Take Two: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore/Men Don’t Leave

I will always love horror. It’s as ingrained in me as the blue in my eyes. In spite of that, I also love a good drama, and here are two of my very favorites, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Martin Scorsese’s first Hollywood movie, and Men Don’t Leave, Paul Brickman’s follow up to Risky Business. Both movies are very similar in many ways, yet tell their own story and are completely their own.

Both feature a woman in their mid 30’s suddenly widowed and left with debt and kids. While Alice only has 11 year old Tommy, Beth has two sons, 9 year old Matthew and 17 year old Chris. First we’ll take a look at Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

I’ve always had a fondness for this movie. It was one of those films that the early years of HBO and Showtime played nonstop or so it seemed. Much of that fondness was because Alfred Lutter who plays Tommy, reminded me of my best friend growing up, Chris. He denied the resemblance, and probably still does to this day, but it was there in my eyes, and that’s all that mattered.

I watched it recently for the first time in about 40 years, and I have to say I was curious if my feelings for it had changed. They hadn’t. If anything they grew stronger, and I still say it is Scorsese’s best movie, and certainly his most underrated.

Released in   1974, and starring Ellen Burstyn (who won an academy award for the role), ADLHA is a bit of an anomaly for Scorsese. It came right after Mean Streets and was unlike anything he’d done, or would do for many years. Burstyn was filming The Exorcist when she got the script, and after calling Francis Ford Coppola, had Warner Brothers hire Scorsese to direct. It’s unmistakably a Scorsese film, with many of the same camera moves he’d hone and perfect in future movies. It also lacked the polish of say Raging Bull or Goodfellas, but that works in its favor.

Alice starts off in, Monterey, CA with her as a little girl. We hear her sing, rather unevenly at that, and her promise to be a singer. We jump 27 years to the present where she now resides in Socorro NM. From the first few moments we see the family, we know these characters. Don, the short tempered, emotionally stunted husband; Alice the unhappy, put upon but dutiful wife, and Tommy the precocious smart ass of a kid who doesn’t get along with his father.

Though the beginning of their relationship is never mentioned, it has all the earmarks of High School sweethearts who had an unplanned kid, and were forced to get married. When Alice cries herself to sleep one night because of her husband’s lack of communication, we feel her pain. We share the sorrow, and neediness when she grabs him after he begrudgingly holds her.

It doesn’t take long before the husband is killed in an accident (he was a truck driver for Coca-Cola, as all he wears in the movie is their uniform). Alice devastated, and out of money, not that she ever had much to begin with,  decides to sell everything, pack up the kid and go back to Monterey to become a singer again. Why? Because when you think of a singing career, you think of Monterey, CA. Right?

Tommy reminds her that his twelfth birthday is coming up, and Alice promises him they’ll get to Monterey in time to celebrate it. Fate has other plans and her car breaks down in Phoenix, AZ. Broke, without a car and living in a cheap motel, Alice starts looking for work and talks her way into a singing gig at a piano bar. Now, if the movie has one flaw, it’s that Alice really can’t sing. Certainly not the torch song standards she prefers, yet everyone thinks she’s fantastic.

That includes Ben, a suave, young man bent on bedding Alice. After she relents, and they start a relationship, she gets a visit from Ben’s wife, letting Alice know he was not only married but had a child as well. As they sit talking, Ben breaks in, starts beating on his wife and literally kicks her out the door while she’s on her hands and knees. He then threatens Alice, which is enough for her to pack everything and escape. She lands in Tucson and gets a job as a waitress at Mel’s diner. There she befriends the tough as a marshmallow owner/cook Mel, and two waitresses, the acerbic, take no shit Flo, and the dumb as a doorknob Vera. Alice and Flo don’t get on at first, and Alice grows to hate the job.

Things change when she meets the handsome stranger, David, a rancher who comes in for breakfast every day. At first Alice rejects his advances, so he gets Tommy on his side by taking him out to the ranch for some horseback riding. Alice finally relents and they begin dating.

Tommy meanwhile becomes friends with Audrey, a young girl well on her way to doing jail time as an adult. She talks Tommy into stealing, drinking ripple, and generally being a juvenile delinquent. In spite of that, his mother is oblivious to his behavior, and when David finally disciplines him (on his birthday no less), Alice goes ballistic and breaks up with him.

Realizing he may have been right, Alice confides in Flo, and the wizened waitress gives the crying mother some advice. When Tommy gets picked up by the police with Audrey for being drunk, Alice comes to her senses somewhat, and she and David make up and Alice decides to stay in Tucson, because she can be a singer everywhere.

It’s an uncharacteristically upbeat ending for Scorsese, but then so is the idea of his making a feminist movie. ADLHA was released at the height of the women’s movement, and it not only became a box office success, but earned star Ellen Burstyn an Oscar. Diane Ladd (who would later go on to star in the sitcom Alice, though not as Flo), also earned a best supporting actress nomination. Harvey Keitel as the viuolent Ben lights up the screen with his smile and snake’s eyes. Throw in a great performance by Kris Kristofferson as David, and Alfredd Lutter as Tommy and you have all the ingredients for a classic movie.

