Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Magic of The Book House (Dillsburg, Pennsylvania)

At 11 North US Rt. 15 in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, there is a small bookstore that looks inconspicuous on the outside, but like any location steeped in magic, it is bigger on the inside than the outside. Its aisles teem with books and if you are like mea person of substanceit is difficult to walk through the aisles without leaving spilled books in your wake. 

And that is not a complaint. The Book House was invented for browsing and you will spend many hours exploring its depths contemplating treasures you never knew existed. Larry and Joanne Klase have operated The Book House for 43 years and they are quite used to bibliophiles being lost in contemplative wonder as they wander open-mouthed through the store's narrow aisles.

Of all the bookstores I visit The Book House is my favorite and I have modeled my fictional bookstores (Strange Streets and The City of Sarkomand, A Guide for the Traveler) on the store's reality:
It started with the discovery of a new bookstore. I’m not talking about one of the modern ones that have all the latest drivel from the major publishing houses; not the ones that publish books so banal you forget them seconds after reading the last page. I refer to the more uncommon type of bookstore that has its books stacked willy-nilly about the place pungent with that delightful aroma of old tomes, those small shops blessed with histories and personalities. (The City of Sarkomand, A Guide for the Traveler)
I would encourage you to allow yourself a number of hours when you make your pilgrimage to Dillsburg. It's an investment of time you will not regret. However, best to call them first to make sure the store is open. They do have regular hours, but as the proprietors run the store themselves, sometimes life's realities may rarely force them to temporarily change their hours: (717) 432-2720. If you have any questions about their stock or are looking for a certain work, you can email them at ljsbookhouse AT earthlink DOT net.

Tell me this isn't Heaven!

You will spend a lot of time here

A very small sample of their classics 

They have thousands of paperbacks

Just one of their aisles teeming with treasures

Classic SF and fantasy

Comics, pulp fiction, and RPGs

And they have the odd treasure other than books

Need A Reading List for 2019?

I read continuously from all genres and all arenas of nonfiction. In my 64 years I've read some stinkers, but I've also read some that have delighted me no end. Some, like The War of the Worlds and Journey to the Center of the Earth, I have reread dozens of times.

What follows is a list of books that are my favorites and I would encourage you to seek them out and spend time with them yourself. They range from science fiction to fantasy to dark fantasy to horror. Some are in the public domain. Some like Forsythe's Bishop's Landing will be almost impossible to find. I have omitted the books everybody knows such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or the first three books in the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series which are also favorites of mine, but almost everybody has read them.

So let me introduce you to some old friends of mine. They are guaranteed to entertain. I have listed them in alphabetical order by the author's last name. Links are for works in the public domain.

  1. Blackwood, Algernon - The Willows (horror)
  2. Forster, E. M. - The Celestial Omnibus (fantasy)
  3. Forsythe, Richard - Bishop's Landing (horror)
  4. Gansky, Alton L. - A Ship Possessed (J. D. Stanton Mystery Series #1) (thriller/horror)
  5. Garner, Alan - Elidor (fantasy)
  6. Garner, Alan - The Moon of Gomrath and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (fantasy)
  7. Hodgson, William Hope - The House on the Borderland (dark fantasy)
  8. Holdstock, Robert - Mythago Wood (The Mythago Cycle) (fantasy)
  9. Keene, Brian - Scratch (horror)
  10. Lewis, C.S. - Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (fantasy)
  11. Lovecraft, H. P. - At The Mountains of Madness (science fiction/horror)
  12. Lovecraft, H. P. - Call of Cthulhu (horror)
  13. Lovecraft, H. P. - The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (fantasy)
  14. Lovecraft, H. P. - The Dunwich Horror (horror)
  15. Machen, Arthur - The Three Impostors (horror)
  16. Merritt, Abraham - The Moon Pool (fantasy)
  17. Rawbone, J.M. - The Bunker (horror)
  18. Sarban - Ringstones (dark fantasy)
  19. Stoddard, James - The High House (fantasy)
  20. Verne, Jules - Journey to the Center of the Earth (science fiction)
  21. Wells, H.G. - The War of the Worlds (science fiction)
  22. Williams, Charles - Descent Into Hell (dark fantasy)
  23. Williams, Charles - The Place of the Lion (fantasy)
  24. Wilson, Michael R. - Huntsman: The Hunted Mage Trilogy (Volume 1) (historical fantasy)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

When Authors Get Their Ego In The Way

I have made a decision to not identify the author or her book in this review because authors of this ilk have fragile egos and in the current literary atmosphere we find ourselves, social justice warriors and their followers are not happy until they have destroyed their opposition. Disagreement is no longer allowed, only scorched earth.
At the last World Fantasy Con in Baltimore I was given an uncorrected proof of a collection of stories from an author that had the following blurbs: 

Wow! This is gonna be some book!
Looks like I'm going to read prose that will make angels weep with jealousy!
So to say I was excited about this author would be an understatement. Let’s be honest. Endorsements, as you’ve just seen, are ones that put the book on a high pedestal. 

(Sigh) Allow me to assure you that King, Koontz, and Straub are in no danger of losing their titles as writers of horror and though the author described may be leaving her footprints on the path of the luminaries listed, unless she decides to make some dramatic literary changes to her style, she will never catch up, let alone reach the end of the trail. 

The collection consists of twelve stories. Some are solidly dark fantasy. Only one or two have anything to do with the genre of horror. Others? … more like a stream of consciousness that has little to do with the actual art of storytelling. The elements of a story are the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution. The first two elements in this collection are always present. The plot at times can be a little muddy as there are times the author is so in love with her prose, she loses the plotline. 

Conflict? Some of the stories have a discernible conflict, especially when she wants to use the story as a bully pulpit (more on that later). 

And resolution? Some of the stories have one. Others just simply end. 

