Stormtrooper Terry

Stormtrooper Terry

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goodreads Book Review - Unholy Night

Unholy NightUnholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I went into this book shortly after watching the horrendously bad movie version of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," so I wasn't expecting very much from something that had anything to do with Seth Grahame-Smith. For the first 100 pages or so, this book was exactly what I feared it would be: completely unengaging, boring nonsense. But then, business picked up. The main character, Balthazar, finally became compelling as the story really started weaving around the Nativity legend we all know. Historical fiction like this one is always tough, but by the end, Grahame-Smith had me hooked by the non-stop pace he eventually settles into and the way he ties everything together. To show you what I mean about the eventual pace he sets, it took me about two and a half weeks to force myself through the first hundred pages or so... and then three days to devour the rest because it was just nonstop and I couldn't put it down. If not for the beginning, this could have been a four-star book but I had to demote it. Still, I'd recommend it.



View all my reviews

That's the sixth book in the Recommended Reading Challenge to bite the dust. We're right around the three-month mark of this year-long experiment, so we're about 25% complete. I've still got three books on my list and I'm hopefully getting another two on Thursday, but I'm definitely looking for more to get me through the next nine months, so leave me some suggestions below! Especially if it's a book you can lend me so I don't have to spend money on something I might not like, but if you can't, recommend it anyway, I have my ways... and remember, there's going to be a prize at the end of the challenge for the person who recommended the book I enjoyed the most!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mets Monday - It's That Time of Year Again

No, it's not THAT time of year again, meaning one of the three big holidays: Christmas, Halloween, and my birthday (trust me, if you're around the week of my birthday, you know it's a holiday). It is, however, that time of year that every Mets fan dreads from the beginning of the season... hell, from the beginning of Spring Training, even. It comes at different times every year; for a few seasons there, it didn't come until the last game of the season. Recently, it's come earlier, like in August, or in this case, July. Yes, Mets fans, it's that time: the time when we know the season is, for all intents and purposes, over.


Of course, mathematically, nothing is over, but let's look at a few things. This is a team that has lost thirteen out of sixteen games since the All-Star Break. A team that has dropped to four games under .500, 12.5 games out of first place in their division, and 8.5 games out of the wild card race. A team that has lost two of its starting pitchers to the DL in the last two weeks (for a total of three of the starters from the season being on the DL right now), and has sent one of its bright young stars, Lucas Duda, down to the minors due to lack of production.

Yet it's a team that still keeps Jason Bay around, something I will never understand. He's never done anything for the Mets but suck.

But he sucks for a lot more money, so it must be okay...

No, nothing is mathematically over, but we Mets fans know better. We know we got much more from this team in the first half than we had any right to expect. We got our first no-hitter. We watched R.A. Dickey be positively Herculean. We saw David Wright find himself again. We watched a bunch of young kids play their asses off, even when they screwed up. It was great fun... but we knew it wouldn't last. Still, we can enjoy the rest of the season, as ugly as it might get, for the glimpses of the future it holds. This season might be on its last legs, but the Mets are on the right path.

As the oldest truism in baseball goes, "there's always next year."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fiction Friday - Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences: The First Case Part 1: A Medium's Tale


It's Friday again, so that means I have another short story for you. This is the fourth Friday in a row that I've had a story in this series ready, which is easily the most consecutive Fridays I've posted a story since I started this blog two years ago. I'm really enjoying this series and these characters. Admittedly, this installment is a little slower and more expostion-heavy than the first few parts, but it's an origin story, and only the first half of one at that, so what did you expect? You can find the last installment here; there's a link to the other chapters there as well. If you read it, leave me some feedback, please! If you don't, it's kind of like going to a play and not clapping when it's over!

Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences:
The First Case Part 1:
A Medium’s Tale

