Tag Archives: horror fiction

Help Us Name a Dating Site for Monsters

I’m teaming up with professional creature illustrator Bryan Politte to make dating profiles for monsters and we need your help naming the project.

Our Pitch

Horror writers take universal fears and intensify them. They add dumpsters full of oil slick tentacles to long dark allies. They perch gremlins on airplane wings and send great white worms into enclosed caves. While those fears prey on our animal instincts the fears that plague our modern world are social, romantic rejection being chief among them.

With all the new apps and etiquette modern romance is scary to navigate. We write bios to express what makes us unique, while burying our private peculiarities. We put carefully curated images out there hoping somebody likes what they see. We scream into the void and shudder when it whispers back.

I want to take that fear and add monsters to it.

With the help of my friend Bryan Politte, a professional creature illustrator,I’ll be creating a series of dating profiles for freaks, demons, and urban legends. Bryan will illustrate each sinister selfie while I write the dating profiles, which will read like flash fiction horror stories.

Our goal is to make something spooky that goes beyond parody. Each piece will be chilling and heart rending at the same time. This won’t be a mockery of the dating scene, but rather a love letter to the misfits caught up in it.

“Handsome Harold likes cuddly creatures and parties” Illustration by Bryan Politte

These monsters won’t be exaggerations of the worst people you might meet online. They will be mirrors of all of us. These monsters will lead with their red flags in the hopes of finding someone who doesn’t spook easily. They will overshare their sins in the hopes of being understood. They’ll flaunt the things we hide. They will be every bit as monstrous as we secretly believe ourselves to be.

We think this concept is pretty cool. If you do too then help us out by voting on a name, and if you have a better idea for one then we’d love to hear that too.

•••

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?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Tunnel Vision

What would you do if you woke up to find an endless tunnel in the middle of your home and  that your cat was missing?

Dreams drop us in the middle scenes with no set up and no direction. We enter the situation, “And… action!”

The difference between a good dream and a nightmare is our ability to improvise with the material we’re given.

This nightmare was set at the height of winter out on the roof of a snow-covered skyscraper. The skyline was as flat as a matte painting. The low hanging moon provided the spotlight and the low roaring wind supplied the soundtrack.

From where I stood it seemed like I’d come in at the end. The supporting cast fanned out from the roof access hatch. These were people I’d known very various stages of my life: work colleges, college classmates, good friends, and lovers I’d left on bad terms. Each of them drudged through the snowdrift with their gloves up, like I was a threat. All eyes fixed on me.

I was perched on the ledge wearing nothing but my quivering arms and I must’ve been out in the cold for a while because my goose bumps were as raised and thick as brail.

My supporting cast inched closer. The urgency on their faces was undercut by the cold. They clutched the elbows of their long down coats, scarves fluttered into their faces, and their breath spiraled through chattering teeth.

The cast was restless, teetering on their marks, waiting for me to get back on script.

An ex girlfriend in a long goose feather coat stepped forward, rubbed her mittens together, and pointed over the ledge with her chin. “Yes, and?..”

“Yes, and…” is the foundation of improv comedy. It enables comedy troops to cobble together a story from suggestions from the audience. The “Yes” means you’ve accepted the contribution of your cast mate. The “And” means you’re ready to build on it. There is no “No” in improve comedy. You just have to go with the flow.

This ex of mine hadn’t given me a lot to work with, but nothing would be more embarrassing than brain farting through her setup. So I “Yes, anded” over the side of the building.

The set melted into a blur of streetlights and fire escapes. The full moon whirled into a straight line. I stopped rolling just as the street came into focus. I could just make out the steam vents and the cinders rising from the burning barrels. Ashes to ashes we all fall down.

And… Scene.

•••

I woke up to an earsplitting hissing and metallic gong. I followed a trail of business cards to the desk at the foot of my bed. The white noise machine was swinging by its cord, a fist-sized mallet tapping a rhythm on the aluminum. The devices usual calming brown noise had shifted to a piercing white. The box roared like a blizzard through a canyon. I dialed it down as I pieced together what had happened. My cat, Dexter, had had some fun pawing at the flashing blue buttons, gotten spooked, and fled the scene in classic Dexter fashion. He’s a bad boy. He knew what he was doing.

