Tag Archives: horror

A Hell of a Night: An Excerpt from HE HAS MANY NAMES

Here’s another sample from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES available now!

Our hero Noelle has one month to ghostwrite a novel in a creepy hotel where her benefactor claims to have encountered a demon. Noelle is skeptical, but strange things keep happening…

•••

I was pacing the 19th floor at three in the morning. I was more than a little tipsy. To make matters worse, the light fixtures had started flickering. This hall was where I did the bulk of my thinking, writing, and verbal processing since I’d checked in. Something had to be done.

I decided to place a call to the front desk. I dug my phone out of my pullover. The voice memo application was still running from God knows when. A little waveform trailed across the screen. In the upper right corner I saw that my battery was at 10%.

Then the screen blinked off, and I heard a screech, like someone pushing furniture across a hardwood floor, followed by a crash and a door creaking open.

I checked the rooms. The suites with the vampire bat knocker, the wolf, the octopus, and mine were all shut.

A dozen ice cubes scattered across the floor. The icemaker tilted forward and spat out another mouthful of blocks and fell on its face. The condom dispenser, behind it, stood diagonal from the wall. There was a tall black door where the dispenser had been. The top of the door was adorned with a carving of three figures, holding hands, pointing downward.

What kind of hotel puts a condom dispenser in front of a door? The Oralia, of course.

I approached with caution. By the time I stepped onto the tiles the ice cubes had started melting. Water seeped into my cat slippers while I was busy examining the scene.

This new door had a knocker in the same place as the others. It featured a figure sitting atop the big brass ring with his fist to his chin. It took a moment to recognize Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker.

I moved closer and the other engravings revealed themselves as well. At first I thought they were simple floral designs, until I shifted my footing and a glare caught the finish—naked figures jumped out of the woodwork, twisted, writhing, and anguished, a collage of biceps, buttocks, and breasts. Each carving looked like it had melted into position, a liquid orgy of delight and despair.

The lights flickered and the figures seemed to crawl over each other. I jumped back and they vanished back into the varnish. I was too tipsy to trust what I was seeing.

I squeezed my eyes shut, raised my palms, and inhaled; I lowered my palms, exhaled, and opened my eyes. The Thinker watched me from the knocker waiting for me to make my move.

My curiosity got the better of me. I took the ring and knocked three times. Each hit echoed into the distance. When the last fell silent the door opened.

I stepped through the entryway to find not carpeting but cold stones. I felt the wall for a light switch and found more stones. I dared to announce my presence. “Hello?”

The door swung shut behind me and there was a clicking not far from where I stood.

I froze a few steps from the archway. Behind me was only darkness. Ahead was the crackling of a flame drawing me into the room. I followed the light toward the bedroom, taking in my surroundings as I went. The furnishings were made up of inquisition era torture devices: Catherine wheels, Judas Cradles, and Iron Maidens. Cat o’ nine tails, riding crops, and stocks were scattered on the floor while the walls were lined with shackles.

Something about that flame beckoned me. I followed the light to a pair of torches mounted to an archway. Standing at the threshold a breeze hit me harder than anything I expected from any bedroom.

I stepped through the archway and entered a cathedral so grand there was no way it fit inside the city, let alone the 19th floor of the Oralia. Torches ran from the floor to the dome of the ceiling. Firelights went so far off into the distance they seemed like constellations.

Each torch sat in the eye socket of a slick red skull. The skulls were stacked higher than any catacomb, and held together with a mortar of musculature and organs.

Support beams marked each of the columns. They looked like thighbones, with curved bodies and rounded joints, but they were longer than anything on the fossil record, longer than canoes, longer than limousines.

The vestibule was a cobblestone platform the size of a tennis court. Beyond that were steps so wide and so deep they could’ve been coliseum seats. They led to a swirling volcanic cauldron at the heart of the cathedral.

Tall flowing banners hung from the walls. Light danced down their fabric revealing a patchwork of hair, veins, and nipples. The banners were made from human flesh, flesh that had been branded with a ghastly coat of arms. I couldn’t help but examine the nearest banner. There was a rendering of Adam and Eve, naked as the day they were made, shackled to a shield, topped with a crown of horns, framed with raven wings. Upon the shield were the beasts of the sea and the dragon of the earth as described in Revelations.

