In Excelsis Gloria Mundane

What follows is complete horrifying vulgar idiocy brainvomit I just felt like writing because I think words are funny, and using way too goddamn many of 'em is even funnier. Your mileage may vary, but rest assured that, terrible as it is, there are much worse things being published exclusively to Kindles.


    Meanwhile, as we sit complacent and allow it to happen, somewhere two men (or perhaps they are handpuppets -- I have a condition which sometimes makes me confused) calling themselves "Shitskull" and "Prevert"  (though these are assuredly not their names because what monstrous parents would name a child such things?  It makes me angry to even think of such a thing happening!  And damn you for even bringing it up!) are reviewing movies that may not even exist.  We cannot stop it, because it's probably not even happening.  I tell a lot of fucking lies.  And everybody hates me for it.  Or do they?

    "A hilarious cavalcade of dung!" cries Shitskull as he introduces the first film, Adolph Hitler: Bicycle Champion.  "This film entertained me more than watching a fat baby try to lick his way through a plexiglas box to get to stack of doughnuts!  Comparing Hitler -- who also only had one testicle -- to Lance Armstrong based on this one thing they have in common (besides, of course, a shared genocidal hatred of gypsies) -- is sheer dimwit genius!  I hope the writer will compose a sequel sometime when he's not too busy building little cities out of his own poo-poo and then stomping on them while roaring that he‘s Godzilla!  Which is something I bet he does, I just get that impression."

    "I disagree!" cried Prevert, waving his cutlass.  "This film is nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell Lego sets of its locations, such as the ice-skating rink, the abortion clinic, the sewage treatment plant, the registrar's office, and Wyoming!  I haven't seen such an atrocity since Daniel Day Lewis was fleeing town because he thought he got Linda Ronstadt pregnant and accidentally shoved all his clothes up Rosie O'Donal's ass because he thought it was his suitcase!  I thought this film would never end!  It seemed longer than Nancy Pfotenhauer's grotesque horror wrist-neck!  By the end, I was actually rooting against Hitler, which is something I thought I would never do!"

    In response, Shitskull thundered, "By God I hate you, there, bouncing in your chair in your excitement of being an idiot!   This is the most wonderful movie that is still a piece of shit since last Tuesday's Billy Finds a Lollipop And Then Murders The Guy With The Hot-Dog Cart, which I STILL maintain is a work of art and not 'a wading pool filled with old-man pee in which Stanley Kubrick could bob for potatoes,' which no one even knows what that MEANS yet we have to suppose it's meant as a negative review... although coming from you we can't be sure, as you are a twisted, perverted homunculus who delights in the filthy things of this world.”

    “You are so stupid, I feel sorry for your pants,” snipped Prevert cattily, “for it’s only a matter of time before you perform some wretched act in them.”

    “Which would no doubt set you off into a clapping fit since defiling pants is your jam, dawg!”

    “Obviously, you are the product of sodomy among clowns.”

    “And you, sir, are the product of digestion.  I wish I could tear out my liver and shake it in your face like a pom-pom as I cheered for your demise by termites.”

    “And you should never have been born.  God damn your mother and the vagabond spastic who was fool enough to mount her.  But I’ll tell you this much, I will  -- if you did shake your liver in my face, it would be much more entertaining than your stupid Hitler-bicycle movie which you love and want to marry.”  At this point Prevert made kissy faces to illustrate Shitskull’s enamoration for this movie that’s not even real.

    “Well, your shabby shitdom aside, it’s time for our next film, Indiana Garden-Rake Massacre, staring Tatum O’Neil, who I’ve never been able to take seriously because the hell kind of name is ‘Tatum’?  It sounds like a command I don’t know how to carry out!  Anyway, I would rather stare into the diseased cunt of Wilford Brimley for ninety-three minutes than watch this exercise in tedium that appears to have been financed with quarters the producer got for showing strangers his tee-tee.  I‘d rather watch wombats fuck for two hours.  Even if I weren‘t a guy who likes watching wombats fuck, I mean.”

    “For once, I agree with you: this is a horrible film!  It’s like watching a murdered child rot, but without the glee.  John Travolta is absolutely terrible in it, although I did enjoy seeing him get his penis stuck in that toaster, which is easily the highlight of the film.”

    “Yes!  It’s the only part I liked, watching him shrieking and flailing about, yelling ‘Oh, my penis!’  In fact, the movie should have been titled Oh, My Penis! because as far as I’m concerned you can cram the rest of this film up director Nathan Borigmi’s urethra and then set it on fire!  I would like to murder him and his entire family with an axe and then masturbate over their corpses.”

    “I’d love to rent a hot air balloon and ride it into the stratosphere and then shit over the side into the bassinet of his sleeping child, that’s how much I hate him for making this movie!”

    “I want to chop off his hands so he can never hold a camera again, then I would go down the street clapping with the severed hands over my head while I danced a jig in the shower of blood!  I‘m pounding down steroids to try to develop enough strength to fling him into the heart of the sun so we can be shed of him!”

    “When I saw this film I renounced Christ for fear that I might have to spend eternity in Heaven with Nathan Borigmi!  Who, if I may say, is a wall-eyed fudpuck of the first magnitude, and probably an alcoholic who treats his wife abominably.  It’s ironic that he made a film about a rake massacre because that’s just what I wanted to do with him as I watched it -- murder him with a rake!”  Clenching his teeth, Prevert furiously hacked at the air with an invisible rake.  It was disturbing to watch.

    “Oh, how I wish I could live in outer space so I didn’t have to share an atmosphere with him!”  Shitskull shook his fists and howled as hatred took him to a place beyond articulateness.

    “Would that I could burn this world to a cinder and eradicate all life to ensure that no alien civilization would have a chance of knowing such a movie had ever happened!”

    “I’m totally sneaking into his house and farting on his toothbrush, I am.”

    “I despise the entire eastern seaboard he was born in, and plan to travel up and down it, slapping  greasy dick-prints onto the cars of everyone who lives there, shrieking like a displeased monkey all the while.”

    “I really dislike him.”
    “As do I.”

    “Anyway, our next film is a sci-fi epic, Silly String Theory, set in an alternate universe where Pomeranians in black leather uniforms are the ruling race.  They oppress the hapless humans, who find it hard to fight back because their oppressors are so cute.  This movie was trite and derivative and I found myself wishing that the film was someone smaller and weaker than me so I could kick it in the stomach and taunt it with threats of further and more depraved violence as it lay writhing in the gutter.”

    “How can you say that?”  Prevert cried, bouncing in his chair.  “I thought this was a WONDERFUL film!  I became so excited whenever a leather-clad Pomeranian appeared on the screen that I had to be restrained and sedated with seconal enemas!  My delight was such that I fired off many squirts of incontinent  happiness-pee.  This was the greatest film since that all-spastic-cast Western that Walt Disney made when he went insane from decades of injecting bourbon into his vans deferens!  I was literally beside myself before the end of this movie, meaning that I was so full of glee that my body had to divide itself into twins like a planarian to contain all my happiness!  If you didn’t like this movie, why, you should be butchered with a series of gardening tools.  Mostly a hoe, like your mother, the unsavory sow.”

    “You liked this shitfeast?  Seriously?  You should murder yourself by wrenching off one of your toadlike little legs and stabbing yourself with the splintered end of the bone!” roared Shitskull.  “I hated this movie so much that I, too, split into twins just to contain all of my hate!  And both of us were flinging our own feces at the screen as we screamed oaths until our lips were foamed with blood from our torn vocal chords!   I will fight you, by God!  I will fight you in the street if you say you liked this film!”

    “I was charmed, delighted, enchanted, and overwhelmed with wonder!”

    “You are a nothing!  I wish I could go back in time to the scene of your birth and shit in your crib until my bones came out!”

    “Delighted, I say!  I watched the whole film like this.”  Prevert clasped his hands under his chin and beamed, fluttering his eyelashes.

    Shitskull pounded on his own knees and fidgeted in anger.  “I could just set you on fire right now.  Oh.  Oh, how I hate you.  Oh.  You pitiful onion of a man.  I would rape you but I couldn’t possibly get an erection while you live.”

    “I can’t wait until it comes out on DVD so I can put it on repeat, staple myself to the couch, and watch it for the remainder of my lifespan, which I hope is incredibly long.”

    “I curse the day your mother’s uterus hawked you forth like a cunt-loogie.  That’s what you were, instead of a baby.  You were not born, you were sharted.”

    “I want to give this movie a great big hug and a kiss and a reacharound!”

    “Well, I want to cram a print of it up my ass so that I can shit it all over a picture of you being eaten by possums!  THAT you can hug!  Hug THAT!”

    “Perhaps I will!”

    “You upset me so much.  I don’t know how I can bear it.”

    “Maybe you won’t.   Perhaps you will flop around in convulsions of unable-to-bear-it-ness until your death is a blessing to us all.  Then maybe we can relax our sphincters without fearing you’ll crawl up in there and make some kind of nest, you foul little caricature of a being.  In any case, our next film stars Rob Schneider and Chuck Norris, and it’s a romantic comedy called Help! I’m a Stupid Asshole!  Because it’s a romantic comedy, Jennifer Anniston is in it.  Jennifer Anniston is every romantic comedy's default setting. And you finally get to see her butt, which is almost as pretty as her face!  I loved this movie so much I had to change my pants three times!”

    “I loved this movie, too!  I had to take out my car keys and use them to gouge my flesh so I wouldn’t become so happy that I would die!”

    “I liked Jennifer Anniston and I liked her butt!”

    “Her butt has personality!  It looks like an aerial view of two bald mongoloids sharing an Oreo, and that’s something I never realized I wanted to see until I saw it!”

