Sunday, November 30, 2014

Return of the Caching Dead

Nothing like taking a caching selfie and discovering there's
a freaking zombie lurking right behind you.

A couple of old farts — Robgso (a.k.a. Rob Isenhour) and I — embarked this morning on a mission out to Caswell County to find a fairly new multi-cache called "Return of the Caching Dead" (GC5EHKW), set up by frequent geocaching companion and aspiring old fart himself, Rtmlee (a.k.a. Robbin Lee). Back in February 2013, an earlier version of the cache existed (see "The Caching Dead"), but a clandestine government organization took issue with Mr. Lee's revealing of certain dark, damning secrets, and he was forced to alter the setup significantly. Pity for Mr. Lee, but good for us as far as having a new, high-quality multi-cache to seek on a near-perfect late autumn morning. As it happened, just before we left in the Damned Rodan Mobile, two new caches were published not far from the domicile, so we made a side trip that netted us a pair of very nice first-to-finds. Then we were on our way to an experience that we suspected might be fraught with terror and intrigue. After all, we know the cache hider and have at least some clue as to how his deviant mind works. This fact worried us more than you could know.

Like the "The Caching Dead" before it, this cache has four stages, and I knew stage one would be something different from the original. Indeed. Once we arrived at ground zero, we saw immediately we could be venturing into dark, forbidding territory. As you can see in the self-portrait above, you never know what sort of strange things the camera is going to capture. We managed to find the stage without undue difficulty, though we heard bizarre sounds in the woods — issuing from things unseen, whispering and gibbering, possibly speaking some unearthly language. Once we had recorded the coordinates for the next stage, we made haste from there, escaping with our lives if not our sanity.
We could only guess at the kinds of secret
experiments that once occurred here.

The coordinates to stage two led us to a familiar installation — ostensibly, an abandoned community center far out in the middle of nowhere, but it seems clear that at one time this facility was used for some nefarious purpose. The interior, as seen from without, appeared just as it had a couple of years ago — all signs indicating some sudden, catastrophic event that resulted in total evacuation. Reaching our objective here required us to follow a path into the woods similar to that of the original cache, but this time, we did encounter some honest-to-god horror: it was becoming clear that whatever malign, inhuman influence resided here, it had begun to work on Mr. Isenhour. I managed to get a photo or two before he came to his senses; and once he did, we rushed out of those woods, followed by the disconcerting voices of the unseen things that still clearly lurked in the forests. As we put some distance between the old installation and the Rodan Mobile, Mr. Rob seemed a bit more himself. Regardless, I kept a close eye on both my hands, as I wasn't particularly keen on losing one.
For a brief time, Rob succumbed to the siren-song of the things in the woods
and treated himself to a nice handwich.
Stage three coordinates again led us to relatively familiar ground. I had a feeling what we might find there, and I was quite correct. It wasn't pretty. Some poor sod — perhaps also a geocacher — had come to a bad end here, but we knew that if we interpreted the evidence properly, we would find a clue — hopefully — to lead us to our final objective. A thorough examination revealed all we needed to know. We left the remains exactly as we found them because it's only a matter of time before someone else follows in our footsteps, seeking the answers to the forbidden lore concealed by the diabolical Mr. Lee. We would so hate to see them disappointed — or worse, end up like the chap whose decomposing skull we discovered.
Rob doing his best to get ahead.

The route to the final stage led us to a remote lake, deep in the hostile woods, a location I had visited once before — not only for the predecessor of this cache but for an entirely different quarry. The setting seemed the same, but there was a subtle change from before: an almost corporeal presence, something we knew would prove quite dreadful if we happened to encounter it. So far, we had been lucky in that the coordinates provided by Mr. Lee had all been good, allowing us to quickly find the clues we needed to reach this last stage of the game. We were forced to park the Rodan Mobile some distance from ground zero, so we had to make our way on foot farther than was comfortable under the circumstances. But thanks to Rob's sharp eyes, we almost immediately had the secret, hidden container in hand so we might complete our mission. Yes! Done! Now we had to vacate the premises with all haste because we both were beginning to feel the terrible pangs of an unspeakable appetite.

Happily, we were able to satisfy our carnivorous cravings at one of our favorite dining establishments — The Celtic Fringe in Reidsville. A good pale ale helped calm my nerves as well. It was, indeed, an incredible venture out in the wilds of Caswell County today, and I'm pleased to say we conquered every obstacle placed before us, not only without dying but with some semblance of style and grace.

