Friday, April 22, 2016

Brewed Awakening Spring 2016 Book Festival

COMING UP: Brewed Awakening's Spring Book Festival, on Saturday, April 30, at the store, located at 610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541.  I'll be on location to sell and sign books (yes, my own; I get fussed at for signing other writers' books). I plan to have copies of The Monarchs, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Gaki, and possibly others on hand, so if you are in traveling distance and possessed of exceptional intestinal fortitude, by all means, stop by. I'd love to see you.

Not only does Brewed Awakening sell books, they serve first-class sandwiches, wraps, and beverages (I'm especially fond of their hazelnut latte). And for you intrepid souls who enjoy geocaching as much as braving Rainey's terror tales, Danville is a geocaching mecca — in fact, there is a cache ("The Crossing," GC1BR2C) directly across the street from the café. Good books, good refreshments, good geocaching.

Mark your calendar and join us.

Brewed Awakening Book Festival 
Saturday, April 30, 2016 • 10 AM–2 PM
610 Craghead St., Danville, VA 24541
(434) 483-2138

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What a Long, Strange Trip, Part II

In our last episode, after a nerve-wracking flight into Islip, Long Island, ye olde drowned rat had sunk a couple of Bass Ales at good Molly Malone's (now permanently closed, I'm sad to report) and boarded the ferry to Fire Island with a contingent of intrepid Dark Shadows fans. When we arrived at our semi-rustic lodgings, both Ms. Massie, whose journey had been scarcely less taxing than mine, and I collapsed for long afternoon naps. In fact, if I recall, I think several of us decided to crash for a while, as the severe storms had done a pretty good number on everyone's nerves, and it was good to finally relax. Fortunately, for the next two days, the weather ceased to be a complicating factor, and spending time among some good friends served as much-needed tonic. There were no cars in our particular corner of Fire Island, so we either walked or rode bicycles to whatever areas we saw fit to explore. I believe it was on our second evening there, I remember we had to hoof it quite some distance to find vittles, at a restaurant whose name I can't recall but that proved most enjoyable. At the time, I was working on the opening chapters of Dark Shadows: The Labyrinth of Souls, and I read at least the first chapter to an enthusiastic crowd — which was actually a motivating reason for finishing the novel even when it appeared that an official release by either HarperCollins or Tor was not destined for the offing.

No, for those couple of days, I thought perhaps I had left the bizarro realm behind me, but on that last day on the island, I discovered it had been but a brief respite.

On that Sunday, I bid my companions adieu, for I had to return to work the following day. It was particularly sad for me because the group was planning to visit Dark Shadows actor Louis Edmonds at his home nearby. Fortunately, I had met him once before he passed away in 2001, but I have always regretted not being able to spend time with him on that particular trip. Anyway, as planned, my fellow Air Warrior staffer "Mojo" Wayne met me at the ferry station early that afternoon, and we decided that Molly Malone's would make a perfectly fine destination for lunch and drinks before heading to the airport. As it turned out, Molly Malone's was equally appealing to the church crowd as the seafaring set, and before we knew it, battalions of patrons in their Sunday best, accompanied by countless raucous children, descended on our positions. Mojo said he knew a place close to the airport, so off we went to escape the onslaught of Christian soldiers.

Little did I know, Mojo's favorite spot was a strip club. Now, I am far, far from prudish, but I have just never taken much pleasure in such adult venues. We settled ourselves in a relatively secluded corner, and I was enjoying a well-made gin and tonic when he stood up and hollered, "Famous writer here! A famous horror writer!" So much for remaining incognito. A couple of attractive young ladies came around to check out my credentials, and when they learned I had written a Dark Shadows novel, they were both ecstatic. Longtime fans, apparently, and how nice! I ended up grabbing a couple of copies of the book from my (finally dried out) suitcase and donating them to the cause here, for which I was offered all kinds of favors, and which I all kinds of refused because, well, Mrs. Death. (I was still married in those days.) Anyway, after all this, Mojo drove me on to Islip Airport, where I anticipated, finally, an uneventful flight home.

My flight had been canceled.

Well, the attendant said, there wasn't another flight to PHL until late that evening, and I wouldn't be able to make a connection to Greensboro till the following day. However, if I wanted to catch a direct flight home, they could put me in a limo, free of charge, to LaGuardia, an hour or so away, which was due to depart in about three hours. I settled on taking the limo ride to LaGuardia and the direct flight, so off we went. The driver was courteous enough, a big fan of Rudy Giuliani, who turned out to be the sole subject of a very one-sided conversation. Now, for whatever reason, after leaving the strip club, I had kept a copy of Dreams of the Dark in my hand and stuck my plane ticket between its pages. When we arrived at LaGuardia, the driver dropped me off at the terminal, I grabbed my suitcase, and began heading toward the doors. The limo pulled away.

