Make it a REAL “Black” Friday!
Buy Black Speculative Fiction!
Also, try out these Blacktastic Books you will absolutely love:
Imaro by Charles Saunders – A masterwork from the father of Sword and Soul. Imaro is the definition of great Heroic Fantasy.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler – Widely considered Butler’s best work, this is an incredible story of a dystopian future and a heroine with hyper-empathy.
Immortal by Valjeanne Jeffers – The first in a series of exciting books that takes place in the world of Tundra. Jeffers deftly combines Science Fiction, Horror and Romance in telling the story of Karla, a shapeshifter who fights the forces of evil of which she dreams.
Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell – This epic fantasy romance explores race, ethnicity, and imperialism in a beautiful – and sometimes brutal – ancient African setting.
A Darker Shade of Midnight by Lynn Emery – Mystery, Horror and Romance combine to give you this masterpiece that is a first in an incredible series. LaShaun Rousselle – the protagonist, who uses her paranormal abilities to solve the mystery of who killed her cousin and what lives in the woods on her family’s land – is one of the most interesting heroine’s in fiction.
Order of the Seers by Cerece Rennie Murphy – This thrilling tale of discrimination, love, retribution, lust for power and the great potential that lies dormant in us all follows the life and struggle of Liam and Lilith Knight – a brother and sister duo who are hunted by a ruthless and corrupt branch of the U.N., which seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability to envision the future.
Hayward’s Reach by Thaddeus Howze – a series of short stories told by Mokoto, the last survivor of an unexpected cataclysm. Mokoto, even in his current state of in-humanity, learns what it means to be truly human.
Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors.
Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis – A powerful Sword and Soul tale, set in Davis’ intriguing Uhuru universe, first experienced in his seminal series, Meji. Woman of the Woods draws us into the world of demon-hunter, Sadatina and her “sisters”, a duo of twin lionesses who aid her in her battle against the vicious Mosele and their demon allies, who seek to destroy her people.
Redeemer by Balogun Ojetade – This is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that is both gangster saga and science fiction epic. A tale of fatherhood and of predestination versus predetermination. An entertaining mash-up that Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Urban Fiction fans alike will enjoy.
If you are interested in finding more authors of Black Speculative Fiction check out Black Speculative Fiction Reviews.
Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?
Stories about the heroes and superheroes in speculative fiction, film and comic books capture essential truths about human nature. We relate to – and identify with – the characters and themes in these stories; we empathize with the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face, and we admire – and often mimic – their heroic acts.
What, exactly, is a superhero, you ask?
What is the difference between a superhero and a hero?
I would say that every hero in a work of Black speculative fiction – and least the works I have read, which is pretty vast – is a superhero.
The definition of a hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary. A hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves. By definition, a hero would include entirely fictional characters, such as Batman, Brotherman, or Storm; characters who are real, but surrounded by legend, such as John Henry, Bass Reeves, or ‘Black’ Mary Fields; and “real world” firefighters, teachers and parents.
The clearest difference between a hero and what we tend to consider a superhero is that superheroes possess fantastic powers, fight their battles with advanced technology, or possess uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck. Superheroes are heroes who cannot possibly exist in our own world today.
Unlike ordinary heroes, superheroes must have abilities that normal people do not and cannot have. A superhero like Brotherman – a great comic book hero and protagonist of a comic book series of the same name, brilliantly realized by writer, Guy Sims and his brother, artist Dawud Anyabwile – has no super powers. He belongs to the uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck camp.
Brotherman is also larger-than-life and his stories are timeless; eternal.
Would this make Harriet Tubman a superhero? The great freedom fighter, spy and warrior of history is certainly a hero, however, while she possessed a supreme amount of bravery, endurance, skill, luck and the gift of accurate visions, her abilities were attainable by anyone – except, maybe those accurate visions. They were not uncanny, or otherworldly.
However, Harriet Tubman – protagonist of the Steamfunk novel Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and one of the protagonists of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – is a superhero. She possesses the ability to heal from massive damage to her body at ten times the rate of a normal person; she has the strength of several men; and she can cast illusions.
Milton Davis’ Changa, of the Sword and Soul series, Changa’s Safari, fights monsters, sorceresses and men and has the ability to see malevolent spirits.
Remi ‘The Single Link’ Swan, hero of the fight fiction novel, A Single Link, is the first woman in history to fight men in professional co-ed mixed martial arts.
These are all superheroes – larger than life; powerful beyond the normal realm of human ability; fearless, lucky, or talented beyond measure.
And, like Brotherman, all their stories are timeless; eternal.
No costume is necessary; but it is cool.
But, how do we relate to and identify with characters with such amazing attributes?
Is the reason why the most popular stories in comic books are origin stories because they show us the exact moment when a normal man or woman goes from being just an average Joe or Josephine to being somehow better, faster, smarter, or stronger?
I believe it is not the attributes, but the altruism, we identify with – or at least we aspire to.
It is also the trauma superheroes suffer at their becoming. Many have told me that they love the origin story of The Scythe, who readers will get to see more of when the novel is released in summer, 2014. What they have said they love is how Dr. A.C. Jackson makes a bargain with the sentient scythe of death to return to earth and exact revenge on his murderers. Dr. Jackson is, literally, a tortured soul; the victim of racism and brutality during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921.
Readers also identify with the life-altering force of destiny found in origin stories. In the film Rite of Passage, Harriet Tubman gathers several Guardians – those endowed with supernatural powers to fight men, machines, monsters, demons and the undead. One such Guardian, Harriet Tubman’s young pupil, Dorothy Wright, is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she rises to the occasion and becomes one of the protectors of the Black-owned town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Many of us identify with Dorothy’s challenge of assuming a great responsibility that forces her to grow up sooner than she wants to.
Finally, there’s sheer chance; or the illusion that it was chance – I am not inclined to believe in coincidence – that readers love about origin stories. In the Rite of Passage tie-in, the short film The Dentist of Westminster, the protagonist, Osho Adewale, travels to Nicodemus, Kansas to put his deceased grandmother to rest, but is introduced to a world of darkness in which he gains the power to bring the light. His heroism is an example of how seemingly random, adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.
Good writers of speculative fiction are keen observers of nature, in general and specifically, human nature. They are able to express those observations as captivating stories; they are able to tell the stories of self through the stories of their superheroes.
So, pick up a great comic book, like Dusu (issue #1 is free), Watson and Holmes (also free), the Chronicles of Piye, or Sword and Soul Adventures; or great books, such as Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Changa’s Safari, Damballa, or A Single Link (which releases at the end of this month). Soar with the superheroes within.
Capes aren’t necessary.
But, they are cool.
BLACK HEROES OF PULP FICTION (and we don’t mean Samuel L. Jackson or Ving Rhames)
Some of you are saying “If not the movie by Quentin Tarantino, then what the in the hell is Pulp?”
Is it that nasty, fibrous stuff I hate in my orange juice, but my wife always buys, because – for some odd reason – she loves it?
What is Pulp?
Is it that early 80s British alternative rock band who sounded like a hybrid of David Bowie and The Human League?
What is Pulp?
Think adventure, exotic settings, femme fatales and non-stop action. Think larger-than-life heroes, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Marv, from Sin City and Indiana Jones.
The genre gets its name from the adventure fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s.
Pulp includes Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Western, Fight Fiction and other genres, but what sets pulp apart are its aforementioned fast-pace, exotic locales, linear – but layered – plots, its two-fisted action….and those characters! As author Thaddeus Howze describes them: “I like the larger than life heroes of the pulp era, loud, bombastic, often arrogant, sexy, outrageous and oh so violent…”
The first pulps were published in the late 1800s and enjoyed a golden age in the 1930s and 1940s.
And – like most genre fiction of the day…and today – Black heroes were absent. Like most genre fiction of the day, if a Black person was found in pulp fiction at all, they were the noble savage…or just the savage.
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones
However, in 1957, we saw our first Black pulp heroes with the duo of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, violent and vicious Harlem police officers, who operated more like private detectives, often going beyond police protocol to solve their cases.
A true master of the pulp aesthetic, Chester Himes – an accomplished author and screenwriter before going to prison – discovered the work of popular pulp author Dashiell Hammett while serving eight years in an Ohio penitentiary for armed robbery. Himes vowed to write pulp books that would, in his words, “tell it like it is”.
Upon his release from prison, Himes moved to Paris and – true to his word – wrote a string of what he called “Harlem domestic detective stories”, all but one written in French and later translated into English.
His first novel, A Rage in Harlem (1957) – first published in French as La Reine des Pomme and also known as For Love of Imabelle – which won the prestigious French literature award, Grand Prix de la Litterature Policière, gave us our first taste of the fearsome Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.
Fans begged for more of these pulp bad boys and Himes delivered, with a total of seven more bestsellers and one unfinished novel that was published posthumously: The Crazy Kill (1959), The Real Cool Killers (1959), All Shot Up (1960), The Big Gold Dream (1960), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), The Heat’s On (aka Come Back, Charleston Blue)(1966), Blind Man With A Pistol (1969), Plan B (1993).
While the duo frequently uses physical brutality, psychological torture and intimidation to solve their cases, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed have deep and genuine sympathy for the innocent victims of crime. They frequently intervene – even putting their own reputations and lives on the line – to protect Black people from the vicious and truly pointless brutality of the white, openly racist police officers in their precinct. Jones and Johnson generally go easy on – and even tolerate – numbers runners, madames, prostitutes, junkies and gamblers; but they are extremely hostile to violent criminals, drug dealers, con artists and pimps.
It can be said that Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones were the darkest heroes in pulp…and not because they’re Black…well, that too.
The next Black hero in pulp did not come on the scene until 1983. Who was he? Aubrey Knight, a lightning quick mountain of muscle, trained to be a Null Boxer who fights in brutal matches while locked in a zero-gravity bubble.
Aubrey Knight is the protagonist of Street Lethal (1983), a jaw dropping pulp thrill ride, penned masterfully by veteran science fiction, fantasy and horror author, Steven Barnes. Street Lethal is set in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles in which Aubrey Knight must battle genetically engineered New Men, drug kingpins, brutal prison guards, a ruthless femme fatale and brainwashing similar to the horrific Ludovico Technique from the classic novel A Clockwork Orange.
Barnes, an accomplished martial artist himself, gives us a pulp hero who is one part Luke Cage Noir and two parts Iron Fist…only cooler, savvier and more…well, street lethal.
Damballa (2011) is an incredible pulp adventure written by author Charles R. Saunders, the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy fiction called Sword and Soul and creator of the Fantasy icon Imaro. The action does not stop as the titular hero uses his vast knowledge of Western science, African science and martial arts to expose and neutralize the Nazi threat.
Set in 1938, Damballa is a shining example of what Pulp is when it is at its very best: thrilling, visceral, tightly-plotted, well-written, fast-paced fun.
And the hero Damballa is a shining example of what a pulp hero in the hands of a master can be: a hero the reader can actually stand up and cheer for; a hero with qualities and with a story other authors do their damndest to echo in their own creative and original ways.
Equal parts James Bond, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and The Saint, Dillon – by his creator Derrick Ferguson’s account – first came to attention of the world a decade ago, when he began hiring himself out as a soldier of fortune. Dillon possesses remarkable talents and gifts that make him respected and even feared in a world of mercenaries, spies, adventurers, powerful technology and mystic artifacts.
Actually, Dillon first came to our attention in the Pulp fiction masterpiece, Dillon and the Voice of Odin (2003).
Dillon’s actual age is unknown, but what is known is that he was born on the technologically advanced, doomed island of Usimi Dero. After the Destruction of his home, twelve year old Dillon and his mother fled to Shamballah, a monastery hidden in the Himalayas. Dillon was adopted by Shamballa’s Warmasters of Liguria, who spent the next seven years training him in various martial arts and other physical and mental disciplines. After those seven years, Dillon elected to leave Shamballah and return to the world.
Once back in the world, Dillon wandered, learning various skills that would help him in his chosen profession as an adventurer and seeking out those who destroyed his homeland.
This adventurer is the hero of four of his own books – the aforementioned Dillon and the Voice of Odin; Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell (2010); Four Bullets for Dillon (2011) and Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira (2012) – and appears in the anthology Black Pulp (2013).
First seen in the often hilarious and always exciting, Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter (2011) and now returning in the recently released, equally exciting sequel, Taurus Moon: Magic and Mayhem (2013), Taurus moon is a complex Pulp hero who walks a complex world of mythic creatures, gangsters and even mythic gangsters and gangling creatures.
The morally conflicted hero, Taurus Moon is often compared to another famed relic hunter, Indiana Jones. Unlike popular relic hunter Indiana Jones, however, the artifacts Taurus Moon hunts are not found in the deserts of Iskenderun Hatay, or in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Taurus Moon’s quests take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities; settings where Indiana Jones would get that whip and fedora shoved up his…well, you get the picture. Also unlike Indiana Jones, Taurus Moon’s clientele includes vampire crime bosses and other individuals of ill-repute.
Taurus Moon is straight up mercenary, motivated by money; yet he is imbued with nobility, which keeps him from being completely amoral.
If Indiana Jones and Blade had a clone created from both their DNA strains, with a dash of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sprinkled in, that little GMO fella would be Taurus Moon.
2014 will see the premiere of at least three more pulp heroes.
In early 2014, my character Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed, the indigenous African martial arts expert turned MMA fighter will enter the world with a bang in my novella, which is part of the Fight Card Series, Fight Card MMA: A-Town Throwdown. A second novella starring Nick Steed, Fight Card MMA: Circle of Blood is likely to follow shortly behind it.
2014 will see another MMA fighter, Remi Fasina [ray-MEE fah-SHEE-nah] – a woman – battle men and women fighters – and her inner demons – on her quest to defeat the MMA champion who sexually assaulted her seven years in her past in my Pulp action novel, A Single Link.
Finally, the Pulp hero Black Caesar – a former slave, imbued with enhanced intelligence, strength, endurance and agility by dark forces run amok upon a stone slave ship – debuts in the first Rococoa novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises.
I have also created the Pulp hero The Scythe, the resurrected Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was murdered in the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and returns to reap vengeance upon his murderers and their kin. It is likely that I will expand his story into a novel in 2015.
What other Black Pulp heroes and sheroes do you know of? What Pulp heroes or sheroes are you in the process of developing or creating?
INGLORIOUS BASTARDS: Is Independent Filmmaking illegitimate?
Last week, in the State of Black Science Fiction group, another minor kerfuffle – oh yeah, Black speculative fiction authors and fans do love their heated discourses – occurred after Milton Davis – oh yeah, fifty-something chemist / author / publishers do like to set it off – posted this status:
“Apparently if you are self published you are not a legitimate writer. Wow.”
This statement was made in regard to another author, who said he was looking for Black women speculative fiction authors for a documentary he is doing, but only wanted “legit” authors: “I need MORE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS of Science-Fiction, Fantasy or comics!!! To be considered for the documentary you need to have: been published by a legit publishing company (no self-publishers).”
The aftermath was – to put things lightly – passionate…yeah, that’s it. Passionate.
I will say, the “offending” author did try to clear things up – kind of – and even went so far as to contact me personally to explain he meant “traditional”, not “legit,” which perplexed me a bit because my only comment on Milton’s status was “Name NAMES, Milton!” Y’all know me…I’m a researcher and researchers, by nature, are a curious lot.
Anywho, i know you’re dying to see what was said in response to Milton’s comment. Here are a few of those responses – the names, however, are not included to protect the (not so) innocent:
“So if I’m an indie singer, I’m not legitimate? If I’m an indie film maker, I’m not legitimate? If I’m Indie Jones, I’m not a legitimate archaeologist and college professor?”
