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  • Being Funny Again

    Being Funny Again

    I began drawing comic strips when I was a boy. I loved to laugh, so my favorite movies and television shows were comedies, and my favorite books were joke books. MAD was my favorite magazine, and The Dr. Demento Show was my favorite radio program, so zany situations and play on words made their way into my strips.

    Matchstick Men was a strip I drew in high school. Its name came from the song “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by Status Quo. I have two strips that survived. In both, the main character speaks with the text placed above their head. The author—me—speaks to them underneath, at the bottom of the panels. Thus, I formed a dialogue between my creations and me.

    I drew my Matchstick cartoons in pencil and only recently added ink to them, replaced my scribbled text with a legible computer font, and corrected some of the syntax.

    matchstick men comic strip 1
    Matchstick Men comic strip. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    matchstick men comic strip 2
    Matchstick Men comic strip. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    I’ve always preferred the longer strips and many of my old cartoons consisted of nine or more panels. As I grew and learned to draw with India ink, my drawings became more technical and sophisticated looking. I loved to crosshatch shadows and use lots of black in areas to punch up the drama. However, when I drew for one of my local newspapers, they asked that I keep my drawings simple to reduce production costs. I was unaware that the more ink I used in a drawing, the more it cost to print. They also asked that I keep my strips at a certain size and gave me some templates to use. The strip below is formatted within their six-panel template.

    The strip is called Louie and Bruce. I posted earlier about its creation and the characters in it. The main characters worked at a sawmill where all sorts of mishaps happened. The three characters below are (by order of appearance): Leroy, a worker at the mill; his talking dog Ernie; and Leroy’s twin brother Louie, a supervisor at the mill. The strip was printed in 1989 but drawn six years earlier in a sketchbook I kept for ideas.

    louie and bruce comic strip
    Louie and Bruce Discrimination comic strip © 1989. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    The newspaper continued cutting costs and the majority of my strips became three panels and less. Conroy’s Corner was a popular three-panel strip I drew at college, so it saw life again between periods when I was busy doing other things. The strip below is based on a conversation I overheard between a student and the school’s starting quarterback.

    conroy's corner football comic strip
    Conroy’s Corner. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

    Steve, 11/15/2022


    This post “Being Funny Again” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • When I, a Boy, Poem 005-2022-1113

    When I, a Boy, Poem 005-2022-1113

    I awoke to frost and snow outside my home and became nostalgic for those winter days in the country when I was young and winter brought excitement and joy of walking the woods and watching the play of nature.

    Enjoy a poem I wrote about that nostalgia when I was courting a local girl and had the fire of romance in my heart.


    When I, a boy, when I could,
    I voyaged out into your cool company—
    the coldness of boots pulled on at the doorstep
    before walking that large solitude
    of no cricket, no owl;
    walking with silent snow feet among birdless woods
    tossed among the taste of echoed blood
    at such a time of the coyote,
    invisible and dull by the snow.

    My secret ice-making ice-haiku poems
    driving me to the warmth of your breath—
    letting me dream my dreams of romance
    written at twilight by fire
    in the hidden garden of no ordinary lovers,
    letting me feel again the enticing light
    that secretly guided me like the slow slipper of moss
    to the doorstep of your excited hands—
    when I, a boy, when I could.


    Thanks for reading.

    That’s all for now.

    Steve, 11/13/2022


    This post “When I, a Boy, Poem 005-2022-1113” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • A Bit on Writing and Art

    A Bit on Writing and Art

    With NaNoWriMo in full swing, I’ve been seeing a lot of fiction writers write about plot.

    I’m a short story writer, but I’ve been through plenty of classes for novelists that teach Aristotle’s 3-act structure of Beginning, Middle, and End, and the popular 4-act structure (which lengthens and halves the Middle section) for novels.

    I use Aristotle’s structure for my short stories, but I don’t plot them before I begin writing them. I like the freedom of invention that this method allows. Unfortunately, I didn’t always write that way. I spent many hours sketching out each act and segment before writing. It seemed like the right thing to do because that’s how I planned my paintings. As an artist, I had to see the finished painting on paper before I could begin.

    But I like to experiment, whether I’m making art or writing, so to try something different, I used no sketches or reference material to paint a bear and pheasant in a field. I created the scene from my mind with no prior sketching and relied on memory. It turned out how I’d imagined it, but it lacked any drama.

    bear and pheasant painting
    Bear and Pheasant, acrylic on canvas, © 1991. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    One of my regular customers took a liking to the painting and wanted to buy it, but I convinced him to let me dramatize it. I drew up some sketches that helped to make the painting a visually better one.

    bear and pheasant painting
    Bear, Pheasant, and Raccoon, acrylic on canvas, © 1991. Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    As an artist and writer, I try to make my work visually pleasing. As an artist, I’m a planner, using sketches to plan a painting. But as a storywriter, I prefer not to plan my stories. For some reason, following a plan has always dampened my creativity. I prefer not knowing how my stories are going to end until I arrive. I prefer beginning a story with an exciting situation and running with it to see where it’ll go. I like that freedom. I love the surprises along the way—the discoveries and a-ha moments.

