Posts Tagged ‘horror fiction’

They’d been in the jungle for three weeks already, their map having proven as useless as the intel that sent them on this fool’s mission in the first place.

“Locate and engage,” was the sum total of their orders. What did that even mean? Three weeks deep, MRE’s all gone, left to forage for roots and berries like savages, which was what they were on their way to becoming. Three weeks of sweltering heat, stinging, sideways rain, bloodthirsty mosquitos and leeches, three weeks bad jokes and old complaints and bullshit stories about the tail that Barnes had scored back in the world. Three weeks and counting, to locate and engage an enemy with neither face nor soul.

There had been a trail when they’d lit out, but it had been swallowed by the jungle weeks ago. They had an old, outdated map and a compass that was given to random twitches, as though they were walking across magnets. The dense foliage ruined any chance for sighting on the horizon, the heavy cloud cover made celestial navigation impossible. All throughout their trek, the jungle furnished its own soundtrack, the nonstop buzz of the insects, shrieks and calls of monkeys and birds in the trees, and the occasional lumbering crash on the ground to keep them alert and paranoid. By way of the endless visual and aural assault, it felt as though the jungle itself were conspiring against them, as if it were a living, sentient being, and nerves were starting to wear thin.

The men continued their slog through the marshy jungle, the mud sucking hungrily at their boots, sweat cascading across foreheads and down noses, onto rifles impossible to keep dry, patches of rust seemingly springing up in a moment’s time, dirty socks pulled snug over the barrels in hopes of keeping the worst of the mud and bugs out of their weapons because at some point, they might be needed. No idea when or where, or indeed if ever, the enemy was to be located. On the plus side, the men were hungry to engage, to focus their hopelessness and frustration at this chickenshit bug hunt and put a serious hurt on something, someone, whatever, wherever, just open up and unload a whole clip into the little pricks whose fault it was that they were out here in the first goddamn place.

McFarlane had taken point for the shift, and with a start he realized that the jungle had fallen totally, completely, stone silent. Rare indeed are the times in which this happens, and those are times in which no one is happy at the absence of sound. It takes something big, very big, or something bad, something very, very bad to shut down the complex network of shrieks and buzzes, mating calls and challenges, from bug to mammal to bird, to reach across the vast gulf of species and shake them into non-communication. McFarlane raised his fist, the silent signal to the others to halt in their tracks and quietly draw their weapons. Eyes open wide, McFarlane quietly walked a tight circle, scanning the jungle from floor to canopy, looking for something, anything, that warranted their attention.

Then he saw it, little more than a vague silhouette through the trees, but there it was – a straight, horizontal line, something rarely seen in nature because nature doesn’t follow the rules of geometry. Beneath the line was shadow, which indicated the possibility of something manmade, perhaps a structure, although how anyone could get in and out of this mess to find it was God’s own mystery.

“Pfft,” McFarlane whistled quietly while pointing forward, and the men instinctively fanned out behind him, advancing quietly, heel to toe through the tangled mess of roots, leaves, and mud, their training rendering them nearly silent. As they approached, form began to take shape and they could see that it was indeed a structure, built of chiseled stone, heavily and intricately carved, so much so that there wasn’t a blank space to be found. Moss covered many parts of what now came into view as a building of some sort, seeming to be maybe two stories high, with doorways and windows that appeared as blackened holes, like the missing teeth of a dangerous drunk. McFarlane signaled for the men to stay low as they approached the building; flashlights came out and were held at the ready, while curious eyes canvassed the structure for signs of activity, signs of life.

Barnes sidled up to McFarlane, whispering almost inaudibly.

“Sarge, I seen places like this before. This here’s a temple, one of them monk places. I think it’s where the targets are supposed to be hiding.” McFarlane nodded, and raised his fist again. The men went still as statues, straining their ears for any sound that would betray the occupants of the temple. His eyes played over the walls of the temple, seeing elaborate carvings of men and animals, some of the men appearing to have wings, others having more limbs than normal. While the temple looked as though it had been in this place since the dawn of time, the carvings were distinctly out of place for this part of the world. Hell, McFarlane thought to himself, there’s no place on earth where this would make sense. Bullet holes sporadically pockmarked the walls of the structure, a mute reminder for the team to be on their guard as they investigated. Bullet holes meant battle, which ratcheted the tension up several notches.

After several minutes of absolute stillness, they proceeded forward, their boots stepping onto heavy stones of the temple’s courtyard. As if triggered by their footfalls, the men became aware of an odor coming from the temple, a stench of decay that was more than just the mustiness of mildew and exposure to the elements. No strangers to carnage, they all knew the smell of death, and Death had visited this place, on a grand scale.

Tentatively poking their heads into the doorways, the men switched on their flashlights and listened intently for any sounds coming from within the darkened temple. Hearing none, they shined their lights inside and, with audible gasps, the combat-hardened team bore witness to that which they could scarcely comprehend.

There hadn’t been a battle here; this was an outright slaughter. The enemy had indeed been here, the shredded remains of their uniforms testified to that. For all the gore and viscera, there was little to the inside of this temple that appeared to be human until, McFarlane realized, this mess, this horror, was that of humans turned inside out, pulled apart and flung about like ragdolls, their blood and entrails painting elaborate designs on the walls and the ceiling and the floor.

None of the men had ever seen anything like the savagery of the scene; surely, they collectively hoped, no human would do something like this, no human could do something like this. This was not simply the beating of an opponent or an enemy; there was a fury to what had happened here, a rage that no one would willingly call human. And yet, seeing loops and swirls of blood on the walls, the dawning realization that whoever or whoever committed this brutality, they seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely.