“They’re just mad because we won’t go away–and we’re stealing away their readers.”
“That’s just bougie perpetraters using their status to over inflate their already bloated egos, to the detriment and baseless shaming of others.”
“ Hmmm…that’s funny. My royalty checks seem to be legitimate.”
In response, the “offending author” had this to say:
“For the sake of clarity and common sense, I must make something known – Earlier today I posted a call for Black Women writers for my documentary Brave New Souls. I used the word “legit” instead of “traditional” when describing the criteria for my interview subjects. Somehow, that has been construed as a slight against self-publishers and that isn’t the case at all. So let me be as clear as possible here:
1) I want to use Black creators who have mainstream credits because there is a great misconception and lack of awareness about the presence of Black writers within the mainstream entertainment industry. I wanted to show aspiring talent that they CAN make it in the mainstream industry and that it doesn’t require “selling out” or compromising your value system.
2) Roughly 60% of my extremely limited literary entertainment budget is spent on self-published and independent material from Black creators. Let me repeat, 60%. If you don’t believe me ask the hundreds of Black creators I’ve met at conventions over the last 15 years whether or not I put my money where my mouth is. Ask folks like Thaddeus Atreides, Ray Height, Daniel McNeal, Jaycen Wise, etc.
3) I also spend a ton of time mentoring people behind the scenes. I have an entire FB group dedicated to the mentoring of writers of all backgrounds and I rarely talk about what I do because I don’t need to pat myself on the back.
4) Brave New Souls is my documentary, and I can do whatever I wish with the material.
I hope that clears things up, otherwise, most of you know how to find me, and if you still have a problem, I will be at the Hollywood Black Film Festival from Oct 2 – 6 and at NY Comic Con hanging around the Lion Forge booth from Oct 10 – 13. Feel free to approach me to discuss the matter.“
So, this is what was said by a few of his associates and friends:
“Whenever someone steps up, someone else has to find something wrong.”
“4) Brave New Souls is my documentary, and I can do whatever I wish with the material.” That’s all you needed to say.”
“Did E*****n just pull a ‘Tony Stark from Iron Man 3′-move? ‘Here’s my address, come find me!!’”
“You haven’t seen his arsenal yet…”
“Seems nowadays people are in search of reasons to be pissed–not ways to make things work well… leaping beyond these words in order to give yourself (an in-general “yourself”) a perpetual underwear knot–& ignoring an avalanche of counter-balancing evidence–is small-minded. I’m less & less patient with this approach to life as I get older.”
This little skirmish set my thoughts in motion and, since I am in nearing the end of production on the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, I pondered whether the same beef – indie vs. mainstream – exists in the world of film?
As early as 1908, independent film has been paving the way for filmmakers to fight the corporate way of creating their art form. Around 1924, a group of independent filmmakers in Europe created the London Film Society. This group was the first to preserve the artistic nature of filmmaking. Some of the founding members included H.G. Wells and Charlie Chaplin, film directors who began a revolution with their movie making.
In a short time, independent filmmakers all over Europe were introducing new and exciting genres to their movies, such as horror and suspense. After World War II, science fiction was introduced by independent filmmakers to the American audience.
A new wave of American filmmakers began creating films outside of the control of the corrupt major studios and a Golden Age of independent films began.
For these independent filmmakers, the best way to showcase their work was at local film festivals.
One such festival, The Sundance Film Festival, run by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, began as the Utah / U.S. Film Festival in 1978. The festival – founded by Brigham Young University Film School graduate, Sterling Van Wagenen and Utah Film Commissioners, Cirina Hampton Catania and John Earle – showcased independent films created in the United States.
In 1985, Redford’s institute took over management of the festival and changed the name to Sundance. In 1991, the Sundance Institute bought the rights to the festival and officially changed the name to the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, Sundance has included international independent films in its screenings and has launched the careers of some of today’s hottest directors such as, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, James Wan and Jim Jarmusch.
Viewed as the leader in independent filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival innovates ways to help small productions gain mainstream notoriety.
Last year, this festival brought Utah $92 million dollars in revenue, further cementing both the importance of the festival and the films that it showcases.
But what, exactly is an “independent film”, you ask?
An independent, or indie, film is one that is primarily funded outside of the major studios, also known as “the Big Six” – Warner Brothers, Paramount, Walt Disney, Columbia Pictures, Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox.
Independent films have the freedom to explore many subjects in society that are seen as taboo or unmarketable by the Big Six.
Most independent films achieve nothing more than critical acclaim at film festivals, but every once in a while, an indie film creates such a loud buzz at a film festival that it is purchased by a major film studio and screened in major theaters all over the world. One such film is The Blair Witch Project, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 1999. Writers-Directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, who made The Blair Witch Project for $25,000, had sold their movie, by the end of the festival, to Artisan Entertainment for 1.1 million dollars. Artisan then went on to make $248 million with this “little” independent film!
However, when an indie film hits the “big time”, like The Blair Witch Project, it is no longer considered to be an independent film because, even though the film was produced on a shoestring budget, the marketing budget that Artisan Entertainment implemented when they purchased the film put The Blair Witch Project way over the 50% funding category.
While, technically, the Blair Witch Project is no longer considered an indie film, it possesses one characteristic that most certainly sets it apart from “mainstream” films, a characteristic that films produced by the Big Six will never have – the willingness to take risks with their storytelling.
The Big Six film studios are large corporations, and corporations of that size do not allow risk-taking in their business practices.
They will only invest in actors and stories that have already been proven to make a lot of money. This may lead to financial success, but also leads to creative stagnation.
Independent films are about original and creative story-telling by filmmakers who are not afraid to try new techniques or put their creative and financial necks on the line.
Are they legit? Hell yeah!
Are they traditional? Well, since the definition of traditional is ‘existing in or as part of a tradition; long-established‘, “Hell yeah,” to that too!
I will be at the Alien Encounters Black Speculative Fiction, Film and Art Conference October 25 – 27. Feel free to approach me to discuss the matter.
Did I, like that “offending author”, just pull a ‘Tony Stark from Iron Man 3′-move?’
Well, we Black speculative fiction authors do love our heated discourses.
“IT’S LIKE STEAMPUNK BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER…WITH BLACK FOLKS!”
Well, that is sort of paraphrasing a description of Rite of Passage, the Steamfunk feature film, by Professor Lisa Yaszek, Director of Undergraduate Studies. School of Literature, Media and Communication and one of the Associate Producers of the film. Her actual description: “When people ask what Rite of Passage is about, I tell them to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, set in Victorian times, with Black superheroes.”
Jadon Ben Israel, filmmaker and veteran actor of such films as Fast Five and Champion Road: Arena – who plays Vampire-Lord and martial arts master, Joe in Rite of Passage – describes the film as a “Black Steampunk Avengers.”
Milton Davis, author, publisher, Executive Producer of Rite of Passage and writer of the original story upon which the film is based, describes the film as “A Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that gives a glimpse of the adventure yet to come.”
And, of course, accurate.
In the Rite of Passage universe, the Orisa (oh-REE-sha) – forces of nature that serve and guide humans and animals alike – have given several powerful artifacts to Oluwo (“Master Teachers; possessors of secret powers”), who are to keep those artifacts until their rightful possessors – known as Guardians – come along. The Oluwo are to help their Guardian transform, so that they are worthy to possess the artifact.
In the film, the Guardians are Dorothy Wright, Black Dispatch, Conductor on the Underground Railroad and pupil of Harriet Tubman; famed lawman, Bass Reeves; and John Henry, the legendary “steel drivin’ man.”
Harriet Tubman – who is an artifact, given to the world to protect it – gathers the Guardians around the globe to prepare them for the coming of a powerful entity she calls Jedidiah Green, an ancient and dark being who feeds on the power of the artifacts and is drawn to their possessors.
We also learn a bit about the other Guardians, such as the brutal – and somewhat insane – Dentist of Westminster and Sherlock Holmes.
Jedidiah Green also has his team of “supervillains”, if you will: the Piper, the Blood-Kin (vampires) and the Night-Kin (zombies, ghouls, ghasts, Night Howlers and other undead).
African American rodeo owner, Nat (pronounced “Nate”) Love flees to Nicodemus, Kansas – the small town destined to be the final battlefield in the war against Jedidiah Green and home to the Guardians – after his business rival, P.T. Barnum, tries to have him murdered.
Barnum dispatches a special team of assassins to Nicodemus to retrieve Nat Love by any means and to kill the Guardians if necessary.
And thus begins the film.
We have been in production since August 18, following the production of the tie-in, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
Production is going very well, although filming on a budget of fumes has proved very challenging and we had to forgo shooting once because we just did not have the money to purchase the costumes for that scene. This of course, is our biggest obstacle, so please donate and help us out. Steampunks, we would definitely appreciate any donations of old costumes and or props…oh, and we have great perks, too!
The actors are phenomenal, really bringing their characters to life.
Recently, actor Maurice Johnson, who portrays – no, who is – John Henry, received a call from E. Roger Mitchell, who has had starring roles in Flight, alongside Denzel Washington, Battle Los Angeles, S.W.A.T. and The Crazies – and who portrayed John Henry in the short masterpiece, John Henry and the Railroad. Mitchell told Maurice that he has been following what is going on with Rite of Passage and told him “Now, you are the real John Henry!”
The crew is amazing and makes my job easy. Director of Photography, John Thornton, who is also Professor of Film Production at GA-Tech, brings his experience as a Director and Cinematographer for several independent and Disney films to Rite of Passage. Imed “Kunle” Patman, Cinematographer, brings his experience and artistic genius to the film, as does Assistant Director and Editor, Brandon Davis.
“We have really been blessed to have such talented and intelligent people working with us,” Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer of Rite of Passage, said. “We are making history as we make a film about our history.”
WE’RE HERE III: Black Science Fiction & Fantasy Websites and Social Media
In this third installment of the We’re Here Series, we examine the best websites for all your Black Science Fiction and Fantasy needs.
While there are others, these are the sites considered to be at the cutting edge of Black Speculative Fiction.
We’re here, y’all. In a BIG way.
Black Sci-Fi.com is the premier site for the latest updates on Sci-Fi, Sci-Fact and Fantasy entertainment, news, people, places, and events and the measure of their impact on the African-American community.
We seek to inform and inspire the imagination of individuals who aspire to live beyond the boundaries of everyday life.
This site is a social network dedicated to the reading, writing, researching, dispersing and enjoyment of Sword & Soul.
Create your own page; share photographs, videos and your own blog; and join groups and engage in live chat with other members.
The AfroFuturist Affair is a community formed to celebrate, strengthen, and promote Afrofuturistic and Black Scifi culture through creative events and creative writing.
The Tumblr page is a collection of the best writing, event announcements, art and videos in one place.
This blog is a dialogue between the past, present and future, placed in an afrofuturist and afrosurrealist context. It explores African diasporic cultures that are often not given as much mainstream attention and re-examines popular cultures of the Black Diaspora through the afrofuturist and afrosurrealist perspectives.
Key purposes of the blog are Media Literacy; Art, Media and Cultural Criticism/Analysis; and promotion of Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism.
World of Black heroes is a website dedicated to following the portrayal of Black heroes.
This blog brings features Black characters in comic books, movies, books and on TV and the creators who bring them to us.
Black Superhero comic Reviews, Black Superhero News, Black Superhero Previews, and character Bios for mainstream and independent comics alike can be found here.
The premier Facebook group where creators and fans of Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror meet.
Join the group and participate in their Black Science Fiction activities and discussions; their State of Black Sci Fi presentations and performances throughout the year; their contests and giveaways; and meet some Blacknificent people too.
This is the group that spearheaded the founding of Black Speculative Fiction Month, which is celebrated worldwide every October.
This website is dedicated to the promotion of Science Fiction and Fantasy books for Teens and Young Adults of Color.
There are many great books, graphic novels and comic books to choose from. To simplify your search, Ruth de Jauregui has sorted the main characters of each book into ethnic / racial categories – such as Black, Asian and Native American – and then by author within those categories.
According to the sites founder, Chelsea Medua, “I follow many cosplayers on the Internet who I see at times get crude comments and remarks for just being black. [I wanted to] let other black cosplayers out there know that they shouldn’t feel insecure about cosplaying because of their skin.”
As we continue the We’re Here Series, which introduces people to creators and creations within Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror film, fiction, fashion, artwork and social media, your feedback is always welcome and encouraged.
WE’RE HERE II: Black Creators of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Film & Fiction
In my last post, I provided a listing of popular fandom events with a major Black presence.
I now offer you We’re Here, part II.
Coincidentally (?), friend and fellow speculative fiction author, SR Torris, asked me, shortly after I scheduled this article to post, to check out a video in which the narrator launched a scathing attack on Black writers for our “lack of a literary capacity or intellectual competence to write such stories [Science Fiction and Fantasy]“ and “Because most Black writers have no knowledge of anything other than pimping hoes and hearing women complain about not being able to find a man.”
As I have said before, I do not believe in coincidence; I know this post is right on time and much needed.
The lack of knowledge of the existence of great Black writers of speculative fiction by the narrator of that video – a man who calls himself “theblackauthOrity” – proves that.
I would like to introduce you to just a few of the people who – at present – are on the cutting edge of creating works that attract fans from throughout the geekosphere and who are regular guests of honor, vendors and panelists at fan conventions, festivals and symposiums around the globe, or regular bloggers on all things Black and Nerdy.
We’re here, theblackauthOrity.
Born in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in 1946, but living in Canada since 1969, this brilliant African American author and journalist has, during his long career, written everything from novels to screenplays and radio plays to magazine articles on boxing.
Charles is also the founder and father of Sword & Soul – African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy.
I first read a work by Charles in 1987 in Dragon Magazine #122, entitled Out of Africa. Unaware that Charles was Black at the time I said “This white guy got it right, but one day, I’ll do better. As a brother, I have to!”
Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.
Of course, by the time I discovered Charles – who is now at the top of the list of my favorite authors – he had already published his first Imaro story over a decade earlier and had released the first Sword & Soul novel, Imaro, six years before that Dragon Magazine article.
In addition to the mega-popular Imaro series of books, Charles is also the author of the Dossouye series of novels about the adventures of the titular woman-warrior and Damballa – a pulp novel about a scientist / shaman / warrior who fights against Nazis in 1930s Harlem.
His latest work, “Mtimu”, can be read in the anthology Black Pulp.
A pioneer of the modern black film movement, creating such successful and influential movies as House Party, Boomerang and the animated Bebe’s Kids, Reginald Hudlin is unique in the entertainment business because of his success as a writer, producer, director and executive.
Hudlin is also the executive producer and writer of the Black Panther animated series and was executive producer of The Boondocks.
Hudlin received an Oscar nomination as Producer on the blockbuster film, Django Unchained, which also won two Golden Globes, two NAACP Image Awards and is writer / director Quentin Tarantino’s most profitable film and one of most successful westerns ever made.
In addition to his success in films and animation, Hudlin has found much success on the “small screen” as an executive producer of the 2013 NAACP Image Awards, which aired on NBC. The broadcast got the highest ratings for the show since 2009.
Other works in television include his directing the pilot of the hit series Everybody Hates Chris and his work as producer and director of The Bernie Mac Show. Hudlin has also directed episodes of Modern Family, The Office, The Middle, and Psych.
During his tenure as the first President of Entertainment for Black Entertainment Television, Hudlin created some of the most successful shows in the history of the network including the award-winning reality show, Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is; American Gangster; and Sunday Best. He created the BET Hip Hop Awards and the BET Honors.
