Archive for the Mythology Category

Revenant Review Part 3: 7th Voyage of Sinbad/ Jason And The Argonauts/ Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger

Posted in films, Mythology, zombies with tags on July 15, 2013 by David N. Brown

ray-harryhausen.jpg

I’m back after a busy couple weeks working on “XX Exotroopers”, which I plan to mine for a few “Demo Days” shortly.  But first, I’m going to do another tribute to the late, great Ray Harryhausen, and in the process write a little about the inspiration for a major element of my current project.  The creations of Ray Harryhausen were very diverse, and I am sure any gathering of fans could argue all day and all night about which ones were best.  I personally am especially fond of the occasional sympathetic or at least unaggressive creatures, like the charming Eohippus in Valley of Gwangi and Prince Kassim, the previously-mentioned prince transformed into a baboon in Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger.  But there can be no doubt that Harryhausen’s most enduring and famous creations are his walking skeletons, best known from Jason and the Argonauts but also featured previously in 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and the subsequent Eye Of The Tiger.  A selection of these creations are featured with Harryhausen himself in the unusual photo above.  (Source TechDigest.)

Harryhausen’s skeletons debuted with a single specimen reanimated by the sorcerer Sokurah to kill the title character.  While many consider 7th Voyage to be among Harryhausen’s best work, I have never been enamored with it:  Strong performances by Kerwin Matthews as Sinbad and Thorin Thatcher as the villain are among its redeeming features, but the film is weighed down by an egregiously annoying genie and a storyline that is disorganized and episodic even by Harryhausen standards.  The appearance of the distinctly sinister, beetle-browed skeleton is the strongest sequence of the film.  In the documentary the Harryhausen Chronicles, Harryhausen displayed the original model, and recounted making it entirely out of hard material with joints corresponding to those of an actual skeleton, rather than from rubber over an armature.  As a result, the model remained in strikingly pristine condition, where the vast majority of his and other vintage stop-motion models were notorious for decaying relatively quickly down to bare metal.

Per Harryhausen, the same model used in 7th Voyage was among those used in the final battle in Jason And The Argonauts.  This sequence is justifiably Harryhausen’s most renowned, and I would not hesitate to endorse it as among Harryhausen’s best animation, but in my opinion, it was in many ways too much of a good thing, with the action crossing the line from complex to chaotically muddled.  In the course of the “Chronicles” interview, Harryhausen made the intriguing remark that the walking skeletons offered a sanitary alternative to the source mythology, in which the revenant warriors are intact enough to be gruesome.  His passing remark is intriguing in the context of the evolution of the movie zombie, as it was indeed a very long time before even “hard core” horror movies began showing graphically decomposed undead.

Audiences would receive one more treatment of Harryhausen’s walking skeletons in an early sequence of Eye Of The Tiger.  Harryhausen recounted disappointment with this scene, but in my opinion, it is in many respects, an improvement on his previous efforts.  The three “ghouls” against Sinbad make for tighter and more focused action (surely in chronically short supply throughout Harryhausen’s career), and their initial appearance in a tent lit only by firelight is impressively atmospheric.  One can also see glimpses of grue that might have been in the ghouls’ mummy-like bodies, which to me give an extra touch of realism.  I can’t help wondering if the infamous insectoid heads of the ghouls were in no small part a means of backing away from a (literally) fleshed-out corporeal revenant.

In closing, honorable mention is in order for two other appearances of the skeleton in Harryhausen’s work.  I was reminded in the course of writing this article that a walking skeleton is featured very briefly in First Men In The Moon, when the Selenites use their technology to view the insides of their human captives.  Then there is one of the most intriguing of Harryhausen’s (very!) many unmade projects, titled “Skin and Bone”.  This proposed film, based on a 1930’s novel, would have featured a hero who sometimes becomes invisible except for his skeleton.  The storyline would presumably have made the animated skeleton a sympathetic character, and focused on misadventures in domestic settings.  The possibilities of table etiquette alone are certainly impressive!

