Imp Propriety (ABC Wednesday, 3/12/14)

imp

“Knock knock,” the imp said.

“Who’s there?” I responded.

“LET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” he screamed at me. His leathery wings spread wide as if to emphasize his words, or to make him seem larger in order to intimidate me. But he was only three inches tall, so it was going to take a great deal more to make him seem large enough to be a physical threat.

I poured another couple fingers of gin into my glass, tossed it all down my throat in a burning wash. I was already feeling wobbly and a bit too hot, but booze seemed appropriate.

“You know I’m not going to do that,” I told him.

He glared at me with eyes like shadows moving on glass. He looked ridiculous, tiny and naked and roughly scaled like a bearded lizard. Batwings of course, with curved talons at all the tips. He was what would be called anatomically correct if he were a doll, his outsized penis erect and bouncing with each step as he paced from point to point within the pentagram I’d painted on the table with my own blood.

“And how in all the sweet hells do you expect me to do your bidding and help your sorry ass out if I’m stuck in this thing?”

The old book had seemed pretty clear on all this, but once I’d done the ritual, and little boner imp appeared, I realized the specifics of getting my way hadn’t been covered sufficiently.

“Can’t you just grant me a wish? Then I’ll banish you and we’ll be done with each other.”

“I can’t grant wishes, bozo. That’s way stronger mojo than I’ve got. I can only help through direct action.” He stopped pacing and glared at me again. “And how do you intend to banish me? I know that mad Arab didn’t put detail like that in that book, ’cause I’ve read it.”

He was right. The ritual was all about getting him here. What to do with him hadn’t been covered at all, other than to say something about dominating the small fiend and using its power.

“Never mind that,” I said. “I’ll banish you, all right? That book isn’t the only source of info I have access to. And if it comes to it, I’ll get a priest in here to deal with you.”

Pssh. A priest. You don’t want to tell one of those guys you’ve been summoning demons; they’ll burn you at the stake.”

“They don’t do that any more.”

“Yeah, right. Buddy, they always do that. Maybe they’re just more subtle about it these days.”

“I don’t think so. They have enough scandals to deal with without getting caught burning people.”

“Never mind the fucking priests,” he snarled. “You need to let out of here so I can help you. If you don’t, you’re just gonna have this bloody star on your table and I’m going to be stuck in it from now on. You really want me living here with you, chatting up your friends? Not to mention I got no place to shit in here, and I feel a big one coming on.”

“What will you do if I let you out?”

“I’ll do all I can to get that bitch to take you back–“

“Don’t call her a bitch.”

He cocked his head at me. “Jesus twitchin’ on the cross, I get all the twits,” he muttered. “Look, moron, you didn’t expect a demon to act all proper didja? I can, mind you…but if I do, that’ll count as your ‘one desire’ I’m supposed to fulfill.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “So I let you out, you help me get Cindy back, then you return to Hell or wherever it is you came from, right?”

“Damn straight.”

“And you won’t pull any tricks on me or hurt me or anything like that, right? Because I am your master.”

“Good grief. Right, right, right. Now let’s do this; the sooner I can get off this dismal plane, the happier I’m gonna be.”

“Okay…” I said. This still seemed a bad idea, but I was at a loss. And what he said seemed to be in accord with the rules implied in the book.

I reached toward the pentagram, paused with my fingers just above one of its bloody lines. “You promise, no tricks?”

He shook his head. “You really gonna trust a promise from me? I’m a demonic imp from the dark beyonds, I don’t make promises. But I do my goddamned job.”

“Okay.” I rubbed my fingers in the blood, breaking the line.

I

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter J. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, feel free try to check out my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIt’s been very well reviewed (KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.”) and is great for action-adventure lovers of all ages.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

FROGS OF DOOM! (ABC Wednesday, 2/19/14)

Frog of Doom

Lyonesse, Doc Wilde’s manor, was immense and imposing.

Its structure was an odd mix of gothic castle, log cabin, and Art Deco glass and steel, with an enormous white ash tree rising through its architectural core like Yggdrasil, the sacred World Tree of Norse myth. It sat on a high wooded hill eighteen miles outside the city limits of New York, a mighty guardian watching over the land.

