WAKING GODS – Excerpt

29 Sep

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1

In coming into this world, he became aware that he was aware, that he was a thing, an occupier of space.

From where he came, the Surgeon could not say. Nor did he fully realize why he knew himself by that name. Behind him stretched a white-edged void. Before him, straightening and shaping, rose a place of life.

Yes, life: that was the ripe scent on the wind, the coarse sound in his ears and the constant, energetic thrum trembling in and through all things, including him.

Waking from a dream.

But what was this place? The Surgeon strode forward, grass crunching beneath his soles. He was in an open area. A park. A sprawling city, draped in evening, encompassed this park. High-rises winking in light and coiled neon snakes hissing names of taverns and shops and slick smoky roads dappled by burning lamplight. Nothing else moved. Past the height of the tallest visible building, the Surgeon saw only blackness—for all intents and purposes, another void.

I’m dressed.

Yes. A long, unbuttoned raincoat hung to his shins, the only clothing on his upper half. A sliver of pale bare torso peeked out. Black slacks belted to his thin waist. The Surgeon recognized that he was too thin. Bones ridged his chest. He could not intimidate or fight his enemies in such an emaciated condition.

Enemies?

Slowly, he felt his own truth growing, filtering into him something revelatory. A purpose had brought him here. Right now, though, he did not know the exact nature of that purpose, only its mounting and nameless portent.

Something was strapped to his chin. He touched it and it was soft, slightly fuzzy and round with a string that went around his head. A surgical mask. At this discovery, he felt a tiny seizure of fear at his exposed face, and so lifted the mask over his nose and mouth. Whether given to him, or brought by him from wherever he’d come, doubtless it was there as a precaution, to ensure he thrive among some unknown danger here.

A weight in his coat. He reached into his right pocket, clutched something cold and metallic. A new synapse formed in his understanding. A soundless symphony played inside him, resounding with a rhythm ageless and brutal and he took out the pistol and looked at it. A Glock 17, its iron snout extended by a silencer. Don’t get caught. He glanced around. Still no one.

I won’t get caught.

Then, some new notion fell upon him.

I can’t get caught.

The Surgeon once more pocketed the gun and walked ahead across the street, into the steel teeth of the city, gliding past the lonely facades and the cars lined tilted against the curb. The sense of life around him hummed ever stronger even as he glimpsed no one and nothing else.

Where am I?

Where is everyone?

Then, turning a corner, he saw it—a solitary man, sparse hair and broad gut, tending a wheeled cart on a street corner. Hot Dogs, said a sign beneath him. Three dollars. Next to him stood a collapsed yellow umbrella.

The vendor barely moved, but in just seeing another life form the Surgeon steeled in both queer fascination and an unexpected kind of lumpy revulsion. He was not alone, and that was good. Yet he was also not alone, and that was discomforting.

Again he fingered his rib bones. He made off toward the cart. The vendor, preoccupied in sifting bills, glanced up at his hollow approaching footfalls and saw him, then looked down, only to immediately double-take.

“Hey buddy,” said the vendor, “city’s not that filthy, is it?”

The Surgeon stopped a few feet from him, masked face hot with recycled breath.

The vendor smirked. “There some new flu or something on the air I don’t know about?”

“I’ll—” The Surgeon began. Speech. I spoke. The sensation was odd, almost ticklish, as if he’d agitated a small insect hive in his throat.

“I’ll— I’ll have a hot dog, please.”

The vendor’s eyes narrowed at him, setting off in the Surgeon a prickly burst of anxiety, a demanding urge for retaliation. The bastard suspected him.

Maybe he’s an enemy.

That thrum of life, that monopulse of the city and all its collective inhabitants, heightened around him, constricting him with its energy. He felt dizzy, even a sudden queasiness though right now hunger had far greater sway over him.

With tongs the man brought up a sweaty pink cylinder of meat and slapped it on a bun, tentatively offering it. “That’ll be three dollars.”

The Surgeon checked his pockets. No “dollars”. No money. Only the Glock, which he unearthed from his pocket and which he lifted at the vendor. The man gasped and recoiled a couple steps, free hand raised palm-out. The weight of this man’s years crammed and funneled into this moment.

