Archive for Gothic

Story Fragment: THE SACRED SCARECROW (2)

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2017 by smuckyproductions

A second fragment from THE SACRED SCARECROW, detailing a town’s devolution into paranoia when a newcomer threatens their history. A bit of autumnal eeriness as we enter the second half of October. 

Frank Hoffer had drifted into a peaceful sleep when a shrill bleat dragged him from bed. His daughter’s voice echoed from the other side of the house. Still half-numb, he stumbled from the room and down the hall, followed close behind by Sally. When they burst through her door they found her pressed against the window, stabbing a finger at the ground. “I saw it down there,” she panted. “It’s so ugly.”

Frank pulled her from the glass and looked at the lawn where she pointed. It was empty, aside from the moonlight on the dead leaves. “You saw what, sweetie?” Sally said, and cradled her daughter a bit too tightly until she squirmed away. She gripped her more firmly and cooed, “Calm down, mommy’s here; what did you see?”

“It was watching me,” the girl said.

Sally managed to persuade her child back to sleep, though she and Frank could not do the same for themselves. They perched on opposite sides of the bed, Sally facing the door and Frank the shuttered window; and, like several of their neighbors, stayed this way until morning. When Frank had managed to prepare himself for work, he paused to search the lawn beneath his daughter’s window for footprints, or pieces of straw. His daughter had been dreaming, he reasoned; or the stalker had covered its tracks.

That afternoon, the diner vibrated with murmurs, so Frank and Ed didn’t need to whisper. They sat close to the window, where they could hear the witch woman Hawkins. They mumbled pleasantries and gave disjointed answers, Ed spinning his coffee cup, Frank tearing his napkin into fragments; but the prophecies drained their attention until they had gone silent. When the waitress took their order with quivering hands, Ed laid his hands on the table and said, “You know, the strangest thing happened. Our boy said he heard someone walking around our house last night.”

He started to laugh, but he saw how Frank’s lips pressed together in a spasm to cut off his instinctual response. “Funny’s right,” he croaked. “Our girl said the same damn thing. Said something was watching her.”

They ate what they could of their meals – the lettuce tasted leathery, the meat dry, too hot in their stomachs – and when they spoke, they went on about the renovations at the farmer’s house, how much longer they would go on, how far they would extend. Would he go out into the field after all? It was a hell of a lot of work, it seemed to them. Maybe he would leave it be.

“Hey,” Ed called when they left the diner, over the witch woman’s straining voice; “you don’t remember… what was the day, in the story, where it was all supposed to happen?”

“It was different every time,” Frank said. “You know how they go. But the good ones always said it was Halloween.”

Ed stared down at his mangled food. He said, “That’s what I thought.” He checked his planner to confirm – it was October 14th. Not, he noted, that it mattered.

For the first SACRED SCARECROW fragment, CLICK HERE

Advertisements

Fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT: Dad’s Stories

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2017 by smuckyproductions

 

I’ve finished a major rewrite of this project, so here is a fragment to celebrate. From the novel’s beginning, when the protagonist remembers his father’s campfire stories, which set him on a journey into the darkness of the woods, and his mind. 

Dad’s stories were all the same. The details shifted, depending on my age or his mood, but the format and essence were set in stone from the first. That’s why I loved them and why he could remember how to tell them. He started as early as age five, maybe earlier. We had to wait for the campfire to be raging, dinner charred and devoured, a whiskey to lubricate his throat. By the time he was ready, dusk had settled around us; his head a big shadow against the gold-red sky, and the night wind starting to stir the trees. Dad would take a sip of his drink, inhale deeply – a moment of anticipation, suspense – and then he would begin.

“There are some things, Luke…” He did that a lot, borrowing grand ideas from smarter people and tossing them at minds who must have been too little to understand, or at least couldn’t recognize the source. And following this statement, he would weave his world. All it took was a sweep of his hand. A dark mountain, endless rows of murky pines, sharp smells of water and dirt; in the center of it all, a father and son, huddled around their fire. He had a special way of framing it, not quite literary but remarkable for a suburban father who prided himself on straightforward thinking – no frilly shit. Every time I heard that opening, I could see nothing aside from his fire-crossed face, and I would be transported.

Our hero, the son, was always my age and height – usually shared my name, too. Luke (or Dan or Mike, if Dad was feeling creative) had embarked on a camping trip with his father. They were having a hell of a time, an ideal escapade, with no need for lessons or encouraging words or explanations. The trip started in this ideal manner, told as Dad’s eyes went a little glassy with the fantasy; but night had to fall sometime.

