Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Random Bedtime Story


Here's another random adventure tale about night caching... my first night cache, as a matter of fact. It was back in April 2008, and I had been geocaching a relatively brief time, with only a hundred or so finds to my credit. For several years, Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner and I had worked in the same office, where I knew her as "that short little copy editor," but it was only after she left the company that I discovered she was also a short little geocacher. We began getting together regularly for caching expeditions, and we eventually decided to tackle a nearby night cache called "Bedtime Story: A Tale of Two Trails" (GC112D8, which is still out there and, as far as I know, in good condition). I didn't know much about how night caches were set up, other than the fact one needed a bright flashlight, so I was anxious to get out there and discover what there was to discover. For this outing along Lake Townsend, Debbie brought her brother (a.k.a. "DSCrown") and her good friend Beth "BogTurtle" Walton, whom I had met once before, though only in passing. With this little ragtag team, we set out westward on the Laurel Bluff trail, on the south side of the lake, and soon came to a series of reflector tacks in the trees, which guided us onward like brilliant little flames in the darkness. (These actually inspired a scene in Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate, the audio drama I wrote the following year.) Periodically, we would come upon different arrangements of tacks, which signaled us to stop and look for clues that would help us fill in the missing coordinate numbers for the final stage. We spent a good many frustrating moments trying to figure out just what we had to do, but eventually we saw the light — literally. Once we had determined the latitude numbers, we had to go over to the other side of the lake, to the Reedy Fork Trail (hence the cache name), to find the longitude coordinates and, hopefully, the cache itself.

Before continuing with "Bedtime Story," we stopped for a cache called "Geocaching A to Z" (GC11P8P), which was on the way. It was hidden somewhere up a steep hillside amid a cluster of boulders, and we risked life and limb clambering to the top, examining every crack and crevice on the way, so we could sign the logbook and spell our geocaching names with the blocks inside the ammo can (witness the above photo). Find the container we did, of course, and it was just about then that a car went by not fifty feet away. What do you know? A road. Well, gracious, if we had known Plainfield Road passed so close, we could have spared ourselves the climb, the danger, and the fun, and just accessed the cache from that level. Better that we did not, of course, though from that moment on, Plainfield Road was dead to us.

Once finished at "Geocaching A to Z," we made our way back down the rocks and continued our quest for "Bedtime Story." For a time, we followed the trail of glowing tacks, but before we knew it, we found ourselves in darkness minus our trusty little guides. We knew we had not overshot any of the stages, and it wasn't long before we realized that most of the tacks on the north side of the lake had been removed — no doubt by wisenheimer or wisenheimers unknown with nothing better to do than pull fire tacks out of tree trunks. It seemed we were to be thwarted, but since we really didn't like that idea, we decided to split into two groups and look for geotrails — worn paths in the woods that tend to appear wherever there are geocaches — that might yet lead us to our quarry. Debbie and her brother went one way while Beth and I went the other. Here you must understand that Beth really didn't know me from Adam; all she knew about me was that, apart from caching, I wrote horror fiction. She did seem a trifle nervous, and even more so when I pointed out what definitely did appear to be a geotrail that led off the main trail into pitch darkness beyond. I wandered a short distance down this path, and then — sure enough — I spied a reflector. Then another and then another. Before I knew it, I had come upon what appeared to be a hundred or more reflector tacks, all stuck on the trunks of a dozen or so dead trees, fallen and piled on top of each other.

I found it all most intriguing, but Beth appeared uncomfortable. "This gives me a the creeps," she said, thinking this might be where all the stolen reflector tacks had ended up. At my reassuring best, I said, "You realize this is when Leatherface comes after you with a chainsaw, right?"

I didn't even have time to crack a smile before Beth's phone was in her hand, her voice calling out, "Debbie! Debbie, get back here! Get back here right now!"

Fortunately, Debbie and her brother weren't too far away, and a few minutes later, we were all together again. We finally concluded that we had likely found the cache's actual hiding place, and DSCrown volunteered to crawl up under the huge woodpile to see if he might find anything interesting. He seemed to be in there for the longest time, but eventually, his voice rang out: "Found it!"

And so, we were able to claim our first night cache — not quite the regulation way, what with all the missing reflectors, but when we signed our names on the log sheet, our roundabout method mattered not a whit. Over the next couple of years, Cupdaisy, BogTurtle, and I became regular caching cohorts, along with Joe "GeoDogg" Morgan and, occasionally, Beth's husband, Al. Unfortunately, their jobs required Beth and Joe to move out of the area, and our group was splintered. Happily, Cupdaisy and I — and several other regular companions — still hit the caching trail at every opportunity. Alas, they all know me a little too well for me to successfully work my most frightening of charms on them.

