The Witch at Sparrow Creek (excerpt)

Below I’ve copied a clip from CHAPTER 2 of the novel THE WITCH AT SPARROW CREEK in the hopes of sparking some interest before the launch party – please enjoy!

He walked in.

Bill took a look at him and figured who he was from the looks of him. He’d wished his wife would have not told him many, many things.

Bill nodded and adjusted his belt around his waist and said, “Well, she says there’s a spook in back a them woods.”

“Where at?” he said.

“Up, way up there,” Bill said, “and he comes down.”

The room in Bill’s house was cold and brown. The sky coming in the windows was white.

“When do you see him?” he asked.

“He’s got a long, gray face, yellow eyes, like egg yolks.” Bill said. “I dunno, he comes down at different times.”

Bill’s wife came in. “Oh, my . . .”

She looked at the strange man in the hat, and her mouth moved as if to say something, but then she said, “We have company. You should tell me when we’ve got company. We have coffee.”

“Ma’am,” he said and glanced at her quickly, but didn’t look at her, and then turned back to her husband. “I’m Jim Falk. I’m here to talk about the spook.”

“Well,” she said and looked quickly at Bill, “You tell ’em. I’ll just get you some hot coffee.”

“I’m tellin’ him.” Bill said.

She went off. She was pretty, with red hair and high cheeks, and she was younger than her husband. Jim Falk didn’t look at her, but he wasn’t sure that he had to look at her to see her. It must be her.

Jim said, “This spook—he comes down in winter or in summer?” Then Bill looked at Jim and opened his eyes a little wider, but not very much, and he pointed at the wood chairs and his square table in the room. Jim saw that Bill’s fingers were crooked from work with busted knuckles.

They sat. There was a book with a leather binding on the table and a couple of candles. The candles were dirty. The book was a book of the scriptures.

Bill went on, looking at the candles and the table. “He comes down every season, I suppose, maybe once a season maybe more, but there’s no certain time.”

“When does he come?”

“He comes at night in summer.”

“In fall?”

“In the fall he comes at night, and in the spring.”

“In the spring he comes at night too?”

Bill nodded, but looked at the backs of his hands and not at Jim.

“What about in the winter?”

“In the winter he comes at night. He came during the bad blizzard, and it seemed like he came twice that winter and came during the day.”

She brought out two white cups of dark, hot coffee. She set them down in front of Bill and Jim and then leaned in the doorway listening.

“Twice in the winter?” Jim continued.

“Yes. That’s how I remember it. Violet?”

“Yes, Bill?”

“Tell Jim Falk what you said when the spook came down out the woods during that bad winter.”

“Well,” she started. She moved around, recrossed her arms, and stared at her feet in black shoes on the wood floor. “That winter was a bad one. That winter was about four years ago, and when that spook came down outta them woods, well . . .” She talked as if she was bored, arranging herself against the door frame. “Well, that’s when the baby Starkey went missing . . . and I think that spook got hold of that little baby.”

“For what?” Jim asked.

She blinked and looked at Jim sort of sideways and squinted, whispering, “I think that particular spook’s a baby eater.”

Jim Falk looked at her. There she was. She leaned on the doorway with her pointy shoulders and her ruddy hair. Jim saw no lie in her eyes, but he caught something else there, playing. It was like a jewel or a sparkling thing. Jim looked away.He wondered if somehow or another she knew—if she knew that he had seen her, or someone that looked like her, in his mind.

“That’s right,” her husband said, “that’s right.” He picked up his cup with a clink and blew off the steam. “A baby eater.”

Jim Falk flipped open a little leather book to a blank page. Bill Hill watched the pages of black symbols go by, words he didn’t recognize. Violet shifted again.

Jim asked, “Who is the baby Starkey?” and got out a little black stick that looked a little oily.

Violet said right away, “That was Dan and Elsie Starkey’s baby. Their real baby together. They lived up the road.” She sneezed a short sneeze and looked at her husband. He looked down at his coffee.

