Thursday, December 16, 2010

"The Coming Evil: Holiday Spirit"--Part Four

Read Part Three!

And now the finale of...


Dras actually went to church willingly on Sunday morning. The Christmas season made the whole church scene seem so much less threatening. He was glad to go sing a couple of carols and found even Jeff’s sermon positive and uplifting. What he remembered of it, anyway. Truth be told, he was still riding on the high of procuring the perfect Christmas gift for Rosalyn and spent most of his time in church envisioning and re-envisioning the look she’d have on her face when she opened it. Last night he’d carefully wrapped the record in leftover Scooby-Doo paper from last Christmas and stuck a big red bow on top. Now it leaned against the nightstand in his bedroom, waiting for its big moment.

Dras gazed at it again now as he shed his button-up dress shirt and reached into his dresser drawer for something more comfortable. He unfolded a shirt emblazoned with the horrific visage of Nosferatu and wiggled into it. Running his fingers through his slightly combed hair, he shot a glance at the Monster Movies calendar hanging on his wall, counting the days until Christmas.

It was way too many. He could never wait that long to give it to her.

Feeling like a kid in line at the front gates of Disney World, Dras tapped his foot rapidly and thought. He needed a way to bump up his gift-giving date. The Christmas Parade would take place downtown in a couple of weeks, and he and Rosalyn usually watched it together through her apartment window. He could give her the record then.

Still too far away.

Next Thursday “It’s a Wonderful Life” was showing at the Community Center. If Roz didn’t have to work, they could go together and he could give her the gift afterward. Or even before.

Dras questioned whether he could survive the four days between now and then without exploding from anticipation. Biting his lip, he strained to come up with a reason to give her the record sooner. Yes, it was still November, but he was far too excited to make it all the way to Christmas. Anyway, he wasn’t good at keeping secrets from her, so if he wanted her surprise to be genuine, the gift must be given sooner rather than later. Otherwise, he’d inadvertently spoil it.

Dras checked the clock on the bedroom wall and shook his head. There was no time to devise a plan now. He was supposed to go to his parents’ house with Rosalyn for the tree-trimming and—

Tree-trimming! That’s a Christmasy occasion!

Bubbling with delight, Dras threw on his jacket, grabbed the record, and ran out the door. Determined not to put this album in jeopardy of being shattered, he forewent his bike and set off for Rosalyn’s apartment sporting a strange walk-jog gait. Ignoring the curious stares of passerby, Dras journeyed forth with glee.

For once he was going to give Rosalyn the perfect Christmas present.

* * *

“Dras is so late,” Rosalyn said aloud to herself. She’d tried to call his apartment three times and got no answer, so he must be on his way. But boy, was he taking his sweet time about it. They should have been at his parents’ house by now. Just as she was about to try calling one more time, a chain of short, quick knocks beat against her front door. She opened it with a sigh.

“It’s about time. I—”

“Merry Christmas, Roz!” Dras cheered. He stood panting before the open door, thrusting a flat, square gift toward her. He was wearing the goofiest grin she’d ever seen on him, and that was saying something.

“What’s this?”

“Your Christmas present. Go ahead, open it!”

“Dras, Christmas is still, like, a month away,” she reminded him, though she couldn’t help returning his silly smile. She thought of the Christmas surprise that sat in the bottom of her closet, biding its time in a still unwrapped shoebox until the proper moment. Little goosebumps tickled her arms as she imagined Dras’ expression when he saw it.

“I know,” Dras said, “but I figured, why wait? If you don’t have anything for me yet, it’s okay.” He placed the package in her hands and moved into the apartment, then stopped short. No, he froze. The goofy grin was replaced by a slack jaw and wide, unblinking eyes. Rosalyn followed his gaze to the bare spot on the wall where the stereo had once stood.

“Yes, I got rid of it. You can nix the drama.”

“Your…stereo?” Dras croaked.

“You were right, you know? It was a dinosaur. And it took up so much space. I mean, look how much more open the room looks now.” Rosalyn chose not to mention the more emotional reason behind selling the stereo. She wasn’t ready to tell him yet that she might be leaving town for good. Besides, her goal was to be jolly this Christmas. Which would be easier if Dras wasn’t standing in her living room looking like he just watched his dog get creamed by a Cadillac.

“Dras, are you okay?”

He dropped his face into his hands. “Just open the present,” he commanded in a soft monotone.

Confused, Rosalyn ripped the paper and instantly knew Dras’ pain. There was the one album she’d pined for since the day her original copy was broken. Let it Be. Overcome with gratitude and ashamed for disappointing him, Rosalyn turned to face Dras, but his back was to her. With tears in her eyes, she whispered, “Dras, I don’t know what to say. Thank you for remembering.”

Downtrodden, Dras slowly swiveled to her. “I feel like such a chowderhead.”

Wiping her tears, Rosalyn tried to encourage him. “Dras, this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten, hands down. It doesn’t matter whether I can listen to it or not.”

“Yeah, well, I wanted to get you something special. You’re my best friend and all.” Dras shifted his weight and frowned.

As she admired the album in her hands, Rosalyn took note of its amazing condition. The cover wasn’t creased in the slightest. She slid the record out of the sleeve and ran her fingers over its surface. No scratches. It was as though it was fresh from the factory, never opened.

“Dras,” she began, then hesitated. It would be rude to ask him where he got the money to buy it. But it was an impossible find and she knew it couldn’t have been cheap. If he’d gone to any ridiculous lengths, if he was in any sort of debt and she could help…she felt like she owed him that much after the letdown she’d served him.

“How did you afford this?”

Dras shook his head, looking near tears himself. “Sold some toys.”

“Oh, Dras.”

They stood there in silence a moment, bound by heartache. Then Rosalyn remembered her gift for Dras.

“Wait a minute, Dras. I think I have something that’ll make you feel better.” She dashed into the bedroom and returned with the shoebox that held Scavenger. Beaming, she held it out to him. “Merry Christmas, Dras.”

Dras regarded her curiously and took the shoebox. He lifted the lid and his face grew pale. For a second Rosalyn inwardly congratulated herself on a job well done, but the expected yelp of joy from Dras was longer in coming than she’d expected. As a minute, then two minutes, drug by, she realized the yelp wasn’t coming at all.

Crap, did I get the wrong one?

“I’m sorry, I thought he was the one you needed.”

“He was.”



Dras nodded with great effort.

Recognition washed over Rosalyn. “Dras, those toys you sold, they weren’t…?”

Dras sighed. “Yep.”

“Oh, Dras.”

Dras exhaled a long breath, then snorted, “This is like that story we had to read in English class.”

“The Gift of the Magi.”

“Yeah, that one!” A smile crawled across his lips as his eyes met Rosalyn’s. “Didn’t those people in the story feel really lucky, even though they blew Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Rosalyn grinned back. “I think they did.”

Dras set the shoebox down on the coffee table next to Rosalyn’s Beatles album.

“You know,” Rosalyn told him, “I got that down at John’s Pawn on the East Side. They might have more of them sometime.”

Dras laughed out loud. “They’ve got mine! That’s where I sold them!”

“Really? That’s where I sold my record player! I guess we could go buy them back, but I doubt we’ve got the money now.”

“I don’t care about them anymore.” Dras’ expression was warm and kind, full of the mutual love they shared but tried not to discuss out loud.

But it was Christmas, after all. Or almost Christmas. Whatever. And by next Christmas, so much could potentially change.

“No present could be better than having you around,” Rosalyn bravely emoted. She leaned forward and hugged him before landing a tiny peck on his lips. “You’re the best, Dras.”

“I am pretty proud of myself, circumstances notwithstanding.”

Rosalyn rolled her eyes and laughed. This holiday spirit stuff wasn’t so bad.

* * *

As the moon rose over the North Woods, a champagne-colored Toyota Camry pulled off the main road and rolled down a dirt path into the dark. After traveling a half mile or so, the driver put the car in park and turned off the ignition. Deep blackness surrounded the vehicle as the driver’s side door opened and an unassuming, middle-aged woman emerged, wearing a denim dress, a red cardigan, and a shabby winter coat. She switched on a flashlight with trembling hands and shut the car door.

“Sir? You wanted to see me?”

A dark figure barely separated itself from the night woods. “Hello, Sheila,” dripped a sardonic voice.

“Yes, sir?”

“How are things going at the pawn shop, dear?”

“Well, I believe.”

“You believe.” A generous smattering of derision colored his reply. “Sheila, your position at the pawn shop is very important. It is your job is to drag people down, to accept things from them and present things to them, to put a desire in their hearts for ever greater possessions, to reveal to them their dissatisfaction with their positions in life. There is dark magic at work in that little store, and it is your job to feed and oversee it.”

