Free fiction–Full Voice, featuring fun with a radio psychic

I love real-life ghost story books so much that I wrote one, only it didn’t have the virtue of actually being real-life, as I felt the freedom to just make stuff up allowed me to make the ghost stories start and end the way I wanted them to, as opposed to being stuck with the dictates of reality. Two of the stories from that book–“The Portrait Séance” and “Alone with Rittenhouse’s Ghost“–are available for your reading pleasure.

The main character of those stories is a man named Dexter Prowley, who is extraordinarily good at finding ghosts but not quite as skilled when it comes to understanding people. I enjoy characters who have considerable gifts along with big blind spots, and Dexter is fun to write about because he sees lots of eerie things while also missing a whole lot of what is happening around him. He also carries himself with a certain academic detachment, which sometimes makes him as separate from reality as the ghosts he investigates.

Not long after finishing the book about Dexter I came up with a character who was a radio psychic. Like Dexter, he has considerable gifts. He’s no charlatan–he really can look into the thoughts and emotions of other people. His weakness is that’s he’s an asshole. He’s incredibly fun to write, because no one is as good at calling people on their nonsense as someone who knows the secrets they’re trying to hide. He has the arrogance of someone who thinks he’s always right, which is all the more annoying because he is, in fact, frequently right. I named him Oliver and decided he should be Dexter’s nephew.

I’ve written about Oliver on and off over the years but never published a story about him. The stories were more like plays than short stories, exchanges of dialogue to build on the fact that Oliver, for most people, exists only as a voice floating through the air. But earlier this year, some thoughts about Oliver struck me–an opening line, a way to start digging into how he thought and how he operated as a psychic in a crowded city. I didn’t know where the concept was going, but I pursued it on the page for a while, and that meant I eventually had to figure out a plot. In fits and starts, a story came together, with plenty of moments where I wrote myself into problems I didn’t know how to solve. I took several walks around the block or park to figure them out, and finally, a complete story exists. The Infinite Bard project, which offers a series of free stories from a bunch of talented writers, started up as I was in in the middle of writing the story, and I thought that would be a good home for it. And now my slot for the Infinite Bard is here, so I’m happy to finally unleash Oliver Prowley, in all his glorious abrasiveness, on the world! It’s especially fun to have it come out just before Halloween, as that’s a fine time to read about psychics, old grudges, disembodied voices, and hair-raising decisions. Click on the cover to find PDF, Mobi, and Epub versions of the story! Enjoy!

Thoughts as a championship banner is about to fly over Wrigley

Ever since game 7, I’ve thought about trying to write something to capture why a bunch of guys swatting at a ball meant was significant, but after working over a few different approaches in my head, I finally decided I don’t need to explain anything. The crowds outside of Wrigley during each World Series game, whether it was played there or not, knew. The celebrating strangers we walked by and high-fived that night knew. Everyone at the rally and watching at home knew. No one needs me to explain it to them.

I’ve watched Game 7 highlights a dozen times at least, and every time I’m amazed when Zobrist’s double goes through. The celebration happens on the field, and it’s not imagined, it’s not a video game commercial, it’s a thing that happened, and I know it because I remember and will always remember. Just after the game, my sister-in-law posted a video of my oldest brother crying at the end of the game, and I laughed and was happy no one in my family had thought to pull out a camera and point it at me as the game ended.

The video of my brother did not go viral, because why would it? It was one of a million such videos. There were eighty-year-olds, ninety-year-olds celebrating. There was the guy listening to the game in the radio next to his father’s grave. There was Bill Murray in the stadium, and John Cusack, and longtime fan Dorothy Farrell. Who could rise above all that?

But who needs to compete? The thing about this is, there are very few moments in life when you need absolutely nothing more than the moment itself. Debate the time, the money, the emotional investment given to a baseball team all you want. That ground ball rolled slowly to Kris Bryant, and he picked it up with a smile, and slipped as he threw it, but it went where it needed to go. And for once, it was absolutely perfect.

Weirdly perfect. Maybe undeservedly perfect. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Jack Brickhouse, Harry Caray—none of them lived to see this. They did a lot more for the Cubs than I ever will, so why should I be able to enjoy this when they never could? It’s a weird event because of it’s rarity, the years of bad luck and curses that made so many losses extra painful suddenly doing the reverse and making a victory way better. The good fortune grows directly from the bad, and the current of history is abruptly reversed.

None of us deserve it more than Ernie, Ron, Harry, and Jack, but like I said, it’s not a competition. We still deserve the moment, for the simple reason that we cared. So we’ll hoist pennants and wear patches and flags and do whatever we want to remember it. We earned the memory. No other explanation is needed.

Commitments on Inauguration Day

Well, here we are. On this day of making commitments and looking forward, I want to share what I’ve been thinking about this week—what I plan to do. The summary comes first, then I’ll break down each element. Here’s what I’m committing to:

  1. I won’t just get over it.
  2. I will remember.
  3. I’ll strive for accuracy.
  4. I’ll listen.
  5. I’ll support advocacy.
  6. I will not use tools of oppression.

1. I won’t just get over it. One of the impressive sentiments shared in the past two and a half months went (repeatedly) something like this: “Democrats lost because they failed to show enough empathy for others, so they should stop whining about being losers and just accept it already!” It’s impressive that people can pull off a pivot like that without straining a hamstring or something. Sometimes, our understanding of empathy seems to be limited to “something other people should show more of toward me.”

The point being, it might be useful to understand why people are more upset about this election than other elections. Get some understanding of people who are worried about losing and freedoms and safeties that, in many cases, were not too secure to begin with. Those sorts of worries do not just disappear when people tell you to just stop whining and get over it. Because we know what happened in the campaign. We know what was said. We didn’t forget. Which brings us nicely to point two:

2. I will remember. Words matter. I’m not just going to forget what was said in the campaign. We got a blueprint for how to break the nation (dividing people, exploding the deficit, alienating allies, and on and on), vague ideas that don’t count as plans, and lots of broken promises. It’ll take action to fix that. All that stuff doesn’t just get forgotten because the calendar turns. I’m not going to forget the broken promises, the racist sentiments, the sexism, and on and on and on. I have no interest in normalizing that behavior by pretending it didn’t exist.

