Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Day I Burned Up Martinsville


...or damn near.

Getting tagged by a bunch of ornery yellow jackets yesterday brought to mind a particularly dramatic episode from my sordid youth, the consequences of which I might still be paying to this day had things gone really badly. I can't help but suspect I am still here only because of my mom's ever-fervent prayers for the good lord to deliver me from my own stupidity. For most of my childhood, and some would say significantly beyond, I needed as many prayers as any God-fearing soul might offer, perhaps more so than most of my youthful partners in crime.

Witness the following account:

I was about ten, which means my younger brother, Phred, was five-ish. Our house was (and is) surrounded by picturesque woods, about which we did (and still do) love to wander. Apart from Bigfoot, a Wampus Cat, the Zanti Misfits, an Allosaurus, and something called The Ick, I had never encountered anything overtly hostile in those woods, and neither my little brother nor I felt any compunction about roaming them freely. Now, behind the house, there is a sizable hillside, back then completely wooded, now partly cleared for an electrical substation. Phred and I had been out exploring the heretofore undiscovered wilderness a half a block or so up the street. An exciting expedition indeed—until that last fateful moment before we set foot back in our own yard.

We were just making our way down the wooded hill behind the house when my brother stumbled into a hole in the ground and erupted into hellish caterwauling. Oh yes, he had discovered a sizable nest of yellow jackets, and they had discovered him. He came tearing out of those woods as if his head were on fire and his rear end was catching. I recall desperately wanting to rescue him from the swarm, but since there was a huge, seething cloud of the things, I deemed it far wiser to sit back and watch from a distance.

My parents heard the shrieking and came rushing out, and I believe it was Dad who grabbed Phred, swatted him up and down to kill as many yellow jackets as possible, and ran him into the house. The poor boy had I don't know how many stings—dozens, I'd guess. An unhappier camper I'm certain I had never seen up to that point in my young life.

Now, happily, neither of us suffer any severe allergies to critter stings, so after a period of considerable discomfort, Phred made a quick and full recovery. But I found myself guilt-stricken for not having rescued him from that raging swarm, and I quickly began to formulate a plan to dish out some just deserts for the inhabitants of that blasphemous hell-hole.

Step 1 was to pour a large Coca Cola bottle full of gasoline from the can Dad kept in the basement for the lawn mower. Step 2 was to clandestinely procure some matches from the kitchen cabinet. Step 3 was to fill a plastic bucket with water just for good measure. So I hauled myself and my instruments of revenge up the hill until I could see the offending aperture in the earth not far ahead. A few little yellow bastards were buzzing around it, but they appeared to be taking no notice of me. So I crept on up with my bottle of gasoline and, with cool deliberation, poured every last drop of it into the opening. As you might guess, this stirred up a fuss within, and I suspect I was lucky that the gasoline overcame any number of would-be attackers. I took a step back, struck a match, and dropped it into the hole.

WHOOMP!

I didn't know what had just happened. As if in slow motion, this huge ball of golden-red flame came billowing up at me, and only my youthful reflexes saved me from becoming a human torch. I dropped to the ground and skittered away from the inferno, my foremost thought being "charcoal lighter fluid never went up like that!" (I had lots of experience with charcoal lighter fluid.) My second thought was that I'd better get to that bucket of water with all possible haste. I scrambled over to it, lifted it above my head, and dumped the water straight into the newborn volcano, which extinguished the heart of the blaze and sent a column of smoke roiling into the sky.

But there was lots of dry grass and foliage all around that hole, and the fire was spreading. I thought maybe I could go back to the house and refill the bucket, but by that time, most of the woods and possibly our house would have burned up. Knowing I had little choice, I braved the flames and any surviving yellow jackets—I didn't see any, as they had probably all been blown up real good—and started smothering the spreading rings of fires with the bucket. By some miracle (Mom's prayers?), I managed to get the blazes under control, all without either getting flambéed or stung to death. Once the flames were mostly out, I ran back to the house with my bucket, filled it up, and returned to the disaster area, where I once again drenched the scorched earth. I repeated this procedure at least three or four times, and by the time I was finished, the fires were completely out.

