Sunday, November 29, 2015


2015 saw the publication of my first short story collection, A CONFEDERACY OF HORRORS. Stories from across three decades of professional sales. Older stories from my very early days as a writer, to recent stories never seen. From the excellent Hippocampus Press.

There are stories here to satisfy every type of fan of weird fiction. There are stories of cosmic horror to those of modern-day violence. Ghost stories are there, along with some traditional creatures and things to chill your blood.

"Even when grouped together thematically, the diversity and variety are nothing short of impressive. Tales range from Lovecraftian terrors to alien encounters with side trips into eco-horror and Southern Gothic tales. Carefully crafted, Smith relies on suspense and subtlety, rare traits in in a genre increasingly reliant on gore.
Hippocampus Press should be thanked for this book. It is a long overdue collection of short stories by a master of the form and should be part of any horror reader’s collection."
"In my opinion James Robert Smith's A Confederacy of Horrors will most likely be the best weird fiction collection of the year, because it contains diverse and beautifully written stories. It's an exceptionally good and original collection that will please fans of horror and weird fiction stories. It's a bit difficult for me to imagine that another collection could somehow be better." 


Saturday, November 28, 2015

Old Photos

One thing I love about digital technology has been the ability to take tremendous numbers of photographs that I can conveniently save on external hard drives to retrieve at some future date. This means that I can take thousands of photos that, when I used 35mm film, I had to be very careful about the shots I chose and took.

Today I was going through the files and stumbled upon a brief mountain trip Carole and I took that I had almost forgotten about. We went up to Lake Lure and Hickorty Nut Gorge to visit a friend of Carole's who lived there (at that time--she has since moved). We spent the night in their cabin and then drove up to Mount Mitchell and North Carolina's true high country. Then we made a leisurely drive back home.

I've actually been having a good time digging through old photo files. I'm sure I'll find other stuff of interest as I excavate the memories.

Taken from the summit of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern USA. View looking toward Mount Craig, the second highest summit in the eastern US (and a mountain I prefer as it's undeveloped and I don't bump into many people over there. Also, it has a natural cliff face with phenomenal views.)

Craggy Dome. We missed the rhododendron display.

Some non-native Tiger lillies on Craggy Dome.

It was getting late as I descended Craggy Dome.

Down in Hickory Nut Gorge. If you've seen the Michael Mann film LAST OF THE MOHICANS then you have seen these cliffs. In the center of the photo is Hickory Nut Falls which is where Magua (Wes Studi) and Chingachook (Russell Means) fight to the death.

Down in the bottom of the gorge where the little town sits. I like it there, but it has become popular with the motorcycle crowd, so if you go at the wrong time you will be surrounded by bikes and their overbearing noise.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Normally I don't buy extra copies of books that I already have in my collection. However, sometimes I will if two qualities present themselves: a very low price and nicer condition than what I already own. These two things came together this week when I happened upon a copy of MYSTERIOUS SUSPENSE #1 from Charlton Comics.

I got this book for obvious reasons. It features stories created by, written by, illustrated by, and inked by Steve Ditko. Here we see The Question, one of his creations that has been almost as long-lived as either Spider-Man or Dr. Strange. He created The Question after he walked away from Marvel Comics and was making his living away from the thieving influence of Stan Lee and Martin Goodman.

I'm not sure who did the dialog in this book, but it's credited to "D.C. Glanzman" who was, apparently, a real person, but it has also been said that Ditko would sometimes use the name when doing his own dialog. As with most of Ditko's work, the dogma is laid on pretty thick. So I suspect that the words in those balloons are at least 50% Ditko...perhaps 100%. It's certainly a lot different from the silly dialog that was present in Spider-Man, so my suspicion is that someone was following Ditko's notes closely--if it wasn't Ditko himself. When I was younger I thought that Lee had rewritten Ditko's dialog on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. But these days I suspect that the dialog was mainly written by many of the pulp writers who were in the building working on Goodman's various pulp titles.