“No bones,” McFarlane whispered, his eyes not believing the truth that glistened wetly in the beam of his light. “There’s no goddamn bones. What the hell does this?”

“Another thing, Sarge,” Barnes said. “Ain’t no flies, neither. All this mess oughta have all sorts of critters gorging on…this, but there aint’ nothing here.”

With a shudder, McFarlane stepped into the building, his senses on high alert. Almost imperceptibly, he could hear a droning sound, very faint, from deep within the temple. He switched off his light.

“You hear that?” he asked the men, who nodded and strained to hear. “What the hell is it?”

No one knew, and they slowly walked into the building. In the immediate darkness of the temple, McFarlane cocked his head, moving slowly in the direction of the sound he couldn’t quite identify.

It was Rafferty who put a name to the sound. “That’s human, Sarge. Sounds like people chanting somewhere in here. Well, maybe it’s people, at least.”

McFarlane nodded, and in the dark stillness, he could see a dim, flickering light coming from somewhere in the depths of the building. The men fell into line behind their leader.

As they went deeper into the building, the dim light gradually brightened, while the chanting grew louder. Turning a corner, McFarlane saw a stone staircase cut into the floor, its outline illuminated from the light below. Quietly, and with weapons at the ready, the men descended the stairs, seeking whatever lay below.

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Continuing from an earlier post called Bad Day at the Trailer Park

Buddy’s El Camino tore up the road at a furious pace, matching his mood. Not content for having gotten the better over Dean, Harley, and Monster, he turned his dark attention to Wanda Jean.

“Baby,” Buddy said, an edge of violence to his voice. “Tell me again what you done to them old boys back there.”

Wanda Jean rolled her eyes, careful to look away when doing so. “Honey, I done told you half a dozen times already, ain’t nothin’ more to say about it.”

“That’s for me to say, woman. Thing is, I’m leaning toward thinkin’ maybe you done a little more for them than just serve up some nasty rock.”

“Like what, Buddy? You think I screwed ’em? Is that it?” Like it ain’t enough that I went in there, alone, got them to snort death, and made it out with my skin in place while you just sat in the car, waiting?” Wanda Jean’s voice had taken a turn, her words laced delicately with spite. She hadn’t meant to taunt Buddy, but she was enjoying the feeling.

“The hellyou mean by that?” Buddy shouted, his face reddening with anger. “You callin’ me a punk for not tending to my own affairs?”

“Shoe fits, baby,” Wanda Jean said with a laugh, wondering just how far she could push the idiot before he went completely sideways.

Without taking his eyes from the road, Buddy’s right arm shot out, his fist exploding across Wanda Jean’s face. Neither shocked nor startled, Wanda Jean turned toward the window, spat out the remains of a tooth, before turning to look at the man behind the wheel.

“Oh baby, you done that good, didn’t you?” she asked, tauntingly. “You just uncorked one on me, and I reckon you feel justified in doing it, don’t you?”

“That weren’t my fault, missy. You made me do that, made me lose my temper, and I had to teach you a lesson. You learned, didn’t you?”

“That I did, sugar. I learned more than you think,” Wanda Jean cooed softly. “I learned what turns a man into a boy, I learned what sets you off, and I learned that you think it’s okay to put hands on a woman if you think she provokes you.”

“You listen to me now, bitch, and you listen good,” Buddy snarled, white knuckling the steering wheel. “What you just got was a warning, and it was about a six on the Buddy scale. You don’t never wanna see me take it to a ten.”

“Reckon I don’t, baby,” Wanda said quietly. “Now I know you’re a stone cold, natural born badass, and I done learned my place.”

Buddy laughed, the tension easing from his face, from his voice. “Ain’t that better? Now we understand each other.”

“Here’s what I want you to understand, Buddy. Them old boys back in the trailer? You’re right, I did more than give them that bad batch. Before that, I let them have me, all at once. And it was good, baby, so goddamn good. Better than you could ever be, that’s for damn sure.”

“You filthy-”

“ENOUGH,” Wanda Jean shouted, loud enough to hurt Buddy’s ears, loud enough to rattle the windows of the beat up car. Wanda leaned in close to Buddy, a sharp fingernail pressed against the side of his neck, blood pumping furiously through the artery beneath it. “You keep driving, and maybe I’ll let your sorry ass live. Maybe.”

Fear and rage fought for room on Buddy’s face. No woman had ever spoken to him like this, and damn if it was going to start now. “You ever raise your voice against me again, Wanda Jean, and I swear to you, there’s gonna be Hell to pay.” The menace of his words was betrayed by a tremor in his voice, a signal to both that while Buddy’s heart still believed he was in control, his brain knew better and just couldn’t give up the fight.

Wanda Jean put her hand at the back of Buddy’s neck and leaned in close, whispering in his ear. “Loverboy, you got but one last chance to say something decent. Just one.”

“You goddamn–”

Wanda Jean’s hand shoved Buddy’s head forward violently, his skull shattering the windshield. Stunned, Buddy’s hands gripped the steering wheel and threw a hard left. The car’s tires chirped against the asphalt in a desperate attempt to keep contact with the road, the rear of the vehicle swinging out and clipping a telephone pole, sending the car into a sidelong roll, over and over, down into a ditch filled with reeking sewage, where it settled on its roof.

Buddy never wore a seat belt, because he said that no man would ever tell him how to live his life. The crash had tossed Buddy around the cabin of the car like a rag doll while Wanda Jean, safely buckled in, laughed and laughed as his body rolled and rolled, bones breaking and joints snapping, cartilage tearing and flesh torn asunder.

