Tag Archives: halloween

Post Halloween Depression

It’s early November in Minnesota and they’re draping tinsel around the light poles. Shop windows are full of Christmas trees and holiday ballads are following me from sliding door to sliding door.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like commerce everywhere you go.”

Bah Humbug to sweater season. Bah Humbug to politically polarizing Thanksgiving conversations. Bah Humbug to daylight savings ending. Bah Humbug to dusk at 4 PM. Bah Humbug to seasonal depression. I already miss Halloween.

WHY I CLING TO HALLOWEEN

Every October I watch my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, I riffle through The X-Files, explore The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, and host a horror movie marathon for one. Every November I try to keep that party going, to keep myself in the headspace of Halloween, to self medicate with macbre media. My calendar has 62 days of October. My cat continues to paw at the skeleton decorations, while I attempt to treat myself with black light therapy. It’s a hard thing to reason with seasonal depression when you late it settle in, which is why I’m stalling.

Any shrink worth their salt will tell you that it’s important to have something to look forward to. October had me conjuring up costumes for parties. That’s right “parties,” plural. I’m a man in my thirties who prepared multiple outfits for Halloween week. You may call that immaturity. I call it therapy.

Now I need to come up with a new short-term creatively engaging obsession without the seasonally appropriate community reinforcement. It’s always a challenge. One November I tried to start an alternate reality game. Another I recorded an audiobook. I think this year I’m going to try blog hopping and see where that takes me.

Still that’ll another variation of doing the same thing expecting something different to happen.

I stock up on projects every winter, but it’s a challenge to make time for creative endeavors when my schedule narrows to work and self-care. Suddenly it’s hard to write when so much of my creative energy is spent on personal upkeep.

DARK TIMES AHEAD

Every fall the days get shorter then we wind the clocks back, because we’re in one of the countries that does that. It isn’t that the darkness makes me sleepy (the production of melatonin doesn’t help) it’s that it makes me feel okay about unwinding when I should be writing. It gives me permission to be a couch potato longer than I would if I saw the sun. It makes multi-slacking with a videogame on one screen and Netflix on the other seem like valid use of my time.

There’s debate in the scientific community about whether or not sunlight impacts mood or if Seasonal Affective Disorder is even a real thing. Well I don’t need to be a virologist to know that cabin fever is real. I don’t need to be an epidemiologist to know those of us living in quarantine for the holidays are in for a bad time. I don’t need to see if restless head syndrome has made it into the DSM-5 to know when I have it.

WHY NOVEMBER IS A TOUGH TIME TO BE A WRITER

I take an annual emotional hit just after Halloween. As a horror author Halloween is my peak creative season. It’s when I’m at my most prolific, sharing short fiction and observations of the genre to a hungry audience, but every year my blog traffic plummets come November 1stand I, in turn, hit writer’s block hard (checkout the scarcity of my previous November blog entries).

Celebrations of horror and fantasy cease on social media. The childlike spirit of Halloween gives way to harsh tone of our political landscape. I go from feeling like I’m free to wander the streets with my horns uncovered to feeling a need to hang my strange obsessions in the closet for another year.

To make matters worse this is when most writers start participating in National Novel Writing Month, posting their word counts to social media like unbeatable high scores. Despite the inherent introversion that comes with our craft we writers our social animals. We can’t help but compare how our efforts to those of others.

THE HOLIDAYS DON’T HELP

Jack Frost is knocking and he has a choir of intrusive thoughts behind him.

“Shouldn’t you be getting the perfect someone the perfect something? Shouldn’t you two be drinking cedar by the fire? You don’t want to be a spectator on New Years Eve, do you?”

Yeah yeah yeah. I’ve heard this song before. Bah Humbug to all that noise. All I want for Christmas is the freedom to opt out.

This has nothing to do with any ill will towards the holiday itself. That I’ve always loved. It just sucks to being alone during a time of togetherness and this modern era really has a way of rubbing it in. There’s that social comparison phenomenon rearing its ugly head again.

I’ve lived with people who’ve scrolled through their Facebook feed openly resenting their graduating classmates for having kids before them. I’m not the guy that grits his teeth at cheery Christmas photos, but I must confess they do have a cumulative effect.

EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS

I recognize that I’m thinking aloud, screaming into the void, throwing thoughts into the volcanic mouth of the Internet to see where they land. I’ve been at the edge of this particular cauldron before. This season I need to do something different.

I just had a book published, “He Has Many Names.” I’m exploring ways to get it into more readers’ hands after launch. I’ve written a screenplay based on the first chapter and sent it to someone who manages the local 48-hour film festival. I’d like to have a book trailer in the not too distant future.

As for what I do on this blog, or for that matter what I do with my career, I need to set aside some creative energy to discover something I haven’t tried before. What I’ve been doing has only gotten me so far. I’m happy with my modest success, but I need to knock on some doors and tell my stories to strangers.

HOW DO YOU DEAL?

Hey fellow writers, fellow creatives, fellow human beings in the Northern Hampshire struggling to stay warm at this time of year. How do you cope with these shorter days? What do you do to make sure you’re spending your creative energy appropriately? I really want to know. Continue reading Post Halloween Depression

My Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

Horror is enjoying a healthy resurgence from literature to virtual reality gaming. To celebrate the genre’s return to the spotlight I thought I’d list my favorite horror films of 2018 just in time for Halloween.

Halloween 2018

I’ll go to bat for this movie despite some gripes hardcore fans have had with some of the decisions. I’ve heard the nitpicking about the high school dance sequence (that lasts all of say five minutes) or the peanut butter sandwich banter between police officers (that takes thirty some seconds of running time). No, those scenes aren’t essential, and yes, I know, one character has a silly twist with b-movie motivations, but I was fine with all of it, and I’m the guy who hates the concept of these de-booted sequels.

Jamie Lee Curtis made this one work for me. I loved her as a hyper vigilante survivor shtick. I liked watching the hunted finally become the hunter. It gave the audience someone to root for.

John Carpenter’s moody synthesizer score was worth the price of admission. In fact, I’m writing with it on right now.

Back of the Box Quote: “The best version of the 3 Halloween 2movies you’re ever going to see.”

Pyewacket

It sucks when your dad dies and your mom makes you move out into the woods in the middle of your Junior year, especially when she shames you for your newfound interest in the occult. Why not summon a demon to get rid of her? Okay, that shadow figure leering at you from its perch on your wall is giving you black-magic-buyer’s-remorse. So now how do you stop this Satanic assassin from completing it’s mission? That’s the plot of Pyewacketa slow burning supernatural thriller with a tense atmosphere and one hell of pay off.

Worth it for The X-Files andThe Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden’s deliciously wicked performance as the mother.

Back of the Box Quote: “In the case of A Well-Told Story Versus Jump Scaresmay I present Exhibit A.”

The Endless

At the risk of being called a self-plagiarist I’m going to quote my previous summary for this movie.

“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them too. A coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

If you’re looking for a cerebral horror experience more in the spirit of The Twilight Zonethan the Sawfilms then look no further.

Back of the Box Quote: The Wicker Manmeets Groundhogs Day.”

Apostle

When a former missionary learns his sister has been abducted by a cult on an island he goes undercover as a devout believer to save her. It isn’t long before the missionary encounters the island’s blood god leading to a series of brutal encounters that end up feeding the deity’s unholy appetite.

From Gareth Evans, the action auteur behind The Raidmovies, comes a folk horror story in the spirit of The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree, and Jug Face.

AfterThe Guest, and Legionthis is yet another reason why Dan Stevens is becoming one of my favorite actors.

Back of the Box Quote: “The Apostle may look Satanic on the Surface but it’s Lovecraftian at its core.”

A Quiet Place

When the world is overrun with monsters with super hearing one rural family struggles to tiptoe through their daily lives.

When I had heard that A Quiet Placehad almost been retooled into a Cloverfieldsequel I couldn’t help but imagine it taking place during the same alien invasion as 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Back of the Box Quote: “The best version of Cloverfield 3 you’re likely going to see.”

Ghost Stories

A paranormal investigator makes his living debunking hauntings, until an associate challenges him to investigate three cases that have brought him to the brink of madness.

Ghost Storiesis based on a stage play and its clever dialogue and dark humor translates well to film thanks to performances by Andy Nyman and Martin Freeman. The over arching narrative makes this one of the better horror anthologies.

Back of the Box Quote: “Ah the subtle whit of British horror.”

Mandy

When a Manson-esque cult murders the love of his life Nick Cage forges a battleax and chops a red path through a surreal forest landscape.

