Friday, December 29, 2017

It's That Time Again...

JUST FOR NEW YEAR'S...

STARTING TODAY12/29/17 — and running for the next five days, you can 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 appreciated. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Impressed Into Service


Since I was off work today, there was caching on the menu. Originally, I had planned to meet friends Debbie (Cupdaisy) and Bridget (Suntigres) at 10:15 AM at Costco across town to hunt a bunch of the newer hides in that area; but last night, a slew of new ones were published at geocaching.com, so plans shifted a tad. One of the new ones was in the woods near Lake Townsend, so I headed up that way bright and early, thinking a first-to-find (FTF) might be in the bargain. Intuition also told me it that friends Smashemups (Fred) and Skyhawk63 (Tom) were likely to have had the same thing in mind, so I was not surprised to find them already at GZ when I arrived. It took some doing, but we did manage to claim FTF on the hide, right at 9:00 AM.

I headed home just long enough to have some bacon, eggs, and coffee, and then set out to meet Cupdaisy and Suntigres at Costco. Not too far away, though, there was a new cache with a high terrain rating, and Skyhawk and I had decided that going after it would be workable, given our respective plans. So, after snagging a couple of caches near Costco, Cupdaisy, Suntigres, and I met Skyhawk, Punkins19 (Linda) Night-hawk (other Tom) at the newest high-terrain-rated cache, which we figured might require a specific tool of the trade (i.e., a ladder). As it turned out, it did not. All it required was an old dude being impressed into service to climb into the uppermost heights of a spindly tree. They'll tell you I volunteered, but the truth is I was forced against my will to climb up there and sign the log for everyone (which I admit that I did, dubbing us Team Dumb-Ass). They'll tell you I was pleased as a maggot with a smorgasbord of diseased flesh to go up there, but that's all horse-hockey. Truly, really, never would I do such a thing of my own free will. But hey, it was another FTF.

And after that, I tried to run away, but they caught me and made me go caching some more. Jeez, the rigors.

From there, after stopping for another quick FTF, we headed out to our other high-terrain-rated cache, which, based on information from Smashemups, who had visited the site but could not sign the log, we knew we would need one of these specific tools of the trade to retrieve. Happily, Night-hawk carries such a tool around with him wherever he goes—you know, in case of a geocaching emergency or some such. Getting to GZ required a little acrobatic maneuvering on a fallen log over a creek, but Night-hawk, who I guess felt guilty for being party to the extortionate antics at the previous cache, went up the ladder to claim the hide. I was even kind and supportive of this, as I did not tip the ladder while he was up on it. Hey, I would have been within my rights, wouldn't you say?

All done, Cupdaisy, Suntigres, and I parted ways with our tormentors and headed back southward to grab a few other caches—all of far simpler design—and find some lunch. The latter we did at Binh Minh Vietnamese Restaurant on Market Street, which I've always quite enjoyed. Today, it was a shrimp & pork spring roll and fried rice with tofu. Just the thing to satiate what has been a mounting craving for Asian food since watching those episodes of Anthony Bourdain's show when we were in Michigan a couple of weeks back.

Mind those shifty geocachers, or you might end up climbing a tall, spindly tree!
Relaxing with a much-needed post-geocaching Kraken-nog

Monday, December 25, 2017

Let Nothing You Dismay

I'll not sugar-coat it—things have been pretty rough lately, for many reasons, the majority of which involve my mom's failing health. As a result, preparing for Christmas was a bit more arduous than usual this year, but thankfully, our family gathering proved both relaxing and rewarding, with wonderful fellowship, food, and fun. And a wee bit of geocaching—very wee, alas, but geocaching nonetheless.

Ms. Brugger and I set out for Martinsville late yesterday morning, making a stop at Lowes Foods on Hwy 150, north of Greensboro, to pick up some provisions and snag a cache (GC7278J)—my only Christmas (Eve) cache this year. Once we reached the Ville, we planted ourselves at Mi Ranchito for an excellent Mexican lunch, then made our way to Mum's. I spent a good portion of the rest of the day working on a new short story, while Ms. B. indulged in a big ol' nap. For supper, I made a pot of vegetable beef soup, which turned out all kinds of good. There was, needless to say, fine wine accompanying.