    “Even Chuck Norris is good in this movie, because he spends the whole film drinking gutter water and vomiting.  It’s finally a role he can manage.  I’m glad they put him in the film just so I could watch him heave until his diaphragm folded in half.  I also liked the part where the children dropped cinderblocks on his hands over and over again for thirty minutes.”

    “I could have watched an hour of that!  His screaming made me laugh like a little girl who’s seen a boy’s tinkle-thang.   I hope he gets a posthumous Oscar.”

    “He’s not dead.”

    “I know, but Oscar time’s still a way off.  I’m wishing, here!”

    “I also clapped when his pants fell down and you could see that he has a miserable little penis that looks almost exactly like a circus peanut.  And I liked the way he screamed like a provoked inebriate when those ladies laughed and threw nickels at it.”

    “I also like Rob Schneider’s acting.  He reacts to everything  like it’s just hurt him and he’s mad at it.  Doesn’t matter if Jennifer Anniston’s kissing him or a spaniel’s peeing in his face, there’s Rob, cringing away like my maiden aunt being confronted with a ziploc full of pubic hair!”

    “His acting is genius.  He reminds me of a moth flinging itself against a window, persistent and idiotic, trying to break through and convey something.  And then the end credits roll and you realize that there is no moth.  There’s not even a window.”


    “I know, right?  My point exactly!  And he always seems so happy with his pathetic performances, with the misplaced pride of a lunatic gloating over a bucket of dung.   You don’t watch his performances so much as just sit there and let them wash over you like a pestilential rain.  We are the children, and he’s the schoolyard creep handing out the peyote-powder Pixie Stix.  He’s like a gun that shoots stupid, aimed at the audience.”

    “My favorite movie of his has gone overlooked.  Death To The Lollipop Guild.  Remember the one where he played a guy named Bathtowel Brown, who collected walrus poop?  And - outside of the Walrus Doodoo Museum in Trenton, New Jersey -- he had the finest single collection of walrus waste in the country?  His strange little acting quirks really made that film.  Like the bit where whenever he was talking to anyone in the street, he’d tuck his penis into one of their front pockets?  And when they asked him why, he’d say things like ‘it’s cold out here,’ or ‘We’re on the street so I don’t want people to see my penis.’  And by the end of the movie, everyone was telling each other, ‘I wish he’d never even grown that penis. God damn stem cell research, anyway.’  That had a poignancy that we had no right to expect from a film about walrus droppings.  And we have Rob Schneider to thank for it!  It‘s his Slingblade II: Electric Boogaloo, I think.”

    “Wasn’t that the film where he had the ponytail?  That’s a good look for him.  It pulled his face back a bit, made it look like a sack of trash someone’s carrying to the curb.  Bewildered, unpleasantly-damp trash, at that.”

    “Yep!  It was almost as funny as Kathy Griffin isn’t!” 

    “Finally, something we can agree on!”

    “Yes.  It’s a magical day.  I’d still love to sack you up and fling you into a pond like a puppy with a potato-shaped head, but, at least we’ll always have this magical moment.”

    “Yes.  I‘ll treasure it forever, hopefully after your legendary belt-sander accident that enables them to bury you in a cigar box like some unloved hamster.”

    Then they both farted until they ascended into Heaven, and Jesus turned in his two-week’s notice.


Figplucker's 21st Century Blues: Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)

So, the end of the year (+ hopefully, the world!) and this is the last of 2012's monthly blues tracks...

Shit's been busy here lately, so this one's another band track from the Beaker demos, featuring me on bass + vox, Matt McK on drums (+ production), and Donny Guitar on, umm... guitar, trying to do justice to the great Johnny Cash's ultra-classic Folsom Prison Blues.

Click the pic or the songtitle to hear it (right-click to download):

As always, leave a comment + let me know what you think...


Figplucker's 21st Century Blues: If You Want Me to Love You (Tampa Red)

Well, I would say 'better late than never,' but you'll have to judge for yourselves after you listen...

Anyway, this - the penultimate free blues of the year - is a tasty little gem from the late great Tampa Red, "If You Want Me to Love You."

Click the pic or the songtitle to give it a listen...

Hope you enjoy!



 Okay, here 'tiz.  I try to do this every Halloween, just to make myself write if for no other reason.  I'd planned on doing another, but laziness had its way with me so that didn't happen.  If I finish it later I'll give it to ya, Halloween or otherwise.

Meanwhile, we have Scribblebones.  A friend of mine (this here fella) heard the title and suggested that my next story be titled "Fluffy Bunny Goes On A Happy-Time Picnic" or something along those lines.  Yeah, it's kind of a cutesy title.  Promise ya it ain't a cute story, though!  I don't always succeed, but I always write horror with intent to harm... I want to fuck up your sleep.   This one's a bit slow to be full-bore-all-out, but plays in the dark and if I did it right it'll mess with you some by the end of it.  The other one I was working on was going to be more flat-out gory/horrific/sick, but this one's a bit more psychological. 

Anyway, I hope it's good.  If it's not, it's nobody's fault but mine.  A friend on Twitter, Bud Smith, generously offered to proof/edit it for me, which is something I didn't take lightly because the guy's a pro, I admire his stuff a lot and I urge you to check it out... but, I procrastinated too long and wanted to get it up by Halloween, so here it is, raw and 11th hour.  Could probably stand to have some of the chrome stripped off, but, eh, I think maybe it'll still work.

If you like it, there's more on this blog.  Here's a little table o' contents of our horror fiction output:

 My stuff:
Long Tall Sally 
Damp Basements of Heaven 
Up The Stairs Where The Windows are Painted Black 

And a great, scary story from multi-talented blog-brother KickerOfElves , who I'm hoping will do more soon:
Men With Knives

 And if you just want more creepiness and would-be-writer babble in general, I did a post recounting nightmares I've had, some of which got turned into stories (or will be someday, slack permitting).  That should be good for Halloween...

 Anyway, on to the furshlugginer story already...



    The rain was so silvery in the sunlight that Tom expected it to jingle when it hit the ground.  It even raised a silvery smell as it steamed off the hot sidewalks, a heavy tang like old tarnish.  Inappropriate tinsel for a solemn occasion.

    Tom had never been to a funeral where it hadn't rained.   Consistently, it was one of the patterns the universe had laid out for his family, always being buried in the rain.

    He didn't remember a lot about his grandfather other than that the old man had always called him "Tomcat" (Tom was forbidden to tell him how much he hated that), but he remembered the rain during his funeral, and so did most of the rest of the town; it had come down so hard that there'd been flooded farms in the far reaches of the county, bad enough to bring a couple more funerals in Granddaddy's wake.  It had cheated him of a graveside service and threatened to float his casket back out of the ground.

    Twenty-some years later, all Grandmama Bess got was this light shower, not enough to stop the graveside service but enough to inspire the preacher - who'd apparently rather have been a stand-up comic - to spend most of it ad-libbing silly remarks about the weather.  The jokes annoyed Tom and, even more than the weak turnout, seemed to highlight the fact that nobody really cared about the passing of a woman who had, for any practical purpose, been dead at least ten years now.  Thanks to Alzheimer's  -- that thief and murderer and zombie-making voodoo witch doctor -- this funeral was a formality.   It was a joke and the rain was, too, a noncommittal devil-beats-his-wife-and-marries-his-daughter shower with the sun shining, a mocking rain-without-the-decency-of-gloom.  So long, Grandmama Bess's body!  Here's some spit from a universe that fulfills its obligations even if it stiffs you when it comes to the good stuff.

    She'd never gotten what she deserved, anyway, so this pfft of a sendoff was no surprise.  There weren't but a half-dozen people here and out of all of them he was the only one who didn't look like he'd be back for his own funeral in a week or so.   Most of grandmama's friends had already died or forgotten her, he supposed, or maybe they just didn't see the point in making the effort.  He'd quit making the drive to come visit her when she'd forgotten who he was (and didn't seem very interested in meeting this new fellow), and he didn't believe in any afterlife she could look down from and appreciate his respects.  So, it was curiosity about seeing the old town again as much as a vague sense of duty that brought him back.

    The preacher -- too young, with a nervous-eater build, an Adam's apple that bobbed like jerking off under a blanket, and an annoying habit of smacking his lips before starting a new paragraph -- finished up his shabby routine without a rimshot and Tom stalked off without shaking the guy's hand or thanking him.  The irreverent reverend tagged along after him for a few yards, maybe wanting to console him, or maybe wanting to be consoled that "looks-like-a-rain-out-in-the-last-inning" knee-slappers were a great way to put the fun in funeral, but Tom power-walked to his car fast enough to discourage him. 

    He drove around the town a while, trying to find anything familiar, but there wasn't much left.  Maybe that's how Grandmama Bess's Alzheimer's had felt, that I-know-I-spent-a-lot-of-time-here-but-damn-if-I-can-recognize-much-of-it confusion.  The candy store he used to walk to to buy comics was gone entirely and an ugly brick law office was built on the spot.  Mr. Hamilton's -- a probably-dead-by-now friendly guy with a pen full of dogs Tom had liked -- had been remodeled and added-onto so much that there was nothing familiar about it anymore.   The dogpen was long gone, replaced by an above-ground pool.  Leaving town he looked for the lake where Granddaddy'd tried to take him fishing once (until he lost patience because "Tomcat" didn't instantly fall in love with it), but even that wasn't where he thought it was.  You can't just lose a whole lake, can you?  Maybe, in a town like this.

    He was feeling his grandmother's loss more now than he'd thought he would.  The funeral had made ten years or so of loss seem immediate, and she was worth mourning.  She'd always been especially kind to him, often more so than his parents. 