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Demo Day! Sleeping Beauty Revisited

Posted in films, Mythology, one-shot on June 26, 2013 by David N. Brown

Though I have done many stories featuring mythology, the one thing I haven’t done anything with is traditional “fairy tales”. But, I have thought intermittently about taking on the genre for years, to the point of developing a concept for a retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”. That’s still on the shelf, but I recently did a different take on it as part of a well-received romance film fan fiction series, which I believe will suffice as proof that I am even more brutal in that genre than I am in military/ SF. The following is the resulting story-within-a-story, as narrated by a character to a child:

Once upon a time, there was a brave knight. He was strong, and brave, and he did many great deeds, but he wasn’t that smart. Actually, he was pretty dumb. He even said no to a beautiful lady who offered him her hand, when everyone knew a good knight should say yes, even if it wasn’t very ladylike for her to offer. But the lady still loved him, and she helped him as much as she could. She held celebrations when he came back in victory, and she tended to his wounds when he came back defeated. She even helped him in a quest to win another Lady- not just any lady, but the Fairy Queen.

The knight had loved the Fairy Queen since he was a young squire. He had gone out with his lord and a band of knights to fight a fierce dragon. It was a terrible battle, and in the end, only he was left to face the wounded dragon with his master’s sword. But by his courage, he stood his ground as the dragon charged, and just as the dragon threw back its head to devour him, he drove the blade into its open mouth. Even in death, the dragon struck him with its poisonous tail. He would have perished, but for the Fairy Queen. She watched the battle, and she was so moved by the squire’s valor that she came to him and with her own hands she bandaged his wounds and poured into his mouth the elixir that would cure the dragon’s sting.

The Fairy Queen wished only to save the brave squire’s life, but when he beheld the Queen’s immortal beauty, he thought he could not live unless he had her for his lady. So he devoted himself to becoming the greatest of all knights, and at every chance, he sought for the Fairy Queen, though she fled from him. Then the lady who loved the knight learned of a secret place where the Queen feasted with her subjects. To show her love for the knight, she told him the place, and then begged him not to go. But he went forth, and burst into the Queen’s feast.

At last, the Queen was truly angry, and she cast a spell upon the knight to put him to sleep forever, and decreed that he should be taken to the Forbidden Castle, which was surrounded by a forest of poisonous thorns and guarded by an army of goblins and a dragon greater than the one that had almost slain the knight. But then the lady came forth, confessed to telling of the Fairies’ gathering place, and begged the Queen to let him go, even to punish the lady in his place. So the Fairy Queen lifted her spell and cast it on the lady instead.

The knight awoke not knowing what had happened, and returned to his castle. At first, he did not miss the lady, and he pressed on with his quests, even his quest to find the Fairy Queen. But without the lady to help him, he was lost. Twice, he failed, and once he nearly died. Then the Fairy Queen came to him, and told him what had become of the lady. When he learned what the lady had done for him, he knew at once that he loved her, and begged the Fairy Queen to release her, even to let him take her place. Then the queen told him that there was one hope: That, if he could win his way to the Forbidden Castle, and place true love’s kiss on the lady’s lips, the spell might be broken.

Then the knight made for the Forbidden Castle, and he showed more courage and might and devotion than he ever had. And the Fairy Queen herself gave him aid: A magic salve to protect him from the poison of the thorns, an enchanted Fairy sword, and a magic rope to scale the walls of the Forbidden Castle. With the salve and the sword, he hacked a path through the thorns, and the goblins who came forth to oppose him fell or fled in terror. The magic rope lifted itself to the top of the Castle’s unscalable wall, and the knight climbed up quickly, hoping that by stealth and speed, he could avoid the dragon. But when he reached the top, he found the dragon waiting in ambush. He knew he was doomed, and cried out that he had always loved his lady. Then, just when it seemed all was lost, the Fairy Queen appeared and cast a spell of blindness on the dragon, and the knight drove home the mortal blow.

At last, the knight made his way to his lady, and placed true love’s kiss upon her lips. But the lady did not awake. For days, the knight wandered despondent in the corridors of the Forbidden Castle, wondering why the Fairy Queen’s promise had failed. Then he remembered that the Queen had not promised that the first kiss should break the spell, only that a kiss might break the spell. So he returned to his lady, and kissed her again. When she did not awake, he sat beside her, telling her of the quests he had won because of her help, of the times she had feasted with him at her table and the times she had tended him at his bedside, and always of his love for her, and his regret that he had not returned her love before.

And every day, the knight kissed her, and told her the stories, and he found that each day he loved her more. And he knew that one day, his love would be great enough to waken the lady to his love. And then they would live… not happily ever after, but doing their best to make each other happy, one day at a time.

