Category Archives: Writing

A Halloween Carol

It was the Saturday before Halloween and Nathan was walking the edge of his apartment switching on all of the white noise machines. This was his bedtime ritual, but tonight he was tuning the dials early, listening for a tone lower than static and higher than thunder, something in the same range as human speech. The moment he found the right waveform he heard a series of loud percussive booms. Someone was trouncing across the ceiling with stiletto heels on. Nathan had muzzled the party banter, but the floorboards might as well have been made of balsawood.

Nathan threw open the cupboards, the liquor cabinet, and the bathroom mirror. He set a handful of bottles, a cocktail shaker, and an eyedropper on the kitchen counter. His cat, Pazuzu, watched from the refrigerator, a grey gargoyle tallying his master’s sins.

Nathan fixed himself a cocktail of ginger beer, dark rum, Nyquil, and dextromethorphan. He’d dubbed this concoction: a Stephen King-Colada. The blend of depressants and bargain-basement PCP had become a staple of his writing routine. It hadn’t inflated his wordcount so much as it numbed him for keeping count.

Pazuzu backed into the cupboard as Nathan drank the deadly concoction from his skull-shaped mug. The cat knew to keep to the high ground whenever that ceramic cranium was out. Nathan plunked down at the kitchen table, pried his laptop open, and pecked at the keyboard. He typed:

It was a dark and stormy night and a hack horror writer was thinking about giving up on the genre forward, maybe to advance his career, maybe to make first dates a little less awkward. The horror community had met him with cold indifference and now the feeling was mutual.

Nathan sighed. “Bah humbug.”

Then he melted down the chair and into the carpet.

 T.M. COBB

There was a bump in the night, followed by several more. Each one was closer than the rager on the upper floor. Large heavy feet fell across the kitchen table.

Nathan’s torso shot awake while his legs stayed dead asleep. His knees were bent, his feet were at his sides, and his back was flat on the floor. It looked like he’d fallen asleep in the middle of a power slide. The kitchen table creaked as hunched back shadows skulked across the walls. Nathan followed the silhouette certain he’d spot Pazuzu, but then he caught the glint of the cat eyes behind the couch. Pazuzu was retreating, yielding his territory to whatever was huddled atop the table.

Nathan scanned the rim for movement. He saw what seemed like a long sturdy chain, but when it grazed the brim of the table the sound was hallow and plastic. Behind it was a length of jack-o-lantern lights, and a knotted stretch of cobweb.

Nathan couldn’t help but chuckle.

The intruder leapt from the dining room to the coffee table, spun around, and crouched, a prehistoric bird eyeing an early mammal wondering if it were edible. The intruder wore a witch’s hat with horns jutting through the brim. His face was enshrouded in a veil cheesecloth. His cloak was a patchwork of webbing, chains, and rubber limbs. His hands clutched the corner of the table. One featured a Freddy Krueger claw, the other was covered in rubber finger monsters.

Nathan scurried up the chair to find the intruder looming over him from the kitchen table. Beyond the intruder’s veil was a bejeweled masquerade mask and a face dripping with clown makeup.

The intruder lifted Nathan by the collar and raised his veil.

“Boo!”

Nathan squinted, bewildered, but ultimately unphased.

The intruder raised his mask. “You know they say people who don’t react to loud jarring noises are probably psychopaths?”

Now Nathan recognized the intruder. “Thomas Marshall Cobb.”

Cobb raised a corrective finger. “T.M. Cobb, remember. Initials make sales. So sayeth mine publisher of yore.”

Nathan swatted Cobb’s hand away from his collar.

“You’re dead. I know people who went to your funeral.”

“You know them? You couldn’t afford the $160 air fair?”

“I have issues with suicide.”

“Suicide?” Cobb chortled. “Christ, I’m not a poet. I had a heart attack. Is that how they spun it? Did my sales go up?”

Nathan shrugged. “A little. Why do you look like you rolled around in a tub of Hot Topic?”

“Oh this?” Cobb stretched his webbing. “It’s my penance.”

“That doesn’t look so bad.”

“You try taking a dump in this thing.”

“Ghosts have bowel movements?”

T.M. Cobb gave that a long certain nod. “Runny, prickly ones.”

“What’s your diet?”
“Wax syrup sticks, raisins, and rock candy.”

Nathan nodded. That would do it. “So, why are you dressed like a Party City Jacob Marley?”

“Because I betrayed my passions. I gave up on horror and wrote soulless procedural thrillers.”

“And that landed you in Hell?”

T.M. Cobb nodded. “Halloween hell, where all the best parts of the holiday are absent. Where the succubi dress like Horny Helen Keller, Mistress Mother Teresa, and filthy Anna Frank. Where they make you bob for apples in a public urinal and every night we go trick or treating, but the tricks are on us. Have you ever been pelted with a hardboiled egg fired from a potato gun?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

Cobb dropped his trousers, revealing a network of purple welts across his butt cheeks. “These ain’t hemorrhoids.”

Nathan covered his eyes, then his nose.

Cobb buckled back up. “There are no haunted houses, just religious Hell houses where they lecture us on the dangers of vaping grass and premarital petting. There are no scary stories, just Christian comics on the Satanic subtext of the season. Everyone texts via Ouija boards. Everyone travels via hayrides. There’s a drive-in, but the only movie that ever plays is The Exorcist 2. Oh, and I hope you like the Monster Mash, because that shit is running twenty-four seven.”

Nathan shook the opening notes of the tune from his head. “All because you sold out?”

Cobb tilted his head back forth. “I bludgeoned a couple of hitchhikers with a tire iron. I suppose that’s also frowned upon.”

“Why did you do that?”

Cobb threw his hands up. “Why does a writer do anything? For research! I’d lived such nice vanilla life I figured the good lord could toss me a couple freebies. Anyway, I’m here to help you sort your shit out.”

“I’m not too worried about killing hitchhikers. I Uber everywhere.”

“You say that now, but people are fragile. It wouldn’t hurt to score some Karma points while you can.”

Nathan muttered. “I’m pretty sure those dogmas are incompatible.”

Cobb cupped a hand to his ear. “What was that?”

“I said you look like a stay at home dad’s cry for help.”

Cobb swatted Nathan with his claws. Nathan felt his cheek surprised to find blood dripping down on his fingers.

Cobb recoiled at his own handy work. “Whoa! These are plastic. I didn’t think they’d actually cut you. I’ll go get a towel.”

“My cat got me earlier. You just opened the scab again.”

“Why don’t you have paper towels?”

“Why are you here?”

Cobb unspooled a length of toilet paper from his arm and dabbed Nathan’s cheek.

“I had a vision, the last time I was in the toxic trough, bobbing for apples. I saw you turning your back on the horror genre and writing Cozy Mysteries.”

“Cozy Mysteries?”

“They’re like thrillers, but with the stakes way lower. All the violence happens off stage and all the sex is replaced with quant community functions.”

“Like Murder, She Wrote?”

“Exactly like Murder, She Wrote.”

“I knew Angela Lansbury was a bad influence on me.”

“Well, I’ve contracted some entities in the horror community to help steer you back in the right direction. It will be like A Christmas Carol, but not quite as preachy. They’ll show you that there’s still millage in the genre, or you’ll end up like me, or worse.”

“Or worse?”

Cobb nodded, shaken by the thought. “I’ve seen writers in Halloween Hell forced spend eternity dressed as Where’s Waldo.”

“With the red striped shirt and the poof ball hat? But that’s so tacky.”

“I know. That’s why you need to drink the rest of this.” Cobb handed Nathan his half-finished cocktail.

Nathan guzzled it down and went down with it.

THE GHOST OF HORROR PAST

Nathan came to in the middle of a Barnes and Noble as a fleet of sneakers touched down around him. Foot traffic was so congested it phased clean through him. Mothers held their children’s hands as they came around corners. Father’s sucked their guts in as they waited for one another to pass. Children tried to muster the strength to walk with boxsets in their grip.

Nathan teetered to his feet as a train of strollers phased through his torso one by one. Dizzy, Nathan struggled to take in his surroundings. Rolling ladders screeched along their tracks. Book carts creaked through the aisles. Stools scrapped along the carpeting. Everywhere he looked people were reading, riffling through shelves, filling baskets with books.

Nathan examined the endcaps to find a gallery of hand painted horror covers: a procession of black robes, curvy daggers, and tentacles. Reptilian talons rose through the graveyard soil. Porcelain dolls stood at the edge of cribs. Sultry Satanists leaned over cauldrons. Nathan had never seen such a showroom of serpents, skeletons, and flaming pentagrams. He’d gotten used to riffling through Sci Fi/Fantasy shelves for obscure horror titles, but when he rounded the corner he found a horror section that was two isles long.

Nathan reached for a title at random. It read: Confessions of Satanic Cheerleader by Thomas Marshall Cobb. The titular cheerleader had a skull for face, a Red Devils sweater and a pom-pom dripping with blood.

