Tag Archives: horror

The Great American Tell Off Speech

Have you ever had a job interview that went to hell? This one goes there literally. When I say I write Twilight Zone fan fiction, this is what I’m talking about.

Evil Drew

The Great American Tell Off Speech

Wind blew through the office. Lunging after a stray envelope, a mail clerk tripped over his cart. There were no walls to stop it, only pillars. The floor was arranged like a banquet hall, with a series of long tables. There were laptops in place of plates, phones in place of silverware. Sitting with the other applicants, Stewart felt like he was waiting for a reservation, not an interview.

Without walls, this was a hive with no honeycomb, a swarm that never sat still long enough to be a colony. The worker bees were at a constant hum. They buzzed into phones with fingers in their ears. Some fashioned borders out of folders. Some marked their perimeters, putting their hands up on their cheeks, and angling their elbows. Others ducked under tables.

Clicking buttons, they mistook each others’ mice for their own. Passing reports, they made bumper cars of rolling chairs. Waving their power plugs, they played musical outlets, jabbing at each other for juice.

Stewart leaned over to peak into a conference room. A facilitator hopped back and forth, armed with a set of markers and a smile. Pointing to someone out of view, the facilitator leapt up, spun around, and wrote a bullet point on the whiteboard. Giving a thumbs up, he jotted down the word: COLLABORATION. Employees raised their hands, kindergarden students waiting for their turn.

Stewart scanned his cover letter. Words like DISTINCT, INDEPENDENT and SELF-RELIANT stood out.

Giving his outfit a once over, Stewart found his yellow tie full of creases. He struggled to smooth them, only to find he was smearing ink down the length. Checking to see if any of the applicants were watching, he licked the silk clean. The nearest door was made of tinted glass. Stewart stuck his tongue out at his reflection. It was black. His cowlick stood straight up. Spitting into his hand, he tried to weigh it down.

The door opened to reveal a linebacker in a pinstripe suit, square-jawed and broad shouldered. He wore two bluetooth earpieces. They jut out like a pair of tusks. His brown hair had a reddish tint. It clashed with his silver eyebrows. His cheeks were tan and moist, a mannequin brought to life.

“Martin Williams.” He extended his hand, a catcher’s mitt full of class rings.

Stewart wiped the spit on his pants before offering his hand. “Stewart Smith.”

“Of course it is.” Martin winked.

The man had a vice grip. Stewart felt it in his arm socket.

Before Stewart could reclaim his fingers, Martin went in for a second pass. Giving the applicant’s palm another good squeeze, Martin tilt his head, a dancer singling for his partner to follow. Stewart squeezed back, quickly relinquishing his grip. When he withdrew his hand, it was clammy.

Ambling to his desk, Martin positioned himself to sit. Bending his knees, he froze.

Stewart mirrored Martin’s position in the chair provided. They were in a game of chicken over who’d be the first to sit. When Stewart’s footing shift gravity made the decision for him.

Martin raised an eyebrow at this development. Smoothing his blood red tie, he took his seat.

Stewart’s chair was anything but ergonomic. It dictated his posture at a ninety degree angle. With his hips shifting out of the seat, he became painfully aware of the position of his limbs. He crossed his legs, rather than sit spread eagle. He crossed his arms, rather than let them dangle like an ape.

Martin scanned him, a curator appraising the authenticity of an acquisition. His finger hovered over his speakerphone. “Would you like a coffee?”

Stewart didn’t care for what the chair was doing to his bladder. “No. No thank you, I’ve had too much already.”
Martin raised his eyebrow a little higher. “Let’s get right down to business. Your resumé says you’ve been out of work for sixth months now. The next guy coming in has the same qualifications. The only difference is he has a solid job. Why should I hire you instead of someone who’s stable?”

Stewart found his attention drawn to the waste basket at his feet, overflowing with 5-Hour Energy drinks.

He shift his butt in his seat. “Because I’m not stable.”

Martin raised his chin. “Care to elaborate?”

“No, but I will.” Stewart’s seat creaked as he moved to the edge. “Anyone can maintain a nine to five job, but it takes a particular type of person to hold out until they find a place where they’re needed.”

Martin rubbed his chin. “Needed, you say?”

Stewart scanned the bookshelf: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Steve Jobs’s autobiography.

He nodded. “Absolutely.”

The wall was filled with certificates, an Entrepreneurship degree from Columbia, an International Business degree from Harvard, and a slip certifying the completion of a weekend seminar in something called, “Neuro-Linguistic Programing.”

