Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy All-Hallow's Eve

I was out hunting caches yesterday at Cedarock Park, not far from Burlington, and this little dude came round trick-or-treating. I had no treats for him because he was a day early—alas—and he wasn't much help finding the cache, but at least he was clearly full of Halloween spirit, which made me chuckle. I did manage to find the nearby cache all on my own, thank you very much.

Halloween, ever my favorite holiday, calls for taking a day off work, so I did. But since I greatly appreciate our traditional office festivities, which include trick-or-treating, costume and pumpkin-carving contests, and me reading a scary tale, I went in at 10:00 AM to partake of the celebration and regale the crowd with three of my short-short tales from The Gaki & Other Hungry Spirits: "Black Tom," "Megan," and "Field Dressing." These seemed to go over quite well, and I got a passel of chocolate in the bargain.

Then it was off to the Laurel Bluff trail to hunt...get this..."Out on the Laurel Bluff" (GC36A4G), a new cache that was published yesterday. An absolutely beautiful morning for hiking, and, happily, the cache was a fairly quick find.

This evening, some more Halloween festivities with Kimberly B., Jenny Chapman, and Doug Cox. Who knows who...er, what...we'll cook up for a treat.

Happy Halloween to the lot of ye.


It's Chester's favorite holiday, too.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil


Despite an end result that fell shy of our hopes, Kimberly B., Dave "dlf2001" Foxworth, and Old Man Rodan had a blast traipsing into the deep, dark woods late last night on the hunt for "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (GCT3V0), a two-stage night cache out near Jordan Lake, NC. To claim this one, you must find an ammo box in the woods right at midnight because then, and only then, a spirit voice emanates from the container to give you coordinates to the final stage of the cache.

Kimberly and I had headed over to Carrboro/Chapel Hill earlier in the day for one of our regular pilgrimages to Trader Joe's, A Southern Season, The Spotted Dog, et. al., with a planned stop at the Benjamin Winery in Alamance County along the way. However, the best-laid plans, and all that.... As it turned out, the winery was closing early to host a wedding. Damn these young folks and their marriages! Anyhoo, we decided to figure out an alternative destination—for which the Android phone is a mighty handy device. We discovered that GlenMarie Winery wasn't too far away, and they were open for tastings. So, off we went, and we soon came to a scenic little spot north of Burlington...with very friendly dogs, a couple of cats, and a pair of alpacas in their front yard. Well, we figured any winery with alpacas couldn't be bad, so we did our tasting—which, I must say, proved most excellent—picked up a couple of bottles of wine, and continued on our trip to Carrboro, stopping to grab a few caches in the vicinity, of course.

Dinner and shopping done, we planted ourselves at A Southern Season's Weathervane restaurant for a while and sank a couple of glasses of vino before heading out into the wilds of Jordan Lake for the evening's big cache hunt. We found Mr. Foxworth already on the scene, having arrived at the game lands early to snag a cache or two for himself. Shortly before the witching hour, we commenced our hike into darkness, following our GPSrs and a trail of glowing fire tacks until we reached ground zero. There, we readily found the ghost box, from which the spirit voices were reputed to speak. Sure enough, right at midnight, a hollow, disembodied voice emanated from the box, saying...something. We each recorded the speech on our phones, yet when we played it back, it was an unintelligible, garbled mess. We could make out what sounded like a couple of numbers, but that was about it. We knew that, seven minutes later, a second voice was supposed to speak and repeat the coordinates, so we waited with anticipation, hoping this one would say something we could actually understand.

At the appointed time, we heard the recording start up...and then...nothing. Just a whirring, groaning sound that went on for several seconds and then fell silent.

Rather dismayed, we each listened to the first recording over and over, trying to discern some intelligible set of numbers. Using our imaginations, we managed to come up with coordinates that almost made sense, though they did not jive with certain intelligence I had received prior to making our trip out there. Regardless, we slogged out in the deep darkness through a flooded area until we reached the new ground zero. As we more than half anticipated, we found nothing there. Quite wet and cold now, we decided to admit defeat and return to our vehicles. What a disappointment! Well, it was in terms of caching, at least. On the other hand, I found it a highly entertaining little Halloween weekend adventure, complete with hooting barred and great horned owls to provide a spooky soundtrack. I didn't much mind the physical discomfort...that's a regular companion on a lot of cache hunts, particularly night caches...though I'm not too sure about Ms. Kimberly. To her credit, she didn't swat me in the head or worse.

