Christopher Tolkien 1924-2020

Christopher Tolkien, son of the late JRR Tolkien, has passed away. 

He was JRR Tolkien’s third son. As a child, Christopher Tolkien was the first reader of The Hobbit. After the death of JRR Tolkien in 1973, he assumed the management of his father’s literary estate. 

In 1977 Tolkien compiled and published his father’s unfinished novel, The Silmarillion. For decades, he continued to publish various works from his father’s massive collection of papers.

Tolkien stepped down from this capacity in 2017, citing his age and declining health.

Christopher Tolkien was not a fan of Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of the Tolkien universe. In a 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Tolkien said, “They eviscerated the book, making it an action movie for 15-25 year-olds.”

(Make of that what you will. Personally, I enjoyed the Peter Jackson films….but no, the films couldn’t take the place of the books.)

Christopher Tolkien, age 95. R.I.P.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond

Yet another series in The Walking Dead franchise will debut in April. This series, World Beyond, will be about the generation born during the zombie apocalypse.

I’ll be honest with you all here: I’m skeptical. I absolutely loved The Walking Dead for the first few seasons. Then it started to repeat itself. And then it started to grind down.

Likewise, the first spinoff series, Fear the Walking Dead, started off weak, and never got much better.

The first episode of the original TWD debuted on October 31, 2010. Almost a decade ago.

At the time, The Walking Dead was something fresh, and highly original. Even though George A. Romero and others had done zombies before, this was the first show to take them seriously, and the first show (or movie) to fill them with interesting subplots and sympathetic characters. (Most of Romero’s characters were so bad, you rooted for the zombies.)

But after nearly a decade, this is starting to seem like a cynical money grab, an attempt to squeeze yet one more drop of milk from a very tired cash cow. It’s like the 17th Star Wars film, or the many, many iterations of various superheroes who first appeared in the mid-twentieth century.

There is a time to let every story be done, and move on to the next one. Create something new.

That point has long since passed for The Walking Dead

Horror from the 1980s

Or…why I chose to set 12 Hours of Halloween in the year 1980.

A reader recently asked me via email why I chose to set 12 Hours of Halloween, my coming-of-age horror novel about three friends who battle supernatural forces on Halloween Night, in 1980 instead of the present day.

Good question.

There are two reasons behind this choice.

First of all: there’s the generational factor.

What I mean by this is: I know my limits.

Although 12 Hours of Halloween is a supernatural tale, it is also a coming-of-age story. This means that it involves getting into the “head space” of the story’s adolescent protagonists.

Some aspects of adolescence are universal. But others are heavily dependent on changing generational factors.

I’m a member of Generation X (born in 1968). This generation reached the early teen years of adolescence around 1980—the year in which 12 Hours of Halloween is set.

I figured that I could depict the adolescent experience in 1980 most accurately, because I actually lived it. (I turned 12 in 1980.)  I’ve written before about the perils of middle-age adults writing about the present-day teen experience: During the 1980s, most of the teen films were written by Baby Boomers; and certain aspects of these movies seemed anachronistic, because the scriptwriters were actually writing about the teen experience of the 1950s and 1960s—even though they thought they were writing about the 1980s.

Another reason I chose to set 12 Hours of Halloween in 1980 is: The past is haunted.

The year 1980 is now 40 years in the past. (1980 was 35 years in the past when I published 12 Hours of Halloween in 2015.)

That is recent enough to be accessible to most readers, but distant enough to be surrounded by a certain haziness.

That year is  not quite like our own. After all, in 1980, there was no Internet, and no cell phones. We had television, but cable TV was still a “new” thing.

It isn’t difficult to believe that in 1980, wayward spirits and vengeful supernatural creatures walked the earth in one Ohio suburb—just like in the book.

***

Want to read 12 Hours of Halloween? You can preview the book here on this site, or get it on Amazon (available in multiple formats.)

Rush: You either got them or you didn’t

Given the passing of Neil Peart last week, I’ll probably have a few Rush-related posts in the upcoming days.

The above video contains a particularly insightful interview from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Topics covered include: Neil Peart’s drumming, and (of particular interest to me) his song-writing.

The man interviewed is, like me, a lifelong Rush fan in his fifties. Unlike me, he’s also a musician.

At the 2:20 mark, he says that Rush was one of those bands that, “You either  got them or you didn’t; and if you did ‘get them’, you became a lifelong fan.”

Well put. I couldn’t agree more. 