There was a photo of Martin covered in mud, a general whose army conquered a wall, letting out a battle cry. Ropes dangled over the side. Climbers grit their teeth, struggling to catch up with their agile leader.

Plucking the bluetooth tusks from his ears, Martin set them on the desk. Fishing a hand grip tool from a drawer, he gave his wrist a workout. “And what is it that makes you so vital to our business?”

On the desk, a pendulum drew figure eights in a Zen sand-garden. Stewart flicked it. “I’m here to change the flow of things.”

Martin quoted Stewarts cover letter, “And just how does an ‘independent’ ‘self-reliant’ ‘freethinker’ go about doing that?”

Martin slipped his copy of Stewart’s cover letter across the desk, a monologue waiting to be performed.

Stewart slipped it back. “I know what it says, it’s what it doesn’t say that matters.”

Setting the workout tool down, Martin smirked. “What, like the notes a musician doesn’t play?”

Stewart tilt his chin, committing to neither shaking his head, or nodding. “It doesn’t say that I’m a people person. It doesn’t say that I thrive in groups. Nor does it say that I’m passionate about communication, marketing, or social media.”

Martin pinched his pendulum to a stop. “You do realize the position you’re interviewing for is Brand Ambassador? It doesn’t get anymore social than that.” He wiped the Zen-garden down, making sure every grain was right where it belonged.

“You’ll learn that when it comes to emerging markets, none of us are as smart as all of us.”

Martin pointed to the group portrait on the wall. The staff stood in the parking lot with their arms outstretched, gnashing their teeth, lions eager to be fed. No one was smiling. No one was saying, “Cheese.” This was a warring army preparing to charge the enemy.

Stewart leaned forward to break Martin’s sightline. “You have too many initiatives competing with each other.”

“Life is a competition.” Martin blurt out.

Stewart nodded, as if that was a rational response. He took a deep breath. “The firm seems to think that if it throws a bunch of advertisements at the wall, some of them will stick. They need someone like me to offer users something worth seeking out. Someone who knows the difference between begging and branding, between panhandling and marketing, between crowdsourcing and true inspiration. It doesn’t take a village to represent a brand. It takes a delegate, someone to keep the message simple and consistent, someone to embody all the traits the customer is looking for.”

Standing, Martin wiped the last grains of Zen-garden from his hands. “I’ll be frank, you’re not it. I knew this before you even crossed my threshold. I feel like I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you why.”

Martin circled to Stewart’s side of the desk.

He made a square with his fingers, a director framing a scene. “Your posture tells me you’re closed off. You look like a marionette laid to rest, legs crossed, arms over your chest. You have none of the bravado to back up your selling points.”

Uncrossing his ninety degree angles, Stewart stiffened up.

Martin nodded to himself, confirming his assumption. “I knew it the moment I felt your slimy handshake, with your ring finger shorter than your pointer, this isn’t the man I’m looking for.”
Scooping up the workout tool, Martin slipped his finger through the loop. He spun it like a gunslinger.

“From then on you kept confirming my instincts. Staring at the bridge of my nose to avoid eye contact. Not taking the coffee. Being easily distracted by the pendulum on the desk. You do realize that was a test, don’t you?”

Martin squeezed the hand grip, like he was ringing a neck.

“But really, I knew all this the moment I spotted your yellow tie. Yellow is the color of cowardice, of betrayal, sickness and disease. A man who wears a yellow tie to an interview doesn’t want the job. This makes me wonder why someone with no confidence is trying to sell me on his penchant for insubordination. You’re running some kind of unemployment scam, aren’t you? I ought to offer you a mailroom position just to fuck it up.”

When I get mad I go full Super Saiyan
When I get mad I go full Super Saiyan

Stewart bit his lip. His face went cold. The pendulum began swinging on it’s own, drawing a shape in the sand. Stewart squint. Guided by an invisible force, the pendulum traced a glyph; the hook of a question mark, the zigzag of lightning, and the three points of a pitchfork.

The certificates shook. Photographs slipped out of their frames and slid across the floor. Standing, Stewart stepped on Martin’s muck ridden portrait.

“I too would feel like I was doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you something.” Stewart’s voice echoed through the building, a message delayed by a loudspeaker system.

His cowlick shot straight up, followed by the rest of his hair. The brown follicles turned bleach blonde. Smoke spiraled off the bangs. Stewart’s loafers grazed the carpet. Levitating off the ground, his posture corrected itself.

