Posts Tagged ‘The Bone Man’

October Sun

October 18, 2011

The days of October tumble down and swirl away on the breeze, just like the leaves all around. I park my car under some trees that have been dropping bushels of leaves for a good month now, and they still have quite a few more to lose. I don’t mind at all that my car is always covered with the red, green, orange, and yellow foliage every time I go out to it. I clean the leaves off the windows and leave the rest (heh, heh, heh!) — they make a festive, autumnal decoration for my vehicle. On wet days, the leaves are pasted to the hood, trunk, and roof; on balmy dry days, they’ve mostly fluttered off by the time I turn the first corner.

I greatly appreciate the weather we’ve been having, with the warmth hanging on. I love not being cold. I love seeing the sun, though I noticed today how low it hangs in the sky in October, even at high noon. I’ve watched it slowly changing its mind on where to set. In summer, it went down behind the giant cross at St. Mary’s Cemetery; these evenings it’s falling into the woods.

On gray days, mist hovers and floats.

A dark day in October

I have new neighbors who moved in downstairs, and they’re very nice people! I’m glad the lower floors are occupied now. I feel less like a ghost haunting a vacant building.

Anyway, here’s another book that’s good for October:

A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny

A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny (Avon, 1993), comes to us courtesy of my friend Nick, who remembered loving the book years ago. It’s a little hard to acquire these days; but Nick, like another well-known adventurer/scholar, is — how shall one put it? — an “obtainer of rare antiquities.” He relocated a copy for himself and even an extra one for me, which he most kindly sent! The idea is that several of us are reading the book together (though we’re in far-flung places) during the month of October, after which we’ll compare notes.

The book lends itself well to that, because it’s divided into 31 chapters, named “October 1,” “October 2,” “October 3,” etc. Most are just a couple pages long, so it’s something even I stand a good chance of getting through (though not quite on time — I’m already well behind schedule). I’m reading a few pages just before bed each night.

Zelazny dedicated the book this way: “To — Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Albert Payson Terhune, and the makers of a lot of old movies — Thanks.” Pretty cool, huh? Isn’t that dedication quite an endorsement? The work also includes delightfully strange illustrations by Gahan Wilson.

Anyway, like some other October books we know, this one is a loving tribute to the Hallowe’en season: in particular, to the iconic characters of horror, mystery, and spookiness. In this tale you will find Jack the Ripper, a terrifying Count, a Good Doctor who harnesses lightning for his questionable experiments, Mr. Larry Talbot who keeps a close eye on the moon, a Great Detective who smokes a pipe, and even some betentacled Great Old Ones. Some of these characters are “Openers,” bent upon letting horrors out of mirrors and closets when the time is right, which will unleash devastation on the world; some are “Closers,” dedicated to keeping the evils locked away and the world safe for humankind. It’s fascinating to find out which are which — the book is full of surprises.

What caught my attention right from the start was the skillful rendering of the tale’s narrator, a watchdog named Snuff. This faithful and formidable canine deserves a place among the ranks of the all-time great non-human protagonists such as Hazel-rah and Chaunticleer.

I understand that it’s pretty expensive to buy nowadays, but there are perhaps library copies to be found.

Anyway, let’s head back on out into October (foggy nights and days of the lowering sun) with a few photos and random flotsam:

One of my jack-o'-lanterns this year, 2011

 From my story “The Bone Man”:

“John is a skeleton,

John is dead,

All bony fingers,

Bony head;

No life in him,

Not a breath.

Lazy in life,

He’s restless in death.

All bony fingers,

Bony head —

Hope he’s not standing

By your bed!”

The other of my jack-o'-lanterns, 2011 (If I'm carving two, I usually try to make a friendly, happy one and a darker, less charitable one; Good Cop, Bad Cop . . . a Closer and an Opener, if you will.)

From “The Bone Man”:

“The skull’s eyes and triangular nose were simply the orange of the paper showing through, but they suggested a glowing, infernal light inside, like a jack-o’-lantern’s flame. The mouth was an exaggerated comb-like grid of orange lines. The image triggered a memory . . .”

"Sometimes I would rest my chin on the warm lid of a jack-o'-lantern and gaze out over the waving millet, searching the blue crystal stars . . ." -- from DRAGONFLY

From “The Bone Man”:

“The skeleton was just standing there, close enough to touch, but not reaching out, not bending forward, not really even seeming to look down at the kid. Just standing, standing. No skin, no rags of clothing — just two or three wisps of hair stuck to the skull, wiggly black lines . . .”

