Peat Moss could not rid himself of the
ghosts. They raged at him from all sides, dragging over him like transparent
branches as he ran through the forest. Their screams and hollers of madness
grew louder as he leveled tree and brush up the hillside. Ahead of him,
sneaking in and out, from behind this tree then that, Peat Moss caught glimpses
of the stoic spirit of Buford Longpost. The dead man’s apparition would glance
sidelong at him with an unchanging expression of indifference. As if Peat Moss
were beyond his care, unimportant. The monster followed him, altering direction
to wherever Buford had last appeared.
Bethel was unaware of the monster’s approach. Of his chase to catch Before
Longpost and his own sanity. The young monk was in the yard of the chapel
preparing to bring the day’s water from the creek. Rampaging Passions being the
furthest thing from his mind, he thought it was but another beautiful day in
the valley forest.
were hiccups, of course, in the beauty of the day. Every day had unexpected
bumps. Grit had wandered off again in another frenzied, enigmatic search, and Honeysuckle
had ventured to the river. This surprised Jess the most. The peaceful Passion it
seemed had at last conquered his fear of the waters.
strange changes in his families’ behavior were not lost on the monk. He could
sense something; a change in the winds of the world. But how that change might
affect him, he did not know. How could one give a face to gravity if they never
knew it existed? Jess had been sheltered for so long a time that the outside
world or any danger it wrought was simply not a bother. In fact, he had always
felt secure in the forest by the chapel. He had known nothing but goodness,
first from Brother Patricio, then from Honeysuckle. The only great change that
had come along had been that of Honeysuckle, and that was a welcomed wind. One
as sweet as the scent of jasmine.
now, this new sense of change—there was something menacing about it.
Even more menacing than a sky full of heavy clouds threatening floods. He
thought to himself that Grit was perhaps right to be concerned. Still, what can
one do against the unknown? Against what’s yet to happen? So, Jess continued
about his day in normalcy and routine.
him, as he reached for the water bucket from where it hung by the chapel door,
Jess heard a ruckus such as he had never known. He turned quickly and saw to
his amazement birds, squirrels, raccoons, and all manner of forest creature
fleeing out of the bush as if being chased by a violent predator or great
forest fire. The creatures flew, hopped, and scampered past him, disappearing
again into the opposite flora.
with a crack like thunder, a great tree was struck apart and fell to pieces,
the wood splintering in a myriad of directions. The seething mass of quivering
muscle which stood in its place could be none other than the Passion Peat Moss.
The very one Honeysuckle had mentioned on quiet, desperate occasions when he
took to mourning. The forest seemed to shrink around him as he heaved and
twitched and growled.
first, neither of the two reacted. Jess simply stared with mesmerized fear and
awe. Then, the monster’s eyes seemed to transform from blind rage to a kind of
glazed familiarity. Jess could not know that at that moment Peat Moss no longer
saw him as a peaceful monk, but now perceived him as his lost Buford. He could
not know that Peat Moss thought to take him back to the cave and make love to
him forever. All Jess saw was a crazed grin creep across the Passion’s troubled
monk began to retreat slowly backward to the chapel. But Peat Moss was on him
at once. With one mighty swing the wall of the chapel tumbled to the ground and
Peat Moss threw the struggling monk over his shoulder. Jess kicked and hit, strenuously
defending himself. Peat Moss was tired of the struggle now, though. The spirits
still pecked at him with their cries and goads. To have this man, the one he
saw as Buford Longpost, being contentious as well would not do.
threw the monk to the ground and hit him, knocking him out. The blow was not a
hard one by the monster’s standards, but it was sufficient. Jess fell limp and
the Passion picked the man up again and disappeared into the woods.
1. My book Woke Up in a Strange Place is nominated for Favorite All-Time M/M Romance at the Goodreads M/M Romance Group awards. How awesome is that? It's up against some amazing competition, including books by Tj Klune, E.M. Forster, and Mary Renault. SuburbaNights is also up for Best Humorous Book. Also too as well, Woke Up was chosen as best book of the year over at Joyfully Jay. I'm feeling so Sally Field-like these days, surprised by all the love and always with a brown mop of hair atop my head.
2. Every time I hear the phrase "big ass giveaway" I get very excited...but it always ends in disappointment when I realize the speaker isn't being literal. Bastards.
3. Sometime in the past year my men and music blog Daventry Blue passed a million views. That's kinda cool, huh? My blog has been passed around more than one of them asses in that "big ass giveaway."
4. Tj Klune is coming to visit me here in Indiana. Shhhhenanigans!! Be sure to watch for our video where we'll be answering all sorts of sundry questions asked by you fine, sundry folk. That piece of performance art should be up here, there, and everywhere this Friday. Just a warning, though. If you heard my interview with Stonewall Live a few weeks ago, you know I can get a bit talkward. I'm a stumbler, a mumbler, and a boozer...er, I mean, a bumbler.
5. Thinking about a new erotic illustrated story along the lines of "Kid Christmas," this one called "The Skankiest Gun in the West." Tee-hee. Teej thinks it's a great idea and that's all that matters. I wonder if Absolutbleu would be up for it.
6. Galley Proof got an Honorable Mention at the Rainbow Awards! I'm honored. I know the book isn't everyone's cop o' tea, but it owns a special place in my heart AND HAS JUST BEEN OPTIONED FOR FILM BY ANG LEE!!! ...that's a total falsehood. 'Twould be real damn cool, though, eh?
7. "Ghouls Gym," the zombie satire Teej and I are writing for Empire Press' upcoming zombie antho Zombie Boyz, is coming along fantastically. I think we've invented a new genre: zombie pathos. It's a story that's equal parts thrilling, gross, sexy, funny, and scary, with a big dose of heart. Tj and I are having a blast working together.
8. I have an appointment with a rehab therapist the day after Teej leaves. I'm hopeful this fella will have some ideas on what to do with my foot. I've let them know I'm open to being put on any test medicine or procedure this side of being cloven-hooved. Though, being a sexy cloven-hooved sex demon would be interesting, wouldn't it, Teej? Yeah, it would. Yeeeeeeah, bitch.
