Monday, July 25, 2011

When the Sea Comes by D. Alexander Ward

By D. Alexander Ward

Like my father, I was raised to be a fisherman on the narrow strip of land east of the bay and facing the Atlantic that is the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Though this destiny would be thought to be inescapable and predetermined by my family’s roots in the Shore – roots as deep and far-reaching as the first white men to ever set foot upon it - I had proven to be uncooperative and a disappointment at an early age.
As a boy, I often played with my friends in the crashing waves and foam on the Atlantic side of the shore. Our house stood along the southern edge of Bogue’s Bay, with the sprawling sea only a short bicycle ride away. During the hot summer months, we frequented the beaches almost daily. Such a childhood would be considered idyllic by the standards of any mainlander but at the age of ten, during one midsummer’s day, as I splashed about with my friends, I found myself caught in a riptide and dragged beneath the waves. Though I fought with all the heart I could manage at such a tender age, I could not escape the grip of the sea and was pulled away from the shore. As strong a swimmer as I was, I found myself panicked and the skills which I had been taught and had practiced were no longer at my command. I drifted ever farther toward the endless, rippling blue.
It was only by the grace of God that, as the last reserves of air bubbled from my lungs, I felt my father’s arms embrace me and carry me aloft to the surface, to the sunlight and to the air that my body so desperately craved. From that day on, however, I was unable to set foot in the sea. So great was my fear that I could not even bring myself to board the St. Marie, my father’s boat which had been seaworthy for more years than I had known life. To my father, this was the very reason that I had proved to be an utter failure, for it was known that a fisherman feels a kinship with the sea, not an all-consuming, paralyzing fear of it.
One evening, as he returned from fishing, my father gifted something to me; an enormous shell, a conch, that had been caught in the nets. Its contours were the pink tones of flesh and the white of bone with accents of silver that brought to my mind the way the sun glistened on the foamy tips of a cresting wave.
“Quickly, Gerald! Come see!” my father exclaimed and ushered me off the dock into the dark confines of the shed at the edge of our yard.
Gabriel, the odd-lot Brazilian immigrant who worked for my father, stood on the dock and pleaded with him not to keep the shell. “What you take from the sea, the sea will come to claim!” he shouted.
In my father’s estimation, Gabriel was ruled by pagan superstitions common in the remote forests where he’d been born but father had little patience for such childish nattering aboard the St. Marie. He waved him off and shut the door. Inside, he told me to rub my fingers over the shell. As I touched it, I was amazed to find it radiated a bright and ghostly blue light. I beheld it, awestruck.
“It’s a magical shell, Gerald.”
“What does it mean, Papa?”
I could see his smile in the ghostlight. “It means the sea apologizes. It welcomes you back to it. Calls you back to it.
I know my father had hoped that this moment would inspire within me wonder and trust in the god-like sea and I hoped for it also, if only to be looked upon by him with favor. I kept the conch displayed on the dresser in my bedroom with all the pride I knew he wished. But in truth, I found it often made me anxious to have it there. Not in the sense that I judged it to be an omen of some ill fate - in the way that the Brazilian fisherman had - but rather as a terrible reminder of the power of the open waters. As for Gabriel, his superstitious ranting eventually wore on my father’s last nerve and, shortly after that day, he was let go from his employ and I never saw him again.
Despite our hopes and the beauty of the conch, I never retuned to the sea. It remained in its place until the time came when it was apparent to my father that I would never be a waterman like him. I had recently taken a position managing a crew of men at one of the nearby farms and was content to coax from the ground whatever fruits it had to bear. My father died with such knowledge and disappointment one day out on the rough waters of the Atlantic, the St. Marie gone with him beneath the waves. It was both hazard and tradition in our family, you see. His body had been taken by the sea, just as with his father and grandfather. When we buried his casket at Greenwood Cemetery, we filled it with his nautical maps, a sextant, a fisherman’s net and various personal trinkets. That was twenty-odd years ago.
Last month, I ventured into the attic to clear some room and dispose of the unwanted items one collects living alone in a home generations old. My practicing faith in God having fallen long ago to spiritual apathy, I was sorting through a box of dusty, neglected Christmas ornaments when I came across the conch wrapped in faded newspaper.
Finding it brought forth in me a sentimentality that I had not known in many years and so I carried it down into the main part of the house. Paying homage to my father and to my family, I gave it a place of distinction upon the mantle over the fireplace. From my childhood, I remembered the trick of putting my ear to it to hear the sound of the ocean as if its essence had been trapped within. Forlorn in my reminiscence as I was, I did attempt this, though the sound filled me with an abiding dread, having dragged to the fore vivid recollections of the terror I had once experienced at the clutches of the ocean.
Shaken, I set out a glass for myself and poured three fingers of whiskey. The liquor quickly disappeared down my gullet and was soon followed by more. My father had never been a man prone to running afoul of the law, except in his disregard of the prohibition laws of the dry county in which we lived. This, if nothing else of him, had passed to me. An old codger at the general store could be relied upon to always have a cache of bourbon that he procured from the mainland and I had long been in the habit of keeping a bottle around. For many days, I passed the hours of night with a glass of whiskey, reading and occasionally glancing at the conch shell on the mantle which only caused me to reflect on the failures of my youth. I hoped and prayed that I would, through the rediscovery of this object, find within me the fortitude to approach the ocean with the fearlessness of childhood and with the fervor that the patriarchs of my clan had always possessed. I prayed for a transformation; that I would not die as the fearful boy that I had been, but a man salted with the sea’s embrace. A man deserving of my father’s pride and hope.
Soon thereafter, I began to distrust both my eyes and mind.
One morning, as the coffee percolated on the stove, I smelled with absolute certainty the salt and sand of the sea. While I dismissed it outright, I could not drink the resulting brew, for its taste was polluted with that of the roiling waters that I so hated. This was to be the first of many odd occurrences. Having never been one to retain a keen memory of my dreams, in the days that followed, my sleep became fragmented by vivid dreams filled with images, sensations and sounds of water. In my dreams, I slumbered beneath the waves and lay beside something vast and formless which seemed the embodiment of the sea itself. In my dreams, it was something I no longer feared. Indeed, my apathy was shocking and the water did not drown me but peacefully filled my lungs. While awake, I began to experience sensory hallucinations. Oftentimes, upon rising in the morning or waking from an afternoon nap, I would find my house filled with sea water up to my knees and I would wade about in search of the source, sloshing through the murkiness only to find it completely disappeared as my attention was pulled to some other thing or occurrence entirely mundane in nature.
These unsettling tricks of the mind only escalated. One evening, as I soaked in a hot bath, I dozed. I dreamt of being underwater and of my father’s embrace as I had felt it on that day, the rough whiskers of his face prickly against my cheek. It was a true memory in every aspect but one. This time he dragged me not upward toward the light, but down, down into the deep; a darkness impenetrable and lit only by flashes of bright blue from pockets of glowing algae. When I woke, I found myself sunk beneath the bathwater and rose quickly to spit and retch it from my lungs, a great part of me racked with terror while another part regarded the experience with a strange sense of pleasure. That night, I left behind all distinction between the waking and the dreaming world.
Tonight, the tide comes. The moon regards the world with its pale, unblinking leer and I stand naked at the seashore. In recent days, I have been unable to hold down a meal except that of raw and living things from the ocean. All efforts to the contrary have resulted in my emaciation and no balms or ointments are able to affect the peculiar skin condition that I now display. The surf crashes upon the shore and the waves glow a magnificent blue. The change that I have hoped for is upon me and I shall disappoint no longer. Holding the conch uneasily with what remains of my transfigured fingers, I step into the waters. With wide, Neptunian eyes I look outward and into the long deep. The radiant surf is my welcome, a greeting filled with the smallest of creatures from which life on a weather-torn rock once evolved. The one who dwells beneath has sent them. The sea is father and legion. It is the Great and Dreaming Fear. The sea has come for me, and at long last, I now go to embrace it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Interview With One Buck Horror

