Knight at the Movies: The Battery (2012)

Monday, October 20th, 2014 | Posted by eeknight

GregBunburyTheBatteryMoviePosterAs Black Gate‘s resident oddball zombie movie reviewer (Honest! John O’Neill did it in style of Mad Men‘s Roger Sterling, he did a Jedi hand wave and anointed me thus) I have to say a little bit about the ultra-low budget 2012 movie The Battery.

The zombie movie has reached the arthouse at last. And the arthouse loved it, this micro-budget film won numerous awards.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a traditional zombie movie as much as the next fan. I have a soft spot in my heart for 2008’s Day of the Dead, despite such howlers as the assertion that zombie Bud is safe because he was a vegetarian in life, as though that moral choice trumps thousands of years of cultural conditioning toward a similar moral choice against cannibalism.

But back to The Battery. Filmed on a budget of $6000, writer/director Jeremy Gardner put together a horror film that delivers the most entertainment per budget dollar since Blair Witch Project — though I expect The Battery, while not as original as that legendary effort, will prove more enjoyable on the re-watch.

Its strengths are the same as Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead: a limited budget means you have to spend your time on character and tension. Without money for a lot of extras in zombie makeup to be featured more than briefly, you have to make do with the sounds of zombies outside the windows, which is creepier anyway.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “Assault and Battery” by Jason E. Thummel

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Jason E. Thummel 2Gunnerman Clap, the hero of “The Gunnerman,” returns in a tale of a daring night assault on a cliffside fortress:

Up they climbed, gusted by winds determined to knock them from their perch on the rock. Clap kept his mermaid’s tooth talisman close as he kept reminding Shullum that he was a sailor true, that it wasn’t his fault he was on land, that he really wished to return to the sea, to the ship, and that any protection the Great God of the Deep could lend would be much appreciated.

Ahead they could make out the flickering flame of a storm lantern, dimly illuminating a doorway that looked little protected by the overhang of a small roof. The same could be said of the drenched rat of a guard, huddled up in oiled skins with hat brim pulled to cover his face. Illsby gestured to several marines.

“Soon I be sending the souls I promised you, Great Shullum.” Clap tucked his talisman under his shirt and put a calloused hand on the worn hilt of his cutlass.

The guard’s head jerked up as the marines leapt into the small sphere of light and one clobbered the senses from him. One marine quickly searched the downed man as the other waved them forward; Clap and the rest jogged behind Illsby to crowd under the scant cover of the overhang.

The marines unpacked their rifles and affixed bayonets. The long lengths of steel looked thin and fragile to Clap, and he was thankful for the seaman’s sword that he carried. The buckler would have been nice, but he’d lost that when the boat went down. “Not that I’m in any hurry to be reunited,” he whispered.

Jason’s first story for us was “The Duelist,” published as part of our Black Gate Online Fiction line on September 30th, 2012. His work has also appeared in Flashing Swords magazine, Rage of the BehemothMagic and Mechanica, and other venues. Some of his sword & sorcery and heroic fantasy is collected in In Savage Lands and The Harsh Suns, and the first two novels chronicling the supernatural adventures of occult detective Lance Chambers, The Spear of Destiny and Cult of Death, are now available.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including stories by Ryan Harvey, Steven H Silver, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Emily Mah, C.S.E. Cooney, Howard Andrew Jones, Harry Connolly, and many others, is here.

“Assault and Battery” is a complete 5,200-word sword & sorcery tale offered at no cost.

Read the complete story here.

Black Gate Online Fiction: “Assault and Battery”

Sunday, April 28th, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

By Jason E. Thummel

This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Jason E. Thummel and New Epoch Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by New Epoch Press.

Chief Gunner Clap looked over the new detachment of soldiers, fresh from Portsway, and grumbled. How did he manage to get grouped with these turf-busters? Not a one looked seaworthy, and even the sunburned flesh of the men couldn’t cover the pallor of seasickness. Two days they’d been aboard before the morning’s troubles started, and still they stumbled and moaned like drunken old women. Though he’d never admit it aloud, he missed the old marine Sergeant, Danvil, and his pitiful lot of “muzzle-monkey” marines. They were a fair-wind better than these, at any rate, and could swing about in the rigging near as well as a midshipman, popping off shots like armed monkeys all the while.

A sound of far-off thunder rolled across the ocean waves and Clap shaded his eyes and turned to look up the face of a distant cliff at the defensive battery that dominated the inlet. Whether a natural cave or the work of cunning craftsmen, it lay within the massive outcrop itself, just shy of the peak, and so was perfectly camouflaged and therefore doubly deadly — unless you knew what you were looking for.

There was a visible exhaust of smoke and the sound of incoming, heavy iron. It impacted a couple of pistol shots away, white wake showing in rough seas.

Just testing the distance, he thought, squinting back at the big gun and calculating the same, but they’ll never touch us out here. Can’t pack enough powder in a gun that size to push a ball this far. He turned his attention back to Third Lieutenant Illsby, who nervously cleared his throat before addressing them.

“Now lookee here, sirs,” said the junior officer uncomfortably, pacing before the assembled men. “You will accompany me. Others have already been chosen to go ashore with the Sergeant and Lieutenant. As you no doubt know, the Captain’s been nicked. They are going to find him and perform a cut and run. The acting Captain, Lieutenant Barnes, has given me the job of taking you, sirs, to quiet that damnable battery that handed us our backside earlier so we can sail back near to port and pound that town with a side or two of iron and make certain the Captains, one and all, return safely aboard. So that’s what we’ll do.”

And pray we don’t die on land, Clap thought, rubbing his mermaid tooth talisman. Shullum, Lord of the Deep, wasn’t too kindly toward sailors who went to the trouble to die on land.

Illsby wasn’t telling the whole tale. They’d nabbed the Captain, all right, ambushed the I.N. Grimhold with the battery in what was charted as a friendly harbor. But while they pounded away at the old girl, they’d gone and conjured the Captain away. Just a puff of foulest smelling hell-fire smoke, and he was gone. Few knew that particular detail. Clap wouldn’t have believed it, but he’d been standing nearby and seen it for himself. Fellmore, who was knowledgeable on these matters, had whispered that that meant a Vergolocus grade mage. And that meant trouble, no doubt, thought Clap, scratching his whiskered chin. Magicking always did.

The men looked uneasy and Clap couldn’t blame them, although he muttered a few curses at them on principle. The Surgeon-mage, Fellmore, had promised a draught to help with the sickness, but hadn’t produced it as yet, being more inclined toward his own drinks of a different sort when out to sea. Now, what with the earlier conjuring when they’d been fired upon, and now tending to the injured, there wasn’t any time.

Men were quietly whistling, singing and cursing, busily stoning down the deck, smoothing splintered planks where they’d taken fire, or splicing together damaged rigging. Aloft, men with a block and tackle hoisted a replacement yardarm in preparation for the assault on the inlet. For the first time in a long while, as he glanced again at the miserable marines, Clap envied his sailor brethren their shipboard duties.

“Now, it’ll be dark soon,” Illsby continued, “and there appears to be a storm approaching, so we won’t, most likely, have to worry much about the moon showing our position —”

‘Course keeping the powder dry in the rain and all might be a problem, Clap thought.

“We’ll just row in, nice and quiet like, scale that hillside, take the battery, and launch the signal rocket,” Illsby concluded, smiling confidently at the assembly.

Yes sirs, no trouble at all. Just shimmy up that craggy bastard of a rock face like a mountain goat, towing powder and rifles and all manner of whatnot with this bunch of bandy-legged grass munchers, simple as you please, fight our way in and take it. Oh no sir, no trouble at all.

Leastways he’d take a cutlass and buckler, just to make certain. Cannons were one thing, but Clap didn’t trust rifles. The idea of holding a little cannon to your shoulder, next to your head, and letting fly was much akin to sticking an explosive grenade down your pants. Just not a good idea. Big or small, if something went wrong you didn’t want to be holding it in your hand or next to your head. No — fighting should be done with swords and fists up close and cannons at range, just as was natural and the gods intended.

The storm was just beginning to blow, sheets of fine rain pelting the men slantwise in the increasing wind as they went about their duties. Behind the slate gray sky, the sun must have dipped at last below the horizon and almost instantly it seemed black as pitch. There was a quiet ringing of the bell as the watch changed, the soft tread of many a bare foot, ropes creaking under the weight as men climbed aloft.

Clap ceased his nervous pacing. He was a sailor, was he not? His place was here, on board. But no, they said, they’d need someone who could man the cannon in the battery properly, and who better than the Chief Gunner?

“Who better indeed,” he muttered to himself.

“Lower the boats,” ordered Captain Lieutenant Barnes from out of the dark. Clap helped on the lines and then was over the side, blaspheming at the awkward departure of the marines from the vessel as they scurried down the rope netting with oilskin covered rifles swinging from their shoulders to pummel the unwary.

“We’ve a lot of rowing to do and rough seas to do it in,” said Illsby, “so best get to it.”

Clap pulled the oar, listening to the quiet call of the Lieutenant keeping time from somewhere back at the rudder while nearby a marine heaved his meal into the sea. Illsby guided them using the lights of the town as far as he was able before cutting around the promontory, intending to land them on the dark, uninhabited side. Somewhere in the rain-streaked black behind them, the boats with the rescue party would soon be underway.

They had to be near the shore by now, Clap figured. He could feel the looming rock above, hear the unexplainable way the sound changed as they neared the beach, and he could smell it even though he could not yet see it. Then there was the sound of an oar snapping and Illsby had scarce muttered the ominous phrase ‘Damnation!’ when the boat lurched sideways as the hand of the sea grabbed it and smashed it into a rock.

“Swim, swim damn you,” Clap shouted as the boat disintegrated around him. He could hear shouts of alarm, prayer, and profanities interspersed with frantic thrashing as waves forced him repeatedly under and he was pummeled by the crew as they struggled against the sea.