The best movies remain timeless, no matter when they were made. Alice is certainly one of these, and its message is as potent and relevant today as it was in 1974. For a young director like Scorsese, who was 32 when he filmed it, Alice shows a confidence and maturity missing in many films from director’s with twice his experience (for the time). His use of music is as exemplary as always, as is the camera work. The fact that I still think about this movie decades later is a testament to its power and longevity.

While it took Paul Brickman 7 years to make another movie after Risky Business, it proved that he was a force to be reckoned with, in spite of the sophomore effort’s mixed reviews. Men Don’t Leave was filmed in 1988 but not released until 1990. Like Alice, it also is a product of its time, perhaps not quite as timeless, but no less powerful.

John McCauley is a contractor with a loving wife and two boys, 17 year old Chris, and 9 year old Matt. They live in Maryland in a posh neighborhood, and are as much upper middle class as Alice and her Coca Cola driver husband were lower middle class. As the movie opens the youngest son is narrating over scenes of him running home. He has a little house in the backyard where his brother helps him install a doorbell. There’s brief scenes of the family together, Mom and Dad together and the brothers together. It’s a close knit and loving family, also the very opposite of what Alice had.

As in ADLHA, the father dies very early on, though the police come to tell Beth, as opposed to the phone call Alice gets. While Alice loved her husband on some level, Beth is still in love with hers, and his death cuts deeper, especially for the boys, in particular the oldest, Chris. They all have ways of trying to cope, with Beth simply trying to keep the household going. Chris responds to the death with anger and frustration, while young Matthew bottles everything up.

When Beth learns about the massive amount of debt her husband left, she does what Alice did and starts selling things including the truck that had been promised to Chris. Beth gets a job as a cashier but it still isn’t enough, and she makes the decision to sell the house and move to Baltimore. And though she’s not forced tro live in a rundown motel, she does move into a rundown apartment with no air conditioning and windows that are stuck shut.

This is where ADLHA and MDL diverge a bit, though we still see some similarities. Beth gets a menial job making and delivering gourmet sandwiches, and ends up meeting a musician on one of her deliveries. Chris meets a single X-Ray Tech in her 20’s who falls for him, and Matt is friends with Winston, another 9 year old who steals VCR’s (again, the stealing theme).

Chris’ attitude towards Charles is predictably angry and resentful, and maybe a tad jealous as well. His mother’s relationship only serves to throw him into the arms of his now girlfriend, who seems to be a bit of a creeper *a fact not lost on Beth who asks her at one point, “Couldn’t you find a 10 year old?”)

Matt maintains his stoicism, and though he knows stealing the VCR’s is wrong, he is only doing it to earn enough money to buy back the house he grew up in. To that end, he and Winston invest in scratch lottery tickets, each for their own purposes.

As things go, Life starts to unravel for Beth. She loses her job, Chris moves in with Jody, she stops talking to Charles, and Matt is as detached as ever. She falls into a depression and ends up in bed for 5 days, not bothering to cook, clean, bathe, or do much of anything. Chris gets Jody to try and help his mother, and with great resistance, Beth relents and allows herself to be helped.

Matt however has a breakdown of his own, after Winston gets a winning lottery ticket and doesn’t share it with him as they had agreed. Matt runs away, and much like Alice where we see her searching for a missing Tommy, we see Beth, Charles and Chris searching for Matt.

A phone call from the new owners of their house lets them know he is there and in his old fort. They race to the house, where tears are shed, monologues are given, and love is dispensed. The last scene is of the family, plus Jody and Charles going boating together, along with more voice over from Matt.

It’s a manufactured happy ending for a slick, over produced Hollywood production. It treats depression as something you just snap out of by a clean apartment, clean clothes and a cup of tea. And for its faults, I still love this movie. Jessica Lange as Beth was really coming into her own then, enough to make us all forget her horrible turn in 1976’s King Kong.

MDL is Chris O’Donnell’s debut, and it’s easy to see why he catapulted into stardom, as his acting here is nothing short of phenomenal. The same is true for Charlie Korsmo who plays his little brother. Both are amazing and very believable. Arliss Howard as Charles has the most thankless roll, and the most forgettable. He does his best, but Charles comes across as so bland, you really don’t get invested in him.

It’s Kathy Bates as Beth’s boss and Joan Cusack as Chris’ girlfriend who steal the show. Every time they’re onscreen is magic. I’d love to have seen more of Bates, but what we do get is deliciously bitchy. Cusack, as pleasant as she seems to be, still comes across as a creeper, and you never feel entirely comfortable with her character. You get the feeling if they had sex offenders lists then, her name would be on it.

As I said, MDL is not a perfect movie. It feels too manufactured and not nearly as honest, emotionally as Alice. And ADLHA has a far more organic, natural feel, which better characters and a far more believable ending. The difference is night and day when comparing the scene of Alice and Flo in the bathroom, and Beth and Jody in Beth’s kitchen. Alice makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping, while Men makes you aware that this isn’t how real people talk, but you still go with it.