The worst part of the cathedral was the cages hanging from the ceiling like a colony of bats, some were filled with people I’d known: producers I’d pitched to, agents I’d tried to court, and screenwriters who’d vanished.

I inched toward the stairway that went around the cathedral. Something was happening at the bottom. Lava shot up like a glowing orange geyser and all the cages rattled.

There was a pulsing hum, whoosh whoosh whoosh, followed by a series of sharp metallic clinks like an aircraft carrier haling up an anchor. Something terrible was swimming in that fire.

And then it emerged: a hulking titan with four giant batwings. At first I thought it was covered in boils, big white puss filled sacks, but then the boils squinted and I realized I was looking at eyeballs.

The titan’s head was a lopsided jumble with the profiles of beasts in place of his ears. The fangs of a lion roared out of his left side, while the snout of a bull flared out from his right. The grimace facing forward was human, as human as a chiseled brick could get. I tried to read his face, but despite his size, the titan was so far away it was hard to make out his expression.

This was the entity Ezekiel described in the bible: a Seraph of the highest order of angels, one of the Cherubim corrupted by his fall. This was no mere Devil. This was Satan.

Something told me not to look him in the eyes so I shifted my gaze to the ceiling. The cages started rattling. The captives went into violent convulsions. Their backs stiffened, their legs jutted out, and their toes pointed straight down. The prisoners gripped their bars as electricity surged through them. They gritted their teeth until their eyes rolled back and their jaws went slack. Light burst from their eye-sockets, nostrils, and mouths.

The prisoners sat up in a uniform position. “COME CLOSER.” They spoke as one, a congregation echoing a sermon.

“I can hear you just fine up here.”

“CLOSER.”

Thunder boomed. The floor quaked. The platform tilted downward. I looked for the archway, but it was high above me now. I could already feel a pull toward the cauldron. I fell back desperately trying to lower my center of gravity. I dug my heels into the gaps, but my slippers offered no traction and I lost my footing.

From the edge of the platform all the way to the pit, the steps fell like dominos. The coliseum transformed into a mile-long ramp. When the platform tilted I slid fast. The traction peeled my sweatpants up to my knees. The stones scraped my calves, chaffed my thighs, and battered my ass. They struck my tailbone, every column of my spine, and slammed into the back of my skull.

Satan’s caged congregation followed my movements. I fell so fast their eyes passed like comets.

I looked down into the cauldron. Satan’s wheels lowered into the lava, making it swirl and bubble. He waded in to meet me head on. CLOSER. When I neared the pit he opened wide to swallow me whole.

•••

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!

On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

The Satanic Temple is threatening to sue Netflix over The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s use of a monument to Baphomet that looks strikingly similar to theirs.

Occult author Eliphas Levi illustrated the classic Sabbatic Goat depiction of Baphomet. For their monument The Satanic Temple removed the breasts and added a pair of admiring children. The sculpture on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina reflects these alterations.

When the statue was brought to his attention The Satanic Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves said, ”Having one’s central icon associated with human sacrifice in an evil patriarchal cult is hardly good exposure and hardly a frivolous complaint. Fighting this bullshit is the heart of the cause. Not only does it contradict what Baphomet represents, we owe it to those who identify with us to not allow this image, and by extension them, to be represented in this way.”

While The Satanic Temple’s copyright complaint has grounds, the rest of their statement on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais flawed and as a horror writer I’ll explain why.

A Little History

In 2014, The Satanic Temple crowd sourced a sculpture of Baphomet in response to Ten Commandments Monument at Oklahoma’s State Capital. Attendees had to sell their souls to get a ticket, which organizers said was to drive away the truly superstitious. The Satanic Temple’s aim wasn’t to honor an actual demonic entity, but to protest the values State Representative Mike Ritze was imposing upon them. The unveiling ceremony was a cheeky act of civil disobedience. Clever pranksters shined a national spotlight on a divisive issue and both monuments have since been removed.

