Tag Archives: short story

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Horror

My creepy Christmas story ‘With Their Eyes All Aglow’ was recently singled out in a review on Shocktotem, so I thought I’d share a little research that went into the tale.

O Little Town of Deathlehem, edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves

O Little Town of Deathlehem, edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves

Last Christmas time I heard a disturbing factoid reported on the radio: Each Christmas tree brings up to 25,000 bugs into your house.

Okay, tiny mites are icky, but it’s hard to beat spiders for pure terror. I looked at the lights shining on my tree and imagined a cluster of luminescent arachnids. Do glow-in-the-dark spiders even exist?

The glowing spider has only been spotted once, in the deepest jungle of Myanmar in 1923 by Barnum Brown, the curator for the American Museum of Natural History.

“Darkness came on swiftly and my pony began to stumble. Somewhere we had missed the trail…Presently, a few feet away, I saw a ball of light as large as a man’s thumb.

Tying the horse, I advanced as carefully as possible toward the object, which was surrounded by thorny bushes…I struck a match. There in full view was a spider, his large oval abdomen grayish with darker markings. Still he did not move, and as the match flame died out, his abdomen again glowed to full power, a completely oval light, similar in quality to that of the fireflies.

Remembering native tales of poisonous insects and spiders, I wrapped a handkerchief around one hand, parted the brush with the other, and when close enough, made a quick grab. Alas! The handkerchief caught on a stick before I could encircle him and my treasure scurried away. I followed as quickly as possible, but the light soon disappeared under stones, brush, or in some burrow, for I never saw it again.”

I had my spider and my setting. To make things more interesting, I made my glowing spiders more sociable.

Giant spider web forming in Texasbig web 2

Social spiders cooperate like ants or bees. Colonies can spin much larger webs and then swarm to take down prey as large as birds and bats.

(I was going to insert some photos of bats in webs, but I couldn’t find any that were not being feasted upon by giant spiders.  You’re welcome.)

My wife suggested the title for this story be, ‘Spiders get all up in yo’ bidness and then ruin Christmas.’ Yes, these spiders may ruin Christmas for a few unlucky people, but don’t let that stop you from checking out the anthology O Little Town of Deathlehem. You can buy the book at Amazon, and all profits from the anthology will benefit the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

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Gods Gonna Cut You Down

Many country western songs, especially those favored by Johnny Cash, seem to exist in a bleak Weird West haunted by wailing winds and ruled by Old Testament justice.  Listen to ‘Ain’t No Grave’, ‘The Man Comes Around’, or ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ and you’ll see what I mean.

The song ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’ has always painted vivid pictures in my mind.  In the song God tells John to let five sinners (the long tongued liar, the midnight rider, the rambler, the gambler and the back biter) know that they’re marked for judgment.  I wondered who these colorful characters were, and how they had ended up on the wrong side of God’s Law.  Who was John, the chosen messenger and avenger of the almighty?

Inspired, I decided to write my first story in the weird western genre.  Happily, my piece found the perfect home in SONG STORIES : BLAZE OF GLORY.  This is the second anthology from Song Stories Press featuring tales created from music.

Song Stories Blaze of Glory cover

In order to ground the ‘Weird’ I  wanted to make the historical details of my ‘West’ as accurate as I could.  Here are a few notes about the WEIRD.

MEET THE GANG:

The Long Tongued Liar

orochimaru

I chose the Long Tongued Liar to head up my band of outlaws.  The name conjured up Orochimaru, the scheming master of serpents and my favorite villain from the manga Naruto.  With God as long arm of the law, however, I knew my outlaws should be hell-spawn.  I searched the tomes of demonology for an appropriate counterpart and found Jezebeth, the Demoness of Falsehoods.  It’s hard to track down reliable information about her, but what else would you expect?

The Midnight Rider

ghost_riders

I have always wanted to write a weird western tale about the song ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’.

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

With that character already in mind, I had my Midnight Rider.

The Rambler

medicinewagon

How to make rambling seem villainous?  I had a choice between a character that moved around a lot or one that talked too much.  I chose that latter and created Giovanni Mountebank, the loquacious showman behind “Dr. Giovanni Mountebank’s Medicine Show & Traveling Dime Museum.”

plague-doctor

A clue to Giovanni’s origins is the sinister bird mask that hangs above his clockwork wagon.  He was born in the Dark Ages, where he began his dubious career in medicine as a Plague Doctor.  While no medical training or experience was necessary, Plague Doctors had the special authority not only to record the Last Will and Testament of their patients, but to perform their autopsies as well.  Imagine the possibilities for corruption and you get an idea of Giovanni’s path to the dark side.

The Gambler

Navajo god 2

Every weird western needs a Skinwalker, and Nayenezgani Biwosi is mine.  His first name comes from the monster slaying hero of Navajo mythology.  Tucked into the background of all my demon outlaws is the story of righteous men corrupted by Jezebeth.  The name Biwosi comes from Hastiin Biwosi, the first Navajo killed in the witch purge of 1878.

In the gambling halls of the badlands, however, he is known as ‘The Suicide King’.  His favorite game is ‘Russian Roulette’ (although the term hadn’t been invented yet).  A skinwalker can assume the form of any hide or fur he is wearing.  The Gambler keeps a coyote pelt draped over his fancy clothes, but he plays for the skin of his victims.

The Backbiter

NosferatuShadow

I wanted to round out my rogues’ gallery with a vampire.  I needed to find a different angle on it as well as a way for a vampire to move around in the harsh sun baked southwest.  My solution was twofold: conjoined twins, one living, one undead.

siamese twins skeleton

John

civil war soldier

The grim avenger in this story is a mysterious man known only as John.  He hides scars beneath his deerskin gloves, carries thirty pieces of silver and wields an antiquated blunderbuss pistol loaded with crucifixion nails.  He once walked a very different path, but Jezebeth destroyed everything he knew.  Check out the story to find out more.

Pistol_Bayonet

Song Stories: Blaze of Glory on Amazon Paperback and Kindle

Song Story Press

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Meanwhile, in Bangkok…

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Bang!

My story “From the Barrel of a Gun” has been accepted into SUPER, an anthology of super hero fiction from Static Movement Press.

This story was adapted from a screenplay I wrote in film school about a city over run by brawling super heroes and villains and the group of determined snipers who fight back.  One of my many strange mantras is that “A gun is the ultimate super power.”  I had a lot of fun doing the research for this story, and I think it shows.  I’ll share more when the book comes out.

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Short Sips 2 Now Available!

Short Sips Vol 2 from Pill Hill Press is now available in print from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  It features many fine short horror stories, including my own ‘TOOTH AND BONE.’

This story was conceived in a dentist chair during a harrowing series of painful and bloody purification rituals.  I passed the rites and returned to my tribe inspired to write a horror story and find better dental insurance.

Recently, my lovely wife gave me a certificate for a professional massage.  Lying in a dark room, face down with a stranger, my mind wondered to the macabre as it is wont to do.  Tickling my mind was a particularly ghastly segment on a Discovery Channel show about parasites that can infest the human body.  As the stranger dug into my muscle and sinew a new idea began to take root in my brain.  I urge you, go see the dentist before reading my story.  And get a massage, you deserve it.  But do it soon.  Once I write my massage story you may not find them so relaxing.

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Welcome to the Bell Club

Tales from the Bell Club (KnightWatch Press) is now available in print and on Kindle, featuring my short story The Wager.

The Wager is a horror story set in the late 1920’s, about a pair of scientists who explore the bottom of the ocean and find death and madness.  I had a great time doing research into the historic Santa Monica and Venice Beach pleasure piers, the local Tongva Indians, 1920’s speech, famous explorers William Beebe and Otis Barton and their record setting invention the bathysphere.  I thought I’d list some foot notes here that captured my imagination.  Spoilers ahoy!

EXPLORER WILLIAM BEEBE

I relied heavily on the real life explorer William Charles Beebe and HALF MILE DOWN, his first person account of breaking the ocean depth record.  Beebe was the most famous American naturalist in the world.  He described things that no one had ever seen, sometimes risking his life in the process.  I would say that my character ‘Charles Beebe’ was a dark reflection of the historical figure, but in truth the real person was all too tragic.

Beebe was a brilliant academic, popular writer and larger-than-life celebrity.  His religion was a mix of Presbyterianism and Buddhism, and he used his eyes to worship the natural world and its inner workings.  He believed that “Boredom is immoral.  All a man has to do is see.  All about us nature puts on the most thrilling adventure stories ever created, but we have to use our eyes.”

His wife, Blair Niles, was a stalwart companion, accomplished writer and fearless explorer in her own right.  She was his assistant and co-writer on their travels around the world, sometimes to places where no white woman had ever been before.  The Explorer’s Club refused to admit females, and so Blair helped found the Society of Woman Geographers.

Despite her loyalty and talent, the couple divorced on the ‘grounds of cruelty’.  Blair’s eyes began to fail, and she could no longer assist her husband with his work.  He started to shun her, not speaking to her for days at a time.  Once he reputedly stuck a pistol in his mouth and threatened to kill himself to terrify her.  I wonder if her vision loss made her corrupt or unworthy in Beebe’s religion of sight.

THE TOWN

The fictional beach town of San Simeon is based on Santa Monica, California.  This story is the first of many I have planned for my own anthology in this setting.  I am fascinated by beach towns and piers, probably because I grew up in a small shoreline town and vacationed with my family ‘down the shore’ in Delaware.  The origins of San Simeon, named after the saint of lost children, will be detailed in future stories.

The ‘pleasure piers’ in this story were all real, harking from an era when all of America flocked to bustling carnivals suspended over the sea.  The entire coast was crowded with mad cap piers extending into the ocean.  Prohibition may have been in effect, but who needs a drink when you can tumble down a wooden dragon slide in a burlap sack?

It was a giddy and surreal playground, mostly untouched by the great Depression.  When oil was discovered the area got another boost.  Soon oil derricks filled the sky like the piers stretched into the ocean.

THE STRANGE SHIP

The bathysphere, the strange submarine invented by Beebe and Barton, appears in one of my other stories as well, along with a summary of its invention.

THE ABYSS

As the intrepid explorers sink down into the ocean they literally penetrate realms of darkness that no mortal has ever witnessed.  Their transgression results in tragedy and madness, which is why you’ll find a few references to ancient gods, titans and myths sprinkled through the story.

When his partner is lost in the abyss, Charles, tormented by the loss, attempts to bring him back.  I wanted to foreshadow this by naming their ship ‘Orpheus’, but chose ‘Izanami’ instead.  The Japanese myth of the death of Izanami-no-mikoto is similar to the tragedy of Orpheus, but I find it more disturbing.

HORRORS OF THE DEEP

There are countless strange creatures in the sunless depths of our oceans.  Beebe described real animals with translucent skin, glowing bodies and giant teeth.  My favorite ugly is Astonesthes Abyssorum, which is Latin for “Eater of the Stars of the Bottomless Pits”.

There are also unnatural beasties at the bottom of San Simeon Bay.  You may spot a reference to my favorite Crypto, El Chupacabra.

In the black heart of the pit dwells an ancient, formless horror.  The slumbering entity spawns monsters, shakes the earth and lures people down to their death.  Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will find it reminiscent of the protoplasmic gods Abhoth and Ubbo-Sathla.

ENDING WITH A BANG

We never learn if Charles Beebe’s plans to strike back at the beast of the abyss ends in success or failure.  There was originally a post script about the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake.  An estimated fifty million dollars worth of property damage resulted and 120 lives were lost.  This didn’t mesh with the first person narrative format so I left it out.  One day I will tell the fate of San Simeon and the tragic explorer who gazed upon its hidden horror.

GET THE BOOK

There are 13 other chilling tales in the collection, including an amazing story by Edward M. Erdelac.  Buy the Kindle version here and the print version here.

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The One That Got Away…and the one that didn’t

My short story The One That Got Away will appear in CALLIOPE’s summer 2012 issue.   It’s a horror/comedy story with a nod to H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors from beyond.

I got the idea for this story as a lad when my uncle hauled a crab trap from the muddy waters behind his house and imparted its terrible secret. It was a chicken wire cage with a turkey neck in the center.  Hungry crabs can always find a way in to get the bait but they can never find the way out, despite the fact that it’s right in front of them.  As my uncle explained it, the crab’s wonky depth perception made the circular tunnel it had climbed through disappear against the weave of chicken wire walls.

I found this manipulation of the crab’s inferior senses existentially dreadful! I chose to explore a fish’s point of view and include some humor.  I ultimately thought that the crab trap scenario is almost too horrifying to tell!

Imagine smelling an irresistible feast from outside a room.  You find an open door and help yourself inside.  The door vanishes behind you!  More and more people are entering all the time, seemingly passing through the walls into the room.  You try to warn them but they blunder in any way, thinking you are just being greedy with your food.  Besides, the door is wide open!  Now you are all trapped inside, crawling around the room, crawling on top of each other, desperate to find the open exit that’s right in front of your face.

After days the room is so crowded you can’t move.  All the food is all gone.  Savage riots erupt constantly and you and the other prisoners are dismembering and killing each other.  Eventually your captors will come to claim you, to boil you alive, crack you open, and scoop out your flesh.  But they are in no hurry, because they know that you will never find the way out.

existential horror...but delicious.

 

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