Doctor Spartacus Wilde had designed Lyonesse, and oversaw its construction. He took its name from Arthurian legend: Lyonesse was the mystic island of Sir Tristan’s birth, a sunken land lost beneath the waves somewhere off the coast of Cornwall. Now, this modern Lyonesse was internationally renowned as the fantastic home and headquarters of the world’s greatest adventurer.

Half a mile from the hill on which the manor stood, a faint dirt track branched off the road into deep woods, ending at a well-camouflaged cave which penetrated deep into the bedrock beneath the rugged hillscape. This passage led to a spectacular underground bunker in which Doc Wilde stored his amazing assortment of vehicles.

As early evening twilight painted the hills above, an elegant jet-black automobile with three headlights zoomed from the bunker, eerily silent but for the crunch of tires on the gravelly cave floor. This muscular rocket of a car was a 1948 Tucker Torpedo. Only 51 of them had ever been made, and only 48 remained in existence. Some were in museums. Some were with wealthy collectors. They were virtually impossible to acquire.

Doc Wilde had three.

The Tucker accelerated swiftly. A titanium wall loomed in its path, but the vehicle did not slow. Seconds before impact, the wall snapped open, locking shut again after the car was through. Every hundred yards another such gate barred the way, but allowed the Tucker to pass. These indestructible gates were just one of the many security measures protecting Lyonesse.

The unusual automobile shot from the cave onto the dirt track through the forest.

Doc Wilde had made some modifications to the three Tucker Torpedoes so they would be truly adventure-worthy. Their steel bodies were reinforced with a spray-on armor coating, the windows were unbreakable glass, and the tires made of rupture-proof polymer gels. The old gasoline engines were replaced with solar/hydrogen engines of Doc’s own invention, eliminating all polluting emissions. And running boards had been added along the sides.

When the weather was nice (and sometimes when it wasn’t, if time was short), Doc liked to ride outside the car on the running board. In times of emergency, this served the additional purpose of making Doc visible to law enforcement officials, who knew that if Doc Wilde was breaking traffic laws, it had to be for very good reason, so they would try to clear the way and offer any assistance he might require.

The weather was nice now, and Doc was out on the driver’s side running board, the wind blasting through his hair, his mighty arms holding tight. He wore a white safari shirt with epaulets on the shoulders, khaki cargo pants, and leather boots. Over his shirt he wore his field vest, brown and full of pockets holding numerous useful tools and gizmos he always took with him on his travels.

Brian and Wren rode in the Tucker’s backseat, wearing clothes identical to their dad’s. The Wildes called these outfits their “danger clothes.”

Behind the wheel was Doc’s driver and pilot, an Irishman named Declan mac Coul. Declan’s hair and beard were shaggy red, and while he was just a few inches taller than 5 feet, he weighed as much as Doc. He was like a short bear and all muscle. There were many mysteries about Declan mac Coul, but one thing they knew for sure was that he could always be counted on completely.

Next to Declan sat Phineas Bartlett in a dapper suit and derby hat, holding a cane with an ornate eagle’s head handle of purest silver.

Spraying dust, the Tucker veered from the dirt track onto the main road into town. Bartlett scowled at Declan. “Slow down now, you misbegotten ape.”

“Funny you callin’ me an ape, all natty in that monkey suit,” Declan replied. But he did slow to the speed limit, as they were no longer on Doc’s private land.

When Declan and Bartlett addressed one another, the two men’s voices oozed disgust and dislike. But actually, they were the greatest of friends.

Wren interrupted their sparring. “Declan? Bartlett? Do either of you know what Ophrys means?”

Brian shot her a look. The little trickster hadn’t forgotten their squabble.

Bartlett chuckled. “You’ll need to wait till Declan learns English before you start tormenting him with Ancient Greek. But Ophrys means ‘eyebrow,’ if I recall correctly,” which he did. Phineas Bartlett recalled everything correctly; he had an eidetic memory (often called a “photographic memory”), and had total recall of everything he’d ever read.

Wren grinned at her big brother. “Gotcha.”

Declan snorted. “You would know that.”

Bartlett smiled. “The benefits of a high-brow education.”

