Book Review: Elric of Melnibone

Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I’m a big Conan the Barbarian fan, which is unfortunate, since I never cared for the books. I’ve always loved the prehistoric aspects of the setting, the easy ferocity of the sword and sorcery genre, and the prospect that all of these ancient and unknowable Lovecraftian evils weren’t an instant sanity-breaker. Once, when men were better, we could oppose them with nothing but steel and sinew, and we could win. It’s a good message. It’s the kind of thing that pushes you to grind out the last few reps in the gym.

What kept me from successfully finishing a Conan anthology is that he’s a Mary Sue. I’m a longtime Doom franchise devotee, for many of the same reasons I like sword and sorcery, so I’ve got a pretty high threshold tolerance for masculine power fantasies, but at a certain point they get embarrassing, and Conan always did a beautiful, muscular yet supple swan dive over that particular precipice within a couple paragraphs.

John L. Howard at his typewriter like: “And then Conan, who is powerful and sexual and smells good, rippled to his feet like a hot panther who girls like and said, ‘I WILL PUNCH YOU! WITH MY FISTS!’ And the crowd roared and cheered in unrestrained delight, for Conan was so honest and handsome with the deepest squat and biggest dingaling in all the land.”

Whereas Elric of Melnibone is a slouching albino goth who maintains a high dose meth addiction to counteract his anemia and perpetual caloric deficit. He’s the emperor of his floundering, ancient, neutral evil nation, but none of his subjects understand him because he reads too many books (which makes him a contemptible nerd) and as a result developed a moral compass.

Essentially, the plot of Elric of Melnibone is if Marcus Aurelius had an autoimmune disease and became a warlock about it.

It was spectacular. The writing was phenomenal, and not even hokey! I didn’t think that could be done, considering the subject matter. It’s easy to see Moorcock’s influence on modern fantasy greats like GRRM, although it might be more fair to call GRRM a past fantasy great, as big boy is never gonna write another book.

Elric has Mary Sue elements, sure, he’s one of the finest swordsmen who ever lived and he’s also the literal emperor, but he’s also deeply flawed. He’s a brooding, melancholy drug addict. A real Sigma male. Nobody understands him and it’s not a phase, mom.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough to anyone who loves high fantasy in general and sword and sorcery in particular. It checked all the boxes. Moorcock is a tremendous writer with an appropriate surname.



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Vermont: A Travelogue Prologue

Thursday, April 15, 2021. Clarendon, Vermont.
Soundtrack: The Sword – Tres Brujas

I’d been chewing holes in the walls since quarantine was first announced, and by the second year of the two-week curve flattening, my increasingly feral mindstate had only marginally improved. The plague still sweeps through our land, slipping through cracks and into our homes in the dead of night, blighting our crops and killing our fats and olds, both of which are cornerstones of this great nation. Bill Gates is filling our blood with liquid 5G, offering a stay of execution and increasing our personal bandwidth so long as we upload our RNA straight into the Bing Matrix.

For a year I’ve been crouched in the blasted ruins of The City of Brotherly Crackheads Screaming at 3 AM, shooting arrows in the basement and slowly trading away all my worldly possessions for mid-range guitars and houseplants.

This is no way for a bastard to live.

Luckily, a witch offered me reprieve from the monotony of the broken glass pile that is Philadelphia.

“I’ve got to go to Vermont,” she said. “Come with?”

I’ve had many, many what you would call encounters with witches over the years, and they often end in hexing. That’s just the dice you throw. When the only tool you have is True Polymorph, everything looks like a newt.

You can imagine my leeriness, especially having waited out the statute of limitations on curses so many times before. There was even one who would convince her thralls (we call these simps now) to do “blood pacts”, and cut their hands, then reopen the same wound in her finger to blend their blood.

Imagine playing it that fast and loose with your essence. That’s unrepentant necromancy. She never got my blood. To this day, I won’t even touch a goddamned crystal.

But this witch, the witch offering me an out of the city, she maintains that she is of a different stripe. She says she’s a green witch. I’m a simple man, and a melee build, so I don’t know all the subclassifications, but I imagine they all have access to the same skill tree. But I am eco-friendly, and I did miss silence.

“Let’s go,” says I.

And so I loaded the same pack that got me across Yurp with the same essentials – a few changes of clothes and a glowing rectangle with a library in it – then clambered up into her broom-drawn carriage. We were joined by my attorney, Beefton Duke.

He’s very good.

It barely occured to me to ask why Vermont, bit-champing as I was to get free of the 215. The 5-hour haul allowed plenty of time to correct that.

“Why Vermont?”

“Matters to attend to,” she said cryptically. “Business.”

