Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Pagoda: A Dark Fantasy of 345 Words


The Pagoda
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The dream has been the same for the last thirty years. I stand on a windswept cliff overlooking a grim, wind-blasted valley choked with ice and snow. I can see the rocky path on which I stand weaving its way to a far ridge where stands a dark and ruined pagoda, terrible in its size and aspect.

The sky is dark with scudding clouds gravid with sleet and snow. A bitter wind whips my cloak around me. I am chilled to the bone and nauseous from the altitude. The horizon all around me is filled with sharp snow-blasted mountains, their summits disappearing into the cloud-covered heavens.

In spite of the distance, the size of the pagoda takes my breath away. Though it stands far across the valley, I still have to tilt my head to observe the pagoda’s summit where it touches the clouds. My mind cannot conceive the labor that has gone into its construction, a feat that humbles the building of the Pyramids of Gaza or the Colossus.

The elements have not been kind. It is impossible to tell if the pagoda has ever been any other color than its present stain of dark corruption.

Yet, the pagoda does not hint at a genesis from any human mind. Some other intelligence, vast and unknowable, created its foundations and reared its walls for I am aware I am not alone in this blighted landscape. I am being observed by something within the structure, an intelligence I instinctively recognize as alien and aberrant, hostile to my existence, yet uncaring in its power.

It is when the full awareness of what lies within is directed toward me, I awake in my room, terror clogging the scream in my throat.

It has been this way for thirty years, every night, standing and observing the pagoda from a distance, but last night I awoke with a shriek of terror, finally freed after three decades.

Before I woke, for the very first time, though I fought the impulse with all my strength, I took my first step down the path.


(Pagoda illustration © to Will Reierson)

Note: If you're interested, you can see my published works here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Tales of Inspector Legrasse, by H. P. Lovecraft and C. J. Henderson: A Critique


In 1928, Weird Tales magazine published H. P. Lovecraft’s most well-known short story, The Call of Cthulhu, that featured as a minor character a New Orleans police official, John Raymond Legrasse

In 2005, horror writer C. J. Henderson released a collection of six short stories revolving around the continuing adventures of the police inspector. Together, The Tales of Inspector Legrasse form a braided novel, each story illuminating Legrasse’s struggle to maintain both his sanity and purpose as he works with others to thwart the imminent destruction of the world. 

The collection starts off with Lovecraft’s seminal work, The Call of Cthulhu, when in 1908 Legrasse asks attendees of an anthropological society meeting to identify a statuette of unidentifiable greenish-black stone. The description is that of the famous Old One, Cthulhu:

The figure, which was finally passed slowly from man to man for close and careful study, was between seven and eight inches in height, and of exquisitely artistic workmanship. It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters. The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down towards the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the backs of huge fore-paws which clasped the croucher's elevated knees. The aspect of the whole was abnormally lifelike, and the more subtly fearful because its source was so totally unknown. Its vast, awesome, and incalculable age was unmistakable; yet not one link did it show with any known type of art belonging to civilization's youth—or indeed to any other time. 
In the second story in the collection, Patiently Waiting, Inspector Legrasse returns to New Orleans to discover the ritual he and his men interrupted some months earlier was a preliminary to a final rite that will truly destroy the world. The rest of the stories continue Legrasse’s adventures along with compatriots he has picked up in his journeys until their research eventually leads them to a wind-swept glacier in the Himalayas where they have their final conflict with those who would bring Cthulhu back into the world. 

The stories are very well written with the exception of the third story of the collection, To Cast Out Fear. Though Henderson introduces two important characters (one very reminiscent of Doctor Strange), the message of the piece on how love can undermine the plans of the Old Ones as they do not understand it seems saccharin and very much out of place, a philosophy once stated is never referred to ever again even though it appears to be a potent weapon. In spite of that literary hiccup, the collection is a masterpiece of Henderson’s writing where he takes a minor character of Lovecraft's fiction and makes it his own.

You Are Invited to a Public Reading

Drawn by Aimi of AimiArts
On Thursday, May 3rd at 6:45 pm, I will be doing a public reading of The Inugami for critique at West Shore Evangelical Free Church at 1345 Williams Grove Rd, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055. Admission is free and open to observers. The actual reading takes place around 8 pm with the first 85 minutes a business meeting.