At any rate, I picked up a better-than-fine copy of the book. It may go permanently into my collection, or perhaps I'll sell it later and keep the lesser condition book.

A nicer condition copy of MYSTERIOUS SUSPENSE #1, featuring THE QUESTION, created by Steve Ditko, plotted by Steve Ditko, penciled and inked by Steve Ditko. (But, alas, copyright by DC Comics.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Some Have Names

Whenever I'm camping, hiking, backpacking, or kayaking I encounter animals. Sometimes many animals. And every once in a while a local will point out a specific critter and tell me that it has a name.

Just such an animal was an alligator we encountered on the St. John's River near Blue Spring State Park in Florida. We had been kayaking on the river and a ranger told me about an alligator named "Tick". His name was Tick because he had a round, bloated appearance like a tick that has been feasting on blood.

The reason for his unusual shape was that he was struck by the blades of a speedboat blazing down the river. The blades cut into his back and 'cracked' the layer of skin and dermal scutes that protect him from harm. He recovered from the immediate effects of the encounter, but air leaked into his body and he quite actually partially puffed up like a balloon. The air had no way to escape once the injury healed over.

Now, alligators are largely ambush predators. So this would be something of a problem since his back is like a big ball that breaks the surface before his eyes do. But the ranger assured me that Tick was doing fine and had been around for years, and would likely be around for many more years.

Unless, of course, he encounters the spinning blade of another speedboat.

"I'm gone sneak up on you!" Not. If you look closely you can see the "crack" that allowed air into his body before the wound healed.

A youngster we saw very close. might even be the progeny of Tick!

"Well, I'm gone sneak up on somebuddy else, then!"

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Good Grief.

It occurs to me that I have been doing the same job that Lewis Black does for decades. But instead of paying me for doing it, people generally just hate me for it. I reckon I should smile when I rip folk their new asshole. Maybe that will help.

Stairway to Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Dammit! Pay me for this stuff!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

WITHERING, A Novel of Horror

I initially posted this update because I had a faulty notice that WITHERING was on sale. However, on checking again I see that it is NOT on sale but is listed at its regular $2.99 price. My apologies.

Still a bargain, though!  Read the story of the village of Woodvine, Georgia where a prehistoric creature stalks the dying town in rural south Georgia. Grab your copy now!

The creature as I always saw it.

Grab yer copy now!

Withering! By me!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thinking of the High Country.

The past couple of weeks I have been having very vivid recurring dreams wherein I am either camping or backpacking. Beautiful, wonderful, colorful dreams. This tends to happen when I am feeling particularly homesick for my southern Appalachians. I travel around to wild places all over the United States, but my native southern highlands remain my favorite. Yes, there are things elsewhere that I grudgingly admit are not available here in our mountains...but then we have scenery that cannot be witnessed in those more extreme locales.

And, part of it, I have to admit, is that I grew up with these summits and they are ingrained into my psyche. Yes, I love my mountains.

If I can, the next place I will go to camp will be either the area around Shining Rock Wilderness, or deep in the Black Mountains. The Black Mountains are still my favorite hiking destination, so maybe that's where I'll go when I can.

When I go to the area around Cold Mountain, I tend to head over the Middle Prong Wilderness. This is because it's not as popular as Shining Rock even though they are separated only by a road. When Shining Rock is packed with people, Middle Prong remains silent and abandoned.

This is a spot I have been eyeing for years as a campsite above Deep Gap on the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Located at about 6,600 feet, it would be one of the highest campsites in the eastern USA.

The campsite just mentioned is located on the third peak visible in this photo. On my favorite NC hiking trail.

Near the Shining Rock Wilderness, but not in it.
Point Misery, in the Black Mountains.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

THE LIVING END: A Zombie Novel.

