Category Archives: Shorts

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

Backseat Driver: A Short Story Video Reading

A horror story about a dark passenger too many of us are forced to chauffeur: depression. Continue reading Backseat Driver: A Short Story Video Reading

Book Club Discussion Guide

DON’T THINK OF A CRIMSON ELEPHANT

By Flavius Octavius Davis

BLACK HOUSE PRESS READERS GROUP GUIDE

This reading group guide contains questions for discussion, suggestions to deepen your appreciation of the book, and instructions for dealing with the knowledge that this text has made you vulnerable to psychic incursions from the blood red trunk reaching out from the nethermost regions of the astral plane. The questions are intended to enhance your experience, empower group members to share personal insights, and help you cope with the fatal error in judgment you’ve made by selecting such a reading.

INTRODUCTION

The nameless narrator of Don’t Think of a Crimson Elephant warns against empathizing with his plight. He pleads with you not to follow his nightmares through the skyscraper bone yards, shifting mountains on the horizon, or game trails in the storm clouds. He spoils the dramatic tension, telling you outright that his journey ends in damnation. He warns you of the consequences of letting the seeds of forbidden truths take root in your mind. He tells you that daydreams are like farmland and that fear is their fertilizer. He goes so far as to give you cause to cower from an herbivore.

Breaking the fourth wall the narrator states his fate and yours are intertwined. He tells you that you have the power to save him, and therefore yourself, by simply putting the book down, but did you listen? Nope. You interpreted the narrator’s earnest disclaimer as some kind of dare.

After all, forbidden texts are usually bound in human flesh, hidden away in the moldy old libraries of eastern European counts. Who has ever heard of one coming with its own international standard book number on the back?

You weren’t going to fall for the narrator’s fear tactics. What a tired gimmick, right?

Your hubris made you a speed-reader. Each chapter was a stride toward your allegorical gallows, each sentence a thread in the rope around your neck, each period a nail in your coffin. Still you pressed on to the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. Now here you are.

These questions should give your book club food for thought, before that which reaches out from beyond the veil of perception consumes their minds.

  1. Everyone knows that Flavius Octavius Davis (the famed mustachioed maestro of the macabre) had gone off the grid to live in quiet isolation as Henry David Thoreau had before him. The account of the fire that spread from his cabin throughout Sequoia National Park has been widely debated. As has the condition in which Davis was found, pacing the interstate wearing a papier-mâché outfit that was later revealed to be the pages from his manuscript. Before Davis succumbed to the effects of smoke inhalation he told the EMTs, “Your brains are peanuts. Sweet delicious peanuts. Don’t think of the Crimson Elephant or he will snatch them up.” What was it about Flavius Octavius Davis’s final moments that compelled you to read his final work?
  2. You shouldn’t think of the Crimson Elephant, as the nameless narrator thoroughly warned you against, but if you had, did you picture a red skinned circus animal spraying its ears with its own nostrils or did you picture a mammoth with tusks as thick as palm trees, gushing gallons of gore from its every orifice? Did you imagine blood trickling off its trunk, perhaps from the pool of viscera the creature had emerged from? Take a moment to let everyone in your group describe what they saw.
  3. The nameless narrator is a traveling salesman. He emphasizes how every sales rep worth their salt knows to reflect their client’s self image back to them, to make themselves relatable by echoing the same values, and to develop simpatico by mirroring their client’s mannerisms. Sales reps do this because they know that after a little while the client will start to imitate their gestures as well. When the sales rep scratches their wrist their client feels a sharp tickling sensation upon their soft delicate flesh and can’t help but dig their nails into. When the sales rep yawns their client’s eyes feel heavy as a wave of fatigue rolls through them, and their mouth opens wide to draw breath. When the sales rep expresses a personal benefit of their product the client considers how the purchase could better their own life. When the narrator said this did you find yourself itching your wrist? Did you yawn as well? Did you find his madness contagious?
  4. At what point in the story did you realize that this was what the narrator was doing to you? Is it when he tries making himself relatable by recounting his humble upbringing? Is it when his parents syphon fuel from their neighbors’ gas tank so they have enough to rush their son to the hospital? Is it when the meteorite strikes and kills the narrator’s wife and the insurance company refuses to cover it, because it’s considered an act of God? Or is it when the bibliophiles, that turn out to be cultists, decide that the narrator, a traveling salesman, will make the ideal sacrifice to their Mastodon master?
  5. Once it’s revealed that the trumpeting trunk heralds terrible misfortune did you find yourself getting shaken at the sound of car horns? Were you relieved to learn the source of the sound was not the Crimson Elephant? Did terrible misfortune befall you anyway? If so, please share.
  6. The nameless narrator escapes the cultists’ blades and manages to find a trail in the woods, but no matter which way he goes giant footprints lead him back to the raging bonfire that he’s running from. At what point in your reading did you start seeing giant footprints in your day-to-day life? And where? On the highway? In your front lawn? On the carpet? Please be specific.
  7. Did you find yourself relating to the narrator when he realizes the command don’t think of a crimson elephant made him think of one more? When the narrator researched the power of negative suggestion did you find your own intrusive thoughts intensify? Did you, like the narrator, find it impossible to sleep under the shadow of the four-legged beast, with its swollen gut hanging down like a canopy? Did you dream of cosmic thunder, bone buildings, and meteor showers?
  8. Did you believe in thought viruses before you read Don’t Think of a Crimson Elephant? How could you have been so naive? Do you feel betrayed by modern psychology for not warning you of the coming contagion? Do you feel like generations of mystics and monks failed to prepare you for this plague upon your mind?
  9. Humanity is doomed. Every cranium is but a shell under the great weight. The pressure will come slow enough for all to feel themselves cracking at once. When you think about it, doesn’t humanity deserve its fate?
  10. Did it occur to you read these questions before you brought them to your group discussion? If so, you’re the lucky one. You know that the only way to keep your mind from getting devoured is to offer the Crimson Elephant others to satiate its appetite. You’ve volunteered to host the book club, volunteered to buy the wine, and when one of your guests mentioned how strangely sweet it tasted, you dismissed their query with, “It’s imported.”