Mandyhas proven divisive amongst horror fans. This isn’t an instance of if you didn’t like it then you didn’t get it. Odds are you got it and it just left a bad taste in your mouth. The dialogue is sparse. The plot is a razor a thin revenge tale, but the tone and atmosphere elevates the material to something special.

Mandytakes place in a heightened reality where the sun shines purple and there are planets on the horizon. There are spontaneous Heavy Metalinspired animations, a magic whistle that summons a Cenobite biker gang, a throbbing synth wave soundtrack, and neon triangles everywhere.

If you liked the aesthetic of director Panos Cosmatos’s previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow you’ll love this.

Back of the Box Quote: “Heavy metal album cover art: the movie.”

Upgrade

A gang guns down a mechanic and his girlfriend under mysterious circumstances. The mechanic wakes up paralyzed from the neck down. One of the mechanic’s clients offers to install a prototype microchip in the back of his neck so that he might walk again. Soon the mechanic learns the microchip is a sentient A.I. with the know how to help him exact revenge on the gang that wronged him (the same crew that attacked Nick Cage, in MandyEric Draven, in The Crowand John Wick’s dog, or they might as well be).

The first thing I said to a friend after I saw this was. “I just saw the new Venommovie months before it even comes out. It was called Upgradeand it was awesome.”

Upgradeis Venomif you swap the alien symbiote with an artificial intelligence implant with kung-fu skills instead of oily appendages. It even stars a Tom Hardy lookalike in Logan Marshall-Green.

Now I know this sounds like science fiction but it made my horror list for fleeting moments of extreme splatter-punk violence.

Back of the Box Quote: “A better Venommovie than the actual Venommovie.”

Hereditary

Hereditary is the story of a grief stricken mother whose situation only gets worse when she tries channeling her dead loved ones.

At the time of this writing Hereditaryhas an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a D+ from audiences on CinemaScore. So why is there so much disconnect between critics and moviegoers on this one? I think it has everything to do with A24’s marketing campaign. This isn’t The Conjuring 3, if you go in expecting a jump scare a minute you’re going to be disappointed, and yet Hereditarygets far more terrifying thanThe Conjuringmovies would dare to be as it drags viewers into a pitch-black nihilistic oblivion.

Something happens a half an hour into this movie that had people getting up and walking out of the theater. This is not a crowd pleaser. It’s not a date movie (unless you’re looking to end the relationship). This is the mean spirited feel bad film of the year. It’s not exhilarating. It’s unnerving. It’s not thrilling. It is genuinely upsetting.

So why would I put this so high on my list? Well, it takes A LOT to scare me, me a horror writer, and this film did. I enjoy The Conjuringand Insidiousmovies. I get a few quick jolts in the moment when I watch them, but there are images in the last twenty minutes of Hereditary that will stick with me forever.

You may have heard this film described as a “slow burn” well that slow burn escalates into a bonfire very quickly.

Back of the Box Quote: “Hey Rosemary’s baby. Hold my beer.”

All of The Haunting of Hill House Season 1

To quote my previous article endorsing the show:

The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family through multiple timelines, telling a story in the order of its mysteries. The flashbacks take place in the 90s when they spent a summer trying to flip the house. Early on we learn the father drove off with his children in the middle of the night after their mother died under mysterious circumstances. Now the family is fractured, spread throughout the country, and haunted, some literally.

What did you think I was going to give this spot to: The Nun, Truth or Dare, Slenderman?Nope, nope, and double nope. I don’t care that this technically isn’t a movie. It’s a complete story with a beginning middle and end.

The latest season of Stanger Things has been delayed until 2019. I’d argue that The Haunting of Hill House deserves to be 2018’s pop culture phenomenon.

What makes this show so special? Let me count the ways: ghosts hidden in plain sight, an episode shot in 5 choreographed long takes, CNN claiming viewers are fainting and vomiting from fright. The Haunting of Hill House has everything.

Back of the Box Quote: “Come for the scares. Stay for the brilliantly acted heartfelt family drama.”

Honorable mentions:

Summer of 84

A gang of plucky fun-loving tweens investigate a serial killer.

Summer of 84showed up to the nostalgia party in the same dressas Strangers Thingsand It, yet it wears it with flair. The first two acts lull you into a false sense of Spielbergian adventure before things get very dark.

