No Instruction Manual For Being Dead

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Nosferatu - "1337" arty by Mark Kelly

Nosferatu – “1337”
art by Mark Kelly

Fangs are fun when you don’t miss the sun.

Gaming and roleplaying have done a lot for me. They pushed me to meet friends, travel, and learn some of my earliest lessons in storytelling. It’s even led to a career. And one of the games that had the most profound effect on me was Vampire the Masquerade. Now, in its V20 (20th anniversary) guise, I get to play with some of those toys professionally.

The Kickstarter for the Deluxe V20 Lore of the Clans has begun. I’ll let that page tell you about the book. I got to do the write ups of two of the clans therein: the Followers of Set and the Tzimisce. The Kickstarter has some fun pledge rewards, and a nifty achievement system (involving some vampire-themed selfies). You can even download the pre-layout text of the 99% finished manuscript.

Here’s a little sample of what I wrote in it, the opening fiction from the Tzimisce chapter:

Tzimisce

The Hospitality in Clay

With the ghoul’s corpse at my feet, I knew I was dead. Because, years ago, the Countess had vowed to end me, and the spirits of the angry earth hear her promises.

Had the Cardinal sent me to die? A gift-wrapped soul to squeeze the juices out of? He said it would be a fine gesture, an old enemy welcoming her to the new world. I was the one, the only survivor of my pack, or any of the other packs for that matter. All that prestige, but it was just dumb luck. My Romanian nights. The bad nights. The kind of hell you can only enter by pissing off an ancient, entrenched Fiend. I still wake to blood sweats in the day, pulling the grave dirt over myself like a safety blanket.

I drove up the long driveway, in disbelief that a creature like the Countess could uproot and move to New England. We never actually beat the crafty Koldun. One night, she offered peace and to play nice with the Sword of Caine. She had a very specific list of demands. We agreed to every one.

Approaching the manor, I caught memory fragments, thought I recognized trees, stones, brickwork, and statues. I could smell it — in the potted plants and garden — soil from the old country, aeons of blood and loam. That’s the thing about earth: it smells like birth and decay, and you take on the dreams of those who died in it. The Countess was the land, and she had brought it with her, piece by piece.

I waited for a servant to formally invite me inside before stepping over the threshold. Old memories haunted the manse. In the dining hall, I found a woman weeping. Mortal. Dinner. Then I found a dead man on the luxuriant carpet, throat vacated. I recognized him, a revenant ghoul, the Countess’s favorite.

A door burst open. “My lady, come quickly!” a voice called out. Another familiar face, Janos. We had flesh-ripping history. We flashed mutual fangs.

“Greetings.”

I flinched. Didn’t see her enter. Just a gust of wind, and then her stark face, cheekbones raised like guillotine blades.

“Countess,” I stammered. When did I learn to bow? She was resplendent in her frock coat. I felt suddenly self-conscious in my leather and body mods. I’m a child of the night. A badass skin-flaying, fang-kicker. Wherefore this fucking shame?

“He killed one of yours, in your own home,” Janos said.

A deadly dark eyebrow arched. The rest of her was statue still, except those long, powerful fingers. Her hands never stop moving. She looked at me. Through me. Dying moths fluttered under my skin.

Then she looked at Janos.

“No,” she said. “That is not what happened.”

“He killed Mircea!”

“That is two lies, Janos.”

Her grandchilde’s mouth opened. Closed. Then he whispered, “I did it for you, Baba. Now we can kill him.”

“That is not what must happen now.”

“No….” Janos looked hurt. “I am your blood. He is the enemy. They killed so many. Him, him, him!” Janos foamed, knife in hand, and leapt at me.

Then the Countess was there, shielding me, the knife in her chest. Her face was still, but the rats raged in the walls, the wind shrieked, and the windows blackened with thousands of leathery wings.

Janos cowered. “No, Baba. Don’t kill me.”

“Shhh,” she said, a finger on Janos’s lips, and he froze. “I honor enemies with death, not trespassers.” She then whispered old words into his ear. I heard the name “Kruchina.” Janos wept, full-bodied sobs, till he was nothing but blood tears and blood snot.

The Countess swallowed Janos with her eyes and said, “Go now and tell Fickó to give you thorough tenderness.” Janos’s head darted about in terror as his Judas limbs carried him away.