Pyramid Power! The Curious Case of the Bosnian Pyramid

Posted in Balkans pop, Forteana, Mythology, prehistoric on June 24, 2013 by David N. Brown

pyramid
The lands of the Balkan peninsula are and presumably always have been a melting pot (or, to use an unfortunately more apt analogy, a tectonic collision zone) of diverse people groups. Predictably, the genuine complexities of ethnicities and history have generated an even murkier tangle of partisan theories ostensibly related to anthropology and archeology. Out of the hodgepodge of theories, one would be hardpressed to find one more (polite pause) offbeat than that of the “Pyramid of Bosnia”.

In brief (mainly per Bad Archeology, source for the photo above), around 2005, local media and then some international sources picked up reports claiming that a structure in Bosnia was a man-made pyramid, by strikingly disparate estimates between 230 and 722 feet in height. The principle propagator of these claims was one Semir Osmanagic, a professor of anthropology at a local undergraduate college. Osmanagic evidently theorizes that the pyramid was built by the Illyrians, a known people group of antiquity believed to be the ancestors (or at least the cultural precursors) of the Albanians, and mentioned dates as early as 12,000 BC. He cited various authorities as supporting his views. Unfortunately for him, when said authorities were contacted for comment, they consistently either disavowed any association with him or presented very different interpretations. Among the latter were Dr. Robert Schoch, who recounted a trip to the scene thus: “Osmanagic and I were apparently seeing different things, perhaps viewing an entirely different world. Where he saw concrete blocks and human intervention, I saw only perfectly natural sandstones and conglomerates… For a week and a half this seemed to be the dominant theme: Osmanagic and others who worked with and for him insisting that this or that feature can never occur in nature, and thus must be artificial and human-made, versus me finding a perfectly reasonable geological explanation for each of the same features.” The one favorable aspect of Schoch’s report was that he claimed “evidence of Neolithic occupation of the hill, dating back perhaps 5,000 years.” Less kind critics have turned to such evidence in support of efforts to deny Osmanagic permits for further excavation

Thus, the “Pyramid of Bosnia” presents itself as a typical pseudoarcheological crank theory, and it is hard to disagree with those who discount it as media-generated pseudoscience. Yet, there is just enough in the story to give the thoughtful pause. While Osmanagic has been exposed to some criticism for occultic leanings, he presents a more creditable figure than the typical crank or outright charlatan: He is legitimately credentialed, reportedly holding a doctorate in sociology and university positions in archeology and anthropology, and by all indications sincere and thorough in his efforts to find evidence of his theories. I consider it especially noteworthy that, in contrast to far too many examples of Balkans pseudo-scholarship, there is no sign of ethnic partisanship in his theories: The only obvious way his ideas could be twisted to contemporary political purposes would be to maximize the already compelling claims of antiquity for the Albanian people-group, which he is not a part of.

Then there is the pyramid itself, which all but invites the thoughtful to second-guess common sense: Even taking it as a given that it is entirely of natural origin (as I certainly would), it is certainly a very odd shape, and it is not easy to discount the possibility that human activity had some role in bringing it to its current shape. Then there is the ample evidence of ancient and prehistoric human activity, which suggests that, if nothing else, the hill may well have held special interest to ancient peoples. What is entirely ironic is that Osmanagic’s critics have been placed in the position of arguing certain points for him. The evidence of settlement as early as the Neolithic can be said to satisfy the bare minimum of prior plausibility for the existence of an ancient monument at the scene. Even the charge that Osmanagic’s own excavations may have shaped the hill’s appearance lends some credence to the possibility that ancient humans reworked the natural features of the hill into a pyramidal shape. What is truly unfortunate is that there are little if any signs of anyone else taking an interest in the hill, and maneuvers to block Osmanagic may do far more to deter more orthodox investigation than to protect anything there to be found.

Regardless of the nature of the Pyramid of Bosnia, the Balkans remain an area of interest for pyramid architecture. A number of pyramid-like structures are known from the Balkan Peninsula, the most well-known being the “Greek pyramid” of Hellenikon. Based on the best evidence, this structure may have been closer to an Egyptian mastaba, and the interpretation of the structure of the tomb has been rejected based on the presence of a door locked from the inside. (Though there are ominous ways to explain such a feature in a burial site!) Also of interest are a number of tumulus mounds, the largest accepted form of ancient monuments, and especially tholoi tombs such as the “Treasury of Atreus”. These “beehive” structures represent a striking combination of the features of a burial mound and a pyramid, having a core structure of stone which is then covered in earth. It would also seem very possible, in the event that the original entrance was obliterated or buried, to miss such a structure entirely, giving cause for pause when considering where a natural landscape ends and possible human activity begins.

