Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Interview With the Vampire Victim

My hike through the gloomy village of Harvest Hollow is far from untroubled.  A low, curling fog only partly conceals the mounds of rotting pumpkins and straw bales that line my path.  It seems to follow me into the cemetery, and settles in a few empty graves.  I quickly make my way around dozens of crowded tombstones and return to the beaten path of the village.  In contrast to the clutter of that dismal burial ground, the open lane before me looks almost inviting.  

It's only 5:30 p.m.  Thirty minutes before the “witching hour."  To a naïve traveler, the small, condemned village’s population still seems to consist of a few shambling caretakers.  Unfortunately, I know the truth.  I know the broken, burnt-out shacks and cursed graves that surround me on all sides are teeming with the undead.  Sorry, Undead-Americans.

I stand before “the first shack on the right, just after the graveyard.”  There is no door to knock on, just some bloody, tattered curtains hung where one should be.  The cold autumn breeze seems to sap my life and give it to the curtains.  That seems to be the way around here.  Take from the living and give to the dead.  This betrayal of the laws of nature further chills my soul. 
I hear a gurgling growl issuing from the shack that could possible be taken for a snore.  I offer a timid “hello” to announce my arrival.  The “snoring” stops.  Silence.  “Horace?”


The voice is low and inhuman, more like a rabid bear than the former crop farmer that waits within.  I look around at the smoldering piles of ash left from the bonfires of the previous night, shuddering as I think of what materials lay there, charred and unrecognizable.  I say a short prayer for the dead (I’m sure I hear a hiss from behind me as I do so), take a deep breath, and step forward into the unknown.

Once inside, I stand in complete darkness for several seconds, afraid to move or speak.  As my eyes start to adjust, I can see the vague outline of a humanoid figure.  It sits motionless on what I take for a low bench.  He seems to be revealed in parts.  First is his hair, lighted by the cracks in the boards behind him.  It is full, but disheveled and matted down with earth.  Next, his nose and mouth.  I gasp as I realize they are smeared with a blackish-red paste.  His perpetual grimace reveals two oversized canine teeth.  After staring at the latter for several seconds, the rest of his face becomes visible.  It is not quite as gruesome as what I would expect from a corpse.  There are a few open wounds, but these seem to have been made before his death, as they are crudely stitched closed.  In general, his face reminds me of something in-between dirty porcelain and leather.  It certainly isn’t alive.

Sit, he growls, or I assume it is he.  I never actually see his mouth move as he continues, Won’t bite.  S’too early.

There is no emotion in his voice.  No sarcasm or threat, just flat truth.  My immediate reaction is to take a step back and look down.  I’m shocked at how close I was standing to this creature, staring so boldly.  I look behind me and see a straw bale.  I sit.

Must be quick.  You’re my guest, so you’re safe now, but’f you’re here after dark, you’ll never leave.

Again, nothing but facts.  I swallow my fear and pull a tape recorder out of my pocket and ask,

Do you mind?
What is it?
It will record our conversation, so I can recount it later.
Don’t care.  No one’ll listen.
Why is that?” I ask as I push “record.”
Living won’t suffer the dead.
Do you mean they won’t believe I really had an interview with you?
No, they won’t suffer FOR me.  They don’t want to hear what’s true.  It hurts them.
I see.  Well, let’s continue then.  First, how did you, uh, die?  Was it that? - I point to the noose pulled tightly around his torn neck.
No.  They did that after.  Thought they could hang the dead.  Wrong.  I taught them…
Then how?
No.  No flowing robes and sweet words.  I was devoured by a beast.  Slinking, base creatures, Nosferatu.  The Vampire’s on the hill keep them as pets.

He motions up and behind me.  I know he is referring to the “Bitten” house.  It is a dark mansion occupied by Vampires, but its details are limited to rumors and nightmares.  To the south of that mansion lies the shadows of “Hunted,” said to be the realm of the Werewolves.  Harvest Hollow, the small village in which I am conducting this interview, lies in-between the two.  It is a sad fate for the hard-working farmers that once lived here.  One of those farmers was named Horace.  His body now sits before me,   He has generously agreed to spare my life, for the present, in order to conduct this most invaluable interview.  Thankfully, it seems the longer my host speaks with me, the more intelligible he becomes.  It is as if he is remembering a forgotten language.

There was no exchange of blood.  No sire and fledgling.  I was consumed and left for dead here in my home. 
Is that what happened to the rest of the village?  Killed by Nosferatu?
Some.  Most on this side of the graveyard fell victim to the Vampires and their pets, eventually.  The ones turned into Vampires went up the hill.  The rest of us stayed here.  Nowhere else to go, ever.
What about the other half?  On the other side of the graveyard?
Not sure.  There were rumors of wolves in the darkness before they cut us off.
Cut you off?
When Vampires started coming down from the hill and killing us, they closed us off from them.  Condemned us.