And I realized I had left my book — and plane ticket — in the car's back seat.

In a burst of panic, I took off running after the limo, hoping the driver would see me in his rear-view mirror. No such luck! By now, the police officers manning the terminal entrance came hauling ass my way, yelling at me to get the hell out of the road.

"My ticket's in that limo!" I shouted back.

Another limo was just pulling out, and an officer yelled, "Grab that one!"

Sure enough, as the limo pulled by me, I flagged the driver down and, while the car was still moving, flung myself into the back seat.

I pointed to the vehicle ahead I had so recently quitted. "Follow that car!"

The driver, a very cordial young African American fellow, nodded politely and said, "Hold on, sir!"

The G force was terrible. I was smashed into the back seat under what felt like a ton of bricks as the limo rocketed after our quarry. I could see that, not far ahead, the road divided, the right lane leading to the expressway, the left lane circling back around the airport. Naturally, my former limo was heading for the expressway.

In his rear-view mirror, my driver must have noticed my consternation, for he said in a placating tone, "No worries, sir."

Next thing I know, we're pulled up right beside my old limo, and the driver is honking his horn. My former driver noticed us, and I rolled down my window. "MY TICKET IS IN THE BACK SEAT!"

The driver looked around, noticed my book with the ticket inside, and in one smooth motion, reached back, grabbed the book, and flung it out the window toward me. The book came flying in and smacked me in the chest. "THANK YOU!" I hollered, and our dexterous fellow gave me a big thumbs' up. Then he was disappearing in the direction of the expressway, and I had my ticket in hand.

Now, quite unperturbed, my driver carried me back to the terminal at a far more reasonable speed, and when he dropped me off at the doors, I gave him a $20 bill for going around that circle, which back then was probably not a bad tip for a quick round trip.

In the end, I caught my flight back to Greensboro, this time sans inordinate turbulence, on time, with dry clothes, and at least some of my wits intact. When I got home and Mrs. Death asked me how my trip had gone, I told her it was fine, a few things a bit out of the ordinary. I wasn't sure she would believe the whole story. I wasn't sure I believed the whole story.

But that's what happened. And now I suddenly have a craving for Bass Ale. Anyone care to join me?

Friday, April 15, 2016

What a Long, Strange Trip, Part I


Back in May 2000, not long after Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark was released, I accepted to an invitation to attend a gathering of Dark Shadows fans at Fire Island, NY. I anticipated it being an entertaining weekend spent in the company of some nice folks with a similar fondness for certain supernatural soap operas. I was delighted to find that Ms. Elizabeth Massie, my co-writer on the novel, would also be attending. The part about about hanging out with some nice folks proved true enough, but what I did not expect was a surreal, at times disconcerting experience that began the moment I left home and didn't end until my plane touched down safely again in Greensboro two days later.

At the time, I was the head game op on AOL's Air Warrior flight simulator, and it so happened that one of the other staffers with whom I'd gotten to be friends lived in that area of New York. We decided that, on the last day of my trip, he would pick me up at the Fire Island Ferry Station, we'd have a few drinks somewhere, and then he'd take me to the airport. A little bonus to look forward to before my return home.

My plane departed on a cold, drizzly Friday morning, bound for Islip, Long Island, by way of Philadelphia. The flight out was normal enough, though the turbulence was considerable. It was when I arrived at PHL to make my connection that things really went south. By now, the drizzle had become a relentless deluge, and my flight to Islip was on a tiny commuter aircraft that resembled a shoebox to which someone had glued wings as an afterthought. However, rather than at the main terminal, the airplane was parked on the tarmac somewhere at the farthest reaches of the airport, to which we few passengers had to take a bus. Our baggage followed in an open trolley, and as you might guess, my canvas suitcase fared rather poorly in that driving rain. Once the plane was airborne, some coffee seemed just the ticket, so I acquired a cup from the flight attendant. I had barely taken the first sip — hot! — when we hit the first serious turbulence. Fortunately, the seat next to me was empty, and I held my cup out over that seat to keep the scalding coffee from sloshing all over me.

