Tag Archives: fan fiction

Culkin VS. Krampus

Logline:When Macaulay Culkin’s brother, Kieran, is abducted by Krampus, the Christmas demon, Mac sets out to trap Krampus to try to get Kieran back.

Synopsis:

Estranged brothers Macaulay and Kieran Culkin are tricked into reuniting by mutual friends. They’re snowed in on Christmas Eve, stuck in an Airbnb up in the Austrian Alps. The Culkins play nice, showcasing their ugly sweaters, going through the motions of party games, but neither has much to say to the other.

Mike, the film critic who put this shindig together, searches the cabin for a distraction. He spots a carving on a windowpane. It turns out Mike is obsessed with myths and monsters and recognizes this carving.

“This rune is an Algiz, a symbol of the white elk. I think it’s supposed to be a protection ward.”

“It isn’t working.” Kieran points to his brother.

Mike insists they search the cabin for more spooky shit. He explains the Norse carvings lining the railing as he herds his friends toward the attic.

The Culkins have a good time, riffing on the occult cabin, but they get a little too deep into their eggnog. Macaulay mentions that he’s running an online poll to change his middle name and that the top suggestion is “Kieran.”

Kieran throws his hands up. “It’s that kind of shit that makes it hard for me to get work. Every time you go outside you devalue the Culkin brand.”

“The Culkin brand? Oh come on, we’re not Kardashians.”

Kieran bunches his fists. “I’ve been busting my ass just to eek my way onto HBO. Meanwhile you’re putting pizza puns in Velvet Underground songs. You retired at 14. Nothing matters to you, yet I’m the one living in your shadow.”

The brothers are at each other’s throats until Mike finds something in an old chest: a horned mask lined with fur with a strange bell around its collar.

Macaulay is curious. “What is it?”

Mike “It’s Krampus, the Christmas demon. He rides shotgun with Santa, taking the wicked children back to his lair where he beats them with birch sticks and rusty chains.”

The Culkins aren’t sure if Mike is messing with them.

“You guys never saw that Krampus movie with Toni Collette and Adam Scott?”

Macaulay shakes his head. “We don’t watch a lot of Christmas movies.”

Kieran points to the bell covered in strange symbols, “What’s that?”

“The Fluchglocke? Parents used to ring it when their kids were disobedient. They’d say, ‘Now Krampus knows what you did. He’s coming for you this year for sure.’”

Mac raises an eyebrow. “Here I thought my upbringing was weird.”

‘Twas the Night Before Darkness…

That night Macaulay creeps into Kieran’s room. He opens a window, with strange sigils, crawls back into the shadows, and slides the Krampus mask on.

Kieran wakes up shivering, covered in snow. He struggles with the window, but its frozen open. That’s when he hears the bell behind him. He turns to find Macaulay in the Krampus mask.

“Someone’s been a bad wittle boy.”

Kieran loses his shit.

Mike wakes up to find the Culkins wrestling in the hall, knocking over framed photographs.

“Stop! You’re ruining my rating!”

The guests pry the brothers apart, but not before Macaulay bloodies Kieran’s nose. Everyone glares at Macaulay like in the opening scene of Home Alone.

Creatures were Stirring

Mike snores through his sleeping bag on the couch. Macaulay is wide-awake on an air mattress. He hears a rattling from the chimney. Something is disturbing the moonlight in the fireplace. Macaulay pries a small mirror off the wall and slides it atop the Yule logs to get a better look. A rusty hook shatters the glass.

Mike chortles awake. Macaulay crawls to Mike in time to sush him.

A chain dangles from the fireplace. Both men are frozen in terror as they watch the hook remove the Yule logs one at a time.

A set of hooves touches down in the empty fireplace. A dark lanky figure crawls out sniffing the air. Its antlers cast maddening shadows on the ceiling. Its legs are matted and wooly. There’s a collar around its neck with a long chain leading back up the chimney.

Another pair of hooves touches down behind him. A boney figure with long sharp antelope horns emerges from the soot. It too has a collar. It too sniffs the air knowing its prey is near.

A final set of hooves touches down. This one shatters the bricks beneath it. This is the figure holding the chains. It has long spiraled horns and a beard that blends into the fur running down its chest. This is Krampus.

These shadow figures stretch across the room in low herky jerky movements, a bowlegged ballet that could turn violent at any moment. The scouts tug their chains toward the stairs. Krampus follows.

Two pairs of eyes peak out from a slit in the sleeping bag. Mike and Macaulay unzip themselves when the cost is clear.

There’s a howl from the second floor, followed by footfalls and shattered glass.

Kieran has been taken.

Six Months Later

Only Macaulay and Mike know what happened to Kieran. TMZ is fanning the flames of conspiracy theories. Once again Macaulay finds himself haunted by the paparazzi, living in hiding.

Mike ventures to Paris to find Macaulay throwing knives at pizza boxes stacked floor to ceiling.

“When did you get into throwing knives?”

“Since I made my brother disappear.”

“That wasn’t you.”

“Yes it was.”

“It was Krampus.”

“I’ve done my share bad shit: drinking, drugs, Richie Rich, but I’ve never gotten a visit from a demon on Christmas. There’s something special about that house and those relics. I just can’t figure it out. There’s too much Krampus bullshit on the Internet. I need to research the region, but I don’t speak the language, and I can’t get far with the papa-Nazis on my back.”

