Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Positive, Negative, Polarized America!

This morning my wife and I were listening to the radio on our way to work.  The DJ was discussing a recent New York school that was handing out the Plan B pill and birth controls to girls without parental consent, and numerous people were calling in either for or against the school for doing this.

Obviously the people for it were the liberal type, saying that kids would have sex anyway and that they should be given every opportunity to avoid pregnancy.  Many were adult parents that had their children while in their teens, and they reflected on how difficult their lives had been and how they wished they had those types of options back then.

The people against it were the conservative types, and their summarized views were that society is failing these kids by doing this.  Instead of teaching abstinence and morals, they are encouraging kids to have sex, and that’s just not right.  One lady called in and bashed another lady for saying that kids would just have sex anyway, saying that her kids wouldn’t because she talks to them about it constantly and they know that they shouldn’t have premarital sex.

And I find this serious topic strangely amusing.  Not for the topic itself, but because this is just a microcosm of how polarized Americans are today.  It’s like nobody seems to notice the gray area anymore.  For the people who are for birth control and Plan B, you need to make sure the program is done properly.  Handing these things out like candy is going to be problematic.  Just like what the naysayers are saying, you are almost encouraging kids to have sex if these things are being handed out without counseling, guidance, etc.

On the other hand, the ones who are against it are missing the point entirely.  You can talk to your kids all you want, but kids are kids.  They rebel.  That’s what they do.  And honestly, if you are too strict with them, they’ll just rebel even more.  You may go to church and instill religion and morals and fear into your child, but you can’t be with them 100% of the time, and that 1% where you aren’t watching—guess what, your kid could be out there getting pregnant.  Don’t be so naïve to think your child is special, either.  Unless they don’t have hormones, which would be a medical enigma, they are probably going to have sex before they are out of high school.  After all, the average age for virginity loss is 17.0 in males and 17.3 for females in the United States, so unless you have a gifted kid that’s already gone off to college at that age, your kid is probably going to be having sex in his or her senior year of high school.

Regardless, I just love how people get so fired up over topics like this.  The school offered parents the ability to “opt-out” of the program by filling out a form.  It wasn’t like they were going against the wishes of the parents and forcing the kids to take them.  They were just making this available to kids who needed them, kids who may otherwise be too scared to go to their parents—parents like those same conservative ones who swore up and down that their child would not be having sex.

But it’s like that with every hot button issue now.  People are either decidedly for or against Obama or Romney.  People are either for or against abortion, gay marriage, the Affordable Healthcare Act, over-sized soft drinks, SpongeBob, toe jam.  I hate to tell you, folks, but the world isn’t as yin and yang as you make it out to be.  What seems like a great or horrible idea to you might be the opposite to someone else, but what in the world ever happened with our ability to compromise?

I was watching a Scott Pelley interview with President Obama last week, and the CBS anchor directly asked the President why he can’t seem to get along with Republicans.  And Obama stated, “I’ve joked in the past to my staff and to some Republicans, ‘Look, if you want me to come over and wash your car, walk your dog, I’m game, if it means that we’re actually getting stuff done on behalf of the American people.’”  Funny, because I can’t see Mitt Romney doing that.  I can’t really see Obama doing that either—but at least he’s saying he’s willing to compromise and work together.   But the Republicans reject everything he puts before them, and they dislike his views so much that Romney wants to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act as one of his top priorities.  And Democrats aren't off the hook either.  What’s up with all of this non-stop mentioning of Romney’s tax returns?  Yeah, the guy pays less than most people pay.  It sucks, it's unfair, it's BS, but it’s because the tax codes are flawed.  Yes, if elected, he probably won't do anything to change that--and may even make it even easier for the super-rich to get more money--but let’s at least hear what he has to offer in his plan to fix our country’s woes.  THEN we can vote for the people who can get them all patched up—by WORKING TOGETHER.  Let’s not make our judgments until we know each plan inside and out.

Really, all this fighting has to stop.  People may not see eye to eye, but let’s at least agree to disagree and move on.  Or maybe we just open our minds up a little.  Everyone has an opinion, and yet so few of us are ever willing to hear out the other side.

Maybe last night that Seattle Seahawk really didn’t commit offensive pass interference before simultaneously catching the ball even though the Green Bay Packer player had it hugged to his chest tighter than a newborn baby.  Ok...yeah...maybe in some instances there really isn't much gray area...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Scary Inspiration

As any good artist will tell you, inspiration is the key to creating something from nothing.  As a novelist, I typically will take a story or interesting or scary time of my life and mold and shape it into a compelling piece of writing.  In my new novel, Terminal Restraint, I’ve done that with a tale told to me by a friend a while back.

I recall I was in my early twenties, and we were sitting in another friend’s living room, and this was the first time I had met this guy, Dave.  He had a bald head and goatee (kinda like me), was tall and athletic (kinda like me), and he appeared to be on speed or some other energy-boosting drug (not like me).  In his hand he held a bottle of Mountain Dew, and he swore up and down that’s all he had consumed that night.  Shortly after getting to know him, I knew he was telling the truth, as I’d never seen the guy take any drugs, not even smoke any cigarettes.  I don’t think I’ve ever even seen him drink.  But anyway on this particular night in his agitated and jumpy manner, he told us a story that I’ll never forget.

He and a couple other guys were driving up State Route 36 from Altoona to Ashville, Pennsylvania.  The road runs through a rather remote area, and the sun had set hours before.  At one point, the driver turned to them and asked if they wanted to see a Satanic church.  Uh, what?  The passengers all laughed, but a mile or so up the road, the driver turned into what appeared to be an old abandoned dirt road.  He drove on through dense forest in the dark of night, their car jostling them as they drove over deep potholes, until they reached a clearing.  And there, before them, was an old structure, a church, with red lights glowing in the windows.

