Blueshift Drive in Transmissions From Punktown

Dark Regions Press has released a new anthology of stories set in the neon-lit avenues of Jeffrey Thomas’ wildly imaginative futuristic megalopolis Punktown, where a dizzying array of extraterrestrial and extra-dimensional species co-mingle and sometimes collide.

Edited by the ever-lovin’ Brian Sammons, this whopping, worthy TOC is as diverse as a street corner in downtown Paxton.

“Dreaming the City” – Jeffrey Thomas
“The Cyclops: Part One” – Jeffrey Thomas
“The Dilky Never Landed” – Paul Tremblay
“Bedbug Radio” – Ian Rogers
“Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring” – Nick Mamatas
“Growth Spurt” – Richard Lee Byers
“Novah On The Run (Her Blue Monday)” – Glynn Owen Barrass
“Ritual of Adoration” – W.H. Pugmire
“The Over and Under” – D.A. Madigan
“Lacunae and Nocturnes” – William Meikle
“Riding the Rainbow” – Don Webb
“Not For Human Consumption” – Peter Rawlik
“Sunup Over Misery Street” – Konstantine Paradias
“Aftermath of an Industrial Accident” – Mike Allen
“Less, Then Zero” – Jeff C. Carter
“Baphomet Descendent” – Scott R. Jones
“Crow-picked” – Christine Morgan
“The Monochromatic Betrayal of Frank Xerox” – Neil Baker
“Ksenija’s Pirate Prince” – Lee Clark Zumpe
“The Cherry” – Tom Lynch
“Payment for a Scar” – Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
“The Extremities of Godfrey Aquinas” – Michael Griffin
“The Cyclops: Part Two” – Jeffrey Thomas

I’m pleased to announce I managed to land a story in these pages too. It’s called Blueshift Drive, and relates the story of a pair of clones’ enacting revenge on an old enemy via a dangerous cross-city helicar race, the Peace Cross. I had a great time writing this one. You’ll note maybe, in this excerpt, the brand of the main character’s ride, a nod to one of my favorite ‘race’ movies, Ben-Hur.

The streets of Punktown were a blast to poke around in, and I have to here thank Brian and Jeffrey for letting me in the city limits.

Anyway, check out the excerpt after taking a gander at Aeron Alfrey’s cover, rendered in glorious shran.

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Gotheo Repass brought the bright orange Boyd-Heston LIX through the heavy plume of industrial smoke that billowed from the Sensamill Textile stacks and eased the helicar into a slow 360 degree descent, letting the gaggle of onlookers, but especially the drivers of the seven helicars parked in the wide street below get a good, lingering look at his flashing silver quad rotors and chromed-out repulsor emitters as they fired alternately, responding to the micro-corrections of his deft hand.

More than half the streetlamps in Warehouse Way were on the blink, so this strip of street was an oasis of light in the dangerous dark otherwise illuminated intermittently by flickering lights and trashcan fires. Nobody parked a helicar in this neighborhood, at least, not for long.

Gotheo fired the ground repulsors to scatter the upturned faces below, red-lit by his landing lights, and set neatly down in place between a trim Delaney Rapidité with a mirror-sheen finish as upscale as its shapely blonde, silver-clad driver, and a sunflower yellow Miniosis Motors Hyper Coupe Deportes with purple Forma Street Shifters decals.

He revved the big engine a few times, letting those inclined to listen hear the thrum of the gut-quaking quad drivers, watching his lucky plastic Raloom bobblehead tremble in ecstasy on the dashboard. He peered through his one-way windscreen at the gathering Punktowners drawing near. They were a mix of shabby Tin Town muties in their Saturday night best, bleary-eyed Warehouse Way cast-offs, inscrutable offworlders, and earthers in pastel active wear with elaborate hair; the typical weekend backstreet race crowd. He saw a flock of gently whirring, floating iBall cameras too; that was how the big money kept an eye on their wagers.

He picked out a face he knew; Archez Bolan, a black skinned, seven foot tall slab of Keezee muscle, the personal driver and bodyguard of Wagney Cogswendt, CEO of Allavanchetti Consumer Products, makers of the most popular brand of anti-ad spray on the market. Archez had the hood of his black Gibsller 79 propped open, showing off the massive blower to the heli-heads crowding around. He let it drop and stared at the newcomer with his beady doll eyes, the ends of his wide, shark toothed jaws turned down in disapproval.