Mike nods. “I can help with that.”

Obligatory Monster Research Sequence

The pair treks across Eastern Europe.

Mike ventures into an creepy library and does a deep dive into the doi decimal system, paging through etchings, filling memo pads with notes. He underlines a name he keeps seeing: Dr. Wojtek Wolinski, Kramposologist.

Mike and Macaulay track Dr. Wolinskito a remote Slovenian village. It turns out the doctor is a doomsday prepper living in a boxcar on the outskirts of town. He’s about to slam his bunker door when he realizes just who is in front of him. Dr. Wolinski asks Macaulay to recreate the aftershave pose from Home Alone for the sake of selfie.

“You can, but I won’t.”

Mike coughs into his fist. “Ah-hem.”

Macaulay rolls his eyes. “Fine.”

Dr. Wolinski rubs his palms together. “Now say, ‘Keep the change, ya filthy animal!’”

Know Thy Enemy

Wolinski gives an impromptu lecture on Krampus with the kind of perfectly cobbled together visual aids that can only be found in horror films.

“Forget everything you’ve heard about Krampus. He has nothing to do Saint Nicholas. Krampus and his pets Schabmänner or Rauhen are far more ancient. Krampus is the bastard offspring of Hel the Goddess of death. Hel charged him with scarring the ghosts of winter back to Helheim. Krampus became part of the holiday tradition when Christianity made its way to the region. I think the change has had a strange effect on him. My parents would tell me stories about disobedient children who had gone missing. My vater would ask, ‘Whatever happened to loud little Luka?’ and my mutter would say, ‘Krampus must’ve taken him.’ The strange this was my friend Luka was missing.”

Macaulay can’t help but notice Dr. Wolinski’s hands are trembling.

“Are you comfortable talking about this?”

“Forgive me. We were taught that these myths were real. They still weigh heavy on me.”

Mac nods. “You don’t have to explain it. I was raised Catholic.”

“Oh, so then you know.”

Helheim and Beyond

Macaulay lets Mike in on his plan. He’s been trying to buy the cabin in the Austrian Alps ever since Kieran went missing. He’s finally outbid the competition. Macaulay aims to summon Krampus to trap him and force him to bring Kieran back.

In a montage Dr. Wolinski teaches Macaulay how to fashion deadly survivalist traps. Mike showcases what he’s learned about Norse runes. Macaulay practices his knife throwing skills on demon effigies.

Dr. Wolinski lays out the details for how mortals can travel back and forth through Helheim.

“Anyone can project their consciousness throughout the realms, but to truly crossover they need to go where the borders between worlds are at their thinnest, to the tallest mountain peaks. Then they’ll need someone on the other side to open the door.”

Macaulay nods. “How do they get back?”

“They need someone on this side to hold the door open.”

“So how does one get a magic door stop?”

“One makes their own.”

Battle Plan

In the weeks leading to Christmas Macaulay installs secret hatches throughout the cabin, motion sensors in the chimney, and a system of mirrors. He crawls from the fireplace sniffing the air. It occurs to him to put pine scented air fresheners everywhere. He crafts a mechanism that turns the master staircase into a ramp with the push of a button. He carves out a trapdoor at the foot of the stairs.

A truck pulls in. Macaulay guides delivery drivers with three huge boxes into the cellar. The drivers setup three heavy-duty cages. Macaulay directs them to position the cages’ toward the ceiling. The drivers exchange baffling looks, but Macaulay’s attention is on the paint cans lining the shelving.

Meanwhile Mike combs over leather bound texts for the means to enchant a pair of literal doorstops he’s placed in the middle of a salted circle. Chalk in hand Mike covers his command center in Norse runes.

Macaulay drags a department store worth of mannequins through the front door. He spends the evening tying sausage links around their necks.

Macaulay sprays Mike with a bottle of something called “Dead Down Wind.”

Mike covers Macaulay’s face in Viking war paint.

“Mac. Are you sure about this?”

Macaulay nods. “Nobody fucks with a Culkin on Christmas.”

‘Twas the Fight Before Christmas

Macaulay opens the bedroom window. Positions the Krampus Mask on a mannequin at the end of the hall. He backs to the head of the stairs and hurls a knife, dinging the cursed bell. Macaulay slips through a hatch, slides down a pole and joins Mike in his command center. They watch infrared screens for signs of movement.

Schabmänner, Rauhen, and Krampus slide down the chimney in the same order as before. The monitors fill with antlers, hooves, and claws. The creatures sniff the air, just as before, but now Schabmänner and Rauhen are tugging their leashes in opposite directions. Krampus unlatches their collars, setting them free to wreak havoc on the cabin. Schabmänner and Rauhen dig their claws into the walls and scurry onto the ceiling. Krampus remains in the den, standing motionless, staring right into camera lens.

Macaulay squeezes Mike’s shoulder. “That’s my cue.”

“Yippee-ki-ya, motherfucker.”

“Wrong Christmas movie.”

Macaulay climbs a ladder upstairs. He peeks through the hatch to find Schabmänner with his antlers stuck through a mannequin. Schabmänner’s jaw is unhinged and its long tongue is trying to reach the sausage links.

Schabmänner spots Macaulay and chases him into the attic where he finds Macaulay desperately trying to open the window. Schabmänner charges, trips on a pile of micro machines and slides through a trap door. He falls several stories into a cage in the basement.

