Andersonville On Tour

andersonvilleReviews for my new Random House-Hydra novel Andersonville are coming from Lit Reactor, Publishers Weekly, and Examiner as well as Goodreads and so far they’re pretty positive across the board.

Gef Fox interviewed me about the book at his blog and the always friendly folks at Fantasy Book Review lent me some space there to talk about the development of the novel, so please check those out.

Andersonville is doing the rounds of a slew of blogs across the ether, so please take a look at these fine sites. They’ll be featuring reviews at the appointed times or thereabouts.


Monday, August 17th: Stephanie’s Book Reviews….100 Pages a Day

Tuesday, August 18th: Fourth Street Review

Tuesday, August 18th: Bibliotica

Wednesday, August 19th: The Reader’s Hollow

Wednesday, August 19th: Tynga’s Reviews

Thursday, August 20th: A Book Geek

Monday, August 24th: Bewitched Bookworms

Tuesday, August 25th: Kissin’ Blue Karen

Wednesday, August 26th: Kari J. Wolfe

Thursday, August 27th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, August 28th: Vic’s Media Room

Monday, August 31st: It’s a Mad Mad World

Tuesday, September 1st: SJ2B House of Books

Wednesday, September 2nd: Historical Fiction Obsession

Thursday, September 3rd: Kimberly’s Bookshelf

Friday, September 4th: Jenn’s Bookshelves

Monday, September 7th: From the TBR Pile

An Excerpt From Andersonville

My historical horror novel Andersonville is due out August 18th from Random House/Hydra.


In 1864, 30,000 half-starved men pray for a way out of the disease ridden confines of Andersonville prison, unaware that they are about to become part of a dark ritual enacted by a madman to swing the course of the Civil War.

One man fights his way in to stop him.

Here’s an excerpt.


The exhausted tunnelers were rotated out to disposal and lookout duty.  Enderlein went first into the passage with the shovel, then Bill, then Barclay, taking over the relay duty. It was two hours of painful crawling back and forth in the cramped tunnel with buckets of earth. One of the Irishmen, O’Bannon, manned the bellows, and though it did provide a gush of fresh air whenever Barclay neared it to pass the bucket up, he couldn’t imagine the meager air Bill and Enderlein were getting further down the tunnel, if any.

fig28The work was taxing, and the thought of the tons of shifting sand waiting to come down through the crumbling clay ceiling of the passage caused Barclay’s heart to hammer in his chest.  He kept his breaths shallow and quick, but the blood pounded in his ears. They worked mainly in darkness, it being too close and the air too precious to burn away with candlelight. The only sign that they were not in the grave itself was the pinprick of light from the flickering candle O’Bannon kept on the dug out shelf in the vertical shaft that was their umbilical to the surface.

They did not speak as they worked, but the huffing of their breath let each man know the others still lived.

Then, when Barclay felt he couldn’t stand the dark closeness any longer, Bill whispered to him.

“Enderlein figures another couple feet and he’s past the outer wall.”

Barclay inched laboriously back to O’Bannon and watched the Irishman smile through his feet when he passed him the word.

Then there was a strange sound from up ahead, and Enderlein shrieked once in alarm. It was the sound of rushing water.

God, thought Barclay. Had they misjudged their direction and double backed to the creek? Had they struck some underground spring they hadn’t anticipated?

O’Bannon reacted quickly, and gripping Barclay by the ankles, yanked him out of the tunnel into the shaft.

They had three ropes made from braided cloth tied around the leg of each man in the tunnel proper.

O’Bannon grabbed one and began to furiously pull.

Barclay sat up and pulled the other.

High above, Skinny’s face appeared over the hole.

“What’s the matter?” he called down in as loud a whisper as he could manage.

“I don’t know! Trouble! Underground spring maybe or….”

At that moment the water gushed from the tunnel and spread across the floor of the shaft.

Except it wasn’t water.

It was blood.

Not some dark mud as Limber had suggested the night he’d pulled the red tipped root from the ground. As before, Barclay could smell the copper taint, feel the consistency as it swiftly rose to his ankles. It was blood, and it was filling the tunnel like a giant capillary.

“My God!” O’Bannon exclaimed, pausing in his work at the sight of the stuff pooling around his ankles.

“Keep pulling, goddammit!” Barclay yelled over the rushing blood, now threatening their calves.

Barclay pulled for all he was worth, and in a few moments he was rewarded as Bill Mixinisaw came kicking and splashing out of the tunnel, entirely painted red.

So O’Bannon had a hold of Enderlein.

“What happened?” Barclay asked, pulling the spluttering Indian up out of the stuff.

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said Bill. “Enderlein was digging and he stopped and stuck the spade in the ground. It all just started rushing in. There’s something in there.”


“I felt something claw at me.”

“Here he comes!” O’Bannon bellowed triumphantly.

The left foot of Enderlein broke the surface of the well of blood as O’Bannon dragged it from the tunnel with effort.

Enderlein’s leg was not attached.

thedescentcrawlerInstead, a terrifying face breached the surface of the frothing blood. It was thin and skull-like, devoid of hair, yet not entirely fleshless, for it had flabby, overlarge ears and a bat-like nose that flared and inflated twin bubbles of blood at the first taste of air. Its jaw was clamped down on the ragged end of Enderlein’s disembodied foot, at the ankle, where the torn flesh exposed a piece of crushed bone to which it had affixed its double rows of triangular, serrated, bloodstained teeth. The brow was downturned in the extreme, the red painted flesh of the forehead wrinkled in astounding, almost mesmerizing patterns, amid a blanket of ugly, tumorous growths so large they flapped independently with every movement of the grotesque head.

Then, from that scarlet mask, the vertical lids covering its two bulbous eyes slid open.

The shaft was filled with blinding yellow light, as if from a theater spot, blazing from the eyes of this horror paddling into the shaft.

“Don’t look in its eyes!” Barclay warned, throwing his back to the well and shielding the glare with his hand.

The blood was up to his thighs now.

The thing screeched shrilly, dropping Enderlein’s foot, and leapt from the tunnel, spreading out impossibly long, thin arms that ended in dramatically curved red talons, like the claws of a digging mole.

It bore down on O’Bannon and dragged him beneath the surface of the ever-rising pool of blood.

Bill screamed and started to climb the shaft, throwing his feet against one wall and his back against the opposite, hopping nimbly up.

The blood covering Bill now drizzled in a red rain down on Barclay, who groped in the pool for O’Bannon, trying to snag hold of his thrashing arms and legs. He gripped a limb and pulled, but found he had gotten hold of the thing’s arm. Its hard flesh was scorching to the touch, and burned his fingers red before he let go with a yelp.

He straightened and looked up. Bill was halfway up the shaft. Suddenly the sandy wall against which his back was braced collapsed inward. Two sharp clawed red hands burst out and wrapped themselves around his torso, pulling the Indian in.