He’s an enemy.

The Surgeon shot him between the eyes. The vendor fell back, and the Surgeon knew rightness.

He pocketed the Glock and knelt over the body and reassembled his fallen hot dog. He ate hastily, then replaced his mask. The streets brooded, the dark ignorant and vacant. Once again he was the only person here.

He was no longer the only life, though. Looming over the prostrate vendor, the Surgeon noted curiously the blue-black butterfly peeking up from the man’s limp mouth. It hesitated, then, in a confident burst, fluttered up into the night, followed soon by its multicolored brethren leaking in a steady fount from the vendor’s mouth and nose and rushing in swirling exodus from his shattered scalp.

The Surgeon knew rightness.

(Release Date: January 11, 2016)

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Coffin Hop Short-Short Story!

24 Oct

A Banquet of Biblical Proportions

Everywhere was water. Frothing and roiling and heaving like the breast of some great respirating thing. Mountain ranges once fixed at the horizon were now fluid, rising and falling anew with every second. The air hissed salty and clean. The rains had begun to slacken. The world, per the Wish, had been purified.

He stood on the bow, the grizzled prophet, battered by the elements but the only sinner spared. From the moment the Light had found him, filling his every molecule with the voice of his Maker, Noah had asked why, Why me?, though he’d never received a reply and truthfully never expected one. The Lord had given him life and had entrusted him with this task, this renovation of the earth and all mankind. The Lord owed him no explanation.

The grand Ark swayed creaking along its directionless way, its bulk the only solid thing on the surface of this new world. The swells were increasing, the water still stone-colored beneath lingering stormclouds. Thunder grumbled not far away. Lightning whipped the horizon, as if to arouse from the sea the one element, earth, that had fallen to the dark far below.

The rains must not be finished.

From the labyrinthine bowels of the Ark issued the roars and cries and chitters and screams and rattles of the creatures dwelling there. They were growing frightened again. Elephantine trumpets. Bone-quivering lion bellows. Shrieking birds. The Lord was a fecund artist. Sometimes Noah would wonder as to the exact nature of all these creatures, what they were beyond man’s conceits for them. It was a blasphemous consideration, perhaps. If they were creations of God without sin, why not make Man as such? Man was made in the image and likeness of God. Were, then, the dumb-eyed beasts, their hearts ignorant of malice or deceit, made in the spiritual image and likeness of God?

Maybe that was what this next era would contain — a New Mankind. Yet Noah wondered if God would allow him — a remnant of the past era, a sodden relic — to continue on once the waters had lowered back into their lakes and riverbeds and oceans?

In the heightening patter of rain he began to pray. Water collected on his brow, in his beard. The Lord was not done after all with His purification.

In opening his eyes once more, Noah gasped.

The storm had coalesced into a leviathan, clouds stacked towering and flashing down through the shapeless body, scuttling on legs of lightning across the sea. Was this the final Word? The final purge?

“Lord speak to me!” Noah cried, but the wind snatched his words away. The clouds appeared to darken, too, filling with night. Thunder roared over itself. A foulness filled the air, deeply rooted, detectable not only by the senses but by the soul. It smelled faintly bestial, but was nothing Noah had encountered before, with any of the creatures now crowding God’s vessel.

The sea grew increasingly violent, the Ark swaying almost to a tipping point. Waves exploded on either side, sloshing and groping across the bow, streaming over Noah as he collapsed and tried to recover his footing. The water was different, containing a viscous quality pungent and offensive.

As the Ark righted again and Noah pulled himself up by the railing he saw it: the sea was with child, swelling beneath the storm a tremendous frothing peak. It wasn’t a wave — at least, it looked nothing like the waves he’d seen these last forty or so days.

A sharp object, almost like a steeple, broke the summit of the swell. It curves, Noah noted through rainswept eyes. It curves like…like…

A wing. A gargantuan bat-like wing, unfolding against the storm like a black crescent moon. Two of them. Two, expanding for impossible acres over this limitless sea, and and the wings were attached to a great dark body bulbous and dripping copious waterfalls behind which two cavernous sockets lit up in the fireglow of their pupils, pupils by themselves far larger than any man.

