Merkabah Rider: High Planes Drifter Is Now Available

After a long hiatus, Merkabah Rider, the greatest weird western about a Hasidic gunslinger tracking the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers across the demon haunted Southwest of 1879 is back in print and Kindle on Amazon.

Featuring new interior illustrations by M. Wayne Miller and cover art by Juri Umagami.

“Ed Erdelac’s  Merkabah Rider is equal parts Tolkien, Leone, and Lovecraft and yet manages to remain completely original, and that is quite an accomplishment. This is a FANTASTIC series. – Geof Darrow, Eisner Award winning creator of Shaolin Cowboy and Hard Boiled.

“The Rider is a fabulous character, in all senses of that word, and Erdelac’s a fabulous writer. High Planes Drifter contains all the demons, ancient gods, and gunplay a lover of weird westerns could want, but told from an angle no one else has touched before. Where else are you going to find a Jewish Doctor Strange packing heat in the old west? Nowhere, that’s where. This is crazily entertaining stuff.” – Daryl Gregory, award-winning author of Pandemonium and Spoonbenders

“Riding out of the Old West comes the Merkabah Rider, a Hasidic gunfighter who owes his provenance as much to the nasty inhabitants of Elmore Leonard’s westerns as he does his piousness to Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane. This highly original episodic series breathes new life into the overworked western with tight action, inglorious heroes, and unpredictable plots.” – Weston Ochse, award-winning author of SEAL Team 666 and Scarecrow Gods.

“I don’t have any hesitation in calling Merkabah Rider: High Planes Drifter the pinnacle of the Weird West genre, and one that will be hard to surplant.” -Sci Fi and Fantasy Reviewer

“Edward M. Erdelac’s Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter is without reservation one of the best Weird Westerns to roll into town in the last decade, if not the best.” – Cory Gross, Voyages Extraordinaires

 

Now available! Give it a read, tell your friends! Thanks, all!

https://www.amazon.com/Merkabah-Rider-High-Planes-Drifter/dp/1721011234/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1531386889&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=erdelac+merkabah+rider

Advertisements

My Favorite Americans: Temple Lea Houston

Every July 4th I dedicate this space to a person in American history whom I admire. I’ve peppered this space with bold men and women who stood up for just causes and risked life and limb, often making the ultimate sacrifice, often standing against the unjust policies of this very government. John Brown, Silas Soule, Mary Elisabeth Bowser, Geronimo….

But this year I felt like a lighter entry, and so I turn your attention to the mostly unsung offspring of Sam Houston, the Old Raven and Father of Texas. Sam Houston is a fascinating guy, perhaps a man worthy of this space in his own right, but it’s his son Temple Lea I’m concerned with here. I wrote a screenplay about him years ago that nobody’s taken to yet. Maybe one of these days.

Image result for temple lea houston

Anyway, Sam Houston died when Temple was three years old, having abdicated the governorship of Texas after refusing to swear loyalty to the Confederacy.  Temple was the only one of Houston’s eight children to be born in the governor’s mansion. At thirteen he landed a job on a cattle drive to Great Bend, Kansas, and caught a steamboat all the way down to New Orleans working as a night clerk.

In New Orleans he met Texas Senator James Winwright Flanagan, an old friend of his father’s, who secured him a job as a page in the Senate in Washington DC, where he worked for three years.

He graduated with honors in law and philosophy from Baylor in 1880 after completing his courses in nine months and became the youngest practicing lawyer in Texas at 20 in Brazoria, where he met his and married his wife (on St. Valentine’s Day), Laura Cross. Maybe he was brilliant, or maybe his pedigree accelerated his career. His father was beloved, after all.

An announcement in the Brenham Weekly Banner about the graduating class of Baylor reads;

“He is a young man of steady, temperate habits and a hard student; he won the J.M. Williams medal for the best logical speech on commencement day. Temple stands upon the battlefield of life with high aspirations, and we believe, with energy to carry them through.”

He was already a renowned orator, and in 1882, at the age of 22, he was appointed district attorney for the 35 Judicial District of Texas, which comprised 26 unorganized and wild counties of the Texas Panhandle. Settling in Fort Elliott and later Mobeetie in Wheeler County, this is where his personality starts to shine in the accounts. Riding far and wide through his district, he shunned hotels, preferring to sleep outside, often in the various cattle camps, where he got the nickname Lone Wolf of The Canadian. He was a good father to his five children, one of which, Louise, only lived two years. Contrary to the popular practices of the time, he reportedly never beat them.

Maybe there was something about growing up in the huge shadow of his father that induced him put on such a big show.

“He loved clothes,” his wife Laura wrote. “He would dress up in a yellow-beaded vest, Spanish caballero-style trousers and sombrero with a great silver eagle on it, and go to Kansas City on railroad business. Of course, he attracted a lot of attention. When people asked why I let him dress that way, I would say, ‘That’s why I married him – because he was different.’ ”

Around this time the story got out that he bested Bat Masterson and Billy The Kid in a shooting contest in Tascosa. The story’s almost certainly apochryphal as Henry McCarty was already dead by now (unless you subscribe to the Brushy Bill Roberts theory). Maybe he let it out himself, or at least, didn’t deny it. It was true that he was a sure shot with his nickel plated pearl handled pistol, a skill that would come into play later.

Defending hapless cowboys became a staple of his early career. Supposedly he was appointed to the defense of a young horse thief, and begged the marshals to give him time alone with his client advise him.

After a few minutes the marshals broke into the room to find Temple sitting alone, the window open.

“Well boys,” he said, “I gave him the best advice I could give.”

In 1884 he was elected to District 19 of the Texas Senate for a single term. Asked to speak at the dedication of the Texas State Capitol, he wowed constituents, who pushed him to run for U.S. Senate.

When he expressed his own doubts about carrying a statewide election, somebody urged him to ‘just stand on your father’s name, and you will win.’

Outraged, Temple declared;

“A man is only what he makes himself!”

He departed the meeting and refused the opportunity.

“I care not to stand in the light of reflected glory. Every tub must stand on its own bottom.”

Maybe he saw that he could never shake his ‘son of Sam’ appellation in Texas.

In 1893 he participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush, and settled with his family in Woodward, Oklahoma, leaving Texas behind, much to the ire of the notoriously proud populace. He became an attorney for the Atchison Topeka-Santa Fe Railroad.

Image result for temple lea houston

Temple’s Home Office

He befriended Kwahadi Comanche chief Quanah Parker, and the Comanche were reportedly frequent guests in his home, pitching tipis in his backyard when they passed through town. He was a collector of Indian artifacts, and an expert on Aaron Burr and Napoleon.

 

In Oklahoma, his legend grew by leaps and bounds, and numerous amusing anecdotes about him pop up.

One of the most famous is his bizarre defense of a hapless horse thief who gunned down the horse’s owner before he had a chance to draw.

Approaching the jury box, Temple asked the jurors to consider the reputation of the deceased as a notorious gunman, and the fear with which the defendant (“an ordinary, hard-working citizen….little experienced in the use of firearms”) regarded him.

He explained that the victim was “so adept with a six-shooter that he could place a gun in the hands of an inexperienced man, then draw and fire his own weapon before his victim could pull the trigger—like this!”

Temple then proceeded to draw his own revolver and rapidly fan six shots (all blanks) at the startled jury, whose members fled in every direction, jumping out the courtroom windows and following the onlooker out the doors into the street.

The judge threatened Temple with contempt, but he apologized, explaining he only “wanted to show what speed this dead man possessed.”

After the restoration of order, Temple’s defendant was quickly found guilty….but he immediately motioned for a mistrial, citing that the jury had dispersed and mingled with the crowd, and was at such time no longer properly sequestered. He won his mistrial, the case was heard again with an impartial jury and a new judge, and Temple won his client’s freedom.

Not every case turned out so well.

Image result for temple lea houston

He developed a rivalry with the Jennings clan, lawyers Ed and John and their father, Judge J.D.F. Jennings. Arguments between the legal teams in a property case in October 1895 grew heated, with Temple proclaiming Ed Jennings ‘grossly ignorant of the law’ and Jennings calling him a liar and lunging at him. Guns were drawn, bailiffs separated them, and court was adjourned.

Temple and ex-sheriff Jack Love went over to Jack Garvey’s Cabinet Saloon, and at nine o’clock the Jennings brothers entered, backed by their cousin, a gambler named Handsome Harry. The Jennings brothers went directly to Temple and Jack Love’s table, whereupon Temple suggested they settle their business outside.

“We can settle it inside,” Ed purportedly said, and the two attorneys drew their guns, one of the first shots knocking out the lights.

