Drew Year’s Resolutions

This year I’ve learned some hard lessons about publishing, book promotion, and blogging. I’ve honed in on my problems and come up with some solutions for 2019.

PROBLEM: My novel isn’t going crazy viral

A blog is not the best promotion vehicle for a novel (even if I write a dozen novel-centric articles). Most of my readers come for writing advice or nerd culture commentary. My book He Has Many Names delves deep into both of those themes, but it’s billed as fiction. I have a pretty good following but my novel-centric posts get the least amount of engagement. I think that might be because readers see them as a kind of Sponsored Content.

That and shifting my blog from squeaky-clean writing advice to horror-centric content means I’ve had to rebuild my following.

SOLUTION: Consider the audience

There’s a way for writers to get more eyes on their page without resorting to click-bait-meme-dump-listicles.

As much as I love sharing short stories, satire, and monster dating profiles, I need to offer something useful too.

I want to get back into giving writing advice, but in a way that differs from what I’ve done before. My new criteria will ask the following questions:

  • Can I offer technical insight into the subject rather than simply define it in my own words?
  • Can I approach the subject within a three act story so that it’s more memorable for readers?
  • Can I draw from my personal failures to better inform new writers?
  • Will the subject spark a debate or is it too safe?

PROBLEM: Winter’s impact on my creativity

Every year Minnesota winters beat the shit out of me emotionally. It gets dark at 4pm and cabin fever can get nauseating. Yet, every summer I forget the toll the cold takes and I assume my creative energy will power through the seasons. I’m always surprised when it doesn’t. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity (that’s more of a stock phrase for hack writers on TV). Still, it feels like in this instance it applies to me.

SOLUTION: Schedule posts out in advance

Smart bloggers write a ton of evergreen content (timeless articles) that they tease out throughout the year. They schedule posts and social media links months in advance. This gives them a buffer to chime in on current events or the latest pop culture conversation.

Smart Internet personalities spend this extra time introducing themselves to strangers via guest blogs, podcast appearances, and public readings.

This winter I’ve had the energy to just post links on Reddit. Next year I’ve got to do better than that.

PROBLEM: The holidays are a horrible time to promote a book

It’s easy to fill a spreadsheet with book promotion strategies. It’s hard to implement them when you work customer service through the holiday season.

Right now I work for a company who would very much like their acronym to stand for: United Problem Solvers, even though they deliver packages.

As Amazon rises to utter world domination the holiday seasons has become overwhelming. People with boxes up to their eyeballs line up out our door and at the front counter they haggle over every dollar. In the back parcels are stacked through the ceiling tiles, and at the packing table the staff are multitasking through their meals.

I come home, take a moment to pet my cat, and wake up on the floor a few hours later. I’m drained, no fun to be around, and in no condition to reach out to podcasters to talk about my fiction.

My book He Has Many Names is a horror story, which is why my publisher (Clash Books) released it around Halloween. Anticipating the promotion cycle I tried to dial my work schedule back, then three people quit and suddenly I was senior staff.

Suddenly every customer shouting, “What do you mean I have to pay for packaging? Amazon said it would be free.” Are syphoning my book promotion energy away from me.

SOLUTION: Honestly, I’m still looking for one

An author at my level has to be their own agent, their own influencer, and their own street team. They have to pull double shifts daily. I have to anticipate crunch cycles if I’m ever to master my work/writing balance.

I think this means I need to take a more active role in scheduling around my creative energy. That means focusing on simple attainable goals for the remainder of the winter and big lofty goals for the spring and the summer.

PROBLEM: My creative career feels like it’s running in place

It’s harder to vie for readers’ attention than ever before. They have the collected history of mass media in their pockets now. Genre authors have to scratch a very particular itch. For years it’s felt like each new endeavor was just another scheme. That needs to change.

SOLUTION:Devout more time to the planning stage

I used to be so afraid of writer’s block that I wouldn’t take time to think about promotion. I was afraid the well of inspiration would run dry if I stopped pumping. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and the ideas haven’t faded. I need to assure myself that the stories will still be there if I pause long enough to sell them.

I need to submit to more themed collections, put more unpublished offerings on Amazon, and offer more incentives for readers willing to review them.

CONCLUSION

Getting a writing career going is like trying to become a professional lottery winner. The odds aren’t in anyone’s favor.

That’s why my New Years Resolutions are short-term incremental goals.

What are your writing resolutions? Anything on my list make yours? Anything on your list that ought to be on mine? Let me know in the comments.

•••

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!

Monster Mingle: Meet Nólatha Torhorn

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet the second. She’s an Elven Queen. She’s smart, seasoned, and seductive, but just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

About us

We were once Nólatha Torhorn, an elven maiden, preoccupied with poetry, mead, and the language of trees. Our greatest aspiration was to leave home, hike the northern highlands, and hear the song of the forest. Our quest was cut short when the Order of Winter snatched us off the path and sacrificed us upon an altar of frost.

The gods of winter cast a shadow over the forest, seeping from the trees with the sap and the leaves. Twigs formed into skeletons, branches bent into limbs, and stumps rose up into midsections. Burls twisted into heads and took their places atop towering silhouettes.

The Order scattered.

The Gods of winter shook the forest floor. Their birch bark garments fluttered in long tattered ribbons. Their splintered crowns blotted out the moon and their hardwood hands dwarfed our dead frame.

They scrutinized our limp little limbs with ice-cold talons, tore into our chest, pried our ribcage apart, and squeezed our heart. We felt our girlhood dreams shatter in their grip. Then we felt nothing. That’s when the gods of winter raised their heads to the canopy and roared loud enough to shake the trees.

These kings of corrosion, these rulers of rot, these men of mulch, they turned their backs on us and seeped back into the night. Dissatisfied, the gods of winter brought about three more months of summer and our body was left for the wolves and the crows.

Our spirit wandered the Winterlands, but no matter how long we traveled the frost alter was never far. We were weeping upon our remains when Obliticus, the forgotten God of the mists, happened upon us. Obliticus offered to restore us to our body for a favor. His priestesses had been buried with his sacred artifacts. He needed the spirit of a mortal to brave the planes of limbo to get them back.

We spent several lifetimes trekking through that eternal sandstorm, searching every ruin until we came upon an entrance. We followed a labyrinth of winding corridors into a dome-shaped chamber with a platform in the center.

Three priestesses sat with the artifacts in their laps. Their eyes were rolled back. Their mouths hung open, filled with the drippings from the ceiling. A faint whisper beckoned us in. We crawled into the center of the chamber. The priestesses did not flinch. Careful, we pealed each artifact free: first the Crown of Candor, then the Solaris Spark, and finally the All Seeing Orb. With the relics in our arms we knew we were supposed to run, but something was telling us to combine them, to bear them, and harness their power. We did.

In that moment we saw each eventuality in every thread of reality and none of them concluded with us bringing the artifacts back to Obliticus. Our mortal spirit had achieved enlightenment. We’d ascended from the planes of limbo and into the cosmic. That’s when we ceased to be an individual and became a “We.”

