden container. One of our party, whose name I won't mention (Sssharkie), came up with a novel method of actually locating the actual hide, which I'd best not reveal on pain of death (intuition and guesswork). I am rather ridiculously pleased to have played a part in turning up the hide itself. (Laugh, you.)

We also visited a graveyard where slaves from the Civil War era were buried; an old one-room schoolhouse (Hughes Academy); the outhouse of an old girl's school (Burwell School, 1837-1857); a sculpture of an ass named Jack; and a big old cedar tree that required climbing. I didn't fall out, so what a good day!

A fine day on the caching trail, and I have to give Hillsborough credit for being the most charming town I have visited in a long, long time.

Back to work tomorrow. Grrrr.
Creeple people hauling ass down the old Occoneechee Speedway
Ayr Mount Plantation House, built 1815
Rob the Younger doesn't know Jack.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday, Good Friday

Old Rodan's happy Black Friday face

It takes a mindset I neither have nor comprehend to brave the zombie hordes at the shopping areas on Black Friday. I have about as much interest in sawing my own head off with a rusty bread knife as I do tolerating so many walking/ talking/ pushing/ shoving/ screaming heaps of compost masquerading as human beings to save some dollars on things I, or folks of my acquaintance, likely don't much need. Now bear in mind, I don't make a lot of money; I live fairly comfortably, but far from extravagantly, so, yes, I like to take advantage of bargains when I can get them. Groupons are my friends. But there's a limit to what I'll put up with from the herd out there, and Black Friday is on the far side of it. From things I've personally witnessed or had related to me (my ex-wife was a devoted Black Friday shopper) to the inevitable news stories of chaos among the masses, it is clear to me that the veneer of humanity we see when things are going swimmingly is thin beyond thin. Throw a complication or two in front of the herd, and the meltdown is inevitable and potentially horrendous. In fairness to those I loathe, I do not exclude myself from succumbing to a destructive group mentality under certain circumstances. Back in the 1980s, I spent a couple of Independence Days at Taste of Chicago downtown, and I once came perilously close to being pushed by a mass of humanity onto the tracks in front of an oncoming subway train; you'd best believe I clawed my way out of that situation just to get myself into a train car before I got killed, and damn anyone who was in my way at the time. I never inflicted that event upon myself again.

If you haven't seen Five Million Years to Earth, you really ought; it's a wonderful science-fiction depiction of Black Friday made years before the contemporary shopping day actually became a thing.

For my own mental health, and to prevent adding myself to the body count at these godless things, on Black Fridays, I always steer myself in exactly the opposite direction. Today, it was out to Fairystone Park, where a nice geocache in the woods awaited my attention. Happily, I was the only human being in evidence out in this general direction, and I made short work of the hide.

Though you might not infer any such thing from all of the above, I do love my peoples, those what aren't vermin anyway, and a happy few will be getting nice Christmas presents from me. Most will come by mail order.

Do be sweet.
Foundations from an ancient dwelling, viewed from the geocache site
The swimming area at Fairystone Park, where I have spent much pleasant leisure time in years past.
Today would have been a bad, bad swimming day. Brrrr.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day of the Big Bird


Big dinner with great company, so now it's mellow time (including some serious writing on my current work-in-progress — a short story about a haunted vineyard; dark spirits and all that, don't you know). Kimberly's parents were down from Michigan for the holiday, so we all gathered at Mum's in Martinsville for the Thanksgiving Day feast. Each of us contributed some goodies — I made a pretty dang good pumpkin pie — so it was a monster meal, to put it mildly. I even got a bottle of wine from the top shelf, which is really kind of rare. I have a fair bit of hiking and geocaching slated for the next couple of days, but I don't know that I could put in enough to cancel out today's caloric intake.

I am right now mighty thankful to be in reasonably good health; to have the best girlfriend in the world; to have many other special loved ones in my life, especially my Mum and my daughter; to have three beautiful critters; and to have, hopefully for the long haul, a decent job — with an employer of integrity, that generally shows its employees due respect and gives us reasonable time off, particularly at holidays. I know a lot of people who have to work holidays, and I do find it very distressing that more and more employers feel compelled to open on days that have been traditionally reserved for family and loved ones. I absolutely treasure my holidays; at no time in this life will I ever think, "Oh, my Christ, I wish I had put in extra time at the office!" Our rampant consumerism is steadily eroding traditions such as Thanksgiving that once gave the majority of us just a little more sense of shared experience and perhaps even unity. I, for one, have no need to go out to eat, to shop for bargains, to go to movies, to give money to merchants who have no need to be open other than to try to rake in a few more dollars — especially if the better percentage of whatever they make is only going up the chain to those who don't work on the holiday. For an awful long time in this country, the vast majority of companies have done FINE without having to stay open on one of the very few days during the year that many people actually consider rather sacred. Bear in mind, I'm not talking about providers of critical services; whole 'nuther arena, that. I also know full well many folks do welcome the opportunity to work and make some extra money. Sometimes, you just gotta. But I sure wish it for people that this is for you an option and not a mandate. An employer who offers working as a choice I can at least respect. The latter sort, though, far as I'm concerned, is garbage. I do not and will not support them with my business.