The Iran I remember

My memories of US-Iran relations

The Islamic Republic of Iran is back in the news again—and not in a good way. 

Same old same old.

I’ve lived long enough to see American attitudes shift in regard to various countries. Seldom, over the course of a lifetime, does the image of any one nation remain exactly the same.

But one country—Iran—breaks the mold.

Russia and China

Throughout most of my childhood, Russia was the USSR, the Evil Empire. Then for a while in my early adulthood, there was a widely held hope that post-Soviet Russia would become a normal country. Now Russia is an Evil Empire again—-but this time, a czarist one.

Likewise, China. In 1979, when Deng Xiaoping had first come to power, most Americans believed that China was on the verge of becoming our new best friend in Asia. Those hopes have since been dashed. But at least we had that hopeful phase.

Iran: nothing but bad news since 1979

Not so with Iran. Throughout my living memory, Iran has always been a thorn in America’s side. No matter how calm other international matters were going, you could always be certain that the Islamic Republic of Iran was up to no good.

I was in the sixth grade in November 1979, when radical Iranian students overran the US embassy in Tehran and took fifty-two American diplomats hostage. That sorry drama continued for 444 days. They did not return home until January 1981. 

Anyone who was alive then, who remembers the Tehran hostage crisis, will tell you that it dominated the news and public debate. President Jimmy Carter tried, without success, to win the hostages’ freedom through diplomatic measures. Then, in early 1980, he tried—-and failed—to win their release with a military operation. The now mostly forgotten Operation Eagle Claw, in which American aircraft and personnel burned in the Iranian desert, remains one of our country’s most humiliating defeats. 

The Iranian radicals, from Khomeini on down, always bore a particular grudge against Jimmy Carter. They did not let the hostages leave Iran until Carter’s replacement, Ronald Reagan, had been sworn in. 

The Iranians played a pivotal role in ending Carter’s presidency, too. Many factors plagued Jimmy Carter during his single term in office: an energy crisis, a bad economy, a Soviet resurgence. The Iran hostage crisis, however, was possibly the one that hammered the final nail in the coffin of his presidency. Carter lost the White House in a landslide on Election Day 1980.

Anti-Iran memes of 1980

The early 1980s were less politically correct times. Multiculturalism as we know it today was but a glint in the eye of a few Ivy League professors. Throughout the Iran hostage crisis, it was perfectly okay to despise Iran.

No one referred to “memes” in that pre-Internet era. But there were memes nonetheless. One meme of the Iran hostage crisis was the image of Mickey Mouse flipping the bird, with the words “Hey Iran!” inscribed beneath.

And then there was the song “Bomb Iran”, by Vince Vance & the Valiants. Sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”, “Bomb Iran” got a lot of airplay in 1980. (The tune enjoyed a brief resurgence more than a quarter-century later, when John McCain was running for the White House.) 

A future for Iran?

I’ve known exactly four people from Iran. One of them I didn’t like. Three of them I was quite fond of. None of them, though, struck me as fundamentally flawed or insane. 

Iran does not need to be the international pariah it has become. On the contrary, before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran was a steadily improving country. Some wags called it “the Japan of the Middle East”. 

Pre-revolutionary Iran was also a stalwart ally of the United States—and Israel. While never exactly filled with Americans, there was a civilian American presence in Iran during the 1970s.

Americans in pre-revolutionary Iran

One of my former coworkers was employed by Bell Helicopter. His company stationed him in Tehran from 1976 through 1978. When I discovered that he had been stationed in Iran, I buttonholed him and picked his brain. You don’t meet many Americans with firsthand experiences of that country.

My coworker loved the Iran that existed before the mullahs took over. He married an Iranian woman, who turned out to be a shrew (in his opinion, anyway). But she was no Islamic fanatic. 

Much of Iran, in fact, was quite modern and liberal during the 1970s. This suggests that Islam and fanaticism are not inextricable and inevitable companions. 

State-sponsored terrorism of all kinds

But there is something rotten about the current regime. Throughout the 1980s, Iran was the leading perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism, often carried out against America and its allies. 

The individual incidents are too many to list here, but the one that most sticks out in my memory is the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Iran funded and trained the suicide bombers who blew up the barracks, as Iran has funded and trained suicide bombers throughout the Middle East over the past 40 years. 

Iran has been no friend of literature, either. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini decided that Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, were blasphemous. Khomeini didn’t simply pan the book, or ban it in Iran. He issued a fatwa against the author, declaring that all faithful Muslims had an obligation to at least attempt his murder.