But the worst part of the collection are two stories that, with ham-fisted effect, she lets loose on anybody she disagrees with politically or socially. If you have any other opinion, let me assure you that she sees you as an unredeemable monster incapable of human affection. Her damnation is relentless and as subtle as a crowbar. 

My problem is not with her politics or social observations. My problem is not that the author addresses her issues in her stories. Great literature deals with social ills and political observations, but when you use your story to shame your reader who may disagree with you, one who is a captive audience and has spent money to read your work, the end result is not that you have made your point or changed the reader’s mind. 

The end result is something that I will have only done four times in my sixty-four years on this planet: throw away a book because it has no redeeming qualities whatsoever and its purpose is not to entertain but to bring a "message" that is actually an insult. It is nothing more than the author's temper tantrum over life refusing to go her way.

There are issues, viewpoints, and paradigms I very strongly believe in and as an author I address many of them in my own stories, but the difference between me and the aforementioned author is that I have a great sense of respect for my readers and that I am deeply grateful when somebody buys one of my books, even if that reader may be opposed to something that I hold dear or even defines me. I am not so in love with myself that I actually believe I can use my prose to beat home a point and that I have even earned a position where my reader should even bother to listen to me. 

There are so many books in this world. I regret I wasted a few evenings on this one.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Review of Thom Ryng’s The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow is a fictitious play that featured in the short stories of Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933). In the stories, the play, written by an unknown French author in the late 1800s, drives its readers to despair and madness upon reading the second act.
No definite principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterwards with more awful effect. (From Chamber’s short story, The Repairer of Reputations)
Any author’s effort to recreate the play would automatically fail. There is no author so talented as to write a play that would drive its reader insane, but I have been impressed with two attempts. James Blish attempted to create the play in his short story, More Light, and Lin Carter followed his lead in his own short story, The King In Yellow: A Tragedy in Verse building on Blish’s attempt.

In 1996, author Thom Ryng released his own interpretation of The King in Yellow and in 1999 produced the play at the Capital Theater in Olympia, Washington.

I would have dearly loved to see this play, especially to see how Ryng adapted some of his stage commands such as the slow melting of the palace colonnades in Act 1 as well as describing the voice of the Phantom of Truth (His voice is insistent and grating, almost buzzing like the sound of insects in the night).

And as a script to be read and enjoyed, Ryng does a good job. Though not as ethereal and mystical as the attempts by Blish and Carter, the appearance of the Stranger and the final appearance of the King in Yellow carry with them a clear sense of otherworldliness and the play communicates clearly the message implied by Robert Chamber though I confess finishing the second act did not drive me into madness and despair. Or at least I do not think it did.

It would be interesting to see how the H. P.Lovecraft Historical Society would interpret Ryng’s play, but it is my opinion it would fail as a film. Possibly an audiobook that left the scenery and cast appearances to the imagination of the listener would be far more effective, but I genuinely believe Ryng’s play would be best suited for anime. The animators would be able to capture all the stage commands visually and Japanese anime has always been effective in portraying atmospheres that are horrific and foreboding.

Until then, we will be content with Ryng’s script and hope for bigger things.

You can purchase The King in Yellow, by Thom Ryng here.

You can read Chambers' series of short stories legally here (they are in the public domain).

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Sea Was A Fair Master, by Calvin Demmer: A Review

The Sea Was A Fair Master, by Calvin Demmer is a collection of 23 short stories known as flash fiction, ranging from horror to dark fantasy. The collection, released this year, is a hodgepodge of quality, some with rather predictable endings to stories that are jaw-dropping in their vision and presentation.

I agree with author Gwendolyn Kiste who states in her introduction to Demmer's collection that flash fiction is not easy to write, but I respectfully disagree with her observation that horror is uniquely suited for flash and that, in the horror genre, there are no rules. Horror is not easy to write and has never been. Careless writers only end up with gore fests and in the flash format, it is to easy to end up with a shaggy dog story where the ending becomes contrived and predictable. There are rules that help the writer not to fall into such traps.

There are a few of Demmler's stories that, though not bad, seem rather awkward and would have done well with a serious rewrite and a slightly longer word count, but let me tell you about the stories that are downright magical:
  • On The Seventh Day is the collection's opening story about a ship's captain and his crew that cheat the sea of its vengeance. This is a story that stays with you.
  • Yara is about an android who is more human than her creator and the ending of the story is perfection and speaks directly to the heart.
  • The Sea Was a Fair Master, the title story of the collection, is a hard story to label and it is probably best that way. For this reviewer, it spoke of how war changes us all and not for the better.
  • Not Suicide tells a tale about the power of love that transcends death.
  • Graves may have a predictable ending, but the journey toward it is worth the trip. 
All in all, the collection is a passable way to spend an evening for the horror fan. There is enough blood and gore to satisfy those who like their fiction a little more visceral (Restroom Finds, The One, Trashcan Sam, and Hangman are some of the notable ones), but there are other gems within the collection.

For this reviewer, when Demmler writes simple horror, his prose is passable, but when he writes of the matters of the human heart, even its darker aspects, he comes close to wearing the mantle of a Ray Bradbury.

Doll Wars: The Prologue

Some years ago I began my most ambitious work, a braided novel that told a story of an ancient blood line that could bring life to golems. Instead of crude wooden puppets, the most recent generation was able to bring ball-jointed dolls to life, but conflict split the group into two factions and their dolls and their masters now battle unseen across our world.

The first part, In the Father's Image, first appeared in a special issue of Ethereal Tales magazine in 2014 and appears in my collection, Come Into My Cellar, Darker Tales From A Cerebral Vaunt

The second chapter, Rowan Dreaming, has never been published anywhere except in my collection bearing the same name.

The fourth and final segment, Dollmaker, was first published in the March 2009 issue of Aiofe's Kiss and has never appeared anywhere else.

What follows is the prologue to Doll Wars, the third and largest segment of the work where the characters in the first two stories all come together to learn about their strange power to bring life to inanimate dolls and find themselves embroiled against their will in a conflict that is centuries old.

