Avid readers have stronger imaginations than people who experience stories exclusively through film and TV. As much as I love those mediums they’re made for passive consumption. Books put readers in the director’s chair. Sure the author chronicles the events, but its up to readers to visualize them. Readers have to cast the characters, provide the wardrobe, build the sets, and block out the scenes. The author does everything they can to make their story an enjoyable read, but the reader has to meet them halfway. Horror authors exploit this relationship by baiting readers into picturing their worst fears.
Have you ever noticed how the tension in horror movies deflates the more you know about the monster? The more you see it, the more you understand its rules and where it came from the less you’re frightened. The monster is less of a living breathing part of your mind and more of a static thing on screen. Suddenly there’s a barrier between the two of you keeping things safe and boring.
That’s why many horror authors never show the monster. They leave the audience to do all the heavy lifting. This approach works well on people with active imaginations, but readers who don’t feel like engineering their own bogymen feel cheated.
Horror writers need to strike a balance. Here are a few of my favorite techniques for doing just that.
Pose a Compelling Mystery
A well-placed spark will lure readers, like moths to flames, to their dread ridden doom. Pose a supernatural situation that’s simple to grasp, but hint at an explanation that could only be an awe-inspiring revelation.
A young musician is walking home when he’s attacked by a monster he can only see out of the corner of his eye: a wrinkled giant in tatters that may or may not be its own dead flesh. The monster unhinges its jaw, lets out a groan deeper than a cruise ship horn, and disappears. When the musician gets home he finds he can no longer play guitar. Turns out there are reports all over the city of artists experiencing similar attacks and losing their inspiration in the process.
An isolated woodland town is besieged by living nightmares, each one seemingly built to prey upon the resident’s worst fears. While most of these figures have the intended effect others appear strangely tone deaf, almost comical, suggesting the hand of an agent that doesn’t fully comprehend its audience.
Expect the audience to read your story over several sessions. Use those interruptions to plant ideas. Little mysteries for readers to mull over and leave them dangling at the end of each chapter. The best nightmare fuel is subtle. It works its way into readers’ minds slowly until they see their daily routine through the filter of your imaginings.
Leave Evidence of the Evil
The monster need not take the stage to own it. There are many ways to feel its presence. Leave an orgy of evidence, and readers will craft a composite of the creature themselves.
Picture this.It’s 1892. You open your chamber door to find it skewered. Something rammed the wood with enough force to leave hollow voids on the both ends of the knocker. You raise a candle to find craters leading up the cobblestones, and ripples in the puddles. Most of the oil lanterns have been snuffed out and the one that remains is shattered, belching flames.
This torch renders anything beyond it imperceivable, but you know there’s something out there weaving in and out of the tree line. Why else would the owls hold their tongues and the crickets yield the night to the wind?
You feel cold narrow eyes moving up your nightgown, pausing on your belly and settling upon your neck.
Picture this.It’s 2292. You’re aboard a long-range starship. The fluid drains from your stasis chamber, revealing fracture lines across your enclosure. You call out to the computer, “Open tube.”
The mechanism jerks hard, shattering the glass, spewing shards into the corridor. The lights that encircle the honeycomb hall blink red, some flicker out of phase with the others. Stepping over the jagged fragments of your chamber you find a bubbling black substance eating at the grates.
There’s a long gash looping around the walls, leading to a pitch-black med bay. Something long and chrome shoots out of the darkness. A blood speckled gurney lands at your feet.
Have Characters Test Theories
For me the creepiest scene in Paranormal Activityis when Micha sets out prove the presence visiting his partner Katie is physical. Micha spreads baby powder down the hall leading to the bedroom and aims a camera in that direction. That night the couple is awoken by a commotion. Micha finds talon prints leading up to the bed and streaks in the powder.
What I love about this scene is that is confirms the supernatural situation without demystifying the creature. It raises more questions than it answers.
Describe the Monster as Indescribable
Did you ever write an “exquisite corpse” story back in grade school? One student would write a sentence and pass it to the desk behind them. Horror writers can play that game with their readers. Here’s how. Just describe the effect the monster has on witnesses without revealing anything about its shape. This technique doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors. Your monster isn’t skulking in the shadows. It’s just so overwhelmingly hideous that it’s beyond description. It’s maddening.
“What did the beast look like?”
“Do you not see? It turned Byron’s hair white.”
This was a favorite device of gothic horror writers.
H.P. Lovecraft referred to so many of his terrors as “Indescribable.”
Edgar Allan Poe referred to the sights beyond his chamber door as “Phantasmagorical.”
Meaning: a dreamlike and deceptive appearance that changes upon further examination
Gothic horror writers used the neurosis of their characters to illustrate the monster’s grandeur.
