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Gods Gonna Cut You Down

Many country western songs, especially those favored by Johnny Cash, seem to exist in a bleak Weird West haunted by wailing winds and ruled by Old Testament justice.  Listen to ‘Ain’t No Grave’, ‘The Man Comes Around’, or ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ and you’ll see what I mean.

The song ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ has always painted vivid pictures in my mind.  In the song God tells John to let five sinners (the long tongued liar, the midnight rider, the rambler, the gambler and the back biter) know that they’re marked for judgment.  I wondered who these colorful characters were, and how they had ended up on the wrong side of God’s Law.  Who was John, the chosen messenger and avenger of the almighty?

Inspired, I decided to write my first story in the weird western genre.  Happily, my piece found the perfect home in SONG STORIES : BLAZE OF GLORY.  This is the second anthology from Song Stories Press featuring tales created from music.

Song Stories Blaze of Glory cover

In order to ground the ‘Weird’ I  wanted to make the historical details of my ‘West’ as accurate as I could.  Here are a few notes about the WEIRD.

MEET THE GANG:

The Long Tongued Liar

orochimaru

I chose the Long Tongued Liar to head up my band of outlaws.  The name conjured up Orochimaru, the scheming master of serpents and my favorite villain from the manga Naruto.  With God as long arm of the law, however, I knew my outlaws should be hell-spawn.  I searched the tomes of demonology for an appropriate counterpart and found Jezebeth, the Demoness of Falsehoods.  It’s hard to track down reliable information about her, but what else would you expect?

The Midnight Rider

ghost_riders

I have always wanted to write a weird western tale about the song ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’.

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

With that character already in mind, I had my Midnight Rider.

The Rambler

medicinewagon

How to make rambling seem villainous?  I had a choice between a character that moved around a lot or one that talked too much.  I chose that latter and created Giovanni Mountebank, the loquacious showman behind “Dr. Giovanni Mountebank’s Medicine Show & Traveling Dime Museum.”

plague-doctor

A clue to Giovanni’s origins is the sinister bird mask that hangs above his clockwork wagon.  He was born in the Dark Ages, where he began his dubious career in medicine as a Plague Doctor.  While no medical training or experience was necessary, Plague Doctors had the special authority not only to record the Last Will and Testament of their patients, but to perform their autopsies as well.  Imagine the possibilities for corruption and you get an idea of Giovanni’s path to the dark side.

The Gambler

Navajo god 2

Every weird western needs a Skinwalker, and Nayenezgani Biwosi is mine.  His first name comes from the monster slaying hero of Navajo mythology.  Tucked into the background of all my demon outlaws is the story of righteous men corrupted by Jezebeth.  The name Biwosi comes from Hastiin Biwosi, the first Navajo killed in the witch purge of 1878.

In the gambling halls of the badlands, however, he is known as ‘The Suicide King’.  His favorite game is ‘Russian Roulette’ (although the term hadn’t been invented yet).  A skinwalker can assume the form of any hide or fur he is wearing.  The Gambler keeps a coyote pelt draped over his fancy clothes, but he plays for the skin of his victims.

The Backbiter

NosferatuShadow

I wanted to round out my rogues’ gallery with a vampire.  I needed to find a different angle on it as well as a way for a vampire to move around in the harsh sun baked southwest.  My solution was twofold: conjoined twins, one living, one undead.

siamese twins skeleton

John

civil war soldier

The grim avenger in this story is a mysterious man known only as John.  He hides scars beneath his deerskin gloves, carries thirty pieces of silver and wields an antiquated blunderbuss pistol loaded with crucifixion nails.  He once walked a very different path, but Jezebeth destroyed everything he knew.  Check out the story to find out more.

Pistol_Bayonet

Song Stories: Blaze of Glory on Amazon Paperback and Kindle

Song Story Press

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Looking for Van Helsing

The legend of DRACULA, as written in the classic novel by Bram Stoker, has spawned countless works of fiction.  Legends often contain a kernel of truth, however, and the character of Dracula is believed to be based on the real historical figure Vlad the Impaler, the notorious 14th century prince of Wallachia.

New evidence has been unearthed that another enduring character from Bram Stoker’s novel may also have some basis in reality: the courageous ‘vampire hunter’ Abraham Van Helsing.  Author Ed Erdelac found surprising clues about the real life doctor and used them to create a sequel to Dracula, with his new novel, TEROVOLAS.

I asked Mr. Erdelac to describe his research and tell us about the ‘real’ Abraham Van Helsing.

When did you first make your discovery?

Back in the summer of 1997 when I was living in Uptown Chicago, I landed a seasonal job carrying old boxes of documents back and forth from the basements of the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library during this big re-organizational push they were having.  At the back of a shelf, I found a large box marked for the Ravenwood collection that had (in my opinion) been deliberately mislaid.  It was posted from Purfleet in England, and contained a series of dated, sealed packets ranging from the 1860’s to about 1934, and accompanying letters from Dr. John Seward to the head of the university’s archaeology department in 1935.

