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Time out of Sync . . . The Returned, by Jason Mott

 

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It was the seventeenth of February–1990, and as my brother and I stood in the small ICU room of Saint Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Arizona, the man lying on the gurney looked dead. He looked as dead as anyone I had ever seen. Used up. Worn out. Finished. Bloated, yellow-tinged. Hardening. Pupils glazed over and fixed–staring into an eternity the living couldn’t see.

He was our Father. He had survived emergency aortic aneurysm surgery, only to die of a heart attack a few hours later–his tired old machine of a body finally run out of gas. Dad never liked to do things the easy way. His end was no different. The Reaper had to drag him into darkness, fighting all the way.

Three days later I closed his casket. I will remember until my own last breath the soft ‘snicking’ sound the latch made as the lid settled into place, obscuring a face that I had known for forty years. A face I would never see again. Because death was final. Forever. Irrevocable. Irreversible.

And yet, as the quarter century between then and now has played out, I have often met the man–visited with him, sat with him, talked with him. Laughed and cried with him.

In my dreams.

In the dreamscapes of Jason Mott too. He and his dead mother reunited.  One again. Whole again. A reckoning. A repairing.

Time out of sync.

But what if it were not a dream? What if the dead could actually return for a time? Just as they were when they left us. Healthy. Alive–clear eyes and beating hearts. Vibrant again.

Jason pondered this question–and The Returned was born.

The dead are returning to the earth they once knew . . . remembering nothing of their time away from life. They are returning to the places, and to the people they loved.

And they are returning in droves.

Thank you Mr. Mott, for delivering a horror story without Zombies, Ghosts, Hobgoblins or any other such nonsense.  No scenes of empty tombs, or any other such foolishness. He doesn’t even speculate on how all those deceased folks might be coming back. They just are. A miracle. One of either God . . . or Satan.

Those horror-story standards aren’t really very scary anyhow. What is scary, is the monster within each of us. And it is an age-old story. When I was just a child, way back in the fifties, I remember a most remarkable television series called The Twilight Zone. One night the episode was entitled The Monsters are due on Maple Street. Even at that young age, I watched and learned that the scariest monster in the whole entire universe, was, well . . . me.

Or rather what I might be capable of. Or you. Or you. Or you over there . . . that guy hiding in the bushes with the high-powered rifle, and the righteous, if vastly misplaced, indignation. That’s a bad combination. And a perfect prescription for disaster, either in fiction, or in real life.

It’s the man in the sixth-floor window–come to the streets of small-town rural America. This is the stuff that real nightmares of made of. The kind of national nightmare Germans lived through in the age of the Orcs. Excuse me–I meant the Nazis.

But then, it’s all really the same, isn’t it?

Jason Mott understands this, and that is what his most excellent novel is all about. He tells it with raw power and nearly perfect prose, introducing a cast of unforgettable characters. Simple folks, with their world turned upside down. Unable to decide if the beautiful and vibrant eight-year old boy standing on their front porch is their long dead son . . . or an it.

Miracles of God are pretty hard to ignore,  deny, or reject. But things–its . . . well, maybe not so much. Maybe even not so hard to want to kill.

And that’s where my own personal nightmare began. My own sleepless nights pondering The Returned. Pondering life and death. God and Satan. What I know. What I don’t, What I believe. What I want to believe.

What I fear.

And I ask . . . what if my own beloved dad, dead and buried these twenty-five years, were standing at the front door, seeking entrance and welcome. Would I consider him to be my father–or an it?  Would I believe he was the same man who had held me as a child, comforted me when I was sick or injured, helped me with my homework when I was in school, watched with pride when I graduated, and been there for me in all and every way a father can possibly be?

Or would I think he were simply a phantom. A photocopy. Not the real thing.  Would I welcome him? Would I fear him? After all, he is my father. I have dreamed of this moment for years. Why now, does my skin slightly crawl when I look into his eyes?

And how would the government react? Take him away? Hide him away? To be poked and prodded and asked a lot of questions. Would they want to confine him? Make him into a prisoner? Perhaps perform experiments on him.

Perhaps they would want to kill him–just to see if he would stay dead, or come back to life once again. And what does the government do when the dead return by the thousands–and then the millions?

When the dead . . .  begin to outnumber the living.

Interesting questions.

Welcome to the twisted and upside down world of Jason Mott. Welcome to your own sleepless nights. I have had more than a few since I read this most excellent and thought-provoking book. I have rehashed most of my relationships with my nearest and dearest departed loved ones. I have placed myself into scenes from The Departed.

And I have wondered . . . Is the monster at the door?

Or. . . is the monster me.

 

For those interested in a fascinating read, I provide a link to Mr. Mott’s book on the Great Reads page of this website.

