News and updates about Gordon's fiction, available at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, courtesy of Oghma Creative Media.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Cover reveal: Descent into Ulthoa

In October 2021 my Lovecraftian suspense novel, Descent into Ulthoa, is coming out from Motina Publishing!  Here's the cover and the teaser...  preorder it from Amazon here!



Ten years ago, a man and his girlfriend went into the woods at the end of Claver Road on what was supposed to be a weekend’s camping trip… and never returned.

Police combed the area, but nothing was found except for his car, abandoned where they’d parked it.  It seemed like Brad Ellicott and Cara Marshall had been swallowed by the silent, brooding forest, leaving not a trace of what had happened or where they went.

His identical twin brother, left to mourn his loss, has spent the last decade unable to let go of his grief, to accept that Brad and Cara are gone forever.  Based on sinister hints from a few of the older residents of Guildford, New York, the closest village to the woods, he discovers that there might be more to the story than the disappearance of a couple of hikers.  The woods has had an evil reputation for well over a century, and his brother and his girlfriend are not the first people to defy the warnings and brave the shadows under the trees—nor the first to vanish there.

Becoming obsessed with discovering what happened to his brother, he delves deeper and deeper into the mystery that lies beyond the end of Claver Road, and he uncovers a terrifying truth that challenges everything he believes.  Is the knowledge worth the cost?  And will he get the answers he needs before the forest claims him as its next victim?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Excerpt from a work-in-progress: Kiss the Chameleon

I can't tell you how many times I've been in the middle of a work-in-progress and suddenly had an idea for a different story.

This is somewhere between encouraging and annoying.  Encouraging because it means my brain is still engaged in coming up with new ideas, and annoying because I usually get excited enough that I want to quit working on my current work-in-progress and jump right into the new one. 

This happened to me last week.  At two AM.  I woke up with not only an idea and a first scene, but a title.  Where it came from is anyone's guess; from that weird Sea of the Collective Unconscious we all allegedly tap into, I suppose.  It's kind of a warped science fiction/love story, with the working title Kiss the Chameleon.  I wrote the first scene because I didn't want to lose it, and now I seriously need to table it and finish my current project. 

But I think it's gonna be a really fun story.  Here's the bit I wrote a couple of days ago.  Enjoy!

***************************************

When Brandon Cross snapped awake at just before two in the morning, his first words were, “What the fuck?”

It was, he thought, a reasonable response to opening his eyes and finding three shadowed figures standing next to his bed, aiming what felt like an industrial-grade searchlight into his eyes.

“You will come with us,” one of the figures said in a harsh growl.

“Again?”  Brandon sat up, wincing and rubbing his eyes.  “What does he want now?”

“You will come with us.”

“I heard you the first time.  Why all the dramatics?  It’s not like you’re going to give me a choice.”  Brandon looked over at his girlfriend, Sophie Caswell, who was still curled up on her side snoring softly.  “You shielded her?”

“She is not the one we have come for.”

“Well, thanks for that, at least.”

“You will come with us.”

“Yeah, yeah.  All right, fine.”  He gave a heavy sigh and pulled back the covers, but before he could put his feet on the floor, all four of them—Brandon and his three assailants—vanished from his bedroom and reappeared in a brightly-lit square room with no adornments whatsoever.

Brandon looked down, and realized that he also had no adornments whatsoever.  “What the fuck?” he said again.  “You could have at least let me get dressed first.”

No response.  Two of them flanked him, grabbed his upper arms with taloned, seven-fingered hands, and propelled him along the corridor at a speed just fast enough to be uncomfortable.


[Image licensed under the Creative Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:X-Files_Season_10_Promotional_Alien_Spaceship_(25593499386).jpg]


A ten-minute walk through labyrinthine corridors that all looked the same ended with his being shoved toward a door that opened as he lurched toward it.  He fell forward onto all fours, then got up, dusting himself off and trying to recapture any dignity he had left.

“Kailer Jax,” said an unfortunately-familiar voice.  Redolent with disapproval, as usual.

Brandon looked up into the yellowish, insectile, perpetually exasperated face of Vale Swevana, nominally his boss, although Brandon always did his best to discourage that impression.  “You could have just said, ‘Hey, Jax, can you come see me?  I can work you in at four in the afternoon,’ instead of sending your goons to drag me out of bed in the middle of the night.”

“The time on Earth is hardly my concern.  Nor should it be yours.”  Swevana clasped his large, bony hands in front of him on the desk.  “You clearly need a reminder of what your mission is.  And, more to the point, what it is not.”