And for God's sake — you stupid ass broadcasters playing Christmas music from Halloween on... cut it the fuck out. Start it tomorrow.

And that's my curmudgeonly rant for today. Accept it or don't. It's all fine.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Conjuring Up Some Fun

I missed The Conjuring when it came round to theaters a while back, but the trailer had looked fairly promising, and I figured at some point I'd just have to catch up with it. That turned out to be this evening, as I watched it over here with Ms. Brugger. Afterward, she had to go home to a solitary house (well, with one fat cat), and I'm fairly sure she wasn't really looking forward to it.

I love a good supernatural thriller, with lots of atmosphere and suggestions of dark, dangerous spirits. The Conjuring indeed gives me these very things, though not unexpectedly, in the last third of the film, the suggestions give way to pretty graphic demonic horror stuff. That turned out to be okay with me, though I definitely preferred its more subtle moments, as these make me far more uneasy than the hollering, flying, crashing, and roaring that typically accompany demons from hell these days.

The story is very much a straightforward haunted house/demon possession tale, all of which we've seen before — more often than not, done badly, which I can happily say is not the case here. Roger and Carolyn Perron, played by Ron Livingston (Band of Brothers, The Time Traveler's Wife) and Lili Taylor (The Haunting [2005], Mystic Pizza), along with their five daughters, move into a remote, dilapidated farmhouse, in which inexplicable and increasingly frightening incidents occur. When there appears to be no explanation for these other than the supernatural, the Perrons turn to paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who confirm that this family is, indeed, in a heap of supernatural trouble. The property has been cursed by a witch, and as a result, over the years, the house has accumulated more than its share of angry dead. Spiritual warfare ensues, at times quite noisily and, in the end, with fairly substantial property damage.

To this film's credit, even the over-the-top stuff is entertaining, and in a couple of cases, damn near unnerving. As the story unfolded, I noticed an intriguing similarity to a 1991 TV movie called The Haunted, which starred noted character actor Jeffrey DeMunn and Sally Kirkland as haunted couple Jack and Janet Smurl. I gave The Haunted a glance on the interwebs, and — sure enough — that movie also featured the real-life husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played in that film by Stephen Markle and Diane Baker). The Warrens had most famously investigated the infamous Amityville horror, as well as something in the neighborhood of 10,000 cases of reported supernatural activity (only a handful of which they claimed were authentic). Not being a believer in such things, I can't speak to their actual exploits, but in this film, as well as in The Haunted, I found them to be believable, reasonably endearing characters. Overall, the acting in The Conjuring is quite convincing, with special notice given to the five Perron family children (played by Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver), all of whom were remarkably good for their ages.

The Conjuring does feature one of the scariest dolls I've seen since Talking Tina in The Twilight Zone. Annabelle is her name, and scaring the brown poop out of you is her game. Virtually all the props in the movie are rendered to be creepy, down to the clocks stopping at precisely 3:07 a.m. and a big old tree that easily beats the one in Poltergeist for unnerving design (I'd love to hunt a geocache in a such a tree).

If you're a believer in paranormal activity, I imagine this movie might actually have the capacity to disturb you on a relatively deep level. As outright entertainment — despite its overly familiar plot — with its decent acting, atmospheric visuals, and ugly supernatural entities, I think The Conjuring succeeds pretty damn well. Four out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.
Lili Taylor, as Carolyn Perron, gets the clap.
Little girl needs a hand; ghostly apparition obliges.
It's a nice enough wardrobe, but I gotta tell you, that ain't Narnia on the other side.
"Hello, my name is Annabelle, and I don't like you. Not one wee tiny bit."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Omnivoros


The other day, I received a coupon for a couple of free pay-per-view movies on Time-Warner cable, so tonight I decided to watch something I had never heard of, just to broaden my horror horizons, so to speak. I chose what proved to be a taut little Spanish thriller about cannibalism called Omnivores (Omnivoros, 2013), written and directed by Oscar Rojo, released domestically by Fangoria.

A renowned food critic, Marcos Vela (Mario de la Rosa) catches wind of what's known as "clandestine" restaurants, which cater only to the very wealthy and serve only the most exotic dishes. One such restaurant is reputed to serve human flesh, and though at first incredulous, Marcos pursues the leads he uncovers. Sure enough, he comes upon what appears to be a gathering of affluent, eccentric, well-dressed and well-mannered cannibals. Against his better judgment, he refuses to give up his investigation; instead, he delves even deeper into this mysterious "restaurant" — until turning back is no longer an option.