    Once I have a story that follows the basic 3-act structure, then I edit, which can greatly reduce my word count. This used to bother me because of publishers requiring specific word count for submissions. So, I decided to write for me and self-publish.

    I learned how to edit when I was at college. Everything I wrote was wordy and voluminous until I took a creative writing class and had to write 100-, 200-, and 300-word stories. Many assignments involved taking prior works and reducing their word counts without destroying their themes and essence. One of my earlier works was a 900-word short story about a wolf dying from a shotgun wound. My assignment was to turn the composition into a 300-word story. It took a lot of editing and changing the ending until I ended up with the following story: Dead Rabbits Don’t Run.

    I smell it again. Past hemlock and below this hill that man calls Myers Ridge, the aroma comes from his wooden lodge, drifting to me on powerful smoke and burning my nose with the fragrance of the blood of my sins. It was there that I lost my self-respect by giving in to temptation and committing the crime that now damns me.

    Man eats his roasted rabbit meal tonight: sucking every tawny bone bare and chewing, always chewing with gusto, and licking fingers clean. He’ll leave no meat behind. Before he sleeps, he’ll throw those bones into tall grass where I waited often, always hidden, always alone, consuming the cooked, discarded marrow of dead rabbits.

    I grew lazy on the rich, addictive flavor and stopped hunting.

    My sin led me to scavenging, which brought man’s gun to end it. If I could move, I’d crawl deep under hemlock to hide my crippled body and all evidence of the follies of an old laggard who spent his final days chasing dead rabbits.

    Even in the clouds, their round and plump elder towers above me, mocks my death throes, sneers at my torment with his taunting round white face, and laughs through the wind at my ruin. The great white rabbit has traveled quickly across the sky tonight to pull the blanket of final darkness over me. He is right to ridicule my predicament. His quick and bountiful children made me a strong hunter and my strength made me a leader. My laziness, however, made me easy prey to the rifle.

    I wonder if my bones will make a satisfying meal to the next bottom-feeder.

    Is this daylight upon me at last, or am I dreaming? I thought I saw dead rabbits running through the summer grass. It must be a dream. Dead rabbits don’t run.

    # # #

    If done wisely, editing makes us find the truth of the story.

    That’s all for now. Thanks for joining me.

    Steve, 11/6/2022


    This post “A Bit on Writing and Art” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • Fantasy Short Story 006-2022-1031

    Fantasy Short Story 006-2022-1031

    It’s Halloween.

    “Bones In the Sand” is another short story from the 1990s. I wrote this one in 1991 for my children, especially for my son. Now it’s here for the rest of the world to read. And it has skeletons in it for all you bone lovers to enjoy on this Halloween.

    Enjoy.


    It rained on the island for five days. On that fifth day, water stood below the straw scarecrow in the vegetable garden behind the house. It was late October, so Sarah added a log to the fire in the fireplace and pushed Kenny closer to it, for the dampness inside had made the boy’s breathing worse. She wrapped a quilt around his shoulders and sighed gloomily at the rain that made her house cold and cheerless.

    But Mickey, the youngest, ran and chattered and blocked the TV when he wanted Kenny’s attention. Never annoyed, Kenny always smiled or laughed at Mickey’s antics. In fact, Mickey and Kenny behaved as though they liked rainy days best. Perhaps because it was the only time the two boys spent time together. Today, they shared a cheerful bond that almost annoyed Sarah. She never had a sibling while growing up. She sighed again, more deeply.

    “A lot of rain,” she said, listening to it drum upon the rooftop.

    “How much rain would it take to sink our island?” Kenny asked.

    “Don’t make jokes,” Sarah replied sharply. “We may have to run the sump pump if the basement walls get any worse.”

    “Yippee!” Mickey cried out as he gazed out the window next to Sarah. “We can go swimming in our yard.”

    Sarah did not have to look to know the side yard was submerged. It had been that way for two days.

    “No one’s swimming this time of year,” she said to Mickey. “Now, come on and help me do the breakfast dishes. Then we can figure out what to have for lunch.”

    “I want scrambled eggs.”

    Sarah shook her head. “You had scrambled eggs for breakfast. I was thinking a hot, homemade vegetable soup would be nice. Some carrots, peas, corn—”

    “No peas,” Mickey cried out. He made a face.

    “I like peas,” Kenny said. “They’re my favorite vegetable.” He stuck out his tongue at Mickey.

    “Yes, of course. But be nice to your brother.” Sarah turned back to Mickey. “Come on. Let’s get going on the dishes.”

    The boy followed his mom and the two spent the next hour in the kitchen while Kenny watched TV. During that time, Kenny was the only one to notice when the rain stopped. Sarah noticed when a warm, glowing sunbeam came through the kitchen window above the sink. She whistled a tune while she prepared lunch and smiled when she and her boys ate their soup in the living room.

    Mickey gave Kenny his peas and shoveled away the rest. When his bowl was empty, he asked to go outside.

    “Put on your jacket and stay on the porch,” Sarah said.

    “But I want to go to the beach. A lot of neat things get washed ashore during a storm. Maybe I’ll find a pirate’s sword.”

