Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Get Your Chills This Wintertime with Summer of Lovecraft


From the editors of World War Cthulhu: A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories...

CTHULHU MEETS FLOWER POWER
 in this weird, wild, trippy, far-out, cosmic, and horrific anthology. Summer of Lovecraft - Cosmic Horror in the 1960s, edited by Brian M. Sammons & Glynn Owen Barrass, published by Dark Regions Press. For my part, I consider Short Wave to be one of my most eerie and disturbing tales.

The ebook edition is set to be release in the next few weeks. Summer of Lovecraft features the following stories and authors:


Night Trippers by Lois H. Gresh
“Operation Alice” by Pete Rawlik
“The Summer of Love” by C.J. Henderson
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Sullivan” by Lee Clark Zumpe
“Dreamland” by David Dunwoody
“Lost In the Poppy-Fields of Flesh” by Konstantine Paradias
“Five To One” by Edward M. Erdelac
“Keeping the Faith” by Samantha Stone
“Mud Men” by Sean Hoade
“Misconception” by Jamie D. Jenkins
“No Colors Anymore” by Joe L. Murr
“Shimmer and Sway” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
“Short Wave” by Stephen Mark Rainey
“The Song that Crystal Sang” by Tom Lynch
“Through a Looking Glass Darkly” by Glynn Owen Barrass and Brian M. Sammons
“The Color from the Deep” by William Meikle
“The Long Fine Flash” by Edward Morris
“Just Another Afternoon in Arkham, Brought to You in Living Color” by Mark McLaughlin and Michael Sheehan, Jr.
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Jeffrey Thomas

Initially, Summer of Lovecraft is being released as ebook. The paperback release will follow shortly.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Happy Horrordays! Nightmares in Yellow

Nightmares in Yellow is a new anthology from Oxygen Man Books, edited by Duane Pesice, featuring tales of The King in Yellow, based on the works of John W. Chambers. Proceeds from the book will benefit author and longtime friend Joe Pulver and his wife Katrin, who have both suffered catastrophic health issues in the past couple of years. Joe is well known for his numerous works of fiction and anthologies involving The King in Yellow — a play that drives anyone who reads it mad. My contribution is "Masque of the Queen," which originally appeared in The Court of the Yellow Queen, edited by Glynn Owen Barrass, a couple of years back. Have a look at the table of contents below. As you may see, this is a massive project. It's due in the next few weeks, possibly by Christmas.

Nightmares in Yellow, edited by Duane Pesice
"Introductions — Four-Part Harmony"
John Linwood Grant
Edward Morris
Duane Pesice
Jeffrey Thomas

Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. — "The Gateway to Carcosa"
David Barker — "Chamber of Shards"
Joseph Bouthiette Jr. — "Oedipus at Carcosa"
Don Webb — "The Fourth Man"
Kenneth W. Cain — "An Unfortunate Night at the Oakwood Theater"
Mike Davis — "Tales of the King in Yellow"
Edward Morris and Joe Pulver — "The Resplendent Troswoman Below"
Mike Griffin — "No Mask to Conceal Her Voice"
David Hoenig — "Last Dance for the Ancient Gods"
Erica Ruppert — "The Traveller"
Donald Armfield — "BEing"
Scott Thomas — "The Sea Might Yet Be Weeping"
DJ Tyrer — "Beautiful Dreams"
Richard Writhen — "What You Wish For"
Peter Rawlik — "The Imperial Dynasty of America"
John Claude Smith — "The Yellow Hour"
Sean M. Thompson — "Songs of EyEs"
Sarah Walker — "The Keening of a Yellow Star"
Maxwell Ian Gold — "naigoth.carcosa.exe"
David Hoenig — "Of Kings, Queens, and Knaves"
Ashley Dioses — "Even Madness Cannot Hide"
Frank Coffman — "Warnings to the Curious"
David B. Busboom — "From the Dusty Mesa"
Shayne Keen — "Yellow Work"
Bruce Boston — "Exiled to Hastur"
Renee Mulhare — "Paper Masks"
Eduardo Peret — "The Next Emperor"
Curtis M. Lawson — "Pinocchio and the Black Pantheon"
Douglas Draa — "Neighbors Good and Fair"
John Paul Fitch — "Faces"
Ross E. Lockhart — "Shrubberies"
Rebecca J. Allred — "Lambda 580"
Can Wiggins — "The Queen in Yellow"
KA Opperman — "Cassilda Dons the Pallid Mask"
Stephen Mark Rainey — "Masque of the Queen"
Bruce Boston — "Exiled to Hastur"
Andrew Reichart — "A Sign of Pure Gold"
Kaaron Warren — "The Naked Man"
Michael Wehunt — "numbers of the bEast"
Jeffrey Thomas — "The Seed"
DJ Tyrer — "Beautiful Dreams"
Duane Pesice — "Sunshine and Scarlet"
Drew Nicks — "Opening Night"
David Hoenig — "Last Dance for the Ancient Gods"
Scott Couturier — "We Are the Sacrifice"
John Linwood Grant — "Mr Bubbles and the Jaundiced Stranger"
Frank Coffman — "Audience With the Last King"
Manuel Paul Arenas — "The Yellow Tale"
Matthew R. Davis — "IL Re Giallo"
Adam Bolivar — "The Door to Nod"
Donald Armfield — "End is Nigh"
Edward Morris — "Beast: A Fable For Children"

Cover art by Derek Pegritz. Cover design by Dan Sauer.

