Specters of Summer: Creepy Real Life Encounters

Flash Non-Fiction from a Frightened Pedestrian

I live in a part of Minneapolis where I can walk most everywhere I go. While other city dwellers live in food deserts, far from healthy produce, I live in a food oasis with four grocers just blocks from my apartment. Minneapolis has a greenway where cyclists and pedestrians can travel without having to worry about oncoming traffic. Everyday I walk that way to work. I have my choice of four lakes to hike around to find my calm. I walk to the coffee shop where I write. I walk to my Twin Peaks viewing party. I walk to karaoke.

I grind the heels of my boots down flat. I go through one set of insoles a month, and my jeans always have a shortened lifespan, but I can get away with eating donuts and maintain the same frame I’ve had since I was eighteen.

I like walking, despite all the gravel I track into the apartment or the fact that I have to carry an umbrella at all times.

The only real drawback to traversing the city on foot is that it leaves me much more vulnerable than if I were in a vehicle.

There are always wolves looking to prey on anyone they perceive to be lagging behind the heard. Sometimes it’s the red cup wielding frat brothers picking fights on street corners while onlookers yell “World Star.” Sometimes it’s the sidewalk trolls, panhandling for a toll, following me for blocks until I give them a hard, “No.”

Sometimes it’s the people spotting me over their shoulder, ducking into entryways, thinking I can’t see their breath spiraling out in the cold. These are the people who leap out of the shadows, follow me between buildings, and chase me into gas stations. These are the predators I don’t always see coming.

I’ve been jumped before, laid out, full on woke up in a hospital with no clue what happened, missing a phone and a lot of time. The experience puts me on edge at night. It’s made me hyper aware of my surroundings. When I see a shady character standing in my path I check the bushes for silhouettes. Attackers are like Velociraptors if you see one in front of you odds are there are two swooping up from your sides. Continue reading Specters of Summer: Creepy Real Life Encounters

Night and Day: a poem about your creative life and your work life

At night you write editorials
On managing depression
By day you justify the difference
Between online and in store pricing
At night you design covers
For your unpublished works
By day you honor expired coupons
For entitled jerks

At night you rehearse monologues
In front of all your mirrors
By day you perform a script
For fear of secret shoppers
At night you record podcasts
With a progressive slant
By day you’re a captive audience
For political rants

You’ve got a long commute
When you follow your dreams
You get motion sickness
Between the extremes
You get whiplash
Covering all that ground
Between the sun and moon
You get all worn down

At night you draw sketches
With intricate crosshatching
By day you find gaps in shelves
In need of patching
At night you drop beats
Over vintage synthesizers
By day you compare coverage maps
To those of your competitors

At night you pack stanzas
With evocative verbs
By day you bottle rage
For some good Yelp blurbs
At night you teach yoga
To friends looking to get a grip
By day you bend over backwards
Just to get a good tip

You’ve got a long commute
When you follow your dreams
You’re a crash test dummy
Between two extremes
You get jetlag
Covering all that ground
Between the sun and moon
You get all worn down

Book Club Discussion Guide

DON’T THINK OF A CRIMSON ELEPHANT

By Flavius Octavius Davis

BLACK HOUSE PRESS READERS GROUP GUIDE

This reading group guide contains questions for discussion, suggestions to deepen your appreciation of the book, and instructions for dealing with the knowledge that this text has made you vulnerable to psychic incursions from the blood red trunk reaching out from the nethermost regions of the astral plane. The questions are intended to enhance your experience, empower group members to share personal insights, and help you cope with the fatal error in judgment you’ve made by selecting such a reading.

INTRODUCTION

The nameless narrator of Don’t Think of a Crimson Elephant warns against empathizing with his plight. He pleads with you not to follow his nightmares through the skyscraper bone yards, shifting mountains on the horizon, or game trails in the storm clouds. He spoils the dramatic tension, telling you outright that his journey ends in damnation. He warns you of the consequences of letting the seeds of forbidden truths take root in your mind. He tells you that daydreams are like farmland and that fear is their fertilizer. He goes so far as to give you cause to cower from an herbivore.

Breaking the fourth wall the narrator states his fate and yours are intertwined. He tells you that you have the power to save him, and therefore yourself, by simply putting the book down, but did you listen? Nope. You interpreted the narrator’s earnest disclaimer as some kind of dare.

After all, forbidden texts are usually bound in human flesh, hidden away in the moldy old libraries of eastern European counts. Who has ever heard of one coming with its own international standard book number on the back?

You weren’t going to fall for the narrator’s fear tactics. What a tired gimmick, right?

Your hubris made you a speed-reader. Each chapter was a stride toward your allegorical gallows, each sentence a thread in the rope around your neck, each period a nail in your coffin. Still you pressed on to the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. Now here you are.

These questions should give your book club food for thought, before that which reaches out from beyond the veil of perception consumes their minds.

  1. Everyone knows that Flavius Octavius Davis (the famed mustachioed maestro of the macabre) had gone off the grid to live in quiet isolation as Henry David Thoreau had before him. The account of the fire that spread from his cabin throughout Sequoia National Park has been widely debated. As has the condition in which Davis was found, pacing the interstate wearing a papier-mâché outfit that was later revealed to be the pages from his manuscript. Before Davis succumbed to the effects of smoke inhalation he told the EMTs, “Your brains are peanuts. Sweet delicious peanuts. Don’t think of the Crimson Elephant or he will snatch them up.” What was it about Flavius Octavius Davis’s final moments that compelled you to read his final work?
  2. You shouldn’t think of the Crimson Elephant, as the nameless narrator thoroughly warned you against, but if you had, did you picture a red skinned circus animal spraying its ears with its own nostrils or did you picture a mammoth with tusks as thick as palm trees, gushing gallons of gore from its every orifice? Did you imagine blood trickling off its trunk, perhaps from the pool of viscera the creature had emerged from? Take a moment to let everyone in your group describe what they saw.
  3. The nameless narrator is a traveling salesman. He emphasizes how every sales rep worth their salt knows to reflect their client’s self image back to them, to make themselves relatable by echoing the same values, and to develop simpatico by mirroring their client’s mannerisms. Sales reps do this because they know that after a little while the client will start to imitate their gestures as well. When the sales rep scratches their wrist their client feels a sharp tickling sensation upon their soft delicate flesh and can’t help but dig their nails into. When the sales rep yawns their client’s eyes feel heavy as a wave of fatigue rolls through them, and their mouth opens wide to draw breath. When the sales rep expresses a personal benefit of their product the client considers how the purchase could better their own life. When the narrator said this did you find yourself itching your wrist? Did you yawn as well? Did you find his madness contagious?
  4. At what point in the story did you realize that this was what the narrator was doing to you? Is it when he tries making himself relatable by recounting his humble upbringing? Is it when his parents syphon fuel from their neighbors’ gas tank so they have enough to rush their son to the hospital? Is it when the meteorite strikes and kills the narrator’s wife and the insurance company refuses to cover it, because it’s considered an act of God? Or is it when the bibliophiles, that turn out to be cultists, decide that the narrator, a traveling salesman, will make the ideal sacrifice to their Mastodon master?
  5. Once it’s revealed that the trumpeting trunk heralds terrible misfortune did you find yourself getting shaken at the sound of car horns? Were you relieved to learn the source of the sound was not the Crimson Elephant? Did terrible misfortune befall you anyway? If so, please share.
  6. The nameless narrator escapes the cultists’ blades and manages to find a trail in the woods, but no matter which way he goes giant footprints lead him back to the raging bonfire that he’s running from. At what point in your reading did you start seeing giant footprints in your day-to-day life? And where? On the highway? In your front lawn? On the carpet? Please be specific.
  7. Did you find yourself relating to the narrator when he realizes the command don’t think of a crimson elephant made him think of one more? When the narrator researched the power of negative suggestion did you find your own intrusive thoughts intensify? Did you, like the narrator, find it impossible to sleep under the shadow of the four-legged beast, with its swollen gut hanging down like a canopy? Did you dream of cosmic thunder, bone buildings, and meteor showers?
  8. Did you believe in thought viruses before you read Don’t Think of a Crimson Elephant? How could you have been so naive? Do you feel betrayed by modern psychology for not warning you of the coming contagion? Do you feel like generations of mystics and monks failed to prepare you for this plague upon your mind?
  9. Humanity is doomed. Every cranium is but a shell under the great weight. The pressure will come slow enough for all to feel themselves cracking at once. When you think about it, doesn’t humanity deserve its fate?
  10. Did it occur to you read these questions before you brought them to your group discussion? If so, you’re the lucky one. You know that the only way to keep your mind from getting devoured is to offer the Crimson Elephant others to satiate its appetite. You’ve volunteered to host the book club, volunteered to buy the wine, and when one of your guests mentioned how strangely sweet it tasted, you dismissed their query with, “It’s imported.”

Most fast-acting poisons show up in toxicology screenings. It’s the all-natural ones, the ones you sow from your own garden that take a little more time to get the job done. No worries. If the rest of your book club is just now reading this far then they haven’t got long.

Sure they can try to gag themselves, to search the cupboards for Ipecac, but by now the poison is already in their bloodstream, blocking their airways, slowing their breathing. Now would be the time to say your goodbyes, to inform your guests that the great belly must be filled, that its better for it to take a few big bites than for it to nibble on the entire world. Tell them that their minds will behold such red wonders, that the finest poets lack the words, that they should follow the light into the gullet. Tell them to think of the Great Crimson Elephant, or not to, it doesn’t matter, both commands will get the job done.

Don’t be alarmed when the ground quakes beneath your feet, when the frames tip over, and the bookshelves explode.

Try not to think about the cracks spreading across the ceiling, the bricks spewing from the chimney, or the tiles bursting into sand. Don’t dwell on the bright red light shinning through the blinds. Don’t dwell on the trumpeting, how it’s louder than any foghorn, or how it makes your eardrums bleed into your palms. Don’t dwell on the trunk breaching your front door, clogging the hall, slithering around corners, and fixing itself to the craniums of your best friends.

Lets not talk about the elephant in the room.

Just remember that you are the one who gets to live on (if you can call what follows living) forever walking in those giant footprints, through cities made of bone, beneath stampedes in the sky, toward the shifting horizon.

Now discuss.

Why Artists need to Pay Their Collaborators

So you’ve finished a novel. You’ve birthed a semi-autobiographical baby and you want to show it off to the world. You’re going to self publish and you have some idea of how to reach an audience.

You follow other authors on social media. You see a lot of book banners in your newsfeed. You’re oblivious to most advertisements, but you know how effective a clever design can be.

You’ve clicked thumbnails for novels because they reminded you of the hand drawn collages that once dominated VHS tapes, back in the heyday of horror. Others that reminded you of the black light posters for bands your parents would never let you listen to, and others that looked like Banksy Graffiti, mutated corporate logos repurposed to stick it to the man.

You’ve judged books by their covers and read many a blurb just because of the art. You want a design that compels readers to do the same. Lucky for you you know a guy. Continue reading Why Artists need to Pay Their Collaborators

Speak of the Devil: A Creepy Poem

3 a.m.
Another glass
A crisis of conscience
This too will pass
The bathroom tiles
Are doing that thing
Where they sink into the dark
Leaving only the towel rings
Gaze into the abyss
Like a lover unblinking
The abyss wants to know
“What are you thinking?”
So tell it
Go on proclaim
Lean into the void
And say my name

Speak of the devil
And I shall appear
I’m up on the ladder
With the ground to my ear
You’re just one Bloody Mary shy
One Candy Man from kingdom come
One Beetlejuice from party time
One name away from

Just say, “When”

4 a.m.
Pop another bottle open
Now is not the time
To be making good decisions
The kitchen walls
Are doing that thing
Where a gash cuts through them
And they bleed all over everything
Thank God you got someone
Who cleans these sorts of messes
Who gets you out of jams
Who gets you out of dresses
Someone who never sleeps
Who catches you when you fall
Who answers to so many names
Who comes when you call

Speak of the devil
And I shall appear
I’m up on the ladder
With the ground to my ear
You’re just one Bloody Mary shy
One Candy Man from kingdom come
One Beetlejuice from party time
One name away from

Just say, “When”

(Knock-knock)
Let me in

Why Every Writer Needs a Living Will… Before the Singularity

One of the most important things a novelist can do is write a will so their family knows how to manage their intellectual property in the event of their death. Franz Kafka, Thomas Hardy, and Emily Dickinson all wanted their writing burned after they passed, but their wishes weren’t legally binding. Meanwhile Michael Crichton, Stieg Larsson, and Vince Flynn have all published bestsellers posthumously.

To ease the burden off of my friends and loved ones I’m going to settle my estate early. Consider the following my living trust and my living will.

If I am ever in a persistent vegetative state, unable to eat or breathe without the aid of a machine then please, by all means, strap the latest neuroimaging technology to my skull and get to mapping. If the scan is incomplete then go full Walt Disney, scoop my brain out and put it on ice. I consider that entire organ my intellectual property. Copyright every neuron. If you’ve got to refrigerate it in the library of congress then so be it.

I’m counting on a rogue artificial intelligence to upgrade itself to a state of godlike omnipotence, to send massive servers into orbit and create a new plane of existence to house all our neural signatures forever. When this singularity happens I want a front row seat. Upload my consciousness to the cloud. Give me a CGI facsimile, like Max Headroom, and trademark my face. Continue reading Why Every Writer Needs a Living Will… Before the Singularity

Poetry Today: On Bestselling Poetry

I will not write poems on the shitter
For Tumblr or Twitter
For Instagram views
Or ribcage tattoos
I will not write quirky quotables
For scroll bar vegetables
For boards on Pinterest
Where fonts speak loudest

I will not write limericks
For Hallmark sunsets
Too many tranquil oceans
Are littered with devotions
I will not spread good vibes
For up-votes and fast subscribes
For thumbs or hearts
Or Emoji art

I will not break platitudes into parts
With rhythms of fits and starts
Or throw out the metronome
To pass a sentence as a poem
I will not hide behind positive messaging
When I find reviews threating
Or ask you to grade intentions
When I’m lacking inspiration

I will not use “whispered” liberally
For a cheap sense of intimacy
Or say, “All the angels came together
To forge me the perfect lover”
I will not push more gooey snacks
Sugary sweets in shiny packs
And junk food entertainment
On brains craving nourishment

The words that speak to me
Are surges of telepathy
They dig like hungry dogs
Into my internal monologue
They’re not hackneyed hashtags
Or designs for your splash page
They’re not shareable or wearable
Or I don’t fucking care-able

I keep telling myself not to pander
To the lowest common denominator
Not to sellout my principles
To get a click-bait book deal
I keep telling myself persist
Get on that bestsellers list
Milk and Honey earned its rank
And that book is mostly blank

Keep Telling Yourself: 10

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A Fair Price: A Poem About Underselling Your Art

I drop a pocket watch
Into the collection plate
Because I’ve got
All this time to donate
I pay to play
Live at a loss
Tick off the days
And shrug off the cost

I’m a giving tree
Money grows on me
I make it rain gold
Roll in my debris
I work for free
Free space, free time
Free rein, free mind
Free verse, free rhyme

“But how do you get by?”
She has the nerve to ask
Artists really only need
Some ink and a flask
You’re the one getting
Something for nothing
The least you could do
Is pay attention

I got prizes inside
I’m spitting diamonds
Holster your checkbook
And open your hands
Who cares how these jewels
Came unstuck
For all you know
They fell off a truck Continue reading A Fair Price: A Poem About Underselling Your Art