Nathan flipped the book over to find a portrait of Cobb done up like Grandpa Munster: a widow’s peak, caked on makeup, and high collared cape.

“Bet you’ve never seen so many red and black paperbacks in all your life.”

Nathan spun around, but none of the patrons were looking in his direction let alone addressing him.

“Down here. Hep cat.”

Nathan shifted his gaze to a stout little demon with a black beret, red flip shades, and a soul patch.

“You’re not a ghost.”

The demon flipped its shades up. “No day passes for the dead daddy-o. I’m Zazimsberg,  keeper of the infernal archives.”

Nathan was hit with a sudden wave of vertigo. He dropped the paperback in his hand and found himself leaning against the bookshelf.

Zazimsberg scanned Nathan’s eyes. “You still riding the Tussin dragon, son?”

Nathan nodded. “When are we?”

Zazimsberg raised his stubby fingers to the black and red volumes all around him. “This is that glorious era between Rosemary’s Baby and Silence of the Lambs, when gloom-riddled grimoires ruled the nation’s nightmares, when poltergeists and possession kept pages turning, and the supernatural cast a long shadow on the bestsellers list.”

Nathan struggled to maintain his balance as he paced the aisle, scanning the shelves.  “No way.” The horror section was broken into subgenres: Gothic, Cosmic, Supernatural, Psychological, and Slashers. “I can’t believe there was ever this much horror literature.”

“Believe it, syrup head. Back before Netflix, people had either this or the passion pit to get their horror fix.”

“Passion Pit, like the band?”

Zazimsberg snapped his fingers. “Passion pit, pucker palace, pound pagoda…Whatever you call drive-ins these days?”

Nathan scanned his brow. “Cineplex and chill?”

“Well horror was here and there, if you didn’t have anyone to play back seat bingo with this is where you ended up.”

Nathan shook his head as rainbow trails streaked through his vision. “I can’t believe horror was never this popular. I think you’re seeing things through ruby colored glasses?”

“They’re prescription.” Zazimsberg scurried up a rolling ladder and straddled the bookshelf. “Besides this hootenanny is temporary. The horror market is headed for crashville. Once the FBI coins the term: serial killer, a generation of armchair psychologists get hung up on psychopaths. Everyone hip to the supernatural gets seduced by the likes of Hannibal Lecter.”

“Except for Stephen King.”

Zazimsberg rubbed his hands together. “Except for Stephen King. There’s a man who knows his groceries. If you weren’t too Dixie fried on the Dextro, you might noddle this one out for me: why did King survive the horror crash while so many of his peers put an egg in their shoes and beat it?”

Nathan wasn’t sure what decade he was in, but looking at the shelf, Stephen King had already amassed a bewildering bibliography. “King was prolific. He never took a break. His titles were in a perpetual promotion cycle and his brand never went stale.”

Zazimsberg cackled at the ceiling. “Spoken like the mayor of Squaresville. No, King knew people. He gave regular folks something to relate to. Sure, he checked all the genre boxes, wrote his share of dark cellars, but he always made you care about the people who went down there.”

Nathan rubbed his temples. “So characters first, situation second, but what if I’m not much of a people person?”

“You’re going to have to learn to mingle baby, because if people don’t see themselves in your fiction, how are they supposed to get lost in it?”

Nathan nodded, not so much in agreement, but to give himself time to think. “That’s all well and good for you, Bohemian Blasphemy, but what if people don’t feel like talking to me?”

Zazimsberg clasped his sausage fingers together. “Dig this. You ever seen a high class chick with some dumb dopey ape?”

“All the time.”

“Ever wonder how that happened?”

Nathan nodded.

“The ape introduced himself.”

“So what? I should ask a bunch of randos for insights into human condition?”

Zazimsberg pried a book from the top shelf, flung it, and tipped its neighboring titles over. “If you can’t be bothered to care about people, why should they care about your characters?”

“Because they’re in interesting predicaments?” Nathan sidestepped the falling books.

“Like a bug getting its legs pulled off?”

“Sure.”

“Or a cow being tipped off a cliff?” Zazimsberg tipped another row of paperbacks.

“I guess.” The books crashed at Nathan’s feet.

“Or a writer getting belted with hardcovers?”

Nathan looked up right as a big fat art book caught him between the eyes.

THE GHOST OF HALLOWEEN PRESENT

Nathan awoke on the floor of a moonlit corridor. Something tickled the back of his throat. He coughed and watched the particles swirl toward the rafters. Moon beams shone through windows that lined the ceiling. Nathan was in a basement. The dust covers that wrapped the furnishing caught the light, as did the cobwebs stretching from the candelabras, and the suits of armor beneath the tapestries.

“So is this like an Inception thing? Every time I get knocked out I go into a deeper dream layer?”

Nathan’s words echoed off the indifferent checkered tiles.

He wiped the dust from his arms and thighs and pressed on into the dark. “Does this count as R.E.M. sleep or am I going to wake up cranky?”

There were no answers from the corridor.

Nathan hastened his pace as he passed beneath a taxidermy gallery mounted on the wall. He tried to ignore the shadows the antlers cast, but they seemed to stretch.

A breeze wafted through the corridor setting all the furniture skirts aflutter. Goosebumps rose up Nathan’s biceps, his shoulders, and settle upon his neck. A long sheet arose to reveal the source of the cold spot: an open fireplace. The sheet pointed to the Nathan, detached from the wall, and glided over him. In the sheet’s place was a tall elliptical mirror. It had a big baroque frame that was all lion’s paws and golden laurels, like a family crest.

“Alas, a looking glass. I wonder what will happen if I gaze into it?”

Nathan neared the mirror. “So, should I start saying ‘Bloody Marry’ and see where that takes me?”

The mirror already had an answer. There was a silhouette standing beneath a dustsheet. Either it was a trick of the light or of the wind, but the silhouette appeared to be breathing. The goosebumps on Nathan’s neck ran down his arm and settled on his wrist.

He counted on his fingers. “3-2-1,” then spun on his heel.

A figure charged at him with a mallet. “Jump scare!” The figure shouted as she struck a brass gong.

For his part, Nathan didn’t flinch. He nodded, like a disappointed parent.

The Ghost of Horror Present looked to Nathan like a hipster Elvira: straight black bangs, lots of mascara, boots up to her knees, tight jeans, black halter top, and a black denim vest covered in enamel pins.

“They say people who don’t react to loud jarring noises might be psychopaths.”

“I’ve been getting that a lot.”

The Ghost of Horror Present dropped the mallet and gong into a pocket dimension beneath her vest and offered her hand. “Hello Nathan, I’m Leonora, the ghost of Christmas present.”

“You mean Halloween?”
Leonora shrugged. “I’m a millennial. I’ve got a lot side gigs.”

Nathan tried not to stare at Leonora’s chest, but she had more pins than a five-star general. She had the stickman from The Blair Witch Project, Pyramid head from Silent Hill, the killer sphere from Phantasm, and the puzzle box from Hellraiser. She even had the Necronomicon from Evil Deadwith a banner that read: READ BANNED BOOKS.

Curious Nathan turned around and tore the sheet off the figure he’d spotted in the mirror. Sure enough, it was a toned Greek sculpture with a leaf for a loincloth.

“Isn’t this all a little old school for the ghost of Halloween present? I’m surprised I’m not hearing the beat of a telltale heart through the floorboards.”

Leonora spun around appraising their surroundings. “Haven’t you heard? Everything old is new again.”

The back of her vest was a patchwork of portraits of the Universal monsters: the creature from the black lagoon, the phantom of the opera, the bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the mummy, Dracula. There was even a blank one for the invisible man.

Leonora raised her fingerless gloves to the ceiling. “Doesn’t all this Hammer Horror shit give you a nostalgia boner for the supernatural cinema of yore?”

She made a beeline for a buckling strip of wallpaper, got a good grip, and pried it free. Then she skipped over a row of shattered tiles, kicked one loose, and claimed it from the floor. She curled her hand back, spun, and hurled it like a discuss. It shattered a window.

Leonora pointed to her handywork. “Look at that matte painted moon and tell me you don’t want to write some shit about an ancient acropolis.”

Nathan looked toward the impossibly large lunar surface filling the window frame then back to Leonora to find she’d disappeared. “Alright Bat Woman.” He sighed, checked his watch, and counted on his fingers. “3-2-1…”

When he turned Leonora hit him with an airhorn. “Jump scare!”

Nathan didn’t jump so much as wince. A pendulum of hair fell into his brow and he took a moment to slick it back up. “I’m not going to lie. I’m digging on this atmosphere, but how’s a horror write supposed to carve out his niche when he’s stealing from the past?”

Leonora laid on her airhorn. “Re-re-remix!” Lightning flashed, confetti shot out in all directions, and plumes of smoke spewed into the room.

When Nathan looked back Leonora was at a turntable. She held a pair of headphones with one hand and worked the knobs with the other.

A dubstep drop, blew the dustcovers off a pair of monolithic speakers.