I haven't posted a promo for this book in a while. This was my first zombie novel. I wanted to play with some of the mythology first developed by John Russo and George Romero. Now there is a truly monstrous flood of zombie novels. The sub-genre seems to be more popular now than vampire fiction was back in the 90s. The racist gun-porn crowd who seem to be attracted to the zombie scene in huge numbers had issues with the book. But the sales were good and the response from the folk who aren't neo-Nazis was positive.

THE LIVING END by James Robert Smith.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Slippery Slope Time!

I have been amused at the little tantrums and fits of the politically correct crowd. But of course they peck at the low-hanging fruit.

Recently the World Fantasy Awards committee voted to remove the image of the formerly highly respected fantasist Howard Philips Lovecraft from that award. Because of the puking whining of a disjointed elite within that part of literary fandom.

This is a problem. Where does it end? I know people who want us to blast the President faces off of Mount Rushmore. Do we hand them the dynamite?

Now, I pose to this same disgusting crowd of crowing idiots:

There is an award in comics named for, and in honor of Will Eisner. He was a racist. He was also a brilliant artist who did more than almost anyone else to promote sequential art. He also created this:

Art by the racist, Will Eisner. (See his signature there? Huh? See it?")

So I ask them...are you going to agitate for the removal of the Eisner Awards?

Huh? Are you?

Recent commentary by ST Joshi.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Two of my favorite scenes in movies are from writers who I am convinced were influenced by exchanges they had with bullies, or from observations they made of someone being bullied. I say this because when I was a kid I looked like someone a bully would like to target. I was white, fat, and--on the surface--quiet and meek. Unfortunately for those who tried to bully me, appearances can be deceiving and there was nothing I enjoyed more than feeling my fists and feet punching or kicking the shit out of a bully.

A few months ago I had a guy pull this classic bully shit on me. Now, I'm 58 years old these days. And I'm not quite so quick on the anger button because I'm older and I take medicine for that shit. However, as I stood there watching this guy and listening to what he was saying to me--let me just say that it took every fucking ion of will power that I possess to keep from beating the complete and bloody crap out of him. For an instant my mind was filled with images of his cracked corpse lying on the floor with me standing over it and my shoes covered in the gore from his guts.

Instead, I crammed that rage down into my center and gave him back what he was trying to deliver.  Only I laid it on even thicker. Suddenly, he was the target and I was the shooter. He turned on his heel so fast I thought he might have been a figment of my imagination.

Anyway,  here are those two scenes of classic bully tactics.

This...this is how it's done.

And this.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Recently, while doing some basic research for a future project, I wondered what a tribal/nation map of Africa would have looked like without Europeans mucking about with borders and nation building and other shenanigans. And I found this map:

African nations before European colonization.
This map looks to be relatively accurate, but of course I wouldn't know, because I am not a scholar of African studies. The map appears to be wrong end up because the makers turned the western version of north-south on its head. Or put things right, if you care to be so inclined.

The thing is, you have a vast palette of many nations that likely make more sense linguistically and culturally than anything the European colonialists imposed on the inhabitants of the continent.

And I also wanted to know what North America would have looked like without the meddling and mass murder committed by European warlords here. The best I could find was a map that shows merely what the lower-48 of the USA would have resembled if the continent had not felt the bloody tread of colonialism from Europe. I'd like to see one of all of North America (for reasons of my own). Noting, of course, that there were probably some tribes and nations that were wiped out from disease before any European historians got a chance to make records of them.

Tribal boundaries pre-European?
If anyone reading this blog knows of any good books and maps on this subject, let me know.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TICKS, Terminal Action Part II

Being the remainder of Chapter Four of TICKS.

By James Robert Smith

He had always wondered how he would react if he should ever be a father, to have the chance to have a child of his own. The Agent still did not quite know the answer to that possibility, but he suspected that it was close to what he imagined. They were all precious to him, the people. He knew that it was part of his nature, and he realized that this greater love he felt for them as a group was probably one of the reasons that none of his previous wives had been able to form an emotional bond with him.