“You’re always talking about not causing a stir.  What do you think my girlfriend is going to do when she wakes up and I’m gone?”

“Which brings us to our first problem.  You were expressly forbidden from forming emotional attachments.”

“I’m trying to find out more about the people on Earth, that’s all.”

“You’ve gone native.”

“I have not.”  Brandon gave Swevana a glare.  “You told me to learn about human behavior.  That’s what I’m doing.”

“I hardly thought I needed to explain that mating with one of the Earth women is not allowed.  What is the point, in any case?  You know as well as I do that Sujadi DNA is incompatible with that of humans, even if you currently look human.  No conception of an offspring is possible. So why engage in such behavior?”

Brandon shrugged.  “Because it’s fun. Just because I still have Sujadi DNA doesn’t mean I don’t have a human nervous system.  And yeah, to a human nervous system, mating is really fun.”

Swevana scowled.  “Humans have an odd way of expressing fun, then.  From the noises you both were making, it sounded much more like you were in pain.”

“You watched us?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve also picked up the human moralizing about privacy.”  Swevana snorted with derision.  “As I thought, Jax.  It’s high time we replace you with someone more responsible.”

“Come on.  Mating behavior is important to learn about.”

“You do seem rather fascinated by it.”  The Sujadi leader gave a flicking motion with one taloned hand, gesturing at Brandon’s midsection.  “How do you manage with that… that appendage, just dangling there?”

“It’s not a problem.”

“It looks inconvenient.  Doesn’t it get in the way of things?”

“Not really.  You get used to it.”

A harsh sigh.  “It is always the danger,” Swevana said, as if speaking to himself.  “Maintaining a dispassionate interest is hard to balance against becoming swept up by the culture one is studying.”  He leaned back in his chair, interlacing long fingers across his narrow belly.  “Can you give me one reason why I should not remove you from this assignment?’

“Come on, Swevana.  Give me a break.  After I’ve gotten this far, you can’t take me off this mission now.  Who are you going to put in my place?  Lynan?  Hakira?  You don’t have anyone with the experience and expertise I have.  I’ve already infiltrated their society, created a place for myself.  I’ve got a job, I’ve got an apartment.  You send in someone new, you’d be starting from ground zero.”

Another scowl and shake of the head.  “Do you still have your converter?  Or have you lost that as well, and intend to remain looking like—” he made a disgusted noise—“like that.

Brandon returned Swevana’s scowl.  “Of course I haven’t lost it.”  He touched a metal disc on the bracelet he wore on his left wrist with the index finger of his right hand.  Instantly his body reverted to the familiar shape of a Sudaji male—tall, angular, yellow-white, the body covered with interlocking plates, long, thin arms ending in hands with seven taloned fingers each.

No external genitalia.  Unfortunate.  He hadn’t just gotten used to having the “appendage,” as Swevana called it, he was honestly enjoying it.

“There.  Happy?”

Even his voice now sounded Sujadi. He’d been in human form pretty much continuously for four months, and his actual voice sounded creaking, airless, alien. He was beginning to like the warmth and resonance of his human voice.  Besides, the Sujadi version of his voice sounded way too much like Swevana’s, which he was tired of hearing and getting tireder by the moment.

“I find it baffling that you prefer appearing like the natives.  Bipedal apes who have lost most of their hair.  Your natural form is much more appealing.”

“I doubt any of the Earth people would agree.  But I guess I can’t help what I really look like.”

“Glad to see Kailer Jax still remembers that he is Sujadi.  And, despite the converter, Sujadi he will remain, even while he is impersonating a human.”  There was a long pause, during which the only sound was the dry click of one of Swevana’s claws tapping against the plate on the back of his other hand. “Very well.  One more chance.  Only one.  If you step out of line again, you will be removed permanently.  And, if I have anything to do with it, demoted and returned in disgrace.”

“Look, Swevana, I appreciate it.  But I can’t just go in there and change my behavior.  That will raise more curiosity than continuing to do what I’m doing.”

“You try my patience.”

“But I’m not wrong.”

“Do not think that a transcript of this entire conversation isn’t going into your file, along with video evidence of your mating with the Earth woman.”

“You videoed us?”

Swevana ignored the question.  “We will be watching your every move.  Act with an overabundance of caution if you know what is good for you.  Do what you can to disengage from the Earth woman.  Surely there are ways that would appear appropriate to her cultural norms.”

“They don’t ever approve of separation once mating has occurred,” Brandon lied.  “So I can’t promise anything.”

“We will be watching you,” Swevana repeated.  “Next time, your removal will be permanent, and with no possibility of appeal.”  He gestured at Brandon while looking over his shoulder.  “Take him back.”