In case it wasn’t obvious: The Satanic Temple does not believe in a literal Satan who comes when summoned. They see that predatory lender who cashes in on souls as a fictional character. They use Satan’s likeness as an act of protest from religious encroachment. They’re trying to rebrand the devil as a symbol of rational dissent.

Writing about this I am deeply conflicted. I’m skeptical of the supernatural. I don’t like when people turn their spiritual beliefs into public policy, and I’ve participated and even lead satirical protests myself.

But as a horror writer I take issue with The Satanic Temple claiming ownership of Baphomet and by extension Satan as fictional characters. Who are they to dictate how writers get to use Satan, especially since they’re coopting him as a tool for their satire?

Imagine if demonstrators dressed as vampires to protest rising temperatures. It would be good for laugh, but no one would take the vampires seriously if they turned around and criticized Castlevaniaon Netflix cartoon for its depiction of Dracula. Get the fuck out of here. You don’t own Dracula.

Back to Sabrina

Perhaps these threats of litigation against Netflix are continuations of The Satanic Temple’s one note joke. If that’s the case it’s just not that funny. Protesting ten commandment monuments on government land feels like punching upward. Protesting a TV show that plays with demon mythology to tell a story of female empowerment feels like punching sideways.

If most practicing Satanists don’t believe in the occult then how woke do stories about Satanic blood orgies really need to be? If you think The Satanic Temple is insincere in their belief in the Satanic pantheon than who are they to dictate who gets to play with it in fiction? In The Chilling Adventures of SabrinaSabrina isn’t a member of The Satanic Temple or The Church of Satan. She’s a member of The Church of Night. Lucien Greaves accurately pointed out that The Church of Night is patriarchal and barbaric, because of course it is, Sabrina needed something to struggle with. Give the audience some credit. Even devoutly religious viewers know that The Church of Night doesn’t exist.

You Can’t Own the Devil

If you appropriate an image of Baphomet from an occultist and rebrand the character as an icon of skeptical enlightenment, you don’t get to be pissed off if a storyteller re-appropriates Baphomet as a symbol of the occult. You may own the sculpture, but you don’t own the character.

In the demand letter sent to Netflix the lawyer for the Satanic Temple claims, “My client is struggling to overcome centuries of stigma surrounding their religious symbolism.”

Let me unpack that for a moment. The devil in bible is not depicted as a goat-legged faun like the statue of Baphomet. He’s said to be a Cherubim, a class of angel with four wings, four hands, and four heads covered head to toe in eyeballs.

Satan became a faun when early Christians took issue with the popularity of idols made to the Greek God Pan. They appropriated Pan’s likeness into their devil, who was then appropriated by Eliphas Levi into his Sabbatic Goat illustration, who was then appropriated by The Satanic Temple into their statue of Baphomet, who was then appropriated by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinafor a fun little show about witches. Centuries of stigma surrounding your religious symbolism? More like centuries of stealing.

I think everyone owes the Greek God Pan some royalties.

Also, no, The Satanic Temple isn’t centuries old. It was founded in 2012. The Church of Satan, which has rebuked The Satanic Temple, was founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. People have been accused of being Satanists for centuries, yes, but people didn’t start claiming to be until very recently.

Not a Place I Expected to Find Political Correctness

As amusing as I’ve found The Satanic Temple’s protests it irks me to see an organization that stands out as the antithesis of political correctness try to weaponize political correctness to its advantage.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You didn’t get into Satanism because you were sensitive. Part of the appeal of claiming Satan is getting a rise out of people, especially when you’re driving them batty over something you yourself don’t believe.

All of this ink on The Satanic Temple’s lawsuit reads like click bait signal boosting from entertainers clamoring to stay relevant. You don’t get to cry religious persecution if you don’t buy into your own dogma. That’s some major league false equivalency bullshit.

Satanic Panic? Please

One of the reasons The Satanic Temple says it takes issue with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais how it fans the flames of Satanic Panic. I’d argue the show is far too playful to be taken as a serious representation of any strongly held religious belief system.

I’ve written articles that openly debate whether or not horror writers have any responsibilities when it comes to fanning the flames of superstition, but I strongly doubt we’ll see another wave of Satanic Panic as a result of this or American Horror Story: Apocalypse.

TV pundits aren’t talking about backwards messages in heavy metal records. Geraldo Rivera isn’t harassing Ozzy Osbourne anymore.

Few people even remember Dr. Demento’s harrowing expose on the ritual magic of Dungeons and Dragons.

“Michelle Remembers” has been out of print for a long time. No one is recovering suppressed memories of their imagined cultist upbringing. No is claiming there are mass graves on the outskirts of town.

Horror movies are en vogue again. Harry Potter protests are done and guess what? Harry Potter won.

Satanic Panic is over.

Magus Peter H. Gilmore from The Church of Satan (again, not to be confused with The Satanic Temple) refers to devil worshipers’ newfound prominence in films like The Witchand Hereditaryas a sign of “Satanic Unease,” a symptom of the toxic tribalism in all of our escalating divisions. That’s not a bad diagnosis, but I think its really just Satanic Cynicism.

I doubt any of these screenwriters think practitioners of black magic really exist, so they lump all Satanists together and treat them like any other horror trend. It was zombies and vampires last year. Now its Satanic witches (who bear no real resemblance to true Satanists or Neo-Pagan Wiccans). Soon when all the tides start rising it will be Lovecraftian ocean people with gills (oh wait, that’s already a thing).

I Too Have Appropriated Satan, Come At Me Bro

My book He Has Many Names explores the modern devil, from the few times he takes the stage in the bible, how he got his horns, and what fueled the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Neither The Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple have so much as a walk on role, because the story isn’t about Satanism. It’s about how Satan became a trope in fiction. The protagonist is a writer exploring Satan’s origins only to face a brand new mythology of my own design, and I’ll be damned if I owed anyone any royalties. Continue reading On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

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

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!

Top 5 Reasons You Should Call in Sick and Binge The Haunting of Hill House

Has fall gotten you down? Did your seasonal depression kicked in the moment department stores rolled out their Christmas decorations? Does the overcast make you feel like the days are all bleeding together? Does the sight of a box of week old Cheeze Its on the nightstand at 1PM look like breakfast in bed? Will daylight savings push you further into the arms of madness? Maybe somebody needs a staycation?

Why no spend your mental health days watching The Haunting of Hill House.

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.

Here 5 reasons why I think you should cast off your personal responsibilities and watch this show.

It is the Where’s Waldo of Haunted House TV Shows

Much like It Follows, Ghost Watch, and Insidious, The Haunting of Hill House trains viewers to scan the shadows for anything out of the ordinary. After episode one you’ll be searching the cellars for silhouettes, analyzing archways for apparitions, and foraging the foreground for faces. While there are plenty of monstrous manifestations and outright jump scares the Hill House’s eeriest entities are hide in plain sight. Pay close attention to every flashback scene, odds are there’s a ghost just standing right over a character’s shoulder.

Screen Rant put together this handy cheat sheet of each ghost sighting throughout the season. Have it loaded up so you can freak out anyone else you’re watching with.

Episode 6 and the Choreographed Long Takes

Episode 6 consists of 5 straight takes with no edits. The longest being the third, which clocks in at around 17 minutes. I’m a huge fan of choreographed long takes whether it’s the opening of The Player, The X-Files episode Beyond the Sea, or that infamous Dare Devil hallway fight sequence. Hitchcockian long takes ratchet up the tension by making scenes feel like they’re happening in the moment.

Long takes are also a great place for in camera magic tricks. Now you see a ghost. Now you don’t. I’m surprised the technique isn’t utilized in horror more often.

Not only does the effect make the scares more jarring it makes the Crain family’s grief more engaging. It makes each cast member’s performance all the more riveting and gives each sequence the intimacy of a stage play. The production was shut down for 6 weeks so the actors could rehearse these scenes and Goddamn it was worth it.

It is a Magnum Opus from a Budding Horror Director

This show has very little to do with the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. Yes, there’s a haunted house with a huge spiral staircase, but there are no paranormal investigators. Most of this is an original creation by writer director Mike Flanagan who is known for one of the better Stephen King adaptation’s Gerald’s Game, the surprisingly effective prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil, andHush.