Story Excerpt

That afternoon, Kelly returned to her apartment to find Shadō practicing with her sheathed sword in the living room. The Inugami had moved the furniture back against the walls and had dressed herself in the clothing that was in the buried box of her former master.

Shadō had bound her chest with a large strip of cloth. Dimly, Kelly remembered it was called a sarashi worn by Japanese swordfighters of both sexes. The only other articles of clothing were a floor-length skirt with slits up both sides almost to the waist and a heavy sash that served as a belt. A slit in the back of the skirt allowed the Inugami’s white-furred tail to move freely. Kelly watched with growing respect as Shadō practiced her elaborate kata, a complex series of movements, making the sheathed katana hiss through the air.

Shadō made three elaborate moves before sliding the sheathed sword into her belt then turned to face Kelly and bowed low. “Welcome home, master,” Shadō said. “How may I serve?”

Kelly shook her head. “You are not my servant,” she said firmly. “We are equals.”

The Inugami looked up, her eyes betraying her emotion. “In the world of the onmyōji order and balance must be maintained even within the chaos of magic: student and teacher, servant and master. Without order, we surrender to complete chaos and in chaos there is only destruction. I am no longer hidden and my presence is felt in worlds seen and unseen. We will have visitors and some will come to challenge.”

Kelly swallowed and placed her backpack on the dining table next to the ancient book of the Daoist sorcerers. It lay open to the page describing the paces of Yu, a shamanic dance that traced the nine stars of the Big Dipper to capture its supernatural strength.

“The world has changed, Shadō,” Kelly said. “The onmyōji belong to the past. They must stay there.”

Shadō sighed with obvious consternation. “You see an Inugami before you. You are aware of the presence of kitsune.” The Inugami came and knelt before Kelly. “The world has not changed. A part of it has simply been hidden and now it bursts forth. Soon you will see other marvels and some will not be friendly. You must prepare.”


Thursday, April 12, 2018

I'm Not In This For the Money (Or I'd Be Dead)

Yesterday I received a post from Facebook that told me my posts have so far been liked 73,000 times. I thought it a cute factoid until I realized that Zuckerberg is making a pretty penny off of me. With 648 Facebook friends and with my commitment to make my Facebook entertaining and light-hearted, with my audience enjoying my silliness and fascination with various subjects: writing, space flight, futurism, animation, gardening, etc. and when they (and maybe even you) pay my account a visit and click on an advertisement that strikes your fancy, Zuckerberg gets a penny or two.

Now I don't begrudge Zuckerberg his billions. I'm on Facebook with my eyes wide open and I know he is using me. It's okay because I'm using Zuckerberg.

I have a private account I run on behalf of the churches I pastor and Facebook is a great way for me to keep in contact with them and share important information. And on my personal Facebook account, I link to the blog you are reading now.

I will tell you honestly that what you are currently reading exists to entertain, promote my literary work, and in the process, make money for me. Not only do I promote my books that I hope people buy, but if you click on an ad here, I get anywhere from $.001 to $.01.

However, I think I better rethink my marketing plan. I started my blog on March 24th, 2015. So far, I have made a whopping $8.95 in ad revenue.

And the writing? Well, my wife tallied up our paperwork for taxes. Since my first published book (Opal Wine released on December 9th, 2013) in paperbacks I have made $28.04 in US dollars and £3.47 in English pounds. For ebooks, in the same period, I have made $46.28, a combined whopping total revenue of $79.25 for two years of writing.
(NOTE: I am not including revenue from magazines and publishing as payments are negligible and probably do not come to anything more than $250 since my first magazine acceptance way back in 1998.)
Thankfully, I still have a full-time job or I would be an authentic starving writer.

However, there are ways you can still help me and others as writers:
  1. Buy my books.
  2. LEAVE A REVIEW! These are gold. I can't tell you how important they are.
Nonetheless, I will continue to write even if I can't make millions. I'm driven to tell my stories.


Current Works in Progress

I'm working on two projects at the same time. Probably not a good idea, but at least I'm writing in the midst of the busyness of my life.

