Will Ludwigsen

Stories of Weird Mystery

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Handbooks of My Youth

You may have heard that I have a book coming out this summer called A Scout is Brave. What? You haven’t? Pre-order it now by clicking the button below!

One of the themes of the book is the disconnect between the model of reality that we place in books and the one we allow or reinforce in the real world. As a kid, I had a hard time understanding why people didn’t take books as seriously as I did, and to me, every book was a handbook.

As a kid with ADHD and anxiety, it was a revelation that there were actual books that could tell you how to live and do things, books that you could go out and make real in the world.

Let me introduce some of them to you.

Covers of Model Railroading and the Boy Scout Handbook

Model Railroading, published by Lionel Trains in the late forties, was hopelessly obsolete by the early eighties when I read it, but I loved the idea of making my own tiny wholesome, controllable world. I can’t imagine why.

The 1963 Boy Scout Handbook appears in my story, and I had the same problem with it that Bud has: the huge gap between theory and practice, between what we say we believe and how most people behave. I was a kid in the eighties behaving like one from the sixties.

Covers of How to Run a Railroad and Filming Works Like This.

How to Run a Railroad was a book I found in our local library and checked out so many times that my father suggested we steal it when we moved away. It was a great book with kid-plausible ideas for building a model railroad out of random shit in your house.

In 1982, I discovered Steven Spielberg and the idea that some lucky people were actually PAID to make up stories instead of merely annoying others with them. That sparked the idea of becoming a film director, and Filming Works Like This was all we had in our elementary school library on the subject. The technology wasn’t too far off for the early eighties, but I had no access to it and had to settle eventually for…ugh…just writing stories down.

Cover of Real Ghosts by Daniel Cohen

My elementary school library also had a small shelf of books for weirdoes, focused mainly on vampires, missing people, UFOs, Bigfoot, and ghosts.

Daniel Cohen was an author who specialized in telling dubious stories to young people with absolute credulity. I finished each one convinced that yes, there were spirits and aliens among us that nobody wanted to talk about.

So you might say that I started my artistic sensibilities with horror NON-fiction. Or at least fiction couched like it.

Cover of Stranger Than Science by Frank Edwards

Frank Edwards was another crackpot who gathered what we’d call now “Forteana”: the kinds of bizarre happenings chronicled originally by the patron saint of crackpots, Charles Fort. My sister had a few of his books.

These are where I learned about the Marie Celeste, the shifting coffins of the Chase tomb in Barbados, the Bermuda Triangle, frogs dropping from the sky, and the Loch Ness monster.

My experience with more practical handbooks inspired me to imagine ways that we could actually resolve these mysteries, exploring the loch with a submarine, say, or examing the Marie Celeste with a forensic team instead of a bunch of dumbass sailors.

Cover of the Hardy Boys' Detective Handbook.

The Hardy Boys’ Detective Handbook was where I got some of those investigative ideas, and like almost every other imaginative kid, I started my own detective agency. I don’t remember solving any actual crimes, which is ironic given how many my father was routinely committing.

I guess there’s a lesson there in how context affects our morality.

Cover of Gnomes

One of my long-term investigations involved searching for gnomes. My mother bought me the book at the height of the gnomes fad of the early eighties, prouder of the family’s Scandinavian heritage than the rest of us.

Despite the map inside saying that at best we’d find extremely rare Beach Gnomes in Florida, I still kept searching the woods.

They decided not to show themselves, probably because I wasn’t ready.

Cover of the Commodore 64 Programmer's Reference Guide.

Then came the computer handbooks. I started with a Commodore 64 in 1985. My father refused to buy games or even a disk drive for it, asserting that this was for “serious business.” We had a tape drive instead, so I made my own games when my father wasn’t hectoring me to create an automated address book for him.

To find an address in the golden Commodore future, you’d just turn on the computer, insert a tape, fast forward the tape to the program, type LOAD, and wait patiently for the address book to appear. Simple as that!

Covers of Dungeons and Dragons and Star Frontiers.

Next came the gaming books, starting with that red Dungeons and Dragons basic set for which I still have that book. My mother ordered it from their ill-fated bookstore because she’d heard that “gifted kids” played it.

I preferred science fiction, though, and later on I found Star Frontiers at Waldenbooks and then Star Trek from FASA.

And that’s just the non-fiction!

We are all constant compliers (conscious or not) of our own handbooks. I was luckier than some kids to have parents who owned a bookstore (however briefly) and believed in the importance of reading, not to mention a sister who was into weird books like Alive and the ouevre of Frank Edwards, and later friends who enjoyed speculative and imaginative ideas.

