Friday, January 27, 2017

The Enigma Tree by Guest Horror Author Catherine Cavendish

Willows play an enigmatic, multiple role in folklore – sometimes inspirational, sometimes a force to be reckoned with, appeased, fed and/or revered. The graceful weeping willow, with its gently swaying fronds of leaves graces many a riverbank.
In my novel – The Devil’s Serenade – a willow plays a prominent role. In this case, one with elements of both good and evil. The tree has, at some point in its history, been struck by lightning and now grows at bizarre and seemingly impossible angles. It defies nature. When, by rights, it should be dead, it thrives and its impossibly spreading roots and branches contain a supernatural force to be reckoned with.
In ancient Greek mythology, the willow was sacred to poets as a result of the powerful inspirational effect created by the sound of the wind through its branches. Orpheus was said to have carried branches of it to the Underworld where the inspiration he seems to have derived from their effect caused Apollo to present him with a lyre. Orpheus duly produced such sweet music, he was able to enchant not just people and animals but even the trees and rocks of Mount Olympus. In the temple of Delphi, Orpheus is depicted leaning against a willow tree, touching its branches.
One manifestation of the dark side of the willow’s ‘nature’ is its association with grief and death. The ancient Greek sorceress, Circe, planted a riverside cemetery with willows and dedicated it to Hecate and her moon magic. Male corpses were wrapped in untanned ox hides and exposed to the elements in the tops of the trees. This led to the practice of placing willow branches in the coffins of the recently deceased, and planting young saplings on their graves. In ancient Celtic tradition, there was the belief that the soul of the departed would grow into the roots of the young trees enabling its spirit to rise up and live within the growing tree. Even today, in Britain, many cemeteries are lined with willows to protect the spirits that reside there.
Willows are also associated with fertility and an ancient Romany tradition of the festival of Green George is just one example of this. It takes place every year, on 23rd April in parts of Transylvania. A man is chosen to be Green George. He wears a wicker frame made from willow and the local people then cover this with greenery and vegetation to represent the association of the willow with water that is so vital in ensuring a bountiful harvest. A young willow is then cut down and erected at the place where festivities will abound. This is then festooned with garlands. That night, all the pregnant women of the area gather around the tree and each places an item of clothing beneath it. If a single leaf falls onto that garment overnight, the woman will be granted a trouble-free delivery by the willow goddess.
At dawn the next day, Green George hammers three nails into the young tree and then promptly removes them, takes them to the nearest stretch of water and throws them in. This is to attract the attention and goodwill of the water spirits. He then returns to the tree, picks it up and returns with it to the water where he dips the branches until they are dripping with water. This will arouse the fertile qualities of the tree. The people then bring their animals to Green George who raises the tree and shakes water on them to bless the fertility of their farm animals for the coming year. Once complete, the tree is then re-erected and forms the centerpiece for festivities, feasting, drinking and merrymaking.

In The Devil’s Serenade, the willow is known as the ‘tentacle tree’ and any merrymaking performed around it has far more sinister connotations…
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she's about to remember… 
When Maddie Chambers inherits her Aunt Charlotte’s gothic mansion, old memories stir of the long-forgotten summer she turned sixteen. She has barely moved in before a series of bizarre events drives her to question her sanity.
The strains of her aunt’s favorite song echo through the house, the roots of a faraway willow creep through the cellar, a child who cannot exist skips from room to room, and Maddie discovers Charlotte kept many deadly secrets.
Gradually, the barriers in her mind fall away, and Maddie begins to recall that summer when she looked into the face of evil. Now, the long dead builder of the house has unfinished business and an ancient demon is hungry. Soon it is not only Maddie’s life that is in danger, but her soul itself, as the ghosts of her past shed their cover of darkness.

You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:

and other online retailers

(Psst, Stuart here. I've read several of Catherine's books and they're highly recommended. Just sayin'.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Sweat Violently

I kinda want to write a novel with that title. A noiresque effort:
"As the dame with legs longer than an antelope on steroids swayed by my table, sweat rolled off me in buckets. Not the kind of sweat most men experience either. I mean full-on, messy, swampy, road-flooding torrents of moisture, splashing into the aisle, rolling toward the ladies room door like a tsunami that only Godzilla could create with a cannonball jump in a kiddy pool. Not pretty, no sir, not by a long shot. 

My underarms weighed heavier than my lust. My crotch channeled a breeding ground of mosquitoes. 

Yet there she was. All figure eight, psychically tattooing a 666 on my blighted soul. Thrusting her hips back and forth like a drunken sailor on a really storm-tossed day.

After I dragged the napkin--a cloth kind, not the cheap paper kind found in McDonald's--across my forehead, I wrung it out. A large goosh of water splattered across the floor. The waitress--clown make-up and practicing a smile like a poorly carved pumpkin--slipped, grasped my hand, said, 'Honey, looks like you could use a good toweling off.'
I said, 'Ain't the first time I had that offer tonight, baby.' I pulled up my shirt collar, wiped off more perspiration. 'Not your problem, doll-face. Just bring me more napkins. Go on. Get outta' here. Snap those ankles like firecrackers.'

'That doesn't even make sense.'

'If I asked for cents, doll, I'da' given you a buck, a full Washington.' Sick of her attitude, I grabbed her wrist. 'Customer's always right, baby. Right?'

'I guess! Let go of me!'
The big picture in sight, I released the waitress, my eyes  googly and glued toward the john, a sticky situation. Any second now, my apparition of beauty would stroll out, a wiggle to her walk, a waggle to her gum-chawing, iron (strong in its manly squareness) jaw. 