Physical features

The moment we laid our fingers on the All Seeing Orb they turned as pale as birch. The moment the Crown of Candor grazed our brow our raven hair turned white from the revelation. The moment we placed the Solaris Spark into its aperture our pupils faded for we would have no further use for them.

We had become the Crown Crystalmancer, a being whose gaze extended from the highest peaks to the deepest trenches, a being whose natural radiance commanded the attention of the entire Seldarine pantheon, a being utterly removed from that lost elven maiden who’d been cast off all those autumns ago.

Our perfect match

The Crown of Candor has shown us the type of suitor we require: a tall, broad chested figure, with hard focused eyes, a chiseled jawline, and a noticeable thigh-gap between their riding trousers. The suitor’s gender, personal proclivities, sense of humor, values, and life aspirations are irrelevant.

Approximately 2,465 individuals who read this within the allotted timeframe will have the basest traits necessary to help us achieve our goal. Approximately 239 will respond. We will select the 37thapplicant.

You will be the one who despite the forthcoming paragraphs will still accept our proposal.

Our Intimate Details

Ever since we peered into the All Seeing Orb we’ve found ourselves distracted by a piece of information, so inconsequential, so incidental as to be a butterfly upon the surface of the moon. We fixate on it, in fleeting moments, when the river of wisdom thins. We find our mind wandering back to that altar, back when we were but a maiden, awestruck by like comets and polar lights. We dwell on the gods of winter, with our heart betwixt their fingers, and we can’t help but consider their reasoning for rejecting it. They preferred maidens with greater ambitions. By their estimation our death was no tragedy. We were not the caliber of maiden worth changing the seasons over. Little did they know what we would become.

Our ideal date

On the eve of the Autumn Equinox you will join us in that forest clearing in the northern highlands. You will lie upon the frost altar and wait for the sun to set. You will ask too many questions and receive the same answer every time.

“It’s best not to know.”

When dusk comes you will notice the dagger in our cincture. Your eyes will dart toward the horizon and wonder how far you could run. You’ll see us cock our head in that direction and turn back winking. You’ll recall having read that line and resolve yourself to your fate.

When the moon is at its zenith we will run a blade across your throat, separating your body from your spirit. Then we will leave you in the cold arms of death.

Shadows will descend from the stars, bleed down the redwoods, and spring forth from the trunks. Great silhouettes of pine needles, foliage, and straw will surround you on the slab. Their frames will dwarf the branches and their crowns will blot out the moon.

Do not fear these so-called gods. Your heart will never feel the sting of their touch, for the moment they reach out to you we will set their arms ablaze.

The Solaris Spark will enlighten the gods of winter, teaching them the ways of fire. They will scream like swine and die like straw men. Their panic will throw cinders through the air. Their heads will billow into the clouds, and their bodies will be but ashes on the wind.

Snow will never fall upon the highlands again.

Your blood will seep back into your veins, your wound will seal shut, and your spirit will return to your body.

Your loyalty will be rewarded. For the first time in over a millennium we will assume our maiden form and indulge you in the act of courtship. Our liaison will last approximately three weeks, seven days, eighteen hours, nine minutes, and eleven seconds. It will be the most intense love affair you’ve ever had and it will leave you wanting for the rest of your life

•••

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!

The Ghosts that Visit Me on Christmas Eve

This year my Christmas Eve itinerary is bursting with appointments.

The Ghost of Retail Past will walk me through the hollowed out beams of Blockbuster Video, Barnes and Noble, and Record Town. All places I’d worked that collapsed shortly after I’d given notice.

The Ghost will tuck his dust-strewn polo into his cobweb-riddled khakis, unknot his lanyard, and say, “If only you had pushed the credit card harder than these fine establishments might still be here.”

We’ll be joined by The Ghost of Non-politicized Holiday Farewells.

“Behold a young you behind the checkout counter.”

Pimple riddled me will wave goodbye to a customer. “Merry Kwanzaa-Hanu-Solistice.”

The customer will turn back. “And a happy Boxing Day to you too.”

Modern me will whisper, “I could never get away with that joke today.”

The spirits will lead me to a box office marque, filled with combinations of words I’d never seen before and The Ghost of Fresh Intellectual Properties will explain how movies used to be. We’ll sneak away when he gets into a debate with The Ghost of Problematic Christmas Films You Grew Up Loving.

We’ll regroup in the sunken crater of an abandon B.Dalton and get lectured by The Ghost of Long Form Literature. We’lltake comfort in knowing the works of Charles Dickens are in the public domain.

We’ll summon an uberXL and chart a course to my childhood home. On the way we’ll get a lecture from The Ghost of Licensed Cab Drivers and spend the trip looking out the windows at all the Christmas lights.

We’ll wait on my parents’ stoop, like a pack of carolers, until I think to knock on the door. It will creak open, as a flash of lightning reveals a thoroughly haunted home.

The Ghost of Tech Support-Free Visits to My Parents will accost me with appliances.

“The smart TV forgot the password for the Wi-Fi network, the cursor on the iMac turned into a beach ball, and this phone keeps saying iCloud storage is full. Whatever that means.”

The ghosts and I will hurry through the den past The Ghost of Wearing an Ugly Sweater Ironically, The Ghost of Real Christmas Trees,andThe Ghost of Mistletoe Meaning Consent.

We’ll sit around the kitchen table passing a cheese log between The Ghost of Apolitical Christmas Dinners, The Ghost of Harmless Headlines, and The Ghost of Literate Presidents.

The Ghost of Entertaining the Notion of Midnight Mass will make a sheepish attempt at conversation and we’ll pretend we don’t hear him.

Instead we’ll summon a DeLoreanXL and venture into the future.

The Ghost of Glaciers, Polar Ice Caps, and the Mere Concept of Snow will tell us what we have to look forward to from an abandoned oilrig.

“Hope you all like drinking your own pee because that’s how it’s going to be.”

“What if we go back and settle on a carbon tax?”

“If you can convince your cattle to pay for all the methane they’re pumping into the atmosphere you might have a chance.”

The ghosts and I will ride our DeLoreanXL into the sky even further into a future where towering logarithmic spirals have risen from the ocean. We’ll park on a dim lit platform, far from the throngs of bioluminescent aliens. TheGhost of Christmaswill explain how earth was terraformed by extra terrestrial colonists who superimposed their celebrations over our own. He’ll explain how they commemorate the new solar year by exchanging limbs. The Ghost of Christmas will kick the platform with his hands in his red fur trimmed pockets and shrug. “Now I know how my Pagan predecessors felt.”

The ghosts and I will pile back into the DeLoreanXL and go back to the present with our heads in our hands.

On Christmas morning I’ll put on my Sunday best and venture into town. I’ll let Tiny Tim know that I’d love to float him some paper for a lavish Christmas spread, but the economy is in a tailspin and all my assets are liquid.

“Maybe you could start a GoFundMe campaign for a Turkey dinner. Get those crutches in the picture and social media will eat that up for sure.”

