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What I learned at Army ROTC Cadet Basic Camp 2017.

31 July, 2017

Hooah! I’m back home from Fort Knox, and feeling fine! Army ROTC Basic Camp was one Hell of a way to spend a month: it was at times grueling, glorious, tedious, exhilarating, and above all, fun. Did it suck? Of course. But I also learned a lot about the Army, officership, and myself. I made lifelong friends. And I feel more confident than ever about my life’s trajectory. I had life-changing experiences, and I want to share some of my reflections on these with you. I’m especially honored to be part of the small percentage of Americans who have the honor of experiencing military training and service. Basic Camp was only the first step on a long journey, but it was a big step, and one that leaves me feeling warmed-up and fortified for the road ahead.

 

First, let me be clear about what training program this was. I’m enrolled in the U.S. Army’s ROTC, (Reserve Officer Training Corp) which was created originally in 1916 as part of the United States’ buildup for entry into World War One. ROTC operates nationwide through civilian colleges, to train student cadets into new Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard officers. The combination of military training and their respective college degree programs gives these officers diverse skillsets: commissioned officers hold degrees in fields ranging from mechanical engineering, to business, to biology. Cadets engage in physical training, classroom military science classes, and field training exercises, all while gradually assuming command responsibility, and being evaluated on their leadership performance. They concurrently take the same college classes as other students in their degree program, and are encouraged to participate in university sports, clubs, and activities. The commissioning process is competitive, and cadets earn Active Duty spots in different branches of the Army (Infantry, Armor, Engineering, etc.,) concurrent with their grades, physical fitness, and leadership skills.

 

ROTC is typically a four-year program, wherein the cadet typically earns a scholarship in exchange for a contractual term of military service. But because the Marketing MBA I’m pursuing is a two-year program, I’ll be completing all ROTC commissioning requirements in two years. The training I did this summer at Cadet Basic Camp allows me to “catch up,” since it fulfills the requirements that four-year cadets knock out in their first two years of the program. Also, because I’m on a Minuteman Scholarship, I’ll be serving in the Reserve concurrent to my time in school! If anyone is considering ROTC, I strongly recommend considering the Minuteman and other National Guard/Reserve options through the Simultaneous Membership Program: whether you go Active or Reserve after college, your Drill Weekends and Annual Training will get you extra “on the job learning” that most of your peers will lack. You’ll have extra time on technical skills such as weapons and first aid, and you can learn from the experienced Soldiers in your unit. Plus, you get paid, and it’s fun.

 

Anyway, Cadet Basic Camp is the first fully immersive Army experience most cadets have, in the sense of living on an Army installation in full uniform and conducting daily training for an extended period. If rumor serves me well, this initial cadet training used to be a lot easier, but the new Commanding General of Cadet Command turned up the heat significantly a couple years ago. We had mean Drill Sergeants who smoked us daily and pushed our physical and mental limits, in an excellent program of improving our individual discipline and unit cohesion. We learned basic soldier skills of marksmanship, weapons maintenance, land navigation, first aid, radio communication, squad tactics, drill and ceremony, and more. And we got to take turns stepping up to lead our fellow cadets on the Team, Squad, Platoon, and Company levels, through daily tasks, and field exercises. While Cadet Basic Camp is admittedly a far cry from the Army’s Basic Combat Training (which all enlisted recruits go through) in terms of duration and harshness, (4 weeks versus 10,) the program was clearly designed to test our intestinal fortitude as prospective leaders of the United States Army. I feel confident in saying that all of us who stuck it out came away a little grittier, more Soldierly, and with a few extra ounces of that precious resource fundamental to the success of all great armies throughout history: Discipline.

 

For me, Basic Camp gave me so many minute lessons and precious experiences, that I can’t possibly recount all of them here. And I’m honestly not sure that I’d want to give everything away: some stories are exclusive to me and my battle buddies, and would decrease in value if they were over-circulated. What I’ve attempted to do here is narrow it down to a few of the big picture, thematic lessons. On top of all these, one of the biggest realizations I had was how little I still know about truly being a great Soldier and Officer: character transformations take time, sustained effort, and the kind of experiences you can only gain in the thick of things, out there.

 

That said, here it goes …

 

Always have your battle buddy’s back, and always be disciplined.

 

For those who don’t know, “smoking” is when the Drill Sergeant orders a large quantity of exercise which often only ends when the recruits have been reduced to a flailing, jittering mass of exhausted muscles, heaving lungs, and dirty sweat globules. Each iteration of these extra exercise bonanzas is known as a “smoke session.” You know the smoking’s about to commence when you hear the dreaded command of “Half-right: face!” (“Turn diagonally to the right so you all have room, in theory, to drop down and kick your feet back into pushup position without clocking the guy behind you in the face and getting your fingers stomped on by the guy in front of you. In theory.”)

 

And if there’s one thing that anyone who’s ever been in the military, known someone in the military, or even seen a war movie knows about Drill Sergeants, it’s that those loud gentlemen in the Smoky the Bear hats love to smoke recruits for seemingly anything and everything.

 

Cadet Johnston didn’t shave this morning?! I can fix that. Johnston: you have twenty seconds to run inside and grab your razor. Everyone else: Half-right, face!

 

Oh, Cadet Winston thinks he can move at the position of attention?! Well, sounds like all are restless, guess ya need more exercise! Half-right, face!

 

Falling asleep during your four-hour classroom lesson on the 7 Army Values?! On your feet! Half-right, face!

 

It’s your birthday, huh? How old are you? That’s how many eight-count push-ups we’re doing! Platoon! Half-right, face!

 

While the severity of the sessions can vary, getting smoked generally sucks. You get extra sweat, extra dirt on your recently cleaned uniform, your sore and tired muscles get even more sore and tired, there’s mental stress on top of mental stress, and bloody hands from doing pushups on gravel. You learn eventually that getting smoked isn’t the end of the world that it feels like at first, and it can even become funny in some circumstances, but it still always kinda sucks.

 

Why do the Drills do it? Are they just sadistic demons who like to watch you suffer? Believe it or not, Drill Sergeants and their methods exist to instill discipline, both on a team level, and on an individual level. Ever since Baron von Steuben helped Washington train his frozen and starving Continental soldiers back at Valley Forge, the U.S. Army has treasured discipline. It keeps units together in the face of enemy fire and tough environmental conditions, it overcomes individual fears and doubts, and it allows an army to out-coordinate and out-fight its enemies on the battlefield. All the fancy technology and military theory doesn’t mean a damn without discipline. George Washington said it best:

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.”

In training, as in battle, if one member of your platoon screws up, it means you’ve all screwed up. The Army is a team sport. Battles and wars are won and survived as a team, and one screw-up by one member of that team means unnecessary pain for everyone. And in war, that pain can be a lot worse than push-ups. That’s the lesson Drill Sergeants are burning into you when they make you drop and do push-ups for seemingly small things, like someone’s flag patch being crooked, or someone missing their cadet handbook, or someone dozing off during class instruction. Being lazy about attention to detail, both for yourself and your buddy, puts you all in danger. You make sure your shit is squared away, and you make sure your buddy’s shit is squared away, so that when you meet the enemy, you all have the best odds possible of defeating that enemy, and coming home in one piece. Your radio, vehicle, armor, rifle, ammo, gas mask, and mental alertness all need to be as perfect as possible. And your buddy’s better all be that way too, or you, him, his family, and the rest of your unit are paying the price.

 

We each learned that if we screwed up as individuals, our whole team was going to pay for it. And, if we wanted to minimize smokings in the future, we had to look out for each other. That means making sure your buddy’s uniform is all squared away, that he (or she) has all his gear, that he doesn’t nod off during lectures, and that you, he, and everyone else get to every single formation prepared and on time.

 

None of us arrived at camp as the perfect cadet. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. We each kept dutifully on top of some tasks, while slipping up on others, and that’s where that critical Looking Out for Each Other rose to prominence. We covered each other’s individual weaknesses with our respective individual strengths, and that kept our unit stronger, whether we were cleaning the barracks, choking on tear gas, or running through tactical exercise lanes. No, I didn’t necessarily like everyone in my platoon: one or two of them were downright irritating and unpleasant, to be completely honest. I’m sure one or two people didn’t like me! Personalities clash! But no matter how frustrated we sometimes got with each other, we were still battle buddies, and still looked after each other so we could rise to each challenge and make it through as a team, with a minimum of unnecessary pain. (And I gotta say, the vast majority of my platoon were and are champs!)

 

By the end of Camp, when one of us screwed up and had to do push-ups, we would voluntarily and almost immediately all drop and join them in the suckage, without a word from Drill Sergeant. We functioned automatically as a unit, and were each stronger individually for it.

 

That’s a profound lesson, and one I know I’ll have reinforced throughout my Army career.

 

Embrace the suck!

 

Basic Camp was fun. It also sucked. It sucked really bad sometimes.

 

It didn’t suck at first. We didn’t have drill sergeants during the first three days of Camp, we just had reception battalion NCO’s and officers. They yelled at us, but only made us do a few pushups a couple of times. Some of them were cool and gave good advice, but those first three days were mostly boring and full of hurry-up-and-wait. Exceptional bright spots included an interesting speech by Commanding General Major General Hughes, and some useful mental training by contracted civilian sports trainers.

 

Then, on the fourth day, at 0400, we met our drill sergeants. Without any overt warning the previous day (though we figured they had to arrive sometime) those screaming, terrifying tyrants stormed into our rooms, flipped on the lights, and used their impressive motivational skills to persuade us to quickly exit our bunks, get on our shoes, and stand at formation outside in the dark of the morning. Hooah!

 

Once outside, we were thrust into a barrage of physical activity (push-ups being the dominant theme) that lasted for most of the entire day, and left our hands cracked and bleeding from all that lovely gravel and broken asphalt. (“Rock star hands,” as our ever-comedic Drill Sergeant remarked.) Through the constant experience of harsh voices and harsh exercise, we began to learn the necessities of moving quickly, sounding off when you’re supposed to, shutting up when you’re supposed to, and above all staying motivated and disciplined throughout training.

