Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Apple Lady: A Poem

One of my first poems. Based on a true incident.

All except the last stanza. At least, that is what I would like you to believe.



The Apple Lady

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The night echoed a choir of crickets
Accented by an aroma of earth.
The moon washed the old orchard clean of color.

He ignored my protests against the chill,
The night, this vigil among the trees.
"Do you believe in wonder?" he asked.

My lie came easily.
"I lack imagination."

"In my twelfth year, " he said,
"I saw her among the trees
Clothed in autumn leaves
Hair red as autumn apples;
Her eyes like autumn frost."

I shook with more than cold.
"We should be home
With beer and friends,
Forget childhood dreams
And childhood lovers."

I left him standing
In moonlight and leaves.

With the rising sun
We found him fused
Into the bark of an old apple tree,
Taken in a wooden embrace,
A gentle smile on his lips.

A Book Is Like A Garden

Researching Far East proverbs, I came across this gem and had to immortalize it.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Immortality of the Written Word

“Writing for immortality is not a good idea” ~ H.J. Jackson in her new book, Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame

Around my neck, I wear a Chinese coin on a leather thong, one that comes from final days of the Song Dynasty under Emperor Huizong. I can amuse myself for hours considering how the metal smith would react if he knew one of the coins he created would last for 900 years and end up hanging around the neck of another human being whose race, culture, language, and technology would leave him in a combination of terror and awe.

But then, it also makes me wonder how the authors of the past would react if they knew their books lasted well beyond their own lifetimes such as Plato, St. Augustine, H. P. Lovecraft, and others.

And that brings me to a book I just completed reading yesterday. Browsing in one of the most disorganized used book stores I have ever encountered, I came across an old beat up paperback with the title, The Mark of Pak San Ri written by one William Stroup. Because of my love for Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels, I took a chance and purchased the paperback  expecting it to be a cheap knockoff. In fact, the author makes bold mention of the fictional character of Fu Manchu in the story.

It's not the best book I have ever read, basically a very formulaic pulp. Richard Quinn is an ex-G.I. living in postwar Seoul in South Korea when he witnesses a murder. The rest of the book is his attempt to solve the mystery behind the crime as he tries to keep one step ahead of of Pak San Ri's assassins that appear to be about 50% of the entire population of Seoul. The events of the story follow a precise formula:
  1. Quinn ignores good advice to stay out of trouble.
  2. He gets into a fight with the Korean crime lord's minions.
  3. He gets knocked out.
  4. He comes to, facing certain death.
  5. Quinn is rescued at the last moment by his friends or the U.S. military who are looking for him or just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
  6. Repeat this four more times.
A typical pulp story, there is a lot of violence and sex and Quinn gets knocked out so many times in the story, you wonder how he survives without a terminal concussion. He also gets branded with a hot iron, kicked, beaten, and even takes two bullets just because he can, but like a good Timex watch, he takes a beating and keeps on ticking.

But it's a fun read if you can get beyond the pulp tropes and the illogic of it all.

SPOILER ALERT!

I will give kudos to the author for revealing that Pak San Ri is one of the most beautiful women in all of Korea. I didn't see that one coming. (Hold down your right mouse button down and skim it over the darkened part to read the concealed spoiler.)
 
However, the point of this essay is not about bad writing, but the author William Stroup. I wanted to see what else he had written and that sent me into the dusty corners of the Internet to discover there is very little to discover about the man. From what little I can gather, William Stroup was born around 1903 and passed away sometime near 1966. It appears The Mark of Pak San Ri is the only work he ever wrote and only one of the seventeen paperbacks published by the short-lived Book Company of America (Beverley Hills, California). Stroup lived in Hermosa Beach, California, but it is not known for how long. Because of the novel's intimate references to army life as well as Korea, I assume Stroup served in the Korean Conflict while in the army. However, if the birthdate is correct, he would have been in Korea during his early 50s. A search of military archives reveal nobody named William Stroup.

So the gentleman disappears in the mists of time, his sole novel being his own literary immortality.