When the El Camino finally came to a rest, Buddy’s breathing was wet and ragged, one lung collapsed and the other perforated by broken ribs as his body lay crumpled against the roof of the car.. Wanda Jean giggled to herself, upside down and suspended by the seat belt, giddy over what she had created. Even as he lay dying, Buddy attempted to talk.

“What…bitch…I kill you…who…are you?”

“Who, me? Lemme put it this way, genius: it weren’t no accident you found me at that titty bar, Buddy. Fact is, I was looking for something new, someone new, because I have work to do. I thought you might have been the one to stand by my side, but it looks like I was wrong, wrong, wrong.” She punctuated her words with pokes to Buddy’s chest, each causing him to shriek with fear and pain.

“Goddamn…bitch…” Buddy sputtered, blood bubbling at his lips.

“Even now, you just can’t let shit go, can you?” Wanda Jean rolled her eyes in disbelief. With the slash of a fingernail, she cut through her seat belt, her hands unbelievably fast, catching herself before she fell to the roof of the overturned vehicle.

“Aw shit Buddy, you done turtled your car!” she exclaimed, as she slithered out of the ruined car.  The smell of gasoline was strong; the tank had ruptured and fuel was dribbling out. Wanda Jean looked at the growing puddle of gas, cleared her throat, and spat at Buddy, who had by now also smelled the gas. Despite the angry protests of his ruined body, he was trying to claw his way out of the El Camino.

Wanda Jean stood and watched his pathetic struggle, still giggling at his pain. She’d put up with so much from this clown; the verbal abuse, the threats of violence, the leers from his degenerate friends, the hostility of his mother, living in that goddamn trailer, because she thought that he could be the one to stand at her side when she took her rightful place in the world.

“Not this time, shitheel.” Wanda Jean pulled a cigarette from its battered pack, struck a match on her zipper, and inhaled deeply. Nothing as satisfying as a smoke to help with life’s little troubles. One more inhalation took the cigarette nearly down to the filter, which she tossed absentmindedly at the puddle of gas.

The butt landed and almost went out; then, an almost inaudible foomp signaled ignition, as flames raced toward the tank. The sudden increase in heat panicked Buddy, whose screams  were those of terror, rather than simple pain and fear. The car erupted suddenly, cloaking Buddy in an envelope of fire, his screams silenced forever by the flames consuming his clothes, his skin, his muscle. Even as he burned, he tried desperately to pull himself out of the car, his pain sensors now completely shut down as his body went into full panic survival mode.

Wanda watched with mild interest, having seen such things before, so many times before. By and by, Buddy stopped trying, and once it was clear that he wouldn’t be coming back, she reached down and snapped off a couple of his fingers, and stuffed them in the pocket of her Levi’s jacket. She loved her barbeque.

Wanda Jean climbed up the embankment and onto the highway. She bent at the waist and fluffed her auburn hair, then stood quickly, throwing her hair back. After a quick adjustment with her bra (one of them had popped out in the crash), and she began walking, backward, her thumb raised, just a pretty girl in need of a ride.

Jameson awoke with a start, checked the clock, saw that it was 3:37am. His mouth was throbbing; he reckoned that was what had stirred him from slumber. Cautiously, he probed with his tongue, hoping to find whatever was causing him pain. Delicately, he found a soft, tender spot on the roof of his mouth, along the right side. He pushed the spot tenderly, and was repaid with a dull ache; whatever it was, it appeared to be subsiding. He shoved the sheets aside and padded to the bathroom, swallowed a couple aspirin, went back to bed, and forgot all about it.

Two nights later, he was again awakened by the phantom pain in his mouth. Poking around with his tongue, the tip settled on the same spot as before. This time, however, he felt something shift, as though trying to move away from him. Cautiously, he opened his mouth and inserted a finger, and applied light pressure to the spot. Again, it felt as though there were something just beneath the flesh, trying to shy away from the attention it was receiving. This time though, he felt a sharp prick on the tip of his finger, almost as if it had been stung. It hurt for a moment, then went numb.

“Bloody fucking hell,” he said to the empty bedroom, his voice ringing loudly in the darkness, much louder than it should have. He jammed another finger into his mouth, this time stabbing blindly at the roof of his mouth in search of whatever was in there. Feeling a slight, shifting bump under his finger, he pushed roughly against it, and heard a faint pok as though something had burst. Instantly, his tongue was flooded with a viscous fluid, acrid and rotten tasting.

Jameson sprung from the bed, his lips clamped together even as the bile rose in his throat and he sprinted for the bathroom, flinging up the toilet lid at the last possible moment, and spat into the bowl. Successful at having not throwing up, Jameson raised his head and inspected the effluvia, a dank, clotted, amber mess floating atop the water. Recoiling at the sight and smell of it, he raised his hands to his mouth while his tongue poked bout his soft palate. This time, it found several small, stiff bristles jutting out of the tissue and almost instantly, Jameson found himself engulfed in a rage, the likes of which he’d never experienced before.

His mind raced, filled with images of incredible violence and brutality, the type of things he’d typically shy away from, but now, now, there was a phantasmagorical orgy of awfulness in his head, and he found himself enjoying it in ways that made him extremely uncomfortable. The sensation passed as quickly as it had come on, leaving Jameson tired and confused. On shaky legs, he returned to bed. “What is happening to me,” he sighed, as sleep claimed the night.

