It’s in the Trees!

That’s a line from Night of the Demon, the excellent 1957 film adaptation of M.R. James’s “Casting the Runes” and I seriously recommend giving an evening over to watching it.

But that has nothing to do with this post.  I ran into something on Twitter that gave me a spasm of creativity, and I thought I might as well preserve it here, for my own future amusement at least. First of all, here’s the triggering image:

Twitter screen capture: Unusual 65ft-tall beech tree found in the Balkan mountains (photo: Deyan Kossev) over a photo of a tree which has somehow come to look like human with arms upraised.

And here’s what fell out of my head:

Twitter screen capture: The mad old woman had gold, as they had said. It jingled in his pouch as be ran from her cabin. When he got back to town, he would buy all the lads at the tavern a drink. He would embellish the story, of course. Something about a vast guardian demon...

Twitter screen capture: Suddenly, she was in front of him. Too surprised to shove her aside, he threw his arms up to hold his balance as he skidded to a stop. They stayed up. He felt the blood going cold and thin inside him, felt the inverse of pain as roots drove down out of his feet.

Twitter screen capture: She looked into his remaining eye, sinking into its socket of wood. "The theft," she said, "I might have forgiven; there is always more gold. But to do that to a harmless old cat... for that, you may stand there and lament your fate until the woodsmen come for you."

Twitter screen capture: For long ages, he felt insects and birds at work on his flesh. As he grew to join their canopy, he learned the language of the trees; they insulted him daily. Once, a person stopped in front of him and took a picture. He could not call out the them, his mouth long grown over.

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I Promise You, It’s True

All right, it’s time for that BIG ANNOUNCEMENT, so I hope you’re all either sitting comfortably or have a firm grip on your hat and/or wig.  I should also suggest monocles be safely stowed elsewhere for a moment.

One week from today, a story of mine called “Free Balloons for All Good Children” will be released by Pseudopod.

…which is amazing to me.  Not only is it a sale at professional pay rates, which means I can start pretending to be a professional author… in fact, “not only” is too strong, because sweet jumping catfish, have you seen the sort of company this thrusts me into?  Honestly, use that link and flip through the amazing bunch of talented folks they’ve presented over the years.  I can feel myself glowing from the mere inclusion on such a list.  The money is nice, but it’s very much secondary.  Imposter Syndrome is in what I hope will be a long period of remission.

What you won’t find there, currently, is any mention of my story, yet. So why am I announcing it now?  Because I want to make sure everyone has time to get their Eyetunes or other etheric transmission interceptors set to the correct co-ordinates to listen in. Also, there’s more than a decade of other stories that you might want to hear or read as well, if you’ve somehow been missing out on the dark splendour of it all.  So turn your selectors to Pseudopod, and stand by for emanation!

Blatant Filler

Well.  Last week I didn’t get anything in on the flash challenge, because, as I mention in a couple of places, the day job briefly took on all the power to distract and exhaust of attempting to juggle bears which are on fire (without actually being interesting, alas, alas).  This week, there’s no challenge in the hopper, and it only just now occurs to me that I could work up a story based on the previous one, even if I’ve missed the chance to effectively brag about it in the comments of someone else’s blog.  Later, on that.

For the moment, though, I wanted to share a picture I’ve just seen over on Facebook:

“Yew ain’t no Revenuer, are ya?”

The description of this photo was “Lovecraft with the Lee boys in West Guilford, Vermont, June 10, 1928.”  Before we get into mundanity… I would be somewhat concerned if I were to step out of my Vermont farm-house in 1928 to discover this motley bunch of roughs.  This is somewhat before Dillinger, Floyd, Barrow and Parker made the US famous for its swarms of tommy-gunning celebrity thieves, but all the same, this looks like a proper crime-film wrecking crew. From right to left, you’ve got:

