Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Mommy, Make the Bad People Stop."

Old dam and waterfall on Cascade Creek in Stokes County, NC
That's the name of an old and distinctly difficult geocache hidden in Stokes County, NC, and it was today's target cache. It's a multi-stager, each stage providing its own unique challenges, ending at a particularly scenic area not far from Hanging Rock State Park.

An amusing item we found near the final
stage. Someone was clearly one toke
over the line, sweet Jesus.

Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager, Jeanne "Cantergirl" Allamby, and I got together once again this weekend, starting out bright and early to make the trip out to Stokes County and hopefully conquer this aging but still vicious beast. It was originally hidden in 2004 and has been modified by the cache owner a few times over the years. To get from stage 1 to the final, you end up taking a fairly lengthy, very scenic tour of the county, so this hide is anything but a quick park-and-grab. We had trouble on more than one occasion due to our GPS coordinates bouncing all over creation, and at the final, Diefenbaker's ground zero coordinates and mine differed by a good hundred feet or so. In the end, my decrepit but trusty old Garmin eTrex H, which is held together by duct tape, put me within two feet of the hide. Signing the logbook on this one was a real pleasure, especially after having undertaken a good physical challenge or two to get where we needed to be.

Well, Diefenbaker and I undertook a good physical challenge. Cantergirl opted for the longer but considerably less hazardous route. She, no doubt, was the smart one, for after it was all over Diefenbaker and I rightly took turns calling each other Dumb Ass.

Of course, that's all as may be. In the end, all three of us dirtied up the cache's logbook with our signatures. It's all in a day's work to earn those smileys. That makes number 7,114 for Old Rodan.

Click on images to enlarge.
Cantergirl considering the best route to take across the stream. Hint: I'm not
certain it was the one Diefenbaker and I took.
L: Diefenbaker making his way across the very slippery waterfall; R: Damned Rodan following in Diefenbaker's
footsteps, unaware that Diefenbaker has booby-trapped the route. What a brute!

Friday, June 27, 2014


Damn near as old as I. The first episode of Dark Shadows premiered on June 27, 1966 on ABC-TV. I was seven years old, and I saw that first episode while my family was visiting my grandparents in Gainesville, GA, as we often did in the summertime. Although the show didn't initially delve into the supernatural as it most famously did in later years, something about its air of mystery — and particularly its opening theme — grabbed my recently-turned-seven-year-old imagination, and, perhaps more than any other single property, paved the way to my becoming an enthusiastic writer of all things dark and creepy. When we came back home to Virginia a few days later, I discovered that our local ABC-TV affiliate didn't run Dark Shadows, and this rightly upset me. In Martinsville, unless you had cable TV and could pick up WLVA channel 13 out of Lynchburg, VA, you didn't get to see Dark Shadows, and in 1966, not so many people had cable as do today. A few friends of mine did, however, so I took every opportunity to invite myself over to their houses after school so we could get our Dark Shadows fixes. By late 1969, when my family finally got cable and I could watch the show daily, I was already a diehard fan.

If you've ever read a word I've written, you're probably already aware that Dark Shadows, to me, remains something of a magical property. I've been fortunate enough to write a licensed Dark Shadows novel — Dreams of the Dark (HarperCollins, 1999), along with Elizabeth Massie — as well as several scripts for Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio series, which features numerous members of the original cast, as well as an unlicensed Dark Shadows novel titled The Labyrinth of Souls, which, though it never progressed beyond first-draft stage, I honest-to-god believe turned out to be one of my best writing efforts. Perhaps most meaningful of all, these projects have allowed me to get to know some of the cast members who, almost to the person, have proven themselves fascinating, personable, and exceedingly decent human beings. As a kid, if I had known I might grow up to undertake these particular endeavors, I might well have had a heart attack and thus never grown up to write any Dark Shadows. I reckon it's a good thing life sometimes offers one surprises.

A little over a year ago, I took it to heart to watch the entire original series from start to finish, something I haven't done  in several decades. I'm currently about three-quarters of the way through, and I find myself enjoying it — from its most polished to its roughest edges — perhaps more than ever. Though the show is often known mostly for its campiness and frequently amusing bloopers, usually due to its severe budget limitations, it is also balanced by countless moments of creative brilliance, and it's the latter that, to me, continue to make the show magical.

As a kid, I half-believed this, and as an adult, I want to believe it... that if you're a person of good character and vivid imagination, when you die you'll go to Collinwood.