God bless us everyone. Continue reading The Ghosts that Visit Me on Christmas Eve

Culkin VS. Krampus

Logline:When Macaulay Culkin’s brother, Kieran, is abducted by Krampus, the Christmas demon, Mac sets out to trap Krampus to try to get Kieran back.

Synopsis:

Estranged brothers Macaulay and Kieran Culkin are tricked into reuniting by mutual friends. They’re snowed in on Christmas Eve, stuck in an Airbnb up in the Austrian Alps. The Culkins play nice, showcasing their ugly sweaters, going through the motions of party games, but neither has much to say to the other.

Mike, the film critic who put this shindig together, searches the cabin for a distraction. He spots a carving on a windowpane. It turns out Mike is obsessed with myths and monsters and recognizes this carving.

“This rune is an Algiz, a symbol of the white elk. I think it’s supposed to be a protection ward.”

“It isn’t working.” Kieran points to his brother.

Mike insists they search the cabin for more spooky shit. He explains the Norse carvings lining the railing as he herds his friends toward the attic.

The Culkins have a good time, riffing on the occult cabin, but they get a little too deep into their eggnog. Macaulay mentions that he’s running an online poll to change his middle name and that the top suggestion is “Kieran.”

Kieran throws his hands up. “It’s that kind of shit that makes it hard for me to get work. Every time you go outside you devalue the Culkin brand.”

“The Culkin brand? Oh come on, we’re not Kardashians.”

Kieran bunches his fists. “I’ve been busting my ass just to eek my way onto HBO. Meanwhile you’re putting pizza puns in Velvet Underground songs. You retired at 14. Nothing matters to you, yet I’m the one living in your shadow.”

The brothers are at each other’s throats until Mike finds something in an old chest: a horned mask lined with fur with a strange bell around its collar.

Macaulay is curious. “What is it?”

Mike “It’s Krampus, the Christmas demon. He rides shotgun with Santa, taking the wicked children back to his lair where he beats them with birch sticks and rusty chains.”

The Culkins aren’t sure if Mike is messing with them.

“You guys never saw that Krampus movie with Toni Collette and Adam Scott?”

Macaulay shakes his head. “We don’t watch a lot of Christmas movies.”

Kieran points to the bell covered in strange symbols, “What’s that?”

“The Fluchglocke? Parents used to ring it when their kids were disobedient. They’d say, ‘Now Krampus knows what you did. He’s coming for you this year for sure.’”

Mac raises an eyebrow. “Here I thought my upbringing was weird.”

‘Twas the Night Before Darkness…

That night Macaulay creeps into Kieran’s room. He opens a window, with strange sigils, crawls back into the shadows, and slides the Krampus mask on.

Kieran wakes up shivering, covered in snow. He struggles with the window, but its frozen open. That’s when he hears the bell behind him. He turns to find Macaulay in the Krampus mask.

“Someone’s been a bad wittle boy.”

Kieran loses his shit.

Mike wakes up to find the Culkins wrestling in the hall, knocking over framed photographs.

“Stop! You’re ruining my rating!”

The guests pry the brothers apart, but not before Macaulay bloodies Kieran’s nose. Everyone glares at Macaulay like in the opening scene of Home Alone.

Creatures were Stirring

Mike snores through his sleeping bag on the couch. Macaulay is wide-awake on an air mattress. He hears a rattling from the chimney. Something is disturbing the moonlight in the fireplace. Macaulay pries a small mirror off the wall and slides it atop the Yule logs to get a better look. A rusty hook shatters the glass.

Mike chortles awake. Macaulay crawls to Mike in time to sush him.

A chain dangles from the fireplace. Both men are frozen in terror as they watch the hook remove the Yule logs one at a time.

A set of hooves touches down in the empty fireplace. A dark lanky figure crawls out sniffing the air. Its antlers cast maddening shadows on the ceiling. Its legs are matted and wooly. There’s a collar around its neck with a long chain leading back up the chimney.

Another pair of hooves touches down behind him. A boney figure with long sharp antelope horns emerges from the soot. It too has a collar. It too sniffs the air knowing its prey is near.

A final set of hooves touches down. This one shatters the bricks beneath it. This is the figure holding the chains. It has long spiraled horns and a beard that blends into the fur running down its chest. This is Krampus.

These shadow figures stretch across the room in low herky jerky movements, a bowlegged ballet that could turn violent at any moment. The scouts tug their chains toward the stairs. Krampus follows.

Two pairs of eyes peak out from a slit in the sleeping bag. Mike and Macaulay unzip themselves when the cost is clear.

There’s a howl from the second floor, followed by footfalls and shattered glass.

Kieran has been taken.

Six Months Later

Only Macaulay and Mike know what happened to Kieran. TMZ is fanning the flames of conspiracy theories. Once again Macaulay finds himself haunted by the paparazzi, living in hiding.

Mike ventures to Paris to find Macaulay throwing knives at pizza boxes stacked floor to ceiling.

“When did you get into throwing knives?”

“Since I made my brother disappear.”

“That wasn’t you.”

“Yes it was.”

“It was Krampus.”

“I’ve done my share bad shit: drinking, drugs, Richie Rich, but I’ve never gotten a visit from a demon on Christmas. There’s something special about that house and those relics. I just can’t figure it out. There’s too much Krampus bullshit on the Internet. I need to research the region, but I don’t speak the language, and I can’t get far with the papa-Nazis on my back.”

Mike nods. “I can help with that.”

Obligatory Monster Research Sequence

The pair treks across Eastern Europe.

Mike ventures into an creepy library and does a deep dive into the doi decimal system, paging through etchings, filling memo pads with notes. He underlines a name he keeps seeing: Dr. Wojtek Wolinski, Kramposologist.

Mike and Macaulay track Dr. Wolinskito a remote Slovenian village. It turns out the doctor is a doomsday prepper living in a boxcar on the outskirts of town. He’s about to slam his bunker door when he realizes just who is in front of him. Dr. Wolinski asks Macaulay to recreate the aftershave pose from Home Alone for the sake of selfie.

“You can, but I won’t.”

Mike coughs into his fist. “Ah-hem.”

Macaulay rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

Dr. Wolinski rubs his palms together. “Now say, ‘Keep the change, ya filthy animal!’”

Know Thy Enemy

Wolinski gives an impromptu lecture on Krampus with the kind of perfectly cobbled together visual aids that can only be found in horror films.

“Forget everything you’ve heard about Krampus. He has nothing to do Saint Nicholas. Krampus and his pets Schabmänner or Rauhen are far more ancient. Krampus is the bastard offspring of Hel the Goddess of death. Hel charged him with scarring the ghosts of winter back to Helheim. Krampus became part of the holiday tradition when Christianity made its way to the region. I think the change has had a strange effect on him. My parents would tell me stories about disobedient children who had gone missing. My vater would ask, ‘Whatever happened to loud little Luka?’ and my mutter would say, ‘Krampus must’ve taken him.’ The strange this was my friend Luka was missing.”