Image result for temple lea houston

Al Jennings

Whether Temple killed Ed Jennings with a shot to the head or his brother John accidentally killed him somewhere in the ensuing gunfight (in which fifteen to twenty shots were reportedly fired) is unclear, but Temple (acting as his own defense) was acquitted for acting in self defense. John Jennings, wounded in the shoulder left lawyering. His brother Al Jennings swore revenge, but never made good on it (although possibly he tried – later in Enid, Temple was blown from his saddle by an unseen shooter. He had been carrying a thick copy of the Oklahoma Statutes though and the book stopped the bullet) going on to a middling outlaw life and a career as a consultant in early western movies, once getting into a brawl with the actor Hugh O’Brien.

A year later, the Jennings patriarch Judge J.D.F Jennings, passed Temple’s eleven year old son Sam coming home from school in front of his house and spit in the boy’s face. Temple marched up to him (again, in the Cabinet Saloon), pressed the muzzle of his gun to the judge’s chest, and killed him.

He pleaded guilty, saying “It was my life or his,” and was fined $300.

The greatest moment of Temple Houston’s career, for which he is most remembered, is undoubtedly the legendary Plea For A Fallen Woman, also known as The Soiled Dove Plea.

In 1899, a woman named Minnie Stacy was charged with prostitution, and told the judge she had no money for an attorney, or for bail.

Temple, in court for another case, but in earshot, stepped forward and asked to defend her. He took her aside for ten minutes, and then delivered this address to the court, entirely extemporaneous;

Gentlemen of the jury: You heard with what cold cruelty the prosecution referred to the sins of this woman, as if her condition were of her own preference. The evidence has painted you a picture of her life and surroundings. Do you think that they were embraced of her own choosing? Do you think that she willingly embraced a life so revolting and horrible? Ah, no! Gentlemen, one of our own sex was the author of her ruin, more to blame than she.

Then let us judge her gently. What could be more pathetic than the spectacle she presents? An immortal soul in ruin! Where the star of purity once glittered on her girlish brow, burning shame has set its seal and forever. And only a moment ago, they reproached her for the depths to which she had sunk, the company she kept, the life she led. Now, what else is left her? Where can she go and her sin not pursue her? Gentlemen, the very promises of God are denied her. He said: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” She has indeed labored, and is heavily laden, but if, at this instant she were to kneel before us all and confess to her Redeemer and beseech His tender mercies, where is the church that would receive her? And even if they accepted her, when she passed the portals to worship and to claim her rest, scorn and mockery would greet her; those she met would gather around them their spirits the more closely to avoid the pollution of her touch. And would you tell me a single employment where she can realize “Give us our daily bread?”

Our sex wrecked her once pure life. Her own sex shrink from her as they would the pestilence. Society has reared its relentless walls against her, and only in the friendly shelter of the grave can her betrayed and broken heart ever find the Redeemer’s promised rest.

They told you of her assumed names, as fleeting as the shadows on the walls, of her sins, her habits, but they never told you of her sorrows, and who shall tell what her heart, sinful though it may be, now feels? When the remembered voices of mother and sisters, whom she must see no more on this earth, fall again like music on her erring soul, and she prays God that she could only return, and must not — no — not in this life, for the seducer has destroyed the soul.

You know the story of the prodigal son, but he was a son. He was one of us, like her destroyers; but for the prodigal daughter there is no return. Were she with her wasted form and bleeding feet to drag herself back to home, she, the fallen and the lost, which would be her welcome? Oh, consider this when you come to decide her guilt, for she is before us and we must judge her. They (the prosecution) sneer and scoff at her. One should respect her grief, and I tell you that there reigns over her penitent and chastened spirit a desolation now that none, no, none but the Searcher of all hearts can ever know.

None of us are utterly evil, and I remember that when the Saffron Scourge swept over the city of Memphis in 1878, a courtesan there opened wide the doors of her gilded palace of sin to admit the sufferers, and when the scythe of the Reaper swung fast and pitiless, she was angelic in her ministering. Death called her in the midst of her mercies, and she went to join those she tried to save. She, like those the Lord forgave, was a sinner, and yet I believe that in the days of reckoning her judgment will be lighter than those who would prosecute and seek to drive off the earth such poor unfortunates as her whom you are to judge.

They wish to fine this woman and make her leave. They wish to wring from the wages of her shame the price of this meditated injustice; to take from her the little money she might have — and God knows, gentlemen, it came hard enough. The old Jewish law told you that the price of a dog, nor the bite of such as she, should come not within the house of the Lord, and I say unto you that our justice, fitly symbolized by this woman’s form, does not ask that you add to the woes of this unhappy one, one only asks at your hands the pitiful privilege of being left alone.

The Master, while on Earth, while He spake in wrath and rebuke to the kings and rulers, never reproached one of these. One he forgave. Another he acquitted. You remember both — and now looking upon this friendless outcast, if any of you can say to her, ‘I am holier than thou’ in the respect which she is charged with sinning, who is he? The Jews who brought the woman before the Savior have been held up to execution for two thousand years. I always respected them. A man who will yield to the reproaches of his conscience as they did has the element of good in him, but the modern hypocrite has no such compunctions. If the prosecutors of the woman whom you are trying had brought her before the Savior, they would have accepted His challenge and each one gathered a rock and stoned her, in the twinkling of an eye. No, Gentlemen, do as your Master did twice under the same circumstances that surround you. Tell her to go in peace.

The jury acquitted Minnie Stacy unanimously after a few minutes’ deliberation.

Word of the speech traveled beyond the Oklahoma Territory, and the court stenographer was inundated with requests for copies.

Newspaper lauded it as “the most remarkable, the most spellbinding, heart-rending tear-jerker ever to come from the mouth of man.” It was even put on display in the Library of Congress.

The story goes that Minnie Stacy became a washerwoman in Canadian, Texas and died there in the 1930s, a reformed Methodist.

As for Temple, there was talk of a gubernatorial nomination, but days before his 45th birthday (and two years before Oklahoma statehood) he suffered a brain hemhorrage that left him blind and confined to bed, possibly brought on by years of suffering from St. Anthony’s Fire, a bacterial infection that drove him in his later years to intemperance.

Texans had a long memory, and while the Dallas Times-Herad declared backhandedly that he was ‘a chip off the old block, he had great gifts and strong passions. The gods were kind to him — he was not kind to himself.’

Contemporary attorney R.B. Forrest, said of him, “He could touch a heart of stone in painting its sorrows. He seemed to feel the agonies of others and portrayed them with electric power.”

The novelist Edna Ferber modeled her character Yancy Cravat after Temple Houston in the 1929 novel Cimarron, which was adapted twice in 1931 (and won the Academy Award) and 1960.

Maybe sometimes you don’t have to have a hand in world changing events. Sometimes it’s enough to show compassion in life, to be a good father, a good friend, to say the write words when they’re needed, and hope you’re a good son. Volatile, bigger than life, but very human, Temple Lea Houston’s one of my favorite Americans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on July 4, 2018 at 1:07 am  Comments Off on My Favorite Americans: Temple Lea Houston  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

My Personal Library

Have seen a few other authors post these. Pics of my bookshelves at home.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Flashman, Barsoom, Bierce…I think my Aubrey-Maturins are behind here.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Western Frontier History

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Tolkien, Civil War, oddments

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Some of my favorite fictions

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Folklore – Including the two books that most inspired my Merkabah Rider series and one of my prized possessions, an 1895 edition of H.A. Guerber’s Myths of The Northern Lands

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Egypt/Rome/Biographies

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Arthuriana/Japan/Oddments

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Matheson/Bradbury/Shaft etc.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Horror/Fantasy/My dad’s Explorer’s manual/DnD minis

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Fiction/some mis-shelved stuff

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Holmes/Mystery/Odd stuff

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Spillane/Westerns/a couple of gifted books

Not pictured: All my own books, graphic novels, a complete set of Dark Horse’s editions of Lone Wolf and Cub (the first signed by Kazuo Koike), a couple shelves of Ian Fleming, Robert E. Howard, The Shadow, The Spider, G-8, Lovecraft, and The Avenger books that got packed away in anticipation of a move that hasn’t happened yet…

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jeff Carter’s Criterion

Hey gang, turning my blog over to old friend and fellow author Jeff Carter, so he can tell you about his superhero novel Criterion from Crossroads Press, the fine folks who recently reprinted my novella collection With Sword And Pistol….

——————————————————————————————-

Hello Erdelmaniacs, thanks for having me back in the dusty confines of Delirium Tremens. I’ve been thinking about some of the influences on my new ‘Grimdark’ superhero novel Criterion.

The story for Criterion evolved from my short story ‘From the Barrel of a Gun’, featured in Humanity 2.0 alongside Ed’s outstanding novel ‘Perennial’. My main characters in both that story and my book are unpowered mortals.

Of all the sidekicks, cheerleaders and mascots, ‘Cadet’ is the only non-powered character that tries to fight super-humans. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of good ol’ fashioned ass whoopings.

While I enjoy an unstoppable character like Kick-Ass or Dark Man, those guys are like Terminators. They feel no pain.