The blood was up to Barclay’s waist, and O’Bannon had stopped fighting.

Now the thing surfaced and stood in the shaft, popping its jaws, rending some unidentifiable hunk of O’Bannon to stringy sinew.

Behind it, the tunnel opening, nearly submerged, expelled a third blood covered thing into the pit with him.


Published in: on August 9, 2015 at 3:39 am  Comments (1)  
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DT Moviehouse Review: The Cabin In The Woods

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, and a perfect fit for the Halloween season, I review Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon’s The Cabin In The Woods.

Directed by Drew Goddard

Screenplay by Drew Goddard and Josh Whedon

Tagline: You think you know the story.


What It’s About:

33d5bfc8College students Dana (Kristen Connolly), Holden (Jesse Williams), Marty (Franz Kranz), Jules (Anna Hutchinson), and Curt (Chris Hemsworth) depart for a secluded weekend at a remote forest cabin and ‘accidentally’ summon up an undead clan of pain worshipping murderers who begin to stalk and kill them one at a time. But is all as it seems, or are they being manipulated for some mindbending, sinister purpose by office managers Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford)?

Why I Bought It:

After a premature run-in (in a dark room no less) with the head twisting scene in The Exorcist when I was six or seven years old, I actively avoided watching horror movies for about nine years, finally breaking the ‘fast’ with, ironically enough, Exorcist III.

CITW_-_floaty_girlI’m really lucky that Exorcist III was such a great flick, or I never would have backtracked and sought out all the scary movies I’d missed.

And I never would have ‘got’ The Cabin In The Woods.

I never actually realized what a horror hound I had become until I saw this.

This is probably one of the greatest horror movies ever made, period. It’s so enjoyable it almost seems like every single horror movie that has gone before was created specifically so this could come into being.

Make no mistake, to fully appreciate the greatness of this movie you have to have at least a passing familiarity with Hellraiser, The Shining, Dracula, An American Werewolf In London, The Mummy, HP Lovecraft, It, The Ring, Suspiria, Evil Dead, Halloween, Juh On, David Cronenberg, George Romero, Scream, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Troll, Poltergeist, Alien, and Friday The 13th.

5pR6aThis is really a movie that benefits in a huge way from going in entirely blind. What a hard movie to cut a trailer for! Being kind of jaded about the summer slasher movie genre, the very title The Cabin In The Woods was a turnoff for me. I’m not into the torture porn genre made popular by stuff like Hostel and Saw and assumed this was going to be more of the same. It looked like yet another vanilla cookie cutter teens in peril flick. There would be some topless scenes, some beer drinking and pot smoking, and in the end, the smartest guy (or more likely, girl) would go through hell at the hands or claws of some inbred hillbilly stereotype or a zombie or plague crazy gutmuncher and maybe get away in the end, maybe not.

Then a couple people whose opinion I trusted started sounding off that this was great, but wisely (and I thank them) refused to give details as to what was so great about it.

Just watch it, they said.

So after a long time of not thinking about it, I finally rented it.

Little did I know that Cabin In The Woods would contain just about every clichéd trope in my aforementioned laundry list….and yet still somehow manage to be entirely original. Thrillingly, awesomely original, and more, a hilarious, subversive in-joke directed solely at horror fans.

This is not to say that you have to be a horror junkie with an all-encompassing knowledge of everything the genre has to offer. It’s just that it offers so much more if you’re a nerd.

Surface-wise, the plot alone is entertaining and the tag line says it all. Going into it, you think you know what’s going to happen. The very title evokes a paint by numbers scenario. Early on though, you realize something weird is going on, when the movie opens not with the teens gearing up for their weekend, but a couple of middle-aged salarymen in suits preparing for some big to-do at their white, sterile workplace.

Of course, then we get the obligatory scenes where get to know who’s who and who’s with who, which is the jock, which the brain, which the burnout. Yet there’s still something just a little off. Our football hero has in-depth knowledge of socio-economic theory. Our stoner and his wild conspiracy theories make more and more sense as the movie progresses. The boy’s aren’t slavering pussy hounds – when one discovers a two-way mirror looking into the object of his desire’s room and she starts to undress, we don’t get the voyeuristic topless scene. He knocks on the wall and lets her know what’s going on (does she do the same for him later on?).

As we go deeper down the rabbit hole of Cabin In The Woods, our expectations start unraveling. A bird hits an invisible force field. The office guys are shown to be having some effect on the behavior of the kids. There are tantalizing hints toward some greater purpose being fulfilled. And when the kids start acting like we expect them to, it’s unexpected.


W.T.F! Yeah, Cabin In The Woods is kinda like this.

By the time a character we thought was dead returns, we know this same drama is being enacted all over the world for some strange reason and I doubt anybody who hasn’t seen this movie or read about it beforehand can guess what the heck is happening. Yet it’s not all some fly-by-night-pull-it-out-of-your-ass-make-it-up-as-you-go-along thing. By the time Sigourney Weaver shows up to explain it all, it’s like the last piece of a puzzle is fitting into place and you think to yourself, “Ahhhh that’s perfect.”

It’s a real treat to be surprised by a movie, and it’s even better to be totally delighted by it as a genre fan.

cabinboardFor me, the movie really takes off when they go down into that cellar and find it packed to the gills with thinly disguised items from other movies. The puzzle ‘ball,’ referencing both Hellraiser and perhaps Phantasm. The diary with the incantations right out of Evil Dead. It’s all intercut with that wonderful whiteboard the office workers are all betting over, crammed with achingly great references to threats from across the horror spectrum. When that scene passes and you realize what’s about to happen, you love it, but a small part of you thinks in the back of your head, “Aw man, it would’ve been so great if they’d gone with the BLANK instead.”

And then, maybe twenty or thirty minutes later, they hit the Purge button and it’s Christmas morning, as every monster and beast, every ghost and murderer on that board floods your screen.

The_Monsters_The_Cabin_in_the_Woods-1024x426Cabin In The Woods that does the impossible. It’s a flick with a one off plot twist so great you can’t possibly expect it to be rewatchable once you know it’s coming. But you do watch it again. And you rewind and pause and slow mo it to death to see all those white board monsters tear their way through the complex. Geez there’s even a 50 foot woman in one of those cages.

One of the most supremely satisfying movies I’ve ever seen.

And, like the complexity of the plot itself, it’s smart. You can still delve a level deeper beyond the monsters and uncover a rich examination of the movie fan himself. There’s a great scene when Hemsworth and Hutchinson are being manipulated via hormone gasses, temperature, and lighting to have sex in the woods, and the team of manipulators are shown hanging on the scene from their viewing room, waiting for Hutchinson to show her breasts and groaning when she initially defers. How many guys have sat together watching a horror movie at home or in a theater and experienced the same audience reaction? It’s a funny scene, and yet the makers bring it back a step when Hadley and Sitterson dismiss the greater portion of the crew and put their full resources toward getting Hutchinson to disrobe, ostensibly for the viewing pleasure of the Old One (is the band of randy office drones a stand in for the moviegoing audience, which is funny, or is it the Old One, which suggests something more unseemly). Their expressions completely change. They’re almost sad to do it. But the Old One must be appeased. The tropes of the ritual must be adhered to.