Some Muslims in Europe took the fatwa seriously. In 1989, two floors of a London hotel were destroyed when a bomb meant for Rushdie exploded prematurely, killing the would-be bomber. Bookstores throughout Europe were looted and burned, and the book’s Japanese translator was killed.

***

After seeing the present government of Iran misbehave so badly, for so many years, I’d like to live to see regime change in that country. I hope it doesn’t take another 40 years. 

An end to the Islamic Republic of Iran—its replacement with something freer and more benevolent—would be good for the world. 

But most of all, it would be a blessing for the 82 million people of Iran. They have endured four decades in the long, bloody shadow of Khomeini. They have suffered tyranny under his mullahs. The people of Iran deserve much better. 

How New Year’s Eve 1986 made me swear off alcohol

Another New Year’s Eve has arrived. I know that many of you will be consuming large quantities of alcoholic beverages tonight.

Not me, though. I haven’t consumed alcoholic beverages very much at all since New Year’s Eve 1986. But that night I did consume a lot of wine, beer, vodka, and other spirits.

For the last time.

I was eighteen years old on 1/31/86. The drinking age in Ohio had just been raised from 18 to 21. But what did I care? In fact, I hadn’t cared much about such niceties since 1981, when I’d begun experimenting with alcohol at the age of 13.

Hey—it was the Eighties! There was no helicopter parenting back then. Moreover, in those freewheeling times, shopkeepers could sometimes be persuaded to sell beer or wine to underage teens who looked mature. I started shaving at the age of 14.

And as for the hard stuff….well, let’s just say that not all parents minded their liquor cabinets, let alone installed locks on them.

Between the 8th grade and my high school graduation, I did my share of drinking. I wasn’t a lush, mind you, but I managed to try everything from beer to bourbon. (Rum was the only drink that I never tried, and I’d always wanted to shout, “Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle o’ rum!” with a pirate’s inflection, while holding a bottle of Bacardi or Captain Morgan.)

I quickly learned an unpleasant truth about drinking and me: I didn’t like hangovers.

Hangovers manifest themselves differently for everyone. For me, a hangover invariably entailed projectile vomiting, extreme fatigue, and the sense that my head had just been used to ring a church bell. A hangover left me feeling really bad—for at least one day, and probably two.

By New Year’s Eve 1986 I already knew that alcohol affected me this way. But I was eighteen years old. Since when have eighteen year-olds been fast learners? I had graduated from high school the previous spring, and a girl from my class (one I sort of liked) had invited me to a New Year’s Party. I therefore had to attend. And being a typical teenage herd animal, I had to drink—because that’s what everyone else would be doing.

I don’t know exactly how many drinks I had that night. I got drunk enough, however, that the operation of a motor vehicle would have been out of the question. (I had arranged for a ride that night, so no—I wasn’t drinking and driving; nor did I ever do that.)

The next morning, 1/1/87, my first thought upon waking up was that eighteen years was plenty long enough for any one person to live. I should just die now, and be done with it.

I had a bad hangover—my worst one to date.

I got out of bed and went for a run in the frigid morning air. This helped—to a point. I felt decent as long as I kept running. The thing about running, though, is that you eventually have to stop. Within a few minutes of completing my run, I was feeling just as lousy as I had upon waking up.

I still lived with my parents at the time. They decided to celebrate the New Year by going out for breakfast. And of course—I readily agreed to tag along when they invited me to join them. (Like I said, most 18 year-olds are not quick on the uptake.)

As soon as we were seated in our booth, I wanted to leave. I realized that I wasn’t up to eating anything. My parents, though, wanted their breakfasts. My mother insisted on ordering a breakfast consisting of eggs, hash browns, sausage, and gravy. If your stomach is up to snuff, that might be a delicious combination. But what if you have a hangover, and you can barely keep a glass of water down? In that case, the aroma of a typical “country breakfast” platter is a barf-inducing olfactory concoction.

My parents, being no fools, saw what was up. So did our sixty-something waitress, who poked fun at my misery while I sat there without breakfast.

When I arrived back home that morning, I had an epiphany: I’d been an idiot. Binge drinking was nothing more than self-induced misery.

And no, it wasn’t “cool”. What is so cool about projectile vomiting?

I clearly remember the moment—on January 1st, 1987, in which I said, “never again”.

I made a vow never to put myself through that again. More than thirty years later, I still haven’t. I’ve never consumed alcoholic to excess since that night.

