Sunday, January 27, 2013

Re-Deanimator Pt. 4: Indian Joe By David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published

"Wow," said Phil, "I was starting to wonder if anybody was still out there. Hey, can I get you anything? I know where there's some food..."
"Where were you?" Carlos said sternly.
"There's storage sheds in back, an' old Pete's place," said Phil. "I've been keeping time in an old trailer, out in the junkyard. They don't come back there much, though there's this crazy cop comes by sometimes."
Carlos waved to the Dodge on the lift. "The cop isn't going anywhere any more. Hold on... you said crazy. Don't you know what's going on?"
"I heard some stories," Phil said guardedly. "I didn't know what to think. Nobody did. Then a couple weeks ago, that Bug drove in, a woman with a guy who was busted up, and the cop came when Junior called for help. I hardly saw anything. I was busy trying to handle this crazy back order... Somebody wanted a transmission part for this completely obscure European model, the company that made it hasn't existed for, like, thirty years ago. Obviously, the owners should have been scrapped years ago, but Jonny told me, it's not our job to tell the customers what to do... Anyway, I heard the screams. I was in here, and Jon came out, jumped in that truck and told me to raise the lift and get in. So I did, only Jonny wouldn't let me in. Then I saw Art run out of the garage for the cop's car, and the cop came out and just shot him. So I just ran like hell..."
"Probably the best thing you could have done," Carlos said. "Hold on. Trouble." Down the path came five more shufflers.
"What are they?" Meg asked. "I mean, really."
"Your guess is good as any," Carlos said. "But if you're asking for a name, `kudlak' is good as any. It's a word from Yugoslavia for what we would call a vampire. That's where all this started, or at least the first place where the rest of the world heard about it. The Yugoslavs gave two stories, one on top of the other. First they said that there were `panics' in isolated areas where people still believed in kudlaks: Bodies were bein' dug up an' destroyed, just like in the movies, only it was getting' out of hand. Then they announced that this time- and who knows 'bout the other times?- dead bodies really were getting up, walking around, and attacking the living. Not that anybody believed 'em, until bodies started walking out of the morgues in Budapest."
He paced to the left, drawing a kudlak after him. "The first reports said they could be killed by a shot to the head. They were wrong, and anybody who knew anything about the brain should have known better. The human brain is kinda like that VW. The steering- what you'd call human intelligence- is up front. But plain old regular people survive major trauma there all the time." He struck the kudlak across the temple. It fell face down, and after a short time, started to rise. "That's 'cause the power- balance, heart beat, reflexes- is all in back. Most every animal that's ever lived has got by on hardly nothin' else, an' so can they." He drove the point of the hammer into the base of the skull. "Bottom line, you hit them just anywhere in the head, then sure, they fall down. Hit 'em in the hind brain or the spinal cord, an' then they stay down."
Meg shuddered involuntarily. She suddenly experienced the most vivid recollection of a moment that had seemed blacked out of her consciousness: Aiming the magnum at Greg, pulling the trigger, seeing the spurt of blood... from his temple.
The rest of the shufflers went straight for Carlos. Meg reached for her magnum, but Carlos only grinned and twirled the hammer. As the nearest stretched out, a voice Meg had never heard before called out in words she had never heard before either. The shuffler turned its head, to a man of at least 50 with a face that could only belong to an Indian. The Indian spoke again, quieter but still loud and no less firm, repeating one sentence or so over and over again. Meg could not guess what language the words were from, let alone what they meant. She might have taken some comfort in knowing that the handful of ethnologists who had heard a few meager snatches of the same tongue had been equally at a loss to comprehend or even classify it.
The point of Carlos's hammer caught the shuffler in the ear. It dropped immediately. The rest shuffled indecisively, first toward the Indian and then toward Carlos, while the Indian went through more languages, including a snatch of one she thought she recognized (in fact, correctly) as Navajo. "If you don't get the brain stem or the spine, the ear's the next best thing. There's little bones in there, and they work like teeny little gyroscopes. Take out even one ear, and balance is shot." He drove the point of the hammer into the back of the skull. "That's what happened to the one that was crawling around. He did better than most; usually, they don't even make it upright again."
The Indian had got to Spanish: "Su es muerte! Vaya con los muertos!" Then English: "You dead! You belong dead! Go to the dead!"
Meg stared, and Carlos gave her an understanding look. "You think this is crazy?" he said. "I'll tell you what's really crazy: I've seen it work." He cheerfully struck down the hindmost, jerking it back with the point in its brain like a shepherd hooking a sheep. Meg sprinted to the Indian's side as he drew the shufflers down the path.
"You! Hey you!" she said. "Over here! I'm talking to you!"
The shufflers came faster. The Indian gave her a venomous glare. "Quiet! No talk to dead!" Then he thrust something into her hand and ordered, "Hold this." She was surprised enough to comply. It was a lighter.
The Indian took out a bow and an arrow. He thrust the arrow at her. "Light." The lighter was unfamiliar to her, a metal-shelled specimen from her grandfather's days. But it lit at the first try, and she touched the flame gingerly to a wad of rags around the arrow's tip. She had scarcely done that before the bowstring twanged and a shuffler went up like a water balloon filled with gasoline.
The burning shuffler froze in place, howling as it burned and finally collapsing. The last, already nearer, broke into a loping stride, straight for Meg. The Indian stepped right in front of her, shouting in the first language he had used, this time only a single phrase. The shuffler backed up a pace, and the Indian took back his lighter and waved it in its face. The lolling head went stiffly back and forth. Then the Indian stepped aside and dragged Med with him, just before the better part of the kudlak's head disappeared at the roar of the 12-gauge.
"You did no have to do that," the Indian said to Carlos, who crouched at the end of the path. "Make a lot of noise. Could bring more. Could hit us."
"Oi fired up, an' it was taller than you," Carlos said. He pointed to the other kudlak, still burning merrily. "'Sides, 'e didn't 'sactly go quietly, did he? Speakin' of..." Just down the road, three more shufflers had stopped, and two were turning around. Four more were approaching from the other direction. Then, from out of the bushes a few feet away, another rose. It had a large wound in its temple, from Meg's magnum. Carlos blew its head off with his remaining shell, and then retreated.
"What's your name?" Meg said to the Indian as they followed.
"Indian Joe?" She shook her head, trying to keep Mark Twain from her mind. "What's your last name?"
Two kudlaks had reached the path. Carlos unlimbered his 20-gauge and fired at the nearest kudlak, still more than 60 feet away. The range was a bit long for a shotgun, but the load was a slug that carried far enough to wing a cactus 200 feet away. Carlos fired another shot, and the other kudlak staggered and fell with a round in the chest. He pumped the gun for another shot, but the shuffler's path had put the damaged pump in the line of fire. "That's it," he said. "Time for the cavalry!" He pulled out a radio and said, "George, we're ready, but come in hot!"
From back at the turn-off, there was a whine of an engine, and a great cloud of dust. Carlos took a shot and felled the nearest shuffler between the pumps. Three more were headed down the path, while the one he had shot was getting to its feet. Another stood at the mouth of the path, looking back. Then the whine of the engine grew louder, and an amazing vehicular apparition rolled into view.
It was a boxy but streamlined van, painted in shades of yellow with a reddish-orange roof and trim. It looked like a VW Bus except for a grill that clearly indicated a front-engine vehicle, and bore the shape of a silver smiley face, and a clearly-modified roof gave it a humpbacked look vaguely like a buffalo Carlos winced as the van mowed down the hindmost shuffler. "You can't get parts by mail order no more," he said to nobody in particular.
Three young men instantly piled out of the camper van. The first, lanky, shirtless and armed with an aluminum bat, bounded out of the rear door, while the other two hustled out of the double doors in the side, one armed with a pick axe and another with a shovel. The pair teamed up to dispatch the kudlak getting to its feet, while their companion sprinted forward. One shuffler turned a hollow clong, just in time to catch the bat across knee cap. An upward swing caught it in the ear as it fell. The shirtless young man whooped and laughed, then swore in surprise more than concern when the last shuffler pivoted and came at him straight over its fellow. The shuffler on its feet tripped over the other as it started to rise from the ground. The young man simply stepped back and struck, again and again. Behind him, the team were struggling to dislodge the pick axe from the skull of the first zombie he had felled. Meanwhile the other shuffler at his feet was its way out from under the one he was vigorously beating and back to its hands and knees. Then the duo caught up, and one blow each finished the shuffler.
Two young woman emerged from the camper, one tall and athletic and the other short and leaning toward pudgy. The shuffler struck by the Thing was nearly at their feet, its back clearly broken: Its hands clawed the ground furiously and clutched for the a shapely leg, but the rest of its body hardly budged. The pudgy one struck it with a snow shovel, and then gripped the spur-shaped end of the handle to drive the edge straight downward into its neck. One final shuffler, having held back through the melee, turned around and started shuffling the other way. That was when a bearded, balding, grandfatherly man stepped out of the cab, and pulled a very long-handled shovel with a narrow, spade-like blade from a rack on the side of the roof extension The shuffler sped up as the older man followed, and it looked as if it would outpace its pursuer. Then the old man put on a little more speed, and suddenly thrust the shovel like a polearm. For a moment, the shuffler's feet scuffed in place. Then the man jerked back the shovel, and the shuffler dropped with its head nearly severed.