"We gave them scary faces, happy, sad, laughing, scowling, crescent-eyed, zigzag, mouths fanged, toothless, froggish. Then, with the falling of the dark, we set them aglow . . ." -- from DRAGONFLY

From “The Bone Man”:

“It was dark ahead of him, though fire still hung in the vanished sun’s wake.”

"We definitely had a problem. There were unearthly noises almost every night, increasing in volume and frenzy as the lightless bottom of the month drew nearer . . ." -- from DRAGONFLY

From “The Bone Man”:

“All around him, it was as if veils dropped away, and Conlin was walking back into the streets of his childhood. Here, under the breeze-shivery maples and oaks slouching toward cold, it was no longer the age of the Internet and little phones in your pocket . . .”

Illinois oaks, 2006

“Besides the autumn poets sing,

A few prosaic days

A little this side of the snow

And that side of the haze.”

— Emily Dickinson

We’re still in the market for Hallowe’en thoughts, stories, eerie tales, descriptions, autumnal musings, howls, sepulchral mutterings . . . and to that we’ll add an invitation to quote us a passage from a well-loved autumn book (scary, beautiful, or otherwise [or both]) . . . a favorite Octoberish poem . . . or just to tell us about a time when a storyteller gave you a chill for which you were grateful!

Happy Hallowe’en!

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Clock Tower

May 14, 2011

Black Gate Issue 15It’s an exciting week on the publishing front! First, over to the right here is Issue #15 of Black Gate — it is hot off the presses and loaded with stories, including my “World’s End.” This is the first publication of any of my stories in the Agondria cycle. Every issue of Black Gate is like a super-high-quality anthology of sword & sorcery adventure, along with reviews of books, games, an insightful editorial . . . even a cartoon! At 384 pages long, this issue is essentially a book. I am truly honored to be sharing the table of contents with some of the finest writers in the field, including my friend John R. Fultz (who has been interviewed on this blog). Also, I have to tell this story: some months ago, when Editor John O’Neill revealed the wonderful painting he’d purchased for the cover — and knowing some of the stories he’d chosen for inclusion — I remarked to him, “Wow! So this is the Warrior Woman Issue, huh? You chose that cover to match the content!” Actually, he hadn’t — or not consciously, anyway! But he agreed that I was quite right. Sure enough, in the table of contents, he has grouped eight stories into a section under the heading “Special Warrior Woman Issue”! So I had the honor of making one extra contribution to this issue, other than my story — it seems I even helped a tiny bit with the conceptual design (or at least in identifying it)!

Also, Mr. Gordon Van Gelder very kindly sent me a contributor’s copy of Issue #4 of the new Polish language version of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which reprints my Lovecraft-inspired story “The Place of Roots” just before an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin! In Polish, the story is called “Miejsce Korzeni,” and was translated by Konrad Walewski. I am told it was Mr. Walewski who chose my story for inclusion. It’s a tremendous honor to think that, of all the tales published in the long history of F&SF, he selected mine for Issue #4! So my deepest thanks go out to Mr. Walewski, and I salute him, too, for bringing this great magazine to the people of Poland! (This is the second language my fiction has been translated into: “The Bone Man” appeared awhile back in the Russian edition of F&SF.)

For fans of Emily Fiegenschuh’s illustrations for “The Star Shard” in Cricket: Emily has recently presented me with her amazing book Journey: Sketchbook Volume 3. It’s a beautiful, 96-page softcover collection of her artwork from around the time she worked on my story. One long section of the book is entirely devoted to “The Star Shard,” including conceptual designs, a motion sequence or two, and variations on the appearances and costuming of the characters. Herein are some of the sketches I got to see when we were still in the planning stages, when we were working out how some things should look. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the pre-production world of “The Star Shard,” though most of the images are quite detailed. One of my favorite pages shows the possible looks that might have been given to Bobbin and Argent. Really cool! For anyone who may not yet know: you can view the images for the story in all their full-color glory — and even order prints! — on Emily’s web site at www.e-figart.com.

And now, allow me to change the subject with a monkey wrench: Grrooiinnnkk! A couple weeks ago, some friends from out of town visited me. One highlight of the visit was an opportunity that even many Taylorvillians may not be aware of. Remember our county courthouse, situated on the Square in Taylorville right behind the statue of Lincoln and the pig?

Christian County’s third courthouse, built in 1902

There it is! Well, the man who winds the tower clock once a week is always willing to take visitors along with him. If you can get out of bed to meet him a little before 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday — and if you can climb a lot of stairs — he’ll give you a fascinating tour of this historic landmark. A more knowledgeable guide you will not find. His passion for history and mechanics becomes immediately apparent. Eighteen years ago, he escorted me and some Japanese friends up into the clock tower. This time around, knowing it would be just the sort of thing my company would enjoy, I gave him a call, hoping he was still the Clock Man — and he is! 