“Y-yes, sir.”

“Tell me, Sheila, why is it you desire to serve me?”

Sheila needed no pause for thought. “I remember the old stories. Ever since I was young, I’ve been drawn to your power.”

“My power? Yes, I am powerful.”

There was a break in the conversation. The wind blew through the dead limbs of the trees, freezing Sheila’s bare legs. The silence of her master unnerved her.

“H-have I displeased you, sir?”

The shape sighed dramatically. “Ah, I’m afraid you have, Sheila. You see, I need you to make the people of Greensboro miserable. The Christmas season is upon us! The people are caught up in the observation of ancient Christian myth and Pagan symbolism. They’re low on cash, they need bigger and better presents for the kids, they need a make-up gift to smooth over that little affair they got involved in, an expensive wow gift to guarantee they’re listed first in a dying mother’s will, they need to feed their greed. And, sadly, my spies tell me you’re producing quite the opposite effect.”

A titter arose from the blackness behind him and a thousand tiny eyes blinked back at Sheila. She wet herself.

The form continued, “The pawn shop is an excellent tool to prepare the hearts of the people for my coming, and the so-called holiday season is the perfect time to exploit it. But Sheila, poor Sheila, I’ve been told that some of your little tricks have actually brought people happiness. Made them consider the ‘true meaning’ of Christmas and other such nonsense. You’re not setting the stage for me.”

“Sir, I-I must have made a mistake. It won’t happen again—”

“No, it most certainly will not!” he hissed. “I’m done with the pawn shop. And thus, Sheila, I have no more use for you.”

“No! Please, I can serve you some other way! Please!”

“ENOUGH!” he bellowed. Then, turning aside to the chattering things in the dark, he simply commanded, “Take her.”

Sheila screamed as the skittering pieces of the night rushed at her and tore her apart.

* * *

After tree-trimming at the Weldon family home all afternoon, Dras and Rosalyn went back to her apartment for an improvised dinner of canned soup and crackers, caught a television showing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, and then decided to go driving around looking for early Christmas lights. In Rosalyn’s car they cranked up “Jingle Bell Rock” and made each other laugh with silly dance moves from their waists up.

“I’m all hyped up on Christmas,” Dras gasped in between cackles. “I gotta have a candy cane milkshake from Beefy Burgers.”

“Aw, Dras, that’s all the way on the other side of town.”

“C’mon, please. I’m buying.”

“Your mom’s buying.”

“Okay, she is. But the money’s coming out of my wallet.”

Grinning and shaking her head at him, Rosalyn turned the car down Terrace, planning to cut through the East Side on a shortcut route to Beefy Burgers. At once she sat still, a puzzled expression shrouding her face. Dras took notice.

“What’s the matter, Roz?”

“Wasn’t that John’s Pawn yesterday?”

A dilapidated building stood where John’s Pawn had been less than twenty-four hours before. It was the same size and shape as the pawn shop had been, but it bore no other resemblance to the place where they’d done their Christmas trading. John’s Pawn had been run-down, but this building was completely derelict. The windows were busted and boarded, the bricks were crumbling, and the inside was dark and deserted. Rosalyn pulled up to the curb and she and Dras exited the vehicle.

Dras pressed his face to the dusty glass of the front door. No local honey or creepy porcelain dolls. A few empty shelves stood inside, bearing no wares. An old cash register lay overturned on the floor, which was littered with little pieces of paper, empty plastic soda bottles, and shards of glass. The pawn shop, in effect, had disappeared.

“What happened?”

“Maybe they were robbed,” Rosalyn suggested.

“Those are some thorough robbers.”

“This is freaking me out,” Rosalyn grabbed his arm. “Let’s get out of here.”

Dras willingly obliged and they were soon on the road again, headed to Beefy Burgers with considerably less enthusiasm.

“It was there, right?” Rosalyn asked. “I mean, we can’t both be going crazy.”

“It was there,” Dras agreed, bewildered.

Greensboro. Sometimes, this is one strange little town.

Copyright 2010 Greg Mitchell

Thank you to Meghan Mitchell for writing such an awesome little tale, and thank you to everyone for reading :) Keep your eyes peeled to this site for more goodies as we near the February release date of The Coming Evil, Book One: The Strange Man.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"The Coming Evil: Holiday Spirit"--Part Three

Read Part Two!


Dras stood in his room, deep in thought. He could not remember ever making such a difficult decision. He was in one of those heart-wrenching situations when he knew that no matter what choice he made, he would die a little inside. The seconds on the clock ticked by deafeningly and he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. But the agony could not be avoided; a choice had to be made.

Toys must be sold.

He had a few He-Man figures that might have been worth a little something, and his G.I. Joe assortment was impressive, to say the least. There were superheroes and characters from movies, too. But he knew where the greatest payload lay.

The Constructicons.

He had been collecting them for twelve years. He got Long Haul at a yard sale first. Then he acquired Bonecrusher two years later in the dealers’ room at a Comic Convention in Russellville. His dad brought home Mixmaster after a trip to the state capital one year, where he found the toy in a collectible toy store. Hook and Scrapper were purchased together at an estate sale for an elderly man in his father’s congregation who passed away. Someone told Dras the toys had belonged to the old man’s grandson once. They were the pinnacle of Transformers memorabilia. He lacked only one more piece before he could assemble Devastator, the Decepticon to end all Decepticons. But he hadn’t been able to find Scavenger anywhere, despite searching for the past five years. Realistically, he reasoned, it was time to let go.

Besides, Sheila at John’s Pawn had shown real interest when he mentioned them earlier. Maybe he could make an even trade for the Beatles album he wanted to give Rosalyn. He knew deep down that no other gift he found could possibly mean as much to her. It was a piece of her father, after all. There was nothing better to give.

Sighing heavily, Dras lifted the figures down from their familiar spot on one of the wooden shelves his father had built for him years ago. He gently laid them in a cardboard box, one by one, savoring the feel of the dull green plastic in his hands. He put on his jacket, tucked the box under his arm, and sat down on the couch to wait. A few moments later, he heard a knock on his door.

Dras opened the door to find his brother Jeff outside.


“I think so.”

“Are those your toys in the box?”

“Some people refer to them as collector’s items.”

“Right.” Jeff rolled his eyes. “And I guess that’s what makes them so valuable that you can’t risk carrying them on your bike.”

“You know,” Dras began as he pushed past Jeff and into the cool air outside, “I thought you’d be happy about all this. I’m being all mature or whatever.”

“I am happy,” Jeff insisted. “I think it’s great that you’re getting rid of some of that stuff. I mean, I know it’s important to you, but we all have to grow up sometime. I just…what prompted this?”

Dras hesitated. He really didn’t want to get into a mushy conversation with his brother about needing to finally give Rosalyn a meaningful Christmas gift from his heart. Pouring out emotions and his brother were entities that didn’t seem to gel. True, Jeff was a pastor, so maybe talking about feelings was kind of under his umbrella, but to Dras he was still just the guy who nagged him a lot about missing church and shook his head sadly whenever Dras tried to talk about something that mattered to him, like a new comic or monster movie. Dras chose to skirt the issue.

“Just a little short on cash.”

As soon as he said it, he knew what was coming. Still, he figured the looming scolding was better than having to get all touchy-feely.

“Well, Dras, some folks have jobs for that.”

“Here we go again. I’m looking, okay? I just haven’t found the career that suits me yet.”

“I’ll let you know when the Quick Mart has an opening for ‘slurpee taste tester’”.

“Hardee-har-har. Could we just go, please?”

Jeff relented with a good-natured chuckle, and the two climbed into his old pickup truck. The truck pulled away from the curb, and Dras held his box of Constructicons a little tighter, anticipating their release.

* * *

The door to John’s Pawn jingled shut behind him as Dras scrambled back to his brother’s truck, Rosalyn’s Beatles album in his hands. He pressed its cover to his chest, trying to hide the surprise from the world. But he couldn’t hide it from Jeff.

“What’s that?” Jeff asked immediately as Dras entered the cab of the truck.

“This?” Dras asked. He felt giddy and embarrassed, and he didn’t really want to share the idea behind the record with Jeff. What if his brother told him it was stupid or wrong? But when Jeff continued to stare at his purchase, he eventually braced himself and turned it around to reveal the four shaggy guys on the cover. “It’s for Rosalyn. Christmas, you know.”

Jeff said nothing, only blinked and wrinkled his brow in a puzzled expression. The truck rattled along for a few seconds as Bing Crosby softly crooned “White Christmas” over the radio, part of a local station’s All-Christmas-All-The-Time campaign during the holidays. Unsettled by the awkward silence, Dras explained, “She used to have this album. It was her dad’s, and it broke when she moved into the apartment. I just thought she’d like to have it again. Sentimental purposes or whatever.”