Doll Wars
by Alan Loewen


Florence, Italy 1833

Ci sentiamo, Carlo!”

Ciao!” Carlo called as his friend ran off. Carlo turned to run back down the street toward his home. With the setting sun at his back, Carlo laughed with delight as he raced his lengthening shadow on the cobblestones. He deftly avoided the lamplighters as they began their evening duties and dodged the horse-drawn carts and carriages that clattered through the streets.

Leaping onto the porch at his house, he opened the front door and paused to catch his breath. “Mama! Papa! I’m home!”

Only the echo of an empty house greeted him. “Mama? Papa?” Carlo closed the door behind him.

A sudden loud noise from the basement made him jump.

His father, Domenico Lorenzini, had forbidden his family to ever enter the basement and dutifully, Carlo and his mother acceded to his wishes.

Once a week, Aldo De Luca, his father’s cousin, would pay the family a visit and after tousling Carlo’s hair, would join Domenico in the basement and stay until well after Carlo’s bedtime. Carlo thought the world of Aldo De Luca and called him Zio Aldo, Uncle Aldo.

But now, Carlo paused in front of the basement door listening to the sounds of scuffling and cursing, muffled by distance.

“Aldo!” he heard his father shout. “It’s heading toward you! No! No! The stairs! The stairs!”

Frozen in surprise, Carlo heard feet ascend the stairs behind the door. The doorknob rattled, turned, and the door flung open.

Carlo could only stare at what stood before him. A tiny figure, no taller than his waist stood framed in the doorway, the garish light of a lamp below making the creature stand out in silhouette.

It bore the shape of a human, a clumsy caricature of a small boy but one made out of wood, a crude face chiseled onto a rough, splintered ball of pine with stiff limbs ending in mismatched digits. Behind it, Carlo’s father and Aldo De Luca raced up the stairs in hot pursuit.

Carlo screamed.

With a hiss, the creature lunged at Carlo, knocking him onto his back. Splintery fingers clawed at his chest and face.

“Carlo!” he heard his father cry, “My son!” Carlo’s father tripped over the top step and went sprawling, hands reaching for his only child.

But it was Zio Aldo who reached Carlo first. Grabbing the misshapen creature by the back of its neck, he pulled the hissing thing off of the screaming child and hurled it back down the basement stairs followed by the sound of something shattering. 

Aldo then scooped Carlo up in his arms, hugging him to his chest. “What have we done?” Aldo groaned in his ear. Aldo suddenly spun about and put Carlo into the outstretched arms of his father. “Carlo! Stay with your Papa! Take him, Domenico. Let me deal with what we have done.”

Carlo clung to his father. Together they watched Aldo shut the basement door behind him and heard his footsteps descend the stairs.

“Papa?” Carlo said through his tears. “What was that?”

“Silence, my son,” his father said. “Let me see if you are injured.”

His father’s inspection of the small scratches on Carlo’s face was interrupted by a short squeal from downstairs making them both jump. Minutes later, the tread of heavy footsteps slowly came up the stairs. Uncle Aldo opened the basement door, his face pale.

“I threw it into the fireplace,” Aldo said. He ran his fingers through his curly, black hair. “I threw it into the fireplace and held it there with a poker until it stopped struggling.” He fell back against the wall as if all his strength had left him. “Wine. I need wine.” He stumbled off toward the pantry.

“Papa?” Carlo said as he continued to shake from the encounter. “Papa, what was that?”

Domenico smoothed his son’s hair. “Son, listen to me,” he said quietly. “You must not tell anyone what you saw tonight. We could get into trouble, very serious trouble. You must forget what you saw and you must never tell a soul.”

Later that evening, Carlo crept from his bedroom to the top of the second-story stairs to listen to his father and Uncle Aldo as they talked in the kitchen below. His mother, his father had told him, had been gone all day tending to an ill friend.

“Surely you are going to give up this madness, Domenico,” Carlo heard Aldo say.

A pause followed. “No,” Carlo’s father said. “I got the procedure wrong. Rabbi Loew had it perfected. If he did it, then we can do it as well. The next one …”

“That thing could have killed your son! Your only son! ” Aldo hissed. “We’re fortunate that he only had scratches. And what if that thing had escaped into the streets?”

Another pause. “Aldo,” Domenico said, “I cannot give up now. You and I are blood descendants of the great rabbi of Prague and we have inherited this power as a gift. It’s in our blood. I cannot stop my research. I will continue. I just failed in the process. A flaw. I confess I don’t understand the ancient Hebrew. The manuscript is in such poor condition! I will be more careful next time. The next golem will be ...”

“Domenico,” Aldo interrupted. “We and our forebears have followed Mother Church for the last six generations. What we are doing is wrong. It is black magic.”

“And, Aldo,” Domenico continued, ignoring the interruption, “I need your help. And I know you. You are just as curious as I.”

“We are doing the Devil’s work,” Aldo muttered.

“Was the Golem of Prague the Devil’s work?” Domenico asked. “You know the legend. It protected God’s People.”

There was a longer pause. Uncle Aldo finally spoke, his voice so low, Carlo could barely hear him. “How do we make sure that we do not create something we cannot control? What if we cannot fully discover the secret?”

“We will try until we succeed.” Carlo heard the finality in his father’s voice. His father had a stubborn will. “I will make the name Lorenzini famous.” A pause. “And the name De Luca as well.”

With a shudder, Carlo crept back to his bed as the voices of his father and Uncle Aldo droned on into the night.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

An Exercise in Insanity

Because I lack the brains the Good Lord gave a mud stump and only half the commonsense, I accepted a challenge that was posted as a meme on Facebook. The result was over 40 people asking me to write a segment that I would write to introduce them in one of my novels. 

I determined that if I wrote one to three a day, I would be finished within a month or so. I started on Saturday, December 8th. Let's see what date I ultimately write my last entry.

