Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

hornIt was doomed from the start, man. There had been six of us, and we were the masters of the universe, bulletproof and straight up gangster. You know the names already. What matters, what you have to understand, is that when we started that thing, we meant to do good. To be good, and to inspire others to do good, too.

We wanted what everyone else wants: respect, friends, love. We wanted to take the love to the people, to show them that there was nothing to fear, no reason to hide, that we weren’t the monsters so many of them thought we were. And for a while, it worked.

I was the face of the movement. I never bought into the whole ‘Sad Clown’ mindset; I felt that this life of mine should reflect the joy, the gleeful chaos that ensued whenever I walked into the tent. That’s what I was all about. Fucking joy, even if I wasn’t always feeling it. So there’s my mug, all happy smiles and arched eyebrows, bald cap over a bright green monk’s cowl. You know me. You’ve seen the posters and I know you watch the news.

So we would assemble, faces already in place, and we’d go in to the hospitals. Find the terminal kids and give them some laughs. That’s what most of us did, anyway. Captain Fancypants and Sparkles would slip away and find the place where they kept the good drugs, the serious narcotics, locked up. It’s not like it is now; in those days, it was just a closet, sometimes marked, sometimes not. Moe had huge pockets inside those baggy pants of his, and that son of a bitch could empty a pharmacy in seconds flat. By the time the pharmacist realized they’d been hit, we were already down the road and besides, who’d suspect a clown?

Then, and this is the important part, we’d take the drugs to the people who needed it. Not the junkies or the dealers, but the good people who were in serious pain and couldn’t afford a hospital visit or a costly prescription. Yes, we stole, but we did good with it. So much good. The problem is that the more we saw of the people in need, the angrier we got with those who held the purse strings, who kept the stuff out of the hands of the needy and in the hands of the entitled. We were like Robin Hood, but with rubber chickens instead of bow and arrow.

We eventually came to realize that the hospitals were small potatoes, that if we really wanted to make a difference, we’d have to hit the manufacturing facilities where the meds were made. So that’s what we did. I won’t bore you with the details of the plan, but it was brilliant. I thought it was, at least.

We hit the plant at midnight, figuring no one would be there. We were clowns, for Christ’s sake; what did we know about security at major pharmaceutical companies? Basic tools, nothing else, aside from the duffel bags. I had no idea that Twitch brought explosives, or why. What the fuck, why bring bangers on a night raid? I thought he’d left that behind in favor of Clown Life. Twitch always had that nervous energy about him, even when he was in makeup. Edgy, like an electrical current was running through him. So we break in through a side door, find our way to manufacturing and holy shit, there are mountains of boxes of pills, everything you could imagine, and a ton more that you couldn’t. I head straight for the antibiotics, knowing that there were folks up in the hills who needed them badly, so badly.

Working quickly, we filled our pockets and bags while Bananahead kept a lookout. The thing was, we didn’t know there was a night watchman. It wasn’t his fault. I didn’t think it was our fault either, but I know better now. These guys come through the door with flashlights in hand, maybe with guns drawn or maybe not, and the whole damn thing went sideways. Bananahead loses his shit and starts yelling about power to the people and fuck the system, like we’re the goddamn Weathermen or something, despite us all being in our goddamn clown suits. The guards didn’t know what the hell to do. They were laughing, but at the same time they knew something was wrong because it’s the middle of the damn night in a drug company warehouse and there’s five goddamn clowns screaming at him, screaming at each other, and then one of the clowns pulls a giant lighter out of his pants and sparks the fuse on a stick of dynamite and next thing you know, there’s blood all over the place and the night is wrecked, just fucking wrecked. It’s gone to shit, like Reservoir Dogs in greasepaint.