Hopefully, the cache owner can whip those dastardly spirits into submission, and I'll no doubt conquer this intriguing little hide at the next available opportunity. I didn't crawl into bed until about 4:00 AM this morning, then slept in till 10:00. I gotta tell you, that cinnamon-hazelnut coffee from A Southern Season was just the ticket....

A couple of happy alpacas at GlenMarie Winery, Alamance County, NC

Brave, I am. Would you go into the deep, dark woods with these people?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Williamsburg Kind of Weekend


Driving Route 5, a relatively little-traveled, secondary highway through the backwoods of Charles City County, VA, on the way to Williamsburg, I couldn't help but think how neat it was to be driving on the same highway that all those settlers drove all those many years ago. Okay, so maybe their cars didn't have as much horsepower, but they did have style. Lots more convertibles in those days.

Friday morning, Kimberly and ol' Rodan joined up with our young friends, the Workmans (a.k.a. TravelinFarmFam), and hit the road for Virginia's Colonial peninsula and Williamsburg Plantation, where the youngsters own a very nice timeshare, to which they invited us for a slightly long weekend. Yes, of course there was geocaching involved...what a silly question. We snagged a fair number along the way, and, come lunchtime, stopped at Cul's Courthouse Grille in Charles City, which I had discovered on a trip that way last year—just about this time, come to think of it—for a booksigning event at The College of William & Mary ("Damn That Betty White!" [Oct. 15, 2010]). An excellent lunch at this quaint little joint was kind of the official kick-off for an absolutely beautiful, virtually stress-free weekend with good friends. Now, there might have been a couple of life-and-death struggles with a bottle or two of wine, but by my recollection, we prevailed against them without any bloodshed. So much the better, wouldn't you say?

Yesterday, about midday, we lit out for Yorktown, about 10 miles east of Williamsburg, and spent the afternoon on the Yorktown Riverwalk, browsing a few shops, checking out many of the historical sites, lunching and sinking a few draughts at the Yorktown Pub, and—yes, of course—hunting a few caches. Back at Williamsburg Plantation, a swimming pool and hot tub awaited us, and...oh...wasn't that just torture. Then some fabulous sushi at the Kyoto hibachi and sushi bar. Their sign said "Open Cocktails." Well...yeah. Just for variety's sake, rather than my usual sak√© or martini, I had a mai tai. Kimberly, Paul, and Jamie ended up with some strange tropical concoctions of their own; Paul's was some kind of volcanic flaming rum drink that looked rather frightening. He's a brave boy, that Paul.

Today, before leaving, we bummed around the William & Mary campus; had an excellent brunch, complete with mimosas, at Berret's Seafood Restaurant; and then hit the road for home. Yes. Caching. Naturally. The most entertaining was one out in the middle of the big bridge on Route 5 over the Chickahominy River. The Virginia Capital Trail—an extensive hiking and biking trail—goes across the bridge in a separate lane, and you access the cache from there. Quite scenic.

Perhaps I shouldn't have, but I did find myself a bit surprised by the courtesy and outright friendliness showed by just about everyone we encountered out that way. From the guests and staff we met at the Williamsburg Plantation, to our servers at the various restaurants, to strangers in the pubs, there was a rare cordiality that we all remarked upon. I gotta tell you, it gets to be the very dickens when people are nice like that, as it screws up my well-honed disdain for the human race in general. It's really not all that considerate when you think about it, and I'm afraid that happy crap might start rubbing off on me. I've been told by some that it already has, but that's just their density talking. Anyway, it's back to the womp rat race this week, so I'm sure any emotional confusion will be cleared up in no time.

Now, off with you.