I was very happy to find that my little anticdote of no small amusement—"The Christmas That Broke the Clock"—had made its way into the pages of the Martinsville Bulletin (the Christmas Eve print edition, at least), and that it received many kind remarks from my friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Happy!
Ms. B. settles in for our annual viewing of A Christmas Story in Mum's sunroom.
In keeping with our longtime Christmas Eve tradition, at 8:00 PM, Brugger and I settled ourselves in Mum's sunroom for the annual showing of A Christmas Story, followed by a migration to the den so we could enjoy a tad more wine and stream National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on the computer. Spirits lifted? Good lord, yes.

Up pretty early this morning, I was, so I set right back to work on my short tale (tentatively titled "Hell's Hollow"). Brother Phred arrived around 11:30 AM, at which point Santa came out of the closet and started flinging presents around. Some fine items found their way into my stack, I must say, including a unique typewriter (see below), a CD of Stars of the LidAnd Their Refinement of the Decline, hiking boots, wine, and coffee.

Ms. B. and I prepared a damn satisfying dinner of ham, smashed cheesy potatoes, and sauteed squash & zucchini, while Phred brought us some wunnerful yeast rolls and apple pie. Afterward, we all spent some serious, much-needed quality time together, and thus Christmas became, once again, a source of joy for me.

Upon our return to Greensboro, Ms. B. and I put on Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, another of our absolutely crucial Christmas traditions, delayed a bit by circumstances this year, but accomplished nonetheless. Then some fabulous store-bought-but-doctored-up pizza and a couple of episodes of Stranger Things 2 to round out the day.

Now it's dark.

Merry, scary Christmas, and happy horrordays to you and yours.
The stockings were hung under the oranges with care.
I bet YOU didn't get one of these.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Christmas That Broke the Clock


Christmas morning, 1969: it must have been around 5:00 AM; I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. In those days, at the height of the U.S. space program, the Major Matt Mason astronaut toys by Mattel were the big thing, especially for this nine-year-old science-fiction and space exploration uber-geek. I was anticipating receiving a Major Matt Mason space station, among other space-related goodies, and adrenaline had been coursing like magma through my weenie little body since early on Christmas Eve. We were at my grandparents' place in Gainesville, GA, and, as always, my folks slept on the pullout sofa bed in the living room — where all the toys lay waiting for us under the Christmas tree. My brother and I had strict orders not to set foot out of our bedroom until 7:00 AM, but come 5:30 or so, it became clear to me that something was wrong with the clock on the nightstand next to our bed. I had been lying there fidgeting for most of forever, and only a measly half hour had passed? What the heck? Thinking only of being helpful, I ran the clock up about ten minutes, thinking this would be a much more realistic time of morning. I lay back down, confident I had done the right thing. For the next hour and something I lay there, my body still blazing with adrenaline, my mind constructing all kinds of great scenarios for Major Matt Mason and his buddies Sgt. Storm, Jeff Long, and Doug Davis. When I finally looked back at the clock, it showed that only fifteen minutes had passed. Clearly, this clock was defective! So I ran it up another ten minutes for good measure.

Several more times this happened. I'd lie back down, wait and wait and wait and wait, and only a few minutes would have gone by. Impossible. If I didn't get this clock set right, I figured, I was really going to be in trouble.

Finally. Finally, 7:00 AM arrived. I woke my little brother, and the two of us went tearing into the living room. There it was — the Major Matt Mason space station! Yahoooooooo! It was beautiful, stunning, glorious. Not only that, the whole room was absolutely jammed with fantastic toys and games. Santa Claus had outdone himself! Mum and Dad, of course, stood no chance remaining in bed with all this ruckus and racket, but after a bit, Mum asked me, "Are you sure it's seven o'clock?" Well, of course I was sure. I had fixed the defective clock.

Next thing you know, I'm being sent back to bed, this time till 8:00 AM, since, according to all the other clocks in the house, it was only 6:15, and my folks, in a rare display of poor judgment, believed them.

This was perhaps my most memorable Christmas. If I remember right, Mum and Dad did let us come back into the living when 7:00 AM actually rolled around because they always were, at heart, very sporting and willing to make amends for their errors.