We’re standing there in a daze, and the poor security guards are dead, so obviously and violently dead, and scattered all over the place, Bananahead is covered in blood and gore, and Captain Fancypants is sitting on the floor, head in hands, weeping and sobbing like a baby and next thing I know, the night is filled with the screaming of sirens. The door is kicked in and suddenly Twitch is just gone, his head explodes in a spray of pink and red, and Sparkles is thrown backward by the force of a shotgun blast and then it’s just me, all the rest are dead, and all the guns are pointed at me, and they’re all shouting and all I can do is stand there, shit-the-pants terrified, but this goddamn smile painted on my face makes them think I’m getting off on this and I’m shouting and they’re shouting, and when I try to take a step my shoe squeaks and I slip in a puddle of someone’s blood and land on my ass, which sets off the whoopee cushion and I realize then that it’s all over, that my life’s work is ended, my passion dead, because of this.This hopeless, stupid mess.

I wanted to help people. I wanted to spread laughter and hope. I’m lost. My friends are dead, and I’m going to prison for a long time, the big vacation, and for a moment, everything stops and I’m reminded what my old friend and mentor, Dingles, told me, so many years ago.

“Kid, no matter what you do,” he said, dead serious with the stink of grain alcohol on his breath. “Don’t ever do no shit that’ll end you up behind bars. Bad things happen to a clown in jail. Permanent things, awful things. Trust me, I know.” He had shivered at the recollection, and a silent tear had slid down his painted face. He didn’t think people could see when he cried, and most couldn’t. But I could, every goddamn time. No one hurts quite like a clown.

I can’t go to prison, I know I won’t survive, that no mercy is shown for Red Nosers like me. I have no choice, this is my destiny, right here, right now. I say when is when and enough is enough. Looking back, I never had a chance; this life, clown life, chose me from the very start. This is who I am, what I am. I pull my knife and slash my own throat, real fast. The spray erupts from me like seltzer from a bottle. As the life drains out of me, I hear the cops laughing.

Life is good.

happiness-07All along the boardwalk, happy people and happy families wandered, enjoying the warm late summer sunshine that carried with it the faint but unmistakable light of the approaching autumn. The air was saturated with the smell of corn dogs and soft pretzels, and children scampered around their parents, playfully shrieking with the sense of unfettered freedom that only comes with the very young, a freedom that would be lost soon enough to the vagaries of adulthood. The parents knew this, as all adults do, and quietly mourned the loss of innocence that would one day fall upon their children, as surely as it had fallen upon them.

Music rang out softly from cleverly concealed speakers; 70s pop from bands whose names few remembered, but lyrics everyone knew, their contagious catchiness declaring with anthemic earnestness that happiness was only a heartbeat away, just one more kiss away, that her magical spell was working so well, and that all would be right on a Saturday night. A slight breeze off the ocean wafted past the revelers as they took in the sights and the sounds of one last weekend before the weather turned.

The town’s autumns were its best kept secret; known locally as “Second Summer,” it was the delicate span of two to three weeks after labor day, when all the tourists had gone back home, and the town again belonged to those who lived and worked there. The pace slowed, rules relaxed a bit, and a cheerful glow enveloped the strand along the beach. This was the time in which, as if by communal agreement, nothing happened, as per the unwritten code of the tourist towns across the country. In the absence of Them, all that remained was Us.

Hands held, arms around waists, moving at a pace that spoke of neither hurry nor worry, everyone just happy and content to be here, to be sharing the quiet joy of Fall, and even if something was lightly fouling the air, a faint whiff of what, decay maybe, it would pass soon enough and be as quickly forgotten. Except that to some, the smell was growing stronger, more pungent. More wrong.

A gasp arose from somewhere in the crowd, the sound repeating as others turned to see, a susurration of shock whose echo grew louder, instead of diminishing. Children cried, their mothers and fathers drawing them close with iron-gripped hands, shielding their eyes from what they had already seen, could never un-see, their childhoods crashing down around them like milk bottles in a rigged carnival game. The throng of people parted, not unlike the Red Sea, at the sight of the woman among them.