Back of the Box Quote: “A fun upbeat coming of age serial killer thriller.”

Annihilation

A group of all-female scientists investigate the mysterious Area X, a reality-warping dome of energy that has claimed the lives of several teams before them.

Having read the Southern Reach trilogy I can say that Annihilationis an adaptation in concept only. Writer/Director Alex Garland took an abstract bizarro premise and distilled it into an observation on relationships, marriage, and the secrets couples keep.

While it might look like science fiction on the surface the nature of Area X gives way to true Cronenbergian body horror.

Back of the Box Quote: “A film that dares to explore the cosmic horror of relationships.”

The Ritual

Four mates, grieving the untimely death of their friend, take a hike through a haunted forest that turns their grief against them. Cabin filled with occult imagery? Check. Blink and you’ll miss it monster sightings? Check. Over-the-top bombastic finale framed in fire? Check.

Back of the Box Quote: “You don’t truly know your friends until you’re all being stalked by a shape-shifting demi-god.”

Cargo

Giving a child up for adoption is never easy, especially not after you’ve contracted super rabies in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Back of the Box Quote: “Martin Freeman stars in The Walking Deadmeets Children of Men.

Gerald’s Game

An older couple tries to spice up their marriage with a little bondage. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, the husband could drop dead from a heart attack, leaving the wife tied up in an isolated lake house with wolves scratching at her door. This is Mike Flangan’s second appearance on this list. This technically came out in 2017, but I just saw it.

This is one of those horror stories that does a lot with a confined space, thanks in no small part to brilliant performances by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

Back of the Box Quote: “How to talk your partner out of experimenting with bondage tonight.”

1922

When a farmer conspires with his son to murder his wife a curse consumes both their lives.

This is a near word for word adaptation of the story from Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” collection. It’s the perfect rat infested southern gothic ghost story.

Movies I wish I’d Seen this Year

Shamefully I have yet to see The Devil’s Doorway,Unsaneor Revengedespite everything I’ve heard about them.

I also imagine Suspiria, Overlordwould make this list if they were out yet, but alas I must wait. Continue reading My Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

The Ultimate X-Files Halloween Marathon

No October is complete without a healthy X-Files binging session, but rather than trying to plow through all 11 seasons might I make some recommendations?

S11 E8 Familiar

In 2018 The X-Files went full creepy pasta with one of its darkest episodes to date featuring a kids show icons that bears more than a passing resemblance to Slender Man, a Satanic Tinky-Winky, and the creepiest song on this side of Elm Street. Despite those modern trimmings this episode is classic X-Files. Mulder and Scully investigate a small town murder only to find themselves in the middle of an angry mob fueled by black magic.

S11 E4 The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

Mulder and Scully meet a man who claims he’s been their partner throughout the entirety of the series and that he’s been erased from their memories by a weaponized version of the Mandela Effect.

This episode asks is reality subjective? Does it bend to the whim of whoever perceives it? Are shadow forces conspiring to alter our collective memories? Are there alternative universes where every possible outcome is happening, or is the Trump administration full of shit about everything?

Great line, “Confuse the Twilight Zone with the Outer Limits? Do you even know me?!”

I’d argue this is the funniest episode of the series. I’ve played the alien ambassador segment near the end of the episode out of context for dozens of my friends. It always gets a laugh.

S10 E3 Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

Werewolf movies like American Werewolf in Londonfollow a tight formula: person gets bitten, feels emboldened by their newfound animalistic confidence, gives into their instincts, comes close to hurting someone they love, and chooses to go out in a blaze of glory. This episode puts a fresh spin on the formula by asking: What would happen if a cryptozoological creature got bitten by a human? Would it have a sudden compulsion to put on clothes, get a job, and exaggerate about its sex life?

Rhys Darby, the “Swear Wolf” from What We Do in the Shadowsgives another brilliant comedic performance, as does X-Files super fan comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

This episode is a must watch for fans of Charlie Kaufman’s Human Nature, or Kaufman films in general.

S9 E13 Improbable

What better way to memorialize the late great Burt Reynolds than to watch the episode of The X-Files where he played God? Reynolds, as God, tries to lure a serial killer to the light by using numerology to explain the forces that govern the universe. This is one of the better Mulder-less episodes giving the intuitive Agent Reyes a moment to step into the spotlight.