I sat at the edge of the bed deconstructing my dream death waiting for the sobering sense of relief to come. When it didn’t I wandered around the apartment flicking on the lights, calling for Dexter as I went.

“Dexter. The big mean droning sound is gone. You can come out now.”

It was in the living room where a chill set my arm hairs on end. I turned to the windows expecting shattered glass and swinging blinds, perhaps a brick from a secret admirer on the floor, but no. All the glass was intact, closed up, and locked down.

The chill crept around me and tapped me on shoulder. I felt the kitchen wall, flicked the light switch, and staggered over the trashcan with all the grace of a cartoon waiter.

Between the litter box and the refrigerator a two-lane tunnel stretched as far as I could see. My 400 square foot apartment now ran on for miles. The carpet and ceiling stretched so far off into the distance that they came together into a vanishing point.

“That’s new.”

With the acceptation of the kitchen table and chairs the dining room’s features repeated forever. The tunnel must’ve cut through the complex, the back lot, and the neighboring buildings. It was like a beige superhighway stretching off toward the ocean. Long red pasta stains marked the lanes. Clumps of cat litter and outlets marked the shoulders, and the accumulated ceiling fans, with their low emitting bulbs, looked like lamp poles in the distance.

“Cool. So I’m crazy now.”

I laced up my sneakers and ran out to the back lot. The dumpsters were brimming with discarded mattresses and beer cans, and the lot itself was in dire need of plowing, but there was no skyway expansion extending off the complex. On my way back I ran into a neighbor corralling her terriers into the hall for a late night potty break. I ogled her puppies and we exchanged a smile. We Minnesotans are notorious for holding in our opinions, but if she’d seen a tunnel cutting through her apartment she would’ve said something. Instead she just tugged her terriers by their leashes to give me room to squeeze past.

When I got back into my apartment the tunnel was still there defying all architectural logic.

“Okay, point one for crazy.”

I hurled a cat toy into the tunnel: a little ball with a bell in it. It jingled for a moment and came to an abrupt stop. Then something occurred to me. Where was Dexter?

“Dexter? Here boy.”

Dexter wasn’t a dog. Odds were he thought his name was what all humans said when they’d lost something. I found a can of tuna. Tapped the lid. Took my time peeling it back and spilling the wet food onto a plate. I set it on the table, but Dexter failed to show. I’d used up all of his Pavilion programing. Now we had a problem.

Ever the boy scout I filled a backpack with a handful of granola bars, cat food, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and a water bottle.

I took my time stepping over the threshold half expecting to hit an invisible wall. When my toe touched down I realized the tunnel was real and Dexter was really gone. The thought had me powerwalking, jogging, and ultimately sprinting into this strange impossible void. The support beams groaned beneath me. Each footfall echoed on the ceiling. I had no clue who or what resided below this corridor, but they didn’t seem to mind the ruckus I was making. So I kept going until I ran out of steam. I jogged until I felt it in my sides, and powered walked until I had to take a breather.

I sat, rifled around my pack, took a swig of water, and tapped my smartwatch. I was one thousand steps in, which was roughly half a mile.

I shouted. “Dexter!” My voice boomed down the tunnel. I was taken aback by just how loud it got.

It occurred to me that I had no idea what would happen if I got turned around in here. So I dug out a sharpie and drew an arrow on the wall pointing back the way I came. The marker screeched. The tone echoed all around me. The tunnel had a strange way amplifying sound.

I decided to press on a little further. The arrow repeated like a background from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

I stopped, drew an X on a can of tuna, and set it in the center of the tunnel. I took five steps forward and found another can with an X and another. I picked it up, examined my mark, and slipped it back in my pack. The duplicate cans disappeared after that.

The physics of the tunnel didn’t make sense. The arrow had repeated, the tuna can had repeated, but the cat toy I’d flung in from my living room was nowhere to be found.

I checked my watch. I was now a mile in. I scanned the vanishing point. The tunnel dipped over the horizon. I had a sneaking suspicion it stretched across the continent.

I couldn’t see Dexter venturing this far into a new space on his own. One time I took him down to the laundry room to give him a change of scenery. He crawled between the machines and parked his little limbs beneath his belly, a little loaf of kitten too scared to go exploring. He had his safe spaces. I had a hunch he’d hidden behind the bookshelf upon spotting the tunnel.