I have had the occasional glass of wine or bottle of beer. But even these are rare. (My most recent tipple was a beer at a trade show in 2002.) Alcoholic beverages and me just don’t mix. I haven’t missed them.

And besides—now that I’m more than old enough to drink legally, what’s the point?

Star Wars cards, circa 1977

I was a member of the original Star Wars generation. I remember sitting in the cinema with my dad, in the summer of 1977, watching that opening text crawl:

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….”

I was instantly hooked. There was something special about being a kid in 1977, when Star Wars was brand new, and there was one movie, instead of a gazillion of them.

I also became one of the millions of child consumers who fueled the Star Wars licensing boom.

Collecting action figures would be an extremely nerdy activity for me today (pathetic, actually—I’m in my fifties); but at age nine I was just fine with that. I had many of the Star Wars action figures.

But I especially liked the Star Wars trading cards.

I had always felt left out of the baseball card trading craze of the 1970s. (I never minded spectator sports, but to this day I’m not crazy about them.)

But Star Wars cards, yes, I loved those.

Each card featured an iconic scene from the movie. Also, each pack of Star Wars cards contained a sticker (very useful for adorning my looseleaf binder in the fourth grade).

Oh, and a stick of gum—just like the baseball cards.

I doubt that kids bother with any sort of trading cards anymore. It’s all about i-this and i-that nowadays.

But forty-odd years ago, if you were a kid who was crazy about Star Wars, it was a lot of fun to collect those cards.

‘Revolutionary Ghosts’ $0.99 for a limited time!

If you haven’t read Revolutionary Ghosts yet, here is your chance to get it on Amazon Kindle for less than a buck.

Revolutionary Ghosts is a coming-of-age horror tale set in 1976…

Revolutionary Ghosts

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again. A dark fantasy horror thriller filled with wayward spirits, historical figures, and a cool 1970s vibe.

Get it on Amazon Kindle for just $0.99 for the next three days!

Winter in Ohio…in November

It was barely a month ago that I was complaining about the blistering heat in October.

Well, now November is here, and suddenly we’ve got January weather in Southern Ohio. Tonight the mercury will dip all the way down to 13 degrees Fahrenheit in Cincinnati.

This is part of a larger cold front. Most of the eastern half of the United States is experiencing unseasonably frigid temperatures both today and tomorrow.

The good news: the weather is supposed to moderate later in the week!

Apple Store complaints: I’m not the only one

Perhaps you read my recent critique of the Apple Store concept and thought that I might be a complainer.

Well, a writer at ZD Net had a similar experience: I went to an Apple store to buy an iPhone 11, but no one would talk to me

The article describes “a little chaos in Apple retail right now”.

Based on my visit last week, I would describe that assessment as a very polite understatement.

‘The Breakfast Club’: its strengths, and yes…its flaws

This was one of the big teen movies of my youth. I saw it when it came out in the mid-1980s. I recently watched it again as a middle age (51) adult.

 The basic idea of The Breakfast Club is immediately relatable: Five very different teens (a nerd, a jock, a princess, a basket case, a criminal) are thrown together in the enclosed space of their high school’s library. They are then forced to interact over the course of a day-long detention period on a Saturday. This is a small drama, but also a much larger one: The setup for the movie provides a concentrated and contained view of all teenage interactions.

Why we like The Breakfast Club

I liked The Breakfast Club, for all the usual reasons that millions of people have liked the movie since it first hit cinemas in February 1985. Everyone who has ever been a teenager can relate to feeling awkward and misunderstood; and The Breakfast Club has teenage angst in spades. The cast of characters is diverse enough that each of us can see parts of himself in at least one of these kids. 

The Breakfast Club is free of the gratuitous nudity that was somewhat common in the teensploitation films of the era. There is no Breakfast Club equivalent to Phoebe Cates’s topless walk beside the swimming pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (There is a brief glimpse of what is supposed to be Molly Ringwald’s panties. But since Ringwald was a minor at the time, an adult actress filled in as a double for this shot.)

Nor are any of the actors especially good-looking or flashy. They all look like normal people. No one paid to see this movie for its star power or sex appeal. The Breakfast Club succeeded on the basis of its script, and solid acting and production values. 

What I didn’t see in 1985

I enjoyed the movie the second time around, too. I have to admit, though, that teenage self-absorption can seem a little frustrating when viewed through adult eyes.

I’m the same age as Michael Anthony Hall and Molly Ringwald; we were all born in 1968. The other actors in the film are all within ten years of my age. Nevertheless, this time I was watching their teenage drama unfold as an older person–not a peer. Teenage drama is, by its very nature, trivial (and yes, a little annoying) when viewed from an adult perspective. 

