Archive for Demons

Autumn Fragment: CROSSROADS

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Autumn comes upon us tomorrow – here is a piece of a story called CROSSROADS, about a group of bored kids who occupy themselves with a dangerous, demonic game. It’s the time of year when we hear whispers in the air, bone-dry leaves tapping out code that something waits for us beyond the sky.

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Andy didn’t tell us all the rules at once – probably came up with them on the fly. He never wrote them down, and we never forgot them. “It only comes at dusk,” he said. “It needs those shadows to make itself real. Where it comes from, everything is shadow, beyond shadow. In the daytime or the moonlight, it’s just air. It can watch but it can’t do anything. So we have to bring it things right at sunset – so it can grab them up.” But also, “We can’t look right at it. In its real body – it’s too gnarly. Our brains would – BAM!” Fishface jumped at that one, and Andy cackled at him. Jenny hit his arm to make him stop – that laugh was ugly.

This went on for a few weeks, until the rules started to sound the same, and we were wondering what kind of game this was after all. We didn’t do anything different – still snuck into the movies, stole cigarettes, kicked trash around the newly-filled river – except we stopped going to the barn. No one brought it up, either, so we didn’t miss it. But we were still bored. Jenny started demanding answers. What was the point of the game? How did we play? Andy told us in pieces, but after a while we got the basics: we had to steal an offering, and take it out to the barn at sunset, and leave it there. If the offering was good, we’d get to live. But if it was bad, the thing in the dark would take us to its crypt and keep us there forever. Andy repeated this last part all the time. He never smiled when he said it. “Okay, sure, offerings – but when do we take them? Whenever we feel like it?” Jenny snapped one day. Andy glowered at her when she said it. “Don’t joke,” he said. “It’ll tell us when. We’ll know.”

When he said this, the game got interesting again. We all waited. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all, in case we missed the call. The wind – turning cold, brittle – might carry a slithery voice any day. Our teachers stopped yelling at us to pay attention, because we were listening, just not to them. Nighttime became something holy for us. In our bedrooms we stayed awake and tilted our ears at the empty windows. Of course, nothing happened, nothing came to us; though Jenny and Fishface sometimes talked about funny dreams, where they walked into the barn and fell down into a hole, but the hole was really a mouth that was about to clamp shut. Sometimes they woke up and their sheets were pulled off their bodies, they said. Andy chuckled, “That’s part of the game.”

It was toward the middle of September, when the leaves just started changing, that Andy told us the game had started. We were a little jealous – how come he got to hear the call and we didn’t? “Because it’s my game, turd faces,” he said.

Last time we’d seen the barn, it had been all lightning and rain, big blasts of thunder like drum beats. It set the right mood. This time it was a nice evening, a little cool, no stormclouds waiting on the skyline. A school night, too, to make it worse. The weather didn’t matter, Andy assured us – when it called, it meant business, gloom or sunshine. The problem was the offering, of course. Jenny suggested jewels from her mother’s vanity drawer. Fishface thought of hamburgers – “It’s hungry, anyway, you said.”

“None of that,” Andy snapped. “It told me what it wants.”

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Forbidden Tomes: THE ACCURSED

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy March, ghouls – we’re beginning to get a taste of spring in the air. It’s a time of reawakening, good weather, and fertility. Unless you’re in a Joyce Carol Oates book. In one of her only outwardly supernatural works, Oates weaves a disturbing portrait of historical Princeton as it falls under the power of demons. Things get weird in the sepulchral spring of THE ACCURSED.

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It’s 1905 and we’re in Princeton. While some actual figures appear in the background, like Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair (who were at Princeton then), the main story depicts the Slade family as the daughter – set to be married – is targeted by a vampiric demon. When the demon takes young Slade as his unwilling wife, the surrounding characters (accurate and fictional alike) fall into madness, betrayal, and violence. It really sucks when demons walk into history; they tend to ruin things.

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Having read a few other works by Oates, I expected this one to be like those – psychological, grim, and very disturbing. While it is all of those things, this novel sports a wonderful, crooked sense of humor as well. Like Shirley Jackson’s work, there is social satire to spare here, stemming from these real people’s responses to demonic activity. And though it may be funny, it also tends to get nasty. Oates has created a synthesis of the macabre, the grotesque, the political, and the tragic. It’s pure literary fun to watch Mark Twain, Jack London and Sinclair interact in a world where demons roam.

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Being a part of Oates’s Gothic series (which includes “Bellefleur” and “The Mysteries of Winterthurn”), this novel is written in high language and spares no detail. It moves slowly, which for some is a turn-off. But for those who are willing to wait for the Gothic nightmares to begin, the payoff is all the better for what is established before. The imagery and manifestations are suitably bizarre – possessed babies, toad-demons in a bog-castle, snakes ejecting from men’s throats – and, even better, visually represent the neuroses of the characters. Oates is brutal with the psychological dissection of her creations, and this is no exception.

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In spite of its slow pace and its ultimate focus on satire over horror, “The Accursed” is a wicked ghost story – more so because the supernatural elements explore the human characters. The period setting and springtime aura give the uncanny occurrences an air of elegance, almost loveliness. Oates’s universe is pleasant… until it’s not. The madness and horror that seep (or explode) through the historical trappings is of the highest order. It’s a hellish tale, poking through the fallacy of human belief and their sureness in themselves, finding corpses instead.

For an old-fashioned but gruesome epic of phantoms and broken minds, Oates has given us a gift. She is a craftsman of the highest order, as long as one has the patience. So take the vow and enter this work of nightmares – but know that those vows are binding.

Forbidden Tomes: BOOKS OF BLOOD I-III by CLIVE BARKER

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Logic would never place horror and erotica in the same field. But history goes to show, these two genres often cross over, finding commonalities in each other that perhaps should not be uncovered. For the most part these crossovers are subtle and quiet. Not so with Clive Barker, who broke open the pairing with his debut work, the BOOKS OF BLOOD.

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First published in 1984, these stories combine two things that often go together – sex and death – but does so in such a blatant, shameless, and powerful way that is so rarely seen. Clive Barker is obsessed with flesh. His prose style is unflinching and brutal, often satirical, but always engrossing (emphasis on gross) in its exploration of the human body. It makes sense, then, that he would focus his stories on the most corporeal of all human acts: fornication and decay.

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The three-part collection is split into different forms of stories. There are traditional horror yarns – “The Midnight Meat Train,” “Rawhead Rex,” and “Scape-Goats,” et cetera – and more comical stories, like “Son of Celluloid,” “Sex, Death and Starshine,” and “The Yattering and Jack.” My favorites, however, occupy a bizarre in-between of philosophical fantasy and horror: “In the Hills, the Cities,” “Dread,” “The Skins of the Fathers” and “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament” are the best examples. Here, Barker creates a space in which reality bends, then shatters altogether, questioning the nature of humanity itself.

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In the latter stories especially, the human body becomes an almost celestial plane of horrors, a conduit for the supernatural and the surreal. It might be acceptable to say that the titular story – “The Book of Blood,” kicking off Volume 1 – lays out Barker’s thesis in this regard: “The dead have highways,” he begins, and ends by showing the dead breaking into our world through those highways, literally engraving their words into a boy’s skin. The flesh of his characters is always so vulnerable, yet powerful, too – Jacqueline Ess uses the power of her sexuality to actually alter men’s anatomies, and an entire town joins together to create a singular giant in “In the Hills.”

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What truly makes me love these stories is the sense of freakishness, of abnormality, that pervades the best of them. Barker infuses his protagonists with an aberrant streak that might make them frightening, but also makes them sympathetic, heartbreakingly so. Those of us who have felt like freaks can find voice in these monsters. It is the power of horror, to find a heart in the most horrific of things, and Barker understands this better than most. His stories find the purest core of horror – no trappings, no undue elegance, just raw blood, terror, and beauty.

Interview with Ben Larned about “Fool’s Gold”

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Blood Moon Rising Magazine’s editor D.W. Jones recently interviewed Ben Larned, and reviewed his novel, “Fool’s Gold.” 

Click here to see the interview, and here for the review.

Sweet nightmares, and happy reading!