At last Jeff spoke. “Wow, Dras, that’s…really sweet of you.”

“Don’t sound so amazed.”

“No, I mean it,” Jeff reiterated. “That really is kind. You sold your stuff just to get that for her. I think she’ll be really touched.”

Dras hung his head. “Yeah, well, I hope so. I…” He fidgeted with the zipper on his jacket, disliking the feeling of exposure before his big brother. “I haven’t been a very good gift-giver in the past.”

“Well,” Jeff replied, “I think you’re about to set a new precedent.”

Dras raised his head to smile at Jeff as John Denver’s “Silent Night” filled the cab. They turned onto Dras’ street as a John’s Pawn moving truck passed them, heading in another direction.

* * *

Rosalyn stood in the hallway outside the door to her apartment, watching two scruffy men from John’s Pawn carrying her precious stereo down the stairs. It was hard to watch it go, but she really felt she was doing the right thing. It was time to let go, time to focus on the future and not the past. There were other ways to remember Dad. Photos and saved birthday cards and things. And she’d still think of him every time she heard those old songs on the radio.

You can do this.

The men disappeared out the front door with the stereo and reappeared a few moments later. “Want to follow us back? Sheila can pay you in person.”

“Sure. I’ll be right down.”

Rosalyn stuck her head back inside the apartment to grab her keys. She locked the door behind her and headed downstairs. Outside she shivered, the chilly air penetrating her thick sweater and jeans. As the men started up the moving truck, she got into her car and cranked the heat. A strange sense of freedom overwhelmed her as she pulled into the street, watching the truck bearing her stereo moving away from her just ahead.

As she drove through Greensboro, following the truck, Rosalyn gazed out the windows into memory after memory. She’d been prowling these streets her entire life. There was the movie theater, now out of business, where she and Dras used to try to sneak in to scary flicks they were too young to see. There was the dentist’s office where she got her first cavity filled. Dras had been terrified that the dentist would use gory tools on his friend’s mouth and insisted on accompanying Rosalyn and her Dad to the office just in case Rosalyn needed help. There was her elementary school, where the kids first called her “Trysdale Trash”. But Dras always stood by her.

Dras, how am I going to leave you behind?

Rosalyn wondered if she could really carry out her plans to leave Greensboro. Were it not for Dras, the deed would already be done. But the image of his goofy face burned in her mind each time she imagined going away. At last she’d gotten up the courage to apply to her dream school in Vermont, and now it was all in the hands of fate. She wanted to go so badly. But if the school accepted her, she would face the agony of telling Dras goodbye.

Before she could ponder her dilemma any longer, the moving truck pulled into a warehouse behind the pawn shop and Rosalyn found herself parked alongside the building. All too happy to leave her musings for another time, she stepped out of the car and wandered into the warehouse. One of the scruffy men—Randal, judging by the name on his shirt—handed her a scrap of paper.

“Just take this inside to Sheila and she’ll pay you in cash or store credit, whichever you prefer.”

“Thanks.” Rosalyn took the paper, glanced at the amount written on it, and made her way toward John’s Pawn. It was a fair amount, and it would be plenty to enable her to buy Dras a great gift. Piece of paper in hand, she pulled open the back door.

Rosalyn entered the shop proper and began her search for the sales lady. She passed racks of secondhand clothing and musty old books before finding herself surrounded by used toys. Some weren’t so old; in fact, she recognized a few items that were popular when her sister Annie was little. Others were so ancient that she wondered if her grandparents might have played with them. Intrigued, she browsed through the toys, wondering if they carried anything in the Dras genre, when she stopped short. Her mind raced, and she did a double take.

There was Scavenger, the Constructicon.

Not many beautiful young women possessed the knowledge of Transformers that Rosalyn did, but then again, no other beautiful young women were best friends of Dras Weldon. Rosalyn had stared at the toys on his shelves countless times throughout the years, and she was especially familiar with the Constructicons. Dras was so proud of them. She thought they made him feel like a real collector and not just a fanboy hoarding action figures. They were rare, and they were unique in the fact that, upon acquiring all six, one could assemble them into a larger action figure known as Devastator. And Dras had longed for ages to complete his collection and bring Devastator to life.

Rosalyn reached toward the figure and almost had it in her grasp when a voice behind her stole her attention.

“May I help you, miss?”

Rosalyn turned to see a mousy little woman with dark hair wearing a denim dress with a red cardigan. Around her neck glistened an intriguing necklace bearing a charm that resembled a child’s drawing of the sun, with rays protruding every which way. Rosalyn suddenly realized this must be Sheila.

“Um, the guys in the back told me to give you this.” She extended the piece of paper in Sheila’s direction. Sheila took it and scanned the writing.

“Oh, yes! The stereo with the record player. Come on up front and I’ll get you your money.”

“Just a second,” Rosalyn interjected. “How much for this?” She nimbly lifted Scavenger off the shelf and searched him for a price tag, but found none.

Sheila frowned. “Well, he’s actually a bit of a collector’s item. I’ve been working a long time to acquire the entire set, and—”

“But my friend just needs this one,” Rosalyn pleaded. “I’d really like to buy it.”

Sheila thought for a moment and her eyes drifted back to the piece of paper. “If you’re really interested,” she said at length, “I’ll make you an even trade. The figure for the stereo, no cash back.”

Rosalyn’s lips parted in a wide smile. “Deal! Thank you so much, he’ll be thrilled!”

Without giving Sheila a chance to change her mind, Rosalyn and Scavenger left John’s Pawn behind. For the first time this season, Rosalyn was feeling a little Christmas cheer.

Copyright 2010 Greg Mitchell

Read Part Four--The Finale!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"The Coming Evil: Holiday Spirit"--Part Two

Read Part One!


To say John’s Pawn was an unassuming building would have been a grave understatement. The place was a dump. It stood on the corner of Fourth Street and Terrace, just like the commercial said, next to an abandoned shoe store and across the street from an also abandoned pool hall. Scraps of litter blew along the cracked and crumbling sidewalk in front of the store. A partially functioning sign in the window blinked to let everyone know the place was “OP__N”. Dras slowed his bike to a halt and shuddered. He almost turned around, resolved to giving Rosalyn an extra nice video rental gift certificate, but guilt wiped the thought from his mind. She was his best friend. John’s Pawn might be full of junk, but it also might hold hidden gems of thoughtful giftness if he only gave it a try. Dras took a deep breath and leaned his bike against the side of the building. He glanced around quickly, worried he’d spot a would-be thief eyeing his only means of transportation, but he saw no one. At last, he entered the store.

On the inside, John’s Pawn actually wasn’t so bad. It was no gleaming, new mega-mall to be sure. But it didn’t have the musty smell Dras had been dreading, and the merchandise did appear to be grouped neatly into categories. He absentmindedly perused, shaking his head as he passed clocks, salt and pepper sets, and creepy old porcelain dolls, realizing he had no idea what he hoped to find. Nothing screamed Rosalyn. He wandered further into the shop, ignoring displays of crocheted baby blankets, jars of local honey, an extensive selection of Pez dispensers, and obsolete electronic devices. Then, there at the very back of the store, he found exactly what he hadn’t known he was seeking.

Records. Row after row after row of records. It’s just what she needs. Something sentimental, to help her feel close to her dad, even though he’s not here at Christmas.

Congratulating himself for generating such a heartfelt notion, Dras surveyed the assortment of records available. A few he recognized from Rosalyn’s collection. Others were completely unfamiliar. He thumbed through them, excited but unsure. Dras was no music buff. He was more the kind of guy who switched on the radio, listened to any song that reflected his current state of mind, and promptly forgot the song as soon as it ended. He could hum the theme from the 60’s Batman show, he knew a few Christmas carols and children’s songs, and he was able to identify the themes from several horror movies, but his musical knowledge stopped there. Rosalyn, on the other hand, was so into music. He suddenly felt impotent, ill-equipped to supply her with any gift of music she’d truly enjoy.

“Could I help you find something?”

Dras swiveled to face a middle-aged woman with bright blue eyes and tired brown hair that was pulled back into a messy ponytail. She wore a faded denim dress with a red cardigan and an odd pendant in the shape of a sun. She stared expectantly at Dras, holding her hands clasped in front of her.

“You don’t look much like a John.” Dras blurted the first words that came to mind.

The woman tittered nervously. “Oh no, John’s…not in today. I’m Sheila.”

“Um, hi, Sheila. I’m looking for something for a friend, but I really don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe I’ll just come back later.”

Awkwardly, Dras sidestepped Sheila, who was mostly blocking the aisle, hoping to slip out quietly. He needed time to do research, time to flip through Rosalyn’s records while she was in the bathroom or something. Then he’d come back and find the perfect present. He just wasn’t down with such one-on-one help, especially when thinking about wowing Rosalyn with a caring gift was already making him feel slightly vulnerable.

