Tag Archives: short fiction

A Halloween Carol

It was the Saturday before Halloween and Nathan was walking the edge of his apartment switching on all of the white noise machines. This was his bedtime ritual, but tonight he was tuning the dials early, listening for a tone lower than static and higher than thunder, something in the same range as human speech. The moment he found the right waveform he heard a series of loud percussive booms. Someone was trouncing across the ceiling with stiletto heels on. Nathan had muzzled the party banter, but the floorboards might as well have been made of balsawood.

Nathan threw open the cupboards, the liquor cabinet, and the bathroom mirror. He set a handful of bottles, a cocktail shaker, and an eyedropper on the kitchen counter. His cat, Pazuzu, watched from the refrigerator, a grey gargoyle tallying his master’s sins.

Nathan fixed himself a cocktail of ginger beer, dark rum, Nyquil, and dextromethorphan. He’d dubbed this concoction: a Stephen King-Colada. The blend of depressants and bargain-basement PCP had become a staple of his writing routine. It hadn’t inflated his wordcount so much as it numbed him for keeping count.

Pazuzu backed into the cupboard as Nathan drank the deadly concoction from his skull-shaped mug. The cat knew to keep to the high ground whenever that ceramic cranium was out. Nathan plunked down at the kitchen table, pried his laptop open, and pecked at the keyboard. He typed:

It was a dark and stormy night and a hack horror writer was thinking about giving up on the genre forward, maybe to advance his career, maybe to make first dates a little less awkward. The horror community had met him with cold indifference and now the feeling was mutual.

Nathan sighed. “Bah humbug.”

Then he melted down the chair and into the carpet.

 T.M. COBB

There was a bump in the night, followed by several more. Each one was closer than the rager on the upper floor. Large heavy feet fell across the kitchen table.

Nathan’s torso shot awake while his legs stayed dead asleep. His knees were bent, his feet were at his sides, and his back was flat on the floor. It looked like he’d fallen asleep in the middle of a power slide. The kitchen table creaked as hunched back shadows skulked across the walls. Nathan followed the silhouette certain he’d spot Pazuzu, but then he caught the glint of the cat eyes behind the couch. Pazuzu was retreating, yielding his territory to whatever was huddled atop the table.

Nathan scanned the rim for movement. He saw what seemed like a long sturdy chain, but when it grazed the brim of the table the sound was hallow and plastic. Behind it was a length of jack-o-lantern lights, and a knotted stretch of cobweb.

Nathan couldn’t help but chuckle.

The intruder leapt from the dining room to the coffee table, spun around, and crouched, a prehistoric bird eyeing an early mammal wondering if it were edible. The intruder wore a witch’s hat with horns jutting through the brim. His face was enshrouded in a veil cheesecloth. His cloak was a patchwork of webbing, chains, and rubber limbs. His hands clutched the corner of the table. One featured a Freddy Krueger claw, the other was covered in rubber finger monsters.

Nathan scurried up the chair to find the intruder looming over him from the kitchen table. Beyond the intruder’s veil was a bejeweled masquerade mask and a face dripping with clown makeup.

The intruder lifted Nathan by the collar and raised his veil.

“Boo!”

Nathan squinted, bewildered, but ultimately unphased.

The intruder raised his mask. “You know they say people who don’t react to loud jarring noises are probably psychopaths?”

Now Nathan recognized the intruder. “Thomas Marshall Cobb.”

Cobb raised a corrective finger. “T.M. Cobb, remember. Initials make sales. So sayeth mine publisher of yore.”

Nathan swatted Cobb’s hand away from his collar.

“You’re dead. I know people who went to your funeral.”

“You know them? You couldn’t afford the $160 air fair?”

“I have issues with suicide.”

“Suicide?” Cobb chortled. “Christ, I’m not a poet. I had a heart attack. Is that how they spun it? Did my sales go up?”

Nathan shrugged. “A little. Why do you look like you rolled around in a tub of Hot Topic?”

“Oh this?” Cobb stretched his webbing. “It’s my penance.”

“That doesn’t look so bad.”

“You try taking a dump in this thing.”

“Ghosts have bowel movements?”

T.M. Cobb gave that a long certain nod. “Runny, prickly ones.”

“What’s your diet?”
“Wax syrup sticks, raisins, and rock candy.”

Nathan nodded. That would do it. “So, why are you dressed like a Party City Jacob Marley?”

“Because I betrayed my passions. I gave up on horror and wrote soulless procedural thrillers.”

“And that landed you in Hell?”

T.M. Cobb nodded. “Halloween hell, where all the best parts of the holiday are absent. Where the succubi dress like Horny Helen Keller, Mistress Mother Teresa, and filthy Anna Frank. Where they make you bob for apples in a public urinal and every night we go trick or treating, but the tricks are on us. Have you ever been pelted with a hardboiled egg fired from a potato gun?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

Cobb dropped his trousers, revealing a network of purple welts across his butt cheeks. “These ain’t hemorrhoids.”

Nathan covered his eyes, then his nose.

Cobb buckled back up. “There are no haunted houses, just religious Hell houses where they lecture us on the dangers of vaping grass and premarital petting. There are no scary stories, just Christian comics on the Satanic subtext of the season. Everyone texts via Ouija boards. Everyone travels via hayrides. There’s a drive-in, but the only movie that ever plays is The Exorcist 2. Oh, and I hope you like the Monster Mash, because that shit is running twenty-four seven.”

Nathan shook the opening notes of the tune from his head. “All because you sold out?”

Cobb tilted his head back forth. “I bludgeoned a couple of hitchhikers with a tire iron. I suppose that’s also frowned upon.”

“Why did you do that?”

Cobb threw his hands up. “Why does a writer do anything? For research! I’d lived such nice vanilla life I figured the good lord could toss me a couple freebies. Anyway, I’m here to help you sort your shit out.”

“I’m not too worried about killing hitchhikers. I Uber everywhere.”

“You say that now, but people are fragile. It wouldn’t hurt to score some Karma points while you can.”

Nathan muttered. “I’m pretty sure those dogmas are incompatible.”

Cobb cupped a hand to his ear. “What was that?”

“I said you look like a stay at home dad’s cry for help.”

Cobb swatted Nathan with his claws. Nathan felt his cheek surprised to find blood dripping down on his fingers.

Cobb recoiled at his own handy work. “Whoa! These are plastic. I didn’t think they’d actually cut you. I’ll go get a towel.”

“My cat got me earlier. You just opened the scab again.”

“Why don’t you have paper towels?”

“Why are you here?”

Cobb unspooled a length of toilet paper from his arm and dabbed Nathan’s cheek.

“I had a vision, the last time I was in the toxic trough, bobbing for apples. I saw you turning your back on the horror genre and writing Cozy Mysteries.”

“Cozy Mysteries?”

“They’re like thrillers, but with the stakes way lower. All the violence happens off stage and all the sex is replaced with quant community functions.”

“Like Murder, She Wrote?”

“Exactly like Murder, She Wrote.”

“I knew Angela Lansbury was a bad influence on me.”

“Well, I’ve contracted some entities in the horror community to help steer you back in the right direction. It will be like A Christmas Carol, but not quite as preachy. They’ll show you that there’s still millage in the genre, or you’ll end up like me, or worse.”

“Or worse?”

Cobb nodded, shaken by the thought. “I’ve seen writers in Halloween Hell forced spend eternity dressed as Where’s Waldo.”

“With the red striped shirt and the poof ball hat? But that’s so tacky.”

“I know. That’s why you need to drink the rest of this.” Cobb handed Nathan his half-finished cocktail.

Nathan guzzled it down and went down with it.

THE GHOST OF HORROR PAST

Nathan came to in the middle of a Barnes and Noble as a fleet of sneakers touched down around him. Foot traffic was so congested it phased clean through him. Mothers held their children’s hands as they came around corners. Father’s sucked their guts in as they waited for one another to pass. Children tried to muster the strength to walk with boxsets in their grip.

Nathan teetered to his feet as a train of strollers phased through his torso one by one. Dizzy, Nathan struggled to take in his surroundings. Rolling ladders screeched along their tracks. Book carts creaked through the aisles. Stools scrapped along the carpeting. Everywhere he looked people were reading, riffling through shelves, filling baskets with books.

Nathan examined the endcaps to find a gallery of hand painted horror covers: a procession of black robes, curvy daggers, and tentacles. Reptilian talons rose through the graveyard soil. Porcelain dolls stood at the edge of cribs. Sultry Satanists leaned over cauldrons. Nathan had never seen such a showroom of serpents, skeletons, and flaming pentagrams. He’d gotten used to riffling through Sci Fi/Fantasy shelves for obscure horror titles, but when he rounded the corner he found a horror section that was two isles long.