Visit Nightmares in Yellow on Facebook here.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Another Haw River Hoedown

A handful of The Usual SuspectsDiefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and an old dude (a.k.a. an old dude) — badly needed to hike and seek some geocaches today. So off we rode to the Haw River down near Pittsboro. We've cached that area numerous times, though just north of US 64, there is a trail along the river with a number of nice caches we had yet to conquer. That we did, but for one very old cache "Craggy Haw" GC1JCRP, placed in 2008), which is most likley missing. Otherwise, the hike proved scenic, occasionally rugged, and altogether satisfying.
I wonder what might be lurking in that big old
column of stone way back in the woods....

After the river hike, we landed ourselves at Carolina Brewery in Pittsboro where, unbeknownst to us, a gaggle of local geocachers had also landed following a nearby CITO (Cache-In, Trash-Out) event. We arrived right at the tail end of the event, but we did see quite a few familiar faces (and in a few cases, entire bodies). We exchanged a round of greetings before most of them departed and then proceeded to procure ourselves some vittles and liquid refreshment. Nice!

On the way home, we stopped for another handful of caches. And we got run off from a stand of woods where a cache apparently used to be but that now belongs to some nearby property owners who were unaware of such wondrous things as geocaches. Alas.

All in all, though, a satisfying day of exercise, good company, and decent refreshment.
Islands in the stream
A sunny day at the river

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Parkway Pilgrimage: Better Late Than Never

Not that I'm complaining — not even a little bit — but since Kimberly and I were otherwise engaged conquering several countries in the Mediterranean during the month of October, we missed our traditional pre-Halloween vittles-and-vino pilgrimage to Mabry Mill, Villa Appalaccia, and Chateau Morrisette on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Then November turned out to be a whirlwind of both happy and sad personal obligations. Thus, we resolved to undertake a make-up pilgrimage at the earliest possible opportunity. That meant today.

Last night, Ms. B. and I left work, bound for the old homestead in Martinsville, where we took care of some necessary business, then enjoyed dinner and a movie. This morning, unfortunately, our favorite slapjack breakfast was right out, as Mabry Mill closes for the season at the end of October. Regardless, we made do at home and then set out for the mountains. I stopped for a fun, aptly named geocache near the Blue Ridge Parkway ("Is It Really Possum?" GC88JWD), and then drove up to the site of Floyd Fest, where, some months ago, a couple of caches had been placed. The Virginia geocache reviewer subsequently archived them for not conforming to geocaching standards, but I had a sneaking suspicion the containers might still be in place. So, playing against the odds, I set out on the hunt. Not altogether unexpectedly, I came up empty-handed. Well, drat! At least it was a worthy attempt, and I got in some strenuous exercise going up and down (mostly up) the mountainous terrain.

From there, Brugger and I made the very short hop over to Villa Appalaccia, which is under relatively new ownership. Their wine, as always, proved itself exceptional. The dry reds — a delicious Sangiovese, a refreshing blend called Rustico, and our perennial favorite, the Aglianico — all put to shame the multitudes of wines we've sampled in Virginia and North Carolina. That said, once we headed over to Chateau Morrisette, where we had lunch reservations, we found that their 2017 Petit Verdot, a varietal I've always appreciated, rivaled Villa Appalaccia's best. Chateau Morrisette typically makes decent if unexceptional wine, but this one — bold, full-bodied, and aromatic — did not taste like "Virginia wine," which, much like wine from North Carolina, tends to have a distinctive, young, juice-like flavor and thin mouth feel. We've generally gone to Chateau Morrisette more for the food than the wine, but today we found the best of both. Lunch consisted of a delicious Cobb Salad for Ms. B. and a perfectly done medium-rare house specialty burger for the old feller. Excellent service topped off a most satisfying meal.

So, better late than never for a Parkway Pilgrimage, though I did really did miss the slapjack breakfast at Mabry Mill. The mill and restaurant reopen in the spring, so I reckon the nice lady and I will have to add another required pilgrimage to our schedule. I reckon I can deal with that.
A couple of happy folk with happy wine at Villa Appalaccia
Our lunchtime view at Chateau Morrisette

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Another Commute, Another Adventure


This morning's going-to-work adventure:

Dude in a pickup truck driving down the highway in the left lane at about 30 mph, forcing people to go around him on the right. I notice that he flips the bird to everyone who goes around him. Then he speeds up to about 80, thrusts his entire upper body out the window, and starts flipping off the world. Weaves back and forth across lanes since he has no hands on the steering wheel. Comes perilously close to decapitating himself on the center barrier. Slides back into driver's seat, sticks both hands out the window to flip off the world. Then accelerates to tailgate the drivers in front of him for a while before passing them and flipping them the bird.

Last I saw of him, he was hauling away at what had to be 100-plus mph.

