Daily Archives: March 13, 2019

Spotlight – The Old Man’s Request

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About the Author

Joab Stieglitz

Joab Stieglitz was born and raised in the Warren, New Jersey. He is an Application Consultant for a software company. He has also worked as a software trainer, a network engineer, a project manager, and a technical writer over his 30 year career. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Joab is an avid tabletop RPG player and game master of horror, espionage, fantasy, and science fiction genres, including Savage Worlds (Mars, Deadlands, Agents of Oblivion, Apocalypse Prevention Inc, Herald: Tesla and Lovecraft, Thrilling Tales, and others), Call of Cthulhu, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Pathfinder.

Joab channeled his role-playing experiences in the Utgarda Series, which are pulp adventure novels with Lovecraftian influences set in the 1920’s.

Website Address: http://joabstieglitz.com

Twitter Address: @joabstieglitz

Facebook Address: https://www.facebook.com/rantingsofawanderingmind

About the Book:

Title: THE OLD MAN’S REQUEST
Author: Joab Stieglitz
Publisher: Rantings of a Wandering Mind
Pages: 117
Genre: Historical Suspense

The Old Man's Request

BOOK BLURB:

An Innocent Favor for a Dying Old Friend…

Fifty years ago, a group of college friends dabbled in the occult and released a malign presence on the world. Now, on his deathbed, the last of the students, now a trustee of Reister University enlists the aid of three newcomers to banish the thing they summoned.

Russian anthropologist Anna Rykov, doctor Harry Lamb, and Father Sean O’Malley are all indebted the ailing trustee for their positions. Together, they pursue the knowledge and resources needed to perform the ritual.

Hampered by the old man’s greedy son, the wizened director of the university library, and a private investigator with a troubled past, can they perform the ritual and banish the entity?

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Book Excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

June 18, 1929

Final papers in hand, Anna emerged from the Edison science building and made her way toward Olson Street to catch the trolley to the house she was renting on the other side of the river. She was petite, with dark bobbed hair, and smooth pale skin, and wore a fashionable blue, knee-length skirted suit, white blouse, and a loose, black necktie which flapped gently in the breezes blowing eastward off the slow-moving Woolley River.

It was another typically beautiful day, warm and dry, in Wellersburg. About halfway across the quad, she spied Father O’Malley approaching hurriedly. “Hello. Father,” she said with a smile, her Russian accent revealing her origins. “Is it not a fine day?” O’Malley, a tall, slender man with short, curly brown hair, usually had a warm, engaging smile, but today his expression was grim.

“Jason Longborough is in the hospital again,” O’Malley said. “It doesn’t look good, and he’s asked to speak to you with some urgency.” Anna was concerned and a little surprised. The ailing trustee of the university had been her champion in the faculty selection committee last summer, but she had neither seen nor spoken with him since that time. He was directly responsible for her appointment to fill Dr. McMahon’s chair for three years while he and his team were on their expedition to Australia. Longborough was also instrumental in Father O’Malley’s appointment to the Ancient History department to fill similar vacancies during the Egyptian expedition, which was to occur concurrently.

“Of course,” Anna replied without hesitation, “I will just drop off these papers in office.”

“He may not hold out that long. Please come with me now. It may be your only opportunity.” With that, the priest took the pile of exam papers from her and led the way toward the Reister University Hospital.

Anna was born Tatyana Trevena, the sole daughter of poor Russian immigrants. In exchange for passage to Brooklyn, the sixteen-year-old was married to the much older, exiled Fyodor Rykov shortly after their arrival in America in 1912. Rykov was an old world man. He treated his young wife as his property and she lived in submission to him until he died of a heart attack two years later.

Tatyana inherited a modest fortune. Wanting to be more American, and having the means to do so, she adopted the name Anna and attended Columbia University, where she studied Anthropology. She completed her degree in three years and went on to pursue a doctorate. In 1924, she did field research for the Russian archaeologist Aleksey Sergeyevich Uvarov in Gnyozdovo, a part of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, the site of a ring of 10th century Viking settlements.

Upon returning to the United States in 1926, Dr. Anna Rykov, expert in the Varangians, or Russian Vikings, found that there was little interest in a female professor, especially one of Russian descent, who had done field work in the Soviet Union and could have potentially been a Bolshevik. When Jason Longborough reached out to her with a temporary position at Reister University filling in for tenured staff while they were on a three-year expedition, she gladly took the offer.

There were many new instructors at Reister. Among them, Anna met Harry Lamb and Sean O’Malley. Dr. Lamb had just completed his residency at Reister University Hospital and was teaching Basic Anatomy to first year medical students. Father O’Malley was well-versed in Middle and Far Eastern history and served as an Ancient History instructor. Anna, Harry, and Sean were all new to the area, and the three quickly became friends exploring their new home together.

