A Shining welcome to prolific writer SS Hampton, Sr., visiting today with a special post for Halloween. His short story, "Appointment in the Village Bazaar", appears in Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper, a new anthology from Edge SF & Fantasy edited by Nancy Kilpatrick. SS has an excerpt from his story below, but first, his macabre Halloween post.
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IT’S ALMOST HALLOWEEN!
It’s October, and the calendar is spiraling ever closer to Halloween—that mysterious night when spooks, goblins, trolls, and witches prowl the world alongside us. Oh yes, I can’t forget the proverbial black cat that likes to peer at you with bright, flaming eyes, from within deep shadows. Oh yes again. There’s a full moon only days before that magical, haunted night. Who knows what else prowls the world on such a night?
Maybe it’s due to this time of the year, but I often wonder how much time I have left. I’m 58 years old and in reasonably good health, though I notice I tire more easily, I don’t move as fast as before, and for crying out loud, I creak when I wake up in the mornings and start moving around. Anyway, if I’m lucky, might I have another 20 years left in this world? Or if I’m extremely lucky, maybe another 30 years? I don’t know, no one knows, how much time we have left. That is a secret known only to one—Death.
Death has such a somber ring to it, a finality that speaks of an eternal sleep.
When I think of Death, I think of the famous scene (SPOILER ALERT) from Ingmar Bergman’s black and white 1957 movie, The Seventh Seal. Death (Bengt Ekerot) has finally claimed his victims that he has, in a sense, stalked throughout the film, and is now leading them up the slope of a shadowy hill beneath stormy skies. He would have taken them sooner but Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), a knight returned from the Crusades, challenged Death to a game of chess rather than willingly surrender.
So, when a pale, black robed figure appears before me, and beckons that I follow, what will I miss? My children, of course, and especially my grandchildren. I’ll miss the feel of spring rain on my face, and the caress of the wind on my cheeks. I’ll miss the silent glory of dawn and sunset, and even the changing shapes of the clouds overhead. I’ll miss the unexplored mystery of the starry nights, those twinkling pinpoint of lights so far beyond our reach with current technology.
I’ll miss photography and writing; up until the past 12 years, photography was a big part of my life. It will be again, as I’m enrolled in a photography program. I’ve wanted to write since I was 15, and after more than a generation of trying, I’m finally being published on a fairly regular basis. No riches yet, but there’s always hope, even at my age.
But you know what? When Death appears, I hope for one of two things: I’m typing away on my latest best-selling manuscript, a coffee to one side of the keyboard and cigarette to the other, or I’m in my photo studio, cigarette clenched between my lips in the best Curtis LeMay fashion, camera in hand, photographing a beautiful young woman (with purple hair, even). To cross over while doing what I love and is so much a part of me, is the way to go.
So, if someone should someday say SS Hampton, Sr. was found slumped over his keyboard with hand on manuscript, or sprawled on the floor in his studio, camera in hand—and he had a cat-swallowed-the-parakeet smile on his face, you’ll know why!
* * * * *Excerpt from "Appointment in the Village Bazaar":
"We ain’t in fuckin’ Kansas no more," Sergeant First Class Robert "Chief" Nottingham chuckled from behind his dark ballistic eyeglasses and a puff of sulfurous smelling cigarette smoke, as Sergeant Caleb Justus staggered up the steep trail. Caleb stopped when he saw the rolling, rocky landscape of a thin forest with broken and splintered trees. Visible beyond the trees was a ruined village nestled below a low gray rise littered with skeletal trees. A chill wind moaned across the rugged, haunting landscape.
Behind them, such a deep contrast to the land before them, the valley they emerged from was a lush garden of green grass, brush, and pine trees.
"No shit," Caleb, who usually didn’t swear, gasped. Sweat mingled with the cold drizzle that fell from gray clouds and trickled down his face. The platoon spread out and eyed an ancient narrow trail that wound through the ruined trees to a wide, rutted path that led to the village.
As the soldiers slipped between the trees, Caleb thought they resembled unearthly creatures moving through a blighted medieval landscape; each wore a camouflaged Kevlar helmet, Individual Body Armor weighted down with heavy ammunition magazines, first aid kits and combat knives, and grayish-green Army Combat Uniforms with dark elbow and knee pads. Each also wore the trademark dark ballistic eyeglasses that hid the eyes and gave the impression of emotionless, less-than-human faces. They carried M4 Carbines with Close Combat Opticals, M249 Light Machine Guns, and M203s, a 40mm grenade launcher mounted under an M4.
He knew that in their minds, and in reality, they were the meanest SOBs in this valley, or any valley. He felt safe in their presence. It was a much needed feeling after almost being killed by an Improvised Explosive Device three days before.
"Don’t know how much drawing you’ll get done on a shitty day like this," Chief commented as he ground the cigarette under his boot heel.
"That’s why I brought my Nikon," Caleb patted a black bag nestled against the side of his IBA and first aid kit. His drawing kit dangled against his right hip, just above his holstered 9mm pistol. "If I have to I’ll take photos, maybe do some color pencil drawings, and when I’m back at my studio at Bagram, an oil painting or two from the best of the images."
Caleb knew he was an almost mythical species that people rarely encountered – a soldier officially called a Combat Artist…
* * * * *About SS Hampton, Sr.:
|Southern Iraq, 2007|
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Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper / Available from