For the first time, I sense emotion in his voice, the bitterness of betrayal.  He shifts uneasily on the low bench, which I know now to be a coffin.  His coffin. 

In the last night before I was taken I heard screams mixed with howls coming from the other side of the graveyard.  Not human howls.  Not wolves.  Something in-between.  It was a full moon that night.  Since then, I’ve seen one or two running through our paths late at night.  I think they’re attracted to the trespassing humans that’ve been coming through here lately.
You’re talking about Werewolves?

His grimace turns to a blood-chilling smile, fully bearing his bloodstained teeth.  I quickly move on, not wanting to awaken the beast within.

Will you tell me about the trespassers that you spoke of just now?
What about them?  They start close to sunset, coming sometimes individually, but mostly in groups, and continue until just before midnight.  Cowards.
What do you mean?
We rise at six o’clock, so you say the "scare is everywhere."  That is true.  Seldom are we enticed to kill that early in the evening.  It is then that we with our food.  The true witching hour is midnight.  That’s when we’re the most alive…or most undead.  Our thirst's fully awakened then.
So can the living pass through your village safely if it’s before midnight?
Does it bother you that they do it?
Bother me?  Ask me again after sundown.  It’s taking all my will to keep from running that (he motions to a bloody scythe propped up in the corner) through your gut.  And I INVITED you here.  What do you think it's like with scores of screaming, crying cattle running through my place of eternal rest?
Speaking of that, what are they like?  I mean, what kind of people do you encounter?
All the same, mostly, but there’re a few differences.  Some enrage me.  There’s the terrified girl cowering in her protector’s arms.  She won’t show her face and he won’t betray a single emotion, even unto death.  I’m not sure why they come, but the stench of their hormones is sickening…Then there’s the parent that sends his or her offspring out in front, using them as human shields and laughing at their terror.  I go for the parents, myself.  They deserve it.  But worst of all, the bottom feeders, the scum of the human race, those that set my shriveled veins on fire…the texters!  They’re in their own world, oblivious to the danger around them.  The light from their talking devices is blinding.  I’m ashamed to say that sometimes my rage gets the best of me.  There are only two kinds of people that aren’t safe before midnight.  Texters, and smart-mouthed, punk kids.  If you disrespect my family or my lineage, you WILL remain here with me, forever. 
But, there’re some that aren’t too bad.  The ones that respect where they are, and aren’t afraid to show it.  If they’re young enough, life is still an adventure, and they scream at every shadow and gust of wind that comes through.  If they’re old enough, they realize that life is precious, and too short to put on a brave face all the time.  Occasionally you will get a would-be punk kid that can surprise you, but ONLY if they aren’t with a boyfriend or girlfriend.  If they’re alone or with friends, they’ll scream, run from you, fall, jump, and occasionally wet them selves.  I’m serious.  Those types of people don’t really bother me.  Their screams of terror actually delight me in some ways.  Reminds me what it was like to be respected.  I almost always let them go, even if I do chase them all the way out of the Hollow.
You mentioned rage getting the best of you occasionally.  But, don’t you, uh, you know…
Feed on humans?  Yes, but as I said, our thirst isn’t fully awakened before midnight.  Before then, we still have some of our former emotions and constraint.  There was one time I actually felt bad about silencing a kid that spoke ill of my darling mother.  The later it gets, the more dangerous we become...But most of the time, I just remind myself that they are a temporary nuisance.
How is that?
They only come in October.  After All Hallows’ Eve, October 31st, they leave and give us nearly eleven months of peace.

As I begin my next question, I hear a howl in the distance.  Horace’s grin widens as he breathes in deeply through his nose.

It’s coming.  Can you feel it?  Getting hungry.  Might want to go now…or…you could stay a while…

I quickly thank my host for his time, shove my tape recorder back into my pocket, and exit the darkening shack.  Outside, I see the earth stirring in several spots.  To my left, I see shadows moving in the graveyard.  I turn quickly to my right and head up the hill.  It is the quickest way back to the Busch Gardens Festhaus, my pick-up location, but unfortunately it passes deathly close to the “Bitten” house.  I can already hear screams coming from within as I run for my life…


The Undead of Harvest Hollow 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Goin' Up To the Spirit In the Sky

As many of you already know, my father passed away last Sunday, October 17th.  Because of this, my Halloween blog will be pushed back until next month.  For this month, I'm going to post a short history of my dad's life written by my mom and a piece I wrote for his funeral.  I hope what they lack in literary prowess will be made up for by our genuine love for my father.

