Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Seven Sisters: My Children's Novella

Several years ago I wrote a children's novella inspired by a 1984 TV show. The first episode from the Canadian animation company, Nelvana, was terrific, but unfortunately, Hasbro, that owned the copyright, decided the rest of the show should be written and animated by a company that came much more cheaply.

The result was inconsistent animation such as characters not only changing colors between scenes but also voices. Beloved characters would be permanently removed from the storyline when Hasbro wanted to sell new toys in the line.

So, I thought to myself, how would I write a cartoon series if I was more interested in storytelling than selling product?

The result was The Seven Sisters, a fairy tale about seven young girls transformed into ponies by a vengeful witch and then sealed away by a merciful wizard who granted them amnesia so they would not remember they were once human.

And then time passed waiting for somebody who would undertake the quest to turn them back into humans.

It took me over a year to write the novella, and it was accepted by a publisher who immediately went belly up. I then sat on the book for years and was about to self publish when My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was released. Even though my book was radically different in tone, plot, setting, and characters, I didn't want people thinking it was only a My Little Pony fanfic, so I sat on the book some more until 2014 when I decided to self publish it anyway.

I also commissioned pictures for the book, and I found the perfect illustrator in Jordan Peacock whose fantasy unicorn illustrations have always delighted me. I was not disappointed at all. Here are two of my favorites:



You can buy your own copy at almost any online bookstore, Amazon being the most prominent. All I ask is that if you enjoy the book or have enjoyed The Seven Sisters in the past, a review is gold and will help me share it with many others. Thanks!





Thursday, April 25, 2019

Rat Hunt Segment

I should be working on Incident in a Japanese Inn, but I'm on vacation and decided to instead write another segment of Rat Hunt.

The following is to be considered a rough draft. You can read the first excerpt here.


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The prison bus pulled up in front of a nondescript stone house somewhere in Manhattan. Aside from the bus driver and a prison guard, Conrad sat alone, his hands cuffed. He had no idea where he was, and he had learned after three years into a lengthy prison sentence not to waste time with questions. Answers, at least the ones you needed, were seldom forthcoming.

The guard said nothing but opened the gate that separated the driver and his escort from the prisoners and motioned toward the open bus door. Conrad stood up and made his way up the narrow aisle. For a moment he considered a possible escape scenario. Conrad couldn’t help it. The thoughts had become second nature, but his hands were cuffed, and he wouldn’t be able to run any distance without being shot down in the street.

Conrad stepped down off the bus steps, and the guard took him by the arm, steering Conrad toward the door of the house.

Inside, the entryway was bare. The guard steered Conrad away from stairs that went to the second floor toward a set of double doors. 

The guard knocked and opened the door without hesitation.

An elderly gray-haired woman sat at a plain table with a empty chair facing her. A large mirror adorned the one wall.

“Remove his cuffs and wait outside,” the woman said. The guard nodded, unlocked the cuffs on Conrad’s hands and stepped outside the room closing the door behind him.

“Sit,” the woman said, motioning to the chair across the table. She opened up a manila folder and studied the papers inside. “Conrad Gavin,” she read. “Currently serving the third year of a thirty-year sentence as a guest in Sing Sing. Previous employment, an enforcer for an organized crime family.”

Conrad sat and said nothing. 

The woman closed the folder. “How would you like to have that sentence reduced to ten years?”

Conrad paused for a moment trying to read the woman’s body language. “I’m listening.”

The woman sat back in her chair. “Of course, there’s a catch. You have to go through a lot of testing first to make sure you’re completely suitable to the task at hand, but you fit what we’re looking for: single, no family, military experience, a good business ethic.” She tapped the folder with her fingertips. “Even if you were working the opposite side of the law.”

“You are implying you want a job done. What’s the job?”

The woman smiled, and Conrad saw no mirth in it. “Let’s say we want you to be a security guard. An honest day’s work for room and board, a small retirement account, and you get to walk in seven years.”

“What’s the catch?”

“Let’s just say there’s some risk involved. You in?”

Again Conrad paused deliberately showing no emotion on his face.

“I don’t kill people,” he said. “I was an enforcer, not a hitman. My job was to frighten people into doing something or stop doing something.”

“We would never ask you to kill another human being,” the woman said.

“Then seeing that in thirty years I’m in my 60s with a good chunk of my life gone, I’ll take your offer.”