Omnivores borrows a little from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, Hannibal, and other movies about those with deviant appetites, and the storyline offers little in the way of surprises. It does offer decent acting; a sparse but highly effective music score; some truly gut-wrenching suspense; and a smidgin of gore, well-timed and just graphic enough to give me a more-than-customary touch of movie-induced jitters. I should not have enjoyed someone knocking at my door while I was watching this movie; I might have been compelled to answer with weaponry in hand. I can't recall the last movie that did that. It wasn't in recent years, I can tell you. The climax was foreshadowed early in the picture, but the ending still provided a minor, gratifying little surprise. In the end, the movie proved itself a slick, ultimately satisfying experience.

It was certainly appropriate that I watched Omnivores during dinner — spicy barbecued chicken with baked beans prepared with molasses, brown sugar, and bacon. It would have been better with dry red wine — not Chianti, though; with this movie, I would have fancied a Nebbiolo, I think — but since I had a bit of wine last night, tonight was a dry night.

If you have an appetite for an intense little thriller, give Omnivores a go. Order it rare.

Monday, November 11, 2013

It's All Relative

Robbin Lee verifying his precise location in space
and time. Conclusion: nowhere and fast.

Time and distance, that is. In last week's episode, Old Rodan was out climbing Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia — a solid ten-mile hike, uphill, both ways. This week, he went out with fellow geocacher, Robbin Lee (a.k.a. Rtmlee) to the Birkhead Wilderness in the Uhwharries, about 45 minutes south of Greensboro. The overall distance hiked was less than half of last week's big outing — just about four miles — but something about traversing Birkhead (I'm guessing it's bushwhacking up numerous super-steep, slippery, leaf-covered slopes, seemingly taking two steps backward for every single step forward) required a much greater expenditure of energy. The day started chilly, too, but as it wore on, the temperature climbed until it felt more like summer than mid-autumn, requiring us to shed layers of clothing to prevent heat exhaustion.

The Birkhead Wilderness area is just southwest of Asheboro, NC, encompassing over 5,000 acres of the northern Uhwharries. The mountains are considered the oldest on the North American continent. Almost all the Birkhead area is deep woods, so you won't find spectacular views, certainly not like those we experienced at Mt. Rogers last week. The wilderness area is open for hunting (in season), hiking, and camping, with numerous trails of varying difficulty.

There are also plenty more caches down that way. I shall return.
Old dude taking a much-needed breather
There are ancient artifacts dating back 12,000 years and more to be found in the Birkhead Wilderness.
This little rock cairn is not likely one of them.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Burying My Lovely

Well, it ain't quite October Project, but it is Brugger and I banging out a bit of living room music, accompanied by wine and cats. (You may notice, a few seconds in, a certain feline monkeying around in the background, lower center screen.) It's a wonder we didn't trip over them, since they were winding around our legs while we were trying to be semi-serious. Could have ended up a terrible waste of wine — and a mess on the carpet — but fortune smiled on us.

Enjoy. Or run screaming. Your choice.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I Can See for Miles and Miles

Yesterday was both a very sad and very invigorating day. Sad in that little Dusty passed away (see last night's blog entry), invigorating in that I undertook a fair personal challenge by hiking to the summit of Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. Some of y'all folks who enjoy backpacking and hoofing it many miles in rugged terrain probably do such things with regularity, but me... I hike a lot, climb trees, go underground, and undertake all manner of fun challenges to find geocaches, but I rarely put in as much physical effort as I did on this trip. It's a bit of an achievement for this old man.

Fellow geocacher Todd "tbbiker" Briggs had invited me to accompany him on this outing, and so I agreed, figuring that an endeavor of this magnitude would either kill me or make me stronger. At the moment, I'm still alive, so I guess that question is answered. The morning sun, however, has not yet risen....

Brilliant sun, biting wind, deathly dark clouds, hail, sleet, a spot of rain, bone-chilling cold — all of these things we experienced on the ten-mile round trip. I met Mr. Briggs at his place in Mayodan bright and early, and we immediately hit the road for the trip out to the mountains. We reached the trail head right at 11:00 AM, passing up a few nearby caches to make a beeline for the summit, figuring it best to get the big hike out of the way first. This proved wisdom (yes, such thing is known to happen, however infrequently). Initially, one sets out on the Appalachian Trail and ascends steadily on very rocky, rugged terrain that only grows steeper as you go, particularly around a large formation about halfway up called Rhododendron Rock (for obvious reasons). The landscape is virtually all rock and scrub; unlike most mountains in the Appalachians, there are no dense woods until you draw near the summit, lending the impression of being out west. The last half mile or so of the hike is a gradual ascent up the ridge through lush fir and spruce trees, on a carpet of moss, which turns the forest into an unbroken sea of brilliant green. At the summit, you are completely engulfed in this forest, so there aren't any spectacular views. Those are all reserved for the trips coming and going, and they are incredible.