Give a Peak by Proxy
The hit Netflix film Bird Boxis about monsters with the power to drive people to suicide at the mere sight of them, most people that is. The monsters have a different effect on people who are already mad. Insane individuals feel compelled to worship the monsters, with the ferocity of cult members, corralling survivors and forcing them to bear witness.
The audience never gets a direct look at the monsters, but one tainted character gives us a peak. He lays out a series of twisted tentacle-riddled portraits on the coffee table. These rough Lovecraftian rendering gives us a sense of what awaits Sandra Bullock just beyond the blinds.
In Paul Tremblay’s “The Cabin at the End of the World” a character is struck in the back of the head and spends the rest of the story with a traumatic head injury. Sunlight gives him terrible migraines until he starts to see figures in the light. It’s ambiguous whether or not these figures are influencing the events of the story or if they’re a brought on by the bump on his noggin.
My favorite monster stories utilize strategic ambiguity. For every question the author answers they pose two more. That way when the monster does step into the light it retains its mystique. It’s the enigma of the entity that gives it free reign over the audience’s imagination.
The horror writer is the architect of shadows. The readers are interim landlords. We lease them the long dark hall and they fill it with their nightmares. Eventually we move our own terrifying tenants into these atmospheric locations, but only after they’ve been lived in.
Horror writers take universal fears and intensify them. They add dumpsters full of oil slick tentacles to long dark allies. They perch gremlins on airplane wings and send great white worms into enclosed caves. While those fears prey on our animal instincts the fears that plague our modern world are social, romantic rejection being chief among them.
With all the new apps and etiquette modern romance is scary to navigate. We write bios to express what makes us unique, while burying our private peculiarities. We put carefully curated images out there hoping somebody likes what they see. We scream into the void and shudder when it whispers back.
I want to take that fear and add monsters to it.
With the help of my friend Bryan Politte, a professional creature illustrator,I’ll be creating a series of dating profiles for freaks, demons, and urban legends. Bryan will illustrate each sinister selfie while I write the dating profiles, which will read like flash fiction horror stories.
Our goal is to make something spooky that goes beyond parody. Each piece will be chilling and heart rending at the same time. This won’t be a mockery of the dating scene, but rather a love letter to the misfits caught up in it.
These monsters won’t be exaggerations of the worst people you might meet online. They will be mirrors of all of us. These monsters will lead with their red flags in the hopes of finding someone who doesn’t spook easily. They will overshare their sins in the hopes of being understood. They’ll flaunt the things we hide. They will be every bit as monstrous as we secretly believe ourselves to be.
We think this concept is pretty cool. If you do too then help us out by voting on a name, and if you have a better idea for one then we’d love to hear that too.
Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?
I’ve been having this weird reoccurring nightmare. The thing is I’m not up on all that dream interpretation jargon. My brain keeps trying to tell me something, but I keep missing the point. Maybe you could help me figure it out.
The dream takes place in a vast palatial estate in the middle of the forest. I have no idea who owns the property or why they built so far from civilization. All I know is that the beds are always filled and that the guests have no clue how they got in them.
While this can be a jarring experience, the guests always seem to settle in. No one ever makes a break for the exit. Besides, where would they go? Every window looks out onto bark surfaces. The pantries are surrounded by towering evergreens. The dining hall is built upon a swamp and the bedchambers sit in a field of reeds.
The forest is well on its way to reclaiming the building. Maple seeds swirl through the skylights, vines droop from the rafters, and pollen is built up on everything like snow. Muskrats swim beneath the floorboards, frogs congregate on the windowsills, and raccoons and crows fight for perches on the shingles. There are cobwebs in every corner, nests in every crossbeam, and cocoons in every gutter.
For its part the estate refuses to go quietly. The support beams are always groaning, the foundations are always settling, and the shutters are always slapping against the side of the building.
The estate has a footprint the size of a castle, yet there are no grounds, no carriage houses, and no paths leading to the front steps.
There’s only one way to find this place.
I come here on nights when I’ve spent too much time pacing the apartment, too much time in the kitchen drinking, and too much time on the pillow thinking. I lie down in the city and rise up from my bunk in the woods.
Despite the size of the estate I can’t help but think of it as a cabin. Perhaps it’s the pine strips stacked floor to ceiling, the hardwood screeching under foot, or the log furnishing. Perhaps it’s the quilts hanging from the banisters, the moose antlers, or the smell of maple in the air.
No. Dream logic isn’t story logic. Transcribe a dream, and you’ll see. Or better yet, tell someone an important dream – ‘Well, I was in this house that was also my old school, and there was this nurse and she was really an old witch and then she went away but there was a leaf and I couldn’t look at it and I knew if I touched it then something dreadful would happen…’ – and watch their eyes glaze over. Continue reading Syphoning Nightmare Fuel→
At this point the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t a threat to Theodor’s intellect. It was a threat to his masculinity. The orange side had been solid for half an hour. The other colors refused to go along with the program. His solution was to drink more wine.