Reginald is also one of the most successful Black writers in the field of comics, writing award winning runs of Spider Man and Black Panther for Marvel Comics. He adapted Quentin Tarantino’s original screenplay for Django Unchained into a six issue limited series for DC/Vertigo Comics and co-authored the intelligent, witty and moving graphic novel Birth of a Nation.
A friend, writing partner, filmmaking partner and jegna (“mentor”) of mine, Milton has been a strong influence on my work.
Together, Milton and I produced the successful Mahogany Masquerade: An evening of Steamfunk and Film and the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, now both annual events.
He is the author of two Sword & Soul series, Changa’s Safari (Volumes I & II) and Meji (Books I & II) and he, together with the Father and Founder of Sword & Soul, Fantasy fiction pioneer, Charles R. Saunders, is the Co-Editor of Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, the definitive work of Sword & Soul, featuring stories from fourteen different black writers. The first such anthology of its kind, Milton also published this masterpiece through his multimedia company, MVmedia, a micro-publisher and film production company dedicated to bringing diversity to the science-fiction and fantasy fields.
Milton is also Co-Editor, with Balogun Ojetade, of the Sword and Soul anthology Ki-Khanga –which is an introduction to the world in which the table-top role-playing game of the same name they created is set – and the wildly popular Steamfunk!, an anthology featuring twelve masterfully crafted stories of Steampunk, told from an African / African-American perspective.
Milton is also publisher of Balogun’s Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, the co-creator of the graphic novel, The Blood Seekers, with artist Kristopher Mosby and will release his own fifth Sword and Soul novel, the highly anticipated Woman of the Woods, in mid-June.
Balogun began his career as an author in non-fiction, as writer of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within, which is also used as the manual for the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, in which Balogun is Master Instructor and Technical Director.
His career in speculative fiction, however, began as screenwriter, producer and director of the films, Reynolds War and A Single Link.
He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul, Steampunk and fandom in general, on his website, the popular Chronicles of Harriet.
He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk! and is the screenwriter, director and co-producer of the short Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation.
Along with creative partner Milton Davis, Balogun produces the popular annual events, the Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk & Film and the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.
At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.
The First Family of Speculative Fiction, these authors and filmmakers are movements by themselves and forces of nature together.
Steven Barnes has written several episodes of The Outer Limits and Baywatch. He also wrote the episode “Brief Candle” for Stargate SG-1 and the “The Sum of Its Parts” an episode of Andromeda.
Barnes’ first published piece of fiction, the 1979 novelette The Locusts, was written with Larry Niven, and was a Hugo Award nominee.
Barnes has gone on to author nearly thirty great novels, including the speculative fiction novels, Street Lethal, Lion’s Blood, Zulu Heart and with Tananarive Due, the Tennyson Hardwick mystery novel series.
The first person of African descent to find success as an author of horror fiction, Tananarive Due is an icon, a living legend and immensely popular worldwide.
Beginning with the scary-as-hell, The Between, in 1995, Due followed up with the equally frightening The Good House, a book that gave my wife nightmares every night she perused its pages and still gives her goose-bumps whenever the book is mentioned. After that came Joplin’s Ghost, and then the African Immortals series – my favorite – then, the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with her husband, Steven Barnes in partnership with the actor, Blair Underwood.
Recently, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due have teamed up to create the “zombie” YA novel series, which includes Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls.
This series inspired the horror short film, Danger Word, which Barnes and Due wrote and produced.
R.L. wrote, produced and directed his first short film at the age of seventeen. He has since gone on to involvement in over fifty short and feature films in many capacities including writing, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, post production work, and editing.
In 2006, R.L. wrote, directed, produced and choreographed the fan film Black Panther: Blood Ties, a film I, my wife and several of my students had the pleasure of acting and performing stunts in.
In 2007 R.L. brought us Champion Road, a popular martial arts / fantasy feature film he wrote, directed, choreographed and produced and in 2008, took on the same roles for its sequel, Champion Road: Arena.
Full disclosure: I play the heroic hermit / martial arts master, Soleem, in both films.
In 2012, R.L. choreographed the fight scenes for the feature film entitled Call Me King, which stars international superstar Bai Ling (Red Corner). Call Me King is scheduled to be released early 2014.
Recently, R.L. acquired the film rights to the Street Team brand of indie graphic novels, which feature street-level (think Wolverine and Batman) superheroes of African descent.
Rasheedah’s life is one that inspires and educates. A mother at the age of fourteen, Rasheedah raised her daughter while attending high school, and college and, in spite of her many responsibilities, she was able to earn a cumulative 3.79 GPA, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple in three years with a Bachelors in Criminal Justice. In the fall of 2005, she began her first semester at Temple University Beasley School of Law, earning her J.D. in Spring, 2008 and becoming a member of the Pennsylvania Bar in Fall 2008.
Because of her perseverance and success in spite of personal difficulties, her story was featured in several publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Temple Times, as well as a few books, including It Couldnt Happen to Me: Three True Stories of Teenage Moms by Beth Johnson.
An educator, attorney, activist and advocate for teen moms, Rasheedah writes science fiction stories and essays on Philosophy and Metaphysics in her spare time. She has had a work of short fiction published in an anthology entitled Growing Up Girl, inspirational essays published in Sister to Sister: Black Women Speak to Young Black Women and Professor May I Bring My Baby to Class. She will publish her first science fiction novel, Recurrence Plot, in Fall 2013.
In 2011, Rasheedah created The AfroFuturist Affair, an organization dedicated to celebrating and promoting Afrofuturistic culture, art, and literature through creative events and creative writing.
Through The Afrofuturist Affair, Rasheedah has created the annual Charity and Costume Ball, an Afrofuturist-themed costume ball that features artists, authors, and performers who present creations using Afrofuturism and Science Fiction as vehicles for expression and agency.
Black Tribbles is a radio show about geek culture and media in which five people of African American descent engage in thought-provoking conversation and provide critical insight into a culture that is often devoid of a Black influence. The show is witty, irreverent and informative, simultaneously entertaining as it educates.
Every Thursday night, the Tribbles – Jason “Spider Tribble” Richardson; producer, Len “Bat Tribble Webb; co-producer, Kennedy “Storm Tribble” Allen; Erik “Master Tribble” Darden; and Randy “Super Tribble” Green – gather in the radio studio to banter about the nerdy things that excite them, from comic books and fantasy movies to science, history and ancient mythology.
Recently, they hosted a special show – Octavia City – in which original tales of afrofuturism from some of science fiction and fantasy’s upcoming and brightest stars were performed live.
Of course, this list could be expanded to include many more Black men and women who are doing great things in speculative fiction and film. If you would like more authors and filmmakers featured, please, let me know and I will be glad to introduce you to others.
Until then, happy reading and watching!
WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom
Recently, I read an excellent – and somewhat saddening – post on the Rude Girl Magazine blog entitled A Search for Black Fandom.
The author laments: “A lot of times when I watch things, and am seeking out internet reactions and discussion, I wish I had access to other black opinions. Sometimes fandom is like watching a movie with a room full of white people – when someone does something kinda shady and racist, you want to lean over and be like ‘did this motherfucker just really,’ but then you realize you’re the only black person there so you have to weigh whether or not you’re in the mood for bullshit, because that’s what you’ll get by bringing this up with white people.”
The author thought that she was all alone in the nerdiverse. That there were no other Black people into Science Fiction, comic books, cosplay, Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons and she felt crippled by this: “It’s no secret that fandom can be racist. Like, really, really racist…if you, as a black person, want to enjoy something – anything – in most popular fandom, you kind of have to decide not to bring up problematic aspects of the source material if you’re not ready to break out the bingo card for yet another tragic game of ‘No That’s Not Racist Toward Black People, Let Me Tell You Why,’ during which white people from all corners of the globe will gather to attempt to invalidate your thoughts, feelings and experiences.”
I am constantly reminded of just how important the work I and the other members of our authors, filmmakers and artists collective – State of Black Science Fiction – do really is. We tell the stories that need to be told – stories of heroes that have been ignored; history that has been forgotten…or denied.
Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa are subgenres of fiction, fashion and film that convey the heroes and history of Africa, African-America and, indeed, the entire Diaspora. There are also many great tales of science fiction, horror, action-adventure and the paranormal with heroes of African descent.
I have been a guest and panelist at several small and major fandom conventions and I – along with my friend and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and the numbers are growing rapidly and immensely.
However, every time I get comfortable, a blog, an attendee at a panel discussion, or a fan at a convention will say “I thought I was the only one reading, doing and / or writing this,” or “If I had known Black people were writing this kind of stuff (or making these kinds of movies), I would have gotten into this a long time ago.”
Statements like that tell me that there is a lot more work to do and that there are a lot more people to reach.
I want my sister at Rude Girl Magazine to know that she need lament no longer and that she is certainly not alone.
We’re here my dear sister.
Below is a list of great recent fandom events with a strong Black presence. Most are annual events, so put them on your calendar and be sure to attend.
Black Speculative Fiction Film Festival, August 2012 – Auburn Avenue Research Library; Atlanta, GA
OnyxCon 4th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention, August 2012 – Southwest Arts Center; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, August 2012 – Dragon*Con; Atlanta, GA
The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, October 2012 – Alien Encounters (an annual Black Fandom Symposium); Atlanta, GA
The Afrofuturist Affair Museum of Time 2nd Annual Charity & Costume Ball, November 2012 – Philadelphia, PA (an annual costume ball and afrofuturism presentation / performance)
Black Science Fiction Film Festival, February 2013 – Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA (an annual film festival featuring fantasy, science fiction and horror films by and about people of African descent from around the world); Atlanta, GA
Multiculturalism in Alternate History Panel, February 2013 – AnachroCon; Atlanta, GA
Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts, March 2013 – Spelman College; Atlanta, GA
12th Annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), May 2013; Philadelphia, PA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 2013 – SciFi Summer Con; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 15, 2013 – Wesley Chapel Library; Atlanta, GA (upcoming)
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web
The full moon cast a silver glow upon the leaves that crackled beneath Jake’s heels.
He no longer heard the dogs, or the curses of Master William Jessup’s slave-catchers, so he stopped to rest his weary muscles and catch his breath. “For a short spell,” he thought.
“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
Jake whirled toward the source of the voice, raising a silver carving knife – still sticky with his former master’s blood – chest high.
The most beautiful woman Jake had ever laid eyes upon stepped out of the shadows. The corners of her full lips were spread in an inviting smile. “I’m sorry, did I frighten you?” Her husky voice revealed a hint of an English accent.
“You obviously ain’t from around here,” Jake said, studying her tall, muscular frame. “You sound like this man who come from England and train me and the other catchers.”
“I’m from London, England,” the woman said. I moved here a while ago. I bought my freedom from…wait…catchers? What did you catch?”
“Runaways,” Jake replied.
“And now, it appears that you are the one who is running away,” the woman said.
“I was the worst catcher ever born,” Jake said. “Every runaway I went after got away.
“They just happened to get away, eh?” The woman snickered.
“My old master got wise to me,” Jake replied. “He decided to make an example of me…killed my wife; my daughter…so I killed him. Been runnin’ since.”
“Well, you are safe here for the night,” the woman said. “The locals are afraid of this forest. They say a terrible beast roams these parts.”
“Then, what you doin’ out here?” Jake asked.
“I love the outdoors,” the woman replied. “Besides, beasts don’t frighten me; men do.”
“Well, this man won’t do you no harm,” Jake said. “My name’s Jake, by the way. Jake Jessup.”
“I’m Tara Malloy,” the woman said, offering her hand.
Jake took Tara’s smooth, mahogany hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure, ma’am.”
Suddenly, Tara’s hand became a vice around Jake’s fingers, crushing the dense bones as easily as if she was squeezing an egg in her fist.
Jake screamed in agony.
Tara threw her head back as a growl escaped her throat. She snapped her head forward, fixing her maddened gaze on Jake. Her beautiful face had been replaced by what Jake could only describe as the visage of a rabid wolf.
Jake tried to snatch his pulverized hand out of Tara’s grip, but she was too strong and his pain was too great.
Tara yanked Jake toward her. The runaway’s head snapped back from the force as his feet skittered across the dirt and dry foliage.
Jake thrust forward with his carving knife, sinking it deep into Tara’s chest.
Tara staggered backward, coughing as a crimson cloud of ichor spewed from her mouth.
Jake collapsed to his knees. Tara fell onto her back, convulsed once; twice; and then, lay still.
Jake crawled to a large tree and rested his back against it. The pain in his hand and shoulder made it difficult to think; to understand what just happened and darkness encroached upon him, blurring his vision.
“Still alive, eh?”
Jake turned his head toward the voice. Tara stood beside him. He turned his gaze toward her beastly form, still lying where she fell.
“How?” Jake whispered. He wanted to leap to his feet and run, but the pain would not allow it. “What are you?”
“What was I, you mean,” Tara replied. “A werewolf; a child of Eshu; blessed with his gift.”
Tara pointed toward Jake’s wounded shoulder. “Now, you have his blessing, too.”
“I…I’m gon’ turn into a thing like you, now?” Jake spat.
“Maybe,” Tara answered. “You become what your spirit is.”
“I’m gon’ kill you!” Jake bellowed.
“You already have,” Tara said, nodding toward her corpse.”
This was all too much for Jake to bear. He shut his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.
Jake felt soft, warm flesh on his chest. He looked down. Staring up at him was a pretty woman with full, pouty lips and skin the color of sweet cream.
“Good morning, lover,” the woman said, flashing a smile. Her dimpled cheeks accented her beauty.
“You’d better give up that body, Tara,” Jake said, looking at the clock on the far wall of the inn’s room. “You only have a few minutes.”
“Jake, can we talk?” Tara asked, caressing his chest with borrowed fingers.
“Time’s tickin’,” Jake replied.
“I love you,” Tara whispered.
“You what?” Jake pushed Tara’s head off his chest and sat upright.
“I love you, Jake,” Tara repeated.
“We don’t have time for this,” Jake said. “A second past those six hours and this woman dies from shock or goes mad.”
Jake hopped out of bed. His flesh shifted; flowed, as if it was some thick, ebon fluid and then trousers, boots, a shirt and a leather overcoat – all a very dark brown – formed around his naked frame.
“You’re a haint, Tara…a ghost…the undead. I – hell we – hunt the undead. Love ain’t in the cards for us. ‘Sides, you did try to kill me, remember?”
“That was two-hundred forty-seven years ago!” Tara replied.
“Seems like yesterday to me,” Jake said.
A loud, sucking din echoed throughout the room as Tara rose out of the woman’s body. “We’ll talk more later.”
The woman sat bolt upright. She leapt from the bed, locking her gaze on Jake’s broad back. An ebony, wide-brimmed planter hat formed atop Jake’s head. The woman gasped and darted out of the room.
“Creole women,” Tara said, shaking her head. “So…emotional.”
“Let’s go,” Jake said, sauntering toward the door. “Ms. Tubman should have sent that telegram by now.”
On the ground, carriages carried people to-and-from the retail shops, restaurants, inns and houses of ill-repute. In the sky, out of the view of the common people – but not out of Jake’s view – the very wealthy and the military traversed the bustling city by ornate airships and hot air balloons.
“Isn’t it beautiful? Tara sighed.
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What do you see, then, Mister Doom-and-Gloom?” Tara asked.
“I see smoke…and steel,” Jake answered. “I see children worked to death in dirty factories…widows turned into whores to feed their babies…and we’re still swingin’ from the end of the white man’s rope.”
“Like I said…Doom-and-Gloom,” Tara snickered.
Jake entered the telegraph office. A man sat before each of the three telegraph machines.
“How can we help you fine folks?” One of the men asked, looking up from his machine.
Jake and Tara exchanged glances. Jake took a step back toward the door.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the man said, smiling. “Negro money spends here.”
