Monday, December 9, 2013


NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 10: "Ramming Speed"

The drone of the cicadas was deafening.  The jungle was alive with the sound, and it pressed into Storm and Fay's ears like an irritating liquid.

"I wish those heat-bugs would shut up," Fay murmured.  It was the first words she had spoken since they had escaped the Pisces Pool.  She and Storm had been walking through the jungle for almost an hour, following the trail along the bottom of the valley.  Their clothes had rapidly dried in the heat, but the temperature and humidity soon brought sweat to their skin, soaking their clothes yet again.

Storm looked at her and smiled a little.  He had been worried about her since they had nearly been killed for the second time that day.  Fay was a headstrong woman, maybe even stubborn in her toughness, but she wasn't used to having her life threatened like this.  The return of her ornery attitude gave him some hope that she was holding her own.

"Look at this one," Storm said to Fay as he held up a silver bicycle horn with a black rubber bulb.  He squeezed it lightly and it gave a soft honk.  Storm grinned.

Fay giggled a little bit.  "What're you, Harpo Marx?"  She smiled back.

They had been going through the contents of Storm's utility harness as they walked.  Ever since Storm had discovered a rock in its pouches instead of one of his concussion grenades he'd been discovering that it didn't just end there: all of his gadgets and weaponry had been removed from the harness and replaced with random items.  He had found several more rocks, along with a salt shaker, a small statue of a deer, golf balls, an ash tray, a heavy spoon, the bicycle horn, and various other odds and ends.  Beside his missing gadgetry, Storm's trusty Mauser was gone as well as the ammunition and his pair of knives.  Everything that Storm could use as a weapon had been taken and replaced with other items of approximate size and weight.

The pair was silent for a while longer as they trudged along the valley floor.  The jungle was thickening, and there was no choice for them other than following the trail.  Storm wished he had a machete to hack away at the growth around them.  Following the path made him nervous: there was no way they could avoid whatever traps Count Zodiac had waiting for them, and they had to make it to the other end of the valley as part of the villain's sick "game".

The path rose up from the jungle, following the left side of the valley.  They had no canopy of leaves over their heads now, and the sunlight blazed down upon them.  The jungle dropped away to their right and they were able to look out over the tops of the trees below.  The drop was at least a hundred feet down to the bottom of the valley.

Fay spoke up finally and broke the silence between them.  "So I guess we're in for more horoscope-themed traps, huh?  It's like something from a bad serial."

"Ha, yeah, I'm afraid so."  Storm thought a moment.  "He started us with Aquarius and that led us to Pisces.  I don't know if that was an isolated case or not, but he might be doing them in order.  If that's the case, Aries is next."

"What's that, a ram?"

Storm nodded.  "That's right.  I'm an Aries, myself, and Zodiac knows it.  I'm hoping he's not planning something extra-special for that one."  Storm lowered his voice in the possible presence of Zodiac's microphones listening in.  "What he doesn't know is that I was born right on the cusp, during the vernal equinox."  He chuckled.  "He's so hung up on astrology that it'd drive him nuts if he knew."

Fay laughed.  "I'm a Virgo," she told him.  "That's 'the virgin', of course... can't wait to see how he works that into a deathtrap."

The two of them laughed again.  Their laughter died at the sound of approaching growl.  The sound grew into the roar of an engine; it was ahead and off to the left, through a gap in the valley wall that was overgrown with vines and branches.  There was a tunnel there, camouflaged by the foliage.

Suddenly a weird vehicle burst out of the tunnel, a heavy truck of some kind with armored sides, thick wheels adorned with spiked hubcaps, and a shuttered pilot's cabin.  Mounted on the front of this monstrous truck was a huge metallic ram's-head.

As soon as the Aries truck hit the trail ahead of them, it charged straight for Storm and Fay.  It was tremendously fast as it bore down on them.

Storm grabbed Fay and flung the two of them to the ground, just as the ram's-head shot forward on a hydraulic piston.  If he had hesitated a microsecond, the ram would have brutally collided with one or both of them.

Springing to his feet as the Aries truck sped by them, Storm yanked Fay Durning to her feet.  The truck was already turning again toward them: on the narrow path along the valley, the vehicle had a remarkably tight turning radius.  The battering-ram was retracting, coiling for another strike.

A noise from the tunnel caught Storm's ear.  Glancing to the side he saw heavy steel doors sliding into position behind what was left of the camouflaging vegetation.  They were down by an exit option, still on Zodiac's playing field.

The menacing vehicle was speeding toward them now.  "When I give the word," Storm told Fay, "you jump right, toward those rocks.  Climb as high as you can up on top of them."

The Aries truck bore down on them, almost within the battering-ram's reach.


Storm leaped to the left, ensuring that the driver would be able to see his jump through the slit opening in the truck's windshield armor.  Fay jumped to the right and scrambled up the rocks against the hillside.  She climbed up the stones as best as she could.

The Aries truck turned right to follow Storm when he jumped, as he knew it would: when given a choice, the driver would have chosen Storm as the prime target.

Inside the vehicle, the driver spun the vehicle and glared out the thin viewport before him.  Storm had disappeared.  He drove the Aries in angry circles, frantically searching for Storm or the actress.  His eyes caught the green of Fay's dress against the rocks of the hillside.  The driver grinned and spun the Aries toward the spot she was perched upon.  The ram wouldn't be able to hit her, but it would make short work of the rocks she was crouching on.  The driver stamped on the accelerator, and the actresses eyes widened in fear.

Suddenly the driver's vision was blotted out.