This little essay appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin, December 24, 2017.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Now available: Test Patterns


"For your approval: Test Patterns, a new, outré collection of short speculative tales in the vein of classic television SF/F anthology programs such as The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, and The Twilight Zone. These are the nightmares you wake from after staying up too late to watch that eerie midnight movie, only to find yourself bathed in the glow of the test pattern from the screen. Richly varied stories designed to impart a moral, inspire thought, give meaning, offer hope, or instill dread. Tales told in unique ways, employing provocative twists and revelations, while exploring the universal themes of humanity and self-discovery through the lenses of horror, fantasy, science fiction, the strange, and the weird."

Edited by Duane Pesice,‎ this new anthology features my story, "Red-eye," as well as tales by Scott J Couturier,‎ Rob F. Martin,‎ Joseph S. Pulver Sr.,‎ K. A. Opperman,‎ Ashley Dioses,‎ Philip Fracassi,‎ Peter Rawlik,‎ Brian O'Connell,‎ Sean M Thompson,‎ Scott Thomas,‎ Don Webb,‎ Nathan Carson,‎ John Claude Smith,‎ Cody Goodfellow,‎ Matthew M. Bartlett,‎ S. L. Edwards,‎ Frederick J. Mayer,‎ William Tea,‎ and Russell Smeaton.

Just the ticket for holiday reading! Click here to order from Amazon.com.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Cool Mist" & "A Piece of Stone" by Wilum H. Pugmire


"They do get hungry this time of year..."

I first became aware of Wilum H. Pugmire in the late 1960s/early 1970s, when his name ("Bill Pugmire Jr." back then) and image (oftentimes in "Count Pugsly" attire) occasionally popped up in the "Fang Mail" pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which I collected for most of a decade with near-religious zeal. Soon, I found his letters and editorials appearing in the pages of Greg Shoemaker's legendary fanzine, Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, and so, long before I ever made his acquaintance, he seemed to me an old friend.

When I was looking for work to fill the pages of Deathrealm's earliest issues, Wilum was one of the first authors I contacted, and I was delighted when he sent me his short-short tale, "Cool Mist," which ran in issue #2 (Summer, 1987). This was no Lovecraft pastiche — a thing I came to dread receiving in the slush pile — but a piece of truly weird fiction, rooted in the Lovecraft vein but unique in style and tone.

The story features Wilum's doppelganger as the narrator (evidenced by certain anecdotes he shared with me in letters): a gay punk who's anything but the stereotypical punk. He's a tad eccentric, as he enjoys dressing in Victorian garb and wandering among the Seattle wharves carrying bits of cheese to feed to the local rats. On one of his excursions to the waterfront, he discerns another individual approaching, much to his dismay, for he prefers solitude as he wanders amid the shadows. As it turns out, the other character — another punk, or so it initially seems — also enjoys haunting the waterfront, for reasons of his own. As the two engage in a somewhat awkward conversation about their respective raisons d'ĂȘtre, the narrator notices certain anomalies in the mist that comes rolling in over the water, and that that his unwelcome companion carries with him a bizarre burden. It is here that the true horror of the tale takes you in its grip....

On my first reading of the story, its climax drew from me an uncharacteristic pang of sorrow, accompanied by a genuine shudder. The weirdness of the characters and setting, the lush imagery in Wilum's prose, and the depth of emotion within what is essentially a simple tale of a horrific encounter, all come together to make "Cool Mist" one of the standout stories from Deathrealm's 31-issue lifespan. Wilum revised the tale for later publication, but I find its original incarnation the more powerful, its effect having lingered with me over more than three decades.

"Be careful where you wander. We wouldn't want to lose you..."

The third issue of Deathrealm (Fall 1987) included another of Wilum's tales, this one set in the Sesqua Valley, his now well-known west-coast counterpart to Lovecraft's haunted New England. "A Piece of Stone" is the story of author Desmond Peters who has discovered a book of weird fiction written by one William Davis Manly, who originally came from Sesqua Valley. Fascinated by the material within and hoping to compile a greater volume of Manly's works, accompanied by photographs of Sesqua Valley, Peters goes to the location to research and explore. Here he meets kindly shopkeeper Nathan Vreeland (a recurring character in Wilum's Sesqua Valley tales) who listens with interest to his plan but then attempts to dissuade him, stating that the people of Sesqua Valley prefer to live in relative isolation and would not appreciate the extra attention that such a volume would bring. Naturally, Peters resists the idea of giving up on his project and decides to go exploring the valley on his own.