 

Seal of Illinois in the First Floor Rotunda

This seal greets you as you enter the courthouse. The building itself, constructed in 1902, is the third courthouse of Christian County. The first, as Lincoln afficionadoes will know, is located now on the grounds of our local historical museum, and is the building in which Lincoln himself practiced law.

 

Through the attic

My personal favorite part of the ascent is the journey through the dim attic, behind those roof-parts of the courthouse. It’s like being in a mine, with all the brickwork and dust and walkways. Are those dust-motes in my photos, or orbs?

The courthouse attic -- another inspirational source for DRAGONFLY

Seriously — I think this attic was an inspiration for the basement stairway scene in Dragonfly. Does the math work out? If I’m figuring right, 1993 would have been when I first saw this attic. Hmm. Iffy, but very close.

The brickwork of the tower

We’re heading up into the tower here. The wooden walkways really remind me of tourist pathways in commercial caves.

Onward, upward, by shadowy ways

The crowning jewel of the courthouse is a stained-glass dome that for decades was hidden by a false ceiling and all but forgotten. When I made my first trip up into the tower, it was visible in a dark crawlspace, but it was not yet restored.

 

Return to regions of light

Here, we’re climbing above the dome. You know, this courthouse has inspired two of my short stories as well. One, an unpublished “learning experience,” was called “Hunting the Vampire,” in which two pre-teen boys (heavily based on my nextdoor neighbor and me) become convinced that a vampire has taken up residence in the courthouse tower. Taking it upon themselves to rid the community of this horror, they break into the courthouse at night and ascend the black tower . . . to a somewhat surprising (if inept) ending. I used to inflict that story on my Saturday English students at Nozomi Lutheran Church. I had study guides to go with it and everything.

Early light outside the windows

This dome was discovered beneath four feet of dust! That’s a fact, according to the clock keeper, and he would certainly know. The other story set partly in this courthouse is “Witherwings,” in which a young boy gifted with a special “sight” sees horribly disturbing images in the stained-glass dome that no one else sees. I really like that one!

The restored dome, from above

The center part of the story beneath the dome was removed during the restoration, so that you can now stand in the First Floor Rotunda, tip your head back, and gaze up at the wonder of the dome! (And hope you don’t see horribly disturbing images . . .)

The restored dome, from below

Are you okay? Everyone still here? Whew! It’s quite beautiful.

Emerging into the bell space

You come up this narrow stairway into that open-air part of the tower that you can see from the ground. That’s where the mighty bell crouches.

The clock bell

And just as one of our party was kneeling in front of this bell to take a closeup picture, the bell struck 8:00 a.m. That . . . was . . . LOUD. And now we come into the small housing chamber of the grand clock itself. This clock keeper is only the third man to do the job since 1902. Clock keepers tend to be lifers — people who do the job because they absolutely love it.

Oiling the clock

Back in the fifties and sixties, many weight-driven clocks were gutted and fitted with electric motors. Doing so was a travesty. Aside from their historic value, the weight-powered clocks are simply better. They don’t stop during power failures. Furthermore, in wintry Midwest conditions, clock hands are often blocked in their movement by snow and ice. When this happens, weight clocks will just stop and wait (Do I have to pay the pun fund?). Electric motors will burn themselves out.

 

Maintaining the clock

Various conditions can affect the clock’s accuracy: temperature, humidity, weather . . . Good clock keepers learn to listen, to know the sounds and rhythms of the mechanics, so that they can hear when something is wrong. Some tiny glitch can occur that may stop the clock many hours later. So if there is a problem, the clock keeper becomes a detective. Did the wind from a certain direction push the clock hand inward just enough to snag on a number on the clock’s face? When might this have happened? And on which of the four clock faces?

This week, the clock was running fast by 25 seconds. (It must be wound once a week, at the same time each week.) Do you see this telephone atop the clock mechanism?

Hotline to the clock

The keeper is able to call the clock from his own cellular phone. By dialing in different codes, he can stop the clock and restart it. While we watched, he stopped the clock for precisely 25 seconds, then restarted it — putting it back on the correct time. And all by phone! He also has cameras set up to “watch” the clock; they stream their images to the Internet, so anyone can watch the clock! (Is it just me, or does this scenario suggest an element of a good murder mystery?)

The crank used by former keepers

The first two keepers used this crank (above) to wind the clock. It’s the bell side of the clock that is by far the harder to wind; you have to raise a weight equivalent (in weight, not size) to a smallish car up four stories to wind the striker. By hand, the process took a good hour, with frequent stops to rest. The current keeper did that once. Then he built himself a motorized attachment, which winds the clock (lifts the weight) in a few minutes. The former keeper did the job until he was in his nineties. At the time he retired, he could still turn the crank with no problem; it was his knees that forced him to quit. He couldn’t climb all the way up there any more.