“I guess your friend enjoys music.” Sheila wasn’t going to let him go so easily.

“Uh, yeah,” Dras stuttered. “She’s got an old record player. She thinks they sound better than CDs.”

“Well, she’s right,” Sheila replied, winking. Dras blushed before he could stop himself, knowing she assumed he was shopping for a crush. No, it’s not like that, he wanted to say, but for some reason the words stopped in his throat, and just thinking about saying them aloud deepened the crimson of his face. Flustered, he tried to end the conversation.

“If you say so. Anyway, I’m not really sure what kind of record she’d want, so I’m gonna go do a little digging and I’ll be back, okay?”

Dras turned around, but he’d only taken two steps back toward the door before Sheila spoke again.

“Is she into the Beatles?”

This chick will not let it go. “I dunno. I mean, aren’t most music people into the Beatles?”

“Well, I guess to some degree you’re right,” Sheila said. “But if she’s into rarities I think she’d be pretty excited about this.”

Dras looked back at Sheila, who was now holding a record album emblazoned with the faces of four shaggy guys. When he said nothing, she explained, “Let it Be. It was their final album before the band split up.”

Another moment of staring jogged Dras’ memory. In his mind’s eye he saw Rosalyn a year and a half ago, on the day she moved into her apartment. He was helping her carry boxes up the stairs to her new second-story dwelling. She was trying to carry too much, the boxes were loaded too heavily, and just as she reached the top of the stairs a record album slipped from her grasp. It skipped down the stairs lightly, followed by a bowling ball that she dropped as she attempted to grab the record. The bowling ball lumbered past, barely missing Dras’ foot, and crash-landed with a thud on top of the record, crushing its midpoint against the edge of a stair step. Their ears told them what had happened long before Rosalyn managed to set her belongings down and rush to open the sleeve. Inside, the record was in pieces. Dras gathered the bowling ball from the building’s entrance and returned to find Rosalyn nearly in tears.

“It was one of Dad’s favorites.”

“Well, maybe you could replace it.”

“It’s a record, Dras. They’re not making them anymore. Besides, all my spare cash is going to rent and college now.”

He remembered her sad face that day. And he remembered the long-haired dudes on the front cover of the album, gazing on, oblivious to Rosalyn’s world tumbling down with the weight of an old bowling ball.

Shaking from his reverie, Dras said to Sheila, “It’s probably expensive, isn’t it?”

“It’s not cheap,” Sheila confessed. “But we’re always willing to make trades. Do you have any collectibles of your own that you might be willing to part with?”

“Me? Ha. Not unless you’re into action figures from the 80s.”

Sheila raised her eyebrows in an interested expression Dras was not expecting.

* * *

Rosalyn sighed and set her checkbook down on the kitchen table. She’d just finished paying her bills for the week, a Saturday morning ritual. After the rent for her apartment and an installment on her college tuition, her checkbook felt considerably lighter. Next week she would pay her insurance, and the next week she’d pay her car payment and her utility bill.

It just never let up.

Expenses were something her friend Dras didn’t really understand. His parents paid the bills for his apartment, not to mention the cushy “allowance” he got, as well. It was a set-up that wouldn’t have existed when his brother Jeff was his age. Back then, their father, Jack, still had a spark of life inside him, and he would have demanded that “the boy ought to earn his keep”. Dras would have been driven around town to collect job applications, eyeballed while he filled in all the blanks, and harassed until he returned each one and landed a position. Then he would have been responsible for saving his money and, at a certain age, to move out on his own. That was exactly how Jeff was treated. But Dras was the baby, Jack was now older and very sick, and Louise was more comfortable getting him out of the house to give Jack some peace and quiet than worrying about teaching him responsibility. Rosalyn knew Jack and Louise were a little ashamed about how easy they made Dras’ life. She could see it in their eyes each time they asked her how she was doing, if she was getting by okay. Dras, however, didn’t seem to notice the difference between his spending and hers. It was frustrating.

Yet here I sit, trying to figure out how I can afford to buy him something he’ll love for Christmas.

Every year Rosalyn bought Dras a gift. She always managed to save up enough to buy him something appropriately geek-worthy that made him smile and gasp with boyish glee. This year, though, was tougher. College costs were really eating away her funds. With relations between her and her mother at an all-time low, Rosalyn was no longer enjoying a couple of nights each week eating dinner at home, or allowing Mom to buy her a new sweater or pair of shoes here and there. Plus there was extra saving since she hoped to be leaving Greensboro soon. For the first time in her life, she felt truly on her own, and Christmas was, sadly, a non-budgeted item. She had no idea where she’d find the cash this year.

Numbly, Rosalyn gazed around the apartment. Maybe she could sell something. She’d driven past some new pawn shop on her way home from The Rave Scene last night…what was it called? John’s Pawn. True, it was in a pretty run-down part of town, but if they could offer her even a few dollars for some trinket she didn’t really need, maybe it would be enough. She’d just dig through her dresser drawers and closets, find some stuff she didn’t really want, and fill her pockets with Christmas cash. Easy fix. Pawn shops were always buying stuff, selling stuff. Just like her stereo.

Her stereo.

Rising from her seat at the kitchen table, Rosalyn stared at the enormous fixture. It was bulky and anachronistic, but oh, how she loved its gigantic presence in the room. She told Dras she adored it because music sounded so great on vinyl, and it did, but there was a more profound reason behind her love of the stereo.

It was almost like having her father there. Sometimes she put in an old classic rock album, closed her eyes, and just lay on the couch imagining she was a little girl again, hanging out with Dad. Waiting for his friends to come by and have a little jam session. It would be Dad on his guitar, Bulldog on the drums, and Kenny on the bass. Maybe Dad would sing this time, maybe he’d let her play the tambourine. Baby Annie would sit on the floor and flap her arms up and down with delight. Rosalyn would sit next to her, squeezing her knees to her chest, breathing in the smell of beer and the sound of the cheap amplifiers ringing and the sight of her Dad, his long hair getting in his eyes while he lost himself in the music.

Misty-eyed, Rosalyn considered the money she’d paid for the stereo and wondered if she could get the same amount back. It would hurt her to part with it, but she didn’t have many other things of value to sell. And something inside her whispered that it was time for the stereo to go. I can’t drag that thing all the way to Vermont. And Dad wouldn’t want me hanging onto it just so I can live in the past. He’d want me to move forward in life, to be happy.

Rosalyn crossed the room to the stereo and ran her hand along its smooth surface. It really was in fine condition. Any pawn shop would be pleased to have it. She might keep a record or two, maybe frame one and hang it on the wall. But she knew that she could not keep her time machine any longer. Before she could talk herself out of her decision, Rosalyn grabbed her phone and dialed 411. When the operator answered, she replied, “I need the number for John’s Pawn in Greensboro, please.”

Copyright 2010 Greg Mitchell

Read Part Three

Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Coming Evil: Holiday Spirit"--Part One

I’m very excited today to be bringing you our brand new The Coming Evil short story, “Holiday Spirit”. This is a free-to-read internet-exclusive, just for you. A new installment will be uploaded every morning for the next four days, right here.

This story marks a number of firsts. It’s the first of the short stories to include the new The Coming Evil logo in the title card. It’s also our first Christmas story. And, especially fun for me, it’s the first The Coming Evil story written by someone other than myself! This story was written by my wife, Meghan Mitchell—a fine writer in her own right, who has served as my proofreader and “logic detector” for almost nine years now. She’s been with me nearly every step of the way with The Coming Evil, and knows these characters almost as much as I do. We were on our way to her parents’ house to decorate the Christmas tree a few weeks ago and she commented that I should write a Christmas story for The Coming Evil. Then she proceeded to tell me what all could happen in it :p It was at this point that I turned to her and said, “Then why don’t you write it?” And she did, I’m happy to say. Having her on board, doing all the muscle work and giving me the opportunity to just sit back and enjoy my creation as a fan is a great Christmas present.

So, enjoy this special presentation, and know that it will be the last new short story before The Strange Man—Book One of The Coming Evil Trilogy—arrives in stores February 2011!

Oh, and keep a lookout in this installment for a special cameo by a certain writer *coughcough*me*coughcough* and his family ;)


Historian’s Note: This tale takes place a month after “The Coming Evil: The Last Halloween”, and is the last Christmas before the events depicted in “The Coming Evil, Book One: The Strange Man”

Black Friday was an event in which Dras Weldon and his best friend, Rosalyn Myers, most decidedly did not participate. Instead they spent the day after Thanksgiving lounging around Rosalyn’s apartment (because hers was clean), watching old creature features and munching on Thanksgiving leftovers sent home the day before by Dras’ mother. They joked and razzed on the movie of the moment in between bites of turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches and chilled pumpkin pie, enjoying the day, oblivious to the pre-Christmas frenzy that captivated so many of their fellow Greensboro citizens.