    “Stay where I can see you, and be careful. And,” Sarah winked at him, “I get half of any gold or silver or doubloons you may find.” She and Mickey laughed. “Now take your bowl to the sink and be back in an hour. No longer. Don’t make me have to whistle for you.”

    Mickey hurried into his fall jacket and ran outdoors. Parts of the island was under several inches of water, but the water along the upper beach was receding already, and Mickey made his way on wet, sandy ground, making sure his house behind him remained in view. Along the way, the deeper sand was sopping wet and oozed under his rubber boots.

    He skipped around lots of seaweed and driftwood, examined several stones that looked like flattened marbles, and found some unbroken shells during his hunt for pirate treasure. He put the prettier shells into his pockets to give to his mom. She would likely add them to her aquarium of tropical fish that sat next to the TV.

    A white stick with no bark on it caught his attention when he picked up a conch shell next to it. The stick was shy of being a foot long, and it had tiny carvings of animals on it, which were mostly birds. He carried it with him while he collected more shells, and he peered at the world through a large piece of beach glass until his watch told him that his hour was nearly up. As he headed toward home, he realized he had left the carved stick behind. He would have to come back some other day and find it.

    Along the way home, he passed two large boulders that jutted out of the base of the upper beach. There, half-visible in the shifted sand, was a human skeleton.

    He stood for a minute frozen with uncertainty. The skeleton’s jaw gaped, as though the person had died while laughing.

    Mickey ran from the bones, his breath coming in great pants as he shouted for his mother. He even yelled help a few times when he was certain that the skeleton had risen from its grave and now chased him, determined to keep him from reaching his house.

    Sunlight had dried and softened the sand already and it slowed his escape. A shaking Mickey ran out of breath when he reached the front porch steps and dropped in an exhausted heap there, terrified of the strong bony arms that would snatch him up and hurry him away, never to be seen alive again.

    He sobbed and pushed his way up the wooden steps. Any second, those skeleton hands would grab him by the ankles and pull him away.

    He looked behind him and saw no skeleton there. But that didn’t matter. Some skeletons were magic and could become invisible. He had seen it happen on TV. Gasping, he crawled to the outer door and beat against its solid frame until his mom came and found him sobbing.

    “There’s a skeleton,” he said when she took him into his arms and carried him inside. “A real-life skeleton’s in the sand!”

    Sarah held her youngest son to her bosom and calmed him. Kenny sat nearby, watching. He leaned toward them with excitement building on his face. “Where’d you see a real-life skeleton?” he asked.

    Sarah hushed him and said to Mickey, “There, there, it’s okay. A skeleton in the sand, that’s all it was and nothing more. It won’t harm you, baby. Everything’s alright.”

    “Mom’s right,” Kenny said. “The rain and the tide must have collapsed one of the old caves. Probably where the native people who used to live here buried their dead. You can find artifacts in those caves. Did you see any artifacts, Mickey? Any dishes or knives or arrowheads?”

    Mickey sniffed. “I didn’t stick around to see anything else. I thought the creepy skeleton was going to chase me. I was really scared. But I remember now that skeletons only come to life on TV and in movies.”

    Sarah lowered him to the floor. Then she sat down in a straight oak-bottomed chair that stood against the wall and held him by the shoulders. She looked him eye-to-eye and sharply spoke with accustomed firmness. “You’re not to go to the beach again. If those caves are falling in, then you have no business down there. Promise me you’ll stay far away from the beach.”

    Mickey lowered a sad face from his mom. “I promise. And guess what? I’m not scared anymore.” He pulled the shells from his pockets. “Look. I got you these, your favorites. And I could look for native people stuff for Kenny, when it’s safe again.”

    “When I say it’s safe. Not until then.”

    “What if Kenny went with me?”

    “No. You’re not strong enough to push Kenny’s wheelchair over sand. You could fall into a cave, be knocked unconscious, and have the tide wash you both out to sea.”

    “Mom’s right,” Kenny said to his brother, “it’s too dangerous. You’ll have to wait until the county engineers fix the damage and Mom says it’s okay.”

    “How long will that be?” Mickey asked.

    “It could take weeks. Just like when they repave the roads or fix any damage to the ferry dock, they have to haul their heavy equipment across water.”

    Mickey put the shells next to aquarium, then went to the front window and peered out. “I wish Dad lived here. He would let me go to the beach. He would—”

    “No.” Sarah went to him and softened her voice. “You need to mind me; it’s not safe. Promise me.”

    Mickey peered up at his mom’s face. She was deeply troubled with the situation. And added to that, her task as a single mom was not easy, with himself and Kenny to care for. He remembered his dad telling him to always listen to her and to not be a burden. He sighed. “I promise.”

    He stayed indoors and helped with chores until bedtime. He forgot about skeletons until deep in the night when the bones called him awake. “Mickey. We have gold and silver for your mother. She will be happy to have it. Come and get it before it washes out to sea.”

    Slipping into his clothes and away from the house, he followed the cry of the bones and the white beam of his flashlight.