The only evidence of what I had done, at this point, was a massive cloud of smoke hovering over the area and a charred patch of ground roughly ten to twelve feet in diameter. I think I sat out there for a hour or so to make sure the area didn't spontaneously reignite. I remember praying for my mom not to come outside, but I knew my dad would be getting home from work soon. I did my best to shed myself of all signs of panic, get cleaned up, and go back inside as if nothing had ever happened.

After all that, I will tell you that the true miracle of the day was that neither of my parents ever went down to the lower part of the backyard and looked up at that hillside, because if they had, I would not be here now to tell you that story. Had Dad ever found out, I'm pretty sure I would have preferred getting burned up in the inferno or fatally stung by little yellow bastards to what would have surely come down the pike. I've always hoped my little brother appreciated me laying my life on the line to avenge his agony.

And that was the Day I Burned Up Martinsville.
The old homestead, which I'm glad I managed NOT to burn down.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Owls, Yellow Jackets, the Day of the Triffids


So I got this weird design on my arm, see. While I was out and about last night, I saw a bright light, heard a strange voice, and that design just appeared. It's like, sometimes, life is stranger than shit.

Okay, it seemed the thing to do at the time. A few nights ago, Ms. Brugger indicated she was thinking about getting a new tattoo (she's got a couple of sharp ones, not in plain view), and we got to talking about possible subject matter, and Twin Peaks came up, and then... well... I just happen to know a brilliant young artist named Eliseo whom I used to work with, and he recently got his tattooing license. So, I thought, maybe carrying some Twin Peaks around with me from here on out would actually be a cool thing. I was pretty sure I didn't want "Fire walk with me" inscribed on my left arm, for it might become necessary to lop the whole thing off. It would have been cool to have the entire Owl Cave map tattooed on my back, but I didn't think I wanted to start with anything quite that involved. But the symbol in Owl Cave — the design on the ring that comes from the "other" place in Twin Peaks — well, say no more!

And it's done. I'm very pleased with the work, it didn't hurt, and those owls, indeed, aren't quite what they seem.

Due to all the rain we've had recently, my yard has become a tropical rain forest, and it's only now dried just enough to actually mow it. Since I had spent yesterday getting the ink treatment, I figured I'd better get the damned grass mowed today, lest my neighbors deduce that Triffids have begun taking over the neighborhood. And I did this thing, I went out after work, started to pushing the machine around the yard, getting things all neat and tidy around the old tree stump out back, and then — ZAP! — it's like a little bullet just went into my ankle.

Oh, crap. It's yellow jackets. Lots of them, pouring out of a hole near the base of the stump. One of them tags me on the leg, right next to where the first one got me. One actually gets into my boot and stings me on the ankle. While brushing some off, I get hit between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand. To my amusement, I discover that one is stinging the hell out of my boot lace, and he's hung there. Well, that's one ignominious death I get to deal, so score one for the old man.
100 megatons in this little Bloody Mary

Fortunately, the critters didn't swarm me in earnest, and I was able to move away from the nest without being pursued. I figured I'd take care of the nest after dark, so I went on about my necessary business, until... hang it all... the mower shudders, coughs, and dies. It had been sounding a bit off to begin with, and now it was altogether off. Couldn't resuscitate the old thing, alas—carburetor, I expect—so that ended my plan to conquer my yard full of Triffids. Sorry, neighbors, I'll fight that fight at the earliest opportunity.

Yeah, I was feeling a bit sore from the stings, so I was just as happy to come inside, get cleaned up, and make myself a Damned Rodan's Ghost Pepper Bloody Mary. It was a good 'un, and when I finished it, I had plenty to take my mind off the pain in my extremities. A damn fine drink, I can tell you, a damn fine drink indeed.