Hatchway in one clock face

So we’re looking right out through the face of the courthouse clock here! One of the hands is visible.

Taylorville water tower

There’s the northeast corner of the Square (above). Look! Beyond the water tower is the soybean mill which is visible from my yard, which lies still farther east!

North side of the Square

There’s the north side, and the movie theater. I can’t quite see what’s playing. Isn’t it odd? Just a few short months ago, I was taking photos from atop a tower on the other side of the world. Strange feeling. These places we know so well, where we spend our lives . . .

Slave clock on the first floor

This clock on the ceiling of the first floor is tied to the great clock in the tower. What the big faces outside show, this one shows.

Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois

Here’s Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield. The long-observed tradition is for visitors to rub Lincoln’s nose for good luck. The nose of this sculpture is bright and shiny. Looks like Tycho Brahe. (I don’t think this practice was observed while Lincoln was alive.)

My place in Taylorville, May 2011

And here’s my place. [Cue the “Concerning Hobbits” soundtrack.]

Looking southwest at my place

What do you say? Good place to end the post? Talk to you soon!

Masquerade

October 17, 2009

I must have been very young, because I was sleeping in the small, pale-purple bedroom, the dimmest room of our dark, light-eating house. That was the first room I slept in as a baby, when my bed still had fence railings on the sides. It lies at the heart of the ancient core of our house, one of the original rooms, occupied by generations of people who were not us. (It’s now my storage room, sealed away from the light behind doors with deadbolt locks, piled high with cases of my moldering books, the only room in which no human foot now walks.) When I was little, I remember calling it “the Spook Room” — for no real reason, except that it was so old and dark and quiet. I don’t think it was haunted, but if any room in our house should be, that’s the one I’d pick. The only negative memories I have of that room are nightmares of gorillas coming from the woods and standing over me, their sagittal crests brushing the ceiling.

Anyway, on the evening in question, I must have been taking a nap there. I remember my mom waking me up and saying, “There’s someone here to see you.” I opened my eyes, and standing beside my bed was the devil.

Yes, the devil: all red, with horns and a tail, a pitchfork, and a glittering, sequined red mask (at least that’s the way I remember it). A part of my mind screamed in horror at the notion that my mom was cheerfully handing me over to the devil.

But within a few seconds, I realized that the arch-fiend was my nextdoor neighbor Chris, wearing a Hallowe’en costume. (Chris, do you remember that?) That, I believe, is my earliest Hallowe’en memory.

We humans have always had a thing for disguising ourselves — for wearing clothing, paint, and/or masks that make us seem to be what we’re not — and we do it for all sorts of reasons. Probably the most ancient has to do with religious beliefs and practices. Shamans wore masks and became something more than the mysterious wise ones who lived in the caves up the slope. Dancers wore feathers and grasses and painted masks, and metamorphoses occurred as gods and spirits moved about the fires.

In European werewolf legends, the transformation from man to beast was often accomplished by a person putting on a wolf skin — donning the skin of a wolf and becoming a wolf. Or the strange, beautiful brides of fishermen would one day throw seal skins about their shoulders and return to their parents’ kingdoms under the sea.

We’ve talked before on this blog of Max in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. (It’s recently been made into a movie, I understand.) The book is built upon the fact that Max puts on his wolf suit and acts like a Wild Thing — to the disgruntlement of his mother — and thus begins his adventure into the realm of the Wild Things. It is a costume that launches it all.

I was thinking of the uses of costumes in works of literature and film. . . . The first that comes to mind, of course, is the scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, in which Jem and Scout are dressed as agricultural products and begin a harrowing journey through a dark and deadly wood. And I thought of the movie A Perfect World, starring Kevin Costner, in which an armed fugitive (Costner) takes a young boy hostage, and the two develop an unlikely friendship during their few days on the run, when they journey through the borders of “a perfect world” — a fantastic journey enhanced by the boy (Philip)’s stealing of a Casper the Friendly Ghost costume, which he wears constantly. The costume sets him free, in a way: Philip, like Max, becomes something he wants to be; he enters a realm of experience beyond the usual.