    The tide had swallowed the lower beach. The sand beneath his boots gasped for air before water filled his footprints. He stopped a few yards from the sea’s edge. The white stick with the animal carvings lay at his feet. He picked it up, looked around, and said to the voices calling him, “I’m here. Where is the silver? The gold?”

    The calling stopped. He thought he heard laughter moments before the ground beneath him fell. He plunged beneath sand, into deep, frigid water.

    When he came to his senses, he swam toward the water’s inky surface but something like strong, bony hands wrapped around both ankles and pulled him back down. He thrashed and kicked to break free. The hands held fast.

    He directed his flashlight at a grinning skeleton pulling him closer to a graveyard of scattered bones on the sandy floor.

    He kicked at the bony hands. He’d drown if he couldn’t escape their hold. Fire burned in his chest as his lungs ached for oxygen, but he held onto his last breath. He wished he could let his mom and Kenny and his dad somehow know how sorry he was for breaking his promise. He didn’t want them to be mad at him.

    And then the stick in his left hand grew brighter than the light of his flashlight. The animal carvings danced in the light. The bony hands that held him released their hold. The stick propelled him to the surface, out of the water, and into the air. It carried him across the sand and to his front porch where it sat him down. Its light vanished.

    Mickey shivered for a moment, not because he was wet and cold—he was neither of those because of the stick—but because magic was real.

    He hurried inside, waving the magic stick above his head, and calling for his mom and brother as he went.

    # # #


    That’s all for now.

    Have a safe and happy Halloween.

    Steve, 10/31/2022


    This post “Fantasy Short Story 006-2022-1031” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • Two Short Stories 004- and 005-2022-1030

    Two Short Stories 004- and 005-2022-1030

    Tomorrow is Halloween.

    To prepare for the occasion, I perused some of my old spooky tales, and now I’m posting two stories for your reading pleasure. “Secrets” is a quickie about someone with secrets sitting with a fortune teller. It began in the 1980s and grew only so far and stopped, so I left it there. “Haunted” is a tale from the 1990s and a dream. It still gives me goosebumps when I read it every Halloween.

    Enjoy.


    The old woman hovers near the kitchen’s woodstove and drags a calloused hand across her crinkled forehead as if wiping away smoke and sweat. She pauses, looking; her eyes flash at me and strike my soul.

    I sense her in my mind, searching through my past and the secrets there.

    Where have I gone, if anywhere, on the avenues in my life?

    Her gaze leaves mine, floats to the stove and the glow of hot ash beyond its open door. Her hand rockets into the ash, then rockets back with an ember seized between finger and thumb and etches a jagged pattern in the air.

    Her voice cracks. “You. Look.”

    She drops the ember. It falls like a small red star to the black oak table and knocks fear in the depths of my heart.

    She enters my mind again, sailing over the city streets of my smoky past, wafting a sweet perfume that led me to intelligent light that once meant something.

    A violent motion—a palm strikes the black table. Her twisted fingers stab at, then snatch a pile of bones lying white: old knuckles, toes, vertebrae—some with fur and flesh intact. She holds the bones in her palm, close to her dark eyes that spark with a million stars on cloudless nights.

    I squirm in my chair, on edge by my nerves trembling like electricity coursing through bare wires spilling heat.

    “Suojata,” she barks; a wave of gnarled arm and the bones fly like shooting daggers at my heart.

    I clutch my breast while her cavernous mouth cracks a laugh before the telling of secrets begins.

    * * *


    How could such a beautiful house be haunted? To know the place, it looked no different from any other Victorian country house in Ridgewood.

    Reverend Gloria Jackson walked the estate’s sunny grounds that October evening and sensed the leftover energy of a time when wealthy Victorians spent an incredible amount of time socializing inside their homes. In Victorian America, nothing displayed your status like your house, and the house of a successful Victorian family was more than merely a home; it was a statement of their taste, wealth, and education. This house was one of them, preserved to remain impressive through time by superb artisanship and great care. Sprawling over half an acre, with its neatly manicured lawn and shrubbery, it seemed at first glance the most unlikely of places to house demonic spirits.

    “Fiona was calling forth the dead,” Melissa Bay told Gloria after dinner later that Friday night. Melissa, a strong-backed woman, sat across from Gloria at the long table. Husband Richard sat to Melissa’s right inside the spacious dining room.

    “That’s an alarming statement,” Gloria said.

    “It’s true.” Richard hung his head and sounded ashamed. “She wrote all about her occult doings in her diary.”

    Melissa said, “As you know, Reverend Jackson, when her husband Charles died this past summer, Fiona withdrew. But she seemed happiest inside her library, so we left her alone to paint and read there. It was the library she withdrew to after the funeral. She barely ever left that room.

    “Then I discovered this morning that she had locked herself inside. She refused to let me in. She sounded agitated … upset, so I called Richard.”

    “I had to kick in the door,” Richard said. “And that’s when, crazy as it sounds, she wasn’t there. But all the windows were closed and locked from the inside.