This episode is worth watching for the scene where God explains the heap of compact discs in the trunk of his car. “I love all music, but I prefer the stuff that lasts.”

So classy.

S7 E12 X-Cops

Hot on the heels of The Blair Witch ProjectThe X-Files took a stab at the found footage genre by using the format of network sibling Copsto do it. Mulder and Scully are investigating a monster that preys on mortal terror. They run into a patrol officer with a film crew in the back of his overturned squad car. Soon the agents find themselves giving the public a window into the paranormal.

S6 E15 Arcadia

Mulder and Scully are sent undercover to investigate a disappearance in the scariest place yet: a gated community. Mulder doesn’t take the assignment all the seriously, playing the role of husband with adolescent enthusiasm. “Women get in here and make me a sandwich.”

In the X-Files community there are “shippers” and “non-shippers.” We shippers spent years wanting to see Mulder and Scully in a relationship. Here we’re taught to be careful what we wish for.
“Mulder, whoever taught you how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste? Toilet seat, third warning.”

“Scully, the thrill is gone.”

S5 E12 Bad Blood

When Mulder drives a stake through a suspect’s heart Scully arrives to find the suspect’s fangs are fake. Now the agents have to get their stories straight.

When TV shows last too long they inevitably do an episode exploring the Rashomon effect. Several characters recount the same event from their own slanted perspectives. Usually it’s one of the weaker episodes relying on the same tired formula. Here it’s one of The X-Files strongest.

Scully sees Luke Wilson’s as a tall dark and handsome man of the law. Mulder sees him as a buck toothed hick who says, “Y’all must be the guv’ment people.”

This is one of the funniest episodes of the series and a great initiation episode for people who’ve never seen the show.

S4 E2 Home

A lot of people think NBC’s Hannibal was the most hardcore show on network TV. Hannibal, please.

This episode is of The X-Files is the stuff of legends. Fox refused to air it upon its completion. When it did air (late one Halloween) it was the first episode of the show to be broadcast with a “Viewer Discretion” warning. This hour of television veers into dark, hard R rated, David Fincher territory, featuring: tumor encrusted mutants, death traps, and something under the bed that you’ll have to see to believe. If you’re composing a list of things you can’t believe were shown on network television start here.

S3 E20 Jose Chung from Outer Space

Usually The X-Files took the alien abduction phenomenon of the 90s deadly seriously. Here the series lets loose and makes fun of all the abduction lore clichés.

This is The X-Files at its most meta and self referential: from the stop motion Cyclops in the sputtering UFO, to the chain smoking aliens, to the brilliant send up of regression hypnotherapy’s power to “unlock” memories.

Featuring Charles Nelson Riley as a Kurt Vonnegut-esque satirist and Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as men in black.

S3 E4 Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (or just Clyde Bruckmanon streaming)

Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate the murders of a string of psychic mediums. The agents find themselves disposed by the local authorities when Mulder runs afoul of a TV Psychic the locals have called on for help. Mulder happens upon his own psychic, a man who came to his abilities obsessing over the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. To make things stranger it turns out the killer may be a medium himself. It’s psychic against psychic in the final mind bending confrontation.

Honorable Mentions:

S6 E14 Monday

It’sGroundhog’s Day with Mulder and Scully and a bank robbery.

S6 E2 Drive

When Break Bad series creator Vince Gilligan told AMC he wanted Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White the network was hesitant. At the time Cranston was known as the quirky father from Malcolm in the Middle. Gilligan used this episode of The X-Files to change AMC’s mind. In it Cranston plays a desperate man who forces Mulder to drive him at a constant speed for fear that something in his head will explode.

S2 E4 Die Hand Die Verlezt

The X-Files has done several episodes exploring the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, but this is the episode where the show went all in. It has everything: a summoning ritual in the woods, repressed memories of cult activity, and a Satanic teachers association.

S5 E5 The Post-Modern Prometheus

Mulder and Scully wander into the plot of a 50s B-movie, complete with a dramatic lightning, a mad scientist, and a Cher impersonator.

S6 E6 How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

It’s Mulder and Scully versus pop psychology when ghosts try to convince them to kill themselves on Christmas Eve.