When I was very young, I remember coming home with my parents late on a dark, windy night. For some reason, the talk turned to “burglars” who might be hiding in the trees. I couldn’t rest until I’d checked out all our trees with a flashlight. To enable myself to do this, I put on what I called my “Willer-de-Woost” costume. (I think the name came from the Uncle Remus/Br’er Rabbit stories — that was what those characters called a will-o’-the-wisp.) My Willer-de-Woost costume involved a silver hardhat, goggles, and heavy gauntlets, which made manipulating the flashlight very difficult. (The goggles were tinted and made seeing difficult, especially at night. I guess the hardhat didn’t hinder me much.) My dad forever after claimed I said, “If there are burglars, I’ll scare the h*ll out of ’em!” — but I don’t remember saying that. But I do remember that the costume gave me the courage to prowl all through our dark, windy yard, shining my light up into every tree. I was more powerful than my ordinary self: I was the Willer-de-Woost!

Do you remember the excitement of Hallowe’en costumes? I remember having that electric, jittery thrill in my stomach when I contemplated how cool it was going to be to wear my costume. (The actual experience of wearing the costume was almost always sweaty, confining, awkward, and uncomfortable; but that was all forgotten well before the next year rolled around.) Mom laughed in later years regarding how, at my insistence, we always had to start on Hallowe’en in the middle of the summer — thinking of ideas, planning just how we were going to engineer the costume, and visiting junk shops and second-hand clothing stores, scouting for materials.

I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s a list of all my costumes that I can remember (I’m probably leaving some out):

ape soldier (from The Planet of the Apes)

Cornelius (ditto)

Sinbad (the sailor, not. . . .)

a dragon (My mom was a knight, fighting me — a giant knight and a little green dragon.)

the shark from Jaws (My neighbor Randy was Brody, wearing a sandwich-board Orca boat.)

Gandalf

a gorilla

a Skull-Bearer (from The Sword of Shannara)

C-3PO

(and as an adult, after coming to Japan) Eliot Ness, a native American, a scarecrow, a silver man, a hideous bird-creature, the Terminator, Mr. Spock, and Loft [a character of mine from a work in progress]

But I think my very best costume when I was a kid was an amazing Three-Legged Man. We had an odd, jointed stick lying around our house. I suppose it was originally something a tailor would use, because it was the length of a (smallish) human leg, with a rectangular “foot” board attached at the bottom. This stick had a perfect, functional knee-joint in the middle. I got two identical pairs of pants and put one on normally. Then I put my right leg into the left leg of the other pair, so that I had a spare, empty pants-leg dangling at my right side. Into this leg we inserted the stick and padded it, so that the pants were filled out, and I found three ambiguous shoes to put on my three feet. I kept my right arm inside my shirt and down along my side to hold onto the top end of the fake leg. Then we padded out the right arm of my shirt, and I had gloves on my real hand and the fake hand. I wore a rain poncho that hung down to just above my knees, so no one could see what was happening with the waists of the pants. Then I learned to walk convincingly, putting my middle leg forward, then bringing my two outer legs forward for the next step, and so on. The effect was quite unsettling. People stared long and hard, trying to figure out which leg was the fake.

So . . . I guess there are two possible springboards for discussion:

1.) Are there other uses of costumes in books, movies, or stories that we should talk about? Why are those uses memorable and effective?

2.) Do you have any costume stories? Something you wore, perhaps, or something you helped design for your kids? Did it work? Was it a disaster?

Or anything else on the topic of costumes is quite welcome. Ooh, here’s one: what’s the scariest mask you’ve ever seen?

Meanwhile, let’s not yet abandon last week’s post! It’s still wide open — let’s keep using those great lines in scary paragraphs or scenes! And thank you to everyone who has written in!

Let’s close out with a few lines from my story “The Bone Man” (Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 2007):

“Black bushes, spreading trees — there seemed more of them at night, with glowing plastic lanterns strung among the last brittle leaves: lanterns in the shapes of jack-o’-lanterns, white ghosts, green-faced witches. (Whoever came up with the idea that a witch should have a green face?) It was dark ahead of him, though fire still hung in the vanished sun’s wake. Slowly the sky’s lavender changed to a deep blue, and stars glittered.

All around him, it was as if veils dropped away, and Conlin was walking back into the streets of his childhood. Here, under the breeze-shivery maples and oaks slouching toward cold, it was no longer the age of the Internet and little phones in your pocket that took pictures and movies; it seemed more the era when cars had lock-levers like golf tees, phones had round dials, and TVs were controlled by big, stubborn knobs on the front. Conlin passed over sidewalks that veered to accommodate trees, some concrete sections pushed up into humps by the roots. Trees owned these prairie towns, he mused: trees’ crowns were crossbeams above; their roots shot far into the earth and spread beyond the last houses; their trunks were spikes that held the community to the land.

. . .

Then, with a sound like an approaching stampede, costumed children exploded onto the scene.”