Buried Beneath a Dollar Sign Video Reading

A poem on what branding building has done to human interaction.

Monster Mingle: The Vegan Zombie Video Reading

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 third. He’s a punk, a vegan, and one other thing. Just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Vegan Zombie Video Reading

Should You Show the Monster?

I’ve long held that writers collaborate with their readers and that every reader makes their own artistic contribution.

Avid readers have stronger imaginations than people who experience stories exclusively through film and TV. As much as I love those mediums they’re made for passive consumption. Books put readers in the director’s chair. Sure the author chronicles the events, but its up to readers to visualize them. Readers have to cast the characters, provide the wardrobe, build the sets, and block out the scenes. The author does everything they can to make their story an enjoyable read, but the reader has to meet them halfway. Horror authors exploit this relationship by baiting readers into picturing their worst fears.

Have you ever noticed how the tension in horror movies deflates the more you know about the monster? The more you see it, the more you understand its rules and where it came from the less you’re frightened. The monster is less of a living breathing part of your mind and more of a static thing on screen. Suddenly there’s a barrier between the two of you keeping things safe and boring.

That’s why many horror authors never show the monster. They leave the audience to do all the heavy lifting. This approach works well on people with active imaginations, but readers who don’t feel like engineering their own bogymen feel cheated.

Horror writers need to strike a balance. Here are a few of my favorite techniques for doing just that.

Pose a Compelling Mystery

A well-placed spark will lure readers, like moths to flames, to their dread ridden doom. Pose a supernatural situation that’s simple to grasp, but hint at an explanation that could only be an awe-inspiring revelation.

  • A young musician is walking home when he’s attacked by a monster he can only see out of the corner of his eye: a wrinkled giant in tatters that may or may not be its own dead flesh. The monster unhinges its jaw, lets out a groan deeper than a cruise ship horn, and disappears. When the musician gets home he finds he can no longer play guitar. Turns out there are reports all over the city of artists experiencing similar attacks and losing their inspiration in the process.
  • An isolated woodland town is besieged by living nightmares, each one seemingly built to prey upon the resident’s worst fears. While most of these figures have the intended effect others appear strangely tone deaf, almost comical, suggesting the hand of an agent that doesn’t fully comprehend its audience.

Expect the audience to read your story over several sessions. Use those interruptions to plant ideas. Little mysteries for readers to mull over and leave them dangling at the end of each chapter. The best nightmare fuel is subtle. It works its way into readers’ minds slowly until they see their daily routine through the filter of your imaginings.

Leave Evidence of the Evil

The monster need not take the stage to own it. There are many ways to feel its presence. Leave an orgy of evidence, and readers will craft a composite of the creature themselves.

Picture this.It’s 1892. You open your chamber door to find it skewered. Something rammed the wood with enough force to leave hollow voids on the both ends of the knocker. You raise a candle to find craters leading up the cobblestones, and ripples in the puddles. Most of the oil lanterns have been snuffed out and the one that remains is shattered, belching flames.

This torch renders anything beyond it imperceivable, but you know there’s something out there weaving in and out of the tree line. Why else would the owls hold their tongues and the crickets yield the night to the wind?

You feel cold narrow eyes moving up your nightgown, pausing on your belly and settling upon your neck.

Picture this.It’s 2292. You’re aboard a long-range starship. The fluid drains from your stasis chamber, revealing fracture lines across your enclosure. You call out to the computer, “Open tube.”

The mechanism jerks hard, shattering the glass, spewing shards into the corridor. The lights that encircle the honeycomb hall blink red, some flicker out of phase with the others. Stepping over the jagged fragments of your chamber you find a bubbling black substance eating at the grates.

There’s a long gash looping around the walls, leading to a pitch-black med bay. Something long and chrome shoots out of the darkness. A blood speckled gurney lands at your feet.

Have Characters Test Theories

For me the creepiest scene in Paranormal Activityis when Micha sets out prove the presence visiting his partner Katie is physical. Micha spreads baby powder down the hall leading to the bedroom and aims a camera in that direction. That night the couple is awoken by a commotion. Micha finds talon prints leading up to the bed and streaks in the powder.