“Oh, yeah,” Dras blurted halfway through The Giant Killer Mantis. “Mom wanted me to make sure you were still off on Sunday so you can come help decorate the Christmas tree.”

“Sure,” Rosalyn exhaled, feeling one piece of pie over the limit. “I’ll be there. I’m a regular elf, you know.”

The jeer settled more heavily on Dras than he’d like to admit, and he slumped a bit in his seat. True, he was not the Christmas fanatic his mother was. Louise Weldon seemed to begin counting down the days to Christmas about five minutes after shouting “Happy New Year!”. She giddily floated through the house all December, baking cookies, wrapping gifts, lighting candles with Christmas-y scents, plugging in lights and such. Dras didn’t fancy strapping on a Santa hat anytime soon, but something of his mother had been passed down to him, too, it seemed. The world seemed simpler at Christmastime. Family, home, joy—everything boiled down to a few carols and holiday films.

Rosalyn, on the other hand, was a regular Scrooge. And Dras could understand it. She came from a broken home, and any holiday traditions her family held dear had all been shattered when her father took his own life ten years ago.

But she has warm Christmas memories with us, Dras sulked, reflecting on all the years Rosalyn had been a fixture at his own family Christmases. She helped put up the tree, she came to drink hot chocolate and sing carols, she ate Christmas dinner with them.

Guess it’s not enough.

“In fact,” Rosalyn continued, “I was thinking of putting up a tree of my own this year.” Dras almost brightened, then noticed her smirk. “Kidding.”

“Aw, Roz, you oughta at least put up a string of lights or something. Have some holiday spirit.”

“It’s a small apartment, Dras. No room.”

It was a lame excuse to mask a deeper issue, and Dras knew it, but he decided to play along. “No room? C’mon, you’ve got plenty of room for a Christmas tree. Stick a tabletop one on top of that dinosaur over there.” Dras gestured toward an ancient stereo that occupied the entire space of wall separating Rosalyn’s kitchen from her bedroom. It was a behemoth, something that appeared so heavy that Dras wondered how it didn’t fall through the ceiling onto the denizens of the floor beneath. And out of date did not even begin to describe it. The stereo would have been dazzling on the pages of a 1969 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. But as usual, Rosalyn defended it.

“That dinosaur, as you so eloquently put it, is a fine work of craftsmanship.”

“Roz, you bought it at a flea market.”

“It was an amazing find. A sound system with a good record player is hard to come by.”

“Because no one listens to records anymore.”

“Dras, Dras.” Rosalyn sighed. “Everything sounds better on vinyl.”

And she believed it. Rosalyn’s musical tastes were eclectic, ranging from folksy coffeehouse serenades to techno to classic rock to Motown. She couldn’t find her newer favorites on her cherished vinyl, but her record collection was quite extensive. Many of them had belonged to her dad.

Everything goes back to her dad. Christmas, records, everything.

Sometimes Dras wanted so badly to make all that pain disappear, he would’ve done anything. But he didn’t know what to do.

Abruptly, the phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. Rosalyn leapt to her feet, winced as the afternoon smorgasbord jumbled about in her stomach, and grabbed the phone from inside her kitchen. Dras stared blankly through The Giant Killer Mantis while he waited for her to return, suddenly feeling less excited about Christmas and not really sure why. Nothing was different. Rosalyn was always like this.

“That was Michael from work,” Rosalyn spoke as she re-entered the room. “Andrea called in sick, so I gotta cover for her.”


“In about twenty minutes. So I guess the mantis will have to devour Chicago another day.”

Dras frowned. “Okay. Well, see you Sunday then. For tree decorating and stuff?”

“Yeah,” Rosalyn absentmindedly replied, clearing the coffee table of plates and cups.

Dras collected his movie, slipped on his sneakers, and left the apartment, feeling less whole than he had when he arrived.

* * *

Rosalyn glanced at the clock above the front door from her hostess stand at Larezzo’s, Greensboro’s one and only Italian eatery, unless you counted the pizza place inside the gas station on Second Avenue. Six thirty-two. She’d only been working for an hour and a half and she felt like she’d been here an eternity. It wasn’t a bad job, and she didn’t really dislike it. Somehow she just felt…off tonight, and it was hard to keep smiling at customers and feigning interest in their tales of Black Friday adventure.

It’s Dras and this whole Christmas mess, she realized. Every year, for the last ten years, it had been the same. Dras tried to get her excited about Christmas. His older brother, Jeff, tried to use the holiday to get her excited about Jesus. His parents, Jack and Louise, tried extra hard to make her feel like part of the family. She appreciated their effort, she supposed. It was nice to know she was loved. But it was painful, too, to never be able to meet their expectations.

Rosalyn warmly greeted a young family with two small daughters as they entered the restaurant. The younger girl, a baby, was carried by her mother, but the older one, Rosalyn guessed four or five years old, held tightly to her father’s hand, grinning up at him as they shared a familiar joke while they were led to their table. For a moment, Rosalyn thought she might throw up. This was what Dras could never understand, that the time of year when families drew closer would always be the worst time for her. Her family would never draw close again.

It’s hitting me extra hard this year, Rosalyn reflected. I thought I would feel better after the whole closure coincidence with Dad’s old car on Halloween. Will it be any different if I move away? What’s wrong with me?

Maybe Dras was right. Maybe she needed a little holiday spirit, something to pull her out of the depression she felt gnawing at her insides lately. It wouldn’t be easy, but maybe, if she really tried, she could get into the holly-jolly, peace on earth, goodwill to men stuff that Dras loved so much. And she owed it to Dras, after all. It was probably her last Christmas as a citizen of Greensboro, though she still hadn’t told him yet about the college in Vermont where she’d applied. Maybe she should make a real effort to make this Christmas special.

I’ll go Christmas shopping tomorrow, she decided, returning to the hostess stand to greet another happy family. It was something she had to do eventually, anyway. Just because she was a “bah humbug” kind of girl didn’t mean she forsook the holiday gift-giving tradition. She just didn’t normally like it.

But I’ll try this year.

She handed out menus and smiled her prettiest smile, complimenting a woman on her stylish purse. This group, like all the others in the restaurant, looked so happy, so in love with life. And as she swiveled to return to her post, Rosalyn could hear them, like all the others, beginning a conversation about Christmas. Rosalyn felt a tinge of envy.

Shopping tomorrow. Getting out there and saturating herself in the world of Santa Claus and fake snow and upbeat holiday ditties. She felt dubious and wondered if her plan to generate Christmas happiness was too simple.

It’s worth a shot.

* * *

Saturday morning hit Dras like a ton of bricks.

Last night he’d caught up with Rosalyn after she got off work, and the two of them headed to their favorite hangout, The Rave Scene, for a couple of hours of drinking and dancing. Even the club was getting into the Christmas spirit, with lights and sprigs of mistletoe hanging everywhere, and Larry, Dras’ favorite bartender, sporting a Santa hat. Rosalyn seemed to disdain the holiday decorations less than usual, but Dras could tell she was putting up some serious effort.

Poor Roz.

He got home sometime in the wee hours of the morning, he wasn’t sure just when, and crashed on the couch with a soda and the last piece of pumpkin pie. He fell asleep in the middle of eating the pie and woke up now with its remains smeared across the Ninja Turtles t-shirt he was wearing.

“Maann…I love this shirt!”

Dras rubbed his face and sighed heavily. His head hurt already and he’d only just opened his eyes. It wasn’t a proper hangover; he didn’t have that much to drink last night. No, it was just a general feeling of laziness and lousiness.

Rising from the couch and removing his soiled t-shirt, Dras caught a glimpse of a photo frame perched atop his entertainment center, amid his collection of recently purchased and rented videos. It was one of many candid snapshots of he and Rosalyn, this one taken at Christmas three or four years ago. The two of them were sitting in front of his parents’ Christmas tree, unwrapping their gifts. Dras clearly remembered what Rosalyn had given him. He’d just stained it with pumpkin pie. But he had to look closely at the picture to spot what he’d given her.

A travel coffee mug.

Really? Dude…

Perhaps not the most personal gift. Curious, Dras opened the storage door on the side of the entertainment center and pulled out a photo album. Rosalyn compiled all their pictures for him and slid them into photo albums, adding witty captions here and there. He flipped to a Christmas picture from last year.

I got her an electric pencil sharpener?


