Archives for posts with tag: science fiction

Assassin’s Price by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is the latest and eleventh novel in his bestselling Imager Portfolio series. Like all the other books in the series, Assassin’s Price is set in a world where magic is the literal realization of the imagination. Rex Lorien is back, though six years older than he was in the last book of the series, Treachery’s Tools from 2016. In this novel, more focus is on his eldest son, Charyn, and his attempts to learn more about Solidar and the economics of it, in order to better be prepared one day to take over from his father as the ruler. You can WIN a hardback copy of this page-turning, adventure-filled addition to the series if you are a resident of the United States of Canada and leave a non-Spam related comment below, saying what your name is and where you live, the state or province, to verify that you are eligible to enter! You also must be 18 years or older, and a few other rules are below. Daily entries are allowed.

While Charyn is eager to find out as much as possible about the economics and inner workings of Solidar’s government, his father, Rex Lorien, just keeps telling him things like that there is plenty of time to learn all of that. Caryn is tired of waiting, and he decides to take a stronger interest in Solidar, by educating himself with the help of the factors and craft masters of the land, as well as his father’s advisors. But, he wants to do it without attracting his father’s attention, though he knows that sooner or later, he will find out. Charyn just hopes by the time that happens, his father will understand why he acted behind his back, and that he won’t be too angry at him.

The efforts of Charyn to go behind the scenes, and behind his father’s back, to gain knowledge so he can one day be a worthy ruler of Solidar, sets up the plot and the action that follows. Solidar’s shipping is being disrupted by Jarolian privateers, something that Charyn cannot tolerate. When the privateers destroy ships containing much-needed goods, the prices of said goods are driven up.

A complication in the plot of Assassin’s Price is that an attempt is made on the life of Charyn’s younger brother, and notes that threaten Charyn and his entire family follow. Acts of violence against the rex and his family prompts swift action to be taken to prevent any loss of life or further violence to continue. One of the actions taken is to build more ships, to strengthen Solidar’s might and ability to conduct commerce.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr., has often been hailed as a master of world-building, and he showcases that talent yet again with Assassin’s Price. He also delivers characters that are three-dimensional that his legions of fans have come to know and love, and plots that are full of political intrigue. For the chance to win a hardback copy of Assassin’s Price, besides following the rules above, anyone who enters must not be related to myself, and also you must be prepared to provide your full name and snail mail address if you are the one randomly chosen as the winner. You can provide the requested information through a FB or Twitter message or via email, if you prefer not to reveal it at this website. The giveaway will run from Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, to Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, at midnight CT. The potential winner will then have five days to respond and provide me with his/her mailing information by midnight Wed. Nov. 22, 2017, so I can give it to the publisher of Assassin’s Price, Tor/Forge, who will mail out the hardback copy to the winner. If the person chosen does not provide the information within the five day period, a new winner will be selected. Good luck!

Due to Lack of Response, A Winner Was Not Selected in This Giveaway.

Written by: Douglas R. Cobb

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Killing Is My Business (Tor/Forge) is Adam Christopher’s sequel to his critically acclaimed novel, Made to Kill, featuring noirish robot detective — and killer — Raymond Electromatic. Christopher deftly combines the genres of mysteries, detective dramas, and science fiction, with a good dose of sly humor, in Killing Is My Business, a highly entertaining romp that fans of all of these genres, and just plain good writing, will enjoy reading.

What’s more, thanks to Yours Truly, the book’s publishers, Tor/Forge, and Adam Christopher, one lucky reader who is also a resident of the United States who leaves a comment below, mentioning the state he/she lives in, will win a hardback copy of the book! A few more simple rules follow this review. I had a winner for my first-ever giveaway, of the thriller Tower Down, by David Hagberg; but, due to lack of response for the second giveaway, a hardback copy of Putin’s Gambit by Lou Dobbs and James O. Born there were no winners chosen. Sometimes one shot is all it takes….try your luck, and YOU could be the winner of a copy of Killing Is My Business!

As Killing Is My Business opens, robotic sleuth, Raymond “Ray” Electromatic is tracking down yet another person, Los Angeles city planner, Vaughan Delaney. The reason why isn’t personal. It’s to kill Delaney. Ray has been given his orders, via a roll of magnetic tape, changed out at the end of each day. He has no memories of past days, other than what might serve him in continuing on his search, and his “boss” is a brassy supercomputer. Why he has been asked, by some client he has never met and doesn’t know, he does not know. He just has a job to do, and that is to kill whoever he has been assigned to kill.

Ray definitely has a personality, though, and certain meories are hardwired into him, like his love of beautiful cars and admiration of those who also love them, even if…he has been ordered to kill them. Only, in the case of Vaughan, the city planner, on the outside a happy family man, beats Ray to the punch by taking a dive out of a window where he works on the sixth floor and killing himself. To Ray’s unknown client, a dead Vaughan is a dead Vaughan, no matter how he met his end, so Vaughan’s death still filled Ray’s unkonown employer’s pockets with cash.

Then, Ray is charged with locating and killing another man, a very wealthy individual, Emerson Ellis…and the plot of Killing Is My Business really takes off, with the elusive Ellis proving to be quite difficult to track down. Despite going to check out Ellis’ businesses and questioning his secretary, butler, and others, and journeying to his prey’s various houses, Ray comes up empty-handed, but far from defeated or deterred.

Killing Is My Business is a witty, very cool genre-crossing novel by Christopher, an extremely entertaining addition to the author’s series about his robot gumshoe, Ray Electromatic. I highly recommend that you add it to your reading lists today!

To win a hardback copy (one is being given away), simply leave a comment below, with your name and the state you live in, so that I know you are from the United States, for shipping purposes. The giveaway will run from August 31, 2017, to September 14, 2017, at midnight, when I iwll randomly select a winner from all eligible entries. The winner must also be over 18, and be willing to provide me with his/her complete snail mail address, so i can give that information to the publishers, Tor/Forge, as they will mail out the copy to the lucky winner. Good luck, and who knows? YOU might wind up being the winner!

By: Douglas R. Cobb


Read the first three chapters of Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer FREE right here! And, if you like what you read, which I hope you WILL, click the word “here” that’s the first “here” that I wrote, highlightlighted above, to buy it for just $2.99! You can get it at Amazon in paperback, too, for only $8.99!

Chapter One
“Lookin’ Mighty Squatchy”

What started out as a camping trip and a Sasquatch summer turned out to be a ghost-hunting summer filled with spine-tingling chills. Oh, and all of the unusual suspects still plagued me and my friends, the crime-fighting members of P.A.W.S.(Private Army of Warrior Sleuths), namely S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. (Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity), scarlet and otherwise hued. Who would think that two scarlet Macaws, liked Frankie Sinister and the Scarlet Mafia head, Benny the Beak, could cause so much trouble? Not to mention, the added headaches a sinister red panda (hiding behind an innocent appearance) General Yao Xing, caused, and Omar Khalid Ali’s, the red Egyptian fox’s, attempts to assassinate me and burn down the Quince’s house.
But, I am getting both ahead of and behind myself. I am living too much in the past, but the Case of the Scarlet S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S. (recounted in my first book) haunted me almost as much as the ghosts I met did (and still do, in ways), which are the spooky main subject of this book. And, I don’t want to get either too much ahead of myself, nor too much behind myself; then, there’s a danger I wouldn’t know whether I’m coming or going. I don’t want that to happen again–not after the last incident, involving an irate saber tooth tiger and a bubbling tar pit.
Who am I? Lily Elizabeth Quince, a black-and-white (though mostly black) pterodactyl with the heart of a highly courageous terrier. And, because of my ability to cloud peoples’ minds, unless I desire them to see me in my true form, they only see a wee Toto-ish terrier when they look at me. So much the better, as I’ve found it’s more fun to prove how wrong someone was to underestimate me than it is to eat crow if I overestimate my own abilities and screw up. That doesn’t happen much, but still, the former beats the latter, hands down!
“Lily-bear,” fourteen-year-old Celeste said to me as she and her extremely wealthy parents, Quentin Quintilius Quince (or Triple Q, as I like to call him) and Clare set up tents, “camping in the Oauchita National Forest is going to be fantastic, don’t you think? Just smell the pine trees, and don’t you just love breathing the fresh air, and being in the Great Outdoors?”
“Blech!” I said. “The Great Outdoors is overrated!” To Celeste’s parents, my words sounded like a series of barks and yaps, but I had unlocked the elusive part of Celeste’s brain that allowed her to understand what I and the other members of PAWS talked about, when we met with each other. Celeste was, after all, an Honorary Member of PAWS, as well as being my best-est friend in the entire world.”Don’t be so grumpy, Lily!” Celeste said. “This is the oldest and largest National Forest in the South, and has over 700 miles of trails, and some of the best fishing in Arkansas!”
“Yeah, well, if Fuzzy Wally MacGee (he was a rhino who took the appearance of a Chinese crested)or Lucy Marmoset Higgins (an orangutan who looked to humans like a Great Dane)or Prince Alphonse Saed (a Mountain Lion who, to human eyes, looked like a miniature dachsund) was here with me, perhaps I wouldn’t be as ‘grumpy,’ as you put it, because we could get a real investigation going and bring to light all of the crimes that are going on here right under your unsuspecting noses!
“Yes, in a National Forest–don’t look at me like that–there’s crime here, too, just like there is in the Big City! And, I have no doubt at all that there are SNURFLES lurking in the underbrush and perhaps hiding out in hollow trees and logs….”
“SNURFLES? We’re hours away from them! Kick back, take it easy, enjoy yourself–quit dwelling on the nasty scarlet SNURFLES!” Celeste said, trying to make me feel better.”Just because there are no evil Macaws around, red pandas, and Egyptian red foxes, Cel, doesn’t mean that there aren’t still evil squirrels and snakes and other sorts of non-scarlet SNURFLES about, just waiting for their chance to pounce! And then, there are always the Squatches–”
“‘Pounce?’ Lily, nothing is going to try to get us, and we’re only going to be here for the weekend!” Celeste said, sounding exasperated, though for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. “And there are no such thing as Sasquatches, Lily!”
“Whatever, chica!” I grumbled. “That’s what you said about witches, the aliens known as the Greys, and Leprechauns not so very long ago, remember?”
“Every dog has her day….” Celeste said mockingly.
“‘Dog’?” I said. “Don’t insult me like that!”
“Temper, temper, Lily!”
About then, Triple Q and Clare walked over, after setting up their tent. It was the last weekend in May, Celeste had had no snow days in her school district, so she was free for the entire blissful summer. I’d much have preferred it if we had decided to spend our time camping at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge (the Quinces, being multi-millionaires, could have certainly afforded to do so, but it was closed for renovations until 2013), but hey, at least they thought enough of me to take me along, rather than considering having me boarded with actual dogs. “Hey, Celeste!” Triple Q said. “Want any help with your tent?”
“Of course she wants help, Quentin!” Clare said. “She just doesn’t want to admit that she does!” Clare and Triple Q soon had the tent up, though Celeste had done a pretty good job on her own, and probably could have done the same thing, given another ten minutes or so.
“Thanks, Mom, Dad!” she said, graciously. “I’m starving! When do we eat?”
“Right after we catch the fish, of course!” Quentin said.
“No, Celeste–right after we get a fire going and cook up the hotdogs I brought over it,” Clare said. “There’ll be plenty of time to fish tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday, before we leave so your Dad can get back by Tuesday. Being the mayor of Centralia comes with responsibilities, you know.”
“But–but–” Triple Q spluttered. “I want to go fishing now.”
“Oh, you whine sometimes more than Lily, dear,” Clare said. How dare she? I thought to myself. I have never whined in my entire life!
“Do no-ot–nyah!” Triple Q said. “I just am anxious to start reeling the big ones in, and try out my latest invention, the Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combo! I can’t very well claim it’s ‘Guaranteed to Catch the Big Ones,’ like I have planned to use as it’s motto unless I can catch the ‘Big Ones’ myself, can I?”
Triple Q had made millions on his inventions, and this was the next one he hoped would add more millions to the Quince family’s coffers. I had given him telepathically the ideas for them, and siphoned off a small portion of his profits for myself. He wouldn’t miss a million here or a million there. Clare had made another fortune with her own line of products, as she was quite inventive on her own, with no extra help from me nor anyone else.
“I suppose, but tomorrow’s soon enough; I’m hungry, Celeste’s starving, and I wouldn’t doubt that Lily’s hungry, too. Maybe you could try later tonight, but we’re not going to put off supper while you and Celeste catch our meal, no matter how ‘quick’ your new rod and reel might be in catching fish!”
That was the end of that, and after we had a fire going, we found ourselves good hotdog sticks and sat down to cook ourselves a feast. Well, a ‘feast’ might be exaggerating things somewhat; but, the hotdog Celeste cooked for me sure tasted delicious on an empty stomach, as did the chips she let me have when her parents weren’t looking. Technically, I was on a diet, but when one’s camping, building up a fierce hunger, who cares about diets?
A few hours later, we had that unbeatable camping treat, S’mores. Yes, I know; chocolate is bad for dogs. Fortunately, I’m not a dog, so I wolfed–er–pterodactyled some down when Triple Q inadvertently held one of the tasty treats down by his side as he sat by the fire. He acted all “What’s up with that?” and “quit eatin’ my chocolate, dude–that ain’t even right!” but who ended up with the S’more? I did, that’s who!
We turned in around ten–I could tell by the stars, not to mention from when I took a glimpse at Celeste’s watch–she in her sleeping bag, and I, curled up beside her. We weren’t asleep for much more than an hour when I heard the first, distant, roar from across the sparkling expanse of Lake Ouachita underneath a full moon.
I hurriedly woke Celeste by licking her hand, and when she asked me what was wrong, I just told her to be quiet for a little bit and just listen. Within a couple of minutes, the long, plaintive, echoing, drawn-out roar commenced again, and we both heard it plainly.
“What was that, Lily?” Celeste asked me.
“It could only be one thing that’s making that noise, Cel. The creature that you said doesn’t exist, the Fouke Monster, the Wild Man of the Woods, the Wooly Bugger, the Bogey Creek Monster, the Skunk Ape, the Big Foot, the Sasquatch!”That sounds like more than one creature, Lily….” Celeste said.
“There’re all just different names for the same being, Cel: the Sasquatch, or Squatch, for short!”
“For ‘short’? Don’t you mean for ‘tall’?”
“Never mind that, girl fri-e-e-end!” I said. “Time’s a’wastin’, chica! Let’s investigate this for ourselves!”
“Investigate?” Celeste asked, unable to believe what she’d just heard from my lips. “I don’t want to, nuh-uh, no way, no how!”
“Yes, you do–you may not know it yet, but you do! Do it in the name of science, do it for your own sake, for knowledge–do it for me, chica–eh?”
“I don’t know why I let myself get talked into these things, but I’ll go with you, Lily. As long as you are sure you’re prepared to show the Bigfoot you’ll get all prehistoric on his hairy behind if he tries to do anything to us.”
We snuck quietly out of the tent and headed for the shore of the lake. When we got there, the silence seemed oppressive. Even the crickets had stopped chirping. Time seemed to stand still. I roared, and before very long, we heard an answering roar come back to us. Was it my imagination, or did the roar sound as if whatever was making it was coming closer and closer?
“It’s lookin’ mighty Squatchy around here,” I said. We stood by the shore for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only five minutes. Then, there was a muffled crashing sound, and coming towards us through heavy underbrush was the looming, hairy figure of a Bigfoot that had to be at least seven feet tall. He was covered with shaggy brown hair, and was intimidating-looking, but we held our ground.
“Urgh!” he grunted, and farted at approximately the same time.
“Shoo-weeee!” Celeste exclaimed. “No offense, but it’s no wonder why some people call your kind ‘Skunk Apes’”
“Hey, I am lactose intolerant, and just ate half a cow and chugged a bucket of milk because of a bet I couldn’t do it that some scared farmer left behind—it’s a Squatch thang, you wouldn’t understand! Anyway, I won the bet, you called me as if you were in distress, I came to help, and you don’t even need any help. I guess that’s what I get for tryin’ to do a good deed. I may be hairy and have, well, big feet and have flatulence issues, but there’s no need for you to get personal with me and lay on the insults. Next thing I know, you’ll be talkin’ smack about my mother!”
“Yes, Celeste, apologize to mister–um–what was your name again, sir?”
“You think we might not have names, is that it now? We have names. Mine is Beano Gruntley the Third. Before you ask, I come from a long line of Gruntleys, and Beano is a name that’s been popular in my family for generations.”
“We really meant no offense, Mr. Beano, sir,” Celeste said. “It’s just not every day that you meet a–well–”
“Say it, go ahead–a Squatch, Isn’t that what you were going to say?” Beano asked.
“Okay, yes–a Squatch, if that is not a derogatory term for your kind. And that you speak English is surprising, because on T.V., you’re–”
“Usually portrayed as being dumb Neanderthals? Just because we live in forest and caves doesn’t mean we’re total morons,” Beano replied, sounding even more offended than before.
“There you go again, Celeste, insulting the nice man,” I said. “I dunno, Mr. Gruntley, sir–I can’t take her anywhere,” I said.
“I better get back to my family before you start lighting torches on fire and chasing me with them.” Beano turned away, and trudged back the direction he’d come. He paused, though, and said over his shoulder:
“Ah, I’m too much of a hot-head. You’re both okay, I suppose, for a human girl and a pterodactyl with an image problem. If you’re ever in this neck of the woods again, and actually need help, just roar, and I’ll be there. And, if you’re anywhere else in the state in a forest, do the same, and tell whoever comes that you’re a pal of Beano Gruntley’s, and they’ll treat you right.”
“What a pleasant fellow,” I said to Celeste. “See how nice a person can be when you talk to them kindly?”
“Wha-wha-what?” Celeste said. “You, nice to people? I love you, and all, but you have to admit you’re not always easy to get along with!”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, chica. I am always polite and cordial in all of my dealings with others. Playing nice is one of my many admirable qualities, along with modesty and humbleness,” I very humbly replied. She rolled her eyes at me, the Doubting Thomasina that she is, and we went back to our tent to get as much sleep as we could before the rising sun would signal the beginning of another day.