I love a character that feels pain and presses on. Deckard in Bladerunner. Brendan Frye in Brick. Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Last Man Standing. Frodo in Lord of the Rings. There are so many examples I won’t bother to list them all, because I’m here to tell you about the best.

pic 1

Ninja Scroll (1993), alongside Akira, was among the first wave of ‘japanime’ to hit American nerds and melt their faces. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about Jubei Kibagami, a wandering swordsman dragged into murderous intrigue. Caught between a group of monstrous killers and a government spy, he will stop at nothing to protect a woman he can never have.

Pic 2

Jubei’s got mad skills, but he is only human. He bleeds, breaks bones and loses teeth. If he has a superpower, it’s the ability to fight through the pain.

pic 3

Ninja Scroll is noir fiction. Jubei suffers as a pawn of powerful forces. He suffers because he does the right thing. He suffers because he fights for love.

“The noir hero is a knight in blood caked armor. He’s dirty and he does his best to deny the fact that he’s a hero the whole time.” – Frank Miller

pic 4

As Manga has so often taught us, if you ain’t spittin blood you ain’t trying.

I hope I have captured some of that struggle in my new book. If you like desperate heroes, over the top action and freaky villains you should check out Criterion.

CRITERION cover7.jpg

Criterion is available now in print and digital here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Google Play

Smashwords

iTunes

Crossroad Press

 

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 8:49 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Infinte Jest and Most Excellent Fancy: Saying Goodbye To Geoffrey and Toys ‘R Us

“Let’s go to Toys ‘R Us, Dad!” my just-turned eight year old daughter Willow suggests for probably the thousandth time, as I head for the bathroom for a shave and a shower before embarking on the grocery shopping.

“With what money?”

“I’ve got money!” she calls from the living room.

Oh right, the birthday last Saturday.

“I’m going for groceries. Not today.” And then, I don’t know why, as an afterthought, I mention, “You know, it’s closing.”

“What?” says my daughter.

“What’s closing?” asks my wife.

“Toys ‘R Us. All of ‘em. Here in America anyway. Probably everywhere.”

A quick shower later, I come out dressed to find Willow with her arms crossed over the back of the couch, head down….crying as if her kitten just died.

My wife’s furiously researched my claim on Google and confirmed it.

And in that moment I realize what a momentous thing is happening, and how much this toy chain has meant to me and to my children.

How many times have I found my errands hijacked by my son or my daughter because I’ve relented, letting them squander their hoarded birthday and holiday dollars on blind bags of Shopkins or Nerf blasters or some other inscrutable plastic doodad. It’s not the most responsible thing, but every time, I’ve thought back to my own childhood and the instances in which I harassed my Aunt Vicky or my mom and dad to make an unscheduled (or in my case, carefully plotted) detour to Toys ‘R Us, just to look, just to look, promise, so I know what to ask Santa for, so I know what to put on my birthday list and then maybe McDonald’s (for hamburgers with no pickles, onions), knowing full well that I could maybe make a convincing case for a single GI Joe or Star Wars figure if I make them understand it’s the last one on the shelf and it might not be around come September or December.

It’s very likely why I’m no good with money to this day.

So, I relent again, because I realize it’s probably the last time. The stores could be closing in a couple weeks.

“Here,” says my wife, pushing a couple of coupons into my hand.

Willow’s already got her coat on.

Every year since their birth the kids have gotten little postcards from Geoffrey the Giraffe congratulating them on another year alive and exhorting them to come celebrate at the REAL happiest place on Earth.

Sorry Disneyland, I’ve never had to contend with the beating sun or a two hour line pressed by sweaty bodies or overpriced and underwhelming food during an afternoon at TRU. It’s just a fact. I’d take the white air conditioned action figure aisles over the line to get on Star Tours or Pirates of The Caribbean any day of the week.

Maybe growing up in the Midwest far from Disneyland or Disneyworld has something to do with it. Disney is an event, like going to a cousin’s wedding or a water park. It’s a strange place, full of strange people, a rush to do everything, see everything, you can’t completely relax. Toys ‘R Us is a familiar staple, close as a trip to the park.

A rainy day in the Valley becomes the last day for two die hard Toys ‘R Us fans to visit the undisputed mecca of childhood avarice. Child’s World, KB Toys, just flashes in the pan. The sun could never set on Toys ‘R Us, I thought. But here we are.

IMAG3491

We present my daughter’s birthday coupons at the service counter, where a pleasant kid blows up a mylar birthday balloon weighted with an orange plastic Geoffrey token, a paper pink birthday girl crown, a little sealed Lego package with a tiny buildable birthday cake I’ll probably skewer my foot on later, and a squishy dog-toy style birthday cake with Geoffrey’s face on it.

In the time it takes to outfit my daughter with all this, three adults come to the counter and ask if it’s true, that Toys ‘R Us is really closing.

“Corporate tells us tomorrow,” the kid helping me says.

“Just wanted to know,” says one guy.

“That’s been happening all day, hasn’t it?” I say.

“All day.”

My daughter goes skipping off, balloon bobbing, to nab items from the shelves and meticulously run them back and forth to the price scanners until she’s figured out how to get the most for her twenty one bucks (and a couple dollars over no doubt), leaving me alone to wander the aisles and hazy childhood memories.

Something else you just can’t do at Disneyland.

Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy is playing jauntily over the speakers and I’m thinking of how my grandkids may never know the simplicity of the Peanuts, and now, they will definitely never know the fun of turning the corner and ogling an end cap of Castle Greyskull playsets, or trying the action on a boxed Nerf gun, or straddling a display bike, or sitting in one of those electric pedal cars.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWe live in an apartment and it’s the closest any of them have ever come to owning one. My grandfather bought me a green jeep with an orange seat and a white plastic pedal I could mash and send myself burring up and down the driveway of our suburban home till the juice ran out and I had to plug it into the outlet on the outside of the garage. The big goggle eyes moved when you turned the wheel. It matched his own green Jeep, a vehicle he’d always wanted since he’d driven one in World War II, which the family pitched in and bought him one birthday.

I always preferred the blue manual pedal car with the red fenders and the yellow steering wheel my Dad got me though, as I could kick furiously at that thing and send it flying up and down the concrete. A quick jerk to the right and I’d go spilling into the grass like The Fall Guy.

Both got from Toys ‘R Us.

I never had this birthday club thing my kids were enrolled in, but I remember going on a Saturday morning to see the characters in the aisles. These were special events announced in the sale papers (which, like my kids, I would pore over every week, especially before Christmas, circling what I wanted with a black marker, sometimes adding an amount of stars commensurate to the intensity of my desire for that particular toy). He-Man and Skeletor, Princess Leia and Luke, Hawk and Destro from GI Joe, Papa Smurf. I remember I brought a pad of paper to get their autographs but He-Man, in his head to toe latex muscle and mask, didn’t have the fine manipulation ability to use a pen.

Normally shopping trips to Sears or Montgomery Wards or something with my parents, I’d go in the single toy aisle and hang out till they were done. Toys ‘R Us, I was there for me. It was the only time the role was reversed.

I remember walking through corridors of GI Joe and Star Wars toys. I remember the 1983 going to the end cap to rifle through the pegs for a brand new Luke Skywalker in his black Return of the Jedi costume. Found a buddy from school already there, Tommy O’Connor – literally the first or second kid I’d met in Kindergarten. We were both there for the same thing, and while our parents stood nearby with their hands in their pockets, muttering to each other, Tommy and I meticulously combed those pegs for what felt like a solid half hour….till he found it. The only one they had.

And he handed it to me.

I keep wondering if his dad was really pissed.

I lost touch with Tom through high school but ran into him again at a community college and reconnected. Kenner I think, had just started remaking Star Wars figures. I went to Toys ‘R Us and got him a Jedi Luke for his birthday.

I decide I’m going to get one last TRU gift for each of my kids who aren’t there, and I decide it has to be the ‘last one’ of whatever it is. The inevitable liquidation sales haven’t begun yet, so the bargain hunters and the mercenary second hand dealers haven’t descended on the store to pick the shelves clean yet. That’ll happen some cold morning at five AM, like crows alighting from the trees on fresh roadkill. I don’t like to think about it.

I quickly find something for my son Auggie. Playmobil has been a standard toy line in our household. The girls have a castle on their bureau packed with characters with from every genre you can think of. Cowboys and samurai and African shamans cavorting with princesses, vampires, robots, fairies, and veterinarians. My son has a new Ghostbusters firehouse, the first license the German toy manufacturer has ever pursued (which now has me worried – why have they felt the need to pursue a license, and did they choose Ghostbusters because they thought the female version was going to blow up? Have they taken a hit? If I lose Playmobil so close to Toys ‘R Us and Prince, I’m through). I find a single Egon Spengler in his Ghostbusters 2 regalia. The only one I’ve ever seen, the only one on the shelf. So that goes in hand.