What I love about this scene is that is confirms the supernatural situation without demystifying the creature. It raises more questions than it answers.

Describe the Monster as Indescribable

Did you ever write an “exquisite corpse” story back in grade school? One student would write a sentence and pass it to the desk behind them. Horror writers can play that game with their readers. Here’s how. Just describe the effect the monster has on witnesses without revealing anything about its shape. This technique doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors. Your monster isn’t skulking in the shadows. It’s just so overwhelmingly hideous that it’s beyond description. It’s maddening.

“What did the beast look like?”

“Do you not see? It turned Byron’s hair white.”

This was a favorite device of gothic horror writers.

H.P. Lovecraft referred to so many of his terrors as “Indescribable.”

Edgar Allan Poe referred to the sights beyond his chamber door as “Phantasmagorical.”

Meaning: a dreamlike and deceptive appearance that changes upon further examination

Gothic horror writers used the neurosis of their characters to illustrate the monster’s grandeur.

Give a Peak by Proxy

The hit Netflix film Bird Boxis about monsters with the power to drive people to suicide at the mere sight of them, most people that is. The monsters have a different effect on people who are already mad. Insane individuals feel compelled to worship the monsters, with the ferocity of cult members, corralling survivors and forcing them to bear witness.

The audience never gets a direct look at the monsters, but one tainted character gives us a peak. He lays out a series of twisted tentacle-riddled portraits on the coffee table. These rough Lovecraftian rendering gives us a sense of what awaits Sandra Bullock just beyond the blinds.

Use Hallucinations

In Paul Tremblay’s “The Cabin at the End of the World” a character is struck in the back of the head and spends the rest of the story with a traumatic head injury. Sunlight gives him terrible migraines until he starts to see figures in the light. It’s ambiguous whether or not these figures are influencing the events of the story or if they’re a brought on by the bump on his noggin.

Closing Thoughts

My favorite monster stories utilize strategic ambiguity. For every question the author answers they pose two more. That way when the monster does step into the light it retains its mystique. It’s the enigma of the entity that gives it free reign over the audience’s imagination.

The horror writer is the architect of shadows. The readers are interim landlords. We lease them the long dark hall and they fill it with their nightmares. Eventually we move our own terrifying tenants into these atmospheric locations, but only after they’ve been lived in.

Continue reading Should You Show the Monster?

Monster Mingle: Meet Roddy Dirge

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 third. He’s a punk, a vegan, and one other thing. Just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

About Me

Let’s rip this Band Aid off right away: I’m a zombie: a reanimated stiff with all the stigma that comes with, a Type-A Necro-Mortis if I have to put a label on it. That means I died and something brought me back to life.

I was on a first date with Sadie, a pleather clad, tough as nails, woman of principle. She’d gotten word of an illegal animal testing facility by the waterfront. She wanted to break in, take some snapshots, and shut the place down. Together we biked along the river, cut through the fence, and trekked through the ruins of the abandoned warehouse district.

When Sadie pointed out the facility it felt like someone down there was smiling up at me. I’d been to that building on an urban exploration expedition and knew a way in. I pried a manhole cover open, took Sadie’s hand, and eased her in. We skipped through the sewers, our flashlights danced across the tunnel walls, until we came to a submarine door marked QUARANTINE.

“That wasn’t there before.”

“That’s probably just to scare us, like a sign that says ‘This home is protected by Sentinel Security’ when all they’ve really got is the sign.”

“Well, good thing I brought a key.”

I pulled a crowbar from my messenger bag. From there we ascended through a M.C. Escher etching of grated platforms and spiral stairs until we came upon a lab with biohazard symbols on the doors. There was a chamber, with a sign that read INSTRUCTIONS TO BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Sadie wasn’t in much of a reading mood so she zoomed right through.

The lights went on the moment we stepped in and the vents sprayed us with a chemical bath. When the gas cleared there was a maze of cages before us. They looked empty but Sadie was determined to find something. She dashed in. I struggled to keep up, but it wasn’t long before I lost her.