The movie also makes all adults look corrupt, stupid, or craven–as opposed to the hapless and victimized, but essentially idealistic– teens. Every young character in The Breakfast Club blames his or her parents for their problems, and these assertions are never really challenged.

We get only a few shots of the parents, when the kids are being dropped off for their day of detention. The parents are all portrayed as simplistic naggers. 

The teens’ adult nemesis throughout the movie, Assistant Principal Vernon, is a caricature, a teenager’s skewed perception of the evil adult authority figure.  The school janitor, meanwhile,  is no working-class hero–but a sly operator who blackmails Vernon for $50.

A movie written for its audience

One of the reasons you liked this movie if you were a teenager in 1985 is that it flattered you–without challenging your myopic, teenage perspective of the world. If you weren’t happy, it was probably because of something your parents did, not anything that you did–or failed to do. 

That may have been a marketing decision. Who knows?  The Breakfast Club goes out of its way to flatter its target audience–the suburban teenager of the mid-1980s. I suppose I didn’t see that when I was a member of that demographic. I see it now, though. 

The Consultant: Chapter 10

The guard grabbed Barry by his shirt collar. The other big Korean—the one whom Jung-Ho had identified as Sgt. Park—squeezed into the cell to help manhandle Barry.

They picked him up. Sgt. Park slammed a fist into Barry’s abdomen. Barry would have vomited, if there had been anything in his stomach. 

The guard slipped a little plastic tie around Barry’s wrists.

Jung-Ho shouted something else in Korean. Then Sgt. Park and the unnamed guard pushed Barry out of the cell. 

“Stop!” Barry shouted. “I want to speak to the Swedish embassy!”

No one answered him.

Now he found himself in a long corridor with stone walls. The kind of decor one would expect in the hallway of a prison in North Korea. 

The corridor was almost completely dark. There were bare bulbs spaced at wide intervals in the ceiling. But as was the case in the cell—they didn’t give off much light. 

Barry was jostled around a corner, where he saw a wedge of daylight just ahead of him. A few steps further, and he saw an open doorway, lit up with the obscured sunlight of a cloudy day.

Sgt. Park and the guard kept shoving Barry forward, while Jung-Ho walked calmly alongside them.

Barry shouted more protests. But Jung-Ho would give him no response, and the other two Koreans didn’t even understand him. 

Another shove, and he was outside, in a muddy courtyard enclosed by brick walls.

The courtyard was barren, but not empty. There were two groups of people out here.

One group was wearing rags. They looked like prisoners in a concentration camp, which—Barry supposed—was exactly what they were.

The other group was wearing military uniforms. They had guns. 

Something, Barry could tell, was about to take place in this courtyard—something very bad.

And he was going to be a part of it.

Perhaps twelve or fifteen prisoners—all of them Korean, apparently—were lined up against a wall. Four more Korean guards were watching them with scowling faces. 

Three of the guards carried AK-47s. The fourth guard, who might have been an officer, carried a pistol like the one that had been used to threaten Barry.

The prisoners were a mix of age and gender. The youngest of them was a woman who appeared to be in her twenties. The oldest was a man who looked old enough to be a great grandfather.

Sgt. Park and the guard who had helped jostle Barry outside now shoved him to the nearer end of the line, and against the wall.  

Barry had some idea what was going to happen here. He shouted, “Wait!” and tried to resist. The big Korean, Sgt. Park, smacked Barry with his open palm. 

It was only a glancing blow across Barry’s head. But after being struck by the truncheon in a similar manner, his head was already ringing. He also now realized that he was famished and dehydrated…Not to mention the shock of waking up from a drug-induced slumber in North Korea. 

And now this: His captors were pushing him toward what looked like preparations for a mass execution. Toward the target line.

Stunned, Barry had little choice but to let himself be pushed. He looked down, and saw one of his two hundred-dollar loafers sink briefly into the muck of the courtyard. 

This couldn’t be real.

But it was real, impossible though it seemed.

They shoved him again. 

Sgt. Park and his helper finally pushed Barry into the place where they wanted him. Barry turned around and saw a crumbling brick wall that was punctured with bullet holes. There were also dark stains that could only have been dried blood.

The smell out here was wretched. A mixture of the oozy mud beneath their feet, and the reek of the prisoners’ unwashed bodies.

His own unwashed body. 