Next time Mr. Lee joins us for a caching outing, he may find himself having to look over his shoulder perhaps a bit more than usual. Old farts never, ever forget.
Some ghostly apparition captured by the camera?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Anchors A-Weigh: A Random Klutz Story

Not sure I understand it, but that is, in fact,
a boat anchor hanging from a tree.

After an almost sinfully huge Thanksgiving dinner this afternoon, I took the overstuffed body out for a much-needed walk in the brisk breeze around my old neighborhood in Martinsville. It was quite pleasant; I always enjoy roaming the paths I frequented as a youngster, particularly at Lake Lanier, just down the street from my mom's. I confess I was intrigued to find a boat anchor suspended from a tall tree along the lake bank. I'm not sure it's actually keeping that tree from drifting away, but then, I'm no expert in nautical matters.

In my reckless youth, I took great pleasure in riding my bicycle on every local trail — or anything that even remotely passed for a trail — no matter how primitive or dangerous it might be. In recent years, the once-rugged trail, now called The Blue Heron, around one side of Lake Lanier has been leveled and partially graveled, and the lake association has constructed a few elevated wooden walkways over the steep-sided inlets that I used to zoom up and down on my bike. Quite miraculously, back then I never did end up in the water. I reserved that ignominious feat for adulthood, when I was on foot on the upgraded trail. No, not today, but several years ago, on a similarly frigid, windy day. I was enjoying the scenic view, which has changed little since my days of enthusiastic bike riding, and instead of watching where I was going, I was looking uphill at an attractive house built into the woods that hadn't been there in my youth. A few days before, there had been some rain, but for the most part the trail was dry. I hadn't anticipated there being any lingering slickery spots.

Never, ever fail to anticipate.
The very spot where I will not admit to
having fallen in the lake, except I did.

Next thing I know, I'm hearing a disturbingly heavy splash, and I'm looking at my feet way up in the air above me, and bone-chilling water is rushing over me like a cataract. I'm frantically pulling things out of my pockets — my cell phone, my wallet, my keys, anything the water might ruin — and mentally composing an aria of old, new, and spontaneously concocted swear words (think of Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story). I feel something between my teeth, and thinking it might be important, I clench my jaw shut so that whatever it is won't escape. After a few moments, I realize it is a leaf. Reluctantly, I set it free.

Once I finally dragged my sorry, soaked ass out of the shallow water, I determined with some relief that my cell phone had escaped submersion, and — above all things — that no one had been on the trail nearby to witness this act of unparalleled brilliance. On my frigid, three-quarter-mile walk back home, I did pass several walkers who raised their eyebrows at my obviously waterlogged figure, but I gave them my best nonchalant smile and continued on my way.

Today on my walk, I did encounter an old buddy, David Vogelsong, whom I've not seen except on Facebook in several decades. Nice indeed. I did venture into the nearby woods to check on one of my geocaches — "Castle Rock" (GC1BWV2) — where, a couple of years ago, the lovely Kimberly took a less-than-graceful tumble herself. That, however, can be a story for another day.

Click on images to enlarge.
The old boathouse at Lake Lanier. When I was a kid, I'd ride my bike down to it
with friends to get sodas, candy, and ice pops here.
Walkways along the Blue Heron Trail. They weren't there when I used to tempt fate
on my bike zooming up and down around the inlets.
The wind was really whipping across the lake today. At least I stayed dry.
I've always loved this lake view. It's changed little in half a century.

Turkey Day Treats: Cachin' and Eatin'

I'm pretty sure that, since I started geocaching in 2008, I've had at least a cache or two to go after on Thanksgiving Day, but until this morning, things were not looking so good for cache hunting without having to drive a prohibitive distance out of my way. However, when I got out of bed — a task made torturous by the weight of several well-fed cats on top of me — I found that a new cache had been published, right along my route to Mum's. Happy day indeed! Just a park-n'-grab hide, but one that took me to a pleasant, scenic little corner of Rockingham County, just outside of Stoneville. Rather than the direct route up U.S. 220, I opted to take the back roads through Guilford and Rockingham Counties, which I often favor when heading to Martinsville. The cache was a quick find, and I took a couple of photographs of the location, seen below. A most pleasant excursion, made all the more enjoyable by some smooth chillin' music courtesy of SiriusXM, which has offered me an extended free trial. Oh, but those devious minds do know how to grab one and suck one in, don't they....

