As a fan of words, I enjoy it when double meanings are employed. But how about a triple meaning? Such is the intention of the title of this blog post. Let me explain. A local bookstore, “Bookmama’s” in Irvington on Indy’s east side, hosted an event last weekend that featured seven or eight local authors who specialize in the horror genre. They read excerpts from their work, answered questions, mingled with the audience, etc., etc. Bookmama’s is a small store with little extra room on the main floor, so this event was held UNDERGROUND in their appropriately named “Underground 9 Studio.”
The featured speaker – or maybe emcee is more correct – was James Ward Kirk (above) who in recent years has published several anthologies (horror, sci-fi, crime) featuring Indiana authors and stories. I actually owned two of them (e-copy) before I’d even heard of this event. Other authors present included Horror Poet Roger Cowin (below), whose “Vincent Price has Risen from the Dead” from the 2011 Indiana Horror anthology was one I had enjoyed (and did not find “abominable”), Murphy Edwards, whose short story “Bumper Music” in the same anthology provided both humor and horror, and Matt Cowan, whose story “Dark Attraction” helped bring some of the classic fears surrounding “carnivals” to the surface.
Authors who I’d read in the 2011 Indiana Science Fiction anthology were Paula Ashe, whose story “Ladies Room” provides an answer (that you may not want to hear) to the age old question “why do girls always go to the restroom in twos?” and Matt Cowan again with his story “Unearthed” where maltreatment of an ET leads to trouble. These anthologies also featured other authors that I’d read elsewhere: Eric Garrison, Joanna Parypinski, and R.J. Sullivan, whose novel “Haunting Blue” I enjoyed last year but never blogged about. It is this last author who also wrote an introduction to the Indiana Horror 2011 anthology titled “The Hidden, Horrific Pulse of Indiana,” in which he correctly points out that,contrary to what people most would guess, the biggest annual event in Indy (judged by tourist revenue) is NOT The Indianapolis 500, but the Gen-Con gaming convention, which has called Indy its home since 2003. Sullivan notes that the “normal” people are sometimes taken aback by the (often costumed) attendees and are even glad when it’s over and the so-called “weird people” have left. Sullivan observes, however, that they haven’t left. They’ve “just returned to the UNDERGROUND. They’ve just changed costumes.” Heh heh.
Anyway,this is just kind of a long-winded way to get around to talking about my week 13 story for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I drew the two of spades. In this challenge, “deuces are wild” and spades are my suit for darker stories. I was fortunate that in talking to author Matt Cowan (below) at the aforementioned event he had recommended another author in this volume, Marianne Halbert. So, with this event fresh in my mind, I proceeded to read her short story “Dark Cloud Rising” in which the action takes place … UNDERGROUND. 🙂
Have you ever been “spelunking?” No? How about caving? Same thing. I’ve been in several caves in my life, but most of them have been “commercial” sites – well trodden by huge numbers of visitors. Like the tiny “Wolf Cave” in McCormick’s Creek State Park, just down the road from Indianapolis, or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave at the other end of the size spectrum.
Once, though, I went caving FOR REAL with my Dad and brother. I was pretty young at the time – maybe fifth grade – and I think the cave we went to was Sullivan Cave in southern Indiana. I survived it, but I can’t imagine willingly doing it for “fun and adventure” as an adult. I remember at one point during the “expedition” I was directed to a small hole – about half the size of a manhole cover – in the cave floor and told that that was the passage to the next level of the cave. I remember thinking “Now who was the first person crazy enough to lower himself into there?!” Anyway, Dad was already familiar with the cave so I guess that fact, along with the fact that I was probably too young to know enough to be scared, allowed me to make it through the outing.
I do have a distinct memory of experiencing a strange phenomenon that night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. Whatever faint light existed in my room conspired with bookshelves, lamps, chairs, clothing, and my imagination to form a continuation of the subterranean landscape wherein I had spent most of the hours of the day. I knew it was a trick of the faint light and furnishings in my room, but it felt so real. I don’t retain many distinct memories from my youth, but that evening is one of then.
Enough about me. What about this story, “Dark Cloud Rising,” by Marianne Halbert? This story begins with a flashback to three years before the main action. An expedition of unknown purpose is apparently coming to a gruesome end, but the details are not complete. This expedition is linked across the years by three intrepid young caving enthusiasts – Topher (also an expert on bats), Garrett, and Moxie – when they find a cellphone “artifact” from that earlier expedition. Literary license is employed and the phone happens to be the same brand as Moxie’s, and she also has a cordless charging “doo-hickey” on her. This bit of luck is necessary to advance the story, though, and the three learn that the earlier expedition was involved with White Nose Syndrome (WNS) – a real world condition and a serious problem for bat populations (learn a little about it at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_nose_syndrome ). The three are shocked to learn from the memo-pad on the phone that the earlier expedition was associated with a Dr. Lutz, who “developed White Nose Syndrome.”
One says, “You mean developed a cure for WNS don’t you?”
The one searching the phone says, “No. He developed the spores for the disease. In a lab.”
But why? The reason seems precipitated by the fact that “global warming’s effects on the Earth’s tectonic plates” (yeah, I know) had “awakened” something. Something called Megachiroptera… When the three discover they’re not alone in the cave things really get interesting.
I liked the story a lot as it brought back some personal memories – and fears. The few stretches in scientific credibility or good fortune (hey, I have a cordless charger for that three year-old cellphone!) did not diminish my enjoyment of it. And, after reading, I continue to have zero interest in the sport of cave exploration.:-)
The anthology with this story and others can be found for sale on line at Amazon (Kindle version only 2.99!) http://www.amazon.com/Indiana-Science-Fiction-Anthology-2011/dp/1466397276
(Below: gratuitous picture of Vincent Price as “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”)