Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Nubian Queen, my steampunk story


(I imagine that Sahdi, the Nubian Queen in my steampunk short story coming out from DAW Books in 2011, is as beautiful as Tyra Banks (pictured above) and as powerful of personality as Oprah Winfrey. For those of you who don't know, steampunk is a sub-genre of science-fiction and fantasy. It has Victorian sensibilities, steam power, and is often set in an alternate history Earth. I loved writing this story and can't wait for it to be published.

Here's the first scene.

The Nubian Queen
By Paul Genesse

Lower Nubia, 1854 A.D.

Queen Sahdi gave the command to destroy the tracks ahead of the armored train as it steamed through the savannah beside Lake Nubia. She stood behind the thick ramparts of Gebel Adda, an ancient fortress situated in the hills that marked the border, wondering how many of her brave soldiers, and how many of the Egyptian emperor’s, were about to die.

Through the telescopic sight on her rifle, Sahdi inspected the canon barrels and machine gun turrets that bristled from every car on the train. The emperor’s generals would use the railcars to spearhead their attack for as long as they could. Her artillery hidden in the hills and the big guns at Gebel Adda would kill everyone who remained in the flatlands and leave the train a burning wreck.

A puff of white smoke, then a thunderous boom echoed from the bottleneck canyon that led to the train yard at the base of Nubia’s largest fortress. Boulders tumbled and covered the iron rails and the handful of unfortunate Libyan scouts inspecting the tracks for sabotage or explosives. The war train screeched to a halt a hundred yards away from the rock fall as dust filled the air.

Queen Sahdi lowered her rifle as General Kemani waited for her signal to open fire on the invading army now that the first part of their trap had been sprung. Five thousand Egyptian infantrymen in green tunics and tan trousers marching in columns behind the train formed firing lines, and some took cover beside the elevated train bed. The two dozen rhino mortar and machine gun trucks stopped rolling forward on their spiked metal wheels, smoke from their flash-boilers mixing with the dust, as they took aim at the hills on either side of the canyon.
A flag-bearer exited the train.

“A white flag?” Sahdi quickly looked through her scope as a group of men exited the second car and walked ahead of the locomotive carrying what appeared to be a folded up shade tent and poles—in addition to the unexpected truce flag.

“Your Majesty, shall I send our terms?” General Kemani asked, his weathered face bearing little emotion.

Sahdi sucked in her breath as far as the ivory corset in her dress would allow and got a mouthful of chalky dust as she beheld the face of the man standing beside the flag-bearer. It was General Nahktebbi himself. Seeing the man who had humiliated her when she was a girl stoked the kind of rage in Sahdi reserved for the cruelest criminals. The vile man had harmed her in a way no one else could. It had been so many years, but she could neither forget nor forgive. She rested the gun on her shooting tripod on the rampart wall, trying to calm herself and slow her pounding heart. She applied a subtle amount of pressure to the trigger. It was a far shot, but with the scope and her years hunting on the Nubian savannah, Nahktebbi would be a dead man shortly after she pulled the trigger.

“Your Majesty,” General Kemani said. A note of alarm had crept into his voice. “They’re under the white flag and I’ve noticed you’ve released the safety on your rifle.”

Sahdi let our her breath, taking very careful aim at the general’s broad chest and noting the slight westerly wind. “Yes, but it is Nahktebbi.” She corrected her aim. “When he falls, send the signal for the artillery to open fire. Then contact the MeroĆ« Cavalry Division and have them cut off any escape. Our spies must cut the telegraph lines at Abu Simbel immediately. I want the first message the emperor gets in Luxor to be Nahktebbi’s head in a reed basket.”

The general cleared his throat. “Your Majesty, please ask yourself why the emperor sent General Nahktebbi to fight this battle. He knew you would be here. He knew how you would react.”

Kemani stepped closer, his boot heels scraping on the stone. “Word of this breach of protocol will reach every court in the empire. What chance will we have then against the emperor?”