Shullum, he prayed as he did his best to move away from the rock, I keep your ways and serve you well. I am not ready to go, not like this. Give me leave to set foot on land once more, and I will fill your halls with many a soul to do your bidding. So many, in fact, that you’ll not miss my own one bit.

Clap’s foot touched sand and then he was lifted again and thrown forward onto a rocky beach. There were sounds of crashing waves, of gasping and coughing, men groaning against the shock and fatigue of their escape. It didn’t sound like near as many men as had sat the boat, though.

“Call out and quietly,” Illsby said hoarsely. Clap muttered his own name and staggered toward the Lieutenant. There were a series of names sputtered as the other men crawled toward one another. When at last they were close enough to pluck each other from out of the shadows, there were only eight.

“Damn!” Illsby quickly assessed the situation. “It appears some rifles made the trip with those of you who made shore, but the powder went down. As did a good many men.”

“Powder packets I had on me is soaked through and through, Sir, and’ll be no good to no one,” said one of the marines. The other men grumbled agreement.

“Begging pardon, Sir,” said Clap, making obeisance toward Illsby. “But I’ve still got my cutlass and the men got bayonets with the rifles and, well, those worthless bastards up in the battery don’t know nothing about us not having powder and all, uh, Sir…” his voice trailed off as the adrenaline of nearly drowning waned.

“Right you are, Chief Gunner. They’d never have heard us in this storm. On we go of course. If we can surprise and overwhelm the door guard quickly and keep up the appearance of being ready to shoot, we might not actually have to at all.”

The men began the desperate ascent, fingers and boots blindly questing for holds to pull them up, while the Storm God ratcheted up his fun. The sky let loose with frigid, pounding rain and lightening creased the violently swirling sky.

“Never thought I’d drown on land,” Clap muttered. Ahead someone’s boot slipped from a rock and glanced off his head. He let go a long string of impressive curses and pulled himself over a boulder. Another flash seared his vision.

“Leastways I can see what I’m doing from time to time.” He glanced back down toward the distant beach and was surprised at how high they had half-climbed, half-crawled. “Whether I want to or no.”

It’s of no matter, he tried to convince himself as he clung desperately to a moss-covered, weather-worn stone. But try as he might, he knew it was just too high for any normal man to be; suddenly the slick rock and partial holds seemed malicious and threatening.

Luckily, as they continued to cut across the face of the promontory, they discovered a stone stair and rope rails that had been anchored for safe passage. The men gathered in a clump and leaned in, heads touching against the noise of the pouring rain.

“I think it best we stick to the stair,” Illsby said against the roar of the elements, “and when we see the door guard, on my signal, charge it quick. We can’t afford they call the alarm.”

Sure beats plummeting to our deaths from crawling all over this damnable rock, Clap thought. They’d be no men from the battery out and about in this, and they sure wouldn’t reckon on any company coming from out of this sodden gale. Anything to get out of the weather sounded like a brilliant plan.

Up they climbed, gusted by winds determined to knock them from their perch on the rock. The gods were wont to have their contests of strength, and Clap kept his mermaid’s tooth talisman close as he kept reminding Shullum that he was a sailor true, that it wasn’t his fault he was on land, that he really wished to return to the sea, to the ship, and that any protection the Great God of the Deep could lend would be much appreciated. As if laughing at him, the Storm God’s winds howled in Clap’s ears.

Ahead they could make out the flickering flame of a storm lantern, dimly illuminating a manmade doorway that looked little protected by the overhang of a small roof above. The same could be said of the drenched rat of a guard, huddled up in oiled skins with hat brim pulled to cover his face. Illsby gestured to several marines, and Clap was glad it was they that were going.

“Soon I be sending the souls I promised you, Great Shullum.” He tucked his talisman under his shirt and put a calloused hand on the worn hilt of his cutlass.

The guard’s head jerked up as the marines leapt into the small sphere of light and one clobbered the senses from him with a rifle butt before the guard could mutter a syllable of alarm. One marine quickly searched the downed man, pulling a pistol and several powder packets, as the other turned and waved them forward; Clap and the rest jogged behind Illsby to crowd under the scant cover of the overhang.

The marines unpacked their rifles and affixed bayonets. The long lengths of steel looked thin and fragile to Clap, and he was thankful for the seaman’s sword that he carried. The buckler would have been nice, but he’d lost that when the boat went down. “Not that I’m in any hurry to be reunited,” he whispered.

One of the marines climbed atop the roof and entered a window; a moment later the bar on the far side of the door rasped against the stone as it was retracted, and the rusted handle clicked open. Clap took position behind the marines and, bayonets forward, the group moved into the dimly lit hall beyond.

The hall was short, a stair descended to the right, to the left was a dark doorway from which snoring could be heard and straight ahead Clap could see a portion of the main battery with an untended cannon pulled back out of the rain. Illsby motioned three marines to head down the stairs, two to enter the sleeping quarters, and one to accompany him and Clap forward. Illsby was obviously keeping his wits about him, Clap thought, noting it was the marine with the loaded, dry-powdered pistol that happened to be with them. This lad’s going places for a certain.

There was a shout of alarm from the sleeping quarters, followed by the sounds of wood beating flesh and grunts of pain as a struggle ensued. Clap’s group charged forward into the main battery, any chance of surprise gone. For a moment it appeared the large chamber, with its view of the sea and harbor far below, was deserted, but then there was a loud crack, a brief flash, and the marine next to Illsby spun a half circle as lead tore through him. Another shot boomed in the confines and splintered stone stung Clap’s face. He felt the warmth of blood.

Clap saw two men in a shadowed alcove, both kneeling and reloading quickly. He turned toward them, ready to exact some bloody retribution when he noted a third man running to the open balcony, holding a signal rocket.

“There’ll be no sending alarm,” Clap shouted, sprinting toward the third man. Behind he heard Illsby get off a shot with the pistol.

The man’s face was illuminated as he threw the covering off a pot of smoldering embers, and Clap smelled the first hint of sulfur as the rocket’s fuse caught. The bastard was right quick with it, he thought, but not quick enough. His cutlass lashed out and the man went down under its edge. Clap grabbed the fuse, cursing as it burned his well-calloused hand, and yanked it from the rocket. Steel rang from behind.

The pistol shot had taken one man and when the remaining guard saw Clap he backed himself toward a corner, most likely hoping to simply hold out until help arrived. Illsby pounced on the lapse of concentration and entangled the other’s sword and Clap, seeing the opening, struck the man hard in the head with the flat of his blade.

“That seemed a little unsporting,” Illsby huffed. He walked to the marine that had entered the room with them, rolled him over, and noted sadly that he was dead.

“This ain’t no sport and me no sportsman, begging pardon Sir,” Clap replied. “Besides, he’s most likely alive if just a bit addled. Either way, he’ll not be a problem.” With a seaman’s speed, Clap tied the man’s arms behind his back and to his ankles.

Someone was running toward them. Clap leapt to his feet, cutlass already in motion.

“Come a charging up on me like that again and next time I might kill ye,” Clap spat toward a flush-faced marine as his blade stopped amid swing. “These ruddy whelps just as like to get you killed as be of any help,” he grumbled. But he was glad to see that it was one of theirs, because that meant they held the battery.

“What news, then?” Illsby said.

“Well, Sir, nobody was downstairs, just powder and provisions and the like. The quarters were taken with some resistance, and the living tied up proper prisoners. We lost not a one, Sir.”

“Except Krill,” said Illsby, motioning to the dead marine.

“Gods’ pity on him,” said the marine, doffing his hat. “He was a good man.”

Clap traipsed back to the windows and looked down at the town. A small number of lights were visible, homes and businesses mostly shut up against the storm’s fury, and the few harbor-markers that were still burning guttered and swung dangerously; they could go out at any moment. No, the town looked pretty much deserted. It was as good a night as any for a cut and run.

Voices continued to drone from the room, more marines informing Third Lieutenant Illsby of circumstances as they arrived. Clap ignored them and rummaged through the great coat of the man who had tried to light the alarm. He found a small looking-glass in an inner pocket and resolved to keep it, his long-range vision not being so fine as once it had been, though he’d never admit it.

“Impressive,” he said as he trained it on the town below. The lens magnified nicely and there was little distortion. Obviously not a cheap one-off, this one. There were multiple flashes from just out of sight, and Clap swung the lens around wildly to find them.

The rescue party had retrieved the Captain, Clap noted through the lens. It appeared they’d nicked them a prisoner as well for there was a tall, robed figure, trussed up like a hog, cowering between two marines. A robe meant a mage, most likely. Damn but they must have been running ahead of schedule. There was another series of discharges as a heated exchange took place.

It looked that they were cut off from their boats, penned in among a mass of shipping crates on the docks, and would soon be surrounded. Already there were men swarming through the town like ants, headed for the wharf.

“Lieutenant Illsby, Sir,” Clap shouted. “You’d best come.” Clap held the glass out to Illsby and pointed below, quickly telling him what he had seen. The Lieutenant plucked it from him and looked for several moments then cursed.

“Can you get a shot at them Chief Gunner?”

“Sir,” Clap said, “get those men to move this here cannon where I need it, and I’ll put enough iron down there that might free them up.”

Clap pulled a nearby bucket of powder cartridges to him as the men heaved the cannon to his instructions. Already set to fire into the harbor, it didn’t take long to direct it at the docks. It was an older cannon, using fuse instead of firestone and steel, but it would do. He pulled the plug from its end, shoved powder, ball and wad home, then sighted it using a hand hook to fine tune the aim. From another window, at Illsby’s command, one of the marines lit a rocket and sent it sailing toward the black sea to signal the I.N. Grimhold.

“Get from behind it fools and let’s hope she’s true,” Clap shouted, lighting the short fuse with some smoldering punk.

The stone floor shuddered beneath them as the cannon kicked and spat with a mind-numbing explosion of fire and sound. The humid, heavy air became hot and acrid. Clap ran ahead and peered through the smoke. Though he couldn’t see the details, it was chaos below for certain. The shot had managed to hit in the heart of a pocket of the guard, and those remaining seemed to be abandoning their posts to scamper away.