At first, Peters is struck by the beauty of the mountains and forests, particularly the white stone–crested Mt. Selta that rises above the valley. Yet the deeper he explores, the more edgy and apprehensive he becomes. Something he first takes to be a snake rustles through the foliage around him, but when he meets one of the locals — an elderly woman wandering on her own in the woods — she informs him "there are no snakes here." As his anxiety mounts, he decides to give up on his walk, but not before taking a piece of white stone from the mountain to keep as a souvenir.

And that, as we learn, may not have been the world's best idea ever.

With this story and others, Wilum utilizes characters that reflect his own interest in weird literature: author William Davis Manly, whose name can't help but bring to mind certain noteworthy authors in the field; Peters, whose naivete and devotion to a noble but misguided cause make him something of a "fanboy," his viewpoint one to which many of us can at least partially relate. He is skeptical of the warnings about the location, yet sensitive to its subtly menacing atmosphere. Wilum's use of imagery paints Sesqua Valley as an alluring and aesthetically beautiful natural area, but with that dark undercurrent typical of haunted places — deep shadows, sounds that don't seem quite right, unseen but subliminally perceived presences in the woods, an indefinable but tangible, unsettling air ("It is not wise to gaze at Selta for too long at a time," Vreeland tells Peters when he begins to feel disoriented from looking at the mountain in the distance). Wilum's prose reflects but does not ape the florid language of his 19th and 20th century favorites, a trait that has become a hallmark of Wilum's work over the years. The prose style and presence of such tropes in this and other of Wilum's tales, rather than playing as derivative, as they might in other hands, evoke an authentic air of age and dignity that transcends pastiche. Wilum's body of work, steeped as it is in Lovecraftian and other weird fiction, showcases a unique voice that is both for and about aficionados of the weird but that does not relegate itself to any small, dark niche.


In Deathrealm #1, by way of preparing readers for the horrors to come, author Jessica Amanda Salmonson, a longtime friend of Wilum's, provided a poem — simply titled "Wilum" — that served as something of an introduction to both his work and to him as an individual. In it she paints a vivid picture of his punk persona but also reveals an old soul with a genuine, questing spirit, contrasting his soulfulness with the superficiality of his punk contemporaries ("Wilum, in cape and high collar, is younger than the boy, although Wilum was here at the beginning of the world and will be here at the end"). True to its theme, Jessica's poem is no less relevant 30 years later than it was in its day.

As one of Deathrealm's "founding" contributors, Wilum left an indelible mark on the magazine, his work crucial to the character of the issues in which it appeared as well as shaping the editorial direction of issues to come.

You can find Wilum's stories in numerous anthologies and collections, including many Sesqua Valley tales, at Amazon.com. Click here to see more.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Deathrealm #2, which features "Cool Mist," I have limited copies available for $10, postage included, which can be ordered via Paypal (payee mark@stephenmarkrainey; be sure to include recipient's shipping information). Deathrealm #3, featuring "A Piece of Stone," is unfortunately unavailable.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Hanging with the Creep

Several times a month, I pass the Sandy Level Creep (see October 24, 2015; March 11, 2016; and July 21, 2016) on my ways to and from Martinsville, and he while doesn't get out and about much, he does manage to attract entertaining company. When I went by today, a couple of new friends had dropped in to visit him.

I'm not sure of the Creep's origin — I think he was originally a Halloween guest who stayed past the holiday — but it's always nice to see him and his friends hanging out along Sandy Level Road, between Martinsville, VA, and Eden, NC. Good for a little Halloween spirit, 365 days a year.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Delp

