Tuesday, September 30, 2008

500 Words A Day and the Temple of Doom

Bits and pieces of The Same Old Story, my 500-words-a-day-novel-in-progress, are scattered through previous postings (here, here, here, here, here and here). Of course, once things got rolling, I was averaging more than that (better than double) and, for the past several days, I've been concentrating exclusively on finishing this up. Today will likely be the day, so here's an excerpt from one of the later chapters:

© Paul Kupperberg


The local law was more than a little perturbed when I showed up splattered with another man’s brains to report a suicide. I left out a few pertinent details, especially the part about the $80,000 in cash, which I’d stowed under the DeSoto’s seat cushion, one half-hearted search away from discovery but the best I could do under the circumstances. I didn’t know these local cops from Adam and eighty grand was a tempting target for anyone. I had carried the case back out through the woods to where I’d left the car, then drove back the way I came until I hit something that resembled a town and asked the first person I saw for direction to the police station.

Sheriff Billy Van der Hooven was a beefy but hardy looking specimen with a round face, shining cheeks and an honest desire to want to understand what the hell it was I brought with me when I walked into his office. I told him to call Uncle Mick in New York, tell him it was about me. The sheriff looked none to happy about having to make a long distance telephone call but he took another look at the gore I’d been unable to wipe off my clothes and face and dialed.

The rest was sort of a blur. Sheriff Van der Hooven confiscated my clothes as evidence and left me with a pair of dungarees and a jailhouse shirt to change into it. My number was 877. Two deputies were sent to investigate and, if necessary, secure the cabin. He let me wash up and I scrubbed at my face with lye soap until the skin was stinging and raw and I could no longer feel the little bits of Jimmy’s life that had clung there.

I spent the next three hours telling Van der Hooven what exactly it was that had brought me here. He took extensive notes, breaking only to take a report from the deputy who had been sent back for reinforcements and orders, confirming the dead body. The young deputy said it sure looked like a suicide to him but the sheriff wisely pointed out that such a determination should be made by wiser and more qualified heads.

When there was no other way to tell my story, the sheriff left me in a small locked interrogation room with a table, two chairs and an egg salad sandwich and coffee. I drank the coffee and ignored the sandwich. I couldn’t imagine the next time I’d want to eat again.

I stared at the wall, trying not to replay the sight of Jimmy’s head exploding like a melon, flinging blood and bone and gore all over the cabin. There was nothing left. Jimmy just ended at the shoulders. But that was all I could see. Over and over.

I closed my eyes and thought about Shelly.

She was innocent. Of everything. How come I couldn’t see that? How come I didn’t just believe her when she told me?

Because criminals lie, I told myself. If she had been guilty, she’d have lied about it. How was I supposed to know until I had the evidence.

The testimony of a dead man.

In my mind’s eye, Jimmy Noonan kept killing himself. The click of the trigger, the booming eruption of gunpowder, the slow motion disintegration of his head, like a popping balloon popping balloon full of water.

And then silence, except for my screaming and heaving and crying.

And then I see it again.

So I try looking at something else. The moment before he died.

I’m guilty of a lot of terrible things, he said just before he pulled the trigger, but Bob Konigsberg death ain’t one of them.

Click. Boom.


I’m guilty of a lot of terrible things, but Bob Konigsberg death ain’t one of them.

Jimmy Noonan had just confessed to one murder. He knew he was just seconds away from ending his life. Why would he deny killing Bob if had?

He wouldn’t.

I blinked and in my head, all the pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place and made a perfect picture.

Oh, god.


Click. Boom.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Christmas in September!

I returned home last night after a quick jaunt into New York City to find a big box waiting for me from Kensington Books. Contained therein, my comp copies of Jew-Jitsu: The Hebrew Hands of Fury, which officially goes on sale October 28!

Since it ain't really a book until you're holding the printed product in your hand, this is all very exciting. The finished book looks great, complete with photography by my old Weekly World News colleague Michael Simses (and starring another WWN alum, Michael Rovin as Rabbi Daniel Eliezer).

Hats off to the fine folks at Kensington Books, especially my editor Gary Goldstein, without whom this all wouldn't have been possible.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Not Ignoring You

I'm really not! But The Same Old Story, my 500-words a day novel, now stands at about 68,000 words (4,000 written just today; it speeds up when you're getting near the end) and I can see the big, bright light at the end of the tunnel, three, maybe four chapters away. I've gotten just a tad consumed, but I'll be back in the next few days with something piping hot and new from the novel. By then, I hope to have the complete first draft manuscript in the hands of a few trusted friends and readers as well as an agent.

In the meantime, the fifth installment of my bi-weekly Bookgasm.com column, Capes, Cowls & Costumes went up this morning, so please click on over there and have a look. This time around, I look at some novels based on British comic book characters.

Alrighty! Enough idle chit-chat...I'm goin' back in! Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hitler's Bellhop: The Essay

In July, I posted a "scene" from Hitler's Bellhop, my What If...? take on a Jerry Lewis-produced movie about Adolph Hitler. This was the essay I wrote to accompany the supposed script fragments of Jerry's rediscovered un-produced epic:

HITLER’S BELLHOP: The Lost Screenplay
© Paul Kupperberg

Late one evening in 1967, Jerry Lewis sat in the private projection room of his Beverly Hills home, screening for perhaps the one hundredth time, Charlie Chaplain’s classic The Great Dictator. With him was longtime friend, film historian and critic Mel Melman. As was always the case when he watched The Little Tramp at work, Melman later wrote, “he was mesmerized, his gaze locked upon the screen as he watched, no, absorbed Charlie’s antics. Though as different in their cinematic and comedic approaches as night and day, he’d always found inspiration in the work of his predecessor. He saw in Charlie’s pantomime, pathos, and overwhelming bathos a spark from which his own creative fires might be ignited. Not, please understand, as a theft of ideological parenthood, but as a conceptual springboard, if you will. It would not be unfair to say that Charlie was and is his spiritual mentor.

“When Chaplain’s scathing satire of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany ended,” Melman continued, “He turned to me, his eyes wide and sparkling in what, through our long years of personal and professional association I had come to recognize as the first blush of the Muse’s touch, and said, ‘Charlie has his Hitler film. I want mine!’”

Melman reported being shocked by this pronouncement. As a Jew, he was apprehensive about such a concept coming under the scrutiny of the Jerry’s somewhat broad comedic brush. Indeed, almost as a reflex, Melman expressed that concern as soon as the suggestion came out of Lewis’ mouth. The response, he recalls, was chilling, a classic example of Lewis’ legendary temper. “Through clenched teeth, he stared at me as though I was something he had found upon the sole of his shoe and repeated his first thought, biting off each word. ‘Charlie. Has. His. Hitler. Film. I. Want. Mine!’

“With that, he turned his back on me and left the screening room. That was the last time we ever spoke.”

Lewis’ “Hitler film” would turn out to be, at least in screenplay form, Hitler’s Bellhop. After leaving Melman that evening, Lewis retired to his study and in what he later reported to be “a white hot cauldron of creativity,” churned out the screenplay over the course of three days. In the middle of his famous seven picture deal with Paramount, he immediately brought the finished screenplay to the studio as his next picture. Sammy Waldinger, a friend of many years and head of production for Paramount, took a look at the title page and blanched.

“I’ll never forget that moment,” Waldinger said in a 1978 interview with Film Comment Magazine. “I was horrified, I mean physically in fear for my life at the very idea. He honestly thought this was a movie he should make. I asked him, ‘Is this a joke?’ and he gave me that look, that frozen reptile stare of his. ‘I’m serious, Sammy,’ he said, and he was. He sat in that chair for two hours, arguing with me. ‘It’s funny,’ he said. ‘It’s not funny,’ I said. ‘Hitler isn’t grist for the comedic mill.’ What about The Great Dictator, he wanted to know. Or Brooks? Mel was preparing The Producers then. Or To Be or Not to Be?

“But what he never seemed to grasp was that Chaplain aside, those movies weren’t about Hitler per se, but comedies dealing with those around Hitler, or in the case of The Producers, a satire on Broadway more than Hitler himself. He thought that this...screenplay of his fit that mold. ‘It’s not about Hitler. It’s about the Bellhop.’ Well, while we talked, or I should say argued, I was flipping through this thing. And here was Adolph Hitler, that monster, that beast, he should be rotting in Hell even as we speak, being treated like some kind of sitcom next-door-neighbor buffoon. A perfectly harmless and hapless goof who kept getting pushed into committing history’s worst atrocities through his clumsy Bellhop. This is funny?