3. I’ll strive for accuracy. Yeah, the value of facts has plummeted. They’re trading pretty weak against the dollar these days. I can be darkly amused that the party who has railed for so long against “moral relativity” is now led by a man who is more blithe in his lies than any candidate I’ve ever seen who is not named “Nixon.” He might be more blithe, even, because he seems to derive more enjoyment from lying than Nixon did. Nixon didn’t have much fun. Doesn’t Nixon seem like the kind of guy who would scowl at a puppy bearing a bowl of ice cream on its back on a perfect summer day? But I digress.

So yeah, I went through my dark moment after the election of despairing that facts don’t matter, but in the end I can’t leave them. Maybe it’s foolish to believe that accuracy matters, maybe no one cares, maybe no one will be convinced, but I’d rather go down swinging in this battle than concede it. I’m gong to keep pretending that things that actually happen matter, and we’re better off using facts than not.

And when I have to address an issue? I’ll address that issue, instead of looking for a time when the person who said something critical did a thing I didn’t like, or when one party did something that if you squint hard might look like something the other party is doing. I’ll work to address what’s in front of me, instead of trying to deflect it to some issue where I’m more comfortable.

4. I’ll listen. I am absolutely positive there will be many times in the next four years (and of course the rest of my life) when I need to shut up and listen. I’m going to need plenty of ideas that aren’t mine, and I look forward to hearing them. I’m also going to need to learn who is suffering most and what I can best do to be useful.

5. I’ll support advocacy. When I make charitable gifts, I’m going to look at organizations who don’t just do good things but who fight for change. I know a fair amount about how the nonprofit field works, and how charitable foundations work, and I can say this with absolute certainty: They cannot replace the services government offers. They are nowhere near big enough. If they’re going to be starved—and it seems like odds are good that they are—there will not be a large enough flood of private donations that will replace what is lost. That means I need to support organizations that can make the case for why their work is important, that can hold government’s feet to the fire, and can work for broad change.

6. I will not use tools of oppression. When I first heard of Paulo Freire’s concept that oppressed people tend to adopt the mindset of their oppressors, I had trouble with it. If you’re oppressed, you’re seeing firsthand what oppression does. Why would you adopt that mindset? One of the early comparisons that helped it make more sense was fraternities, where you suffer through hazing to get in, then turn around and eagerly participate in the hazing of future members. It goes beyond that, though. Sometimes it’s a matter of environment—when you are surrounded by certain ways of thinking (like, say, being in a culture that supports clear-cut gender roles), it can be tough to break out of them, to understand that what is happening around you is not the only thing that can happen. On top of that, the tools of oppression can look appealing because they get results. Propaganda, dividing people based on fears of the other, assigning the faults of individuals to an entire group—we’ve seen them all work. We’ve seen them win. So if we want to win, shouldn’t we use those tools? How about attacks on the families of people we don’t like, or doxxing them so they and their families are opened up to threats and harassment? It’s not nice, but it sure generates fear, and fear leads to change. And of course, it’s okay if we do it against them. Because they are the bad guys.

The arguments of certain types of extremists mirror each other. We get to torture them, attack them, open them up to organized harassment, etc., because we are right and they are wrong. In these arguments, virtue comes in thinking the right things, not doing the right things.

I don’t have much interest in that kind of virtue. If you have to employ the tools of oppression to win, then I’ll lose. If you need an argument why it’s not great for one group to be in charge of labeling who deserves to be oppressed, then think about the arguments you’d make for why the people you don’t like shouldn’t do it. Then apply them to yourself.


That’s my list. That’s what I want to do. I’m sharing this for a simple reason: accountability. This is here, and it’s public. If I don’t live up to it, call me on it. Tell me I should be better. And I’ll try.


Why you can vote for Donald Trump and still be my friend

So I’ve had a weird week where I haven’t felt well, haven’t ate well, and have experienced a wider range of painkillers than I ever have. But I feel better now, for the moment. It’s the kind of better where you brush yourself off, look around, and then try to remember just how much of the past few days were real, and what was pain- or drug-induced hallucination. Did I really need to find my family and get them away from the scary android-type things invading the school we were in? No, that was a dream. Is my head slowly turning into a metallic elephant? No, that was a piece of art my wife showed me as I was drifting off to sleep. Is Donald Trump still running for president?

Yes. That was not a fever dream. That has not stopped. It’s still a thing people are talking about. Hmmph.

While I remain skeptical about Trump’s long-term prospects in this race, he’s not going away immediately. He’s going to suck up some air for a while. It seems I’ll have find a way to deal with him and his supporters. In that light, there are two principle things I want to say:

1) I am not going to become a Donald Trump supporter. Honestly, I don’t see it happening. The greatest virtues I’ve seen ascribed to him—He speaks his mind! He can deliver his message without being encumbered by special issues!—are nullified by the fact that what he does with those virtues is dangerously similar to a monkey flinging poo. Look, speaking your mind is great, but I live in a city where plenty of people can be found speaking their mind, unencumbered by political correctness or special interests, on any given street corner. That doesn’t mean I stop and listen to them, because they frequently make no sense. Similarly, being free to be yourself is great, unless you’re a huge douche-nozzle. In that case, most of us would appreciate it if you dialed back the whole be-yourself thing a number of notches and tried to power back to a mode of expression that did not leave giant personality stains over our nation’s undergarments.

Trump’s racism on immigration is appalling (please don’t tell me to read the context of his remarks. I did. Didn’t help). His understanding of economic statistics is either deliberately deceitful or sub-elementary school. He has knowledge about how money works, but other currencies that governments deal with, like influence and diplomacy, seem to be beyond his grasp. His sexism is so ingrained that he does not seem to be able to conceptualize that it could be an issue.

These are just a few faults. Suffice it to say, I think he is a terrible candidate, and I think anyone who would vote for them is using their vote extremely poorly. Which brings us to point two:

2) You can support Donald Trump and still be my friend. If you want to vote for Donald Trump, I will not be thrilled with your decision. I might criticize it. I might argue with you about it. I might get very exasperated and throw my hands in the air. But in the end, I will not stop talking to you, and I will not de-friend you on Facebook. I will likely not even block posts from your feed, unless you decide to be all-Trump, all the time. Here’s why:

I am a politically liberal member of the LDS church—a church that, in the U.S., tends to lean conservative, to put it mildly. As someone who thinks a diversity of ideas and perspectives is a good thing to have in almost any decision-making process, I would often get irritated when people within the church acted, as they would from time to time, that political liberalism disqualified people from having a voice in certain church functions. That was ridiculous, I thought. Can’t someone disagree with me politically without nullifying any contribution I might make to a discussion? It didn’t make sense to me to me to shut me out of life just because of political disagreements.