For my thirteen year old, who’s moved past the halcyon days of Toys ‘R Us touring and now wants nothing more than iTunes cards to buy more Babymetal tracks for her i-whatever, anime and comics, I find a single Kamala Khan/Miss Marvel action figure. We’ve been getting the tradepaperbacks from the library and she loves the character. Easy pick.

By this time Willow has found me half a dozen times via Daddy-Daughter echolocation (“Dad?” “Yep!” “Dad?” “Yep!” “Dad?”), appearing each time with her arms full of pink and purple boxes. At one point she has the brilliant idea to exploit a buy one get one free brand offer, buying a five dollar toy to get a twenty five dollar playset for nothing, until I explain to her that’s not how the deal works, and she slinks back to her machinations, slightly dejected but unbowed in her determination to wheel and deal.

And then I think, maybe I’ll just get something for myself.

Nothing big.

I head over to the Schleich section.

Oh you know what is, you’ve just forgotten, or you haven’t been to a Toys ‘R Us in a while.

It’s the little section situated between the toddler toys and the books (in the Burbank store anyway) where they keep the shelves of detailed rubber animals. Right next to the Animal Planet dinosaurs and the oversized dragons and yetis.

Schleich is mostly known, I guess for horses. My eldest daughter had a brief thing for them after she saw Spirit, that Dreamworks movie about the palomino in the old west with Matt Damon’s voice. You haven’t seen it? Go watch it now. It’s way better than I’ve made it sound.

82

Schleich, another German toy company – they’re just the best – also makes beautifully detailed little rubber statues of practically every animal you can think of. I quickly find my favorites, tigers, wolves, orangutans, but there are plenty of them. They’re having a buy one get one at 40% off sale, so I could conceivably get two…and then I spy the peg of boxed Geoffrey the Giraffe figures by Schleich.

Geoffrey’s changed from the way he used to look when I was a kid. He was more childlike. They’ve smoothed him out, made him more cartoony.

The world of awesome began with a sky filled with stars and a very special giraffe. Geoffrey ™ learned his destiny was to bring fun to kids everywhere – and so, by following some magical stars – he found a new home, and new friends, at Toys R Us ™ Lean more about his journey at Toysrus.com/Geoffrey.

So says the legend on the back of the box, and it’s repeated in German, Spanish, Polish, French, and three other languages I can’t identify. One of them possibly Portuguese.

So that goes in hand.

I narrow my 40% off figure to a grinning, spotted hyena and a cool orange octopus. I go with the octopus.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

My daughter (“Dad?” “Yep!”) finds me. She has what she’s sure is twenty one dollars of toys ready for the checkout and is ready to go.

It turns out it’s twenty five dollars.

“Oh yeah. Taxes.”

I used that one too when I was a kid.

I snap one more pic of her outside the store. Can’t fit the whole sign.

IMAG3497

She giggles when she sees it.

“Toys.” Then, a little somberly as we cross the parking lot hand in hand for the minivan, which will soon be brimming with bags of groceries. “Where will the toys go to rest in peace now?”

“Huh?” I say.

“You know, they can rest in the packages. Nobody plays with them there.”

Ever since Toy Story she thinks of the secret lives of toys.

Who doesn’t?

I never thought I’d lament the passing of any international corporation, but here I am in the parking lot, squeezing my daughter’s hand, weighed down by nostalgia, looking over my shoulder at those rainbow letters and that backwards R like I’m leaving home, or an old friend.

I hear later that the demise of Toys ‘R Us might be the result of some slimy, walking clichésof hedge fund managers/venture capitalists playing the economic laws, saddling the company with insurmountable debt so as to make a killing off the bankruptcy in some way far beyond my ken (and my daughter’s Barbies). The usual creeps, out to make a buck off the backs of employees and patrons no matter what. It’s almost comforting to believe in some cabal of 80’s slicko Gordon Gecko villain bringing about the downfall of Toys ‘R Us, rather than admit to competition from the evil but undeniably convenient Amazon being to blame.  It’s likely both.

But if the hedge fund thing’s true….well, if ever there were Grown Ups, in the grayest, most detestable sense of the word, it’s gotta be these guys (Edit: https://boingboing.net/2017/11/30/merry-christmas-2.html) and (http://fortune.com/2018/03/09/toys-r-us-bankruptcy-why/)

As for me,

“I don’t wanna grow up,

I’m a Toys ‘R Us kid,

They’ve got a million toys at Toys ‘R Us that I can play with

From bikes to trains to video games, it’s the biggest toy store there is,

I don’t wanna grow up, ‘cause maybe if I did,

I couldn’t be a Toys ‘R Us kid

More-games-more-toys-O boy!

I wouldn’t be a Toys ‘R Us kid.”

Amandla Ngawethu!

So I’ve been boning up on Black Panther in anticipation of the movie – have read the character’s two initial appearances in Fantastic Four, the Ta-Nehesi Coates run (too dry – didn’t care for it), Christopher Priest’s (innovative and cool but a little bit too pop culture-y at times for me), and now Reginald Hudlin’s (AWESOME). It inspired me to sit down this morning and write this.

DEC041733._QL80_TTD_

In Hudlin’s TPB there’s a really brilliant piece he wrote in the back, The Black Panther: A Historical Overview and Look To The Future, in which he writes –
“The Black Panther is the Black Captain America. He’s the embodiment of the ideals of a people. As Americans, we feel good when we read Captain America because he reminds us of the potential of how good America can be, if, of course, we have the convictions to live by the principles the country was founded on. As a black person, the Black Panther should represent the fulfillment of the potential of the Motherland.”
There’s a great exchange between King T’Chaka and a representative of a global economic conference in issue three…
Rep: Your Majesty, we’ll pay whatever price you set for your goods.
T’Chaka: They are not for sale until the spiritual advancement of the West catches up to their technological prowess. It would be irresponsible to share our scientific discoveries with you.
Rep: What? Are you calling everyone here irresponsible children?
T’Chaka: No. More like sullen teenagers who feel more mature than their behavior warrants. The fact that every conversation here is framed in terms of profit and power says it all…you could have made half these breakthroughs yourself, but there’s too much money to be made in misery. Why cure a disease when people pay for medicine? Why provide cheap energy when…
Rep: We get the point, T’Chaka. Heh. I’ve never met a socialist with a crown on his head before, but I guess there’s a first time for everything…
T’Chaka: Who gave you permission to use my first name?
Rep: I…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend…
T’Chaka: I understand your frustrations in dealing with a black man who can’t be bought with a truck load of guns, a plane load of blondes, and a Swiss bank account, but hold onto what little class you have.
Rep: Your Majesty, I truly apologize…
T’Chaka: This meeting is over.
* * *
That scene really hit for me. It’s everything I hope the Black Panther movie is, and why I’m really nervous about it failing. Black Panther needs to be political as all hell, safeties off. I love that it’s on the cover of Time, and that people are excited for it. I love that it’s going to be a celebration of black culture, as Luke Cage was, and I hope it lives up to the cultural touchstone people really want it to be. But I hope it goes a step further. I hope it inspires people. I hope it blindsides them with a truth they themselves suspected, but one that needed to come in under their wires somehow; that a nation becomes great when it cares for its people. I hope people come away thinking….”hmmm….that wouldn’t be so bad. Why don’t we have that? (and I don’t just mean the flying cars)”
10763
Ah, it’s a lot of hope to put on a Disney movie about a comic book character. Probably way too much.
But so what?

Wakanda is a sovereign nation unconquered, great because of its dedication to instilling pride in and bettering its own citizens with education and innovation, who holds its leader to a strict moral principle which then inspires them to emulate that principle themselves. There’s no want, no ignorance, no lack of compassion in Wakanda. In elevating one, all are elevated. Wouldn’t Wakanda be a great place to live? Couldn’t we come together to make Wakanda wherever we are?

Flag_of_Wakanda

Published in: on February 11, 2018 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

The Rider Rides Again

It’s been HOW long since I posted here? Too long.

Well, here’s the cover art for the forthcoming re-release of my Merkbah Rider series – HIGH PLANES DRIFTER (yeah, I’m shortening the title a bit).  The artist is Juri Umagami (whose Instagram is HERE).

ridercover

Sharp-eyed fans will see this is a canny homage to the classic western that inspired the title, Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

high-plains-drifter-56e87c85b1900

 

Wait till you see what we have planned for next book, The Mensch With No Name. I’d spoil it, but I’d never FORGIVE myself….

This first re-release will feature an additional little seen Rider story, The Shomer Express, and interior art by M. Wayne Miller who did the covers for my novel Terovolas and my collection Angler In Darkness.

Coming soon….

Published in: on February 9, 2018 at 3:12 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , ,

The 112th Birthday of Robert E. Howard

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard, the Texas author who is best known for creating the character Conan the Barbarian.