    “Even crazier was when we found a Ouija board and tarot cards inside, as well as her diary. Her last entries tell of how she was trying to conjure up my father’s spirit.” Sadness and confusion twisted his features into a horrible grimace. “What’s happened?” he asked. “What has she done?” He shook his head and groaned before Gloria could answer. “Until today, I never believed in the paranormal, the metaphysical.” His gaze focused on Gloria’s face. His eyes were wide with fear. “Tell me what happened to my mother. Please.”

    Gloria’s wine glass flew from the table and shattered against the stone fireplace across the room. The Bible she had brought with her—which she had placed on the white tablecloth in front of her—followed her glass.

    “Mother,” Richard cried out. He jumped to his feet. “Is that you?”

    The air turned frigid and burned against Gloria’s cheeks. A winter-blooming nipped at the tips of her ears and nose.

    Richard yelled at the room. “Where are you? Show yourself. Please.”

    Large and heavy books thumped to the floor inside the library across the hall from the dining room. Then the chill left and all quieted.

    Richard snatched the wine bottle and gulped heartily from it—glasses and etiquette be damned, Gloria reckoned, considering the circumstances. He went to the library door where either he or Melissa had nailed a cross to the damaged door as Gloria had instructed earlier during their phone conversation. Then he cursed all that is holy and said, “Exorcise the place, reverend. Whatever my mother has done, fix it. Please.”

    Gloria retrieved her Bible and joined him at the large oak door. It had taken great force to open it. She fingered the splintered wood and said, “Tell me about the voices.”

    “Whispers,” Melissa said as she joined them. “Vague chattering whispers.”

    “And laughing,” Richard added. “A woman’s laugh, but not my mother’s.”

    Gloria removed the cross from the door and stepped inside the library. A chandelier lit the room and seemed to turn the oak bookshelves and furniture to gold. She helped Richard and Melissa replace the toppled books, many of them art history texts and artists biographies. Outside the room’s tall, rectangular windows, the night had become pitch black. A clock inside the dining room chimed seven o’clock.

    A painter’s large easel stood near a window. The canvas on it showed an unfinished portrait and the deft strokes of a seasoned artist. Fiona Bay had sketched her subject with lines of umber and sienna, whisked in golden hues next to gentle blues and pink, and had started forming the glow of flesh with buttery mounds of gold, ruby and sapphire paint of a woman’s face. Her eyes sparkled emerald green and sky blue, and her long hair flowed down a plump body of shapely beauty dressed in multicolored satin and silk linens.

    “Absolutely beautiful,” Gloria said of the painting and the subject. “She looks familiar. Who is she?”

    “I don’t know,” Richard said. “No one has been to the house to sit. My mother likes her time alone when she paints, even before father died.”

    Gloria looked back at the painting. The cheeks and mouth were refined, as though someone had added paint to the portrait while she had looked away.

    Upon closer inspection, there was no mistaking it: The painting was painting itself.

    Gloria stepped back and raised her Bible over her head. “Show yourself,” she called out. “I command you with the power of all that is holy.”

    Melissa screamed as Fiona appeared in front of the easel. She painted, concentrating on her work, while behind her, the portrait’s model grinned at Gloria.

    “Keeley.” The color fell from Gloria’s face.

    “Who is she?” Richard asked.

    Gloria’s throat tightened. “Someone I thought I’d never see again.” She thrust the cross and her Bible at arms’ length. She had to save Fiona, no matter the consequences. “Set her loose, demon. Set her loose and leave this house. Never set foot in it again.”

    Keeley laughed. Tittered, actually. “The lost lamb is a ministrant. Oh, my long-ago lover, what have I done to you?” She took a step forward and her multicolored chiffon robe flowed with her.

    Gloria told her to stay back, but she advanced slowly, her gaze fixed on Gloria.

    Melissa grasped Gloria’s left arm. “Reverend, what’s happening? Who is that woman?”

    Gloria pulled from her. “Go. You and Richard get Fiona out of here while I distract the demon. Then lock the door and bar it with another crucifix.”

    Richard ran to his mother. Melissa followed, looking back once before helping him pull Fiona from the easel. Keeley rushed at Gloria and batted the Bible from her hand. Then she pulled her into an embrace that was strong, yet soft and warm. Evil was not always rough and cold.

    “I knew I’d find you again,” Keeley said. Her fervent kiss fell upon Gloria’s lips. Her spicy smell and taste were more delicious than Gloria remembered. Her long, soft hair—now a gorgeous mélange of burnt sienna, gold, and black—brushed Gloria’s face. It kindled a flame she thought she’d doused more than twenty years ago when she and Keeley were theology students.

    The flame spread through her. She pressed the cross against Keeley’s back but the demon’s mouth writhed wickedly against hers. Her knees weakened and she almost fell but Keeley’s hold was strong. She managed a glance at the door as Richard and Melissa pulled Fiona from the room. The door slammed shut and she sighed: Fiona was safe on the other side.

    The kiss ended and Keeley took the cross from her hand and dropped it to the floor. “We won’t need this where we’re going,” Keeley said. Her teeth penetrated Gloria’s neck.

    Gloria’s concerns fell away as she plunged into a familiar darkness that she found both sinful and heavenly.