One of the most entertaining aspects of the hike is encountering the multitudes of wild ponies that live on the mountainside. I made friends with several who came to request of me goodies, of which I unfortunately had none. The warning signs on the mountain indicate the ponies may kick or bite, but the ones who came to visit with me were very well mannered.

The climb up was pretty taxing on our old bones — well, my old bones — but Todd and I kept a steady, relaxed pace so we'd still have some energy for the long descent. The majority of the hike involves carefully picking one's steps on oftentimes treacherous rocks; there's very little just plain walking. We suffered one (Todd) and a half (old Rodan) falls, but these happily proved inconsequential.

A bitter wind had pummeled us for a fair portion of the hike up, but it wasn't so cold that we didn't work up a decent sweat. Upon arriving at the summit, we broke out the beef jerky, taunted Bigfoot for a while, and took a passel of photographs. We hadn't been there very long when black clouds came rushing in, and — as is inevitable — there, at the farthest point from any significant shelter, the sky opened up and began pelting us, not with rain but with BB-sized hail. This kept up for more than half our descent, turning things fairly treacherous as the rocks got slicker and slicker. For a little while, the hail turned to snow, and then — fortunately, very briefly — to rain. By the time we arrived back at the parking area, the sun was shining and the temperature had risen about ten degrees.

I may be sore tomorrow, but while this was probably the longest and most rugged hike I've done since I was in Boy Scouts... all kinds of a long time ago... it was actually far from the most physically grueling of the past five years. We'll call that one the Birkhead Wilderness, last summer — half the distance of this one, but with super-steep terrain in 105-degree heat. That's the one I was lucky to survive.

Perhaps a nightcap, and then I sleep. Goo' night.

Click images to enlarge.
Damned Rodan on the rocks
One of the nice views while the sun was still on our side

Mr. Briggs taking in the view at Rhododendron Rock
Old man at the summit — messin' with Bigfoot
One of the many ponies that came to make friends with us
We didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition... or the deluge of ice

Saturday, November 2, 2013

RIP Dusty

Dusty in her younger, healthier days
Today, little Dusty passed on after a fairly long decline to poor health. She was getting up there in years — over 15 — and she finally went to sleep today and did not wake up. She was always a little curmudgeonly, which I admired, but she could also be exceedingly sweet. Many mornings I'd wake up with her lying on my back, purring, and when I'd roll over, she'd dutifully wait till I was done and just readjust her position without actually getting off me. Her sister, Charcoal, passed away several years ago at age 8 from a tumor. I so hope they are playing together in the land across the rainbow bridge. Goodnight, little sweetheart.
Crabby Dusty
Dusty all set to go places

Friday, November 1, 2013

Night of the Scarecrow

Another Halloween come and gone... sigh. This year's was particularly satisfying. Our regular Halloween festival at work, which is always a hoot, was even better than usual. Lots of costumes, jack-o'-lanterns, trick-or-treating, and cash prizes. Rather than my customary reading of a scary story, Ms. B. and I got together and performed some dark tunes, including my original, "Scan in Progress," October Project's "Bury My Lovely," and Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." All went well except for Brugger mixing up some lyrics during the October Project. They slid by without causing a row, but you just watch it there, Brugger! My Syd the Salacious Scarecrow costume not only caused a couple of near myocardial infarctions, it took third place in the contest, which earns a nice cash prize, and Ms. B. won first place in the jack-o-lantern carving contest, for an even nicer cash prize. And that is why Halloween is my absolute favorite day at the office. Not to mention I took off the second half of the day and also worked in a vacation day today.

Big surprise, I went geocaching during the afternoon — it was a beautiful day for it — and for the evening, Ms. B. and I partook of festivities at our friends Dan and Faun's place. Dan has had health issues that precluded him being as active as usual getting his house decorated, which is one of his favorite things, so several of us got over there early to help put things in proper order. The end result was beautiful. For me, the highlight of the evening was getting into full costume and guarding the house against the young trick-or-treaters marauding through the neighborhood. Scared the bejezus out of several, but most fun was this one little girl who so loved the costume that she wanted a big photo op with me. Her dad took a bunch of pics and said she was going to be thrilled with them. I do so love seeing kids being raised right.

Alas, for my day off, it's pouring rain, so I doubt I'll be heading out to the geocaching trail. Tomorrow, though, is another day.

Hope you had the happiest of Halloweens.
Scary Dan in front of his own personal castle of horror