Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Random Tale of Electrifying Terror

The two most terrifying experiences of my life both occurred in Myrtle Beach, SC, a couple of years apart. The first was when I got eaten by a shark (A Random Tale, Sept. 20, 2011). The second was when I got blowed up real good by lightning. You'd think I might have an aversion to Myrtle Beach, but really, these things only make the place somewhat more endearing.

I'm pretty sure it was the summer of 1977, and my parents, my brother, and I were on our annual pilgrimage to the beach, where we owned a time-share unit for a week in June. In those days, my dad and I were both avid golfers, and playing golf at the beach was a rare treat. I think we played at a different course each day of the week we were there. On our final outing for the week, as was customary, Dad and I teamed up with another twosome we met at the course to make a regulation foursome. We headed out under clear skies, with no indication that rain might interfere with our game.

We were about as far out on the course as one can get when we saw the first clouds. We had just been laughing about some fellow who was apparently having a bad day of it: he had hurled one of his golf clubs up in a tree and it had gotten stuck in the limbs. He was trying to knock it out of the tree by throwing more clubs at it. By the time we had finished putting on the nearby green and started out for the next tee, he had three more clubs stuck up there. That was when we noticed the sky had turned almost as black as night. At the beach, fierce squalls can often blow in without warning, and when that lightning starts popping, you really don't want to be out in it. Well, we saw that lightning — disconcertingly close — and then discovered, to our good fortune, there was a shelter not very far away. Dad drove our cart at express speed to the shelter, with our partners and several other golfers close behind. Once underneath the roof, the cart drivers all maneuvered so the rubber tires of each cart were touching the tires of another. There was a restroom in the shelter, and I needed to pee, so I stepped out of the cart and began making my way toward the restroom door.


My God, I'd never heard anything like it. A brilliant light flashed in the corner of my eye, and when I looked around, a blue-white ribbon of electricity was corkscrewing around the trunk of a large tree about thirty feet from the shelter. With a sound like a 1,000-pound bomb going off, bark exploded in long, snakelike ribbons in all directions, some clattering down on the roof of the shelter.

I don't even know how I got inside the restroom. All I know was that, for the next several minutes, I was crouching on the concrete floor with my hands over my head, intoning "Oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my OH MY GOD!" I only knew the storm had ended when my dad rapped on the door and called, "Son, are you ever coming out of there?"

Till that hole, which was probably 13 or 14 out of 18, I was playing some pretty respectable golf — a couple of strokes under par. At the end of the round, I came in something like ten over par. I'll blame the fact that the golf course was waterlogged after the storm; it had nothing to do with the fact that not all of the wetness on me was necessarily rainwater.

That was the day I got blowed up by lightning.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Dark Regions Press Interview

Author/editor Brian M. Sammons recently interviewed me for Dark Regions Press, and it's now gone live. In-depth info about my horror fiction, Deathrealm, Dark Shadows, upcoming work, and much more. Read it, weep, and gnash those teeth. Check it out here:

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day Reflections

I have on occasion written about my dad here in ye old blog, but for Father's Day I am inclined to record a few more in-depth thoughts about him. Last week, he would have celebrated his 86th birthday. Fair warning — this will probably be long, and it is mainly for my own edification and perhaps for any readers who knew Dad. I might mention that it's a hot, muggy day, and I wish I was at the beach. From the time I was 18 until my mid 30s, we owned a time-share unit at Regency Towers in Myrtle Beach, SC, and our assigned period was the third week in June, which usually encompassed Dad's birthday and/or Father's Day. I always looked forward to going, particularly when I was in my 20s because, well, it was the beach, and there were lots of young women to chase after (though I can't say I was all that good at catching them). But it became a tradition of special family time, for relaxation and togetherness. The good old days, those were. And though cynics will always tell you there was never any such thing, it's all subjective. To me, the good old days were when the people I loved most were still alive. So many are gone now.

Dad came from a family of meager means, but he was smarter than a whip and dedicated to building a comfortable life for himself and his family. For 30 years, he worked for Dupont, mostly in Martinsville, VA, where I grew up. He had simple tastes and was pretty frugal, but he was sometimes known to splurge on the family, especially around Christmastime. For weeks before the holiday, right up through Christmas Eve, he'd often have to "run up the street" to pick up something he'd thought of for my brother and me. He did enjoy his shopping, and he was a bargain hunter. If he bought something but saw it cheaper somewhere else, he'd turn right around, return the item, get his money back, and go purchase it at the better price. (This could sometimes be frustrating for us young 'uns when we just wanted to go back home.) His main indulgence for himself came in the form of a couple of Ford Mustang convertibles, one a 67 model (pale yellow with a black top), the other a 72 (fire-engine red with a black top). I learned how to drive in that 72 Mustang, and Mom used to quip that Dad wanted to be buried in that car. It didn't last that long, but he did keep that car until sometime in the late 1980s.