    Especially when it came to the whole Scribblebones thing.

    From a period between around age four and eight, Tom had been obsessed with an imaginary friend named Scribblebones.  He couldn't remember much about Scribblebones now, but at the time it had been so all-consuming that it scared his parents, and there'd been talk of putting him in therapy  when he wouldn't give up and admit that Scribblebones didn't exist.  It seemed silly now, but at the time, Scribblebones had seemed very real to him.  Christians all agree to believe in Jesus so their beliefs are supposed to be respected, Tom thought, but being the only Scribblebones disciple stacked the statistics against him and meant he was "crazy."

    His friend had been vague, a jagged skeleton-like shape (you could still see Tom's drawings of him in the backgrounds of childhood photos), and he'd had weird dreams and they'd played strange games.  Scribblebones had even taught him a song; he couldn't remember any of it but the lines "he's got skinny where he should have fat, makes his bones go this way and that way and that" -- something-something-something. 

    He'd been an imaginative kid, he supposed, although he didn't feel like an especially imaginative adult.  Boring, really.  He managed an industrial laundry and hated to admit that office work was probably a good fit for him.  Nothing as freaktacular as Scribblebones ever again entered his life.  Now the best he could do was make a helluva spreadsheet.  His parents were even more boring, and the abberative imagination had spooked them.

    Grandmama Bess had tirelessly argued that Tom was just creative, it was normal, and there was no need to stigmatize him by sticking a "therapy" tag on him.  He'd always be grateful for that, not making the weirdness official by putting it on record.  For a stretch Grandmama Bess had been the only one on his (and Scribblebones's) side, against parents who were suddenly the enemy.

    Thinking about it, he was happy he'd shown up for the funeral, even if it didn't mean anything to anyone.  His parents hadn't made the trip because they'd retired to France, putting an ocean between them and their old life.  His mother had given up on her mother a long time ago; it was too painful for her to watch the decline.  It seemed cold, but Tom couldn't blame her much.

    His old neighborhood was only a twenty-minute drive so he decided to take it, although he knew it probably wouldn't look any more familiar than Grandmama's town had.  At least maybe there'd be a tree or two he'd climbed.

    As he turned down his street he decided the neighborhood had gone upscale.  Time should have run it down, but everything was nice-looking, well-tended.  And mostly unfamiliar.  Houses that had been big enough for the 80's had been expanded and remodeled.  Trees he remembered were gone, and new trees had sprung up where none had been before.  A vacant lot where he and his friends had played (mostly kickball -- it was a kickball neighborhood) had turned into a forest, which was now being cut down to finally put a house up.  The few familiar things he could find (including one neighbor's ugly, massive sundial) looked out of place now, stolen goods.

    He was out of place, too, but decided to park the car and take a walk.  It'd be a long drive back to Birmingham and he might never make it here again, now that all ties to the place were untied.  He pulled over in front of the forested area, got out, and started walking back toward his house.   The road was dry here and the clouds were gone, so the universe was officially out of the funeral business for a while. 

    Nostalgia wouldn't come to him.  The road twisted the same, but it was going through a different neighborhood.   This was hardly worthwhile.

    At least his house had been kept up nicely, and added onto.  A young woman was working in a flower garden to the side of the house while a toddler pedaled his hot-rod tricycle around a driveway covered in pink, green, yellow and blue chalk drawings.  Tom stopped for a minute to try to figure out what had been added on, and the woman -- barely more than a girl -- looked up and smiled at him.  She was Latina and very pretty even though slobbed-out for gardening; she had on a man's faded blue shirt that was too big for her, and her dark curls were tied back in a bandanna, pirate style.  "Hi.  Nice day, isn't it?" she said.

    "Looks like it'll turn into one now that the rain's gone," he said, smiling back.

    A little frown only made her cuter.  "Rain?  We didn't get any rain here."  She stood up and stretched, now that this was turning into a conversation.

    "Oh.  It was raining where I was earlier.  My grandmother's funeral."

    "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, face going sad but still very pretty.  She looked sincere, and Tom decided he liked her; she seemed like a genuinely nice person.  It'd still give his uptighty-whitey parents fits, though, knowing Hispanics were living in their house now.  But the hell with his parents.

    "It's okay, she was very old, and had Alzheimer's for years."

    "Ah.  My grandfather was just diagnosed with that.  It's such a sad disease."

    "It is," Tom nodded.  "They have better treatments now, so hopefully your grandfather won't be hit as hard."

    "It's in the early stages.  He seems okay now, but..." she made a who-knows face and shrugged.  "It's so not fair.  He just retired last year, and now he has a grandson.  I hope he's around for a while, because Fernando is a real Grandpa's boy."

    The kid, presumably Fernando, had stopped pedaling and was staring at Tom.  Tom smiled and waved.  Fernando waved back.  He didn't smile, but the mother did, like waving back was the most adorable thing ever.  "Hope so," Tom said, then nodded at the house.  "I love what you've done with the house.  I used to live here when I was about his age."  He nodded toward Fernando.  "Up until I went to college, actually."

    "In our house? Oh, how neat!" she said, tucking her right hand into her left armpit to pull the gardening glove off, then reached out to shake.  "I'm Conchita Ruiz.  We moved here a year or so before Fernando was born... oh, I guess that was four years or so ago now."

    "Tom Ward," he said, shaking her hand.  It felt fragile and small, and he was scared he'd crush it if he returned her grip too much.  "I barely recognize the place.  Somebody added on to it."  Her eyes were tan and he liked the way they caught the light.

    "Wasn't us," she said, tugging off the other glove and pocketing them both.  "We were just barely able to afford the place.  It's big enough for us, though.  No complaints."

    "It seemed big enough to me, too.  My parents probably would've stayed here but they got a crazy idea and moved to France."
    "France?  Wow."

    "Yeah, wow's what I said.  Came out of the blue and has never made any sense to me, but, that's what they did.  I still haven't made the trip to see them."
    "I'd love to go to France," Conchita sighed.

    "Well, if you do, say hi to them for me, because I don't see myself going anytime soon."  She laughed at that.  "This was a good house to grow up in.  How's Fernando liking it?"

    "Oh, he loves it.  A little too much, maybe.  Thanks to him we're going to have to do some repainting.  We're just waiting for him to grow out of drawing on the walls before we do it, though, because we can't seem to stop him."

    "Ah.  Well, if you scrape the paint off the walls, you'll probably find some of my old artwork, too.  I went through that phase pretty hard."   That's how his Scribblebones thing had started, Tom recalled, crayon scribbles of a skeleton on the wall of his bedroom.  He'd gotten a belt-spanking for that one, which was still one of his earliest memories.  He'd only been spanked the first time, though.  After that, just concern, like it was something he wasn't responsible for, some sickness.

    "Well, Fernando's going at it pretty hard, too.  We give him time-outs, took his crayons away, but whenever our backs are turned for a minute, there he goes.  He says a friend is telling him to do it, but since the friend is imaginary, that's hardly an excuse."

    Tom felt a strange chill and looked over at the driveway, at the chalk drawings.  They looked familiar.  Jagged, linear, round head with big square teeth, skinny limbs that went this way and that... "Imaginary friend, huh?" he said absently, distracted by the chalk figures.

    "Yes, he's picked up quite the little imagination," Conchita said, disdainfully.  "I see you looking at the chalk.  We got him that, hoping it'd curtail the drawing-on-the-walls thing.  The rain'll clean that off."  She sighed.  "Unfortunately it hasn't stopped him from attacking the walls, completely.  We give him paper, too.  You should see all the art we have stuck on our refrigerator."

    Yeah, maybe I should Tom wanted to blurt out, but settled for stepping closer to the driveway to get a better look at the chalking.  There were a few dogs and flowers and trucks mixed in, but the prevailing figure was that jagged, bony thing over and over.  Yes, Tom knew him well.  But how in the hell did Fernando?  He looked at the kid, and the kid gave him a slight smile, friendly but cautious.  He had a Moe-Howard mop of black hair that'd probably look nice when combed, and dark, intelligent eyes.  Tom squatted down near him and pointed to one of the skeletal figures.  "These are nice.  Did you draw them?" he asked.

    Fernando nodded.

    "That's supposed to be his friend," Conchita said.  "His name's Scribabo.  Or something like that."

    Yeah, something like that, Tom thought, feeling a wave of chill.  He couldn't believe this.

    "I'm afraid we speak English and Spanish so Fernando's having a little difficulty sorting them out, getting two words for everything.  We're not sure if he's trying to say something in English or Spanish."

    It's neither, really, Tom wanted to say, but there was no way to do it without freaking Conchita out.

    "Scribabo, huh?" Tom said to Fernando.

    "Scribba-bons!" Fernando said emphatically.

    "Scribblebones?" Tom said.

    Fernando smiled big and nodded.  Finally he'd made himself understood!  He chattered something else that Tom couldn't understand.

    "What was that?  Scribble-bones?" Conchita asked.

    "That's what it sounded like to me," Tom said.

    "I bet that's it!  We thought it looked like a skeleton.  Kind of a skull... and those look like ribs."  She toed a chalk drawing.  "And he's scribbly, for sure."

    "Yep," Tom said, with a feeling of dread.  "More so than the rest of his artwork.  Look at the dog, and the stem on that flower.  Straight, clean lines.  But this bony guy here... the lines go all over the place."  This way and that way and that.  He's got skinny where he should have fat.

    "Yes, it does!" Conchita said, staring at the drawings.  "He's scribbled on purpose!  Scribblebones."  She smiled at Tom.  "You've solved a big mystery for us!"