“Just like rats,” Clap laughed to himself, running a sponger down the barrel to clear it of ash before reloading. He found a store of explosive shells and rammed one home, then quickly punched through the packet of powder, set another fuse, and aimed. Lesson learned, the marines put their fingers in their ears as it went off. A dockside warehouse, where many of the displaced enemy had fled before resuming fire on the trapped party, went up in splinters and flame.

Clap shouted joyfully at the chaos. “Take that ye land livin’ dandies!”

“We need to take advantage of the confusion and get down there where we might be of help,” Illsby said. “Clap, I need you to keep it up. You’re the only hope they’ve got.”

“Sir?” Clap looked back at the Lieutenant.

“Chief Gunner Clap, you are to stay here and provide cover fire while we rejoin the men below for support. We’re of better use there than here. But we need to keep up this fire. Understood?”

“Aye Sir, understood,” Clap replied reluctantly. Who better to fire the gun than the Chief Gunner? Curse that damnable promotion, he thought as the enormity of his orders struck him like a whip before the mast.

He surveyed the other two, unused cannon in the battery. The one that pointed straight out to sea would be of no use to him, there being neither time nor means to maneuver it all the way across the room and around, but the one trained on the harbor’s approach might be manageable.

“Can you have the gents shove that other cannon there so it points down the hall toward the door, Sir?” Clap asked.

“Yes, of course,” Illsby said even as the marines were doing it. “We’ll be back for you as soon as the Grimhold arrives and the Captain is safe.”

“Yessir.” Clap turned back to look out toward the town.

“Gods be with you, Clap,” Illsby said as he and the remaining marines turned to leave and make their way to join the fight below.

Hear that Great Shullum, the Lieutenant says to be with me? Now, you surely wouldn’t want to disappoint the Lieutenant, him being an officer and a-sailing on your seas and all. Not that you’ve not been with me all along, mind, just don’t forget me now.

The rescue party had run their boats aground on a small beach on the far side of the town, off to Clap’s right, and he kept his eyes in that general direction. The commotion had alerted the town, lamps had been lit, and people brandishing all manner of lighting were running and scurrying all over the whole of it, making seeing a might easier.

A few well placed shots later, Clap was fairly satisfied that the rescue party had a safe enough avenue of escape back to their boats and so looked to slow the advance of the town guard. He was about to discharge the old girl when he caught sight of Illsby and the marines to his left — for who else could it be — trying to slip along the quays and join the others. A small stand of town guard stood between them and the rescue party and had turned to stop their advance. There was a furious exchange as he watched, and the first volley dropped another marine.

“Damn you whore’s runts,” Clap shouted, keeping up a constant stream of talk and profaning while he sighted and let fly.

The ball struck low. A townsman’s lower body disintegrated, along with the plank flooring, spewing those remaining with splinters, shrapnel, and enough gore to discourage any additional bravery. They beat a hasty retreat back toward the town and Clap waved unseen toward Illsby and the marines as they continued on, disappearing in shadow where he’d last seen the rescue party.

Out of the corner of his eye, to the far left, he caught movement. A knot of soldiers crossed the swinging rope bridge that lead to the rock promontory in which he currently sat, then disappeared from sight behind the cliff face.

“They be coming for you at last,” Clap said. He ran down the hall to the door, quickly glancing into the sleeping quarters where several bound men rolled pointlessly on the floor trying to untie their knots. He fought the urge to run in and kick one and instead barred the door. Then he went to the main room, grabbed what he needed, and loaded an exploding shell into the cannon that pointed toward the door. It wouldn’t be long now.

The cavern shook around him. A fine mist of stone and pebble trickled into his hair as a full broadside of cannon discharged from the black sea below. Clap ran to the window and looked down. The I.N. Grimhold, in all its splendorous glory, had sailed as close in as its leeway, wind and tide would allow and gave a good accounting to the town. Another broadside echoed, louder than even the Storm God’s own thunder, and hot iron made ruin of many a seaside building.

A red signal flare went up from the ink-stained waves beneath him as the rescue boats signaled their location. Clap let out a brief whoop of glee. They’d made it sure enough, and soon would be back aboard — there was a rapid series of dull thuds as rifle balls knocked impotently into the thick oak door — although too late for him, it would appear.

Though he had, in the Captain, all the faith a man can have in another man, Clap knew nothing short of a god could ever make it to the battery in time to free him. No doubt they’d try their best, but…

He pulled out his mermaid tooth talisman, made the Sign of the Sail, and prayed to Shullum. Then he laid a smoldering punk near the cannon, took up his cutlass in one hand and a pistol, rather reluctantly, in the other.

Smoke began to seep through cracks in the door. No doubt they’d covered it with pitch and set it afire awhile ago. The hinges rattled worryingly as, outside, men began to batter the weakening door with something heavy.

Clap adjusted his grip on the cutlass’s handle and pulled back the pistol’s hammer. He’d have some company to serve him when it came time to enter the Abyss-Lord’s Hall. Yes indeed, he thought as he touched off the cannon.

The door blew outward, a deluge of ash, spark and smoke, burning timber and razor sharp splinters. Somewhere beyond came piteous screams as the mass of wood, fire and iron tore into the men who’d been battering the door. Into that emptiness, filled with only the wailing of shattered and torn men, Clap charged to hold the door.

“Lets get ’em boys,” he yelled, hoping the suggestion that they faced many an adversary might give the men outside a second thought. But as the first man came into view, a mere silhouette in the dark and smoky hall, he knew the gambit hadn’t worked. Trust it wouldn’t be a pack of cowards what would climb this stinking heap in the dark.

Clap lifted the pistol and fired.

The man stumbled back out of view as Clap dropped the spent weapon. Already there were two more, yelling and screaming with battle rage and fear. Clap heard his own screams, sounding strangely distant and foreign, and then their blades met. Clap was a sailor first and foremost, and fighting in the crowded hall, so like below decks on many a ship, suited him fine. It did not go so easy for the town guard, and he was able to move them into each other, fighting first the one and then the other, until at last he saw a weakness and the first fell. More shades crowded from behind.

He lost ground, the press of bodies, of fresh arms with new blades forcing him back. Soon he’d find himself in the main room and then, with nothing to his back, it would all be over.

The air began to smell strongly of the sea and, strange as it was, Clap thought he could hear the gentle creak of plank and rigging as though he was once again on a ship, riding the swell of the great blue. Was this some ethereal vessel come to take him to Shullum, he wondered, as another guard went down under his bloodied blade.

There was the sound of a bell signaling a change of watch, of bare feet running on a deck, of men singing bawdy songs as they climbed the rigging. These grew louder as the sounds of clashing steel grew farther and farther away. And then the light dimmed and everything erupted in a yellow flash.

Clap bent over the rail and was sick.

Over the rail?

“Chief Gunner Clap,” said Illsby. “I told you we would be back for you. Sorry to keep you waiting, but we needed a little help from a most reluctant mage. The Captain, however, was very persuasive.”

Clap felt both the taint of magic about him, and like he’d been punched in the gut. His body shook and his mind fought a rush of vertigo as dual perceptions resolved into a single reality.

“When you are able, the Captain would like a word with you.” There was the sound of rustling as Lieutenant Illsby reached deep into his coat. “I believe this is yours.”

Clap stood momentarily dazed, his mouth hanging slack. He was standing on the Grimhold, sailing into stormy seas, the eastern horizon lightening with dawn.

They’d magicked him aboard. They’d put the screws to that evil bastard of a mage that had kidnapped the Captain and magicked him aboard. Oh bless them all!

He bent over and was sick again.

“Ill effects of transportation I’m afraid, Second Lieutenant Illsby,” said Surgeon-Mage Fellmore from somewhere in the crowd. That’s all fine and dandy, Clap reckoned, but knowing it didn’t make it any better.

Second Lieutenant? Clap knew that lad would be going places. Knew it all along.

“Poor sight that, a sailor what can’t hold his gut,” said a marine. Clap recognized him from the battery and ignored the gibe. He’d have to learn those men’s names, he thought.

At last he gathered his wits and looked down at what Illsby patiently held out to him. In his hand was the looking glass.

“It’s how the mage was able to find you,” the Lieutenant said.

Clap reached down and took it. “Thank you, Sir.”

There was a shouted hurrah for the Captain and officers, one and all. As the deck erupted in shouts of joy, someone pressed a mug of grog into Clap’s hand and called him a hero. From the poop deck above, the Captain looked down and removed his hat, acknowledging the salute and bowing his thanks to the men. Clap downed the grog and was handed another. And another. He could get used to being a hero.

Jason E. Thummel 3Jason E. Thummel’s work has appeared in Black Gate, Flashing Swords magazine, the anthologies Rage of the Behemoth and Magic and Mechanica, as well as many other venues both online and in print. Some of his Sword & Sorcery and heroic fantasy is collected in the titles In Savage Lands and The Harsh Suns, and the first two novels chronicling the supernatural adventures of occult detective Lance Chambers, The Spear of Destiny and Cult of Death, are now available.

The first Gunnerman Clap story, “The Gunnerman,” a tale of a desperate sea battle and a dangerous discovery below decks on a sinking ship, appeared as part of our Black Gate Online Fiction line in January. Read the complete story here.

Jason’s first story for us — “The Duelist,” an action packed tale of magic and deadly intrigue in an ancient city —  kicked off the Black Gate Online Fiction line on September 30th, 2012. Adventures Fantastic called it:

A solid sword and sorcery story… Androi Karpelov [is] a man with honor. And he’s willing to take great risks to satisfy that honor… The story moves at a nice clip, never dragging. Black Gate‘s online fiction debut has set a high standard.

Read the complete story here.

Jason can be reached at: feedback2jason(at)gmail(dot)com.