Macaulay opens the window with ease.  There’s a zipline already in place, all Macaulay has to do is strap into a harness hanging from the support beam. Macaulay goes for the harness. A pair of horns impales the floorboards between him and the window. In an explosion of shards Rauhen is up in the attic and Macaulay is running back down to the second floor.

Macaulay leads Rauhen toward the master staircase, slips through a hatch, and slams a button. Rauhen legs fall out from under him as the stairs turn into a ramp. He slides at an awkward angle and misses the trapdoor.

Macaulay calls down from the banister above. “Hey, pronghorn. Up here.”

Macaulay hits Rauhen with a paint can on a string, knocking the demon into the cage below.

Mike watches from the monitors as Krampus finally reacts.

“That got his attention. Look alive. He’s coming.”

Macaulay sprints down the hall, rounds a corner into the kitchen, and gets into position beneath a lantern. He looks at his reflection on an angled pane of glass cutting through the room. He glances at a square in the floor tiles and crosses his fingers.

Krampus gallops down the hall toward Macaulay’s ghostly reflection. It looks like he’s going to fall for the trap, until he rounds the kitchen corner, grabs Macaulay by the collar and drops him through the trap door.

To Helheim and Back

Macaulay wakes up swinging from the cage. Schabmänner and Rauhen are dangling in their cages beside him. Three long chains lead up to Krampus who iss flying through the night sky on a pair of batwings. Macaulay looks down upon the corpse riddle shores of Nifelheim as Krampus delivers him into the bowels of Helheim and a castle made of bones.

Krampus hurls Macaulay’s cage into the cell of a dungeon. It isn’t long before the cage is besieged by a thin bearded figure in an ugly Christmas sweater. The attack stops as fast as it began.

“Mac?”

“Kieran, you’re alright!”

“I’ve been living off of gruel and birch shavings and I poop in bowl. Do I look alight?”

“You’re alive. That’s what matters.”

Kieran sighs. “I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on this and I am really sorry for everything I said that night.”

“Are you shitting me? I’m sorry for getting you caught up in this?”

“I’m sorry you got caught up in it too.”

“Oh no Kieran, I’m right where I want to be.”

It turns out Macaulay has fitted his cage with a dozen throwing knives. He hits a latch and crawls out. It was always his plan to get caught.

Macaulay speaks into his doorstop. “Mike, do you read me?”

Back in the cabin Mikes doorstop lights up.

“Loud and clear. Do you got him?”

Macaulay nods. “We got him.”

“Alight let’s get to work on the door.”

Mike kicks his sliding chair out and starts drawing a rune on the floor of the command room.

A galloping sound echoes throughout the dungeon.

Kieran balls up. “He’s coming back for our beating.”

Macaulay shows Kieran a picture of the rune and hands him a piece of chalk. “Draw that as big as you can.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re the artist in the family. Me, I just fuck things up.”

Macaulay waits at the threshold of the cell to meet Krampus head on. When Krampus is within range Macaulay hurls knives in the demon’s direction.

Kieran scrawls a circle across the cobblestones. Lightning bolts shoot out from rivets in the floor. Cracks spread throughout the ceiling.

Krampus howls. It turns out he really doesn’t like being stabbed with sharp objects and Macaulay still has a fist full of daggers at his disposal.

Kieran completes the symbol. A blinding light shines from the chalk outline. Cobblestones float up into the air. Kieran peers into the light and sees Mike looking back at him from the command room.

“Come on Mac. It’s time to go.”

But it’s too late. Krampus has reached through the bars. Now he has Macaulay by the neck. Krampus unhinges his jaw to let his python tongue slither down.

“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Macaulay hurls his knives right down Krampus’s throat. Macaulay falls to the floor and slides into the vortex right behind his brother.

Epilogue

The cabin burns. Macaulay, Kieran, and Mike lock arms and sing “Silent Night.”

FADE OUT. Continue reading Culkin VS. Krampus

How Writers can Use Their Crazy Fan Theories

There’s a new trend happening in the part of the web that reports on popular films. Those crazy fan theories that once resided in the darkest shadows of the Internet are being put in the spotlight, and the once most aggravating geeks are now churning out click-bait.

Some of these theories are interesting examinations of the foreshadowing techniques, visual language, and symbolism of franchise films. Others find meaning in the supporting materials. Star Wars fan theorists riffle through novelizations for descriptions that differ from what they saw on screen. They scan the notation of a films’ score for meaningful melodies. They interpret concept art for scenes that were never filmed. They deduce plot points from toy line advertisements. Continue reading How Writers can Use Their Crazy Fan Theories

Evil Dead With A Cool Head

The following is the classic Cabin in the Woods horror movie scenario from a slightly different perspective. Just imagine, what would happen if Ash from the Evil Dead series was better at problem solving?

Evil Dead With A Cool Head

Once the captain of the Titanic ordered the lifeboats loaded no effort was made to save the ship. The task seemed too daunting. The first officer shut the watertight doors and the crew resigned themselves to their fate. Glug glug glug. It took two hours for the ship to sink. Two hours that could’ve been spent clogging the leaks with canvas sheets, mattresses, and rugs. Two hours to reduce the flow of water into the boiler rooms. Two hours to seal the forepeak scuttle hatch and prevent the forward bulkhead from sinking.