Macaulay can’t help but notice Dr. Wolinski’s hands are trembling.

“Are you comfortable talking about this?”

“Forgive me. We were taught that these myths were real. They still weigh heavy on me.”

Mac nods. “You don’t have to explain it. I was raised Catholic.”

“Oh, so then you know.”

Helheim and Beyond

Macaulay lets Mike in on his plan. He’s been trying to buy the cabin in the Austrian Alps ever since Kieran went missing. He’s finally outbid the competition. Macaulay aims to summon Krampus to trap him and force him to bring Kieran back.

In a montage Dr. Wolinski teaches Macaulay how to fashion deadly survivalist traps. Mike showcases what he’s learned about Norse runes. Macaulay practices his knife throwing skills on demon effigies.

Dr. Wolinski lays out the details for how mortals can travel back and forth through Helheim.

“Anyone can project their consciousness throughout the realms, but to truly crossover they need to go where the borders between worlds are at their thinnest, to the tallest mountain peaks. Then they’ll need someone on the other side to open the door.”

Macaulay nods. “How do they get back?”

“They need someone on this side to hold the door open.”

“So how does one get a magic door stop?”

“One makes their own.”

Battle Plan

In the weeks leading to Christmas Macaulay installs secret hatches throughout the cabin, motion sensors in the chimney, and a system of mirrors. He crawls from the fireplace sniffing the air. It occurs to him to put pine scented air fresheners everywhere. He crafts a mechanism that turns the master staircase into a ramp with the push of a button. He carves out a trapdoor at the foot of the stairs.

A truck pulls in. Macaulay guides delivery drivers with three huge boxes into the cellar. The drivers setup three heavy-duty cages. Macaulay directs them to position the cages’ toward the ceiling. The drivers exchange baffling looks, but Macaulay’s attention is on the paint cans lining the shelving.

Meanwhile Mike combs over leather bound texts for the means to enchant a pair of literal doorstops he’s placed in the middle of a salted circle. Chalk in hand Mike covers his command center in Norse runes.

Macaulay drags a department store worth of mannequins through the front door. He spends the evening tying sausage links around their necks.

Macaulay sprays Mike with a bottle of something called “Dead Down Wind.”

Mike covers Macaulay’s face in Viking war paint.

“Mac. Are you sure about this?”

Macaulay nods. “Nobody fucks with a Culkin on Christmas.”

‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas

Macaulay opens the bedroom window. Positions the Krampus Mask on a mannequin at the end of the hall. He backs to the head of the stairs and hurls a knife, dinging the cursed bell. Macaulay slips through a hatch, slides down a pole and joins Mike in his command center. They watch infrared screens for signs of movement.

Schabmänner, Rauhen, and Krampus slide down the chimney in the same order as before. The monitors fill with antlers, hooves, and claws. The creatures sniff the air, just as before, but now Schabmänner and Rauhen are tugging their leashes in opposite directions. Krampus unlatches their collars, setting them free to wreak havoc on the cabin. Schabmänner and Rauhen dig their claws into the walls and scurry onto the ceiling. Krampus remains in the den, standing motionless, staring right into camera lens.

Macaulay squeezes Mike’s shoulder. “That’s my cue.”

“Yippee-ki-ya, motherfucker.”

“Wrong Christmas movie.”

Macaulay climbs a ladder upstairs. He peeks through the hatch to find Schabmänner with his antlers stuck through a mannequin. Schabmänner’s jaw is unhinged and its long tongue is trying to reach the sausage links.

Schabmänner spots Macaulay and chases him into the attic where he finds Macaulay desperately trying to open the window. Schabmänner charges, trips on a pile of micro machines and slides through a trap door. He falls several stories into a cage in the basement.

Macaulay opens the window with ease.  There’s a zipline already in place, all Macaulay has to do is strap into a harness hanging from the support beam. Macaulay goes for the harness. A pair of horns impales the floorboards between him and the window. In an explosion of shards Rauhen is up in the attic and Macaulay is running back down to the second floor.

Macaulay leads Rauhen toward the master staircase, slips through a hatch, and slams a button. Rauhen legs fall out from under him as the stairs turn into a ramp. He slides at an awkward angle and misses the trapdoor.

Macaulay calls down from the banister above. “Hey, pronghorn. Up here.”

Macaulay hits Rauhen with a paint can on a string, knocking the demon into the cage below.

Mike watches from the monitors as Krampus finally reacts.

“That got his attention. Look alive. He’s coming.”

Macaulay sprints down the hall, rounds a corner into the kitchen, and gets into position beneath a lantern. He looks at his reflection on an angled pane of glass cutting through the room. He glances at a square in the floor tiles and crosses his fingers.

Krampus gallops down the hall toward Macaulay’s ghostly reflection. It looks like he’s going to fall for the trap, until he rounds the kitchen corner, grabs Macaulay by the collar and drops him through the trap door.

To Helheim and Back

Macaulay wakes up swinging from the cage. Schabmänner and Rauhen are dangling in their cages beside him. Three long chains lead up to Krampus who iss flying through the night sky on a pair of batwings. Macaulay looks down upon the corpse riddle shores of Nifelheim as Krampus delivers him into the bowels of Helheim and a castle made of bones.

Krampus hurls Macaulay’s cage into the cell of a dungeon. It isn’t long before the cage is besieged by a thin bearded figure in an ugly Christmas sweater. The attack stops as fast as it began.

“Mac?”

“Kieran, you’re alright!”

“I’ve been living off of gruel and birch shavings and I poop in bowl. Do I look alight?”

“You’re alive. That’s what matters.”

Kieran sighs. “I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this and I am really sorry for everything I said that night.”

“Are you shitting me? I’m sorry for getting you caught up in this?”

“I’m sorry you got caught up in it too.”

“Oh no Kieran, I’m right where I want to be.”

It turns out Macaulay has fitted his cage with a dozen throwing knives. He hits a latch and crawls out. It was always his plan to get caught.

Macaulay speaks into his doorstop. “Mike, do you read me?”

Back in the cabin Mikes doorstop lights up.

“Loud and clear. Do you got him?”

Macaulay nods. “We got him.”

“Alight let’s get to work on the door.”

Mike kicks his sliding chair out and starts drawing a rune on the floor of the command room.

A galloping sound echoes throughout the dungeon.

Kieran balls up. “He’s coming back for our beating.”

Macaulay shows Kieran a picture of the rune and hands him a piece of chalk. “Draw that as big as you can.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re the artist in the family. Me, I just fuck things up.”

Macaulay waits at the threshold of the cell to meet Krampus head on. When Krampus is within range Macaulay hurls knives in the demon’s direction.

Kieran scrawls a circle across the cobblestones. Lightning bolts shoot out from rivets in the floor. Cracks spread throughout the ceiling.

Krampus howls. It turns out he really doesn’t like being stabbed with sharp objects and Macaulay still has a fist full of daggers at his disposal.

Kieran completes the symbol. A blinding light shines from the chalk outline. Cobblestones float up into the air. Kieran peers into the light and sees Mike looking back at him from the command room.