“Look, Monkeys!” Sadie shouted from somewhere around the bend.

Just then a chimpanzee charged at his bars. I leapt back, slipped on a banana peal, and fell over a railing, down a flight of stairs, and snapped my neck like a drumstick.

I’m not sure what happened next. I heard Sadie call my name. Maybe she thought I’d chickened out and bailed. Maybe she figured photos wouldn’t get the job done like some good old-fashioned eco terrorism. All I remember was an alarm, men’s voices, then shouting, gunshots, and screams. Before it all faded to black I saw a troop up red-eyed monkeys lining the railing above me.

The next thing I know I’m having a panic attack in a pine box. I scratched the lid until the wood thinned, my fingernails were thick with splinters, and I was swimming in worms. The soil was wet with rainwater and I could just make out the faint claps of thunder. It took hours to claw my way out of the muck and when I emerged into the cemetery you better believe I was hungry.

Nobody told me I was infected with a weaponized pathogen bioengineered to amp up my aggression. I found that out the hard way when I tried to close line a cherub and bent my arm back.

In my delirium I slithered along the ground and gnawed on a bouquet of rose pedals, but when I happened upon a flock of goslings I knew to leave them alone. My instincts were telling me to chomp their necks to bits, but I was able to resist.

The rage virus, with all of its augmented aggression, couldn’t bypass decades of vegan conditioning.

I’d been an herbivore for twenty years and counting, and knew that whenever I had an overwhelming urge for meat it was because I wasn’t getting the right nutrients. Fortunately the cemetery was near a GNC. So I hopped the fence, scurried across the lot, and dove into the dumpster. Bon appétit.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Physical features

To be clear, that’s not blood on my collar. It’s gazpacho. That isn’t brain matter on my sleeve either. It’s tofu (and maybe a little cauliflower). And no, that isn’t a length of intestine draped around my collar. That’s a vegan sausage length and I’m saving it for later.

As for my other features… If you like body mods you’re going to love me. I’ve got a barbell in my brow, a lip ring, a tongue stud, a septum piercing, helix piercings, and a 10 gauge plug. Oh, and those monkeys were into scarification so I’ve really got that going on.

As for my body itself, the rage virus makes me super athletic. Unlike those other zombies I’m a sprinter not a limper. Like a hummingbird seeking nectar I’m always on the way to my next protein source.

My perfect match

I’m in a subculture within a subculture within a subculture, which makes it hard to meet someone similar. Most living dead girls aren’t that into lentil.

My perfect match would have a reverence for all living (and unliving) creatures. She’d be outspoken, and have a strong drive to change the world. She’d be open to punk rock, a vegan diet, and the strong vanilla fragrances I use to mask the stench of death.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

The average person needs 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B12 a day. I need several hundred milligrams. Otherwise all those joggers look like cartoon chicken drumsticks and I run the risk of breaking my vegan commitment. Most zombies don’t burn too many brain cells thinking about where their nutrients are coming from. They see their livestock crammed onto escalators or huddled into movie theaters, and just pig out, but I’m a necro-core herbivore. I have standards.

My DIY system for managing my symptoms keeps me out of the tidal wave of ravenous slam-dancers, but the urge to join them is there. Life has gotten harder since the grocer started bleaching their old produce and GNC started locking their dumpster.

I run the risk of going full GG Allin unless my partner can keep those vitamins coming. A punk rock botanist capable of synthesizing B12 from chlorella algae would be like a goddess to me.

My ideal date

We’ll get black bean burgers at a joint with tagged up toilets and live music. Preferably a place with lots of exists, leading to wide open lots and not narrow back alleys.

There were a lot of cages in that facility and a lot of monkeys on that railing. It’s only a matter of time until the virus finds its way downtown. Then all those fancy butcheries, where hipsters cure their own meats, will spill into the streets and everyone will see how the sausage is made. Had these carnivores gone vegan they’d stay functioning during the zombie Armageddon. Instead they’re going to give into their baser instincts and flame broil everything.

Let’s bike up to lover’s lane, roast a couple of gelatin free marshmallows, and watch the world burn.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Roddy Dirge