Sahdi pulled away from her rifle, slowly regaining control. She was the ruler of Nubia, not some barbarian queen like Victoria from the British Isles who executed enemies with her own hands. Sahdi had studied for nine years at the Library of Alexandria with the greatest philosophers, historians, and scientists in the world, then spent a dozen years ruling her own country. The blood of Cleopatra the Great flowed through her veins. Despite all of this, Sahdi had almost taken the bait. Emperor Demetrius had known how to make her blood boil. In a fit of blind rage she had almost pulled the trigger, dishonorably killing an enemy general under a truce flag and guaranteeing a long and bloody war with her portrayed as a criminal. Her reputation would be smeared like Cleopatra’s had been by Octavian and the Roman senate.

Sahdi turned around, her long tan dress fringed with a lion’s mane swirling about her. She stood tall, a full head above most of the men behind her. Nubia’s brightest generals, ministers, soldiers, and servants would spring into action once the words of command fell from her lips. She was so proud of what they had all accomplished during her reign. These women and men had helped guide her sweeping social reforms, built up Nubia’s massive industries along the Nile, and established MeroĆ« as the dominant center of trade in the entire Sahel. These few could accomplish anything, and Sahdi’s fierce dark eyes, full of pride, passed over all of them. Their skin was dark brown like hers, but she could see into their souls like they were wearing the sheerest linen. Not a coward or incompetent fool was among her inner circle.

How could she have allowed herself to come so close to destroying what they had accomplished together? Sahdi would speak to the leaders of the Holy Coptic Emperor’s army and give them one final chance to leave her country in peace. Words could be more powerful than bullets. Sahdi rested the butt of her rifle on the ground. She would give it up for something much more intimidating. Queen Sahdi gave her order with the confidence only someone in her esteemed bloodline could muster. “Bring me my crown.”

My orc story set in the Abyss Walker world

The orcs are coming.

My story, No-Tusks, (excerpt below) is slated to appear in Stygian Press's Abyss Walker anthology sometime in the Spring of 2011. The creator of the Abyss Walker World, Shane Moore read the story and gave me a glowing review today. It's a dark and nasty story, not for the faint of heart, but here's the first scene.


By Paul Genesse

The smell of roasted dog made Tezok’s mouth water. The taste of meat had been denied the young orc for many days as he survived on bird eggs and a handful of mushrooms he’d scavenged in the freezing forest. His yellow eyes peered beyond the leaning trunks of dead oak trees to the source of the enticing smell, now tainted with the old sour blood scent of his own kind.

Fear of being alone in the forest—and a desperate hunger—drove him to creep toward the red-orange firelight and spy on the small war party of orcs. They were the first that he had seen since fleeing his own tribe. He knew that no matter how clever he might be, one small orc in the elf-infested forest near the Minok Vale during Winter would not see the Spring.

His mind made up, Tezok prayed silently to the Angry God Drunda, promising to make many blood offerings if these orcs would take him into their tribe. After urinating on himself to show a proper amount of fear, he crawled on all fours and whimpered as he entered the campsite. The lone guard grabbed him by his knotted mass of greasy black hair, dragged him into the center of their circle, and threw him down hard on the ground.

“Why is runt skulking into Kar-Pok’s camp?” The largest orc, the Kar of the war party displayed his long yellow tusks as he sniffed the air. “Runt not much bigger than a whelp.”

“Runt is food for march,” the guard said, causing grins, which looked like an exaggeration of the orcs’ already-large under bites.

“Not food. I slave. Let slave serve great Iron Spear tribe.”

The Kar clicked his tusks against his sharp upper teeth, his surprise only half-hidden. “You know of Iron Spear tribe?”

“All of Drunda’s spawn know Iron Spear tribe and ferocious leader, Kar-Pok, who is Elf-Killer and Cattle-Stealer.”

The orcs laughed and Kar-Pok swelled up his chest, failing to realize that the young orc might have heard the war leader mention his tribe’s name as he boasted of his prowess moments before.