Larry John Winch
by Cathy Winch and Sons

Larry John Winch had a typical childhood in the 50’s and 60’s, mostly on South Main Street in Farmington.  He grew up with his oldest brother Dennis, sisters Diana, Brenda, Susan, and Lauren, friends Mike and Paul, and others
Larry’s dad had Tuberculosis and was in the Mount Vernon VA hospital for 6 years when Larry was a child, which was very hard on his mom and the kids.  He remembered the day his dad left the hospital, when Larry was about 9, as one of the happiest days of his life.  Despite warnings from his mom that his dad was still tired and weak, he ran and jumped on him as he came through the door. 
Larry loved camping with his family in the “big blue bus.”  They fished, went swimming, caught pigeons from the top of the feed mill, made a pet of a Great Horned Owl, and fashioned a bomb in a jar that resulted in a hospital visit.  His dad taught him to love fishing and his mom just loved him, no matter what trouble he got into.  She also made sure he went to church.  Larry was saved and baptized at Coffman Baptist Church when he was 7.  He said he didn’t understand everything at that age, but he rededicated his life when he was older.  He always remembered that experience.
After high school, Larry joined the Marine Corp with his friend Mike.  He had a lot of good memories about being stationed in San Diego, being on a Med Cruise and traveling to Spain, Greece, and France, but he also had a lot of difficult times.  He was just 18 and away from home in the late 60s, and was overjoyed to return to his life in Farmington. 
After returning home he began working at the Missouri State Hospital with his mom.  He also worked for a while at the lime kiln, where his dad worked, but soon returned to the State Hospital.  It was then that he met Cathy, who was working there for the summer while going to college.  He called her bird legs, stole her lunch, and teased her about going out with him until her last day of work, when she finally said yes. 
Larry and Cathy were very different, but also much the same.  Larry’s long blonde hair and big red mustache seemed unusual to the timid farm girl, but he won her over with his stories.  She loved to hear him recount his travels around the world while in the Marines because she had never experienced life outside of Missouri.  They hit it off immediately, and fell hard in love for each other.  After only 3 short months of dating they ran away and got married.  Everyone thought it would never last, but on November 21st, 2010, they would have been married 35 years. 
Larry took Cathy’s brother Danny “under his wing” as soon as they were married.  Danny was only 10 so Larry watched him grow up.  After he was old enough to hunt and fish, they were buddies.  They always had a fishing pole or gun in their hands and had many stories, some more believable than others.  Dan was one of Larry’s closest friends.
After leaving the State Hospital, Larry went back to college and started working for the St. Francois county Ambulance District.  He was on the very first crew when it started in 1978.  He loved the work and saved a lot of lives during his 3 years there.  Despite his passion for the job, its stress was too much, and he sought employment at the Department of Corrections instead, where he worked until retirement.
In 1978, Cathy and Larry had their first son, Corey.  Kyle, their second, was born in 1979, and then Andrew in 1986.  Larry referred to them as “My Three Sons” and was so proud of them all.  They went fishing, camping, and hunting, played Nintendo for hours, and went on vacations to Florida.  Larry also coached Corey and Kyle’s Merchant League Baseball teams for 6 years.  It was normal family life, but the best memories anyone could ask for.
The family moved from Dorlac Road to their new home on Hawn Park Road 19 years ago.  Larry loved building the house, but had a special place in his heart for the pond and the woods that surrounded them.  He had finally built the home of his dreams.
After he retired as a Sergeant from the Farmington Correctional Center in 2003, Larry fished, played golf with the boys, and adopted other hobbies, such as building model trains and bird houses, buying an old camper and camping with the boys during deer season, and playing with his grandchildren.  Larry loved being Papa to Kayleigh, Kamryn, Kollin, Reagan, and one on the way (Morgan).  He enjoyed giving them short trips on his motorcycle, watching cartoons with them, taking them out to the pond, and keeping them away from his candy.
He recently bought some chickens and ducks, which kept him busy.  He also spent much of 2009 helping Kyle and Schea rebuild their current house.  Kyle is grateful for this time he got to spend with his dad.  Their house is beautiful because of those memories. 
            Sundays were special for Larry because the boys and their families all came out for dinner.  He always asked, “Are the kids coming out?” and the answer was almost always yes.  These were some of the happiest times the Winch family would ever have.
             It took some adjusting after the boys moved out, got married, and started their own families, but for the first time in many years, Larry and Cathy had time to spend together.  Larry bought a 1999 Yamaha motorcycle this year and it was his new hobby.  He loved it.  He rode it almost every day and eventually convinced Cathy to ride with him.  She loved that time they were together.  They rode to Ste. Genevieve and to the Mississippi river, and stopped at Dairy Queen for ice cream.  Cathy said more than once that it was almost a spiritual experience as Larry would point at the setting sun, she would nod to its beauty, and they would fly down the open highway.    

