Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday Ramblin'

It's always nice to have Good Friday off. I didn't have Good Friday off. However, in their magnitudimous generosity, the company let us out at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. This was fine, since I had to come to Martinsville for my regular Mum maintenance visit, and a trio of new geocaches lurked in the Fairy Stone Park/Bassett area. Thus, I set my sights on some afternoon geocaching. So did a massive storm system and a number of tornadoes. I missed out on the tornadoes, but not the storms. After work, I drove up from Greensboro, all in relatively clear weather. Five miles out of Fairy Stone, the bottom dropped out.

As it turned out, the cache at Fairy Stone was little more than a park & grab—a traditional woodland hide a couple of hundred feet up the trail from the parking area. So I parked, grabbed, and got a little wet. Then I headed back into Bassett to wait out the rain. The wait was not a long one. I had just enough time to log my Fairy Stone find, and then things cleared up for a while. I made quick grabs at the next two, one of which was along the Smith River, now cloaked in an eerie fog. The fog pleased me.

Mum and I had a nice dinner at The Third Bay, and then I did a passel of the usual necessary errands. After entertaining myself with a couple of episodes of The Brady Bunch—shades of my childhood Friday nights—I went out on a late-night ramble through the old neighborhood. Pleasantly cool and breezy, if a bit muggy. Encountered a couple of late-night muggles on my ramble, at least one of which struck me as a little suspicious, but after a while, he went on his business, whatever that happened to be.

All in all, a damn nice bit of Good Friday ramblin'. Peace be with you.
Mist creeping over the Smith River in Bassett
Old relic near the Smith River boat put-in

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Excerpt #3 from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior

Here's an excerpt from my now-completed second Ameri-Scares novel—Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior. Jeff Griggs, a 13-year-old who has been visiting Michigan's Upper Peninsula with his family, is in the dark woods fleeing from something that appears to have taken an interest in him...

Jeff started forward but then froze. From off to his right came an earth-shaking thump and a deafening crash. The nearby trees swayed, and leaves rained down on his head. In the black spaces amid the nearby trees, a pair of huge silver orbs appeared. They moved toward him at frightening speed. He realized now he had only seconds to live!

The bright eyes blazed like molten metal as they approached. He could now make out a scaly head like a crocodile’s, and a long, snakelike neck weaving toward him through the trees. The thing was huge, all right, but it was nothing like the massive beast he had seen earlier. This had to be one of the young ones.

The head slid up close to him, and he could feel hot breath escaping from its spread jaws. The head was the size of his folks’ living room coffee table, its eyes as big as dinner plates. He wanted to clench his eyes shut, but he could not turn his gaze away. The creature glared at him as if sizing him up. So far, it didn’t seem interested in attacking him.

“Nice Pressie,” he whispered. “Good little Pressie. You can go away now. Okay?”

The creature huffed, and its hot breath swept over him. So hot, Jeff thought, he wondered if these creatures could breathe fire. The head rose high into the tree branches, but the eyes kept glaring down at him.

“If you’re the one I hit on my bike,” he said, “I’m very sorry about that. It was an accident.”

A low, grating growl vibrated from its throat.

“I’m sorry,” Jeff said. This had to be the end. It was going to kill him now. “I’m really sorry.”

The head lowered again, and the growling continued. The eyes remained locked on his. This time, the thing nudged him with its scaly snout. Not hard, but it nearly set him off balance. His heart was pounding so hard he could barely hear anything else.

Then he realized: the creature wasn’t actually growling.

It was more like purring.

Did that mean it didn’t intend to harm him?

Or was it just happy because it was about to eat him?

#

The novel is in copy-edit stage, and will be available from Crossroad Press within the next few months.

First excerpt from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior

Second excerpt from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Dark Shadows Passing

It was on this date, 48 years ago, that my youthful world fell apart. As far as I was concerned, I faced a dismal future, bereft of hope and steeped in misery. I'm referring, of course, to the day the final episode of Dark Shadows aired, on Friday, April 2, 1971. For several years, Dark Shadows had been my holy grail, for in those days, in order to pick up the channel that broadcast the show — WLVA, Channel 13 out of Lynchburg, VA — you had to have cable. And we didn't get cable at home until 1969, more than halfway into the show's run. Prior to that, I would catch Dark Shadows as often as possible at certain friends' houses, or at my grandparents' place in Georgia when we went to visit them two or three times a year. I had seen the very first episode, and the couple that followed, on one of our visits south, and even though the show had yet to take on its overtly supernatural character, it had hooked me, as much as anything by composer Robert Cobert's most memorable score. The day we arrived back in Martinsville after our visit, I was all pumped to settle in with Dark Shadows permanently, only to discover that the ABC affiliate station we picked up — WGHP, Channel 8 out of High Point, NC — didn't carry the show. That was an error of omission for which I've never really forgiven them.