The Mighty Electric Men

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 | Posted by Steve Carper


“This man is a Samson in physical strength – in fact, the limit of his strength is unknown even to me., as every bone and muscle in him is of the finest steel. The machinery that works his limbs is inside of him, and he can walk, run, jump, and kick forward or backward with wonderful agility. The motive power that moves him is in a powerful electric battery enclosed in yonder box, under the floor of the carriage, and is communicated to him through wires inside the shafts. … By pressing one knob inside the carriage, there, I start the battery under the floor, and the man shows signs of light and life. That globe inside the helmet gives forth a light that equals the noonday sun, and his eyes do the same. At will I can extinguish all the lights, or only one at a time, just as I may elect. Then another knob starts him going, and another will turn him to the right and another to the left – just as a faithful horse obeys the rein and the bit – and all, too, without my being exposed to any danger from without.”

We think of robots being fairly modern marvels, but that’s definitely a description of a robot and it dates to October 10, 1886. The Electric Man in Australia (the fantastically racist cover is from a later London magazine reprint, and yes, those are supposed to be Australian aborigines) was the invention of Frank Reade, Jr., a young inventor who was the prototype for Tom Swift and all his ilk. The adventures of young Frank – there had been a Frank Sr. for four books, with Harry Enton disguised as “Noname” – were written by the amazingly prolific “Noname,” really Luis Senarens, himself a teenager when the first Frank Reade, Jr. book, Frank Reade Jr. and His Steam Wonder, appeared in 1882 in Frank Tousey’s Boys Weekly. A “boys weekly” became a generic term for 8, 16, or 32 page weekly newsprint magazines. For a nickel, later a dime, readers got an exciting illustration on the front page, with the others crammed full of tiny type adventure or mystery novels or stories, sometimes serialized, sometimes filling an entire issue. Dozens of them appeared in the late 19th century only to be superseded by the coming of the pulp magazines.

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Modular: James Sutter Fields Some Starfinder RPG Questions

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

starfinderPaizo Publishing is a major force in the fantasy gaming industry, having taken the core mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons edition 3.5 and transforming it into the Pathfinder RPG, an impressive stand-alone game system in its own right. Beyond the core tabletop roleplaying game, Pathfinder has also diversified out into the Pathfinder Tales series of novels, the various versions of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (including a digital edition), audio dramas, comic books, and ever-expanding other platforms and formats.

But ultimately the Pathfinder game is set in a fantasy adventure world, and retains the feel of the Dungeons & Dragons adventures from which it was derived.

Last fall, Paizo announced a new game system that would take them into the distant future with their Starfinder RPG, and would set a far more distinctive course. This is a game that will take the basic Pathfinder mechanics, but translate them into a far future space opera style of setting.

Last fall at GenCon, I spoke with the Creative Director of Starfinder, long-time Black Gate friend James L. Sutter. In addition to being the author of a couple of great Pathfinder Tales novels, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine, James is also the author of the recent Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The First World, Realm of the Fey (Amazon, Paizo), a supplement that explores a portion of the Pathfinder setting that I have long been hoping would get some additional attention.

Between our GenCon discussion and subsequent information, such as a great GameInformer interview, we got new information about the new classes and races, the backward compatibility with Pathfinder, and some hints about what to expect from starship combat. Everything about this game is looking and sounding great.

Toward the end of January, I ran into James again at the Detroit convention ConFusion, and asked him if I could buy him a beer and riddle him with some additional questions.

He said no.

Instead, he asked if I could e-mail him the questions, because he was heavily booked over the weekend. Below is our exchange, which I hope sheds some some new light on what to expect from the Starfinder RPG, due out from Paizo this August (and available for preorder now).

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Black Gate Online Fiction: “Queen of Toads”

Sunday, October 9th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

By Joe Bonadonna

This is a complete work of fiction presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Joe Bonadonna, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 by Joe Bonadonna.
Caution: Adult content.

But when the Night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot, as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody–
Then–ah then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.
—  Edgar Allen Poe, “The Lake”

wheepig-willows-at-nightThe lake remained fairly calm, even though the ghost of a breeze haunted its surface with fleeting ripples. Through the screen door I could hear water lapping softly at the sea wall, a sound that brought to mind a dinosaur drinking from some primeval pool. Cricket chatter and the croaking of bullfrogs echoed in the darkness, coming from the mosquito-plagued swamp behind the house, across narrow and gravel-strewn Venn Road. Somewhere out on the lake a carp jumped with a splash that disturbed the murmur of the gentle purls. When a chill invaded the night and took possession of the wind, the treetops moved lazily back and forth like skeletons swaying to an unearthly lullaby. The night turned cool and unsettling, and a shiver crawled up my spine like some arctic centipede. My skin felt overly dry and scaly again.

Putting on my windbreaker, I flipped the switch to the outdoor floodlights. As if by magic the front yard and the lake in my immediate vicinity were lit by electric lunar glow. A row of waist-high bushes grew between the edge of the yard and the concrete landing that led to the seawall and pier. There was an opening in the center of the hedgerow with a cobbled pathway leading from the front porch to the seawall. My pontoon boat floated on the water, tied to the pier. I’d be storing it soon in the boathouse out back of the cottage.

A pair of weeping willows cast long black shadows across the light-washed lawn, their branches and leaves hanging over the seawall and skimming the surface of the lake like some eldritch arboreal fishermen. Lighting a cigarette, I went outside and walked barefoot out to the pier, where I stood and enjoyed the peacefulness of the night. I felt like the last man on earth.

I’d bought the lakefront cottage last April from a local realtor, and then spent the summer doing extensive renovations. The place had been unoccupied and boarded up since 1948 when the original owner, a widower, had blown his brains out after what the authorities at the time believed was related to the disappearance of his only daughter; she was never found, nor was her body ever discovered. In September I finally moved in, and my parents were staying with me until they left Illinois on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day.

Due to a certain malady that our family had inherited from their forebears, Mom and Dad could not tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees. They’d become sluggish, would not be able to hunt and eat, and often slept like hibernating bears. So they’d spend the fall and winter in Florida where they had a modest little house near the Everglades and the warmer climate was more suitable. Cold weather had yet to affect me in those days, as it did my parents. I had not yet gone through the Change, had not yet shown any signs of this malady, other than my scaly skin condition. The Change, I was assured, would happen when I turned 21 next year.

This year, however, Mom and Dad were spending the winter in western Africa, sailing the waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Guinea in their never-ending search for Atlantis, Thuria, the origins of the Great Old One Yig, the Stygian god Set, and the First Empire of Valusia. They were determined to find evidence and perhaps even remnants of a lost race they called Homo Ophidious that dated back to the Paleozoic Era.

The screen door creaked open and closed softly behind me. I turned as my parents approached. Both wore leather coats and matching gloves. Why they just didn’t pack up and leave Chicago altogether I never quite understood. Perhaps the Windy City, despite its harsh winters, held an attraction for them it never held for me.

“We’re heading back to Chicago now,” Dad informed me. “We want to make sure the snake and reptile houses are in good hands before we leave the country.”

Besides being fairly well-known archaeologists, my over-achieving parents were also herpetologists who worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo during spring and summer. Their special field of interest was in a branch of herpetology called ophiology — the study of serpents. They were somewhat wealthy, too, having inherited a healthy portfolio from my maternal grandfather. I, on the other hand, was somewhat of a slacker. Though my own interests were in the field of cryptozoology, I had not yet decided what I wanted to study in college, had no set plans for the future, and preferred to remain in my ivory tower hideout on Lake Lilith. But I did have a sweet little trust fund that kept me in CDs, books, DVDs, pizza and beer.

“Why don’t you drive in with us,” Mom suggested. “We’ll have dinner at Donat Pucheu’s and order your favorite — cuisses de grenouille.”

“Not tonight,” I said. “Just not feeling it, you know?”

“You sure you’re going to be all right here, Seth? All alone?” She sighed and shook her head. “Why don’t you stay at the condo on Michigan Avenue?”

“I’ll be fine, Mom,” I told her. “I’m looking forward to a little solitude.”

“Make sure you keep an eye on Sadie.”

“I will, Mom.” Sadie was the family pet — a little garter snake that lived in a burrow beneath the bushes fronting the seawall. I always took her inside the house and kept her in a nice tank during the cold weather.

Mom smiled and kissed my cheek. “We’ll be back in a day or two. We’ll have a nice Halloween celebration before we fly out.”

“Don’t forget to use the lotion twice a day,” Dad reminded me. “And please try to stay out of trouble, okay?”

“Now what kind of trouble can I get into all alone up here?”

Dad laughed. “Knowing you — anything’s possible.”

“You take care, dear.” Mom kissed me again. “Remember, you’re our little hatchling. If you need anything, just rattle your tail.” She patted my cheek and we laughed at our little private joke. “And I do wish you would stop smoking.”

I watched them head toward the back of the house, where their car was parked in the one-car garage. As their car engine roared like a hungry lion and the wheels kicked up dirt and gravel, I put out my cigarette butt on the railing of the pier, and then fired up another one.

Lake Lilith, a rather dark and unholy epithet for such an idyllic place, remained isolated from the outside world by forest, marshland, muddy creeks and low-rising hills. The lake sat alone, some five miles from the nearest access to any highway and nearly twice that from the small town of Atlantis County. There were very few homes here, and these were nothing more than cottages and cabins occupied only in spring and summer. October had been ushered in by a sudden cold spell, and I had the lake all to myself. Like Clark Kent, this two-story cottage would be my own Fortress of Solitude.

The honking of the bullfrogs persisted with a steady and almost machine-like rhythm. Their mrwoom-mrwoom croaking made me think of the old pioneer legend that the frogs, having tasted rum from a spilled barrel, were calling out for “more rum.” The males croak mainly during the summer mating season in June and July, but sometimes they like to belt out a few tunes—probably whenever they crack open another barrel of rum. I laughed to myself and shivered when the chill breeze caressed me. My feet were cold and I knew I should have worn shoes. But I hate wearing shoes, even in the fall and winter.

