News, Views and Free Reads
by Jim LeMay
Thanks for spending this time with me.
There’s lots of news this month.
My friend and the publisher of Mad Cow Press, Chuck Anderson, and I write about “Daring” Dorian Pace in the “Have Jetpack – Will Travel” series. The estimable editors of Amazing Monster Tales, DeAnna Knippling and Jamie Ferguson, accepted our story “Sea Monster of Monterey vs. the Nazis” to include in Amazing Monster Tales #3, It Came from Outer Space, published in February, 2020.
Imagine our surprise and delight when Jamie and DeAnna honored us by accepting another tale of Daring Dorian’s derring-do for Amazing Monster Tales #4: “Cape Disillusionment.” Just like issue #3 it will be crammed with excellent, amazing monster tales.
You’ll want to collect the whole series of Amazing Monster Tales, starting with #1, Dawn of the Monsters, and #2, Monster Road Trip. They plan to publish four issues a year.
Here’s where you can find them:
Amazing Monster Tales Releases:
Issue 1: Dawn of the Monsters
Issue 2: Monster Road Trip
In other news…
Starting March 1 Mad Cow Press will feature “Cape Disillusionment” on sale for $0.99. You can pre-order it now right here: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Disillusionment-Have-Jetpack-Travel-ebook/dp/B084GBJ6DX/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=cape+disillusionment&qid=1582316405&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
In another pulp-style tale, jetpack flyboy extraordinaire “Daring” Dorian Pace encounters a plot by Nazis to capture an alien and take over the world! “Cape Disillusionment,” by Charles Eugene Anderson and Jim LeMay, is the quintessence of an alien invasion tale, full of glorious adventure.
The popular collection of stories, A Fistful of Dinosaurs, will also be on sale for $0.99 starting March 1. https://www.amazon.com/Fistful-Dinosaurs-James-Patrick-Kelly-ebook/dp/B07CK5MP36/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=a+fistful+of+dinosaurs&qid=1582318238&s=digital-text&sr=1-1#customerReviews
From “Jurassic Park” to “Godzilla,” dinosaurs have a rich history of exploring the idea of the creatures of the past. Exciting stories by James Patrick Kelly, Richard Chwedyk, Carol Emshwiller, Steve Rasnic Tem, Robert J. Sawyer and many more.
Since we’re on the subject of monstrous visitors from outer space and dinosaurs…
If you happened to be standing some place in North America on an evening some sixty-six million years ago, looking up in the sky, you’d see an especially bright star. If you saw it again a couple of hours later it would appear brighter without having moved. That’s because you were watching not a star but an asteroid, traveling directly for earth at about forty-five thousand miles an hour. Sixty hours later it blasted through the atmosphere, compressing and superheating the air in front of it to produce a supersonic shock wave. It struck the shallow sea where the Yucatan peninsula is today.
That was the moment of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (KT) extinction event, the end of the Cretaceous period and the beginning of what used to be called the Tertiary period. The word Tertiary has since been changed to Paleogene but the term “KT” remains unchanged. (The K comes from the first letter of the German word for Cretaceous, Kretazeisch.)
The asteroid, at least six-miles wide, gouged a crater in the earth about eighteen miles deep. It threw a gigantic jet of molten material up through the atmosphere. Some of it fanned out across North America. Several times hotter than the surface of the sun, it set fire to everything within a thousand miles.
Much of it escaped through the atmosphere. Over millions of years bits of ejecta has landed on Mars and other planets, while some of it returned to the earth. Today, the layer of debris, ash and soot deposited by the asteroid strike remains in the Earth’s sediment as a black stripe about the width of a notebook.