S2 E20 Humbug

The agents investigate a series of murders in a traveling freak show. This episode is notable for appearances by Jim Rose, the Enigma, and Michael J. Anderson from Twin Peaks and Carnivàle.

S4 E7 Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man

“Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap perfunctory gift that no one ever asked for.”

The X-Files puts a dark spin on Forrest Gump by inserting the Cigarette-Smoking man into a series of historical assassinations.

S2 E24 Our Town

The agents investigate a meat processing plant with a secret ingredient that certainly isn’t love.

S5 E10 Chinga

When Stephen King writes for The X-Files you better believed he’s going to tell a story about a cursed doll. “Time to play!” Continue reading The Ultimate X-Files Halloween Marathon

The Red Devil Halloween Pail

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

“Hey buddy, I got something for you.”

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

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

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

“A red devil reminded you of me?”

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

I crossed my arms. “Gee thanks, Dad.”

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

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

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

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

“This impulse item didn’t come cheap.”

I shrugged. “You can use him.”

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

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

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

“A what?”

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

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

“5?”

“Fine.”

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

The Halloween Haul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Great Cesar’s ghost!”

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

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

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

“Where did all this cool stuff from?”

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

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

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

Dad knocked on my doorframe. “Knock knock.”

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

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

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

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

“That’s it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?” Mom perked up.

The Ghostblaster went off again.

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

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

Twilight Treasures

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

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

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

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

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

Impromptu Parent Teacher Conference

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

“One set of brass knuckles.”

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

“One, is it, a pairof Nunchucks?”

There were two candles mom wasn’t getting back.

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

“One deck of pornographic playing cards.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who honey?”

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

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

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

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

•••

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

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

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

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

•••

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

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

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

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

How Horror Bloggers can Milk Halloween All October Long

Another October is upon us and you know what that means: morning show hosts treating pumpkin spice like it’s heroin, think pieces on seasonal depression, and outrage over tone deaf Halloween costumes (this year it’s a slinky short skirted version of the robes from the Handmaid’s Tale).

Oh, and horror writers doing everything they can to get you to look in our direction.

“Hey! You know you’ve been meaning to check out my scary stories out for a while? Well now’s the time!”

That’s right. Now’s the time of year horror writers get to be on brand and topically relevant to the normies in our social media feed. Rather than dig deep for a memoir on how the season shaped our young imaginations (something personally profound no one would read) we need quick clickable articles that write themselves.

Well if you’re looking for a template for sharable Halloween content to steal from you’ve come to the right guy.

Tis the Season to be Listing

Nothing says cheap mindless content like laying on the listicles. Sure everyone who’s into horror has seen trailers for every film that’s come out this year, but you’re a movie maven so inform everyone what they really ought to be watching.

Maybe you’ll be the 10thcritic to finally push them into seeing Mandy, it’s Nic Cage fighting cenobite bikers with a battle-axe (in a slow burning surrealist study with sparse dialogue). What’s not to like?

Maybe you can be the first of your film buff friends to pitch The Endless in a way that makes sense to casual audiences.

“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them.”

“It’s a coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

“It’s basically The Wicker Man meets Groundhogs Day.”

Clearly I haven’t cracked it yet. Why don’t you try?

Or maybe you can be the first amongst to laud praise on the deboot of Halloween, and champion other exhausted franchises to dump their excess canon in favor of a direct sequels to their original films.

Tap some lists out at the bus stop. Here are some suggestions:

  • Best on Screen Decapitations (The Exorcist 3 is obligatory)
  • Best Mirror Jump Scares
  • Best Demon Etching Title Sequences
  • Best Uses of Moonlight Sonata in a Horror Property
  • Best Horror Spins on Less Successful Sci Fi Premises
  • Best Recent Horrific Crimes for Writers to Base New Material on While the Families are Still Grieving
  • Most Violent Moments on Broadcast Television that Would’ve Gotten an R Rating Had They Been Shown on the Big Screen
  • Best Stephen King Tribute References in Stephen King’s Own Novels

These lists practically write themselves.

Review the Shit Out of Everything

There are too many horror shows for streamers to sift through. Isn’t it part of your vocation as a champion of revulsion to grade them with some sort of skull-centric rating system? Halloween is the Oscars for all things horror. It’s your duty as a corrupter of young minds to cast your vote on time.

Mine the Hell Out of the Past

Save your audience a Google search by listing all the Halloween themed episodes available on streaming. Rank The Simpson Tree House of Horror episodes. Add episodes from the revival seasons of The X-Files to your best of posts, and list the top 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone you want Jordan Peele to remake in the forthcoming series.

Repackage Old Articles with Seasonal Thumbnails

That old blog on Horror Clichés in Need of an Exorcism is just one jack-o-lantern PNG away from being relevant again. That entry on the art of Building Your Own Monsters is just a Halloween hashtag from being reblogged by readers. You got a few comments from that The War on Halloween editorial just add a devil emoji and share that shit again.

People who know me, should’ve suspected my demon nature for some time.

Streamline Your Short Fiction

Writing seasonal flash fiction is challenging. Those short stories get hits in the moment, but on October 31st they become irrelevant. Why waste your time and energy when you just want readers to click on the books for sale in the margins?

I recommend stocking up on Mad Libs and filling them with monster references:

(Man’s name) Flavius Octavius Davis walked in and opened the (noun) lead lined casket where he found a (adjective) bioluminescent (verb) mangled (noun) alien corpse with rope-like heaps of coiled tentacles. He exclaimed (exclamation) “Sweet Jesus, no!”

Make Your Readers Do the Work

Invite the audience to vote on your Halloween costume options, plans for the night in question, and ultimately your excuses for staying in.

But Whatever You Do Don’t…

Don’t give up them game by telling readers about the cynical click-bait schemes you’ve been concocting behind the scenes. That would be the kind noxious over sharing that would be harmful to your brand. You want to seem like your authentic self to readers without letting it all hang out and actually being authentic.

Only a well-trained transdimensional traveler secure in his meta-musings would poses the strength of mind to even attempt such a thing. (Drew wipes the sweat from his brow while tugging at his collar like a nervous cartoon character.)

Oh… and… uh… Happy Halloween!

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Drew Chial’s Halloween Short Story Showcase

Here is a sampling of my finest short horror stories and Halloween posts to get you in the mood for the season.

The Smilers: A Horror Story About Happy People

The Smilers Logo

A story about pleasantry pushing pod people in the spirit of the Twilight Zone.

The Inspiration Killers: A Story about Monsters that Prey on Creativity

Shadow Play

What if there were evil spirits that targeted artists?

I Am Fire: A Story about a Game of Truth or Flare

6. Man Made of Fire

Why you should never call a teenage witch a basic bitch.

Shop Dropping: A Spooky Story about People Who Put Things on Retail Shelves

Infinite Book

What happens when a clerk follows a shoplifter to find they were leaving mysterious items behind?

Death Hacks: Tricks to Make Your Afterlife More Fun

Ghost Portrait

Pro tips on how to get the most out of being a ghost.

#Unblessed: A Scary Story Told 140 Characters At a Time

Unblessed

Read a cursed man’s final 40 tweets.

Slender Man’s Rival

Slender Man
Slender Man

When the internet gave birth to Slender Man it gave birth to something else as well.

The Haunting of My Love Life

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart

A short story about when haunted house builders go too far.

The War on Halloween

2. Hands Up

You’ve heard of the War on Christmas, but have you heard of the War on Halloween? This is a letter from a concerned demon.

The Monster Mashup: Classic Monsters Gone Wrong

Frankenstein's Monster
Frankenstein’s Monster

Can I turn four classic monsters into the butt of the same dirty joke? You bet I can.

The Monster Mashup Part 2

Nosferatu
Nosferatu

What happens when you take modern monsters out of their element? Something totally wrong. Enjoy.

Happy Halloween from the Fury Road

Human Error: An Audio Short

When our technology is installed in our ocular cavities how will handle a moment without it?

Continue reading Human Error: An Audio Short

Frankenstein’s Monster inquires about his Donors 

What happens when Frankenstein’s creation wants to know where his parts had been?

This piece originally appeared in the Monster Mashup Part 1: a collection of short monster jokes that all end with the same aristocrats punchline.

Continue reading Frankenstein’s Monster inquires about his Donors 

Pinhead finds the Rubik’s Cube

What if Pinhead and the cenobites from Hellraiser came every time someone solved a Rubik’s Cube?

This piece originally appeared in my Monster Mashup Part 2 short fiction collection.

Continue reading Pinhead finds the Rubik’s Cube