Storm had climbed onto the Aries truck after leaping out of the way and had scrambled up onto the roof of the vehicle.  As it had begun its charge toward Fay Durning, the vehicle had passed under some low-hanging branches.  Storm had broken two of these branches free and wedged them into the slit-opening the driver used to see out of.  The leaves were thick and full, and they obscured the driver's vision completely.  The driver was blinded, but he didn't turn his vehicle.

"Jump!"  Storm yelled to Fay, and she threw herself off the pile of rocks just before the battering-ram pistoned out and struck them.  The rocks shattered into bits of debris and dust as Storm dropped flat onto the truck's roof and held on with his hands and legs.  The armored truck itself struck the hillside wall right after, and Storm was nearly thrown forward off the roof.  The collision jolted the truck to a stop.

Fay had managed to land in some scrub bushes that had broken her fall a little, and she stood up as the Aries truck's driver threw the vehicle into reverse.  The blonde woman hid herself behind the bushes as the it began to spin wildly, trying to throw Storm off the roof.  Storm clung to the truck as it spun crazily in circles.  The driver's efforts were throwing it in random directions, widening rings.  Dust clouds were rising into the air.

Suddenly Storm saw the vehicle's trajectory was heading right for the lip of the valley.  From there, a drop of at least 200 feet was waiting.  Releasing his hold, Storm rolled off the roof of the truck as it headed in the opposite direction, toward certain doom.

Storm hit the ground and sprang to his feet as the Aries hit the edge of the drop-off.  At the last second, the driver spun the wheel to the right and the left side tires slid out, over the edge.

The truck stopped.  It teetered on the edge of the valley, rocking gently, more and more toward the empty space below it.  Storm and Fay watched and held their breath.

Then, just as the truck began to slowly tip into the fall that would take it down into the valley, the armored passenger door flew open.  The helmeted form of Zodiac's lieutenant, Taurus, jumped from the Aries truck as it fell from the edge of the valley.

Taurus' feet hit the ground, and he brought up his war mace.  Electricity raced along the mace's striking surfaces.  From inside the helmet, Taurus' eyes flashed hatefully at Storm through the narrow slit.  There was a few seconds of silence as the two faced off.

Then, as if it was a signal, the sound of a tremendous crash as the dead Aries truck hit the valley floor and rolled to a stop.

With a battle cry, Taurus brandished his weapon and charged toward Storm...


Thursday, October 10, 2013

An excerpt from "Challenger Storm: The Curse of Poseidon"

It was now well past midnight.  Most of the crew of the Independence had settled into bed, leaving the ship’s nighttime skeleton-crew to their posts.  The after-hours radio man, Horton, sat at his post with earphones clamped to his head.  He repeatedly tossed a baseball into the air with his right hand and caught it with the catcher’s mitt on his left, all the while staring at the ceiling.  The night was, as usual, dull and uneventful.  The only sound in his headphones was the soft static of the quiet sea as his advanced radio-set automatically scanned through the frequencies.

Suddenly a noise blasted through the static: a staccato burst of rapidly-tapped Morse code beeps, beginning with the repeated pattern“… --- …”: “S.O.S.”.  Hurriedly, Horton ripped off his catcher’s mitt and left the baseball bouncing forgotten on the floor, and he began to jot down the distress message pouring through the aether…

Sometime later, the massive doors on the Independence rolled open to reveal the ship’s flooded and ready docking-bay.  A floatplane was the first to emerge from inside the huge vessel: the aircraft was a small and fast two-person plane armed with a machine-gun turret.  After taxiing out into open-water, it picked up speed before lifting off from the water and heading into the west.  From the cockpit of the craft, a yellow scarf fluttered in the wind; the helmeted and goggled visage of Diana St. Clair watched the dark waves below as she headed off toward the rough coordinates provided by the frantic distress-call.

The plane was followed soon after by a small and swift boat bearing a boarding party.  From the bow of the craft, Clifton Storm led his party of adventurers out into the black night in search of what could be the latest victims of Poseidon’s curse.  In his mind, the frantic last words of the distress message replayed themselves: “They want the ship… they want us…!”


From the air, the Aegean Sea was a vast and impenetrable table of blackness.  Diana and her gunner scanned the waves as they got closer to the area that the signal had originated from.  Their eyes were only met with darkness until at last the tiny glimmer of lights winked at them feebly from below.  It was a small cargo steamer, an old rust-bucket of a ship. Circling the craft, they peered at it through the night:it seemed to be deserted, and no motion could be seen from the ship.

“We might be too late, Cliff,” she called into the radio’s microphone after she announced their location to Storm and his party.  “This tub looks deserted.”

“Keep circling, Diana, we’re almost there.”  Storm had the boat’s pilot adjust their course accordingly and he performed a last-minute gear-check.  The party was outfitted with thick pea-coats against the strangely chilly night, but it wasn’t the temperature that iced Storm’s senses on this mission.  Worry gnawed at his insides, along with a tingly feeling…  He wasn’t sure if it was the mystery of what they were headed toward or whether it was something else… Rather than dismiss it, he held onto that feeling: sometimes his instincts helped to keep him sharp and had kept him alive on more than one occasion.  His quiet energy increased, like a jungle-cat poised to strike…

When the speedy boat arrived they could see the dim glimmer of lights and could confirm what Diana had reported: nothing moved on the ship’s deck, and it drifted on the dark waves with no direction and no hand to helm it.  The MARDL craft heaved-to on the boat’s port-side and the crew attached boarding-ladders to it.  Storm, Brock, and a team of five other crew-members from the Independence climbed aboard and began to fan out across the deck.  They began a search of the craft, Tommy guns at the ready for the first sign of trouble. Meanwhile, Diana’s plane continued to circle in the dark overhead as the boarding-party scoured the drifting steamer. No identification was evident so far on board- the craft didn’t even have a name, it seemed.  It was a nondescript ghost-ship.