David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Re-Deanimator Pt. 3: "Where's Phil?"

Previously published at

Meg hastily snatched up the gas gas can, saving the greater part of the gas- probably about a gallon. She then retreated to the front of the main building. The shuffler that had passed her by was coming back, in a kind of jog like a toddler trying to run, and the one around the corner was coming faster. Even Art managed to roll over and begin to crawl. She crouched at the corner, using the opportunity to screw the cap on the can. Then, just before the shuffler came into view, she shot upright and swung the wrench. The blow caught the shuffler across the jaw, and it went sprawling on its side. Meg was surprised to see that the shuffler was not the one she had seen inside, but another in the uniform of a service station attendant. It came as a further surprise when she looked at the badge and read the name "Dwayne". Then, before she could do anything decisive to the fallen shuffler, the one she had been expecting came straight through a window behind her. She pulled her self free, leaving the shuffler straining against the steel window frame. But she left the can behind, and she had a number of cuts on her arm. As she inspected her wounds, she saw a shallow but unmistakeable bite mark. With strange detachment, she drew the magnum, and looked down the barrel

"That'd be a bit premature, Colleen," a voice spoke in a heavy cockney accent. She looked back to the corner, and saw what in that moment was a more startling sight than any shuffler: A black man, with hair starting to go to gray, dressed in the regalia of a geologist or prospector, complete with a French Foreign Legion-style hat and a large rock hammer in his hands. "For un thing, that's a bit big for close-in work, innit?"

The black man glanced at Dwayne, who was up on hands and knees, Art, who had made his way to the asphalt, and the one-time daredevil still straining against the window, but he turned his attention first to the shuffler from the desert. As he strode to meet the shuffler, Meg got a better look at him in profile, and saw that, apart from the color of his skin, he did not look much like any black man she had ever seen. His nose especially had a hooked shape that made her embarrassed to think immediately of a Jew. He wore a light shirt that covered his arms, but the wide-open front and sleeveless undershirt beneath left no doubt that he had plenty of muscle to go with his wiry frame. He had not one but two shotguns slung across his back, but he made no move for either as he sized up the shuffler, a man in exactly the kind of shorts and tank-top that marked a 30-something yuppie trying to go back to nature. "Roighta," he said. "So you tried out the aerobics and whatnot. I s'pose you kept in decent shape. But you still go ta the same place." Then his shirt and the headdress of his cap swirled as he swung, and swung again.

Meg edged to the black man's side as he jerked the point of the hammer out of the base of the shuffler's skull. "What's your name?" she asked in a stage-whisper voice.

"Carlos," he said. He wiped the hammer with a rag he tossed aside and finished, "Wrzniewski."

"Ah," said Meg. "Ahh... where are you from?"

"Little bit o' everywhere," Carlos answered. He twirled the hammer. "I just got here. As a rule, I'da taken more time 'fore comin' out like this, but you just made an exception."

"Well, I suppose I should be glad you did."

"Aye. There's plenty o' people who wouldn'ta. Now what can you tell me 'bout them?"

"There's one in the back, a cop. I suppose you saw him." Carlos nodded. "All the rest that I've seen are the ones you see here. Except... There were four that wandered in behind me. I shot one over there on the road, and I... I don't know where the other went."

"Aye. Nobody can ever keep track of all of them. Any sign of others? It coulda been a sound, or something disturbed... or just something lying around that didn't look like it belonged to the others."

"I've been looking at the names on the uniforms," Meg said. She pointed to Dwayne, who was back on his feet and looking toward them. "That's Dwayne, evidently, and the other one's Art. I saw two more names on a clipboard in the garage- Jon and Phil."

Carlos looked at the pumps. "Roight, an' if Pete's the one who put those in, he's prob'ly long gone. But, you never know. First things first..." He hefted the hammer and grinned at the approaching shuffler. "Howdy, Duh-wayne. What's up?" He gestured profanely downward. "Not you, anymore." Dwayne stretched out his arms. "That a soft spot, aye?" said Carlos. "What are you gonna do 'bout it, boit me?" He eyed a jaw that looked like a sack of bricks. "Oh, roight- ya can't!"

Dwayne made a short lunge, his hands going straight for Carlos's throat. The black man- or whatever he was- backed up, toward the garage. Meg raised the wrench, but he waved her back. Then she called out in alarm: Carlos's strategic retreat had taken him in reach of Art, who came plowing across the gravel driveway with an oddly effective porpoise-like undulation. Carlos flashed Meg a grin as he sidestepped Art's lunge and in the same motion came at Dwayne from the side. The blunt end of the hammer caught him across the ear with an audible crunch. The shuffler fell straight back, striking the back of its head on the corner of the concrete island for the pumps with an even louder crunch. Carlos had already sprung for his other foe. Dropping to one knee, he pinned the crawler and drove the point of the hammer into the joining of brain and spine. Art convulsed and wheezed out an abortive "EEE" when Carlos pulled the hammer back out. "Nay worries," he said as he wiped the hammer on Art's coveralls. That was when the shooting started.