“That’s not our concern,” Jake said.
“What, then?” The man said, rising from his chair.
“Well, considerin’ my lady friend here is a haint and y’all can see her without her willing it, y’all must be haints, too.” Jake replied.
The man directed his attention to Tara. “You’re a ghost, correct?”
“That’s right,” Tara replied.
“The two other men stood.
“Hmm…ghasts,” Jake said, studying the trio. “Never had the pleasure of killing one of you. Ms. Tubman said you’re fast and can possess a body for days at a time.
“Ah, Ms. Tubman,” The ghast crooned. “After we kill you, we’ll have to pay her a visit.”
“The bloodsuckers got you interceptin’ her messages, now?” Jake asked.
“She has been sending her merry, little band all over to hunt down our kind…your kind!” The ghast spat. That nigger has to die!”
“Give me the message,” Jake said, unmoved.
“I don’t think so,” the ghast hissed.
“Jake raised his palms before his chest. His hands shifted, changing into a pair of ebon broadswords. “I reckon I’ll have to take it then.”
The trio of ghasts exploded forward. Jake leapt forward to meet them.
Jake’s body shattered into a cloud of miniscule, venomous spiders. Each of the thousands of spiders was armed with a scythe-like claw on each of its eight legs. The spider-cloud washed over the ghasts. A moment later, a reformed Jake landed in front of one of the telegraph machines.
The ghasts fell, their tattered bodies covered with an uncountable number of gashes; the organs of their hosts reduced to liquid by the venom racing through their veins.
Jake rustled through the telegrams until he found the one from Harriet Tubman. “Ms. Tubman found the nest.”
“Where to?” Tara inquired.
The sweet-green smell of kudzu permeated the night air. Jake stood high above the ground upon the thick limb of an old oak tree. “Go check it out,” he said, pointing toward a large ranch house an acre away.
“Be back in a bit, lover,” Tara said, blowing him a kiss as she leapt from the limb. She floated toward the house like a feather held aloft in a gentle breeze, landing gracefully at the door of the house. With a quick step, she passed through the closed door as if it was not there.
Jake studied the house. The windows were all covered with a dense, black cloth, preventing any light from getting in or out; a sure sign of a vampire nest.
Tara appeared on the limb. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. “Lord, it smells like the flatulence of a thousand mules in there!”
“Any vampires?” Jake inquired.
“Three,” Tara replied. “It looks like they are getting ready to call it a night.”
“The sun will be up in a couple of hours,” Jake said. “Coffins?”
“No,” Tara answered. “Dirt. The whole house is covered in about two feet of it.”
“These are Old Ones, then,” Jake said. “Good. Kill an Old One and all their progeny die, too.”
Jake leapt from the tree limb. He landed silently below. The hunter knelt at the base of the tree and thrust his hands into the dirt. A moment later, he pulled out a suede sack that was filled with something metallic by the clinking sound of it. “Good old General Tubman,” Jake whispered. “Right where she said it would be.”
Jake tossed the sack over his shoulder and sprinted toward the house. His boots made no sound as they glided across the soft, red, Georgia clay.
Tara floated closely behind him. Upon reaching the house, she stepped through the door. A few seconds later, Jake heard the door’s bolt lock slide back. He tested the door, slowly turning its knob. The door opened.
Jake slipped into the house. He reached into the sack and withdrew a tiny, wedged shape device. The device, constructed of bronze, had a miniscule, amber crystal at its center.
Tara raised her thumb and smiled.
Jake placed the wedge back into the bag and crept forward down the long hallway. He felt something hard beneath the dirt sink under his feet. Iron shackles sprang up around his ankles. Jake transformed into the swarm of spiders to escape, but it was too late. Walls of thick glass sprang up from the floor, slamming into the ceiling with a tremendous thud. Jake was encased in an impenetrable, airtight cube.
The Old Ones stepped out of a room at the end of the hallway and strode toward Jake. Huge grins were spread across their pallid faces, exposing their fangs.
Tara floated toward them.
“I can feel you, darlin’,” the lead Old One – a tall, lean man, with the dress and ruggedness of a cowboy – said. “Well done.”
“Tara?” Jake gasped.
Tara turned her gaze away from Jake and cast her eyes downward.
“My kind are the servants of Eshu, charged with keeping the balance between the light and the darkness…between the Natural and the Unnatural, like yourselves,” Jake said. “My kind are the livin’.”
“Living; dead; undead…some of us are hunters; some prey,” the Old One said. “That – and blood – are all that matter.” The Old One stepped closer to the glass. “Where are my manners? In all of this excitement, I neglected to introduce myself. I am Henrick.” Henrick pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The rather large gentleman behind me is Malloy and the enthralling beauty is Bloody Jane.”
“Let me out of here, so we can all shake hands,” Jake said.
Henrick laughed. “I like you, hunter. It’s a shame you’ll be dead soon. We could have been friends.”
The vampires walked past Jake’s cell toward the door.
Henrick glanced over his shoulder. “We are heading out for a quick bite. Don’t go anywhere.”
The vampires left the house. Their sardonic laughter cleaved the darkness outside and echoed throughout the house.
“How could you do this, Tara?” Jake spat.
“I am sorry, Jake,” Tara replied. “One day, you’ll understand.”
“Just a few days ago, you said you loved me,” Jake said. “You sure as hell have a funny way of showin’ it.”
“I do love you,” Tara cried. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“You ain’t makin’ no sense at all,” Jake said.
“Soon, you’ll run out of air,” Tara said. “You’ll die; then, you’ll have an eternity to fall in love with me.”
“That’s haint obsession talkin’,” Jake said. “After a while, every haint goes mad. I thought you had it beat. I reckon it just took you a little longer.”
“I am not crazy, Jake!” Tara shouted. “But, love makes us do crazy things.”
“If I die on account of you settin’ me up, do you really think I’m gon’ ever love you?”
“I…I’m not sure,” Tara sighed. I hope that you’ll…”
“I’ll hate you,” Jake said. “But, if you let me out of here, there might be a chance for us.”
“You’re just saying that to convince me to set you free,” Tara said.
Jake stared into Tara’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Tara stepped into Jake’s cell. “I don’t know where the release switch is.”
Jake nodded toward his suede sack, which lay at his feet. “Then persuade those bloodsuckers to tell you.”
Tara closed her eyes and stretched her incorporeal fingers toward the sack. For a moment, her fingers became somatic and she grabbed it. A second later, she was, once again, incorporeal, as was the sack and its contents. She walked out of the cube, taking the sack with her.
Tara floated down the hallway and through the door, leaving Jake alone in his cell.
Jake launched a powerful side-kick at one of the walls of the cell. His heel slammed into the glass. Jake’s foot felt as if it had slammed into the side of a mountain. “Magically enhanced,” he mused. Jake sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it.
A while later, Tara returned. “It’s done.”
Jake’s opened his eyes. “Did you get all the windows? The roof?”
“I was quite thorough,” she replied.
“Tara!” A voice wailed on the other side of the door.
Tara floated to the door. She willed her hand to become corporeal and used it to open the door.
A web of intense light crisscrossed the entrance.
Henrick stood a few yards away from the doorway. Malloy and Bloody Jane stood behind him.
You’ve been a bad girl, Tara,” Henrick said. “What have you done to our house?”
“They’re called Thread Bombs,” Tara replied. Each one releases a thread of light akin to the light of the sun. I planted nearly a thousand around your house to encase it in a web of sunlight.”
“Well, be a dear and turn them off, please,” Henrick said, affecting a warm smile.
“I can’t,” Tara said. “Only Jake can.”
“And why is that?” Henrick asked, struggling to maintain his friendly demeanor.
“Every bomb has to be turned off at the exact same time, or they will explode, blanketing a square mile in their light,” Tara answered. “Jake can become a swarm of spiders and turn off each bomb simultaneously.”
“And how do we know he will do that for us once he is free?” Henrick inquired.
“You don’t,” Tara replied. “But, what choice do you have?” If you set Jake free, he might shut down the web; leave him in that cell to die and you’ll all burn.”
“Quite the fickle one, aren’t you?” Henrick said. “Okay, we’ll bite, so to speak, but know that if you cause the death of three Old Ones and their children, there is nowhere you can run; nowhere you can hide. We will find you…and even a ghost can be destroyed.”
“Duly noted,” Tara said. “Now, where is the switch?”
“In the study,” Henrick replied. “There is a brass statue of a tiger in there. Turn its tail clockwise and the walls will come down.”
“I’ll be right back,” Tara said, vanishing from sight.
“Hurry back, child,” Henrick said, looking skyward. “It’ll be dawn soon.”
A whirring sound rose from beneath Jake. A moment later, the glass walls slid back into the floor.
Jake breathed deeply, welcoming fetid, but cool air into his lungs.
Refreshed, Jake sauntered toward the door.
“We have upheld our end of the bargain,” Henrick said. “Your turn.”
“Bargain?” Jake said. “I don’t bargain with Unnaturals.”
Henrick’s smile faded. “Tara said…”
“Your deal was with Tara,” Jake said, interrupting the Old One. “Not with me.”
“Nope,” Jake replied, picking dirt from his nails.
“You bastard!” Henrick hissed, baring his fangs.
Malloy and Bloody Jane screamed as sunlight cut through the clouds and seared their flesh.
“Turn it off,” Henrick wailed, his skin turning black where the sun kissed it. “Please!”
The Old Ones burst into flames. Their chilling screams rending the night sky until their vocal chords were to charred to emit sound.
Within moments, three piles of gray ash lay near the entrance to the house.
Tara materialized beside Jake. “I hope this makes things right between us, lover,”
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What now, then?” Tara asked.
“We keep killin’ Unnaturals,” Jake answered.
A broad smile spread across the ghost’s pretty face. “So, we’re still partners?”
“For now,” Jake replied. “We make a good team. ‘Sides, huntin’ can be lonely work. But, I promise you, you ever betray me again and you get the sigil.”
“To use a sigil on a ghost, you have to know that ghost’s real name, Jake,” Tara said. “I never told you – or anyone – my real name.”
“Your ex-husband says different,” Jake said.
Tara’s eyes widened and her jaw fell slack. “My ex…?”
“I met a conjurer a few years back by the name of Laveau,” Jake replied. “She channeled your ex-husband, Kayode, and, boy, did he have a story to tell!”
“What did he tell you?” Tara asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jake said. This place stinks.”
“Jake, what did he say?” Tara’s voice was shaky. “Jake?”
The corners of Jake’s mouth curled into a slight smile as he stepped through the web and into the welcoming dawn.
A bitter chill gnawed at the back of Thomas Morgan’s pink neck.
He flipped up the collar of his overcoat and walked briskly up the lonely road. “It will be dark soon,” he whispered. “I must find shelter.”
Thomas continued on, thinking that the feeling of unmerciful winds biting into his flesh must be what it felt like to the countless number of slaves who had tasted the caustic sting of his whip.
The memory of his whip rending black flesh warmed him a bit and strengthened his resolve to continue on.
Finally, Thomas came upon a house. He crept up to it. The smell of cinnamon met him, caressing his nostrils. Thomas peeked through a window at the front of the house. Inside, an elderly Black couple sat before a flickering fire. Steam rose from their brass mugs as they sipped from them.
“Niggers,” Thomas hissed. To Thomas, ‘niggers’ were bad enough, but ‘Yankee niggers’ were the worst.
“Well, their nigger home looks warm,” He thought. “And niggers are too scared to turn away a white man seekin’ shelter.”
A moment later, a man’s voice called from the other side of the door. “Who’s there?”
“My name’s Morgan,” Thomas replied. “Thomas Morgan. My airship crashed about a half mile from here. I need a warm place to spend the night until I can find a tinkerer in the morning.”
The door opened a crack. A pair of brown eyes peered out. “You sound like a Southerner, Mr. Morgan,” the old man said.
“Born and raised,” Thomas said, tipping his bowler as he saluted the old man with a deep bow. “But my heart belongs to the North.”
“What brings you to Weeksville?” The old man inquired.
“I’ve been usin’ that ol’ airship of mine to transport runaways for Harriet Tubman,” Thomas lied. He wondered what this old coon would do if he told them that he was really headed to Auburn to kill ‘General Tubman’.
“You can stay,” the old man said. “If you tell me an’ my wife a good story.”
Thomas rubbed his numb fingers under his armpits. “Umm…there once was a man from Nantucket…”
“I said a good story!” The old man said, interrupting Thomas’ limerick.
“I wish I could, but I’m just a transporter of people and cargo,” Thomas said. “I don’t have no stories to tell.”
“Black devil!” Thomas spat as he stormed away from the house.
He perused the area. A barn sat several yards behind the house. Thomas scurried toward the barn. He tugged at the door and it swung open. Inside, the barn was empty, save for a few farming tools strewn about and a large mound of straw that sat in a far corner.
Thomas dashed to the mound and dived into it. He burrowed deep into the mound, pulling straw over himself until he was completely covered. He quickly warmed up and, within moments, he was sound asleep.
A gruff voice awakened him.
Thomas peered between a few blades of straw, seeking the source of the harsh, baritone voice that had startled him out of his slumber.
In the middle of the barn, illuminated by a single lantern, stood two of the largest men Thomas had ever seen in his life. One man stood about seven feet tall. His massive muscles strained against his leather overcoat as he rapidly rubbed two sticks together over a pile of twigs and dry leaves
The other man, nearly a foot taller than the first and just as massive, dragged something large and heavy across the floor.
Both men’s faces were concealed by the over-sized brims of their top-hats, but their hands were nearly black as pitch.
As the fire came to life and lit the barn, Thomas saw clearly what the man was dragging – the corpse of a portly white man. The flesh on the corpse’s neck was twisted into a sickening spiral pattern, as if someone – or something – had tried to screw his head off.
The first man tied a rope around the corpse’s feet. “Hang him from that beam and let’s roast him.”
“I’m tired,” the first man replied. “Let Tom Morgan do it.”
Thomas shuddered. “How could they know I’m here? How do they know my name?”
“Come on out,” the second man bellowed.
Thomas crawled out of the mound of hay.
The first man yanked him to his feet. “Turn the corpse…and do not let it burn!”
Thomas’ mouth went dry and sourness gurgled in his throat. He nodded.
Thomas began to slowly turn the corpse over the fire.
The men turned from him. The first man snatched the barn door open. Moonlight poured into the barn, reflecting off the giants’ ebon skin.
“Keep turning, Tom,” the second man said as he disappeared into the night. “We’ll be back soon.”
Thomas shook as he turned the body over the fire.
A loud snap startled him. Suddenly, the corpse plummeted into the now raging flame. Sparks and ashes flew into the air and the barn filled with smoke.
“No!” Thomas screamed. “They’ll kill me!”
Thomas sprinted out the door and back onto the road. He raced into the frigid wind, fear keeping his legs pumping even though they ached terribly. When he could not run another step, he scurried into a muddy ditch, hiding behind a moist clump of overgrown weeds.
He had barely caught his breath when he heard thunderous footsteps upon the road above him.
“I am tired of carrying this charred, fat fool,” a gruff voice bellowed. “You carry him now.”
“Not me,” a second voice – as deep and gruff as the first – replied. “I’m tired. Let Tom Morgan do it.”
A loud thud exploded behind Thomas. He whirled toward the sound. Standing over him was the massive second man from the barn.
The man wrapped his thick fingers around Thomas’ neck and then hurled him high into the air.
Thomas winced as his buttocks slammed onto the road.
The first man snatched him onto his feet.
“Drag this body to Whitmore Ridge so we can bury it!” The first man ordered.
“But…but ain’t Whitmore Ridge about a mile from here?” Thomas asked.
