A Hell of a Night: An Excerpt from HE HAS MANY NAMES

Here’s another sample from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES available now!

Our hero Noelle has one month to ghostwrite a novel in a creepy hotel where her benefactor claims to have encountered a demon. Noelle is skeptical, but strange things keep happening…

•••

I was pacing the 19th floor at three in the morning. I was more than a little tipsy. To make matters worse, the light fixtures had started flickering. This hall was where I did the bulk of my thinking, writing, and verbal processing since I’d checked in. Something had to be done.

I decided to place a call to the front desk. I dug my phone out of my pullover. The voice memo application was still running from God knows when. A little waveform trailed across the screen. In the upper right corner I saw that my battery was at 10%.

Then the screen blinked off, and I heard a screech, like someone pushing furniture across a hardwood floor, followed by a crash and a door creaking open.

I checked the rooms. The suites with the vampire bat knocker, the wolf, the octopus, and mine were all shut.

A dozen ice cubes scattered across the floor. The icemaker tilted forward and spat out another mouthful of blocks and fell on its face. The condom dispenser, behind it, stood diagonal from the wall. There was a tall black door where the dispenser had been. The top of the door was adorned with a carving of three figures, holding hands, pointing downward.

What kind of hotel puts a condom dispenser in front of a door? The Oralia, of course.

I approached with caution. By the time I stepped onto the tiles the ice cubes had started melting. Water seeped into my cat slippers while I was busy examining the scene.

This new door had a knocker in the same place as the others. It featured a figure sitting atop the big brass ring with his fist to his chin. It took a moment to recognize Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker.

I moved closer and the other engravings revealed themselves as well. At first I thought they were simple floral designs, until I shifted my footing and a glare caught the finish—naked figures jumped out of the woodwork, twisted, writhing, and anguished, a collage of biceps, buttocks, and breasts. Each carving looked like it had melted into position, a liquid orgy of delight and despair.

The lights flickered and the figures seemed to crawl over each other. I jumped back and they vanished back into the varnish. I was too tipsy to trust what I was seeing.

I squeezed my eyes shut, raised my palms, and inhaled; I lowered my palms, exhaled, and opened my eyes. The Thinker watched me from the knocker waiting for me to make my move.

My curiosity got the better of me. I took the ring and knocked three times. Each hit echoed into the distance. When the last fell silent the door opened.

I stepped through the entryway to find not carpeting but cold stones. I felt the wall for a light switch and found more stones. I dared to announce my presence. “Hello?”

The door swung shut behind me and there was a clicking not far from where I stood.

I froze a few steps from the archway. Behind me was only darkness. Ahead was the crackling of a flame drawing me into the room. I followed the light toward the bedroom, taking in my surroundings as I went. The furnishings were made up of inquisition era torture devices: Catherine wheels, Judas Cradles, and Iron Maidens. Cat o’ nine tails, riding crops, and stocks were scattered on the floor while the walls were lined with shackles.

Something about that flame beckoned me. I followed the light to a pair of torches mounted to an archway. Standing at the threshold a breeze hit me harder than anything I expected from any bedroom.

I stepped through the archway and entered a cathedral so grand there was no way it fit inside the city, let alone the 19th floor of the Oralia. Torches ran from the floor to the dome of the ceiling. Firelights went so far off into the distance they seemed like constellations.

Each torch sat in the eye socket of a slick red skull. The skulls were stacked higher than any catacomb, and held together with a mortar of musculature and organs.

Support beams marked each of the columns. They looked like thighbones, with curved bodies and rounded joints, but they were longer than anything on the fossil record, longer than canoes, longer than limousines.

The vestibule was a cobblestone platform the size of a tennis court. Beyond that were steps so wide and so deep they could’ve been coliseum seats. They led to a swirling volcanic cauldron at the heart of the cathedral.

Tall flowing banners hung from the walls. Light danced down their fabric revealing a patchwork of hair, veins, and nipples. The banners were made from human flesh, flesh that had been branded with a ghastly coat of arms. I couldn’t help but examine the nearest banner. There was a rendering of Adam and Eve, naked as the day they were made, shackled to a shield, topped with a crown of horns, framed with raven wings. Upon the shield were the beasts of the sea and the dragon of the earth as described in Revelations.

The worst part of the cathedral was the cages hanging from the ceiling like a colony of bats, some were filled with people I’d known: producers I’d pitched to, agents I’d tried to court, and screenwriters who’d vanished.

I inched toward the stairway that went around the cathedral. Something was happening at the bottom. Lava shot up like a glowing orange geyser and all the cages rattled.

There was a pulsing hum, whoosh whoosh whoosh, followed by a series of sharp metallic clinks like an aircraft carrier haling up an anchor. Something terrible was swimming in that fire.