“That’s been a few years back now,” she said, pulling a small rag from somewhere in her shirt and wiping her nose. “Dan’s moved on.”

“That’s right,” Bill said. “Dan’s supposed to have moved up north somewhere and Elsie lives with her other boy now, that Simon. It ain’t right by the scriptures, him leavin’ her alone like that, just walking away from her, leavin’ her with that boy. That boy, Simon, he takes care of her, they say I guess on account of she’s been sick.”

“Except he ain’t her boy,” Violet said and went back fast into the kitchen.

Bill looked at Jim and watched him write things in the book with the oily stick. He shook his head and said low, “That boy’s not from around here. He’s from some other place across the sea or some such place. Like them peoplefrom the Far East that they took out west to make ’em build the towns in the West. Them Starkeys raised him up from young. Guess they found him all alone.”

“You meanyou think he’s from the Far East?”

“A foreigner of some kind. Maybe a one from the Far East.”

Jim drank some coffee. Violet was off in the kitchen making noise, and the wind was blowing against the little house.

They drank some more coffee. Jim closed his writing book and looked around the little house. It wasn’t too different from the one he grew up in. A wood-burning stove in the kitchen filled it with that fire and coffee smell he remembered from times long ago. He didn’t want to think about that. Jim glanced at the stack of firewood in the corner.

“These woods are the woods the spook appears in right here in back of your house?” Jim finally asked.

“Yes,” Bill said. “Yessir.”

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The Witch at Sparrow Creek

Last week I got the news that the specialty publishing company Hippocampus Press will likely take my novel THE WITCH AT SPARROW CREEK (WITCH) to print in 2015. This was such terrific news. My editor S.T. Joshi has had much to do helping to shape this book over the past several years and he has been incredibly supportive of the novel. There were many other folks who have read earlier version of the book and helped me to keep going. It took me too long to finish because there were periods of many months when I didn’t work on the book at all because of other things going on.

The novel is the first in a series. WITCH follows the story of Jim Falk, a kind of monster hunter who climbs back from addiction to fight evil. The world that the novel is set in is a kind of mystical Appalachia of legend where witches and demons are very real – although people are beginning to disbelieve in such things. The mechanics of the larger world and forces will be deeply explored in the series to follow this first novel. This novel is a grounding device for the characters.

Jim Falk is pushed forward to finish the incomplete work of his father, which was to rid the land of evil spirits. But Jim was not a good student and soon became a drunk and an addict. He returns to his father’s work only because he is being haunted by strange dreams of a red headed woman and a dark figure. He seeks out his father’s former archivist, Spencer Barnhouse, to help him figure out what to do. Jim follows a trail of visions to the town, Sparrow, where he meets Violet Hill, who is the woman in his visions. She is being stalked by a “Spook”, which he then vows to hunt down and kill.

The novel was originally inspired by this book Appalachian Ghost Stories and Other Tales, and another by the same compiler, A Wayfaring Sin Eater and Other Tales – while these stories were not adventure stories, they sparked my imagination toward writing a book set in a legendary Appalachia. Appalachian Ghost Stories and Other Tales was a book that a friend of mine and I had stolen from a local library when I was a teenager, later I would marry the niece of the author, never making the connection until I saw the book on her father’s shelf.

While Appalachian Ghost Stories was a sending off point for my imagination, the story was also largely influenced by paper and pencil roleplaying games that I played with high school friends. If they ever read the book, they will see names and themes that they recognize, but the story is all together new.

This book is not intended to fit in with the many more commercial novels that stock the shelves and the digital book world today. Those books are great reads and have so many imaginative, entertaining, and rich worlds to offer, but they are in their essence formulaic. While all story telling needs a formula, WITCH tries at something different.