It was time for me to go back inside and light a fire in the hearth. My skin was dry and itching like crazy, and I would have to practically bath myself in the olive oil and hemp lotion my family had been using for generations.

queen-of-toads-smallFlicking the butt of my cigarette into the lake, I turned and walked in from the pier. As my bare feet touched wet grass, something cold brushed across one foot. I looked down and there, slowly hopping along, was a small toad perfectly lit by the floodlights. I expected it to start dancing and singing “Hello, ma baby, hello ma honey, hello, ma ragtime gal,” like that famous cartoon frog. It’s strange what images from childhood pop into one’s head at the oddest of times.

As a young boy I would hunt toads and thrown them in the lake. I would then practice my marksmanship with my Daisy BB rifle, filling each toad with tiny metal pellets until, dead and heavily weighted, they would sink like a rock. Typical childish sadism. I’ve often wondered what punishment would be meted out to me in the afterlife for such cruel behavior.

Kneeling as quickly and as quietly as I could, I snatched the toad with one hand and rose to my feet. I studied the toad closely. It was a common toad, about five inches in length, brownish in color, with numerous warts covering its scaly hide. From the prison bars of my fingers the little creature studied me, its jewel-like eyes bright with curiosity. I moved to stroke the thing’s head with my index finger — and the rotten bastard bit me!

“Fucking piece of shit asshole!”

I threw the nasty bugger as far out into the lake as I could. Perhaps something in the water would take a bite out of it, maybe eat it while it was still flopping around.

Sucking beads of blood from my finger, I realized something: the common toad has no teeth — and that warty little sucker certainly had a fine pair of choppers. This one was probably some species of bufonidae that I was unfamiliar with, not that I knew anything about toads. Or frogs, for that matter, other than the fact that their legs didn’t taste at all like chicken to me. But then my skin started to itch again and I gave the incident no further thought.

I went inside my lakeside retreat, washed the small wound with peroxide, smeared it with Neosporin, and slapped a Band-Aid over the wound. Damn thing burned and throbbed. I even felt a little nauseous. After lathering my dry skin with lotion, I retired to my bed and soon fell asleep reading stories from one of my old copies of Weird Tales magazine.

Though my finger had swollen a bit and still stung like the first rejection you got from a girl, I drove to Milwaukee the next day to hit a favorite used book store. Since Atlantis County is only about 5 miles from Route 50 and Kenosha, Wisconsin, on the way home I stopped off at the Brat Stop to have a bite to eat. A nasty headache had settled into my head with all the rudeness of obnoxious neighbors, but I managed to enjoy my brats and more than a few beers. By the time I returned home it was pushing 10 PM. Besides my headache and throbbing finger, my dry, scaly skin had started to itch again. So I took the turn onto Venn Road leading to the cottage like a NASCAR hero and raced toward my sanctum sanctorum.

Speeding down that gravel road, something big and white leapt out in front of my car. I jammed on the breaks and slid to a stop — but not before hitting whatever it was I had glimpsed. I got out of the car and ran around to the front of it. The road was very dimly lit by a few old street lamps but I could see well enough. Glancing down, I saw what I had run into. The sight of it made me gag and I almost swallowed my Juicy Fruit.

It was the largest toad I’d ever seen, easily over three feet long. But it wasn’t the size of the toad that gave me the creeps — it was the fact that it was an albino with short, gray-green feathers running from the top of its head and down its spine like some avian crest. What really made me nearly wet my pants, however, was the color of the toad’s eyes: like no other color I had ever seen before. No hue from the color spectrum of this world. And in those strangely-colored eyes burned the fire of intelligence, a sentience that did not belong to such creatures of our world. Something like the cold, slimy tongue of a serpent licked my spine from neck to tailbone, and my body seemed to petrify right there on the spot.

Apparently, this unearthly-seeming toad had only been stunned, for it suddenly blinked, hissed and then hopped away in a leap that would have put that celebrated frog of Mark Twain’s to shame! Into the dense foliage of the swamp behind the cottage it disappeared, lost among the dark and the shadows.

Frozen in the moon’s polar light, I almost forgot to breathe. My heart raced and pounded, and beads of cold sweat dripped from my brow. I didn’t doubt what I saw, even though I knew that no way could there be such a thing as an albino toad over three feet in length and covered with gray-green feathers — much less one with eyes born of some other-dimensional or extraterrestrial spectrum of color.

When I finally thawed out and gathered my wits, I parked my car on the narrow lane that passed for Venn Road, leaving the one-car garage behind the house for my parents, as I usually did. Since I always kept the back door facing Venn Road bolted on the inside, I had to go around to the front entrance, which faced the lake.

white-toad-smallMy legs were almost as limp as linguini as I headed up the cobbled walk that ran around the side of the cottage and led to the front porch and entrance. As I turned to start up the porch stairs I saw a knot of three of the small white toads furiously tearing chunks of earth and brush away from a tiny burrow concealed beneath the bushes, using teeth and even their webbed feet! I realized at once what they were after: Sadie, the small garter snake that made her hibernacula in that burrow. And I knew why they were digging: garter snakes prey on amphibians, and no doubt the prey had now become the hunters.

I was about to shoo them away when I felt something wrap itself around my ankle. Looking down, I saw it was Sadie. Not even two-feet in length, she had yellow stripes on a green background. She was coiled around my ankle with her head to the back of my leg, and I could sense her fear. Then I saw the little green frog lying dead in the grass a few feet away. I picked up a handful of white stones that had been spread across the front foundation of the cottage and threw them at the toads. The toads hopped away into the shadows.

I gently removed Sadie from my ankle and held her in my hand. She coiled herself around my hand and we looked at each other. Her tongue flickered in and out of her tiny mouth, and I stroked the top of her head the way she liked. I could smell the musky odor of the fluid she had secreted from her post anal glands. I took Sadie inside the cottage with me and set her inside the 35-gallon tank I always kept ready for her. Sadie’s Winter Palace, I called it.

I tried to sleep, but once again that unnerving choir of bullfrogs started up and kept me awake for hours, leaving me no choice but to pop two Ambien. As Morpheus finally cast his spell upon me, the last thought I had before drifting off was how those monstrous toads had frowned and glared at me with their unholy and unearthly eyes.

I didn’t wake up until late morning, and after I dressed and had a quick bite to eat I decided to do a little research on reptiles and amphibians. I didn’t own a laptop or a cell phone — I know, this is the 21st century and I should get with it the times — so going online was not an option. But the workmen renovating the cottage had found boxes of old books, including a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica dating back to the 1920s. Hoping these might be of some monetary value, I had stored them in the tiny attic, where I could go through them at a more appropriate time. Well, this certainly seemed like the perfect time to me.

While sorting through the volumes — they had not been packed in alphabetical order — I came upon an old ledger-style notebook. It was somewhat tattered and frayed, and the pages were brown and brittle with age or were torn or missing. This book appeared to be a diary of sorts, the handwriting neat and graceful; but in some places the ink was smeared, as if water or tears had been spilled. I checked the inside of the front cover and there was a name: Prater Beasley. Beasley was the name of the original owner of the cottage, who had killed himself after his daughter Minerva disappeared in 1948. That was the same summer when a meteor shower dazzled the whole county, sometime between late June and early July, from what I had been told. Not much had been made or reported of this cosmic lightshow, however.

According to what an old fisherman had told me, ever since then people around the Lake Lilith area would disappear without a trace about every ten or twelve years, usually a young man or woman. No bodies or clues, no forensic or DNA evidence had ever been found, and no one ever came forward to confess. No arrests were ever made, either. The last time someone disappeared was a few weeks ago, a small family from Kenosha who had come to camp, hike, and fish Lake Lilith; their camper had been found empty and deserted at their campsite. My parents and I were questioned by the sheriff, but we of course knew nothing, having been in Chicago at the time that family had been reported missing.

Older, local residents of Atlantis County believed the marsh behind my cottage to be haunted. But of course, such a thing was ridiculous. The missing had probably gone exploring in the marshland, gotten themselves lost and sucked into something like quicksand. Odd thing is — all the creeks and bogs had been dredged by the authorities. The results: zip. Maybe it was just some brilliant serial killer carrying on the family tradition—a local resident no one suspected someone like the mayor or chief of police.

In the box with the encyclopedias I also found a brown and brittle copy of the Roswell Daily Record, dated July 8, 1948. This was the newspaper that first reported the RAAF’s finding of the infamous UFO that supposedly crashed on some ranch in New Mexico. Having read everything I could find on UFOs since I was in high school, Roswell and I were well acquainted. I set the newspaper aside and headed downstairs, taking the diary with me. I managed to get a nice little inferno going in the fireplace, poured myself four fingers of Jameson’s, and settled back in my leather recliner. Opening the book with all the delicacy of a vivisectionist practicing his trade, I began to read.

August 25, 1948: Found some strange rocks today in the marsh out back, while I was hunting for some frogs to cook up for supper. They look like ordinary rocks, about twice the size of a normal brick. They’re sort of greyish-green in colour — in the sunlight, that is. But by moonlight they have this weird glow, and their colour has changed. I don’t know this colour. Can’t name it. Can’t place it. It’s not any colour I’ve ever seen — and I’ve been a house painter for 20 years! Hurts the eyes if you stare at it long enough. Sort of hurts the mind, too. Twisted and squeezed my brain, almost as if it turned it around inside my skull. I left the rocks sitting there in the marsh. Didn’t even want to touch them. Makes me think about that article in the Roswell Daily Record my cousin Earl sent me last month. I remember seeing a comet or meteor shower pass overhead last month. Makes me wonder if the two things are somehow related.

I smiled to myself and sipped my Irish whiskey. Naturally, I’ve seen meteorites before, in museums and pictured in books, but none of them had this strange colour. I got a kick out of the way Prater used the old French spelling of the word. From the number of fiction and non-fiction books he had left behind, I knew he was pretty well read. Since I’m one of those who believe in UFOs and have always accepted as truth the Roswell Incident, I could understand why Prater linked the meteor shower with the crash of the flying saucer.