How does a woman love a man who loves everyone as much as he loves his wife?

For this reason he never felt anything other than sadness when they had each ended their relationship. A part of him knew that normal men would have felt some kind of anger, even if it was misplaced. But Agents were no normal men. They were something better in some ways, and just apart from men in others.

Erica, though—she had been different right from the beginning. From the day they had been introduced to one another there had been something about her that he thought was special; that was different from any other woman he had met.

And now, she would be the mother of his child. There was an upwelling of emotion that he had never quite felt. It seemed to be composed of equal parts joy and dread. The Agent wondered if there was a word to define this feeling, but if there was he could not name it. Perhaps he would discuss it with Loraine Gaskins when next they spoke.

This was what he was thinking of just before he opened the door of his sedan and stepped onto the street.

The wind was blowing, roughly from north to south. It was cold, but not uncomfortable. He was wearing one of his battle uniforms, but not the one from the previous day. He paused very briefly to don a close fitting helmet composed of the same dark Kevlar. It covered his ears and even the sides of his face and jawline. There was an optional clear-tech faceplate, but he had decided to leave it behind. It had a tendency to fog on one side and to become coated in blood and gore on the other. He generally ended up tearing the guard off and flinging it aside. The good folk in research and development were trying to develop something more effective, but he wished they wouldn’t bother.

“You’re better than a cruise missile,” one of the techies had told him once.

“Excuse me?” he’d asked.

“Well, you know we can thread a cruise missile up a terrorist’s ass from a thousand miles away. Perfect as pink. But it makes a mess and tends to create all kinds of collateral damage, both human and property.”

Agent 67 had shivered at that casual mention of human death and injury. One thing he couldn’t grasp was why he was so attuned to the glory of human life, while they seemed able to dismiss one another’s mortality with disturbing ease.

“But you…” the technician had then stood from the chair where he’d been sitting, tinkering with some gadget the Service was developing for his use. “You’re a thousand times better than a carefully placed explosive. You arrive at the target just like a rocket, but then you carefully choose the smallest of areas and go from point A to point B wreaking bloody vengeance on the bad guys. If a missile could go toe to toe with insurgents and room to room…” The man shook his head. “But we don’t need that, as long as we have Agents.”

Agent 67 had nodded, understanding.

“But of course we can only use you guys against the Mutations, the Ticks, those sorts.”
And it went without saying that he had not responded to that. Killing humans…that was something reserved only for other humans. His job was to protect.

He was aware of eyes on him. Not just those of his backups and the men tasked with ensuring that none of his targets escaped the building. There were cameras and listening and recording devices of every type aimed at him this moment as there always were. There was even an almost microscopic camera hovering above a magnetic disk on his right shoulder, transmitting everything visible from that point.

“Polly is working fine.” It was the voice of Director Mills who was obviously looking through the electronic eye that the little construct offered him. Turning the world into digits and sending it through the beam to his flexible tablet. The Agent reached up and tapped the speaker at his right ear. “Copy that,” he said.

As he walked toward the apartment building he looked around the area. There was very little traffic, and he knew the Service had already erected road blocks and sent patrolmen to set up detours around this block. But there was no way, really, to warn every local civilian what was about to happen. That would have alerted the targets and they would probably have flown the coop at the first hint of danger.

Mutations were monsters, but they were not stupid. Agent 67 wondered if any of them were looking down at him as he walked to the door. He already knew that there were many in this place. He’d been told to expect at least two, and now that he was there and could sense them, could smell them, he figured that the estimate was off—there were four in the building.

Thinking of Erica, of the unborn child, of the citizens everywhere who were at risk, he broke into a run and entered the building. To the human eye, he would have appeared as a dark and fleeting smudge on the face of reality.