Then, in the course of life, I have heard about and met people I admire who deliberately surrounded themselves with people who did not think as they did so that they could hear a variety of perspectives and learn from them. I’ve seen the strength that comes from that, the ideas and concepts that otherwise would have been missed coming to light and being addressed. And I have seen the disastrous effects that come from groups making decisions that did not have all the voices they needed and really, really could have used some different points of view. Not to name any specific recent presidents.

Diversity is too important for me to start shutting people out. Like any commitment, I can’t just like it when it’s easy. I have to like diversity even when it makes me listen to ideas that force me to dance little mental Watusis of frustration because I can’t believe what I am hearing. But look, I once had a college roommate who briefly was a fan of Bo Gritz, a fringe political candidate who had a streak of racism in him that makes Trump’s look like a little one-lane country road, and I still managed to find common ground with him. If I’m serious about the things I claim to think are important, I can keep trying to do that.

Now, that is not to say there are no limits. If your regularly mistake blustering argument for discussion; if your relationship with facts regularly shows itself to be long-distance; and if you cannot get over the habit of making race-, ethnicity-, gender-, or sexual orientation-based generalizations, then the chance of positive discussion plunges greatly. But be assured that if de-friending takes place after such behavior, it’s not because of your politics; it’s because of how you apply yourself to discussions and relationships with others. It’s an individual thing, not something applied to a whole group of people who think a particular way.

Does that mean I might be friend with racists, anti-gays, sexists, and all sorts of other –ists? Very possibly. And there’s a few reasons for that. First, I don’t think change happens when people are put in isolation. And second, to restate what I said above, I do not want to discount the possibility from learning from a flawed person. One of my favorite authors has very different politics than I do. I don’t like some of the political statements he has made. But I will still pick up my favorite book of his and hug it, for all the joy it has brought me. I’d hate to have missed what he had to offer, just because I didn’t like some aspects of his thinking.

So to sum up, to all my friends who like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and/or Sarah Palin; to all who unironically listen to Creed or Nickelback; to all who have seen every Transformers movie every opening weekend; to all who think that Risk is one of the great board games of all time: You are wrong. Sadly, desperately wrong, in ways that, to varying degrees of significance, are causing damage in the world. There is a good chance I will argue with you about one or these things or another. Then you may argue with me about something I like, or something I do, that you believe is wrong. It will be fun. We both may learn something, then hold hands, and make a PSA for NBC.

And in all that, I’ll look forward to learning something from you, to re-traveling whatever common pathways led us to be friends in the first place, and to building bonds instead of losing them.



So Your Nation Has Elected a President You Really Don’t Like

[Note: I don’t do much political stuff on this blog, but I didn’t really have another place for a piece this long. So it goes here. Enjoy!]

Stop me if this sounds familiar. It’s Election Day. A wealthy challenger with a nice political record is challenging an embattled incumbent. There are a lot of reasons to dislike the incumbent. In the eyes of many, the incumbent has weakened the standing of the United States in the world. He has driven up the debt to unconscionable levels doing things that could be called unnecessary and wasteful. He has initiated actions that seem to go against the Constitution on their face and that you believe to be changing the very identity of the nation you love. It seems obvious to you that he should not be re-elected, and yet when Election Day is over, he has done just that, squeaking by with a popular vote victory of just a few million votes. It’s enough to make you want to give up on this whole democracy thing, because clearly the voters can’t be trusted with even the simplest tasks of electing a decent challenger over a terrible incumbent

For liberals, I’m talking about John Kerry’s loss to George W. Bush in 2004. For conservatives, I’m talking about Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama in 2012.

Eight years ago is not that long ago. I can remember pretty clearly how I felt back then and what I did about it. So I thought I’d put together a few ideas and concepts in the hopes that it would be useful.

When your guy loses, the first thing to consider is how you look at the voters who voted the person in that you don’t like. There’s a temptation—and believe me, I know how strong it is—to find a way to write those voters off entirely. To act like there is some intrinsic flaw with them, that they lack basic rationality and are incapable of fundamental human decency. You can write them off as brainwashed. Or lazy. Or crazy. Or racist. Or childish. Or socialist. Or greedy. Any of these sound familiar? This is the temptation to dismiss entire portions of the electorate with any sentence that starts with the words “They’re just …” Like this: Why did people vote for Barack Obama? They’re just lazy and want government to take care of them without them having to actually work for themselves. Why did people vote for George W. Bush? They’re just greedy racists who want to keep what they have and not share with anyone not like them.

Both of these sentiments have been shared pretty freely in recent years, but here’s the problem with them. Think about the people you know. Did all of them vote for the same person you voted for? I hope not. I really hope each and every person reading this knows one or more people who voted for the other guy. Now think about any “they’re just …” statement, and apply it to that individual. Are all your liberal friends truly unwilling to work and waiting for the government to do everything for them? Are all your conservative friends heartless monsters who never give to charity or do volunteer work, and who can’t deal with anyone a few shades darker than them?

Eight years ago, my answer to that last question was a firm “no.” For the record, my conservative friends also are not greedy insider traders looking to foreclose on your grandmother while twirling their freshly waxed mustaches, though it would be kind of cool if one of them was. By and large, they’re kind people who are good to their families, who spend lots of time volunteering, and who want an America where people of all sorts can live and work in safety.

If I’m going to be fair to my conservative friends, I can’t rely on darker stereotypes, because they don’t reflect who they really are. And if I keep treating them like the hideous conservative demons from fevered liberal nightmares, there’s a pretty good chance they won’t listen to a thing I say.