I do not write for immortality. I write solely to entertain, but I confess that it amuses me to think that maybe someday, some decades in the future, some blogger may comment on one of the novels or collections he or she discovered while traversing the dusty, narrow aisles of some disorganized used book store.

Time will tell.




Monday, August 28, 2017

Fifteen Super Short Stories



Many years ago when Livejournal was the Facebook of the day, a meme made the rounds of people asking others to recall when they first met. Well, let's just say I have a wild imagination. Enjoy.

+*+*+

In late October, 1918, shot down just five miles behind the German lines, DeBray and I hid in the burned out remains of an old manor outside the deserted village of Château de Chambord. Our self-imposed imprisonment was relieved by a well-stocked wine cellar and a deck of cards with the 8 of Hearts missing.

For weeks we regaled ourselves with tales over bottles of Bordeaux from such vintages as Lafite Rothschild, La Conseillante and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Playing poker, DeBray ended up owning all of France.

Weeks later, desperate to rejoin our unit, we drank the last, cast fate to the wind, and ran into the night in a mad attempt to breach the lines from behind.

The next morning we found ourselves near frozen in a potato field, our heads pounding.

A farmer told us the war had been over for weeks.

+*+*+

"Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law states ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’" Stoker waved his hands like an orchestra conductor and created a herd of snow-white unicorns out of whole cloth. "Let’s applaud cerebral implants."

Another wave and gryphons joined the dance.

"I just can’t seem to be able to do that," I complained. I waved my hand and a dyspeptic unicorn smelling of old fish appeared and promptly melted into a greasy puddle. "What am I doing wrong?"

Stoker snapped his fingers and the puddle congealed into a pretty fairy who soared away on streaming wings trailing ginger and violet. "How are you building them?" he asked.

"Just like you. One molecule at a time."

"Ah!" he said with a nod. "There’s your problem. Your building blocks are too large. Start with smaller particles."

"Particles?" I asked. "What particles?"

"Elementary, my dear Loewen. Elementary."

+*+*+

I journeyed to Saint Kitts hoping the Caribbean sun would burn away my ennui. My paints had dried in my mind; my soul remained a blank canvas.

I heard her where she sang to herself in the front door of a little beach shanty. “My name is Tracy.”

She showed me mysteries in the tide pools and the sea caves. We explored the vendor stalls and I bought her a straw hat. We fed the pigeons in front of Saint Martin’s. She taught me how to drink Margaritas and how to laugh once again.

That night on my easel, I painted wild arabesques of color, pirouettes of pastels. Inspired fantasies flowed in watercolor.

The next morning, the beach stood empty, no trace of the shanty or its muse.

My watercolors are now famous, my best capturing her features with brightly-colored pigments mixed with my tears.

+*+*+

He sat in my counseling chair like it was a throne. “Humanity has grown weak,” he said grimly. “We gave them their chance, but they squandered their stewardship for bread and circuses. Now it is time for our return until humanity learns its responsibilities anew.”

I nodded and wrote “Delusional” on my notepad.

He stood and I cried out in surprise and awe as his eyes changed from human to the large orange slitted orbs of a tiger.

The receptionist burst into the room. “Dr. Loewen!” she asked, “What happened?”

I sat staring at an empty chair. “The old gods have awakened,” I whispered.

+*+*+

“My problem,” Razz said, reaching for her sketch pad and pencil, “is that I have too powerful an imagination.”

To demonstrate, she drew a butterfly that suddenly shimmered and flew off the page. I watched it flutter about my counseling office.

Razz shook her head in despair. “My apartment is filled with bats, unicorns, fairies, cartoon characters; all of them about the size of an eight by eleven inch sheet of paper.”

I meditated for a moment and then wrote out my prescription. Razz read it and smiled.

The next day, she returned grinning. “I never thought of drawing Aladdin’s lamp,“ she said. “I used my last two wishes to solve my problem.”

I twitched my nose. “Let me guess. Because you doubted his powers, you wasted your first wish on turning me into a giant green rabbit?”

“Bingo!” she said.

+*+*+
I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was tea time in Bejing and we had sat down for a quiet time of refreshment at Madame Chin's when the Tongs attacked.