I don't know what this cretinous yahoo's problem was, but at least he didn't take someone else out — including me — at the time. Should karma have bitten him somewhere down the road... well, thank you, karma.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lights, Please

It is now after Thanksgiving, which means I can legitimately put up some Christmas decorations at Casa di Rodan. Now, my decorating is never elaborate. Going elaborate means a massive taking-it-all-down-after-Christmas effort, which is so very displeasing. Still, I do enjoy getting some purty lights burning around the house. Way back when — mid 1990s, I think — there was a house up the street from ours in Martinsville where the property owners literally filled the woods with those tube-light snowflakes, and it was gorgeous... almost surreal (I wish to god I had some photos from back then). That spectacle inspired grandiose dreams that I might similarly fill the woods around our Martinsville place with such lights. So, in the late 1990s, I think it was, Mrs. Death and I invested in a bunch of them, but the whole filling the woods thing never really came about. Nowadays, though, every year, I at least put a bunch of the thingummies in the trees around my house here in Greensboro.

I had set up my wee little fiber optic tree in the living room last week — a couple of days before Thanksgiving actually. Yeah, I know, this is wrong, but since Thanksgiving was so late this year, I wanted to make sure I at least got in most of a month of Christmas tree time — not to mention Halloween-skull-what-lives-here-full-time time (see photo). Upstairs, I have a tiny little pre-lit tree, about two feet tall, that burns in the office window, just for good measure. Again, no great shakes, but you put all this stuff together, and you might think the old feller living here has at least a smidgen of the Christmas spirit. I don't know if that's what you call it, necessarily, but whatever it is, I got a little of it.

Given the complications that have arisen with my surviving family members, it's going to be a very different holiday season this year. Early on, I was afraid Thanksgiving might end up an emotional bust, but — thankfully — it turned out quite the opposite. It was the most relaxing, satisfying, invigorating Thanksgiving holiday I've had in years. Brugger and I managed to find some much-needed quality time like we haven't had in ages, so I really have to say that this year's Day of the Dead Bird earned high marks in my personal history book.

Now, due to complications arising from the already established complications (which discretion dictates I refrain from relating in detail), I have fallen way, way behind on my current Ameri-Scares novel. Happily, over the four-day weekend, I was able to make up for a good bit of lost time, but there is still more to compose than I am even a little bit comfortable with. (Yeah, yeah, pardon the dangling preposition.) I still have a bunch of short fiction on the burner, not to mention a couple of more Ameri-Scares entries down the line. Still and all, I find that composing these blogs is not only emotionally therapeutic, it galvanizes the old writing spirit, which — much to my dismay — I have found flagging as so many issues not of my own making weigh heavier and heavier each and every day. I tell you, mortality can be a monster, especially when it's not your own but your loved ones'. Aging has certainly brought with it a measure of wisdom I no doubt needed. On the other hand, gaining such wisdom is really a fucking pain in the ass, not to mention the heart, and I could sure do with a little break from this living in the land of the wise. Alas. There is no such box to check on survey form you get for Living Life in General.

All righty then. I have had my say for the evening. I've got Christmas lights, and I've got a martini. And I'm diving into Ameri-Scares Ohio: Fear the Grassman! It's scaring the pants off me as I'm writing it, I can tell you.

You, keep your pants on. This book, and more, are well on the way.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Black Friday, Red Wine

Black Friday has become one of my favorite days of the year, since I generally avoid as much of humanity as humanly possible and hie myself to some woodland haven in search of geocaches. This day, the only bunch of people I really encountered was traffic on I-40 as I made my way to Salem Lake, just this side of Winston-Salem. There was only one cache at the lake on my target list (Inception - GC89BRW), but a new park & grab hide had come out in Greensboro not long before I headed out the door. I snagged it on my way to Winston.

There's usually a fair crowd on the trails  at Salem Lake, and this Black Friday was no exception. Fortunately, the trails are extensive enough that the crowds are spread out. And the cache lurked a fair distance into the woods from the main trail. Out there, it was nice and secluded. On the trail, quite a few folks came by on horseback. In fact, I saw almost as many horseback riders as bicyclists, which was pretty cool.

Munzees. Sigh. Munzees are sort of an offspring of geocaching, but they don't feature hidden containers. Instead, you go to their coordinates and scan a QR code. Or, as has become more popular, you scan the freaking air to get credit for a virtual Munzee. You just need to be in the correct proximity. Thesee boogers are only gratifying because they are often placed in concentrations sufficient to make for an enjoyable walk. I confess that, since I started geocaching, when I go on a walking outing, I like to have something to hunt. To claim. And Munzees offer that opportunity. Last week, I went out with friend Natalie (a.k.a. Ms. Fishdownthestair) to a nearby shopping area to snag a crapload of Munzees. Quite a few of these little fuckers reside at/around Salem Lake, so yeah, I put in some extra hiking to scan them. Good for me, right? At the end of the outing, I had put in over four miles of trekking around the woods, so that, indeed, proved a good thing.

