Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Temple of the Jaguar God. Zach Neal.

Akim Raschka, (Wiki.)

Zach Neal

After the cooling breezes and azure seas of the crossing, and he was lucky to have good weather for that, the jungle clad hills and olive waters of the Orinoco were a stark contrast. So was the heat. As the old steamer chugged along, painfully wheezing its way upstream, there was little to do but to try and stay cool and get to know the other members of the party.

The stout and sweaty Senor Hernandez owned the boat they were on, skippered by a bald-headed, fiercely mustachioed captain constantly chewing on an unlit cigar. For some reason no one could quite catch the name, no matter how many times they asked. The captain’s nephew, a boy about a year younger than he, Paolo, was the only other hand apparently required for what was almost a small ship.

There was his uncle, of course, looking raffish in a newly-sprouted beard and a bush jacket with an incongruous straw hat of local manufacture. Khaki shorts with a hundred pockets, Argyll socks and desert boots. A monocle on the right eye and a watch-chain hanging. That was his uncle, all right.

Weird Uncle Harry.
William Syrmes, about thirty-five years old, was his uncle’s secretary and trained in archaeological documentation. He would be doing drawings and photographic cataloguing as well as being in charge of the digging. If in fact they found anything. He was still young enough to be boyish still, in spite of his height.

It struck Jeremy that he was there to dig, all expenses paid of course.

Syrmes had broad shoulders, a bull neck and looked like a handy lad in a pinch.

This was even more so regarding Kevin Smith. Uncle Harry had introduced him as a former soldier. He’d been at the Somme. This one had a couple of scars on his upper lip.

His role was guide and adventurer. He was being paid for his time, which was sort of unique among them.

Apparently he’d been up the river before on unspecified errands, in Jeremy’s opinion either gold or gems…something to do with poaching perhaps. Selling guns and whiskey to the natives, although he might have been thinking of a different frontier.

This one could look after himself.

Gerald Day, the perfect gentleman, was paying his own way as he put it. With an interest in antiquities and primitive South American peoples in particular, he was an occasional journalist.

He and Uncle Harry had some sort of gentlemen’s agreement on an exclusive, whether or not they ever found anything. Venezuela, and especially the hinterland, was like the other side of the moon to the average reader. According to Mister Day, people ate up a certain kind of sensationalized adventure.

Most interesting of all, were Mister and Missus O’Dell. An American millionaire, easily late fifties or early sixties, Peter was a collector. He was looking forward to the thrill of discovering evidence of an unknown people and culture, rumoured to exist in the high hills a hundred miles inland. It would make his name as he put it. His wife, Melody, quite a bit younger, was the most perfectly decorative woman Jeremy had seen in quite some time. Yet there was the spark of a deeper intelligence in behind those quiet grey eyes, and it was interesting to note the sick thrill when he caught her examining him in some kind of assessment.

Hopefully he didn’t appear too callow in her eyes, although he knew he was young—very young.

Especially when she looked at him like that—

That didn’t necessarily make him a fool.

So far, nothing much had happened, other than being sleepless from hot steamy nights, queasy from sleeping on a boat, always in motion, bitten by bugs, afraid to drink the water, and almost afraid of going ashore at all. Not after seeing the biggest snake in the world poke its head up and then swim along, outpacing the boat on her port side and then disappearing into the low, overhanging branches and into the dappled green shadows where land presumably met water at some mysterious and unknown point.

Once he’d seen a half a dozen crocodiles, sunning themselves on a sandbar, and heard one or two stories of unknown creatures taking people in the night, he’d been pretty much convinced.

(...end of excerpt.)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Excerpt: Temple of the Jaguar God. Zach Neal.

Hamble, a bit of a ruffian.

Zach Neal

They were in the sixth form at Rugby. The end of term was coming up fast.
Hamble, a year older, threw the letter down, and stared off into space.

“What an extraordinary fellow.”

They’d been having a bit of a nosh-up in the privacy of Jeremy’s room. The two of them had pooled all kinds of hoarded private tucker when Hamble, who always had his nose into everything, scooped up what was another fellow’s private and personal mail. He was a big, hulking fellow with a heart of gold. Jeremy was grateful for his odd friendship—and a bit of protection.

“Floreat Rugbeia. Yes, he did say that.” Hamble shook his head in disgust at the fancy, monogrammed letterhead. “Fellow of the Royal Society, member of the Explorer’s Club.”

Throwing his feet up on the coffee table, he stuck his hands into his waistcoat pockets in a characteristic pose.


Hamble was from a family of genteel county aristocracy, at least to hear him tell it, up Shropshire way. He could be, or beat on a ruffian whenever he wanted to, which was as often as he thought no one was looking and he could get away with it. Not so much evil, as amusing, thought Jeremy. And why not. Other than school, this part of the world—Rugby School in Warwickshire, was as boring as any other place he’d ever been. To be fair, that wasn't all that many places.