I never knew you were so adept at self-defense with nothing but a pair of chopsticks.

Five minutes later, you rejoined me at our table, flicked somebody's spleen off the tablecloth and resumed your tea as if nothing had ever happened.

"Where ..." I gasped, "Where did you learn such martial arts?!?!"

You simply smiled at me over your cup of steaming Jasmine tea. "I see you never ate lunch at the Fullerton College cafeteria."

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

When the Amazon Women from Mars invaded, Earth was thrown into total turmoil.

Fleeing the rubble of what was left of San Francisco, I found you walking among the wreckage.

"Those alien women are coming!" I cried. "We need to hide!"

You just smiled as you pulled out your ray gun. "Sorry, old chap, but I was one of the advance spies. Mars needs men."

Mars has such a pretty pink sky.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

There she stood on the balcony overlooking the lawn and you pushed me out into the moonlight where she could see me.

"Call her name," you said.

"E-e-e-s-Esmerelda!" I called, my voice shaking.

In the shadows you told me the words of love to woo her and I followed your advice and then and there she pled me her vows of true love.

"I'll be right down!" she cried gaily. I almost wept for joy.

She ran out into the dewy lawn and the moonlight and I reached out to hold her in my arms. Suddenly she saw me and with a cry of despair, she stopped and suddenly began to weep. "I thought you were Alexander!" she wailed.

I was the best man at your wedding.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

"Stay behind me," you yelled as we stormed the beach.

Bullets knit a tattoo of death around us, and though other men's lives were forfeit that bloody day, we made it to the first line of dunes.

"There's a pillbox just over this hill," you said. "Wait here until you hear the grenade go off," You grinned at me like it was a picnic outing.

Far over head, ack ack guns burst in colors of black and gray as Allied bombers flew deeper into enemy territory to deliver the death they carried in their wombs.

You rolled over the dune and I heard an explosion, but little did I know it wasn't the grenade you had yet to throw.

With a war cry, I stood to run over the dune and took a round in the gut.

When I came too, you were standing over me putting away the suture kit back into the med bag. "I had to jury rig you back together, but you'll be okay."

To this day, I still taste steel canteen when I belch, but you saved my life. I don't think I've ever thanked you.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The undead had holed us up in an old Domino's Pizzeria. I and the three others were a screaming, lunatic mess, but you kept the rest of the survivors calm by finding what was left of the store's supplies and jury rigging some pepperoni pizza for morale as well as strength.

It was that evening when Dave carelessly showed himself in front of the big glass window.

Next thing we know, ravenous zombies had broken through and it was every man for himself. You stood on the counter and dealt final death to the undead with the biggest pizza cutter I had ever seen.

You got away. The rest of us didn't and I hope you still have the pizza cutter 'cause I'm coming for you and I'm getting really tired of eating nothing but brains and watching pieces of me slowly fall off.

+*+*+

You were cool, calm, and collected in your three piece silk suit. I sweated and twitched and looked like I had crawled out of a Salvation Army bin.

You were an old hand at the spy business. This was first outing.

She was slim and blonde and her legs went all the way to the ground and she wore a red dress that fit like it was her skin.

You swept her off her feet. I sweated and twitched and hiccuped.

When she betrayed us later than night, you smooth talked your way into having her release you from your bonds. She cried and kissed you, provided the keys and you swept her away to Istanbul where she now works as your new sidekick.

It seems you forgot your old sidekick. The bomb went off and now half my body is now metal and plastic.

I'm now the new Mr. Big and the world's #1 Bad Guy and when you and your new partner come to take me out, you'll find that all my sidekicks are ugly old men you won't be able to sweep off their feet.

I would write more, but it's 10 o'clock and I have to go oil myself.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The clues given to us by that dying Mountain Shuar Indian had led us to the greatest treasure trove of all. The hidden gold of the Incan leader, Rhumunauhui.

We stood inside the ancient Incan temple and, because of my ignorance, I needed you to read the ancient pictographs on the wall.