A mystery of paleontology is the so-called “three-meter problem.” In a century and a half of diligent searching hardly any remains of dinosaurs have been found in the layers three meters, or about nine feet, below the KT boundary. That depth represents many thousands of years, leading many paleontologists to conclude that dinosaurs had begun to become extinct long before the meteor struck. Other scientists maintain that the three-meter problem only demonstrates the difficulty of finding fossils. They have argued that someday scientists would find dinosaur remains much closer to the time of destruction. To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, the absence of proof is not proof of absence.
The KT boundary holds answers to questions about one of the most important events in the history of life on our planet. As the scientist James Lovelock posited and many biologists increasingly agree, the earth combined with all life on it forms a kind of living organism. The asteroid’s vicious attacked almost killed it and all its constituent living parts. Finding out what happened on the day of destruction is critical to solving not only the three-meter problem but explaining our rise as a species.
Next month we’ll find out how a young graduate student solved the mystery.
I took much of the above material from an article in the April 8, 2019 issue of The New Yorker entitled “The Day the Dinosaurs Died” by Douglas Preston.
And A Free Read.
(Continued from last month)
Hansel and Gretel in the Enchanted Forest
The trail grew narrower and darker. The limbs drooped lower, as though to grab them. They hurried. The raven flew ahead to alight on a distant limb. When they drew near it flew farther up the trail, ordering them to come along. The trail’s shrinking dark oval with grasping tree-hands overhead, thorny thickets along the sides and roots threatening to pitch them onto their faces seemed increasingly like the intestine of some unclean monster.
Then, as they began to round a gradual curve the trail appeared to grow lighter ahead. They ran, no longer caring if the light led to some new terror. And stumbled into a clearing as if disgorged by that unholy creature.
And stopped abruptly at what they saw.
They found the clearing lighter only in relation to the trail. The limbs of monumentally sized trees surrounding it allowed more sunlight through than had those enclosing the trail. Most startling though was the little cottage set against the trees to their right. Only in size did it resemble the Müller’s two-room hovel. It had what looked like gingerbread walls and red licorice roof tiles with confections for decorations. Candy canes supported the corners, their handles curving out from the roof in a welcoming manner. Chocolate flower boxes under the windows on each side of the door held cookies, doughnuts and pastries. Gum drops and hard candies randomly splotched the walls. The door- and window frames looked like great twists of taffy and the door itself like a large slab of gingerbread with a jellybean for a doorknob.
“Come along! Come along!”
The twins jumped. Then they saw the raven perched on the roof just above the door frame. The door slowly swung open into a darkened interior.
“Come along! Come along!” The raven flew inside.
Gretel whispered to Hansel, “This house is too delightful for a witch’s home, isn’t it?”
He whispered back, “It most certainly is. Let’s do as the raven says.”
So the twins entered. They stood just inside the door and looked about the dark, too-warm room, cluttered with furniture, bookcases along the walls, books stacked on incidental tables, chairs and the floor.
“Welcome, dearies.” A voice from a little old lady sitting in a rocker to one side. Dressed in black, she stroked what seemed a large, black lump in her lap. Until its green eyes opened and the twins’ adjustment to the darkness revealed it to be an extraordinarily huge black cat. The raven sat on the back of the chair.
“You beautiful young people have arrived just in time,” said the old lady. I was about to fix a cup of tea. “By the way, my name is Frau Hexe. What are yours?”
Lumps formed in the twins’ throats. They started when the front door shut with a click.
They gave her their names. She put the cat down, stood and went back to the kitchen in the rear of the room. Her voice seemed strong for such an aged one and she walked more easily than they would have expected.
“First,” she said, “I must put another brick of peat in the oven.” She swung open the lower door of a vast oven open which apparently caused the room’s excessive heat. She took a black block that looked like grass-less turf from a pile of others near the oven and thrust it into the fire.
“Hansel!” Gretel whispered desperately. “These old witches cook children for their dinners in these ovens!”
“I know. What shall we do?”
“We’ll have to kill her, of course.”
They both glanced into the kitchen, saw Frau Hexe fussing with tea things.