Pretty far out in the woods, I came across a kind of lean-to shelter, pictured below. I occasionally encounter such constructs when I'm out and about. This one might be especially fortuitous in that I've been trying to come up with images that might fit the Grassman theme for my upcoming Ameri-Scares novel, Ohio: Fear the Grassman! It's apt because "evidence" of the Grassman includes the discovery of such shelters, although sized for Bigfoot. This one wasn't small, as it extends back about twelve feet.
While I went off on my woodland adventures, Brugger had joined friends Beth and Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres) for their annual "Crunken Dork Day" gathering — which is all about arts & crafts with wine corks (and wine, of course), so named due to the misplacement of syllables while vocalizing in an inebriated state. After my hike, I headed to nearby Kernersville to join up with them and their respective spouses — friends Terry and Gerry (a.k.a. BigG7777). Wine and dinner (chili!) ensued, as did an entertaining round of Cards Against Humanity.

It was pretty late when I got home last night. And I slept in this morning, which I suppose the old brain and body needed. Today, I plan on making substantial progress on the Ameri-Scares front. This, too, is much-needed.
Sights along the trail: a great blue heron, on the watch for enemy submarines
A garland of stones, flowers, and little pumpkins around a tree next to the trail

Thursday, November 28, 2019

T-Minus Turkey Day and Counting


For the first time in over thirty years, I'm not celebrating Thanksgiving Day in the company of my full family, such as it is. Sadly, in all likelihood, my mom has spent her last holiday at home, and my brother is unable to leave his place today. So Kimberly and I are dug in at Casa di Brugger, with enough food and drink in the works to feed the Biblical multitude. (Fortunately, we have a houseful of cats to help us take care of the mass quantities.) I'd have to say I feel a certain melancholy, as this arrangement will likely be permanent; on the other hand, having some much-needed down time with just Ms. B. is just the ticket for today. Since before our trip to Europe, when the world went careening off the rails, life has been a whirlwind of ups and downs, with far too many downs in the mix.

For me, Thanksgiving has always been about sharing time with loved ones. From my youngest days, my mom, dad, brother, and I always had a big Thanksgiving dinner, oftentimes in the company of grandparents, close friends, or both; in later years, with my wife and daughter as well. Over the decades, life changes and mortality have whittled family and those old friends down to a distressingly small number.

That said, it's safe to say I've never been a happier soul than with Kimberly, and at this moment, sharing the world with her is all the joy I can manage.

Typically, Black Friday is a day to avoid as much of humanity as possible by way of geocaching, and continuing that tradition looks to be in tomorrow's cards — as is sharing time with some of our bestest friends later in the day. So, yeah, things in my little corner of the world may be way, way different this year, but I reckon I'll be taking things as they come. It's not as if we have much choice in such matters, really.

So, to you and yours, a damned fine Thanksgiving. Eat and drink to your heart's content. Then try to figure out how you're gonna work it all off. I expect tomorrow's geocaching might at least burn off a wee smidgen of stuffing.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Tarheel State and the Outhouse

Today, the Usual Suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Old Rob (a.k.a. Old Rob), et moi — spent the day on the road between Salisbury, NC, and Statesville, NC, snagging all one hundred caches in the Tarheel State Geoart series, plus a few assorted caches in the vicinity. We finished the day having claimed 110 caches, which is the most I've ever found in one day. Happily, we posted not a single DNF (Did Not Find) log, which is unusual for a run of such magnitude. Almost all the caches were hidden at the bases of signs, in guardrails, on fences, and a few other assorted easily accessible locations along US Highway 70.

The most enjoyable cache of the day was probably one that wasn't part of the series, called "The Outhouse" (GC5X0CR). This one led us to a bunch of old ruins in the woods — a collapsed house, a tobacco barn, and a few teetering outbuildings. We found the cache readily enough, but we did spend a bit of time wandering among the old structures. I love finding places like this. You never know what kind of ghostly thingummies might haunt such ruins. I always enjoy trying to find out.

Midway through the run, we headed back into Salisbury proper and had lunch at Shuckin' Shack Osyter Bar, where our gang had eaten on our last Salisbury outing. Good, good food there. I had a dozen steamed oysters on the half-shell and some hot chicken wings (their "Surf and Turf" combo). Once done, we finished out the run and headed back to Greensboro, arriving just before sundown.

Geoarts aren't my favorite caches, since they mostly involve starting, stopping, grabbing, rinsing, and repeating. But they're certainly fun now and again, and they do help you rack up your geocaching numbers. It's especially fun in good company. I must find some someday.

((Ducking and running. Very fast.))
The Usual Suspects: Old Rodan, Fishdownthestair, Diefenbaker, Old Rob
Diefenbaker looking for the outhouse
A little fixer-upper. Note the natural air conditioning.
Looks like a Nor'easter came through here.

Extending the Dick & Willie

Sure, it's an amusing nickname: "Dick & Willie" refers to the old Danville and Western railway that used to run through Martinsville. The tracks were taken up several years ago, and now the Dick & Willie Rail Trail uses those old rail beds to traverse Martinsville, VA. Since 2008, the trail has run about four and a half miles, from Commonwealth Blvd. at the northwest end to a point just north of Spruce St., east of town. After many months of work, a new, two-and-a-half-mile trail extension leads to the Smith River Sports Complex, at Martinsville's easternmost corner. This puts the trail very close to my old neighborhood, and since I'm at the homeplace frequently, I went out yesterday to properly inaugurate the trail extension with several geocaches.

