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A Pair of Interesting Texts...

Matt Kaplan's Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite is a fascinating amalgamation of history, myth, media theory, and popular culture. Kaplan is a science writer with a keen ability to turn a phrase and a nice eye for detail. These chapters tread the line between the academic and the popular effortlessly, and it's one of the more interesting non-fiction pieces I've read in recent years. 

W. Scott Poole's Monsters in America has a similar approach to prose style, but it looks much more deeply into how history and popular culture both inform and remediate each other and our narrative tradition. Poole has a deep knowledge of film and narrative, and his work represents an accessible, insightful tour of twentieth-century America.


Buy It Now

E-bay got me into this. I know I shouldn’t blame an internet service for my compulsive behavior. I mean, personal responsibility and all of that shit, right? But damn, if that site hadn’t made it so easy to just spend the afternoon mining for treasures.
I’m not sure where she might be hiding. I heard her in the attic two hours ago, creeping over the eaves. I strained my ears, made a mental picture of her slinking quietly above my head and put a round of buckshot through the ceiling. There was a muted scream and then I heard her scampering away. Her footsteps didn’t make much more than a whooshing sound—I mean, she’s nothing more than plastic and air, after all—but I could hear her just the same.
Her name is Annette. That’s what it said on the little business card that came taped to the shrink-wrapped plastic she shipped out in.
Hello! My name is Annette. Will you take care of me? There was a set of red pouty lips stamped beneath the message. That was it—no invoice, no receipt. Just a plastic blow-up doll and that silly card.
It’s been two days since her arrival and I need to end this. If she gets two more days, well…better not to think about that just yet.
She came from a business up in Canada. Great Northern Novelties was the name of the company—some podunk town called Pilot Butte, just outside of Regina. I should have known better than to buy her after that fiasco with Ronny and the rubber nipple. But hell, part of me wanted to see what would happen. I can’t deny that and so I won’t. I was curious.
Poor Ronny.
It was Ronny who had passed out in the spare bedroom at our Halloween party. The place had been filled to bursting that night. The elections were in full swing and there must have been a half-dozen Sarah Palins drifting about.
Ronny was a good guy, by the way. I liked him a lot. I think we all did.
But he was that one guy in every crew, you know? Always drinking too much. Always needing a babysitter. Always passing out first. I mean, he hadn’t even made it to 11:00 on the night it happened.
Berg Jones (his parents had named him Bergstrom—weird, right?) had been running around the house all night with a video camera. I find that shit annoying, but it seems to be in vogue now after Cloverfield. Got to catch the weird stuff on tape.
Well, it turns out that Berg got his money’s worth.
Let me go back a second. As I said, I like e-bay. A lot. I’m on there a couple hours a day. I collect old speculative magazines, superhero figurines, antique photographs—I like weird stuff. Well, I’m zooming around there one day and I come across this listing:
So real it might scare you! This novelty nipple suctions to skin. Fool your friends! Freak out your neighbors! Perfect condition.
Great Northern was the seller and the last bid was a paltry $2.25. The auction closed in under an hour, so I impulsively punched in $2.50. I won the auction and the nipple arrived in the mail a week later. The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, about this nipple. What came in the mail didn’t look a thing like what was shown on the website. The one on the website was clearly a fake. It was plastic or latex or whatever and dyed that phony flesh color that is just so obviously fake that everyone associates it with CPR dolls from high school health class.
But that wasn’t what came in the mail. This thing was light and pliable—way closer to the feel of actual flesh than plastic. It was stippled with pores, and there was an off-center indentation in the nipple itself. It looked waaaaay too real.
I mean, that little booger had a hair stuck in the outer band of the areola. An honest-to-goodness hair!