  • The Burly One whose heart probably isn’t in it. He’s there mainly to try to keep The Kid from getting into trouble;
  • The Little Guy with something to prove. If only his brothers hadn’t teased him so, he might have gone off to the city and devoted what is a real potential to something positive, just like Brenda in school told him he could.  He never even noticed how much she doted on him;
  • The Handsome One, but really just the one who thinks he’s handsome. He also thinks he’s the leader, and is utterly unaware of how badly things are about to spin out of control;
  • The Kid, who probably ain’t right in his haid.  He tags along, the way he’s always tagged along.  They’d have ditched him back at home, if it wasn’t for that one time which he refers to as, “When I hugged Ma too tight and made her cry.”
  • The Mastermind, bright only by comparison to the others.  Not family, he’s less bound by fraternal loyalty and knows that this runs both ways.  All the worse, then, that he’s prone to sudden fits of seething anger.  He always carries a straight-razor in his jacket pocket, seldom letting go of it.  He calls it Evelyn, and has whispered conversations with it when he thinks the others are asleep.

Heck, you can even picture it as a poster:

WANTED
Lovecraft and the Lee Boys

These men are dangerous.
DO NOT APPROACH!
Cash reward for information leading to capture of one or all.

For those who take an interest in reality, a very little research reveals the Lees to be neighbours of Vrest Orton, who I will call a journalist with a rather diversified career, and who Lovecraft knew and vacationed with.  They’re (probably) not a dangerous bunch of backwoods moonshiners.

Reassurance, and a Digression

Still here.  Still writing, too, although given the pace of updates you’d hardly know it– as of last report, the first draft of the novel was 73% complete, so there’s a vague hope the second draft will be ready for critical comment before the end of the year.

I do not have as much time to devote to my art as I could wish.

That’s the reassurance dealt with.  Now, onto the digression:  I was reading something today which brought to mind King Cnut.  He’s less well known than his Anglo-Saxon propagandist’s version of himself, King Canute, which is a shame.  The “Free the Danelaw” telling of his story has him standing up to his ankles in water, yelling futilely at the incoming tide in a fit of shoe-wrecking hubris.  The other side of the story is a little more interesting.

There were, it seems, an awful lot of hangers-on, lickspittles, and blowers-of-smoke at the court of Cnut.  This makes sense, given the relative power of his kingdom; loads of victories, no neighbours that gave any serious worries, and ferocious armed forces on tap.  Cnut was troubled by this preponderance of yes-men, because when he said “Do we think it’s a good idea to raid Wantage again?” he wanted actual opinions and not a load of “Ooh, you can do anything because you’re so big and strong.”  Even when he told them that there were no wrong answers, there was a worrisome amount of scraping and cries of, “Of course, your Majesty, it is as you say, and your wisdom is infallible.”  He took to formulating a plan.

“I understand that I am the greatest king in the world,” he said to his assembled jarls.  A few, because there are always a few, rolled their eyes or considered the bottom of their mead-horns.  The rest, even those who might have heard of places like Constantinople, agreed loudly.

“So, anything I command will come to pass?”

A chorus of avid agreement followed.

“Let’s give that a try.  Court’s adjourned, and we’ll reconvene on the shore at the turn of the ebb.”  They being a seafaring lot, the members of the court has a good sense of the tides, so this wasn’t as obscure to them as it is to us modern watch-owners, and they all toddled out at the correct time.  There sat Cnut, on his throne, on the damp sand a few feet above the water line, wearing his best shoes.

“Since you’re all so certain of my powers of command, it will come as no surprise to you that I can order the tide to stay where it is, because I don’t want to wreck these really nice shoes I’m wearing.”

The eye-rollers, who had the sense to stand toward the back of the crowd, rolled once more.  The general murmur of agreement had somewhat less fervour than previously, but was still general.  After all, he is the great and awesome Cnut; I’m not going to be the one to say otherwise.

“Right.”  Cnut turned his head to yell over his shoulder.  “Oi!  Ocean!  Knock off that tide!  Stay right where you are!”

Five minutes later, the royal shoes were extremely damp.  They carried Cnut up the strand, where he stopped and said, “I hope you dummies get it– I may be your king, and a damn good king when compared to the others, but I’m also human.  I have limits.  I’m sick of you lot playing suck-up, and the next time you don’t give an honest opinion when I ask for one, remember this.  You’re in the court to be helpful, not decorative.”