 My Dad
by Andrew Winch

     I thought for the longest time that I didn’t know my dad.  I don’t know who his favorite teacher was.  I don’t know what his first car was.  I’m really not even sure what his job in the military was.  In short, there are a lot of things I don’t know that I thought made up who my dad was. 
     Ironically, it wasn’t until he passed away that I realized I knew exactly who he was.  He was the guy that let me sit on his lap when I was five years old and steer his truck down our driveway.  He was the one that retied my fishing hook even though I’d broken it off six times already, and the one that secretly prayed for me every time I drove into town to meet my friends.
      Unlike what I don’t know about Dad, I believe the things I remember make up who he was.  Larry John Winch was a man of fierce love for his family, and he expected the same from those around him.  He was always quick to help out a family member in need, even if it meant tightening our belt for a while.  I’m speaking, of course, metaphorically.  With 4 growing boys, there was NEVER a lack of eating in the Winch household.
     So now we laugh at all the little things Dad did.  When he let us know EVERY TIME Apocalypse Now was on, he wasn’t doing it to annoy us, even though he knew none of us liked that movie.  He did it to include us.  I’m certain this is the same reason he and mom took me to the Department of Corrections picnic when I was 10 and got me fingerprinted. 
     When I was growing up, we fought a lot.  There were times when I couldn’t stand to be around him, back when I was always right.  Now, I thank God that Dad was around long enough to become one of my best friends.
     The last time I saw Dad we went fishing together.  He didn’t help me tie my hook, but he did help clean my fish.  I can’t wait until I get to hang out with Dad again.

I love you, Dad.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Parable to Bid Summer Adieu and an Ode to a Complacent Generation

Escaping the Mire:
Flexing One’s Free Will

Passing clouds accent the strikingly blue sky.  A bright summer sun bleaches the land and scatters its rays across the river.  The water pulls my canoe to an unknown destination, and I am powerless.
Innumerable factors affecting my course seem nothing more than scenery.  Jutting rocks litter my path, but the current guides me around them.  Branching channels are resolute, but flow by without consequence.  Fellow mariners are all around, and seem to be of two varieties. 
The first, like me, obey the current and bask in complacency; either they give no thought to their end, or they believe there is no changing it.  The second variety seems to be made up of unrelenting souls bent on fighting the path that lies before them.  But why do they desire control?  Is choice worth fighting so many predestined forces and ruining such a relaxing surrender?  Many seem to struggle in the same manner I imagine I would, if I were as foolish as they.  After a short period of hope, some of them falter and sink back into their floating coffins, for fear of drowning.  There are some, however, that are so skilled that the bank, boulders, and others on the water seem to move aside as they confidently guide their canoes toward their final destination.  Why should they be so blessed?  Were they born with an unfair advantage, or were they once as I am now?
My curiosity causes me to emulate their actions.  I choose a small, quickly flowing branch rather than the central vein of the river.  As my choice becomes irreversible, I grow doubtful.  With a constricted path and daunting rapids, disaster seems unavoidable.  But I chose this route.  It is not the river’s fault; its path was laid long before I was here, and will continue when I am gone. 
I commit to my choice, narrowly escaping sharp edges, tangled roots, and unstable cliffs.  My heart pounding, I quickly work my way back to rejoin the main channel, and notice those that stayed on the central path.  They drift with the ebb and flow.  They have made nearly no headway, and have seen nothing unexpected, remaining much the same as those around them. 
I turn my focus downstream to new sights and challenges; I now know the possibility of choice.  My heart again begins to pound in reaction to my desire for free will, and instead of dreading the end of the trip, I welcome it.  I know that even though I am set on a pre-decided route, I ultimately have some decision in where I end up. 
As I become more secure in my ability to navigate the narrow path, I begin to think about everyone else.  With so many waterways in the world, how can we all end up in the ocean without getting stuck along the way?  While a few souls will begin their journey already set on the path toward salvation, most of us will not be so fortunate.  We will never escape unless we remember one thing: No one is born in the mire, and the path to water extending beyond the horizon is open to all those who truly seek it.

                                            Ode to a Complacent Generation

O youth misled, cease your flight.
The day has come in wake of night.
Your star held strong despite its fears,
Masking scars from darker years.
Your eyes were closed to deeper thought,
Hiding dreams you’ve long forgot.
But dare you now to look within,
Despite your fear of buried sin?
Conquer fear at God’s command
And shirk the grip of Satan’s hand.
As for the lie, “We’re all the same.”
Faceless armies have no name.
So what say you? and speak in truth.
The time has past for blaming youth.
Step out now to meet your fate
And take your place among the Great.

 -Next month: Zombies Attack!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Virginia Sunrise

A melodic guitar riff plays politely into my dreams.  It is rare indeed that my cell phone alarm would be welcome at 5am, but the reggae stylings of Dispatch remind me that this morning is unique.  I have a sunrise to catch.