Chapter Two
“The Ghost of Belle Starr”

The next morning, after a yumma-licious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, Celeste and I went fishing with her Dad, Triple Q. He had one of his Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combos for himself and one for Cel. Though he’d really wanted to get an even earlier start, at the crack of dawn, soon he and his invention and the container of worms he’d bought at a nearby convenience store had managed to fill two stringers of crappie and large mouth bass. Celeste reeled them in almost as fast as her Dad could bait the hook, and his luck was equally spectacular. By Celeste’s and Triple Qs whoops and hollers of glee, I could tell they were having a ton of fun. Whether it was, in fact, the invention, or the reason was more that the fish were hungry for worms at that particular time and place, the Quince Quick-Catch Rod & Reel Combos proved their worth by catching more than enough fish for both our lunch and supper.
Still, we came back to fish some more after lunch, and Clare came, too, and used one of the inventions. They ended up having so much fish they gave some away to the campers on either side of us! I had had faith that the invention would work, and using it, a person could set the hook into a fish’s mouth quicker than with any other method. Nothing could beat seeing the evidence of its success with my own eyes, though.
That night, we told ghost stories around the campfire. Triple Q told one about a cemetery that was not very far away, called the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery. “It was,” he said, “supposedly haunted by the ghost of a girl who was surrounded by wolves in the winter of the year in the 1800’s. She climbed up a tree to escape the ravenous wolves, but she couldn’t escape the cruel icy fingers of winter that gripped her. She was discovered frozen to death, still clinging to the tree in fear. There is a ghostly light that many people have seen at the cemetery late in the night, that is, some say, the ghost of that poor girl.”
When we eventually hit the hay, I roared in a quiet voice (as quietly as a roar could be, anyway): “Don’t even think about going to sleep, chica.”
“What now, Lily?” Celeste tiredly asked. “We already did the ‘Let’s meet the grouchy Squatch’ thang, girl, last night. What do you have up your sleeves—don’t say it; I know you don’t really have sleeves; it’s only an expression–now?”
“You and I are going to take a little flight, that’s what. We’re going to buzz over to–you guessed it–the Rich Mountain Cemetery to do a little bit of ghostly sight-seeing, chica!”
“No, no, no, no, no!” Celeste said in a shouted whisper. “You may go wherever you want to and see how ever many ghosts you want to, Lily, but count this girl out of it!”
“Ah, come on, Celeste. You know how this is going to go—I’ll argue with you, you with me, back and forth, and you’ll eventually cave in and come with me to the cemetery against your better judgment; so, why don’t we just skip all of that, you and I, and fly the friendly skies?”
“Arrrgh! What-ever, Lily! I am not that predictable, and I’m not going to cave in this time, so you can stop even trying to convince me–just give it up!” Cel said angrily.
“Less than a quarter hour later, we were on our way. Celeste brought a blanket with her, as she found my spine somewhat bumpy.
“Next stop, the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery!” I roared in exhilaration when we had achieved the altitude of five hundred feet.
Celeste and I landed at the entrance of the ancient cemetery in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, or the equivalent of a couple thousand flaps of a pterodactyl’s wings. Triple Q’s tale was more than mere superstitious nonsense; it was based on a true story, and Celeste and I saw the ghostly light hovering over the gravestones in a forlorn manner. It wasn’t frightening, but it was kind of eerie, and more than a little sad.
Then it was that we saw the full body apparition of the ghost of the infamous outlaw known in her lifetime as the “Bandit Queen,” Belle Starr. We knew it was her ghost, for she spoke to us, saying quite clearly:
“I am the ghost of Belle Starr! Be not afraid; I mean you no harm. Instead, I have come to you to enlist your help. It’s a matter of afterlife and death!”
“Ma-ma-ma’am, how could we possibly help you?” Celeste inquired, adding indelicately: “After all, you are a ghost, and–well–”
“Am beyond mortal help to save either my life or my eternal soul? Think again, Celeste Elizabeth Quince! Yes, I know your name, and I know the name of your friend, beside you, Lily—you’re well-known in the spectral circles I travel in. This is not my usual haunt, but unusual times call for unusual measures.
“In my life, I was a bandit, finally tried and convicted for the crime of larceny for stealing a horse by Judge Isaac C. Parker of Fort Smith. I was only sentenced to nine months, though I admit the crimes I wasn’t arrested for, both on my own and with Carl Younger and Frank and Jesse James, friends of mine, if I had been held responsible for, would have landed me in jail for the rest of my life or hanging at the end of a noose, swaying in the breeze.
“But, that’s all behind me now. You can’t change the past, more’s the pity. There are things worse than death, and that’s what I’m here about. Someone, or some group of people, are going to all of the famous haunted places in Arkansas trying to siphon off the ghostly energy that charges them and makes the locations such popular sites for people to investigate and tourists to go to, and I want you to help me stop them!”
“Us?” Celeste asked. That’s just impossible!
“Impossible? Nothing’s impossible!” the Bandit Queen thundered.
“Even though it’s summer, and Celeste is not in school now,” I spoke up, “she relies upon her Mom or Dad to take her places. I can fly, but as the leader of PAWS, it’s my duty to Be Ever Vigilant, solve crimes, and make sure the SNURFLES aren’t causing any crimes with their activities. I have an obligation to my fellow PAWS members and friends, and to my best-est friend, Celeste! No, I’m sorry, Belle, but if it involves traveling all throughout Arkansas for the entire summer, I don’t think we can manage that.”
“You might think that for the time being, Lily and Celeste,” Belle Starr said, with what I could have sworn was a twinkle in her translucent eyes, “but Fate, she has her ways. As sure as I’m floating here in front of you, we will meet again. And you will see, you will see, the truth of my words, and realize that helping me and the other ghosts of Arkansas also helps you!”
“Mrs. Starr, ma’am, could you please tell us about your buried treasure?” Celeste asked. Belle had seemed like she’d been about to fade away, after having delivered her ominous message, but she paused and flickered again into view, hat, chaps, and boots fully visible once more.
“That’s a sore topic I don’t really want to discuss,” she said. “I took the loot I and Frank and Jesse stole from a bank in Missouri and buried it in Shiloh, over $30,000 dollars’ worth. Greedy people have been trying to find it ever since, including members of my own family. Truth is, I was bushwhacked and shot off my horse before I could go back and dig it up myself, and I’m not even sure I can remember where exactly I buried it, unless I travel there in person and the places I marked haven’t been destroyed by the whims of time and so-called progress.
“If you be thinkin’ you’ll get a fortune out of this, don’t. I’m sorry to tell you, it ain’t gonna happen. But even if you’re disappointed by what I’m sayin’ about the treasure, and your roles in saving the ghosts and the living, that still won’t stop you from living out your shared fates.” As she was saying these last words, the ghost of Belle Starr slowly faded away, until she was gone.
“What do you think she meant, Lily, about helping her and the other ghosts of Arkansas, and how that would also somehow be helping the living?” Celeste asked me. “And, how can she be so sure we’ll do what she is asking us to do, especially when under the circumstances, it seems to be so impossible to do? I’d like to do whatever I can for her and the other ghosts, but she sure seems to be assuming a lot, and expecting a lot out of us, girl.”
“What I think she meant, Cel, is exactly what she said! She definitely believes that we will somehow find a way to come to her and the other ghosts’ aid, that it’s our, and I quote, ‘shared fates.’ It’s hard to argue with a ghost, you know; especially one who is a Bandit Queen,” I answered.
“She certainly does have a regal and bossy attitude, doesn’t she? Kind of like someone I know quite well, really, kind of like you! And don’t sit there looking all innocent-like–you know it’s true!”
“Celeste, Celeste, Celeste–you do have the most active imagination!” I said. “Now, after I change my appearance to that of a pterodactyl once again, hop onto my back and let’s ride!”
“I think that Ozzy Osbourne must have ridden on a pterodactyl before, don’t you?” I asked as she climbed aboard and situated herself comfortably. “That’s probably where he got the title for his song ‘Flying High Again,’ don’t you think? And, hey, who knows, Celeste? Despite what Miss Bossy Ghost-pants said, we may never see her again, and she could have been just spouting spectral nonsense that doesn’t amount to anything.”
As I said these words, I doubted what I was suggesting, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Celeste that. I felt sure that Belle Starr had met us at the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery for a reason, the very reason she stated to us. I felt sure that what she said about our “shared fates” was the truth, and that somehow, someday, we would once again meet up with the ghost of Belle Starr.
The rest of that weekend seemed to pass in a blur. We had fun just being together, and doing family stuff, and of course catching more fish than we could ever eat ourselves (but I gave it a try–to me, nothing beats the taste of freshly caught and fried fish).
Still, a sort of pallor seemed to hang over the rest of the holiday weekend. It was because of the sense of duty, of obligation that Belle Starr’s ghost had imposed on Celeste and myself. I love mysteries and solving crimes and making the world a better place to live in, but I like to do it on my own terms. I like to live life on the edge, but I want to be the one to put myself there, and not to let some ghost make that decision for me.
Also, I was looking forward all that weekend, really, to returning to my friends, the other members of PAWS. I and Celeste would have a lot to tell them, both about the Squatch, Beano Gruntley the Third, and about the mission the ghost of Belle Starr had entrusted us with.
Some people would probably say that it was just coincidence that we met Beano and Belle on the same weekend. I would humbly say that those people don’t know what they’re talking about, are not to be trusted, and potentially might be SNURFLES, door-to-door salesmen, mailmen, Girl Scouts, or some other sort of untrustworthy criminal type. The truth is, that there are no coincidences. Everything is tied together, I’ve found over the years. Nothing is truly random, however much it might seem to be at first glance.