“Kar-Pok!” The large orc slammed a fist against his muscled chest covered with scars. Then his green skinned hand—coated with dog’s blood—wrapped around the young orc’s throat. Kar-Pok pushed his small captive against a flat stone beside the fire where they’d butchered the dog.

“No. Not food.” The whimpering orc’s left tusk grated against the rock as Kar-Pok opened his free hand, motioning for a weapon. One of the warriors slapped the handle of a rusty hatchet into it.

“Not food. Good slave. I serve Kar-Pok.” Overwhelming terror made Tezok squirm and fight. He cursed himself for entering the camp. It would have been better to die alone than end up as meat.

Kar-Pok raised the hatchet despite the whimpering and the sincere stream of urine that began to muddy the ground.

“We see if you good slave.” Kar-Pok chopped downward, shattering Tezok’s left tusk. After two more whacks he turned him over, pressing the squealing orc’s square jaw against the rock. Kar-Pok held him still as he broke the other tusk with repeated blows, first with the sharp edge, then with the flat side of the hatchet head, each blow more excruciating than the last.

“Ukluk! Ukluk!” The orcs shouted as they howled into the night. “Ukluk kech garga!”

The blinding, throbbing pain from losing his tusks made Tezok’s new name even worse. Ukluk, the humiliated and emasculated young orc thought bitterly as he swallowed the blood filling in his mouth. No female would ever mate with him if he didn’t have tusks. It would have been better if he had been killed by the elves.

He curled into a ball as the warriors kicked him and prodded him with burning logs from the fire. As he endured the attacks, the pain and fear became a red-hot desire for vengeance. Let them call him whatever they wanted. He would bide his time, and use the witch Valga’s secret knowledge to get back at them. When the moment came, he would show them who he really was and have his revenge on Kar-Pok and entire Iron Spear tribe. Until then, he would be the lowliest wretch, and they would call him No-Tusks the Slave.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review of Talking to Yourself in the Dark by Tom Carr


Talking to Yourself in the Dark
A How to Guide to the Paranormal
by Tom Carr

Tom Carr knows ghosts. He’s written a fascinating book that will give you insight into the mind of, and teach you how to become, a paranormal investigator. Tom has been the lead investigator on scores of “ghost hunts” and shares his massive experience in this engrossing guidebook. If you love ghost stories, ghost hunting TV programs, or shows about hauntings; or if you’ve wondered what it’s like to actually conduct a paranormal investigation, you will love reading Talking to Yourself in the Dark. It’s written in a practical and engrossing style that made me think Tom was an experienced writer, despite this being his first book. The chapters are no-nonsense explanations that truly teach you how to set-up a team, get into locations without violating the number one rule: DO NOT TRESSPASS; and of course how to actually conduct an investigation. There’s a lot of great material in the book, and the case studies at the end are super creepy. The book is not very long, only 91 pages, and though the topics were covered extremely well, I would have enjoyed it even more had it been longer. The handful of few copy editing errors in the first edition that I read were easily overlooked and will most certainly be corrected.

As far as “how to” guides go, this one is never boring and will keep you turning the pages from start to finish. After reading it, you’ll understand what’s it’s like to enter haunted locations and attempt communication with spirits. There really is a lot of “talking to yourself in the dark” when on investigations, which I learned personally. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend one of Tom’s seminars on ghost hunting at the ConDuit convention in Salt Lake City, and to actually be a guest on two of his investigations in Utah: one at the abandoned Tooele hospital, and one at the Baron Woolen Mill in Brigham City. I’ve blogged about both ghost hunts and wish I had been able to read Tom’s book before I followed along with him.

Reading this book will help you in countless ways if you’re planning on conducting your own paranormal investigation, or it’ll give you chills and thrills as you vicariously peer into dark places where most people are afraid to look. You’ll know what to do and especially what not to do. Tom goes to great lengths to explain that there are no professional ghost hunters, but after reading his book and going on two hunts with him, I think he is as close as they come.

