The Way of the Word

8. October 2011

I (Heart) Christopher Lee – Postscript

It’s not a secret that I’m a huge fan of Christopher Lee.

I even made some cartoons about it:

I (Heart) Christopher Lee
Meeting the Legend

If you wish, you could refer to the strips’s backstory, which I explained in a different post here on this blog. Essentially, the strips are a spoof of what might happen if I ever got the chance to meet Christopher Lee.

He was in Hamburg last Sunday. Presenting his new movie.

AND NOBODY TOLD ME!!!!!!!

Translation: considering that he’s 89 years old, this was probably the only chance ever to meet him, AND NOBODY TOLD ME!!!!

(slinks into a corner to cry)

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30. July 2011

Review: Witch Doctor #2

Publisher: Image Comics. Cover Price: $ 2.99. Written by Brandon Seifert. Art by Lukas Ketner

Dr. Vincent Morrow, the Witch Doctor, has a choice: take care of a Cuckoo Faerie infestation (a faerie that steals and kills human children and replaces them with her own offspring), or join Absinthe O’Riley on a creature hunt. The latter scares even Morrow, so he decides to handle the infestation. Which is a job he actually considers to be beneath him. Meanwhile, Abby’s hunt is successful, and when Morrow returns home, he finds a surprise monster in his office.

Witch Doctor is a comic that makes me cry: “Why didn’t I have that idea?” Because the idea is really simple: you take one part of House MD and one part Re-Animator, shake rattle and roll it, and you get the medical horror drama Witch Doctor.

Of course, as simple as that premise sounds… Well, the result is more than that. Far more. So much more that I’m convinced that Brandon and Lukas are really bugf*ck crazy.
Consider that we’re talking horror, and you’ll realize that it is a compliment. Because the creators take the idea of a medical/scientific approach to the supernatural and think it through, without shying away from the consequences. The result is a horror comic that is sick, bizarre and over the top fun. While Ketner’s art fails the Shooter Test (it is sometimes impossible to tell what goes on in a panel if you didn’t have the words), that is due to the nature of this beast, and not at all detrimental to the fun.

The characters are also wonderfully off-beat. Dr Morrow is Dr House as Jeffrey Combs might play him, his paramedic Erik Gast is the straight man to Morrow’s over the top approach to the situations they find themselves in. My main problem is the second assistant, Penny Dreadful. And not because I dislike the character. But she’s a scene stealer. Seifert and Ketner make her strange and mysterious, always leaving hints at her nature without explaining anything. The problem is that the character is so fascinating that she becomes a distraction when she is on-panel. Which, yes, is once more a back-handed compliment.

If you like horror, you owe it to yourself to buy this comic. Because it shows a completely new and original approach to the subject matter, with a ton of in-jokes and references to the more classic versions.

Verdict: Extremely recommended!

24. June 2011

RIP Gene Colan

Born September 21, 1926 in New York, died June 23, 2011 (aged 84), after a broken hip and complications from a liver disease.

Gene Colan studied art at the Art Students League of New York and began working in comics in 1944, drawing for Fiction House’s Wing Comics. He joined the US armed forces just in time for the end of the war, but spent time serving with the US occupation forces in the Philippines, where he rose to the rank of corporal and drew for the Manila Times. Upon his return in 1946, he produced a short story, took it to Timely Comics and was hired on the spot, where he worked as a staff artist until Timely laid off almost all their staff in 1948. Colan turned to freelancing, especially for the company that would become DC Comics.

Upon the beginning of the Silver Age in the 1960s, Colan quickly established himself as one of the greatest artists working in American comics. He worked on Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Iron Man and most notably Daredevil.

With Daredevil as his signature superhero work, he became something of a household name when he teamed up with writer Marv Wolfman on the horror series The Tomb of Dracula, a book that he had actively lobbied to be assigned to. His dark, moodily-brooding pencils that were complimented by the work of inker Tom Palmer were probably a greater factor in the book’s success than Marv Wolfman’s inspired writing.

In the 1980s, he had a falling out with Marvel Comics and instead worked more for DC Comics, on books like Batman, Night Force or Wonder Woman.

He quite literally kept working until the end.

Colan was a multiple awards winner, like the Shazam Award (1974), the Eagle Award (1977, 1979), the Sparky Award (2008) and the Sergio Award (2009). He was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2005.

Back in the Silver Age, Colan had his very own style. It was a dark, shadowy and moody style. Personally, I always felt that he worked on some books where his style didn’t mesh (Captain America, for example), but on the right books (Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Night Force, Nathaniel Dusk) it was really breathtaking. Colan is one of those few American comic artists whose work actually looks better when it’s stipped of the coloring, as you can easily see if you look at Marvel’s Essential Tomb of Dracula collections. He was one of the first artists who could make me excited for a new comics series: the only reason why I eagerly anticipated the coming of DC’s Night Force back in 1982, or that Nathaniel Dusk noir miniseries (1984) by a writer I didn’t know, were because it had Colan art, and he wasn’t doing superheroes.

In that regard, yes, it was funny: I was very much a superhero reader at the time, but I always felt that Colan was wasted on superheroes. His style was wrong for it, it was too different, too unique.  It was, in a word, distinctive, and by all accounts he struggled against the pressure from his higher-ups in order to keep it distinctive, rather than to conform to a house style or some momentary fashion. That alone should earn him respect and accolades. Of course, it helps that he was one of the best comics artists ever. His visual storytelling skills, his moody, shadowy and atmospheric style set him apart from most of his peers, and seriously, anyone who wants to work as a comic book artist should look at his work and learn from it.

Will he be missed? By those who knew him, certainly. I haven’t had the privilege, but I’m told he was one of the nicest people in the business. By the rest of us, his readers? Well, we still have the comics he drew to re-read and appreciate, and to make us thankful for everything he had to give to us.

28. May 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Okay, if the right chain of unlikely coincidences should happen, this one has a very slim chance of not being completely impossible. If someone who knows Cassandra Peterson happens to see this and likes it and points it out to her and she likes it…

But, yeah: awesome idea that will never be.

I like Elvira (Cassandra Peterson). The character is funny, bizarre, over the top, sexy and, well, funny. I own her first movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on DVD. I’ve seen the second one, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the first. The reason is simple: Elvira is an over-the-top comedic character. But unlike the first movie, where Elvira began as the odd woman out and the situation became progressively more bizarre, the second movie had a scenario where everyone was so bizarre that Elvira fit right in.

A good Elvira movie needs to quote heavily from the horror genre, and it has to have Elvira as someone who stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. If everyone is as bizarre as she, then it’s overkill.

So what can we do to make a good and fun Elvira movie? It’s really quite simple:

Elvira Knows Why You Screamed on Friday the 13th.

Let’s quote heavily from the slasher genre, with some liberal sprinkling of Evil Dead and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A busload of teenagers, returning home from a sports event (or going to a sports event) finds themselves trapped on a small islet. They had only planned to pass through, but a flash flood tore down both bridges, effectively isolating them. There is only one house on the islet, a mansion actually, so the teenagers turn there for help.

The only person in there is Elvira, who, being her normal friendly and helpful self, offers the kids shelter. But something is weird about the entire set-up. Curious as teenagers are, they discover that Elvira is engaged in some strange magickal rituals that might involve the Necronomicon.

As soon as they discover that, they start dying. Since Elvira is the odd woman out, they of course immediately suspect her as the Slasher, and try to kill her in return. Which doesn’t work, but plays a part in establishing that Elvira is not the killer. As the outsider looking in, her help does turn out to be instrumental in uncovering the real killer. And about the magickal experiments she performs in her basement? Yes, it is the Necronomicon, but she’s not trying to call up demons. She’s trying to materialize Bruce Campbell.

At the end of the night, the bridges are being repaired, so the surivors can look forward to continuing on their trip. But what about Elvira? Will she get lucky? Will her summoning of Bruce Campbell succeed? Only his agent knows for sure…

22. May 2011

Vampires Don’t Sparkle!

If you like vampires (the scary kind that doesn’t sparkle in the daylight), you might want to consider spending 99 cents on Streets of Blood, my vampire novel. Only available for the Kindle.

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/jeNxaE

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/j1e19E

Amazon Germany: http://amzn.to/jMhUdp

15. May 2011

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean 4 – On Stranger Tides

USA 2011. Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane. Runtine: 140 minutes

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in London, and hiring a crew for a new expedition. When Captain Jack Sparrow finds out about that, he’s rather upset that someone is abusing his name. He has just found out who it is when he is shanghaied into that very crew — which turns out to be Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane). Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz) are looking for the Fountain of Youth. Just like everyone else, from the Spanish king to Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack’s arch-nemesis. And everyone thinks that Captain Jack Sparrow knows where it is.

I’m kind of torn regarding Pirates 4. On the one hand, I didn’t very much like it. On the other hand, I know exactly why: I’m too old for it. Pirates of the Caribbean is very much a children’s movie. If you’re under 18, you’re probably going to love it, for exactly the bits that seemed silly and contrieved (in other words: childish) to me. In that regard, it fails: while delivering the goods for the young target group, it forgets to add a layer for the adults. If you’ll compare recent animated movies like Despicable Me or Megamind, those had something for everyone to enjoy. Pirates 4 is only for children. Perhaps adults are supposed to marvel at the production values. It is, in a way, a pity, because Pirates 4 opens with a very clever and well-choreographed action sequence where Captain Jack escapes from the clutches of the king of  England. But it fades fast afterwards. There is still plenty of action, and a couple of scenes that might have been scary, but it is literally too bloodless to be effective.

Yes, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is definitely aimed straight at children. In that, it falls short of the all-ages appeal of the first one.

Another problem is that the cast doesn’t bother to try to save the movie. Johnny Depp is by now so familiar with Jack Sparrow that he doesn’t need to wake up in order to play the part, and it shows. McShane’s Blackbeard tries his best to be menacing, but he doesn’t really succeed. There is no chemistry between Cruz and Depp, and their relationship doesn’t really hold water. Only Rush as Barbossa stands out. Rush chews his scenery with relish, and becomes the best thing about this movie.

The script is also rather careless. A bit more effort would have resulted in a layered all-ages movie instead of a pure childrens’s movie. And some plotholes would have required plugging. While there is a twist at the end that even I didn’t see coming, the ending had several problems. While some of it was predictable, there was one real “That character wouldn’t do that” moment, and the ending required ignoring some of the rules the movie set up.

Of course, this movie was in 3D. Compared to most, the 3D was not bad. Disney really knows how to do that. However, the 3D is in-your-face pointless, mostly it’s about objects being thrust into your face. You don’t lose anything by seeing this movie in 2D.

The final verdict? This one is difficult. As a movie for children, Pirates 4 is quite effective. As such, I render the

Verdict: recommended

For adults without children, it’s more difficult. Pirates 4 is better than Pirates 2 and 3, but that’s not difficult to accomplish. It’s not as much fun as the first one, though. For adults, I render the

Verdict: mildly recommended

12. December 2010

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Sometimes I can’t help thinking about stupid things. Things that happen in comics, or on television, or in some other medium, involving characters and situations that I know I will never get to work on. I mean, let’s be honest here: I’m not nearly famous enough that a TV producer or a comic book editor would even look at my e-mails, or consent to look at one of my pitches. Heck, even if one of them should stumble upon this blog, see the idea and like it, they would never give me a call.  But I can’t help the ideas. Some are really awesome, but they will never be. This blog, however, is a way to talk about them.

This morning, while shaving, I thought about death in superhero comics, and how it’s become trite through overuse. “Hey, we don’t have any ideas, what can we do to boost circulation? I know! Let’s kill someone!”

If I were in charge of either of the Big 2 superhero publishers, death would me mostly permanent. I mean, why not? It would force the writers to become more creative, and it’s not like I’d be in charge forever (never mind how Joe Quesada over at Marvel Comics makes it feel that way). The next person in charge would reverse that decision anyway.

But as I mulled this over, I realized that there can be a backdoor, if it’s creative enough, awesome enough, or set up at the time of death. For example, when Marv Wolfman killed Barry Allen, he had set up a backdoor for an eventual return. A backdoor that Geoff Johns used to bring Barry Allen back. Not that Barry Allen was ever dead, he was alive and well in the 30th century. I would have brought him back from the future instead.

Or Hal Jordan. He became insane, became Parallax, died, came back as the Spectre, and now is Green Lantern once again. Instead of the way it was done, how awesome would it have been if they had brought him back (not that I wanted him back, but that was editorial edict) as the result of an epic battle between Parallax and Spectre? No “yellow fear entity” crap.

In any case, that would be my “get out of hell free” card: if the possible resurrection is built into the death, go ahead.

Which leads me to Doctor Doom. Heavens help me, I have figured out a way to kill Doctor Doom, and resurrect him, and make it awesome.

The key lies in a line of text that Reed says to DOOM (the one character in comics who needs to be put in all caps all the time) during the Mark Waid run. Something along the lines of, “I won’t send you to Hell because we both know you’d be running the place within six months.”

What if he did?

Suppose DOOM attacks the FF once more. He fails, again. This time, he dies. And goes to Hell.

The next step could be one of two things: one would be a 6 issue miniseries: DOOM – To Reign in Hell, detailing how DOOM takes over Hell. You know — “you’d be running the place within six months.” The alternative would be that other characters who return from the dead make cryptic comments about how Hell has changed since DOOM took over.

Eventually, Mephisto approaches the FF with a request: since they sent DOOM into his realm, costing Mephisto his position and power, and since they are DOOM’s arch enemies, he considers it their job to help the Devil out on this one and get rid of DOOM for him. It would be Ben who would ask the obvious question: why should they?

“Because,” Mephisto answers, “DOOM hasn’t figured out yet how to access and use the full power that is the due of the ruler of Hell. Once he has, he will be even more unstoppable.”

That’s enough motivation (maybe Mephisto would offer them a deal, which the FF would of course refuse — heroes don’t make deals with the Devil) for the FF to get going. Fighting alongside the minions of Hell, they defeat DOOM after a harsh battle. Once Mephisto gets the upper hand, he regresses DOOM to infancy. Both physically and mentally. And leaves the baby in the care of the FF.

“I’ve wiped his slate clean,” Mephisto explains. “He’s all innocent again. Now it’s your responsibility to raise him into, well, someone who won’t come back to my place. Next time he does, however, I’ll be ready. I won’t underestimate him again.”

29. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 40

Looking down at the bubbling lava in Wakano’s Throne, Ghenni still hadn’t entirely gotten over recent events. First, Habbassin had stopped the volcano. Oh, sure, the other two had helped, but Ghenni had been there. She knew exactly what had happened. After they had stopped the eruption, the magic-users had evacuated every living thing from the island. Returning, they had reerupted the volcano, letting it run its course.

“What we did was only a stopgap measure,” Habbassin had told her. “If we left it at that, it could blow up again any time. If we erupt it now, while we’re still around to control it, you’ll be safe. For a while, anyway.”

“What do you mean, we, blue-face?” Bolwyn had said. The portly wizard had been in earshot throughout, not contributing anything. Habbassin had countered his complaint with that special smile he reserved for the gatherers of artifacts. The smile Ghenni was glad he didn’t smile at her.

“Guess who’ll never leave here if they don’t help me,” the djinn had said.

The wizards had decided to cooperate.

The difficult part had come after the second eruption. Ghenni knew how hard it was because Habbassin had recruited not only the two wizards but all the villagers as well. For some reason, the djinn had considered restoring the island essential. While the villagers would have been perfectly happy to settle on the island they had been evacuated to, Habbassin had insisted. He had proven very persuasive.

It had taken several weeks, but finally the island looked more or less as it had before the catastrophe. The cooled lava had been removed. The huts had been rebuilt, better even than before because the villagers had taken some of the advice of the three visitors on how to improve their homes. The volcano had been repaired. Although there were now vents below the waterline, where cold water entered the volcano, cooling it down, while lava would flow out of the vents first, reducing the pressure if there were a new eruption. That at least had been Habbassin’s explanation. The children had been the first to discover the spot of warm water as a playground. Some of the adults had followed the children to play with them, and word had gotten around that a visit to the hot water could be beneficial. Now the adults also enjoyed the hot baths. Together, the people had replanted trees and bushes and flowers, provided by the wizards. It would take some time for everything to grow back as tall as it had been, but grow back it would, now. Habbassin had even brought animals from other islands, to replenish the animal population as he had put it.

It had taken weeks, but now they were done. The island was good as new, better even. Ghenni, her two friends, Elomei, Jamao, Habbassin and the two wizards had gathered on top of Wakano’s Throne.

“We did our part,” Terek said. “You cannot claim otherwise.”

“That’s true,” Habbassin said. “You’re free to go. I release my spell.”

“I still don’t get it,” Bolwyn said. “I mean, you’ve won. We’re beaten, and we’re leaving. You can tell us how come you didn’t obey when I had your lamp. I mean, you’re supposed to grant three wishes to whoever holds that lamp, aren’t you?”

“I am obliged to grant three wishes to whoever is the proprietor of my prison,” Habbassin confirmed. “It doesn’t have to be a lamp. Although, in this case, it was, yes.”

“So?”

“What makes you think I’m dumb enough to give you my lamp?” Habbassin said. He help out his hand, palm up. The lamp materialized on his palm. “Here, take it,” Habbassin said. “As a souvenir.”

Bolwyn took the lamp from the djinn’s outstretched hand and tucked it into his tunic.

“Don’t look so glum, Terek,” Habbassin said. “You can have one too.” Another lamp, identical to the first, materialized. Terek took it.

“A duplicate,” he said, studying the item in his hand. “Clever. You also never told us your name.”

“Names are powerful,” Elomei said.

“Anything to make sure you’ve no power over me,” Habbassin agreed. “The real lamp is hidden somewhere on this island. You’ll never find it.”

“If it hasn’t been destroyed,” Ghenni said. Habbassin shrugged.

“It’s still there,” he said. “I’d know if it were gone, believe me.” He flashed the smile at the wizards. “If I were you, I’d get outta here. I might change my mind about letting you go, you know.”

Terek and Bolwyn exchanged a look.

“Until next time,” Terek said, reaching into his pouch.

“Until next time,” Bolwyn repeated, doing likewise.

The wizards each cast their spell ingredients into the air. The fine powders hung in the air for a moment, then they began to twist, expanding as they did until they completely enveloped the wizards. Suddenly, the twisters were gone. The wizards were gone with them.

“That’s that,” Habbassin muttered.

“What was that about three wishes?” Ghenni said.

“Will they be back?” Jamao said, ignoring Ghenni. Habbassin shrugged.

“These two?” the djinn said. “I don’t think so. They’ve learned their lesson.” He contemplated the question for a moment. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be others, though,” he admitted. “So long as I am here, there is always the chance that there will be others. They might even be worse than those two clowns. Or worse yet, they might be better. If you know what I mean.”

“Then leave,” Jamao said, gesturing imperiously. Habbassin laughed.

“I would if I could,” the djinn said. “Believe me, I’d like nothing better than to get off this godsforsaken rock. If I could. Ghenni, do you want to tell him, or should I?”

“What was that Bolwyn said about three wishes?” Ghenni said. Habbassin ignored her.

“That lamp the wizards mentioned,” he told Jamao, “I’m bound to it. There’s nothing I can do about it. So long as the lamp’s on this island, I’m stuck here.”

“What if we take the lamp away from here?” Jamao said.

“I’d go too. I go anywhere the lamp goes. That’s my curse.”

“Where is the lamp?” Elomei said. Habbassin laughed.

“Oh no, you don’t. I wouldn’t give them two the lamp, what makes you think you can have it?” He shrugged. “On the other hand, you can’t get it anyway. We — Ghenni, her buddies and I — hid it in a cave. It caved in when the volcano shook everything up. I don’t think anyone can get that lamp now.” He winked at the witch-woman. “Except me, and I’m not buying.”

“Then what can we do?”

“I could do something,” Ghenni said. “I’m still the, what did you call it, proprietor of the lamp.”

“Nice try, kid, but you’d have to make a wish to make me get it, and there aren’t enough left to make me do anything afterwards.” Habbassin frowned. “Provided you’ve any wishes left. Haven’t I trick– Haven’t you used them all up already?”

“I don’t think so,” Miki said. “I think there’s still the third wish left.”

“Yeah,” Ankhoro agreed. “You still gotta grant her one more wish.”

“Whatever it will be, we should discuss it someplace more hospitable,” Jamao said. Spreading his arms wide, he herded the others off the mountain. Ghenni kept her smile to herself. She could understand why the chief was uncomfortable so near Wakano. She would have been uncomfortable as well, a couple of days before. A part of her still marveled at how blasé she had become about all this. Seeing, experiencing rather, so very many strange things first hand probably did that to you, another part of her figured. She did as Jamao said anyway. There was no reason not to; besides, it was unpleasantly warm.

As if by mutual agreement, nobody spoke on the way back to the village. Even Habbassin kept quiet. Ghenni wondered what was the matter with him. Perhaps it was that his secret was out now, that everybody knew that thing about the wishes. Especially about the wish that apparently was left over. Being honest with herself, Ghenni admitted that she was wondering about that too. There were grownups involved now. Knowing them, Ghenni was sure they would want to take over the situation, the lamp, and the last wish.

It wasn’t fair.

On the other hand, Habbassin had obviously always considered her the proprietor of the lamp. Whatever else happened, that final wish was hers.

Not that she had any idea what to do with it.

Back in the village, Jamao shooed everybody into his hut, which was much more luxurious now than it had any right to be. He had been quite creative about adapting the visitors’s cultural differences to his own uses. Among the new inventions they had introduced which he had put into his home were chairs and tables. Jamao sat down on a very pretentious-looking chair. The others settled into utilitarian variants.

“The question is what to do with that last wish,” Jamao began without preamble. “I’m sure we have all contemplated that on the way back.”

“I’d rather say the question is what to do with Habbassin,” Opona replied. “So long as he is here, we won’t be safe from people like Terek and Bolwyn. Those two were enough for me, thank you, I don’t need to meet more of their kind.”

Jamao nodded.

“I know it was bad for you and your daughter,” he said with a fake-looking smile. “However, it was your other daughter’s fault that all this happened. If she had brought the lamp to us right away …”

“Perhaps we would have been rid of you,” Elomei said. Jamao looked at her, blinking.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. You can’t blame a child for acting like a child. Nor can you play ‘what if’ games in this case. None of us would have known what to do with that lamp. None of us would have even known it was a lamp, or even an enchanted one.”

“Cursed,” Habbassin said.

“A curse is only an enchantment with bad effects. The point is, if Ghenni had given you the lamp, our visitors would have concentrated on you. Wakano knows what they would have done to get through to your thick skull.”

“I see what you mean,” Jamao said, making a face. Ghenni doubted he did.

“Whatever we decide,” Opona said, “we can do nothing until we have the lamp. Habbassin, would you please fetch it here?”

“Is that a wish?” Habbassin said with a sly smile.

“It is a good idea,” Elomei said. “Be a good boy. Fetch.”

“I’m not a dog,” the djinn grumbled. He faded from view. Jamao stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at where he had stood only a heartbeat before.

“He does that a lot,” Ghenni said. “Usually, he’s much more spectacular about it. He loves to put on a spectacle.”

“Yeah, but not right now,” Habbassin said, popping back in. He put the lamp on the table. “Here you are.”

“So that’s the lamp,” Jamao said, reaching for the artifact.

“That’s the lamp,” Ghenni confirmed, taking it. She frowned. “It really is, is it? I thought you couldn’t touch it.”

“The one and only,” Habbassin said. “And yes, I can move it if the owner commands me to.”

“So what do we do?” Opona said.

“I’ve been thinking,” Habbassin said, sitting down. “About how kind Ghenni and her friends were.” He smiled at the children. “About the trouble my presence among you has caused you.” He nodded at Elomei and Opona. “Some of you almost died because of me.”

“We noticed,” Jamao huffed.

“And yet Ghenni refused to give me up to the gatherers,” Habbassin continued. “Her loyalty was unbelieveable. I owe her … very much.”

“So what’re you going to do about it?” the chief said.

“As long as the lamp is here, there is a good chance that other fortune hunters will come to seek me. But I can’t leave. I’m bound to the lamp. There’s nothing I can do about it, and you can believe me when I say I tried. Still, I owe you. All that trouble you had because of me… The only chance is to remove the lamp from the island.”

“How?” Elomei said.

“Some of you people could get into your boats, row far out and take the lamp to another island. Or perhaps just throw it into the water. If I’m lucky, it’ll get eaten by a shark and a fisherman’ll catch that shark later on and I’ll be back out again. Or perhaps the shark’ll die and I’ll spend the rest of eternity on the bottom of the sea.”

“What if something happens to the lamp?” Miki said softly. Putting the lamp back on the table, Ghenni turned to look at her friend. As did everybody else. Ghenni realized that as usual, everybody had apparently forgotten the child was present.

“What do you mean?” Elomei said.

“Habbassin keeps telling us how he’s bound to the lamp,” Miki said, making herself even smaller. Ghenni reached out and took her hand. Miki smiled and straightened. A bit. “Now we talk about taking the lamp away from the island. But if he’s bound to the lamp, won’t he be freed if we break the lamp?”

“You know, I never thought of it …” Habbassin said, rubbing his chin. He shook his head. “No. Won’t work. It could only work if the lamp were completely destroyed. I don’t see how…”

“Wakano,” Miki said. “If anyone can destroy the lamp it’s he, isn’t it? After how you helped us, I’m sure he will.”

Habbassin leaned back in his chair. He looked at his hand, looked out of the window at the now quiet volcano.

“Throw the lamp into the volcano,” he said softly. “You know, that just might work …”

“About that last wish,” Jamao said quickly, “I’ve been thinking about that …”

“We could wish Habbassin free of the lamp,” Ghenni said quickly. “That’s it! We wish Habbassin free of the lamp, and when he is we throw it into Wakano’s Throne, where it’ll be completely destroyed.”

“Exactly,” Miki nodded enthusiastically. “That should do it. The lamp will be destroyed, and Habbassin can go wherever he wants to.”

“You would do that for me?” the djinn said.

“Sure,” Miki said. She stood up. “Let’s get on with it.”

“Let’s,” Ghenni cried. Taking the lamp, she rose and headed for the door.

“There’s a faster way,” Habbassin said, twirling his finger.

Ghenni blinked, and they were back on the volcano.

“All right,” Habbassin said, looking into the lava. “Here’s how we do it. You rub the lamp, and while you rub it you make your wish. Speak it out loud.”

Ghenni rubbed the lamp.

“I wish that Habbassin no longer be bound to this lamp,” she intoned. “Or any other lamp, for that matter.”

Habbassin screamed as he turned into blue smoke and was drawn into the lamp, obviously against his will. When he had been completely sucked inside, the lamp shook violently. It was all Ghenni could do not to drop it. The lid sprang off and a dense blue cloud escaped from it. Off to the right, the cloud solidified into Habbassin. The djinn screamed.

“Are you all right?” Miki called out.

“Throw it!” Habbassin yelled. “Just throw that damn thing into the damn volcano!”

Reaching back as far as she could, Ghenni swung her arm and hurled the lamp into the volcano. It flashed and vanished even before it hit the lava. Habbassin screamed again and collapsed.

The children rushed to his side. Each girl took hold of one of his arms. Together, they helped him back to his feet.

“Are you all right?” Miki asked.

“I … will be,” Habbassin said, straightening. He squared his shoulders. Shook himself. Smiled. “I am,” he said, sounding surprised. “I suppose I really am.” He hugged the children to his expansive gut. “It worked!” he yelled. He threw back his head and laughed, laughed so hard he cried. “It really, actually worked! I’m free!” He kissed first Miki, then Ghenni on the top of their heads. “Thank you. Thank you, my friends. I’m free. I’m really truly free.”

Releasing the children, Habbassin stepped back a couple of paces.

“I can go now,” he said. “I bless you all, my friends. You don’t know … You can’t know … You have no idea what …” He held out both of his hands. They began to glow, a glow that spread to both girls, enveloped them. “A little parting gift,” he said. “You’ll find out in time what it does.”

“You’re leaving?” Miki said.

“Right away,” Habbassin said, nodding so hard Ghenni feared his head would fall off. “For the first time in I don’t know how long I’m free again.”

“Where will you go?” Ghenni said.

“Home. Not right away, I’m afraid. I’ve no idea where I am, or how long I’ve been stuck in that lamp. Or even where home is and how to get there. It’ll probably a long and difficult journey. But eventually, I’ll get home. Of that, I’m certain.”

“Won’t you stay?” Miki said. Habbassin knelt before the child and put his hands on her shoulders.

“I can’t. You know why I can’t. I’d be a danger to you all if I did. That was why we destroyed the lamp, remember.”

Miki nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “I just thought…”

“I know,” Habbassin said, ruffling her hair. “Thank you for caring, Miki.”

Rising to his feet, Habbassin stepped back.

“Well, I gotta get going,” he said. He spread his arms. Looking at Ghenni, he said, “One thing’s sure. I’ll never forget you, or what you did for me. I’ll be eternally grateful.”

The djinn took a deep breath and released it with a hiss.

“We won’t forget you either,” Ghenni said.

“You can count on that,” Opona said. She wasn’t smiling. Habbassin winked at her.

“I’d be surprised if you did,” he said. He raised his head to look up at the sky. “This has been too long a good-bye for my tastes already,” he said, rising up. “Have a good life.”

Waving at the people on the volcano, he picked up speed as he rose higher and higher. Within seconds, he was gone.

“He could’ve taken us back home,” Jamao grumbled.

“The exercise will do you good,” Elomei said. “Now come.”

Opona put her hand on Ghenni’s shoulder.

“That sounds like a good idea,” she told her daughter. “He’s gone. Let’s get on with our lives.”

Looking up at where she had last seen Habbassin, Ghenni nodded.

“Yes,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “Let’s.”

THE END

28. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 39

Ghenni concentrated on Bolwyn. The crystal showed her the wizard on the volcano’s far side. He zipped back and forth, as if to make sure nobody was around. Satisfied with his findings, Bolwyn levitated farther up. He too called forth eldritch energies, shaping them into something he found useful for his plan against Wakano’s rage. In Bolwyn’s case, the energy took the shape of a plow. With a few simple gestures, the plow cut into the volcano’s side, gouging deep until Wakano’s fire flowed out of the wound Bolwyn cut into the mountainside. Bolwyn gestured again. His clothes were wet with sweat, moreso than they should be even if the sweat came only from the lava’s heat. His face reddened with effort, his face twisted with concentration. The plow cut deeper, deeper still, deepening the gouge, lengthening it. The deeper and farther the gouge went, the more lava spilled into it. The more lava flowed from the gouge, the less Terek had to deal with on his side. Instead, it flowed to the side of the island where no people were in danger, where all it could do was form strange shapes until it flowed into the sea.

Which, Ghenni now noticed, seemed more shallow than she had ever seen it before. Had Wakano’s fire evaporated so much water? She couldn’t imagine. No so much that one could notice. There was too much water in the sea for that. Wasn’t there?

So that’s what Habbassin’s up to.

Ghenni saw the djinn hover over the sea, his arms spread wide, concentrating on something on the horizon.

Ghenni let the crystal follow the djinn’s gaze until she discovered where all the water had gone.

It had gone into the giant tsunami that rapidly approached the island.

Ghenni looked up from the crystal. She tried to rise, but the ground shook too hard for a steady stand, so she decided against it. She looked past the mountain, at the horizon. Yes, there it was. Habbassin had really caused a tsunami. It grew rapidly, or seemed to as it neared the island and filled her view. It was eerily silent, not nearly as noisy as Ghenni would have expected. Then again, perhaps the tsunami’s noise was simply drowned out by the volcano’s.

“He must’ve lost his mind,” Ghenni muttered. Wasn’t one doom at a time enough?

Ghenni shook her head to clear it. No use staring at the giant wave. No use trying to get away either. Her reasons for staying had just doubled. There was no way she could get to a safe place in time. Provided there was such a thing as a safe place on this island. Ghenni didn’t think so. Her best chance lay with the trio of magic-users. One of whom had apparently lost his mind.

Ghenni concentrated on the crystal again. She saw Terek and Bolwyn. Both had completed their tasks. Working together, they actually managed to stop some of Wakano’s fire. Ghenni wasn’t sure how they did it. Nor did she care. The only thing that mattered was that they were succeeding. It didn’t look to be enough, though. The volcano still rumbled, still spewed rocks into the sky. Lava still spilled over the rim, although most of it now spilled into where the sea used to be.

Habbassin came into view. The others joined him. Terek and Bolwyn reached into their pouches and threw powders into the smoke-filled air. Habbassin gestured. The smoke gathered, changed its appearance.

Ghenni looked away from the crystal to look directly at the mountain again. She could barely make out the three figures hovering just beneath the darkness. She coughed once before realizing that the air was improving. The darkness above the three figures — it had to be all the smoke and dust Wakano had spewed forth. They were drawing it in, obviously. Through the crystal, Ghenni saw that the dust changed texture, became like a thundercloud. True to its new appearance, lightning flashed from the cloud. Ghenni shuddered. Considering how much dirt Wakano had spat out … She decided not to think about the size of the cloud, which still grew, blotting out the sun. Within moments, the only light was the red glow from the volcano, and the flashes of lightning from the giant cloud.

Then the tsunami arrived.

Silently, it hovered over the island for a moment, dwarfing even the mountain. The wizards threw some powder at it. Blue light arced from their hands at the tsunami as it collapsed … as it shrank … as it hardened … Ghenni could feel the chill even where she sat, as if the tsunami drew all the heat from all over the place. She rubbed her arm with her free hand. Something cold and wet touched it. Looking up, she saw fluffy white flakes tumble from the sky. Ghenni held out her hand and caught a couple of the flakes. They turned into cold water instantly. Ghenni looked at the mountain again, just in time to see the tsunami collapse into itself, the pieces falling into the volcano. Steam rose up where ice, for Ghenni was sure now that the wizards had turned the wave into ice, met lava. The steam rose, high into the air, where it was captured and conscripted into the cloud. The cloud released the water, raining down at the mountain, at the surrounding land, at Wakano’s fire. No, not rain, Ghenni realized. It released the same fluffy flakes that had once already caught her attention.

Slowly, whatever the magickal trio did took effect. Already the ground steadied. Wakano’s rumbling quieted. At first, it was replaced by the hissing of steam, but even that quieted down and seemed to cease.

Soon, everything had quieted down. Ghenni offered a prayer to Wakano, thanking him that he had spared them after all. She had barely finished when Habbassin, Terek and Bolwyn popped up next to her.

“I didn’t think it’d work,” Bolwyn gushed. “When you said you needed a tsunami, I thought you’d gone over the deep end. I really did.”

“But it worked,” Terek said.

“A stopgap, at best,” Habbassin said, raising his hands. “We’ve offered the lava a way of less resistance away from the village. We managed to reduce the pressure, clean up the air and cool it down a bit. That doesn’t mean it won’t blow up again, probably quite soon.” He turned to Ghenni, picked her up and held her high.

“We did it!” he cheered. Setting the girl down, he added, “At least we bought your people some time to find another island to stay on. I’m afraid Wakano’ll be pretty mad at being thwarted this time around.” Looking at the two men, he continued, “I couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Yeah,” Bolwyn said. “Can we go now?”

“Not yet,” Habbassin said. “We still have out work cut out for us.” He swept his arm to encompass all around them. “I’d say you still need to make amends for all this.”

“So what do we do now?” Terek said. He sounded even more tired than he looked. The rings under his eyes nearly frightened Ghenni.

Not as much as Habbassin’s grin did, when she caught a look at it.

“We’re going to make the volano erupt again,” the djinn said.

27. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 38

Both wizards stopped fighting. Together, they stared at the lethal beauty of the spectacle unfolding before their eyes.

“We did that,” Terek said.

“We only speeded it up,” Bolwyn replied. “That mountain was acting up since before we arrived. It would’ve erupted anyway. We only made it go a bit sooner.”

Terek took a breath so deep it visibly expanded his chest. He let it out slowly.

“You are right,” he said. “Now what do we do?”

Ghenni looked from the wizards to Habbassin. The djinn’s eyes narrowed to tiny slits. Spreading his fingers as wide as they would go, he moved his hands in small sweeps in front of him. Ghenni thought she saw a glow that resembled a small net, but the glow faded so quickly she wasn’t sure. She was sure about the smile on Habbassin’s face, though; sure, and glad she wasn’t either of the wizards. She didn’t like that smile at all.

“There’s only one thing we can do,” Bolwyn said. He started to move his hands in gestures Ghenni had learned to recognize as working magic. “Cut our losses and get out of here.”

“I fear you are correct,” Terek said, sighing. He began to move his hands in a fashion similar to Bolwyn’s. “Until the next time, then.”

Terek began to fade out, but he didn’t make it all the way. He was about halfway gone when he stopped fading. He screamed, like a man in terrible pain, resolidifying at the same time. He collapsed. Beside him, the same thing happened to Bolwyn.

“What happened?” Bolwyn said, recovering first. “That spell always works. It’s so simple it’s foolproof, dammit”

“I have no idea,” Terek replied. “It felt like running into a barrier.” He struggled to his knees. Turning his head, he glared at Habbassin. “You! That was your doing, djinn. You are the only one powerful enough.”

“Gee, you found me out,” Habbassin said, his flat voice belying the flippancy of his words. “You know, I figured it’s not fair. You trigger that volcano, and after you do you run off, leaving these people to die. I thought you should do something about the volcano.”

“Get real,” Bolwyn said, rising to his feet. “That thing’ll probably tear the entire island to pieces.” Bolwyn pulled the lamp from a pocket and shook it at Habbassin. “Whatever you did, I command you to undo it.”

Habbassin went to Bolwyn. He took the lamp from the wizards hands. Without looking, he melted it until it was a puddle at his feet.

“Get real,” the djinn said. “You didn’t think I’d give someone like you power over me? I won’t lift my anti-teleportation spell until after we’ve saved this island. Get it?”

“That wasn’t … You weren’t …”

“For someone so smart, you are certainly not very intelligent,” Habbassin said. He turned his back at Bolwyn. “Now you two can help me stop that volcano, or you can crawl into a hole and die. Your choice.” Habbassin turned his arms into wings. Flapping them, he took a running leap off what was left of the cliff. He circled, gaining altitude. When he was high enough, he flew toward Wakano’s Throne.

“We’re doomed,” Bolwyn muttered. “We can’t get away from here. We’re dead.”

“On the other hand, we are both very advanced magic users,” Terek said softly. “The djinn is obviously even more advanced than we are. He may even be as powerful as the both of us together. If we pool our abilities, we may succeed with this mad scheme.” He smirked. “What have we to lose by trying? Either we succeed, and live. Or we fail, and die. Or we do nothing, and die.

“I do not wish to die just yet.”

With that, Terek spread his arms. A cold blue light enveloped him as he rose into the air, following in Habbassin’s wake.

“They’re crazy,” Bolwyn said to nobody in particular. “Nobody’s ever stopped a volcano. Nobody.”

“What do you have to lose by trying?” Ghenni said. Bolwyn looked at her, surprised as if he had forgotten she was there. Which, Ghenni conceded, he probably had. “This is all your fault,” Ghenni continued. She coughed. The air was quickly filling with smoke and dust. It was getting difficult to breathe. “If you hadn’t come, nobody would’ve gotten sick. If you hadn’t come, none of this would’ve happened. Now see what you’ve done.” She gestured at the land around her. “Look at what you did here. This used to be a beautiful place, but you and Terek destroyed it. What for? Nothing! As if that weren’t enough, you make Wakano so angry he’ll probably destroy the entire island. Hab– The djinn thinks you can do something about it. So go and do it. If not, you’re welcome to die here with us. Welcome to? Hah! You deserve to die with us!” Ghenni spat at his feet, which triggered another coughing spell.

Bolwyn looked at her as he would look at a strange rare specimen. Rubbing his chin, he looked at the volcano.

“You can’t get away,” Ghenni reminded him. “You can die here, or you can try help save everyone.”

“No choice, really,” Bolwyn said. He actually smiled, although it was kind of sad. “I really don’t wanna die just yet.” He spread his arms wide and faded from view. Ghenni gasped. Had Habbassin’s spell stopped working? Had Bolwyn somehow managed to teleport himself to safety?

Ghenni looked at the sea. She could try to run, but she knew it wouldn’t do her any good. If the three magic-users failed, she was too far even from the village to reach it in time. Sure, she could jump into the sea and try to swim to the next island, but she knew it to be too far. Her strength would abandon her before she ever got close enough to even see it.

Remembering her viewing crystal, Ghenni took it from its pouch. She whispered the magic word. Sitting down on the ground, she wondered what she should look at. Her family? No. She knew what they would be doing. The entire village would be getting into the boats and try to row away to safety. Her parents would probably worry about her.

She decided she really didn’t need to see that. Chuckling, she shook her head. So much had happened during these last couple of days. She hadn’t realized how much it had changed her. Looking at the Throne, Ghenni wondered if it was an adult reaction to calmly accept whatever the gods had planned for one. If so, she reflected, she had probably become an adult these last couple of days; in spirit if not yet in body.

Ghenni concentrated on Bolwyn. The crystal cleared, showing a clear picture of the rotund wizard flying above the volcano, side by side with Terek and Habbassin. They were circling, all three, apparently searching for the best way to calm Wakano down. They hovered a moment. Were they discussing how to proceed? Ghenni couldn’t tell. She supposed they had when she saw them split up, each trying a different approach to try and calm Wakano. Ghenni’s mind’s eye, through the crystal, followed Terek first.

Terek flew toward the village, but not very far. He landed just ahead of the flow of lava. No, he didn’t land. Instead, he levitated a couple of inches above the ground. Ghenni could well understand why. The tremors would have made keeping his balance alone a nearly impossible task. He would have been so busy standing up, he would be unable to work any useful magic.

Terek raised his face to the sky. Raising his hands, he shouted something Ghenni couldn’t hear. His hands glowed. The light sprang from his hands, turning into what looked like a giant wall, only made of stone instead of wood. The light wall turned solid and sank slowly to the ground, right in the lava’s path. Ghenni chewed her lip. Would it work? Would the wall stop Wakano’s fire? She didn’t think so.

Neither, apparently, did Terek, who retreated a few hundred yards. Again, he raised his face and hands to the sky. Again, his hands glowed. This time, the glow became a giant crystal, smooth and nearly flat. Ghenni recognized it; Habbassin had shown her something similar. A lens, he had called it. The lens glinted with sunlight, gathered it, focused it, until it released the sunlight as a single coherent powerful beam that cut into the ground, carving a wide and deep trench.

Wakano’s fire was stopped by the wall Terek had conjured up before. Still, it was obvious it wouldn’t hold. At best, it would slow Wakano’s fire down, buying more time for the people to escape. Which, Ghenni thought, was probably what Terek had in mind. The trench he dug in the lava’s way would slow it down even more.

Ghenni sighed. Terek wasn’t accomplishing much, in her opinion, but at least he was doing something. What were the others up to?

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