As a youngster, I was a pipsqueak, a wee little dude, about two feet tall till I hit 18, when something I ate expanded me to a state resembling average human proportion. (What I would now give to shed some of that proportion without having to go on a killer diet.) The torment I sometimes suffered they'd nowadays call bullying, but back then—early-to-mid 1960s—it was just another day of getting on by. That day in first grade, when I first stepped aboard the school bus to make the one-mile truck to Druid Hills Elementary, all the big kids—everyone from second grade on up—took notice of my diminutive stature, swatted me around a bit, and admonished me to walk to school from then on, for the simple reason I lived close enough to walk, and if I didn't, they'd throw me into the nearby creek. (I suspect that, despite my small size, the amount of oxygen I consumed deprived them of their required daily dosage.) Now, I never actually got thrown into the creek, but over time, things did get worse, especially when it became clear I'd been reading books full of real words since my kindergarten days, and I possessed all kinds of esoteric knowledge, such as how to pronounce "Ichthyosaurus," "Pleiades," and "catastrophe."

Mind you, I'm not complaining. As it became clear I was never going to be a physical titan, these episodes of being walloped, threatened, and/or derided goaded me to seek other means of leveling the playing field—which, on the good side, is why I ended up on the higher side of the academic scoreboard (eventually becoming a writer of things mortifying and horrific, a result I'd never trade for the world); on the bad side, I did occasionally damn near off myself attempting to expand the world's scientific boundaries—something those cretins would never accomplish—using materials like gasoline, hydrochloric acid, gunpowder, and Colgate toothpaste. On the odd side, I suspect these early episodes may explain why I sometimes adopted a strange way of interacting with others (see "So F'ing Suave" for a reasonable example).

And then there were those incidents for which I was responsible but simply cannot explain. The one foremost in mind is Delp. Delp was a fellow from my hometown, now a respected doctor, I'm led to understand, the older brother of a friendly acquaintance since elementary school days. He had five years or so on me, and I rarely actually saw him around—mainly on Sundays when I went to church with Mum and Dad. Delp had never picked on me. As far as I can recall, barely a word had even passed between us.

But I didn't like Delp. I don't know why. I seem to recall he was personable and polite; an admirable enough young man. But I didn't like him. What else should matter but that?

I was around eight years old, hanging out with my buddy Todd on his front porch. We were carrying on about whatever young chaps like us carried on about, when up the sidewalk comes Delp and some friend of his, minding their own business, paying us two younger kids not the first ounce of attention.

Oh, Christ, it's DELP!

There was only one thing to do: take some kind of prohibitive action to save the world from Delp's insidious evil. I noticed, beside the front steps, an old board that might have come from a table or some piece of furniture. I grabbed it up, very quietly ran up behind Delp, raised up that board, and whacked him in the head.

Then I turned around and ran for my life.

Well, Delp caught me, long before I reached the safety of the front porch. Holy cow, I had not killed him with one blow, and now he had me. I was doomed.

"What did you do that for!?" he hollered, clutching my shoulder in an iron grip. I knew my duty as a PoW: nothing more than my name, rank, and serial number. Since I had no rank or serial number and had forgotten my name, I answered with a great big nothing. I just shut my eyes and waited for the hammer to come down on my mushy little head.

It never came. Next the thing I know, Delp and his friend were wandering on up the sidewalk, muttering between themselves about weird little kids, or something to that effect.

I think Todd had expected me to die and was awestruck that I had survived the brutal encounter. We rushed inside and told my mother that some big guy had just attacked me for no reason. She asked if I was hurt, and when I said no, she said, "Well, whatever you did to bring that on, don't do it again."

As I've mentioned, Delp appears to have made something of himself, despite his inherent evil. I do have to wonder if, in quiet moments of reflection, he looks back over the years, and wonders why he ever attacked that innocent little kid for no reason.

I can only imagine it must haunt him at night.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Jeffrey Osier's "The Encyclopedia for Boys"


"More people are buried alive each year than most boys realize...."

I probably should do this more often: pull out an old copy of Deathrealm and read some of the stories within. I've revisited precious few of the tales from its pages since I originally published them, back in that decade between 1987 and 1997, and there are far too many I have either nearly or altogether forgotten, due simply to the passing of years and the sheer number of stories that have managed to cram themselves into my brain. Some, of course, stand out with varying degrees of clarity, and the one that rises above all is the first piece of fiction I accepted for publication — "The Encyclopedia for Boys" by Jeffrey Osier. I've read it at least two or three times since it first came out, including when it was reprinted in Jeff's fiction collection, Driftglider (Montilla Publications, 1993), but even so, it's been at least twenty years since I last read it. The other day, I decided to do something about that.