The platinum blonde earther in the expensive, form-fitting silver drivers’ jumpsuit unzipped to reveal a V of skin down to her waist, leaned over to peer into his passenger window. Though he was pretty sure she couldn’t see in, you never could tell with the advances in artificial eye tech. She had narrow, slanting eyes. Gotheo appreciated the generous view of her plunging cleavage the attitude of her body afforded, right down to the pink jeweled stud in her flat belly. She had a wide face, high cheekbones, and wild, excessively curly hair, like soap bubbles.

“Somethin’ about that girl,” Tertius muttered in his ear via their link.

“I hear ya,” Gotheo murmured.

Archez had sauntered over to the driver’s side of the car. He rapped the back of his tremendous knuckles on the glass.

Gotheo undid his harness.

Archez took a step back as the gull-wing door lifted. Gotheo stepped out beneath the buzzing streetlights, the heli-heads shuffling closer to get a look at him, as if he were a celebrity at a VT gala emerging from a stretch hoverlimo.

As intimidating as that oblong maw of sharp teeth was, Archez could barely part his black lips. There was a chrome plated ornamented translator dangling from a thick gold chain between his bulging pectorals, and the type of rock bottom voice you’d expect to come out of a giant like this came earthshakingly loud through the silver mesh of the speaker, making Gotheo wince. The chip that detected inflection in the translator had correctly deduced the Keezee’s intent to intimidate and raised the volume accordingly.

“This spot’s reserved, hotshot. You best take your daddy’s car back to Beaumonde Square before somebody shoots their name in the side of it.”

“I heard there was a race about to kick off,” Gotheo said with a smirk, keeping his chin to his chest, the hood of his jacket up.

“If there was,” Archez said, tensing his massive shoulders, “you best believe it ain’t open to no live-large, trust fund booshi out cruisin’ for Lobu poon.”

“Oh so what, it’s invitation only?” Gotheo said, taking off his hood.

The Keezee turned his head sideways twice, to get a good look at him with both eyes, the silver beads in his long hair clacking and catching the light.

“Smiley?”

Gotheo let his wide, ear to ear Choom grin split his own face.

“In the flesh.”

A good facsimile of boisterous laughter crackled out of the translator substantially lower in volume. Gotheo found himself hoisted up in the Keezee’s arms in an embrace that made his eyes water.

Behind Archez, the segmented spiral door of the yellow Deportes clacked open and the squat, beetle-like driver slithered out, six jointed appendages lifting it from the car, the alien head cocking and clicking its mandibles in Coleopterid surprise.

All Bedbugs looked alike to most people, but Gotheo knew by the red plastic grips of the two .340 Decimators strapped under his topmost arms that this had to be Chitterdet Chikktarn, a lieutenant of the Forma Street Shifters gang, whose car was paid for with munit he earned slinging Purple Vortex to the Bliss who frequented the races.

“Hey CC,” Gotheo grunted over Archez’s shoulder. “What’s the word?”

“Resurrection, Smiley,” rasped the Bedbug. “Ain’t seen your big ugly grin on the streets in cycles.”

“Yeah, what’s up with that, Choom?” Archez said, letting Gotheo breathe. “Last time I saw you was in that run with Devilsperm….blast, two years ago. I heard you got outta traction but you was brushin’ up on pinecones.”

‘Brushing up on pinecones’ was street talk. Nobody on Oasis knew what a pinecone was, but inmates of the Paxton Maximum Security Prison soon learned because the building’s architecture was adorned with carvings of them for some reason. In the years you spent staring at the strange things, you invariably asked somebody what they were.

“I did my time,” Gotheo said, shrugging, his hands in his pockets, “got out. I been drivin’ a hoverhack the past year.”

“Where’d you get the munits for this chariot?” CC asked, coming over to run four clicking appendages appreciatively down the aerodynamic orange hood of the Boyd-Heston.

“Lots of overtime,” Gotheo said, drawing his wide mouth closed in a tight, broad smile.

“Blast,” CC chittered. “Looks like I’m in the wrong line of work.”

“You must be the mystery man,” said a clear-as-ice water woman’s voice.

The blonde in silver had one rounded hip against his rear quarter panel, and was sizing him up.

She came closer, hips rolling, eyes never leaving him. She was the kind of woman he’d consider having his jaws reduced for. Sometimes earther girls were put off by Chooms. This one didn’t seem to be. Her skin was clean and unmarked, perfect, like it’d never known a blemish or a scar. She had one of those tiny bow mouths he found so exotic in earthers.