I’d be a much different person with different books, and I’m grateful for the ones I got.

Behold! A Scout is Brave!

A Scout is Brave cover image

It’s been a long time coming (as mentors and fellow students of the Stonecoast MFA program can attest, among others), but my novella A Scout is Brave is finally emerging from the twisted gray woods of the Massachusetts coast in July of 2024!

That gorgeous cover is the work of Jeremy Parker who went to extraordinary lengths to encapsulate the 1960s Scouting milieu in the design. My publisher Lethe Press pulled out all the stops.

What’s it about? Boy Scouts in 1963 Innsmouth, the dreaded town of fallen cultists invented (or is it discovered?) by H.P. Lovecraft.

I’m guessing you have questions.

A Lovecraft pastiche? Do we need that?

Maybe not, but some readers COULD need a coming-of-age story that explores some of the social consequences of Lovecraft’s original story.

If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s “The Body” or Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life, I think you’ll like this story, too.

Is it scary?

It’s as scary as the rest of my work, meaning that it’s a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of thing: not overtly terrifying but with implications that sneak up on you.

It may not keep you up at night, but it’ll pop into your head in the middle of the day and make you mutter, “Wait. What the hell?”

Is that you on the cover?

No, that’s a representation of the book’s protagonist, Bud Castillo. Most pictures of me in the Scouts include me squinting at the sun or lugging a backpack larger than I am.

Are you aware that the Boy Scouts [insert wince-worthy practice here]?

Author Will Ludwigsen standing in his Boy Scout uniform like a big ol' geek.
Portrait of the author as a Scout taking it way too seriously.

Yeah. I read the 1963 Boy Scout Handbook as a kid and had very strange expectations when I joined my local troop in 1984. There was a lot more burning random shit in the woods and a lot less enjoying the sublime mysteries of nature than I expected.

I achieved the rank of Life Scout (just below Eagle), and this story comments on why that was enough for me.

What little I’ve followed of their political direction since then doesn’t inspire me much. Can we just get back to helping old ladies across the street?

Are you going on some sort of tour to promote the book?

I am indeed, so subscribe to the newsletter or visit here frequently for announced dates and locations!

Where can I get a copy?

I’m glad you asked! The book is available for pre-order through Lethe Press, and pre-orders are very important to the success of books. Please support me, this book, and Lethe Press by joining our Scout troop today!

Our A.I. Future: Acres and Acres of Porpipe

My story “Acres of Perhaps” has been summarized by the site WritingAtlas.com, and I feel better than ever about A.I.’s potential to replace me as an artist.

Behold this glorious robot-generated cover:

Hideous and inaccurate A.I.-generated cover for my story Acres of Perhaps.

I’m not sure what a Porpipe is, but apparently there’s acres of it in my story.

That cover is a perfect symbol of the utter creative failure of “artificial intelligence.” The garbled text (“A the Fantay Comical Telvioin Optionitory Prorellsate”) and random images (Is that a toaster with a CB radio microphone clip on the top?) show exactly what it’s good at: filling space with a simulacrum of content without caring about its meaning.

We are finally on the cusp of replacing the freshman composition student, a dream all teachers have had since the age of Socrates.

If you want six hundred words or 700×700 pixels or four minutes of anything, literally anything, to earn money from curious but ultimately disappointed clicks, we now have the technology to complete the ouroboros. We can now game our own system by using algorithms to trick other algorithms into a crass imitation of value.

And I’m not even mad about it! I’m vaguely proud that my work is hard for a computer to understand.

A writer for the ’60s most famed and experimental television series watches the shows phantasmic creator choose between recluse genius and a quaint life of normalcy. Faced with stubborn alcoholism, a hit television series resemblant of the twilight zone, and a tree stump with questionably magical properties, the narrator watches cinematic wunderkind David Findley toe the line between brilliance and delusion.

A.I. apparently cloned from a High School Freshman at Writingatlas.com

In fact, I propose that we refer to spam-like slabs of meaningless imagery and text as “porpipe,” as in:

  • “Did you see that tub of porpipe they tried to sell off as a new recording artist?”
  • “What we need for this side of our fraudulent website is just a column of pure, Grade D porpipe. I don’t care where you get it or what it’s made from.”
  • “Excuse me, professor, but the syllabus doesn’t say what percentage of our papers have to be porpipe.”
  • “Take the porpipe. Leave the cannoli.”

If you produce creative work that’s better than porpipe, that taps into something unique and interesting and human and fucked up, the good news is that you needn’t worry about porpipe replacing you yet.

The bad news? It may not be long until most people can’t tell the difference.

My Too-Late Holiday Shopping Guide for Procrastinators

Now that it’s too late for Christmas shopping recommendations except for the truly masochistic and insane, let me share some of my entertainment highlights from 2023!

Books

I’m terrible about reading current books, so these aren’t really recent.

  • I re-read The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) for the first time in twenty years, and this unabridged edition reminded me of how this was the equivalent of appointment television in its time, full of tangents and asides and cross-purposes to draw out the story into a pleasant weighty significance.
Cover of Joe Sharkey's book Death Sentence
  • Death Sentence: The Inside Story of the John List Murders (Joe Sharkey) tells the story of one of my “favorite” true crimes. List murdered his wife, mother, and three children in 1971 and bolted on the lam for seventeen years. He was caught in 1989 after an episode of America’s Most Wanted showed an eerie sculpted bust of his age-progressed head. What I find fascinating about his story is that he was an uptight devout Lutheran with obsessive compulsive disorder and a horror of failing to keep up appearances, much like many of my older relatives. He killed his family to “spare them” from poverty, he claimed. The book covers the case well with good detail and insight.

  • The Elephant in the Brain (Keith Simler) explains a lot of our more annoying human tendencies as artifacts of our evolutionary heritage and desire to be part of a group. I think it’s a key text in understanding how we apply so much of our higher mental powers to rationalizing our baser drives.    

TV

This is going to sound a little one-note, but Star Trek had a hell of a year with three fabulous seasons of television.

Picard Season 3
  • Picard Season Three may have pulled off the most dizzying reversal in television history from its first two abysmal seasons to a soaring and triumphant third. Showrunner Terry Matalas, a fan himself, finally understood what people wanted all along: 80% things we know and love mixed with 20% new cool shit. It’s a balance that the new Star Wars trilogy completely failed to achieve.
Strange New Worlds
  • Strange New Worlds Season Two took amazing risks with mostly fabulous results; though I still have mixed feelings about the musical episode, I’m glad they were brave enough to make it. The cast and producers are capturing the variety of the original series with a modern sensibility for continuing consequences, and this was fun to watch every week.
  • Lower Decks Season Four was still hilarious, but they faced some pretty heavy emotional consequences that demonstrated that this isn’t just a zany cartoon satire. What I like about Lower Decks is that it answers or addresses so many of the things we let pass us by unquestioned in the other iterations of Star Trek, patching holes and adding context with a sense of humor.

Movies

I don’t actually watch a lot of movies anymore, I’m sorry to say. It’s hard to sit still that long.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
  • Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was very good, though of course idiots came out to complain and demonstrate their commitment to the dogma of their childhoods by damning it as fan service. As I age, I’m enjoying stories more where heroes grapple with the longer term consequences of their lives, choosing once again to be heroic even when it costs more than it ever has.
  • The Menu was a wonderfully dark psychological study, full of surprises that turn out to be fully earned by the characters who get them.

  • I’m not sure what I’d pick for an even third film. Everything Everywhere All at Once was moving when I saw it, but I don’t remember much of it now and have no desire to watch it again. The Fabelmans should have been right up my alley (a nerdy kid learning to take command of his creativity), but it felt like it was missing a third act. Cocaine Bear was hilarious and had the virtue of delivering exactly what it said. So too did Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.

Looking over this list and thinking back on my year in entertainment, I feel old and unwilling to take risks on weird new things that creators are making (or re-making). I’m falling out of the demographic for profitability.

When they remake Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I’m moving out to the woods away from all human contact.

Oh, yeah: Gratitude

I’m grateful all the time, believe it or not, for people and pets and inanimate objects. I once kissed an Amtrak train as a little kid to thank it for safely getting us home from Florida, and my mother had to yank me away before it decapitated me.

Many years later, I was driving somewhere with my (eventual ex-) wife, contemplating the universe in my quiet Scandinavian way, when a profound insight sparked across a few neurons.

“You know what I don’t appreciate enough?”

She looked over at me, eyes filled with hope.

Nestle Nesquik. I’ve been drinking it since I was five years old across multiple states and economic conditions, and it’s always been a comfort to me.”

So Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, an excuse to eat and talk a lot with family and friends, but I don’t always articulate what specifically I’m thankful for because it’s always Thanksgiving in my heart. (Aw!)