The lady of the manor then gently took my arm, pulled out my chair, and sat me down at the dining table. She placed the living girl before me.

“He was right,” I said. “That was a perfect opportunity to kill me.”

“You are my guest,” the Countess said, as if explaining gravity to a child who dropped a toy down a deep well with no echo. “Perhaps one day we will honor one another, but for tonight, I will sacrifice every drop of my blood and every pound of my flesh to protect you.”

Taking her seat, she opened an ornate music box. It played a twinkling Romanian lullaby. Inside was a handful of the ancient earth. Praying, she opened her wrist and bled upon the soil. Then, she began to eat.

My smartphone vibrated and burned in my pocket, but I dared not answer it. Outside, something howled. Somewhere, Janos screamed. That’s when I knew I was dead. Sooner or later. The Countess keeps every promise.

She looked up from her supper of crimson clay. “Are you not hungry?”

Black Bones and a Red Heart

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So I have a friend named Val. We’ve known each other for some time. Val has a husband named Allen and a little toddler daughter named Penny. Val informed me that I came up in family conversation during breakfast today, and it turned out to be my most favoritest description of me ever.

Val: <something Josh at GenCon something>
Penny: Josh?
Allen: Yes, remember mommy’s friend Josh? He wears a black coat.
Val: And a black hat. And black pants, and black shoes, and black shirts.
Penny: And black bones.
Val: Yes.
Penny: And a red heart.
Val: A tell-tale heart.

Reviews on the Crazy Train

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So… I got to participate in the Lovecraftian Mythos. I got to tickle my inner geek in several places. The Mythos. Call of Cthulhu (the RPG). Chaosium. It’s a short story called “Stained Windows,” and you can find it in the anthology Madness on the Orient Express (edited by the illimitable awesome that is James Lowder). Even better, I got to be nestled in with the names of some writers I really like.

The story is a sort of demented love story (between two recovering lunatics on a train). It’s also a gentleman thief story (shades of Arsène Lupin). It’s a weird noir (shades of Dark City). It’s a story about sleight of hand and escape artistry. And there’s a scary train. It’s got some mythos too.

It’s getting some encouraging reviews:

Stained Windows by Joshua Alan Doetsch. So if the last one made me think of Dostoyevsky existentialism, this story made me think of Camus. The tone and writing style really reminded me of The Stranger although the stories are completely different. Anyway, this is by far the most dreamlike, surreal and offbeat story in the entire collection and it’s the perfect way to end Madness on the Orient Express because honestly the title of this anthology could also be the title of this short story as well.

“Stained Windows is about a gentleman thief who is a bit over his head with his latest ‘acquisition.’ The main character has stolen an ancient tome and he’s on the Orient Express to deliver it to a buyer. However, a lot of other…factions want the tome too and they’re not going to take no for an answer. Along the way, the protagonist meets a whole bevy of characters, each of which gets stranger and madder the closer they get to the end of the line. The snappy dialogue of this piece makes it this a real treat, if not the outright crown jewel of the anthology and the ending is both abrupt and awesome. It’s not at all the ending you will expect for this tale but after you read it (maybe even re-read the story to get the full effect), it’s pretty perfect.

‘Stained Windows’ by Joshua Alan Doetsch is the final story of the collection, and was a real highlight for me. It’s one of the very longest stories, possibly too long. But it’s full of wonderful rich and disturbing imagery, that conjured up a world I was happy to stay in for as long as possible. I wasn’t quite sure what exactly was going on for a long time. You do find out eventually, but I liked the uncertainty that the story built. Was the main character really insane – despite their protestations – and delusional, or was there another explanation? As I said it was a real highlight for me, and I was quite sad when the story finished.

‘Stained Windows,’ by Joshua Alan Doetsch, is my other top fave (it was a close battle). It’s both nightmarish and dreamlike, a journey of true madness, brilliantly written and the best possible close to the book to make for maximum lingering unreality and can’t-stop-thinking-about-it effect.

WEIRD LOVE –or– Valentines With Ventricles

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So the romantic weekend is concluded. Chocolates have been eaten. Flowers passed. Cards. Perfume. Heart-shaped everything.

Now you want some unorthodox romance. Some strange love. Valentines that beat. Look no further!