Gretel whispered, “See that big metal paddle she used to put the peat into the oven?”
“When she invites us into the kitchen you must get behind her, pick up the paddle and brain her with it. Then we’ll shove her in the oven.” She shrugged as if to say, see how easy it will be?
“Because you’re the boy and I’m the one who came up with the idea.”
Hansel frowned. “Ja, naturlich.”
“Come, dearies. The tea is ready. And I have some gingerbread cookies fresh out of the oven.”
They went back to the kitchen. With Frau Hexe still occupied with the tea things, Hansel sidled around behind her and grasped the paddle.
“Come now, Master Hansel,” said Frau Hexe, without turning away from the tea things, “do you really think I’d open my home to potentially dangerous children without safeguards? My dearest Teufel is perched on the top shelf of the cabinet just behind you, ready to pounce upon your back the minute you raise that paddle and open the veins in your neck.”
Hansel turned with greatest care. There, atop said cabinet he saw the giant cat poised, ears laid back, green eyes wide, tail lashing. Hansel could almost feel the creature wishing him to make the intended move.
Hansel gulped and turned back toward the table. “Why, Frau Hexe, how could you think such a thing of me?”
“I’m heating the oven for a peasant to roast a pig for his family’s harvest celebration. He doesn’t have an oven large enough to accommodate the whole animal. See all these books heaped around?” She gestured with a hand. “I study how to cast spells and make potions and medicines to help country folk. They make a young frau or a farmer’s kine fertile, cure diseases, give protection from mischievous sprites and so on. I baked these cookies while the oven built enough heat for that porker.
“So please sit, children, and have tea with me. I think you are just vicious enough for us to succeed with a plan I’ve worked on for some time now. I’ve only needed assistants with your mettle to bring it to life.”
* * *
Varg watched the forest ranger, holding his arquebus at the ready, sneaking down the trail, peaking through the underbrush looking for wolves like him. A foolish man to think his clumsiness went unnoticed by Varg’s kind. Yet his presence made Varg’s hunting more difficult. His wife had berated him that very morning for not providing more food for the litter.
Then Varg saw a young girl come swinging down the trail toward the forest ranger, singing some foolish child’s ditty. She wore a red riding cloak with a hood enclosing blonde locks and carried a lunch basket over her arm. The ranger stopped and waited for her to approach.
He doffed his cap and said, “My, what a nice riding cloak you have, little miss.”
“Why thank you, sir. I wear it whenever I go out. That’s why the people in the village call me Little Miss Riding Hood.”
“Whatever are you doing all by yourself in this forest?”
“I’m going to visit my grandmother, good sir, who lives in the cottage just a short distance down the trail.”
“Old Frau Hexe’s house?” His forehead wrinkled. “Imagine her having grandchildren, that old, uh…
“But pardon me, young miss, I only meant to warn you that there’s a vicious wolf haunting this part of the forest. It’s not safe for young ladies like yourself to roam these trails.”
“Thank you, kind sir, but I carry protection with me.” She opened the basket lid and withdrew a flintlock pistol at least a foot in length. “One half of a set of dueling pistols. Powder fills the pan and it’s ready to fire. My father was a cavalry officer and taught me how to use it.”
“My!” The ranger said in surprise. “Very well, my dear, but promise me you’ll be careful nevertheless.”
Little Red Riding Hood curtsied. “Oh I will, sir. Thank you so much for your kind concern.”
She continued on her way. The ranger put his hat on and went in the other direction, looking back at her worriedly as she drew out of sight.
Varg thought quickly. Like the ranger, learning that the old witch Hexe had managed to have descendants surprised him. However, a granddaughter and grandmother in a house meant a huge meal for the litter and their parents. With leftovers! And obtained inside a house with no witnesses! Knowing the house’s location, Varg took a shortcut down a game trail perfectly suited for a wolf but difficult for a human to even see.