  • The participants are listed in alphabetical order according to their first initials.
  • I will be writing responses out of order as some people I know and others not as well. Admittedly, for those I know well, there may be some inside jokes that may fall flat for the casual reader.
  • It's the Christmas season. I reserve the right to take my blessed time with this challenge.
Here are the participants:

A. Will

Adam had been visiting an elderly lady at the local ER, fulfilling his pastoral duties when the electromagnetic pulse hit and shoved his world back to the pre-technological 1880s. He realized he would never know if somebody detonated a nuclear device high above the earth or if the sun had belched out a massive solar flare. It made little difference. Everybody had become Amish whether they liked it or not.

Walking back to his home on a road littered with dead cars, dozens of people walked beside him, drivers stranded when the electronics in their vehicles fizzled. Adam would rather have been back at his house on the porch hammock listening to the rain while reading a good book.

However, it looked like he was going to become one of those old circuit riders whether he liked it or not. With their electronic toys gone, people were going to need spiritual guidance now more than ever. 

B. Mowery

Mowery tilted his fedora back and shifted his legs off his desk. "Let's not bandy around the bush," he said. "You come in here wanting a private detective for a job and now you're telling me it might be illegal?"

The pretty little thing sitting across from him nodded and dabbed at her tears with a silk handkerchief.

"However," he continued, "It's not that I've danced on the wrong side of the law before, but the emphasis is dance. I don't do anything that would make me lose my license or put me behind bars."

The woman paused for a moment. "I understand," she said thoughtfully. Then, after a pause added, "So how much would you charge to teach me how to shoot a high-powered rifle with a scope?"

B. Löwen

Brendan put the head of the zombie directly in the sites of his Mosin–Nagant M1891. As he grinned and slowly squeezed the trigger he considered for the hundredth time how the negative connotations of the word "apocalypse" were wildly exaggerated.

C. Pellegrino

"A good gardener grows soil, not plants."

Carol had heard this numerous times and now living in Arizona with desert heat, gardening by nurturing the soil was a more significant challenge than when she lived in Illinois. The alkaline soils were unforgiving to the vegetables, flowers, and trees Carol longed to see come to life in her backyard.

So, instead of focusing on the plants, she focused on the soil.

Everything good went into her mulch pile: egg shells, coffee grounds, anything that was wholesome and organic that would create viable soil.

And to the sheer jealousy of her neighbors, the plants responded. Tomatoes grew as big as softballs, roses had blooms almost a foot wide, and her lettuce heads could feed several households at one meal.

"How?" her neighbors asked and Carol responded with her mantra. "A good gardener grows soil, not plants."

So her neighbors created mulch piles of their own and dug and planted and their plants turned an unhealthy yellow and died.

Carol mused over the dilemma as she plunged her hands into the fertile, dark soil and worked it like dough. Her neighbors had imitated her precisely, yet only her plants prospered. 

The next season she experimented with trees, planting oak, ash, and yew as she enjoyed the idea of planting trees traditionally associated with fairies.

That summer her tomatoes grew to the size of volleyballs and her trees soared into the heavens.

And her neighbors' gardens still failed.

"What's your secret!" her neighbors kept asking, and Carol kept spreading her hands in puzzlement. "A good gardener grows soil, not plants."

It wasn't until the next year she realized her error, and before she walked into her garden and disappeared into the lush growth, she realized her mantra was only partially true. It was the main reason her garden blossomed, her neighbors' efforts failed, and it was all because of a secret ingredient.

"A good gardener loves the soil, not plants."

C. Mills

Chris kept his campfire small to keep the smoke undetectable from raiders. Since the apocalypse when Arabs released spread a hardy bacteria that made oil worthless around the world, the United States had become more primitive and much more dangerous. 

His horse ate at the sparse grass that grew among the tall trees. In a few minutes, Chris would break camp and continue riding south through the old Shenandoah National Park to Waynesboro where doctors urgently waited for the diphtheria vaccine kept in Chris' saddle bags. 

Chris made sure his fire was out, checked his horse's saddle and sure his Remington 700 was ready for any type of action. Mounting his horse, he turned the gelding's head toward the south with the rising sun on their left.

C. Rebmann

Chris stared out over the Scottish moor and watched the sun come up in the morning frigid air. A coffee pot steamed on the small campfire and behind him, his tent lay open for a good airing. Lighting his Scottish brier with a coal from the campfire, Chris puffed on the Inverness shag until the smoke from the brier mixed with the smoke from his campfire. Once again, he turned to his journal.

Arthur Machen hinted at the existence of subhuman, subterranean dwellers in his fiction, he wrote. In the 17th century, Robert Kirk studied what he called "the wee folk" and vanished off the face of the earth for his troubles. 

For the past three months, I have explored the more desolate moors of Scotland and interviewed residents of some of the more isolated hamlets and became convinced the tales of elves and fairies are loosely based on the reality Machen and Kirk uncovered. 

I have also come to the conclusion these creatures are inimical to humanity based on the number of disappearances associated with their purported sightings. For the last two months, I have camped on the Scottish moors and found what are best described as possible entrances to their subterranean world: odd depressions in the ground, stone circles, dolmens, and fogous that are more than they first appear. However, evidence also clearly reveals these creatures have been diminishing in population and I would like to think I have found their last underground settlement.

Suddenly, the morning stillness was ruptured by a loud explosion. To Chris' right, about a quarter mile away, a massive ball of fire rose into the air mixed with boulders and a massive shower of dirt.

Chris smiled, puffed on his pipe, and continued writing. However, I can also say with certainty, these creatures are now wholly extinct and will trouble humanity no more.  

C. E. Smith

The Atlantic Ocean stretched out from Cindy's front door, and she once again enjoyed the sound of the surf as it created a new shoreline. Only seventy-five yards from her front door, five years earlier, the Atlantic shoreline had stood hundreds of miles away, but then the earth shook, and the mother of all earthquakes rattled the little town of Milton and plunged the world back into the 1880s.