My influences as a writer include (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) Robert E. Howard, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, Lord Dunsany, Phillip K. Dick, and George Macdonald. I love these authors because the writing is not only exciting and adventurous, but finds means to something transcendent through language. What pushes readers in this direction can often be poetic and sometimes nonsensical turns and twists, uncanny characters, or dead ends in stories. Pick up a Grimm’s Fairy Tale compendium and you will see the repetitions and the nonsense and find that this is what creates endurance for tales and allows them to breathe and grow and exist through the years. It’s kind of a big thing to reach for, but with these influences, I felt that I needed to stick to these beautiful older traditions and ways of storytelling.

At the same time, I fully realize that this is 2014. There are so many new ideas floating about and new ways that readers can absorb stories that I wanted to write with that in mind as well. What you’ll find in the pages of my book (hopefully) is a story that presses forward in odd turns and twists, but that does push forward – and also one that is poetic, thoughtful, and nonformulaic.

Thanks to everyone who’s had a part along the way – I look forward to seeing the proofs.

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Unfamiliar Jackal

A Kabyl folk tale tells of a mother ewe who brings hay to her children each day and speaks a password at the entrance to their cave so that they would open the door and let her in. Check out the story here

The password is, “The jug between the legs and the hay between the horns.” She says, “This is so you can recognize me by what I say and by my voice”.

When a jackal hears this and sees that he could sneak in, he learns a way, through a wise man, to alter his voice so that he can eat the ewe’s children. Read the story and its easy to hear the echoes in the Grimm Fairy Tale and in Jesus’ words. After you’ve read a few of these, talking animals can become nothing to get so excited about. In fact, when we read any story at all, we can almost immediately accept that animals might start speaking at some point, in fact, we kind of expect it.

Why have talking animals in stories? Not only does the ewe speak, she has a recognizable voice, and a code system.

Couldn’t and wouldn’t these messages arrive to us just as easily if all the characters were human? It would be something simple for the tale to read with a murderer who wanted to murder the children or even a rival tribesman who might stuff them in a sack and carry them into the night. Instead we have lambs and wolves (or jackals). Notice too, the introduction of the shepherd as a friend to the ewe in this story in particular.

When we remove the familiarity from a thing that is common, we find ourselves able to re-experience that thing. To notice it again, or possibly in a new way.  One role of story telling is to make the unfamiliar familiar by making the familiar unfamiliar (and vice versa).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

John 10:1-6

What is it about the voice that is so important in these stories, so important that the animals must have voices? So important that the Jackal would subject himself to torture to have that same voice (here the voice of the shepherd).

Why does the false voice bring ruin?

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hashtag exactly

Be sure to read this poem and watch the video prior to our next post

WATCH “Revival” by Beats Antique

then read

The Dance by Theodore Roethke

Is that dance slowing in the mind of man
That made him think the universe could hum?
The great wheel turns its axle when it can;
I need a place to sing, and dancing-room,
And I have made a promise to my ears
I’ll sing and whistle romping with the bears.

For they are all my friends: I saw one slide
Down a steep hillside on a cake of ice, —
Or was that in a book? I think with pride:
A caged bear rarely does the same thing twice
In the same way: O watch his body sway!
This animal remembering to be gay.

I tried to fling my shadow at the moon,
The while my blood leaped with a wordless song.
Though dancing needs a master, I had none
To teach my toes to listen to my tongue.
But what I learned there, dancing all alone,
Was not the joyless motion of a stone.

I take this cadence from a man named Yeats;
I take it, and I give it back again:
For other tunes and other wanton beats
Have tossed my heart and fiddled through my brain.
Yes, I was dancing-mad, and how
That came to be the bears and Yeats would know.

This poem is included in The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, published by Doubleday.
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The Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing

The reading for this next series of posts is the Grimm Fairy Tale called, “The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids” http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/grimm/bl-grimm-wolf7kids.htm

“Dear children, I have to go into the forest, be on your guard against the wolf; if he comes in, he will devour you all – skin, hair, and everything. The wretch often disguises himself, but you will know him at once by his rough voice and his black feet.”