    Tom forced a smile and tipped an imaginary hat.  "Shucks, ma'am, it's what I do.  Wandering the world, interpreting refrigerator art."  He was trying to keep it light, but this scared him more than anything had ever scared him.  Scribblebones was his imaginary friend.  How did Fernando meet him?  It was impossible.

    Unless, somehow, Scribblebones wasn't imaginary. 

    And that was too disturbing to contemplate.  For a fantasy figure he was great.  For a real one, he was terrifying.

    Conchita laughed and brought her hands together with a clap.  "I can't wait to tell Joe about this!  Hey, would you like to come in, see the house?  I bet you'd like to see it after twenty-some years, huh?"

    "Yes, desperately," he said.  "I was hoping you'd ask.  I didn't want to seem creepy so I wasn't going to bring it up, but, yes, I'd very much like to see it again."

    "Oh, you're not creepy."  She laughed.  "And anyway, my husband's home and he's bigger than you."

    "Well, then," Tom laughed, and Conchita patted his arm so he'd know she was teasing.  She put her hand on Fernando's head and said, "Come inside, Fernando, let's go get some cookies."

    The boy abandoned the tricycle and ran into the house, Conchita and Tom right behind.  The door opened into the kitchen and Tom immediately saw a refrigerator buried in art.  Like the marks on the sidewalk, there was some variation, but mostly it was jagged lightning-bolt skeletons, all over.  Conchita saw him looking and said, "Too much, you think?"  She handed him one of the lemon cookies she’d gotten for her son.

    "One can never have too much refrigerator art," Tom said, staring at the figures, feeling forgotten things from his past waking up and pulling at him, ghosts stirring in locked mental rooms.   These could have been some of his own old drawings.  He recognized some of the same poses, even, Scribblebones handing out black flowers, Scribblebones surrounded by little animals that could be puppies or might be rats.  They looked like neither, really, but Tom remembered them as rats.  Some line from the song, he thought, "His bones were all crooked and all-not-nice, all chewed up by rats and mice," something like that. 

    He could understand his parents' concern a little better now; viewed from an adult perspective, Scribblebones wasn't exactly a nice playmate.

    "Joe?" Conchita called.  "Where are you?  We have company."

    "In here." They stepped into the living room.  A short-but-stocky dark-skinned guy who looked very much like Fernando in twenty years, more pudge, and a better haircut stood up from the couch and shook Tom's hand.  "Hi, Joe Ruiz," he said, then gestured to a chair.

    "Tom Ward," Tom said, not sitting yet.

    "Tom lived in this house as a kid, and I thought he might like to see it again," Conchita said.

    "Sure, sure," Joe said, nodding.  "Used to live here, eh?"  His smile was nice, bookended by deep dimples.  It put even more Fernando into his face.

    "Yep, some twenty years back or so.  You've improved things a lot.  This is really nice."   It was, too, much classier than it had been when Tom grew up in it.  The furniture didn't look expensive, and he could see a few inevitable toddler-in-the-house spots on it and the carpet, but it was still a big improvement in homey-ness.  Maybe the Ruiz's were just better housekeepers or had a better sense of style.  The living room was arranged completely differently from the one Tom had grown up in, but he liked this better.  He decided he'd been raised in a furniture-arrangement mistake.  "You've done great things with this."

    "Well, Cheeta's got an interior design degree and I work for a contractor who remodels houses, so we've done a few things here, there.  Of course, Hurricane Fernando's been hard at work trying to undo them."  He scooped Fernando up and lay him across his knee and did a little bongo-roll on his butt as a fake spanking.  Fernando laughed, in a way that made Tom feel certain he'd never gotten a real one.

    "Tom figured out what Fernando's been saying.  You know, the name of his imaginary friend?" Conchita said.

    "Ol' Screwball or Skeeball or whatever?"  Joe craned his neck back and laughed as Fernando tried to stick his fingers into his mouth.

    "Yeah.  You ready for this?  Scribblebones."

    Joe frowned at the air and grinned.  "Yeah, that's probably it.  It makes sense.  How'd you figure it out?"

    Tom shrugged.  "That's just what it sounded like.  And it fit the pictures."

    "Yeah, the pictures," Joe sighed.  "Man, oh man, the pictures.  I just painted this place and about the time the fumes faded out 'Nando went to work.  You should see that, man, oh man."   He swatted him lightly on the butt again and Fernando grabbed his father's hand and wrestled with it, grinning.

    "He probably shouldn't, because it's awful, but I'm going to show him anyway.  C'mon,"  Conchita said, and Tom followed her through the house.  Tom's old room was their bedroom now, the old guest bedroom was Fernando's room, and his parents' room had become a study with a computer and a worktable piled with catalogs, fabric samples, and other interior-design paraphernalia.  Conchita apologized for the messiness of it, but for a work space it really wasn’t bad.

    Fernando’s crayon frescoes were mostly in his room, but he’d also snuck one -- drawn with a ball-point pen -- onto the wall of his parents’ bedroom.  Scribblebones looked especially spidery in that one, long-limbed, his head oblong and thin.  It looked like a toddler’s portrait of a crippled man wasting with disease.

    The one that bothered Tom the most, though, depicted Scribblebones with a big-toothed grimace (he guessed it was supposed to be a smile, but God it looked grim) holding hands with a smaller skeletal figure.  Conchita pointed at it. “That’s supposed to be Fernando, he says.  See the flowers? On the day he drew that he came in with a bunch of daisies.  Don’t know where he got them because I don’t think anybody around here has them in their yard, and we certainly don’t let him go wandering around.  We keep a pretty tight eye on him.  Not enough to spare the walls, though, I guess.  Anyway, that one kind of, I don’t know, gives me the creeps a little.”

    “I can see as it would,” Tom said.  He felt cold and heavy, looking at it.  His past was shaking the bars of its cage and he wanted it to stop.

    “I still wonder where he got the flowers.  I grow lots of them, but no daisies.”  She gnawed at one of her fingers and frowned at the picture.  “Also, I hate thinking he sees himself that way.”

    “It’s probably just how he draws people,” Tom said.  “Maybe everybody looks like a skeleton.”

    “He doesn’t draw Joe or me that way.  Or himself, usually.”

    “It’s pretty amazing a kid his age draws at all.  Usually they just scribble.”

    “He’s bright,” Conchita said.  “Very bright.  Almost scary.”

    Tom nodded.  He, too, had been a gifted child, and now he was wondering if he’d had an extra teacher.  Something very strange was going on in this house, and he felt like he should tell them about it.  If he had any proof, he would, but without proof they’d just think they’d let some raving lunatic into their house and throw him out or call the cops.  He tried to think of a way to prove things, but he was drawing a blank.  Looking at the picture, he was remembering more things, and he could feel a presence he hadn’t felt since he was very small.  Scribblebones was here.  And remembered him.

    “Fernando has a couple of Halloween books and toys.  I guess that’s where he got the skeleton idea.”

    “Yeah, kids love that stuff.  Especially boys.  Creepy stuff is the coolest.  He’s a little young for it, but, like you said, he’s ahead of the curve.”

    “I suppose so.  I just wish he wasn’t so obsessed with it, drawing it all the time, playing games with somebody we can’t see.”

    “Oh, I did the same thing,” Tom said, wishing he could go into details.  “My parents worried about me a lot, I was so imaginative.”   And now I’m worried that I wasn’t really all that imaginative after all.

    “I suppose it’s normal.  Harmless.”

    Tom nodded.  And maybe it was.   He was a relatively normal adult, and he’d been friends with this Scribblebones thing.  Scribblebones had never harmed him.

    Maybe.  But what about Paul Winstead, though?

    He’d forgotten about Paul Winstead, or maybe blacked him out of his memory, until now.  It seemed like the Paul Winstead thing was what made them want to put him into therapy.

    Tom couldn’t remember all of it, but he’d apparently gotten into a “he is too real!” argument with Paul, who was five or six years older than him, old enough that he’d seemed like a grownup.  Paul was a bully to begin with, and a little kid insistent on an imaginary friend was bait he couldn’t resist, so he’d pushed Tom around, held him down, and fed him grass.  “Why don’t you get Scrambled Eggs to come save you?” Paul had said, slapping him upside the head; Tom remembered how clever Paul had thought he was, renaming Scribblebones like that.  He’d finally let Tom up and Tom spat out grass and yelled “Scribblebones is too real and he’s going to GET you!” and then ran home.

    Two or three weeks later, they’d found Paul in some woods at the back of the neighborhood, beaten to death.  Apparently some maniac had gone over him with a hammer or something, spent some time at it and really did it ugly.  They never figured out who did it, to Tom’s knowledge -- it could have been a lot of people, because Paul was an asshole who made lots of enemies.  Speculation ran to Paul’s mean drunk of a father, but he’d had an alibi so the case went nowhere.  Others thought Paul’s smart mouth might have gotten him in trouble with some high school hoods, but again, there was no proof.

    Tom had claimed it was Scribblebones.  Of course, that was impossible because Scribblebones was imaginary (right?), and it wasn’t Tom having some schizophrenic episode because he was only five or six at the time, incapable of taking on a borderline-teenager like Paul.  The grazing episode had proven what a hopeless theory that was.  But even wanting his imaginary friend to be responsible for such a hideous act had disturbed his parents.

    And now it disturbed Tom, because he wondered if it might be true.  With this evidence that Scribblebones wasn’t just something he’d invented, was anything out of the realm of possibility? 