When Marty says early on that the world needs to crumble, but everybody’s afraid to let it crumble, he speaks of the loss of privacy, the invasion of nebulous government watchers and dropping of sanctions on private life. This foreshadows the situation of the kids in the cabin, but doesn’t it also reflect on the fears of modern life in America?

What is the change Mary is calling for if we apply it to ourselves? Should the Old One rise up to completely tear down the system? Is popular entertainment an opiate used to keep that giant from waking up and breaking out? Maybe this is ham-handed political commentary to some, but then again how many of the general movie going audience came away with this message from something as innocuous seeming as a summer horror movie?

Cabin-In-The-WoodsIt also cleverly breaks the horror movie cliché down into a thematic, seemingly ancient codification. The athlete, the fool, the whore, the virgin. These are mystical concepts that really do occur throughout the history of human storytelling, and are most clearly represented in the cards of the Waite Tarot. The fool is often considered the stand-in for the questioner in a card divination. In Arthurian literature it’s the fool, often Sir Dagonet (as in Tennyson), Percivale (Perfect Fool) or in some cases (TH White) Merlin, who can look beyond the confines of his own story to comment on the greater meaning. The fool sees the strings, and can follow them to the storyteller. The fool attains the Grail, the greater, hidden knowledge, often to his detriment, as is the case with Marty here.

One wonders what cultural tropes the Old Ones in Japan need to see to keep them sleeping.

A thing I’ve said this in other reviews, but a good movie is entertaining. A great movie ‘moves’ the watcher, either moving their heart to experience some emotion, or moving the mind into a previously unconsidered mode of thought.

I would say The Cabin In The Wood is a great movie.

Best Dialogue/Line:

Marty’s weirdly funny and cryptic (and ultimately prophetic):

Cops will never pull over a man with a huge bong in his car. Why? They fear this man. They know he sees further than they and he will bind them with ancient logics.

Best Scene:

Without a doubt the best scene is the monster Purge I’ve already described above. This flick has a lot of funny moments amid all the horror. Mordecai on speakerphone comes to mind.

But if I had to pick a scene that never fails to make me laugh because it’s totally indicative of the multilevel enjoyment I get out of this movie, is when Hemsworth’s Curt tries to escape the area by jumping the gorge on his motorbike.

6487After their camper is blocked from escaping through the tunnel by an unexpected explosion which results in a cave-in, Curt devises a plan to jump the gorge and escape on his motorbike, vowing to return with the police, the national guard, the ghost of Steve McQueen the LA Raiders, and ten thousand Roman gladiators to get his friends out, and especially to avenge the horrifying death and post mortem beheading of his girlfriend.

He assures them he can easily make the jump, and cuts a heroic, Thor-like figure for a moment, revving his bike and nodding to them his assurance.

“You can’t hold back,” his friend Holden warns him. He has to achieve maximum velocity to make this leap to freedom.

“I never do,” Curt growls.

He cuts loose, leaps the bike into the air, and it looks like he’s going to make it, until he smashes head on into the invisible honeycomb field enclosing the area. His bike explodes in a fiery ball and we sees his lifeless body tumble down the long length of the shield wall, bouncing as it goes, giving us a glimpse as to how deep it really goes (perhaps it’s there to keep the Old One penned in?).

For the victims in the story, it’s a horrible, hope-smashing moment.

For the guys in the control center, it’s a sigh inducing close call, which if you think of the movie in the terms that they are actually the ones trying to preserve the world and all human life on it, is kind of a time bomb cut the blue wire hero moment for them.

And for me, I just burst out laughing. Is it a guilty laugh? Maybe upon multiple viewings, but the first time, no. I just found the failure of Curt’s heroics unintentionally hilarious, like a somebody calling their shot in a game and then fumbling utterly, or Jack Burton exuberantly shooting in his gun in the air before the big fight in Big Trouble In Little China and then getting knocked out by the falling plaster.

I wonder if this made the Old One chuckle in his bed too?

Next In The Queue: The Call Of Cthulhu

Merkabah Rider: Once Upon A Time In The Weird West Preview

What happens in the fourth and final book of the Merkabah Rider series? Read the prologue of Merkabah Rider: Once Upon A Time In The Weird West below.

What’s Merkabah Rider? Read about it  right HERE.

In honor of Yom Kippur, The Day Of The Atonement, the holiest twenty six hours in the Judaic calendar (and as loyal readers of the Rider will know, the day in 1882 that the Hour Of Incursion comes upon us), from now until sundown tomorrow (or 6:30 Pacific Time) every reader who comments on this post, I’ll send a free copy of either:

Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter

Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name

or Merkabah Rider 3: Have Glyphs Will Travel

– your choice of title, your choice of format (pdf, epub or mobi).  Just tell me below in the comments section (one per comment/visitor).

And if you’re a Luddite like me, send an email to emerdelacATgmailDOTcom with Yom Kippur as the subject line.

Then at 6:30pm on Wednesday night (the 26th), I’ll draw a random recipient’s name from the old ten gallon yarmulke. The winner gets a signed copy of Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter AND Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name.

Without further to-do, here’s the first pages of MR IV:OUATITWW – AND a first gander at the cover by (dare I say it? I do) the magnificent Pat Carbajal, who will also be providing eight (count ’em) eight bee-you-tiful interior black and white illustrations.


The diggers, drunks and saddle tramps all, nominally paw the earth with spades, knowing not why, only that they are paid well and in gold to do very little.

The tracklayers pause as the swing gang reaches the shade of the Huachuca Mountains, and in the seventh hekhalot the dread angel Metatron, once Enoch, dips its bright pen in the inkwell of eternity. Three descend upon the earth, perhaps for the final time.

In the Dreamlands, the Thunder of God seeks the Other to no avail.

In the lowest region of hell, in the marble city of Pandæmonium, Lucifer fidgets on his throne and sets aside the Damnatus Damnateum as Temelechus strokes the hide of Nehema with a glowing iron flail. She shrieks her gratitude.

Simultaneously, a man of God and a man of science each realize that the stars will soon be right and snap their respective books closed.

At midnight, just outside Kearney, Missouri, the squeaking wheels of a bone laden wagon cease their revolution and a dozen black garbed figures bearing shovels and prybars slink toward a grave, where grass has not yet sprouted over the body of Jesse James.

In the bleak fields of the Jornada Del Muerto, a preacher of wavering faith, strung with canteens and waterskins, bows his head and bends his iron legs, his frightened, murmuring prayers lost in a hiss of venting steam.