“Well, finally, I put my foot down. ‘No way,’ I said. ‘This crap doesn’t get made by my studio, not as long as I’m in charge!’ Well, you know him. He said, ‘That can change, Sammy!’ and walked out with his screenplay. Needless to say, I’m still in charge of the studio, and we never made Hitler’s Bellhop. But that was the last time we ever spoke.”

Though a consistent money maker for the studio, Jerry Lewis never did find a sympathetic ear there. His contract did, however, contain a clause that allowed him to make one independent picture a year, and he decided that picture would be Hitler’s Bellhop.

Independent producer Frank Schlessinger, a friend with whom Lewis had made several pictures over the years, remembers the initial pitch meeting. “Kind of surreal, you know what I mean? He was really up about this picture and I think his enthusiasm must have been contagious or something, because by the end of the lunch, I was ready to hop on the bandwagon. Come to think of it, I don’t know if it was his enthusiasm or that fourth martini. At any rate, we shook on it. I was gonna produce Hitler’s Bellhop.”

With the handshake deal in place, Lewis went on a publicity blitz. Bella Leven, a writer for the Hollywood Reporter recalls an interview where Lewis went on at great lengths justifying his choice of subject matter. “Sure,” he said. “I could have played the role of Hitler myself, but who would believe it? You see, the public has in its mind a picture of me as the ‘little guy,’ the poor man trapped in a greater system that is beyond his ability to comprehend or control. That’s why I’ve had such luck in my pictures portraying the little cog in the big machine, if you will. The waiter, the bellhop, the sales clerk, the handyman, what have you. I am not believable as the father figure, or the man in command.

“That’s why I settled on the character of the Bellhop... nameless, you’ll notice, throughout the picture, because he is the every man, the little guy trapped under the boot of authority. You know, there’s a comedic conceit in Jewish humor, although it applies to all forms of humor, of the schlemiel and the schlimazel. The schlemiel is the klutz schnook who trips over his own shoelaces and knocks a bowl of soup out of the waiter’s hand. The schlimazel is the poor bastard on whose head the soup spills. I am the schlemiel. That is my persona. That is what my public expects.”

When Leven asked if the subject matter of Hitler’s Bellhop didn’t trivialize Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust, Lewis dismissed the charge. “Never! I would never do such thing. Rather, what I’ve done is expose these horrors to the light of ridicule and broad satire. How scary is the monster once you notice his zipper is open and his wee-wee is hanging out? I’ve opened Hitler’s zipper.” The reporter next questioned the historical value of the screenplay and asked how much research went into its creation. Lighting a cigarette with a three foot high flame from his gold lighter, Lewis smugly conceded that he had not invested any time in research before writing Hitler’s Bellhop. The reporter expressed his incredulity that he would attack such a subject without first researching the historic and psychological aspects of Hitler when Lewis cut him off.

“I’m a Jew,” Lewis snapped, his eyes as cold as ice. “There’s nothing about that momza Hitler that I don’t know here,” he snarled, thumping his fist over his heart. “In my kishkas!” At which point Lewis terminated the interview and never spoke to Leven again.

Eventually, commonsense (or sobriety) got the better of Frank Schlessinger and he backed out of the handshake deal with Lewis. “He was livid,” Schlessinger recalled with a chuckle. “He accused me of everything from censorship to anti-Semitism, but what could I do? I was never going to be able to get backing for this thing, but let’s say I did. Then what? I’m gonna have my name on a comedy about a cuddly Hitler who accidentally perpetrates some of humanity’s evilest acts? What, do I look nuts to you? He ranted, he raved, he badmouthed me up one side of Hollywood and down the other, he sicced I don’t know how many lawyers on me, but it was all just a lot of noise. Pretty soon, he got tired of it and went away.

“I heard he spent the next few years trying to find other backers, but by then the whole industry had heard about this insanity and nobody would touch it with a ten foot pole. Eventually, I guess he just shoved the screenplay in a drawer and forgot about it.” Schlessinger sighed and shook his head sadly. “That was the last time we ever spoke.”

Apparently, Hitler’s Bellhop was forgotten, the screenplay itself lost, until last year when Lewis sold his Beverly Hills home in order to relocate to Florida with his new wife. Old file cabinets left out on the street for trash collection were immediately descended upon by souvenir hunters, one of whom, Audrey R. Freun of the Santa Monica Boulevard movie memorabilia shop StarFinders, discovered the yellowed and crumpled partial manuscript wedged under one of the drawers. “I was very excited,” Ms. Freun said. “Hitler’s Bellhop is something of a Hollywood legend, but no one outside of a few studio honchos had ever read it. Even the remaining bits and pieces that I found are a revelation. Of course, being a huge, huge fan of his, I was doubly thrilled to be able to read some of this lost work. What was most incredible was finding the cast page, featuring his very own ‘dream team’ for the picture.

“We’d met several times,” Ms. Freun continued, “and I’ve sold him some pieces over the years, mostly Chaplainania. I thought we had a cordial relationship, so I called his office to let him know what I found. His secretary put me through to him, and I started to describe what I had and there was just silence on the line. I asked him if there was anything wrong. He said, ‘What are you trying to do? Humiliate me?’ I assured him that wasn’t my intent, but he launched into this diatribe about the people who hate him, who refuse to understand his creative genius and what all. He accused me of all these things and then slammed the phone down. That was the last time we ever spoke.”

Attempts to reach Jerry Lewis concerning the screenplay have met with a wall of silence. He refuses to respond to any questions about it, and friends and associates will not speak without Lewis’ permission, which, needless to say, is not forthcoming. Lewis has not spoken to this writer since 1983, when I published a less than glowing review of his low budget comeback comedy, Salad Bar.

Here, then, the last surviving fragments of Hitler’s Bellhop.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Warrior Matron, Part 6

The saga continues! Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 are here:

© Paul Kupperberg

She left early the next morning, before the sun came up. Khar pretended to be asleep and she pretended to believe him. She packed what little she would need, a bedroll, her cloak, a skin rug, a few extra pieces of sturdy, warm clothing, provisions and personal items.

And her sword, riding in a leather sheath belted to the saddle and close at hand. As well, she went through Khar’s workshop and picked out a mismatched set of daggers, one to strap to her forearm, another to snug in her boot.

Malasa’s last act brought her to the bed shared by Shartra and Vannga. She had promised she would not leave without first awakening them. She had lied, the thought of having to say farewell to her babies too overwhelming to even contemplate. Just looking at them, so innocent in sleep, tore at Malasa’s heart. It was best it be done this way, that Malasa step from this house and ride away before the sun could show she was gone. The tears and the pain would still be there, but this way she did not have to see them etched on the faces of her children, to carry their heartbreak forever with her.

She kissed them, lightly lest she wake them, and Shartra stirred only briefly to wipe away Malasa’s tear as it fell on her cheek.

* * *

She rode southwest, for the First City.

* * *

Kahna rode into a detachment of the king’s soldiers from the City of the Scorpion on the road to the First City.

“Ho, grandmother soldier,” a young man in armor called with laughter from horseback.

“Do you need someone to help lift your sword, little mother?” mocked another.

“Did your little one forget his bedroll, mama?” laughed a third.

“Where do you ride?” she demanded of an amused sergeant.

“To the First City, mother,” he told her. “Ride along with us if you will, but know it’s to battle we march.”

Kahna nodded. “I can take care of myself, boy.”

The sergeant barked out a laugh. “I’m sure you can, mother,” he said. “Just don’t get in the way if trouble breaks out.”

Kahna smiled. “I won’t be in the way.”

* * *

The Scorpion City’s line soon joined a contingent from the City of the Mists, itself already merged with a battalion from the City of the Mages.

Soon enough the warriors of all the cities knew about “mother,” the sword wielding old woman who raced to every new arrival demanding intelligence on the Lord High Mage of the Realm.

From a bearded archer, she learned Thalis was said to have embarked on a quest to recover an ancient and powerful talisman to aid in his war on the demons. A cavalryman who claimed to have fought off demon hoards with the sorcerer on the Plains of Drlyss claimed Thalis had been captured, most likely by the minions of Celepha. A lancer scoffed at the notion of a water goddesses’ reach extending to the dusty Drlyss plains, positing instead that Thalis had entered the Darkness to fight the evil at its heart, while still another bitterly insisted the Mage had turned traitor and joined with the demons.

Nothing but gossip and rumor, Kahna knew. In truth, what would the trooper in the line know about the comings and goings of the land’s mightiest sorcerer?

