Tuesday, March 31, 2020

An Omen

Is that a skull I see in the image at left, or just a couple of overlapping bootprints in the remnants of the mud that washed over the front porch during the last big rain? I'm gonna say it's a skull because, well, to my morbid eye it certainly resembles one. I have quite a lot of skulls all around the house, so I reckon it can't hurt to have another. I'm inclined to leave it there, at least until it's effaced either by Mother Nature or me. I'll take it as a good omen. Or a talisman to ward away bringers of viruses. Or something.

Another day in Pandemic Seclusion Land, generally unremarkable. I worked at home, as I have for over a week now. I'm making slow but steady progress on Ameri-Scares New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies (for a little background on my newest entry in the series, check out "Now Brewing: New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies," February 10, 2020).

I've been trying to get in plenty of exercise during these, my reclusive days. Since one is allowed to go out and about for exercise, I've hit the trails several times. Happily, for the most part, they have not been choked with human beings, unlike some trails and parks I'm aware of. The geocaching has been sparse, but I did go out and maintain one of mine yesterday on the nearby Osprey Trail, which is probably my favorite of the local trails because it typically is the least-used. Ironically, it's one of the most scenic.

I've been on one of my periodic daikaiju kicks, and during the past couple of weeks have availed myself to the original Godzilla (1954), Godzilla Raids Again (a.k.a. Gigantis - The Fire Monster, 1955), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Mothra vs. Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Thing, 1964), Ghidrah - The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Monster Zero (1965), Rodan (1957), Varan - The Unbelievable (1958), and Atragon (1963). Mostly the Japanese versions. I'm sure I'll be watching a metric shit ton more daikaiju treats in the coming days. I've been due for one of these benders.

And now it's back to the novel. You will find me back here sometime later; perhaps tomorrow.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Spiders, Food Lion Fails, and Zooming Through Lockdown

The Supper Club Flash Mob
As with many places around the globe, our area is pretty much in lockdown but for essential outings and such. Fortunately, at least for the time being, there are enough "essential" activities that allow one to get out of the house while remaining all but risk-free of infection. This evening, since our regular Supper Club gang couldn't physically get together, we spent a pleasant hour or so video yakking on Zoom. That turned out to be a remarkably fun treat for the lot of us. Under the circumstances, for me, a little Tempranillo went a long way.

Last night, I headed up to Martinsville to the old homestead, as there was necessary business to handle. But it was also pleasant since, for me, the seclusion there feels deeper, more profound than it does here in Greensboro. Unfortunately, I did have to stop at the neighborhood Food Lion to snag a few supplies, and...hooooey...was that ever a bad idea. Although Martinsville is not currently experiencing a major Corona virus outbreak, prudent safety measures only make sense, and it appeared that not a living soul in the store was taking this to heart. No personal buffer zones, no sanitary wipes to be found, filthy dirty grocery carts... holy shit, I probably should have just vacated the premises. As it was, I wiped down the cart with my own sanitizer supply, forced myself away from encroaching human animals, and then, once back at the house, literally bleached every container I had. Although I undertook every possible safety measure I could, I don't have a good feeling about that experience. Not at all.

Back at the homestead, I had a hankering to watch The Sound of Music, which triggers some very deep—and very pleasant—personal memories. For that reason, it's not a movie I can be objective about.  I'm pretty sure I know far more non-fans than fans of this movie. Ms. B. is not a fan. I would certainly never ask her to watch it with me. Regardless, last night, it hit the right spot at just the right time. For this, I am pleased.

After the filum, I set foot out on the back porch, and what should I encounter but a couple of the biggest, meanest-looking multi-legged critters ever to grace the homestead (and we get quite a few of them there). Fishing spiders, best as I can determine; easily a five-inch legspan on the bigger of the two. Actually, they turned out to be neighborly enough—well-tempered and reasonably polite. And they sat still long enough for me to get some decent pics and video.
I hit the road for home around 11:00 this morning, stopping in Eden at the Smith River Greenway to get in some much-needed hiking and exercise. Some while back, regular geocaching partner, Ms. Fishdownthestair, had hidden a few caches along the greenway and asked if I'd mind checking her coordinates prior to her publishing them, as she had some doubts as to their accuracy. Well, of course I did not mind, so I hiked, snagged a few Munzees along the way, and verified that the lady's coords were good. Although a good many living humans were out and about on the trail, my course largely kept me away from them. That was nice.

I did end up watching an utterly wretched horror movie called The Hallows this evening. Easily the most annoying film I've seen since The Babadook, which at least had a reasonably engaging story. I should have heeded my instinct to shut the damned thing off halfway through.

The possibility of some hiking and caching tomorrow does exist, so one can hope.

Stay safe, y'all.
Old dude enjoying some outdoor isolation
View of the Smith River from the greenway. Somewhat high water.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Gods of Moab on Kindle for FREE

STARTING TODAY3/25/20 — for the next five days, you can pick up my novella, The Gods of Moab, for your Kindle for FREE.

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. To survive, 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!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

What Manner of Witchery Is This?

In an effort to maintain some semblance of normality during the Corona virus pandemic, a little geocaching felt in order today. In this case, rather than hunting caches, I placed one. Boy, did I place one. To claim it, prospective finders must accomplish certain feats of agility and strength (and possibly air a host of grievances).

Just over three years ago, I hung a cache way up in a tree and concocted a bit of faux folklore for its background (see "The Curse of Lillian Gadwick," February 18, 2017). Recently, that tree has succumbed to natural — or perhaps supernatural — forces, which have rendered it increasingly untenable (see photo below) as a host. So, I decided to archive the original cache and come up with a sequel. Thus we now have "The Curse of Lillian Gadwick II."

Here's the story behind the cache....

"One of Guilford County's lesser-known legends involves a woman named Lillian Gadwick (1723–1781), reputedly a practitioner of witchcraft, who resided in the area that is now Lake Townsend in northern Greensboro. The story goes that she lived alone in a cabin in the woods and was suspected of abducting and slaughtering children from the nearby community, then known as Capefair — though numerous investigations could produce no evidence of such deviltry. However, just prior to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, a company of troops from General Cornwallis's advancing army came upon her cabin and caught her 'rendering the fat' of several young children, which she presumably intended to consume as a means of enhancing her supernatural abilities. Horrified by this unspeakable act, the troops hanged her from a tree, burned her cabin to the ground, and then departed to rejoin Cornwallis. However, the troops failed to report and, in fact, were never heard from again — except for one, who came back stark, raving mad.
The host of the original "Lillian Gadwick" hide, now feeling
a little tired. If you zoom in close, you may be able
to see the cache container hanging on a branch.

"A scout was sent to find the missing men. At the site of Lillian Gadwick's cabin, he discovered only a number of strange stick figures hanging from trees — forty-two to be precise, the same as the number of troops who had vanished. (Such 'witch symbols' have been referenced in literature and movies, such as in Karl Edward Wagner's short story 'Sticks' and in the films The Blair Witch Project and its sequel, Blair Witch.

"Little else is known about Lillian Gadwick, but she reportedly kept as a familiar a strange creature called Oren Grey, which resembled a huge possum with a grotesque human face. (The witch Keziah Mason, as recounted in H.P. Lovecraft's story, 'Dreams in the Witch House,' kept a similar creature, named Brown Jenkin). Though no such creature as Oren Grey can be proven to exist, it was said to keep itself hidden in dark, hard-to-reach wooded areas, traditionally avoiding human contact except when it accompanied the witch on her unholy expeditions to abduct local children. Certain curses cast by witches who practice dark magic can supposedly alter time and space, and there were those who said Lillian Gadwick possessed such power."

Geocachers who spot one of the 'witch symbols' may be assured they are very close to the cache. I hope the container will remain in place at least as long as its predecessor. As you may have guessed, caches that involve a certain change of altitude appeal to me. Hiding this one was damned fun too, as I ended up climbing a series of trees before I found just the right spot.

And a damned fine, scary spot it is.

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Solitary Man

What a week it's been... and the trial is basically just beginning. I must say, I never thought a pandemic such as COVID-19 would—or even could—occur in my lifetime. Such an outbreak has always seemed a thing of the distant past—well nigh impossible, given that infectious diseases, while still serious, had basically been conquered. Most of the country—the world, for that matter—is almost at a screeching halt, with whole states shut down in an effort to contain this monster. Most places are losing, at least in the short term, especially in Europe. China, where it all began, is finally beginning to recover. For us, there's no telling how long this state of affairs will prevail. Without a doubt, it will have long-lasting repercussions, locally, nationally, and globally.

For me personally, the week got off to an upsetting start, with a medical issue (not virus-related), rearing its ugly head. I've been through it before, but this time it came on with a vengeance. I ended up at the doctor on yesterday, and I'll have to go through a couple of tests yet. I think the worst is past now; at least, I hope so because I'd much rather contemplate the potentially lethal onset of the Corona virus in relative peace and comfort. Come Monday, most of us from the office will be working at home (which is a generally desirable prospect but for the fact I will be fending off cats who will be alternately excited/dismayed/annoyed by my uncustomary daytime presence). It doesn't help company morale that, in a masterfully ill-timed move by our new CEO, we're losing 30% of our already minuscule staff. It doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about weathering this national emergency with a long-held and very satisfying career intact.

I do personally know a handful of people who have been deeply impacted by the virus; a few who have actually been infected (and who have, so far, soldiered through it), and a few who have loved ones or friends who aren't necessarily looking at a positive outcome. A couple of my own family members suffer from compromised immune systems and are thus at especially high risk. Hell, I'm in the age bracket that is most likely to be seriously affected. So, yes, I am taking all recommended precautions, and so far they haven't turned life totally topsy-turvy. As I said, though, it's still very early for us here in this region, and at the rate circumstances keep evolving, all this may be obsolete by the time I finish typing it.

For this evening, I'm comfortably ensconced at the old homestead, with adequate supplies, decent food from Shun Xing Chinese restaurant, and some bourbon. Around sunset, I settled myself on the front porch with a good drink to enjoy a smidgen of mellow time while I could. I wandered around the yard a bit, took a few pics of the place where I grew up, and contemplated the Fugue Devil, which has roamed the woods behind the house since I was a little kid. At twilight, I still get a lovely little chill from the memory of that juvenile night horror, which made such a vivid, lasting impression on me. There's a distinctly Lovecraftian atmosphere about this place, even though there are neighbors not particularly far away. I find a certain peace in this isolation, at least in the short term. A peace occasionally broken by odd little noises that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere, just as I recall them from my youth.

It's so much better indulging in those old, otherworldly fears than ruminating on the shitty, depressing horror the Corona virus represents.
The view from the front porch at dusk
The Fugue Devil's woods behind the house. Still creepy after all these years.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Forever Alone?

The Corona virus (COVID-19) is the big thing now, and rightfully so, I reckon, as it's brought most of the world to a screeching halt. And here in the States, it hasn't even set in with full force yet. How it'll all play out is a mystery, and I hope we all come through it alive and without going bankrupt. Sadly, there's some doubt on this front. Social distancing—virtual isolation—is the order of the day, and while Ms. B. and I are still going into the office every day, there is a good possibility we'll soon be working from home.

In the meantime, there's nothing for it but to live life as one can while maintaining distance from as many other human beings as possible. For the most part, this bothers me not a whit, as I typically long for not being shoved in amongst the teeming population. Today, after work, a couple of geocaches awaited my attention at High Point's Piedmont Environmental Center, which boasts quite a few excellent hiking trails through many acres of woodland. PEC adjoins nearby Gibson Park and connects to it via the Bicentennial Greenway. After work today, I headed yonder to see if I might turn up those new hides. Happily, I did. I also came upon what I took to be a somewhat sad bit of tree graffiti, which you can see in the photo above. "Forever Alone," it reads, and on today of all days, while intentionally isolating myself, it seemed strangely apt.

My quarry today was two puzzle caches, which tend to be my least favorite kind, since they too often require spending considerable computer time to acquire the necessary coordinates. My whole purpose for geocaching is to get out there, not spend yet more time on the computer, which occupies massive portions of my daily life (pounding out these blogs doesn't count, since I generally enjoy writing them). The caches themselves were nice enough. But the highlight of today's hike was revisiting an old nemesis: the tree—or what remains of it—where once upon a time hung "Hung Up" (GC3D9N6) a cache I sought and saw—at achingly close range—but never managed to claim.

"Hung Up" came out in 2012. It resided at a fairly frightful altitude in a tree that appeared big and solid. I had gone out to the greenway, scoped out the tree, and managed to spy the cache—a wee little bison tube—way up in the highest branches. I didn't think too much about scurrying on up there because, well, the tree was huge, and it appeared healthy. I hadn't gone up very far, though, when I grabbed a thick branch to pull myself up, only to have it pop off in my hand. That didn't deter me from continuing to climb, but the higher I went, the more I found mushy bark and wobbly branches. All signs of what I took to be pervasive rot.
"Hung Up," not so hung up.
More like submerged.

I couldn't have been more than three to five feet from the cache, which hung on a vertical branch. I had just started for it when I heard a very distinct, very loud crackkkkk come from behind me.

It had probably taken me a full five minutes to ascend the 30 or 40 feet into that tree. It took me about two and a half seconds to get back down to the bottom.

Coming so close, only to be thwarted by fears for my personal safety, galled me like little else. I ended up logging a DNF that day, and I did go back a time or two with the idea I might actually try it again, especially after a handful of other geocachers successfully made the climb. However, some time ago, I received notification from another cacher that "Hung Up" was no longer hanging. In fact, it lay somewhere down in High Point Lake. A massive branch from the tree—the very one I had climbed—had fallen and taken the cache with it. Although this event occurred many months after my attempt, it still felt like a narrow escape. Had I, or any other geocacher, been up there when that branch fell... well, that probably would have been someone's final tree climb. While I've taken plenty of risks, some fairly extreme, to get my signature on a little piece of paper, I do try to make at least marginally responsible decisions upon weighing those risks. In the case of "Hung Up," I reckon I did.

Still, it pisses me off I never did claim that little sucker. Ah, well. It was kind of nice to revisit the scene of the crime, as it were.

And I finished up the outing with some take-out from Thai Chiang Mai. That there was a winner, was what that was.
I feelz the forever alone.
Left: the "Hung Up" tree in 2012; Right: the same tree today, missing a few crucial tree parts.
The geese did not appear overjoyed to see me.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Another Day for Old Farts

Another gathering of old farts, another Sunday on the caching trail. At age 60, I was the youngest of the gang on today's outing to the Hillsborough/Chapel Hill/Carrboro area. None of the other Usual Suspects were available, so it was just Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob), Deifenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) and this old radioactively mutated giant flying Japanese rubber reptile. Not an overly strenuous day, unlike yesterday (see "Run to the Outback," March 7, 2020), but we did put in a fair distance (roughly five miles of hoofing it) and conquered a handful of marginally hairy terrain challenges. The meandering Bolin and Jones Creeks constantly bisected our chosen woodland routes, thus forcing us to utilize whatever crude crossings presented themselves. In the photo above, you'll seem me strolling across one such makeshift crossing, the odd photographic effect rendered by Diefenbaker pressing the wrong camera button.

We finished the day with a mere ten finds, but at least we worked for most of them. For our reward, we tracked down some vittles at The Spotted Dog, one of our favorite Carrboro dining destinations. The Bloody Mary wasn't much alcoholic, but the prevalent hot peppers in the formula sure hit the spot.

Next weekend, we're hoping for more of the regular irregulars to deign show themselves.
Horatius at the Bridge. Oh, wait, no. That's just Rob and Scott.
Let's do it again, do it (do it), lets do it again (do it), mmm, do it again, do it again
Scott trying to figure out how to get it all back together
Lunch at The Spotted Dog. Scott's big old cheddar burger, my big old turkey burger.

Darkness Is Just Across the Street

I am very pleased to announce that my short story, "Night Crier," will be appearing in the premiere issue of 34 Orchard, a new online literary magazine edited by Kristi Petersen Schoonover.

From 34 Orchard's website:

"If it’s not a ghost in your own home, it might be the ghost that lives in that house they told you about at the end of the block—the one that’s always for sale, or the one that is abandoned, staring at you with darkened windows like doleful, empty eyes: 'Stay away from the house at 34 Orchard Street,' the older kids told you."

My story is part very painful autobiography, part unsettling fantasy. Middle-aged Bill Caswell has lived his life terrified by eerie cries that ring from the woods every Halloween night. His mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, begins to hear the sounds as well, which proves that Bill is not suffering from a mere product of his imagination. He learns he must venture back in his mind to the days of his youth and conquer an age-old darkness before it comes forth to conquer him.

Visit 34 Orchard's website here, and please do reserve a copy of the first issue for yourself!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Run to the Outback

I gave it a good run... literally.
I am so not a running man. Now, in my search for geocaches, I happily hike miles upon miles at a time, climb and swing from trees like a monkey, and creepily creep through tight subterranean passages. But running.... nope. That's right out. Back in the 80s and 90s, I often ran for exercise. It was boring. Horribly, horrendously, mind-numbingly boring. Not my thing.

Well, usually. Anyway, there's this cache out there: Ranger Fox's "Run to the Outback" (GC27934), which is a Wherigo cache. A Wherigo is a variation on the normal geocache in that it requires an app whose features are activated by proximity to designated coordinates. A Wherigo cache may take you on an adventure where, at each stage, you have to answer certain questions in order to proceed, or enter what you see around you and eventually advance to the actual geocache. "Run to the Outback" requires the intrepid geocacher to haul ass out Greensboro's most rugged trail — the Owl's Roost — and arrive at each stage along the 2.2-mile path to the cache within a prescribed time period. If you fail, you must start the preceding stage over again.

Well, in theory.

"Run to the Outback" has been in the wild for damn near ten years — since April 21, 2010. As hard as it is for me to ignore a geocache (hunting them has become a pathological need), I have deliberately ignored this one because the requirement to find it struck me as more excruciating than exhilarating. However, today I was feeling a little fidgety, so I decided to try trucking out to this aging hide. Things actually started out swimmingly. I made good progress and cleared the first five (of eight) stages with time to spare. It was when I got to stage six that things went south.

I reached the designated marker in plenty of time, but the Wherigo app would not advance to the next stage. I returned to stage five to try again, mais alas, no joy. Needless to say, there was no way in heaven or hell I was going to go back and start the whole business over again. However, certain of my geocaching friends (who keep fastidious cache notes) had found this one way back when, so rather than give up after this much effort, I broke down and made the holler for help. Thankfully, I was able to acquire the info I needed to reach the final stage.
Better days, this one has seen.

At ground zero, I found the perfect host but, at first, there was no sign of the container. Rather than give up, I started digging in the mud and... bravo!... at last struck paydirt. The container was buried under about six inches of muck. The lid was cracked, the container full of water. Yuck. I did manage to get my signature on the soggy log. I cleaned things up a bit, but I couldn't do anything about the cracked lid.

Mission accomplished, albeit in roundabout fashion. Wherigo routines falling down and going boom are apparently commonplace, and looking back at many of the past logs, I am far from the only one to encounter such difficulties on this cache. Right now, my feet are on fire and my legs feel as though they've been twisted in several directions at once. But for all that, I got my little smiley for the find, and the workout was worth it.

And now... there is wine. Wine is good. Wine is our friend.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Going for a Ramble

These days, I'm far fonder of spiders than I used to be. At one time, I suffered from damn near crippling arachnophobia. I found spiders fascinating (still do), but the big ones inspired terrible panic attacks. All it took to conquer that particular fear was spending some quality time amongst 'em (see "Face Your Phobia," May 18, 2015). But I'm not so fond of Black Widows who decide to go for a ramble on my living room floor.

At first, I thought this might be a False Widow (Steatoda grossa), but after examining quite a few images, I'm not convinced. The northern and southern variants of true Black Widows do have red spots on their backs (this one, which I uncovered a few years back, is a Northern Black Widow (Lactrodectus variolus). And the false Widows that I've found in the wild generally have a less defined thorax and rounder, more "dimpled" abdomen.

Black Widows are generally not aggressive, and this spider certainly wasn't —  at least until I put the camera right in front of her face, at which point she charged. She appeared to be missing a leg, and the cats were giving her surpassing curious glances, so I wonder if they had tangled. In any event, while I'm generally all about live and let live where spiders are concerned, I didn't want to put her out, have her come back in, and risk another possible tangle with cats. So, sadly, this poor specimen has been flattened. Quick and merciful, yes. But flattened.
She was missing a leg. Sadly, she's now missing more than that.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Help for Hilary

Hilary Jeffers is one of the sweetest, most hard-working, generous, and talented people I know. It makes me sick that, inevitably, it takes a fundraiser to help people stay afloat whenever something dire happens. Please consider donating to help a most worthy soul.

In 1984, Hilary survived a terrible automobile accident, caused by a drunk driver. Head trauma made it difficult for her to learn new skills, which affected her ability to secure certain jobs. Increasing pain and a deteriorating body made it impossible for her to work long hours or full weeks most of the time. While working at a local restaurant, her back pain grew so bad she could barely stand straight or walk. She paid out of pocket for physical therapy which was not successful. Yet, with the help of yoga and pain meds she was continued to work several more years until the restaurant closed down.

Hilary found she had no other option but to begin drawing disability to help support herself and her young son. Due to many years of shorter work hours and minimum wage, the amount of disability she received was and remains quite low; it doesn’t even cover the rent for her very modest apartment. Very skilled at drawing, for a while she earned some extra dollars by creating lovely greeting cards and drawings of homes and local landmarks, but severe damage to her shoulder and elbow and resulting, increasing pain, put an end to that. In addition to her back, arm, and shoulder problems, the problems with her hip — which had popped in and out of joint ever since the accident — became worse and now she suffers with hip dysplasia. She is currently working part time as a ticket seller at a local movie theater, a place she loves, though she had to reduce her part-time hours due to ever-increasing pain. She knows things will not get better without help.

Doctors have diagnosed Hilary with “severe degenerative changes” in her left hip with “subchondral cysts especially in the acetabulum” (a subchondal cyst is characteristic of osteoarthritis) with “similar findings seen in the contralateral hip to a lesser degree.” In addition, “Degenerative changes are seen in the medial compartment of the knee.” In other words, at this particular time Hilary is in dire need of a hip replacement at the very least. Such surgery should greatly help her pain and her quality of life.

Medicare will help with some of the cost of the hip surgery. Yet, until then (the surgery is in late June or early July), and with less income from her work, there is a big income gap that must be filled in order for her to make it. And following surgery, there will be at least 8 weeks of recovery, which means no part-time work at all.

Contribute to help Hilary here: www.gofundme.com/f/help-and-hope-for-hilary

Tuesday, March 3, 2020


Q Branch got the Toyota back together (see "A Smashing Valentine's Day," February 15, 2020). As it turns out, the fellow who hit me had insurance after all, so the repair work didn't cost me anything. I do have to go to court as a witness regarding the accident, which will require time off from work and a trip to Martinsville. If I lived farther away, that might be problematic, so I guess I'm glad I don't live farther away. Anyway, now I'm going to be paranoid every time I stop at a red light. Perhaps it would behoove me not to.
The owls are not what they seem.