So, first of all, why don't you introduce your publication to the readers.  Also feel free to tell us about yourselves (Chris and Kris).

One Buck Horror is an ebook anthology series that features four to six short stories in each volume for the price of just one dollar. Volumes are available at Amazon and, and will be available in other markets soon. We plan to release new volumes every month.
We’re both native to the Chicago area and live there still.  We met at a Halloween party 13 years ago and have been together ever since.  We have two small sons who are already showing signs of incipient geekiness through their love of animation, Star Wars and video games.  Chris is a writer whose stories are often horror and occasionally science fiction.  Kris is an avid reader who used to average five new books per week until we had children.
What about One Buck Horror makes it stand out in comparison to similar publications?

We’re aiming to reach as broad an audience as possible with One Buck Horror.  The stories we publish aren’t necessarily just for horror aficionados.  We think that anyone who likes a good scare could pick up one of our volumes and find something they’ll enjoy.  We also believe in supporting our contributing authors as much as possible, from paying professional rates to giving our authors space on our site to talk about their work.

What's your idea of the perfect horror short story? Any examples?

Chris: For me, the perfect horror story has to start by being scary. I know that sounds kind of obvious, but we see a lot of stories that are creepy or weird without being scary, and that's not really horror. Beyond that, it should have characters that I care about, or at the very least intrigue me. And it should be surprising on some level.  I love stories that take me somewhere I've never been before, or make me think about the world in different ways.
Kris: My favorite horror story is “The October Game” by Ray Bradbury.  It’s haunting in the best sort of way.  That story and those characters will be with me forever.  In general, a perfect horror story is one that grips me early on, does not let go and I find myself thinking about it hours or days later after I’ve finished reading it.
Excellent. I agree on the first point especially. If it's just weird, or creepy, then it's weird fiction. What's your favorite horror book?