Brandon/Kailer Jax turned, and saw that the three Sujadi who had brought him here were still standing behind him, immobile and silent, but at the command they stepped forward.

“Hang on a moment.  I can’t go back looking like this.”  He touched the metal disc on his bracelet, and once again there was a flash of light, leaving Brandon back to appearing like a perfectly ordinary, if naked, human male.

The three guards once again grabbed him by the upper arms.  One disadvantage of being human was that the skin and muscle they had was a lot more sensitive to rough handling than the armor plating of his natural form.

“Ow.  Relax, I’m not going to try to run away or anything. Where could I run away to?”

No response.  They propelled him out of the room, and the door swished shut behind them.  

He turned his head toward the guard on his left.  “Don’t you get how to chitchat?  The Earth people are almost never without something to say.  It’s rather endearing once you get the hang of it.”

The guard didn’t even acknowledge having heard him.  The only sounds were the hard clacking of their feet hitting the floor, and the softer thuds of his own bare feet doing the same thing.

“Well, I can’t keep up both ends of the conversation.  Have it your way.”

The ten-minute near-run retracing their path proceeded in silence, and brought them back to the place he’d first appeared. Without a word, the four of them transported off the Sujadi spaceship—currently orbiting the Earth just outside the Moon’s orbit, and shielded from view by it—and reappeared in his darkened bedroom.

They gave him a shove, and he landed on his butt on the edge of the bed.

“Hey!  Simmer down, now.”

Without a word, the three guards vanished.

“They really should learn how to chitchat,” he mumbled under his breath.  “No need to be such assholes.”

With a sigh of annoyance, he slipped back underneath the covers and curled up next to Sophie’s warm body.  She rolled over, making a little satisfied moan of comfort, and slipped one arm around his waist.

“You’re cold,” she said in a sleep-slurred voice.

“I know.  I was getting a snack.”

“You should have put on your robe.”  She nuzzled his neck.  “You want me to warm you up?”

Well, his appendage certainly did, given its instantaneous reaction.  “Of course.  Any time.”

She pulled herself on top of him.

Okay, he had to admit it was this kind of thing that was going to make it difficult to remain, in Swevana’s words, “dispassionate.”  But he’d figure out what to do about that later.  He certainly wasn’t going to tell Sophie to stop.  And if his boss was watching, may as well give him an enthusiastic demonstration of human behavior.

What was the old Earth saying?

Oh, yes.  May as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Excerpt of a work-in-progress: In the Midst of Lions

My current work-in-progress, In the Midst of Lions, is about an ordinary man trapped in extraordinary circumstances.  Caught in the middle of Seattle as the government collapses around him, he has to navigate his way to safety through a landscape he never imagined.  It might be safer away from the city -- that's his hope, anyway -- but he won't leave until he finds his beloved partner, who was separated from him at the beginning of the collapse.

This bit, at the end of chapter 1, has the main character (Soren Conover) talking to his older friend and coworker (Anderson Quaice) at the University of Washington.  I'm currently about halfway through writing the first draft, and I am hoping will be the first book in a trilogy.  Enjoy!

*****************************

One long hand gave a contemptuous wave. “To hell with the citations. We’re not going to submit the paper anyhow.”

Soren goggled at him. “What do you mean, we’re not going to submit? We’ve been working on this for six months.”

“Pfft. By the time we could get it together, there’s gonna be no one to submit it to.”

“What are you talking about?”

Quaice raised a bushy gray eyebrow. “Sit down, Conover.”

Soren sat.

“What rock have you been hiding under today?”

He swiveled his computer around so Soren could see the screen, and with a click of the mouse turned on the volume. There was a news report already in progress. A frightened-looking man wearing a headset mic was talking.

“… seems to have been coordinated. A group called the Lackland Liberation Authority has already taken responsibility. We’re not sure how many buildings have been burned and lives lost, and likely won’t know for some time, but there is chaos in Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Reports of multiple assassination attempts against elected officials, some of them successful, are coming in from not only the United States but from several other nations. Confirmed dead in the U.S. are Governor Marcy Tate of Arizona, Governor Bob Delhomme of Louisiana, Governor Jason Goldschmidt of Maryland, Governor Andrew Wiedemann of Washington, Governor Mary Kurnow of Wisconsin…”

Soren stared at the screen. It felt like every drop of saliva in his mouth had dried up, and he wasn’t sure he could speak. When he did, his voice sounded thin, weak, almost alien in his own ears. “They killed him? They killed Andy Wiedemann? I thought… I thought he was negotiating with representatives of the Lacklanders, trying to redress some of their grievances, especially in eastern Washington…”

“Don’t you get it, Conover? The Lacklanders never wanted redress. That’s been obvious for a while. They just wanted enough time and opportunity to take it all down. They’ll burn the world to cinders even if it takes them with it.”