This suits me, it surely does.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Maneater of Hydra

Now and again, I get one of those mighty cravings to catch a moldy oldie horror movie or several, and I expect it's no surprise to anyone who visits here that I have a fair number of them at my disposal. The most recent was The Maneater of Hydra (a.k.a. Island of the Doomed, a.k.a. The Blood Suckers [UK]), a movie I caught at least once in the very early 70s and which has lingered in my memory quite vividly over the decades. It's a 1967 English-dubbed, Spanish-German co-production, directed by Mel Welles, who is perhaps best known for his role as flower shop owner Gravis Mushnik in Roger Corman's Little Shop of Horrors from 1960. Welles also wrote and oversaw the film's English dubbing (as he did the US release of the Japanese TV series Spectreman, so the dubbed voices may sound familiar to fans of that particular serial). Aptly, The Maneater of Hydra features a vampire plant, this one bred by a reclusive mad scientist — one Baron von Wester, played by well-known actor Cameron Mitchell — who lives on an isolated, unnamed island, which, according to local legend, is haunted by a vampire. Ostensibly to pay his exorbitant research bills, the baron has opened his sprawling island villa to tourists, and one particular party of six suffers a rather traumatic time during their stay.

The party consists of All-American Hero David Moss (George Martin); the too-sweet-to-be-real Beth Christansen (Elisa Montes); wealthy retiree James Robinson (Rolf von Nauckhoff); his promiscuous wife, Cora (Kai Fischer); the obnoxiously noisy Myrtle Callahan (Matilde Sampedro); and the amiable if overly enthusiastic botanist Julius Demerest (Herman Nelsen). Things go wrong right from the start, for upon their arrival on the island, their car runs over an old fellow who seems to be fleeing from something. A very polite Baron von Wester greets them, assuring them that the dead man was suffering from a fatal disease and had lost his mind, thus the accident was actually a blessing in disguise. But to the group's shock, a man who appears to be the accident victim appears to serve them dinner. The baron tells them the servant, named Baldi (Mike Brendel), is actually the dead man's twin brother.

The baron is a geneticist of no small ability and has bred all sorts of exotic plants, which excites the interest of Mr. Demerest. He proudly shows off one plant that is similar to a Venus flytrap, only much larger, as it devours a mouse. It isn't long, though, before some grisly human deaths follow. The driver of the car that killed Baldi's brother is found dead inside his car, his body drained of blood. The highly irritating and very slutty Mrs. Robinson meets a mysterious if well-deserved end, her body also bloodless. Loudmouth Myrtle buys it while walking around the villa's grounds in the dark. The victims' bodies all bear strange puncture wounds, a fact that incites the survivors to start talking anew about the local vampire legend. Unfortunately, the only escape from the island — at least until the return of their ferry in a couple of days — is a small boat that has been conveniently scuttled by party or parties unknown.

Mr. Demerest, meantime, discovers on the estate a huge, tentacled, monster plant that sucks the blood from animals. He excitedly reports the thing's existence to the baron, stating he believes it is the result of one of the baron's experiments inadvertently gone wrong. However, the baron informs Demerest that the plant is not a failed experiment but a successful one, and he kills Demerest by forcing him into a knife that emerges from a statue of the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer. Mr. Robinson is next, ax-murdered by the highly irate baron when he discovers the truth about his wife's death.

To hero David and now-girlfriend Beth, the baron feigns innocence, blaming the murders on his servant, Baldi. They pursue Baldi to his death, but David discovers the monster plant and hacks it with an ax. The baron, grief-stricken over the mortal wounding of his beloved "baby," sacrifices himself in a vain attempt to restore the plant with his blood. Presumably, David and Beth wait around for the ferry and eventually go off to live happily ever after.

For its limited budget, The Maneater of Hydra displays some pretty effective gore effects, the vampire plant appearing reasonably convincing in design and execution. The story follows the classic whodunit mystery format, with a group of people stranded in a remote location with no hope of escape. Cameron Mitchell plays the twisted but well-mannered baron with reserve, at least until the end, when everything goes well over the top. In general, the rest of the characters are dull or irritating — particularly our good lady Myrtle, whose ever-grating voice is dubbed by well-known American actress Anne Meara, and who never really shuts the hell up. Poor Mr. Demerest, the botanist, is the most agreeable of the lot; even the baron, after murdering him, instructs Baldi to show some care disposing of the body, for Demerest was a "nice man."

The musical score, by Antón García Abril and José Muñoz Molleda, is pure 1960s European pop-jazz, with a main theme that at times sounds remarkably like Ennio Morricone's score to Svegliati e Uccidi (Wake Up and Die). It's often loud and frenetic, and quite perfect for rattling your nerves just a bit.