The woman nodded. “Smart move. We start the testing right away.”



The next three days consisted of lots of psychological tests. Conrad had his own personal room where his meals were served. The door was locked at night. 

The doctors spoke to Conrad with no emotion, performing their tests impassively as if they were robots.

On the morning of the fourth day, Conrad was led back to the room where he had first met the woman. A doctor sat there with a blanket covered box at his feet. 

“Please sit,” the doctor said.

Reaching down, the doctor put the cage on the table and removed the blanket. Inside the cage, a large gray rat hissed and growled.

The doctor observed Conrad carefully. “Ever seen a rat before?” he asked.

Conrad laughed. “I’ve lived in New York all my life. Rats are the only wildlife the city has. Well ... rats and pigeons.”

“Ever kill a rat?”

Conrad shrugged. “A couple. Ones that got in my house.”

The doctor nodded. “Are you afraid of rats?’

Conrad shook his head. “No rat has threatened my life so many times I’ve lost count. No rat has ever told me in detail what they were going to do with my body after they had killed me.” He gestured toward the cage and its occupant. “This little guy is no threat to me.”

“But if it attacked you?”

“Can’t outrun a rat. You kill it.”

The doctor opened up his suit jacket and took out a small electronic tablet. He tapped on the screen and then held it out to Conrad. “What about this rat?”

Conrad watched the video that had already begun playing. He felt a growing wave of horror.

The video showed a man in a doctor’s lab coat standing over a large table dissecting a body. The body was a huge rat, quite dead, longer than the table, it’s misshapen, clawed feet hung over the end of the table.

In the video, the doctor pried open the creature’s jaws to reveal its front incisors, a good two or three inches long. The doctor then lifted a brown-furred paw for the camera showing three-inch long claws at the end of each finger. The doctor waved to his right. The camera panned over to show another one of the rat corpses placed in a standing position. The monster stood on two feet and towered over the man in the video.

“What is this?” Conrad whispered.

“That,” the doctor said, “is Rattus erectus. Hundreds, most likely thousands, of them live under New York. They attack in swarms. We want you to join a group of select people who wage war against these monsters and keep them underground.”

Conrad stared at the doctor in silence.

“Take a day to think about it,” the doctor said. “If you agree you’ll discover we have some interesting tools at your disposal. If you say no, you go back to your prison cell. We know you won’t be telling anybody about this. You have neither friends or family to talk to anyway. And if you did say something, nobody would believe you.”

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

Lester Dent
What follows is the writing formula designed by Lester Dent (1904 – 1959), an American pulp-fiction author, best known as the creator and main author of the series of novels about the scientist and adventurer Doc Savage, consisting of 159 novels written over 16 years under the name Kenneth Robeson.

The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words.

No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell.

The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Here's how it starts:

1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO

One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary. 

Scribes who have their villain's victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag.

Probably it won't do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.

Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure--thing that villain wants--makes it simpler, and it's also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you've lived or worked. So many pulpateers don't. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here's a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled "Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned," or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, "What's the matter?" He looks in the book and finds, "El khabar, eyh?" To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it's perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it's a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

Here's the second installment of the master plot. 

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:

FIRST 1500 WORDS

1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.
2--The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4--Hero's endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
5--Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE? 
Is there a MENACE to the hero?
Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise's tail, if nothing better comes to mind. They're not real. The rings are painted there. Why?

SECOND 1500 WORDS

1--Shovel more grief onto the hero.
2--Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
3--Another physical conflict.
4--A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE?
Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud?
Is the hero getting it in the neck?
Is the second part logical?

DON'T TELL ABOUT IT***Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader--show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of  inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts. One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until--surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery.

Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader's mind. TAG HIM. 

BUILD YOUR PLOTS SO THAT ACTION CAN BE CONTINUOUS.

THIRD 1500 WORDS

1--Shovel the grief onto the hero.
2--Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
3--A physical conflict.
4--A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE?
The MENACE getting blacker?
The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix?
It all happens logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once.

The idea is to avoid monotony.

ACTION:
Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.

ATMOSPHERE:
Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.

DESCRIPTION:
Trees, wind, scenery and water.

THE SECRET OF ALL WRITING IS TO MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT.