He may also have had a couple of the more obsequious members of the court judicially murdered, because they were a fairly rough’n’tumble bunch, and nothing drives home a lesson like an execution.  History is silent on this point.

The thing which brought this to mind is this article regarding someone who has gone… a different direction than Cnut.  You might almost feel sorry for its subject; consider, if that emotion kindles in your bosom, the amount of misery he’s caused for others over the years.  Any price he’s currently paying is but a taste of the interest on his karmic debt, never touching the substance.

Tossin’ and Turnin’

I was listening to a fellow speaking of human sleep arrangements lately, and on the way to his main point, he mentioned some people from the Solomon Islands objecting to what their London hosts thought was lavish treatment, a separate hotel room for each one of their party.  “What,” I’m told they asked, “if one of us has a nightmare?”

Dreams are funny things.  I can see how people can come around to the notion that they present a window on an actual separate reality, since there is sometimes such a wealth of detail in unfamiliar settings that it is very hard to credit the subconscious with such inventive powers.

…but then there are the dreams in which things are so deeply wrong that you really, really hope there’s nothing at all to that notion, because the partitions between the wings of the multiverse are just not thick enough if that stuff is on the far side.

Guess which sort I’m going to recount for you?  I have been battering away at the novel and a story for an anthology I’d quite like to get into, and so haven’t been able to run up stories for this enterprise in a while, but last night’s vision of global, possibly universal, destruction was so affecting, I thought I should at least try to squeeze some of it out of my head for presentation here.  So, if you ever wondered idly to yourself, “What sort of nonsense is running around inside the heads of writers,” I offer a small but vibrant sample.  Be careful to not get any on you, it is almost certain to stain your clothes.

A Poetical Interlude

I do not claim to be a poet.  The closest I approach the claim is to wish aloud that I had the attention to linguistic detail that real poetry calls for.  However, something fell out of me yesterday that looks vaguely like a poem, and it pleases me enough that I’m reproducing it here so I don’t lose it as it trundles along on Twitter’s endless conveyor belt.  It’s not deep, but it’s fun:

I call plural octopus
a crowd of octopodes
therefore
more than one rhinoceros
must be rhinocerotes.

(Nearly) First Published Work!

I’m very very very proud to announce that I have a story appearing on Trigger Warning: Short Fiction with Pictures.  I’m so proud, in fact, that I’ve de-linked the same story from this site for the moment, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to go over there.

I’m proud of this because it’s my first story to be published.  More or less.  During a recent spate of auto-Googling– because, occasionally, one does like to see how much attention the internet is paying– I found a couple of references to an article which was printed in Dragon, the monthly organ of, at the time, TSR Gaming (long since taken up by Wizards of the Coast).  This was not a huge surprise, since it was a high-circulation magazine, even before the dawn of the Nerd Age we currently live in.

More surprising was to find my name popping up on the Internet Science Fiction Database.  I entirely remember the story– the surprise is that anyone else took any notice of it.  It appeared in the ‘zine emitted irregularly and briefly by Regina Speculative Fiction Society, and when I use the contraction, I am speaking of the old version; a physical object, composed of pieces of paper passed through a photocopier and hand-collated (as photocopiers of the day had trouble with that sort of thing) before being stapled together and handed to subscribers.  It was not quite first-generation, as the editors had access to computer printing and so didn’t have to tape together bits of type-written material.  But there was tape involved in the paste-up.

It is a non-professional credit, to be sure, since The Spintrian barely managed to mail out any copies with the available budget.  While this more recent presentation of my work is not by the technical definition applied by the Horror Writers Association or the SWFA appearing in a professional market either, it is actually bringing in some payment.  Semi-pro, we might say.  A step on the path to greater things.

Apart from shouting “Hey, everyone!  LOOKIT WHAT I DONE!” I’m making this post to underline something we all occasionally forget– what we did in the past can be very hard to bury.  Alas, the original file of the story is locked up in Applewriter II formated 5.25-inch floppy discs which I may or may not still have in the house, so I can’t offer a glimpse at that old work of mine.  This is probably a good thing.  I seem to remember using some phonetic dialogue, and we all know how embarrassing that sort of thing can be.