“I heard we had a late entry.”

She stopped a couple inches from him and folded her slender arms. Gotheo couldn’t tell one flower from the next but he suspected her scent would’ve impressed a connoisseur . The smell of her made him think of clean, soft bedsheets and pricey liquor.

“Won’t you introduce us, Archez?” There was a twinge to her accent he couldn’t place, never having been anywhere.

Her eyes were violet. He wondered again if they were real.

“Smiley Repass, Ms. Amiya Tadakamensch.”

Miz? That was a weird bit of decorum for Archez. Gotheo noticed he’d stiffened at her approach too, like his boss had come around.

“Oh, the one that put his helicar through the dome of the Canberra Mall a couple years ago. Do me a favor and stay away from me up there.”

Anybody else had said that to him, they would’ve been in the middle of the street. The way she said it though, he didn’t mind so much.  The jewel in her belly twinkled, a pink star.

“You won’t have to worry about that, baby,” Gotheo said. “You won’t see anything of me except my taillights.”

She smiled at that. It was the kind of clean smile they put on holo ads.

She turned in place, giving him the same view he’d given the crowd of his car. She sashayed back to her car.

“Maybe that’s the best side to see,” she called.

Pick up Transmissions From Punktown here –

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Top Movies of 2018

Everybody’s making a list of top movie watches for 2018 and I’m no different!

In no particular order –

Bandersnatch – Netflix’s UK technophobia show produced this dizzying concept: a self aware choose your own adventure movie you operate via your remote control, about a young computer game programmer in the 1980s spiraling deeper and deeper into a philosophical labyrinth as he works on an adaptation of a science fiction novel called Bandersnatch.  This technology had so far been relegated to Scooby Doo cartoons and extras on my kids’ DVD’s, but this is a monumental, groundbreaking accomplishment that had me chuckling (try going down the path where you explain to the character he’s in a Netflix movie), sometimes nervously. It took me back to the books and games of my youth – Zork and Infidel and Microsoft Adventure, but has a dark underpinning that almost makes you look over your shoulder and wonder at your own choices.
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Hereditary – A stark, absorbing family tragedy that takes a dark, occult turn. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever squinted at a movie screen and checked my aisle to see if I’d inconvenience anybody if I got up and walked out. The last fifteen minutes are absolutely terrifying. Toni Collette turns in an Oscar-worthy performance.
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The Clovehitch Killer – A boy suspects his scout leader father may be a notorious serial killer. Charlie Plummer gives a terrific performance as the son, but the standout is Dad, played by Dylan McDermott. Top drawer suspense thriller.
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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Cohen Brothers’ Netflix western anthology is a masterpiece that starts off with a bang as Tim Blake Nelson plays the titular character, an ingenious cross between Roy Rogers and The Man With No Name, and gets into increasingly more somber territory as it goes along, with fantastic showings by Tom Waits and Brendan Gleeson along the way.
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Spider-Man Into The Spiderverse – A glorious, high art masterwork of animation, a direct descendant of early NYC street art, hip hop, and comic books that’s entertaining to boot and features one of the year’s most vibrant soundtracks.
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Blindspotting – At times hilarious and harrowing drama from Daveed Diggs and Rafael Callas about two childhood friends in Oakland, one white, one black, one of whom witnesses a policeman shooting an unarmed black man. A fantastic meditation on perception and identity, and one of the most empathetic portrayals of the fear of police I’ve ever seen. The scene where Diggs walks alone on a dark street with a searchlight playing on his back is one of the most suspenseful things I saw this year.Related image
Eighth Grade – Heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting coming of age story about a girl transitioning from middle school to high school in the age of social media, agonizing over every selfie and post, rehearsing every single interaction in her desperation to make some kind of impression on the people around her.  Brilliant movie.Related image

Solo – If you skipped out on this after the lackluster Disney ‘episodes,’ you missed one of the most enjoyable adventure movies of the year, and the finest Star Wars film since the originals. Alden Ehreinreich is honestly a better Han Solo than Ford (who admit it, gave one and a half great performances and phoned it on on two more – he just didn’t enjoy the character).  Plenty of eye-popping set pieces and a few genuinely affecting nostalgic moments. Great score, and great supporting cast. Marred just a bit by the surprise cameo at the end (shoulda been Jabba).