FOURTH 1500 WORDS

1--Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
2--Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
3--The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
4--The mysteries remaining--one big one held over to this point will help grip interest--are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
5--Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the "Treasure" be a dud, etc.)
6--The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line?
The MENACE held out to the last?
Everything been explained?
It all happen logically?
Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING?
Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

Friday, April 12, 2019

The House: An Excerpt

As I have written before, dreams turned into literary works are usually the most boring pieces of fiction a person can read. Therefore, I use my nightly wanderings to inspire my writing, not dictate it. The subjective archetypes and symbols of a private dream world must be made universal to be understood. 

So here's a little something for your amusement, an adaption of a dream escapade I had that may turn into something bigger. Maybe.


The House
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

"This house ain't haunted," the woman said. "It's possessed!"

She stood on the front porch of my new home, and I had no idea what to say. I knew two days after I moved in that the house had something wrong with it, but I had no desire to talk to a stranger about it — especially one wearing a housecoat and smelling of age and old cigarettes.

"Uh," I managed to say. "Okay. Thanks."

She looked at me as if I had just told her the Easter Bunny wasn't real and with an incredulous shake of her head she turned and walked down my front steps. I watched her cross the road and disappear into the dilapidated house standing there. 

It took the lady five days after moving into my new home for her to introduce herself and that to give me some ominous Grade-B movie warning. It only confirmed that as an introvert, my reaching out to anybody in the neighborhood served as a good idea.

I shut the door and walked into the living room, sat back down on the couch and turned the volume back up on the television. 

I heard the footsteps start on the stairs again. They always began on the ground floor and went up to the second. After the first two days of moving in, I learned to ignore them. The stairs would be empty as they always were and I had no idea on how to make it stop. I had stood on the stairs for hours on the second day, but my invisible guest never made an appearance. I could only hear the footsteps when I occupied another room.

I also got used to waking up with every door of the house wide open as well as the muffled sounds of yelling from the basement. And no way was I going down there. I've seen too many movies. Anyway, other than the tour the real estate agent gave me, I've never been to the basement again, and since I own very little, there's nothing I need to store down there.

You have no idea of the hatred I have for basements.
You have no idea of the hatred I have for basements.

So, here I sit, shy, depressed, and wealthy enough from my online business I can even eat fast food twice a week as long as I have a coupon and can stick to the dollar menu.

I look at it this way. It leaves me alone, and I leave it alone. We can haunt the house together as far as I care.

Friday, March 22, 2019

What Started It All

My love for the macabre and the numinous was inspired by a number of books, movies, and television shows from my youth. Seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), my first film in a movie theater, when I was six years old and watching the famous Jonny Quest TV series when I was nine had a significant impact on my life and inspired my obsession with genre art. Yet, the greatest impact came when I was fourteen years old when I discovered an anthology in my junior high school library.

Great Tales Of Terror and the Supernatural was an anthology of 52 classic tales of horror and dark fantasy edited by Herbert Alvin Wise (1863-1961): a Wall Street broker and patron of the arts, and Phyllis Cerf Wagner (1916-2006): a writer, actress, and socialite. 

First published in 1944, when I signed the anthology out of the library in 1969, I had little knowledge of the impact the collection would have on my life, especially the two tales that came at the end of the book.

Out of all the classics available to my fingertips, The Rats in the Walls and The Dunwich Horror, by H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were the ones that set my imagination on fire. In fact, of all the stories in the book, it was the latter that truly frightened me as I read of Dr. Henry Armitage desperately trying to stop a colossal, invisible monstrosity as it ravaged the backwoods of Massachusetts. I actually had nightmares.

Since then I have read everything the Old Gentleman From Providence has written as well as made two pilgrimages to his grave at Swan Point Cemetery. Since then I have crafted my own tales of terror, but none have ever come to the quality and impact of Lovecraft’s imagination. Nonetheless, if I ever become famous for my writings, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before me.