Miscreants at the Green Leaf Tavern, Williamsburg, VA

Mr. TravelinFarmFam and Damned Rodan at "The Cave" (GC2BAF), Yorktown, VA

Yorktown Victory Monument, Yorktown, VA

I'll say! Kyoto Hibachi & Sushi Bar, Williamsburg, VA

Paul and Jamie sink a Flaming Volcano.

Tropical horrors awaited us as well.

The Wren Building at The College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA

My girlfriend likes Thomas Jefferson more than me. She really does go for the older men.

Coupla hot women Paul and I discovered at "The Virginia Capital Trail: View From the Top" (GC2723B)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"The Jack-o'-Lantern Memoirs"...Free for Halloween

It's been a while since I've updated my free fiction page, so for Halloween I'm going to offer my short tale, "The Jack-o'-Lantern Memoirs" for your reading pleasure. The story originally appeared in Flesh & Blood magazine (2002) and then in my collection, Other Gods (2009). If you haven't read it, give 'er a try. If you have, no doubt you could use a refresher. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll lose your face...

About "The Jack-o'-Lantern Memoirs:....
A serial killer from hell? For real? Oh, yes! Here on Earth, the Jack-o'-Lantern killer was a regular monster. Down in the underworld, he's so rotten that even the devil doesn't want him. Every Halloween, Old Nick sends the Jack-o'-Lantern Killer back to Earth, with the promise that, if he doesn't kill anyone during his little "vacation," he will be freed from hell forever. But it's not so easy being a vicious, bloodthirsty demon, and when you're hard up for blood, bodies, and mayhem, things are never as easy as they seem on the surface....

Enjoy "The Jack-o'-Lantern Memoirs." A little Halloween treat for you! Click here to read.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Poop, the Whole Poop, and Nothing But the Poop

Old man Rodan at Lover's Leap Overlook, VA

Slowly but surely, the Halloween spirit is starting to creep over me, and it's about bleepin' time. Each year, shortly before Halloween, I make the pilgrimage to Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, VA, to partake of their signature buckwheat pancakes, and I almost always pick up a Halloween pumpkin or two while there (a tradition that began when I was a little kid). That's when I know it's officially the season. This year—today—was no exception, except that it was.

Ordinarily, I get moving well before the crack of dawn to arrive at the mill before they open at 8:00 AM because the restaurant is quite small and there's usually a crowd. Well, today, Kimberly and I decided to head up a wee bit later, and this proved to be a mistake. By the time we got there, a great milling mob had already assembled, and the predicted wait time was two hours. We had much on the day's agenda, so we said the heck with it; perhaps later in the day, we'd come back and try again.

Needless to say, there was a fair amount of geocaching to do out that way. It was at Lover's Leap overlook, on US 58, near Stuart, VA, that dear Kimberly suffered a slight mishap. As I made my way down a steep incline to hunt a cache, she took a different path to find a good spot to snap some photos. I had just reached ground zero when I heard her holler, "Oh, shit." She meant it quite literally, for she had just stepped in bear poop. At least, I'm pretty sure it was bear. Well, no reason to think it wasn't bear. Anyway. Awwww...ooooh....gaaaah! It's bad. I mean, it's some bad poop. She did a thorough job of cleaning her shoes, no shit, but regardless, we had to travel with the car windows open for a bit, and that early in the morning, it was dang cold.

Me, I found the cache and managed not to step in any poop—bear, bigfoot, or otherwise.

The other main activity I had in mind was to visit Camp Cheerio, near Roaring Gap, NC, where I spent a few weeks at summer camp in my early years—back when I tended to be more scared than scary. It was at Cheerio where I learned about the Wampus Cat and had numerous twisted but memorable experiences, and for quite some time now I've had a hankering to go back and visit the scene of those ancient crimes. Today, done and done. Fortuitously, there was a weekend event going on, so we were able to go in and wander about freely (though it looked like a dads-and-daughters kind of thing, so Kimberly stood out not unlike a sore bum). The place has changed a lot since I was there—back in the mid-to-late 1960s—but I found much of it quite recognizable, and I had several poignant flashes that took me right back to those long-gone days.