The name Seward was familiar to me, but I didn’t realize it was that Jack Seward until one day on lunch, avoiding my student supervisor, I cracked open one of the packets out of curiosity and started reading.

What I’d found that day was what I now call The Van Helsing Papers, a series of personal journals translated from Dutch, and organized into packets with relevant correspondences and newspaper articles that all served to convince me that the Abraham Van Helsing, who famously opposed Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s seminal novel of 1897, was a real person with a long and fascinating career in the fledgling field of paranormal investigation.

What is the premise of this book?

For the first release of Van Helsing’s papers, I decided to cover the period immediately following the events of Dracula, as I thought it would garner the most interest, considering the continued popularity of the ‘novel.’

Eight months after the conclusion of the Dracula affair, Van Helsing committed himself to Jack Seward’s asylum in Purfleet, as he was suffering from violent delusions brought about by his mortal encounter with the count’s three vampiric wives.  Disposing of three sleeping women had taken its toll on Van Helsing emotionally, and Seward diagnosed him (possibly incorrectly, but I’m not a psychiatrist) with melancholic lycanthropea.

After several months of psychiatric care he was released, and discovered the cremated remains and personal effects of Quincey P. Morris, the Texan who died in the Carpathians fighting Dracula and his followers, were still in the possession of Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming, who was tied up with legal affairs that originated with the recent death of his father.

Van Helsing volunteered to take Morris’ remains back to the Morris family ranch in Sorefoot, Texas, partly in the hopes of getting in some relaxing downtime, but it didn’t work out that way.

Morris’ estranged brother, Coleman, was in the midst of a land dispute with a neighboring outfit of Norwegian cattlemen led by a man named Sigmund Skoll, and only a few days after Van Helsing’s arrival, Cole’s foreman Early Searls and Sheriff G.B. Turlough were murdered. Slaughtered, might be a better word.

Needless to say, Van Helsing, being on hand, offered to lend his expertise, and gathered enough evidence from the crime scene to suspect a supernatural force was at work.  But of course, having only recently left the asylum, he was worried he had begun regressing to his previous aberrant mental state.

I don’t want to give too much away, of course.  Read the book.

Do you think your credits as a fiction writer will make people dismiss your research on the ‘real’ Van Helsing?

Well, there is a danger of that, yeah. But I believe fate put a seventy year old document in my lap for a reason. I could have spent another fifteen years shopping The Van Helsing Papers around to someone with scholarly credentials, but I think I’d probably have run into the same problems as Seward, the original compiler. People like that generally aren’t willing to put their reputations on the line. I have no reputation to risk, in that regard.

I think the truth of The Van Helsing Papers aren’t for everyone. But if it’s available to anyone, then I think the people who are looking for the truth will find it, and that’s more important than getting a blurb from some academic on the back cover.

You contend that Count Dracula was based on a historical figure.  You have pointed out that Bram Stoker describes Prof. Van Helsing’s appearance and personality in far greater detail than his other characters.  Do you believe that once the public has a chance to review your case the existence of the ‘real’ Van Helsing will become ‘common knowledge’?

Well, first off, I’m personally not sure about the popular notion that Dracula is Vlad Tepes.

That’s not implicitly stated in Dracula and not really my area of study.  I know there’s a lot of speculation about that, and I understand the theory has come under question recently, but it doesn’t really concern me.  I don’t have access to the documents which Stoker used to write Dracula and the Count’s past isn’t relevant to anything in The Van Helsing Papers.

I believe the Count Dracula that Van Helsing and company contended with existed, yes.  Van Helsing conjectures some about his origins, but I don’t think he discovered it in the course of his investigation.  He was understandable preoccupied in trying to preserve Mina Harker’s life.  At any rate, Van Helsing’s battle with Dracula was only a single incident in a long career.

In the past fifteen years I’ve uncovered a lot.  I’ve seen his death certificate (he died in 1934 in Holysloot, North Holland), for one thing, and I have a copy of a book he translated into Dutch for his colleague Arminius Vambery (Western Cultures In Eastern Lands is the English title), and there’s mention of him in the personal papers of T.E. Lawrence and Flinders Petrie for example (though I doubt you’ll get confirmation of that from any of their biographers).  After the publication of Dracula though, he became something of a pariah in the academic community, and even many of the people who called on his expertise in later years went a long way to suppress their associations with him.

Of course I hope the real man will come to the world’s attention, that’s my intent, but the public is fickle and strange.  In a culture that celebrates Twilight, it’s popular for men like Van Helsing to be portrayed as monsters, and we like our monsters fictional.

