“Strunke City Derail” – a short story by Murphy Edwards

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Yeah okay, so I’m really late on posting this, but for this year’s R.I.P. challenge, I decided to read 13 short stories, 3 by “mainstream” (whatever that is) authors and ten by local, “indie” (whatever that is) authors. I blogged about one of the mainstream stories, Axolotl, previously, and this time I’d like to feature one of the ten indie/local author stories, Murphy Edwards’ “Strunke City Derail,” which I own as part of the “Terror Train Anthology.” (My list of stories I read for R.I.P. may be found here, but I’ll probably only end up posting about a few of them.

Strunke City Derail

There are some great moments in literature and cinema where machines have become our enemies. Somewhat rarer moments, however, are when beloved characters must enlist the aid of machines when they find themselves physically overmatched by whatever foe an author or film director has served up. For example…

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(“Get away from her, you BITCH!” A machine-fortified Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in “Aliens” delivers one of the great lines in cinema history)

Anyway, on to this story…

“Ain’t every day you witness your own sweet Daddy swallowed up by some oozin’ stink-lump from a train wreck.”

This story is told in the first person by a young boy, and in a rough, redneck-ish patois that is likely common in the fictional “Strunke City” – “a little ol’ piss-hole of a town located just about twenty miles outside of Who Gives a Shit.” The boy rides along with his father (“Daddy-paw”) to retrieve a forgotten item at his job site at the railyard one day, and they arrive upon a scene of great carnage…

Seems there has been a train derailment, but there’s much more than that going on. Among the wreckage is a rail car unlike anything any of those present has ever seen before. It’s sides “was painted up all black and orange with an evil lookin’ silver quarter moon on each corner.” The lettering on the side of the car indicates its origin as “Shull Fruit and Vegetable Express,” though our narrator says that “I ain’t never seen fruit hauled in nothin’ lookin’ like this.”

(Below: the iconic quarter moon-face logo of Procter & Gamble. I searched online but I can find no record of a Shull Fruit and Vegetable Express anywhere in that conglomerate’s corporate structure. 🙂 )

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Turns out the car contains an epic monster of unknown origins, one that makes short work of one of the rail yard’s workers, Jim Ed Sommers, and is partway en route to doing the same to the narrator’s daddy-paw. This is when the young narrator fires up “one of them big and dangerous track hoes what they use to dig at dirt and coal and such” and takes on the beast…

(Below: I’m not sure if this is what the machine looks like that the young narrator of this story uses to take on the monster, but I’m imagining it as something similar…)

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I enjoyed the story a lot, in particular the written “voice” of the young narrator. Want to listen to this story? It’s available as an installment of The Terror Train Podcast at http://terrortrain.wordpress.com/ you’ll have to scroll down a bit to get to this particular story, and of the 27 minute audio, the actual story begins about 5 minutes in, after a lengthy introduction. And the story ends about the 22 minute mark, so that’s about 17 minutes of listening time. :-). The book itself may be found for sale on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Train-Mathias-Jansson-ebook/dp/B00KYWRWS2 – Kindle version only $3.99.

(Real world train derailments are nothing to be amused about – below From The Columbus Dispatch via foxnews.com a July 2011 derailment near Columbus, OH.

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A Hoosier-Flavored R.I.P. Challenge

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I’ve decided to follow the lead of my Deal Me In 2014 comrade, Randall, and participate in the ninth annual R.I.P. (“Readers Imbibing Peril”) Challenge (R.I.P. IX – hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings) this year, in a short story, mini-Deal Me In format. Randall’s initial post for his participation in the challenge may be found here.  I’ve selected thirteen short stories to read before the end of October. At this point, I don’t know if I’ll blog about them individually or in a couple summarized posts. I’ve picked three stories from known or classic authors, but the theme for the remainder of my selections is “authors with an Indiana connection.”

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Here’s my list of stories for the RIP challenge. As with Deal Me In, I’ll read them in random order via the luck of the draw. Naturally, I’ll be using the spades suit to draw my cards.:-)

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A. Feeders and Eaters – Neil Gaiman (“The Weird” anthology)
2. The Summer People – Shirley Jackson (“The Weird” anthology) -read 9/19
3. Axolotl – Julio Cortozar (“The Weird” anthology) – read 9/23
4. Strunke City DeRail – Murphy Edwards (Terror Train anthology )
5. Venus Rising from the Foam – James Owens (Indiana Horror 2011 anthology)
6. Crimes in Southern Indiana – Frank Bill (“Crimes in Southern Indiana” story collection) -read 9/22
7. Because You Watched – Paula Ashe (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
8. The Hunt – Bret Nye – (Midwestern Gothic magazine volume 6)
9. The Rose Garden – James Ward Kirk (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
10. The Hike – Brian Rosenberger (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology)
J. The Old Crone and the Scarecrow – Allen Griffin (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology) – read 9/20
Q. The Shadow Man of Moonspine Bridge – Matt Cowan (Indiana Science Fiction/Horror 2012 anthology) -read 9/21
K. The Boy That Created Monsters – Paul DeThroe (Indiana Horror 2011 anthology)

I’ve seen – and even met and talked to few of these writers – at various book events around town in the past year or so, and reading some more of their work should prove interesting.  Are you participating in the R.I.P. Challenge this year??

“Indiana Horror Underground”

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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. 🙂

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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”)

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