One-Shot Week Part 9: Life As Leviathan

Posted in Mythology, one-shot, Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

The week may be over, but here’s one more thing I wanted to post, with a previously-written introduction:

This piece is something that old enough that I was very concerned whether I could even find my one printed copy. Fortunately, I did finally fish it out from my old papers, and apart from a handful of corrections, it appears here exactly as I found it. I wrote this back in 2001 for a college English class. For a long time, I considered it the best thing I had written, and looking at it now, I can still feel happy putting it out there.

This was supposed to be an essay, on the assigned topic of what animal one would most like to become. While I have always been interested in animals, and greatly enjoy telling a story from an animal’s perspective, I didn’t care for the premise of the assignment, and in the end, my response was substantially a revolt against it. The result was this piece, more a story than an essay, but not really a self-sufficient work, and I never did think of any good way to build on it. (The best idea I ever had was to put it together with what became the novel Anio Son of Poseidon, and that was in fact how I first thought of the “Book of Shapes” featured there.) Looking at it now, I can see an embarrassment of riches in potential themes and symbols, from environmentalism to the influence of media to an allegory of Christ. I can’t claim to recall how much of that even crossed my mind when I first wrote it, but in the end, I think it is and always best for this to stay what it is: a vivid, well-told story.

 

Once I was a human who walked the land. I was a peasant among frail primates who thought themselves kings of the Earth. Now I am a mighty king of the ocean. Scientists call me Physeter; poets call me Leviathan; others call me cachalot, but most follow the lead of ancient fools and call ma a sperm whale. Those on the top can call me whatever the like. Down here, we do not let mere collections of syllables define who we are. A cachalot is defined by his songs, his deeds and his strength. Our mere hellos carry the passion and detail of the poets’ greatest epics. My song is of wisdom coupled with strength.

It was a little hard getting used to being a cachalot. Fortunately, it was in my very nature to detect with song and ears as I once did with light and eyes. If I had had to learn it, I could never have survived. I still miss my arms and legs, and I sometimes wish that I could see with eyes what I have heard with song. Learning to breathe at will was tricky; there were several times when I almost suffocated because I forgot that I had to think to inhale. But the hardest part is dealing with my memories. I can still remember all the things I did on top,, but they are alien and even repulsive to my current nature. How strange it is to remember the sight of a blooming desert when one has become accustomed to hearing the deepest oceans! Hardest of all are the times when I wake from a dream of the top and find myself once again as a man in an alien universe. If I had known how that would feel, I would never have changed. After such dreams, I have often resolved to search the depths until I find a way to change back. But the dream always fades, and my cetaceous nature always reasserts itself. I cannot now change what I am even though it is not my true self.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a cachalot is the amount of exploring one gets to do. No breathing thing can dive deeper than a cachalot, and few cachalots have dived deeper than I. With my song which conquers all darkness, I have beheld creatures which human researchers have spent millions for mere glimpses of, and some which human minds have not even imagined. I have dragged some of the strangest creatures from their hiding places to the top, where humans will find them. I chuckle when I think of what scientists may have made of them.

I wish I could go back up top to correct the ridiculous things scientists write about how cachalots hunt. They make it sound so easy. I have concluded that catching squid is a learned art not an instinct, and though I have the vast and demanding body of a bull, I have the hunting skills of a calf. Though I can tap the learning of a whale, something in my human part seems to get in the way. In my two years as cachalot, I have caught only six squid. It did not help that they tasted like rubber bands soaked in ammonia. I have fed mainly on slow-moving, bottom-dwelling giant octopus and squid which I earn by singing for other whales.

I count all the human things I have sacrificed as no loss at all against my ability to sing. As a human, I struggled to turn my visions into words. Now, I sing songs whose “words” are as clear as human vision. The greatest human poets would envy me. Other whales swarm around me to listen. I am still not sure whether they are drawn by awe, curiosity or something else. I often wonder if they fear me, but like many humans are drawn to what they hear. As I sing the final I exult that the other whales must view me as a god, but then I remember how humans treat their gods, and become somber once again.