Paul Genesse
Author of The Dragon Hunters

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Haunted Mill


The Haunted Mill

(This is a non-fiction account of my second official ghost hunt)

I watched the angry red scratch appear on Tom’s skin. It was as if someone—who wasn’t there—was raking him with a wide fingernail on his low back. I looked at his back after Tom said his skin was burning. I pulled up the back of his shirt to check it out. He motioned to an area in his lumbar region and I saw a fingernail-wide bright red scratch about one inch long. I thought it might be nothing—at first. Then I watched as the scratch moved up his back to the length of six or seven inches. I saw it happening and it chilled me to the bone.

Watching the scratch appear was the strangest, and also one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen. There was something invisible in the room with us that was able to affect Tom physically. It wasn’t the first time a member of the Wasatch Paranormal Investigation team had been scratched by some “thing,” and it wouldn’t be the last.

There was much more to come on my second official paranormal investigation, which took place on Saturday night, March 7 at the Baron Woolen Mill in Brigham City, Utah. We were there for about five hours, and left around 1:00 AM. We were all cold and exhausted at the end, but I wonder what it would be like to be there during the so-called “dead time” around 3:00 AM.

The room we were in when the scratching occurred was the “ash room,” sometimes referred to as “the rape room.” A woman was raped and murdered in the mill, and it is thought that she was killed in the “ash room,” which is a small square chamber behind the old boiler in the dank basement. Not a place you ever want to go into. The murder was said to have been covered-up by some in the town and we assume that the murderer was an important man, or at least a man with connections. Is the dead woman's spirit lingering there and still wanting justice? At least two other people died there as well, a boy and a man who fell to his death. Why the other spirits are there . . . well no one knows for sure.

The mill is the scariest place I’ve ever been, and since I have a crazy fascination with ghosts and put them in most of my novels and short stories, I’m probably going to return there someday for another dose of paranormal madness. It fuels my fires, no dout.

How did I end up there? I was invited on the investigation by Tom Carr, the co-founder of Wasatch Paranormal Investigators (WPI), who also does the internet radio show, of which I’ve been a guest a couple of times. I’ve been on one hunt before with Tom and his crew, but this one was amazing. My co-worker and close friend, Zabrina came along (she went with me last time), and it was great to get to share this adventure with her. She’s a “sensitive” and is more attuned to energies in places than I am. She felt bad vibes, among other things, from the moment we arrived at the haunted mill. Even the office out front, which was our so-called safe-room where we set up, did not feel safe to Zabrina. I completely agreed.

Tom and the crew (Doug, Russ, Jessica, Staci, and Monica) gave us a tour of the vast crumbling and garbage-strewn industrial structures with old rusting machines, broken windows, and decaying wooden floors. The mill was in operation for over a hundred years making wool blankets and such, but was shut down in about 1996.

Joining WPI that night were several interesting guests. Besides my friend, the always fun Zabrina, there was Cat (Cathlene Smith), author of the paranormal novel Slivers of Reality, and her friend (?), who I didn’t get a chance to chat with. Our guest of honor was Heather Joseph-Witham a PhD professor of folklore at Otis College of Art and Design who flew in from L.A. for the investigation. Dr. Joseph-Witham, or Heather to her cool ghost hunting friends, has been on the TV show Myth Busters several times as the expert folklorist. I can see why the Myth Busters guys love her on the show. She’s got a great energy about her and it was fun to have dinner with her beforehand. Of course we ate at a haunted restaurant, J&D’s in Brigham City, which has a former manager who haunts the place. Many staff have seen his ghost and he hates ALL servers. The ghost enjoys tormenting them after hours by throwing dishes off shelves, glaring at them from a booth where he used to sit and other mischief. The new staff usually have a scary encounter with him that causes them to run out of the restaurant screaming, and sometimes quit.

Anyway, after dinner we drove off into the night to the Baron Woolen Mill and started the investigation in utter darkness—our flashlights making tiny dents in the thick shadows. It was bitterly cold and the place smelled of decay, pigeons, and rancid oil. Most of the windows were broken, many were boarded up, and the whole place had a sinister, oppressive feel.