Here’s a pro tip: Going up to a conservative and saying something like “Why do you try to oppress everyone with your religion while trampling all over the poor?” is equally as effective as going up to a liberal and saying “Why do you hate America and want to destroy all jobs while turning it into a socialist nation?” I’m not saying you can’t ask these questions. Give it a shot. Let me know how it goes. I’ll tell you this, though—if any sort of positive conversation results from it, it’s because of remarkable restraint on the part of the person you’re talking to. It’s best to not have to rely on that.

What was reinforced to me eight years ago was that I needed to treat people who disagree with me the way I want them to treat me. Revolutionary, I know. But I’ve had those conversations, the ones where people struggle with the concept that I can believe what I believe while also somehow claiming to be any sort of decent person. After all, if I was a real liberal, would I be talking to them? Shouldn’t I be out paying for teenagers’ abortions with the money I collected from my eight welfare checks? I didn’t like being seen that way, so I figured conservatives wouldn’t be fond of me doing something like, say, wondering how they can claim to be good people when they hate women and want to suffocate the poor in their sleep.

There’s a complication in here, and it’s this: There are people who embody the stereotypes out there. There are people who just want the government to do more for them. There are people who want the government to keep anyone different from them at least one hundred miles away, if not out of the country altogether. Each side of the political spectrum has its worst element. What I’ve found, though, is that I can’t treat my friends like they’re part of that worst element. At least not if I still want them to be my friends. And I can’t assume my friends are the only sane members of the opposition in the whole country.

What it comes down to is this: Both in 2004 and in 2012, the nation was not taken over by a bunch of crazy, America-hating, dreadful people. Instead, people voted for a candidate for a number of different reasons. Some of those reasons were insane. Most were not. There is a rationality at work in many voters, and also a sense of what they believe is decency.

I’m not saying at the heart, we’re all the same or any such thing. I’m also not saying there are not really weird beliefs out there that should be boldly countered. I’m just talking about how we do it.

One thing that has been clear to me is that, often, political differences are based on different perceptions of the world; we then go and apply logic to those different perceptions and quite naturally come to different conclusions. That’s a topic for another essay, though. The point is, the differences exist, and they’re significant, but they don’t have to totally alienate us from each other. We don’t have to treat the other side like lumbering, irrational, horrible beasts. When your guy loses, getting through the next four years becomes a lot easier if you believe that the people who supported the other guy might have some decent motivations. Sure, they’re wrong-headed in some ways, but we all have our failings. I’ve got friends I disagree with politically, I’ve got friends I disagree with religiously, and I’ve got friends who do not see the merits of Joss Whedon shows. They’re all heretics, of course, but they’re also people I’m happy to know. I can tell myself that if the people who voted for the other guy are like the people I know, then it might not be so bad. I still disagree with them, but they’re not deranged. At least, most of them aren’t. I can work with them. I can try to understand their thinking better, so that it doesn’t all seem like people trying to destroy America, but rather people trying to do something good. It’ll be okay. And at worst, another election will come along in four years.

P.S. One more piece of advice: I know liberals had a lot of fun talking about moving to Canada after the 2008 election, but with its socialized medicine and higher rate of taxes as a percent of GDP than the U.S., it’s not the best place to go to flee any perceived encroaching socialism, so that’s not the best talking point. Besides, I’d miss you!

Unending Night: A new experiment in social media fiction

Hey folks—an idea struck me yesterday, and I’m going to try it out. It’s a kind of interactive fiction that will allow me to have some fun and take advantage of the gifts of the many clever, witty, and interesting people on my Facebook page. Or so I hope. Here’s how this works: 

  1. Every so often I will post a few paragraphs of a short story. Each section will end with the potential for input from a group of people—villagers, courtiers, soldiers, etc. The comments section will then be used for all of you to interject various in-character thoughts and, well, comments. As much as possible, I will use these comments to shape the story as it advances.
  2. Comments can also be submitted to the Tortile Taradiddles blog. All updates will be submitted there as well as Facebook so that you can track the ongoing story; comments regarded as “canon” will also be incorporated into the post, which is this post right here.
  3. You have the option of commenting as a recurring character (or multiple recurring characters). Just put the name of the recurring character before whatever it is she or he says. You don’t have to create a recurring character if you don’t want to. One-off comments are perfectly acceptable
  4. This is for entertainment only. Should at some point it turn into something more, I promise to confer with all contributors to make sure their material is treated in a way that satisfies them.

Any questions?

The posts begin here!

Post one

When the time of day came when the sun normally would have set, it marked the moment when things had been dark for twenty-two straight days.

Everyone had been quite worried at first, of course, talking of doom and apocalypse, but now that this had been going on for more than three weeks, people were of the opinion that if this truly was some sort of apocalypse, it was an oddly slow moving one. In the early days, conversation at the Moon and Grommet had centered on what kind of disaster had occurred to make the light go away, and how soon whatever it was would come to claim the entire village. But after weeks of waiting, certain doom now seemed less … certain. Conversation, generally speaking, had turned to pettier things, such as the nature and quality of the darkness. Verkor Sugwith, owner of the Moon and Grommet, firmly averred that the darkness now was exactly as it had been twenty-two days ago.

Continue reading

The Man-Eating Killer Death Snow: A retrospective

On February 1, 2011, the third-largest snowstorm on record hit Chicago. Events of such historic proportion must be remembered; thus, I have dug into my Facebook archives and found all the posts I made related to what I called the “man-eating killer death snow.” I believe that these posts offer an important glimpse into the travails of one man grappling with natural forces far more powerful than he, and thus deserve to be remembered. Mainly because I’d much rather these be treated as a gripping historical document, rather than a potential mental health study, as some have suggested. Anyway, below are the compiled posts.

February 1, 3:39 PM: The man-eating killer death-snow is here! I’ll keep updates coming to Facebook as long as I survive and have power.


Man-eating killer death snow update #1: Snow has been falling for about an hour. Food stores already scarce. I’ve been forced to eat my shoes. Fortunately, my shoes were made of graham crackers.


Man-eating killer death-snow update #2: The dangers I am facing make me identify more strongly with my brave pioneer forebears. I wonder if they also almost slipped while taking their laundry to the basement.


Man-eating killer death-snow update #3: Decided to burn books for heat. Despite the fact that I don’t have a working fireplace. And the heat in my building is working fine. Look, there’s some books I just don’t like, okay?