A master engraver pauses, surveying his final, terrible work. He wipes the sweat and tears from his eyes, and wishes he had listened to his wife. Then he puts his chisel to a gilded smokebox door.

A blue skinned killer passes a cracked leather map case across a polished desk to the delight of a pair of madmen.

A girl notices a stranger’s smile spread across her father’s face.

The thing that calls itself Adam Belial in this universe howls in wild triumph and the whole of Creation shudders.

In the dense void beyond, gibbering things ripple with excitement and colossal shapes turn in their precarious fluid slumber.

An engorged, tame beast stirs to the trill of distant piping, remembers what it once was, and strains against its chain.

An old, old gentleman in a blue suit and top hat places a pressed lilac on a smoldering mountain pyre of one of the thirty six hidden saints and heads west, where a dreadful infant and a one armed soldier wait within a carved vardo, and a pale, scar-eared onnager vies with a team of ornery camels for a space to graze.

A burned woman counts the hours.

And somewhere the Rider meets The Chief Angel of Death…

-Hasta pronto!

UPDATE:  Thanks to all who participated in the giveaway. If you enjoy Merkabah Rider, please tell a friend or a stranger via Amazon/Goodreads or what have you. Congratulations to Frank Schildiner, who won a signed copy of Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter and Merkabah Rider 2: The Mensch With No Name. – Ed

DT Moviehouse Reviews: Alien

Continuing my infrequent blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I slog my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money, here’s my take on the movie that kicked off the Aliens franchise, Alien (coincidentally just in time for the release of this movie’s supposed prequel, the much-anticipated Prometheus).

(1979) Directed by Ridley Scott, Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Ronald Shusett

Tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream.

What it’s about:

Sometime in the far future the crew of the Nostromo, a deep space commercial towing vessel, awakens from their months long sleep to respond to a signal beacon on a nearby uncharted planet. Three of the crew members, Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Kane (John Hurt) explore the source of the mechanical beacon, an alien spacecraft with a dead extra terrestrial pilot (the mysterious space jockey purported to be the basis of the new movie Prometheus) and a payload of eggs. A creature hatches from one of the eggs and attaches itself to Kane’s face, impregnating him with a savage predatory organism which gestates and then bursts from his chest, stalking the crew among the labrynthine corridors of the monolothic starship.

Why I bought it:

This is a seminal work of science fiction horror. I only saw stills and commercials of this movie as a kid in the seventies and it haunted me into young adulthood. How can a green glowing hen’s egg conjure such dread in a kid? Maybe it was the eerie music by Jerry Goldsmith in the commercials. I actually saw the sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens before I finally saw Alien, and for years I preferred it. I actually only saw Alien to enrich my ribald love of Aliens (and I read the Alan Dean Foster novelization before I even saw it). Now….well, I’m not sure. That’s a question to ask in answer in the next review, which is of that movie.

If there is such a thing as science fiction cinema verite, it’s Alien. The bizarre, unsavory subject matter is right out of an EC horror comic, but the movie works because it’s somehow entirely realistic and believable. The characters (played by an ensemble of extremely naturalistic and talented actors, all in their prime, all deserving a mention – Sigourney Weaver -in a star making debut- Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Koto, Veronica Cartwright and Ian Holm) mumble and engage in crosstalk, bitch about un-cinematic things like finder’s fees and payroll shares, and so look genuinely hysterical when one of their own suddenly keels over at dinner and expels a slithering toothy horror from his broken, bloody chest cavity (There’s an oft-repeated rumor that Veronica Cartwright had no idea the creature was gonna pop out – this isn’t entirely true. Obviously John Hurt is not actually laying on the table at the time of the burst, so you know there was a lot of FX set up – but the actors apparently weren’t warned about blood squibs going off and when Cartwright gets sprayed with fake blood, she apparently really did have a conniption).  This is the only sci-fi movie I can think of where I’m drawn into a secure lull. Except for a few interjections of Goldsmith’s superb score (I can’t think of a good way to describe it – somehow ‘non-orchestral’), it’s actually like The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez in that I don’t remember I’m watching a movie in the first half.

The FX and set design are made to compliment the performances, not perform themselves. Everything, though insanely complex (the coolant room in which Harry Dean Stanton’s character is killed looks like some kind of mechanical alien cathedral, or a room in Harlan Ellison’s ‘Martian Pyramid’), looks entirely lived in and functional, and no set piece ever really intrudes on the action.

Brilliant acting and set design (and music) aside, the central piece of Alien is the xenomorph itself, designed by H.R. Geiger. The thing is indescribable. Part carpenter ant, part beetle, part lizard, part sexualized human skeleton. And it changes in subtle ways every time we see it. It’s horrific reproductive cycle speaks directly to the innate male discomfort with the human reproductive process itself (or at least, to mine anyway), and then perverts it to the extreme, rendering an instantly unforgettable image in the mind.

The scenes where the crew alternately hunts and flees from the growing creature in the dark bowels of this immense ship are methodical and claustrophobic, slowly building the tension to deliver maximum fright when something does happen. Perfectly directed. This may be the last hurrah of seventies cinema.

Also of note is the performance by Sigourney Weaver as of one of moviedom’s most believable action heroines, Ellen Ripley. She’s not quite the ass kicker she is in Aliens here, but by the end of the movie she’s well on the road. She’s already a bit of a ball cracker, and it’s cool that the script has the daring to make her not entirely likable. Stanton and Kotto’s affable engineers don’t much care for her, and at first audience sympathy naturally sways against her. She’s the one who wants to play by the book and keep the infected Kane off the ship, despite it coming off as inhumane. Ian Holm’s Science Officer Ash instead lets him in, but it becomes obvious that he wasn’t motivated by his humanity…in a shocking later scene in which Ripley discovers he’s endangered them all on orders from the shadowy ‘company,’ we find he doesn’t have any to speak of.

As a matter of fact, it’s at that point that sympathies really start to swing toward Ripley as a character and as the heroine of the movie. Her percieved cold bitch facade drops tearfully in the face of Ash’s uncrupulous android. I love Holm’s detached creepiness. He comes across as out of touch with everybody else, possibly due to the nature of his job, or perhaps due to some social or scholarly standing (noticeably, he’s the only Brit aboard). There’s a great aside right after the alien kills Kane where Ash refers to it as ‘Kane’s son.’

Then at last there’s the famous fakeout ending, which supposedly duped a lot of overeager-to-beat-the-parking-lot-traffic movie watchers into missing the real climax. It’s possible Alien singlehandedly created a generation of moveigoers who sit through the end credits….just to be sure.