Noah steeled. The sight provoked in him something beyond terror, beyond awful reverence. It was a new feeling, that of being utterly voided, the man he was — the man the Lord (my Lord?) had chosen — bled out from all ends to mix with the foul dark.

The monstrous entity before him, mountainous in scale, unleashed over the thunder the most alien cacophony Noah had ever heard. The winds stilled, the water grew less restless. All creatures below fell quiet. Inherent in that noise was a note of singular triumph. All is Mine, it seemed to say.

Noah turned and slipped and struck his chin, then clambered down below into the chambers where all God’s creatures sat paired in doom-tinted silence. He staggered his way past them, past the lions lowered in their paws and the zebras and monkeys and crocodiles all still and shuddering, subdued by a nature unknown to them.

Another alien roar sounded. Much closer. And then the entire Ark trembled violently, as if having struck an object, and all the creatures around him erupted in cries and screams and bellows and kicks and gnashes, one last desperate pitch of primal madness in the face of this…This.

Cracking and splintering and the roof rained down wood and water. The vessel grew porous with storm, with the fleeting glimpses of the alien monstrosity. Serpentine appendages descended into the inner chambers, latching upon bison and giraffe and elephants and whistling them up like so many morsels of meat.

Noah prayed, pleaded. This was not an agent of the Lord, this was…

No, it cannot be.

Wider and wider the Ark split, and Noah through the chaos could now fully see its face, if it could be called a face: there was that great domed head, barnacled and laden with things dead and decaying, the large red eyes kindled by a soul of terrible majesty, and the snaking appendages writhing from its jaw. Its body was man-like, its two massive hands clutching the entire vessel like a vase.

Not a vase, Noah thought.

Indeed, the earth had been purged, Man the steward swept into oblivion and all creatures collected here neatly upon this floating trough. Noah shouted questions, demanded answers as to why God might have deceived him. But the only thing he heard, the only thing he smelled and tasted and felt as the monstrosity partook of its feast, was the lone command, All is Mine.

Comfort Zone, Twilight Zone

30 Sep

One of the best steps I’ve ever taken, for growth not only as a writer but a human being, was to set foot outside my intellectual comfort zone. This may sound an obvious necessity to veterans, but it’s not easy to recognize as a greenhorn, no matter your age. Even writers who’ve been scribbling for a while may be resistant to it. In considering Twain’s famous remark of a classic being a book we all want to have read but don’t want to read, I feel his observation can be expanded to encompass all works that challenge not just our minds but our tastes — for we don’t know our tastes until we discover them. And we all know the rewards such discoveries can provide.

For the four or five years after blindly whipping out the first draft of a first novel no one on this Earth shall hopefully ever remember or see again (including me), I formed my reading lists mostly from the popular fiction shelves. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, Mario Puzo and more Stephen King all went down my gullet and the stagnancy of my writing — in style, voice and originality — reflected that. And for those wondering: literature in my high school was in short supply, and I never attended a formal university. Such situations, unfortunate as they may sound to some, have made my independent explorations far more nourishing and memorable.
You might smell a snob here, but rest assured: this isn’t a condemnation of popular writers so much as it is a warning about only swimming laps in one’s pool and ignoring the ocean that’s right there. Sure it’s wide and intimidating, and you might swallow a mouthful of shit, but it’s an experience, it’s new, it’s rattling. In my own case, I was frankly insecure about my own intellectual abilities. I understood King and Koontz — the likes of Joyce and Kafka and Cervantes were for the cerebral and scholastic.
Then, one evening, I cracked open Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment (a violent act in and of itself considering it was my mother’s decrepit copy, over sixty years old) and within thirty or so pages I heard my mind muttering, “I get it. I get it!”Not only did my subsequent writing vastly improve, but so did my self-trust, self-confidence and my basic cognition — essentially, my ability to think, reason and speak extemporaneously with more complexity. Most crucial, however, is that I’ve come to realize the integral role literature has played, and continues to play, in my development as a person. I notice nowadays in choosing a book that my criteria is not only, “What enjoyment can I get out of this?” but, “What insights can I get out of this?” The latter makes the former even more, well, enjoyable.