“How can we stop it?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew it was a ridiculous question.

The expected sardonic sneer from Quaice didn’t come. When he answered, his voice was thoughtful and a little sad. “No one can stop it. The opportunity to stop it closed twenty years ago.” Quaice glanced up at Soren, and gave a sharp shake of his head even though Soren had done nothing to contradict the older man. “No, I’m serious. The whole stage was set when the politicians started enacting legislation funneling money away from ordinary middle-class folks and into the hands of corporations. You can only tilt that so far before the whole thing collapses. They thought they could keep doing it forever, even after the Lackland movement formed and demanded change. They’d get richer and richer, and the money would keep them safe. They neglected two things—they were vastly outnumbered right from the beginning, and once you put a person in a position where he has nothing left to lose, you’ve created an enemy you can’t stop unless you kill him.”

Soren stood up suddenly, making the legs of the chair squawk on the tile floor. “I’ve got to get home.”

“How are you planning to do that?”

“The Metro…”

Quaice scowled and waved a hand in the air. “The Metro isn’t running. Got a notice from the University almost an hour ago. Don’t know why you didn’t see it.”

“I was in class. I turned my phone off.” He swallowed. “I guess I’ll walk.”


[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Daniel Schwen, Seattle 4, CC BY-SA 4.0]


The old professor snorted. “To Ballard? The whole city hasn’t slipped into chaos yet, but it will before long. You do not want to be out on the street when that happens.” His voice softened. “Look, Conover, I live in Madison Park, just east of the Arboretum. Half hour walk, if that. You can come home with me and then figure out what to do from there. I’ve already told Cassandra Nicolaides and Gavin Liu to do the same. They’re in their offices gathering their things up. It might be a while before we’re back here.”

“But Finn…” He felt suddenly light-headed, disembodied, and he gasped out his boyfriend’s name again, unable to force out another word. He fumbled to pull his phone out of his pocket, and with a trembling hand turned it on. There were four text messages. The first was the one from the University administration that Dr. Quaice had referenced, letting employees know that the Metro wasn’t running until further notice. No explanation was given, just an adjuration to “find an alternate means of transport for any travel that is absolutely necessary.”

The second, third, and fourth were from Finn Donnelly. The first was timestamped a little over an hour ago. He must have written only minutes after Soren had turned his phone off. “I don’t know what the hell is happening, but there’s some kind of riot and it seems to be getting closer to the house. They’ve barricaded the street so I can’t use the car. Not sure if I should try fleeing on foot. Might have no choice.”

Only six minutes later, a shorter message. “Looks like running. Me & Janie Inoue. Not sure where we’ll go. They broke Janie’s windows but she got out through the back and climbed the fence.”

Three minutes after that was a final text. “Soren, I love you. So much. Never forget that. I love you, I love you. Forever.”

Beneath that were the words, “User currently offline.”

Friday, November 20, 2020

Stories in music

I was driving to work yesterday, listening to classical music on satellite radio, and I heard Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Lennart Sikkema, Canyon River Tree (165872763), CC BY 3.0]

Pretty cool piece of music, but to me the fifth and final movement is something really special.  It's called "Cloudburst" and is a musical depiction of a thunderstorm in the desert.

And the thought occurred to me that you don't need words to tell a story.  Grofé gives us a picture in sounds -- the approach of the storm, lightning, thunder, wind -- then its subsidence (and just like in a real storm, afterward you can still hear the thunder in the distance as it recedes).

This is a pretty well-known piece of music, and is far from the only one that tells a story using music.  Another famous one is Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre, depicting the devil playing the fiddle and summoning the dead to dance in the cemetery (xylophones for the bones knocking together!).  Listen at the end for the church bells ringing in the distance to signal the sunrise, and the little musical shiver the devil gives when he knows the day is coming -- followed by a sad, mournful solo.  But then, the last few notes seem to promise that he'll be back once night falls again.

Beethoven drew his inspiration from stories as well, and I'm not only thinking of pieces like the Pastoral Symphony.  Check out this amazing performance of his piano solo Rondo a Capriccio: Rage Over a Lost Penny.  (All I can say is that if losing a penny made me come up with tunes like this, I'd be flinging coins all over the place.)