Thanks for visiting this site, and for reading my blog. Until the next time . . . have a wonderful night.

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Baby Jane . . . and Joan, and Bette too.

 

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The year was 1962. I was twelve, not quite thirteen, when Whatever happened to Baby Jane? hit the big screen. Yeah, just a snot-nosed kid, but already old enough to know that the real monsters weren’t the ones that ate Cleveland and other big cities. The real ones were the ones next door. Or, worse yet, the ones that lived right inside the walls of your own home.

It was a psychological thriller, and a gothic horror film, and it packed the punch of a prize fighter. There was another element involved as well; one that isn’t so often talked about. That was the fact that Baby Jane was a darned fine black-comedy as well. All of the great horror films were of course. Psycho, Homicidal, The Birds, The Hitcher, just to name a few.

The movie was based on a 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. It was a smashing success right out of the gate, almost heralded as a classic from the moment the first movie-house projector began to roll. It met with critical and box office acclaim, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for best costume design in the black and white category.

It would never have made it big however without the presence of the two starring ladies. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were giants of the silver screen. Both well past their prime in ’62, they proved that a well-worn name, plus about a ton of raw talent, could still pack movie-houses.

They were long-time rivals in real-life. That fact only added to the film’s appeal. Campy in the extreme, the crowds didn’t care. Let Crawford, Davis and Victor Buono chew the scenery all day long. It only added to the fun. The movie coined  new phrases–Hag Horror, and psycho-biddy. It was originally rated an X in The United Kingdom. To this very day, Baby Jane remains a cult classic, and continues to play as a favorite Midnight Movie, right up there with The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Before there was Tim Curry, and Andy Serkis .  .  .  there was Bette and Joan.  They had a presence; and a secret weapon as well. The famous “Bette Davis Eyes,” didn’t hurt the film’s popularity one little bit either.

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In 2003, the character of Baby Jane Hudson was ranked #44 on the American Film Institutes list of the fifty best villains in the history of American Cinema.

It was a plot to relish.

In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson was a vaudevillian child star. She sang and danced. She was good at it too. But youth, like beauty, soon fade, and a couple of decades later, Jane is a forgotten star, by 1962, a lot of people are asking the inevitable question that becomes the movie title.

Baby Jane Hudson is ready for a comeback. She still sees herself as what she was, and in costume performs one of her old routines in front of a mirror. It was, and is to this day, one of the most macabre movie scenes ever recorded on film.

The problem for Jane, of course, is her sister Blanche, a long crippled sister confined to her wheelchair and a single bedroom in the oldHudson Mansion. Blanche had a little car accident way back when, and she blames Jane for it. Of course, as is always the case in a Bette Davis film, nothing is as it seems. Blanche is a lady with a boat-load full of secrets, and some of them are not so nice.

She is about to pay a heavy price for her sins, with Jane serving up large portions of just desserts–and dead rats.

The film plays on our worst fears. As in–we never know what is really going on behind the closed and peaceful looking doors and windows of our neighbor’s houses. Behind the well-manicured lawns and lovely white-washed picket fences. And we never really know what is going on inside their heads either. The intervening half-century between this films release and now has proven that little fact many, many times, much to our collective sorrow.

Scary stuff.

Give it a watch. I guarantee it will be worth your time. If you are a fan of the off-beat and the bizarre, as I am, then this movie is for you.

And thank you, Bette and Joan, not only for this well-remembered celluloid gem, but for two life-times and careers of great entertainment at the old movie palaces. We won’t be seeing the like of either one of you for a long, long time, if ever–I’d venture a guess.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

 

Next up–a new book, and a good one.  The Returned, by Jason Mott.

Until then .  .  . Good Night.

 

 

Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte

 

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The legendary Bette Davis was born in 1908, so by the time 1964 rolled around, she wasn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore. At age 56, she wasn’t precisely finished, but it was widely acknowledged that the ‘good’ roles were mostly behind her.

The release that summer of Hush. . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte, would do little to dissuade many of that notion. To say it was not widely heralded as an instant classic by the critics, would be something of an understatement. More accurate perhaps, to say that it was widely dismissed as dreck.

Well .  .  . the critics were wrong.

The cast was stunning. Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotton, Agnes Morehead, Cecil Kellaway, Bruce Dern, Victor Buono, George Kennedy, and Mary Astor, in her final film role. It was produced and directed by Robert Aldritch, It would be one of his few commercial disappointments.

The plot is as simple as it is timeless, and this wonderful motion-picture not only holds up well over time, but to my mind, has gotten better and better as the years have gone by. It was a cautionary tale at the time, and remains so today.

The subject was .  .  . gaslighting.  And oh yeah, not judging a book by it’s cover. And things are not necessarily what they seem. As if they ever were, in a Bette Davis film.