Let’s do some articulatin’!

Interpersonal

  • Of course I’m grateful for the family, friends, colleagues, and inanimate objects that support me every day, no matter how difficult I make it.
  • We had a great Willcon this year, enjoying some gaming and ribald conversation with old friends and new.
  • It was wonderful to take a family vacation with my sister, brother-in-law, and nieces to Great Britain for a few weeks this summer, something we’ve done very infrequently over our lives. Even getting COVID couldn’t slow down our good time (or endless walking).
  • As annoying as it was to spend FIVE WEEKS as a juror in a civil trial, I appreciated the chance to meet people I’d never have encountered in my normal life and see things from their perspectives, however wrong. (I kid, I kid!)
  • My immediate team at work has never been just a group of coworkers, and not just because I bully them all the time to go out to lunch together at Tony D’s. I decidedly DON’T appreciate the layoff that sent most of them off to better destinies, but I AM very grateful that they continue to influence my life.
  • We’ve got a pretty good team of cats at home, two older boys and two younger ones, who fill our hearts with love and our lungs with dander. Our famous dog Sylvia, mayor of the neighborhood, will now occasionally listen to reason between trying to tear pizza out of our hands and barking during work meetings. 
  • Aimee, of course, remains awesome, very tolerant of my quirks and difficulties.

Professional

  • Though I miss my lost team members at my day job, I’m grateful my company decided to keep me around for their own mysterious reasons. They’ve always been tolerant and often even bemused by the weirdness I bring to my work.
  • There’s something to be said after a layoff for how it sure clarifies who you can trust to help get things done, including my boss.

Writing

  • I actually finished a short story this year after a time we’re politely calling “fallow.” It’s made it to a second round of consideration at one of my favorite magazines, so maybe you’ll read it one of these days. (People liked it when I read it at Willcon, at least politely.)
  • The well-known publisher that was considering my novella A Scout is Brave decided to pass after a whirlwind 850 days, which is either a compliment that it was so hard to decide or an insult that it wasn’t easier to decide.
  • And the reason I’m grateful for that? A Scout is Brave has found its real home at Lethe Press and will be appearing next June. Don’t worry: I won’t let you forget that in the coming months.

Emotional

  • This has been a very strange year, and I couldn’t have done it without the fistful of medications that my doctor prescribed to keep me alive during it.
  • In a similar vein, I’m glad to have reached an age where I know enough about my strengths and weaknesses to work WITH them instead of against them. You call it depression, I call it introspection! You call it a rude disregard for the feelings of others, I call it a child-like honesty! You call it ADHD, I call it a need for novelty and challenge!

Inanimate Objects

  • I’m glad I figured out (with no help from three visits to the dealership) what the rattling noise under my car was before I just drove it off a bridge.
  • I’m enjoying a board game these days called HeroQuest which is like Dungeons and Dragons for impatient people fearful of commitment.
Family playing HeroQuest at Thanksgiving
I even persuaded the family to try HQ on our early Thanksgiving.
  • Red Dead Redemption 1 & 2 have been boon companions for the last few months. I wish I could quit you!
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks were fantastic this year.
  • I’m also thankful for the new (and very expensive) pipe that allows my bodily wastes to go out to Jacksonville’s sewer system instead of just kind of seeping under my lawn.

..and Finally…

I’m grateful for you, supporting my intense desire to capture the world in words!  

Ten Years? It Seems Like Yesterday!

Ten years ago today, my father died in hospice from colon cancer, an event that was more stunning than sad…mostly because I assumed Satan had more work for him yet to do on the Earth.

Here, my mother gives back a little of the ol’ tune up to his ashes at Thanksgiving in 2013.

I crack a lot of jokes about how awful he was, how his weird sociopathic tone deafness to human feeling made him no more conscious than a shark, how his leaving of my mother was like the fall of the Empire from Star Wars.

You might even say at this point that I’m really punching down…just like he did to me!

Hey-o!

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that I’ve squeezed a lot of humor and horror out of him over the years, or that I need to let it all go and move on, or that I’d have made even the best father into a villain if it made my stories or my life more interesting.

I wonder all of that, too.

I was glad that we had the chance to play D&D one last time, at least.

Of our complicated relationship, I’ll just say this:

If you’re someone who takes pride in how your son inherited your gift for eloquent bullshittery, you’d better be nicer to him.

He’s the one who will write your epitaph.

