So far, every cent of the royalties from Fearsome Creatures of Florida has been donated to The Nature Conservancy in Florida! This is why you should buy more copies. It’s also good for you.
Dear Fearsome Creatures fans,
I should have mentioned this a few months ago, but I have a new serial novel in progress at my blog site, www.johnhenryfleming.com. No creatures so far, but there zeppelins, Michael Jacksons, mysterious books, missing dogs, drunken editors, and a homeless hero currently camped out in a library. Catch up when you get a chance, and please join me for many more months of weird and funny entertainment.
I’m giving a reading sponsored by the Humanities Institute at the University of South Florida, Wednesday 9/15 at 2 p.m. in the Grace Allen room of the USF-Tampa library, 4th floor. See you there! Food and drink and Q&A. Frightening animation show, too, as always. Here’s another sample…
Listen in Sunday, May 2, at 10 eastern. Better yet, call in and ask me strange questions at 914-803-4053!
GHOST OF THE MONKEYNAUT
These are the hard facts: On December 13, 1958, a
navy-trained squirrel monkey named Gordo was
launched from Cape Canaveral in a Jupiter rocket.
Telemetry data—from a microphone taped to his
chest—suggest that Gordo survived the launch and his
weightless moments in space but died when his
parachute failed to open and the rocket’s nosecone sank
to the bottom of the Atlantic. The U.S. Army
abandoned the search for this missing hero after six
Then, in early 1959, reports began surfacing of a
small, monkey-like creature wrapped in a foil suit and a
sad little plastic helmet haunting the coast. He walked
the beach mournfully at night, tail dragging in the sand,
whimpers fading in and out with the ocean breeze. If
approached, he scampered up a palm tree and
disappeared into the night sky. One group of concerned
citizens in Satellite Beach seemed to have encircled him
until their flashlights all blinked out at once. At least
one man felt a cold breeze on his knee and the flick of a
What had they seen? Gordo or his ghost? Had
Gordo’s chutes deployed after all, lowering his little
craft into the Gulf Stream, where it bobbed and drifted
until it washed ashore on a quiet stretch of beach?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Life and death is of little
concern to a monkey who has stared down the empty
depths of the universe and fallen to earth without the
consolation of fame—or even so much as a pair of
warm arms to run to and hide.
They say that abandoned heroes do not go quietly.
Gordo had been trained using little rewards, fruit to pull
a lever, nuts to push a button, sweets to lie still for five
31 minutes and breathe slowly. He’d done what they’d
asked and been promised so much more than treats,
though he’d never wanted it. Now, when he’d given his
life to the program, the least they could do was pay
respect to his feat.
For several years, Gordo was spotted up and down
the Space Coast. Later reports hint at a growing
bitterness and desperation. No longer the whimpering,
abandoned little monkey, Gordo crept up on late-night
lovers and sank his teeth into their sandy calves. He
stared fiercely through the sliding doors of first-floor
condos and banged insistently on the glass, eyes aglow
with the accusatory intelligence of a creature who
knows too much.
“He seemed to want my attention,” reported one
frightened condo owner. “He pounded harder when I
The last recorded sighting was by a Cocoa Beach
motel owner in 1970 who described a tiny old
spaceman on the beach at night. Wires that had once
connected Gordo to the scientists back home now
splayed from his shiny suit, the microphone to record
the beats of his tiny heart monitored by no one. He
slouched up the beach toward the Saturn V rocket
sitting that night on the Cape Canaveral launch pad.
One likes to think Gordo stowed away and found a
quiet glory in his second and last visit to space. One
likes to think he abandoned his bitter quest for
attention, fame being small consolation for a monkey
who never wished to climb higher than a tree.
Except, there’s one more hard fact to his story: the
rocket on the launch pad that night was Apollo 13.
Become a fan of the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay
Become a fan of Fearsome Creatures of Florida
Thursday and Friday 3/18-3/19, I’ll be appearing at the Lake County Festival of Reading. Thursday 4 p.m. at the Paisley County Library for a reading and Friday 6:30 at the Leesburg Public Library for an author reception. All free!