Leonora shouted. “You take the classics, play with people’s expectations, and put your own spin on them.”

Nathan could just make out the melody for Toccata and Fugue in D minorburied beneath a flurry of distorted bass tones. He plugged his ears. A flurry of shadows sped across the windows. Cracks spread throughout the ceiling. The chandelier shook, plunged toward the floor, and snagged on its chain.

Leonora pumped her fists to the beat. Lasers converged upon a mirror ball Nathan hadn’t noticed until then. Bats flew through the window, swarmed the speakers, and formed a pair of big brown tornados.

Nathan cupped his hands around his mouth. “It seems like we could do better than just adding a bunch of…”

Silence.

“…Jump scares”

Leonora had disappeared. So too had the commotion.

Nathan scanned the corridor for movement, then the furniture and the shadows beneath it. The support beams creaked. The house settled. An eerie wind blew through the window. Nathan cocked his ear toward the sound and raised a finger until he heard a wolf howling in the distance. “There it is.” He took the opportunity to roll his shoulders and stretch his forearms across his chest.

Nathan creaked his neck, cracked his knuckles, and counted down. “3…2…1…”

Nothing.

He shut his eyes, counted on his fingers, and braced himself, but still nothing.

“Alright Leonora. This is not my first rodeo.” He scanned his surroundings. “We already did the mirror thing, and the silhouettes beneath the dust covers. That just leaves…No. You wouldn’t be that tacky.”

Nathan turned to the suits of armor. One suit was not like the others. It was wielding its great sword high above its head, frozen in the middle of a killing stroke. Nathan neared the suit until he was standing beneath the blade’s trajectory.

“I’m going to assume this is like velociraptors. If one of you is in front of me then another is—”

“Jump scare!”

Leonora struck Nathan with a taser. His muscles seized around the white hot surge in his side. Leonora hit him again and again and again. When she finally let up Nathan had collapsed into a ragdoll on the tile. The armor fell forward and the great sword came down upon his cranium.

THE GHOST OF HALLOWEEN YET TO COME

Nathan came to in an open grave. It was teaming with rainwater, knotted roots, and muck. It wreaked of worms and formaldehyde. He leaned forward and felt something hard and slick beneath his palms. He was floating atop a casket. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

Nathan dug into the dirt wall, grabbed a long rope of root, and pulled himself up with all the grace of Adam West’s Batman. Moments later he was back on the coffin. He tried to claw his way up the steep incline. He managed to get a foothold, felt the grass at the borders of the plot, and then he was back on the coffin with an avalanche of mud coming down on him.

The mudslide had exposed a second root system. This one weaved in and out of the dirt like stitching. Nathan climbed the handholds, pulled himself back up, and grabbed at fistfuls of grass until he was able to roll onto solid ground.

Thunder clapped and a fleeting glimpse of daylight shone through the surroundings. The landscape was dotted with statues: angels whose wingspan wrapped around their shoulders like overcoats, generals who watched over the cemetery from atop their monuments, and cherubs.

“Fuck all you all motherfuckers.” Nathan said with what the little indignation he could muster.

He then turned his attention to the headstone. “Alright, let’s peep on this epitaph.”

He crawled around the rim of the open grave, careful not to slide back in. As for the headstone, it was tasteful, not too garish, not too small. The base was carpeted with red roses and for a moment Nathan felt appreciated, until he read was etched into the rock:

HERE LIES STEPHEN KING: THE LAST GREAT HORROR AUTHOR.

Nathan stared at the text perplexed. “Shouldn’t there be a birthdate and death date? Maybe something about his wife?”

Lightning struck a redwood not far from the headstone. Cinders shot through the air like fireworks. The blast had cleaved the trunk down the center and set the standing side aflame. As the blaze spread it outlined a towering figure. Its hooded face regarded Nathan with cold indifference. Its tattered robes fluttered against the breeze. Nathan scanned the frayed edges and spotted, not legs, but bunches of squirming appendages: snakes, centipedes, and other vermin. Nathan panned down the figure’s skirt and saw tentacles writhing in the grass.

Nathan ran for it. Monuments, mausoleums, and markers passed in a blur, and as he ran those granite shapes grew taller until they rose above the tree line. The headstones became standing stones and the fire that had consumed the redwood had found its way back into the sky. The storm clouds turned volcanic and the rain turned to ash.

Overwhelmed Nathan lost sight of his footing, snagged his toe and hit the prairie face first, then he just kept hitting it as he rolled downhill. He was still sliding when he’d settled onto his belly. That’s when he saw the gapping maw of the open grave ready to swallow him up again. He dug into the grass, but didn’t stop until he was teetering on the edge of the pit.

That’s when Nathan felt the tentacle wrap around his ankle, slice through his pantleg, and latch onto his calf. Nathan burrowed into prairie down to his elbows, but the dirt did him no favors. “Fuck you, Lovecraft. You racist piece of—”

One good tug from the tentacle and all the dirt Nathan was hanging onto came right down with him.

When Nathan landed he did not feel the smooth lid of coffin, but a writhing mass of angry limbs, poking and prodding at all his tender bits until they got a good grip. A tentacle slid around Nathan’s brow. Its suckers pulsed with hunger. The long grey appendage looped around Nathan’s eyes, ears, and nose, before tunneling into his mouth.

Despite the pressure on his eardrums Nathan could still hear the precise moment his skull cracked open.

SUNDAY MORNING

Nathan awoke on his side kissing a puddle of his own sick. He’d thrown up in the middle of the night. Had he slept on his back he’d have asphyxiated and died. Now little Pazuzu was rubbing his whiskers in the mess. Nathan mustered the strength to crawl out from under the table, scoop the cat up, and sequester him in the bedroom.

Nathan was relieved to be alive, but he had no plan to throw the windows open and ask some young man what day it was. He knew damn well it was October 27thand he needed to shampoo the carpet and wash away the stench of his poor life decisions.

When Nathan was finally refreshed he elected to go out. Now he didn’t gift any turkeys to any needy families, nor did he donate to any charities. He was too broke to play benefactor and there were no Tiny Tims anywhere in his life. Instead, he took a notepad down to the local bakery and let his train of thought careen down the tracks.

Nathan listed the qualities someone had to possess for him care about them. He thought long and hard about what qualities made people sympathetic, fascinating, or praiseworthy. He thought about his friends, family, and coworkers. He dreamt up crazy situations that might reveal the full measure of their character.

Then he listed the horror topes he’d always hated and imagined some fresh spins on them. He analyzed the dream about Stephen King’s headstone and came up with a concept worth riffing on:

What if a horror legend had the ability to navigate the collective unconscious and syphon inspiration from his competition? What if one of those authors found out and tried to retaliate? What would happen if the horror legend summoned demons to stop him?

Nathan gripped the page as if to rip it out. “That is such batshit stupid concept… It’d be a shame to let it go to waste.”

He turned the page, wrote the title: NOVELMANCER, and then he wrote some more.

Continue reading A Halloween Carol

Strange Love: Dating Profiles of the Damned

Submitted for your approval: Strange Love aka Monster Mingle,a dating service for the inhuman, a place where urban legends 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 author Drew Chial gives them their backstories.This is a place where you can catch up on the monsters you may have missed so far.

Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep by Bryan Politte

Meet Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep, a serial monogamist from the planet Monogome Prime. He’s had a crush on the human race ever since the Voyager probe entered deep space. Some say he’s clingy others say he’s a parasite… with a gestation as long as the relationship.

Nólatha Torhorn by Bryan Politte

Meet Nólatha Torhorn, former elven maiden, former sacrifice to the Gods of Winter, and current custodian to a handful of artifacts that bestow her divine power. She’s looking for a warmhearted individual to help set fire to the ice cold idols that spurned her.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Meet Roddy Dirge, a punk zombie who needs vitamin B12 in order to stay cognizant or risk breaking his vegan commitment. He’s looking for a bodacious botanist who synthesizes nutrients from algae and has an affinity for the Dead Kennedys.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Meet Matilda MacDonald, aka the devil. She wants you to know everything you’ve heard about her is just bad PR. She’s here to enable your artistic temperament, and all she wants in return is one easy payment.

Follow Matilda’s adventures in my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Read the prequel short story DRAGON’S BREATH.

Check out the original MONSTER MINGLE profile.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Meet Daisy Diode, a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.

Kadilia Caine by Bryan Politte

Meet Kadilia Caine. She’s been out of the dating pool for a while, but she’s looking to get her feet wet again. If you’re searching for someone to watch over you at night then look no further. All you have to do to win her affection is invite her in.

Continue reading Strange Love: Dating Profiles of the Damned

Book Promotion Win! Savvy Teens Recreate Occult Ritual from their Favorite Novel

A man was found skinned alive in what police are calling a “Brutal ritualistic killing.”

In the Tanglewood neighborhood around midnight, a 9-1-1 caller reported hearing screams and seeing candles through the windows of the abandoned Chrome Works factory. When officers arrived they found a crime scene “straight out of a horror novel.”