Witch hunts and vampire panics are well documented in Europe and America, but evidence of superstitious practices is not the same thing as proof that those superstitions were correct.  Even if the historical Doctor Van Helsing did believe in vampires, what makes you think other elements of the Dracula story are true?

I would urge you to read Terovolas. Because if the primary accounts in it are true, and from my years of cross checking and corresponding with historical societies and descendants of the participants, and visits to the actual locations (there’s an old tombstone at the Fairview Cemetery in Bastrop, Texas for example, on which you can still make out the name Coleman Morris, and the Bowie knife Quincey used on Dracula is probably the same one I traced to the Autry Museum here in Los Angeles) I can verify that they probably are, then chances are better than average the things portrayed in Dracula are real as well.

But of course, Dracula was presented as fiction, and compiled by Stoker at the behest of the Harkers. It’s possible that some things in it were spruced up. I can’t speak for it 100% as I don’t have access to that segment of Van Helsing’s personal papers. They were taken from him by an undisclosed party during his stay at Purfleet. All that of course, will probably come to light in a later publication, once the legalities of it are sorted out.

But there are further references to Count Dracula elsewhere in The Van Helsing Papers, including an incident in 1898 or so involving his Gypsy followers, so I know that they at least existed, and believed in Dracula’s powers, and exercised inexplicable abilities of their own.

Anyone interested in the fictional world of Dracula or the real life travels of Dr. Van Helsing should read TEROVOLAS.  The story is a must for horror fans and the depth of research available in the footnotes will thrill fans of historical horror.  Get the book now at http://journal-store.com/fiction/terovolas/

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Short Sips 2 Now Available!

Short Sips Vol 2 from Pill Hill Press is now available in print from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  It features many fine short horror stories, including my own ‘TOOTH AND BONE.’

This story was conceived in a dentist chair during a harrowing series of painful and bloody purification rituals.  I passed the rites and returned to my tribe inspired to write a horror story and find better dental insurance.

Recently, my lovely wife gave me a certificate for a professional massage.  Lying in a dark room, face down with a stranger, my mind wondered to the macabre as it is wont to do.  Tickling my mind was a particularly ghastly segment on a Discovery Channel show about parasites that can infest the human body.  As the stranger dug into my muscle and sinew a new idea began to take root in my brain.  I urge you, go see the dentist before reading my story.  And get a massage, you deserve it.  But do it soon.  Once I write my massage story you may not find them so relaxing.

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Welcome to the Bell Club

Tales from the Bell Club (KnightWatch Press) is now available in print and on Kindle, featuring my short story The Wager.

The Wager is a horror story set in the late 1920’s, about a pair of scientists who explore the bottom of the ocean and find death and madness.  I had a great time doing research into the historic Santa Monica and Venice Beach pleasure piers, the local Tongva Indians, 1920’s speech, famous explorers William Beebe and Otis Barton and their record setting invention the bathysphere.  I thought I’d list some foot notes here that captured my imagination.  Spoilers ahoy!

EXPLORER WILLIAM BEEBE

I relied heavily on the real life explorer William Charles Beebe and HALF MILE DOWN, his first person account of breaking the ocean depth record.  Beebe was the most famous American naturalist in the world.  He described things that no one had ever seen, sometimes risking his life in the process.  I would say that my character ‘Charles Beebe’ was a dark reflection of the historical figure, but in truth the real person was all too tragic.

Beebe was a brilliant academic, popular writer and larger-than-life celebrity.  His religion was a mix of Presbyterianism and Buddhism, and he used his eyes to worship the natural world and its inner workings.  He believed that “Boredom is immoral.  All a man has to do is see.  All about us nature puts on the most thrilling adventure stories ever created, but we have to use our eyes.”

His wife, Blair Niles, was a stalwart companion, accomplished writer and fearless explorer in her own right.  She was his assistant and co-writer on their travels around the world, sometimes to places where no white woman had ever been before.  The Explorer’s Club refused to admit females, and so Blair helped found the Society of Woman Geographers.

Despite her loyalty and talent, the couple divorced on the ‘grounds of cruelty’.  Blair’s eyes began to fail, and she could no longer assist her husband with his work.  He started to shun her, not speaking to her for days at a time.  Once he reputedly stuck a pistol in his mouth and threatened to kill himself to terrify her.  I wonder if her vision loss made her corrupt or unworthy in Beebe’s religion of sight.

THE TOWN

The fictional beach town of San Simeon is based on Santa Monica, California.  This story is the first of many I have planned for my own anthology in this setting.  I am fascinated by beach towns and piers, probably because I grew up in a small shoreline town and vacationed with my family ‘down the shore’ in Delaware.  The origins of San Simeon, named after the saint of lost children, will be detailed in future stories.

The ‘pleasure piers’ in this story were all real, harking from an era when all of America flocked to bustling carnivals suspended over the sea.  The entire coast was crowded with mad cap piers extending into the ocean.  Prohibition may have been in effect, but who needs a drink when you can tumble down a wooden dragon slide in a burlap sack?