The group split up and moved throughout the ship, checking the cabins, galley, store-rooms… nothing turned up beside more emptiness.  There were very little furnishings too, as though the ship had hardly ever been occupied in the first place.

“It’s all clear up here,” Storm announced finally.  “We’re going below deck.”  With that, they began to file down the stairs to the next level of the small steamship…


Although she wasn't onboard the derelict with Storm, Diana St. Clair was feeling anxious for the boarding-party.  The eeriness of the situation was getting to her, and the long stretch of radio-silence wasn’t helping.  Impatiently, she checked her gauges for what seemed to be the hundredth time… She was interrupted by a tap on her shoulder as her gunner attempted to get her attention. He pointed, and she returned her eyes to the waves below:  something odd was occurring.  A strange fog was beginning to sprout up all around the ship.  In moments, the strange mist thickened enough that she could just barely make out the glow of the crafts’ lights.
Diana clicked on the plane’s searchlight and swiveled it to cast its beam onto the Aegean.  The strange fog blocked the light, however, and she could no longer see the boats below at all.  She grabbed the radio’s mic.  

“Tyner,” she called to the speedboat’s pilot.  “Tyner, what’s going on with all that fog?”

Silence was her only answer.  Diana tried to hail Tyner again; far below and within the fog, her voice crackled unheard from the speakers of the boat’s radio.  Tyner, a hardily-built sailor,slumped unmoving in front of the radio set. With blank and glazing eyes he sat dead, a deep and ragged wound oozing blood from his back…


Storm and his crew descended the steps and entered the boat’s engine room.  The throbbing boiler and engine gave the men a little comfort: obviously it had been occupied relatively recently, and this knowledge helped alleviate some of the strange feelings of isolation and abandonment that was onboard.  They hoped to find someone here, some remnants of the boat’s crew.  They checked the chamber thoroughly and found yet again no sign of the ship’s inhabitants.

After their repeated non-discoveries, they made their way at last to the final place they hadn’t yet checked: the cargo hold.  The door, they found, was unlocked and they steeled themselves for what they might find inside.  Stepping cautiously into the hold, they found the lights weren’t working in the room, and they had to resort to clicking their flashlights on. 

Yellow beams feebly pierced the dusty blackness of the hold to reveal the space to be nearly empty. At the far end of the hold sat the large humped shapes of a fewcrates.  The group made their way forward, feeling the failure of what they had hoped would be a rescue mission.  They hoped that at least the crates may hold some contents, some clue of what the ship had been hauling, and maybe who the crew may have been…

A sound, faint but insistent, came to Storm’s ears.  He stopped, straining to hear it among the footsteps of his comrades: it was a strange, rhythmic sound: a hiss followed by an expulsion of air, accompanied by a faint gurgling.  It sounded almost like… breathing.  If it was breathing, then it wasn’t human, and it sounded like there was more than one source to this sound.

Suddenly from around the crates hulking black shapes appeared in the struggling beams of the crews’ flashlights.  The dimly-seen forms crouched menacingly and raised their weapons at the crew from the Independence...

Below are Micheal Kaluta's sketches that accompany this scene from the book: from the original concept sketch, through refinement and completion.

"The Curse of Poseidon": A Peek at the Artwork!

Here is a sneak-peek at some of Michael Wm Kaluta's interior illustrations for the second Challenger Storm novel, "The Curse of Poseidon"! Wait until you see what else we have in store for you, folks!

Stay tuned later today for more behind the scenes artwork, plus an excerpt from the novel itself!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Busy busy busy...

Lest I be forgotten, I'm just sending out this broadcast to let everyone know I'm still here.  Rumors of Challenger Storm's demise are greatly exaggerated: book #2 ("The Curse of Poseidon") is still in the works and will be well worth the wait.  The Storm serial ("The Valley of Fear") is stalled temporarily but will also return.  I'm hoping that somebody is reading it and enjoying it: it's an experiment that is, so far, without results.  Nobody has told me they hate it yet, but nobody has said they like it either.  There's some likes on Facebook when a new episode is posted, but that's about it.  Not to beat an aviation metaphor into the ground but not only am I flying by the seat of my pants with the serial, I'm also without instruments and my visibility is zero.

I feel guilty about not being able to write much, largely because I spend all day in front of my computer while working.  See, I work at home, in front of my home computer, with all my half-developed writings staring at me and I can't work on them.  My job keeps me way too busy to develop the focus and concentration needed to write coherently, and if I do get a spare minute to myself, it's so short that it's usually just a comment on Facebook or a quick tweet on Twitter, whatever.  Even this posting here is on borrowed time: system issues are keeping me down temporarily, and since I know it won't be for long, here I am with my hat in my hand to beg forgiveness for Don the Slowpoke.

