Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween Fiction 2018

It's that time of year again, my faithful readers. My friend and author Eric Douglas is hosting another Halloween fiction event on his website, and this is my contribution to it. 

You can find the 2018 stories hereI encourage y'all to visit his site and read what he and others will have to offer.

For my new readers, any link you click will open in a new window. You will still have this page open to you without having to backtrack. Clicking on any photo will display a larger version of it in a new window as well.

image from Google search

This year's creation is about a poor soul who attended a game night that went horribly wrong. 

So, without further ado, I present you with:

Game Night

image from Google search

Journal entry, November 7th:
After what's been happening these past several days, I thought I'd better record all the facts in this journal. Nobody will believe it anyway, but I need to write all this down. Has it been only a week since it happened? It already feels like a lifetime ago. Maybe it was. I guess I better start at the beginning. If you are reading this, I can only hope that everything is normal again, whatever "normal" is anymore.

My girlfriend Tasha and I host game night every Saturday at our condo. Our friends bring their favorite board game and a dish to contribute to a potluck dinner. Sometimes we just order pizza or Chinese for delivery. Tasha insists on making the dessert though. Crap, why am I wasting time with trivial details? I don't have time for trivial details right now. Come on, Ernie, get yourself together and focus!

This past Wednesday was Halloween, so our regular group decided to have a special game night. So what if it was a work night? Arnold and his wife Nancy host this exchange student from Wales, and decided to bring one of his games that he brought over with him. We've had Eurig over for game night before, and his Goth appearance should've been a clue to his tastes in games. Apparently, this game is popular with his type all over Wales, and he described it to Arnold as an "intensely realistic" role-playing game. 

Nancy told us it was called "Goroeswr Enaid," which loosely translates to "Soul Survivor." We would play as a clan, cooperatively trying to match wits with supernatural forces that we would summon with incantations and common household items. Would we capture the souls of the various demons and ghosts, or would we lose our souls to them? Game on!

Eurig translated the rules for us, and as Arnold started setting up the game, I got a good look at it. A rolled scroll looked like human skin, which was a nice touch if you were into that kind of thing. A sort of pentagram was printed onto this scroll in what looked like dried blood. Whoever created this game put a lot of effort into making it look creepy, and they succeeded in spades. 

My first indication that maybe we should've played something else was the requirement that we each had to place three drops of our blood into the white bowl. Wait, we have to use real blood in this game? What the hell? As I was about to back out of this game with the excuse that I didn't want an infected finger, Karen reached into her purse and pulled out her blood sugar testing kit. 

"Here we go, guys, we can use my test kit and get blood this way. It's sterile so we won't have to worry about infection."

Great, there went my excuse. I still thought it was morbid, though. 

"Hey, in order for us to be a true clan, we must share a common blood bond." As Arnold swirled the white bowl with our collective blood, the black bowl on the other side of the pentagram twitched. All of us looked at each other, but blew it off as an effect from the ceiling fan. A peal of thunder shook the windows and all of us jumped. 

I don't know why we were surprised, as the forecast called for thunderstorms throughout the night. Tasha, in her best Slavic accent, tried to lighten the mood with a "It was a dark and stormy night" comment. We all giggled nervously and glanced at each other. 

Eurig's notes said to add some salt to the black bowl and place animal blood and soil from a cemetery in it. Nancy removed two plastic baggies from her purse and smiled.

"It's chicken blood from the meat market and some dirt from Eternal Pines. Eurig and his friends did a seance there the other night and he collected some for me."

Crap. No backing out now. As soon as Nancy added all the ingredients, the black bowl started spinning and another loud clap of thunder made us all scream. 

Then the power failed.

We all sat there in stunned silence, wondering what to do next when an icy blast swirled through the room. 

The next thing we knew, it was dawn and we were still sitting in a circle. All of us had a bloody nose and felt sore all over, like we had been in a bad car wreck.

Arnold and Nancy exchanged a look as she asked us all "What the hell just happened here?"

I wish I knew. The black bowl was inverted, and the white bowl looked like it had been licked clean. I don't think any of us would've done that, and we don't have cats, so I was at a loss. We decided to go home or go to work. Tasha and I decided to call in sick at work and shower and rest. I would love to know what happened to all those lost hours.

On Friday the second, our game group decided to go ahead and have another game night on Saturday as usual, but not with Soul Survivor. Screw that! We hadn't heard from Jerry or Blake, but figured they'd eventually let us know. They were always deciding things at the last minute. Neither have been on Facebook, which was very unusual for them. Both were typically very active on Facebook and Twitter, but the complete absence of any posts from them made it seem like they had fallen off the face of the earth. Come to think of it, they hadn't answered any texts, either. Very strange.