A lost bumble-bird was perched on the
branch of a dogwood tree near the abandoned settlement that once thrived with
the valley folk. The tiny creature had been out all day collecting pollen and
twigs, but had wandered too far from its hive. Now the squat little fellow
thought it best that he settle somewhere and get his bearings.
looked around at the dilapidated houses with their falling roofs and overgrown
lawns. For a bumble-bird this was a prime twig-collecting area. His surroundings
were silent. Only the river made any noise, its flow clearing obstacles from
the little creature’s mind. Maybe he would be able to remember his way home.
quiet and still was not long lasting, however. From upstream came a gentle
sloshing through the shallow edges of the river. It was a Passion, the first
the bumble-bird had ever seen in his short life. For the valley had been
abandoned of any such spirits for quite some time. Long before this little
bumble-bird had been hatched in the hive.
looked curiously at the beautiful sprite that was Honeysuckle Sycamore. And, of
course, the Passion noticed the bird at once and gleefully spoke to it.
bird,” Honeysuckle said. “I haven’t been here in such a long time. Are you new
here? Or is this your tree now? Is that your branch? Though, I don’t suppose it
matters. All the people are gone. You have your pick of branches and trees. But
I have a feeling, bird. I have a feeling they’re all going to come back, and
very soon. What do you say to that, bird? Wouldn’t it be nice to sleep in
pumpkin patches again?”
bumble-bird cocked its tiny head. Soon the sprite walked on, looking through
the homes and gardens with hungry wonder. The bird watched for a bit, then,
after remembering a certain tree and its proximity to the hive, he flew in the
direction of the hillside.
flew into the forest, gliding on a sweet breeze, until he again could not
recognize his surroundings. So, again, he alighted upon a limb. Below him,
struggling through the dense wood over large roots and hills was the strangest
creature the little fella had ever seen. Stranger still then the sprite
Honeysuckle Sycamore. This sprite was tortured and sad. She twitched and
spasmed as she made a slow progression through the forest. Still, she was
clearly on a mission. There was a direction to her chaotic journeying. It was
as if she held a scent and was following it with an unalterable intent, tearing
down limbs and plowing through mounds of leaves that stood in her way. What
purpose, the little bird could not tell. But it headed off in the same
direction. Perhaps where she was headed was where he needed to be as well.
bumble-bird flew past the sprite Grit until she could no longer be seen. Soon
he came upon the most fearsome of all the things he had yet seen that wondrous
day. A large, angry Passion was batting at the air wildly, and grumbling and
moaning in crazed gestures. The bird had to fly higher to avoid being smashed
to a pulp by the massive strength of the monster. He did not stay long in that
area of the wood. He flew on away, but now in the direction of the angry
last, the little bumble-bird recognized some of its own hive mates sitting upon
the rotting roof of a little chapel and he flitted off to join them. He buzzed
and tweeted happy hellos at the relations, and spoke in birdspeak what he had
seen on his journey. The other bumble-birds were amazed. They had all heard of
Passions from the bumble-bird elders, but, the hive being so much farther up on
the hillside, they had never actually seen one. And they weren’t so certain
they wanted to see this angry-looking Passion seen headed toward the chapel.
on the ground, a young monk watched them with apparent appreciation. The
bumble-birds told their lost hive mate how wonderful the human was, and how he
adored them. He gave them crumbs of bread and sweet water. They all agreed that
they should remember the way back to the chapel. Fearing the crazed monster, however,
they flew away, the little lost bumble-bird as well, for their hive.
10. Some Nights, fun. Indie pop confection, but good indie pop confection with infectious hooks and some fun, interesting lyrics. I first heard these guys on an alternative Sirius station and so was unaware of their meteoric rise to pop stardom. One of the great things about not listening to commercial radio is I don't need to worry about a song being overplayed. Fav song, "We Are Young."
9. MDNA, Madonna. I can already hear eyes rolling. But I love this CD. I think it's a lot of fun and so SO much better than her previous collection, Hard Candy. Fav song, "Love Spent."
8. Carry the Fire, Delta Rae. Fellow author SJD Peterson intro'd this group to me. They remind me of a slightly over-produced Nickel Creek. The best song (and fantastic video) on the CD sounds like an old spiritual and is quite different from the rest of the album. This was disappointing at first, but then the other songs started growing on me as well. Fav track, "Bottom of the River."
7. Ashes & Roses, Mary Chapin Carpenter. This is the first MCC album I ever had to let grow on me. Usually I love her work right off the bat. But this is slower, even more introspective work than usual. Fav song, "Don't Need Much to Be Happy."
6. Charmer, Aimee Mann. One of the great modern songwriters. Actually, Mann and MCC are my two favorite singer songwriters of all time (though, Josh Ritter and Conor Oberst aren't too far behind). Mann once again constructs a collection of songs that are at once catchy, heartfelt, and sarcastic. Fav song, "Labrador."
5.In the Time of Gods, Dar Williams. The always reliable Williams has been putting great work out since the early 1990s. This is one of her stronger efforts in recent years, commenting on some of our society's most troubling aspects with an innocent voice. Fav song, "I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything."
4. Borderland, The Chevin. They're like a more operatic version of The Killers, especially on the opening track. The lead singer's vocals are soaring. I first heard this group as I flipped through the channels one night and landed on Letterman. Fav song, "Champion."
3. Battle Born, The Killers. Glamorous rock n roll. This is the perfect album to go riding around with the windows rolled down...if it weren't freezing out. Brandon Flowers has a voice that gives me chills when he hits certain notes. The songs are anthemic and grand. Fav song, "Here with Me."
2. The Lumineers, The Lumineers. My best friend Jason intro'd me to this group, the big surprise of the year for me. Great folk n roll with a unique twist and some killer lyrics. This is the folk rock album of the year, not Mumford & Sons disappointing sophomore effort. Fav song, "Stubborn Love."
1. An Awesome Wave, alt-j. FUCKING AMAZING. Funky beats, bizarre twists, and crazy ass lyrics that go perfectly with the quick-as-lightning vocals. The videos are so watchable as well. And how can you not love a group which mentions everything from singer Johnny Flynn to quotes from Where the Wild Things Are in their songs? Fav song: "Breezeblocks."
Jess Bethel naturally cared for the
woods and river as well as all the critters of the forest with unswerving
felicity. He loved the sprites of the Valley too, especially Honeysuckle
Sycamore. He even adored Grit, for he could see past the bitter hurt and
distorted pain that made her continuously weep and gnash her teeth. He saw in
her a soul bound by ropes of grief. To Jess, all manner of creation was part of
the great miracle.
gentle nature, though an inherent thing among most creatures, was imprinted on
him more so by the kindness that was shown him during his earlier years, a
kindness that began when he was a newborn child. His origins were unknown to
the individual who eventually found him floating like a bible story hero
upriver in a shoddy wicker basket. Brother Patricio Bethel was a very old man.
He had outlived anyone that anybody in the valley had ever known. He was
thinner than a cattail cane and his long robes hung from him like linens out on
the line set to dry. The children of the valley found him particularly strange
and could not help but stare on the odd occasion that they saw him. Brother
Patricio walked on all fours. This was due to a bone disease he had developed
in early life which had never been corrected. The truth is, however, he had
never thought about it too much. It never seemed much of a malady to him. His
soul had a greater purpose.
the old monk found the lost baby floating among the reeds as quiet and calm as
if the river itself were its mother, he at once took charge of the child. He
cradled and fed it, and as the boy grew, taught him the ways of the valley.
Young Jess Bethel was ever the dutiful son and was content in his world of the
stone chapel with Brother Patricio. They made their bread and wine, they tended
to the forest and its inhabitants, and they comforted the people of the valley
when the people needed comforting. They never wandered too far from the
chapel’s crumbling walls.
the Passions of the valley found the chapel a wonderful playground, and Brother
Patricio always enjoyed watching his adopted son play among them. Jess seemed
more inclined to the wonders of the sprites than the growing cynicism of the valley
continued blissfully until Jess Bethel was a young man. One day, while mixing
dough for a wheat bread, the old monk fell over and died. It was as simple as
that. There were no long illnesses or deathbed farewells. Jess buried Patricio
beneath the roots of an oak tree near the chapel, and continued to look after
the old place even when the valley folk had long since forgotten it was there.
And so that is where he remained until that day when a curious sprite in
mourning followed him home.
Moss stared steadily into the dark of the cave. If there remained a brave soul
left in the valley and they chanced past the opening, they would have seen the
Passion hunched and as stoic as a statue, peering glassy-eyed at the cave wall.
But Peat Moss saw something there no passer-by could have seen. His grief had
overcome him. The ghost of Buford Longpost, the only being for which Peat Moss
had ever felt any affection for, glared back at him. He was an unmoving spirit;
as fixed to his spot as Peat Moss.
Passion’s defeated eyes almost cried true tears. He almost wept bitterly at the
memory of Buford’s demise. But then something transpired that prevented that.
One by one, ghost by ghost, the whisper had spun through the afterworld that
the angry Passion’s eyes were open and he could see spirits. Those beings that
Peat Moss had massacred and murdered began to trickle slowly into the cave out
of curiosity and a taste of vengeance. It was only a small stream of lost
consciousness at first. But it soon became a deluge. It wasn’t long before the
sprite saw around him the glaring, angry faces of everything he had ever
killed. And they were not as quiet as the silent woodsman’s ghost. No, they
were bitter and resentful, shouting and moaning. They tried their best to reach
out from the eternal divider and drag him into their world so that they might
each in their turn rip him asunder.
cavalcade of anger brought Peat Moss back to himself. He felt the hate and ire
that was his life’s purpose return to him. At once, he rose and clamored after
the spirits, wanting to kill them all over again. But he could not reach into
their world either. Yet, the angry calls of the ghosts still harassed him.
Peat Moss ran from the cave. He realized he could not defend himself from the
calls of ghosts. But still, the victims of his malevolence followed him,
torturing him through the woods; an army of the dead searching for bloody
his flight from the cave, Peat Moss had unknowingly exposed his whereabouts to
an investigatory Grit. Still perturbed by the sense of unease that wrapped
around her heart, she had gone wandering through the forest yet again. Her
intent was to find the source of her mysterious restiveness and put an end to
it. Though, how that was to happen was a mystery to her.
heard the ruckus, and determinedly made her way in the direction of the cave.
It took some doing. She fell more than once. But eventually she found it. And
while Peat Moss was long gone, his mind slowly being chipped away by the voices
of the dead, she felt his essence of hate. She ran her fingers over the cave
walls, picking up his scent. It was then she realized what she had to do. She
understood who this abhorrent creature was; what he meant to her. So, she walked
from the cave and slowly felt her way back to the chapel.
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles & Men - Set in the same river valley as The Rest Is Illusion and "Honeysuckle Sycamore", the story follows three generations of valley folk, centering in large part on Minerva True, a River Dweller and mystic living deep in the forested hills. She is at times the only person who sees an ancient danger that resides on the chapel grounds which has begun to threaten the lives of those around her. Most are too complacent to see the truth and pay little heed to her warnings of the imbalance between light and dark, and in the end only a small band of warriors stand beside her. A tale of love and duty, of respect for nature and purpose, ensues, challenging the destinies of Minerva True and her clan, among them the young hero Leith, his lover Aubrey (they're GAYS!!!), and the mute boy, Deverell. Leith’s half-crazed mother Calpurnia has her own aspirations, however, that prove detrimental not only to Minerva, but to everyone she comes in contact with. This should be released early 2013. I am so excited to finally get this released. I've been working on it for the past SEVEN years.
"Ghouls Gym" in Zombie Boyz - Me and Tj Klune have concocted (tee-hee) this novella for The Empire Press' anthology, and it is a hoot, y'all! Bodybuilders trapped in a gym with a bunch of flesh-eaters? Oh, the horror! Oh, the comedy! Oh, the sexy! April 2013.
Crack the Darkest Sky Wide Open, which includes my fantasy story "The Demon of Jericho", is a foray into self-publishing I'm taking with writers like Tj Klune and Abi Roux, six of us in total, each offering a unique story that may raise an eyebrow. May 2013.
Simple Men German and French translations. More in my plan to take over the world.
Galley Proof Spanish, German, and French translations. Bwahahahahaha!!! The world is mine!!!
Woke Up in a Strange Place audio book as read by Charlie David. Not sure the release date, but I know a lot of people are looking forward to this.
Azrael & The Light Bringer - This prequel to Mingled Destinies has just been picked up by Empire. It's awesome that they have such faith in my Valley Tales. I love writing them.
The Rascal - My horror novel about a couple whose marriage-on-the-skids becomes an all-out trainwreck when they move into an old cottage on the hill. It's not just the cottage that's haunted, it's the whole hang hill. Oh, and there's a creepy faded actress who lives just above them in the big house.
Bubbles n' Gordy graphic novel - This has been in the works since 2010, but you can't rush perfection and Absolutbleu's artwork is gorgeous! Hopefully this will be out soon. I will say that my sex fantasies can be at times very twisted.
"Life in a Northern Town" in the Mixed Tape antho - Based on my favorite 80s song by The Dream Academy.
STILL OUT THERE AND WAITING:
Haute Couture - Keith Chawgo and me wrote this B-movie about a group of guys under the assumption they are in a big Hollywood mansion for a reality show. They're not.
The Rest Is Illusion - Award-winner Michael Tennant adapted the book to screenplay and it is now in the hands of at least one very prominent filmmaker.
Subsurdity - I don't suppose they'll keep the title if this teleplay is ever picked up. Logo was looking at it once...but passed on it for The A-List, or so I hear. I bow to mediocrity.
Terms We Have For Dreaming - Just finished, a spec fic epic with nine different plotlines. Set in a city-state governed by a crazed deity. I might still be working on this a few years from now. Must perfect. Must perfect.
Homeless - Shall start this next, a ghost story/thriller/love story set (for the most part) in an abandoned carnival. The title is temporary until something much more dramatic and awesome comes to mind.
It was with much anxiety that
Honeysuckle at last returned to the river. Grit had been so shaken upon her
return to the chapel, neither he nor Jess could calm her. He needed to know
what she had discovered, what had frightened her so. Some instinct in him
wanted to protect her.
approached the river with fear edging on disgust. He sat hidden by the trees
for some time and watched the river from the hillside. His eyes were fixed on
it as if it were returning his stare and neither of them would forfeit and
break the battle of gazes.
though, Honeysuckle’s fierce concern for Grit won out, and he broke through the
trepidation that had caged him for so long. He stepped quickly from the forest
to the beach and it was as if a breakwall had given out. Upon him cascaded and
swirled all the goodness the river had given him. He realized how much he had
missed the banks and the sound of water. Yes, there was immense pain there. But
there was also undeniable joy.
waded into the shallowness at river’s edge, feeling the water embrace him again.
And as he looked into the river his own image changed in much the same manner
as Jess had seemingly transformed before his eyes the night before. Now,
instead of his own reflection, Dogwood peered back at him once more, now in the
clear light of the day. Dogwood raised his powerful arm from his side and
placed it palm-up toward Honeysuckle. In tears, Honeysuckle did the same,
mirroring the mirror. As his hand lay over Dogwood’s palm, the water rippled
and the glassy image became that of Jess. And then it shuddered once more and
became Grit. Yet, it wasn’t Grit. For there, in the water she seemed
different...Content. Happy even.
of my life,” Honeysuckle whispered, his tears adding to the flow of the
current. “And you are with me.”
Grit had scared Peat Moss from instantly attacking Honeysuckle Sycamore at the
chapel, it was not her presence alone that took the monster aback. As he hid in
the brush watching the two sprites and their human he began to hear whispers.
These whispers coincided with a strange tinge of jealousy he felt at observing
the tenderness between Honeysuckle and the young monk. From the tops of the
trees the intimations seemed to fall. Like mist around him they settled. They
were barely audible at first, but then grew in strength. Peat Moss turned this
way and that in startled watchfulness. He stumbled away from his hiding place,
but the whispers followed him. He swatted at them like gnats, but they would
not be silenced. Grunting and flailing, he ran through the forest and down the hillside
until he came to a cave he had often taken refuge in during a storm. And at
once, the voices hushed.
Moss peered into the darkness. Though he could no longer hear the invasive
whispers, he sensed something still clung to the air around him. He was not
alone. He swung angrily, attempting to grab whatever creature had dared follow
him into the cave.
began to see tiny balls of light, like fireflies only much smaller and faster.
They took up the whispering again, but now louder. They whirled about him, over
him. Try as he might, he could catch none of them. He growled in frustration
and it echoed off the cave walls.
the tiny orbs began to cluster into a single, larger orb. It then became a
blinding white light at the center of the cave. Peat Moss shielded his eyes
from its brilliance. And, slowly, the giant orb began to take form and the angered
whispering suddenly dispersed again. Peat Moss’ eyes widened in pain and regret
as the ghostly vision of Buford Longpost formed silent and aglow in front of
In the chapel, beneath the rotted
thatched roof, Honeysuckle lay in Jess Bethel’s arms. Their lovemaking had once
again lasted the whole night through, causing the forest to emit an air of
contentment and ease. As Honeysuckle embraced Jess in the night, a remarkable
and somewhat frightening thing occurred. Whether it was a trick of the
moonlight sneaking past the canopy of trees or a spark of dormant magic he
could not say. But as they made love, the monk’s face seemed to transform
momentarily. Over the handsome human face appeared the visage of another. That
of Dogwood. And he was grinning in absolute love. The kind of grin Dogwood had
always given Honeysuckle whilst they lay entwined beneath the blossoming trees
in their halcyon days.
first, Honeysuckle paused in alarm. “Dogwood?” he whispered.
as soon as he spoke, the shadowed face of Jess returned, peering at the sprite
with loving concern.
nothing but a trick of light,” Honeysuckle explained to himself, and blessed
the monk’s face with fresh kisses.
As morning broke, Grit wandered out of
the cover of the trees and ambled onto the bank of the river. She had been
emerging from the forestmore and more of late, hearing the river as it
passed her by. She would stand and moan along with its crystal song.
newfound independence did not go unnoticed by Honeysuckle and Jess.
does Grit leave us now?” Honeysuckle wondered one morning as they ground grain
shrugged, and kissed the worry from the sprite’s eyes.
soon began to greet every sunrise by the river, and would often stay there into
the early hours of the afternoon. At least until Jess would come and take her
by the hand, leading her back into the safety of the woods. She would follow
him without quarrel.
particular day, however, Grit had reason to stand vigil at the river bank. Like
a sightless sentinel, she did her macabre dance of sway, facing this way and
that. She sensed something, some familiar and frightening presence in the air.
Something intent on harm. She stumbled over the sand and rocks, here and there,
trying to get a better sense of whatever it was that was coming. She was
uncertain of its origins, but she knew she didn’t like it one bit.
her, the rustling of bare feet and dragging robe on ground let her know Jess
had come to retrieve her for their lunchtime picnic. Silent as ever, he stood,
waiting for her to fumble toward him. She was slow in coming, though. Jess
could see she was distracted. Grit continued spasmodically facing up then down
river, moaning in unintelligible notes. She lurched her shoulders as if she
were a cat among hounds.
at last she did make her way to Jess, grabbing hold of his tattered robe, she
was still quite tense and shaken. Jess led the way slowly through the forest
path with Grit ever his token charge. He had come to view her with great
affection, and her angst was extremely troubling for him.
they left the riverside, delving farther into the forest, Grit became less
agitated. Still, something was wrong. Upon catching sight of her at the chapel,
Honeysuckle could tell as much.
he soothed. “Why do you moan so? ‘Tis a beautiful day, and see what tasty
morsels we have to eat?” He raised a slice of warm bread slathered in thick
turned from the treat, tearing herself from the comfort of family, and
frantically rambled about the vicinity. She batted at bushes and trees, tore
vines, and threw stones. Her cries reached a disturbing crescendo, higher than
Honeysuckle had ever heard. The cry curled the color off green leaves.
Honeysuckle exclaimed. “What’s the matter?” He looked to Jess for a possible
explanation, but the monk could only shrug in puzzlement.
reached with both arms into the harmless forest air, as if grabbing at
something directly in front of her. She looked like she might rip the world
asunder. For the first time, she exhibited something resembling anger.
came to her, wrapping his arms about her and pulling her back to the chapel. He
and Jess comforted her even as her fit continued. Even as she lifted her face
to the sky and screamed in blatant rage and the hillside seemed to shudder in
the view of the Passions and the monk, hidden by the bramble of the woods, two
eyes watched intently, contemptuously. Peat Moss only recognized the form of
Honeysuckle Sycamore. The human could be easily dealt with. But it was the
female sprite that caused the monster to stall his rampage that he had intended
to unleash upon them. Something about her, something within her, shook him to
the core for only the second time in his entire existence.
1. My friend and sexy artist Absolutbleu has shown me a rough draft cover of our Bubbles n Gordy erotic graphic novel, and let me just say say, there is a whole lotta bubble there. Should be out next year.
2. Finished the second draft of my spec fic epic Terms We Have For Dreaming just days before I came down with an atrocious cold.
3. Ha! Me and Teej?
4. Teej and I have started writing Ghouls Gym for the upcoming Empire Press anthology Zombie Boyz. By the way, here's a look at that awesome cover:
5. My interview HERE at Stonewall Live has received near 8000 individual downloads, not including repeat listens, last I heard. Thank you everyone!
6. Have you ever looked at your computer and thought to yourself, My God! I never want to see you again.
Peat Moss had only known the pang of
regret but once. And that particular experience had been an anomaly that
startled him to his festering core. He had successfully pushed it back in his
mind, shrouding it with more satisfying, grisly images. So, as he leaped and
bounded up river following the scent of honeysuckle flowers, his mind was unfettered
the hidden memory hung in the air, just above his head. If it were a rain cloud
it might have burst at any moment. Within that burst, the only glimmer of
decency Peat Moss had ever known would be released, and there could be no
amount of denial that would keep it from pouring down upon him....
Following his birth in the narrow
hollow, Peat Moss had spent a good amount of time terrorizing the valley. He
had nearly butchered, mangled and maimed every thing in sight, occasionally
letting something flee so that it could be butchered, mangled or maimed on
another day. He was intoxicated by his own rage and brute strength. Nothing
could control it.
one day, Peat Moss caught a glimpse of Buford Longpost. Buford was one of the
few who refused to leave the valley. He was a woodsman, sawing and selling
timber to any who needed it, and had made a name for himself among the valley
folk. It was a name he was not going to give up without a fight. He spent most
days felling the forest in anticipation of the return of life to the valley.
Against his will, Peat Moss was immediately and inexplicably fascinated by the
man. Buford was the strongest human Peat Moss had ever seen. His muscles shone
bathed in sweat beneath the glare of the sun as he worked. Such strength on a
human was dazzling to the Passion. Buford swung his axe so hardily that entire
tree stumps were split in two with one mighty blow.
Moss could not describe the feelings surging through him. He had no vocabulary
for it nor any precedence for any such feelings before. It frightened him that
he felt such strong emotion toward this man, and that fear frightened him all
the more. He had never before known fear either. But he sat hidden by the trees
in uncharacteristic awe and watched the lumberman whopping on wood the whole
At midday, Buford ate lunch and
afterward stripped of his sweat-laden clothing, letting the sun’s rays stroke
his naked flesh. Peat Moss felt his very first hint of sexual desire. This was
a day, it seemed, profuse with firsts. Buford stretched out upon a fallen tree,
his head resting on his arms and his feet crossed at the ankles. His penis
towered high in the air, seeking attention. It wasn’t long before Buford’s hand
obliged the virile organ. With his eyes closed, he carried a private fantasy to
fulfillment. When finished, he turned on his stomach satisfied and quickly fell
Peat Moss was flustered by what he had
seen and all the more intrigued by the strong man. His lustful Passion eyes ran
along the napping form of the man. They took in every muscle and dimple until
at last they came to a full stop on the woodsman’s muscular, perfectly rounded
Buford didn’t stir from his rest as
Peat Moss came finally out of hiding. Strangely, there was nothing for the
lumberman to fear even if he had awoke. Peat Moss wanted nothing more than to
touch him and hold him. These very thoughts disturbed the Passion even as he
tried to beat them down. But it was of no use; he was completely awestruck by
the woodsman.His large hands caressed and kneaded every curve on
Buford’s physique. Seeing that this did not disturb the timber man, Peat Moss
did something he had never done before: he kissed the bare skin of Buford’s
the touch of lips to salty skin, Peat Moss felt his own penis stiffening, and
something of his more familiar self regained control. He could contain his
appetite no longer. He parted the large mounds of the woodsman’s muscular ass
and sunk into him. Buford groaned, but it was not the kind of groan to which
Peat Moss was accustomed. No, the woodsman sounded as if he didn’t mind.
Indeed, as if it were expected. As if his dreams at that very moment were one
and the same with the reality of what was happening.
ground himself back into Peat Moss, taking what he could of the Passion’s ample
member and causing the monster to thrust deeper. Peat Moss’ sexual energy could
have easily and literally ripped the man apart, but curiously he did not wish
for that. Something about this particular human had him under control. He found
that he wanted to please him, not harm him, and that thought - the suddenness
with which it came to him - was like a shock coursing from the woodsman’s body
into his own. The force of it caused him to tumble backward, rending his
massive penis from the lumberjack’s hole. This, of course, woke the lumberman quite
forcefully from his sexual fantasy and he looked around in surprise.At
sight of the behemoth Passion, Buford fell from the tree and staggered aback.
away! Stay back!” he shouted, his voice deep and resounding. His face shone
Moss was all too familiar with that expression. However, seeing it on
the woodsman’s face gave him an incomprehensible pang in his chest.