I haven't been completely inactive during my silence however: since my last post a huge chunk of writer's block on a different project has fallen away, and since the project has been gestating so long I've felt it necessary to spend every spare minute I get to write toward completing it.  Nothing official to announce yet, but it's a short story (which is a monumental task to a glacially-paced writer such as myself) that hopefully will be appearing in an anthology next year.  The main characters are not mine, nor is the setting, and at first I found that to be terrifying.  For a long time (too long to contemplate without embarrassment) I found myself struggling with story ideas, plot seeds, and the general task of taking on someone else's baby.  I'd think about it, make some notes, then say a curse word or two and lock it away for a while because it was going nowhere.  Then recently, out of nowhere, I opened a notepad file on my laptop and pounded the keys furiously.  At the end of that session was a full outline of something that I didn't completely hate and that I thought could be workable.  You know what?  I've been having a blast on this thing.  I've been working on it for a few hours every week since then and I guess I'm nearly finished: target word-count is 15,000, and currently I'm at 12,340.  If anything, it may go over the targeted number of words.  That would be a first for me: usually I come out under the word-count I'm shooting for.  How short?  The first draft of "The Isle of Blood" was short by three chapters.  The parts I added (the shootout chapters at the hotel and the framing device with the government agent) are actually among my favorite parts now.  There's serendipity for you (and I'm feeling good now because I got to type "serendipity"... it's one of my favorite words).

So as I wrap up this post and prepare to... er, post it, I want to thank anyone who's stuck by me and has maintained interest in what I'm doing.  It means more to me than you'll ever know, and I'm looking forward to getting back in the game.  I've got a good feeling that if I can pull off the next Storm novel effectively, it'll be the best one yet.

Thanks again, and watch the skies.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 9: "Gone Fishing"

Storm kept as still as possible, freezing as soon as he felt the large shape brush his leg beneath the surface.  Across the pool, Fay Durning was treading water as she swam toward the shore.  She was muttering about the fact that they yet again had to swim.

"Fay,” Storm said calmly, "Get out of the water."

"What do you think I'm doing?" Fay shot back over her shoulder.  "I'm getting waterlogged."  The actress reached the shallows.

Suddenly, iron bars shot out of the bottom of the pool's perimeter shallows.  The bars extended seven feet above the pool's surface, and were too close together for anyone to squeeze through.  They were trapped, caged in.

"Oh, come on!  This guy has gone to ridiculously serious lengths to kill you... to kill us!  What did you ever do to him?"

"It's a long story, and it's complicated," Storm replied.  "Right now we need to worry about what's in the pool with us."

"And what is in the pool with- What the hell was that?!" Fay cried out.  She felt it too, the same thing Storm did moments earlier, as something muscular and scaly bumped against her shin.

"Stay calm, and stay there in the shallows, as far to the edge as you can get," Storm told her.   The water was deep and dark, and he peered intently at its surface, waiting to catch a glimpse of what was lurking beneath the surface of the pool...


In a control room situated off the side of his throne room within the castle, the bearded face of Count Zodiac was lit by a pale yellow-green light as he gazed down into a glass view-screen.  Before him was the image of Clifton Storm and Fay Durning as they sought for a way out of the Pisces Pool.

Zodiac grinned: he had expended a lot of time and resources wiring the castle, the valley, and its death-traps with hidden television cameras and microphones in preparation of Storm's ensnarement, and he was not about to let all the planning and designing go to waste.

He removed his hand from the switch it had been resting on- the one that had released the perimeter fence around the pool- and moved it to another one nearby.  His pets were merely curious now... in a moment they would be ravenous.

With his eyes glued to the monitor, Zodiac laid his finger upon the second switch...


As Storm and Fay watched the water around themselves intently, something at the corner of their eyes tugged at their vision.  There had been a muted hiss, loud enough to be barely heard over the noise of the waterfall.  As they looked toward the sound, their vision travelled up the waterfall until they could see the source of the noise: a wide ribbon of deep crimson was being pumped out, running from the rock behind the waterfall.  It mingled with the clear falling water, paling into a pinkish hue as it tumbled into the pool at the bottom of the falls.

“What’s that?” Fay breathed, only half-wanting the answer.  “Oh God, mister, what is that?”

Storm was slowly coming closer to where Fay huddled at the edge of the pool.  “I’m pretty sure it’s blood,” he said evenly.

“Dammit, don’t say that!” Fay shot back.

“Well, you asked.  I’m not going to sugar-coat it.  Probably animal blood.”

“Why…”  Fay was cut off by another bump beneath the water, more harsh this time.

“Don’t move,” Storm told her, close enough to touch her.  His eyes peered at the surface of the water, attempting to bore into its depths.

There was another movement at Fay’s knees.  She gasped.

Storm shot an arm out in a flat-handed strike, cleaving the water like the head of a spear.  He struck something hard and muscular, scaly.  The predator beneath the surface recoiled from the strike, and a flat, finned tail snapped up from the water momentarily.  The webbed fin was over three feet wide at the end, and there were some kind of barbs trailing from it.

Fay shrieked.  She stumbled back, and collided with another sinewy shape that had crept up behind them.  A face burst from the water, sharp-fanged and goggle-eyed and framed with leathery gills.  The fishy countenance lunged at the blonde actress.

Storm’s hands were in motion already, snatching the creature by the bony underside of its jaw.   He pivoted and threw the creature over his shoulder and back, using the momentum of its strike to launch it through the air and past them toward the center of the pool.  The creature’s long, eel-like body was adorned with spiny fins, and it thrashed as it flew through the air before landing with a splash into the blood-churned water.

Fay climbed up onto Storm’s back, her scrambling hands covering his eyes, furiously climbing over his face and trying to find something to hold onto.  One of her elbows found its way around his throat and squeezed as she tried to hang on to him.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God, what was that?” she babbled as she climbed.

“Fish,” he gagged out, “Big fish.  You have to get off of me.”  His eyes were riveted on the pair of spiny fins that broke the water and began to head back toward them.

“Pisces, I guess,” she stammered.  “This guy doesn’t break character, huh?”