I put out four yesterday, all on the leg that runs from the end of Country Club Drive (the stories I have from that place!) to the sports complex. One ammo can (Country Club View); a medium-size Tupperware container (Dick & Willie Rocks); a small, camouflaged jar (Dick & Willie: The Hole Thing); and a wee little bison tube (Dameron's Disaster). They're out there, already published at geocaching.com, and all found exactly once so far — by fellow geocacher tbbiker (a.k.a. Todd). I hope these caches, and other new ones yet to come out, will entice lots of geocachers in the area to pay Martinsville a visit.

I did manage to cut my finger pretty good while placing one of the containers. Just call me Captain Klutz.

As a youngster, I spent a fair amount of time back in those woods behind Country Club Drive. In my teens, several friends and I would on occasion go camping there (and possibly drinking things other than water from the Smith River). At one time, a sewer line and utility road went back where the trail now leads. Although one wasn't supposed to, one could, if so minded, drive a car back down into the woods and cross a very narrow, earthen bridge over one of the creeks. When I say narrow, I'm talking a couple of inches clearance on either side. I think it was during my first year of college that friends (whom, for the purposes of this account, I shall call Johannes, Ramon, and Keebler) and I all drove back there to camp out overnight. When we saw that little land bridge, we had our doubts about proceeding any further. But Johannes resolved to drive across that treacherous space in his powder blue Ford Maverick. And he up and did it — successfully. Whew! So I figured that if Johannes could do it in a Maverick, I could do it in my little mustard yellow Toyota Corolla. Well, yes, I did it, with Ramon in the car with me. It was hairy, to be sure. Then it was Keebler's turn. He came roaring down the hill, hit the bridge, and... woops! BOOM! His little green whatever-it-was slid and toppled partway over the edge. What a disaster! Now, he was fine, and I don't think the car suffered too much damage... but it did require a tow truck to pull that vehicle out of there. I sure hate to think of the aftermath for poor Keebler. It couldn't have been pretty.

Anyway, there is now a geocache out there, at that exact location, commemorating the event.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ameri-Scares Ohio: Fear the Grassman! Excerpt #2

My next novel in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series is for the state of Ohio. This one is tentatively titled Fear the Grassman! because it's about... you guessed it... the Ohio Grassman, which, according to local legend, is a kind of Bigfoot creature. In this scene, 13-year-old Landon Morris has experienced a terrifying, sleepless night. From the darkness outside his window, he has heard thumping, growling, and a strange, rhythmic rapping. When the sun finally rises, he gets out of bed before his parents, summons his courage, and creeps outside to look for evidence of a nocturnal visitor....

A gust of frigid wind slapped Landon in the face. From the woods at the edge of the yard, swaying tree limbs clacked, clattered, and groaned. To his left, an expansive meadow of dead, brown grass separated his house from the Wickliffes’ place, half a mile distant. In the middle of the meadow, he saw the jagged silhouette of an ancient, teetering barn, which he and Danny sometimes used as a clubhouse. Mom and Dad didn’t like him playing there. They said it was dangerous and might collapse. But that had hardly stopped him from claiming the place as his own. To the right, beyond a wide, withered cornfield, a steep, humpbacked ridge resembled a gigantic, sleeping bear. He didn’t know if it had a name, but he had always called it Bear Mountain. The rising sun’s rays created a golden halo above its “head.”

He drew a deep breath, gathered his nerve, and trudged along the side of the house to his bedroom window. He studied the ground around the window, searching, searching....

And then... there it was.

A footprint.

A big footprint.

Overnight, the ground had frozen as hard as stone. But a few feet from the base of his window, the dead, brittle grass appeared to have been mashed down in roughly the shape of a huge foot.

The impression wasn’t very deep, but when he knelt down and traced its outline with his fingers, he felt certain.

Grassman!

A short distance into the yard, he made out another impression. And another.

He stood up, lifted his foot, and stomped as hard as he could on the frozen ground.

Not even a dent.

Whatever made these had to be heavy. Maybe even as heavy as a car. Still, he knew he could never convince anyone these were actually footprints. Not without some other evidence. These impressions were too vague. Too fantastic for someone who didn’t already believe to believe.

Click-click-clack.

The sound came from far away. Barely audible.

It was nothing. Just tree branches rattling in the wind.

Click-click-click.

Click-click-clack.

CLICK-CLICK-CLACK! CLICK-CLICK-CLACK!

He felt a chill at his collar. All the hairs on the back of his neck had risen to attention. There could be no mistake. Something in the woods was rapping sticks together.

And another something—this one much nearer—was rapping in response.
#

Read Ohio: Fear the Grassman! Excerpt #1 here.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mediterranean Sojourn Pt 7: Montserrat and Homeward Bound

October 28, 2019: Montserrat
The name means "Serrated Mountain," and its towering, jagged peaks dominate the skyline from many miles away. Near the top of the mountain, a Benedictine monastery, accessible by narrow road, rail line, or cable car, nestles between the peaks. Sheltered within the monastery,  "La Moreneta"—"The Black Madonna"—serves as the region's patron saint. The figure is so named because, in the early years of the church, its varnished "skin" became stained black from constant exposure to candle and incense smoke. In later years, the statue was painted black with gold trim. Our tour guide, a young Catalan named Pol, related the legend of how, in Christianity's earliest days, a priest discovered the Black Madonna on the mountain and wanted to move it to his church. However, the statue spontaneously became so heavy that no number of men could budge it, and thus they built monastery around the Madonna.