Uncle Harry, Dr. Harold C. Fawcett, Ph.D., was an alumni of their good old alma mater. Not that Jeremy Crowe was so fond of it. Not hardly, always with the low grades, and not a snow-ball’s chance of shining at either the letters or the games. If it wasn’t for Uncle Harry, Jeremy wouldn’t even be here. The financial support was more than welcome. Otherwise he would have to go out and muck and toil for his livelihood, something Jeremy wasn’t all that enthused about. He was still young enough to dream of better things.

Rugby school.
Harry was his mother’s younger brother and had made his fortune quite young, with a fortunate dig in Mesopotamia.

To be good at games was everything, but sweat and strain as he might, run like hell after the ball, bigger fellows, not all of them older men, made him look decidedly sick.

“And he’s a doctor?”

“Yes. Of a sort.”

“Are you going?”

Jeremy raised his eyebrows.

“Egads. I hadn’t really thought all that much about it—” There was that family connection, and some sense of obligation.

Something he’d always hated.

“Well, you’d better make up your mind. Pretty damned quick, old cock.”

“Yes! I suppose I should.” Jeremy raised the tea cup and drained it.

Hungry as always, no matter how much he ate, it never seemed to translate onto his lanky five-foot, eight-inch frame.

Flipping his hair out of his eye, Jeremy picked up the letter and read that last part again.

“Wire me soonest. Will provide money and tickets. We leave from Southampton on the ninth. You have to do something for the summer holidays and this is the opportunity for a little adventure. Yours, your Weird Uncle Harry.”

He sighed, deeply. The thoughts of another long and lonely summer at home in Norfolk drained his resistance. Stuffy country society versus the Spanish Main—or so it seemed.

His mother fussing around, all things great and small, and his father’s evil eye upon him.

Disapproval, questions, what is your big plan in life young man—

Disapproval versus the Spanish Main.

Perhaps not—

Harry was at least fun, the bugger always had been.

“Huh. I suppose there’s nothing else for it.”

Venezuela—some sort of mad archaeological expedition. The Temple of the Jaguar God.

And why not?

Why not indeed.

Harry always had been his favourite uncle.

Last Christmas, the last time he’d been around the manor, Jeremy’s facetious name for his father’s rectory, he’d been spouting Lewis Carroll.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.”

One thing he knew for sure—his father would always be poor.

If he wasn’t careful, so would he.

(End of excerpt, the story is 'The Temple of the Jaguar God', an homage to the Boys Own Paper of a more innocent age. > Ed.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Lucid Dreaming.

The Knight's Dream, Antonio de Pereda. (Wiki.)

Zach Neal

Something very strange has been happening lately.

It’s like I go to bed, and as soon as I put the book down, turn out the light, and close my eyes, the pictures start up in my head.

They’re very clear. Faces, places, buildings and vehicles, cities and towns, and they’re all unfamiliar—I’ve never laid eyes on them in my life.

The dreams can be pretty disjointed. I can’t make heads or tails of what’s going on from one scene to the next, although the individual scenes have a certain coherence—a man’s face materializing out of a sandy beach, me crashing an exotic car through someone’s terrarium…just weird shit that really doesn’t make much sense. How the hell you get from one scene to the next is a mysterious process of association at some subliminal level.

We all dream, and in the past, I’ve kept a note-pad beside the bed. I’ve written dreams down and tried to write them up as a kind of bizarro fiction. There is such a thing as directed dreaming, but I have no idea of what to try—or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

It’s very strange to know that you are wide awake, and still to be essentially dreaming, for at its best I have no control over the pictures that I see.

This lucid dreaming state is a new one for me—who knows, maybe it’s the change of life, or just winter, or maybe lack of mental stimulation. This is a real enough prospect, when one’s life revolves around the computer and you’re spending an average of twenty-two and a half hours a day indoors. It is winter, after all.

I still dream the old-fashioned way. I wake up, barely remembering what I was just seeing and doing. The other day there were even a few bits of dialogue. I spoke, which seems unusual for me. I have no idea what I said—I probably asked the next poor bastard what was going on.

The fact that I can make it through the day sort of implies that I’m getting enough sleep.

I can’t help thinking that it serves some kind of purpose, biological, psychological, or less likely, spiritual.

The thing there is, that I really don’t believe in magic. (Telepathy, maybe. But not magic.)

If I could direct my dreams tonight, I would set them on some sort of problem-solving routine.

Or perhaps I am missing the point of dreaming at all—maybe it’s just a kind of mental gymnastics. Maybe there’s some deep and fundamental level of cognitive dissonance. If so, I have no idea of what it might be…do I hold mutually-contradictory beliefs? Probably. I suspect we all do—

More likely, my brain is at play and maybe that’s just healthy and normal.

Maybe it just needs to stretch its legs. Maybe it’s hungry, maybe it just wants to go somewhere—anywhere.

There are times when I wish I knew what it wanted.

There are times when I wish my subconscious would tell me what to do, although I have a funny feeling it does anyways—my stomach tells me when I’m hungry and not the other way around, after all.

I wouldn’t mind knowing what the next scene in my book should be, for surely I would write that down and take a look at it.