Components, I reckoned. Bones and rocks and herbs and whatnot. Something big brewing. Big and allegedly green. That’s okay. I would be looking down the right side of the barrel this time.

We screeched past a collection of cop cars, all with their flashers on, but only flashing in blue.

“Looks like trouble,” Beefton whispered to me.

“I know you can’t tell, but it’s all just one color,” I told him.

“What?” the witch asked.

“The flashers. They’re only one color.”

“I can tell!” she said.

“Maybe it’s not a stop, then,” I suggested. “Maybe it’s a sale. Blue Light Special.”

“What the hell is blue?” Beefton asked. “Ridiculous. You can’t afford the heat right now.”

“I don’t think we have to be worried about it.”

“As your legal counsel,” he continued, “here’s my suggestion. Pull off up ahead in this next plaza with all the wooden sasquatch lawn ornaments. Go into that grocery store. Buy a whole big bag of pepperoni.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“The big bag. Economy pack. None of that 2 oz shit.”

And so began the Dream-Quest of Unknown Clarendon, into the most desolate reaches of New England.

Love,

BT

Barcelona: The Nightmare Gallery

Tuesday, September 24, 2019. Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.
Soundtrack: Burzum – Dunkelheit

My flight to Bilbao was cancelled due to a ground crew strike, but the airport set me up with another three hours later, ensuring I’d miss the fire festival. Ladygirl’s flight back to the smoldering ruin of Philadelphia (go birds) was not similarly afflicted, and she boarded a bus at the crack of dawn, leaving me to my devices.

I already got my cafe time in, and tickatacka’d plenty. What’s a boy to do?

Off I drifted in a weird, widening gyre through the Gothic Quarter, contemplating early beers or late breakfasts and declining them, sick of consuming, but still hungry for something. I thought about the Picasso museum, but looked at the line, and the screaming school children, and decided I didn’t care about Picasso that much. Picasso cared about Picasso enough for all of us.

gSome eldritch entity heard my plea and sundered the world. From that rending, nestled in the dark, bloomed the entry to the Museu Europeu d’Arte Modern, or MEAM. I stared into it, and it back into me. We could each hear the other breathing.

I went in.

Uno adult, general. Por favor,” I said to the demon behind the counter. I handed her coins. I’m not sure how much, but I’m sure its equivalence would be 30 pieces of silver. Her face split open like a shark’s grin.

Absolutamente.”

After my last brush with MEAM, also chronicled here, I wound up crouching in the alley with the homeless, chainsmoking my way through what may have been a panic attack or some kind of dissociation. Some sort of madness. I walked out unhinged, and it took me twenty minutes to rehinge.

It greeted me like an old friend:

“Other people mean nothing,” MEAM whispered its dissonance into my head. “Their words are cold wind, their applause the ghostly echoes of a long-empty mausoleum. Ascension can only be gained through power. Reach within.”

“Jesus, dude,” I said.

The first piece that really drove a chisel into my cerebrum was La paleta de olvido, which is appropriate, since that was its subject matter. It didn’t hit proper until I clumsily translated the title – “The Blade (or maybe palette) of Forgetting” — when figured out the sticky note.

“I’m me.”

Then came “The Process of Transformation of Fear into Art”. Perseus, bare-assed, vulnerable and exposed, swinging the still-screaming head of Medusa. One missed bounce, one unaccounted-for twist and the gaze will fall on him, petrify him on the spot. His horse is panicking, completely out of control. His only defense is his helmet, guarding the brain. Intellectualization. Plato’s Monster all over again.

Nonato, a decaying giant of cast bronze grows from the floor, grasps at his own pedestal. He’s pushing himself out. The rest of the way into our world.

Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you’d walk down a dark hallway or go into a dark room, and you’d know something was in there with you, watching you? And you’d ride that thrill of horror as far as it would go, just to see how long you could stand there, staring into the melding shapes in the dark, before you had to turn on the lights?

Maybe not. Maybe that was a me thing. Either way, that’s what it was like getting close to this sculpture. It was real enough that it looked like it was breathing. I was especially cautious of this after that Galileo the other day.

Found the plaque. It’s on the bottom. Whoops. The title was something like “Fig0315”, not sure on the artist.

Diana herself, done justice in the best artistic interpretation I’ve ever seen, and wearing Chuck Taylors. There’s an incredible amount of detail in the rock surrounding her, with hidden faces, shapes, and symbols. All sorts of subliminal seeds, slithering in and taking root while you’re distracted.

No opaque horror in this one, but something was going on somewhere in the earth tone frenzy and soft, sweeping curves. I kept staring but couldn’t make sense of it, but the implication of sense is there, like having something on the tip of your tongue. Just out of your mental reach.