Barry glanced over and saw Jung-Ho, waiting and watching impassively. Jung-Ho was at the very edge of the courtyard. He had not stepped out into the mud. 

Opposite the wall, Barry could see the four Korean guards talking among themselves. The sky was a white-grey, the air warm and fetid. From a flagpole in the center of the courtyard hung a North Korean flag. 

Barry could hear some of the prisoners beside him begin to whimper and sob as the guard with the pistol approached the line. 

The guard with the pistol now stood at the end of the line farthest from Barry. 

Barry looked around: There was nowhere to run. In every direction, was a brick wall, a North Korean with a gun, or both.

Barry had a sudden realization: He would be dead within a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

The guard with the pistol shouted something in Korean. Barry watched in disbelief as he placed the muzzle of the pistol against the head of the first prisoner—a middle-aged woman.

There was a loud crack, and Barry saw the pistol buck in the guard’s outstretched hand. 

The female prisoner fell to the ground. A section of her head was missing. Her blood was gushing out onto the mud. 

A few seconds ago she had been alive. Alive in this hellhole, yes—but alive. 

And now she was dead. 

Just like that.  

Before Barry had even absorbed this horror, the guard with the pistol moved on to the next prisoner: the great grandfather.

The old man looked stoically ahead, not looking at the officer.

The guard held out the gun and the gun went BOOM! again. 

The top of the old man’s head seemed to have been sheared off. He toppled forward into the mud. 

The next prisoner was a youngish woman. Under different circumstances, she would have been pretty. But now she was crying, babbling hysterically in Korean. A line of mucus ran down from one nostril. 

She fell to her knees. Barry couldn’t understand her words, of course, but he understood their import well enough: She was still very young, and she was begging for her life.

The gun went off yet again. 

The top of the woman’s head collapsed inward, in an explosion of blood, and her body fell forward. 

Now there were three dead bodies, their heads ruined by that terrible weapon that the guard wielded with such cold efficiency.

Life and death means nothing to these people, Barry thought. 

They’re going to kill me.

They aren’t kidding around. 

It’s really going to happen.

Unless…

Barry hated himself for what he had just decided to do, but he was still determined to go through with it.

The guard with the pistol probably didn’t speak a word of English. Moreover, he was obviously not in a listening mood. He was in a shooting and killing mood.

Barry looked in the other direction. He saw Jung-Ho, still standing at the edge of the courtyard, the massive Sgt. Park at his side. 

Barry broke out of the line and ran in the direction of Jung-Ho.  

What was the worst that could happen? They would shoot him?

Jung-Ho watched him approach, but he did not react.

A short distance from the edge of the courtyard, Barry tripped and fell in the mud. With his hands bound, he had no way to break the fall. He struggled to his knees, aware that the front of his body was entirely caked with mud. 

“Okay!” he pleaded. “You win! You want me to perform a task for you? Serve your Supreme Leader? I’ll do it!

Even as Barry spoke these words, he loathed himself anew for his desperation, this voluntary surrender of his dignity.

Without looking directly at Barry, Jung-Ho said something in Korean.

Sgt. Park stepped forward, into the muddy courtyard, and lifted Barry off the ground. The big Korean yelled something incomprehensible at him. 

“I—I don’t understand,” Barry said, as he struggled to his feet.

Sgt. Park punched Barry in the stomach. He doubled over, and fell back into the mud.  

Barry heard Jung-Ho say something else in Korean. Sgt. Park lifted him up again—but this time he spared him the punch. 

It didn’t matter. Barry’s stomach felt like it had been struck by a cannonball. But that pain was minor, compared to his terror of that guard with the pistol— the one who liked to shoot unarmed prisoners in the head. 

Jung-Ho looked past Barry, and summoned another guard. Barry turned and saw the guard running, double-time, in their direction. He was a young guy, looked like a new enlistee. 

Barry heard the pistol crack again. More cries of anguish. Behind him the killing continued.

What is wrong with these people? Barry thought. But he knew that he had other, more immediate problems of his own.

The young guard stood at attention before Jung-Ho, as Jung-Ho issued a set of instructions in staccato Korean.

“You will go with this guard and Sgt. Park,” said Jung-Ho in English, his words obviously intended for Barry.

“What?” Barry said. “Where are they taking me?”

Then a new prospect occurred to Barry: Maybe the North Koreans had an even more horrific means of killing him in mind—something worse than being shot in the head with a pistol.

Perhaps this nightmare was about to get even worse—if that were even possible.

Barry had a dreadful feeling that it was possible.