I turned back and that’s when I saw my exact double spinning on his heel. The didn’t notice that the top of his pack was hanging open. I reached under my shoulder and found my own zipper dangling. My double zipped his pack shut and turn to look at me. I faced forward and saw nothing but the vanishing point. I turned back just as my double turned forward.

“Hey handsome!” Our voices boomed in unison. There was no echo. No delay just a broken mirror reflecting light the wrong way.

The hairs on the back of my collar stood straight up. I turned sideways and craned my neck. My double mirrored my movements, revealing a triple, quadruple, and quintuple of me standing just beyond him. Each of these copies shuddered in unison. It was like facing a camera to a monitor and stepping in between the two. Except this feedback loop was framed by dining room.

I don’t know why my first instinct was to reach into my pack, draw out a can of cat food and chuck it at my double’s head, but that’s what I did and it clipped him right where it clipped me.

I took out my flashlight and shined it back the way I came. A chain of beams gleamed all the way to the vanishing point.

I ran after my double, thinking I could tackle him and break the cycle, but he matched me step for step. After several minutes I watched him clutch his side, feel his carotid pulse, and stagger. Winter had frozen our running regiment and we were both out of shape.

I watched my double slap himself and felt it upon my cheek. We wanted to wake up, but time and space were broken.

This had to be a dream. The only problem with that theory was how consistent the architecture was. The subconscious has a short attention span. It can only keep so much of its surroundings in place before shuffling them again. This place remained fixed. The tunnel never shifted dimensions. The carpet stain remained consistent. The arrow never changed shape.

It occurred to me to check my watch. I’d run a thousand steps since last I’d checked, which meant I was a half a mile from home.

I wondered what would happen to my copies once we got back. Would they cram together in the living room, divvying up a box of Diet Coke among them? Would they blink out of existence? When I made it back into the kitchen table would I turn around to find the dining room wall had returned? What would I do if it hadn’t, call the landlord and have them send a maintenance technician in with a long piece of string?

“You don’t want to go in too deep or else the Minotaur will get you.”

I walked another half mile and you know what I found? The tunnel kept going and the chorus line of me were waving our arms around, struggling to understand what was going on. I’ll be honest we were losing our collective shit.

I took out my phone, opened the photo application, and zoomed in on the tunnel’s vanishing point. It kept right on going. We didn’t take that news so well. My double flung his phone like he was skipping a stone. A phone spun between my legs, slid between his ankles, and settled at my toes.

That’s when we started punching the wall. We hammered at it until cracks spread, dust rained down, and blood trickled through our knuckles, until our wounds filled with plaster, until it seemed like the whole goddamn wall was vibrating, until each of us had made his own little hole.

I chipped at the gap until I could get a good grip, pressed my heel against, and pried off a good chunk of drywall. Not enough for me to fit myself through, but enough for me to get a good look at what was on the other side.

All I saw was the same damn dining room, but from a new angle. There was another copy of me. This one was chin deep in a hole like the one I was looking through. This was no way out, just another way further in. If I tore up the carpet, pried up the floorboards, and jumped through gap I’d probably fall just forever. The world was gone. There was only an endless honeycomb of dining rooms going on forever into the astral plane.

My pulse throbbed throughout my fist. I scrapped the plaster off my knuckles, dressed the wound, and lay in the mess I’d made with the cat litter and the salsa stains.

•••

My eyes opened to a ceiling fan whose blades were in dire need of dusting.

Wrenching myself up I got a palm full of drywall. My earlobe ached. I must’ve positioned my backpack like a pillow and the pain I was feeling was from resting on the zipper. I sat up to find the dining room still went on forever, as did the mile of me’s.

“Oh, come on!” We said collectively.

This nightmare wasn’t fading. It was doubling down.

I ate my breakfast on the go, discarded the granola wrapper on the floor, and counted five paces between where I dropped it and where it reappeared. I passed it for several miles before I got sick at the sight of crumpled foil, scooped it up and put it back in my pack. It wasn’t long before I’d eaten every the bars I’d packed and my stomach kept right on rumbling.

I wish I could tell you I’d rationed the four cans of cat food over several days, but I didn’t. The moment that first little bit of tuna passed through my lips I had to have rest. I slurped up the fourth so fast that I didn’t think much of slinging it over my shoulder when I was finished.

