Hidden Kingdom (Chapter 2-adding page 9)

To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/


Filed under artwork, comic strips, fairies, Hidden Kingdom, humor, Paffooney, pen and ink

An Unexpected Gift 


This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.


You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.


After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.


Filed under commentary, compassion, happiness, healing, humor, illness, movie review, NOVEL WRITING, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Happy Birthday, Carl Bark

Carl Barks was born on March 27th, 1901. So, today is his 122nd birthday. If you have no idea who I’m even talking about, then you were never a kid and a comic book fan in the 1960s. Carl Barks is both Uncle Scrooge’s father and Donald Duck’s stepfather.

Carl is a personal art hero of mine. I grew to adulthood on the adventures of his plucky ducks doing duck adventures in Duckburg. I have written about my devotion to Carl in this blog before. In fact, here is the link; https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2014/09/27/carl-barks-master-of-the-duck-comic/

That’s essentially true. A large part of my character as a junior high school English teacher was based on what I learned about mentoring from Scrooge McDuck and about teaching important facts from Gyro Gearloose.

Carl was not immune to criticism. Cartoonists get blow-back, a fact of life. But he overcame it with a wry sense of humor and interesting views of how you pursue goals in life. He had a firm sense of fair-play and justice. You could get actual morals to the stories in a Carl Barks’ duck cartoon.

The characters were not perfect. They all had glaring flaws, the heroes right along with the villains. Of course, the villains never learned to change their ways, while the heroes often learned to improve themselves by working on the weaknesses, and it wasn’t all about becoming a gazillionaire (a term I think Barks may have invented).

I even learned a good deal about adventure story-telling from Carl Barks’ comic books about Duck people doing ducky stuff that was really about people doing people-y stuff in the real world. Yes, people in the world around me are very Carl Barks’ ducky.

So, happy birthday, Carl. 121 years young. And he’s only been gone from our world since August of 2000. He still talks to me and teaches me through his Duck comics.

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Nutzy Nuts

Things are not what they seem. Life throws curve balls across the plate ninety percent of the time. Fastballs are rare. And fastballs you can hit are even rarer. But if Life is pitching, who is the batter? Does it change the metaphor and who you are rooting for if the batter is Death?

If you think this means that I am planning on dying because of the Coronavirus pandemic, well, you would be right. Of course, I am always planning for death with every dark thing that bounces down the hopscotch squares of the immediate future. That’s what it means to be a pessimist. No matter what bad thing we are talking about, it will not take ME by surprise. And if I think everything is going to kill me, sooner or later I have to be right… though, hopefully, much later.

I keep seeing things that aren’t there. Childlike faces keep looking at me from the top of the stairs, but when I focus my attention there, they disappear. And I know there are no children in the house anymore since my youngest is now legally an adult. And the chimpanzee that peeked at me from behind the couch in the family room was definitely not there. I swear, it looked exactly like Roddy McDowell from the Planet of the Apes movies, whom I know for a fact to be deceased. So, obviously, it has to be Roddy McDowell’s monkey-ghost. I believe I may have mentioned before that there is a ghost dog in our house. I often catch glimpses of its tail rounding the corner ahead of me when my own dog is definitely behind me. And I am sure I shared the facts before that Parkinson’s sufferers often see partial visions of people and faces (and apparently dogs) that aren’t really there, and that my father suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. So, obviously it is my father and not me that is seeing these things… He’s just using my eyeballs to do it with.

But… and this is absolutely true even if it starts with a butt… the best way to deal with scary possibilities is to laugh at them. Jokes, satire, mockery, and ludicrous hilarity expressed in big words are the proper things to use against the fearful things you cannot change. So, this essay is nothing but a can of mixed nutz. Nutzy nuts. And fortunately, peanut allergies are one incurable and possibly fatal disease I don’t have. One of the few.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 15

Canto 15 – Dolls with White Wigs

Dora McMaster had been carefully studying the doll that she thought she had somehow made and forgotten.  She seemed especially interested in the white-haired wig the doll wore.

“This wig on the doll…  Did you know that it is made with real human hair?” Dora asked Brittany.

“No, I did not.  It is the only thing that isn’t like my own daughter.  She has black hair.”

“Molly had black hair too before…”

“Before what?”

“The news came about her father, and both she and her mother took sick.  Apparently high fever, or something like it, turned Molly’s hair ghost white.”

“That’s strange.”