“All men will be forgotten,” the MEAM burbled telepathically, like black tendrils in my mind. “Most are already dead and haven’t realized it. Scrabbling for praise is the pathetic pursuit of the doomed. Immortality is thankless, but the only noble pursuit.”

“Okay,” I whispered, and fled into the streets.

Neither were they safe.

I don’t think I dipped into Lovecraftian madness on this go-around, but I suppose the insane never realize they’re insane. Either way, my faculties were well-enough operational to get me to the airport, and put me on a plane.

Hurry hurry hurry.

Love,

B.

Providence: Big Bear Boss Battle and Lovecraft’s Grave

May 26, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

The narrow escape from Dystopia Beach left a bad taste in my mouth, and my only recourse was to cleanse it with some of Providence’s world-famous Greek food.

I ordered moussaka and they gave me a hot pocket with chili powder in it for some reason. Whatever. We got beef, we got eggplant, there aren’t any dandelion sprouts on it, I’ll be okay.

My olive oil levels once again stabilized, we ranged out to Brown University campus to see what Atlas Obscura vaguely described as a “colossal, untitled bear”.

We just so happened to show up on graduation weekend, because of course we did. The campus was overflowing with humans and absolutely filthy with pigs, setting up their little flashy-light campus cruisers on every corner, blocking intersections, leering at college girls from beneath their sad faux-military haircuts like the hundred palette-swapped bastards of Hoggish Greedly.

The Girl was slower to shake Dystopia Beach’s malaise. The whole drive and for most of the walk she was grumbling and gnashing her teeth with a formless misanthropy about to Brown being ritzy ivy-league digs. It was surreal. Like looking in a pretty, red-haireded mirror.

“There’s just an arrogance to it,” she told me as we passed the sixth or seventh lax bro in salmon chino shorts and sandals. “Like it carries all this weight just because it’s an ivy league school. There’s this grand implication to it, like they pity anyone who didn’t have the few hundred grand lying around to avoid a state school. It’s pretentious.”

“I didn’t know Brown was ivy league.”

“Yeah!” she said. “Brown is like, a big deal art school.”

I shrugged. “Can’t be too big a deal. I never heard of it before I found out about the bear.”

Let’s talk about the bear.

According to Atlas Obscura,

“This strange bear slumps in the corner of a university quad. There’s nothing cuddly about the oversized creature, or the abnormally large lamp slicing into its head.

Untitled (Lamp/Bear) by Swiss artist Urs Fischer is a unique addition to Brown University’s campus. It certainly keeps with the school’s reputation as the most free-spirited member of the Ivy League.”

Oof. Okay, I could see how the ivy league thing could get grating.

It’s supposed to be made of bronze, but the pictures on the site made it look like a perspective trick done with a beanie baby. Although, this beanie baby has a lamp jammed in its head, with sort of a Sid’s room Toy Story aesthetic. How could I resist?

We left the car by a park and climbed up a ridiculous hill toward the campus proper for what had to be the better part of a mile.

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Yeah, that’s an understatement.

Halfway up, Google Maps told me we were approaching “Lovecraft Square”. We swung a block wide to check out what was undoubtedly a grand monument to Providence’s weirdest son.

Not so much with the “grand”. I figured, they’re so free and easy with bronze in this town, the least they could do is throw together a bust of his grimacing elongated mug. No such luck. This plaque was the entire memorial.

“They did my mans dirty,” I said with a mournful shake of my head.

When we finally crested Mount Brown, we walked into what appeared to be an active graduation ceremony. Real frying pan-fire scenario. We had to push against the flow of bodies, functionally swimming upstream to get onto one of the several quads and begin the hunt.

For a gargantuan sky-blue bear sculpture, it proved surprisingly difficult to find. We did two laps of the block before turning the correct corner and facing the monster down.

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It was truly huge, and deceptively made of metal. I knocked on its huge foot and it did, in fact, make a ting sound. A local approached me, sensing my awe of the size of this lad, and asked if I’d take her picture with it.

“Sure. You here for the festivities too?”

“Oh, I just graduated,” she said with commendable nonchalance, leaning on the bear. “I just didn’t want to walk. The ceremony is a waste of time, and it’s not like I’m done.”

“Yeah? Congratulations! What was your major?”

“Evolutionary biology,” she said. “But it’s just a Master’s. I’m going for the doctorate, this is barely even a thing.”

“You did the work!” I said, taking the picture. “You can be proud of the work. A lot of people never make it to Master’s, even if it is just a pit stop for you. Congratulations, really.”

She looked down and smiled and said thanks. It was a humble, charming gesture, but obviously too close to a compliment. I broke even by telling her I didn’t walk either.

“The ceremony itself is absolutely bullshit.”

Staring up into Untitled Bear/Lamp’s cold, vacant eyes, I finally knew fear.