Three days later, Cindy and her husband discovered the earthquake had given them and their neighbors' shoreline property.

It took a little getting used to. Eventually, the cries of the gulls, the scent of salt, and the roar of the surf became just part of life.

Then the mermaids came.

Cindy was disappointed that Disney had gotten it all wrong. It was true that from a distance, the upper part of the creatures looked like pretty young women, but up close, one could see the skin was composed of fine scales and the shark teeth that filled their mouths seemed much out of place for such a beautiful creature.

And to say they were man-eaters was not using figurative language. However, life had brought about a comfortable stalemate. The humans stayed out of the ocean, and the mermaids couldn't come out on dry land.

But all of that changed when one day the mermaids disappeared and Cindy learned the strange creatures were not the apex predators everyone assumed they were.

And neither were humans.

C. Cahill

Reginald DeBois swore as he surveyed his ransacked library. In a panic, he rushed to the wall safe hidden by an original painting by J. W. Waterhouse. 

The safe lay open and empty except for a handwritten note.

Mr. DeBois, the note read, the 16th-century map of Atlantis from the library of Charles the First is now under the safe protection of the Library of Congress where it belongs. I would like to thank you for the momentary diversion provided by your guards, your guard dogs, and your elaborate security system, but please try to remember that the next time you steal a priceless artifact, that I will quickly get it back from you. I am, after all, a librarian.

D. D. Lerew

Deb typed The End on her manuscript and sat back with a satisfied sigh. From the mirror behind her, came a familiar voice. 

"That's not exactly how it happened. My experiences have been a lot more intense and darker." Deb spun around and looked into the mirror. From it, stood a reflection markedly different than Deb's. In another room, in another world, a young woman with bright red hair and green eyes stared back at the author. "The ghosts in your world," the reflection continued, "are so mundane. They just stand there and say, 'Boo!''" 

Deb shrugged. "Different worlds, different experiences. You just keep relating your adventures and I'll keep being your amanuensis, but I'll tame 'em down a bit for the readers. I don't mind giving them a sleepless night, but post-traumatic stress disorder is another thing."

"Well," the young woman in the mirror said, "since a writer can only write what she knows ..."

Deb's vision blurred and she suddenly found herself sitting on a chair with a young red-haired woman standing before her in the flesh. Behind her, Deb saw a mirror showing a computer console with an empty chair before it. "Kyrie,"what have you done?" Deb asked.

Kyrie Carter laughed and grabbed a duffel bag from the floor. "Thought you would like to broaden your writing experience. Now let me show you in my world what real ghost hunting is all about."

(Note: You can read all about Kyrie Carter's adventures here.)

D. G. Rhodes

Denise made her way through the crowd. Around her, hot air balloons sprang up in various sizes and colors making the converted Goodyear ballpark look like an oversized garden straight out of Alice's Wonderland. Looking for the pure yellow balloon that was to be her landmark, she made it out from among the host of others and hurried toward it.

She found a man working on the moorings. "Mr. Rhodes?" she asked.

The man looked up and smiled. "You must be the lovely lady that won the free balloon ride," he said. He smelled of Old Spice and his shock of white hair made him look much older than his eyes that were full of life and energy. "Let me help you into the balloon here."

Denise made her way into the gondola, taking care not to bump into the tanks of gas or the large cooler she assumed to be full of food and drink.

A klaxon sounded and Denise watched in awe as the balloons began to take off around her. Suddenly, she felt her ballon lurch and begin to lift. Panicked, she turned to discover Mr. Rhodes already ten feet below her and waving his hat in adieu. 

"Wait!" Denise screamed, but Rhodes only waved his hat harder and yelled, "Ad astra!"

The other balloonists ignored her cries, and Denise kept rising up and up accompanied by hundreds of balloons.

Four hours later Denise could see the curvature of the earth and she was awestruck by its beauty. Marveling that she was neither cold nor gasping for air, she eventually opened the cooler to find it well stocked with champagne, mineral water, and an assorted variety of cheeses and dried meats. There was also an antique spyglass much akin to what pirates used to scout the horizon in the old movies.

The other balloons continued to float with her, but the other people in the gondolas continued to ignore her or else she had become invisible to them. Most likely, she thought, the vacuum of space between us won't let my voice carry.

Several hours later, they sped past Jupiter and Denise gave up trying to rationalize her experience. It was then that she realized there was one star in the heavens that was becoming increasingly brighter and most logically was her destination. 

She opened the cooler and took out a bottle of champagne and a long-stemmed glass. As the balloons raced on, she toasted her fellow balloonists who raised their own glasses to her in response. Then as she toasted the star that grew steadily brighter, she laughed to herself. "Ad astra indeed," she said. "Ad astra!"

D. Carr

"Magic," Dennis said, "is purported to be the manipulation of supernatural elements when in reality, true magic consists of the mundane presented with excellence. To quote Abraham Maslow, 'A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.'"

Dennis poured me a mug of his famous mead and offered it to me.

I took my first sip. "Saints preserve us!" I cried. "This stuff is extraordinary!"

Dennis smiled. "I, therefore, rest my case."

D. Pheil

Derek and Alex hid behind the rubble of what was once a Sheetz store, and they scanned the sky for trouble. 

"I'm completely certain that was a Quetzalcoatl," Alex said. "I'm telling you Trump must have made the Mexicans angry enough to send an old Aztec god after us."

Derek shook his head. "I don't care where it's from or why it's here. A flying snake the size of a Greyhound bus cramps my style."

Alex laughed. "Just like you to take on some angry monster from Mexican mythology."

Derek racked a slug into the chamber of his Mossberg 930, and with Kid Cudi blasting through his earbuds he stood up. "You comin' or not?" Derek asked.

Alex laughed and manually pumped a slug into his own shotgun. "Oh, I've got your back. Let's go snake hunting."