A fairy-tale princess sleeps undisturbed next to me, and I’d like to keep it that way.  It’s a Wednesday, and she doesn’t share my luxury of being off today.  I slip out of bed and dress with all the stealth of a Ninja Turtle.  Escaping the bedroom unnoticed, I fill my backpack with the items necessary for the success of my adventure: gloves, camera, notepad, harmonica, apple, and water bottle.  Once packed, I pull wind pants over my shorts, a hoodie and a winter coat over my shirt, and a sock cap over my head.  It’s 36 degrees outside.  I hate Winter. 

At my front door, I take a deep breath and step out to meet my destiny.  Cold and dark, even before the Atlantic winds are ripping through my being.  Why did I wear flip-flops?

I have chosen this morning, March 17th, 2010, for two reasons.  The first is for research.  The main character in my novel is to experience a Virginia Beach sunrise in March; thus, I will do the same.  The second is because daylight savings was three days ago, and every day from now until fall will bring an earlier and earlier sunrise.  I can’t get up any earlier than 5am.  It’s un-American.  

I start my car and adjust the heat to 350.  Once my fingers are capable of fine motor skills, I begin thumbing through my CD case to ensure an integral component of this experience.  I pull out the Mae* EP entitled “(M)orning” and feed it to my expectant CD player.  It will serve as my soundtrack during the hour drive to Virginia Beach, but one song in particular will be my anthem.  As fate would have it, “The Fisherman Song (We All Need Love)” is written about watching the sunrise at Virginia Beach in the name of art and creation.  The first two minutes of this 9-minute epic thoroughly set the tone for my morning:

Tonight I find it hard to sleep.
Each sound and squeak I hear
Keeps me staring at the ceiling.

Oh it's dark as night outside
And I can't stand
The quiet that it brings me.

And I got too much on my mind.
I think it's time to take a drive
And leave it all behind.

I’ve got a song that's halfway there.
I think it needs the ocean air.
I’m gonna grab my guitar
And get in my car.

Oh, I need some understanding.
I need a little love.
Gonna speed down to the ocean side
In a race with the stars above.

With my guitar in hand,
And toes touching the sand.
I can see the sun is coming.

Colors fill and crack the sky
With purple silver and golden light,
Drawing the day from night.

*Mae has long been a favorite band of mine, but only recently have I come to learn that they grew up in the very area I now live (They erected a Habitat for Humanity home 10 miles from my apartment in Hampton, VA). 

The drive is surreal.  My lingering sleepiness likens the dotted white lines of the highway to the starry night sky on my right, which is slowly being overtaken by the coming dawn on my left.  The countdown has begun.  Sunrise is at 7:14am.

6:35 – I park on a deserted street so close to the beach that my foot slides on loose sand as I step out onto the road.  I pull my coat close, grab my bag, and head into the wind.

6:47 – I am settled against a dune formed by the previous evening’s high tide.  A few gulls stand lifelessly around me, seemingly as expectant as I am.  My frigid legs and toes find relief as I fold them into my hoodie and coat.  The dark waves lap endlessly before me, their caps glistening against the pale horizon.

7:00 – The breeze carries the melody of my “E” harmonica across time and space.  Even with the tumult before me, an inner calm pervades my being.  A man runs by in front of me.  The first human I have seen all morning.  His feet slap loudly against the hard, wet sand, and I realize my song has changed to match his rhythm.  He doesn’t seem to notice. 

7:10 – Again, all is quiet.  I take the opportunity to pull myself out of reverie and take a few pictures.  I hate submitting to the harshness of technology, but a picture is like the first dance of a newly wedded couple or the musty smell of a childhood home.  It will serve to pull me back to this moment for years to come.

7:13 - I move to the waters edge, just before the soft, cool sand gives way to the compact ocean floor.  There I stand, my eyes pulling in the coming dawn, my lungs accepting the vital breeze.  The cold wind and ocean spray on my feet are nearly unbearable, but this is why I’m here.

Electricity pervades the air as nature seems to slow down, allowing Sol to rise from the depths.  Something like a rainbow splits across the horizon, with the deep blue of the night sky above me fading to white, then to yellow and orange along the horizon.  This tapestry climaxes around a celestial disc of brilliant red coming from just beneath the water, emitting the first crepuscular rays of morning.  An unforeseen surprise: I am seeing the sun from beneath the ocean, from beyond the world’s end. 

Following its due pomp, that phoenix of old abruptly arises and stretches its wings across the earth below.  The ocean is ablaze, and the veil of darkness shrinks to nothingness.  My eyes can stand no more.  I look down the illuminated shoreline.  Receding waves smooth out like glass and reflect a streak of light nearly as bright as its source.  The blinding glow still plays in my eyes, causing the sun to flash brightly each time I blink them.

7:25 – Within minutes of first light, the sun is high in the sky, its fire painting all below in shades of brilliant gold.  The world is alive.  Seagulls float on the breeze above my head.  Cyclists ride by on the boardwalk behind me.  The street beyond fills with cars.  The moment has passed, and here I stand. 