By Saturday afternoon, the rest of the group had canceled on us, citing different reasons. Arnold and Nancy were having some sort of difficulty with Eurig, and Karen was sick in bed. Even Tasha felt out of sorts. Fine, so be it.

I'll give it until tomorrow and send a group message out to see about this coming Saturday. 

Journal entry, November 9th:
What is going on?? Nobody has heard from either Jerry or Blake. We've left voicemail on both of their phones, sent multiple texts and messages through Facebook, but haven't heard anything from them. Very weird! Maybe they had a fight and are trying to work things out. Still, though, it's not cool for them to totally ignore our messages like that.

Arnold and Nancy said Eurig has been insufferable to be around, acting belligerent to them and having a constant smirk on his face. Nancy texted Tasha saying she was getting strange vibes from Eurig, like he was reading her thoughts.

Karen's diabetes has been flaring up, and she can't seem to control her blood sugar. 

I guess game night is off for this Saturday as well. Bummer!

Journal entry, November 10th:
With game night canceled, Tasha and I were going to the movies when she got a call from Blake's mother. Apparently he called her, and sounded strange, as if coming out of anesthesia. He told her that both he and Jerry were going out of town for some alone time and that they would be in touch. Blake's mom sounded worried and told Tasha that was very out of character for both of them.

Tasha got several strange voice mail messages from "unavailable" numbers. Some jerk was pranking her, and speaking in some strange language, probably made up. It creeped Tasha out so much that she didn't want to go out after that. We'll just order a pizza and watch something innocuous on TV. Neither of us is up for anything too intense tonight.

Journal entry, November 12th:
I can't believe I'm having to write this. Holy crap! Karen's boyfriend found her dead in her bed this morning! He said she seemed to finally be getting her blood sugar under control when he found her body in bed, withered as if she'd been dead for months. This just can't be. Things like this happen only in the movies. Come to think of it, we haven't heard from Arnold and Nancy for the past couple of days, and we still haven't heard anything from Jerry or Blake. Nothing at all. If this is all an elaborate prank by the group, I'm gonna be pissed! This is not funny!

Journal entry, November 14th:
It's now been two weeks since.....that night. Karen is really dead. We read her obituary in the paper, and arrangements are pending for her funeral after an autopsy. Arnold left the strangest voicemail on my phone. Eurig and Nancy had a huge argument, and after he said something in Welsh Nancy doubled over in agony, clutching her stomach. He's at the hospital now, and they are running tests on her. They aren't letting anyone see her, even Arnold. Still not a peep from Jerry or Blake. It's not like we can even go to the police over this, either. Maybe a priest?

Journal entry, November 15th:
Tasha and I are stunned. Nancy is gone. Arnold called me early this morning with the news. The attending physician has ordered an autopsy, and based on what he described to Arnold, Nancy died the same way Karen did. This is getting way too creepy! Arnold hasn't been home since he took Nancy to the hospital. He's staying at a hotel, but won't tell us where. He's afraid Eurig will find him. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I'm not too fond of being around Eurig right now, either.

Journal entry, November 16th:
Blake's mom called Tasha this afternoon. Both his and Jerry's bodies were found clear across the country in an old Scottish cemetery. Both looked like mere husks of their former selves, according to the police photos conveyed to Blake's mom. Tasha is really freaked out by all of this, and wants us to leave and go into hiding. Had she said this a week ago, I would've laughed in her face. Now? I think she's right.

Journal entry, November 17th: 
This is just nuts! I just got a text from Arnold's phone: "I'm next. You and Tasha need to leave NOW. Get out! It's too late for me." 

I tried to call him back, but his phone went straight to voicemail. That's it. Tasha and I are packing a bag and leaving. To hell with this! We're outta here.

Excerpt from Salem PD, case number H-2018-21259, Salem, Massachusetts: 
Two decedents found in Broad Street Cemetery. One male, tentatively identified as Ernie Hutchings and one female tentatively identified as Natasha Tarasov. Both bodies appear to be victims of ritualistic murder. Autopsies pending on both. Special note is made of papers found on male decedent, which appear to be a diary. This "diary" appears to be written by a single person, with the exception of the last sentence. The last sentence is in an apparent different hand. A facsimile of which follows:

Rwy'n ennill. Fi yw'r enaid sydd wedi goroesi.