I walked three more miles before my watch flashed a low battery warning and shut down. My phone died shortly after leaving me alone with my thoughts, which also went dark.

A thought had been pecking at me for miles, but now it was weighing me down. What if the dream where I was out on that snow covered roof wasn’t a dream at all? What if I had staged a twisted reunion with long lost friends just so I could fall to my death in front of them? What if I was dead and this was hell?

Would Rod Serling come out of the woodwork to confirm my suspicions?

“Submitted for your approval a lost soul who will never reach his goal. A man who mistook real life for a dream only to awaken in the endless void of The Twilight Zone.”

At first that theory didn’t explain why I was able to exit my building or why I could interact with my neighbor and her terriers, but then I considered the possibility that hell had toyed with me, lulling me in with a false sense of security before clamping shut around me.

Still I couldn’t remember what had inspired me to take a swan dive from a skyscraper. Perhaps this infinite hallway was here to give me time to remember.

I’m not going to lie I’ve been low before. I’ve sat in the shower for hours, watching my fingers prune up in real time. I’ve lain on the carpet as sun lines showing through the blinds stretched across the ceiling. I’ve slumped onto the kitchen floor as Dexter knocked Tupperware off the countertops.

I’ve imagined my family struggling to plan a cost effective funeral. I’ve wondered which friends would bother to give a eulogy and if anyone would tell the priest I was agnostic.

I indulged this fantasy more often than I care to admit, but I never had a quit plan. I never looked up what pills to take, never tried to access a firearm, never bothered to trace my veins for a quick anatomy lesson.

With depression the void is always calling, suicidal suggestions always running in the background, but I’d gone through a long bout of tuning them out.

And how could I take my own life when I still had Dexter to take care of? That would be kind of a dick move on my part.

That was the detail that poked the hell theory full of holes. If I was already dead then why was I so hungry? What happened to the cat toy I threw into the tunnel earlier? For that matter what happened to the can of tuna I’d flung over my shoulder? Why wasn’t I seeing that every five steps? And why did my phone loop back around when I skipped it like I stone? Did it have something to do with the direction it was thrown?

I turned away from my doubles. The arrow on my right was on my left for the first time in a while. I took my phone out, cocked my arm back, and flung it as far as I could. It clipped the fan blade, scrapped the ceiling, and disappeared into the unknown.

You know what they say about guys with big feet? They wear big shoes. I wore a size 13, which was roughly twelve inches long. I walked heel to toe along the wall drawing a notch for every foot. The dining room was a mere ten feet long. I drew a line across the carpet to mark where it looped around. I looked back to see my doubles had done the same thing. I peaked through the hole in the wall to see the grid extended in all directions.

I gripped my pack by the hook, spun it like I was winding a discus, and hurled it as far as I could. It flew over the first line and dematerialized over the second and was gone in a blur of movement. That was all the proof I needed.

“Well, here goes something.”

I got into a starting position, dug my toes into the carpet, and counted down. “3… 2… 1!” I charged with all the energy I could muster, hitting my stride ten quadrants in, but I leapt too soon and touched down just shy of the line. I didn’t bother to catch my breath. I sprung right back up, charged at the grid, leapt, and dove. I rolled across the carpet several feet from the line.

I kept missing the mark, leaping too soon, overthinking each jump, until I just lost it.

“I’ve always hated this dining room.”

I closed my eyes, ran at the dark, and roared, leaping into the air with perfect long jump form.

•••

I hit the wall, fell back, and opened my eyes just in time to see the framed photos come raining down. When I landed I was sprawled out on the kitchen table. Delinquent bills slid off in all directions.

Dexter meowed in protest to all the chaos he’d just witnessed from his perch atop the fridge.

“Have you been there this whole time?”

Dexter shrugged and returned to a cat bath already in progress.

“Dude, you could’ve said something.”

I starred at the ceiling fan, struggling to process the glitch in reality I’d been trapped in for God knows how long.

That’s when those terriers started barking up a storm. There was bickering on the other side of the wall. My neighbors were not happy about the explosive crash that had just woken them up. Shadows gathered beneath my door, the bell rang, and the police eventually came knocking.

I was holding a bag of frozen hash browns to my forehead when I let them in.

“What seems to be the matter officers?”

