Excerpt from Grindhouse by Elle Chambers: “The Beautiful People”

Jessie glanced down at her fingers as if seeing them for the first time. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open, but no sound came out. She pressed her lips together and wrung her hands.

“I know what you think. But it’s not what you think.” She stared at Detective Gross with a pitiful expression of fear. “She’s come back for us. She’s going to get even.”

Detective Gross sighed, leaning back in his chair. He pinched the bridge of his nose. This was another reason he avoided long talks with his daughter-teenagers had the uncanny ability to talk in circles, a skill he’d never quite mastered himself when he was their age. He’d always been a straight-shooter-he didn’t evade; he was clear and, most importantly, direct. This girl was anything but, however, and he silently prayed for patience before continuing his questioning.

“What is Morgan trying to get even for?”

Jessie’s watering eyes finally spilled over and she swiped at the errant tears. “For everything we did to her.” She leaned back in her seat and tugged at her shirt sleeves again.

“It started when she first came here three months ago. She was quiet, and she didn’t dress well, so that instantly made her a target. The guys made fun of her and said she looked homeless, and the girls were just as bad. No, they were worse. They used to pull awful pranks on her.”

“Like what?”

Jessie rolled her eyes. “There was this one time she wore white pants to school. I don’t know where she got ‘em from ‘cause nobody I know has white pants. They looked a little old even, like, flare leg jeans. And nobody wears those either. Anyway, the girls took a handful of ketchup packets out of the lunch room and put them on her seat in Government. She sat down and the packets burst, and everyone was laughing because you could hear the squish, and when she stood up there was this huge brownish spot on her pants so it looked like she’d had her period or shit herself.”

Her eyes widened and her hand flew up to her mouth. “Sorry. I meant ‘pooped.’”

Detective Gross waved her off. “Doesn’t matter. These pranks-they were always like that?”

Jessie nodded vigorously. “She cried after the ketchup incident. She ran out of the room while everyone was laughing and didn’t come back to class for three days.”

“Did you laugh?”

Her cheeks reddened and she lowered her gaze. “At first. It was funny, you know?”

He didn’t, actually. He’d been a Morgan in high school himself so he wouldn’t find that kind of adolescent “humor” all that amusing. To each their own though.

Jessie pulled her turtleneck up around her throat, shivering.

“Are you cold?” He didn’t think it was chilly in the room; in fact, he felt his underarms dampen, but he was also heavier than the tiny girl. It was possible she was still feeling the effects of the night air from when she was brought in the station. Nerves may have had something to do with it, too.

The girl shook her head. “I’m fine.” She stared back down at the table, not meeting the detective’s gaze.

“I told Brooke about the ketchup incident one day after school, trying to make conversation. Of course Lassie laughed, but Brooke didn’t. I was shocked because that seemed like something she’d find hilarious. But she tossed her hair over her shoulder and said something like, ‘We should talk to her. Invite her to lunch.’ Lassie stopped laughing then. If we were seen with Morgan, it’d be like social suicide.”

Detective Gross looked up from his writing. “Why?”

“Because Morgan was lame. The way she dressed-she looked Amish. Seriously, it was embarrassing. Her hair was never combed, it looked like a bird’s nest most days. And she was a nerd. Always had her head stuck in a book. She was poor. She lived over on Peach Street in the broken down house next to Mrs. Landingham. No one cool lives in that neighborhood.

“But nevertheless, Brooke had me invite her to lunch. She asked me to do it because we had a few classes together. I didn’t really mind Morgan, but something didn’t sit right with me about this.”

“So why do it?”

Jessie shrugged. “We always did what Brooke said. If you wanted to be ‘in’, you had no choice.”

“Brooke was the Queen Bee then.”

Jessie’s brow creased and Detective Gross shrugged. “My kid watches those Gossipy Little Liars shows. I know the lingo.”

“Sure.”

Detective Gross noted Jessie’s sudden silence. She bit her lower lip and stared past him at the wall.

“When I asked Morgan to lunch, she was so happy. She wasn’t blabbering about it or anything, but you could just tell by the way her eyes lit up that she was psyched. She didn’t have any friends. People don’t go out of their way to befriend newbies.”

“You took her to lunch-then what happened?”

Jessie folded her arms across her chest. “She sat with us and it was fine. The first day. Brooke was nice-for her-and Lassie…she made passive-aggressive comments here and there, but Brooke shut her down every time. The next day, Brooke barely spoke to Morgan. Lassie ignored her too and I was stuck having to talk to her. It was so awkward. We didn’t have anything to talk about. She tried talking to me about some dead Russian writer, but I don’t read that kind of stuff so there were these long moments of silence.”