And just in time too. WHOMP! Big air pocket, and the plane dropped a hundred feet, my stomach rushing to my throat, every last bit of coffee splashing onto the empty seat beside me. Beverage service was immediately terminated, and for the next 45 minutes, we bounced along in the air, my head every now and then striking the overhead compartment when we hit a particularly rough stretch. It was the landing, though, that almost put me off flying, for as we made our descent, the little aircraft began swaying mercilessly back and forth, occasionally so sharply that, through the windows, I found myself looking straight down at the earth below. Soon enough, treetops were rushing past at high speed, and then — WHAM! — the left tire touched down on the runway. WHAM! The right tire touched down. Finally — BAM! THUD! — the nose wheel came down, and my head hit the back of the seat in front of me hard enough to send stars dancing across my field of vision. People around me were screaming, and I mean screaming, and this I found far more upsetting than the pain of impact. But outside the window, I could see that we were rolling along on level ground, gradually slowing down. The worst, it would seem, was over.

Indeed, I had survived more or less unscathed, but when my suitcase and I were reunited, it appeared to have been salvaged from some underwater catastrophe. Inside it, everything — and I mean everything — was soaked through and through. Where I was going, I didn't anticipate finding a handy retailer to replace anything that had been ruined, but my spirits were far less dampened than my belongings. I caught a ride with a friendly limo driver who carried me to the Bayshore-Fire Island Ferry Station, now under merely cloudy skies. However, immediately upon our arrival, the bottom fell out again, a blinding torrent, and I really wasn't sure where I had to go to meet my party. Oddly, the parking lot was deserted. The driver and I appeared to be the only human beings at the ferry station. He offered to wait with me until Ms. Massie and the others arrived, but I saw in the distance what appeared to be a tavern called Molly Malone's, and it was open, so I asked the driver to drop me there that I might enjoy a drink while waiting for the Dark Shadows contingent. He obliged, but in the fifty feet between the limo and the establishment's front door, I ended up so drenched I might as well have leaped into Great South Bay. With my waterlogged suitcase in hand, I staggered into the tavern, immediately to encounter a young hostess who, upon taking in my appearance, gave an involuntary snicker and said, "Sir, you need a drink."

I quite agreed, and she led me past a crowded bar, where a group of clearly drunken, burly seafaring types were belting out "Sweet Molly Malone" at the top of their collective lungs. I think it was at this moment that I realized I had become an active participant in some surreal, possibly preordained scenario, and there was nothing for it but to go along for the ride and see where it led me. I ordered myself a Bass Ale, and, if I recall, I ended up having another before I saw, through a rain-splashed window, the arrival of a vehicle from which, blessedly, Ms. Massie and several other familiar figures emerged. For quite some time afterward, whenever it rained, I found myself craving Bass Ale, and now upon reflection, it seems a tradition worth revisiting.

 As I made my way out of Molly Malone's, the rain stopped, and I met Ms. Massie, Mr. Bob Issel, and a few other folks whose acquaintances I had made at a previous Dark Shadows festival. We boarded the ferry, and, for the moment, it appeared that things might actually settle down and allow for a pleasant, mellow weekend at a cozy summer house on the island.

I only hoped I had some place to hang my soaked clothes and that they might dry out quickly.

Part II to follow.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hey, Ray!

Another random tale of mischief and woe from my adolescence...

It was during that period — 1972 or 1973 — when my friend Charles and I made it our business to prank call as many people in the town of Martinsville, VA, as was humanly possible. Perhaps you'll remember the story of The Pinocchio Lady, who doubtlessly suffered more at our hands (or our voices) than any other single individual. However, there was the case of Mr. Ray Bocock, whom we started out pranking, only to have the table somehow turned on us. Sort of. Anyway, witness the following account:

When I was thirteen years old, I considered Ray's son, Ken, my fiercest rival for the affections of one Mary Beth Hughes, with whom I was madly in love. For reasons that can perhaps be fathomed only by a very peculiar thirteen-year-old lad, I determined that it was up to me to make Mr. Bocock the Elder pay for the sin of having sired said rival by way of the prank phone call. Charles, being the devoted friend and all, was perfectly willing to help me on my quest — mainly because he enjoyed playing on the phone as much as I did — and so we set about plotting Mr. Bocock's demise with evil glee. The man was clearly a monster and needed to be dealt with.

As was our custom, we set up my Lloyd's cassette recorder to tape record the call. I wanted this take-down preserved for posterity. It was going to be brutal.

Ringggg....

"Hello?"

"Hey, Ray!"

"Hey there. Who's this?"

"This is Ronald! Don't you know anything?"

"Oh, Ronald. I didn't recognize your voice."

"Are you deaf?"

"No. Are you sure this is Ronald?"

"Are you sure this is Ray?"

"Pretty sure."

It occurred to me then that, for all our scheming, Charles and I had no plan at all. Now that I had Mr. Bocock on the line, I had no idea how to bring this terrible man to his knees. This could be serious. With the most hostile inflection I could manage, I said, "So, whatcha doing?"

"I was about to go mow the yard."