If you're anywhere near Greensboro, though, keep your distance from my place. There are Triffids.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hey, Let Me Sign That Book for You


There was a thread on Facebook the other day where authors were sharing their book-signing horror stories, and I decided this was a topic worth broaching on my blog. I'll post this entry on Facebook and Twitter as well so that any authors who care to jump in may do so.

I've done more book signings over the years than I can remember, and frankly, only a few actually do stand out in memory. I've had signings that far exceeded my expectations and others at which the sound of crickets was damn near deafening. Most of them have fallen somewhere in the middle. And though signings are part and parcel of this business, especially when more of your product appears via paper and ink than electronic means, I can't say I've ever been all that fond of them—less because I worry about a lack of attendees than the fact that promoting my work, especially face to face with potential customers, is not my strong suit. Oh yes, I've faced up to this challenge and worked like hell to master it for a long time, but I still don't much like it. Put me in front of my keyboard in my own office, with some mood music playing and a few horrific ideas in my head, and I'll be going straight to town. Ask me to get to work promoting that very thing, and I'm going to start thinking of a whole different kind of horror.

Perhaps oddly, I don't have much problem with public speaking. I certainly do my share of that, whether about writing, geocaching, work-related issues, what have you. That's not so bad. No, it's the act of playing salesman to which I am averse.

But enough of that, I reckon. I do what I've gotta do to the best of my ability. When it comes to actual unpleasant experiences at book signings... well, I might have a couple.

Certainly, the first time no one showed up—I believe that was at a little bookstore in Hertford, NC, in the early 2000s, with a couple of other authors—yeah, that was disconcerting, yet at the same time not altogether frustrating, in that I didn't actually have to try to sell a goddamn thing. The conversation with my fellow authors was enjoyable, at least.

When it comes to more well-attended signings, there are two types of patrons I particularly dislike: 1) those who are simply rude or dismissive, especially in regard to the books' subject matter, and 2) those who never intend to buy a thing but want to chew your ear off about the book they hope to write.

The most memorable example of the first was when Dark Shadows: Dream of the Dark first came out, in 1999. The signing was either in Roanoke, VA, or Winston-Salem, NC, I can't recall for certain. Anyway, I was sitting at my table, happy as the proverbial clam since things had been going well, when this rather brusque gentleman came up, grabbed a copy of the book in his oversized paw, and started thumbing through the pages, taking no care not to bend the book's pages or spine. I quite affably asked him whether he was a fan of Dark Shadows, and his response was, "Shut up, let me just read the cover copy." I was so taken aback, I didn't have any response for him other than, "Yeah, all right." Of course, he didn't buy the book; he just dropped it back on the table and walked off. Being far older and wiser now, in the same situation I'd be more likely to suggest he put my book down and seek out a copy of Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior but thankfully, this sort of offender, in my experience, has been relatively rare.

The second is the more common type. Now, I don't mind shooting the shit with someone who is genuinely interested in writing, but I'm not fond of people who have no interest in my product but will not hesitate to monopolize my time and blithely occupy the space that other, possibly paying customers might wish to occupy. At a couple of my more recent signings, I had just such encounters; at one of them I managed to divest myself of the offender by indicating there were other people trying to get to the table, and in the other case, a fellow writer was kind enough to come and rescue me because the patron was clearly not picking up on the not-necessarily-subtle signals I was sending that, as far as I was concerned, his time, truly, was up.

The flip side of this is that, far more often than not, there are plenty of folks who are kind enough to take an interest in my work and even part with some of their hard-earned cash, only to have me devalue a book with my signature. It's these folks who keep me keeping on, and I sincerely thank all such fine folks.