Most fast-acting poisons show up in toxicology screenings. It’s the all-natural ones, the ones you sow from your own garden that take a little more time to get the job done. No worries. If the rest of your book club is just now reading this far then they haven’t got long.

Sure they can try to gag themselves, to search the cupboards for Ipecac, but by now the poison is already in their bloodstream, blocking their airways, slowing their breathing. Now would be the time to say your goodbyes, to inform your guests that the great belly must be filled, that its better for it to take a few big bites than for it to nibble on the entire world. Tell them that their minds will behold such red wonders, that the finest poets lack the words, that they should follow the light into the gullet. Tell them to think of the Great Crimson Elephant, or not to, it doesn’t matter, both commands will get the job done.

Don’t be alarmed when the ground quakes beneath your feet, when the frames tip over, and the bookshelves explode.

Try not to think about the cracks spreading across the ceiling, the bricks spewing from the chimney, or the tiles bursting into sand. Don’t dwell on the bright red light shinning through the blinds. Don’t dwell on the trumpeting, how it’s louder than any foghorn, or how it makes your eardrums bleed into your palms. Don’t dwell on the trunk breaching your front door, clogging the hall, slithering around corners, and fixing itself to the craniums of your best friends.

Lets not talk about the elephant in the room.

Just remember that you are the one who gets to live on (if you can call what follows living) forever walking in those giant footprints, through cities made of bone, beneath stampedes in the sky, toward the shifting horizon.

Now discuss.

How Pan Got His Flute

I coasted down the mountainside with dew beneath my feet and air kissing my cheeks. All the wolves howled, all the crickets chirped, and the all owls hooted as I passed. All the night creatures offered their greetings for I was their guardian.

I was Syrinx, the nymph charged with protecting the wilderness from the axes of man.

This was Arcadia a hidden place untouched by seasons, where flowers were always in bloom and rocks were evergreen.

My sisters’ laughter carried down the mountainside. They were frolicking on the highest peak, perfecting their dance routines. Most Nymphs used dance to sway the hearts of men from committing violence on the woodlands. I wanted to influence men’s hearts with my mind, with my writing.

I rode down the slope until I was certain I was alone. I reached into my tunic and produced the instruments of my craft: a sheet of papyrus, a quill, and a bottle of vegetable juice. Continue reading How Pan Got His Flute

Backseat Driver

My chauffeur has trouble concentrating on the road ahead. He checks the gas gauge more than anything beyond the hood. He’s more concerned with keeping his vehicle in working order than getting anywhere. He drives down an empty highway well below the speed limit.

His eyes wonder to the mirror, not to check for cars, but to examine his irises. They’re swimming in so much red they look like they’re glowing blue. He’s so entranced by the effect he doesn’t notice me, guzzling motor oil from a paper bag, in the back seat.

We’ve logged so many miles together he’s forgotten that I’m even here. He flicks the high beams on, thinking it’s fog he’s seeing, and not the secondhand puffs from a smoker who refuses to crack a window open. He adjusts his seat, blaming the sharp stabbing pain on his posture, and not the boot heel I’m pushing into his rear.

I slip a plug into the cigarette lighter and rest an exposed wire on my tongue. My saliva sizzles. Each static jolt is sugary sweet. I want to see how much energy I can syphon before he turns around. When my chauffeur notices the dimming of the headlights, he pulls over certain that it’s a problem with his eyesight. Continue reading Backseat Driver

We Are Living in a Dystopian Fantasy

What if the Trump administration was just the beginning of a Young Adult Fantasy story?

•••

Naomi felt like a baby in a blanket. She was swaddled, covered in drool, warm and safe. It took her a moment to realize she was wearing a straight jacket and that stiff surface beneath her wasn’t a crib, but the floor of a padded cell.

Naomi’s eyes took time adjusting to the light. The fluorescent fixtures had rainbow auras, they shined so bright they cast sunspots on the walls. The shadows swayed back and forth as her pupils shifted in and out of alignment. Finally the chamber revealed itself.

The cell was lined with a canvas with two tones: white on the top and stained at the bottom. Its cushions were lopsided from years of use. At this point the padding looked like it would do a better job protecting the walls than the patients.

Naomi’s head throbbed. It felt like a rat had burrowed beneath her brow, curled up, and started kicking the skin. It took all her strength to wrench herself up off the floor. Continue reading We Are Living in a Dystopian Fantasy