Man-eating killer death-snow update #4: Went to the store to shop for emergency supplies. By “store,” I actually mean “neighbor’s house,” and by “shop,” I mean “armed robbery.”


Man-eating killer death-snow update #5: Sanity slipping. I blame the snow, snow, the blinding, blowing, omnipresent, unavoidable snow, snow in every place, in every crack, snow snow snow. Though the fact that I’ve been watching Springer for ten straight hours maybe is not helping.


Man-eating killer death snow update #6: Stuck in darkness. Inky blackness all around. Nothing but dark. Alone, so alone in the dark. No one will find me, no one will help me, no one will … wait. Found hall closet doorknob and got out. Okay, everything’s fine now.


Man-eating killer death snow update #7: After a brief walk outside, I am convinced that nature is a horribly angry god intent on all our destruction who will only be appeased by sacrifice. Kathy is sharpening the knives.


Man-eating killer death-snow update #8: It’s late. The wind is howling outside like the voices of the dead.

Wait. That’s not the wind. That is, in fact, the voices of the dead. Okay, who scheduled the blizzard for the same night as my séance?


Man-eating killer death snow update #9: Cold has penetrated the walls of the house. I might have hypothermia, so I am trying to convince Kathy to offer the appropriate first aid. Given that I’ve tried this in all weather, including mid-summer, she’s not buying it.


Man-eating killer death-snow update #10: Woke up cold, shivering, lying on frozen ground, covered only by snow, my beard full of icicles. But that’s my normal morning routine, so all is well.


Man-eating killer death-snow update #11: Fed my faithful dog companion breakfast to repay him for his unwavering loyalty and devotion. As a reward, he bit me.

Addendum: Finn has informed me that I should no longer refer to him as “my faithful dog companion.”


Man-eating killer death snow update #12: Supplies are short, hunger is rampant, but my party treks onward. Somehow, we are caught by a camera while marching through a towering snow drift. (Picture below; not pictured: Mr. R. S. Donner, Mr. T. J. Donner, Ms. J. Q. Donner, Mr. P. T. Donner).

Man-eating killer death snow update #13: Decided to hunt moose in order to procure food. Does anyone have a helicopter they can spare?


Man-eating killer death snow update #14: I thought it was over. I thought I was done with it. The snow had stopped, we would dig out, and life would get back to normal. But I’ve been doing some investigating, some poking around, and I can’t ignore the facts any longer. This wasn’t just any snowstorm. This was the SAME SNOWSTORM THAT KILLED MY FATHER TWELVE YEARS AGO! Damn you, snowstorm! Damn you to hell!



In which I play the Facebook number game

So a bit ago there was a thing going around Facebook where people were supposed to text you some random number, then you would use that number to tell that person, through Facebook, what you really thought of them. I decided to play, kind of, and for your edification and possible entertainment, I have compiled all the entries here and presented them in the order they appeared. If you vote for your favorite in the comments for this post, then you may win the chance to tell me which entry is your favorite!

#64. When our eyes met across that crowded bar, I felt the bullet of destiny penetrate my chest and tear its way through my heart. Unfortunately, at the time you were–and still are–with someone else. So I friended you on Facebook as part of a larger campaign to stalk you. Surprise!

#178. I was intrigued by you from the moment you said you’d give me some candy if I’d just step into your van. It’s nice that a series of modern online databases allow me to track your current address, as I always know where to send your Christmas card.

‎#25. Okay, look, I know we’ve known each other for 30 years, and we were totally like best friends for a while and all that, but that was a long time ago. I just friended you so I could get stuff from you on FarmVille. Let’s not make this anything more than it is, all right?

‎#192. My fondest memory of you is when we discovered the Lost City of Guatzlepenango together. It was magic as we stood on the rim of the hidden canyon and looked down at those gleaming bronze domes. Then that little mutant griblikk stole you away and carried you into the city. I’m glad they’re finally giving you internet access.

#81. Look, I can forgive you for posting all those “intimate home videos” online. I can even forgive you for the fact that so many other guys–and girls–are involved. But not giving me my cut for the ones where I was camaraman? Not cool.

#1988. Ha! We stole a baby from a stuuuuuupid daikini! Hee hee hee!

‎#25. You were the only one on the spaceship who explained to me why the probes were necessary. Also, you were the only one who did not store his probing tongs in the refrigerator. Those little things endeared you to me.

‎#92. We talked. We laughed. We danced until the sun came up. Then you asked me where my pants were. I wish I’d had a better answer.

‎#137. There have been so many movies about hitmen falling in love, or hitmen finding redemption, and I thought a real-life version of those stories was happening when you and I struck up a conversation while waiting for <NAME REDACTED>’s convoy to pass. Then you shot me in the kneecap. Oh well.

#74. I left you a voice mail yesterday that packs more profanity into 90 seconds than Scarface has in its entire running time. And you’re wondering what I really think about you? Come on.

‎#59. When I saw you carefully ordering the socks in my sock drawer, I thought it was a very touching gesture of affection. Then I realized you were setting up a bear trap in there.

‎#99. I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray. You wore blue. I wore a large fluffy bunny costume, which kind of ruined the moment.

‎#232. When I first saw you, I thought “Wow, that third arm must really be useful!” At the time, I didn’t realize it was actually a trunk.

‎#22. I remain impressed by the breadth and scope of your ambitions. That does not mean, however, that I believe orange HiC, roller skates, a live cat, and a turkey baster should be put to use in the way you intend.

‎#45. That time you convinced me that my parents were werewolves wasn’t as funny as you thought it was. Luckily for me–and for them–it turns out that it’s tough to find someone who sells silver bullets.

#117. I didn’t want to re-hash this argument, but you seem to not be able to listen. So here it is again, for the last time–I’m not saying it’s not okay to eat brains. I’m just saying it’s not okay to do it in front of me.

‎#3.141592653589. I’ll always be impressed by you. I have total respect for the unknowable wonder and majesty that is your very essence.

Note: This is not part of the number game. This is just me expressing my love for the number pi.

‎#70. I regret that you continue to feel anger toward me ever since I informed Inspector Grayson that I had seen you in the pantry the morning Lady Shrewbury was poisoned. If, however, your actions are as innocent as you continue to claim them to be, you should have nothing to fear when your whereabouts receive greater scrutiny.

‎#45. You came into my life like a cold winter wind, but left like a warm summer breeze. That was when I figured out you were actually an air conditioner.

#88. I admire how forthright and direct you are, always willing to tell people just what you think, no matter how painful it might be for them to hear it. I also admire your ability to take a punch.

‎#105. I realize you believe that if you told people you were a vampire, you’d suddenly be cool, because everyone loves vampires. But trust me–you, by yourself, have the power to make vampires uncool. So keep those fangs tucked in.

#225. I’m going to use this to tell you something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time: Everyone knows that those are not real teeth in your mouth. They’re Chiclets. You’re not fooling anyone.

‎#228. When we met, I thought Stockholm Syndrome was some sort of disease. But in the months I was held captive in your basement, I grew to truly appreciate your point of view. Then you disappeared. I still have all your pamphets, but I lost the names of the people I’m supposed to mail them to. Call me.

#160. Remember that summer when we went hitchhiking in Nepal? When we hiked above the clouds and the air was so high, thin, and clear? And then we saw that large, hairy beast, who picked us up and introduced us to his clan? And then he made us Clan Chieftains, and gave us the gift of a golden Slinky? You _do_ remember? Really? Because it never happened. This is why people tell you that you should take your meds.

#133. When we first met, I was enthralled as you provided a detailed explanation of Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. If only there had been a fourth one that said “Never break a human’s heart,” things might have been different between us.

#2. You’d look a lot cooler riding your Harley down the highway if it wasn’t for the fact that “Harley” is your great-uncle, and he looks really tired.

#49. Your profile gives you a name, but to me you’ll always be “That S.O.B. who posts nothing but Mafia Wars updates.”

#101. You said you’d walk across a desert for me, but then you wouldn’t even go to the convenience store. Specifically, the 7-11 in the middle of the Sudan.

#222. I understand it’s just an accident when you butt-dial me. I can even be patient those times when you drunk-dial me. But I’ve had it up to here with being deceased-dialed.

‎#99. The only reason I didn’t tell you that there was no such thing as a “professional kabuki nurse” sooner was that I really enjoyed your attempts to become one.

‎#150. I told you that my love for you was a star that would burn on for millions of years, fueled by the wonder of everything that is you. You asked me what my name was, then you slowly backed away. Perhaps my timing was off.

Dexter A. Prowley’s Ghosts of Abana Chapter Four: My Night in Dorcas Fields

[The Foreword provides an overview of Ghosts of Abana; Chapter Three has more information on Dorcas Fields cemetery.]

As a professional parapsychologist, I have been blessed to have one of the most haunted sites in America virtually on my front patio. Ghost hunters from around the world travel to experience the wide variety of hauntings present at the legendary Dorcas Fields, which for me is reachable by a short walk. Indeed, I most likely have spent more time in Dorcas Fields than any other ghost hunter (or any other living human, for that matter).

However, as the century was coming to an end, it was brought to my attention that I lacked one of the choicest experiences that Dorcas Fields has to offer–I had never spent an entire night within its grim wrought-iron confines. While I had many memorable experiences on my previous visits to the cemetery, I had to believe they would be eclipsed by a full night steeped in its eerie zephyrs.

The person who helped me notice this gap in my learning was Ms. Annabel Lee Gunther, a gifted psychic and devoted mother. As she saw my excitement at the prospect of visiting the cemetery at night, she felt a touch of anticipation as well , and she volunteered to accompany me. We quickly chose a date in the near future that left us barely enough time to prepare for the outing.

We arrived at the imposing gates around 7:30 on an appropriately foggy November evening. Of course, as any dedicated spirit seeker knows, the front gates of the cemetery are firmly locked after 5 PM, and the best nighttime entrance is a quick clamber over the fence near the old groundskeeper’s shed. When we reached the appropriately rusted spot in the aged crosswire fence, I leapt over forthwith, then lent a hand to Ms. Gunther as she flopped over. When we were both safely within the haunted confines of the fence, we paused to take inventory.

We were on a patch of ground that had more dirt than grass, due to the excessive foot traffic in this spot. The immediate area was free of graves, as no one had wanted to be buried near the shed.

We were carrying the following items: a tarpaulin to sit upon; a sleeping bag for each of us (though we did not intend to sleep); a backpack full of technical equipment busy producing readings that I would analyze after the night was over; a journal to record my impressions; sandwiches and crackers to eat; a canteen of water; and an air horn so we could call for trouble in case the thuggish, living individuals who occasionally frequented the cemetery threatened our well-being.

Feeling satisfied that we were well prepared, we set off into the heart of Dorcas Fields. Ms. Gunther grabbed my arm almost immediately.

“The spirits are strong here tonight,” she said. I was pleased, but not surprised, for in my experience the spirits were always strong when Ms. Gunther was present.

We decided to walk to the eastern section of the cemetery, with its imposing crosses and threatening angel-of-death tombstones. The markers closest to us were small and level—utilitarian, but hardly atmospheric.

When we were about halfway to our destination, Ms. Gunther froze in her tracks and stood stock still.

“We are in the presence of a spirit at this moment,” she said.

“Who? Where?” I asked, almost too breathless to speak.

“By the willow tree,” she said. “I can’t make out the form, but I believe it’s a woman.”

The willow stood fifty feet away from us, slightly to our right. It was beautifully shaped, with leafy branches cascading evenly down its entire length, from its perfect dome top all the way down to three feet above the ground. There were no graves within twenty feet of the tree.

We approached carefully, as even spirits in a place as thoroughly haunted as Dorcas Fields can be skittish. My pulse accelerated as the spirit began to physically manifest itself. I caught a glimpse of a pale glow between the leaves of the willow. As soon as I saw it, it was gone, but then I thought I saw it again in other spots around the tree. Ms. Gunther saw it as well, and we stopped in our tracks in reverent appreciation of the being in front of us.

The glow became brighter, and we saw that it was making a circuit around the trunk of the tree. The form of the glow also seemed to increase in definition, though it was difficult to see just what the form was, as we glimpsed it only in breaks between willow branches. However, we were able to get a good look at the bottom of the form, and it showed Ms. Gunther’s impressions to be accurate—the apparition was indeed a woman. She wore a long, flowing dress with ornate lace trim at the bottom. The dress hid her feet from us.