She was enjoying the small college-town life in Wellersburg and its uncrowded streets. The people of Wellersburg were courteous and friendly, even to a Russian immigrant, on account of the more cosmopolitan influences of the university. She enjoyed the peace and tranquility of a small town where everyone knew everyone, and no one locked their doors.

The hospital room was small and dark, illuminated by a lone window on the far side of the room. Jason Longborough lay in his bed. The withered old trustee was frail beneath his shock of gray hairs. He had looked much stronger when Anna had seen him last. Now his yellow complexion and paper-like skin clearly indicated his infirmity. Dr. Harold Lamb stood over the patient, taking his pulse. Lamb was taller than average and muscular, with broad shoulders and short, black hair neatly parted on the right. He wore a blue, pinstriped suit and a yellow tie under his lab coat. The doctor smiled slightly when the two entered the room. Longborough was alerted to their presence by the closing of the door.

“It was good of you to come,” the patient said with some effort. “My time draws to an end soon, and there is a grave matter from my past that must be addressed.” Some strength returned to his voice. “I fear I have become too feeble to attempt it myself, and wish to enlist your services in this matter.” He sighed heavily.

“How can I be of service to you, sir?” Anna asked. While she was indebted to Longborough for her position at the university, she was hardly acquainted with the man. What could a businessman like Longborough need of an archaeologist?

“Sit. I have a story to tell you.” He gestured to two chairs by the side of the bed.

“I’ll be back to check on you later,” Dr. Lamb said as he started for the door. Suddenly, with uncharacteristic dexterity, the ailing trustee reached out and grasped his wrist.

“I wish you to aid me as well, Doctor.” His gaze was fixed on Lamb’s eyes. The physician left the room, and a moment later brought a chair in from the hall.

“I can spare a few minutes, but then I must complete my rounds.”

“This is not a long story.” The trustee cleared his throat and Anna poured a glass of water for him. He took a few sips from it, and then cleared his throat again. “Back in the spring of ‘71, when I was a freshman here at Reister, I came upon an interesting upperclassman named Brent Hanke, an amateur occultist.” He coughed painfully.

“Five of us formed a group to explore the secrets of the unknown. We called it ‘the Cabal.’ It was quite innocuous at first, but after a while other students became disturbed by our activities, and so we bought an old farmhouse in Stuckley for some privacy.” He coughed again and took another drink of water.

“It was at the farmhouse that things grew out of hand. Brent Hanke’s family was in shipping, and as a result, he was able to obtain rare and unique items from the Old World. He used these trinkets to keep us interested. Among these was a small gold box of Russian origin,” he indicated a length of about eight inches with his bent fingers, “that contained a piece of amber. According to a ritual he found in an ancient tome, this amber could be used to contact a powerful oracle. Being precocious lads, we set out to cast the spell at the farm and seek our fortunes.”

Longborough’s subsequent coughing fit caused the onlookers to jump, and Dr. Lamb went to call a nurse, but the old man recovered quickly and motioned for them all to sit again. After a few fairly deep breaths and another drink of water, he continued his tale.

“It was clear that night in March of 1871. I remember the full moon illuminating the living room of the farmhouse so brightly that Brent was worried that there might be too much light. Still we continued, lighting the fire in the fireplace as well as several candles, and drawing a pentagram in chalk on the floor. In the center, Brent placed the amber. As designated observer, I sat in a corner and wrote down the events of the evening in my journal. The others sat in a circle and recited the incantation while Brent threw some foul-smelling powder into the fire.”

“This continued for nearly two hours. Finally, something happened. A plume of smoke arose from the amber and it began to melt. Then it came!” Longborough began to hyperventilate. Dr. Lamb sprang to the bedside and adjusted his position, putting the patient’s head back to open his throat. After a moment of coughing and wheezing, Longborough recovered.

“It was insubstantial.” The trustee’s voice was still agitated. “Barely perceptible in the moonlight, but it was there. And it made a horrible growling sound. Brent threw some of the powder on the creature, and all chaos broke out. Most of us were paralyzed by the sight. John Dalton, however, rose to his feet and stepped forward to embrace the entity. The creature grasped his head in its indescribable appendages and twisted it with a terrible snap. Then it threw the head back to land in Homer Cunningham’s lap. Homer’s face turned white and he began making that chirping sound.” Longborough stared off into space for a moment.

“Roger Furlong apparently doomed us all,” he continued after a pause. “He destroyed part of the pentagram. Free from the bonds of its confines, the creature burst from the house with the force of a hurricane and was gone.” He stopped to catch his breath. “Nevertheless, Hanke believed there was still hope. The spell bound the creature to the house, so it would have to return, and the many glyphs and warding symbols Hanke had previously carved into its structure allowed the creature to only inhabit the attic.”