Three floors up and on the other side of the street, the Director gasped “Fuck,” Mills whispered. “I never get used to seeing him do that.” He turned his eyes to Tanger whose gaze was drawn not to the street, but to the table that was stretched on the desk before them. “I’ve seen him punch holes in concrete walls. Once he got really pissed off at this one Tick…and he picked up a car and smashed the thing with it. And not just any car. One of those old gas cars that guzzled fuel. One the soldiers used to drive.” He snapped his fingers, trying to come up with the brand. “A Hummer! Damned if he didn’t pick a freaking Hummer over his head and hit that freaking Tick with it.”

Tanger’s gaze and attention, though, were not divided. He was intent on watching the images on the Director’s tablet.

Agent 67 pushed the glass door open and stepped inside. The stink of Mutation was everywhere. Humans were in the building, unaware of what was now sharing the shelter where they lived. But the foulness of the others could not be masked behind the scent of the people. They could run, but they couldn’t hide.

He was about to make sure that they couldn’t run, either.

The Agent came to a door that he knew was a stairwell. A voice was in his left ear. Female voice, from Team Alpha. “There,” she told him. “Stairwell number one. Take it and go up. Third floor. That’s where they are.”

Again, he was moving at a speed no one could match and few could even follow. He was taking the stairs four at a time; gravity was not the burden on him that it was for Normals. At the next landing he was picking up speed, but came to a sudden halt. At once he was still as death. The stairwell was quiet and dark. He could feel specks of dust settling upon him, drifting down from as high as the top floor six stories above.

“What’s wrong?” This time the voice was in his right ear. Director Mills.

“You were wrong,” the Agent told them. “There are four of them.”

Pushing the door open he exited the landing and found himself in a hallway flooded with light. The big, yellow sun illuminated the narrow space and lit up the dark brown carpet that lined the floor. He hesitated for just a second and headed to his left. Passing a door where he knew only humans were sleeping, he strode on, his black form moving him to the next door—rooms empty—and to the next—an elderly man watching television—and the next.

He was suddenly seeing red. A wet sheen of crimson had been pulled across his eyes. The world had gone quiet and lukewarm, holding nothing akin to pleasure; no pain, no heat, no cold. Nothing of sadness or joy. There was only a clear void that surrounded him as he grasped the handle of the door and snapped it off in his left hand, pushing the metal barrier open.

Bits of steel and little screws from the locking mechanism were in the air.

A few splinters from the door frame were frozen in flight, like little spears thrown by tiny little invisible savages.

The air inside the apartment had once been breathed by a person.

But was now poisoned by a Mutation, a drinker of blood, a living contagion.
The Agent had a welcome companion that would stand with him until the job was done.

He was now joined by pure, animal, drooling RAGE.

The Blood-drinker was dozing. It sat on the floor in the center of the room that had once been a den shared by the man who had once owned this home. Around it was a dried circlet of gore, the remains of its last meal. The thing had fed powerfully and nothing much remained of that feeding. Only a few strings of sinew, a hank of sticky hair, and the tough and chewy heart. The heart had a few tooth marks on it, but the Drinker had obviously decided to rest before finishing.

The Agent’s hands were already on the thing before it was fully aware of the situation. As fingers pressed down onto its shoulder and a fist was hurtling toward its skull, its eyes, cloudy with something like death sprang open and it snarled, baring teeth that were no longer human and no longer blunt and which glittered with saliva and blood and infection.

“Arh,” it said, like some demented pirate.

The Agent’s fist smashed into the thing’s face and kept going, passing through flesh and bone, jetting above an engorged tongue, speeding through the palate gummed with blood, shearing through the throat and the spine and taking the top of its head completely free of the body.
Its head came away, moving in a line roughly equivalent to the direction of the Agent’s fist. And with its mind just feeling confusion that was communicated briefly to its eyes, the remains of that skull and its braincase settled with a loud clack to the marble tile that the man he had once been had lovingly placed on the floor.

“Jesus Christ.” That voice had come from the ear reserved for the Director; it was not Mills, but someone with him. The Agent heard the voice and shelved it for further reference because he was far too busy now for trivialities.