“Jesus. That thing is creepy,” Jane had remarked. She and I were maybe sort of starting something. It was hard to tell. She’d dressed up like the genie from I Dream of Jeannie and was attracting more than her fair share of stares that night. I was a little jealous, I admit. At any rate, Jane didn’t like the thing from the start.
And I agreed with her, straight up. When I took the thing out of the cellophane wrapper, it felt like it was…I don’t know, alive, I guess. I could feel it trying to stick to me. It felt like a centipede crawling over bare flesh, like it was trying to sink a hundred little anchors into my index finger.
I guess that was an indication we shouldn’t have slapped it on Ronny. But we did anyway, of course. We were buzzed and riding that special euphoria that invariably tags along with the drunken mob, so Berg rolled tape and Jane and Sharon and Ryan and Josh and Erin and I went back to where Ronny was snoring in the center of the guest bed. He’d dressed up as Mario. I pulled his suspenders down and pulled his shirt up to reveal his pale chest.
“And now, ladies and gentleman,” I said theatrically into the camera, “watch as we change this man forever!”
Sheesh. I can’t believe I actually said that.
I pulled the nipple from the package, disgusted again by that grabbing sensation, and stuck it in the center of Ronnie’s chest, on the tip of his breast bone.
And the place broke up. I mean, people were just dying with laughter. We collected our footage and I dressed him back up and we left him there and didn’t see him until the next morning.
The party finally died around 3:00, and the place had mostly cleared out by the next morning. I was making breakfast in the kitchen for Jane and Berg when Ronny sauntered in, stretching and yawning.
“Nice party last night champ,” he said to me, taking a barstool at the counter. “Can I have one?”
I poured him a glass of O.J. and we razzed him about passing out early. After ten minutes or so, he started to scratch his chest. “What in the hell?” he muttered, and I suddenly remembered what we had done.
I started to snicker. Jane and Berg followed suit. Ronny just stared at his t-shirt, where there was a silver-dollar sized wet patch in the center.
“That’s funny,” he said, pulling his shirt up. But it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
The nipple had stuck. It had become a part of him. A thin dribble of yellowish milk seeped from the center of it. I almost lost my coffee.
“What the fuck?” he shrieked. “What the fuck is this?”
He streaked for the bathroom and the three of us just sat there in silence. I mean, what can you say?
So that’s the story of Ronny and the rubber nipple. But not quite, I guess. The thing continued to grow. It lactated all day. Ronny couldn’t go to school (we both attend the University of North Florida) because he had a 36C hanging there in the middle of his chest.
He saw doctors and specialists. You want to hear the strange thing? He never got too mad at us. He couldn’t believe what had happened to him, but he didn’t shut himself off from us. He knew we thought we were playing an honest goof on him, and he just wanted the damned thing gone.
But it was pretty much there, at least for the time being, and so Ronny dealt with it by boozing. He had a titty in the center of his chest—what would you do?
About five weeks ago he had an accident after getting his load on. We’re all still trying to deal with it—processing it, as the counselors at the university say.
Christmas came and went and the spring term started in the first week of January. They call it spring term in Florida, but it can still get pretty danged cold here in Jacksonville.
The college held a memorial for Ronny; it was well attended. I felt the most guilt about what had happened. Hell, I still feel guilt. But now, writing these words and knowing that she’s up there—well, I think the game has changed, my friends.
I’d cut back on the e-bay after Ronny died but, like most addictions, it crept back into my life in both trickles and torrents. I wouldn’t touch the thing for almost a week. Then I’d blow off class and stay on it all day.
It was on a sunny day in the middle of February when I came across the listing:
Get in the game, Tiger! So lifelike you’ll wonder why you’d ever gone without. Annette is waiting for you. Pull the trigger! Perfect condition.
The seller was Great Northern and the last bid was, again, a paltry figure. $4.75. The auction closed in a little over an hour. I bid $5.00 without thinking about it and continued on my merry way through the aisles of the world’s largest auction, barely registering it ninety minutes later when I learned that I had won and Annette would ship the very next day.
I don’t know why I did it. I guess part of me wanted to see if it could be true. I honestly don’t know, to tell the truth.