Chris: That's a tough call.  Stephen King's "The Stand" is one of my all-time favorites, along with "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley. A new favorite is "World War Z" by Max Brooks.
Kris: My favorite is Interview with the Vampire.  I read this in paperback when I was nine years old and it warped my young mind irrevocably.  It showed me how beautifully subtle horror writing can be in addition to its being absolutely terrifying.
Kris, you and I share the same favorite. Next question, though. How did you decide to get into horror as a hobby business?

Horror has been a passion of ours since we were both kids.  So, publishing an anthology is a way to merge our avocation with our vocation (to borrow shamelessly from Robert Frost).  We both feel that this was a natural next step for us given our individual skill sets: Chris in writing, web development and editing; Kris in reading voraciously and data management.

Would you like to briefly introduce your website to us?

Our site is  We post news about our current volume and upcoming volumes there.  You can also subscribe to our newsletter, connect with us on Twitter or Facebook, find our submissions guidelines and learn more about our contributors.  Our website is also the only method for submitting a story to us. Come and visit us!

What kind of writers does One Buck Horror accept its submissions from?

We’re open to receiving submissions from new writers and established writers alike.
How old were you when you first became fascinated with horror?

Chris: I've loved horror for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I'd watch The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits on Saturday afternoons. I had Poe's "The Raven" memorized at age nine, and I started reading Stephen King not too long after that. It's just always been a part of who I am.
Kris: I think I was about five or six when I saw “The Omega Man” on television with my older siblings. I remember not really understanding all the action but being thrilled by it in a very primal way and not being able to stop watching.   That feeling I had while watching it is something I love to recapture in all good horror whatever the medium.
Any final thoughts? Additional plugs? Anything else you want to get off your chest?

Yes, I’d like to get this dybbuk off my chest, can you help me out? :-)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Contest Information for 2011

I'm hoping this contest will happen once per season, each announced after the close of the previous. Since this one is the first one, there is no previous contest, so let's just jump right into it!

THE THEME: The Cthulhu Mythos and the work of H.P. Lovecraft

THE CONTEST: Please take on one of the following story challenges:
1. A paranormal romance short story set in the Cthulhu mythos and NOT featuring vampires. Have fun with this one. Think Deep Ones or Yog-Sothoth.
2. A zombie/ghost/vampire short story piece in which you capably imitate the narrative voice of H.P. Lovecraft, though which has nothing to do with the Cthulhu mythos.
3. Any story set in the Dreamlands. (review your Dreamlands stories before you write this one)
4. A story involving someone going insane in the Lovecraftian tradition. (Please make this one stand out. It's too easy to be boring with something like this) (cannot win first prize)
5. Five separate horror flash fictions of any horror theme (only one has to be Lovcraftian) (cannot win first prize).

PRIZE: Yes, you will be paid! If you win! The first place will be paid $25, and second and third will be paid $10. All stories that are winning stories will be included in our seasonal e-zine publication, so you can also expect tiny compensation for that as well.

DEADLINE: September 1st, 2011

HOW TO SEND: Please e-mail to me at and make sure your subject line reads "CONTEST SUBMISSION: (title of story)"
You may submit more than one entry, and it is possible to get two works published in the quarterly!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Short Story: Rejection by Annette Reader

When the police officer entered the room I knew I was going to Prison.  It wasn’t so much the expression on his face, smug though it was.  Neither was it the shape of his mouth – a sort of ‘I know what you’ve done’ grimace - but the way my lawyer pushed his chair back against the wall as if he was trying to get as far away from him as possible. 
The policeman’s presence was such that it seemed to shrink the surrounding four walls to about an inch tall, sucking all the air out of the room so that I had trouble breathing.  First impressions are what count – and if he hadn’t been wearing a uniform I would have pegged him for a professional killer.  He had an air of violence about him, like atmospheric pressure before a summer storm.  He scared me, this man.  Scared me more than Victor did and he had spent a lifetime perfecting his own brand of terror.  He made me wish I’d chosen another, safer profession – raising crocodiles or something.
 ‘Hello, Harvey.’  He tried to sound friendly, but it didn’t quite work.  He probably knew all about being “pleasant” but that’s how he treated it – a word he’d heard existed.
I exhaled and felt myself deflate, ‘Officer.’  I knew there was no foolin’ this guy; he struck me as a man who would recognise a lie no matter what disguise it took. 
‘Call me Tom,’ he said, throwing his arms wide as if we were old acquaintances, reunited after a long absence.  I tried to smile but my lips felt as if they had frozen solid.  He looked like he would skin me alive if I ever called him anything but ‘Officer’. 
‘There are a few things we need to go through, if that’s OK.’
‘That’s fine, officer.’  So, this was how it was going to be.  I’d pretend to tell the truth and he’d pretend that he believed me.  It was a game I knew well. 
‘Victor was your brother, right?’
The officer nodded whilst consulting something in his cardboard file.  It had only one page inside but he spent so long studying it I wondered if the whole of War and Peace had been printed on it in tiny writing.  ‘You both worked for the…’  He paused, moved his head closer to the file, and then made a face as if he was sucking on lemon sherbet.  ‘…the family business.  Am I right?’ 
It was my turn to nod.  We kept all our business in the family, didn’t matter that it was a million miles from legit.  As far as the authorities were concerned we were useless fuck-heads with no qualifications.  On our estate, conning the government was an art form and I was Picasso.
 ‘There’s a bit of a gap at the end of your…CV, shall we say, why’s that?’
‘Been on holiday,’ I said, leaning back in my chair and putting my hands behind my neck.  I wasn’t trying to play the smart guy; I had to do something to stop him from seeing my hands tremble.
The police officer threw the file to one side and leaned toward me in one fluid movement.  I jerked back, my head towards my chest, an involuntary reaction to protect my throat. I wondered if he was like one of them dogs that once they smelt the fear on you wanted to rip your face off. 
‘Have a little respect, Harvey,’ he said, baring his teeth.  I noticed his incisors, they were long and sharp.  A smidge longer and he’d be able to play the part of a vampire without prosthetics.  I swallowed my retort, that little gem about earning respect.  This man didn’t so much earn respect as steal it from you at gunpoint.  He drew back and then reached for the file.  ‘Tell me about Victor.’
            I hesitated. As if I could tell him anything about Victor that the world hadn’t already made up.  Take the interview from the TV last night:  Some old woman twittering on as if he’d done something to upset her.  ‘Good riddance to bad rubbish, that’s what I say.’  She finished up with a doozy that had the reporter practically jumping up and down for joy; ‘Lived violently, died violently, that’s what I say.’

Victor had raised me.  Okay, so it was more dragged up than raised but he was the only member of my family to show me any semblance of love.  To me, a clip round the ear meant he cared.  I’ve lived with indifference and let me tell you that that can hurt more than a few bruises. 
            ‘C’mon, tell me about Victor.’
‘He’s not feeling himself at the moment.’
His face spasmed, a ghost of a smile rising to the surface like dead fish in a poisoned lake.  ‘Being dead does that to a person.’
 ‘Can’t win ‘em all.’  I shrugged trying to dislodge the fear that had appeared from nowhere to caress the back of my neck sending an army of goosebumps marching down my spine.  I glanced over at my lawyer who had engrossed himself in his notebook; I peered at the overflowing bin in the corner, then back at the Police Officer – I was desperate to see something other than the image that threatened to impose itself on me.  I knew if I gave into it it would take over me like some sort of body snatching alien and I would no longer be in control of anything I did.  I closed my eyes, but the smell of blood made me open them again.  I blinked, convinced that someone in the room had cut themselves, badly from the stench, but it was just a phantom aroma, dredged up from the recesses of my mind.  Perspiration trickled down my temples.
‘I understand that Victor had been ill.’
I nodded, unable to speak.
‘Seriously ill.  Something to do with his heart.’  He chuckled.  ‘Didn’t think he had one.’  My hands curled themselves into fists.  I forced them to relax.  ‘Says here in his medical notes the doc told him he would have more chance of winning the lottery than a suitable organ becoming available - and hey! What do you know?   One just happens to come along.’
‘Must’ve been his lucky day.’
He nodded slowly, watching me carefully.  ‘The Pathologist says it wasn’t complications from the surgery that killed him.  So, how did Victor die?’
 ‘Natural causes.’  The words shrivelled up before me.  It wasn’t the look the copper was giving me, filthy though it was; it was the image from earlier, returning with what seemed like reinforcements.  I cleared my throat.  ‘I don’t know how he died.’  The police officer nodded, carrying on the pretence of believing me.  ‘All I know is that I found him.’
‘Uh-huh.  Let’s go back to the time after Victors’ operation.  Major thing like that must have affected him somehow.’
            ‘A bit.’  I studied my fingernails - scraped clean by forensics.  The illness itself changed him but the operation altered him even more.  I’d read an article in the paper on how the recipient takes on the traits of the donor.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not exactly Mr Commuter reading my daily news - it had been wrapped round some gear.  It was there, I read it, full stop.  Anyway, they get cravings for favourite foods or suddenly dislike something they loved before.  But Victor’s reaction was nothing as simple as no longer drinking coffee or having a burning desire to go and see Auntie Mavis whom no-one had ever heard of – his change was not just physical but deeper,  something almost…I dunno, almost spiritual.   And then there were the nightmares.  Before he used to boast that he could sleep without dreaming.  After, he was afflicted by such vivid dreams it got to the point where he was too afraid to go to sleep, but never once would he tell me what they were about.  I can’t imagine what terrors stalked his nighttime hours or why they took so long to find him.
‘Must’ve been hard on you.’ I ignored the sarcasm, swallowing the huge dry ball of emotion that had welled up from nowhere.
‘A bit.’
When he told me he wanted to go straight, to sell the business that we’d both built up, I could have dropped dead with surprise.  When he told me why, I could have killed him there and then.  But I didn’t because he was my brother.  I didn’t because even though he wanted to do something which went against every belief I held in every atom of my being, a tiny part of me wanted to follow what he was doing – the way I had always followed him – the way I always would.
It was all to do with his heart.  The one they’d given him.  When they took out his old diseased one and put the brand new pumping organ inside him they transplanted something else as well; the essence of the old owner or who that person was. 
Sometimes he’d complain of an ache inside his chest.  He said he felt his heart pumping against his rib cage.  Other times, he’d grasp at his left side and stand there panting.  When I asked what was wrong, the terror in his face made me take a step back from him.  Raw naked fear.  Something I’d never seen before, and I thought I’d seen everything.  Men about to die, whether they’re begging for their lives or sitting in quiet acceptance – none of them had an expression like that.  From the way he would grasp his chest it looked like he was trying keep something inside.
Other times the ache wasn’t physical.   He’d be seized by a melancholy, and would brood for days.  He could never tell me what was wrong with him, but he’d wander the house opening and shutting cupboard doors as if he was searching for something to fix it – a thirst he couldn’t sate, a hunger he couldn’t feed – something that wasn’t there.  A longing for something he couldn’t define.

‘How do you account for the marks on his body, Harvey?’
I looked up so fast, my neck hurt.  ‘What marks?’
‘The marks on his chest.  Looked like something clawed their way into his chest.’  He hesitated, studying me the whole time like I was a bug under a microscope.
‘Why did you kill your brother, Harvey.  Was it something he said?’

He told me he’d found God, as if He had been hiding around the corner and all it took was for Victor to look in the right place.  At first I thought he was joking, that the Internet sites for seminary school he’d marked off in his Favourites were just an elaborate joke to wind up his brother. I adored him, I wanted to be just like him – hell, I wanted to be  him and if he decided that he needed to do something to make him feel alive then I would do exactly the same.  No matter what it was.

The police officer watched me carefully a while before he finally spoke as if he was a predator and I was his next meal.  I knew this would be his final sentence.  I closed my eyes knowing that there was nothing else to say.

I found my brother on the floor of his bedroom.  He was lying facedown in a pool of blood, from his posture; he looked like he had been trying to crawl somewhere.  His hands were like claws and were covered in blood and fleshy bits of gore.  I knew he was dead, but I still went to him and felt for a pulse.  I turned him over thinking that even if he had no pulse I could give him mouth-to-mouth.  Then I saw his chest and I stopped.  I could breathe into his mouth all I wanted but that air weren’t going nowhere.  His chest had been opened up; his ribs had been ripped apart so that only gristle and bony splinters remained. 
Where his heart should have been there was nothing.

‘Where’s his heart, Harvey?  What did you do with it?’

As they led me back to my cell all I could think about was all them drugs Victor took to stop his body rejecting his new heart, yet there wasn’t a single one to prevent it rejecting him.

…the Priest, who died yesterday, was in his early thirties.  He was attacked whilst walking home.  An eyewitness stated that three men hit him over the head several times with what appeared to be a cricket bat and then left him to die in the street.  The attack appeared to be completely motiveless. 
‘He was a good man, all heart,’ his house-keeper said, tearfully.  ‘All he wanted to do was help people, that’s why I’m not surprised he wanted to donate his organs for transplant.  It’s what he would have wanted.’   Police are appealing for more information.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Flash Fiction: The Faceless Man by (the editor)

Hey guys! This is a flash fiction written by me a while ago. Please be gentle, the truth is I just haven't had any other real flash fiction submissions for Flash Fiction Friday so I'm posting my own. I hate to do that because I'm very much a casual writer, so please be gentle and try to enjoy this attempt. Keep submitting fiction so I don't have to resort to publishing my own work too often. Thanks everyone!

“The faceless man” was a most disturbing and mysterious circus freak belonging to a traveling sideshow circus full of vagrants and superstitious gypsy-folk. Wherever this circus went, suspicious disappearances would soon follow. Many accused the Faceless Man, for within his tent at night one could hear doleful and boisterous lamentations. Though there was widespread speculation that he couldn’t even speak, people often heard such clear cries as “Please, kill me!” Many speculated that such screams probably belonged to his many victims, but until people went missing, most had previously assumed it was an elaborate attempt to hype up the act.
The Faceless Man stood at about six and a half feet tall and was very lean for his height. His bones were fragile and he suffered from a condition, harlequin icthyosis, which left him at birth with scaly, hideous skin and bulging red reptilian eyes. He received experimental treatment for it, and his treatment, so the ringmaster claimed, must be applied and imbibed 24 times a day: once per hour. The disease, or perhaps the medicine, also had an apparent unforeseen cost: his mind. When he was visited by circus-goers, he was gloomy, rarely making any attempt to speak, and was wont to stare at the floor and moan softly, sometimes sadly, other times angrily.
What a piteous life he led, they would say. What a wretched creature! What a poor beast of a man. After leaving his tent, everyone always felt a bit better about their own lives.
But the Faceless Man never felt better about his own life. His face was always blank in expression and one could only guess at his despair by listening to the unceasing woeful sounds coming from inside his tent. His empty face had nothing resembling lips; just a slit for a mouth, and his skin would go from scaly to slimy after the application of his medicine. He also had no nose, and his head was a bit larger than it ought to be.
His body was a lumbering, clumsy-looking thing. Perhaps this clumsy look added to his reputation of being so mentally deficient. Truth be told, the Faceless Man is not by nature so dim and introverted as he is made to appear. The ringmaster had a secret.
Each night, upon the conclusion of the Faceless Man’s show, young men in the crowd would often offer to pay for a private audience with the Faceless Man, where it would be promised they would be able to elicit some speech from him. After such a show, these men would pay the ringmaster in cash, who would escort them into the den of the Faceless Man, where he would often be found crouching nearly naked, chained up, crying and moaning softly. What a piteous existence, the men would invariably think.
And as that evening’s lucky young man approached the Faceless Man, something the former didn’t expect would happen. A crowbar would greet the back of the visiting young man’s head in a most violent fashion, splattering blood and cracking skull, reducing the curious visitor to a barely-living pile of meat and bones on the floor. The Faceless Man would sob louder, at least usually, and the cruel ringmaster would ring a bell in a most mocking way. “Dinner is served!” he’d say.
“Please, just kill me!” would be the most frequent reply of the Faceless Man. But the ringmaster never did oblige.
The human meat keeps the Faceless Man dumb and quiet, you see. Human meat also has a tendency to become addictive, particularly when said meat comes from an avid tobacco smoker, which it always did, thanks to the careful planning of the ringmaster. The nicotine in his victims’ blood keeps him in line, keeps him hungry, but the feeding also fuels his rage and self-loathing.
Wherever the Faceless Man’s circus goes, suspicious disappearances are certain to follow. One day, the Faceless Man vowed to himself, it would be the ringmaster’s.

Monday, July 11, 2011

REVIEW: The Ass Goblins of Auschwitz by Cameron Pierce
Author: Cameron Pierce
Publisher: Eraserhead Press

Did you even know that books like this exist? The Ass Goblins of Auschwitz is one of the most bizarre, grotesque, and disgusting books I've ever read, but for the life of me, I wasn't able to put it down. I literally read the entire 104 page novella in an evening. It's a kick in the pants and a shock to your system you won't soon forget.

First of all, let me address a few criticisms I had about the piece right off the bat (so we can get to the good stuff). The use of Nazi imagery is tacked on in the worst way. It's quite probably a very self-aware decision by the author to provide additional marketability to his concept and add a sort of shock-rock factor. The ass goblins themselves have nothing to do with Nazi Germany. Swastikas are mentioned abundantly, and Adolf Hitler is the name of the most hideous and powerful of ass goblins, but Auschwitz is merely the city they live in, and it really has nothing at all to do with World War 2, the holocaust, real Nazism, Germany, etc. The story would've been just as strong without the additional Nazi imagery plastered on for added appeal. I might argue that in some ways it distracted from the otherwise impressive originality of the story because so many other authors have used the same trick.

Another critique many might have of this book is its use of children as protagonists in such a dark and violent world. The story makes no qualms about tearing children apart, having them being turned into "cider", subjecting them to forced cannibalism, mutation, and just about every unfortunate circumstance you can imagine (like eating your own organs). That being said, the word "Children" in this story is tacked on just as much as the Nazi imagery. The characters behave entirely unlike children in their maturity and complexities, and it's more correct to say that they belong to a species of children whose homeworld is called "Kidland". And that leads into the recurring theme of the novella: childhood/innocence lost.

At least, that's what I thought the theme to be. Much ado was made about the loss of childhood, about how the Ass Goblin scientist (the White Angel) was performing experiments to make the ass goblins happy like children were in their natural habitat, and about how the children, after undergoing certain (spoiler-free) changes, could never go back to really being children. Keep your eyes out for this theme if you choose to read the book and let me know if you agree or not.

The things I loved about this book though were what made it so enthralling. The imagery used was well-described and aggressively original and imaginative. The ass goblins are quite unlike any other thing that has appeared in fiction to date. The characters are also given just enough time to develop enough for us to understand them, yet at times I felt as though they were merely vessels of a much greater story.

The writing style is anything but amateur and there were some truly great lines scattered throughout the piece. The plot is very coherent despite the absurdity of the premise, and the ending, though maybe a bit rushed, is an epic scene that is to be read at least twice.

Do I recommend this book? Well, yes, definitely. But if you are not into bizarro fiction, cannot stomach gore and grossness in your stories (and there is LOTS of both), or are offended by the Nazi overtones or the graphic abuse and killings of "children", then you should pass. Those of you able to approach the book with a truly open mind are likely to come away either with mixed feelings or, like me, immediately searching Amazon for more content by the same author.

NOTE to readers: If you want to submit your own book reviews of any horror/bizarro/weird fiction book released in the last few years (especially indie stuff), I'd be happy to look it over for the website. I read lots of books so I'll try to post more reviews like this whenever I have a chance. I'm also looking for flash fiction, especially relating to bizarro fiction, zombies, the Cthulhu mythos, or goretastic hardcore horror, though I'm also open to more subtle pieces.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

HAZMAT by Sean Capelle

     “Goddammit, Michael! You’re killing her!”
     Mike looked over his shoulder. Saw the ire clearly in his wife’s eyes. “Not now!” he yelled back to her.
His daughter Lindsey looked up at him with her doe eyes. Mike brushed a few loose strands of hair away from her cheeks. Her tears had plastered them against her skin. Just leave us alone, Alice, he wished.
     No good. Alice stormed into the workroom. She slapped him across the face before he could even stand. The band of her wedding ring had struck him hardest of all. No blood. Just painful stripes where her fingers had hit.
     “Stop this thing right now,” Alice demanded. She held up the IV line that ended in Lindsey’s arm.
     “I can’t! The procedure has already begun. Stopping it now could result in serious side effects.”
     “Just doing the damned thing is resulting in serious side effects!”
     Mike looked at Lindsey, sitting in the reclining chair. Her small legs were hardly long enough to stretch along its full length. The arm rests provided more than enough space for her arms. Only 6 cc’s left. The EKG showed a normal heart rate and she looked fine.
     Sure, it looked scary—especially for a five year old—but Lindsey was a trooper. Mike admired that. He was already seeing the tumor decreasing. The targeted delivery drug he created was showing promise. And that was only after two administrations of the drug. But his darling better half couldn’t see past how torturous the process looked. She could only seem to see a has-been scientist working out of his beat up shed in the backyard of their house.
     He just knew that he couldn’t wait around for years for the FDA to approve the drug — probably never would. All the while, little Lindsey-lai would suffer. He couldn’t stand to see her delicate skin to be so pale. Regular chemotherapy took away her hair but none of the cancerous cells. He knew he could do better by targeting just the cancer. And so far, the research seemed to be showing that to be true. I’m her father, for Christ’s sake, if I can do something to help her I should be allowed to.  
     He looked at the yellow and black striped serum vial. Its radioactive contents dripped into the IV line. Years of research. Wasted if Alice would have her way.
“Stop it now!” Alice repeated.
     “I already told you, I can’t.”
     “Then I will.” Alice reached for the hypodermic needle in Lindsey’s arm. Mike grabbed her wrist before she could get it. She struggled against his tight grip, which he only released once she stopped. He glared at her with hatred in his eyes, while Lindsey looked at her, pleading.
     “Dammit Mike, will you cut with this bullshit? You never asked for my permission.”
     “That decision wasn’t yours to make.”
     “Despite the fact that I’m her own mother? If you’re so sure about this stupid thing, why have you been doing it behind my back?”
     4 cc’s. Mike regarded her with his icy stare. “Because I was afraid you’d act like this.”
     Alice’s face flushed, the way it had when she caught him using her kitchen utensils to conduct an experiment. Of course, there was a lot more at stake than the mixing blender her mother gave as a wedding present years ago. Mike knew the risks. Even Lindsey knew the risks. But in both of their minds, they were acceptable risks. Yet no matter how hard he presented his case to Alice, she wouldn’t hear it. Mike knew she could never get past the experimental part about it. If the FDA wouldn’t approve it, then why should she?
     “Can we just talk about this later?” Mike asked.
     “Oh, so you can continue going behind my back?”
     Mike turned away to look at the vial. 2 cc’s. Suddenly the infusion pump between the vial and Lindsey had died. When he spun back around he saw Alice standing smugly next to the power switch. The key to start the machine was missing from its hole. “What are you doing?” he yelled. He bolted out of his chair to grab the key from her.
     She slid to the side and avoided him, but the game of catch-me-if-you-can could only last so long in the cramped shed. Mike dodged empty vials and test tubes thrown at him. Alice had backed into a corner, where she glared at him.
     “Give me the key.”
     “Leave her alone.”
     Back in the day, Mike and Alice used to wrestle for fun. Mostly it led to other things. Those were the days before Lindsey. Before the cancer. But the current wrestling was something far more serious. Mike made the first move, which toppled both of them to the floor. Alice followed with a bite to his arm. Mike yelled, but stayed focused on retrieving the key. With one hand he kept her face planted to the shed’s creaky wooden floorboards, while the other hand reached for hers. The moment he grabbed the key he stood. Alice spat at his feet.
     “I want a divorce!” she screamed.
     He walked away from Alice’s corner. Lindsey sat up in the chair to see what had happened. Her eyes lit with the same inquisitive look that he recognized in his own eyes. It was a look that said, “Maybe if I stare long enough and hard enough, I’ll figure this thing out.” And while that look had served him well, it had also led to trouble. Seeing it on his daughter felt unsettling. He smiled at her as he inserted the key back in the machine. The familiar humming sound resumed and Lindsey leaned back in the chair.