Charlotte Hollis, played by Davis, is a lady with a past. And about a ton of personal baggage. A tragedy in her youth  has left her, in the eyes of those who know her, a very mentally unstable character. She does little to change that perception of herself, as she ages in her childhood home, carrying a torch for a lover named John Mayhew(Bruce Dern) long dead. A man everyone assumes Charlotte has killed in a jealous rage. A man that went headless and handless to his grave, courtesy of the meat cleaver wielding killer.

The head was never found.

 

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Of course, long-missing decapitated heads have a tendency to re-appear in the movies, and old John Mayhew’s is no exception.

Charlotte’s home is slated for the wreaking-ball as progress marches on, and a new highway planned for the area. She has only a short time to leave the house, and of course, she refuses to do so, her decision enforced at the end of a rifle. No one wants to shoot the old lady, so construction is halted as reinforcements are called in.

Enter Charlotte’s cousin (Olivia de Havilland) and her partner (Joseph Cotton) to try to get old crazy Charlotte and her ever faithful housekeeper (Agnes Moorehead) out of the house.

As the inimitable Sherlock Holmes might have said .  .  . “The game is afoot.” A game that is sadistic, disgusting, and sometimes brutally sickening.

I won’t give away a shred of the ending. It’s just way too good for that. But I will tell you that it is a crackerjack ending. It made me smile as a fourteen year old kid, and it still does today, all these many decades later. It made, and makes me feel good too, and that is not a routine result in an ‘almost’ horror film.

Call it a mystery, thriller, suspense, a gothic tale with a touch of horror and a dose of the macacbre; whatever–it is riveting. Filmed in an age of Technicolor, in beautiful black and white, it is, I believe, an old film that was not well though of .  .  . that has become a classic.

Couple the suspense and atmosphere with a haunting song sang by Al Martino. It occurs throughout the film, and is practically guaranteed to make your skin crawl, and blood run cold.

Give it a watch and see if you do not agree. It is readily available on streaming service such as Netflix, and also for purchase at Amazon, both new and used. I provide an easy link for anyone interested.

 

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Next up, another great film from Bette’s golden years .  .  . Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Until then, Goodnight.

 

 

Nevada Street

An excerpt from The Reckoning – The Watchmaker – Book Three, by Lee Capp. Anticipated publication date: End of Summer, 2015

 

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We hit Nevada Street just as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. It was not a good time. It was the time of day when the rough guys come out to play. It was the time of day when bad stuff happens. I could see a couple of rough guys just down the street and on the other side.  Skulking next to an abandoned car up on cinder blocks. A couple of “ganstas.” Complete with hoodies. Bulges  in the pockets too. I didn’t think they were sacks of candy.

I figured we probably had five good minutes before the shit would start. Trouble was .  .  . Brick wanted ten.

We stood on the sidewalk in front of the old house, leaning on an ancient and rickety picket fence. I could see that Brick was lost in thought and memory. He didn’t seem to notice or care that we might just be a couple of sitting ducks. Jedediah ‘Brick’ Wahl didn’t carry weapons of any sort, and wise-guy Johnny O’Brien had left Betsy back at the hotel. I felt just a little naked and vulnerable.

“My dad was born here,” he began. “The man who created me. Well, not actually in the house. In a hospital over on Seven Mile Road. It was called Grace Hospital. Long since gone now. Torn down years ago to make way for a Home Depot .  .  . progress, I guess.”

“This was a beautiful house then, back in ’49. And a lovely street as well. Tree lined. It was like a tunnel driving through them. Dutch Elm disease killed them all. This was what we used to call a ‘neighborhood’, Johnny. Everybody knew each other. All kinds of businesses and stores and shops within just a block or two. All gone now, of course. Empty, burned-out, or bulldozed away.”

He was right. The “neighborhood” had turned into what closer resembled the surface of the moon. It was hard to see the near ruin of the building in front of me as having ever been a livable residence, much less a nice house. I couldn’t quite  squint my eyes that much. Death and destruction had long ago come to Nevada Street.

“The Detroit riots were in ’67, but it was even pretty decent back when I was a kid in the seventies,” Brick continued. “But then something happened. Something went bad. Something moved in to the city. For the want of a better word, I guess I’d have to call it ‘Evil’. Sure, you can blame the economy, blame the Democrats, General Motors, the post-industrial revolution period, or whatever else you like. But you just can’t get around the fact that the goodness here  took a hike .  .  . and Evil moved in. Most of these empty houses are used now for doing drug deals, and for the dumping of bodies after the deals go bad.”

“The houses here used to be close together. Most of them are gone now. Long ago burned down for the insurance money. I’m surprised, Johnny, that dad’s old house survived. He worked for a while right next door at a garage and gas station. It was called Ned’s. It burned down a long time ago too.”