As they slowed to a crawl and the driver turned out the lights, they began to hear screams coming from the church.  They listened for a few minutes, but then suddenly dogs began barking—not from one distinct spot up ahead but from all around them.  Several of the passengers reported seeing animal eyes looking at them from the darkness, and they immediately turned around and fled, going at a much quicker pace down the dirt road than that at which they had travelled up.  A third of the way down, a set of headlights appeared behind them, and they could tell that their pursuer was coming up on them fast.  They finally exited the dirt road and took off back up Route 36, and behind them they saw the car pull out into the road, stop, then drive back up.  And apparently their driver had predicted the dogs barking and the pursuing car, as he’d done this twice before and witnessed the exact same events.

Dave’s little story was scary, but of course he had doubters.  One person commented that they were probably just trespassing and being pursued by the property owners.  Another asked if it was just Christmas or Halloween and if the lights were just decorations.  Dave swore up and down that none of that was the case, and I can honestly say that for years I’ve wondered about this mysterious Satanic church.  And the few times I’ve travelled that road, I’ve looked for this mystery driveway, but alas I’ve never found it.  Then again, it’s not marked, so why would I?

I’ve always had a fascination with the dark/odd/quirky/taboo.  I think a lot of people do, but they are just afraid to admit it—at least publically.  I was always one to listen to controversial music: AC/DC, Motley Crue, KMFDM, Marilyn Manson.  It was never in an attempt to rebel or just be different, rather it was me trying to understand what all the fuss was about.  And of course I’m partial to rock and industrial.

About ten years ago, a friend of mine said that I resembled Anton LaVey, the man behind the Church of Satan.  At the time I had only an inkling of who Anton LaVey was, but after looking him up, I was dumbfounded.

Me circa 2002.  Creepy, right?  I didn't even know!  Of course, I read all about him and his beliefs.  While I don't personally agree with them, they are very interesting, to say the least!

When I began writing Terminal Restraint, I had this idea in my head of killing off my main character.  But I needed some way to bring him back, or at least make him “not dead.”  I’d already done the technology thing in my first two novels, so I figured I’d delve into the paranormal with this one.  And what better way to do it than to use the idea of black magic?

So I began perusing the web and researching a little more in depth, and the more I read about black magic and, in particular, LaVeyan Satanism, the more I realized how it’s not really at all like how I had imagined it to be.  I mean, I knew who Anton LaVey was and that he had his Church of Satan, and I knew they didn't actually have human sacrifices, but there's a lot to them that I had merely glanced over a decade ago.  LaVeyan Satanists, for starters, do not believe in Satan.  They are atheists.  And the black magic they do isn’t really what you think.

But by this time I had already had half of my novel written, and even though theistic Satanists are quite different, I wanted to stick with the Church of Satan theme.  So I had to change some things up, and of course I still wanted to get all of my hidden messages through to my readers.  But I still managed to pull a bit of Dave’s story into my work, and sure enough LaVeyan Satanism plays a big part.  After all, I was his spitting image!

Below is the first chapter of Terminal Restraint.  If you like it, check it out on Smashwords or feel free to hit me up for a coupon for a discount.