The next entry in the diary had no date. Part of that page had been torn out or had somehow crumbled away.

. . . .in the marsh out back, these strange creatures. I’ve seen them at night, hopping back and forth across Venn Road, coming from and heading to the marsh. They must be going out hunting, though what they might prey upon sure has me stumped. Maybe fish or small game. Hell, they’re as big as some breeds of dogs. And the way those strange feathers of theirs glow in the moonlight — the same colour as the rocks! — makes me wonder how they could possibly sneak up on anything! Makes me wonder if they came here with those rocks, came from inside them, maybe. They look like frogs and toads, but like none I’ve ever seen before. I surely won’t be frying up and eating their legs! I told my Minerva to steer clear of the things, too. Told her not to touch or try to catch them. You never know where they might have come from and what sickness they might carry. And where they might have come from is something that has been bothering me. I’ve been thinking I should maybe talk to some brainy folks at one of the zoos or colleges.

Toads and frogs! This was getting a little creepy to me, because what Prater Beasley had seen were toads like the one that had bit me and the one my car had banged in to. It caused me to wonder if there was much more to his tale than I realized. I stared at my bandaged finger; it throbbed like it had a tiny beating heart all its own.

I kept reading.

September 26, 1948: In spite of what I told her, my daughter has been going into the marsh out back. She says she likes the ugly creatures, likes to play with them. By God — she told me that they’re friendly, that she can talk to them! I know kids have big imaginations, but she’s 16 — I would think she’s a little too old for such things. I told her again, and in a much stricter tone, not to go back there and play with them things. But she didn’t listen to me. She brought one of those things home with her this afternoon. I gave her a good yelling at, and then took the creature from her — and the damned thing bit me! So I threw it outside, grabbed my shotgun and blew the devil to Kingdom Come. Minerva screamed at me and locked herself in her room.

From outside came the eerie choir of bullfrogs, the sound of their mrwoom-mrwoom chant echoing in the night. This was all starting to work on me. Giving me chills, the creeps, the heebie-jeebies — and sparking my curiosity. I turned to the next page.

September 28, 1948: For the past two days now Minerva has walked around the house as if she has been hypnotized or had some spell cast on her. At this point, I’m ready to believe in magic, elves, dragons, ghosts and what not. After seeing close to hand that thing she had brought home with her, that thing that bit me, I’m not sure what to believe, not sure what is real and what is not. And my finger is all sore and swollen and hurts like the dickens. And those damn bullfrogs are making more of a racket at night then they ever have. Usually I can fall asleep, but not anymore. I’ve had to keep Minerva locked in the house, for fear she might go out back again. But at night I can hear her singing to them things, croaking and honking like one of them. And there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to stop her.

My hand shook as I reached for my drink and spilled a few drops down my chin. Once again I turned the page, and once again I was transported into Prater Beasley’s little nightmare. If I hadn’t seen that toad for myself, I would have thought this was some poor attempt to do a horror story for one of the old pulp magazines.

October 2, 1948: The worst thing that could have happened has happened: Minerva managed to break the lock I had put on her bedroom window and she hopped down from the second floor. She’s gone. We’ve been the only ones up here at the lake for weeks now, and I tried to call the local police, but the phone ain’t working. When I was outside later today I noticed that the telephone wires had been cut — or chewed through. So have the power lines. I am without electric lights. I’ve loaded my Colt revolver and the old Winchester that was my grandfather’s. I know where Minerva is. I have to go out back. I have to find her.

The croaking chorus of bullfrogs continued to serenade me with their bone-chilling lullaby. My hand shook again as I turned to the next page.

. . . .in there, I found Minerva. Sweet Jesus, what has happened to my daughter? What have they done to her? She didn’t even know me — when I made to grab her and drag her from that place of filth and horror, she hopped back away from me! She hissed at me! She is no longer my daughter! Then the unearthly creatures swarmed all around me, hopping toward me. I had to shoot a number of them in order to escape those unholy —

Something had been spilled on the rest of the page, and even the writing on the next few pages was smeared and illegible. But there was one last page that had pretty much remained unscathed and it gave me an ominous chill to think of what might be lurking out back.

If I had hair on my arms, I’m sure each strand would have stood on end as I continued reading. As it was, my skin itched and felt like it was squirming over my ulna and radius bones.

I tried to hop in my old truck and drive to town for help. But the creatures were swarming all over it and had the road blocked, too. I killed a few more of them and managed to get inside my cottage. A few had gotten in and were waiting for me, but I cut them down with honest lead from my weapons. I have locked all the doors and windows now, and have barricaded myself inside as best I can. They have my place surrounded now. I will finish writing this last entry and hide the ledger among my other books. I hope my daughter doesn’t find it because if she does, no one will ever know the truth of what has happened here. But Minerva will get in. No doubt of that. She has a key, and they are too many and too strong. She is no longer my daughter — she is one of them. They want me. She wants me, though for what I dare not even contemplate.

There is only one way out — may God forgive me — but they shall not have me.

I shivered as I read those last words. My heart raced like a Greyhound amped up on methamphetamine. Whatever became of Minerva Beasley no one had ever learned, except for old Prater himself. Probably no one had ever gone back there to investigate. Or maybe they had but didn’t find anything. Maybe they went missing, too. After my little showdown with that creepy fat toad I felt certain that there was something else lurking in the marsh behind the cottage, something hiding in the silent shadows out back. I was curious to find out what it was. Well, curious is too small a word, but I’ve got nothing else. I’d been a nosey and inquisitive little snot ever since I crawled out of the egg.

When I reached for my drink the diary slipped out of my hand and tumbled to the floor. As I bent to pick it up, I saw that an old, color photograph had fallen out of the book; it had been tucked away between the remaining blank pages. The picture was of a pretty, waif-like young girl with sad eyes and long, ash-blonde hair as delicate as a spider’s web. I turned the photo over and saw what had been written on the back:

Minerva Beasley, age 15. June 1, 1947.

She looked quite pale, like a spirit, a ghost in a pale-white dress, standing as still as the willow next to which she had posed. There was something frail and hollow and sad about her. Something in her big, dark eyes that gave her the look of a little girl lost, as if her Fate had already been sealed. I wondered if I’d find more than ghosts and freaky white toads out back.

I slept little that night and what sleep I did manage to steal was filled with the kind of dreams I used to have after watching old horror movies when I was a kid. They were the kind of dreams I imagine an opium eater might have — surreal and filled with all sorts of monsters and ghosts and other things that go romping around in the night.

At about 2 AM I was awakened by the howling of some animal. A dog or a coyote, I thought. I got out of bed and glanced out the front window facing the lake. The moon and stars were bright and what I saw filled me with a dread, a fear I had never known before.

On the front lawn two large albino toads were tearing apart a stray dog, a Chihuahua, holding it down with their webbed feet and ripping it apart with their sharp teeth. There were other toads there, as well. They were lined up near the edge of the concrete landing while at least a score of bullfrogs emerged from the lake and climbed over the seawall, holding all kinds of fish in their jaws: stripers, crappies, and even a catfish. And they were feeding the toads, passing the fish from their jaws to the jaws of the toads! When a bullfrog handed off the fish in its mouth, it would leap back into the water. When a toad was given a fish, it hopped back across the lawn and headed off behind the house. I flicked on the floodlights and the bright glare drove the creatures away — all except for the two feasting on the dog. I grabbed one of the umbrellas from the stand next to the front door and raced outside.

My sudden appearance startled the two toads and they began to hop away. But I was too fast for them. I kicked one in the head with my bare foot and sent it flying across the yard like a football aimed for the goal posts. I caught up with the second toad and buried the sharp metal tip of the umbrella in its back. The toad hissed and shrieked loudly in the night, squirming and trying to free itself. Then I yanked the umbrella from the toad’s body and plunged the stem into its skull. Walking up to the first toad, which lay stunned and injured on the grass, I smashed its head with my foot until there was nothing left but a bloody pulp. I tossed both of the nasty critters into the lake and threw the umbrella in after them. I removed my t-shirt, covered the remains of the dog with it and used some rocks to hold the shirt in place. Come morning, I would give the dog a proper burial.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep afterward.

I woke up late the next morning to a bout of nausea and some deranged drummer boy pounding away inside my head. My eyes had a hard time focusing and my tongue kept licking my lips involuntarily. My skin was now all mottled and discolored and covered in scaly patches. Oddly enough, the itching had stopped. As sick as I felt, after last night’s outing I was now more than determined to unravel the mystery of what had happened to Minerva Beasley, and there was only one place to look. I swallowed a handful of aspirin, gulped a cup of lukewarm instant coffee and went down into the basement. Having no idea what I might need to take with me, I slipped into my Dad’s hunting boots and jacket, grabbed a flashlight, an old machete and, in a last minute afterthought, his brand-new Nighthawk .45 ACP.

I buried the dog between the willows and set out on my quest.

It was almost noon when I entered the swamp out back.

Mosquitoes dived at me like miniature jet fighters. Thick grass that grew nearly as tall as I reached toward the sky like the slender fingers of some eldritch sylvan entities. Slimy pools of mud and scum-veiled pools of water sucked at my boots. A hot sun cast its blinding spotlight on me as I splashed about the muck and mire.

Deep into those dark and brooding fens I ventured, amazed that in this day and age such a place could still exist in the Lake County territory of northern Illinois. I felt like an interloper in some kind of alternate dimension, unwelcomed and watched by hidden eyes. There was a spooky, haunted atmosphere to that boggy stretch of land, as if unseen things fluttered about or were hiding in secret places and lurking in the shadows. It was fucking creepy, you know?

Time shifted. The sun altered its course. Winds whispered in strange languages and discordant music throbbed in my ears. Nausea held me in its grip, and though my eyes still refused to focus properly, I could see well enough to notice colors I had never seen before, colors that came from no artist’s palette in this world.