The woman, if she could even be called that anymore.

She staggered along the promenade, this ruined wreck of a human being, oblivious to the multitude staring at her. Barefoot, shambling toward an unknown destination, each step leaving a bloody smear on the ground, gangrenous toes the dark purple-green of putrefaction, the hem of her tattered sweatpants as filthy as the feet beneath them, the knees torn through and crusted with dried blood, suggesting a lifetime spent on her knees; a torn, sleeveless cardigan hung open, making no secret of the nakedness behind it, the awful, shameless bruising and open sores weeping sickly yellow pus and blood, and the arms, the terrible arms with countless scratches and scars, suggesting that she might have been a cutter, but even worse, much worse than that, were the blackened track marks that flowed down from the crooks of each arm, the wounds that had never closed, homemade tattoos unidentifiable now but staining the flesh for ever more.

But the left arm, it must have been a trick of the light, certainly that if nothing else, because the left forearm…the skin was rotting away, the radius and ulna brownish-white and exposed like a dirty secret for all the world to see, ragged flaps of desiccated skin and tendons hanging loosely, hardly any meat to cling to, just empty air, the hand, if indeed it was a hand, flopping limply at her side and wrapped in a towel soiled and dripping, no tissue to give it life, to give it motion. As the horror of the arm attempted to lodge itself in the minds of those who saw it, they were powerless as their eyes went to her face, which was perhaps the worst of all.

Her hair, which may once have been strawberry blond, was a dirty, matted mess, hanging in her face, but not enough to cover it, not nearly enough, for her face was a tattered roadmap of self-hatred and abuse of many types. Blood vessels had bust like fireworks in one eye, leaving the sclera red and angry, while the other eye, its pupil dilated, wandered about, searching everything, focusing on nothing, blood leaking like awful tears from the depths of a hell beyond comprehension, her nose partially eaten away, scarcely more than a diseased crater in the middle of her face, yellow-green snot hanging in thick ropes, her occasional sniffles doing nothing to stem the tide of mucus running into and out of the hole where once had been a mouth, where once had been strong, white teeth, but now was home to rotting, ragged stumps of black and brown, lips chewed to shreds as though incredible pain had been sustained.

Her shoulders slumped, betraying any sense of height, and such was her appearance that her own mother, had she been there that day, would have failed to recognize her. The woman’s ruination was so complete, so absolute, that nothing of her humanity remained. Dragging a leprous foot behind her, she slouched onward, humming a song to herself, a discordant but familiar tune, so quietly that none of those nearest her, who cleared a broad path, could have heard it. Had they chanced approaching this malignant, walking nightmare, they might have learned something about her, but none there on that awful day were willing to cross the line between caution and foolishness which, as it turned out, made no difference whatsoever.

The sniffling got louder and she stopped in her tracks, body shuddering and trembling as though current was passing through it. Suddenly, explosively, she sneezed, the force of it doubling her over and as phlegm spattered the horrified faces around her, the sneeze caused her to violently void her bowels, a vile torrent of toxic shit staining her pants and cascading down her leg.

Screams erupted as those covered in her mess caught the smell, as though all they had seen had been abstract until they were spattered in her filth, that they were shocked back into reality. As the people scattered and ran, frantically clutching their children, the woman coughed slightly and pitched forward, her swollen, distended abdomen disgorging an impossible amount of black bile onto the ground, her face landing in the puddle of vomit. With death, the last of her muscles gave way, and a reeking lake of dark waste soon surrounded her, her wretched destruction complete.

In the distance, a siren wailed. By the time paramedics arrived on the scene, the woman’s purpose had been served; the poison that had exploded from her orifices and leaked from her pores, had reached nearly every soul on the boardwalk with absolute efficiency.

It had begun.