Carlos instinctively dived for the nearest cover, which was the intact pump. Then he ran like hell, straight through a volley of shots that ended in a click as he dived out of sight on the far side of the garage. Inside the garage, the striding cop goosestepped forward, continuing to pull the trigger of a big Colt 1911 pistol. He finally halted in his path, directly beneath the hydraulic lift, and after little tentative probing managed to eject the magazine. With a little patting at his hip, the strider took out another one and tried to put it in, backwards. The magazine slipped from stiff fingers, and the strider promptly bent down to pick it up. Carlos peered around the edge of the door as he unfolded the stock of a compact 20-gauge military shotgun. The cop was still bent over, fumbling with the gun and magazine. Then there was the unmistakeable click of the magazine sliding into place.

The strider straightened, or rather would have if not for descending hydraulic lift. Incredibly, the strider pushed back, like Big John shoring up the mine shaft. Even more incredibly, there was an audible whine and hiss of strain from the hydraulics, and it did seem that the descent of the lift slowed. A little. But clearly, the strength of the reanimated was not a match for massive hydraulics plus the sheer inertia of a truck on a platform big enough to support it. Carlos lowered the shotgun and watched the inevitable. The strider gave a final shriek, almost indistinguishable from the hydraulics, cut short by a grisly crunch. He looked across the garage and gave a respectful nod to Meg, who stood at the lift's simple control box.

Suddenly a scream came from the shadows, and a scuffle of feet. Carlos brought the shotgun to bear, but the suspended engine was in the way. Instead, he threw himself against the engine and shoved. The engine swung like a pendulum, and the shuffler speed-scuffed straight into it. Carlos stepped back and fired straight up, and the engine came straight down. He stepped closer and leaned forward to survey the damage to the shuffler pinned beneath, when the pickup door opened.

Carlos pivoted immediately and snapped off a slug at a figure in a station attendant's uniform. It was a clean miss that took out a chunk of the Ford's windshield frame, but still the attendant staggered and dropped, presumably wounded, stunned or simply thrown off-balance by shrapnel. They always were shaky on their feet, and sometimes they fell over for no reason at... Carlos pumped the shotgun and pivoted again at the crash of the engine hitting the garage wall. The pinned shuffler had all but thrown the engine aside, but it clearly was in no position to take advantage of its freedom. Hands scrabbled at the floor, but the legs only twitched feebly, and there was hardly enough left of its pelvis and abdomen to begin to sit up. In the second or so it took Carlos to size it up, the Ford suddenly rolled back as if in reverse. He turned yet again, and fired point-blank down the throat of the shuffler who had shoves the vehicle aside.

"This is Jon," he said after a glance at the name tag. "So where's Phil?"

Meg shrugged, and then started at yet another impact behind her. "What the hell," she said, not quite shouting, "do they see through walls? And why's it after me, anyway?"

"They do that, sometimes," Carlos said as he took his hammer to the cripple. He attended to Jon, too, taking no chances. "Whatever they've got for senses seem to work best on the living human. They can be literally blind- I'm pretty sure they all are- and not show even a blind man's skill navigating a room, and yet I've seen 'em go for straight for guys I didn't know were there. An' sometimes I see a bunch gang up on just one guy. A couple times, I saw 'em do it to the same guy. Then there's another thing...

He made his way to the door that joined the garage to the station. "Just about everybody still 'round has at least one story about one of those things that just homes in on one particular person and stays on the trail. Not just in a chase, not even just in one area, but over days or even weeks, and ranges of many miles. Me, I never seen it, least not that I could attest to m'self." He finished reloading his weapon, but then folded the stock and shouldered it. "But once, I'm with that guy I just told you 'bout, right after we first run into each other. We stop, an' I get out my binoculars an check on a bunch comin' up behind. Then without even looking, he describes one in particular, and he starts telling me details even before I can make 'em out. He's seen it before, no question. He says he's been seeing `her' behind him, now an' then but regular, over the last two weeks an' what he reckons to be more'n ten thousand miles. He's sure it was his kid. Most all of them say something like that. But then, how many people see a thing like that wi'out it stickin' in the mind?"

Meg shuddered, and not at the impact on the other side of the wall. Carlos took out his other gun, a 12-gauge double. "You get it, right? If it's onto you, then it's staying with you. So if you stay there, it stays right where I can get to it."

Meg nodded, then said, "Mr. Wrnz-ns- Carlos? Why are you doing this?"

He looked at her, and seemed to ponder. "I do it because they are not us, and I don't think they ever were. I do it because everyone thinks they're stronger than us, an' I know they aren't. I do it 'cause they always win, an' it's only because the best of us do nothin'." He hefted the double in one arm, and in the other hand, he twirled his hammer.

"Carlos?... What are you doing?"

He grinned. "Something." With two blows of the hammer and one swift kick, he knocked the door open and charged through, with the shotgun raised and hammer held high, point-first. Then things happened very fast.

The office door opened at the padding of a shuffler going into high gear, and the shotgun went off. Carlos swore loudly and foully, and followed up with a louder curse when the hammer lodged in bone without coming out. Then there was the heavier tramp of the enraged shuffler in full charge,. The double went off again, and Carlos let out a steady stream of semi-intelligible curses as he was slammed against the soda machine. He rallied with a grunt that announced a hard shove, and the shuffler went back far enough to catch the butt of the double before the weapon clattered on the floor. Carlos shouted exultantly and pumped his 20-gauge, but then a chair was swung or flung with a crash, and the backup weapon in turn went skittering out the door into the garage. With an unearthly screech, his adversary charged. There was a crash of bone against metal, and a jangle of coins. A thud, a groan of an opening door in the machine front, and another thud as the door slammed shut again. Glass bottles clonking, clattering and breaking, fluids sloshing, spilling and foaming. The beginning of another cry, cut short by a strange "schlonk". Then another metallic thud, and another, and another, louder and louder, and then- fizzing?

In an instant, Meg snatched up the shotgun and dashed for the door. Carlos stepped in her way, grinning. The only thing she could see behind him was a modest but steady geyser of foaming soda. "Want a Pepsi?" he said, holding up a bottle. "Because I sure wouldn't count on getting another one." Meg shook her head, and stepped back. Carlos came out, dragging the body of a final attendant with his hammer still lodged in its ear. With one motion, he extricated the hammer and flipped the body. "And, this would be-?"

"Pete... Junior," Meg read.

Carlos frowned. Meg pumped the shotgun, ejecting a shell already in the chamber, and scanned the shadows. "Okay, gi' me that," Carlos said. He followed, reaching for her, as she stalked into the garage. "C'mon, you ahn't even holdin' it right! Fo' Chrissake, at least let me show ya how t'do up the stock!"

She elbowed him back, scarcely giving him enough heed to be annoyed. An electric thrill of hypervigilance filled her, and she felt guided by some unguessed sense. Indeed, she was already traversing the shotgun when a shape in a pinstriped uniform suddenly stumbled right into her sights. She smiled as she pulled the trigger, at the very moment Carlos slammed her against the Dodge. The shot went wide, and the figure belatedly cried, "Don't shoot!"

Meg limply handed the gun off to Carlos, who looked plenty unhappy himself as he addressed the cringing newcomer: "Phil, I presume."

David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona

Monday, January 21, 2013

Re-Deanimator Pt. 2: Nowhere, Fast by David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published at

Meg saw the smoke rising from the gas station from miles away. She groaned and looked at the fuel gauge of the Audi Quattro. "Should have kept the Chevette," she muttered.

