Funeral Watch: The First Day


Really, this is two firsts. My first death in a large family, and my first organic death.

I’ve been in Smyrna, Georgia for less than twenty-four hours, watching as family and friends gather for the death of my father-in-law, Charles L. Allen, Sr.

It’s a noisy process, though that doesn’t surprise me. What does confuse me is the joyfulness of it all.

Not joy in the death, of course. Joy in regrouping, whether days or years have passed.

Friends have arrived from Sugar Grove, less than twenty minutes from the house, and family is here from Columbus, Ohio. For the first six hours the conversation is around other things. The grown children and their friends discuss television, music, stupid stunts they tried as wild boys in the woods of Georgia. The children of those children – well, they vary – the two sisters bicker or talk about their peers, the elder boy regales me with stories from games of Battlefront and Call of Duty, talks of his dream to become a premium YouTube sensation. The toddler races his toy truck from sun room to kitchen, impervious to any outside sorrows.

Mrs. Allen is receiving church ladies in the dining room. I don’t want to intrude, but mostly, there are kind words and gentle touches. Casseroles, Coca-cola, and chocolate cake. What I hear is talk of travels with the church group as far afield as South Dakota. I hear laughter and see smiles.

It’s comforting, though hard to wrap my head around. Somehow I’ve become more familiar with somber reflection than open joy, and my own talk of Batman and barbecue seems like it should alienate rather than bond. In a way, it’s a comfort when the friends file out and only family is left.

Even then, though, they’re siblings. They tease, tweak, and taunt one another.

“What room are you in,” asks Sheila, and Lois replies “Two-oh-seven and two-oh-nine.”

“Well, so much for sleeping,” Mitch sighs, “They’ll be pranking us all night.”

Mrs. Allen tells the story of the night they met, fifty-five years ago. It’s too funny a story to keep anyone down, though – with apologies – I’ll keep it to the family for the time being. Leanne and I set to work packing away five whole untouched pizzas, making room for pitchers of sweet tea by removing pitchers of plain water.

I warn that the pizza boxes in a recycling bin will attract raccoons and possum, and am assured they don’t come by as often as rats do. Finally, my chance to make a joke – “Well, that’s all right, then.”

Eventually the family, too, files out the door. My wife and I sit with her mother, and this is more familiar territory. My birth family is small, their circles close and tight. Here we can discuss what still needs doing.

Collect the truck from his hunting camp and sign the title to the camper over. Do we want to drive the truck back to Chicago? No, love it as she does, Leanne knows it wouldn’t make the journey. Cancel the appointments with the dentist, neurologist, general practitioner.

The details soothe me, if nobody else; and so do the eventual tears.

It’s not that I want those left behind to be task-oriented and sorrowful at such a time.

It’s just all I know.



One of the things I love most about superhero gaming is the creation of the supporting cast. Specifically, the villains who would face off against our noble team. After all, part of what defines a hero is the villains he opposes.

This can be seen as early as Dick Tracy in the early 1930s. Dick’s enemies are almost always hideously deformed, indicating the strip’s stance on crime. Batman’s foes are largely insane, in a modern version of the frontier tale – the man who would ‘civilize’ a land cannot be part of that civilized society. And Iron Man almost always faces off against other technological geniuses.

With that in mind, I’d like to showcase the logic behind a few of my baddies. I always try to tie them either into the hero’s powers, the hero’s backgrounds, or what I know about the player.

Avalanche is one of our heroes. His powers are super-strength and earth control, his secret identity is a geology professor and football coach at the local University, and his player hates mind control (having run a low-willpower character in a D&D campaign before).

Sylph has powers of intangibility. She can phase through anything except a specific mineral, which will be revealed in play and allow Avalanche to use his earth control powers to trap her in that mineral. I like the idea of a random guard’s wedding ring scratching her during a robbery. She specializes initially in art heists, which lets me contrast the very down-home hero with swank and snobbish old money types. Future plotlines include trying to corner the market on the mineral she’s vulnerable to, and turning to international smuggling (by phasing into airplanes).

Mooncalf is a Hulk-type character, incredibly strong but with no foresight or self-control. He isn’t villainous, but can’t control his changes; and is – of course – a member of the University football team. While that’s not obvious in their first fight, Avalanche will have to decide what’s best for the student, for his team, and for society. Imprison him? Try to cure him? Monitor him closely? Any of these choices determines how Mooncalf develops in later sessions, from a tragic figure to a full-blown supervillain.

The Power Broker is a mastermind who develops a serum to bestow low-level powers onto normal humans. A biology professor at the University, he uses some of his students as unwitting test subjects, trying to perfect and increase the power of his serum. The intent is to introduce him as a sympathetic non-player character in faculty meetings, try to establish a friendship with Avalanche, then slowly unveil his involvement in these extra-curricular activities.

Finally, for basic all-out slugfests, Lord Grome is lifted straight out of Moocock’s Elric series, the king of all earth elementals. I really want to have a mirror of Avalanche who isn’t terribly complicated or difficult to understand, and I know the players will get a charge out of this blast from our collective pasts.

Other comic writers or gamers out there? How do you design your villains?

Print Copies are Limited!

I’ve been informed by Apocalypse Ink that we are running low on print copies of FAMISHED: THE FARM, and there are no current plans to reprint.

If you’re new to the Gentleman Ghouls series, this is the place to start. I am offering to sign any physical copies either brought to the Apocalypse Ink booth at GenCon 2014 in Indianapolis.

If you will not be attending, I’m happy to sign a copy which is mailed to me, and will pay the postage to send the book back to you!

You can purchase the print version from or directly from Apocalypse Ink.


FAMISHED: The Commons – Accepted!

I’m pleased to announce that Apocalypse Ink has verbally accepted my final edits to FAMISHED: THE COMMONS and that a contract is forthcoming!

The book will be released in e-book format only at this time, and is scheduled for August of 2014.

A calendar of readings, signings, and other events will be provided shortly.

I am beyond thrilled to be working with Jennifer Brozek and Apocalypse Ink once again, and I look forward to providing my readers with a new delicious nightmare.

All the best,

On a Midwestern June

Early June in northern Illinois means the finest of days. June is the reward for surviving another winter, for the long frozen nights huddled beneath wool and down. The sun at noon is directly overhead, warming the skin with a gentle pressure, like the embrace of a timid but generous lover.

Timid? Not the sun, so close to Midsummer. She stands tall, further out of reach than her sister the moon, more inaccessible than the stars. There is pride in that distance, but in June she draws nearest, bringing us from the clamshells of our suburban homes.

Life is everywhere in the dense emerald of June. Not a second passes without the chatter of robin, cardinal, finch, sparrow, swallow, crow, cicada. The life, too, of your neighbors returns with the thrum of motorcycles, convertibles, private planes from the nearby municipal airport where the wealthy or careless learn to soar through the cloudless skies.

The vibrant green predominates, but does not command. Petunias in royal purple and bell-horn blue, peonies blushing pink at the fervent attention of the carpenter ants driven mad by their scent. Spotless white chamomile with the most delicate yellow caps dance rootbound jigs in the gentle breeze, while the flashier marigolds stand sentry over their companions, the young tomato plants, leggy and leaning against their cages.

Here too, your neighbors reveal themselves – the bold red stripes of your neighbor’s flag, proud veteran, away to his job in the factories. The bold rainbow stripes of the couple down the street, newly wed, newly permitted. The warning orange lights of construction horses, where that mysterious entity, The City, has decreed winter’s damaged streets to be verboten.

We hide through the winter, starved of light, of color, of words for one another. Pale and speechless we emerge into the warmth, the welcome panoply of Summer.

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