Rolling over his computer, Martin ducked for cover behind his desk. With the flick of the wrist, Stewart sent it through the wall. The screeching of its feet trailed off until it crashed. A sheet of dry wall collapsed into a pile of pebbles.

“Now it’s an open office.” Stewart’s voice boomed over the screams of panicked workers.

The Zen-garden came down in a heap. The hand grip tool spun end over end, landing in the dirt.

Martin hugged his rolling chair, a shipwrecked surviver with a floatation device. Making a pinching motion, Stewart plucked it free. Catching it, Martin rolled it back. Stewart found himself playing pantomime tug of war. Tugging the chair, he made Martin face plant into the Zen-garden. Whatever he’d slathered his skin in, gave every grain of sand a surface to stick to.

Stewart rose until his shoulder blades dug into the ceiling tiles. The chair rolled into his shadow. Coming in for a soft landing, Stewart took his seat, an emperor on his new throne.

Stewart crossed his legs, blowing the sand off the armrest. “Now that’s more like it.”

Pinching the air, Stewart pulled Martin up by his tie, forcing him into the modified cobra position.

Stewart glanced over his shoulder. “Of the four conference rooms on this floor, you’ve filled each of them. That’s half of your workforce passively listening, while the other half tries to pick up the slack.”

Through the window behind him, Stewart saw the facilitators poking their heads out, their smiles had flat lined, the pep had gone from their steps. Some of the staff stood frozen, while others ducked down, turning the spaces between the tables into foxholes.

Snapping his fingers, Stewart closed the blinds. “Punctual as I am, I had an opportunity to listen in on these meetings. Rather than tell your employees to respect the speaker, the facilitators asked for suggestions on how to do so. The meetings couldn’t start until the group stated the obvious: put your phones away, wait your turn, and stay on topic. The facilitators spoke the least. They drew out answers by asking questions. They confirmed nothing, offered no conclusions, and came to no ultimate ends.”

Twirling his finger, Stewart raised a tiny tornado from the remnants of the Zen-garden. He flung it at Martin.

“I actually knew Socrates, and there was a lot more to his method than that.” Stewart shook his head. “Whenever an employee realized the only way to get the ball rolling was to answer every question, the facilitator stopped calling on them, shutting out the very people who should be leading these meetings.”

The fluorescent lights flickered. Bulbs burst. Martin covered his head as glass rained down. Stewart cracked his neck. There was a flash of lightning, followed by a series of pops trailing off into the distance. The only lights that survived were in the exit signs.

Martin cupped his hands in prayer. “Oh Jesus, oh sweet baby Jesus on Santa’s lap, protect me.”

Stewarts eyes turned white. Sparks flowed from his gaze. His voice rattled the windows. “This company needs my omnipotence to look out for its interests. It needs me to sniff out the time thieves that schedule these meetings. You see, I eat waste. I devoir redundancy, and I am very hungry.”

Quivering, Martin tried not to look at the deity that had invaded his office. Stealing a glance, white streaks washed through his hair. Looking away, he saw the wheels rise off the floor. The rolling chair ascended.

Grains of sand took orbit around Stewart like rings around a planet. He sat in the lotus position. “Employees can only maintain social relationships with about one-hundred-and-fifty coworkers. This team has one-hundred too many. My belly growls just thinking about it. I’m here to pick the group-thinkers out of the herd, whether they’re grazing the carpet or standing watch from a corner office. I specialize in team dismantling.”

Martin groveled. “I didn’t mean to insult your tie, my lord, my-my master. Had you led with this level of confidence, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“But we are having it.” Stewart’s voice echoed from all sides. The rear window shattered.

Martin’s hands shook uncontrollably. His skin was awash with moonlight. Turning to the open window, he found a trinity of orbs floating in an unfamiliar sky.

Glowing neon yellow, the orbs pulsed with Stewart’s words. “With all the blood that passes through these teeth, I would never wear something so garish as a red power tie.”

Martin turned back to find Stewart’s tie had grown longer. With Stewart floating in the air, the tie hung down past his ankles. It stretched toward Martin, bobbing back and forth, a silk snake hypnotizing its prey.

The yellow tie of judgment is upon you
The yellow tie of judgment is upon you

Stewart’s big white eyes turned gold, “Yellow is the color of cowardice, and I’ve made you cower before me. Yellow is the color of sickness, and I am the plague that eats excess. Yellow is the color of treachery, and I am the knife that cuts the wheat from the chaff.”

