Vampires

And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.

I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.

Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.

It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.

I really miss doing my job every day.

And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.

Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.

We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.

So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.

Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.

I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Happiness is An Option

I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery with a supernatural edge to it; the line between crime fiction and horror is often blurred. Take, for example, The Silence of the Lambs. It’s often lauded as the first horror film to win an Oscar–but there’s no supernatural beings involved, no ghosts or vampires, or anything like that; the protagonist is an FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer…so is it really horror? Are slasher films/books actually horror or crime? (I think it depends on whether or not the slasher is actually something not human–like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, or just crazed human killers, like the Scream movies or even the first Friday the 13th, which is the only one I’ve actually seen.)

But then it’s really hard to define and delineate what work falls into what genre; and oft-times, there’s crossover between the various ones–there’s western horror, for example, just like romantic suspense bridges the line between romance and mystery. So where precisely on the spectrum of genre does the work of Barbara Michaels lay? There are often supernatural elements to her fiction; sometimes there aren’t. Ammie Come Home is my favorite ghost story of the many I’ve read–and I enjoy it just as much every time I reread it–but it’s also a mystery, and there’s also some romance in the book. The romance itself is rarely the focus of her books, but it is there and cannot be ignored; likewise, most stories that have supernatural elements (ones that are actually supernatural in origin or man-made frauds) inevitably have some mystery to them; what do the supernatural forces want–or in the case of fraud, what are those who are committing the fraud after? What do they want?

House of Many Shadows was the second Barbara Michaels novel I read, and remains one of my favorites to this day.

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The sounds bothered Meg most. Calling them auditory hallucinations helped a little–a phenomenon is less alarming when it has a proper technical name. Meg had always thought of hallucinations as something one saw. She had those, too, but for some illogical reason it was easier for her to accept visual illusions as nonreal than to ignore the hallucinatory sounds. When you were concentrating on typing a letter, and a voice says something in your ear, it was impossible not to be distracted.

The problem was hard to explain, and Meg wasn’t doing a good job of explaining. But then it had always been difficult to explain anything to Sylvia. Sylvia knew all the answers.

“The dictaphone was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t hear what Mr. Phillips had said. Voices kept mumbling, drowning out his voice. Once the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir cut out the second paragraph of a very important memo.”

She smiled as she spoke. It sounded funny now, but at the time it had not been at all amusing.

Sylvia didn’t smile. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Why them?”

Meg shrugged helplessly. “No reason. That’s the point; they are meaningless hallucinations. The doctor says they’ll go away eventually, but in the meantime…Mr. Phillips was very nice about it, he said he’d try to find an opening for me when I’m ready to work again, but I couldn’t expect him to keep me on. I had to listen to some of those tapes three times before I got the message clear, and there was always the chance I’d miss something important. And I’d already used up all my sick leave. Three weeks in the hospital…”

“You should be thankful you weren’t killed,” said Sylvia. “To think they never caught the man who was driving the car! New York is an absolute jungle. I don’t know how you can stand living here. May I have another cup of tea?”

Meg poured, biting back an irritated retort. She couldn’t afford to offend Sylvia, especially now, when she was about to ask a favor, but the cliches that were Sylvia’s sole means of communications had never annoyed her more. Why should she be thankful she hadn’t been killed? She might as well be thankful she didn’t have leprosy, or seven-year itch; or thank God because she had not been born with two heads. It was just as reasonable, and a lot more human, to feel vexation instead of gratitude. Why me, God? The old question, to which there was never any answer…Why did it have to be me in the path of that fool driver; why did I have to land on my head instead of some less vulnerable part of my anatomy; and why, oh, why, God, did Ihave to have these exotic symptoms instead of a nice simple concussion? Why do I have to be the poor relation, with no savings to fall back on, while Sylvia…

Sylvia’s close-set gray eyes were intent on the teapot. “Such a nice piece of silver,” she murmured.

I love Barbara Michaels’ work, and one of the happiest days of my reading life was the day I discovered she also wrote as Elizabeth Peters, which meant even more reading joy for me (and eventually, I came to prefer the Peters books to the Michaels; but make no mistake, I love all the books). The set-up for House of Many Shadows is right there in the beginning; poor Meg’s life has been upended by being hit by a driver who didn’t stop, and because of the hallucinations she suffers from as a result–with no idea of how long she will suffer through them–she is unable to work, and her distant relative Sylvia–whom she doesn’t seem to care much for–is her only hope. Sylvia–we all know people like Sylvia; without a sense of humor and whose response to any crisis is to come up with a plan and make it work–has a house in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, she’s not sure what she wants to do with it, but Meg can stay there rent-free, and Sylvia even comes up with a “make-work” solution so Meg won’t feel like she’s freeloading (it isn’t until much later she realizes that is what Sylvia was doing; at the time she kind of resents it); doing an inventory of the contents of the house and its attic, as Sylvia is thinking of donating the house to the local historical association. Sylvia’s stepson from the previous marriage that wound up with her owning the house is living on the property as a caretaker, in a cottage behind the main house–Meg remembers him from their childhood as a horrible tease she couldn’t much stand–and soon she is off to the wilds of the Pennsylvania country side.

At the end of the second chapter-the first after she arrives at the house–Meg experiences a hallucination in front of Andy, the stepson, and their relationship hasn’t changed much, apparently–which rattles Andy terribly; when it happens again a chapter or so later is when Andy confesses that he, too, has seen the same hallucinations she did–so are they hallucinations? Or are they seeing ghosts?

This set-up, of course, is absolutely brilliant: what better heroine for a supernatural story than a woman who’s had a brain injury that causes her to see hallucinations? The chilling touch that Andy has also seen the same hallucinations in the house that she has is terrifying; and as she slowly gets to work in the attic, she and Andy start discovering things about the history of the house, including the fact that the original property owners, back before the American Revolution, were brutally murdered in the original house that stood on the property; the current one was built over it. So, what happened 250 years earlier? Both Meg and Andy become a bit obsessed with the ancient murders, and as they continue to see things in the house, they slowly but surely start putting together the truth of what happened to the original property owners–while falling in love, of course.