Chapter Three
“Botswana Is Not Little Rock”

“Chick-a Chick-a Munga, Chick-a Chick-a Munga!/That’s where I want to be,/Chick-a Chick-a Munga, where life is easy and carefree!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee sang as he strolled down the middle of the street, namely, Chickamunga Street, the one I lived on with the Quinces. He was staggering awkwardly and tangling his legs up and swaying from side to side, as if he was drunk. His eyes goggled, his tongue lolled out, his Mohawk crest of hair blew in the breeze. Yet, he could be as graceful as a ballerina, if, at least, that ballerina also happened to be a rugby-playing rhino.
I was in the front yard, which had recently been fenced in, like the backyard. The backyard’s fence was wooden, though, and the one in the front was a chain-link one. I could have flown and greeted him, but I generally didn’t like to display my true nature during the daytime, so instead I ran and jumped against the metal fence and roared my greeting to my friend. He’d come to be known as the Distractor for obvious reasons, and he’d served PAWS in many capacities during our adventures and investigations together. He’d even almost become the mayor of Centralia, leading in the polls until Triple Q won via write-in votes. Not bad, despite the opinions of some people that will go unnamed (Celeste! Ooops, how did that slip out?) that Fuzzy is–er–intellectually challenged, shall we say.
Triple Q is a great mayor, but I can’t help but wonder how different Centralia would be today if Fuzzy Wally MacGee had received the majority of the votes instead of Celeste’s Dad. His idea, for instance, of repairing potholes in Centralia’s roads by planting trees in them, while being ridiculous on the surface, had its merits. The holes would be filled, the city beautified, and there would have been more toilet facilities strategically placed about the city, also–a win-win situation, all around. Fuzzy came over to the fence, and we talked for awhile. I told him what had happened over the weekend.
“Fuzzy, you’ll never guess what happened to Cel and myself! It’s news I must get to Lucy and Prince Alphonse “Fonzie,” Saed, also, as soon as possible!”
“I know eggs-zactickally what happened, Lily!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said, leaving me momentarily at a loss for words.
“What, then?” I eventually asked, after a few seconds.
“You had a great time, and caught a ton of fish, and I see you’ve put on a few pounds!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee answered.
“I don’t dispute your logic, Fuzzy; you’re getting better at deductive reasoning all of the time; but, that was also a fairly obvious answer, as I told you before I left that’s what we were going to do,” I said.
Noticing he was looking crest-fallen, I added, “But, you are correct, Fuzzy. We did catch lots of fish, and had a fun time. And then, here’s the part I was meaning you wouldn’t believe: we met a Sasquatch named Beano Gruntley the Third on Friday night, and to follow that up, we were introduced to the ghost of Belle Starr on Saturday night at the Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery.”
“Well, that is a pretty big surprise, Lily, to be sure!” my friend said. “And it explains what that Public Service Announcement that’s been on the T.V. ever since you left must be about.”
“What P.S.A., Fuzzy? Tell me what it said! It could be vitally important!” I roared.
“It was about a Bee Call, or something like that, I remember that much….”
“A Bee Call? Are you sure it wasn’t maybe about a recall?” I asked.
Fuzzy looked startled, a bit more so than usual, even, and said: “That’s it! How did you know? Did you see the P.S.A., too?”
“No, I just deduced that you’d really heard the word recall, because it sounds similar to Bee Call. What else do you remember, Fuzzy?”
“Something about–oh, yes–a group that believes that Quentin Quintilius Quince, whoever that is (it sounds like a made-up name, if you ask my opinion), shouldn’t be Centralia’s mayor anymore, and that there should be a brand-new election, and that the scarlet Macaw Frankie ought to be Centralia’s new mayor, because he doesn’t like to befriend ghosts. Instead, he believes they should be forcibly removed from every place they haunt. And, at the end of the P.S.A., a voice mentioned that it was paid for by SNURFLES, and that Frankie Sinister approved the message. That’s all—I’m sorry I can’t rememberize any more.”
“Don’t worry, Fuzzy–you did a great job remembering! I should have suspected that Frankie and his organization, SNURFLES, was behind this whole business. He’s undoubtedly trying to harness the ectoplasmic energy of the ghosts for his own evil purposes. And, if he destroys the meager existence that the ghosts cling to that keeps them here on Earth, it’s just too bad, so sad for them, in the eyes of himself and SNURFLES. Instead of someone exposing Frankie and SNURFLES for the–excuse my language–cabbages they are, Frankie is attempting to use his evil extermination of the ghosts of Arkansas to try to overturn the mayoral election, Fuzzy. He’s trying to claim that it’s a good thing he’s doing, and I’m afraid people might be falling for it.”
“So the world would not be better off without scary ghosties?” Fuzzy asked.
“Some ghosts may be scary, Fuzzy, but no, the world would not be ‘better off’ without them. Ghosts let us know that there is something more after this life, Fuzzy, that at least a part of ourselves, our inner essences, or souls, live on. Most of us hopefully move on beyond this world, but some are doomed to stay here. But still, the ones who stay and are ghosts have a purpose, even if they are unaware of it, other than letting us know there is an afterlife.” I answered Fuzzy.
“What is that, Lily?”
“Why, to do what you and many others think is so bad: to scare people! To warn them about dangers, or what might happen if they continue their ways, like Ebenezer Scrooge, for example, who was visited by three ghosts during the night of Christmas Eve who changed his life for the better after that. And, if an old cemetery, battlefield, school, or house is known as being haunted, the ghosts also attract tourists, ghost hunters with scientific equipment, and authors. The ghosts make these old and important locations, and history, live again for people. History becomes interesting, instead of dull, boring, and forgotten.”
“And here, I’ve just been thinkin’ ghosts are lazy layabouts who, every once in awhile, like to scare the pee out of people and animals, for their own amusement.” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said.
“Well, I won’t lie, Fuzzy–there might be some ghosts who are like that–but still, like I said, in bringing attention and publicity, whether good or bad, to historic locations, even these sorts of ghosts serve a greater purpose.” I explained to him.
“Lily! Stop that barking and come in! You’re bothering the neighbors!” Clare yelled from the open front doorway.
I told Fuzzy Wally MacGee I had to go, but I asked him to tell Lucy Marmoset Higgins and Prince Alphonse “Fonzie,” Saed, about what I said, if he happened to see them. Though he’d never met a dog catcher (nor a rhino catcher) that he couldn’t evade, I also warned him that it wasn’t a very safe behavior to be wandering down the middle of a road. One burst of speed put on by the sadistic driver of an eighteen-wheeler, and it’d be “Bye, Bye, Cruel World,” and “Hello, Road Kill Du Jour!”
I went to Celeste’s bedroom, and told her about the P.S.A. I said: “We need to help the ghost of Belle Starr and the other ghosts of Arkansas even more now, Cel! The Scarlet One, Frankie, is trying to discredit your Dad and force another election, which he intends to win!
“Yeah, Lily-bear, I just saw it while you were outside, girl. The lies and innuendos in it were terrible, but what can we do?” she asked. “We have to get you ready and prettied up for this coming weekend’s American Kennel Club Dog Show in Little Rock, and you have a date with the groomers on Thursday! Helping the ghosts and Dad will have to wait, I guess.”
That night, I went through the doggie/pterodactyl door into the backyard. I felt I had to call an emergency meeting of PAWS, and meet with all of them. Since Fuzzy Wally MacGee lived just three houses down, and I’d already told him about the past weekend, I decided to fly over to Prince Alphonse Saed’s house first, then Lucy Marmoset Higgins’, and then take them to the Fuzzmeister’s for our meeting.
“What’s the haps, Lily-girl?” Lucy asked when I landed in her yard.
“I have a tale to tell you, chica, about ghosts, Squatches, and SNURFLES, so I am calling an emergency meeting of PAWS over at Fuzzy’s place. But first, we must go and pick up Fonz, so we can all be together. The very future of Centralia, Arkansas, and the world might be at stake!” Lucy looked a bit reluctant. “I’ve brought you yummy ba-na-nas!” I said.
Lucy climbed up onto my back and immediately started peeling a banana she’d grabbed from a large bunch of the yellow fruit I had in a plastic bag awaiting her as an enticement. “I dunno, Lily…” The almost neon-orange fur of Lucy Marmoset Higgins practically glowed in the dark like a beacon. Lucy mumbled around the chunks of banana she was biting off: “It sounds kinda sketchy, but you know that the way to my heart is through my stomach, and that I’m not above accepting bribes, so let’s get on with the program, yo, before I change my mind!
Soon, we were at the house of the only member of royalty to be also a member of PAWS, Prince Alphonse Saed.
“I’ve got news that will blow your mind, Fonz, and convince you that there really is a life after death! I need you to come with Lucy and myself to an emergency meeting of PAWS at Fuzzy’s, so leap aboard!” Without a moment’s hesitation, the Mountain Lion that was Fonzie flexed the muscles of his hind legs and jumped onto my back.
At Fuzzy’s, after Lucy and Alphonse had gotten onto solid ground once again, I called the meeting to order with a subdued roar. I didn’t want to get the neighborhood riled up, so I had to turn down the volume a notch. It didn’t take very long to fill them in on the details about Beano Gruntley the Third and the ghost of Belle Starr, but what would we do next, to combat our long-time foes, the organization known as SNURFLES? How could we ensure that the mayoral election wasn’t a do-over?
“And, on top of what I just told you, I’m going to take part in, of all things perverse and strange, a dog show in Little Rock this coming weekend! I will need you to be my eyes and ears here to keep me alerted as to the activities of SNURFLES while I’m gone, though I wish you could come along with me to aid my investigations in case Celeste and I run into any ghosts while we’re there.”
“You wanna wish that we could come along?” Lucy asked. “You get your wish, then, girl-fri-end, because Mr. and Mrs. Higgins have entered me into the dog show, so I’ll be there, also!
“Me, too!” Prince Alphonse said. “If you wanna wish that, you’re in luck. The Saeds think I have a very good chance of winning, and who am I to disagree with them?
“Wanna, wanna,/Botswana, wanna,/Flora and fauna,/I’m a-gonna, gonna/ Make it thre-he-he!” Fuzzy sang, sounding oddly like Freddie Mercury of Queen. “I’m goin’, too–Botswana, Woo-hoo!”
“I hate to break it to you, Fuzzy, but Botswana is not like Little Rock,” I said, adding: “But I’m glad you all can come to Little Rock, also. Belle Starr’s ghost said that Celeste and I would have ‘shared fates,’ but I’m thinking that she was maybe also referring to everyone in PAWS. It looks like we’re in this together, guys. SNURFLES may think they’ve won this time, but the battle’s barely begun! Each of us individually is tough to beat, but when we work together as a team, we’re unstoppable!
I called the meeting to a close, and tiredly flew Lucy and Fonzie to their homes. After that, I went into the Quince’s house the way I had left, curled myself up next to the sleeping form of Celeste in her bed, and promptly fell into a deep sleep.
****
Thursday was like any other day. Any other day when I might have one of the most traumatic experiences in my life, that is. Though I had scales, not hair (being a pterodactyl), the illusion I projected needed to be totally realistic, so it had to seem as if my hair grew just as if I was an actual terrier. This was rather awkward when it came time to be taken to Petco to be groomed. The poor groomers would shampoo my non-existent hair, act as if their scissors were cutting fur that was actually there instead of only in their imaginations, and then sweep up piles of what was really just air (as opposed to hair) into dust pans that they would then empty into trash cans. Talk about an exercise in futility! Of course, they didn’t realize this, though, and Mrs. Quince–Clare–had to pay them in real money for shampooing and cutting hair that wasn’t, um, there.
Well, this particular Thursday was, to tell you the truth, really not like any other day, nor even like every other day I’ve suffered the humiliation of going to the groomers. The reason why it wasn’t is that it was a bit crowded that day. There was room for three other dogs to be groomed at the same time, and it so happened that there were three other “dogs” there with me: Fuzzy Wally MacGee, Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and Prince Alphonse Saed.
Fuzzy Wally MacGee kept trying to lick the shampoo off of his hair. “Yum! Whippity cream! Tastes a little strange, though–kinda Mango flavored!”
This, of course, prompted Lucy and Fonz to also try the shampoo. “Mine tastes like bananas!” Lucy said.
“Hmm…I dunno….” Prince Alphonse Saed said. “I’d say mine tastes more like shampoo, guys, because that’s what it is, not ‘whippity cream’! But, it does taste pretty good, still…kinda like strawberries. What does your shampoo taste like, Lily?”
“Oh, no, you’re not going to get me to taste any nasty shampoo! It’s meant to be used to clean one’s hair, not to be eaten!” I said indignantly.
“It won’t hurt you, Lily,” Fuzzy said. “It’s really quite good.
I hate to admit it, but I tried licking some of my shampoo after Fuzzy said this, and it wasn’t that bad at all. “Ummm…Blueberries!” I said. “That’s it, fresh-picked blueberries, with a hint of cream!
And then, things went from awkward to worse. The UPS man dropped by with some packages, and he just had time to leave them at the service counter before he was unceremoniously chased out of the store by Fuzzy, Lucy, and Alphonse. Anyone who says I was right in front leading the pack should not be believed, and is a rumor-monger at best, and I wouldn’t doubt he or she is a card-carrying member of SNURFLES. If they even carry cards…I’ve always wondered about that.
“Lily, you look more like a sleek miniature black-and-white brindle greyhound now that you’ve gotten your hair cut,” Celeste said on the drive home, “rather than the pudgy fur-ball of a badger that you looked like before.
“Hey,” I said, “I never have looked like a badger in my entire life! Probably because, for one thing, I don’t have any hair, just scales!
“Humph!” Cel said. “For not having any hair, you sure left a lot behind on the floor at the Petco shop! My Mom had to leave them an extra-large tip for them to ever make another appointment in the future!
“What was that you’re saying, Cel?” Clare asked from the front seat.
“Oh, nothing, Mom–I was just telling Lily how beautiful she looks now, and how she’s sure to win Best of Show in Little Rock this weekend, that’s all.”
“Lies!” I said. “You know better than that, Cel….
“Quit grumbling…you want her to still believe you’re a dog, don’t you?
“Yeah, well….” I said.
I wondered how the dog show would go, especially since the day at the dog groomers’ hadn’t gone so well. And, would we meet the ghost of Belle Starr again in Little Rock, or would it be later? Would we all be able to get together, and do an investigation of a haunted location in Little Rock? If so, what sorts of ghosts would we find, and could we get to them before SNURFLES did, to save them from becoming a power source for SNURFLES’ evil scheme? Would Frankie eventually become Centralia’s mayor, or would Triple Q still retain the position?
These thoughts and more flitted though my brain as we traveled back home. I wanted to have as much faith in our ability to save the day as Belle Starr’s ghost seemed to have, but everything appeared to be stacked against us. Would this be the time when SNURFLES would win not only the battle, but the entire war, getting rid of Arkansas’ ghosts, gaining political control of the state, and possibly destroying PAWS in one fell swoop? It was a future too terrible to contemplate, but one that could quite possibly come to pass.
Saturday was approaching quickly. Saturday, usually one of my favorite days of the week, but not this particular one. I had a sense of foreboding that stuck in my throat like a broken chicken bone. Was my luck going to run out, like the sand in an hourglass? It was not a good idea to tempt fate as many times as I already had done. Was this to be my last case?