The Girl and I swam back downstream and tumbled down Mount Brown, then got into the car and made our getaway. We had already settled affairs at the hotel. There was only one stop left to make.

Howie P had an understated plot in the center of a sprawling cemetery complex, differentiated from its fellows only by the worn grass, the stacks of pennies, and the small Cthulhu statue.

“Rise, H.P.,” I said with an appropriately necromantic gesticulation. “Wise fwom youw gwave! Get your bony ass up, we got things to do!”

He remained reluctant.

“Up and at ’em!” I said. “Come on. You gotta see the state of the place. Cthulhu’s a household name! Heads up, don’t say the N-word, though. That’s… pretty important.”

The lazy bastard stayed down. I frowned over at the Girl.

“Maybe it has to be dark,” I said.

“This is ghoulish,” she said.

“It’s what he would have wanted.”

I left an incantation hanging, hoping it would take once night fell. We didn’t stick around to find out. If you see a lanky skeleton with social anxiety jangling around Rhode Island, that’s my bad.

And so ends the Providence chronicle. We headed back to Philly to prepare for the next week’s jaunt to a beach, distinct from the Rhode Island beach trip in that it was planned and consensual.

Love,

The Bastard

Providence: Snug benches and the Gun Totem

May 25, 2019. Providence, Rhode Island.

I’d spent too much time in the Delph and my skin was starting to itch. I’d already booked three or four flights for the summer and had a slew of weird adventures lined up, like a beer festival in Denver that I will be attending on a cocktail of whatever further psychoactive substances they legalize in the interim (don’t tell the Girl, it’ll be a fun surprise), another Left Coast voyage for a wook music festival I’m promised will be in some way shamanic, and a presumably more civilized jaunt to Iceland. Stay tuned.

But that’s then, and for right now I’m breaking my back every goddamn day, somehow using my useless degree to accrue a vast fortune destined to be converted to unmarked bills for my inevitable disappearance into Latin America.

The Girl and I loaded up the car and went to Providence, Rhode Island.

The trip was a straight shot up the highway where I wasn’t forced to kill anyone. I’ve tamed most of my frustrated adolescent rage and sublimate it into useful things, such as writing, hitting a tractor tire with a sledgehammer, and a +2 bonus to both attack and damage rolls. The only place my incandescent, white hot fury persists is road rage, and I frequently inform strangers who don’t signal when merging that I will “peel off your fucking skin and eat your insides like an avocado” while my passengers look on in mortified alarm. This was worse when I drove for Uber.

We dumped our gear at the Motel 6. We booked it exclusively for the cardboard cutout of Tormund Thunderballs in a tuxedo, which is the only amenity I consider relevant in a lodging. Unfortunately, that’s at the Super 8. Not Motel 6. Same number of letters, same division and placement of vowels and consonants, same numerical character at the end, but one has Tormund and the other has fifty stoned Indian dudes sitting in the hallway that leads to your room.

We got there around 10pm and, plumb tuckered from the drive, we fell into a merciful unconsciousness.

According to an algorithm advertisement for something called “WaterFire”, which is almost my favorite post-punk band, the move is dropping your car at “providence mall”. It was the first common noun location I’d seen on Google Maps on this side of the Atlantic.

Farbeit for me to challenge the oracle, this was the move we made.

The parking garage exits were not clearly marked, and the first door we tried set off an alarm. We pretended this was normal or appropriate, and then found ourselves in the Silent Hill bowels of the mall, trepidation mounting as we navigated the labyrinth of the flaking plaster, bare yellow hanging bulbs, and inexplicable metal painter’s scaffolding that materialized around every corner and stretched, foreboding and monolithic, to the thirty foot ceilings. We’d noclipped out of reality in the city that built Lovecraft, and I already didn’t like our chances.

Every door we found was locked, and we had gone too far into the Backrooms to follow our breadcrumbs back to the parking garage, even if I wasn’t born with crippling directional insanity. The alarm wailed in the distance, growing louder and softer at complete random, like the physical manifestation of anxiety.

Desparation was setting in when we turned another identical corner and found three iron push-bar doors. Some demon had forgotten to lock the middle one.

We emerged under a bridge near the Providence Waterfront.

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Our first stop was some sort of Veganarium that sold exotic egg sandwiches covered in dandelions. They had no cups for the mustard or hot sauce, so I was forced to use coffee cup lids as shallow condiment receptacles. This worked surprisingly well, but I am an idiot, and the liquid tabasco rolled through the tiny vent and got all over my shorts.

First meal. First meal of the day! I’d been awake for like an hour!

This tiny egg and quinoa-grain bread or whatever provided me the power to cross town for elevensies at Providence’s most highly recommended mom-and-pop restaurant, which is called “Kitchen”. That’s the whole name.