            “This is definitely a bad idea.”
            “It’s not a bad idea, boss,” Lexy answered, for what had to be the hundredth time. Alexa Fogel, fresh out of college, ran the Haunted Hops, the bar me and my partner Wedge owned, and was also an unofficial assistant for our occult business. Even though the bar made money hand over fist, she was always trying to find ways to drum business up even more. Chalk it up to youthful exuberance, I guess. This time, though, she had come up with a way that I was particularly against.
            Whether she knew it or not, though, I’d go along with anything she asked me to.
            “Listen, Hank,” she said as she reached up to adjust the black-and-blue striped tie she was making me wear as we stood in my office in the bar’s basement. She was one of the few people in the world who called me by my first name instead of just calling me “Biggs” or “Biggsy.” “Weekly World Now magazine is a big deal. Millions of people across the country read it. This interview is great exposure for the bar and for the occult stuff too. And exposure means business, and business means money. You like money, don’t you,” she asked slyly, looking up at me under lowered eyebrows as I towered a foot over her.
            “Not as much as I like peace and quiet,” I answered grumpily, but again, I’d do anything for her… anything short of actually telling her that, that is.
            She finished adjusting my tie, smoothed down the front of the black suit jacket I wore maybe once a year, and stepped back to look at me. “There we go. You look great, Hank,” she said. Then she wagged her finger at me and grinned. “Now, stop being a grump. I’m going to go upstairs and send the reporter down. Just be yourself, you’ll be fine!” Standing on her tiptoes, she leaned towards me and kissed my cheek, and then turned on her heels and walked out.
            I watched her walk away, going over in my head all the reasons why I could never act on what I felt for her. Shaking my head, I walked behind my desk and sat down, opening the bottom draw to take out the bottle of Glenfiddich 1937 I kept there. Easily one of the best… and most expensive… scotches in the world, this bottle had been a gift from a very wealthy client and I had been holding onto it for a few years now, only having a shot of it for very, very special occasions. I figured the hell this interview would probably be would qualify, so I opened the bottle and took a large gulp before sealing it up in the desk again as I heard the reporter coming down the stairs.
            She walked into my office with a big smile on her face, looking young enough to make me wonder if the magazine had just sent in intern instead of a real reporter. “Mr. Biggs, hello! My name is Melissa Adaire, from Weekly World Now. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this.”
            “You’re welcome,” I tried to sound as friendly as possible, if only for Lexy’s sake. I gestured to the chair in front of the desk and as she took a seat, I asked, “So, where would you like to begin?”
            “I can’t help but notice the rather large replica of the Millennium Falcon that hangs from the ceiling upstairs,” she said as she took out her tape recorder and pressed record. “Why don’t we start with the infamously mysterious time you and your partner visited Skywalker Ranch?”
            “No can do.” I shook my head. “We signed about eight different legally binding, ironclad nondisclosure agreements over what happened there. All I can tell you is that the Falcon up there is one of the gifts we received from a very grateful client in that case.”
            She laughed. “I didn’t think I’d get anywhere with that, but it was worth a try. Why don’t we start with you, then? You’re a medium, correct? Tell our readers briefly what a medium is, for any who might not know.”
            “Okay. A medium is basically anyone who can communicate with spirits, usually through senses and feelings, but sometimes through more direct means, like just talking.”
            “And how did you find out you were a medium?”
            I sighed slightly. I didn’t enjoy telling this story, but I had promised Lexy. “My grandmother died when I was seven. Shortly after that, whenever I picked up my toy phone, I would hear her talking to me. I told my parents about it, they just thought I missed my grandma and had made her my imaginary friend, you know? But after awhile, they would overhear me talking about things that had happened before I was born that I couldn’t know about, things that she told me on the phone. Understandably, it freaked them the hell out. When I saw how much it bothered them, I told my grandmother I couldn’t talk to her anymore, and I never heard her voice on the phone again.”
            She tilted her head. “You mean you were able to, um, banish her that easily at such a young age?”
            “I didn’t say I banished her,” I snapped slightly, “just that I never heard her voice again. I was seven. I had no idea about mediums or spirits or banishings yet. I was just a little boy talking to his grandmother, and when it got scary and I asked her to stop, she did. Probably just because she loved me, I guess. When I did learn all about banishings and everything, I did go home and release her,” I added softly.
            “Okay,” she said. “So how did you go from there into becoming a full-fledged medium?”
            “I grew up. My grandmother was the only spirit I ever talked to, but as I grew I could feel them all around us. It scared me, but after seeing how my parents reacted to the thing with my grandmother, I never mentioned it to them. And then when the existence of spirits really came to light all over the world, it all clicked for me, that I was what the news was calling a ‘medium’ and that I could talk do what these people on the news could do.”
            “Is that when you set out as your tour as a medium?”
            I shook my head. “Hell no. I didn’t want anything to do with this stuff at first. I went to college, got a degree in English. I wanted to be a writer.” I laughed, a bit more bitter-sounding than I had intended. “It took me a few years after that to realize that there wasn’t any money in writing unless you were already a famous writer, so I gave that up. The only real marketable skill I had after that was my abilities as a medium, so I started doing the John Edwards Crossing Over-type stuff, first in little clubs, then in colleges, then in stadiums. The only difference between me and John Edwards, though, was that when I did it, it usually wasn’t a load of shit.” Realizing what I said, I looked at the tape recorder. “Sorry.”
            “Don’t worry,” she laughed, “it happens all the time. I’ll just edit it out later. What do you mean when you say usually?”
            “There’s no such thing as a sure thing at a medium show,” I answered. “Here’s a trade secret for you. People are never haunted. Places? Sure. Items? All the time. But not people. So if I was at a show, and nobody there had anything on them that was haunted… I had to make something up fast. Luckily for me, if you have hundreds of people together, odds are there will be a few haunted family heirlooms around so I only had to make things up a few times, but it did happen.”
            “Did you feel bad those times when you had to lead people on?”
            I shrugged. “Yeah, but once I got popular as a medium, the money was flowing in faster than I could count it. I was a cocky twenty-something making more money than I ever expected, and I helped people talk to the dead. To say I was full of myself would be a gross understatement.”
            “What changed?”
            “I got one hell of a rude awakening.” She looked at me, obviously waiting for me to elaborate. “I was backstage at one of my shows… my last show, as it turned out… and a very wealthy couple paid a whole lot of money to see me backstage for a few minutes. It turned out they wanted to see me because they thought their house was haunted. I told them I didn’t do banishings and that they should find someone else, but they offered me an exorbitant amount of money, so I couldn’t turn them down.”
            “So you took the job even though you knew you weren’t qualified?”
            I laughed. “Like I said, an exorbitant amount of money. And remember, I was cocky as hell. Plus, all the spirits I had ever dealt with before were ghosts, like my grandmother. Ghosts; pure, friendly spirits just hanging around their loved ones, like my grandmother was. I figured all I had to do was learn how to do a banishing, and I’d be all set.”
            She gave me a knowing grin. “It sounds a bit like that isn’t what happened, though.”
            “You could say that.” I shook my head and loosened my tie, sick of wearing it. “It started out alright. I learned about the double pentagram to summon and bind the spirit. I learned how to use chicken blood to paint the double pentagram in the center of the focal point of the haunting. I went to one of the occult supply stores that had popped up everywhere and bought a hand axe anointed in innocent blood to banish the spirit. I figured I was all set. I told the wealthy couple to head out to their weekend home for the night and went to their house, swaggering around like I was the cock of the walk. I didn’t even use my senses as much as I should, ignoring what I felt from the spirit, focusing on finding the focus of the haunting. Once I did, I painted the double pentagram, sat down with the axe on my lap, and reached out to summon the spirit… and that’s when all hell broke loose.”
            “What happened,” she asked, leaning forward in her seat.
            “For one thing,” I answered as I leaned down and pulled the bottle of scotch back out of the desk drawer, “I realized what I had missed when I was ignoring my senses. This wasn’t one of the ghosts I was used to dealing with.” I raised the bottle to my lips and took a drink, ignoring the surprised look she was giving me. I wasn’t sure if she was surprised I was taking a drink mid-interview or was surprised I hadn’t offered to share. Either way, I didn’t care; the warmth that was already spreading through my body was something I desperately needed to get through the rest of this story. “I was suddenly face-to-face with my first poltergeist. A raging, violent poltergeist. As it let out a very inhuman roar and everything in the room that wasn’t nailed down started flying through the air, I realized everything I thought I knew about spirits up until that moment meant precisely dick.”
            “That must have been… rough,” she said, her voice revealing just how inadequate she knew that word was.
            “It was the single worst moment in my life,” I answered, taking another short drink before putting the bottle back in the drawer. “I was shocked into inaction until a Ming vase missed taking my head off by about a millimeter. I pulled myself up to my feet and lunged axe-first at the poltergeist, stumbling over the electrical cord of a lamp that was skidding across the floor. Somehow I managed to chop the axe into the poltergeist’s thigh, and that should have been the end of it.”
            “But it wasn’t?”
            “Nope. The hand axe might have been real, but there was no innocent blood. Which made it about as effective against a spirit as a cotton swab would be against you or me. The poltergeist actually looked at it for a second while I stared, dumbfounded, until the poltergeist hit me with the back of its hand, knocking me on my ass. I scrambled backwards as fast as I could… and completely obliterated the bloodline keeping the pentagram together. Free now, the poltergeist took off after me at full speed, and I got up and ran faster than I ever ran before, making it out the front door just as I felt its nails scratch down my back, drawing blood. Luckily, it couldn’t leave the house, so I was safe.”
            She was on the edge of her seat. “What happened next?”
            “What happened next?” The pain of reliving that memory aside, I grinned in spite of myself. “Wedge happened next.”