Here is a list of the 52 stories present in the collection. The entire book is a free and legal download available at this link.
  1. La Grande Bretêche, by Honoré de Balzac (trans. of La Grande Bretèche 1832)
  2. The Black Cat (1843), by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845), by Edgar Allan Poe
  4. A Terribly Strange Bed (1852), by Wilkie Collins
  5. The Boarded Window (1889), by Ambrose Bierce
  6. The Three Strangers (1883), by Thomas Hardy
  7. The Interruption (1925), by W. W. Jacobs
  8. Pollock and the Porroh Man (1895), by H. G. Wells
  9. The Sea Raiders (1896), by H. G. Wells 
  10. Sredni Vashtar (1910), by Saki
  11. Moonlight Sonata (1931), by Alexander Woollcott
  12. Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1932), by Conrad Aiken
  13. Suspicion (1933), by Dorothy L. Sayers
  14. The Most Dangerous Game (1924), by Richard Edward Connell [as by Richard Connell]
  15. Leiningen Versus the Ants (1938), by Carl Stephenson (trans. of Leiningens Kampf mit den Ameisen 1937)
  16. The Gentleman from America (1924), by Michael Arlen
  17. A Rose for Emily (1930), by William Faulkner
  18. The Killers (1927), by Ernest Hemingway
  19. Back for Christmas (1939), by John Collier
  20. Taboo (1939), by Geoffrey Household
  21. The Haunters and the Haunted: or, The House and the Brain (1859), by Edward Bulwer-Lytton 
  22. Rappaccini's Daughter (1844), by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  23. The Trial for Murder (1865), by Charles Dickens (a variant of To Be Taken with a Grain of Salt)
  24. Green Tea (1869), by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
  25. What Was It? (1859), by Fitz-James O'Brien
  26. Sir Edmund Orme (1891), by Henry James
  27. The Horla, or Modern Ghosts (1910), by Guy de Maupassant (trans. of Le Horla 1887)
  28. Was It a Dream? (1903), by Guy de Maupassant (trans. of La Morte 1887)
  29. The Screaming Skull (1908), by F. Marion Crawford
  30. The Furnished Room (1904), by O. Henry
  31. Casting the Runes (1911), by M. R. James
  32. Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad (1904), by M. R. James
  33. Afterward (1910), by Edith Wharton
  34. The Monkey's Paw (1902), by W. W. Jacobs
  35. The Great God Pan (1894), by Arthur Machen
  36. How Love Came to Professor Guildea (1897), by Robert Hichens
  37. The Return of Imray (1891), by Rudyard Kipling (variant of The Recrudescence of Imray)
  38. "They" (1904), by Rudyard Kipling
  39. Lukundoo (1907), by Edward Lucas White
  40. Caterpillars (1912), by E. F. Benson
  41. Mrs. Amworth (1922), by E. F. Benson
  42. Ancient Sorceries (1908), by Algernon Blackwood
  43. Confession (1921), by Algernon Blackwood and Wilfred Wilson
  44. The Open Window (1911), by Saki
  45. The Beckoning Fair One (1911), by Oliver Onions
  46. Out of the Deep (1923), by Walter de la Mare
  47. Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (1921), by A. E. Coppard
  48. The Celestial Omnibus (1908), by E. M. Forster
  49. The Ghost Ship (1912), by Richard Middleton 
  50. The Sailor-Boy's Tale (1942), by Karen Blixen aka Isak Dinesen
  51. The Rats in the Walls (1924), by H. P. Lovecraft
  52. The Dunwich Horror (1929), by H. P. Lovecraft

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Hunters Three: An Experimental Story


The Hunters Three
by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Ryan Laughman steered his Mazda CX-3 past the wrought iron gates and whistled in surprise when he saw the mansion. Trained in strategic thinking, he visually absorbed the scene and filed away his assessments. The building served as a beautiful example of the Gothic Revival, probably from the late-18th century. Built for its aesthetics and not practicality Ryan knew the owner would have money and lots of it. He also noticed two other cars parked near the entrance, a Jeep Renegade and a Lexus CT 200h. The former had to be driven by a man who enjoyed the outdoors, but the latter? Possibly a man or woman who had a practical need for speed.

He parked his car next to the others and ascended the steps. The door opened before he could ring the bell. "Mr. Laughman? Welcome to Dark Oak Manor. May I see your letter of introduction?"

Ryan reached into his front coat pocket and pulled out a letter typed on foolscap. "I believe this is what you wish?"

The butler gave it a cursory glance. "Thank you, sir. Would you kindly follow me? Dr. Lascaris will meet you and our other two guests in his library. Refreshment is available."