One of my favorite musical depictions is from the incredibly prolific American composer Alan Hovhaness.  His Symphony #50 (he wrote 67 of them, and about 450 other sorts of pieces) is subtitled Mount Saint Helens.  Listen to it -- if that's not a musical version of a volcanic eruption, I don't know what is.


Jean Sibelius wrote a lot of music based upon Finnish folk tales, myths, and legends, but to me none gives as vivid a picture as "Lemminkainen's Return" from the Kalevala Suite.  Lemminkainen is a folk hero, and the piece depicts his triumphant return to his home after a long adventure.  It gallops along, and you can almost see the hero with his long hair flying in the wind, riding his horse through a snowstorm.


One of the funniest pieces in classical music -- once you know the story it's telling -- is Sergei Prokofiev's brilliant Lieutenant Kije Suite.  The story behind it is that during an inspection of a military regiment by the Tsar, he was reviewing the roster and saw that someone had scribbled in the word "Kije" (Russian for "thingamajig"), and mistakenly thought it was the name of a soldier.  No one wanted to correct the Tsar, so they invented a Lieutenant Kije, and waxed rhapsodic about his exploits and bravery.  But they overdid it -- so much that the Tsar asked to meet this exemplary military man.  Cornered, the leaders of the regiment had to invent a heroic death in battle for Kije so the Tsar wouldn't uncover the deception.


I'll end with one of my favorite pieces, the stunning Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky.  It tells of the magical firebird, half bird and half human, who is captured by the heroic Prince Ivan.  She gives him one of her feathers, and tells him he can use it to defeat the evil sorcerer King Katschei.  Katschei keeps his soul hidden in an egg in a casket and thinks he's immortal because of it (shades of J. K. Rowling's horcruxes).  But using the magic of the feather, Ivan forces Katschei and his minions to dance themselves to exhaustion.  He then finds the egg and destroys it, killing Katschei and freeing all of the people he'd magically enslaved -- including the young woman Ivan is in love with.  The end is one of the most joyful, stirring, triumphant pieces of music ever written.


So that's a few of my favorite stories in music.  I hope you enjoyed listening.  What are your favorites?

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Who the hell is Mary Hansard?

I had a very peculiar thing happen to me while working on my work-in-progress, a fall-of-civilization novel called In the Midst of Lions that I swear was not inspired in any way by 2020.  (In fact -- true story -- I first came up with the idea for this book when I was in college.  Which was a lot of years ago.)

I've been kicked into high gear on this by NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month -- a rather daft undertaking that occurs every November, in which authors are challenged to write the first draft of a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days.  This is my eighth time participating, and I've gotten to 50K five of the eight times, which isn't too shabby.

This year I was disinclined to participate.  I have not been writing much, mostly from a combination of depression over the political situation and frustration at how poorly my published novels have been selling lately.  The result has been lousy concentration and focus, and writing only very intermittently, which any good writer will attest is the way to go nowhere fast.

I got my arm twisted, in a friendly and positive way, by my fellow writer, blogger, and Twin Brudda From Anudda Mudda, Andrew Butters, whose blog Potato Chip Math should be on your regular reading list.  Andrew said -- rightly -- that signing up would be a much-needed kick in the ass to my motivation, so with some misgivings I signed up.  Thus far I'm ahead of the game; three days in, the target is 5,000 words, and at the closing bell tonight I had 5,830.

But what I want to tell you about is something that happened yesterday.  The main characters, a bunch of academics who are very used to the easy life, are caught up in a sudden societal collapse.  I'm always interested to think about how perfectly ordinary people would act in extraordinary circumstances; this is kind of the crypto-theme of all my stories, actually.  In any case these four professors from the University of Washington end up having to flee the rioting and violence on foot, crossing the Washington Park Arboretum, a two-hundred-acre garden south of the campus, on their way to a safe haven.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Joe Mabel, Seattle - Arboretum Bridge 01, CC BY-SA 3.0]

Completely unexpectedly -- not only to them, but to me -- they meet someone in the Arboretum.  Here's the scene where they come across her:
Cassandra was the first one to spot her—a woman sitting cross-legged with her back to the trunk of a fir tree, watching them approach with a broad smile on her face.  She was perhaps forty years old, and the most remarkable thing about her appearance was how completely unremarkable she looked.  An oval face, even features, light brown hair in a loose ponytail, neither particularly attractive nor at all unattractive, she was the kind of person you might pass a dozen times a day and never notice.

But here she sat in the Arboretum as the world collapsed around her, apparently unconcerned.

“Oh, hello,” she called out in a pleasant, melodious voice, and waved.