The victim was chained up between the boilers in a prone position with their spine exposed and lungs stretched back into a pair of wings. “At first we took it to be a Viking Blood Eagle, but then we shined out lights on it and it lit up the room like a mirror ball.”

Both the victim’s skin and organs had been removed “with the pression of a skilled surgeon.” The victim’s musculature was coated in a silver lacquer. Both of the victim’s hands had been amputated and replaced with candelabras. A circle of spoons lined their hips, jewels hung from their ribcage, and mirror shards twinkled from their eye sockets. “It was as if the killers wanted us to burst in and shine our lights on it.”

Six high school-age suspects were found with masks, blood stained robes, daggers, and copies of Drew Chial’s controversial novel Reflective Surfaces. While the author could not be reached for comment the publisher released this statement:

Neither Elephant Publishing nor the author have ever claimed the ritualistic aspects of Reflective Surfaces were based in reality. None of the occult ceremonies were taken from known practices. None of the deities are rooted in a mythology and none of the supernatural elements can be linked to genuine belief systems. They were inventions of the author nothing more.

In promoting Reflective Surfaces, Elephant Publishing did not run an alternate reality campaign. We never built dummy websites for our characters, never toyed with readers on Reddit forums, and never doctored Wikipedia entries to reflect the universe of the story. While Reflective Surfaces had several book trailers none of them contained supposed “found” footage. We explicated marketed the title as a work of fiction.

 The suspects were not known to us, our street team, or the author. They acted alone and of their own volition. We were just as shocked as everyone by their painstaking recreation of the chapter titled: The Chrome Plated Angel. From the handmade comedy masks to the snakeskin robes, they got everything right. From the twinkling crime scene to the raven hilted daggers they were holding when the S.W.A.T. team stormed in. These kids thought of everything.

And yet they brought the text to life entirely on their own. It just goes to show the power of fandom.

We join together with the community in applauding this ritualistic reenactment from the sidelines. They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery and everyone in the office here is positively blushing. Chial and everyone at Elephant Publishing tips their hats to these self-motivated suspects. In an era where book marketing proves more and more elusive this has been an absolute breakthrough.

Continue reading Book Promotion Win! Savvy Teens Recreate Occult Ritual from their Favorite Novel

Treehouse of Horror Episodes to Distract from Despair of Spending Halloween Alone

October is here and with it another entry in the Simpsons’ 30 year Treehouse of Horrorcollection, a Halloween tradition, and a highpoint in an otherwise uninterrupted downward spiral into the holiday season.

These are best episodes to make you sentimental for a time before you worried about which utility to let slide for the month, when you were certain true love came to everyone, and you didn’t depend on medication just to get out of bed in the morning.

Why spend Halloween alone. Join the first family of animation for a midfall marathon of the macabre.

  1. Treehouse of Horror XII

Hex and the City

Homer runs afoul of a Gypsy bringing death and destruction to everyone around him, and you thought your life was cursed.

House of Whacks

No need to stew in your own emotional juices. Let the Pierce Brosnan voiced Ultrahouse 3000 draw you a bath.

Wiz Kids

Remember when that first Harry Potter movie hit theaters? Oh what a sweet summer child you were, thinking you’d grow up to be a big rock star, plucking on that Squier Bullet Stratocaster, composing Rolling Stone interview answers in your head. Best not think about how J.K. Rowling is racking in the billions while you still can’t carry a tune.

9.Treehouse of Horror IX

Hell Toupee

You could spend your evening debating which friends would be brave enough to speak at your funeral or you could let Homer’s living toupee clear your mind of that self-destructive ideation.

The Terror of Tiny Toon

Bart and Lisa find themselves trapped in an episode of Itchy and Scratchy. A premise that shouldn’t seem too far-fetched considering how much of your life is spent living vicariously through your TV.

Starship Poopers

You and Maggie Simpson have something in common, when Maggie discovers something in her genetic inheritance has made her into a monster.

  1. Treehouse of Horror X

I know what you Diddly-Iddily-Did

Do you ever feel guilt stricken for something your haven’t done? Have you ever internalized a nauseating shame for a mistake you only thought of making? Well, before you crack under the weight of your self-imposed standards consider that you have yet to be involved with a hit and run.

Desperately Seeking Xena

Remember Xena Warrior Princess? Remember 90s primetime TV? Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Remember The X-Files? Remember your idea for that couples’ costume you never got to wear, because you couldn’t find anyone willing to dress as Agent Scully? Well, maybe this cute little super hero spoof will take you mind off of your debilitating loneliness.

Life’s a Glitch and then You Die

Remember the dawn of the millennium when your gravest concern was the Y2K virus? When you thought moving to the city would broaden your romantic possibilities. Remember how you stayed in writing poems to coup with the days’ rejection while your friends wandered into romance like it was nothing? Whatever happened to them.

  1. Treehouse of Horror VIII

The HΩmega Man

You know how you walk that streets at four in the morning and imagine you’re the last person on earth? Homer finds himself in that exact situation, yet he approaches it with a smile on.

Fly vs. Fly

Have you ever felt so small, so insignificant that you felt like a nonentity in your own story? Well, in this episode Bart turns into a fly and he’s still the center of attention.

Easy-Bake Coven

Remember when you went on a shoplifting spree and stole a pentagram necklace from Spencer’s Gifts, a deck of tarot cards, and a book on Witchcraft from Walden Books? Remember when you told your friends you were Wiccan, then The Crafthit theaters and you threw all that in the broom closet? Well, now crystals and tea leaves are in fashion, but you no longer believe in anything.

  1. Treehouse of Horror VI

Attack of 50-Foot Eyesores

Remember that Halloween party where everyone hit on your girlfriend and she left without telling you where she was going. Lard Lad is here to drop a nostalgia bomb on that painful memory.

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace

You’ve had so many dreams about dying that you know for certain if you die in a dream you’ll still have to go to work in the morning.

Homer³

When Patty and Selma visit without warning Homer answers the call of the void and phases out a existence. Do you ever wonder if there’s a parallel universe where your circumstances would be better? Do you find your eyes wandering to dark voids searching for a way home? That’s not normal.

  1. Treehouse of Horror III

Clown without Pity

With the success of It: Chapter 2 and Jokerbad clowns are really having a moment. Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that no matter how bad it’s gotten you’ve never resorted to clowning.

King Homer

Do you ever feel like King Kong when you develop feelings for someone? A big lumbering fool imposing yourself on another person.

Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies

The Simpsons find themselves pursued by a horde of unrelenting zombies with no regard for their personal space. Kind of like the Halloween parties ragging throughout your apartment building. Here you are trying to enjoy a little Treehouse of Horrormarathon, but you can’t hear the TV with all the footsteps rushing up the common stairs, blaring subwoofers, and drunken banter on the lawn.

  1. Treehouse of Horror II

The Monkey’s Paw

If you had four wishes what would they be?

  1. A living wage?
  2. A rent controlled apartment?
  3. Cast more people in roles that are usually reserved for pets?
  4. Or to simply remain functional as long as possible without another outburst?

It’s a Good Life

Endowed with God-like powers Bart forces everyone in Springfield to think happy thoughts for fear they’ll be turned into hideous monstrosities. A fear you should already know a lot about.

Frankenstein

If you’re like a lot of people you hate the way you look, but do you ever wonder if you’d feel any better if your brain was transferred to another body?

  1. Treehouse of Horror VII

The Thing and I

Have you ever harbored deep suspicions that you were someone else’s evil twin?

The Genesis Tub

How could God be all powerful, all good, and leave your life in the state it’s in? Perhaps we’re all mold in a petri dish for a second grader’s science fair project.

Citizen Kang

Are you constantly refreshing CNN’s main page asking, “Is he impeached yet? Is he impeached yet? Is he impeached yet?”

Let Kang and Kronos beam you back to a simpler time when campaign seasons were far less emotionally exhausting.

  1. Treehouse of Horror IV

The Devil and Homer Simpson

When you see depictions of hell on screen do you ever get the nagging suspicion that you’re watching the coming attractions for your ultimate end? You should.

Terror at 5½ Feet

Have you ever felt like there was a gremlin on your shoulder cracking your skull open, crossing your wires, and ripping out all your good parts?

Bart Simpson’s Dracula

Do you ever think you’d have an easier time transitioning into life as a vampire than your neuro-typical peers? You don’t eat right, you only go out at night, and you already think of yourself as a parasite.

  1. Treehouse of Horror V

The Shinning

The ghosts in the Overlook hotel targeted Jack Torrance because his alcoholism and unchecked anger left him vulnerable to their influence. Do you ever get the feeling you’d be the target in a similar scenario?

Time and Punishment

You know a thing or two about time travel fantasies. You’re always wondering what might’ve happed had you met with a guidance counselor, hadn’t worked a fulltime job while taking a full course load, gotten on academic probation, and taken a break from college. If only you’d gone back to get a bachelor’s degree instead of trying to turn an unpaid internship into a career. If only you’d kept your LinkedIn notifications on and let your hypercritical friend have a peek at your resumé. Then maybe you’d have been financially attractive enough to someone who wanted children.