At least, that's what they think.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aura You Ready for Another Night Odyssey?

Robgso and Rtmlee showing off their auras on the trail
It's been a good week for some night caching, not to mention geocaching in general. I picked up find #7,777 today, which is kind of a fun number (although I ended the day with a couple of extra finds in the total). There is at least a pair of entertaining nighttime hides over in Winston-Salem, which Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, and I went after last night. The first of them, "Aura You Ready?" (GC4XYJW), in historic Bethania Village, can actually be done day or night, though it's recommended at night due to the first stage's unique properties, which — unfortunately — did not function quite as expected for us. In theory, using a special implement, one can determine the color of one's "aura," and then, with a bit of mathematical calculation, determine the coordinates of the cache. Happily, with a bit of improvising, we persuaded the stubborn little cock at the site to give up its information, and we soon afterward had the cache in hand. (I'm not sure what anomaly caused my phone camera to take what appears to be an infrared image out on the trail, but I kind of like the effect above.)
Robbin Lee, zombified

From there, we moved on to Bethabara Park and a slightly more extensive, regulation night cache called "Night Odyssey" (GCHGJ7), which had us following glowing reflectors through several stages in the woods before reaching the final stage, which was a well-stocked ammo can. We finished up with a late dinner and drinks from the cache bar at the Village Tavern in Reynolda Village, which quite hit the spot.

This morning, several of us got together to attempt a new, apparently difficult and daunting hide called "Haters Gonna Hate" (GC5KNXG), hidden in an extensive marsh over near Piedmont Triad International Airport. We were not entirely successful in this venture — beyond having a hootin', hollerin', helluva lot of fun, we didn't find the cache. That's going to require another trip, maybe with a helicopter, sonar device, and a diving bell.

If you find, expect a call from me looking for a hint.
In Bethania Village: My old eyes first read "Wolf-Monster" on this sign. I think it really should say that.
Haters Gonna Hate: "I don't care how cold it is, Rob, don't come out of there yet — I gotta take a photo!"


Friday, January 23, 2015

Dweller in Darkness

Night caches — geocaches specifically set up to be hunted at night, usually by way of reflector tacks placed along a trail — are particular favorites of mine, and I am the proud owner of a couple of fun ones. Just about a year ago, I adopted an older one called "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB), which had fallen into disrepair, so I spent several nights out on the Greensboro watershed trails restoring it to mint condition (see "Restoring 'Darkness Falls,'" February 21, 2014 and "'Darkness Falls' Restored," February 24, 2014). My other, called "Dweller in Darkness" (GC3G3N7), has a rather spooky theme based on some of my Lovecraftian fiction, particularly the stories "Threnody" and "The Spheres Beyond Sound." To find the cache, one goes to the Reedy Fork trail head on Lake Brandt Road in Greensboro — preferably with a bright flashlight — and follows the trail deep into the woods, where he will encounter numerous glowing eyes to help lead him to the final resting place of Dr. Maurice Zann (see the story below). The cache has been out there for a few years and was reported to be in need of a maintenance visit, so last night I decided to jump right on it. I invited frequent caching partner Rtmlee (a.k.a. Robbin) to accompany me since the cache was still on his unfound list, and I knew he'd be more comfortable in that hostile darkness with someone familiar with territory. So, after braving the perils of night, Rob was able to claim the cache without going missing himself, and with only minimal nudging from the cache owner. (I'm sure he would have found it completely on his own, but we decided to waste little time, for there were evil stirrings nearby in the woods that Rob did not like.)

If you're not afraid of being out in the woods in the dark, then night caching might be just the ticket for you. If you are afraid, then so much the better....

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Bloody Marys, Bloody Trees


"You've found your own personal heaven." That's what Ms. B. texted me when I sent her the photo you see here of the Bloody Mary menu at the Village Tavern at Reynolda Village in Winston-Salem. Yeah, that is one happy list of adult beverages — and difficult as hell to choose from. I ended up going with the Clamato one, mainly because I quite enjoy Clamato Bloody Marys; I've been known to make them from time to time. This one was quite good, though I'd have preferred it spicier. I was told by Robgso and Diefenbaker, who ordered the Spicy Pete, that it did, in fact, have a fair measure of kick. Next time, perhaps.