Moss came toward the lumberjack. He would calm the man down, hold him. Then the
woodsman would understand that they could be together; that he meant him - only
him - no harm. They could fell flora and fauna as a mighty twosome. The river
would run thick with blood and sawdust.
Buford did not understand the approach, and suddenly lifted a large limb that
lay near his feet, throwing it at the monster. Peat Moss swatted it away with
ease and continued to advance. Buford pitched a stream of items at the Passion,
all of them harmless. After a bit of this, Peat Moss began to think that the lumberjack
was simply playing. After all, others who had caught sight of him immediately
tried to escape. Yes. That was it. The woodsman was playing. They were having
fun. Peat Moss grinned with delight and mischief at the realization he had a
playmate, and lifted from the earth the large tree Buford had been resting
had no time to move before the tree fell on him, crushing him into the ground.
At once, Peat Moss’ face fell. The human had not moved. Lifting the tree from
the spot and peering down at the bloody mess of a man, the Passion howled. Why
had the strong man not moved? The blast from the Passion’s breath cleared
the spot of any living thing, and all the fallen trees and cut wood were turned
his mourning period was brief. For as he howled, the bitter winds began to kick
up and a Passion began to form of his grief. This distraction irritated the
monster so that at once he reached through the swirling mass of creation before
the new Passion had chance to fully form, and bit its head off with a single
chomp of his powerful jaws.
put grief behind him, locking away the memory of Buford Longpost, and remained
the Passion born of Darkness who terrorized the valley.
Dear internet blog
you're a time hog
expecting me to write every day
about my exploits as a sexy gay
you want my attention all your own
but now I have a boyfriend to bone
please don't take this the wrong way
but sometimes I just have nothing to say
why do you make me feel guilty so!
my mind is not a library, you know
I am but a man with a man's plan
and plans to have sand in my can-can
you prolly have no idea what that meant
and neither do I
I just say things to pass the time
and take up lines
this poem is fucked up, it's not even keeping form
like my relationship with you, it's as produced as porn
when we first met, dear blog o' mine,
I found you a delightful waste of time
but now, I'm afraid, you've gone too far
making me your bitch, your typing fool star
I can't sit around all day, I'll lose my boyish figure
my skin will go pale and my dick will fail to rigor
(by "rigor" I mean "erection", for those who want to know
an erection is paramount for entering bunghole)
I'm a one-man guy now, and I'm headed for the door
Teej needs me, you see, and you're a big ol' whore.
For the most part, the valley had been
abandoned. A perceptible darkness could be felt by those humans who lived
there, a presence much darker and dangerous than any they had ever felt before.
So, they fled from it. The valley itself grew hushed, its beauty hiding
something jagged and sharp just beneath the tranquil surface. There were a few
brave souls who remained; those who were simply too stubborn to leave or who
chose to fight the bitter air alongside the energies of the earth. But they were
scattered the length of the river, their homes tucked and hidden in the bends
and curves of the valley.
Bethel was a young man of nature. He was raised in the woods by an elderly monk
and would have been a monk himself if there had been a monastery nearby to take
him after the old man died. He wore a simple brown robe which covered a strong
body sculpted by years of manual labor. He resided deep in the forest in the
remains of the old, stone chapel which had been his aged adopted father’s home.
Sycamore stumbled upon Jess as the young monk collected water from one of the
creeks that streamed from the hills into the river. As he gathered the water
into an old bucket, the long limbs of a dogwood tree stretched over him, and
its petals sprinkled around him like a blessing. Something of Honeysuckle’s old
awe returned to him upon seeing Jess and he could not help but follow the young
man back to the chapel. The monk of course knew he was being observed, and
would often stop and wait when Honeysuckle, slowed by Grit’s measured progress,
would fall behind. And try as he might, Honeysuckle could never get Grit to
remain completely silent. (“Hush, Grit! We do not want to scare him away.”)
first evening Honeysuckle and Grit hid outside the ruins of the old chapel with
the crickets and hoot owls. The light from a single candle lit the interior.
What Honeysuckle was waiting for, or why he had dragged poor Grit along, he
couldn’t say. He was enamored by Jess Bethel. He thought him the most magical
being he had seen since his dear Dogwood. The sprite’s eyes were once again
wide with delight.
the dusk light settled on the valley hills, the monk came to the chapel door
and placed bread, berries, and fresh tomatoes on the moss-grown, stone walkway.
He then turned and walked back into the chapel with nary a look behind.
there, Grit!” Honeysuckle whispered excitedly. “The young human has left food.
Do you think it’s for us, Grit?”
said nothing. She only moaned softly and cried her sand tears as she wrapped
her arms around him.
just sit here, dear Grit,” he said. “I think he does indeed mean it for us.
What a kind, kind man!” Honeysuckle then darted out of hiding, quickly
collecting the food and bringing it back to his charge faster and more graceful
than a leaping stag.
Bethel watched quietly from within the chapel. His eyes twinkled and he smiled
with adoration at the Passion’s innocence.
passed, leaves changed, and though the memory of Dogwood was ever present,
merriment at last returned to Honeysuckle Sycamore. At night, staring beyond
the tree limbs at the sky he would whisper, “How has Honeysuckle survived
without Dogwood?” He could not answer
his own question, but he knew both Jess and Grit had parts to play in its truth.
He avoided the river, though. He knew he could never again play along its
banks, never enjoy its sway or song. Not until Dogwood returned or until all
Passions had died and there was never any use for rivers at all. In his life in
the forest, Honeysuckle Sycamore had become a caged Passion.
remained forlorn as was her nature. She was born of the darker tendencies after
all. No matter what Honeysuckle did or what gifts Jess brought her, she gave
nothing more than a grunt in reply.
Grit,” Honeysuckle sighed, catching a grain of sand as it fell from her eyes.