One officer stood with me in the entryway as her partner scanned every cubic foot of the apartment with his flashlights. It would’ve been easier to just switch on all the lights, but he preferred to keep things dramatic so I let him. I stood in the hall scratching Dexter beneath his chin.

I couldn’t help but notice the backpack, phone, cat toy, and empty tuna can in a heap beneath the kitchen table. There was no sign of any hole, seeing as how that side of tunnel was now an opening leading into the kitchen.

When the officers asked why I dove at the wall like I was the Kool Aid man I just played dumb, said I was sleepwalking, that it happens when I’m burning the candle at both ends.

“I’m adjusting to a new schedule and it has me powerwalking at inopportune times.”

The bump on my noggin corroborated my version of events. Apologies were made to the neighbors and the officers let me off with a chuckle.

I’m just glad no one thought to ask why there was an arrow on the wall and a big black line drawn across the carpet.

There were only two months left on my lease after that. During that time I kept Dexter confined to the bedroom. He hated it and clawed at the door in protest, but it was for his own good.

I slept with the TV on and dreamt about Rick and Morty. I slid the kitchen table into the living room, ate most of my meals on the couch, and I never set foot in that dining room again. Continue reading Tunnel Vision

HE HAS MANY NAMES is out today!

My horror debut HE HAS MANY NAMES is finally here! If you’re looking for genre bending meta-storytelling nightmare fuel then you’ve come to the right place, but don’t take my word for it.

“I’m bummed. I just finished @DrewChial’s latest, “He Has Many Names.” I HATE finishing a great book!”

– Daniel Knauf, creator of Carnivàle, writer/producer of The Blacklist and Dracula.

“Drew Chial is the tour guide into your unnatural slide into the abyss. One weird ride that keeps gaining steam.”

-Keith Lansdale, comic writer for The X-Files: Case Files, Crawling Sky

“A love letter to Stephen King and Satan from a new an exciting voice in horror.”

– Christoph Paul, author of Horror Film Poems.

“If Clive Barker and Brian Keene wrote a book in one creepy ass hotel.”

– Jeff Burk, Head Editor of Deadite Press

HE HAS MANY NAMES

Submitted for your approval: a desperate writer and a sketchy publisher meet in a seedy hotel. Noelle, the hero of our little drama, represents our collective aspirations for artistic accomplishment. Matilda, the publisher, represents Barkley Carver, a hack fraud who hasn’t written any of the bestsellers bearing his brand. Matilda wants Noelle to stay in a room where Barkley claims he saw a demon. She’s certain Noelle is the perfect person to churn out a potboiler based on Barkley’s experience.

Noelle heads for the elevator with a smirk on her face and a stride in her step, blissfully unaware of what awaits her on the 19thfloor.

We invite you to check into the Oralia Hotel, a place where the paparazzi fly drones over balconies, where fantasy suites come alive, and the door to hell manifests behind the condom dispenser. A place where DO NOT DISTURB signs won’t protect you from our brand of turndown service, where torch-lit domes, volcanic caldrons, and hanging cages are part of the décor, and the line between nightmares and reality is forever blurred.

Read the first chapter here.

Check out this video excerpt.

Buy HE HAS MANY NAMES right here!

Video Reading: He Has Many Names

Here’s a reading from my new book HE HAS MANY NAMES available on October 23 from Clash Books!

Here’s the same reading live at Killercon.

Continue reading Video Reading: He Has Many Names

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!

Get 15% off He Has Many Names this month only!

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!

5 Lessons I Learned Writing He Has Many Names

When struggling writer and paranormal podcaster Noelle Blackwood gets the opportunity to ghostwrite for a bestselling thriller author, it seems almost too good to be true. The only catch is that she has to stay at The Oralia hotel until she’s done. Method becomes madness as she falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of her own story and the demons it awakens. He Has Many Names is a fresh spin on the Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil story in the age of artistic desperation.

•••

WRITING FROM A FEMININE PERSPECTIVE TAKES NUANCE

In the first draft of He Has Many Namesmy editor wasn’t sure if the hero was a man or a woman. The protagonist was named Noelle but she spoke with the stock phrases one might find in a detective film. I’d just been writing a mystery and the lingo had rubbed off on Noelle.