“Yes, and stranger still that I don’t remember ever making a white wig before.  But I have been planning to make one for the doll who is supposed to be Molly.  To remember her as…”

“…As she was before you lost your chance to save her.”

“Yes.  But where did the doll-maker who made this wig get white human hair?  And why put it on my creation in Aunt Phillia’s horrible store?”

“Is it dyed, perhaps?”

“No.  It contains strands that still have black roots, and the color all seems natural, just like Molly’s own.  But it couldn’t be made from Molly’s hair… not after the fire.”

“You will make the Molly doll with white hair?”

“Yes, of course… but where to get white-colored human hair to make such a wig?”

“Mention her own white hair,” said Molly to Brittany in a voice Dora apparently couldn’t also hear.

“You have some white hair on your own head the same color as that,” said Brittany.

“Why, yes… I do.  It will take time to grow out enough to use it without making myself bald,” Dora said, giggling to herself.

“Why do you have white hair?” Brittany whispered to the doll.

“Not here.  We will talk later in private.  I can show you at the witching hour.”

Brittany nodded to herself at the doll’s answer.  She didn’t much like how demonic and spooky the doll seemed.  But the doll was also so like Hannah, and endearing enough to make it necessary for Brittany to know everything.  In a ghost story, it is the unknown thing that scares you the most.  And it could only be a good thing to make the unknown a little more known.

Dora had taken out the pieces of a doll’s skull cap and began singing softly to herself as she began to sew and prepare the cap to have human hair added.

“Dora?  Would it be all right if I step out in the yard for some air while you do that?” Brittany asked.

“Certainly.  And thank you so much for the inspiration.”

Brittany took the doll with her out onto the veranda in the back of the house opposite the flower garden.

“Okay, Molly.  I need some answers.”

“Honest answers?  Or do you prefer to be lied to?”

“Honest answers, of course!”

“About what, then?”

“Why did you bring me here?”

“You mean to Dora’s house?”

“I mean, this time… this place… this world?”

“I paid the toy man to get my momma back again.”

“What?  What does that have to do with me?”

“The toy man said that if I chose you to play with, that could help me get momma back.”

“Play with me?  What does that mean?”

“I don’t know all the details… yet.  But you are alive… and my momma is not.  I need to use you to make her alive again.”

Brittany stared at the smiling porcelain face.  The creepy smile chilled her to the bone.

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Filed under ghost stories, horror writing, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

Paper Dolls Aren’t People Too?

The picture shows you some of what I have been doing when my brain is too buzzy to write, and the news is too depressing. I don’t want to write incomprehensible nonsense. I also don’t want to spend all my time crying. So, I do what art I can with my color printer, printer paper, scissors, glue sticks, and cardboard from the recycle bin. Here you see Shirley Temple, a classic paper doll from the 1950’s, Annette Funicello, made from my own drawing of the Disney Princess, a couple of antique paper dolls you can buy the images of online with a mere $1.50, a Francine doll, nude with cardboard butterfly wings, a puppy my mother cut out from one of our children’s books in the 1950’s, and a mint-in-box Rena Rouge doll from the cartoon series Miraculous, bought at Walmart at an after-Christmas sale price.

But I have to say, the title doesn’t really speak to literal paper dolls. I am simply distracting myself from the horrors going on in Ukraine. They try to save their children by putting them in a theater with a sign on the roof proclaiming they are children sheltering inside, and then Putin targets them for bombing? I cannot deal with that. I treat dolls in my collection as if they were people. But elsewhere in the world they don’t treat people as if they were people? No. I can’t accept that.

Here’s a REALLY DISTRACTING paper doll.

I am sorry for leaving Betty naked. The paper-doll dresses are still being made. I am creating them from scratch, drawing them myself, and the colored ink has run out on the printer. But Betty gets to enjoy the naturist thing I have been promoting, and this doll is nude, not pornographic. There is a difference.

Except in the minds of certain prudish fundamentalist Christians.

Yes, Fairy Ricky is naked too. But he’s also genderless.

I have, this past month, made a lot of paper dolls while watching stand-up comics on YouTube and Netflix. And it is because I can’t deal with the emotional pain the news from Ukraine causes me. Forgive me. I am a former teacher, and the senseless murder of Ukrainian children has pretty much kicked my slats in. My heart is in my shoes. I am in pain in ways I can’t even explain. My only hope is to distract myself by making paper dolls.