Case to be referred to the FBI due to apparent multi-state jurisdiction.

The End

I hope you enjoyed this spooky short as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Coming up next, I will begin posting a day-by-blog of our most recent cruise on the Carnival Freedom to the Eastern Caribbean.

Until next time.....

carpe cerevisi

Monday, July 16, 2018

Greyhounds Guarding the Sheep

The hunter and the hunted. The wolf, the sheepdog and the flock. In my last blog, we explored the USS Cavalla (SS-244), who in this context was the "wolf," prowling about in search of vulnerable prey. In this blog, we'll take a virtual tour of the USS Stewart (DE-238), one of the "sheepdogs" tending the flock of merchant ships, or "merchies" as they made their way across the Atlantic. Since both the Cavalla and Stewart are part of the American Undersea Warfare Center in Galveston, Texas, my original plan was to write about both of these warhorses in a single blog as part of my "living history" series. Once I started writing about the Cavalla, though, I knew I would do better by splitting these virtual tours into two blogs. Each ship deserves its own blog to adequately tell their story. 

USS Stewart (DE-238)

For my new readers, clicking on any blue link will open a webpage in a new window that will expand on what I'm referring to. Clicking on any photo will display a larger format of that photo. This page will still be here. Go ahead and give it a try on any link above.

The USS Stewart was an Edsall-class destroyer escort built in 1942 at the Brown Shipbuilding Company in Houston. She is now the only surviving ship of the Edsall-class in existence. The destroyer escort was mass-produced in WWII as a cheaper antisubmarine warfare (ASW) alternative to the larger fleet destroyers. Much like the escort carrier (CVE), the destroyer escort's primary job was escorting convoys of merchant ships and protecting them from both submarines and aircraft. The destroyers, on the other hand, were fast enough to keep up with the larger capital ships like fleet carriers and cruisers. In 1975, the US Navy reclassified destroyer escorts as frigates. It's ironic, really, that while I primarily write my blogs for the sheer pleasure of writing, I also write to share discoveries such as these museum ships with others. If I'm able to educate any of my readers about the particular topic I'm writing about, fantastic! What I've found, though, is how much I learn when researching my next blog. 

I mentioned the escort carriers for a specific reason and will come back to them later in the blog after we've had a chance to explore the Stewart. Trust me, it'll all make sense when we get there. Here's a hint, though. Size really does not matter.

One entrance fee at the American Undersea Warfare Center will give you access to both the USS Cavalla and the USS Stewart. While my wife and I had the good fortune to have a retired submariner give us a guided tour of the Cavalla, we had to rely on an audio guide provided by the center to give us details on the Stewart. This device would play audio clips explaining certain features of the ship. I liked the personal touch better, though.


After paying your entrance fee and parking, you'll follow the sidewalk through the gate and into a small gift shop. From here, it's your choice of which vessel you want to tour first. Since we've already toured the Cavalla, lets head over to the Stewart and take a look around. Remember to keep at least one hand on the rails of any stairs ("ladder" in Navy parlance) at all times.

Looks cool already!

3"/50 deck gun

Welcome aboard

We are greeted by the sign above as soon as we board the ship. From here, we are free to tour the ship as we wish. There is no specific route to take, unlike the Cavalla. We decided to go deck by deck, starting at the bow and working our way aft. 

Stewart's "pointy end"

Just aft of here, we will find the Stewart's hedgehog launcher. This was one of two ways to attack a submerged submarine. These were fired from the front of the ship and landed in an elliptical pattern to either side. They only exploded on contact with something, and statistically had a higher kill rate than depth charges.

Read all about it

Hedgehog launcher

Closeup of the hedgehogs

I can see how these critters would definitely ruin a submariner's day if they got caught in the middle of one of these patterns. We'll take a look at the other weapon when we get to the back of the ship. Turning around, and looking aft, the ship's bridge is visible just above the 3"/50 gun mount. 

Stewart's bridge

Who's hungry? Let's step inside and check out one of the mess areas. I'm always up for something to eat, be it an actual meal, a snack or even a good cup of coffee. Yes, those three links will take you to blogs I wrote on the subject. If you are a foodie like I am, I think you'll enjoy reading what I have to say. Come on, it's right through this hatch. 

Limited seating available

Watch your elbows!

In the above photo's background, to the right of the ladder, is a red 208. That is for the audio guide. When you get to a numbered sign like this, key in that number and the audio guide will explain what you are looking at.

Do y'all serve breakfast tacos?