Flanagan also directed one of my personal favorite horror films in recent years: Oculus, the story of cursed mirror with the power to distort reality. The Haunting of Hill House shares many of that movies themes and the Lasser Glass, the haunted mirror, happens to be hanging on the wall of the Hill House.

Effective Character Driven Horror

Horror movies only have so much time to fit their scares in. They tend to front load all the characterization to the first act. The Netflix format allows for tough and touching character moments throughout. By giving every of the Crain family member their own episodes we find ourselves invested in the whole family.

In slasher films the characters are often written as annoying despicable people so that the audience will applause their investable evisceration. Here we don’t want to watch any of the characters to meet their end even when we know it’s coming.

It’s A Ghost Story that Respects Skepticism

I hate ghost stories where rational explanations for hauntings aren’t explored. Conversely I hate it when the reality of the haunting is so ambiguous we’re left wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. My favorite ghost stories find a sweet spot between the irrational and the rational. They explore common causes of hallucinations: sleep paralysis, sleeping deprivation, and mental illness. Then they tease out supernatural explanation.

The monster of the week episodes of The X-Files mastered this formula by making a skeptic part of the show. The Haunting of Hill House has its very own Dana Scully in the form of Steven a horror writer and paranormal investigator. Steven is there to acknowledge our intellect before Hill House can sidestep it.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re an actor looking for monologue material then boy do I have a show for you. The moment this show had me came in episode 1 when Mrs. Walker recounted the car accident that took her husband and the subsequent haunting. That long extended close up felt like a mission statement. The Haunting of Hill House set out to tell an emotional character driven story. Its scares are well staged, but they benefit most from how much we care about the survival of its characters. A lesson we horror writers would do well to remember. Continue reading Top 5 Reasons You Should Call in Sick and Binge The Haunting of Hill House

Book Excerpt: HE HAS MANY NAMES

Chapter 1: The Oralia

I’d been trying to get ahold of my agent for months. I was beginning to think she was dead. Then she called, at dawn, sounding like she’d run up a flight of stairs. “Noelle, drop whatever you’ve got going on tonight.”

Box wine and ramen, done.

“A publisher wants to meet with you at the Oralia Hotel. It’s super swanky and upscale. So doll yourself up.”

I hung up and spent more time putting my pitch together than my outfit. I got ready at the eleventh hour, ruined a zipper in my panic, and did my makeup in a series of swift strokes right before my Uber pulled up.

I scooted into the middle seat nervously adjusting my necklace in the mirror. It was a bib of emerald laurels mom had given me for just such an occasion. I have no idea how much it set her back, but it was priceless on waitress’s salary. And…I had it on backward. I unlatched the bib, flipped it around, and struggled to get it back on.

“You know what you look like with your good bag and cheap shoes?” I muttered in my best Hannibal Lecter voice. “You look like a rube.”

“What was that?” My driver squinted through the mirror.

“I was just wondering if you could go a little faster.”

•••

The Oralia was hard to pick out of the skyline. Its bricks were so black it blended into the storm, but there was no missing the hotel when facing it dead on. Spotlights shot up the columns, like something off the poster for a silent film. The entrance was made of dark marble tiles separated by a grid of gold. A golden maze-like pattern ran up the side of the building. The balconies started on the third story.

I walked inside and a bellhop stepped forward. “Welcome to the Oralia. May I take your things?”

I handed him my umbrella and kept my briefcase to myself.

I strode past chandeliers that looked like pipe organs, gorgeous gargoyles, and a giant clock that assured me I didn’t have time to appreciate the art deco architecture.

It felt like I was rushing through the set of a Busby Berkeley film. Big buxom sculptures grazed my case, water fountains sprayed my forearms, and ballroom music beckoned me in.

The archway between the lobby and the check-in counter featured a gilded recreation of the entrance: a skyscraper lit from the bottom up. Behind the front desk was a smaller version of the same thing.

From the stained glass stars to the bright red carpeting, the lobby screamed Golden Age Hollywood. Even the name Oralia meant golden. I felt certain that this was one of the last bastions of elegance and class from an era when there was still tinsel in tinsel town.

I scanned the plaque on the counter to confirm my suspicions.

And… The hotel was founded in 2008.

The concierge didn’t notice me. She was face deep in a paperback. I leaned over to see what it was. I couldn’t catch the title, but I caught the hunk of beefcake on the cover.

At this stage of my career in publishing I was in the retail sector, working at an establishment whose name rhymes with Yarns and Global. The hardest part of my job was when I had to tear the covers off of the romance novels that weren’t selling. The publishers didn’t want them. They just needed to know we weren’t giving them away, so they had us send back the remains. I felt bad for the male models on the covers, all their bench presses gone to waste. I felt worse for the women on the back, smiling with their eyes so full of hope, yearning to be loved.

I daydreamed writing romance under a penname, giving single women the bearded billionaire bondage experience of their dreams. I’d like to say it was artistic pride that kept me from doing it, but really, it was fear of not being able to pull it off. Romance wasn’t my area of expertise.

The concierge felt my eyes on her. She buried her guy-candy in a drawer, folded her spectacles, and stood up.

“May I help you?”

I gave her a nervous smile. “I’m here to see Matilda MacDonald.”

The concierge pointed to a vampish figure on a couch in the corner.

Matilda wore a black pants suit that was all pleats and leather, with no undershirt. The Pradas she’d kicked up on the footrest were patent leather with heels that went on forever. She wore her jet-black hair in a pixie cut. Topping off her look was an armored ring that ran the length of her index finger.

Matilda swiped at a phone in an embroidered leather case. In her clutches, it looked like a forbidden text filled with spells for calling up the dead.

I extended my hand. “Matilda MacDonald?”

Matilda extended the hand with the armored ring. “Noelle Blackwood. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

I held my briefcase to my chest. “The pleasure is mine. Publishers never reach out to mid-listers. Who do I have to thank for floating my name in your direction?”

Matilda smirked and took her seat. She reached into her bag and slid a book across the table. “I trust you’ve heard of Barkley Carver.”

Barkley Carver, his name always made me think of trees, especially since there were evergreens on the covers of all of his books, including this one Out on a Limb.

Cover artists used tree lines as visual shorthand for shallow graves, which fit since all of Barkley’s stories started with hikers discovering a body. Barkley filled his fictitious funeral plots with the segment of the populace that made up his audience: upper-class white women; the same ones the media turned into saints whenever they went missing, say while jogging through the woods. This is why the mystery section of every bookstore looks like a forest mural.

Barkley took this theme a step further by working it into each of his titles: Fruit from the Poison Tree, Shake Like a Leaf, and A Tree Falls Silent.

I flipped the book over to find the same portrait Barkley Carver had used for the last twenty years. The author stood proud in his bomber jacket, full flight suit, and helmet. He leaned on the nose of a fighter jet and looked to the sky in big aviator shades.

Matilda signaled to the bellhop. He set a storage bin on the table, and flipped it open.

I peered inside. “What’s that for?”

Matilda nodded at my luggage. “Your briefcase, your coat, your phone, and a smart watch if you have one.”

I tapped my luggage. “What about my manuscript?”

Matilda drew a piece of paper from beneath the table. “Think of this meeting as less of an acquisition and more of a commission. Go ahead put it in.”

“Then I suppose you’ll want my Wi-Fi glass eye and fiber optic hair extensions?”

Matilda rolled her eyes. “Would you be so kind?”

Joking aside, Matilda wasn’t going to pass anything my way until I gave up my phone, so I did, and the bellhop left with the bin.

Matilda slid the piece of paper across the table. It wasn’t an offer. It was a nondisclosure agreement. I skimmed far enough to get to the part where I realized Matilda’s proposition wouldn’t start until I’d signed.

I drew a squiggle and slid the agreement back. “Why all the secrecy?”

Matilda swapped the agreement for a manila folder. “This offer is for you alone. Barkley and I, we’re not like other publishers. We don’t take submissions. We seek out talent and your name, Noelle, has come up several times. Your screenplay for The Identity Thieves just made the blacklist. Script readers gave it their highest marks, but do you know why it will never get made into a film?”

I shrugged. “Because it doesn’t have the words ‘fast’ or ‘furious’ in the title?”

Matilda nodded. “Because it can’t be retooled to fit an existing franchise, yes, just like your first manuscript couldn’t be softened into teen lit, and your last one couldn’t be sold as fantasy or horror. Your work defies traditional branding. Now that’s where we come in.”