As the manifestation became more clear, a sound accompanied it. It first sounded like the distant call of an owl, but as it increased in volume, it became clear that the tones were human, not animal, in origin. The ghost was making the sounds, and the sounds were moans.

It was a breathtaking sight—the white shape flitting through the tree branches, surrounded by granite monuments so old that pieces of crosses and headstones had fallen to the ground. The moans, low and mournful, perfected the atmosphere. I was in awe of this ghost’s artistry, which meant it could only be one person.

“Mary Kay Hennessee. That’s Mary Kay Hennessee,” I said. She had been making appearances in the cemetery for over twenty years, so she had a considerable amount of time to perfect her technique. She belongs to an old-fashioned strain of ghosts, who realize that eerie atmosphere is far more important than the cheap scares that more modern ghosts seem to favor.

I do not know how long I stared at the hypnotic glow before Ms. Gunther’s voice broke into my thoughts.

“Should we say anything to this lost soul?” she said.

“Yes. Yes, I believe we should.” I assembled some ideas in my head. “If it’s all right with you, I think I will address the spirit directly, since her manifestation is so strong.”

Ms. Gunther nodded. I stepped forward.

“Ms. Hennessee! We are pleased you have chosen to commune with us. If you are willing, we would like to speak with you to help your soul leave this veil of sorrow and find everlasting peace! May we approach and speak of matters of eternal import?”

“Very nicely done,” Ms. Gunther said quietly when I finished. I nodded gratefully toward her.

The glow stopped moving, and I hoped Ms. Hennessee was considering my words. I breathlessly awaited her response, but before she said anything, a booming voice came from our left.

“Dammit, Mary Kay, stop that!” the voice said. I looked for a body to attach to the voice, but none was evident. “You’re just encouraging them.”

I heard heavy footsteps crunching through dry leaves toward the tree, but still did not see anyone. When I finished scanning the darkness and looked back at the tree, Mary Kay Hennessee’s glow was gone.

“What do you suppose that was?” Ms. Gunther asked with a trace of nervousness in her voice. The heavy, invisible footsteps had unnerved her.

“From what I know about Dorcas Fields’ history, it was most likely Cam Mellen, the milkman. Most records say he is the loudest of the local spirits.

“It seems he doesn’t want us here. But why? We’re not harming anything.”

“I’m not sure—but I’m the wrong person to ask. Let’s go to the source.”

Ms. Gunther understood my intent immediately, and her face brightened, since we were about to do the type of work she specializes in.

It was a long walk across the cemetery to Mellen’s grave. I thought I might have caught a glimpse or two of Mary Kay Hennessee in the distance, but in truth I could have been seeing any one of the numerous soul lights known to appear in the cemetery. Whoever they were, they did not approach us.

Finally we arrived at Mellen’s tombstone, a simple limestone slab with a corner that looked like someone with a very large jaw had taken a bite out of it. There were no spirit lights—no lights of any kind at all—anywhere near the grave.

I glanced over at Ms. Gunther and saw she had already commenced preparations for contacting Mellen. Her tool of choice was a long pole studded with lapis lazuli and blue quartz, and she traced arcane designs in the dirt near the grave with it.

I must note here that, generally, an individual’s grave is a poor place for conducting a séance. Most individuals have spent little to no time at their own grave while they lived, so the burial site holds an insignificant amount of psychic residue. Dorcas Fields is a special case, since the spirits were summoned to the area out of concern for their own mortal remains, which at one point were being disturbed on an almost daily basis. It is the exception to the rule.

Ms. Gunther conducts a very formal, ritualized ceremony. She is most comfortable following a pre-set series of steps, and reciting many traditional incantations. The drawback to this approach is that a bystander such as myself is made to wait for a considerable amount of time before contact is made. However, Ms. Gunther’s results more than justify her approach, so I have never felt a need to complain.

Just as she finished her third step, the invocation of the stars, and began step four, the bargain with Hades, the same voice we had heard earlier interrupted her utterances.

“Crap, lady, how much material do you got? Were you gonna talk all night?”

Ms. Gunther fumbled over a few words, but bravely carried on once Mellen’s voice quieted. “Let the barriers of the River Styx be lowered. Send Charon to the shores of the living . . .”

Mellen’s voice raged again. “Lady, I said SHUT . . . aw, what’s the use.” I then heard a sound that was clearly that of a large individual plopping down to sit in the grass and dirt. Then the cemetery was silent.

Ms. Gunther looked nervously at me, and I could only shoot a puzzled expression in her direction. I had no explanation for Mellen’s erratic behavior, and I was disconcerted by his silent presence in the grass.

Ms. Gunther opened and closed her mouth once or twice in the manner of a goldfish, but no words came out—Mellen had sufficiently intimidated her.

I had just started to pull my thoughts together when the unmistakable sound of footsteps approached. I peered into the darkness for some hint of who was approaching, but saw no one. My heart quickened as I realized this could be another visitor from the realm of the dead.

The footsteps stopped next to Mellen’s tomb, and silence reigned again.

I shuffled my feet nervously, hoping the new spectre would do something to reveal who he or she was, but no noise, vocal or otherwise, was immediately forthcoming.

Just as I opened my mouth to address the new presence, Mellen’s powerful, gravelly voice was heard again.

“I wasn’t yelling.”

There was a moment or two of silence before he spoke again. “She’s too sensitive, and you know it. I spoke to her like I speak.”

I realized that we were listening to one side of a conversation. The other participant, the ghost that had just walked up, was speaking in a way our mortal ears could not discern.

As if to confirm my thoughts, Mellen spoke again. “I know they can hear me. I don’t care. It’s too much work to speak the other way.”

“You are in quite a mood, aren’t you,” a new voice said. I couldn’t believe our good fortune—the second spirit had decided to allow us to hear his part of the conversation! The voice was much calmer then Mellen’s, a gentle tenor with a strong undercurrent of irony.

“Nothing different than normal,” Mellen said brusquely.

“That won’t work with me,” the new ghost said. “I’ve known you too long. I know the difference between Cam Mellen’s normal orneriness and that special, rare Cam Mellen misanthropy. What happened?”