The seas hold nothing for an adult cachalot to fear- except humans. A handful of ships still hunt my kind, but I, with my human knowledge, can avoid their factory ships easily. I have also warned other whales, and thus reduced the whalers’ catch substantially. The diminishing returns made the hunters more persistent, and it was not long before a whaling ship found a pod of whales gathered to hear my song. I was shocked and angered when my passionate encore was interrupted by screams of pain and the booming of explosive-tipped harpoons. A dozen whaling ships gathered like sharks around my audience. The majority of us escaped, but a few ships followed, killing at least one of us whenever we surfaced for air.

Many more would have died, if I had not happened across a rusted and forgotten mine. I seized the deadly device by its anchor chain and dragged it towards one of the whalers. I left it in what I thought was a good location, and then surfaced briefly to draw the ship. I surfaced again and again, drawint the ships farther away from the pod and to closer to the mine. Finally, the lead ship struck the mine dead on and sank like a stone.

I sang a new song then: one of vengeance and hatred against our hunters. I sang of things alien to them, but all too familiar to me: cruelty, greed and thoughtless waste. Then I led the armies of the deep against all that I hated, and all that I had been. I told them how to find explosives to detonate against a ship’s hull. I told them how to knock ships off course by ramming their rudders. I told them how to paralyze a ship by tossing rocks and wreckage and even themselves into the propellers.

The other three ships sailed forward casually to pick up their colleagues, thinking that the sinking of the first ship was a mere accident. Just as we had been oblivious to their harpoons until they struck, so they were unaware of our power until it was too late. When the battle was over, two more ships lay at the bottom. One had been laid open when we sent another ship careening into it. The other had been disabled and then battered open over a day and half. The whalers who did not stay in their ships ended up in our stomachs. The last ship escaped with a dented propeller, damaged rudder, and leaking hull. We later found it beached on a remote shore. The sailors had escaped to land, and would surely tell the world of our fury.

Seven whales died in the battle, but it is in the survivors that I see the greatest cost. They are much more violent, more brutish- in short, more human. They have sunk a dozen more whaling ships. Not a one dares sail, now. But the other whales have only grown more aggressive, and now are turning against fishing boats. I fear that harmless and defenseless liners and cargo ships will be next. By now, many humans must be wishing that they had exterminated us when the still had the ships to do it. Worst of all, the whales are becoming more brutish towards each other. They are forming fixed clans and claiming stretches of sea as theirs by right. War with each other is bound to start soon. They will no longer listen to my songs, unless they are of blood and fury. Hear me, world, and weep: I made myself a whale to escape what is human, but now I have brought the worst of what is human into the whales!

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

One-Shot Week, Part 4: Anio and the Wer-Beast

Posted in Mythology, one-shot with tags , , , , on March 13, 2013 by David N. Brown

For today’s entry, we will be meeting my oldest characters to see any kind of publication, the demigod hero, Anio the Son of Poseidon and his steed, Jargus the shark.  The pair started out, complete with their core adventures, as my 8th-grade English project, and they stuck in my mind well enough that ten years later (still a LONG time ago), I decided to give them a shot at their own novel.  The following represents the earliest vignette in that definitive salvage job.  A major part of the transformation from juvenilia to mature novel was making Anio humane and philosophical, rather than an adventurer who killed monsters left and right for the heck of it.  Of course, that didn’t mean he was going to go soft on monsters, and this particular creature  is (at least after the VERY gigantic clam of the original central quest) my favorite, drawn from Eskimo mythology.

After many adventures, Anio came to the Pillars of Hercules, that bound the strait called the End of the World, where the Seas meet outer Ocean, and then he passed beyond them. He circled Iberia, he explored the mist-shrouded isles of Cimmeria, and the Sea of Nereids where trickster spirits create mirages in the air. He followed the coasts of the Hyperborea, where the sun ever shines on the Sea of Ice, and beheld the Titan tribe of Ice Breakers who with enormous clubs and chisels carve great bergs from the cliffs of ice. He met men of fair skin and hair of gold or copper, others of dark hair and still others of dusky skin also. While Anio was at harbor in Cimmeria, he beheld a ship bearing the ambassador of Hyperborea sunk by the unseen beast. From the wreck of the ship, Jargus’s sharp nose detected a scent like no man or fish or whale, and the northerners cried out that it was the Wer-beast.