I’ve seen both the theatrical version and the director’s cut of this movie. Scott prefers the original. I guess I do too, but it’s interesting to see Ripley’s discovery of the cocooned Dallas, and I don’t know who Veronica Cartwright pissed off, but every single scene that gives her mainly shrill and panicky character depth wound up on the cutting room floor, so it’s worth watching to see Lambert shine.

Best bit of dialogue:

This is a tough one. As I said, the dialogue is so natural it’s hard to pick out any real Hollywood lines. I guess the closest is in the scene immediately after the decapitation of the company android Ash.  Parker wires up his paste and lubricant covered head on the table top, and the reanimate but harmless Ash answers a few questions about the nature of their mission and what he knows about the alien. He admits to deliberately seeking to impregnate the crew and deliver the specimen to the company, and even allows that he ‘admires it’s purity.’

He winds up the revelations with –

‘I can’t lie to you about your chances…but you have my sympathies.’

‘He’s a robot! Ash is a goddamn robot!’

And then a ghoulishly patronizing grin spreads across his face and Parker knocks loose his power source and torches the synthetic flesh off his artificial skull.

Best scene:

‘Nuff said.`

Would I buy it again? Yes

Next up in the queue: Aliens

A Sit Down With Author Greg Mitchell

So this week at DT, to kick of the Halloween season, which is a big deal over here obviously, I’m interviewing the coolest Protestant I’m not married to, Greg Mitchell, author of The Coming Evil Trilogy. I met Greg over on the Star blogs when we both wrote winning entries for The What’s The Story contest they had going over there a few years back. His entry on The Dusty Duck, a beat up old star ship which appears in the background of The Phantom Menace ranked at number 79 in The Coolest Things About Star Wars…Ever! that ran in Star Wars Insider magazine.

Dusty Duck

But he hasn’t stopped there. Besides forays into comics and horror fiction, he’s also making headway as a screenwriter now.

Und now, on mit der probing qvestions!



When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I think I always wanted to be a storyteller—but the decision to be a writer took a little longer. I remember growing up and telling these sweeping war epics with my G.I. Joes. I’d have dialogue, cliffhangers, slam-bang action, heroic sacrifice. Of course it was all on my couch with no one around to appreciate it but me, but I still wanted to tell a story. As a small child, I wanted to be a Disney animator. In my adolescent years, I considered being a comic book artist. After high school, I largely put aside my drawing and wanted to focus on making movies. When that proved too expensive, I at last decided on converting my movie concepts into prose. Not that I’ve given up on film and comics, but right now novels are where I’m at.

 What made you decide you wanted to write horror specifically?

I’ve always been a fanboy, no doubt. I don’t think I chose to be that way, it just chose me. I was hardwired for the fantastic for whatever reason. But, as much as I was attracted to the weird, I never could get into hard science fiction like the other fanboys I knew. Star Trek never did a thing for me. I’ve never read Heinlein (I know, I know). I think it was about high school that I realized I was more of a horror fan. Why? In sci-fi, even in fantasy, you have to go somewhere. If you want to be where the action’s at, you’ve got to get on a space ship and go to some distant star system. Or you’ve got to go to the future, or travel to a mythical realm. But, being a broke kid living in a small Southern town, I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I wasn’t even going to go to college. But in horror, the excitement comes to you. You’re living your quiet life, then a werewolf jumps out of the bushes. You’ve got to face it; you’ve got to run or fight. That base characteristic of horror really appealed to me because anyone can become the star of a horror story. It’s just a matter of timing and some bad luck, perhaps :p

But, as I’ve said in other places, even as a little kid, I was subconsciously drawn to monsters. I wouldn’t realize this until much later in life, but all my favorite super heroes had a tinge of the supernatural or monstrous to them. All my favorite movies did, as well. I suppose all little kids love monsters to a certain extent, but my love never went away. Monsters—horror—gave me a way to face my real life fears. It’s a powerful cathartic release and I’m a pretty tightly wound guy. I need that. 🙂

How would you describe The Coming Evil?

Pure awesomeness.

 Okay, I’ll elaborate a little bit. The Coming Evil Trilogy—begun in The Strange Man, in stores now, and continuing in Enemies of the Cross, on sale in February—is the story of a small town under siege by a demonic horde led by the enigmaticStrangeMan. The first one to encounter the Strange Man is Dras Weldon, a twenty-two year old college dropout. His is a life of horror movies and video games, lived selfishly without any thought to those around him. When the Strange Man sets his sights on Dras’ best friend Rosalyn, the town loser has to grow up and discover what it is he believes in, in order to fight the Strange Man. That confrontation culminates in Book One, and Book Two is the aftershocks of his dramatic stand and how it impacts those closest to him. War is coming and no one can hide from it. But are there enough good people left inGreensboro to fight the devil?

To the chagrin of my publishers, I describe The Coming Evil Trilogy as a Christian Horror epic. Those are my two passions and they collide here, full force. It’s an exploration of my faith—almost a journal of my own spirituality—and it’s a B-movie monster extravaganza.

So, you know, pure awesomeness :p

What’s the plan for the series? How many installments?

It’s a trilogy. My publisher and I have got a special little surprise to go along with that trilogy, but I’m not ready to formerly announce it yet. I’ll be announcing it later next year. I always loved the Back to the Future trilogy and wanted to make my own three-part story, so that’s what I set out to do. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’ve got ideas for other books in The Coming Evil series but I suppose that’s up to God if I ever get around to writing them. They would be all-new stories with (mostly) new characters. We’d explore new corners of the mythology and see what bogles lurked there. Rest assured, though, that the story of these characters will be wrapped up in Book Three of The Coming Evil. I like cliffhangers, but at the close of a series, I like the lion’s share of my loose ends to be wrapped up. I need that closure. I want readers to walk away from the trilogy feeling really satisfied with where it ended, and if that’s all I ever get to write of The Coming Evil mythology, then so be it. It stands on its own.

You probably get this a lot, but you told me once you’ve gotten your fair share of flak attending horror conventions because of the Christian subject matter in your series. I’m curious about this because although I toy with it a little, there’s a definite monotheistic slant in Merkabah Rider, and it has turned a few reviewers off. Why do you think it is that some people don’t like their chocolate in their peanut butter, and what do you say (or wish you could say) to those detractors?

Well, it’s tough. Horror, by its very nature, explores good and evil, the divine and the profane. The Exorcist has got some hardcore pro-Christian elements! I don’t think horror fans have any problem with a little “power of Christ compels you”, or a fundamental belief that there’s one God, or that there’s a devil. Faith is not the enemy, here. Plus, you don’t have to believe any of that stuff to write it. Holding up a cross to repel a vampire is just a horror trope, by this point. But, when, as an author, you start showing that you actually believe in one God or Christ or whatever in real life, then people start to slowly back away from you.