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Black KkKlansman – John David Washington and Adam Driver together make a great Klansman, tangling with the Hidden Empire and pulling David Duke’s chain as FBI agents at the height of the black/white power movement. Spike Lee directed one of the most timely and prescient movies of his career in this direct critique of our troubled times.
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Deadpool 2 – Much funnier than the last outing, possibly because of the welcome interplay between DP and Rob Liefeld’s illustrious ‘pantheon.’ Zazie Beets’ Domino is a highlight. Surprisingly more heart than I expected. Maybe I’m just a softy for Cher.
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Mandy – Panos Cosmatos, who so impressed me with Beyond The Black Rainbow, returned with the most visually insane movie of the year, and coaxed another great performance from one of my favorite actors, Nick Cage, in a movie ostensibly about a man seeking revenge for the murder of his wife by a Helter Skelter-style cult.
Related imageRevenge – Bloodsoaked, gonzo survival thriller about a wealthy man’s mistress brutalized by his pals and left for dead out in the desert who returns to wreak havoc on them. One of the craziest, tensest climax sequences I’ve seen in years.Image result for revenge movie
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Moving, intimate documentary about the man who saved public television and was surrogate father to a generation of TV watching kids – including yours truly. Faith affirming, and ultimately sad, given Rogers’ bafflement and self-doubt at the state of the world at the time of his passing.Related image

Sicario: Day of The Soldado – Benicio Del Toro’s shadowy south of the border operative returns, pulling a kind of Mexican Lone Wolf and Cub as he escorts a cartel leader’s daughter. Great follow up, and I can’t wait to see the next one.

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Stephanie – A young girl left alone in her house with the corpse of her elder brother hides from a mysterious threat. Then her mother and father come home. A neat little surprise monster movie.
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Await Further Instructions – UK horror movie about a xenophobic family trapped in their house on Christmas by strange black chords encircling their house. Their television gives them increasingly strange instructions from the purported authorities. Sort of a cross between Videodrome and Compliance.

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Castle of Blood – Antonio Margheriti and Sergio Corbucci’s 1964 haunted house movie was my top watch of Halloween, a sumptuous, effective little movie about a skeptic who takes a bet from Edgar Allen Poe to spend the night in a haunted house and starts interacting with a slew of the place’s previous occupants.

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Batman Ninja – My other favorite animated movie of 2018. Batman follows his villains through time and space into feudal Japan. This ferally inventive, hyperkinetic melange may seem a bit light on logic, but visually, it’s a thrilling work of art blending various anime styles. A celebration of both anime and Batman. A fascinating look at how an American icon passes through another culture’s lens.

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What I intended to see but missed: First Reformed, Superfly, Woman Walks Ahead, Christopher Robin, The Meg, Patti Cake$, A Prayer Before Dawn, White Boy Rick, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, The Sisters Brothers, Farenheit 11/9, Suspiria, Overlord, Widows, Thoroughbreds, The House That Jack Built, Climax.

The Knight With Two Swords Is Out

The paperback edition of The Knight With Two Swords has been released today.

I spoke a little about the lesser known female characters of the book (and Arthurian lore) over here on Cat Rambo’s blog.

Ebook edition to follow on December 26th.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1726454770?pf_rd_p=c2945051-950f-485c-b4df-15aac5223b10&pf_rd_r=3D2MK38MG4AFZZJQ9B0Z

 

Published in: on December 21, 2018 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cover Reveal: Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name

Here’s the cover for Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name. Look for this one sometime in late March or early April.

Art by Juri Umagami, design by Shawn T. King.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 5.47.40 PM

Published in: on December 20, 2018 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Whisperworld and My Guide To RPG Storytelling Is On Sale

Two other books of interest on sale this December –

First up is Whisperworld from Erica Lindquist and Aron Christensen…

The Wrath of God destroyed the old world and what’s left of humanity huddles in the shadows of the Tears, strange black spheres that protect the last cities from the storms. No one knows what they are or how they work, but if you listen, you can hear them whispering… But now the spheres are failing, falling silent.

When one of the Gardeners who protect and maintain the Tears is murdered, Julia and her partner, Zach, are summoned to find out why. Their search for a killer will take them from Angel City’s crumbling skyscrapers to the salt flats of the Pacific Desert.

But what they find goes far beyond murder, threatening to wipe out the last remnants of civilization. Perhaps they can save their city – but first they have to save themselves.

Check that out here –

The other, again from Aron Christensen, is My Guide To RPG Storyelling, a how-to style guide for creating NPC’s, planning games, and engaging tabletop players.