Theodor randomly twisted the puzzle until he managed to make a blue T shape. He reverse engineered the process and replicated it on the other sides. He turned the bottom until he made a red cross. Another strategy came to him while he dug into the lower corners. He downed his glass and applied this method everywhere.
All that was left were a few straggling colors on the edges. Turns out, these were the bastards of the bunch.
Theodor chucked the cube into the fireplace, topped off his glass, and struggled to get the cube out without searing his fingers. He’d beat this thing, even if he had to get creative.
Several glasses passed. When Theodor turned the final piece into place the room began to shake. The chandelier swung back and forth, scattering crystalline patterns across the room. Either Theodor was drunk or there was something wrong with the shadows the lights were casting. Those dark spots didn’t stop at the walls, they pushed through them, making holes, holes that grew with the swaying of the chandelier. The pendulum motion eroded the room, revealing four long caverns beneath the bricks.
Theodor peered in to see four figures approaching. They were dressed like clergymen in some kind of bondage gear. There skin was pallid, the color of death. As they neared, the light revealed tears in their garments where fresh wounds gushed in torrents.
A hulking creature entered the room. The skin of his upper lip was stretched over his head. His teeth chattered. A bald, but feminine figure, entered beside him. She had a ornamental tracheotomy with wires holding her throat open for all the world to see. A mountain of blubber crossed the room to join them. His eyes were sewn shut. The gashes in his chest were wide open, basting his belly in blood.
The trio made room for a final figure, who took his time stepping into the light. There were slits in his robes where a network of piercings zigzagged across his chest. His face was covered in a grid of pins, meticulously hammered into his skull.
Theodor fell over the arm of the chair he’d been sitting in. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Pinhead stepped forward. “We are connoisseurs of suffering, looking for fresh gashes to suit our palates. You solved the Rubik’s Configuration and we came, so that you too may taste our pleasures.”
Theodor ducked behind the chair. “No thanks, we’re all good on pleasure here. Feel free to leave the way you came in.”
The female licked her lips. “This one teases, claiming ignorance.” Her throat opened and closed as she spoke.
Pinhead reached out. The cube flew into his grip. “We cannot return alone, not without some fresh flesh.”
Theodor pointed over the armrest. “There’s some ground chuck in the fridge. Help yourself.”
Suddenly, the chair filled with a series of hooks. They linked to chains that drooped from the ceiling.
With a flick of the wrist Pinhead flung the chair across the room. Twirling his fingers he directed the chains into a holding pattern over Theodor’s head.
Pinhead passed the cube from hand to hand. “All right, you’ve whet our appetite. The time has come for the main course.”
Raising his hand to direct the hooks, Pinhead noticed a red square shaped sticker on the tip of his finger. He examined the Rubik’s Cube. It was missing something. “Did you peel some of these blocks off and switch them around?”
Theodor tried to speak through panicked breaths. “Does, does that matter?”
Pinhead spun around on his heel. “Cenobites, return to the Labyrinth.”
The female balled her hands into fists. “But he solved the box, we must play with him, pierce his flesh, draw his pain out into exquisite pleasure.”
Pinhead shook his head. “It doesn’t count. He cheated.”
Pinhead tossed the counterfeit cube at Theodor’s feet. Then they were gone.
The Clowns of America International Vs. Pennywise
Pennywise was already gnawing on the microphone by the time the attorney for the plaintiff approached the bench.
She folded her glasses. “Now that was a fine story. If this was the first time I’d heard of Pennywise: the dancing clown bringing balloons to kids at the hospital, I’d say you were a hero.”
The defense attorney shot up. “Objection: badgering.”
The judge twirled her finger at the attorney for the plaintiff. “Get to the point.”
The attorney tongued the inside of her cheek. “Could you tell the court what those balloons were filled with?”
Pennywise fluttered his eyes. “Blood, but that’s just because helium is so unhealthy for young lungs. Still, my balloons float. They all float down here.”
The attorney nodded, unfazed. “In addition to offering laughter therapy, what are your other contributions to the hospital?”
Pennywise straightened his posture. “I deliver bodies to the morgue when the staff is occupied.” He smiled showing a mouth full of shark’s teeth.
The attorney grabbed a folder of her desk. Six hobo clowns sat at the table, gripping their bindles in anger.
The attorney waved a document. “Isn’t it true that under your watch at St. John’s, seven bodies went missing?”
The defense attorney slapped their desk. “Objection: speculation.”
The judge rolled her eyes. “Sustained.”
The attorney for the plaintiff approached the bench. “Permission to treat the witness as hostile.”
“On what basis?”
The attorney looked to the demon clown, leering at her with those glowing amber eyes.