It was thought to be sired by Proteus, a sea god of mutable form, and itself hunted in three guises. So great was its cunning and stealth that men knew it only by its terrible spoor: The jagged hole in the ice where a man’s track disappeared, a print of a paw bigger than a bear’s but with the four toes of a wolf next to a pillaged sled, and a print of a giant’s foot, long as a child is tall, next to a smashed and empty igloo. Their grandfathers’ grandfathers had abandoned all hope of battle against it, but Anio swore on the Styx to slay it or die in the attempt. From that moment on, hero and shark followed the trail relentlessly. For days, weeks and finally months they tracked the beast through mazes of reefs, rocks and fjords. Many times, they passed through bloody wreck and ruin, and Anio called to the gods for vengeance.

In the Sea of Ice, he finally sighted his quarry, as a black whale. Jargus swam after it, quickly gaining, but just before she caught the beast, it smashed upward through the ice. Anio emerged and saw the form of a huge wolf already growing small with distance. He followed the trail of its prints, and caught sight of the beast, only to see it dive through a freshly smashed hole in the ice. Anio rejoined Jargus in the water and rode after the swift form of the whale. And so it continued: Again and again, the beast escaped Jargus by bursting onto the ice, then eluding Anio be returning to the water. Even so, it could not lose its pursuers.

But the labors of hero and shark almost came to naught. As Anio emerged through yet another hole in the ice, he found a trail doubling back. He whirled around to see the beast pounce through the ice onto Jargus. It did not bite, but rammed the shark with iron-hard snout. Her mail-like hide was unpierced, but her soft bones were broken. But she took the dearer toll, rending the beast’s side and maiming its fin with a single snap. By the time Anio reached Jargus, it had disappeared back through the ice. The trail he found was that of a wolf with a lame paw. He gave chase. Behind him, a brooding albatross surveyed his steps.

Having no refuge in the water or on the ice, the wer-beast fled toward a bare isle where one of the swarthy northern tribes made camp. Anio almost overtook it, but a terrible marvel occurred: Though the Sea of Ice is too cold for dew, and even snow is scarce, a mist fell over Anio and the beast, so that the hero lost sight of his quarry. He cursed the unknown god that had sent the mist, and made for the isle. He stopped at a native village, long enough to warn them, “Take to your sleds! A Wer-beast is come!” Even as he spoke, a woman shrieked that her child was gone. Men raced for their spears, and women for their children, and all was chaos, and from the very midst of the bedlam came the gleeful howl of the Wer-beast.

The beast rushed about the milling crowd like a wolf among sheep, killing at will and driving those who lived where it wished. Three times Anio raised his harpoon at the beast, but each time the mist or a fleeing northerner got in his way before he could cast. Then he heard cries from one of the igloos, and ran toward it. He was passed by a woman and two children fleeing, but the cry of a lone babe still came from the igloo. He saw the giant tracks at the threshold, and froze. Suddenly, the beast leapt at him, not from inside the igloo but over it. It would have had Anio’s throat, but its lame paw brought its leap short. Even so, it was past the reach of Anio’s harpoon, and its jaws closed on his mailed forearm. A paw fell with staggering weight on his shoulder, and became a huge black hand at his throat, and the beast reared over him as a hairy black giant.

He was pressed relentlessly down as the beast rose and and pressed forward on two legs. Just when all seemed lost, he rammed the haft of his harpoon into the frozen soil and slid down the shaft. Even as the beast stooped to rend his throat, the spearhead of Hephaestus pierced its breast. It let out a single howl and went still. But even in death, it pressed down to crush its foe. The shaft of the harpoon bent and splintered. With a heroic heave, Anio pushed aside the beast’s dead bulk. The slain Protean sagged and shriveled like a drained wine skin, and then burst into dull blue flames. Anio rose just long enough to get clear of the flames, then collapsed, spent but triumphant.