Unlike the past couple of years, Thanksgiving Day 2014 for the Raineys has been pretty low-key. Ms. B. is traveling, brother is working, and other good friends who sometimes share the day with us are also out of town. So for dinner today, it was just Mum, her friend Mary, and ye old man. Still a feast it was, with turkey, dressing, cranberry salad, fresh corn and green beans, and my own special homemade pumpkin pie (the recipe from the Libby's can, a little bit doctored up).

Early on, it was raining, but for the moment, at least, the sun has come out — a good thing, as I have a crapload of dead bird and pumpkin pie I really need to walk off.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to the lot of ye.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Yellow eKing

Celaeno Press's In the Court of the Yellow King, which features my story, "Masque of the Queen," has been out in trade paperback for a month or so, and now the e-book versions are coming to insidiously worm their way into your mind and send you over the edge. You can get it on iBooks for your Mac device and now on Kindle from Amazon. With all objectivity, having read all but the last couple of stories in the book, I can tell you without hesitation that this book royally rocks. In addition to my little parley with madness, you'll find superlative fiction here from Tim Curran, Cody Goodfellow, T. E. Grau, Laurel Halbany, C. J. Henderson, Gary McMahon, William Meikle, Christine Morgan, Edward Morris, Robert M. Price, W. H. Pugmire, Peter Rawlik, Brian Sammons, Lucy Snyder, Greg Stolze, and Jeffrey Thomas. The book is edited by Glynn Owen Barrass, with beautiful cover art by Daniele Serra.

"There was once a play with the power to drive the reader mad... or to transport him into the bizarre world of Carcosa and the King in Yellow. Banned, burned, yet never totally destroyed, the play lives on, eating away the fabric of society and rotting the veneer of civilization... In the Court of the Yellow King is new anthology of stories based on the King in Yellow Mythos originated by Robert W. Chambers."

For Kindle: In the Court of the Yellow King

You may read more about the book, along with a few personal reflections on Robert W. Chambers' The King in Yellow stories, here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bold Moon at Twilight

Geocaching has been the world's best activity for leading me to new and different places, and I'm always fond of finding unfamiliar nature preserves and trail systems. Several new caches were published today at the Bold Moon Nature Preserve, which, much to my surprise, is located only six miles from my house, off Hicone Road in Guilford County. I never had a clue the place existed. It's not very large, about 21 acres, but it's really quite beautiful, with a well-maintained trail that leads down to Reedy Fork Creek. The preserve has existed since 2008, with much of the land donated to Guilford County by its former owners.
Two trees merged to become one

I arrived just before sunset, with close to a mile round-trip ahead of me. One of the caches required solving a puzzle on-site, so I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it to the lot of them before nightfall. In the end, however, I did manage to claim them all, with little daylight to spare. I tell you, there's nothing like being in beautiful autumn woods at twilight, and I quite enjoyed the pastoral scenery around the trail head. There had been a handful of people gathered at the trail head when I started my hike, but they quickly departed, leaving me in relatively relaxing, peaceful solitude — with just a touch of eerie atmosphere surrounding me. The moon is just past full, so I doubted there would be werewolves out and about this evening, but I have to tell you, if there was ever a place for werewolves to haunt, this would be it. For the old horror writer in me, being at this location with darkness falling really got the creative nerves going. I'm pretty sure the trail is just crying out for a night cache, though since I've already set up a couple, I'd prefer to see someone else do it. There are neighbors fairly nearby though, so there's no telling whether strange geocachers creeping through the woods, following glowing reflector tacks, might frighten them slap to death.

Hell, I've scared me slap to death when I'm creeping around in the woods at night.
An old critter stall bearing a Bold Moon sign made of mirror fragments
"Trail Building," according to a sign I found inside (see below)
I dunno... maybe there is a werewolf in there.
Intriguing sign at the trail head

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Grassy Creek to Brushy Mountain

Kimberly and I spent the day at a couple of wineries out in Elkin, in the Yadkin Valley — Grassy Creek and Brushy Mountain, both of which offered several decent dry reds, as well as a drinkable white or two. Grassy Creek, just north of town, is on the site of the old Klondike dairy farm, the tasting room housed in a beautifully renovated stable. Very courteous proprietor and staff, with pleasant, mellow live music courtesy of guitarist/vocalist David Niblock. We were most taken with their unique Chambourcin, which was rich and "chewy," rather like a Primitivo or Zinfandel. They had an oaked Chardonnay that I found pretty damn appealing, which is rare for a white wine.