"Yes," you said. "The treasure is behind this door. You open it and I'll nip outside to fetch more flashlight batteries.

The treasure was there just as you read, but you got the gold and I got the curse.

You now live in regal splendor, but I'm just a pile of amorphous slime and if it takes me all night, I'm going to ooze through that front door keyhole.

I'll see you in the morning.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had watched you walk past my place of business for weeks and one day I had to test my fortune.

You came strolling up the sidewalk and I knelt in front of you holding out a bouquet of true black roses and a box of bon bons made by Belgium chocolatiers from rich cream from virgin cows as I professed my undying devotion.

You looked at me with a withering glance bordering on pity. "You, sir, are beneath my station."

Today I drown my sorrows in absinthe, but I bear with pride the marks your stiletto heels made when you walked over me

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

The Tyson Mansion was the Mount Everest of haunted houses and nobody had ever explored its arcane mysteries without going completely mad or failing to survive the night's adventures.

At two in the morning the apparition appeared, a grisly horror from a madman's worst nightmare.

In my panic, I dumped my attache case and threw everything I had at it: holy water, onions, crucifixes, sacred symbols, wolfsbane ...

Unaffected, it glared at me with malevolent evil.

You casually walked up to the monstrosity, looked it straight in the eye, and said, "I don't believe in you."

It vanished in a puff of skepticism.

+*+*+

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Of all the coffeehouses in all the forgotten corners of the world, you had to walk into mine.

Carlton at the piano played The Lady of Shallott in E minor. You stood elegant in a little off-the-shoulders number wearing a perfume that blended the best of jasmine and cinnamon and cardamon.

I treated you to a Coffee Cream Chantilly, my house specialty and we spent the night sampling arcane coffees from across the world.

In the morning, you excused yourself to powder your nose and when a half hour returned I realized you weren't coming back, especially when I noticed that you had so entranced me you had taken my wallet, my watch, my rings, my Saint Brendan medal, and my truss. You were good!

Keep it all. It's a small price to pay for the pleasure of your company, but please return my heart.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Wolf Hunter: A Short Story

What happens when you combine Norse mythology with Japanese manga? I'll let you decide.




Wolf Hunter
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


My name is Vidar, the son of Odin.

You do not remember Ragnarok, the final battle between the Æsir, the gods of old, and the Jötnar, the forces of chaos. I remember it well.

I saw the cosmos destroyed and reborn and so very few survived. Then the Fates decreed the new world arising from the ashes would never remember the old. They changed the memory of mortals, even in dreams, so no evidence existed of the glory of Asgard except as tales for children.

Yes, I remember Ragnarok when god and giant slew and slew and the killing ended because there were no more to kill. The only survivors were myself, my brother, Váli, and Magni and Modi, the sons of Thor.

We had given ourselves up to the Fates, to let the Norns play out their cruel hand, but we have not died. We have watched the eons flow by us like water and, to our surprise and delight, Mjolnir, Baldr, and his brother Höd have been reborn. As Asgard now lies in uninhabitable ruin, the reborn have joined us in Idavoll.

Hod still stands gifted with prophecy and, some moons ago, he cast the wooden slips. They revealed to us that, as we have returned, the monsters will also someday return: Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, and the giants, Surtr and Garmr. And the divination has also revealed the ultimate cruelty of the Norns. Fenris the Wolf has already risen from Hel to walk Midgard once again.

At Ragnarok, I saw Fenris kill my father, Odin. In my grief and fury, I tore the wolf's jaws apart. Hod told me that Fenris was reborn in a far away land called Japan, so taking the guise of a mortal, I walked Midgard determined to kill the demon again.

This new land was strange. The people, the customs and their gods were peculiar and I tried my best to walk unseen. Yet, I delighted to discover the people in this island nation have an understanding of honor that I treasure.

Hod's prophecy and my oath led me like a beacon. In my inner self, I could sense Fenris lurking in this place. I could smell him. Having already killed him once; I was eager for the opportunity to kill him again.

Finally, in a busy city the people call Tokyo, my senses told me to sit in a park and wait. Taking my place on a bench I ignored the people walking by keeping my eyes on the park entrance where I knew Fenris would appear.