    # # #


    That’s all for now.

    Steve, 10/30/2022


    This post “Two Short Stories 004- and 005-2022-1030” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • Poems 003- and 004-2022-1026

    Poems 003- and 004-2022-1026

    Today I’m treating you to two nocturnal poems. The first one is a nontraditional poem by me. I wrote this whimsical poem many years ago when I was at college and studying the classics in literature. I rarely write rhyming poems, but this one came to me out of the blue, so I jotted it down with no changes. I imagined the protagonist as a child in a long-ago era, observing the coming of night. It’s called “Night.”

    The second poem is “Night Falls Swiftly” and is dark and morose—it stands opposite of the first.


    Night came tapping at my door,
    But I with book heard not a sound;
    It entered on its own accord,
    Trespassing on my private ground.

    Night crept about my house with ease
    And darkened everything from sight,
    ’Til through my study’s door it squeezed
    And skirted past my candle’s light.

    I did not peer to watch its plight
    Across my shelves and down my wall;
    I know not if it bade goodnight;
    I heard not if it spoke at all.

    With book aside I pondered why
    That one so strong as dark of night,
    Who snuffs the life from day’s bright light,
    Could not put out my candlelight.


    Night falls swiftly on us—
    It is the secret bits of life to do yourself the way you do—
    A flash in the sinking sun,
    Ten thousand years rebounded,
    Vibrations—
    It is hell.

    Wild you are but ripe for life
    In the gray and raging glee—
    Nobody likes to die, but it is evening here all the same,
    And there is silence.

    No more color,
    No Hawaiian girls dancing—
    All the knots and softness are gone.

    A girl retreats her gaze—
    What lover keeps her song?


    Do you prefer the lighter rhyming poem? Or do you like the darker, edgier free-verse one? Let me know in the comments below.

    Thanks for reading. That’s all for now.

    Steve, 10/26/2022


    This post “Poems 003- and 004-2022-1026” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • Poem 002-2022-1022

    Poem 002-2022-1022

    I wrote a lot of poetry during my teen years in a free-verse style that became coined “Naked Poetry”—a type of poetry where words and cadence are more important than rhyme. I believe the term came from the anthology books Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms (1969) and The New Naked Poetry (1976). Both books are authored by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey.

    I prefer free verse over rhyme poetry because many writers of the latter use weak words to force their poems to rhyme.

    The following poem is an old love poem of sorts, called When Dawn Came. Enjoy.


    It was here one night among white blossoms
    that we lay and were touched
    while the rest of the world snored
    in their small beds.

    We breathed frost words on branches
    breathing deeply in the deep woods
    with no earthly destination,
    hidden behind the pulse of dawn
    throbbing upon a trigger’s touch.

    You were delicate incense I lit alone.

    In silence,
    my fingers found the sweep of stars on bare skin,
    house-warmth murmur like gold when you breathed.

    You were a bird
    whose only cry came in color in the company of starlight
    that whistled up the violets
    on a garden-full wilderness of new-day light,
    the yellow flowering into streaming pinks
    and fleshed with rose petals when dawn came to us.


    Thanks for reading. That’s all for now.

    Steve, 10/22/2022


    This post “Poem 002-2022-1022” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • Louie and Bruce 001-2022-1020

    Louie and Bruce 001-2022-1020

    I was 9 or 10 when I fell in love with drawing cartoons. I copied everything popular on TV and in the newspapers and comic books. At 13, I began drawing my own “toons.” This allowed me to put on plays between the characters I created. The shows were silly or serious, sublime or nonsensical, whatever I felt in the mood for when I sat down and drew. No other form of storytelling allowed me as much fun and freedom within the realm of a made-up world. The comic strip Louie and Bruce was the result of that fun and freedom. I began drawing it when I was 23 and had learned how to draw a decent toon.

    Louie and Bruce worked at a sawmill and were loosely based on people I knew who worked at my neighborhood mill. Louie, my main character, was a goofball, the fool in life, and had a head shaped like a football. Bruce was the artist … a dreamer in a baseball cap, peering out at the world from behind dark bangs of hair. The two needed a boss, so along came Frank. He wore a cap modeled after a naval officer’s hat and was business all the way with a strong will to get things done—and done right. He thrived on order, which made him a great foil for Louie’s mishaps.

    Other characters in the cast included Louie’s twin brother Leroy (who sported a rectangular head), Leroy’s talking dog Ernie, Bruce’s girlfriend Gloria, and Louie and Leroy’s Uncle John who was head boss at the mill. These supporting cast members were mentors and best friends, as well as jokers and adversaries.

    You would think a hazardous sawmill wouldn’t be the ideal place to put on antics, but life is stranger than fiction. I never had to go far to come up with silly ideas for this cartoon whenever I visited my local mill.


    Here is a large spread of their first comic strip that made it into print.

    louie and bruce first strip
    Pen and ink drawing, copyright © 1981. For this blog post: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    And a smaller strip of Frank dealing with winter.

    louie and bruce 1989 snowball
    Pen and ink drawing, copyright © 1989. For this blog post: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    That’s all for now. You’ll find more Louie and Bruce adventures in future posts. Stay tuned … or tooned.