Eventually I emerged from the swamp and entered a lonely, quiet thicket with grass so high that I couldn’t see over the top. Using the machete, I cut my way through the dense copse and finally emerged into a clearing. At the far edge of the clearing rose a solitary hill, or to be more accurate, a small dome formed of earth and grass. I heard no birds singing, no crickets chirping, no insects buzzing and no fish splashing. The silence was so loud it made me think of what Death must be like. It all reminded of The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s line about not being in Kansas anymore.

Still determined to go forward with my little excursion into the unknown, I walked toward the hill.

The mouth of a cave rose from ground level in the face of the hill. Peering inside, I could see a faint, golden light emanating from within. The air coming from inside the cave was foul, reeking of mold, damp earth and dead, rotting fish. Nevertheless, my curiosity was aroused. I switched on the flashlight and ventured into the cave.

Within moments I saw that I had no real need of the flashlight, for the interior walls of the cave were coated with some phosphorescent element. I switched off the flashlight but kept it tightly clutched in my hand; it gave me a measure of comfort simply holding onto it. The machete in my other hand and the Nighthawk .45 tucked into the front of my pants gave me an even greater sense of security.

Step by careful step I could feel the slippery floor sloping downward, into the bowels of the earth. Stalactites hung like swords of Damocles over my head. Stalagmites and huge boulders jutted from the floor like dinosaur droppings. As I ventured deeper into that underground tunnel I heard the mrwoom-mrwoom chanting of a whole tabernacle choir of bullfrogs. Their voices grew louder as the tunnel turned to the left and opened onto a massive grotto, a subterranean chamber well-lit by that strange, phosphorescent radiance. The scene that brought my eyes into sharp and sudden focus reminded of something painted by a Bosch or Breughel.

An army of fat bullfrogs, hundreds of them, squatted on a stone ledge set high above the floor of the chamber, croaking their little amphibian hearts out. Below them, spread across the floor, were almost as many of the huge, unearthly toads like the one I had run over, the ones Prater Beasley had seen. They were feeding on fish, cats, birds, squirrels, rats, deer, and other mammals, their sharp teeth rending and tearing like werewolves that had not had anything to eat in a few full moons. Smaller toads like the one that had bit me hopped about, snatching with their long tongues what tidbits of flesh they could find. But an even worse sight was the bodies of a young boy and two girls — what was left of them, anyway — that the toads were munching on. It was a scene out of some bizarre horror film, like a banquet actually filmed in Hell.

What the fuck have I stumbled into?

Adding to my growing sense of fear and horror was something that had surely been spawned in the bowels of Satan’s realm.

There were a number of strange, dwarfish creatures squatting among that knot of toads, males and females no taller than chimpanzees. Twisted, malformed things they were, hybrids of Man and amphibian — hideous travesties, blasphemous mockeries of all that was human. Their flesh was fish-belly white with greenish mottling. They had bulbous fish eyes, inhuman webbed feet and long ash-blonde that grew down across their spines — hair like that of Minerva Beasley! They were dining on the remains of two adults, a man and woman. I could see this because their heads and faces were still intact and still attached to skeletons that were quickly being stripped of what little flesh remained on the bones.

I recalled the news about the family who had gone camping and went missing. I gagged and fought the urge to vomit as I watched humans being torn apart and eaten by creatures that were surely not of this earth, and I wondered how long and for what purpose those poor people had been kept alive. It was something I quickly dismissed from my mind. Horrifying images of unholy interspecies mating kept invading my brain.

Aghast and trembling with trepidation, I stood there gazing upon a scene of such abomination that my bowels went cold and threatened to let loose. I had to get out of there, had to report this to the authorities and hope they would believe me.

Backing away slowly and as quietly as I could, my hands still clutching the machete and the flashlight, I turned to run my ass off when a number of dwarfish figures appeared out of the shadows ahead of me. As they crept closer an icy chill crawled over my skin, though sweat began to drip from my brow and pour from my armpits. When the figures drew close enough to see clearly, my bladder swelled and felt ready to explode.

A number of the human-amphibian hybrids were all-too obviously females of various ages, and by the look in their fish eyes I could see that they hungered for more than the taste of my flesh and blood. The smell of them was fishy and foul and musky, and bore a trace of the smell of dead skunks. When they smiled at me, revealing their sharp and stained teeth, the urge to pee was almost too great to fight.

I backed up a few steps when another figure came toward me, stepping out from behind that knot of female toad-things.

She was old, decades and decades old, like a naked mummy from ancient Egypt recalled to life. Once upon an age ago she might have been pretty. But now . . . her ivory skin was wrinkled beyond anything I had ever seen, the nipples of her flat and saggy breasts reaching down almost to her navel. Her body was filthy with mud, stained with blood and smeared with feces. The stench of her made my head spin. But it was her hair that pierced my heart with a spear of pure terror—hair that was long and unkempt and past her waist. Ash-blonde was the color of that hair, and I recognized it from a photo I had recently looked at.

Minerva Beasley, alive after all these years! Still living, yes, but there was something about her, a look in her dark eyes that spoke of madness, of sights seen and things experienced that no human being had ever known — could ever know without going crazy. She walked toward me, slowly, smiling and hungry. A flood of warm urine soaked the front of my pants.

Minerva Beasley cackled like an insane chicken. She drooled like a mindless idiot and said, “Murderer!” in a croaking whisper of a voice. “Now you belong to us!”

She reached for me with scabrous, long-nailed fingers, and I took another step backward. Then I cried out when something bit my ankle, bit right through the hunting boot. I looked down and saw that it was one of those unearthly toads. The damned thing bit me a second time and I got pissed. I lashed out with the machete and split the son of a bitch in half. What a mess!

Minerva shrieked and came at me. I flicked on the flashlight and pointed it at her eyes. The bright, white light blinded her and the others for a moment, until another toad leapt at my arm and bit me. I yelled in pain and nearly dropped the flashlight, then flung the toad against the wall of the tunnel, smashing it to a bloody pulp.

Wailing like a wounded banshee, Minerva attacked me. Without thinking I buried the machete in her belly. She croaked loudly and stumbled backward, vomiting a foul and gruesome waste. When she collapsed on the floor her daughters and a number of males charged forward. I threw the flashlight at them and began hacking left and right with the machete. Then I pulled out my Dad’s Nighthawk .45 and started blasting my way out of there. Anything and everything that stood in my way I filled with bullets. I ran as fast as I could on an ankle that was sore and burning and beginning to swell. My index finger started throbbing again, and now my arm began to burn. I could feel something hot and virulent coursing through my veins. I realized then that those bites were poisonous. All too quickly I felt light-headed and sick to my stomach.

As I neared the mouth of the cave, a wave of dizziness washed over me. I stopped and this time it was my turn to vomit. A moment later I took off running through the swamp.

Time had shifted again. Moon and stars wheeled overhead like diamonds set against the black velvet backdrop. I was back in my own world, back in my own dimension again. Without the flashlight to guide my way and hoping no clouds would obscure the moon’s white light, I ran on pure instinct back the way I had come.

Behind me, a chorus of angry croaks echoed in the night.

When I finally reached Venn Road, the sight of my car sitting there like the last lifeboat aboard the Titanic made me forget about my nausea and poisoned wounds. Escape from that Batrachian nightmare was all I could think of. I limped as fast as I could toward the car, but as I grew closer to it my heart did a swan dive into the pit of my stomach.

The hood had been popped open and the car sat there like a mechanized alligator with its upper jaw rusted in place. Machete still in hand, I leaned over the side of the car to look at the engine, and then one of the smaller white toads leapt out at me. I yelled and dodged aside, swatting at the beasty as it flew past my shoulder. Other toads then scampered out from under the car and fled into the shadows of night.

A quick inspection showed me that belts, wires and hoses and battery cables had been cut—no, they had been gnawed through. A dead toad lay stretched out on the battery and another was still chewing its way through one of the belts. I speared the damned thing with the machete and flung both it and the dead toad as far away as I could. My heart began to pound like a jackhammer. My hands, slick with sweat, began to throb. My legs felt like two pieces of string cheese. What in hell is happening and why in hell is it happening to me? I wondered.

It was then that I noticed three things: The overhead door of the garage was standing open and my parents’ car was parked inside. The floodlights had been turned on, bathing everything in a cold, harsh white blaze. And the silence . . . a silence that was disturbing because it seemed that the whole world had gone mute, or that I had gone deaf.

I hurried around to the front of the cottage and then stopped cold in my tracks. Scattered across the lawn were discarded articles of clothing, all ripped and shredded. I recognized them: they were my parents’ clothes. I began to sweat even more, and my heart raced with fear and anxiety. Where had my parents gone? What happened to them? Bile rose in my throat, that bitter taste of fear. Waves of darkness and nausea threatened to sweep me away.

“Mom! Dad!” I shouted.

And then I heard it — that chorus of bullfrogs croaking their mrwoom-mrwoom chant. Scores of fat frogs climbed out of the lake and hopped across the concrete landing toward the house. They lined up like an invading army along the row of bushes, watching me with their glassy, bulbous eyes and waiting for the honking call to attack. A sound like that of wet feet slapping on a cement sidewalk caused me to turn around. Knots and knots of white toads of all sizes marched toward me from around both sides of the cottage, a saurian parade that blocked any escape. I was alone, without my parents, without any way out of there.

And then their queen, Minerva Beasley — a gaping, bleeding wound in her stomach — staggered toward me, croaking like one of the frogs.

I pissed my pants again and looked around. Since escape was impossible, the cottage was my castle, my only sanctuary—if the creatures hadn’t already breached that last redoubt.