Black-and-white-forest-1024x640She came awake gradual, eyes fluttering open lazily, confused to find herself standing, rather than lying down. She breathed deep, taking in the rich smell of earth, and this more than anything brought her to wakefulness. Not really standing, but upright, vertical, with dirt beneath and on all sides of her. The hole in which she stood was small enough that her knees hit the side and prevented her from sliding down. Checking quickly, she found herself naked, the soil soft and cold beneath her feet. She craned her neck, saw nothing but darkness overheard. She knew that up there, somewhere, was the sheet of plywood that kept this makeshift tomb closed. High enough that she couldn’t reach it, might as well be high as the moon for all it mattered.

She worked to fight the fear that was kindling in her heart, knowing that eventually she would be pulled out, roughly. This was the story she’d heard countless times, the story she’d told around so many childhood campfires, delighting in the thrill of the story, so long as it was happening to someone else, the friend of a friend, or the cousin of someone down the holler, not even caring if the story was true, secretly hoping it wasn’t but she knew, everyone knew, that sometimes folks went missing and they had to end up somewhere, and this was that place, that awful place, where bones hung from trees and the wind made them sing and ain’t no one ever come back from that.

She could feel the walls pressing against her; breath quickening and not a sliver of light to be found in the darkness surrounding her. She could smell the richness of the earth beside and beneath her, could hear the things that crawled and slithered through the soil, sightless in the eternal dark. Packed earth, cold and mean, compressed against her as she clawed, desperately, trying to climb through it, even as her frantic scrabbling brought rivulets of dirt down upon her, raining down into her eyes, her open mouth, tasting it on her tongue as panicked reality constricted her chest, straining her already overworked lungs, blood vessels and capillaries in full flow as adrenaline coursed through her veins, desperation taking the place of reason, bleak resignation not yet lurking on the near horizon.

She tried to slow her breathing, to take control of this most desperate situation, believing beyond reason that she could fix this, make it better somehow, make it all better, if only she could slow down and breathe. Little by little, she could feel herself relaxing, her respiration deeper now, less shallow, as she fought the greasy slick of terror that had settled in her mind.

She felt herself becoming lightheaded, and that’s all it took.

Being lightheaded meant suffocation, that much she knew, and the panic came raging back, a crazed bull rampaging through her chest, hammering against her battered ribcage, setting off another adrenal surge, more vicious this time, demanding its due like a demon rooked in a bad deal. Frenzied, she renewed her clawing at the dirt, determined to get out of this crypt, or die trying.

Heart beating so hard she heard it in her ears, she felt a fingernail crack and break as she dug frantically at her earthen tomb, the sheet of plywood too far overhead to reach, knowing that even if she could touch it, too much weight sat upon it to be moved. The narrowness of the hole pushed her into full panic, as small flashes of light sparkled like distant fireworks on the periphery of her vision. I’m dying, she thought to herself calmly, curiously, without emotion. The very thought was a crooked comfort, a sly, winking con man of a thought, the promise of salvation at a price because there was always a price, you goddamn well better believe it, but dying also meant release, not just from this damnable life, but from the daily reminders of choices made poorly and failures too many to number.

I’m dying.

And as it will, the acceptance of this simple fact caused the panic to ebb, subsiding like the tide on a distant shore, rolling back to the sea.

She was dying, her grave already dug, weary tears of understanding tracing clean lines down her filthy cheeks, which inexplicably turned upward in a graceful, grateful smile. This was the end, the end of everything, and she knew without knowing that her grave would go unmarked, that none would come to mourn, but the pain would be over, and that was worth everything. It didn’t matter, she would die as she had lived, filthy and unloved, stripped of warmth, denied happiness, and bereft of simple human dignity. She welcomed Death with weary arms and a loving heart, happy to be shut of all pain and heartache the world had put on her, that she had invited upon herself.