“He keeps flashing his fangs at me.”
The judge looked to the stand to find Pennywise pulling a series of knotted snakes out of his pocket, discarding the slithering pile on the courtroom floor.
She nodded to the attorney. “Okay, I’ll allow it.”
The attorney for the plaintiff waved a document in Pennywise’s face. “Isn’t it true that you were the nurse responsible for delivering each of the missing bodies?”
Making puppy dog eyes, Pennywise shift his head back and forth. “May-haps.”
“So what happened to those bodies?”
The court erupted in laughter. Pennywise honked his nose and gave the gallery a little wave.
The judge struck her gavel. “Order! Order!”
The attorney snapped her fingers to get Pennywise’s attention. “Are you familiar with the term coulrophobia?”
The clown shook his head. “Nyuk-nyuk.”
“It means fear of clowns.” The attorney motioned to the frowning hobos behind her table. “Clowns like the Clowns of America international, who feel misrepresented when someone claiming to be one of them takes a position in a children’s ward with the sole purpose of feasting on cadavers.”
Pennywise yawned, plucked out his eyes, and started juggling. “I get peckish, after a couple of cartwheels. So sue me.”
The attorney for the plaintiff waved her hands over the clown’s empty eye sockets. “Um, Mr. Pennywise, that’s exactly what we’re doing here.”
Nosferatu Goes on a Cruise
The passengers should have known something was wrong when they found bathrobes in the ballroom, slippers in the internet café, and jewelry in the buffet.
It wasn’t until crew members vanished in the middle of their duties that people started complaining. Barbers left men with shaving cream dripping down their beards. Estheticians left facial masks to harden. Acupuncturists left patients full of pins. It was like they’d gone out for smoke breaks and never came back again.
No one noticed when the DJ went missing, because his playlist kept right on going. No one thought much of the skull in the miniature golf course, it fit the pirate motif, everyone just played around it. No one noticed the Blue Man Group’s changing lineup, but when passengers came for an encore performance of the onboard musical, they were surprised to find the entire cast had been replaced with their understudies.
At night, passengers said they saw a strange shadow on the jogging track: a hunchback with ears like a bat. Others reported seeing something in the spa, waiting beneath the bubbles: a pale face with glowing yellow eyes and big buckteeth. Others saw the figure in the atrium, in a long black coat, riding the elevator up and down. It kept its hollow sunken gaze fixed on them.
The ship’s final meditation session was cut short when a passenger opened her eyes to find the person next to her with a gaping neck wound.
The chief security officer couldn’t deny it any longer. They were riding with a killer. The C.S.O. set a sundown curfew. The crew found his remains smeared across the corridor: his severed arm still hanging from the railing, his fingers discarded in potted plants, his head yawning inside a life preserver. What little flesh remained was lathered in pepper spray. It seemed like he sprayed his attacker and they acquired a taste for it.
That night, the creature stalked from cabin to cabin, smearing blood across the port holes, drenching luxury linens, and brutalizing mini bars.
The communications officer tried to contact the mainland, but something had gnawed through the equipment. The crew found his mangled corpse on top of the funnel, surrounded by discharged flare guns. When they discovered burn marks on the upper decks, they realized he was firing at someone.
By the time the wave pool ran red with blood, it was too late for everyone. The masts filled with bodies, with the flesh stripped down to their calf implants.
The few survivors barricaded themselves in the crew’s quarters. They were forced to make a last stand when one of them moved some of the wreckage to retrieve her Botox injections.
By the time the toilets overflowed with sewage, there was no one left to complain. The ship was a ghost, haunted by a stowaway who slept between the engines. He hid in the dark and waited for the vessel to run aground.
Freddy Krueger has that Dream Again
Freddy watched his prey from the shadows of the Nightmare Factory. The kid was a bookish little dweeb, in a tweed jacket with leather patches. When the kid walked through a steam vent the pressure revealed his teenage combover.
Freddy’s guttural laughter echoed off the equipment. He chuckled until he felt something on his tongue, like a piece of gravel that fell in while his mouth was open.
Freddy swished it around. It felt like his cheeks were full of stones. When he spit them out he saw they were actually teeth. When he tongued the holes in his gums he felt a set of fresh molars coming in. They too fell from their sockets. When Freddy spit again a tooth got stuck inside his gullet.
Freddy coughed, but it wouldn’t come out. He slit his throat, catching the tooth in his glove. It was too large to fit in his face, like a toy a dentist would keep on his desk.
He smirked. “Well, that was Freudian.”
Freddy usually dug through his prey’s subconscious, pulling out props, costumes, and sets, but this kid was pushing things onto him, a white blood cell attacking a virus. The dweeb had himself a powerful imagination.
Freddy had to assert his dominance. He listened to the factory floor, hearing footfalls around the corner. He turned to find his quarry just beyond the brim of his tattered fedora.
The kid squeaked at the sight of Freddy’s charred peeling face. Freddy opened his glove, flashing the blades that made up his fingers. He ran them along the pipes, drawing out sparks, leaving steam in his wake.
The dweeb sprinted down the tunnel, charging right through the Door of Dread. Sunlight shined over the threshold, casting the boilers in an awkward light. The little runt was already leading the way to his deepest fear.
Freddy ran through the door to find himself in a high school class room. The students burst into laughter at the sight of him. Usually, the dream demon had full reign over the extras in the nightmares he was running, but these kids were improvising.
The teacher removed her spectacles. “Mr. Krueger. Where are your clothes?”
Freddy looked down to find he was wearing his glove and nothing else. His burnt skin was exposed. “I must have forgotten them.”
She rolled her eyes. “I trust you remembered to study for your final exam?”
Freddy scanned the students’ faces. Sure enough, the dweeb sat in the back of the classroom, hiding when he should’ve ran. Freddy made a beeline for him, when the teacher grabbed his arm. He spun around to slice her belly, only to find his claws padded with apples.
The teacher plucked one off and directed Freddy to his desk.
Freddy turned to sneer at the sniveling twerp, who was holding onto his pencil for dear life.
“Eyes on your own paper, Mr. Krueger.” The teacher snapped.
Fine, he’d play along. If only to let the little bastard twist in the wind.
Freddy read the first question:
“12 friends agree to stand guard while the others sleep in shifts. They assume that everyone will need a minimum of 4 hours of sleep. School starts in 6 hours. How many groups will they need to break into if only 1 group volunteers to take 2 separate sets of 2 hour naps?”
Freddy sliced through the page, reducing the desk to splinters.
“Something wrong with your test, Mr. Krueger?” The teacher folded her arms.
Freddy shot up, “Listen here, you stupid bitch. I’m about to give you an education in pain–”
The teacher pulled a lever on her desk. The tiles fell out from under Freddy’s feet. He found himself falling through the clouds right beside his prey.
Freddy shouted. “Seriously kid, we go from losing teeth, showing up to school naked, to falling through the sky?”
The dweeb flailed his arms. “What’s your point?”
Freddy shrugged. “Nothing. I just had you pegged for a writer and this all seems rather uninspired.”
The dweeb nodded. “Oh, I am a writer. I’m just kind of a hack.”
Freddy shrugged. “Fair enough. Hey, which would you rather fall into: a pit of snakes or a pit of spikes?”
Weighing his options, the dweeb cocked his head. “Surprise me.”
Beetlejuice Messes with the Ghost Hunters
Steve, Jason, Adam, and Amy huddled around their audio equipment.
At first, the Ghost Hunters assumed a radio signal had bled onto their electronic voice recordings, but when the playback said, “Hey buddy, did the redhead come with you or is that cherry ripe for the picking?” they changed their minds.
Upon reviewing the audio the team discovered the same grizzled voice answering all their questions. Back at the old mansion they’d waved their micro-recorders in the air. At the time they heard nothing, but now this entity sounded like it was speaking right into them.
Steve’s voice blared over the speakers. “If you’d like to communicate, please complete the following rhythm.” On site, Steve had knocked on a wall to the beat of Shave and a Haircut, stopping just shy of Two Bits.
No one recalled hearing anything at the Deetz estate, but on the recording the entity didn’t just complete the rhythm, he sang along, “Shave and a haircut, no shit.”
Usually they had to loop an EVP over and over again, picking each word out of the static until the answers made sense, but this voice, grizzled as it was, came through loud and clear.
There was a piercing whistle. Adam jumped back from the audio equipment.
The whistle was followed by a full marching band stomping through a can-can with the brass section blaring and the cymbals crashing.
Steve turned to Amy.
“Is that Offenbach?”
Amy nodded, it was.
The grizzled voice returned with a southern drawl. “Come on down to the grand opening of Beetlejuice’s Emporium of the Paranormal. We’ve got your residual hauntings, we’ve got your poltergeists. Demons? We got ‘em. Every suite comes with HBO, vibrating beds, and a portal to a dark oblivion. Spend the night and get a wake up call from a shadow person.”
Adam paused the tape. “This has to be a joke, right?”
Amy shook her head. “The EMF meter spiked in that room.”
Adam’s finger hovered over the play button. “Yeah, but there was something strange and unusual about that home owner. Miss Lydia Deetz, she was talking to herself the entire time we were there. She could’ve had an earpiece tuned into a confidant who was jamming our equipment.”
Amy didn’t buy it. “Did you get cellular reception in that house?”
“No, but come on, ghosts don’t know about paranormal investigators, let alone advertise to them.” Adam hit play.
On the recording, Steve asked, “What do you want?”