Chapter 1

Autumn, 1974

The hunter green Jeep Cherokee slowly pulled up the long and winding driveway, its tires crunching over the cracked slate and loose shale.  The old man glanced down at his map again for reassurance, steering clumsily and trying to confirm whether this was the correct driveway.  The dirt road had not been maintained well, and numerous thickets and briar trees scratched and clawed at his vehicle like children drawing their nails down an elementary school chalkboard.
The house, as described to him by the panicked young man, was up a long and twisty driveway off of Route 36 between the small city of Altoona and the tiny town of Ashville in central Pennsylvania.  The private road was barely noticeable, and he almost missed it even in the bright sunlight of the afternoon.  Even the rusting mailbox to the side of the driveway had been obscured by a fallen tree branch, and he was lucky to have spotted it with his poor vision.
The beleaguered caller had asked him to come during the evening, but he had refused, and he was thankful for his decision as he surely would have had more trouble finding it in the darkness.  In fact, he might not have even come at all had the young man not sounded so urgent in his request.  He had instantly wanted to know more about what exactly he was dealing with, but given their nature, he felt it best to arrive and then be filled in on the specifics of the problem.
As the Jeep rounded a corner, the small white house appeared off to his right.  The sun-soaked and faded siding and absence of several shutters made the dwelling fit well with the rest of the surroundings.  The grass was knee high, and several dilapidated cars of varying ages sat around the property.  Either the owners were not wealthy, or they just did not care much about appearances, but that was not for him to judge.  These people lived their lives as they did, and that was their business.
He pulled to a stop and slowly and methodically exited the Jeep.  A dog barked somewhere nearby, startling him with a low-guttural tone that made him think the beast was of a large and mean breed, which only served to increase his reservations.  He hoped the animal was on a leash or tied up, as he was far too feeble to fight it off.
Reaching into the passenger seat, he grasped for his ornate wooden cane.   It took several attempts to retrieve it, but once he had the handle in his grip and the end firmly planted on the ground, he felt a little more at ease.  He could walk without it if necessary, but he preferred the comfort of having something to lean on when he grew tired, as he did so often as of late.
“Hello, Mr. Barakat!”
The paunchy old man turned to the voice and squinted as an icy cool wind struck his face and stung his eyes.  It took him several moments before he spotted the much younger man descending a small set of steps from the dilapidated porch off to the side of the house.  As the young man approached, he could see that he was barely older than a child, only in his early twenties, and he wore a black smock and black casual dress pants with cuffs around the ankles.  His brown hair was neatly combed to the side, and he had on thick glasses with large black frames.
“Do you need any assistance with anything in your vehicle, Mr. Barakat?”  He approached quickly and shook the old man’s hand.  His manner was respectful yet urgent.
“No, no, I’m fine.  I’ll send someone out for it if it is needed.”
Taking the elderly man gently by the elbow, he replied, “Very well, then.  I’m Wilson Potter, and this is my home.  Welcome, and thank you so much for coming.  You can’t imagine how relieved we are to see you.”
Mr. Barakat nodded and, feeling a little less wary, allowed the young man to lead him up the stairs and onto the porch.  He took each step one at a time and was nearly out of breath by the time he reached the top.  Leaning heavily on his cane, he rested for several seconds, peering out at the thick forest surrounding the home.
Wilson waited patiently for him to catch his breath, and when the old man appeared ready, he led Mr. Barakat into the house and into a small dining room.  He pulled out a heavy oak chair for his guest, and the older man slowly lowered himself into it and rested with a heavy sigh.
As the Mr. Barakat glanced around briefly, he noticed that the house was sparsely furnished and rustic, just as the outside had appeared.  The home, both outside and in, did little to shed light on why Wilson Potter had summoned him.
“Mr. Barakat, can I get you something to drink?  Water, or tea or coffee, perhaps?”
Mr. Barakat cleared his throat to speak, coughed twice loudly and violently, and then gruffly said, “Tea or coffee would be fine.  Whatever you have.”
A thin pale woman appeared from a small room off to the side of the dining room, and she introduced herself as Helen.  He shook her hand politely, and she excused herself, turned, and hurried off down the hall.  He then waited patiently for Wilson to bring him his beverage.
A few minutes passed until the young man brought in a steaming hot cup and sat it down on a saucer in front of him.  “Tea,” he said.  “Do you need milk, or honey and sugar or anything like that?”
Mr. Barakat smiled and replied, “Oh, some honey and sugar would be delightful.  Thank you.”
Wilson scampered back out of the room again, and Mr. Barakat couldn’t help but notice the chips and cracks in the saucer and cup.  As he had deduced earlier, these people were either poor or just did not believe in material possessions.  Either way, Mr. Barakat would thank them and treat them kindly.  They needed his help, and that’s what he was here to provide.  These were his type of people as well, especially if they did have money but chose not to spend it on lavish items.  Simple and modest.
The young man returned a few moments later with a small glass jar of honey and several sugar packets.  He sat them on the table near the old man’s mug and then pulled out a chair adjacent to him.
“You had no trouble finding the place?”
Mr. Barakat smiled thinly, but he responded, “A little.  I won’t lie; it wasn’t the easiest driveway to find.  Miles and miles of woodland and then a barely visible dirt road?  I’m not sure I would have been able to find it in the dark.”
Wilson frowned and nodded.  “Yes, I apologize for asking you to do that at first, Mr. Barakat.  We just don’t like our neighbors knowing too much about us.”
Mr. Barakat nodded.  “Yes, I understand.  It’s fine.”
He slowly and methodically added a dollop of honey and two packets of sugar to his tea.  “I can’t recall if I’ve ever been to these parts.  If I have, it hasn’t been for many, many years.  When I was a lad a bit younger than you, I think my father may have brought me through here, although I can’t say for certain.”
Wilson seemed to perk up a little at this revelation.  “You were visiting someone?  You knew people from around here?”
Mr. Barakat began to laugh softly but then broke out into a coughing fit that rattled his entire body.  He reached for his cup of tea, but seeing that it was still too hot, withdrew his free hand as he coughed into the other.  Wilson jumped up and returned with a glass of water, and Mr. Barakat took it and quickly drank down half.  He continued to cough for several more minutes before the fit finally subsided.
Observing him with concern, Wilson uttered, “I’m sorry to drag you out here, Mr. Barakat.”
“Oh well, it’s not too much of a problem—at least yet, anyway.  But as I was about to say, I grew up in Salamanca, New York, and we would travel down this way from time to time to trade with the Amish and Mennonite people that lived in these parts.”
Wilson frowned, but then he quickly nodded and looked away.  Mr. Barakat keenly noticed his expressions and grinned.
“Not the type of people you would expect me to be associated with, I take it?”
“Oh, no, Sir.  I mean, no, I didn’t imply that.  I mean, well, yes, I suppose it seems a little odd.”
Mr. Barakat continued to smile.  He was thoroughly enjoying the young man’s perplexed state.
Helen came into the room suddenly and sat down at the table.  She had applied a minimal amount of makeup and had changed into a conservative blouse and black dress.  Her long, black, curly hair hung down neatly, and she appeared intent and ready to join in on their conversation.
“Mr. and Mrs. Potter, you will come to a point in time in your lives when you realize that nothing alarms you.  Nothing can shake your convictions.  You’ve pretty much seen and done it all, and if you haven’t, it probably wasn’t worth seeing or doing.  But before you get that far, you must realize that when something odd or different or alarming comes along, you must never ostracize it.  Rather, you must learn from it, embrace it, and use it to your advantage.”
They looked at the old man, slightly puzzled, and nodded pleasantly.  He could sense that neither of them seemed to fully comprehend the meaning of his words.
“What I’m trying to explain to you is that you, being of devout faith to our following and ideals, will recognize that all the world is filled with people, and even though we teach our kind to mind ourselves and live free, we must recognize that others do still exist, and that they may serve a purpose for us, even if their ideals are quite the opposite of what we believe.  We shouldn’t turn our backs on others—we should use them to acquire those things that we desire.  That is our way.”
Mr. Barakat eyed each of them as they both smiled and nodded again.  They seemed to understand this statement a little better than the first.  This was a test, whether they knew it or not, and so far they were passing—but just barely.
“So, on to the matter at hand.  I understand, from your message, that you are the leader of the Grotto of this area.”
Wilson nodded slowly.  “Well, yes, Sir.  I guess I’ve been unofficially leading a group of nine of us for the past few months.
Mr. Barakat took a small sip of tea and stared at Wilson, silently commanding him to continue.
“Oh…umm…yes, we’ve been meeting several times a month for the past three or four years.  We were formerly led by Reverend Silvio Palomino, but he passed away just recently.”
“Oh, Silvio?  From Philadelphia?  I did not know he had relocated to this area.  He’s dead?”
“You knew him?”
“Yes, although I hadn’t spoken with him in many years.  Probably a decade, now that I think about it.  We worked together back in San Francisco prior to meeting Anton.”
Wilson and Helen glanced at each other and smiled, briefly.  Mr. Barakat was bemused by their reaction.  They apparently had had doubts that he was the real deal.
Casting his eyes down toward his lap, Wilson softly explained, “Yes, we all loved Silvio very much.  He was a father to all of us.”
 “I hadn’t known that Silvio passed.  He was fifteen or twenty years younger than me, though.  In his late fifties?  Was he ill?”