The detective noted their own moment of silence with mild amusement. Jessie had stopped talking again and it was just like being in a room with his own daughter. He never really knew what to say to her. And when emotions were high, like they were with Jessie now, he definitely didn’t have a clue how to behave.

Jessie shivered again and Detective Gross stood. He needed to do something besides sit there looking like a brain-dead idiot.

“Would you like some coffee?” he asked. “It’s not very good, but it’ll keep you warm.”

“No, thanks.” Jessie wrapped her arms around her middle. She stared up at the detective. “I’m ready to tell you what happened.”

Detective Gross nodded and sat back down. He raised his pen, poised to take her statement.

Jessie cleared her throat. “Things didn’t get bad until about a week or two later. Brooke and Lassie got bored with being fake-nice and decided to revert to form. They’d invite Morgan to lunch with us or to walk home with us after school and they’d make catty ass comments the whole way. You could tell Morgan was uncomfortable, but she wasn’t the type to defend herself. They made fun of her hair and her clothes and the way she talked-she had a slight stutter. Why she kept hanging with us, I don’t know. They were awful to her. I would have stopped coming around if it was me.”

“Okay, so the girls made smart-aleck comments from time to time. Do you really believe that’s enough for a girl to want to kill someone?”

Jessie’s face turned stony. She looked the detective in the eye. “Obviously you’ve never been a teen girl.”

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The Writing Process Blog Hop

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this site, but trust me – I’m not dead. Although this post would be very interesting if in fact I was dead. I mean, trying to figure out the metaphysics involved alone…

Anyhow, I’ve been invited to participate in a spec-fic blog hop, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to get acquainted with some very talented writers like this one:

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Michael Patrick Hicks has worked as a probation officer, a comic book reviewer, news writer and photographer, and, now, author. His work has appeared in various newspapers in Michigan, as well as several The University of Michigan publications, and websites, such as Graphic Novel Reporter and Leelanau.com. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from The University of Michigan in Journalism & Screen Studies and Behavioral Science. His first novel is CONVERGENCE.

http://michaelpatrickhicks.com

Go check him out, folks!

Now, onto the topic at hand: my writing process. I’m sure many of you have lain awake at night, tossing and turning, wondering how it is I come up with my stories. You’ve probably racked your brains trying to discover the method to my madness – I know I have. So when I saw the questions we blog hop participants were being asked to answer, I thought, “How in the world am I supposed to talk about my ‘process’ when I don’t even know what it is?”

Well, since I’ve deemed 2014 my year of introspection, I’m going to attempt to make sense of what’s going on in this crazy head of mine. Bear with me, Dear Readers – this could get messy.

1) What am I working on?

I have several things going at the moment. First, I need to finish one final story for a new short collection (Grindhouse, release TBD) I’ve been working on since November (!). All three stories in Grindhouse are very different from anything I’ve ever written. For starters, they’re more violent. They also have a ton of graphic language and explicit sex – it’s like a 1970s B movie in print. Or a Tarantino film. Same diff.

Then I’m getting back to my roots with an erotic horror novella. I’ll be tackling a second zombie novella, and of course, I’m always trying to craft the best pieces I can for my Dark Tales series. eVolume Three needs to be released soon and I kind of want to mine classic horror tropes again since eVolume Two was more thriller/suspense.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think my work is different, but maybe it’s not – maybe it’s incredibly derivative. I’ve been heavily influenced by film and television, oddly enough more so than books. Maybe a lot of what I put in print is something Carpenter or Craven or Argento have already done. I don’t know; I haven’t seen every film they, or their peers, have made. But I know I take inspiration from them, as do many of my peers, so I can’t claim to be a special snowflake in that regard.

I would also say my stories are darkly humorous, but again, that’s not unique to me. Stephen King does dark humor better than just about anybody. He’s the first author I can remember reading so of course some of his style would rub off on me.

When I read this back, I’m like, “Damn – I’m not original at all.” This realization would probably bother me if I didn’t know there are only something, like, seven plots in literature and they’ve all been done before. Hell, even Shakespeare cribbed things from writers who came before him.

So maybe the point isn’t to try and be original. Maybe the point is to give audiences tropes they’re familiar with, but do it in such a way that it feels fresh and new. Context is everything. If you tweak and twist a trope enough, it becomes something else entirely. Throw in interesting, vivid characters, sparkling dialogue, and a killer hook and ending, then voila! You’ll have a kickass story that nobody else has (assuming you can tell a good story to begin with). I think I do a decent job of this. I’m always striving to improve my craft, though, always pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and always trying new things.

For instance, I never thought I’d write about zombies. I love zombies as much as the next person, but I thought, “God, that’s so played. How many ways can you tell a post-apocalyptic zombie story?” Turns out, there are an endless number of ways to do it, some of which have been brilliant. Others…not so much. Still, I knew I couldn’t do it. If I was going to write about zombies, I had to do it on a more intimate level. So I wrote a novella called Good Eats and took the zombie myth back to its Haitian roots. There’s no virus, no survival camps, no bullets to the brain. It’s all hoodoo and dark magic. I wanted to write a novel about grief and loss; how those two things can drive seemingly rational people to do unspeakable things in the name of love – and the devastating consequences that occur once those wheels are set in motion.

Like most things I write, most people either love Good Eats or hate it. Some folks thought it was just “eh.” I’d never written a novella before so I thought I did a decent job of it my first time around. Plus, I love the story. It resonates with me; it’s one of the few things I’ve written where I’ve been physically moved while pounding out a scene. And the rising action all the way through to the denouement was wicked fun times.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating: I love to be afraid. It’s perverse, I know, but facing Big Bads in fiction and coming through it (relatively) unscathed makes me feel I can do anything in real life. I like to think there are others who feel that way too, so I write for them as well.

4) How does my writing process work?

Okay, this is the part where things will probably be nonsensical (note: you were all warned at the top this was coming).

I don’t have a process per se. If I did, it would probably look something like this:

– turn on laptop

– stare at blank screen and flashing cursor on white page for twenty minutes

– stare at the ceiling and count how many cracks are in the old plaster

– stare out the window at all of the fancy rich people going in and out of the private club across the street from my apartment

– wish I drove an Audi or Jaguar like those fancy rich people

– go back to staring at my blank laptop screen until I go cross-eyed

– slam the laptop shut and turn on old Buffy episodes and wish I could write anything half as inventive and witty

– two hours later, weep because I’ve made zero progress on my WIP

See? This is why I dread questions like this because that’s legitimately how my actual “process” works. At some point, I’ll get hit with enough inspiration/energy/luck/whatever to get off my lazy ass and put words to page, but for the most part, the above is how I spend my evenings when I’m supposed to be writing.

Hey – maybe if I am dead, I can be reanimated as a more efficient, more disciplined version of me?!

Ah, who am I kidding? I’d come back even slower, and more brain dead, than I already am.

***

Next up on the blog hop?

S. Elliot Brandis has studied both psychology and engineering. He can tell you not only how they built that bridge, but why they felt the need to in the first place. Or so he would have you believe. In truth, he enjoys the little things in life: Bloody Marys with too much tabasco, and jeans that haven’t been washed. He often wears a cowboy hat when he writes. It keeps the light out of his eyes.

In May he publishes his first novel, Irradiated: a tale of two sisters living in Brisbane, Australia, post-civilization. He invites you to visit him at selliotbrandis.com.

***

Before signing off, I’d like to thank all of the writers, editors, publishers, cover artists, etc. who nominated “Child’s Play” from Dark Tales: eVolume One for Best Short Story for the 2014 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards! I had no idea this was a thing, I only heard about it Saturday for the first time on KBoards, so imagine my shock when I clicked on the link and saw my story listed as a nominee. I still keep refreshing the page expecting it not to be there, as if it were a figment of my overactive imagination. But it’s there and I couldn’t be happier. Even if I don’t make it to the finals, I’m thrilled to have been acknowledged since I’m still a noob to the industry. I had no idea other indies knew I existed, let alone read my work. So thanks for the shout out. I’m in good company.

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Excerpt: Lost and Found from Dark Tales: eVolume Two by Elle Chambers

Lost and Found goes back to November 2012 and is actually a salvaged scene from my scrapped first draft of my first supernatural suspense novel, The Man in White. The novel was set back in the ‘60s and Mr. Jones, my Big Bad (to steal a phrase from the Buffyverse), originally started as a traveling preacher from Georgia with a predilection for brutality—and small children. He’d go from small Southern town to small Southern town, teaching Sunday school classes to children twelve and under, and then when he’d find one that struck his fancy, he’d kidnap and murder him or her. (He wasn’t very particular about gender in my first draft.) My premise became, “What if Mr. Jones tried this on a West Indian child from the Louisiana bayou, right in the heart of hoodoo-land, but the child escaped? And what if this child’s family was connected to primal energy, something old and more evil than Jones himself, and he was made to pay for his crime? And what if after he’s put to death for his sins, he comes back connected to his victim?”

 

It was an ambitious novel to say the least (so ambitious it needed to be split into two books or risk being the length of The Stand) and I really didn’t have a clue how to start so I just wrote the first thing that popped into my head. This is a cleaned up version of that writing session.

 

 

He took the knife and ran it along the edge of his belt. The belt strap was black leather, thick and worn; the scratching sound the two materials made as they came together echoed throughout the deserted room.

 

He ignored the whimpering mass in the corner. Soon, she wouldn’t make a peep. She’d be little more than a blissful memory.

 

But first he would play. Taking her right now, like this, her fear turning her into a defeated mess, was no fun. He needed her to need to live. She wouldn’t, of course, but he didn’t see the harm in letting her believe otherwise. At least for a while. And if she was good, he might consider keeping her around a bit longer.

 

He untied the girl, removing the shackles from her wrists. She looked up at him with wide, watery eyes—he could tell she didn’t know what to make of this.

 

He knelt down beside her and kissed her forehead, relishing in the shiver he felt course through her. He could almost taste her adrenaline on his lips. He took his tongue and ran it across his mouth to really savor his handiwork.

 

“Please,” she whimpered. “Please, Mr. Jones—please let me go. I swear I won’t tell anyone about what happened.”

 

Mr. Jones smiled and ran his hand down the side of her face.

“I can’t do that, darlin’.” His sweet, Georgian accent drawled out the last word and to Josephine’s ears, almost sounded like a song. “I can’t let you go yet. First, I need you to do something for me.”

 

“What?”

 

He placed the knife against her lips and smiled, baring all of his teeth. “Run.”

 

Mr. Jones got up and stepped to the side. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned one shoulder against a wall.

 

At first, Josephine sat hunched on the floor. She didn’t move; she stared at him like he was a puzzle she was trying to work out.

 

He looked at his watch. “Tick tock, tick tock. Time’s a-wastin’.”

 

Sensing this was a trap, but knowing that if she could even risk the possibility of escape she’d take it, Josephine leapt from the floor and raced through the room. The basement was dark and full of old furniture. She could barely see where she was going and nearly tripped over an old coffee table. She strained her ears to hear over the pounding in her head, listening for footsteps. He wasn’t following her.

 

Her legs were weak from squatting on the ground for how many ever days she was chained up. She lost track of time days ago. Or was it weeks? God help her if it was longer than that. Her white cotton panties, the only bottoms she had on, were soiled—he’d forgotten to bring her the bed pan this morning. Or maybe he didn’t forget; maybe he finally decided to kill her after all so there was no need to account for proper hygiene.

 

The memory of him with his hand in her personal places, bathing her with a moist rag, almost made her vomit. She steeled herself. She had to find her way out. But which way was which? And what would she do if she did make it out of what she assumed was his house?

 

A bright yellow light shone in the distance. She squinted through the dark and her blurry eyes adjusted enough to make out something in front of her—a window. It was face level; it was her salvation. She ran harder than she ever ran before and reached up to the pane. It opened from the bottom. All she needed to do was somehow unlock the latches above it and push. She stood on her tiptoes and went to work on her escape, grunting through gritted teeth.

 

The window was stuck.

 

She frantically searched around for something, anything, to stand on. A few feet away sat an old toy chest. She dragged it over to the window and clambered up on it, gripping the windowsill so as not to fall. She continued listening for sounds of Mr. Jones, but didn’t hear anything. For some reason, that unnerved her more than if she’d heard him moving around.     

 

She pounded on the top of the window to loosen it up. Then she grabbed the bottom of the window and pushed. It creaked open and warm tears slipped down her face. She pushed again with all her might, but her tired arms gave out.

 

“Oh, God!” she screamed. She no longer cared about taking the Lord’s name in vain the way her mama warned her not to do.

 

She was going to die if she didn’t get this window open. She knew it as sure as she knew the sky was blue and the grass was green.

 

Josephine took a breath and pushed on the window again, praying for help. The window inched up just enough for her to get her tiny torso through. Steadying herself, she pushed herself up and managed to drag her body out onto the ledge.

 

The window wasn’t that high up from the ground and she was grateful for that small favor. She let herself drop down to the soppy wet grass. It must have rained recently. She didn’t remember rain the day she left school with Mr. Jones, the day he took her wherever he had taken her.

 

She didn’t have time to think about this—she had no clue where he was. He could leap out from behind her like in every horror movie she’d ever seen and stab her with his knife. That thought propelled her forward as if being pulled by an invisible string attached to a speeding car.

 

A car. That’s what that light must have been. Someone’s car passed by and the headlights shone through the window. That meant she was close to a street or highway. She’d run in the direction she remembered the light shining from.

 

She sprinted barefoot through the mud, not minding the goopy mess hitting her exposed legs.

 

“Help!,” She screamed as she got nearer to the break in the woods. “Help me, please!”

 

Her calves burned and her left leg cramped—still, she ran. Her chest hurt from a lack of rest, water, and her constant sobbing. She wouldn’t give up, though. No matter how bad she felt, no matter how long it took, she’d keep going until she found someone to take her home to her parents.

 

The girl stood out on the edge of the woods by the street. She forced herself not to cry when she saw the blackened night with no moving vehicles in sight. Was the earlier car a fluke, a random passerby making their way across the county line, or had she imagined it all along? It was completely possible that after how many ever days she’d been in captivity, she’d begin to hallucinate a savior. Maybe there wasn’t such a thing. God knows Mr. Jones wasn’t one, even though that’s exactly how he portrayed himself to her and her parents when they first met. How someone could be so charming and polite, so sincere and good, how that person could suddenly turn so cruel and evil was beyond her. She couldn’t believe the man who’d been hurting her day after day was the same person who’d helped her with her homework and sat at her father’s table for Sunday dinners.

 

“Help me, somebody!” she shrieked before racing down the street. A cold breeze whipped through her flimsy t-shirt and chilled her to the bone. She didn’t have time to feel embarrassed by her partially dressed state.

 

She needed to find someone before she was found.

 

A flashing light in the distance caught her eye and she sighed, stumbling down the empty road, ignoring the sharp stabs of rock beneath her feet. Josephine found herself drawing near the light and let out a laugh. It bubbled up out of her throat before she could catch it. She was becoming hysterical she knew, but who could blame her?

 

The flashing stopped when she approached the end of the street. Her eyes, blurred from tears and strain, narrowed to better see into the night. She saw a ravine, but no car. Her eyes darted to her left and she choked on a sob.

 

Mr. Jones stood beside a black sedan with an open trunk.

 

“No.” She dropped to her knees, burying her face in her hands.

 

For a moment, his face almost appeared concerned. Quickly, the look vanished and a grin played across his lips.

 

“Aw, darlin’—don’t cry,” he said, his voice low and calm. “It was a good effort.”

 

The girl’s frail frame convulsed as she doubled over, sobbing. He’d led her into a trap. Worse—she knew it when she ran. And now the chase was over.  

 

“Oh, sweetie—please get up.” Mr. Jones lifted her off the ground by her shoulders. She had no fight left in her to protest. He cupped her chin in his rough hand, pulling her body flush against his. “I want us to be close when it happens,” he whispered.

 

Josephine stared up at him with blank eyes. She was frozen; a statue. Her mind and body shut down, which was for the best she thought. Then panic seized her when she realized that was probably the last thing she’d ever think again.

 

 

Mr. Jones whistled a jaunty tune, swing maybe, as he carried a sheet-covered body to the trunk of his car. A fresh red stain pooled in the middle of the bundle. He gently laid the girl in the trunk, bending over to kiss the spot her forehead used to be. He hadn’t meant to mess up her face. Shame—he loved her face. It was so…open.

 

He said a quick prayer for the young girl, then tossed in his blade beside her. He slammed the trunk shut and resumed his song. It was definitely swing.

 

The hunger had been abated when they shared her last moments together, but now he felt the throbbing right below his navel resume. He was disappointed. This meant he’d have to get to another town as soon as possible and another town meant more risk.

 

He climbed into his car and drove into the woods. Tossing Josephine in the ravine would have been too easy. He didn’t want anyone to find her until he was clear of Indian Hills. Sure, he hadn’t given anyone any reason to suspect him of wrongdoing, but he didn’t want to overestimate his own intelligence and underestimate that of the townsfolk. They might have been out in the middle of South Bumblefuck and Hillbilly Hell, but not everyone around here was an idiot. People would talk. His absence so soon after Josephine’s death would raise concern. He needed to put her some place no one would find her for days.

 

When he got far enough in the woods to where he was confident animals wouldn’t scavenge the remains (and how strange it was for him to think of his sweet girl that way), Mr. Jones removed her from the safety of the car’s trunk. He found a semi-dry patch of land and laid her out. He removed the sheet and tossed it by the wayside. He wanted people to see his work. Obscuring it seemed like sacrilege.

 

Gazing down at what was left of Josephine Harvey, he wondered what she was thinking at the climax. Was she scared? Did she hate him? Was she thinking about her parents and sister or was he the only one on her mind? It bothered him that he’d never know the answer. Maybe he should have had her talk to him during. Well, she couldn’t really talk through all that screaming, he supposed, but maybe if he’d let her say something before he put the knife to her throat he’d know for sure.

 

The unknown would stay with him long after the memory of her faded. He’d feel that loss for quite some time, he was sure of it. And this town didn’t know it yet, but they too would soon feel that loss.

________________________________________

Dark Tales: eVolume Two will be released via Amazon and Smashwords October 31st for free until November 1st.

Free Fiction: Dialogue Only Shorts

Recalling Past Lives

by

Elle Chambers

Thank God you came. He’s been asking for you.

 

No problem. How’s he doing?

 

He’s better now, more lucid, but…

 

What?

 

I’m not sure how much longer he has. He could go any day now. You should call your parents, let them know so they can make arrangements.

 

I will. Thanks, Barb.

 

***

 

Hey, Pop.

 

Carl – what’re you doing here?

 

Barb called, said you wanted to see me.

 

Oh, yes. I did. I’m glad you’re here.

 

What’d you want to see me for?

 

Why are you standing all the way over there like a stranger? Get the chair in the corner and come sit beside me, son.

 

Okay.

 

***

 

Are you comfortable?

 

I suppose. What’s going on, Grandpa?

 

What do you mean?

 

I’ve tried to come see you before and you always told Barb to tell me that you weren’t having visitors.

 

Now you call me here – what gives?

 

“What gives” is that I wanted to see my grandson before I…well, before I was no longer able to.

 

Don’t talk like that, Pop. You’ll be around for-

 

Don’t patronize me, Carl. I know what Barbara told you. I know it because I can feel it. I’m dying.

 

…Yes.

 

I wanted you here because I couldn’t leave without anyone knowing what I did.

 

What you did? What’d you do?

 

Your father and I never got along. I’m sure you know that. It was my fault.

 

Dad has a lot of idiosyncrasies, Pop. You can’t blame yourself for everything.

 

No. Still, I think he sensed it in me. The darkness. It scared him.

 

You’re not making any sense. I’m gonna go get Barb, see if she can get you something to help you sleep.

 

I’m not tired or crazy and I’d appreciate if you’d stop talking to me as if I were.

 

Sorry.

 

Now sit back down and listen.

 

***

 

There were girls, before I met your grandmother. A few of them. All very pretty and very young. I didn’t know them well. The first girl, Noreen Hodge, had just turned thirteen. I saw her walking home from school one day and offered her a ride in my daddy’s car. I’d just gotten my license and was ready to show off. She’d had the nicest pair of legs I’d seen on a girl. I drove up beside her and rolled the window down. Back in those days, people weren’t so jumpy about getting into a stranger’s car, especially when it was raining out and God, was it pouring that day.

 

I drove past where she said she lived, told her I wanted to take her to Griffith Park over by the lake. I was a good-looking boy back then, like one of them matinee idol types, and all I had to do was smile at her and she blushed and said she’d go with me. I drove to the park with my hand on hers and felt how soft her skin was. It was like a newborns, smooth and unblemished. When I parked the car in the park by the lake, I looked her straight in the eyes – she had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen on a girl – and I asked if I could kiss her. She blushed again and put her head down, but I heard her say yes. So I lifted her chin and kissed her, soft at first, since she didn’t seem to know what she was doing, then faster, more insistent as my hands trailed down her bare legs. She was so wet from the rain. When she shivered, I wasn’t sure if it was because she’d never been kissed before or if she was still cold.

 

I turned the heater on. Just in case she was cold, you see. I turned that heater on and I reached up to unbutton her sweater – she was going to get real hot sitting up under my daddy’s heater with that cotton shirt on. She broke the kiss and pushed my hands away. I asked what was wrong – I thought she liked what I was doing – but she frowned at me and said she needed to go home right away. She forgot that her mother was expecting her to do something or other, I forget now, and if she was late she’d be in trouble.

 

Well, I asked her if she could stay a while longer. I was raring to go and my pulse was beating so loud I could hear it over the sound of my own voice. I was hot and I wanted to keep touching her, keep kissing her.

 

She told me no. She said she had to go and I needed to take her back immediately. She straightened her sweater – I remember it was blue – and I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and grabbed the bottom of it and pulled the sweater so hard, the bottom two buttons popped off and it tore. She yelled, but I put my hand over her mouth and pulled her close to me. With my right hand, I ripped open the top of her sweater and saw the plain t-shirt she had on underneath. And I don’t know why, but that shirt made me angry so I snatched that two. She struggled against me, trying to bite my hand, so I hit her twice in the mouth to keep her still you see – not to hurt her. She screamed again so I had to climb on top of her and lay my body across her to muffle the sound. There wasn’t any other cars out that I could see, but I couldn’t risk it.

 

Pop, what are you talking about? Are you saying you raped somebody?

 

***

 

I put my hands around her neck to get her to stop screaming. She stopped squirming after a while…just laid there and looked up at me with her big, blue eyes. I put a hand over her face. I didn’t like the way she looked at me. I guess with my hands on her throat and over her face, she couldn’t breathe. When I was done, I looked down at her and her eyes were blank. Her lips weren’t moving and she wasn’t really looking at me anymore. It was quiet except the sound of my daddy’s heater going and my breathing.

 

I panicked. I hadn’t meant to hurt her – she was just so pretty. I got out of the car and went over to her side. I opened the door and pulled her out by the arms. She was heavy and I couldn’t carry her. My arms were too tired. I dragged her into the woods by a bunch of rocks. When I hit her with the first one, I was trying to cover her face. Someone could have seen her getting into my daddy’s car and they’d send me to the chair once they found the body and connected the dots.

 

Hold on – stop. Dad told me this story back when I was in high school. That wasn’t you, Pop. It was your dad who did it. He got arrested for it and everything – it was all over the papers.

 

It wasn’t. Someone saw his car pick her up, but they didn’t see who was driving. When they found her body, it was so badly beaten they couldn’t tell much of what happened to her. Daddy didn’t have an alibi so they locked him up.

 

No, Grandpa, that’s not what happened. Your father confessed to the crime. He’d been following Noreen for weeks. He’d abused your younger sister, Kate, and that’s why your mom sent her to live with your cousins. That wasn’t you.

 

I know what I remember doing, Carl. Noreen wasn’t the only one either. There were probably dozens after her: Phyllis Campbell, Moira King, Ruth Tuttle – they were all like Noreen. The other girls…well, their experience was different. I got angrier the older I became. Accidents stopped being accidents and were planned. I don’t remember the other girls’ names or faces, but I do remember the screams. They were always so loud, so perfect, that I’d get beside myself.

 

Okay, I’m going to go get Barb because this is nuts and I can’t listen to this anymore.

 

Sit down, Carl. Now. I’m not finished. People need to know what I did. Your father needs to know.

 

Know what? That you think you killed a bunch of girls a long time ago?

 

I don’t think – I know. I know because of what I did to Pam.

 

And Pam is who?

 

She was a girl your father was sweet on in school.

 

Wait, you mean the girl who went missing?

 

Your father told you about her?

 

Yes. They were twelve and dad had a crush on her. Someone kidnapped her on the way home from her dance class.

 

She wasn’t kidnapped.

 

Pop? Stop this. You didn’t do anything to her. The police arrested someone in connection with her disappearance. The guy confessed after the cops found her hair tie on him.

 

He may have found her body in that quarry, but he didn’t put her there. He didn’t feel her writhing against him, digging her nails into his skin; he didn’t see the way her lips curled up into a grimace. He didn’t hear the screams.

 

That’s enough. I don’t know why you’re saying this, but you are very sick and you need help.

 

I’m telling you the truth and you refuse to hear it. So which one of us needs help?

 

Barb?!

 

Yes, Mr. Willis?

 

Can you please get my grandfather’s medication? He’s delirious.

 

Yes, sir.

You can drug me all you want, boy, but it doesn’t change the past. I did what I said I did. I’d like your father to know so he can have some peace.

 

I’m not telling dad anything. If you murdered these girls, where’s the evidence, Pop? Huh? You keep saying that these guys who were arrested were falsely accused even though there was evidence linking them to the crimes. What proof do you have?

 

My word.