The moment I sensed him near, the old grief and rage drove me to my feet, but then I stopped in disgust and dismay.

A group of silly young girls had entered the park, giggling and laughing and blocking my view of the monster surely behind them. Yet, I could feel the demon wolf's presence as you mortals feel the hot summer sun on your skin.

It was when the Japanese school girls reached me, I realized the beast was in their midst. I clenched my fists and searched the group for it, but when it met my eyes, I froze in surprise.

And then I laughed. For the first time since I buried Father Odin so many millennia ago, I roared in my sudden knowledge that the Fates can be capricious to those who are evil as well as those who stand on the side of honor.

The dark eyes of a young school girl met mine filled with surprise at my outburst, passed over me in ignorance, and I watched her continue on her way.

I will not kill a child, no matter what her soul may have been in eons past. Maybe someday when she reaches adulthood, she may remember what she is, and if that happens, I will be ready.

Until then, I drink mead in Idavoll and I and my brother gods toast the Fates who we now know have a sense of black humor to temper the horror they weave of our lives.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Meet My Inugami


Courtesy of Hero Forge Custom Miniatures, I designed a 3-D image of my Inugami based on my description in The Shrine War and its sequel, The Inugami.

Depending on size and quality, I can purchase an unpainted figurine from $19.00 all the way to $219.00.

If you're a gamer, you can waste a lot of time at this website designing and playing about, but it sure is fun.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Is It A "Poisoner’s Cabinet" Or A Home Medicine Chest?

Imagine if you will that, having won the lottery, I used the monies to open a little museum of morbid curiosities. Allow me to show you the first exhibit:


This is quaintly known as a "poisoner’s cabinet" and when a German auction house made it available for bidding it was described as follows:
“A Hollow Book Used As A Secret Poison Cabinet. Historism, 17th-century style. With original, finely embossed parchment cover. Intact book clasps, the pages glued to a solid piece with a central rectangular cavity. The inside finely worked, providing eleven drawers of various sizes and one open compartment. The front of the drawers covered with colored paper and fitted with flame-carved frames, the knobs of silver and ebonized wood. Handwritten paper labels with the Latin names of different poisonous plants (among them castor-oil plant, thorn apple, deadly nightshade, valerian, etc.). Incl. greenish bottle bearing the label “Statutum est hominibus semel mori” (“It is a fact that man must die one day”). Glued to the inside of the cover an old etching of a standing skeleton bearing the date “1682”. Size of the book 36 x 23 x 12 cm [14.2 x 9 x 4.7 inches]. Elaborately worked Kunstkammer [cabinet of curiosities] object with strong reference to the memento mori [a reminder or warning of death] theme.” (Bookaddictuk, 2014) 
However, it may not have been all that it was advertised. The eleven cabinets were marked with names of herbs that were certainly poisonous, but they were also herbs used for medicinal purposes. The listed herbs are:
  1. Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane) 
  2. Papaver somniferum (Opium Poppy)
  3. Aconitum napellus (Monk’s Blood, aka Wolfsbane)
  4. Cicuta virosa (Cowbane, aka Water Hemlock)
  5. Bryonia alba (Devil’s Turnip, aka Mandrake) 
  6. Datura stramonium (Jimson Weed, aka Devil’s Snare)
  7. Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)
  8. Daphne mezereum (Spurge Laurel)
  9. Ricinus communis (Castor Oil Plant)
  10. Colchicum autumnale (Meadow Saffron, aka Naked Lady)
  11. Atropa bella (Deadly Nightshade aka Belladonna) 
Aside from the Valerian, all of them are considered deadly, but in minute doses, they served as important medicines for serious illnesses.

So what do you think? A tool for the professional assassin or a convenient way to keep one's medicine cabinet close at hand?

(Note: Most information on this intriguing find was taken from this article.)







Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Road Trip - Day 344

I found this vignette by accident with some old computer files.

Some literary attempts were meant to be lost forever, but I was never that smart...