Turning on his heel he was across the room and through the broken door. He knew that a dozen gun sights were now aimed on this building and that the Director’s men were surrounding the place. If anything not human tried to exit now, they would be targeted by hollow points and flechettes and high caliber rounds that were decidedly not steel-jacketed to minimize any tissue damage.

He could sense people suddenly stirring and feel panic. He hoped they would all hold their positions and refrain from getting in his way. Not once had he ever injured a person—not even accidentally—and he was bound by every fiber of his makeup not to let that happen. If there was a choice between a person’s safety and inaction, he would cease to move. Sometimes it made a fight more difficult and he wanted to avoid the situation from ever occurring.

Now, of course, his prey was aware of him. When they died like that they always sent out a pulse of madness and fear. This was when they would either run, or wait for him to walk into their embrace. The Agent much preferred the latter outcome.

The stairs were nothing but two fantastic bounds, as if he were barely tethered to the gravity well of Mother Earth, tip-toeing across matter. Then he was peeling the door of the stairwell back like a flap of leather. Three were in the apartment directly to his right. The trio was doomed.


His knee came up, catching the bottom of the door and shearing it off of its hinges. Simultaneously he palmed the left side of it and shoved it so that the whole barrier came off and became a flying mass that met the first of the inhabitants of the room squarely, taking it back and down. That one was injured but not out. Putting his right arm up, he deflected the blow coming at him from that direction. Off to the left he could see something scrambling across the floor, spread out like a big smear of pale flesh, having shed all semblance of its humanity.

The Agent went for the gun on his left thigh. He didn’t particularly enjoy using a firearm—it was far more satisfying on a personal level to take them out with his hands—but he didn’t have the luxury of time.

As quick as his targets were, there was no time for them to react to this new tactic on his part. A red dot of light appeared in the center of the pink mass that was moving quickly to intercept him. A Tick that had made the full transformation. It took quite a few meals for that to happen and he made a mental note of it for debriefing. His finger tightened on the trigger.

There was a quick pop and suddenly the air was filled with a flurry of steel flechettes that hit their target, shearing through newly toughened dermis that could deflect most impacts, but not from this weapon. Ten metal slivers roughly two inches in length, shaped like knife blades, made the meat and plastic bone into liquid. The Tick yelled, quivered, and went still. It always surprised him when one in that state of transformation still used its voice—it was the only thing about them that remained human throughout the ordeal of man to monster.

Unable to avoid the inevitable, he stood his ground as the one at his feet shed the door that had brought it low. It sprang to its feet and without coming to a standing position it launched itself at the Agent’s gun-hand, pinning the weapon close to his leg and preventing it from firing at anything but the floor.

Simultaneous with that the other one hit him from the right, its fist crashing into the side of his face. He actually saw stars. He’d never encountered a Mutation who was even one fourth as strong as he was, but the power of their altered musculature was impressive. In fact, the blow was so intense that it cracked the receiver in his right ear and it ceased to operate.

With one mighty shrug, the Agent flexed his right arm and sent the thing away from him, its body moving through the air as if it had been only a pillow tossed by a playful kid. As it crashed through the wall on the other side of the space, he turned his attention to the thing that was doing its best to wrest the gun from his hand.

“You want it?” he asked.

With ease he peeled the creature from his hand and shoved it back with blurring kick. It raised its hands in a defensive posture as the gun popped once more and the stainless steel blades left its head in crimson tatters. That target slumped to the floor in a pond of steaming gore. The Agent sheathed the gun and turned toward the last of the things.

The Mutant had already pulled itself out of the tangle of furniture and plaster and studs that he’d created in the impact of its body with the wall. Surprisingly, it stood its ground and made no move to either attack or flee. This almost made the Agent hesitate, some germ of surprise or suspicion traveling through his mind. Later, he would have to admit to himself that he had hesitated for just an instant.