Dras flipped again, back another year. There was Rosalyn, opening a gift that must be from him, judging from the wrapping, which was actually just a grocery sack with a bow stuck on top. The following picture depicted Rosalyn holding up her gift.

A three-pack of king-size candy bars.

Rosalyn liked chocolate as much as the next girl, but Dras admitted to himself that the gift didn’t have any thought behind it. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about Rosalyn, it was just…well, he didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was getting caught up in the enjoyment that Christmas brought to him. Maybe it was knowing that Rosalyn didn’t care about the holidays, anyway.

Maybe I’m just a cruddy gift giver.

Not this year, Dras decided. This year he was going to get Rosalyn something special. After all, she was always there for him, and she was the only person who really understood him. Plus, she deserved it. She needed something to make Christmas joyful, and a really amazing gift might do the trick.

Excited about his plan to wow Rosalyn with his gift-choosing skills, a still shirtless and unshowered Dras reached into his jeans pocket to retrieve his Velcro wallet. He opened it to find a whopping six dollars inside. He frowned. The tiny amount could be problematic. Deflated, he sank back onto his couch. As he racked his aching brain for possible solutions to his lack of cash, he realized he had no idea where he’d even buy Rosalyn’s present. Greensboro was not exactly a hotbed of commerce, and when he journeyed to the mall over in Russellville, he always bummed a ride from, well, Rosalyn. He didn’t foresee his bike taking him that far.

The situation overwhelmed him for the moment and Dras sullenly switched on the television, hoping a few minutes of cartoons or a movie might supply his mind with the relaxation it needed to function more precisely. He found a superhero cartoon and stared blankly at the screen until a commercial break interrupted his waking slumber. Suddenly, there before him was the answer to all his problems.

“Strapped for Christmas cash?” the locally produced commercial began. “Come on down to John’s Pawn on the corner of Fourth Street and Terrace. John’s offers an extensive collection of electronics, jewelry, toys, books, and more. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your Christmas list. And we love to make trades or pay you cash now for your unwanted items. So don’t wait—head to John’s Pawn now to finish your Christmas shopping today!”

Twenty minutes later, a freshly showered Dras was on his way.

Copyright 2010 Greg Mitchell

Read Part Two!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Updates, Ahoy!

As we head into the Christmas season, I wanted to drop in and give a mini-update on what you can expect from this blog in the weeks and months ahead:

I'm excited to announce that we've got a brand-new The Coming Evil short story headed to this very blog, free of charge. It's a Christmas story, written by Meghan Mitchell--my wife and co-author of "The Coming Evil: Clown Time...The Remake!". I sort of view it as the calm before the storm, as this will be the last short story before The Strange Man hits shelves in February.

Also, coming up, we've got a brand new "Feature Trailer" for The Strange Man. It's nearly three minutes long, with actors, monsters, and a great score by Dan J. Schulte, and lots of coolness involved. It's finished, Realms and I are just waiting a little closer to release date before we premiere it. I'm hoping to see it posted in January.

Of course, February 1, 2011 is the big day! The day The Strange Man--over a decade in the making--is finally loosed upon the world! If you haven't already, pre-order your copy today!

Just in time for the book's release, I'll also be posting a completely unofficial (though no less cool) soundtrack to The Strange Man. I write to music, and a decade is a long time of music and writing. I've selected a list of songs that are meaningful in some way to The Strange Man, and have arranged the list to give you a sort of musical journey through The Strange Man.

And, lastly, maybe a month after the book is released, I'm going to begin a series of endnotes for the novel--a sort of running commentary, to take readers behind the scenes to talk about inspirations, Easter Eggs, and background info. The goal is to cover three chapters per installment, breaking it down, taking you through the process. The commentary will, of course, be spoiler heavy, so be sure to pick up a copy of the book before you tune in!

As you can see, we've got a lot planned for you just around the corner. Keep checking back here for more updates or join us on Networked Blogs and watch as updates magically come straight to your Facebook wall! It's magic!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Interview with Paeter Frandsen of Spirit Blade Productions!

I love Paeter Frandsen.

There. I said it.

First off, his name is endlessly fun to say. Beyond that, the guy is total geek--and, in my circles, that's a real compliment. It won't take long reading his blog to discover where his passions rest. There he talks games, comics, and sci-fi/fantasy/horror movies, but with an eye towards detecting the deeper truths found in such geek-worthy pursuits. On top of that, he is the mastermind behind Spirit Blade Productions--a fantastic venture that produces high-quality audio dramas!

I've been a big fan of radio dramas for a while now. Many in my generation might recall the Star Wars Radio Dramas based on the original trilogy. I still have my old cassettes of The Shadow radio plays, and I've already instructed my wife to purchase me a couple dramas from Dark Adventure Radio Theatre as produced by the amazing H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

When I first heard of Paeter's Spirit Blade series--a high concept, far future, sword-clashing, demon-fighting, sprawling sci-fi/fantasy/and supernatural epic--I was immediately intrigued. I was made all the more so when I discovered that such a fanboy smorgasboard was also an exploration of theology! I listened to the first Spirit Blade story (it's a trilogy, yo), and had a great, great time. It was such an immersive experience and left me wanting more. Today, we're talking to the man himself about this adventure in sound.

Greg Mitchell: First off, let’s start with something easy. Who the heck are you?

Paeter Frandsen: Mmm. A deep and profound question we must all ask ourselves... But I'll give you the shallow answer. My name is Paeter Frandsen. First name rhymes with "later", last name rhymes with "Manson". I live in Mesa, Arizona. I've been acting and singing for most of my life and also served as a worship pastor for a short time.

In 2006 I launched "Spirit Blade Productions", a very small company dedicated to telling very big stories in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. I've always been a huge fan of comic books, role-playing games (both video games and "paper and pencil") and fantasy novels. Sharing the truths of the Bible has been another passion of mine for a long time. So "Spirit Blade Productions" is really the inevitable result of combining my passions and the various facets of who I am.

GM: What is this crazy thing called The Spirit Blade Trilogy?

PF: Well, first off, it's an audio drama, which is different from an audio book in that it is performed by a full cast of actors and is completely fleshed out with sound effects and a musical score. In fact, its very much like a movie, except without the picture. Ideal entertainment for when you're driving, exercising or doing mindless work.

The Spirit Blade Trilogy takes place in the distant future, when the government has decided that all spiritual belief systems that make absolute truth claims are illegal. The ensemble cast centers on Merikk, a "has been" musician looking for meaning in life. Merikk discovers that he has a very important role to play in The Underground Liberation, a group of men secretly trying to put the concept of absolute truth and the quest for answers about God back in mainstream circulation.

The stakes are very high and the journey is a wild one. Characters travel in and out of the spirit realm, battling demons, while also struggling in a conflict with humans in the physical world. Aliens, cyborgs, science-fiction and the supernatural all collide in an extremely genre-bending experience.

GM: You’ve achieved something really spectacular with Spirit Blade. Namely, the resurrection of a largely dead medium: the radio drama. When you were thinking of Spirit Blade, why in the world did you decide to go with the radio drama route, of all things?

PF: Well, I certainly wouldn't say I've resurrected the medium. There is a large community of artists working hard to bring attention to it. And the internet and mp3 players are now making the medium both accessible and attractive. But I do hope that I'm bringing something very unique to the table.

The reason I chose the medium of audio drama is because I believed it was a medium I could create material in that would meet or exceed the standards established by the secular mainstream. Trying to tell these epic, action-packed, effects-filled stories as movies would result in something that looks very cheap and laughable. Hollywood is not interested in producing stories with strong biblical themes and the Christian arts community has not yet been able to summon the resources and talent to compete with summer movie blockbusters. I'm just really tired of seeing cheap knock-offs or other crap with the label "Christian" on it. My work is far from perfect, but I'm doing everything I can to create material that meets or exceeds mainstream standards.

GM: I’ve gotta say that the production of Spirit Blade is a masterpiece of sound, and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been a fan and have listened to my share of radio dramas in the past, but you have really set a high bar for quality. A lot of times, even in the most professional of productions, there seems to be “the sound effect track” and then the actors and dialogue—as sort of these two separate things—, but Spirit Blade really puts the actors in the midst of the action. When things blow up, I feel it—almost see it. When I was listening to it, I had that same idea--that this was a big budget special effects bonanza, without the picture. Not only that, but there are so many layers to the sounds. I really want the audience to understand that this isn’t just talking with some sound effects, you’ve created an audio work of art with nuance and complexity. How long did it take you to create this—not from conception, but just the grunt work of recording and mixing this production?