“He was killed in a car accident, Mr. Barakat.  A drunk driver.”
The old man frowned.  “That’s a shame.  He was a decent man.  I offer my sympathies, and I’ll have to stop by his grave before I depart.  Now then, what is the reason for my being here?”
Wilson glanced at Helen again, and he bit his lip as if chewing on it would help him find the words he struggled to say.
 “Mr. Barakat,” replied Helen, apparently taking over in light of her husband’s inability to voice their concerns.
“Yes, young lady.  What is it?”
“Well,” she said, “we are questioning our allegiance to the Church.”
The elderly man elicited a slightly comical frown.  This was not what he had expected.
“I’m sorry?  You mean to say you are starting to question our tenets?”
The two glanced at each other again, and Wilson replied, “Sir, there is something you need to see.”
Mr. Barakat was growing impatient, but he complied.  They all stood up, and he followed Wilson out a rear door and into the unkempt back yard.  The sun was beginning its descent from the sky, and Mr. Barakat noted the time on his watch.  He had expected this to only take a fraction of an hour, and he was hoping to be long gone from this area by sunset.
As they walked slowly down a barely recognizable path through the back yard, Mr. Barakat saw that they were approaching a small woodshed.  A battered red and silver wood axe leaned against the side of the shed, and a heavy silver chain held the door shut.  The windows had all been boarded over as well, and Mr. Barakat could easily see that the chain and boards were newer additions to the older structure.  They quite obviously did not want anyone seeing or gaining access to what they had inside.
“I am not here to play games, children.  I’ve driven a long way.  What in the world could be in this structure that would have anything to do with me?”
Wilson turned and looked at Mr. Barakat, and the fear in his eyes, clearly evident, indicated that they obviously had stumbled upon something that rattled their beliefs.
“Before I open this, Sir, I just want you to know that what is in here seems to go against everything we’ve believed and have been taught and instructed.  We have been devout followers of the Church of Satan.  We are true atheists and have never believed in a higher power.  We know that the only God is ourselves, and we have never questioned those ideas.  There is no afterlife.  There is no God.  There are no such things as angels or ghosts or devils.”
“Yes, yes.  That’s all very good, Mr. Potter.  So what, you are going to show me proof that the Church’s teachings are false?  You are going to show me a miracle or something of the sort?  Son, Christianity has been doing that since its inception—long before the Satanic Church came to be.”
His tone was becoming very sarcastic and disrespectful, but he had already made up his mind that whatever these two had to show him was a waste of his time.  He did not come here to be mocked.  He was a fourth degree Magus.  He had worked directly under the Order of the Trapezoid since its beginnings in San Francisco a few years prior.  He was now the highest ranking member of the Church of Satan this side of the Mississippi.
“Sir, please just look.  If you can tell us what this is, then we will be most relieved.  But we have no explanation, and, quite frankly, it scares us.  No, it terrifies us.”
The old man leaned heavily upon his cane, but he motioned for them to open the doors to the woodshed.  He wanted to get this over with so that he could get back and contact High Priest LaVey to have these idiots removed as active members.
Wilson pulled out a large key and inserted it into the lock that secured the two end links.  He undid the heavy metal chain slowly and then tossed it to the ground.
As he began to pull open the door, Wilson explained, “We found it—sleeping, we think—in the woods.  We chained it up and locked it in here.  It hasn’t been fed since…well…since we put it in here two weeks ago.”
Mr. Barakat scoffed.  “So it’s dead of starvation, then.  Is that what you’re telling me?  What is ‘it’, exactly?”
As Wilson pulled open the rickety door slowly, deliberately, the sunlight shone brightly into the shed.  Mr. Barakat peered in, looking from left to right before seeing the pale figure huddled in the corner facing away from them, only his naked and bony back visible in the light, the skin hanging on his body like melted wax.  His pants were ragged and torn, and his bare feet were caked with mud.  A brownish substance seemed to cover parts of his torso, although it was difficult to see what it could be.
Without a doubt, though, it was a man.  A human being.
As Mr. Barakat turned in anger toward the couple, he saw out of the corner of his eye that the man moved, scurrying away from the light.  Not only was he not dead, but he seemed to move with the fluidity of a teenager or young child despite his appearance.
“You have a…a person in there?”  His eyes searched Wilson’s face for an answer, and he instantly became wary as he began questioning their motives.  Where these people murderers?  Had they invited him here to chain him up as well?  Torture him?  Were they Christian zealots disguising themselves as Satanists with grandiose intentions of kidnapping him in the name of their God?
Mr. Barakat glanced over toward Helen, afraid that she would be holding the axe or a gun and motioning him into the shed.  Instead, though, she held nothing, just staring at the filthy and grotesque man inside.  Wilson had even taken a few steps back and still seemed frightened—even more so now than he had before.  Whatever was going on here, they were absolutely terrified of the individual they had locked up in this shed.
Pointing to the pale man huddled in the corner, Wilson urgently stated, “Sir, that’s not a man.”
Mr. Barakat shifted his poor eyes back to more closely examine the individual.  The emaciated man was certainly aware that they were there watching him, and he seemed frightened as well.  He shivered several times violently, and Mr. Barakat realized that he had no other clothing or covering to protect him from the chill.  How in the world had he survived two weeks with no warmth or food?  What was wrong with these people?
“Sir, are you OK?  What is your name?”
Mr. Barakat took a few tentative steps closer when the man turned abruptly and made a savage guttural noise at him.  His face—its face—was twisted into a horribly disfigured and grotesque mask.  The eyes, black as coal, stared back, large unnatural shadows hanging under them.  The skin, not just pale but a faint bluish tint, seemed to be hanging off of its bony face.  It looked like a man, or what would have once been a man, after he had been dead and buried for several weeks.  In other words, it resembled a corpse.
Suddenly its long and wiry arms reached out and clawed at the old man, and as he back-pedaled, his legs gave out and he toppled backwards onto the ground, crying out as pain overcame him from nearly all over his eighty-year-old body.  The creature was chained to the back wall of the shed, and Mr. Barakat was just safely out of its reach, but it tried over and over to grab ahold of him, clawing and scratching at the dirt, hissing incomprehensible threats.
“What in the hell is that thing?” screamed the old man as he recoiled in horror and pain.
Wilson ran up to help Mr. Barakat, but as he hooked his hands under the old man’s armpits and began pulling him backwards, the monster pulled hard at his bindings and began bending the links in the chains.  It was furiously strong, and it stretched the chains just enough to reach its slender, bony hand out and grab the old man by the ankle.
Wilson pulled hard, but to his surprise and dismay, he saw Mr. Barakat’s expression change.  At first he thought the elderly man was just shocked or frightened by the ghoul’s grasp, but then he realized that his guest was in severe, unequivocable agony.  He seemed to be having a heart attack as his face had turned pale white and his entire body became limp.
“Helen!” cried Wilson.  “Help!  Help, dammit!”
She had grabbed the axe from outside and ran up to swing at the creature’s arm, but it turned its dark, soulless eyes on her and screeched.  Hearing the horrible sound it made, she stopped, frozen in fear, and could only stare as the horrific scene unfolded before her.
Suddenly Mr. Barakat reached up and grabbed Wilson loosely by the hair.  He had turned ghostly pale, his strength nearing depletion.  Looking up into the young man’s eyes and with his last dying breath he whispered, “Burn us.  Burn us both.”
Wilson scrambled backward out the door and watched in horror as the creature pulled Mr. Barakat into the corner.  Wilson had been staring at the now lifeless body of the old man, and he waited fearfully for the creature to rip into the man’s flesh.  When the creature didn’t though, and he looked closer, he saw that the monster was instead staring back at him, almost as if it knew him or recognized him.  Its eyes were black and cold like icy death, but there was a familiarity to them that was inexplicable and terrifying.
It hissed something at him.  A word.  Was it?  No.  It couldn’t have been…
His name?
Wilson grabbed the heavy shed door, and as he swung it closed, he heard the creature hiss his name again.
Slamming the door shut, he turned to look for his wife and was shocked to find that she had already grabbed a can of gasoline and begun dousing the shed.
“Helen, wait!  We don’t know what that thing is!  We can’t just kill it!”
Turning to look at her husband, trembling with fright, she replied, “Yes, we have to!  Mr. Barakat said we have to!  It’s a demon, Wilson!  It’s the living back from the dead!”
Before he could say another word, she lit a match and tossed it onto the shed, watching the flames shoot up the side like little wicked tongues, determined to erase the monstrosity and dead old man inside from existence.
“Helen, you don’t understand!  I think that was him!”
She stood back, watching the fire engulf the small structure, and turned to face her husband again.  “Who?” she asked, as she folded her arms across her chest, hugging herself for comfort but finding none.
“I think that thing was Reverend Silvio!”
She shivered, either from the chill of the afternoon or the horror they’d just witnessed, and ran to her husband’s arms.  They both stood together, crying and watching the structure burn.  The paint on the walls blistered and the shingles on the roof began to fall inward as the blaze grew.
Less than a half an hour passed before the small shed had burned to the ground, leaving nothing left but ashes and the everlasting memories of the horror they’d just witnessed.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's a Boy!