Suddenly, I become uncomfortable with the buzzing activity around me, as if all this life has burst into my private thoughts without asking.  I gather up my things slowly, still breathing deeply and moving the sand gently beneath my feet.  I take one last look upon that scene of beauty and thank God for all he has done.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Princeton - This Ain't No Ivy League

Aught eight was a hard winter in Missouri.  Even harder in southern West Virginia.  Harder still with a 2-mile bike ride to work every day for two months.  Hardest of all when the ride home was entirely uphill on a major highway without a shoulder (Who knew West Virginia had hills?).

West Virginia - Fun with numbers (courtesy of the 2010 US census):
#4 most obese state in the US
#2 for number of residents over the age of 65 (Florida is #1). 
#49 in personal income per capita (Mississippi is #1).
#50 - Dead last - for persons 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
These statistics, dear reader, were as novel to me at the beginning of 2008 as they are to you now.  Unfortunately, the knowledge would not have spared me.

Come with me now to the beginning…

It is January 2008.  I am a second year student in the University of Missouri Masters of Physical Therapy program.  In choosing my second clinical, I have submitted 25 preferred locations, by rank. 
#1: Columbia, MO.  Pop. 102,324.  Home of the Missouri Tigers, my friends, Shakespeare’s Pizza, the Blue Note, and McNally’s.
#25: Princeton, WV.  Pop. 7,652.  Home of John Denver.  Also, a bustling metropolis fueled by the coal mining industry…50 years ago.

Naturally, I get my 25th pick.  So, off to Princeton I go.  Not in my car, mind you.  No, no, that would be foolish.  My 1995 Chevrolet Camaro might not make it that far, and besides, its HORRIBLE in the snow, and everyone knows it snows a lot in the mountains of West Virginia.  I KNOW!  I’ll fly out there and FedEx my MOUNTAIN bike out for transportation (because FedEx-ing it is cheaper than checking it on the plane.  My street smarts astound even me)…

So here I am in the Appalachian Mountains with 2 suitcases, my laptop, and my bike.  No friends acquaintances for 1,000 miles.  That is, until I meet Jason…my roommate.  Actually, he owns the small house I’m staying in (we’ll get to the house later).  Jason is a flamboyant, opinionated male who cooks nothing but weight-watcher's meals and refuses to ever introduce me to his "friends" hospitable, laid-back, sensitive occupational therapist who welcomes me into his home with open arms  (As it turns out, my ignoble fear of being hit on is completely unfounded.  I think he has a boyfriend).  His only downfall is that he’s a one-upper.  Thankfully, even this provokes me to annoyance only once during my 2-month stay.  During this instance, I present the idea that poison Ivy is horrible in Missouri, and he insists that it is worse in West Virginia (C’mon.  Really?)  Overall, my lodgings are the most enjoyable aspect of my incarceration.  I describe it as such because of the cell of a room I call home and the only view through its window being a graveyard.

I’m settled in to my lodgings and now its time for work.  For information on the patient population at the lovely local hospital I am to intern at, please see the “West Virginia - Fun with numbers” section I have posted above.  One other notable trait of these patients is that over 90% of them have coal miner’s lung (ICD-9 code 500). 

On a side note, I am not making light of these afflictions, especially coal miner’s lung.  It is a very tragic situation, and, in fact, I care very deeply for many of those I treated.  I am merely expressing my lack of excitement for my banishment to pick #25.

When I report for work, frost bitten and exhausted, my supervisor Spain’s (Yes, her first name is Spain.  No, not like the country) primary complaint about her current pregnancy is that she can’t drink as much.  I can’t help thinking her main concern should be that the circumferential vine tattoo she has around her waist will look like something from a Tim Burton film in about 7 months.   Surprisingly, she turns out to be one of the coolest people I’ve ever met (I’m starting to realize I can’t actually be mean, even for the sake of comedy).  In the course of my internship I accumulate countless stories involving feces, senility, and the like.  Unfortunately, as they are not the focus of this blog, it would not be worth the breach of HIPAA compliance to share them.

Now to what stands in my mind as the highlight of my stay in Princeton, West Virginia:

Sunday, January 27th, 2008:

I wake up early with some measure of excitement.  There’s a light dusting of snow on the ground (as with most mornings here).  I haven’t been to church since I’ve been out here, and it’s finally time to try out the small community chapel down the road from my prison house.  It’s so close, in fact, that I won’t have to ride my bike, which means I won’t have to put on my wind pants, winter coat, sock cap, rubber gloves (an actual necessity if I don’t want frostbite) and bike gloves over those (which wouldn’t have been a big deal, since I do it every day of the week for the 20mph downhill bike ride to work).  I arrive just in time for the other 29 members of the congregation to find their usual seats. Those around me fit the same demographic as those I treat throughout the week.  All but one.  A young, blonde, mildly attractive female sits directly in front of me, but soon goes to work on her nails and I don’t see her head raise again for the rest of the service.  The elderly lady sitting next to her (presumably her grandma) introduces herself after several others of the church enthusiastically beat her to the punch.