    Steve, 10/20/2022


    This post “Louie and Bruce 001-2022-1020” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • It Began With Watercolors

    It Began With Watercolors

    Like most kids in the U.S., I began my painting experience with a child’s watercolor pan set, also called a box set by my Canadian cousins. Those sets had a small painter’s brush and six blocks of colors bound by gum arabic inside: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Even at the high school level, we used the pan sets. I wouldn’t see watercolor paints in tubes until I’d graduated and visited an art supply store.

    To use watercolors to full advantage requires a high degree of skill. It shouldn’t be the paint one starts out using when learning how to paint, but I did, and my artwork lacked both skill and charm.

    It’s interesting and painful to look at my artwork from those days gone by. I cringe at the early stuff. All artists do. Right? We all start as amateurs and struggle and learn to get better. Looking back at my progression is a visual diary of what I learned over the years.

    My first serious attempts at watercolor painting were illustrations of whitetail deer. And my very first painting was a cartoonish deer jumping over a fence (shown below). I knew little about deer anatomy, but that didn’t stop me from giving it a go. By the time I’d filled five sketchbooks with paintings that year, I’d gotten better (shown in the second painting below).

    Deer painting 1:

    Image copyright © 1985. For this website: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    Deer painting 2:

    winter buck in road
    Image copyright © 1985. For this website: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    I wanted to copy nature exactly as I saw it, but before I learned how, I enrolled in college as a 4-year art major. “Painting is not photography,” my instructors told me, ad nauseam. “Painting is mood, impression, soul.” So, with their advice, I learned how to be an expressive realist artist. I also learned early to be an inventive one if I wanted to pass my courses. Many of my watercolor paintings from those years have salt, sand, wax, gum arabic, and several other substances needed to pass the course. The fawn and doe painting below has all the previously mentioned ingredients in it.

    Deer painting 3:

    fawn and doe
    Image copyright © 1988. For this website: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    I stopped painting with watercolors and took up acrylics and oils at college, which carried over into my profession after I graduated. I only painted with watercolors when I did field sketches of local landscapes. Below are three landscape studies from 1999 to 2001. You can see how loose the waterfall one is, mimicking the looseness I used in my oil paintings, and how tight the other two are as I reverted back to trying to copy nature exactly as I saw it.

    Waterfall:

    waterfall study
    Image copyright © 1999. For this website: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    Barn:

    barn study
    Image copyright © 2000. For this website: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    Creek:

    creek study
    Image copyright © 2001. For this website: Copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    I never became a full-fledged “photo-realist” painter because I never stopped experimenting with my art, which I blame wholly on my college instructors who drilled into my mind: “Painting is not photography!” But I discovered that it is copying the best we can the designs, proportions, shapes, and forms in life that lead many of us to becoming professional artists.

    That’s all for now.

    Steve, 10/15/2022


    This post “It Began With Watercolors” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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  • Fantasy Short Story 003-2022-1004

    Fantasy Short Story 003-2022-1004

    Halloween grows closer and I’m in a ghost story mood. This short story about young Vree Erickson and a ghost appeared earlier this year in my post of June 6.

    vree and tommy drawing
    Graphite drawings copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.

    Vree Erickson’s pleasant expression changed to surprise, then to shock mixed with fright. The air in the dugout became thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from September’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s softball field.

    In the bleachers at the right of her dugout, the six o’clock sun sparked Tommy Sorenson’s dark-brown hair. A halo of white surrounded his upper torso from the funeral shirt he wore. But he was no angel come back from the dead.

    A chill crept across Vree’s back. Her blue and white uniform shirt felt ice cold against her skin. She shivered. Did anyone else see Tommy’s ghost?

    Coach Walker coughed and drew Vree’s attention away from the wire mesh. The doorway in the middle of the dugout framed her short, muscular body. “Pray we make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” she said.

    Vree looked out at the visiting team in gold and black uniforms on the ball field. The New Cambridge Yellow Jackets were beating the undefeated Ridgewood Fighting Eagles. Down two runs in the bottom of the seventh, the Fighting Eagles needed a rally in this final inning.

    Coach Walker removed her blue and white ball cap and bowed her head.

    The team was quiet at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until she said “amen” and took her spot along third base in front of them.

    “We can hit this pitcher,” Missy Kibler said, three players down from Vree. “My fastball and curve are a lot better than hers, so if you can hit off me in practice, then you can hit her.”

    “Yeah! We can hit this rag arm,” Sally Franklin, their catcher, said. She sat next to Missy and champed her bubblegum between sentences. “We’re gonna win this. Come on.”

    Assistant Coach Andrews stepped from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “That’s the spirit, Stay focused. This is your game. Never give up.”

    Cheers erupted from the players.

    The lanky coach called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Vree stood, responding to the third name called. The team clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to her spot along first base.

    The cheering came to a slow end and Vree’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh to the the boy standing in front of the bleachers.

    She looked away when Tommy glared again.

    She had to focus on the game. “Stay in the zone,” she whispered.

    A softball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Sally Franklin’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.