“Move!” The first man commanded.
Thomas tucked the corpse’s feet under his armpits and shambled up the road, dragging the obese, bloated body behind him.
Thomas’ legs burned and his back felt as if it would fold in upon itself, but his fear of the twin black giants kept his taxed legs moving.
“While you’re down there, start digging,” the first man snickered.
“With my hands?” Thomas sighed.
“Well, you can’t dig with my hands, can you?” The first man spat.
The second man tapped the first man on the shoulder and then pointed toward the reddening sky. “Sun’s coming.”
“It’s your lucky night, Tom Morgan,” the first man said. “If we could stay a bit longer, we’d bury you with that body.”
With that, the men sauntered away and soon disappeared up the road.
Thomas leapt to his feet and then sprinted down the road in the opposite direction of the giants. Soon, he came upon the same house with the barn behind it in which the two men had found him. He slammed his fists on the door.
The door swung open. The old man of the house stood before him.
“You, again?” The old man hissed.
“Please, sir,” Thomas cried. “Some crazed men made me do terrible things! Please, grant me a place to hide and to rest and I will reward you dearly.”
The old man stepped aside and Thomas staggered through the doorway.
“Take a seat,” the old man said, pointing toward a table with four large oak chairs.
Thomas plopped down in a chair. The old woman of the house – a petite Black woman with smooth, cocoa skin and white locks that fell to the middle of her back - placed a cup before him. Thomas inhaled. The contents of the cup smelled pleasantly of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. Thomas took a sip. The tea warmed and relaxed him.
Suddenly, heavy footsteps came from the back of the house.
A shiver crawled up the back of Thomas’ neck.
The twin, ebon giants sauntered into the room.
“Have a seat, boys,” the old woman said. “Tom Morgan got a story to tell.”
THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY
The ivory Rolls Royce Phantom crept along the winding road towards the immense structure, which loomed on the horizon.
“Fifteen years.” Amy said. Her perfect, white teeth reflected the shine from her gloss-moistened lips as she smiled.
“What?” The chauffeur peered at Amy through the rearview mirror.
“Fifteen years, Tosu,” Amy answered. “Fifteen years of my fellow Senior Executives’ racist, sexist, bullshit. Fifteen years of the black employees calling me ‘Aunt Tammy’ behind my back. It all ends tonight.”
Tosu’s broad shoulders danced back and forth as he chuckled. “Aunt Tammy?”
“Yes, Aunt Tammy, Amy replied. “A female ‘Uncle Tom’ – and that’s not funny, Tosu!”
“Of course, you are not an ‘Aunt Tammy’, little sister,” Tosu said. “Just because you prefer Frank Sinatra to Fifty-Cent…or because you prefer quinoa to cornbread…or because you prefer Steampunk to Street Lit does not mean you are an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Tammy…It does mean, however, that you have poor taste!”
The driver looked over his shoulder at his little sister. “Today, all that you have endured pays off.”
Amy took a deep breath. “Yes, today it does…for us…”
“And for Malomo,” Tosu whispered, as he fought back the tears that threatened to pour from under his eyelids.
The Rolls Royce Phantom crept into the circular carport on the side of the mansion.
A short, lean, Asian woman – dressed in a blue, silk kimono – opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Amy. “Good afternoon, Ms. Cross,” The Asian woman said, smiling warmly. “My name is Yuriko Sakuraba. Mr. Emilianenko is eager to see you. Follow me please.”
Amy shuffled behind Yuriko, who escorted her to a pair of double doors within the mansion. The doors were carved from heavy African ironwood and inlaid with gold. “This is the dining room,” Yuriko began. “There are a few rules I must go over with you before you enter, but first, a quick search.”
Yuriko perused Amy’s face. Her expression told Amy that the security expert could see the fearlessness in her eyes. Fearlessness…and ferocity. Amy searched Yuriko’s eyes and saw the same.
Yuriko glided her lithe fingers across Amy’s athletic frame. Her skilled hands did not leave even the slightest wrinkle on Amy’s black shark-skin business suit. The search confirmed that Amy was unarmed.
“Now, the rules,” Yuriko began. “First, once you are seated, please remain so, unless you need to go to the restroom. If that is the case, please inform Mr. Emilianenko. He will call me on the radio and I will escort you.”
Amy nodded and Yuriko continued.
“Second, please refrain from any sudden gestures, or talking excessively with your hands.”
Amy smiled and nodded again. Yuriko nodded back at Amy and went on.
“Finally, just remember, I will be right outside this door if any assistance is needed.”
Amy nodded and held her smile. She knew that the final rule was actually a warning that if she tried to harm Mr. Emilianenko, she would have to deal with Yuriko. “I understand.”
Yuriko smiled and then pushed the double doors open. Amy stepped into the huge dining room behind Yuriko. The room was illuminated by a crystal chandelier, which hovered above a ten-foot long, mahogany table, which Amy figured to be over a hundred years old, judging by the hand-carved craftsmanship. Aside from the dining table and chairs, which sat in the middle of the room, the dining room was pretty bare, except for tropical plants, which sat in each corner and gave the room a fresh, pleasant smell that reminded Amy of cantaloupe, sprinkled with black pepper.
At the far end of the table sat Vasiliev Emilianenko, Amy’s boss. CEO of Biochem, Incorporated.
“Please, be seated.” Yuriko whispered.
Amy sat at the end of the table opposite Vasiliev.
Vasiliev waved a well-manicured hand as if swatting flies with the back of it. “You are dismissed, Ms. Sakuraba.”
Yuriko bowed and exited the dining room. Vasiliev turned his gaze toward Amy and grinned. “Good evening, Ms. Cross.”
“Good evening, Mr. Emilianenko.”
Vasiliev shook his head. His curly, black hair bounced slightly as his head moved from side to side. “Please, call me Vasiliev. May I call you Amy?”
Amy nodded. “Of course.”
Vasiliev smiled even wider. “So, Amy, let’s chat while we wait for our meal, yes?”
Vasiliev leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms upon the table. His massive arms strained against the sleeves of his soft, burgundy, silk smoking jacket. “So, you are my Vice President of International Affairs, yes?”
Amy nodded. “Yes.”
“And now, you are here to put in your bid for President, now that Radcliff Delmont has retired, yes?”
Amy swallowed and then nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Well, Amy, I do not dine with V-Ps…only Presidents.” Vasiliev grinned and the light from the chandelier danced across his perfectly veneered teeth.
Amy patted her chest. “What?! You mean the position is mine?”
“Yes,” Vasiliev said. “You’ve earned it. I would be a fool not to promote the person responsible for a two-hundred and twelve percent increase in our international profits. If I do not promote you, my rivals will steal you away from me.”
“Yes, Vasiliev,” Amy replied. “I’ve been collecting masks from all over Africa for the past two decades.”
“And I hear there has been one mask, in particular, that you desire, but it has eluded you, yes?”
“Yes, it is called ‘Oya’s Beard’. It is a rare Yoruba mask that depicts the Goddess Oya with a conical beard. “It represents women who possess the power of man, as well as woman.”
Vasiliev shoved the box down the table towards Amy. “I see…open the box, please.”
Amy caught the box as it slid over the edge of the table. She opened the box and peeked inside. “Oh, my God! Vasiliev…I don’t know how to thank you!”
Vasiliev pounded his fists on his broad chest. “That is my thanks to you! You have done so much for Biochem. This is just a small token of my appreciation…but, please, tell me…why such a fascination with masks, Amy?”
Amy stared into Vasiliev’s grey eyes. The time had finally come. “Paul Lawrence Dunbar said: ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’ I collect masks to remind me that there are many masks that we wear and I must never allow one of them to become my face.”
Vasiliev leaned forward again. “Explain, please.”
“We all wear masks and, many times, we wear them so long and so often that the mask becomes indistinguishable from the person. The mask has become the face. Thankfully, mine has not.”
Vasiliev smiled. “So, what mask do you wear, Amy?”
Amy patted her chest and then ran her hands across her face. “This is my mask. Amy Cross. Conservative…capitalist…loyal to the establishment…an Aunt Tammy.”
Vasiliev’s right hand crept closer to the two-way radio that sat at the corner of the table. “Continue, please.”
“But my face, Vasiliev, is Esusanya Ogunlana. Former operative of the OPC – Ododuwa People’s Congress…aunt of Malomo Ogunlana, who was a victim of the Atlanta Child Murders…remember those!?”
Vasiliev grabbed the two-way radio. Amy hurled the Oya’s Beard mask towards him. The spiked chin of the mask tore through his esophagus, piercing his spine.
The tip of the mask’s chin protruded from the back of Vasiliev’s neck. His shoulders bounced up and down involuntarily and his legs jerked back and forth in a sardonic tap-dance. The two-way radio was frozen in Vasiliev’s right hand. His eyes stared, unblinking, at Amy’s – or Esusanya’s – chest.
Esusanya was a blur as she sprung from her chair and darted across the room until she was directly behind Vasiliev. She placed her full lips to Vasiliev’s ear and whispered: “Within the next ninety seconds, you will be dead, so let’s make this brief. I know you were responsible for the death of my nephew and all those other boys. I know that you had those boys kidnapped and murdered in order to harvest their melanin and sell it to the highest bidder to use in their tanning lotions, sunblockers and contact lenses. I know you, Vasiliev Emilianenko…your mask has been removed!”
Esusanya sauntered to the double doors and placed her hands upon the handles. “I’ll have to soak in Epsom salts after this.”
She then opened the doors to face Yuriko Sakuraba…and a life with no masks.
AFROFUTURISM-PRESENTISM-PASTISM: Catching up with time in Black Science Fiction!
Or what if you could travel forward into your future and alter your present? Would you?
Most Westerners speak of time travel in science fiction in terms of forward in time or backward in time. In the Western view, an event is a component of time – that time exists as an entity in itself, and it moves. The movement of time is forward, coming from behind us. As time moves, you must use it or lose it. If you do not use it, it is gone.
In the traditional African view of time, one might say that time flows backwards. It flows toward you from the future, and the more or faster the activity, the faster time flows. Time is created, in a sense.
Time is not something in itself. Life is made up of events, defined by relationships. Time is a component of the event.
In the African view, your activity really determines the amount of time that passes. Thus the faster you work, the more time you use. Time is not actually passing; it is simply waiting for you to catch up.
In the traditional Asian view of time, it is believed that what we call the past, present and future are mere illusions – fabrics of space and time, in which all exist seamlessly together. In this view, the future and the past are not any different.
Recent research suggests that, in fact, the present can change the past and the future can change the present. This is known as retrocausality.
Retrocausality has powerful and interesting implications for your life. The opportunity to change something about your present life that was originally set in motion in your past – or, the ability to use the future, even though it hasn’t “happened” yet, from your time-frame, to change something in the present – is a powerful thing. In effect, the results of your choice can be seen before you’ve even made it.
Seeing time, however, from the perspective of retrocausality is helpful with many people in need of psychotherapy and with those who feel “stuck” and unable to change or grow.
If it is, indeed, true that what we label past, present and future are all one, an event in either the past or the future could alter the one we call “the present.” Suppose, then, that you could shift something that occurred in your past, which created your future – which is now the present. Similarly, if you saw your future, based upon what you’re doing right now, and altered that, could it also transform your present?
Time and time travel have also been explored in science fiction and fantasy.
Sent nearly thirty years into the past as an unwilling subject in a time travel experiment, he must save his younger self from the deadly path that forged him into the ruthless killer he now is.
Described as an Urban Fantasy thriller, Redeemer is both gangster saga and science fiction epic.
Retrocausality…explored and experienced on the mean streets of the past, present and future.
Ezekiel uses retrocausality in attempt to change his condition in both the past and the future. Let’s hop into Ezekiel’s shoes for a bit and experience a bit of retrocausality ourselves.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Identify a meaningful turning point or event in your life in which you made a decision or were moved by circumstances to go in one direction vs. another, and that you know forged a path in your life that you wish it hadn’t. It might have concerned a feature of your personality that became reinforced through your behavior, associations, or personal values. Perhaps particular interests that grew or an educational choice you made. Or a relationship you began or committed to.
2. Write down what you wish you had known then and how you would have liked to act differently, in that turning point. Then, envision inhabiting the person you were at that earlier time. Show your earlier self what he/she needs to know or do, right now, in order to shift direction or change in some way. Do this exercise during meditation or a period of quite reflection.
3. Now, envision that you have actually become the person who could have emerged from that earlier shift. Imagine incorporating the emotions, state of mind and capacities that would have resulted. Envision that you are that person you might have been. Reflect on how you can integrate the results of the past you have “changed” into your life in the present. What new intentions or emotions arise within you and what can you do with them? Remember, your experience of reality is constructed within your head, your consciousness. That experience can change by “changing” your past.
4. Next flip this around: Teleport yourself into the future that you desire. Use your imagination to envision the person you would like to be in your future; the person who is already there. From within that person, speak to who you are right now. Tell your present self what you need to alter, change or develop from this immediate moment forward, in order to be pulled to that future version of yourself that you want to become. Doing this reminds you of the vast power – and importance – of having an ideal: a positive vision of something that constantly beckons you and keeps pulling you along the path towards it, as it tells you that it’s already there – or could be.
Upon your return from this jaunt, studies have shown that, to avoid “time-lag”, you should pick up your copy of Redeemer and treat yourself to a great read!
THE NEXT BIG THING: Steamfunk, Sword & Soul and The Haunting of Truth High
The rules of this blog hop are simple and sweet: 1. Answer ten questions about your current Work In Progress on your blog; 2. Tag five writers / bloggers and add links to their pages so we can hop along to them next.
So, here goes – enjoy!
What is the working title of your book?
The working title of my next novel is The Haunting of Truth High.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Even though I am known for writing Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Urban Fantasy, I am a horror writer at heart. I have always wanted to write a horror novel. I am also the father of seven daughters and a son. Six of my eight children read Young Adult Fiction and have asked when I will write something in that genre. A marriage of horror and YA fiction happened in my head and voila…The Haunting of Truth High was born.
What genre does your book fall under?
The Haunting of Truth High is Young Adult Horror Fiction, however, I’ve made it deep enough that adults will enjoy it too.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
The main character, Renay is a beautiful, intelligent and talented teen, who is very popular in and outside of school. Her life, however, is troubled and in turmoil. Renay discovers she is a warrior, born with the power to slay ghosts and other vengeful spirits. The role would require a young actress who possesses depth, but also can take on the demands of a very physical and gritty role. I think Keke Palmer would be the perfect Renay.
Her love interest, Shawn, who introduces Renay to the dark and frightening spectral world, hides a dark secret. Although he is young, he was raised by ghost hunters, so he has experienced things most of the world has only had nightmares about. This has made him wise beyond his years, fearless and a bit stoic; however, he is also charismatic, witty and the epitome of cool. Corbin Bleu would make a great Shawn.
Renay’s autistic half-brother, Ricky, has the ability to see ghosts. While he cannot speak, he can draw nearly perfect illustrations of people with uncanny speed. Such a role would require an actor who can show emotions and evoke feelings without saying a word. Kyle Massey is perfect for the role of Ricky.