The title tome is the name of a kids' encyclopedia, much like those Golden Book Encyclopedias, kith and kin, from the 1960s (several of which I owned as a youngster), described in such a way that, on my first reading of the story, I wasn't sure whether Jeff was actually referencing a real book. Its contents, as he described them, struck me as eerily and profoundly familiar. It was only as I read further in the tale that it became clear the book was — much like The Necronomicon — entirely fictional but whose verisimilitude could damn near fool one. The mysterious volume is the centerpiece of the story, but it's the journey into the mind of its protagonist, Ralph Holland, that draws the reader fully into the narrative. An insecure, lonely bookworm, Holland's life has been a series of disappointments and unfulfilled promise until he meets Annie Stableford, whose love of books forms the bedrock of a new, long-lasting relationship for the two of them. Holland manages to find security and strength of character he never knew he had, and even opens a small but successful bookstore.

But then, unexpectedly, Annie passes away, leaving Holland wallowing in a pit of despair far deeper than the one from which he had so recently emerged. Shortly following her death, he comes into possession of an old book — yes, The Encyclopedia for Boys — that strikes him as familiar. He realizes it was a book he owned as a child, but not only that, it is the same copy he owned as a child, verified by a drawing within made by his brother, Brian, who also remembers the book.

At first, the volume seems little more than a novelty to Holland until he begins reading through it and finds the contents subtly disturbing. A strange, dark absurdity about its illustrations and informational entries bemuses and unsettles him. A standout image is a clay jar with a section broken out of it, revealing a mummified, skeletal, yet horribly aware figure within. The more Holland delves into the book the more upsetting it becomes, especially when he realizes it also appears to be affecting the dispositions of his friends and co-workers. With Annie gone, Holland has begun exploring a new relationship with his friend Natalie, but now it appears that Annie may be attempting to reach out to him through the bizarre encyclopedia.

In the book he reads: "Wrapped up in the petty intrigues of their own lives, most boys never question the lifelessness of a rotting corpse. Yet there are many people who believe that, in the thriving ecology of decomposition, awareness is actually heightened. Consider the case of Annie Stableford, supposedly dead for over two months, but at this very minute screaming out to you with a heightened perception of her own."

At this point, it becomes clear that Ralph is either hallucinating, possibly psychotic, or that there is far, far more to The Encyclopedia for Boys than either he or we, the readers, could begin to imagine. All evidence points to the latter, for Ralph is hardly the only character affected by the uncanny stressors originating from the book.

This story was the first example of Jeff's prose I had read, and it immediately appealed to me. Vibrant, lyrical, even a little manic, with imagery vivid and sensuous. Initially, the encyclopedia itself is described as a brittle, cracked, all but worn-out book with a splash of old dried paint on its cover, but it eventually transforms into a seemingly organic, warm bundle, exuding heat like a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. The body in the clay pot is bony, reed-thin, dry, the sensory triggers in the prose sending up the reek of mustiness from the page. Even though this is one of Jeff's earliest tales — from my recollection, possibly his first story ever — his authorial hand is so assured you could be forgiven for thinking the tale might have sprung from a veteran storyteller, in whom your trust is guaranteed to be rewarded.

"The Encyclopedia for Boys" was the first but far from the last of Jeff's stories to appear in Deathrealm, and I will likely showcase more of them here in coming days. This tale, as well as other  of Jeff's stories, may be found in Vol. 2 of The Complete Works of Jeffrey Osier: The Encyclopedia for Boys and Other Mutated Memories (Kindle edition). If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Deathrealm #1, which features "The Encyclopedia for Boys" and various other stories, I have limited copies available for $10, postage included, which can be ordered via Paypal (payee mark@stephenmarkrainey; be sure to include recipient's shipping information).

I'll be periodically going back to revisit various authors and works that appeared in Deathrealm during its heyday, which I hope will acquaint and reacquaint my blog followers with some of the best voices in dark fiction I've ever read.