Martin teetered back and forth, afraid that at any moment the tie might strike. “Please dark lord, spare your humble servant, and he shall make sounder assessments in the future.”

Raising his chin, Stewart sneered. “A worshiper once mispronounced my name whilst offering tribute. I squeezed his wrist until it burst.”

Extending his arm, the hand grip tool flew from the sand into Stewart’s palm. Working it around in his fingers, he reduced it into twinkling specks of dust.

“Do you really want to experience the full strength of my handshake?”

Martin shook his head. Tears streaked down his cheeks. Snot bubbled from his nose. Drool spilled from his lips.

The yellow tie coiled around Martin’s neck. Wedging his fingers beneath the silk, he couldn’t stop it from lifting him off the floor, up to Stewart’s eye level. The deity gripped the air. Invisible talons dug into Martin’s torso, offering slight relief to the strain on his neck. Stewart pulled him closer. The hiring manager and the applicant were face to face.

The whites of Stewart’s eyes filled with downward line graphs. “Your earning reports prophesied the fall of your profits, yet you continued to employ the same methods. You did the same things and expected different results. Lacking inspiration you tried to spark creativity through brainstorming.”

“Your earning reports prophesied the fall of your profits, yet you continued to employ the same methods"
“Your earning reports prophesied the fall of your profits, yet you continued to employ the same methods”

Martin struggled in his silk bonds. “But it’s a democratic process, we defer criticism, we welcome all ideas.” Martin kicked the air. “Quantity breeds quality.” He cried.

Stewart waved his finger, an animal tamer commanding his pet. The tie looped through Martin’s armpits, crisscrossing over his chest. Stewart would see him mummified for his mockery.

Stewart’s eyes filled with a pair of slides featuring a college campus. “In 1963 a group of research scientists, at the U of M, were asked to brainstorm, first together and then on their own. They produced better results when they were left to their own devices. They found that even in a welcoming environment, the fear of judgement persists. The outspoken dominated the conversation, while the soft spoken kept their ideas to themselves.”

Stewart blinked. His eyes filled with a landmass Martin didn’t recognize.

“I could’ve told them this. My followers in the Mediterranean tried to pool their resources to meet my blood sacrament quota. When they failed to deliver every last drop, I sunk their island to the bottom of the ocean.”

Martin’s face turned purple. His eyes bulged out. “You want blood?” He coughed. “The Red Cross is a client. They’re overflowing with donations. I can get you blood.”

Stewart’s irises returned long enough to allow him to roll his eyes. “I have been summoned by your overlords, called across distant shores, to make an example for your fellow employees. All of you hear me now.”

The building quaked. The staff cupped their ears. Blood trickled through their fingers.

Stewart addressed his flock, “I am the lord of layoffs. The father of phasing out. The demigod of downsizing. I make Anubis look merciful. I make Hades look like a humanitarian. I make Satan look sympathetic in comparison. There will be no bargains. There will be no mercy. I know all your sins. St. Peter doesn’t have shit on me.”

"I eat waste. I devoir redundancy, and I am very hungry.”
“I eat waste. I devoir redundancy, and I am very hungry.”

Stewart’s eyes filled with a set of scales. One rose, the other descended. “I find you guilty of tearing down the borders between cubicles, of running meaningless meetings, of over simplifying the Socratic method, of flooding your boardrooms with brainstorming sessions, of misreading micro expressions, of making assumptions based on the shape of an applicant’s hand.”

Pillars of lightning crashed around them, blasting holes through the marble tiles. Smoke shot through the gaps. Shrieks echoed through the building. The room shook as the floor fell out beneath them.

Stewart pressed his finger into Martin’s chest. “Indeed my pointer is longer than my ring finger, and it’s pointing at you now.”

Stewart breached the pinstripe coat. Martin’s flesh sizzled. Smoke billowed up his collar. His red power tie caught fire. His spray-on tan dripped down his cheeks. Hair product bled from his bangs. The yellow tie tightened around its prey. Cinders sparked through the gaps. Ash spilled from Martin’s cufflinks.

Stewart raised his eyebrow. “I deem thee unworthy.”

Unhinging his jaw, the applicant made a lasting impression on the hiring manager.

Drops mic, walks off stage
Drops mic, walks off stage

Cthulhu Comes to Craigslist

What if someone combined the corporate jargon of a Craigslist job posting with the sprawling mythos of H.P. Lovecraft? It would look something like this.