    He looked at the grim smile in Fernando’s drawing, the empty black eyes staring back at him with a “where ya been? I’ve been waiting” patience in them, even though they weren’t much more than scribble.  He must’ve been making a face, because Conchita said, “It’s kind of impressive art for a three-year old, isn’t it?  I mean, it has an expression.  Like a mood."

    “Yeah... yeah, I was just thinking that.”

    “Maybe he’ll be an artist when he gets older.”

    “Wouldn’t surprise me.  You can tell he’s making up stories, too, telling them with his pictures.  Maybe he’ll work in comic books.”

    “I’ve got a cousin who does that.  Nobody big, just some independent things, but... there’s a precedent.”

    Oh, there’s a precedent all right, Tom thought, wondering again how he could prove it.  “Maybe it runs in the family,” he said, looking over the other drawings in the room.  They weren’t all drawn on the walls; there were bits of paper, and a chalkboard with Scribblebones scrawled over a few layers of other badly-erased Scribblebones.  On one wall was a rusty smear where something had been rubbed out.

    Conchita pointed at it.  “That one really bothered me.  I washed it off.  Fernando drew his friend up there in blood.   He gets bloody noses, so it naturally made good paint, but that looked so horrible...”

    “I can imagine,” Tom said, remembering he’d done something similar.  Standing in this room, he felt watched.

    “I hope he won’t become a graffiti artist.”

    “Oh, he’ll grow out of the drawing on walls thing.  I did.”

    Conchita laughed.  “Sounds like this house has been the site of a lot of childhood vandalism.”

    “Second generation now,” Tom said, wondering if the family who’d lived here before the Ruiz’s had had a kid with a Scribblebones friend.  “It’s all art!”

    “Yeah, try telling Joe that.  He got so mad when he saw that wall.  He yelled, Fernando cried, Joe felt bad and then had to make Fernando laugh.  So, he’s probably confused about whether he did bad or good.  Joe just can’t be mean to him, though.  Big softie.”

    “He seems like a nice guy.”

    “He is.  He’ll grumble like a bear while he repaints the room, though.  Hopefully by then Fernando will be old enough not to draw on the walls anymore.  Or, even better, have given up the whole Scribblebones thing.”

    “Yeah, that’d be good,” Tom said, wondering what it would take.  An exorcist?   How had he given it up?  He couldn’t remember, but he thought he just outgrew it.  Or Scribblebones had gotten tired of him and left.  Maybe whatever he -- it -- was only liked small children.  Maybe grown-ups were too much of a challenge.

    He felt a strong urge to warn them, though, because knowing what he now knew, this all seemed highly dangerous.  Little Fernando was playing with some weird supernatural thing, and how could Tom, as a responsible adult, stand by and let that go on?  But without proof there was nothing he could do. 

    “Well, I better be hitting the road,” he sighed, feeling helpless.  “Thank you for letting me get another look at the old homestead.  You’ve been very kind, and I’m glad the house is in such good hands.”

    “Bring back any old memories?”

    “Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” he said, taking a last look at a picture he might have drawn himself, thirty years or so ago.  Somewhere under the paint there might still be such drawings, but they’d think he was crazy if he tried scraping through to them.

    They walked back to the living room and he shook hands with Joe and Fernando, thanked them again, told them it was nice meeting them all, then left.

    He felt numb on his ride home, almost too distracted to be driving.  All he could think about was the absurdity of the whole thing.  It was impossible. Impossible.   And yet, there it was.

    And he was remembering darker sides to it.  Nightmares, with such weird images they didn’t seem to come from inside his own head, things a child shouldn’t have been capable of picturing.  He remembered his mother talking to psychiatrists about them, and that’s when he’d stopped telling her about his dreams.  Scribblebones, he remembered, had told him not to.

    He couldn’t remember seeing Scribblebones, exactly; he’d seemed like a regular imaginary friend, but then there were snippets of images, vague memories, things he couldn’t reach anymore.  Much of his childhood was locked away from him, he realized.  The details were faded, shut away in the dark.

    Had he invented this thing, believed it so hard that he’d given some kind of life to it and now Fernando had found it?  Or was it something that had been around before him, something that found and befriended him, as it may have befriended others previously?  Where'd the damn thing come from?

    Scribblebones had seemed very real at the time.  Now he seemed real again.  Tom remembered that Kurt Cobain’s suicide note had been addressed to his childhood imaginary friend, Boddah.  Some things never fully left.

    His head hurt and his nerves were shaking when he pulled into his driveway.  He told himself it was none of his concern, now, but he didn’t buy that.  He was the only one who knew.  It was a responsibility.

    But he had an idea.  He went to the closet where the family photo albums were stored, pulled them out, and carried them to the couch.  After poring over them and yanking pictures as he went, he soon had his evidence; over two dozen pictures with Scribblebones art visible in the background, all obviously taken around 1980, with a recognizable Tom in all of them.   One was even of him painting a Scribblebones picture with poster paint; he’d gotten it all over him (including a near-perfect Hitler mustache in blue where he'd wiped his nose) and his dad had found that funny enough to want a photo of it.  Other pictures were of birthday parties, Christmases... one was a shot of his room that they’d taken so he wouldn’t get too homesick at camp, and the Scribblebones pictures were all over the place in that one.  The styles were a little different, but he and Fernando had obviously been drawing the same subject.  The Ruiz's would see that.  What they could do about it was a different matter, but at least he’d be able to prove this situation was real.

    Tom gathered up the photos, stuffed them into an envelope, and went to bed, planning to call in sick and drive back to the Ruiz’s in the morning.  But he was too disturbed to sleep much, and when he did nod off he had a horrible - yet somehow familiar - dream in which the shadow of a thin, crooked figure was cast in the light from doorways of rooms he knew were empty.   He heard a scratchy little whisper that he hadn’t heard in decades, and woke in a cold sweat.

    Checking the clock and seeing it was a little past 4 a.m., he decided to go ahead and make the drive.  He’d wait and catch them before they headed off to work.  He got his keys and the envelope of pictures, locked up his apartment, and started the drive again.

    Darkness rushed to meet his car and he caught himself driving too fast; he'd get there too early even if he stuck to the speed limit, and then he'd have to sit in their driveway like a stalker.  They might think he was crazy, anyway, despite the photos.  Show some kindness to a guy and suddenly he's intruding into your lives, bearing disturbing stories.   He was conscious of the fact that he was in his parents' role now, not Grandmama Bess's.  But Grandmama Bess hadn't known what Scribblebones was, really.

    An impulse urged him to turn back, leave it alone, let Fernando grow out of it like he had.  He hadn't been harmed.

    Paul Winstead had, though.

    "That was a coincidence," he said aloud.  The similarity between his imaginary friend and Fernando's, no, too big to be a coincidence, but the Paul Winstead thing, that was unrelated.  It fit a story -- a really bad story -- but some transient had done that.  Or Winstead's old man.  Alibi be damned, that lousy drunk was capable of it; that's why Paul was such a mean little shit, it was what he'd learned at home.  No jaggedy skeleton-thing had pounded him to death, that was ridiculous.

    Most of the drive was a lonely stretch through deep forest, and that did nothing to help his mood.  The woods were full of mist that crept over the road and fogged his windshield, and there was no other traffic at this hour.  Usually some long-haul trucker would blow past you, but not tonight, he had it all to himself.

    Or, at least he hoped he did.  He'd been feeling a presence all day.  And it was worse now.

    There was even a vague smell, like mildew and old sweat and sick-man's breath.  Something was riding with him, and his skin crawled, fearing its touch.

    In the misty woods, pairs of white-blue lights moved.   Eyes. Deer, moving through the trees like ghosts, entranced by his lights.  Another reason he shouldn't be driving so fast.  To hell with imaginary friends, one real deer jumping in front of him at this speed would finish it all.

    The smell went from vague to a stench.  He heard a rattling breath from the back seat and a chill shook him.   There was something in the car with him.  Dread spiked his heart and he checked the rear-view mirror.  The back seat was all darkness, but then darkness slid on darkness as something moved.

    Crooked fingers reached from the back seat and covered his eyes, and he screamed and tried to pull away, but they gripped his face, cold and damp and bony.   An old friend was singing in his ear in a voice as twisted as the rest of him as he tried to pry the stiffened hands away. 

    Rumble strips hammered at his tires and the car dipped wildly as it dove into the ditch, slamming him around in the seat, and then he felt it go airborne, twist almost lazily and drop him on the ceiling before coming down hard enough to crack his teeth and shock the breath out of him. Then the car rolled and rolled and the world was all flying glass and stabbing limbs and pain and the sky was made of grass and mud and the ground was full of moonlit clouds, over and over until a heavy SLAM shook him into a massive black nothing that washed over like a tide.

    When he woke up again, he opened the one eye he still had and looked around.  The car was tilted crazily against a tree, down a slope, far off the road, and bugs were whirring as a pink and orange dawn was lighting the sky.  He looked down at his body and then looked back up at the sky, almost vomiting.  Bad idea, looking at his body.  He wasn't going to do that again.  He was obviously dead, it was just taking a while to happen.  Nobody could live with that body.  Nobody would want to.   He was scrambled.  Scribbled.

    He listened to his blood dripping and felt the pain trying to force the breath out him.  There probably wasn't a bone in him that wasn't broken.  They were protruding through his limbs like thorns from a rose stem.  His arms and legs were twisted in every direction but the right ones.  Even his hands were ruins that couldn't grip the wheel anymore, and pieces were chopped and torn out of him everywhere, laying around the car.  His breathing tasted like iron-rich mud.  It rattled like scrambling rats in a chest gone all out of form.   The pain was so overwhelming that he had to laugh at it, it was so ridiculous.  He was ridiculous, being alive in that shape.  But he thought he understood now.