After exploring Cheerio, we hit the road again and found a secluded spot near an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we had a nice little picnic lunch. Eventually, we aimed ourselves back toward Mabry Mill, wondering whether we might actually be able to get in. Upon arriving, about 3:30 PM, we discovered not even a slight thinning of the crowd, so—once again—we said the heck with it, reluctantly opting to forgo the buckwheat and bacon for this year. Instead, we headed to Martinsville and had an excellent dinner (veal piccata for me, baked ziti for the young lady) at Rania's Restaurant. This weekend is Mum's birthday, so we stopped by her place for a little birthday visit and didn't get run off. That's something!

I'm not thrilled about missing out on the buckwheat—probably won't get another shot at it till next year about this time—and the poop was no picnic, but the rest of the excursion was pretty danged awesome. I'll take it. Just for good measure, once we got back home, we put on It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. So, yeah, Halloween...come and get me.

Nice lady on the grounds at Camp Cheerio, overlooking Stone Mountain

Drinking wine. Eating cheese. Catching some rays. You know.

Pilot Mountain way out in the distance

High-altitude high


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Kippur-ween!


As you can see, the spiders around here just keep growing bigger and bigger....

Yon spider was on hand to greet guests as they arrived for the scariest, goriest, grossest, creepiest, most horrifying, and ultimately hysterical celebration I've had the honor of hosting: Kippur-ween! It's what you get when you cross Halloween and Yom Kippur*, which just opened on calendars all over the world. A dozen or so adventurers came round last night to brave the celebration, which ended with no human casualties (that I'm aware of) but saw the tragic mutilation of some of Kimberly's delicious maple-frosted pumpkin bars.

It was a tense moment. A short time earlier, there had been a stunning, rolling, booming sound, which set everyone's nerves on edge, for we realized it was the sound of a Siamese trying to get out of the bedroom upstairs by reaching his paws under the door and shaking it. This went on long enough to cause even some of our braver companions to fear for their hors d'ouevres. Finally, reluctantly giving in to the tremendous psychological pressure, Kimberly went upstairs and released the three imprisoned critters.

A short time later, it happened:

A gray blur. A pounce onto the kitchen table. A sudden recoil, as Frazier landed on the delicious, maple-frosted pumpkin bars; realized he wasn't on a solid surface; and—boing—bounced-slid-plopped back onto the floor.

Then, amid a chorus of horrified groans, he settled back...and began to lick his paws.

At least some of the bars were salvageable. The rest...taking the suggestion of artist extraordinaire Cortney Skinner...we just smoothed over the frosting so we could share them with our most deserving acquaintances.

*I'm pretty sure none of us are Jewish, but who says we gentiles don't know a good party when we see one?

The Hand of Destiny: a harbinger of doom for certain delicious baked goods?

Lovely head. Reminds me of a song by Goldfrapp.

The horrible aftermath


Friday, October 7, 2011

Not Just Another Horror Story

I missed the Wednesday night premier of American Horror Story on FX, which prompted me to pop myself a good one in the head, as I had kind of been looking forward to seeing it after all the promotion of the past few weeks. A few sources I generally trust had good things to say about it, so I was very happy to find the pilot is available for streaming at the FX network website: Watch American Horror Story on FX.

I won't give anything away here other than to say it's pretty intense (you have to submit your age on the website in order to view it), with some convincing depictions of mental illness as well as tantalizing glimpses of a so-far-unidentified supernatural menace. It's dark, to be sure, with little in the way of comic relief; so much so that I felt a bit wrung out by the time it was over. To that end, it's certainly effective, and I'll be interested to see how the story plays out. Give it a look.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Poopzilla


I'd heard round the grapevine that the IDW Godzilla comic, created by Eric "The Goon" Powell, Tracy Marsh, and Phil "The Green Hornet" Hester, was worth a look, so—having never picked up any of the individual issues from this past year—I decided to check out the 100-plus-page compilation digest, Godzilla, Kingdom of Monsters, to see how this incarnation of the King of Kaiju might fare.