Wren grinned at Brian even more. He scowled and tried to ignore her.

Bartlett gazed benignly at Declan. “Aristotle tells us ‘Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead.’”

Bartlett was familiar with lots of quotations.

“Well,” Declan said, “I reckon that means I’m superior to Aristotle, me bein’ alive and him bein’ dead. So why should I listen to him?”

Where’s Dad?!?” Wren suddenly cried. Startled, everyone glanced out the windows.

Doc Wilde was no longer on the running board. Continue reading

Ermahgerd! Electricity! (ABC Wednesday, 2/12/14)

Thor's Wrath

Recently, Jesus gave Zeus the finger. Or, rather, Zeus took it.

There was a huge lightning storm over Rio de Janeiro and a bolt blasted the statue of Christ which looks over the city, knocking off one of His fingers. While you’d think that Jesus could protect Himself from such an attack, it’s probably not our place as mere mortals to adjudicate the MMA matches of the gods.

Lightning is a scary thing, electricity in its most feral state. Crackling death from above. Surprisingly, though, only about 10% of people who have intimate encounters with it don’t survive. Some that do are scarred with fractal maps in their skin, branching networks of sizzling branchwork like tattoos of evergreen fronds or ivy.

               

I’ve had a special relationship with lightning for years, starting, I guess, when I was struck by lightning when I was a teenager. I survived. I had no visible scars. I wasn’t even hurt, as far as anyone could tell.

It happened one stormy day. A friend and I were cavorting in the rain, chasing each other, jumping at the crashes of thunder, laughing our asses off. Ultimately, soaked and getting cold, we headed for his house. We splashed in, drenched, and his mother informed us that there was a tornado warning. Later, we found out one had touched down less than a mile away. She insisted we dry off, so we headed to the bathroom, and as we entered, a bolt of lightning crashed through the window (open, as his mother had forgotten to close it for the rain, so I think the lightning was riding the breeze as lightning can do). It went through my friend and me, knocking us off our feet, and scorched the floor under our feet.

We were incredibly lucky. Neither of us was hurt, though we were scared shitless and our ears were ringing. This amount of luck in a lightning strike is rare but not unheard of; most burn damage resulting from a strike is from superheated objects (like change in someone’s pocket, for example), and most deaths result from cardiac arrest. We were both young and fit, so if our hearts were spooked by the blast, we didn’t know it. We didn’t even go to the ER.

Of course, not all damage is visible. Brain damage is a common effect of lightning strikes and can lead to memory impairment, irritability, terrible headaches, even personality change. And, unsurprisingly, depression. And, as regular readers of this blog know, I have depression big time.

Through therapy, I’ve learned that much of my struggle is attributable to loss of my mother as a baby and familial abuse throughout my formative years. But it’s possible the strike contributed.

But electricity in the brain has also proven helpful in my fight. I’ve had two rounds of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy, aka shock treatment) in the past few years, the second as recently as last November and December. My depression is a stubborn, mean mother fucker and was highly resistant to everything we were throwing at it until we decided to sing the brain electric. Afterward, my short term memory is sort of crap (though it already was, as depression itself is hell on the memory), but my focus and motivation are remarkably improved. This strategic use of electricity blasted straight into my brain has been literally life-changing. The fact that you’re reading this now, and that I’m blogging again in general, is directly attributable to it.

So, thank you, Zeus, thank you Thor, thank you spirits of thunder and lightning. Thank you for not killing me years ago, and thank you for saving my life now.

E

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter F. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is currently on sale to celebrate Valentine’s Day

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Doin’ Dialogue (ABC Wednesday, 2/5/14)

What's bothering you?