“Well just look at them.” I could almost hear Mellen sweeping his arm toward Ms. Gunther and myself. “They make you wonder how anyone could not be misanthropic.”

I could remain silent no longer. “I don’t think that is a fair assess—”

The new voice ran right over my comment. “What did they do that’s so wrong?”

“Oh … I don’t know … stuff, I guess.” I could hear Mellen fidgeting in the grass. “Tramping around. Disturbing the peace. Saying stupid things.”

I bristled. “What did I say that you think …”

“That’s not it,” the second voice said calmly. “We get people like this in all the time. Why are these ones bothering you?”

“I don’t know, Paul. I guess it’s not them, really.”

Excitement ran down my spine. The second voice could only belong to Paul Wadinsky, the legendary activist who had organized the ghosts of Dorcas Fields into taking back their land from the riff-raff that used to pollute the grounds. I was listening to a conversation between two legends, which made me feel less offended that they were ignoring everything I said.

By this time, Ms. Gunther had recovered from her shock. She took a step forward, pole in hand. “Spirits, we welcome your presence and thank you for your words to this point. We have much to ask you. I am Annabel Lee Gunther, medium. Some of the spirits you have encountered may have mentioned my name. I am here to facilitate your communication with the living. Could you please give me the names by which you were known in life?”

There was a short silence. Then Wadinsky spoke again, addressing Mellen. “What’s the problem, then?”

Mellen sighed. “I miss the old days, man. Chasing off ghost hunters—it seems so meaningless, you know? Not like the old days, with the punks and the vandals and the muggers and the pickpockets. That meant something. I don’t even know what we’re doing here any more.”

Ms. Gunther was growing angry. “I am privileged that you continue to speak in front of us, but I must ask you to conform to the proper standards of etiquette. Please address yourselves to me.”

Wadinsky and Mellen continued to ignore her. “Maybe you’ve defined your afterlife too narrowly, Cam. You were so dedicated to the cause, you didn’t leave room in your life for anything else. You need to find something to dedicate yourself to besides chasing people away.”

“Like what?” Mellen said bitterly.

I looked at Ms. Gunther, and she threw up her hands in exasperation. I decided I should intervene. “Might I suggest that it is time to free your soul from this veil of sorrow and ascend …”

“There’s a lot of people here you don’t know, Cam,” Wadinsky said without acknowledging me. “You’ve kept to yourself for years, and in the meantime we’ve formed a nice community. We could use you.”

“I don’t know if I have a lot to offer you guys.” Mellen’s voice was drenched in self-pity.

“Now, now, none of that,” Wadinsky chided. “You have plenty to offer and you know it. Death goes on, Cam. We’ve found a way to adapt, and it’s time you joined us.”

“Imagine what you could offer the vast community of souls that are in the astral plane,” I ventured. “If you were willing, I could . . .”

“You have several very useful talents,” Wadinsky said. “Don’t underestimate them. Come on, I think the others would be happy to talk with you right now.”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Mellen began emitting a dim ethereal glow, and we could see him sitting in the dirt, looking wary.

“Before you decide anything . . .” I ventured.

Mellen stood up abruptly, cutting me off. “You’re right about one thing, though, Paul. I still have some things I can do, and I guess it’s time to do ‘em.”

I looked toward Ms. Gunther, who looked uncomfortably at me. She was not used to this much spiritual communication occurring without her assistance. I smiled at her reassuringly. I felt confident that Wadinksky and Mellen would soon be done conversing, and we might have some time with one or the other to perform our duties. I gestured for her to re-commence her ceremonies, and she raised her pole again.

That was the last thing I remembered for nearly half an hour. Events turned into a blur of rushing air, pummeling assaults, and a rapidly spinning world. When I regained my senses, I was lying on the curb outside the cemetery gate. I sat up, and saw Ms. Gunther lying dazed next to me. My sides, from my hip to shoulder, were bruised and sore, and my knees felt as if they had been kicked. This was proof, I told myself, that, as Wadinsky said, Mellen had considerable talents that had served the dead of Dorcas Fields well in their conflicts with the living.

Ms. Gunther revived soon after me, and together we stumbled home. I had some thoughts of immediately re-entering the cemetery and confronting Mellen, but my knees were too sore to climb over the cemetery wall, and Ms. Gunther clearly was ready to go home. Unfortunately, a wide variety of commitments and conflicts have kept me from making a return trip since that night.

Though I feel there is more work to be done with the ghosts of Dorcas Fields, my night spent there was a considerable breakthrough, as it gave evidence that some ghosts are both aware of their condition as dead people and have moved beyond simple replays of events from their lives and are trying to build a new existence in our realm rather than ascend to higher planes.

The magnitude of this discovery cannot be undermined by outlandish claims such as the ones made by Terrance Meridien that an investigation of the cemetery after my breakthrough night turned up many microphones and small speakers, particularly in the area of Cam Mellen’s tombstone. Clear-minded readers will note how well the personalities of Mellen and Wadinsky come across in their conversation, and will see this as proof that the voices belonged to the dead, not some pranksters. After all, the depth of revelation about the condition of the undead supplied in that conversation could only be provided by the dead themselves.

Dexter A. Prowley’s Ghosts of Abana, Chapter Three: Ghosts of Vengeance

[Need an overview of Ghosts of Abana? Check out the Foreword!]

Love and revenge are powerful motivations in this life, and it is unreasonable to expect the souls of the living to be able to transcend these passions. Thus, ghosts seeking revenge are at least as common as those attached to this plane by romantic ties. (Of course, there is significant overlap between romantic relationships and a desire for revenge, but for the purposes of this volume, the primary motive of the ghost for appearing among the living was considered.) In every clime where humans live, there exist stories of ghosts who cannot find peace until some wrong has been addressed.

Ghosts use a variety of methods to exact the revenge they seek. They may point a finger at their killer to ensure that justice is done, or the spirit may take justice into their own hands, using their afterlife to torment someone who made their life miserable. In some cases, the target of their rage is a single individual, and the ghost’s wrath expires with their target.

Vengeful ghosts are among the most frightening of all supernatural manifestations. They are brought back to our world by sheer anger and bitterness, and the experience of that emotion can be overwhelming for both spirit and viewer alike.

In this installment, we will focus on some of the more notable vengeance-minded spirits I have encountered in my searches. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: