The Return of #FoodPorn: Friday Night Dinner!

So we all know that dinner is hard work, particularly when you’ve been ultra-busy, you’ve gotten home late, and you’re feeding a family of five. It can get hectic, ’cause everybody is HANGRY and they don’t want to wait. The first option is to go to boxed foods — quick to prepare, marginally decent taste, pretty cheap.

NOPE.

While I do occasionally succumb to the “let someone else do it” mentality, I also like to feed my family real food, and I’ve learned how to do it fast. This past Friday, I did just that. I made a beautiful, comfort-food dinner that went from grocery bags to plates in right at an hour.

Go ahead and try it…you know you want to.


The Menu

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Ain’t that a pretty plate? What’s on it is:

  • Chicken Kiev (a modified version)
  • Buttered Spinach
  • Macaroni & Cheese

All made from scratch. Yup, in an hour. Ingredients first, then process.


The Ingredients

Here’s a shot of the ingredients. It really isn’t as much as you think. And the flour is missing, ’cause I’m a dork and forgot to grab the tin.

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Chicken Kiev

  • 3 large (thick) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (I used seasoned bread crumbs, others use panko. Your choice)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Buttered Spinach

  • 1 lb fresh spinach, washed well
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Mac & Cheese

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 2 16 oz bags shredded cheese (I use Italian Blend & Mexican Blend)
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • milk
  • salt & pepper

Links above send you to the individual recipes. Just in case you want them.

Also note, I’m cooking for a crowd. You can always modify these recipes to feed less people. Just drop your ingredients proportionally so you always have the right  blend of flavors.


The Process

Here’s what time it was when I started:

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  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start the water to boil for the macaroni. Pull out a ginormous skillet and add about a half-inch/inch of your favorite oil [I used a well-seasoned canola]. Set it to medium-low.
  • Beat the eggs well and pour them into the macaroni dish. Add 1 1/2 cups milk and half the cheese. Salt and pepper it, then stir it up really good. [A word of advice: use a teaspoon or so more salt than you expect to use. Trust me…the noodles need it.] Stick it on the counter.

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  • If the water is boiling, throw in the pasta. If not, cut up the butter for the chicken and and stick it somewhere warm to soften.

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  • Throw the spinach into a collander and rinse it well. Then drain it and rinse it again, particularly if it just came out of a garden. Dirty butter tastes funky.

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  • Do the pasta thing now if you haven’t already. Boil it 10ish minutes.
  • Is your butter soft? If so, great. If not, stick it in the microwave for about 15 seconds. You want it squishy, not melty. Then dump all of your filling ingredients into the bowl with the butter and mash it up really well. I used to fork to squish, then a spoon and my fingers for the stuffing.

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  • Slice the chicken breasts lengthwise from the side. You want them relatively thin and evenly-sized, but thick enough to stuff and bread. You need a REALLY sharp knife for this next step, otherwise you’re going to mutilate your chicken. [I prefer this method to the pounding/freezing/wrapping nonsense. It’s faster and tastes just as good.]

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  • Use the tip of the knife to slice a pocket into each chicken breast half from the side. You want it as deep and wide as possible without slicing through the other side of the meat. If it happens, it’s okay. Don’t panic. Just be careful how you stuff them.

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  • Stuff roughly 1 tbsp of butter into each breast, making sure to fill the pocket. Keep the butter away from any cuts or openings so they will seal themselves and keep the buttery goodness inside.
  • Wash your hands really well so not to transfer bacteria.
  • Rinse the spinach one more time for good measure.
  • When your timer goes off on your pasta, pause whatever you’re doing (if you’re playing with the chicken, wash your hands) and drain the pasta well. Dump it into the prepared dish and stir it up. Add the remainder of the cheese and, if it appears thick and lumpy, a little more milk to make it creamy. Shove that bad boy in the oven and forget about it. Doesn’t matter if the oven isn’t completely to 400 yet. It’ll get there.