Both 99 cents. Jump on it!

Lily Quinn On Sale In December

Natalie and Eric Severine’s saucy paranormal detective Lily Quinn’s first outing Undead or Alive is on sale this December….

My name is Lily Quinn. I’m a bounty hunter. I work for the College of wizards to hunt down monsters that go bump in the night. If they’re hot, sometimes I bump right back.

There’s a vampire in my city and my employers want him dead. His creator, too, if I can find the guy. I don’t have much to go on, but I think I can oblige my magical bosses. Vampires are deadly and beautiful – just the way I like them. If I’m not careful, I’ll be the one who ends up dead.

Xmas deal - LQ

Published in: on December 9, 2018 at 12:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ashe Armstrong’s A Demon In The Desert is On Sale!

If you picked up the new edition of Merkabah Rider: High Planes Drifter, you may have seen the ad in the back for Ashe Armstrong’s A Demon In The Desert, a nifty weird western novel featuring a demon hunting orc named Grimluk.

Ashe is running a .99 cent sale on Amazon this month for the first of the now three book Grimluk series, A Demon In The Desert….

The Wastelands mining town of Greenreach Bluffs is deteriorating: with each passing day its inhabitants grow more fearful and paranoid, plagued by…something. They suffer nightmares and hallucinations, there are murders at the mine; the community is on the brink of madness and ruin and, as events escalate, realization dawns: the town has a demon problem. Two attempts at hunting it down fail, Greenreach Bluffs is at breaking point…and then Grimluk the Orc strides in out of the Wastes to answer their call for salvation.

Head over to books2read.com/ademoninthedesert to pick up a copy and get hooked.

Xmas deal - Grim

Published in: on December 1, 2018 at 6:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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Red Dead References: Western Film Homages In RDR2

Well like many people I’ve been playing a lot of Rockstar Games’ glorious, sure to be Game of The Year Red Dead Redemption 2….too much, really.
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As an avid western film and history fan I’ve been thrilled by the amount of period detail in every nook and cranny, and having put in several hours gameplay, I’ve noticed quite a few visual callbacks to western movies – classics like The Wild Bunch and Outlaw Josey Wales, etc. I thought it might be fun to list some examples. A couple of these are pretty obscure, and could well be my own wishful thinking.

I’m only three chapters into the game, but these are some of the references I’ve noticed so far.

jeff

Every time I peel the hide off a rabbit I’m reminded of hapless Jeff Bridges in one of my favorite westerns, Bad Company.

billy

Muddy Valentine sure reminds me of the sloppy streets of this Michael J. Pollard movie, Dirty Little Billy. Couldn’t find a good pic of the town itself, but the cast seems to wade in mud and horse shit.

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With it’s unpainted, under construction buildings (and tyrannical Emerald Ranch boss), I was also reminded of the muddy town of Harmonville from Open Range, a movie that informs much of RDR2’s fashion sense as well.

jeremiah

Speaking of fashion, the custom legendary animal skin hats the trapper crafts are obviously a callback to Jeremiah Johnson.

revenant

Though the bear attacks are right out of The Revenant….

longriders

The unrepentant Rebels of The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Long Riders are somewhat akin to the Lemoyne Raiders that plague you around the town of Rhodes, though the latter movie’s preferred mode of dress seems to inspire the various bounty hunters and Pinkertons that come after you in the course of the game. Two Carradines from The Long Riders pictured here at what could very well be Clemens Point.

nobodyMy Name Is Nobody sees Terrence Hill and Henry Fonda square off in the streets of New Orleans, obviously the reference for the town of Saint Denis.
silenceThe snowbound country of West Grizzly and extraterrestrial-plagued (look it up) Mount Shann reminded me instantly of the Corbucci classic The Great Silence, and it’s surely where the devs got their love of the broom handled Mauser pistol.

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The town of Presbyterian Church from McCabe and Mrs. Miller seems to lend its look to the hilly town of Strawberry (is Strawberry a reference to Moebius’ seminal western comic Blueberry? I might be reaching there).

django

The assorted bumbling Klansmen one can encounter in the game are surely in part a reference to the idiotic (and flammable) proto-Klansmen depicted in Django Unchained.

slowwest

I know I’ve seen that scarecrow riding around the wheat fields – I think near Emerald Ranch. Hard to distinguish this from actual game footage, but this shot is from Slow West with Michael Fassbender.

volcanic
Finally (and this is just a bit of fun on my part), I doubt anybody at Rockstar has read my Merkabah Rider series,Merkabah Rider series, but it doesn’t stop me from using this engraving customization to mock up an approximation of the Rider’s Volcanic pistol.