Behind the Book: “The Prince of Earth’s” BIG GREY MAN

21 Feb

As some may know, Curiosity Quills Press has released my latest novel, The Prince of Earth, which touches on a phenomenon that, uniquely, is vied for by the ufological, cryptozoological and spectral branches of the general Forteana (or paranormal) community: the Big Grey Man of the peak Ben MacDui. A famous, or infamous, presence of Scottish mountaineering lore, no consensus yet exists on what it actually is.

POE cover

The Prince of Earth

Emerging!

Emerging!

In December 1925, respected mountaineer and climber Professor Norman Collie stood before an annual general meeting of the Cairngorm Club in Aberdeen, Scotland. Staring out over the expectant faces, he took a breath, preparing to impart an astonishing account, a personal incident that had happened over thirty years ago, in 1891, though the years had not lessened its ghastly clarity.

“I’d reached the summit of Ben MacDui,” he said, referring to the peak that, at just over 4,000 feet, marks the highest point in the Cairngorms, and the second highest in Scotland. “Coming down through heavy mist, I began to think I heard something else other than the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I heard a crunch, crunch, and then another crunch, as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.”

As though caught in a fire, Quincy kept her perspective low as she scanned the diminishing area about her. Then she saw it: in an interstice of earth, thinly fog-dressed, a foot lifted from the cigar- brown grass and disappeared into the higher, thicker realms of murk.

“Hey!”

On instinct she started crawling fast towards the apparition, unimpeded by the monstrous proportion of that foot, which seemed the length of her forearm from elbow to middle fingernail. from The Prince of Earth

Collie had turned, his alleged pursuer concealed in mist. “The eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me,” he continued, “and I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.” Winding down his address, Professor Collie made a promise to never return alone to MacDui, as “there was something very queer about the top.”

This well-documented account, featured in Karl Shuker’s The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Natural and Paranormal Mysteries, slots neatly amongst many others of climbers or hikers, local or non, who’ve described a frightening variety of odd activity atop Ben MacDui, from wafting strains of phantom music or laughter, to footsteps reminiscent of those noted by Professor Collie, to the talon-footed, pointy-eared humanoid entity of impossible height spotted in the mist by mountaineer Tom Crowley, in the 1920s. Technically, this latter sighting occurred in the neighboring peak Braeraich, but by proximity is lumped into MacDui’s canon of strangeness.

Most of these stories involve fits of panic. Some are just the panic: several climbers, scrambling amongst the mist-frosted stones, have nearly plunged themselves to their deaths in frantic attempts to elude an unseen, unheard presence they intuit as malign.

Quincy turned again in the direction from which the deer had come but there was nothing. Or the appearance of nothing — the trees were apt conspirators. She understood the phenomenon of panicking in the woods — the arresting terror of an unknown source␣because it twitched in her now, as it had in the deer.

It is not surprising, given the testimony, that a certain lore has coalesced around Ben MacDui, that of the aptly-termed Big Grey Man, or, more locally, Am Fear Liath Mor. By now the place and its enigmatic inhabitant have garnered a reputation such that any new encounter, depending upon severity, might be chalked up to suggestion. Indeed, one of the more grounded explanations for the Big Grey Man is the climber’s shadow, reflected and elongated upon the mist. The imagination, after all, does enjoy a blank canvas. Yet that doesn’t explain the phantom music, laughter, footfalls or fits of inexplicable trepidation, much of which have come from experienced climbers.

As to be expected with any mystery, there is a lengthy scroll of other, more spectacular theories, from that of a Scottish Yeti, to a guardian spirit, to a marooned alien, to an interdimensional traveler.

The novel The Prince of Earth, however, offers quite a different explanation.

“So, then what’s the story?”

“It’s being written,” said the man. “It’s a myth-in-progress, wet and alive, not the dried text of a thousand years ago. The story is still coming. The story is growing and will be ready for generations down the line.”

“So, I could be a chapter,” said Quincy. “In an unfolding myth.”

“Precisely.” The man extended his hand, which swallowed hers as they shook.