“No, not often, so there’s probably going to be only two of them if he’s being true to his astrology.”  Storm peeled Fay off his shoulders and set her shivering form on her feet.

The pair of fish hadn’t struck again yet, but they were undoubtedly circling the pair in preparation.  The scent of blood was driving them to hunt and feed.  “Look, just grab one of those fence bars and try to climb it,” Storm told Fay as he peered at the water.  He reached into one of the pouches of his utility harness: he was still surprised that Count Zodiac hadn't removed his gadgets from him when he had drugged him and thrown him into captivity with the actress.

“What are you doing?” Fay asked him as she began trying to climb the slippery iron bar nearest to her.

“I’m going to set off a concussion grenade in the water, if we can get out of it long enough to avoid the blast.  It should make short work of…”  He stopped speaking, eyes slowly widening.

“What?  What?!” she demanded, slipping back down the bar and into the water again.

He held up an object from the pocket of his harness and turned toward her.  It wasn’t a grenade.

It was a rock.

Before Fay could say anything, one of the monstrous fish leaped out of the water, its dinner-plate sized mouth closed down around Storm’s forearm.  He gritted his teeth in pain as the razor teeth sliced into his flesh, and the force of the creature colliding with him knocked him down into the water.  Fay’s scream muffled in Storm’s ear as he was dragged under.

Beneath the surface, the fish’s teeth held and he swam with Storm’s arm clenched in his jaws.  The beast dragged the adventurer along as he swam.  Storm had sucked a rapid breath into his lungs before the fish struck, but he knew it wouldn’t last.  Around them, the water was turning red, this time from Storm’s own bloody wounds.

As he was being carried along by the predator, Storm could see behind the fish and through the murky water, and could barely glimpse the monstrous face of the second fish trailing them.  It was following the scent of his fresh blood.  There was going to be a feeding frenzy with him as the target unless he could act, and he’d have to act soon.

Reaching around the fish’s head to the other side, his fingers sought the tender flesh of the creature’s gills.  He found the leathery flap that protected them, and he struggled to worm his fingers into the space behind it.
The fish knew he was trying to hurt it, and it dove down deeper into the pool, over twenty feet down.  Behind them, the other fish followed them, slavering for the taste of Storm’s leaking blood.

Storm’s fingers touched the soft gills of the beast that was carrying him down, and he thrust them inside, grabbing a handful of the tender flesh.  He twisted and pulled hard.

The fish released Storm’s arm and struck out in pain and rage at the hand that had grabbed his gills, but Storm had already changed position.  He still gripped the rock that he found in his utility pouch: Storm wrapped his wounded arm around the powerful creature’s neck and drove the rock into the beast’s eye with the other arm.  He twisted it, endeavoring to mangle the vicious fish’s eye-socket as much as possible.  A ribbon of blood, a twin to the bleeding trail from the torn gills, burst from the socket, and with that Storm kicked free, swimming up toward the surface as the pursuing fish closed in upon the wounded creature below.

Storm broke the surface of the water and gasped deeply, but he couldn’t rest yet.  Behind him the water suddenly churned with the fighting of the two water-monsters: one tried to feed on another, who in-turn lashed out violently to protect himself.  The desperate clashing stirred the pool into bloody waves, and Storm stroked through the water toward Fay Durning and the iron fence at the edge.  Reaching the actress, he turned and the pair of them looked toward the violent frenzy in the pool.  Gore began to appear in the water, and Fay buried her face in Storm’s chest to shut out the sight.  He held her tightly.

After several minutes, the fight calmed and eventually ceased.  Both of the strange, monstrous fish lay floating and still upon the surface of the pool.  The creature that grabbed Storm had been partially eaten by his twin, but not before he had delivered mortal wounds to his attacker who ended up bleeding to death.

The pool was quiet now, save for the sound of the waterfall and Fay’s quiet sobbing.  Storm still held her against his chest.  Rage boiled within Storm, and he tried hard to focus away from the anger as his martial arts teachers had instructed him.

“Zodiac!”  he shouted at last, “I know you’re watching this!  We’ve won this round, this little trap of yours.  The game goes on now, according to your rules.  Let us out of this pool… now!


Within the control room, Zodiac glared at the monitor screen.  Storm, bloodied but triumphant, held the girl in the chest-high water and shouted toward the sky.  He was trapped there in the pool for the moment.  Zodiac could so easily just shoot Storm; end this all with a bullet in the head.  It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.  The pun wasn’t lost on Zodiac, of course: the second of his astrological traps had not succeeded.  The fish of Pisces had failed to bring down their prey and had been maneuvered into killing each other instead.  The trap had been a disaster, but there were others… the stars decreed that the zodiacal game should go on.  There could be no way to stop the wheel of stars from turning, and no way to keep this fate from running its course.

Trembling with rage, unable to ignore the course he had been set upon, Count Zodiac slammed his fist down upon the fence-switch.  The iron bars slid down back into their housings beneath the water’s surface, and on the monitor Clifton Storm and Fay Durning turned away and climbed together from the bloody Pisces Pool.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Still Here

  • Artwork for "Curse of Poseidon" nearing completion.
  • Progress on "White Hell" hit some snags, hoping to start again soon.
  • New chapter of "The Valley of Fear" coming ASAP.
  • Rode in an Avro Lancaster bomber last weekend, here's a pic:

See you soon.  Be good to yourselves.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stuff, Odds, and Ends

It's been a while since I last posted anything here.  There's been some scheduling changes, some things have taken a temporary backseat, while other things have taken the forefront and demanded more time.  That's the way life is, though, and apart from being less productive than I'd like to be, writing-wise, I suppose I can't complain.  I'm still getting adjusted to the move from Florida to Canada and all the red-tape hijinks and cultural-adjustment follies that come with such a move.  Then there's this weird stuff I've been seeing here: it's white and fluffy and falls from the sky, then collects on the ground only to melt and make things icy and slippery.  It's called "snow", I think.  Ever heard of it?

