Thursday, September 29, 2011

I’ve written a new story for Richard Leider’s anthology, Hellfire Lounge 3: Jinn Rummy, published by Marietta Publishing, currently scheduled for Summer 2012 publication.

The theme is the jinn, or genies, and I went back to a character I had used in a previous story (which originally appeared in Moonstone Publishing’s Vampires: Dracula and the Undead Legions, and is available in my eBook, In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories on, Leo Persky, a.k.a Terrence Strange, intrepid reporter for the tabloid newspaper, Weekly World News.

Here’s the first 1400 words or so, which will either whet your appetite or confirm your worst fears...
Vodka Martini, Straight Up, Hold the Jinn

The first thing you’ve got to know is, I never intended to let this particular genie out of the bottle.
The second is, I’m not using that expression colloquially.
My name is Strange. Terrence Strange...which might mean something to you if you happen to be a reader of the supermarket tabloid, Weekly World News. If, on the other hand, you only know me from around the neighborhood supermarket near my West Twenty-Seventh Street residential hotel, then you would likely call me Persky. Or maybe even Leo, if I didn’t get on your nerves. As in Leo Persky. Age forty-seven. Five foot seven, one hundred and forty-two pounds of bespectacled, balding ink-stained wretch, or what the world calls a reporter. Of course, the ink stains are old, left over from an early age; nowadays I used a computer.
I’m called Strange for a lot of reasons, but the one that matters is that it’s my nom de plume, or pseudonym for those who prefer Latin over French, not to mention a family legacy. Most people know the News from casual perusals at the checkout lines at Ralph’s, Safeway, 7-11, and other fine retail establishments. There’s usually a little smirk on their faces as they flip through the stories of presidential consultations with extraterrestrial envoys and haunted toasters terrorizing a Cleveland suburb. You’re probably one of the smirkers, the ninety-eight percent or so of the thinking world who think we make this stuff up. But it helps people to believe that. I mean, how well would you sleep if you knew that the only thing that had driven back an invasion of the Pacific Northwest by a subterranean civilization of radioactive mole people was their genetic aversion to frothy coffee drinks?
We report the news, you decide.
Whatever gets you through the night.
What gets me through most nights is the History Channel and vodka. Which is not to say I’m addicted. I can turn off the TV, even in the middle of a documentary on Hitler’s Bunker (especially the ones that don’t even mention the time machine or der Fuhrer and his new bride’s attempt to escape into the future), and I’ve even been known to leave a bottle with some vodka in it. Not that you care about my “oh, the things I’ve seen!” rationalization to overdo it and treat my body like a temple to overconsumption and abuse. Werewolves and vampires, demons from hell, hideous mutations of science and nature, aliens whose concept of humanity reflected ours of the world’s bovine population, etcetera, etcetera, so on and so forth. It made great copy but didn’t do much for one’s psyche. Remember earlier I asked how well you’d sleep if you knew what was really going on? Well, I know, and the answer is: Not well.
But drinking alone in your room is bad. Standing up in front of a room full of strangers drinking bad coffee in a church basement and saying, “Hi, my name is Leo and I’m an alcoholic” bad. So I didn’t. I don’t even keep a bottle in a room. Sure, most drinking establishments closed at some point in the darkest of the dark night, but others don’t. Seeing as how I live more or less in the center of the universe as a resident of Manhattan Island, finding a drop to drink was seldom a problem at any hour.
The hour on the night in question happened to be three thirty-three in the ante meridiem. I had spent the previous four hours in my bed on the fourteenth floor of the Saint Stanislaw Hotel alternately tossing, turning, getting up to pee, watching TV, reading, peeing again, then trying to switch things up and make it interesting by turning first before I tossed, getting up somewhere in between to pee some more. But I knew no matter what I did, sleep was not in my immediate future.