“Jane Doe (not actually her name…or was it), glad to have ya.”
“Andrew Winch”
“Edgar?” (I immediately think of the life-long West Virginia native, Edgar Allan Poe, and intimately sympathize with his motivation to write on the disgusting, disturbing, and depraved)
“Andrew,” I repeat, adding a thick country draw so she can understand me.
“Oh, Andrew.”
“So where ya from?”
“I’m actually here on a physical therapy clinical.  I’m from Missouri.”
“Oh, ok.”
-she starts talking to another woman for a few minutes-
“So, what kind of church do ya go to where you’re from?”
“I was raised Southern Baptist, but I go to a non-denominational church now.”
“Well, that’s what this is, a Church of God.  Now, in the Baptist church ya went to, did they say that once you were saved, you couldn’t be un-saved?”
With a very serious stare, “Now you don’t go down that path now, ok?”
“Well, actually, the way they described it was if you lost faith, you were never truly saved in the first place.”
With a slight grin, “Yeah…well I can PROVE that Judas was saved.  He did miracles, see.  He could draw out demons.”
“OK, well, but does that necessarily mean that he was ever actually saved, or God just gave him the power to do his will?”
“It meant he was saved, cause God’s not interested in evil things, like the Devil.”
“I understand that, but Judas could have done God’s will and not actually been saved.”
“Well, why would the Devil try to tempt you if he couldn’t win you over?”
“There are lots of reasons.  Our faults could affect others around us.  He could do it to spite God by getting us to sin.” 
Leaning in and looking directly at me, “He can get your soul!”
“Well, agree to disagree.” I say, turning around quickly.
“Amen,” she says with a smile, “We won’t fall out over it.”

As the service progresses to its “praise” portion, an elderly woman screeches sings her version of a classic hymn that literally forces an audible laugh out of my pressed lips.  Immediately afterward, the pastor asks, “Brother Andrew, would you like to sing a song or play piano for the congregation?” (I made the mistake of sharing my humble musical endeavors with him earlier).  I furiously shake my head and avert my eyes. 

At the end of the sermon, the pastor asks me to come back next week for a potluck dinner.  I respectfully decline as I force my way out of the front door and run for the hills…quite literally.

“Country Roads,
take me home
to the place where I belong.
West Virginia,
Mountain Mama.
Take me home
my country roads.”

Downtown Princeton

The view from my house

Princeton's Pride: the longest single-arch bridge in the country

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dei Song

In an effort to appease my over-active imagination, I've created the Dei Song Series, an ever-expanding Christian SciFi project.  So, naturally, I would like to share it.  Eventually, it will likely include a series of novels, short stories, blogs, discussion forums, etc., and maybe even music, movies, and comics (as soon as I find Robin Williams to grant me my wishes).  The story line follows the last days of humanity leading up to Armageddon and the impact of a select few survivors on a comparably young alien race.  I have purposely left the description vague to avoid spoilers and contradictions in a constantly growing universe, but as I’ve already finished the first book in the series and sent it to publishers, I can safely share a variation of the query letter I sent out with it:

Dei Song: Those Last Days is a 70,000-word Christian Science Fiction novel focusing on what it means to find purpose in a dying world.  The story begins in Areli Adva’s San Angeles tower home on March 7, 2121, and follows him in his adventures across a raptured United States.  The world Areli knows is filled with awe-inspiring technology and human extravagance, but he soon finds the untamed truths of nature dwelling just beyond its borders.  It is there, in America’s timeless Heartland, that he finds God in the stillness of the night. 
Originally springing to life from Revelation’s accounts of the 144,000, Those Last Days is an honest fiction of what could be, blending allegory with thought-provoking adventure.  Though reinforced with apocalyptic themes and Biblical references, the story is closer to War of the Worlds or Walden than it is to the Left Behind series or C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy.  A strong desire for the freedom and truth of nature mixed with intimate relationships among friends and family make this SciFi adventure appealing to a large audience. 
The Dei Song blog consists of various first-person accounts leading up to the end of the world, which have been collected and presented by Elias, a member of the alien race known as the Oluchipala.  The accounts will stay consistent with the Dei Song universe and will occasionally contain elements of the book series, such as major characters or events, thus giving insight into current and future story lines.  
That's about all I have for now but I'm going to do my best to keep putting out new material (I'm working on the second novel already), so check back often for new developments in the Dei Song Universe!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Taking a risk

This was actually my first post on this blog…but then I chickened out and deleted it.  So, now that I’ve tested the waters, this will be my SECOND blog.  I probably won’t have another one for a while, since I’m going to try to get back to working on my Dei Song series, but you should click on the link on the left side of my page, just above that ridiculous picture of me, as it’s my other blog devoted entirely to said series and contains further ramblings by me (this sentence has run on long enough…time for it to end).  Enjoy!