Now that's a stock photo I can get behind
Now that’s a stock photo I can get behind

Necronomicon Translator Wanted (Arkham)

Rapidly growing upstart looking to build buzz around tome of forbidden knowledge, The Necronomicon: The Book of the Dead. Job seekers should have a positive attitude, and be versed in ancient Arabic, Greek, and Latin. We want people who are excited to work with mould ridden manuscripts. People who like to solve puzzles, to piece together the fragments of unspeakable incantations. People with the mental resilience to withstand the inherent dangers that come with studying these texts.

We want individuals with good organizational skills, expert multitaskers capable of micro managing multiple realities. Self-starters who perform well under times of increased workload, and prolonged madness. Help us build a platform from the ground up. We want someone who is passionate about raising brand awareness of the coming darkness.

We want tag lines for the end times. We want to see our hashtags written in blood. We want someone on the cutting edge of the ceremonial dagger. Someone with vision, and by vision of course, we’re referring to the rising blood tide washing away the known world in a new era of delirium.

The ideal candidate has already had a dream about this position. They heard the call of Hastur echoing on howling winds. They saw the pallid mask emerge from phantasmagorical depths. They watched the black stars rise over Carcosa. They felt the yellow sign sear through their flesh, branding their very bones. They awoke with joyful tears, and bloodied hands, cackling at the revelation that we are all but the punchlines of the Old One’s elaborate joke.

Candidates must love working with people, have extroverted personalities, and be eager to form lasting relationships. Must have excellent interpersonal and interdimensional skills. Must be able to communicate clearly, concisely, and telepathically. Candidates should have a background in social media, networking, and astral projection.

We want individuals with winning mindsets, eager to succeed in a constantly shifting ecosystem.

Your duties will be to oversee parchment translation, marketing support, and the shoggoth servants that roam the labyrinth halls of Necropolis. You’ll run a web crawler to index the crawling chaos of Nyarlathotep, the Pharaoh behind the firewall. This is a great job for people looking to improve their networking skills. This position serves as a liaison to the denizens of K’n-yan, the tombs of R’lyeh, and the dark throne of Azathoth at the center of chaos.

We work in an open office built on terrifying vistas of reality. Our corporate culture is modeled after the Esoteric order of Dagon. This means our brainstorming sessions result in actual storms, and our problem-solving sessions have a death toll. We’re looking for team players who thrive in a group environment. People who will embrace the opportunity to contribute creatively, independently, and sexually, offering their flesh to the Deep ones and the many fins of Father Dagon.

Candidates must be punctual. Work days begin with peer recognition, a declaration of goals, and a ritual sacrifice to Mother Hydra. Together, we give fearless feedback, exchange pointers on best practices, and discuss positive client experiences. We encourage individuals to tell us what they wish to improve on, what they wish to learn, and what they wish to behold once Yog-Sothoth lifts the veil from the dark portal separating us from the looming cosmic dread.

We believe that our employees are our family, that collaboration multiplies opportunity, that together we can threaten the very integrity of the universe.

Cthulhu lies on the ocean floor deep in slumber. We need self motivated individuals to give him a little poke, to decipher enough arcane script to bring his mass of tentacles to our shores. We require exceptional verbal and written communication skills, and a technical proficiency in blasphemy. We want individuals who think like entrepreneurs, who will dive into the black sea of infinity from the placid island of ignorance. Individuals who don’t wait for Cthulhu to rise, they swim out to meet him.

It’s that proactive approach that empowers our translators to work on their personal development with minimal supervision. It’s the simplicity of our credo that inspires this growth. That’s because there’s just three core competencies: the Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.

“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” Will you be the one to give him a wake up call?

Do you have good time-management skills, a strong morale, and an even stronger work ethic? Are you looking for an exciting career opportunity in the extremely private sector? Are you outspoken about stretching the boundaries of human consciousness? Do you want to abandon the hallow vestibules of man’s domain? Do nocturnal insects whisper profane truths to you? When you close your eyes, do you see the King in Yellow parting the nameless mist on the path to the Red Death? Can you drink the Kool-Aid without asking what’s in it?

If you answered “yes” to all of the above we need to talk!

Qualifications:
Must submit to a background check into your past lives with onsite regression hypnotherapist
Must have references that can attest to your whereabouts during every international tragedy that took place during your lifetime
Must be willing to relocate to our subterranean headquarters beneath the ruins of Babylon
Valid Pilot’s license
Moral flexibility
Ability to write CSS, HTML5, Flash, and ancient Sumerian

* Location: Arkham, Massachusetts
* Compensation: The privilege of being one of the first to be devoured by the dark lord Cthulhu
* Principals only. Recruiters, please don’t contact this job poster
* do NOT contact us with unsolicited services or offers
* Start Date: You’ve already begun

Laptop rage has nothing on Necronomicon rage
Laptop rage has nothing on Necronomicon rage

Rude Awakening (Audio Short)

What happens when an evil spirit is impervious to desk lamps, and decides to linger long past its jump scare?

The title photo is a spoof of the poster for Friday the Thirteenth Part 2
The title photo is a spoof of the poster for Friday the Thirteenth Part 2


(Download the instrumental version here)

I love horror stories that toy with the audience’s expectations. The ones that set us up for a scare, but give us a far more rewarding payoff. The stories that zig when we think they’re going to zag. This short was written to play with the age old disappearing silhouette gag. Our hero wakes up to find a figure leering at him from the shadows. He reaches for his desk lamp, and decades of horror cinema tell us what to expect, but instead of an empty room our hero gets a good look at a truly nasty creature, a knotted mound of flesh that doesn’t fit into a convenient monster mold.

With the audience’s expectations ripped out from under them, the real scene begins.

The soundtrack for this short lays the atmosphere on thick. In the spirit of a radio play, there’s a sound effect for the monster’s every footfall. The progressive piano score rises with the tension to a throbbing synth, and a stomping beat.

Listen to it late at night, with a light switch at arm’s reach.

Witching Hour Whims (Audio Short)


(Download the instrumental version here)

What do you do when your muse always gives you schlocky ideas? Write them anyway. This is an audio blog on taking that kitsch inspiration and running with it.

Build Your Own Monsters (Audio Blog)


(Download the instrumental version here)

A question for horror writers, do you want your story to get buried in the bogeyman bargain bin, or do you want it to stand out? There are so many imitations of Frankenstein’s monster, that people have forgotten its name isn’t Frankenstein. Dracula has become a heartthrob, and the wolf man has been reduced to the nice guy who finishes last. The mummy’s rags are stitched together with CGI, and Zombies have become cartoon characters who couldn’t even shamble their way through a decent evisceration. The unholy creatures of the night, that kept us shivering beneath the covers, are the good guys now.

When all of your favorite monsters have been recast as superheroes, it’s time to build your own.

Witching Hour Whims

What do you do when your muse always gives you schlocky ideas? Write them anyway. This is an article on taking your kitsch inspiration and running with it.

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Witching Hour Whims

Ever get one of those late night story ideas, one of those pillow premises that won’t let you get to sleep? Your subconscious goes to work before your consciousness can clock out. It’s dream drafting, telling you a story. You should’ve been asleep hours ago, but you want to know how it ends. One minute you’re staring at the alarm clock, the next minute you’re booting up your computer. In an hour, you go from trance typing a treatment to the cognizant composition of a cliff-hanger. There’s a thud against the front door. Looking through the blinds, you spot a car pulling out of the driveway. That was the newspaper.

Whatever clock inspiration is running on, it isn’t in your timezone.

The next morning, the story is a quiet whisper beneath the noise of your routine, a murmur beneath the bristles of your toothbrush. It has none of the charm and confidence it had last night. After work, you page through what you’ve got. The hook is clever, but it doesn’t say anything about you on a personal level. It’s a fresh idea but not the profound epic you aspire to write. It’s not the journal entry that’s going to trick the world into falling in love with you.

There’s an audience for your sunset scribblings, but they’re looking for mindless entertainment. They want popcorn page turners, not deep reads. It’s not enough to get your work seen, you want to make an impression. You’d rather enlighten than entertain. The problem is, if you ignore every sleep deprived spark, you won’t know what to do with real late night lightning. You have to work on crap, before you can handle something with merit.

When you get a third-rate idea, use it to churn out some bronze caliber work. When you get a harebrained scheme, find the strands of silver in it. When you get the materials for a straw house, spin it into gold. When life gives you lemons, make something with pulp in it.

Inspiration rarely gives out straight flushes. Play the hand you were dealt. See your story through. It might set you up for the cards you need to go all in with later.

J.R.R. Tolkien had to write The Hobbit before he could tackle The Lord of the Rings. George Lucas had to put in his time with THX 1138 before he whisked us all to a galaxy far far away. George R.R. Martin wrote five novels, dozens of episodes of The Twilight Zone, and Beauty and the Beast before he tackled the Song of Fire and Ice (Game of Thrones) series.

So your story is too simple to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, maybe it’s a cult classic. There are B-Movies in the Criterion Collection. There are character actors on the Hollywood walk of fame. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is full of guitarists who only played power chords.

Let’s face it; bad taste, tastes great. If War and Peace is on one side of the shelf, and Salem’s Lot is on the other, I can tell you which way I’m leaning.

Your story might be a cheesy cornball dripping with sap, but it’s value depends on how you serve it. If you serve it as a gourmet entree, your diners will be disappointed. If you serve it as a fattening state fair guilty pleasure, you’ll have some satisfied customers.

You have to put out a large quantity of schlock before you can put out anything of quality. You have to refine your imagination before you can cash in on your big idea. You have to question your ability to write a blog entry before you can be certain you know how to write a novel. You have to give your work away before you can option off the movie rights. You have to write paperbacks before you can earn a coveted dust jacket.

Take those witching hour whims and roll with them. Play the odds. You’re far more likely to find a story that works when you see each of those twilight triggers to completion. So what if the idea is a little far fetched. So what if it’s a convoluted high concept mess that takes an hour to pitch. Does it hold your attention? Then it has that going for it.

One person’s piece of crap, is another’s golden turd. Just because it’s trashy, doesn’t mean it’s a throwaway idea. This need not be your magnum opus, but rather your dime store offering. Your story need not shift our world view, just flash some pretty lights in front of it.

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Cue the Psycho Strings

“My favorite jump scares toy with your expectations.”

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Cue the Psycho Strings

In horror movies, jump scares make teenagers lose their popcorn, while veteran viewers hold onto their Milk Duds. Veterans know the rhythms of the genre. They know what it means when the score fades beneath a howling wind. They watch the victim tiptoe through a long uninterrupted shot. They know when to expect a cat to jump out, and when to expect a killer. While teens wince at the simple sight of blood, vets yawn at all the spiritless slaughter. If they’ve seen one hook pop out of someone’s throat, they’ve seen them all.

They’ve been exposed to far too many cheap chills, generic gotchas, and bargain BOO’s. Without good storytelling, panic feels passé, alert seems antiquated, and carnage seems commonplace.

Veteran viewers have been inoculated against these dated daunts. They lean back in their seats, with comfortable dry pants, secure in their immunity. What if there was a new strain of jump scare, one that resembled those creep show clichés, but broke through their resistance? Continue reading Cue the Psycho Strings

The Boogeyman in My Basement

Bloody Door

There was a peck on the door. Not a knock, but a gentle rapping that wasn’t sure of itself. This was not the beak of a raven, but that of a hummingbird. Yawning in the hallway, I thought I’m not putting my pants on for that.

The tapping stopped, whoever it was. The Jehovah’s witness had second thoughts about sharing their beliefs with someone with such an unkempt hallway. The vacuum cleaner salesmen doubted his product would do me much good. The petitioner doubted someone with that many bottles on their porch cared about wildlife preserves.

The stairs creaked as the mysterious solicitor slunk back to the sidewalk from wince they came. I shuffled over to the kitchen to attend to the pressing matter of eating ice cream straight from the tub.

My roommate had asked if I’d borrowed any of the cash on his desk. I’d helped myself to some of his razors, deodorant, and clean socks, but I wasn’t aware that he’d left any money out.

I caught movement out of the corner of my eye; a shadow beneath the back entrance. A key clicked into the lock. There came a rapping, so faintly came a tapping, and my ice cream hit the floor. I squeezed my knuckles into fists and positioned myself in front of the door.

It screeched open to reveal an intruder. His face was slick with sweat. His skin was sun dried, red enough to hide the cysts along his hairline. He was shirtless, an emaciated golem. His skin left none of his rib cage to the imagination. His shorts were a patchwork of grass and blood stains.

His hand shook, wielding the key like a prison shank.

I stepped forward. “How’s it going?”

The intruder leapt back. “Is, um, Mike home?”

Shaking my head, “Nope.” I put my hand out, “Can I see that key?”

Feigning to set the key in my palm, the intruder dropped it on the floor. Lowering my eyes, I missed his getaway. The intruder slid down the railing, tapped one foot on the mezzanine, and leapt down the stairs. He was ghost.