Nathan reached for a title at random. It read: Confessions of Satanic Cheerleader by Thomas Marshall Cobb. The titular cheerleader had a skull for face, a Red Devils sweater and a pom-pom dripping with blood.

Nathan flipped the book over to find a portrait of Cobb done up like Grandpa Munster: a widow’s peak, caked on makeup, and high collared cape.

“Bet you’ve never seen so many red and black paperbacks in all your life.”

Nathan spun around, but none of the patrons were looking in his direction let alone addressing him.

“Down here. Hep cat.”

Nathan shifted his gaze to a stout little demon with a black beret, red flip shades, and a soul patch.

“You’re not a ghost.”

The demon flipped its shades up. “No day passes for the dead daddy-o. I’m Zazimsberg,  keeper of the infernal archives.”

Nathan was hit with a sudden wave of vertigo. He dropped the paperback in his hand and found himself leaning against the bookshelf.

Zazimsberg scanned Nathan’s eyes. “You still riding the Tussin dragon, son?”

Nathan nodded. “When are we?”

Zazimsberg raised his stubby fingers to the black and red volumes all around him. “This is that glorious era between Rosemary’s Baby and Silence of the Lambs, when gloom-riddled grimoires ruled the nation’s nightmares, when poltergeists and possession kept pages turning, and the supernatural cast a long shadow on the bestsellers list.”

Nathan struggled to maintain his balance as he paced the aisle, scanning the shelves.  “No way.” The horror section was broken into subgenres: Gothic, Cosmic, Supernatural, Psychological, and Slashers. “I can’t believe there was ever this much horror literature.”

“Believe it, syrup head. Back before Netflix, people had either this or the passion pit to get their horror fix.”

“Passion Pit, like the band?”

Zazimsberg snapped his fingers. “Passion pit, pucker palace, pound pagoda…Whatever you call drive-ins these days?”

Nathan scanned his brow. “Cineplex and chill?”

“Well horror was here and there, if you didn’t have anyone to play back seat bingo with this is where you ended up.”

Nathan shook his head as rainbow trails streaked through his vision. “I can’t believe horror was never this popular. I think you’re seeing things through ruby colored glasses?”

“They’re prescription.” Zazimsberg scurried up a rolling ladder and straddled the bookshelf. “Besides this hootenanny is temporary. The horror market is headed for crashville. Once the FBI coins the term: serial killer, a generation of armchair psychologists get hung up on psychopaths. Everyone hip to the supernatural gets seduced by the likes of Hannibal Lecter.”

“Except for Stephen King.”

Zazimsberg rubbed his hands together. “Except for Stephen King. There’s a man who knows his groceries. If you weren’t too Dixie fried on the Dextro, you might noddle this one out for me: why did King survive the horror crash while so many of his peers put an egg in their shoes and beat it?”

Nathan wasn’t sure what decade he was in, but looking at the shelf, Stephen King had already amassed a bewildering bibliography. “King was prolific. He never took a break. His titles were in a perpetual promotion cycle and his brand never went stale.”

Zazimsberg cackled at the ceiling. “Spoken like the mayor of Squaresville. No, King knew people. He gave regular folks something to relate to. Sure, he checked all the genre boxes, wrote his share of dark cellars, but he always made you care about the people who went down there.”

Nathan rubbed his temples. “So characters first, situation second, but what if I’m not much of a people person?”

“You’re going to have to learn to mingle baby, because if people don’t see themselves in your fiction, how are they supposed to get lost in it?”

Nathan nodded, not so much in agreement, but to give himself time to think. “That’s all well and good for you, Bohemian Blasphemy, but what if people don’t feel like talking to me?”

Zazimsberg clasped his sausage fingers together. “Dig this. You ever seen a high class chick with some dumb dopey ape?”

“All the time.”

“Ever wonder how that happened?”

Nathan nodded.

“The ape introduced himself.”

“So what? I should ask a bunch of randos for insights into human condition?”

Zazimsberg pried a book from the top shelf, flung it, and tipped its neighboring titles over. “If you can’t be bothered to care about people, why should they care about your characters?”

“Because they’re in interesting predicaments?” Nathan sidestepped the falling books.

“Like a bug getting its legs pulled off?”

“Sure.”

“Or a cow being tipped off a cliff?” Zazimsberg tipped another row of paperbacks.

“I guess.” The books crashed at Nathan’s feet.

“Or a writer getting belted with hardcovers?”

Nathan looked up right as a big fat art book caught him between the eyes.

THE GHOST OF HALLOWEEN PRESENT

Nathan awoke on the floor of a moonlit corridor. Something tickled the back of his throat. He coughed and watched the particles swirl toward the rafters. Moon beams shone through windows that lined the ceiling. Nathan was in a basement. The dust covers that wrapped the furnishing caught the light, as did the cobwebs stretching from the candelabras, and the suits of armor beneath the tapestries.

“So is this like an Inception thing? Every time I get knocked out I go into a deeper dream layer?”

Nathan’s words echoed off the indifferent checkered tiles.

He wiped the dust from his arms and thighs and pressed on into the dark. “Does this count as R.E.M. sleep or am I going to wake up cranky?”

There were no answers from the corridor.

Nathan hastened his pace as he passed beneath a taxidermy gallery mounted on the wall. He tried to ignore the shadows the antlers cast, but they seemed to stretch.

A breeze wafted through the corridor setting all the furniture skirts aflutter. Goosebumps rose up Nathan’s biceps, his shoulders, and settle upon his neck. A long sheet arose to reveal the source of the cold spot: an open fireplace. The sheet pointed to the Nathan, detached from the wall, and glided over him. In the sheet’s place was a tall elliptical mirror. It had a big baroque frame that was all lion’s paws and golden laurels, like a family crest.

“Alas, a looking glass. I wonder what will happen if I gaze into it?”

Nathan neared the mirror. “So, should I start saying ‘Bloody Marry’ and see where that takes me?”

The mirror already had an answer. There was a silhouette standing beneath a dustsheet. Either it was a trick of the light or of the wind, but the silhouette appeared to be breathing. The goosebumps on Nathan’s neck ran down his arm and settled on his wrist.

He counted on his fingers. “3-2-1,” then spun on his heel.

A figure charged at him with a mallet. “Jump scare!” The figure shouted as she struck a brass gong.

For his part, Nathan didn’t flinch. He nodded, like a disappointed parent.

The Ghost of Horror Present looked to Nathan like a hipster Elvira: straight black bangs, lots of mascara, boots up to her knees, tight jeans, black halter top, and a black denim vest covered in enamel pins.

“They say people who don’t react to loud jarring noises might be psychopaths.”

“I’ve been getting that a lot.”

The Ghost of Horror Present dropped the mallet and gong into a pocket dimension beneath her vest and offered her hand. “Hello Nathan, I’m Leonora, the ghost of Christmas present.”

“You mean Halloween?”
Leonora shrugged. “I’m a millennial. I’ve got a lot side gigs.”

Nathan tried not to stare at Leonora’s chest, but she had more pins than a five-star general. She had the stickman from The Blair Witch Project, Pyramid head from Silent Hill, the killer sphere from Phantasm, and the puzzle box from Hellraiser. She even had the Necronomicon from Evil Deadwith a banner that read: READ BANNED BOOKS.

Curious Nathan turned around and tore the sheet off the figure he’d spotted in the mirror. Sure enough, it was a toned Greek sculpture with a leaf for a loincloth.

“Isn’t this all a little old school for the ghost of Halloween present? I’m surprised I’m not hearing the beat of a telltale heart through the floorboards.”

Leonora spun around appraising their surroundings. “Haven’t you heard? Everything old is new again.”

The back of her vest was a patchwork of portraits of the Universal monsters: the creature from the black lagoon, the phantom of the opera, the bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the mummy, Dracula. There was even a blank one for the invisible man.

Leonora raised her fingerless gloves to the ceiling. “Doesn’t all this Hammer Horror shit give you a nostalgia boner for the supernatural cinema of yore?”

She made a beeline for a buckling strip of wallpaper, got a good grip, and pried it free. Then she skipped over a row of shattered tiles, kicked one loose, and claimed it from the floor. She curled her hand back, spun, and hurled it like a discuss. It shattered a window.

Leonora pointed to her handywork. “Look at that matte painted moon and tell me you don’t want to write some shit about an ancient acropolis.”

Nathan looked toward the impossibly large lunar surface filling the window frame then back to Leonora to find she’d disappeared. “Alright Bat Woman.” He sighed, checked his watch, and counted on his fingers. “3-2-1…”

When he turned Leonora hit him with an airhorn. “Jump scare!”

Nathan didn’t jump so much as wince. A pendulum of hair fell into his brow and he took a moment to slick it back up. “I’m not going to lie. I’m digging on this atmosphere, but how’s a horror write supposed to carve out his niche when he’s stealing from the past?”

