Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dance of the Rattlesnake: A True Story

It was Memorial Day, I think. Definitely somewhere toward the end of summer because I distinctly remembering the sound of cicadas: miles of forest in all directions, God knows how many of those little buggers in each tree. Individually, the tymbals on their bellies make a rapid buzzing sound. The series of staccato bursts rise in pitch and volume before going back down through the spectrum like a wave. When you’ve got hundreds of thousands of these little bugs all cycling through their song, it almost creates a single sound. Sounding strange and alien, it’s all too easy to imagine some primordial creature lumbering just over the next ridge and bellowing out its call. But I digress.

I think it was Memorial Day because we’d come to tend a graveyard. This was one of those old, family cemeteries nestled way back in the hollows. Remembered only by people who had kin buried there, trips usually involved a pickup rattling and bouncing over dirt roads so rutted that even at a snail’s pace you still ran the risk of being tossed from the bed. This particular graveyard was bordered by rusted barbed wire stretched between wooden posts, most of which were askew. Three strands, one gate. Inside the fence, the grass had grown so tall that the rounded tips of the weathered markers looked like lion ears poking up from a savanna. Outside the fence, it was just as bad, the only real path being where the grass had been parted, barbershop quartet style" a thin strip of trampled earth surrounded by walls of bent grass.

We’d come here to make it presentable again and my uncles were armed with scythes, sickles, and the like. My mom made me stay very close to her side because rattlesnakes were a real danger in these type of conditions and I clutched a forked stick in my little fist in case I stumbled across one.

At some point, my Uncle Bobby did. It was coiled in the graveyard, its tail shaking furiously as its head reared back and exposed those two, curved fangs. As I watched, Bobby lopped off its head with a machete. I don’t really remember any blood. The image which stuck with me most was this headless body, twisting and turning on the ground as if possessed. My uncle took the forked stick from me and slid one of the prongs under the snake’s belly. Holding it at arms length, he walked to the edge of the cemetery with my close by his side and tossed the carcass as if he were throwing an underhand pitch.

He went back to work but I stayed behind, watching through the dappled sunlight as this headless body thrashed on strands of barbed wire.

Bad day for the snake. Good day for me.

True story.

Monday, February 13, 2012


This evening a character of mine dropped by Six Demon Bag for a little chat. Please welcome to this page Bosley Coughlin, protagonist from my soon-to-be-released Permuted Press novel The 7 Habits of Highly Infective People

Hi, Bosley. Welcome back to my head. We’ll start off with the usual Six Demon Bag opening question, which you can interpret and answer however you please: if you were in possession of a Six Demon Bag, what would yours contain?

Now that’s a good question, man. What the hell is in this bag? Hmmmm, let me see. Rollin’ papers…. Dime bag… red crayon, half a tab of blotter, some Vitamin C drops, a pen-style mini-microscope. Library card. One coupon good for a free order of fries at Meat World, expired. Some fuzzy little crunchy thing that may have once been a Cheeto, and a single Tarot card: The Queen of Cups.

Now Bosley, you and I know each other pretty damn well but some of my readers might not be that familiar with you. What can you tell my readers about the man behind the myth?

What’s there to tell? Like Zaphod, I’m just this guy, ya know? I like gettin’ a little mellow in the evenings, if ya get my drift. And mornings. Afternoons, too. I flushed my system out just long enough to land a cushy little job doing data conversion for the post office. I keep to myself, for the most part. Me, my books, and my telescope. I guess the biggest thing that makes me who I am though is that I’m dimensionally unstable. I was fuckin’ around with some mystical-type shit while riding out a killer acid buzz, see. And that’s when I accidentally opened the Eye of Aeons. Now I just kind of drift like metaphysical pollen through the dimensions. Every now and then, I’ll get all tangled up in someone else’s consciousness and be able to see the world through their eyes for a while.

What’s the hardest thing about being dimensionally unstable?

Definitely lack of control, dude. I mean, I’m a naturally curious person, ya know? Things catch my eye and I want to investigate. To take a closer look. But if I ain’t in my own body, man, there’s nothin’ I can do. Shit, I can’t even cast a sideways glance unless my host does. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a conscious puppet? Imagine if Pinnochio turned into a real boy, but Geppetto never cut the fuckin’ strings. He just wants to go outside and run and play; but that old cat’s havin’ none of it. Dance, little puppet, dance.

Here’s the next in our series of Six Demon standard questions: there’s a train rocketing through the night with nearly a hundred people looking out the windows. The only person actually sitting in a seat is a small child who gazes unwaveringly at the floor. What is going on with these people?

Okay, the little girl? She knows that outside of that train is nothin’ but a vast expanse of nothingness, man. No stars. Nor horizon, no up or down. It’s like someone turned out all the lights in the corridors of infinity. And she can feel that shit squeezing in on the little coffin she’s zippin’ along in. Not quite enough to make the ceiling buckle and sides crunch. Not enough to shatter the windows. But she can still feel that pressure bearin’ down, threatening to squeeze the air from her lungs like the coils of a python. The other folks on the train have the option of helping her, ya know? They could sing soft songs to her, pet her hair, and tell her every little thing is gonna be all right. But instead, one by one they’ve turned away and shown her their backs. If you stand at the very end of the car and tilt your head just so, you can even see the progression of these sorry bastards’ soul. The sin of inhospitality personified by their corporeal flesh. Their reflections in the glass, staring back at the people they’d once been. And then nothing but darkness, man. That’s what’s goin’ down on that train.