Kitchen had five tables total and a line of hipsters out the door and halfway down the block. We wound up waiting for around forty-five minutes, which sounds much worse than it was, as Girl and I wound up befriending a troupe of theater kids from the local art school. I butted into their conversation when they couldn’t think of the thing that’s “like a dragon but with just two legs and wings” (wyvern), and they proceeded to provide us with many thoughtful recommendations for things to eat and do around downtown, all of which we promptly ignored.

This slight wasn’t deliberate. We just rapidly forgot.

When our time finally came, I found I could not fit into the booth.

Kitchen is a little farm-to-table dealie that provides an excellent experience with  standard breakfast fare. I housed my own eggs, sausage, and bacon, then ate most of Girl’s eggs, which may be a contributing factor as to why I don’t fit in some chairs. I declined her leftover biscuits, however, as I deny the Demon Wheat.

We bade goodbye and good luck to the theater kids who were, unbelievably, still waiting in line. The one whose actual name was Gunner said, “We’ve been waiting for two hours now. It’s too late to bail.”

We homed in on our first destination: the Gun Totem.

When reading about this on Atlas Obscura, I assumed an obelisk made of a thousand guns would be really imposing and perhaps suggestive of the fact that we live in a society.

I don’t know if I’d call it anticlimactic, it delivered as advertised. I think Yurp just spoiled obelisks on me. They really mean it out there.

We sat on the river bank and watched a battalion of little goblin tourists try to frighten away the ducks with limited success. This gave me a mighty thirst, and we wound up at the best bar in Providence, a little street corner affair called the Malted Barley. The beer was cheap, the portions generous, and the waitress an angel given material form by the name of “Courtney”. I have not encountered a Courtney in the wild since 2006, and I assumed they went extinct.

Courtney pumped us full of beer and shared with us sacred, secret Providensi lore. I asked her about WaterFire, and her already somewhat disproportionately oversized eyes widened still further in alarm.

“Is that tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Google said to park at the mall. That’s the extent of my knowledge. What is it?”

“Oh,” she said, then, “Oh! WaterFire is this big downtown event where they float burning wood on the river, and that’s the event.”

She paused, then said, “It’s a lot better than it sounds.”

She kept bringing us larger and stronger beers, and soon I was very much daydrunk and doing all in my power not to shout like a crazed animal and alarm the gentle Providencians.

It must be said, the people of Providence are very friendly and surprisingly willing to engage. Courtney theorized this was due to the nice weather. We informed her that we were Philly natives, and it is advisable to avoid interacting with strangers in Philly, as many of them smoke a lot of crack and want you to give them money for absolutely no reason.

“There’s still some of that here,” Courtney said. “But it sounds like… less.”

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This has been a lot of words, and this seems like a natural narrative break. More to come soon.

Love,

The Bastard

The Shadow Over Portsmouth

August 11, 2018. Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

In the deepest hidden recesses of the internet, on a vague Wikipedia page about “brewing in New Hampshire“, I learned that there is one beer that stands above all others. It is a Russian imperial stout lovingly handcrafted by an unusually tall hill dwarf, undoubtedly from an ancient recipe that his clan brought from under the mountain untold ages ago.

Wikipedia claims it is “the best beer in America” and also “the most sought-after beer in America”. It’s called Kate the Great, and legend has it that it can only be obtained by locating this master brewer on his home turf, the Portsmouth Brewery, and praying to whatever gods you keep that the stars have aligned and it’s in season.

It was drizzling on Mystery Hill, but it hadn’t quite started to monsoon in Portsmouth yet. Thunderclouds loomed in the sky like hanged men, shrouding the little downtown in portentous darkness. Everyone we encountered hated us. This isn’t altogether foreign to me, I’ve chosen the Bastard moniker for a reason, but the Girl tends toward amicability and we hadn’t done anything yet.

In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, an archaeologist crossing New England in search of genealogical information finds a foggy, derelict port town. He thinks it might be interesting to check out, so he books a room and pokes around. The locals seem to share a common deformity, a scaling skin disease, puffing around the face and eyes, and unusual hydrocephaly. They spurn him outright. We’re talking like, Amish shunning. The inhabitants call him an outsider and refuse to sell him anything. They bar most public places against him, and retreat into their homes if they see him on the street. As the novella goes on, he discovers that the inhabitants of Innsmouth have been interbreeding with a race of cannibal fish-people, the Deep Ones, who conduct grisly rites in worship of a bloodthirsty aquatic god called Dagon.