Leonora laid on her airhorn. “Re-re-remix!” Lightning flashed, confetti shot out in all directions, and plumes of smoke spewed into the room.

When Nathan looked back Leonora was at a turntable. She held a pair of headphones with one hand and worked the knobs with the other.

A dubstep drop, blew the dustcovers off a pair of monolithic speakers.

Leonora shouted. “You take the classics, play with people’s expectations, and put your own spin on them.”

Nathan could just make out the melody for Toccata and Fugue in D minorburied beneath a flurry of distorted bass tones. He plugged his ears. A flurry of shadows sped across the windows. Cracks spread throughout the ceiling. The chandelier shook, plunged toward the floor, and snagged on its chain.

Leonora pumped her fists to the beat. Lasers converged upon a mirror ball Nathan hadn’t noticed until then. Bats flew through the window, swarmed the speakers, and formed a pair of big brown tornados.

Nathan cupped his hands around his mouth. “It seems like we could do better than just adding a bunch of…”

Silence.

“…Jump scares”

Leonora had disappeared. So too had the commotion.

Nathan scanned the corridor for movement, then the furniture and the shadows beneath it. The support beams creaked. The house settled. An eerie wind blew through the window. Nathan cocked his ear toward the sound and raised a finger until he heard a wolf howling in the distance. “There it is.” He took the opportunity to roll his shoulders and stretch his forearms across his chest.

Nathan creaked his neck, cracked his knuckles, and counted down. “3…2…1…”

Nothing.

He shut his eyes, counted on his fingers, and braced himself, but still nothing.

“Alright Leonora. This is not my first rodeo.” He scanned his surroundings. “We already did the mirror thing, and the silhouettes beneath the dust covers. That just leaves…No. You wouldn’t be that tacky.”

Nathan turned to the suits of armor. One suit was not like the others. It was wielding its great sword high above its head, frozen in the middle of a killing stroke. Nathan neared the suit until he was standing beneath the blade’s trajectory.

“I’m going to assume this is like velociraptors. If one of you is in front of me then another is—”

“Jump scare!”

Leonora struck Nathan with a taser. His muscles seized around the white hot surge in his side. Leonora hit him again and again and again. When she finally let up Nathan had collapsed into a ragdoll on the tile. The armor fell forward and the great sword came down upon his cranium.

THE GHOST OF HALLOWEEN YET TO COME

Nathan came to in an open grave. It was teaming with rainwater, knotted roots, and muck. It wreaked of worms and formaldehyde. He leaned forward and felt something hard and slick beneath his palms. He was floating atop a casket. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

Nathan dug into the dirt wall, grabbed a long rope of root, and pulled himself up with all the grace of Adam West’s Batman. Moments later he was back on the coffin. He tried to claw his way up the steep incline. He managed to get a foothold, felt the grass at the borders of the plot, and then he was back on the coffin with an avalanche of mud coming down on him.

The mudslide had exposed a second root system. This one weaved in and out of the dirt like stitching. Nathan climbed the handholds, pulled himself back up, and grabbed at fistfuls of grass until he was able to roll onto solid ground.

Thunder clapped and a fleeting glimpse of daylight shone through the surroundings. The landscape was dotted with statues: angels whose wingspan wrapped around their shoulders like overcoats, generals who watched over the cemetery from atop their monuments, and cherubs.

“Fuck all you all motherfuckers.” Nathan said with what the little indignation he could muster.

He then turned his attention to the headstone. “Alright, let’s peep on this epitaph.”

He crawled around the rim of the open grave, careful not to slide back in. As for the headstone, it was tasteful, not too garish, not too small. The base was carpeted with red roses and for a moment Nathan felt appreciated, until he read was etched into the rock:

HERE LIES STEPHEN KING: THE LAST GREAT HORROR AUTHOR.

Nathan stared at the text perplexed. “Shouldn’t there be a birthdate and death date? Maybe something about his wife?”

Lightning struck a redwood not far from the headstone. Cinders shot through the air like fireworks. The blast had cleaved the trunk down the center and set the standing side aflame. As the blaze spread it outlined a towering figure. Its hooded face regarded Nathan with cold indifference. Its tattered robes fluttered against the breeze. Nathan scanned the frayed edges and spotted, not legs, but bunches of squirming appendages: snakes, centipedes, and other vermin. Nathan panned down the figure’s skirt and saw tentacles writhing in the grass.

Nathan ran for it. Monuments, mausoleums, and markers passed in a blur, and as he ran those granite shapes grew taller until they rose above the tree line. The headstones became standing stones and the fire that had consumed the redwood had found its way back into the sky. The storm clouds turned volcanic and the rain turned to ash.

Overwhelmed Nathan lost sight of his footing, snagged his toe and hit the prairie face first, then he just kept hitting it as he rolled downhill. He was still sliding when he’d settled onto his belly. That’s when he saw the gapping maw of the open grave ready to swallow him up again. He dug into the grass, but didn’t stop until he was teetering on the edge of the pit.

That’s when Nathan felt the tentacle wrap around his ankle, slice through his pantleg, and latch onto his calf. Nathan burrowed into prairie down to his elbows, but the dirt did him no favors. “Fuck you, Lovecraft. You racist piece of—”

One good tug from the tentacle and all the dirt Nathan was hanging onto came right down with him.

When Nathan landed he did not feel the smooth lid of coffin, but a writhing mass of angry limbs, poking and prodding at all his tender bits until they got a good grip. A tentacle slid around Nathan’s brow. Its suckers pulsed with hunger. The long grey appendage looped around Nathan’s eyes, ears, and nose, before tunneling into his mouth.

Despite the pressure on his eardrums Nathan could still hear the precise moment his skull cracked open.

SUNDAY MORNING

Nathan awoke on his side kissing a puddle of his own sick. He’d thrown up in the middle of the night. Had he slept on his back he’d have asphyxiated and died. Now little Pazuzu was rubbing his whiskers in the mess. Nathan mustered the strength to crawl out from under the table, scoop the cat up, and sequester him in the bedroom.

Nathan was relieved to be alive, but he had no plan to throw the windows open and ask some young man what day it was. He knew damn well it was October 27thand he needed to shampoo the carpet and wash away the stench of his poor life decisions.

When Nathan was finally refreshed he elected to go out. Now he didn’t gift any turkeys to any needy families, nor did he donate to any charities. He was too broke to play benefactor and there were no Tiny Tims anywhere in his life. Instead, he took a notepad down to the local bakery and let his train of thought careen down the tracks.

Nathan listed the qualities someone had to possess for him care about them. He thought long and hard about what qualities made people sympathetic, fascinating, or praiseworthy. He thought about his friends, family, and coworkers. He dreamt up crazy situations that might reveal the full measure of their character.

Then he listed the horror topes he’d always hated and imagined some fresh spins on them. He analyzed the dream about Stephen King’s headstone and came up with a concept worth riffing on:

What if a horror legend had the ability to navigate the collective unconscious and syphon inspiration from his competition? What if one of those authors found out and tried to retaliate? What would happen if the horror legend summoned demons to stop him?

Nathan gripped the page as if to rip it out. “That is such batshit stupid concept… It’d be a shame to let it go to waste.”

He turned the page, wrote the title: NOVELMANCER, and then he wrote some more.

Continue reading A Halloween Carol

Strange Love: Dating Profiles of the Damned

Submitted for your approval: Strange Love aka Monster Mingle,a dating service for the inhuman, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs.

This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and author Drew Chial gives them their backstories.This is a place where you can catch up on the monsters you may have missed so far.

Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep by Bryan Politte

Meet Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep, a serial monogamist from the planet Monogome Prime. He’s had a crush on the human race ever since the Voyager probe entered deep space. Some say he’s clingy others say he’s a parasite… with a gestation as long as the relationship.

Nólatha Torhorn by Bryan Politte

Meet Nólatha Torhorn, former elven maiden, former sacrifice to the Gods of Winter, and current custodian to a handful of artifacts that bestow her divine power. She’s looking for a warmhearted individual to help set fire to the ice cold idols that spurned her.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Meet Roddy Dirge, a punk zombie who needs vitamin B12 in order to stay cognizant or risk breaking his vegan commitment. He’s looking for a bodacious botanist who synthesizes nutrients from algae and has an affinity for the Dead Kennedys.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Meet Matilda MacDonald, aka the devil. She wants you to know everything you’ve heard about her is just bad PR. She’s here to enable your artistic temperament, and all she wants in return is one easy payment.

Follow Matilda’s adventures in my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Read the prequel short story DRAGON’S BREATH.

Check out the original MONSTER MINGLE profile.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Meet Daisy Diode, a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.

Kadilia Caine by Bryan Politte

Meet Kadilia Caine. She’s been out of the dating pool for a while, but she’s looking to get her feet wet again. If you’re searching for someone to watch over you at night then look no further. All you have to do to win her affection is invite her in.

Continue reading Strange Love: Dating Profiles of the Damned

Kadilia Caine’s Dating Profile

Welcome to Strange Love (aka Monster Mingle) a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet Kadilia Caine. She’s been out of the dating pool for a while, but she’s ready to get her feet wet again. She has the power to glamour crowds into falling in love with her, but she’s never known true love herself. If you’re searching for someone to watch over you at night then look no further than Kadilia. All you have to do to win her affection is invite her in.

ABOUT ME

If you grew up Romani in the 19thcentury then Transylvania was the place to be, especially if you liked hawking pottery on a bed of splinters in the dead of winter. And if you didn’t? Well I don’t know about you, but I hopped a caravan to London and joined a burlesque troop.

Now Victorian burlesque is not the Vegas showcase you’re probably imagining. Our performances were less about splashing around in giant cocktails and more about telling tales. Less fan dancing. More pantomime. Less high kicks. More hijinks.

We performed Shakespeare (with a few subtle alterations). Our female characters were actually played by women (as were most of the men). And sure, our heroes were scantily clad caricatures, and yes, we did cram Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter full of innuendos: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? I need a happy dagger in my sheath.

I never got to utter that one. I had a habit of laughing through my lines. Audiences got a rise out of it, but it made playwrights go bat shit. Nevertheless, my time on stage put a smile on my face and potatoes on my plate, until the theater went family friendly and spat me onto the street. Many of my costars fell back on the world’s oldest profession, but I had loftier ambitions.

I took up modeling, posing for those animated carousels viewers spun by hand. Gentlemen would line up to watch me lift my skirt or tip my corset. They called them zoetropes and they called me a zoetrope trollop, sometimes a stroboscope strumpet, or a praxinoscope pretty, if I was lucky.

I was just happy to be in pictures, whether I was a flipbook floosy or stereoscopic stripper I didn’t care. I was an entertainer. I had a good thing going, until a fan caught up with me in Whitechapel and ruined everything.

LIFE CHANGING EVENT

I was walking home when I noticed something strange. The echo of my heels was falling out of sync. It turned out someone was trying to match my footfalls. It wasn’t long before I saw their shadow creeping up the cobblestones.

I hastened my pace, hoping to find a constable or some local ruffians. Instead I found a gaggle of gigglemugs spilling out of a pub. I weaved my way into the women and walked with them until I was certain my pursuer had buggered off. When I came upon a familiar shortcut, I left the gals to their gossip.

My pursuer was waiting for me there in that long back alley. His top hat cast a shadow down his brow, his mustache framed his muzzle in twin spirals, and his teeth were pressed so hard into his lip it looked like he had an underbite. He reached into his cape with a long leather glove.

I remember him offering me grapes and that the last words out of my mouth were, “Thanks, but I already ate.”

Then he ran a blade along my neck like he was bowing a violin and everything went dark.

When I came to a woman was kneeling over me. I took her for a sister of mercy until I saw the gash in her wrist. Maybe it was the lamplight or maybe it was my delirium, but I swore her blood was moving on its own, shifting and twisting against the wind like a living thing.

Smoke billowed from her wound, over her gloves, and through her fingers. Her skin was as pail as porcelain and her ballgown was a deep crimson red. I couldn’t see her face behind the veil, but somehow, I knew she had kind sympathetic eyes.

Eventually her blood spilled over my wound and ran down my collar. I felt a tickling sensation in the back of my throat, like a knot of snakes squirming down my gullet. I choked, writhed, and spat.

The woman shushed me, raised her veil, and revealed a pair of eyes with a catlike glow. “Don’t breathe. Just swallow.”

I did as instruct. It felt like I was drinking oxygen, like my lungs were thirsty, and my anatomy was upside down.

When the woman pulled her wrist back, I caught it and suckled on the gash. She patted my back, a mother nursing her child back to health, and in a way that’s what she was doing.

It was a while before I had the strength to sit upright. When I did, I saw rainbow trails around the moon. The lanterns seemed like bonfires, and the bricks and stones glowed with firelight.

The women ran a finger along my scar. “We’ll have to do something about that.”

She unclasped the choker from her neck and put it around mine. She leaned into my ear and whispered, “Stay out of the sun baby bat. If he gives you silver, send it back. Only eat for show, but keep garlic off your plate. Only drink from those who wish to drink from you, feel for the hastening of their heartbeat, and never quench your thirst completely.”

In my blood drunk stupor, I ran my fingers through her hair. My sire smirked. “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Then she fell into her own shadow, leaving me to fend for myself.

A few World Wars later I was finally getting the hang of being a vampire. I traveled the French countryside, touring the vineyards and the bunkers, wetting my lips on the blood of fascists.

In London I abided by my sire’s code. If I felt a donor’s pulse quicken I eased off my fangs and sent them on their way. I never left a gentleman hemorrhaging, but those Nazis, well, I drank them down to the vasopressin. The ones I caught rounding up Romani, I drained them down to the sodium. By the time I got to Stalingrad my code had become: if they had German fatigues on, they were fair game.

By the end of the war I’d developed a reputation. The Axis powers called me die rote Witweor the Red Widow. The Allies called me Glinda the Good Witch. Good or bad a reputation meant I had to keep moving. I crammed all of my worldly possessions into a shipping container and left the mainland.

I traveled on a Norwegian cargo tanker chasing the polar night from one hemisphere to the other. When I got lonely I glamoured the sailors into believing I was a crew member. I read their fortunes between poker games and they told me tales of trolls, fossegrimen, and Krakens.

I sipped from two crew members a night, not thinking to clean my fangs between feedings. At the time I knew nothing of bloodborne pathogens. When the captain got sick. The crew followed. I cut to half rations, then a fourth, then an eighth. The crew survived the trip, but they were all blood brothers when I was done with them.

When the time came to settle on dry land, I chose Seattle. The Emerald City had everything I needed: ports, a near yearlong overcast, and great food. People here eat so much salmon that you can taste it in their hemoglobin. I went from starving at sea to overfeeding on land.

MY HOBBIES AND INTERESTS

Not all vampires learn to glamour. Those who don’t rarely last a year. Either they develop anemia or the hunger drives them into a feeding frenzy and they get struck down by the Hellsings.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a gift and I do not squander it. Call it hypnosis. Call it seduction. Call it neuro linguistic programming. I call it fun.

It used to be if I wanted to glamour someone they had to be in the same room. I’d beckon a dapper young suitor to the candelabra and challenge him to a staring contest. He’d get lost in my eyes, in the optical illusion of my irises: the slithering blood vessels, the swirling speckles, the strawberry seed patterns. I’d stare daggers into the keyholes of his soul, lift the pin of his neocortex, then his behavioral center, and finally his audio cortex. Then with a quick twist of the tongue we’d click.

Pioneering vampires tried glamouring on broadcast television, not to lure victims, so much as to sell things. The fact that you don’t drive an Edsel is a testament to the limits of those old tube screens. Still they tried throughout the evolution of the medium, but they couldn’t make it happen. So, I thought I’d try my hand.

I was studying neuroscience just for kicks. I convinced my class to do a study on chromesthesia. Chromesthesia is a phenomenon where certain sounds trigger certain colors in certain listeners. My theory was that I could evoke specific images in my subjects, like hypnotic swirls for instance.

I spent months with each subject, reading guided meditation scripts at a soft even pitch, singing Romani folksongs with fast bright tones, and whispering the contents of classmates’ journals.

I explored my subject’s cognitive pathways for days, but each one reacted differently. Each subject had their own color palettes. There was no universal pitch.

I was about to give up when I noticed the effect the sessions were having on my classmates, each of whom were neurotypical. I found them outside the booth rubbing their foreheads on the acoustic panels like they were cats. This happened whenever I’d spent a session whispering. My classmates described an electrostatic sensation, a tingling that ran up their scalps, along their necks, and down their spines.

At the time I thought I’d invented Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (or ASMR), but it turned out Bob Ross had beaten me to it decades in advance. Of course he had, that soft-spoken shaman.

I decided to broaden the experiment. I chose a medium outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction where a live audience was guaranteed to be watching. I started webcamming.

Being a camgirl reminded me of my days as a zoetrope trollop. I was back in tiny top hats, leotards, and corsets, but I wasn’t showing much skin, I was whispering fantasies into a microphone. In this scenario I was a starving vampiress in desperate need of a donor, and I would do anything, I mean anything, for a few drops. Don’t make me beg.

I lured subjects into private chats, met them under bridges, and brought their fantasies to their logical conclusions.

Satisfied with my findings I decided to harness the power of the net to find the Chateau Rothschild of the vampire palette: the blood of virgins, but where would I get it?

That’s when I discovered Incels. Incels were a community of virgins who came together to vent about being involuntarily celibate. It was like finding a cellar lined with preserves that would never expire.

I used my earnings camming to buy targeted advertisements aimed at Incels. Before long I was as drunk as a tick on top shelf hemoglobin.

So satisfied was I that I left my suitors with a little parting gift. I glamoured them, leaned in close, and whispered. “If anyone asks, you totally got fucked tonight.”

MY INTIMATE DETAILS

I have never been in love. Now I’m no virgin (I’m as far from that as Pluto is the sun), but I’ve never been in romantic love. I’ve drafted sex contracts with a haematophiliacs, embraced archduke elders in citadel spires, and forged blood bonds with strangers, but I’ve never entered into the kind of union described by Jane Austen. I have never felt truly known or accepted by another conscious creature, human or otherwise.

The problem with dating vampires is, well, everything.

We’re polyamorous pansexuals and yet our jealousy is legendary. We’re fickle fashionistas who wear lovers like accessories AND we’re ageist against anyone with less than a century under their belts.

“Oh, you charmed child of Tesla, that stack of tree leavings is what’s known as an encyclopedia.”

First dates with vampires always devolve into the same old ghoulish gibberish. We lie about all the bloodshed we’ve witnessed. We wave macabre merit badges and walk away knowing nothing intimate.

Meanwhile the problem with dating mortals is the hours they keep. We’ll be like ships passing in the night unless my partner is an air traffic controller. When a morning person switches to my routine, they get jetlag on the ground, they contract seasonal depression in the summer time, and they start jonesing for the sun.

Oh, and humans have to eat. Their whole culture is built around it: lunch meetings, dinner dates, brunch. Too bad I don’t own a microwave, utensils, or even a bowl. Worse still my culinary skills start and stop at boiling a potato.

PHYSICAL FEATURES

My modeling career ended in that alley back in Whitechapel. Not only had my reflection disappeared, but my image stopped showing up on filmstock. It turns out film contains silver. Silver burns vampires and yet we don’t burn onto it.

It wasn’t until digital cameras hit the market that I could see my face.

I’d forgotten how bushy my eyebrows were, or how my ears peeked through my hair. Not to mention my bulb nose. Then there were the details I didn’t remember. My caramel skin had gone gray, my curly locks had straightened, and my fangs had changed the shape of my lips.

For the longest time my fashion sense was utilitarian: black halter tops and skinny jeans, like Joan Jett on a lazy Sunday. That changed when my webcam turned my TV into a full-length mirror. I started wearing more flair than just a choker.

Kadilia Caine by Bryan Politte

MY PERFECT MATCH

In addition to never having fallen in love there are two other things I haven’t done. I’ve never had a familiar and I’ve never sired a vampire. I’ll be the first to admit I have issues with the way I was turned: the encounter with Jack the Ripper, the to be abandoned by my master. I chose a life of lukewarm loneliness, because I don’t want to put anyone else through that.

I’ve never had a familiar for the same reason I’ve never had a butler. We Romani are self-sufficient. We’re not used to being waited on. Too many vampires treat their familiars like unpaid interns, dangling the carrot of immortality over their heads.

“I’ll give you eternal life. Provided you pick up my dry cleaning in the meantime.”

Familiars are rarely groomed for the masquerade because they’re rarely turned. They’re glorified gofers, biking with coolers on their backs, hoping their master won’t throw blood bags back at them.

“I asked for type-o negative. This is minestrone.”

“Sorry master I must’ve mixed it up at the deli, which means… Mrs. Clifton got the… uh-oh.”

I don’t need a familiar, a twi-curious role player, or a bondage club fang banger. I need an entrepreneur. A self-made manifestation, like a necromancer, soothsayer, or paranormal podcaster. Someone with an active nightlife. Someone who already conducts their business in the third shift. Someone with the confidence to flirt with death and the kindly manner to open doors for her.

MY IDEAL DATE

My ideal date would be a trek across the Carpathian mountainside, a tour through the seven castles of Transylvania, capped off with a nice scenic sunset, but I’ll take what I can get.

We could shape shift into a pair giant bats and freak out visitors at the Space Needle, go hunting in the subterranean tunnels under Portland, or maybe just have a nice picnic… in the charred skeleton of a deconsecrated church.

It doesn’t matter. I am easy to please so long as you hold my interest, and if you don’t, well, there’s always room for a midnight snack.

Continue reading Kadilia Caine’s Dating Profile

Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet Daisy Diode. She’s a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

About Me

I never met Phoebe Gage, but based on her social media profiles she seemed like a bright young woman with a promising future.

At fifteen she volunteered at the East River Animal Shelter, driving up adoptions by posting dating profiles for the dogs. Gatsby likes long walks through Central Park, snuggling at sunset, and jazz age literature.

At sixteen she ran for class president with the slogan: The arts and sciences deserve their own pep rally. The theme of her graduation speech was a future she’d never know, challenges she’d never face, and structures that would ultimately destroy her.

I followed Phoebe’s digital footprints from the quiet halls of Butler Library to the hyper-ways beneath the city. From Gallery openings in the Village to subterranean speakeasies. I went to the boardwalk where Phoebe snapped her first selfie with her then boyfriend Lucas. I stood in the exact same spot, watched the sunset over the same ocean, and felt no connection.

Phoebe loved marine life. She aspired to write the environmental exposé that would save the cephalopods, but as a journalism major, she was assigned stories about campus life. She didn’t mind. She relished in interviewing the colorful characters in the beekeeping department. She was a social butterfly after all.

Me, I like to be left to my own devices. My DIY approach to therapy has been buggy. I’m struggling with a kind of survivor’s guilt that professionals have yet to label. I call it my Phoebe Gage-sized hole.

Genetically Phoebe and I are the same person, but Phoebe died of a traumatic brain injury on December 31th 2129. All of her father’s engineers and all of her father’s neurosurgeons couldn’t put young Phoebe back together again. On New Year’s Day 2130 Daisy Diode was born.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a soul. If there were only part of mine exits in my actual head. The rest resides in the craniofacial processor that bridges my neuropathways and holds my skull together.

Phoebe seemed like a good person, an optimist who thought she could change the system from within. I wish I was more like her, but that part of my frontal lobe is gone, and she is but a phantom.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Life Changing Event

I have scrolled through Phoebe’s timeline, sifted through her final posts, and scrutinized her every last geotag. I took a series of ad-sponsored taxis across the city. I started on campus in Greenwich and ended on the dock in Brooklyn Heights where she was discovered. I tried to jog my memory, but the deafening jingles and animations on the windows kept stealing my attention.

It wasn’t until I’d made my third pilgrimage to docks that I thought to check another location.

An autonomous ambulance was dispatched to the harbor at the sound of the explosion. If the ambulance had triggered its STRAIGHT SHOTprotocol every vehicle on the road would’ve pulled over. Phoebe would’ve been in neurosurgery within thirty seconds. Not three minutes.

The extent of Phoebe’s hematoma proves the ambulance took a detour. During that time someone accessed her phone.

Now Joseph Gage had his personal neurosurgeons and prosthetists flown in. It took them four hours to install their implants. I didn’t come online for another six, during that time someone wiped Phoebe’s cloud accounts.

When I logged on as Phoebe, I scanned her reference files and attempted to run a recovery script. My neural interface should’ve been up to the task, but I kept seeing the same message: You don’t have permission to access this script.

It turned out I didn’t have administrator access to my own implant.

That’s when I started noticing visual artifacts at the edge of my vision. I saw a strange pixilation whenever I so much as thought about running that script again. Someone was watching, logging every notion that crossed my mind.

I couldn’t live with someone reading my thoughts over my shoulder. I had to break free, but how do you outwit someone who can see what you’re thinking in real time? You order something that will damper their ability to do so and hope it gets there before they do.

The delivery drone landed on the roof of my apartment just as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the building.

I tore the package open and wrapped the Faraday Fabric around my head like a turban. There was a tingling in my ankle, my arm went dead, and I collapsed. The words LOST CONNECTION…blinked across my vision. A battering ram gonged against the roof access door. Somehow, I found the strength to fix my gaze on the option that read WORK OFFLINE.

When my prosthesis rebooted, I leapt off the roof, dug into the brownstone bricks, and slid all the way down to the sidewalk. I ducked into a maintenance hole, ran through sewers until I came to an old subway line. I followed it through the darkness to an old station filled with train car shanties and storage crate homes. I hid amongst the hacktivists, fiber foragers, and flat-backers.

This is where I set out to replace my prosthetics.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

In an age when everyone is trying to prolong their lifespan augmentations are more traceable than hand guns. Every chrome cranium has a subdermal serial number. Every bio-battery is branded, and every wire is watermarked.

Now the problem with black market body mods is where do you go for maintenance when the seller gets pinched? If I wanted to swap my parts I’d have to go back to the source, but how would I get into Gage Industries unnoticed?

I dampened my vital signs, strapped myself to the undercarriage of an automated garbage truck, and became an Olympic-Caliber dumpster diver. I scrapped DNA from kitchen utensils, copied fingerprints from coffee cups, and synthesized vocal vibrations from used rations.

I covered my implants in latex, lined a wig with faraday fabric, and waltzed right through the front door. I delivered linguine to the lobby, minestrone to the mail room, and tortellini to the testing facility.

I installed retina spoofers in the elevators, face scanners in the bathroom mirrors, and breath print readers in the flowers.

When I was satisfied, I’d collected enough biometric material I 3D printed Joseph Gage’s likeness: a forehead appliance with a receding hairline, a pair of jowls, and a butt chin. Then I overlaid his irises onto contacts, swallowed a voice synthesizer, and rehearsed his favorite phrases in the mirror.

“You don’t need two hands to eat. It’s crunch time.”

“You know everyone at your level is replaceable.”

“Your predecessor did that twice as fast.”

I picked up Joseph’s dry-cleaning and padded his suit until it fit. I ran his movements through an algorithm until I could emulate his gait. The man had a walk like he’d just dismounted an elephant. It took a moment to master it without smiling.

It took more finesse to get the chloroform into his protein shake than it did to trespass into his office. I just ambled in, with his pleated pants riding my ribs, and blew through all his biometric safeguards. Then I took his personal elevator to his private server and cloned everything I could get my hands on.

I was going to go down to storage and take the implants I needed over a longer period of time, but then it occurred to me to just go for the design specs all at once.

The off-brand assembly line equipment proved easier to acquire. I used it to manufacture clean gear for myself and everyone else in my subterranean sector. Little did I know how badly we’d need it.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

Being ambidextrous is easy with my implants in. Not so much when I’m making alterations. I had to train myself to do them left-handed. I pulled it off with all the grace of a stroke victim, but little by little I managed to swap systems.

When I was done, I copied Joseph Gage’s corporate secrets into my memory banks. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, or an indexing subroutine, but something about that data weighed heavy on me.

That night I dreamt I was meeting someone at the shipping docks. The ocean waves echoed off the crates. The automated employees didn’t seem to notice me. Their lenses were fixed on the horizon, waiting for a ship to come in. There was a woman pacing beneath a street lamp, rubbing her shoulders, checking her phone. She ducked into a trench coat, like a child playing at spy games. I didn’t need four quadrants of facial recognition to recognize Phoebe Gage when I saw her.

I neared.

She said, “The arc of the moral universe is long.”

“But it bends toward justice.” I finished the passphrase.

Time slowed as Phoebe’s eyes lit with embers. Her hair blew back, her cheeks filled with air, and her skin glowed orange. Then she was off her feet, flying across the peer in a shower of debris.

When I booted up that morning it felt like I’d been decrypted. Phoebe Gage, with her love of karaoke and breakfast pastries, was still a mystery to me, but I knew what had happened to her.

There was something about the whistleblower Phoebe had gone to meet. They weren’t human. Someone had overlaid the shell of a real doll onto a bipedal skeleton with enhanced modular movements. It would’ve looked human from across the street, but up close it’d have looked plasticine and disturbing.

My dream was an encrypted recording from the doll’s memory banks. Someone had planted it on Joseph Gage’s private server. I believe the whistleblower hid it for forensic investigators to find later. Its placement would lead them to a treasure trove of information on something called Project Razor Blade.

The pieces were falling into place.

Phoebe had been interning at a publication known for uncovering corporate wrongdoing. The whistleblower must’ve reached out to her through an untraceable channel: carrier pigeon, singing telegram, or something ancient like the postal system. The whistleblower must’ve assumed Phoebe’s relationship with her father would’ve have protected her from retaliation. Phoebe must’ve assumed the same thing.

While Phoebe’s source had gone to great lengths to ensure they weren’t followed Phoebe had not.

A drone, flying beyond the visual line of sight, had followed Phoebe to the docks. When her informant stepped out of the shadows the drone dropped its payload. Joseph Gage hadn’t meant to harm his daughter, but he miscalculated the blast radius and gave her a total makeover.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Physical Features

My body isn’t a temple so much it’s a restoration. Phoebe took a lot of shrapnel on her way across the peer. I have a patchwork of gnarly scars. I buried most of my trauma tattoos beneath circuit boards and sea monsters. Put a daisy where a cheek stain had been, and turned the circle around my orbital into a pentagram.

I wear a 250-gigapixel ocular prosthesis modeled after the unreleased Oden’s Eye prototype. I like it because it lets me see the peaks and valleys across the lunar surface, and spot any virtual vultures that might be hovering overhead.

When I’m not infiltrating corporate headquarters, I leave the flesh toned gloves and latex appliances at home. Down here amongst the deck jockeys and body bankers I let my manufactured freak flag fly.

But not all of these augmentations are upgrades. I wake with bloody fingers from having scratched my gunmetal shoulder. I feel this tingling in my missing limbs. I get phantom pains in my pegleg when I try to dance, and I can’t swim without sinking.

That said, I’m not some hobbyist biohacker filling my flesh with wetware. I need my neural-bridge to live, and I’m not the only one. Cancer deaths have been declining for decades, but rates are on the rise. Artificial cerebellums, livers, and lungs are a big business.

It would be a shame if someone did for augments what the shaving industry did for razors (i.e. built them to break so they could sell more). If one corporation had the augment market cornered, they could implement a planned obsolescence that would cripple millions.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.

I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.

You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.

We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.

Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulations protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.

So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and do your thing.

Daisy Diode by Bryan PolitteMy Ideal Date

You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.

I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.

You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.

We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.

Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulation protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.

So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and give me a sign.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode

Meet Nólatha, a Monster Mingle Video Reading

Illustrator Bryan Politte gave life to a monster. I dared to write a dating profile for it. This video reveals Bryan’s process over a reading of that fabled Monster Mingle profile by yours truly.
Read the original profile here.

Continue reading Meet Nólatha, a Monster Mingle Video Reading

Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile Video Reading

In my book HE HAS MANY NAMES I imagined Satan as PR agent named Matilda MacDonald. I wrote her a MONSTER MINGLE dating profile and illustrator Bryan Politte painted her portrait.

This video reveals Bryan’s process over a reading of Matilda’s fall from grace and ascension from the pit.

Follow Matilda’s adventures in my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Read the prequel short story DRAGON’S BREATH.

Check out the original MONSTER MINGLE profile.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile Video Reading

Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile

(Audio: Listen to this article.)

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it usually works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory. This time Bryan got the character Matilda MacDonald from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES.

Watch out for Matilda. She’s an unreliable narrator. She’ll use scripture to get inside your head. She’ll try to temp you. Don’t let your guard down, because she is not the devil you know.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

About Me

I was starry-eyed when I arrived in the silver city, thinking I could make it on my charm and my wit. I floated my résumé all over, inquired about every position, but no one knew where I fit in. I wandered the chrome crosswalks and sterling skyways for days. I was on my way out the pearly gates when a messenger came for me.

“Hail, thou art highly favored.”

He told me I’d landed an interview with the biggest player in town.

The Entrepreneur’s reputation preceded him. He was an industrialist, a philanthropist, and a visionary with the business acumen to keep the silver city running.

The Entrepreneur wasted no time showing me to my office. He needed a spokesperson ASAP. He had seven days to roll out his most ambitious project yet. He gave me a wardrobe for the week, adorned every outfit in precious stones, and dubbed me, “The seal of perfection. A startlet who will shine through morning.”

With the plans for the universe stretched across our arms we became a power couple. We invested in atoms, watched the interest build into molecules, and later elements. We shipped dark matter, hydrogen, and helium throughout the cosmos and laid the foundations for the constellations. We built a real estate empire from time and space itself.

I assumed the Entrepreneur meant it for the residents of the silver city, a reward for their investment, but he had other plans. It turns out there was a pet project he’d been laboring on, with his petri dishes and his eyedroppers. He called it “Life.” While each Angel was handcrafted and meticulously detailed, life was capable of sustaining growth with minimal oversight. It was with thishe meant to populate his planets.

When creating humanity, the Entrepreneur used resources I didn’t know we had: genitals, free will, and death.

I didn’t get it.

Why would an omniscient being give people the power to choose if he already knew the outcome? Either he was leaving them to struggle for his own amusement or he wasn’t that omniscient to begin with.

