Horror author changes monster from “He” to “They”

Too many horror writers insist on gendering their demons. Intrepid incubi gallop down gothic hallways, while sultry succubi scurry up satin sheets. Beasts have balls. Ghouls have gaps, but one progressive author is challenging all that.

Drew Chial sketched a bipedal figure in his notebook. Its hair, shoulders, and hips were obscured in shadow. Drew traced the rounded edges. “I don’t want readers to have a clue what the monster is. I want it to be a vague alien threat, something salivating at the end of the corridor. If I tell you what the monster’s sex organs are you’ll have that much more of an understanding and find it less frightening.”

Readers are conditioned to make assumptions about monsters’ gender identities, because grammar dictates it so. The millipede of meat that’s winding up the spiral staircase is either a ‘he’ or a ‘she,’ but our assumptions about this arthropod’s identity are problematic.

Chial is challenging the linguistic illuminati one pronoun at a time.

“I thought I could just find all mentions of the word “He” and replace them with “It,” but there were complications. At first I did everything to avoid the monster’s pronouns.  For instance: He wrapped his boneless appendage around his victim’s neck, punctured the skull with his talon-tipped tongue, and slurped the brain matter out at his leisure. Became: The creature wrapped a boneless appendage around the corpse’s neck, punctured the skull with a talon-tipped tongue, and slurped the brain matter in slow gulps.”

“The problem was the more I avoided possessive pronouns the clunkier my sentences became. That’s when I started using they, their,andthem.I just had to conjugate the verbs so it was clear I was using ‘they’ in the singular.”

They arethe serpentine silhouette whose secretions scorch the tiles beneath theirfeet.

Theyarethe mouth breathing mutant dragging a robe of cobwebs behind their back.

Theyare the humongous hunchback whose plates scrape the ceiling above them.

Edgar Allan Poe described his ghosts as phantasmagorical shadows, existing beyond the veil of perception. The narrators that spotted one of these phantoms, could never fully comprehend them. Chial has modernized Poe’s method by obscuring his creature’s genitals. Maybe the monster is gendered. Maybe it’s agender. Maybe it’s intersex or maybe it’s chimerical, something that shifts sexes right before its victim’s eyes. Whichever the case Chial has bypassed the audience’s prejudice by eliminating the patriarchal paradigm.

“I’ve been trying to refer to my monsters as ‘They’ for a while now, but Microsoft Word’s grammar function kept imposing ‘He’ or ‘She’ on me, but I’ve upgraded to the 2019 edition and those little green underlines are gone. Still, Word 2019 has a ways to go. It still autocorrects ‘themself’ to ‘themselves’ forcing me to type it twice.”

Hopefully the people at Microsoft will heed Chial’s words and stop trying to dictate which pronouns paranormal entities can use. Software publishers need to understand that language is fluid as are many swamp creatures. Language needs to evolve as a show of respect to underrepresented people AND to accommodate a horror writer’s desire to enshroud his monsters in mystery.

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Author mistaken for Tinder date spends evening pretending his name is Kevin

Local author Ryan Nilsson was struggling to reach his wordcount goals when a stranger tapped him on the shoulder. She said, “Hi, I’m Riley,” and extended her hand. “You must be Kevin.”

“Riley was beautiful, outgoing, and most likely farsighted.”

Before Ryan knew what he was doing he was shaking Riley’s hand and she was parking in the seat beside him. Riley looked around the room, like a secret agent checking for a tail. Her face turned red as she turtled into her collar. “Sorry. This is the first one of these online things I’ve been on.”

“Me too.” Ryan concurred.

“Really? Oh, good, so it’s not just me. What are you working on?”

Ryan recalls he crisis of conscience. “I saw the conversation branch into two distinct paths. One where I fessed up that I wasn’t Kevin and another where I pitched my novel in vivid detail. I’d resolved to tell her the premise and the make my exit, then she leaned in with those big bright eyes and asked the three words every writer longs to hear, ‘Then what happens.’ So I kept going until I was in too deep.”