What are some visual references you’ve noticed? I may amend this post as I progress through the game.

The Apotheosis of Osirantinous in Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus

Golden Goblin Press has published the second of their Cthulhu Invictus anthologies, tying into their Call of Cthulhu RPG line of the same name, which pits investigators against the denizens of the outer dark in ancient Roman Times.

Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus - Digital Format

Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus marks the return of my talisman salesman and occult expert Damis of Nineveh and his compatriot Modus Macula, who appeared in the previous volume.

In this outing, The Apotheosis of Osirantinous The Reborn and Everlasting, Damis and Macula are part of Hadrian’s imperial train as he tours the Egyptian province with Empress Sabina and his lover, Antinous when the Emperor’s growing melancholy take a strange, dark turn, particularly in regards to his obeisance to his increasingly influential Brynthian concubine.

Damis, readers might remember, was the student and traveling companion of the near legendary ancient wonderworker Apollonius of Tyana, who famously healed the sick and announced the death of an emperor as it happened thousands of miles away in the years immediately following the time of Christ.  At this point in his career, Modius Macula is a Praetorian in the direct service of Hadrian.

When Damis notices Hadrian’s favorite Antinous consume the offering meant for a god at a festival, and the Emperor puts out a call to the sorcerers of Egypt for a demonstration of the lethality of Egyptian magic, the old philosopher begins to suspect the machinations of the Old Ones in the steady rise in influene of Hadrian’s lover and calls on Modius to help confirm his suspicions.

Marble_Busts_of_Hadrian_&_Antinous,_from_Rome,_Roman_Empire,_British_Museum_(16679053956).jpgHadrian may be my favorite Roman Emperor. He toured his own frontiers extensively and was a supremely devout (or superstitious) man, which of course, makes for a fertile ground for storytelling. The romance of the sireless Emperor and his concubine Antinous has been ficitonalized many times over, and is irresistable for its mysterious end in the Nile River. Much of this story is inspired by the ancient accounts of Hadrian’s tour, including the demonstration of the Egyptian sorcerer which kicks the story off.

In this excerpt, Damis’ investigation leads deep into the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel outside Hermopolis, where he hopes to consult the hieroglyphs in the tombs of the priests of Thoth….

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Macula bribed one of the tomb guards to grant them access into the catacombs. By torchlight they passed into the dark, mummy crowded tunnels beneath the necropolis. At least it was cool.

2010-11-01-14-49-03-7-at-tuna-el-gebel-priests-placed-a-votive-animal-iDamis led with purpose, though Macula could not fathom how he knew where he was going.  The Assyrian said nothing, and Macula, not wanting to spoil whatever internal navigation he was working from, followed quietly. The torch made the shadows in which the dead reposed shift and move so that he laid his hand superstitiously on the hilt of his gladius. His heart beat so behind his breastplate that he was half surprised he didn’t hear it banging like a smith’s hammer. He imagined the rooting of tomb rats as the scrape of linen wrapped feet and the stir of old bones.

As they passed deeper in, the character of the silent tenants shifted dramatically. No longer human, they found themselves navigating passages cluttered with mummified birds and diminutive caskets with animal faces painted upon them.

“Baboons,” Damis said, pointing to one, as if he had heard Macula’s thought. “And ibis. Sacred to Thoth. We are near. There! Lend me your light.”

They moved to a dead-end corridor. Damis squinted at a series of faded pictograms on the wall.

Macula could make nothing of the words, but saw a serpentine arrangement of yellow globes emerging from the river, as a barge bearing eight figures lifting a mummy with a scarab beetle for a head sailed toward it.

Damis studied the wall and its glyphs for some time.

“Can you read these marks?” Macula asked, his own voice startling in the silence of the crypt. He could usually pick out a few words among the symbols, but these were gibberish to him.

“These are R’lyehian glyphs. There are the gods of Egypt as they are now,” Damis intoned, “and there are the gods that came before the benben mound rose from the primordial waters of Nun, and the ibis egg which contained Ra and his light chased back the darkness. On those dark waters the Khemenu sailed,” he finished, tapping the barge with his finger.

“The what?”