Soren exchanged a puzzled glance with Cassandra, who shrugged.

As they neared, the woman stood, moving a little awkwardly, but with no evident self-consciousness.  Soren jerked to a halt until she raised both hands to show that she was unarmed.  “Don’t be afraid,” she said.  “I mean no harm. In fact, I’ve been waiting for you all.”

When I finished writing this, I said -- and I quote -- "what the fuck just happened?"  She was not part of the original plot.  The idea was that they'd cross the Arboretum, dodging snipers and rioters, and reach their goal safely.  But suddenly there's this... this person, sitting there waiting for them.

Oh, and her name is Mary Hansard.  Don't ask me where that came from.  Her name came along with her character, waltzing into the story from heaven-knows-where.

I know I tend to be a pantser (for non-writers, authors tend to fall into two loose classes: pantsers -- who write by the seat of the pants -- and plotters -- who plan everything out).  But this is ridiculous.  I honestly had no idea this character even existed.  Now I have to figure out (1) who the hell Mary Hansard is, (2) what role she's going to play in the story, and (3) how she knew the four fleeing professors were going to be coming through the Arboretum.

I would love to know where this kind of stuff comes from.  I mean, "my brain" is the prosaic answer, and is technically right, but when this sort of thing happens -- and it's far from the first time -- it feels like it came from outside me, as if the story already existed out there in the aether and I just tapped into it somehow.

I also know enough that when this occurs, it means something is going really right with the story.  When I've had these sudden shifts in course, following them usually leads to somewhere interesting that I wouldn't have otherwise discovered.  But to say that it's a little disorienting is a vast understatement.

So NaNoWriMo continues, and tomorrow I have to get my 1,666 words written to hit my daily goal.  And in those words, I have to parse the role of the mysterious, ordinary-looking Mary Hansard.

Let's hope she continues to talk to me.  Because what she's said so far has gotten me really curious.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Prolix proverbs

When I was in high school -- so, many years ago (how many is left as an exercise for the reader) -- my English teacher, Ms. Reinhardt, gave us a set of puzzles, familiar sayings in unfamiliar guise.  Amazingly enough, I kept my copy all these years, and just ran across it this evening while searching for something else.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons Wikimedia Foundation, Puzzly puzzled, CC BY-SA 3.0]


I don't know what their origin is (I don't think she made them up), but wherever they're from, they're fun brain-teasers.  How many of them can you figure out?

1.  A lithoid form, whose onward course
Is shaped by gravitational force
Can scarce enjoy the consolation
Of bryophytic aggregation.
2. To carry haulm of cereal growth
The tylopod is nothing loath;
But just one haulm too many means
That dorsal fracture supervenes.
3.  When, nimbus-free, Sol marches by
Across the circumambient sky,
To graminiferous meads repair --
Your instant task awaits you there!
4.  There is no use in exhortation
To practice equine flagellation,
If vital forces did depart
And still the breath, and cease the heart. 
5.  That unit of the avian tribe
Whose movements one can circumscribe
In manu, as a pair will rate
Subarborially situate.

6.  For none who claims to represent
The Homo species sapient,
Will loiter Einstein's fourth dimension
Or sea's quotidian declension.

7.  Faced with material esculent
As source of liquid nourishment
Avoid excess; 'twill but displease
Of culinary expertise.

8.  Conducting to the watering place
A quadruped of equine race
Is simple; but he may not care
To practice imbibition there.

9.  The coroner observed: "Perpend,
The death of this, our feline friend,
Reflects preoccupation shown
With business other than his own."

10.  If little value his compunctions
Who arrogates clavigerous functions
When once from circumambient pen,
Is snatched its equine denizen.

Have fun!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Slotcanyoned

I wrote this about ten years ago, and just ran across it yesterday. Everyone in my family loves wordplay, and I thought this was too much fun not to post it, even though it's old. Enjoy!

**********************************

slotcanyon (slot'-kan-y'n) verb -- to be the victim of circumstances wherein, despite all appearances to the contrary and one's best efforts, one is thwarted at every turn by someone or something.  Usage, e.g.: "Boy, we certainly got slotcanyoned this time."

So, our family has a new coinage, as you can see from the above, and I think it is as sure to catch on as our last one was ("upholstered," meaning "drunk;" as in, "After the Cornell Men's Hockey team beat Harvard, we all went out to The Rose Bar & Grill and got completely upholstered.")

The origin of our latest addition to the Concise Oxford comes from our recent vacation, camping in the Rocky Mountains.  The cast of characters includes Carol and I, our sons Lucas and Nathan, and Carol's brother Alan and his wife and three kids.