High Resolutions

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’tis the season of resolutions. Or at least the tail end of it. That point when resolutions, bright and new and recently birthed, naively look about with shiny, bunny eyes and…BAM! Bullet in the ear. Buried in the shallow grave of end-of-Janurary. I’m not judging. There’s body parts in my boneyard too.

So lets go grave robbing!

Necromancy!

It’s alive!

I resolve to better feed the hungry maw of this blog. The poor thing has been subsisting on roadkill and particularly slow villagers. Things are brewing. Video game things. Table top game things. Anthology things. Screenplay and movie things. Stay tuned.

Also, I resolve to achieve my World of Warcraft weight.

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And after that, I’ll achieve my Secret World weight.

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I resolve to re-master one sleight-of-hand trick a month.

I resolve to use my fancy microphone for more audio-entertainment goodness.

I resolve to write certain people physical letters (fountain pen ink, wax seals, the whole bit) and tell them things unsaid.

I resolve to help a soul who’s creatively stuck and confidence-shaken.

I resolve to make better use of the wondrous gift of having a pet with an empty ocular cavity (suggestions welcome).

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What do you resolve? Tell me. Tell me! What have you got rising out of your boneyard?

Madness On the Orient Express

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Do you like trains? Do you like cosmic horror?

A while back, Chaosium held a Kickstarter campaign for an updated version of Horror on the Orient Express. One of the stretch goals was an anthology called Madness on the Orient Express (edited by James Lowder). I wrote a story for that and it looks like the book is coming together now. Here’s a final list of stories/authors. A lot of names I’m excited to accompany. More as it develops.

“A Great and Terrible Hunger” by Elaine Cunningham
“A Finger’s Worth of Coal” by Richard Dansky
“There is a Book” by Dennis Detwiller
“Stained Windows” by Joshua Alan Doetsch
“The Lost Station Horror” by Geoff Gillan
“Bound for Home” by Christopher Golden
“Demons Dreaming” by Cody Goodfellow
“La Musique de l’Ennui” by Kenneth Hite
“Inscrutable” by Robin D. Laws
“Daddy, Daddy” by Penelope Love
“The Pattern” by Ari Marmell
“Bitter Shadows” by Lisa Morton
“On the Eastbound Train” by Darrell Schweitzer
“Black Cat of the Orient” by Lucien Soulban
“The Face of the Deep” by C.A. Suleiman
“The God Beneath the Mountain” by James L. Sutter

Winter is…here (Part 1)

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The blog is hungry. “Feed me! Feed me!” it keens. My fingers are full of Bandaids.  No more blood letting. I’ll have to feed it words. Words. Words!

So what’s been happening over my winter?

A Very Outer Gods Christmas
It was a very quiet Christmas. My brother Nick and I stuck it out in the new apartment in Durham, unable to visit family this year. I did receive a very special present from a special lady who took it upon herself put together my very own framed Nyarlathotep artifact.

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Not only did she know to make something regarding the forbidden lore of the Outer Dark, she even new which of the Outer Gods was my favorite! There was only one thing to do…

Would An Amy By Any Other Name Be Just As Sweet?
hop a plane to the UK and spend New Years with this fantastical darkling fae darling of the British Isles. Ladies and gents, I give you the significant to my other, Amy Sweet!

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We’d been in contact, via the internet, for over half a year. Now we’re trying our hand at this long-distance relationship racket. I plan on bending space/time anyway. Besides, she’s pretty cool, like Morticia and Wednesday Addams in one. I mean…just look!

Amy!!!

I had a blast. I had my first stout-while-in-a-British-pub. I consumed a new episode of Sherlock, freshly plucked off the tree, while it aired on the BBC.

I had a proper British roast and Yorkshire pudding.

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Saw some old buildings.

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This door had just received an aweful fright. Poor dear.

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Long ago, I made a promise that I would not be with a woman who could not soundly thrash me at Magic…

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…luckily, she is a frighteningly formidable gamer. Seriously. I have internal damage now.

That concludes Part 1 of my winter hijinks. Stay tuned to hear how I became an Italian American vampire in the roaring ’20s, how I discovered tobacco pipes and old man sweaters, secret screenplay writing projects, secret cartoon writing projects, brain-dissecting interviews, and more!

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