357px-Nun_Raises_the_Sun

“Immensely powerful, primal deities, pictured here with Apep the serpent of chaos,” he said, indicating the snaky coil of circles in the river. “Once revered as creator gods here in Hermopolis, now they are mostly forgotten by all but the initiated. Ra superseded their influence. Apolonious taught me that always they have sought to return, to pull down our world and drown it in the black waters. There was once, in the time of Nephren-Ka, and may yet be, a nefarious cult of the Khemenu, known as the Possi of Khepri, the god of the morning sun, an aspect of Ra.”

“The sun is revered as good, right?” Macula said, squinting at the wall.

“The doctrine of the Possi was bawut – abomination,” said Damis. “Khepri is but the name they used to hide their evil god, a priestly servant of Apep, whose true name brings ill-fortune. Khepri is the scarab-headed god of becoming, of rebirth. The scarab rolls its eggs in dung, you see. They hatch within and eat their way out.”

“So what?” Macula was getting annoyed at all this esoteric nonsense.

“Some believe that all of life is a sphere floating in the waters of oblivion. The Possi taught that our world is the dung ball rolled by Khepri around the Khemenu from which they may be induced to emerge and devour the world, remaking this reality as they please. Their dawn, our dusk.”

“You believe this?” Macula said.

“It may be that Antinous believes it,” said Damis. “And Hadrian. The Possi seek to pervert the death of Osiris. Their purpose is to prepare a candidate for a certain time when the stars are right, as they will be this evening. They will perform a ritual to open the floodgates and release the waters of Nun into the Nile itself. They believe that immersing their candidate in those waters will transform him into their god.”

“You think Antinous is one of them?”

“He is a foreigner, and has the Emperor’s heart in his hands. His rise in favor could be well timed.”

“Hadrian saved him on the lion hunt only a week ago. Why kill him?”

“Perhaps in order to spare him for his true destiny. Poor Hadrian believes his young madman will give his youth to extend his lover’s life for the glory of Rome,” said Damis sadly, averting his eyes. “In reality, he seeks the end of all things.”

Even if none of this mystic palaver proved true, it was troubling for Macula to think of the sway Antinous had over the Emperor, playing upon his lust and superstition. If he had convinced Hadrian he was some kind of god in the making, what else might he convince him to do? Maybe he intended to get Hadrian to declare him his heir. Then, in a way, the fears of Damis would be truly realized. Rome undone.  Another Caligula ruling the earth.

Macula was no assassin, but a potential threat to the Empire was another matter. Antinous would have to be removed. Personally, he was surprised Sabina hadn’t poisoned the young cinaedus long ago.

Then he heard murmuring from somewhere in the blackness of the catacombs behind them.

“Someone’s there!” Macula hissed.

“Listen!” Damis urged, holding up his hand.

They heard a voice intoning strange words that made Macula’s neck hairs rise. Then there was a scrabbling as of many somethings coming down the tunnel. He remembered Damis’ dream, and half expected to see a carpet of scarabs come flowing out of the dark.

He drew his sword.

Beside him. Damis produced something from his robe, a kind of waxen snake candle, covered in green glyphs. Its tongue was a forked wick.

“Whatever happens, Macula,” Damis said, holding the snake up to the torch till it ignited and began to drip wax like venom, “you must find the source of that spell and slay the utterer.”

“What are you doing?”

He took Macula’s sword by the blade and dripped wax on the flat three times.

“Counterspell. You will be able to fight with this.”

Then he began muttering his own incantations as the effigy gradually melted in his hand.

Macula turned toward the voice and advanced, fighting panic as though he were facing wild tribesmen on the frontier again.

A horde of diminutive things attacked him in the dark as he stepped from the torchlight. He hewed right and left, hacking a path for himself. Twig-like claws raked at his legs and scurried up his back. Sharp somethings pricked at the bare points between his cuirass and arms. No scent of blood met his nostrils as he slashed and stabbed. None flecked his arms, only puffs of dust and the faint sweet scent of natron. Something on his shoulder stabbed at his ear and seizing it, he flung it against the tunnel wall, hearing it break into tinkling pieces. His unseen attackers made no outcry.

The murmuring grew steadily louder as the light of Damis’ torch diminished behind him.

Finally, having slashed his way through a knot of invisible nightmares, the chanting of the sorcerer ceased. Macula heard the flap of sandals on the stone ahead and ran.

He reached out at the sound of huffing breath and was rewarded with a fistful of linen. Finding the wearer, he threw him down and stabbed, feeling the comforting sensation of yielding flesh and spurting blood, the rattle of a dying man.