The music faded back in behind the voice. “Beetlejuice is the name, and all I want is to hear you say it. What’s that Walter White?” The voice shift into a spot on impression of actor Bryan Cranston. “Say… my… name.” Then it shift back. “What’s that Florence and the Machine?” A woman sang, “Say my name” dragging out the last note on the word “name.” Then it shift back. “What’s that Destiny’s Child?” Three female voices harmonized. “Say my name, say my name. When no one is around you, say Beetlejuice I love you.”
Beetlejuice’s southern drawl came back thicker than before. “That’s right, all you gotta do is say my name. Not once, not twice, but three times and admission is on me.”
There was a horn like a New Year’s noisemaker.
“Come on down to Beetlejuice’s Emporium of the Paranormal. Bring your unwed teenage daughters for a free season pass. It’s beetle mania.”
Before anyone could debate it, Amy did as he instructed.
“Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.”
The studio’s fluorescent lights flickered off. A spotlight blinked on in the center of the room.
Beetlejuice boomed over the speakers. “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome your host with the most, a man who thinks The Exorcist was a comedy. If you haven’t had him inside you, then you haven’t been possessed. Here’s… Beetlejuice.”
The figure slid into the light decked out in a striped suit. His long thin hair flowed behind him. His eyes were encircled in dark spots. His smile revealed a set of yellow teeth.
Beetlejuice threw is arms open and his palms burst into flames.
After getting a lot requests for prints of my art I decided to open a store on REDBUBBLE where you can find prints and a whole lot more.
Just in time for Halloween, comes four flash fiction stories about classic monsters in compromising positions. Each one is dark, fiendish, and a bit more risqué than my usual fare, but those aren’t the only things they have in common…
Dracula Gets a Checkup
Dracula worked the thermometer between his canines. When he took it out it read seventy-degrees. The mirror over the sink hung open, reflecting an indentation where the vampire was sitting. He slammed it shut.
Maybe one of those bright young things from last night was into holistic skincare. He or she could’ve covered a zit in garlic. It could’ve run down his or her neck. Maybe he or she played a little too rough, threw out a tendon and rubbed garlic on to keep the inflammation down. Maybe it was still on his or her breath when he or she swapped tongues. That’s the trouble with masked affairs, you never know what you’re going to get.
Lying on the exam table, Dracula replayed the masquerade in his head. He did an inventory of everyone he’d touched and everyone who’d touched him. He counted bodies on his fingers. The longer he waited the heavier his eyes got. When he woke up the walls were covered in plastic.
A doctor stood over him in a hazmat suit. “Mr. Alucard?”
Dracula sat up.
The doctor flipped through a chart. “It’s not food poisoning.”
Dracula sighed. His bright red eyes traced the borders of the hermetic bubble. “What’s all this then?”
The doctor ran his glove down a long list. “When the blood work came back, you tested positive for a couple of things.”
Dracula examined his hand. “It’s not silver poisoning is it?”
All those buckles and gags from last night, he’d just assumed they were stainless steel.
The doctor consulted his chart. “Argyria? No, but you did test positive for diphtheria, malaria, measles, polio, and typhoid fever, but it was the smallpox that got you on the CDC’s radar.”
Dracula stroked his chin.
“Mr. Alucard, have you visited any virology labs recently?”
Dracula shrugged. “Not that I can recall.”
The doctor’s mask did little to conceal his skeptical squint. “Think on it. There’s two places you could’ve contracted it. Maybe you can remember if the guards spoke English or Russian?”
Dracula twiddled his talons. “I haven’t been to the motherland in a long time.”
The doctor nodded. “Okay, that narrows it down. Do you recall wandering into any subterranean layers sometime this week?”
Dracula clicked his nails together. “The bondage dungeon might have been underground.”
“I was blindfolded, escorted by a choke chain through a field of glass, nails, and razor wire.” Dracula shook his head. “All and all, it was a pretty tepid affair.”
The doctor nodded matter-of-factly. “Do you think you might have come into contact with any bodily fluids at this gathering?”
Dracula chuckled. “Might have? I was swimming in them.”
The doctor tapped his fingers to the muzzle of his mask. “Now this is important, do you think any blood might have gotten into your mouth?”
Dracula looked to his feet. They dangled over the exam table. “Well, I do partake from time to time.”
The doctor dropped his chart. “How long have you been drinking blood?”
Dracula tilted his head back and forth. “Since, maybe say, the rise of the Ottomans.”
The doctor threw his hands up, walked to the border of the bubble, and turned on his heel. “Mr. Alucard, you might not want to give me a straight answer, but the CDC will want to know all about your bondage and bloodletting gathering. If you can’t tell me where it was, can you at least tell me the name of the group who was running it?”
Dracula was already shaking his head when the answer came to him. He snapped his fingers. “The Aristocrats.”
Frankenstein’s Monster inquires about his Donors
Victor watched the monster gaze beyond the balcony. The creature seemed less interested in the village below than the stars above. “Father, where did I come from?”
Victor joined his creation. He swirled a large glass of wine. “I thought that was self-explanatory. You were stitched together from dead bodies.”
The monster squeezed his forearm, feeling for the place where the threading linked it to his bicep. “Yes, but where did these pieces come from?”
Victor gurgled the wine in his mouth, before gulping it down. “Well son, there once was a family of traveling performers…”
The parents were escape artists and magicians, while the children specialized in gymnastics and juggling.
They wandered from town to town, chasing traveling circuses. Every time they caught up with one they performed for the management and every time they were left in the dust behind the caravan. Until one day the father came up with an act so stupendous he knew the next traveling show would have to hire them.
Back then, I was not the surgeon I am today. I’d spent my residency giving first aid to carnies: treating animal bites, scorched throats, and unspeakable sexual maladies. I happened to be in the management’s office when the traveling family came.
The father was a born hustler, promising fear, intrigue, and titillation while his wife, son and daughter stood with frozen smiles behind him. Management tapped his pocket watch. That’s when the father reached into his sack and pulled out a pair of axes. We examined the blades while his family brought out axes of their own.
At first they simply passed their axes back and forth, like hot potatoes, but then they started heaving them, working themselves up to a fluid motion. Soon the entire family was juggling.
When the first blade slipped it claimed the young man’s arm. Fluid shot out of the wound in angry bursts. The boy bit his lip without making a sound. His father instructed him to use the pain. The lad powered through until he collapsed. We figured it was part of the act, because the others kept their axes in play without so much as batting an eye at their fallen family member.
It wasn’t long before an ax chopped off the daughter’s leg. Now she must have been a tightrope walker in an earlier incarnation of their show, because she hobbled along on one foot without missing a beat. Her fresh stump sprayed blood into management’s spectacles. He worked the droplets in his fingers, tasting them.
I’d suspected blood tubes and prosthetic limbs, but when the stench of rotten meat hit, I doubted my hypothesis.
When the young woman collapsed her parents kept her remaining blade in play. They now had six between them. The few seconds where they kept those axes flying were truly amazing, but it wasn’t long before the father had lopped off his wife’s head and her ax flew straight into his sternum.
Management sat petrified, realizing he’d witnessed something authentic and not some macabre magician’s trick.
My horror was overtaken by my desire. Here I’d been paying grave robbers for fresh corpses when four of them were delivered to my doorstep. The family might not have been the best performers, but they were generous donors.
I was already wrapping up the bodies when the father reached out and grabbed my ankle. Blood gushed over his lips as he drew his last breath.
I don’t know why, but I had to ask him, “What were you planning on calling this grizzly act?”
He smiled faintly and opened his arms wide. “The Aristocrats.” Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
The monster peeled back his sleeve to examine his skin He spotted the scars where the axes left their impressions. “Father, I don’t like this story very much.”
Victor nodded into his wine. “You know son, I don’t like you very much.”
The Hunting of the Wolfman
The Wolfman ran through the forest. His pursuers were hot on his heels, breaking twigs, hooting, and hollering. What they lacked in strategy they made up for in numbers. He’d never backed away from a fight before, but there were so many of them in the clearing.
Spotting silhouettes in the moonlight the Wolfman had taken them for a heard of deer. Charging headlong he watched as they stood on their hindquarters. Spinning around he realized he was surrounded by bipedal beasts much like himself.
Their human frames had paws, claws, and big furry ears, but they weren’t werewolves. They were werelions, weretigers and werebears.
A pair of ears rose from the underbrush, followed by whiskers, and big buck teeth. It looked like a giant rabbit feeding on a fox. It was clear, the food chain didn’t apply here.
The Wolfman felt a breeze on his neck. He turned to find a weregiraffe looming over him. He fled before the creature’s hooves could come crashing down.
The Wolfman sprinted downhill. When he heard the sound of rushing water, he thought he was in the clear. There was secret path across the river. Soon the rapids would be between him and his pursuers.
The Wolfman searched the riverbank for a bridge of rocks beneath the water. That’s when a werezebra tackled him. The zebra held him down as a werepig undid his belt.
All of his pursuers rushed out of the woodwork, but rather than snap at his jugular, they feasted on the sight of him. The werezebra bent the Wolfman over as the werepig pulled down his pants. The crowd gasped.
The Wolfman felt his tail wagging in the breeze, a nervous reaction to the situation.
The creatures bickered.
“How is he doing that?”
“Maybe it’s animatronic.”
“Do you recognize that costume?”
“Are you sure this guy’s a furry?”
“If he is, he’s not a member.”
“He’s got to be, we rented every camp ground from the highway to the river.”
