Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Prepping for NaNoWriMo

I just created an account at National Novel Writing Month. I first heard about it last year at Thanksgiving. Since that was smack dab at the end of the month, I couldn't very well enter into it, could I?

So, I'm prepping for it now, by doing some preliminary brainstorming for ideas. I have a few that I like. Now I just need to trim it down to the one idea I will work on for the month.

I'll be updating my author page once November starts. I hope to be able to keep the pace.

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chapter 1, The Path Into Darkness

Path Into Darkness e-book

Spiders skittered around the periphery of his vision. Everything was shrouded in deep shadow; all he could see and hear were the spiders. There were hundreds of them, maybe thousands--crawling over him, on his face, through his hair. He felt the prickling of their steps as they weaved their way over his body.

Something loomed into his vision; a large bloated shape, a glistening black that allowed him to see his own reflection. Small spiders moved over his body, leaving wisps of white silk webbing all about him.

A bright light shone--its sudden appearance startled him--which only served to draw further attention to huge spider hovering over him. It spun webbing, entangling his body within the strands. He struggled against the webs, first tossing his body to the left. Then he threw himself to his right, but the webs were already over his legs and pinned his arms to his sides.

In a panic, Mark craned his head side to side, vainly struggling for a glimpse of his surroundings. It looked like a hospital ward; beds lined the wall he was against as well as the wall opposite him. Other large spiders could be seen, hanging on thick strands of web over the other beds or encasing other forms–-patients he supposed, it was a hospital after all. The chattering sound of mandibles and the clicking of the spiders filled his ears.

Before each bed, a person stood; each was watching the process, some made notes on clipboards. They were all dressed as doctors, but what sort of doctor would stand by idly and watch what was happening?

He struggled to see past the bloated form in front of him, to see if someone stood at the foot of his bed. Straining to see, he was able to see his ″doctor″; the man made no notes and held no clipboard. He was simply watching, occasionally shaking his head and making a sort of clucking sound with his teeth. For some reason--Mark couldn't be sure why--but the man's presence was more upsetting than the spiders.

He looked to be of median age, with short, brown hair and a short, gray-streaked beard and a pair of small eyeglasses. They made brief eye contact, and the other man smiled wryly, saying, "Excita sursum, pro est quoque tardus!"

Once he spoke, the large spider over him stopped and quickly began to move away. The man spoke again, making vigorous hand gestures, "Hora est tardus, quod vos opus efficia. Nunc vigila!"


Mark sat bolt upright in his bed, beads of sweat ran down his face,clinging to his body. Through vision still fuzzy from his sleep, he looked around in a panic. He sighed heavily;to his relief, he saw that he was in his own bedroom. His simply decorated and cozy room. Not a hospital ward. And no spiders, let alone their webbing in sight.

He had had this particular dream--the spider dream as he referred it to his friends, to differentiate from his other bizarre dreams--for the last few days. Each time it had taken longer for him to wake, allowing him to gather more details about it. While the man had been in these dreams before, speaking was a new addition. But what language was that? It sounded like Latin, or at least something old like that. Mark only spoke English, and bits of Spanish that he learned in school; both of which were no help to figure out what the man had said.

He rummaged through his night stand and pulled out a spiral notebook. Grabbing a pen, he wrote down tonight's dream. He hoped he had the words correct and that he could find a good on-line translator that could help him make some sense of them. He put his dream journal back away and wiped the sweat from himself, before trying to go to sleep again.

A few hours later, Mark woke up again; he had no odd dreams or nightmares this time. As far as he could remember, it was just dreamless sleep, restful for his body but his mind was still groggy and on edge. He got out of bed slowly, and started his morning routine.

First, he showered. He was still groggy and he caught himself almost dozing off again as he stood motionless in the spray of the hot water. He toweled himself dry and got out of the shower. Wiping the steam fog from the mirror, he spent a few moments making odd faces and expressions at his reflection. He brushed at his hair haphazardly. He made a grimace at his reflection, and brushed it in a different direction. Not liking that, he ran the brush through his hair again. He never liked his wavy hair, or the unruly cowlick that happened whenever he had his hair cut short. Unfortunately, his office job necessitated a ″professional″ hair cut, and, thus, his daily battle with his hair. It used to be so much quicker when his hair was longer.

Perhaps it was just his tiredness, but he made more faces at the mirror and decided that he didn't like anything he saw. No, he didn't like what he saw at all today--not that he ever liked the way he looked, but today was particularly bad. The only thing he liked was his nose, and he was pretty sure that was only because his goatee drew attention from it.

Then, he took his medications--one for his allergies as springtime was hellish for him and another for anxiety. He smiled slightly at the thought that maybe he should take the anxiety pill first thing in the morning, before having his daily bout of self-disapproval.

He worked not far from his Manhattan apartment, in an engineering firm's accounts receivable department. It was rare that Mark spoke about his work; when he did, his friends would make over dramatic pantomimes, loudly ask how he could do such a boring and mundane job. Of course, it wasn't as if Tommy or Peter had ″glamorous″ jobs. Tommy was a courier for a law firm and Peter was "self-employed", but mostly he just collected disability pay and went to see a psychiatrist three times a week.

Even though he had psychiatric medications, Mark wasn't one for therapy and therapists. Peter, once an actor, was now effectively crippled by his paranoia, unable to perform in front of audiences or large crowds, let alone overcome the daily struggle to leave his own apartment.

Mark had recently begun to worry that there was something seriously wrong with himself, far beyond what his nagging worries and anxious thoughts. There were, of course, the nightmares; always vivid and almost always about some sort of constrictions or impeding death. And there always was the ″doctor″. He wasn't always in that guise, true, but it was always him. Middle aged, stern looking, with a full beard, the man in his dreams had never spoken before last night. And now that he had, he spoke in a language that Mark didn't know. That confused and frightened him; how could such a thing happen? .

From all that he had ever learned about dreams, it didn’t seem possible for something like last night's dream to occur. Unless, of course, what the man said was some gibbering nonsensical language conceived by Mark's subconscious or perhaps it was a riddle. The mind works oddly at times, trying to express your deepest fears and concerns through dreams, but it wasn't always clear; hiding behind symbols and inscrutable patterns. Mark remembered that much from introductory classes in psychology he had taken at college.

As soon as he could find the time, he intended to find out what, if anything, those words meant. He hoped it would be something simple; maybe those words were something Mark had heard once in a documentary or a movie. On the other hand--highly unlikely as it would seem--maybe he was somehow dreaming in a language that he didn't know. The idea of that alone was enough to cause a shiver to run along his spine. He thought that he would prefer the simpler, more reasonable explanation.

And, yet, what if it wasn't just his mind playing tricks on him? Could it be something worse, and not just strange dreams and restless sleep? He would have liked to be able to do nothing other than to mull these thoughts over. Mark had always been one to think problems through and try to see all the angles concerned. It had only occasionally proved to be useful, and it usually just resulted in him appearing to be indecisive and non-committal.

Those matters would have to wait until another time, though, as the pressing concerns of accounts receivable were weighing heavily on him. He smiled absentmindedly as he sat down in his cubicle and logged into his workstation. He took a sip of coffee and answered his ringing phone. ″Petersen and Jones Engineering, Mark Roberts speaking," he said.

″Hello, Mister Roberts," the voice on the phone said. ″Misters McNally and Cooper would like to know your availability vis-à-vis a lunch appointment.″

"Yes, I can do lunch today, Tommy. And your snooty businessman impression still needs work."

"Good, I'll be down by your building dropping a contract off around noon. I’ll make sure Pete's medicated enough to leave his apartment."

"I'm sure you don't have to do that," Mark said. "Just tell him that the government will be activating all the microphones in his apartment at noon. No need to get him all doped up and stupid."

"Yeah, you have a point Mark. I'll meet you two out front later."

Hanging up the phone, Mark concluded that at least today wouldn’t be totally dull. There'd be an entertaining lunch, and most likely on the house as Tommy would make sure to pick a place where he knew the wait staff. Maybe not for all three of them, but at least for himself.

The hours until lunchtime slowly passed, with Mark having to do the usual routine of calling vendors and customers to arrange payments and billing schedules. It was a fairly easy job, since the firm was itself financially successful, but also was lucky enough to have clients who diligently paid on schedule.

The whole while, he felt like someone was watching him. He caught himself glancing out his cubicle entrance; he even stood up once and looked all around the office. Even though he saw no-one or anything like a camera or other recorder, he still couldn’t shake the feeling. After his second cup of coffee at around 11:45 AM, he felt a mild pain that seemed to be centered behind his eyes.

He stopped looking over the invoices he was working on and rubbed his temples, while squeezing his eyes shut tightly. The pain lessened a bit, allowing his to return to work. Again, however, the feeling of being watched returned; this time it felt like someone was standing over his shoulder. Mark was sure he felt something breathing on the back of his neck.

He quickly turned around to see what was behind him. As he suspected, there was nothing there. Swiveling his chair around to face his desk once more, his foot caught on the small garbage can in his cubicle, making it clatter against his file cabinet. Lucia, who sat in the cubicle opposite his, looked up at the commotion with a puzzled expression. "Everything ok, Mark?" she asked.

Lucia Pietrangeli was somewhat attractive to Mark, but first and foremost she was a coworker; and that meant, to him at least, that she was off limits and not worth the hassle of thinking about it in that fashion. He was certain that had she not been a work associate she would be firmly in the attractive category, but of course, that would then mean that he would be unable to talk to her due to his quirky social anxieties. He sighed a bit at how messed up his brain was, before saying, "Yeah. I think I just had too much coffee. I’m a little jittery."

"You're always a little jittery, Mark. Do you ever relax?"

"Who has time to relax?" He glanced at his watch and noticed that it was almost noon. "I'm going to lunch," he said, adding, "Be back in an hour."

"You want some company?" Lucia asked.

"Can't today, I'm meeting with some friends." He stopped for a second, before saying, "We'll get lunch tomorrow, ok?"

"Sure thing," she said. "I get to pick the place this time though."

He stood up and grabbed his jacket, heading towards the elevators. As he waited for the elevator to arrive, he rolled his head from side to side with eyes shut. He heard the bell that signaled the elevator's arrival and opened his eyes, with a heavy sigh.

What he saw, however, was not what he expected. Instead of the familiar open elevator doors in the little lobby on the fifteenth floor of the Beakerman building, Mark saw a dimly lit vestibule with large cobwebs clinging to the vaulted ceiling. Spiders could be seen traversing the webbing, heading to and fro along the strands.

Where the open elevator doors would be was instead a yawning pit; the sight of which filled him with a rush of vertigo. He steadied himself and peered over the edge of the pit, trying to peer into its depths. He could see, faintly, some large form writhing therein.

In a panic, he turned his head, gathering in what he could of his surroundings. He couldn't see his coworkers, nor any of the drab office decorations or paintings, nor the various potted plants. Instead, there was only himself, the spiders crawling along their webs, and the writhing, pulsating form in the pit.

"Nunc vigila, Marcus," a voice said.

He recognized it immediately as the voice from last night’s dream. "Vestri semita plumbum in obscurum quod puteus."

He spun around to see where the man was, but as he did so he became dizzy. Stopping to steady himself, his vision darkened and the scene before him faded away.

When his senses became clear again, he was standing in the elevator lobby; the door to the elevator open before him and quiet soothing symphonic music emanated from within. He looked around, and to his relief there was no one there to have witnessed his odd behavior. This was getting out of hand now, weird dreams were one thing but hallucinations were an all together different concern. He hoped that maybe it was just the lack of sleep and he hadn't hallucinated, but briefly zoned out while waiting for the elevator. The thought that his mind was simply overtired and was causing him to have a daydream put him a little bit at ease.

He was still deep in thought when he emerged from the building and onto the sidewalk outside. Peter was already waiting outside, leaning against the building and smoking a cigarette.

They exchanged greetings and Mark leaned against the wall as well, waiting for Tommy to get there.


As usual, Tommy was late. He always ran late when he was delivering contracts, as they required him to wait for the receiving party's signatures and that gave him time to make small talk with the secretaries. He was fairly popular with them, always eliciting an easy laugh or smile.

This annoyed Mark, who had always found it difficult to engage easily in conversation with anyone, let alone women. He would often find himself taking shallow breaths and could feel sweat beading on his forehead; thankfully, the pill he took for anxiety helped but it didn't make it any easier for him. Mark was often at a loss for what to say next in a conversation with a stranger, fearing that he would offend them or anger them. The truth of the matter was that the only people he felt at ease with, at least for social situations, were Peter and Tommy.

He had known Tommy for what seemed like forever. They had grown up together in New Jersey and moved into New York City at about the same time, which was when Mark graduated from college and Tommy had dropped out of law school. It always amused him that Tommy had decided he couldn't bear to be a lawyer, but had no problem collecting a paycheck from them.

Peter lived in the same building where Mark's first apartment was. They clicked fairly quickly, sharing the common bond of questionable sanity. Further, at that time Peter was still actively acting in plays and kept dragging Mark to various cast parties and after show events. Unlike the other two however, Peter was well into his forties and was recognized from time to time for either one of the many plays he had been in or the television show he had been on in the 90s.

When Tommy arrived, they walked around the corner to a little Mexican place. The restaurant had good food and, more importantly for Tommy, his current love interest worked the lunch shift there. This guaranteed them a reduced bill, at the expense of Mark and Peter having to endure Carmen constantly coming over to their table to talk to Tommy.

During the meal, they made mindless conversation, which briefly touched upon politics, the hotness or non-hotness of the women walking past the restaurant, and how much all three of them disliked the selection of movies playing at the theater closest to their apartments.

After finishing his meal, Tommy excused himself from the table, going over to the kitchen entrance to talk with Carmen. Mark and Peter still had some of their meal left, so they assumed they would be finished by the time that Tommy was finished with his business.

"Something weird happened today," Mark said, nervously tapping his fork against his plate.

Taking a sip of his soda, Peter asked, "What?"

Mark answered, "I had some sort of hallucination, or maybe just a daydream. It was a new version of the spiders dream. It happened when I went to get on the elevators before."

"Buildings have spiders in them, Mark. That's not something to worry about."

Mark laughed, before saying, "The paranoiac is telling me not to worry about something bad happening to me."

"It's just spiders."

"No, it wasn't just that," Mark said. "The whole place took on a weird look, like one of those medieval churches or something. And, instead of the elevators, there was a deep pit with some thing at the bottom. I couldn't tell what it was, but I could definitely see it writhing about in the shadows."

"Really?" Peter asked. "Now that is worrisome I think. Hallucinations are serious stuff, Mark. I think you need to see a professional, I can see if my psychiatrist is taking on new patients if you'd like.″

Mark put a twenty dollar bill on the table and stood up. "Not doing that," he said, before adding, "I have to get back to work. Tell Tommy I'll catch up with him later."

Peter sat in silence, waiting for Tommy to get out of the back office. The entire time, he was thinking over what Mark had just told him. He knew about Mark having the "spider dream" almost nightly and how it was made him very frazzled. Peter could only wonder how he would be after a few days of seeing them even when he was awake.


Mark thought that he should go back to the restaurant and apologize to Peter for his outburst. After all, what if he really were going crazy? What would happen then? He grimaced at the thought of being committed to an institution or hospital, constantly being monitored and medicated.

It's just stress, he kept telling himself. Lack of sleep and the realization that he had just had another disappointing year in his disappointing life all culminating in this series of dreams and visions. Maybe it was his subconscious crying out for a change, a desperate plea for Mark to shake up his meaningless and empty life.

While he was afraid and hesitant to talk to therapist or psychiatrist about recent events, he felt that it was safe to confide in Peter. After all, how could Peter, who had his own ailments, be judgmental about it? How couldn't he understand Mark's fears of being institutionalized?

Mark still remembers the creepy, almost surreal, stories that Peter would sometimes tell about his time in a mental hospital. There was no way, no how, that Mark wanted to be anywhere near such a place.

Now that he was at the front entrance to his office building, making amends with Peter would have to wait, and Mark was certain that Peter would understand his reaction. After all, Peter occasionally freaked out and ranted at Mark and Tommy about black helicopters coming for them in the middle of the night; they always let it slide when Peter told them he forget to take his pills. Mark expected the same from his friend.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Generating Traffic

This review of Web Juggernaut showed up when I was searching around for ways to get visitors to this blog. I'm not trying to do the whole "niche blogging" thing to make money or anything, I just want to get my ideas on software and writing shared with other people.

Which, of course, requires visitors. It seems like a fairly easy link exchanging type program. I have no idea if it works or not, but I'm still doing my research.

I know that the best method of getting traffic is to have good solid content, but that takes time to develop and I am working on that. In the meantime, what programs or methods have worked well for you?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Death of a Hard Drive

On Saturday, one of the hard drives in my near ancient Linux server failed. Even though I had back-ups of some of my data, I was lax and hadn't backed up some of the information for a few of the web sites that reside there.

So, until I can rebuild those web sites, I have to use the mod_rewrite features of Apache to temporarily redirect visitors to a working web site. This is done with the following entry in the virtual host information:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteRule ^(.*) [R,NC,L]

So, if you were trying to go to a different website, but ended up here, it's because I haven't restored or rebuilt the site you were trying to get to. It would also be the reason why no one was able to really get to this blog yesterday either, as the machine that failed is also my DNS server.