Projects on the horizon? You betcha! Here they are, in chronological order of future appearance (which is to say, in order of most to least likely to be released in 2017):
— A second edition of The Golden Age of Crap in print and ebook, complete with multiple full-color reproductions of poster and video cover art for each movie reviewed (where available), plus an index!
— The second print volume collecting the CheapCaffeine webcomic, entitled Fundaments of Platypism!
— A second volume of The Golden Age of Crap!
— The Silver Age of Crap, a similar tome covering B-movies during the age of DVD rentals!
— A third, as-yet untitled volume of CheapCaffeine comics!
Plus giveaways, in-person-only specials (at Salt Lake City FanX, Salt Lake Comic Con, and possibly some Halloween-themed events later in the year), and some barely-glimpsed whosits and whatsits!
Their second date had gone very well so far. Stan, not-quite star athlete at Shadow Valley High, and Billie, not-quite Prom Queen, had spent over an hour at the Brookbank Falls, deep in the mountains that ringed Pine Bow County. During the winter months, these mountains drew skiers from around the world to challenge its white-capped slopes. In the early summer, like now, the hills took on so much green they almost blended together, making it about impossible to tell one range from another.
Billie looked up at the lengthening shadows. Years of camping with her father had taught her a little, and though she wouldn’t consider herself a “mountain girl,” she knew enough to know how quickly daylight could descend into night on the mountain.
“I didn’t realize how late it is,” she called across the creek to where Stan was investigating something wedged between two large boulders.
Stan looked up at her and smiled, then leaped from stone to stone back to her.
“We should get back to the car,” she said. “It’s still a couple miles’ hike to the road.”
Stan shrugged and said, “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll make it before dark.”
“If we leave soon, I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Billie redirected, and tried not to pull away when Stan put an arm around her shoulders. then the two of them headed down the dirt path.
“What were you looking at?” Billie asked as they walked.
Stan’s hesitation drew her attention to him. He looked slightly uncomfortable.
“Uh,” he finally said, “it looked like what was left of a coyote. It was pretty mangled, so it was hard to tell for sure. But it was fresh.”
“Hunters?” Billie asked.
“No, it looked like something with teeth.”
Suddenly nervous in the waning afternoon light, Billie glanced around, her gaze trying to pierce the heavy forest and foliage, looking for the telltale signs of predatory wildlife.
“Do you think whatever killed that is still around here?” Stan wondered aloud, sounding intentionally aloof.
“We should be fine, as long as we can get back to the car before dark,” Billie replied.
Without a passable road to them, Brookbank Falls enjoyed an exclusivity that helped preserve its pristine location. At the same time, with the tall peaks surrounding them, the afternoon and evening sun took little time to fade, enveloping the young couple in deep shadows and making the trail so treacherous that they eventually had to slow their progress.
“I don’t think we’re going to make it to the car before dark,” Stan said, his nerves beginning to show in his voice.
Billie decided not to comment on the obvious and pulled a small, powerful flashlight from her belt. It cut through the heavy darkness, allowing them to continue forward, until she stopped without warning.
“What is it?” Stan asked, watching Billie shine the line around them, then shining it up the path, then back the way they’d come.
“Did we pass a split in the path without realizing it?” she asked, hitting him in the face with the beam of light.
Stan put a hand up to shade his eyes and said, “If we did, it couldn’t have been too far back. Why, are we lost?”
Billie illuminated the way ahead, but her scowl didn’t inspire confidence in her date.
“I thought you said you’ve been here before,” Stan accused, doubt and aggravation trickling into his voice.
Not rising to the bait, Billie said, “I have, but never after dark. You know how woods all look alike, once the sun goes down.”
Before she could say more, something crashed in the darkness a ways off the path and in the distance a coyote howl echoed out at them.
Stan snatched the flashlight out of Billie’s hand and played the bright-white beam back and forth in the direction the sound of movement had come from, but couldn’t see anything. He held his free hand out to Billie.
Scowling, the girl took his hand and the two of them hurried along the path.
They made good time, until another howl jerked Stan’s attention from the path. His left foot snagged against an unseen tree root. He cried out in pain as he fell, twisting his ankle so far Billie was surprised she didn’t hear a snap.
“Are you okay?” Billie asked, kneeling down beside him.
The two of them carefully straightened out his wrenched foot, Stan wincing, but putting on his “tough football player” face instead of crying out a second time.