She would just have to wait until they made the First City.

Kahna would have her answer then.

* * *

Two days out from the First City, the road was choked with refugees fleeing the war wracked capitol. Families carrying what they could hold, merchants with hastily loaded wagons, all seeking to be away from the madness that the seat of the realm had become. The city on the edge of the sea was overrun with hellspawn, the Guard helpless before their number, the temples of the Twelve Gods aflame, the King enslaved...

Kahna’s stomach tensed at the thought of the chaos that awaited up the road, but it was in anticipation of the adventure, not fear. She grasped the hilt of the sword sheathed to her saddle and grinned.

This, she thought with grim satisfaction, was reason enough for living.

* * *

It was an army gathered from across the continent that surged toward the First City under increasingly darkening skies. But a day’s march from its gates, it was plain to see that a sorcerous storm sat over the city, black clouds thrashing the air with mystic lightning, lashing it with thick, sulphurous rains.

Kahna rode alongside cavalry from the City of the Mists, wrapped in a hooded cloak against the chill. She was so tired of the riding and of her thoughts swirling about the battle that lay ahead and the fate of Thalis, but of course that was all she could think on. She smiled, remembering a little game Shartra had once showed them. “Whatever you do,” the girl had told her parents, “do not think about a pink horse! Not one bit!” and for the rest of the day, all either Malasa or Khar could think of was that accursed pink horse.

The warrior priestess was thinking of the farm-wife’s pink horse when the first warning shouts went up and the alarm shrilled from the horns of the trumpeters. Kahna grasped her sword, reveling at the sound of steel singing against the leather as she pulled it free of the sheath. Only once it was in her hand and raised did she look around for the cause of the alarm.

They filled the sky from the west, creatures of all sizes and shapes, none of them even remotely human. With swords and spears, maces and clubs, talons and fangs, they swooped down on the Atlantean army, slashing and beating at the startled and scared soldiers. Screams of terror and pain melded with showers of blow and the metallic beat of weapons striking weapons and armor.

Kahna wheeled her horse around, bringing up the sword Malasa’s husband had made for her just in time to block a spear thrust at her by a winged and furred beast with blood red eyes. She smashed the jagged spear from its clawed paws and then slashed across its face. It screeched like a battered child and feel away from her, clutching its ruined face.

She charged forward, screaming so she could hear herself above the din of combat, hacking at whatever came in her path. A beast more bat than man leapt onto her horse behind her, trying to wrest Kahna from the saddle. Her mount reared up and Kahna clung to the reins with her sword hand while the other reached over her shoulder and clawed at the monster’s face.

Something small and leathery and smelling unimaginably foul barreled into her and unseated her from her horse. Kahna hit the ground but was almost instantly back on her feet, the small thing impaled on her sword. Arrows filled the air, hoofs trampled the ground around her, swords and spears flashed and man and demon alike screamed in horror and pain as they died.

Kahna did not think about death. At least not her own. Blood of different colors and pieces of things once living but that she could not identify flew about her. She was in battle again, her heart pounding in her chest, her breath ragged gasps torn from her throat with each thrust of her blood slicked blade. The creatures kept coming. The soldiers of Atlantis fought and died all about her.

She saw the sergeant from the Scorpion army who had warned her not to get in the way in the event of trouble fall as a creature as big as two men hacked him in two with a broadsword as wide a floor plank.

Kahna could tell her body had lived near fifty years, but the heaviness in her limbs did not slow her down. She was a warrior again and, as gore from the foes that fell before her sword splashed her face, she began to laugh.

Gods, she had missed this!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cat-Girl and the Black Queen, Part II

I ran the first five pages of this unpublished 1980s Archie Comics superhero story here. And now (click on the images to see them in a readable size), the next exciting episode of...

© Archie Comics

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hey, Sophie!

About a month ago, I ran an excerpt from Hey, Sophie!, a young adult novel I wrote for a client that will likely never see publication. Here's a bit more, taking place later in the story, with Sophie heading out into the bayou by herself to investigate the mysterious stranger who lives there:

© Stirred Water Studios

Chapter 8

Twenty minutes later, Sophie remembered why.

She would have sworn that she had taken the right channel, the one that led straight to the Dog Rock. She had followed the signs Juan had pointed out to her...well, at least she thought she had, but instead of the widening channel, the waterway began narrowing around her. Realizing she must have taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, Sophie spent several minutes trying to turn the small boat around in the tight waterway before she thought to just turn herself around and start paddling in the opposite direction.

Which brought her right back to where she started before she turned around: Lost!

Everywhere she looked looked exactly like everywhere else. Trees, gobs of hanging, mossy vines, water, rocks...nothing that even remotely resembled anything familiar. The air was hot, heavy and smelled like rotting cabbage. Creatures she couldn’t even imagine, and, frankly, didn’t want to, were shrieking and chattering away in the trees.

She was trying very hard not to panic. She may not know much but she knew panic was bad.

Something wet and heavy fell from an overhead branch and landed on the floor of the boat by her feet. She looked down.

It was a lizard.

Sophie shrieked.

So much for not panicking!

It was green and shiny, dotted with small brown spots and about eight inches long. And even though it was just sitting there at her feet looking up at her, its little tail swishing back and forth, its tiny tongue flicking in and out of its mouth, Sophie yanked her feet off the bottom of the boat. She held the paddle in her hands like a club, ready to fend off the little creature if it leapt for her throat.

“Scat!” she ordered.

As if understanding it was upsetting her, the lizard scurried back to the far end of the boat. It perched there, staring at her.

“Oh boy,” Sophie whispered. Now she was lost and under siege by a lizard. How much worse could it get?


Sophie froze. She had heard that sound before, the last time she was out here. And didn’t you think she would have learned her lesson after that?

The sound was far away. Maybe it was something else, a branch falling from a tree into the water. A creature jumping in for a quick dip. A...


...Flat-bottom boat being poled by T-John. Who was, of course, exactly who she came out here to find. But, funny, now that she’d found him, she suddenly wasn’t so anxious to confront him. Sophie looked around, trying to avoid the stare of the little lizard sitting opposite her in the boat. Now, she thought, that she’s in the middle of nowhere and the boogey man was getting closer and closer, this is when she starts believing Juan’s bayou lore. Okay, maybe T-John wasn’t some sort of immortal zombie or whatever, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be a psycho-swamp-killer with a normal lifespan. Coming out here was dumb. Dumber than dumb. Epically dumb.


No doubt about it. The sound was getting closer, and Sophie could also make out the first bit of toneless whistling drifting across the water.

It was time for a plan and Sophie formulated one in an instant:


She settled for instinct and plain old guesswork, picking a direction and starting to paddle as fast as she could while making the minimum amount of noise. What was she thinking, anyway? How was she supposed to interview someone who couldn’t speak? She didn’t know sign language or even if T-John knew how to write out his answers. Dumb!

She didn’t for a minute believe she’d be able to outrun T-John, but she hoped she could at least find a nice, safe hiding place until he passed by. Just don’t think about anything but paddling, she told herself. Just shut up and move!

Desperation made for a good teacher. Sophie was soon handling the pirogue like a pro, taking turns and investigating side channels for a safe place to duck. For a while, the rhythmic splash-thunk and atonal whistling almost faded from hearing—but either T-John was deliberately tracking her or she just kept blundering into his path. It always seemed to catch up with her again.

Sophie started to swing around into a narrow channel, but a rat-tailed gray opossum surged in ahead of her and began swimming in an endless circle, blocking her way in. Maybe it was protecting its turf or whatever, but Sophie had no desire to pick a fight with something that looked a lot like a house-cat sized rat. She finally had to back up and take another direction. Well, what difference did it make? She didn’t know where she was going anyway.

She raised her paddle from the water and listened. Chirping, screeching birds. Jabbering, screeching animals. Chittering insects. Croaking reptiles and amphibians. Your basic nature. Not a swamp-psycho to be heard.

That was good. Sophie could use a few minutes to rest and gather her wits. Maybe figure something out.

But no such luck. She heard a nearby splash and looked around, the paddle held at the ready to defend herself. A short distance away, something furry and gray, about the size of a large house cat, swam through the water towards the boat. A long pink and white tail trailed behind it. Her first thought was that it was some sort of giant mutant rat, but as soon as it climbed from the water onto the top of an exposed tree stump, she recognized it as an opossum, which, from the looks of it, could have been the same one as before. Could it be following her? For all she knew, opossum was Latin for “giant stalker bayou water rat.” The opossum shook the water from its fur and began a staring contest with her.