    His bones went this way and that way and that. 

    He had skinny where he should have had fat. 

    La da dee dee daaaaaaaah.

    He wouldn't look at it again.   He's spare himself that one last thing.  It was much easier to watch the sky, to watch the dawn which, for him, was the sunset.  

    When it started to rain, he laughed until he coughed.  The universe was filling its contract a little early, but damn if it wasn't coming through.  Soon he couldn't tell what was dripping rain and what was draining blood.

    The dawn sky darkened, and the rain fell heavier and grew cold, but Tom wasn't there to feel it.

    He'd already gone away to play with a friend.


                    THE END


In Which Our Hero Goes Ghost-Hunting (So You Don't Have To)

Wow, I haven't been doing any of my big Halloween plans so far.  Yeah, I still intend to give ya a story, but I'm way behind on writing it (I had intended to do two, like I did last year, but laziness has pretty much fragged that idea).  I still have a week... maybe I can get it together by then.  Also, I was gonna put up some horror book reviews in honor of the season.  Still got a week there, too, so, we'll see.  I'm horribly addicted to slack.

But, I did go ghost-hunting with some friends last night, and it was, in the words (and the exact same spirit) of Count Floyd, "Oooo, veddy scary, kids!"

I gotta admit, while I love ghost stories beyond all else, I'm not a believer.  I'm a hardline atheist, so supernatural anything is kinda a gooby idea to me... but, that doesn't mean playing around with it isn't fun, and I also love the idea of urban exploration, but am (usually) a bit chickenshit when it comes to breaking the law and possibly getting caught for something stupid at my age, so this was a chance to legally wander around tumbledown buildings at 2 a.m.  So, yay!

Here's the site for the tour we booked, if you wanna go look at more pictures and stuff.  The tour was nicely done - the people putting it on were cool, sincere and enthusiastic about what they were doing, and did their best to build things up and make the most out of any little oddity that could possibly be made the most of.   They were good sports and they delivered anything promised - it's not their fault that ghosts didn't show up.  They claimed that earlier a ghost had scratched a guy, and one guy on the tour (who I think was just playing along) said a girl was standing next to him in the dark, and he thought she was just one of the other people on the tour but when he turned to look, she wasn't there anymore.  Oooo!  I had to resist being a smartass and saying things like "Hey, who was that kid riding the tricycle at the end of the hall?" or whatever to egg them on, but really, the scariest thing was having to ride through the woods in the dead of night in the back of a pickup truck that was goin' pretty goddamn fast for having a bed full of people.  I was reminded of scenes from Mr. Majestyk for some reason...

Anyway, I never came anywhere close to getting the creeps (even when they sat me down in a pitch-black hall with highly-sensitive headphones on for ten minutes to listen for ghostly footsteps -- that was just kinda relaxing), but it was fun and worth the trip.  I took lotsa pictures so I could scare all you keeds. 

If you click on any of the pictures it'll make 'em a whole lot bigger so you can see lots more detail, so, you are hereby encouraged to do so.

After wandering through lots of wet weeds in some very-much-boondocks area and listening to cool stories of ghost-horses and such, we got to a building with a long hall in it (it was called "the short hall" but it looked longer than the building they were calling "the long hall" so go figure).

Here's how dark it was if you just used a flashlight, without the camera's flash going off (fortunately a friend showed me how to turn it back on or this'd be all you got -- I'm not big on picture-takin' so don't know all the camera-tech):

These places were crazy-fuckin' dark because they were mostly tunnels and it was 1 or 2 a.m., but once I got the flash goin', I took better pictures.  In this one, you can clearly see an "orb."   Orbs are round manifestations of psychic ghostly energy that only show up in photographs.  I've found that ghosts are attracted to very dusty areas, because the more visible dust you find in the air, the more orbs you're gonna see!  Very shpookie!

This room was called "the vortex."  I'm not sure exactly why, other than "vortex" sounds kinda scary.  Like if Carol Anne's gonna go missing on ya, the "vortex" is where she's gonna do it.

I don't know what that big rusty thing is.  But this is the clearest ghost picture I got -- you can kind of see a figure standing right next to it, that looks kind of like a woman in black holding a purple flashlight.  I swear that figure wasn't there when I took the picture!

(Okay, I'm lyin', just trying to make things a little more interesting.  That was actually the tour guide.  She was very nice and told us spooky stories about the time she saw what looked like a Christmas tree bulb in one of the trees growing in the rooms.)

Here's the ceiling in the vortex room.  Think it needs some fixin'.

When we got back into the hallway, the dust had gotten stirred up, and like I said, dust attracts ghosts, so here's a couple of pictures of an orb-swarm.  A veritable sm-orb-asborg, if you will (and you won't, 'cuz that's silly).

Ya gotta admit, that does look pretty cool, even if though it's dust.  But it may be dust that's been there since the Civil War, so I guess it could be connected to the 4,000 soldiers who died in the Battle of Okolona and are supposed to be buried all over the place there.

People (as part of a Wiccan ritual, we were told) left messages on the walls for the spirits.  Apparently some kids had been playing around the in the building and ghosts followed them home or something, so people left messages to appease the spirits.  The handwriting looks pretty similar on all of 'em...

That wasn't the most sinister graffiti we saw, though.  In another building, there was this message of terror:

 What kind of depraved being could have left such a message?!?  Also, there was this symbol.  I don't know what it is, probably some demonic symbol of darkest witchcraft:

Fills me with horror, whatever it is.

By the way, that room was the dustiest place anywhere, so orbs infested it like you wouldn't believe.

Also, just left of the center of the picture, you can see some spooky lights there.  They look like two red eyes, with kind of a license-platey manifestation between them.  Mankind may never unravel the mystery behind exactly what eldrich horror was lurking out there just beyond the bushes where everybody was sneaking out to pee.  Also, on the opposite wall was painted "WHO MADE WHO?" which proves ghosts dig AC/DC, and there was a cartoon face saying "Awww shit!" which captured the terror of the whole shebang.

Here's a tree growing out of some kind of pit in the "long hall" building.  That's where they sat me down in the dark alone for a nice rest.  I expected that to be scary, but, nope.  The guy was kind of disappointed when I told him the only unusual sound I heard was a distant beep-beep-beep of a forklift backing up at a peanut factory nearby.  Hardly the ghost of "Philip," who's supposed to hang around that hall.  One guy came there wearing a Union Soldier uniform, hoping to provoke the ghosts into some kind of fight or something.  They apparently called his name on some of the EVP equipment, but I didn't hear it.

If you blow the pic up and look really closely, one of these orbs seems to have the number "80" in it.  So that could be the ghost of some football player still wearing his jersey.

This is part of a munitions factory.  I'm not really sure what that light in the far right is... probably somebody's flashlight on the wall or something, but I guess if you want to use your imagination it could be something.  I didn't notice what was going on over there at the time I was taking the picture, so, could be anything.

This is part of an upper story of an extremely-dilapidated factory (going up the stairs to that thing was pretty scary 'cuz there was no railing and the stairs were covered with rubble).  Who knows who Wes C. Brown and Ace are?  Probably ghosts.   We sat up in that room for 'bout an hour in the total darkness, listening to some weird electronic box that would spit out words and syllables.  I'm not sure what was supposed to provoke the box to spout the words, but we sat around trying to interpret them.  The story we put together was that some guy named Walter got his head hurt (the box said "head hurt" about a dozen times) in a "fight" and that some other guys named Tim and Seth also got killed, one due to a "heart attack."  And it sounded like it called one of them a "retard," which is a weird thing for a ghost to say.  It also said something like "Los Angeles police" a couple times, which also didn't make much sense.  A couple of people with me swore it said my name like 3 times, but I never picked up on that.  Huh.  I was pretty sick the whole trip (nasty cough I was fighting back - I mean, the kind of cough so strong it makes you throw up every once in a while) so maybe the dead wanted me to join them.  Cool!

Anyway, creepy room, with all these open pits... ya didn't wanna go wandering around in there in the dark.

Couple more assorted pics, just so you can play "Where's Walter" -

I took that last one during our whole talk with "Walter," to see if he'd show up.  The little squawk box told me to "stop," though, so I quit.  (Or maybe it just said "yarb" and we used our imaginations to make it sound like "stop"... which is really how most of that conversation went).

Anyway, it was kinda silly, but it was fun.  It's all horseshit, but I'd go again.  Supposedly this group's going to do something different next Halloween... if the site's nearby, I'd probably go for it.  We'll see...

Meanwhile... look to your orb for the warning...


Figplucker's 21st Century Blues: One Way Out (Elmore James)

A classic from the legendary Elmore James, also done back in the day by the great Sonny Boy Williamson before becoming a staple in the Allman Brothers Band's live set...  Here's my fairly short version, with a nod to the Allmans but more of an allegiance to the earlier versions. And more bass!

Click the pic or the songtitle to hear it (or right-click to download it)...

Give it a listen + let me know what you think.


A Fistful of Fists!

Okay, more than a fistful.  I have this irksome thing where I gotta do just one more book review because if I only review twelve books the post'll seem too skimpy for me, so thirteen'll be perfect... but, hey, how 'bout fourteen!?  Etc.  That's one reason these posts aren't more frequent.  (The other reason is our hero is a lazy bastard 'bout typin' up things on computers).  But, anyway, here ya go with a new batch to make up for lost time.

(And before we get started, it's almost October, and last year we did this thing where everybody's supposed to write a horror story - the scarier the better - for Halloween.  I am, once again, casting down the gauntlet, so you should all get to work and post 'em on your blogs!  Do it!  Do two!  Or three!  Or more!  I don't care - the more the better!)