D. Myhre

Diane paused for a moment as she stared at the hallway door. Looking like every other inconspicuous door in her home the odd reality about this door was that she had never seen it before.

Her forehead wrinkled in puzzlement, she opened the door to see a long hallway filled with other entryways. The fact that the door was located on a wall that should have communicated with the outside made the mystery even more puzzling. 

she shut the door and reopened it only to discover the reality of the hallway with its multiple doors appeared to be consistent, even after several experiments opening and closing the door.

Gingerly, she entered the hallway and opened the first door to her right to discover it opened onto another hallway similar to the first.

This is my house, Diane thought, and I don't cotton with doorways that appear where they've never been before. She closed the door and went around her home gathering supplies she knew she would need: a bag lunch, a large skein of yarn, a box of chalk and a heavy-duty flashlight with extra batteries.

As she stood outside the door, she paused for a moment in thought. "The trick to any maze," she said aloud, "is to only follow one side. I'll stay to the right."

Her first venture ended thirty minutes later at the first distinct feature other than door-filled hallways. A dark stairway led up. She tied off her yarn and followed it back to the main door.

The next day, armed with fresh supplies, she ascended the stairway. An hour later the steps terminated in another door. Opening she blinked in the bright sunlight, the sound of surf and birds filling her ears. It was a beautiful summer day even with the two suns in the sky, one large and orange and the other small and a hot electric blue. 

The next day, Diane's boss received a voice mail. "Taking an extended vacation. Don't call me. I'll call you."

D. Farley

"You are best known for your three books," the interviewer said, "especially your young adult work, Bearing the Saint. I quote from one of the reviews: 'Following the character of Edmund, we get a glimpse of a real world that reads like a tale out of epic fantasy with its exotic locales, its ever-present danger and--in the latter portion of the story--political intrigue. Farley is an excellent writer and manages to describe a world long gone.'

"However," he continued, "you also write in the fantasy and SF genres for magazines, correct?"

Donna responded in the affirmative.

"And what," the interviewer continued, "do you enjoy writing more? Historical fiction or genre fiction?"

For a moment, Donna looked puzzled. 

"Did...did I say something wrong?" the interviewer stuttered.

Donna shook her head. "When did I ever say I wrote fiction?"

E. Hinkle

As I sat with Eric in his home, I stared with unabashed envy at his library. Shelves groaned under the weight of countless books while others stood stacked in piles about him. It was the most extensive private collection I had ever seen in my life and made my own library appear paltry in comparison.

"So I see why the local police call you for help in solving crimes that go beyond the norm," I said. I reached down and picked up an original 17th-century edition of Michael Ranft’s De Masticatione Mortuorum in Tumulus in perfect condition.

Eric nodded as he sat back in his overstuffed easy chair. "Yes," he said, motioning to the tomes around him. "You could say I'm rather well read."

F. Jones

"Well," the salesman said, "we do have one ship that you might be interested in. The Spirit of Inquiry is an exploration spaceship, with a standard hull and an advanced FTL drive with redundant systems. It is equipped with a planetary sensor system and a landing shuttle. However, you'll need a minimum crew of four."

Fred Jones leaned back in his chair and chewed his lower lip. Money was no object and he had a crew, one salvaged from some of the filthiest and crime-ridden ghettos in Taipei. Two of them were even human.

"Well, exploration is exactly what I have in mind," he lied, "so I guess all that's left is the paperwork and the payment."

The salesman smiled and immediately began drawing up the licensing and purchasing papers while Fred texted his crew. We got a ship, he tapped out. Looks like as smugglers we're in business.

And back in business for me, Fred thought with a smile.

G. K. Fish

The white box truck bearing the name, Daniels and Daniels Exterminators, LLC, pulled up in front of the small house looking identical to the other few hundred homes that filled the old housing complex. One of the first to be built in Duanesburg, the houses not only shared the same architecture but the same flaws like cloned, forgotten, elderly women biding their time in a nursing home.

Two men in coveralls, carrying their equipment cases, walked up the sidewalk and rang the doorbell. 

"Mr. Geoffrey Fish?" the taller of the two asked when the door opened.

"That's me," the young man said. He looked at their cases, obvious concern on his face. "You got the right equipment for the job?" he asked.

The two exterminators looked at each other, and the smaller of the two rolled his eyes. "Mr. Fish, we've been exterminating rats before you were an idea in your sainted daddy's mind. Now, if you'll take us to the basement."

Geoffrey shrugged, opened the door and invited the two into his home. "Door to the basement is in the kitchen."

"When did you first notice the rats?

Geoffrey led the way to the kitchen. "When they carried off my dog," he said.

"Sorry to hear that, but that's rather rare. Small dog? Chihuahua?"

"Nope," Geoffrey said. "Puddles was a Great Dane."

The two exterminators glanced at each other through the corner of their eyes, and with his free hand, the taller made a circle with his index finger near his forehead symbolizing mental illness.

In the kitchen, the basement door stood boarded up with several two by fours nailed firmly in place. "Let me get a hammer and I'll pry these boards off for you," Fish said. "I just couldn't sleep well knowing the rats could probably get up to the main floor."

Minutes later, the exterminators opened the basement door and it opened to complete darkness. The smaller one pulled out his flashlight and pointed it down the stairs. It illuminated a rat that looked up at them and hissed its rage.

Standing a good eight feet tall, its incisors gaped a full four inches long matched by claws just as formidable. It was joined by three others.

Without a pause, the exterminators closed the basement door.

"So," Geoffrey asked, "What are you going to do about my rat problem?"

One exterminator picked up a board while the other grabbed the hammer. "We're gonna reseal this door," he said, as nonchalantly as if he were discussing the weather.

"And then we're gonna burn your house down."

G. Salter
H. Lowe

HA Tail

Carefully, Holly used pen and ink and added an arabesque to the design on the scroll. Deftly, she included a griffin and intently began to color it in with inks she had carefully made with her own hand and mixed with ground semi-precious gems and stones to produce lustrous shades that made the image jump off the page.