Well, she arrived about a week ago. I left her in the package, too scared to open the thing. From what I could see through the cellophane, she was pretty lifelike. She had black hair and dark eyes and a huge set of pouty lips like the stamp on the card. I left her on my dresser and put her out of my mind, that is until I returned from Environmental Science and found Berg sitting with the fully inflated doll on the couch.
“Pretty neat, Jimmy,” he said. I hated it when he called me that. I prefer James—always have. “Things must not be going well with Jane if you bought this ol’ gal here.”
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“What? You mean blow it up? It’s a blow-up doll, for chrissake!”
“You should put that thing back,” I said. “That came from Great Northern. Same place the nipple came from.”
“Fuck!” he shouted, pulling his arm from the doll’s shoulders. “Wow! That explains it. It’s…it’s warm. Feel it.”
I did, and he was right. It didn’t feel like flesh, but it was close. There was a solidity to it that I hadn’t expected either. I pulled the plastic nozzle out of the doll’s thigh and let the air out. When it was nothing more than a wrinkled plastic sheath, I balled it up and stuck it in the corner of my closet.
We smoked a joint and drank some beers and played a couple rounds of Madden on the X-Box, and I put the thing out of mind until two days ago.
Jane. Well, Jane is dead. Her body is in the laundry room. I think the doll was jealous, and if I felt a little guilty about Ronny, well, I feel terrible about Jane. I will call the authorities. I have to. But not until I end the thing with the doll first.
Wait a second—just heard something. Yeah, she’s in the attic. I can hear her up there, calling my name. She knows my damned name!
The thing with Jane happened yesterday. She’d slept over for the first time (kind of a big step) and she was the one that found the doll in the closet.
“Oh, very nice James! Is there something I should know about you?” she said when she opened the door to collect one of my shirts. She stood there in panties, looking down at a fully inflated blow-up doll named Annette.
“Aw shit,” I muttered. “Berg.”
But Berg hadn’t inflated the doll. The doll had done what the doll wanted to do, and that was come back on her own. Jane grabbed a shirt and I slammed the closet door, late for my morning business class. I kissed her forehead, grabbed a bagel and hauled ass to school.
When I got home I found Jane in the laundry room, a kitchen knife stuck up under her ribcage. She wore one of my dress shirts and a pair of panties and there was an amused look on her face. A set of bloody tracks, the feet maybe four inches long, extended from the body and over to the attic access. The panel in the ceiling was slightly askew, so that’s how I figured out where she was.
If the thing with the nipple has run its course here, she’s more flesh than theory now, my friends.
And there it is. I’ve put it all down on paper. Maybe I’ll get to explain it all. Maybe I won’t, but at least it’s here.
Oh. Oh, ok! Laughter. Peels of it, from the corner of the attic. I’m going up. I have the gun (only been hunting twice, and never killed a single bird—go figure) and I’ll try to fix what I started.
Oh, wait. One more thing. I tried to contact Great Northern Novelties yesterday afternoon. The number was disconnected—no great surprise there. So I tracked down the local rag up there, a weekly paper called The Pilot Butte Record. The editor/reporter/photographer/publisher informed me that Great Northern had gone belly up almost three years ago. Simply wasn’t much of a market for novelties in this day and age the reporter, an amiable fellow named Perkins, had said. He’d attached two pictures of an old storefront, the window covered in gray dust and strewn with cobwebs.
And then there’s this: my PayPal account was never dinged for either purchase. I didn’t pay a thing (at least in terms of money—ha, ha, I think I’ll pay a lot when this is all said and done).
So is there a lesson in all of this? Maybe. My stepdad, asshole that he is, once told me that you couldn’t learn anything in college that would be useful in the real world. He was awfully big on that “real world” stuff, like life was some infinite puzzle or something.
But I did learn something, on the very first day of business class, when the professor had scrawled these two words up on the dry-erase board before he even wrote his name there: caveat emptor.
Buyer beware.
No shit, right?
Ok, she’s laughing again. Cackling, really. That’s enough. I’m going into the attic for awhile…