The first day of the trip was deceptively calm.  We flew into Denver without incident, rented a car (a white Mercury Grand Marquis which looked, and handled, like the car owned by your average South Florida grandma, only less sleek).  We went from Denver up into Rocky Mountain National Park, and set up our tents and got our gear ready for a stay of a couple of days.

It became apparent during the first night that our air mattress leaked.  While the younger folk among you may scorn me completely for using an air mattress while camping, allow me to point out that when you are pushing 50 with a short stick, as I am, you will know whereof I speak when I say that sleeping on a bare tent bottom is not a recipe for happiness.  So during that first night, when the air pressure would drop to the point that our hip bones were resting on gravel, I would rouse, and blow into the valve until I hyperventilated (it doesn't take long, at 7,600 feet elevation).  Little sleep was had that night.

The next day, it was off to Estes Park for a replacement.

That was one problem solved, but the following day, as we were packing up the camp to proceed to our next destination, one of our intrepid little band locked the car keys in the trunk.  This generated considerable swearing on my part, which I tried to keep to a minimum around Alan's kids.  Most of the more forceful words had to do with the makers of the Mercury Grand Marquis, who had seemingly not seen fit to place a trunk release button somewhere in the front panel of the car.  We dithered around for some time, weighing options, when Alan decided to take a look in the car (both Lucas and I had searched for twenty minutes each) and found the trunk release in ten seconds flat.  Alan gained some valuable Man Points in that situation, redeemable for prizes in many locations.

So far, none of this really amounts to being slotcanyoned.  The origin of this word came from our experiences in Bryce Canyon National Park, in southern Utah.

Me at Bryce Canyon, before the adventures started and when I was still in a reasonably good mood

We were cabin-camping in the nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park, near a nice couple who were visiting the spot with the wife's 87-year-old grandpa.  Before dinner one evening, we were chatting with them, and the husband mentioned a great hike nearby.

"It's the Willis Creek Slot Canyon," he said.  "It's not far away, a really easy hike -- grandpa did it today."

Grandpa grinned, indicating that he had, indeed, done the hike, as advertised.

We asked directions.  Easy, too, he said.  Just go out of the park by the main road, and six miles up there will be a well-marked turn to the left.  This road had a vaguely Native-American-sounding name that for the life of me I can't remember, but it was something like Skunkamah Road.  Take this turn, and go for another six miles, and the trailhead is right there.  Easy walk into and up the slot canyon, which is spectacular -- and in some places, only six feet wide, with 200-foot high walls.

Sold.  We decided to go there the next day.

The following morning, we piled into the cars, and set out.  Six miles up, we found the turnoff.  And that was the last thing that went right.

Spelunkah Road turned out to be not all that much of a road.  More of a long, shallow groove in the sand, with sagebrush on one side and a steep dropoff on the other, and adorned with potholes you could lose a cow in.  Nathan, the tallest of us, was jounced upwards by the bumps and smacked his head on the ceiling of the car several times.  We crept up and around and down and back up again, finally coming down a hill that descended onto the concrete top of an earthen dam.  The drop onto the top of the dam was abrupt enough that we stopped a few feet before it, completely uncertain as to whether Grandma's Mercury could get there without leaving the bumper behind.

On the other hand, there was a clear trail from the left side of the road, so we figured we'd found the trailhead, and just pulled the car over in a wide, flattish spot, deciding to hike from there.

As we descended from the road, my first thought was, "Man, if Grandpa did this hike, he is one damned spry 87-year-old."  The going wasn't really rough, but it was steep and rocky, and I seriously doubted we were in the right place.  But we kept going doggedly (i.e. stupidly), reaching a shallow creek on the floor of the canyon, and walking for a couple of hours upstream.  No slot canyon appeared, not that I really thought it would.

That evening, we asked Myra, the manager of the cabins, what had happened.

"Oh, that's not Willis Creek, that's Sheep Creek," she said.  Many bad puns about being up Sheep Creek without a paddle ensued.  After the general hilarity died down, she told us that Willis Creek was the next one over, that we had to cross the top of the dam and go to the next descent, and there it would be.

"The road isn't that bad," she said, giving us the hairy eyeball. "I've done it in my Honda Accord."

Feeling my Man Points once again decreasing, I conferred with the others.  Alan and his wife Kathie were both definitely for trying again.  I was reluctant, wondering how I would explain to the rental car agency when I returned Grandma's Mercury to them missing important parts, but I acquiesced.  The slot canyon did sound cool.