Sophie swallowed hard and the heard another sound, a rustling from above.

“Oh, please, oh, please,” Sophie groaned. “Let it not be vampire bats!”

She glanced up, quickly, in case it was something she didn’t want to see. But this was just a pelican. Another pelican. Was there something about her that attracted these big, white sea birds? It stretched its wings and clicked its big, pointed yellow bill at her.

“You wouldn’t happen to know how I can get home, would you?” she asked it.

The pelican squawked in response.

Sophie sat in the boat and looked from the gecko to the opossum to the pelican. They looked back, nobody moving for several moments, giving Sophie a definite case of the fremeers all her own.

“So,” she said to them, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you all here today.”


Sophie froze.

Splish! Splish! Splish!

Something else was in the water.

Something. Big! Coming closer.

Sophie looked left. All clear. She swiveled her head to the right. Ditto.


Behind her!

She didn’t want to look, but she knew she had to--if only to see what exactly it was that was going to be having her for a mid-day snack.

Slicing through the water like a torpedo about to sink a battleship she’d seen in old movies, Sophie saw the knobby-scaled back of an alligator speeding straight towards her. A white alligator! Juan said albino gators were good luck, but she wasn’t feeling so lucky as it closed on her faster than she could imagine, the massive, oblong head rising from the water, opening its jaws to display row after row of very long and very sharp teeth.

Sophie gasped, clutching the sides of the boat in both hands, hypnotized by the sight of what looked like hundreds of teeth coming to crunch down on the fragile little pirogue. She really, really wanted to scream; but try as she might, Sophie couldn’t make a sound.

She could only stare, frozen in fear.

And those big jaws kept getting closer until they filled her vision, now close enough that Sophie could have reached out and touched its snout.

Which was when the gator stopped and, with a big smile and a wink said in a friendly, deep voice, “Hey, Sophie.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Oooh! Super-Spooky, kids!

Back when my son was three or four years old, we were having breakfast at IHop with a friend and her daughter, Hannah, a couple of years older than Max. She was talking about their new house, an old 18th century farmhouse, saying that some of it was kind'a spooky, especially the "scare cases." What, I wanted to know was a "scare case"? Hannah looked at me like I was an idiot and said, "It's the thing you walk up and down on in the house."


But I thought my mishearing of "stair cases" would still make a great title for a YA horror series, a la R.L. Stine. Here, the sample chapter:

© Paul Kupperberg

chapter one

As the footsteps came nearer, Hannah Weaver slowly, silently drew in a deep breath and held it. She knew she was well hidden, behind the dusty old maroon velvet drapes hung over the attic window, shielded by piles of boxes, trunks, and a century’s worth of accumulated possessions. All she had to do was stand absolutely still, totally quiet, and she would be okay.

No one would find her. Not this time.

She heard boxes being moved on the other side of the attic, followed by voices in low whispers directing the search.

Behind Hannah, a heavy rain beat against the glass of the floor to ceiling attic window. Though it was mid-morning, the sky outside was as dark as dusk with heavy storm clouds that flashed occasional bursts of lightning and blasts of thunder. The wind slapped thick, heavy rain drops against the window and the roof, but didn’t cover the sound of her pursuers’ footsteps on the attic’s wide, creaking floorboards.

They were getting closer!

Hannah squeezed shut her eyes. Don’t move!, she thought frantically, willing herself to stay rock steady. She would be fine, as long as she stayed calm...

...And didn’t sneeze.

But without warning or build up, that’s exactly what she did, as if the dust from her grandmother’s discarded velvet drapes had jumped up her nose. She let out an explosive sneeze. Which was followed by the sound of explosive laughter from the other side of the drapes.

“Not funny,” fourteen year old Hannah Weaver called out, sniffling.

“Hey, I’m the one with a sense of humor,” responded her brother, Max, in between laughs. “That was funny.”

“Funny,” said Deena Drake, laughing and nodding in agreement.

“Funny,” agreed her giggling twin sister, Dana Drake.

“I must concur,” said Knox Dorfman with a smile that was as close as the thirteen year old ever came to laughter.

Hannah whipped aside the drape, releasing a cloud of dust to swirl around her head. “I think I’ve just decided we’re too old to play hide-and-seek,” she sniffled with as much dignity as possible. Which was precisely none when the newly released dust started tickling her nose and set her off on a fresh fit of sneezing.

“By the way, bless you,” said Max. “And what else are we going to do on a day like today?” The brown haired, blue eyed thirteen year old flopped down in a rattan rocking chair with just enough seat left to hold him. Like everything in the dim and dusty attic, the rocker had been discarded by some previous generation of Weavers, stretching back over a hundred years to Hannah and Max’s great-great-grandfather, Josiah Weaver, who had built the roomy old Victorian house in the upstate New York town of Old Witchaven. Weavers had lived in the house at 1326 Smathers Lane ever since, parents passing it on to their children across three centuries and five generations.

Hannah searched the pockets of her jeans for a tissue. “You never would’ve found me if I hadn’t sneezed,” she said.

The tall, thin, blonde, freckled face Deena rolled her eyes. “Oh, I’m so sure.”

“As if you haven’t been hiding in the same place since we were, like, six,” said Dana, finishing her twin’s sentence.

“No I don’t,” Hannah insisted, but Deena and Dana were right. Only this time, she had picked her same old hiding place because she was sure they would never think she would be lame enough to pick it again. Hannah and Max and their friends had grown up playing in and around this house, spending much of their time up here in the attic. It was, even after all these years, a fascinating place to explore, piled high with trunks and boxes holding every sort of treasure and junk from days gone by. Clothing from the 1880s could be found folded neatly in ancient steamer trunks bearing stickers from long defunct steamship lines and railroads, stacked next to cartons holding her father’s record collection from college, or the mildewing old comic books read by her grandfather when he had been a boy, or board games and children’s toys, from dented and chipped tin wind-up toys to plastic fast food restaurant premiums, that spanned the century.

A cluster of dressmaker’s dummies stood gathered in a corner, next to an old manually powered sewing machine and across from a collection of bicycles that looked as though they belonged in a museum. Old furniture, some plush and overstuffed, some wicker, others plain, unadorned wood or of varying styles that Hannah had glimpsed in old movies on television, was piled here and there, sometimes covered by sheets and old blankets, sometimes by nothing more than several decades of dust and cobwebs. A history of home electronics—from stately, hand-cranked Victrolas that looked like fancy furniture to early, bulky cabinet-style radios and televisions, through such “modern” devices as portable hi-fis and 8-track cassette players—could be assembled from the wide variety of models discarded here.

Bats and balls and fishing rods, golf clubs and croquet sets and rotting sleds and other sporting equipment—some for games none of them could figure out—was scattered everywhere. Dusty old paintings, portraits of severe looking men and delicate looking women, mingled with more modern abstract creations and framed family portraits of relatives long forgotten were stacked together against the walls. Three dried out and cracked leather saddles creaked from hooks driven into the roof beam, along with empty bird cages and flower hangers, watering cans, and old-time hand tools.

A ratty, moth-eaten moose head hung at an angle from a rusty nail. A collection of stuffed critters—raccoons and squirrels and annoyed looking owls and a single, sorry looking jack rabbit—that had belonged to a great-uncle and that always gave Hannah the creeps, was displayed in an old breakfront. Books were everywhere, turn of the century school books and modern-day bestsellers alike, shoved haphazardly in bookcases or in neatly tied bundles on the floor or atop furniture. There was something everywhere in the enormous attic, and always something else piled on top of it.

And there wasn’t an inch that Hannah, her brother and their friends hadn’t explored in their lifetime of rainy afternoons and snow days. The attic was a kid’s paradise, a combination playground and treasure trove of dress-up costumes, mysterious artifacts and entertainment. A dusty, decaying history of the Weavers in Old Witchaven that continued to be a safe, warm, comfortable refuge for the fifth generation of Weavers to occupy the great old house.

Max rocked slowly back and forth and yawned. “Well, there’s nothing as exciting as a rainy Sunday afternoon in Old Witchaven, is there?”

“Very little,” agreed Knox. “Although I’m told watching grass grow can also be quite stimulating.”

Hannah finished blowing her nose. “So, let’s do something. Anybody want to watch a video or something?”

“You get some new videos?” Dana asked.

Hannah shook her head.

“Then we’ve seen everything you’ve got, like, twice,” Deena sighed.

“Watch TV? Play a game? Listen to music?” Hannah suggested.




“Hit ourselves on the head with sticks?” Hannah said in exasperation, dropping to sit on the floor with her back against a warped oak wardrobe.