One of the great things about the Michaels books is that she brooks no foolishness with her supernatural elements; it’s clear Dr. Mertz (her real name) was well read on the subject of the occult and other belief systems–they pop up, again and again, throughout the Michaels novels, and in many instances, I first heard of certain occult books and cults from reading them. I know I first read of The Golden Bough in a Michaels novel; Dr, Mertz knew her folklore and occult religions, and made very good use of that knowledge, not just in this book but in others–Prince of Darkness comes to mind–and of course, she was an excellent, excellent writer.

House of Many Shadows also holds up; despite the dated quality of the book–no Internet or computers or cell phones–it’s still a great story.

How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?

Monday and here we are, getting ready to stare down yet another week.

We watched more of Little Fires Everywhere last night, and it really is extremely well done. It really is an interesting look at race and privilege and power; all while using tropes that were staples of soap operas. As the show amps up and starts racing along to its climax, the basis of the majority of the drama of the show is a custody struggle over an adopted baby–a storyline so stale for soap operas that I don’t know that the few left even use it anymore. But with strong writing, excellent production values, and an enormously talented cast, this stale trope not only works in this instance, but works very well. I am curious, though, as to why the book is set in 1997 rather than the present; the reason behind it isn’t apparent, and it feels incredibly current; although the music at school dances and so forth is rather jarring, and it takes a moment to remember that the story is set over twenty years ago. I don’t even notice the lack of smart phones and social media. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get a copy of the book to read along while I watch, which was such a terrific experience with Big Little Lies. 

And Reese Witherspoon certainly has a type of woman that she regularly plays, doesn’t she? Super Karen?

I finished a dreadful first draft of “Falling Bullets” last night, and it is dreadful. Fortunately there are other drafts to be done, and corrections and edits that can be made to it, but at this point I’m just happy I finished a draft–it’s been awhile since I’ve finished something I’ve started. At first I was rather nonplussed because about 1500 of the 2000 words I’d already written–mostly the stuff I’d written Friday evening–didn’t really work anymore; but I went back to the beginning and started tweaking things, and was even able to tweak enough of the 1500 problematic words to save most of them. So, while I am not pleased with the draft and its condition, I am pleased that it is finished, at around 4600 words.

I also finished reading Thunder on the Right yesterday, and had a lovely time with it. I do think it is one of the lesser Mary Stewart novels–but a lesser Mary Stewart is better than  a lesser writer’s best, so there’s also that.

I have decided to take today off from work; I am not feeling as great as I should, and literally cannot face another day of data entry and condom packing. Fortunately I have enough vacation time accrued for me to take yet another day off–although I really need to start letting the time build up again, for when this is all finally over and done with, so I can take an actual vacation, which is something I am going to be in seriously need of–and so am going to stay home, finish some odds and ends, and then get ready to face the rest of the week. I also have to work early tomorrow morning, so will have to get to bed early this evening; and I think we’re going to maybe start slowly opening the STI clinic next week. I am of two minds about this–I am certain we can do it safely, but at the same time I worry whether clients will be willing to come in to get their screenings done. I miss my old life, quite frankly, and like everyone else, long to get back to it. But unlike everyone else, I don’t see the old normal coming back. This situation has changed so much about our lives and how we do things, and in many cases, things that were considered “impossible” before have now been shown to be possible. I can’t imagine, for example, that the expensive old version of the book tour will return now that we have seen it can be done relatively inexpensively virtually. I easily can see publicists cutting expenses at publishers by arranging on-line interviews and readings and Q&A’s and book club meetings rather than spending money for an author to travel. And for authors who can’t foot the cost of their own tours, well–here’s an inexpensive alternative that may actually work.

Next up for the Reread Project is an old favorite of mine by Barbara Michaels, House of Many Shadows. Dr. Barbara Mertz wrote, of course, wonderful mysteries as Elizabeth Peters (if you’ve never read the Amelia Peabody series, you really, really  need to), and wrote suspense novels that may or may not have a supernatural bent to them–Ammie Come Home is, obviously, by far and away my favorite of these–as Barbara Michaels. I rediscovered the Michaels novels in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and became just as addicted to them as I would to the Elizabeth Peters novels later that decade; House of Many Shadows is one of my favorites of the Michaels novels; The Crying Child is another. The rest are also good without question, but to my mind those three are head-and-shoulders above the others. The Michaels novels also have great, great titles: Wait for What Will Come, Be Buried in the Rain, The Dark on the Other Side, and Witch, to name only a few. And, if I am being complete honest, Bury Me in Shadows was inspired by the Michaels novels; as was Lake Thirteen.

And the humor in the Scotty books probably owes more than a little to the influence of the Elizabeth Peters novels.

I also gave up on rereading Katherine Anne Porter’s long short story about the Spanish flu, “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I can certainly understand why critics and literary enthusiasts shit themselves over Porter’s writing, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care about her characters or what happens to them, and Porter is definitely one of those authors who–to me–loves the sound of her own voice; what could be said in a sentence or two turns into rambling pages and pages in which she basically says the same thing, over and over again. And she never wastes any time on making the reader care about her characters, or even getting to know them well. I thought, when I first read her Collected Stories years ago and found them to be tedious and boring (as I was rereading “Pale Horse Pale Rider” I could actually hear a Lit professor enthusing about her works in my head), and I thought I’d give them another chance, thinking perhaps I had matured enough as a reader to enjoy them now; that it was my own immaturity as a reader and lover of the written word that kept me from enjoying them in the first place.

I am pleased to report I am wrong, and that I find Porter’s work as constipated and dull as I did the first time, and there’s nothing wrong with not liking her work. I still dislike The Great Gatsby, even after reading it three times, after all; let the literary snobs come for me. I don’t care. Scoff at me all you like, I will never like or admire Porter.

And on that note, I think I’ll go lay back down for a bit. Have a lovely Monday.

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Crazy

And just like that, it’s Good Friday.

What’s so good about it? Well, if you live in a deeply Catholic state like Louisiana, that means it’s a paid holiday, which is certainly always welcomed in these parts. I never say no to a paid holiday–anything else would simply be madness.