If I were to look on your bookshelf, what books would I find there?

Let’s see, there would be Theories for Everything: An Illustrated History of Science. A bunch of shit by Jack Kerouac. The Encyclopedia of Symbolism. Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law. I dig on some Lovecraft too, man. Oh and there’s what looks like a book, but when you open it up there’s actually a planisphere and some star charts inside.

If I could bridge the gap between present and future and transport a gift from you to Ocean, what would it be and why?

It’d be a big fuckin’ box, man. Some automatic weapons inside and plenty of ammo. She’s smart. She’d figure out how to use it. A bunch of rugged clothes for all seasons. Good pair of combat boots. Topographical maps of the area. Basically anything I could think of that would make her life a little bit easier.

This isn’t really the first time we’ve talked, but is there anything you’ve never told me that you’d like to get off your chest?

Damn right there is. You’re an asshole, man. I couldn’t give a flyin’ fuck what you choose to do to me, dig? Send me back in time and let the Mayans play soccer with me head. Let the Romans tack me to a giant T. Shit, send the most ravenous organ fiend you can find from that horde of undead fucks and let ‘em tear into me like a pig rootin’ up a truffle. But leave Ocean alone, man. I mean, come on. She’s just a little girl, ya know? Yet you plop her right down in the middle of that shit hole and continually mess with her world? Fuck you, man … fuck … you. Maybe I was goin’ after the wrong damn person all along. Maybe I shoulda set my sights on you.

Well, Bosley, thanks for stopping in. I wish we could talk longer, but I have some other imaginary people demanding my attention. So it’s up to you to wrap this interview up. Anything at all you want to talk about or promote is fair game; the forum is yours. Ready … GO!

If people are sleeping’ you’ve gotta be an alarm clock. You need to make a stand when it’d be so much easier and more convenient to simply look away. You’ve gotta be willin’ to love somebody you’ve never met so damn much that their tears are your tears. And don’t go dismissing all this as a bunch of hippie bullshit, either. Fuck hippies, man. Sometimes peace and love just don’t cut it. Fuckin’ sit-ins don’t mean shit to Fate. A body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest dies. Plain and simple. Don’t let yourself die, people. Not without a fight. Learn the seven fuckin’ symptoms and for God’s sake don’t let humanity have been in vain. Show ‘em what you’ve got….

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Corruption and Balance

Recently, a short story I wrote was accepted into an anthology which will be published by Damnation Books in March. Entitled Corrupts Absolutely? and edited by Lincoln Crisler , the concept was just too awesome to pass up. Based on the famous quote from Lord Acton concerning absolute power corrupting absolutely, the stories in this book explore what would happen if every day people found themselves in possession of superhuman abilities. The characters in these stories aren’t necessarily altruistic souls inspired by an unswerving belief in write and wrong; these characters are haunted and damaged, beautiful losers who struggle with the same dilemmas many of us do in our daily lives. It was meant to show a more realistic view, in my opinion, of metahumans and exactly what they might do with their powers.

It was also the perfect avenue for an idea that had been rolling around in my head since six months or so prior to the call for submissions. Life in comics is usually pretty balanced with things coming in pairs: you have your hero and their secret identity, a power offset by a weakness… and, of course, you have your supervillains. In the real world, there’s really no such thing as a supervillain. People rob gas stations, they rape and mug, and some really do see crime as a viable way to make a living. Yet even with organized crime, the mastermind at the top of the food chain is just some guy trying to turn a buck. He doesn’t give a damn about world domination and is content with the power associated with his position.

This is one of the themes I explored in my short story, Mental Man. In a lot of ways, media dictates how people live their lives. A celebrity wears a dress from a previously unheard of designer and suddenly that line is all the rage; advertisements tell us what’s "cool", what we can’t possibly live without, and the public responds accordingly. Book, film, and restaurant reviews influence what people read, watch, and even eat. In light of this, I thought, someone would superhuman powers might look for guidance in the only place they really could: comic books. And comic books dictate the world follows Newton’s third law of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every superhero, there is a supervillain.

So what exactly would happen if that variable were removed? If there was no yin to the hero’s yang, so to speak. In our daily lives, many of us already feel as though our talents are being wasted or that we’re not living up to our full potential. To someone with metahuman powers, solving common crimes would be like completing a search-a-word puzzle in Highlights for Children when what was really craved was the New York Time’s crossword puzzle.

Corrupts Absolutely? will be available in March and I, for one, cannot wait. With contributing authors consisting of Joe McKinney, Cat Rambo, Weston Ochse, and Tim Marquitz (among others), I am in really good company with this book and am excited to see what dark avenues these other writers take their stories down.

Watch for this one, people. You won’t be disappointed.