Category Archives: Shorts

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

The Red Devil Halloween Pail

I was sitting up in bed flipping through an issue of Nintendo Power when Dad knocked on the doorframe.

“Hey buddy, I got something for you.”

Dad reached into a shopping bag, took great care to unwrap the paper around the item, which he set on the mattress. It was a Halloween pail in the shape of a red devil. The devil stared at me from the edge of my bed. He was odd, unsettling, unlike anything I’d seen at Target. He had paint strokes and tiny imperfections signifying he hadn’t come off of any assembly line. A bubble in the shellac had created a wart on the end of his long sharp nose. His horns were tiny nubs with photorealistic ridges. His toothy grin was framed in the classic Satanic goatee. His angry eyebrows were raised so high they nearly touched his hairline. As for his glowing yellow cat eyes they felt like they were watching me.

Without thinking I scurried up my headboard. “He’s creepy.”

Dad wore a Cheshire Cat smile. “I know right?” He held the pail in his hand like he was preparing to recite Shakespeare. “I was told this handcrafted papier-mâché devil is one of a kind. I saw him in a shop window and immediately thought of you.”

“A red devil reminded you of me?”

“Definitely. It’s something in the eyes, that twinkle of unrepentant malevolence.”

I crossed my arms. “Gee thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome. You see I do notice these things.”

I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t in footy pajamas anymore. I was past going out in a plastic smock with a picture of who I was supposed to be on it. I was way beyond Halloween pails. I was seven, old enough to know the true meaning of the season was to maximize sugar intake before winter hibernation.

“You realize I’ll be using a pillowcase like everyone else.”

Dad shielded the devil’s long bat-like ears from such slander. “No way José!

“This impulse item didn’t come cheap.”

I shrugged. “You can use him.”

Dad pointed a finger to the idea bulb blinking above his head. “What if you put the best candy, the king sized bars, in the pail, and put the run off in the pillow?”

I tilted my head back and forth. “How about the other way around?”

Dad feigned confusion. He held the devil pail so as to whisper in its pointy ear then held its mouth up to his ear as if it was whispering back. “He agrees to your terms, but there’s a caveat.”

“A what?”

“A provision entitling your father to 10% of your take.”

I shook my head. “We haven’t learned percentages yet.”

“5?”

“Fine.”

We shook on it, Dad kissed me on the forehead, and I went to sleep. The next night we had a very profitable Halloween indeed.

The Halloween Haul

I dumped my pillow out across my bed. I was type A even back in the day. I had a system for organizing my sweets.

The candy bars were split into subcategories those with nuts, those without, those with a cookie crunch, and those with nougat (the cornerstone of a notorious breakfast).

This was when neighbors didn’t care if children had fatal food allergies. “Here, have a Salted Nut Roll you’ll be fine.”

It was only after I’d sorted through my best bars that I decided to sift through the fun-sized pile of shame.

I flipped the devil pail over and dumped the cast offs on my pillow. I shivered as a chill moved up the back of my neck.

That’s when I notice the strange oddities among the Jolly Ranchers, candy buttons, and Sixlets. It seemed as though some of the items I’d put into the pail that weren’t candy, toothpaste, dental floss, and the like, had come out different.

Where there were raisins were now sponge capsules that grew into dinosaurs when you added water. Bookmarks had become Garbage Pall Kids trading cards. A religious booklet titled Trick or Truthhad become an official Ghostbusters Ghostblaster noisemaker.

“Great Cesar’s ghost!”

The Ghostblaster was no small find. It was a limited edition promotion item exclusive to Hardee’s. Dad and I had driven around the city trying to track one down not knowing they’d already recalled them because they contained choking hazards. My little heart was broken, yet somehow someone in the neighborhood was giving them away like they were nothing. How could I have possibly mistaken this Ghostblaster for a religious text?

Had I mistaken each of these items before I’d cast them into the pail of shame? No. No way my neighbors were that cool. Something sinister was happening and it had everything to do with that creepy hand crafted pail.

I held the devil pail so that we saw eye to eye.

“Where did all this cool stuff from?”