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  • Lay out your bowls for the eggs, flour, and bread crumbs. Beat the eggs really well (I mean beat the unholy hell out of these suckers. The better beaten they are, the better they stick to the chicken) and pour them into the dish.
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Why yes, I did steal my daughters’ IKEA plates for this.
  • One at a time, roll the chicken pieces in flour (shake off excess), dip in egg (careful not to layer it on too thick), then roll in bread crumbs and set on a dry plate. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
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This is messy work, y’all.
  • Wash your hands. If you have Clorox Clean-up or some other germicidal cleaner handy, move everything and clean your counter. Empty the dredging bowls and squirt ’em too. Salmonella isn’t something we play with in our house.
  • Check your oil by dropping a single drop of water into it. If it sizzles, it’s ready. Which by now, it should be.

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  • TIME CHECK!
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Not bad…not bad at all.
  • Carefully place the chicken pieces into the hot oil using tongs. Try not to scrape off the breading or pierce the meat. Only place as many as your pan will comfortably fit — mine holds 3 at a time. Set the timer for 4 minutes.

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  • Get another pot and shove your spinach into it. Don’t worry about it all fitting into the pot. It’s gonna shrink up A LOT.
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See? Mine doesn’t fit either.
  • Set the heat under it to medium. The water still in the leaves from the rinsing will be sufficient to let it wilt. Stir it occasionally, making sure to bring the top leaves down into the pot so they can steam, too.
  • When the buzzer goes off, flip your chicken. Set it to another 4 minutes, but keep an eye on it. If it gets too dark too fast, turn your heat down and reduce your time to 3 minutes.

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  • Once the majority of your spinach is wilted, throw it back in the collander to drain off the excess water [there won’t be much]. Return it to the pot with the butter and other ingredients and turn it down to medium-low. Let that cook (remember to stir) until the butter is melted, then turn off the heat and just let it do its thing.
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Same Spinach…different consistency. Shrinkage is real, y’all.
  • Remove the chicken pieces from the oil and let drain on paper towels. Be careful not to squeeze them too hard or the butter pockets might explode. We don’t want that. Yet.
  • Add the next/remainder of the chicken and cook as above.
  • Check on your mac and cheese. By now it should have a nice, golden-brown crust on top. Yank that gooey goodness out of the oven and put it on a heatproof surface to cool. If you have grease on top from the cheese, dab it away with a paper towel.

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  • Flip the chicken. Get your plates ready.
  • Wash up. You really shouldn’t have a huge mess, and dinner will be much more satisfying if you don’t have to deal with it afterward.

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  • Remove the last of the chicken from the pan and cool.
  • Plate up your food and serve. Check out the time, too.
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One hour and seven minutes. BAM!
  • Congratulate yourself on a job well-done.
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One more time, ’cause it’s gorgeous. And look at that empty sink to the right!

NOTE: If you don’t like the idea of the frying, you can always bake the chicken – 350 degrees for about an hour, turning once. You want your inner temperature to register at least 165 degrees, otherwise you run the risk of uncle Sal coming to dinner, and he’s not invited.

So there you have it. Dinner in an hour. Now go forth and create magical foods!

 

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Bad Decisions, Social Justice, and the ConCarolinas Kerfluffle

Yeah, so everyone has heard the nonsense going down over ConCarolinas, right? If not, let me catch you up in three sentences:

  1. The ConComm invited John Ringo to be a special guest and he accepted.
  2. THE WORLD EXPLODED – meaning the mostly-liberal, mostly-welcoming regular ConCarolinas crowd freaked the absolute fuck out over this guy’s historical behavior and some not-so-far-fetched hypotheticals stemming from it.
  3. Some people got pissed and others withdrew from the con.

That’s where we are right now. There’s a lot of contention in the air, a lot of angry statements floating around that people may come to regret later, and a whole bunch of speculation on what’s actually going to happen in a month and a half.

Let’s pause for a minute and remember something: We’re all writers. Being writers makes us the poster children for overactive imaginations, right? Right.

Chasing hypotheticals is kind of what we do.

[ASIDE: This is not a political post. This is not a post dedicated to righting the wrongs of the world or condemning anyone for what they may or may not have done, or what they may or may not do. It’s my opinion, for the whole two cents and bad headache that it’s worth.]