That was our lunch break during geocaching today — in and around Winston Salem, mostly the northwestern side of town. We went after a couple of rather beastly multi caches, one (On My Honor, GCJ4EG) being tough because three old brains made an error in calculations, the other (Thousand Island Cache: Cancun #5, GCT4FX) being tough because it's placed in an area of extreme coordinate bounce and jungle-like terrain, complete with carnivorous vines and man-eating trees, barely passable even now in the dead of winter. Mr. Rob, Ms. Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner, and I had attempted this cache last year at the height of the growing season and very nearly became casualties of the malevolent flora, finding stage one but not the final. Today, much like last time, we barely escaped with our lives, only because we promised the preeminent evil tree that we would return and leave Cupdaisy as a tribute. At least this time we managed to sign the log.

It almost makes me want to re-read Scott Smith's The Ruins, whose ill-fated characters might have had it marginally easier than we did today.
Evil, hungry tree. Don't try to feed it.
Rob, unaware of the evil trees sneaking up on him
Diefenbaker trying to find a way out of the woods

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Monk Punk & The Shadow of the Unknown


Coupla nice new things happening, writing-wise. Hazardous Press and editor Aaron French have released a new omnibus edition of Monk Punk & the Shadow of the Unknown, two separate Lovecraftian anthologies which originally came out some time ago, now combined under one cover, this one including my dark fantasy story, "Visionaire," among many others. "504 pages of Lovecraftian goodness," according to editor French, with work by authors such as Gary A. Braunbeck, Richard Gavin, Willie Meikle, John R. Fultz, Joshua M. Reynolds, Gene O'Neill, James Dorr, Erik T. Johnson, Michael Bailey, Mike Lester, Glynn Owen Barrass, David West, Adrian Chamberlin, Jay Wilburn, K. Trap Jones, P. S. Gifford, R. B. Payne, John Claude Smith, and many others. You can get it in both paperback ($16.62) and Kindle ($4.99) editions at Amazon.com. Here are the links (separate because, at the moment, Amazon.com doesn't show both editions under one link; no doubt this little glitch will be rectified in due time).

Monk Punk & the Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus — Kindle

Monk Punk & the Shadow of the Unknown Omnibus — Paperback

"Visionaire" is an old story of mine, which originally appeared in Jeffrey Thomas's one-shot periodical called The End, back in 1993. It's a tale of magic, dark tidings, and a grim future, set in a mysterious netherworld that might have been eons ago or centuries hence. I'm very pleased that this volume gives the story a shot at an entirely new audience.

Also, my most recent story, "The Nothing," has been accepted for publication at BuzzyMag — Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror. Not sure of the exact publication date yet, but it is slated for 2015. Naturally, when I know more, you will hear about it.

Till then.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Caching and Intercaching Chapel Hill

Jazz hands (photo by Rob Isenhour)

Team Old Fart — Rob "Robgso" Isenhour, Robbin "Rtmlee" Lee, and Scott "Diefenbaker" Hager — spent a drizzly but highly pleasant day geocaching in Chapel Hill today, logging a relatively small number but finding several worthy of inclusion on our respective lists of favorites. We started out on the trails at Carolina North Forest, initially in a light mist but which graduated to a downpour, mercifully short-lived. We found a fun little multi-stage cache that required deciphering a puzzle made of Lego blocks, which even our four simple minds managed to solve. There was a bison tube hanging a ways up in a leaning tree that I quite enjoyed going after. (Just to put the photo at left in come kind of context, Mr. Isenhour happened to click the shutter just as I was pulling myself forward to grab one vertical branch after releasing the one behind me.) We conquered a type of cache known as an "intercache," for which you use a smart phone app that leads you from waypoint to waypoint, indicating whether you are getting "warmer" or "colder" in relation to the actual geocache. We quite enjoyed the one on the UNC campus. And we had to plot a course for a fun little hide using the clues "Brick arch; stairway to nowhere; and the bridge of death," which proved challenging to both our brains and bodies. Getting to and crossing the bridge of death did give us a bit of a charge.

While working our way through the intercache, called "Hot Spot" (GC4VZYZ), we encountered fellow geocacher htomc42 (a.k.a. Wayne), who joined up with us to hunt a few. Lunch was at Fitzgerald's Irish Pub on Franklin Street, which I had visited just about a year ago. Good bloody marys, though they didn't have them with bacon this go-round, which was a little disappointing (see "Super Bowl Blowout," February 4, 2014).