 

Overall, this was physically exhausting, painful, and tested my willpower. For these first couple days, the Drill Sergeants made our lives absolute hell, and combined the physical challenge with reminders that we didn’t have to be there, and could get on a plane the next day and be home watching Netflix and eating and drinking whatever we want. This was of course all part of the mental games that Drill Sergeants employ to weed out the undedicated and begin the age-old process of instilling discipline in recruits. I reminded myself of why I joined, and kept my eyes on the future prize…but, in the moment, sitting there in the front-leaning rest position, sweat drenching my body, arms shaking with exhaustion, hands burning, I considered quitting. At least for a few seconds. All I’d have to do was stand up. But I made giving up an impossibility in my mind, and reminded myself that the only way out was through. I kept going through the suckage, got stronger, calloused up my hands, learned to move fast and work with my platoonmates, and in a few weeks, I graduated.

 

You know what the key is to make it through all the Suck of military training? Embrace it. Embrace the Suck. Embrace the pain, the exhaustion, the fatigue, the hunger, the tedium, the frustration, and all the taunting, enraging failures that come before the final success. Yeah, the situation you’re in sucks: what are you going to do about it? Get frustrated, get sad, cry, complain…or ma up and do something. Don’t just endure the suck, embrace it! Laugh about it! Let it make you stronger. Live all those stories that you can tell later: the stories that prove you refused to take the easy way out, that you stepped up to the challenge to pursue something important, met some tough resistance along the way, and kept going even when it hurt like hell.

 

Embrace all of that, I found, and it makes the next challenge that much easier. When you wince, and cry, and bitch and moan about it all, it just makes the next challenge agonizingly more difficult. On deployment, I know that a lot of things are going to suck a lot worse than they did in training, and it’s going to be harder to accept the bad situations, but the same dynamic applies. There are situations you can’t change, and challenges you can’t escape. So, you soldier on, play the hand you’ve been dealt, and find the humor where you can.

 

Some of the many other things at Camp that sucked included:

  • The CS tear gas chamber, where we felt the effects of tear gas with and without our equipment. (Spoilers: the equipment works great, but without it, tear gas SUCKS.)
  • Our 12km night ruck march up the infamous hills of Fort Knox.
  • The habitual lack of sleep throughout camp.
  • The habitual hunger while at camp, especially in the field. And that one time the DFAC ran out of food.
  • Getting smoked for stupid, stupid (Mine or someone else’s.)
  • The combination of all the little discomforts of heat, sweat, dirt, and the need to focus while tired.

 

The further into the month we got, the more we all learned the wisdom of embracing suck. I’ll always remember that.

 

Never, ever quit, and you’ll learn just how far you can go.

 

Never give in, never give in, never, never, never- in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. -Winston Churchill

 

The U.S. Army Soldier’s Creed contains the Warrior Ethos, which reads as follows:

 

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

 

During my time at Basic Camp, I gave 100% to living that ethos, and learned a lesson about those middle two lines. As I previously mentioned, Camp was tough. The thought of quitting crossed my mind: first, during our initial hours with the Drill Sergeants, and second, during the hilly 12-km ruck march back from the field. The temptation to quit slithered its way into smaller moments as well, with the urge to sleep when I had to pay attention, or how much easier it would be to stop doing so many pushups and just drop to my knees.

 

But, other than allowing myself a few moments to wallow in self-pity, I always pushed through. I pushed through the pain, the fear, and fatigue, and found success, pride, and strength on the other side. The pressures of Camp; from drill sergeants, from my encouraging platoon mates, and from my own revved up drive to make it as an Army Officer: these pushed me past the mental barriers that I too-often allow to stop me in my life back home. Had it not been for my decision to join the Army and embark on its training, I never would have learned how far I could go when I refused to accept surrender or defeat as possibilities in my reality.

 

Our last night in the field, our platoon of about 40 cadets was set up in a patrol base: that’s a triangular formation, set up for concealment, rest, and defense while on missions in hostile territory. We all lay prone, M-16’s at the ready, keeping guard out into the darkening woods for any sign of hostile movement. I, being part of our platoon’s weapons squad, had the duty of guarding the chief apex of our base. This apex was the entrance and exit point of our formation, and it was the job of me and my battle buddy to challenge anyone who approached (“Halt! Who goes there?”) and have them give the correct password before we could let them in. Plus, I had to keep track of everyone who left. While hostile activity (aka drill sergeants testing our defenses) could come from any direction, this apex would be the most likely avenue of approach for any (simulated) insidious insurgent treachery.

 

I knew that if I screwed up, my platoon would be smoked like a chicken at a July 4th barbecue. In the “real world,” we’d all be dead. So, being the cautious cadet that I am, I kept guard even longer than required throughout the entire night. Since our squad was working in security shifts to allow sleep time, this probably wasn’t necessary, but in my head that dark, dark, night, I entertained thoughts of imminent enemy assault from any angle, or at the least, tricky drill sergeants sneaking in where someone fell asleep. And so, I lay there, scanning the inky blackness with no flashlight or night vision, rifle ready to “BANG BANG BANG” at any bad guys. As the night went on, from all around the patrol base I periodically heard others’ reports of baddies moving out there, maybe surrounding us for an assault, and at the least checking on our security. On top of that, my fatigue, combined with habitual lack of sleep, and the darkness, and the S P O O K Y nocturnal noises (coyote howls and yelps, the heavy panting of a huge deer,) all conspired to keep me extra paranoid. It’s amazing how much your mind can play tricks on you when you’re tired, nervous, and staring into the dark. Every tree became a potential (ridiculously tall) bad guy, lurking to attack.

 

I think I slept about two hours that night. The next day, which was mostly spent on more tactical exercises, began with my thoughts slopping about my head like a dreary November slush. I could barely function at first, and wondered how I’d possibly make it through the day. But to my surprise and pleasure, this improved as I warmed up and got some food in me, and I ended up doing a good job as a squad leader on an ambush mission!

 

Then, that evening, testing my endurance yet further, we did a 12-kilometer ruck march back to garrison from the field. I got about a half hour nap in before that, and then our company was on the road, marching from 2200 to about 0100 in helmet, camouflage face paint, 40-pound rucksack, and weapon in hand. The route was hilly, dark, and we were moving at a moderate pace, on two tactical lines on the side of the road. Like any road march of this type, we had to maintain spacing of 5 to 10 meters with the soldier to the front and back of us, which often involved speeding up to what felt like an uncomfortable pace on the frequent hills. We went over two of Knox’s infamous three major hills, Heartache and Misery, the latter being absolute murder of a quarter mile up: my lungs were burning, my heart was pounding, and it felt like a Herculean effort to keep putting each foot in front of and above the other, up that stupidly steep incline. That was the only point on the march where I was truly having thoughts of just flopping over to the side and giving up. But I pushed past that weakness of thought, and made it back to the barracks sweaty and triumphant, where we stretched, ate Pop Tarts, showered, and slept before 0600 wakeup the next day.

 

I even tripped and fell at one point during the march, with my canteen and weapon hilariously flying away from me as I sprawled out, loudly uttering an expletive. But my drill sergeant and comrades got me back on my feet in seconds, I was uninjured, and I kept going. I saw what I could do when I refused to quit.

 

I’m Happy with the Path I’ve Chosen

 

The path I’ve chosen won’t be an easy one, and I’ve only just begun. It’s going to get a lot harder, in the advanced stages of ROTC training, especially Advance Camp next summer back at Knox, and then on deployment in distant and dangerous places.

 

But it’s a path that I couldn’t be happier about choosing. The Army, despite its problems and for all the blunders of American foreign policy, is a great institution. It’s the greatest army in the history of mankind, and stands proudly alongside the Ancient Romans and 19th Century British as the dominant military of its era. America, for all its flaws, is the greatest nation in the history of the world, and it’s an honor to serve in the Army which has protected that nation and won its wars so many times in our over 200 years of history.

 

And, the Army is a lot of fun. Life is dull without challenges, and the Army presents plenty of those, physically and mentally. I’ve already gotten to learn the basics of moving, shooting, and communicating, I’ve made new friends, I’ve used new professional lingo, and I have so many more technical and leadership skills to learn throughout the rest of my time in ROTC and beyond. I will have to use those skills in dangerous and unfun situations. But the overall satisfaction of growing stronger and beating challenges in the name of such a worthy cause is without question worth all the risk and pain for me.

 

The alternative path would be one of ease, and regret. The ease would come from never having to rise to a physical challenge if I didn’t want to, or face violent danger, or maintain my physical readiness and combat effectiveness. I could and probably would still do so for reasons of my own health and personal security, but, it wouldn’t be so definite and duty-bound as in military service. The regret would come after spending years building a successful civilian career, with a growing income and personal opportunities…and waking up to realize I’m too set on that path or too old to embark on military service. To get to be thirty, thirty-five, forty, and have no exciting stories from my youth, of when I really pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, when things really sucked, and I persisted and got the job done.

 

No. I refuse the easy path.

 

I took the leap. I signed the contract, I stood and raised my hand, and swore my oath. I will be a United States Army Officer, and happily accept everything that title comes with. I’m especially proud to be carrying on family tradition: just as my uncle is retiring from a 30 year Army career as a full bird Colonel, I’m beginning my own journey, to be a new Lieutenant Wilson. My month at Fort Knox in the summer of 2017 was a glorious, dirty, humbling, proud step towards my commissioning day. There’s no turning back. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

An excerpt from The Devil and the Doctor

25 May, 2017

Click for the direct link to Amazon

An excerpt from 

The Devil and the Doctor

My new novel came out: it’s on Amazon, and on the site of my publisher Dark Moon Press. It’s a supernatural thriller. I’ve been talking about it a while, but basically, it’s about a modern incarnation of the Jersey Devil, who has to save the world from a doomsday cult. Many monsters, blood and guts, and magic ensue. It’s pulpy and fast-paced, and I drew a lot of inspiration from Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and the works of H.P. Lovecraft so if you enjoy that kind of thing you may enjoy this.