Racing up the porch stairs, I found the door shut but unlocked, and I hurried inside, making sure to lock and bolt the door. Quick inspection showed me that the cottage was empty. There was no sign of my parents. I feared what might have happened to them and began to weep. I inspected the Nighthawk .45, but the clip was empty. I had squeezed off more shots than I realized; I hadn’t figured on needing to save one bullet for myself. Too sick to go look for a fresh ammo clip, I limped over to the couch and sat down. Cold chills swept over me and a fistful of nausea punched me in the gut. The gun fell from my hand. I vomited all over the floor.

Outside, the bullfrog chorus ended its performance on a ghastly note: a woman’s scream.

Horrible and deafening shrieks, savage wailings and ear-piercing, sibilant voices suddenly ripped the night apart. Sounds of pounding and rending, of things being torn and smashed, the scurry of webbed feet over concrete and grass, and the splashing of water echoed in my ears. Some kind of disturbance, something like a battle royale was taking place out there. I tried to stand and go look out a window, but fell back on the couch as one more assault of nausea and darkness won the final round.

While the insanity of what was taking place outside continued, I began to shake. I ripped off my jacket and shirt and looked at my arms and hands and chest. They were now all greenish-brown and mottled with yellow markings. My skin had turned cold and scaly like that of a reptile or some amphibian. I knew what had happened to me, then. In spite of my heritage, the toxic bites from those unearthly toads had infected me. Their alien venom was coursing through my veins and my nervous system. It was taking over my cells and rearranging my DNA. I could see it and feel it. My brain spun around like a carnival ride inside my skull. Strange, dark visions entered my mind, as did thoughts foreign and alien to me. I was changing, transforming — I was morphing into a hybrid — something akin to the children of Minerva Beasley!

At that moment something began pounding frantically on the door. I heard strange voices speaking words that, in my delirium, I could not understand. I turned my head toward the door, and at first my vision was fuzzy, and I could not see color. The pounding on the door grew louder and more frantic, and the sounds seemed to come through my scaly skin as well as to my ears. Then my vision suddenly became crystal clear and I gained a depth-perception I had never had before. The door crashed open then and two figures rushed into the house — two figures that were only partially humanoid. Their naked, scaly skin gleamed as they rushed toward me.

I screamed a sibilant scream — and the last thing I recall before I fell off the couch and into darkness was the long, forked tongue that slithered from my open mouth.

A short time later I awoke to find the serpent-man and -woman kneeling over me and to witness the shape-change that transformed them back to human form. The woman, I noticed, held an EpiPen in one hand. Both these people were as naked as the day they were hatched.

“Are you all right, Seth?” Mom asked me.

Dad helped me rise to a sitting position. He slapped me upside the back of the head. “I told you to stay out of trouble.” The scolding was tempered with a look of love and relief.

“I know and I’m sorry,” I told them. “I guess curiosity got the better of me.”

“Curiosity killed the cat,” said Dad.

“But satisfaction brought it back.” I grinned. “What the hell happened to me? I thought I wouldn’t undergo the metamorphosing until I was twenty-one?”

“Normally, you would not have, but I think you had an allergic reaction to the poisonous bites of those creatures, which triggered a premature transformation,” Mom explained.

“Luckily, the cavalry arrived in the nick of time,” Dad said. “If your Mom hadn’t been quick to grab the EpiPen, you might have changed completely, before you learned to control the shape-changing. Chances are you would have never been able to change back again.”

“You will need to learn how to control the shape-changing, Seth. Starting tomorrow, we’ll work with you and teach you what you need to know.” Mom kissed me on my forehead. “Looks like you won’t have to wait until your twenty-first birthday.”

“What about those reptoids or whatever you call them?” I asked.

“I’m calling some friends tonight,” Dad told me. “While your mother works with you tomorrow, they and I will go destroy every single one of those things. They are not of this earth.”

“Tell me about it! I found a diary written by the former owner of our cottage. I think those creatures are tied in with some meteor shower and maybe even the Roswell Incident.”

“I’ll have a look at it before bed. In the meantime, I’m going outside to clean up and get rid of what’s left of those creatures.” He smiled and pointed out the toad and frog blood that had splattered him and Mom. “Your mother and I made quite a bloody mess of them.”

I never loved them as much as I loved them at that moment.

“I think you should come with us this winter, son,” Mom suggested. “We heard of a village on the west coast of Africa, near the Gulf of Guinea. Supposedly there is a small enclave of Homo Ophidious living there.”

“Shape changers like us?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Dad. “Maybe even some distant relatives — all descended from the serpent folk who once ruled the First Empire of Valusia.” He rose to his feet. “I’m going to take care of business outside. You stay here with your mother and rest. Get some food into you.”

He left the room and Mom helped me stand and then sit on the couch.

There was a twinkle in her eyes when she asked, “What you would like to eat? I can make you a nice dish of cuisses de grenouille.

“You know, I think I’d rather have escargot, if you don’t mind,” I told her. “I’ve suddenly lost my taste for frog legs.”

Joe BonadonnaJoe Bonadonna

Joe started writing songs and stories in 1970, and sold a few short stories in the early 1980s. So far, he’s published three books: the sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera, Three Against The Stars, published by Airship27; and Waters of Darkness, a sword and sorcery pirate adventure, in collaboration with David C. Smith, and published by Damnation Books.

His first sword and soul story, “The Blood of the Lion,” appeared in GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear, from by MVmedia.

Joe’s Dorgo the Dowser novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” appeared in Black Gate in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. Another novellas featuring Dorgo, “The Book of Echoes,” appeared in the 2013 anthology Azieran: Artifacts and Relics from Heathen Oracle, and the novella “The Order of the Serpent” is scheduled to appear in a special sword and sorcery edition of Weird Tales online magazine.

Joe has also written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Photo by Erin Lynn Ransford.

Click on the photo for a large version.


July 2016 Asimov’s Science Fiction Now on Sale

Friday, June 24th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Asimovs SF July 2016-smallerOver at Tangent Online, Chuck Rothman finds plenty to like in the latest issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

July’s Asimov’s begins with “Ten Poems for the Mossums, One for the Man” by Suzanne Palmer and starts out with a protagonist — a poet — attending what is essentially a writing retreat alone on an alien world with strange life forms, including the Mossums, described as “green fuzzy boulders.” The poet writes a series of poems about his impressions, and slowly begins to discover that the Mossums are more complex than he imagines. The story started a bit slowly, but quickly drew me in, and it was nice to read something that portrayed aliens by hints and without any clear-cut answers…

“Masked” shows a future where the wealthy use both makeup and holographic techniques to make themselves as beautiful as they can. Bess is about to meet again with her friend Vera, who has suffered a computer virus that wreaked havoc with the computer programs she uses to adjust her appearance. Vera is supposedly recovered, but Bess can see that she doesn’t seem right. Rich Larson’s version of the future and the styles are well imagined, and one of the strengths of the story is the way that Bess begins to understand what’s really important…

The set up to Will McIntosh’s “Lost:Mind” is convoluted, but once that’s past it becomes a fine story. Colonel Walter Murphy’s wife Mimi is dying of Alzheimer’s and, desperate, he turns to technology, creating a recording of her mind so she can live on. But such experimentation is illegal in the US, so it has to be smuggled in from India. A full mind would raise alarms, so it’s broken into 32 pieces of a chess set, to be assembled later. And the chess set is stolen. What follows is a race against the clock to find the pieces (from a noted sculptor) before the battery dies, along with Mimi’s mind. There’s a great mixture of action, dead ends, and emotional roller coasters to make the story one of the best of the year.

Read the complete review here.

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Book Pairings: Who Fears Death & Jeweled Fire

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 | Posted by C.S.E. Cooney

Who Fears Death-smallIn May 2015, I was at the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading in New York City when Nicole Kornher-Stace and Wesley Chu were featured; they were brilliant. Read their books.

But I’m not here to talk about them.

I’m here to talk about eavesdropping.

(Well, I’m here to talk about some books I read, but I’m gonna preface it by talking about eavesdropping.)

So, at KGB last May, I happened to be sitting at a table with an Agent and an Editor.

The Editor, she says to the Agent, “I really want to read fantasy novels with strong female friendships. WHY DON’T YOU SEND ME SOME?”

And the Agent, she sighs. “I’m trying. I’m trying.”

I found this conversation:


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The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 25, 1854, Part II of II

Sunday, October 25th, 2015 | Posted by Barbara Barrett

British Hussars attack Russian guns at Balaklava

Read Part I here.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

There were four speeds for the cavalry:

Walk: not to exceed four miles per hour
Trot: not to exceed eight and a half miles per hour
Gallop: eleven miles per hour
Charge: not to exceed the utmost speed of the slowest horse

The Light Brigade started at a walk because the horses could not maintain the charge speed for over a mile. When the first line was well clear of the second, Cardigan ordered “Trot.” The more experienced men knew at that speed it would take them about seven minutes to reach the battery. As they trotted down the valley, ten Russian guns could reach them.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 25, 1854, Part I of II

Saturday, October 24th, 2015 | Posted by Barbara Barrett

Hell Riders-smallIntroduction

At 11:10 a.m., on October 25, 1854, one hundred sixty-one years ago, the almost seven hundred men of the Light Brigade stood waiting. The Brigade moved forward when the officer’s trumpeter sounded the “Walk.” It was immediately taken up by the regimental trumpeters to the right and left, so that it could be heard by the whole body of cavalry. When the first line was clear of the second, the order came to “Trot.” The bugles sounded again and the regiment increased its pace to about eight miles an hour. The more experienced cavalry men were adept at judging distances and knew at this pace, it would take them at least seven minutes to reach the enemy.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of volumes have been written about the events during and leading up to that seven minutes. An in-depth analysis of the battle is beyond the scope of this article. The story for this anniversary is told as much as possible in the voices of the men who rode down that valley. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and facts are from Hell Riders The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade by Terry Brighton (2004). This is possible because the author, Terry Brighton, a British military history, using his unique access to regimental archives, draws on twenty years of research to tell the story of the survivors, in their own words. Only a small portion of their stories can be told here. This fascinating book is available online and is highly recommended.

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