To Be Continued…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Big Pimpin'

So, I've noticed lately that a lot of my friends have blogs/websites/projects/causes/whatever that they're trying to spread the word about. I thought to myself, why not gather a bunch of these links together in a blog post and help get some stuff out there for some of my favorite people? So here I am, pimping other peoples' stuff out because, well, they're all awesome people who deserve success.


And before I get into everyone else, let me just remind you, faithful readers, that I'm around for writing jobs as well as the various ministerial duties I can perform, like weddings, naming ceremonies, vow renewals, and pretty much anything you can think of except for circumcisions and exorcisms (and since I neither want to cut babies nor tangle with demons, I'm fine with those exceptions!) so if you have need, hit me up!

I'll start off with one that I would get my ass kicked for forgetting: my best friend is a wonderfully talented bellydancer who is available for shows and parties and whatnot, you can find out more at her website, as well as see some past performances and stuff: http://www.brennadance.com/.

Next up is a guy I've known for the better part of my thirty-one years of life, who has his own advertising agency, which can be found here: http://www.salukcreative.com/.

I'm going to pimp a fellow blogger next, the gentleman who gave me my first Liebster Award earlier this week: Master Gio. His blog specializes in horror, metal, and sexy women, so if you have a need for gore, guitars, or gorgeous woman, he's got you covered at http://themastergio.blogspot.com/.

Now, if you know me, you know I'm not all that fashion-oriented. I'm a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, or at most, when necessary, a jeans and button-down or polo shirt guy. So if you want some fashion in your life, leave me immediately and head on over to http://islandchic77.blogspot.com/.

Next, I'm going to pimp the photography of a good friend and talented New York photographer, whose work you can find samples of at http://negativepop.blogspot.com/.

I'm going to double-dip into the photography well here and direct your attention to a beautiful and talented photographer, also working in NY, whose photos you can see at http://kimberlytauber.com/.

I'm going to close by mentioning a cause that one of my good friends is involved in. She's participating in the Brooklyn Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk, and if you're interested, any donation of any size you could make would be appreciated. You can find out more information about the walk and how to donate at the Facebook page for her team, http://www.facebook.com/HenrisHeroes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

It's been close to two full days since I saw The Dark Knight Rises, and I'm still not quite sure how to review it or what I want to say because, quite frankly, my mind is still completely fucking blown. So, I've decided that I'll start off the blog tackling some of the more common complaints I've seen flying around about the film, and maybe that will get me started off. And, as always, there might be spoilers, so if you don't want to read anything other than "I absolutely loved this movie," best kick rocks now.


One common complaint is about how hard to understand Bane was. You know what? Get your ears checked. I understood pretty much every word he said, and the words I missed, I missed because of other sound effects going on, something that happened with characters other than him, too. His voice was fine.

Another complaint I've seen a lot is that people thought the first hour or two was bad. I disagree, but this is of course just opinion. I thought the first how did a great job introducing new characters and catching us up on the old characters and what had happened to them in the last eight years. Was it filled with action? No. Does that mean it wasn't good? Hell no.

That brings me to the last common complaint I've seen; that, hand-in-hand with a lack of action, this was a Batman movie with very little Batman. For one thing, I disagree, I thought there was plenty of Batman to go around. But, whether there was or there wasn't, it goes to what this trilogy... and it might be one of the truest instances of the word trilogy I've ever seen, with the way it connected to both previous movies and really made them greater in the fullness that connection created... is really about. These three movies were never about Batman. They were always about the cost of being Batman on the man, and the power of Batman as a symbol. When you realize that, the fact that a large part of the movie wasn't about Batman but about people fighting to save their own city inspired by what Batman stood for, by the hope he represented, you realize you didn't need to see Batman at all.

Think about it. Go back to Batman Begins. What did Bruce Wayne learn from Ra's Al Ghoul? "But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely."Yes, Bruce Wayne became a vigilante to protect his city... but he also wanted to give the people of the city something to believe in, to give them a will to fight for themselves so he wouldn't have to.

That's why The Dark Knight unfolded the way it did. It's why the phrase "I believe in Harvey Dent" was so key. With Harvey Dent inspiring Gotham, cleaning up the city, Batman began to think he wasn't needed anymore. The people believed in Harvey Dent... and that's why Batman had to take the fall for Two-Face's crimes; so that his city wouldn't lose its faith, the hope it had found.

