Archive for horror

Fragment from SERPENT SOULS: Smile

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , on October 3, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.51.01 AMIn honor of a Halloween season surrounded by the evils of capitalist pigs, here is a fragment from an older novel. SERPENT SOULS follows a naive young man who gets a job at his beloved brother’s exclusive country club, but he must fight for his life when its violent curse begins haunting him. It’s a supernatural mystery, violent satire, and nightmare of cosmic cruelty born from the American dream. This is a prophetic dream that the main character experiences before his first day of work.

A hallway – dark and thin. No sound but the quiet hum, electric or otherwise. Small line of light in the distance. Sneaking under a door. To find its source is the only option.

A door, impossibly tall, with no threshold. The handle is dented. It turns and the door creaks open – the apartment. Light is fluorescent, flickers on a constant rhythm. Corpses of a hundred bugs litter the casings. More victims flutter around the glow. Unknowing. Approaching.

A second door across from this one. The only thing illuminated; the rest of the apartment is shadowed. Something sighs and the door swings open. Vicious darkness. A small figure limps forward. A child, familiar but dirt-covered face, blue eyes that glisten and threaten to fall out, they are so wide. Viscous tears dribble down his face and leave clean lines in the dirt. The tuxedo around his body overpowers him. The slashed sleeves ooze lining and the shirt crackles with a brown stain. Only the bow tie still holds its color, vivid red.

The child opens his mouth. Wet gash in the dark. The words splash from his tongue.

“Don’t. Don’t. Don’t go there. Please, don’t go there…”

His plea falls to tatters, sobbing. He stiffens. Another figure, twice his size, emerges from the miasma. The new figure wears a tailored tuxedo, perfect condition, red bow tie gleaming. A wide salesman smile covers his chin, long teeth flash. The dark conceals the upper portion of his face. Hint of wicked eyes hiding in shadow. The smile is enough to give him familiarity, fresher than the child’s. But a familiar fear as well.

Two figures, miniature and full model. The large one places a hand on the small’s shoulder. Hulking gold rings shimmer, bleed with colors from fire-laden jewels, shoot prisms toward the invisible ceiling. The other hand unseen. Rustling in his jacket pocket. A hard, metallic sound, widening the smile, and the hand slips out, holding an intricate silver knife. Rubies wink from the handle. The knife rests against the child’s head and waits there. Curve of the blade smiles with its owner.

“Don’t don’t don’t,” the child blubbers. “Oh don’t don’t’ don’t…”

The large figure chuckles. “Don’t mind him.” Voice like a winter breeze. “He is not himself today. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

With a swipe of his golden hand, the child stops blubbering. Knife finds its mark and peels open the child’s throat. Skin yawns, thick spurt of blood over the carpet. The child tries to close the wound, begging in liquid grunts. It spreads wide as the killer’s smile. Veins empty. He falls to his knees. The head leans, nearly tears off. The killer stops it, holds it in place, plunges a hand into the stump. Digs for a moment until he finds his prize – the surfacing hand shines, glows, in spite of the blood. And something new as well, glimmering powerful things. The killer laughs in triumph. A wealth of gold coins in his hand, chime and clink as he displays them. More ooze from the stump as the child at last crumples to the ground. Dull thump, clink of metal.

The killer holds out his treasure as if offering to share. Temptation rises. He knows this and smiles until his cheeks split, revealing darkness beneath. The knife, still glinting, still hungry. It grins too. And swings forward as the killer says, calm and tender, “Smile.”

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.”

Sterile Fairy Tales: the Atmosphere of Beaver Creek

Posted in Dark Musings, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2017 by smuckyproductions

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For a few years now, due to my mother’s rather unique event-planning job, I’ve been able to make brief visits to the Colorado village of Beaver Creek. This mountain resort does not qualify as a town in the traditional sense. Just west of Vail, its activities and infrastructure are limited to hiking, skiing when there’s snow, and indulging in decadent sustenance. Its main feature is the quiet, a well-protected amenity. Wealthy families make up the bulk of the population here, and they come to seek privacy, peace. They build or purchase massive houses in the woods, most designed to mirror Swiss chalets or copper-plated Viking halls, but without real texture or age to cause functional problems. On average, these houses are occupied two or three months out of the year – some, a bus driver noted while discussing the issue, for all but a week or two. The houses spend most of their time in silence.