Mike saw Alice approaching him with his peripheral version. “Do you know what damage you could have done?” he asked over his shoulder.
     “Daddy?” Lindsey asked. The machine and the plastic mask around her mouth muffled her words.
     The EKG machine blared as her heartbeat dropped. Panic gripped Mike. She’s flat lining. He rushed to the workbench, where a syringe full of adrenaline waited. He had never wanted to use it but realized it would be necessary in an emergency. Alice had already rushed to her side, tried holding her hand, but Lindsey pushed it aside. By the time Mike returned to her the EKG resumed its normal pattern.
     “You okay, sweetie?” he asked.
     She nodded.
     “I can’t take this anymore,” Alice said. Bring her back to the house when you’re done. But I don’t want you in the house at all.”
     “Can we talk about this later?”
     Alice slammed the shed’s door. Mike sighed and faced Lindsey. “That didn’t go over so well.”
     “I’m sorry, Daddy.”
     “Don’t be, Lindsey-lai. It’s not your fault.”
     No cc’s left. He shut down the pump and removed the IV from her arm, placing a bandage over the wound. Finding the vein was easy enough since he only had to find the site from the last session. She sat up in the chair once more and hugged him tight.
     “Thank you,” she said. “I feel better already.”
     Mike brightened at this. “Really?” he asked. Her cute little nod was the cherry on top.
     He performed the normal routine of tests — blood, cognition, survey — and all turned out fine. Any definitive results would occur after twenty-four hours, which meant he was done for the night. Of course, he could always go for more testing, but better to work in small steps, even despite how anxious he was to cure her. He kissed her on the forehead and told her to head back into the house.
     “You’re not coming too?”
     “I think it’s best if I give Mommy a little room.”
     “I really do feel better. The pain doesn’t feel so bad.”
     He kissed her again and escorted her out of the shed. Watching her walk across the yard in the darkness, he couldn’t help but feel that he might never see her again. Alice would take him to the cleaners in divorce court. She had plenty of evidence to use against him regarding his negligence. Savings wiped out, unethical practices, that little fling he had with the grad student before he was fired. And what did he have to show for it? A hunch that he was on the right track. Empirical proof, hopefully, that the tumor had gone into remission. He would have to hit Ernie up for one more favor to get an X-ray at the hospital. Of course, that would also mean sneaking Lindsey away from Alice.
     He looked at the caution stripes on the vial. The alternating yellow and black colors reminded him of light and dark, light and dark. In the end, wasn’t that what he was? Good deeds punctuated by dark ones? I’m not a bad person, am I? Maybe so.
     The shed would have to do for his lodging. If the past served as an indicator, Alice would likely have already dumped his clothes out their second story window. By morning he would find a pile sitting in the dewy grass. It broke his heart to think about the grief he’s caused for his already grieving family. He just wished Alice would see things from his point of view.
     As he stretched out on the uneven floorboards, he thought about all the good times he had with Alice. A twisting, sickly feeling plagued his gut when he realized he had thrown all those moments away by breaking her trust. Of all the people, he expected Lindsey’s own mother would understand. Guess I was wrong.
     A sudden terrifying scream broke out from the house. Mike bolted upright and rushed to the shed door all in one motion. More screaming and then silence. His heart raced. Was that Lindsey or Alice? Lindsey or Alice? The question kept pounding his brain as he darted across the wet grass.
     Someone appeared behind the sliding glass door before he could open it. Lindsey. But something was wrong. Mike first noticed it in the dimmed look in her eyes. Next he saw the blood on her hands. He pulled on the door, but it was locked. Lindsey opened it as if she was getting ready to play outside.
     “What happened?” Mike asked as he knelt next to Lindsey.
     “She tried to stop you. But I stopped her.”
     Mike’s heart felt like it both dropped to his feet and soared into his head at the same moment. The screaming. The blood. He looked his daughter in the eye. “Lindsey, what did you do?”
     She looked away, her eyes wet.
     “Answer me!” He shook her by her shoulders. When she wouldn’t reply, he pushed her aside and ran up the stairs. The whole time he kept pleading for everything to be okay. Please let this be some kind of misunderstanding. Please, God.
     He only saw Alice’s legs from behind the bed, but the pool of blood soaking into the carpet told him what he needed. She was dead. Despite performing countless surgeries, he couldn’t bring himself to look at her body. He caught sight of something else on the floor. It was a kitchen knife, specifically, one of the knives from a set he bought for her last Christmas. Though the blade was covered in blood, he recognized the handle.
     He descended the stairs much slower than he came up them. When he arrived at the sliding glass door downstairs, he noticed that Lindsey wasn’t where he had left her. He saw movement in the shed, so he checked in there.
     Lindsey had perched atop the chair and looked at him with her curious eyes. “I think I’m ready for another treatment. Mommy messed up that last one.”
     Mike stepped toward the chair, but his instinct told him to get out of the shed altogether. If Lindsey killed Alice for interrupting, what would she do if I refuse? Goddamned if she wouldn’t kill me too.
Goddamned if she wasn’t killing him just by looking at him.