Friends Helping Friends

A fellow writer and long-time friend had embarked on the path of self-publishing, and since [a] he is a friend, [b] competition between writers is illusory, a mere artifact of the neo-liberal economic thought which has infected the world since the 1980s, and [c] readers should be plentifully supplied with fixes, because it’s an addiction that has no toxic level of intake (which is how I know [b] is true), I’m inclined to promote his writing in a place where my writing lives.

So, if you have a moment to make a purchase, an evening free to read a one-person anthology, and a tiny amount of money you’re willing to pass through the scaly claws of Amazon to a deserving person, you could do far worse with your time and treasure than to have a look at Observing Strangers and other stories.  Indeed, if you’re one of the select who have plumped for Kindle Unlimited, you have already paid for it!  You’re stealing from yourself if you don’t read it!

The fact that the stories are actually entertaining should also encourage you.

An Oddity of Coincidence

I profoundly dislike this sort of thing.  It’s the sort of thing that kindles paranoia.

But let me explain.  Recently, I took out a subscription for Crave TV, which is like Netflix but more limited.  It focusses on television series, which is good and bad.  On the good, I’ve finally caught the episode of Band of Brothers that I missed, and the adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is quite splendid.  On the bad… well, it is TV.  It distracts.

Sometimes one seeks a distraction, though.  For example, when I have a migraine, I spend a lot of time crouching over a toilet (and I will not expand on that).  Not all of this crouching is actively engaged, and during the standby intervals, I welcome distraction as long as I can control the volume.  Unable to face the prospect of a second episode of the animated Star Trek, a work we may look upon and despair, I decided to give The Flash a chance.  When it first appeared on broadcast TV, I didn’t pursue it, for a variety of reasons, high amongst which was a failure of the show’s marketing to make it look at all interesting.  I had been a huge fan of the character from ages eight to ten, but that didn’t translate into an a sufficiently urgent curiosity in the show.

I discovered, in my infirm state, that it was… OK.  When seen on a small tablet.  Between… bouts.  So, when migraine stops in for a visit, I watch The Flash.  And when the third episode began last weekend, I had my unpleasant turn.  I will offer a small spoiler alert, although how much of a spoiler revealing the opening five minutes of a show which first aired a year and a half ago can be is debatable.

The episode opens with the assassination of several members of an organized crime family.  That family’s name is Darbinyan.

Which is the name of my victim in “The Third Act.”

Did I hear that right?  Why, yes, I did, confirmed by three repetitions.

Son of a….

When I was choosing the name for the story, which happened almost immediately in the writing process, my thoughts ran thus:

Danish… nah… Chinese… no…  the menace is a Scot, so let’s leave the UK out of it… well, how about Armenian?

[opens Wikipedia under “Armenian Family Names”, scrolls until something strikes as euphonious]

And that’s it.  At that point in my life, I had never seen nor heard the name Darbinyan.  It might have been Pasternak, Kim, Stonecalf or Khethiwe had my synaptic pachinko ball dropped a little differently.  No big messages, no profound motives, and certainly no external influences.  That’s what really bugs me; someone passing by this site who reads that story will think I lifted the name from the show, because the show aired before I posted the story.  Apart from this little rant, there’s nothing to indicate that I was not at all swayed by television in that particular choice.

Which brings us to the slightly eerie element in this real-life story.  The IMDB page for that episode reveals that it first aired on 21 October 2014, a year less a week before I posted the story.  But I started writing the story on 20 October 2014.  Isn’t that something?

I am not so foolish as to shout, “See? They copied me!” because I know that the script is written a long time before the show airs.  No doubt months before I produced the first mark on paper for “The Third Act,” one of the screenwriters for the episode did much the same sort of thing as me to select a name.

Which, given what happens in my story and that show, suggests that to a certain stripe of creative person living in North America there is something about “Darbinyan” that suggests victimhood.  I certainly hope this is not the case in the real world.