Now, let’s get back to that Special Guest.

Personally, I have no opinion of the guy. I don’t know him. I’ve not met him. I’ve read a couple of his books, and I’m “meh” at best, because I’m not a huge fan of big military sci-fi. Yes, I’ve read all the stuff on the internet about how he portrays his characters and how he doesn’t deny that his own beliefs line up with theirs. It’s more or less conjecture at this point. At least, for me it is, because I haven’t witnessed it firsthand. I honestly don’t give two shits about him being a republican. I choose to form my opinions of people once I’ve actually been in a room with them and witnessed their behavior for myself.

Is it possible he and his fans (who, according to credible human sources, tend to be loud, rude, and exhibit racist/misogynist behavior) could come in and raise unholy hell in the middle of a usually friendly and even-keel event? Absolutely. But that’s true of literally anyone.

I admit, I’ve played through a hundred different scenarios involving as-of-yet fictional people doing dumb shit which requires me to step up and verbally bitch-slap them. I’ve played out the hypotheticals that could potentially lead to someone ending up in jail or the hospital. Or both. Again…writer. It’s what I do.

Keeping this in mind, I’ll be going into ConCarolinas weekend wary, but professional. This is my career, damn it, and I refuse to give anyone enough power over me to make me walk away from a chance to further myself professionally and spend time with my friends. Neither this man nor his followers have any sort of pull or control over me. So what if there’s a chance there could be an altercation? I’m willing to take that chance, because to me, my presence and my ability to stand up for myself and the people I care about will be more effective than walking away. Why? Because I don’t have the same social pull as the man the con world is currently rallying against. Because my actual VOICE and my ACTIONS will speak louder than my absence.

Which brings me to my next point:

A very dear friend of mine felt so emotionally threatened over this announcement that she has withdrawn her attendance. I completely understand her decision, because this wouldn’t be her first racism rodeo, were it to happen.

Her action was based on previous personal experiences with this person. It’s not arbitrary or unjustified.

I support her decision, because she’s doing what she feels is best for her. I will always be there to support her, no matter what, because I love her. Do I wish the situation were different and she was still going to be there with me? Yes. Absolutely. I would love for any resolution which would guarantee her a seat beside me. But that isn’t the case, and it’s her decision to make.

Which brings me to my third point:

Someone else made the statement yesterday that basically amounted to “you can’t be everybody’s friend and if you’re not resigning in solidarity, then you’re not an ally.”

That pissed me right the hell off.

See, I’m usually pretty quiet on political and social issues. I’m not a political creature. If I were, I’d be in politics. I’m a freaking writer. I use words to entertain people. Well, mostly myself, but anyone else who happens to come along can enjoy them, too. I’m also not the type to use my books as a sociopolitical platform. That isn’t what I do.

Do I have opinions? Oh, yeah. Loads of ‘em. But I choose to conduct myself in a more or less professional manner because my opinions should have absolutely no bearing on my book sales.

So a fellow author piping up and telling me I’m suddenly not good enough because I’m not pissed off enough? Yeah, no. Bullshit.

Why am I required to be outraged just to satisfy the outrage of others? Why can’t I just be a good person? When did being a good person go out of style? Because let’s face it…some of these “allies” are just as horrible as the people they’re fighting against. I’ve seen truly deplorable behavior on both sides, and when you’re reduced to squabbling like pissed off children, you don’t get anywhere. I don’t play those silly drama-llama games. I’m an adult, and I intend to present myself as such. I’m going to fight for what’s right, but I’m going to do it rationally and reasonably.

Yeah, we could all resign in righteous fury, but you know what’s going to happen? The ConComm will invite new guests. Because here’s the secret, snowflakes… we are all replaceable. And if we aren’t there to defend our territory and our people against a potential attack, those who replace us might not be so quick to do it. While we might feel that the ConComm has made a bad decision by inviting someone who could potentially upset the balance we’ve spent years crafting, there isn’t much we can do about it besides follow the rules and behave ourselves as we always have.