Today I woke up after about ten hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep–I will usually wake up at least once or twice during the night–and my body feels almost completely back to normal now. Whatever that was that I had (and I am not convinced that my test result wasn’t a false negative, frankly–how bizarre that a usually healthy person came down with something–not once, but TWICE–that completely mirrored the majority of symptoms of COVID-19; regardless, I lived through it and it’s over now, thank you Baby Jesus on a Good Friday) seems to be gone now; I feel terrific, haven’t coughed in days, and the only reason I felt warm yesterday was because it was hot outside and it was daytime in New Orleans; air conditioning can only do so much in an old house in this climate–although rather than suffering through that down here this afternoon, maybe I’ll just go read in bed, and take the laptop with me just in case; for some reason it’s much cooler upstairs this year than downstairs, which makes absolutely no sense.

I finished reading Ammie, Come Home yesterday and you can read that entry here, if you missed it. I then moved on to Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, and remembered just how magical Mary Stewart was as a story-teller. I read most of Mary Stewart’s works when I was a teenager, with The Ivy Tree and Airs Above the Ground as my two particular favorites; the ones I would always grab from the shelf when I wanted to reread one of her books. The others I don’t remember quite as much; primarily because I didn’t reread them as frequently, if at all, as the other two. I hadn’t much liked The Moon-spinners the first time; I loved it all the more on the reread. Likewise, my memory of This Rough Magic was similar; I enjoyed it but never went back to it. (In fact, my mind I’d mixed up plot elements of the two books; I thought all the stuff with the dolphin was in The Moon-spinners; it’s actually in This Rough Magic.) I also only have a copy of the ebook–which I never read, really, other than for short story collections or anthologies–but there I was yesterday afternoon, reading the ebook of a novel on my iPad for the first time with a purring kitty in my lap and music playing through my speakers in the kitchen. It was quite lovely, and quite relaxing. A breakthrough? Only the future will tell.

I also read Harlan Ellison’s Edgar Award winning short story “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” yesterday; it was a part of his collection Deathbird Stories, which I had in hard copy but purchased the ebook on sale recently. I need to write a blog entry about it, and the other story from the same collection I’d read, “On the Downhill Side”, which was quite lovely and quite magical, particularly in the way he wrote about New Orleans, where the story was set; he did something that was absolutely genius–which is what everyone who writes about New Orleans but has never lived here should probably do when they decide to write about New Orleans. (There’s a snobbery all New Orleanians, and New Orleans writers, all have about people who aren’t from here but choose to set their fiction here; like everything, there’s good and bad elements to that snobbery. But even journalists doing features on New Orleans fuck it up, and fuck it up badly, so we’re always suspicious of outsiders writing about our beloved city.)

I need to get back to writing, now that I no longer have empty head from whatever it was I had these past two weeks; I have some things that are close to being due, I need to get that Sherlock story focused on and written, and I’ve also agreed to do an essay about my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” for The First Two Pages blog. In order to get back on track with writing and everything that needs to be done around the Lost Apartment before I return to work (once I am cleared; I am certain I’ll be cleared to return on Monday) so I have a strong grasp on everything. I also need to prioritize things and not allow things to detract from my writing time and my writing career. I realized recently that I will not have a book out this year, which isn’t good, and if I’m not careful I won’t have a book out next year, either. So I need to get this other stuff finished and out of the way so I can get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, then do the same with the Kansas book. I also have to get back to the Secret Project; so the goals for this month are to get all these loose odds and ends finished so I can focus on getting the books done. And if I focus, and don’t allow myself to get distracted, there’s absolutely no reason why I can’t get all that taken care of so I can focus on the novels this summer.

So, for today, I am going to work on my Sherlock story and my Venice story while trying to get everything around here cleaned and organized–cleaning and organizing may seem like me trying to procrastinate, but really, I can’t work when my office area is messy–and I will try to get as much done around here as I can until around four or five, when I’ll allow myself a few hours to read more of This Rough Magic. The books need work, too–it’s time to do another cull–and it’s been weeks since I’ve had the energy to take on the floors. Maybe even this weekend I’ll drag the ladder outside and do the windows around my desk–they are filthy, after all–so clearly I am starting to feel better because not only am I noticing these things, I’m paying attention to them, and they bother me; so I am definitely myself again.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. It’s been awhile, and it’s going to feel pretty good, methinks.

Happy Good Friday, everyone.

febTomas Skoloudik3

Mighty Love

I love nothing more than a great ghost story (which is why, although I loved the book, I was enormously disappointed with Peter Straub’s Ghost Story; it’s an amazing novel and a horror classic and one of my favorite horror novels of all time, but it is emphatically not a ghost story). I’m not sure why I love them so much, but even as a kid, reading the mysteries for kids I always gravitated towards the ones with some kind of ghostly title: The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, The Haunted Fort, The Phantom of Pine Hill, The Ghost at Skeleton Rock, The Haunted Showboat, The Ghost in the Gallery, etc. The ghosts and hauntings in these books were never real–just like the ghosts and monsters on Scooby Doo Where Are You? weren’t–but I still was drawn to them.

There was an ABC Movie of the Week when I was really young that I absolutely loved: The House That Would Not Die. It starred Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who moved into a house she’d inherited from a relative, along with her niece, and of course, the house turned out to be haunted. The story was terrific and it scared me a lot–and you can never go wrong with Barbara Stanwyck; I may even have watched it with my grandmother, who was a big Stanwyck fan. A few years later, we were somewhere–some people my parents knew had invited us over for dinner, and before and after, as the adults, my sister and I were deposited in the den to watch television and entertain ourselves while behaving. They had books, which I gravitated towards, I pulled down a volume of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and found a ghost story inside. As I started reading, I was drawn into it and I realized it was the same plot, the same story, of the TV movie I’d liked, and kept reading. I read the entire thing that evening–it was condensed, after all–and thought, oh, I’d like to see that movie again.

Flash forward and I am in college, browsing in a second-hand bookstore when I find a worn paperback copy of the book. Pleased and delighted at the opportunity to not only read it again but read the entire version? For fifty cents? Absolutely.