    Vree put on her batter’s helmet and took her place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway. She snuck a peek at Tommy. He still glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled her with the hellish anger on his face.

    The fans cheered. Debbie Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to her shortstop, keeping Sally from rounding third base and scoring.

    The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Vree’s side.

    “Keep the rally going,” she said, huddling close to Vree. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Sally from third.”

    She slapped the top of Vree’s helmet before she returned to her coaching spot.

    The new pitcher threw nothing but heat during her warmup pitches.

    Vree’s assurance of scoring Sally waned. “Focus,” she told herself, forcing her not to look at Tommy.

    But why was his ghost here? And why did he look so angry?

    “Because I failed him as a friend.”

    She jumped when the home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”

    She dragged her feet to the batter’s box, dug her rubber cleats into the dirt, and swung her bat with sweaty palms. She took in a deep breath to stop her arms from shaking. It didn’t work.

    The catcher taunted her with “No batter no batter no batter” and the pitcher with Tommy’s face, scowled and nodded.

    Vree stumbled from the batter’s box. Had she lost her mind?

    The pitcher with Tommy’s face spat and glowered at her from the pitcher’s mound.

    “Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.

    Vree stumbled back to the batter’s box and tried to stand tall on wobbly legs. “This isn’t real,” she whispered, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at her and missed her head.

    She glared back at Tommy’s face. “Are you trying to kill me?”

    His face vanished from the pitcher’s. His voice filled Vree’s head. “Why not? You killed me.”

    She grimaced from the blast of pain there. “I’m so sorry.”

    The world around her went dark. A familiar vision grew and took away the darkness. She and Tommy stood at the downtown playground and park where he had pitched the murderous softball to her two months ago. She swung hard to see if she could hit it long and far. But the ball had gone straight off her bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck Tommy’s sternum and stopped his heart. Frozen with shock, she barely remembered calling 911 on her phone and weeping over Tommy lying dead in the dirt.

    The scene vanished to darkness. Tommy’s ghostly face floated in front of her, lit by an unseen light. Anger burned red in his eyes that used to hold all the gentle colors of summer wheat.

    “I prayed for you not to be dead,” she said. “But it did no good.”

    “You never came to my funeral. You’ve never visited my grave.”

    “I couldn’t bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”

    “I can’t. You’re not my friend anymore.”

    “Don’t say that.” His declaration was as painful to her heart as the pain knifing through her head again. “My world fell apart when you died. I wanted to die so I could be with you again. I had to see doctors to stop blaming myself for your death.”

    “Good. You should blame yourself.” Tommy’s face vanished. Darkness swallowed her again. Her throat and chest hurt. She struggled to breathe.

    She pushed the fear of death from her mind and tried hard to keep breathing.

    “I’d do anything … to bring you back. Even trade places … if it meant you could live again.”

    His voice came from the darkness, soft and tender. “You would die for me?”

    “Yes.”

    “Why? Life is precious. I know that now that I’m dead. And so will you.”

    The darkness vanished into nothingness. Tommy’s question followed her like a dying echo. An answer filled her mind: Because I love you, Tommy. Ialways will love youforeverwhether dead or alive.

    “No. I don’t deserve your love.”

    Don’t you love me, Tommy? Can’t you love me as much as I love you?

    His answer was immediate. It stirred the sounds of life around her, which filled her ears. Sweet air filled her lungs. She drank it in and gasped from the confusion she felt.

    A hand gripped her left arm and pulled her from the nothingness.

    “Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as she brought Vree to her feet.

    Vree’s vision cleared. She was still in the game, at home plate, still at bat.

    “I’m good,” she said, beaming at her coach’s concerned face peering at her, inches away. “Just had the wind knocked out of me.” She dusted dirt from her uniform pants and picked up her bat. Then she waited for her coach to settle in the coach’s box before she stepped to the plate.

    You can do this.

    Tommy? You’re here?

    Show me how far you can hit the ball. His voice was like a gentle breeze at her ears.

    Euphoria filled her. She laughed, then grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Tommy.

    The pitch came fast, then seemed to slow in front of her. The ball looked twice its normal size.

    She swung her bat. There was an audible crack, though hitting the ball felt like hitting a marshmallow. It flew from her bat and headed into leftfield, lifting high until it passed over the orange plastic fence.

    The Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers.

    Run. Once more, Tommy’s voice was like a gentle breeze.

    Vree dropped the bat and hurried around the bases, meeting her teammates at home plate where they mobbed her as soon as her feet touched home with the winning run.

    An hour later, the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery. Vree stood at Tommy’s grave and said a tearful goodbye to his ghost in front of her.

    Did you mean everything you said? he asked.

    “Yes. Always and forever,” she said, moments before Tommy vanished.

    In the last moments of twilight, a breeze stirred through the trees of the cemetery and embraced Vree in warmth that would whisper Tommy’s love to her evermore.

    * * *

    That’s all for now.

    Steve, 10/4/2022


    This post “Fantasy Short Story 003-2022-1004” copyright © 2022 Steven Leo Campbell at stevecampbellcreations.com – All rights reserved.


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