Attention K-Mart shoppers!  The reason this art looks all grim and cool and Punisher-y is because it's done by Tim Bradstreet, who did a lot of Punisher Max covers.

Jake Strait: Avenging Angel  - Frank Rich     (Gold Eagle, 1993)
Taking a noir approach to the future (perhaps using Blade Runner as a source), this is the first of four novels about Jake Strait, a free-lance enforcer (or "bogeyman") working the dismal urban future of 2031.  A corporate collapse and possibly some kind of military exchange involving nukes has finally divided the haves from the have-nots in a blatant way.   The rich live in a big gated community called The Hill while everyone else struggles to survive in a vice-filled city of scams and violence.   Everything's run by a political party known simply as The Party, and none one gets far resisting them.  Since the police won't pay much attention to crimes that don't affect the rich, you can hire a bogeyman like Jake to settle your scores, if you have the credits.   Broke and needing to put food (which is almost all soy or seaweed-based in this future) on the table, Jake takes a case for a rich couple who lead him to believe that the target is an evil serial killer.   After killing the guy, Jake learns that he was just a poet who'd written a couple of anti-Party poems, and he's been tricked into doing someone's political dirty work - a type of job he doesn't usually take.  Also the target had stolen a quarter of a million credits (which Jake transfers into his own account) and the dead man's girlfriend wants them back.   Pretty soon Jake's got a lot of different factions after him and his gun (which fires explosive jet-powered shells similar to shotgun slugs) are getting a big workout.   Very well-written with lots of great noirish lines, and Jake's realistically tough but has some humanity and a smart-assed sense of humor that keeps him on a lot of people's bad side.   Solid pacing and much more depth and skill displayed here than the usual action-series book.  Grade A stuff.

Assignment To Disaster - Edward S. Aarons  (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1955)
First of the long-running Sam Durell series has the Cajun spy stuck with finding a scientist who has vital info about the launch of a defense satellite that can fire off nukes from space.   Sam tries discovering the scientist's whereabouts through his pretty sister, but she soon becomes a target of enemy agents, too,  right after Sam develops a crush on her. And as he scrambles to track the scientist down he discovers that the situation is worse than anyone suspected; they'd thought the scientist just planned to sell the launch info to the enemy, but someone else has tampered with the rocket's guidance system so, instead of reaching orbit, it will come down in the United States with its explosive payload.  And as time's running out, Sam's own people start working against him.   Fistfights, gunplay, and narrow escapes ensue.   Solid, well-written, well-paced espionage with a sense of realism.

 This series may win some kind of prize for most covers depicting the hero with a butt goin'.  Don't smoke, kids!  But, do feel free to kill Nazis.  Surgeon general didn't say shit about that.

The Sergeant #1: Death Train - Gordon Davis   (Zebra, 1980)
First in another violent WWII action series by the guy who wrote the Rat Bastards books (the prolific and estimable Len Levinson).  Sgt. C. J. Mahoney is a hard-drinking woman-chasing misfit of dubious morals, but he's an effective soldier if only because combat provides him with an outlet for his violent nature.  He's given an assignment to blow up a bridge so the Nazis won't be able to carry troops and supplies in to counter the upcoming D-Day invasion.  Mahoney and his small band of French resistance fighters (including a couple of women so a few mild sex scenes can be fit in) decide they don't have enough T.N.T. to take down the bridge, but they can block incoming trains just as well by driving an old locomotive into a tunnel and blowing it up when the Nazi train shows up.   The SS officer he's up against is no idiot, though, and complications and some fierce town fighting against tanks results.  Like the Rat Bastards, this has loads of action, but it has more plot than I remember those having.  The writing's simple but effective (and vivid enough that a month after I read this I mis-remembered the exploding-train bit as being from a movie I'd seen!), and you get a feel for the characters and even the subplots (such as Mahoney's sidekick's romantic troubles with a married French girl) are interesting.  Great stuff!

Executioner #3: Battle Mask -- Don Pendleton  (Pinnacle, 1970)
Third book in the groundbreaking series has Mack Bolan on the run from the Mob and deciding a new face would be a useful weapon in fighting them.   He seeks out an old war buddy who owes him a couple and just happens to be a plastic surgeon.  He gives Bolan a new face (which he recovers from way too soon) and Bolan uses it to pose as an up-and-coming Mafia hood.  They accept this tough newcomer all too quickly, and Bolan feeds inside intel to the cops for a while before letting the Mafia goons know who they've stupidly welcomed in.  There are some good action scenes but they're spread amidst a lot of intrigue, and some of them are peculiar (Bolan shooting guys who've been killed in a car crash is weird).  It's also clear that helping Bolan out is a bad idea; everyone who does suffers mightily for it.  Well-written, though, and Pendleton's still a Cadillac in the parking lot of action-series writers.  (for more info, here's a review from the mucho-excellent Glorious Trash Blog)

Maybe I just coudln't get over that white turtleneck...

Stark #1: Funeral Rites
-- Joseph Hedges   (Pyramid, 1973)
Terry Harknett, who wrote the Edge Westerns as George G. Gilman, borrows his own character's name as a nom de plume for this British take on The Executioner (originally called The Revenger but it got changed to Stark because Jon Messman was already using The Revenger title for yet another Executioner rip-off).  Johnnie Stark is a cheap hood working for a mob called The Company.  He's set up to take the fall for a job, but they sneak him out of prison (in a coffin) after they determine that he's not going to fink on them.  Problem is, they kill his girlfriend, Carol Burnett (yeah, I have a hard time getting around that image, too), after hooking her on smack to control her.  Since Stark has some major grievances already, that's the last straw and he declares war.   He burns a ship carrying a big drug cargo and then -- in a very odd move since the cops are looking for him -- sneaks back to his parents' house (even though his dad hates him).  Barely escaping the cops there, he goes on the run again.  Survivors of people he kills go on vengeance hunts of their own and soon Stark's running out of friends, family, and options.  The book should have been good but it became a chore to read, and I can't really figure out why; even though there's almost constant action it all gets bogged down in overbearing detail that's not particularly interesting (I don't need an essay on every bush Stark runs over during a car chase), and there's an overabundance of cardboard characters waiting to be gunned down.  The writing is more than competent but still lacks punch somehow, and even when Stark's on the run the story doesn't feel like it moves.   It's like a treadmill in high gear.  It won't let you read it fast, even when you should be, so it gets annoying.  But maybe it's just me; it did have some good points, but the overall impression was bleh.

Killsquad #1: Counter Attack  - Frank Garrett   (Avon, 1986)
Gung-ho Dirty Half-Dozen actionfest as a hardass CIA specialist -- code-named The Hangman -- pulls six killers off of death row so he can channel their ruthless bloodlust against international terrorism.  What a great idea!  What could go wrong?   Three of them are white and three are black and all (except for one who may have been framed) are pretty much a bunch of bastards.  There's not much room in a short book that's preoccupied with action scenes to almost a Rosenbergerian degree for characterization, so the author (Dan Schmidt, I think) uses pretty broad types -- an ex-Klansman, a German neo-Nazi, angry black guys, etc.   Most of the guys aren't all that well-drawn (I can't count how many times one of them's referred to as "the one-eyed pirate" just to remind us of who he is) and the bad guys aren't characterized at all beyond being referred to as insulting-terms-for-Arabs, so you're left with a whole lot of guys you don't really know or have anything invested in shooting each other and blowing things up.   You do have a LOT of that, though; the book's lacking some things (characterization, coherent plot, etc.) but there's no shortage of action.  Our heroes -- who mostly hate each other -- are given a little training and then sent to fight an army of jihadi terrorists.  When the characters aren't calling each other racist things (does anybody actually call black people "Chads" or was that made up for the book so it wouldn't be full of something really offensive?), the author's calling the Arabs "dung-eating scum," "Prophet's droppings," etc., so if you're overly offended by political incorrectness in your trashy men's adventure fiction, you should probably read... I dunno, the Chopper Cop might be your only option.  The faceless action gets overbearing, but it's not badly done, just scant in the plot department.

Bronson: Street Vigilante #1: Blind Rage - Philip Rawls   (Manor Books, 1975)
First in a loose 3-book series, and one of the most blatant rip-off series ever -- this wants to be Death Wish so hard they named their hero after the movie's lead actor.  And I use the word "hero" hesitantly in regard to this book, because Richard Bronson (not to be confused with goofy millionaire balloonist Richard Branson, who, to my knowledge, has murdered absolutely zero street-scum... but he's just reaaaally good at getting away with it.  Hmmmm... Branson: Balloon Vigilante!  I'm writing these now, damnit!  Why not?  You can dump any kind of garbage on a Kindle for free!) is as sick and sadistic as any of his targets.   The book cover makes a big deal out of him being some big liberal, but that's not really in the book; he has no conflict with himself and  flings himself instantly into a bloodthirsty quest for vengeance when his wife and children are murdered by depraved psychos, who are ludicrously set free by the courts because they're identical twins.  Bronson sets up housekeeping with a 17-year-old Latina who admires him all too much as he not only gets even but indulges in Sadean orgies of torture; he pours drain cleaner on a guy's genitals and face, emasculates and eviscerates another with a broken bottle, sets a woman on fire, feeds somebody to rats, and shoots a dozen or so others, never having any trouble getting away with it even though cops suspect him.  He also has no trouble putting together an arsenal including illegal items such as silencers and submachine guns; gun store owners give him whatever he wants, no problem.  As bad as Bronson is, the bad guys he kills are even worse, raping children and making snuff films.  Of course, Bronson also kills some less-guilty people, too, wiping out anyone who could be a witness.  At one point he smashes the skull of a puppy!  I don't think Dennis Kucinich would do that even if you murdered everyone he knew.  For all its sleaze, moral ambiguity, and gratuitous racism and gay-bashing (this author has a major hang-up about homosexuals), it's well-paced and solidly written, much better than the usual, with a wide variety of action -- car chases, gunfights, torture, etc.  Worth seeking out if you like 'em extreme.  (I had to dig this one out of my stacks and re-read it after reading this killer review on Glorious Trash, so go read that, too)

Did I mention in the review that Johnny Morini is 150 feet tall?  Well, he is, as you can clearly see by this cover art.  Soldatozilla!