Disclaimer: My muse in this poem was a 101 degree fever and a tumbler filled to the brim with Robitussin Cough & Cold.  I originally wrote it with the intent of reading it on a stage, in front of actual people, which I obviously never followed through with once my drug-induced courage wore off.  Instead, it will be debuted here for my millions of faithful readers.


Forgive me for being grave when I talk about gravity,
But gravity’s the only thing keeping me down.
On the other hand, I’d rather talk with premature gravity than talk about a premature grave.
That’s it! The earth’s just one big grave, forcing us to act brave.
I mean, what’s scarier than being held in the one place you don’t want to be?
Stuck in a sea of our own illusion of fear.
It’s earth’s selfish way of keeping us here, covering our heads from something up there.
Boy, if it was gone, we’d rise above this pond, and I bet, it just might be clear.
So you see, we’re just stuck in one big rave, trippin’ on the delusions we desperately crave.
So if gravity’s such a downer, how’d I get way up here?
Up above the beer and your, ah, slightly skeptical stare.
Now I’m not talking about this stage.  I don’t need this to be above the mean.
How’d I fight my way out of the grave? Is anyone else feeling a little slow?
But lack of speed’s no reason to fret, and if you’re small, there’s still room to grow.
That’s it, you’re dense!  No, wait, I’m sure I don’t mean it like that.
It’s just that you’re dense and I’m not.  He he, is anyone feeling a little hot?
Let me start over.  If I’m less dense, than say, YOU,
I just might break through this gravitational milieu.
Gravity can’t pull on what isn’t there!
But what do you care?  I’m just one of a few.
I’ll tell you why.  If I’m less dense, that means I’m light!
Or was it bright?  Either way, I’m sure I’ve spoken with authority at some point tonight.
After all, you don’t grow tall by anything you do, only by Grace.
So stop trying to save face, we all have room to grow.
So next time you’re feeling low, and caught in the world’s cage,
Remember, all you need is love, until we can rise above this tragic affair.
Then density, gravity, quickness, sickness, fears, careers, race, and age
Won’t mean a thing in the air up There.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

For my first trick...

     So, for my first post, I thought it best to put in as little effort as humanly possible while still presenting a general sense of commitment. To accomplish this, I'll share a piece I wrote in the throes of my collegiate angst.

The Flooded Cave 

     My mind is swimming from another day of lectures, standardized tests, and “intellectual conversations” about the latest moral issues. I can’t help thinking, "The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know."  With this frustration threatening to overcome me, I decide to call it a day. I put my computer to sleep, I tell my phone when to wake up, and I tuck in my ipod. Now it’s my turn. A candle burns contently on my nightstand, waiting for me to drain the last bit of electricity from my room. I flip the light switch, and a veil covers my eyes. The shadows in my room dance with the solitary flame, and the autumn breeze from a cracked window keeps the tempo. I strain to see the world outside the glass, but my own dark reflection glares back at me, guarding me from what could be. My ideas and questions are confined to this dim cave. I have been here before.
     The familiar surroundings force me to focus my thoughts inward, on everything I have learned that I don’t understand. But suddenly, and without any thought of me, a strong wind comes through the window and rips through my reality. My candle is betrayed; its will wavers, it dims, and then dies out forever. I stand in oblivion, devoid of sight. I am at first deeply distressed. My world is gone. Where before I had the comfort of a prison cell, I now have nothing, and I suddenly long for what I know. My mind tries to create a mental picture, but I have no point of reference: no pictures, no computer, no desk, no reflection of myself on the window. Do I still exist? Descartes rings in my head with a resounding ‘yes,’ but somehow that’s not good enough.
     Something changes. All at once, I am returned to the physical universe. First, I hear the wind howl again; only this time it seems deafening. This freight train grabs the smell of the smoking wick and pulls it toward me. I take it in. Within moments, I hear an orchestra of crickets, cars, dogs, creaks, and numerous other happenings in the vast world around me. I even see the outline of what I know to be a tree on the other side of my window. I am freed from my cage of certainty, but I am not afraid. My thoughts are allowed to drift and reshape with the wind. I am open to life’s suggestion, in all of its complexity; but somehow, it seems simpler than I thought it could be. I slip across my room using the objects I know are there. At my bed, I realize how soft and forgiving my mattress is, and how welcoming my blankets are. I wonder why, but not for long. The unknown fades, and what I do know seems so much richer. My mind stops swimming and decides to drift.