For all his shortcomings, Dad understood better than most the landscape of the woods at night. He might have been a strong rival for Algernon Blackwood, if I do say so, had he given it any real thought. He had the atmosphere on his side, too. It’s incomparable – the darkness is so complete, trapped in the tree branches, and while you know that your surroundings are overwhelmingly huge, you feel entombed in them, unable to run in any direction. Just to stand within it, be a part of its fabric, is an exhilarating enigma. But with exhilaration can come fear. There is nothing lonelier in the world than being lost in the woods after dark. I’m not sure if he was aware, but Dad always infused this terror into his stories. As a kid, it’s even worse, looking up into the dark and knowing that your only protection is your father.

So night would fall on fictional Luke, and he would dutifully go to sleep, or venture into the trees for more firewood – an obedient counterpart. He wouldn’t get far before he felt a weight in his gut, the weight of far away eyes; and then the noises would start. A twig snaps. Footsteps – tiny or huge – echo in the distance, then again, a little closer. They rattle the boy’s bones as they drew forward. My little body would be quivering by this point, thinking of that huge form slinking so effortlessly through the forest – but my counterpart stands his ground. In the early stories, fictional Luke would walk into the firelight as the beast appears, mountainous in its ebony self that blocked out the moon. Dad never gave it a clear shape, but my brain did a fine job; always adding an extra eye or mouth, endless limbs to hug its victims to death. In its gut-shaking voice, the monster howls, “I am hungry! And my favorite food is little boys!” But the boy is no coward. He steps into the firelight and challenges the beast. Usually, his threats work; the monster breaks down and proclaims that he’s just lonely. The boy makes a new friend and Dad gets away with scaring the shit out of me – as long as it’s a happy ending. Though in the silence, when my dad started snoring, I would think of the monster’s approaching steps and wonder – in real life, would I be brave enough?

Story Fragment: LAPPING WATER (2)

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Another piece of this story, about a teenage boy’s phantasmal, frightening first sexual experience in a small town. To read the first segment, click here. 

Lor crouched on the beach and blinked into the water. The moon rippled over the surface, turning it into a broken mirror. That was all, cold light and emptiness beyond. Lor’s lungs filled and he sputtered – Avery couldn’t be gone. His shirt and belt were still on the beach. Lor crawled closer to the water’s edge, gripping the rocks to keep himself steady, and tried to see beneath the ripples. There, it might have been a face – grey, bloated features – but was it Avery’s? Was it Lor’s? The lake lapped, slow again, in mocking, nonsensical reply. That was the only sound; no soft breath, no wailing. Lor felt that empty noise rattling his core again. Maybe that cry had come from him.

He couldn’t know how long he stared into the lake, waiting for a response – he hadn’t checked the time when they arrived. The air had embedded in his skin, a complete chilling of his blood, but he couldn’t leave Avery down there. Every few moments the moon shook on the water in the shape of a face, a reaching hand, and then smoothed out again into the hateful mirror. He clutched the rocks and waited anyway, lungs rattling with moisture just as Avery’s must have done. Lor watched until his fingers burned with cold and he saw the lake rising toward them. Jerking back, he escaped it, and left Avery’s clothes on the rocks. Like a coward he ran.

The town still showed a few signs of life when Lor stumbled onto Main St. The asphalt glistened with moisture, soaked by some accident or aberration, because it couldn’t have rained. Droplets of water gleamed on the windows, going dark as the store owners closed up for the night. The streetlights wavered overhead, murky and partial. Lor tried to see through the light, but caught only glimpses of faces – all slack, greyish, staring back at him with drooping mouths. He made sure to avoid their soggy eyes. If he touched them, he understood, he would sink into them. Their skin looked so soft. His limbs were frigid and clumsy, but he managed to dodge them. As he swept past he heard their breath – wet sucking, tongues sliding, searching. Near the mini golf course, he thought he could hear their wet feet slapped on the concrete in pursuit. Or maybe it was only one set of feet. Avery, with his big hair plastered into his eyes, and lips parting to let water dribble out; gurgling as he said, The water’s sweet. The water’s warm.

Lor ran. Even though it hadn’t touched him, hadn’t dragged him under, he could feel it on his skin. Slick, clinging moisture. His hair hanging down, clothes sticking to him. He wiped his forehead and his palm came away with a greenish slime. It had covered him, made him dirty all over. Avery’s mouth trickled into his ear to confirm it. Sweet… warm.

Story Fragment: SHADOW IN THE SHEETS

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Part of a larger story, exploring a woman’s trauma after a sexual encounter leads to terrifying cosmic revelations – and her attempts to forget what she learned at all costs. 

Jules interviewed Naomi after the date, as she insisted upon since their sophomore year of college, though Naomi thought these questions were more precise. They had lived with each other long enough that something small, the rhythm of their steps or ferocity of a sigh, could hint at mood; so the inquiries burrowed close. “Was it okay?” she asked. “She seemed cute, and smart, but…”

Naomi paused and hitched a breath, which almost ruined her composure and spilled the truth through her teeth. But she managed, “It was fine. Great in the moment, when I was drunk, but not so special the next morning. You know how it goes.”

It gnawed at her, that only two people would ever know what had happened in her bed. She shuddered to realize that such an impossibility would go on as just that, a dream. In the end, this assurance is what kept her silent, even if it terrified her. Jules did not need to know what had occurred so close to her sleeping body. Naomi would have paid steep prices for a similar ignorance. She felt nostalgia for a time when her bed had been an escape; to melt into the worn sheets, the years-old mattress pad, was to forget the complexities of the world. Her comforter, once a prized possession because of its sheer size, now lay at the base of a dumpster several blocks away. She had tried to sleep in the sheets that next day, but could not bring herself to peel them back, in case some sign remained under them. She closed her eyes as she donned the purple rubber gloves from her bathroom and ripped them from the mattress, stuffed them into a garbage bag. It occurred to her what she must have looked like when she rushed down the street, eyes bulging and toting the soft package – realizing that she was just another crazy person on the street, a true New Yorker, kept her from screaming every time the bag bumped against her leg. Sometimes she wondered if it was still in the dumpster after all; perhaps it had slunk away on its own.

These details scuttled through her mind as she answered Jules’s questions – “What did you do? Where’d you go? Was she a good kisser?” She overcompensated in her answers, since she so vaguely skipped through the first one. She described for Jules the candle-flickering speakeasy where they had begun; Alex ordered pungent Negronis for them and grinned over hers, prepared to initiate Naomi into a dark, secret world. “This city has so many places to hide,” she whispered after the second round; “all these corridors and spaces where no one wants to go, and no one will. Imagine what’s sitting there? Who’s using those places to escape? So many stories. You look at these windows, all quiet and dark, and the heavy doors – what’s happening in there? What has happened? What will?” Had Naomi not been a little drunk, this would have bored her. It was the gloom, the aromatic gin, and most of all Alex – her voice edged with a practiced rasp, and her eyes… they glimmered with candlelight and promised, “I have seen these secret places.” Later on, she couldn’t remember what had actually been special about them. If she could have placed their draw through the gin, she might have avoided the rest of the night, and what came after. Their speckles of green seemed to spiral deep into pools of shade, and Naomi wanted to go inside, where it was cool and unknown wonders crept. Alex promised to lead her down.

Story Fragment: PAYMENT

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2017 by smuckyproductions

The first page or so to a short story that is more or less complete. Please share thoughts in the comments – perhaps the full version will follow. 

PAYMENT

He had expected, when the knock came, for the grip on his throat to tighten at last into a fatal clench that would finish him off before he could get to the door. Instead, the grip released. The fear of a decade fizzled into a low-grinding acceptance. He preferred the choking.

The knock came once, and Stephen knew not to make him wait. He stumbled to the door on traitor feet and pulled the knob, which put up no resistance, no sympathy. Then the night gushed in and unfolded and the man with the briefcase stepped forward. Rendered in motel fluorescent, the image disappointed Stephen. The lips had deflated. Their kiss, the sealing embrace, wouldn’t do much for him this time. But the amber eyes were more truthful, showed more of the hellfire behind them.

“Hello,” said the salesman.

Stephen moved to the side and allowed the salesman to float into the room. His presence brought the shroud of night with it and dimmed the already-weak lights inside. As he passed, Stephen noticed subtle, peeling burn marks along his skin. Ten years ago it had been perfect, enough to make anyone jealous, addicted.

“All that hounding and hunting will do that to a guy,” the salesman said, unprompted. He sounded like he’d swallowed too much gravel. “The vessels are only supposed to last five years. You, however, you made yourself hard to find.”

The remnants of Stephen’s charms – pentagrams drawn in sheep’s blood, holy dust sprinkled at each window, packets of forbidden herbs that had long gone impotent – dangled or dripped around the room. “Well, I gave it the ol’ college try,” he muttered. “But I still heard you coming.”

“Be grateful I’m just an associate,” the salesman said. “An executive would have started flaying you in dime-sized pieces by now. You’re my first case. We’ll just pretend those extra years never happened.”

“Yeah, sure, lucky me,” Stephen said, and sat heavily on the couch. The rusted springs groaned at him. He looked down at the cushion to make sure he could reach beneath it when the time came. The salesman sunk down next to him. Stephen forced himself to stay still when a bony but gentle hand settled on his knee. He looked at the salesman, an inch from his face, and for a miserable second Stephen remembered the first time he had looked. It had stirred his soul to meet those eyes, promising lots of golden things. Out of all the smeared glasses and buzzing neon of the bar, those eyes, the only things that shone.

Short Story: OUT THERE

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by smuckyproductions

A little mood piece about darkness for the Halloween season. 

OUT THERE

img_1967

The stars stared. Jem could see thousands of them, unshielded by clouds or pollution from the city. He wondered how many of them could see down this far – or perhaps the distance blinded them. But they are so big, Jem mused, that they can see as far as they like.

“Over here,” Jem’s father said.

He stood several yards away, at the edge of the street where the grass began. Winnie waited at his knee. Jem skipped closer and looked behind them, at the strip of subdivision. Its lights almost overpowered the stars, if you looked at them too long; but they could not shut out the mounds of hills, heaped on all sides. From far away, Jem imagined, these houses would look pitiful, and at any moment the hills could lean forward and swallow them. He blinked, cleared his eyes of electric light, and turned back toward his father. The flashlight he held revealed a patch of grass in front of them, and the beginnings of the forest. Otherwise everything was shadow – the stars glowed but did not illuminate. Jem knew that, when he stood behind the flashlight, he was a shadow, too. He kept himself there, wondering if he felt any different, ensured that he was only two steps away from the flashlight and reality.

“Go on,” his father said to Winnie. She perked up and trotted away into the grass, which half-devoured her. Jem’s father kept the flashlight trained on her without fault. He did not blink or flinch; in fact, Jem noticed that his hand bulged with veins, from the strain of keeping still. The beam did not waver, either – it cut a single hole in the dark, allowing the trees and rocks beyond to remain formless until sunrise.

Jem’s father had protested when Jem asked to go outside, too, and wait for Winnie to take care of herself. He said he did not want to deal with Jem being frightened in the dark. Their first night in the mountains, after being accustomed to the suburbs and the city where darkness was just a lower grade of light, Jem really had been afraid – he did not sleep for fear that the dark, so heavy and complete in the mountains, would break through the window of his room. But, when morning came and proved his survival, Jem realized that the dark was not an enemy. It allowed him to transform; without the watchful streetlights and windows, always keeping his body illuminated, he could become anything. He did not express these notions to his father, who would have snorted and shaken his head. He simply promised that he would not be afraid of the dark. Though the shadows were strong beyond the flashlight and hinted at moving shapes, Jem felt no fear. Besides, if anything should approach, Winnie would alert them.

She squatted now, glancing back at them with something like embarrassment, and marked her territory –she always did so over a small hole, once occupied by a fox. “Good girl,” said Jem’s father, almost like a command. Winnie straightened herself and trotted back, a bit faster than before. Jem’s father turned to follow, but Jem lingered and faced the dark again – did they have to go inside so soon? He felt the shadow on his skin, and marveled at how strong it seemed. His eyes strained to see detail and failed. A thrill wormed into his abdomen and worked its away up until he was grinning. Stay like this, he thought. Stay.

“What, girl?” his father was saying. “What’s there?”

Jem glanced up and saw Winnie staring at him. Her face was rigid, nose pointed at his head, or something behind it. The flashlight blasted into his eyes as his father followed Winnie’s lead. While his eyes danced with red and readjusted, Jem heard his father mutter something, a nasty sounding word. He looked where Winnie pointed, and his face was slack with dread.

The grass rustled behind Jem – a soft, inviting sound – and he turned to see what everyone else did. “Don’t,” his father snapped.

Jem would have disregarded the command, but he had never heard his father’s voice crack like that, as if he was being choked. Jem turned back to him and frowned in silent inquiry. His father waved a hand, beckoning, and Winnie took a step back. A low growl rumbled in her chest as she stared.

“Come here,” his father said, and the grass rustled again.

He walked toward the flashlight only to satisfy his father. The dark still felt calm and exciting on his skin. The flashlight was so loud in comparison. His father was shaking it now, as if flicking a whip. “Back,” he barked, not to Jem. “Back.”

Now behind his father, Jem turned to look. His eyes had quite recovered from the flashlight’s glare, so he was blind to the dark; and before he could blink away the light his father’s hand was over his face. “Don’t look,” his father cried.

“Why?”

“Because I said so.” It was not a demand but a plea. Jem looked back at the house; but slowly, long enough to glimpse something in the grass, whose movement was utterly wrong as it crept closer. The flashlight’s dancing beam did not allow for a more concrete view. His father continued to growl, “Back, back;” and something hissed, or sighed, in protest. Jem did not hear the sound so much as imagine it – no physical vocal chords could have produced it. He was suddenly glad that he had looked away.

Winnie had already raced back toward the house, and now his father followed, pushing Jem alongside him. The flashlight was weak next to the streetlamps. Jem took a last glance up, at the far away stars, and then the door slammed shut, and his father was coughing out a grotesque noise. Jem thought he might be laughing, maybe, and left him alone.

Neither of them spoke for some time. Jem’s father vanished into the bathroom for a while, where he continued making the noise, and Jem watched through the living room window in his absence. He could not see much beyond his reflection. It was possible that something looked back, and he would have turned off all the lights in order to see it, but then his father emerged, red-faced and sniffling.

“Why couldn’t I look?” Jem said immediately.

His father stared at him, as if not recognizing him. “Some things you don’t need to see quite yet,” he muttered. “There’s things out there that don’t leave you once you see them. That was one. You’ll have your time someday. But not yet.”

Jem nodded and pretended to understand.

“Promise me you won’t go out there,” his father said; his voice croaked again.

I’m not scared, Jem thought, but whispered, “I promise.”

His father smiled and murmured, “Good boy.” Then he retreated to his room again, shut the door, and locked it.

Jem stayed at the window and looked at his reflection. The glass made it look faded, uncertain, and small. He scowled and tried to see beyond. The darkness was still there, and would be for hours. Perhaps that meant the sighing thing was still there, too. He pushed away from the window and crept toward the front door. Winnie stared at him as he went, but did not protest. His hand fell on the knob, heavy and final; he would wait until his father started to snore, then he would go look.

Films That Haunt Me: THE IRON ROSE

Posted in Films That Haunt Me, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2016 by smuckyproductions

For some years now I’ve been a fan of Eurohorror, but I always stayed away Jean Rollins – though I saw his name pop up around every corner – because of his reputation. Thankfully, having gone through most of the horror canon already, I had no other option but to try him out. And I am ashamed to have waited so long. At his best, Rollins is a Gothic master – and we have a fine example of this in THE IRON ROSE.

81zkTRZIDwL._SY445_

The plot is so simple, it surprises me that it hasn’t been done a hundred times: a couple gets lost in a cemetery after having sex in one of the crypts. It could have been a Tales from the Crypt episode, or a good zombie movie – but Rollins takes a more interesting approach. Certainly, it starts out like a good ol’ B movie… until the psychological effects kick in.

The cinematography trapped my attention from the beginning. Rollins finds the most fascinating locations and the camera knows how to showcase them. Whether it be the beach, an abandoned train yard, or the cemetery itself, each image is enthralling. This is good, because most of the film crawls along at a snail’s pace. One of my favorite attributes of Eurohorror is its patience. This will be an instant turn-off for many viewers, but for those who can withstand it, the slowness becomes hypnotic. With a gorgeous (and seldom-used) score to back up his images, Rollins creates a delicious Gothic atmosphere.

01-1

It is the atmosphere that allows for the psychological fear to come through. Unlike most films of its kind, “The Iron Rose” features fairly decent acting and dialogue, and no violence. Good thing, too, because the two characters carry almost the entire film. You might expect zombies or ghouls to come into play at some point – but Rollins opts for a more truly Gothic story. The only supernatural element is the graveyard itself, which goes on forever like a labyrinth. Everything else come from the characters.

tumblr_nu8u24Hxnv1qh7cuvo1_1280

Once the plot kicked in and I realized there would be no traditional horrific elements, I was pleasantly surprised to still find myself afraid. It is the mental degeneration of these characters that is so unsettling. Rollins pulls this off without subtlety, but the effect is strong. His images emphasize the morbid trap that these people have fallen into. They are innocent for the most part, and yet they are dealt a disturbing punishment. It plays out like a realistic nightmare – who isn’t afraid of being lost in such an awful place? And the ending, while not as climactic as some might like, is genius to me – and haunts me still.

La Rose de fer (4)

While I am sure that most of Rollins’ work will not reach these heights for me, I am thrilled to have unlocked a new corridor of Gothic cinema for myself. The emphasis on image and mood, pertaining to psychological chills, is an art that I hope will not be lost. If patience is one of your virtues, indulge in this moody piece of the grotesque – you might get lost, too.