How to write dialogue like Aaron Sorkin, the writer/creator of The West Wing, Sports Night, and The Newsroom:

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.”
“Nothing?”
“Nothing.”
“Something’s wrong.”
“Nothing’s wrong!”
“Is something bothering you?”
“No, nothing’s bothering me.”
“Something is bothering you.”
“Nothing is bothering me!”
“Okay, okay….what’s up?”
“Something’s bothering me.”
Sigh. “What’s bothering you?”
“What’s bothering me?”
“Yes. What’s bothering you?”
“What’s bothering me is the way this country, this country that I love and revere, is, more and more, embracing the irrational, and it is tearing us to pieces. What’s bothering me is that people are coming to think that hard science is just another opinion, and not a very good one. What’s bothering me is that diseases which should be going permanently extinct are making a comeback and killing kids because a fringe of idiots out there won’t get their children vaccinated. What’s bothering me is that a growing segment of our population believes our laws should be based on their mostly uneducated notions of what it says in the Bible. What’s bothering me is that so many of our fellow citizens look to jackasses like Ted Nugent, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh, not to mention nearly the entire cast of that subpar sitcom known as Fox News, for guidance. What bothers me is that our country, which should be a powerhouse of productivity and enlightenment, is slipping into third world status when it comes to our industry and our ability to take care of our people. And you know what? Those are only some of the damned things that are bothering me, and it’s time we started doing a hell of a lot better, before it is absolutely, irrevocably, too late.”

D

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter E. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom is currently on sale to celebrate Valentine’s Day

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

The Creature from the Blog Lagoon (ABC Wednesday, 1/29/14)

C is for Creature

We all know the creature.

The monster. The dangerous thing, stalking, creeping, hunting in the silence of the night. Hairy, clawed, savage. Less than human…or is it?

For me, and many others who grew up with Universal monster movies, the word creature evokes the Creature From The Black Lagoon. Who, when you get down to it, is clawed and savage, but not so hairy. The Creature stalks and kidnaps the gorgeous Julie Adams, mesmerized by her preternatural beauty, no doubt with thoughts of ichthyological rape and scaly little spawn cavorting in the lagoon’s dark waters. The movie he’s in is undeniably a “monster movie,” but is he a monster? No. But he is, obviously, a beast, an animal, an inhuman thing. A creature. He operates on instinct more than thought, and in his case, because he comes into conflict with anti-instinctual man, it proves his undoing. Had he stayed hidden, not tried to woo, in his way, the beauty (a common failing among beasts), he would never have been harpooned, brought to man’s world, had his gills sliced off (a clumsy attempt to make a man of him), and ultimately killed.

Stories often warn us that this is what will happen if we let our creature side out. Our instinct. Our wild. Our Id. We aren’t animals, right? Never mind the blood and bile, our often maddening emotional lives, our wonderfully messy means of procreation. The fangs in our mouths, the hair on our pelts.

I’ve always been fascinated with werewolves, and themes of transformation often manifest in my writing. Often the transfiguration is into a wilder state, like the werewolf, rather than an “ascended” state. But is it therefore a devolution? Or is it an imperfect call toward wholeness? I believe we are at our best when we are comfortable with both sides of our nature, the primal and the thoughtful, the rational and the passionate. Be a creature and be a man. Be a creature and be a woman. Be complete.

Evolution isn’t a paved road away from the creature, it’s a forest path toward a better creature.

C

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter D. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Authority: You’re Not The Boss Of Me (ABC Wednesday, 1/15/14)

A is for Authority

Let me tell you about this stupid thing I do.

When I’m driving at night, if a car coming from the opposite direction has its brights on, I stare intensely into that bright light, destroying my night vision even more than the light already was. Unless I remind myself that this is stupid, I glare into those rude fucking high beams until they’re past.

I used to do this without really being conscious of it, but some time in my twenties, I realized what I was doing. I was fighting the cars for dominance, staring into their eyes, refusing to look away and show weakness.

Of course, the cars — and their drivers — neither knew nor cared that I was clearly the alpha in the situation, and I was only hurting myself. I still catch myself doing this sometimes and it usually cracks me up.

An old friend of mine used to call me on the phone (an endeavor which, historically, already has a statistically insignificant chance of success), and when he reached the answering machine — which I did monitor — he would  loudly bark “Tim, pick up!” And my gut response, even if I was standing right by the phone, even if I wanted or needed to talk to him, was NO. Sometimes I would push that reaction away and answer the call. Sometimes I wouldn’t.

Again, I ultimately realized what I was doing, and I told my friend to change his approach, that he had a much better chance of reaching me with a calm “Tim, are you there?” than with a brisk command.