But then his instinct kicked in, his devotion to humanity came welling up. He was then an unstoppable mass moving with blinding speed across the room, his hands suddenly around the creature’s throat. It grimaced for just a second, its lips torn, its teeth stained not with the remains of a victim, but of its own blood. This was one who still looked human, as long as it did not grin too widely. These were the ones who could travel among the population and pass for human. It was this type who were the most dangerous and who were responsible for spawning the things the Service now called Ticks.

Gripping its throat tightly in his left hand, the Agent drew back his right fist.

“Goodbye,” the Agent said to it.

In reply, the thing that had once been a man said one word to him. One, single syllable, delivered with a sneer that showed nothing but contempt.

And this time the Agent did pause. His body actually locked for just the merest of split-seconds. Anyone could have noticed it. The thing did, and it grinned more widely still, revealing its new set of sharpened teeth, all glinting crimson.

The blow shattered that grin and reduced the skull to bits of goo and bone.

For a moment the room was silent. The Agent could hear nothing. Finally, he was aware of voices raised in alarm from other apartments. People were understandably frightened. He did not want to cause any of them further stress by suddenly appearing in their midst as a giant covered in alien blood and guts. So he stood his ground and spoke to his fellow Service members.

“All clear,” he said.

He waited for them to arrive.

He was now joined by pure, animal, drooling RAGE.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

TICKS, Chapter Four

Being Part of Chapter Four of TICKS.

By James Robert Smith

“Team Alpha,” the woman said. Her voice was steady and calm. “Agent 67 in position.”

The director and his new field associate were housed safely in an office tower, third floor, with a perfect opposing view of the target building which was a similarly sized structure of residential flats for local young, upwardly mobile professionals. What were called ‘Yuppies’ in days of yore.

“Copy,” the director replied.

“Team Beta in position,” came the next response. That voice was old Carl Denby, one of Director Mills’ first recruits. He was a tested veteran approaching retirement—'six months' he’d told his bosses not a week earlier. Denby and his partner, a woman named Donna Weiss, were parked in a white, unmarked van that bristled with hidden spying devices and which was armored beyond the wildest  wet dreams of any Asian warlord. The van was parked in close proximity to the target building, on the same side of the street, and within sight of Mills and Tanger. It would need that armor if anything went amiss.

“Agent 67 is on the beam” Mills said, examining the tablet placed carefully on the desktop of their makeshift headquarters. The room was close--not quite the dimensions of a jail cell, but nearly; and dark except for the sliver of light that they allowed between heavy, dark brown curtains. “Is Agent 42 at a safe distance?”

“Agent 42 is currently at rest, in domicile, more than 50 miles away.” That was from Elaine Drummond, that cool female voice from Team Alpha.

“Very good,” Mills responded. “Await my signal.”

Mills almost seemed to be hypnotized by the information he was constantly reading on the dark screen of his tablet. He had chosen to stand, and his fingertips were pinning the thin strip of flexible glass and malleable hard drive to the desktop. He was keeping a close eye on the dark blue dot that represented Agent 42.

“Why haven’t they changed the coding?” Tanger asked.

The question was uttered so unexpectedly that Mills flinched. He was always tense just before a strike of this magnitude, and he had not figured the young associate would do more than observe. Sighing, he didn’t know whether to be pissed off that the kid had startled him, or to score him points for being reasonably inquisitive. He decided the latter, and to reply with an answer rather than a reprimand.

“Agents are top-loaded with various social cues,” he replied, without turning to face Tanger. “When the Mutations appeared in our midst, and we were having such a horrible time dealing with their spread, the geneticists came up with the Agents. You know that much, as does everyone else,” he said before he allowed his young charge to feel as if he was being lectured.