“Open wide, Mr Jameson,” Doctor Shyne said. “I can see a bit of bruising up there, but not much…oh, my.”

“Wha? Oh ma wha?” Jameson attempted to ask.

With a steel dental probe in one hand and a small mirror in the other, the dentist examined the roof of Jameson’s mouth, which now appeared to be undulating, as though many things bumped and writhed just beneath the surface of the tissue. He found the bristles that his patient had complained of, and saw that they were moving, moving in such a way that…they’re legs, he thought to himself.

The dentist took a syringe from his instrument tray, which his assistant had already filled with Novocain. As the needle neared Jameson’s mouth, however, Dr Shyne felt resistance, as if an invisible hand were pushing him away. The more he tried, the harder the resistance until, with a frustrated sigh, he put the syringe down.

“Mr Jameson, I’m afraid we’ve done what we can,” he said, whilst pulling off his latex gloves. “We’ll check the x-rays in the morning and see what we may be dealing with. I’ll be in touch tomorrow.”

*****

Jameson was back in the examination chair, Dr Shyne and his assistant attending. Jameson always felt nervous in the presence of the assistant; she was young and rather attractive, in a way that made him ashamed to have dental problems, that this pretty girl might find a man of his age appealing if it weren’t for the occasional cavity or, now, this unknown thing that was happening.

Today, he could not help but notice that she had failed to fasten the topmost buttons on her top, revealing her small breasts in a most lascivious way, cupped ever so gently in their cradle of purple lace, the lusty color mocking the austerity of her smock, as Dr Shyne settled in next to him. The dentist looked harried, like he hadn’t slept well the night before; his shirt was wrinkled and stained, his breath reeking of alcohol, cigarettes, and mouthwash. Jameson found it odd that he had been strapped into the chair, when they’d never done that before.

“Alright then, let’s see what we have,” Shyne sighed wearily, as he hooked his fingers over Jameson’s top teeth with his right hand, and the bottom teeth with his left. With a grunt, he pulled the jaws apart, the pain incomprehensible as Jameson’s facial muscles tore apart, his jaw separating from his skull with a sound of bone against bone, tendons stretching and popping, while his mouth filled with blood. Too shocked to scream, Jameson struggled against the leather restraints, blood gurgling from the remains of his ruined face, as he felt his upper palate tear open and something…something, emerged.

Jameson’s mind simply stopped working when he attempted to understand that which he was seeing, this awful, grey, alien, insect-like thing rising from within himself, its skin or shell or whatever it was glistening sickly in the fluorescent light of the dental office. Arms, so many arms, unfolded from it, the thin sticks playing over the wreckage of his face, surely and steadily finding their way toward his eyes…

*****

Jameson sat bolt upright in bed, his chest heaving with exertion, his body slicked with sweat. Never in his life had he experienced a nightmare so terrifying, so real, as this. Hesitantly, he brought his hands to his face, and found that his jaw and teeth were indeed where they ought to be, that it had been a dream, just a really bad dream, that nothing of the sort had actually happened.

In the stillness of the night, Jameson heard a rustling, wet and faint, and a tickle at the back of his throat. Absentmindedly, his tongue moved to the roof of his mouth where, instead of the familiar landscape of his mouth’s roof, he felt a writhing mass of hard objects, shells, carapaces, and the tickle of impossibly thin appendages picking away at the flesh, digging under his teeth and casting the unnecessarily aside, the pain unimaginable as whatever it was began the laborious process of the next step of its evolution. Blood, bile, pus, unthinkable fluids dripped from the corner of Jameson’s slackened jaw, while his ears dimly registered the sound of his front door being kicked in, the rough wood splintering in much the way that his sanity was splintering, his eyes registering but not quite seeing the two men wearing black suits and surgical masks approach him boldly, drawing pistols from holsters hidden beneath their jackets.

“Mr Jameson,” one of the men said, his voice strong and resonant in the near darkness, “You are in possession of something that belongs to us, and we need to take it back.”

“Bah…don’ noe…” Jameson said, his throat thick with gore while the things inside him dug their way upward, feasting on his optic nerves while his eyes sank deeper into their sockets, the pressure causing them to burst, while the bugs, if that’s what they were, fell onto the sweet jelly that had once filled Jameson’s pale blue eyes and still, he didn’t scream, not even as the things, burrowed through that last barrier and into his brain. Through the initial breach they filed, heading off into different directions, following the ancient code to their appointed places and, as they did so, Jameson’s arms and legs began to twitch, slowly and clumsily at first, but with a rapidly growing efficiency, as his legs swung over the side of the bed and his body, those things that were now in control of it, stood him up on his feet.

Throughout it all, Jameson had maintained consciousness, as if this awareness were some gift bestowed upon him by the invaders. He could feel every bite they took of him, every hole they made, every bit they took away, he felt it all but was powerless to stop it, powerless even to speak. Though his eyes were gone, he could still see but now, instead of two men in front of him, he saw two hundred, a hundred doorways, a hundred hallway lights, and it vaguely reminded him of a film he had seen as a child, about a man who could see through the compound eyes of a housefly, but still he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t ask, plead, demand, that the men, these men who had broken into his home, please kill me, just kill me, please make it stop, make me dead, happily and oh so joyously dead…

The first of the men stared at the ruins of the man jerkily approaching him and calmly raised his pistol, and gently squeezed the trigger. The small-caliber bullet entered Jameson’s skull just above the eye socket, but did not exit, instead rattling and bouncing around inside the cranium until the body fell unceremoniously to the floor. Standing over the remains of Jameson, the men both put several more rounds into Jameson’s head, their eyes unblinking, showing no expression.