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The Sunshine Returns

This last winter was tough on me. I had Covid for the second time in December. I see less well and feel less well now on a daily basis. I have been invited to appear on a writer’s panel at the AANR Southwest Convention at the Star Ranch in McDade, Texas this June. It would mean travelling down to the Austin area and camping at the nudist ranch for multiple days. And I fear I am not well enough to do such a thing by myself. (I can’t even ask my wife to go along. She would be against it for religious reasons. She loves camping, but does not want to see naked people.) I am honored to be asked. and I will look into the possibility. But I probably won’t be able to do it.

The fact that the sunshine has come back to Texas and the weather is warming means life is getting better for me. Honestly, the sunshine gives you natural Vitamin D which positively affects both mood and mental health. It is even easier to get that sunshiny happiness when you are a nudist, baring your hairy old hide to the kiss of Mother Sun.

Maybe I will get to go to that convention… I can hope, can’t I?

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Winsor McCay

One work of comic strip art stands alone as having earned the artist, Winsor McCay, a full-fledged exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Little Nemo in Slumberland is a one-of-a-kind achievement in fantasy art.

Winsor McCay lived from his birth in Michigan in 1869 to his finale in Brooklyn in 1934.  In that time he created volumes full of his fine-art pages of full-page color newspaper cartoons, most in the four-color process.  

The New Year’s page 1909

As a boy, he pursued art from very early on, before he was twenty creating paintings turned into advertising and circus posters.  He spent his early manhood doing amazingly detailed half-page political cartoons built around the editorials of Arthur Brisbane,  He then became a staff artist for the Cincinnati Times Star Newspaper, illustrating fires, accidents, meetings, and notable events.  He worked in the newspaper business with American artists like Winslow Homer and Frederick Remington who also developed their art skills through newspaper illustration.  He moved into newspaper comics with numerous series strips that included Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Nemo in Slumberland.  And he followed that massive amount of work up by becoming the “Father of the Animated Cartoon” with Gertie the Dinosaur, with whom he toured the US giving public performances as illustrated in the silent film below; 

The truly amazing thing about his great volume of work was the intricate detail of every single panel and page.  It represents a fantastic amount of work hours poured into the creation of art with an intense love of drawing.  You can see in the many pages of Little Nemo how great he was as a draftsman, doing architectural renderings that rivaled any gifted architect.  His fantasy artwork rendered the totally unbelievable and the creatively absurd in ways that made them completely believable.

I bought my copy of Nostalgia Press’s Little Nemo collection in the middle 70’s and have studied it more than the Bible in the intervening years.  Winsor McCay taught me many art tricks and design flourishes that I still copy and steal to this very day.

No amount of negative criticism could ever change my faith in the talents of McCay.  But since I have never seen a harsh word written against him, I have to think that problem will never come up.

My only regret is that the wonders of Winsor McCay, being over a hundred years old, will not be appreciated by a more modern generation to whom these glorious cartoon artworks are not generally available. 

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So, what if it is true that the future begins with the story-teller? Smart phones are obviously descendants of the communicators and tricorders and computers that Gene Roddenberry introduced to us in the original Star Trek series. George Orwell gave us timely predictions and warnings of the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in his novel, 1984.

If we truly wish to be a force for good, we have to take the evil bull by the horns and turn its momentum away from the future we seek to protect. Like Solzhenitsyn we may be gored in that bull-fight and end up spending time in the gulag. But those of us who choose to be writers, especially story-tellers, must take on that responsibility. What if ours is the story that changes the mind of a nation, like when the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took on slavery and the unjust treatment of others who think that, because they are white, or have money, or are somehow smarter than everyone else, they have the right to abuse, take advantage, or even kill other people? What if ours is the story that turns the rich into selfish engines of greed as Atlas Shrugged obviously did?

It is a tremendous responsibility. It is a power we must not wield unwisely, even if our talent level is only that of the disastrously lazy Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

What sort of a story-teller will I be?

What sort will you be?

Where will I lead my readers (If indeed there ever are any)?

And where will you lead yours?

If any questions are important now during these days of self-reflection, isolation, and Coronavirus, it will surely be these. So, tell me what you think.

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The Angel Weeps

Life has generally become an intrinsically unfair and unequal exercise in struggling just to stay the same, let alone trying to better ourselves.

But wealthy white folks need their tax breaks to fatten the money piles they sit upon. Like well-fed dragons on their treasure hordes.

And the angel weeps.

Beloved by Toni Morrison has been banned in Florida. As has Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and a biography of Rosa Parks, and George Orwell’s 1984, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and many other books, including books about the Holocaust like Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize graphic novel Maus.