“Won’t you ever smile?”
the seasons took turns cradling the valley, a quiet romance flowered beneath
the canopy in the old, stone chapel. The silent monk and the Passion became
very much captivated with one another. They slept tenderly in each other’s
arms, they gathered berries and firewood, they bathed one another in the
stream, and they cared for the lost child, Grit. Theirs was a happy, silent,
Honeysuckle and Jess Bethel made love for the first time it was as if the
purity of the valley had at last returned. The forest around them took on the
quality of Truth, a wind of fresh understanding. Even Grit noticed the change
as she slept in her bed of leaves on the forest floor. It was enough to quiet
her grief-calls and still her incessant rocking, lulling her to her first
young monk had never known the world to be as beautiful or as shining as it was
the moment a caged Passion came into him. Honeysuckle’s love was like a tree
sprouting inside Jess. Branches of joy spread out from the spot the seed was
planted and grew through the monk’s veins making everything more vibrant and
filled with life, indestructible. From
that day on, everything held a much higher quality for Jess Bethel.
Honeysuckle came into him and they were joined, the sprite’s laughter and glee
filled the air. It eased through the forest, wrapping around the trees and
traipsing down the hillside, until it finally came to the river where it swam
gracefully along the current.
river something less beautiful had transpired, however. A trail of smashed pulp
and smeared blood littered the banks, remnants of a small massacre. Peat Moss
stood on the rocks, ripping apart what was left of a gaggle of geese he had
come across. As a Passion he could easily overtake any flying creature. With the
geese he had only to open his large arms to catch them all in a deadly embrace.
Feathers, blood, and guts stained his face, hands and chest. And when there was
nothing left alive or twitching, he grimaced in disappointment. His blood lust
could never be satiated. He wanted more - more blood, more maiming, more death.
He stomped and grunted in agitation.
he was quite irritable. That is, until his keen sense of smell perceived the
scent of Honeysuckle, and his ears caught the slightest air of gaiety. His eyes
lit up with the memory of a familiar (if long thought dead) acquaintance.
Across his face crept the very same crippled grin he had worn the night he had
been born in that narrow hollow. The scent of Honeysuckle gave him his first
twinge of nostalgia. It was spiked with thorns.
he dropped the mangled remains of his feast of fowl and tramped off up river,
following the sweet scent of an ivy flower. The earth shook in his wake. He had
work to do. There was some fun to be had out of a job only half finished.
1. PREPARE YESELF!! Big announcement here. In the works now, a new anthology featuring work by Tj Klune, S.A. McAuley, Sjd Peterson, Abi Roux, Cyndie Hastey, and yours truly. Unconventional stories by unconventional writers. The title is Crack the Darkest Sky Wide Open and is set for release this May. Are ya excited?! Get excited!!
2. Still more excitement! I'm working on a zombie satire with Tj Klune called "Ghouls Gym" which will appear in Empire Press' forthcoming collection of three novellas titled Zombie Boyz.
3. Speaking of Empire Press, I'm in the process of signing The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles & Men over to them. Nothing is finalized yet, but I am pumped about this!
4. American Horror Story: I'm done with it. What a mess. It's like I'm in the show's production meeting and Ryan Murphy has shouted, "Throw out every clicheed idea you have!" Flesh-eating monsters, a serial killer, an asylum, a mad scientist, ghosts, Nazis, AND aliens? Oy. Too bad, too, because Jessica Lange is awesome.
5. The Rest is Illusion is still up for free download on GoodReads until this coming Thursday. It was also chosen as November's Book of the Month on the MM Romance Group's page.
6. Anyone who missed my interview on Stonewall Live last weekend you can catch it HERE. A star is born!! ;-)
7. Jeff Buckley was born on this day in 1966. A beautiful and talented man gone too soon.
So consumed was Honeysuckle by his
grief that he did not notice the swaying figure behind him. Only little by
little did he differentiate between his utterances of grief and the long,
queasy moans of the newborn female sprite. When at last he did comprehend he
was not alone, he rose in surprise with a sudden leap.
are you?” he demanded, the words barely finding a path through his sadness.
did not respond. She rocked slowly, and her arms and neck moved in a delicate,
mournful choreography. She was unlike anything he had ever come upon. Her flesh
was porous and granular.
Where her eyes should have been were
pits which cried constant, thin streams of sand. And her groans of grief issued
forth from a mouth that was tightly, painfully clenched.
are you?” Honeysuckle said again with a mingling of fear and pity.
Instinctively, he reached for her as if he would touch her face.
he did this, she quieted instantly and came toward him like a child taking its
first, wobbly steps. He recoiled at once and fled into the forest, not looking
back. While Honeysuckle was much quicker than Grit (he had left her behind on
the beach in no time), the loss of Dogwood had slowed him considerably.
Heartbreak weighed him down and he soon found rest upon a hill within a thicket
of briars and vines, wondering what other horrors awaited him.
was quite content to lay in the thicket, to fade away like so many other
Passions had done before him once their strength had waned. He was finding
desperate comfort in the darkness of closed eyes. If only he could rid himself
of the stubborn consciousness that clung to him so obsessively.
shuffling in the forest down the hill woke him from his black contentment long
before he heard the accompanying moans. He looked through the leafless, dead
thicket he lay beneath and perceived the female sprite as she staggered toward
the hill. She stood at the base, her face tilted upward, her hands gesturing an
embrace in lyrical dance. She tried to
climb the hill, but was unable to traverse the steep incline. Immediately, she
stumbled, falling to her knees. Moaning anew from the ground, she peered up at
away!” Honeysuckle cried. “I do not know you! I do not want you.” Yet, as he
said it, he knew there was something in the tortured sprite down below that was
all too familiar. “Go away, Grit,” he said, knowing her name as easily as any
being would innately recognize its kin.
she didn’t go away; she remained. And in her remaining was Honeysuckle’s
deliverance from nonexistence. Even as he had wanted to disappear, to vanish
completely, the image of Grit waiting for him at the base of the hill kept him
preoccupied. Her need for him was driving his need to die further from his
and nights passed and neither of the two moved from their positions. Every
morning Honeysuckle would wake to see Grit still at the bottom of the hill,
still waiting and moaning plaintively. Every day his cries of resentment toward
her became less forced. At last, he thought of coming down the hill. He was
hungry and he knew she had to be as well. But reluctance won out and he
remained in his fortress of dead vines for another night.
he slept that night, Honeysuckle wandered into a dream: He slid down the
hillside to where Grit lay slumbering. She grumbled and kicked like a dreaming
hound. The imposing trees barely gave the moonlight admittance to the forest.