I thought the parallels were cute at first, but as our time in Portsmouth wore on, they got more distressing. We’d driven across New Hampshire into an HD remaster of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

katethegreat

The Portsmouth Brewery was wall-to-wall with people, easily the most active building in the town. The hostess sneered that the wait for a table would be 20 minutes. The Girl said that would be fine, and asked if we could get a drink while we wait.

“Yeah, I guess.”

We dodged around the teeming masses of people and, for some reason, all their infant children, to get to the bar. When did the bringing babies into bars phenomenon start? And why? Babies don’t go in bars. Babies go in, I don’t know, parks. McDonald’s Playplace.

Eventually, the girl tending came over to us.

“Hey, we’re here treasure hunting,” I said, trying for charming. “Legend has it this is our best shot at getting Kate the Great. Do you have that right now?”

She scoffed. “We’ll never serve THAT beer again.”

I exchanged a glance with the Girl.

“Is this like, a sensitive subject?”

“No,” she said, providing the exposition she really should have led with, “It’s just, the brewer just quit working here, it was this whole big thing, so we don’t have Kate the Great anymore.”

“Do you know where he went?”

“He opened his own brewery, Tributary. It’s in Maine. But here, you can see our draft list.”

This was technically true. It was in Maine, across a bridge, an 8 minute drive from our present location. It was also technically true that we could see the draft list. It consisted entirely of IPAs, which would have been clutch if I’d ever liked one.

“Can we have a minute to think about it?” the Girl asked. The bartender nodded and drifted off. We escaped to the place next door, which had a similar draft list, substituting one of the IPAs with Budweiser which it listed as a “light lager”.

“I can’t Yelp,” the Girl said. “This is impossible. Two for two. You do it. I’m losing hope.”

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dolphins have had it good for TOO LONG

A few blocks away was a brewery called Earth Eagle, which specialized in a hopless proto-beer called “gruit”. It’s a Danish word, and should be pronounced “gryoo-IT”, but I pronounce it groot and will continue to do so until dead.

We made our way past the cute little technicolor New England cottages to Earth Eagle. Random assignment from day two of any outdoor music festival would give you the clientele. It was also crowded, but not as bad as the Portsmouth Brewery.

“Could we sit outside?” the Girl asked. The waitress glared at us balefully.

“You can if you want,” she said. “But it’s gonna rain.”

“If it starts to get bad, we’ll move back in,” the Girl said.

“You should probably just sit inside.”

The Girl was ready to fight her on this. She was hangry. I’m always hangry, and so I’ve developed a tolerance. I steered her aside.

“Not worth it,” I said. “If we sit outside, no one’s going to come take our order.”

It looked like no one was going to anyway. After a while, one of the Deep Ones waddled over, and we ordered gruit. It tasted like beer-flavored juice. They also played the entirety of Rancid’s “And Out Come the Wolves”. I found that suspicious. Like they were humoring me, and when I left they’d return to their backward recordings of whale song and those high-pitched meditation bowls.

The scene was about to turn. I could hear them sharpening their knives. During the next ponderous waitress’ circuit, we waylaid, paid, and am-scrayed.

“I’m so hungry,” the Girl said. “This is where we die.”

“Very possible. I’ll bet they have a sacrificial table here, too.”

“Bastard, we need to find something,” she said. “I’ll go back in there and eat tofu puffs if I have to.”

“Don’t talk like that,” I said. “Listen. We’ll go back to the pizza place. We don’t need to drink there. We’ll just get a pizza. It’s impossible to ruin pizza.”

She was hesitant, but I kept saying, “Huh? Piiizza?”, and that eventually won her over. That’s a pro strat for you, fellas. No charge. Just remember where you learned it.

They were kinder at the pizza place, probably because it was in a basement full of aquariums, and being below sea level and surrounded by their brethren soothed the agitated merfolk. They had a giant neon sign for RED HOOK, which I presumed to be of “The Horror At” fame, and would have won me a prize had I remembered my Mythos bingo card.

We asked the first pleasant waitress in New Hampshire for garlic and it baffled her.

“Garlic? Like, whole garlic?”

“No, like, powder,” the Girl said. “Or salt, if that’s all you have.”

“We… might have some in the kitchen.”

“That’s only a thing where we’re from,” I told her. “When I went west, none of the pizza places had garlic. A lot of ’em didn’t even have oregano.”

The Girl looked as though she might cry. “But… but why?”

“Forgive them. They know not what they do.”

We were given this.

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garçon! a ration of garlic powder, s’il vous plait, and your finest sprinkling fork

We walked back out into the building tempest. The fishfolk were growing stronger as it became soggier. It was like you could hear the Jaws theme playing in the distance.

“We gotta look at the whale wall,” I said. “That’s like the only other attraction. Then we get the hell out of here.”

We looked at the whale wall. It was both.

Then, we scurried back to the car.