Here’s an excerpt from early on in the story, when the shape-shifting protagonist, Malcolm, and his girlfriend, Alleena, are setting forth on their quest to the cult’s nasty little town of Newbrooke, NY.

 

Not many people were up on an early Saturday morning in Chepston, so the car passed through Main Street quietly. The long drive up to and on the Interstate passed uneventfully. Bizarrely uneventfully, seemed to the two of them, considering recent events. All the rest of the world remained unaware for now, though the story of the kidnapping might reach the news in a day or two. A growing number of cars and trucks filled the highway, especially when passing the exit for New York City, but it was all essentially smooth sailing as the minutes and hours passed. Alleena took advantage of the time to nap. When she wasn’t sleeping, she told Malcolm more about Newbrooke.

The best known landmark of the isolated little New York town was the Newbrooke Infirmary, started by the infamous Doctor Benedict Holt towards the end of World War I. The “doctor,” who in fact lacked full-fledged medical training and whose true profession was fire and brimstone preaching, advertised his hospital far and wide as a healing sanctuary for the physically and mentally damaged. This included the criminally insane, war veterans, children stricken with infectious diseases, drunks, industrial accident victims, as well as unruly teenage girls conveniently branded as insane. Holt gathered many followers, who joined him in his declared goal of not only immediately healing the sick but also of more widely purifying society of the sins that led to sickness in the first place. All of it was in the name of the Lord. The Reverend-Doctor as people began to call him, increasingly combined religious ideology with his practice of medicine. Rumors, Alleena described, began to spread, of unnecessary surgeries, radical “therapies” more akin to bizarre religious ritual, strange chanting in the night, grave robbing, patients mysteriously vanishing from all sight and record, and horrific screams emanating from the asylum’s tower. The tower loomed over the town, and the rumors to this day spoke of it as Holt’s haunted and secret operating room, where he performed his most ghoulish disfigurations and tortures, pushing human bodies and minds to and then beyond the limits of their sanity.

Eventually, the Reverend-Doctor died in a mysterious accident which many suspected to be revenge, and the lid blew off the whole grisly affair. The Feds came in force, raided the asylum as well as the meeting places of the Order, (as the group was then formed and called,) and arrested as many members as they could. Interrogations of the fanatics revealed much of their true ideology, as Holt’s followers felt no need to hide what they saw as the most sacred truths; openly boasting of their crimes, and declaring their shared confidence in the Doomsday to be wrought by the Shining God Thag-Mishaolath . Those ravings were dismissed as madness, of course, but nothing could ever scrub from the eyes and minds of Hoover’s boys what they found in the operating rooms, altars, and labyrinthine tunnels of that asylum. Experienced crime-fighters, who had cut their teeth cleaning up the mean streets of Chicago and New York, vomited and fainted at the sights, smells, and sounds of variously disfigured, sewn together, frozen, burned, opened up, and blinded victims, some scarcely recognizable as human beings, from the way their flesh had been twisted. The lucky ones were dead, some of those killed at the last minute by their captors as the Tommy guns opened up and the doors were battered down.

As for the survivors of Benedict Holt’s reign…well, it was easy to keep things out of the papers back then, and no one from the Bureau ever offered any comment on the black clouds of foul-smelling smoke billowing from the closed-off crime scene for days on end. The same went for the other things found in Newbrooke Infirmary, beyond the implements and victims of the tortures rivaling what would take place in the death camps the second time the world went to war. Those other things, and the word “things” was the best anyone could manage for something neither animal, human, nor vegetable, scuttered and zipped about the hidden recesses of the Infirmary, always just out of sight, always watching, throughout the entire investigation. Some of the Feds swore they saw as well as heard them, throughout the grisly process of photography, body removal, and evidence collection. They only ever saw the things in quick glances of the peripheral vision, except for the one rookie who wandered off alone down the tunnels, was sent home instantly and quit the force weeks later, after he was found in a puddle of his own piss, babbling incoherently about “The Eyes beyond the walls,” “Hoary gory,” and a random mix of English and words in a language no one recognized. But he was just an orphan rookie with no family, and again, the press didn’t need to know such details.

The prosperity of the rest of the Roaring ’20’s passed the town by without a second glance, and the Great Depression slammed Newbrooke, down like an emaciated boxer knocked out by the heavyweight champ of history. Order members had been a bigger and richer share of the population than outsiders realized, and those who weren’t in the electric chair or jail cells laid low out west and down south. The bloody history chased away and kept out even the boldest entrepreneurs, plus, old folks and children alike whispered that the things that once went bump in the rotting rooms of the Infirmary, now went bump in the alleys and woods, on moonless nights. Maybe that’s why no one found the political will to “just go and dynamite” Holt’s damned old hellhole, as some suggested: whatever ghouls and goblins the Order loonies had called down, raised up, or stitched together didn’t feel the need to confine themselves to a single vacant building when they had whole abandoned blocks of town to themselves. The evil was out there now, and, some of those old houses hadn’t felt the warmth of a human family in many years…besides, TNT cost money that no one cared to spend, if they even had it.

And so Newbrooke Infirmary lingered and rotted like a dead parasitic worm, infecting and killing the host around it. The rest of the country quickly forgot about what happened there, exceptions occurring a couple times in the 1990’s and 2000’s as authors and paranormal investigation reality shows paid visits. All the while, the scattered remnants of the Order sought to reassert themselves. Holt’s original devotees, or their children and grandchildren, trickled back in among the tiny stream of oblivious fools who looked at the rock-bottom real estate and saw only dollar signs. Those devotees included Alleena’s parents, and so she found herself throughout childhood in the clutches of that cult, learning its scriptures and prophecies, witnessing its rituals, and carrying all the scars to this day. And now, on a dreary and drizzly October evening, she returned to where the horror began, and where, if there were any sanity or justice left in the world, it would finally end …

All this information Malcolm received from Alleena as they drove for the final stretch. They’d long since left New York City behind, and as cars and road signs became fewer and fewer, one could be mistaken for thinking one had traveled back to the times of the first Puritan colonists. It was nearly as poor and as Natural as the area of the Pine Barrens Malcolm had left, though more of the trees were deciduous. Just the same, Malcolm found no ability to admire the bronze and scarlet fall foliage as he reflected on the history of their destination, asking questions of Alleena here and there. He felt deepening disgust and dread in his chest, and it struck him as bizarre how utterly the crimes that took place in this tiny upstate town had been scrubbed from the popular conscious, in contrast to those of so many serial killers, terrorists, and gangsters. You’d think you’d hear more about it…but wouldn’t the Order want it this way? But then he was thinking like an Illuminati conspiracy theorist, and he didn’t want to think that way any longer. Instead, he focused on knowing his enemy, and the battlefield of the conflict to come. He wished he knew more about himself, but again, that wasn’t helpful thinking.

The drizzly rain grew into a downpour, and the sky exploded with lightning. The great cannon fire of thunder shuddered through their chests. The half-obscured exit for Newbrooke led them down a narrow gravel road. They passed a few farms which had seen better days, and then the cornfields and cow pastures were again replaced with trees and looming hills which closed in with each passing mile, forming an increasingly muddy valley. The headlights, even with the high-beams on, were as useful as a glowstick tossed into the Marianas Trench.

Malcolm slowed down to avoid hitting any obstacles, as much as to preserve traction on the pebble-and-mud river flowing beneath his car. His natural night vision didn’t do much against solid walls of icy water.

Shit, I can barely see out there,” Alleena said, her voice barely heard over the constant hiss and roar of the rain. “I I’m sorry…I think we missed the last turn.”

You sure?”

She stuck her face close to the window-glass and squinted. “Yes. Yeah, we missed the crossroads. Slow down, pull over here.”

I’m excited for the latest from A24 (producers of “The Witch” and “Ex Machina!”): “It Comes at Night”

23 May, 2017

Careful, doggo!

I hope everything’s going well with you all. Things are on the upswing for me. I’m getting ready to leave for Army training next month, I’m having fun with my friends and family, and I’m getting better at all my skills: writing, harmonica, languages, running, lifting. The improvement and the presence of exciting things on the horizon feel good, plus, the weather’s been beautiful, more often than not.

 

I was browsing YouTube recently and came across the trailer for the new horror movie It Comes At Night. I haven’t heard a ton of buzz about it, but from the trailer, it looks promising. The film looks to have the tense, psychological dread that I appreciate in movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing. In fact, from the trailer and the plot synopsis, It comes at Night looks and sounds quite Thing-like, but with its own twists. I wonder how gory it’ll be compared with Carpenter’s film.

 

The film is written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, and produced by A24. This’ll be Shults’ second movie with the independent studio, after Krisha. You may know A24 from other such Horror and Thriller films as Ex Machina and The Witch. The New York company, founded by Dan Katz, David Fenkel, and John Hodges, has been around since 2012, and have quickly established themselves as an especially creative, and prolific producer of diverse, quirky, and interesting movies such as Swiss Army Man, and The Lobster.

 

It Comes stars Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbot, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Riley Keough, with music by Brian McOmber, and cinematography by Drew Daniels. The movie made its debut at the Overlook Film Festival (at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon,) in April of this year, and will get its wider release on June 9th. Thus far, critics seem to like it.

 

I hope the trailer isn’t giving away too much. But, I get the sense that the story and the monster have enough squicky twists and turns and moral headaches to keep the film engaging. Like I said, it clearly draws influence from The Thing, and recalls for me Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Cabin Fever. (A funny title to mention on the same level as the other two!)

 

I’ll be out of town (ARMY!) when It Comes at Night hits theatres, but I’ll add it to my list for when I return.

 

What about you?

Joining the Army! My career news updates.

27 April, L.I. A.S.

I’m joining the Army!

The weather here in Rochester is beautiful today! I hope it’s equally pleasant wherever you live, get outside! It’s finally feeling like Spring!

