Letters From the Labyrinth 319
Bocephus showed up last Thursday night, the day before the deep freeze sweeping over much of the Northeast engulfed Central Pennsylvania, turning everything into ice and forcing everyone to stay inside and hopefully read books (although they’ll probably just watch TikTok videos).
I’d suspected for a few weeks that there might be another feral somewhere nearby. I based that on the fact that the birds had neglected the feeders during the day, and the coyotes were getting braver at night and slinking onto the property. When Josie was outside, the birds looked at our house like it was a certain five-bedroom Dutch Colonial in Amityville, NY, and the coyotes and bald eagles would stake out my property (but they never got her, because Josie was too badass for that).
Anyway, last Thursday night, Josie was on the back of the couch in Mary’s office, staring out the window at the front yard. Spike (Mary’s ten-year-old cat) was exhibiting the behaviors he’d engaged in when Josie and all the kittens were outside — running from window to window and door to door and letting off little howls. (Dallas, Stripe and Bubbles were all off doing important cat things like napping elsewhere in the house). One of our motion detector lights blinked on, lighting up the front yard and porch. I peeked outside and sure enough, there was a cat.
I put some food in a bowl and took it out. The cat fled. I sat the bowl down, came back inside, and stood watching out the front door.
The cat came back.
Bedraggled, tattered and either very pregnant or very well-fed on birds and mice. This is a nighttime picture, so I couldn’t see any of these details with my naked eye. If you look at the lower right of the picture, there’s a spot there on its tail that concerns me. I can’t tell if it’s an injury, or a discoloration or just a weird digital artifact from the camera.
Friday morning, I got out the box my father and I had made for Josie when she was still feral (an old beehive from when we used to keep bees, reconverted into a little weatherproof house) and stuck it on the porch and stuffed it full of straw. Then, as night fell, I put out a dish of food and waited. Thirty minutes went by, and no cat. I checked the food and found that it had frozen already. Another fifteen minutes went by, and the cat crept up onto the porch and started gnawing at the frozen food. I opened the door and it ran. I put out some fresh, non-frozen food along with some dry food, and then went back inside. The cat returned within a minute and ate everything, but refused to use the box, choosing instead to slink off to wherever it’s been hiding. I wasn’t able to get a look at the tail.
I decided to name it Bocephus. (Mary didn’t know what that was, so I explained it was the name of a ventriloquist dummy belonging to comedian Rod Brasfield, and that Hank Williams nicknamed his son Hank Williams Jr. that because Hank Jr. reminded him of the dummy, and now I’d named the new feral cat that because for some reason it reminded me of Hank Jr. — maybe because I was quietly humming “A Country Boy Can Survive” when it first showed up Thursday).
We obviously cannot have another cat, so my plan is to put food out at night through this deep freeze. As soon as temperatures climb higher again, I’ll put out the box trap and hopefully catch Bocephus, and then I’ll take them to the SPCA or the shelter (depending on which is at capacity). I’m loathe to trap it right now, because even 15 minutes spent inside a box trap in this weather is a dangerous. The wind chill out there is brutal.
Despite having rescued 25 feral cats (Josie plus three litters of 8 kittens each) over the last two years, I don’t know a lot about cat genealogy. But Bocephus’s face looks an awful lot like Josie’s, and I wonder if they might be a brother or sister, or maybe even a parent?
Anyway, good morning. I’m Brian Keene. I’m a writer of horror, fantasy and crime novels as well as stories, comic books, audio dramas and non-fiction. I’m also sometimes a podcaster, showrunner, and producer. A while back I determined that while an ‘Angry Young Man’ can be a cool thing, an ‘Angry Old Man’ is not, so in order to make sure I didn’t turn in to one of those, I reinvented myself as a feral cat whisperer. This is the 319th issue of Letters From the Labyrinth, a newsletter for friends, family and fans of my work.
* * *
This Week’s Blog: Regarding Borderlands Boot Camp
* * *
Brian Keene Live - Episode 5
Brian is joined by his old pal and fellow Defenders Dialogue host Christopher Golden and Mary SanGiovanni to talk about Tom Monteleone, and Chris's latest novel All Hallows. Watch here.
* * *
* * *
Author Wesley Southard now has a newsletter, as well. Click here to read or subscribe.
* * *
Longtime reader Alexander Bailey could use our help. In the last three years, she’s had two breast cancer surgeries and a fight with lymphoma. As a result, her medical bills are beginning to pile up. The family is asking for $5,000. Let’s help get them there. Click here to donate $5.
* * *
Currently Listening: Brian Keene Radio
Currently Reading: Fairy Tale by Stephen King
Currently Watching: Skinamarink (Shudder), You People (Netflix), and Buster's Mal Heart (Prime)
After all the hype, I wanted to love Skinamarink but instead I merely liked it. The film was genuinely unsettling to me, as a parent, but probably not one I’d revisit (unlike, say The Exorcist 3 or Session 9 or Carpenter’s The Thing). If you’re watching at home, I definitely recommend doing so with the closed captioning turned on. Much of the film depends of audio cues, and some of the noises are indistinguishable and unidentifiable unless the captioning is on. (For example: an unidentified, off-camera “snap-snap-snap” is identified in the closed captioning as “Bones Breaking”).