Then you’d have gotten the full Halloween experience. Your kids would look on with admiration as you carved pumpkins into their favorite cartoon characters. They’d roll their eyes at your attempt to recite catch-phrases in costume. They’d match your enthusiasm for trick or treating and come to appreciate your ability to carry two pillowcases stuffed with candy at once. But alas, here you are watching The Simpsons.

Nightmare Cafeteria

Budget cuts have forced Springfield Elementary to resort cannibalism. Kind of like how your long bouts of selfcare are eating away at the time you have left to turn this whole thing around. Maybe next year. Yeah, it will be warmer outside. You’ll have met some new people. They’ll have invited you to some Halloween parties. Pop culture will have provided you with better costume ideas. This year you’ll stay in with The Simpsons, but next year, next year you’ll be a whole new person.

Continue reading Treehouse of Horror Episodes to Distract from Despair of Spending Halloween Alone

Kadilia Caine’s Dating Profile

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

Meet Kadilia Caine. She’s been out of the dating pool for a while, but she’s ready to get her feet wet again. She has the power to glamour crowds into falling in love with her, but she’s never known true love herself. If you’re searching for someone to watch over you at night then look no further than Kadilia. All you have to do to win her affection is invite her in.

ABOUT ME

If you grew up Romani in the 19thcentury then Transylvania was the place to be, especially if you liked hawking pottery on a bed of splinters in the dead of winter. And if you didn’t? Well I don’t know about you, but I hopped a caravan to London and joined a burlesque troop.

Now Victorian burlesque is not the Vegas showcase you’re probably imagining. Our performances were less about splashing around in giant cocktails and more about telling tales. Less fan dancing. More pantomime. Less high kicks. More hijinks.

We performed Shakespeare (with a few subtle alterations). Our female characters were actually played by women (as were most of the men). And sure, our heroes were scantily clad caricatures, and yes, we did cram Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter full of innuendos: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? I need a happy dagger in my sheath.

I never got to utter that one. I had a habit of laughing through my lines. Audiences got a rise out of it, but it made playwrights go bat shit. Nevertheless, my time on stage put a smile on my face and potatoes on my plate, until the theater went family friendly and spat me onto the street. Many of my costars fell back on the world’s oldest profession, but I had loftier ambitions.

I took up modeling, posing for those animated carousels viewers spun by hand. Gentlemen would line up to watch me lift my skirt or tip my corset. They called them zoetropes and they called me a zoetrope trollop, sometimes a stroboscope strumpet, or a praxinoscope pretty, if I was lucky.

I was just happy to be in pictures, whether I was a flipbook floosy or stereoscopic stripper I didn’t care. I was an entertainer. I had a good thing going, until a fan caught up with me in Whitechapel and ruined everything.

LIFE CHANGING EVENT

I was walking home when I noticed something strange. The echo of my heels was falling out of sync. It turned out someone was trying to match my footfalls. It wasn’t long before I saw their shadow creeping up the cobblestones.

I hastened my pace, hoping to find a constable or some local ruffians. Instead I found a gaggle of gigglemugs spilling out of a pub. I weaved my way into the women and walked with them until I was certain my pursuer had buggered off. When I came upon a familiar shortcut, I left the gals to their gossip.

My pursuer was waiting for me there in that long back alley. His top hat cast a shadow down his brow, his mustache framed his muzzle in twin spirals, and his teeth were pressed so hard into his lip it looked like he had an underbite. He reached into his cape with a long leather glove.

I remember him offering me grapes and that the last words out of my mouth were, “Thanks, but I already ate.”

Then he ran a blade along my neck like he was bowing a violin and everything went dark.

When I came to a woman was kneeling over me. I took her for a sister of mercy until I saw the gash in her wrist. Maybe it was the lamplight or maybe it was my delirium, but I swore her blood was moving on its own, shifting and twisting against the wind like a living thing.

Smoke billowed from her wound, over her gloves, and through her fingers. Her skin was as pail as porcelain and her ballgown was a deep crimson red. I couldn’t see her face behind the veil, but somehow, I knew she had kind sympathetic eyes.

Eventually her blood spilled over my wound and ran down my collar. I felt a tickling sensation in the back of my throat, like a knot of snakes squirming down my gullet. I choked, writhed, and spat.

The woman shushed me, raised her veil, and revealed a pair of eyes with a catlike glow. “Don’t breathe. Just swallow.”

I did as instruct. It felt like I was drinking oxygen, like my lungs were thirsty, and my anatomy was upside down.

When the woman pulled her wrist back, I caught it and suckled on the gash. She patted my back, a mother nursing her child back to health, and in a way that’s what she was doing.

It was a while before I had the strength to sit upright. When I did, I saw rainbow trails around the moon. The lanterns seemed like bonfires, and the bricks and stones glowed with firelight.

The women ran a finger along my scar. “We’ll have to do something about that.”

She unclasped the choker from her neck and put it around mine. She leaned into my ear and whispered, “Stay out of the sun baby bat. If he gives you silver, send it back. Only eat for show, but keep garlic off your plate. Only drink from those who wish to drink from you, feel for the hastening of their heartbeat, and never quench your thirst completely.”

In my blood drunk stupor, I ran my fingers through her hair. My sire smirked. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Then she fell into her own shadow, leaving me to fend for myself.

A few World Wars later I was finally getting the hang of being a vampire. I traveled the French countryside, touring the vineyards and the bunkers, wetting my lips on the blood of fascists.

In London I abided by my sire’s code. If I felt a donor’s pulse quicken I eased off my fangs and sent them on their way. I never left a gentleman hemorrhaging, but those Nazis, well, I drank them down to the vasopressin. The ones I caught rounding up Romani, I drained them down to the sodium. By the time I got to Stalingrad my code had become: if they had German fatigues on, they were fair game.

By the end of the war I’d developed a reputation. The Axis powers called me die rote Witweor the Red Widow. The Allies called me Glinda the Good Witch. Good or bad a reputation meant I had to keep moving. I crammed all of my worldly possessions into a shipping container and left the mainland.

I traveled on a Norwegian cargo tanker chasing the polar night from one hemisphere to the other. When I got lonely I glamoured the sailors into believing I was a crew member. I read their fortunes between poker games and they told me tales of trolls, fossegrimen, and Krakens.

I sipped from two crew members a night, not thinking to clean my fangs between feedings. At the time I knew nothing of bloodborne pathogens. When the captain got sick. The crew followed. I cut to half rations, then a fourth, then an eighth. The crew survived the trip, but they were all blood brothers when I was done with them.

When the time came to settle on dry land, I chose Seattle. The Emerald City had everything I needed: ports, a near yearlong overcast, and great food. People here eat so much salmon that you can taste it in their hemoglobin. I went from starving at sea to overfeeding on land.

MY HOBBIES AND INTERESTS

Not all vampires learn to glamour. Those who don’t rarely last a year. Either they develop anemia or the hunger drives them into a feeding frenzy and they get struck down by the Hellsings.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a gift and I do not squander it. Call it hypnosis. Call it seduction. Call it neuro linguistic programming. I call it fun.

It used to be if I wanted to glamour someone they had to be in the same room. I’d beckon a dapper young suitor to the candelabra and challenge him to a staring contest. He’d get lost in my eyes, in the optical illusion of my irises: the slithering blood vessels, the swirling speckles, the strawberry seed patterns. I’d stare daggers into the keyholes of his soul, lift the pin of his neocortex, then his behavioral center, and finally his audio cortex. Then with a quick twist of the tongue we’d click.

Pioneering vampires tried glamouring on broadcast television, not to lure victims, so much as to sell things. The fact that you don’t drive an Edsel is a testament to the limits of those old tube screens. Still they tried throughout the evolution of the medium, but they couldn’t make it happen. So, I thought I’d try my hand.

I was studying neuroscience just for kicks. I convinced my class to do a study on chromesthesia. Chromesthesia is a phenomenon where certain sounds trigger certain colors in certain listeners. My theory was that I could evoke specific images in my subjects, like hypnotic swirls for instance.

I spent months with each subject, reading guided meditation scripts at a soft even pitch, singing Romani folksongs with fast bright tones, and whispering the contents of classmates’ journals.

I explored my subject’s cognitive pathways for days, but each one reacted differently. Each subject had their own color palettes. There was no universal pitch.

I was about to give up when I noticed the effect the sessions were having on my classmates, each of whom were neurotypical. I found them outside the booth rubbing their foreheads on the acoustic panels like they were cats. This happened whenever I’d spent a session whispering. My classmates described an electrostatic sensation, a tingling that ran up their scalps, along their necks, and down their spines.

At the time I thought I’d invented Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR), but it turned out Bob Ross had beaten me to it decades in advance. Of course he had, that soft-spoken shaman.

I decided to broaden the experiment. I chose a medium outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction where a live audience was guaranteed to be watching. I started webcamming.

Being a camgirl reminded me of my days as a zoetrope trollop. I was back in tiny top hats, leotards, and corsets, but I wasn’t showing much skin, I was whispering fantasies into a microphone. In this scenario I was a starving vampiress in desperate need of a donor, and I would do anything, I mean anything, for a few drops. Don’t make me beg.

I lured subjects into private chats, met them under bridges, and brought their fantasies to their logical conclusions.

Satisfied with my findings I decided to harness the power of the net to find the Chateau Rothschild of the vampire palette: the blood of virgins, but where would I get it?

That’s when I discovered Incels. Incels were a community of virgins who came together to vent about being involuntarily celibate. It was like finding a cellar lined with preserves that would never expire.

I used my earnings camming to buy targeted advertisements aimed at Incels. Before long I was as drunk as a tick on top shelf hemoglobin.

So satisfied was I that I left my suitors with a little parting gift. I glamoured them, leaned in close, and whispered. “If anyone asks, you totally got fucked tonight.”

MY INTIMATE DETAILS

I have never been in love. Now I’m no virgin (I’m as far from that as Pluto is the sun), but I’ve never been in romantic love. I’ve drafted sex contracts with a haematophiliacs, embraced archduke elders in citadel spires, and forged blood bonds with strangers, but I’ve never entered into the kind of union described by Jane Austen. I have never felt truly known or accepted by another conscious creature, human or otherwise.

The problem with dating vampires is, well, everything.

We’re polyamorous pansexuals and yet our jealousy is legendary. We’re fickle fashionistas who wear lovers like accessories AND we’re ageist against anyone with less than a century under their belts.

“Oh, you charmed child of Tesla, that stack of tree leavings is what’s known as an encyclopedia.”

First dates with vampires always devolve into the same old ghoulish gibberish. We lie about all the bloodshed we’ve witnessed. We wave macabre merit badges and walk away knowing nothing intimate.

Meanwhile the problem with dating mortals is the hours they keep. We’ll be like ships passing in the night unless my partner is an air traffic controller. When a morning person switches to my routine, they get jetlag on the ground, they contract seasonal depression in the summer time, and they start jonesing for the sun.

Oh, and humans have to eat. Their whole culture is built around it: lunch meetings, dinner dates, brunch. Too bad I don’t own a microwave, utensils, or even a bowl. Worse still my culinary skills start and stop at boiling a potato.

PHYSICAL FEATURES

My modeling career ended in that alley back in Whitechapel. Not only had my reflection disappeared, but my image stopped showing up on filmstock. It turns out film contains silver. Silver burns vampires and yet we don’t burn onto it.

It wasn’t until digital cameras hit the market that I could see my face.

I’d forgotten how bushy my eyebrows were, or how my ears peeked through my hair. Not to mention my bulb nose. Then there were the details I didn’t remember. My caramel skin had gone gray, my curly locks had straightened, and my fangs had changed the shape of my lips.

For the longest time my fashion sense was utilitarian: black halter tops and skinny jeans, like Joan Jett on a lazy Sunday. That changed when my webcam turned my TV into a full-length mirror. I started wearing more flair than just a choker.

Kadilia Caine by Bryan Politte

MY PERFECT MATCH

In addition to never having fallen in love there are two other things I haven’t done. I’ve never had a familiar and I’ve never sired a vampire. I’ll be the first to admit I have issues with the way I was turned: the encounter with Jack the Ripper, the to be abandoned by my master. I chose a life of lukewarm loneliness, because I don’t want to put anyone else through that.

I’ve never had a familiar for the same reason I’ve never had a butler. We Romani are self-sufficient. We’re not used to being waited on. Too many vampires treat their familiars like unpaid interns, dangling the carrot of immortality over their heads.

“I’ll give you eternal life. Provided you pick up my dry cleaning in the meantime.”

Familiars are rarely groomed for the masquerade because they’re rarely turned. They’re glorified gofers, biking with coolers on their backs, hoping their master won’t throw blood bags back at them.

“I asked for type-o negative. This is minestrone.”

“Sorry master I must’ve mixed it up at the deli, which means… Mrs. Clifton got the… uh-oh.”

I don’t need a familiar, a twi-curious role player, or a bondage club fang banger. I need an entrepreneur. A self-made manifestation, like a necromancer, soothsayer, or paranormal podcaster. Someone with an active nightlife. Someone who already conducts their business in the third shift. Someone with the confidence to flirt with death and the kindly manner to open doors for her.

MY IDEAL DATE

My ideal date would be a trek across the Carpathian mountainside, a tour through the seven castles of Transylvania, capped off with a nice scenic sunset, but I’ll take what I can get.

We could shape shift into a pair giant bats and freak out visitors at the Space Needle, go hunting in the subterranean tunnels under Portland, or maybe just have a nice picnic… in the charred skeleton of a deconsecrated church.

It doesn’t matter. I am easy to please so long as you hold my interest, and if you don’t, well, there’s always room for a midnight snack.

Continue reading Kadilia Caine’s Dating Profile

Slush Pile: A Scary Story about Unread Stories

Back when I was a bright-eyed English major, wearing but a plus one prescription, I scored an internship at a literary agency. While my peers were happy to earn their credits carting mail and fetching coffee I wanted to get my hands dirty. I convinced Keith, the head of the acquisitions, to let me take a peek at the unsolicited manuscripts. I was a budding writer and I wanted to get a sense of what the competition was doing.

Keith was a far cry from the tweed cardigan, leather patch wearing, literary figure you might imagine. He dressed like a janitor in V-necks and grease stained overalls.

There was dirt in his five o’clock shadow and his brow was always dripping with sweat. He seemed more comfortable with his satchel full of tools than he did behind a novel.

Keith led me into a darkroom filled with bulk storage racks, rolling ladders, and boxes. The kind of place you’d expect to find religious relics and alien artifacts. He tapped a cabinet. It creaked under the weight of its manila envelopes. They were stacked so high they pressed into the ceiling tiles. Dust clouds twinkled through the dim light of the exit sign.

Keith waved his arms over this wee warehouse. “This is our slush pile.”

“This is a fire hazard.”

“That it is, but it’s been a while since we’ve had need of a first reader. Seeing as most of our agents are already up to their eyeballs in clients.”

“I could do it.”

Keith stroked his stubble. “That would be outside the scope of your internship. You’re here to learn. You’re not supposed to do the work any actual employees.”

“But you just said you didn’t have a first reader. Who would I be replacing?”

Keith tongued his cheek. “Well, it’s hard to argue with logic like that.”

Keith gave me a key to the janitor’s closet and I pulled up a chair beneath the eyewash station and got to reading.

I’d made myself a job. Now all I had to do was convince the agency to pay me for it. I wrote copious notes, summarized the stories and gave them letter grades. As an English major I had to read between 12-30 classics a semester. Now I was putting away a clunker a day. The highest grade I ever gave was a B- and that was when I was being generous. Still I was panning for gold, hoping to make a discovery that would elevate me within the agency. Sadly all I discovered was the reason those manuscripts were gathering dust.

I read all the tepid tragedies, lukewarm victories, and shallow life lessons homemakers had to offer. I read every account of heaven from children who’d suffered near death experiences. I sample every flavor of thinly veiled autobiography: divorce diaries from armchair psychologists struggling to diagnose their exes, recovery journals with relapsewritten between the lines, and all manner of reptilian illuminati conspiracy theories.

This was before any schmuck with a premise could self-publish from the toilet. Before vanity presses started offering half assed editing services. Before Amazon made the entire industry bend the knee. Back then the only path to literary success was through gatekeepers like me. It was a lot of responsibility.

I imagined authors reading over my shoulder with their fingers tented in silent prayers. I could feel them breathing down my neck. It was an eerie. I found myself turning from the aluminum ladders, chrome containers,  and other reflective surfaces for fear I might spot a phantom silhouette.

I thought about sending words of encouragement to some of the authors, notes for future edits that might elevate their manuscripts, but the post dates were ancient and there were always more envelopes piling up.

I’d marvel at how many manuscripts I’d made it through until I returned to the room to find the ceiling tiles cracking and the cabinets leaning. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these writers had died waiting to be discovered.

The semester was almost over and I had yet to strike gold. Still I convinced myself I was getting an education. The carrot I was chasing wasn’t rotten, it was rich with nutrients. All of this bad fiction was teaching me how to be a better writer. I learned which trends had been driven into the ground: the brooding vampires whose redemption only came with the help of a virginal infatuation, the artisan serial killers whose crimes recreated renaissance paintings, the blank teenagers who turned out to be sci-fi saviors. These tropes were refining my tastes, challenging me to dig deeper. My own writing was going to be oh so well informed.

Serial liars save the best lies for themselves.

After the Internship

I was the only one to stay on. The cream that had risen to the topor so I told myself. No one had asked me to keep reading, but I was hoping someone would see the coverages I’d written and offer me a position. One day Keith came into the janitors closet. He needed supplies from the cart I was using as a desk.

“Don’t you think you’ve read enough. I mean the semester is over.”

I lowered my readers and rubbed my eyes. By then I was wearing a plus two prescription. I told him I wasn’t there for the credit I was there for the sense of purpose. “My summaries are going to save the agency a whole lot of time.”

Keith wrapped his big calloused fingers around my shoulder. “Son. No one is going to read those summaries.”

“Then why take unsolicited manuscripts in the first place?”

Keith sighed. He tilted his head back to search for the words. “They’re lucrative.”

“How are they lucrative when they’re just sitting there?”

Keith swished his words around before just spitting them out. “Every one of those writes paid us a hundred dollar reading fee.”

My eyes widened trying to estimate what the agency’s slush pile was worth.  “There must be hundreds of thousands of dollars in there.”

“More. Way more.”

My heart weighed heavy on me as I waddled into the elevator and out the agency’s door.

I had seen writing contests in the back of literary magazines that asked for $25 reading fees. I’d pegged them for scams. Here I’d unknowingly volunteered to help perpetuate one. The agency was a reading mill. It didn’t matter if their clients ever got published. Their product was false hope. I felt like a traitor to the medium.

Nine Years Later

While my classmates went on to get careers as baristas I found myself working out of a penthouse overlooking Manhattan. While they measured milk temperature I altered between an exercise bike and a rower. While they modeled flour coated aprons I had a wardrobe full of Armani jackets, Versace slacks, and Santimon loafers. While they struggled to sell their art I had a gallery of art deco sculptures. Every room of my home had its own golden Olympian, each one looking like it came straight off the cover of an Ayn Rand novel.

So how did I go from laboring in a closet to my own private penthouse? Remember that guilt I felt as I trounced out of the agency’s parking lot. Well, I got over it and set up my own literary agency.

I put out an open call for submissions at fifty dollars a read, spent the profits to poach a handful of high profile clients, and used their status to up my reading rates to one hundred and fifty a manuscript. And by “reading rate” I mean my storage fee. I didn’t even bother to invest in shelving. I kept my slush pile stacked on pallets. The post office shipped them up via the freight elevator. I’d pilfer through the envelopes for checks and send the rest down in the blue bin, because recycling is important.

I’d feel bad about pulping all those manuscripts, but my ad clearly stated: SEND A COPY, NEVER THE ORIGINAL TEXT. Nevertheless the boxes accumulated. Just counting checks was a lot of work.

Now I was a great agent to my high profile clients. I shook all the right hands, greased all the right wheels. I got them the coveted seat on The Late Show, got their titles on the best seller’s list, got the bidding war going over the film rights. I did well by all three of them. So well they could’ve dropped me and I could’ve coasted on the royalties.

It’s just that my side hustle was so much more fruitful. Every hour I spent stacking checks into a pouch at the edge of the pallet earned me $18,000. And it’s not like I never peeped at any of those pages before I put them in the blue bin. I  read author bios when a woman sent a cute photo. I peeked at their titles, skimmed through their loglines. I might’ve even taken a gander the occasional query letter, but whenever I did my suspicions were always confirmed. Writers sent to me because no one else would humor them. If anything I kept them going by not responding.

I met one of those writers at a publishing event. She slapped my back so hard my cocktail shot out the rim of the glass. She held the portrait from her dustjacket to her face and mirrored the contemplative expression.

“Bet you wished you’d signed me when you had the chance?”

“You stole the words right out of my mouth.” I had no idea she’d even queried me. I pointed to her hardcover.“This was so good, but I was neck deep in so much great material I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Let me make it up to you. What are you drinking? The next round’s on me.”

There was an open bar. It was the least I could do. We drank martinis and I convinced her boyfriend to send me something he was working on. I even waved my reading fee, right before I tossed it into the blue bin.

You might be asking how I slept at night. The answer: on a king-sized hydrodynamic waterbed with custom tailored lumbar support. In other words: like a heavily sedated baby.

Then One Morning…

I awoke to find the blue bin tipped over in the kitchen. The sink was drowning in manuscripts, the countertops were spilling over and all the tiles were covered in paper.

The first thing my stupid brain thought to do was check the windows. You know how updrafts have a tendency lift bins from one room to another and then dump out their contents? Yeah, well, me neither. I cycled through more stupid theories as I heaved everything back into the bin.

Had I slept through an earthquake? Skyscrapers have a way of stretching the effects. The recycling bin was on wheels. The aftershocks could’ve rolled it from room to room before ultimately tipping over.

Had I sleepwalked to the freight bay, dreamt I was pushing a stroller, and changed my infant on the kitchenette?

Had vandals sidestepped security, cracked the code for the elevator, just to throw around some papers?

None of my theories held much weight, especially since nothing else was out of place, or so I thought.

That Afternoon…

My workout regimen was built around violence. If there were home invaders I wanted to be ready to go full Batman on them. I circled the punching bag throwing high intensity jabs, crosses, and kicks. All the while it felt like someone was watching me. Smiling eyes snickered at my form, at my halfhearted anger, at my lean little body.

I didn’t bother to stretch my ligaments before I started hurling haymakers. I imagined a pair of vandals prying the freight doors open with a jack, crawling into my studio, and tip toing along with the bin. I threw uppercuts with reckless disregard for my joints. I felt those smiling eyes giggling and I just started wailing, throwing elbows and knees. I hit my funny bone and kept right on cycling through my limbs. My knuckles throbbed beneath the gloves, my kneecaps were raspberry red, but I kept leaping at the bag until I slipped, slid under it, and coasted on the sweat.

My heart was still racing by the time I got back on feet so I limped over to the treadmill for a cooldown. I hit QUICKSTART, but I couldn’t get it moving. I dug my heels in, but the belt wouldn’t budge. I felt those smiling eyes upon my reddening face and pushed harder, grunting as my sneakers slid down the Polyvinyl. I gripped the handrails so tight my palms began to blister. There was a scraping, like that of a grinding wheel, followed by a burning smell. The screen read: INCLINE—

When I finally checked the motor I found someone had stuffed manuscript pages down there.

If I was married my wife would’ve told me to call the police, but it would’ve been like telling someone with road rage to ask for directions. It wasn’t happening. Someone was making a statement and I had to disassemble my penthouse to see the extent of it.

I found pages crumpled in the light fixtures casting shadows on the walls. Pages in the tank of the toilet clogging the flush valve. Pages in the oven threaded through the racks. I found pages in places I’d sworn I’d already checked. Dangling from the ceiling fan. In my pillowcase. Lining my pockets.

I spent the rest of the afternoon going through every box left on the pallet separating the checks from the chaff. Then I took the blue bin down to the incinerator. I imagined those praying eyes watch me fling those pages into the fire they weren’t smiling anymore.

Upon returning to my penthouse I hung a camcorder from the ceiling and focused it on the elevator doors. Then I mounted a sign on the wall that read: SMILE… YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERA.

I threw a phantom punches at the dark, until I broke a sweat and felt it in my hips. I remember shuffling into bed. I don’t remember falling asleep.

The Next Morning…

I woke up coughing. There were ashes in the air. No heat. No fire. Just ashes wafting through the room. They trailed into the hallway like a cartoon aroma. I followed them to the remains of my recycling bin.

There was an axle, a set of wheels, and a flat blue base. The rest of the 50 gallon container had been shattered and meticulously rearranged into wire sculpture. The subject wasn’t obvious from head on, I could make out a warped T shape, but when I sidestepped the sculpture’s true form took shape.  It was a depiction of man in pillory, his head and hands locked between a pair of stocks.

I followed the sculpture’s sightline to the floor where I found a manuscript. A light breeze caught the corner of the title page daring me to turn it over. Someone had anthropomorphized the bin to punish it for its role in my crimes. This was next level vandalism. The kind of piece a found object sculptor would’ve spent months planning for. As it turned out I hadn’t seen anything yet.

My home gym had been and reimagined as a sculpture garden.

The punching bag had been gutted and Bowflex rods jut through the remains. It was a hanging cage for figure cobbled together from weights and leather. He was holding a manuscript in his snap hook fingers.

The exercise bike beside him had been smelted into a set of iron stocks. The seat had been positioned in place of a head. The fan had been bent into a pair of lungs, and the pedals had been sheared into hands. This figure also had a manuscript to read, as did the one fashioned from the Stairmaster, as did the one made from NordicTrack cords.

I wandered from room to room with my mouth hanging open. Every refrigerator coil, every table leg, every fan blade had been warped into the same loathsome form. Even my art deco Olympians had been forced to gaze upon manuscripts of their own.

My legs wobbled under the weight of the situation. My lungs couldn’t take it all in. The room started spinning. I found myself sitting amongst the sculpted shadows, cursing the day I quit smoking.

I crawled toward the freight bay to find the elevator doors had merged. They’d one solid piece with no visible crease. The camcorder was still hanging from the ceiling, but the sign no longer read: SMILE… YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERAit read: QUIET PLEASE… THIS IS A READING SPACE.