"Yeah? You know, I just got me a new riding lawn mower."

"Really? Sounds nice. What kind did you get?"

"Uh, a Sears, I think."

"You didn't get a Toro? That's a lot better."

"Uh, no."

Holy cow, this was falling apart quickly. Mr. Bocock actually sounded very nice. But how could that be? His son was trying to steal the love of my life, the maiden who had stolen my heart, the girl with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life — or at least the next couple of months. This simply could not stand. It was time to get ugly.

"Uh, hang on, Ray, my wife's calling me." (Charles makes some noise in the background.) "I'm back. She's a real nag, you know?"

"I bet she wouldn't nag you if you'd get on that riding lawn mower and mow the yard."

"Really?"

"Pretty sure."

"Uh, yeah. I guess I will then."

"That's good. Well, give her my best, will you?"

"I will!"

"All right then. Well, thanks for calling, Ronald. Talk to you later."

"Bye, Ray!"

I hung up, not quite sure I had achieved my objective. I'd had the man square in my sights, but he was so... so... cordial I just couldn't bring myself pull the trigger. Of course, it wouldn't do to let on to Charles that our wicked little plan had been derailed, so I gave him a sly grin and said, "We sure got him, didn't we?"

"Oh, yeah! I bet he doesn't even have a riding lawn mower."

Big laughs all around. "Yeah, and you know his wife nags him."

"All the time!"

After that, Charles and I called Mr. Bocock a couple more times, and the conversations went just about the same way. Those I did not record, alas. I never could bring myself to say anything bad to him, even about his son, and it wasn't long before it didn't matter anyway because Mary Beth Hughes had pretty much spurned the both of us. And a couple of years later, Ken Bocock and I took to playing golf together. What do you know — Ken was pretty much all right! And in my later teens, when I played a lot of golf with my dad, we often ended up in a foursome with... Ray Bocock. Damn, he was a great guy! Fun-loving, witty, sometimes a bit acerbic, in an endearing way.

Hell, no, I never told him I was Ronald. Would you?

I understand Mr. Bocock passed away a good many years ago — not long after my dad, as a matter of fact. I have to admit, I'm kind of glad Ronald made his acquaintance. Ronald probably learned something. I think he really needed to.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Haunted, Hurting, and Happy


Oh, my achy-breaky knees. I have surely put in some hiking this past couple of weeks, and the old bones are feeling it. I suppose it's a good kind of ache, except that it's not; oh yes, it means I've been getting back to some pretty serious cardio and overall muscle workouts, but unfortunately, I have the feeling the occasional ache in the knee is more arthritis than exercise related. Still, I'm more than happy to be hiking many miles, climbing trees, adding to my geocache count, all that good stuff. I also had to do some maintenance on several of my own caches the past couple of days, which involved additional hiking and tree climbing. Such suffering!

Now, the caching did take me to some scenic, creepy, and otherwise pleasing locations this week, such as the back roads of Guilford County; Farris Park, near Mayodan, NC; and one of my mostest favoritest trails ever, the Fieldale-Smith River Trail in Henry County, VA. I tell you this, heading out to on the latter trail to replace the log in my cache, "Haunted Island" (GC1P9Z3) — yes, it is on an island, and it is haunted — the wind was a-howling, the trees a-creaking and a-groaning, kind of like my old bones. And from the trail, you get a good view of the old Koehler Warehouse, which served as the area Jaycees' Halloween haunted castle back in the 70s. In my late teens, I had the pleasure of helping the Jaycees out, playing a mad vivisectionist (using real organs from a butcher shop) and skulking around the dark corridors in a monster costume scaring the hell out of the patrons. Ah, the good old days when you could touch, grab, tickle, and otherwise startle folks without worrying about lawsuits. To this day, I think of the old warehouse as "The Spooky Place." It really kind of is....

I did spend the past couple of days helping my mom out, so it was hardly all fun and games, but the time was pleasant enough. Today, back home, but unfortunately, Ms. Brugger is down with a flu bug. She needed some provisions, and while I don't love her enough to go to Walmart for them, I do love her enough to travel miles out of the way to get them at a non-Walmart. And though I almost never drink beer anymore, I noticed that strange brew called Oculto you see in the photo above, and I figured I might as well try it. Nothing to brag about, for sure, though it blends well enough with bloody mary mix (in this case, Clamato juice and scorpion pepper sauce). Now and again, a good old red-eye hits the spot.
Cute little cache guardian I discovered in the woods in Greensboro
Thought I might buy this little fixer-upper out in Guilford County for Ms. Brugger
as a summer cottage. Cozy, wot?
Purty view at Farris Park, near Mayodan, NC
The Spooky Place, in Koehler, VA