“But we didn’t want a Frankenstein’s monster on our hands. The cure being worse than the disease and all that.” He sighed. “So when they were cooking up the genetic soup for these people, our saviors, they had to give them a heavy dose of both paternal and maternal instinct. You don’t even want to know the sources of those codes. I know some of them, and I wish I didn’t. They look upon us all as their brood, their children, their most precious of infants. All of us, no matter who we are or what they look like--as long as they're human.”

Mills wasn’t finished, and although he’d paused to check the tablet, Tanger waited patiently. He scored a few more points from his boss for that.

“And not only do they have that overwhelming maternal need to protect, they added in some totally bad-ass Alpha Male ‘tude. I’m talking lion rage. Wolf territorial integrity kind of thing. Imagine the worst ‘git off’n mah property’ Hatfields and McCoys craziness and multiply it by one hundred.”

“I see,” Tanger finally admitted.

Mills took a moment to turn toward the young hire. “No. You don’t see. Agent 67 down there. He pointed in the general direction of the street below them. “If he sensed another Agent within five miles of here…he’d go Billy Berserk bug-fuck crazy. He might wait until he’d finished his job. The one he’s getting ready to do in about” he looked at his tablet “two minutes. But after that. Shit. He’d haul ass after the other Agent stupid enough to get that close to his flock, his pack, his kids…and off he’d go. And if…if we couldn’t stop them from meeting up, one of them would kill the other. It would either be ours—Agent 67—or the other one; that one currently being Agent 42.”

“I suspected it was something like that.” Tanger mused, imagining it.

Mills turned his back and looked down at his tablet. Sixty seconds and counting.

“Ever seen it happen?” Tanger didn’t know why he said it, but it just popped out, and it was too late to take it back.

“Fuck, no,” Mills said. “And you better damned well hope it never does. But I saw a video of it. Long time back. Twenty years. Jesus,” he whispered.

Tanger nodded. Mills watched the countdown. Four. Three. Two. One.

“Get to it,” he said, finally addressing Agent 67.

"And if...if we couldn't stop them..."

Wildlife Photos

I know there are some repeats here. But I am busy writing today. So I'm just going to put some of my favorite wildlife photos on the blog today. Taken in many places. If I can recall where I took them, I'll leave a notation with the photograph. All photos by me and copyright forever and ever and ever by James Robert Smith.

This is the fat raccoon who gave us Hell at Blue Spring State Park in Florida.

Bull bison in a dust wallow in Hayden Valley, Yellowstone.

Turkey vulture near the summit of North Carolina's Stone Mountain.

Bighorn ram, Glacier National Park.

Gopher tortoise on Egmont Key, Florida. His back is covered with sand because he was previously in his sandy burrow.

Hog-nosed black snake. On a trestle on the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail in southwest Virginia.

Velet ant (they are wingless wasps), back yard, Huntersville, NC.

Striped mullet at the opening of Silver Glen Springs, Florida.

Coyote/Red wolf hybrid in Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Four cottonmouth moccasins in Tate's Hell State Forest, Florida.

Gull, Gulf coast of Florida.

Not the greatest photo, I admit. But this black bear and I surprised one another as I was hiking a back country trail in Douthat State Par, Virginia.

Piebald white-tailed doe in Ocholockanee River State Park, Florida.

This gator was a bruiser. One of the biggest I've seen in the wild. At Wakulla Springs, Florida.

Gar, Manatee Springs, Florida.

Non-native African rhesus monkeys. Juveniles. I photographed them on the Silver River where there are hundreds of them living where they have adapted to the Florida landscape in the Silver River State Park, Florida.

Bull moose on the Snake River in the Grand Teton National Park.

Bull elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Ptarmigan, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado.

Pika, Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, Colorado.
Salamanders, Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Virginia.

Elk herd, Great Smoky Mountains.

White-tail buck, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee side.

Black bear, Beartown State Park, West Virginia.

Wild turkey flock, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee side.

Bull elk, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC side.

White-tail does, Blackwater Falls State Park, WV.

Me. While hiking to find some of that wildlife in the NC mountains. Tuckered out!