Taking a break from my near non-stop promotion of my new book, I have to just share some good news with my followers.  If you don’t already know, my wife and I found out yesterday that we will be having another boy.  Yay!

I find it a little amusing how the world of technology has changed things like having babies over the years.  Even ten or fifteen years ago, people did not have the technology available today.  We received 3D images of what our little guy looks like and how he was moving all around.  Cute and creepy at the same time, I think.

I wasn’t adverse to the idea of having a girl, but our mothers would have certainly loved to buy lots of pink clothes and pink toys and pink this and pink that.  I do think having another boy will be a little more fun for Adam.  I think he'll really bond with his little brother.  We’ve decided to go with the name Benjamin (Benyamin is the Muslim name), although when asked, Adam said he wanted to name him “Poopy.”  Gotta love kids!  But I can picture those two little boys having a blast together.  I’m thinking bunk beds, huge forts, playing in the woods and creek behind our house, etc.  I can only imagine what the next decade and a half will bring to our happy little family, but I’m super excited about it!

It also opens up the possibility of us having another child.  We always said we wanted a boy and a girl, and now that we have two boys, who knows?  I know our mothers would love a little girl.  And we’re still young, so it's entirely plausible.  Maybe in a couple of years we might try one last time for a girl.  After all, my parents had my sister when they were in their late 30s, and she turned out fine—I think. =P

I’ll be back later in the week with more promotions of my new novel and any other subjects I come across to rant about!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Eww...Look at that Guy's Tattoos!

Tattoos are great.  I can’t have any more due to religious reasons, but I love them nonetheless.  If I could, I’d have half sleeves and ink on my shoulders and back and everything.  That’s just me.  I know some people don’t much care for them.  My wife is always saying, “Oh yeah, it looks great now, but what happens when you are sixty?”  And my response to that is, “Well, when you are sixty, you get it touched up or redone or removed.”  And I know that’s not the most difficult thing in the world to do.  I had a tattoo removed once—10 sessions at $200 a pop to laser that thing off.  That was almost a decade ago though, and nowadays they are cheaper and require fewer treatments.  I know some guy that had one removed this past year for only a couple hundred bucks—only a little more than the tattoo itself cost.