Until the next.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Feel-Better Flight

I should have received the Very-Back-of-the-Plane-Rock-Hard-Nonreclining-No-Window Window Seat discount

At least on Delta Airlines, the barf bags in the seat-back pockets are labeled "Feel Better" bags, and when Kimberly and I got on the plane last week to head up to her folks' place in Michigan, I thought it might be fun to write a story about a barf on a plane that assumes a life of its own and call it "The Feel-Better Flight." Little did I know what was in store....

Our flight left Greensboro at the ass-crack of dawn on Tuesday, 12/5, and all went like clockwork (happily, both coming and going—hats off to Delta), though on each of our flights, we found ourselves tucked into the very back of the planes like excess baggage. Her folks, Del & Fern, met us at Bishop International Airport in Flint, and from there, we made the hour's drive to their place in Midland. First reaction: cold. It's bloody cold in Michigan. But I knew this, and I actually appreciated the break from the south's tepid winter temperatures and oppressive humidity. We spent a mostly quiet first day enjoying the company and getting in a little Christmas (and wine) shopping. I did venture out into the cold to go after my primary geocache target for the trip—a wonderful little hide way up in a tree ("One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor: LOTR Advent"; GC6NFH5) that required some acrobatic maneuvers to claim.

On Wednesday, Kimberly, the folks, and I went out to the neighboring community of Auburn so they could do some home & garden shopping at Warmbier Farms. While they did that, I set out after a bunch of nearby caches, several of which were quite ingenious—and difficult. Some I claimed, some I did not. In the afternoon, Kimberly and I tore into some hellishly fantastic grinders at Mancinos, and then enjoyed meeting up with her longtime friend Darren (D.J.) for coffee at Starbucks in the local Barnes & Noble (which also came in handy for Christmas shopping). Evening time found us at the very nice bistro called Whine, which we had discovered when I last visited Midland (October, 2014; see "Midland and More in Da Moonlight"). All was going swimmingly at this point.

It was the next day the Feel Better Flight crashed and burned.
Midland in da Moonlight: a happy couple at Whine, just prior to disaster
On Thursday, Del & Fern had invited us to accompany them to a semi-fancy luncheon for their church senior group, called the Prime-Timers (which, to my horror, I actually qualify for, age-wise) at the lovely Sullivans restaurant in Saginaw. Now let me preface this by saying a rather dreadful stomach flu virus had been circulating in Midland—to the point of some schools and businesses closing. Both Del & Fern had suffered from it the week prior to our arrival, but by all indications, they and the house were now plague-free.

Just prior to lunch, Kimberly began to complain of some stomach distress, but attributed it mainly to the excitement of getting to spend so much time with me. For safety's sake, she decided not to eat, while I enjoyed the best fish & chips I've ever tasted. Unfortunately, the deliciousness of the setting proved too much for her, and the next thing you know, she's scaring the crap out of other patrons in ladies' room with what might have been the absolute worst Feel Better moments she had ever experienced.

So, back home, we closeted Ms. Kimberly in the farthest reaches of the house so that our exposure to each other might be restricted. I decided to go out caching, which was fun and all, but I knew that, by now, it was far too late.

And sure enough, the next morning... my God, did I feel better! I felt better all over the bathroom, I can't count how many times. For the next 24 hours, I was down and out, washed out, drowned out, knocked out, out and out, damn near dead. Couldn't even keep down a single sip of water. Needless to say, Kimberly recuperated relatively quickly, and while I lay one foot in the grave, she was out dancing in the streets, pausing occasionally to look in on me to see whether it was time to call the crematorium.

As an aside, I'll mention that Midland has squirrels. Gray squirrels, red squirrels, fox squirrels, black squirrels. Fat squirrels. While ill, I watched nonstop squirrel antics from my window, which was far more entertaining than the television, since there were no commercials.
Black squirrel, gray squirrel, red squirrel, fox squirrel
Barb from Stranger Things,
or Kimberly Ann Brugger
from her stranger days?

It took me a couple of extra days to shake off the bug, but shake it off I did, happily in time to enjoy a bit more of Midland before time to return home. During my downtime, central Michigan had received a fair fall of snow, and on Sunday evening, Kimberly, who by now was exhausted from all that dancing, drove us around town to look at Christmas decorations and for me to do some frigid nighttime caching in the snow.