I don’t like being told what to do. I have what is often called “issues with authority.” Though I am willing to humbly and gracefully follow the guidance of someone trying to teach me something or guide me in doing a job, it’s my natural tendency to see us both as equals. I’ll honor hierarchy as much as I need to for practical reasons and no more. If you’re in a position of authority over me, I respect you no more than I do someone in a position under me. I respect you both, until someone earns my disrespect. Once that happens, it’s tough to get back on my good side.

I respect the authority of someone who knows things that I do not. I respect the authority of someone in a leadership position who is ostensibly the boss of me as long as they treat me with respect and make decisions that serve our shared goals.

Years ago, my commander in the Army told me pointblank that I had to respect him because of the bars on his collar. I told him that wasn’t going to happen, that the respect I showed him would be entirely based on the actions of the man inside the uniform.

My First Sergeant, who liked and respected me (and wound up running interference between me and the commander), once said, “Byrd, you’re a damn good soldier except for one thing. When you’re given an order, you think about it, which you’re not supposed to do. And even worse, if you don’t like the order, you ignore it.”

“You’re not the boss of me” could go on my coat of arms as a personal motto. I even used a variation on a bumper sticker I had custom-made to put on my truck when G.W. Bush was [allegedly] president: “You’re not the president of me.”

All of this comes from an essential, primal, animal place in me. I’m mostly self-guided, and I don’t have much will to power. It’s not that I want to be Alpha, it’s that I refuse to be Beta. Sometimes, in gracelessly-run organizations, this can lead to me being Omega, and even banished from the pack.

This is why I tend to run alone.

Α

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter B. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

Celebrate All Hallow’s Read! Get “Dead Folks” for FREE!

Dead Folks

Back in 2010, Neil Gaiman, who doesn’t really need me to introduce him, but whose past glory includes the work-of-dark-genius Sandman for DC Comics, had a great idea. As he recounted on his blog, “I was on a flight home last night, and I thought, You know, there aren’t enough traditions that involve giving books…And then I thought, Hallowe’en’s next weekend…”

From that inspiration grew a wonderful new tradition Neil called “All Hallow’s Read.” As explained on its official website, the idea is simple: “All Hallow’s Read is a Hallowe’en tradition. It’s simply that in the week of Hallowe’en, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book.” As a lifelong reader, and writer, of tales dark and fantastical (such as my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, now in a marvelous new expanded edition fully illustrated by ace comic book creator Gary Chaloner), I embraced this tradition immediately. In previous years, I gifted classics from folks like the brilliant Fritz Leiber, my late, great friend Karl Edward Wagner, and George R.R. Martin (who also doesn’t need much introduction these days, but whose short story “Sandkings” is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read). Last year, I treated my girlfriend in Brazil to a video of me reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Foghorn,” the story that made me decide to be a writer.

This year, I realized I was in the position to share the tradition with even more people. Now through Halloween, I am offering my semi-spooky tale “Dead Folks” as a free download on Amazon. The story is in Kindle format, but a Kindle is not required to read it; free Kindle reading apps for gadgets ranging from smartphones and tablets to PCs and Macs can be downloaded here.

This story is near and dear to my heart, as it was my first professional fiction sale years ago. In it, a small Appalachian town is mysteriously inundated with pesky corpses from various historical eras and a young man finds he must make some hard choices. One reviewer wrote, “‘Dead Folks’ ultimately reveals itself to be a clever genre admixture that is nodding toward Mark Twain, perhaps the most American of writers. Byrd puts it all at the service of a winning narrator, a well-delineated supporting cast of characters, and a transcendent love story. If Stephen King were given to whimsy, he might have produced ‘Dead Folks.'”

I hope you’ll accept my gift of this bit of weirdness in the spirit of the holiday, and that you enjoy it. Please spread the word, the more the merrier. If you like it, please consider leaving a short review of it on Amazon, as that sort of thing raises a story’s profile in searches and is incredibly helpful to starving authors like me. I also really enjoy reading what people think. And don’t forget to give someone else a story or a book, and tell everyone you know about All Hallow’s Read. Neil is absolutely right, we need more traditions based on gifting tales. What better time than Halloween, the season of scampering nightmare and sultry mystery?

GET “DEAD FOLKS” HERE

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!