It was Ammie, Come Home, which is one of my favorite ghost stories, and favorite novels, of all time. It was written by Barbara Michaels–for another dollar I picked up two more of her novels, Witch and House of Many Shadows. I loved all three books, but I’ve always preferred Ammie, considered it my favorite. Over the years Michaels–and her alter-ego, Elizabeth Peters-became one of my favorite writers of all time. I love her books, no matter what the name or brand or whatever you want to call it; they are all witty, with strong, likable female characters, there’s some little dash of romantic interest involved in all of them, and a very strong suspense component. The Peters novels were more mysteries; the Michaels sometimes involved the supernatural, and sometimes they didn’t.

But, oh, how I love Ammie, Come Home, and I recently, during my isolation, took it down and made it a part of this year Reread Project.

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By five o’clock it was almost dark, which was not surprising, since the month was November; but Ruth kept glancing uneasily toward the windows at the far end of the room. It was a warm, handsome room, furnished in the style of a past century, with furniture whose present value would have astonished the original owners.. Only the big overstuffed sodas, which face one another before the fireplace, were relatively modern. Their ivory brocade upholstery fitted the blue-and-white color scheme, which has been based upon the delicate Wedgwood plaques set in the mantel. A cheerful fire burned on the hearth, sending sparks dancing from the crystal glasses on the coffee table and turning the sherry in the cut-glass decanter the color of melted copper. Since her niece had come to stay with her, Ruth had set out glasses and wine every evening. It was a pleasant ritual, which they both enjoyed even when it was followed by nothing more elegant than hamburgers. But tonight Sara was late.

The darkening windows blossomed yellow as the streetlights went on; and Ruth rose to draw the curtains. She lingered at the window, one hand absently stroking the pale blue satin. Sara’s class had been over at three-thirty…

And, Ruth reminded herself sternly, Sara was twenty years old. When she agreed to board her niece while the girl attended the Foreign Service Institute at a local university, she had not guaranteed full-time baby-sitting. Sara, of course, considered herself an adult. However, to Ruth her niece still had the touching, terrifying illusion of personal invulnerability which is an unmistakable attribute of youth. And the streets of Washington–ven of this ultrafashionable section–were not completely safe after dark,

Even at the dying time of year, with a bleak dusk lowering, the view from Ruth’s window retained some of the famous charm of Georgetown, a charm based on formal architecture and the awareness of age. Nowadays that antique grace was rather self-conscious; after decades of neglect, the eighteenth century houses of the old town had become fashionable again, and now they had the sleek, smug look born of painstaking restoration and a lot of money.

Ammie, Come Home is possibly one of the best constructed, if not the very best, ghost stories I’ve ever read. As you can see from the opening paragraphs, Michaels does an exceptional job of setting everything up, giving us insights into her main character, Ruth Bennett, and her relationship with her niece. We go on to find out that Ruth is probably in her mid to late forties, was widowed in World War II, never remarried, and for the most part, it’s implied that her husband’s death pretty much was the end of any romance in her life; something she isn’t terribly interested in. This is, of course, foreshadowing–but not the way the reader might think. Yes, in the opening scene of the book, which features her niece Sara getting a ride home from one of her professors, that ah, yes, Ruth and Dr. Pat MacDougal are going to fall in love-but there’s more to Ruth’s history than that, which of course is the mark of the truly terrific writer. We also glean that childless Ruth has grown deeply fond of her niece Sara–and disapproves of Sara’s boyfriend Bruce (mainly because of his youth, the way he dresses, and what she thinks of as his smug superiority).

(This last, by the way, is the only part of the book that feels dated. Written and originally published in the 1960’s, Sara and Bruce are both college students and Pat works at a college–he’s a cultural anthropologist with a specialty in superstitions and rituals–so, as anyone who knows anything about the 1960’s knows, it was a decade of youthful rebellion and anti-establishmentarianism. There are occasional asides from both Ruth and Pat about the generation gap–this was also the first time this phrase was used, during this period–where the kids want to make change. There are a few mild arguments over that, but it’s always very good natured and never gets very deep. But the very generation gap is part of the structure of the novel; when strange things start happening in Ruth’s home, particularly involving Sara–Ruth and Pat immediately think of mental illness; Bruce is the only one open-minded enough to see the truth; that the house is haunted by a malevolent spirit–and there may even be more than one.)

It’s also very clever of Michaels to use that generational divide to explore the notions of the supernatural and a spirit world–because Bruce is given a forty-eight hour deadline to convince the older two in their quartet that Sara isn’t mentally ill but is being haunted. So, as Bruce convinces them–helped by more apparitions and events in the house–the reader is also being convinced that what’s going on in the house is supernatural in origin. How she does it is a master class in suspense/horror writing; and there are some lines that just the reader to the bone: And what looked back at her through Sara’s eyes was not Sara.

The ghost hunters eventually get to the bottom of the haunting of the old house in Georgetown by finding out the deeply hidden truth about what happened there centuries earlier, and finally freeing the spirits trapped to the house.

And maybe the creepiest, yet saddest, thing is the disembodied voice they hear, over and over, in the back yard, calling Ammie….come home…..come home…..Ammie…. —which is described as “it sounded like what the wind would sound like if it had a voice.”

And despite the dated 1960’s references, the book still holds up, over forty years later.

I rediscovered Michaels in the mid to late 1980’s, which was when I also discovered that she also wrote the Elizabeth Peters novels, and that the absolutely delightful Crocodile on the Sandbank, which I’d loved, wasn’t merely a stand alone, but the first book in a long-running, and completely fantastic, series featuring heiress Amelia Peabody and her Egyptologist husband Emerson. There isn’t a single dud in the Amelia Peabody series–and there are smart, funny, clever, and intricately plotted–and over the years the Peabody-Emerson clan had children, raised them, and those children grew up to be involved in the adventures of their parents–and every book, save one, actually took place in Egypt at the turn of the twentieth century. I need to reread Crocodile on the Sandbank, and in fact, would love to revisit the entire series. She wrote two other series as Elizabeth Peters as well–the Vicky Bliss series and the Jacqueline Kirby–as well as stand alones; every Peters novel is a gem, as is every novel she wrote as Barbara Michaels.