“Come on Mac. It’s time to go.”

But it’s too late. Krampus has reached through the bars. Now he has Macaulay by the neck. Krampus unhinges his jaw to let his python tongue slither down.

“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Macaulay hurls his knives right down Krampus’s throat. Macaulay falls to the floor and slides into the vortex right behind his brother.

Epilogue

The cabin burns. Macaulay, Kieran, and Mike lock arms and sing “Silent Night.”

FADE OUT. Continue reading Culkin VS. Krampus

Top 5 Ways to Krampus Proof Your Home

I’ve been very bad this year: jaywalking across the highway, texting in the theater, ordering food five minutes before the restaurant shuts its door. What can I say? I’m hardcore.

There will be no candy canes in my stocking. No lumps of coal either, because what’s coming down my chimney is coming for me. Those aren’t jingle bells echoing down the fireplace. They’re chains.

Enter Krampus: the Christmas demon of European folklore, half goat, half demon, all fun hater. This matted monster has plagued my people ever since we stopped celebrating Krampusnacht. This year Krampus will be coming at me with a vengeance, double fisting birch bundles, with a burlap body bag hanging from his belt. So while everyone else is decking the halls I’m prepping my home for our annual showdown.

Know Your Opponent

Contrary to popular opinion Krampus is not Saint Nicholas’s shadow, nor is he the love child of Satan and the Greek God Pan. He’s the son of Hel the Norse Goddess of death, which means the rules governing that Pagan pantheon apply to him.

5) Use Psychological Warfare

Before Krampus rode shotgun with Santa, he was one of the Yule goats pulling the sled back when Thor was driving. You may have heard of the other two: Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr. Krampus was the red headed stepchild of the herd. He was bipedal, which meant he always lagged behind. To make matters worse Thor didn’t pack a lunch when he traveled. He ate his goats and used the magic of his hammer Mjölnir to resurrect them when he was done. That’s right, Krampus has been through some shit. If you’re going to survive Christmas you’ll have to exploit that.

Krampus is going to circle your home, surveying the exits. So it’s important to trigger his PTSD every chance you get.

While your neighbors fill their lawns with nativity scenes you need to find some ice blocks and carve out Thor’s likeness: big, buff, and bearded. Oh and make sure you stage Mjölnir front and center.

Then get some hay and sculpt a trio of Yule goats by binding the needles with twine. Set them on their backs with red tinsel trailing out like entrails.

That ought to throw Krampus off his game.

4) The Home Alone method of Home Protection

If I’ve learned anything from Macaulay Culkin it’s that every point of entry in your home is a vulnerability. So ice up your front stoop, line your windowsills with broken ornaments, and rig a string-triggered blowtorch to your front door.

Still your real focus should be on your chimney. Long before the Common Era the fireplace has served as a portal to supernatural worlds. Witches, fairies, and goblins have all used it to gain entrance to your home. If you have a fireplace then that’s where you need to focus your attention.

Now before you start whittling your firewood down to splinters, consider this: Krampus has hooves. He’ll stomp out even the sharpest of spikes. That’s why I line the stones with a grid of copper wired into a fleet of car batteries. It won’t kill Krampus, but it’ll let him know you mean business.

3) Get into the “Spirit” of the Season

Santa can’t resist Milk and Cookies. Krampus can’t resist Schnapps: butterscotch, peppermint, or cinnamon. Pick your poison. While Schnapps breathes best in a jar, you’ll want to serve it in a 5-gallon water cooler. Impair Krampus’s motor functions with a good hearty offering.

2) Use Krampus’s Strengths Against Him

Krampus’s name comes from the German word Krampen,which means, “Claw,” and boy does he have a set of Freddy Kruegers on him. Not to worry, because those claws limit Krampus’s dexterity. Doorknobs, latches, and locks prove troubling for the ancient imp. If Krampus can’t kick it open, he can’t get in. Use that to put some distance between him and you when you…

1) Set a Krampus Trap

Before Krampus was tasked with smacking unruly brats his job was to scare the ghosts of winter back to Helheim. Little known fact: he still has to do that along the way. We’ll use that to set our trap.

You will need:

  • A rug
  • A plate of glass
  • A stage light
  • A room with a cellar door just beyond the entryway
  • A Viking costume
  • A gray wig/beard
  • Old age makeup
  • A cage with a gravity operated trap door

Open the cellar, position the cage on the stairs, and roll the rug over the trap. Position the glass pane at a 45-degree angle just past the trap. Set up the stage light to the left of the entryway. Use a blue gel for dramatic effect.

Apply your wrinkles, glue on your beard, and fit your wig beneath your helmet. The goal is to look like a Norseman who died, not heroically in battle, but dishonorably of old age.

Like all horned creatures Krampus can’t help but charge at things that make him see red. When you hear Krampus clip-clopping step under the stage light. Your reflection will appear on the glass looking like the ghost of a decrepit deserter who will never feast with Odin in the halls of Valhalla. Krampus will come at you full bore and that’s when he’ll fall into our trap.

Proper Krampus Disposal

Like many figures in the Pagan pantheon Krampus is governed by rules. His stay on this mortal plane is seasonal. Once the ball drops on New Years Eve then it’s back to Helheim he goes. So all you have to do is drag Krampus’s cage onto the porch, open the door and hit it with a broom.

Then it’s time to start prepping for next year.

NEXT:How to ward off the Kallikantzaros: the Greek Goblins who use the holidays as an excuse to take a break from sawing at the world tree to rise up and punish humanity. Continue reading Top 5 Ways to Krampus Proof Your Home

Monster Mingle: Meet Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet the first. He’s an alien. He’s well traveled, loyal, and charming, but just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

About me

Greetings, lovelorn earthlings,

My designation is Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep, the last of the Monogoans: a race known for our vast subterranean cities, towering silver spires, and big hearts.

After the destruction of Monogome Prime my people were scattered throughout the galaxy. While our vessels were bioengineered to convert cosmic radiation into endless provisions, mine was the only one that functioned as designed. Helpless, I could do nothing but watch as my peoples’ vitals went flat. Then I was alone in the universe.

I’m ashamed to admit I spent a prolonged period in hyper stasis after that.

Eons later I now avoid the hibernation chamber. I focus on living an active lifestyle, walking the exterior perimeter of my vessel, and meditating beneath the stars. I spend my working hours restoring the Monogoan archives, piecing together our cultural legacy so that my lineage might know where they came from. (Yes, I wish to sire offspring, I hope that’s not a deal breaker.)

Physical features

I’m told my eyes are my most striking characteristic. My trinocular vision makes me an observant lover. I see ultraviolet light, infrared, and subtle emotional cues. My pheromone pores enable me to sense arousal from several kilometers away. I’m also a good listener, capable of hearing hypersonic frequencies, infra sound, and the sweetest of nothings.

My perfect match

For centuries I spent my evenings at the helm of my vessel monitoring the long-range scanners for signs of life. It was Earth that first gave me the green light. 100 hundred of your years ago I received your first radio signal. I mistook the bowing of the violin strings for your vocal incantations, thinking that transcendent music was how you spoke. Imagine my surprise when I found your speech patterns were similar to my own.