In the Buddhist teaching of Seung Sahn, he described these important points of his style of practice:

“Don’t make anything,” he would say. “When you make something, then you have something.”

“Don’t check thinking, don’t check yourself, don’t check anything,” he would say. When you experience emotions, you might tend to attach a meaning to them, but he teaches to avoid the attachment of meaning to these emotions, which he describes (partly) by an experience of color. When you have emotional experiences, let them be what they are, “When red comes, red. When white comes, white. When anger comes, angry! When sad comes, sad!” These were some of his teachings. These teachings were meant to point a person toward zen mind. The activities and teachings are not zen mind, but they point you toward zen mind.

What does that have to do with wolves and children? Nothing, specifically, but this is meant to point the reader toward something about this story.

How familiar it is, the wolf pretending to be the mother, the repetition of phrases. Do any other stories come to mind?

The story activates other stories and images within your available stock of imagery in your head. When you read this story, it draws upon your symbolic lexicon, you involuntarily begin using the image dictionary in your mind. Stories like these light up the pictures that your mind uses to communicate meaning to you. You can add to this lexicon any time, expanding and energizing it by added symbols through stories, media, movies, etc.

When we are young, the ideas of the world and how we experience it are installed in us by the stories told to us by our parents and by our society. At a certain point in this human life, we become able to self select some of the imagery and story we used to expand our experience of life.  But the earlier images remain.

Additionally, there are certain stories and images that seem to arise from nowhere and yet are experienced trans-culturally. It seems as though some of our symbols (like those of dreams) emerge from some as yet unidentified store of images that have similar meanings in every culture.

When Jung, Adolf Bastian, and others viewed these images across cultures, they found that these images had what appeared to be both universal and local properties. Meaning that some images only appeared to be different because of their local translations or depictions, when in reality, they held the same functions.

Don’t check anything.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

John 10:1-6

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Introduction to Introduction

Money is a meaning-laden symbol that shapes our thinking far, far more than many of us would care to admit. Some of us admit this matter with a sense of pride, although they might not make the statement as such (in other words, via euphemism, such as “I have a strong work ethic”, “dedicated worker”, “ambitious”, etc.) Others direct their thinking into strong abreactions and anti-formations.

This symbol that inspires humans toward (or away from) work proves that we exist (at least we live our mental lives) inside a kind of architecture of imagination. We even let this structure dictate more subtle and personal ideas like self-worth and our own attractiveness. We allow these extra-personal structures to break into our inter-personal mental life and become internalized judges and set measures and boundaries for us. Rarely do we question them, and if we do question them, do we ever question them enough?

In the West, we live in a situation in which the more personally significant symbols have been bullied into the background. This grates on our more original self, or maybe our “actual” self (for our current life situation requires a virtual self). A life-energy that we were born with, that connected us to our mother and to the energies that existed before we did. That same life-energy with which more “primitive” cultures seemed to have a direct line has been obviated or occluded by these brash money and media symbols; but, these old energies have not disappeared. We perhaps have become unable to recognize them, but they have not disappeared. When they disappear, if they ever should actually disappear, all life will disappear, and we will not know that they have gone because we will then be the void and will not be. (yikers)

Since we generally lack the symbolic vocabulary to engage the originating energies, and assuming we want to reengage them, we must make a beginning of scratching away the occluding symbols of our current society, so that we can see the symbols that point toward and gives us clues about these source materials. Many religions are able to accomplish something akin to this with icons. But when other symbols block the way, we have to find a way to disassemble the blocking architecture. (Incidentally, this is probably why Atari’s “Breakout” has had so many iterations, the idea strikes home, but we wonder why this little game is so fun, frustrating, and why we can’t seem to stop…)

Some Buddhists do this “breaking out” with the Kong An exercises, some people do this with LSD, others may use sweat lodges or asceticism to remove the barrier and place them in the more direct path of these symbols and the energies they whisper about. While most of these techniques have their qualified merits, they are not all very accessible to many of us. Stories are.