Finally, the main antagonist, Mr. Newsome, while appearing to be a lovable but firm band instructor, is sinister, creepy and the literally feeds off pain, sorrow and hatred. I would cast Phill Lewis in this frightening role.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A girl, whose life falls apart after the death of her father, discovers her true calling as a ghost hunter when her high school is overrun by vengeful spirits that feed on human emotions.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The Haunting of Truth High will be self-published through my new publishing company, Roaring Lions Productions.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I am still writing it. I should have the first draft complete by May.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
While there are other works of Young Adult Horror Fiction, I would say the closest comparison would be Devil’s Wake, by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Devil’s Wake, while a YA novel is still scary as hell and is a great read for older folks as well. In those ways, The Haunting of Truth High is similar, even though the premises are quite different.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by my love for horror movies, television and fiction and for my desire for my children to have more books with heroes who look and think like them.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
For those who read my Steamfunk, Urban Fantasy and Sword and Soul stories, you know my writing style. It is very visual, visceral, witty, and a bit frightening at times. Well, I am truly a horror writer at heart, so with The Haunting of Truth High, I went all out with the chills and thrills. Also, as a man with children who are voracious readers of YA fiction, I am intimately familiar with the YA genre and know what makes a YA book great. I also know and understand teens’ desires, goals and fears, which allows me to spin a tale that is scary, but at the same time, has heart.
Below are the links to the next chain of authors. Be sure to bookmark their sites and add their new releases to your calendars.
STEAMFUNK DEBUTS AT ANACHROCON 2013!
This is an exciting week for me. The greatest cosmological event of all time, in my humble opinion – my bEARTHday – is February 21. You are all invited to join me in celebration. In honor of that august day (can it be august in February?), complimentary drinks are on me!
Immediately following the celebration of my 25th solar return – that’s right, I said 25th (I am a Fantasy writer, after all) – is the long-awaited release of the Steamfunk anthology!
We will debut Steamfunk at AnachroCon on February 22, 2013. For those who don’t know, AnachroCon is, by their own definition, “the premier place in the Southern United States for people to celebrate Historical Reenacting, Alternate History, Steampunk, Sciences, Horror, Etiquette & Indulgence, Fashion, Fabrication, Literature & Media, Costuming and socialize with people of like minds.” Sounds like fun…and this year, AnachroCon gets fun-ky, as thousands of Steamfunkateers converge upon the convention to witness the unveiling of an anthology chock-full-o’ steamy and funky goodness!
To help us celebrate, the good folks at AnachroCon have given Steamfunk Co-Editor, Milton Davis, a table, where contributing authors to Steamfunk will sign books and hand out free hugs and handshakes. They have also made me a Guest and I will have the pleasure of speaking on a panel or two.
So, come on by and let’s funk up AnachroCon!
Following is a list of Funkateers and their Funktastic contributions to the Steamfunk Anthology:
Ronald T. Jones – Benjamin’s Freedom Magic
Malon Edwards – Mud Holes and Mississippi Mules
Hannibal Tabu – The Sharp Knife of a Short Life
P. Djeli Clark – Men in Black
Geoffrey Thorne – The Tunnel at the End of Light
Ray Dean – A Will of Steel
Kochava Greene – The Refuge
Carole McDonnell – Oh, Western Wind
Rebecca McFarland Kyle – Once a Spider
Josh Reynolds – The Lion Hunters
Melvin Carter – Tough Night in Tommyville
Valjeanne Jeffers – The Switch
Balogun Ojetade – Rite of Passage: Blood and Iron
Milton Davis – The Delivery
STEAMFUNK ENCHANTERS: Black Magicians, Conjurers and Soothsayers in the Age of Steam!
We return to our League of Extraordinary Black People series with a look at the great men and women whose lives were bolstered, or broken, by the arts of legerdemain, divination and prestidigitation. These virtuosos of voodoo, stage magic, fortune-telling and mesmerism all came to fame through the workings of the arcane.
Previously, we explored Dandies, Adventurers, Activists, Tinkerers and the Black Dispatches. Join us now, as we examine the lives and amazing abilities of more extraordinary Black people from the Age of Steam(funk)!
Richard Potter (1783 – 1835)
Potter was born in New Hampshire, the son of an English baronet and an African servant woman. He was educated in Europe before beginning his 25-year career as a performer in post-Revolutionary America. He lived with his father in Hopkinton, NH, until he married his wife, Sally, and had three children.
Potter is also credited as America’s first successful hypnotist and ventriloquist. One of the earliest records of his stage shows is November 2, 1811, in Boston at the Columbian Museum. The performance featured ventriloquism and magic. Potter is believed to be the first to use a ventriloquist’s dummy and could skillfully throw his voice, using human speech and sounds that perfectly imitated the chirping, cooing and caws of birds.
Potter performed in Boston, throughout New England, and Canada. Witnesses of Potter’s shows say he was able to walk through a log. The crowd that watched him do this assumed the log was hollow. But when they checked out the log for themselves they discovered it was completely solid! Another of Potter’s amazing tricks was his ability to take a ball of yarn and toss it high into the air, where it would slowly unravel. Potter would then climb up the yarn and vanish into the clouds to vanish before hundreds of spectators.
His shows also regularly included prestidigitation with eggs, money, and cards; throwing knives at assistants; touching a hot iron to his tongue; walking on flames; and dancing on eggs without breaking them.
Potter was very successful and it is said that he made $4800 for 20-day engagements in the early 1800s, allowing him to buy a 175-acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire, in the village now known as Potter’s Place. His story intrigued Harry Houdini, who became a huge fan.
JK Rowling, author of the mega-successful Harry Potter series of novels, explains the supposed origin of Harry Potter’s name: “Harry’ has always been my favourite boy’s name, so if my daughter had been a son, he would have been Harry Rowling. Then I would have had to choose a different name for “Harry” in the books, because it would have been too cruel to name him after my own son. “Potter” was the surname of a family who used to live near me when I was seven years old and I always liked the name, so I borrowed it.” However, sources close to Rowling say that she named the popular teen magician after famed stage magician Harry Houdini and his idol – the first known stage magician in America – Richard Potter.
Potter died on September 20, 1835. Sometime after his death and the death of his wife, Sally, the couple was buried in the front yard of their estate. A few years afterward, however, the house burned down. Potter and his wife’s graves were moved to their present site in 1849. All that remains to this day is a small plot with the gravestones behind the railroad station at Potter’s Place.
Marie Laveau (1794 – 1881)
Marie Catherine Laveau was born in New Orleans on September 10, 1794, the daughter of two free Blacks – Marguerite Darcantel, a former Haitian slave and Charles Laveau, a wealthy, Black plantation owner of mixed race.
Raised by her mother and grandmother, both Voodoo priestesses, Marie Laveau spent most of her adult life in a world where Voodoo was neither alien nor uncommon. She was a very spiritual person who blended, in the Creole way, Voodoo with Catholicism, especially the saints. For Laveau, Voodoo was an extension of Catholic practices and Catholicism, a focus toward the same Bon Dieu (God), natural and familiar, to Voodoo.
Laveau married a Jacques Paris in 1819 and went to live in New Orleans’ French Quarter. For whatever reason, Charles Paris was soon died, however, and she was left with two children to care for.
After Jacques’ passing, the “Widow Paris” worked as a hairdresser and as a nurse, even performing minor surgery when necessary. Her nursing duties included ministering to prisoners on death row as well as taking in the sick to be nursed in her home. During the worst breakouts of Yellow Fever and Cholera, Laveau was a saint who saved many, and helped make the transition to death a comfortable one. She was there, in the worst hospital wards, using her knowledge of herbal medicines and Voodoo prayers to save the dying. This was frowned on by the local church, but nobody could stop her.
Being a free woman of color meant that “Mam’zelle Laveau” was free to own slaves. She took advantage of this…not to make life easier on herself, but to put herself in a position to free her enslaved people.
She entered into a common-law marriage with Christophe Glapion, a member of a prominent local family, and they had five children together – only two of whom survived to adulthood. Although Marie never abandoned her Catholic roots, she became increasingly interested in her traditional African beliefs and quickly developed a reputation as New Orleans’ leading voodoo queen.
While voodoo was commonly practiced in New Orleans, it had a fearsome reputation and a history of fueling revolution and slave revolts and was actually banned at different times in Louisiana history. Marie Laveau’s marriage of voodoo beliefs to Catholic traditions helped make voodoo and more acceptable to upper-class New Orleans society. She regularly presided over public voodoo ceremonies in Congo Square – one of the few locations in rigidly segregated New Orleans where people of different races could mix freely – and made a good income selling charms, curses, and blessings to people of all social classes. The fact that many of her clients were servants in upper-class homes also gave her a spy network which helped reinforce her supernatural reputation to the wealthy patrons who asked for her services.
The dark consultation of Marie Laveau was sought by the many great men and women of New Orleans. They would visit with Laveau at her St. Ann cottage, sit with her and discuss business matters and affairs of the heart. After fully understanding the situation, Marie would give them advice on how to proceed and insight into their past, present and future…and she was always right.
Marie disappeared for a time. It is said that she went off to train with a famous Voodoo priest named Doctor John, who was believed to be a free Black man with so much experience in dark magic, that he has never been discovered because of this power.
In 1830, several years after her disappearance, Marie returned as Voodoo Queen, now armed with the most potent rituals, a pet snake named Li Grande Zombi, and, it seemed, eternal youth.
Marie Laveau had an extremely complex reputation in later life, both feared for her power as a voodoo queen – with numerous stories about the things that “happened” to anyone who offended her – and admired as a living saint due to her humanitarian work.
At the time of her death in 1881, eminent writer Lafcadio Hearn referred to her as “one of the kindest women who ever lived”. Her fame also guaranteed prominent obituaries in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New York Times.
After the announcement of her death, however, many witnessed Marie Laveau walking the streets of the French Quarter as she always did and to this very day people claim to see Marie Laveau walking about on her beloved St. Ann Street.
Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814 – 1904)
Called “the Mother of Civil Rights in California” from work she initiated in the 1860s, Mary Ellen Pleasant’s achievements in the struggle for the rights of Black people and women went unsurpassed until the 1960s.
Pleasant was once the most talked-about woman in San Francisco. When other African Americans were rarely mentioned, she claimed full-page articles in the press. She helped shape early San Francisco, and covertly amassed a joint fortune once assessed at $30,000,000.
Pleasant was born a slave near Augusta, Georgia in 1814, the daughter of Virginia governor John H. Pleasants’ son, John H. Pleasants, Jr. and an enslaved Haitian Vodoun priestess.
After witnessing the death of her mother at the cruel hands of a plantation overseer, Mary Pleasant had to make her way through life largely on her own.
Pleasant dropped the ‘s’ in her last name, changing it to ‘Pleasant’ and fled to New Orleans, where she found employment as a linen worker at the Ursaline Convent. A short time later, she went to work as a free servant for a Louis Alexander Williams, a merchant in Cincinnati. Williams promised that, after Mary served the Williams family for some time without pay, she would be freed legally. However, Williams, in debt and ultimately jealous of his wife Ellen’s affection for young Mary Pleasant, eventually placed her into nine years of indentured servitude with an aging Quaker merchant known only as Grandma Hussey. Indentured servants could be of any race, and Pleasant, a child of mixed parentage, who in her earlier years was of a very light complexion, was told not to reveal her race – a heavy burden for a girl of about eleven.
Pleasant adopted Ellen Williams’ name, becoming “Mary Ellen Williams” and she learned business as a clerk in Grandma Hussey’s general store. Although she could not read or write then, she said in her final memoir, “I could recall the accounts of a whole day, and she [Grandma Hussey] would set them down and they would be right as I remembered ‘em.”
Pleasant grew smart and witty, and adopted abolitionist beliefs and the principles of equality that those beliefs taught her.
Later in the 1840′s, when her indentured service had ended, the Husseys helped the brilliant and talented twenty-something, young woman, become a tailor’s assistant in Boston. She also became a paid church soloist there.
Mary Ellen Williams soon met and married James W. Smith, a wealthy free Black who passed for white, so as to serve as a Southern contributor to William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Soon both Smiths served on that Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom in Canada, Nova Scotia, and Mexico.
James Smith owned a plantation near Harper’s Ferry, left to him by his white father. Smith staffed it with freed slaves, whose freedom he helped secure. Smith died suddenly in 1844, leaving Mary Ellen a wealthy woman. She eventually remarried, but she continued her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad between New Bedford, MA, and Ohio out of her own inner calling. She soon became a much-hunted slave rescuer.
Finally, in 1851, with slavers hot on her trail, she fled West.
According to ships records and confirming testimony, she arrived in San Francisco in April, 1852 to escape persecution under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, for helping hundreds of slaves escape.
Before her arrival in what would become her permanent home, however, Mary Ellen stayed a year in New Orleans, continuing her studies of Vodoun she originally began with her mother with the Voodoo Queen, Mam’zelle Marie Laveau. From Mam’zelle Laveau Mary not only learned the herbal remedies and rituals of Vodoun, but also how to mentor her people and to manipulate the secrets of the rich to gain aid for the poor – a ‘model’ that would serve her well in San Francisco. After her intensive training was complete, Mary Ellen fled to San Francisco, assisted by Marie Laveau.
San Francisco was a rough and tumble, fast-paced place, inhabited by 40,000 people, and home to 700 drinking and gambling establishments, and 5 murders every 6 days.
In addition to those staggering statistics for that time, there were six men to every woman. San Francisco was not a safe place, but Mary Ellen Pleasant was up to the challenge. She was forced to use two identities to thwart capture under California’s Fugitive Slave Act. Under this law anyone without freedom papers could be captured and sent into slavery. Pleasant had no papers, So she lived as both “Mrs. Ellen Smith”, a white boardinghouse steward / cook and as “Mrs. Pleasants”, an abolitionist / entrepreneur). As Mrs. Smith, she served the wealthiest and most influential men in San Francisco and using their regard for her as well as the “Laveau model” of leveraging their secrets for favors, she was able to get jobs and privileges for “colored” people in San Francisco. It is this work that earned her the nickname “The Black City Hall”.
In the “colored” community, in her true identity as Mrs. Pleasants, she used her money to help ex-slaves fight unfair laws and to get lawyers or businesses in California. She became an expert capitalist, owning every kind of business imaginable, and she prospered. However, her people suffered as European immigrations took the menial jobs once held for them and as anti-black sentiment and national depression mounted. So, in 1858 Mary decided to return East – not to live, but – as she once said in a letter – to help her former brother in law gain release from slavery and to help abolitionist John Brown end slavery forever.
In Canada, she bought land on Campbell Street, near Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to help John Brown house the slaves that he planned to free. John Brown’s plan was to capture the Federal arsenal there with only 21 men. He would set up a maroon-like militia, made up of runaway slaves throughout the Virginia Mountains, as the Haitians had done. Then, he would shuttle some slaves from there to Canada. Mary gave Brown money for arms and came back the following fall to ride – in disguise as a jockey – in advance of Brown to alert slaves near Harper’s Ferry of his coming. It was a good, but risky, plan, but, unlike some other Black leaders, Pleasant, believing that slavery had to be ended by force, was willing to help. “I’d rather be a corpse than a coward,” was always her motto.
Of course, Brown acted too soon and was hanged, and Pleasant narrowly escaped with her life. On her return to California, however, she continued to fight, and after the Emancipation Proclamation and the California Right-of-Testimony of 1863 law, she declared her race openly.
She orchestrated court battles to test the right of testimony, and in 1868 her battle for the right of Blacks to ride the San Francisco trolleys without fear of discrimination set precedent in the California Supreme Court.
Mary Pleasant went on to become celebrated as a philanthropist and business woman and to amass a $30,000,000 fortune with her secret partner, Scotsman, Thomas Bell and today, the Voodoo Queen of California’s legacy of love and courage lives on.
Gbêhanzin (Béhanzin) Hossu Bowelle (1844 – 1906)
Gbêhanzin Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th Century. He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization.
Gbehanzin was also reputed to be a fierce and powerful Vodou Priest, famously noted for hanging a witch or sorcerer alive from a pole as a warning to all who would dare to cross spiritual forces with him. He was never found without his trademark pipe and according to legend emerged from the womb smoking. Gbehanzin controlled a private army of female soldiers, the Dahomey Amazons, who were said to have fought more fiercely than men, sharpening their teeth into points to tear at their opponents’ carotid arteries.