The chirp of a mobile phone interrupted the stillness, and the second man fished in his pocket for the device. Bringing it to his ear he listened, nodded, and spoke to his partner.

“Drop the match and let’s get out of here. There’s more hatching down the street.”

As the men departed Jameson’s house, the fire inside was gaining power, growing in strength and purifying intensity. It was going to be a long night.

Here. Click on this and buy my book. I am neither proud nor subtle.

Here. Click on this and buy my book. I am neither proud nor subtle.

“If you took equal parts John Steinbeck, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you’d get Michael LaPointe’s bastard lovechild, Unworthy.  This is a dark and brutal road trip into hell.  An unforgivingly savage story, elegantly told, Unworthy is, ultimately, an open-ended investigation into the nature of evil.  This novel is proof that horror fiction remains a vital part of our continuing effort to understand what makes us human.”
-Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Dog Days and Plague of the Undead

Hiya from the dark side of the beach; there’s cookies on the table. So, here’s the thing: Unworthy is finally available at Amazon. Much work remains to be done in the way of marketing, but now I have a place to point at and say, “There. Get it there.”

Thanks for sticking with me this far, so now let’s relax a bit and enjoy this thing. Except for me, because there’s much yet to be done. So you, you there, sit back, have a cookie, and commence to reading.

UnworthyBig day. Epic day. This crazy little journey that began five years ago is either over, or is just getting underway. Depends on your perspective, I guess. Anyway, the thing is this: my novel, Unworthy, is out, published, and available. This is one of those deep and quiet moments, sitting here in my den with Maggie at my feet and Thin Lizzy on the radio, when I realize that it’s actually done. I can’t go back and tweak and futz with the story.

The story will be available at Amazon in a couple of days; however, it is available now via the publisher. Click on the book cover at left to go get it!

See, here’s the thing, the thing that really means this is happening. I just uploaded my book to the formatter who will then, you know, format the story and then, it’s ready to go. Ready to go. Ready. To. Go.

Up until around right now, it’s all been rather abstract. Yes, I started and finished writing a story, although I still hesitate calling myself a writer because, well, I don’t know why. The polite small talk, the “Ah, I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” and “Oh, I have such a great story idea,” all of that stuff, it really didn’t impact me much. Kinda felt like I was pretending, especially when I have had trouble accurately describing the story to people. And finishing things isn’t exactly my strong suit, so there is that.

But now, now dammit, it’s real. It’s real because I started and finished it. It’s real because it’s finally out of my hands and in the system and after that, it will be available for people, strangers even, to buy and read. It’s real because eight years after he said it, my father’s suggestion (that I try writing for a living) is actually happening and damn, I wish I’d gotten there sooner so he could have seen it.  So, in a large sense, it’s over. All the planning and plotting, the scheming and scribbling, the whining and the yelling, is over. Over.

And now people I know and people I don’t know will be able to read it and judge me and my story and the way I chose to tell it. If that’s not reasonable grounds for a proper freakout, then I don’t know the meaning of the word.

I’ve spent nearly a year in an effort to get my first novel published; many highs, many lows. Some initial interest, and some mostly positive rejections. In the mix were a couple of total dick rejections, which I really don’t get. If the story wasn’t to your taste, so be it. Move on. You knew it wasn’t Young Adult sparkly vampires going in, so don’t sandbag me for it not turning out that way. Just…be nice. It’s rather easy. FYI, agents in the UK give the best rejection letters: very polite, often in good humor. Polite, in other words. Their stateside counterparts could take a page or two from their playbook. Onward.

The part of this that has been difficult, which really drained me, was submitting my beloved manuscript to strangers, and hoping they’d like it enough to offer me money and then subject me to their editors. My labor of love, that for which I shed blood, sweat and tears (attributed to hangnail, hot summer, and stubbed toe), while sometimes actually listening to Blood, Sweat and Tears, this weird story borne of some rotten personal experiences (current and former staff of that particular church I attended as a youth, be forever thankful I’ve chosen not to name you; drop to your knees and thank the god that protects people like you), and forged during some of the most stressful times of my life.

And the waiting. The interminable waiting, and everyone asking for updates – for which I’m thankful – but jeez, how the hell are we expected to continue our regular lives, knowing that at any moment (but probably not this one) that magical email might arrive, the message that will Change Everything. Day, after week, after month. Patience has never been my strength, and I’d like to believe that I have improved in this area, but knowing that I probably haven’t. I can’t imagine the old way, sending a printed manuscript via the mail then waiting, waiting, for the mailed response. I’m having palpitations just thinking about it.

Oh, and in the midst of this was the comedy over the title. But that’s been resolved, and I’ll announce it soon. But not today.

Through all of this, what I’ve dreaded is placing my future in someone else’s hands. So I’m not going to take that route after all. I’m going to do what I originally planned, and that is to self-publish. It’s become an actual thing, no longer the exclusive domain of the horribly un-publishable. The industry is changing, and an ever-growing number of agents and publishers are taking a closer, more serious look at self-pubbed books that chart well. And speaking of charting well, that’s down to me, and hopefully you as well. Which is to say, if you read my book and you like it, please tell people about it. Write a nice review at Amazon or iTunes or B&N; it would mean a lot to me. If you don’t like it and feel compelled to write a review, that would be awesome, too.

More than anything, I want to just get this story out there, out of my head, so I can start on the next one. So if you’ve come this far, give it a few more weeks. We’ll get there.