Montserrat may be the most spectacular location I have ever visited. Once on the road out of Barcelona, we could see the silhouettes of the distinctive, jagged peaks against the horizon. As we drew nearer, our tour bus turned onto a long, winding road that grew steeper and steeper as we ascended. From several overlooks, we could see far down into the mist-shrouded valleys and occasionally glimpse the peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains beyond.

Once we arrived at the monastery, we saw sidewalk vendors selling cheese, gift shops, a restaurant, and a little rail station. In the gift shop, one could sample the liquor that the monks at the monastery make. Terry, Beth, and Brugger all sampled it and gave it their stamps of approval. Me, I broke away long enough to go after a geocache hidden along a rocky, winding trail not far from the monastery, and thus I didn't try the drink. No matter; there would be plenty of spirits flowing over the course of the day.
View of the funicular from below, with the cars
just about to pass each other

There is a virtual cache here that I would love to have claimed, as its various stages take you to several of the most striking locations at the monastery. I went to those around the exterior, but to claim the final stage one must visit the interior. As it happens, the Escolania de Montserrat—the Montserrat Boys' Choir—was scheduled to perform, and setting foot inside meant standing in a line of such length as to be prohibitive. So, I didn't get the smiley, but I did see some beautiful sights, such as the Ave Maria path, an atmospheric chamber full of glowing candles.

The Montserrat Funicular is a train that runs on damn near vertical tracks, operated by cables, by which one can ascend to a high mountain path. This trail leads to St. Michael's Cross, which overlooks the valley from a high point on the mountaintop. In the photo at left, you can the two train cars which run on the same track but for the short stretch where they pass each other. I would love to have ridden this thing to the top, but Brugger proclaimed the prospect a great big NO!—at least until it was almost time to leave, at which time she decided, "Well, I guess I could go for that after all." Too late! Anyway, I could happily return to Montserrat and spend more quality time. On this relatively short visit, I felt as though we barely scratched the surface of this spectacular, historic location.

We did scrounge up a decent lunch in the restaurant here. Shortly afterward, we boarded the bus again, this time to head to a nearby vineyard for—you guessed it—more wine and tapas.
Looking down into the valley from the monastery
Something in the mist....
Against this backdrop, the structures look almost like miniatures

We hated to leave Montserrat, but Oller Del Mas winery awaited us at the bottom of the mountain. Here, we enjoyed a substantial tasting along with some delicious tapas made at the vineyard. Of the Spanish wines we sampled during our stay in Cataluña, these rated among the best, although nothing on this trip rivaled the quality of the wine at Coali, which we had visited in Italy's Valpolicella region the previous week.

After our tasting and tour of the winery, we had a brief respite before the tour bus returned to pick us up. About a quarter mile from the winery, a geocache hid down in a small grove, at a stone hut with picnic tables around it. Figuring I could at least give it a cursory search, I rushed to the grove to try my luck, but it was in a target-rich area, and I didn't have time to give the cache a thorough hunt. So, I ended up walking away without a find. Still, that's just all the more reason to return to Montserrat at the earliest opportunity....
View of Montserrat from Oller del Mas Winery
Oller del Mas Winery
Back in Barcelona, rather than go out to a restaurant for dinner, our group visited the huge SuperMercat in Catalunya Square, now bereft of demonstrators. We picked up some assorted edibles—barbecued spare ribs para mi—and a few extra goodies to get us through the final night of our incredible sojourn in the Mediterranean. Come morning, we needed to depart for the airport at an early hour. Thankfully, it didn't appear that any protests would interfere with our journey back home.

October 29, 2019: The Longest Day
The lot of us crammed ourselves into a taxi bound for the airport early on Tuesday morning. Massive mobs at check-in and security appeared foreboding, but we managed to get to our aircraft—a British Airways Airbus 330—with a little time to spare. Our connection was at London's Heathrow, which proved a bloody nasty experience. I can safely say I never want to visit Heathrow again, at least not for a connecting flight. Here in the States, people often complain about Atlanta's Hartsfield International, but having flown in and out of Atlanta countless times in recent years, I can tell you that Hartsfield is a bleeping picnic, even compared to Philadelphia, also very much a no-fun airport. Anyway, once we boarded our aircraft for Philly—a British Airways Boeing 747—we hoped we could soon get ourselves free of Heathrow once and for all.

Well, no. We sat on the ground with both traffic delays and equipment issues for well over an hour—long enough to start cramping up in the uncomfortable seats before we even got airborne. At last, though, we roared into the skies, and on this flight, we had paid in advance for the bottomless bar, of which we took some small advantage. I've flown in a bazillion different aircraft, but this was actually my first flight in a 747, and I kind of enjoyed it. Not that we had luxurious seats or anything, but at least the setting was anything but claustrophobic. The airline served us plenty of food and drink, and it all turned out to be remarkably decent.