Why am I talking about tattoos?  Because Trev Gearhart is the owner of Ice Serpent Piercings and Tattoos, a fictional tattoo shop in my new novel, Terminal Restraint.  Trev is a big guy, covered in body ink, with long hair and a big heart.  Not unlike many other tattoo shop owners and artists I know.  And people judge him.

When I wrote Terminal Restraint, my number one goal was to tell a compelling story that my readers would enjoy.  That’s my number one goal always, really.  But in the back of my mind, I had several subtle messages that I wanted to get across to my reader.  And one of them was acceptance.  Acceptance of those who are different from you.

I know what it’s like to be different.  On the outside, I’m a Caucasian male in his mid-thirties living in Small Town, USA.  There are probably a million others that look like me on the outside.  I’ve even seen a few Ryan Doppelgangers around my town.  Get to know me though, and you’ll find I’m not quite what you expected.  For one, I’m in a mixed-race marriage with a biracial son.  I’m also a Muslim.  And unfortunately, I’ve witnessed and experienced hate and discrimination firsthand.

I was actually at a restaurant one time when an employee loudly said to another, “Look at that Chinese girl with that white boy.  That’s not right.”  We complained, but of course that guy was still there the next time we visited.  Now THAT’S not right.

I can understand the concept behind why certain people hate.  People don’t like things that are different.  When a particular person, say a woman in her fifties with two grown children and a husband who is a business executive, sees a person in his teens or twenties or thirties covered with tattoos and piercings, she’ll become a little reserved and will probably judge that kid as a miscreant.  She doesn’t understand how someone can poke holes in themselves or cover themselves in permanent ink.  Perhaps she feels it’s not right for religious reasons.  Maybe she thinks that person is into drugs and rock music and devil worshipping.  Who knows?  Oh yeah, by the way, that’s Trev Gearhart from my novel: a tattooed guy who loves loud rock music and is a member of the Church of Satan.  No, really, that’s him.  Seriously.  A bit cliché?  Possibly, but all written for a good reason and worthwhile reason.

The town I live in is predominantly white.  And unfortunately, the only African Americans most people see are the arrested ones on the news who have drifted in from New York or New Jersey to peddle drugs.  Some people in this town actually raise their children to distrust black people.  Racism and hate and intolerance is horrible, but when you are raised to feel that way from the time you were born, it’s hard not be intolerant.

Take another issue: gay marriage.  I really struggle with the reasoning behind the opposition to it.  I know people say that it’s not what God wants, and the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin, and blah, blah, blah.  But didn’t the Pilgrims come to America to avoid religious persecution?  Isn’t the freedom of religion one of the many principles this country was founded on?  So yeah, you may not agree with gay marriage because of your religion, but what right do you have in telling someone else—who possibly/probably does not share your beliefs—what they can do and who they should be able to marry?  That, to me, seems like religious persecution.  And anyway, it’s not like two gay people getting married has ANY ADVERSE EFFECT ON YOU.  Their marriage is not going to make your taxes go up or the cost of gasoline to rise or anything else.  Yet so many people are against it.

Really, I don’t think people are against gay marriage.  I think those people are just against gays, but it’s not illegal to be gay—it’s just illegal still in some states for gays to marry.  Now THAT is intolerance.  THAT'S not right.

Everybody the world over is different, but people instantly judge others based on appearances.  People may see me and think I’m just some big white guy like them or their husband or father or brother.  And I get judged as that.  This guy won't care--he's just like me.  And then they’ll maybe talk bad about other cultures or religions or whatever right in front of me.  I once had a coworker send a company-wide email making fun of the way Chinese restaurant workers speak.  Naturally I reported her to HR.  I also had another coworker send an email out blasting Muslims and the US government for issuing an Islam postage stamp.  I reported her to HR as well.  Neither gave any thought to the fact that I’m not just some big white guy, that I’m married to an Asian and that we are Muslims.  THAT'S NOT RIGHT.

My new novel is about a half-Asian IT guy who, after having what is thought to be a Satanic black magic spell cast on him, is killed and comes back as an undead monster.  My characters are diverse.  I talk about Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which is probably not what most people think it to be.  I write about rushing to unfounded and biased judgments.  It’s a book filled with intense action, but there is also a very clear message there: ACCEPT.

Do you accept those who are different from you?  Or do you judge them and instantly write them off?  Or worse yet, belittle them or utter hateful remarks when those people aren’t around?  If you’re one of the latter, I pity you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I'd Like to Introduce You to Cole Pierce

Who is Cole Pierce?  Well, he’s the protagonist in my new novel, Terminal Restraint.  I think you’ll like him.  He’s you.  He’s me (not really me, although there are a few small similarities).  He’s your average, everyday, normal, working-class guy, trying to excel at his job and plan for his future with his girlfriend.  He has a great group of friends—although they are a little eccentric—and he’s quite content with his life.

What’s so special about him?

He dies.

Yep, there you go.  Major spoiler.  My protagonist dies in my new novel.  But that’s half the fun, as he doesn’t just die.  He becomes something far worse.  Not a zombie, which are a bit over-played in the entertainment industry right now.  Not a vampire, which are REALLY overplayed (sorry, Bill Compton and Eric Northman).  Cole doesn’t even become a ghost.  He transforms into an undead creature who survives by draining the life of the living.  Sentient, yes.  Able-bodied, certainly.  Filled with revenge, you bet!

Intrigued?  Well, let me tell you a little more.  Before this all happens, Cole’s thinking of proposing to his theater actress girlfriend, Malaya, and his life couldn’t be happier.  But life takes a turn for the worse, unfortunately for him, and he finds himself in some hot water with an executive at the company that employs him.  This executive, Roland LaDuc, is an uptight prude with a home life that is beginning to fray—a wife that won’t speak to him and teenage boys that despise him.  A client complains about work that Cole performed—although the complaint is really unfounded—and as a few other incidents occur, Roland unfairly takes his frustrations out on Cole.

Cole’s upset, for sure, because he’s always trying to do his best and please everyone, and he’s incredibly upset by Roland’s harsh criticism.  And who wouldn’t be?