And that's why, with hours to go before the bomb went off in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman took the time to create that giant flaming Bat-signal: to tell the people of Gotham there was still hope, that they should not give in to the fear they felt. After all:


And that's why, when when the price of being Batman is too high, there must always be a Batman. I'd explain this sentence more, but that would be too spoilery, even for me.

I guess my thoughts are organized, after all. I loved The Dark Knight Rises. It was mind-blowing and inspiring. I'm not going to talk about how good the cast was; seriously, with Bale, Oldman, Caine, Hathaway, Hardy, Freeman, and Gordon-Levitt, you know what you're getting. Likewise, the directing of Nolan. My words could never do either the cast or the director justice (although I will say that, for me, the debate over the greatest and sexiest Catwoman has been settled, hands down). Maybe it's because I'm in a good place of my own right now, but the message of hope, of rising up against whatever it is keeping us down, of just simply trying, connected with me. What I guess I'm trying to say is...

I believe in Batman.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

I Got a Liebster Award!


Yesterday my blog received it's first Liebster Award from my friend Master Gio (his blog, Words from the Master, can be found here), which is a gesture that is very much appreciated. The award comes with a set of rules involving answering questions given to you by the person presenting you the award, then creating questions of your own and giving the award with those questions to other bloggers. I'm going to skip most of that, just because I don't really know enough other bloggers to send it to, which I guess means I only get an Honorary Liebster Award... but I will answer the questions he gave me!

1. What made you decide to start a blog?
I wanted to do more writing, and needed an outlet for all the ideas and opinions I have, and this seemed like the easiest way. It damn sure wasn't for all the feedback and comments I don't get!

2. What was the first thing you ever wrote about in your blog?
Technically, the very first post was an introduction, but I won't count that. I also won't count the collection of old quotes from me and my friends that made up the second post. So I guess that means the first thing I ever wrote about was whether or not Darth Vader is better than Jesus.

3. What's your favorite place to travel to and where would you most like to travel to?
I can't really answer the first question because the only place I've really traveled to is Michigan, and that was like fifteen years ago. The answer to the second part, though, is without a doubt Ireland.

4. Who do you most look up to?
I don't really know. Probably one of my favorite authors, like Terry Brooks, or maybe R.A. Salvatore.

5. What's your favorite movie and why?
The Crow. It's been the crow for almost twenty years, and that's never going to change. It's just, for me, the perfect blend of topics: it's an action movie built around a tragic love story with redemption and punishment and everything. Plus, the performances, the music, the setting... it all just works.

6. Tell me something about yourself that may surprise me and my readers.
I just heard a Justin Bieber song I actually like. Yeah. How's that for a revelation?

7. What's the best concert you've ever been to?
There's been a lot of great ones. Goo Goo Dolls with Third Eye Blind at Jones Beach in like 2002 is at the top of the list, and so are the K Rock DFPs I went to... but the best? The U2 concert I went to in 2009, without a doubt. Lifelong dream accomplished right there.

8. Who is your biggest celebrity crush?
I guess I'd have to say Anne Hathaway, but, full disclosure? My real-life one is much more interesting!

9. If you could have any superpower, which one would you pick?
Teleportation. Think of how many hassles that eliminates.

10. What's a typical day for you like?
Most of my days get split between the internet, job hunting, and writing.

11. If you ruled the world, what is one rule you'd enforce?
The "Just stop being douchebags to each other" rule. That would pretty much take care of everything else as it trickled down.

So there are my answers. Hit up the comment box if you want to talk about any of them, or share your answers!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Fiction Friday - Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences: Tick Tock Kills the Clock


Here's the third part of this new short story series I've been working on. I haven't gotten much feedback on it yet so if you read it, I'd love to know what you think, either good or bad. I've got at least nine more weeks worth of stories planned for these characters, so I'd love to know if people are enjoying them. Here's some links if you want to get caught up before reading today's installment:


Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences:
Tick Tock Kills the Clock

            “That’s definitely a grandfather clock.”
            “What was your first clue,” Wedge answered sarcastically, “the fact that it looks like a grandfather clock, or the fact that it tells time? Of course it’s a clock, Biggs,” he went on with a sigh, “what else are you getting from it?”
            “It’s also definitely haunted,” I answered calmly, pretending not to enjoy how much I occasionally enjoyed exasperating him. I had been crouched in front of the ornate grandfather clock in the long main hallway of the Reinhardt Mansion for almost ten minutes before making that announcement, reaching out with the sixth sense all mediums have, trying to see what I could sense… and it was overwhelming. “But there’s something different here. There’s so much psychic energy and residual feelings coming off of this thing that I can barely sort it out.
            My partner, Aldredge “Wedge” Thompson, barked out a short laugh. “Of course there’s something different here. Nothing is as easy as just a simple haunting lately. “I wonder if whatever this is will beat a silverback gorilla ghost. Maybe the hands will grow to enormous sizes and impale us, or the chimes will fly out and cut out our eyes, or maybe…”
            He kept going with other insane theories, but I didn’t listen. Wedge seemed to be getting increasingly jaded, and that was something I knew we’d have to talk about sooner or later, probably over copious amounts of alcohol, but now wasn’t the time. When he mentioned the chimes that dangled down the body of the clock inside the glass, something caught my eye. I reached out, touching the handle gently to pull the glass case open, careful keep my touch light so as not to get overwhelmed by the emotions radiating off the clock so I could get a closer look at the chimes. “Holy shit,” I mumbled.
            “What?” Wedge broke out of his rant to lean down to see what had caught my attention. I pointed at three of the five chimes, specifically the two outside ones and the one at the middle. “Wait, is that…?”
            “They’re made of bone,” I confirmed for him. “Son of a bitch.” I stood up and looked at him. “Call Alexa. Tell her to get a hold of the Reinhardts and get them to meet us back at the Hops. Now.”