When it occurred to Ryan that the real Kevin must be right around the corner he packed up his laptop, ready to make a swift albeit awkward get away. That’s when Riley suggested a charming restaurant around the corner.

“I got swept up in her enthusiasm.”

When the hostess sat the couple in a booth by the bar Riley realized something and cupped her hands over her mouth. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I just remembered you don’t drink.”

“I was quick to surmise that the real Kevin was two years sober, a diabetic, and vegan.”

Ryan kept Riley talking while he struggled to cobble together an order.

“The menu was a mine field.”

Ryan read things aloud non-committedly and Riley shot them down.

“Spinach salad?”

“That has feta cheese.”

“Fried Brussel sprouts.”

“It looks like they fry them in fish sauce.”

“Diet Coke.”

“Don’t you know that diet soda is really bad for diabetes?”

Riley left her phone on the table when she went to consult with the hostess about the menu. A series of texts from Kevin streamed down the screen.

I’m here.

Is this the right place?

Where are you?

Ryan spat out his gum, pressed into a fingerprint Riley left on her glass and used the impression to unlock her phone. He discreetly blocked Kevin’s number and entered his own under Kevin’s name.

“When Riley came back I settled on the field greens salad and a water, but it was the steak frites and the Sazerac that were calling to me.”

Throughout the meal Ryan did his best to keep the conversation on Riley’s side of the table.

“I assumed Kevin had already cycled through the basics: favorite bands, places to travel, career goals, and all that, so I had to get a little more abstract.”

Ryan combed over his salad and asked. “What was the weirdest thing you saw this week?”

As it turned out Riley was studying abnormal psychology and she had seen quite a bit. “I was reading a study on the bystander effect. The subjects were sorted into large groups and small groups then one actor in each group pretended to have a seizure. People in the small groups tried to help, but people in the large groups pretty much let the actor drop dead.”

Ryan had come across the same study doing research for his writing. The conversation became game of ping pong with Riley serving up the unethical experiment and Ryan hitting back with how he’d already fictionalized it.

“I had no idea Yoga instructors were so well versed in clinical psychology.”

Ryan nodded, swished the water around his mouth, and took his time formulating a response. “Oh yeah, with all the mindfulness there’s a ton of overlap.”

“It’s refreshing to see you’re not adverse to the scientific side of things. I was afraid you were going to be much more metaphysical.”

Ryan and Riley had a lot in common, but scrolling through Kevin’s Facebook profile in the bathroom Ryan found he and Kevin did not. “We have similar hairstyles until you look at Kevin from the side profile and you see the manbun.”

The real Kevin was also not as science friendly as Riley had hoped. Ryan reported. “I was less than one page down before I stumbled upon an anti-vaxxer meme, two pages when I found a video questioning the moon landing, and I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama never said, ‘Depression is a choice.’”

After a few slices of gluten free carrot cake the couple set out for Riley’s apartment for a non-alcoholic nightcap. When they passed the coffee house where Riley’s date was supposed to take place Ryan positioned himself to obscure the real Kevin’s view. When Riley knelt to tie her shoe Ryan knelt with his back to the window, lengthening his coat like privacy curtains.

The couple capped off their evening with two cups of chamomile tea and a sleepy eyed conversation about how worried they’d been about the evening with Ryan drawing from previous blind dates for inspiration.

At a certain point Riley propped her cheek up in her hand. “Here I was fretting I’d have buyer’s remorse, but you’re like the opposite of that. You’re like pride in ownership.” Riley yawned. “That came out wrong.”

Ryan didn’t pressure Riley for a farewell kiss. He didn’t insist they plan out their next date, nor did he linger beyond his welcome. He hugged Riley goodnight and showed himself out. He was a perfect gentlemen apart from that whole grand deception thing.