Prince of Earth cover

BONUS

The Prince of Earth draws from a range of Scottish myths, including the boobrie, a massive bird said to haunt lochs and salt wells, as well as the Shellycoat, a bogeyman dwelling in rivers and streams, whose presence is betrayed by the rattling of its shell-covered body.

Excerpt of THE PRINCE OF EARTH, coming February 9, 2013

3 Feb

An excerpt from an early section of my imminently forthcoming novel, The Prince of Earth.

The Prince of Earth Mock 3

The wilderness began only feet beyond Ballater. As soon as she reached the other side of the bridge, Quincy felt as though she’d entered some kind of portal. Something thrived out here, something she hadn’t felt before even during recent travels: an unseen, extra dimension to everything, time itself having become snared and congealed in this tight wood-web. She could feel it everywhere far and immediate, felt it beneath her soles, could taste its ancient flavor on the wind that chilled her skin.

For several hundred yards, she followed the gray flow of the Dee until the flanking broadleaf and pine trees grew in numbers and gradually led her away from all sights and sounds of the river and Ballater. Soon, there were only the dark Caledonian branches scrawled against the wet sheet of clouds.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone else out here.

It’s reserved for you and for you only.

Lover-ly.

The mist was bunched-up, a ghostly-gray impression of the foliage. Quincy increased her pace but made an effort to notice all this around her, this ancient eerie beauty she, for a long time, might not see again in person. Somewhere in her memory the Child knocked elbow and fist to be released, to play Hobbit, to play Knight, to engage The Quest.

Almost an hour into the forest, the trail lost distinction though there was steady enough clearing to press on. To both sides the woods drew long and dense, cutting into slivers the pale light from the murky glaucoma sky.

She wanted to leave the forest well behind her in time for her first night out in the Cairngorms. This wouldn’t be difficult, though it did extend farther than she expected.

Quincy alighted on a large boulder, rested and took two gulps of water. Hunger squirmed deep within but she was still too keyed up, still too apprehensive, to eat.

In the silence of these woods, the motion of anything else was downright loud, and she turned instantly at the hasty crackling approach of a large creature that had taken off at full speed. She watched the graceful cursive of this thing as it bounded through the trees, its blurred shadow-form a connective ribbon across the trunks. She thought there might be more but there was only one, and the lone deer stopped on the other edge of the haggard trail not fifty yards from her, trying to compose itself though fear persisted in its sad jeweled eyes and jittering muscles.

What spooked it?

Quincy turned again in the direction from which it’d come but there was nothing. Or the appearance of nothing—the trees were apt conspirators. She understood the phenomenon of panicking in the woods—the arresting terror of an unknown source—because it twitched in her now, as it had in the deer.

And, of course, it wasn’t just the woods. Mountaineers, in open expanse, had known such a soul-deep paralysis. They were bad memories evolution had buried far but never thrown away, perhaps.

Perhaps.

Quincy slipped from the rock and the deer took off again, its sight lost long before its sounds. After the sounds died, Quincy’s loneliness grew, as did the stirrings of panic, but she kept focused as she pressed on. In time, the trees became fewer and fewer, giving way to larger quantities of mountain willow scrub and long whispering grass, the earth itself on marked ascent towards the further vast tundra of the naked highlands.

 *

Uphill for a stretch, the terrain eventually flattened some, and the valley extended before her in a great yawning bowl. The pass was a cold vast swath stretching into blue mists beyond which lay things ancient even to prehistory, and it was flanked by massive peaks sweeping up like a stone tide, an earthen wave parted to biblical proportions. Rocks dotted the ground between the yellow wind-slanted grass.

The solitude was thrilling and terrifying.

She walked until dusk.

Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra by M.J. Miike

28 Jan

…But first! This must be acknowledged:

It appears that dung beetles, in addition to using the moon and sun as reference points (which I didn’t know), also use the Milky Way. How cool is that? A hundred writers writing a hundred years would do well to capture in any passage even half the simple profundity of this. Something as minuscule as an insect playing off such vast and distant bodies. A reminder of the constant dynamic between micro and macro.

And now….

Ready to Rumble? Or Stomp?