Another day of surviving the geocaching trail, and this is always a good thing.
We walked with a purpose, clearing multitudes fore and aft. (Photo by Rob Isenhour)
Three of four Old Farts, plus Wayne
Old Fart #4 on camera duty (photo by Rob Isenhour)

L: Talking shit in Chapel Hill; R: Scott wishes he was taller.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Kindle Countdown — Last Day for The Gods of Moab

JUST FOR NEW YEAR'S...

Today is the last day to pick up my novella, The Gods of Moab, for your Kindle at the special discounted price of 99¢ (regular price $2.99).

"A pleasant New Year's Eve outing becomes an experience in otherworldly horror when two close-knit couples discover a shocking secret in the darkest corners of the Appalachian mountains. At an opulent mountain inn, Warren Burr, his fiancee, Anne, and their friends, Roger and Kristin Leverman, encounter a religious zealot named John Hanger, who makes it his business to bear witness to them of his peculiar...and disturbing...faith. His efforts rebuffed, Hanger insidiously assumes control of the couples' technological devices, leading them to stumble into unexpected, surreal landscapes...landscapes inhabited by nightmarish beings that defy explanation and rationality. To return to the world they thought they knew, Warren and his friends must not only escape the deadly entities that pursue them but somehow stop John Hanger's nightmare-plague from spreading to the outside world.

"The Gods of Moab is a chilling novella of Lovecraftian horror by Stephen Mark Rainey, acclaimed author of Balak, Blue Devil Island, Other Gods, The Nightmare Frontier, Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie), and former editor of the award-winning Deathrealm Magazine."

The Gods of Moab is just the ticket to put a little fear in your new year. Check it out from Amazon.com here: The Gods of Moab by Stephen Mark Rainey

Love it or hate it, Amazon.com reviews are always appreciate. Do enjoy!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year's Last Sunset

New Year's Eve 2014: All done now, and an evening befitting the year as a whole — spent with Kimberly, filled with moments of beauty, of reflection, of humor, of angst, and of renewed commitment. Late afternoon, we hit the road for Harvest Grill at Shelton Vineyards, near Dobson, NC, in Surry County, where we also had last year's New Year's Eve dinner. We had been so taken with the place that we decided to do it over again, though last year we were staying at the nearby Vineyard Cabin; this year, alas, we had to truck ourselves all the way back to Greensboro. On the trip up, I had stopped for a couple of caches (and grabbed a couple of more on our way back to Greensboro). The moment we turned into the vineyard's entrance, we saw the spectacular sunset pictured above, so we had to stop and snap several photographs. Of course, none of them did the view justice, but it was a unique and rather special sight for the final sunset of the year 2014.

Shelton's wine is decent enough, and we quite enjoyed our tastings of five wines each, all neatly presented in a wine "tree," arranged from lightest to most full-bodied; however, relative to other wineries in the Yadkin Valley, their products are merely satisfactory. None are standouts compared to the wines produced by many of their smaller neighbors, the Merlot we had with dinner being the best of the lot. That said, dinner itself was fantastic, the atmosphere at the grill warm and intimate, our server(s) prompt, cordial, and efficient. Kimberly and I left well satisfied, and who knows but that we may make Harvest Grill a New Year's Eve tradition.

Despite having been together five years now, Kimberly and I still most enjoy celebrating holidays just the two of us. Not to dismiss any of our many treasured friends, with whom we've celebrated any number of special occasions, but the fact we still find real joy in each other's company at times such as these has helped us retain a true "specialness" about our relationship. I hope we can continue this particular brand of bonding for the rest of our days, whatever our personal circumstances. But as with the events and emotions of the year itself, the evening also forced us to face and reflect on some of our own personal foibles, the details of which are certainly not to be related here. In the end, I believe we ended our night and our year with entirely new perspectives and resolutions regarding each other's innermost selves. In vino veritas.

Our New Year's Eve ended somewhere around 3:00 AM, accompanied by plenty of gunfire in lieu of fireworks from the neighborhood brain trust.

New Year's Day saw the continuation of a geocaching tradition that began four years ago: the Polar Plunge, an event held at nearby Belews Lake, where daring, brave, and foolish geocachers leap from the pier into the frigid water. This year, attendance was good, but only one man, our brash event host, Mr. Rich "Night-Ranger" Colter, up and took the plunge. It did make its way to video, and you may catch the action right here: Night-Ranger Takes the Plunge

Afterward, Mr. Rob "Robgso" Isenhour and I went after a couple of nearby caches that daunted me on previous excursions, but this time we were victorious. Happy day.

May your 2015 be happy, prosperous, profound, and silly. We all need a little silly.