I’m dying, thank God.

storyWell, here we are again. Another year over and done, and a brand, spankin’ new one just ripe and ready for the plucking. Or so it would seem. Honestly, I’m just happy to see 2015 in the rear view mirror. It wasn’t a terrible year, but it was overstaying its welcome by around September. And now we prepare to take another trip around the sun, 2016 promises to be a good year, to eat all its vegetables, and to not make too much of a stink over an upcoming, dreaded milestone.

So yeah, I took a few months off, because I found myself at a point in which I felt I had little of value to say. Do I now? I dunno, but I feel like writing again so, you know, there’s that. And there’s also a renewed sense of purpose and direction, fueled by encouragement. Who’d have thought?

I was looking at my overall sales for Unworthy, and found that it’s doing some business. I’ve sold copies in the UK and Australia, which just has me shaking my head in disbelief and happiness. For such a uniquely American story, I guess there are some themes and ideas that cross the various cultures. And while neither Mr Fincher nor Mr Zombie have yet reached out for the film rights, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time, yeah?

I digress.

I’ve begun work on a new novel, and I’m pretty stoked about it. While I’m far too superstitious to give up the title or what it’s about just yet, I will say that this will be a far more personal story, and I can already see that we’re going to be swimming in some very dark waters (sorry Mom, I’m just wired this way).

So stick around, won’t ya? I promise I’ll be better at keeping in touch (like we’ve never heard that before), have some updates along the way, an excerpt or two, and maybe even some awesome news.

Stay sick, and keep reading scary stories. And hey, if you’re reading this and happen to have read Unworthy, drop me a line or leave a review, would ya? We’d sure appreciate it.

Cellar LightWe had to put Gramma in the cellar. We told ourselves it was for her safety, which was easier than admitting it was for our own.

Her ‘spells’ had been coming on more often, and with greater…passion. I guess that’s the word for it. There was no talking to her then, once she got it in her head that she was, well, once she got it in her head, is all.

We’d considered the attic, but there were too many chances for problems. She could have fallen or jumped out a window. Neighbors (not that there were many left) could have seen her up there and called the authorities, in some noble but misguided effort to help a crazy old lady they didn’t understand. And honestly, the noise wasn’t as bad when she was in the cellar. Call it callous, call it selfish, but you don’t understand. You can’t understand.

So yes, we decided, as a family, to put her down there. Because we couldn’t control her anymore. Because we love her. Because we deserve some goddamn peace. How the hell were we supposed to know what would happen? I built a bed, a solid pine bed, just for her. I sank the posts two feet deep into the earth of the cellar, so she couldn’t move it around. We put down a nice rug and made sure no drafts could get in.

She wanted her candles, but we knew better. Pa ran some basic electric down there, so she could have light to read her Reader’s Digest and bible stories, and we made sure to take her meals down every day. A hefty lock on the door helped us sleep at night. Routine settled in.

Days turned to weeks, then months and seasons rolled by, and we almost began to believe we were a normal family again. Except when Gramma had one of her spells. During those times, Pa and I dutifully took the van for the four-hour round trip up to the city, to fetch a playmate for Gramma. A playmate, for God’s sake. There wasn’t enough craziness in our heads to call it what it really was, and that’s saying a hell of a lot. Because it was the crazy that kept us afloat, kept us from coming completely unglued, kept us from calling the authorities, kept us from admitting that we were doing bad things. Really bad things.

That’s the power of family: It kept you doing things you knew were wrong, knew were bad, because there’s this bond that says family is more important than anything else. So you abide, and God only knows the depths to which you’ll sink to preserve that goddamn bond, even if it drives you to do the Devil’s work. Damn our souls.

So yeah, we took the van to town, and cruised skid row, looking for some poor drunk with one foot already in the grave. It’s a public service, we’d tell ourselves in the quiet, dark parts of the night. We’re helping those poor souls on the road to salvation. Because what they had to endure, we desperately hoped God would show them mercy, just as we knew He would have no mercy on us. We deserved no mercy, no salvation; we’d damned ourselves from the outset, booked our passage to hell because of family.