I’m not sure why I have the attachment to Men Don’t Leave, other than it was released a year after my own father died, and I could relate to a lot of the feelings I saw onscreen. I was 24 then, but still felt like the 9 year old Matt at times.

Regardless, and if for nothing else, Men Don’t Leave is well worth watching for the performances alone. Watch it on a double bill with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and compare them the way I have, then ask yourself, which one am I? The answer may surprise you.

Specter of Love

My last review was for Wade Radford’s movie, Necrophiliac, and now he’s back with a very different love story. Switching mediums for this project, Wade jumps into fiction writing. While he’s done this before, it’s certainly not what the UK based indie artist is known for. And he’s definitely not known for love stories mixed in with ghostly musings.

 

All the Way to Mundesley Bay is a quick read, as is befitting a novella, but there’s so much to chew on and digest, that you speed through it at your own peril. This is a story to be savored, like a morning cup of coffee as you sit on a porch watching the sun rise. It’s a respite from the hectic, 24 hour news cycle bombarding us with half truths and reality TV.

Mundesley Bay tells the deceptively simple story of two young men, Tom and JD who are meeting for the first time at a small cottage by the sea. We are privy to their innermost thoughts, fears, desires and hopes. Also inhabiting the cottage is a ghost who has been there for 500+ years. We learn about him throughout the book, as well as his family, other ghosts, and his own fears as well.

That’s all you need to know for the setup, and even that may be too much. When Wade told me about the book, prior to his writing, I didn’t know what to expect, other than it would be interesting, and I looked forward to seeing him work outside his comfort zone. What I wasn’t prepared for was the steep philosophical meditations on life, death, love, and what happens after we die.

Those are all topics that we can relate to, especially those of us closer to the end of the line than the beginning. I was truly moved to tears several times while reading this potent piece. I found myself thinking about some of the ideas long after I finished reading. And while JD and Tom are presented as the main characters, it is the ghost I became enraptured with. It was the ghost I wanted to know more about and wished above all he had a happy ending. In fact it is his love story that is the heart of the story, and not the burgeoning romance between the boys.

JD and Tom may seem like characters from Radford’s other works like Sex, Lies, and Depravity, they are still wholly original and well developed. These are real people painted as such, and you believe in them, and root for them, even as red flags are thrown up. It’s a fine line Radford crosses and he does so with the maturity of writers twice his age. In fact, my first thought after reading Mundesley Bay was, “I wish I’d written this.”

It’s always difficult reviewing work by someone who is a close and dear friend, as the reader is likely to assume it’s all bullshit. In this case it’s not. I genuinely love this little book, and I urge everyone to grab a copy in ebook or paperback. It’s an antidote to the negativity we face within ourselves and the outer world.. All the Way to Mundesely Bay deserves to be read, and it deserves to be read now. You’ll thank me for it later.

You can pick up your copy at Amazon.com

Release Day and Contest!

While it may be a cliche, and minimizes the pain women endure, a book release is like giving birth. After months of gestating, it gets released, leaving the author in a state of exhaustion and relief.

That’s simply my long winded way of saying Life in Amber is now available! The paperback is exclusive to Amazon, while the e-book is waiting for you not only at Amazon, but every ebook retailer imaginable, including Apple and Walmart.

You may notice there’s a difference between the two covers of each version, and there’s a reason for that. The e-book cover, for whatever reason kept creating errors when uploading to Amazon. It was rejected 3 times and I finally had to redo the entire thing. I really want to change it to what it should be, but afraid to touch it. Anyway, I still like it, and will probably leave it as is.

That aside, I’m running a contest starting on Monday September 10th, 2018, and closing on Friday September 14th. The task you have is to name the 10 movies that had an impact on me, which I posted on Facebook, and then name the play I wrote, which I talk about on the next episode of The Imaginarium. Post your answer on my FB page and the winner gets an autographed copy of the book! Easy Peasy, right? In case of a tie winner will be chosen at random, through the old fashioned name out of a hat, Good luck!

You can also purchase this and my other books here 

Enter contest here

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsecolbert%2Fposts%2F10211795651154496&width=500

Link for podcast 

http://www.podcastcity.net/the-imaginarium.html

Life in Amber: Excerpt

September 7th, 2018. Mark that date on your calendar as that is when my new novel Life in Amber comes out! Until then, here’s the Prologue to whet your appetite!

photostudio_1529890518571

 

Prologue

 

             It begins, as every thorough account of the paranormal does: with a dream. I’m sitting in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of a hotel. There’s not a soul around, aside from myself and the clerk. His back is to me as he does some paperwork, unconcerned about the lack of customers.

             A Mylar balloon floats by at knee level. It’s losing helium and is folding in on itself. There’s a cartoon on it, SpongeBob SquarePants. I watch it get taken away by the breeze from the air conditioning, and in a moment it disappears behind a column. I stand up, knees popping, and hips aching, to follow the low flyer. I have no idea where it came from; instead, I’m more curious about where it’s going. Air conditioning aside, it seems to move with purpose, as if it’s on a mission. There is a white string attached to it that drags along the ground like a shadow.