I want to take a bit of time here to write about the direction I’m taking my life in. After spending some time of my young adulthood in college classes, in a related political internship, in a financial career, and all the while writing my own fiction and freelance articles, I’ve decided I want to pursue a career in marketing. The way I see it, marketing is an area where my skills in writing, and my budding interest in business, intersect elegantly. I admire the mass persuasive ability of a good marketing campaign, whether for a business, a charity, or a government, and I want to put my skills to use helping to build such campaigns for worthy causes.

To that end, I’m planning on going back to school this Fall to earn my M.B.A, concentrated in Marketing. The work sounds interesting, I’ll expand my technical skills, and career opportunities abound in the field, with great pay for marketing managers.

Grad school at a private college as I’ll be attending is, of course, expensive, so partly for that reason, I’ve joined the U.S. Army Reserve! I officially signed my contract and swore in one week ago, and am in the process of processing into my unit. Military benefits include great educational funding. In my case, I could be getting pretty much a full ride, as I’m reaching the tail end of the process of applying to R.O.T.C, specifically a Minuteman Scholarship. Fingers crossed, I’ll get full tuition for the two years of the M.B.A. program, a housing stipend, and get to serve in the Army Reserve for six years. I’m hyped at the entire prospect!

I’ve been accepted into the M.B.A. program. Now it’s a matter of seeing whether I get that scholarship.

Above and beyond the financial benefits, military service is something I’ve actively considered for the past couple years. I’ve admired military service for a long time: war, nasty as it is, truly is the “First Art” for a civilization, as preparedness and victory in it is what allows for the flourishing of commerce, science, and other civil arts within a secure perimeter. I’ve benefited from the U.S. military’s “perimeter” all my life, I’ll benefit from it even more once I start earning good money in my civilian career, I’ve relished military history for most of my life, and it’s high time I start contributing to American and global security myself.

Out of all the branches, it was a no-brainer for me to choose the Army: I have family history in it through my grandfathers, uncle, and great-uncle, my favorite historical U.S. officers are from the Army, it’s the senior and biggest branch, and I want to be in the ground forces.

As for what job I want to do within the Army once I commission as a 2nd Lieutenant upon earning my degree, my top choice is Civil Affairs. There’s a long and difficult track into that position, so I’ll have to do something else first. Right now, that’s slated to be Intelligence.

I’m hyped for all this. It’s shaping up to be a great year. Onward!!

-G.R. Wilson

Book Recommendation: “Mastery,” by George Leonard

My thoughts on 

Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment

by George Leonard

I recently finished reading George Leonard’s 1992 book Mastery. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their quality of life through the learning of new skills. Whether you want to be a great (or even good) athlete, computer programmer, parent, cook, author, musician, or entrepreneur, you’ll almost certainly find Leonard’s experience and perspective to be both inspiring and practical on your journey.

I was turned on to this trim little book by Owen Cook of Real Social Dynamics, a man who has certainly become a master in his own fields. I was intrigued both because Owen knows what he’s talking about in my experience and because I generally love books that help me learn new ways to improve my life. I went in knowing next to nothing about the book or its author, other than that the book was about the pursuit of learning and mastery for its own sake, rather than a “goals over process” approach that many today follow.

The author, the late George Burr Leonard (1923-2010) certainly speaks from well-earned experience on the topic of mastery. Leonard was a U.S. Army Air Forces pilot and flight instructor during the Second World War, who trained new pilots on the B-25 bomber and flew numerous combat missions in the Pacific. He went on to write thirteen books (mostly on the topics of human potential, and sexual relations,) and earn his fifth-degree black belt in Aikido, and open his own dojo of that martial art.

Leonard’s book focuses on the concept of Mastery, as in mastery of skills technical, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. When he talks about this concept, he means not so much “Being among the best 1% (or 5%, or 10%,)” of practitioners, but rather the never-ending practice of the the particular skill. The path, rather than the summit. Leonard bemoans modern society’s focus on climactic moments, quick-fixes, (“hacks,” as many today would say,) and easy wins, claiming convincingly that such a focus does much to help sell soft drinks, credit cards, and sneakers, but is anathema to the deep joys that come from truly developing oneself within a skillset.

In Mastery, Leonard challenges us to focus on the path, rather than the goal: he uses the analogy of a mountain climber who can see the summit in the distance, and who knows he’s headed in the right direction to reach it, but who keeps his eyes focused on the path immediately ahead.

Start with the fundamentals of a sport, say, tennis. Really master and know deep in your sinews and bones the way to properly hold a racket, how to perform a forehand swing, then a backswing, then a serve, then how to move and return an opponent’s serves, and so on. During such a process of proper learning, the student is sure to experience frustration, and feel multiple times that they are “stuck” on a plateau of no discernable improvement, before their brain can internalize the newest step of the path, and the journey again proceeds excitingly upward, until the student hits another slow, flat spot, and so on …

Leonard explains many of the dynamics behind people’s frustrations when they attempt to start a new hobby or other skill, including three broad types of people who experience those frustrations. He also helpfully offers advice on how to maintain focus on the path. At the foundations, the day to day, nitty-gritty, fundamental activity of doing the Thing at one’s present level of ability, and pushing a bit further every day, is the way through those frustrations and to the true joys of getting good at something. The author offers, coming from the Zen tradition, mindsets and physical methods of staying on the path of mastery for the long-haul, no matter what obstacles life throws in the way.

In short, Mastery is a solid, quick read that helps focus the mind and inspire positive action on one’s hobbies, professional skills, habits, and relationships. I took away a renewed commitment to take the steps every day on my writing, my fitness, my harmonica, and my other skills, to practice the fundamentals, and to push myself a bit more each day. The point isn’t to go all out for WINNING, (though vision and strong desire for a better future are also important,) but to be present and engrossed in the daily activity as an end in itself, with quiet confidence that the bigger external wins (money, women, fame, etc) will come in time anyway.

I can dig it. Check it out.

-Geoff

My first novel, “The Devil and the Doctor,” is now for sale!

23 April, L A.S. (2017)

The Devil and the Doctor is now available!

Good afternoon and happy Spring, ladies and gentlemen!!

Today I’m proud to announce the release of my first novel, entitled The Devil and the Doctor (Book One of the Malcolm Leeds Chronicles). Click the cover above to be redirected to the Amazon link, and please have a look at my publisher’s website, at Dark Moon Press.com. The book is available in paperback from both Amazon and Dark Moon Press, with a Kindle version coming soon!

I’m ecstatic to finally have this story in print. It has been a long time in coming: I’ve gone through multiple major rewrites and countless hours of “Is it good enough??” anxieties in getting this story out of my head and on paper for you all. I don’t think my uncertainties and stresses have been any different than what the vast majority of first-time novelists experience, and I’m proud as Hell to have run that gauntlet! I’ve learned a lot about the novel writing process, and I feel a greater sense of confidence in writing the next entry in the Malcolm Leeds series, and other novels. I arrived at this goal through a great deal of support and encouragement from friends and family, as well as painstakingly cultivated self-discipline. I’ve also been inspired by colleagues, heroes, and other favorite authors of mine, who kept my light of hope and creativity burning bright even when my outlook fizzled and went dim. A great book can be one of the greatest friends of a struggling writer.

So, what is The Devil and the Doctor about?

This novel is a supernatural horror thriller set in contemporary times. It follows the quest of the rough yet good-hearted young man, Malcolm Leeds, to rescue the people important to him and save the world. Though on the surface, Mr. Leeds he may appear to be a basic backwoods exterminator/animal relocator, he holds within himself a dark and mysterious power of transformation, carried through the ages since legendary times. Malcolm struggles not only against the external threats of a doomsday cult and its various monstrosities but also to maintain the proper balance of his own dual nature and find a sense of purpose.

An intense opening scene of violence and tragedy leads him and his lover Alleena on a journey out of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and up to the cursed little town of Newbrooke, New York. There, Malcolm and his companions face dire supernatural threats in a community overtaken by the designs of a twisted scientist and prophet. Leeds will have to find who is ally and who is foe, fight hard, and embrace his own nature in order to overcome peril and save humanity from cosmic doom.

Why did I write this particular story?

After dabbling in writing during my childhood, I grew increasingly committed to it during my freshman year of college onward. I’ve loved reading my entire life, and wanted to contribute something of my own to the world’s fiction library. I’d written numerous short stories (mostly horror, and many more than the ones that have seen publication,) with the plan of sooner-or-later writing a novel. Short stories are wonderful in their own way, but I didn’t feel like I’d ever be “complete” as a writer unless I wrote at least one, and preferably dozens, of novels. I had ideas for stories and characters and monsters fluttering around my head, and it was time to bring them to life.

This particular story came about in the following way. First, I knew I wanted to write a horror book, because Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft are some of my biggest inspirations and I want to master that genre the best I can. Second, I wanted to write something fast-paced with a lot of action, because I was most confident I could make something like that fun to write and read at my current level of ability, so, I added the modifier of “thriller” to my book’s genre classification, and brought myself to this supernatural thriller horror set-up.

I had the idea of a Jersey Devil-based protagonist floating around my head for months before I started on the opening scene and the wider planning. I’m a big superhero fan, so I had some inspiration from transforming characters such as the Incredible Hulk, as well as of course werewolves.

For the bad guys: I’d actually come up with the bare basics of our lead villain of Dr. Benedict Holt back in my The Night in Newbrooke Infirmary story back in Right Behind You, and wanted to build on that foundation. I adore Lovecraftian monsters and cultists and have always found the whole concept and reoccurring practice of religious fanaticism to be frightening and fascinating. I slipped in some survival horror video game inspiration (namely Resident Evil and Silent Hill) with the monsters and setting, (Lovecraft’s fictional New England locales also being an inspiration) and, voila.

 I see a lot of potential for sequels featuring the Malcolm Leeds character and other supernatural baddies, and I’m confident that both the complexity and the “tightness” of my writing will grow stronger with each subsequent entry in the series.

Who will like this book?