PF: Thanks so much. The recording and production of the original mix of "Spirit Blade" took about two years, working on it at night while on staff at my church during the day. Now that I do this mostly full-time, the "Special Edition" took about six months. The work is helped greatly by the sound effects libraries I've purchased from various Hollywood effects studios, and the fantastic scoring I'm able to purchase as well, but "grunt work" is an appropriate description. A lot of it is a ton of fun, but there is plenty more that's just plain boring, technical work. Adjusting levels and EQs. And timing is a big issue, for both effects and dialogue. Each actor comes and records individually. It isn't until I'm mixing that I line them all up so they sound like they're in a room together sharing a conversation. I basically have to do almost everything except act for the actors. And since I'm controlling the pacing of their line delivery, I even do a little bit of acting for them too.

GM: I’ve fawned enough over your technical prowess! Let’s go back a bit, to the very genesis of Spirit Blade. How did this story come about for you? How long have you been working on it?

PF: It's been a long journey, especially for the first part of the trilogy. I wrote the story as an unpublished novella from about 1999 to 2002, just as something fun to do in my spare time. I converted it to an audio script in 2003 and it was performed live at my church in 2004.

GM: Now that sounds awesome!

PF: Most of the cast of the live show returned to record the project a few months later and I released the original mix of "Spirit Blade" in 2006. After releasing two more projects, it became obvious to me that my technical ability had taken a leap forward right after mixing Spirit Blade. So this year I did a complete remix of the project from the ground up. Entirely remixed songs, a new score, tons of new sound effects and a greatly improved overall sound. We just released the "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" audio drama in October. So it's really been a long journey for that project. And for "behind the scenes" junkies, we've got a ton of free downloads to check out at, as well as our archive discs, that chronicle most of it.

GM: I think, tonally, Spirit Blade has a very “Saturday morning cartoon” feel to it, and I mean that in the best possible way. While listening, I envisioned a sort of cross between Luc Besson’s underrated The Fifth Element, mixed with Batman Beyond (a favorite of mine). Also, at its heart, it captures this “gee whiz” approach to sci-fi that’s really reminiscent of the original Star Wars and the new The Clone Wars animated series. Plus, what I was not prepared for: Spirit Blade is actually kind of a musical! Was there a specific tone you were trying to achieve, or did this come naturally out of the demands of the story and the nature of radio drama—which has to be a bit “melodramatic” for the simple reason that the audience can’t see the actors?

PF: "Spirit Blade" doesn't have quite the focus of tone that our following two projects have, and I think that's the result of me learning the ropes as a director in this medium. It's especially noticeable in the original mix, and still noticeable some in the performances of the "Special Edition".

Some of what you're interpreting as melodrama results from the inflection used by the actors in an effort to convey audibly what is normally displayed visibly. This is one of the huge challenges of audio drama. Everything has to be just slightly overdone. For example, you'll notice in "Spirit Blade" that, despite some of its lighter tone at times, there is also quite a bit of "gore". Demons exploding in a mess of entrails, quite a bit of juicy, bloody effects when characters are sliced by a sword, and other moments of "audio yuckiness" that I won't spoil.

GM: Yeah, those parts were pretty awesome :p

PF: If this were all presented with visuals to match what you hear, you would be looking at a hardcore R-rated movie. But as an audio drama, it's much more of a "PG-13" experience.

As for the "musical" aspect of the trilogy, I just wanted to experiment. I figured, if I'm limited to audio, why not try taking further advantage of the audio medium and use songs to tell some of this story? I'm not doing the same thing in our other projects, but Merikk is a musician and sees the world through the interpretive lens of his art. So that provides a bit of a bridge for the involvement of the songs. It's definitely a bit experimental, but my hope is that my audience is open and imaginative enough to give it a shot. Plus, it's not a "musical" in the sense of "kick lines" and "jazz hands". Most of these songs are hard, industrial electronic, which blends well with the sci-fi and supernatural elements. And in two and a half hours, there are only seven of them.

The vast majority of reactions I've gotten to the presence of the songs is positive, though it's not everyone's cup of tea. So all I can suggest is that folks give it a shot and see what they think. ;-)

GM: Where do you find the incredibly talented actors that populate your cast? Are you looking for help in future Spirit Blade Productions?

PF: Thanks for the praise! I've been very grateful for every cast member I've ever had. Especially since they all do it for free!

We're a very small company. Basically, it's me doing everything related to production while my wife crunches the numbers. I pay a friend to do all the graphic design elements (when he lets me pay him) and have another guy that I pay once or twice a year for website related services. But day in and day out, it's a one man operation. I also do everything I can to keep our product prices low when compared to mainstream audio drama prices. So financially we're still a long way from being able to pay our talented cast members, despite how much it pains me. But I've been hugely blessed by the number of gifted individuals who are also excited about what we're doing or just plain think its fun enough to do without pay.

The cast of "Spirit Blade" is made up almost entirely of people who were going to my church at the time we produced the live show. Our church had a strong outreach theater ministry at the time, and so we had some great options right at our doorstep. With each successive production I've reached more and more outside of that circle. Our third project, "Pilgrim's Progress: Similitude Of A Dream", was the first for which I posted casting calls in the secular acting community in the Phoenix area, and worked with a couple of actors I'd never met before. I've used a few actors I've found online in smaller roles, but the right "online actors" are few and far between, since they need to be not only solid actors, but able to create and send me a recording of their performance that meets the technical standards of the rest of the recorded dialogue.

However, microphone quality and acting experience aren't near as vital for those who join the fun of our online volunteer production community, The Spirit Blade Underground Alliance. We're always looking for enthusiastic folks to get involved as writers, actors, mixers or visual artists as we pool our efforts to produce audio fiction that we then make available for free. It's a ton of fun and you can get more info at

GM: What’s next for Spirit Blade, the story? It’s a trilogy, right? Is the second part already out? What can fans hope to :p

PF: The second part of the trilogy was released in 2008 and titled "Spirit Blade: Dark Ritual". As you can imagine, it has a darker tone and story to match the title. If "Spirit Blade" is a story about all of these characters on a rough day, "Dark Ritual" is a story about these characters on a day straight from hell. A promotional tag-line for this story was "no one is safe". Couldn't be more true.

I'm currently outlining and preparing to write the script for the third and final part of this trilogy, which will answer some lingering questions and bring the story to a close on an insanely epic scale. We're going out with a seriously big bang.

GM: The only way to do it!

PF: For info and trailers for all of our projects, you can visit And I keep a running blog with updates on my current projects at, so that's probably the quickest way to keep up to date on what's coming next.

GM: Alright, all this talk of sci-fi has been great, but I think we’d do the story a disservice not to talk about what lies at the core of it—and that’s its Christian foundation. This is a story about finding meaning in life and, ultimately, looking to God to discover it. Why tell this kind of story in a Star Wars-y setting? What are the unique challenges in developing a Bible-based story in a lasers-and-hovercar kind of world?

PF: Science fiction and fantasy have always been wonderful playgrounds for philosophy. Good and evil can be represented in dramatic ways not possible in realistic stories and important ideas can be explored in fantastic environments that take the pressure off of the audience.

If you look at films like Star Wars, Tron, The Matrix, Superman, and many others, you'll see imaginative fiction dealing with extremely relevant spiritual issues. Now and then we'll see a stronger Christian influence in movies like The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe, but most times Buddhism, a form of Hinduism or "pop-spirituality" are the main schools of thought presented.

More than half of the time, science fiction is a platform for atheistic assumptions. Theological issues, like those in Tron and The Matrix, are more symbolic than actually a supernatural element in the story. I wanted to challenge this paradigm by creating science fiction that is driven specifically by biblical thought and that also breaks the mold of the genre some by incorporating the supernatural as well.

The challenge isn't so much in the development of this kind of story as it is in the marketing of it. First off, it's a futuristic Christian story that has nothing to do with the "end times". Secondly, as I mentioned before, it's very violent. Our slogan is "Christian sci-fi and fantasy, unsterilized, unsafe...unleashed!" Most Christians are stuck pretty firmly in "family friendly" mode, so what we're doing definitely isn't for everyone.

GM: One of the things I recall upon first discovering your site is this sort of “beacon” message you’ve got—calling out to all the “Misfit Christians” who like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. Ha, ha, I know the feeling! I’ve been a proud Misfit Christian from the very beginning. Do you find much resistance from the Church toward what you’re doing, or maybe for your interests in “the weird”?

PF: At this point we aren't high profile enough to have gained much attention from anyone but those who become fans. But it's not uncommon for me to get an e-mail from a new listener who says they are concerned about some of the content in our productions. Oddly, it isn't usually the violence, but the "language". In Spirit Blade, I have a list of invented "swear words" that my characters use. Despite a little crossover, none of them have a consistent parallel in modern slang, and their actual meanings are left very vague. But despite this, and the fact that the Bible never gives us a list of taboo words in the English language, some listeners are uncomfortable with even these completely fictional "swear words".