            I follow behind, walking carefully, almost afraid to make my presence known. No, not almost, I am scared. On the surface, there is nothing to fear. The hotel itself is unduly bright, the fluorescent lights bleaching everything of its usual color. The balloon is innocuous enough, yet…

 Yet…there is something still not quite right. It stops, slowly turning and pauses as if looking at me with the vast, blue SpongeBob eyes. I hold my breath, not wanting to make a sound. It turns to the side and floats down the left-hand corridor. The hum of the air conditioning stops, and the silence becomes pervasive, almost as if someone has stuck cotton balls in my ears. I trail behind as pressure begins to build inside my head. I clamp a thumb and forefinger around my nose and hold my breath to get my ears to pop, but this only seems to intensify the clogged feeling. At the far end of the corridor are double doors, the entranceway to a suite or conference room.

            The balloon seems to pick up speed, and when it bounces against the doors, they open gradually. A brilliant light starts to pour out, but it isn’t blinding; it is, if not soothing, then at least makes me feel a bit more relaxed. There’s a humming sound, not the air conditioning this time; it comes from inside the room as well, though it has a higher pitch and is faster. Rhythmic.

             The balloon disappears into the chamber, and I follow after. It takes my eyes a bit to adjust to the brightness, and when they do, I emit a soundless scream. I may as well be in the vacuum of space, as any noise I make is siphoned away.

            This is no conference room. It’s nothing I have ever seen before. Coffins made of amber line the expanse; they are all on stainless steel tables with drains beneath them. I look at one and see the remains of my Uncle Albert who had died decades earlier. His blue eyes bulge and his mouth opens and closes like the gills of a fish in its death throes. His gaze turns to me and pleads for me to do something. My heart sinks; Uncle Albert had always been my favorite Uncle. He was Uncle Al, the kiddies pal. While that may sound a bit creepy in today’s world, back then there was no malicious intent at all.

             I place my hand on top of the amber and feel it vibrate. His eyes widen and are the first parts of his body to explode. His blood and gore paint the inside of the coffin. I turn away, hand over my mouth. I look at the wall in front of me and see children pinned to it, the way you’d pin butterflies in a collection.

             Unlike the butterflies, these children are alive. There is one large pin through the abdomen and four smaller bolts in the hands and feet. Their eyes and mouths are sewn shut, and they wriggle weakly. In spite of the mutilations, I recognize them-they are classmates of mine from elementary school. The bullies, brats and hostile childrenbullies, brats and hostile children of divorce. As if sensing my presence their struggle intensifies, and while I can’t hear anything they mumble, I feel their emotions. The hate and judgment and blame are all directed at me as if I’m responsible for nailing them to the walls.

            There are six of them stuck to the wall. Each has on a white t-shirt with a number scrawled on it in their own blood? Ichor? It made no difference, as I memorize the digits, 6, 27, 32, 11, 47, and 52. There seems to be no discernible pattern to the almost randomly generated lottery numbers. As this thought enters and occupies my mind, the light in the room blossoms until I can no longer see. I’m hesitant to walk, not wanting to bump into the amber coffins. I shuffle along with my hands out in front of me, and I feel the balloon brush against my face. I’m finally able to let loose a scream, and it coincides with the balloon popping.

 

The sounds jolted me out of my sleep. Sweat covered my body and drenched the thin sheet over me, in spite of the chill in the room. I grabbed my phone, opened the note app and fumble typed the numbers I’d seen before I forgot them. I set the phone down and looked for a pack of cigarettes, forgetting for a moment I had quit two years earlier. I sat on the edge of the bed, a futon truth be told, and hugged myself, as the cold air dried the sweat on my aging skin.

 

I picked up my phone again and saw the date, September 13th. My birthday.

I was 50.

Stuffing my feet into my slippers, I rose, and began my day, even as the dream started to fade. It was time for my insulin. Birthday or not, diabetes doesn’t take a vacation. I could have been 10, or 20, or hell, even 80 for all that mattered, the fact was, I didn’t care.

Not about birthdays, not about me, and not about life.

 

Review: Poet: An Intimate discussion with Wade Radford

Disclaimer: I am in this documentary briefly, and also friends with the subject. In spite of that, what follows is an objective look at the film, and only my opinion.

One of the very first things I found out about Wade Radford was that he was a poet.This didn’t surprise me as his movie Twink (the film that brought us in touch) was nothing if not poetic at times. The first book of poems of his that I read was “Tough Blows of A Sleepless Universe” and I was, if not blown away, then at least suitably impressed. As further volumes of his work came out, the stronger and tighter his poems became. I suppose the culmination for me, was being asked to write a forward to his collection, “Ideations of Six Feet Under” . For me that volume is perhaps my favorite because it truly captured his honesty, anger and amazing amount of talent.

So, it was also no surprise when he told me that he was going to be making a documentary about his poetry. I was excited by this, as a movie by Wade is always a cause for celebration. The fact it was his first movie  in a couple of years, with long time collaborator and friend Jason Impey was all the better. I was equally humbled when asked to contribute to the film as a talking head (so to speak). I filmed my bits sent them off, and was able to watch the final product this past week.

In short it’s everything you might expect. And more. And less as well. In addition to my contribution we also hear from Jason, punk legend Honey Bane, and film producer Thomas Lee Bottom (who also funded this project). For the record, Honey Bane contributed one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a very long time, using one of Wade’s poems for the lyrics.  The sparse musical arrangement suits this song very well, and Honey’s vocals are nothing short of amazing. This song needs to be a single and played everywhere, it’s that good.

Interspersed with the interviews are pieces where Wade ruminates on, well pretty much everything. These parts are less about the poetry, and moreo about what goes into them. It’s not every day you get to see the inner workings of a poet. During these clips we’re taken to places that have significance to him, and he explains why they have meaning. The camera work during these interludes is at times breathtaking, as much as what Wade discusses is heartbreaking.

We also see Wade reading several of his poems throughout, and as wonderful as they are, and as powerfully read (if a bit over theatrical at times), it interrupts the flow of the movie.

The interview segments are what you would expect from a documentary and all who participate have great things to say and some keen insights at times. We’re all friends of Wade’s and it may come off as a mutual admiration society, but this is about the poetry, not necessarily the person. This isn’t about digging up the dirt, but peeling back the layers to see what makes the heart of his work beat with such unrepentant ferocity.

At a full two hour running time, it does drag a bit in spots, and while I think it would have been perfect at 90 minutes, I’m not sure what I would end up cutting, because it all seems important enough to keep in. And as I alluded to earlier the poetry readings do tend to slow it down, but they are also worth the time they take.

Some may see Poet as a vanity project, a product of equal parts ego and hubris, and for some they would be right. For Wade however, he is open, honest, humble, and most of all doesn’t take himself seriously. His wit and charm is very evident, and the readings are a testament to his talent.

As I watched Poet, I couldn’t help but think I wish I had half his ability, and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay anyone. Poet shows why that  praise is warranted.

Poet: An Intimate Discussion With Wade Radford is available to rent or purchase on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/poetwaderadford

 

All The King’s Ploughs

As it’s NaNoWriMo time again, I thought I would share something from the piece I’m working on.  This is a bit of an odd one, as what follows will most likely not make into the final product.  What started out as a lighthearted idea, quickly became something a bit darker, more twisted. It seems no matter how much I try, the horrific elements seem to follow me.

Also of note is none of the following has been edited. This is as crude as a draft can be.  I post it because even though I may not use it, I like the scene quite a bit, and thought it made a good opening.

In the Sewers

 

Kharisi skewered the sewer rat with the tip of his iron sword. He watched with more than a little delight as the vermin wriggled, even as its little rat guts clung to the weapon. Kharisi turned and shook it at his dwarven companion. “Didn’t you mention lunch but a moment ago?’

Slate Fistcrunch glared at his companion, and stroked at a long, luxurious beard that was no longer there. Realizing his old habit, he let out a fart in Kharisi’s direction.

“The most sense you’ve made all day Slate.” Kharisi said with a small edge in his voice. He lowered the sword, and with one foot pushed the dead animal off his sword, and stepped on its head, grinding bone and brain beneath his boot. He walked a few paces ahead of his companion, the sound of dripping water echoing off of moss covered walls. “Well dwarf, which way?” Kharisi didn’t look behind him, but could hear the stocky Slate catching up to him.

Slate stood by the elf’s side and looked around. He held out the burning torch in front of him and squinted. They were at a three way intersection and he immediately dismissed the path in front of them as it was barred by an iron grate. To the left was a nothing but a dark shaft, and to the right, he could sense a slight wind and with it the smell of offal. “This way,” he said.

“Lead the way,” Kharisi said, motioning the dwarf to move ahead of him. AS they started to move to the rightward tunnel, Slate stopped, held up a hand, and drew his axe.

“What is it?” Kharisi asked, and the sound of multiple legs scurrying up behind them answered his question. Kharisi laid a hand on the hilt of his sword and he could feel the hairs from the enormous spider brush the back of his neck. He held his breath, his grip tightening on the sword, as the spider started to raise itself up to strike. Kharisi turned, his motion a blur, sword out and plunging into the largest of the six eyes. The spider let out something like a scream which chilled Kharisi to the marrow. It backed away, blood and gore dripping from the wound. Slate not wanting to miss out on the fun, took a short leap and plunged the fire end of the torch in the ruined orbit.

The now flaming spider moved back even further, hissing and spitting phlegm-like wads of venom that sizzled as they hit the damp floor of the sewers. “Kill it you damned useless dwarf!”

Slate grunted, and muttered curses under his breath. He dislodged the torch which managed to remain lit, and replaced it with his axe, chopping away at the spider, avoiding the venom, and still managing to get his by gouts of blood. Not for the first time he cursed the Bards for making the slaughtering of beasts sound so easy. One quick thrust my ass, he thought. As he hacked away He saw Kharisi move swift as the wind to the backside of the spider and climbing on its back, he shoved his sword into its head.  It gave one final squall and slumped, dead as can be.

Kharisi sheathed his sword, jumped down from the corpse and looked down at the dwarf. “All that hack and mucking about wastes too much energy. A deftly placed sword works every time. Ask the Bards.”

Slate grumbled something impolite and put his axe away. He pushed Kharisi out of the way and stormed ahead. As he set off to follow the dwarf, he noticed something glimmer in the muck, and bent down to pick it up-pocketing it before Slate could see.

He smiled and continued on.

 

“How much more of this place is there?” Slate asked. Kharisi gave a small shrug. “After the Arnisian War decimated the country King Saerus’ grandfather ordered these to be built for any emergency or need to escape. They’ve been built upon since, and seeing as how peace reigns-however fleeting-our good King has seen fit to make it a sewer, fit only for vermin and shit.”

Slate looked up at Kharisi, studied the elf’s emerald green eyes that were almost translucent. The alabaster skin only heightened their deep color. “Are you sure? I’ve never seen anyone working on them, or digging.”

“Mages perhaps.”

Slate let out a laugh that was closer to a bark. “As if a mage would sully their precious feet and robes down here.”

Kharisi pondered this for a moment, wondering if at first it was a jab against elves, as most wielded magic. Kharisi could as well, but it was weak-his strong suit had always been that of a Warrior. In spite of race, Kharisi was a few inches taller than most elves, and possessed a physique befitting the Arnisians from the North. A stocky, fierce nation, all but wiped out after King Haveron destroyed it with the use of a mana bomb. Much as he hated to admit it, Slate was probably right-Elven Mages were a rather prissy group.  He sighed and continued walking. “Be that is it may, it changes not one fact that these sewers do seem to be getting bigger. I remember as a boy, when these were first being built, I would come down and practice my swordplay on the rats. There were very few places to go, or hide for that matter, and the rats then were smaller, weaker and far more frightened of me, than I of them.”

They soon reached a dead end, with the only other option to go back. “Did we miss a turn?” Slate asked. He leaned against the stone wall, and when it gave way , he fell back into the opening it had created. Kharisi grabbed the torch that had tumbled from the dwarf’s grip and held it out after extending his arm into the entry just created.

“My my, you’ve earned your gold piece for today my friend.” He patted the top of Slate’s head, who took a not so serious swipe at the elf’s hand.

“All you’ve earned is an ass kicking, now let’s see where this goes.”

Kharisi had to duck to get into the opening, and what they found themselves in wasn’t another corridor, but a large room. In the center was a fire that threw off no smoke. A cauldron sat on the floor next to it, big enough for someone to sit inside. Slate and Kharisi looked at one another, unease enveloping both of them. “Stay close,” Kharisi said in a hushed tone. “Put the torch out,” he added, we don’t want to be too obvious.”

“Like Elder beasts in the plains,” a voice rang out. It sounded old and haggard as if it took everything the owner had just to say that. Both knew not to let their guard down, as Crones were known to be very tricky. “Come, come, I won’t….bite!” A cackle of laughter and a flash of light blinded them briefly and when they could see again there was a shadowy figure next to the cauldron, hunched, withered, and covered with a cowl that had straggles of straw coarse gray hair.

“I said, come.”

The duo found themselves walking towards the elevated platform where the Crone and her pot waited. Despite the chill from the stone walls and Fall weather outside of the walls, sweat began beading on their foreheads, this despite the fact the fire she had going gave off no heat. Slate was the first to climb up the three shallow steps and stood within striking distance of the Crone, though he gave no appearance he would do so.  The Crone eyed Slate, scanning him with an intensity that Kharisi found frightening.  “I’ve no interest in you dwarf!” She said, and with a small flick of her wrist, Slate flung backwards as an unseen force blew him off the altar.

“You, Elf, give to me what is mine,” flames danced in her white blinded eyes. There was a sliver of saliva dripping from the corner of her toothless mouth. The nostrils on her sharp nose twitched with impatience.

“I have nothing for you hag, not even a stiff wand for you to fondle.”

“Hag?” she cried, her stooped posture stretching itself out until she stood straight and tall. “Watch your tongue Elf! You killed my precious Eolanda, then stole the ring I gave to her. Tread carefully. Hand it to me and you may even live.”

Kharisi had no doubt she was serious, and while Crones weren’t necessarily good, they never went out of their way to harm a stranger. That was until Kharisi met this crone, whose heart was as black as the robes she wore. Must be very important if she’s threatening. Must not let her have it then. “Perhaps in your old age you’ve forgotten things, it happened to my grandmother. Besides, why would you give a ring to a spider?

“That is not yours to know.  Give me the ring.” Her voice was cold and frosty.  Kharisi stood there, unmoving, barely blinking.

“Once more, I know nothing about it.”

“Liar! I saw you pocket it, look into the cauldron as instructed, and saw the fight with the spider on the oily surface. He watched as Slate kept chipping away and Kharisi snuck around to deal the final blow. He saw himself pocket the plain looking ring and catch up to Slate.

Kharisi refused to admit his thievery and remained silent. He put his hand in his pocket and closed his fist around the jewelry. As he pulled his hand out, Kharisi opened his hand, showing the ring on his sweat slick palm. The crone snatched for it but was too slow, as Kharisi moved his hand then unclenched his fist to show the ring had disappeared.

“Enough games,” the crone said with a quiet voice. “That ring is mine and I want to have it.” From within the sleeve of her robe she pulled out a gnarled branch of a wand, and pointed it at Kharisi. A thin blue beam of light pulsed from the stick and sent a wave of cold over Kharisi’s body, he could feel his toes starting to freeze to the point he was unable to wiggle them. His teeth chattered, as his torso shivered. Kharisi’s eyes began to burn as he couldn’t blink, and the tears which tried to fall became little shards of ice. As he tried to close his mouth, his jaw froze in an O position, which he thought would bring no shortage of amusement to anyone who might see.

The Crone moved closer and the cold became stronger. She cackled and was so intent on Kharisi, that she hadn’t noticed Slatesneaking around behind her, axe held high. “That’ll be enough of that!” he said, and swung horizontally, cutting the Crone’s head clean from her body. The head flew through air, as the body crumbled to the floor. Her wand fell to the ground, bounced and hit Kharisi between his now thawing legs. In almost an instant, his bulge grew and distorted the front of his leggings. Slate pretended not to notice and grabbed the wand but it crumbled in his hand leaving nothing but shavings.

You had the ring all this time and said nothing? Slate said, his face turning red as much from anger as embarrassment.

“I had a ring. But it’s so plain I had no idea it was the one we were searching for.” He made no attempt to hide his engorgement, though he was still feeling the effects of the Crone’s freezing spell, he may not have even noticed were it not for the fact Slate kept glancing at his. Kharisi looked down and grinned. “Apparently something is still frozen. Care to warm it up?’

Slate gave him a look of disgust and turned away. “Let’s just get out of here,” he said, walking away. Kharisi remained quiet and followed, kicking the Crone’s bloody head out of the way out of spite.

Phobophobia

 

Several weeks ago my friend Joe made a mock up cover using a photo I had played with on my phone. The title, Phobophobia, was his idea. The only problem was, I didn’t have anything I was writing that might fit the title.  I liked his idea for the cover a lot, and put it on the back burner as I continued working on Lonely Are The Dead.

As it so happens, progress on LATD began to become a fight to get anything written. I sort of know where I want to go, but the ending has been eluding me. Everytime I would open the file, I’d stare, and edit what I’d already written, but couldn’t-and still can’t-figure out the right ending. The one I had in mind would serve its purpose of tying the tale up, but it’s not one I’m happy with.

 

And then last night in a conversation on facebook, Joe asked me if I was working on anything new. I had a couple of ideas for a short story for the next Fossil Lake anthology, but instead I wrote, “I have an idea for my next one, which I kind of got from that phobophobia cover you did. Lots of bugs, boils, and a serial killing priest.” Thus surprised me as I did have an idea involving bugs and boils, but the serial killing priest was a new element. However, it intrigued me, and I started thinking about it. I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning I knew how the first chapter would go. I banged it out in about an hour, and very happy with the results.

As I was writing it, I was struck with another inspiration: I would not only connect it with Barbed Wire Kisses, but also introduce the main character in LATD, psychic detective Napoleon Santierre.  What follows is part of the first chapter from Phobophobia. A one sentence synopsis would be: Father Rossi is a serial killer priest who chooses his victims based on his phobias, and Santierre, with the help of his victims and other ghosts sets out to uncover and stop him.

 

As always this is coprighted by myself and none may be used or excerpted without my express permission. Enjoy.

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Phobophobia

One:

Our Lady of Perpetual Dispensation

 

Father Rossi sat in the confessional, and wiped sweat from his smooth upper lip. He could feel it beading on his hairless scalp, and felt it trickle down his brow. Some errant droplets slid down into his eyes, stinging them. When that happened he would push the frames of his bifocals up and wipe at the tear ducts with a dainty finger. Even with his thin frame, the confessional was cramped, and with the air conditioning on the fritz, and claustrophobia beginning to kick in, hearing the sins of his parishioners seemed unbearable.

Not for the first time, Rossi pictured himself as the Lord wandering through the desert,. Dried, on the verge of bleeding skin buffeted by hot wind. as sand ripped at the flesh and blinding him at the same time. Arizona was no place to be without working air conditioning, particularly in the summer. Rossi sighed and opened the door. It had been almost fifteen minutes since the last sinner had bleated their litany of crimes against God, and he wasn’t surprised to find the church empty. The only noise to pierce the quiet was the repairman on the roof tending to the cooling units.