Ryan followed the servant into a hall of bright chestnut and mahogany, past a grandfather's clock of impressive antiquity to a set of pocket doors. Sliding them back, Ryan took in a vast library brimming with books. Two men stood at either side of the room pretending to ignore each other as they feigned interest in the various knick-knacks aesthetically littered about. Both men looked up when Ryan entered.

"And what may I get you in the arena of liquid refreshment, sir?" The butler asked. 

"Rum. Straight up. No ice," Ryan said.

As the butler turned to the small bar, Ryan took in the other two guests. The one stood tall and thin, the other man heavy set, but muscular. Ryan smiled.

"You, sir," he said to the thinner of the two, "drive the Jeep Renegade parked outside. I perceive that you are a hunter."

"You have the advantage over me," the man replied. "May I ask how you have deduced that?" 

Ryan pointed to the book in his hand. "You are holding an excellent copy of Theodore Roosevelt's The Wilderness Hunter that you found on the shelves. Probably 1st edition. From all the books available for your perusal here, the topic must be dear to you. You also are drinking Jagermeister, more from tradition than desire as the taste is horrendous and therefore acquired, yet still fancied among hunters. You also sport a tan showing an active outdoor life."

The man smiled. "Bravo, good sir. You are a regular Sherlock Holmes. What can you deduce about our companion?"

Ryan glanced at the man. "A man of disciplined action and we shall leave it at that." Ryan did not mention that the drink the man held remained untouched as if he was prepared for sudden action and wanting to be unhampered by the effects of alcohol. Also, he carried his left arm away from his body just a fraction of an inch more than his right, undoubtedly to make room for a sidearm in a three-piece shoulder holster.

The door opened, and an elderly man entered. "Gentlemen," he said. "Welcome." The man wore a dark blue velvet smoking jacket. His poise spoke of money and his face and voice, though friendly, conveyed an aura of authority. "As you know from your respective letters, I am your host, Dr. Beatus Lascaris." He turned to the butler. "Thank you, Silas. That will be all." With a barely perceptible nod, the butler excused himself from the room.

Dr. Lascaris turned back to his three guests. "As promised in your letters of invitation, you each will receive $5,000 in cash simply for coming and listening to my request. Yet if you stay, may I assure you much, much more in financial gain. Please be seated."

Ryan took a seat in an overstuffed leather chair while the thin, tall guest sat on the couch. The other guest remained standing.

"Have you introduced yourselves to each other? No? Then allow me the honor." He motioned to the man seated at the couch. "Allow me to introduce Mr. Riley Parks. Mr. Parks is best known for his skills in tracking an exotic type of prey and eliminating them from the earth."

Riley raised his glass. "And, retired, good sir. Though I have no idea why you called me here, it is unlikely you will be able to call me back into that particular service."

Lascaris smiled. "I think I can offer you a hunt that will be the crowning achievement of your career,  Mr. Parks, but more on that later."

He gestured toward Ryan. "Mr. Ryan Laughman," he said. "An interesting example of a self-taught strategist and a master of game theory. Presently you make a living for yourself playing game tournaments, board games that require a level of sophistication and professionalism not many other players can claim."

Ryan nodded in agreement.

"And finally, may I introduce Mr. Wesley Lowe, not," he paused in emphasis, "his real name. Let us say that Mr. Lowe recently lent his services to a worldwide cabal and he has since left their employment and now works as a free agent."

"An assassin," Ryan said quietly.

Lowe visibly tensed. "Best to say," he said, his calm voice belying his visible tension, "an assassin of assassins. I rid the world of those who would kill innocents."

"My apologies, sir," Ryan said. "An ethical assassin more akin to a knight of old or, a better symbol, a samurai."

Lowe relaxed. "An apt description," he said. Lowe raised the drink in his hand to gain their host's attention. "Before we continue, a quick question." He turned to Parks who sat on the couch, a neutral expression on his face. "By your introduction, Mr. Parks is a former hunter of exotics. I would like to know what he once hunted."

Riley spoke up. "With all due respect, I do not think you would believe me."

Lowe smiled grimly. "Try me."

Riley smiled and took a sip from his glass. "I hunted werewolves." He locked eyes with his questioner as if daring to challenge him. Lowe merely shrugged and took a seat in another leather armchair.

"So," Ryan said, "Dr. Lascaris you have gathered together an honorable assassin, a hunter of cryptids, and a master of strategy. Pray, what do you wish us to do for you?"