I owe a great debt to Howard for inspiring my own work, and so, as every year, I celebrate here on the blog with an excerpt from the man’s writing.

This year I decide to eschew the usual blood and thunder and post a bit of Howard’s humorous work, something I don’t think people recognize as much.

I used to read this aloud to my wife while she was pregnant, and it used to induce such belly laughs I would momentarily fear an early trip to the hospital.

This is from A Gent From Bear Creek, which features Howard’s Lil Abner-esque character Breckenridge Elkins. In this excerpt you get a bit of Howard’s trademark action, but his sense of folksy humor’s really on display here. I love the various turns of phrase – reminds me of Mark Twain at times.

Serape 2

After I’d gone maybe a mile I heard somebody in the trail ahead of me, and peeking through the bushes, I seen a most pecooliar sight. It was a man on foot, going the same direction as me, and he had on what I instinctly guessed was city clothes. They warn’t buckskin nor homespun, nor yet like the duds Mister Wilkinson had on, but they were very beautiful, with big checks and stripes all over ’em. He had on a round hat with a narrer brim, and shoes like I hadn’t never seen before, being neither boots nor moccasins. He was dusty, and he cussed considerable as he limped along. Ahead of him I seen the trail made a hoss-shoe bend, so I cut straight across and got ahead of him, and as he come along, I come out of the bresh and throwed down on him with my cap-and-ball.

He throwed up his hands and hollered: “Don’t shoot!”

“I don’t want to, mister,” I said, “but I got to have clothes!”

He shook his head like he couldn’t believe I was so, and he said: “You ain’t the color of a Injun, but–what kind of people live in these hills, anyway?”

“Most of ’em’s Democrats,” I said. “But I ain’t got no time to talk politics. You climb out of them riggin’s.”

“My God!” he wailed. “My horse threw me off and ran away, and I’ve bin walkin’ for hours, expecting to get scalped by Injuns any minute, and now a naked lunatic on a mule demands my clothes! It’s too dern much!”

“I cain’t argy, mister,” I said; “somebody’s liable to come up the trail any minute. Hustle!” So saying I shot his hat off to encourage him.

He give a howl and shucked his duds in a hurry.

“My underclothes, too?” he demanded, shivering though it was very hot.

“Is that what them things is?” I demanded, shocked. “I never heard of a man wearin’ such womanish things. The country is goin’ to the dogs, just like pap says. You better git goin’. Take my mule. When I git to where I can git some regular clothes, we’ll swap back.”

He clumb onto Alexander kind of dubious, and says to me, despairful: “Will you tell me one thing–how do I get to Tomahawk?”

“Take the next turn to the right,” I said, “and–”

Jest then Alexander turned his head and seen them underclothes on his back, and he give a loud and ringing bray and sot sail down the trail at full speed with the stranger hanging on with both hands. Before they was out of sight they come to where the trail forked, and Alexander taken the left branch instead of the right, and vanished amongst the ridges.

I put on the clothes, and they scratched my hide something fierce. I thinks, well, I got store-bought clothes quicker’n I hoped to. But I didn’t think much of ’em. The coat split down the back, and the pants was too short, but the shoes was the wust; they pinched all over. I throwed away the socks, having never wore none, but put on what was left of the hat.

I went on down the trail, and taken the right-hand fork, and in a mile or so I come out on a flat, and heard hosses running. The next thing a mob of men on hosses bust into view. One of ’em yelled: “There he is!” and they all come for me full tilt. Instantly I decided that the stranger had got to Tomahawk after all, somehow, and had sot his friends onto me for stealing his clothes.

So I left the trail and took out across the sage grass, and they all charged after me, yelling stop. Well, them dern shoes pinched my feet so bad I couldn’t make much speed, so after I had run maybe a quarter of a mile I perceived that the hosses were beginning to gain on me. So I wheeled with my cap-and-ball in my hand, but I was going so fast, when I turned, them dern shoes slipped and I went over backwards into a cactus bed just as I pulled the trigger. So I only knocked the hat off of the first hossman. He yelled and pulled up his hoss, right over me nearly, and as I drawed another bead on him, I seen he had a bright shiny star on to his shirt. I dropped my gun and stuck up my hands.

They swarmed around me–cowboys, from their looks. The man with the star got off his hoss and picked up my gun and cussed.

“What did you lead us this chase through this heat and shoot at me for?” he demanded.

“I didn’t know you was a officer,” I said.

“Hell, McVey,” said one of ’em, “you know how jumpy tenderfeet is. Likely he thought we was Santry’s outlaws. Where’s yore hoss?”

“I ain’t got none,” I said.

“Got away from you, hey?” said McVey. “Well, climb up behind Kirby here, and let’s git goin’.”

To my surprise, the sheriff stuck my gun back in the scabbard, and so I clumb up behind Kirby, and away we went. Kirby kept telling me not to fall off, and it made me mad, but I said nothing. After an hour or so we come to a bunch of houses they said was Tomahawk. I got panicky when I seen all them houses, and would have jumped down and run for the mountains, only I knowed they’d catch me, with them dern pinchy shoes on.

I hadn’t never seen such houses before. They was made out of boards, mostly, and some was two stories high. To the north-west and west the hills riz up a few hundred yards from the backs of the houses, and on the other sides there was plains, with bresh and timber on them.

“You boys ride into town and tell the folks that the shebang starts soon,” said McVey. “Me and Kirby and Richards will take him to the ring.”

I could see people milling around in the streets, and I never had no idee they was that many folks in the world. The sheriff and the other two fellers rode around the north end of the town and stopped at a old barn and told me to get off. So I did, and we went in and they had a kind of room fixed up in there with benches and a lot of towels and water buckets, and the sheriff said: “This ain’t much of a dressin’ room, but it’ll have to do. Us boys don’t know much about this game, but we’ll second you as good as we can. One thing–the other feller ain’t got no manager nor seconds neither. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” I said, “but I’m kind of hungry.”

“Go git him somethin’, Richards,” said the sheriff.

“I didn’t think they et just before a bout,” said Richards.

“Aw, I reckon he knows what he’s doin’,” said McVey. “Gwan.”

So Richards pulled out, and the sheriff and Kirby walked around me like I was a prize bull, and felt my muscles, and the sheriff said: “By golly, if size means anything, our dough is as good as in our britches right now!”

I pulled my dollar out of my scabbard and said I would pay for my keep, and they haw-hawed and slapped me on the back and said I was a great joker. Then Richards come back with a platter of grub, with a lot of men wearing boots and guns and whiskers, and they stomped in and gawped at me, and McVey said: “Look him over, boys! Tomahawk stands or falls with him today!”

They started walking around me like him and Kirby done, and I was embarrassed and et three or four pounds of beef and a quart of mashed pertaters, and a big hunk of white bread, and drunk about a gallon of water, because I was purty thirsty. Then they all gaped like they was surprised about something, and one of ’em said: “How come he didn’t arrive on the stagecoach yesterday?”

“Well,” said the sheriff, “the driver told me he was so drunk they left him at Bisney, and come on with his luggage, which is over there in the corner. They got a hoss and left it there with instructions for him to ride on to Tomahawk as soon as he sobered up. Me and the boys got nervous today when he didn’t show up, so we went out lookin’ for him, and met him hoofin’ it down the trail.”

“I bet them Perdition _hombres_ starts somethin’,” said Kirby. “Ain’t a one of ’em showed up yet. They’re settin’ over at Perdition soakin’ up bad licker and broodin’ on their wrongs. They shore wanted this show staged over there. They claimed that since Tomahawk was furnishin’ one-half of the attraction, and Gunstock the other half, the razee ought to be throwed at Perdition.”

“Nothin’ to it,” said McVey. “It laid between Tomahawk and Gunstock, and we throwed a coin and won it. If Perdition wants trouble she can git it. Is the boys r’arin’ to go?”

“Is they!” says Richards. “Every bar in Tomahawk is crowded with hombres full of licker and civic pride. They’re bettin’ their shirts, and they has been nine fights already. Everybody in Gunstock’s here.”

“Well, le’s git goin’,” says McVey, getting nervous. “The quicker it’s over, the less blood there’s likely to be spilt.”

The first thing I knowed, they had laid hold of me and was pulling my clothes off, so it dawned on me that I must be under arrest for stealing that stranger’s clothes. Kirby dug into the baggage which was in one corner of the stall, and dragged out a funny looking pair of pants; I know now they was white silk. I put ’em on because I didn’t have nothing else to put on, and they fitted me like my skin. Richards tied a American flag around my waist, and they put some spiked shoes onto my feet.

I let ’em do like they wanted to, remembering what pap said about not resisting no officer. Whilst so employed I begun to hear a noise outside, like a lot of people whooping and cheering. Purty soon in come a skinny old gink with whiskers and two guns on, and he hollered: “Lissen here, Mac, dern it, a big shipment of gold is down there waitin’ to be took off by the evenin’ stage, and the whole blame town is deserted on account of this dern foolishness. Suppose Comanche Santry and his gang gits wind of it?”