For in-flight entertainment, I opted to watch The Mule, the Clint Eastwood film that was running on the Rhapsody while Brugger and I enjoyed our evening in the hot tub. It was kind of neat to watch it on the plane, and while it's not great cinema by any means, I did enjoy it. I followed this up with The Avengers: Endgame, which was kind of okay. So, the two movies ate up a good two-thirds of of the seven-hour flight. Since we were flying into the sun, daylight lasted an extra five hours, which made it the single longest day I have ever lived through.

Fortunately, the 747 made up time in the air, so we touched down in Philly more or less on schedule. We snagged some food and drink at an airport restaurant. Then we boarded a small commuter plane bound for Greensboro. This leg went off without a hitch. Just before midnight, the four of us stepped off the plane onto our home soil.
At Philadelphia International: Not quite the exuberant crowd that had left for Venice from here
the previous week. Note the consolation Bloody Mary; quite different from the winning
Bloody Mary savored before our Europe-bound flight.
So... two weeks and ten-thousand miles later... thus endeth a venture I could scarcely have imagined prior to it actually happening. Thankfully, for the most part during the trip, I was able to leave the crushing stress of the preceding days, weeks, and months behind. Now that I am home, I'm pretty much back in it. And I will be for the foreseeable future. But having written out this chronicle over the past few days, I now have a fair record of the trip of my lifetime. It's a chronicle I want to keep. I just pray that, till the end of my days, I'll be able to remember it without having to refer back to the record.

To friends Terry and Beth, and to Kimberly, I offer all my love and my deepest gratitude for sharing in one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Perhaps when I needed it most.

Bless you.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 1 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 2 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 3 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 4 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 5 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 6 here.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Mediterranean Sojourn Pt 6: Barcelona... What a Riot

Old Rodan at Casa Batlló

October 26, 2019: Farewell to Rhapsody of the Seas
For years, the people of Catalonia—the region in northeastern Spain encompassing Barcelona, the Pyrenees Mountains, Montserrat, Costa Brava, and more—have sought independence from Spain. In recent weeks, massive demonstrations have shaken Barcelona, with hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets. Most have been relatively peaceful, though violence has broken out on several occasions. The week prior to our group's arrival in Spain, protestors closed down Barcelona's El Prat Airport—from which our flight was scheduled to take us home at the end of this trip. But since Barcelona was our ship's final port of call and reservations had all been made and paid for, there really was nothing for it but to carry on with our trip as planned.

It was with a sense of both sadness and anticipation that we left Rhapsody of the Seas for the last time. For the past week, the ship had been a most comfortable home away from home. As in Venice, we had arranged for our three-day stay in Barcelona at a nice VRBO flat in the city center. We boarded a shuttle to get there and then had a relatively short walk to the property—although hauling all our luggage over cobbled streets took some effort. We arrived about 10:30 AM, though check-in time wasn't till 1:00 PM; fortunately, our host, Pedro, was onsite, and we were able to leave our bags in the apartment.

So, we hit the streets, seeking to acclimate ourselves to our new surroundings as well as procure some Catalonian vittles. Happily, a nice virtual cache lurked at a nearby architectural marvel—Casa Batlló, designed by the renowned architect Antoni Gaudi. I claimed the cache and then we found food at a picturesque café called Txapela, just north of Catalunya Square. The fare was mostly tapas, and I had an interesting little taco-type thingummy filled with raw fish. Happily, I enjoy raw fish, although this was so mild, all the flavor came from the goodies wrapped around it. Afterward, we wandered for a while, wondering whether we might see any sign of the Catalonian protests. Initially, we did not, but later, when we bought tickets for the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus that takes you on a riding tour around Barcelona, the staff indicated the bus lines would be closed on the following day due to the scheduled demonstrations.
Lunch—held together with a cute little wooden clothespin

After lunch, I snagged a couple of physical caches in Catalunya Square. And at last, we were able to check in at our VRBO: a relatively spacious sixth-floor flat on Carrer d’Aragó, a couple of blocks north of the square. From there, we headed out again to explore, eventually ending up some distance to the south, in the Gothic Quarter at La Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia—a.k.a. Barcelona Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. One of the first things we saw was a rather creepy, ghostly figure made up in white—actually, a beggar, so I was told. Interestingly, we discovered that, not only could we tour the cathedral's interior, we could take an elevator up to the roof, which offers a spectacular view of the city. As with so many of the cathedrals we saw in Europe, the interior is another architectural masterpiece, a staggering example of gothic excess. We took in the interior views for some time before boarding the tiny, box-like elevator to the roof. It was a shaky, fairly scary ride, both coming and going. If ever a scary ride was worth it, though, this one was. Atop the roof, we had some rickety scaffolding to negotiate, also a little disconcerting, but indeed, we did have a spectacular 360° view of Barcelona. As far as activities in Spain went, this rated among my favorites.
Old Dude and Ms. B. on the rooftop of Barcelona Cathedral. Sagrada Familia is visible in the background.
After some wine at a couple of different bistros, we boarded one of the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses, figuring we'd take a ride around Barcelona and look at the various sights. We did see a host of gorgeous locations, including the mountains that rose to the north, just beyond the city. Unfortunately, as the sun set, the bus parked itself in a location considerably north and west of our neighborhood, evidently to "get back on schedule." This 30-minute delay played hell with certain bladders, and some of us had never been more glad to get back to our neck of the woods. However, as we approached our stop, we saw flashing blue lights and began to hear helicopters circling overhead. Apparently, the roads to Catalunya Square had been closed down as the Saturday night demonstrations were beginning in earnest.