The Carpathia made contact with the lifeboats only two hours after the Titanic sank. Continue reading Evil Dead With A Cool Head

The Difference Between a Ripoff and an Homage

“Who the hell is this?”

Everything has been done before. Accept it. Everything has been said before too, you can check Google for the transcript. Odds are your fresh blockbuster pitch is already on Netflix, and The Twilight Zone beat you to your fresh story by more than half a century.

A writer can only make so many variances to the same old tale. There are thirty-six dramatic situations, fitting into seven basic plots, told in three acts, following the same hero with a thousand faces. Do the math, show your work, or go ahead and copy off your neighbor because it really doesn’t matter.

My early efforts tried to break the formula by adding variables to the equation. I’d mix genres, combine my favorite characters, and play with dated one-liners. I thought it all added up to something unique, until my friends easily pegged the sources of my inspiration. My creativity was less than the sum of my influences. All of my additions amounted to a zero sum.

So I got abstract, bogging my screenplays down with themes I’d taken from dreams. My professor called them Lynchian, another apt comparison, pointing out that David Lynch was already on the road I was going down.

When I started writing horror, I trekked into obscene depths, searching for a story so grotesque no writer would dare tell it. I’ve mined the pit of human depravity only to find others had been there before me. The moment I thought I’d come up with an original concept, I’d find it’d happened in the real world and there was already a made for TV movie.

Like Chuck Palahniuk says, “You can’t invent a new sin.”

Turns out I’d read so many books and watched so many movies that I could never be sure if an idea was truly my own. Of course I could have gone out into the world in search of inspiration, but I grew up in Minnesota, it’s cold and it’s not good to leave your video games on ‘pause’ for too long.

I was down to a few options: plagiarize an obscure story and pass it off as my own, like a bad musician sampling without giving attribution, or show up to the party in the same dress as Stephen King and just tell everyone how I’m wearing it different (yup, that’s the analogy I’m going with, now it’s up to you to try to visualize it).

I decided if anyone pointed out that Mr. King was donning the same sparkling skirt I was vamping around in, then I would just say, “I know, my outfit is an homage to his.”

"It's not me you fool. That's the evil one!"
“It’s not me you fool. That’s the evil one!”

The Difference Between Fan Fiction and a Proper Homage

The biggest difference between fan fiction and homages is that fan fiction brings established characters into new situations, while homages bring original heroes into familiar ones. With an homage, it’s not uncommon for the setup to be the same as a classic, while the payoff might be completely different.

If you’re writing modern day characters the audience will assume they’re familiar with pop culture. You can’t introduce a vampire and pretend your characters have never heard of Bram Stoker. Dracula is the most filmed literary figure of all time. If your characters see someone sucking blood from a neck they better not say, “What the hell was that thing?”

If they do, we’ll be wondering if they live in an alternative reality where Nosferatu never happened. That kind of convenient naivety breaks the suspension of disbelief. It’s better to have one of them hang a lantern on your influence, draw attention to the similarities to let your audience know that your interpretation is going to be different.

Right now I’m working on an homage to Robert W. Chambers’s classic supernatural horror story The King in Yellow. In Chambers’ 1895 book, copies of a mysterious play have caused such widespread madness that the government has installed Suicide Chambers on every street corner. The banned text The King in Yellow resonates so powerfully with anyone who dares read it that they go mad from the revelation.

My story is about a modern private detective, investigating the death of a script reader who read an adaptation of Chambers’s fabled play right before setting himself aflame. The detective has to trace the cursed screenplay’s origins before it can claim another victim.

Now I know, Chambers isn’t that obscure of an influence to borrow from.

The King in Yellow inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s tome of forbidden knowledge The Necronomicon. Lovecraft also put a copy of the play itself in the Arkham Library appearing in many of his stories. He found Chamber’s story so inspiring that he included the titular character in his pantheon of cosmic beings under the name Hastur.

Director Sam Raimi borrowed the Necronomicon for his Evil Dead series, while John Carpenter used the concept of the deadly book in his film In the Mouth of Madness, ensuring that the universe shared by Chambers and Lovecraft expanded into other mediums.

The King in Yellow made the jump to TV when True Detective’s show runner, Nic Pizzolatto, incorporated names, symbols, and themes from Chambers’s book into the show.

Chambers himself borrowed the names Carcousa, Hali, and Hastur from Ambrose Bierce’s short stories An Inhabitant of Carcosa and Haïta the Shepherd. In his story, Chambers offered a mere glimpse of The King in Yellow play, but the setup bears a striking resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.

If a piece had a profound impact on your work, why not slip in a mention of it? Stephen King’s short story N, has a character slyly compare his situation to the plot of Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan (which inspired me to quote it at the beginning of my own novella).

The take away point here isn’t stealing is fine because everybody does it, it’s that influences are for everyone.

My evil clones never do any chores. They just taking over the couch and claim all the video game controllers
My evil clones never do any chores. They just taking over the couch and claim all the video game controllers

If Everything has been Written Before, Why Bother Writing Anything?

If after reading all this you find yourself having an existential crisis, then good. My work here is done. Until next week. I mean, wait.

So what if everything has been done before? It hasn’t been done by you yet. Those stories haven’t been told with your voice, using your life experiences. Your take is going to have some variances. An awareness of what came before will allow you to play with your audience’s expectations, a slight deviation will feel like a full on twist.