 

Yeah, ‘cause that’s real reliable right now. You’re dying, Pop. You’re delusional. Your mind is halfway gone-

 

On the contrary. My mind has never been more clear. I remember the night I took her. I hadn’t done anything like it in fifteen, sixteen years. I came home with scratches on my arms. There was blood on the hem of my shirt. It got in the way. Your grandmother saw me. She didn’t say anything. She took me into the bedroom and helped me out of my clothes. They were wet with perspiration, among other things-

 

Stop.

 

She ran me a bath. I cried when I stepped into the warm water. She picked up my clothes and narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t do it again, Joe.” That’s all she said. “So help me God. Don’t do it again.”

 

She burned my clothes while I scrubbed that girl off my skin.

 

Mr. Willis? Here’s your medicine.

 

Take your pills, Grandpa. Get some rest.

 

I can’t rest, son. And now…neither can you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween and Dark Tales: What Inspires You?

And All Through The HouseHere we are in October, my favorite month of the year. Soon the leaves will be turning that crisp brown, gold, and/or burnt orange color and will be falling off the trees into large, inviting piles just waiting for some giddy child (or a silly adult such as myself) to jump on in ‘em.

But the best part of October is Halloween. The costumes, the candy, the haunted houses and hayrides – I love it all. Even better, most stations this month will be running horror movie marathons leading up to the 31st so there will never be a shortage of things to watch to send a subtle chill up your spine and keep you up at night.

I’m working on my next micro collection of dark tales for release around Halloween and while brainstorming ideas, I realized something I hadn’t thought about before: most of my stories are inspired by film or television, not by the horror fiction I grew up reading.

As my bio stated, I lived for Stephen King novels as a kid. I remember being six-years-old going to the library every weekend with my mom and brother, heading straight back to the horror section and bypassing all the children’s and middle grade literature. I’d read the back cover copy on his older books in the section, read the jacket flaps, and if the cover was frightening or strange, I’d put it in my “to read” pile.

Once I had an armload of books, I’d head on over to the librarian at the circulation desk and plop my bounty up on the counter, sliding her (because it was always a female working the desk) my library card. She’d look at me, then up at my mother, then back down to the titles I’d laid out for her, then back at mom.  Mom would just shrug and say, “She likes scary stories.”  The librarian would sigh, shake her head, and check out the age-inappropriate material, handing the books to me with a concerned and bewildered expression on her face. I’d smile, thank the judgey librarian, and happily jog out to my mother’s car, cracking open one of the tomes to read on the short ride home.

Movies, however, seem to have had a greater impact on me and my sensibilities as a writer mainly because they operate on a visual level. I’m a visual person. Images I see get burned into my mind and never leave (seriously – I have almost perfect recall of things I’ve seen, and been horrified by, as a child) and while I’m writing, these images come to the forefront of my mind and inform the tone of whatever it is I’m working on.

For example, in Dark Tales: eVolume One there’s a story called “Child’s Play” about a young boy and his imaginary friend who might not be quite so imaginary. After I wrote it, I came upon Thomas Ligotti’s short story “The Frolic” and was surprised by how similar my ending of “Child’s Play” was to his – but not very. Because ultimately, my ending was a take off a Tales from the Crypt episode I’d seen as a kid called “And All Through the House” (and I hadn’t consciously intended to do that when I sat down to write the story by the way).  I won’t spoil the endings of any of the three stories mentioned here, but needless to say, I think Ligotti and I must have been inspired by the same story (remember – Tales  was a popular comic book series in the ‘50s and ‘60s and “And All Through the House” was taken from the source material). The image of a deranged serial killer standing in your house dressed as Santa, drenched in blood is a powerful (and chilling) one. As is a woman screaming. These images are perfect jumping off points for a horror story.1_TCSOTL

I don’t have any hard proof Ligotti ever read the comic (and his short story was written before “And All Through the House” was filmed for the Tales HBO series) but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had seen the comics as a boy and had been partially inspired to write dark fiction because of it. Since I know now that I create based off things I’ve seen, TV shows and films that have stuck with me, I wonder – does anyone else do this? And I’m not talking about writing fanfic; that’s a whole other issue.  What I mean is, does anyone else unintentionally write a story and then go back, read a book or watch a movie and think, Gee, I think I might have cribbed that totally awesome idea I had earlier from here? I’d love to hear from writers of any genre on this, but especially horror/dark fiction writers since the genre we write in oftentimes tends to be a bit more graphic and atmospheric than others.