As Honeysuckle watched the sleeping Passion, tendrils of honeysuckle began to
climb delicately over her. And behind her a small tree sprouted from the forest
floor. Both the honeysuckle vines and the tree grew very quickly, many seasons
in only a few seconds. When the sudden growth stopped, Grit lay covered in a
blanket of honey ivy and cradled lovingly by a large dogwood tree.
was movement in the darkness of the forest beyond which distracted Honeysuckle
from his adoration of Grit.
he gasped as he saw the certain form of his beloved walking away. Dogwood
turned and grinned with a nod to Grit before fading into the night of
woke to the morning, tears dripping from his cheeks like dew. He knew then he
was not meant to suffer through his sorrow alone.
in the dream, Honeysuckle slid down the hillside, though now in the clear light
of morning he could see perfectly. So quick was his descent, he nearly fell on
Grit as he approached the bottom of the hill. She was still sleeping. He
watched her momentarily, still somewhat scared.
he whispered, extending his hand and this time not recoiling. “Wake up, Grit.
I’m here for you now.”
rose with a twitch, and turned her head about as if trying to see. The sand
dripped from her face in heartbreaking streams.
It’s me. It’s Honeysuckle Sycamore.”
moaned quietly with a strain of uncertainty, then made another attempt to
embrace him with a lurch, a lunge, and a fall into Honeysuckle’s waiting arms.
She whimpered and sobbed there, at least minutely comforted.
here, Grit. It’s you and me now.” He held her closely for the rest of the day.
The forest had never seen such brokenheartedness. Every willow in the vicinity
wept at once and continues weeping to this very day.
both retreated like fading shadows swallowed by the deep forest of the valley.
The sheen of the world that Honeysuckle had known had dulled. There was no
mirth or wonder left. Honeysuckle and Grit became but omens of grief and
solitude to whatever soul they came across.
the evenings, when light struggled through the trees and a cool breeze crept
over the hillsides, they made their beds in tree hollows and sinkholes.
Honeysuckle would hold Grit like an older brother or a concerned parent. In
holding her, he perceived there was something about her that didn’t quite fit.
That is, though she was of Dogwood and Honeysuckle, something in her
being was neither of them.
Grit moaned and rocked in her sleep it would break Honeysuckle’s heart. And it
was during these moments that Honeysuckle would smell the faintest hint of
Dogwood in the air and would know his beloved was still near watching over them
Passions have the speed of a
hummingbird’s beating wings if they need it. No human could ever hope to tame or
capture one. But against another Passion, against one of their own, they
haven’t that advantage. And not every Passion is as whip-quick as the next.
There are certain inequalities, one might say. It all depends on the strength
of the moment in which they were created.
Peat Moss strode with dangerous intent ever closer to Dogwood and Honeysuckle,
the two sprites lit into the forest air, their feet barely touching the smooth
rocks of the hollow floor. Though Peat Moss was certainly a larger and more
cumbersome-looking Passion than the other two, this in no way impeded him. So
bitter, damp, and cold was his essence that Honeysuckle and Dogwood at once
felt his shadow over them as they fled like a coming winter storm.
burst free of the hollow as mere glimmers of light that any watching human
would think but plays of moonlight on the river valley air. Honeysuckle was
always the faster of the two sprites and in no time, propelled by fear, had
sped on ahead of Dogwood. It was only when he heard Dogwood cry out that he
finally realized they were no longer together.
turned to see the giant, newly born Passion dragging Dogwood by his lustrous
white hair along the sand to the river. Dogwood kicked and hit as hard as he
could, flailing about like a fish on a hook, but his blows were mere tickles to
Peat Moss. Finally, having tired of Dogwood’s struggle, Peat Moss leveled a
shattering blow of his own against the young sprite. At once, Dogwood was
no!” Honeysuckle exclaimed. He stood breathless for a moment, fear rendering
him to stone. “Get up! Get up!” he thought. “Fight, Dogwood!” But seeing his
companion incapacitated and sensing the true danger, the thought occurred to
him, What would Honeysuckle do without Dogwood?
with as much stealth as he could, Honeysuckle crept closer to the river’s edge.
From behind a boulder he spied as the giant beat the young sprite with
merciless force. The expression on Peat Moss’ face was one of devious delight;
a crippled grin dripping with drool lay like a scar across his face. He grunted
like a wild boar as he swung again and again. Defenseless, Dogwood took the
blows and was soon limp even as Peat Moss continued his relentless barrage.
did not need to wait long for his courage to mount; (a strange, new sensation
to him, for it had never been needed before). He sped at the behemoth as if his
feet were lit by flames, tearing across the valley air with haste. Though he
hit Peat Moss with unbridled force, it did little to lessen the monster’s
attack on Dogwood. With the effort of a shrug from Peat Moss, Honeysuckle was
thrown off, slamming forcefully against the boulder. Before Honeysuckle lost
total consciousness, he made a final attempt to rise and rescue Dogwood. But it
was futile. His body, like Dogwood’s, was as limp as river weed.
sorry, Dogwood,” he whispered as his eyes closed on the night.
a Passion dies, it disperses into a thousand pieces carried away by the breeze
like dandelion seeds. There is no body or shell left behind to bury or weep
over. There is no grand funerary procession. Yet like everything of substance
and energy the essence of the Passion remains in the world until a time comes
that it may be reborn.
Honeysuckle awoke, the light of dawn was breaking upon the shore. The patch of
beach where Dogwood had fallen was bare, and only a dozen or so dogwood petals
fluttered in the breeze. They circled, chasing one another as if ignorant of
the death of a Passion. When a stronger breeze came and snatched them quickly
away Honeysuckle jumped to his feet as if trying to catch them. But they were
carried higher in the sky and far up stream. He lost sight of them in the
blinding glare of the new day’s sun.
and despairing, Honeysuckle slumped to the ground and wept. His hands dug into
the sand in angst. His tears fell, mingling with the sand and the vanishing
remnants of Passion blood. “Dogwood! Don’t leave your Honeysuckle!”
as he cried, the wind kicked up around him, his moans seeming a call for
creation. Wind, sand, blood and tears had taken form in a stationary twister
conducted by howls of grief. When the cyclone finally abated and Honeysuckle
sat broken and sobbing, behind him stood a figure. A female energy born of sand
and bitter anguish. She swayed back and forth in plaintive, half-crazed
repetition. Her name was Grit.