Billie took her mobile phone from her small handbag. After glancing at its screen she pursed her lips, then said, “No signal. How about you?”
Stan managed to extract his mobile phone from his back pocket without a whimper, but his mood didn’t brighten when he looked at the screen. He held it up for Billie to inspect.
Her eyes fell on the complex spider-web of shattered glass that now took the place of the shiny, smooth glass surface. “Oh,” was all she said.
He tried a few times to start up, but when the device refused to respond, he growled in frustration and tossed the phone a few feet away.
Billie hurried over to pick up his phone, but just as her fingers touch the metal case, something rustled about a stone’s throw away and a low growl drifted to her on the breeze. She froze. When the growl faded away a few seconds later, she snatched the smartphone out of the damp dirt and ran back to Stan.
“Come on, Romeo,” she said and hoisted him to his feet, ignoring his grunts of pain. “We gotta go.”
Once she had Stan upright, it emphasized the height difference between them. In order to keep him from slumping to his left, she strung his left arm across her shoulders, pressing her right and his left side tightly together, for support.
As one, they hobbled as quickly down the dark path as possible, their progress hindered by the increasing pain in Stan’s foot. It originated in his ankle and radiated up his calf to behind his knee, and any weight on it sent pulses of stabbing agony nearly to his hip.
“Keep it up,” Billie encouraged him, “you’re doing great.”
Stan could only grunt in response.
A few hundred feet further on, the couple paused to rest. Stan managed to lower himself to an unearthed tree stump and shut his eyes while catching his breath through clenched teeth.
Before they were ready to move again, Billie heard faint growling behind them. She turned and scanned the path behind them, but couldn’t see anything. There was, however, a thick, gnarly branch lying nearby. It made a solid weapon in her hands. As if in response to her new-found ability to defend them, the growling increased and she could’ve sworn she could now see a faint sickly greenish-yellow glow trickling between the leaves and branches of the thick woods.
“Um, Stan?” she stammered, backing away from the edge of the trail, her eyes still on the faint glow…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!
I aint had the dream abowt the corners for long years. I didnt no I misst it. Wen I first had it over and over, way back in the bigining, the corners fritened me so bad I almost left the wallow and wats here. But now I no that the corner cuttin into you is the only way corners can embrase you.
The first I heard that the old bastard was dead, I was down at Roy Sadley’s store on a Tuesday morning; on top of the normal things Beth had sent me for, I needed a new mattock blade, as I’d sharpened the old one down to a nubbin I could shave with. Roy Sadley saw me come in, and the first thing he said was, “Phineas, your grandpap’s passed on.”
At first I thought he meant my grandfather Grandin, my mother’s father—he’s the only one I ever thought of as “my grandpap”—but that good man had already been been seven years in the Lutheran churchyard in Timoree. But Roy just went on.
“It was my Jude that found him,” he said. “We hadn’t seen Ephraim for a few weeks past when he said he’d be in, and I had stuff for him, so I sent Jude to truck it up to him in the Wallow, and that’s how he found him in the cabin.”
Ephraim. So that would be Ephraim Joel Ostler, my pap’s pap. I didn’t really know how Roy expected me to react, so I just shrugged.
“All gotta go sometime,” I said, just to be saying something.
“True ’bout most people,” Roy agreed, “though I ain’t sure I figured it applied to Ephraim. He’s still up there—Jude just barely got back, and he didn’t know what to do—so I guess you’ll want to go up there for him?”
I said, “Why?”
That took Roy back a step, and his bad eye rolled in surprise. “Well, he is your own blood kin—”
“I only set eyes on the old bastard three times in my life, and never spoke a word to him ever. I’m guessing if there’s someone who wants to take the effort to gather him and put him ’neath the dirt, they’re welcome to. I’ve got other things to do.”
Roy was so shocked that both his eyes looked straight at me, up and down. “You listen here, Phineas,” he said in a rough voice, “I don’t say you gotta make up and like him now that he’s passed, but there’s some family responsibilities you gotta take as the eldest, the man of the family. Obligations, even, no matter love nor hate.”
“So let my cousin Walter deal with it,” I said. “He’s older than me.”
Roy looked at me like I’d started speaking in tongues. “The oldest Ostler,” he said in a voice like you’d speak to an idiot child. “Walter can help with the funeral and the like, heck yes, but he’s a McKinnon. You’re the last Ostler, and that means something.”