And that is precisely what the griffin did. 

Only two inches high, it began to cavort on the page reveling in its existence, and Holly gently shooed it off before it tracked ink on the rest of the manuscript.

"Go join the others," she said with a sigh. 

With a cry belying its diminutive size, it leaped into the air to join the hundred or so of its brethren flying about the room's bright oil lamp. Holly groaned and rubbed her eyes in exasperation. "Last time I buy my supplies from some traveling mage," she muttered.

J. C. S. Wales

"I keep having this dream," James said, "where I'm at a concert. The band is six ... um ... women."

The psychiatrist nodded his head and scribbled for a bit in his notebook. "And how do you feel when you find yourself in this arena? Threatened? Afraid?"

James shook his head in the negative. "Not at all. I'm actually happy. The music is incredible and and I'm just enjoying the music with the crowd. I really don't want to leave."

"But you do, of course."

James nodded. "Yes. I always wake up, but ..."

The doctor looked up, his brow furrowed in thought. "What is it you aren't telling me?"

James sighed. "Well, after the concert, the lead singer looks right at me like she wants me to come up to the stage."

"And do you?"

"No. At that point I wake up, but each dream goes a little bit longer and longer. I think at some point I'm going to go to her."

"What else are you omitting?"

James shrugged. "Nothing else," he said. He didn't feel comfortable telling the doctor that the singing group and the audience weren't human, but a panoply of anthropomorphic animals and that the singer herself was a vixen in human form.

The doctor nodded. "It's probably nothing," he said, "but the receptionist will give you some sleeping pills that repress dreaming. I'm sure that will help."

Ten minutes later as James walked down the sidewalk, he felt the bottle of pills in his pocket. As he walked by a public trash can, he tossed them in and kept walking, whistling a catchy tune to himself that he had heard in the previous night's dream.   

J. Dellosso

"Just one last question," the officer asked as he closed his notebook. "When the robbers entered the bank, you were able to usher ten people into a safe room and keep them quiet and calm during the entire experience. How did you do that?"

Jen shrugged. "Not only am I raising five children, but my husband also writes complex thriller novels. I have read them all."

(Note: Jen's husband's novels are listed here.)

J. Wilhelm
K. Williamson
K. S. Isaac
K. Wetzel

L. Cabrera

Leigha opened her eyes and stretched, wanting nothing more than to ignore the morning alarm, roll over, and snatch five more minutes of sleep. Yet, duty called. Her husband had been up for an hour already and taken care of the kids, seen them off to school, and hastened off to his own job. Now it was her turn to groggily sit up, pull on her slippers, and eat something before leaving to work on the optics for the observatory's main telescope.

In the kitchen, pouring herself the first of many cups of coffee, she stared out at the lawn, past the protective dome, to the rolling red sand dunes illuminated by the pink sky of Mars.

L. Millson

M. Daniel

Daniel gritted his teeth and wiped his bloody sword on the grass. Before him the corpse of the monster he had just slain steamed as it cooled off in the brisk morning air. 

The new game master never directly implied that testing his pen-and-paper role-playing game would result in his being sucked into a real world of sword and sorcery, but the more quickly Daniel found this Lord Pyre of Ice and slew him he could get back to his own world of comfortable beds and convenient technology.

M. Crane
M. Doelle

M. D. Brooks

If the human mind could have comprehended the scene, it was a place without boundaries, a universe of bright opalescence. Orbs of dazzling brilliance glided slowly through the ether. Their attention focused on one that addressed them.

“I have traveled universes uncounted,” it said, “and I have braved much, but I yearn for a greater adventure.” 

“And what would that be?” came the response.

“I wish to learn what our kind cannot, we who live in splendor without limit. I desire to learn about love and loss, kindness and pain. I aspire to live an existence where I experience life where darkness and light exist side by side and where good and evil contest with each other.” 

The universe remained silent for countless epochs of time and then spoke anew. “But when you return, you will be different from us,” the Voice said.

“So be it,” the Orb replied. “I will pay that price.” 

“Then let it be so.”

* * *

A baby’s cry filled the room while the doctor smiled. “It’s a girl,” he said. “What are you going to name her?” 

The mother looked at her newborn, her face filled with joy. “We have a unique name for her. We shall call her Michael Dawn.”

M. R. Morrow

When Craig had suggested a car ride exploring the little-known dirt roads of the South Mountain in south-central Pennsylvania, Michael had seized the idea as an excuse to break away from the tedium of reading another obscure literary classic for his electives course.

Rustling up Whitsel from his dorm room, with Morrow taking the shotgun seat, the trio drove by previous explorations into places like Dead Woman's Hollow and Horse Killer Road.

Thirty minutes ago, Craig had turned down a road that looked more like a forest trail unvisited by any type of motorized vehicle.

Craig brought his Dodge Dart to a stop and scratched his head. "I'm a tad confused here," he muttered.

Michael watched a dragonfly zip past his window, its foot-long wings sounding like a chainsaw.

"Did you see that?" Whitsel whispered.

"Just hush," Michael whispered back. "It's the most normal thing I've seen in the last 15 minutes."

Craig opened the glove compartment and took out a topographical map of Michaux State Forest. After studying it for a few minutes, he again scratched his head. "I just don't know where we are."

Michael looked up through the tree canopy at a waning moon shining in a blue sky. Not that it was unusual to see the moon during daylight hours, but it now appeared four times larger than usual.

"I think where we are," Michael said, "is probably rather unimportant at this point."

P. Rhoades

When the fog came, it brought the transformations.

Every morning, Perri would wake up to his neighbors screaming or crying or cursing or, tragically, to an occasional gunshot.

As each day passed, Perri would look outside his window and through the fog see strange shapes of neighbors transformed into anthropomorphic creatures. Next door, the children were now a raccoon and a squirrel and they played in their yard uncaring about their new physical appearance. Through the window, Perri could barely make out a bear watching the children play through a living room window.