When asked to make Noelle more feminine I didn’t want to emphasize what she was wearing or file her jagged edges down. Characteristics we identify as feminine like gentleness, tolerance, and sensitivity don’t fit Noelle. The Hollywood studio scene has hardened her. This doesn’t mean she’s stoic, like many women written by men, just that she’s tired embodying all those things people in her field consider feminine.

Leza Cantoral gave me great notes on Noelle’s voice. It helps having a female editor.

Noelle has traits that aren’t traditionally feminine in horror fiction (especially in films). She’s skeptical of the supernatural, ambitious to a fault, quick-witted, a tad catty, a bit jealous, and extremely resourceful.

SinceHe Has Many Namesis a story about storytelling from the perspective of a writer I thought it would be fun for Noelle to comment on what audiences expect from women in stories (especially in film). A producer once told Noelle she shouldn’t write herself into her own stories because she’s not very likeable. They want women to be sympathetic and vulnerable, but so resilient they never waste time whining or sulking. They want women to be gorgeous yet so modest as to be unaware of their beauty. They want women to be driven but not competitive.

I thought it’d be cool if Noelle acknowledged those contrasts before telling the audience she’s not going to write herself like that.

IF YOU PROMISE A DEVIL DELIVER ONE

The title He Has Many Namesis a direct reference to you-know-who.

Who has horns on his head?

Who has skin that’s very red?

Who has a beard on his face?

Who keeps souls in a case?

Horns on head, skin that’s red

Beard on his face, souls in a case

Must be Satan, must be Satan

Lord of the dark realm

In the first draft the entity haunting Noelle was something else entirely. I thought I was being clever setting up Satan and then hitting the audience with a sucker punch, but it was a let down. While the final draft retains many of its twists the true devil makes a grand entrance. Make no mistake Hell factors heavily into this story.

As much as I wanted to play with the audience’s expectations I forgot the “Chekhov’s gun” rule of storytelling: if a pistol is hung on the wall in the first act it ought to go off in the second. In the same sense: if someone speaks of the devil in your first act the devil better rain brimstone down on everyone in the second.

CENTER EVERYTHING AROUND THE THEME

When I started writing He Has Many NamesI had a good concept: horror writer is sequestered in a haunted hotel room, but no clear theme, no thesis statement to leave readers with, no enlightenment to go with my entertainment.

The theme presented itself in the second draft (which was more of a reimagining than a mere edit).

He Has Many Names is about creators’ relationships with their audience. Be it a writer contemplating what horror readers are looking for or a devil pondering the quality of worship their reputation hath wrought. It’s about creators using art to take control of their lives only to then lose control of their art.

Once I knew the theme it informed every storytelling decision I made from then on.

THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BEING TOO META

At a certain point in He Has Many Namesit’s revealed that the story we’re reading is the one Noelle is submitting to her publisher. This is shown in a scene where Matilda McDonald, the publisher, tears everything we’ve just read apart. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written and I tried to replicate that scene one too many times later on.

I’d over-complicated the story by including references to Noelle’s imagined ending, an alternate scenario that pandered to the psychological thriller twists readers had been conditioned to expect. It was my way of playing with the readers’ expectations while promising them that this story was going someplace different.

The problem with Noelle’s prophetic ending is that it made her an utterly unreliable narrator. While it’s clear that Noelle is taking artistic license in describing these events I didn’t want the reader to feel like she was bullshitting them. So I made some adjustments. Noelle references the alternate ending, but assures us we’re reading the one that’s based on actual events.

NOT EVERY SCARY STORY NEEDS TO END WITH AMBIGUITY

Some of my favorite scary stories leave readers wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. For great examples of this type of horror check out Paul Tremblay’s ambiguity trilogy: Head Full of Ghosts,Disappearance of Devil’s Rock, and The Cabin at the End of the World.

He Has Many Namesstraddles the line between psychological and supernatural horror but ultimately it picks a side. I thought about ending the story in such a way where the reader had to sift through clues to suss out what happened, but decided it would be more rewarding if suspicions were confirmed and given a hard “yes.”