I looked around. Where Ned’s used to be was an empty and weed-infested parking lot. On the other side of the house was a vacant space. A brief outline of what was once a basement was the only evidence that a structure had ever existed there.

Brick went on. “Right across the street, was the Detroit Bank and Trust.” Now it was a liquor store. “Around the corner I used to run to Perry’s Butcher Shop to pick up stuff for mom to make for dinner. Next to that was The Rainbow Bar. A guy with no legs used to sit right over there on the corner of Nevada and John R. and sell pencils. He did a good business too. Everyone liked him.”

Brick was in memory lane. I could see that I was going to have a tough time getting him out of it. I could also see that the two goons down the street had decided to make their move. Brick and I must have looked like easy pickings for them–a quick payday.

They had pulled their guns. A couple of rather pricey and nice looking high-capacity semi-automatics. The two ganstas held them down low, next to their sides, with their fingers on the triggers, as they hot-footed it toward us. Looked to me that this was probably not their first attempted robbery.

“Time to go Brick,” I said. “We’re about to have company.”

Brick continued to stare at the house for a few seconds more. “Are they definitely coming at us?” he asked.

“Definitely,” I said.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Brick replied, as he turned to face the two rapidly approaching men.

“Why is that?” I asked.

Brick sighed. “Because I hate to hurt people.”

 

To be continued .  .  .

 

Celtic Autumn – The Origins of Halloween

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Samhain (pronounced Sow-in): The origin of Halloween can be traced to this ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago (states the Word Book Encyclopedia). “The Celts believed that the dead could walk among the living.”

It hasn’t changed all that much since then. The dead still walk among us that night, joined now by Zombies, Witches, Warlocks, Werewolves, Vampires, Black Cats and various other “haunts.”

Halloween night has become very crowded indeed.

Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallow’s Evening.” Also know as Allhalloween, All Hallow’s Eve, or All Saint’s Eve. Whatever you call it, it’s pretty scary. It used to scarier still, but in the nineteen fifties, it became sort of  “family friendly.” Now it is the second most popular holiday of the year, second only to Christmas. Americans spend about six BILLION dollars buying Halloween stuff.

And that doesn’t even include the candy.

According to many scholars, Halloween is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals. In many parts of the world, religious observances of Halloween include attending Church services and lighting candles on the graves and tombstones of the dead.

The word Halloween dates to about 1745, and is of Christian origin. It is a Scottish term. Samhain is old Irish and means “The end of summer.” Indeed. Gaelic Halloween was on November the first, rather than the last day of October. I’m not exactly sure which day I prefer. Both seem somehow very apropos, either night seemingly a good one to “Rattle dem dry bones.”

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At Samhain, places were set at the dinner table for the dead. It was believed that the departed would re-visit their homes on that night, and apparently be hungry when they got there. In 19th century Ireland, candles were lit, and prayers formally said for the souls of the deceased.

In modern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Mann, and Wales, the festival includes Mumming and Guising. The adult mummers go door to door, reciting verses and singing songs in exchange for food. Guising is closest to our own tradition, with children making the rounds in disguise, searching for food or coins. The food usually consists of apples or nuts, with very little sugar.

“Trick or treat is largely America – demanding treats with menace. But then, that’s more or less the American way. One improvement we did make however, was to center the tradition largely around candy, and lots and lots of it. Chocolate is preferred.

No matter how it started, or where it came from, children the world over love it. I know that some of my very best memories of my kid-hood involve trick or treating around the neighborhood with my dad. The nights were cold and crisp. The scent of apples and cider were in the air. Dad was always by my side to ensure my safety. He was as constant as the sun rising in the morning.

Years later, when I was grown and dad was old, I would usually visit on Halloween night. I would bring about a half ton of candy, and dad would have more. We always bought a whole lot more than we knew we would distribute to the kids. But that was exactly the point. We got to eat the leftovers, as we watched an evening marathon of horror movies on the television. Old black and white monster movies were preferred.

Memories don’t get much better than that.

Dad has gone on himself to the great beyond now. I celebrate his life and his passing. And I will do it in typical (and traditional) Halloween style. As in light a candle, carve a pumpkin, eat a ton of candy, set a place for him at the dinner table, just in case he wants to drop in and is hungry when he gets there.

And just generally scare the crap out of myself and the grandkids as we watch an evenings marathon of old black and white horror flicks.

Because Halloween is, and always will be, the most wonderful (and scariest) night of the year.

Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful (and incredibly frightening) Halloween night.

We will meet again in a few days, with an excerpt from my upcoming book in The Watchmaker series, THE RECKONING.

Until then. Happy Halloween .  .  . and Happy Nightmares.

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