Anyway, since my last posting I've been working on the third Challenger Storm novel ("White Hell"): I'm about 10,000 words in and I've only just begun chapter 4 so I think I'm doing good so far.  Maybe not: my writer friends probably read that word-count and scoffed.  For me, that's pretty good, though.  I've got a good feeling about this one, and shortly after finishing this post I'll be working on the book some more.

"The Valley of Fear" web serial isn't dead, just on a little hold for a while.  I won't leave you (and Storm & friends) hanging for too much longer, but when I'm given the time and opportunity to work on the book I go for it.

The second Storm adventure, "The Curse of Poseidon", is still in production, and once again in the awesomely skilled hands of Michael Kaluta now.  I've seen the rough sketches for the interior illustrations and I'm again blown away: not only does the artwork reflect the action and hardware in this tale, it also occasionally pauses to give a nice glimpse of the quiet moments between the bullets.  I think- no, I know you'll love it.

What else?  Let's see... Oh, I've taken the plunge (again) and I'm on Twitter now (as well as still on Facebook here and here, of course).  If you haven't already stop by to say "hi", though I warn you that the stream-of-consciousness nature of social media often causes me to just talk about or post the most banal stuff in addition to talking about writing.  In other words: I ramble and babble a bit sometimes.  Like I'm doing right now, I guess.

I haven't had my coffee yet today, okay?

Anyway, I'm going to close this post with a new review of "The Isle of Blood" over at the British Fantasy Society.  David Brzeski had some really nice things to say about the book, and I'm glad to see it's being enjoyed "across the pond", too.

Now, about that coffee...

Sunday, February 3, 2013


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 8: "The Same Deep Water as You"

Storm made another circuit of the room, inspecting the walls closer now.  At his legs, the icy water splashed and lapped at the concrete cylinder around them.

The blonde woman watched him as he walked sloshing through the room.  The water was rapidly getting deeper, rising above their knees.  "Well, you're awfully calm about all this," she said with panic creeping slightly into her tone.

"I'm thinking," he snapped tersely.  Then his voice softened.  "You shouldn't be here.  I'm sorry you're in this with me," he said gently.

"No offense, but I am too," she said back.  Then she snapped her fingers.  "You!"

"Huh?"  He looked at her quizzically.

"You!  You're that guy that's in the papers sometimes, the one that helps people and has all those scientists on his payroll... whatsisname?  Conqueror Strom!"  She grinned.

"It's actually Storm," Storm replied, "'Challenger' Storm is what they call me in the news.  But please- please- call me Cliff."

"Okay then, Cliff: how are we going to get out of here?" she asked him.  The water was now nearly at her throat, rising faster than they originally thought it would.

"I'm working on it," Storm said, looking up at the roof high above them.  "Can you swim?"

The blonde scoffed.  "'Can you swim?', he asks me," she shook her head.  "I should say so: I was part of Billy Rose's Aquacade before I went to Hollywood."

It was Storm's turn to recognize her.  He did a double-take, seeing her face again, but really seeing it for the first time.  "You're Fay Durning," he said to the actress.

She smiled for a second, the habitual response overriding her fear for a fleeting moment.  "That's right.  I'd shake your hand but I've begun to tread water now," she said.  Indeed, the water was high enough now that the duo's feet were off the bottom of the room.  The chilly water was rising, and fast.

"I heard a woman screaming out there in the jungle, before Zodiac brought us to his castle," Storm remembered aloud. "That was you, Miss Durning?  Are you okay?"

She laughed.  "You heard that too, huh?  Yeah, that was me... but it wasn't me, it was audio that was recorded for the film we were making with that rat Jimmy Keane.  Zodiac's men took it out into the jungle with them.  They had a loudspeaker mounted on a truck."

Storm rolled his eyes.  "I knew it sounded familiar.  He played us for suckers, trying to lure us with that screaming."

"The movie rags say I'm the 'Queen of Scream', Fay said proudly, despite the situation around her.  "My claim to fame, apparently."

The water had risen to nearly half the height of the chamber by now.  Storm swam down to the bottom of the room, which was now lighted as well, to ensure there was no way out they had missed.  There wasn't.  The cylindrical concrete walls were smooth and unbroken, apart from the nozzles for the jets of water near the floor.

Swimming back to the top, his head broke the surface and as he shook the water from his face, something caught his eye near the top of the room, something he hadn't noticed before when he and Fay were at the bottom of the room.

The protuberances that were jutting slightly out of the walls that they had seen were levers set almost flush with the concrete.  Next to each lever was some kind of symbol carved into the wall.  Now that they were closer to the top, he could almost make them out.

Fay noticed him examining the walls closer.  "What is it?" the actress asked him.

"I don't know, but it might be a way out," Storm replied.  "I'm sure that Count Zodiac has no intentions on actually letting us go.  But he's going to play with us first- his ego is his downfall- and if we play along smartly enough we could just beat him at his game."

The water was now about level with the bottom row of the levers, which were staggered around and up and down the wall near the top of the room.  From the floor the carvings next to each lever had been almost invisible but now that they were almost on the level with the carvings, it was apparent to Storm what they were.