I didn’t like the look in either of Roy’s eyes, so I glanced around the store to give myself a break from them. Sadley’s is a comfortably shadowy old store, with windows hazed over with dust and smoke so that sunlight coming through softens and blurs all around. There were a couple of old-timers by the small stove with the coffeepot, playing cards with a deck that I knew for a fact was missing the three of hearts. They kept their eyes on their cards and played right ahead, but I could tell all the same that they were both listening to Roy and me. Sadley’s hadn’t had a working radio since a tube blew in October, so there was nothing else to listen to.
“Fine,” I said. “I need sugar and coffee and a new mattock blade, and ring up an extra dime so I can use your phone to call Walter anyway.”
Roy’s face softened, and his bad eye went back to looking at whatever it wanted to. “Ain’t no need of that, Phineas,” he said. “You go right ahead and make the call.”
Sometims I feel like I got a therd eye in the back of my hed that dosnt see all the normal stuff that the Ssun shows becus it dont need lite to see by. It can see by the glow of the Edjes that are all around us, fillin the distans bitween all the things. The eye aint alwaz in back of my hed, somtimes its too the side or rite up top, but becus it dosnt see with lite it dosnt go blind with the Sun. And somtimes I dont no were it is, but it sees down, strate down, to all the things I love, and it sees so much it openss my Mouth and lets out all it sees in words and notwords til I got no breth left.
Most families around these parts have their own mountain or hill. When I say “have,” I don’t mean that they’ve got title to it, with fancy pieces of paper and something written in a book down at the county courthouse away in St. Stephen. Those families have been up here since before there was any county courthouse, or any St. Stephen, and we own what we own because we own it, not because a paper says.
Like I said, most families got a mountain or something. The Ostlers, we’ve got the Wallow.
It’s away west off the land we live on, right in the crotch made between Blair Mountain and the Godfrey Ridge, a low spot where the rain runs down and makes a huge soggy puddle with inlet and no outlet, always in damp shadow because the sun don’t shine there except right at midday. It’s like our own little swamp in the hills, with plenty of frogs but no fish because there’s no way for them to have gotten there. In the middle of the Wallow is a hump of black rock with moss growing up all sides, and on top of the rock is the hunting cabin put there by my great-great-great-grandfather Ostler.
That’s where old Ephraim Ostler, my grandpap, had lived since the night that he killed my grandmother and got driven out of the house—the same house I live in now—by my pap, Eliazar Joel Ostler, when he was all of thirteen years old.
I think I heared its Name in my dream last night, but it wasnt ear-hearin, I only heared it with somethin deep in the senter of my head, a part that almost doesnt no how to hear because it hasnt heared for so long, for ages and ages back throu Fathers and Sons. But I heared it with that somethin in my head, I heared its Name or mabe only part of it becose it felt like its hole Name wouda bin too big for my head to hold it in at onct. And becose it warnt ear-hearin, its nothin I can say with my maoth, but thats okay becose I dont think its somethin I have a right to say. Names is presious, and even the little bit I got is presious, and I am to keep it safe and presious.
Walter had a telephone in his house, and his wife Clara picked it up after two rings. Walter had grown up here in the hills but Aunt Rose had let him go away for school when he was fourteen, and he never really came back. He’d gone off to the war—he was in the Pacific, though he never saw any fighting—then went to university and came out a Doctor of Divinity. Now he lived down in St. Stephen and was the pastor of a Methodist church. Clara said he was out and she’d have him ring me back as soon as he got in, but I knew Beth would be wondering where I’d got off to if I stayed down at Sadley’s too long, so I told Clara the main points about old Ephraim’s being dead—main points being all that I knew myself—and told him to call back and talk to Roy if he wanted to help me clean him out the cabin in the next couple of days.
Roy was listening, and as I hung up, he said, “Don’t you think you oughtta go up there right away and collect him?”
While I’d been putting the call through, Roy had pulled everything on my shopping list to the front counter. I hoisted the bags up and balanced them on my hip.
“He’d dead already,” I said. “A day or two ain’t gonna make him any more or less dead, is it?” I pushed out the door without waiting for an answer. From what I’d been taught by my pap, anything short of leaving the old bastard to turn to bones by himself in the Wallow was more than he deserved…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!