I wanted to reward attentive readers for paying attention, while giving everyone a big bold note to go out on. Without spoiling everything I chose a grandiose conclusion over an ambiguous one. Continue reading 5 Lessons I Learned Writing He Has Many Names

Goodbye KillerCon 2018

It turns out there is such a thing as summer camp for adults, a place where friendships are founded on a mutual love of monsters, where ghost stories are on tap 24/7, and according to Jeff Burk Dinosaurs Attacks trading cards are still in fashion. Thanks to camp director Wrath James White KillerCon was the summer camp I’d always dreamt of attending. It was a place where kids weren’t shamed out of wearing Hellraiser t-shirts, where all the counselors swore (especially Matt Shaw), and telling dirty jokes meant you were developing healthy social skills (at least that’s what Edward Lee told me).

Instead of a dining hall we had a continental breakfast, followed by a blindfolded tasting of freaky foods and a hot wings challenge. Then Michael Allen Rose, a saintly gentleman in a Nine Inch Nails tribute band, passed around Jeppson’s Malört to help us wash it down (type #MalortFace into Instagram to see just how refreshing it is).

Instead of fireside hymns our camp gathered around a keg of beer. Instead of a talent show we had a gross out contest. And our prayer circles, well, they looked a little different.

The panels with Brian Keene, Matt Shaw, and Lucy Taylor gave me an invaluable peak into the bloody inner workings of the publishing industry. It was a hoot to sit in on readings by Joe Lansdale and his daughter Kasey Lansdale.

I was blown away by Nate Southard’s shrewd then outspoken performance as he weaved through the audience throughout his reading.

It was treat to working the conference floor with Rose O’Keefe and Max Booth III (congrats on the Hulu pilot, btw).

Thanks to Leza Cantoral and Christoph Paul the ClashBooks reading was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I was happy to share it with such sketchy individuals as Brendan Vidito, Charles Austin Muir, Jeff Burk, and of course Wrath James White… and I’m pretty sure Sam Richard was the attendee of honor (seeing as how he got an exclusive lap reading from Brendan Vidito, I mean I’m not saying I’m like supes totes jelly or anything, but… lucky).

Killer con was all of my summer camp dreams come true. I shouldn’t have been surprised by how sweet, charming, and utterly disarming horror authors can be. I can’t wait to come back next year.

KillerCon Travel Journal: Strange Rites

I’ve read books with gaudy covers because I’ve loved their authors and I’ve watched as the cover art shifted in my mind as I went. Geometrically the illustrations were in the exact same positions, but I’d attached new meanings. After putting the book down I was hard pressed to imagine any other cover. The design had improved upon association.

The same phenomenon applies to people. Charm can make an average looking Joe handsome and a sense of humor looks great on a woman. A positive association of someone attaches to their form, like an aura of positivity, and makes you eager to see them.

I felt these positive associations form in my brief time here at the KillerCon, getting to know established writers, up and comers, and the fans roving the hotel floors.

In my home city of Minneapolis I function on a safe predictable loop (yes, like the second season of Mr. Robot). I go to work, for coffee, and my weekly club night. I’m less likely to feel socially anxious when I know what to expect.

My first day at KillerCon I was out of element, a stranger in a strange land of splatter punks and hardcore horror aficionados who’ve traveled on the same circuit. At first I felt less like a participant and more like a pop cultural anthropologist.

Then I realized everyone was wearing conversations starters on their sleeves, literally tattooed right on: portraits of the Bride of Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft, Pinhead, and Cthulhu.

Eventually those of us with thousand yard stares at the bar started looking closer at one another, laughing over shared obsessions, pitching stories, telling morbid tales of our own hometowns.

Since opening ceremonies we’ve tortured ourselves with hot sauces, death peppers, strange foods, and gross out stories. Last night I took the Malort challenge, shots of a drink whose creator says is for drinkers who disdain the light flavors of neutral spirits. If you enter #MalortFace into Instagram you’ll see a series of portrait of people who’ve taken the same challenge.

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That was last night, a whirlwind of hotel room parties, singing, and storytelling. This morning on the final day of KillerCon the event feels like summer camp. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like me on the day I arrived now I wish I had more time with everyone.

Why Stories About Satan Are Still in Fashion

I’ve always loved deal with the devil stories. From The Devil and Daniel Websterto Needful Things. There’s something about the whole situation I find appealing: the downtrodden hero, the devil incognito, the reality-bending bargain, the buyer’s remorse, and the last ditch effort by to find an escape clause. I’ve always found the situation compelling.

Despite the theology these stories draw from they’re essentially fables about grifters trying to outwit one another. But speaking of theology, I like how these stories play off our need to find cosmic conformation for our values, toy with our sense of mysticism, and challenge our beliefs.