I couldn't see that well. My vision blurred by the sweat rolling off my forehead, dribbling into my eyes. Droplets rolled into my ears, plugged 'em like a bullet between the brows. I shifted, lifted a bun. My pants stuck, than ripped away from the cushioned chair with a gassy sound, one I hoped the beautiful dame wouldn't hear. Such sounds never passed her astonishing auditory beauty.

Finally, the door whisked open, then slammed with a shot. She strutted out, queen of the kitchen, ballerina of the bathroom, feline of the fast food chain. Her wig--a damn pretty wig, sculpted of rock-hard platinum blond cement--jitterbugged atop her head, perfectly complementing her hourglass, wasting-no-time figure. A trail of toilet paper followed  her heel, a ticker parade premonition of our impending nuptials.
I flattened my hands on the table, hoping to anchor so as to gaze more carefully. Sweat loosened my grip. I went head-first, splat onto the table, worse than a severely compromised parachutist."

Well, that's all I got. It could go on all night.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Poor, poor oppressed, angry, white guys...

Okay, elephant in the room time, I'm an angry white guy, too. But for different reasons than what's becoming vogue, particularly in the states.
Recently, I saw a video clip about the horrendous beating of a mentally challenged white guy that the black abusers posted on Facebook. Absolutely grotesque.

Nearly as grotesque was the surrounding commentary by some "reporter (a very angry white guy)" who ranted and raged and made the story about himself, proclaiming "the media doesn't care about white people!"

Enough's enough. The media only cares about rich white guys. They're the much-valued and sought-after target market. I worked in marketing and advertising and journalism for thirty some years, first thing I learned. Not a whole lotta' black guys hanging out with Joey and Chandler and Ross.

Outside of a couple of international leaders sporting atrocious hair-cuts, the biggest current threat to the United States is the sensationalism of the media and its effect on viewers. There's no real reporting going on any more (unless you count the forgotten dinosaurs of newspapers and, ugh, who reads print these days?). Forget about pure facts, just a whole lot of editorializing in your face. And thanks to the introwebs, everyone's got an opinion. Just search out the "specialist" who agrees with you. I'll wait. Shouldn't take long.
Opinions are fine, everyone has one (like another thing that I can't quite put my finger on, but give me time and I'm sure I'll find it). But for these so-called journalists to present horrible events as rabble-rousing propaganda to further their own personal political interests is despicable. 

Sure, you might say, I'm doing the same thing on my blog. 

Well, I'm RIGHT, dammit, and you're NOT!

See how easy that was? And ugly?

When did loud, white, privileged guys become a minority in America?  

In the work-force, of course, we white guys need to curb our tendencies toward sexual harassment. Seems like everyone has it out for us regarding that. Big deal, right? I mean chicks watch Mad Men, too. And there's a built-in stigma--an oopsy embarrassment, really, that we're all trying to politely church-laff over--regarding our noble white male heritage: something to do with our ancestors owning slaves, killing off the true American natives, poisoning the world, bla, bla, bla. Then there's the sad fact that some white males are only destined for sub-management positions--assistant managers, mind you! Heckuva' tough cross to bear. Get right down to it, keeping up a perfectly coifed yard is a nightmare of magnanimous proportions. Don't even get me going on proper footwear and sweaters (pop that collar!).

Jesus (and, of course, I'm talking a Charlton Heston-styled Jesus), being a white, angry male is a hard road to travel, after all.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Fred Meyer: Better than Disneyland

Portland, Oregon is host to many fascinating, natural wonders: a world of trees; waterfalls; mountains; hipsters.

But for my money, the most fascinating aspect was the phenomenon known as "Fred Meyer."
During our trip there, I cut my finger or something. Can't remember why or how, but I'm damn glad I did. We needed band-aids. As we passed a nondescript, dime a dozen drug store, I yelled out, "Band-aids! There!"

My wife said, "No. You need to experience Fred Meyer."

I thought, "Whaaat? I don't wanna' meet some long-lost fourth cousin or whatever." I asked my wife what or who Fred Meyers was. She wouldn't answer, just smiled and said, "You'll see."

And see I did. The world as I knew it exploded.

We pulled up to the parking lot. From the outside the store looked like any ol' Walmart. But a world of wonders awaited inside.

Aisles and miles of groceries. Nothing unusual about that. Then there were more aisles of clothing. Again, not that unusual. But...they had an expensive jewelry display right next to the cheese aisle! Mind-blowing! Cheddar and diamonds!

I visited the rest of the store, a surprise down every aisle. Potato chips coexisted next to socks (and don't get me going about how my wife and my Oregon dwelling pal LOVES Fred Meyers' socks). Toilet paper made for strange bedfellows with scarfs. You want shoes? Just turn left past the canned goods, right by the underwear, hook a u-turn after the cereal.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Unhappy with my wrinkled shirt, my wife decided I needed a new top. Fine. Boom. Done in one minute, the way I shop. But my wife insisted I try it on. The problem was the store was under construction (kinda like when you go to Disneyland and inevitably, the best ride is always "under construction"). There were no men dressing rooms. Rebel that I am, I tried to get into the women's dressing room, but the door was oddly lodged stuck. With no other option, I stripped down next to the Lima beans (in front of my niece, no less) and tried on the shirt.

You know, most people come back from Portland with great vacation tales of seeing whales and the beauty of its greenery.

I got Fred Meyers. (And my brother-in-law's crazy neighbor who sprays an aerosol can outside on bugs, but that's a story for another time). One of the best tourist attractions since the hilarious horrors of the "Precious Moments" chapel.

Happy holidays!