Florida's Grapefruit League

Western Florida is hopping this time of year, when hundreds of thousands of baseball fans make the annual pilgrimage to sunnier climes. Every other SUV last week in the parking lot outside of Joker Marchant stadium had Michigan plates. 

We've seen the Orioles in Jupiter, the Astros in Kissimmee, and we've been to Tigertown these past two springs. Marchant Stadium, the country's oldest minor league park (1966), is a fantastic venue. Great sight lines, intimate feel, a sunny berm, and some good cold beer and great food. 

Lakeland is a great city. It's got a fantastic downtown, some great gardens and picturesque buildings, and a nice vibe around the stadium. Spring Training and the Grapefruit League is just one more reason why we have it really good here in Florida.


Crafting a Community Identity

In the realm of science fiction, the city represents the pinnacle of technical prowess. We watch films like Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner (1982) and bear witness to these labyrinths of concrete skyscrapers while a backdrop of pounding, humming industrial machinery executes the work of the system. It's the kind of busy, monotonous, disconnected "utopia" that might have inspired George Tooker to paint this little dandy:

Portland, Oregon, doesn't fall into those traps, though. Portland's motto: The City that Works. That's a clever little turn of phrase, evoking both its blue-collar roots in the shipping industry and its non-traditional approach to urban planning. In the 1970s, visionary Oregon Governor Tom McCall asked that all Oregon cities draw an urban-growth boundary around their periphery. This allowed farms and other agricultural concerns to maintain some autonomy, while also requiring cities to plan development carefully. Portland was sprawling at the time, and McCall's edict led to a Renaissance in the downtown core. A beautiful public park was built along the river. Neighborhoods reinvented themselves. Portland grew cautiously, designing a city that is pedestrian and biker-friendly. Even though this message recently was ordered to be removed, it's an apt visual metaphor for my hometown:

I love Jacksonville, Florida. It's been an awesome place for us, and it's exciting to see how the near future will shape up. We love it for the beaches, fishing, golf, camping, and climate. The people are friendly and the town is growing quickly. There's a ton of great food here, and many of the elements that made Portland so livable (arts and entertainment, chief among them) are evident in our city. Take a look at the city that Jaguars' owner Shad Kahn envisions for our future. While nothing is set in stone on how quickly this may come to pass, Kahn is energetic and he gets results. I expect that this will, in large part, take place, bringing that final element into the identity that Jacksonville sorely needs: the downtown core.

As Kahn loves to say to the local media when it comes to breaking news, stay tuned!


Cold on the Mountain

All they wanted was a vacation to the Grand Canyon. Instead, they found themselves on a collision course with a terrible, timeless darkness.

Welcome to Adrienne, home to history’s worst serial killers and mass murderers. Nestled in an isolated meadow high in the Sierra Nevada, Adrienne is sort of like a cosmic lint trap. It collects the universe’s negative energy—all of our blackest human impulses—before purging that darkness back into the world in a yearly lottery. From Hitler to Bin Laden…Bundy to Gacy, Adrienne is the way station for dark energy that doesn’t just pass on—it passes through.

When Phil Benson decides to take an unmarked detour over the mountain, he drives his family into the mouth of madness, where they are forced to join a captive labor pool with little hope for freedom. Escape is pointless and time stretches out into eternity, with every new day the same as the last.

Sometimes, it’s better just to skip the shortcut.

With echoes of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Stephen King’s Needful Things, and Blake Crouch’s Pines series, Cold on the Mountain treads the boundary between horror and supernatural suspense.

Purchase a digital copy for your preferred reading experience:

Thanks for your support, and I hope the novel provides an entertaining escape!


Observations on Horror...

I enjoyed Tusk (2014) quite a bit. First off, it's bizarro stuff. The lunacy at the center of the film, coupled with the sharp writing and silly exchanges between the film's American and Canadian counterparts, makes this a guilty pleasure for me. 

Throw in the frequent Kevin Smith collaborator Michael Parks, who is pitch perfect as Howard Howe, and Justin Long, whose turn in Jeepers Creepers is still one of my favorite recent horror performances, and you have a positively lovely way to spend ninety minutes. 

It's strange to see Haley Joel Osment in this role. Watch the film and you'll see what I mean. He's great--don't get me wrong. It's just...well, just watch it. 

I thought this weekend's bleak episode of The Walking Dead ("Them") was really well done. I have read a lot of negativity about it, but I think it was just what the show needed, and at the right time. With the back-to-back deaths of Beth and Tyreese, the show needed to step back and show the minutia of the survivors' plight. Look, I love character development. Like Stephen King says, character is king (he, he). I like longish films (I really enjoy that 120-minute slot) because we get to see more of the moment-to-moment experiences that color our attachment to these people. 

This show has done a really fine job of filling these characters with life while still keeping the action at full throttle. It's tricky, to be sure, and they are to be commended that, from time to time, they can step back and let us live a little in this universe as opposed to moving on to the next abandoned building...


Cold on the Mountain

Grab an advance reader copy of my new novel Cold on the Mountain!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cold on the Mountain by Daniel Powell

Cold on the Mountain

by Daniel Powell

Giveaway ends February 15, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win