“To hell with that noise.”

That’s when I felt those smiling eyes upon me again. The hairs on the back of my neck raised as they tracked along my spine and settled on the back of my skull. I took a deep breath, plucked up my courage, and turned around. “Fuck you and fuck your library!”

There was no flesh on the face staring back at me, just exposed muscles glistening like grape jelly. There were no lips to keep the drool from seeping down its chin, but it was clear this face was happy to see me. Its Zygomaticus minor and major pulled the corners of the mouth like bungee cords stretching a tarp.  The Orbicularis oculi, the fiber around the sockets, was crinkled, confirming my suspicions. Its eyes were indeed smiling.

Back at the agency I wondered how many of the authors in our slush pile were dead already. Here in the freight bay I counted nine purple people. They slunk along the concrete, altering between their knees and their elbows. They rolled over one another, dancers performing a choreographed floor routine, and they kept their smiling eyes on me the entire time.

I met the gaze of ghost looming over me.

“Thank you for submitting your manuscript, but unfortunately, at this time, it isn’t quiet what we’re looking for. Best of luck to you.”

The ghost raised a long narrow finger to my lips. “Shhh…”

And Of Course…

I woke up in a pair of restraints with a manuscript laid before me. I read the title page and a set of purple fingers pinched the corner and flipped it over. My day went on like that. When my stomach growled a purple arm lifted a dry bowl of cereal to my muzzle and I kept right on reading. When my bladder was full a hand unzipped my pants and positioned my stream into a pitcher, and when I had to go number two… Well, you get the idea.

The sun rose and fell. I didn’t fall asleep so much as I passed out. When I came to those phantom fingers were right there, tapping the page, knowing right where I left off.

I prayed there were only nine manuscripts, one for each purple person I’d seen on the landing, but after ninth one the pages kept right on coming. The ghosts were making me earn every check I’d ever cashed.

The average person reads four books a year. Books that have been vetted. Books that engage their imaginations and impart them with wisdom. Good books are dear friends. They stick with you, give you a perspective, and a sense of belonging.

Bad books are like toxic friends. They dominated the conversation, leave no room for interpretation, and tell you how to feel. Their appeals to emotion fail to resonate. They trigger your judgement rather than your imagination. They makes you feel disconnected.

Bad books were all that were on the menu as my restraints were slowly realigning my spine.

There were more infidelity fantasies by people who wouldn’t know eroticism if it bit them on the genitals. More self-help books by people who were nowhere near getting their shit together. More endless sword and sorcery journeys to nowhere in particular. More meandering melodrama. More edge lord gore. More goddamn Christ metaphors.

My life was nothing but purple digits, walls of text, and schlock. Until…it wasn’t. Until I’d happened upon an oasis in that endless desert of bullshit. A story that moved me. A story that broke my heart. A story that made the purple fingers rescind while I considered what I had just experienced. A story that I left smeared with tears.

As the years stretched on I prayed to read another like it and every so often I did. Eventually those purple fingers turned their last page and there was nothing left to read.

You Probably Saw This Coming

When Ebenezer Scrooge woke up from his nightmare he flung the window open and asked the first kid he saw what day it was. Easy for Ebenezer. He didn’t live on the 88thfloor. I rolled out of the waterbed and crawled toward the elevator. My exercise equipment was right where I’d left it, as were my art deco Olympians, and all of my furnishings. The only difference was the manuscripts were back on the pallets.

Manilla envelopes were stacked floor to ceiling. I examined one to find my own handwriting. It turned out that I was the sender. I opened it and sure enough I found a check. I was giving the author their money back. I was giving it all back. I wish I could tell you my time in that pocket dimension had softened this blow to my checkbook, but I was going to feel it.

The only consolation was the small stack of white envelopes on the other side of the room. I opened one and found an acceptance letter. I was taking on a new batch of clients. These were the authors whose manuscripts had kept my sanity from slipping. The oases. The ghosts were letting me hold onto them.

I leaned against the freight elevator doors and considered these developments. That’s when I saw the camcorder and thought to move the manila envelopes to see what had become of my sign.

It read: NOW EXITING QUIET ZONE. PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP.

I took the sign’s advice as I got onto the elevator and hit the button for the lobby.

Continue reading Slush Pile: A Scary Story about Unread Stories

Brevity Win! Frustrated Author Deletes Novel

In what many of his peers are calling “an inspired choice” author Drew Chial has deleted his current manuscript.

A screenwriter watching Chial from a nearby booth said, “Drew was hunched over his keyboard hammering at the home row, an artisan nearing the end of his creation, when the light bulb must’ve gone off. I couldn’t help but admire the elegant solution he found to his problem.”

A barista behind the espresso machine said, “I could tell when Drew felt that sudden surge of inspiration, because his whole body quivered. He gripped the counter, gritted his teeth, and shouted, ‘God damnit!’ Right at the eureka moment hit.”

William Falkner once told young writers to kill their darlings, to take the conventions they lean too heavily on and heave them into a coffin. Onlookers marveled as Chial murdered his darlings with reckless abandon, selecting his entire document, hitting delete, then tearing the pages out of his memo pad one by one.

“I was going to clap, but as an I.T. professional I knew that Drew had given himself plenty of room to backpedal. He could’ve easily gone back within his document and recovered the previous version. Then Drew raised his laptop up over his head and brought it down hard on the linoleum. The logic board tore through the chassis, like a broken bone, sending the keys everywhere. Still, I held back my applause, because I knew data recovery was still a possibility. That’s when Drew went behind the counter, grabbed an urn of scolding hot coffee, and poured it onto the debris.”

“When Drew tipped that crumpled aluminum enclosure to his lips I didn’t think he’d actually drink from it. But when he guzzled that sludge of circuits and transistors down I knew he was writing on another level than I was.”

Shakespeare once wrote that, “Brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes.”

By Shakespeare’s logic Chial has lopped off his gangrene appendages, cauterized the stumps, and left us with a novel that must be clever as fuck.

Continue reading Brevity Win! Frustrated Author Deletes Novel

Personal Space Win! Local Author Alienates Everyone Around Him

Every writer wishes they had their own soundproof room. A foam fitted chamber where the only distractions are the scuffling of their clothing, blood swishing in their eardrums, and heartbeats reverberating through their bones. Alas most writers find themselves in cramped into honeycomb habitats where audio pollution is a given. Megaphonic metropolises, with their medical motorcades and high decibel helipads, aren’t planned around clear headspaces.

That’s why so many authors abandon their apartments for the apparent sanctuary of coffeehouses, but there they find all manner of new auditory interference: stockbrokers who don’t know how to modulate their voices, coders beating rhythms into keyboards, and serial venters bending the baristas’ ear.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear about a writer who managed to distance himself from all of those distractors. Author Drew Chial has pioneered the perfect technique for establishing his own boundaries and it’s called: being a creep.

“I used to carry a pair of backpacks set one on the stool to my right and one the left, but the staff got wise to what I was doing. That’s when I decided to make myself the reason patrons decided to move on.”

Whether he is letting his gaze linger too long on a young woman, reading over his neighbor’s shoulder, or treating the bar like a standing desk Chial is a master at establishing boundaries.

“When a Tinder date sits down beside me I align my eardrum like an eavesdropping satellite. Then I draw out my expressions like I’m giving their date the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment in my mind. I start typing when they get quiet, but it’s always the same thing over and over again: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

It’s this mastery of non-verbal communication that allows Chial to get his work done.

“I’ve got a secret weapon to manage all manner of personal space invaders.”

He has a sack full of airline liquor bottles to pour into his coffee for whenever an alcoholics anonymous one on one sets up beside him.

Chial keeps attractive women away by staring at the door like a lost deer, theatrically double then triple-taking as people walk in.

“I like to slide on a pair of sunglasses like I’m hiding my eyeline, leave them on the tip of my nose, and wait until the moment we make eye contact. Then I push them up and mouth breath heavily. Do this enough times and you’ll have the bar to yourself. Oh, and keep a DSLR camera on the counter.  I don’t know why, but that also works.”

Chial even has a tactic for dealing with other creeps.

“The hardest bubble-burster to deal with is another writer. They’re already in their own little world, only vaguely aware of the lunacy in their periphery. That’s why I bust out my restless legs and play my swivel seat like a percussion instrument. From the footrest to the the counter I am a blur. It took a while to hone this skill. The first few times it felt like I was running a marathon, but now I never skip a leg day. I practice with a double kickdrum peddle at home. Whenever a fellow writer makes the mistake of entering my domain I just cue up my headphones and tap out some Norwegian death metal.”

You may have noticed that Chial’s revolutionary boundary defining methods are catching on. A fleet of creeps have spread throughout the nation’s coffee houses, utilizing Chial’s self-care techniques. So the next to you see someone in shades, panting like a dog in heat as you make your order, give them their space. They’ve got writing to do.

Continue reading Personal Space Win! Local Author Alienates Everyone Around Him

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.

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

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.

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