Ad Capere Tenebris
So, I’m boarding an airplane in El Paso, about to traverse the time zones once again and fly to San Francisco, when it occurs to me that the ISIS-fighter’s psychic suicide bomb is still in my carry-on bag. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you need to read last week’s column). The totem is snuggled up against my laptop, three Yeti microphones, my digital voice recorder, an assortment of pens and Moleskin notebooks, half a tin of Altoids, a few cigars, a cigar cutter, and a hardcover of David Schow’s DJSturbia, which I bought way back in Burbank. Nobody in the TSA thought to question the trinket. Why would they? To them, it just looks like a small triangular wedge of red leather with a leather cord attached to it. But I know what it is, and now that I do, I can’t stop thinking about the damn thing.
This in turn leads to unkind thoughts concerning my mother.
Allow me to explain.
My mother turns seventy this year. We have not always had the best relationship, but I love her just the same, simply because she is my mother. She’s in good health, and will probably be with us for many more decades to come (her grandmother lived to almost one hundred and her mother recently clocked ninety-two). It is my hope that, should circumstances dictate it, she would live with my sister rather than me.
Because she would drive me insane.
In her golden years, my mother has discovered a latent talent—having prophetic dreams. In truth, it’s not so much that she’s discovered this talent now. She’s always had it, ever since she was a little girl. The problem is now that she’s retired, she has more time to hone it and use it. And the person she often uses it on is me.
A few weeks before I left on tour, she shared one of those dreams with my ex-wife and my sister and the ladies she meets for lunch every week. The only person she wouldn’t share it with was me. This was upsetting since, according to my ex-wife, the dream was, in fact, about me, and that the dream did not end well. When I finally confronted my mother about it, she told me she’d had a dream that I was flying out of El Paso, and Marty Robbins was playing in the background, and I looked down at the ground. Then she trailed off, not finishing. I found out from others that in the dream, something bad happens. But nobody would tell me what the something bad was supposed to be. Finally, I gave up in frustration, mumbling in my best impression of South Park’s Eric Cartman, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.”
And then I promptly forgot about the whole thing.
Until now, boarding the plane. The flight attendant smiles at me. I try to smile back, but it feels more like a grimace. I shuffled down the aisle, found my row, stowed my gear in the overhead, and slumped into my seat. I always go with an aisle seat, even when flying coach. My seatmate had the window shade drawn, which made it impossible for me to look down at the ground below. I cocked my head and listened. I heard the flight crew telling us what to do in case of a water landing, but no Marty Robbins crooning “El Paso City.”
It’s okay, I thought. Weston is insane, and so is my mother. I have surrounded myself with crazy people. I really need to look into a new career. I wonder if it’s too late to become a forest ranger?
The plane began to taxi down the runway and I started to sweat. The worst part of any flight for me personally is the take off and the landing, since that’s when most airplanes crash. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like flying. I have a bunch of rituals I go through on every flight. For example, even though I’m an agnostic, I believe that if there is a baby on the plane, the universe won’t let it crash. However, if the baby starts crying, that’s a sign that something is wrong. This is just one of my flight rules. I have dozens more. The number one rule is always drink several Bloody Marys in the nearest airport bar, before boarding the flight, but it is seven o’clock in the goddamn morning, and Tod Clark had no Bloody Mary mix back at his ranch.
(The worst flight experience I’ve ever had was one month after 9/11, when author Geoff Cooper and I were the only other passengers on a plane full of three boy scout troops and their chaperones, flying from Baltimore to Buffalo, but that is a story for another time.)
Just as the wheels leave the ground, the passenger next to me opens the fucking window shade. I have to literally stop myself from reaching across her, snapping it back down, and shouting, “For God’s sake, don’t start singing ‘El Paso City’!”
And then our flight continues and everything is fine and we land in San Francisco where I’m met by author and editor Michael Bailey. You’ll remember him from an earlier column, when we unexpectedly ran into Richard Laymon’s cremated remains. I like Michael. I refer to him as “a good kid.” Mentored early on in his career by such veterans as F. Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone, Michael is certainly one of the few at the forefront of this new generation of horror writers. He is possessed with an energy I used to have twenty years ago, and I like watching him work, because it reminds me of who I used to be, before alcohol and heartache and bitterness aged it all away and left behind the shambling corpse you see out here on this book tour.
But I digress.
Michael drove me to author Gene O’Neill’s house. He told me on the way that Gene’s wife was out of town. She’d been worried about Gene spending time alone with me, because I am a bad influence. She felt much better having Michael there to keep me from convincing Gene to get too wild.
Gene greeted us at the door with a one-hundred-dollar bottle of scotch, and he told us hurry up and drink it, because he had three more just like it. We complied, because Gene is older than us and you should always respect your elders.
Here’s what I really respect about Gene, and it’s a story people never pause to think about. Gene’s got literary awards and an impressive body of work—over a dozen horror and science-fiction books, dozens of shorts stories, and much more. His seminal The Burden of Indigo (one of the finest post-apocalyptic dystopian novels ever written) would be enough to hallmark his career. He’s also a mentor to not one or six but dozens of younger writers. And he’s accomplished all of this in just a little over a decade. Most of what has happened in Gene’s writing career has happened since his retirement from the workforce. Gene is the same age as my mother, and he’s possessed with the same drive and energy and talent as her—except that instead of tapping into the power of prophetic dreams to scare the shit out of his children, Gene is using those energy reserves and talents to craft a lifetime’s amount of work in the time it takes T.E.D. Klein to finish a short story.
Carpe diem. It’s Latin for “seize the day.” I’ve known that since the sixth grade but most people didn’t discover it until they saw Dead Poets Society. It’s a good motto to live by, and one I’ve instilled in both of my sons. But my mother and Gene O’Neill and others like them, they have an equally admirable motto. Ad capere tenebris. “Seize the twilight.”
I told you way back in the first installment of this column that I’m feeling my age. David J. Schow told me to shut the fuck up about that, because if I’m feeling old at forty-eight, then he must be positively ancient. But I won’t apologize for it. When your friends start dying on you, it fucks with your head. That’s why I’m out here. That’s what this entire insane cross-country tour comes down to—trying to unfuck my head.
But it occurred to me, sitting in Gene’s kitchen and sipping good scotch and listening to him speak with excitement about all the things he wants to write about in the future, that maybe the old adage is true. Maybe you really are only as old as you feel. And if I am, in fact, staring into my own approaching twilight, then maybe I ought to face that shit head on, the same way I’ve faced everything else in my life, with head held high and shoulders unbowed, fists clenched, witty comment forming on my lips, and just a hint of a sardonic smile.
Ad capere tenebris. Seize the twilight, indeed.
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.