I noticed something I’d missed the first time I looked at this devil. His eyes were uneven. A stoke of red paint made one eye smaller than the other. If I didn’t known any better I’d say he was winking.

“Was it you who turned the toothpaste into a tube of fake blood?”

The pail felt heavier all of sudden, like something inside it was shifting. There was a terrible cramp in my hand and a strange sensation like that of an icepack wrapped around my wrist. Before I knew it I was bobbing the devil pail up and down as if to make it nod.

Dad knocked on my doorframe. “Knock knock.”

I dropped the pail and swept the changed items into my pillowcase. “Why say, ‘Knock knock’ when you’re already knocking and why knock when you’re already in the room?”

Dad scanned the X-Men posters for an answer. “Because I can.” His attention turned back to the bed. “Alright, you remember our little deal? Dad skims 5%.”

I half nodded. “I remember saying we haven’t learned percentages yet. Does five percent mean you want five items?”

I offered one strawberry granny candy, a box of Good and Plenty, lemonheads, Bazooka bubble gum, and a roll of Smarties. All candies I could comfortably part with.

“That’s it?”

I glared. “I have altered the deal. Pray that I don’t alter it any further.” I said in my best Darth Vader voice.

Dad cocked his head. “Daddy’s going to need some chocolate.”

I scrapped my haul together and lay on top, knowing full well what was coming.

Dad chuckled. “Oh I’ve got the key to this particular fortress.”

Electric tickle signals surged through my sides and before I knew it I’d rolled onto the floor cackling. Dad kept the tickle torcher going long after I’d left my mountain of candy unguarded. “This is the only way you’ll ever learn.”

“What’s going on here?” Mom spoke over dad’s shoulder.

“I’m teaching a very important lesson on why you shouldn’t weasel out of deals.”

Mom made a serious face. “You do realize that contract law is Mommy’s forte so if anything…” Mom moved into position. “I should be teaching this lesson.”

That’s when I felt her fingers beneath my armpits. I kicked like a frog on it’s back. With both of my parents tickling I went into convulsions.

That’s when a pew-pew-pew emitted from my pillow.

“What was that?” Mom perked up.

The Ghostblaster went off again.

I tried direct their attention toward the hall. “The smoke detector?”

Dad stood up. “Sounds like it needs new battery. I better change it or it’ll be doing that all night.”

Twilight Treasures

That night I stayed up putting objects into the devil pail. I tapped the brim like a magician, flipped it, and retrieved something awesome.

I dug through my desk doing an inventory of things I could part with: rubber bands, paperclips, foreign currency my grandparents had left me. I dropped each item into the pail and felt the weight shift, like an invisible hand plucked something out and slid something else in its place.

Birthday cards came out as Playboy bunny stickers just like the ones in the vending machine at the roller rink. Loose yarn came out as friendship bracelets. Erasers came out as finger monsters. A fist full of pencil shavings came out as a bag of bang snaps: little explosives wrapped in cigarette paper that popped when you pelted at the ground.

It became clear that the larger the item I put into the pail was the cooler the item that came out would be. The devil pail took a yo-yo and upgraded it into a military grade slingshot. It took a pair of dull edged scissors and upgraded them into a bonafide switchblade. It took a stack of Chuck E. Cheese tickets and upgraded them into a wad of cold hard cash.

When I was done rummaging through my closet for sacrificial objects I gathered up my bounty of silly string, throwing stars, and firecrackers and stuffed it all into my backpack. I lay awake thinking about all the showing and telling I’d be doing on the playground.

Impromptu Parent Teacher Conference

Principle Simonson withdrew the contents of my backpack an item at a time for dramatic effect. He was trying to impress upon my parents the sheer volume of contraband their son had gotten his hands on.

“One set of brass knuckles.”

I couldn’t help but marvel at how the knuckles had retained the red coloring of the Swingline stapler they were born from.

“One, is it, a pairof Nunchucks?”

There were two candles mom wasn’t getting back.

Principle Simonson shot my mother a nasty look as he set the next item on the desk.

“One deck of pornographic playing cards.”

In hindsight, what little I can recall of the deck was not pornographic, not as I’D define the word today. They were tasteful hand painted pin-ups. The kind of bathing suit beauties one might see painted on the nose of jet. There was no nudity, but the nevertheless I was really going to miss them.

I was going to miss everything Principle Simonson was confiscating: the whoopee cushion, the fart spray, the candy cigarettes, and prop fingers. These were gifts I’d given to myself.

This felt like one of those Christmas dreams when my parents got me the thing they’d sworn Santa couldn’t fit into his slay. One minute I was driving around the lawn in a miniature motorized DeLorean and the next I was waking up with nothing.

Mom crouched down to my level. “Honey you have to tell us where you got all of these things?”

In the second grade I didn’t know anything about my Fourth Amendment right prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure, but I knew enough about my Fifth Amendment right not to implicate myself.

Mom put her hand on my wrist. “Honey, I need you to tell me if someone gave them to you?”

I hadn’t meant to nod, but my chin had betrayed me.

“Who honey?”

I assumed these enchanted items had come from a “what.” It hadn’t occurred to me that there might actually be a “who.”

I didn’t know how to put the reality of the situation into words so I sat there with my mouth open while mom rattled off her questions.

“Did they tell you not to say? Were they a stranger? Did you meet them on your way home? Did they say they’d hurt you if you told? Did they ask you to go anywhere with them?”

I shook my head, but there was no derailing mom’s train of reasoning. Someone had tried to enchant her son in the ten minutes it took him to walk home. Dad’s default cocksure grin flattened as mom detailed a worst-case scenario. It was clear to her that stranger-danger had made its way to our little town. They agreed that I’d be spending a few extra hours in the extended day program after school until dad could pick me up on his way home.

•••

That evening dad put the devil pail on the top shelf of the laundry room closet between the turtle wax and Christmas ornaments.

Worse still I was grounded. I wanted nothing more than to serve out my penance gathering items and tossing them into the pail. I’d stare at my mother’s ceramic figurines and wonder what they’d become once they’d touched the devil’s tongue. I wondered how many fountain pens dad really needed or if mom would notice if one little piece of China went missing.

I’d always wanted a pair of X-Ray specs, fake vomit, and trick dice.

No matter. The pail was out of reach and there was no way I was drudging the stepladder from the garage without drawing attention. I’d have to bide my time until a growth spurt kicked in.

•••

That night I dreamt my parents were bound and gag, heading down a conveyor belt into a fiery furnace shaped like the devil’s mouth. Their eyes plead for help, but I just stood at the levers waving goodbye to care. To my parents’ credit, they were teetering back and forth, trying their best to roll off the belt, but they just could coordinate very well. They heat was already making them sweat. Mom was sobbing, trying desperately to chew through her gag to get out one final plea, but it was too late.

There was the faintest of shrieks as the furnace belched a giant fireball. A tire cut path through the smoke. A blood red mountain coasted through the haze, dipped off the conveyor belt, and rolled right between my legs.

When I awoke the devil pail was sitting upon my chest staring at me with those glowing yellow eyes. I had no clue how it got there, but I knew it was hungry.

•••

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?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Why the Ghost Hunters Need to Hire Me

Every reality show needs a villain: a Simon Cowell, a Gordon Ramsay, a Donald Trump, a personality that makes everyone on set nervous. Someone who flies into fits without notice, hurling insults, criticism, and sauce pans at everyone.

Every Bachelor needs a bad bitch that calls out the bumps on the other contestants’ lips. Every courtroom needs a judge who threatens to use her gavel as an enema. Every Jersey dinner table needs a host who’s willing to call a guest a “Prostitution whore!” Demented divas give delicious sound bytes. Give them a 15-second spot and they will make an impression. It’s these villains that get viewers tuning in.

Conflict is the heart of drama and good television thrives on it. So why do so many Ghost-hunting shows have so little of it? For all their dramatic tone they are light on actual drama. As Ghost Hunterswraps up on the SyFy network and looks for a new home for its 12th season might I make a suggestion? Hire me to be your villain.