His favorite avocation was stamp collecting. He had a massive collection of postage stamps from all over the world, and in the late 60s or early 70s, he started a stamp business called Virginia Stamp Exchange, which became quite lucrative for him. As an adolescent, I took a brief shine to the activity, but it wasn't one of those that lasted. Still, I knew enough about it that, in my late teens, he paid me some small wages to help him out with it when the business overwhelmed him.

Dad loved his golf. He wasn't exactly a great player, but for years he golfed with a regular bunch of gentlemen at Forest Park Country Club, and when I was a teenager, I took up the game and spent many weekends on the course with him and his cronies. Now, at home, he rarely uttered language stronger than "Dadgummit!" or "Friggit!" but on the course, he could sure let some words fly. Most of the epithets I currently use for bad drivers and other annoying assholes I learned from Dad on the golf course.

Now, Dad was generally a patient man — to a point. Once you passed that point, you needed to watch out. He probably swatted me a time or two when I was a kid, and lord knows I deserved it, but his main disciplinary power came from his voice. He could bend steel with a few words, sometimes low and growling, sometimes sharp and piercing, designed to paralyze his target with dread. Whenever Mum caught me doing something terribly wrong (a not infrequent occurrence), the worst thing I could possibly hear was "I'm going to have to tell your father about this." Chilling, horrifying words, those. Along those lines, back in the late 90s, his brother Gordon came for a visit, and we were all sitting around the sunroom table while the two of them reminisced about their sordid past (and my lord, did they have some stories). Deadpan, Gordon said, "Carl, you may not be able to relate to this, but our dad had a temper." I thought Dad was going to choke to death laughing. I have largely inherited my father's disposition, which came down from his father before him. Clearly, we came by it honestly.
Dad on his honeymoon, circa 1956

Like Mom, Dad was a Christian — his father was a Methodist minister, as a matter of fact — with simple faith; no fire and brimstone judgment, no biblical scholarship, just a heartfelt following of the Golden Rule and trusting that the lord would lead him where he needed to be in life. Perhaps the most telling example of Dad's faith was when several church members were gathered at our place for dinner. Dad knew that the choir was trying to raise money for a trip — I can't remember specifically where — and they had come up short on funds. Quietly, Dad called the choir director into his office, asked how much they needed, and then wrote a check for that amount. He gave it to the choir director on the condition that he not reveal where that money came from. He didn't want any attention drawn to himself, only that those folks get to go on their trip. That was largely how he lived his faith. No showmanship, no fanfare, just quiet sincerity and deep care for others.

Politically, Dad was conservative, of the Eisenhower persuasion; the current GOP would have revolted him. He instilled in me a deep sense of personal responsibility and compassion. But one of his strengths was seeing and understanding alternative viewpoints, and whenever we had discussions of any depth, he always presented me with thoughtful counters to my points, regardless of whether he believed in them himself. He wanted me to understand that personal decisions are not made in a vacuum, and to make sound ones, I needed to gather as much information as possible before committing to an idea or goal. Yet, almost paradoxically, he hated indecisiveness, and he always pressed me to not waffle at decision-making time. This has been a powerful motivator in my life, the downside being that, especially in my younger days, I made lots of quick decisions, either not understanding or ignoring the consequences of rash action. A difficult balancing act, to be sure, but it was one Dad mastered from an early age.

In the late 1960s, Dad was afflicted with a very severe case of diabetes, the complications of which eventually took his life. Despite dedicated effort on his part, and Mom's, he could never keep his blood sugar regulated, and he had terrible insulin reactions that one could have mistaken for epileptic fits. These were violent and painful, and they scared me to death when I was a kid. In later years, he lived with endless pain, eventually to the point that he could no longer work. Fortunately, Dupont offered him early retirement, with excellent benefits, at age 52, so he was able to still have a few quality years with Mom before he became completely physically debilitated. He died in 2001, at the too-young age of 70.

Dad and I had our conflicts, diverging opinions and philosophies, and outright personality clashes from time to time. But according to Mom, at no time did he ever stop being proud of me or respecting my views, even when he could not understand them (I was a bit weird). He supported me when I didn't deserve it more times than I could count. Yes, Dad had plenty of flaws, but as an increasingly self-aware individual, he never ceased struggling to overcome them. His life was testimony his success. He made me proud to be his son, and to this day, he is my hero. With my mom's health failing, and me having to take over more and more of her personal affairs, I feel I need him more than ever. And he is with me.