“Now there’s an idea,” Max said. “At least being unconscious would make the time pass faster.”

Max Weaver poked his toe under the latch of the oversized leather trunk he had been using as a footrest and it popped open.

“So you think of something,” Hannah huffed.

Max eased open the trunk with his sneaker. “I’m thinking,” he muttered.

“That would explain your look of pain,” Knox said. He glanced over at the trunk Max was fiddling with. “Find something?” he asked.

Max tilted his head, trying to get a better look at the contents of the trunk without having to move. “Doubt it,” he said. “Think this is all great-great-grandpa Josiah’s stuff. He had some cool vests in here, but.…” Max stopped suddenly. He narrowed his eyes and sat up, quickly yanking the trunk lid all the way open.

“What is it?” Hannah asked.

“Don’t know,” Max said slowly. “Looks like a book of some kind.”

“That’s funny,” Hannah said, as she stood up to join Max by the trunk. “I don’t remember any books in there.”

“Well, there’s one here now,” Max said. And there was, laying atop the collection of century old clothing. It was large, easily twice the size of regular novel, covered in a rich, soft looking textured black leather, its spine finished in a thick, blood-red leather decorated with strange, abstract symbols engraved into the material and gilded in gold. It looked like no book they had ever seen and, despite the fact that it had been packed away with one hundred year old clothing, it looked brand new.

Knox peered over Max’s shoulder at the book. “It’s beautiful,” the skinny thirteen year old breathed as he stared at the volume through his thick glasses.

“Where’d it, like, come from?” Deena wondered out loud.

Hannah shook her head. “Beats me. I’ve never seen it before, have you, Max?”

“Nuh-uh,” he said. “I’d remember this.”

“Why?” Dana asked. “I mean, it’s just one of, like, a million books up here.”

“No it’s not,” Knox said. “This one’s...different.”

Dana made a clucking sound. “You are all so brain damaged,” she said in exasperation. She reached past her sister and friends and took hold of the book, lifting it from the trunk. “It is so just a book! I...,” the twin started to say, but then gasped and let it fall from her fingers to back atop great-grandpa Josiah’s clothes.

“What?” Dana demanded.

“I don’t know,” Deena said and shuddered, rubbing the hand that had touched the black book back and forth over her jeans as if trying to wipe away something disgusting. “It’s all cold and clammy.”

Hannah reached out a hesitant finger. She wasn’t usually freaked out by the things that bothered her girl friends. She wasn’t afraid of bugs or spiders and, while they weren’t her favorite things, she had never been grossed out by frogs and snakes either. She was the one who could always be counted on to climb the highest tree to free a trapped kite, or crawl into the darkest, mustiest smelling crawl space to retrieve a lost ball. As far as those things went, Hannah Weaver did not scare easily.

So why did this old book make her so uneasy?

Trying to ignore her fear, Hannah touched her finger to the leather cover. Deena was right. It felt cold and...something. It wasn’t wet, but it wasn’t dry, either. It felt almost...

“No,” Hannah said quickly and jerked her hand away. She swung the lid of the trunk closed with a loud thud that made the others jump.

“What?” Max asked. He wasn’t used to seeing his sister rattled.

“Nothing,” Hannah said, her voice tight. “Nothing. I’m bored, that’s all. Come one, let’s do something, okay?”

“Sure,” Max said and the others agreed with him.

“Downstairs!” Hannah added.

“Yeah,” said Deena. She glanced nervously at the trunk and shuddered again.

“Whatever,” Dana said, acting as though nothing was wrong, but hurrying to the stairs that lead down from the attic, followed by Deena and Knox. Hannah and Max were right behind them.

“What the heck was that all about?” Max whispered to his sister as they started down the stairs.

“I told you. Nothing,” she said. She slapped at the light switch on the stairway wall and behind them, the attic went dark. She didn’t know how to tell her brother that the book hadn’t felt like dried out old leather.

It had felt like a living thing!

But that was ridiculous. It was just a book. A creepy, nasty old book, but just a book. She wanted to forget she had even had the thought.

But for the rest of the day, every time the house shook under a peal of thunder, Hannah remembered how the book had made her feel.

And in the attic, in the shadows under the eaves, behind an old rattan trunk full of great-aunt Betsy’s clothes, the darkness chuckled.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Weekly World News X

A little something I wrote for the paper in July 2005:

© Weekly World News

Nazareth, Israel–The subject matter of the text inscribed on several pieces of ancient parchment found in a millennia-old stone box buried in a yard in Nazareth was, at first, dismissed as nothing special. It wasn’t until an alert translator realized that this seemingly ordinary Aramaic text concerned no ordinary man.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said the awe-struck Ari Zakai, the University of Nazareth translator who made the historic discovery. “I realized I was holding in my hands nothing less than a copy of an invitation to the Bar mitzvah of Jesus.”

The Bar Mitzvah is the tradition religious ceremony celebrating the coming of age of a Jewish male, usually held around the time of a young man’s 13th birthday.

“Jesus—or Yeshua, which was His actual proper name in Hebrew, with Jesus being its rough Greek transliteration—was born in Nazareth about 6 B.C.E.,” explains Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin-Fisher, an authority on religious history and Weekly World News religion consultant. “Though there is little known concerning His early years, we always assumed that, like most Jews, Yeshua would have been have had a Bar mitzvah. Here, at last, we have proof positive.”

“The Bar mitzvah would have taken place, according to the modern calendar, in the year 7 A.D., which would translate to the year 3771 on the Hebrew calendar,” Rabbi Schmotkin-Fisher further explained. “Sometime in the Hebrew months of Kislev or Tevet, unless I miss my guess.”

Yeshua, or Jesus, of Nazareth grew up to be worshiped the world over as the son of God, the Messiah on whom an entire religion was based.

The small stone box was found by homeowner Chiam Plotnik while excavating for a swimming pool in his back yard in Nazareth, the birthplace of Jesus.

Mr. Plotnik said, “Around here, ancient artifacts are about as common as rocks, so I didn’t give it a second thought. Who knew this one was such a find?”

Among the several pieces of preserved parchment was a hand-written invitation inviting the recipient to “join the proud parents Miriam and Yosef (the Hebrew names of Mary and Joseph) in celebrating the Bar mitzvah of Yeshua ben Nazareth (or, Jesus of Nazareth).” Refreshments, it noted, would be served and entertainment provided by Acimah and His Seven Lyres.

“A particularly fascinating find was what appears to be a list of gifts presented the Bar mitzvah boy,” said Rabbi Schmotkin-Fisher. “In addition to sums of shekels, as the coin of the realm was then known, Yeshua received numerous other traditional gifts, including several Roman Savings Bonds of varying sums, a Star of David on a gold chain, a pocket sundial, at least 7 writing quills, and a brand-new carpentry set.”

Father Joseph Mario Spumdilini, an expert in ancient Aramaic writings asked to evaluate this archaeological find for Weekly World News, was particularly excited by one document in particular. “I’m calling this one ‘Jesus’ Thank You Note,’” he told Weekly World News.

“Roughly translated, it reads, ‘Dear Aunt Muskah, Thank you very much for the great carpentry set. I am looking forward to using it to build something very soon. Dad is also very excited, saying he hopes that maybe now I will follow him into the family business. Of course, that’s been the plan all along. Thank you.’ And it’s signed ‘Yeshua.’

“The historic value of having a document written in Jesus’ own hand...well, it’s beyond priceless. As are several fragments that contain what we assume are quotes from His Bar mitzvah speech, including what appear to be early versions of His later teachings, including ‘Don’t do stuff to people you don’t want them doing to you,’ ‘Maybe if we, you know, didn’t hate our enemies they wouldn’t have to be our enemies,’ and ‘If you let someone keep hitting you, they’ll probably get tired of it and eventually go away.’”

Father Spumdilini notes that it will require decades of study to understand how this find will impact Christianity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Son of 500 Words A Day

The Same Old Story, a mystery novel set in 1951 and starring a pulp and comic book writer whose father was a famous NYPD homicide detective, is moving right along (here, here, here, here and here) at way better than 500 words a day. The way things worked out, I was able to devote several full days to the project and, as a result, I've just crossed the 50,000 word mark, almost 30,000 words since I began this on August 16.

Don't misunderstand:
The Same Old Story is not about churning out a specific number of words to a schedule. They still have to be words I'm pleased with, or at least that I know I can work with to reshape and fix in the revision stage of the writing. If I wasn't happy with the quality of what I was writing, I wouldn't be producing the quantity I am. When something's not right, I can't go forward with the story until I've fixed whatever pothole it is I've run into. Anyway, I don't mean to get into the writing process; that's a whole other blog. Instead, some of the latest from the story, picking up after protagonist Max Wiser has taken a beating from two toughs asking tougher questions:

© Paul Kupperberg

Chapter 17/ DOCTOR NIGHT

I came to a couple of times, once with some old guy yelling in my face, again just as a couple of ambulance attendants were lifting me onto a stretcher, and then at various times during the mad dash to the hospital, catching incoherent snippets of conversation and weirdly drawn out sounds of wailing sirens and traffic. Fortunately, Saint Vincent’s was only a few blocks from where I had taken my beating, so I was on a table in the emergency room within ten minutes of being picked up.

The rest was a blur. I remember a nurse finding my wallet and saying she was going to call my next of kin. I was just conscious enough to stop her from calling my mother now, in the middle of the night, and get in touch with Uncle Mick instead. It seemed as though whole scenes shifted, like in a movie, with every blink of my eyes. All of a sudden I was gazing up at a giant glass eyeball, which I later realized was the X-ray machine taking pictures of my battered skull. Blink. I was in a white room. Not an operating room. The doctor and nurses aren’t wearing masks but they were gathered around me, doing things.

I was numb.

Blink. This time it was am operating room. A big plastic mask wielded by a man with a face that was a pair of black horn rims glasses surrounded by a green ball was looming over my face

Count backwards

so I did, fortilly-seven, ninety-two zillion

Blink. Uncle Mick’s big, goofy face was in front of me, his eyes black-ringed with worry and fatigue “How ya feelin’, kiddo?” and I croaked “Ma?” and he nodded. “She’s fine, lad. She’s downstairs getting’ a cuppa but she’s been here the whole time. Docs say”


Someone was wiping a cool, damp cloth across my forehead. It felt good. I didn’t even bother opening my eyes. “You awake, Mr. Wiser?” a woman asked me and I made a positive sound but I think I was lying because


I woke up with the sun in my eyes, a throbbing headache, and a belly that sent me into spasms of pain just from taking a deep breath.

Hospital bed. IV stand hooked to my arm, oxygen mask strapped to my face. A monitor that beeped along with my heart. A woman in white was by the window, her hands still on the drawstrings from opening the blinds that let in the sunlight that woke me up.

I blinked. I was awake. My swim in and out of consciousness was over. In spite of the pain, I was amazingly clear headed. I remembered every moment of the assault, from the first blow to the college students pretending to ignore the puke splattered alky in their path.

Where’s that bitch hid the money?

I remembered Tall asking the question. The beating beforehand was all just to soften me up for the question.

“Mr. Wiser?” the woman said. She was a nurse, of course, in white from head to toe and looking concerned and compassionate.

I nodded and tried to say yes but my throat was too dry to work.

“Don’t try to talk yet,” she said and bustled over to the bed, where she unhooked me from my oxygen mask and produced little chips of ice in a cup to moisten my mouth and throat from the nightstand.

“Suck on these for a few seconds,” she ordered. “You’ve been on oxygen for a while. It dries you out.”

As soon as I could work up enough spit to swallow I said, in a voice still rusty, “How am I?”

“You’re just fine. Dr. Young will be by in a little bit to explain everything. In the meantime, you just work on those ice chips and relax. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

Where’s that bitch hid the money?

Another “distraction”? I wasn’t even sure what money they were talking about: her split of the quarter of a million or Bob Konigsberg’s missing cash.

Who the hell was she hiding the money from and why did whoever they were think he knew enough about it to be worth beating up?

Dr. Young turned out to be the horn rim-wearing green beach ball, only without the green surgical cap and mask and the benefit of being semi-conscious, he was actually more of a wild-haired George S. Kaufman type with a long, horsy face and a toothy smile.

“Good morning. Max,” he said as he came into the room, trailing young men in white coats like a mama duck her duckling and speaking to the clipboard he was reading from. “You’re looking well this morning.”

“On paper, you mean?”

He glanced up from my medical chart and smiled. “And in person, as well.” He handed the clipboard to the nearest resident and said, “How are you feeling?”

“Depends. What day is it?”

He chuckled. “Saturday, 8:30 a.m. You’ve had a rather rough couple of days, but your prognosis is excellent.”

Dr. Young did a few tests, had me follow his finger with my eyes, squeeze his hands and various other things to prove my brain hadn’t been too badly scrambled.

I tried to adjust myself, gingerly, on the bed, grimacing from the effort. “What was, oh, jeez, what was the damage?”

“Oh, on the surface lots of cuts and bruises. A concussion, about a fifteen stitches all told to close up some gashes in your scalp and two broken ribs. On the more serious side, whoever did this did damage inside. I had to go in and sew up your spleen, which took care of that problem. As surgeries go, this one was relatively straight forward. After you’ve healed up, you shouldn’t have any problems from any of your wounds.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Warrior Matron, Part 5

Still more from this unpublished short story. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 are here:

© Paul Kupperberg

When she rode up to the barn Khar was there to help her with the horse.

He smiled but his eyes were frightened and bloodshot. “I wondered if you were coming home,” he said with a nervous laugh.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He hung up the saddle and returned with a bucket of feed. He pretended to busy himself with that while Malasa made busy brushing the horse.

“The girls,” he said at last. “They were worried, Malasa.”

“I didn’t mean to be a bother to anyone,” she said, softly. “This is nothing, nothing I’ve planned, Khar.”

His head jerked in her direction. “What didn’t you plan?”

She reached into her saddlebag and brought out the cloth wrapped ingot. She handed it to Khar, who took it as though afraid it was something that could hurt him.

He unwrapped the package. “Steel?” he asked, blinking in confusion.

“Yes,” she said. “To make a sword.”

He blinked several more times. “Why do I need a sword?”

“It is for me, Khar,” she explained, unable to look him in the eyes. “I will need it for the journey I have to make.”

Malasa’s heart ached. Poor Khar was so bewildered, as though asked to decide a question of life and death in a language he did not speak.

“Malasa,” he stammered. “I don’t understand.”

She touched his cheek. “I’m not sure I do either, Khar,” she said. “But I was wrong about the eclipse. It was a...calling, a summoning. I don’t know where it will take me or even why I must go...I just know that I must.”

She told him only a part of the truth. And he, believer in omens, worshipper of a pantheon of gods that watched over their human charges, could accept that a celestial event was a divine summons for his middle-aged wife to embark on a quest with a sword at her side.

Khar took a deep breath. “But...why you, Malasa?”

Because, she thought, I am suddenly, thirty years after we wed, a different woman. Because that woman loves another, an immortal warrior to whom she was bound, heart and soul, through as many ages and lives as it took until they were united for eternity.

But she only shrugged in helplessness and began to cry. “Because of who I am,” she said and let him hold her until they both stopped crying, some time later.

* * *

She listened to the ring of Khar’s hammer on the steel he was fashioning, day by day, into a sword. He explained how the steel had to be shaped and turned repeatedly, heated and hammered over and over onto itself into near invisibly thin layers. It was a long process, to be done right, he said. It was to be the finest blade he had ever forged, he told her. Malasa would ride off with a weapon formed with skill and finished with love, to ward off any evil she might encounter on her journey.

Khar was in no hurry to complete the task.

She, waiting nervously, let him work at his own speed.

* * *

Vannga asked, “Can’t I go with you, mama?”

She was standing with her back to the child. The little girl’s words froze her. “No,” she said at last, in as calm and as reasonable a voice as she could manage. “Mama has to do this alone, baby.”

“I wouldn’t be any trouble, I promise,” the little girl said in a voice choking with sadness.

“I know you wouldn’t, Vannga,” she said. “But I can’t take you with me.”

“When will you come back?”

The question came as a whisper, the voice of a heart broken child. She shuddered, Kahna fighting desperately to maintain control of Malasa’s emotions.

“As soon as I can, Vannga,” she said. “Mama will come home as soon as she’s able.”

* * *

From a passing peddler whose horse Khar shoed, they learned that the First City had come under siege by demonic forces from the Darkness. The other Cities were rallying to her defense, but this was really a matter for the mages, not men.

“What of Thalis?” she asked, somewhat too eagerly.

The peddler did not know, only that the Lord High Mage had not yet made his presence known on the battlefield, last news that had reached him.

“What do you know of this Thalis?” Khar asked.

She said, “He’s the mightiest sorcerer in the realm. He’s no doubt in trouble...again, and as usual, when he’s needed most.”

“I’d say you know too much,” he said, surprised.

“Khar,” she said.

“Damn it, woman, I’ve been more tolerant than any man alive. You say you’ve been summoned and I do not question you. You come home in need of a sword and I make one. You claim a mission and I bid you go, no matter with deepest reluctance. But what do you give me in return? You tell me nothing and when I ask questions you reply with half answers.”

She shrugged. “I don’t have all the answers yet myself,” she said.

He shook his head. “I don’t believe you.”

* * *

The next day, Khar gave her the sword. It was, she thought, the most beautiful thing she had seen in this life. Its blade, as long as her arm, was wide and tapered from the middle down to double--edged sharpness. Khar had polished it until it gleamed like the sun and wrapped the handle under the wide guard with firm leather straps.

She took the sword, scarcely breathing, folding her hand around the hilt and slowly, hesitantly, waved it before her. It felt...Malasa had never in her life held a sword, yet this felt right. Its weight was familiar in her grasp, it balanced in her fist like an extension of her arm. She grew bolder in her movements, slashing the air, thrusting at imagined foes, parrying phantom jabs. And she laughed, loud and with bloodthirsty pleasure, the way Kahna would do in combat.

She would go armed into battle, in search of Thalis, to save him again so that he could save Atlantis in turn. It had always seemed a sad thing to her that the one man upon whose power Atlantis’ continued existence relied was so often at the brink of personal catastrophe.

Wordlessly, Khar left her to the swordplay. She did not see him leave.

Friday, September 12, 2008

My 50th Post!

To celebrate, go on over and take a look at the latest installment of Capes, Cowls & Costumes, my column on Bookgasm.com. It's easy, fun...and free!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cat-Girl and the Black Queen

Nowadays I'm not sure who comics are for, but they used to be for kids. A long time ago, during one of their periodic attempts to do superhero comics--late 70s, early 80s--I did a job for Archie Comics, re-writing a script for a character called Cat-Girl. I don't recall who wrote the script originally nor have a clue where Cat-Woman came from (she might've been dredged up from a 1940s Sheena-imitator character), but the story was drawn by the late, great Pat Boyette. Boyette was an actor, screenwriter and TV news anchorman who began drawing comics in the 1960s, doing the bulk of his work for Charlton Comics, the "Little Comics Company That Could." His style was very quirky but I always loved it. Too bad Archie cancelled their superhero line before this story could see print. It's 22-pages long, so I'll post a chunk at a time, every week. As always, click on an image to view it at a readable size:

© Archie Comics

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Weekly World News IX

A story I wrote for the paper in July 2005:

© Weekly World News

VATICAN CITY – What do the Catholic Church and your local supermarket have in common?

To combat falling church attendance, the new papacy has taken a cue from American supermarkets and drug stores by issuing the new Indulgence-Points Card to all church-goers.

“The concept is very simple,” Cardinal John Joseph “Dwayne” Reed told the Weekly World News. “Every time one of the flock attends a church service, they swipe their Indulgence-Points card through the card readers on the collection plate and receive valuable points good towards getting into heaven.”

The idea was first put forth during a special conclave with the newly elected Pope to discuss falling church attendance around the world.

“The numbers were starting to get embarrassing,” a monsignor who wished to remain anonymous told us. “Attendance has been falling by double digits every year. The faithful were draining away from services faster than altar wine at a Dublin parish house. We were desperate to staunch the flow.”

“The pontiff was behind the idea right from the start,” said Bishop Doyle Dane, the man of the clothe in charge of the Indulgence-Points program. “He just that day had gotten $5 back on his purchases at the drugstore, so he knew the value of a good idea.”

“It’s shaping up to be a boffo promotion,” Bishop Dane continued. “With over one billion churchgoers in the world, we’ve so far distributed almost 220 million cards that have racked up over 82 trillion indulgence-points in the first two months alone.”

“Heaven will be filled with a host of value conscious believers,” said Father Joseph Mario Spumdilini, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Rationality, one of the churches used to test market the Indulgence-Points Card. He was surprised at how effective the program was. “We issued them to the congregation and practically everyone has been using them since.”

The Indulgence-Points Card is named for a practice from the Middle Ages whereby the wealthy would pay the Church to do good works in their names rather than actually repent for their sins. “Of course, you don’t have to be wealthy to use the Card,” Cardinal Reed is quick to point out. “All you have to do is show up and swipe your card. Anyone, rich or poor can do it.”

“We expect to add special features as we go along,” said Bishop Dane. “Like extra points for attending special masses, confirmations and baptisms. And for every Christmas mass a cardholder attends, we’ll be giving out a $5 gift certificate to Toys ‘R’ Fun.” The bishop winked and smiled. “Cross-promotion, my friend. Gotta give the public value for their efforts, y’know.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Warrior Matron, Part 4

More from this unpublished short story. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 are here:

© Paul Kupperberg

Malasa wasn’t hungry but she knew she needed to eat, so Kahna sought out a fondly remembered inn at the foot of King’s Street. She was surprised and delighted to find the Star and Arrow yet stood, its weathered doors open for business.

She stepped inside, her eyes slowly adjusting to the dim, smoky light. It was as she remembered, a cramped hole in the wall crowded with battered tables and benches at which drank and ate and sang and cursed a throng of the cream of Atlantean scum. Thalis, Kahna remembered with a smile, had a fondness for the commonest of the common and their lowly diversions. He held no love for his fellow aristocrats and found those of noble birth to be royal bores. But give him a workingman’s inn, a flagon of cheap ale and the company of soldiers and laborers and he was content. She suspected he had consorted with the ladies of questionable repute who frequented these places as well. But only before he found Kahna. After that, there were no others in his bed or in his heart.

At least until she had died.

Malasa found a vacant place at a table in the back of the inn. The innkeeper slapped a meal before her of some manner of meat and a slab of black bread on a dented tin plate that Kahna might well had eaten from in centuries past. She called for a draught of whatever had been in the most recently opened cask, and let her shoulders slump back against the wall and closed her eyes.

“Evenin darlin,” a voice croaked near her ear.

Malasa opened her eyes and found herself looking into a scarred and twisted face. She gasped, bolting upright. The face stared at her, unblinking, expectant, then moved closer.

“I’ll be joinin you, then,” he said and squeezed onto the bench beside her. She could smell him, rank and foul like the barnyard in the heat of the sun. He leered at her. “If you’ll not be mindin.”

“I do,” she whispered, afraid. All of a sudden, Malasa did not know what had come over her. What had possessed her to come in a place like this, alone? She was a farmer woman, a mother. She did not belong here.

He reached across her, letting a gnarled hand brush against her breast, for the bread on her plate. “Ahh, be nice to old Wylk,” he said. He brought the hard crust to his mouth. “By Crghas, I swear old Wylk’ll be nice to you.” He laughed, a wet, raspy and horrible sound that made Malasa shudder and Kahna angry.

Wylk cupped her face in his coarse hand. “What say ye, woman?”

“What do I say?” Malasa’s face twisted into a snarl as her hand closed around the handle of the knife on the table before her. Before she knew what she was doing, Kahna had brought it up and pressed the dull but still effective blade against his throat.

“I say,” she hissed, “I know many ways to kill and I’ve never minded employing any of them.”

Wylk screamed, throwing himself back off the bench. He landed, sprawled on his ass and reaching for the spot of blood on his that marked where she had nicked him. She stood and held the knife for all to see. “Anything else, little man?”

Wylk scrambled to his feet, his eyes never leaving the blade, and scurried away from her.

No one else bothered her for the rest of her meal.

* * *

Malasa stopped at a stall lighted by torches and displaying bricks of metal of different weights and hues on a silk covered counter. She ran her fingers over the shiny smooth surfaces.

“What do you seek, madame?” the one-eyed proprietor asked.

“Steel,” she said.

He nodded and asked, “Steel for cookware?”

“For a sword,” Kahna told him. “Your finest quality.”

The one-eyed man bowed his head in acknowledgement and went to the rear of his stall. He returned several moments later, a silvery bright steel ingot dancing with the light of the torches.

“My finest,” he said in a voice as smooth as his wares. “Strong, guaranteed to hold an edge.”

Kahna nodded.

“If I may,” he continued, “I could recommend a swordsmith of some skill who could craft a fine weapon from such a....”

“My husband is a smith,” she said, wondering who was speaking.

The one-eyed man said, “Of course.”

* * *

Malasa slept in the hay of her husband’s brother’s stables and rode out at first light. The block of steel was wrapped in oilcloth and stowed safely in her saddlebag.

Midway through her journey, her horse plodding without guidance along the westward road, she understood what that piece of steel meant. It was her decision. The moment Kahna awoke in her mind, she knew she would have to make the choice.

Malasa or Kahna.

Wife of a country smith or consort and companion of the Lord of the House of Ghehan, Highest Priest of the Worship, Lord High Mage of Atlantis and the First City, Counselor to the King of the Twelve Houses.

Kahna could not see that there had really been any choice at all.

Monday, September 8, 2008

500 Words A Day, Continued

Progress on The Same Old Story (here, here, here and here) continues at a steady pace, with the word count up to 45,000 or so. The Same Old Story is a mystery set in the early-1950s whose protagonist is a pulp and comic book writer. Part of the conceit of the novel is that chapters of the fictionalized version (starring his pulp character, NYPD homicide detective King Solomon, who is based on his father) of the mystery our hero, Max Wiser, is investigating are mixed in with the "real" story. Here's one of the "make believe" chapters:

© Paul Kupperberg

The boss obviously didn’t believe in wasting his money on offices to impress visitors, or cockroaches for that matter. Apex Publications was about as bare bones as an operation got, walls painted institutional green, desks and chairs from an office surplus house and filing cabinets, none of whose drawers could any longer close properly. Dennis Arnold, president and publisher of Apex Publications, sat in his little ten foot by ten foor office with a single window overlooking the airshaft. He appeared to King Solomon to be a very practical man, the kind who went around shutting off lights and retrieving paperclips from the trash cans after everyone had gone home at night.

He also seemed fairly well shook by the death of Ray Koening.

“I bought Raymond’s very first stories, when he was just a kid, still in high school,” Arnold said, shaking his head and staring at his desktop as though the riot of papers and comic books spread across its surface held some secret, if only he could dig it out of the chaos.

“Would you say you were friends?” the King said.

“Friends, with Raymond?” Denny Arnold asked, almost surprised by the question. He smiled sadly. “I suppose as much as he was capable of having a friend, I would be it. He came to me for advise and help several times on a personal matter.”

“Would that have been his commitments to Stony Hill?”

The round little man shrugged and met the King’s eyes. “What difference does it make now? Does it have a bearing on the reason he’s dead? I thought he fell from a train.”

“So he did,” King Solomon said. “But the question remains, why did he fall? Mr. Koenig was not popular among his peers…”

Denny Arnold sat forward. “That’s nonsense. Sure, he was difficult to get along with, but everyone respected him.”

“I’ve spoken to a few of his fellow writers. The nicest thing any of them had to say was that he was always clean.”

“Well, there was some jealousy at work. Raymond rose very quickly to the top of his profession and I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about that attitude of his, like he believed he deserved special treatment. And maybe he did. He was a natural born storyteller, very original and prolific. Back when Apex first started publishing, he was writing most of our output. Eventually, he was offered work from other publishers at a higher rate of pay than we could afford to match and we lost his full-time services.”

“He had a check for seventy dollars from Apex in his wallet, dated two days before his death.”

The little publisher smiled. “Raymond was under an exclusive contract with Dynamic Comics, but he still wrote for me sometimes. For old time sake.”

“And extra cash?”

“I was just happy to have him writing for me,” he said with an innocent shrug.

“Why did he need the money, Mr. Arnold?”

“How should I know, detective? As I said, Raymond was very forthcoming about his personal life.”

“I understand he liked women,” the King said.

“So?” Shrug. “So do I?”

“Other than your wife.”

Arnold heaved a sigh into the air and shook his head. “No. Now Raymond, on the other hand...”

“Any woman who might have gotten him killed?”

The little man blinked in surprise. “Dear lord, I can’t imagine such a thing. I mean, doesn’t that only happen in movies or our comic books?”

“You’d be surprised, sir.”

“Well, no. He ran around with all sorts of women, but no one actually dangerous. Actresses, receptionists, secretaries, airline stewardesses. He liked gals who were easy on the eye,” Arnold said. “He may have made up stories about them, for his own reputation, but he stayed far away from trouble. “

“Was he seeing anyone you know about?”

Arnold paused. “Well...”

The King smiled. “It’s okay to tell me, Mr. Arnold. I’m the police.”

“I know, Inspector. I’m sorry...it’s just that I’d hate to involve an innocent party in something like this.”

“If they’re innocent, there’s no harm in your giving me the name.”

“Yes...well, one of our editors, a young woman named Sandra Daniels. I’ve heard rumors she and Raymond have been seeing one another recently. I don’t know how serious they were, but knowing him, I’d say not very.”

“What can you tell me about Miss Daniels?”

“Nothing much to tell. She’s in her early thirties, single, very friendly and efficient. I hired her about six years ago as an assistant and she was so good I fired the guy I had hired her to assist and gave her his job three years later.”

“Is Miss Daniels by any chance a redhead?”

“No, sir. She’s a blond.”

The King nodded. “Tell me, Mr. Arnold, do you think Mr. Koenig’s reputation was deserved? I’m getting the sense he was a bit of a talker.”

“He liked to talk tough,” Arnold said. “But talk was all he was. He was no hero.”

“Puffed himself up, did he?”

“I’ll say. He had more fight stories than Lardner but I’ll bet you can count on two fingers the number of times that guy threw a punch as an adult. And probably wound up on his back both times. You could tell. He was a flincher?”

King Solomon nodded.

“You know the type, right? Gives it away right from the get-go, flinches when you put out your hand to shake hello.” He stopped and chuckled at a thought. “Raymond had this scar on his right cheek, about three inches long. For years he’s been telling everyone who’ll listen that he got it in a duel with some Baron Von Humphf-humphf or other in Austria. Big duel, honor of a lady, the countryside at dawn, two men and their swords, the whole nine yards. You didn’t ask about it, he’d point it out somehow, ‘Whenever my dueling scar itches like this, I know it’s going to rain.’

“Anyway, he had this story of that duel, sounded like a scene from the Three Musketeers. He’s slashed, bleeding, first blood to the baron, but the sight of blood makes the blackguard overconfident and Raymond takes advantage and tags the guy in the shoulder, the guy concedes, Raymond’s the hero. The scar’s his badge of honor.”

The King smiled. “’Blackguard’?”

“What can I tell you, he talked that way. So, the whole world knows about his dueling scar. One day, I stop by his apartment to pick up some scripts on my way downtown, who opens the door but his mama, old lady Koenig herself! Raymond’s not home, but he left the scripts for me and Mrs. Koenig invites me in for a cup of coffee. She’s visiting for a few days, she lives in Ohio somewhere, Cincinnati? Cleveland? Anyway, she lives in Ohio now with Bob’s older sister, Ilsa, who’s apparently not in the best of health. So Mrs. Koenig is so happy to meet one of Raymond’s colleagues, Raymond this and Raymond that. Lovely woman. Anyway, over coffee and strudel, I make a passing reference to his dueling scar. Mrs. Koenig seemed to find it amusing when I called it that, although she was quick to point out that it wasn’t funny at the time. Seems as a boy in the Bronx, Raymond was pretending a discarded automobile radio antenna was a sword, slashing it around in front of the mirror when it whipped back into his face and cut his cheek. He was never, she added, terribly adept at physical activities, but he did excel at the cerebral.”

“She talk that way too?”

“Like mother, like son.”

The King drummed his fingers on his knee. The picture he was putting together of Raymond Koenig was not a pretty one, but nothing so ugly as to suggest a motive for murder.

“Tell me, sir,” he said, “were you the only publisher for whom Mr. Koenig was writing, in violation of his contract with Dynamic Comics?”

“Oh, I doubt it. Raymond was very, very prolific. He could bang out a six-pager over lunch. You want to have seen something amazing, watch him type! He had these long, slender fingers, like a piano player’s, and he made a typewriter sound like a machinegun. I once saw him type something on one of those new IBM electric typewriters...my hand to the Almighty, he typed so fast that the machine kept going for a full five seconds after he stopped, catching up with him. However many pages of story a week his contract called for, I’d bet Raymond could produce double it. He knew people all over town who were happy to buy from him and keep quiet about it. Not that it really mattered. Everybody knows everybody else’s business in comics anyway. It’s a small community, Inspector, and these guys are all yentas.”

“Didn’t sound like Mr. Koenig was doing so bad for a man so unpopular.”

Denny Arnold shuffled through the papers on his desk. “He was a bit of a mad genius. People cut some slack for people like him.” When he looked up, his eyes were wet. “I think I’m actually gonna miss him. Who knew?”