My background as a horror author makes me uniquely qualified for investigating the paranormal, and my background as an asshole (ask anyone I’ve dated) makes me ideal for reality TV. I could be your Spencer Pratt, your Puck, your Omarose.

As a purveyor of paranormal potboilers I’ve researched my share of supernatural lore. I know the long told legends, the urban myths, and the natural explanations behind them. My research has left me with an entrenched sense of skepticism. Continue reading Why the Ghost Hunters Need to Hire Me

The Apple Watch Ritual

The following is inspired by the surge in instructional rituals circulating the net. Each ritual is a complex variation on the old Bloody Mary game. They take Creepy Pastas and urban legends and invite readers to participate in them. They’re good for a shiver, but they feel like they’re missing some modern flare. My ritual fixes that.

The Apple Watch Ritual

Is your Instagram feed filled with before and after photos of friends in loose fitting clothes? Are you tired of looking for reasons to stay in during swimsuit season? Or do you just want the kind of definition that attracts attention?

Well I know a way that’s guaranteed to give you results overnight. I’m talking washboard abs, bulging biceps, and a beefed up badonkadonk. It’s the ultimate workout ritual. All you’ll need is a pair Apple Watches, the drive to succeed, and a fresh corpse.

Warning:this ritual could exhaust, severely injure, and perhaps even kill you. It will most definitely void your Apple Watches’ warranties.

The Ritual

Park outside of a funeral home right before it opens. Have an Apple Watch on a charger mounted to the dashboard. You’ll also need a layer of Under Armor beneath your funeral attire, a pair of running shoes on the passenger seat, and a Teddy Bear.

Set up an Apple ID for the watch on the dashboard. Open the activity app on your phone, tap Sharingand make sure the watch on your wrist is following the one on the dashboard.

Wait for the funeral director to open the doors and for the grief stricken to start pilling in. Smear a scoop of Vapor Rub beneath your eyelids (not in your eyes, that will cause severe irritation). Check the whites of your eyes in the mirror as the menthol does its thing. Once your eyes are as red as the devil’s dick you’re ready to make your entrance.

Yes, you’re going to be crashing a wake.

Enter the funeral parlor cradling the Teddy Bear. Find the next of kin and insist the deceased made you promise they’d be buried with it. Now pay your respects. The bear is there to give you the opportunity to tie the Apple Watch around the body’s cold pulseless wrist.

Important! You’ll need to make sure the body is buried with a Series 3 (or higher) Apple Watch. The Series 3 introduced built in cellular allowing it to function without a phone.

You will also have to begin the ritual immediately after the body is buried, because the watch will only have an 18-hour charge.

Find a place to submerge your wrist: a sink, a toilet bowl, or a font of holy water. Dip your watch under and press the power button until you see the Apple symbol come on. When the watch face shows up say, “Hey Siri, message (say the Apple ID of the deceased).” Then recite the following incantation:

To the cadaver in the casket
Sinking into a grit
Of roots, worms, and maggots
Hear my unholy writ
I challenge thee to a Satanic circuit
Of upside down cross-fit
So that I may feel the burn
Of the bottomless pit

When you feel the watch’s haptic engine vibrate you’ll know that the ritual has begun.

The Rules of the Ritual

The Apple Watch has an activity monitor. Tap it and you’ll see three rings: one red, one green, and one blue. The red ring represents the percentage of your movement goals for the day. This is based on how many calories you intend to burn. Usually you set this by entering your height, weight, age, and gender, but not today. Today you’re making a necromancer’s wager. Your goals will be determined by the thing you’ve awakened.

The green ring represents your exercise time. Apple has prescribed 30 minutes for everyone, but just remember this is a competition, just because you’ve hit thirty doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near done.

The blue ring represents the time you spend standing. Apple recommends you get up and move around for a couple minutes at least twelve times a day. This should be the easiest goal to hit seeing as how you’ll have no time to sit.

Warning: If you fail to close your rings before your crypt bound competition bad things will happen.

