Sunday, March 17, 2019

All of These Things are Just Like the Others.

A long time ago I got sick of the wave of post-apocalyptic horror and thriller novels. Like the endless vampire novels that preceded them, I kept waiting for the fad to vanish, but somehow it hasn't quite done that. As with the vampire novels, these apocalypse-inspired things are all now almost exactly the same as the ones that lumbered out before them. They do seem to appeal to an audience that is obviously addicted to them and the mainly politically Fascist crowd who absorb each, one after the other. So they keep the idiot neo-Nazis happy and reaffirm their almost mindless beliefs.

So here is a fill-in-the-blank form that can serve as blurbs for any such novels that seem to endlessly sprout out of the right wing scumpile. Have fun.



After the _________ apocalypse, join _________ as he/she travels across ________ in a desperate journey against ________ to rescue his/her ________. Will he/she find the ______ to battle against the _______ and reach his/her ________?

Find out in Wanky McWankerface’s latest novel, __________
!

(Wanky McWankerface was a ______ who served in the ________, and is now a ______ when not writing novels about _______.)



Fill in the blank.


Saturday, February 23, 2019

Listen

I never realized it until I started compiling the stories that I wanted to include in A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS, but to that date I had written quite a lot of ghost stories. It didn't hit me just how many I had created until I began to sift through the sold and unsold manuscripts and found that a plurality of them were ghost yarns.

One always has favorites. This is they way of things. I have favorite stories among the ones I have penned, and among the four or so of the ones at the top is a story that I wrote for an anthology edited by Stephen Mark Rainey. It's called "Listen".

When I think of the concept of ghosts and the supernatural I see them as forces, influences, things that cannot quite be touched--but which can touch you. It was with this thought foremost in my mind as I sat down before my keyboard to create this tale.

Recently a woman I had not previously known friended me on Facebook. She did so because she wanted to adapt "Listen" to an audio format for a YouTube video (how's that for a mixing of concepts?). I didn't know her, did not know her work, but was frankly flattered that she'd picked one of my favorite tales to adapt and that she'd been kind enough to make friends with me so that she could ask for that permission.

I didn't really think about it. I just granted the request with--I must admit--some humility. And, of course, I hoped that she would do a decent job of it.

Today she sent me the link to her adaptation. To say that I was pleased is a massive understatement. I've had a novel adapted to audio, and comic book scripts adapted to graphic art, and one novel turned into a screenplay. Julia Morgan's audio adaptation of "Listen" is the best transformation of one of my fictions that I've witnessed. She completely understands everything I was thinking when I wrote it. It is flawless. It is amazing.

And so...listen.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Scary!

When I was a kid my dad owned used bookstores. He had hundreds of thousands of old comic books. I could read any comic books I wanted and would bring them home by the armload. This was back in the mid-60s, so you can imagine the amazing stuff I would bring home. 

At some point I decided that I liked horror comics. Probably because I was heavily influenced by horror movies and TV shows. Soon after the titles hit the stands I discovered Creepy and Eerie Magazines. One day in my dad's warehouse I saw a copy of Eerie #13. The cover utterly horrified me. In fact, it scared me so much that I almost didn't bring it home. But I did. I took it into my bedroom with the other stacks of comic books that I was reading--everything from Hot Stuff the Little Devil, to Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man, and Kirby's Fantastic Four, and Wonder Woman by Ross Andru, and Magnus Robot Fighter by Russ Manning...well, there was no shortage of comic book titles in those days.

For some reason I waited until it was dark before opening the cover to Eerie #13. These days I cannot recall the contents of that issue, but I vividly remember the cover art. It wasn't by any of the artists whose styles I had learned to identify. This was something that I didn't find particularly intriguing or inspiring--it was just pure, nihilist horror. It was also the only copy of a Warren magazine that I can remember having a word balloon on the cover.

But that cover utterly gave me the creeps. I was afraid to allow the cover art to touch my fingers and I ended up folding the page carefully back to keep that from happening. I do remember reading the contents and then initially putting the magazine at the foot of my bed with the cover down. Eventually I turned out the light and fell to sleep.

Sometime in the dark hours I was awakened. I immediately knew why I had come awake. There had been a sound in the night. A 'PLOP' sound. As of something having slid insidiously off of my bed to land loudly upon the floor, perhaps in an effort to get away, or to hide, or to sneak up on me.

I turned on the bedside lamp. I looked down at the foot of my bed and there were the comics I'd been reading--Richie Rich and Stumbo the Giant and Classics Illustrated and Spider-Man, Mystery In Space, etc. etc.

But that copy of Eerie #13 was gone.

My heart froze.

Where was that damned cover art?! I'd put it face down because I didn't want to see it again. And now it was gone.

It had intentionally crept away!

Shit.

I sat up in bed and looked down at my good comics. I have an image in my head right now of Magnus, Robot Fighter breaking a robot's metal neck with his steely hand. I had to know where that goddamned copy of Eerie #13 was! So I sat up, crawled out from under the covers, and looked at the floor at the foot of the bed.

The magazine was not there.

I looked a little farther, toward the dresser, and I still couldn't see it! 

Knowing I'd have to lean over the side of the bed into the unprotected zone where monsters could reach up and grab children and drag them into whatever dimension they used to appear under our beds, I began to build up my stupid kid's courage. The magazine couldn't be anywhere but right at the foot of the bed on the side below my window. If it hadn't slipped straight off, then my foot must have knocked it to the left.

I looked down. It wasn't there.

Holy shit.

Now I was more curious than frightened, so I leaned my entire head and shoulders over the side of the mattress and leaned waaaaaaaaaay over and looked down where the copy of Eerie #13 could not possibly be.

And that red-eyed skull face was staring straight back up at me!

My nine-year-old eyes bugged out. My throat constricted so much that not only couldn't I scream, I couldn't even choke on my own fear.

Using what courage I could manage, I hopped out of bed, grabbed a big dictionary that I kept on my dresser and I turned that copy of Eerie Magazine face down and covered it with that heavy Webster's hardback dictionary and weighted that oversized offering of horror pulp to the floor with the help of matter and Mr. Gravity!

There, you damned revenant! Try to get out from  under 10,000 years of language!

Strangely mollified by the thought of the big book covering the illustrated horror tales, I climbed back into bed, turned off the light, and managed to go right back to sleep. Zombie out of sight, out of mind.

Over the next couple of weeks I actually forgot all about the copy of Eerie #13 under my bed. I didn't look to check. Even my mom forget to come in and sweep under there. Then one day I needed my dictionary to look something up (this being the 1960s and not 2019 when you can look up anything on a cell phone or a wifi computer.) I recalled that my Webster's was under the bed holding down the offending horror magazine which was, I reminded myself, face down. So I reached under with the bright, yellow sunlight streaming through the window and I pushed away the dust bunnies and brushed off the grey layer on the book and picked it up, knowing I'd only see some advertisement on the back of the magazine.

But of course that blood-chilling artwork was staring up at me, those crimson eyeballs staring right into mine.

I rolled up that magazine, put it into a bag with some other comics, and walked into the front of the house where my mom was reading.

"Here," I said. "I've read these. You can take them back to the store and sell them."


And it worked. I never saw that copy again.

Scared the crap out o' me!


Sunday, February 03, 2019

Relocating An Old Hiking Destination.

I relocated an old hiking destination. See video posts for details.



Hiking up to find the old, lost location.


Hanging out on the isolated cliff, then hiking back down.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Junior Officers

Lately I've read a couple of books about Imperial Japanese forces during World War II. And one thing that struck me from both of these sources is that the command never knew exactly if the junior officers would obey direct orders when they were issued. Apparently the lowest echelons of officers were moderately unreliable and tended to do what they wanted, even when issued direct, detailed orders. They may follow the orders to the letter; or they might alter them a bit; or they could just as easily ignore the orders and take what they thought was the best course of action. Supreme Command could only give the orders and hope for the best.

So far, neither source has mentioned why this strange order of conduct was in effect. So I'll have to read more material to see if the first sources are wrong. If it was an accurate recording of how things were done on the Japanese side, I want to read more about why it was so.

Kwantung Army surrendered en masse to the Soviet Red Army.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Eight Years


"Eight Years"

By James Robert Smith


I need to say a few things up front, before I even start this story.
My mom was what she liked to call 'half Jewish'. Yeah, I know. Some people say that there’s no such thing. You either are a Jew, or you are a gentile. There is no half-measure to being a Jew. That said, it’s a common term and that’s what she said about herself and that’s good enough for me.

She was proud of that part of her heritage, even if it was mainly denied to her. She was raised around her Jewish aunts, uncles, and cousins and took things in through osmosis and not through being a member of the tribe. Her father had been raised in a very observant home, what some people refer to as an Orthodox Jew. But he lost a great deal of that identity when he married my gentile grandmother and his parents sat shiva on him. (He never saw them again. They were as serious as death on that point.)

Still and all, it was important to my mother and she loved her Jewish relatives and I always felt as if she was a person who really wanted to be Jewish. She seemed to be what I’ve heard some rabbis refer to as “a person with a Jewish soul”.

My dad was a white working class man from the Deep South. Born and raised in Georgia, mainly of Scots-Irish extraction. He was also an atheist since the age of twelve and very early in his life was attracted to left-wing ideology. He came of age around 1930 and rode the rails out of the state and to points north, searching for the impending revolution which, somehow, never came. Because of his brand of politics he befriended many Jews. His favorite writers and political thinkers were all Jews.

Frankly, if I had to venture a guess, I think he ended up in New York City in a search to find a Jewish wife. Instead, he discovered my mom and ended up with a half-Jewish wife. Eh.

So, now, forward many years. It was 1967. The FBI had come down like a ton of Bibles on the nascent American Leftist Revolution and my dad was a bookseller in Atlanta, Georgia. My mom was his business partner and a mother to their eight kids. By then, half of the children were gone, adults. So were almost all of my dad’s leftist thinker Jewish pals. They’d given up on the revolutionary movement and had turned their sights elsewhere—mainly to the State of Israel.

This bugged the shit out of my dad. I mean, it grated on his every last nerve. Why had they all abandoned the struggle so that they could instead focus their thoughts and efforts and donations on a country across the ocean in the Middle East? What kind of an American does that? He stewed.

My dad always enjoyed talking to any of his customers who wanted to discuss politics. Since the store was in a largely Jewish neighborhood, well, he conversed with a lot of Jews. He supported Palestine and those Jewish customers supported Israel. The slow simmer that had been heating at my dad’s passion began to boil.

There were two particular customers—a couple of young Jewish engineering students from Georgia Tech--who enjoyed coming into my dad’s store to bait him. They liked plucking at this old Georgia man who was exceedingly well read, but who didn’t even have a sixth-grade education, having left school before he was ten years old. They would come by to aggravate him and my dad would argue, but he never lost his temper. He just debated with the two assholes who I’d watch as they would team up on my old man and laugh at him.

Then: the Six Days War. The two kids—I saw them a few times and they couldn’t have been more than twenty years old—came in right after this event. They were brimming with confidence and contempt for my dad and decided to drop in on him and rub it in. I’m not sure what they said to him, but he snapped. He didn’t beat them senseless or anything, but they never came to his shop again. That was it. They’d skated a tad too close to the edge and knew well enough to back off.
But it was that moment, I truly feel, that my dad became a Jew-hater.
I’m talking full-bore hatred. As in they all need to go. That kind of hatred. He brought that stuff home.

To that point my parents never argued. Never. In fact, in my admittedly brief eight years of life I had never seen them argue. Not once. But one night after closing the bookshop my dad came in and one thing led to another and he announced that he’d arrived at the logical conclusion that all Jews were inherently evil. All of them. Without exception.
I had been listening to them debate from my bedroom where I had been dozing off for the night. But the debate had turned into an argument. Their voices had risen to yells.

It was raining outside. I recall that vividly and I could hear the rain coming down against my bedroom window as their argument became louder and louder. It was just muffled blasts of voices through the twin barriers of my door and theirs.

And then—BAM!—they were screaming at one another. I had never heard my mom yell that way, her voice filled with complete and unrelenting rage. My dad was, of course, implying that her uncles were evil. That her aunts and cousins were vile. That her father was inherently a monster. And that all of the millions of Jews remaining on Earth that Hitler had not killed were bad news for everyone else. She could not sit there and take that. I then had the impression that something smashed against the floor or against the walls. But it wasn’t like that. It was just my impression of violence between my parents who had never had a cross word in my presence.

In short order, however, I did hear the front door slam. And then silence.

I got up and went out of my bedroom into the hall and entered the dining room where the lights were on. My dad was standing there.

“Where’s Mama?” I asked.

My dad was a big man. Six-foot-two. With a huge beer gut, solid black hair. He looked down at me.

“She went out.”

“But it’s raining,” I said. I had already started crying.

“Don’t worry,” he told me. “She just went out for a walk.”

Who walks in the rain? That made no damned sense whatsoever.

“Why would she do that? Why were you yelling at each other?”
“We were arguing. That’s all. We were just arguing.”

I could think of nothing they could argue about. I knew their store was doing well and that they were making good money. We had nice things and lived in a nice house and they drove a new car and they paid cash for that stuff. I didn’t know any other kids whose parents paid cash for a car, but my parents did. I would tag along when my mom would go in to bargain for a car. It was brutal. Sometimes I would end up feeling sorry for the car salesmen, she drove such a hard bargain.

I was, of course, distressed. Here was my dad standing like an idiot in the dining room doing nothing. My mom was out in the rain walking around. It was very dark. Of course I began to cry even harder.

My dad told me not to cry and that she would come back soon. That she just went for a walk to think. I was worried sick. How could he stand there while my mother was out in the rain? I headed toward the door and he told me not to go out and insisted that she would return very soon. He told me to go back to bed, and I did. Of course I could not sleep. I lay there and waited, listening.

In a while—I don’t know how long, but it seemed like hours--I heard the front door open and I leaped out of bed and ran into the dining room. There was my mom. Soaked to the skin. Her hair—which had been white since before she was thirty—was plastered to her skull. She looked horrible.

“Mama!” I yelled, relieved that she was home. I wanted to hug her but she told me to go back to bed. Again, I did as I was told.

The rest of the night was silent. I don’t think my parents spoke to one another. If they did, it was after I fell asleep. They certainly did not argue.

It was a few days later before I found out what this was all about. My dad hated all Jews? This made no sense to me. My dad hated no one over their race or nationality. How could this be: my father who was for civil rights, human rights; against all racism? Why would he suddenly hate Jews? My mother’s father had been a Jew. This made no sense to me whatsoever and I could only conclude that my dad had gone completely bats.

I’m not sure how they dealt with this development, but my parents never argued about it again. For years it was something that was there, sometimes unspoken, but also bubbling up through a Jew-hating rant from my dad (when my mom was not around).

The years passed. We moved and my parents opened more bookstores as they went elsewhere looking for capitalist wealth. Sometimes they did well, sometimes not so good. Macon. Columbus. Athens. Chattanooga. Finally, Brunswick. It was 1975. I had recently graduated high school. While my mom was disassembling our household to move our furnishings from the mountains of Ellijay to the flatlands of Brunswick, I helped my dad transport his shelves and books from one end of the state to the other. We worked and slept in the store—the building which my parents owned--while we hammered the wood and stocked the shelves. For a while I was my dad’s closest friend and confidant. Nearing the end of his life he had to make do with a 17-year-old son to talk to and to exchange ideas. My mom was several hundred miles away packing the household for the move. His friends were all gone. The bright book buyers whom he counted upon for intellectual inspiration were elsewhere.

As far as I knew—although we never spoke about it much—he still hated Jews. I figured he must, since I’d never heard him renounce it.
One day we were talking. The store had taken shape and was a day or two away from opening. Brunswick was not the kind of town I figured as a successful location for a bookstore. All of the other towns where he’d found profits had been larger population centers. I was worried things would completely fall apart and my parents would end up broke. But through all of this worry on my part we would sit and talk when we weren’t hammering shelves together or alphabetizing books by author.
That day, for some reason, my dad had been talking about Oscar Levant. He really liked that guy. I recall interrupting him.

“Oscar Levant? You like Oscar Levant?”

My dad nodded. “Yes.”

“Wait…he’s Jewish.” Other than the name being a giveaway my mom was obsessed with informing me if a successful person was a Jew. It was her secret way of countering my father’s propaganda, I have always assumed.

My dad shrugged.

“Why would you like him if he’s a Jew?”

“The guy was funny. And smart. And witty. And talented.”

“And a Jew,” I added. “How can you like him if he was a Jew?”

“I just told you why.”

The puzzle of my dad never ceased to confuse me. “You were talking about Edward G. Robinson yesterday. You told me you liked him, too. And I know he was a Jew, also. Why do you like him”

I’ll never forget my dad smiling, then. He didn’t smile a lot. “I figure any guy that ugly who can become a major movie star has to be worth admiring.”

I laughed. “Okay.”

We talked about other things and that was that.

A couple of weeks later, though, the subject came up again. The store was open. It was producing income. We had been eating some lunch in the shop and my dad had begun to tell me of living in New York City when he had met my mom.

“Tell me something,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“Mama’s father was a Jew. Was he inherently evil, too?” Charles Kurtz, I knew, had been a performer as a young man. In Vaudeville at one time, I was led to understand. He was an acrobat and worked with a partner. But he wasn’t just an acrobat—he was a singing acrobat. They would work their tumbling act and these two muscle-bound Jews would end the performance by singing to the audience. After that, he’d opened a small grocery store that he’d run before dying of cancer while still a relatively young man, leaving behind a wife and seven kids. “How could an acrobat who became a grocer be evil?”

My dad's back stiffened. I’d been sitting behind him on a stool when I had said this. He was in a chair and he half turned toward me, the sandwich in his right hand. “Your mother’s father was a good man. He was very sweet. Don’t ever, ever say anything bad about your grandfather.”

My dad didn’t live a lot longer after that. He neglected his health terribly, having grown up in a time and place where you didn’t go to see a doctor unless you were about to die. And he was about to die, but he didn’t get a chance to see a doctor before it happened. Hearts tend to fail like that, sometimes.

But one day we were there again, in the store, our heads together conversing like two old pals. My dad had been telling me of a book he’d just finished about Charlie Chaplin and some of the good things Chaplin had done in his life.

“I thought you didn’t like Chaplin,” I said. Chaplin apparently would often tell people he was a Jew, even though he wasn’t. Or the public would think it for some reason or another, my dad included.

“I didn’t like him for the past eight years because I thought he was a Jew,” my dad told me. “But he wasn’t a Jew, and I wasted eight years hating him because of that.”

I just stared at him. He sat there stoically looking down the long rows of his bookstore—the last bookstore he would ever own.

“So,  you don't think Jews aren’t evil,” I said.

“No.” The silence of the store around us, the dust, the smell of old pulp. “No, I do not.”





My mom's parents. From what I understand, around this time my grandfather was a performing--apparently a singing!--acrobat. Wish I knew more about that act.


Since our last move this is the only photo of my mom that is not packed away.



Same thing here. Photos of my mom's sisters are all packed up except for these two sent to me via Internet some months ago from a wedding many decades ago (1930s?). Here, my mom's sisters Florris, and Verna.