So the next morning, we set out again.  We decided that Alan would leave their van on the top of the hill near the dam, and that we'd shuttle everyone up and over the rise in the Mercury.  The jounce down onto the dam was done slowly enough to leave the bumper intact, but the bottom of the car made an alarming scraping noise as we did so.

Carol brought Lucas, Nathan, and I to the next valley bottom, and then went back for the rest.

During the wait for the rest of our band, I struck off upstream.  The slot canyon was supposedly very near the road, according to everyone we'd talked to.  Thinking that the Utah version of "very near" might differ from the New York version, I began to hike.  After a quarter-mile, I gave up, reversed direction, and did the same distance downstream.  No slot canyon.  There were, however, a number of vultures circling, which I didn't think was a good sign.

When I returned, the others were just getting out of the Mercury.  "We're in the wrong place," I said.

Cries of dismay.   The bottom of this valley had another large washout in it, and I put my foot down.  "No way are we crossing that in this car," I said.  "Not only is there the dropoff, the bottom is all soft sand.  We'll get stuck."

More conferring, followed by reluctant acceptance of my assessment.  We reversed course, ferried out the various groups back to the van, and proceeded to drive back up Sporkulah Road to the highway.

It didn't help my Man Point Total at all that we passed a ranger on the way out, who cheerfully told us that the slot canyon trailhead was just over the next rise from where we had stopped.  By this time we were all pissed off enough that we decided to concede the defeat to fate, and move on.

So it was on to Zion National Park.  This was by far the hottest place we visited, and the first night, we were all sweaty and exhausted from a three-hour afternoon hike, so we decided to go out to a restaurant in Springfield, the closest town.  We had just picked out a nice-looking Mexican restaurant when the power went out.  All over town.

"We can't cook anything," the waiter said.  "We're closing.  But the Majestic, a couple of miles up, has a generator, and is staying open."

So we went to the Majestic.  The Majestic did indeed have power, but only two waitstaff, who were harried, flustered, and clearly unprepared to deal with the hordes of people who were now showing up at the only place in town that had electricity, hot food, and air conditioning.  It would be, we were informed, a wait of at least an hour and a half for seats, and god knew how much longer before we'd get food.

"Dammit," Lucas said.  "We've been slotcanyoned again!"  And thus a new verb was born.

But the usefulness of this word wasn't over yet.  Yesterday we left Utah (well, Nevada, actually -- we flew out of Las Vegas) for home.  The flight out of Vegas was delayed because of weather in the midwest, but it looked like we'd have enough time to catch our connecting flight in New York City even so.  The plane got a few miles from New York, and then... went into a holding pattern.

"We're sorry," the pilot said.  "But we're not being allowed to land, because President Obama is passing through the airport, and they've stopped all air traffic until he's gone."  The circling went on for a half-hour, during which time our connecting flight happily departed without us.

"Jesus," Lucas said, clearly impressed.  "We just got slotcanyoned by the leader of the free world."

We finally landed, booked a flight for 9:15 AM the following day, and got a hotel for the night.  We took a shuttle to the Ramada Inn, where Carol had made reservations.

The first odd thing we noticed upon arriving was that the lobby was full of African people in brightly-colored traditional dress, all talking very loudly.  Then the receptionist informed us that the Ramada had no rooms, because there was a convention of African dignitaries.

"But..." Carol began, pointing to the reservation information.

"Nope," the woman said, helpfully.

Then, the fire alarm went off.

We all went outside, followed by the bright, noisy African people.  Soon, two police cars and three fire trucks came up.  Turned out that the African dignitaries had been putting too many people on the elevator, and the motor had overheated and filled the shaft up with smoke, tripping the alarm.

The firemen, in full regalia, carrying picks and axes and hoses and fire extinguishers, pushed their way through the crowds of African people and into the lobby.

"Wow," Nathan said.  "If there was a bright blue giraffe, and a couple of melting clocks on the chairs, this would make a great Surrealist painting."

"I've always known that life was absurd," Lucas observed.  "But I think that ending my day surrounded by African dignitaries and firefighters has to take the prize.  I almost want to go to sleep, so I can have a dream and return to some level of normalcy."

So, we got transferred to another hotel, arriving there at 1 AM.  Slotcanyoned again, was the general consensus, although perhaps since we did get a hotel, and successfully caught our flight home the next morning, we may have been stretching the definition slightly.

Anyhow, here we are, back home in gray, drizzly upstate New York, after a trip that we will long remember.  It did have many wonderful parts that I haven't recorded here, but I think that all things considered, the Hunt for the Invisible Slot Canyon of Spatulah Road is probably the one we'll all remember the longest.