So what if your idea shares a setup with something else? Movies are pitched like that all the time. Under Siege is just Die Hard on a boat, Passenger 57 is just Die Hard on a plane, and Home Alone is just Die Hard with a kid. Isn’t it time you stopped worrying about being so fiercely original and wrote a Die Hard of your own?

John Constantine in: Gambling with Souls

1. Nostrils

The following is a demon possession story with an unconventional outcome, a pitch black horror adventure with a whole lot of comedy.

I’ve written about how I’d like to see a fresh take on the exorcism genre and how I’d like to see my favorite exorcist, John Constantine, depicted on TV. Here’s an original short story that hits both birds with the same stone. It doesn’t matter if you’re fans of the comic, the show, the movie, or if this is your first introduction to the character; this piece stands on its own.

John Constantine in: Gambling with Souls

Ravenscar had been remodeled since my last bout of electroshock. The patients’ wing had been done up like a walk-in candy cane. The hall was a spiral of blood, streaking across the floor, up the wall, arching over the ceiling, then back down again. This paint job must’ve taken muscle, a steady hand, and a cadaver.

The hall stunk like a thawed out, abandoned meat locker. The smell intensified with every step, but the spiral beckoned me forward, a red carpet leading to the room at the end.

The door was ajar, daring me to step inside.

Fishing my phone out of my pocket, I set the flash to ON. Holding it into the unit, a chill moved down my wrist. Taking a snapshot, the flash revealed something at my feet. Recoiling, I felt the chill pass in an instant. Flicking my lighter across my thigh, I examined the threshold.

Turns out, I wasn’t the first mage in Dr. Huntoon’s rolodex. These sigils were drawn by an artist, someone versed in the mediums of salt, mirror shards and mercury. This was hybrid magic, a fusion of fringe spiritualism and esoteric witchcraft. It’s not unusual to find an etching of the Eye of Horus at the scene of a paranormal event, but it’s rare to find it accompanied by a nose and a mouth. This had Zed’s finger prints all over it.

Zed was a budding sorceress, rebelling against her evangelical upbringing by sticking her nose into these sorts of things. We’ve been riding each others coat tails ever since we ceased being an item.

Whatever lurked behind door number one hadn’t given me frostbite, Zed’s ward did. It was overkill, like using an EMP to take out the enemy’s communications, only to find you’ve disabled all of your weapons systems. This was arse about a face. Sure, it put up borders around bewitchments, but it was kryptonite for conjurers.

Here I was with a trench coat lined with magical trinkets. One step forward would render them useless, putting me at the mercy of Ravenscar’s latest tenant.

Ducking into the hall, I unloaded my arsenal. Pendants, potions, pentacles, rings, relics, runes, incense, ironweed, and insect repellant. What can I say? When I go in blind, I like to keep my options open.

The only things I kept in my pockets were a phone, a zippo, a pack of Silk Cuts, a tin filled with business cards, and a bottle of OxyContin I’d nicked from the doctor’s private stash. You know, the essentials.

Peeking at my phone, I saw what I’d expected: a tall lump beneath a sheet on the mattress. Expanding the image, I noticed something that didn’t sit right. If this was the bed, where were the pillows?

Pushing the door open, I felt Zed’s invisible fencing suck the magic from my skin.

“House keeping.” My voice echoed off the walls. It was a familiar sound, almost comforting, like coming home.

2. Newcastle

The lump under the covers remained frozen. My gaze followed the blood trail to a pair of legs beneath the bed frame: white orderly pants stained rusty brown. There were teeth marks at the ankles, exposing the Achilles’ tendon. Flies had colonized the bed. Here I left my insect repellant in the hall. The sheets dripped with black, brown, and yellow sludge. Whatever was living in here was nesting.

I wondered if Zed was so gobsmacked with the presentation, that she opted to just lock the bugger in.

Screwing a cigarette into my lips, I lit it up and took a puff, paying close attention to the direction the fire was leaning. Fire is attracted to two things, oxygen and demons. Let’s just say this flame wasn’t stretching for the door frame.

Clipping the zippo to my sleeve, I rolled my shoulder, cracking my neck to conceal my movements. Waving the cancer stick like a conductor, I hoped the ember would hold my audience’s attention. Inhaling as much as I could, I blew a smoke cloud overhead. Adjusting my coat, there was nothing up my sleeve, not even an arm. My fingers were up near my collar, ready to catch whatever life had to throw at them.

Reaching for the comforter with my free hand, I found a corner that had yet to be tainted by bodily fluids. Tearing the sheet away, I tilted my head straight up. I already knew where the pillows had gone. Raising my arm through my collar, I caught my attacker as she came down.

She fell right into my grasp. I flung her into her stuffed stand in. The pillows scattered. She landed on all fours, a cat with perfect balance. Her gown dripped with the same septic sap that oozed over the bed frame. You’d think smoking since primary school might spare my nose the smell. It didn’t.

The tenant smiled, revealing a face full of talons, claws in place of canines, a fine piece of skeletal transmogrification if I’d ever seen one. Her eyes were milky white. Her veins had turned black.

Digging her nails into the mattress, spittle seeped from her teeth. “Why can’t we read your mind?”

What is it with lesser demons and the royal we?

Shrugging, I took a puff, exhaling through my nostrils. “Because you’re illiterate.”

Zed might not have exorcized this demon, but at least she’d rendered it mind blind.