Cole’s best friend, Trev, would never take that kind of abuse from a superior, although he doesn’t have to because he owns his own tattoo shop.  Trev’s wife, Jillian, is a forensic pathologist who performs autopsies.  Oh, and did I mention they are members of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan?  Wait, what?!?

An eccentric group, yes, but along with their friends Becca and Scott, they are all a tight-knit little family.  And they look out for one another, which is why Jillian decides to cast a black magic protection spell on her friends, including a very hesitant Cole.  Only the spell she casts isn’t quite what she thinks it to be, and that’s not good news for our protagonist.  You see, aside from Cole and Roland’s little spat, there are some much darker bad guys on the horizon, and one of them gets the best of poor Cole, killing him in his own basement.

But as I said, Cole is not dead.  Death doesn’t come for everyone, apparently.

What will happen to Cole?  Will he take out his revenge on Roland?  Will he discover the identity of his killer?  Is he really an undead creature?  Are his days on Earth, alive or dead, numbered?

Check out Terminal Restraint here https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/233534.  I’ll soon have it available elsewhere.  Smashwords is currently out of ISBNs, so as soon as they get them in, I’ll get one assigned so that it can be purchased through Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Sony.  I also plan to have it available on the Kindle within a week or two after I have the ISBN.

And if you want a coupon to get it for free on Smashwords, just ask!

And if you like my books, tell your friends!

And if you like Terminal Restraint, check out my other books!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mind Your Manners, Son!

Not my son, per se.  My son is getting his manners down pretty well, saying “please” and “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”  He makes me a proud papa every single day.  That is, every single day he manages not to fall asleep during lunch and activities in daycare.  But that’s a different story about a kid that loves his parents so much that he hates going to bed at night.

The manners I’m talking about are the ones the majority of others on this planet seem to lack.  I mean, I’m thinking we all need a refresher course in how to treat others.  It’s like we all had the little angels and devils on our shoulders telling us how we should behave, except the angels all fell off, leaving only the devils to give us their evil guidance.  Because disrespect seems the norm, at least from this guy's perspective.  And I say, "Yuck!" to that!

Let me start with an incident that occurred a few days ago.  A person asked me to perform a very unimportant, IT-related task for her, but that task required about thirty minutes of my time.  She was incapable of performing this task herself, and it was my duty to assist her, so I did it.  I was extremely busy with other things, and I expressed this to her as politely as I could, but I still performed this task anyway.  I finished, received a “thank you,” and left.  I checked it off my list.  Yay!  Now onto more important matters, like saving the world from squid-like machines that use humans as batteries.  BUT...then I received a call from this person, a mere thirty minutes later, asking me to undo the task I’d just done for her.  No joke.  Now ordinarily I wouldn’t have complained, but this particular individual has become notorious for these types of requests.  Apparently the fact that I was supremely busy was completely lost to her, or else her own personal agenda was far more important than mine.  And that seems to be the case more often than not, I’m afraid.

We all have seen drivers on cell phones, talking or texting, driving erratically.  Check out my Twitter page (https://twitter.com/rastrohman, @rastrohman) to see a picture we snapped of a teenage girl texting while using her wrists to drive—I’m just amazed at how she managed to do this without killing everyone else on the road!  This seems to be an epidemic!  Worse than an impending zombie apocalypse!  People are so self-consumed in their own little worlds that they can’t even put down their phones for the 10 minute drive from work or school to home or whatever.

There’s a kid at my son’s daycare whose mother is ALWAYS on her phone.  She works on the other side of town like us, and we’ve followed her for MILES to the daycare watching her chat on her phone.  She’ll even frequently pull up to the daycare or, unbelievably, pull over a block away to finish her call—taking as long as 10-15 minutes before going to pick up her kid.  Really, lady?  Your call is more important than picking up your son?  We’ve rationalized her behavior by speculating at her profession.  Maybe she’s a crisis counselor talking someone off of a ledge?  Or perhaps she’s a doctor or IT person like myself, assisting someone with some medical or technical emergency?  I doubt it.  She’s just one more self-absorbed person, mindless to the world around her.  I don’t even think she realizes how often we see her chatting away on her cell phone as her son sits and waits for her.  Poor kid.

Random statement here, but I like to sleep with my bedroom window open, especially in the spring and fall when the air has a chill to it.  However, I live on a long, flat road with a private club for war veterans about a half a mile away, and many of the patrons of this club ride motorcycles.  Every night between 1 and 2:30 AM, these guys go ripping down the road in excess of 50 MPH (the posted speed limit is 25 MPH) on their hogs.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I love motorcycles.  I owned one a few years ago, and I plan on buying another when my kids are older.  But I’d never open up the throttle at 2 AM when people are sleeping.  Maybe on a highway, but never in a residential neighborhood.  That’s just freakin’ rude.  And Monday mornings are the worst for sleeping with my window open, because the garbage trucks do the same thing.  One of these days I’m going to go out there and snap a video of these garbage truck drivers doing 50-60 MPH in a 25 and send it to the company and the local police.  It’s not like I can sleep with their loud, obnoxious trucks driving by so fast anyway.  Manners, people!

Everyone has their pet peeves.  From a coworker with quirks to bad or obnoxious drivers to in-laws or lazy or insolent teenagers or whatever.  But did you ever just consider why we are annoyed so much by other people?  A majority of the time it’s due to a lack of manners.  People deficient in understanding how their own actions affect others.  People that hog up an aisle in a grocery store as they compare the prices of green olives or Ginkgo biloba vitamins.  People that go to public parks with their dogs and refuse to obey the leash laws.  People that constantly summon a waitress over because they need more ketchup/jelly/sugar/attention and fail to see the other patrons anxiously waiting for her to return to their tables to fulfill their needs.  People that just live in their own little worlds and don’t give a crap about anyone else.