I charted a course for your solar system, devoting my days to learning your language, listening to your sports operas, talent plays, and quizcasts.

I’m embarrassed to admit I mistook the War of the Worldsfor a genuine newscast. The Martian Invasion was reminiscent of the attack that decimated Monogome Prime. From the heat rays to the black smoke to the heartless indifference of our attackers, it was all very triggering. I stole away to the roof of my vessel and sobbed into my helmet, certain I was alone again. When I crawled back through the airlock I found you were still broadcasting like nothing had happened. How could you toy with my emotions like that? I’m not going to lie. It felt like a breach of trust.

It was the Voyager 1 satellite reignited my feelings for you. The golden record, with all the warm greetings, was the mix tape I needed to know you were still into me.

As I near your solar system I’m watching your television broadcasts as I receive them, learning a lot about the intricacies of human courtship from shows like The Honeymooners and I can’t wait to give you all “one right in the kisser.”

IMG_2635
Monogome Prime By Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

I’m omnisexual. Having evolved over eons my species is compatible with all carbon-based life forms. I know omnisexually carries a certain stigma. You might wonder how you could hold my attention when I’m sexually attracted to any carbon-based organism, but I assure youI am loyal. Monogoans are serial monogamists.

My ideal date

I would cherish nothing more than to fly around the earth taking in the sights with the right guide. Show me how to use the Eifel tower, what the pyramids are for, and what the great wall holds up. Together we’ll sample earth’s finest cuisine, art, and theater. I want to hear everything about you too, your dreams and aspirations, your five-century plan.

We’ll chat until morning as we fly toward the horizon, chasing the sunset. And when we’re exhausted from our revels we’ll exchange genetic material.

Now I know your species doesn’t traditionally interbreed, but don’t worry. There’s no need to get flummoxed over silly things like which genomes are compatible. My race reproduces parasitically. Our larva evolved to make hosts of any organism with a pulse. They’ll give you a healthy bioluminescent glow. The golden puss filled sacks that will droop from your earlobes and pearl-like cysts around your neckline will make you the envy of all your friends.

After all our revels paralysis will set in and you’ll have me all to yourself, waiting on you hand and foot. For all five decades of the gestation period you’ll be pampered and lavished with attention. We’ll grow old together as your bones and muscles liquefy into mush. I’ll squeeze you tight as your flesh withers into a hollowed out husk, and when the time comes I’ll wring you out, letting our children spill forth from your every orifice.

Please send me an electronic communication if this conforms to your idea of romance.

Soon to be yours,

Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep

The Black Door: a video reading

Enter a nightmare on the 19th from of a haunted Hollywood hotel in this reading from HE HAS MANY NAMES by Drew Chial from Clash Books.

Available now!

At ClashBooks and on Amazon! Continue reading The Black Door: a video reading

Help Us Name a Dating Site for Monsters

I’m teaming up with professional creature illustrator Bryan Politte to make dating profiles for monsters and we need your help naming the project.

Our Pitch

Horror writers take universal fears and intensify them. They add dumpsters full of oil slick tentacles to long dark allies. They perch gremlins on airplane wings and send great white worms into enclosed caves. While those fears prey on our animal instincts the fears that plague our modern world are social, romantic rejection being chief among them.

With all the new apps and etiquette modern romance is scary to navigate. We write bios to express what makes us unique, while burying our private peculiarities. We put carefully curated images out there hoping somebody likes what they see. We scream into the void and shudder when it whispers back.

I want to take that fear and add monsters to it.

With the help of my friend Bryan Politte, a professional creature illustrator,I’ll be creating a series of dating profiles for freaks, demons, and urban legends. Bryan will illustrate each sinister selfie while I write the dating profiles, which will read like flash fiction horror stories.

Our goal is to make something spooky that goes beyond parody. Each piece will be chilling and heart rending at the same time. This won’t be a mockery of the dating scene, but rather a love letter to the misfits caught up in it.

“Handsome Harold likes cuddly creatures and parties” Illustration by Bryan Politte

These monsters won’t be exaggerations of the worst people you might meet online. They will be mirrors of all of us. These monsters will lead with their red flags in the hopes of finding someone who doesn’t spook easily. They will overshare their sins in the hopes of being understood. They’ll flaunt the things we hide. They will be every bit as monstrous as we secretly believe ourselves to be.

We think this concept is pretty cool. If you do too then help us out by voting on a name, and if you have a better idea for one then we’d love to hear that too.

•••

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!

Tunnel Vision

What would you do if you woke up to find an endless tunnel in the middle of your home and  that your cat was missing?

Dreams drop us in the middle scenes with no set up and no direction. We enter the situation, “And… action!”

The difference between a good dream and a nightmare is our ability to improvise with the material we’re given.

This nightmare was set at the height of winter out on the roof of a snow-covered skyscraper. The skyline was as flat as a matte painting. The low hanging moon provided the spotlight and the low roaring wind supplied the soundtrack.

From where I stood it seemed like I’d come in at the end. The supporting cast fanned out from the roof access hatch. These were people I’d known very various stages of my life: work colleges, college classmates, good friends, and lovers I’d left on bad terms. Each of them drudged through the snowdrift with their gloves up, like I was a threat. All eyes fixed on me.

I was perched on the ledge wearing nothing but my quivering arms and I must’ve been out in the cold for a while because my goose bumps were as raised and thick as brail.

My supporting cast inched closer. The urgency on their faces was undercut by the cold. They clutched the elbows of their long down coats, scarves fluttered into their faces, and their breath spiraled through chattering teeth.

The cast was restless, teetering on their marks, waiting for me to get back on script.

An ex girlfriend in a long goose feather coat stepped forward, rubbed her mittens together, and pointed over the ledge with her chin. “Yes, and?..”

“Yes, and…” is the foundation of improv comedy. It enables comedy troops to cobble together a story from suggestions from the audience. The “Yes” means you’ve accepted the contribution of your cast mate. The “And” means you’re ready to build on it. There is no “No” in improve comedy. You just have to go with the flow.

This ex of mine hadn’t given me a lot to work with, but nothing would be more embarrassing than brain farting through her setup. So I “Yes, anded” over the side of the building.

The set melted into a blur of streetlights and fire escapes. The full moon whirled into a straight line. I stopped rolling just as the street came into focus. I could just make out the steam vents and the cinders rising from the burning barrels. Ashes to ashes we all fall down.

And… Scene.

•••

I woke up to an earsplitting hissing and metallic gong. I followed a trail of business cards to the desk at the foot of my bed. The white noise machine was swinging by its cord, a fist-sized mallet tapping a rhythm on the aluminum. The devices usual calming brown noise had shifted to a piercing white. The box roared like a blizzard through a canyon. I dialed it down as I pieced together what had happened. My cat, Dexter, had had some fun pawing at the flashing blue buttons, gotten spooked, and fled the scene in classic Dexter fashion. He’s a bad boy. He knew what he was doing.