Reminds me of Luby's

Can I get a clean tray?

Hey, what's this? Oh, yes! This is the perfect way to finish a meal! Who doesn't love a bowl of ice cream? I sure do! You can read what I have to say about it here. Go ahead and click that link. You know you want to. I'll wait here with a bowl of Blue Bell ice cream, topped with warmed salted caramel sauce.

Critical equipment

Looking around in this space, you'll see some bunks ("racks") stuck here and there. See what I mean about the ice cream machine being "critical equipment?" If you had to eat and sleep in the same place, a bowl of ice cream would definitely help you adjust.

Square those racks away!

Just forward of this space is the forward crew quarters for the enlisted sailors. On the Stewart, this area is viewable through clear plexiglass. 

Forward berthing space

Where's my rack?

No snoring zone

From enlisted berthing, we'll head into "officers' country." Even on a small ship such as this, there was still a clear delineation between the officers and enlisted personnel. When we visit the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) in a later blog, this delineation will be even more obvious. 

Officers' Pantry

Where are the breakfast tacos??

Oh, come on! This ship was built in Houston, as in Texas. Breakfast tacos are a staple. I can eat breakfast tacos for, well, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or a combination of the three. Ok, I get it, if you don't care for those, I don't know what to tell you. I guess you can have the "SOS" or other delicacies. I wonder how many Texans that ended up as CO of a naval vessel had their cooks prepare good ol' Tex-Mex for the wardroom. "Cookie, instead of SOS, here's a recipe for carne guisada. Learn it, love it, do it!"

Officers' Country


Notice the door in the background of the above photo? That's the entrance to some of the officers' staterooms. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Officers' staterooms

Officers' racks

If you noticed the brief description of my blog, I refer to myself as a "finicky foodie." There are plenty of things I don't care to eat, but the stuff I do like to eat, well, let's just say you better watch your fingers around my plate. Having said that, I always make it a point to check out the galley on these ships. From the closet-sized galley on the Cavalla to the huge galley on the Wisconsin, it's always interesting to see where all the grub was prepared.

My favorite sign

What's for dinner?

How much gravy did you make?

Still no tacos!

I guess we just won't get any tacos, breakfast or otherwise, on this tour. I wonder if I should take this up with the CO or XO? Moving on, let's see what makes the Stewart move through the water. A short walk down the passageway and we find several hatches leading to lower compartments. At the time we toured the ship, these spaces were closed to the public. I hope they will be open for future tours. 

B-1: Fwd engine room

Hatch to B-1

This hatch was right next to the sign above, so my guess is it leads to that space. Notice the "Z" on the hatch? For those not familiar with naval vessels, this sign designates what must be done with the hatch during general quarters ("GQ") or battle stations. Any hatch with a "Z" like this must be closed and dogged shut during GQ and can only be opened with permission from either the bridge or damage control officer. This is called "material condition" and clicking that link will take you to a very informative page on the subject.

Just down from this hatch is another hatch leading to the B-2 space containing auxiliary equipment. 

B-2: Fwd auxiliary equipment room

Hatch to B-2

Like the B-1 space, this area was closed to the public. As restoration continues, these areas may become accessible to the public. It would definitely enhance the experience. Now don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic tour as it is. I'm one of those people who want to explore every nook and cranny of a ship or airplane if I can.

We'll continue down the same passageway and find ourselves at the ship's store. This small room stocked day-to-day items a sailor needed while at sea.

Wal-Mart of the seas?

Do you have Dapper Dan pomade?

I'll take a pack of Camels

Close to this room is the engineering office. Both the store and the engineering office were protected by plexiglass, so the photos aren't the best quality. You'll get a good idea of what the spaces look like, though.

"Log Room"

Engineering Office

We'll visit one more interior space before heading back outside and exploring that area. We saw just how tiny the heads were on the USS Cavalla. I think a phone booth had more space than the officers' head on the Cavalla. On the Stewart, the heads were definitely more spacious. 

Crew's head



I hope these are varnished!

Those that know me can attest that I showed remarkable restraint by not making any sophomoric bathroom jokes here. Don't think the thought didn't cross my mind, though. 

For any tin can sailors reading this, was the stokes basket seen in the background by the sinks actually supposed to be stowed there, or does it just happen to be there on this ship?

We've seen just about as much as can see inside the Stewart. Follow me back outside and we'll look at some other weapons the Stewart had. The Field Artilleryman in me insists we start with the deck guns. The Stewart had two forward and one aft mount 3"/50 deck guns, primarily for surface and antiaircraft use.