I miss you and love you, Dad.
Dad coached my City Recreation League basketball team, circa 1970.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Con*Gregate 3: Geek Summer Camp

It's a-coming — Con*Gregate 3 at the Radisson Hotel in High Point, NC, July 15–17, 2016. I'll be on hand once again for panels, booksignings, a reading, Allen Wold's famous writing workshop, and general trouble-making. Con*Gregate is a mid-size convention, essentially the successor to StellarCon, which was an NC staple for almost three decades. The organizers and staff are top-notch and have done a fine job making Con*Gregate a convention worth returning to.

Guests of Honor this year include Stephen Barnes (Writer GoH), A. J. Hartley (Writer, Special GoH), Lindsey Look (Artist GoH), and Valentine Wolfe (Special Musical Guests). There will be the usual costume contest, charity auction, live performances, gaming, and video screenings.

You can find my schedule here: Con*Gregate: Stephen Mark Rainey

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hot, Tired, and Lonesome, but Serene

A bit of pedaling and geocache maintenance on the
Dick & Willie Trail. Yeah, yeah, pipe down.

Ms. Brugger is gone for a long weekend with a bunch of rowdy women to the mountains of Virginia, leaving me lost, lonesome, and left to fend for myself. Those wretched women! But this was my regular weekend to go to Martinsville to look after Mum anyway, so I hit the road last night after work, grabbed a couple of caches en route, and arrived in the 'Ville just in time to go to dinner with Mum at Chopstix, a relatively new Asian establishment with an extensive, varied menu and decent sushi. Their food and service are commendable, but I don't recommend ordering one of their mixed drinks — I've given them two tries, one a Long Island Iced Tea, another a specialty drink called The Chopstix Stix, either of which — theoretically — should have knocked me on my ass, but which — in reality — struck me as little more than flavored water. Sadly, that's pretty much the case anywhere I've ordered a mixed drink in the past couple of years, so I've about sworn off anyone's but my own (with the notable exception of The Third Bay, in the 'Ville). A sad, sad state, I tell you.

Last night, after taking care of Mum's business, I managed a good spell of writing, much needed since I've got three stories either brewing or in the works, and a couple of deadlines I don't want to miss. And this morning, after helping out with some errands, I went out to the Dick & Willie Rail Trail (yeah, yeah, shut up), where one can borrow a bicycle for the exorbitant cost of absolutely nada, and took off pedaling to one of my geocaches ("The Quiet Earth," GC2D0WQ) that had gone missing and needed replacing. That done, with me about done in by the heat and humidity, I went and grabbed some chicken tenders from the nearby Hardee's and hied myself over to the shady woods at Lake Lanier for a little one-man picnic lunch. I did venture a ways down the little walking trail to find a bench, but I didn't fall in the water. Not this time, friends!

Then, it was back to Greensboro to spend a lonesome night at home without the bestest girlfriend in the world. On the way, I stopped for a baker's dozen geocaches in and around Summerfield, a few of which were pretty entertaining, particularly LY #312 (GC6CAN7), which would no doubt have had any uninitiated witnesses scratching their heads in bewilderment over what the old dude in the hat was doing shoving a pine branch into some metal tubing on a kids' playset.

I've got plenty more writing lined up for the evening, and to assuage my bitter loneliness, I figure I'll either watch Seven Samurai or The Brady Bunch, I haven't decided which.

Good night, Lucy.
Lake Lanier looks about the same as it has all these years since I was a kid. Love the place, I do.
Notice the conga line of turtles on the log in the lower right-hand corner of the pic.
I found the cache here. Yep, that's me — the geocachevangelist.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Return of the Old Ones

Look what's coming out of the darkness from the frightening folks at Dark Regions Press! It's Return of the Old Ones, a new anthology of Cthulhu Mythos stories, edited by Brian M. Sammons. The book includes stories set in three distinct time periods: just before the stars come right to release the Great Old Ones to spread calamity over the earth; during those moments that civilization falls and the earth trembles beneath the onslaught of its new, horrific masters; and after the fall, when those few humans who survive must eke out an existence in an unimaginable hell.

My story, "Messages From a Dark Deity," takes place during the days leading up to the eve of destruction, seen through the eyes of an investigative journalist. As the world around him becomes increasingly more bizarre, he attempts to deny the evidence of his senses, attributing the horrors he witnesses to some kind of hysteria, but Nyarlathotep — the messenger of the Great Old Ones — refuses to allow him even this dubious comfort.

Return of the Old Ones features 19 stories by some of the finest storytellers working today. The amazing cover art you see above is by Vincent Chong. The full table of contents appears below.