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mood

Unfortunately, the Deep Ones were lying in wait for us. A supply truck was sitting in the middle of the street, right next to my car, parking us and only us in. I couldn’t get around it, and there wasn’t enough sidewalk for any real desperate escape maneuvers. I waited, crouched in the driver’s seat with a fileting knife clutched to my chest. The Girl sat shotgun, slowly pumping up a super soaker full of tartar sauce.

Some other lost tourist/genealogist had parked in front of us, and finally returned to her car. She got the hell out of my way and we made our daring escape.

We crossed the bridge into Maine. It immediately stopped raining. Whatever ancient cult magic held sway in Portsmouth didn’t extend beyond its borders.

Tributary Brewing Company even had a parking lot for free! It was busy, as one would expect for the chosen brewery of the creator of America’s alleged best beer. We sat on the bench along the wall and had a flight and took in the ambiance, most of which consisted of impressionist paintings of this dude’s face.

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Mott the Lesser is what he renamed Kate the Great, presumably in order to avoid legal disputes with Portsmouth Brewing. It wasn’t in season, but that was all right. Ask Tennyson. It was never about the Grail. The quest is all.

The man himself sat at a table, eating his lunch and grinning the grin of a man presently living his dreams. He was surrounded by a squadron of adoring Dads. I will admit the dude had an aura, and his biere de miel and porter were magnificent. The porter tasted like smoked joy.

We went next door to a tasteful mermaid-themed restaurant with walls colored in equally tasteful mermaid tiddy art. In retrospect, I should have photographed that, instead of whatever the hell it was we ate. (I know mine was scallops, and I know they were excellent).

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Our next stop, continuing with the supernatural theme along New England’s eldritch ley lines, would lead us to the most haunted restaurant in America.

But that’s a spooky campfire story for another day.

Love,

The Bastard

 

Hengin’ Out on Mystery Hill

 

August 11, 2018. Mystery Hill, New Hampshire.

The continental breakfast was your choice of limp Eggos, individual yogurt containers suspended in ice water, or off-brand chemical cake honey buns. I took a little of everything, variety being the spice of life, and topped it off with three cups of what the truly brazen might describe as coffee. Don’t mistake this for complaining. Continental breakfast is an integral part of the travel experience. If I’d wanted to work around it, I’d have booked a real B&B.

There’s a concept that always puzzled me. You leave home for a change of scenery, then get to a bed-and-breakfast, which is just someone else’s home where you hang out and a stranger takes care of you. I can take care for me. At my own home. The scenery has only technically changed.

First stop, America’s Stonehenge.

sunset

i’m sure you’ve heard this popular colloquialism before

America’s Stonehenge is an active archaeology site in the woods, doing its best to make archaeology an exciting, family-friendly event through the addition of indistinct New Age spirituality, snowshoeing, and an alpaca farm.

The site itself is of nebulous astronomical significance. Carbon dating indicates that the monoliths and cairns served as lines of demarcation for astronomical phenomena, and were probably used in rituals, possibly as far back as 4000 BC. Cosmic entropy has these configurations drifted out of alignment (sort of like how they tried to introduce Ophiuchus as a zodiac sign a few years back), so if these rocks were once for harnessing cosmic juju, they aren’t anymore. Still, pretty cool to see a living chunk of prehistory that may have dated back 6000 years. Some would argue that predates Creation.

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“this is a wigwam. it was probably constructed more recently than 4000 BC, and they usually have walls”

 

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ooo somebody up in that henge

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yall ever have cave anger

20180811_104005Girl: “what time is it?”
me: “time for you to get a sundial”

 

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Oracle Cave interior. i bet that’s what they called it in 4000 BC

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“an etching of an antelope running.” art has since evolved

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now we’re talkin

Nobody’s sure what belief structure dominated in New Hampshire millennia ago, but this table was constructed at the epicenter of this astronomically significant point with a discernible blood channel and a hidden “bed”, carved out way under the rock, so that sound would carry up from under the table while the source of the sound remained hidden.

Metal.

After that we went along the hiking trail and touched all the ominously named monoliths, like the “Eye Stone” and the “Solstice Stone” and for some reason the “Bert Stone”, assuming it would imbue us with stat bonuses like in Skyrim.

I have my suspicions that the last stone there, the thicc Venus of Haverhill, is a more recent addition.

We visited the alpacas on the way out.

It was starting to rain and we hadn’t eaten anything since the several honey buns which were, strictly speaking, not food. We bailed for the forgotten city of Portsmouth. It would be the most like a Lovecraft story I’ve ever lived in real life. The irony there is I didn’t feel particularly eldritch at Mystery Hill, and legend has it visiting the megalith site was big H.P.’s inspiration for The Dunwich Horror.