And then it emerged: a hulking titan with four giant batwings. At first I thought it was covered in boils, big white puss filled sacks, but then the boils squinted and I realized I was looking at eyeballs.

The titan’s head was a lopsided jumble with the profiles of beasts in place of his ears. The fangs of a lion roared out of his left side, while the snout of a bull flared out from his right. The grimace facing forward was human, as human as a chiseled brick could get. I tried to read his face, but despite his size, the titan was so far away it was hard to make out his expression.

This was the entity Ezekiel described in the bible: a Seraph of the highest order of angels, one of the Cherubim corrupted by his fall. This was no mere Devil. This was Satan.

Something told me not to look him in the eyes so I shifted my gaze to the ceiling. The cages started rattling. The captives went into violent convulsions. Their backs stiffened, their legs jutted out, and their toes pointed straight down. The prisoners gripped their bars as electricity surged through them. They gritted their teeth until their eyes rolled back and their jaws went slack. Light burst from their eye-sockets, nostrils, and mouths.

The prisoners sat up in a uniform position. “COME CLOSER.” They spoke as one, a congregation echoing a sermon.

“I can hear you just fine up here.”

“CLOSER.”

Thunder boomed. The floor quaked. The platform tilted downward. I looked for the archway, but it was high above me now. I could already feel a pull toward the cauldron. I fell back desperately trying to lower my center of gravity. I dug my heels into the gaps, but my slippers offered no traction and I lost my footing.

From the edge of the platform all the way to the pit, the steps fell like dominos. The coliseum transformed into a mile-long ramp. When the platform tilted I slid fast. The traction peeled my sweatpants up to my knees. The stones scraped my calves, chaffed my thighs, and battered my ass. They struck my tailbone, every column of my spine, and slammed into the back of my skull.

Satan’s caged congregation followed my movements. I fell so fast their eyes passed like comets.

I looked down into the cauldron. Satan’s wheels lowered into the lava, making it swirl and bubble. He waded in to meet me head on. CLOSER. When I neared the pit he opened wide to swallow me whole.

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

The Satanic Temple is threatening to sue Netflix over The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s use of a monument to Baphomet that looks strikingly similar to theirs.

Occult author Eliphas Levi illustrated the classic Sabbatic Goat depiction of Baphomet. For their monument The Satanic Temple removed the breasts and added a pair of admiring children. The sculpture on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina reflects these alterations.

When the statue was brought to his attention The Satanic Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves said, ”Having one’s central icon associated with human sacrifice in an evil patriarchal cult is hardly good exposure and hardly a frivolous complaint. Fighting this bullshit is the heart of the cause. Not only does it contradict what Baphomet represents, we owe it to those who identify with us to not allow this image, and by extension them, to be represented in this way.”

While The Satanic Temple’s copyright complaint has grounds, the rest of their statement on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais flawed and as a horror writer I’ll explain why.

A Little History

In 2014, The Satanic Temple crowd sourced a sculpture of Baphomet in response to Ten Commandments Monument at Oklahoma’s State Capital. Attendees had to sell their souls to get a ticket, which organizers said was to drive away the truly superstitious. The Satanic Temple’s aim wasn’t to honor an actual demonic entity, but to protest the values State Representative Mike Ritze was imposing upon them. The unveiling ceremony was a cheeky act of civil disobedience. Clever pranksters shined a national spotlight on a divisive issue and both monuments have since been removed.

In case it wasn’t obvious: The Satanic Temple does not believe in a literal Satan who comes when summoned. They see that predatory lender who cashes in on souls as a fictional character. They use Satan’s likeness as an act of protest from religious encroachment. They’re trying to rebrand the devil as a symbol of rational dissent.

Writing about this I am deeply conflicted. I’m skeptical of the supernatural. I don’t like when people turn their spiritual beliefs into public policy, and I’ve participated and even lead satirical protests myself.

But as a horror writer I take issue with The Satanic Temple claiming ownership of Baphomet and by extension Satan as fictional characters. Who are they to dictate how writers get to use Satan, especially since they’re coopting him as a tool for their satire?

Imagine if demonstrators dressed as vampires to protest rising temperatures. It would be good for laugh, but no one would take the vampires seriously if they turned around and criticized Castlevaniaon Netflix cartoon for its depiction of Dracula. Get the fuck out of here. You don’t own Dracula.

Back to Sabrina

Perhaps these threats of litigation against Netflix are continuations of The Satanic Temple’s one note joke. If that’s the case it’s just not that funny. Protesting ten commandment monuments on government land feels like punching upward. Protesting a TV show that plays with demon mythology to tell a story of female empowerment feels like punching sideways.

If most practicing Satanists don’t believe in the occult then how woke do stories about Satanic blood orgies really need to be? If you think The Satanic Temple is insincere in their belief in the Satanic pantheon than who are they to dictate who gets to play with it in fiction? In The Chilling Adventures of SabrinaSabrina isn’t a member of The Satanic Temple or The Church of Satan. She’s a member of The Church of Night. Lucien Greaves accurately pointed out that The Church of Night is patriarchal and barbaric, because of course it is, Sabrina needed something to struggle with. Give the audience some credit. Even devoutly religious viewers know that The Church of Night doesn’t exist.

You Can’t Own the Devil

If you appropriate an image of Baphomet from an occultist and rebrand the character as an icon of skeptical enlightenment, you don’t get to be pissed off if a storyteller re-appropriates Baphomet as a symbol of the occult. You may own the sculpture, but you don’t own the character.

In the demand letter sent to Netflix the lawyer for the Satanic Temple claims, “My client is struggling to overcome centuries of stigma surrounding their religious symbolism.”

Let me unpack that for a moment. The devil in bible is not depicted as a goat-legged faun like the statue of Baphomet. He’s said to be a Cherubim, a class of angel with four wings, four hands, and four heads covered head to toe in eyeballs.

Satan became a faun when early Christians took issue with the popularity of idols made to the Greek God Pan. They appropriated Pan’s likeness into their devil, who was then appropriated by Eliphas Levi into his Sabbatic Goat illustration, who was then appropriated by The Satanic Temple into their statue of Baphomet, who was then appropriated by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinafor a fun little show about witches. Centuries of stigma surrounding your religious symbolism? More like centuries of stealing.

I think everyone owes the Greek God Pan some royalties.

Also, no, The Satanic Temple isn’t centuries old. It was founded in 2012. The Church of Satan, which has rebuked The Satanic Temple, was founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. People have been accused of being Satanists for centuries, yes, but people didn’t start claiming to be until very recently.

Not a Place I Expected to Find Political Correctness

As amusing as I’ve found The Satanic Temple’s protests it irks me to see an organization that stands out as the antithesis of political correctness try to weaponize political correctness to its advantage.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You didn’t get into Satanism because you were sensitive. Part of the appeal of claiming Satan is getting a rise out of people, especially when you’re driving them batty over something you yourself don’t believe.

All of this ink on The Satanic Temple’s lawsuit reads like click bait signal boosting from entertainers clamoring to stay relevant. You don’t get to cry religious persecution if you don’t buy into your own dogma. That’s some major league false equivalency bullshit.

Satanic Panic? Please

One of the reasons The Satanic Temple says it takes issue with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais how it fans the flames of Satanic Panic. I’d argue the show is far too playful to be taken as a serious representation of any strongly held religious belief system.

I’ve written articles that openly debate whether or not horror writers have any responsibilities when it comes to fanning the flames of superstition, but I strongly doubt we’ll see another wave of Satanic Panic as a result of this or American Horror Story: Apocalypse.

TV pundits aren’t talking about backwards messages in heavy metal records. Geraldo Rivera isn’t harassing Ozzy Osbourne anymore.

Few people even remember Dr. Demento’s harrowing expose on the ritual magic of Dungeons and Dragons.

“Michelle Remembers” has been out of print for a long time. No one is recovering suppressed memories of their imagined cultist upbringing. No is claiming there are mass graves on the outskirts of town.

Horror movies are en vogue again. Harry Potter protests are done and guess what? Harry Potter won.

Satanic Panic is over.

Magus Peter H. Gilmore from The Church of Satan (again, not to be confused with The Satanic Temple) refers to devil worshipers’ newfound prominence in films like The Witchand Hereditaryas a sign of “Satanic Unease,” a symptom of the toxic tribalism in all of our escalating divisions. That’s not a bad diagnosis, but I think its really just Satanic Cynicism.

I doubt any of these screenwriters think practitioners of black magic really exist, so they lump all Satanists together and treat them like any other horror trend. It was zombies and vampires last year. Now its Satanic witches (who bear no real resemblance to true Satanists or Neo-Pagan Wiccans). Soon when all the tides start rising it will be Lovecraftian ocean people with gills (oh wait, that’s already a thing).

I Too Have Appropriated Satan, Come At Me Bro

My book He Has Many Names explores the modern devil, from the few times he takes the stage in the bible, how he got his horns, and what fueled the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Neither The Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple have so much as a walk on role, because the story isn’t about Satanism. It’s about how Satan became a trope in fiction. The protagonist is a writer exploring Satan’s origins only to face a brand new mythology of my own design, and I’ll be damned if I owed anyone any royalties. Continue reading On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

Post Halloween Depression

It’s early November in Minnesota and they’re draping tinsel around the light poles. Shop windows are full of Christmas trees and holiday ballads are following me from sliding door to sliding door.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like commerce everywhere you go.”

Bah Humbug to sweater season. Bah Humbug to politically polarizing Thanksgiving conversations. Bah Humbug to daylight savings ending. Bah Humbug to dusk at 4 PM. Bah Humbug to seasonal depression. I already miss Halloween.

WHY I CLING TO HALLOWEEN

Every October I watch my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, I riffle through The X-Files, explore The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, and host a horror movie marathon for one. Every November I try to keep that party going, to keep myself in the headspace of Halloween, to self medicate with macbre media. My calendar has 62 days of October. My cat continues to paw at the skeleton decorations, while I attempt to treat myself with black light therapy. It’s a hard thing to reason with seasonal depression when you late it settle in, which is why I’m stalling.

Any shrink worth their salt will tell you that it’s important to have something to look forward to. October had me conjuring up costumes for parties. That’s right “parties,” plural. I’m a man in my thirties who prepared multiple outfits for Halloween week. You may call that immaturity. I call it therapy.

Now I need to come up with a new short-term creatively engaging obsession without the seasonally appropriate community reinforcement. It’s always a challenge. One November I tried to start an alternate reality game. Another I recorded an audiobook. I think this year I’m going to try blog hopping and see where that takes me.

Still that’ll another variation of doing the same thing expecting something different to happen.

I stock up on projects every winter, but it’s a challenge to make time for creative endeavors when my schedule narrows to work and self-care. Suddenly it’s hard to write when so much of my creative energy is spent on personal upkeep.

DARK TIMES AHEAD

Every fall the days get shorter then we wind the clocks back, because we’re in one of the countries that does that. It isn’t that the darkness makes me sleepy (the production of melatonin doesn’t help) it’s that it makes me feel okay about unwinding when I should be writing. It gives me permission to be a couch potato longer than I would if I saw the sun. It makes multi-slacking with a videogame on one screen and Netflix on the other seem like valid use of my time.

There’s debate in the scientific community about whether or not sunlight impacts mood or if Seasonal Affective Disorder is even a real thing. Well I don’t need to be a virologist to know that cabin fever is real. I don’t need to be an epidemiologist to know those of us living in quarantine for the holidays are in for a bad time. I don’t need to see if restless head syndrome has made it into the DSM-5 to know when I have it.

WHY NOVEMBER IS A TOUGH TIME TO BE A WRITER

I take an annual emotional hit just after Halloween. As a horror author Halloween is my peak creative season. It’s when I’m at my most prolific, sharing short fiction and observations of the genre to a hungry audience, but every year my blog traffic plummets come November 1stand I, in turn, hit writer’s block hard (checkout the scarcity of my previous November blog entries).

Celebrations of horror and fantasy cease on social media. The childlike spirit of Halloween gives way to harsh tone of our political landscape. I go from feeling like I’m free to wander the streets with my horns uncovered to feeling a need to hang my strange obsessions in the closet for another year.

To make matters worse this is when most writers start participating in National Novel Writing Month, posting their word counts to social media like unbeatable high scores. Despite the inherent introversion that comes with our craft we writers our social animals. We can’t help but compare how our efforts to those of others.

THE HOLIDAYS DON’T HELP

Jack Frost is knocking and he has a choir of intrusive thoughts behind him.

“Shouldn’t you be getting the perfect someone the perfect something? Shouldn’t you two be drinking cedar by the fire? You don’t want to be a spectator on New Years Eve, do you?”

Yeah yeah yeah. I’ve heard this song before. Bah Humbug to all that noise. All I want for Christmas is the freedom to opt out.

This has nothing to do with any ill will towards the holiday itself. That I’ve always loved. It just sucks to being alone during a time of togetherness and this modern era really has a way of rubbing it in. There’s that social comparison phenomenon rearing its ugly head again.

I’ve lived with people who’ve scrolled through their Facebook feed openly resenting their graduating classmates for having kids before them. I’m not the guy that grits his teeth at cheery Christmas photos, but I must confess they do have a cumulative effect.

EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS

I recognize that I’m thinking aloud, screaming into the void, throwing thoughts into the volcanic mouth of the Internet to see where they land. I’ve been at the edge of this particular cauldron before. This season I need to do something different.

I just had a book published, “He Has Many Names.” I’m exploring ways to get it into more readers’ hands after launch. I’ve written a screenplay based on the first chapter and sent it to someone who manages the local 48-hour film festival. I’d like to have a book trailer in the not too distant future.

As for what I do on this blog, or for that matter what I do with my career, I need to set aside some creative energy to discover something I haven’t tried before. What I’ve been doing has only gotten me so far. I’m happy with my modest success, but I need to knock on some doors and tell my stories to strangers.

HOW DO YOU DEAL?

Hey fellow writers, fellow creatives, fellow human beings in the Northern Hampshire struggling to stay warm at this time of year. How do you cope with these shorter days? What do you do to make sure you’re spending your creative energy appropriately? I really want to know. Continue reading Post Halloween Depression