The tenant rubbed its eyes. “We read Dr. Huntoon’s mind. Did you know he has an ongoing fantasy about reviving Carl Jung’s sexual therapy? He longs to help push his patient’s traumatic memories down, deep down inside,” she cackled, “over and over again.”

I shrugged. “That’s just a lucky guess.”

The tenant shift her weight from shoulder to shoulder, a predator primed to pounce. “Are you one of his, or did your condition bring you to us like a moth to a flame? Maybe you suffer from some kind of savior complex? Either way, we can make the hurting stop.”

I chuckled, “‘Savior’ is not a word I hear that often.”

“So you’re not some Papist come to play Jesus?” The tenant squint, sizing me up with empty eyes.

I blew a smoke ring, “Nope,” I waved the nub of my filter. “although my meat suit does have the same initials.”

The tenant’s head cocked to the side, shaking like a maraca. “Your meat suit?”

Flicking the filter, I reached into my coat. “Oh yes, his name is John Constantine. John Constantine!” I flung a handful of business cards at her. “It would be remiss of me to rob him of a branding opportunity while he’s away.”

Leaning forward, the tenant’s hair fell into her teeth like floss. Her head bobbed up and down, tracing my aura from the floor to the ceiling.

The tenant shook her head, casting off dandruff. “If you’re really wearing this Constantine, why aren’t there any stretch marks? Why is their color in his cheeks? Why can we still see the light in his eyes?”

I pointed to her “There are puppeteers” then I pointed to myself, “and then there are ventriloquists. You know what you are.”

The tenant nodded. Pigs squealed in the bowels of her throat.

“We’re the devil.”

She spat brimstone at my feet, it sizzled on the tile, but I didn’t flinch.

I reached into my trench coat. The tenant perked up in a painful looking yoga pose. Its elbows bent the wrong way. Its bones stretched the skin. Her flesh was ready to rip right open.

Rolling my eyes, I tapped my phone. The tenant’s forked tongue tasted the air. I raised a finger, signaling for the demon to hold on a second, before flipping the screen to face her.

It was on a freeze frame from The Exorcist. It featured young Regan tied to her bed, skin pealing, her pajamas covered in pea soup. I tapped play.

Regan’s demon voice shouted, “The devil!”

Setting the phone back in my pocket, I ran my fingers through my hair. “Linda Blair circa 1977. There was an actress, you on the other hand, I’m not impressed with. Who’s your agent?”

The tenant smirked, giggled to itself, a child busted for lying. “Why does a fellow traveler need to know our name?”

I cracked my knuckles. “I don’t want your name, you walked into someone else’s home and started eating their food. Your name is Goldilocks. I want the name of the one who told you where to find the free lunch. Give me that and I’ll leave you with a limb to limp home on.”

Smiling, Goldilocks’s jaw sagged, like melted putty, revealing a second row of teeth behind the talons. Leaning forward, she was primed to bite my head off. “Oh, you’d be so merciful.”

She snapped at my ear, grazing the skin, ran her nose across my forehead, sniffed my brow, then snapped at the other one. I’d been knighted by demon. Blood trickled down my earlobe. She’d barely pierced the skin, but the pain was fleeting.

I grit my teeth. “The limb offer is off the table. Cooperate and I won’t reroute your intestines to fill your genitals with bile,” I shrugged, “or don’t cooperate, I’m feeling creative tonight.”

Rolling her head back, Goldilocks spewed a geyser of oil at the ceiling, spreading an inkblot across the tiles. Exhaling, Goldilocks elbows bent back into place, she fell into a heap on the mattress.

Lightning flashed. Thunder struck. Squealing pigs echoed down the hall behind me. I lit another Silk Cut and checked the time.

3. Rubbing Eye

“Doctor?” Goldilocks’s voice had lost its bite, she sounded human. “Who’s that under the bed? What’s wrong with his leg? Why isn’t he moving? Oh my God, is he?…”

This was Angie. The wee lass Dr. Huntoon thought might benefit from my unique approach to therapy.

Angie backed into the wall, huffing and puffing, panic wrought. “You’re not Dr. Huntoon. Who are you? Are you real?”

“I try to be.” I swatted the flies out of my face.

The air was thick. It stunk of rotten eggs and charred cinder. A clammy sensation traveled from the small of my back, up my spine, coiled around my neck, and settled on my scalp.

Sucking down my Silk Cut, I gave the poor girl my best poker face. In a game with stakes this high, empathy is the enemy.

“Is it gone? Did you get rid of it?” Angie’s gaze followed the claw marks on the ceiling.

Sweat dripped down my face, pooled in my palm with a white sticky residue. It smelt like hair product. I felt my spikes to find they’d drooped down into bangs.

“Is it safe?” Angie dipped her foot on the floor.

Grabbing her wrist, I checked her forearms for black tracks, ink bubbles riding the ventricles.

“Say ah.”

She did as instructed. Her tongue was solid again. Her teeth had returned to normal. Her gums showed signs of gingivitis, but that’s not my area of expertise.

Prying her eye open, I checked her iris for signs of dilution, but it was something in her pupil that demanded my attention. Seeing my reflection, I spotted a row of fingers on my forehead, bat claws digging into the skin.

“He’s still here.”

Spinning on my heel, I scanned the room for reflective surfaces. Zed had to have gotten those shards from somewhere. There were mirrors on both sides of the wardrobe, one had been shattered, while the other was still intact. Stepping into view, I got a good look at the monkey on my back.