We didn’t get to stick around til dusk. A real bummer, since you know what they frequently and publicly say: there’s nothing like an America’s Stonehenge sunset.

Love,

The Bastard

Storming the Castle

August 10, 2018. Groton, Massachusetts. 

The itch was too much to resist. The Delf was getting claustrophobic. The skyscrapers were closing in, as were the perpetually growing mounds of garbage that have not once been collected from anywhere in the city since Ben Franklin invented both Philadelphia and garbage. I needed a breather.

The Girl and I opted for New Hampshire this time around. Our last few jaunts had been to the desert, and while they were about 50% fun, after a while you know what sand looks like. Colorado is on the agenda, but we needed something we could squeeze into three days, and I just did Maine and Massachusetts.

New Hampshire is laughably tiny. Once we set up base camp in Manchester, the suspiciously rustic “most populous city” in NH, we accidentally ranged out across state lines twice.

It was six hours from Philly. Toll roads remain arbitrary, but become much more considerate as you head north. It costs around $12 to get from the bottom of PA to the top. It’s $5 to escape from New Jersey, even if you just wandered in by accident. Passing through the godless snarl of NYC traffic is $15. After that, you plow up into New England and you can stay on the turnpike for hours, tolls will be like $1. One was actually 50 cents.

Really, guys? Like we don’t have it bad enough?

At some point in Massachusetts, we happened on an ambiguous temple “COMING SOON!” It didn’t claim a religion, but the only thing blocking the access road was a length of chain, and golden spires were visible in the trees. We parked and investigated.

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It was just rising up in the woods in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t know any of the characters embossed on the spires. I concluded it had something to do with that black sarcophagus full of mummy juice.

I’ve since done a little more research and discovered that this is going to be a shared Muslim and Hindu temple, which I found bizarre. I’m admittedly unfamiliar with the specifics of Hindu scripture, but I’m fairly certain Islamic theology operates on that Judeo-Christian fan favorite about “No gods before me”, let alone a whole pantheon of them. I also seem to remember some strongly worded bits about “no idols nor graven image”.

(Leviticus 26:1-2 if you’re not a tahrif type, Quran 9.5 if you are.)

The shared temple cover story didn’t hold up to scrutiny. That was a spontaneously generating Nyaralthotemple. New England is filthy with Old Ones.

We bailed before we were descended upon by any unknowable horrors from the black spaces between the stars, stopping for the worst coffee in America on our way to Bancroft’s Castle.

Bancroft’s Castle is a deliciously American story. It starts in 1906 with a renaissance man named General William Bancroft, a soldier, politician, and businessman who decides he’s done enough for one lifetime and he’s going to settle down in the idyllic hills of the charmingly named Groton, Massachusetts. He looks at his 401k and says, “You know what? I’m gonna build a retirement castle.”

He badly underestimates how much it costs to build a castle, which makes you wonder how effective a businessman he was. Our man is over budget by the time he’s built the tower and the bungalow.

He lives in his little Iggy Koopa boss tower for 12 years, then sells it to Doctor Harold Ayers. Doc Ayers converts it into a sanatorium, raking in $20 a week per tuberculosis patient (that’s about $900 a month nowadays, adjusting for inflation), which must have pissed Bancroft off immensely.

He maintained that racket until the late 1920s, and when the sanatorium closed it was converted into a social center and lodge for the Groton Hunt Club. This continued until July 4, 1932, when the castle was burnt down by a firecracker. Must have been one hell of a siege.

Perhaps due to how badly and consistently it failed at being a castle, Bancroft Castle was abandoned. Since Groton Hill was used for hangings in the 1600s, and since it’s a ruin in New England, and since it was once a TB sanatorium, it is alleged to be chock full of ghosts.

 

Despite its inefficacy, I could understand the appeal.

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The bungalow had nothing on the tower proper.

 

In addition to all its other failings, it seemed like it would be pretty easy to scale.

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as seen with Adventure Hat, the stupidest functional headwear New Mexico had to offer

On the way back to the car, the Girl elbowed me in the ribs. Like I wasn’t already bleeding everywhere from my botched superhero landing getting down off the tower.

“Do you see that?”

“Ghosts? Or bears?”

My hands were up. Punching wouldn’t phase either of those things, but damn it, I had to try.

She pointed up into a tree.

 

our ornithologist friend confirmed it as a red-tailed hawk

I’d never seen a red-tailed hawk that close before. It wasn’t even a little frightened of us or the spectral bears. We gawped up at it for five minutes or so, watching it bop around and ruffle its huge clunky body, scoping for vermin, then the mosquitos got too bad and we got back on the road.

Next stop on our New Hampshire trip: actually New Hampshire.

Love,

The Bastard