Here are the first three chapters of My Brother The Zombie (The Zombie Revolution: Book One). It’s available at Amazon for only 99 cents–just click
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Chapter One
“When Zombies Weren’t Cool”

My older brother was a zombie when zombies weren’t cool. He became a zombie like most people did in those early days of greater innocence: through the alien plague that the giant (for insects, anyway) six-foot-tall beetles known as the Blaxons from the (much-maligned in science fiction novels) Sirius galaxy brought with them. The Blaxons weren’t here on a mission of conquest or expansion; that was the damnedest thing about the whole miserable outcome of their arrival. They arrived on Earth on Christmas day on a mission of peace, unlike the Europeans who colonized the United States and infected the native population on purpose with smallpox-ridden blankets.
Peace & love, and good will to all men; that is the message they wanted to spread. Instead, they spread a virus that caused people who came into contact with it, like my brother Ben, to turn into zombies.
Ben didn’t die, or anything dramatic like that. He just happened to be one of the first people to greet the aliens who landed in the world’s major cities. Ben shook the hands of the emissary Blaxon Major Slycon Glunk in Chicago, Illinois, when my brother was on a band trip to play his melophone on Navy Pier. He was the only one, the “lucky” one, from our band to be chosen for the dubious honor. That one handshake was all it took. Of course, beetles don’t actually have hands, but you get the idea.
Then, later that night where they were staying at the Westside Clarion Hotel, Ben started to feel feverish. He had the sweats, and complained of stomach cramps. He doubled over from the pain, and Mrs. Jessica Irons, the band director, even considered taking him to the hospital, though Centralia High’s insurance would take a hit. Within the second hour, Ben’s fever broke, so Mrs. Irons changed her mind. His chills did away with his temporary fever.
Since the closest disease to Ben’s symptoms, to Mrs. Irons’s recollection, was malaria, but she knew that malaria had been eradicated in America, she told my brother:
“Maybe it’s just the stomach flu. Or, a mild case of the West Nile fever. Would you like me to notify your parents?”
“No, that’s alright,” my brother said, “I’m feeling really much better, and seem to be getting my appetite back.”
“Well, that’s good,” Mrs. Irons said. “Especially because tomorrow, there’ll be an all-you-can-eat breakfast downstairs. And, we’re going to Casa Juan Bufo’s TexMex restaurant for lunch, for a genuine taste of Old Mexico, and for supper, we’re having our meal catered here by Mama Mia’s Pizzaria. You don’t want to miss out on that.”
“Do you think I could get Casa Juan Bufo’s to make me fajitas with raw steak?” Ben asked. “I know it sounds kinda gross, but I likes my steak to moo!”
“Hmm…” Mrs. Irons pondered. “I suppose that could be arranged. I’ll have to check up on that later and let you know. I just wish you weren’t still looking pale, but I’m sure that will pass once you get some food in you.”
“Yes,” my brother said, not wanting to alarm the band director, and believing that the yummy food that was on the horizon would vanquish his hunger pains. “I can hardly wait to tear into a leg—er—chicken leg, that sounds good, or a breast, or a—um—breakfast burrito or two would be great”
“O-kay then,” said Mrs. Irons. “Well, we’re going to have another busy day tomorrow, so perhaps it would be best for you to get to bed now and rest up.”
And that’s exactly what Ben did, or at least, what he tried to do. He went to his room, which he shared with Franklin Stubbs, who played the trumpet.
“Dude, I thought you were going to start throwing up all over Mrs. Irons’ designer shoes or something,” Frank said. “Are you sure you’re feelin’ better? Your eyes are dilated and rolling around like pinballs. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and have it be all like it’s ‘Game Over’ for you. I don’t want to sleep in the same room with a dead body. It wouldn’t be good for my image.”
“It’s like I told Mrs. Irons, Frank,” Ben said (or so he told me later), “I’m fine. It was just a, um, bug I must have contacted from the, um, giant bugs. Can you imagine if I started to turn into one, just like in that story by the Kafka guy?”
“Metamorphosis?”
“Yeah, that’s the one! Denise would drop me like a hot rock if I began to grow feelers out of the top of my head, and mandibles!”
“Nah, dude, she’d probably get into it, and it’d be the newest cool trend at Centralia High. Any guy who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sprout feelers and mandibles would be an Untouchable!”Stubbs said.
And, maybe he was onto something, for whatever my brother did, it somehow ended up making him more popular and solidifying his role as the leader of the “Cool Brigade,” as they were called back then.
At the time all of this went down, I was fifteen, and a lowly sophomore, and my brother was seventeen and a senior, with the girls flocking to him as if he was the star football player. He always had a certain animal magnetism about him, but more about that, later. He was like the Alpha male lion at the top of the food chain, and I was like a groveling hyena to him, supposed to be more than satisfied with the scraps he left behind.
That night, the hunger was growing in Ben. However, his lusting after the flesh was not sexual in nature, but more like the craving for food that a bear awoken from hibernation feels. Unlike Yogi, though, no amount of picnic baskets would be able to satisfy his hunger, unless they were stocked with human body parts and brains. Even the host of That’s Bizarre, Anthony Zimmer, would probably turn up his nose at the sort of meal Ben was contemplating at that moment. So, he did the only wise thing he could think of doing: made up an excuse to put as much distance between himself and Frank as he could. The hotel maids’ lives were probably difficult enough without adding getting blood stains out of the carpet, the drapes, the bedspread, the everything, to their duties.
“Frank, man, feelin’ nauseous here—need to get some fresh air,” Ben said, heading towards the door. “I’ll be back soon, but don’t wait up or worry about me. I’m a big boy.”
“Dude, if whatever teacher who’s chosen to make the rounds notices you’re not here, you’re going to be in some big trouble,” Frank said.
“Yeah, well,” Ben said. “I guess he or she will just have to get over it. I won’t be gone too long. After all, I have to be rested for tomorrow’s list of scheduled activities and carb loading. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in.”
“I’m not good at making up excuses,” Frank said. “I suppose I could say something like you’re downstairs in the Exercise Room, but if someone checks—“
“I’m outa here. Later, Frank!” my brother said, leaving the room.
Somehow, Ben made it outside without slaughtering anyone in cold blood. He considered that to be a great accomplishment in itself, taking into account the intense cravings he was experiencing. There were no cops he could see anywhere, though there was no telling if there were any surveillance cameras pointed his way.
Lake Michigan would be an ideal place to dispose of any bodies, Ben mused to himself. Then, he shook his head, and muttered: “What sort of crazy thoughts am I thinking? Disposing bodies of my victims in Lake Michigan? Who do I think I am, Al Capone? Or, perhaps Dexter, or some unholy combination of the two?”
Pondering about how foolish he felt, and the insane direction his thoughts were taking him into, did not do anything to alleviate his insatiable hunger pangs. Also, his muttering to himself did nothing to put the only other person on the sidewalk, a young woman who looked like she was in her early twenties, at ease.
Ben wasn’t paying attention to where he was, and was barreling down the sidewalk directly towards the woman. Startled, believing she was about to become the victim of a mugging (or worse), the young lady stepped off of the sidewalk and into the path of a speeding electric hybrid car. The driver, more concerned with reducing his carbon footprint and saving his own butt than the life and welfare of the woman he’d ran over, kept on going as if he had done nothing worse than running over a squirrel.
My brother was filled with righteous indignation, but he was more filled with hunger. He checked her pulse first—he’d learned that from when he was a Boy Scout—and, finding none, he thought: “What the hell. I may be a cannibal, or I may be turning into a—zombie—but at least I’m not a killer. Not yet, anyway. But I’m sure I don’t have much time—the police or paramedics may be here soon—so, I’d better dig in while I can. But, I need to be careful, also, not to get any blood on my clothes, and to try to make my bites look like they’re just a part of the damage the car must have caused. Not that anyone’s likely to jump to the conclusion that after having died, someone decided to then dine on this young lady.”
And, dine is what Ben did, wanting to bury his entire face into the woman’s body, and suck out her brains with a straw, but showing a careful restraint, ripping big gobs of flesh from her stomach and then moving to her face. Next time, he thought, I need to bring a lobster bib, or something similar. Then, the inevitable distant sirens came to his ears, and my brother became the second person to flee the scene of the unfortunate accident.
Next time? Ben thought. There I go again, thinking crazy thoughts.
****
“Dude, you’ve been gone like an hour,” Frank Stubbs said, “and the shower woke me up, and I then go into the bathroom to take a piss and the floor’s covered with your wet clothes, stinking to high heaven. What gives, bro?”
“That stench,” Ben said, “would be the smell of Lake Michigan. Not the most polluted of the Great Lakes, but if you jump into almost any lake with all of your clothes on, you won’t come out smelling like a daisy.”
“You went swimming in Lake Michigan? In April, when the water’s still cold, and in the middle of the night? What were you trying to do, wash off evidence of some grisly crime, or something?” Frank asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of what he’d just said.
“I happen to be a very health conscious sort of guy,” Ben answered, “who was feeling like he was about to throw up his toenails, and thought that a brisk swim in Lake Michigan might be just what the doctor ordered to clear my head and stop my urge to purge.”
“Too much information, bro,” Frank said.
“You’re the one who asked. I’ll gather up my clothes in the morning, and put them in my empty duffle bag that I brought along for my dirty clothes. The morning will be here before you know it, though, so right now, I’m going to get some sleep.”
“That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard you say all night. Maybe the swim in Lake Michigan really did clear your head.”
I didn’t really see my brother very much during that band trip. He was too busy with his own concerns, and I was busy with mine. Just an age difference of a couple of years can sometimes seem like an eternity, and can distance even close family members like brothers, especially once they hit their teen years. I suppose your brother becoming a zombie can do that, too, in some cases. Oddly enough, though, in some ways, Ben’s becoming a zombie brought us closer together. But, there were a few tough moments….
At home back in Centralia, Arkansas, everything was as it always had been. Mom and Dad suspected nothing, and I thought Ben had just been a little under the weather, and nothing more. Ben seemed like his usual self, though if we passed by the meat department in the supermarket, he liked to linger there in a rather creepy manner. Also, he had always liked his hamburgers and steaks medium well done, but when we returned, he insisted that they be barely browned at all. But, then again, Dad had always liked his steaks rare, and Mom sometimes ate raw hamburger meat, so they just thought that maybe his tastes were changing, and perhaps it was just a part of maturing into an adult.
They had no clue that it was really a part of transforming into a zombie.
Zombies, though, weren’t cool then. As I’ve mentioned, everything my brother did was cool, so even if they, or I, had some small inkling that Ben was exhibiting decidedly zombie-like tendencies (or, at the least, vampire-like ones), we probably figured that the changes had to be the result of anything else other than that he was becoming a full-fledged zombie. And, besides, didn’t zombies rise up out of graves? Weren’t they created by practitioners of voodoo, or hoodoo? Weren’t they mindless, shambling husks, more dead than living? And, didn’t they, like fish or relatives that have over-stayed their welcomes, begin to stink after a week’s time, max? And, zombies never, ever got the girls to fall all over them, though they did get them to sometimes trip and fall, the better to catch and eat.
There was no way, no how that my brother was becoming a zombie. You’d think that I, his own brother, his own flesh and blood, would know if he was undergoing such a drastic change before anyone else would, right? But, I didn’t even see it coming.
“Kyle,” Ben said later, “you probably didn’t see it coming because, well, being a zombie just wasn’t cool until I became one. It’s like the fad just wasn’t going to start, just wasn’t going to get off of the ground, until Fate gave me a big nudge and a wink, and said ‘You are a born trend-setter, lad. Zombies are the newest cool thang to set the world on fire, so a zombie you must become, even if it takes an alien peace-keeping mission gone horribly wrong to make you become one.’” And, who was I, I thought, to argue with such logic as that?
“Are you trying to tell me,” I asked, somewhat amused at the possibility, “that being a zombie is now suddenly cool? Is that what you’re asking me to swallow?”
“Well, after all,” Ben replied, “I’m a zombie, and I’m cool; ergo, now zombies are cool. I don’t really blame you—you just wouldn’t know what cool was even if it was a snake about to bite you.”
“A snake?” I said, stunned. “I believe I would know if there was a snake if front of me. It would be pretty obvious, wouldn’t it? It’d be either all coiled up, ready to strike, or it’d be slithering about on the floor, acting all snake-like—“
“Fine, Kyle,” Ben said. “so you know what a snake is. But, not what cool is, nor what sarcasm is—you’ve made that fairly apparent.”
“You’re a fine one to talk,” I said. “I probably know more about zombie factoids than anyone else I know, and I know that everyone knows that zombies are the living dead, and that they are only driven by hunger. It’s like an instinctual urge. They kind of lurk about, then BAM, they lunge at you when they get the chance. When they catch you, it’s pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition, unless they attack en masse, or a bunch of zombies have you surrounded. Then, you might as well just give up and face the inevitable fact that you’ll either become a zombie yourself, or get eaten. If that happens, then just your leftover bits and pieces will wiggle about, refusing to have the decency to lie still and accept death. Not a pleasant fate, and you, my brother, are not a zombie.”
“My brother, the idiot,” Ben said. “You may know most of the ways someone can become a zombie, and most of the so-called ‘facts’ about them. But, you know nothing about the type of zombie I am.”
“Oh?” I asked skeptically. “And what kind is that?”
“The kind created by alien-borne viruses, that’s what kind, idiota,” Ben said. “the kind I must have gotten when I shook hands with that Blaxon cockroach, or whatever sort of beetle he is, Major Slycon Glunk. So, you see, I am a zombie, whether you want to admit it or not. Still, I intend, my bro, to be the coolest zombie there ever was, so cool that everyone else will be wishing that they could be zombies, too. I’m going to change the entire world’s point of view about zombies.”
“What about the factoid that zombies are killing machines? Is that also untrue? What about them hungering for human flesh? Is that just the rumors people like Anderson Cooper tell the public on CNN?”
“Well, no,” Ben said, “those things are true. We’re scary fast and scary strong, and while the Blaxons never had any desire to take over the world, we do.”