Far back, he heard the muttering of Damis, and called for him.

After a few moments Damis’ torch lit the passage. He found he was straddling the corpse of a bald priest with a scarab on his inner wrist.

“Pachrates’ apprentice,” Macula gasped.

“If he’s a priest of Thoth, I am the messiah foretold by the Jews,” said Damis.

Macula’s attention was drawn to the niches in the walls of the tunnel, recognizing the area packed with mummified animals through which they’d passed. The recesses were all empty. Feeling something prick his leg, Macula plucked the dry beak of an ibis from his cingulum militarae.

Pick up Further Tales of Cthulhu Invictus here –

https://www.goldengoblinpress.com/store/#!/Further-Tales-of-Cthulhu-Invictus—Digital-Format/p/116311624

 

Published in: on October 31, 2018 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reunion

It’s October 25th, 2018.

How do you write about a bona fide miracle?

As readers of the blog know, I lost my wedding ring in the ocean at Juanillo Beach a couple weeks ago. If you haven’t read about that, you should, to appreciate this story. Go on, I’ll wait.

As I said, my wife and I had plans to melt her ring down, use some of the metal in a new one for me, reforge our wedding bands.

Well, two days ago my wife’s having a bath, and I notice her ring is off, sitting on the shelf behind/over the toilet. I think to myself that I should move it, but then I figure, eh, when she gets out of the tub she’ll get it.

Later in the day, my eight year old daughter Willow’s also having a bath, as we’re getting ready to take her and her siblings to a bowling birthday party for a girl in her class.

She emerges in a towel, her eyes red from crying.

“What’s the matter?” we both exclaim.

It seems that she put her clothes on the shelf behind the toilet, and after her bath, picked them up.

She heard a clink.

Mom’s ring had gone right down the toilet.

Willow is something of a problem solver. She doesn’t typically panic. She’s good that way.

So she grabs the plunger….

Well, you can guess what happened at this point.

My wife just laughed. We both consoled her. It was too ridiculous a coincidence, and we didn’t want her upset. We had an hour before the party. Sandra ran to Sears to buy a wet/dry vac, and I called a plumber.

The plumber didn’t have good news, when he found out we were on the second floor.

“Well, a plunger doesn’t just suck, it first pushes, so she probably pushed it further down the pipe. And if you’re on the second floor…”

“Yeah, I know,” I say.

“We can come and take a look, snake a camera down the drain, see if we can see it, give you an estimate, if it’s even possible.”

“OK,” I say, make the appointment, and hang up. “Nobody use the toilet. Plumber’s coming in two hours.”

Looks like I’m not going bowling.

“It’s OK, honey,” I tell Willow. “The ring’s just metal. What’s important is the love….and the story.”

Sandra returns breathless with the wet/dry vac. She got it for thirty five dollars with a coupon she had. She’s wanted one for a while anyway (she’s the handy one in the family). No big deal.

I’m getting the kids dressed, when I realize we need wrapping paper, and tape, and a birthday card. I hear her turn on the vac as I’m putting on my shoes. I don’t hear the telltale rattle of the ring going up the hose. Oh well.

I go to Rite-Aid, buy the stuff, come back.

Sandra is beaming.

“I got my ring back!”

She had to duct tape a slim attachment to the hose to snake it in the drain, but she has successfully gotten it back.

She puts it in a drawer, I cancel the plumber (who congratulates me) and we go bowling, happily back on track.

The next day, I get a friend request on Facebook from a familiar face, with a message, with a picture attached.

This picture….

44603373_270368563819638_6750121987105882112_n

Sometimes you just let a miracle speak for itself

The message is from Rossell Mercedes, the tour guide who promised to keep an eye out for my ring, and who took a photo of Sandra’s.

He introduces me to Merfin Vladimir Suarez, the gentleman with a Garrett metal detector (pictured) who found my wedding ring at Juanillo.

A couple days later, after a lot of Google Translate and Paypal mishaps (it was sixty bucks to ship the ring back – that’s a lot of Dominican pesos, and I’m not rich, but I also wanted to reward the guys)….

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. But God-sent miracles, or, if you prefer, very fortunate confluences of events, do occur.

I thanked Merfin and Rosselle profusely.

Roselle told me in parting –

“Everything that we receive and we did not have before is a blessed thing.”

Every so often we get back what we had and lost. That’s a blessing too!

-Hasta Pronto!

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on October 25, 2018 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment