Tag Archives: short story

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

Slush Pile: A Scary Story about Unread Stories

Back when I was a bright-eyed English major, wearing but a plus one prescription, I scored an internship at a literary agency. While my peers were happy to earn their credits carting mail and fetching coffee I wanted to get my hands dirty. I convinced Keith, the head of the acquisitions, to let me take a peek at the unsolicited manuscripts. I was a budding writer and I wanted to get a sense of what the competition was doing.

Keith was a far cry from the tweed cardigan, leather patch wearing, literary figure you might imagine. He dressed like a janitor in V-necks and grease stained overalls.

There was dirt in his five o’clock shadow and his brow was always dripping with sweat. He seemed more comfortable with his satchel full of tools than he did behind a novel.

Keith led me into a darkroom filled with bulk storage racks, rolling ladders, and boxes. The kind of place you’d expect to find religious relics and alien artifacts. He tapped a cabinet. It creaked under the weight of its manila envelopes. They were stacked so high they pressed into the ceiling tiles. Dust clouds twinkled through the dim light of the exit sign.

Keith waved his arms over this wee warehouse. “This is our slush pile.”

“This is a fire hazard.”

“That it is, but it’s been a while since we’ve had need of a first reader. Seeing as most of our agents are already up to their eyeballs in clients.”

“I could do it.”

Keith stroked his stubble. “That would be outside the scope of your internship. You’re here to learn. You’re not supposed to do the work any actual employees.”

“But you just said you didn’t have a first reader. Who would I be replacing?”

Keith tongued his cheek. “Well, it’s hard to argue with logic like that.”

Keith gave me a key to the janitor’s closet and I pulled up a chair beneath the eyewash station and got to reading.

I’d made myself a job. Now all I had to do was convince the agency to pay me for it. I wrote copious notes, summarized the stories and gave them letter grades. As an English major I had to read between 12-30 classics a semester. Now I was putting away a clunker a day. The highest grade I ever gave was a B- and that was when I was being generous. Still I was panning for gold, hoping to make a discovery that would elevate me within the agency. Sadly all I discovered was the reason those manuscripts were gathering dust.

I read all the tepid tragedies, lukewarm victories, and shallow life lessons homemakers had to offer. I read every account of heaven from children who’d suffered near death experiences. I sample every flavor of thinly veiled autobiography: divorce diaries from armchair psychologists struggling to diagnose their exes, recovery journals with relapsewritten between the lines, and all manner of reptilian illuminati conspiracy theories.

This was before any schmuck with a premise could self-publish from the toilet. Before vanity presses started offering half assed editing services. Before Amazon made the entire industry bend the knee. Back then the only path to literary success was through gatekeepers like me. It was a lot of responsibility.

I imagined authors reading over my shoulder with their fingers tented in silent prayers. I could feel them breathing down my neck. It was an eerie. I found myself turning from the aluminum ladders, chrome containers,  and other reflective surfaces for fear I might spot a phantom silhouette.

I thought about sending words of encouragement to some of the authors, notes for future edits that might elevate their manuscripts, but the post dates were ancient and there were always more envelopes piling up.

I’d marvel at how many manuscripts I’d made it through until I returned to the room to find the ceiling tiles cracking and the cabinets leaning. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these writers had died waiting to be discovered.

The semester was almost over and I had yet to strike gold. Still I convinced myself I was getting an education. The carrot I was chasing wasn’t rotten, it was rich with nutrients. All of this bad fiction was teaching me how to be a better writer. I learned which trends had been driven into the ground: the brooding vampires whose redemption only came with the help of a virginal infatuation, the artisan serial killers whose crimes recreated renaissance paintings, the blank teenagers who turned out to be sci-fi saviors. These tropes were refining my tastes, challenging me to dig deeper. My own writing was going to be oh so well informed.

Serial liars save the best lies for themselves.

After the Internship

I was the only one to stay on. The cream that had risen to the topor so I told myself. No one had asked me to keep reading, but I was hoping someone would see the coverages I’d written and offer me a position. One day Keith came into the janitors closet. He needed supplies from the cart I was using as a desk.

“Don’t you think you’ve read enough. I mean the semester is over.”

I lowered my readers and rubbed my eyes. By then I was wearing a plus two prescription. I told him I wasn’t there for the credit I was there for the sense of purpose. “My summaries are going to save the agency a whole lot of time.”

Keith wrapped his big calloused fingers around my shoulder. “Son. No one is going to read those summaries.”

“Then why take unsolicited manuscripts in the first place?”

Keith sighed. He tilted his head back to search for the words. “They’re lucrative.”

“How are they lucrative when they’re just sitting there?”

Keith swished his words around before just spitting them out. “Every one of those writes paid us a hundred dollar reading fee.”

My eyes widened trying to estimate what the agency’s slush pile was worth.  “There must be hundreds of thousands of dollars in there.”

“More. Way more.”

My heart weighed heavy on me as I waddled into the elevator and out the agency’s door.

I had seen writing contests in the back of literary magazines that asked for $25 reading fees. I’d pegged them for scams. Here I’d unknowingly volunteered to help perpetuate one. The agency was a reading mill. It didn’t matter if their clients ever got published. Their product was false hope. I felt like a traitor to the medium.

Nine Years Later

While my classmates went on to get careers as baristas I found myself working out of a penthouse overlooking Manhattan. While they measured milk temperature I altered between an exercise bike and a rower. While they modeled flour coated aprons I had a wardrobe full of Armani jackets, Versace slacks, and Santimon loafers. While they struggled to sell their art I had a gallery of art deco sculptures. Every room of my home had its own golden Olympian, each one looking like it came straight off the cover of an Ayn Rand novel.

So how did I go from laboring in a closet to my own private penthouse? Remember that guilt I felt as I trounced out of the agency’s parking lot. Well, I got over it and set up my own literary agency.

I put out an open call for submissions at fifty dollars a read, spent the profits to poach a handful of high profile clients, and used their status to up my reading rates to one hundred and fifty a manuscript. And by “reading rate” I mean my storage fee. I didn’t even bother to invest in shelving. I kept my slush pile stacked on pallets. The post office shipped them up via the freight elevator. I’d pilfer through the envelopes for checks and send the rest down in the blue bin, because recycling is important.

I’d feel bad about pulping all those manuscripts, but my ad clearly stated: SEND A COPY, NEVER THE ORIGINAL TEXT. Nevertheless the boxes accumulated. Just counting checks was a lot of work.

Now I was a great agent to my high profile clients. I shook all the right hands, greased all the right wheels. I got them the coveted seat on The Late Show, got their titles on the best seller’s list, got the bidding war going over the film rights. I did well by all three of them. So well they could’ve dropped me and I could’ve coasted on the royalties.

It’s just that my side hustle was so much more fruitful. Every hour I spent stacking checks into a pouch at the edge of the pallet earned me $18,000. And it’s not like I never peeped at any of those pages before I put them in the blue bin. I  read author bios when a woman sent a cute photo. I peeked at their titles, skimmed through their loglines. I might’ve even taken a gander the occasional query letter, but whenever I did my suspicions were always confirmed. Writers sent to me because no one else would humor them. If anything I kept them going by not responding.

I met one of those writers at a publishing event. She slapped my back so hard my cocktail shot out the rim of the glass. She held the portrait from her dustjacket to her face and mirrored the contemplative expression.

“Bet you wished you’d signed me when you had the chance?”

“You stole the words right out of my mouth.” I had no idea she’d even queried me. I pointed to her hardcover.“This was so good, but I was neck deep in so much great material I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Let me make it up to you. What are you drinking? The next round’s on me.”

There was an open bar. It was the least I could do. We drank martinis and I convinced her boyfriend to send me something he was working on. I even waved my reading fee, right before I tossed it into the blue bin.

You might be asking how I slept at night. The answer: on a king-sized hydrodynamic waterbed with custom tailored lumbar support. In other words: like a heavily sedated baby.

Then One Morning…

I awoke to find the blue bin tipped over in the kitchen. The sink was drowning in manuscripts, the countertops were spilling over and all the tiles were covered in paper.

The first thing my stupid brain thought to do was check the windows. You know how updrafts have a tendency lift bins from one room to another and then dump out their contents? Yeah, well, me neither. I cycled through more stupid theories as I heaved everything back into the bin.

Had I slept through an earthquake? Skyscrapers have a way of stretching the effects. The recycling bin was on wheels. The aftershocks could’ve rolled it from room to room before ultimately tipping over.

Had I sleepwalked to the freight bay, dreamt I was pushing a stroller, and changed my infant on the kitchenette?

Had vandals sidestepped security, cracked the code for the elevator, just to throw around some papers?

None of my theories held much weight, especially since nothing else was out of place, or so I thought.

That Afternoon…

My workout regimen was built around violence. If there were home invaders I wanted to be ready to go full Batman on them. I circled the punching bag throwing high intensity jabs, crosses, and kicks. All the while it felt like someone was watching me. Smiling eyes snickered at my form, at my halfhearted anger, at my lean little body.

I didn’t bother to stretch my ligaments before I started hurling haymakers. I imagined a pair of vandals prying the freight doors open with a jack, crawling into my studio, and tip toing along with the bin. I threw uppercuts with reckless disregard for my joints. I felt those smiling eyes giggling and I just started wailing, throwing elbows and knees. I hit my funny bone and kept right on cycling through my limbs. My knuckles throbbed beneath the gloves, my kneecaps were raspberry red, but I kept leaping at the bag until I slipped, slid under it, and coasted on the sweat.

My heart was still racing by the time I got back on feet so I limped over to the treadmill for a cooldown. I hit QUICKSTART, but I couldn’t get it moving. I dug my heels in, but the belt wouldn’t budge. I felt those smiling eyes upon my reddening face and pushed harder, grunting as my sneakers slid down the Polyvinyl. I gripped the handrails so tight my palms began to blister. There was a scraping, like that of a grinding wheel, followed by a burning smell. The screen read: INCLINE—

When I finally checked the motor I found someone had stuffed manuscript pages down there.

If I was married my wife would’ve told me to call the police, but it would’ve been like telling someone with road rage to ask for directions. It wasn’t happening. Someone was making a statement and I had to disassemble my penthouse to see the extent of it.

I found pages crumpled in the light fixtures casting shadows on the walls. Pages in the tank of the toilet clogging the flush valve. Pages in the oven threaded through the racks. I found pages in places I’d sworn I’d already checked. Dangling from the ceiling fan. In my pillowcase. Lining my pockets.

I spent the rest of the afternoon going through every box left on the pallet separating the checks from the chaff. Then I took the blue bin down to the incinerator. I imagined those praying eyes watch me fling those pages into the fire they weren’t smiling anymore.

Upon returning to my penthouse I hung a camcorder from the ceiling and focused it on the elevator doors. Then I mounted a sign on the wall that read: SMILE… YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERA.

I threw a phantom punches at the dark, until I broke a sweat and felt it in my hips. I remember shuffling into bed. I don’t remember falling asleep.

The Next Morning…

I woke up coughing. There were ashes in the air. No heat. No fire. Just ashes wafting through the room. They trailed into the hallway like a cartoon aroma. I followed them to the remains of my recycling bin.

There was an axle, a set of wheels, and a flat blue base. The rest of the 50 gallon container had been shattered and meticulously rearranged into wire sculpture. The subject wasn’t obvious from head on, I could make out a warped T shape, but when I sidestepped the sculpture’s true form took shape.  It was a depiction of man in pillory, his head and hands locked between a pair of stocks.

I followed the sculpture’s sightline to the floor where I found a manuscript. A light breeze caught the corner of the title page daring me to turn it over. Someone had anthropomorphized the bin to punish it for its role in my crimes. This was next level vandalism. The kind of piece a found object sculptor would’ve spent months planning for. As it turned out I hadn’t seen anything yet.

My home gym had been and reimagined as a sculpture garden.

The punching bag had been gutted and Bowflex rods jut through the remains. It was a hanging cage for figure cobbled together from weights and leather. He was holding a manuscript in his snap hook fingers.

The exercise bike beside him had been smelted into a set of iron stocks. The seat had been positioned in place of a head. The fan had been bent into a pair of lungs, and the pedals had been sheared into hands. This figure also had a manuscript to read, as did the one fashioned from the Stairmaster, as did the one made from NordicTrack cords.

I wandered from room to room with my mouth hanging open. Every refrigerator coil, every table leg, every fan blade had been warped into the same loathsome form. Even my art deco Olympians had been forced to gaze upon manuscripts of their own.

My legs wobbled under the weight of the situation. My lungs couldn’t take it all in. The room started spinning. I found myself sitting amongst the sculpted shadows, cursing the day I quit smoking.

I crawled toward the freight bay to find the elevator doors had merged. They’d one solid piece with no visible crease. The camcorder was still hanging from the ceiling, but the sign no longer read: SMILE… YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERAit read: QUIET PLEASE… THIS IS A READING SPACE.

“To hell with that noise.”

That’s when I felt those smiling eyes upon me again. The hairs on the back of my neck raised as they tracked along my spine and settled on the back of my skull. I took a deep breath, plucked up my courage, and turned around. “Fuck you and fuck your library!”

There was no flesh on the face staring back at me, just exposed muscles glistening like grape jelly. There were no lips to keep the drool from seeping down its chin, but it was clear this face was happy to see me. Its Zygomaticus minor and major pulled the corners of the mouth like bungee cords stretching a tarp.  The Orbicularis oculi, the fiber around the sockets, was crinkled, confirming my suspicions. Its eyes were indeed smiling.

Back at the agency I wondered how many of the authors in our slush pile were dead already. Here in the freight bay I counted nine purple people. They slunk along the concrete, altering between their knees and their elbows. They rolled over one another, dancers performing a choreographed floor routine, and they kept their smiling eyes on me the entire time.

I met the gaze of ghost looming over me.

“Thank you for submitting your manuscript, but unfortunately, at this time, it isn’t quiet what we’re looking for. Best of luck to you.”

The ghost raised a long narrow finger to my lips. “Shhh…”

And Of Course…

I woke up in a pair of restraints with a manuscript laid before me. I read the title page and a set of purple fingers pinched the corner and flipped it over. My day went on like that. When my stomach growled a purple arm lifted a dry bowl of cereal to my muzzle and I kept right on reading. When my bladder was full a hand unzipped my pants and positioned my stream into a pitcher, and when I had to go number two… Well, you get the idea.

The sun rose and fell. I didn’t fall asleep so much as I passed out. When I came to those phantom fingers were right there, tapping the page, knowing right where I left off.

I prayed there were only nine manuscripts, one for each purple person I’d seen on the landing, but after ninth one the pages kept right on coming. The ghosts were making me earn every check I’d ever cashed.

The average person reads four books a year. Books that have been vetted. Books that engage their imaginations and impart them with wisdom. Good books are dear friends. They stick with you, give you a perspective, and a sense of belonging.

Bad books are like toxic friends. They dominated the conversation, leave no room for interpretation, and tell you how to feel. Their appeals to emotion fail to resonate. They trigger your judgement rather than your imagination. They makes you feel disconnected.

Bad books were all that were on the menu as my restraints were slowly realigning my spine.

There were more infidelity fantasies by people who wouldn’t know eroticism if it bit them on the genitals. More self-help books by people who were nowhere near getting their shit together. More endless sword and sorcery journeys to nowhere in particular. More meandering melodrama. More edge lord gore. More goddamn Christ metaphors.

My life was nothing but purple digits, walls of text, and schlock. Until…it wasn’t. Until I’d happened upon an oasis in that endless desert of bullshit. A story that moved me. A story that broke my heart. A story that made the purple fingers rescind while I considered what I had just experienced. A story that I left smeared with tears.

As the years stretched on I prayed to read another like it and every so often I did. Eventually those purple fingers turned their last page and there was nothing left to read.

You Probably Saw This Coming

When Ebenezer Scrooge woke up from his nightmare he flung the window open and asked the first kid he saw what day it was. Easy for Ebenezer. He didn’t live on the 88thfloor. I rolled out of the waterbed and crawled toward the elevator. My exercise equipment was right where I’d left it, as were my art deco Olympians, and all of my furnishings. The only difference was the manuscripts were back on the pallets.

Manilla envelopes were stacked floor to ceiling. I examined one to find my own handwriting. It turned out that I was the sender. I opened it and sure enough I found a check. I was giving the author their money back. I was giving it all back. I wish I could tell you my time in that pocket dimension had softened this blow to my checkbook, but I was going to feel it.

The only consolation was the small stack of white envelopes on the other side of the room. I opened one and found an acceptance letter. I was taking on a new batch of clients. These were the authors whose manuscripts had kept my sanity from slipping. The oases. The ghosts were letting me hold onto them.

I leaned against the freight elevator doors and considered these developments. That’s when I saw the camcorder and thought to move the manila envelopes to see what had become of my sign.

It read: NOW EXITING QUIET ZONE. PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP.

I took the sign’s advice as I got onto the elevator and hit the button for the lobby.

Continue reading Slush Pile: A Scary Story about Unread Stories

Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness (Video Reading)

Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness

Today was the day I was going to write the great American novel, leave my generation’s impression on the annals of history, and secure my legacy in the hallowed halls of every library. I ran into the café like a toddler with a shy bladder. My brain was bursting and I had to drain it into the proper receptacle as soon as possible. I took a seat, cracked my laptop open, and gave the keyboard a good thrashing.

The spark of inspiration burned brightly that morning. Each scene was a fire spreading to another. Each plot point was a pendulum ball swinging, every development a domino and I just sat back watched them go. All I had to do was ride the momentum.

My characters did the real work, vying for their goals with confidence, getting into compelling conflicts, and just straight up being bunch of Chatty Cathys. I was but a stenographer transcribing their conversations in real time. It didn’t even feel like I was trying.

The rest of my imagination was free to consider the tide of inevitable accolades that would come my way.

“What’s that on my nightstand? Just the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was going to put it on my mantle but the Pulitzer was taking up so much space.”

This was real literature with all the symbolism that English professors salivated over. It was a bombastic barrage of brilliant subtext, with all the faint foreboding that New Yorker editors always feast on.

The story was far from published and already the success was getting to my head. James Patterson was about to drop several positions on the bestseller list. I was composing answers to questions I expected on my first Tonight Show appearance. Oprah Winfrey might as well have been reading over my shoulder, because I was about to make every book club in America my bitch.

But then you came along, sat at the bar beside me, and proceeded to shake your leg incessantly. That antsy appendage, that twitching twig, that locomotive limb danced upon my pupil. I couldn’t concentrate. I closed my eyes, but somehow the shuddering shape penetrated the lids.

That itch that you couldn’t scratch, it rubbed off on me. It transmitted across that bar like a power surge on a poorly grounded circuit. That tickling in your thigh muscles bounced around in my brain until both hemispheres were playing ping pong. The pins and needles from your vastus lateralis were in my hippocampus snuffing all the inspiration out.

Here I was in the middle of a monologue that would’ve surmised our turbulent times, a speech so evident in its truth that it would’ve provided the resistance with the language it needed to sell its message.

Candidates would’ve cited it from city hall steps. Activists would’ve peppered it into speeches at the Lincoln memorial. Radicals would’ve shouted it from bull horns as pepper spray wafted over them.

It would’ve lifted the veil from the eyes of the underclass. Undecided voters would’ve risen to its call to action. Historians would’ve used it to better understand our glorious revolution.

But… You had to go and do the electric slide out the corner of my eye, stomping out an unstable tempo that quaked throughout the table.

Had your knee not been pulsating in my periphery I’d have written something so resonant it would’ve inspired a generation of shoulder blade tattoos. Something so poetic Instagram accounts would’ve memed it out sentence by sentence. Something that would’ve been quoted in yearbooks, wedding vows, and Oscar acceptance speeches.

You’d have read it on motivational posters, park bench plaques, and headstones.

My dialogue would’ve worked its way into our shared language through cultural osmosis. It would’ve woven into your favorite figures of speech without you ever realizing where it had come from. You’d have use my truisms to win arguments in the bedroom.

But… You had to go kicking up dust in my blind spot, to puff out your pleated pantleg, and flick your fabric in my face. You had to shake-shake-shake your articulatio genus awake. You had to rev your motor symptoms right at my eardrum.

You had to be the reigning champion of my attention span. Your jiggling lap had to make my memory lapse. You couldn’t help but shoo my muses from the room.

You broke my flow. I haven’t gotten it back, because every time I close my eyes I see your phantom kneecaps moving as fast as hummingbird wing flaps.

If only you knew the poignant piece of powerful prose you’ve cost the world. If only you had some concept of the magnum opus you’ve obliterated. If only your scrambled skull could fathom the classic you Muay Thaied out of existence.

You perpetual motion mouth breather. You cardio conjuring eyesore. You bobble headed eggbeater.

I wanted to lean over and tell you to get your neuro transmitters in order, to drown your stomach in iron supplements, to fetch yourself a fucking fidget spinner. Instead I found myself pushing my stool out, standing, and tapping out a tension breaking rhythm on the linoleum.

And that’s when you had the audacity to ask me, “Hey man, could you cut that shit out?”

I’ll differ to the press to describe what happened next.

Continue reading Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness

Monster Mingle: Meet Nólatha Torhorn

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 second. She’s an Elven Queen. She’s smart, seasoned, and seductive, but just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

About Us

We were once Nólatha Torhorn, an elven maiden, preoccupied with poetry, mead, and the language of trees. Our greatest aspiration was to leave home, hike the northern highlands, and hear the song of the forest. Our quest was cut short when the Order of Winter snatched us off the path and sacrificed us upon an altar of frost.

The gods of winter cast a long shadow over the forest, a shadow that ran down the trees with the sap and the leaves. Twigs formed into skeletons, branches bent into limbs, and stumps rose up into midsections. Burls twisted into heads and took their places atop towering silhouettes.

The Order of Winter scattered upon witnessing the reality of their deities.

The gods of winter shook the forest floor. Their birch bark garments fluttered in long tattered ribbons. Their splintered crowns blotted out the moon and their hardwood hands dwarfed our elven remains.

The gods scrutinized our limp little limbs with their ice-cold talons. One of them tore into our chest, pried our ribcage apart, and seized our heart. We felt all of our naive girlhood dreams shatter in their ice cold grip. Then we felt nothing. That’s when the gods of winter raised their heads to the forest canopy and roared loud enough to shake the trees.

These kings of corrosion, these rulers of rot, these men of mulch, they turned their backs on us and seeped back into the night sky. Dissatisfied, the gods of winter brought about three more months of summer and our body was left for the wolves and the crows.

Our spirit wandered the winter lands, but no matter how long we traveled the frost altar was never far It was an anchor binding us to that mortal plane. We were found weeping upon our remains by Obliticus the forgotten God of the mists. Obliticus offered to restore us to our body for a favor. His priestesses had been buried with his sacred artifacts. He needed the spirit of a mortal to brave the planes of limbo to get them back. He untethered us from the altar and opened a door to the planes of limbo.

We spent several lifetimes trekking through that eternal sandstorm, searching every ruin until we came upon a sloping entrance. It lead through a labyrinth of winding corridors into a dome chamber with a disk platform in the center.

Three priestesses sat with the artifacts in their laps. Their eyes were rolled back. Their mouths were hanging open, filled with the drippings from the ceiling. A faint whisper beckoned us in. We crawled into the center of the chamber. The priestesses did not flinch. Careful, we pealed each artifact free: first the Crown of Candor, then the Solaris Spark, and finally the All-Seeing Orb. With the relics in our arms we knew we were supposed to run, but something was telling us to combine them, to bear them, and harness their power. So, we did.

In that moment we saw each eventuality in every thread of reality and none of them concluded with us bringing the artifacts back to Obliticus. Our mortal spirit had achieved enlightenment. We’d ascended from the planes of limbo and into the cosmic. That’s when we ceased to be an individual and became a “We.”

Physical Features

The moment we laid our fingers on the All-Seeing Orb they turned as pale as birch. The moment the Crown of Candor grazed our brow our raven hair turned white from the revelation. The moment we placed the Solaris Spark into its aperture our pupils faded for we had no further use for them.

We became the Crown Crystalmancer, a being whose gaze extended from the highest peaks to the deepest trenches, a being whose natural radiance commanded the attention of the entire Seldarine pantheon, a being utterly removed from that lost elven maiden who was cast off all those autumns ago.

Our Perfect Match

The Crown of Candor has shown us the type of suitor we require: a tall, broad chested figure, with hard focused eyes, a chiseled jawline, and a noticeable thigh-gap between their riding trousers. The suitor’s gender, personal proclivities, sense of humor, values, and life aspirations are irrelevant.

Approximately 2,465 individuals who read this within the allotted timeframe will have the basest traits necessary to help us achieve our goal. Approximately 239 will respond. We will select the 37th applicant.

You will be the one who despite the forthcoming paragraphs will still accept our proposal.

Our Intimate Details

Ever since we peered into the All-Seeing Orb, we’ve found ourselves distracted by a piece of information, so inconsequential, so incidental as to be a butterfly upon the surface of the moon. We fixate on it, in fleeting moments, when the river of wisdom thins. We find our mind wandering back to that altar, back to when we were but a maiden, awestruck by the likes of comets and polar lights. We dwell on the gods of winter, with our heart betwixt their fingers, and we can’t help but consider their reasoning for rejecting it. They preferred maidens with greater ambitions. By their estimation our death was no tragedy. We were not the caliber of maiden worth changing the seasons for. Little did they know what we would become.

Our Ideal Date

On the eve of the Autumn Equinox you will join us in that forest clearing in the northern highlands. You will lie upon the frost altar and wait for the sun to set. You will ask too many questions and receive the same answer every time.

“It’s best not to know.”

When dusk comes you will notice the dagger in our cincture. Your eyes will dart toward the horizon and wonder how far you could run. You’ll see us cock our head in that direction and turn back winking. You’ll recall having read that line and resolve yourself to your fate.

When the moon is at its zenith, we will run a blade across your throat, separating your body from your spirit. Then we will leave you in the cold arms of death.

Shadows will descend from the stars, bleed down the redwoods, and spring forth from their trunks. Great silhouettes of pine needles, foliage, and straw will surround you on the slab. Their frames will dwarf the branches and their crowns will blot out the moon.

Do not fear these so-called gods of winter. Your heart will never feel the sting of their icy touch, for the moment they reach out we will set their arms ablaze.

The Solaris Spark will enlighten the gods of winter, teaching them the ways of fire. They will scream like swine and die like straw men. Their panic will throw cinders through the air. Their heads will billow into the clouds, and their bodies will be but ashes on the wind.

Snow will never fall upon the highlands again.

Your blood will seep back into your veins, your wound will seal shut, and your spirit will return to your body.

Your loyalty will be rewarded. For the first time in over a millennium we will assume our maiden form and indulge you in the act of courtship. Our liaison will last approximately three weeks, seven days, eighteen hours, nine minutes, and eleven seconds. It will be the most intense love affair you’ve ever had and it will leave you wanting for the rest of your life.

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Monster Mingle: Meet Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep

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 first. He’s an alien. He’s well traveled, loyal, and charming, but just wait until you get to the end before you decide if you’re smitten.

About Me

Greetings, lovelorn earthlings,

My designation is Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep, the last of the Monogoans: a race known for our vast subterranean cities, towering silver spires, and big hearts.

After the destruction of Monogome Prime my people were scattered throughout the galaxy. Our vessels were bioengineered to convert cosmic radiation into endless provisions, but mine was the only one that functioned as designed. Helpless, I could do nothing but watch as all the vital signs went flat. Then I was alone in the universe.

I’m ashamed to admit I spent a prolonged period in hyper stasis after that.

Eons later I am up, active, and avoiding the hibernation chamber. I exercise, walk the exterior perimeter of my vessel, and meditate beneath the stars. I spend my working hours restoring the Monogoan archives, piecing together our cultural legacy so that my lineage might know where they came from. (Yes, I wish to sire offspring, I hope that’s not a deal breaker.)

Physical Features

I’m told my eyes are my most striking characteristic. My trinocular vision makes me an observant lover. I see ultraviolet light, infrared, and subtle emotional cues. My pheromone pores enable me to sense arousal from several kilometers away. I’m also a good listener, capable of hearing hypersonic frequencies, infra sound, and the sweetest of nothings.

My Perfect Match

For centuries I spent my evenings at the helm of my vessel monitoring the long-range scanners for signs of life. It was Earth that first gave me the green light. 100 of your years ago I received your first radio signal. I mistook the bowing of the violin strings for your vocal incantations. I thought that that transcendent music was how you spoke. Imagine my surprise when I found your speech patterns were similar to my own.

I charted a course for your solar system, devoting my days to learning your language, listening to your sports operas, talent plays, and quizcasts.

I’m embarrassed to admit I mistook the War of the Worldsfor a genuine newscast. The Martian Invasion was reminiscent of the attack that decimated Monogome Prime. From the heat rays to the black smoke to the heartless indifference of our attackers, it was all very triggering. I stole away to the roof of my vessel and sobbed into my helmet; certain I was alone again. When I crawled back through the airlock, I found you were still broadcasting like nothing had happened. How could you toy with my emotions like that? I’m not going to lie. It felt like a breach of trust.

It was the Voyager 1 satellite that reignited my feelings for you. The golden record, with all the warm greetings, was the mix tape I needed to know you were still into me.

As I near your solar system I’m watching your television broadcasts as I receive them, learning a lot about the intricacies of human courtship from shows like The Honeymooners and I can’t wait to give you all “one right in the kisser.”

IMG_2635
Monogome Prime By Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

I’m omnisexual. Having evolved over eons my species is compatible with all carbon-based life forms. I know omnisexually carries a certain stigma. You might wonder how you could hold my attention when I’m sexually attracted to every organism, but I assure youI am loyal. We Monogoans are serial monogamists.

My Ideal Date

I would cherish nothing more than to fly around the earth taking in the sights with the right guide. Show me how to use the Eifel tower, what the pyramids are for, and what the great wall holds up. Together we’ll sample earth’s finest cuisine, art, and theater. I want to hear everything about you too, your dreams and aspirations, your five-century plan.

We’ll chat until morning as we fly toward the horizon, chasing the sunset. And when we’re exhausted from our revels, we’ll exchange genetic material.

Now I know your species doesn’t traditionally interbreed, but don’t worry. There’s no need to get flummoxed over silly things like which genomes are compatible. My race reproduces parasitically. Our larva evolved to make hosts of any organism with a pulse. They’ll give you a healthy bioluminescent glow. The golden puss filled sacks that will droop from your earlobes and pearl-like cysts around your neckline will make you the envy of all your friends.

Paralysis will eventually set in and you’ll have me all to yourself, waiting on you hand and foot. For all five decades of the gestation period you’ll be pampered and lavished with attention. We’ll grow old together as your bones and muscles liquefy into mush. I’ll squeeze you tight as your flesh withers into a hollowed-out husk, and when the time comes, I’ll wring you out, letting our children spill forth from your every orifice.

Please send me an electronic communication if this conforms to your idea of romance.

Soon to be yours,

Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Scryzon Wixelvox Gleep

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!

Dragon’s Breath: A Horror Story About Telling Stories

The Van

I’d been dabbing my neck all afternoon, feeling the hive begin to blister, then pop, and seep down my back. I was allergic to sweat, but I couldn’t help but run my fingers through my hair and smear it everywhere.

Agent Sunderland suffered no such compulsions. He’d spent the morning cooped up in the van with his suit coat buttoned the entire time. He didn’t mind sitting in a leather swivel chair, wearing giant head cans, or guzzling coffee like it was Gatorade. The man was a cold-blooded reptile with his hatchet face and beady eyes.

Agent Reese on the other hand had a head like a cinderblock, and no neck to speak of. He wore a pair of shoulder holsters over his pit stains. There was a Glock in one and silver flask in the other. The flask was covered in Celtic crosses.

“What is that?”

Agent Reese lifted his arm as if he needed to check. “A flask.”

“What’s in it?”

“Holy water.”

“Should I have some of that?”

Agent Sunderland shook his head. “She’d smell it on you.”

I itched the path they’d shaved down my chest, feeling the rash of ingrown hairs, the gaffer tape pinching the skin. “But she won’t notice this?”

Agent Reese snapped. “She will if you keep picking at it.”

Agent Sunderland guided my hand from chest to my knee. “Breathe. She can’t see through clothing, she can’t smell fear, and she can’t hear what you’re thinking.”

“How do you know that?”

Agent Reese peeled the cover off the van’s ancient surveillance equipment. “This is not our first rodeo.”

“Is that a reel to reel? What government agency did you say you worked for again?”

Agent Reese put a reel on the machine. “We didn’t.”

“What are you agents of exactly?”

“The lord.” Agent Reese threaded tape from one reel to the other.

I reached for the latch for the door. Agent Sunderland caught my hand. He had the same Celtic cross tattooed on the back of his hand.

“You saw what she did to your friend.”

The door to Jamie’s studio apartment was wide open. Signs of a struggle would’ve been an understatement. The mirrors were shattered. The drawers were smashed to splinters, and there were paperbacks everywhere.

As for Jamie his body was contorted on the kitchen table, arms locked in place, back arched in an upward facing dog position, head craned all the way back until his neck snapped. The screenplay he’d been toiling on for as long as I’d know him was rolled up and crammed down his throat.

Agent Sunderland put his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it like he was giving a strong handshake, a show of sympathy from someone who’d read about it in books. “This town is filled with artists just like Jamie, bright kids with dreams of making it. The only thing between her and them is sitting in this van.”

I shook my head. “Pitching a screenplay is scary enough on its own, add this on top of that and…” I trailed off.

Agent Sunderland elbowed me, another show affection that didn’t suit him. “Good, use that fear.”

I hung my head between my knees. “If she’s licking her lips at the sight of my neck I’m going to lose the plot.”

Agent Reese scoffed. “You don’t think she’s a vampire, do you?”

Jamie had dragged me to a networking function for writers. There were whispers that a produced would be hiding among us. Matilda stuck out like a sore thumb with her leather lined suit, jet-black pixie hair, and fierce model features. Her skin was porcelain white and her eyes were so brown they might as well have been black. She wore an armored ring that ran up to her knuckle. When she reached out to shake my hand her palm was ice cold.

I scanned the van, shifting my gaze from one agent of God to the other. “What is she?”

Agent Reese lowered an eyebrow. “Not a vampire.”

Agent Sunderland adjusted the collar of the all black ensemble they’d fitted me with. “Listen. Don’t worry about your pitch. Let her do most of the talking.” He slid a pair of fine Italian loafers onto my feet.

“Just what the hell do you think she is?”

“Exactly.” Agent Sunderland smiled as he pressed the toes of the to check the fit. “Just remember, if you feel you are in any real danger, say the phrase, ‘Eye of the needle’ and we’ll come rushing in.”

“Eye of the needle, as in ‘It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God?’”

“Yes.”

“That’ll be hard to work into casual conversation.”

“Which is why we won’t miss it.”

“And why can’t I wear my sneakers?”

Agent Reese motioned out the window to the line leading around the block to the bouncers at the door. One was shining a light on IDs the other was scanning the patrons from top to bottom.

“The dress code always starts with footwear.”

Continue reading Dragon’s Breath: A Horror Story About Telling Stories

My Reoccurring Nightmare

I’ve been having this weird reoccurring nightmare. The thing is I’m not up on all that dream interpretation jargon. My brain keeps trying to tell me something, but I keep missing the point. Maybe you could help me figure it out.

The dream takes place in a vast palatial estate in the middle of the forest. I have no idea who owns the property or why they built so far from civilization. All I know is that the beds are always filled and that the guests have no clue how they got in them.

While this can be a jarring experience, the guests always seem to settle in. No one ever makes a break for the exit. Besides, where would they go? Every window looks out onto bark surfaces. The pantries are surrounded by towering evergreens. The dining hall is built upon a swamp and the bedchambers sit in a field of reeds.

The forest is well on its way to reclaiming the building. Maple seeds swirl through the skylights, vines droop from the rafters, and pollen is built up on everything like snow. Muskrats swim beneath the floorboards, frogs congregate on the windowsills, and raccoons and crows fight for perches on the shingles. There are cobwebs in every corner, nests in every crossbeam, and cocoons in every gutter.

For its part the estate refuses to go quietly. The support beams are always groaning, the foundations are always settling, and the shutters are always slapping against the side of the building.

The estate has a footprint the size of a castle, yet there are no grounds, no carriage houses, and no paths leading to the front steps.

There’s only one way to find this place.

I come here on nights when I’ve spent too much time pacing the apartment, too much time in the kitchen drinking, and too much time on the pillow thinking. I lie down in the city and rise up from my bunk in the woods.

Despite the size of the estate I can’t help but think of it as a cabin. Perhaps it’s the pine strips stacked floor to ceiling, the hardwood screeching under foot, or the log furnishing. Perhaps it’s the quilts hanging from the banisters, the moose antlers, or the smell of maple in the air.

I breath it all in. Continue reading My Reoccurring Nightmare

An excerpt from The Pigeon King

The following is an excerpt from The Pigeon King, my new short story (at 7,500 words it’s more of a novelette) now available on Amazon.

Chapter 1: A Little Too Quiet

It was move in day and my new condo was far from furnished, save for a coffee table and a floor full of boxes. Still I couldn’t wait to test the acoustics. I had tried to record a podcast in my previous basement apartment, but every passing car, barking mutt, and hooting frat boy had me pressing PAUSE. Recordings that should’ve taken minutes took days.

That’s why I persuaded my parents to invest in a top floor unit, high above the street corner brawlers, bus stop freestylers, and dissonant dive bars.

My new building was made for peace and quiet. It had glass fiber insulation, triple pane windows, and concrete walls. It had two security officers, cameras in every corridor, and a lease specifically stating: no parties whatsoever.

No longer would I wake up to a gaggle of giggling gals, flooding out of the stairwell in stiletto heels. No longer would I be a captive audience to a domestic dispute and no longer would I have to hear the makeup sex that came after.

I could sleep comfortably knowing the only thing waking me up in the middle of the night would be my own bladder.

The condo was like something out of a dream. When I stood in the center of the living room all I heard was the ringing of my own eardrums. I couldn’t believe this was mine, Daniel J. Cameron’s Casa de Heaven.

I shut off all of my electronics, except for the computer, turned down the furnace, and flicked off the lights. I dumped my journalism texts out and taped the box over the window. I even draped a blanket across the balcony doors just to be safe.

With the exterior of the space taken care of I pinned a roll of duct tape to a desk lamp, stretched a sock around it, and positioned it in front of my microphone. Voilà: I had a homemade pop filter to catch those stray P and B sounds before they could taint my audio with artifacts.

It was finally time to open the decibel meter on my phone. A whisper quiet library sits at 35 decibels. A bedroom at night rests at 30. I’d managed to get this place down to 25. Continue reading An excerpt from The Pigeon King