Okay, authors—if you'd care to share any your own tales of book-signing terror, you are most welcome, either here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. Sign away!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Beyond the Devil's Tramping Ground

Gracious, did that cross painted on the road just cause Bridget to burst into flame?
Several years ago—in July of 2010, to be precise—my friend Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres) and I went down to Chatham County, NC, to The Devil's Tramping Ground to hunt a night cache called "Hell on Earth" (GC1GZNP). Night caches tend to be smashing fun, as you get to go out in the woods with flashlights and follow glowing markers to get where you're going, and this cache in particular made for a memorable adventure (see "Hell on Earth" for the blow-by-blow). It's rare that I revisit a cache I've already found, but Bridget wanted her significant other, Gerry (BigG7777), to experience the joy of night caching, and since there was a newer cache at the Tramping Ground I hadn't yet found, she wondered whether I might wish to accompany them. Well, shoot yeah!
BigG7777 and Suntigres at the Smokehouse Bistro in Liberty
So off we went. First, a nice dinner at the Smokehouse Bistro in downtown Liberty—an excellent burger with jalapenos and homemade chipotle-habanero sauce for me—then a handful of park & grab caches on the trip to ye accursed circle of land, located just off Devil's Tramping Ground Road near Harper's Crossroads. We arrived at the site just before sunset. The place appears innocuous enough—just a clearing in the woods set back some distance from the road—but there are distinct signs of something a little different here. There's a large cross painted on the road near the opening to the forest. Numerous trees have been etched with crosses and other religious symbols. Graffiti denigrating Satan in the rudest of terms has been sprayed on the pavement and on trees. And clear signs of wild partying litter the entrance, though once you get farther into the woods, there are few signs of human incursion.

Our first order of business was to make our way out to the cache called "Beyond the Devil's Tramping Ground" (GC5Y9KA), which proved easy enough to find. But then I discovered, deep in these dark, deserted woods, a large electrical cable running along the ground and extending out of sight. Then somewhere in the distance, I heard a faint, high-pitched "Woo-woo-woo-woo" sound, which led me to suspect I might have come upon a conduit to The Black Lodge. I didn't encounter any of its inhabitants, at least that I'm aware of (sometimes I'm not too sure about Bridget), but I reckon this was as apt a location as any to find an entry point.
Hunting "Beyond the Devil's Tramping Ground" just before sunset. Wonder if that length of electrical
cable out in the woods is a conduit of sorts to the Black Lodge....
One more cache under our belts, and the sun just about down, we turned our attention to "Hell on Earth." The first thing we realized was that, unlike when Bridget and I had gone after it back in 2010, we could see no glowing reflectors in the beams of our flashlights. Well, that was seven years ago, and trees have grown, reflectors have fallen out of trees, and our memories are anything but photographic. We ended up stumbling around in the dark for a while without success, but then, happily, BigG came upon a reflector, a considerable distance from our starting point. From there, we were able to pick up the trail, though we did lose track of the reflectors any numbers of times as we journeyed farther. At one point, I did wonder whether we might have come upon an anomaly of time and space, à la The Blair Witch, wherein the woods seal themselves up tight and refuse to permit escape. Eerie bird calls filled the night, and distant frogs and other critters had commenced a lulling chorus. But after some searching, circling, and hollering back and forth, we reconnected with the trail, and at last—voilà—BigG was able to lay his hands on the cache.

Then the fun began. Since we hadn't marked GPS waypoints on our outbound trek, and there was no clear trail at this point, we had to figure out our own ways back to the starting point. And just because Bridget and I had already done this thing once, it didn't mean we could navigate the woods with any sort of assurance. We had the parking coordinates marked, of course, but taking the most direct route out oftentimes does not constitute the best route.

Briers! Ticks! Poison ivy! Unknown things whispering and gibbering in the darkness! Oww, motherfucker, oww, motherfucker, OWW!

At last, there it was—the Devil's Tramping Ground once again, and what a welcome sight. From there, it was back to the vehicle and back to our respective home ports—and rather late, it turned out. Much satisfaction for all, of course: BigG had claimed his first night cache, and Suntigres and I added a few pelts for ourselves.