Chapter Two
“Instant Fame Made Easy”
Despite my brother’s claim, I didn’t believe him for a second. Oh, I believed he believed he was a zombie, but I was used to his jumping from one fad or hobby to another, throwing his whole body and soul into it, and then dropping whatever it was usually within the space of a week. That had to be the way it was with Ben’s belief that he was a zombie. And, he was just trying to mess with me, get a rise out of me, with that overly dramatic statement about zombies wanting to take over the world. Even if there were such things as zombies, I reasoned, and even if their goal was to take over the world, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Instant fame wasn’t that easy, no matter what my brother might say to the contrary.
One question I hadn’t asked my brother is what, or who, he was eating. It was a question I definitely wanted to know the answer to, yet also definitely didn’t want to know the answer to, if you know what I mean. Other such questions included: If he was a zombie, who were his helpless victims? Did they suffer much? How many people has my big brother killed so far to satisfy his bizarre hunger, if he really was a zombie? Were the police hot on his trail, and did the tell-tale chain of evidence lead directly to our door? Was there a SWAT team, even now, outside our door, armed with shotguns to blast Ben’s head clean off of his shoulders? That was, after all, one of the better-known (and most assured) methods to kill a zombie.
The next day, the Centralia High School’s newspaper had an ad taken out in it that drew my rapt attention. Its headline proclaimed:
INSTANT FAME MADE EASY
Fame, popularity, the ability
To attract the opposite sex: Do
You Want It All?
Then Try The Zombie Method
Satisfaction Guaranteed
Or Your Money Back
Only $9.99
Call: 555-0666

The phone number seemed oddly familiar. That was probably because it was my brother’s cell phone number!
I had to put a stop to Ben’s insane money-making scheme before it started. I would do it the only way I knew how to: by getting the parental units involved. But, I couldn’t do that until after school, and I was still only in my first period Home Room class, English. It was an American Lit course, and the book we were slogging through was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It was difficult for me to pay attention, as my mind was on my brother’s twisted money-making (and, I feared, zombie-making) scheme to turn his affliction and his “Zombie Method” into a Get Rich Quick method.
Just how low can a person sink? I thought to myself. Then, I was abruptly snapped out of my reverie by Mrs. Slocomb’s grating and whiny voice calling my name:
“Kyle! Mr. Brooks! Earth to Kyle Brooks, come in, Kyle Brooks!” she said.
“Wha-wha-what?” I asked. “Is class over already?”
“No, Kyle—class is not over yet!” her Harpy-like tones assailed my ears, bombarding them like twenty-four-foot tall stereo loudspeakers of Doom. “It has barely even begun. With that kind of attitude, young man, the rest of the semester is going to seem ver-y long to you!”
“Oh, it already has seemed that to me, Mrs. Slocomb, ma’am,” I said. “This entire hour has seemed very long, actually.”
“As I said, it has barely begun. And now, it is your turn to read aloud, Mr. Brooks, and to rejoin the land of the living. We were on the part of the novel where the narrator, Nick Carroway, finally learns of how Jay Gatsby got his wealth, and becomes at least somewhat disillusioned by his knowledge. Knowledge does that sometimes, doesn’t it, Mr. Brooks?”
“Hmm…yes, I suppose it does, Mrs. Slocomb,” I replied, wondering if she was possibly somehow tuned into my thoughts about my big brother. Naw, that was just not possible!
“Begin with the first paragraph on page 107, please, Kyle,” my English teacher said.
“’And it was from Cody that he inherited money—a legacy of twenty-five thousand zombies–er—dollars’, I meant to say. ‘Zombie didn’t get it. Zombie never understood the legal device that was used against zombie but—‘” Laughter was erupting all around me. My cheeks flushed red in embarrassment.
“Mr. Kyle Brooks!” Mrs. Slocomb shouted. “Come to my desk this instant! You may think you’re being funny, but it’s not funny to disrupt an entire class and interfere with the education of others, and their appreciation of a classic American novel!”
“Not even a little funny?” I asked. I thought, hey, I’m already in trouble, I’d already crossed that invisible line, so why not infiltrate that enemy territory further? In retrospect, it was not my best idea ever, not one of my shining moments.
Yeah, well, watcha gonna do? The morning seemed to be going steadily downhill. I was never one to get into trouble, never one to buck authority. I had only my brother the zombie’s best interests at heart, and here I now was, the new Black Sheep of the family, on my way to Principal Don Delay’s office.
He was not one to waste time in idle banter, chat you up, nor delay; not Principal Delay. He was a stalwart soul, hardy of spirit, a no-nonsense sort of guy—all qualities that spelled Instant Infamy to anyone, like myself, who crossed his path. I had a definite feeling of imminent calamity about to befall me as I entered the office and sauntered to the secretary’s desk. And, wouldn’t you know it; Principal Delay was not in a conference, nor on the phone. There would be no delaying my encounter with Principal Delay.
“Ah, Mr. Kyle Brooks,” Principal Delay began, smiling a very crocodilian smile at me. “What brings you to my office today? It’s not the time of the year for the Yearbook pictures to be taken, that can’t be it. It’s not a matter related to the PTA or Honor Society, is it? I’ve got it! Your brother is in trouble and you’ve come to see me before he does, to try to get me in a good mood and not go so hard on him as I otherwise might. That’s it, isn’t it?”
“No, not really, Principal Delay, sir,” I said. “I’m afraid I’m here on my own behalf. Mrs. Slocomb sent me out of her room to see you because it’s her belief I was disrupting her class.”
“And, were you, Kyle? Disrupting her class, that is? Or was she somehow badly mistaken? Did you get into trouble for what someone else did, but that she is blaming you for, perhaps? You don’t want to get the other person in trouble, out of fear of retaliation for tattling on him or her? Come on, tell me the truth,” Principal Delay said. “I haven’t got all day, though it might appear that way, just because I’m not particularly busy right now.”
“Oh, there’s no denying that you are very busy, sir,” I said. “We were reading aloud from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and somehow, I kept saying the word ‘zombie,’ whenever I should have instead said a pronoun, like ‘he’ or ‘his.’ I really don’t know what came over me, sir. I wasn’t intending to disrupt Mrs. Slocomb’s English class. In fact, I have enjoyed reading The Great Gatsby so far, and I like reading, in general. It was like a mysterious compulsion came over me, making me say things I didn’t really want to say, and do things I didn’t want to do. I have had zombies on my brain a lot lately, though.”
“Hah!” Principal Delay laughed. “Zombies on the brain! In movies, they eat brains, and here you are, thinking about them and blurting out the word ‘zombies’ at inappropriate times, when your own brain should be on your class work. Well, I actually believe what you’re telling me, Kyle; but, that doesn’t excuse your behavior, it just explains it.
“I’ll go easy on you, because this is the first time you’ve been sent to my office for any offense; but, I still need to punish your behavior. One day’s worth of detention, shall we say, today, for a half-hour after school. Just report to Room 111 Mr. Fergusson’s Shop Class, at 3:00. And, Mr. Brooks, try to make sure that you keep the subject of zombies off your brain while you should be paying attention to the subjects your teachers are trying to teach you.”
“Today?” I said, thinking that today was the worse day possible for me to serve detention. I needed, instead, to get home, have a heart-to-heart talk with my older brother, and convince him to stop his money-making scheme and, if he had any ideas about turning his fellow classmates into zombies, to take the advice of The Sopranos from TV and “Forget about it!” If he wouldn’t listen to me, I’d have to spill the beans to Mom and Dad.
“Yes, ‘today,’” Principal Delay said, wondering why I was still in his office, and questioning the words he’d handed down to me as if he’d been given them in a moment of divine inspiration from atop the Sacred Mount. “Would you rather try for two days? No? Then take this pass back to your next class, and get outa here! I hope that in the future, you will only come to this office because you’ve been sent here on school business, and not because you’ve been a discipline problem.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, backing out of his office with the pass he’d handed to me. “Room 111 at 3:00; I’ll be there, sir.”
“See that you are. Have a good day, Kyle,” he said, then looked back down at the papers on his desk, having dismissed me.
I then walked slowly to my second period class, Mrs. Angle’s Advanced Geometry, after first stopping at my locker to pick up the textbook for her course.
Somehow, I got through my other classes of the day without another repeat of my uncontrollably blurting out the word “zombies” as I had done in my Home Room English class. I relied on Ben for transportation, so I had to tell him in the parking lot before I went for Detention that I needed him to stick around until 3:30 because Mrs. Slocomb had sent me to Principal Delay’s office.
“You, Mr. Goody Two-Shoes, got sent to Delay’s office?” Ben asked, incredulously. “Maybe there’s hope for you yet, bro. Maybe you’ve got at least a speck of coolness inside of you, struggling to surface. All I need to do is to help you bring it out.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “One day’s worth of Detention is more than enough for me, thank you very much.
“Anyway,” I added, “I’ve got to get to Shop Class, and spend the next half-hour with the Ferg-Man. I’ll see you in thirty!”
There I was, surrounded on every side by Centralia High’s Who’s Who of delinquents. I’d grabbed The Great Gatsby to read ahead, and a couple of other textbooks I needed to do homework in when I got home, and I was trying to make the best of a bad situation by spending the thirty minutes constructively, by doing my homework. Getting good grades was important to me, and besides, it helped keep Mom and Dad off my back. Maybe getting a little ahead in my classes would prevent my parents getting too angry at me for getting Detention—that was my hope, anyway. I crossed my fingers that I wasn’t deluding myself.
I heard whispered talking around me. I thought that was not very unusual; it happened in every class, every day; of course, it would happen in Detention, as well. But, then I began to listen to what was being said. Brandon Taylor and Calvin Smith were nodding their heads and pointing towards me.
I didn’t hear everything they said, but they were talking about my brother, also, and how he’d changed since the band trip. And, they talked about the ad in today’s school newspaper.
“There he is, the zombie’s bro,” Brandon said, under his breath. “What’s a nerd like him doing here?”
“I was in the same American Lit class, Old Mrs. Slocomb’s, when it happened,” Calvin said. “Slocomb asked him to read, and he just freaked, saying ‘Zombie this, and Zombie that,’ instead of what was really in the book. I think it was some book called The Great Fatsby, or something like that.”
“Cal,” Brandon said, “you must mean The Great Gatsby.” This impressed me, in spite of myself. One of the high school’s most notorious bullies knew the correct title of the book I was reading. Will wonders never cease, I thought.
“Yeah, whatever. The point is he got sent to the principal’s office. Maybe some of his brother’s coolness is rubbing off on him,” Calvin whispered. “Maybe what Ben said to us about the Zombie Method really works. It’s guaranteed; maybe we ought to give it a try.”
“But we’re already cool, so what do we need with it, Cal?”Brandon asked.
“You can never be too cool. Hey, if it helps in the Love Life department, I say it’s worth the ten bucks. If it doesn’t work, and he refuses to refund my money, I can always get the fun of beating him up, at least,” Cal said.
“When you put it that way,” Brandon said, “why not? If the Zombie Method to give someone instant fame can even work for Ben’s brother, Kyle, there’s no tellin’ what it’ll do for us.”
Crap. Things seemed to be going steadily out of control, from bad to worse. If I didn’t convince Ben to shut his newly created business down, he might get in trouble from the school, our parents, and the law. He might mean by the “Zombie Method,” that he would bite chunks of flesh from whomever paid him the $9.99, enough to satisfy his perverse appetite, and in turn, cause them to change into zombies like himself (though slightly nibbled on ones).
Yet if I did talk him into forgetting about his mad money-making scheme, that would piss off everyone who might have already paid him money. They were expecting to become cool; they were expecting, as Ben had advertised: “Instant Fame Made Easy.” At best, they would simply demand their money back, and Ben would be forced to hand it over. At worse, my brother would have spent the money already, and he would get beaten up by those he’d cheated out of their money, and I would also get beaten up, just because he was my bro and we shared the same last name. Talk about a no-win situation….
****
The drive home to our house at 1776 Washington St. was tense. As we were going down the road in his used but cherry black Trans-Am, I brought up the subject of having read the ad in the school newspaper. He tried to brush it off, and downplay any potentially bad outcome.
“I have a fool-proof method here, Kyle,” Ben insisted. “It will work. I will make it work. As long as you or no one else rats on me, I’ll make a pot full of money. Mom and Dad don’t have to be the wiser. We won’t get beaten up because I will succeed, and besides, I’m much stronger than I used to be, so if anyone tries anything, it won’t be us that is getting beaten up—it’ll be them. The Norms. The UnChanged. The UnCool.
“And, Kyle, here’s the really important part, the beauty part, which I didn’t want to tell you until the Zombie Method had made me loads of money. I know how much you want to go to college, and how you’ve been worried that maybe Mom and Dad couldn’t afford to send you there. I know how you’ve been busting your hump and studyin’ trying to earn a full scholarship so our folks won’t have to struggle to come up with the money needed to pay for your tuition if you don’t manage to earn a full scholarship.
“I was going to set aside a quarter of all the money I made, that’s right, 25%, and then give it to you as a surprise whenever you got the letter sayin’ you’d been accepted into whatever college it is you want to go to after you graduate from Centralia High. I won’t lie; I’m not doin’ this entirely for you, though you’re my bro—but, I do want to see you get the chance to go to college, if that’s what you want to do with your life.”
“I don’t know what to say,” I said.
“How about sayin’ that we’ll be partners, partner,” Ben said. “But it means you can’t tell anyone about our deal. Not Mom, Dad, or any other adult. Do you agree? Do we have a deal?”
My brother could be mighty persuasive when he wanted to be. Though it made me uncomfortable to the very bone about the wrongness and craziness of the whole scheme, and my role in it, I stuttered my agreement.”D-D-Deal.”
“That’s the Kyle I know. You are really going to go places, bro,” Ben said. “Go places and do things and make something of your life. And you just might end up being a little bit cooler, too. And don’t worry, if you are—I have no plans to bite you, and turn you into a zombie.”
“You don’t?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “For one, it’s just gross to think about biting my own brother. For another, it wouldn’t be that great of a business decision to zombify the person you’re askin’ to be your business partner, now would it?”
I’d gone from wanting to give my brother the zombie a stern talking to, to agreeing to be his business partner in the space of five minutes. I had the feeling that I’d be taken in by the cheesiest sales pitch from the sleaziest used car dealer whenever I got old enough and money enough to buy a car. My firm resolve had melted like a popsicle on a hot August day. What would Ben have me doing next, sell T-shirts from a stand in Centralia High’s hallways with “I Was Bitten By A Zombie And I Liked It,” written on them?