Where I got into trouble was that my book goes deeper than the religious imagery and trappings of mainstream horror and we start talking about Jesus. We start talking about what the Bible actually says. Look, Jesus is a controversial figure, even now, two thousand some odd years later. I get that, totally. People just don’t want to talk about him. They get all sweaty and nervous and—even most Christians!—are waiting for the conversation to be over. I’ve been accused of hijacking horror as just a vehicle to spread my propaganda, which I find insulting. Every writer has a message that they’re trying to convey. Every human being has a worldview that guides their living. I’m not going to deny that I believe in Christ and that, in a book about monsters, I’m going to talk about how faith in Christ is your weapon against the devil. That’s the mechanics of my story. My demons are ripped right from the Bible, so naturally the way to fight them has to come from the Bible as well. That’s the “mythology” I’m using here. Beyond that, though, I’m writing a book about the Church. Sometimes it’s a celebration of the Church—a lot of times it’s an indictment of her shortcomings. But the majority of my cast are Christians dealing with struggles that Christians can relate to. They deal with doubt, faith, despair, hope, anger, mercy, rebellion, and restoration. They’re going to talk about Christ and how He relates to them and their struggle. That’s a part of their natural lives; that’s a part of my natural life. If I was writing a book about cancer survivors, we’d talk about cancer. If talk about cancer offends you, I don’t know what to tell you—that’s the nature of the book. It’s not my intention to write a preachy story to get people in a church pew. I’m trying to communicate my own faith journey openly. I don’t want to sugar coat anything in my book—not the horror aspects, not the “God” aspects. I’ve got to be true to myself. Some people are going to love that, some people are going to hate that. I’m naturally a kind of guy who wants everyone to like him, but that’s just not always going to happen.

What about on the flip side? Do you have to defend your horror work to people in your church, or Christians in general? What do you say to them?

I got a little resistance from some of the Christians I knew initially, but as they got to know me better and what I’m trying to accomplish, they’ve become very accepting. The Christian reviewers who have read The Strange Man have run the gamut. I mean, no one’s called me “blasphemous” (I’d probably get more sales if they did :p), but a few of them thought the book was too dark or scary or gory or intense. A few months ago, I was the featured book for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour. At the time, I was told that I was the scariest book that ever made the rounds in their tour—which I take as a huge compliment! I’m hoping when Enemies of the Cross is released in February, I can return and see if I top my record 🙂


Who are some of your inspirations in both the Christian and secular communities?

I think, as far as writers go, one of the Christian writers I respect the most is Eric Wilson. That man is open and honest about his life—both the good and the bad—and he’s got a real heart for reaching out to the kinds of people that most “typical” churches shy away from. He’s got street cred, man, and he’s living it as well as writing it. And, really, I respect that about any Christian—writer or not. I’m looking for genuine people. There are so many bad examples of “Christians” plastered all over the news, but then I see some of the people of my own church. The world, at large, will never know their names, but I see them taking care of children, I see them going on mission trips to build homes for low income families, I see them feeding the homeless in soup kitchens, counseling young mothers. I see them reaching out. They’re not perfect. They struggle and they fall sometimes, but they are there for each other and they really want to just lead simple, hardworking lives and do something worthwhile with the time God has given them. The media won’t talk about them, but those guys are Christ’s legacy. Sometimes there’s a temptation to water down the faith aspect in The Coming Evil so I don’t offend anyone or so I can get more mainstream sales. But then I look at their hard work and sacrifice and it emboldens me. I can’t be ashamed of my faith when I look at them.

 Back to writers: I would be kicked out of the horror fanboy club if I didn’t mention Stephen King. Ray Bradbury. Richard Matheson. I really love John Carpenter movies. Steven Spielberg. Lovecraft is always great. And I’m hooked on author Bob Freeman. He’s like the prose version of a 1970s occult movie or a Hammer flick. I love it.

 You’ve had some success as a screenwriter as well. Anything you want to plug in the pike?

Yes! As a matter of fact my first movie is shooting as we speak! In quite the departure from my usual fare, it’s called Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea. I wrote it with Christian filmmaker Rich Christiano for the family film market. It’s a sweet little story about a church youth group going camping. They come from different backgrounds and don’t always get along. Their youth leader—played by Sean Astin no less!—tells them the Old Testament (I love the OT) story of the prophet Hosea, who was called by God to love an unfaithful woman. It’s a story about forgiveness and understanding and all those warm, fuzzy things. It’s very safe entertainment, designed to draw the same types of crowd that movies like Fireproof and Courageous do. It’s directed by Kevin Downes, who incidentally stars in Courageous. We’re looking at seeing it released early next year. Sadly no monsters in this one. Maybe next time.

What advice would you give to a screenwriter or writer just starting out?

Quit. If you can’t quit, then don’t quit. The writing business, to me, has always been like a game of Jenga. You’ve got this tower of blocks and the goal is to take the blocks from the bottom and stack them on top. You want to see how many blocks you can stack on top before the whole thing comes crumbling down. That’s not the writer part though :p The writer part is that, when you go to move a block, you test it first. Because of the distribution of the weight in the tower, some blocks are wedged in and you’d be a fool to press it, because the whole thing is balanced on it and it’ll just fall over. You want to find a block that’s already loose. Then you can easily slide it out from underneath the weight and lay it on top. But you have to test them. You tap, tap, tap at each block until you find one that moves. That’s writing. You tap each story until one starts moving. Then when you want to get published, you tap each publisher. Some are locked in solid and will not budge. Don’t fret. Just keep tapping until you find one that moves. Besides, as the weight shifts, some of the blocks that were solid before become pliable. It’s all about timing and seizing the right opportunities.

I would say to write from your heart. I would also say finish. So many people talk about being a writer and say they want to write. But writers write. More than that, they actually finish a story. Finish a lot of stories. Just write it until the thing is done. Worry about if it’s good or not later.

What was your favorite Halloween costume ever?

My mom made a homemade Wizard of Oz scarecrow costume for me one year, using yellow yarn for straw. It was pretty rockin’. I think I was in a parade that year?

What’s the worst thing you ever got in your candy sack? What was the best?

Anytime I get Whoppers or Butterfinger, I make a “yak” face. No good. Best thing would probably be gummies of some sort. My kid and I wrestle over who gets the gummy eyeballs.

What bit of horror scared you the most as a kid? What scares you now?

Two things: Well, okay three things:

Chickens. My uncle chased one for me to pet and it was running and sqwaking and going ballistic, and by time he caught it, I was terrified.

The fictionalized Joan Crawford from Mommy Dearest. No joke, that was my “monster in the closet”. I lived in fear of Joan Crawford busting out of my closet with her cake makeup on shouting, “No more wire hangers!” I have never watched that movie, but I caught a commercial for it on HBO when I was a wee boy, and was traumatized.