Today, at 2:00 PM, I have a presentation on geocaching and horror writing to give at the Greensboro Public Library, Glenwood Branch. That's less than a couple of hours from now, but I expect to see some of you dear readers in attendance. There will be at least one new cache nearby, just waiting for someone to grab the coveted First-to-Find honor. Might that be you?
Lost highway

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Go Ask Alice

Moviemaker Myron Smith, who with his brother, Mat, co-produced and directed the indie films Young Blood and Invasion of the Killer Cicadas (both of which I took part in), has in recent days gone out on his own to make "Sweded" versions of well-known movies, such as Night of the Living Dead, Return to Oz, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Sweded films are the ultimate in amateur moviemaking, generally very short, oftentimes hilarious, and always made on a less-than-shoestring budget. Myron has now turned his directorial efforts to his own version of Alice in Wonderland, and yesterday I had a blast taking part as one of the playing card soldiers in several scenes, including Alice's outrageous trial, which was filmed at the old courthouse in my old hometown of Martinsville, VA. Due to schedule conflicts, I'd had to turn down the more substantial role of the King of Hearts, but I did enjoy being able to slap around a few peasants and lead them off to have their heads removed by an irate Queen of Hearts.
Director Myron Smith goes over the script, the
the White Rabbit takes a smoke break, and the
rest of the cast prepares for the day's shoot.

Alas, yesterday proved to be a regular pain—literally—before things settled onto something resembling an even keel. First thing in the morning, I woke up to a call from Wells Fargo and discovered that my bank card had been compromised for the second time in just a few months. Fortunately, the bank caught what was going on and all the bogus charges were declined, but still, having to deal with the aftermath of this kind of thing is a bitch in heat. Would that such thieves—not to mention the endless stream of scam artists who have devoted themselves to defrauding my less-than-healthy mother—could be transported to a real-world counterpart of yesterday's movie set, so that I might joyously lead them to their royally deserved headless futures.

Okay, so at last I'm on set and outfitted in my costume, but before shooting can begin, one of my glasses lenses makes a distinctive popping sound and, zoom, there it goes, flying through the air like a Frisbee. Yes, the screw holding the frames together had pulled loose, but again happily, the lens wasn't damaged, and I was able to put things back to right once I got home. Lord, but I do hope these glasses will hold together for the foreseeable future, as they're not that old, and I sure don't need to be replacing them just about the time their warranty expires.

Then comes Strike Three for the day: late in the afternoon, near the end of the shoot, that accursed prismatic pattern appears in my field of vision, the undeniable proof of a migraine setting in. Damnation, I had only just suffered a migraine two days earlier, though fortunately a very mild one. The light show for this one was particularly spectacular, but once again—I say with a big sigh of relief—the accompanying headache was relatively mild and proved to be more an inconvenience than a debilitating condition, which is too often not the case. Still, it was most frustrating, as I had committed to going with Ms. Brugger to a friend's birthday bash last night, and I can assure you, handling a sizable, noisy party with a migraine, however mild, is not a welcome prospect. However, around 9:30 PM, after resting a bit, particularly my eyes, I had begun to feel more or less human again, and, serendipitously, Ms. B. texted me to see if I might feel up to joining the group for a while. So I did, and though a bit weak and washed out, I managed to hold up without causing myself—and hopefully anyone else—any undue agony.

So I guess one could say that, despite being a somewhat dicier Saturday than I would generally wish on anyone—except perhaps scammers—it proved far better than a total bust. At least I didn't lose my head.
When her wicket collapses during the croquet game, Alice becomes irate, though perhaps a bit less so
than the Queen of Hearts, who orders the wicket's head removed.
In the courtroom, the White Rabbit reads charges against Alice, while director/cameraman
Myron Smith films the scene.
Pick a card. Any card.
The jury is in. Or out. Or something.
Catching some shade and refreshment between takes. The sun about blistered my poor bald head.