The apparent attack on Tom was the most intense moment, but we had a couple of encounters where our K2 meters, which are EMF detectors (electromagnetic field detectors) were going off. The K2’s have a green light on them and some red lights that only go off when there is a spike in the electromagnetic field around it. The K2’s were going off when we asked questions, but otherwise, they had no reaction as we walked around the place—which has no electricity in the old buildings.

When using the K2’s we would ask something like: “any spirits who want to communicate with us please touch the green light and make the red lights light up.” Whenever we asked something like that, the meter would usually go wild. We’d say tap it once for yes, twice for no. Then we’d proceed to have yes and no “conversations” with the spirit or sprits that were there. At one point in the sheep-shearing building in the back, I felt like I was communicating with Billie, a boy who was killed at the mill when he was dragged into a huge machine (pictured on my Facebook page—link below), but he left after a few minutes and the EMF detector went blank again.

Overall, the night was not as active as some of the investigations they’ve had before. In the past they’d seen full-bodied apparitions of men, women, and a young boy—probably Billie. Team members have been slapped, had their hair pulled, been pushed, scratched, touched, and spoken to by invisible entities. The mill is filled with many restless ghosts, or the infamous creatures Tom has joked about in the past: paranormal ninjas.

The nearly five-hour investigation was quite an experience for me, and I’ve barely described it in this post. Suffice it to say that I feel very strongly that there are several ghosts in the mill.

Tom was attacked twice that night. Not that long after the first time he was scratched he felt the same burning pain again. I looked under his shirt and saw a three-pronged scratch begin and then go down his back in front of my eyes, as if whatever was attacking him was doing so as I held up his shirt shining a light on his skin. Something, or someone, really does not like Tom and let him know very clearly he was not welcome.

Tom and I both, as well as a few others, felt a terrible fear come over us suddenly during our time in the “ash room,” but not while the scratching was happening. It was after the first attack. I had to “man-up” and keep my cool. Tom made a comment at the same moment I felt the fear and later we discussed it. He said it took everything he had to not run out of that room—which is totally unusual for him. I felt the same way he did, experiencing the fear in a very visceral way. Regardless of what we were feeling, we stayed put, hoping something more interesting would happen. (Yep, we’re nuts). It was not a pleasant experience at all being in the ash room. We kept waiting for something else to happen, but in the end, the only thing that could be physically seen by everyone were the two scratches that appeared on Tom’s back. I was quite happy to leave the ash room and take a break after that.

We went back in later, did more K2 and EVP work (EVP=electronic voice phenomena). EVP’s are disembodied voices that appear on recording devices and are thought to be spirits trying to communicate. Sometimes you can only hear them when you listen to the recording with headphones and boost the volume. We would ask questions like: “Did you work at the mill?” and wait for 30 seconds in silence. The K2’s would often go off after a question, but we never heard an audible voice.

The digital recordings will have to be reviewed to see if we caught anything. Tom and the crew have caught a ton of amazing EVP’s in the past, and I wonder what they’ll get this time. I still have to review the recording I made with Tom’s recorder.

I’m very thankful to have been invited to attend the investigation. It was quite an experience and fueled my already overactive imagination. The thrill of apparently being able to communicate with spirits on the K2 meter and watching a supernatural event like the scratching attacks on Tom were totally amazing.

If you want to learn more go to Tom Carr’s website, and look at the pictures, scary EVP’s, and get his excellent ghost hunting book, Talking to Yourself in the Dark. I’m reading it now and think it’s a perfect “how to” manual for would be paranormal investigators. I’ll be posting a review of his book later this week.

The whole experience at the haunted mill was incredible. Not all of the spirits there felt malevolent to me. I’m certain that some of them are just lost souls who’ve stayed behind instead of passing into the light. I’ll never forget my first investigation at the Baron Woolen Mill. The best part about it was sharing the experience with my new friends, the living ones . . . and of course . . . the dead.

View the pictures on the public Facebook link here:

Paul Genesse
Author of The Golden Cord (an epic fantasy novel about a haunted young man trying to survive and save his people in a harsh, unforgiving world)