“Mr. Longborough,” Doctor Lamb said with skepticism, “this kind of superstitious fantasy is probably what caused your condition in the first place. You were probably enjoying the effects of some hallucinogenic drugs this Hanke character threw into the fire.”

“John Dalton was found decapitated the next morning.” The aged and frail patient bore down on Lamb with a look of rage. “We staged an accident with a carriage and said he was run over. The authorities believed us, and they took Homer Cunningham to the Old Oak Sanitarium. He was never released. Brett said that if the spell is cast again in reverse, the creature could be destroyed, or at least sent back to where it came from . That is what I want you to do.”

“Still,” Dr. Lamb continued, “you can’t expect us to believe that reciting some ancient poetry will lay a ghost to rest?”

Anna was divided. The story was completely unbelievable, especially by a scientist such as herself, but how could she deny the request of a dying man?

“You want us to cast this spell?” Father O’Malley asked indignantly.

“Yes,” Longborough said, his features calm and sharp, “I do.”

“By all that is holy, that is the worst kind of sacrilege.” But Sean O’Malley was not a typical parish priest. He was a Professor of Ancient History specializing in the Dark Ages. His training had been under the tutelage of Father Christophé, the exorcist from Martinique regarded as the Church’s leading “expert” on the activities various “nameless cults.” O’Malley was more than prepared to accept Satan’s intervention in the sorry affairs of this once gullible youth. The sly smile from his lips surprised his two colleagues. Finally, he said, “But I accept your request.”

“Are you crazy?” Lamb exclaimed. “This delusion has gone far enough. It’s nearly killed this man. Father, I think we should let this matter, and this patient, rest.” He rose and started off to return his chair to the hall.

“What difference does it make?” Anna asked in earnest. “Mr. Longborough believes that there is threat to all in Stuckley. If it is just a fantasy, then all that will come of it is the easing of his conscience for the unfortunate incident with his friends.”

“Then you’ll help me?” the old man inquired of Anna with hope in his eyes.

“Yes, sir,” she said, holding his hands in hers. “I owe it to you for all you have done for me.” He smiled.

Rykov and O’Malley cast questioning glances at Dr. Lamb. He looked at them incredulously, and then back at Longborough, who returned his gaze with a pitiable look. After a moment, he sighed and said, “O.K., I’m in. But nothing is going to happen. You’ll see.”

“You don’t understand,” the patient started. “You must believe in the innate power in all of us. You must tap into that power to perform the ritual. Only if you are committed will the spell be successful. If you fail, the creature will be released from the house! The little remaining power I can still muster won’t be able to keep it there much longer. Whenever I let my guard down, it got out and killed someone.” He started to gasp and wheeze. Immediately, Dr. Lamb burst from the room to get assistance.

Longborough indicated the drawer of the nightstand beside Rykov and she picked up a locked metal box from it. Then he removed a key from around his neck and handed it to her. “Take these,” he said with the last of his breath, “it is all the help I can give you.” With that, his breathing became erratic. Moments later, Lamb returned with some orderlies and a nurse and ushered the pair from the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Why Defining Your Setting is Important

A lot of would-be writers set out to write a specific story: a fantasy with wizards and dragons, a spy thriller with a megalomaniac villain out to conquer the world, a vampire and werewolf love story, etc. These are all fine ideas, but where they take place is just as important as the characters and the plot.

Just as you want three-dimensional heroes and villains, a well-developed setting is imperative for your story to come to life. Locations are more than an address. They are sights and sounds, past and current events, the physical and emotional sensations that are evoked. All these aspects add to the reader’s immersion into the environment.

For example

The agent’s’ eyes were stung by the smoke as they descended. The remote darkness was broken by the flames of the nearby village that had been their destination. The sounds of machinery announced the passage of the column of troop carriers, the smell of exhaust filling the air as they carried the villagers away.

This scene implies a lot of things that the author needs to know and bring out in the narrative. Where does the story take place? When? Is this Nazi occupied France, post apocalypse Colorado, or Alpha Centuri Prime? Are the agents parachuting, in an aircraft, or falling from orbit in drop pods?

Filling out the details of the environment allows you to add “reality” to your story by making the reader part of the scene rather than just an observer. When the reader experiences sensations in addition to the characters’ thoughts and actions, and a clear understanding of things such as the environment, the weather, and the social and political situation will make a scene come alive.

In my books, I have selected a very specific time and place: immediate pre-Depression New York. Through this lens I can present attitudes, experiences, personalities, and perspectives that are unique. My heroine, Dr. Anna Rykov, is a woman, a Russian immigrant, and a professional. These qualities present specific challenges to her in 1929.

The choice of genre is the first step. An even bigger decision is the setting. An author needs to understand the environment in which the story takes place to present a complete picture to the reade

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