Fortunately, we'd come close enough to our place to just hop off the bus and hoof it. Sure enough, though, mobs of young people had begun parading through the streets wrapped in red and gold Catalonian flags, more and more folks were bolting in all directions, and the police sirens blared nonstop. Still, we figured we'd need some dinner, so we started looking around for places in the direction opposite the demonstrations. We found it at a beautiful rooftop restaurant at a nearby hotel, where I enjoyed some delicious beef medallions with a couple of different sauces. We were about the only folks there at the time, no doubt because it was still relatively early—somewhere in the 8 o'clock hour, and a good many Barcelona restaurants don't even open for dinner until 8:30 or so in the PM. It seemed almost surreal that, just a couple of blocks away from the protests, everything in the city seemed to be carrying on as normal.
Up on the roof
We retired to our apartment—fortunately avoiding the worst of the protests—but it was clear things were turning far more violent than earlier, so rather than go out to get a street view, we opted to remain inside and watch the events on TV. Trash fires blazed in the streets; protestors and police clashed, which resulted in lots of tear gas going off; and the roar of helicopters and wail of sirens provided a constant soundtrack for the evening. Fortunately, by 11:00 PM, the noise began to peter out, as the mostly young demonstrators began heading back home to go to bed. The helicopters continued to hover for some time, but eventually we were able to go to sleep more or less undisturbed.

October 27, 2019: From Sagrada Familia to Los Caracoles
On Sunday morning, Ms. B. and I decided to venture out on our own for a while and visit Sagrada Familia, perhaps architect Antoni Gaudi's most famous work—still unfinished after almost 140 years (it is projected to be completed around 2026). We didn't go inside, but we did wander around the exterior for a bit, and I snagged both a virtual and a physical geocache at the site. Brugger discovered an arts & crafts store near the basilica, so she got to satisfy her addiction as well.

After this little jaunt, Brugger and I wandered back to our apartment, reunited with Terry and Beth, and then went in search of lunch. Today was the big march in Catalunya Square, but this crowd, though massive, was far more peaceful than the previous night's. We managed to find another cozy little outdoor bistro, where Ms. B. killed some delicious grilled shrimp and I tried a dish consisting of mushrooms, goose liver, and egg. I found it pleasing.
Mushrooms, goose liver, and egg for lunch
Old Rodan looks askance at the paparazzi

During the afternoon, we made our way back down to the old Gothic Quarter, south of Catalunya Square. Beth and Kimberly went off hunting wares, while Terry and I plopped down at an outdoor restaurant, where an attractive, kindly waitress who spoke very good English worked hard to convince us to drink wine, wine, and more wine. I can safely say we disappointed her not even a little bit.

Forty years ago, when Terry was in the Navy, he had visited Barcelona and discovered a restaurant called Los Caracoles, which means "The Snails." He had been quite taken with it at the time, and during our wanderings the day before, we had peeked inside it. Duly impressed that it still existed, we made reservations for this evening. At the appointed hour, reunited with the women, we made our way back to Los Caracoles. By the appearance of the entrance, it seemed a rather unassuming place, with a small bar just inside. But once you enter, you are led through the kitchen, into one of several large dining areas, all beautifully appointed, the walls covered in photographs of celebrities who have dined there. Above our table, we had photos of Jimmy Carter, Robert DeNiro, Robert Mitchum, and... O.J. Simpson. Well, what fun.

I ordered Paella Los Caracoles, which came not with snails but seafood. (There were plenty of snails being served, and though I do enjoy them—I'd had escargot on the ship, as a matter of fact—I didn't order any this go round.) I confess I was a little disappointed in the paella. As with so much of the food I sampled in Barcelona, the flavor was rather bland, and all too uniform, given that it was loaded with mussels, clams, fish, squid, and prawns. I could barely distinguish the flavor of the mussels from the squid from the fish. That's not to say it was bad; it was not bad. But for all those savory ingredients, I might have expected something with a little more zing. Still, the experience was top-notch, and I would love to go back there sometime and actually try their snails.
Inside Los Caracoles
Carnage on the battlefield: remains of the Paella Los Caracoles
Once we departed Los Carocoles, we returned to our apartment, happy, stuffed, and tired. We retired before very late, for we needed to be ready to face our upcoming, final full day in Spain: we'd be heading to Montserrat, just north of Barcelona, one of the most distinctive mountains on Earth (the name, quite aptly, means "Serrated Mountain"). A tour of its famous monastery, a nearby winery, and a geocache or two awaited us.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 1 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 2 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 3 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 4 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 5 here.

Read Mediterranean Sojourn Part 7 here.