And now back to the spice mines.

I Fall to Pieces

And this morning I woke up to the good news that my COVID-19 test came back negative, which now begs the question: what was wrong with me? Was it some weird combination of sinuses, allergies, flu, stress and exhaustion? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely thrilled to not have this and for this whole thing to be over, but…I’m very glad to know that I wasn’t infectious and out in public for a while. So I am just going to take the win, tomorrow’s a paid holiday, and I’m going to take the weekend to sort things out and hope I feel better and continue to rest.

I did wake up this morning feeling good for the first time in a very long time, which is also terrific. Today was the first day where I woke up and felt like myself–I have some things to deal with this morning, as I do every morning, but this time I woke up and didn’t dread dealing with any of it-and since I feel good, that makes me wonder just how much of this has been stress related? Probably more than I want to admit to; and there was probably some PTSD there as well. I also need to remember that feeling fine is also a relative thing and that it comes and goes with the PTSD stuff-and there could even be something today that makes it worse–always remember your emotions can turn on a dime when you’re going through something like this–and there’s never any indication that your mood is going to swing, or how wild that swing is going to be. Fun stuff–and the mood swinging lasts for a while after the situation normalized, too. 2005-2009 was not the most emotionally stable period of my life, if I am going to be completely honest, and fortunately most of it is now hazy in my mind. But I know there was some bad behavior on my part to people who didn’t deserve it–and I hope that I apologized for it.

Yesterday I was fatigued–my energy failed me in the afternoon–and that’s concerning, as I said earlier, but there’s really nothing I can do about whatever was wrong with me other than accept that it wasn’t COVID-19 and go on with everything in my life-and be extremely cautious going forward to make sure that I don’t get it now. It’s funny–knocking on wood here–but somehow I made it through the the HIV/AIDS pandemic without getting infected (I’ve never had any STI–gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis–other than HPV, and of course I had the bad kind, but without any re-occurrence) and so far I’ve not managed, despite Mardi Gras and a public contact job screening people for COVID-19, to not get that, either. At least so far–and I am going to be a lot more anal about going out in public and being around people from now on, too.

I read some more yesterday on Ammie, Come Home, and I marvel at how marvelously constructed this novel is. There’s never any point where it drags at all, and Barbara Michaels knows precisely how to build suspense and terror in such a… I want to say genteel way that makes it even more terrifying. The spectral encounters the characters have in the old house in Georgetown are absolutely heart-thumpingly terrifying and scary and creepy; it’s truly one of the most perfect ghost stories ever constructed…which is why it is one of my favorite novels of all time. Barbara Michaels was always considered a Gothic suspense writer, and some of her novels don’t have a supernatural touch to them, but the ones that do (House of Many Shadows, Witch, The Dark on the Other Side, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) are some of the best, quietest horror novels I’ve ever read; she built a quite large audience of readers who would most likely never read horror–but she certainly straddled the line between suspense and horror-which is why I think Gothic is such an interesting term.

Once I get this Sherlock story wrangled and under control, I am looking forward to going back to Bury Me in Shadows. It’s been on my mind a lot lately–and I’ve been having, as I previously mentioned, a lot of strange little creative bursts over the past week or so–and so today, once I get the business I need to get taken care of taken care of, I am going to get organized. I am going to whip this desk area into shape, organize all my notes and everything that is scattered all over the place, and be ready to hit the ground running once Easter has passed. I want to get this story finished–as well as several others that are in process–and then I am going to set a writing schedule to get Bury Me in Shadows whipped into submission shape so I can get it sent in to my publisher so I can then focus on doing the same for the Kansas book….and then I am going to start pulling together Chlorine. I probably won’t be this organized–I never am as organized as I plan to be, nor do I ever stick to the schedule I always try to stick to–but I like organizing and I like coming up with plans–that’s the sort of thing that makes me happy, and I am going to focus, as one always should in times of crisis, on doing things that make me happy.

And on that note, I am going to go take a shower, get cleaned up, and get moving again.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Heaven’s Just a Sin Away

I’m tired.

I think the worst thing of all this is the uncertainty, you know? Every time the fatigue sets in, every time my mind gets foggy, every time I can feel my temperature going up, after the great here we go again thought comes the what if you actually test negative? What does that mean? If you don’t have this, what the hell is wrong with you?

Paul suggested that part of the fatigue could come from the lack of activity, and there’s a possibility that might be true. Once I finish this, I am going to get down on the kitchen floor and stretch, just to see how that feels. I am really not overly comfortable going for a walk, in all honesty; not knowing whether or not I am actually infected makes going out of the Lost Apartment seem like an incredibly foolish and irresponsible thing to do. I do have a mask–an official medical one, and gloves too–I had to buy these when Paul had his heart surgery all those years ago, and my tendency to hoard actually came in handy for once, so I suppose keeping a distance from others while wearing gloves and a mask should be okay, but there’s so much uncertainty about everything–hell, I don’t know if I actually am infected or not–that I just don’t know what I should be doing or should not be doing.

But I am lucky, because if I do indeed have this, at least it hasn’t moved into my lungs, at least not yet. I think it’s the lung part that is problematic for people; the inability to breathe, of course, would be horrifying, as well as feeling like you’re drowning. I go back and forth all the time on everything; it’s horrible to be indecisive, to not know what the right decisions are or even what the consequences of the wrong decisions could even be. This also isn’t like me, and I don’t know if it’s the foggy head or just the times or if I am simply being visited by some good old PTSD. Anything at this point is possible, and there are so many goddamned variables…and being trained since birth to always expect the worst doesn’t help much, frankly.

Yesterday wasn’t too bad, all things considered. I did some chores around the house once I woke up, ate some cereal, and then was exhausted (again, lack of activity, or illness?) and so I collapsed into my easy chair and couldn’t even focus on reading. I did get a few chapters more into Ammie, Come Home but after awhile put it aside and got lost in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror. ESPNU also decided to replay a series of LSU games from last season–the Mississippi game, then the play-off game with Oklahoma and the national title game–so I had that on while I read and dozed off and on. I never nap; and I always have trouble sleeping–which is the truly weird thing about all of this; the amount of sleep I’m getting, and then again–maybe I’m tired from sleeping too much, I don’t know. After Paul got home and we watched the end of Schitt’s Creek (which I am very sad to say goodbye to; it may be my favorite sitcom of all time), and then I read some more before going to bed.