The cover art, by Alex Ross, certainly isn't shabby; it's a painting of a big-ass Godzilla unleashing his signature supercharged heat ray, viewed from a low angle to emphasize the fact that, yep, he be big. Also of interest is a gallery of G art by Powell, Matt Frank, and Jeff Zornow at the end of the book (Frank's work is particularly impressive). Also on a promising note, Hugo Award–winning artist Bob Eggleton has been commissioned to provide covers for the continuing comic series, which can't help but bring a touch of class to the publication...something that IDW desperately needs for this beast.

The art itself, for the most part, isn't bad; the story, however—what little one may discern of it in these hundred pages—is a jumble of occasionally entertaining monster mashes, lame political commentary, and inane social satire...all of about the same caliber as the 1998 Emmerich-Devlin Godzilla-in-Name-Only disaster. We begin with Godzilla appearing out of the ocean and doing some wholesale smashing of scenery and characters. Several "You've got to be #$@%$ kidding me's" later, we cut to a President Obama caricature (President "Ogden") bemoaning the hostile political climate and—now and again—the inconvenience of a giant critter on the rampage in Tokyo. Next thing you know, Anguirus (or "Angilas" to those of us who prefer it) shows up in Mexico, chowing on cattle. Then a baby Rodan pops out of a remnant of the 1908 Tunguska meteor...and he grows very quickly. Next...heavens...a giant egg shows up out of nowhere, and a couple of sinister, mute twin girls named Minette and Mallorie come round and mentally signal each other that they own the egg and they won't let anything happen to it. Just to impress us that they are special, they psychically inflict painful hallucinations on kids they don't particularly like. A larval Battra, a.k.a. the "Black Mothra," hatches from the egg and goes off to mess up some property.

All the while, a few human characters, mostly pointless, flit in and out of the drama, most ending up underfoot of a big monster within a few panels. One of them, in desperation, rigs himself up in an explosive vest, and in a particularly ignominious end, goes "pop" on Godzilla's nose. Just so there will be someone to stand up for these helpless monsters, we have a Lady Gaga clone ("Lady Yaya"), who stages benefit concerts to support your local daikaiju. And let's not forget the cast of "Jerseyfied," who use the giant monster phenomenon to attract as much attention to themselves as possible. Big sigh.

To be sure, there are a few amusing moments, such as when Angilas destroys the newly constructed wall along the Texas-Mexico border, but by and large, I found myself longing for the superior quality of Marvel's "Godzilla vs. S.H.I.E.L.D." storyline of the late 1970s—which I thoroughly detested in its day, though in retrospect, at least it was relatively clever. IDW's Godzilla tries to be clever with merciless tedium, and one longs for an intriguing character or two upon whom to focus, if not identify with. The political figures certainly don't cut it, and while we're introduced to a rather enigmatic military man named Woods, we get little in the way of clues to his ultimate significance; overall, by the end of the book (to be continued), he hasn't really been much fun. So far, the most noteworthy characters are the two psychic twins, and that's only because they're clearly dark at heart and more than a little weird.

The art, as I mentioned, is adequate, and some of the monster renderings are quite good—though occasionally the page layouts appear dashed together and don't do the discerning eye any favors. Godzilla appears to be based primarily on the Heisei-era (1984–1995) suit design, while Angilas is something of a hybrid, with traits from both the late Showa-era (1954–1975) and Godzilla: Final Wars design. Rodan is clearly patterned after the Final Wars costume.

I may yet give the series a bit of a chance, mainly because it's Godzilla, and once I start a story, good or bad, I often feel some small compulsion to see it through, at least for a time. To be fair, the comic series itself has by now progressed far beyond this initial story offering. Still...I can't say I'm holding out much hope. To paraphrase Astronaut Fuji in Monster Zero...they'd need to do something pretty spectacular for me to change my mind.

Angilas bursts out of the Mexican landscape to chow down on some cattle.

Monster montage by Eric Powell

Images © IDW; no infringement is intended and are included here by way of fair use, solely for the purpose of supplementing this review.