Peeping Toms. I had a deathly fear (still do, a little bit) of someone watching me through my bedroom window. I actually had a couple neighborhood kids do that to me as a prank when I was a child and I was scarred for life. Coupled with that is the nightmarish scene in the amazing movie Lady in White, where this creepy old woman is watching little Frankie sleep. Yeesh. I’m still fearful of looking out the window at night, dreading that I might see something staring back at me.

What scares me now, well not to be put a damper on our fun talk here, but losing my kids. As much as I was afraid growing up, I didn’t know real fear until I had children. Something happening to them is by far more horrific than anything I could cook up in my mind.

What are your Halloween plans?

I really want to dress as Dracula this year! Like, old school Bela Lugosi Dracula. A cheap cloak from Wal-Mart, some fake fangs, and a flimsy plastic medallion if I can find it. I’m really excited about it! I’ve never been Dracula before.

Halloween is a big deal in my family. We always bring out a mixed CD of spooky songs to listen to while we dance around the house, putting up our decorations. On Halloween night, we play the music from a stereo in the window so all the kids can listen while they trick-or-treat. I’ll put on a classic Universal Monster movie on the TV so that, when folks come to our door, they can catch a peek at a good old fashioned monster movie before they go on their way. My wife usually stays behind to pass out candy for awhile, and I’ll take my daughters door to door. Our goal is to be outside as long as possible. After the trick-or-treating is done, we’ll come back and sit on the steps and enjoy the night, watching all the kids in costume until everyone goes home.

Halloween really doesn’t get any better than when you have kids. And when they’re little, it’s like you don’t have to pick just one costume – you can pick as many as you have bods to throw ’em on! I don’t want to say it was the reason I had kids, but I won’t say it wasn’t a factor either. 

Thanks to Greg for stopping by DT to chew the rag. Don’t fail to visit his blog over at to keep up with his latest news.  He’s also been a good enough egg to let me take over his space for a couple days, and I’m going to give away some .pdf copies of my short Lovecraftian blues story The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues over there, so if you missed reading my ramblings, take a gander.

A Quick One From The Hip

Just a quick post to let you all know I’m not dead or anything.

Truth tell I was hard at work on the third Merkabah Rider installment, Have Glyphs Will Travel, when my laptop locked up and crashed on me with the novel on the desktop (don’t bother telling me to back up – I’m doing it now regularly, but I guarantee in a month I’ll be back to the bad old habits – and yes, I know about Carbonite and the like).

I told myself I could resume the book from the point I left off, but I guess I just don’t work that way. Wound up taking a two week hiatus while the files were recovered and the mo-chine was patched up.  Outlined a lighthearted fantasy novel about a Chinese cook that I’ll probably jump into after I wrap up the adventures of the Rider. Need to take a break from the dark stuff and whip up something my kids can read, particularly as there’s going to be a new one soon.

Yep, no new stories seeing print just yet, but I’ll be adding a boy to my brood in July or August, hot on the heels of my still shiny daughter Willow Anne, who just turned a year in the beginning of March.  August Victoriano will likely be his moniker, after my earliest known ancestor and my wife’s grandfather, though I’ve toyed with Atticus as a name since I read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school.

Before that, Texas Review Press will be putting out my straight-no-demons-no-ghosts western novel Buff Tea pretty soon. I’ll write a bigger announcement on that when it’s available.

I’ll be doing a couple appearances in the next two months as well, so stay tuned for those.

In the meantime, if you just can’t cross your legs long enough to read something by me, don’t forget to take a look at The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues, my Lovecraftian blues southern gothic story – you can pick that up for the e-reader on Amazon (see the link to it under ‘Look On My Works’ on the right). You can also read an excerpt right here –

Night Shade Books is putting out a pretty similar book in a couple months, but ignore that one. I did it first. 🙂

Red Sails, my pirate horror adventure novella, about a vampire captain sailing with a crew of werewolves and the two luckless castaways they put on an island to hunt down is also still out there from Amazon and Lyrical.

I'm not particularly happy with the tag line.

Comet Press’ DEADCORE anthology can be picked up on Amazon or from their site. That one has Night of the Jikininki, my Akira Kurosawa-inspired zombie novella, with a mad child eating monk, a casteless bandit, and a sadistic samurai decapitator joining forces against a prison full of undying gutmunchers. It’s a nice book (well, not nice like your grandmother would say, I mean it looks nice on the shelf).

My boy and his man-eating horse story The Blood Bay is on the cover of The Midnight Diner #3. You can get that in paper on Amazon.

My debut novella Dubaku, with its titular African shaman enacting a sorcerous revenge on the crew of a 1700’s British slaver can be gotten on Amazon or from Damnation Books. That one’s in e or print.

And of course Tales of a High Planes Drifter and The Mensch With No Name are in print or e on Amazon as well.

Anyway, the links are all to the right, so don’t say you don’t know where to get ’em.

-Hasta pronto!

Meet Me In The Bottom: The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues

Coming at you this month on Amazon Kindle is my short story, The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues.

Born of my love for Chicago and Delta blues (and the Lovecraft Mythos), The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues tells the story of aspiring bluesman King Yeller and his partner Harp Elkins, who head to the infamous crossroads to make a deal with the devil for fame and fortune….but wind up calling forth something much, much, worse.  Lovecraft meets the blues, with an appearance by the great Howlin’ Wolf and The Black Pharoah himself.