The village, with its European kitsch architecture and Romantic mountain backdrop hovering just beyond, projects the personality of a luxurious fairy tale. Such majestic forests and complete nights, the royal houses, can’t avoid the comparison. But all fairy tales succumb to dangers that disrupt their pristine little worlds and call for an adventure to prevent utter destruction. Here, danger has been scrubbed from the walls, plowed from the earth – it’s a resort, after all, and there’s no room for such things. Up here, even the scenery seems curated; the trees are lush and plentiful, the namesake creek a central, controlled factor in the village’s layout; a spectrum of flowers and eternal fields and quaint ponds dot the landscape beyond each twist of road. At the edge of autumn, where we teeter now, the leaves have begun fading to gold almost on cue. Amidst the concealing trees, the windows and metallic siding of houses reflect the sun, hinting at their hiding places.

But if this is true, why does one feel an omen arising from the trees at dusk? Why do the empty houses wink with sinister enigmas from between the branches? Surrounded by careful sterility and curated sublimity of the village, an overactive imagination will naturally conjure phantoms in the shadows; and the shadows lay thick here in the decadent, abandoned rooms. The windows rarely illuminate from within, and the rooms hardly ever flicker with moving shapes. They aren’t humble houses – some tower three, four stories, occupy an entire acre, brooding in hushed glares as loudly as their owners will fill them when they return, if they ever do. It seems that the air would eventually have to compensate for those prolonged silences. What would the echoes form as they bounce off the walls when there’s nothing to absorb them? What emerges when the people no longer fill their rooms with molecules and breath; what do their private escapes leave behind?

Likely nothing. But in such an alien, sensorily absorbing environment, one imagines things. The controlled paradise is, in the end, rather empty; and I enjoy it more when I fill it with strange muses. It’s my greatest pleasure up here, pretending that the spirits have risen to haunt the hollow spaces, fill the gaps – though it always leaves a hole in my own mind, because it seems that darkness must come to these places, and I hate to think that it is so well-hidden behind those reflective windows. Passing by, one would never know.

Fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT: Last Chance

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , on September 14, 2017 by smuckyproductions

I’ve always struggled, as a writer, with finding specific instances that develop a character’s goal while giving the reader a reason to sympathize. With the current novel revision, that’s something I am trying to overcome. Here is an early introduction to the protagonist and narrator – hopefully it inspires a twinge of empathy. 

July 19th:

A slow and average afternoon at the bookstore, no A.C., sun oozing in yellow strands through the dusty windows. The old paper and shelves gave the air awful, sedating mustiness. Nothing to do but stare and fan oneself, think desperately of something far away. The first customer in an hour relieved me of my boredom and asked if I could recommend a book on writing. She smiled, a little nervous, embarrassed. “You’re a writer?” I said. “I want to be,” she replied, wringing her hands. So I smiled, too, and laughed a little, quoted a favorite teacher who put my doubts to rest a while ago – “Anyone who writes is a writer.” She laughed, too, and asked, “What are you working on?” Like she really wanted to know.

And as I tried to think of a response, the boss strut over, stretched to her full imposing height. She exuded enough ice to cut the heat through her presence alone. The customer glanced warily at the boss – she must have felt the air cool – then hastily made her purchase, and went off to learn what I’m supposed to already know. When the door jangled shut, the boss tapped on the register and glared at me with her teeth slightly bared for a moment until she was certain she had my attention. Then she intoned, “You’re selling books. You’re not writing. Not on my time.” She returned to her full height and the edge of her lip twitched, expressing her triumph, before slinking away. I could have argued the contrary, but she walked away before I could think of anything to back up my case. Still haven’t found evidence in my favor. Any supporting statement would be a lie. But it doesn’t have to be. This is the last chance, buddy. Before I melt to this register forever.

I keep thinking of what Dad would say when he started his stories. “There are some things, Luke, that we were never supposed to mess with.” Or, “that we were never meant to find.” I had no idea what he meant back then, just that he was going to give me all his attention and tell a story. Now I want to know why he chose that phrase. Some things. What things?

The Barrier of Nostalgia: Thoughts on IT

Posted in Dark Musings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2017 by smuckyproductions

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[light spoilers ahead]

This weekend ushered in the latest horror sensation: a fairly large-budgeted adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. The new version is flashy, stylish, pretty well-acted, and scary in moments. It’s remarkable that a studio film was able to follow Stephen King’s brutal, surreal and melodramatic book so closely. The changes made were, mostly, for the better. But through the entire viewing experience, I felt distanced. This was a coming-of-age narrative that I could only care about from afar, because it’s very far from mine – mainly because it’s about a group of straight white boys who never acknowledge that their struggles are far lighter than those of Bev and Mike, the only kids who don’t fit that mold.

I’m simply tired of hearing the story of these heteronormative characters rising above their bullies and fears, as if those things are actual oppressors rather than just obstacles. Pennywise represents human fear, but all of its incarnations are loud, digitized monsters. The film favors these shiny set pieces and neglects to develop what make King’s book so intoxicating – the actual monsters in town. Bev’s dad goes from a terrifying but human abuser to a one-note creep with as much nuance as Eddie’s leper; and Bill’s grieving parents, so heartbreakingly neglectful in the book, are reduced to a single yelling stereotype. While Bill Skarsgard is suitably frightening, the CGI always takes precedence over his performance; it’s hard to tell what’s him and what isn’t.

Those criticisms are petty and easily dismissed by taste, but my issues with the film go deeper. When people talk about the heart, it’s always in context of the Loser’s Club. And most of the screen time is granted to Bill, Richie and Eddie. The roles are performed well, but their stories simply don’t feel as honest or emotional to me as Mike and Bev’s. The former must fight for his life, not just his dignity, against the town bullies; while Bev, a 13-year-old girl who has survived apparent sexual abuse from her dad, is constantly ogled by her male counterparts (and the camera). There’s something off about that, right? Bev is performed with intensity and commitment by Sophia Lillis, and given a fair number of scenes to herself, but she is still defined by her sexuality and gender. Meanwhile, Mike – played by Chosen Jacobs – is simply a side character whose terror of white supremacy is never mentioned by his friends.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the film on a superficial level. IT is a blast. It’s never dull, the atmosphere is intoxicating, some (but far from all) of the scares are supremely effective. And therein lies another one of my issues. With stories like this and Stranger Things, which is basically IT-lite with a splat of Firestarter, it appears that issues like racism and sexism are “too serious” to be discussed outright. As if oppressed people can’t also tell stories that are fun as well as scary. Watching these films and television shows, it’s hard not to be entertained. I love a good, clever, suspenseful story. But when the characters are always cut from this same cloth – societally accepted, even if they aren’t popular – I (and other people like me, I’ve confirmed) begin to feel left out, even from these stories that claim to be about people who don’t fit in.

I guess it must be nostalgia, in part, that makes these stories so endearing. Nostalgia for “simpler times,” decades in the past; when these stories were told without a second thought. And what were those times like for people of color, queer people, women? That is the barrier of nostalgia: it looks back fondly on times that were outright dangerous for many people in our society. Telling stories that appear to celebrate this period become alienating for anyone besides those who thrived in them. And for those of us who can’t connect, saying so feels a little ostracizing. IT and Stranger Things are defended like white silk – one dirty mark and the whole thing is ruined. Why is that? Why can’t horror fans voice their dissenting opinions without being told they’re wrong, that they aren’t a part of this insider’s club?

Thing is, I’ve seen many horror films that eschew this pattern. Raw, The Witch, It Follows, Trash Fire, Get Out, Dearest Sister, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, XX, The Wailing, and The Invitation – just to name a few – all focus on narratives that don’t revolve around straight white boys. And some of them are extremely fun. What if these filmmakers had been granted the resources that IT received? What exciting, entertaining and nostalgic stories could they tell, that don’t focus on a heteronormative white man’s experience?

It’s not to say that these stories aren’t valid, but we’re heard them endless times, and they still seem to dominate the field. They’re the fan favorites because they’re easy, wrapped up neat and tidy; they don’t need to recognize that people still live in actual fear because their characters have overcome their villains. I guess ease is nice. And for the most part, I do fit into that demographic – white kid who was bullied in the suburbs. I’m not trying to claim that I don’t benefit from that privilige. But I had to come to terms with a part of my life that these characters will never have to worry about – my sexuality, which was hell to accept for myself, even worse to have to explain to people – and I don’t see that story being told very often. My friends and colleagues, women and people of color, likewise see their narratives dismissed. When will we get to tell our fun, exciting and honest stories?

I don’t like to think about the true answer to this question. These nostalgic voices still appear to the valued above all others in our culture. Speaking out against these voices seems to be taboo – the defenders of IT have come out in full force this weekend, quite angrily in some cases, against even the smallest criticism. I feel like I’m wrong in voicing my opinion. It saddens me to like an outsider even in a community of outsiders – horror fans. But the fact remains: I couldn’t just enjoy IT because I am tired of the narrative it perpetuates. I am tired of genre cinema valuing those voices over equally valid, but perhaps less tidy ones. It’s time to let someone else make the next big horror film, with a budget and cultural significance equal to IT. And yet, it still feels like that time is far, far away.

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.

Fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT: Pure Fear

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2017 by smuckyproductions

For the past few weeks, I’ve been rewriting a deeply personal and tough novel called THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT. It’s a collection of journal entries, articles and interviews compiled by a young writer exploring childhood memories of a podunk mountain town, but he discovers a dark force and devastating truth that threatens to ruin him. Here’s a fragment from an early section, as he begins examining the memories before making the leap.

Fall of sophomore year, some friends and I left our little bubble to visit this abandoned mental hospital somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. It was a nasty old building, painted over with graffiti and gutted, aside from a wheelchair or two left to rust – memoirs of a hundred anonymous sufferers. We pitched in for a handle of very bad whiskey and sat in the dead leaves, drinking, trying to spot ghosts in the broken windows.

It got dark earlier than we expected. We stayed too long, let the sun go down without noticing. It was probably the whiskey that kept us slouching and murmuring. But without the sun we didn’t have much to say. We listened tentatively to the bugs cricking, the breeze knocking a few dry leaves together, metal creaking somewhere in the empty halls. In the dark, my nerves kicked up and built into fear, the most useless and loneliest kind. The building’s bulk was so dark and imposing against the sky’s final blue, leaning over us uninvited visitors who had nothing to offer but more trash. It might have been massive, but it would still be forgotten. I made myself a promise, hugging my knees against the cold, that I would crusade against this awful obscurity; I would not let myself succumb to this concrete skeleton’s fate. But the shadows of the asylum had an argument of its own: how could I, a much smaller thing, overcome something that even this behemoth couldn’t defeat? I wanted to scream at it to prove my point – I could speak, I could make noise, and it was just dust – but I decided not to disturb the ghosts. So we all stayed quiet until one of us announced that the last train would leave soon, and we shuffled down the path by the light of our phones, glancing over our shoulders every so often. We didn’t talk about it on the way home; never talked about it again.

I think that is the purest fear I’ve felt in a while, the electrifying and active kind that won’t let you sit still. I’m starting to feel it again.