The main project is Incident at a Japanese Inn with a current word count of 1,500 words. You can read an excerpt here and here. Incident at a Japanese Inn is my third and final part of my braided novel, The Shrine War.

The secondary project is an untitled fantasy and you can read the intro here. Currently at 3,500 words, it answers the question as to what you should do if you discover the guide/bodyguard you hired is a mythical, homicidal creature. This one is a few steps away from the usual fare that I write as it contains a lot more violence (though not graphic). The point of view is in first person, a view I find a challenge to write in as it creates an unreliable narrator who cannot read minds and must explain everything from their own biased and sometimes inaccurate point of view. With other plot lines and tropes unique to my writing style, the entire story is a test of my capabilities as an author.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Hunting Kitsune in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Last night I took my wife, Cherie, and my middle son, Christopher, to a new ramen and sushi bar that opened up only 10 miles away from my home (at least new to me). Kazue Ramen & Sushi Bar is part of the Majestic Theater complex in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Appealing mostly to the Gettysburg College crowd, for awhile my wife and I were the oldest people in the bar. The restaurant was packed, but the atmosphere was friendly and not overly loud. 

For an appetizer we ordered a Philadelphia roll (smoked salmon with cottage cheese and cucumber) while we awaited our ramen bowls.

The food was excellent. No complaints. According to the reviews I read, the more people in the place means a longer wait for service, but if you avoid the 6 pm crowd, service is reasonable.

And when I say the food was excellent, I mean the food was very good and came in a large bowl that was more than we could eat. If you walk away from Kazue still hungry, you have only yourself to blame.

Now when it comes to restaurants that feature cuisine from the Far East, I am a strict judge, not only of the quality of the food but also the quality of the atmosphere. When I eat at a Japanese or Chinese restaurant, I insist on the whole package. I selfishly demand magic and Kazue fulfilled that to a T: traditional cuisine served in a traditional manner surrounded by a tasteful traditional Japanese setting. One could almost imagine looking out the window onto a busy street in Tokyo.

So this is where the kitsune come in because if there are kitsune in Gettysburg, I know where they go to eat.

Kitsune are yōkai, fox-like creatures from Japanese mythology and the main subject of The Shrine War, my current literary work in progress. Their mythology is vast and complex and differs according to many factors. I myself am fascinated by the tales of kitsune and as I said, if there are any in Gettysburg, they are sure to visit Kazue.

Why? Well, a kitsune's favorite food is aburaage, thinly sliced tofu that is the principle ingredient of
Inarizushi, a pouch of aburaage filled with sushi rice and sometimes sesame seeds. Inarizushi is also known as Inari sushi, so let's take a look at a small part of the Kazue menu.

Ah, yes. There it is. Inari-sushi. Just what the kitsune ordered.

So here is my plan.

I shall someday travel to Kazue and order a double portion of Inari-sushi (fortunately, I find it delicious, but I assure you I am not kitsune...just a human being with discerning tastes).

At some point, mayhaps a pretty young thing will wander into the restaurant and will be drawn inexplicably to my table, suddenly drooling at the inarizushi that so artistically adorns my plate. There is a possibility that her infatuation with her favorite food may cause her to drop her illusion and for the first time in my life I will actually see a kitsune.

However, though a curmudgeonly potato of a man I am not a lecher. I will do nothing but offer her a portion of my inarizushi and let her slip back into the mysteries of the Gettysburg streets. To simply see a kitsune is enough for me, just another impossibility that may someday be crossed off my bucket list. 

Nonetheless, even if one does not appear, I still win. That leaves all the inarizushi for me.

If you ever get a chance to visit Gettysburg, please enjoy its historical importance as a site of a famous Civil War battle, but do yourself a huge favor and drop by 25 Carlisle Street. Just be aware Kazue is closed on Mondays and as they follow the college schedule, it is advisable you call first to confirm they are open. 

And on the way out, don't forget to treat yourself to the traditional bottled Japanese drinks on display. They are all delicious.

And if you order the inarizushi and a young lady with unusual movements that remind you of a fox tries to trick you out of your supper, take her picture and thank your lucky stars.  Fortune has certainly smiled on you.

You lucky devil.