I shook my head. “What is it with the royal we? I thought you only published Carver’s titles.”

“Oh we do, but we publish 5 Carver titles a year. We’d like to ratchet that number up to 15.”

“Those are James Patterson numbers.” I slouched into the sofa with an underwhelmed sigh. This was all starting to make sense. “You want me to ghostwrite for Carver. You know, serial killer thrillers aren’t really my forte.”

Matilda leaned forward and tented her fingers. “Barkley chose you because he wants to explore a new direction.”

I cocked my head. “He’s read my work?”

Matilda pushed her armored ring back and forth. “You know that paranormal investigations podcast you’re on?”

Ohhh. “So he’s heard my work.”

“We’ve listened to all nineteen episodes.”

“Then you know I’m just the token skeptic, there to make the show seem balanced.”

“Maybe that’s why they hired you, but you’re the star of the show. Every week you break down all of their supernatural pseudo science into simple psychology.”

Turning a screw into my skull, I quoted myself. “Stimulate the anterior insula and you too can see a ghost.”

“Have you?”

“Of course. We’re hardwired to see faces everywhere.”

Matilda raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“I’ve seen them in wallpaper, marble tiles, even a chain length fence when the light hit it just right.”

Matilda cocked her head. “And you never flinched?”

I shrugged. “Our ancestors had to spot predators in an instant. So sometimes we see face where there are none, the Virgin Mary on toast or a cloud shaped like Donald Trump. It’s just a glitch in evolution.”

Matilda nodded recognizing this talking point from the podcast. “People don’t hallucinate that much, do they?”

I nodded. “Oh yeah. No need for drugs or schizophrenia. With enough anxiety people will see all sorts of things.”

Matilda leaned forward. “Are you speaking from experience?”

“About anxiety or hallucinations?”

Matilda tilted her head back and forth.

“On the podcast, when I said part of my writing ritual involved speaking to my characters like they were actually there-“

Matilda perked up. “Walk ins you called them; imagined figures that felt like they were literally in the room.”

“I was being hyperbolic to prove my point.”

Matilda feigned a smile. “Still, you’re clearly qualified for this, so much so that Carver is eager to lend you his name.”

I looked down at my boots, still wet from the walk. “Yeah, but isn’t that cheating?”

“It’s collaborating. He’s the architect. You’re the engineer. He draws the blueprints. You build the house.”

“And how extensive are Carver’s blueprints?”

Matilda tapped the manila folder with her pen. “He’s written a ten-page synopsis.”

“So it’s a sketch on a bar napkin?”
Matilda shrugged. “It’s bare bones, but think of how much freedom that’ll give you.”

I waved my hands in the air. “Yeah, but it’s Carver’s name on the building. How does that help my career?”

Matilda leaned forward. “Right now, your name, with your following in the paranormal community, might get you into a local bookstore. Carver’s name will get you that prime checkout counter space at a national grocery chain.”

“Were you a real estate agent prior to your career as a publisher?”

“I’ve been many things.” Matilda smiled and passed the manila envelope across the table. “This one little book will earn you royalties for the rest of your life. It’ll buy you time to get your own magnum opus in print.”

I shuddered. “I could always put it out myself.”

Matilda pursed her lips, feigning optimistic approval.

“It’s true, as a group, self-publishers are taking bigger bites out of the e-book pie, but as individuals most of you are starving. Anonymous reviews don’t have the sway of syndicated columns, podcasts don’t have NPR’s listeners, and trendsetters don’t have the influence of traditional publishers. Go ahead and throw your book at the wall, see if it sticks, but when readers have so many options they prefer established brands.”

I unbuttoned the top button of my blouse and let out a low sigh. “How does this bestseller factory of yours work?”

Matilda raised her eyebrow, knowing she had me.

“You’ll stay here, in the Oralia, until you’ve finished a draft. We’ll comp the room, the pay-per-view,” she tilted her head back and forth, “and room service within reason.”

I looked toward the concierge. “Why put me up here? Doesn’t Carver trust anyone to keep his secret?”