Soldato #2: Death Grip!    - Al Conroy (Lancer, 1972)
Former Mafia soldier Johnny Morini is bailed out of a small-town jail after a bar brawl (he has kind of a drinking problem) by a dying millionaire who wants him to continue his vendetta against the mob, and has set up a trust fund to finance it.  Not having much else to do with his miserable life, Johnny starts hijacking trucks, turning over crooked poker games, repeatedly throwing an attacker down flights of stairs... all as a means to infiltrate the Mafia so he can play havoc with it from the inside.  When he gets in, the mobsters ironically want him to infiltrate a rival gang, so here we go again.  He starts robbing grocery stores and such to work his way in.  Once they accept him he uses his unique position to pull a Fistful of Dollars thing and set the two rival gangs against each other, tricking them into wasting all their muscle in a big mob war.  Johnny goes a little too far, though, when he double-crosses them on a jewel heist and gets himself in big trouble.  The writing here is much higher caliber than the usual series book, and the action scenes are tough, tense, and frequent, and they stay fairly realistic, with Johnny taking a beating and getting into a few situations that only luck can get him out of.  Worth looking for.

The Hulk called and he wants his arms back.  Ye godz!  Admit it, you'd buy this book just for that cover.

My Name Is Black - Joseph Nazel  (Pinnacle Books, 1973)
What if Mack Bolan was more like Mack BRO-lan?  That's basically what this series was attempting, creating a Blaxploitation take on The Executioner.   Our hero, simply named Black (if he's got a first name it's none of our business), is "a six-foot 180-pound ebony monolith of rage," and was a 'Nam vet and a boxer who "hit harder than income tax."   They syndicate demanded that he take a dive in a fight and he told them to go fuck themselves, so they sent a couple of goons around to break his hands and he beat them both to death.  He's sent to prison for that and while he's there they rape and kill his sister (which apparently causes his mother to die from grief -- we know she dies too but Nazel forgets to mention why), and Black spends a year in prison constantly working out and preparing himself for a vengeance rampage.  When he's paroled the mob still wants a piece of him, too, and he takes part of a shotgun blast that only seems to piss him off.  He turns into a one-man riot, burning down syndicate drug dens and businesses and blowing off the heads of mobsters with his .357 Magnum and M-16, with both the cops and the mob trying to catch him.  The writing's not flashy but does what it sets out to do, capturing a Blaxploitation movie feel, and even though the plot runs pretty thin, it's got no shortage of mayhem -- the body count is large but not out of the realm of plausibility, and the action is constant, so it's got pacing working for it.  Black is Back was the only sequel.

Black Berets #1: Deadly Reunion - Mike McCray  (Dell, 1984)
A corrupt CIA agent has use for an old team from Vietnam, supposedly to free a POW in Laos, so he wrecks their leader's career so he'll have no other options but to rebuild his five-man team (which is so racially diverse it might as well be called the Rainbow Coalition instead of the Black Berets).  None of them have really adjusted to civilian life very well, anyway, so it's not difficult to convince them.  The leader, half-Cherokee Billy Leaps Beeker, has been living in the woods where he killed a couple of rednecks who were torturing a mute Indian orphan he unofficially adopts.  His buddy Cowboy has been trafficking (and using a hell of a lot of) cocaine.  Torture-expert Rosie, a big black guy, has been peeling corpses in a morgue to make bandage for burn victims.  Greek Harry has been running a bar and feeling sad and empty.  And Navy Seal demolitions expert (and dangerous lunatic) Applebaum has been blowing things up for a construction company.  Billy Leaps gets them back into fighting shape at his Louisiana compound and then it's off to Laos, where their mission holds some dangerous surprises for them and gives them a reason to keep the team together and make a second book in the series (which ran for 13 volumes).  The writing here is far, far better than most of the men's adventure genre; in fact, it's just about perfect pulp writing.  A lot of these "team" books suffer from weak characterization, with so many people to juggle, but this one makes these guys stand out and take on lives of their own.  I read the first several books in high school and could still remember some individual scenes decades later, which is a pretty amazing testament to the writing when most action-series books are forgotten a few hours after you finish them.  The action's well-handled and doesn't skimp on the gore.  Damn-near perfect stuff.  Mandatory.

That tape was on the cover when I bought it... I'd've had enough sense to at least use the clear kind.

Warlord #1 - Jason Frost   (Zebra, 1983)
Eric Ravensmith is a nice-guy history professor who conveniently happens to be a former member of a Vietnam unit called "The Night Shift" who were super-secret ultra-violent Green Beret types, plus he was also raised and trained in fighting by Hopi Indians.  Ravensmith is testifying against his former Night Shift commanding officer, Dirk Fallows, a Shakespeare-quoting psychopath who crucified women and children and then left Ravensmith for dead when he tried to intervene.  Fallows and his goons have targeted him and his wife and kids, and Ravensmith -- who just wants to be peaceful and doesn't even keep guns in the house -- is having to fend off the malevolent bastard's attacks.  This terrible situation is made even worse when a series of massive earthquakes break southern California off the continent, leaving it five miles from the mainland and surrounded by a toxic dome of acid fog created by chemical and biological weapons that had secretly been stored in Long Beach.  The police have all firearms confiscated to minimize the anarchy, and survivors form little tribes to survive.  Ravensmith's group lives on the old university campus and he protects it with bows and arrows, including a crossbow.  Other groups are hostile and try to strong-arm his people into trading them things (such as books from the library), and Fallows is still out there with his psychotic henchmen, still wanting revenge on Ravensmith.  Fallows starts murdering Ravensmith's family, which turns him into a cold and ruthless killer, leading a group of volunteers after Fallows... and that is anything but easy.  This series seems to be an action-oriented take on The Stand (the author's a pretty obvious Stephen King fan, with that "Night Shift" business and a "Dead Zone" -- Under the Dome would be a sure fit if this book didn't pre-date that one by decades) and the writing is above average and full of interesting details, such as survival facts.   Characterization is solid and the fights are good, but they do run a little thin, considering the book's an overlong 400 pages.  Still, very much worth seeking out.  The series sported what has to be the most boring cover art in all that action-series world:  each of the six books bore the exact same diagram of a crossbow, and only the colors changed.

The Interlopers - Donald Hamilton  (Fawcett Gold Medal, originally 1969)
Hardass spy Matt Helm has to impersonate a dead man and keep his appointments with some spies.  He's given a Labrador Retriever much like the murdered agent's and is sent off to do some fishing in the woods, where he'll get slipped little pieces of coded info to store in the dog's collar.   But the other side wants to take him out so another substitute of their own chosing came make all of his meet-ups instead.  Helm's kept in the dark about his mission more than he likes (he has a vague idea it's concerning an assassination attempt on the president or a presidential candidate) and more and more trouble comes up at him and bodies pile up.  As the pieces of the puzzle start coming together, Helm doesn't even trust his own people anymore and resists pleas to get off the case, and it sets him on a collision course with one of the other side's top assassins, who gets the upper hand.   Luckily Helm bears no resemblance whatsoever to the silly-ass Dean Martin imitation (this is a very gritty and realistically-violent book) so he just might make it out alive.  Tough stuff with no false heroics (one character complains to Helm that he keeps shooting his enemies in the back, but Helm's about getting the job done and living through it) and things seldom go the easy way.  The writing is top-notch and knowledgeable -- you can learn things from these books.

Fox #2: Prize Money  - Adam Hardy  (Pinnacle, 1973)
Ambitious asshole George Abercrombie Fox continues his career in the war-torn British Navy of the early 1800's.  As punishment for being caught screwing his captain's mistress, e's reassigned to an ill-regarded ship, Sheridan, under Captai Tranter, who's a bit of a madman.   Fox doesn't like it there much, so he gets himself reassigned (and nearly court-martialed) when he provokes the captain's madness by tweaking his obsession with imaginary pigeons he thinks live in the rigging by serving a seagull at dinner.  He's moved from ship to ship and engages in battles with the French until he finally ends up in charge of The Raccoon, which captures French ships that are sent to supply Bonaparte's armies in Egypt.  Fox tries for as much cash as he get capturing ships but is then assigned to transport statues from Spain to England, which handicaps his quest to profit off the destruction of the French.   There are some brutal naval battles but Hardy isn't forgiving if you don't know your way around an old sailing ship or 19th century life at sea; I had to figure out a lot from context and learn on the fly, because Hardy (aka Kenneth Bulmer) is not going to hold your hand; this is strictly immersion-method storytelling.  It's character-driven stuff, with Fox pretty full-fleshed as a character; he's mean and self-serving, though not without redemptive moments of compassion, such as when he risks the ship to rescue a sailor who fell overboard during a battle.   He's also got an interesting flaw -- he goes blind in one eye during moments of great stress, which he's under pretty often.  Hardy's writing captures the time period and confidently covers a great deal of time in a short number of pages.   I've also read the first one but looking back, my review was so skimpy that this one covered pretty much everything I said in it, so I just included the cover of it as a bonus.


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