As the newest member of the Crazy 8 Press team, the first I heard of this Crimson Keep dealie was at the group breakfast we held at last summer’s Shore Leave in Maryland. I learned that it was the setting for “Demon Circle,” a short story co-written by the pre-me Crazy 8 writers at 2011’s Shore Leave as part of a fundraising effort for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The idea in 2013 was to create an anthology of Crimson Keep stories to be available at Shore Leave 2014 in celebration of the imprint’s third anniversary.
The ever-efficient Bob Greenberger made sure that we were all provided with a copy of the short story and a mini-bible of its characters and situations, set the deadlines to assure a Labor Day weekend pub date, and off we went to the races.
The thing I took away from “Demon Circle” was the humor. The set-up involves a group of students apprenticed to the magical Master of the Crimson Keep, a castle rumored to have one thousand rooms and one hundred staircases…more or less. The Keep changes, whether by whim or necessity, no one is quite sure, and the apprentices themselves range from braggarts to incompetents to straitlaced, dedicated warriors. Stories could be about any one or all of the above. I went with a solo story about Belid, the wise guy braggart.
Those who know me won’t be surprised by the selection of Belid for my story. Like me, Belid is a terrible student, a dedicated procrastinator, and an unrepentant wiseass, all of which offered me the opportunity to do one of my favorite things: write funny. I don’t mean comedy writing per se, but rather writing with a light touch that lets the reader in on the absurdity of the situation without any outright mockery. Kind of like Douglas Adams, just sans stepping outside of the story to provide observationally wry commentary. It’s the approach I use to write my Leo Persky, Weekly World News reporter of the weird stories for R. Allen Leider’s Hellfire Lounge anthologies (three stories and counting, in volumes 2-4, published by Bold Venture Press) and it’s a wonderfully refreshing break from the more serious voice I usually take in prose.
So, what happens when Belid attempts to evade an upcoming test for which he isn’t prepared by deliberately getting himself lost in the ever-shifting corridors of the Crimson Keep? In this case, he finds himself locked out of the castle and trapped in an enclosed courtyard between “The Wee Folk at the End of the Hall” and their jailers, the bird-like Shadowings. But even while avoiding class, the young apprentice winds up learning a valuable lesson, to wit: No good deed goes unpunished. The trick thereafter is living long enough to apply this hard learned lesson to life.
Tales of the Crimson Keep may have been my first exposure to the world of the Master and his apprentices, but here’s hoping it’s not my last. Like Belid, I’ve still got a lot to learn about this magical and ever-changing place.
Tales of the Crimson Keep will be available in print and digital editions on August 1.