The exciting life of a gay mystery novelist.

I do have creative bursts, though-which gives me hope that someday soon I might actually start writing again. I’ve been thinking through Bury Me in Shadows, and I think i might have actually solved the mystery of what’s wrong with the story. In fact, rather than reading any of my various books that I have spread out on the end table next to my easy chair (the two afore-mentioned, along with Du Maurier’s The Breaking Point and my iPad, which has a plethora of books in its various book-reading apps) I should probably reread the entire manuscript, perhaps even do an outline, and then figure out how to make it better and revise it, so when I can get back on a roll with writing again I can get back to it. I’ve also been thinking about the Kansas book, and I think I’ve cracked that code at long last–since I started writing it in either 2015 or 2016, about fucking time, wouldn’t you say–and so maybe, just maybe, i can get to that too. I also have to write my Sherlock story. The kitchen is also a mess–there’s a load in the dishwasher that has to be put away and the sink is full of dirty dishes as well, and there are clothes in the dryer as well-and God knows when the last time I did the floors was. I am going to try to get some of this stuff handled at some point today.

And on that note, I am going to try to get started on everything and see how much I can get done before I run out of energy–not that I have a lot right now, but the coffee is helping give me a bit of a boost, which is always nice–and see what can get taken care of before the malaise comes back.

Sorry to be such a downer, and I hope all is well with you, Constant Reader–and stay safe.

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Galveston

So here we are, on yet another Tuesday morning. Yesterday wasn’t a complete loss for me; I was very tired after going out and getting myself tested in the morning, so I came home and decided to take a “Greg Day”; no emails, no work,  and as little social media as possible. Easier said than done, of course, but you know–that’s how the ball bounces sometimes. I did get further into my reread of Ammie, Come Home (I always forget the damned comma in the title) by Barbara Michaels–one of the best Gothic ghost stories ever published, even if a little dated today–and I read a few chapters of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror–the 14th century is my second favorite century, behind the 16th–and when my brain couldn’t focus to read, I watched some videos on Youtube that sent me into yet another wormhole, this one of videos about American Horror Story.

In my defense, it started with a video about Jessica Lange’s roles on the show, which led to Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe, and…you get the picture.

And then, of course, ESPN replayed that particular Monday night football game from back in September, 2006. That warm night when the Saints played their first home game since the 2004 season. A year after Katrina, when the roof came off the Superdome and people died and still others were trapped there for days. When the city was almost completely destroyed, its economy gone, her people scattered. Our futures were uncertain that bleak fall of 2005, and even throughout 2006, with our abbreviated Mardi Gras and frustratingly slow, it seemed, recovery. We’d almost lost the Saints to San Antonio when the city drowned, but they’d stayed–and the true hero of that was Tagliabue at the NFL, not Tom Benson–and now the Superdome, long a symbol of the city and now a monument to its worst moments, was ready to reopen and create a new identity for itself, just as the city was seeking to be reborn, just as those who lived here were waiting for hope. I remember that day in the city–I knew the Saints were winning but I was busy; the Lost Apartment was still lost and still wouldn’t be finished for another two months. All we had was a tiny old black and white portable television in the carriage house, whose carpet had been ripped up to be replaced but hadn’t yet so there were carpet tacks sticking up out of the bare, scarred exposed wood. We were sleeping on a mattress on top of a box spring on the floor. Paul’s desk and computer were set up in one corner of the room, the staircase and railing took up another side and the little television, which was rarely watched, sat on top of a dresser. I ran errands that day and sensed something in the air–I knew the Saints were winning games but wasn’t paying attention because I was busy trying to make a living and keep myself to the very strict schedule I had to follow in order to have the slightest chance of getting anything done. But i could feel it when I went out to the car, in the air. People were wearing Saints jerseys, or at least black and gold, everywhere I looked. Saints flags were flying on the front of houses (we take flags seriously in New Orleans). Everyone was in Saints gear–the post office, the grocery store, Walgreens, everywhere–and when I got home I looked it up on-line: yup, the Superdome was reopening for Monday Night Football, and we were playing the hated Falcons. Paul and I watched on that little black and white television, screaming and cheering and getting a little teary eyed.  It gave us something we hadn’t had in a long time–hope. They called the game both “ReBirth” and “Domecoming”; both fit.

And while the Saints had always been our team before, that night they became OUR TEAM. Even New Orleanians who weren’t football fans became Saints fans that night. And the sheer joy with which the team played that night was so apparent, and so obvious, and they made it so clear they were doing it for the city…I’ve rarely felt so connected with a football team the way I did with that 2006 Saints team.

As glorious as winning the Super Bowl was, I have to say I think the Domecoming game was probably the greatest moment in Saints history.

Watching the game last night during another social and societal upheaval–one that is affecting the entire world and not just us this time–reminded me of that feeling. Tears spilled out of my eyes once again as Steve Gleason blocked that punt and the Dome erupted; listening to that crowd, seeing their faces and the tears of joy on their faces…having something like the Saints to cheer for, to help us through the hard times, and to give us hope again for the first time since Katrina crossed southern Florida…it’s hard to explain that, I guess.

Try to imagine what it’s going to be like when we have sports again–or the first time you can go out to a restaurant again, or what it’s like to be free of this worry and burden and fear…heady stuff, frankly.

And now…now I am feeling tired again, so I am going to go lie down for a bit. Stay safe, everyone.