So no, I will not be resigning in solidarity to appease someone else’s outrage. As I said, my words and actions will have more impact than my absence. I will defend myself and my friends with every breath I have, should the situation require it. I will always champion the person who needs one.

My friends come in all flavors [insert awful joke about licking people here], and if I spend all of my time being angry and upset over all of the injustices of the world, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. I have to choose my battles and how I fight them. I have to decide what works best for me while still conveying my point and protecting others.

This is a battle I choose to fight head-on.

In Memoriam

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Last week, the world lost a truly special soul.

I had the good fortune to have Brenda in my life for fourteen years. My only regret is that we didn’t become such good friends sooner than we did. She had the biggest heart, and I am so very honored to be able to call her a friend.

Her funeral was this past Tuesday, and there were so many things I wanted to say – things I wanted to tell her family – but I couldn’t do it. Just the thought of voicing everything in my head and heart brought me to tears. It’s hard to express in words how much I love her and how much I’m going to miss her.

I’m also not much for eulogizing. But these are things that need to be said. So bear with me. I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

*

The first thing I was told when I came to work here was simple: “Don’t trust Brenda.”

But nobody could tell me why. I was young, and at the time we had split factions around here. It was kind of a warzone and I was stuck in the middle, everyone hanging around to see which way I’d fall.

I don’t play those games.

Over the years, Brenda and I became friends. Tentative at first, but friendly toward one another. Most of our conversation was superficial, and then one day we had a real conversation. You know, one of those conversations where you really get to see who someone is.

Then one day not long after that, we were good friends. Somewhere in those light conversations about movies and comic books and music, that trust grew. It happened without my knowledge

One afternoon I took her home – this was before I became her regular ride – and we got into a really heavy discussion. I don’t remember what the context was exactly, but it had to do with some racial issue. I made a comment about fair being fair regardless of what someone looked like or what they believed. Brenda just looked at me, and after a minute she said, “You really believe that, don’t you?”

Something changed that day, and shortly thereafter I stopped thinking about her as a coworker, or even a friend. She became family. She and my mother grew into a very tight friendship. She gave my mother the unconditional love she never had from someone outside our family, and though they only had a couple of years together, I’m thankful for that time.

She had this light about her. You always knew exactly where you stood, but even when she was telling you to get the hell out of her office, she was doing it with a smile. She made everyone’s day better just by being in it.

As it turns out, over the years I found she was one of the very few people up here I could trust, and I did so implicitly. She was my rock at work, a beautiful friend with a big heart and a lot of love to give. It never mattered what was going on with her; she always wanted to know what was wrong with us. She took care of us.

I tried to take care of her. As I write this, I feel like such a failure because she’s gone. I know, logically, there’s nothing I can do for a massive heart attack. But I tried. I wanted her to be here so much longer.

I can never remember a time when Brenda wasn’t here. She’s always been a quiet constant in the next office. She had a true passion for her job, and she loved this place. It’ll definitely be an adjustment, and one I’m not looking forward to.

Rethinking the Thinking

So I tried to mothball this thing awhile back and if we’re perfectly honest, it didn’t work. I have too many thinks and logging into the website is too exhaustive a process. That means I’m just going to start talking here again.

I know…you missed me and you’re thrilled. Right?

The End of an Era

Hey, y’all…

So you know how sometimes people hit a wall? I’ve done that. For the last six years, I’ve been moonlighting as two different people, not that any of you weren’t already aware of that.

The problem with that, however, is that I’m splitting my attention too many different ways, and it’s not healthy, and I’m not getting anywhere. So that having been said… I’ve made a decision. I’m going to consolidate my efforts. Siobhan and I have come to an agreement that we can’t take away from each other anymore. We have to go back to being the same person before it kills us.

This will, at least for the time being, be the last post to this blog. Everything is migrating to my website at www.SHRoddey.com as we speak. This blog will remain, as there’s lots of good stuff here. It’s also being copied to the website so I can keep everything in one place.

Thank you all for being part of this experiment, and please drop in at the website from time to time.

 

In the Shadow of Death: A #HoldOntoTheLight Post

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Last year, I told a very painful story, one I wish for the whole world to read, then read again. It’s hard, so please forgive me if this post carries all the tact and diplomacy of a sledgehammer through a plate-glass window.