When Meg saw the solid mass of dark, shuffling shapes spread across the highway in the distance, she knew that the gas station would have done her no good even if it had been operational. She turned around, and after a short distance, turned east, onto a two-lane back road that had seen better days when the last Democrat was elected president. She had heard that campers, prospectors, and off-roading daredevils frequented the general area. That would explain the sign, which said, TO NOWHERE FAST.

She looked at the fuel gauge again. The Quattro had decent gas mileage, and it had a generous 20-gallon fuel tank. But it had been less than half-full when she had driven it out of her ex's garage, and the circling, idling and multiple four-wheel-drive detours getting out of the city had drained it fast. Even travel on the open roads was slow, and the car was giving far less than its theoretical 20 mpg. The gauge was down to the last gallon or so, and dropping.

She swerved to avoid a shuffling shape in the road, not soon enough. The collision crumpled the bumper and damaged a headlight. The shuffler went under the wheels, and she heard scraping on the undercarriage. Then the shuffler was receding in the rear view mirror. She looked away when the twisted shape raised an arm. Then she saw another line of shufflers across the road ahead, not close but not far. She took the next turn-off, onto gravel. Her eyes lingered on the sign: SERVICE STATION 5 MILES. The 3 MILE sign marked a turnoff onto a dirt road. Her gas lasted just long enough for the car to die within sight of the sign that said 1 MILE.

At the turnoff from the road, twenty-one shufflers from a passing mob turned aside down the gravel track. Seven of them broke away to explore the dirt road. Within half an hour, they passed the Audi. Four moved on, but three lingered, examining the car with vague interest. One pulled the door handle. Another picked up a rock and swung. The rock bounced right out of the zombie's hand, leaving an inch-wide spiderweb in the glass and setting off an alarm that was audible back at the turnoff. Back at the gravel track, eight shufflers turned back toward the dirt road. Closer at hand, the third shuffler at the car looked up. Down the road came a looming shape. It was big and boxy and half-shrouded by dust, which did not obscure the bright gleam of something like a giant silver Cheshire Cat grin.

A piercing cry, something between a wail and a whistle, carried even further and clearer than the car alarm.

There was one last turnoff, a dirt path of about ten yards, to reach the service station. A weathered green sign showed `Pete's' in bleached white cursive. Beneath it was a newer but still visibly faded circular sign for GULF oil. As Meg trudged into the station, she stepped over a body in a station attendant's uniform, sprawled face down next to a New Mexico Highway Patrol car. A crow squawked at her, before returning to feeding on the exposed brains of the deceased.

Scanning about for any sign of gas, Meg stepped right between two strange creations that looked like oversized antique gumball machines, each topped with a circular sign with the "Pete's" legend. She whirled about at a strange screech, to see the crow flapping away. Then she looked at the objects at either hand, and recognition dawned. Even so, she wasn't sure until she saw the hoses. Mom had told her, once, about visible gas pumps. Her mother had seen them on a trip down a country background, and thought the sight passingly strange and quaint. The trip had been her honeymoon.

Meg found a pump handle and gave it a try. There was a wrenching scrawnk that made her jump back. She tried again, and the noise was not repeated. She continued to pump, watching gas well up into the big glass cylinder on top. She was up to the five gallon mark before it occurred to her that she would need to find a can.

Meg went to the station's narrow main building, and looked in the door. There was a single room, with a lobby area for people to sit, a counter with a meager selection of candy and post cards, and an antiquated Pepsi-Cola machine shaped like a baby blue headstone. At the back was an office with the door ajar, and a short passage to an exit in the back. She noted a sign that said, "Toilet in back. Ask attendant for key." She averted her eyes from a mass of crimson that had been a woman sprawled on the checkered linoleum of the lobby. Then she jumped back as a shuffler slammed against the glass. It was a man in grungy clothes, with numerous lacerations and a bloody head wound. The shuffler slammed against the door again, making it rattle in the frame. Meg started to tremble, until she looked at the handle on her side. Large bas relief letters read, PUSH.

Meg made her way to the garage entrance, past a VW Baja Bug parked with one wheel halfway onto the paved walk. She paused to look back at the parking lot, and tensed. She could see past the patrol car, where the body had been... but the body was gone. What was more, three more shufflers were making their way up the path, while a fourth shuffled on by. She drew the magnum, and fired at the nearest. Her shot missed the target completely, but felled the shuffler still on the road. She took aim more carefully, lining up the sighting piece as best she could on the shuffler's constantly lolling head. Just when she felt ready to fire, something plowed right into her. Her shot went wild, and she let out a scream as she recoiled. But the shuffler that collided with her was not pressing the attack, but flailing strangely on the ground. It was clearly the same `body' that had been lying on the car. A green badge bore the name "Art" in the same cursive script as the station signs. It looked very much as if the shuffler was still trying to walk upright.

That was when Meg noticed the smell. She looked to the pump, and swore. Her shot had clearly grazed the glass tank, probably glancing off a bent support rod. The tank was essentially intact, but it had sprung a slow and steady leak.

The garage had bay doors on both ends, both open. Its two births were occupied by a stripped-down '32 Ford and an early-'60's Dodge pickup on a raised hydraulic lift. On the far side of the garage, an engine hung suspended on chains. Meg stayed on the near side, ducking as she passed a door that led to the main building. With hurried rummaging, Meg found a steel jerry can at the back. She noticed a clipboard hanging from a nail with a semi-legible scrawl: "Jon- Borgwar (scribble) Gal(smudge) Co. no good. Call Mo(scribble). Phil." Finally, she paused to pick up a hefty old monkey wrench that looked promising, when she heard footsteps around the back.

There was no question in Meg's mind that it was not one of the shufflers she had seen so far. Indeed, the sound was not shuffling at all, but long and measured strides. For a moment, she began to hope that it was human, though she knew better even before she peeked out the doorway. This one wore a police uniform, and walked with stiff goose steps. The motion was radically different from the shufflers' dragging perambulations, but just as rhythmic and even less human. She drew the magnum, but pressed back to the corner and waited, watching the strider jerk out of sight and then listening as its footsteps receded into the yard behind the station. She was just exhaling in relief, when she felt something slam against the wall behind her. She lurched back, as two even more powerful thuds came through the wall. Tools rattled, a thin cloud of dust puffed from the wall, and the clipboard clattered to the floor.

Meg knew it could be only one thing: Somehow, a shuffler in the main building on the other side of the wall knew she was there, and it was trying to come through the wall. For a moment she wondered if it might succeed, but that fear eased: The wall might be thin, but it was solid concrete. But then, the real problem was if the shuffler finally used a door. She holstered the magnum, picked up the wrench and the can and ran.

Art was still on his back, but his writhings were more purposeful, like an upside-down turtle trying to right itself. Meg jumped over the loathsome thing. Behind her, there was the sound of the rear door of the main building opening and slamming shut. The first of the newcomers stood in front of the pumps; a single blow of the wrench took care of it. She hefted the wrench as another shuffler approached, moving a bit faster than usual straight at her- until it turned right and shuffled past the garage. She dropped to her knees in front of the pump, trying to stay clear of the growing pool of gas. The fuel made a pattering sound as it poured into the can. Some splashed out, and she set down the wrench to steady the nozzle. She heard the sound of a shuffler, going around the main building, and looked over her shoulder to watch the corner. She was still looking when a leathery hand touched hers.

Meg stared into the ruined face of the shuffler she had bludgeoned. It stared back with one remaining eye that seemed, for once, functional and focused. Meg's eyes flicked to the tank; it was down to the last gallon. The lifeless hand gripped her wrist, and began to squeeze. At last, she could bear it no more. With her free hand, she snatched up the wrench and struck. The blow landed across the back of the shuffler's head, with a crunch of fractured bone accompanied by the popping of dislocated vertebrae. The shuffler stiffened and rolled over, clearly and truly lifeless, yet its mouth opened in the contortions of a death rictus, and an eerie, bloodcurdling, ear-splitting and bowel-wrenching cry came forth. Then, as it pitched to the asphalt, Meg was jerked forward in its death grip. The pump nozzle dropped from her hand, and the can fell over, spilling more gas to mix with the shuffler's blood. The shuffler's wail ended in a rasping wheeze, but from every direction, identical cries rose to answer it.

David N. Brown, David N. Brown Arizona, Arizona, David N. Brown Mesa, David N. Brown Mesa Arizona, Mesa, Mesa Arizona, Mesa David N. Brown, Arizona David N. Brown, Mesa Arizona David N. Brown

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Re-Deanimator Pt. 1: Meg and Greg by David N. Brown Mesa, Arizona

Meghan lived in the suburbs of a modest city in the desert. Her friends called her Meg, and she lived with Greg. She rose from the couch in the morning, as she had for the last five mornings, and confirmed that the light switch still did not work. She emerged from the den into the living room and went to the kitchen, where she discovered that the faucet did not work either. That was new. She went upstairs, past the photo of Greg, Greg at the office party, Greg at the wheel of his new Audi Quatro, Greg shooting his .454 magnum, and Greg with his big muscular arm thrown lazily around her neck, almost eclipsing her almost-new Chevette behind them.
Meg rapped on Greg's bedroom door. "Greg," she called out, "the water's out." She opened it. Greg was gone. She glanced at the dresser, and confirmed that the keys to the Audi were there. She stepped back into the hall, and saw that the door to the bathroom was closed. "Greg, I said, the water's out." She turned the knob; the door was latched. That was when she heard the thumping.
It was strikingly regular, one thump, a pause, and another thump, repeated, over and over. Meg pressed her ear to the door, and listened. Now, she could hear an unmistakeable swishing between thumps, and a hint of momentary scuffling: "Thump- swish- scuff- swish- thump..." She thought of a pendulum, and at that very moment, she heard the creaking, a sound just like some metal fixture, bending under considerable weight. "Greg," she said flatly, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead against the door.
Meg's eyes opened at a change in the rhythm of the sounds: "Thump- swiishh- thump- swish- thump- swish- rrriiiiippp..." She lurched back at the crash and jingle of the shower curtains being torn down. The creaking grew louder, and then there was a tearing screech exactly like the shower head being wrenched right out of the wall and a crash exactly like a body falling into the tub. For a moment, she stood completely still. Then she backed up to the bedroom.
She found the magnum and two boxes of ammunition, exactly where she knew they would be. She scooped them all into her old overnight bag, shoved out of sight in the closet. On a whim, she grabbed the key to the Audi. She was gathering things in the den when she heard another crash. She scurried back into the living room and looked up the stairs.
The bathroom door had been knocked open with single blow, forceful enough to splinter the wood and lodge the knob in the plaster. At the top of the stairs stood Greg, in his business suit, with the shower head hanging from Meg's nylons around his neck. His face was almost black, and his head lolled like a badly stuffed scarecrow's. Yet, his gaze seemed to turn directly toward Meg, and with strides as stiff and even as a windup tow, he began to descend the stairs. She drew the magnum as she backed up to the door, and took aim, no doubt badly, at Greg's face as she reached the bottom. She held her aim, as best she could with a gun whose weight alone was enough to strain her wrist, while Greg turned ponderously toward her. He stood there, seeming to stare, with his head lifted just a little higher and straighter. Finally, Meg put the gun back in the bag. "Okay," she said, "you can keep the Audi." She cast the keys at his feet, and as she made her exit, she saw him bend over to pick them up.
Meg had to cover some distance to reach the carport where the Chevette was parked, past two cul de sacs of identical two-story, two-unit townhomes and through a little park. On the way, she saw three wrecked cars and a dozen shuffling figures, one of which definitely turned in her direction before she went around a corner and out of sight. She used a shortcut that required vaulting over a low wall and dropping another foot to the asphalt. The only car in sight besides her little reddish-orange hatchback was a station wagon with a crumpled, blood-stained hood and the driver's-side door torn halfway off its hinges. No bodies were in sight.
Meg dropped her keys trying to unlock her car, at the unset of sudden shakes. Her hands steadied as she put the key in the ignition, but began to tremble worse as she turned the key again, and again, and again. The first time, nothing happened. The second produced an abortive rattle. At the third try, the engine gave an apologetic cough before falling silent. Meg's hands were shaking hard enough to make the key rattle in the ignition as she turned it yet again. The engine rumbled to life but then died with a protracted wheezing. She looked out the window, at the station wagon, The window frame of the door was bent. Her hand went still. She turned the key, and kept her hand on the ignition as the engine started, began to cough, and then worked back up to a steady rumble.
Meg made a tight U-turn in reverse, scraping the station wagon in the process and bumping into a support beam. Then she accelerated, approaching top (though still modest) speed as she peeled out of the parking lot and around a corner onto the street. She swerved to avoid a shuffling figure, only a child, but there was no taking chances with such a small car. As the car rounded another corner, the child turned belatedly and reached out for where the car had been. Its head lifted, as if staring, but any observer who met its eyes would have seen clouded lenses in no shape to see much of anything.
The Chevette was closing on 80 miles per hour as it roared toward the gates of the townhome complex. It braked and finally swerved for Greg, who stood in the middle. The showerhead was gone, but the torn nylons were still around his neck. His darkened face had lightened to a reddish purple, enough to make his features readily discernible. As Meg gazed out, her hands began to shake. It seemed to her that what she saw was indeed the Greg she knew. It occurred to her that his expression, especially, was the same he had worn on the night she made a discrete trip to the emergency room. As Greg reached for the door handle, the window went down, and a perfectly level gun barrel slid out. "Selfish ass," Meg said. She had no awareness of firing the gun. She only felt the wrenching ache of recoil, and saw Greg drop with a half-inch red spot on his forehead and a substantial hole in the back of his scalp. As he struck the asphalt, the keys to the Audi tumbled from his hand.
After a moment's pause, Meg opened the door and scooped up the keys.

David N. Brown, David N. Brown Arizona, Arizona, David N. Brown Mesa, David N. Brown Mesa Arizona, Mesa, Mesa Arizona, Mesa David N. Brown, Arizona David N. Brown, Mesa Arizona David N. Brown

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Responding to ANYtown By David N. Brown Mesa Arizona

Previously published at:!topic/

So, I’ve let this go again for a while, and just when I’m ready to come back, I find a major intrusion from reality, and this time I do believe I have something to say about it that will fit here.

I am sure it would be redundant to do more than briefly recap recent events, and I would prefer to keep it briefer than usual: Once again, someone has committed what is known as a “spree shooting”. As is usually the case, it is reasonably clear that the offender is mentally ill. This time, not for the first time, the possibility has been raised that had an Autism Spectrum Disorder. For the last few days, autism activists have been pushing back against these reports by emphasizing that autistic disorders are not associated with violence, up to and including repeating the long-standing axiom that people who are mentally ill are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them. I must say, I disagree with this response. For one thing, I think if the goal is simply to downplay speculations about crime and disability, then the activists might be better off not commenting. Historical precedent would suggest that such comments are most likely to appear early and then quickly fade, especially under low-key communication by concerned parties with the media. For another, I believe that there are real and very fundamental problems here that are overdue for discussion.

While I see no cause to doubt the above-mentioned statistical talisman about mentally ill victims vs offenders, I have always had a feeling that this is missing the obvious, and probably more besides. The most “obvious” problem is that making a talking point out of this comes close to pummeling a man of straw. Given the dissimilar nature of mental disorders, nobody is ever going to claim that all the mentally ill are equally likely to commit a crime: Obviously, individuals as different as an agoraphobic and a clinical pedophile are not going to pose the same (if any) level of threat to others. Nor is anyone likely to make any serious claim that those with any particular disorder are more likely to be violent than not: Even in the prison population, the large majority are considered “non-violent”! The point we are really making the closest approach to is simply that the mentally ill population, and any subset thereof, can and should be approached like any other people group. All of which takes us precisely nowhere in applying what we know or can reasonably deduce about the demographics of crime.

One of the less obvious issues in the equation is what could be termed disproportionate threat. This can be seen at play on two levels. First, even “violent” offenders are not equally prone to violence: Of the subset of “violent” crime, a large majority the offenses are attributed to a minority of offenders (I distinctly recall seeing the very persistent 80%-20% ratio come up). Then there is another consideration, entirely “obvious” but difficult to quantify: Quite simply, some people, even if they are no more likely to offend, are capable of far more damage if/when they do. Spree shooters themselves are among the most obvious examples, and historically they overlap massively with the even more quintessential case and point, ex-military offenders. One of the earliest documented spree shooters and my personal pick for the single most dangerous individual to come to my attention was a decorated World War 2 veteran who committed a rare building-to-building rampage in 1949. (I don’t care to repeat any names in discussing this sort of thing if I can avoid it, but here’s “his” website.)

The same kind of issues can be seen at play for mental illness. Many conditions offer nothing but obvious “outgroups”, as in the already-mentioned example of agoraphobia: People who by definition avoid going out in public are by definition unlikely to harm members of the general public! Other conditions may be said to put the individual “at risk” to offend, but make for a liability in actually carrying out the deed. Schizophrenia is the quintessential case and point: Schizophrenics are characteristically delusional, not only seeing and hearing what isn’t there, but believing it. However, the “classic” schizophrenic is also characteristically disorganized. He might rob a bank because his cat told him to, but even if the cat also dictated one hell of a plan, there’s not much chance he would carry it out successfully. The presumable principle is that this kind of “crazy” is predictably self-limiting, and there’s no shortage of real-life cases to support the point. My favorite is a famous would-be assassin who was still pulling the trigger when his empty revolver was taken from him. The ability to keep track one’s bullets is a key test of the organized criminal, and entirely failing to notice when one is out is a strong indicator that one is not suited for the “job”.

But then, there are offenders who defy these “rules”. The WW2 veteran I mentioned was declared schizophrenic and institutionalized for the remainder of his life. (Reading between the lines, it seems likely that there were people in the right places who wanted to spare him, and/or simply avoid embarrassing questions, on account of his war record.) It’s very unlikely that such a diagnosis would be accepted today, and any appeal for clemency would be denied. While he was by all indications delusional in some sense, his actions showed far too much planning and self-control for the schizophrenia diagnosis (which, significantly, was “tightened” in the early 1970s) to fit at all comfortably. Even more importantly, there was no question that he deliberately targeted at least some of his victims, which under the modern requirements for an insanity plea would be entirely sufficient to establish that he knew what he was doing and therefore could be held legally accountable for it. What is ultimately most significant about this individual is that similar “profiles” can be seen to pop up again with other exceptionally destructive offenders, including the subject in the present incident. Even subtle details, particularly a reported lack of vocalization, can be seen to match up closely.

So, exactly what are we dealing with? It’s my long-standing pet theory (developed with a little help from a couple fictional characters) that there is a significant subset of autistic people who have a combination of “high-functioning” traits and schizophrenia-like symptoms, which I have termed “delusional aspie”. (See “Autism and Overlapping Disorders” and “Conversations with O’Cleary”.) At least some “spree” offenders do seem to fit this description. This could be considered nothing more or less than an example of a “comorbid” disorder, which for schizophrenia in particular has been documented for about as long as both conditions have been known. (In fact, historic controversies occurred over telling them apart!) But then there is another way of looking at it. A psychiatric diagnosis is, first and foremost, a description of a pattern of thought and behavior. If an “overlap” of characteristics from two or more “established” diagnoses is sufficient to produce an entirely novel “pattern”, then at some point one has to consider whether it is, for all practical purposes, a completely different animal. Unfortunately, in the time it takes for the “pros” to sort out this sort of thing, it’s quite easy for whole generations to slip through the proverbial cracks, particularly by a) being “shoehorned” into a clearly imperfect diagnosis and treatment simply because nobody has anything better to do with them or b) simply receiving no diagnosis or treatment at all because nobody will venture to put a “name” to what is wrong with them.

Then there is another, very fundamental issue of criminal demographics. One of the most pervasive problems demonstrated by application of proper statistical analysis to crime is that popular anxieties tend to direct community attention away from serious “inward” problems. 1980′s-era “stranger danger” and its stranger cousin the “satanic panic” flew directly in the face of hard data on parental abductions and homicides (read Coulrophobia- it’s about time someone did). White Americans perenially anxious about blacks have long since been shown that about 80% of murdered whites are murdered by other whites, and even more strikingly, about 90% of people actually murdered by blacks are other black people. Such results of hard data can also be extended to murkier areas of folklore. For example, there can be no serious doubt that any factual nucleus of Medieval and Renaissance “blood libel” legends of Christian children supposedly murdered in Jewish rituals were simply prosaic homicides, and most likely perpetrated by family members of the victims. (Ironically, that very opinion is expressed frequently and vocally in contemporary sources, obviously to no avail against the prejudices of their peers.) It even seems possible that evidently high numbers of Jewish victims in “routine” homicides (ie beyond overtly anti-Semitic mass violence in the “pogroms”), which could be an indication of religiously-motivated or simply opportunistic attacks by (self-described!) Christian offenders, were in fact mainly killed by other Jews.

I believe it shall be “obvious” where this is going. If one accepts the proposition that one can at least attempt to treat crime among the mentally ill like that of any other people group, then the most intuitive conclusion one can make is that the greatest threat to someone with a mental illness should be another mentally ill person! Such a dramatic proposition should by all means be tested. But so far, I have yet to see it even mentioned, and I felt that it was long past time long ago.

Now I invite further consideration for just how this would affect someone’s mental condition, and indeed their entire perception of the wider world. If someone with obviously limited ability to function in society is approached by someone with ill intentions and a condition that is far less obvious, then the former party is the least likely of all people to recognize the latter as anything but a “normal” member of the public. If the more “functional” party then abuses the other, the less functional party has no way to recognize what is truly wrong with the abuser. Instead, the abused party might very well develop the notion that the abusive behavior is nothing more or less than what any “normal” person can and will do given the opportunity. Then the only “reasonable” defense is to withdraw further from “normal” human contact, which will carry with it predictable deterioration in condition and “functioning” and may all too easily make the subject an even more convenient target for the truly predatory abnormal. Sooner of later, the victim might even start to develop a plan for revenge, retaliation or merely self-defense… and we all know where that road goes to.

I don’t think I want to write any more about this now, if ever. I would like to think I have said enough. Call it what life, and my idea of a good story, is like: No answers, jut trying to ask the right questions.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Disney's adaptation of a classic fairy tale opens with the birth of a princess, her immediate betrothal to a child prince, and the visit of three fairy godmothers and a malign witch. A fast forward finds Princess Aurora being raised in the forest by the three fairies, unaware of her royal parents or the witch's curse. While her godmothers clumsily prepare for her return to her parents' palace on her 16th birthday, the princess wanders and meets a mysterious traveler. When her real parents tell her she is about to be wed to a man she has never met, she runs away, straight into the witch's curse.
“Sleeping Beauty” represents a transitional period in Disney animation, and this is reflected by a rather high percentage of artistic misses. The strikingly stylized animation looks a decade ahead of the film's 1957 release date, and it is very debatable whether this is a good thing. The fairy godmothers are entirely too cute, though slapstick sequences of their efforts to “help” the princess are reasonably amusing, and it is almost refreshing to see one of them break character to get back at Maleficent's obnoxious familiar. It does not help that the script takes the drastic liberty of compressing a century of failed adventurers in the story into one whirlwind rescue. The film's best moments are its dark ones, as Maleficent's appearance, her castle, the materialization of a fateful spinning wheel and her final transformation offer a gothic spectacle comparable to the final sequence of Fantasia. What is perhaps of even greater interest is an unintentional commentary on the changes that were occurring in American society just in the epic six years that Disney took to make it: Its matter-of-fact portrayal of an arranged marriage between teenagers could have been shredded as chauvinistic in ca. 1960, never mind today. Yet, the film does capture something of the tension between feminism and traditionalism that would soon erupt into open conflict, and that in turn offers a more timeless (if not entirely coherent) lesson on the turmoil of youth, choices and fate.

David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona


After the narrowest of his escapes in a life of thievery, Mr. Fox (a fox) promises to earn his living lawfully and tranquilly as a newspaper writer. But when he moves into an expensive new house in temptingly close proximity to the properties of three wealthy and watchful farmers, he soon decides to go on one last extravagant crime spree, with help from a possum, his athletic nephew and (despite his wishes) his son. Just when Mr. Fox has all the loot, the farmers unite to punish the thief at all costs, up to and including devastating the entire countryside.

This movie is notable first as one of a surprisingly small number of adaptations of the works of Rhoald Dahl, and second as the latest in a modest renaissance of stop-motion animation. In the latter category, the film is in many ways disappointing, with a technically elaborate yet oddly undynamic style of animation that resembles nothing so much as the rather infamous "Puppetoons" of George Pal. Fortunately, the production puts the technology to effective and creative use, with vivid touches of characterization (a villainous rat voiced by Willem DeFoe being especially impressive) and an overall feel not unlike listening along to an illustrated story book (shall we say three-dimensional anime?). As an adaptation of Dahl's work, while this reviewer cannot claim familiarity with the individual book that is its source, the film fits perfectly well with Dahl's story-telling, and also with the 1970 publication date of the book. Scenes in which bulldozers destroy a hill trying to reach Mr. Fox's den are easily appreciated as a parable of ecology, and a subplot in which Mr. Fox tries to steal back his tail is reminiscent of Dahl's most famous "adult" tale, "The Man From the South." Finally, the film offers many convincing flourishes of regional flavor (all the more impressive given that Dahl was British rather than American), especially a memorably weird sequence in which a celebratory dance by the animals is accompanied by the improvised instruments of the farmers' posse. Overall, as a possible introduction to the work of a great modern Anglo-American writer, this film holds great promise, especially as an antidote to bracingly slick offerings like "Stewart Little"!

David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona


This feature-length film from Nickelodeon follows an escaped pet chameleon as he struggles for survival in a town called Dirt, where a drought has made water the most valuable commodity. A tall tale and a lucky victory against a hawk catapult the hapless lizard into a job as the town's sheriff. When a robbery leaves the town water bank empty, the sheriff and his posse follow the thieves' trail into the desert. There, he finds clues to a deeper mystery about the source of the town's water. Soon, the law lizard runs afoul of the town's mayor and the fearsome Rattlesnake Jake.
This is an odd film and a surprisingly dark one, with a tendency to veer wildly from the serious to the silly, with not-infrequent detours into the utterly bizarre. Perhaps inevitably by law of averages alone, resonant moments unquestionably abound. Johnny Depp is the backbone of the film, with a role that is equal parts Brave Little Taylor, tall-tale teller and snake-oil salesmen. Respectable support is offered by Ned Beatty as a seemingly charming tortoise (a role which seems a little too familiar so soon after Toy Story 3); Isla Fisher as a lizard with an odd problem holding conversation; Abigail Breslin, dropping in and out opportunistically as a spunky girl of uncertain zoological classification (the fictional Archididelphis invicta, perhaps?), and Bill Nighy voicing a rattlesnake big enough on screen to fit the archetype of Tiamat Primal Chaos. Then there are the little things: The chorus of mariachi owls; a Quixote-esque armadillo; an impressive assortment of toughs and bums, including the reductio ad absurdum of the “arrow through the head” gag; and improbable pyrotechnics from cactus juice and crashing bats. The parade of silliness and strangeness is lent a solid core by a thematic blend of the Old World fairy tale (grue and all) and the Native American vision quest, and by details that, to the sufficiently informed, will ring as historically authentic and all the more entertaining for that. Like, that Shakespearean performances were common in the “Wild West”; gatling guns were deployed by the US Army in the 1800s; and that desert native tribes did hold religious beliefs and rituals centered on their water supply. “Hit or miss” seems to have been the filmmakers' method, and how much one enjoys the film is likely to depend a great deal on one's willingness to put up with the misses. But, it is well worth viewing for a remarkably thoughtful story and assumed world to outshine many a more standard “kiddie” offering.

David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona

FILM AND FOLKLORE REVIEW: Gulliver's Travels (1996)

A surgeon lost at sea survives as a giant among the tiny Lilliputians, and a pet among the Brobdignagians. Then a mishap leaves him in the dysfunctional courts of the flying island of Laputa, from which he escapes, only to face the terrors and temptations of a necromancer and the immortal Strulbrugs. Finally, he reaches safety and peace in the utopia of the Houynhnhnms, a race of horses who have domesticated men. His journey ends where the story begins, with the trials of returning to England.
“Gulliver's Travels” is a notable example of a work of literature so ubiquitously known and frequently and diversely adapted that it is not difficult to approach as folklore. Most treatments (3 Worlds of Gulliver, by the team of producer Charles Schneer and effects man Ray Harryhausen being among the most notable) deal only with Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput and/or Brobdignag, and are oriented toward children. The 1996 made-for-television adaptation stands out just for covering the further adventures. It distinguishes itself for high production values (including effects that are charmingly “old school” for the 1990s) and an excellent cast. Ted Danson is very effective as Gulliver, conveying the simplicity of the title character, while providing many fine touches, particularly as Gulliver narrates his own story to the people of 18th-century England. The script remains reasonably faithful to the source material (with the episode of the Strulbrugs being the most conspicuous exception), if sometimes more delicate than Jonathan Swift's original and emphatically not “kid-friendly” tales. What is perhaps most commendable about the production is that it conveys not just the humor and satire of Swift, but a quality of seriousness and even sadness at human nature, and what may be the most timeless moral of the story: that the most difficult part of a journey may be coming home.

David N. Brown
Mesa, Arizona


Workers at a Japanese mine are decimated by a race of giant insects- until the insects are consumed in turn by much larger and deadlier winged reptiles. When an earthquake frees a mated pair of the flying monsters, they ravage the cities of Japan, toppling buildings with only the winds they leave in their wake. Military might is useless against the Rodans. But, just when all seems lost, the monsters are reclaimed by the same forces of nature that unleashed them.
Rodan is widely regarded as the best of the many and admittedly motley monster films produced by Toho Studios from the 1950s through the 1970s. A DVD release containing the longer, original Japanese theatrical version is a valuable addition to American media. Rodan is a strikingly serious film, and on fair consideration quite well-produced, comparing favorably to American science fiction films of the same era (Earth Vs the Flying Saucers and The Black Scorpion are especially fitting for the purpose) and far excelling the notorious low-budget offerings to come from Toho in the following decades. It is especially effective and explicit in presenting the underlying mythology of Japan, in which gods, spirits and monsters serve to personify the very real terrors of the natural environment. In this author's judgment, with Japan's current crisis, it is all the more appropriate for westerners to return to old films like Rodan, and better appreciate what American editing and marketing readily reduced to bad jokes as an expression of recurring calamities that are and always have been part of the nation's experience. 
David N. Brown
Mesa, Arizona


In a well-known episode of the early 1960s anthology series "Thriller", an orphaned girl is placed in the care of three cousins who would rather inherit her family's fortune.  She is comforted by her friend "Mr. George", who does not take kindly when her guardians try to murder her.
This adaptation of a story by August Derleth is far afield from folklore, but (in common with several of the author's best-remembered stories) offers a striking treatment of the wonders and terrors of a child's imagination, which "special needs" children may respond to particularly well.  One could do an effective lesson on film adaptation by having students read the story and then watch the episode.  Unfortunately, the only place this reviewer can report to find the story is a 1963 collection of the same name, at last report still in the ASU library.  Turning to the screen treatment, the girl is played by a young actress who manages to charm without being artificially "cute".  The villains are played by three impressive character actors, in roles run the gamut from a mad woman as child-like as the girl herself to her domineering sister, with an indecisive, overintellectual man in the middle.  Several departures from the story detract somewhat.  The doings-in of two characters are pointlessly reversed, in setups that fit awkwardly with their characters (though the script and actors deserve more than due credit for building up the characters enough for it to be noticeable).  Several of the story's darker elements are left out, including speculation about who the girl's father was (a striking indication of how sensitive some subjects were even at the start of the 1960s).  Also problematic is perhaps the most talked about element, the voice of Mr. George.  It introduces an extra variable in the pacing and stagings of several scenes, which in this reviewer's opinion on the whole detracts from the proceedings.  It could have been more effective simply to show the scenes as they were reportedly filmed, with only the child actress's responses being recorded.  Still, the few lines are read with enough feeling and texture to forgive any quibble.
David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona

FILM AND FOLKLORE REVIEW: Nosferatu; Last Man on Earth

For parents and older kids looking for an antidote to Twilight, 2 classic “public domain” vampire films.  In Nosferatu, a goblin-faced noble brings the terror of a mysterious pestilence to a city.  In Last Man on Earth, a bacterium turns the world’s population into the  undead, except for one immune man who lashes out with psychotic violence against the new rulers of the Earth.
While based in literature more than “folklore”,  these two films are uniquely effective in capturing the lore of “revenants” that were believed in and feared in parts of Europe well into the 20th century.  A particularly interesting element captured in both films is the association of the “vampire” with disease, which in some authentic “folk” accounts (see esp. William of Newburg) is more prominently attributed than the drinking of blood.  Each film also benefits from inventive storytelling.  Little can be said of Nosferatu that Murnau’s cinematography and the performance of Max Schreck do not say for themselves, except that nothing could be closer to authentic belief and further from the almost romanticized image set by Bela Lugosi (never mind Edward).  Last Man on Earth, Richard Matheson’s own adaptation of his novel I Am Legend, offers a faithful if somewhat toned down adaptation of the book. (Forget the recent atrocity Will Smith stepped in!) Vincent Price leads with a compelling and oddly subdued performance, supported by the characters of Ben Cortman, a hapless undead neighbor, and Ruth, a woman who leaves the “last man” guessing.   The story deconstructs the ampire mythology into a parable of the meaning of being an outsider.

David N. Brown
Mesa, Arizona

FILM AND FOLKLORE REVIEW: How to Train your Dragon

Hiccup is a Viking boy in a village terrorized by dragons.  His father is the village’s greatest dragon slayer, but he is weak and seemingly inept, and secretly interested in inventing.  In an attempt to prove himself , he shoots down the most feared and mysterious of the dragons with a ballista he built himself, but no one believes him.  He tracks down the wounded creature to take a trophy for proof, but cannot bring himself to kill it. Instead, he takes care of it and studies it, while working on an invention to help it fly again. Meanwhile, his father arranges for him to be put through dragonslayer’s school.  While he learns the secrets of the dragon from a dragon, his teacher prepares him to kill his first dragon as his final test.  He must choose whether to fulfill the rite of passage or openly challenge what his community believes about dragons.
This film owes no allegiance to a tale or tradition (indeed, the assumed Norse setting is a something of a dislocation, as familiar dragon lore dragon lore comes mainly from England and Germany), but works effectively within the broader archetypes of the rite of passage and a “monster” misunderstood.  The storytellers’ approach is revisionist without being irreverent, so that the dragons and their hunters are consistently capable and dignified. The central dragon, “Toothless”, is a panther-like creature, which presents a complex character without being anthropomorphic.  (The animators’ detailed design even offers a bare minimum of aerodynamic sense.) The story effectively utilizes authentic elements of Medieval and Renaissance society, particularly Hiccup’s Da Vinci-like sketches of a dragon in flight.  It also minimizes the borderline-inappropriate humor of “Shrek” and other more recent kids’ films, with the most “edgy” gags rising from Toothless’s insistence on sharing his food. The central “message”, well-played without being heavy-handed, is the value of respect for all living things, and of being willing to question custom and conventional wisdom.
David N. Brown
Mesa Arizona