"It's as if people are changing into something symbolizing their heart," a friend, as yet still human said.

Perri shuddered. He remembered the morning a group of neighbors, some transformed, some still human, chased down a chitinous horror that had once been the neighborhood curmudgeon known primarily for his cruelty and viciousness.

Yet every morning in the bathroom mirror, Perri still stared at a human visage and he always went to sleep wondering when he would change and how his neighbors might react.

One morning, still groggy from sleep, Perri opened his eyes to see his vision partially blocked by a muzzle of gray fur. With a gasp, he flung the covers off to see white furred arms and hands ending in delicate claws. 

Wobbling on slightly digitigrade legs, his new body carrying a very different shape, Perri stumbled to the bathroom mirror, overwhelmed by new physical sensations.

In the mirror, Lapine eyes stared back at him in a face framed by long white hair and long erect ears tipped in black.

R. Parks

Riley Parks watched as the surgeon placed the last stitch in the deep cut on his hand and tried to suppress his frustration. Here it was Christmas Eve, a beautiful full moon, and while he was home preparing Christmas dinner for the next day, he dropped a frozen turkey that skidded across the counter, struck a plate, and sent a butcher knife flying and ...

Well, here he was in the ER on Christmas Eve getting four stitches in his hand.

The surgeon made small talk as he put away the needles and swabs when suddenly from the hallway came a cacophony of screams and shrieks. The doctor looked up in anger, muttered something under his breath about the incompetence of hospital security guards, and walked to the open door to investigate the ruckus. Immediately, he screamed and turned to flee down the hallway leaving a stunned Riley sitting on an ER bed.

Hot on the doctor's heels, a large form fled past the open door leaving Riley staring in open-mouthed shock.

That... his stunned mind tried to say. That... that was a werewolf!

Knowing that questioning his senses was not the best use of his energies, Riley tore into the supply cabinets looking for anything to defend himself should the creature return. Maybe a scalpel or one of those long needles used for cardiac stimulation...

Suddenly, his eyes lit on a large glass bottle and Riley seized it as the last hope of a condemned man.

Riley walked out into the hallway directly into a scene from a horror story written by a hack. At the end of the hall, covered in crimson, the beast crouched and growled.

"Here, boy!" Riley said. "C'mere boy!"

As the werewolf lunged, Riley, using a facial mask as a sling, threw a large glass bottle of silver nitrate directly into the monster's face.

* * *

"And that, ladies and gentlemen," Riley said to rousing applause, "is how I got started in my current job as a werewolf hunter."

R. Laughman

Across the table, Laughman's opponent rolled the dice and smiled. Between them lay a huge game board covered in figures representing various characters. Boldly, the young man moved a piece across the board. "Looks like you're losing this one, Laughman," he said with a sinister laugh.

Laughman smiled, took the dice and sent them skittering across the board. Casually, he moved one of his own pieces across the board. His rivals' eyes widened in shock as he abruptly realized the extent of his loss.

Laughman, laughed, stood, cracked his knuckles, and the first piece he put back into the box bore a striking resemblance to his former opponent who had suddenly and mysteriously vanished.

S. Phillips

S. Bramwell

Stoker sighed as he stared at the ancient relic before him, a statue that made the mind hurt just to look at it.

Nothing had happened. Stoker had said the right words at the right time with the right ingredients and once again, he had purchased what was most likely a cleverly designed fake.

He heard a low growl behind him.

Or maybe not, he thought.

T. M. Ford

Teresa traced a line on the map before her. "Doncaster used to be known as Cair Daun, and if I know anything of ley lines, the reason the ancient Romans built a fort here was not that of access to the river, but because this place was known as a locus of power."

Paul looked over her shoulder. The map was a crisscross of straight lines that extended throughout South Yorkshire, but all of them intersected one spot, the city of Doncaster. "But if those many ley lines intersect in this area, the amount of power should be off the scale."

Teresa shook her head. "Not if the Romans found a way to put it in a form of stasis." She chewed her lower lip in thought. "Imagine if you will that for the past millennia, this nexus has been asleep."

"So can it be awakened?"

Teresa smiled. "Child's play for a savant like me."

The air trembled, shimmered, and solidified. Teresa's house melted away in the mists of time, and a crude village appeared with dirt roads and mud huts surrounded by a tall wooden wall.

Paul gasped. "Where are we?"

"Not where," Teresa said. "When. Welcome to Danum, the Roman fort that was the first settlement here. Shall we explore?"

(Note: Teresa's online shop is here. It is unlikely she sells any Roman artifacts, but if she does, they just might be authentic. ;-)

T. Ross
W. Bell
W. F. Lowe

Z. Tora

Zervon shook his head in consternation. The G.P.S. was plainly malfunctioning, and he didn't recognize the rural road where it had led him. The infuriating thing was a Christmas gift and though an off-brand he had never heard of he had thrown it in his car and today was his first day of using it.

It had led him correctly to the store that he had wanted to find, a retail that specialized in certain art books that he enjoyed, but when he left and told the G.P.S. to lead him home, it led him to unfamiliar roads and surroundings.

For the last fifteen minutes, he hadn't even seen any houses, stores, or gas stations. He stopped his car as there was no visible traffic, turned the G.P.S. off and turned it back on. He pushed the button for home, and again the female voice told him to continue on the road but assured him his destination was only ten minutes away.

The fields and their wooded boundaries gave way to thicker woods, the tops of the trees blocking Zervon's view of the sky.

"Home is on the left," the G.P.S. intoned.

The trees gave way to a settlement of bamboo huts with roofs of long grass. Stopping his car, Zervon stared in surprise at his destination.

When the tigers came out, walking like humans on digitigrade legs, striped furry arms open in welcome, Zervon realized that his G.P.S. was intelligent enough to know the difference between home and a house.