Matilda bit her lip to conceal her smile. “It’s something new we’re trying. Think of yourself as an artist in residence. The Oralia isn’t old, but it was built by people who remember when this town was filled with magic. Soak it in.”

I scanned the lobby of the creepy hotel that was to be my home.

“This is starting to sound a lot like a Stephen King story, one that didn’t end well for the author in it. Is there any kind of advance?”

Matilda produced an attaché case and took her time entering the combination.

The locks clicked open and she slid the case across the table. It was lined with stacks of cash. They were twenties, but more money than I’d ever seen.

Matilda slammed the case shut. “This will be in a safe behind the counter. Send us a draft in one month and management will be authorized to hand it over.”

“One month?”

“It’s how Carver wants it done. It’s in the contract. Think of it as a writing marathon.”

I reflected on my first semiautobiographical novel. I labored on it in my twenties, sold it for pennies, and watched it barely make back the advance.

I looked back at the cash. “All that for one month’s work?”

Matilda nodded.

“When can I check in?”

Matilda slid another document across the table. “Right after you sign on the dotted line.” Continue reading Book Excerpt: HE HAS MANY NAMES

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!

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!

How Being A Writer Makes the Ads I See Weird

When I was researching He Has Many Names, a story about the devil and a sleazy hotel, I Googled my share of strange things. Most of the story takes place in a forest-themed fantasy suite. As the suite’s interior decorator I had to fill the space with the right furniture. Now I can’t scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing ads for live edge redwood coffee tables, cherry blossom desk lamps, Styrofoam stalactites, moon shaped lanterns, and vine-themed sex swings.

My research queries ended up in my cookies and swapped information between all my logins. My inquiries into the etymology of the devil, his many forms, and the Satanic panic of the 1980s follow me like toilet paper on the bottom of my boot.

Thanks AdChoices but no I’m not interested in BlueDevil Head Gasket Sealer, Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners, or New Jersey Devils apparel. Try harder.

When Searches Go Public

In 2006 a large number of AOL’s users search history leaked online. The 2013 documentaryTerms and Conditions May Apply shows what happened when several anonymous users were identified by their search terms.

One AOL user in particular had a most intriguing search history. He’d looked up “How to kill your wife” multiple times along with “decapitated photos” and pictures of “murder victims.” Alarmist headlines dubbed him the scariest user on AOL and several armchair sleuths set out to unmask him.

Eventually the documentary filmmakers caught up with Jerome Schwartz and pressed him to see if these search terms were his. He admitted to looking up all of them and a slew of other macabre things. Turns out he was writer for the TV show Cold Caseand these search queries were research for his work.

In the documentary Jerome speculates what would happen if a government algorithm had flagged his searches and the FBI came knocking. I’ve joked about what would happen if the feds confronted me with my search history going so far as to turn the scenario into a short story. If these invasions of privacy become the norm a lot of authors are going to need alibis (this is why I write in public). #WriterProblems.

The New Abnormal

I have a feeling AdChoices will damn me to awkward public encounters for years to come.

I’ll be scrolling through FaceBook when someone will catch some strange shit in my border columns.

“A rhinestone codpiece, shackles, and a gimp mask? I had no clue you went in for all that.”

“I’m writing a scene set in a bondage club so those keep showing up.”

“And the adult sized Winnie the Pooh costume with the open butt flap?”

“Oh well, I am into.”

My Killer App Idea

What if there was a browser extension that recognized the online behaviors of writers and adjusted searches, ads, and results accordingly? And no I don’t mean constantly showing us ads for Grammarly or Scrivener. I’m talking about ads that are fine tuned to enhance the research process be it the intricate procedures that make up your characters’ careers, deep dives into the mythology you’re drawing from, or visual inspiration for the buildings that fill up your plot of the astral plane.

If our cookies spread our data from one site to another wouldn’t it be nice if the cookies contextualized the data as it went? The app could let sites know when we’re looking for home décor and when we’re looking for props for our settings, when we’re shopping for apparel and when we’re putting costumes on characters.

If advertisers have to mine my data they could at least draw the right conclusions from it.

Until they do I’ll just keep an ad blocker running. Continue reading How Being A Writer Makes the Ads I See Weird