The little bugger looked like an abstract artist’s interpretation of a demon: an emaciated monkey’s body, with a ribcage so sunken it left no room for lungs. Goldilocks’s shoulder-blades were so pronounced they cut through his skin. He had lopsided bat ears, talons for teeth, and the contours of a man’s head.

A crown of bone jut out from a wet gash in his scalp, bleeding down his face like a mask.

His tail hung between my legs with links of exposed vertebras, wagging with amusement. Goldilocks was having himself a piggyback ride. If he’d suspected a vacancy in me, he’d have slipped inside already. He was testing me.

Angie dug into her gown, watching the shadows for signs of movement. “He’s been following me since I burned down the chapel. It wasn’t until you came along that I realized he was the Devil.”

I chuckled, blowing secondhand smoke at Goldilocks’s perch on my back. “A demon calling himself the devil is like a clerk calling himself the manager. Lesser demons invoke the name to inflate their stature. This mug is just a common imp trying to live beyond its means, using the majestic plural to compensate for something.”

I felt Goldilocks’s claws dig into my skull, stopping just short of my brain. I had to drive it back into Angie if I was ever going to stand a chance.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “He’s an enforcer sitting in the boss’s chair, a tapeworm pretending to be a python, a barnacle on a whale’s back, thinking it’s the king of the ocean. It has no grand ambitions, no role in the apocalypse. It’s up here hiding, soiling its knickers at the thought of being dragged back to hell.”

That got the weight off my shoulders.

***

Angie’s eyes rolled into her skull. She arched her back, cracking it. Lightning flashed. Her shadow transformed. Spikes shot out of her lips again.

Shaking the pack of Silk Cuts, I realized I was down to the last one, the final link in a chain of smokes.

Goldilocks crawled forward, staring me down with empty eyes. “Who are you?”

Puffing on the Silk Cut between us, I let the embers flare. “I’m the one whose porridge you’re gobbling. Since Ravenscar was established, I’ve peaked in, nibbling on an obsessive compulsive here, a paranoid schizophrenic there, never taking more than I needed, never announcing my presence. Then you came along and shined a big bright light on my operation. Now my buffet is at an end. Soon they’ll have priests on retainer, buckets of holy water in every doorway, and crucifixes as far as the eye can see.”

Goldilocks’s tongue shift from cheek to cheek, then from eye socket to eye socket. “If that’s so, then we’ll step out of your way. You can have this one’s soul, our treat. We’ll stand guard as you suck it dry.”

Goldilocks raised a finger, “But if you can’t, if you’re not the demon your swagger says you are, then we reserve the right to pick your meat puppet clean.”

I nodded, “Deal.”

Flicking her wrist, Goldilocks slammed the door behind me. When I turned back from the sound, I found Angie scurrying away.

Goldilocks had called my bluff.

4. Looking Back At

Tears streaked down Angie’s cheeks. “Just make it quick. The things it shows me… The things it wants me to do…to people I care about… I can’t go back.”

A breeze passed through Angie’s hair. The strands hung in the air. This time Goldilocks wanted me to know exactly where he was standing.

I could’ve grabbed a shard of mirror, sliced Angie’s throat, and hoped that Goldilocks would sod off out of it, but that would be a draw and I was looking for a win. That’s when I remembered the prescription in my pocket.

Sighing, I put my hand on Angie’s shoulder. “The only way to spare you from his torment is to transfer ownership. His is the realm of venial sins and mine is the realm of mortal ones.”

I pointed to her, “Mala Prohibata,” then to myself “Mala in Se. He deals in sins that are forbidden by man, like playing with matches. I deal in sins that are forbidden by the divine.”

Cupping my hands around Angie’s, I left her with the bottle of OxyContin.

“He will fragment your personality from your memory, turn one aspect against the other, until your soul is a snake eating its own tail. You will devoir yourself. He’s a petty demon. He doesn’t collect souls, he collects tragic outcomes. You’re just another notch on his belt.”

I pointed to the pills. “Come with me and I will hurt you. I will devastate you beyond your comprehension, but I will let you retain a semblance of your identity. This I promise you.”

Angie struggled with the childproof lid. “Who are you?”

My smile flattened. “The true lords of hell do not go by names. We go by numbers, and I my dear, am the first of the fallen.”

If I couldn’t sell the lie to Goldilocks, I’d have to sell it to his target audience.

Angie muttered a prayer.

I shook my head. “With everything you’ve done? No. God’s turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. Your damnation is a foregone conclusion, but you still have a choice in which hell you’re going. Go with Goldilocks, and he’ll pass you around the prison. Go with me, and you’ll be mine alone.”

I practically put the capsules in her mouth myself.

She swallowed them down, and the staring contest began. While Angie searched my eyes for traces of humanity, I searched her hairline for signs of movement. Angie was Goldilocks’s link to the land of the living. Would he go down with the ship or wait for another to come along?

As Angie’s eyelids shut, her hair went limp. I felt Goldilocks’s demon grip on my shoulders. All he had to do was slip into my scalp, possess my body, and he would’ve won, two souls for the price of one. Instead, he leapfrogged over me, looking for a place to hide until the next sad sap wandered in.

The wardrobe creaked.