Keep this in Mind

You will find that your watch’s sensors are a lot less forgiving than on days you’re not conjuring dead things. The watch will know when you’re standing and when you’re just lifting your wrist. It will know when you’re running and when you’re just swinging your arms. If you open the Workout app and scroll all the way down to Otheroption your watch will no longer give you credit for simply running the timer down.

Run Like Hell

You will have to run like the world is caving in behind you. Run until you’re raw and sore, until your toes are open blisters, and your shoes are pooling with puss. Once it feels like the soles of your sneakers have eroded, your skin has shed, and your exposed musculature is touching down on molten magma, then you’ll know it’s time to check your watch… And run some more.

Consider the fact that your competition is clawing at the lid of a coffin with 300 pounds of resistance. Consider the fact that the dead’s will to return to the surface is greater than your will to get fit. Consider the fact that if you stop moving something with a swollen tongue will quiet literally be licking at your heels.

Take a breather for a little too long and you’ll see what beast mode really looks like.

Commit to Infinite Reps

Once your lungs feel like they’re going to overdose on oxygen, your heart feels like it’s stuck on vibrate, and you stink like a skunk on meth, stagger into a gym and park your ass at the weight rack.

You will have to lift until you can see your veins, until you grind the lifelines from your palms, until your arms pull a mutiny and refuse commands from your body. Then you’ll have to find another muscle group and push it past the point of exhaustion.

If it feels like you’re struggling beneath the weight of the world then you’re doing it right.

Another thing to Keep in Mind

The Apple Watch doesn’t wait until you’re asleep to reset the activity monitor. It does it at midnight.

Remember when enchanted the Apple Watch will function better than it was programmed. You won’t be able to buy yourself a few extra hours by screwing with the Timesettings.

Don’t Lose

If you haven’t closed your rings and crushed your crypt bound competition you will face consequences, literally, face to milky-eyed face.

If you lose your muscles will atrophy instantly and your bones will turn to jelly. You’ll collapse into a heap. If you’re lucky your lungs will weaken and you’ll pass out from exhaustion. If you’re unlucky you’ll be awake when teeth begin gnawing on your skin, pealing the flesh from the muscle like fried chicken.

Sure, this is a worst-case scenario, but what are you willing to risk to get as jacked as a super hero? Continue reading The Apple Watch Ritual

Dragon’s Breath: A Horror Story About Telling Stories

The Van

I’d been dabbing my neck all afternoon, feeling the hive begin to blister, then pop, and seep down my back. I was allergic to sweat, but I couldn’t help but run my fingers through my hair and smear it everywhere.

Agent Sunderland suffered no such compulsions. He’d spent the morning cooped up in the van with his suit coat buttoned the entire time. He didn’t mind sitting in a leather swivel chair, wearing giant head cans, or guzzling coffee like it was Gatorade. The man was a cold-blooded reptile with his hatchet face and beady eyes.

Agent Reese on the other hand had a head like a cinderblock, and no neck to speak of. He wore a pair of shoulder holsters over his pit stains. There was a Glock in one and silver flask in the other. The flask was covered in Celtic crosses.

“What is that?”

Agent Reese lifted his arm as if he needed to check. “A flask.”

“What’s in it?”

“Holy water.”

“Should I have some of that?”

Agent Sunderland shook his head. “She’d smell it on you.”

I itched the path they’d shaved down my chest, feeling the rash of ingrown hairs, the gaffer tape pinching the skin. “But she won’t notice this?”

Agent Reese snapped. “She will if you keep picking at it.”

Agent Sunderland guided my hand from chest to my knee. “Breathe. She can’t see through clothing, she can’t smell fear, and she can’t hear what you’re thinking.”

“How do you know that?”

Agent Reese peeled the cover off the van’s ancient surveillance equipment. “This is not our first rodeo.”

“Is that a reel to reel? What government agency did you say you worked for again?”

Agent Reese put a reel on the machine. “We didn’t.”

“What are you agents of exactly?”

“The lord.” Agent Reese threaded tape from one reel to the other.

I reached for the latch for the door. Agent Sunderland caught my hand. He had the same Celtic cross tattooed on the back of his hand.

“You saw what she did to your friend.”

