November 16, 2016
Brian and his oldest son have spent a week in Seattle. His oldest son, now twenty-five, is a social worker by day, and a budding rock guitarist by night. He is a fan of Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Mother Love Bone, and the rest of the grunge-era music (which is now considered classic rock—something that makes Brian feel that full weight of fifty that he knows will be drawing down on him next year). Given this, Seattle makes sense for what will be their first father and son vacation since the now-young-man was ten years old.
This is the first time Brian’s oldest son has ever been to Seattle. It is Brian’s fifth. The streets are haunted here, but in a good way. Every corner and alley and landmark summons the ghosts of memories for Brian—book signings past and conventions of yore. He remembers road-tripping here with Ann Laymon (wife of the departed Richard Laymon) and the artist Gak—because even twenty years ago, there was always someone else along on the journey. The first book Brian ever wrote, a long out-of-print (and deservedly so) collection called No Rest for the Wicked, made its debut right here in the city. Geoff Cooper used to live here, in a house with Edward Lee and John Pelan. When he and his son walk past Coop’s old home, Brian grins, remembering a night when he and John Urbancik had to fake snoring on Coop’s enormous sectional couch while two other horror writers made love on the floor behind it—just inches away from where Brian and John were supposedly sleeping.
During their time in the city, Brian and his oldest son have seen the Space Needle and the iconic Pike’s Place Fish Market and the condominium complex where Layne Staley died. They have visited the EMP Museum and marveled over its collection of horror and rock memorabilia—Kurt Cobain’s guitars, Dave Grohl’s drum kit, a sentinel from the first Phantasm movie, the Greedo mask from the original Star Wars film. They make a pilgrimage to Jimi Hendrix’s grave, and spend a day hiking deep into the forests of Mount Rainier.
The one thing they don’t do, is sign books.
Brian had considered doing a pop-up signing while in town. His oldest son has assured him it will be okay if he wants to. But Brian refrains. He has spent the entire year traveling around the country for other people. He wants to enjoy this moment for himself. The road will still be there waiting when he’s done.
* * *
December 31, 2016 – January 1, 2017
The clock is ticking and the countdown to the New Year looms, but the small group in Brian and Mary’s hotel suite barely notice. The convention is being held at a Holiday Inn Conference Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Farewell (But Not Really) Tour may have started with a roar, but this—the last official appearance—has been decidedly anticlimactic. The convention attendees consist of approximately fifty cosplay fans, and perhaps another dozen gamers. Brian and Mary are still unsure why they are Guest of Honor, but the convention organizers have been wonderful, and the attendees—while not buying books—are pleasant to interact with.
Still, it’s not a total write-off. Brian and Mary ring in the New Year with dear friends like Sixth Wave authors Stephen Kozeniewski and Mary Fan (who have also been signing at the convention) and the handful of non-cosplayer, non-gamer, actual Brian Keene or Mary SanGiovanni fans who attended for the weekend. One of these fans is Augie, a guy Brian has been signing books for since the publication of The Rising back in 2003. The four writers and the half-dozen readers sit in Brian and Mary’s hotel suite, listening to music and talking and partying until the calendar switches over to 2017.
The next day—January 1st—the convention attendees have dwindled down to a dozen. Brian finds Mary SanGiovanni sitting in a deserted conference room, dispensing Fifth Wave wisdom and advice to Sixth Wave Stephen Kozeniewski and Mary Fan. Joining them is loyal reader Steve (whose last name Brian can’t remember as he writes this—my apologies, Steve).
Soon, both Marys will head back to New Jersey. Kozeniewski and Brian will head towards the central part of Pennsylvania. Brian’s not sure where Steve the fan will go. He assumes Steve is local. As they are all driving separately, Brian doesn’t have to wait for his girlfriend or his protégé. He peeks into the conference room, pauses a moment to listen to Mary, and smiles with pride. Then he clears his throat.
“You heading out?” Kozeniewski asks.
“Yep,” Brian replies. “I’m done.”
And he is.
“No worries,” Kozeniewski says. “I’ve got this.”
And he does, as well.
Brian walks out of the convention, hops in the Jeep, and the road is there, waiting.
* * *
January 31, 2017
One month into the new year, and Brian is dealing with the financial fallout of the previous year spent on tour. Yes, the Farewell (But Not Really) Tour was a success, and yes, he sold a lot of copies of Pressure and The Complex, but he won’t get paid for those copies of the former until this summer, and the royalties for the latter (paid monthly, same as his other Deadite Press-published titles) have gone toward the rent and utility bills. There is still food and gas and other things to be purchased, and Brian’s bank account is currently empty. Plus, taxes are coming due. Brian knows that in addition to next month’s check from Deadite Press, he’ll get advances from Thunderstorm Books and Apex Book Company for a forthcoming novel, Return to the Lost Level. But between now and then, his youngest son needs to eat and go to school—so Brian sells a few things for money.
One of those few things is a high-end AR15 rifle. It was a gift to Brian, and he hates to let it go, but the purchaser is willing to pay $750. It should also be noted that Brian has two other AR15s, so it’s all good.
The other thing Brian sells is a box of books. He takes them in to The York Emporium, just as he did months earlier in this column. Jim goes through the books and offers Brian a fair price, and Brian takes the cash. Then Jim tells Brian that the bookstore’s landlord is making some changes to the building. The back-end of the store, which is currently occupied by the Horror section, is going to be turned into a spa and yoga studio. Jim informs Brian that he’s going to have to move the Horror section—and J.F. Gonzalez’s ashes.
Brian nods at this. He asks Jim when this move will take place. Jim tells him not until spring. Brian nods again. Then he bids Jim farewell and thanks him again for the cash, and walks outside.
He climbs into the Jeep, pulls out onto the busy road, and looks at his reflection in the rearview mirror. Then he ponders what Jim just told him, and realizes he’s going to have to plan a reverse-heist.
* * *
February 18, 2017
If this is global warming, Brian thinks, then let’s have more of it, please.
He and his youngest son and his youngest son’s mother are out for a walk. All three are dressed for summer, and why not? The late-winter temperatures feel more like a spring day.
The tour has faded to memory now, and promotion for Pressure and The Complex are nonexistent. There are new books being written and released, and promotion will soon switch to those. In the genre, there have been a few crises, and a few more controversies, and a few more predators, but Brian has only publicly waded into one of these situations. The others…? He let the Justice League handle those. On a bigger scale, Trump’s still in power and although the world hasn’t ended yet, it is beginning to look like the start of a Bizarro novel. But right now, Brian isn’t thinking about any of these things.
Right now, he’s telling his son about the ghost of a Civil War soldier who is said to haunt this particular stretch of railroad tracks the three of them are currently walking down. In the past month, during Brian’s retirement from the road, his youngest son has decided that he wants to be a cryptozoologist and ghost hunter when he grows up. Today, they are doing both—walking a stretch of unused, weed-choked, and supposedly haunted train tracks near Chickies Rock, which legend names as the home of Central Pennsylvania’s Bigfoot population (called Albatwitches by the locals). His youngest son gets to indulge his newfound passion for paranormal investigation. Brian and the boy’s mother get to indulge in some exercise. Everybody wins.
When the walk is over, and they emerge from the river bottoms and railroad tracks and back into town, trees and undergrowth give way to concrete and a chain link fence. The Jeep, which has crossed much of the country the previous year and still runs fine, sits parked beneath an overpass. Brian’s youngest son points at the road.
“Where’s that road go, Dad?”
“I don’t know,” Brian answers. “Let’s find out.”