Walking backward, I cracked my knuckles. Turning to face the mirror, I saw Goldilocks in the reflection, gnashing his teeth, his forehead perpetually bleeding. We stared at each other head on. He won that contest. I couldn’t help but wink.

“Here’s to seven more years of this.” I drove my fist into the mirror. It shattered, trapping the little bastard there.

Leaping onto the bed, I felt Angie’s neck for a pulse. It was fading, worse still she was barely breathing. There were only a few capsules left in the bottle, but I’d underestimated their effect. Gambling with Angie’s life, I delivered her soul to the genuine first of the fallen, tossing her out of the frying pan and into the volcano.

Scooping Angie up, I carried her across Zed’s invisible fence. Panicking, I ran past my arsenal of enchantments. I had one last option.

***

Kicking the door open, I announced our presence.

The electroshock chair was already occupied. The patient seized up in the throes of his session.

A nurse shot up from behind him. “We’re in the middle of a procedure!”

Laying Angie’s lifeless body on the floor, I said, “So am I.”

Plucking the electrodes from the patient’s head, I made a makeshift defibrillator. Cranking the dials up past I eleven, I yelled, “Clear!”

***

When Angie came to, she spent the first few minutes staring daggers at me. Even after they fit her with an I.V. full of Buprenorphine, she kept her gaze fixed.

“So, are we in hell?” She asked.

I gave her a so-so gesture. “Not exactly.”

She exhaled, filling the air with tension.

“You told me to kill myself, to commit a mortal sin. You persuaded me to play an active part in my own damnation. You told me you were the first of the fallen.”

Making my way to the door, I shrugged. “Listen love, I say a lot of things.”

5. Smiles

For more on the adventures of John Constantine check out my review of the pilot episode for the Constantine TV Show.

For more of my stories on demons and possession check out:

Eviction Notice – The tale of landlord tasked with tossing out a tenant possessed by a demon.

The Great American Tell Off Speech – The story of the hiring manager from hell interviewing a genuine demon.

Terms and Conditions – The story of an artist who tries to steal his inspiration back from the devil.

For my thoughts on the role of exorcisms in modern fiction, check out: Horror Clichés in need of an Exorcism.

Franchise Fixes: Highlander

There can be only me
There can be only me

For those of you unfamiliar with Highlander, it’s the story of a five hundred year old Scotsman drawn into a deadly contest that’s raged for centuries. Connor MacLeod and immortals like him, fight for a prize some believe to be godhood. He is a reluctant participant in this game. Seeking the protection of holy ground, MacLeod fights for survival. Claiming the heads of those who try to take his own, MacLeod grows stronger through a merging of souls called “the quickening.” He’s done this ever since his mentor, Ramirez, taught him that in the end there can be only one.

Duncan MacLeod is Connor’s kinsman. While Connor represented the franchise on the silver screen his distant relative became one of the most enduring characters to dominate Saturday afternoon television. While the film series lost it’s way, claiming the immortals were reincarnated fugitives from the planet Zeist, the TV show kept the mystery interesting. When Connor and Duncan were reunited in Highlander: Endgame, fan favorite Duncan was put in a situation (MAJOR SPOILERS) that forced him to claim Connor’s head. This gave him the strength he needed to face a bigger foe. The series collapsed after that (stumbling back into Zeist-like planetary alignment territory in Highlander: The Source).

The problem with the currently proposed reboot: The screenwriters are stuck on retelling the story of Connor’s battle with the Kurgan, the strongest of the immortals. They want to bring back Ramirez, and give us an updated clone of the first adventure. Their additions have Connor swapping his iconic katana for a sniper rifle. They have the Kurgan exploiting a bureaucratic loophole to deconsecrate a church in order to fight on holy ground. Apart from Connor taking on one of his opponent’s physical ticks, after a claiming his head, it felt like this interpretation had nothing to add.

Controversial Fix: Keep the concept ditch the hero.

Connor MacLeod is not without his charm, but he’s no Indiana Jones. Connor was upstaged by his television counterpart Duncan, the romance novel cover model of the series. Both characters have established histories that come with a lot of baggage. I think the premise has more staying power than the protagonists. If we want to modernize the franchise, we’ll need a new MacLeod, one whose past, present, and future are mysteries to us.

The story will borrow many of the familiar beats from Connor’s origin, but it will tweak them to play with audience expectations. Continue reading Franchise Fixes: Highlander

Grift the Words Out of You

Mine
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

This piece was inspired by a conversation I had with @LorenKleinman on Twitter. You should check her website at lorenkleinman.com

***

Persuading yourself to write is like pulling off a long con. You play the parts of both the mark and the convincer. The mark has something you want, time and dedication. Neither you, nor they, want to give those things up willingly. Time scheduled is time spent, and you want to keep your options open. You’ve got a Netflix queue that isn’t going to watch itself. Dedication requires persistence, and you already have enough on your plate. No one wants to feel like they’re clocking into a second job.

You’ll have to swindle the time and dedication out of yourself. You’ll have to get yourself to write without realizing that you’re doing it.

Don’t spend too much time on foundation work, or you’ll get wise to what you’re up to. You’ll see all of those character biographies and get nervous about meeting new people. You’ll see the settings mapped out and your agoraphobia will kick in. You’ll see the scene list and imagine your calendar filling up with X’s. If you let yourself realize how daunting the task of writing can be, you won’t want to do it. Continue reading Grift the Words Out of You