The caching proved good, near-frostbitten fingers aside, and I most enjoyed revisiting the Tridge, a three-span footbridge at the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee rivers, with all the attendant Christmas decorations. While we had been hoping to have at least another nice evening out on the town, neither Kimberly nor I felt quite up to assaulting our stomachs with much more than water and/or ginger ale, so we took reluctant passes on visiting any of Midland's other spirit-filled venues. Mayhap next time....
The incoming snowstorm, seen from the parking lot at Meijer.
The Midland courthouse in its Christmas dress
The Tridge

Apart from getting out caching in the snow, what sewed up my recovery was sitting through several episodes of Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown on CNN, in which he explored the cuisine and politics of Singapore, China, and Japan, and... oh my lord... I have never had such a craving for the Asian food flung upon me. Every sight on the screen, delicious beyond belief, taunting and tempting me, daring my fickle stomach to even think of betraying me. I wanted that Asian food. I had to have that Asian food.

The snow continued on through yesterday, which was a little concerning since we had to fly out from Flint, but once again our travels proved relatively easy, with all stages of the trip running smack on time. Still, with our schedule, we'd had no opportunity at all to eat during the day, and as we arrived back in Greensboro right at rush hour time, we decided to do something about this insatiable craving: go to High Point's Little Tokyo restaurant, which is one of our favorites for Japanese.

Oh, happy. Oh, happy! So much feeling better, this time for real.

As Fern said upon our departure, next time we visit, we ought not get sick. And as I said, next time we visit, she ought not make us sick. And oh boy, did I feel the love then.

For real... there is love. Thanks to Del and Fern for being such beautiful, wonderful folks, and to Kimberly for pausing the dancing to take me caching. I am already looking forward to the next Michigan trip, I am, I am, I am.
Just prior to our departure from Flint
At "The Labyrinth" in Plymouth Park on our first day in Midland

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Merry Cachemas to Me


I had one of those geocaching moments yesterday that made me feel like I might actually be a real geocacher, after something like nine years hunting containers of all shapes and sizes with my trusty old Garmin GPS. Last week, a new cache ("Merry Cachemas in the Park," GC7F841) in Fieldale, VA, was published on geocaching.com, supposedly in a small park near the Fieldale Smith River Trail, where I have hiked and geocached many times over the years. The map, however, showed the hide nowhere near the park, nor even near the trail. Based on the detailed description, I suspected the cache owner had entered the wrong coordinates for the listing. I wrote to alert him of my concerns, and he confirmed they were in error, resulting in the cache appearing on the map about a mile away from where it was actually located. The error was doubly confirmed when another cacher, friend Tom (Skyhawk63), logged that he had visited the location, and that there was no way the cache could be where the published coordinates indicated (which turned out to be behind barbed wire and "No Trespassing" signs).

I had thought the CO might have corrected the coordinates by this past weekend, mais alas no. Now, I know that area of Fieldale quite well, and by studying the map and cache description, I believed I could narrow down a search area at the park to less than a hundred feet. On Saturday morning, since I was in Martinsville for my regular Mom maintenance visit, I decided I would head to the park and allow myself one hour to see if I could turn up the hide without the benefit of coordinates.

I arrived at the park at 9:04 AM. At 9:08 AM, I was signing the first-to-find spot on the logsheet. The container, happily enough, was hiding in the very first place I checked. So much for my hour allotment. Some cachers boast of doing the "FTF Dance" when they score a first-to-find, and this was one of those exceedingly rare cases when I was actually tempted to perform one. (I did not.)

So that find made my morning—the whole day, really. While I was at Mom's, I also set about solving the puzzles for a few new mystery caches in Siler City, which I found today with Bridget (Suntigres) and Gerry (BigG7777). As a bonus, Gerry and I got to venture into the deep, dark underground to find "Uncle Hargis's Potato Patch" (GC38ZXD), which Bridget had already found. Enjoyed that one mightily, particularly since I didn't die down there. We also spent some time going after a few Munzees, which I am almost inclined to disavow on principle, except that I have enjoyed going after a bunch here and there. Who'd have thunk it?

On a whole 'nuther random note, last night I dreamed I was watching a televangelist named Jesus Osmond, who was preaching the fire and brimstone while wearing pink bunny ears. I don't remember much more about it, but I think that may be enough.