It was a giddy and surreal playground, mostly untouched by the great Depression.  When oil was discovered the area got another boost.  Soon oil derricks filled the sky like the piers stretched into the ocean.

THE STRANGE SHIP

The bathysphere, the strange submarine invented by Beebe and Barton, appears in one of my other stories as well, along with a summary of its invention.

THE ABYSS

As the intrepid explorers sink down into the ocean they literally penetrate realms of darkness that no mortal has ever witnessed.  Their transgression results in tragedy and madness, which is why you’ll find a few references to ancient gods, titans and myths sprinkled through the story.

When his partner is lost in the abyss, Charles, tormented by the loss, attempts to bring him back.  I wanted to foreshadow this by naming their ship ‘Orpheus’, but chose ‘Izanami’ instead.  The Japanese myth of the death of Izanami-no-mikoto is similar to the tragedy of Orpheus, but I find it more disturbing.

HORRORS OF THE DEEP

There are countless strange creatures in the sunless depths of our oceans.  Beebe described real animals with translucent skin, glowing bodies and giant teeth.  My favorite ugly is Astonesthes Abyssorum, which is Latin for “Eater of the Stars of the Bottomless Pits”.

There are also unnatural beasties at the bottom of San Simeon Bay.  You may spot a reference to my favorite Crypto, El Chupacabra.

In the black heart of the pit dwells an ancient, formless horror.  The slumbering entity spawns monsters, shakes the earth and lures people down to their death.  Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will find it reminiscent of the protoplasmic gods Abhoth and Ubbo-Sathla.

ENDING WITH A BANG

We never learn if Charles Beebe’s plans to strike back at the beast of the abyss ends in success or failure.  There was originally a post script about the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake.  An estimated fifty million dollars worth of property damage resulted and 120 lives were lost.  This didn’t mesh with the first person narrative format so I left it out.  One day I will tell the fate of San Simeon and the tragic explorer who gazed upon its hidden horror.

GET THE BOOK

There are 13 other chilling tales in the collection, including an amazing story by Edward M. Erdelac.  Buy the Kindle version here and the print version here.

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It’s Alive!

RESULTS MAY VARY, my very first short story to be accepted for print publication, is now available at Amazon in the Static Movement Press anthology SCIENCE GONE MAD.

This story takes place in a very dark near future of bio-terrorism and paranoia.  My early drafts revealed more about the world that was later omitted as unnecessary exposition.  But seeing as how this is my secret crypt, you’ll find all sorts of interesting things on the cutting room floor.

I do so love to laugh.  It keeps me young!

Puns!

 

The evolution of terrorism in China (specifically the breakaway Uyghur Muslim separatists) has lead fanatical yet highly educated scientists to engineer Genocide Bombers.  The first attack occurs at the Olympic games in Hyderabad, India.  Four million die, the United States joins China in their struggle against terrorism, and we become the next targets.

It’s a tense situation: entire cities are quarantined, people live in fear of deadly plagues and the government is ready to firebomb any location they suspect is compromised.  Our hero is bored and lonely in his sealed apartment, and looking for a distraction before he goes stir crazy.  When he orders an experimental party drug from a darknet website his life gets stranger than he could ever imagine.

I often listen to music to set the mood while I write, and I listened to a lot of Philip Jeck for this one.  These are deep, moody and often disturbing soundscapes.  Ah, Dystopia!

 

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Staring into the Abyss

I am happy to announce that my short story ‘The Wager’ will appear in Knightwatch Press’ upcoming anthology TALES FROM THE BELL CLUB.

My entry takes place in the late 1920’s in the haunted southern california town of San Simeon.  My main character is based on my favorite mad scientist, William Beebe,  and the invention of his suicidal science vehicle the Bathysphere.  What did they find lurking beneath the black waters of San Simeon Bay?  I’ll reveal more when the book hits the presses!

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Frightmares

Here is the link to buy Frightmares, the flash fiction horror anthology from Dark Moon Books that features my story ‘Stranglers in the Night.’

This story was inspired by the Hillside Strangler case.  In the late 70’s there was a horrific spree of murders in the hills of Los Angeles, California.  The police would eventually capture two serial killers, cousins, who were working together.  During the trial one of the cousins instructed his girlfriend to continue killing women to make law enforcement officials believe that the real killer was still on the loose.

The concept of overlapping serial killers was new to me.  When I thought how each serial killer is usually given a single placename moniker, like the Boston Strangler, the Cincinatti Strangler, or the Honolulu Strangler I realized there was a lot of potential for confusion.  It would behoove them to coordinate.  As a matter of fact, the F.B.I. divides serial killers into 3 different categories: ‘Disorganized’, ‘Mixed’ and ‘Organized.’

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