I sat at the edge of the bed deconstructing my dream death waiting for the sobering sense of relief to come. When it didn’t I wandered around the apartment flicking on the lights, calling for Dexter as I went.

“Dexter. The big mean droning sound is gone. You can come out now.”

It was in the living room where a chill set my arm hairs on end. I turned to the windows expecting shattered glass and swinging blinds, perhaps a brick from a secret admirer on the floor, but no. All the glass was intact, closed up, and locked down.

The chill crept around me and tapped me on shoulder. I felt the kitchen wall, flicked the light switch, and staggered over the trashcan with all the grace of a cartoon waiter.

Between the litter box and the refrigerator a two-lane tunnel stretched as far as I could see. My 400 square foot apartment now ran on for miles. The carpet and ceiling stretched so far off into the distance that they came together into a vanishing point.

“That’s new.”

With the acceptation of the kitchen table and chairs the dining room’s features repeated forever. The tunnel must’ve cut through the complex, the back lot, and the neighboring buildings. It was like a beige superhighway stretching off toward the ocean. Long red pasta stains marked the lanes. Clumps of cat litter and outlets marked the shoulders, and the accumulated ceiling fans, with their low emitting bulbs, looked like lamp poles in the distance.

“Cool. So I’m crazy now.”

I laced up my sneakers and ran out to the back lot. The dumpsters were brimming with discarded mattresses and beer cans, and the lot itself was in dire need of plowing, but there was no skyway expansion extending off the complex. On my way back I ran into a neighbor corralling her terriers into the hall for a late night potty break. I ogled her puppies and we exchanged a smile. We Minnesotans are notorious for holding in our opinions, but if she’d seen a tunnel cutting through her apartment she would’ve said something. Instead she just tugged her terriers by their leashes to give me room to squeeze past.

When I got back into my apartment the tunnel was still there defying all architectural logic.

“Okay, point one for crazy.”

I hurled a cat toy into the tunnel: a little ball with a bell in it. It jingled for a moment and came to an abrupt stop. Then something occurred to me. Where was Dexter?

“Dexter? Here boy.”

Dexter wasn’t a dog. Odds were he thought his name was what all humans said when they’d lost something. I found a can of tuna. Tapped the lid. Took my time peeling it back and spilling the wet food onto a plate. I set it on the table, but Dexter failed to show. I’d used up all of his Pavilion programing. Now we had a problem.

Ever the boy scout I filled a backpack with a handful of granola bars, cat food, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and a water bottle.

I took my time stepping over the threshold half expecting to hit an invisible wall. When my toe touched down I realized the tunnel was real and Dexter was really gone. The thought had me powerwalking, jogging, and ultimately sprinting into this strange impossible void. The support beams groaned beneath me. Each footfall echoed on the ceiling. I had no clue who or what resided below this corridor, but they didn’t seem to mind the ruckus I was making. So I kept going until I ran out of steam. I jogged until I felt it in my sides, and powered walked until I had to take a breather.

I sat, rifled around my pack, took a swig of water, and tapped my smartwatch. I was one thousand steps in, which was roughly half a mile.

I shouted. “Dexter!” My voice boomed down the tunnel. I was taken aback by just how loud it got.

It occurred to me that I had no idea what would happen if I got turned around in here. So I dug out a sharpie and drew an arrow on the wall pointing back the way I came. The marker screeched. The tone echoed all around me. The tunnel had a strange way amplifying sound.

I decided to press on a little further. The arrow repeated like a background from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

I stopped, drew an X on a can of tuna, and set it in the center of the tunnel. I took five steps forward and found another can with an X and another. I picked it up, examined my mark, and slipped it back in my pack. The duplicate cans disappeared after that.

The physics of the tunnel didn’t make sense. The arrow had repeated, the tuna can had repeated, but the cat toy I’d flung in from my living room was nowhere to be found.

I checked my watch. I was now a mile in. I scanned the vanishing point. The tunnel dipped over the horizon. I had a sneaking suspicion it stretched across the continent.

I couldn’t see Dexter venturing this far into a new space on his own. One time I took him down to the laundry room to give him a change of scenery. He crawled between the machines and parked his little limbs beneath his belly, a little loaf of kitten too scared to go exploring. He had his safe spaces. I had a hunch he’d hidden behind the bookshelf upon spotting the tunnel.

I turned back and that’s when I saw my exact double spinning on his heel. The didn’t notice that the top of his pack was hanging open. I reached under my shoulder and found my own zipper dangling. My double zipped his pack shut and turn to look at me. I faced forward and saw nothing but the vanishing point. I turned back just as my double turned forward.

“Hey handsome!” Our voices boomed in unison. There was no echo. No delay just a broken mirror reflecting light the wrong way.

The hairs on the back of my collar stood straight up. I turned sideways and craned my neck. My double mirrored my movements, revealing a triple, quadruple, and quintuple of me standing just beyond him. Each of these copies shuddered in unison. It was like facing a camera to a monitor and stepping in between the two. Except this feedback loop was framed by dining room.

I don’t know why my first instinct was to reach into my pack, draw out a can of cat food and chuck it at my double’s head, but that’s what I did and it clipped him right where it clipped me.

I took out my flashlight and shined it back the way I came. A chain of beams gleamed all the way to the vanishing point.

I ran after my double, thinking I could tackle him and break the cycle, but he matched me step for step. After several minutes I watched him clutch his side, feel his carotid pulse, and stagger. Winter had frozen our running regiment and we were both out of shape.

I watched my double slap himself and felt it upon my cheek. We wanted to wake up, but time and space were broken.

This had to be a dream. The only problem with that theory was how consistent the architecture was. The subconscious has a short attention span. It can only keep so much of its surroundings in place before shuffling them again. This place remained fixed. The tunnel never shifted dimensions. The carpet stain remained consistent. The arrow never changed shape.

It occurred to me to check my watch. I’d run a thousand steps since last I’d checked, which meant I was a half a mile from home.

I wondered what would happen to my copies once we got back. Would they cram together in the living room, divvying up a box of Diet Coke among them? Would they blink out of existence? When I made it back into the kitchen table would I turn around to find the dining room wall had returned? What would I do if it hadn’t, call the landlord and have them send a maintenance technician in with a long piece of string?

“You don’t want to go in too deep or else the Minotaur will get you.”

I walked another half mile and you know what I found? The tunnel kept going and the chorus line of me were waving our arms around, struggling to understand what was going on. I’ll be honest we were losing our collective shit.

I took out my phone, opened the photo application, and zoomed in on the tunnel’s vanishing point. It kept right on going. We didn’t take that news so well. My double flung his phone like he was skipping a stone. A phone spun between my legs, slid between his ankles, and settled at my toes.

That’s when we started punching the wall. We hammered at it until cracks spread, dust rained down, and blood trickled through our knuckles, until our wounds filled with plaster, until it seemed like the whole goddamn wall was vibrating, until each of us had made his own little hole.