Chapter Three
“Don’t Give a Sucker An Even Break”
“It’s a simple matter of salesmanship, bro,” Ben said to me. “You’re gonna be the poster boy for the Zombie Method, the lure for the masses, the stink bait for the masses of catfish we’re gonna reel in, the manure for the—“
“Hey, hey! Let’s not get too personal! You’ve already compared me to stink bait, which is bad enough—but manure?” I asked. “Isn’t the Zombie Method supposed to make people cooler, not stinkier?”
“Yes, and it does, Kyle,” Ben said. “But who’s better as a Before Zombie Method poster boy than you? And, it’ll make the After Zombie Method results look even more impressive to our potential suckers—er—clients.”
“If it works so well,” I said, “then why call our clients ‘suckers’?”
“Oh, ye of little faith—now, where have I heard that expression before? Never mind; I was just thinking of a famous saying of the black-and-white comedian W.C. Fields, ‘Never give a sucker an even break.’ Of course, I didn’t really mean that our clients are ‘suckers’—what would give you that silly impression?”
“Why, you gave me ‘that silly impression,’ that’s who,” I said, “probably when you called our clients ‘suckers’.”
“Let’s not split hairs here, and argue who called whom ‘suckers,’” my brother said. “The point is, one of the best sales tactics there is involves showing suck–clients—how well a product works by showing them an example of the outcome of using said product. That example, bro, will be you.”
“Let’s say for argument’s sake that I agree to be your ‘example,’” I said, “what would you plan to do with me to convince people that your Zombie Method actually works, and is on the level? Remember, nothing that requires me to get bitten by you or anything or one else!”
“Relax, Kyle! Geez, you whine more than our neighbor’s Chihuahua, dude!” Ben said. “I already told you; you’re safe from me; I’m not going to bite you; we’ll get you a couple of concert T-shirts, hair gel, stylin’ tennis shoes, squirt you with some Zombie Extract, so you’ll be irresistible to the fairer sex–”
“Hold on, hold on!” I said. “Watcha mean, ‘squirt you with some Zombie Extract’? Just what are the ingredients to this stuff? Is it approved by the FDA? How do I know it’s hypoallergenic, or doesn’t cause cancer?”
“Trust me, bro.” Ben said. “It’s an all-natural, very Green formula. It isn’t technically approved by the FDA, whoever they are—what are they, a bunch of scientists in some secret government facility?”
“They’re not that; the initials stand for the Food and Drug Administration.” I answered my brother. “They tell us what’s safe to use, except for slip-ups, like with Phen-Phen, or Restilax, which was supposed to relieve the symptoms of people with the Crazy Leg Syndrome, but which actually caused severe stomach cramps. It was later remarketed as a cure for constipation, and made the company, PleasureX Industries, beaucoup dollars. Don’t you listen to CNN or read the newspapers?”
“As little as possible,” Ben replied. “Zombie Extract, to answer your question is a special formulation I developed that is the whole key to our success, Kyle. It is made from various herbs, quality H2O, fruit extracts I got at the Gorgon’s Head Natural Health Food Shoppe downtown to give it a pleasant odor, and zombie pheromones made from my own—“
“Don’t say it; don’t say your own sweat, don’t say it!” I said.
“From my own perspiration,” Ben said. “just like the perfume that used to be made in the times of the ancient Roman gladiators, K-Man. Groupies would buy up bottles of the gladiators’ sweat by the cartload, to attract the man or woman of their dreams.
“Hmm…K-Man—that could be a great nickname for you, another good way to increase your popularity, Kyle,” my brother continued, “not that you’ll need anything besides a daily squirt from a bottle like this one here, which just so happens to have my picture on its label.”
“Where do you get the ‘perspiration’? Your armpits?” I asked. “No, wait—don’t tell me—I don’t think I really want to know the answer to that. But, what makes you think that people will want to spray that stuff all over their bodies? What makes you think that I want to spray it all over my body?”
“Oh, you’ll do it,” Ben said, “for the Instant Fame, and for the hot bods that are sure to follow you. You’ll have as many followers as Ashton Kutcher after you use this for a week, Kyle. That’s why you will want to use it. And of course, think of attending the college, of driving fancy sports cars, holding hands and pressing lips with actual girls…”
“I’ve held hands with girls before!” I indignantly said.
“Helping elderly ladies cross the street doesn’t count, Kyle.”
“I’ve held hand with more females than those, Ben!” I said. “Oh, fork over the bottle—I will try anything once—but, if it starts to burn my skin—“
“It’s not going to burn your skin, Kyle! Just try it, and stop complaining!”
So I did. I tried it, and it did not burn my skin off. It tingled a bit, but my brother said that was what it was supposed to do; it just meant that it was working its magic on me, that its special mojo was interacting with my piss poor mojo, and counteracting it. And, it did not smell like sweaty gym socks or armpits, which I’d feared. It actually smelled pretty nice, kind of like apple shampoo, not that I usually use apple shampoo or anything. I hoped that it would work like Ben claimed it would, but I wasn’t about to hold my breath.
Zombie Extract just might be the next Big Thing, I found myself thinking, if my brother was correct and it actually did attract the opposite sex. I felt like cruising the Centralia Mall, or even—gag—like going to school, just to (you understand) check out whether or not heads would turn when they got close enough to me to inhale a whiff of the magical Zombie Extract. Could it be that my brother really had hit on a Get-Rich Quick scheme that really worked? Would Instant Fame & Fortune be his, and by extension, mine?
****
The following day at school, I exuded a brand-new confidence. I had on a Maroon 5 T-shirt, and walking down the hallways, I had moves that Mick Jagger would have been jealous of, if he’d seen me. Heads definitely turned as I strolled by, and this time, not because my fly was down, like that oh-so-embarrassing moment back in ninth grade when I didn’t notice it for half the day, but wondered why I was getting a definite chill below the belt. At the mall, the female cashiers had seemed more pleasant, flirting with me and my zombie brother; but, then I wasn’t sure if it was just him that drew their attention, or if I had played a part in it, also. Now, I knew for sure: the Zombie Extract was some potent stuff, like sexual lightning in a bottle.
“Nice tennis shoes,” Adele Morgan, one of the cutest cheerleaders at Centralia High, said as we passed each other, “and are those new designer jeans?”
“Why, yes, they are.” I said. “Thanks for noticing. Maybe we can hang out with each other this Saturday, maybe take in a movie?” Please, please, please, say yes! I was thinking to myself. I hoped she didn’t notice how nervous I felt.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” she said, then quickly jotted her cell phone number on a scrap of paper, and handed it to me, saying “Catch you later! I gotta get to my Latin class before I’m late! See you, Kyle!”
“See you later, Adele!” I said. She actually knew my name! I thought I was too unimportant or ordinary or geeky for her to pay any attention to; but, I thought as I beat the buzzer and plopped into a seat in my English class, maybe I was wrong. Or, maybe the apple-scented Zombie Extract was what made her suddenly pay attention to me. I was fifty percent sure that I was one hundred percent sure that it was the Zombie Extract that had transformed me into a babe magnet.
In Mrs. Slocomb’s English class, all heads turned my way. But, that was probably because I had started to sweat profusely, and I had a sudden attack of stomach cramps that twisted and churned my guts like kids at Halloween ripping out the innards of pumpkins to make them into Jack-O’Lanterns
I ran to the restrooms, doubled over, without bothering to slow down and asking for permission, and barely made it there before the projectile puking commenced. That would have really impressed the ladies. Fortunately, I hadn’t got any vomit on my clothes or new tennis shoes, but my breath smelled rank. I rinsed my mouth in the sink (like that would really help) then grabbed my Tic-Tacs from my front pants pocket and crammed them into my cheeks until a looked like a chipmunk. Then, head lowered, hoping I wouldn’t be busted for being in the halls between classes without a pass, I headed back to Mrs. Slocomb’s class.
I was thinking that this would be two days in a row I was going to wind up in Principal Delay’s office and then detention, and I was feeling sorry for myself, and still sick to my stomach. And, there was another urge I was experiencing, that I couldn’t place my finger on; I was feeling so empty, so drained, so…hungry. Hungry for…flesh, for a delicious platter full of brains, maybe with some Nacho Cheese sauce—oh, yeah, that’s what the Kyle-ster wants!
What was I thinking? Where did those thoughts come from? Those were more the kind of thoughts that, well, my brother the zombie told me he’d thought. The urgings and cravings I felt were—his. What was happening to me?
Then it came to me, the horrifying realization that I was becoming like my brother Ben, probably because of the Zombie Extract! I had learned that people could catch certain diseases through the transmission of bodily fluids, but it just hadn’t occurred to me when I sprayed myself with the Zombie Extract that by doing so I might infect myself with whatever alien virus that had caused my brother to become a zombie. The active virus must have seeped its way through my pores into my system, into my blood.
But, I vowed I would fight the urges. I would not give in. I would not eat human flesh like my brother did. I would not be a part of any plan to spread the cult of Zombieism that my brother was attempting to cultivate through his totally screwed-up invention, Zombie Extract.
“Don’t give a sucker an even break, Kyle. Never give a sucker an even break.” Ben’s words kept running through my brain, infiltrating my thoughts, taking control over me. I was like the character of Jack Nicholson in The Shining—by spraying the Zombie Extract on myself, it was like I had listened to the creepy twin girls in the corridors of the Overlook Hotel who said: “Be one of us, be one of us…forever and ever, and ever.”
Mrs. Slocomb took one look at me, and said “You poor dear!” Maybe the animal magnetism that was the one good thing about the Zombie Extract’s effects was still at work. Maybe it was just because I looked as sick as a dog. She continued: “Here; take this pass and go to the school nurse’s office right away, Kyle. I was about to hand out a quiz, but you can retake it when you feel better.”
“Thanks,” I said to Mrs. Slocomb. “I don’t know what came over me. It must be a, um, bug. My brother had it a while ago, and—“
“Well, we wouldn’t want you to turn into a zombie like him, now would we?” she asked as I was almost out the door.
“What was that? A what?” I asked, refusing to believe my ears.
“A zombie, Kyle,” Mrs. Slocomb said. “Oh, I’m just teasing you. I’m sure you’ve heard the ludicrous rumors that have been floating around that your brother is a zombie. I’m just messing with you. Everybody knows that zombies aren’t real, Kyle. You didn’t think I was being actually serious, did you?”
“Uh no, ha, ha,” I said. “Of course not. Like you said, everyone knows zombies aren’t real. I’d better get to the nurse’s office. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Slocomb!”
I guess I couldn’t escape my fate. I was doomed to follow in my brother’s footsteps. I was destined to become a zombie just like him.
****
After the Blaxons first landed on Earth, there were rumors, of course (just like the “rumors” that Mrs. Slocomb had heard about my brother), about zombies that walked the land, zombies that were somehow linked to our would-be alien friends. Many people believed that the Blaxons brought the zombie curse with them. Other people, and scientists, vociferously stated the impossibility of that idea.
“It’s just another wild conspiracy theory,” said Attorney General Lamar Romero. “There’re no such things as zombies,” he said to the American people. “I’d stake my life on it.” And he did.
He was some months later tied to a wooden stake outside of huge but hastily-constructed wooden gates that his city’s inhabitants had erected, at the height of the Zombie Epidemic. Attorney General Lamar Romero was torn to pieces, eaten alive by a pack of roaming zombies. That was the type of revenge that was enacted by the populace upon scientists, doctors, and other people in authority, like politicians, that lied to them (whether knowingly or not) during those days.
But such things were hushed up, as best as the government could manage, even when famous people like the Attorney General were involved. Witnesses disappeared; people were paid off; what was the truth became called “the crazy speculation of extremist rednecks,” or of “right-wing religious fanatics.” New media “talking heads” replaced the old ones.
There were stories of Blaxon spaceships being swarmed by men with shotguns, or blasted from the skies by heat-seeking missiles, to come crashing down to Earth as giant fireballs. Men with cans of Raid aimed them at any Blaxons they saw, and killed them dead. And then, even the Blaxons had enough, and eventually they retaliated. But, I am getting ahead of myself by several years. All of this happened in the era when zombies were once again no longer thought of as being “cool.” But, they once were…I and my brother are proof of that.
****
“Ben,” I said on our way home after school, “we need to stop selling your Zombie Extract. We need to find all of the bottles you’ve already sold and gather them together and set fire to them. They must be destroyed!”
“What are you talking about, Kyle?” Ben asked. “You seemed fine with being the Zombie Poster Boy yesterday. What’s changed your mind?”
“I was never really ‘fine’ with it,” I said. “I just got my mind clouded up with ideas of wealth, and college, and other things I could do with the money if the Zombie Extract worked and your money-making scheme really succeeded.”
“Yeah, and it is succeeding, Kyle,” Ben said. “It’s succeeding like a charm. I’ve sold all of the bottles I had already. I was thinking of lifting weights when we get home, to really get the sweat flowin’, so we can have more Zombie Extract to sell tomorrow.”
Oh, no,” I said. “That just can’t happen, Ben. That stuff works, but I think it’s changing me into a zombie, just like you. Instead of selling more of the Zombie Extract and spreading the virus, we need to figure out a way to cure it, and prevent the spread of Zombieism.”
“What about the Instant Fame? What about the girls? What about the piles of money, and going to college? What about the girls?” Ben asked me.
“You said ‘What about the girls,’ twice,” I said.
“Yeah, but it bears repeating. I was tryin’ to do you a favor, a solid. What’s wrong with the world when an older brother can’t help out his younger brother?”
“Help me by turning me into a flesh-eating zombie, like—“ I said.
“Like me, you mean?” Ben asked.
“I was going to say, like the ones in ‘Night of the Living Dead.’”
“You’re my bro, bro,” Ben said. “I may not like giving suckers even breaks, but I was honestly just tryin’ to do what’s best for you. At least, best in the long run.”
“What do mean, the ‘long run’? I asked.”How’s being a zombie any better in the long run? Zombies are zombies, after all.”
“Ah-ha!” Ben said. “They’re not at all the same, Kyle. And, you just asked the most important question of your new life as a zombie, whether or not you realize it.”