Buddy and Wanda Jean were on the road before dawn, tires kicking up a rooster tail of gravel that bounced off the side of the trailer, not that the occupants noticed, or were in any state to notice. No, Buddy had said, that boat done sailed, and there ain’t no coming back from where they’d sent them.

Wanda Jean smiled quietly in the pre-dawn light; the uninitiated observer might suggest her smile was one of sleepy serenity, and they would be about as wrong as tits on a turtle, as Buddy was fond of saying. No, Wanda Jean’s smile was one of deep satisfaction,  primal in its nature, as old and malignant as the comet that wiped them big old lizards off the face of the earth all those years ago.

Back in the trailer, in the pale light of the rising dawn, nothing stirred. Not yet, anyway – there would be maggots and flies soon enough, and eventually something bigger would force its way through the window screen and that’s when the party would really begin. The only sound from within the aluminum hovel were the sounds of rusty water dripping in the sink, and dark blood, dripping from the mouths and noses of Harley and Monster, as their bodies lay slumped against the cheap wood-paneled walls and the reeking, shag-carpeted floor. Dean was there too, but not nearly as…drippy as the others.

Several weeks before, the men had taken an interest in Wanda Jean, and once that happened, there wasn’t anything anyone could do but let them take what they claimed as theirs and hope there was something left afterward. Dean was the local sheriff, Harley his idiot brother, and Monster…well, Monster had drifted into town on an ill wind, and no one had the balls to send him back. When the boys get together and decided they wanted something, or someone, that’s all there was to it, and the devil help anyone who got in their way, because no god would have any part of it.

So they’d set their eyes on Wanda Jean; the defiant wiggle in her walk spoke of a rebellious nature, one that the boys wanted badly to break.

“That part of her right there,” Dean had been heard to say, “She holds her head up like she’s better’n the rest of us. I wanna break her heart and make her hate beautiful things. I wanna make her filthy with shame and disgusted at her reflection in the mirror. I aim to make her hurt.”

Harley and Monster agreed, and that led to Wanda Jean in the trailer last night. She’d shown up on time; their threats were enough to keep her from running, and besides, she had nowhere to run to. In her purse were the rocks, the crystal, they’d told her to bring. The boys liked to party, and they liked to party hard.

Wanda Jean was lucky; the boys were hard up to party, so they hit the meth first, before getting started on her. Wanda Jean knew they liked to snort the stuff, and so did her boyfriend, Buddy. Buddy knew that he couldn’t beat any of the men in a fair fight, knew they’d only treat his lady worse if he tried, so instead he had Dwayne cook up a special batch of rock for the boys.

Dean grabbed the bag from Wanda Jean, emptied it out on the coffee table, and began chopping it up with his long distance phone card while Harley leered at the girl, delighting in the fear visible on her face.

“God damn, this looks good!” Dean shouted as he set up three wide lines of powder. Each of the men bent over the table, hungrily snorting up the tweak like hogs at a trough. Dean waited a moment, enjoying the sight of his buddies enjoying the spread, and the anticipation of what was to come.

“Shit burns!” Harley said, braying laughter that sounded thunderous in the small single-wide.

Monster sat down heavily on the floor, his eyes wide. “Um…guys…” he stammered.

Dean looked at his friend on the floor; Monster’s breathing was deep, labored, as he sniffed, taking the dust deeper into his body. A thin trickle of blood ran from his nose.

Harley clapped his hands in joy as Monster leaned forward, blood now pouring from the larger man’s nose and mouth. On his hands and knees, Monster’s body convulsed and he vomited, a raging torrent of blackened blood and bile, while Harley kept clapping, clapping.

Then Harley’s laughter and applause abruptly ceased, as he found himself bleeding as well, his eyes suddenly widening in panic as he felt the same thing starting to happen with himself. Harley moaned, feeling as though someone were inside his gut, trying to punch and stab their way out. His lungs felt like they were filled with fire, each breath more painful than the last. Harley suddenly pitched forward, hands on the coffee table, as his stomach lurched violently, as if it were trying to escape through his throat. Harley suddenly erupted, disgorging a torrent of bile, blood, and tissue; upon seeing the result of sickness, Harley understood that his body was truly tearing itself to pieces and forcing him to puke it out. His stomach lurched again, and his bowels exploded as his final humiliation got underway. The foulness that came from his was unimaginable; the hot, sticky mess that used to be Harley’s colon slithered out of him, followed by a fusillade of feces and blood. As his body’s catastrophic failure wound toward its conclusion, Harley’s last coherent thought was of the girl, and wondering why she would be laughing.

And Wanda Jean was indeed laughing, despite the sickening horror being played out in front of her. Dean, who had snorted the meth last, was just beginning his short, painful trip to the next life, and had already pissed himself out of fear over what he had witnessed with Harley and Monster, who was now in a fetal position on the floor, ragged pieces of tissue hanging from his gaping mouth as his body continued ripping itself to shreds. His eyes wide with disbelief, he looked at the laughing girl.

“But…why?” he asked, his eyes filled with the naïve innocence of the very young and the very evil.

“Because, you stump-broke, hillbilly piece of shit, watchin’ you die is fuckin’ fun,” Wanda Jean laughed. “Looks like it fuckin’ hurts, too. Damn, you see that ol’ boy? He puked up his goddamn stomach!”

Dean’s eyes twitched over to Harley, his brother, as the younger man gasped in desperation, eyes wide, as his body instinctively attempted to breathe, not realizing that it was far past the point of needing air anymore. Dean began to cough, a pink spray coating his hand as Buddy’s lethal dose got to work.