You People was okay. It starts out funny, but the problem is, it’s basically just variations of the same joke for two hours. The ending is great though, particularly the confrontation between the groom’s mother and the bride-to-be. It’s not a dud by any means. Lauren London is excellent, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss steals every scene she’s in. But David Duchovny is underused and Eddie Murphy just sort of sleepwalks through it. Overall, it’s something fun to watch for two hours, but not something I’d watch again.
Buster’s Mal Heart was wonderful. A surreal sci-fi mystery with some genuine surprising twists and heartbreaking, harrowing turns. Rami Malek is excellent, as always.
* * *
Saturday morning as I write this, and everything is frozen except the river. My desk faces the window, which faces the river, and currently there are seventeen geese cockily gliding back and forth in front of our dock, impervious to the cold.
Things are in a state of flux here at Casa Keenegiovanni. Our landlord passed away last month, and I’m nervous that the family may ultimately wish to sell this place (and that is perfectly understandable and I wouldn’t resent them that at all). But it makes planning for the wedding and such a little extra unnerving. See, the wedding is taking place just past the backyard, where the hayfield meets the forest, an the reception is taking place a few doors down at the fire hall. (Mary and I aren’t much on fancy — this is a rustic, rural, free-spirited wedding that celebrates love rather than pomp).
In a few years, we plan to retire to the family homestead in West Virginia, and that will be our last and final move. I hate the idea of having to temporarily move again in between then and now, so I remain hopeful that my worries are unfounded. Regardless, I will miss this river when we eventually decamp, although I suppose 32 acres of mountain forest bordering thousands of miles of state forest will make up for it.
Writing this past week was a joke. Everything and everyone is on fire, and not just the stuff you know about. Deep financial concerns continue to percolate behind the scenes at many publishing houses, and medical concerns continue to stalk my peers. I spent much of the week putting out fires — something which I am tired of doing, and which Chris, Mary and I talked about at the end of this past week’s episode of Brian Keene Live. It was one of those weeks where all the other writers were calling, texting and emailing, and man… I’ll tell you… that leads to resentment. Sure, I’ll fall behind on my own stuff so I can help you with this stuff. That seems fair. Not. By Friday, I’d turned off my phone because it was either that or I was going to toss it in the river.
But I did get a few things done. I read for some research on a project. I got half a first draft of an Introduction to a new edition of Guy N. Smith’s Night of the Crabs written, as well as half a chapter of SPLINTERED: THE LABYRINTH Book 3. I also worked on edits for ISLAND OF THE DEAD and GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX, but I am deeply frustrated because I’d hoped and expected to have at least one of those two finished by now.
Oh, and I also got a new death threat. This time, it was for having the audacity to suggest that maybe folks should treat trans people with the same dignity and empathy that we they treat others with. Which beats getting death threats for expressing the wrong opinion about a movie, book, video game or band, I suppose.
Anyway, listen. This coming week, I don’t care if Clive Barker shows up at your house and takes a dump on your favorite couch. It’s not my problem. Deal with it yourself. If you can’t deal with it yourself then get Gabino Iglesias or Bracken Macleod to deal with it for you.
(Right now Gabino and Bracken are going, “Wait… what?”)
A big part of this coming week will also be spent on finishing up tallying the Splatterpunk Award recs and releasing the final ballot, and on Scares That Care AuthorCon. Speaking of which…
If you attended any of the 8 Scares That Care Weekends, then you are no doubt familiar with the Bra Walk. It began with Joe Ripple, the founder of the charity, walking through the hotel bar on Saturday night wearing a massive and very pink bra. Attendees stuffed cash in the bra. All of that cash went toward our breast cancer recipient for that year. Each year, the Bra Walk morphed, with volunteers dressing Joe in more and more ridiculous outfits.
Last year, for the first AuthorCon, I took over the Bra Walk, and despite a minor security incident, it went well. I had some misgivings about it, though. While I believe the attendees know the story behind it, and know Joe’s heart and my heart, and the intent and the charity’s work — I’m not sure how well that translates to somebody online who has never attended the charity and is unfamiliar with our mission. And while I personally think there is hilarity to be found in the sight of Joe wearing a giant pink bra and an ill-fitting dress, or me wearing a giant pink bra and some snug-fitting day-glo tights, the last thing I want to be responsible for is unintentionally hurting someone else.
So, I decided to change things a little bit, and I talked to Joe about it this past week. For AuthorCon 2, there will still be a Bra Walk on Saturday night, but I’m calling it the Breast Cancer Walk, and it will now consist of…
…well, you’ll have to be there to find out. Get your tickets here.
Also, VERY VERY VERY IMPORTANT — If you are an author, editor, artist, agent etc. *registered as a vendor* for Scares That Care Authorcon II, and you wish to participate in programming, please take 1 minute to fill out this survey for Sonora Taylor and myself. Thank you!
* * *
Mary posted this bit of writing advice that I gave her.
I mean… I’m not wrong.
* * *
Hard to believe it’s been 14 years since we made this movie.
14 years later, and I still have “No comment!” ;-)
* * *
And that does it for this week. It’s now 10:39 AM and both Mary and my youngest son are awake. He’s reading Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Maus by Art Spiegelman, and she’s making herself breakfast, and I’m going to eat some lunch and then dive back into this pile of work. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you back here next week!
— Brian Keene