Jung-Ho walked away without answering him.

 

End of excerpt

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Table of contents

Southern Ohio’s Dead Man’s Curve

Not far from where I live, there is a stretch of Ohio State Route 125 that has been dubbed Dead Man’s Curve

The spot is just a few miles from my house, in fact. I’ve been by there many times.

According to the urban legend, if you drive this section of rural highway a little after 1 a.m., you might see the faceless hitchhiker. From a distance, this male figure may look relatively normal. Once you get close, though, you’ll see that he has no face.

Sometimes the hitchhiker isn’t content to stand there by the side of the road and watch you. There have been reports of the phantom actually attacking cars.

Creepy, right?

Yeah, I think so, too….

Dead Man’s Curve on Ohio State Route 125 has a long and macabre history. Route 125 is the main road that connects the suburbs and small towns east of Cincinnati with the city. But much of the road (including Dead Man’s Curve) was originally part of the Ohio Turnpike, which was built in 1831. (Andrew Jackson was president in 1831, just to put that date in perspective.)

That section of the Ohio Turnpike was the scene of many accidents (some of them fatal), even in the horse-and-buggy days. The downward sloping curve became particularly treacherous when rain turned the road to mud. Horses and carriages would sometimes loose their footing, sending them over the adjacent hillside.

In the twentieth century, the Ohio Turnpike was paved and reconfigured into State Route 125. In 1968 the road was expanded into four lanes. 

As part of the expansion, the spot known as Dead Man’s Curve was leveled and straightened. (As a result, the curve doesn’t look so daunting today…unless you know its history.) This was supposed to be the end of “Dead Man’s Curve”.

But it wasn’t.

In 1969, there was a horrible accident at the spot. The driver of a green Roadrunner—traveling at a speed of 100 mph—slammed into an Impala carrying five teenagers. There was only one survivor of the tragic accident.

Shortly after that, witnesses began to report sightings of the faceless hitchhiker during the wee hours. (The hitchhiker is said to be most active during the twenty-minutes between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m.) There have also been reports of a ghostly green Roadrunner that will chase drivers late at night. 

Oh, and Dead Man’s Curve remains deadly, despite the leveling and straightening done in 1968. In the five decades since the accident involving the Roadrunner and the Impala, around seventy people have been killed there.

Is there any truth to the legend of Dead Man’s Curve?

I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is that I’ve heard many eyewitness accounts from local residents who claim to have seen the hitchhiker. (Keep in mind, I live very close to Dead Man’s Curve, and it’s a local topic of discussion and speculation.) Almost none of these eyewitnesses have struck me as mentally imbalanced or deceitful.

I know what your last question is going to be: Have I ever driven Dead Man’s Curve between 1:20 and 1:40 a.m. myself?

Uh, no. But perhaps I’ll get around to it someday, and I’ll let you know in a subsequent blog post!

***

Hey!…While you’re here: I wrote a novel about a haunted road in Ohio. It’s called Eleven Miles of Night. You can start reading the book for FREE here on my website, or check out the reviews on Amazon.

You can also start reading my other two novels of the supernatural in Southern Ohio: Revolutionary Ghosts and 12 Hours of Halloween. 

Check out my FREE short stories, too….many of them have macabre elements.

And stop back soon! I add content to this website every day!

Ever-free stories: online or in Kindle Unlimited

Thanks to those of you who purchased 12 Hours of Halloween during the recent $0.99 sale. The sale was a big success, when combined with the promotions that I ran for it on several sites.

I’ve got some more fiction in the works for Amazon/Kindle Unlimited publication. Remember that I also have a new story here on the site, “I Know George Washington”. 

“I Know George Washington” will eventually find its way into one of my upcoming anthologies. My plan, though, is to keep this story–along with many others–ever-free here on Edward Trimnell Books (or in Kindle Unlimited)

For me, publication is about more than just Amazon. I am also a big fan of the ezine/webzine concept. That means lots of stories and other content here on Edward Trimnell Books, for you to read online.

Postcasting is the new blogging? Not so fast.

Well, it must be, right? Because Seth Godin says so.

I don’t want to beat on Seth Godin here. (Well, not too much, anyway.) I’ve read a few of the glorified PowerPoint presentations that Seth Godin publishes as books. They contain a few worthwhile nuggets. The guy has been saying stuff about marketing for 20 years now. It can’t all be wrong. But let’s not forget that Seth Godin mostly markets himself.