The priest took his walking stick which was leaning against the flimsy panel that separated him from the confessor and stepped into the oppressive heat of Our Lady of Immaculate Dispensation. He surveyed the small area as he always did when he finished his obligation, and wondered, again, as he always did, what he’d ever done to be placed in such an unremarkable, almost forgotten parish. The wooden pews were ancient, even when he’d arrived almost a decade prior, and almost unbearable to sit on for any length of time. The hymnals, on the rare times they raised their voice in song, were tattered. Pages were missing, and indeed, so were some of the covers. What remained of them had yellowing pages with fading ink. Rossi had continually asked for the funds from the Bishop to renovate or at the very least replace the hymnals but his requests had always been rebuffed. “Tough times, declining numbers, maybe another time…” is all he heard. When Rossi heard the Bishop was driving a new Lincoln town car he stopped asking.

The priest walked up the aisle, eyes focused on the altar and the large crucifix attached to the back wall. The eyes of a Christ in agony seemed to follow him. He knelt before the creaking altar, genuflected, and jumped as the sound of something crashing came from above. Rossi looked up and saw some of the plaster floating down like dirty snow. “What in blazes?” he said under his breath. He turned around, marched down the center of the church and opened the front doors and was accosted by the ruthless heat and blazing sun. Rossi for once ignored the weather, and walked around the wood and stone building to the back. There was a rickety wooden stairwell that led to the roof, as well as the bell tower though there hadn’t been a bell in place since the late 1800’s. Holding his cane in one hand and grabbing the splinter laden banister with the other, Father Rossi climbed up what was essentially a fancy ladder and peered over the Spanish tile roof top.

“Everything okay?”

 

There was no response. Rossi set his cane down on the edge of the roof, careful to not let it fall over. He pulled up the hem of his cassock so as not to trip on it and set a foot on the roof. With great care so he didn’t go falling off either, he pulled his other foot onto the fragile terra cotta shingles and held out his hands to gain his balance. After a moment, he made his way to the middle where the rusty evaporative cooler sat like a malignant growth, and saw the repairman straining to lift it back onto the metallic shelf it had fallen from.

“Need a hand?” he asked.

The repairman looked up, eyes hidden behind a pair of 99 cent store sunglasses. “About six of them.”

Rossi gave a slight smile, and bent down on his haunches, and the repairman waved him away. “No need, this ain’t going anywhere, ‘cept maybe through this roof if we mess with it.” He stood, and offered a hand to help the priest up. Rossi accepted the help, and heard his knees pop as he stood. He reached into the slit in the side of his cassock, and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket. Rossi wiped the sweat from his face, and ran it around the damp collar.

“I’d give this last rites father. It’s done for.” He then went on to explain everything that was wrong, and how he might be able to get parts, but no guarantees as this model was so old, and should have been replaced years ago. Rossi nodded, a fake smile amidst a darkening face. He would nod, and give an “I see,” once in awhile, but all he could think of was the sweat.

The soiled clothing, the wet skin, and the bacteria that could form in the excretion. While no doctor, he knew that sweat could be cesspools for any kind of bug and cause ringworm, illness, and God knew what else.

No, I’ll have none of that, he thought. Rossi processed all he’d been told and concluded that despite its age, the cooler could be fixed, but the repairman didn’t want to. Already he was gathering up his tools, and placing them in a canvas bag, his work here done. What the priest saw was a lazy sinner only intent on sending Mother Church a hefty bill for doing absolutely nothing except get a tan.

The repairman zipped up the bag, grabbed it by the handle and made his way to the staircase. He noticed the can laying on the roof, and bent to pick it up. He gripped it by the bottom and offered the handle end to the priest. Rossi took it and held firm. Before the repairman could release it, Rossi gave a hard shove, throwing the worker off balance. He yanked his cane away and poked him in the chest sending him back and over the side of the church. Rossi heard the satisfying sound of his skull cracking on an exposed rock.

Rossi climbed down, careful to fall himself, and when he reached the bottom, stood over the repairman. Blood and gore leaked from the open wound, as his eyes fluttered in his sockets and his limbs twitched. He stepped over the soon to be dead man in search of a glass of water.

Then maybe he’d use the phone in his rectory.

Writing Updates

Those who follow me on twitter or facebook know some of this, but for those who don’t, (and why not?), here’s an update on what I’m working on.

 

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You may notice that it says narrator. Yes, Barbed Wire Kisses is an audiobook! Or will be, in about 10-14 business days. My narrator Wayne Messmer did an incredible job, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it! Details on where and how to get it will be posted as soon as it goes live.

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With another great cover by Joseph K. Adams, this is a compilation of my John Waters essays from talkbacker.com. I’ve gone in and reedited them, and in some cases added more material.  There’s a great foreword by Nick NIghtly and an introduction by myself. This is in the end stages of editing and formatting, and will be available as an ebook in mid July.

 

And last but not least there’s:

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My original intention was to have this out by mid summer. As with all plans, it’s not going to work out that way. I’ve had problems with getting an ending I’m satisfied with, and while it’s very close, it;s just not where I want it to be. My plan is for a Fall release. Possibly Halloween.  I know people are excited to read this, and I apologize for the delay, but I don’t want to disappoint anyone.

 

I’m also going to be working on a story for the next Fossil Lake anthology, as well as a radio play about H.P. Lovecraft. And of course there’s the articles at talkbacker.

I thank each and everyone of you for your support, and hope you enjoy everything I do.