And wealthy white so-called Conservative Republicans have failed to conserve these books, and smile, because they have managed to exert control over what other people are allowed to read and think, because they believe they have the right to tell others what is true and what is evil because it’s Woke… whatever that means.

And the angel weeps.

And a ten-year-old girl who was raped and is pregnant with a baby that will probably kill her if it is carried to term has to flee to another distant State to get the abortion that saves her life because the Supreme Court took away the legal precedent that was supposed to protect her.

But wealthy white evangelical so-called Christians smugly laugh and sing praises to those who made this happen. They got what they wanted for 50 years. The right to save a life by making babies be carried to term no matter the consequences. Of course, they won’t lift a finger to help once the child is born, even if it is born into a family that can’t afford to feed it. In fact they want to take away food stamps because those people are just lazy and need to learn how to pick themselves up without help from anywhere… no matter how hard they work at McDonalds because you can’t get food stamps without at least a starvation-wages job.

And the angel weeps! Why does nobody care about that?

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The Phantom Legaecy

I often wonder what the future will think of me… or if they will even think of me at all. Even my family may not remember the real me, particularly those who haven’t read anything I have ever written. My mother passed away in 2021 never knowing that I was sexually assaulted when I was ten. She didn’t want to know anything like that. She didn’t read this blog. She didn’t read any of my novels. But that is mainly because she never read any blog posts or any novels… ever. She was a career RN and read all kinds of things about nursing, health, and medicine. She had thick books of pharmaceutical knowledge and looked up every medication ever prescribed to any member of her family. But my personal inner truth, the things that I have written that define me in my own terms and my own inner mythos, are all available to anyone who wants to read them. They are all available on Amazon. One on Barnes and Noble. And I give e-book copies away for free every month. But hardly anyone takes me up on those things.

So, what does this issue matter to anyone but me? Diddly-poop. I would like to be remembered as a good writer after I am gone. But that is not something I have any control over. Neither did anyone who now has a legacy as a writer. Edgar Allen Poe and Franz Kafka died in extreme poverty. H.P. Lovecraft died in obscurity, horribly alone and mentally ill. The Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche died after having a mental breakdown over the beating of a horse. And their work left a legacy. The legions of unremembered authors have none. I will end up wherever I belong after I am gone.

I exist. Not even God can change that now. And I have written and published my writing on the internet. It has the potential to live on after me as long as there is an internet. The world probably has less than fifty years of life left as it is. So, for now, I have to be satisfied that you bothered to read this and look at my drawings, whether you bothered to register a like or not. That is my legacy, or a ghost of it anyway.


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What is the Matter with Me? As If I Really Want to Know

Self examination is a critical feature of living a stoic life. And I find Stoicism to be a workable philosophy. I do believe that I have no power to alter the world around me, only the power to control and change myself. I find it works fine as a teacher. A teacher with self control can lead most of the students in the classroom down the happy path. That leaves only a few weirdos that you have to knock on the brain with a rubber hammer (figuratively, of course.)

But tonight my blood pressure is 176 over 90 (go-to-the-ER level numbers.) My blood sugar is 153. I made the fatal mistake of eating spaghetti and meatballs from the microwave. I get tired of a strict diabetic diet. But I can’t afford insulin either. Sometimes I feel more like not examining myself in that particularly painful way and just risking eating what I like without worrying about sudden death that I can’t avoid anyway.

There are some things I feel like I have to write yet. But I find it is harder and harder to do it with glaucoma eyes and arthritically-challenged fingers to use for battling an overly sensitive and somewhat vengeful keyboard and word processor. I have a story in my head about an autistic boy who wants to live alone in the forest and hears music in his head that no one else can hear. I have a story about teenagers battling suicidal depression by sitting in a circle naked down by the river, eating marijuana brownies and talking to ghosts. I have another story about teenagers learning about love during a journey to the center of the Earth where a monster has imprisoned one of their girlfriends. I have a really weird Aeroquest Sci-Fi story with flower people as bad guys and space goons eating a space station out from under the heroes. It’s already done. I just need to proofread and publish.

And I probably won’t get any of it done. Writing The Haunted Toy Store is going molasses-in-January slowly.

But we have to have hope to continue. And I do have hope. She lives inside my head and thinks she’s the Leopard Goddess of the Wastelands most of the time. But she’s still there. Still real.

Yeah, still good.

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