But responses like this are more and more uncommon. I'd say I feel more resistance to my love of horror, sci-fi and fantasy in my personal relationships than in my work. I've been a bit "weird" like that for a long time, and I know I'm not alone. Ultimately, Spirit Blade Productions is about reaching out to this lost segment of the population that the church at best doesn't know what to do with and at worst actually condemns. The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast ( is a weekly show I produce for Christian geeks to hear and talk about their favorite geeky subjects while learning to discern the difference between the good and bad philosophies presented in genre fiction. My heart and passion is for the misunderstood geek to better understand and get excited about the incredible truths of the Bible and to have great relationships and community with other believers.

GM: I really appreciate you taking the time to hang out and talk all things geek. You are a man who knows your stuff and that’s commendable. Any parting words to our audience? Where can they find you on the net? Pitch your product, man!

PF: Well first, thanks for having me here, Greg. Great questions and a lot of fun!

We've got a ton of things going on. The audio dramas, tons of free downloads, a podcast, forums and a creative community to participate in. The best way to check it out is to visit and just start exploring. You can also hear trailers and free previews of our projects on the site.

We're running a cool promotional offer right now for "Spirit Blade: Special Edition" and will be starting another one for the Christmas season. And for those buying physical product from us, shipping is always free!

Lastly, I'd love to hear from you. What I'm doing is really about the people I'm doing it for. I love interacting with listeners and would love to get reactions from anybody who visits the site. And tell you what, from now to the end of November, shoot me an e-mail (you can find it on the site) and say that "Greg sent me" and I'll send you a free download of the "Spirit Blade Song Bundle". I hope to hear from you soon!

There you have it, folks! What more could you possibly need before you bought this thing?! Head over to Spirit Blade Productions today! Tell 'em Greg sent you.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Evolution of a Bogeyman

February is getting closer, and The Strange Man will finally be loosed upon the world.

As we hurdle closer to that moment, I'm reminded of my nearly 13 year long journey to see this creation come to life. The road has been twisty, with more than one detour or roadblock in the path. But today, I want to talk about the Strange Man, himself. The Bogeyman.

The first concept I guess I ever had of a "bogeyman" was Freddy Krueger.

I remember the night I first watched (most of) A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was on late night TV and I was, maybe, nine years old. I was petrified, but fascinated. I'd watch a little bit, then turn the channel to catch my breath, then flip back to Fred. Scary stuff. Perhaps what stayed with me the most was the taunting. How much fun he was having, killing these people. It was that ego, that totally carefree attitude to butchery that fundamentally disturbed me.

I don't suppose it's any coincidence then that, years later when constructing my own bogeyman, he got a little Fred Krueger buried at the heart of him. The Strange Man is a sadist, deriving a kid-on-Christmas-morning kind of glee from inflicting misery and torment on his victims. He taunts them, daring them to stand against him, then laughs as he crushes their hopes and dreams before their stunned eyes. In order to write "The Coming Evil" from the heart--from the gut--I had to put my characters against something that terrified me, and the Strange Man is that.

For the physical look of the Strange Man, he's gone through a lot of renditions. First and foremost, in the very first draft of "The Coming Evil"--back when it was a screenplay--he wasn't called "The Strange Man" at all. In those days he was simply "The Devil". From the get go, I really wanted to touch on the duality of the Devil. He's charming and enticing one minute, then he reveals his true nature and rips your throat out. In the original script, he appeared in a "human form" throughout the whole story--with maybe only glimpses of his true self in window or mirror reflections. Here's a sketch I threw together back then.

His monster form sorta looks like a plucked bird. I was playing on the popular renderings of angels with wings. My idea was that, as a fallen angel, his "wings" would be removed. Also, he's got no eyes, or perhaps they were just closed. My concept was that, after having been locked up in "the gloomy caves of hell" as the Bible refers to it, he'd be malnourished, frail, pale, and his eyes would be sensitive to the light. This was a pretty bizarre sketch. I quickly ditched it.

That smile, though, really struck me.

The smile can be a creepy thing. I'm told that I don't actually smile a lot, and, as it turns out, I think I distrust people who walk around with a smile on all the time. That kind of smile, oftentimes, seems forced or perhaps used to cover up darker thoughts. I think it was Mark Hamill's turn as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series that made me see the power behind the "demented leer".

I began to incorporate that more and more into my bogeyman. In fact, for a brief stint, he was known as "The Smiling Man" in that "plucked bird" form. But, I wanted something a little more dramatic. Hence...this.

This was my attempt at a Lestat figure (it didn't last long, either). Very charming, metrosexual, some Goth influences in there--really over the top. I really dig that monster, though. I refer to that as "Open Face". But, no. That was too much, and kinda silly, really. But it was a lot of fun to draw and I still get a kick out of looking at it. The only thing I think I retained from this concept was the metrosexual approach to the Strange Man's "beautiful form" (though he's a much better dresser now).

I went back to the "plucked bird" concept to see what worked. In the Bible, when Moses leaves the mountain after having a conversation with God, his face is glowing. When angels are described, it says that they're glowing. I put two and two together and deduced that this glow comes from being in the presence of God. But, again, for a fallen angel--which the Strange Man is--he's not been in the presence of God for a very long time. I went back to the concept of him being frail, malnourished, pale, sickly. But, I threw in some Joker influences for his face, and dressed him up in some leather straps and chains.

While some might feel that the obvious inspiration for this leather fetish was Pinhead from Hellraiser, I was actually paying homage to Edward Scissorhands--which I looooved as a kid. Also, around the time I was doing this, Dark City hit theaters and I fell in love with the costuming and art design in that movie (probably because it reminded me of Ed Scissorhands :p).

As it turns out, the villains in Dark City were called "the Strangers", but I had actually forgotten that until today when I was trying to google for that cool Dark City pic. So, no, I didn't nick the name for my bogeyman. The name came just by happy coincidence. When I first started writing the novel of "The Coming Evil", I kept referring to the monster as "the strange man" until I could come up with a cool monster name. After awhile I realized, "Hey! That is a cool name!" I capitalized it and there you go. The Strange Man.

But the bogeyman wasn't quite there yet. For those of you who have read the Xulon Edition of Book One, you'll be familiar with the Strange Man's gremlin hordes. There was a very brief time when they were one and the same. I had this bizarre image of the gremlins forming together to make this "beautiful man". Then, when he revealed himself, he "exploded" into a thousand tiny monsters. That sounded really cool, but too complicated to write (does he have a hive-mind POV?), so I scratched it. Once I made the gremlins their own thing, I was free to design the Strange Man. I went back to the Dark City stuff, Edward Scissorhands, the Joker, and a little Nosferatu for good measure, and I finally came up with a winner.

Immediately after I finished drawing this picture, I knew I had my bogeyman. The character really took off from there. The chains and straps were no longer just for decoration--I came up with the concept that they were a sort of prison, keeping him contained. So, even at his worst in the books, we get the hint that's only scratching the surface of his true evil potential. I also added the concept that the Strange Man doesn't walk--he hovers. Again, he's imprisoned, caught between heaven and earth, in a way. He doesn't belong to either world; he can't soar (like an angel) and he can't walk (like a man). I remembered that movie The Craft, and how Fairuza Balk's character floats in one scene, dragging the points of her shoes on the floor. I thought that was so cool, so I added that to the mix, as well. But the inspirations continue today. I'm always seeing new movies, reading new books or comics, and coming up with more little touches on the character. But this sketch is the foundation of everything the Strange Man is.

Since his initial premiere in 2007 (when the Xulon Edition came out), I've been incredibly blessed to see some amazing artists offer their own interpretations on the character.

Here's Richard Harrison Green's rendition. Richard was a Disney Animator and also has done some work for Ray Bradbury! He sketched this up at my very first convention as a guest.

Next, Brent Schoonover put this one together on the inside cover of a copy of his comic Horrorwood!

Most recently (and perhaps most famously) Thomas Mason painted this beautiful scene that has created a fair number of goosebumps since its unveiling.

Finally, we have the Strange Man as he'll appear on the cover of the book come February.

This is a more "realistic" approach--some of his more gruesome elements have no doubt been toned down to not scare the ladies perusing the Christian bookstore shelves--but I'm actually very pleased to see that there's a bit of Richard O'Brien from Dark City in this! Talk about coming full circle.

The Strange Man has come a long way, but I'm proud of the results. I love monsters and it's been a real pleasure creating one of my own. One day, I hope to see the Strange Man break out of the world of prose and enter comic books. After that, maybe movies! Toys! Model kits! Coloring books! Lunchboxes!

Well, you get the idea. :)

Thanks for tuning in to my nostalgia. Pick up the book when it hits stores in February and face the Strange Man!