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Amarillo by Morning

So, this morning when I woke up, as my first cup of coffee brewed, I dialed the COVID-19 testing hot-line for staff at the day job and made an appointment to get tested. They scheduled me for 9:20 am; I was called at around eight thirty, which left me with about fifty minutes to wake up, drink some coffee, and pull myself together. Our clinic’s COVID testing set-up is in the parking garage which is the ground floor of our building; staff simply drives into the garage and pulls up to the area where the tents and check-in desk are set up, and the doctor comes out and swabs your nose. Needless to say, as I swilled down coffee and brewed another quick cup to take with me in the car, my nerves were definitely feeling a bit frayed. Saturday was a better day than Friday; yesterday was better than Saturday. So far this morning I seem to feel okay other than fatigue–going up stairs to put on a T-shirt and shorts to drive over to the office made my legs and hips ache a bit; it also triggered a small coughing fit (note: the only time my lungs feel tight is when I cough; other than that I breathe fine and they don’t phase me at all. But when I cough, I feel a tightness in the center of my chest that is pretty severe–but as I said, once the coughing spasm passed, I feel fine) but I got dressed and drove over to the office. It didn’t take long as the streets are pretty empty–there’s some traffic, to be sure, and a pandemic and over-burdened hospitals doesn’t seem to be stopping people from driving like thoughtless assholes–and then I pulled into the garage, got checked in, signed my consent to be tested form, and Dr. Halperin came out and swabbed both nostrils.

And while I can see why the vice-president thought it was invasive–I imagine anything put it any of his orifices would be invasive to him–it really wasn’t that bad. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever had done to me; I’d certainly rather get my nostrils swabbed like that on a regular basis than have an abscessed tooth ever again, and the worst part of it wasn’t the invasiveness at all. The worst part is the chemical on the swab–it doesn’t quite burn per se, but the closest experience I can think of to it is when you accidentally and deeply inhale mothballs; my eyes watered and it burned a little bit, but not painfully.

In a best case scenario, the test results will be back within 2-4 days–it may be longer, who knows? But I have to go into a strict quarantine until the results do come back, which means not leaving the house or running any errands or doing much of anything. Of course I have gloves and masks, so I can theoretically do some things and leave the house if necessary, but I shouldn’t really take the risk of infecting someone else by going out in public until I know for a certain whether I currently have it, or did have it, or don’t have it at all. I was also a little confused because I’d assumed there would be a blood draw to go with the swab test, but I am also conditioned to thinking about testing for different viruses (HIV, syphilis, and Hep C) so I assumed the testing would also have to involve blood. But then I realized, afterwards as I was driving home, that mucous doesn’t carry the HIV, syphilis or Hep C viruses (virii?); but the COVID-19 virus can be airborne transmitted–which means it must be in the mucous membranes along with the antibodies.

At least that makes testing for it that much easier, so that’s kind of a plus?

I also noticed, this morning, a little bit of PTSD kicking in from the good old HIV/AIDS pandemic days–“oh, look, I need to get tested for a potentially fatal virus and have to wait days to get the results back”–but I quickly tamped that down, shoved the lid closed and firmly padlocked it. I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise that particular version of all the PTSD’s I have locked behind various doors in my brain took so long to try to worm it’s way out, but it did finally show up and I was able to beat it down rather easily.

Thank you, coping mechanisms, developed over several decades of seemingly endless trauma.

I didn’t have to take a nap yesterday, but after we finished watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a lovely stand-alone film follow-up to the wonderful Miss Fisher series from Australia (it was kind of an Indiana Jones-lite adventure, set in Palestine in 1928 and quite fun), I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and opened it up to the chapter about the Black Death. Yes, I recognize that my recent fascination with plagues and epidemics and pandemics is probably morbid, given the current state of affairs in the world, yet my curiosity had always had a bit of morbidity to it and it’s really not surprising that it would take this kind of turn. (And I’m actually kind of glad; I was glad to finally read “Death in Venice” even if it left me a little cold; and it also led me down the path to rereading “The Masque of the Red Death”, and back into my Daphne du Maurier short stories) Realistically, while everyone talks about the Spanish influenza pandemic of a hundred years ago, primarily because it was the most recent pandemic (note to self: reread Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse Pale Rider”), the worst pandemic in history was clearly the bubonic plague, the Black Death, or, as it was known more simply during the fourteenth century, “the pestilence.”

Here’s how the chapter opens:

In October 1347, two months after the fall of Calais, Genoese trading ships put into the harbor of Messina in Sicily with dead and dying men at the oars. The ships had come from the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya) in the Crimea, where the Genoese maintained a trading post. The diseased sailors showed strange black swellings about the size of an egg or an apple in the armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within five days of the first symptoms. As the disease spread, other symptoms of continuous fever and spitting of blood appeared instead of the swelling or buboes. The victims coughed and sweated heavily and died even more quickly, within three days or less, sometimes in 24 hours. In both types everything that issued from the body–breath, sweat, blood from the buboes and lungs, bloody urine, and blackened excrement–smelled foul. Depression and despair accompanied the physical symptoms, and before the end “death is seen seared on the face.”

The disease was bubonic plague, present in two forms: one that infected the bloodstream, causing the buboes and internal bleeding, and was spread by contact; and a second, more virulent pneumonic type that infected the lungs and was spread by respiratory infection. The presence of both at once caused the high mortality and speed of contagion. So lethal was the disease that cases were known of persons going to bed well and dying before they woke, of doctors catching the illness at a bedside and dying before the patient. So rapidly did it spread from one to another that to a French physician, Simon de Covino, it seemed as if one sick person “could infect the whole world.” The malignity of the pestilence appeared more terrible because its victims knew no prevention and no remedy.

The chapter is pretty horrific, and it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to live through in the fourteenth century. It’s impossible to know how many people died because they died so quickly that graveyards overflowed and burial pits had to be dug; people simply dragged the bodies of their dead loved ones to the pits and dumped them there. Estimates were obviously guesses and sometimes exaggerated; one monk’s reported death toll for one particular city, in fact, was more than what its recorded population showed. But it’s not inaccurate to guess that one third of the European population died during the pestilence; towns disappeared, families completely died out. Farms went untended because the farmers and their families died; there were also undoubtedly consequential deaths, not from the plague but because of it; young children whose parents had died starved to death, etc. Naturally they thought it was the end of the world, a punishment from God for sin; and the fourteenth century, which Ms. Tuchman describes as “calamitous”, was certainly ripe for that kind of belief.