In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people. By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo. In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Gbehanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.
In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou. Gbehanzin, now king after Glele’s sudden death, prepared for war. Gbehanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts – militarily at Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo. The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities. A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Gbehanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou port. The peace lasted for two years. However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did. Gbehanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war.
He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Glèlè, in1868 null and void. From this act, war began.
Gbehanzin led the final struggle against French colonial forces, but would ultimately succumb to Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds, a Senegalese warrior, who was sent to fight against Gbehanzin with powerful French armed forces under his command. Colonel Dodds’ division defeated Gbehanzin not by the French directly besting Dahomey in combat, but because part of Dodd’s campaign was the deforestation of sacred trees, areas of arbors believed to house the spirits of ancestors and to give strength to the Dahomey people (now you know where they got that scene in Avatar from). It was only after a significant number of the trees were cut that the French were able to break through the Dahomey forces and drive Gbehanzin into exile.
Gbehanzin died in 1906 in Algeria. In 1928, his son, Ouanilo (who was also France’s first African attorney in 1920) had his body moved to Dahomey.
Benjamin “Black Herman” Rucker (1892 – 1934)
Rucker came of age under the tutelage of an itinerant African-American showman and street peddler by the name of Alonzo Moore, who went by the name ‘Prince Herman’. Moore took in Rucker as an apprentice at the age of sixteen. By the time of Prince Herman’s death a few years later, Rucker had fine-tuned his own skills at reading cards, divining fortunes, and cooking up healing elixirs, so much that he was able to make his own way around the circuit of traveling faith healers who hustled material goods and spiritual assurances from town to town in Black Belt communities.
Eventually, poverty and racial discrimination pushed Rucker out of the South and toward Chicago, where in the late 1910s he launched an independent career. Assuming a new name borrowed from his old friend and mentor, Prince Herman, Rucker became known as ‘Black Herman’.
Black Herman was a master of conventional magic techniques and legerdemain, successfully crossing the boundaries between theater, folk religion, the black vernacular traditions and entrepreneurship and mixing them all up into a powerful and entertaining gumbo. Echoes of a mysterious, powerful constellation of folk supernaturalism, occult arts, and ancestral religiosity are what defined Black Herman’s performance style. This appropriation of worlds both distinctly African and African-American was as resonant with audiences as it was profitable for him.
Black Herman found his place as the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest magician” in Harlem, the African American Mecca during the Jazz Age.
It was in Harlem that Herman mass-marketed the act for which he became best known – a combination of stage craft, comedy, vaudeville theater, religious oratory, and mind-reading tricks.
Herman’s crowning achievement was a headlining show at Marcus Garvey’s four-thousand-seat Liberty Hall in 1923. Hugely appealing to an emerging urban audience – a highly mixed demographic that included Blacks, whites, members of high society and other elites, and men and women of the working classes – Herman sold out at Liberty Hall for a month and continued to sell out every time he performed.
Equally at home as a merchant of conjuring implements and as a storefront impresario, Herman set up shop as an authorized seller of mail order courses, lucky numbers, and health tonics until he was arrested in 1925 and sent to Sing-Sing on a charge of fraud.
Prison did not dissuade him from his true calling, however, and by the end of the decade Herman had returned to the stage and his extraordinarily lucrative career.
Black Herman’s public career came to an abrupt end when he collapsed onstage after a show at the Palace Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1934. Members of the audience could not determine whether Herman’s departure was part of the act or not. After all, one of his most famous tricks involved the staging of his own burial and resurrection. When Black Herman’s body was ultimately laid to rest at New York’s Woodlawn cemetery, newspapers reported that scores of visitors gathered in anticipation of his rising from the grave.
The author Arthur C. Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Then Steamfunk and Steampunk can be said to be magical. How does magic affect or influence you, Steampunks and Steamfunkateers? What has been magical about your life?
IT’S STILL DARK AT TWILIGHT: Scrubbing off the Whitewash of Urban Fantasy!
Whitewashing is the practice in which an author, filmmaker, artist or fan takes a character who is originally of color in literature and / or film and replaces them with a white character, actor, or model, or a person who looks “more white”, in order to appeal to the white masses.
Whitewashing is also used to describe the entertainment industry’s erasure of People of Color from history and / or specific locales.
This practice is extremely prevalent in Urban Fantasy.
Fans of Urban Fantasy often give the excuse that because most Urban Fantasy is set in a rural town, the percentage of People of Color who populate those towns is so insignificant that inclusion of them is pointless and even unrealistic.
This would almost make sense if the problematic subgenre was Rural Fantasy. The issue at hand, however, is Urban Fantasy.
Human settlements are classified as rural or urban depending on the density of human-created structures and resident people in a particular area. Urban areas can include towns and cities while rural areas include villages and hamlets.
Rural areas are settled places outside towns and cities, that often develop randomly on the basis of natural vegetation and fauna available in a region. They can have an agricultural feel to them – think the village in Children of the Corn, or Mayberry, with Andy, Otis, Opie, Barney and Gomer Pyle all gathered at Floyd Lawson’s Barbershop enjoying Aunt Bee’s apple pie.
Unlike rural areas, urban settlements are defined by their advanced civic amenities, opportunities for education, facilities for transport, business and social interaction and overall better standard of living. Socio-cultural statistics are usually based on an urban population – think Chicago, Atlanta and New York City.
So, why in the hell would Urban Fantasy be chiefly set in a Mayberry, when it clearly should be set in Chi-Town? We should change the subgenre of these stories to Rural Fantasy. Believe me; the complaints of whitewashing would end then; especially from me, because I would never bother to pick one of those books up.
Now before one of you fanboys rants about Jim Butcher setting his Harry Dresden books in Chicago, let’s explore this fact a bit deeper.
Yes, both Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Series and Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires, are set in “Chicago”. This is obviously a very different Windy City from where I grew up and spent most of my life, however, because my Chicago is only 40% white. Yet Butcher’s and Neill’s Chicago’s are about 99% white. It’s like they took big bottles of White-Out and went berserk. Their works are, most certainly, about as fantastical as writing can get, perhaps even farcical. But Urban? Nah.
“About a year ago, Jim Butcher’s Twitter feed erupted into a bit of a kerfuffle about the whitewashing of urban fantasy. Apparently folks were bent out of shape by his depiction of Chicago, essentially whitewashing it as his Chicago comes up a bit short on the amount of black folks (or other people of color) living there. Frankly, I wasn’t too bent out of shape over this as somehow every week people used to tune into Friends who lived in a New York remarkably bereft of black folks. It’s to the point where I go into an urban fantasy expecting not to encounter minority characters other than in a ‘magical Negro’-type capacity.”
He goes on to say:
“There are more stories to tell in urban fiction than Boyz N the Hood or Menace II Society or baby mama dramas. Just as there are more characters to write about in urban fantasy whose stories aren’t as often told or voices always expressed. With the legends of the Green Knight, Red Knight, and Black Knight (in each of the books, respectively), Tristan and Isolde, trolls, zombies, a dragon, elven assassins, Red Caps, griffins, gangstas, and thug life tossed in, I guess I’m putting the “urban” in urban fantasy. This isn’t your father’s King Arthur tale, but it is mine.”
No Rural Fantasy with Maurice Broaddus’ Knights of Breton Court series. This magnificent series is pure Urban Fantasy at its very best.
Come on, y’all…if you write a story and set it in a place like Broaddus’ Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, London, or Las Vegas, basic demographic research will indicate the presence of People of Color. To read and enjoy Urban Fantasy, I am expected to just accept that Black people don’t exist? You get the side-eye for that one.
Whether or not you like Urban Fantasy, the fact of the matter is that this subgenre of Fantasy has had an immense and global impact on people through literature, television and film.
It is because of this impact that we cannot ignore the messages that Urban Fantasy brings. Each time an author of this subgenre decides to tell a story, instead of working so hard to erase People of Color out of existence, they should work just as hard to erase the problems that plague our society. And fanboys…do not say that writers should not have to be political; that they should be free to write merely to entertain. Every statement we make is political. Every sentence we write is potentially life-changing for someone. Such is the power of the word.
You cannot truly change culture without literature. We can pass a thousand laws saying that racism and sexism are wrong. We can make a thousand impassioned speeches to rouse the marginalized masses; but if everyone returns home after those speeches and sits down to read the latest installment of Twilight, or watch the next episode of The Vampire Diaries and their fictional worlds in which those same marginalized masses barely even exist – then how much change can truly be affected?
It is within the pages of books and under the light of the TV screen where we will reach people and change the world for the better…or worse.
Over and over again, we are told that our stories aren’t worth being told. We do not get to be the heroes. We are never “the one destined to come since man was young upon the earth”. If we are lucky, we get to be the “magical negro”; the “noble savage”; the sidekick; the Black person who doesn’t die in the first ten minutes of the film.
This is damaging to the psyches of People of Color. And a devastating blow to the self-esteem of our babies.
So, don’t tell me writers just write to merely entertain, when entertainment has such a powerful, deep and lasting impression on the minds of us all.
This is why Black speculative fiction is so important. In my own work of Urban Fantasy, Redeemer, the hero, Ezekiel Cross, is a Black man from an Atlanta of the future who is used in an experiment that transports him to an Atlanta of the past – our present. This Atlanta is a gritty, real Atlanta in which intelligent and powerful Black people – both good and bad – exist.
Redeemer is witty, thrilling and, sometimes, frightening Urban Fantasy that I have always wanted to read; with heroes I have always wanted to see.
Will it change the world? Maybe…give it a read and let me know.
PUTTING THE “FUNK” IN STEAMFUNK: Standingo and Shane transport us to funky new worlds through their canvases
PUTTING THE “FUNK” IN STEAMFUNK
Standingo and Shane transport us to funky new worlds through their canvases
In this installment, we feature two Blacknificent artists who have made invaluable contributions to Steamfunk and Fantasy through their masterful use of pencil, pen and brush.
Let’s get to know these artists – Stanley Weaver and Marcellus Jackson – and their amazing work a bit better.
STANLEY “Standingo” WEAVER
First up is the incomparable Stanley J. Weaver, Jr., who had his first encounter with comic book heroes at the age of five, when his parents bought him his very first action figure – the Incredible Hulk. That toy awakened the artist in young Standingo and he immediately started drawing…on his parents’ wall.
After awakening from the knockout blow delivered by his mom, Stan staggered to school, where he discovered an armless Spiderman action figure in the trash can. He retrieved Spidey from the detritus and took him home so he could draw him as well.
At ten years of age, Stan acquired his first comic book, when he saw an Incredible Hulk comic book at the local candy store and begged his father to buy it for him. It was then that Stan concluded that he wanted to draw comic books.
After unsuccessfully pursuing a career with Marvel, DC and Milestone comics – who told him he had tons of talent, but still was not good enough for them (fools!) – the disheartened Stan did not pick up a pencil to draw for the next five years.
In 2005, at the age of 32, Stan’s passion to draw was reignited, but this time, Stan was determined to remain independent and to create works on his terms. And boy, are we happy he made that decision! Stan is one of the most prolific artists in the business and is one of the premier artists in indie comics and genre fiction. Stan has done the covers for several popular graphic novels and novels, including the Steamfunk series, The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and the in-press series, Rite of Passage.
MARCELLUS SHANE JACKSON
Marcellus is highly sought after for his skills and has been commissioned by the NBA and the High Museum of Art. His work can be seen on the covers of numerous magazines and books and in animation and designs for top apparel companies.
Marcellus is committed to developing the next generation of artists by sharing his experience and expertise as a judge for art competitions and as a panelist at conventions and festivals.
We were fortunate to commission Marcellus for the cover of the Steamfunk anthology and look forward to working with him on many more Steamfunk projects in the near future!
The coming launch of the Steamfunk! anthology in February is causing quite a stir worldwide. With over 100,000 words of Steamy goodness, this anthology is sure to live up to – and exceed – everyone’s expectations.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with one of the contributing authors and one of the Co-Editors of the Steamfunk! anthology recently and discuss the state of the book, other exciting upcoming Steamfunk projects, Steamfunk’s relationship to – and differences from – Steampunk and much more.
So, grab a cup of chai, a shot of absinthe, or a .40 ounce of “Olde E.” and then sit back, relax and enjoy as we discuss…
The State of Steamfunk!
AUTHOR VALJEANNE JEFFERS DISCUSSES THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK!
Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the erotic horror series, Immortal and the Steamfunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork, sat down with us and gave us her thoughts on the present state of Steampunk and Steamfunk and where she sees the Steamfunk movement headed.
Valjeanne’s fiction has appeared in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, LuneWing, PurpleMag, Genesis Science Fiction Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, Possibilties, 31 Days of Steamy Mocha, Griots II: Sisters of the Spear (in press), and Steamfunk! (releases February, 2013). She works as an editor for Mocha Memoirs Press and is also co-owner of Q and V Affordable editing.
She blogs regularly at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com.
Let’s get right to it, Sister Valjeanne. What is Steampunk? What is Steamfunk? Do they differ in any way other than Steamfunk having Black heroes?
Steampunk is a SF sub-genre that usually features steam-powered machinery and is often set in the 19th century, such as the British Victorian era, American Wild West, or post-apocalyptic future worlds. Think Jules Vern and H.G. Wells, and the flicks Time After Time and Sherlock Holmes. Steamfunk features many of these same settings but it comes out of the Black experience. This may seem like a small divergence, but it entails a great deal more than simply sticking People of Color between the pages. It is Earth shaking… or perhaps I should say Earth building.
Is there a need for a subgenre separate from Steampunk?
Most definitely! Within this new genre we are witnessing the birth of worlds in which Black folks and that which moves us reign supreme. In short, Steamfunk is just as different from Steampunk as Black Science Fiction is from White science fiction. Imagine a Steamfunk hood, an antebellum South in which abolitionists fly airships. Or, as in my novel, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds, folks living in a post-apocalyptic, steam-world with meta-humans…policed by androids. Now imagine each of these worlds predominated by folks of color: worlds in which Black, Native American, Latino, and Asian folks are not sidekicks but heroines, heroes and villains. That’s what Steamfunk is.
Well said! So, tell us a bit about the Steamfunk anthology. What is it? What was your involvement in it? And when and where can we get it?
The Steamfunk! Anthology is an exciting collection of stories written by authors with a Black and/or POC cultural worldview. My short story, The Switch (which is actually included in The Switch II: Clockwork) has been published in Steamfunk!. The Switch is an erotic, futuristic thriller set in “Tyrol,” a world divided into two realms: an ultra-modern, wealthy upper-city and an oppressed steam-powered underground.
The Switch has been very well-received. It just got an outstanding review in The Spelman Messenger, Fall 2012 Issue. I’m thrilled to also be a part in this dynamite anthology! Steamfunk! hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but it will be released [during AnachroCon on February 22, 2013 and] at The Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party on February 23, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. Readers can pick up the first copies of Steamfunk! at this release party.
These are very exciting times for Steamfunk! Have there been any Steamfunk events you have participated in, or that you can tell us about? Are any events coming soon?
As of yet, I haven’t attended any Steamfunk events. But I do plan to attend the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party in full-steam attire! I’m also one of the contributing authors of the Alabama Phoenix Festival, a celebration of SF art, films, comics and novels. This event is scheduled for May 2013.
After the highly anticipated release of the Steamfunk anthology, where do you see Steamfunk going in 2013? What other Steamfunk projects do you have in the works?