“Well,” said McVey, “I’ll send Kirby here to help you guard it.”

“You will like hell,” says Kirby. “I’ll resign as deputy first. I got every cent of my dough on this scrap, and I aim to see it.”

“Well, send somebody!” says the old codger. “I got enough to do runnin’ my store, and the stage stand, and the post office, without–”

He left, mumbling in his whiskers, and I said: “Who’s that?”

“Aw,” said Kirby, “that’s old man Brenton that runs the store down at the other end of town, on the east side of the street. The post office is in there, too.”

“I got to see him,” I says. “There’s a letter–”

Just then another man come surging in and hollered: “Hey, is yore man ready? Folks is gittin’ impatient!”

“All right,” says McVey, throwing over me a thing he called a bathrobe. Him and Kirby and Richards picked up towels and buckets and things, and we went out the oppersite door from what we come in, and they was a big crowd of people there, and they whooped and shot off their pistols. I would have bolted back into the barn, only they grabbed me and said it was all right. We pushed through the crowd, and I never seen so many boots and pistols in my life, and we come to a square corral made out of four posts sot in the ground, and ropes stretched between. They called this a ring and told me to get in. I done so, and they had turf packed down so the ground was level as a floor and hard and solid. They told me to set down on a stool in one corner, and I did, and wrapped my robe around me like a Injun.

Then everybody yelled, and some men, from Gunstock, McVey said, clumb through the ropes on the other side. One of ’em was dressed like I was, and I never seen such a funny-looking human. His ears looked like cabbages, and his nose was plumb flat, and his head was shaved and looked right smart like a bullet. He sot down in a oppersite corner.

Then a feller got up and waved his arms, and hollered: “Gents, you all know the occasion of this here suspicious event. Mister Bat O’Tool, happenin’ to be passin’ through Gunstock, consented to fight anybody which would meet him. Tomahawk riz to the occasion by sendin’ all the way to Denver to procure the services of Mister Bruiser McGoorty, formerly of San Francisco!”

He p’inted at me, and everybody cheered and shot off their pistols, and I was embarrassed and bust out in a cold sweat.

“This fight,” said the feller, “will be fit accordin’ to London Prize Ring Rules, same as in a champeenship go. Bare fists, round ends when one of ’em’s knocked down or throwed down. Fight lasts till one or t’other ain’t able to come up to the scratch when time’s called. I, Yucca Blaine, have been selected as referee because, bein’ from Chawed Ear, I got no prejudices either way. Air you all ready? Time!”

McVey hauled me off my stool and pulled off my bathrobe and pushed me out into the ring. I nearly died with embarrassment, but I seen the feller they called O’Tool didn’t have on no more clothes than me. He approached and held out his hand like he wanted to shake hands, so I held out mine. We shook hands, and then without no warning he hit me a awful lick on the jaw with his left. It was like being kicked by a mule. The first part of me which hit the turf was the back of my head. O’Tool stalked back to his corner, and the Gunstock boys was dancing and hugging each other, and the Tomahawk fellers was growling in their whiskers and fumbling with their guns and bowie knives.

McVey and his deperties rushed into the ring before I could get up and dragged me to my corner and began pouring water on me.

“Air you hurt much?” yelled McVey.

“How can a man’s fist hurt anybody?” I ast. “I wouldn’t of fell down, only I was caught off-guard. I didn’t know he was goin’ to hit me. I never played no game like this here’n before.”

Elkins_02_webMcVey dropped the towel he was beating me in the face with, and turned pale. “Ain’t you Bruiser McGoorty of San Francisco?” he hollered.

“Naw,” I said. “I’m Breckinridge Elkins, from up in the Humbolt Mountains. I come here to git a letter for pap.”

“But the stagecoach driver described them clothes–” he begun wildly.

“A Injun stole my clothes,” I explained, “so I taken some off’n a stranger. Maybe that was Mister McGoorty.”

“What’s the matter?” ast Kirby, coming up with another bucket of water. “Time’s about ready to be called.”

“We’re sunk!” bawled McVey. “This ain’t McGoorty! This is a derned hillbilly which murdered McGoorty and stole his clothes!”

“We’re rooint!” exclaimed Richards, aghast. “Everybody’s bet their dough without even seein’ our man, they was that full of trust and civic pride. We cain’t call it off now. Tomahawk is rooint! What’ll we do?”

“He’s goin’ to git in there and fight his derndest,” said McVey, pulling his gun and jamming it into my back. “We’ll hang him after the fight.”

“But he cain’t box!” wailed Richards.

“No matter,” said McVey; “the fair name of our town is at stake; Tomahawk promised to supply a fighter to fight O’Tool, and–”

“Oh!” I said, suddenly seeing light. “This here is a fight then, ain’t it?”

McVey give a low moan, and Kirby reched for his gun, but just then the referee hollered time, and I jumped up and run at O’Tool. If a fight was all they wanted, I was satisfied. All that talk about rules, and the yelling of the crowd and all had had me so confused I hadn’t knowed what it was all about. I hit at O’Tool and he ducked and hit me in the belly and on the nose and in the eye and on the ear. The blood spurted, and the crowd hollered, and he looked plumb dumbfounded and gritted betwixt his teeth: “Are you human? Why don’t you fall?”

I spit out a mouthful of blood and got my hands on him and started chawing his ear, and he squalled like a catamount. Yucca run in and tried to pull me loose and I give him a slap under the ear and he turned a somersault into the ropes.

“Yore man’s fightin’ foul!” he squalled, and Kirby said: “Yo’re crazy! Do you see this gun? You holler ‘foul’ just once more, and it’ll go off!”

Meanwhile O’Tool had broke loose from me and caved in his knuckles on my jaw, and I come for him again, because I was beginning to lose my temper. He gasped: “If you want to make an alley-fight out of it, all right. I wasn’t raised in Five Points for nothing!” He then rammed his knee into my groin, and groped for my eye, but I got his thumb in my teeth and begun masticating it, and the way he howled was a caution.

By this time the crowd was crazy, and I throwed O’Tool and begun to stomp him, when somebody let bang at me from the crowd and the bullet cut my silk belt and my pants started to fall down.

I grabbed ’em with both hands, and O’Tool riz up and rushed at me, bloody and bellering, and I didn’t dare let go my pants to defend myself. I whirled and bent over and lashed out backwards with my right heel like a mule, and I caught him under the chin. He done a cartwheel in the air, his head hit the turf, and he bounced on over and landed on his back with his knees hooked over the lower rope. There warn’t no question about him being out. The only question was, was he dead?

A roar of “Foul!” went up from the Gunstock men, and guns bristled all around the ring.

The Tomahawk men was cheering and yelling that I’d won fair and square, and the Gunstock men was cussing and threatening me, when somebody hollered: “Leave it to the referee!”

“Sure,” said Kirby. “He knows our man won fair, and if he don’t say so, I’ll blow his head off!”

“That’s a lie!” bellered a Gunstock man. “He knows it war a foul, and if he says it warn’t, I’ll kyarve his gizzard with this here bowie knife!”

At them words Yucca fainted, and then a clatter of hoofs sounded above the din, and out of the timber that hid the trail from the east a gang of hossmen rode at a run. Everybody yelled: “Look out, here comes them Perdition illegitimates!”

Instantly a hundred guns covered ’em, and McVey demanded: “Come ye in peace or in war?”

“We come to unmask a fraud!” roared a big man with a red bandanner around his neck. “McGoorty, come forth!”

A familiar figger, now dressed in cowboy togs, pushed forward on my mule. “There he is!” this figger yelled, p’inting a accusing finger at me. “That’s the desperado that robbed me! Them’s my tights he’s got on!”

“What is this?” roared the crowd.

“A cussed fake!” bellered the man with the red bandanner. “This here is Bruiser McGoorty!”

“Then who’s he?” somebody bawled, p’inting at me.

“I’m Breckinridge Elkins and I can lick any man here!” I roared, getting mad. I brandished my fists in defiance, but my britches started sliding down again, so I had to shut up and grab ’em.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 11:45 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

The Knight With Two Swords from Ragnarok Publications

ADDENDUM:

So I’ve got to tack a few words on this post explaining why Knight With Two Swords hasn’t come out yet. Those with preorders will notice on Amazon that the release date has currently changed to February.

Some of you may know that Ragnarok Publications’ future is currently in doubt, that a lot of authors have moved their books to other presses. Given the amount of preorders this book has garnered (thanks to those who put their money up), I’ve talked it over with the current contract holders, and while Knight may not be released under the Ragnarok banner, it may still come out under a related aegis.