The carvings were zodiacal symbols, and each was on its own door, set flush with the walls of the chamber.

"They're doors," Fay said, and before Storm could stop her she swam to the nearest one, which was Capricorn.  Bracing her feet against the wall, she pulled the lever down.

The door opened smoothly on its hinges, and unleashed a torrent of water into the room.  The rushing liquid hit the actress in the face, knocking her back and into Storm's arms.  The water level rose now, even faster than before, magnified by the water rushing from the open door.

"Well, I won't do that again," Fay said, sputtering water out along with her words, as Storm swam over to the now submerged lever next to the Capricorn hatch.  He dove under and tried to pull the lever up, bracing his feet on the wall and pulling with all his strength.  It was no good.  The door was now in a permanently locked and open position.

The water level was nearing the top of the room.  Fay Durning had now clambered up onto the platform holding the Aquarius statue, which was still pouring water from its urn.  She watched as Storm broke the surface again.  "Sorry," she called out.

"It's alright," he replied.  "Just check with me first before doing something.  There's a method to this, I know it.  Zodiac doesn't do anything like this arbitrarily.  I just need to figure out the pattern here.  I'm sure that if any more wrong doors are opened we'll be in big trouble."  He looked around: all the doors and levers were now submerged, and there was only a few feet of air left at the top of the room.  One door had to be the right way out... but which was it?

Fay was clinging to the top of the Aquarius statue's head now.  "Oh no," she moaned in despair, "I almost drowned once when I was with the Aquacade during a 'Moby Dick'-themed number... it's not fun at all.  This is going to be much worse... and final!"

Storm's head snapped up, a look of sudden astonishment on his face.  "'Moby Dick'!" he shouted, and dove underwater again.

Confused, Fay asked nobody in particular, "What?"

Under the water, Storm stroked down to the doors.  He strained to make out the symbols on them through his water-fogged eyes.  Libra, Cancer, Gemini... he was searching for one particular hatch.

Fay Durning's comment about Melville's novel sparked a memory: the line "when Aquarius, or the Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and to wind up with Pisces, or the Fishes, we sleep."  That line echoed the order of the western zodiac's symbols.  Storm and Fay had been locked in the Aquarius room, and Storm supposed that only one of the doors led out of it.  In the horoscope, the sign of Aquarius was followed by that of Pisces.  This could mean that it was the way out.  It was a gambit, a risk Storm was taking.  If the door opened to more water, he and the kidnapped actress were surely done for.

Storm found the Pisces door, its surface carved with the symbol that looked like a capital letter "H" with inwardly-curving sides.  It was one of the lowest doors in the water-filled room.  Above, the water was now inches away from the ceiling, Fay Durning pressed her face to it to breathe whatever air remained for her.  Here goes nothing, Storm thought, and he gripped the door's lever.  He braced, and pulled.

There was a massive slurping sound underwater, and the door opened inward instead of outward like the Capricorn door had.  A massive pump activated somewhere:  the water was sucked into the tunnel beyond the door, pulling Storm and Fay with it.

Lungs bursting from need of oxygen, the two captives found themselves swept at lightning speed through a long, dark, narrow conduit as the water was purged from the cylindrical room.  They could drown here just as well if they didn't get any air soon.  Then, up ahead through the murk a dim circle of light showed...

Suddenly they were out of the tube, out in the open air and falling, water all around them as they were poured out of a tunnel set into a hillside.  The water and the captives fell dozens of feet to splash down in a deep pool below.

Bobbing up to the surface, they gasped air into their lungs.  Fay coughed raggedly: she hadn't been ready for the purge and had sucked in some water with her last gasp of air.

"Warn somebody before you do that!" she yelled at Storm between hacks.

"It's my turn to say 'I'm sorry'," Storm replied.  He was looking around them: they were at the head of the island's valley, in a deep, waterfall-fed pool surrounded by lush jungle.  "I wasn't sure it would work.  Thank God for your 'Moby Dick' experience."

"What are you talking about?" she yelped, still indignant over her near-drowning and their sudden fall through space.

Storm started to tell her about his "eureka" moment, when suddenly something brushed his leg.  Something huge was in the water with them, and it wasn't exactly shy.


Friday, January 18, 2013

An Element of Inspiration

One of these days I'm going to get around to discussing the influences and inspirations behind the creation of Challenger Storm: it's a long post that I've been planning for some time but have never gotten around to writing yet, but it's coming.

In the meantime, I wanted to share something that led to the inspiration behind a couple of characters from the first Challenger Storm novel, The Isle of Blood: J. Gordon Tolliver and his daughter, Katherine.

My Mom used to like going to antique stores when I was a teenager and I used to like going with her sometimes.  She still goes antiquing, but I haven't gone with her in a long time.  On one such antique-shopping expedition, I came across a batch of old photographs.  Old photos fascinate me: I often wonder who are these people?  Where did they live?  What happened during their lives?  I bought a batch of these photos and in among them was this picture (click to enlarge):

I don't know who they were, and the only indicator which might be the year of the photo was the number "42" stamped on the back.  Not sure if that was 1942, batch 42, or the meaning of life (and if you don't get that reference, I don't want to know you).  As soon as I saw the photo, however, I knew somehow, someway, I was going to write a story involving them.

And so they became the inspiration behind White Heron aviation tycoon J Gordon Tolliver and his schoolteacher daughter, Katherine.  Looking back at my fictional world, I like to think this picture of them was taken in the USA after the events on La Isla de Sangre.  The rifts that those events caused in their lives and relationship have hopefully been mended by then.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


(NOTE: This serial takes place out of order chronologically with the Challenger Storm novels, which are being written with a definite timeline in mind.  "The Valley of Fear" happens after at least book 5 or 6, but this shouldn't hinder the reading experience.  I'm flying by the seat of my pants here, so I make no guarantees in regards to quality or coherence.)