"Around the Corner" – Jeffrey Thomas
"Tick Tock" – Don Webb
"Causality Revelation" – Glynn Owen Barrass
"The Hidden" – Scott T. Goudsward
"The Gentleman Caller" – Lucy A. Snyder
"Scratching from the Outer Darkness" – Tim Curran
"Messages from a Dark Deity" – Stephen Mark Rainey

"Time Flies" – Pete Rawlik
"Sorrow Road" – Tim Waggoner
"The Call of the Deep" – William Meikle
"Howling Synchronicities" – Konstantine Paradias
"Chimera" – Sam Gafford
"The Last Night on Earth" – Edward Morris
"The Incessant Drone" – Neil Baker

"Breaking Point" – Sam Stone
"The Allclear" – Edward M. Erdelac
"The Keeper of Memory" – Christine Morgan
"Shout/Kill/Revel/Repeat" – by Scott R Jones
"Strangers Die Every Day" – Cody Goodfellow

Return of the Old Ones, coming in Fall 2016 from Dark Regions

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Healthy Insane

That's us, all right — the Healthy Insane. Well, it makes for an apt geocaching team name, don't you think? What do you mean where are the wine glasses? Well, the wine flowed yesterday, mates.

This has been a memorable couple of days for Ms. Brugger and me, complete with unwelcome interlopers, not-quite-exotic food and drink, high-risk geocaching, horrific movies, and blasphemous storytelling. Friday evening, those diabolical fiends Cortney Skinner and Elizabeth Massie (with whom I co-wrote Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark) darkened my doorstep and proceeded to menace my cats for the duration of the weekend. Upon their arrival, I took these awful folk out and forced them to seek geocaches in singularly hazardous places, followed by a tortuous, habanero-spiked Mexican dinner. To keep the theme of inhuman pain and suffering going through the rest of the evening, we settled in to watch The Sound of Horror, a review of which I posted here just the other day ("The Sound of Horror," Sunday, May 29, 2016), followed by a great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Sometimes, you have to think inside the box.

But of course there was wine, at least for those of us who have been known to partake. (Happily, our trespassers were considerate enough to bring a bottle of Virginia wine for Ms. Brugger, who drinks.) Saturday morning, after beginning the day with the prerequisite caffeine and some acceptable treats from Starbucks, we ventured out into Greensboro's urban wilderness, procured the necessary items for a poisonous picnic, and hied our asses out to Stonefield Cellars in Stokesdale, which is one of our favorite venues for locally produced vino. On our arrival, we discovered there was to be a wedding on the premises — poor sods — but much to our delight, a short distance from the main facility, there hid a pleasant, secluded table, complete with an umbrella to block the hated, blazing day star, where we set up our picnic and savored some particularly nice wine — sangria for Mr. Skinner and Dread Pirate Robert's Red Blend for Ms. B. and me. There were a couple of caches near the winery that I had hunted unsuccessfully not too long ago, one at a haunted house, so after our picnic, we decided to seek revenge on the offending containers. This time, success!
Artist and writer in their natural environment

Once back home, Ms. Massie devoted some more time to menacing my cats, and then Kimberly and I prepared a Pho dinner, which the two of us quite enjoyed and our company appeared to survive (we'll see how things go over the next few days). For dessert, we enjoyed some Klondike bars and It Follows, which our guests had not previously seen (reviewed here by the Old Dude some time ago). After lights out, I heard some intriguing sounds from upstairs, but I did not go to investigate because I'm pretty sure the cats were setting traps for our trespassers. However, as often happens with devices devised by cats, the traps didn't really work. It's kind of like when Frazier, after plotting long and hard to give Dad what-for, conceals himself, lies in wait for God knows how long, and then, when opportunity arises, comes barreling out to accost me. However, since he really doesn't know what to do when he catches me, he just sits down.

This morning, it was back to Starbucks for a final social gathering, featuring plentiful tall tales and imparting of Wisdom, largely provided by one Wisdommamus Evughwemuya, who desperately desired friendship with Ms. Massie on Facebook. By searching his face on the interwebs, we discovered that the good Wisdommamus possesses dozens of different names, nationalities, and professions, so if he comes looking for you — beware!

Finally, it was time for an emotional parting of the ways (the cats danced for joy). All in all, another memorable run-in with our hated enemies, and I truly hope it is not so long before our next opportunity to clash. I shall celebrate their departure and eventual demise with some leftover Pho.

Adieu, my fiendish foes.
Geocacher, gecocache, and haunted house in Stokesdale
Beware this man, who desires to impart only the wisdom of the scam!