Unfortunately, The Maneater of Hydra has never received a decent US DVD release. As far as I know, it is available only as half of an Elvira's Movie Macabre double-feature set, paired with The House That Screamed. The video is pan-and-scanned, and taken from what appears to be a poor VHS copy of a TV broadcast. Regardless, the movie is a very 1960s, very European horror hoot that, for me, brings back some very fond memories from the past. You could hardly ask for a more entertaining bit of cheese to accompany some decent Tempranillo.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Game Changers

M. Wayne Miller — fellow connoisseur of Thai food, rabid Godzilla fan, and artist extraordinaire — has unveiled his illustration for my story, "The Game Changers," coming up in the Dark Regions' Press anthology, World War Cthulhu: A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories, edited by Brian Sammons and Glynn Owen Barrass. And here's the illustration — scaring me to pieces it is. I reckon it's a good thing I know how the story ends. (Or is it?)
World War Cthulhu is scheduled for release on August 19. It features all new fiction by Neil Baker, David Conyers, Tim Curran, Ed Erdelac, Cody Goodfellow, Ted Grau, C. J. Henderson, David Kernot, William Meikle, Christine Morgan, Edward Morris, Konstantin Paradias, Robert M. Price, W. H. Pugmire, Peter Rawlik, John Shirley, Darryl Schweitzer, Jeffrey Thomas, and Lee Zumpe. Cover art is by Vincent Chong, interior illustrations by M. Wayne Miller. Visit Dark Regions Press for more info.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Smiling at Lake Lure

This was one of those days where I come home, pick up the nearest cat, look him right in the eye, and say, "Daddy tired."

A mighty good kind of tired, though. A full weekend of geocaching — yesterday here in NC's Piedmont with Jeanne "Cantergirl" Allamby and Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager; today in the mountains in the western part of the state with Bridget "Suntigres" Langley. The old feets are a bit achy from many miles of walking, I can tell you, and though I applied the DEET liberally, the bitey bugs laughed it off and bit the hell out of me anyway.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Out at Lake Lure, not far from Chimney Rock State Park, NC, there's a geoart smiley — a smiley pattern on the map formed by geocache icons — made up of 53 separate caches, which are located all around the lake itself. Cell service in that area is spotty, to say the least, and since we at least partially relied on our phones for navigation, we occasionally ended up in slightly different areas than we had anticipated. No biggie; we got to see lots of impressive scenery. Though we finished the day with 50 or so cache finds, we didn't complete the entire smiley pattern, so we'll no doubt make a return visit to claim the rest of the hides.

Lake Lure is pretty touristy, with lots of muggle-friendly attractions, such as golfing, ziplining, boating, swimming, a few restaurants, bars, shops, etc. Along US Highway 64 through town, there's very a very high concentration of human-type animals, mostly quite annoying, but away from the hordes on the numerous narrow, windy back roads, the atmosphere is far more placid. Happily, we found a few spots possessed of an enjoyably eerie quality, such as a ravine from which rose the ominous baying of the Hounds of Tindalos, complete with a skull and crossbones warning sign.

It feels like it's time to crash and burn, so thus it shall be. Nighty-night. Mind those hell hounds.

L: Don't go there. R: Suntigres hastens to sign the log before the Hounds of Tindalos come hauling
out of the ravine to maim, murder, and mutilate.
Partially complete geoart smiley over Lake Lure

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Spooky Sticks and Crazy Bitches

Several years ago, up in Martinsville, I placed a geocache called "Sticks" (GC1WNG9), inspired by Karl Edward Wagner's horror story of that title. The story has been one my favorite works of dark fiction since the day I read it, many decades past, and it seemed only fitting that one of my caches should pay tribute to it. The other day, an out-of-town cacher notified me he was particularly keen on hunting this one in a couple of weeks, and since I haven't revisited the hide in several years, I figured it was high time to give it a look-see and perform any necessary maintenance.

The cache itself was in pristine condition. Some of the stick figures I had placed had fallen into disrepair, so I spent several hours making new ones and hanging them at strategic locations in the woods. Yeah, it was kind of creepy out there — absolutely dead quiet, for the most part. Scarcely a breath of breeze, and virtually no sounds of wildlife — except for a few buzzing, marauding insects that made the work uncomfortable. In the end, though, I escaped with my life and my sanity. Most of it, anyway.

Thanks to a new cache hidden by my friend Ed "Kuykenew" Kuykendall, I did discover a relatively new trail along the Smith River in the Bassett area, just north of Martinsville. It's the Lauren Mountain Preserve, and what a gorgeous trail it proved to be. At the moment, there's only the one cache there, but I saw several spots that are screaming for one, including a couple that could present interesting terrain challenges. I foresee placing a new hide or two out that way. Be warned.