Tough question. A bit hard for me to say, since I (like most other writers) find it tough to judge the quality of my own work, but I can tell you who I wrote The Devil and the Doctor for.

It’s a book for people who like stories about ghosts, ghouls, and monsters (human and otherwise) doing what they do best. It’s a book for people who like a lot of “Bang bang shoot ’em up,” ticking time bombs, car chases, and one-liners. It’s a book for people who are looking for something entertaining, violent, and fun to read on an airplane or in a coffee shop or on their lunch break. It’s a book for people who are looking for a new action-packed franchise that follows a powerful but incomplete protagonist across encounters with various supernatural horrors in strange and diverse locales.

I hope all that gives you an idea if this book is for you!

Speaking of: want a free copy?

Well, it’s not really free, there is one catch. (There always is, isn’t there?)

I will give the first five people who write to me at authorgrwilson@gmail.com with “BOOK REVIEW” in the subject line (and a small personal introduction in the message text) a copy of the novel, in exchange for giving it a timely read, and an honest review on Amazon, a share on Facebook, and a review on your on blog. If you don’t have a blog, don’t worry about that last requirement. I naturally love publicity on other people’s blogs, but I get not everyone has one. The Amazon and Facebook are definitely required, however.

I’m not expecting all or any of the five recipients to write a glowingly 100% positive, five/five star review, (if that’s your real opinion then of course go for it!) but I do ask that if you outright DON’T like the book, (beyond just “I liked it overall but aspect X and aspect Y sucked a bit”) that you please refrain from posting a review. Though I still appreciate your reading. 🙂

The purpose here is to get my work out there to new audiences who will enjoy it, and I’m never going to apologize for that.

What’s next?

I got a couple short stories I’m working on, like always. Some of ’em you’ll see in magazines, some on here, some maybe in a new anthology.

I have a couple novella ideas I’m toying with, but I’ve decided that I’ll next slam my hot and throbbing creative energy into a sequel to The Devil and the Doctor.

Without giving away too much, (especially since it’s still in the early planning stages,) the second entry in the series will lend a lot more focus to Malcolm’s adopted father, John Delaware, and his backstory during his time in the U.S. Navy. The story will take place in a heavily aquatic and tropical setting, and see the return and further development of old friends and foes from Book One, as well as further development of Malcolm’s character and situation since the strange events in Newbrooke. Expect to see a lot of “Horrors of the dark oceanic depths.”

😉

Thank you for reading, and keep on being great. I appreciate each and every one of you who reads and shares my stories.

Best regards,

H.S,

-G.R. Wilson

My response to “Rough Riders” by Mark Lee Gardner

April 16, 2017

Response to:

Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill

By Mark Lee Gardner

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Mark Lee Gardner’s 2016 book, Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Gardner paints a detailed, dynamic, and relevant picture not only of Colonel Roosevelt himself, but, as the title promises, the diverse men he led during their much-lauded actions in the Spanish-American War. I think it safe to say that most any American adult alive today learned about Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in middle school or high school. I’m even more confident in saying that anyone who did receive such education, most likely came away years later with only a vague recollection of “Remember the Maine!” “Buffalo Soldiers,” (“in the heart of America …”) and perhaps a charge up a hill that may or may not have actually happened. Well, for any of those people who grew curious about the nitty-gritty and the human drama of the American war in Cuba, and the part that Teddy and his Rough Riders played in that war: this is the book for you.

 

Let me emphasize first how much of a fearsome bad-ass hero Teddy Roosevelt was. He’s one of my personal heroes, and a great inspiration in my life. The guy was born as a sickly, asthmatic, weak child: did he let that little inconvenience stop him? No, at his dad’s encouragement, he worked his ass off in the gym until he built himself a strong body worthy of pride. He threw himself headlong into every adventure and topic of interest he could find throughout his entire life: boxing, bird-watching, writing 33 books, hunting grizzly bears, reading a book or two a day, working as the police commissioner of NYC, a congressman, a Wild West lawman, a rancher. When his first wife and his mother both died on the same day, do you know what he did? After writing the heart-wrenching journal entry of “The light has gone out of my life,” he struck out West, throwing himself into the wild life of a rancher. We all know he went on to become Vice President, then President of the United States following the assassination of President William McKinley, and from that position led the way on the national parks program, numerous social and economic reforms, construction of the Panama Canal, and assertion of American might on the global stage. But between the eras of “Wild West Teddy,” and “President Teddy,” we have the “Rough Rider” Colonel Teddy Roosevelt.

 

As Mark Lee Gardner discusses, T.R. had an unsettlingly positive fascination with war, and badly wanted to get himself into one. He got his chance after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in February 1898, when U.S./Spanish tensions reached a point of no return, and America raised a volunteer army to run the Spaniards out of Cuba. With his characteristic gusto and the use of his long-time Ivy League connections, the 39-year-old Roosevelt recruited a motley cavalry regiment of cowboys, miners, lawmen, bankers, lawyers, and football players. They called themselves the Rough Riders, though the name and concurrent public image belied the large proportion of New Yorkers and other big city North Easterners within their ranks. Regardless of their professional background or what region of the country they hailed from, and the numerous mishaps in training and logistics throughout their journey from Texas, to Florida, to Cuba, the men of Teddy’s regiment displayed great courage and fighting ability in their critical involvement in America’s short war against Spain. They most famously captured the fortified Spanish positions on San Juan and Kettle Hills; operations which enabled the successful American siege of Santiago and the conclusion of the war in Cuba. From a military history perspective, as Gardner illustrates, the battles in which the Rough Riders participated showed the validity of the rapidly ongoing transition from of line-of-battle, muzzle-loading musket combat, into the 20th century tactics employing shorter-barreled and faster-firing weapons with smokeless munitions, and camouflaged versus brightly colored uniforms.

 

A major appeal of this book is that Gardner heavily researched primary accounts of the individual Rough Riders, as well as government officials and other civilians who witnessed, celebrated, and traded with them. We get a plethora of quotations from diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and interviews, all of which bring brilliant color into the experiences of these men: from the challenges and mishaps of training new horses for military service, to the jubilant welcome of the San Antonio and Tampa publics, to the songs and jokes these soldiers loved, to the daring and tragedy of the hellish combat and malaria-infested environment they suffered through on campaign. A few interesting anecdotes among many include the habit of the wealthier members of the regiment (mostly Ivy League students taking leave from school,) of sneaking into the fancy hotels in town for meals during training, and later smuggling bottles of champagne aboard the boat to Cuba. One tactically crucial contribution of those Ivy League guys was the brand-new Colt machine guns, and the pneumatic dynamite gun, that they bought with their own money and contributed to the regiment’s arsenal. Interestingly, thanks to an unprepared federal supply system, Teddy was multiple times obligated to spend his own money to keep his men properly fed throughout the campaign! One great Teddy anecdote is when the Colonel, after the surrender of the Spanish army, joined a fellow officer in swimming across Santiago Bay to examine shipwrecks. This being Cuba, there were numerous sharks in the area, and some fellow American soldiers on shore alerted their commander to this fact. Teddy being Teddy said that he knew all about sharks from reading about them, and that they almost never bothered people; then he kept on swimming and having a great time, as per usual.

 

Another good aspect of this book is Gardner’s authoritative dispelling of misconceptions about the Rough Riders. One of these is that most people, (myself included until I read the book,) understandably think that Theodore Roosevelt was himself the commander of the regiment. In fact, that position belonged to General Leonard Wood, (namesake of U.S. Army Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri,) who had to step back from primary command responsibility due to illness. Though Wood went on to continue his successful military career, Roosevelt continues to hold the glory for recruiting, leading, and promoting the Rough Riders all the way through and beyond service in Cuba. Integral to that glory was Roosevelt’s leading of the charge up San Juan Hill. Contrary to politically motivated, distorting newspaper accounts, YES, the charge did in fact happen, and Roosevelt led it. U.S. Army “Regulars” (members of the full-time, permanent military as opposed to the wartime volunteers) and the African-American Buffalo Soldiers did play a huge role alongside the Rough Riders in the campaign across Cuba, including the battle at San Juan, but, again, contrary to smear campaigns by Roosevelt’s political opponents, the Rough Riders fought admirably and played a crucial role, with Teddy deserving a great deal of credit for boldly leading from the front.

 

As I’m discussing military history here, by the way, let me be clear: no, I don’t buy into the “Rah rah,” “For Glory,” disastrously naïve view of war that much of the Western world held in the post-Napoleonic, pre-Great War years of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Teddy Roosevelt and many men (and women!) of a similar cultural background held those rose-tinted views in that era. War is obviously hell: it leads to a lot of people dying and valuable things being destroyed for no good reason, it creates incomprehensible human misery. Humans should continue the current trend of replacing war with economic exchange and diplomacy. (And dogs go “Woof!”) At the same time, war is sometimes necessary, and I’m not convinced that mankind will ever be rid of it entirely so long as mankind exists.

When wars do occur, I do admire the Virtue (“Virtue” in the good, Ancient sense,) of many of those fighting within war. States throughout history have often needed to win wars to ensure their national security, and winning wars requires the discipline, bravery, and cunning of those on the front line. Since success in war tends to further the security of the given state and all who live within its borders, while failure will inevitably decrease that security, war-winning ability should be admired, in my book. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders demonstrated martial Virtue in spades, showing skillful and brave adaptation to the latest innovations in warfare, including smokeless, breech-loading rifles and machine guns, especially in the unfamiliar and treacherous tropical environment of Cuba. Especially since I happen to be quite fond of America and what we’re about, I’m enthusiastic about Teddy and Co. being bad-asses, and winning. The maiming and death that occurred for both sides were incredibly tragic, and as I read, my heart went out to those hurt and killed, as well as to their families, themselves now all long dead.

 

In short, the point I’m making here is that war is Hell, its consideration should be a matter of gravity rather than jubilation, but that bravery, skill, and triumph within war is admirable, conflict is interesting, and the story of the Rough Riders is enjoyable for me in that nuanced context.