Good explanation

Forward gun mounts

Aft gun mount

Ammo "ready racks"

The Stewart also employed a pair of twin 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun mounts, port and starboard. 

Interesting info

40mm gun mount

While both the 3"/50 and 40mm guns could be employed against surface or air targets, they couldn't target submerged contacts. We looked at the hedgehogs up forward, and now we will examine the other weapon the Stewart had to kill submarines, the depth charge.

Depth charges explained

There were two ways the Stewart could attack with depth charges. They could be fired from a "K" gun or rolled off the back of the ship from a rack.

"K" Gun description

"K" Gun racks

All my life I have enjoyed watching "war movies," and have seen many scenes of a ship dropping depth charges, usually from the stern. For some reason, the depth charges looked much bigger than what I saw on the Stewart. In my mind, I always imagined them to be about the size of a 55-gallon barrel. When I actually saw them on the Stewart, they were much smaller than I thought they'd be. Logically, I should've known they didn't need to be that large, given the physics of what happens in deep water. 

Starboard depth charge rack

Port depth charge rack

Since the Stewart had two ways to attack a submarine, who decided which type of weapon to use? I asked this question to some retired "tin can sailors" and determined that it was based on standard operating procedure ("SOP") from sonar control. The Captain fought the ship from the bridge. Modern naval vessels have a Tactical Action Officer (TAO) that coordinates all attacks for the Captain. 

We'll visit one more place and our tour of the USS Stewart will be complete. I mentioned that in WWII, the captain fought the ship from the bridge. The Stewart has a smallish bridge that like the engine room was closed to the public. I was able to take a few photos through the portholes, though. 

View from front porthole

View from port side

View from port bridge wing

View from starboard bridge wing

So that, dear readers, is your virtual tour of the USS Stewart. I hope you enjoyed tagging along with me as we explored this warhorse. I encourage to visit both it and the USS Cavalla the next time you are in Galveston. 

As promised earlier, I mentioned that "size doesn't matter" when it comes to both the destroyer escort and escort carriers. Let's take a closer look at a pivotal battle in the Pacific during WWII. I'm referring to the Battle of Leyte Gulf and specifically to an action in that battle referred to as the Battle off Samar. The USS Stewart wasn't a part of this battle, but her class of ship, the DE, had a prominent role in it. The link I provided gives a good "Cliff Notes" version of that battle, but I encourage you to read author James Hornfischer's book The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. He gives a masterful description of this battle and I highly recommend it. 

Destroyer escorts averaged 306 feet in length, and their largest gun was the 3"/50. The USS Cavalla, by the way, is actually a few feet longer than the Stewart. Besides the deck gun, DEs had torpedoes they could launch against surface ships, but they had to get relatively close to their target. 

What makes this action truly astounding is how a group of destroyers, destroyer escorts and escort carriers found themselves facing off against Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers! This small group, called "Taffy 3," consisted of six escort carriers, 3 destroyers, and 4 destroyer escorts. They stood toe to toe against four battleships (the largest, Yamato, was 862 feet long, and her largest guns were 18"), six heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers. Rather than turn tail and run, this group of intrepid sailors took the fight to the enemy. Taffy 3 sustained heavy losses, but their aggressiveness stopped the Japanese from exploiting a weakness and wreaking havoc on other American forces. Do yourself a favor and read Mr. Hornfischer's book. You'll be glad you did.

As I explored the USS Stewart, I kept thinking of that battle, and what it must've been like to be on a destroyer escort facing such a huge opponent. Granted this was an isolated event, but even the thought of escorting merchies across the Atlantic and wondering when the next submarine contact would be only increased my respect for these sailors. The "greyhounds of the seas" definitely earned their place in history. 

To all the tin can sailors who stood into danger, you have my thanks and respect. Thank you for your service. Special thanks to a Facebook group of tin can sailors, without whose help would've made writing this blog much harder. Thanks, guys, y'all rock! Any factual errors in this blog are mine and mine alone. If anyone sees something wrong, please let me know in the comments below and I'll fix it with my thanks.

Did you serve on a naval ship? I would love to hear your tales. Please leave a comment in the comments section below and share your stories. Did any of y'all catch a subtle movie reference I threw in? Bonus points to the first person who correctly answers below with the reference.

For your convenience, here are links to the other "living history" blogs I've written so far:

Coming up in my next few blogs, I'll write about some other games we've played, another interview and some more living history. 

Until next time.....

carpe cerevisi