David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona

One Shot Week, Part 2: Cassandra

Posted in films, Forteana, Mythology, one-shot with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by David N. Brown

For the second installment of One-Shot Week, here’s a particularly special one-shot.  It started out as a one-off companion piece to a fan novel then in progress, The Rookie.  It was intended as a thoughtful spin on the source backstory, time travel and the apocalypse. Then I incorporated the vignette into the story that became Cyborg Vs. EXOTROOPERS!, the second in the series and the one that really set it up as a franchise in its own right. I also included the short and the full-length story in a collection I currently have available in print as Night of the Yahoo And Other Stories.  Here’s a different version than has appeared elsewhere: A chunk of material from the original that connects directly to the Exotroopers story, but I have included a little additional material from the completed story, which added a philosophical note and seems to confuse people marginally less.  I have always had a soft spot for the original “punchline”, an inside joke about a religious/ pop culture phenomenon that doesn’t seem quite so funny now.

“You’re not officially cleared to see this yet,” said the lieutenant. “But off the record, it’s a tradition to let every new guy in on what’s housed here. There have been leaks over the years. One of the better ones actually inspired a motion picture franchise decades ago. But, we’re confident none have come from our staff.”

“I’ve already heard some of the leaks,” said the corporal. “It was a crazy story about a flying saucer captured from the Nazis, which they built with either help from aliens or from psychic communications with a super race in the future.”

The lieutenant laughed. “That one’s been kicking around for almost a hundred years. Surrendering Nazis did turn over a few specimens, but there wasn’t anything like a vehicle or weapon among them. And the Third Reich certainly didn’t build them.”

He entered a code, and a door worthy of a bank fault opened.

Inside was a corridor, lined with strange objects. Some looked like pieces of human bodies, some like circuitry, and most like strange combinations thereof. The corporal looked curiously at a severed head whose eyes followed them as they walked. He hastened at the sight of a hand whose fingers wiggled at his approach. Thin circuitry was momentarily visible in the pink tubing that protruded from the wrist.

“We know of 213 of these things, and have physical remains of 57,” said the lieutenant. “Almost all appeared between 1928 and 2000. We don’t know if that’s because that period was of special importance, or just because that’s when people with the means to stop them were looking for them. There’s no serious doubt that they come from the future- or, to put it more accurately, futures.

“Where we can identify a time and place of arrival, witnesses consistently report meteors, ball lightning or `UFOs’- presumably how the alien stories got started. Where we can investigate an undisturbed scene, we find fires and tektites- sand fused into glass by lightning- and sometimes a dish-shaped depression. Once, we found the remains of something like a spherical cage, capable of holding someone in a fetal position. The working components self-destructed, probably as soon as the occupant exited. We don’t think it would have worked in any event; whatever technology is involved seems to require a much larger apparatus that remains in the time of origin, which is what the people actually trying to build a time machine are talking about. We thus refer to our specimens as castaways.

“As far as we can tell, they all arrive naked and unarmed. It was thought at one time that only living tissue, or an object encased in living tissue, could be temporally displaced. That was disproved decades ago. Our best guess at this point is that it’s a matter of blending in. It appears that the senders have poor control over the exact time and place of arrival, and may have limited information about the past in any event. Under the circumstances, being seen in nothing at all would raise less suspicion than wearing clothes from the wrong time period. As for technology, no weapon has ever been built that doesn’t need spare parts or ammo sooner or later, and there’s no reason to think those of the future are any different.”

The corporal’s eyes widened. “If we had this, before 1950… How much technology has been developed from these machines?”

The lieutenant scowled. “Nothing of importance. The need for security limits how often we can bring in qualified specialists to examine the specimens, and when we do, it never does any good. The first of them is supposed to have said, `We don’t have the tools to make the tools.’ What we have learned since is that it would be more accurate to say that we don’t have the materials to make the tools to make the materials.’ The only times they have helped is when they recognized something they had just worked out for themselves.”

He walked back to the severed head. “The main reason we give these tours is to keep anyone from being taken offguard by something like this. There are three specimens here which are sufficiently functional to communicate with us. What is remarkable is that they, along every single other castaway known to have communicated intelligibly, all say something like this.” He looked down at the head. Its eyes rose to look at him. “Specimen 23, meet Cpl. Johnson. Why don’t you tell him what you told the rest of us about Judgement Day.”

“A third of humanity will die, and two-thirds of the ground will be uninhabitable for seven generations times seven,” the head spoke in a sibilant tone. “Fires will make the nights as bright as day, and smoke will make the day as dark as night. Then a new city will descend to the Earth, and all men will come to worship their king, or be destroyed…”

The lieutenant said, kindly but condescendingly: “And when will Judgement Day occur?”