Menelaus Illation Montrose, Texas gunslinger, idealist, and posthuman genius, who author John C. Wright introduced us to in his brilliant Count To a Trillion, is back in the sequel, The Hermetic Millennia. He is in cryo-suspension, but is brought out of it at periodic times. These are always at crucial turning-points in the history and evolution of mankind. Without his genius and militaristic action as the leader of the Knights Hospitalier, humanity could easily find itself enslaved, or made into the serfs of an advanced alien race, or face the possibility of extinction.

At the point when Menelaus is awoken, humans are under the control of Psychohistorians. There are the Giants and the Iron Ghosts, who both want to mold humanity’s evolution. The Giants are posthumans, articial humans within Menelaus’ intelligence range, while the Iron Ghosts are creations of the Scholars, who made the Iron Ghosts to contain emulations of Montrose’s brain. The Giants have gargantuan genetically-modified bodies to house, as Sir Guiden puts it, “their correspondingly elephantine brains.”

The Hermeticists are called that because they were originally the crew members of the spaceship, the Hermetic, who, along with Montrose, journeyed to study an alien artifact in Count To a Trillion known as “The Monument.” There, they learned technologies and techniques unknown on Earth, through the alien hieroglphs on “The Monument.” This advanced knowledge was the product of an ancient alien civilzation billions of years older than our own, much of which–to humans–seemed indistinguishable from magic. The knowledge made over sixty of the seventy crew members eventually go mad when they attempted to implement the “Prometheus augmentation,” but the remaining members of the crew became the rulers of mankind.

Sir Guiden tells Menelaus that the ringleaders of the crew and the Hermtecists somehow “are still alive and sane.” These include the Master of the Earth, Ximen del Azarchel, the commander-in-chief of the world armed forces, Narcis D’Arago, and Menelaus’ arch nemesis, Blackie. However, they have been in hiding since the “Decivilization War,” which destroyed the major cities of the Earth. They were burned to cinders by the Giants, who directed “orbital mirrors” towards the cities. The whole world saw and heard someone who looks exactly like Montrose give the orders for the cities to be burned.

The war was fought between the Giants and the Ghosts, but it was humans who suffered the most. As Sir Guiden tells Menelaus, though it involved math equations, “It was no mere abstract argument. It was about whether humanity would be dehumanized and tyrannized.” The fate of mankind, if the Hermeticists had their way, would be to make subspecies of mankind which would then serve as the slaves and serfs of the intelligent machine-life of the Hyades Cluster. But, even to do this and ensure humanity’s survival, the evolution of mankind’s intelligence would need to be artificially speeded up. The machine-life of the Hyades Cluster was accidently summoned when humans meddled with The Monument.

Among the many other conflicts that Montrose has to deal with in The Hermetic Millennia are the efforts of Rania to bring a Diamond Star made from antimatter out of its orbit. That is the only way, Rania believes, that humainty can stand a chance fighting afainst the aliens of the Hyades Cluster. That’s because, as Menelaus tells Sir Guiden, to defeat such advanced foes it would require a lot of energy: “It takes fuel to calculate. Fuel to think.” The aliens, though, have launched an offensive of their own: a dirigible gas gaint the size of Uranus which will arrive circa A.D. 11000.

A rogue Hermeticist, known as the Judge of Ages, wants to create a free version of mankind. They would then fight against the aliens, and though tey’d be about as mismatched as the Zulus were agaisnt the British, like the Zulus, they might be able to win. The energy that humanity could mine from the Diamond Star, which they could reach much more easily if Rania’s efforts are successful, could mean the difference in a potential war against the alien machine-life.

The Hermetic Millennia is sweeping and epic in scope, and is a thinking man’s Space Opera. I enjoyed reading the first book in the series, Countdown To a Trillion, but I wondered if any sequel to it would be as good. It’s a fantastic read, and a great addition to the series. Since Menelaus is so hyper-intelligent, certain parts of the book are written in a complex manner, using terms and jargon that may be unfamiliar to many readers–but, that’s often the case with the “hard science” type of science fiction that authors like Isaac Asimov wrote about in his Foundation series. If you’re a fan of Countdown To a Trillion and hard SF, I highly recommend that you read The Hermetic Millennia by John C. Wright.


The World’s Most Beloved Pterodactyl (Or is that terrier-dactyl)You asked for it, my adoring public, and you got it! At last, my third novel in my series, The Case Files of Lily and PAWS, has made it to ebook format, and will soon be in paperback, exclusively at Amazons WORLDWIDE! I will give the links to the USA and UK stores, but it’s available at ALL Amazons. In the USA, d/load it at: amazon.com/dp/B00960RFRQ while in the U.K., d/load it at: amazon.co.uk/dp/B00960RFRQ

What can you expect to read in Lily Solves Them All? The unexpected, that’s what! Lily gains a new arch-nemesis, Professor Polynesia, who is bent on exposing Lily and PAWS as being, as best, second-rate detectives. Will Lily, her “owner,” fourteen-year-old Celeste, and PAWS rise to the occasion and take her challenge to solve 7 difficult cases using the methods of 7 of the world’s best-known detectives of literature and the Silver Screen; or, will she and her freinds hand their heads in shame, and give up being detectives forever? What do YOU think?

There are more characters, more cases, more friends, and more foes than ever in this third book. There are copper automatons (Can you say “steampunk”? I knew you could!), evil Leprechauns, werewolves, a mad scientist called Dr. Chronos, vampires, witches, ghosts, aliens, and much, much more!

The 7 detectives Lily must use the methods of (I altered their names) are Sherlock Bones, Nero Wolf, Colombo, Miss Marvel, Hercule Parrot, Sam Specter, and Inspector Bluessaeau. The cases are Lily’s and PAWS’ most challenging yet, and include some of the most page-turning and humorous cases so far! I invite you all to partake–it is not a requirement to have read the first two ebooks/paperbacks in the series, Lily, Unleashed & Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer; but, hey, I’m maybe a tiny bit biased–they are great, too, and I hope you read all three, as well as my awesome Great Gatsby-influenced ebook/paperback, My Brother The Zombie (The Zombie Revolution: Book One). What’re ya waitin’ for?


Part murder mystery, part science fiction time-traveling tale where realities bleed into each other, like in Philip K. Dick’s SF novels, The Man From Primrose Lane is a quirky, suspenseful read that will haunt your dreams for years to come. Its melding of different genres has caused some critics to react, at least in part, unfavorably towards James Renner’s debut novel, while others, who seem to “get it,” have given The Man From Primrose Lane glowing reviews. Why is this? Is The Man From Primrose Lane a great novel, which you’ll want to add to your reading lists; or is it one you would be better off avoiding, at all costs? This review will attempt to answer those questions, and help you decide if it’s worth your hard-earned dollars to buy it.

I think it’s a good thing to read what several reviewers have written about a book before you decide to buy it. You run the risk of having a couple of spoilers revealed, but you might read about a book you’ll fall in love with, which you would never have known even existed, if you hadn’t read the review. But, also, you will not be (hopefully) disappointed as much as you might otherwise be with the purchase of a book, because you will know ahead of time if it’s a book that will appeal to you or not.

I’ll admit, right from when I heard the title of this novel, I wasn’t all that sure I’d like it. The Man From Primrose Lane is not a title that told me much about what the novel is about, other than it will deal with, on one level or another, a–duh–man from Primrose Lane. But, what sort of a man? Will he be the main character, will the novel be mostly about his life, will there be a mystery involved? I had a lot of questions about the novel, just from having read the title–though, it’s not a bad title–it just didn’t really tell me much about what the book would be about.

Just as you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover, I found out that you shouldn’t always judge a book by its title, either. I really enjoyed Renner’s The Man From Primrose Lane, but don’t get it if you’re only a fan of mysteries, or are only a fan of science fiction, or you probably won’t get into the book very much.

Who is the man of the title? He is an odd man, who has a penchant for wearing mittens, no matter how warm or cold it is outside. He has the reputation of being a street person, though he has a house, with a closet full of boxes of mittens. Learning why he enjoys wearing mittens is one of the mysteries of the novel you’ll find out as you read it.

Why would anyone want to brutally murder such a man, who may seem to be, on the surface, anyway, harmless, if eccentric and reclusive? He is murdered at the very beginning of the novel, his fingers cut off of his hands while, apparently, he’s still alive. Was it a madman who killed him? A serial killer? Or, maybe someone who had been victimized or wronged by the man in the past?

Enter the author David Neff, who is asked by his publisher to write a book about the “Man with a Thousand Mittens.” Neff, a widower with a four-year-old son, Tanner, becomes the main focus of the novel, the main protagonist of this schizophenic (in a good way) novel. He’s written a bestselling book, The Serial Killer’s Protégé, about the convicted serial killer Ronil Brune and his rommmate, Trimble (the actual murderer), so his publisher thinks that Neff would be a good choice to write a book about the murder of the Man with a Thousand Mittens.

Neff’s book is about the series of murders of young, innocent ten-year-old red-haired girls that was blamed on Brune, who was executed 10 years ago. Through some “haunted letters,” he discovers, Neff learns that the actual murderer was Brune’s roommate, Trimble. The murders followed the hibernation cycle of the cicada. Somehow the identity of the Man with a Thousand Mittens.” holds the key to the ongoing series of murders. Though Brune didn’t commit the murders, he is far from a saint, and his spirit tries to possess Neff’s body. Can Neff figure out the information he needs to prevent the murderer from striking again?

Neff is romantically drawn to the character of Elizabeth, a moody and mysterious lady, who eventually becomes his wife. But, at least in part because of Neff’s obsessive drive to prove that Trimble was the real murderer, and the psychotic episodes Neff has until his therapist prescribes a strong medication, Elizabeth commits suicide. We also read that Elizabeth had a twin sister, who was one of the girls who were abducted and killed.

In the second section of the book, Neff goes off his meds, contrary to the advice of his therapist. It’s four years after the murders that Neff has written about in his bestselling book, and it’s when his editor assigns him the job of writing about the “Man with the Thousand Mittens.”

Then, in the third section, Dave’s character splits in two and half of him travels to the year 2036. Is he going insane, or has he (a part of him, anyway) actually traveled forward in time? Could it be that there’s a second serial killer? Good advice Neff could have used: Beware of peculiar black cats and black eggs.

The Man From Primrose Lane is a fascinating debut novel, and I look forward to reading and reviewing more books from James Renner in the coming years. It is a tangled mix of story lines that is somewhat tricky to keep up with, but if you like novels that cross and blend genres in very inventive ways, The Man From Primrose Lane is one you’ll want to add to your reading lists. Check it out today!


If you’re a fan of tales of the macabre, and you dig reading Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, then you will also want to check out Frank G. Poe’s collection of tales and poems titled Raven Wings and 13 More Twisted Tales for the low price of $10.95 for the paperback edition. If you click on the title, you’ll be taken to Amazon where you can purchase the book. Elsewhere at this site, I reviewed the second book of Poe’s tales, Star Child and 13 More Twisted Tales, which is another page-turning collection of delightfully twisted tales and poems.

What do you get when you buy this book? Is it one worth your money, one that would make a great addition to your personal library? As with Star Child, in the introduction, Frank relates some details about his past, and his near-death experience as a result of his MS, which blinded him temporarily, as well. He battled back from being bedridden, and then in a wheelchair, to currently, when he can walk with the use of a cane. Frank can trace in his lineage as one of his ancestors the famous author, Edgar Allan Poe, and he relates in his introduction that he is actually Poe reincarnated. Whether this is true or not, you can decide for yourselves; but, the tales are fascinating gems which Poe might, if he were alive today, have written.

Does this mean there are poems similar to “The Raven,” or “Lenore” in this collection? Or, stories like “The Masque of the Red Death,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum”? No, but Edgar used an archaic way of expressing himself, to help build the atmospheric mood of his writing. I would imagine if Edgar was alive today, he would write in the vernacular of this age, and perhaps go for shock value to attract the attention of his audience, as Frank does; so, is Frank Poe the reincarnation of Edgar? I’ll just say his short stories and poems are good in themselves; the Edgar Allan Poe connection certainly can’t hurt his own chances at garnishing fame & fortune.

As the title suggests, you get fourteen short stories in this collection: “Raven Wings” and 13 more. And, you get to read 6 twisted poems that Frank has penned for your reading enjoyment. I will only touch on a few of these, to give you an idea what subjects are included in this collection. They’re all good, though, and I’d say worth your time and money. A couple of reviewers mentioned they found some of the tales to be “lewd” and “crude,” and they are, to a degree; but, they are relatively tame compared to many other short stories/novels I’ve read. Controversy and shock–Edgar was known for it–so, Frank shouldn’t, IMO, be overly criticized for doing it himself. Stephen King’s short stories, for example, are often much more violent, lewd, and crude, but are still–generally speaking–very cool, fun tales to read.

The cover of Raven Wings is kind of odd in itself, and I wondered what it was depicting until I read the first story, “Raven Wings”. It’s a tale of a Goth girl who gets into masochism, like having hot melted wax dripped on her body during sex, etc. The only way she can experience pleasure is through pain, and when she cries, and her mascara runs, the result resembles raven’s wings. She eventaully requests that the narrator of the tale chokes her out; and, who is he to refuse? The trouble is, it’s kind of difficult to know when enough’s enough when it comes to choking someone….

“The Spider and the Fly,” is a captivating tale of tangled webs, love, sex, and capturing prey. What happens when a male spider realizes what his fate will be, but still desires to have sex with a female spider? Is there a way to satisfy his urges and live to have sex another day? Perhaps a fly called Sushi will enlighten the spider Domino on the secret to sexual happiness–or, is he doomed to lose his head?

“New Vampire bible: Genesis II” is a quirky little gem about the origins of vampires upon the Earth. It’s a retelling of part of Genesis, and the relationship Adam had with his supposed first wife, Lilith. In the tale, it’s a relationship sanctioned by God, that resulted in the creation of the first “sanguine” vampires–ones which drank blood. The humans that resulted from Adam’s and Eve’s couplings were also vampires, but “pyschic” ones. Due to a terrible apocalyptic war, the Vampire Nathan’s coffin gets filled with blood, he manages to break out of his coffin, and discovers that he is one of the last living beings on Earth. Some will find this tale to be sacreligious, as it refers to God as the “Great Vampire” and mentions Christ’s vampiric heritage; it’s still a fascinating story, however you might feel about this retelling of Genesis, incorporated into a tale of Christ’s Second Coming.

I’ll briefly talk about three of the poems. The second poem in this collection (the first being “Modern Day Ghost”) is called “Card” and is about credit cards and how they are ruining the lives of many people who abuse them. It also gets into America’s international debt crisis, and how Americans have been told that spending helps by “Stimulating the economy.” Frank often includes pop culture references in his tales and poems, and this one is no different: in it, he mentions Conan the Destroyer, Don Knotts, and George Bush.

“Cosmic Butterflies,” uses the metaphor of butterflies having been transformed from caterpillars to describes how humans are similar, in that we experience a second, spiritual existence and transformation after we die. One line I liked in this brief poem is: We don’t begin to live until we die,/And transform into Cosmic Butterflies.”

The last poem I’ll discuss is “The Rocker Squeaks”. It’s a poem about a father rocking his newborn baby, but as with all good poetry, it’s more than that. The imagery Poe uses is very expressive, and he paints a picture with his words of ripening papaws that raccoon will: slip/Into their watering mouths. It’s another poem that involves transformation, as poe writes that the father’s: callous hands transform/Into velvety butterfly wings/By touching the infant’s cushiony skin.

Raven Wings and 13 More Twisted Tales by Frank G. Poe is a collection of macabre tales and poems I’d recommend to anyone who loves reading suspenseful, quirky tales. They will attract your attention, and hold you spellbound. It’s a collection of tales and poems you’ll want to add to your reading lists.


I have just published my 3rd. ebook, My Brother the Zombie (The Zombie Revolution Book One)! If you click on the title, you can purchase the ebook for just $2.99! It is the story of the teens, Kyle, his girlfriend, Adele, and Kyle’s older brother–the brother and zombie of the title–as they face a very uncertain future in the midst of a zombie apocalpyse.

It is a page-turning, exciting novel about the arrival of the giant, bug-like Blaxons from the Sirius galaxy who arrive on Earth on a peace-keeping mission. They indavertently bring with them a terrible virus, though, that turns people into flesh-eating zombies. When the first emissaries are killed because humans are understandably enraged at the effects the virus has on people, the Blaxons take revenge on the Earth by waging war against them.

Can Kyle and Adele hope to find love in a hopeless place? There is plenty of blood, gore, zombies, aliens, a touch of romance, and–did I say it already–ZOMBIES? It’s a YA ebook that straddles three genres successfully: Horror, SF, and Romance. Check it out today!!!


Even today, long after his death, Edgar Allan Poe is recognized as a master of horror and the macabre. A movie’s coming out soon, The Raven, based on his tales & poems, starring John Cusack. Now, a new master of horror has surfaced, a distant relative of Edgar’s: Frank G. Poe, Jr. He may even be, if the stories about him are true, Edgar reincarnated to walk this Earth and write further spellbinding imaginings of the intellect. His first collection of tales, Raven Wings and 13 More Twisted Tales I will also review here, in the coming weeks; but, as Star Child is just out, I will review it first.

What can you expect from Star Child? The original Poe’s boots would be difficult for anyone to fil, as any legend is always difficult to live up to and match. I’d say, for starters, don’t expect Edgar’s old-fashioned uses of words that are rapidly fading from general usage. But that’s okay–it certainly worked for Edgar, but it would seem archaic for anyone to try to write mimicking Edgar’s style. If he was reborn, undoubtedly he’d be a man of his times, as he was then, and use current turns of phrases.

Ultimately, Frank G. Poe Jr.’s tales succeed because of his own talent, wherever it might originate from, and he deserves all the credit or blame for however the tales have turned out. But, the good news is, the tales collected in Star Child are very well-written, and I believe Edgar would be proud to know someone in his lineage has taken up the torch and is continuing to attract a wide audience to the horror genre. I can’t do justice to the entire collection by discussing each of the tales in much detail, as that would take at least one paragraph apiece; but, I will touch on a few of the stories that stood out as highlights to me.

I’ll begin from the beginning, with a tale with the very cheery title “Because They Eat Children.” Alexander Popovich is an extremely dedicated and protective fourth grade teacher, who gets a bit carried away with thinking he needs to watch over his young flock. He tells them anecdotes of children being eaten by evil people, and even by their own parents, in times of dire famine, or because they have developed a perverse taste for human flesh. He means only to make the children aware of the dangerous world around them so they can better be on guard. But, word gets back to the parents of the children, and things start to go very downhill for Alexander from there on. If only poor Alexander was taken more seriously…but why cry over spilt blood?

The second story is an homage to The Lord of the Rings. “Tolkien Revisited,” shows Poe’s interest in and love of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. In the tale, Frodo, Gandalf, and the rest of the band stop at a roadside inn on their way home from their adventures and the destruction of the ring. They relate their adventures to the innkeeper, who happens to be Tolkien. The innkeeper thinks he can spice their story up, and he invents new characters, such as Gollum/Smeagle, and he changes/adds details. When he tells the new version back to the adventurers, they are spellbound–indeed, the innkeeper has vastly improved the tale. But, at what cost?

“The Blue Knight’s Tale,” is the third tale of the collection.
It’s a story of modern-day knights, jousting on a–ahem–nightly basis at a Medieval Tournament and Feast resaurant. There is, of course, a Lady Fair, as well, Kitty. She is engaged to be married to the Black Knight, her current boyfriend, Stephen. Austin, the Blue Knight, used to have a “puppy love,” for Kitty, but that ended badly after their senior prom. Still retaining his boyishly good looks, Austin has recovered from his puppy love, with semingly every female in the audience anxious to make him their next mark on their lipstick cases. Or, has he fully recovered? What happens when their old romantic is rekindled? Find out the shattering result when you check the story out for yourselves!

Before I mention a couple of other tales, I would be remiss if I didn’t relate that Frank, like Edgar, writes poetry as well as short stories. He has three poems in the collection “Holocaust,” “Melancholy and the Internet Madness,” and “Contact.” “Holocaust,” is, as you’ve likely guessed (being the astute people that you are), about the Holocaust and our reactions to it, including those of naysayers. The second poem, “Melancholy and the Internet Madness,” is about the obsession of many people with the Internet in general and social media in particular. One begins to feel sometimes filled with a self-importance based on Likes, Follows, etc., that is unrealistic. The obsession is like a form of madness at times. Finally, “Contact,” is about Stephen Hawkings and his fear that our first contact with aliens might well prove to be our last. Poe has a very different take on the ensuing result, though, in the last of a very imaginative and thought-provoking trio of poems.

I’ll briefly mention two of the other tales in Star Child to give you a further taste of the menage of genres and stories that await you. These two tales are the title one, “Star Child The Discovery,” and “After the Apocalypse.”

“Star Child” is another foray into the science fiction genre by Frank, and it’s an engrossing and brilliant gem of a short story. An artifact from an alien civilization is discovered–and, though the dig team is sworn to secrecy by the federal government, they feel that the information they’ve discovered is too important for the public to not learn about. But, they also don’t want to get into legal trouble, so they decide to make a “fictional” account of the whole story available to everyone and the names of those involved will be changed. Though it’s walking a fine line, they feel it’s worth the potential risk. But, is it, really; and, will the public even benefit at all from what they read, if they believe it to be fictional?

The last tale I’ll discuss is “After the Apocalypse.” Based in part from an old Appalachian saying, “Root hog or die,” this is one of my favorite (of many) in Frank G. Poe Jr.’s collection. Then again, how could I NOT like it, as one of the main characters is named Lilly, which is our family “dog’s” name, though ours is spelled with only two l’s? Lilly’s Granny Sugar is the propagator of the saying, and living through the Great Depression as she did, she demanded her daughter, Rose, to learn survival skills from childhood on. Lilly compares this brutal sort of existence to the scenario of Lord of the Flies, and there is at least some truth to that. Since Granny Sugar comes from Pike County, Kentucky, where the McCoy clan (of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud) lived, it’s not much of a wonder that she believed in the philosophy of: “When society breaks down only the strong survive, root hog or die.”

This and some of the other tales, though they’re fascinating reading, contain some language that makes the collection more suitable for older teens and adults than younger children. I suspect that back in the time when Edgar wrote his poems and stories, many people found them morally offensive, as well, though now they’re generally considered to be fairly tame in comparison with even what children see on the Nightly News. Perhaps this collection will porve to seem tame to future generations. Don’t get me wrong; Poe is never explicit, and he only uses adult language at times because it’s warranted by the subject matter of his tales and to make the characters who speak the words more realistic. Right or wrong, most of us use four-letter words on a daily basis, so I, personally, wasn’t offended at all by any of the tales in Star Child.

If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, or Frank G. Poe’s first collection of macabre tales, Star Child is a Must Read! And, if you love the horror, fantasy, and SF genres, I would also recommend this fine selection of quirky tales to you. I look forward with great anticipation to reading more from Frank in the coming years, and to reviewing his first collection in a couple of weeks or so.

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