It was these sporadic viewings, though, that made the show such a magical mystery. When I could occasionally tune in, I had nary a clue what was going on in the story, but I became enthralled nonetheless. In late 1969, Dad saw fit to get cable for our house, and suddenly, Dark Shadows was mine, all mine. It was right at the beginning of the Leviathans storyline, which, sadly, many fans consider the beginning of the end. Not me, though. I found it scary as hell and, to this day, I have a soft spot for that particular subplot. I revisited it, as a matter of fact, in Curse of the Pharaoh, my second script for Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio series.

I think it was no more than a few days before the series' finale when I heard the news the great estate of Collinwood was being shuttered. I couldn't believe it. I was devastated. It's safe to say I was immersed in a love affair with the show that was unprecedented in my eleven somewhat less-than-worldly years. (We can discuss juvenile psychological health some other time, thank you very much.) On that day, as I watched the episode, my heart pounded, my palms awash in sweat. As the story neared its final moments — what's this? — they're setting up a whole new set of complications. This couldn't possibly be the end! There was a new vampire on the estate! But then, as the eerie theme rose, the familiar voice of actor Thayer David came on to say, "There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood, the marks on the neck were, indeed, those of an animal." After a recap of the current crop of characters' fates, he says, in reference to Bramwell (Jonathan Frid) and Catherine (Lara Parker), "Their love became a living legend. And for as long as they lived, the dark shadows at Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past."

I'm pretty sure I bawled long and hard at the end of all that. And, like millions of youngsters around the country, on the following Monday, I turned on the TV at 4:00 p.m., praying it was all a mistake, a terrible April Fools joke. Something. Anything but the end of Dark Shadows.

Password, starring Alan Ludden, had taken over that sacred time slot.

Needless to say, time marched on, people grew up, Dark Shadows resurfaced in syndication, and then on home video. At this point, I've seen the entire 1,225-episode run at least twice, and considerable portions of the series many times more. I've co-written with Elizabeth Massie an authorized Dark Shadows novel for HarperCollins Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark — and scripted three of Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio dramas — Path of Fate, starring David Selby and Lara Parker; the aforementioned Curse of the Pharaoh, starring Nancy Barrett and Marie Wallace; and Blood Dance, starring David Selby and Lisa Richards. Plus, I wrote a follow-up to Dreams of the Dark titled The Labyrinth of Souls that never made it into print due to HarperCollins shutting down its tie-in division HarperPrism. However, I have made the novel available strictly as fan fiction on my website. You can check it out here.

So, for me, Dark Shadows, thankfully, never truly died on April 2, 1971. Who knows, if it had continued, history might have gone very differently for me. Impossible to speculate. But for all the pain my poor little weenie heart suffered in those days, I can't complain much about the outcome.

Monday, April 1, 2019

"Let's Rock!" No More

This trail closing makes me sad because a couple of my favorite geocache hides were along this trail: "Let's Rock" (GC5W99P — a Twin Peaks–themed cache) and "Chasm of Horror" (GC4WA59 —  one of my most physically challenging, death-defying hides), which I placed about five years ago. Of the numerous Greensboro watershed trails, the Beech Bluff Trail and the nearby Bald Eagle Trail (which, thankfully, is still open) are farthest away from my place, so it's been pretty rare for me to get out there; still, there have been numerous cache hides in that area over the years that I really, really enjoyed. "Chasm of Horror," in particular, was a favorite because, in order to get to it, you had to go pretty far out on a precarious, fallen tree over a 20-foot-deep gorge and then reach up to snag a little bison tube hanging from a limb of a nearby standing tree. When I hid the cache in 2014, it gave me a case of the heebie-jeebies, and when I retrieved the container today, it gave me another case of the heebie-jeebies. Most agreeable, I've gotta tell you.