Dr. Lascaris laughed. "You do not, what is the expression? Beat around the bush? I have asked you to come and work together for a common cause that will save the world.

"I want you to kill my wife."

CHAPTER TWO

"You play a dangerous game, Lascaris," Lowe said sharply. "I told you I do not hunt innocents and with that statement, you removed yourself from that category." He stood up from his seat. "I can kill you five times over and you would screaming your lungs out in Hell before your body hit the floor."

Lascaris raised his hands slightly. "Maybe I should explain in greater detail. I assure you that my wife is far from innocent. Please be seated and allow me to explain."

Warily, Lowe regained his seat. "Please delight and entertain us," he said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. 

"Each of you is here for a logical reason. You, Mr. Lowe, are a trained killer and my wife is a direct threat not just to me, but to the world as a whole. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but soon I will show you proof of my claims.

"I asked Mr. Parks to join us because my wife is not human. Again, give me the gift of time. I can prove my assertions to all of you beyond any doubt." He motioned to Ryan. "And I am particular need of Mr. Laughman because my wife resides in a place that has its unique wards and guardians."

"Not human?" Lowe asked. "You're asking us to take much on faith."

"Well," Dr. Lascaras responded, "Let's ask Mr. Parks." He turned to the hunter. "Sir, do monsters exist?"

Riley paused only for a moment. "Yes," he said. "They exist. I have killed a number."

Lowe snorted in derision. "And since you're retired I suppose you've killed them all?"

Riley shrugged. "I retired for personal reasons."

Lowe pointed his finger at Ryan. "And you? What do you make of all this."

Ryan paused a moment as if gauging his response. "The question of monsters is of no importance to me. I deal with strategy. If I feel that the good doctor has a legitimate stake in the game, I am willing to assist him to reach a satisfactory ending. However, I stress that his claim must be legitimate."

"Then, gentlemen," Lascaris said, "since you demand and deserve proof allow me to provide it. Would you kindly follow me to the basement? And Mr. Lowe, please feel free to determine in what order we shall go down the stairs." He turned and slid the pocket doors open. "The cellarway is to the right."

The three men followed their host into the vestibule to a large oak door. "The house is old," Lascaris said, "and the stairs are steep. We will first walk through the wine cellar into the cellar proper. That is where my proof stands."

He turned to Ryan. "And I understand Mr. Laughman that you are quite the expert in fine wine. I have a 2013 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva and should you and the others stay for dinner, I would be delighted to open a bottle for you."

"Most generous," was all that Ryan said.

The cellar stairwell was as steep as Lascaris had warned, the ancient brick giving way to cold, damp, rough-cut stone. At the bottom, they walked through the racks of wine bottles to another door. Lascaris flipped on an electric light switch, opened the door, and walked through.

A blast of cold, damp air struck the three men following Lascaris, making them stop in surprise. A small naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling barely illuminated the room beyond. Their host did not pause, but walked to the center of the room. He turned and motioned to the wall on his right. "Here," he said, "is my proof."

Lowe entered first followed by Parks and Laughman. The trio stopped as the far right wall came into view.

The far wall had a hole in it, one that was completely black, ten feet high and large enough for four men to walk abreast rent the far right wall. A cold, damp wind poured from it carrying with it an unpleasant aroma.

"What is this?" Ryan asked.

The doctor looked at the glowing portal, his face unreadable. "It is a portal my wife created," he said calmly. "And it is through that my wife went taking my son and daughter with her."

"Where does it go?" Lowe asked.

Lascaris shrugged. "I believe it goes to the ruins of a basement in Istanbul in Turkey. In history, the city was originally known as Byzantium and later, Constantinople. It is not a random event that my wife fled back there."

"And you want us ..." Riley began to say.

"Yes," Lascaris interrupted. "I want you to enter that portal, search for the horror that called itself my wife for sixteen years and kill it. Also if possible, bring my children back to me. They might still be redeemable."

* * *

Back in the library, Lascaris poured stronger drinks for everybody without asking. 

Lowe was the first to speak. "Now here will be an interesting tale," he said. "You have my attention."

Lascaris sat down his hands clasping his glass of whiskey so tight, his knuckles had turned white. "Here is the short version first. My wife is an efreet. Do you know what that is?"