Monday 3/22 from 1-3 p.m. I’ll be signing books at Circle Books in Sarasota. 478 John Ringling Boulevard.
As always, frightening animations at every event!
How deep will you go? She’s waiting…
Click the link below. This is unverified footage, but scary enough to be true.
Elvis in Paradise
The curtains are drawn. The window’s foiled over. It could be any time of day, any day of the year, any hotel in America.
He might have been asleep. He might have been dreaming. Were the dreams his own? It would be the first time in years. He wishes he could remember.
Alan and Lamar are in the kitchen arguing loudly about how to cook his bacon. Cousin Gene’s at the card table in front of the silvery window, cheek down on a game of solitaire, snoring. Gene’s supposed to be keeping watch, making sure Elvis doesn’t sleepwalk out the door.
Once when Elvis was young his parents found him on the roof of their house trying to step off into the night.
It could happen again.
Except he can’t even feel his feet. He must have slept on them funny, or else he’s somehow lost them in the night.
He closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to know.
He wonders sometimes what might have happened if he’d taken that last step off the roof of his parents’ house. Would he have fallen or flown?
That kind of test doesn’t present itself to everyone. What’ll he do if the opportunity comes his way again?
If he’s lost his feet, he’ll never know.
These are some of the problems of being famous no one told him about. You lose things. Feet, dreams. Your soul if you’re not careful. You don’t notice them till they’re gone, and then you’ll search the rest of your life for the simple stuff you once took for granted.
If he did step off into the night, where would he fly?
Over treetops and houses. Over Memphis and Mississippi. From up there he’d get a glimpse of everything for once. He’d gather up the pieces of life and understand its whole. Resolve its contradictions. Fall in love with everyone he’s ever met.
As it should be.
His fans would turn in their beds and catch a glimpse of him through their windows. They’d come out of their houses, huddle together on lawns, and point. When the press got wind of it, they’d turn their cameras and microphones to the sky.
Arms out, soaring, what could he do but wave?
Don’t do this to us! his fans would shout.
The girls are crying. They fall into their mothers’ arms.
It’s not goodbye, he’d say.
Or it is, but just for now.
Look, he’s climbing higher! Can you still hear us, Elvis? Any last words for the fans who’ve adored you, who’ve given you everything in life and asked only for your boyish, one-sided smile and the warm caramel of your voice?
Wait, it’s not like that at all! he’d insist. It’s just, sometimes you have to leave the world to get it back!
He’s not even sure they can hear him. He’s risen too far. He’s in the coolness of the stratosphere and turns his eyes to the moon.
But he still can’t feel his feet!
It’s as if the rest of him woke up but he left his feet in a dream. How can he get them back when he can’t even remember the dream?
And where, anyway, do dreams go when you abandon them in the middle? Do they find another dreamer and pick up where they left off? Do they fizzle into a million droplets and rejoin a great ocean of dreams? Will he ever know?
He lies perfectly still, waiting for the day’s rhythms to pluck him awake and bring back his feet.
A frying pan slides across a burner in the next room, rattles and pops.
Footsteps. The creak of a wicker couch.
Gene’s throat rattles on the intake, clicks once on the exhaust; his tongue ticks the roof of his mouth like he’s drunk in his dream and the words come slow and thick. Gene should know better than to drink, even in his dream.
Outside, a mockingbird warbles and tsks and chugs through its borrowed songlist. There are back-up birds behind that one. A mourning dove? One of them gives a screech. What kind of birds do they have here?
That’s right: Jordanaires. They have Jordanaires singing in the trees.
A motorboat plows the river, passing slow. A girl calls Elvis’s name. Is she on the boat? On the roof? Out in the parking lot?
Yes. All three.
He hears these sounds, just as he hears the whisper of the high-altitude winds and the soft slosh of the bay and the breaths of the nocturnal creatures asleep now in their dens. The world opens up on its voices.
But there’s got to be one moment when the rhythms get in synch and the world falls silent before the next beat, a moment when even the world is listening.
As he waits, holding his breath, his feet return in droplets, as if from the point of a needle, or from the spray of an ocean of dreams.
He opens his eyes. He bends his big toe.
There it is.
Copyright 2010 John Henry Fleming