* * * * *
             
            Wedge and I returned to the Haunted Hops, the bar we owned together, to find Alexa Fogel, the day-to-day manager of the bar and administrative assistant of our “Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences” business, waiting for us, two shots already lined up on the bar for us.
            “Mr. Reinhardt is on his way,” she told us without preamble as we did the shots. As I put my shot down, she looked up at me with concern. “Is everything alright?”
            The look in her eyes made me think that just a hug from her might make me feel better about this insane live I lead, made me want to just fall into her arms. But that wasn’t a good idea. For one thing, she was a foot shorter than me. If I feel into her in anyway, we’d probably both just crash. For another thing, I was her boss. For another thing, there was a limit to how involved in my ridiculous life I wanted to get her; if she ended up hurt because of me…
            I realized I had gone uncomfortably long without saying anything as I just looked at her. “Sure, everything is fine,” I finally answered weakly. “Just, you know, a clock partly made of human bones. Business as usual.”
            “Human bones, you say?”
We turned to face the cultured voice that had spoken behind as and saw Mr. Reinhardt standing in the doorway.
“Yes, human bones,” I answered as I walked to him and ushered him to a chair. Normally I’d have taken him down to our office in the basement, but it was only 11a.m. and the Hops was empty. “Mrs. Reinhardt couldn’t join us?”
“No,” he answered as he sat down. “She isn’t feeling very well today. You must understand, Mr. Biggs, this all has taken a lot out of her.”
“Of course,” I nodded, “this can’t be easy.” The Reinhardts had come to us the day before, asking for our help because they felt their clock was trying to kill them. They said that for the last week or so it would suddenly tip over whenever someone walked in front of it, like it was deliberately trying to crash onto someone. My first thought was that it sounded ridiculous and that the floor was just unlevel or something, that it was just bizarre coincidence. But then Mrs. Reinhardt mentioned that almost exactly twenty years ago, the clock fell on her grandfather, killing him almost instantly. Mysterious deaths and anniversaries are almost surefire signs of a haunting.
“Forgive me for being blunt, Mr. Reinhardt,” I said as I sat across from him at the table, “but are you saying you never noticed that there are human bones in the clock?”
He shook his head. “You have to understand, I’ve never had much interest in the clock until this all started happening. It’s been in my wife’s family for generations, but for me it’s just an antique decoration. I never even look at it.”
I sighed, getting the feeling that this was going to be a dead end. “Is there anything you can tell me about the clock’s history? Anything at all?”
Mr. Reinhardt nodded. “There is one story my wife told me about the clock, a long time ago when I first saw it. She told me her great-great-grandfather was a clock-maker who moonlighted as a gunfighter in New Mexico in the light eighteen hundreds. When he was courting the woman who would become his wife, there had been a rival for her affections, a man who was also a rival gunfighter. Years after they had been married and had had children, he found his wife in bed with that rival of his, and promptly shot the man dead. Not long after that, he built the grandfather clock, the last clock he ever made, and it has been in my wife’s family ever since.” He stopped, and then looked at me, enlightenment dawning in his eyes. “You don’t suppose…”
“That he used the bones of his dead rival in the clock?” I finished for him. “I certainly do.”
“It’s nice to know this century doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘fucked up,’” Wedge said as he poured himself another shot. When he finished the shot, he said, “Let’s go blow the clock up. That’ll solve everything.”
I nodded and stood up. Reinhardt stood and grabbed my arm. “No! You can’t destroy the clock!” I looked at him, and then looked meaningfully down at his hand on my arm. He quickly withdrew his hand. “My wife would be devastated. Isn’t there another way?”
I sighed. There was another way, of course. A summoning would pull the spirit out of the clock so Wedge and I could banish it, but that was riskier, not to mention much more unpleasant for me. “Fine, we’ll take care of it without destroying the clock, but it’ll cost more.”
Reinhardt nodded his head immediately. “Of course. Don’t worry; the cost is no concern to me.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” Wedge grinned as he headed for the door.

* * * * *
             
            We returned to the Reinhardt Mansion to get ready for the summoning. The first step was taking the grandfather clock and carefully carrying it downstairs into the large foyer. There wasn’t enough room to maneuver in the hallway in case things went pear-shaped. Wedge made sure to point out that the hassle of maneuvering a clock like that down a spiral staircase needed to be added on to the bill the Reinhardts would receive from us, and I was in full agreement. We then decided to raise their bill even more when, while I was in the middle of using the bucket of chicken blood we kept in the van to paint the double pentagram on the floor, the clock tipped over out of nowhere and nearly landed right on top of me. If Wedge hadn’t tackled me out of the way, he’d have been using my blood to finish the pentagram.
            After that fun little incident, we grabbed ropes from the truck and tied the clock to the staircase banister to make sure there would be no more attempts at making a Biggs-sized pancake, and I finished the double pentagram. Once I checked to make sure it was complete and the poltergeist of Mrs. Reinhardt’s ancestor’s rival would be fully summoned and contained, I knelt in the center and closed my eyes. Once again, I felt that confused mass of feelings I felt earlier, and wasn’t entirely sure what I was sensing. But I pushed through, connecting with it as best I could, finishing the summoning.
            “Oh, what the fuck is this now?” I heard Wedge groan behind me.
            I opened my eyes, and immediately saw the poltergeist of the rival gunfighter whose bones were in the clock, complete with a cowboy hat, boots, bandana, and chaps. And then I saw what Wedge was talking about. On the other side of the pentagram from the gunslinger was another ghost, dressed in more time-appropriate jeans and a t-shirt, the ghost of an old man. “Two of them…” I was confused for a minute, but then it hit me.
There was a family portrait hanging in the hall. We must have passed it eight or ten times by now, and this second spirit was in the portrait. It was Mrs. Reinhardt’s grandfather, the one that was killed by the falling clock twenty years ago. He was standing inside the double pentagram now, looking at the gun-slinging poltergeist with such anger and hatred.
And the gunslinger poltergeist? He was drawing his gun and aiming it right at me.
“Wedge,” I yelled as I frantically scrambled to get out of the way, turning my head as far away from the gunslinger as I could, “The cowboy! Banish him!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Wedge spring into action, but it was too late; I heard the crack of the gunslinger’s pistol. I had no idea what that gun might be shooting, or how, but I knew for damn sure I didn’t want to get hit by it, which was exactly what was about to happen.
Except… it didn’t.
I heard an inhuman howl and turned back to the spirits to see what happened. The spirit of Reinhardt’s grandfather had a pained expression on his face and was fading away the way spirits do when run through by Wedge’s sword or dagger. They had both been anointed in the blood of the innocent, making them capable of banishing a spirit permanently. Obviously, whatever the cowboy’s gun was firing was capable of that, too.
Now the cowboy was drawing a bead on Wedge as my partner charged him, sword and dagger drawn. If his gun could do that to a spirit, I had no interest in finding out what it could do to a living being. “Wedge! Down!”
Wedge had spent three tours on the front line in Iraq, and his combat training kicked in now. As soon as he heard me shout, “Down,” he dropped to his belly on the ground, the next shot from the cowboy’s gun whizzing through the air above him harmlessly. As soon as the bullet passed by, Wedge pulled himself up to his knees and threw his dagger at the poltergeist. It spun end over end through the air, embedding itself up to the hilt in the cowboy’s eye.
Emitting a howl that echoed that of the ghost that saved me just a moment earlier, the gunslinger faded into nothingness; cowboy hat, chaps, gun, and all.
“Okay. What the fuck was that all about?? Two spirits haunting the same object? A ghost gun that could banish other ghosts and do god knows what to us?” Wedge was upset, to say the least. “What the hell is going on here, Biggsy?”