Having reached the house well ahead of little Red Riding Hood, he paused. Eagerness to implement his plan had made him forget about the girl’s pistol. If he burst in on the two together the little bitch could withdraw the weapon the minute he showed himself. Since she had not yet appeared gave him time to adjust his plan. He could surprise the crone, take care of her and lay in wait for the girl.
The cottage had but one door. He burst in, looked about the dark interior and found it untenanted. Damn! The old bat had gone, maybe out collecting magic crap. No matter. He could wait for the girl and get Hexe when she returned. He knew what to do about the girl’s dratted pistol. He rummaged through the closet, found and donned a nightgown and a frilly sleeping cap. He pulled the curtains closed on the few windows, which made the room as dark as a moonless night, then leaped into granny’s bed and pulled the covers up over his moist cold nose.
Just in time. He heard a tap at the door. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Little Red Riding Hood,” said the girl.
“Oh, how lovely!” He tried to speak in a high-pitched voice. Unfortunately, frequent howling had made his voice so harsh it come out as a croak. “Do come in, my dear.”
The door opened, admitted two figures and quickly closed. Good! Little Red Riding whatever and another person who wasn’t granny. When the old bat showed up he would get a bigger meal than he had planned!
“Grandmother,” said the girl with concern, “your voice sounds so weird. Is something wrong?”
Such sweet naivete, he thought. “Just a bit of a cold, my dear.” He added a cough at the end.
“And what are those gray furry things poking out from under your sleeping cap? Like ears. And I never knew you had such big eyes!”
He loved hearing her distraught sounding voice.
“And big teeth,” he whispered in his gravelly voice, sliding from beneath the covers to crouch atop the bed. “The better to eat you with.” He prepared to leap.
“Curtain, Hansel,” she said in a deadly, out-of-character voice.
One of the figures whipped aside a window curtain. The sudden light limned two figures, the girl with hood thrown back and a boy version of her. Both held flintlock pistols aimed directly at him.
The girl had said she had one of a twin set of dueling pistols. This boy had the other. That was his last thought. His last sight was fire blossoming from the pistols’ barrels.
* * *
Hansel settled back in his chair with a sigh. He had scrubbed the remaining sauerbraten gravy from his plate with the last of his bread and drained the last swallow of dunkel from his stein. The rotkohl made him fart slightly.
He said, “Gretel, I worried so for you but you did such a courageous job. If Mother Hexe would have let me play the part –”
Gretel scoffed. “It is just as she said. Only an innocent looking girl could have fooled the wolf.” She finished the last of her jaegerschnitzel.
“I too worried about you, my dear,” said Frau Hexe, pushing aside her plate. “I wish you had allowed me to remain here to help you with the wolf.”
“With all due respect, Mother Hexe,” said Hansel, “your dueling pistols were all the help we needed. And your brilliant scheme of course.”
“So now,” said the old lady, setting aside her plate, “I’m Mother Hexe rather than the Old Witch” – she waved aside their protests of innocence with a laugh – “but I’m used to such erroneous name-calling. My most important lesson to you, though, is that wolf pelts earn more than rustled lambs, nicht wahr? The pelt recently gained paid for this excellent meal with a lot of money left over. And these forests are full of hungry wolves.”
# # #
For any of you interested in the German words:
– Krummholz is German for “crooked wood” and is used to describe the wind-twisted trees at the tree line in alpine areas. I originally named him Scheisskopf but my friend Gustaf said that the word, at least to Germans, was too naughty for a fairy tale.
– Gutschaf means “good sheep.” Country bumpkins in German jokes are named Hans Gutschaf.
– Hameln is the German name for Hamlin, as in the Pied Piper of, in the original German fairy tale.
– Hehler is German for “fence,” the kind that buys stolen goods.
– Teufel means “Devil.”
– Hexe is German for “witch.”
– Varg is Swedish for “wolf.” I couldn’t use the German word for wolf because it’s spelled the same as in English.
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