Stories are accessible.

These next few posts will make an attempt at this kind of reintroduction. The goal is for us to be able to disengage the interruptions of the market symbols (buying and selling) and to allow for a reconnect with the source materials. When we are reconnected to the source materials, we might discover that we are able to sense that harmony which exists within us even now, but that we are unable to read or to see or to feel.

While other techniques can work, they can also be romanticized or be used to exploit people. These upcoming articles seek to present the symbols and allow for the reader to experience them originally, without a specified structure for that experience.

“The sun is in the sky everywhere, why does a cloud obscure it?” 1st gate of Gate 7 of Seung Sahn’s 12 Gates

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The Magic Moxxee Coffee Jar Karma Experiment

Right. Rarely do I post anything that specifically involves the vertical pronoun, “I”. So, can’t help this one much.

If you go to Moxxee Coffee you must know that there are a bunch of coffee superheroes behind the counter, churning out perfect cups to every Charlie West goony bird who figures out what’s going on with the silver goats. I won’t name those coffee superheroes because I don’t know their names. But there they are doing what they do, with great precision. I hope everyone appreciates them as much as I do. If you don’t appreciate them, you need to enlarge your life experience.

When you get drinks there, sometimes they whirl their little iPad around and let you send yourself an email that tells you that you just bought a drink and even what your change was. Put your change into that jar. No matter how much it is. That jar is 100% magic. OK, the other thing that the email does is send you a little electronic punch card with Moxxee stars on it. When you get 10 stars, you’re supposed to get a free drink. Admittedly, I really don’t know exactly how to use the system and I am shy around the superheroes, so sometimes I would knowingly have 10 stars, but not ask for a free cup.

I go there so much and so often, that one day I decided that I would never ask for a free cup of anything, that I would always put my change in the jar and that I would see if anything good would happen.

You have to understand that I can truly say that I go to Moxxee at least once every day except Saturday and Sunday and on Saturday and Sunday I think about going there.

So, I am putting a good amount of change in that jar, and I am not asking for my free coffee, on purpose to try an experiment, a karma experiment.

NOTE: We only use words like “Karma” to make reference to an unknown force that some people believe gives back to them whatever they put into it. I am only using the word for lack of another immediately recognizable word.

What happened?

The first thing that happened was that I found $10 (two five dollar bills) on the parking lot outside of Moxxee. Sorry to whoever lost that, I gave $5 to a friend because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you find money. I took it as a sign that I should continue the experiment.

Next, one morning, when I went there super early because I couldn’t sleep the night before, one of the Moxxee superheroes gave me a free brownie. I could not determine the reason, but, hey, why question free brownies?

Then, on another day, one of the superheroes was filling my order and said, “This doesn’t smell like Burundi” – which was the coffee I ordered. He gave me that coffee for free (whatever it was) and made me my regular order. So, I went away with two for the price of one.

Now, all that happened fairly quickly, and then there was a lull in the events. But, my faith was galvanized, so I kept on putting money in the magic jar.

Then, just a few months ago, one of my co-workers found an injured kitten in his neighborhood. Injured. Kitten. Ah, my heart. He brought this little critter to my office and I looked at her (and smelled her) and knew she had to go straight to the vet. She had some kind of massive wound that ran from the left side of her face all the way to her chest. My office mate nicknamed her “9″.

9 went to our vet. I dropped her off and got a call that night. She needed immediate stitching, debriding, wounds were septic, she could have FIV, you know a bad scenario. Knowing full well that the repair of this busted up little kitty could quickly move to over a thousand, I did something dumb and right. I told the doctor to do whatever needed to be done.

My wife and I visited 9 and kept folks apprised of her rapid recovery on Facebook and Twitter. She looked on most days like franken-kitty, stitched up, with a wound in her cheek so deep that they thought she would lose an eye.