Ready to Rumble? Or Stomp?

Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra

Don’t be fooled by the title. I must admit, purely by conditioning from indulging a taste for B movies, that I half-expected something of a SyFy kind of monster story — not in terms of SyFy quality, mind you, just more their general mode of putting brash or blithering characters amidst rampaging, cathartic monster mashups. I don’t mean to state this as a good or a bad. In seeing the title, it was simply one of a few thoughts that sprang to mind.

But I was surprised. Pleasantly. More than pleasantly. And these days I I relish surprises. To quote Bill Murray of Groundhog Day, “Anything different is good.”

Okay, perhaps not “anything”. But with its big heart and tone alternately sage and playful, there’s every little to dislike about Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra, which is far less a monster mashup than an ecological meditation from an unlikely source: a Yeti. With tempered detachment, our seven-foot narrator describes trouble brewing in South America, the encroachment of Bigfoot creatures on Chupacabra grounds. We learn that Bigfoots are lesser cousins of the Yeti, whose species were responsible for the civilization commonly termed Atlantis.  Working beside him is the pretty and good-natured Sarai, a regular human helping to resolve the crisis while careful not to reveal the existence of these communities of supposedly mythical beasts.

Certainly there’s a plot, but the story shines in its short bursts of observation, the Yeti offering thoughts on everything from the Cold War to our unfortunate preoccupation with smartphones (making a sage point that, as humans already have trouble missing the present moment, ubiquitous screens only worsen that). Chapters are quick, and the prose is clean and colloquial with a hint of humored wisdom. Imagine a Yeti being openly smuggled into bureaucratic offices to discuss ecological devastation. Or imagine a Yeti’s cry — known for loosening human bowels — creating among loggers a panic of cholera.

The book encourages such imagination at the same time it provokes rumination of serious topics, all filtered by a unique perspective.

Homo Hirsutus Website

Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra on Amazon

 

 

 

Punctuation Problems: “That Semi-colon Bitch Had to Die”

19 Dec

“You know, I thought I’d heard of everything….I’ve never heard of a relationship ruined by punctuation!” – Jerry Seinfeld, “Seinfeld”

 

On Amazon

Harry Potter Meets Jack Torrance? Not really. Just musing.

Harry Potter Meets Jack Torrance? Not really. Just musing.

 

4.5 / 5 stars

Tom Conrad’s That Semi-Colon Bitch Had to Die occupies two emotional hemispheres, and the swing from one to the other is at once exhilarating and nightmarish, particularly for writers like myself. The beginning is almost hazy-edged in its dream-like charm: via Twitter, aspiring novelist Frankie Drake touches digital souls with the intoxicating Abbey Archer, also an aspiring novelist. The relationship carries over into the real world, where they soon come to share an apartment together, their time away from the page spent largely in cinematic coital. It is almost enough to override the taint of darkness introduced at the front of the book, where we learn things eventually go horribly — possibly even murderously — awry for the couple.

I won’t say any more plot-wise. The book is a wonderful sampling of many familiar authors and stories, synthesized anew by Tom Conrad’s remarkably fresh voice and wit, which, especially towards the darker latter half, manages prose both raw and stylized, an emotional disarray well-controlled. It is an impressive achievement — more, it is a performance, and it enthralls. One recognizes in the pages/screens blended echoes of Philip Roth, Kingsley Amis, Kurt Vonnegut and Woody Allen, filtered into the world of Twitter.

Significantly, the book feels authentic. Frankie, a very alive personality, squirms and wiggles against the limits of his own story, occasionally breaking the fourth wall. To a certain meta degree, he knows he is speaking to you. The reader is almost a silent therapist, listening to his outpouring. You cringe in empathy at what he tells you. The vividness is so that, when he tells you to Google Abbey Archer’s musket-thrust of a book, I had half an impulse to pull up the web on my Kindle and see it for myself.

The .5-star was shaved for an ending that, while mostly successful, felt abrupt. I wanted Frankie to be able to stretch his legs further. But perhaps it’s best we leave him where he is.

It must be noted, too, the bullseye of the name “Jasper Woolf” for a pretentious hipster.