I’m still hurt, still angry. Still seeking vengeance. Still praying that by shoving Angie’s story down the throats of anyone who will listen, her tragedy might open some eyes…might save someone else’s life.

AngieOn November 6, 2014, I lost a good friend to domestic violence. She died sixty feet from where I stood, face-down in a parking lot, four bullets neatly in the back of her head at the hand of her estranged husband. This was the climax to a three-week long horror story wherein he burned their house down, tried to turn their children against her, stalked her, tormented her, stalked me trying to get to her, and then blamed her when his sorry ass lost his job for not showing up to work. Then the son of a bitch turned the .45 and put it in his mouth before any of us had a chance to see him properly punished.

I know what you’re thinking.  You want to know why I’m being so selfish and conceited, right? Why I think my thoughts and opinions should matter.

Simple. Because I’m still here. And because I hurt, goddamn it. I LOST SOMEONE I LOVE.

I miss her.
I love her.
I’m lost without her.

But I’m not the only one. Angie left behind two sons – two handsome, well-mannered, intelligent young men who are now orphans. They’ve been left to fend for themselves at the mercy of their father’s family…the same family who has tried desperately to canonize the murderer they call son and brother. And you know what? I understand that. I can accept their need to rationalize his behavior…because you never want to admit someone is capable of cold-blooded murder. It’s hard for them.

But it’s also partially his family’s fault. With multiple family members in law enforcement, he used bullying tactics to keep Angie at bay. Her attempts at a protective order were blocked. He was a good guy, just ’cause he was someone’s brother in the department.

That, my friends, is a disgusting misuse of authority. I blame his family for her death as much as I do him. They could have stopped him, but they enabled his behavior, enabled his abuse. Because they didn’t want to see him as something capable of unspeakable evil.

But back to those boys – they’re both adults now. Thankfully, despite the trauma of their loss, they’re okay. One is in the military and the other is making a good life for himself out of college. I still think about them, still worry about them all the time. I want to be there for them since she can’t be…it’s the least I can do.

So the point I’m trying to make here… Domestic Violence hurts more than just the victim. It hurts everyone involved. Angie left behind two beautiful children. Her mother and brother – estranged from her or not – were devastated by her death. All of her friends, our coworkers…everyone that knew her. We all still hurt. There are still days, even two years later, where I pick up the phone to call or text her, but then I remember she isn’t there. Her number is still in my phone, no doubt passed on to someone else by now. I have a recording from a commission meeting that took place about two weeks before she died where she filled in for me. I still listen to it from time to time just to hear her voice. As long as I can hear her voice, she’ll still live on in my memory. I wouldn’t trade that ten-second soundbite for the world.

You would think after two years, the tears would have mostly stopped by now. But they don’t. They keep coming. It’s hard to see the screen as I write this because my vision has blurred almost to the point of blindness.

In closing, I ask this of anyone living in an abusive situation: Take Angie’s story to heart. GET HELP. Get away. Go to the police. A shelter. A friend. Just leave and don’t look back. Have children? Take them with you. Save their lives and yours. It’s okay to be afraid. But the longer you stay, the harder it is to cut those strings.

He only hit me once, but he apologized. That’s how it starts. It ALWAYS escalates. By the time you’ve had enough, you’ll be well on your way to dead. I don’t want you dead. I probably don’t know you, but I’m here for you. I’m in your corner.

He’s connected to the law. SO? Report his ass anyway. Then go to a neighboring jurisdiction and report him again. Then go to a shelter and get a lawyer.

He’ll try to kill me if I leave. Possibly, but he WILL kill you if you stay. Shelters and counselors are equipped to handle this kind of situation.

Angie left and she died anyway. And let me tell you why… Our staff panicked when he showed up. She went outside to keep him from killing all of us in the office. She protected us. She sacrificed herslf to save us because she knew he wouldn’t stop until one of them was dead. Her situation escalated to an unstoppable conclusion. Yours doesn’t have to.