The door to Jamie’s studio apartment was wide open. Signs of a struggle would’ve been an understatement. The mirrors were shattered. The drawers were smashed to splinters, and there were paperbacks everywhere.

As for Jamie his body was contorted on the kitchen table, arms locked in place, back arched in an upward facing dog position, head craned all the way back until his neck snapped. The screenplay he’d been toiling on for as long as I’d know him was rolled up and crammed down his throat.

Agent Sunderland put his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it like he was giving a strong handshake, a show of sympathy from someone who’d read about it in books. “This town is filled with artists just like Jamie, bright kids with dreams of making it. The only thing between her and them is sitting in this van.”

I shook my head. “Pitching a screenplay is scary enough on its own, add this on top of that and…” I trailed off.

Agent Sunderland elbowed me, another show affection that didn’t suit him. “Good, use that fear.”

I hung my head between my knees. “If she’s licking her lips at the sight of my neck I’m going to lose the plot.”

Agent Reese scoffed. “You don’t think she’s a vampire, do you?”

Jamie had dragged me to a networking function for writers. There were whispers that a produced would be hiding among us. Matilda stuck out like a sore thumb with her leather lined suit, jet-black pixie hair, and fierce model features. Her skin was porcelain white and her eyes were so brown they might as well have been black. She wore an armored ring that ran up to her knuckle. When she reached out to shake my hand her palm was ice cold.

I scanned the van, shifting my gaze from one agent of God to the other. “What is she?”

Agent Reese lowered an eyebrow. “Not a vampire.”

Agent Sunderland adjusted the collar of the all black ensemble they’d fitted me with. “Listen. Don’t worry about your pitch. Let her do most of the talking.” He slid a pair of fine Italian loafers onto my feet.

“Just what the hell do you think she is?”

“Exactly.” Agent Sunderland smiled as he pressed the toes of the to check the fit. “Just remember, if you feel you are in any real danger, say the phrase, ‘Eye of the needle’ and we’ll come rushing in.”

“Eye of the needle, as in ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God?’”

“Yes.”

“That’ll be hard to work into casual conversation.”

“Which is why we won’t miss it.”

“And why can’t I wear my sneakers?”

Agent Reese motioned out the window to the line leading around the block to the bouncers at the door. One was shining a light on IDs the other was scanning the patrons from top to bottom.

“The dress code always starts with footwear.”

Continue reading Dragon’s Breath: A Horror Story About Telling Stories

5 Lessons I Learned Writing Retail Hell

It’s said that there are many hells. Each specifically tailored to fit the damnation of the souls in question. Then it stands to reason there’s a subterranean superstore where rude people are put to work. Welcome to Retail Hell, a short story now available on Amazon.

Oppressive Situations Limit Character Development

When we meet Barbara she’s berating both a clerk behind a checkout counter and a call center representative. She’s a familiar Ebenezer Scrooge type character. She’s put through an ordeal. She has an aneurism and wakes up for her first shift in the literal Retail Hell. Just like Scrooge she’s taught empathy through supernatural means, but her journey doesn’t necessarily end with her gifting turkeys on Christmas morning.

My hell is so oppressive it leaves Barbara’s character with few places to go, other than with the flow.

I believe every story should have a change of some kind. Usually that change involves a character learning a lesson, being humbled then empowered, and rising to a challenge as a better person. BUT… Sometimes it’s the audience’s expectations of the hero that need to change. We go in thinking a toxic braggadocios brute is going to have a sense of modesty impressed upon them, and he does, but it doesn’t take. In those situations it’s the audience that goes through the change. Continue reading 5 Lessons I Learned Writing Retail Hell

Retail Hell is Out Now! Watch the Book Trailer

Retail Hell is now available on Amazon!

When Betsy, the customer from hell, drops dead in the middle of a rant she finds herself in the actual Retail Hell. A place where every day is black Friday, the only song that ever plays is All I want for Christmas is You, and the customer is always right… about to torture her.

Part sales satire, part straight-faced horror, Retail Hellis about rude people, ironic justice, and the insanity of commerce. As fiendish as an episode of The Twilight Zone, as brutal as Hellraiser, and as scary as a trip to Walmart, Retail Hellis sure to make your shopping experiences more of a nightmare than they already are.