“Oh, you’re in it now, Dean!” Wanda Jean said, clapping her hands joyfully. “You fellas ain’t gonna be beatin’ and a-rapin’ no one no more. Now, I’m gonna sit right here and watch you go through what them other boys went through, and then I’m gonna walking this fine young ass of mine right out of here and you know what? I’m gonna get away with killing all three of you sons of bitches. Now, what do y’all think of that?”

Dean was already incapable of responding; Wanda Jean knew this, but she’d rehearsed the speech and wanted to get it all out. She figured she’d earned the right, knowing what the boys had been planning to do to her. She sat on the edge of the couch and watched as Dean’s body went through the now-familiar motions, taking great delight in the agony of the man.

When it was over, Wanda Jean stood and tiptoed through the stinking mess left by the three men, her foot squishing wetly on the sodden carpet. She stopped next to Dean and bent over, hungrily licking away the red and black mess that had spattered his chin. She plucked a piece of gore from his collar and popped it into her mouth, purring contentedly.

Unable to control her desire, Wanda Jean fell onto the dead man, her teeth bared, and ripped into the still-warm flesh of his throat, noisily sucking up the wreckage with a hunger nameless and ancient. When all that remained was a desiccated husk, she belched contentedly and rose to her feet, wiping a ribbon of blood from her chin.

Sanguis tuus cœnam meam. Historia incipit iam,” she whispered quietly.

Wanda Jean paused a moment longer, deeply inhaling the stench of death, delighting in its delicate complexity, as she made her way to the door, which she kicked open. The trailer was set back away from the others, not that anyone would have reported what they’d heard. Everyone knew what went on in Harley’s trailer, and all were accustomed to turning the other way when the screaming started, finding any number of other things to do that would keep them from harm’s way.

Wanda Jean hopped into the passenger seat of Buddy’s Camaro, and flashed a smile at her waiting boyfriend.

“Come on darlin’, let’s get outta here,” she said happily.

“Did them ol’ boys like what I had made for ‘em?” Buddy asked.

“I can’t rightly say, honey bunny, they was rather speechless about it all.”

With a laugh, Buddy stomped the accelerator, kicking up a rooster tail of gravel at the dilapidated trailer as they sped off into the breaking light of a new day, just two kids out for adventure, and not a care in the world.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s. As far back as I can remember, I always loved movies, of which there was never a shortage back then, even though there was just a wee handful of channels. True, there are still movies on television today, but it’s different. Back in that time, much of entertainment programming was devoted to old movies; the studios rented their catalogs for pennies, and a great number of films were public domain, meaning no one owned the title and it cost the station nothing to broadcast it. To simply run a movie, or even a string of movies, however, often wasn’t enough. In the old days (because I realize I’m starting to sound like one of those old guys who sits forlornly on a park bench, pulling a bag of bread crumbs from my Members Only jacket and feeding the pigeons that aren’t even there anymore, but in the old days there were lots of pigeons, and those pigeons were badasses, I tell you what), we had regional television, meaning that we had the Big Three (DuMont was gone by that point), and then a bunch of local stations and, come to think of it, the Big Three were really only the Big Three during prime time. The rest of the time, they were just local stations. And with those local stations came the local personalities.

I am totally not making this up.

I am totally not making this up.

Arguably the more bizarre station of the era was Channel 36 (originally KGSC, Stockton, now KICU, San Jose), whose on-air spokesperson was Carol Doda, the spectacularly knockered stripper whose home was the famous Condor Club in San Francisco’s infamous North Beach district. Dressed provocatively, her breathless declaration that we were watching “The Perfect 36” without a trace of irony remains a punchline well-remembered by all who lived in the Valley at the time, albeit usually in the form of “That really happened, right?” -type conversations, within the framework of the type of fuzzy nostalgia usually brought on by beers with old friends. That’s Santa Clara Valley, by the way, not Silicon Valley. That mess came later.

Just in case there was anyone left who wasn't offended by the stripper, the bullfights, and the Mexican wrestling.

Just in case there was anyone left who wasn’t offended by the stripper, the bullfights, and the Mexican wrestling.

Steadfastly politically incorrect, Channel 36 featured bullfights from Mexico City on Saturdays, usually followed by the unbridled awesomeness of Mexican wrestling.  And if all that weren’t enough, there was Gary Ferry, a mainstay of local television, whose niche was hosting movies, first on The Old Sourdough and Wachikanoka where, dressed in Indian attire, he would host old westerns with Andy Moore and enjoyed a degree of cult celebrity. A later show, called Race Street and Bascom Avenue featured Gary playing Race, and Andy playing Bascom, which was and, to the best of my knowledge, still is, an actual intersection in San Jose. So the gag works on two levels. The format for these hosted movie shows was that of similar shows across the country: a little banter to open the show, a few segments during the movie, and then a wrap-up at the end. Later, Gary would host Movies All Night, this time as himself, the spokesman for MMM Carpet in San Jose. A personal high-water mark for this writer would be getting permission from Mom and Dad to actually stay up all night for a Marx Brothers marathon at the tender age of ten, and a feat I came very close to pulling off, having fallen asleep around dawn during the final movie, the lamentable The Big Store. Sadly, we lost Gary back in 2009, although I did have the good fortune to have met him in the mid 1980s, and thanked him for his years of entertaining service.

You have no idea how close to tears this photo brings me.

You have no idea how close to tears this photo brings me.