Don’t stay. Leave while there’s a chance. Tomorrow might be too late.


there is a way out

SC S.T.O.P. Domestic Abuse Program

Rock Hill Area Safe Passage

Safe Harbor Domestic Abuse Center

About the Campaign

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blog campaign encompassing blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention and other mental health-related issues. We believe fandom should be supportive, welcoming and inclusive, in the long tradition of fandom taking care of its own. We encourage readers and fans to seek the help they or their loved ones need without shame or embarrassment.

Please consider donating to or volunteering for organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention such as: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Hope for the Warriors (PTSD), National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Canadian Mental Health Association, MIND (UK), SANE (UK), BeyondBlue (Australia), To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

To find out more about #HoldOnToTheLight, find a list of participating authors and blog posts, or reach a media contact, go to http://www.HoldOnToTheLight.com and join us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

At 3:30 this morning, I dared to go on the internet for the first time in a week, and I cried.

I cried for the loss of a man I’d never met, yet feel like I’ve known my whole life. I’ve never in my life cried over the death of a celebrity, but this morning I couldn’t stop myself. When I saw the news of David Bowie’s passing, I immediately took to the Google, praying it was yet another horrid hoax. I wanted to believe it was, then more and more news sites began reporting it and I knew it was real. And my heart shattered.

Like many of my friends, the man had a huge impact on my life. From my first coherent experience with Bowie as the Goblin King all the way through to Blackstar, the man has been one of the few constants in my musical and emotional education. His voice, antics, and showmanship have been a beacon, not only to me but to all the other weirdos like me. Ziggy Stardust made it okay to be different. His songs gave us permission to push the envelope.

In short, without him, I wouldn’t be me because I very likely wouldn’t know I was allowed to.

It appears nobody knew of his illness…and I suspect that was by design. God knows if it were me, I wouldn’t want the entire world on death watch. While it came as a great shock, I suppose it was for the best. This morning is the first time in years (literally years) where my Facebook feed has been nothing but an outpouring of love and support. It’s the first time in a long time I wasn’t inundated by hatred and bigotry. That fact did little to ease the pain my chest.

On July 28, 2002, a carload of us headed up to Manassas, VA for the Area2 festival with the sole purpose of witnessing the spectacle that was David Bowie. It’s the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve ever had… it was magical, the culmination of so many years of searching and questioning. Watching him made all the pieces fall into place, and it happened with some of my best friends by my side.

Now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling. Grief, certainly. But this deeply profound sense of loss… I thought this was meant to be saved for family and close friends. But then again, he’s about the closest friend I’ve ever had even though we never met. He brought me friends, was by my side as I lost others, and has always had just the right words for whatever situations I faced.

This makes no sense, I know. Grief and loss don’t make sense. They aren’t supposed to.

The words aren’t there, but my love is.

A Bloody Valentine: D.J. Tyrer

Here’s an evening treat for you all! D.J. Tyrer, also of State of Horror fame, has given us a bit o’ flash fiction to enjoy!

ULULATION

By DJ Tyrer

 “Whenever the cry of the banshee is heard,” Malcolm had said, “one of the clan is doomed to die.”

Duncan had laughed at the superstition. His kin here in the old country were an odd lot. At least, that’s what he’d thought until he heard the shriek of the banshee, a high-pitched ululation.

All of a sudden, Duncan really wished he hadn’t taken the late-night stroll along the cliff-top path.

The ululation came again, closer now. Fearfully, he glanced over his shoulder and thought he saw a white, vaporous figure further along the path. The banshee, the harbinger of death for his clan, was close behind him.

Duncan picked up his pace, then began to run, desperate to escape.

The cry came yet again, and he ran heedlessly through the darkness. Suddenly, there was nothing underfoot. For a moment, Duncan felt himself fly, weightless, through the darkness, then he was falling, plunging down to the jagged rocks and sea below, the ululating scream of the banshee echoing in his ears.


THE STATE OF HORROR SERIES

Edited by Jerry E. Benns
From Charon Coin Press

D.J. Tyrer is featured in State of Horror: Illinois.

State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror: North Carolina
State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror North Carolina
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