Leaving Bassett, I experienced an interesting and inexplicable case of road rage on the part of some crazy bitch, whom I shall, for convenience's sake, hereby call "Crazy Bitch." From a side road, I turned onto Riverside Drive, and the driver of a car approaching from the left apparently didn't like me doing so — the fact she was a tenth of a mile down the highway notwithstanding. She threw the car into overdrive, raced down the road to overtake me, and proceeded to remain on my bumper for the next few miles. If she wanted to go around me, she had more than ample opportunity, so it was clear Crazy Bitch was intent on pursuit. Since there are numerous ways to get where I was going, I took the most circuitous route possible, most often at excruciatingly slow speed, and, after quite a few miles, fatigue must have set in, for she finally went on about her merry little way. I went and had an enjoyable lunch.

So, Crazy Bitch, if you have by chance found me here, let me just say, you are one crazy bitch, and you might want to check your crazy bitch ass in a place where they have nice sedatives. And just by way of a little advice, you might wish to consider that not everyone is as good-natured as I, and the next person you fuck with might check you in somewhere you really don't want to be.

Just a little something to consider from your friendly neighborhood horror writer.
Not much sense of scale in the photo, but that is one big-ass water tower across the Smith River
from the Lauren Mountain Preserve Trail.
Big ol' concrete slab from some ancient structure out in the middle of the river.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Geocaching Trail of Tears

The mob descends upon the Reidsville Flash Mob event, 2014-06-07.

Some of you men out there — particularly if you're my age or older — may be able identify with this rather uncomfortable personal revelation, though you probably wish you couldn't. And some of you will no doubt cry "TMI! TMI!" but them's the risks you take when you visit a blog written by a writer of things dark and horrible, be they imagined or be they real.

Two words: Acute prostatitis.

I did, I had a full week of this ungodly condition, and it's only just abating. Rather than put you through an overly vivid description, I'll just ask you to imagine a bunch of hyperactive razor blades trotting around in your innards, goading you to pee every five minutes. Most of the time, you just can't, but when you eventually do, one or more razor blades comes slicing through.

There. There's your happy, sanitized version.

The doctor prescribed an antibiotic, and it's sure enough doing the trick; just not very quickly. Regardless, this weekend, I determined I was going to work in some geocaching or know the reason why. Thus, by gummy, I went geocaching. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but I added a few numbers to the total, which now stands at 7,044.

May the blessed antibiotic send this raging microscopic beast back to burning hell, where it rightly belongs.

A couple of hipsters hanging out in a graveyard. Dig it.

I told her, I said, Bridget, like, don't have a cow. But it was it too late.

Lots of water from the water plant at Dam Micro — just no cache.

Rodan Mobile in front of haunted house, near Dam Micro.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Evil Spirit of Gravity Hill

There are numerous locations around the earth where, to our physical senses, gravity appears to go utterly haywire. Happily, geocaching has taken me to a couple of them, both of which are within relatively short driving distance of NC's Piedmont Triad. At such locations, you park your car at the base of a clear uphill slope, put your car in neutral, and disengage the parking brake. Your vehicle will then begin to roll uphill, gathering momentum as it goes.

The one I visited yesterday is in Rowan County, NC, near Morgan Ridge Vineyards, where Ms. Brugger and I spent a pleasant afternoon with some very benevolent spirits. There is another such site in Rockingham County, NC, just south of Danville, VA, where this singular phenomenon is perhaps even more pronounced. The stories around such locations, at least in this region of the country, go more or less as follows: Back in the 17th century, a young woman was convicted of practicing witchcraft and executed by hanging. Before dying, she uttered a curse that, for the rest of eternity, her spirit would drag anyone who visits the place of her execution away to the gallows. After so many years, her spirit remains weak, but it is perpetually gathering strength, and the more people who visit the site, the stronger she gets. Eventually, anyone who trespasses on the cursed ground will be found dead.

When Kimberly and I arrived to hunt the cache at that location, we came upon some folks in a vehicle testing out Gravity Hill for themselves, but they drove off as we approached. After I found the cache — which is housed in a most appropriate container for the site — I parked my car at a point that is, to my senses, absolutely the bottom of the slope; shifted into neutral; and sat back to let the witch do her worst.

She didn't do too badly. My little Ford Focus gathered momentum and rolled well over a hundred feet up the rather steep slope before shaking itself free of the witch's grasp.

Here's a more mundane explanation of the phenomenon, but it was clearly devised by some poor soul who had not the nerve to reveal the reality of ye olde witch and her curse:

You've no idea how lucky I consider myself for having survived not one but two of these infernal cursed places — not to mention having tramped with my own little feet upon ye old Devill's Tramping Ground, down south of here a ways. I tempts me some fate, I do.