Brushy Mountain, in downtown Elkin, had a handful of decent reds, their best being the Chatham Reserve, a a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in French oak for 18 months. Damn good for a North Carolina wine.

After the wineries, I availed myself to a few nearby caches, the most interesting of them being at Elkin's oldest church, Galloway Memorial Episcopal, pictured above. Interestingly, components from the church, such as a chancel railing and carved doorframe, were used in the building at the Brushy Mountain winery. There's a small damn and waterfall just behind the church building that add to its rustic charm. The place rather looks as if it ought to be haunted. Based on the baleful apparition lurking on the steps in the photo, I'd say it probably is.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Creeple People

Team Old Fart — Rob Isenhour, Robbin Lee, and I — spent Sunday last on the Mountains-to-the-Sea trail around Falls Lake, just northeast of Durham, NC, for some post-Halloween creepiness. Lots of caches, good weather, good hiking. Happily for me, one of the caches lurked in the old haunted cabin you see above. However, upon our arrival, something amid the shadowy spaces within began to raise a ruckus. Quite the cacophony — scrabbling, rustling, rumbling, caterwauling. We figured it might be a bunch of vampires incensed by our intrusion, but after a moment, a wake of buzzards came roaring out of there, gave us the stink eye, and vamoosed. All seemed well, the danger past, until I was confronted by this freakish sight. My nerves snapped and I fled without looking back.

After I signed the log, of course. I wasn't about to hie myself out of there without earning my smiley.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Happy Hallowine

One could hardly have asked for a more perfect Halloween.

Traditionally at the office, we have a big fall festival, with costumes, jack-o'-lantern carving contests, trick-or-treating, and either a reading or noisemaking of sorts by the ol' dude (see "Night of the Scarecrow" for a bit about last year's racket). This year, the celebration at work was more low-key, but I did read an excerpt from my latest tale, "The Nothing." I was pelted by no rotten fruit or other less-than-desirable paraphernalia, so I consider this a marked success. Then Ms. B. and I hit the road for the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, where our first port of call was Villa Appalaccia, one of our favorite wineries in the area. The wine there is very authentic Italian, and after a decent tasting, we ventured out into the chilly afternoon to share a bottle of Aglianico, one of their best dry reds. A short distance from the main building, there's a walled terrace that resembles the foundation of an old Italian villa, a little desolate-looking amid the barren and still-turning trees. A relentless wind made for a brisk time of it — in fact, I'm told they got snow last night and this morning — but the setting is so perfect for the season, we wouldn't have had it any other way.

From there, we took a little side trip up to the Stonewall Bed & Breakfast, where we have stayed a couple of times (see "Stonewalled" for info on the place and pics), to pay our respects to the proprietor, Mr. Scott Truslow, whom we had got to gotten to know during our visits. This is a beautiful, cozy inn with a couple of remote, rustic cabins out in the woods — we loved the View Cabin, where we spent New Year's a couple of years back — and I can't recommend the place highly enough.

Then it was back down the Parkway to Chateau Morrisette Winery & Restaurant for an excellent dinner. Beef medallions in a wine-mushroom sauce, with potatoes and asparagus for the old man and duck and dumplings for the young lady. Both dishes were perfectly prepared and presented, and our server was first-class all the way. After a less-than-exemplary visit to the winery there some months back, as of last night, we felt they redeemed themselves and then some.

Afterward, we headed to Martinsville to Mum's and, before retiring, watched Oculus, just to cap off an excellent Halloween with a final scare. Not a bad movie — in fact, one of the better creepy films I've seen in quite a long while. Today, a little caching on the way back to Greensboro helped take the sting out of Halloween's passing.

After all these years, still my favorite among favorite holidays, it is. A Happy Post-Hallowine to all my fine friends.
Spectacular foliage seen from Lovers' Leap on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Fun but very strange folk, photographed by a courteous — and fearless — stranger at Lovers' Leap
Villa Appalaccia, seen from the remote terrace
Rock Castle Gorge, seen from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ms. B. and I have ventured into the gorge
a few times — it's among the most excellent, scenic hikes I have ever undertaken.