I chipped at the gap until I could get a good grip, pressed my heel against, and pried off a good chunk of drywall. Not enough for me to fit myself through, but enough for me to get a good look at what was on the other side.

All I saw was the same damn dining room, but from a new angle. There was another copy of me. This one was chin deep in a hole like the one I was looking through. This was no way out, just another way further in. If I tore up the carpet, pried up the floorboards, and jumped through gap I’d probably fall just forever. The world was gone. There was only an endless honeycomb of dining rooms going on forever into the astral plane.

My pulse throbbed throughout my fist. I scrapped the plaster off my knuckles, dressed the wound, and lay in the mess I’d made with the cat litter and the salsa stains.

•••

My eyes opened to a ceiling fan whose blades were in dire need of dusting.

Wrenching myself up I got a palm full of drywall. My earlobe ached. I must’ve positioned my backpack like a pillow and the pain I was feeling was from resting on the zipper. I sat up to find the dining room still went on forever, as did the mile of me’s.

“Oh, come on!” We said collectively.

This nightmare wasn’t fading. It was doubling down.

I ate my breakfast on the go, discarded the granola wrapper on the floor, and counted five paces between where I dropped it and where it reappeared. I passed it for several miles before I got sick at the sight of crumpled foil, scooped it up and put it back in my pack. It wasn’t long before I’d eaten every the bars I’d packed and my stomach kept right on rumbling.

I wish I could tell you I’d rationed the four cans of cat food over several days, but I didn’t. The moment that first little bit of tuna passed through my lips I had to have rest. I slurped up the fourth so fast that I didn’t think much of slinging it over my shoulder when I was finished.

I walked three more miles before my watch flashed a low battery warning and shut down. My phone died shortly after leaving me alone with my thoughts, which also went dark.

A thought had been pecking at me for miles, but now it was weighing me down. What if the dream where I was out on that snow covered roof wasn’t a dream at all? What if I had staged a twisted reunion with long lost friends just so I could fall to my death in front of them? What if I was dead and this was hell?

Would Rod Serling come out of the woodwork to confirm my suspicions?

“Submitted for your approval a lost soul who will never reach his goal. A man who mistook real life for a dream only to awaken in the endless void of The Twilight Zone.”

At first that theory didn’t explain why I was able to exit my building or why I could interact with my neighbor and her terriers, but then I considered the possibility that hell had toyed with me, lulling me in with a false sense of security before clamping shut around me.

Still I couldn’t remember what had inspired me to take a swan dive from a skyscraper. Perhaps this infinite hallway was here to give me time to remember.

I’m not going to lie I’ve been low before. I’ve sat in the shower for hours, watching my fingers prune up in real time. I’ve lain on the carpet as sun lines showing through the blinds stretched across the ceiling. I’ve slumped onto the kitchen floor as Dexter knocked Tupperware off the countertops.

I’ve imagined my family struggling to plan a cost effective funeral. I’ve wondered which friends would bother to give a eulogy and if anyone would tell the priest I was agnostic.

I indulged this fantasy more often than I care to admit, but I never had a quit plan. I never looked up what pills to take, never tried to access a firearm, never bothered to trace my veins for a quick anatomy lesson.

With depression the void is always calling, suicidal suggestions always running in the background, but I’d gone through a long bout of tuning them out.

And how could I take my own life when I still had Dexter to take care of? That would be kind of a dick move on my part.

That was the detail that poked the hell theory full of holes. If I was already dead then why was I so hungry? What happened to the cat toy I threw into the tunnel earlier? For that matter what happened to the can of tuna I’d flung over my shoulder? Why wasn’t I seeing that every five steps? And why did my phone loop back around when I skipped it like I stone? Did it have something to do with the direction it was thrown?

I turned away from my doubles. The arrow on my right was on my left for the first time in a while. I took my phone out, cocked my arm back, and flung it as far as I could. It clipped the fan blade, scrapped the ceiling, and disappeared into the unknown.

You know what they say about guys with big feet? They wear big shoes. I wore a size 13, which was roughly twelve inches long. I walked heel to toe along the wall drawing a notch for every foot. The dining room was a mere ten feet long. I drew a line across the carpet to mark where it looped around. I looked back to see my doubles had done the same thing. I peaked through the hole in the wall to see the grid extended in all directions.

I gripped my pack by the hook, spun it like I was winding a discus, and hurled it as far as I could. It flew over the first line and dematerialized over the second and was gone in a blur of movement. That was all the proof I needed.

“Well, here goes something.”

I got into a starting position, dug my toes into the carpet, and counted down. “3… 2… 1!” I charged with all the energy I could muster, hitting my stride ten quadrants in, but I leapt too soon and touched down just shy of the line. I didn’t bother to catch my breath. I sprung right back up, charged at the grid, leapt, and dove. I rolled across the carpet several feet from the line.

I kept missing the mark, leaping too soon, overthinking each jump, until I just lost it.

“I’ve always hated this dining room.”

I closed my eyes, ran at the dark, and roared, leaping into the air with perfect long jump form.

•••

I hit the wall, fell back, and opened my eyes just in time to see the framed photos come raining down. When I landed I was sprawled out on the kitchen table. Delinquent bills slid off in all directions.

Dexter meowed in protest to all the chaos he’d just witnessed from his perch atop the fridge.

“Have you been there this whole time?”

Dexter shrugged and returned to a cat bath already in progress.

“Dude, you could’ve said something.”

I starred at the ceiling fan, struggling to process the glitch in reality I’d been trapped in for God knows how long.

That’s when those terriers started barking up a storm. There was bickering on the other side of the wall. My neighbors were not happy about the explosive crash that had just woken them up. Shadows gathered beneath my door, the bell rang, and the police eventually came knocking.

I was holding a bag of frozen hash browns to my forehead when I let them in.

“What seems to be the matter officers?”

One officer stood with me in the entryway as her partner scanned every cubic foot of the apartment with his flashlights. It would’ve been easier to just switch on all the lights, but he preferred to keep things dramatic so I let him. I stood in the hall scratching Dexter beneath his chin.

I couldn’t help but notice the backpack, phone, cat toy, and empty tuna can in a heap beneath the kitchen table. There was no sign of any hole, seeing as how that side of tunnel was now an opening leading into the kitchen.

When the officers asked why I dove at the wall like I was the Kool Aid man I just played dumb, said I was sleepwalking, that it happens when I’m burning the candle at both ends.

“I’m adjusting to a new schedule and it has me powerwalking at inopportune times.”

The bump on my noggin corroborated my version of events. Apologies were made to the neighbors and the officers let me off with a chuckle.

I’m just glad no one thought to ask why there was an arrow on the wall and a big black line drawn across the carpet.

There were only two months left on my lease after that. During that time I kept Dexter confined to the bedroom. He hated it and clawed at the door in protest, but it was for his own good.

I slept with the TV on and dreamt about Rick and Morty. I slid the kitchen table into the living room, ate most of my meals on the couch, and I never set foot in that dining room again. Continue reading Tunnel Vision