My Road Trip - Day 344
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



It's Day 344 of the road trip searching for Stauros, my long-lost twin brother who had been kidnapped at a young age by Amish gypsies. I had heard a rumor he was making a comeback on the Amish Rake Fighting Circuit and Pinto and I were heading out to Cleveland where we heard we could get into the secret Amish games if we dressed in suspenders and wore black hats.

Now, however, Pinto and I sat facing each other across a booth in some seedy greasy spoon named Joe's Armpit and I'm on my fifth bottle of vanilla flavoring.

"Well, Pinto," I said, "Ol' buddy, ol' chum, we just might be at the end of this quest." I downed the rest of the bottle and motioned for the waitress. As usual, Pinto, being the silent type, just sat in the booth across from me and stared at me stupidly. He was a man of few words, but had an overpowering presence, normally, because in the 344 days we had been together, I had never seen him once shower or shave.

The waitress came over. "Hey," she said. "I need to know if you're driving. You're hitting this vanilla pretty hard."

"Not to worry, pretty lady," I slurred. "My friend's driving."

She gave Pinto the once over. "Sir, you do realize your friend is a sheep?"

I reeled back in sudden anger. "Lady, I'll have you know Pinto and I have fought side by side against octogenarian Harley-Davidson riders and shared the same bunk in Baghdad! He ain't no coward."

The waitress rolled her eyes. "I didn't say he was a coward. He's a sheep. A Merlino. A woolly quadruped. Technically a ewe."

I pointed at Pinto and laughed. "Hey, Pinto! This pretty lady's got all metaphysical on me. She says I'm you!"

At that, Pinto rolled out of the booth and wandered away on all fours. I never saw him again.

The angst hit like a ton of bricks. "Well then just walk away!" I blearily screamed at his receding woolly backside. "Go ahead! Just ... walk away or ... trot or ... or whatever."

I burst into tears. "Ya think ya know a guy," I wept to the waitress. "You share everything, your toothbrush, your eyeliner, and then your best friend turns out to be a sheep and he leaves ya in some dive!"

The waitress looked at me, pity in her eyes. "Here," she said putting a bottle of vanilla flavoring in front of me. "This one's on the house, but you should know we only serve imitation here. There's not a drop of alcohol in it."

She turned and walked away.

I wrapped my fingers around the bottle, my knuckles whitening in my fury and determination. I was going on to Cleveland. I was going to find my long-lost twin brother.

Suddenly, the front door burst open and about twenty beautiful women somersaulted into the diner. They parted and another woman walked through their midst, her sequined cheerleading outfit blazing so brightly I had to squint against the glare.

"We are the Victoria's Secret Cheerleading Squad," she announced loudly, "and we're here to take a hostage!"

Every man's hand shot up and the diner was filled with cries of "Take me! I'm available!," but the pretty lady was having none of it. She saw me in my booth and pointed. "You!"

A blow from a pompom sent me into darkness.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Just a Reminder About Reviews and What I Can Do For You


Writing in relationship with today's Internet has brought about significant changes in the relationship between writers and readers. Though I make no bones about writing solely to entertain my readers, I would love to garner a larger audience as well as income from my writing.

 Please consider the following:
  • For any independent author a review is pure gold. The more 3 or 4-star reviews, the better. Five stars should be rare, kept for works of literature that have changed your life or outlook. If you have read any of my works, please post the review on Amazon and Goodreads. Please.
  • Are you involved in a family friendly non-profit or club like a church, library, literary group, women's group, writers group or anything similar? I'm a professional speaker and former radio personality and stage actor (and former stage magician). I know how to speak in public. I can do book readings, storytelling, or lectures on writing memoirs or self-publishing.
  •  I would love to speak at your convention or similar activity. I've spoken at many conventions in the past: Morphicon, Doxicon, Anthrocon, Capclave, and the Greater Philly Christian Writers Conference. And I once spoke at the Library of Congress!
  • Interview me for your blog! Linking to it from my own blog and other social media, I can increase your traffic flow.
Feel free to contact me at magic.by.alan@gmail.com and let's work out the details.