 

To continue with my connections and response to the text: I can see some echoes of the American attitudes during the Spanish-American War, in early public attitudes towards the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. Though Gardner’s book gives us a zoomed in story of one theatre of the Spanish-American War, rather than depth on the greater context, he does inevitably hit on the political implications, and the impact of public opinion, and that all got me thinking. Essentially, the conflict between America and Spain started like this:

 

The United States had expanded all the way across the continent by the 1890’s, with East and West thoroughly connected, and the once “Wild” West growing more settled every year; the legendary tales of cowboys and Indians already in the 1890’s confined to, well, legend, brought to life in popular Wild West shows. The Civil War was several decades’ past, with many scars of that conflict still stinging. Mexico had been thoroughly humbled, aggressive Canadian-British designs from the north were exceedingly unlikely, and Americans had little need to worry about distant affairs in Europe, Asia, or Africa.

 

However, there was the little problem of Spain’s New World empire. In the Victorian Era of European Imperialism, it made Americans a tad antsy to have the Spanish military operating so close to U.S. waters, around Cuba and Puerto Rico: even if the Spanish themselves weren’t a threat, what if they got kicked out and the island was taken over by someone stronger and more capable of messing with American interests: someone like Britain, France, or even the rising power of Germany?

 

In addition to the security dimension, Americans were reading with disgust the stories coming out of Cuba, of Spanish soldiers abusing and exploiting the native Cuban population. Even if yellow journalism may have exaggerated things, there truly were atrocities and daily abuses taking place at Spanish hands, and many Americans wanted to do something about it. The United States finally had the continental security and power to assert itself on the wider world, and, overpowering the dissenting voices of non-interventionism, we fought the Spanish-American War largely with the justification of liberating the Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Filipino peoples from tyranny, and helping them develop modern and democratic states. I (and others) see parallels between this intervention to (at least initially) liberate oppressed people, combined with exaggerated fears over a foreign threat, and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Like the way 21st century Americans were horrified by accounts of oppression coming from Iraq, and irreconcilably suspicious of Saddam’s motives and capabilities regarding W.M.D. and terrorism, the Americans of the 1890’s saw a bully and a threat in Spain, and sought to punish that bully and rescue its victims. In both cases, America sent its troops across the world to nation-build, but found the task a lot more messy, dangerous, and less appreciated than anticipated. (It’s too much to get into in any detail here, but I recommend reading up on America’s experience in counter-insurgency in the Philippines. A lot of lessons there were seemingly forgotten in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.) Those who don’t read history are doomed to repeat it, and I think considering the ongoing conflict against ISIS and other radical Islamist groups in the Middle East, reviewing the events of the Spanish-American War is well worth the effort!

 

Further connecting this history with the 21st century, is the topic Gardner bookends his book with: Teddy Roosevelt’s posthumous receipt of the Medal of Honor, awarded in 2001 by President Bill Clinton after a surprising amount congressional debate. Much to his chagrin, Roosevelt didn’t receive the Medal for his actions in the war in Cuba at the time; critics arguing that he “Simply followed orders” in leading the charge up San Juan Hill, and didn’t do anything out of the ordinary beyond the normal duties of a soldier. Analysis by later historians reversed this opinion in Congress. This posthumous award was great news to me, and a great way for Gardner to wrap up his narrative. Roosevelt remains the only U.S. President to have received a Medal of Honor.

 

In closing, Mark Lee Gardner did a tremendous job on Rough Riders. He took a story that most people know of, but where the details have long been missing in the public consciousness, and fleshed it out with well-researched primary sources, and compelling narrative form. As I read, I could easily imagine the events as a big-budget miniseries in the vein of Band of Brothers. The characters, heroic and human, are all there in their diversity and in their unifying Americanness, braving their way through incredible adversity. We get to see a lot Colonel Roosevelt’s personality and exploits, but, as Teddy would have wanted, plenty of space is left for the Lieutenants and Privates whose names go unnoticed in the collective public mind, but whose personalities, struggles, and all too often, their tragedies, are colorfully presented here.

Peace,

-G.R. Wilson

An effed up little cannibal story

15 March, L.I. A.S.

An effed up little cannibal story

A fellow on YouTube will be producing an audio production of this one in the near future. Related, a different person will be doing an audio production of my “King in Yellow Lost Film” story in the near future, too. I’ve had a lot going on lately with career changes in the works, including some stuff I’m excited to share with you all once it’s more definite. I’m gonna be really going places. Anyway, I wanted to just write something fucked up and “valueless” for the hell of it. I’m thinking of expanding this one out into a novella. I picture it as a book version of one of those gratuitously violent and sexual 1970’s grindhouse movies. Fun shit. 

Roger yawned, then flicked himself in the face to stay awake. He was beginning to have doubts about his entire endeavor. Was all this driving around, in the exact middle of Who the Hell Knows Where, to meet some chick off the Internet really worth it? And all of that after a pain-in-the-ass work day in a boring, garbage job with a boring, garbage boss. Roger sighed and looked out the window for the millionth time, hoping to see some sign of modern civilization. Trees, trees, empty fields, and desolate barns greeted his eyes for mile after mile. Most of the trees stood dead, as bare and picked over as skeletons. Victims of acid rain, if Roger recalled his middle school science classes correctly. He’d left the highway an hour ago, and had seen a total of two cars since.

This chick better be worth it, he thought to himself. But the restaurant would be coming up soon, according to said chick’s directions. It was an old and out of the way place, she’d said, the kind that wouldn’t show up on any GPS program. Roger rolled his eyes, he was a child of the ‘burbs, loved the city, and didn’t have time for such rustic quirks as a restaurant you couldn’t find on Google Maps.

But then the car went around a bend, and, lo and behold, there it was! “Jim’s Burgers,” the big and gaudy sign out front suggested. Roger rolled into the gravel parking lot and got out to have a closer look. The sign, illuminated by a couple of flickery old bulbs, displayed the cartoon image of a bull, dressed in a stereotypical chef’s outfit, the wild-eyed animal drooling over a pile of cheeseburgers. Everything about it was off-putting: the spatula and knife in the bull’s hands, the implication of bovine cannibalism, the chipped paint and rather manic art style. Roger scoffed, walked past the other two cars in the lot and the buzzy neon “Open” sign, and went inside.

A big old cow bell on a string jangled as he opened the door. Immediately, a pale, chubby, and stubbly young man behind the counter greeted him. “Good evening sir, welcome to Jim’s Burgers, may I take your order?” The guy was probably 18 or 19 years old, but his hunched over posture and the lines and spots on his face suggested all the worst aspects of premature aging. He grinned at Roger expectantly, the smile not quite reaching the wide and bloodshot eyes.

Roger replied with an awkward, “I’m waiting for someone, I’ll decide in a minute,” then walked across the dining area to take a seat. The décor of the place resembled a big chain fast food restaurant but clearly hadn’t been updated in at least thirty years. The booth Roger chose sat mercifully out of the cashier’s line of sight, was clean enough, but with plenty of graffiti and scratches. The place was void of any other customers unless they were in the bathroom. Th smell of greasy burgers and greasy French fries wafted from the kitchen, and Roger had to admit he was hungry.

He sighed and pulled out his phone to check his texts from Casiopa. That was the girl’s name, though she went by just “Cas.” They’d met on a dating site. Cas had caught his eye straight from her profile picture, what with her firetruck red hair, ruby lips, emerald eyes, and exotic name. She’d seemed artsy and eccentric from the get go, the kind of girl who liked to act on the fly, drinking new cocktails, listening to new music, going on random trips to strange places…all the adventurousness Roger had tried to summon up in himself since his most recent breakup. So long as Cas didn’t end up being fat or a master of Photoshop, she’d make a sweet lay to break his dry spell. That is if she even showed up. He sent her a text saying he’d arrived. It’d be just his luck to get stood up after driving all this way.

“Everything alright, Sir?” Roger bolted upright in his seat, snapped out of his anxious musings. Right next to him stood another employee, this one a woman, perhaps a couple years older than the cashier, and with the same sickliness. The two workers looked like they could be siblings, and probably were: no doubt this was a family business. “Have you been helped?” She grinned down at him with that same artificial expression as the cashier, and her eyes were just as unsettling.

“Uh, no, I’m waiting on someone before I order,” he explained, attempting to hide his disgust. The woman smelled awful, like a combination of ultra-strength cleaning supplies, and old bacon. He smiled back nervously.

An expression of hostility flickered across her dark eyes, like the silhouette of a large shark gliding beneath a boat on the open sea. The look, which lasted barely long enough to register, was frighteningly raw and bestial, but her smile remained the same. He noticed the odd, pink stains on her teeth, and felt his whole body tense up and recoil. She nodded, the hostility again replaced with robotic customer service friendliness. “Alright, well, let us know when you’re ready!” Then she grabbed an old broom and dust pan, and began sweeping up the place. There was nothing to sweep off the sterile-looking tile, but she continued the activity with enthusiasm, staying always within easy earshot and eyesight of Roger.

He exhaled. Enough of this shit, he thought then got up, and walked back outside, doing his best to ignore the eyes boring into the back of his head all the way. He’d wait another five minutes for Cas. It was already ten minutes past the time they’d agreed to meet, and if she didn’t care enough to call or text saying she’d be late, well, that was it. Another disappointment.

He breathed in the warm summer’s night air, then smacked a mosquito on his arm.

Ugh.

Thoughts spinning and feet tapping with impatience, he wiped away the bug guts and began pacing around the building. He didn’t like the way the two weirdos inside could see him through the front window. Roger walked alongside the large and rectangular restaurant until he reached its rear. He wondered if the owners lived back there. But then he noticed something odd:

The back parking lot, unlike the front, was filled with cars. Compacts, mid-sizeds, pick-ups, Cadillacs, and motorcycle, trucks. A few new and shiny, most old and rusty, all parked tight together in neat, orderly rows across the gravel lot. It was a strange sight. Roger figured the other two cars out front belonged to the two workers, but all these vehicles…whose were they? He felt a creeping sensation of something not quite right. Maybe the Jim’s Burgers property doubled as a parking lot for whoever needed the extra space? But where did all the owners of these cars live: the closest house was a couple miles away at least.