One of the interesting things to me about this current pandemic is–and this may entirely be because I am not paying attention and my social media is sort of a bubble; but I cannot believe someone would be saying this about the pandemic and no one i know would notice it and be outraged enough to post about it–where are the evangelicals? Where are all those “end times” preachers and ministers and con artists to prey on the fears of their congregation? Why isn’t anyone pointing out that this could actually be the “rapture” where God is calling his own to him? I have seen that some trashbag minister called this God’s punishment for the gays–but it didn’t gain any traction.

Maybe one of the outcomes of this pandemic will be the ending of that nonsense. I rather doubt it, but you know, hope springs eternal.

I did read for a while yesterday–I got further into Ammie Come Home and I read a short story by Harlan Ellison, “On the Downhill Side”, from his collection Deathbird Stories, which I’d originally read years ago, before I moved to New Orleans, and this story is set in New Orleans. Oddly enough, when I opened the ebook in my Kindle app on the iPad (I was actually looking to see if the collection included his Edgar winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”–it does) it was already opened to that story, so I read it, and as always with Ellison, loved it–and while it certainly is brilliantly written, it was written by someone who didn’t live here. I did love the story; like all of Ellison’s stories, the humanity in it was overwhelming and identifiable and relatable. I’ll probably give it, at some point, its own entry here.

And now I am feeling a bit tired, so I am going to go rest for a bit.

Sexy-Shirtless-Guys-8

Take Me Home, Country Roads

And here we are, Sunday morning, and the dawn of a new week. I am still controlling things with copious amounts of DayQuil–it really works wonders.

I finished reading Daphne du Maurier’s story “The Menace” yesterday, and am not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest. It was very strange, and again, like “The Archduchess”, not your typical du Maurier story (if it can be said that there is such a thing as a typical du Maurier story), but I also wasn’t certain how it fit the supposed theme of the stories in The Breaking Point–people pushed to their breaking point, and how they react or behave once they break. But it was an interesting read, and I’m not sorry I read it. I may wait before moving onto the other stories in the collection I’ve not read yet–“The Limpet” and “The Lordly Ones”–because these last two seemed like lesser stories…but it’s also kind of nice to know that du Maurier didn’t always hit it out of the park, too.

Makes me feel a little better about myself, don’t you know.

I also started rereading my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home, which is just as charming, enchanting, and compulsively readable as it was the first time I read it, many many years ago when I was a just a child.

Yesterday was okay, health-wise, for the most part. It comes in waves, it seems, and I dosed myself regularly with DayQuil. At one point yesterday I wasn’t paying attention to the time, and  I could feel my nose starting to run and my temperature starting to go up, so I walked into the kitchen and dosed myself. I started shivering for a moment and then it kicked in and that was that. So, DayQuil, if you’re ever looking for testimonials…you know where to find me. The DayQuil seems to help keep the fever down, and to help with the coughing. There was a slight headache now and again, with several minor dry-coughing fits throughout the day, but no uncontrollable shivering, which for me was really the worst part of it other than feeling off. I am still sticking to my plan of getting tested tomorrow and self-quarantining for the rest of the week–it’s the only thing that makes sense and is responsible. I cannot assume that what I have isn’t the COVID-19 virus, and I cannot put other people at risk (any more than I already have–which is quite a lovely burden to shoulder, I might add). At worst, I’ll exhaust my sick and vacation time staying home for the week; at best, I’m getting better and not getting anyone else sick. I hate the thought that I put people at risk more than anything else, but I also didn’t know, so there’s that–but does that make it any better? Obviously, deliberately infecting people is worse, and now that I’ve been sick, I know better than to go to work every day until I know I don’t have it, or until I know I did have it and have taken the time to get over it completely.

I slept very well again last night, which was lovely, but I did feel tired most of the day yesterday. Going up and down the stairs seemed to really tire out my legs. But my breathing seems to still be okay–no tightness in my lungs, no restriction to my breathing–and while there were a couple of dry coughing fits (which go on until my lungs ached), for the most part my respiratory system seems to be functioning properly. So far so good this morning–although I should probably take a shot of DayQuil pretty soon; certainly before my second cup of coffee.

We watched a lot of episodes of Kim’s Convenience last night, which is a really cute and charming show that occasionally takes on some interesting and topical subjects. It’s very well cast, and I think my favorite character is the mom, who is absolutely hilarious. After a few hours spent with the Kims, we decided to try something else, and I remembered that we have Apple TV Plus (yes, we have too many streaming services, and I know I really should take the time some time to sit down and figure out which ones we need and which ones we don’t), and so I clicked over to that app and saw that Stephen Spielberg’s reboot of Amazing Stories was available, so we watched the first two episodes. The show is aptly titles, by the way–it is amazing. The stories are what Harlan Ellison called speculative fiction–that terrific catch-all that covers horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with all the crossovers and gray spaces in between. The first episode dealt with time travel; the second with spirits trapped in limbo, and both were so incredibly well done. The writing and acting and directing were pinpoint sharp; and the production values made it very clear we were watching a Spielberg production. The first starred Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf fame, and despite being about time travel it never created the paradox issues that usually pop up with time travel and was entirely satisfying at the end, with everything wrapped up beautifully. The ghosts in limbo story was equally emotionally honest and strong, about the bond of love between two young girls of color who were track stars and best friends since they were children, until one dies in a tragic accident. The two episodes were so sharp and strongly written they reminded me of Ellison and one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was filmed as an episode of the mid-1908’s reboot of The Twilight Zone (that remains one of my favorite television episodes of all time as well); I am really looking forward to watching more of Amazing Stories–which reminded me I also pay for CBS All-Access, which means we can also watch Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which is also incredibly cool. It also made me think that the reboots of these shows should do what Rod Serling and the producers of other such shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s did–buy speculative fiction short stories from masters of the genre to film. Goddess knows there are plenty of them around these days.

And now I’m starting to fade a little bit, so I think I am going to repair to my easy chair and take it easy for a while. Have a lovely, and safe, Sunday, Constant Reader!

clayton snyder