The Wolfman snarled. Slobber oozed from his fangs. The werezebra let go.
The Wolfman spun around and bit the pig’s snout clean off. He thought he’d taste blood marinating the raw pork he’d bitten into, instead he tasted cotton. He spat it out when he spotted a wire frame sticking out.
Scanning the other monsters the Wolfman spotted zippers, sneakers, and open butt flaps. The man in the pig costume shuffled back to the group.
The Wolfman tucked his tail between his legs and cleared his throat. “You think I’m a member? Member of what? What do you sick people call yourselves?”
They all spoke in unison. “The Aristocrats.”
Cthulhu Crashes the Monster Mash
The nightwatchman shivered beneath the blanket. One side of his hair was black, the other had gone white. From where I stood his head looked like a Yin-Yang.
He sang, “I was doing my rounds, late last night. When something moved into my flashlight. A creature from the lagoon began to rise. And suddenly to my surprise…”
Then he stopped.
Detective Greywood shined his light in the watchman’s eyes. The poor bastard didn’t blink.
Detective Greywood snapped his fingers. “This is how he’s been answering all our questions. We ask, he takes a few minutes to compose a verse, then he sings. It doesn’t matter if anyone’s around to hear it.”
The watchman perked up. “He did the mash, he did the monster mash. He did the mash, it was a graveyard smash–”
Detective Greywood tugged me out of earshot. “You don’t want that knocking around in your head all day.”
“Was there a verse about a lagoon in the original song?”
“No, I think he’s trying to tell us the assailant emerged from the pond.”
“And the victims?”
Detective Greywood pointed to three sets of tire tracks. “I’m betting these lead to a hole in the fence.”
We followed the tracks to three mountain bikes. One was handlebars deep in the muck, one was wrapped around a headstone, and one was dangling from a willow tree.
“I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” Detective Greywood pointed to a statue in the distance.
Its robes were brown with blood. There were cracks in its sides. Someone had driven severed arms into the granite. The statue’s wings lay in the grass next to its head. Its face had been replaced, presumably, by the heads of all three of our victims. I say, “presumably,” because they were wearing masks.
Detective Greywood tilted his gaze back. “It’s not every day you see a totem pole made from Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman.”
I didn’t realize my teeth were chattering until I tried to speak. “It’s got eight arms, like Ganesha.”
Greywood chuckled, “Or an octopus.” He slapped on a pair of latex gloves and pulled something out of one of their hands. “Yoink.”
It was encrusted with blood. I didn’t realize it was a video camera until he opened the viewfinder.
While Greywood watched the video, I investigated the scene behind the statue. There was a makeshift alter made from pizza trays and beach towels, fragments of candles sticking out of wax puddles, and an ancient book. Its leather binding was warped. It almost looked like a face.
“Detective Greywood, I found something.”
Greywood stepped around with his head in the camera. He shut it the moment he spotted the book. “Well well well, old leather face, we meet again.” He pressed his radio. “Call the bomb squad, tell them we need the remote disposal unit.”
“What is that?”
“The remote disposal unit is a robot with tiny metal arms.”
I shook my head. “No, that.”
“That’s the Necronomicon: an account of the old ones and the means to summon them. Open that up and we’ll have tentacles up are asses within the hour.”
“What are you talking about?”
Detective Greywood sighed. “The elder gods created humanity as a punchline to an elaborate joke. Every so often, they like to get into people’s faces and do a little insult comedy.”
I shook my head. “I’m still not following.”
“That book is full of heckles by Abdul Alhazred. Read them and you’ll find yourself in the old one’s spotlight. If the watchman’s song is true those kids summoned one of the ancient water beings.”
Greywood slid the camera into an evidence bag. “These boys were filming themselves reading from it, probably as a framing device for a video full of graveyard BMX tricks.”
A strong gust upended the book. It skipped across the graves and fell open at my feet. The arcane script was so large I could see it from where I was standing.
I still don’t know why I thought I’d understand those words if I read them aloud, but I did. “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”
Detective Greywood drew his weapon. “You stupid son of a bitch!”
The cemetery shook. Headstones shot out of the ground like corks. Steam rose from the pond as it boiled over. Tentacles shot out from the water. They wrapped around tree trunks, pulling something up from the depths. Water splashed across the crime scene. A giant figure blotted out the sun.
“Down here, you squid faced bastard!” Detective Greywood kept shooting until he’d emptied his clip.
The book washed up onto my shoes. I felt the pages flipping at my ankles, compelling me to read further. So I did.
“The outer ones, the old ones, and the sunken ones will come together, a cosmic collective of indescribable power, and you shall know terror by its true moniker: the Aristocrats.”
After getting a lot requests for prints of my art I decided to open a store on REDBUBBLE where you can find prints and a whole lot more.
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.