Ryan spoke up. "They are creatures from Islamic mythology," he said. "Living on the Plane of Fire, they are part of the Jinn, but that is all I know."

Lascaris nodded. "You are correct. Allow me to enlarge your understanding. The Lascaris bloodline can be traced back to Constantinople in the 6th century. During the reign of Justinian the First, my ancestors were tasked to rid the Byzantine Empire of specific creatures that were inimical to the reign of the good emperor. You see, the jinn existed long before the Prophet Muhammad appeared. Not all the Jinn were evil, but the jinn known as efreets hated the human race.

"My forebears were successful in their attempts to purge the efreets from the empire, but the efreets cursed my family line. I am the last of the Lascaris name." He took a gulp of his drink and paused for a moment. "However, the efreets came up with a more creative way to enact their revenge. One of them assumed human form, wooed me, and I married her. Her deceit was so subtle and so clever, I never knew I had a monster under my own roof." He paused again. "She gave me a daughter as well as a son to carry on the name, but little did I know they were monster hybrids. A month ago when she revealed to me what she was, she created the portal you saw below, mocking me, and saying my living with regret served as a far more suitable punishment than outright death. But there are laws in effect that govern the efreets and their interaction with this world. She seeks to circumvent those laws with our children. She hopes to use their hybrid status as a way to bypass the safeguards that have been in existence since the creation of the world and allow a new race of evil to destroy the world and upset an eons-old balance."

He looked up from his glass. "So what say you? Will you help me save the world and perhaps save my children?"

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Strange Case of the Magical, Flaming Bunny

The following story is true, but I feel a need to set the record straight as my friends who know the story have told and retold it, and it has taken on a perverse life of its own. By their telling, the listener will mentally picture the graphic on the left. The truth is far more mundane.

Allow me to explain.

Having always been interested in magic and prestidigitation since the age of six, in 1975 I embarked on a quest to become a professional stage magician. Residing in Philadelphia at the time, I had ample opportunity for shows and eventually covered all of Philly and a small chunk of New Jersey and Deleware. In late 1976, I moved to south-central Pennsylvania and decided to add a rabbit illusion to my expanding repertoire.

Now magicians prefer one of two breeds of rabbits to work with: Polish Miniatures or Netherland Dwarves, two kinds that are quite small, can sit comfortably in a tiny box, and remain quiet and docile. Heading off to a local rabbit breeder, I told the gentleman my need. He nodded sagely and went off to his barn returning with a tiny black bunny with a white bib and one white foot.

I named him Antares and immediately began training him for my show. He turned out to be an amiable soul, and we worked together very well. In my presentations, I would walk on stage with two wooden boxes, show them empty, and when nested together there would be a small puff of smoke and flame, and to the delight of my audience, I would reach inside to produce Antares.

He became a huge hit.

Unfortunately, the rabbit breeder that sold me Antares did not exactly tell me the truth. Instead of a Polish Miniature or a Netherland Dwarf, Antares was a New Zealand Giant, and he began to grow.

And grow and grow.

Eventually, my finale would consist of me carrying one box in my left hand and practically dragging the one containing Antares in my right. Occasionally, an ear or leg might pop out that would somewhat destroy the illusion, but the presentation of a live rabbit from a ball of flame covered many an error.

However, Antares was retired after one show where the illusion did not work as well as it should.

Little did I know on that fateful night, that the interior box where Antares was concealed had sprung its latch and Antares' little furry butt was sticking out of the box. When I ignited the flash powder, I regret to say that his hair momentarily caught on fire and with a scream, he leaped out of the box and began running around the stage being followed by a trail of smoke. And if you never heard a rabbit scream, be grateful. It will set your teeth on edge.

Fortunately, the act of jumping out of the box put the flame out immediately, and it was a matter of moments for me to catch the frightened rabbit, beat the smoke out of his derriere with my hand, and with a grimace I held him up for the audience to see.

There was no applause for me that night.

Antares was retired immediately, and there was no harm done to him. Aside from some burnt fur, there was no damage to his skin, and he continued being the Lapine friend whose company I enjoyed for years. There is no need to report me to PETA or the SPCA.

Today, I call myself retired from performing magic, but it does not take me much persuasion to come out of retirement. So, I continue to do the occasional odd show for family-friendly non-profits, but I no longer work with rabbits or fire.

I have better peace of mind that way.