Beyond the lot, the darkness of the tree-line stood thick and unyielding of any secrets …

Roger’s phone buzzed. He jumped, then fumbled with the phone. A text from Cas. She was here. Feeling that happy buzz of hope and nervousness that always accompanied meeting a pretty girl, Roger walked back to the front and went back inside. No new car had arrived, but maybe one of the cars belonged to Cas, and she’d just been in the bathroom?

There, patiently reading a paperback at one of the middle tables, sat Casiopa. She was every bit as beautiful as her pictures had suggested, if not more. Her bright-eyed face was a perfect picture of femininity, the elegant curves of her body proudly filling her black and white stripped dress. She looked up from her book to greet him at the sound of the cowbell, and those emerald eyes flashed with a warmth and hint of mischievousness that Roger found utterly irresistible.

“Roger?” she purred, with a flick of her deep red hair. “Have a seat, how are you?”

He happily took the invitation, and the two of them talked, laughed, and flirted for fifteen minutes that felt like fifteen seconds. It was awkward at first, like any first date, but Cas was exactly the woman he’d hoped for and dreamt of. Beautiful, geeky in all the right ways, easy to talk to, all wrapped up in that hourglass package of seductive femininity.

“Well, I’m starving, let’s get some grub!” she declared, hopping to her feet.

Roger shifted uneasily. “Uh,” he said softly, glancing at the ever-staring fast food workers, “Can we go somewhere closer to town? I honestly feel uncomfortable here. I know a great—“

“Uncomfortable with me?” Cas interrupted, giving him puppy dog eyes and a pouting lip. Then she smiled and grabbed his hand. “C’mon, the food’s great! I’ve been coming here since I was old enough to eat solid food, you’ll love it!”

The menu was simple, mostly hamburgers with different toppings. Cas recommended the chili cheese fries, and Roger, remembering with a growl of his stomach how hungry he was, happily placed a large order.

A few minutes later, Cas was practically skipping with glee when she banged down the plastic tray of steaming and fragrant food. “Close your eyes!” she demanded, “No peeking!”

Roger complied with a chuckle. “This better be worth the drive,” he joked.

Cas poked a cheesy, chili-covered French fry under his nose. He savored the spicy, meaty aroma. His mouth watered. “Open wiiiiide,” she said. Roger took a bite.

The fry was a lot…chewier, than he expected, maybe under- or over-cooked. The texture felt way too tough. He bit harder and felt something brittle crunch between his teeth. The unexpected sensation instantly set his mind into a panic, and he realized the taste was all wrong, too, though he couldn’t place his finger on what exactly it was.

Roger opened his eyes and spat the weird French fry into a napkin. His heart began to pound and he felt the urge to vomit when he saw what was on that napkin. A human finger, pink and bloated, dunked in cheese and with his bite marks distinctly cutting through the middle knuckle straight to the bone. Hot marrow dripped from the fracture, mixing with the pooled cheese and grease which soaked into a little puddle around the severed digit.

“What the fuck?!” Roger moaned, and frantically spat into his hands, trying to get out the taste and pieces of skin.

Cas began to laugh. It was a girlish giggle at first, then it gradually grew into a hearty belly laugh.

Roger couldn’t stand to look at her. Still processing the disgusting situation, he grabbed for his cup of Sprite to wash out the taste, and in his panic knocked the drink over, spilling soda all over the table and floor. Cas laughed even harder, the sound manic and cruel, and she looked at him with tears of sadistic joy in her eyes.

“Y-you,” she gasped, touching a hand to his arm. “You should’ve seen your face, oh my God!”

Roger swatted her hand away. “Fuckin’ bitch,” he said standing up, “Why the fuck would you—“

“Easy, there Sir.” The cashier had crept up behind him, and beside him was the female worker. “You’ve made quite a mess!” she said.

Roger turned to shove past the guy, away from Casiopa’s taunting laugh, away from this freakshow he’d found himself in. He’d call the police, he’d bring this whole thing down, he’d—

He felt a sharp prick in his neck. Saw the hypodermic needle out the corner of his eye. In a stunned second, the room began to spin, and he couldn’t hold his eyelids open. He began to fall, but someone held him up and began to drag his heels across the tile. “Nighty night, boy!” Cas taunted, and then Roger was out entirely.

When he woke up, even before he opened his eyes, he remembered what was going on. He had stumbled into a grindhouse movie hellhole. Murderers, cannibals, human meat in the food. In a panic, he tried to thrash, but his arms and legs were all tied down with leather straps. He felt the cold metal table against his bare back, looked towards his feet and realized he was entirely naked. His head felt a bit drowsy from the drugs, but he was unhurt otherwise.

The room, which he figured to be back behind the kitchen, was cold, smelly, and bloody. Various human parts, including arms, legs, and heads, hung from meat hooks, many of them dripping. The fluids flowed into the drain in the middle of the bloodstained concrete floor. Two long tables waited adorned with butcher’s knives, bone saws, needles, and various surgical tools that looked like they belonged to another century.

Roger struggled against his bonds, only hurting his wrists and ankles in the process. Knowing it would be futile, he screamed for help.

A long silence. Then a door slammed open and shut. Footsteps. Two people, one appearing on either side of his table. One was the cashier, dressed now in a white butcher’s apron, surgical mask over his face, and the other was Casi, dressed in her same sexy outfit. “No one’s coming for you,” said the cashier, “You’re done.”

Roger struggled frantically again and swore at his captors.

“Now, now,” purred Casiopa, stroking his forehead. “That won’t get you anywhere. Just relax and we can have a bit of fun before you’re turned into food and shoe leather.”

Roger stopped struggling, though he continued to shake like a Parkinson’s patient. The terror was overwhelming. He tasted his own tears and sweat, salty and hot on his tongue.

“Good boy,” said Casi, and now the cashier picked up a butcher’s knife, and began sharpening it as he  walked out of the room. “Everyone you meet really is food you know, when you get down to it. We humans take it for granted, being at the top of the food chain,” she showed her teeth and snapped her jaws at him, then laughed. “Think about it. All our flesh is gonna be food for someone else someday, one way or another. What goes around, comes around. Just like all those poor and innocent cows, pigs, and chickens you’ve devoured in your life. If it wasn’t this, you’d just be worm food eventually.”

Roger was sobbing now, wishing to wake up from the nightmare. He thrashed again, and thought he felt the leather give, just a little.

“Don’t cry, poor baby,” Casi said with a mocking pout, “At least you’ll get to be in me.” She touched her belly and grinned wickedly. Then she ran a hand along his chest, towards his own stomach. “While my idiot cousin is in the other room, sharpening his knife,” and her breathy voice tickled his ear, “I’m going to touch you, and tantalize you,” she ran her soft, warm hand down further, to his inner-thigh, “And get you all hot, and eager,” she touched her fingers to his inner-thigh and began to rub, “The best meat should be relaxed and happy when it’s slaughtered,” she moaned, posing to give him a stunning view of her breasts, Her hand was on his cock then, which was now standing up straight as a flagpole. “You’re so flush with tasty blood,” she purred, then squeezed him so hard it hurt, “You want me, to be in me, so, so, bad, don’t you?” She turned her eyes down to his cock, which was by now a throbbing shade of red that would match her hair. She gave a quick bite to the shaft, and giggled at his frantic reaction.

“Calm down, silly,” she said, “I’m not gonna eat it. I’m just getting my latest trophy ready.” From the nearby table, she lifted a massive pair of sharp, heavy, scissors, and snapped them a couple times towards his face.

“No no no fuck no!!” Roger screamed, as she seductively stepped to the foot of the table, and took up her position. “P-please, please, what do you people want, I-I can get you money, God no fuck, please!!” he pleaded, digging the leather restraints painfully into his wrists and ankles. The bonds were made of something weaker than cow leather, and continued to gradually stretch, giving him just a bit more wiggle room with each thrash.

She ignored him and kept speaking with sadistic, maniacal glee. “I have a whole shelf of these, you know,” motioning with the scissors at his manhood, “All pickled, floating in jars. You’ll fit in well enough. And I’m going to enjoy taking the first bite out of the Roger Burger. Anyway, let’s get this done quick! I’d tell you this wouldn’t hurt, but I’d be lying!” She opened the scissors wide. Roger moaned and squeezed his eyes shut, hoping he’d pass out and somehow avoid the pain.

BOOM!

The door banged open, and the cashier walked back in, knife in his hand. “Cousin Cassie ,” he said nervously, “T-there’s people outside. I think they’re cops.”

“Well don’t fuckin’ let ‘em in!” Casiopa snapped, “Can’t you see I’m not done?”

“I know, I told ‘em to fuck off but they say they got cause. Mary’s talking to ‘em now, but they’re real suspicious, Cas. They showed badges, they’re those plainclothes detective types—“

The cowbell rang from the dining area, and Roger could hear muffled voices, stern and combative.

“For fuck’s SAKE,” Cas whined, “Why am I the only one around here with half a brain?! Don’t let ‘em poke around!! I swear! Here, finish off this chump and let me deal with it.” She sneered at Roger, and on her way out whispered to him: “Scream, and I will make this one thousand times worse for you than you can possibly imagine.” Then she set the scissors down somewhere behind his head, out of his sight, and exited.

Now it was just Roger and the cashier. Roger thought about yelling for help. The cops were arguing with Mary, and now Casi, he could hear, and it didn’t sound to be going well. The words “stolen property,” and “missing persons,” came through the wall. But the cashier loomed over him, leering with that big sharp butcher knife. And the bonds felt like they could rip with just a bit more time and effort. There could be a better way.

“You don’t have to do this,” Roger said, stalling for time. “Those cops are gonna find this room, find me here! Do you wanna go to jail? Get locked in cage the rest of your life? Does that sound fun? You can still run! Get out while they’re distracted, I’ll swear I never saw you!”

The cashier frowned, thoughtfully.

Roger continued talking, and also began reaching his fingertips as far back behind his head as the restraints would allow. “Is it worth going to jail, for life, just to do what your cousin says? This whole thing is her twisted scheme, isn’t it?!”

Success! The tips of his finger found the plastic handle of the scissors.

“No!” the cashier shouted, and stomped around. “She’s says she’s got the brains but she don’t! She’s just the pretty one, she helps Daddy find new stupid meat like you during the slow times!”

Roger got his finger through the loop of the scissors’ handle, and began to inch them closer. Now he just had to keep the cashier distracted long enough. “Oh, right, she is real pretty, isn’t she? And stuck up, right? I bet she doesn’t even give you the time of day!”

The cashier glowered and banged the knife’s handle on the nearby table, inflicting a dent. He groaned, then hurled the weapon across the room. “No! I mean, she’s pretty but no she’s not nice to me! She thinks I’m stupid!”

The conversation from the other room continued all the while: the deep, authoritative voice of the detectives, the sweet, innocent tone of Casiopa. The investigators sounded more irritated by the second.

Finally, Roger had the scissors in his hand. The idiot wasn’t looking his way. Now to just turn the tool around, cut through the first wrist restraint.

“Does she even let you see her naked? I bet not, she’s a tease, right? She’s gonna blame all this on you, ya know!” Roger said, “She’s gonna throw you under the bus! See, don’t do this, you’re smarter than that! If you run, right now, I’ll tell the cops it was all her!” Roger fumbled with the scissors as he talked, got the angle just right, and:

SNIIIP! One hand free. Now he could defend himself, and free the other hand.

But then things moved very quickly. First, gunshots, one, two, three, four, thundered from the dining area, making Roger stop mid-movement. “I SAID DROP IT,” a police officer shouted.

Next, the cashier turned to Roger, noticed that the bond was cut, saw the scissor in his hand. The bumbling cannibal hustled across the room to pick up his discarded knife. “You tried to trick me!” he shouted, and stomped over. “You stupid freaking jerk!”

BOOM!

The door burst open. Cas hurdled through, then grabbed a nearby chair, jammed it under the door-handle. Her dress and face were streaked with blood. She did not look happy. She grabbed a small chainsaw from the tool table, pulled the cord, and revved the deadly little implement to life. “You’re fucking dead meat!” she shrieked, shoving her cousin aside. The cops were pounding on the barricaded the door. The chair creaked and cracked, they’d be inside any minute. “I’ll fucking eat you raw!!” She swung the roaring blade down at Roger’s neck. The blade missed by inches, clanging and sparking viciously off the metal table. The smell of gasoline and singed metal filled the air.

But Roger’s arm was free and held a weapon now. He rolled his torso over, and cut clean through the other leather restraint. He screamed to the cops for help.

Cas went berserk with the chainsaw, swinging it one-handed faster than Roger could counter-attack with his scissors.

The sharp and spinning steel screamed and dug through the flesh of his shoulder and back, spraying blood across the room. The attack narrowly missed decapitating him. The blade slipped, then pressed into his collarbone with Cas’ entire bodyweight, filling his ear with the weapon’s deafening roar and the splattering fragments of his muscle and bone. The pain was absolutely unbearable, blocking out any figment of thought or rationality.

He screamed, squirmed, and stabbed at her with the scissors, poking bloody holes in her arm, then her sides.

She redirected the chainsaw attack to knock aside his weapon, then leaped on top of him, pinning his arms down with her knees. “Die!!” she shrieked, then dropped her head down to bite his torn-up shoulder and collarbone. Like a dog, she ripped off a chunk of flesh, sending more blood spraying, then spat his own flesh back in his face. At the same time, she dropped the chainsaw down to his wrist, tearing excruciatingly through the muscle, nerve, and bone to sever his hand.

Roger snapped his other arm free from under her, then struck her repeatedly face, instinctually hoping for a knockout or at least to damage her eyes.

Just then, the cops busted down the door.

BANG BANG BANG!

The cashier, who up till then had been trying to guard the entrance, fell to the floor with a wet thud, chest full of well-placed lead.

“DROP IT!” one of the cops shouted, now in the room. Then without waiting for a response:

BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG!

Casiopa’s head exploded out the front of her face, coating Roger in blood and brain chunks. Her body went limp and collapsed over his, the facial exit wound leaned against his cheek like a lover’s kiss.

“Over here, he’s wounded!” one of the cops shouted, then began to roll the body off. The other officer was talking into a radio, calling for EMT’s, but the words were becoming vague to Roger, along with his sight, as his consciousness faded into black. He felt hands, and some sort of cloth, pressed against his neck, attempting to staunch the bleeding no doubt. Perhaps he’d live. Well, he’d have a hell of a story, he deliriously thought.

All this just to break a dry spell …

🙂

THE END

Book Review: Lovecraft’s Monsters, edited by Ellen Datlow

22 February, LI A.S.

Great Cthulhu…Deep Ones…Elder Things…Azathoth…

These eldritch horrors and more are promised within the pages of Lovecraft’s Monsters, a 2014 anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, and published by Tachyon Press. My parents (love you guys!) bought me a copy as a gift, and I recently finished it, and now want to share my thoughts. In short, this book is creepy, it’s engaging, and it offers diverse and creative yarns of the Lovecraftian Mythos told from previously unseen angles. If you enjoy the work of H.P. Lovecraft, and are hungry for more stories of his Mythos, I would point you immediately to this anthology.

 

The book (at least my edition) is in paperback form, and well-presented with a glossy, full-color, and thematically appropriate front and back cover, as well as numerous internal black and white illustrations, all this unspeakable imagery the work of artist John Coulthart. After the Foreword and Introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz and Ellen Datlow, respectively, the book launches into its eighteen stories by eighteen authors, starting with Only the End of the World Again by Neil Gaiman! (Worth noting, two of the eighteen included entries are poems, rather than prose.) The back content includes a neat little Monster Index running from “Azathoth” to “Shub-Niggurath,” and bios for each contributor.

 

What leaped out to me about this anthology just two stories in was the diversity in setting, theme, characters, and style. We get Lovecraft in the Wild West with Laird Barron’s Bulldozer, which follows a Pinkerton on the hunt for a criminal of unnatural ability; The Same Deep Waters As You by Brian Hodge takes us to the 21st century and the efforts of shadowy U.S. government entities to address what ancient horrors lie slumbering in the dark and slimy depths; Elizabeth Bear’s Inelastic Collisions lends us a peek into the world of two Hounds of Tindalos banished to our plane of existence; and Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole by Howard Waldrop & Steven Utley dramatically expands on the strange and tragic Arctic odyssey of one of literature’s and film’s most treasured monsters. The anthology nimbly crosses genres. Not every story is explicitly Horror in the usual sense, or even Adventure: Caitlin R. Kirenan gives us an adorable and bittersweet snapshot of monsters-in-love with Love is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl.

 

Expanding on that topic of diversity, I appreciated seeing Black and Asian protagonists and cultural settings. As gifted as he was, Lovecraft the man was also rather, um…ok, racist. Non-white characters are almost universally scheming, villainous, impulsive, easily-cult-influenced, criminal types in his stories. His ignorant views (and from what I know of his life, I think it really was ignorance rather than some K.K.K.-esque active hatred,) in that area are something that I as a reader and writer recognize, and then set aside as I appreciate his masterful descriptions, plots, and world-building. That makes it so welcome to, within the Mythos, get into the thought-process, language, setting, and experience of mid-20th century African-American (unofficial) private eyes and (contractually-reckless) Blues players as they wrangle with supernormal deals gone bad in Joe R. Landsdale’s The Bleeding Shadow, or to experience the ancient terror afflicting a contemporary Indonesian family and their new nanny in the superbly titled Red Goat Black Goat by Nadia Bulkin.

While I (gasp!) liked some stories more than others, I found something to enjoy in each. They variably gave me chills, hooked with an irresistible opening line, got a chuckle out of me for some piece of gallows humor, left me darkly pondering the questions of the universe and our place in it, led to me treading extra quietly around and checking every corner of my dark apartment, or produced a genuine grin of admiring joy at a story’s originality in concept. (Lookin’ at you, William Browning Spencer!) This is much more than a collection of “spooky” stories.

 

This would be the point in the review where I’d say the negative points. Gotta be fair and balanced, right? There truly aren’t many negatives here, but I’ll try. Many the stories take place in Innsmouth, or are directly related to the events and background of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Other people may not like that, (maybe?) but I had no trouble with it, since the authors who featured that blighted town and its fishy residents did so from such different character and thematic angles. Another sticking point is that there was one story where the entire premise honestly did not interest me, and then it went on for way too long, at least for my tastes. I don’t think it was badly written: the author’s take on the Mythos just didn’t resonate with me. One last thing to note, which isn’t a problem with the book itself but may affect a reader’s enjoyment of it: if you haven’t read all or at least most of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, especially the most famous one, expect to feel lost, and therefore limited in your reading pleasure. Since this is a book by and for Lovecraft fans, this isn’t a gripe by any means, it’s just a small disclaimer for anyone whose interest I’ve piqued, who isn’t familiar with the lore.

 

Overall, Lovecraft’s Monsters is a kick-ass anthology, and if you’re a Mythos devotee you’ll love it. The authors here have done a stellar job of expanding Lovecraft’s world in the dimensions of space, time, and human (and non-human!) emotion. Ms. Datlow chose the entries well, and the overall presentation is top-notch. As I read, I was transported through the rotting wharf of Innsmouth, to the darkest part of the Amazonian jungle, to the center of a hollow earth, to the End of the World, to a hidden city plucked from dark dreams, and to everywhere in-between. I saw eldritch horrors that would drive the sane to shivering madness, I heard the Doom call of the Deep Ones, and I watched with fascination as ordinary human beings struggled in body, mind, and soul against the emphatically Unordinary. I like this book.

-G.R. Wilson