At the time of this writing Ryan is rigorously preparing for his second date, learning vegan recipes, studying yoga, and surveying the best colognes for covering the smell of alcohol. Behind the scenes he’s been forging a Facebook profile for his interpretation of Kevin, populating it with fake friends, and scientifically positive memes. He’s also been tracking the real Kevin, getting a sense of Kevin’s favorite places so he and Riley can avoid those parts of town.

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The Story of My Birth

On this day several decades ago my parents attended a ceremony in the woods between the graveyard and their newfound home. They knew the moon was waxing despite the overcast and they wore but wolfskins despite the chill of autumn. They were drawn off the trail by an chorus of windchimes and a network of twine. They came upon a clearing marked by stacks of stones. There they found the local homeowners association pacing in a circle muttering in tongues. Each member wore an identical wolf skin and each one held an old oil lantern high above them.

At the center of the circle was a long stone slab jutting from the earth like a comet. It was lined with objects of power: ruin covered relics, gemstones, and pendants. My parents took their places at the base and the head of the slab. There they were blindfolded and told to listen for the object that called to them. My father says he heard a flute. My mother says she heard a bell.

My father reached for something cold and cylindrical. When he lifted his blindfold he saw a jar full of grass stems. When he raised it a dozen green lights flickered awake. One of the homeowners had captured and cultivated fireflies over the long humid summer.

My mother reached for an object and recoiled. She felt her fingertip and found it wet with blood. It turned out the object that was calling to her was a long curved dagger.

The homeowners association instructed my parents to use these objects to procure a sacrifice before the new day’s sun came creeping over the horizon. My father twisted the lid off of the jar and set the fireflies free. Together he and my mother followed the lights into the thicket.

One deer carcass later and the night was won. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say the stone slab was red before dawn. The blood trickled and pooled onto the earth below where two tiny hands emerged from the dirt and viscera. My manger was a circle of rock salt at the foot of the slab. I wasn’t born so much as I was summoned and I didn’t cry so much as exhaled smoke rings.

Oh, and the hit single on my birthday was Endless Loveby Dianna Ross and Lionel Richie.

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Self-Promotion Win! Someone took author’s novel from little free library

Every day author Drew Chial hikes 25 miles to ensure his novel HE HAS MANY NAMES has a place of prominence in every little free library across the city of Minneapolis Minnesota.

“I started carrying these microfiber gloves to make sure my magnum opus doesn’t look like it’s been gathering dust.”

While most of the Dan Brown and James Patterson titles stand spine to spine Chial positions HE HAS MANY NAMES with the cover facing outward.

“I want the occult iconography and Andy Warhol color scheme to bedevil readers into exploring further. HE HAS MANY NAMES? Ooh. Who might that be?”

This Monday Chial’s efforts finally paid off.

“My blistered bunions bore fruit! I couldn’t help myself. I took a selfie next to the gap where my novel used to be. My mother said she could barely recognize me. I’ve never looked so happy.”

While many think pieces are lamenting the death of the novelist Chial is an entrepreneur in a changing literary landscape.

“I went to Barnes and Noble with a trench coat lined with copies of HE HAS MANY NAMES. I’d slit holes in the coat so I could leave stacks in the endcaps. I didn’t even have to take my hands out of the pockets.  I’d snatch a handful of copies of The Secretand leave my little devil book in its place. A week later I’d check on my contribution to the store’s visual merchandising. At first I was overjoyed to see that every copy of my book was gone, until I found a stack beside the dumpster with torn covers. That’s when I realized publishers paid to have their books featured on those endcaps. HE HAS MANY NAMES didn’t have a chance next to John Grisham or Khloe Kardashian so I went back to the white board and got to brain storming.”

Lightning must have struck because if Monday’s news is any indication all 300 hundred copies of HE HAS MANY NAMES Chial in little libraries throughout the city are about to be snatched up.

Chial hosted a celebration at the Minneapolis Marriott banquette hall to commemorate his victory. He toasted all 150 authors in attendance. “Neil Gaiman once said, “The model for tomorrow is… to try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else.’ And that my friends and colleges is exactly what I have done today.” Chial raised a glass of Dom Perignon. “To me!”

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