Tag Archives: spooky

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.

I sat cross-legged at the coffee table, loaded the script for my podcast, slid my headphones on, and clicked RECORD on the computer.

“According to the Washington Post, it’s estimated that 25,000 American prisoners are spending time in solitary confinement, many in cells not much larger than pool tables. Their every movement is watched. Their toilets and showers are controlled by remote. They rely on food trays to keep track of time.”

I scrolled down the page.

“Psychiatric professionals say solitary confinement does permanent psychological damage, increasing an inmate’s likelihood to reoffend, and for those with mental illness, it increases the odds that they will commit suicide upon release.”

There was a faint shrieking sound in my headphones.

I hit PAUSE, unplugged the microphone, and checked for knots in the wires. All the soundproofing in the world wasn’t going to help a damaged cord. When I was satisfied I’d smoothed the problem out I plugged the cord back in and hit RECORD.

“A special investigator for the United Nations classified any stay in solitaire in excess of 15 days as torture. We are social animals. We’re not made to endure such conditions. This problem with our prison system is a worthy topic, but the one I’ll be addressing is the effect of isolation on human beings, and why so many Japanese men have chosen a solitary confinement of their own making.”

The shrieking flared up again. It sounded more like chatter, like a dozen shrill voices trying to cut each other off.

I hit PAUSE and unplugged the microphone cable. It was possible that the cord wasn’t grounded and that it was picking up a radio signal. I coiled it up, set it on the coffee table, and hit RECORD again.

“They’re called the Hikikomori, or the withdrawn, reclusive young adults who find a quiet dignity in detachment. They get their social interactions vicariously through entertainment. Every culture has its escapism, but the Japanese have a term for people who dive so deep into fantasy they get lost: the otaku. Many Japanese high school students drop out to live vicariously through characters in manga, anime, and video games.”

There was another shriek, another surge of what had to be radio chatter. I took a deep breath and soldiered on.

“According to one epidemiological study a quarter of a million individuals are living as hikikomori right now. Many have been in self-imposed solitaire for twenty years or more. Japanese social services are so concerned with what happens when the parents of the hikikomori die they’ve dubbed the situation ‘The 2030 Problem.’ The real question is: what would compel so many members of a generation to wall themselves in?”

The shrieking came back. This time it didn’t dissipate. I dug my nails into the coffee table and scratched four furious lines into the finish. I hit PAUSE and strangled the microphone until I was certain the sound wasn’t interference but something it was picking up from the environment.

The cord dangled between my legs as I waved the microphone around the living room. The levels stayed flat as I passed over the refrigerator, the toilet, and the vents. The levels spiked when I got to the balcony doors. That’s when I peeled the blanket back and saw the source of my torment.

There were pigeons, a flock of twenty, bobbing their crooked little beaks, grunting and cooing. A pair of them teetered on their claws, circled one another, and rustled their feathers. They lunged forward, entwined their necks, and pecked at each other’s eyes. Their plumage was pocked and matted. Brawling was clearly part of their daily routine.

The other pigeons seemed oblivious to the fight. They dragged their fat bellies along the planks, walked in circles, and pecked at the cracks.

They didn’t see me until I threw the sliding doors open, but when I did all of those demon doves twisted their necks around.

I clapped. “Shoo, shoo, vamanos!”

The pigeons cocked their heads. They recognized the tone, but not the tongue. I shook a broom at them. It took several swipes before they got the good sense to heave their chubby little bodies over the railing and fly on.

Satisfied, I went back to the coffee table, tapped my phone, and checked the decibel level: 40, 35, 30, and 25. When the flapping of pigeon wings faded I put my headphones back on, brought the script back up, and hit RECORD.

“Depression will affect one in every four people on earth, but few regions will find so many resorting to total isolation as Japan. The hikikomori are a byproduct of a culture that values the prosperity of the group over the happiness of the individual.”

I paused, just in case there were any stragglers out there.

“Conformity is so ingrained in Japanese society that many students wear the same uniforms their parents did. They walk the same well-trodden paths, because they know that if they step out of line everyone will notice.”

A breeze flowed through the blanket. I turned toward the balcony, and listened. When I heard nothing I scrolled down and kept reading.

“In Japan, there’s so much pressure to go with the status quo that failure can prove traumatizing. Young men convert their bedrooms into fallout shelters. So many pressures reinforce their fear of the outside world: the pressure to prove themselves to their parents, the pressure to live up to the expectations of the opposite sex, and the pressure to mold themselves into model employees.”

I took a deep breath just as the cooing sounds returned.

That’s when I lost my shit and started strangling the microphone. “Other pressures include the pressure to pay back my student loans, to break into broadcasting, and to record a fucking podcast without being interrupted!” I’d gone off script.

The cooing seeped through the cracks in the sliding door, the blanket, and settled in my eardrums.

I hadn’t heard any birds while I was unpacking, but there with the microphone on, my headphones sounded like a pair of pigeon coops. I flung them off, tore the blanket down, and found the first flock had made some new friends. Now there were forty of those avian vermin, lining the railing, pecking the wood, and shitting on everything.

I reached for something on the mantel. This was one of my few prized possessions: a replica of the wand wielded by the infamous boy who lived himself.

I opened the door. The flock twisted their necks and fixed their orange eyes on me.

I waved the wand. “Relinquo.”

The pigeons merely pecked at the space where I’d pointed. When they realized I hadn’t thrown any breadcrumbs, they resumed their discordant song.

I waved the wand again. “Repulso.”

A few pigeons cocked their heads, but the charm was lost on them.

I slid the door open further, stepped out onto the deck, and poked the wand right into the flock.


I rarely uttered the explosive curse, even in jest. Nevertheless, it didn’t work. The pigeons hopped out of the way, but they were oblivious to the magic of the stick.

“Fine. I’m going to go put a kettle on and when I come back I’ll make it rain.”

I’m guessing that some retiree, with too much time and too much bread, had conditioned these birds not to fear the hand of man.

I’d have to reeducate them.


CLICK HERE to find out what happens next.

The Pigeon King Book Trailer

The Pigeon King is now available on Amazon!

Submitted for your approval, a mind-bending short story that’s one part Alfred Hitchcock and another part Wile E. Coyote.

We invite you to enter the home of one Daniel J. Cameron, an aspiring podcaster with a penchant for judging other cultures. Daniel lives a privileged lifestyle in a condo purchased by his parents, but something is about to break his comfortable silence: Pigeons. Avian vermin.

Birds of a feather flock toward Daniel’s balcony, clogging his home with cooing sounds. He’ll seek peace by going to war with them. Little does he know something supernatural summons these squawking squatters to sully his solitude.

In just a moment Daniel will learn that madness doesn’t migrate, that some sounds cannot be suppressed, and that isolation can serve as an invocation of a entity known only as “The Pigeon King.”

We invite you to partake in a truly bizarre experience, from the Twilight Zone to Amazon and ultimately your e-reader. Follow the link to find out what happens.

You’ll never let your guard down around pigeons again.

Backseat Driver: A Short Story Video Reading

A horror story about a dark passenger too many of us are forced to chauffeur: depression. Continue reading Backseat Driver: A Short Story Video Reading

Black Noise Podcast Episode 1: Red Flags

Welcome to the inaugural episode of my Podcast: Drew Chial’s Black Noise, where I premiere short stories in the spirit of the Twilight Zone. Unlike my previous audio shorts I plan on prefacing these recordings with informal thoughts on my writing process.

This first episode is largely unstructured. I’ve yet to develop any bits beyond the reading and an artist statement. So I winged it. Maybe next time I’ll have a checklist.

Feel free to share your ideas for future episodes in the comments.


My audiobook Terms and Conditions is now free on Bandcamp. You can listen to it right here!

The Phantom of Truth

The Phantom of Truth appeared at the foot of my bed. His black robe draped over the mattress. His boney knees made the springs squeal. He pinned me to the pillows with a crocked finger as thick as a broom handle.

The Phantom did not fade in and out like a waking dream. He was a real tangible thing, buckling the floorboards, scrapping his hunchback against the ceiling, getting dust all over everything. He was a giant whose every movement shook the room. If he jumped he’d take the whole floor down with him.

It occurred to me that his long black robe was made from scales. I thought the robe might’ve been stitched together from snakeskins, until I saw it puff out on its own like the sack beneath a frog’s neck. The cloak had no seams. I couldn’t tell where it ended and the creature’s long arms began. Continue reading The Phantom of Truth

Dream Detective: Audio Short Story Collection

Here are 8 Dreams and Nightmares turned into 8 works of flash fiction, all in 18 minutes of audio. Each one is something straight out of the Twilight Zone: haunting, surreal, and filled with twists. Stream for free or download and pay whatever price you want.

My Audiobook is now on Bandcamp

My horror novella Terms and Conditions is now on Bandcamp! Find out what happens when an artist accidentally sells his inspiration to the devil.

Download the audio from Bandcamp:

Continue reading My Audiobook is now on Bandcamp

Make Fear Work for You

Fear always has a confidant handshake
Fear always has a confidant handshake

Everyone is superstitious about something. In the information age, there’s still plenty of unknowns to be afraid of. Not every bump in the night can be blamed on an appliance. For writers dabbling in horror, this is a good thing. Today we’re going to mine our superstitions for inspiration.

We’ll be ignoring the classics in favor of ones that are more cerebral. I live with a black cat, when I worked in building maintenance I walked under ladders daily, and I can’t have a conversation about Clive Barker without saying, “Candy Man” at least five times.

Minnesota sidewalks fracture every winter, the only places to step are on cracks, and there’s nothing wrong with my mother’s back. So shout, “Bloody Marry” into a broken mirror, open six umbrellas indoors, wear black on Friday the 13th, breathe heavy on your way through the cemetery, and don’t worry if no one blesses your sneeze.

I want to talk about your secret superstitions, your fascinating phobias. The ones you’re too ashamed to share, but still give you a good scare. The ones you formulated without the playground think tank, the campfire seminar, and the treehouse entrepreneurs.

Those childhood fears that survived your intellect, the ones that you can never seem to purge from your obsessive compulsive rituals, those are the ones I want to tap into. Think of it as a writing exercise to draw out original ideas, to keep your scares from feeling tired and dated.

If an aspect of the unknown becomes known, it isn’t scary anymore. Horror trends have desensitized audiences. Exorcism movies have demystified demon pathology. There have been so many Ouija boards on film that another one isn’t going to frighten anyone, unless it uses hashtags and emoticons.

If you want to communicate with modern ghosts, you'll need hashtags and emoticons
If you want to communicate with modern ghosts, you’ll need hashtags and emoticons

Psychological terror hides in the dark, just outside the radar of your senses. You can feel it, but you never get a good look at it. That’s where your sophisticated superstitions reign, where your half asleep lunacy becomes reality. That’s where we’re going to find our story.

Say "Hello" to my little friend
Say “Hello” to my little friend

The Fear Test

The best way to know if your superstitious belief has teeth is if you fear it more than something you should be afraid of. Irrational fears have a way of eclipsing legitimate ones.

I used to live in an apartment above a parking garage. The unit rattled every time the door opened. One day someone discovered a body in the dumpster. A mentally handicap neighbor didn’t know what to do when his mother died, so he dragged her down there. Out of some morbid curiosity, I went into the garage to find the dumpster aligned with my bedroom.

That night I woke up to a tapping on the window. A silhouette was peaking through the blinds. Slipping out of bed, I crawled into the hall. Armed with a Maglite, I charged outside to find a pair of homeless men passing a glass pipe on the window sill. I wasn’t frightened by the crank craters lining their cheeks. I was just happy these men weren’t the ghost of the woman from the dumpster. That irrational relief gave me the courage to trick them into thinking I was a cop.

True story. Here’s another one.

I used to go for walks at night when I had trouble sleeping. My insomnia got so bad I started seeing things. My subconscious planted shadow people behind every tree trunk.  I saw them peaking out, ducking behind trash cans, and kneeling in the tall grass. The second I caught one stepping into my path it disintegrated on impact.

We’re programmed to recognize faces from birth. It’s no wonder we see them in wallpaper, tree bark, and the surface of Mars. Deep down, I knew these hallucinations were glitches in my brain’s ability to spot patterns, but they just kept coming.

What made the shadow people all the more disturbing is they were never just chilling out doing their own thing. Walking around the lake, I never spotted them fishing, reading on the docks, or making out on the benches. The shadow people were always on the hunt. They rose from the water, dropped from branches, and lunged at me from the bushes.

I had this childlike notion that the shadow people were real, that my sleep deprivation dulled the feedback from my other senses, allowing me to see them. That’s why when I heard footsteps rushing up behind me, I was relieved to find a bulky man clutching something in his jacket.

When I calmly said, “Is there something I can help you with?” he was taken aback.

He took his hand out of his pocket and laughed. Through a bizarre turn of events, we chatted on the way back to my apartment. It took several blocks for me to realize he’d planned on robbing me, but changed his mind when he saw that there was no fear in my eyes. Over the course of several cigarettes, he all but admitted as much. Still, I was comforted when I turned around and saw a man and not a shadow assuming the shape of one.

Rational fears are topics worthy of your writing, but psychological terror shouldn’t be so easily defined. Show us your shadow people. Share the ghosts in your basement. Give us something we’re not used to seeing.

See my credentials
See my credentials

Rather than purging your fear with some loud distraction, I dare you to embrace the silence. I dare you to ask yourself the following question:

Wouldn’t It be Terrible If?…

I’ve written articles on one of the easiest ways for writers to find inspiration by asking “What if” questions.

What if a house cat got exposed to gamma radiation and hulked out at the sight of a laser pointer?

What if a house cat foiled a group of terrorists by knocking houseplants onto them?

What if a house cat thwarted a serial killer by triggering all his traps before they hurt anyone?

Horror stories start with a modified version of the same question: “Wouldn’t it be terrible if this happened?”

Wouldn’t it be terrible if the only reason the monster in my closet hasn’t struck yet is because I wasn’t ripe?

Wouldn’t it be terrible if there was an anti-Halloween where demons come to earth posing as people?

Wouldn’t it be terrible if everyone on earth stared at me when I wasn’t looking, but somehow I found out it was happening?

Chrome Face
Chrome Face

Next time you’re searching for inspiration, I dare you to stare into the dark until you find something. Next time you recognize an irrational fear, make a note of it. If it keeps rising on its own, you’ll know it has staying power. Indulge it, let it drive you crazy, then direct its evolution.

Why dismiss your fear, when you can put it to work? Developing it into a story might just be the best way to overcome it. These waking nightmares might just be your subconscious’s way of plotting. After all it’s not madness if you use it.

Rude Awakening (Audio Short)

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

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

(Download the instrumental version here)

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

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

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

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

Build Your Own Monsters (Audio Blog)

(Download the instrumental version here)

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

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