* * * * *
             
            Alexa had the same questions when we told her the story back at the Haunted Hops, although she had phrased them more politely.
            “As near as I can figure, it played out like this,” I explained as I sipped a double Jameson on the rocks. “Obviously, the gunslinger was haunting the clock because his bones were parts of it. He didn’t have a choice. All the times over the years the clock nearly fell on someone in the family was him trying to get revenge. When he killed Mrs. Reinhardt’s grandfather, his spirit must have been linked to the clock as well. Maybe because it was the instrument of his death, or maybe he wanted to keep it from happening to someone else. Who knows? As for the gun?” I took a long sip of Jameson before answering. “Shit, that one beats me.” The whole idea of spirits manifesting weapons when summoned was a game-changer, and a troubling one at that.
            She looked at me sympathetically from behind the bar, and the look in her eyes made me want to melt.
            “Y’know, after the Hendersons case, with the drowned little boy, Wedge asked me if I remembered when this job used to be easy. I told him no. You know how this job is different for me than it is for him, with all the things I have to feel… so it’s never been easy. Not for me. But, there was a time when it was damn sure easier. I understood it. I mean, until recently, the thing at Skywalker Ranch was the most complicated case we ever had. But now? Things are different. I feel like I don’t understand as much as I thought, like all the rules are changing.” I raised the glass to my lips and finished the rest of my drink in one swallow before putting the glass back down, my hand slipping off of it to rest on the bar.
            Wordlessly, Alexa slowly reached out and placed her hand on mine. “But you’re being safe. You’ll both be okay, right?”
            I looked up into her eyes, saw the concern there and I couldn’t bring myself to lie to her. I turned my hand up so it was holding hers and didn’t say anything.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Is The Amazing Spider-Man Really Amazing?

Whenever I go see a movie based on a comic book or graphic novel, there are two sides of me that usually find themselves at odds with each other. On the one hand, there's the rational movie-goer, who just wants to see a good movie and be entertained for two hours. Then, there's the rabid fanboy who wants the source material to be honored as perfectly as possible and wants the movie to live up to the comic book I've been reading for over twenty years. Those two sides are definitely a bit at odds when it comes to The Amazing Spider-Man. And there will be spoilers, so if you don't want to know, beat feet on out of here before you see what comes after this lovely poster.


Okay. The irrational fanboy in me sort of hated this movie a bit. I don't see why they had to change the costume. Other than Superman, it's probably the most iconic costume ever, and they got it pretty perfect in the first trilogy. I don't see why we needed another origin movie. Everyone knows his origin. And I don't like the changes they made to the origin... no wrestling career, no overt "with great power comes great responsibility"... and I really don't like the hints that his father was studying spiders or whatever and that maybe tied into how he becomes Spider-Man. Really, the only thing that pleased the fanboy in me was the inclusion of web-shooters (and the inevitable broken web-shooters at that) and Gwen Stacy. I've always loved me some Gwen Stacy.

Now, the calm, rational movie-goer in me? Absolutely loved this movie. Seriously. The only thing wrong with it to that side of me was that the Lizard both looked and sounded really bad. I loved the music (the songs included, not the score itself). I loved the cast, especially Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben and Denis Leary as Captain Stacy. I absolutely adored the love story between Peter and Gwen. I loved the action scenes, the creative uses of his webbing, and the fact that this Spider-Man actually quipped. I really loved the way the character grows from good but troubled kid to hero, but still a flawed hero, as evident at the end where he breaks the one promise he'll spend the rest of his life wishing he kept. Honestly, the only reason I don't say this is the best Spider-Man movie I've ever seen is that sitting through another version of his origin was a drag; Spider-Man 2 is superior to this one because it's able to jump right into the story without worrying about backstory.

Still, I gave this four stars out of five. So yes, The Amazing Spider-Man really is pretty amazing.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fiction Friday - Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences: The Curse of the Gorilla's Paw

It's another Friday and I'm back with another short story, this one a sequel to the one I posted last week about occult investigators Biggs and Wedge. The first story, by the way, can be found here. I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing with this, if I'm making it a series of short stories, or maybe something larger with an overarching storyline, or eventually even a longer story... right now, I'm just enjoying writing again. So read it and hopefully enjoy it; hit me up with some feedback if you can, I'd love to know what you guys think.


Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences:
The Curse of the Gorilla’s Paw

“That’s definitely a monkey’s paw.”
            “Technically, it’s a gorilla’s paw, Biggsy,” my partner, Wedge, corrected me. In answer to my questioning stare, he shrugged. “What? I watch National Geographic sometimes.”
            I stared at him for a second longer. “Fine. It’s a gorilla’s paw. Now that that’s out of the way, what do we do with it?” I’d seen a lot of weird, supernatural stuff in my time as a medium, but an actual monkey’s… excuse me, gorilla’s… paw? A fictional classic like that was new to me. Who am I? Henry Biggs, one half of Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences. Aldredge “Wedge” Thompson, my aforementioned partner, is the other half. But maybe I should start the story a little earlier than this…

* * * * *
             
            “So there we were, at Skywalker Ranch…” Wedge was saying to a group of young coeds at the bar. I drifted away, not interested in hearing a story I lived through for the millionth time, and walked to my usual corner booth in the bar we owned, The Haunted Hops. Wedge was halfway in the bag already, definitely drunk enough to not realize those girls were all too young for him, and I was working up a good buzz myself. For once, though, we weren’t drinking to run away from the shit we saw in our jobs.
            Business had been slow for weeks now, which, after the drowned baby fiasco, was a break we definitely needed. And I didn’t mind not having the money from the cases coming in, because the bar kept us more than comfortable.
            I sat down in the booth, took a long sip of my beer and leaned my head back, closing my eyes to enjoy the relative peace… so naturally it was all of about three seconds before that peace was disturbed.
            “I can feel you staring at me,” I said as I opened my eyes and looked at the diminutive form of Alexa Fogel, the fresh-out-of-college business major we hired to run the Hops since we were always too busy with the other business or otherwise just too lazy and/or drunk to be bothered. Since then, she had also become a sort of unofficial administrative assistant for the occult business as well. “Is interrupting me when I’m actually relaxing something you do on your own, or did Wedge put it in your job description when I wasn’t looking?”
            “Just something I do to keep myself entertained,” Lexy answered with a smile so charming and disarming it had me trying very hard to fight down feelings I’d been repressing since the moment we hired her. “Listen,” she said, “there’s gentleman here who’d like to hire you two, he’s over at the bar,” she inclined her head towards the bar so I could tell who she was talking about. “His name is Ryan Jenkins. He says he’s being haunted.”
            I leaned out of the booth a bit to size Mr. Ryan Jenkins up a bit. He definitely had the look of someone who was haunted; disheveled, twitchy, bags under the eyes. Something felt off, though. Sighing, I chugged the rest of my beer. “Alright, I’ll go talk to him,” I said, standing up, which made me a good foot taller than Lexy.
            “Should I go tell Wedge and have him join you?”
            We both looked over to where he was, seeing him standing on a bar stool and gesticulating wildly, clearly up to the good part of the Skywalker Ranch story. “Nah, he wouldn’t be very helpful right now,” I answered with a laugh. “Thanks, Lexy.” I heard her say “you’re welcome, boss,” as I walked away.
            As I got to where Jenkins was seated at the bar, I reached out with the spiritual sixth sense that made me a medium… and what I felt confused the hell out of me. I wasn’t expecting much, of course; if he was being haunted, the spirit wouldn’t be with him, after all, but would be centered in his somewhere, in all likelihood. Still, there would have been some residual feeling coming off him. And there was something there, but it didn’t feel like a spirit haunting. I decided to get his side of the story. “So I hear you’re being haunted, Mr. Jenkins” I said without preamble as I sat at the bar next to him.
            “Y-y-yes, I am,” he stammered as he overcame his surprise at my sudden appearance.
            “Why do you think that?”
            “These terrible things keep happening to me.”
            Well, that was vague. “Such as…?”
            He went on to relate a list of things. Dishes breaking when he touched them. Heavy objects slipping out of his hands onto his feet. An ATM ate his debit card. He almost got his by a car… twice. It sounded like too many things to be coincidental, but it didn’t exactly add up to a haunting, either. “Have you seen anything? A ghost, or floating objects, or anything weird like that?” He shook his head. I wanted to tell him it sounded like he was just clumsy, but I stopped myself. I did feel something coming off him, so it wasn’t just that. “If I’m honest with you, it doesn’t sound like a haunting. If anything, it sounds like maybe someone might have laid a curse on you.”
            “A curse?” He sounded positively aghast. “Who would do such a thing?”
            “That’s what I was going to ask you. Do you have any enemies, or have you maybe pissed someone off lately?”
            He looked down at the bar sheepishly. “Well, umm, my girlfriend… ex-girlfriend, I guess… walked in on me with another woman, and, well, she said I’d be sorry.”
            Well now. That was a puzzle piece right there. Maybe she found something to curse him with.
            “Oh!” he added, as if something just popped into his head out of nowhere. “Two days later I found this monkey’s paw in my mailbox.”
            I stared at him, not at all comprehending how he didn’t think to lead with that little bit of information. “Lexy,” I shouted suddenly over my shoulder, knowing she’d somehow hear me like she always did, “put some coffee on! We need to sober Wedge up!”