The short of it is, the book’s been delayed, but the book is in the hands of the designers and is basically just waiting on the business end to sort itself out. It’s absolutely not been canceled. It’ll be out next year with that cover you see below. You’ll know more when I do.  – EME

Coming soon, The Knight With Two Swords, my Arthurian fantasy novel about Sir Balin The Savage, the knight who, in Arthurian lore, loses the Holy Grail.

knight

Cover art by Chris Yabrough, Design by Shawn King

Balin and his twin brother Brulen grow up revering their dead father, a storied knight of the High King Uther’s time, but are held back from following in his footsteps by their mother, a priestess of the old religion whose capitol is the Isle of Avalon and whose chief defender is Merlin, the son of a demon. Brulen respects the old ways, but Balin submits to the will of the Christian God. When their mother is burned at the stake as a witch by fanatics, Balin blames the corrupting influence of Avalon, and Brulen declares war on the Christian priests. The two take very different paths to knighthood.

A new high king arises; Arthur, whose rule must unite pagan and Christian alike. Sir Balin, now known as The Savage, answers the king’s call, but in his heart, questions the presence of the shadowy wizard Merlin beside the throne. When a vengeful enchantress comes to court bearing a cursed sword and promises to make Balin the greatest knight in Albion if he will slay his beloved king, Balin sets out on a long quest that will veer between God and glory, love and madness, justice and revenge, and shake the land of Albion to its very foundation.

I think my first real exposure to Arthuriana was probably an early episode of GI Joe where Storm Shadow the ninja discovered Excalibur in a British castle and wielded it against the Joes. Not auspicious, maybe, but it stuck with me, and later I saw Boorman’s Excalibur, which made a huge impression on my adolescent sensibilities and rendered a good many of my early D&D characters insufferable paladins.

I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, but I think it was my aunt lending me her copies of Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and the Mordred-centric follow up The Wicked Day) that made me finally seek out Mallory and de Troyes.

Of course the histrionics of Arthur are interesting, but I’ve always been drawn to the legendry of it, the enduring fantasy that’s come down to us through the ages, as Steinbeck was in his Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights.

This article on the NY Times, reprinting Steinbeck’s forward of his retelling is worth a look.  If I were a plagiarist, I would have copied the thing verbatim for my own as it sums up the affection I have for Arthur pretty well.

balinFor my own Arthurian novel, and my first leap from my usual horror and historical fantasy offerings to the classic sword and sorcery variety, I chose to retell Malory’s Sir Balin The Savage: The Knight With The Two Swords, a tragedy about the rise and fall of the best of Arthur’s knights, and the events that lead into the legend of the Holy Grail Quest we know so much about. It’s a legend that always resonated deeply with me, the story of a marginal hero, a tumultuous man striving always to be something better than what he is, a man raised to revere ideals which he himself as well as those he meets in the real world cannot possibly live up to, and the pain that ensues when he tries to force things to fit.

I’m very excited for you to read it. Here’s an excerpt.

—————————————————————————–

a1d83fc1695b40d74c64ef684fec8f7eLances pierced steel and muscle, lifting men screaming into the air. Others exploded with lightning cracks, pounding metal and pulverizing the bone beneath it. Limbs flailed wildly and without reason as evicted souls departed their broken, bloody cases.

The great ram and the wet hide canopy above it collapsed as the besiegers suddenly found themselves besieged.

In the initial tangle of retreat from the hammer charge, men died, bones snapping beneath iron shod hooves or the heavy boots of their own fleeing warriors. In the wake of the great push, the squires swarmed over the groaning wounded, dealing death as quick as the flicking tongues of adders with dagger edge and spear point.

A hundred and forty knights smashed into the numerically superior Saxons, and for one storied, effervescent moment, successfully drove them back. But behind them waited the dream crushing armored cavalry of Orkney and Norgales, and the hard knights of Snowdonia, led by Sir Segurant The Brown, two thousand strong.

These spread into a steel shield and thundered across the plain to catch the rebounding Saxon footmen and check Arthur’s spear point.

The forward knights of Camelot and Cameliard had lost their lances, and so those in the rear that had kept theirs intact, doubled their speed to take the front. Arthur, Kay, Bedivere, Balin, and Gawaine fell back and drew their swords.

Balin saw Geraint, Agravaine, and Gaheris fly past, leveling their lances as they went. He looked for Brulen, but did not see his brother.

Lance point met shield and plackart and helm as it had in hundreds of bright tournaments on the sunlit tiltyard before Camelot. But this was no war play now for token or gamble, and knights crashed to the ground with a tremulous cacophony of sound, some never to rise again. Horses screamed, pierced or broken legged, and flopped about the bloody field, rolling over their masters.

The superior force of Segurant caught and crushed the charge, then enclosed them like a fist, riding in with chopping swords and swishing flails to rake and batter those that had fallen and struggled to rise.

Excalibur and the Adventurous Sword rang out and struck alongside each other as they had only once before in forgotten times, until the melee became a writhing knot of steel clad riders and unhorsed fighters. Balin and Arthur were separated like leaves in a storm swift eddy. Balin blessed this turn. Every moment he spent at Arthur’s side, he feared the sword in his own hand.

There was no easy gauging the battle now. It took effort for Balin to remain in the saddle of Ironprow. At every turn the enemy came, faceless juggernauts of iron and steel, tarnished and bright, bloody and spotless, of every fashion, pauldrons heavy and winged, helms flowing bright plumes or flapping with silken ribbons, arms tied with soft remembrances of women who would grieve them before the sun set. Balin’s sword and shield met axe and mace, morning star and greatsword, until finally the latter caved and broke apart.

Then, Balin let slip his ruined shield and drew his second sword, or rather his first, the trusty weapon with which he had trained and been dubbed so long ago. He lay about him as he had at the crossroads, no longer giving any though to defense, merely turning and cutting, stabbing and slashing, casting himself heedless into the unending fray. He locked his knees and let the reins fly wild. Ironprow understood somehow, and wheeled and jumped, switching its master’s facing constantly, as if the worthy animal knew that the heavy, roaring thing on its back would meet and end every impending threat to its own sweaty hide.

A ring of armor began to form around Balin’s pitching mount as more and more Snowdonians took note of the wild enemy fighter in their midst and rushed forth to seize his life for their glory, meeting instead their own inglorious endings. Men swore vengeance at their fallen fellows and then swiftly joined them. Others lay whimpering final prayers as fresh dead came slamming down atop them, the foundation and brick of a wall of dead, with blood and viscera the mortar.

For an instant, Balin found respite, like a summoner safe inside his warding circle of steel-clad corpses. His swords had built a makeshift berm which destriers and coursers, and even the most battle hardened chargers balked to leap, fearing either the heavy scent of death or rolling eyes at the sight of the devil horse and its demon rider waiting on the other side like a consuming fire. New attackers dismounted to clamber clumsily over the dead and get at him.

rheadarbBalin saw beyond the clash of arms where the remainder of the spirit-broken Saxons, still thousands strong, milled anxiously, watching the fight, eager and yet fearing to join. They had not yet flowed through the broken gate of Carhaix, though. A group of Saxon chiefs and their mounted bodyguard hovered near the entrance, preventing their subordinates from looting.

No doubt as part of their pact with Rience, the city was being held for him to claim.

Balin looked across the field then and spied the King of Snowdonia and Norgales himself, tall in his saddle, freshly armed and in his beard-trimmed cape. He was behind a line of archers and footmen which seemed innumerable to a lone knight in the midst of his last stand. All his commanders were there with him too. There was the wraith-like King Lot beside him, and the bright blonde Osla Big Knife, all calmly watching their utter destruction from afar.

And behind them, empty grass, and that lone island of old trees.

Then above the ring of steel and the screams of men, a familiar voice called to him, “What is your name, knight?”

Balin looked down from Ironprow and saw a powerful, lone knight with a white beard and cruelly spiked pauldrons, bearing a bloody greatsword. He had cast off his bassinet and great helm. The knight stood insolently on the pile of corpses Balin had made. Though he was of their number, they were not his peers, and were but a footstool to his own purpose.

Sir Segurant The Brown. The greatest knight of King Uther’s Round Table of old.

“Sir Balin of Northumberland,” Balin called down.

No one else was coming in to fight him now. Segurant had claimed him.

“I am Sir Segurant The Brown. Step down into this arena you’ve made for us, Sir Balin,” he said, descending nimbly down the bloody limbs like a stair until he stood underneath the snorting muzzle of Ironprow.

Balin breathed heavy. His arms were trembling, hanging at his sides. Having given them a brief rest to observe the enemy, they had failed him now, perhaps thinking the fight was over.

But he could not let the challenge go by. Segurant may have been a great man once, but he was a servant of the Devil now, and his haughty pride was loathsome to behold.

“God grant me strength,” Balin muttered and leaned forward to kiss the mane of Ironprow before sliding out of his saddle to light upon the ground.