My Reoccurring Nightmare

I’ve been having this weird reoccurring nightmare. The thing is I’m not up on all that dream interpretation jargon. My brain keeps trying to tell me something, but I keep missing the point. Maybe you could help me figure it out.

The dream takes place in a vast palatial estate in the middle of the forest. I have no idea who owns the property or why they built so far from civilization. All I know is that the beds are always filled and that the guests have no clue how they got in them.

While this can be a jarring experience, the guests always seem to settle in. No one ever makes a break for the exit. Besides, where would they go? Every window looks out onto bark surfaces. The pantries are surrounded by towering evergreens. The dining hall is built upon a swamp and the bedchambers sit in a field of reeds.

The forest is well on its way to reclaiming the building. Maple seeds swirl through the skylights, vines droop from the rafters, and pollen is built up on everything like snow. Muskrats swim beneath the floorboards, frogs congregate on the windowsills, and raccoons and crows fight for perches on the shingles. There are cobwebs in every corner, nests in every crossbeam, and cocoons in every gutter.

For its part the estate refuses to go quietly. The support beams are always groaning, the foundations are always settling, and the shutters are always slapping against the side of the building.

The estate has a footprint the size of a castle, yet there are no grounds, no carriage houses, and no paths leading to the front steps.

There’s only one way to find this place.

I come here on nights when I’ve spent too much time pacing the apartment, too much time in the kitchen drinking, and too much time on the pillow thinking. I lie down in the city and rise up from my bunk in the woods.

Despite the size of the estate I can’t help but think of it as a cabin. Perhaps it’s the pine strips stacked floor to ceiling, the hardwood screeching under foot, or the log furnishing. Perhaps it’s the quilts hanging from the banisters, the moose antlers, or the smell of maple in the air.

I breath it all in. Continue reading My Reoccurring Nightmare

A reading from The Pigeon King

The following is a spooky excerpt from my short story The Pigeon King.

CLICK HERE to find out what happens next. Continue reading A reading from The Pigeon King

An excerpt from The Pigeon King

The following is an excerpt from The Pigeon King, my new short story (at 7,500 words it’s more of a novelette) now available on Amazon.

Chapter 1: A Little Too Quiet

It was move in day and my new condo was far from furnished, save for a coffee table and a floor full of boxes. Still I couldn’t wait to test the acoustics. I had tried to record a podcast in my previous basement apartment, but every passing car, barking mutt, and hooting frat boy had me pressing PAUSE. Recordings that should’ve taken minutes took days.

That’s why I persuaded my parents to invest in a top floor unit, high above the street corner brawlers, bus stop freestylers, and dissonant dive bars.

My new building was made for peace and quiet. It had glass fiber insulation, triple pane windows, and concrete walls. It had two security officers, cameras in every corridor, and a lease specifically stating: no parties whatsoever.

No longer would I wake up to a gaggle of giggling gals, flooding out of the stairwell in stiletto heels. No longer would I be a captive audience to a domestic dispute and no longer would I have to hear the makeup sex that came after.

I could sleep comfortably knowing the only thing waking me up in the middle of the night would be my own bladder.

The condo was like something out of a dream. When I stood in the center of the living room all I heard was the ringing of my own eardrums. I couldn’t believe this was mine, Daniel J. Cameron’s Casa de Heaven.

I shut off all of my electronics, except for the computer, turned down the furnace, and flicked off the lights. I dumped my journalism texts out and taped the box over the window. I even draped a blanket across the balcony doors just to be safe.

With the exterior of the space taken care of I pinned a roll of duct tape to a desk lamp, stretched a sock around it, and positioned it in front of my microphone. Voilà: I had a homemade pop filter to catch those stray P and B sounds before they could taint my audio with artifacts.

It was finally time to open the decibel meter on my phone. A whisper quiet library sits at 35 decibels. A bedroom at night rests at 30. I’d managed to get this place down to 25. Continue reading An excerpt from The Pigeon King