I had spent the last five days on the road, on the trail of a serial killer working its way through the Midwest. My choice of pronoun is deliberate; my killer was neither a he nor a she, and not in an interesting Lifetime network ode to transgendered choice kind of way. This one wasn’t even human, but some entity from an alternate dimensional plane which could wear humans like a skin after consuming our tasty innards. Thirty-eight empty sacks of human flesh were found scattered across eleven states before some national crime computer finally got its algorithm in gear and put two and two together.
A tip from an FBI insider to my editor, the fabulous and scary Rob Berger, sent me scampering westward in time to almost become victim number forty-six. That I didn’t was only because of the dumbest of luck (the only sort I ever have, and thank goodness for that) and a conveniently placed chemical tanker truck bearing a yellow number four on its N.F.P.A. I.D. That’s the National Fire Prevention Association’s way of warning that this particular tanker carried materials capable of detonation and/or explosive decomposition or reaction at normal temperature and pressure. I made it my business to memorize their warning system and symbols. I have needed, on more than one occasion, something blown up or incinerated on a moments notice. Propane tanks available at every hardware, convenience, and big box store across the country were also convenient. It shouldn’t be any surprise how many of the icky things, natural and supernatural alike, are vulnerable to fire.
But that was all the boring “why” of my situation. All that really mattered was, I couldn’t sleep. So I finally got up, got dressed, and went out to a place I knew be open for an insomniac to grab a few belts to help rock himself to sleep.
Gentrification had found my neighborhood, but side streets of squalor managed to slip past the of architects imaginations and retained the previous century’s accumulation of filth and grime. The stately but hardly saintly Saint Stanislaw Hotel stood smack dab in the middle of one such block. It had opened its doors on April 14, 1912, the same day the Titanic was struck by a U.F.O. two hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The fortunes of the old place sank about as quickly as the big boat. Most of its existence had been as a low rent residential hotel, but make no mistake, transients, as the hand painted sign hanging out front assured passersby, are welcome.
The Saint Stanislaw shared the dark little stretch between two major north/south Manhattan thoroughfares with a parking lot and a regularly rotating roster of storefronts for rent. A few perennials seemed to survive all economic conditions. There was Ralph’s Chinese Hand Laundry, where I send my shirts to be hand ruined, Koskiosko’s Kosher Kounter (Koskiosko’s ham and cheese on Challah with a kosher dill and a bag of chips is a delight and a steal at $3.99), three Korean nail parlors (Lee’s Sunshine Happy Rainbow Nails, the Original Lee’s Rainbow Sunshine Happy Nails, and Senior Lee’s Original Lee’s Happy Happy Double Rainbow Nail Spa), a shop selling typewriter ribbons (I don’t know to whom), a plumbing supply store open only to the trade, and two taverns, the Chelsea Inn and the aptly named Bucket of Blood (West), one on either side of an old upholstery shop that had been gated and its windows painted black since around the first time Gerald Ford tripped coming off of Air Force One. The Inn and the Bucket, both owned by the same dubious gent whose name appeared on the liquor licenses, closed at normal hours. But once the lights went off in the two licensed joints, they were switched on in the Black Hole, the unofficial name given the barebones afterhours drinking hole in the gated store that filled the hours when it was otherwise illegal to sell alcohol.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I'm currently writing a novella for Ron Fortier's Airship27 based on the 1930s pulp magazine character, The Crimson Mask. Here's the opening section of a little something I like to call...

The Crimson Mask and the Medicine Man

The first shot at 3:43 a.m. was easily mistaken for a backfiring truck.

Patrolman Johnny “Potsy” O’Connor happened to be glancing down at his pocket watch when he heard it. The sound did not alarm him, but it made him stop in his tracks for a moment and cock an ear. Backfire it well may be, the twenty-two-year veteran of walking a beat knew, but in Little Italy, the home turf of too many mobsters and their little fiefdoms and rival “social clubs” it could just as easily be a gun. The Italians liked nothing better than settling their scores with bullets and brass knuckles, O’Connor thought. Not like the Irish, who at least had the courtesy to sit down for a drink before commencing to pummeling one another.
He listened for a full ten seconds and when there was no follow-up shots or screams or shouts, the officer nodded in satisfaction and resumed his solitary late night stroll down Mulberry Street. Potsy O’Connor knew he had been put on the graveyard shift as a punishment for mouthing off to the idiot young shift sergeant whose father had friends high places, but he had been surprised to discover he liked the quiet and solitude of the night. Sure, the shift had a few frantic hours, from midnight until the bars and clubs closed, but mostly it was a whole lot of nothing besides rattling doorknobs, rousting drunks and bums out of doorways, and the occasional domestic call. Every once in a while, some knucklehead burglarized a place, but unless he was caught in the act by the law, the victim was more likely to go to the neighborhood godfather to whom he paid regular protection money for help. The bosses would not only find the thief and recover the stolen goods, but also deliver an apology from the crook’s own bloodied lips.
 Of course, such vigilantism, along with much else of what went on in the streets and alleyways of Little Italy being of questionable legality, O’Connor was often forced to look the other way to insure his continued tranquility. The bosses showed their appreciation for this courtesy in the form of a five dollar bill slipped to him every week in the locker room by the precinct bagman. O’Connor, husband and father to four youngsters still living under his roof, was in return grateful for the help in feeding his brood.
 Whistling tunelessly and absently twirling his nightstick by its leather thing, O’Connor turned onto Grand Street. He glanced into darkened storefronts and stopped to test the locks on a few doors. Everything was exactly as it should be at the hour, locked up tight, dark, and quiet.
The second shot came more than a minute after the first.
It was also closer.
And it was no backfire.
Johnny O’Connor pulled his revolver from under his blue tunic and dug for the brass whistle in his breast pocket. More shots followed. Several guns. Handguns from the sounds of things.
 O’Connor hesitated a fraction of a second. The nearest callbox was down the street to the east. The gunfire was coming from the west. He ran west, blowing his whistle in long, shrill blasts to call any other coppers in earshot to come running. As if the shooting wouldn’t have already attracted their attention.
By the time he reached the corner of Baxter Street, the whistle was clenched in his left fist, his service revolver in the right, and his breath coming in short, choppy gasps. Shots were still being fired, but less of them. Then they stopped altogether.
That’s when the screaming began.
It brought Potsy up short. These weren’t the screams of the wounded and pained; he had heard enough of those on the battlefields of France during the Great War to know. These were screams of horror. Of gut-wrenching fear. Sounds no sane man could possibly produce!
 His heart beating like a drum, O’Connor forced himself forward, hugging the brick wall of the corner, his .38 thrust before him like a shield in a quivering fist.
Baxter Street looked deserted, a stretch of dead of night darkness slashed by the harsh glare of street lights, deepening the shadows and making them seem to shimmer and move. The screams were coming from those shadows...
 O’Connor knew he had to do something. It sounded like men were being torn to bits by some silent creature in the dark. And help, he feared, was still too far away to make any difference to those poor bastards!
Gulping down his fear and offering up a prayer, Potsy O’Connor threw himself around the corner screaming “Stop! Police! Everybody freeze!” and fired a warning shot into the street.
He ran forward, still shouting commands he was sure couldn’t be heard over the screams. He wanted to keep firing his gun, to ward off whatever might be hiding in the shadows, but the rationale part of his brain kept his finger from tightening on the trigger. He was going to need those shots and there would be no time for reloading...
The screaming stopped as abruptly as it began. The sudden transition to silence was startling.
O’Connor stopped.
Ahead of him, an inky swirl of blackness started to pull away from the shadows in the deep doorway of a Chinese laundry.
The officer took aim.
“Police!” he shouted. He was surprised at how commanding he sounded.
 The blackness broke off and became a shape, a man in a long dark overcoat. The shape moved slowly, deliberately, his arms held out from his sides. Something dangled from his hands, loose and floppy. Not a weapon. Nothing threatening.
But it made Johnson’s heart thump uncontrollably and his stomach churn.
“I...I said police! Stop right there!”
 The man paid no attention to the orders. He moved from blackness to the gray haziness on the fringe of the streetlight’s glow. Details began to resolve themselves: a bald pate, spotted with age. One shoulder higher than the other. A limp in the slow, steady gait. A gaunt, wrinkled cheek slashed with scars and paint. A pale yellow eye that momentarily caught the light.
 Raw, bleeding hunks of flesh hanging from withered, gnarled fingers!
“Father, son, and holy ghost,” gasped Johnson.
 The old man raised his right hand into the circle of light and pointed a finger at the trembling police officer. Johnson’s eyes went wide.
 Were those...human scalps?
 “Give your prayers to the earth,” the old man said, his voice surprisingly young and strong.
Something punched Potsy Johnson hard in the chest.
He looked down. A long, slender shaft of wood with a feathered tail stuck straight out of the middle of the badge pinned to his tunic.
“For that is to be your next home,” the old man said, and turned to walk away even as the officer slumped to the pavement. His revolver dropped from numbed fingers and he thought, not without some surprise, that he was probably the first New York copper ever to be killed in the line of duty by an Indian with a bow and arrow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Archie The Married Life: Volume 1

It's here at last...Archie The Married Life: Volume 1, collecting the first six issues of the Life With Archie: The Married Life Magazine. That's six stories (the first issues of Archie Loves Veronica and Archie Loves Betty were written by Michael Uslan; the rest is all me) of what's been called "the most critically acclaimed storyline in Archie Comics history," 320 big pages of art by Norm Breyfogle, Joe Rubinstein, and Andrew Pepoy, a few introductory pieces by Michael and myself, all for $19.99!

Also hitting comic shops is Betty & Veronica #255, which features a short story I wrote, "Beach Blanket Bash-Up," with art by Jeff Shultz and Jim Amash. Betty versus Veronica in a secret beach Olympics with Archie as the prize!