—————————————————————-
Before Arthur, there was Uther.
Before Lancelot, there was Balin The Savage.
Before the Holy Grail could be found…it had to be lost.

https://www.amazon.com/Knight-Two-Swords-Edward-Erdelac/dp/1945528540

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 11:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Conquer Gets Crowned in Occult Detective Quarterly #3

Electric Pentacle has put out Occult Detective Quarterly #3 and with it, my character, cool 70’s blaxploitation occultist John Conquer returns, in Conquer Gets Crowned.

When a group of Harlem graffiti artists show up in Conquer’s office with a story about a monster prowling the subway tunnels where they practice their trade, Conquer is dubious, until one of the kids shows him a sketch of the thing in his notebook and he recognizes a mystic symbol emblazoned on its chest that no uninitiated kid with a spray can could possibly come up with on his own. Conquer hits the books and then hits the streets….time for Conquer to get crowned.

Here’s an excerpt, and the bee-you-tiful accompanying art from the talented Sebastian Cabrol.
conquergetscrowned

Somebody rapped on Conquer’s office door.

He groaned, kicked his shoes under the desk, and pulled his chair in. He wanted to tell whoever was outside to fuck off, but he couldn’t afford to turn anybody away or he wouldn’t be able to look at his pretty new receptionist for much longer. He’d already had to send her home for the day. The calls were just too few and far between.

“It’s open,” he muttered, hoping they didn’t hear him.

But they did.

He regretted answering at all at the first sight of the three ragged teenagers that shuffled in. Ripped jeans, hippy satchels, bomber jackets, black-smudged Converse. By the look of them, they had maybe a dime between them and they owed it to somebody. They smelled like they spent a lot of time in a garage, scooting under cars and inhaling car paint.

Two of them were young brothers, one big, black as a tire, hair in cornrows, the other tall and butter colored, so skinny his prodigious afro made him look like an oddball topiary.

The third was a heroin-scrawny, ludicrously smooth faced little white kid with dirty blonde angel curls and oversized blue eyes ready to melt at any minute. He was hugging himself like he’d just found out a pimp’s Cadillac had rolled over his puppy out on Lenox Avenue. His clothes and hair shrieked North Bronx.

“I gave to Helping Hand already this week, boys,” Conquer said, pushing back his chair again and relaxing a bit. “Shut the door behind you.”

“Yo,” said the tall one, who, Conquer noticed, was a bit cleaner and more Spanish than the other two, probably Puerto Rican, “is you the magic man?”

“Say what?”

“People say John Conquer the detective is a magic man. A doctor. Un brujo.”

Conquer lit a cigarette and looked down the length of it at the kid through a cloud of smoke.

“What people?”

“Mama Underwood. She said John Conquer takes care of a certain kinda trouble.”

“Yeah? What kind you got, kid?”

The Spanish kid turned to the white boy expectantly, but the kid just stared. That got to Conquer, that stare. He’d seen it in the eyes of kids in Quảng Ngãi Province in ’66. Kids who had seen shit they shouldn’t have.

The kid stepped gingerly past his friends, as if he was afraid Conquer would make a grab at him. He put a beat up notebook with a black cover on the desk, and his hand hovered over it.

Impatient, Conquer reached out and slid it closer, spinning it, flipping it open.

The notebook was full of that bubble letter rainbow squiggly shit that gave the Mayor and the pigs aneurysms and made every bus and train in the five boroughs a pastel-colored eyesore.

He paged through the nonsense quickly, disinterested.

“You want some free legal advice? Get rid of this thing. It’s incriminating –“

And then he cut himself off as he came to a startlingly weird picture. It was different than anything else in there, not stylized or colored with markers. This was done in pencil, various shades of gray. The kid had real talent, at least a future drawing those schlocky horror comics on the newsstand if he wanted it. The drawing was of a big-headed, long limbed thing ducking in the heavy shadows of a tunnel, cartoonishly big, black bug eyes shining out of the dark like a boogeyman. It gave him the creeps.

“That’s it!” exclaimed the Puerto Rican kid, stepping forward. “Yo, that’s the thing that killed Mad Bomber.”

“Who?”

“Our boy, Mike Bermudez, Mad Bomber. That’s what we called him.”

Mike Bermudez. That name sounded familiar.

“It got him in the One Tunnel,” said the black kid.

“What one tunnel?”

“Nah man, the One. On the 1 line? Between 137th and 145th? The station yard.”

The subway line. Then he remembered.

“That kid that got hit by a train a couple days ago?”

He had read about in the paper. These graffiti kids congregated in the underground train yards, where the city stored the cars overnight and off peak hours on the weekends, vandalizing the parked rolling stock in the dead of night. Apparently this Bermudez kid had slipped and fallen on the rail, knocked himself out, then got chewed up when the 1’s and 3’s rolled out for duty, before anybody noticed he was on the tracks.

“It wasn’t no train,” said the Puerto Rican kid, tapping the grotesque drawing in the graffiti book. “It was that. Baby Face seen it happen.”

Baby Face, obviously the quiet white boy. Mad Bomber.

“What are you all, some kinda gang?”

“Naw man, we don’t fuck with that shit,” said the dark one with the cornrows. “We All-city. NBA crew.”

He raised his eyebrows and glanced at their feet.

“Not with them shoes.”

“C’mon. We’re writers, man,” said the Puerto Rican. “We don’t flex, just bomb. That’s us,” he said, tapping one of the designs in the book, a jumble of letters incomprehensible to Conquer. “N-B-A. Notorious Bombs Away.”

“This is Rockwell 145, yo! W-A-R.” The dark one said, hyping his Puerto Rican friend, as though that should have made Conquer put his shoes back on. “And I sign Presto 125. They’re sellin’ our pieces at Franklin Furnace downtown, man. Sellin’ ‘em, you dig?”

“So what the hell does all that mean?” Conquer said, folding his hands.

“It means we can pay you, man,” said Rockwell, reaching into his school bag and taking out a brick of cash that made Conquer toe his shoes a little under the desk.

The kid set the brick down on the desk. It must have been a couple hundred bucks in small bills. It reeked of spray paint from the bag, but that would be the Freedom National Bank’s problem.

“What’s the job, kid?” said Conquer.

“Go down in the tunnel and get this motherfuckin’ thing that killed our friend.”

Conquer looked down at the book of doodling again, and took a good long look at the thing in question.  He was half-ready to write this off as some crazy ghetto bugaboo story when he saw the faint design etched on its naked chest. A circle with some harrowingly familiar characters. There was something in the middle of it, a jagged mark, like a wound.

He looked at Baby Face, who only stared at that picture.

“Baby Face,” he said, getting his attention with a snap of his fingers that made the poor kid flinch. He touched the mark in the center of the shadowy thing’s chest. “You really see this?”

“I seen it,” the kid said quietly, unable to keep the tremble out of his voice. “I really seen it. It come at us outta the dark. Picked up Mike like nothin’ and…”

“I mean this,” Conquer interrupted, tapping the symbol. “This right here. You saw this on its chest?”

Baby Face nodded.

“It had a cut in the middle even, like my uncle’s pacemaker scar.”

Conquer bit his lip and frowned. He looked at the others.

“You saw it too?”

Rockwell and Presto exchanged glances then shook their heads.

“It’s real, man!” Baby Face asserted.

“Yo, if Baby Face says it’s real, it’s real,” Rockwell said defiantly, but Presto pursed his lips and looked doubtful.

“Ease up, man, I believe you,” said Conquer. He stood up and slipped into his shoes.

The fact was, there was no way some kid from the Bronx could come up with an actual magic symbol like this outside of fucking around in Horrible Herman’s book shop on West 19th in Chelsea. Maybe not even there. If Baby Face’s drawing was accurate, this was weird, experimental shit; a mish mash of complex Abramelin ritual, obscure, dark necromancy, and Thai black magic he had seen on I&I in Bangkok during the war. It was like somebody was skimming from a pretty expansive black library, picking what they wanted from it, making something new and possibly way worse than any of its elements.

Sometimes he felt himself directed, put into the path of unrighteous things by old forces he couldn’t name but which expected him to correct them. Maybe old gods, maybe his busybody Dahomeyan ancestors. Maybe in this case it was just the old Hoodoo lady Mama Underwood, recognizing something beyond her understanding and pointing these kids in his direction.

Maybe.

But it wasn’t how he wanted to kick off his weekend.

Get Conquer and ODQ #3 right here and check out the mag’s other offerings from weird sleuthing  aficionados Brian M Sammons, Alice Loweecy, The Ever Lovin’ Willie Meikle and more.

https://www.amazon.com/Occult-Detective-Quarterly-Issue-3/dp/1979113343/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509638355&sr=8-1&keywords=occult+detective+quarterly&dpID=51kG8ErSOGL&preST=_SX218_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Published in: on November 2, 2017 at 9:14 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,