This is a fresh new genre, and there’s so much speculative ground that can be tapped into! I envision many more SF offerings emerging from this groovy space. I have another novel in the works, Mona Livelong, set in an alternate 1970s steam-world. I plan to drop Mona Livelong later this year, but I’ll be posting sneak peeks right up until its release. In closing, I’d like to thank the extraordinary author Balogun Ojetade for interviewing me. Long live Steamfunk!
Thank you, Valjeanne Jeffers, for a Blacktastic interview! Long live Steamfunk, indeed!
DISCUSSING THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK WITH AUTHOR MILTON J. DAVIS!
A regular contributor to Chronicles of Harriet, author Milton J. Davis sat down with us once again and gave us his insight on the present state of Steampunk and Steamfunk and the future of both magnificent movements.
Milton is CEO of MVmedia, producer of the Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation and author / publisher of six books of Black Speculative Fiction.
Milton is a chemist by day and a writer / publisher by night and on the weekends. All of his works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.
Let’s get right into this informative and engaging interview with Milton J. Davis, author, publisher, scientist, historian and educator.
Inquiring minds want to know, Milton…what is Steampunk and just what is Steamfunk? Do they differ in any way other than Steamfunk having Black heroes?
I’m still trying to answer the first question. I look at steampunk from a technical and historical aspect. Technically it’s imaging a past and a future where the major technology is steam based. From a historical standpoint its culture, morals and customs are based on Victorian sensibilities. Steamfunk is dealing with the same era and technology in terms of the experiences of people of color, mainly African and those of the African Diaspora. The way it differs from just having black heroes is that a steamfunk story centers on the experiences of our ancestors who lived during the Victorian Age.
Is there a need for a subgenre separate from Steampunk?
I think so. I believe in order to give free expression to our viewpoint you need a genre that allows it. Knowing who your audience is frees you to tell stories that may not be accepted by others in the broader genre.
Tell us a bit about the Steamfunk anthology. What is it? What was your involvement in it? And when and where can we get it?
The idea for the Steamfunk! anthology sprang from a conversation I was involved in with a number of other writers. We were discussing steampunk and how people of African descent were under-represented. Many of the writers were interested in doing steampunk stories based on our culture and traditions so I said, let’s do an anthology. Balogun Ojetade agreed to join me as co-editor so here we are. Steamfunk! will make its debut February 22, 2013 at AnachroCon. It will be available afterwards on my website, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online book sources.
Have there been any Steamfunk events you have participated in, or that you can tell us about? Are any events coming soon?
I participated in the Mahogany Masquerade Film Festival and panel discussion during Alien Encounters, which was a well-received event. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be participating at AnachroCon in February as well. In addition to AnachroCon I’ll also be participating at the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party on February 23rd.
After the highly anticipated release of the Steamfunk anthology, where do you see Steamfunk going in 2013? What other Steamfunk projects do you have in the works?
I hope to see it expand. Hopefully other writers and readers will see the possibilities and share their own interpretations. As for me, I have a couple of novel projects planned that are set in my alternate history steampunk country of Freedonia: From Here to Timbuktu, an action adventure novel and Unrequited, an action romance series. After that, who knows?
We thank you, Milton Davis, for another great interview and we look forward to all of those great works of Steamfunk on the horizon!
The Coldest Wynter Ever
A Lesson Learned; A Tale of Terror
I have always had a heart for – and spoken in defense of – the downtrodden; the victimized; the rejected and the despised. I have never turned my nose up at a homeless person, or looked down upon those less fortunate than myself. I think of myself as one of the “good guys” and good guys defend the weak and help those in need.
It is easy, however, to “speak out against”, or “speak up for”, however to act on behalf of is quite another thing entirely and not so easy at all.
I learned this nearly two decades ago, while discussing the plight of the homeless in Chicago. I was scolding a group of brothers for not being “grassroots” enough; for not speaking out against homelessness and for not working together to erect a shelter for homeless women and children.
One of my closest friends pulled me aside after my tirade and told me he liked what I said and agreed that we must take an active stance in helping the homeless. He then asked if I’d like to go see Pulp Fiction – his treat. With dark comedies – especially ones with professional assassins – at the top of my list of favorite types of movies, how could I refuse?
On the way to the movies, my friend, who insisted that he drive, said he had to make a quit stop. He then proceeded to head toward downtown Chicago – the opposite direction from the movie theater we frequented.
“Where are we headed?” I asked.
“I have to drop something off to some old friends of mine,” my friend replied.
We reached Wacker Drive, the famed “triple-decker” street. My friend veered off toward the road that led to Lower Wacker Drive and we continued our descent to Lower Lower Wacker Drive, which was even more famous…for being one of the largest homeless encampments in the world. The homeless preferred sleeping on Lower Lower Wacker Drive because they are sheltered from the weather and dozens of them could be found sleeping on loading docks and other out-of-the-way spots on any given night. In the mid-1990s, Chi-Town began forcibly removing these unfortunate people, tossing out their belongings and fencing off the places where they stayed.
In 1993, however, Lower Lower Wacker Drive was a sprawling metropolis of tents and cardboard boxes.
My friend – Jermaine is his name, in case you’re wondering – parked beside a loading dock, honked twice and then hopped out of his vehicle. I followed him to the trunk. Jermaine opened it, revealing his wife’s mink coat, two goose down coats, a pair of his ostrich-skin boots – chill, PETA, it wasn’t me – and a crate of bottled water.
Dozens of homeless people approached us, with warm smiles. Jermaine knew them all by name. He embraced them without hesitation.
I felt immense shame, because I realized that I was talking the talk – with a proverbial megaphone at that – but had never walked the walk.
Jermaine had walked it many times, though and had never said a word about it. He did not seek accolades; he did not seek support. He saw people in need and wanted to help them in the best way he could.
Jermaine handed out his donations to a man he called “The Mayor”, a short, thin, elderly Black man, who corrected me when I said the word “homeless” during my conversation with this brilliant man – “We aren’t homeless; we’re residenceless. This is home.”
The Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive then decided who would receive which items. No one complained about his choices and all was peaceful. Jermaine and I said farewell to everyone, hopped back in his car and drove off. I turned to Jermaine and asked “So, when are we coming back?” “Pick a day,” he responded. “I visit and drop off stuff four or five days a week.”
Jermaine – always a cool brother – became a hundred times cooler, in my eyes.
My many chats with the Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive over the next year or so inspired me to write a story with a “residenceless” person as the hero. Finally, I crafted Chicago Wynter, a tale of a homeless man’s battle against the deadly cold that takes the lives of so many homeless in Chicago each year.
I recently recorded an audio version of the story for GA Tech’s WREK radio station (91.1 FM), which will air on their Sci Fi Lab show. I now share that recording, with an accompanying slide show, with you. Give a listen and a look, enjoy and then, please, give me your feedback.
I have given homage to authors Nnedi Okorafor and Milton J. Davis by making them “actors” in this work. Why? Because they are artists whose work I admire greatly and, in the case of Milton Davis, he is also a great friend and teacher who I have had the honor – and pleasure – of working with on several projects.
We now continue the celebration of the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, with Part 3 of Redeemer: Glitch, the episodic short story based on the book. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.
So, sit back and enjoy the finale (perhaps) of Redeemer: Glitch!
REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3
Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag
Z strolled down Abernathy Boulevard, past the old men hanging out in front of the West End Mall to ogle scantily clad girls as they passed by; past the men and women selling incense, fragrant oils and books on the Prison Industrial Complex or the Mayan Apocalypse. He strolled past them all, seen, but unnoticed, just as Norm had taught him to be.
Unnoticed, that is, except by one. One who remained unnoticed and unseen by all, stepping in and out of shadow as he traced Z’s every step.
Z stopped at the door of a three-story office building nestled between a swanky vegetarian restaurant and a natural hair salon. The sign on the door read ‘Carver Recording & Film Studios’.
Z stepped through the door, drawing his pistol from inside his Enyce vest. The pitol’s silencer reflected the light from the chandelier which hung over the security desk. He squeezed the trigger twice.
The first guard slumped in his chair. A torrent of blood rushed gushed from a hole in his neck. Within seconds, his starched, white uniform shirt was a deep burgundy.
The second guard collapsed to the floor as blood and tissue erupted from his back. A wisp of smoke rose from the hole in his black security officer’s shirt as he convulsed erratically. A moment later, he lay still.
Z sauntered to the elevator, pressed the button and waited.
The elevator door slid open. Z turned his back to the elevator, admiring his handiwork as he stepped into it. The elevator came to a smooth stop on the third floor. The door opened and Z stepped out of it into the hallway. The skylights that ran the length of the hallway’s ceiling bathed the corridor in the warmth and light of the noonday sun.
Z perused the numbers on the studio and office doors, stopping at ‘Studio 9’, from which emanated the din of southern gangster rap music, laughter and firm commands. Z recognized one of the commands belonging to the voice of Virginia Carver. He had found at least one of his targets.
Z raised his pistol before him. He then took half a step back from the door, inhaled deeply and then drove the heel of his foot toward the doorknob.
His heel crashed into the door, just below the knob. The door frame shattered and the door flew open. Z rushed in, squeezing off a volley of rounds from his pistol.
The Carver Twins’ bodyguards, Manny and Steve, threw their bodies in front of their bosses, as Z had hoped – he did not want to have to face these two killers and the twins – and were caught in a hail storm of searing lead. Round after round tore into their flesh, rending tissue, bone and vital organs. The big men fell, soiling the hardwood flooring with entrails and gore.
The rapper Point Blank dropped to his haunches in the recording booth, thrusting his head between his legs.
Virginia Carver darted forward, closing on Z with fearsome speed and ferocity. Her hands wrapped around his pistol, as she pushed her arms high above her head. A round exploded from the gun, lodging in the ceiling.
Z tried to pull the trigger again, but Virginia held the pistol’s slide firmly in place and the gun would not fire.
Virginia jerked the weapon downward.
Z’s index finger, caught in the trigger guard, made a sickening snap as it bent sideways at an impossible angle. Z dropped to his knees, releasing the pistol.
Virginia thrust her knee forward, driving the air out of Z’s lungs as the powerful knee strike collided with his solar plexus.
Z tried to crawl away, but a heavy, leather boot came crashing down on his left hand, crushing the small bones and pinning it to the floor.
Z screamed in agony as he looked up into Virgil’s smiling face.
“Where are you running to, boy?” Virgil snickered. “”Don’t you have some killing to do?”
“This is one of Sweet’s boys,” Virginia said.
The hammer of Z’s pistol clicked as Virginia cocked it. “We’re gonna send what’s left of your head to Sweet. The rest of you, I’m gonna keep on display in pickle jars in my pool-house.”
Virginia aimed the pistol at Z’s forehead. A loud boom rocked the studio.
Blood and brain splashed onto Z’s face.
A second boom. More blood and brain rained on the floor before the teen.
Z scurried across the floor, slipping in blood and bits of flesh.
The headless bodies of the twins collapsed onto the floor with dull thuds.
Z reached out toward his pistol. With shaky fingers, he snatched it off the floor and raised it toward the entrance. There was no one there.
“Put the gun down, Z.”
Z leapt to his feet, aiming his pistol toward the source of the rich, baritone voice. Standing before him was a tall, athletically built man holding a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun on his shoulder. Although Z had never seen him before, the man looked strangely familiar.
“Who the hell are you?” Z inquired. “How do you know my name?”
“You’re welcome,” the man replied.
“Thanks,” Z said, keeping his gun aimed at the man. “Now, who the hell are you?”
“My name’s Ezekiel,” the man answered. “Ezekiel Cross.”
“Bullshit!” Z shouted, struggling to ignore the intense pain gnawing at both hands.
“Naw, boy, that’s real shit,” the man said. “As real as the shock you’re gonna go into if we don’t get those hands taken care of.”
A wave of nausea washed over Z. The pistol fell from his shaky fingers and he collapsed against the mixing board. Ezekiel ran to Z and placed a powerful arm around the boy’s waist. “We have to get out of here. I’ll explain everything later.
Z nodded. Ezekiel sat Z in a chair and retrieved the boy’s gun. He tucked the weapon into the holster sewn into the interior of Z’s vest and then helped him to his feet. The duo crept out of the office and into the sunlit hallway.
“I can walk now,” Z said.
“You sure?” Ezekiel asked.
“Positive,” Z answered.
Ezekiel let him go. Z stood wide-legged, remaining still until he was sure that his balance would not fail him. He then sauntered down the hall toward the elevator with Ezekiel on his heels.
A low “ding” came from the elevator and the door slowly slid open.
Ezekiel raised his shotgun, holding it at the ready. Z took a few steps backward until he was standing a couple of feet behind Ezekiel.
An immaculately dressed, elderly man stepped off the elevator and stood before the elevator door, offering only his profile to Z and Ezekiel. The man was tall, but his spiky, grey afro made him appear even taller. His full, grey beard seemed to glow against his mahogany skin and his frame, though covered in a tailored grey suit, was obviously athletic, despite his age.
“Oh, no,” Ezekiel gasped.
“What? Who is that?” Z asked.
“He’s called Paradox,” Ezekiel whispered. When a time traveler changes history, Paradox comes and fixes it back.”
“Man…what? Paradox?” Z said, shaking his head.
“That’s Grandfather Paradox to you,” the elderly man said. “Always respect your elders, boy.”
“What do you want, old man?” Z inquired.
“You,” Paradox replied. He turned his head slowly toward Z, revealing a wide grin.
Fire erupted from the muzzle of Ezekiel’s shotgun.
Paradox was thrown onto his back as a sabot shotgun slug blew a chasm in his chest.
“Run!” Ezekiel shouted.
Z did not move. “Run? You just ghosted that old nigga!”
“Damn, I do not recall being this stupid!” Ezekiel spat. “Now, we’ve got to fight this thing.”
“Man, I appreciate you saving me and all,” Z said, approaching Paradox’s body. “But you are straight cray-cray, for real!”
“Cray-cray?” Ezekiel asked.
“That means you take crazy to a whole ‘nother level,” Z said. If you really believe you’re…”
The words grew heavy in Z’s throat as he watched Paradox sit up on his haunches. “The hell?” The teen gasped.
Paradox rose to its feet. It raised its head toward the ceiling and let loose a roar that sent a chill clawing its way up Z’s spine. The creature shifted…changed. Tendon, sinew and bone popped and crackled as they changed shape and function. The Grandfather Paradox was no longer a sophisticated, athletic elderly gentleman; it was now gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin was pulled tautly over its bones and its complexion was now the pallid, ash-gray of death. Strange runes and raised patterns traversed the creature’s flesh. Its eyes were pushed back deep into their sockets, what lips remained were tattered and bloody and the monster gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition; of death and destruction; of disease, sickness and shit.
Z whirled on his heels and took off. The Grandfather Paradox exploded forward, sprinting on all fours, hot on Z’s heels.
“Now, you run?” Ezekiel sighed.
Ezekiel squeezed the trigger of his shotgun.
The creature fell over on its side as its forearm was blown from its elbow.
Ezekiel squeezed the trigger once more. The shotgun roared.
Paradox’s head exploded, its oily, black ichor painting the walls and floor.
“Keep going,” Ezekiel shouted. “That thing will be back at us in a few minutes!”
Ezekiel and Z reached the main floor. They ran through the door and into the lobby, continuing on, sprinting past the corpses of the pair of security guards.
“My car is parked around the corner…to your left,” Ezekiel said.
The duo ran out of the building and onto Abernathy Boulevard. Almost in unison, they reduced their speed to a brisk walk, so as to not attract too much attention.
“Time travelers…old men turning into monsters…what the hell is really going on, shawty?” Z inquired.
“Welcome to my world, kid,” Z sighed. “Welcome to my world.”