I’m not saying I’m perfect.  I’m sure some random stranger has been pissed at me for driving too slow or taking too long to go at a green light when he/she was late for an appointment.  I’m sure my big body inadvertently blocked a grocery store aisle.  I’m sure someone was upset because they felt I was taking too long to perform a certain IT-related task (because I should be an IT fairy with a magic little IT wand, right?)  And hey, for all those people, I’m sorry.  I didn’t do it intentionally.  Because I really, honestly, straight-up try to have top-notch manners.  I pay attention to how my actions, however minute they may be, affect those around me.

Yes, I am conscientious.  When someone asks me to do something, I respond as soon as I’m able.  If I see someone approaching me in a grocery store aisle, I’ll move my cart over to the right as far as possible.  If I owned a dog, I’d keep it on a leash if we were out in public and people were around.  I try my hardest to pay attention to how I’m affecting others, and I rectify any issues before they even manifest.  I actually do give a damn.  But that’s just me.

Maybe all of those other people are just jaded.  Maybe they’ve seen too much selfishness in the world, and they’ve given up or given in and gone that route as well.  It’s a “me, me, me” world, and nice guys finish last.  Right?

Not me.  I’ll mind my manners until the day I die.  The question is: will you?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I Really REALLY Look Like an Idiot!

I love being shown the follies of my ways.  It’s like looking into a mirror and realizing that shave and trim I just applied to my facial hair, that Fu Manchu or goatee or whatever, just looks absolutely ridiculous.  Or when I’m shopping for new sneakers, and I go and pick out a pair that I like, show them to my wife, and she tells me they are “old people, orthopedic shoes.”  Or when I go outside to look at the blue moon because, after all, my wife said we had to go see it, then I come inside and say, "It's not really blue," at which point my wife makes fun of me for even checking the color of it in the first place.  I told her I thought it was a "bleu moon", because after all, the moon is made of bleu cheese.  Right?  And for the record, I knew a blue moon wasn't actually blue--until my wife had me questioning myself.

But in regards to being shown how foolish I am, I absolutely love it.  Seriously.  I mean, how else would I become better at life if I wasn’t shown my mistakes?  How could I ever improve myself if I just went along doing things without ever knowing how much of an idiot I am.  How could I keep myself from looking like an 80s cover band member living in a retirement home?

Yesterday my son and I were at the supermarket, and as I was filling up my truck with all of our bags of groceries, I heard this boom boom boom come storming in behind us.  I looked up, and the first thing I noticed was that the vehicle was the exact same make and model of my truck—only blue instead of silver.  Then I realized that the noise was actually a song off of a new album I just purchased that I absolutely love.  The band, In This Moment, is lesser known and of the metal/hard rock/industrial genre, and the song itself is one of the best on the album.  However, it’s not exactly appropriate for general listening audiences: lots of explicit words and stuff, if you get what I’m saying.

Now I don’t go driving around blasting my music with my windows down, driving in front of a grocery store where everyone walks and would be involuntarily subjected to hear this obnoxious and publically inappropriate music.  I had a friend once that did that constantly.  He’d roll his windows down and blast his music as soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the mall.  I was always so embarrassed to ride with him.  And I asked him why he did it, and his answer was something to the effect of “getting chicks to notice us.”  The problem is, he got married shortly thereafter, yet he continued to do it up until I last saw him driving around—with his two kids in the car.  And now he's not married.  Sad, really.

But I thought this guy in my truck yesterday had to be a young driver--like in his teens.  I mean, what adult does that, aside from my friend?  I like to listen to my music at a higher volume, but I certainly don’t drive with the windows down.  Maybe just a crack if it’s hot and the AC hasn't cooled the interior down enough yet, but never with all four windows all the way down.  Never with the intention of drawing attention to myself.  What an idiot...

The guy drove over to the gas pumps, and it would have been much faster and shorter for him to approach from a different direction, but apparently he NEEDED to let all of the supermarket clientele and staff know that he REALLY liked this song.  As I drove out, I looked at the guy and had to do a double-take.  It was like I was looking in a mirror.  Big guy, shaved head, beard, sunglasses, t-shirt, plaid shorts, sneakers.  Very VERY scary.  Not the guy himself, or ME (although sometimes I wonder if I'm perceived as "scary" with the way people act around me, but that’s a story for another post).  This was scary in that there I was, pumping gas, listening to loud and obnoxious music, making a nuisance out of myself.  It was like me if I didn’t have any common sense, I guess.  THAT'S scary.

There’s a guy I know—not really friends but we know each other well enough—and I’m always telling my wife how I’d love to be like him, but I have the sense not to be.  Tattoos all over, piercings, listens and plays loud rock music, has a fascination with monsters and scary things.  In looking at him, you’d know he was into that stuff immediately.  In looking at me, you wouldn’t.  He’s the me without the smarts to not do those things.   It’s a running joke my wife and I share, because every so often there’s something new and idiotic or dangerous that he finds himself involved with that’s ironically something I’ve mentioned “doing in another life.”  You know, a life where I have no family to support and bones that break and all that stuff that keeps me from doing those types of things?

But back to the guy in the truck yesterday.  I don’t know what his deal was.  Maybe he was insecure about something, so much so that he had to “get chicks to notice” him.  Because all the chicks I know LOVE a guy with a big truck and a big sound system.  That has to be on the list right above abundant amounts of chest hair and neck hair.  Am I right, ladies?  Anyway, this guy yesterday must have had some mental/psychological issue or another.  The song itself makes a blatant reference to a specific type of woman, and so perhaps he had an issue in his love life or with women in general and was trying to send a message.  Maybe he was actually trying to get chicks AWAY from him.  If that's the case, good job, buddy.  But I’ll never know.

I will know one thing though.  I’m so happy I saw that dude yesterday.  It made me realize how closely I've come to crossing the line of minding your own business and enjoying yourself to being a disruptive and obnoxious jerk.  The next time I’m driving by myself, I don’t think I’ll roll down the windows at all.  And I certainly won’t listen to my music at an inappropriate and deafening level.  Of course, if anyone ever sees me doing that, I guess I could always blame it on that guy.  But nah, I think I’ll just keep my entertainment to myself.