Happy Norman Day to all who celebrate…also those who shouldn’t

Today is my friend Norman’s 68th birthday, which is always something I celebrate. I’ve written many times about how Norman was an important influence on me, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be the person I am if he hadn’t encouraged my interests in science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games, computer programming, Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and much more.

Usually, I’d stay positive and go on about that, but today…maybe I’m just in a mood, thinking about why he isn’t here celebrating this birthday with us.

Here’s why:

  • Norman died in 2014 at the age of 58 from complications of undiagnosed diabetes.
  • Why? Because he was afraid he couldn’t afford to go to a doctor.
  • Why couldn’t he afford it? Because he didn’t have health insurance through a regular job.
  • Why didn’t he have a regular job? Because he didn’t think he could make it in college despite being brilliant.
  • Why didn’t he think he could make it in college? Because all during his young life in Alabama and Florida, he was bullied and brutalized.
  • Why was he bullied? Because he was neurodivergent and Asian among rednecks in the 1970s and 80s.
  • Why couldn’t he thrive while being neurodivergent? Because people assumed he was deliberately or culturally “other” and shunned him.
  • …which is why he couldn’t afford to keep up the appearances expected of an acceptable middle or lower-class job seeker…
  • …which made him too “weird” to hire for jobs that did or didn’t require a college education…
  • …and also why he couldn’t strike out with his own “by-the-bootstraps” business that would require selling the services to people who wouldn’t give him a chance…
  • …which is why he didn’t have money to take care of his health…
  • …which is why he died way before he should have.

He died that way in a country that brags about its wealth and largesse and freedom and compassion and technological prowess.

Was a system to blame or just a long line of terrible, callous people who never really saw him?

I’m not sure there’s a difference.

Star Trek and Me

Star Trek’s original series premiered on September 8 in 1966, and Paramount has recently dubbed that “Star Trek Day,” usually filled with a few franchise announcements and previews. This year, it’s a little tepid because of the strikes, but it still got me thinking about the influence the show had on my life.

(A few months ago, they asked some other nerds about that with heart-warming results.)

Now, it’s unquestionable that Star Wars was first and had a huge impact, especially with the ability to make my own stories with action figures. That’s one of the biggest reasons I became a writer, I suspect. Star Wars also taught me about courage and loyalty and friendship, and it had an enormous influence on my entire generation.

(I suspect you could call Generation X “the Han Solo Generation” instead because we learned to be independent and skeptical and cynical but still good at heart from him.)

As I got older, though, I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, and something about them resonated with me from the start. Thanks to my friend Norman, I went back to watch re-runs of the original series, which were always hit-or-miss for me. I really liked James Blish’s novelizations, as well as the novels by Pocket Books.

Still, the movie era Star Trek was what changed my life.

You know, these guys.

My father left us in 1986, not that we were too sad for his reign of capricious twitchy terror to end. Still, I’d learned a certain way of seeing the world thanks to him, one that relied on fear and anger for the energy to get things done.

When he was gone, there was no one to be scared of, and the sudden vacuum was both freeing and awful. In the same way that Hitler supposedly made the trains run on time, my father established a pattern for our lives that, damaging as it was, at least provided answers. Bad ones, but…answers.

After my father was gone, my grades at school took a dive and I lost a sense of what was actually worth caring about. When someone decides all of that for you since birth and suddenly leaves, you don’t know how to make those choices for yourself.

During middle school and freshman year of high school, my brain felt like the day room at an unaccredited mental hospital. Sometimes the manic people bounced off the walls, full of passionate glee. Other times, the depressives took over and doom darkened the windows.

I truly felt like a bunch of different imaginary people were fighting (ineptly, like with gardening tools) for my soul. None of them were particularly nice about it.

I vacillated back then between delusions of epic importance (a future President, perhaps) and terror that I was a nascent sociopath blooming into an awful genetic destiny.

In 1987-ish, I watched The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock probably two or three times a week after school, often with my friend Carl (who was also no stranger to teenage melodrama), but it was one time when I was alone when a certain set of lines hit me in a new way.

You know which ones, I’m sure.

Marooned in the Genesis planetoid, Saavik asks Kirk how he handled the hopeless Kobyashi Maru command test. Kirk explains, blithely, that he cheated because he didn’t agree with the conditions of the test.

“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” he says.

On that particular day, probably after terrible grades or loneliness or God knows what, I had the strongest epiphany of my life until that point. I couldn’t quite articulate it then, and for years, I assumed it was about believing there were always possibilities even in the darkest hour.