So sad to think I will likely never visit that place again in this life. From the looks of things, other people were sad about it too, since they wasted no time getting out there to pelt the "trail closed" sign with bullets.

Some on social media have suggested putting together a geocaching gathering to help restore the trail, a GoFundMe drive, an Eagle Scout project... all kinds of things that sound really good but that, in reality, most likely will not fly. While I am indeed passionate about geocaching, hiking, and supporting all kinds of outdoors activities, there are battles to pick, and I fear this simply isn't one of them — at least, not until I come into my millions, and I won't be coming into my millions unless I really bust ass in other of life's endeavors. Frankly, I more than a little suspect that some fucking developer has its eye on this sizable parcel of land, since, in Greensboro, it is verboten for trees to grow when a bunch of god-awful dwelling places on clear-cut land can be planted in their places.

One thing is for certain: while I have generally supported bonds to fund Greensboro's Parks & Recreation Department, I will no longer do so — not after the wholesale destruction of woods and trails in favor of damn near uncountable new soccer fields at local parks that can never, ever possibly be fully utilized in this town. There are, what, 33 or so fields at Bryan Park now, just up the way? It was one of these fucking superfluous fields that took out "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB) a while back. "Darkness Falls" was a classic night cache put together by Darth Sketcher in those days before I even knew the activity existed. In 2014, after Sketcher had retired from geocaching, I adopted the cache and spent no little time, energy, and expense refurbishing it (see "Restoring Darkness Falls," "Darkness Falls Restored," and "Darkness Falls, Cache On" for some insight on that one).

To reach the "Let's Rock" cache, you had to listen to a recording of the Little Man From Another Place giving you the coordinates. For old times' sake, here's the audo: Let's Rock Coordinates

There's nothing there now but a bunch of empty woods. I will say, if the woods do remain unsullied, and the critters take it over without human intervention, I'm all for this. But given Greensboro's track record with woodlands, I'm cynical. No. I'm beyond cynical. So for now, I'll just indulge in a little sad. At least, for time, the Beech Bluff Trail brought me, and I know a lot of other people, quite a bit of joy.
Ground Zero at "Chasm of Horror." You don't get much of a sense of the physical challenge involved
to retrieve the cache from the photo, I fear. It was a fun one.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Deathrealm Gallery

The gallery of Deathrealm magazine covers had originally been posted via Google+, which is now (and not undeservedly) going the way of the wind. For convenience's sake, I'm transferring the gallery here. It may find a different home at a future date.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Tying the Geoknot


Friends Gerry (a.k.a. BigG7777) and Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres), whom I originally met via geocaching — Bridget almost exactly a decade ago — have been a happy couple for a couple of happy years now. They quite recently tied the knot, at least in the eyes of the law. I discovered this when I read one of BigG's cache logs, which was along the lines of "I had kind of a busy day today. Went to the grocery store, found this cache, got married." Now, this justice-of-the-peace wedding may have been good and legal and everything, but Gerry and Bridget also wanted to have a something of a celebratory ceremony— albeit a small one — to set themselves walking on the path of fate. So they decided to get married at Gerry's castle in Kernersville, which is precisely what happened this afternoon. For reasons I'm not sure anyone can explain, they had the incredibly poor judgment to invite me to officiate their "fun" wedding. And because I am fully capable of making just as poor a decision as the next person, I agreed to do this thing.

The ceremony kicked off about 1 o'clock in the p.m., with just a handful of friends and family. As the ranking geocachevangelist, I delivered a short but sweet set of vows for them to live by, and things went fairly swimmingly. Brugger had transcribed a portion of the vows I wrote onto one of her beautiful pieces of artwork, friends Terry and Beth provided a nice frame, and we presented it the happy couple following the ceremony (see image below).

That portion of the vows reads: "I have known Bridget for almost exactly a decade now, and during these years, I have seen happy Bridget, sad Bridget, mad Bridget, energetic Bridget, exhausted Bridget, and 'I'm gonna break both your arms' Bridget. Until Gerry came into her life, I had never seen wonderfully, deeply, contentedly in-love Bridget. I see that now every time I see her. And having come to know and respect Gerry in these past couple of years, I see a warm, generous, and unselfish gentleman who deserves every bit of happiness that I pray will come their way."

I do hope these two will find the lasting happiness they both deserve, and in all seriousness, it couldn't have meant more to me that they asked me to officiate at their wedding. They have become a couple of my dearest friends in the world, and I consider it a true honor to be included in their celebration.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Easy Puzzles

I hate puzzle caches. Hate them. Most puzzle caches — geocaches that require solving some variety of puzzle to procure the containers' actual coordinates — involve research, encryptions, decryptions (sometimes multiple), science, mathematics, logic, and somehow reading the cache hider's mind. More often than not, solving these fuckers requires considerable computer time. Me, I go geocaching to get away from the goddamn computer. I'm on the computer all day, every day, at the office, then I come home and spend most of each evening writing — always on some specific project, oftentimes on social media or this blog (sometimes bitching about being on the goddamn computer). My eyes and wrists do not appreciate extra computer time. Just give me coordinates and a good physical challenge or two, and I'm all good to go.

That said, just because I fucking hate them doesn't mean I'm not going to fucking attempt them. They're geocaches, for chrissakes, and I am a geocacher.

So it was actually a relief the other day to to see 48 puzzle caches come out as part of a series called "EASY Puzzle Geoart." Geoart is pretty much what it sounds like: the cache icons are arranged on the map to form a discernible pattern (see the above photo for an illustration of this series). The published coordinates of each cache in the pattern define where the icon appears on the map, not where the cache container resides. To find the actual coordinates of each cache, you have to solve a puzzle. Because the CO (cache owner) of this series is not a monster, the puzzles in this series mostly follow established formulas that are easy to determine, and there are hints aplenty (not to mention a coordinate checker to verify you've solved each puzzle correctly). Thus, even a dullard like me can figure these things out. It still takes a bit of computer time, but you mostly make steady forward progress rather than spin your wheels stuck on possibility after possibility with little or no indication whether you're on the right track.

Today, since I was off work, Team No Dead WeightMs. Fishdownthestair, Old Robgso, et moi — joined up to do some puzzle cache damage. Between us, over several days, we had each solved some or all of the puzzles, so we had these little bastards dead to rights. Indeed, virtually all the caches were well-placed and easily accessible. We had a bad moment when we couldn't find what should have been an easy hide, but we contacted the CO to report the potential problem, and only a few minutes later, here she comes to check things out personally. Indeed, the container had flown the coup, so she replaced it on the spot, thus allowing us to log our find and virtually assure our successful completion of the geoart.

And complete it we did. The puzzles, while not necessarily enjoyable, gave me no headaches, and getting to the caches involved driving through a mostly appealing rural countryside. We knocked out a handful of additional caches in the area, so we finished our day with a completed geoart and 51 finds under each of our belts.

That was a damn nice day.
Team No Dead Weight: Old Man, Young Lady, Older Man
Moo-Moo Land
Do not trespass in Moo-Moo Land.
Half Ass-tronaut?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Big Pete

Or...To DNF or Die, That Is the Question*
This is not Big Pete, but possibly one of his little baby relatives. Pete was like 50 feet long.
He was the biggest, rudest, most belligerent specimen of Agkistrodon contortrix I had ever encountered on the geocaching trail. And he stood — or, more accurately, coiled — between me and a long-sought-after geocache. (I call him “he” because he had particularly masculine shoulders.) Big, big snake, this copperhead, and he clearly had no intention of allowing me to pass. Indeed, the cache lay deep within his territory, and I'm sure, from his perspective, I was the rude one, especially since he had not bitten me when he had the chance. Still, rude or not, I intended to reach at least the first stage of this reputedly compact multi-stage cache. There was nothing for it but to trespass deeper into Mr. Snake’s domain.

I had set out after the cache on a warm spring afternoon. Despite its three-and-a-half-star (out of five) terrain rating, I figured the hunt couldn't be too long or difficult, as the location was a relatively small wooded area behind a shopping center on the edge of town. Ground zero for the first stage appeared to be a couple of hundred feet behind the parking lot, somewhere beyond a barrier of dense foliage. Once parked in a handy, nearby location, I grabbed my gear and set out toward the waypoint indicated on my battered but trusty old Garmin.

I had barely gone a hundred feet when the terrain descended sharply toward a small stream, and I could see, some distance away, the gaping mouth of a dark culvert — the very spot to which my GPS pointed. As is my custom whenever I know I’ll be leaving pavement, I had come prepared for such a venture: waterproof boots, long pants, gloves, flashlight, hiking stick. The steep hillside leading down to the stream was strewn with rocks of all shapes and sizes, creating a series of stairsteps that appeared easy enough to negotiate. As yet, I could not determine the depth of the water at the culvert’s mouth, but I hoped it wouldn’t be so deep that I’d end up getting my feet soaked.

I had just set foot on the first rock at the top of the hill when something shot out from beneath it like a bolt of dark lightning. Only for a brief flash did my eyes lock on that bolt, but that was enough for me to identify it as a very large copperhead — four to five feet long, and as big around as my forearm. At least he had been neighborly enough to vacate the premises rather than chomp on one of my extremities.

“Sorry, snake!” I called, hoping this might placate him if he were still lurking about. “Good snake,” I muttered to myself. “Nice snake.” At that moment, I decided to name him Big Pete.

Now, snakes don’t bother me a bit. In fact, I’m quite fond of them — at least the non-venomous variety. On my thousands of geocaching outings over a decade or so, I’ve encountered countless black racers, rat snakes, garter snakes, corn snakes, king snakes, and others, including a handful of copperheads and once a rattler, but these more dangerous specimens have always preferred to either go the other way or simply lounge about so I might easily avoid them. Something told me that Pete, the biggest such beast I had ever encountered, might decide to get ornery. After all, I had stepped on him, or at least on his shelter of choice.

Okay. Big Pete is somewhere down yonder. The cache, also, is somewhere down yonder.

The water was flowing out of the culvert, so I thought, well, maybe Big Pete ventured downstream, since that would be the more relaxing course. After all, if I were a snake who had just been trodden upon, I would by all means prefer the more relaxing course. So, down the rocks to the stream I went. Happily, the water appeared only a few inches deep. I figured I could venture into the dark tube, which was large enough to enter at a crouch rather than a crawl, without getting my socks and/or drawers wet. I moved cautiously, still uncertain as to the direction Big Pete had taken. As I reached the opening to the pipe, I saw no sign of him and began to breathe a little easier.

I bent down and took my first step into the cool darkness. And just ahead in the dim light that filtered into the pipe, I glimpsed something long and large wriggling through the water toward me.

I stumbled and splashed back into daylight. Big Pete came rocketing out of the culvert, jaws spread wide, maneuvering close enough for a single good lunge to have me dead to rights.

Tempting fate, I spun around, taking my eyes off my pursuer, and spied a rock the size of a football a short distance away. I lurched toward it, grabbed it, spun around, and chucked it at Big Pete. SPLASH!, went the rock, right in front of our charging viper, hurling him backward into the pipe. Once again I had spoiled Big Pete's relaxing afternoon.

Now mad, pissed, livid, and bent on chomping my leg, Pete gathered himself and came at me again. But my counterattack had served to put a few more feet of distance between us. I picked up another good-sized rock and heaved it at him. This time, the impact sent him flying, twisting and writhing, high into the air, and when he plummeted back into the water, he coiled up to regroup and rethink. I could see his little gears grinding as he considered his best angle of attack. But by now, I was moving as fast as I could in the direction I had come. I finally regained the rocks and scrambled toward high ground. Blessedly, Big Pete remained coiled in the stream, his bright, beady viper eyes shooting daggers at me.

There is a time for persistence and a time to cut one’s losses. At this point, soaked and enervated, I opted to post a DNF ("Did Not Find") log and ignore this cache's existence until hibernation season. “Adios, Pete!” I called. I’m pretty sure that if he had arms, he would have waved a not-so-fond farewell.

To my dismay, before I could return to that cache, it was archived due to — of all things — the second stage going missing and the cache owner deciding not to replace it. So, my adventure with Big Pete ended up being for naught, other than providing me one of the most intense adrenaline rushes of my life.

All this was a few years ago, so I don’t know whether Big Pete is still around. If he is, I hope he finally managed to get some much-needed relaxation without being trodden upon. I reckon he deserves it.
#
*This recounting was initially written for a geocaching-themed publication, which has apparently fallen into eternal limbo. Thus I am posting it here. I hope you find it gripping, mortifying, and fun. At the time, I was not having so much of the fun, no sir.