As much fun as Channel 36 was, we had another channel, KTVU Channel 2 from Oakland, which had the twin powers of broadcasting giants Pat McCormick and Bob Wilkins. McCormick was the host of the local Dialing For Dollars show, which ran on weekday mornings, first with a movie and later with a two-hour block of sitcom repeats. Pat was a local television mainstay, and his greatest contribution, by his own admission, was in a series of short videos starring his puppets Charley and Humphrey, with quick lessons on such varied subjects as kittens, hostility, and boating safety. Pat also hosted the local (Oakland / San Francisco) portions of the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon, while Channel 36 handled the San Jose segments which were predictably surreal, known to feature appearances by octogenarian tap dancers and Elvis fan clubs. These were interesting times.

Bob.

Bob.

At the top of the regional television pantheon, however, stood a broadcasting legend, the host of KTVU’s Creature Features, Bob Wilkins. Bob, unlike virtually every other horror movie host, did not dress in costume, wore no strange makeup, and for the most part played it straight. With his yellow rocking chair and ever-present cigar, Bob’s non-terrifying appearance and gentle ribbing of the often terrible films he presented endeared him to every horror nerd, young and old, who watched the show. And we watched religiously, because Creature Features was also our primary source for nerd info in a pre-internets world. When Dad was working the night shift, Mom and I would stay up and wait for him, watching Creature Features to pass the time; this was when I learned that being scared can sometimes be a lot of fun. The first time I saw Night of the Living Dead, the movie that had actually freaked out my un-freakoutable father, was on Creature Features. The first time I saw clips of a new movie called Star Wars, was on Creature Features. No form of media had a greater impact on my love of horror and science fiction movies than Creature Features.

So okay, nice trip down Memory Lane, but what does it mean? I don’t know, maybe nothing. Then again, maybe something. What we have now is nice, be it satellite or cable, but what we’re missing is a sense of community identity, an interconnectedness that was part and parcel of growing up in a time and a place that was different than others. Not better – not by a far shot – just different. A feeling that there were other movie nerds up late watching along with you, separated physically but connected through the shared experience. Moreover, the people we watched on TV weren’t necessarily professionals; the shows were extremely low-budget, the camera work was questionable, and the jokes as stale as Bob Wilkins’ cigar smoke as Saturday night became Sunday morning. These endearing qualities connected us with the hosts, like we were sitting in our weird uncle’s converted garage/rumpus room. I realize now, years later, that the late-night and all-night movie shows weren’t live, that they were recorded during the day and broadcast later, but that really doesn’t diminish the effect. None of us were in possession of VCRs yet, so even though the shows weren’t broadcast live, the audience was watching live.   When I left the Bay Area, nearly twenty years ago, KTVU was showing Will & Grace reruns in the old Creature Features time slot. Channel 36 has since merged with KTVU and both run paid programming commercials all night. Bob Wilkins and Gary Ferry both passed away in 2009, and Pat McCormick has retired, and those of us who grew up then, who came of age then, we have lost a bit of that small-town feeling we once had when life was simpler.

And that, I guess, concludes our broadcast day.

rejection-300x200“Good horror fiction deals with taboos. It must always go to the limits of what is acceptable. To that extent, paradoxically, you should be prepared to be rejected as an artist, because you’re dealing with areas that people don’t often admit to, and at the same time you have to be aware that you have to use your skills as an artist in order to wrench from material which is graphic, or brutal, or stomach-churning, subtext and resonance which is subtle and – I hope – optimistic.” 

So says Clive Barker, whose words showed up on my Facebook feed yesterday. The timing could not have been better, and as I let the words sink in, I began to see the absolute truth in what he had to say. Barker has created entire worlds of weirdness, and a style of horror that, to me, harkens back to Lovecraft. Yes, they’re different; Lovecraft would expend energy into vague descriptions of the indescribable, while Barker never shies away from the glistening awfulness of his creations. Anyway, all that to say that Mr Barker must have had his fair share of rejection letters.

Thus far, I’ve had four. Two were likely professional copy/paste, one was arrogant, and one was just awesome. The good one was from an agent in London, who remarked, “I thought this was really promising, but I do think you’d be better off with a US agent in the first instance – I’m sure someone will snap you up.”

How bloody wonderful was that? How much more time did it take to draft a rejection steeped in human decency?

I’m not whining. I knew that when I decided to take this approach that there would be rejections, and that what matters isn’t how many have said no, but rather it’s the one who says yes. My story is nowhere near what Barker puts out; mine is a fairly simple, straightforward story, rooted right here in the US, and its varied elements make it a uniquely American story. I do believe that I have wrenched a series of brutal truths from our collective human experience, with a lingering subtext and yes, there is an underlying optimism that will hopefully resonate with the reader. A trusted colleague has read the manuscript, and had this to say:

“The amalgamation of Southern Gothic and stark contemporary horror was fascinating and beautiful. Pathos and sympathy are tools with which you masterfully change alliances and favours; with the aggressors becoming victims, and victims becoming aggressors. 

It’s a fabulous three act novel, with a flow and structure so flawless, that it serves to highlight the vast quantities of time, thought and effort which have gone into it. It’s brutal, it’s moving and it’s superbly imaginative. Each character is as vital to the plot as the next, all of them incredibly well thought out, believable and varied.”
So, there’s that. I reflect on the above comments daily; they give me hope, and remind me that the harder road can also be the most rewarding. Were it not for the unwavering support and enthusiasm of friends and family, this endeavor would be unbelievably difficult, if not well nigh impossible.
Here’s to another day spent in pursuit of representation, and that most elusive of the holiest of grails, a paycheck.