But I think at a different level than I consciously realized, the message I received from that scene is that circumstances are usually mutable, but even the ones that aren’t can always be…bent. You can improvise with even the bad ones.

I learned the gift of reframing: looking at disasters as chances for heroism.

So began a (slow, limping, barely-on-impulse-power-with-the-mains-offline) turn toward…well, many more years of being a reckless idiot with intermittent bursts of competence.

Star Trek provided a positive internal structure for taking action in the world. The self-talk my father had left behind like a bee’s stinger slowly faded in favor of Starfleet’s more professional kind of discipline, doing good because what was the point of doing something else?

Why be human if you’re going to still live by the tooth and the claw?

I’ve been blindsided often over the years when people are proudly and spectacularly self-interested (or when I’ve been), but I still don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

Join Me at Necronomicon in Tampa, 9/22 – 24

It’s hard to believe that my home convention (as opposed to the convention I host in my home) of Necronomicon in Tampa is celebrating its 42nd event.

I started attending in 1987, skipped a few years in college, and then returned for good in 1996. I’ve always had a great time participating in panels, playing games, and catching up with old friends.

Like these mooks.

Though my schedule isn’t entirely confirmed, it looks like I’ll be doing at least two panels on Saturday morning:

  • Remaining Sane While Working with Publishing Professionals (9am)
  • Meanwhile: Day Jobs and Financial Wisdom for Creatives (10am)

You can find us from September 22nd through the 24th at the Embassy Suites near the University of South Florida.

Plus…the convention supports the Kids and Canines charity, so you’re likely to see at least one dog!

Like this good boy, Patriot.

How can you pass that up?

My Advice for Travelers to Great Britain, Our Natural Superiors

As a kid, I imagined that I was a displaced Briton, meant to be stumbling across ghostly Roman ruins in the woods instead of getting tangled in Florida’s palmetto brush.

Nature! Give me some nature!

During my recent two-week tour of England, Wales, and Scotland, I didn’t see as many tweed waistcoats or crumbled abbeys as I’d hoped, nor did I have a sublime supernatural experience on a wind-swept beach after blowing an ancient whistle.

I did catch COVID, which was its own kind of sublime experience.

What I saw swaying on my feet soaked in my own fever sweat were beautiful towns, gorgeous rolling hills and mountains and waterways, amazing museums, and astonishing historical places where the human story extended thousands of years beneath my feet.

I’ll have other pretentious things to say about my trip in the future, but for now, I’d like to offer some advice for travelers based on my own idiosyncratic experience…and needs.

Important Questions to Ask Before Embarking on a Tour of Britain:

1. Has anyone on this bus heard of M.R. James, Robert Aickman, Algernon Blackwood, Ramsey Campbell, Daphne Du Maurier, or John Wyndham?

No, this has no connection to any of those authors, but it’s the kind of place they’d like to go.

2. Does anyone on this bus have a selfie checklist or plan to flash a sideways peace sign where people were burned alive?

3. Does anyone on this bus have a desperate need for the love and attention of strangers by answering rhetorical questions or repeating the punchlines of jokes?

4. Is anyone on this bus interested in buying a shot glass or Speedo with the flag of England or Scotland on it? Or in visiting Gretna Green for non-ironic purposes?

Thank you, Boudica, for the excuse to sell t-shirts!

5. Are we stopping in Liverpool for anything other than a dire emergency?

Liverpool, I’m convinced, is the Jacksonville of England: grimly practical port city with a lot of strip clubs.

6. I’m sorry to pry, Tour Guide, but are you gay? Because this is going to suck if you don’t have the catty meta-awareness and perception of most LGBTQ folks. (I’m pretty sure ours was, and he was awesome. When a drunk American from another tour stumbled onto our bus, he said, “Have another whisky, honey.”)

7. Are we staying at any hotels where you have to insert your key card into a slot to make the electricity work in the room?

8. Will we be walking down any narrow cobblestone alleys called “the Rambles” or “the Scrambles” or “the Shambles” or “the Scrabbles” where coughing, mucous-slicked tourists are squeezed together in a tube of undulating flesh?

This isn’t a picture of Patient Zero. It’s a picture of Patients Zero through Eighty.

9. Are we going anywhere quiet enough where a cat or dog could plausibly approach us for petting?

A wee lassie dug goes “Wffe, wffe, ye yank mootha fooka!”

10. Will we be visiting any cities or towns where the GPS resolution is better than, say, half a kilometer?

The answers you want to these questions may be different than mine, and that’s okay. But I suggest that you ask.

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