My pride got the better of me. I told the Entrepreneur the project would lead to chaos and a third of the board agreed. Furious, the Entrepreneur cast the lot of us out.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan PolitteLife Changing Event

I plummeted into the mouth of a cavernous pit. The walls scrapped the jewels from my outfit. Gemstones flew in all directions. My breastplate burst, my braces buckled, and my gauntlets were ground down to grain. I crashed through sheets of ice and landed upon a bed of stalagmites.

When I came to, I found my skin had taken on a bluish hue, my hair was slick with frost, and my eyebrows were lined with icicles. I thought it was strange that I could see my breath so far from the light, but then I noticed the length of silver around my right index finger. The last piece of my armor was shining in the dark.

I teetered to my feet and the ring glowed brighter. I limped toward the wall and a stinging sensation surged down my arm. The ring was trying to warn me about something in the limestone. I waved it around until I came upon a series of ridges unlike any rock formation I’d known. When I touched the ridges, they told me they were the fossilized remains of something called a trilobite. The creature claimed to have dominated the seas for hundreds of millions of years. I called the trilobite a liar. I told it that I’d helped found the universe only a week ago.

The trilobite said, “If that’s so then where did I come from?”

I ventured further into the dark to see what else was hiding there. The pit was littered with bones: great leviathan skeletons, ribs arching like the roofs, skulls yawning open as if to drink the ocean. They looked upon me with hollow pleading eyes and every time I tapped them with my silver, they told me what they were. These were the titans of industry that came before: The Uranides, the Vanir, and the Great Old ones. Azathoth, dethroned from the seat of chaos. Hastur, shut out of Carcosa where the stars shine black.

Each one had a similar story. The Entrepreneur had been rolling out beta universes, with each new version he took on a partner, and when the rollout was complete the partner ended up here. I was the latest in a long line of suckers.

You’d think that misery would love the company, but I was all the more heart broken.

The Entrepreneur had taken almost everything, but I still had that shard of silver on my finger. I used it to cut bricks from the bones and mortar from their marrow. I built a home from those who came before, and in my den, I listened to their whispers. They taught me the secrets of their runes, cosmic currencies, and investment strategies. I used that knowledge to cross over into the Entrepreneur’s latest venture.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

I had no part in getting Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden of Eden. That was a snake that got jilted when Adam wouldn’t choose it to be his mate.

Most of my appearances in the Old Testament were mistranslations. This is what happens when you name someone after the Hebrew word for “adversary” and then you need to use the same word to describe others. People get confused.

Although I’ll admit the book of Job was all me.

I’d been wandering the earth trying get a startup going, but my hands were bound by tedious regulations.

A plague spread throughout the land and I snuck back into the Silver City amongst a wave of refugees. With some fancy footwork I made it all the way back to the Entrepreneur’s office. He was scrolling through the feed from his ticker tape machine, fat and rosy on humanity’s adoration and belief. He didn’t seem too surprised to see me.

“Where did you come from?”

It took all of my self-control not to drive my silver ring through my palm. “I’ve been roaming the earth. Going back and forth on it.”

He nodded, unphased I’d scurried my way out of the pit.

“Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

I had considered Job.

“Does Job love you for nothing? Check out his palatial estate, his bountiful lands, and livestock empire. Not to mention the ten children that will ensure his legacy carries on for generations. You gave him a good return on his investment. Take it back up and he’d curse you where you stand.”

The Entrepreneur stroked his beard. “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man do not lay a finger.”

I gave Sabean raiders a hot tip on where Job kept his oxen. Then I rained commits on his sheep and dropped a roof on his children.

Job, the poor sucker, did exactly what I wanted him to. He fell to his knees and said, “The lord has given and the lord has taken away. May the name of the lord be praised.”

I returned to the Silver City to find the Entrepreneur wiping a tear of joy from his cheek. He was tickled pink.

I reached into the pile of ticker tape that had accumulated on the floor, pretending to care about things I already knew.

“Job still has his health. Take that and the praise train will roll right off its tracks.”

The Entrepreneur smirked, lifted a few more sanctions and I covered Job in lesions.

Job’s neighbors had heard about his misfortune. They paid him a visit to reaffirm his faith, but he had come around to my way of thinking.

How could such bad things happen to a good person? If the Entrepreneur was all-powerful then he couldn’t be all good, especially if he was trying to prove something to someone. That would just make him an all-powerful asshole.

Job cursed the day he was born, gave into despair, and begged the Entrepreneur for death. His neighbors tried to rationalize the Entrepreneur’s mysterious ways, but they were arguing from ignorance, and Job knew it.

“Let the Almighty answer me!”

The Entrepreneur had been following the conversation from his desk and decided to make an entrance. He split the sky open to grant his investors an audience and what did he have to say to them?

“Where were you when I laid the earths foundations? Tell me, who fixed its measurements? Surely you know who stretched a measuring line across it?”

Of course, knew. And it wasn’t a measuring line. It was tape. Had the planet held such little regard to him that he thought it was flat?

The Entrepreneur bullied Job into submission and doubled the man’s losses as compensation, which just proved my point. His investors were only as loyal as their assets.

My Intimate Details

I’ve convinced many Jobs to pull out of the Entrepreneur’s enterprise, but it took finesse to get them to invest in mine. The Entrepreneur’s PR department has turned my brand toxic, blaming me for the Inquisition, the Witch Trails, Christ, even the Catholic Abuse Scandal.

When missionaries came to Greece, they saw idols of the Greek God Pan with his horns, hooves, and hard-on and they felt threatened. They could’ve told stories of a faun who lured children into caves so he could eat them (you know, use their imaginations) instead they merely passed his fashion sense onto me. They swapped my blush with a beard, my long legs with matted wool, and my firm butt with a sad droopy tail. Then they handed me Hade’s pitchfork for good measure. “Here, hold this.”

Despite all the evidence that Pan was another entity, from another mythology, his likeness was attributed to me. Fine. While the faithful looked over their shoulders for a goatee and red complexion I was free to walk among them.

The more insidious my methods got the more grandiose my depictions became. When John the Revelator was exiled to the island of Patmos, he tried his hand at writing. He had a strong premise with the Apocalypse, but he did what most first timers do and let the concept devolve into lists: seven seals, seven trumpets, seven spiritual beings, with seven bowls.

Had John been a better storyteller he might have imagined Armageddon, not as battle of swords, but of wits, where competing philosophies debated for the fate of humanity. Alas, John was more interested in who would win in a fight: The Archangel Michael or a seven-headed dragon.

After John, Dante and Milton wrote some fine fan fiction. I liked how Dante populated the Inferno with his personal enemies and how Milton made me a freedom fighter that could give a good speech, but I was never up to my tits in any ice nor would I claim Death and Sin among my brain children.

I never did half of what I got credit for. I never stole tools from the Silver Foundry to make a pact with a blacksmith. I never dared a soldier to wear a bearskin for seven years, and I never took a small-town farmer to trial for his soul. I have never lorded over any flies. Horseshoes don’t scare me, and black cats do not answer to me. They’re cats. They answer to nobody.

I wish I were as powerful as people believe. I wish I’d shined as bright as Venus in the morning. I wish I’d had a penthouse in Babylon. I wish my corporate headquarters had floors based on sins, but I have to budget my expenditures same as anyone.

These false etymologies have followed me for centuries. I used to agonize over every erroneous association. Now I’ve learned the value of good branding. Products live and die by consumers’ belief in them. I’ve learned to lean into humanity’s misconceptions, because the more they fear me the more they believe.

When the clergy made up stories to fill seats, I used their sermons as brainstorming sessions. I jotted notes over old hymns, tore out the pages, and slid them into my corset.

This wasn’t merely opposition research I was insider trading.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Physical Features

I’ve held many titles over the years. These days I go by Matilda MacDonald: Agent to the Stars.

Matilda is derived from the High German “maht” and “hild” meaning “strong in battle.” MacDonald is a modified version of Dòmhnall, which means “World ruler.” My name states my intentions while conjuring images of telekinetic little girls and fast food chains.

In the 80s, I made myself over as one of Patrick Nagel’s art deco women. I wanted to embody the iconography of that era of greed. I already had the snow-white skin, raven black hair, full lips, and stone cut cheekbones. All I needed was the pixie haircut, eyeshadow, and wardrobe full of pantsuits.

I’ve kept the same form for a generation and low and behold greed is still in fashion.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

While my investments are in the markets of man, my heart belongs to the arts to the music-makers and the dreamers of dreams. Kings rule nations, but creators rule minds. All of my lovers possess a wealth of imagination, that je ne sais quoi that captures my attention.

Over the centuries I’ve played patron to many a prodigy. I massaged Nicolo Paganini’s joints so he could play violin, taught Giuseppe Tartini my favorite sonata, gave Christoph Haizmann visions worth painting, and tuned Robert Johnson’s guitar so he could always find the right strings.

I see the same spark in you.

You’ve tried so hard to make it as an artist. You have the tenacity and the drive. Too bad the free content movement devalued your medium, your ability never caught up with your tastes, and your style was never in fashion.

If you stay on the path the Entrepreneur has set, you’ll always be on the outside looking in. Your day job will never help you sleep at night. Your inspiration will be reduced to a nagging voice in the back of your mind. You will grow cynical watching fame go to vapid, beautiful, superficial people. You’ll die knowing your intimate thoughts will never connect with a broader audience, search engines will bury your legacy, and your work will go undiscovered.

But not if I have anything to say about it.

I heard the prayers you whispered to bathroom stalls, showerheads, and pillows. I heard the long-winded confessions that shot out of you like steam. I heard you scratching at death’s door. I know what’s it like to have lofty ambitions, to think your ascent was a forgone conclusion only to wind up scraping yourself off the ground.

I’ve chosen you because you’re not destined for great things, but you should be.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

My Ideal Date

In the Richmond District of San Francisco, there’s a yellow duplex on California St. between 24thand 23rdAve. The address should read: 6118, 6120, and 6122, but someone has pried off all of the 6s from the units.

On special nights, under the light of a blood red moon, the edifice shifts. A person with the spark of inspiration will see the black Victorian home that once stood there.

If you’re ready to live the life you deserve walk up the stoop and open the front door.

Don’t let Togar scare you. He may be a lion, but he’s as friendly as they come. Take hold of his mane and follow him through the black velvet curtains down into the basement.

Don’t worry that the ritual chamber hasn’t been used in years. Cross the cobwebs between the candelabra and the pipe organ, past the bed of nails, toward the altar. Consider the wall of ceremonial daggers. The blades are made from ivory, flint, silver, and gold. I trust you’ll know which hilt to pull. When you do a door will open revealing a secret corridor. The corridor is made of seven artist spaces.

The first is filled with bookshelves lined with leather bound first editions.

The second: painted canvases stretched end to end.

The third: drafting tables jutting out from channels.

The fourth: a cube of soundproof acoustic panels.

The fifth: the many monitors of an editing bay.

The sixth: cryptic code on digital displays.

The seventh chamber, at the heart of this tomb, is the devil’s den: my master bedroom. I’ll be waiting on the futon beneath the sheer red canopy. Why don’t you join me when you’re ready to live deliciously?

There are many ways to enter into a binding bargain, but I find that this one is the most fun.

Matilda MacDonald by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Monster Mingle: The Devil’s Dating Profile

Monster Mingle: Meet Roddy Dirge

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place for urban legends to find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte comes up with the creatures and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet the third. He’s a punk, a vegan, and one other thing. Just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

About Me

Let’s rip this Band Aid right off: I’m a zombie, a reanimated stiff with all the stigma that comes with, a Type-A Necro-Mortis if I had to put a label on it. That means I died and something else brought me back to life.

I was on a first date with Sadie, a pleather clad, tough as nails, woman of principle. She’d gotten word of an illegal animal testing facility by the waterfront. She wanted to break in, take some snapshots, and get the place shut down. Together we biked along the river, cut through the fence, and trekked through the ruins of the abandoned warehouse district.

When Sadie pointed out the facility it felt like someone down there was smiling up at me. I’d been to that building on an urban exploration expedition and I knew a way in. I pried a utility hole cover open, took Sadie’s hand, and eased her in. We skipped through the sewers, our flashlights danced across the tunnel walls, until we came to a submarine door marked QUARANTINE.

“That wasn’t there before.”

“That’s probably just to scare us, like a sign that says ‘This home is protected by Sentinel Security’ when all they’ve really got is a sign.”

“Well, good thing I brought a key.”

I drew a crowbar from my messenger bag. From there we ascended through an M.C. Escher etching of grated platforms and spiral stairs until we came upon a lab with biohazard symbols on the doors. There was a chamber, with a sign that read INSTRUCTIONS TO BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Sadie wasn’t in much of a reading mood so she zoomed right through.

The lights went on the moment we stepped in and the vents sprayed us with a chemical bath. When the gas cleared there was a maze of cages before us. They looked empty, but Sadie was determined to find something worth freeing. She dashed in. I struggled to keep up and it wasn’t long before I lost her.

“Look, Monkeys!” Sadie shouted from somewhere around the bend.

Just then a chimpanzee charged at his bars. I stepped back, slipped on a banana peel, and fell over a railing, down a flight of stairs, and snapped my neck like a drumstick.

I’m not sure what happened next. I heard Sadie call my name. Maybe she thought I’d chickened out and bailed. Maybe she figured photos wouldn’t get the job done like some good old-fashioned eco terrorism. All I remember was an alarm, men’s voices, then shouting, gunshots, and screams. Before it all faded to black, I saw a troop of red-eyed monkeys lining the railing above me.

The next thing I know I’m having a panic attack in a pine box. I scratched the lid until the wood thinned, my fingernails were thick with splinters, and I was swimming in worms. The soil was wet with rainwater and I could just make out the faint claps of thunder. It took hours to claw my way out of the muck and when I emerged in the cemetery you better believe I was hungry.

Nobody told me I was infected with a weaponized pathogen bioengineered to amp up my aggression. I found that out the hard way when bloodied my fist, trying to sucker punch a cherub off its stand.

In my delirium I tripped over a bench, slithered along the ground, and gnawed on a bouquet of rose pedals, but when I happened upon a flock of goslings, something inside me knew to leave them alone. My infected instincts were telling me to chomp their necks to bits, but my heart was able to resist.

The rage virus, with all of its augmented aggression, couldn’t bypass decades of vegan conditioning.

I’d been an herbivore for twenty years and counting, and knew that whenever I had an overwhelming urge for meat it was because I wasn’t getting the right nutrients. Fortunately, the cemetery was near a GNC. So, I hopped the fence, scurried across the lot, and dove into the dumpster. Bon appétit.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Physical Features

To be clear, that’s not blood on my collar. It’s gazpacho. That isn’t brain matter on my sleeve either. It’s tofu (and maybe a little cauliflower). And no, that isn’t a length of intestine draped around my collar. That’s a vegan sausage length and I’m saving it for later.

As for my other features… If you like body mods you’re going to love me. I’ve got a barbell in my brow, a lip ring, a tongue stud, a septum piercing, helix piercings, and a 10-gauge plug. Oh, and those monkeys were into scarification so I’ve got a lot of that going on.

As for my body itself, the rage virus makes me super athletic. Unlike those other zombies I’m a sprinter not a limper. Like a hummingbird seeking nectar I’m always on the way to my next protein source.

My Perfect Match

I’m in a subculture within a subculture within a subculture, which makes it hard to meet someone similar. Most living dead girls aren’t that into lentil.

My perfect match would have a reverence for all living (and unliving) creatures. She’d be outspoken and have a strong drive to change the world. She’d be open to punk rock, a vegan diet, and the strong vanilla fragrances I use to mask the stench of death.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

The average person needs 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B12 a day. I need several hundred milligrams. Otherwise all those joggers in the woods will look like cartoon chicken drumsticks and I’ll run the risk of breaking my vegan commitment. Most zombies don’t burn too many brain cells thinking about where their nutrients come from. They see their livestock crammed onto escalators or huddled into movie theaters, and just pig out, but I’m a necro-core herbivore. I have standards.

My DIY system for managing my symptoms keeps me out of the tidal wave of ravenous slam-dancers, but the urge to join them is there. After all, my life has gotten harder since the grocer started bleaching their old produce and GNC started locking their dumpster.

I run the risk of going full GG Allin unless my partner can keep those vitamins coming. A punk rock botanist capable of synthesizing B12 from chlorella algae would be like a goddess to me.

My Ideal Date

We’ll get Impossible burgers at a joint with tagged up toilets and live music. Preferably a place with lots of exists, leading to wide open lots and not narrow back alleys.

There were a lot of cages in that facility and a lot of monkeys on that railing. It’s only a matter of time until the virus finds its way downtown. Then all those fancy butcheries, where hipsters cure their own meats, will spill out onto the streets and everyone will see how the sausage is really made. Had these carnivores gone vegan they’d remain functioning during the zombie Armageddon. Instead they’re going to give into their baser instincts and flame broil everything.

Let’s bike up to lover’s lane, roast a couple of gelatin free marshmallows, and watch the world burn.

Roddy Dirge by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Roddy Dirge

Tunnel Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And… Scene.

•••

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s new.”

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

“Cool. So I’m crazy now.”

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

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

“Okay, point one for crazy.”

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

“Dexter? Here boy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

•••

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

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

“Oh, come on!” We said collectively.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, here goes something.”

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

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

“I’ve always hated this dining room.”

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

•••

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

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

“Have you been there this whole time?”

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

“Dude, you could’ve said something.”

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

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

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

“What seems to be the matter officers?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!