Episode 7: "The Gauntlet Begins"

There was only darkness, warm and languid, and he floated in it comfortably.  His mind was only vaguely aware of the feeling.  It seemed infinite and without start or end and unbroken.  There was nothing but the void and the floating.

And then there was a tapping.

The tapping was vague, without a source.  He couldn't tell which of his senses was responding to the tapping: was it a noise or a sensation of touch?  Was it even really there at all?  He was lost, looking for it.

The tapping stopped for a moment, and a voice spoke.  It was soft and feminine.  "Wake up," it said.  "You have to wake up."

It was hard to respond to the sound and the tapping, which was definitely a touch and it began again after the voice had ceased.  His floating comfort, the dark void that surrounded him... it felt like he had returned to the womb with no cares for anything else.  Did anything else exist?  Had it ever existed?  It didn't matter...

The tapping ceased for a moment then began again, more insistent.  And with it, the voice came back.

"Please, wake up," the voice said with more urgency creeping into it.  "Please."

He began to wish the voice and the tapping would go away.  He stirred and fought to stay under, to stay in his warm netherworld.

The woman's voice spoke again.

"Dammit, mister, WAKE UP!"


The open-handed strike across Storm's face broke through the drug's barriers, thrusting him back into consciousness.  He gasped as his eyes snapped open; in reflex, his hand lashed out and grasped the wrist of the hand that had struck him.  He sat up, his eyes glazed and striving to focus on the world around him.

A woman knelt beside him, clad in a clingy green evening dress that showed off her hourglass shape.  She was honey-blonde, with a strong jaw and matching cheekbones that added a regal strength to her beauty.  A pair of wide hazel eyes displayed her shock at Storm's sudden awakening.  The woman's Cupid's-bow lips opened above her slightly cleft chin and she uttered a single sound.


Storm blinked and realized he was gripping her wrist with more force than he should have been.  He released it.  "I'm sorry," he apologized, "I didn't mean to..."

"It's alright," the woman said as she shook her hand a few times.  "I'm sorry for the slap, but I really need you awake here with me.  Something's happening."

Their surroundings began to come into focus for Storm: they were in a circular room, the walls smooth and unbroken concrete.  The dim light that lit them came from a ring of lights high above their heads, nearly forty feet straight up at the top of the cylindrical chamber.  A thick platform stuck out from one side of the room, and there was a statue, a little over life-size, standing upon it.  The statue was of a nude male figure, holding some kind of large jar or urn as if it was pouring something out of it.  There were also some other kind of protuberances jutting out from the surrounding curved walls, but they were too high above to be seen clearly from the floor.  A faint sound accompanied the room: a muted gurgling noise that was coming from behind the walls.

Storm sprang to his feet but wavered dizzily and stumbled.  The woman got up and kept him from falling over.  Leaning against the wall, Storm shook his head and focused, concentrating on slicing through the drug's after-effects that fogged him.

"You were way too sleepy to be just dozing," the woman explained to Storm as he breathed deeply.  "Whatever you were drugged with, they got me with it too.  I just woke up here shortly before you..."

A loud squelch from hidden speakers above them cut her off.

"I see you are both awake now," a voice said.  "I was beginning to fear I'd used too much of the tranquillizer."

"Sorry, Zodiac," Storm said, "I'm still here.  Thanks for the nap, though."

"Well, I'm glad that you're well-rested," the disembodied voice of Count Zodiac replied.  "You'll want to be awake for this.

"As I told you over lunch," Zodiac continued, "you are here because you stole my country- my destiny- from me.  An eye for an eye, my friend.  I'm sure you can understand."

"This is between you and me.  Let the girl go, she's got nothing to do with this."  As he talked, Storm circled the room, looking for any point of exit.  There was none.  He still had his utility harness on, somehow, but he didn't have anything in the pouches at the time capable of blasting through the concrete.  "Why don't you come out in the open and we can settle this."

"The girl is there with you to give you incentive, Storm.  To help raise the stakes."  Zodiac paused before speaking again, and when he did, there was a new tone of menace in his voice.  "We're going to play a little game, you and I.  Beat my game, and I'll let you, your friends, and my other guests go free.  If you lose this island becomes your grave, and the grave of all those whose lives you carry now on your shoulder, even those of the natives on the other side of the island."

"What's he talking about?" the blonde asked Storm.

"Who knows?  He's crazy," he replied.  And dangerous enough to back it all up, he thought to himself.

"To win," Zodiac went on, "you're going to have to get from where you are now- the head of the valley at the north-eastern end of the island- to the goal, which is located at the other end of the valley to the south-west.  Along the way, you're going to have to prove yourself- again and again- in tests that I've built just for you.

"You are currently standing in the first of those tests: the Aquarius Room."

There was a clang somewhere, behind the concrete walls of the cylindrical room, and the muted gurgling changed pitch.

"The time for talk is over," Count Zodiac announced.  "I'd wish you luck, Mr. Storm, but you and I both know I'd be lying to you.  The gauntlet begins... now!"

A torrent of water broke free from the statue's urn, and it poured down into the room.  The blonde yelped as she jumped out of the path of the downpour, only to find jets of water spouting from the walls down near their ankles.

"Oh God, he's gonna drown us," she said.

Storm nodded.  "Yes, I believe he means to do just that."