I want to unpack why these stories work so well for me.

We’re Wired for Mysticism

Humanity has a tendency to see patterns in the chaos of nature. Scanning the forest we see faces in the bark. When the breeze shifts we feel the trees are reaching out for us.

We see things in the shadows, because darkness is not the absence of light, it’s the presence of mystery, of phantasmagorical figures and imperceivable whispers.

When our minds fail to grasp something we mystify it. Storytellers know how to exploit this glitch.

When you woke up paralyzed and saw a dark figure at the foot of your bed it might have just been a waking hallucination… but deep down you suspect a demonic visitation. Storytellers know how take your suspicions and turn them in myths.

How Satan Came From Mysticism

Stage magicians used to tell wild stories about the origins of their tricks. They’d say traveled to a misty mountain monastery in the east, in the Far East, where monks worshiped not the one true God, but many deities. It was safe for the magician to presume no one in his audience had been to the region so he filled it with giant sea monsters, strange customs, and cannibalism. The audience would believe him because they were already primed to fear what they don’t understand.

We’re wired to fear everyone outside of our tribe and the devil is the ultimate outsider.

Early Christians mystified foreign Gods by recasting them as devils. The biggest victim of this transition was the horned God Pan. At the time Greek sculptures had made more idols to Pan than any other figure. Perhaps they found his horns and hooves intriguing. Perhaps they identified with his naturalistic philosophy. Perhaps they enjoyed depicting his giant dong.

Early crucifix salesmen couldn’t handle the competition so they launched a campaign to smear Pan’s brand. The only problem was there was already an adversary in Christianity: Lucifer.

Lucifer was a fallen cherubim, a race of angels with four wings, four heads, and skin covered in eyeballs. The bible never says Lucifer changed forms when he fell from heaven, but theologians (beginning with Eusebius) decided that Satan should look like Pan. They gave the Shepard God the old Mephistopheles makeover. No longer would Pan guide weary travelers out of the woods. Now he’d try to swindle them out of their souls.

Many a Pagan deity got the same Satanic mani pedi, and in their demonization their titles got added to those of the devil. He has many names, because not all of them were his. They were stolen and handed down.

The Mystique of the Devil in the Details

The dated mysticism of the foreign other doesn’t work in a woke wired world. These days we need new unknowns to mystify. Judging by the popularity of shows like Black Mirrorwe are now mystifying technology. Even the most conditioned coders can’t help but fear the future. Most of us have a nagging suspicion that social media algorithms are unraveling our souls. There’s room for a new devil in all those ones and zeros.

Perhaps Satan is lurking in all those terms and conditions no one ever feels like reading. I mean do you have 76 days to scan through the privacy policies you agree to annually? For all we know there are incantations between the lines and that subconsciously we’ve found ourselves at the mercy of a form of bleeding edge bibliomancy. Which brings me to…

The Satanic Contract

Part of the appeal of the deal with the devil story is how it upsets the established order. The established order of things is unfair. The playing field isn’t level and many of us will spend our entire lives just scrapping by. It’s easy to be righteous when you’re rich, but when you’re sinking in the quicksand of car payments and student loans morality is a luxury.

So in walks a goat legged eccentric with a pocket full of cheat codes. He says with a little up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a select starthe can grant you whatever is in your heart. All it will cost you is that 21 grams of something that goes missing when you stop breathing. “I mean, what is a soul really?”

You take the Faustian bargain, make a pact with Satan, and get exactly what you want… only to realize it wasn’t what you wanted after all and that the game isn’t satisfying when you play it in easy mode. You want to buy your soul back, but you can’t afford the interest. Turns out the devil is a predatory lender, a shifty genie who never grants the extra wish that lets you get your ass out of debt.

Now you’re staring down the barrel of hell, your back is against the ultimate wall, and the stakes have never been higher. You’re going to have to get creative if you’re going to claw your way out of this.

I fucking love these stories.

Not because of Satan. He’s just the catalyst. He forces the hero to evolve, to better themself, and muster up all of their cunning. I love scary stories with well placed mysticism and epic villains, but secretly I long for a hard won happy ending, with a good life lesson. Deal with the devil stories are great vehicles for this. Continue reading Why Stories About Satan Are Still in Fashion