A “Challenging” Weekend Ahead!

I learned via Katherine’s blog (The Writerly Reader) of a new to me challenge coming up this weekend. It’s called the 24in48 Readathon (see http://24in48.com). It’s kind of a less hard-core version of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. In this one, participants are given 48 hours on the clock to get their 24 hours of reading done. Ah, SLEEP is possible! 🙂

My plan, though, is not necessarily to log 24 hours of reading, but to complete twenty-four selected short stories. AND, as host of the Annual Deal Me In short story reading challenge, I feel I should assign the stories to the 24 playing cards (drawing them one at a time to randomize my reading order) in a euchre deck. (Euchre is a very popular card game in the U.S. Midwest and Canada, but if you’re not familiar with the rules and are interested, look here)

I plan to write a few posts with very brief summaries of the stories and how I rate them. I think I will count my post-writing time toward my 24 hours too (although this may be bending the rules!) Maybe I’ll write one post for each “hand” of five cards that I deal and one for “the widow” (the remaining four “unused” cards in a hand of euchre)

Here are the stories I’ve chosen for #24in48

Spades – stories by Edgar Allan Poe

J – The Angel of the Odd

A – The Domain of Arnheim

K – The Imp of the Perverse

Q – Tale of the Ragged Mountains

10 – The Power of Words

9 -Ligeia

Clubs – Margaret Atwood (the remaining six stories I haven’t read from Stone Mattress)

J – Lupus Naturae

A – The Freeze-Dried Groom

K – I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth

Q – The dead Hand loves You

10 – Stone Mattress

9 – Torching the Dusties

Hearts – A miscellany of stories I want to read

J – The Beauties (Anton Chekhov)

A – the Enchanted Island (Washington Irving)

K – The Story of the Young Man with the Cream Tarts (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Q – Math Bending Unto Angels (Katherine Vaz)

10 – Micromegas (Voltaire)

9 – Free Radicals (Alice Munro)

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Diamonds – Stories from The Weird compendium:

J – Casting the Runes (M.R. James)

A – The Tarn  (Hugh Walpole)

K – The Brood (Ramsey Campbell)

Q – Blood Child (Octavia Butler)

10 – In the Hills, the Cities (Clive Barker)

9 – Family (Joyce Carol Oates)

What do you think of my plan and my story selections? I should mention as well that you are completely free to join me in this challenge. 🙂 Wish Me luck!

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Life Imitates Art? – Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People”

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So, I work in a multi-story building, on the top floor. Though my company owns the building, we have tenants on the third floor. On a ride down the elevator, two strangers to me board on the third. They are mid-conversation as they get on, and the man says to the woman, “So, have you been getting out to the lake much?” She replies, “Not anymore, they turned the electricity and the water off.” I immediately thought of Shirley Jackson (above) and her short story, “The Summer People,” which I read last month for the R.I.P. challenge. I kind of chuckled to myself and thought, “Trust me lady, you’re much safer here…”

Are you familiar with this story? I thought it was great! A well-to-do and aging New York couple have been enjoying their annual summer sojourn at a vacation home “on the lake” away from the big city. They muse about how, almost invariably, upon their return to the city “the Tuesday after Labor Day” they are blessed with unseasonably mild weather and find themselves wishing they had stayed longer at the lake. As this story dawns, the couple think “Why not stay a month longer and enjoy the summer weather as long as possible?”

They quickly learn from the locals that staying after Labor Day “just isn’t done,” and the mentioning of their plans to various townspeople is met with a kind of subdued incredulity. “Nobody ever stayed at the lake past Labor Day before,” the grocer tells them. A trip to the hardware store includes the owner’s observation that there have “never been summer people before, at the lake after Labor Day.” The couple from the city find these reactions odd but write it off to the “poor breeding” of the rustics.

We find out only by degrees what makes staying such a bad decision…

What this story got me thinking about is how often our perception of the nature of a place may differ from its true nature. Our perceptions may be influenced by season (as they were in this story) or perhaps by time of day, or the people you are with when you are there. I’ve experienced all three of these situations and noted how different things can be depending on these factors.

I once spent about a week at a friend’s family’s summer cottage on a lake (in my case Torch Lake in Northern Michigan – near Traverse City). It was a beautiful getaway and felt almost like a paradise while I was there. We had the good sense however, to be safely back in Indy before the end of August.

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Above: Torch Lake (picture found on Trip Advisor)

I own this story as part of The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Stories, which has proven to be a great source for my short story reading for a couple years now.

It was also adapted into a CBS Radio Mystery Theater episode: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yxnbp0u8YVU

Below: wearing white shoes? – yet another thing you don’t want to do after Labor Day? 🙂

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Wat do you think of Shirley Jackson? Have you read any of her short stories? I’ve also read “The Lottery,” and another great one, “Paranoia,” which I blogged about here.