We boarded 9 for three weeks, the initial surgery-fixer-up and long term care cost just a bit over $800.

Without asking for it. WITHOUT asking anyone. People all around me stepped forward and donated cash for more than 75% of those bills. I was handed cash, mailed checks, and found anonymous envelopes on my desk at work. THANK YOU TO ALL THOSE PEOPLE! It matters so much to me, to my wife, and especially to little 9 (kitty cat smiley face emoticon here).

9 got better and better and better and better and purred and purred and purred each time we went to see her.

What’s more than that, a vet tech at our vet fell in love with 9 while caring for her and took her home to care for her. What better owner for a special needs kitty?

This is why I am telling you that you must put money in the magic Moxxee jar.

Please experiment with life by putting good things into it, instead of trying to take good things out of it. If you put good things into it, you may get a huge happy surprise!

You may discover that there is a force that gives back good things to you when you give or do good things to others. You may wonder what that force may be. You may already know. TRY THE EXPERIMENT!

I don’t really think it’s the jar, by the way, but you should tip those guys and gals back there regardless, they are making the best coffee in the world, after all.

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The Strange Musician II (spoiler alert)

“I will obey you as a scholar obeys his master”

Each of the critters responds to the Strange Musician in this way, to which he replies “follow me.” Then he leads each down the path into, well, (spoiler alert) something unpleasant.

One can wander beyond the frame of the trickster shapes into a revolutionary theme. If a student only does exactly as the master, then the individuality is lost. The hidden message of the Strange Musician might be this: don’t lose yourself in imitation.

The animals being at least somewhat crude and also from the natural realm, desire to learn from the civilis(z)ed being the ways of art and specifically music; however, we could truncate the path to an easier end: if you follow a scholarly master, you will fall into a trap.

Then, the trap is inauthenticity, which each animal eventually escapes from.

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GGQ II

Whatever system that you adhere to, to it you must adhere, that is “stick” yourself. Through some mental force, whether it be by studious examination and logical conclusion or via foreclosure to ideas beyond the childhood ideologies installed within us by our parents. We must actively, either through continued research or continued sheltering, maintain these systems. For some of us, dwelling mindfully inside of such an enclosure of stories (be they historical, sociological, metaphorical, metaphysical, or even a melange of these) proves difficult, especially when it contradicts our experience. Others avoid this uncomfortable circumstance altogether through a mechanism commonly referred to as “denial”.

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The Glue of Great Quality

When we consider that our very existence can come into question, we should not tumble forward into that inquiry without first stepping backward to view the odd situation that our existence can come into question at all in the first place.

While we do not know the essential matrix of a cat’s experience of being or that of a squid, we make certain assumptions that these creatures do not pose such questions. Even a dolphin or a chimpanzee seems incapable of such an enormous undertaking of intellect.

While the systems of these animals may indeed comprehend life’s complexity in ways with which we have no common basis of understanding, the animal systems (mostly) appear to avoid the crises of of isolation, which is the human condition. While some humans develop minds that override this singularity of the human experience, most do not. Most of us (who want to move beyond the isolated, selfishness of babies) must do mental (and physical) work to push ourselves beyond this experience.

Paradoxically, the human also assumes at times an almost automatic sense that “the other is not” or “the other is me”; and we are therefore not only capable of the most calculated, nightmarish acts of hubris but also of spontaneous, noble acts of altruism.

Dichotomies such as these beg a reconciliation, but this may only be so because of the limited ability of a human to understand its own variable response system.

The belief system can also act as a fastener between such dichotomies, in meaner terms, out of the descriptions of stimulus which carry the individual toward the acts of self-sacrifice or genocide appear in a qualitative form – “good” or “evil”.

If “belief” is to be taken as anything other than a tone of resonance in a vacant area between what is known and what is not known; perhaps these qualities of action contain a clue.

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