Here’s an excerpt –

  “What say, boys?” said a voice, in that slow backwoods drawl that make a black man freeze.
  I didn’t need to see the color of that truck behind them whose headlights was shinin’ on us to know it was a blue Chevy.
   The .44 was in the glove box back in the Catalina. Maybe Yeller had his old pocketknife he’d been usin’ as a slide on the National, but I didn’t have nothin’ but my fists in my pockets. I got to feelin’ a cold sweat under my scalp and it run down my neck when I seent the long somethin’ each of ‘em had in they hands. Axe handles, maybe shotguns.
   “What you boys doin’ out here so late?” the man asked.
    “Nothin’, sir,” I said. “Just out walkin’.”
    “You two sweethearts?”
    “We ain’t the ones parked out by the side of the road in the dark,” said Yeller.
      I hissed him quiet.
      “Where you from, boy?” the man said to Yeller, the meanness fairly bubblin’ up in his throat.
       “I told you he wasn’t one of our niggers, Boyd.”
       “I had him pegged for a Kansas City pimp with them clown clothes he’s got on,” said Boyd.
       “That a guitar, boy?” said the first man.
       Yeller didn’t say nothing. It was plain what it was.
       “Pick us out a song,” said the first man. Then he turned to me. The moon was shinin’ on his hair grease and the shotgun I seent in his hand. “And you, you gonna dance for us. No fancy nigger dance. Just let’s see an old time shuffle.”
       Yeller put hands to his strings and began to strum out Dixie. I had been in this kinda situation before. They wasn’t nothin’ to do but pick up my knees like he said.
       “You are murderin’ that song, ain’t you, boy?”
Boyd walked up next to his buddy and passed him a glass bottle of something that smelled like it ought to be in the Catalina’s tank.
       “I told you a nigger can’t play Dixie,” said Boyd.
       “Well, he’s a bluesman. Ain’t that right? Ain’t that why you’re out here? Come to the crossroads to make your deal?” said the first man. “I guess niggers in the north is just as spooky as they are down here. Listen here, boy. Only devil you’re gonna find tonight’s right here in front of you.”
        He was steppin’ closer to Yeller while he said this, and he poked Yeller’s National with the end of a shotgun.
       Yeller nearly dropped the guitar, and when he stooped to catch it up, he all of a sudden let out a crazy yell and brought it up fast by the neck. The steel body caught that white boy full on the jaw and put him on his back.        Yeller didn’t waste no time, but put his foot on the shotgun and fell to beatin’ that cracker’s head in. Every hit made that National twang and echo. It was the sweetest music I ever heard.
       Boyd went to help out his buddy, but I threw my fist into his gut, heard the wind come outta him in one big hush. He dropped what he had in his hand, just a baseball bat. I kicked him in the balls and started stompin’ on his back.
       He cried and called to Jesus and said he couldn’t breathe. I felt his ribs cave in. I knew we was goin’ wind up lynched for it, but it felt good.
      Yeller come up next to me and in the light of them headlights I seent his National was dented up bad and covered in blood. The chords was sprung and curled all over like a madwoman’s hair. He had blood on his shirt and his hands.
      His eyes was dead serious and he kicked Boyd over on his back. I could see his chest swellin’ and fallin’. He was the one I seent look out of the truck cab earlier that day.
      “Whatchoo waitin’ on, Harp? Finish this bitch off.”
      I backed away, my limbs all shakin’.
     “You ain’t never kill nobody?”
     “S’awright, brother,” he said, patting my shoulder. “I got this.”
      Boyd was moanin’ and whinin’ like a kid.
      I backed away. Yeller lifted up the guitar over his head in both hands like a caveman and he brang it down on Boyd’s face.
      That same second, the headlights went out. I guess the battery had died on the Chevy. I heard what happened to Boyd though, felt it, wet on my shoes.
      It was dark out in that road. The moon had got behind a black cloud, and lookin’ up at the sky, I couldn’t see the stars. Now that is peculiar on a Delta night.
      We heard this pipin’ in the night, like a flute playin’, or maybe it was just the wind blowin’ through some reeds in the ditch.
      They was somethin’ else standin’ in the road. I seent it, or the shape of it, behind Yeller, and I give out a yell, ‘cause what I seen didn’t make no sense. It was like a bush had sprung up in the road, but it moved, and not random, like a blowin’ bush will do. Every part of it breathed and twisted on its own, like droopin’ willow branches if they was to come alive, or a nest of black snakes. They was a shine among all that mess, too, like teeth, or eyes, or both.
      In that minute Yeller spun, all them movin’ shadows sort of snapped into place like a shape out the corner of your eye, and a thin, dark man stood there. You couldn’t see his face, or his clothes, just his outline.
     “Hit ‘im, Yeller!” I shrieked.
      Yeller pulled back to swing, but then he lowered his busted guitar and shook his head.
      “You him, ain’t you?” Yeller whispered.
       The shadow man dipped his chin.
       Yeller giggled like a kid at Christmas and looked back at me, eyes bugging.
“God-damn! You wasn’t lyin’, Harp!” he said. “This the man hisself!”
       He turned back to the shadow man, and I looked around for that shotgun. But it was no use. It was too powerful dark in the road.
      “Well, Mr. Nick, I’s here. King Yeller’s what they call me,” he said, slappin’ his chest, “and I done paid your price double. I ‘spect that ought to cover my friend here.” He looked back at me, and even though I couldn’t see ‘em, I could feel that shadow man’s eyes on me over Yeller’s shoulder.
        I nearly fell over Boyd’s body backin’ away.
       “Nossir, I didn’t take no hand in this. It wouldn’t be right.”
       Yeller looked disappointed, maybe a little scared. “Well, your loss, cuz.”
        He turned back to the shadow man.
       “Awright, Scratch. Whatchoo say? You give me credit? Double the ante, double the pot.”
        The shadow man didn’t say a word.
       “I’m gonna need a new guitar,” Yeller said, holdin’ up his bloody National.
        The shadow man reached out and took the guitar from Yeller. He run his black fingers up and down the neck, and pretty soon a sound come out of it, a crazy, distorted rift, like a hunnerd guitars playin’ at once – not the kinda sound you could tickle out no busted guitar.
        “Tha’s a swell trick,” said Yeller. His voice was crackin’. He took out a shaky Kool and lit one, and in that minute I seent the shadow man’s face in fire. He wasn’t white, but he wasn’t no black man neither. All I got a good look at was his bald head and them big black eyes, sort of foreign lookin’. My daddy thought the picture show was godless, but one time when I was eleven, he took me to the Walthall in Greenwood to see The Ten Commandments. The shadow man’s eyes was just like the pharaoh’s in that movie.
       The shadow man turned and walked off the road with Yeller’s guitar, crankin’ out them weird, lonesome sounds.
      Yeller looked back at me.
      “Don’t go with him, Yeller,” I just ‘bout begged.
      “Be right back,” he promised, tiltin’ his hat over his eyes, grinnin’.

He went off with the shadow man. They went down the ditch and off into the cotton. That music echoed all up and down that black road and put a harrow in my heart. It made me feel like the dark sky was a mouth comin’ to close on the earth, like we was all ‘bout to be chewed up and swallowed into some cold, deep place worse than hell, some place even the angels wouldn’t go.

     It got so bad I fell down on my knees and pressed my hands hard to my ears. I cried there, real, gushin’ tears. I felt so lonely, like that patch of dirt road beneath me was the only piece of land there was left, and I was fallin’ down a deep hole with no walls or bottom to be seent. I couldn’t summon no prayers.

     I don’t know how long I knelt there, but all of a sudden the pickup’s headlights come back on, bright. I brushed my eyes and stood up, blind, still afraid.

     Yeller was standin’ at the edge of the light. The stars was out again and the moon was bright over his head, as if they’d all been hidin’ from the shadow man. The moonlight was gleamin’ kinda green on the face of Yeller’s National.

      Yeller’s eyes was half closed and he was shinin’ all over with sweat. He looked like a horse addict. That rascal light was gone from him.

    “Let’s get outta here, Harp,” he said, and he went to where the Catalina was.

     “What ‘bout these…,” I started to say ‘peckerwoods,’ but when I looked, they wasn’t no bodies in the road, just a couple butter yellow and black burn marks. They was a smell in the air like to make me sick, like a open sewer stuffed with dead dogs. I followed him to the car.

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Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 9:41 pm  Comments (4)  
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