“The Autopsy” – a horror story by Michael Shea

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So, this week (#9 of my “Deal Me In 2014” short story reading challenge) I drew the seven of spades (see my full roster here) and was rewarded with a re-read of a great horror story I first read more than twenty years ago… Seeing the story’s title reminded me of something else,

The case of the never returned short story anthology. 🙂

50 horror stories

In the late ‘80s/early ‘90s I read an anthology of American horror stories which included one story per state. I remember very little about most of the stories in it these days, but I do remember loaning the book to a friend and never seeing it again.  Not a big deal, as I had already read it, but I’m still not thrilled about it no longer gracing my shelves.  There were a couple great stories as I recalled, and when I purchased “The Weird” anthology of stories was pleased to see that one of them, “The Autopsy” was also included in that collection.  I decided I must re-read that story.

(below: author Michael Shea <from Goodreads>)

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In “The Autopsy” we meet an aging doctor working in the coroner’s office. He has cancer, and to add to the misery, he is on a sad errand to perform autopsies on ten miners killed after an explosion in the mine.  Why do they need autopsies? Because it is assumed that the explosion was a willful act of murder by one of the ten men. The mining company’s insurance only has to compensate the families if the miners die in the process of doing their job.  Being murdered while at their job? Well, that would save the company a lot of money.

But the greed of the company and the aging coroner are just the backdrop for a chilling story.  What the doctor learns and finds while doing the autopsies is out of this world. Literally.

The story is part of the chunky volume “The Weird: An anthology of Strange and Dark Stories.” Here is a link to the book on amazon.com.  I own the kindle version of this great collection. It’s worth the $$

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“The People of the Pit” by A. Merritt

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(this post is presented in conjunction with the R.I.P. VIII Reading Challenge)

There was once a great age of pulp horror and science fiction magazines here in the United States. Though that age is now long gone, I do often run across one of its revenants in my reading – particularly my short story reading. I encountered such a one yesterday in my early morning, pre-work reading ritual. I scanned the titles of my anthology “The Weird: A Compendium of Dark and Strange Tales” and stopped on A. Merritt’s story “The People of the Pit.” I had heard neither of this story nor this author, but I plunged “downward” nonetheless.

“The land of the Hand Mountain was accursed they said.”

Our narrator, Frank, and his companion, Anderson, are prospecting in the far north. They have specifically in their sights a region of the “lost five peaks,” from which legend said that “gold streams out like putty from a clenched fist.” They were unable to induce any Indians to go with them, though, because of the region’s cursed reputation.

Making camp one night, the prospectors witness strange lights (not the known aurora) and hear odd sounds seemingly emanating from the peaks.

“From the North and high overhead came a whispering. It was not the rustling of the aurora, that rushing, crackling sound like the ghost of winds that blew at creation racing through the skeleton leaves of trees that sheltered Lilith. It was a whispering that held a demand.”

Not long after, they see what appears to be a four-legged creature emerging from the surrounding wilderness and approaching their camp. As it grows nearer, they realize it’s a man – a crawling man. The man has been crawling so long and far that his hands are grotesquely bent and “worn to the bone.” That matters little to the man, a fugitive with a band of yellow metal around his waist that trails a small chain. He is just happy to be finally out of reach of his “pursuers.” Beside the campfire, he relates his story…

He, too, was searching for the five peaks but had the misfortune of approaching them from the opposite direction, discovering on his route the ruins of the gates of an ancient city and a road leading toward the five peaks. Passing through the gates he related that:

“Before me was – sheer space! Imagine the Grand Canyon five times as wide with the bottom dropped out. This is what I was looking into. It was like peeping over the edge of a cleft world down into the infinity where the planets roll! On the far side stood the five peaks. They looked like a gigantic warning hand stretched up into the sky. The lip of the abyss curved away on each side of me.”

The man also discovers that there are steps(!) carved into the side walls of the pit and decides to explore downward…

The rest of the story I’ll leave you to discover for yourself (links below). I will say that I was less impressed with Merritt’s descriptive prose regarding the pit and its “inhabitants” than I was of his relating of the “natural” world above it. There were also a few distracting references in the story to an apparent mythology of which I knew nothing, but was perhaps expected to by the author(?) Nevertheless, I enjoyed the story, and its set up (narrator camping in the north is visited by a mysterious stranger) is coincidentally very similar to the Jack London story “A Relic of the Pliocene” which I also read recently.

(below: From Librarything – the cover of the 1918 issue of All-Story Weekly magazine that contained the first publication of “The People of the Pit”)

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Listen to it here:

Or, better yet, read it here:

What about you? Have you ever heard of A. (Abraham) Merritt? (pictured below) In my quick, fly-by research I learned his writing is rumored to have greatly influenced the tv show “Lost.” He was also a world traveler who had reputedly accumulated over 5,000 books on the occult. In short, a perfect author to read for R.I.P. VIII! 🙂

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