Gramma had come from the old country, making the passage across the ocean in the windowless hold of a wooden ship, with hundreds of others, all piled atop one another, with not enough room for all to sleep at the same time, taking shifts standing while others lay on raised planks, the floor covered in vomit, piss, and shit, all for the sake of escaping to the Promised Land, enduring Hell on earth as shipmates died from exposure, pneumonia, infection, beatings, and God knows what else, while those that lived choked on the stench of death and sewage in the hot, rolling chaos of the ship’s steerage hold. Food was scarce, causing some to shatter long-held taboos out of desperation.

Occasionally, a mate would open a hatch in the deck, allowing sunlight to stream in, fresh sea air mingling with the unspeakable reek emanating from below deck. When land was finally sighted, the dead were gathered up and unceremoniously dumped overboard, their tattered clothing and meager possessions long gone to the wretched horde, half-insane in the darkness of the hold.

Out of this waking nightmare came Gramma, not knowing that even then she was carrying the sickness in her gut like a despised parasite. Even at her tender young age, she came out of the darkness and brought with her a viciousness that few would ever live to see, and fewer still would ever believe.

Gramma, in her better days, would tell us her story, over and over, like a record stuck in a groove, as though we’d never heard it before, wanting us to understand the sacrifices she’d made, the things she’d had to do, to provide for us, to give us a chance in this place. To make us understand that we were beholden to her, forevermore.

So Pa and I would find a lost soul and bring it home. Send it down the cellar stairs, where we assured it that there would be food and drink, and a warm, safe bed. Our challenge was to get the door closed and bolted before the screaming started. Before the wet, tearing sounds found their way to our ears and burrowed into our souls, an ironclad guarantee of a sleepless night, fraught with images best left to a slaughterhouse.

Later, after Gramma’s hunger was sated and she was asleep, we would descend the stairs with the buckets and clean up what remained, thankful for the earthen floor of the cellar, into which the blood and other fluids had seeped, which fed an army of beetles and worms that kept Gramma fed and satisfied until the next time she had one of her spells.

I tried not to look at Gramma; we’d given up on trying to keep her clothed ages ago. Anything we tried to put on her would end up stained and shredded, as though the fabric on her skin was a sacrilege she couldn’t abide. The sight of her, covered in sores and filth, made my heart ache, despite the monstrous things she did. Her skin sagged, a testament to her years, its elasticity long since lost to the brutality of gravity and time. She stank of a dangerous musk that ran deeper than simply an aversion to bathing; though alive, a pervasiveness of decay floated about her like a dark and awful cloud. Stray teeth, blackened and jagged, glistened when she licked them with the remains of her tongue, chewed upon so much and so often that it had given up any hope of regrowth.

The madness of Gramma had forced Ma to flee while I was still a child, her teary eyes beseeching us to run with her, far from the grasp of Gramma, all the while knowing we would never, could never, leave her, not until the old woman died, which wasn’t going to happen any time soon. She’d already passed her one hundredth birthday, and seemed hell-bent on outliving all of us, despite the sickness that had ravaged her brain.

Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop her, short of a silver bullet,” Ma had wept, her breath hitching in her chest on that last night, rain coursing down her face as she stood in the doorway, taxi idling a few yards away. I remember her eyes then, soft and pleading, heartbroken and miserable, hating herself for the abandonment, but determined not to fall under the wheels of this inherited madness.

Those words resonated in my mind down the years that followed, as I scoured the land around our property for metals, slowly finding bits and pieces of what I sought, knowing that I could simply steal what I needed, but knowing too that, despite all the wrong I had done for the sake of Gramma, I couldn’t do the one wrong that might deliver us from her. By and by, I’d put together enough to melt down, the last of it coming from a small crucifix I’d found on the roadside, its tiny Christ shedding tears of pain and joy in his last torturous hours on this earth. I shaped the blob of metal carefully, burning my fingers time and again as I bled to make it absolutely perfect, leaving part of myself in it, as if a sacrifice was demanded as a means to this particular end. I carefully tapped the slug into a brass casing, already set with gunpowder and primer in place.

While Pa slept fitfully upstairs, I retrieved his rifle from the hiding place he didn’t know I knew about, and made for the cellar. Before opening the door, I racked my bullet into the chamber. I descended the stairs carefully and quietly, so as not to disturb Gramma.

Who is that?” she grunted, her words slurred, as if she weren’t accustomed to using the language, instead recalling it from distant memory.

It’s me, Gramma,” I said quietly, keeping myself in the shadows, hoping she wouldn’t see the rifle or, at the very least, not know what it was. “Just come down to tell you we’re making dinner. It’ll be here soon.”

You’re a good boy, Henry,” she said, her voice taking on a timbre and tone that I’d not heard in ages, sounding much like it did before she got so bad. Through my tears, I knew it was a trick of my mind, not to be taken seriously or given any semblance of meaning. Because while I knew I was doing the right thing, there was a still, small voice inside of me that thought I was doing bad, committing evil, despite the evil I sought to put down.

You abide by family no matter what, the voice said. At the end of it, family’s all you have. This was Gramma’s voice, echoing down the years. I knew its refrain by heart, and yet it caused tears to well up in my eyes as I shouldered the rifle.

I love you, Gramma,” I said quietly, my teary eyes sighting down the barrel, my finger on the trigger. I gently squeezed the trigger, just as I’d been taught.

The shot rang huge in my ears as the rifle’s recoil slammed it into my shoulder, instantly numb and deaf. Gramma slumped against the wall of the cellar, legs askew with no inclination toward modesty, the right side of her head blown to vapor, and I watched the last dim light leave her cataract-clouded eyes. A voice from the doorway above broke the silence.

You did good, son,” Pa said, his voice calm, without a trace of judgment or sorrow.

I watched our house burn from the rear window of the van as we drove away, into the cold light of a new day, the road stretched out in front of us.

Somewhere out there, I knew, Ma waited for us.

Okay look, I know I said I’d write, and the cold fact is that I didn’t.

I’m sorry.

There were the holidays, then my car took its final dive and that had to be dealt with and, you know, life sorta got in the way. In the midst of everything, I found I was being psycho-stalked on another social media platform, while getting nasty notes through WordPress, and that sort of thing…well…it hurt a bit, particularly since it was coming from people I know. Yes, they were hiding behind fake names and other faces, but really, it was idiotically simple to track it to them. Anyway, I’m not popping in to fan the flames of anger in the fragile minds of bitter trolls, so it ends here. Onward and upward.

The happy news is that Unworthy is selling. People are buying it, and while it hasn’t immediately swept the planet as I’d quietly hoped, people are reading it and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. For that, I am profoundly appreciative, and encouraged to continue with this writing thing.

I’ve begun research and writing on a new novel; I have no idea how long it will take, but I know that I want to take my time to treat the subject matter with the appropriate respect that it deserves. A while back, I posted a short piece called The Temple, and the novel will be a continuation of that. I’m really excited about it and even have a title but I’m not ready to talk more about it at this point. Suffice it to say, the main theme is something to which my generation has had an enormous amount exposure, with which many of us are sadly, intimately familiar.

Yes, it will be another horror story, because that’s the genre I love, and the area which best suits the things I want to say. I know that not everyone likes horror, and that’s okay. I just want to say the things I think are important and hope that it connects with whoever takes the chance and reads it.

To those who have read Unworthy: Thank you. Seriously, thank you. If you liked it, if it spoke to you, do me a favor and tell someone. Write a review at the site where you bought it, even if it’s just a few lines, because it matters. It really does.

So that’s the news from here. Nothing earth-shaking, but I’m okay with that. Take good care.

See you on the dark side.

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.

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.