The obsession with audio/video

And of course, Seth Godin isn’t alone in his obsession with noise, and his relative disdain for text. Many of the marketing gurus are telling us that in this short-attention span, post-literate world, you have to hit them with some form of electronic noise. No one has the time for text anymore! If you must use text, make it an emoji! That’s the way Gen Z does things, after all!

(Twenty years ago, these same gurus were telling us to ape the Millennials, until the Millennials lost their luster.)

It depends.

Text or voice/video? It depends on what you’re selling, and whom you’re selling it to, of course… If you want to demonstrate the performance of a new sports car, then video is perfect for that. Likewise, a vacation spot. No one can describe the beauty of Hawaii like an image or a video can show them.

But there are many marketing situations in which the current obsession with yammering in people’s ears, or bombarding them with video, can be counterproductive. If I’m going to invest in a stock, for example, I’d rather read a prospectus. If I want to learn about the causes of World War II, I much prefer a well-written text to a YouTube video, or even a podcast.

I do listen to podcasts, because they’re a handy way to consume certain kinds of information when reading is impractical (such as when I’m driving a car).

But if I need to absorb something complicated, I prefer text.

Text also permits us to skim, and easily backtrack–something that is much more difficult with audio and video.

I still read print magazines, too–and I’m not the only one– because they provide a depth of information that you simply can’t get from a 5-minute YouTube video, or even a 1-hour podcast.

Audio and video can be annoying.

While we’re on the subject of print versus audio/video: I know you’ve had this experience: You navigate to a website that you’ve found in a search result, and the website contains one of those autoplaying videos that immediately starts talking at you. Shut the #$@! up! you shout, and hit the mute button on your computer.

But what do the gurus preach? More audio! More video!

Text: more “high-tech” than talking

There is nothing wrong with podcasting. (There is nothing wrong with video, either.) There is something wrong with the sudden trendiness of declaring text obsolete, as if forgetting how to organize one’s thoughts into text somehow represented an advancement.

Remember that verbal communication is nothing new.  On the contrary, it is the oldest, most primitive form. People have been yammering at each other, and yammering before crowds of others, since the invention of language.

Written language (text) developed because it allowed more complex ideas to be expressed in more systematic ways. If we must be trendy here, then it is text that is more “high-tech”. We should not be too eager to let text go, in the pursuit of more primitive noise.

Get ‘Luk Thep’ FREE on Kindle 9/16 & 9/17/2019

A supernatural thriller ripped from the headlines…

If you haven’t read my novella Luk Thep, this is your chance to read it for FREE.

An American woman is terrorized by a Thai ghost. A supernatural thriller ripped from recent headlines.

I wrote this novella in early 2016, after I read this article in The Economist.

I haven’t promoted Luk Thep as aggressively as some other titles, but readers have generally liked it. Check it out on Amazon!

The best H.P. Lovecraft collection?

I own several HP Lovecraft collections, but this one is my favorite: The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre . This volume was published in 1987.

I’ve bought it twice: Once in 1988 (that copy is long since gone); and I bought a replacement copy about two years ago. 

This collection has all the stories that the newcomer to Lovecraft really needs, including “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Dunwich Horror”.

Another feature of this collection is the excellent introductory essay by Robert Bloch.

Autumn skies in Ohio

Over the past week or so, the weather here in Southern Ohio has been growing gradually cooler, after a brutal heatwave throughout most of July and August.

Today we had a delightfully cool, overcast morning.

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and the time when I tend to be most productive. (My most sluggish time of the year is the dog days of high summer.)

Let summer end, and let fall begin in earnest.

Only 54 days until Halloween!

Hobbits beat Jedi

Lord of the Rings Trumps Star Wars in New Online Poll

I am not surprised. The Star Wars franchise has grown stale in recent years (as in–the last 20 years). 

As I’ve written before, I remember watching the first Star Wars ever, at the cinema with my dad in the summer of ’77.

I was nine. My dad was twenty years younger than I am today.

The first three movies–Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi–were true originals. Absolutely amazing, in that time and place.

But they should have stopped in 1983, with the last of those three original films. Everything they’ve done since then has detracted from the power of what was done in the 1970s and 1980s.

Return of the Jedi, 1983

George RR Martin, writers, and time

George RR Martin: ‘Game of Thrones finishing is freeing, I’m at my own pace

Professionally, Martin is at the height of his success. But he’s also a septuagenarian writer who has a tendency to take on long, ambitious projects.

One thing about writing: There is a never enough time to get everything done.

Ergo, writers of any age have to become adept at time management.