* * * * *
             
            And that pretty much brings us current. I quoted Jenkins our usual curse-breaking price… plus five hundred extra for being a moron… before getting his house keys and telling him to go spend the night in a hotel. We sobered Wedge up, more or less, and now here I was with him, sitting around the kitchen table staring at a gorilla’s paw after Wedge had gotten it down from the shelf Jenkins had put it on because he thought it would be a conversation starter when he had guests.
            Screw the extra five hundred. The “moron fee” is going up to a thousand.
            “Curse-breaking is such a pain in the ass,” Wedge complained, a hand on his forehead due to what I could only imagine was a murderous headache. “It’s too bad we can’t just break it the easy, old-fashioned way.”
            I laughed. “I know, it’s too bad the occult investigator’s license doesn’t come with a license to kill, Double-oh-seven.” The easiest, most surefire way to break a curse was to the death of the person who cast it. “Maybe one day, Wedge.”
            “We can only hope,” he sighed. He always got a little sad when a job didn’t involve any violence at all. That was, after all, his role in the business.
            “At least it’s only a cursed object,” I said to make him feel better. “Much easier than if she actually got a curse placed on him directly. I’ll just grab this, feel out the curse, break it, and we’ll be on our way back to the Hops.” I reached out to grab the gorilla’s paw, and as I made contact, my body recoiled like it had been electrocuted.
            Cursed objects don’t really have any feeling to them, or at least not an emotional one. There’s some malevolence, maybe a sense of foreboding, but that’s it. But when I touched the paw, it was like being blinded by primal anger and rage and violence. It was so overwhelming it took every ounce of willpower just to make myself drop it, letting it fall to the floor. Even breaking the connection was so powerful I almost fell off the chair. If Wedge hadn’t caught me with a steadying arm, I very well might have.
            “What the hell was that, Biggsy?” Without even thinking about it, he kicked the gorilla’s paw into the corner of the room.
            “Whatever it was,” I said when I had finally caught my breath enough to talk, “that thing isn’t cursed. It’s possessed.”
            “His ex sent him a possessed gorilla’s paw? Talk about a chick you do not want to piss off. So, what, summoning and banishing?” I nodded, and Wedge grinned. He’d get to stab something, at least. “I’ll get the stuff out of the truck.”
            I collected myself in the time it took Wedge to go to the truck, get what we needed, and come back. I took the can of chicken blood he handed me… we had taken to killing chickens and bottling the blood in our downtime so we wouldn’t have to do it on the spot… and the paintbrush and carefully began the double pentagram, setting it up in the center of the living room. One pentagram was needed to summon the spirit, which, in this case, was clearly a poltergeist from all the rage I felt when I touched the paw; and the other pentagram was used to hold the spirit in place so Wedge could use his sword or dagger, each anointed in the blood of the innocent, to banish it. As I formed the pentagrams, he made himself comfortable on the couch, rubbing his two blades together slowly, testing their sharpness. His mood had lightened considerably now that there was violence at hand, his hangover headache all but forgotten. My mood, on the other hand, had sourced; I was not looking forward to having to feel out the spirit attached to what I felt in that paw.
            When the double pentagram was finished, I sat in the center of it. “Alright, get the paw and drop it in front of me, and get ready.” Wedge did what I asked, putting the paw directly in front of me and then stood to my left, just outside the pentagram’s boundary, the long sword in his right hand and the dagger in his left. I took a deep breath to steady myself, and then reached out with my senses, contacting the rage and anger I felt in the paw.
            Almost immediately, I heard what sounded like Wedge’s dagger hit the floor and he muttered, “Holy shit.” I opened my eyes to see what he saw…
            And towering over me in the center of the pentagram was a large silverback gorilla.
            “You made a silverback!” Wedge yelled. “Undo it! Undo it!”
            “Banish it!” I screamed in response.
            Remembering himself, Wedge lunged with the long sword, aiming straight for the silverback’s heart… and it reached out with a mighty paw and smacked him away before the sword could get there, knocking him across the room with a mighty roar.
            Seeing that kicked my survival instincts into high gear and I backpedaled out of the pentagram. It only took a second to notice the wet feeling on my hand. Looking down, I saw it was smeared with blood.
            I had broken the larger pentagram, the one that binds the spirit in place.
            And now a very large, very angry silverback gorilla poltergeist that was beating its fists against its chest angrily was free to chase me.
            I scrabbled to my knees and then up to my feet, grabbing Wedge’s fallen dagger as I did, and then started to run, making it three steps before a paw almost as large as my head wrapped around my neck and lifted me off my feet. With another growl, it barreled over to the wall, slamming me up against it, still holding me up. It brought its face close to mine and roared, fetid breath overwhelming my senses as spittle splashed against my cheeks. The silverback snapped its jaws closed millimeters from my face and then pulled its head back to enjoy my fear.
            I promptly embedded the dagger hilt-deep into its eye.
            Getting stabbed with that blade should have banished it like every other spirit it had ever been stuck into. I don’t know if it was because of the gorilla’s size, or how full of rage it was, or if it was just because it was the poltergeist of a frigging gorilla, but as it dropped me to the floor, it roared a roar that was clearly more anger than it was pain. I tried to crawl away from it, but it recovered quickly and kicked me in the ribs hard, lifting me a few feet in the air before I crashed back down, no breath left in my body
            “Biggsy! Here!” Wedge had managed to pull himself towards up a bit from where he had landed across the room in a heap, and he now slid the long sword across the floor to me. I reached for the hilt and grabbed it as I looked up and saw the silverback’s foot raised, poised to crash down upon my head. Saying a prayer to whatever deity might be listening in this crazy new world we lived in, I thrust the long sword straight up, into the poltergeist’s crotch, and kept pushing until the hilt hit flesh… flesh that finally disappeared as the anointed blade finally did its job and banished the beast.
            The sword clattered to the floor as I rolled onto my back, catching my breath. “You all right, Wedge?” I asked when I was finally able.
            “Yeah,” he called back hoarsely as I had him pull himself up to a sitting position. “You?”
            “Been better,” I answered as I finally sat up, facing him as we were both slumped against opposite walls.
            “Gorilla ghosts,” he said with a forced laugh. “Never heard of that one before.”
            “I could have gone my whole life without hearing that one.”
            “I need a beer. How about you, Biggsy?” He pulled himself up to his feet and then walked over to help me up.
            “I need a whole case. And some painkillers,” I answered as he pulled me up. He gathered up the sword and dagger. My body ached in places I didn’t even know I had places.
            Screw the thousand dollar “moron fee” for Ryan Jenkins, I thought to myself.
            An extra twenty-five hundred sounded much better.