So it turned out this was the tenant I’d been brought on to replace six months ago. He’d been stealing DVD box sets and pawning them for drug money. Here he was to make another rental from my roommate’s library.

Running down the stairs, I saw no clear sign that the intruder had left the building. My hunch was that he hid in the basement. Flashlight in hand, I made my way through the cobwebs and the mouse traps. Shattered glass cracked under foot, announcing my position to the darkness. I scanned the abandoned storage closets. There were deflated bike tires, doors stacked against the walls, and circular saws in the laundry room sink.

There was a color crayon picture on the work bench, a crudely drawn man with a handlebar mustache. A series of violent lines sliced through his gut, a gash of black across his middle. A caption down the side read:

I DIDN’T DO IT, BUT I KNOW WHO DID.

He’d been living down there. Who knows for how long? In the coming months, I would jump whenever the wind rattled the doors, put my ear to the walls, listen for bumps in the night, look for silhouettes through the blinds, and drudge into the basement to check for boogeymen.

Though the intruder never returned, the intrusion haunted me. Continue reading The Boogeyman in My Basement

Build Your Own Monsters

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

There’s a reason why vampires still rise out of crypts. It’s the same reason why packs of werewolves roam the countrysides, ghosts linger in abandon lighthouses, and demons wait in attics beside Ouija boards and Twister mats. There’s a reason why every flash of bright blue light hides an alien vessel, why squadrons of witches streak across the moon, and why zombies clog the interstate. It’s the same reason why Bloody Marry is on call behind every reflective surface, why trolls make living rooms of covered overpasses, and why every tomb, no matter how far from Egypt, is stacked full of mummies.

These monsters have stood the test of time. They’ve been vetted by generations of storytellers. Each creature has deep cultural roots and instant brand recognition. We see elongated canines, dripping with blood, and we know what to expect. We hear doors slam, see furniture stack, and we anticipate a chill in the air. We see a sickly girl chained to a bed, shouting obscenities, and we expect her head to spin like a sprinkler firing pea soup across the walls.

These creatures have the staying power to crawl up from the pits of the public domain. Their mythos are classics. New works based on them are never dismissed as fan-fiction. Good writers borrow, great writers steal, and if you’re going to be a thief you might as well steal from the best.

Writing a story about vampires or werewolves is like filling out a mad-lib in reverse. The character attributes are already there, all you have to do is come up with the situation. Writers who take on these monsters are like DJs remixing mythologies. The tune never changes, all they have to do is drop a fresh beat. Like grade school students passing a story around, writers using these monsters contribute to an ongoing plot. They expand a vast universe that’s populated with characters with strikingly similar names.

What do you do when you want to tell your own story? Continue reading Build Your Own Monsters

Eviction Notice

What happens when you pit a landlord against a tenant that’s possessed by a demon? Find out who is the greater of two evils.

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Eviction Notice

Dean eased the door open. A funk washed over him, ran down his throat, and turned his stomach. The room stunk like a raccoon carcass cooking in the bowels of an outhouse. There was a silhouette on the bed, a lump beneath the covers. He flipped the light switch. Nothing happened.

Patience waited at the door, double-fisting rosary beads, praying into her knuckles.

Reaching into the Velcro pouch between his keys and his tape measurer, Dean produced a flashlight. He clicked it against his thigh, while his free arm cradled a stack of documents.

Ignoring the bed, Dean surveyed the rest of the room. There were splinters, wood chips, and glass shards in the entryway. Fragments of light bulb led to the scattered remains of four wooden blades. There was a twinkle at the foot of the bed; the gold housing of the ceiling fan, several steps from the motor, and the chrome mounting device.

Dean shook his head. “The floor’s going to need to be refinished, and that fan was vintage.”

Patience mouthed the words. “She did that.” Her breath whistled through her teeth in ever increasing intervals.

Dean shrugged. He shined his light on the gap where the fan had been. A pair of wires dangled from it, waiting for a gust of wind to make them whole again.

“That’s a fire hazard.” He thought aloud.

A stain streaked across the ceiling tiles. It was as black as tar at its thickest point and as yellow as piss at its faintest. There was a clear splatter pattern; an arc of bile from the bed to the closet on the other side of the room.

Dean pinched his nose. “That biological hazard is gonna have to be bleached out.”

Patience motioned to the lump on the mattress. Continue reading Eviction Notice