“September 11,” said the head, “1988.”

“The way we figure, a castaway begins changing the shape of history as soon as it arrives,” said the lieutenant. “By the time one gets a chance to kill its victim, things are so different that its mission is no longer important. And whatever it thinks will happen, what did happen in the timeline it came from, is certain not to happen. Remember that, and you will be fine.”

The corporal frowned. “But, if they all speak of judgment day, no matter how different their histories are… might that mean it’s inevitable, in any history? Or that it keeps happening because no one believes it will?”

“Well, I figure, if it’s already failed to happen hundreds of times over, then the odds are it never will.” As the door closed, the lieutenant turned to the corporal, who would one day be a lieutenant who gave the same tour to another corporal, and concluded, “Besides- if it is inevitable, what are we going to do about it?”

One-Shot Week, Part 1: Re-Deanimator! Prologue

Posted in films, Mythology, one-shot, zombies with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by David N. Brown

I’ve let this go for a while again, and in the meantime I have been kicking around an idea for something new.  For the next week, I will be making one post a day of material from my fiction.  To start with, here’s an unused vignette from a new project, intended as a “reboot” of my Walking Dead mini-franchise.  The rest of what I have so far is available as the story “Meg and Greg”, featured on the fan fiction page for the “Walking Dead” TV show.  This scene was to introduce a character dubbed “Indian Joe”.  He’s modeled after a real individual I have heard of, who previously was the inspiration for Carlos Wrzniewski’s companion Old Adoni.  I was able to give him a good entrance in a subsequent chapter, but this is a nice vignette I think deserves to be seen somewhere.

The scene could be timeless. It is the desert, in the twilight just after dusk. Stretching in every direction is a blanket of sparse, thorny underbrush, broken by the occasional cactus. In the midst of it is a clearing, and in the clearing, a village. There are only ten buildings: Nine mound-like hogans, made only from wood and earth, eerily well-preserved, and a tin-roofed shack, utterly decrepit. A vintage Willys jeep next to the shack would spoil the scene, if the jeep were not in only marginally better condition than the shack.

Eight of the hogans are clearly in long disuse, their wooden door frames boarded up and partially buried. The people who built them and those who know their ways will know the reason: Each house has been the scene of at least one death, and been reckoned accursed. But one door is unobstructed. A crude effigy with an oversized head or mask, decorated with feathers and somber geometric patterns of somber black and white is perched upon the lintel. Through the open door comes the glow of firelight- that, and the tinny strains of “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

The music stops with a contralto snarl. There is muttering, and the winding of a crank, and the music resumes. The song ends, and another begins. But then it is cut off with the audible lifting of the needle. The glow of the fire is briefly obscured, and then is hastily put out.

There is a rustle, a scrape, and then a crash of splintering wood and a patter of cascading earth. In the midst of the hogans, just visible by the light of the rising crescent moon, a figure like a man rises from the earth. Yet, even in silhouette, it is but an effigy, even more imperfect than the idol at the hogan. For, though it has the size and shape of a man, it does not move like a man. The feet do not rise in strides, but drag in a strangely rhythmic shuffle, resembling nothing so much as a penguin. The shoulders slump limply, and the head lolls and droops utterly unnaturally. And when the Jeep’s headlamps suddenly shines directly in the figure’s face, the effigy does not avert or cover its eyes, but only turns vaguely toward the jeep.

A gruff voice calls out. The speaker calls out again, then again, again and again, going through the major dialects of Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and Apache. The figure shuffles toward the Jeep, while the speaker gets to Spanish: “Su es muerte! Vaya con los muertos!” A limp arm suddenly raises as stiffly as a tree branch, groping at the hood. The Jeep’s lights flicker. At last, the speaker says: “You dead! You belong dead!” Fingers touch the windshield, just before the effigy gets an arrow through the eye.

It staggers back in three long lurches, still oddly measured, and drops like a puppet with its strings cut. Moments pass, then minutes, before the effigy begins to rise, its motion all the more like a marionette on invisible strings. Its lolling head tilts toward an orange ember in the darkness. “You dead,” a voice says firmly. “You belong dead.” Then a flaming arrow shoots into its midriff, and the effigy ignites like a water balloon filled with kerosene.

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona