Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Season of the Witch: A True Story.

This is not my oldest memory. That honor belongs to an extremely young Todd in front of the small stream cutting across our front yard and needing to pee very badly. I knew I wasn’t supposed to pee in my diapers anymore, but the toilet was so far away and I had to go so badly I cupped my groin in my hand as I bounced from foot to foot. I remember being torn by indecision, of wanting to be a good boy and not soak my diaper but also knowing I would never make it to the bathroom in time. So I did what any good country boy would do. I pulled down the front of my diaper, whipped it out, and relieved myself in the stream. But that is neither here nor there; for what I’ve actually set out to tell you about is my second oldest memory.

Every summer for as long as I can remember, the carnival came to town. I remember watching the trucks drive along 119 with disassembled equipment and shuttered concession stands in tow, knowing that overnight the parking lot of the nearby high school would be transformed into a wonderland of sights and smells. Caramel apples, corn dogs hot and golden and still sizzling from the fryers, the sweet allure of cotton candy, and barbecue wafting from the converted kitchen the Band Boosters had set up in the band room. Buffeted by winds from passing rides that clacked and whooshed while a myriad of bells and whistles rang out from booths along the midway: it was a young boy’s Shangri-La wrapped up in flashing, colored lights and the bustle of people.

But this memory stems from a time before I’d developed a true appreciation of the spectacle. With kindergarten an unthought of inevitability, I was young enough to still hold my mother’s hand. Young enough that everything seemed to tower above me and every stray dog rooting for dropped popcorn had to be friendly. It also means I was young enough not to remember anything before or after, only the event itself.

In those days, you didn’t ride through the haunted house. You walked. I remember clutching my mom’s hand in complete and utter darkness. They let you through in small groups and I could hear the people around us, giggling and cracking jokes. Sometimes they’d bump up against me, but even that close they remained cloaked by the dark.

I don’t remember how it happened, but somehow I slipped away from my mother’s hand. I slipped away from the reassuring sounds of other people and stood, alone in the dark. I was scared, but determined, positive that I could catch up and find my mom. With my hands feeling the way before me, I pressed on.

At some point I entered a room bathed in electric blue. Directly across from me sat a bevy of equipment. Sprouting from the top of one box was something that looked like the rabbit ears we used for our television and a spark traveled between the rods. Starting at the bottom, it raced upwards in a jittery arc, just like in cartoons. It was accompanied by a sound like my neighbor’s bug zapper and a long table was set beside it. Draped by a white sheet, I could see the contours of a bulky man hidden below. Seeming more angular than rounded, this shape called forth images of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein, heavily lidded and plodding forward with outstretched hands.

As I watched, the figure beneath the sheet started to slowly raise, bending at the waist as the legs swung around. The sheet never shifted or slipped, never revealed even the smallest detail of what was hidden under it. And I didn't stick around to find out.

I ran through the darkness with no regard for personal safety, bumping off obscured walls and tripping over my own clumsy feet. Literally and figuratively running blind, dreading the cold touch I expected to grip the back of my neck at any moment.

I ended up in another room, this one pulsing in an orange glow as if from fire. Thick fog crept over the ground and a gnarled tree stood like a leafless skeleton behind a large, black cauldron. The cauldron seemed to glow from within and wisps of steam curled from its top amid the sounds of crackling wood and bubbling goo. A witch hunched over the pot, churning its contents with an inverted broom. Draped in black, her hook-like nose was as bumpy as a pickle and wild tufts of white hair spilled out from beneath her conical hat. She cackled as she stirred, her menacing laugh seeming to slightly echo as one crooked finger pointed at me.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I just gave up. Vaguely aware of a warm stain spreading across my pants, I stood frozen to the spot and cried. There was no shame. There was nothing but the fear and it reigned supreme. Snot bubbled from my nose and my lips quivered as I sobbed; I remember my cheeks feeling warm and wet and the taste of saline dropping into my mouth with bursts of saltiness. The smell of my own urine, hot and acrid. I…just…cried.

The witch ran across the room with her arms reaching toward me and I pressed my hands over my face as I screamed and wailed and yet was still unable to run. Her fingers tried to pry my hands away but I fought with savage shakes of the head, still crying and blubbering and knowing I was going to end up in the bottom of that pot.

At some point the witch somehow managed to calm me down enough to see that the white hair was attached to the hat. I remember her tossing it to the side as she squatted by me and how lustrous, brown hair seemed to appear as if from nowhere. Her black, talon-like fingernails were pulled off one by one. I remember her constantly talking, her monologue generously peppered with repetitions of oh, honey; but I can’t remember exactly what she said. Just the general idea that it was all a costume, make believe and pretend. To drive the point home, she allowed me to rip off her twisted nose.

Once I was calmer the witch stood and took my little hand in hers. She led me through tight corridors of plywood and two-by-fours, dimly lit by strands of bare hanging bulbs. We came to a metal wall and she opened a door and helped me down a series of iron steps. We came out behind the haunted hose, with cables, hoses, and extension cords fanning out like the tentacles of some great beast.

She walked me around to the front and stood with me, holding my hand, as we watched for my mom to step through the exit. When I finally saw her I ran through the lines of departing people, pinging off the aluminum queue barriers like a pinball. I ran into her embrace was never so happy to be held in my mother’s arms as I was that day.

True story.


Robert R. Best, author of All Kinds of Things Kill and the zombie-themed Memorial trilogy, sat down with Six Demon Bag to discuss writing, characters, and why Demon Duct Tape is the best.

Hi Robert and thanks for stopping by 6 Demon Bag. We’ll be kicking off the festivities with our standard opening question, which you can interpret and answer however you please: if you were in possession of a 6 Demon Bag, what would yours contain?

Five demons and a big roll of Demon Duct Tape (tm) to keep them secure. It's pricey, but worth it because of all the sigils etched into the glue.

With that question out of the way, why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your work?

Well let's see. Hi. My name is Robert R Best and I write books where horrible things happen to people. My current big project is the Memorial Trilogy, which is a zombie series. The focus is on Angie Land and her two kids. Her tough single-mom-ness and relationship with her kids is at the heart of the three books. But there's also lots of gore and zombie action. The first two books, titled Lakewood Memorial and Ashton Memorial, are available now. Book three, World Memorial ,should be out later this year.

You and I were on an author panel together at a convention back in 2010, which was an awesome experience. In this question, you’ve been invited to sit on a panel at the 6 Demon Bag World Horror Convention and Cupcake Drive. However, it is up to you to hand-pick the authors whom you’d like to share the panel with. Who would your selections be and why? (Also it should be noted that an author doesn’t necessarily have to be alive; a 6 Demon Bag is a powerful and useful tool, after all).

Hmmm. My first pick would be Jack Ketchum. He's a genius of tight,visceral horror that also develops the characters. Second I would like Edward Lee. He is great at describing violence. I always feel unworthy when I read his violent scenes. Third, and here we're going off the reservation a little, would be Kurt Vonnegut. An absolute genius and the single biggest influence on my prose style. Quick and direct. I'm nowhere near as good at it as he was, not even in the same continent, but he's who I'm emulating. Last, and here we're going way off the reservation, is Mary Gaitskill. She's probably most well known for the short story the movie"Secretary" was based on. She's a master a writing people in horrible, sometimes depraved situations but with a real sense of warmth and empathy for her characters. Look for her short story collection"Because They Wanted To" and a novel called "Two Girls Fat and Thin." Both are really good.

And one more I should mention. David Dunwoody. He's the nicest and most clever writer I know. I envy every idea he ever has.

We interrupt this interview with another standard 6 Demon question: There’s a train rocketing through the night with nearly a hundredpeople looking out the windows. The only person actually sitting in their seat is a small child who gazes unwaveringly at the floor. What is going on with these people?

The child has been possessed by a malevolent something-or-other. All the people on the train are thralls to this force and are standing guard. All over the world people have stopped mid-whatever and are staring at nothing. These are thralls also. When the train reaches its destination the destruction will begin. Can they be stopped?

What is the single, most valuable thing you’ve learned about writing and was there a particular experience which really drove this lesson home?

That you can say a lot with very little. A simple detail can say as much about a character as a whole paragraph describing their feelings. And not only that, the simple detail will often be more powerful because it's purer and more concentrated. The more words you use to describe something, the more you're watering it down.

And there was an experience that drove this home. Years ago I was writing a story for a class I was in. And I'd read some advice in abook on non-fiction writing but it’s very valuable. It ran something like this: if there's a word you can cut from a sentence and the sentence still makes sense, cut it. I tried this out on my story before I submitted it and it got a much stronger response than anything I'd written up to that point. So I always keep that idea in mind, even if I don't always live up to it.

Have you ever created a character that you utterly despised? Or do you have a soft spot for all of your characters, regardless of their flaws?

I think I have a soft spot for all of them. Or at least the ones in the novels, because I have more space to develop them. I try to think out why a person has come to this state, and then write from there. And when you do that it's hard not to empathize with them. And I like to share this information with the reader right before a character dies.

If you had to pick one piece that you’ve written to serve as a reader’s "gateway drug" to Robert R. Best, what would it be and why?

I would say Lakewood Memorial. It's the start of my zombie trilogy butit's short, fast and to the point. I tried to focus on the characters and keep the action as lean and fast as possible.

You’re the Dungeon Master and a party of adventurers entering a dimly lit room that flickers in the glow of torch light. Mounds of bones are piled upon the floor and the stench of rotting meat is so thick that it’s even seeped into the stone walls. What would you have the adventurers discover in this room?

A fair maiden who is in peril and needs help. She would beg to come into the party and I would have an elaborate and convincing backstory. And the party takes her in and thinks they've discovered the impetus for the next part of the campaign. Then several rooms later she's revealed to be a monster and attacks the party when their guard is down. She goes for the Mage first.

Okay, I’ve got to ask and tell me the truth. How many times do you introduce yourself only to have some smart-ass reply, "No, that’s wrong … the correct conjugation would be Robert Is Best"?

At least twice but less than a thousand.

Just about done now. However, are there any questions you wish Iwould’ve asked but didn’t? And feel free to provide the answer.

Six. The answer is six.

Okay, I have to go downstairs and yell at the postman for continually putting our mail in the wrong box, despite the fact that it’s clearly numbered. There’s a good chance I’ll receive a healthy dose of pepper spray and may not be back. So it’s up to you to wrap this interview up. Anything at all you want to talk about or promote is fair game;the forum is yours. Ready … GO!

Well, first off let me just say that tacos are awesome. Even a really crappy taco is still tasty, you know? Also, did you know that the wombat was the first animal to travel to space? Probably not, becauseit's not true. But you know what is true? That you can find links toall my stuff on the intertubes at http://www.robertrbest.com/!

Thanks, Mr Rose, for the opportunity to speak to your readers and I hope the postman avoids the eyes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Place Not So Unkind

Sometimes it scares me how much emotion I have tied up in Bosley and Ocean. Here are these two people who have never existed outside of my own head and yet I feel so connected to them. It’s like this strange friendship where my loyalties are so strongly aligned with them that I hate putting them through the shit I do. I want them to be happy. I want them to have their day in the sun without fear of sudden death. But that’s not really the way their world works. And I can see that world so clearly: the crumbling towers against the horizon, cracked pavement, and the skeletons of burnt out cars left to rust. The piles of rubble and dusty, broken glass. Their world was not designed for the weak or feeble. To survive, you have to be as hard as the chunks of granite lining the sidewalks of dilapidated banks. So I have to basically have to torture these people that I love so fucking dearly.

At the same time, I know where all of this is going, can see their paths and into the future. I know it’s a good place. Or maybe I should say it’s as good as you can get in their world. Yet even so, my heart grows sad when I think of reaching that point. I realize well in advance that the final scene is not going to be easy to write. In all honesty, it will probably be one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. I will be, in essence, saying goodbye.

They’re not bad people. Bosley is this guy faced with choices that no man or woman should ever have to make. Ocean is just this little girl obeying the oldest law on the books: survival of the fittest. And there’s some fucked up shit out there in the Wastelands that they have to survive. Sometimes the staggering rotters are the least of your worries. Driven mad by starvation and fear, these human animals can be just as brutal, viscous, and cold-hearted as the corpses that stalk them. So basically, no matter where you turn, you’re prey. It’s a callused world that doesn’t give a shit about its inhabitants’ safety or well-being. Kind of a primordial, concrete jungle. While working on these books, I strive for a very dark atmosphere. I want the reader to feel the weight of existence on their shoulders, just as Bosley and Ocean do.

Dark thought it may be, in the end it’s actually a story about hope. Even if that hope is just a single ray of sunlight shining through the storm clouds and onto a patch of pristine sand. Sometimes, you just couldn’t ask for anything more….

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Things in the Sky: A True Story

In my twenties I spent a lot of time traveling from our capital city of Charleston to the sleepy little town of Clendenin. There are two main ways to traverse the forty-some miles between these locations, each having its own merits. Route 119 is a winding two lane which follows the Elk River; in places , the hills press right up against the edge of the road and you never know if a rock slide, frightened deer, or a fallen tree might await around that next curve. Despite cutting through a couple of medium sized towns, most of the trip is spent with scattered houses nestled along the river valley zipping by and at night it’s so dark that the stars look like handfuls of glitter blown from the cupped palm of God. It was along this route that I witnessed one of the most beautiful sights my eyes have ever beheld.

It was October and I was on the way home from my future wife’s 21st birthday party, which would have made the year 1992. I’d stayed late into the night and the roads were desolate with no oncoming traffic to blind me with the glare of headlights. The radio was blaring, most likely either Danzig or Suicidal Tendencies given the time frame, and I watched the road scroll by as I made small talk with my passenger.

We’d hit a straight stretch and as we smoked and laughed a bright light streaked over top of the car. Without streetlights or the glow of businesses, we could see it clearly: a fireball so low that the details were imprinted upon my mind, despite the fact that it was gone within a second. The meteor at its core burned like a giant cigarette ember, pulsing orange and red between coral-like patterns of black as sparks shot away from the body, reminding me of my grandfather sharpening a lawnmower blade against his electric grindstone. Tongues of flame licked the velvet blackness of night, flickering and wagging as strands of spiraling brown smoke were left in its wake. And then it was gone, disappearing behind the hills and curves, leaving me to wonder exactly where it had impacted the earth, how far it had traveled, and if I would ever see anything so breathtakingly amazing again.

The other method of getting to Clendenin is I-79 and it is along this interstate that the second topic of this post was observed. Again, it was night, though not quite as late this time; if forced to pull an exact time from memory, I would have to say it was close to midnight. A string of cars followed behind me and the sky was clear. There were no low hanging clouds, no strange atmospheric conditions to account for what I saw that night. I hadn’t been drinking or anything like that; anyone who knows me realizes how very strongly I feel about driving under the influence. Nor was a sleep deprived or bored. Again, I had a passenger in the car with me and he saw it too.

A hill sits just off the Elkview exit of I-79 and as we approached it we saw the lights. Vaguely triangular, they hovered above that hill like the lights of an inverted city seen from a short distance. I remember a sense of depth, of seeing what looked like illuminated columns and rods, smaller "structures" nestled at their bases like little blocks of light, and the way the light was steady and unfaltering. Nothing flashed or twinkled, there were no pulses of brightness or wavering of intensity … and there were no colors. These lights were as steady as white fiber-optics on a massive scale and it was the impression of enormity which truly imprinted upon my mind. This triangular thing dwarfed the hilltop below it with the lights extending beyond the tree-covered base and I immediately changed lanes.

The majority of the cars behind me did the same thing. Like an exodus, we took Exit 9 and drove until we reached a shoulder wide enough to pull over. One by one, car doors flew open as people sprung from their vehicles, and spun around with necks craned skyward. But other hills now blocked the view. I hopped back into my car and made a U-Turn as the other vehicles did the same, each of us merging back onto I-79, this time heading south toward Charleston… the exact opposite of our original destinations.

Again, a string of cars pulled onto the shoulder and we all looked toward the hill where the lights had been. But now they were gone as completely as if they’d never existed and I thought of the camera in my glove box and how badly I wished I would have thought to tell Jamie to grab it when we first saw this thing in the sky. But sometimes a sense of amazement and wonder overpowers reasoning and you’re left with nothing more than a memory. A memory you know a lot of people would never believe.

True story.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Closed Casket Introspective: A True Story

I’ve shared two things that are very important to where I’m going with this. You see, I open my author interviews with the following question: if you were in possession of a Six Demon Bag, what would yours contain? Not all of these posts are simply random blog entries pulled from my life and experiences. I am, in essence, slowly disclosing what’s in my Six Demon Bag. I’ve just been taking the scenic route and laying some groundwork.

The first important thing I shared stemmed from when I experimented with conjuring the Devil. If you’ve been paying attention and reading along you’ll probably remember it. If you haven’t take a moment to go back and read the post. Or not. I’m going to disclose it here anyway, so if you want the Cliff’s Notes version proceed to the next paragraph in an orderly fashion...

The most important part of that particular story was at the end. In fact, I recounted the experience just to make that point. I was convinced, at a young age, that I had inadvertently left a portal between the worlds open. That, in my panic and haste, I had allowed very dark, very evil things to cross over. That, as my High School creative writing teacher would have said, was the "main idea", the nexus around which the entire tale of young Todd versus the Devil revolved. Keep this in mind.

The second important element may have seemed like something I’d just mentioned in passing. An seemingly offhand bit of history that didn’t actually pertain to our night of terror on the riverbank. But my point in sharing that memory wasn’t actually the fear that night instilled. I wanted to show how close my mom’s side of the family had been back them. How intertwined we were in each other’s lives. How much I loved them (and still do). The piece you’ll want to take away from that entry is near the beginning, when I mention a series of unexpected and tragic deaths rocked our family. Keep this in mind as well.

I’m going to let you know ahead of time that for a while chronological order gets a bit scrambled. I know what happened, I know how I felt. Yet time itself seems like this hazy, abstract idea. It’s like all these memories are puzzle pieces adrift in the sea. I can see each piece distinctly, can tell where the pictures bleed into the edges. But I can never quite get them to all fit together, can never make the image whole again no matter how hard I try. Almost thirty years later, I’m just now starting to accept this.

Flashpoint: slushy rain drizzling from a sky as gray and cold as that rocks jutting from the hillside like the exposed bones of some ancient beast. The rain streams down black umbrellas and the resulting hiss sounds a lot like radio static. The pastor's sermon fades in and out, his broadcast too weak to do anything other than hint at words of comfort to those who huddle around him. A prayer, a eulogy, a list of items to pick up at the store once the service has concluded: it could be any of these things… or none. Words are ideas and ideas no more substantial than the fading memory of a dream. In this world, in this particular little corner of the universe, nothing is more concrete, nothing is more real, than the long, black box which glistens in the rain.

"I'm here." he whispers. "It's dark and it's cold and I'm alone. What's really changed? I'm still inside my own little box while the rest of the world looks on from the other side. Only this time, you're the ones crying."

In the distance, I notice three shriveled veterans standing on the hillside. They cradle rifles in their arms like infants; their uniforms seem loose and baggy but they stare straight ahead, as proud and silent as when their bodies actually filled these clothes perfectly. On the ground, like a faithful dog by its master's feet, is a boom box, its shiny metal seeming out of place in this field of drab colors and granite markers.

"They've been there. They've seen what I have. They know."

Around me, I see only familiar faces: grandparents, my mom and sister, various relatives with forgotten names; my cousin with her head buried into my aunt's shoulder, both of their faces puffy with tears yet somehow drained and shrunken at the same time. Where are the people I don't know? Did he have no friends, no coworkers who could take time from their busy schedules to attend? Was there no one here who hadn't at least been glimpsed at family reunions or seen milling around in the background of yellowing photos in my grandmother's hutch?

"I'm still in my own little box…"

We all huddle together: for warmth, for comfort, for a show of solidarity among those left among the living. We huddle together amongs the wreaths and flowers, beneath the umbrellas and the green tent covering the grave. A single unit, yet each of us alone in our own thoughts, memories, and emotions.

This much I know. My uncle watched Lonesome Dove on VHS obsessively over the past two weeks; then he announced to my aunt and cousin that he was going out onto the porch to shoot himself. While they both watched from the kitchen door, he placed the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth and coaxed out its load like a cut-rate whore.

His blood had dripped between the slats of the deck and pooled in a rusty coffee can of nuts and bolts below. Bits of brain and bone were plastered to the side of the trailer and, days later, the buzzing of flies was so loud that it almost seemed as if the sound were vibrating somewhere deep within your head. And that unmistakable stench: a smell almost like a steak dumped in the trash and left to go bad in the August sun.

That much I know.

"And there's so much you don't. So much they won't tell you, so much you'll be left to try to figure out on your own. It's the way of the world and you better get used to it now."

I'm faintly aware that the pastor has concluded the ceremony. One of the old soldiers in the distance bends over, presses the play button on the tape deck, and snaps back to attention. The bugle is familiar, the song instantly recognizable to anyone whose seen a military funeral on TV or the movies. Only someone must have forgotten to put fresh batteries in the player for the notes waver and slur, seeming to drag for a few moments before rushing back to normal tempo only to lose steam again seconds later.

"A fitting soundtrack, don't you think?"

Undaunted, the veterans raise their rifles to their shoulders, ready to carry through with the traditional salute to a fallen brother.

The first of the shots echoes off the hills as my aunt screams, the sound of gunfire penetrating the haze of prescribed relaxants and bringing that terrible morning back into a clear and sharp focus. Three veterans, seven volleys, my aunt covering her ears, her voice raw and piercing as she continues screaming; people stand frozen in time, as if we were all just bit players in some low budget art flick: Closed Casket Introspective… fade to black and scene.

Flashpoint: The room crowded and buzzing with the murmur of fifty hushed conversations all blending into a wordless drone. The air is cool and the scent of flowers overpowering and sweet. Soft strains of organ music play from speakers hidden in the baffling overhead and I am trying to hold back my own tears as I hug my mom, my aunt, my grandmother.

"You've got to be strong." I'm told over and over as people file by. "You've got to be strong for them."

But who will be strong for me, I wonder.

I look toward the front of the room at the five coffins lined in a row. They sit on a raised section of floor, almost like a stage, with soft lights reflecting and glistening on the polished wood. The two largest are on the far left, the remaining three laid out in descending size order: first the powder blue, medium-sized box; next, the smaller tan coffin, and finally the tiny pink one looking so much smaller than any casket has the right to.

I close my eyes for a moment but the images still remain, as if the stinging behind my lids were actually from some sort of magic dust blown in from another realm. It provides me with the ability to see through closed lids, to see through the wood of the coffins, through the liners. I see them all: my aunt and uncle, my three cousins. I see their flesh blackened and twisted, hints of bone contrasting against the charred, hairless skin. In unison, they turn to look at me through hollow sockets and try to reach out to one another but meet only the smooth, silk padding that remains hidden from everyone else. Sometimes, a powerful imagination is a curse…

My eyes snap open, but the image remains like an x-ray seared onto my retinas. They should have put a night light in there for little Jennifer. She was always so afraid of the dark, afraid of what monsters might be hiding in the shadows, waiting for their chance to spring to life. And now it was darker than she had ever known, with no way for Mommy or Daddy to come running when the creatures began their advance.

Perhaps she’d known more than all of us. Perhaps she could steal glances into another place, a world to which anyone above the age of five is no longer privy. Over her three short years, Death had come for her as many times. When she was just a baby, cradled in her mother's arms, crossing a bridge, seemingly asleep but then twisting the way only infants and snared animals can. Her body arching upward and away from my aunt's grasp, tumbling toward the handrail and the gravity of the cold, flowing water so far below… only to be snatched back at the last possible second. Fast-forward almost two years, her chubby little legs practically quivering with the pent-up inertia of their newfound skills. Walking was fun, but running… that was where the true joy lay. She slips through the screen door on my grandparents' porch: no one notices. They continue to smoke and laugh and talk with Sunday lunch still warm in their bellies until the screeching of brakes and blaring of horns mix with the smell of burnt rubber. She straddles the double yellow lines, crying now as relatives dash from the porch amid yells and shouts. She emerged unscathed, thanks to the quick reflexes of the man driving the rusty Dodge, and the monsters slithered back into shadows of the surrounding hills, biding their time.

They finally caught her two weeks before Christmas on a lonely stretch of road miles from the nearest town. They took the form of a man with heavy eyelids and the stench of cheap whiskey surrounding him like a cloud. They slid behind the wheel of a truck jacked up by a lift kit and wove through the back roads and ridges before rolling up and over the station wagon my family were in. The massive tires crushed the doors and windows, flattened the top of the vehicle, and then moved on to compress the gas tank. All it took was one tiny spark, one little ember. They were still alive as the first flames licked at the twisted metal. Still alive as the monsters dissipated into the night like dissolving fog, their work finally done.

Images of them had splashed across the front pages of newspapers statewide and when we left the funeral home to the waiting string of cars with the little flags attached to their hoods, news crews clustered together on the railroad tracks across the road. Their cameras followed us as we filed out the doors, zoomed in as we held on to one another in our cheap suits and dark dresses. The anchormen and women morphed in my mind, their carefully sculpted hair growing coarse and shaggy as noses elongated into snouts lined with razor sharp teeth which gnawed gouges into the bones of pain and suffering.

Later, I would see myself on the nightly news: a lanky teenager with long hair and ill-fitting tie whose overweight aunt leaned against him as they took tiny Geisha-like steps toward the parking lot. Very soon, her husband would be dead as well, finally succumbing to the cancer that had withered his body into the dry husk of a man. And the tall guy with the reddish-brown hair and an almost boyish look to his narrow face? That's my uncle Bobby. You met him on the river bank a few posts back and, if you recall, there's an aneurysm hiding somewhere within the vessels of his brain, waiting to rupture and plunge him into a sleep from which he'll never awaken. But, for now, he's staying close to my grandfather who wobbles forward with his cane.

Like many in this state, the old man was a lifelong coal miner, had delved into the lightless bowels of the planet and cut away chunks of its innards to be hauled back the surface in miniature trains. But it would have its revenge: for, even now, the dust that had swirled in those subterranean passages had begun to stain his lungs and would eventually claim his left eye and sinus passages as its own. The last days of his life would be spent without the benefit of sight and smell; my Grandmother would awaken one morning in the near future with his cool, motionless body pressed against her and then he would descend into the darkness of the earth one final time.

And beneath it all the guilt, the secret belief I’ve never previously confessed to anyone but my wife: you, you, you… you're to blame, messing with forces you never understood, calling to the darkness like a toddler lost in the woods. You brought this, it’s all your fault.

I realize now this was a form of survivor’s guilt. I held myself responsible because it was a way of imposing order onto a chaotic system. In shock and grief, my mind clung to any reason it could find. One some level, part of me needed to believe the span of our lives weren’t really that random. So I assigned responsibility to the only thing I could think of: me conjuring the devil and abandoning the burning candle and mirror.

Entirely irrational for someone who puts so much stock in science, I know. But you have to understand that this felt like Fate had launched a shock and awe campaign against our family. We didn’t have time to really begin coming to terms with the death of one family member before being faced with that of another. Boom Boom Boom. Just like that.

We even had a family discussion around my grandmother’s dinner table one afternoon. They’d moved by then. The house and furnishings were much nicer with a cute little gazebo overlooking the pool in the back yard. Hutches were still present but now they were lined with trophies, certificates, and ribbons my grandfather had won from showing his antique car … porcelain dolls from my grandmother’s collection… framed photos of those we’d lost. So we sat there in the dining room and very softly and very seriously discussed the possibility that our family was cursed.

I was around sixteen or so at that the time and my interests in dark and/or esoteric matters were a well established fact.. I’d studied the writings of Aleister Crowley, was familiar with the tenants of ceremonial magick, and had a working knowledge of voodoo. (in fact, I actually met the love of my life – and future wife – by casting her horoscope in the school cafeteria after our typing teacher had called off drunk again). The bookshelf by my bedside contained translated "Books of the Dead" from both the Egyptian and Tibetan cultures, as well as reference guides to astronomy, the tarot, and alchemy. Severed baby doll heads hung from my ceiling on pieces of twine and an old sewing desk sat in the corner of my bedroom. On the desk was my word processor (this was back when a word processor was a machine, not a program) and reams of paper containing stories of monsters, sacrifice, black magic, vampires, and death.

So I was the defacto "expert" when it came to curses and, as such, all of their questions were directed to me. I gave the facts, shared what I knew about the subject matter. But I never told them them everything. I never hinted at how I truly felt. I simply allowed the guilt to fester inside. If only I’d known then that it would end up poisoning me….

Sadly, this is also a true story.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Demand Movie Review: Stag Night


Title: Stag Night

Selected From: Cinemax on Demand

Playing Through: 02/09/11

On Demand Synopsis: (2011) Bachelor party revelers are hunted by mutant cannibals in the labyrinth of New York City’s subway tunnels in this shocker.

Running Time: 82 minutes

Ridiculously Simplified Review: Eh….s’ok.

From the opening scene of a blood spattered woman running in a tattered dress to the closing credits, Stag Night was classic B-movie material. Reminiscent of the 1984 cult favorite, C.H.U.D, this movie features humanoids living underground that have added a cannibalistic base to their personal food pyramids. Looking a little like a crew of homeless Rob Zombie clones, they hunt the subways of New York and eventually cross paths with a group of young people whose sequence of choices have led to them leaving their train. Which, of course, has conveniently stopped at an abandoned station while allowing another train to pass.

The acting was actually pretty decent with the entire cast turning in solid performances. They all seemed pretty believable in their characters and I never suffered through a moment where anyone sounded as if he or she were simply reading lines. Which, to be honest, isn’t really saying a lot for the cannibals. Despite apparently being humans living in close proximity to society, they’ve somehow managed to create their own language. Formed entirely of grunts, growls, and wounded animal-like screeches, they were probably meant to symbolize the devolution of man into a creature of the most base desires. But to me it was something of a distraction; I just couldn’t stop wondering how long it would take, in reality, for a group to abandon their native tongue and communicate so effectively in guttural vocalizations.

But that’s one of the ear marks of a B film, isn’t it? Some things you’re just expected to accept. Other B-film favorites that should have been credited on Stag Night include: Obligatory Sex Scene, Over The Top Gore, and Breakneck Action. Yeah, about that breakneck action…. There was a nice pace between periods of building suspense and chaotic mayhem, but those action scenes annoyed the piss out of me. Filming with an unsteady hand is a technique that's supposed to imply You Are Here, Too; but it has the opposite effect on me. Instead of making me feel as though I’m part of the action, it reminds me that I’m watching a film, thus upsetting the delicate balance we call suspension of disbelief. Just one of my cinematic pet peeves, I suppose.

All in all, Stag Night wasn’t a horrible picture. But it’s also one I realize I’ll probably never watch again. And it’s not that there was really anything wrong with the film. It was simply a story I’ve seen countless time before and didn’t offer anything fresh or new to the genre. But that’s the beauty of B-films. You get an hour and a half of entertainment and go into it not expecting a masterpiece to begin with. So, in the end, it’s a pretty fair shake. Because of this, I give Stag Night a balanced three out of six demons.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

On Demand Movie Review: Anamorph

This evening I’m introducing a new feature to this blog: The On Demand Movie Review. The premise is simple. I select a film from one of my On Demand channels, watch it, and then tell you what I think. Works for me...

Title: Anamorph

Selected From: Showtime on Demand

Playing Until: 02/16/11

On-Demand Synopsis: (2008) A reclusive, haunted detective who killed the brutal serial killer Uncle Eddie years ago faces the possibility that he shot the wrong man when new crime scenes perfectly match Uncle Eddie’s bizarre, intricately arranged style.

Going into it, I did not have high expectations for this film. The title called to mind the series of books by young adult author K.A. Applegate where a group of teenagers have the ability to morph into any animal they touch. I thought for certain my inner Mystery Science Theater crew would wisecrack about this throughout it’s entire 107 minutes. On top of this the serial killer was named "Uncle Eddie". Really? That’s what you want to call your killer? But, then again, what do I know? When I first read Silence of the Lambs I thought "Buffalo Bill" was a pretty stupid name for a psycho as well. So I confirmed my selection, lit a cigarette, and settled in.

Before the opening credits finished rolling, I already had a feeling that my initial misgivings about this movie would prove fruitless. It’s a hauntingly beautiful sequence with macabre imagery which immediately sets a tone that is carried throughout the production. I also realized, at this point, that it starred Willem Dafoe which bolstered my hopes further. I’m a fan of his work and can’t really think of anything I’ve seen with him in it that I didn’t like. So things were definitely looking up.

The movie begins five years in the past with Stan Aubray (Dafoe) sitting before an internal affairs committee due to his handling of the Uncle Eddie case. It is revealed that there are official reservations about the manner in which the suspect was killed, but since the serial killings stopped afterward it was determined Aubray had acted in the public’s best interest, netting him a promotion. In the present, Aubray has resigned himself to lecturing on forensic psychology and it’s slowly revealed that not only is he struggling with alcoholism but he also suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. "Hmm," you may be thinking, "a detective with OCD… where have I heard that before?" Well, crush that thought right now.

Whereas the title character from the popular TV series Monk almost seems to have a spotlight shining upon his quirks, Aubray’s are more subtle and natural. The OCD doesn’t define him, nor does it really play a part in the plot; it’s just one of those little details that really makes him human. And that’s one of the things I liked best about this film. The characters were flawed individuals. They had troubles, ambitions, regrets, and unspoken tensions… just like in real life From a cross-eyed coroner to an art expert who peddles Civil War era pornography on the side, these could’ve been people actually plucked from the streets of New York City.

Another mistake not to make is going into this film expecting it to be action packed. It’s not. Anamorph relies more on building a slow sense of unease than quick-cut shots of mayhem. You don’t see the victims being taken nor do you witness their fear as the maniac prepares for work. The viewer sees them as the killer sees them: the crime scene as a work of art, each detail staged with loving attention to detail. What’s more is that the scenes really do present as art, being something between medieval paintings and a Dave McKean Sandman cover.

Overall, I really liked this film. The only real problem I had with it was that it somehow felt incomplete. It had a definite beginning, middle, and end … yet for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, it still seemed to be lacking a little something at the end. That can be a frustrating experience which is why Anamorph only gets four and a half out of six demons.

Hell Night: A True Story

I’ve told you how I scared the crap out of myself when I tried to conjure the Devil. That one haunted me for a while. But that was entirely the product of an overclocked imagination. Fear exploded like an atom bomb, destroyed logic, and turned everyday sounds and events into dark omens. I freaked myself out. I know this. But now I want to tell you about something real. No out of control imagination. No coincidences pulled into dubious context and blown out of proportion. This was 100%, unadulterated terror.

Before a series of unexpected and tragic deaths rocked our family, we were all very close. All the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandchildren would gather at my Grandma’s every Sunday afternoon. It was a modest house with a cement parking lot for a yard and an extensive support system that allowed it to hang out over the riverbank. Simply decorated with fading pictures of relatives whose names I never knew, a hutch with a lifetime of memories behind its glass paneled door: an average, working class West Virginia home. The hutch I mentioned faced a long table covered with a vinyl cloth and spread across the top of that table was a feast like you wouldn’t believe. Meats, vegetables, homemade biscuits and dinner rolls, cakes and pies and deserts. There was so much food laid out that you had to bring your plate very close to the edge just to have room to eat. Sometimes us kids ate at the large table, wedged between relatives; sometimes we ate at a smaller Formica table in a kitchen that always seemed tilted to one side. After the meal, the men would go out on the front porch to smoke and watch the after-church traffic drive up Route 119 while the women talked and laughed in the dining room and kitchen. Sooner or later someone would spy my great-grandmother through the kitchen window as she crossed the bridge with bent back and cane. My grandmother would curse under her breath and roll her eyes while the scent of fried food lingered in the air. For as long as I can remember my great-grandmother thought my name was Hod, incidentally. And my sister, Lorri, was Gloria. These are good memories, though. And it doesn’t seem like I set out to tell you about a good memory, does it?

The point I wanted to make is that we did a lot together as a family. So it was nothing unusual one Saturday afternoon when my mom decided she was taking my sister and I camping. My Aunt Joan, Uncle Boyd, and Uncle Bobby would be there and the rest of the family would be joining us the next day for fun and fishing on that river.

There was a problem with the spot we’d all agreed to meet at, though. I want to say that the river was higher there, that its waters had risen, covering the campsite and making it inaccessible; and that sounds right. But to be perfectly honest, I really can’t remember with 100% clarity exactly why we couldn’t use that site. I just remember that we couldn’t.

My uncles lead the way in Bobby’s pickup truck and my mom, aunt, sister and I followed in the station wagon. We were way out in the middle of nowhere at this point. There were no houses for miles in all directions, only rolling mountains with the river curling like a ribbon through the valleys. No stores. No farms. Utter seclusion.

The sun was sinking closer to the horizon and we were losing daylight fast. We eventually came across this little road off to the side of the main route. Calling it a road is actually quite generous. In reality it was nothing more than two ruts carved into the cracked mud by years of usage. It obviously led down to the river, but there was a slight problem. Posted to a tree approximately halfway down this road was a red and black No Trespassing sign. In this area of the state, it was a proven fact that the further you got from towns and houses the more serious the consequences for ignoring such a sign became. Old men with shotguns and a bad temper were a serious consideration. As was stumbling across someone’s pot field and running the risk of fishing hooks hanging at eye level from tree branches. The 10 pound, monofilament test was as semi-transparent as a spiderweb and you might not ever know it was there until it was too late.

So we parked at this wide space across the road and I remember the adults discussing whether or not we should go ahead and camp there anyway. By this time, it was already dusk. Before long, the sun would completely disappear behind the hills and the last glow of sunset would fade from the sky like an orange light slowly dimming out. We’d never find another spot in the dark. The edge of the road was bordered with woods and these little paths leading down to the river weren’t exactly marked. Sometimes they looked like nothing more than a break in the foliage, only revealing their true nature as you passed by. So it was decided that no one had ever seen the sign and everyone would stick to that story if they had to.

The short drive to the river was riddled with ruts and miniature canyons that caused the station wagon’s shocks to squeak as it rocked from one side to the other. I remember one dip in particular being so deep that when the car bounced, I actually rose from my seat and bumped my head against the ceiling. Still nothing usual. Just another family outing.

We set up camp and it was decided that my uncles would find the nearest pay phone and call my grandparents so they would know where to look for us when they came the following day. The women and we kids would stay behind, get the fire going, and start roasting hot dogs over the flames. Bobby and Boyd hopped into the pickup, honked the horn, and were gone.

My mother gave Lorri and I the job of collecting wood for the campfire and we tromped through the little grove surrounding the sandbar with sticks and twigs bundled in our arms. There was a small creek back there which fed into the river. The river was pretty deep near our camping spot, but a quarter mile upriver it was very shallow. The rocks peeked up out of the water, creating white created mini-waves, and the sound was a continuos hiss, like a radio tuned to a dead station. It was so shallow there, in fact, that even a little kid like myself would have been able to walk across the width of the river without the water ever coming above his waist. But more on that later.

Across the river we could see the silhouette of a bridge in the gathering gloom, connecting two hills like an exposed, metal skeleton. It was just far enough away that you could watch the approaching darkness devour it as shadows filled the basin. First there was an entire bridge. Then half a bridge. Then only pieces of a bridge where the beams caught the remaining light just so. After that, there was nothing but darkness and lightning bugs, the crackle of a campfire and the scent of wood smoke mingling with a smell from the river that always made me think of submerged logs, slowly decaying in their watery tombs.

As is its nature, time passed. At some point the rumble of motorcycles echoed off the hills and headlights splayed across the bridge on the far side of the river. I can’t say exactly how many there were, but it seemed like a lot. They zipped back and forth across the bridge, did donuts in the very center, squealed tires, and their shouts and whoops overcame their engines and the gurgling waters of the river. Eventually they all filed back across the bridge and the sound of their bikes faded with nature rushing in to take its place.

We were all sitting on rocks around the fire and had moved on to marshmallows by now. As is customary, scary stories had been told, tales of lunatics escaped from the nearby Spencer Asylum who had hooks for hands and what happened to young couples foolish enough to park on a lonely, country lane.. At some point my Aunt Joan had begun hushing everyone, insisting in a sharp whisper that we listen, just listen. With heads cocked to the side, we sat in silence and felt the tension mount. We didn’t know what we were supposed to be listening for. Just that something might be out there. A mountain lion perhaps. Or a bear that had wandered down to the river for a drink.

My aunt whispered that she’s heard something. Something that sounded like someone crossing the river. The sound of water sloshing around legs as they forced their way through the current has a very distinctive sound. And she was positive that is what it had been.

Our hearts beat with fear and my sister and I looked at each other in the dying light of the fire. We eyeballed the grove, searching shadows between its trees so black that it was if the earth really was flat and we had found its edge.. We scanned at the dark water of the river. We saw nothing.

My mom and aunt, however, spoke in loud, exaggerated voices, obviously talking to the darkness and not one another.

"The men will be back any minute now…."

"Joan, go get the gun."

So scarred that I felt like throwing up, I blubbered through quivering lips, "We don’t have a gun, Mommy. We don’t have a gun." I immediately felt stupid, realizing exactly what I’d done even before my mom fixed me with a piercing stare.

We clustered in a tight pack as fire wood became glowing embers and waited. But nothing happened.

After some time had passed my sister had to pee, but we were still scared. It was probably because we were still scared, now that I think about it. Anyhow, my mom tried to convince us that it was just another story, that Joan was simply trying to frighten us. My aunt insisted she wasn’t. This went back and forth for a while but eventually my sister’s bladder was too much to take and my mom walked her into the grove while I stayed behind with my Aunt. I’d begun chunking rocks into the river, one of my favorite things to do at that age, when I heard the screams. Shrill and piercing, both my mom and sister yelling wordlessly as they burst out of the trees.

It seems like I remember someone, either my mom or Joan, shouting "Get in the car! Get in the car!" The station wagon doors slammed shut and were locked as windows were hastily rolled up. My aunt was shouting at my mom, insisting to know what was wrong, what was going on; my sister was borderline hysterical and fear had welled hot tears in my eyes.

My mom told that story in rapid bursts, her voice straining with emotion, much too loud for such an enclosed space but nobody caring. They’d found a place for my sister to pee. Near the little stream. The shape of a man emerged from the shadows like a nightmare come to life. They’d screamed. Ran. And that brought us up to speed.

The station wagon faced away from the grove of trees and every eye in the car darted from the mirror to hatchback window with quick snaps of the head. "Are you sure?" my aunt demanded. "Are you sure it was a man?"

A sharp scream severed Joan’s questioning. In moments of extreme stress and panic, screams are more contagious than any virus ever known. All it took was that little kickstart and we all scrambled to the other side of the car, huddling and holding each other as words emerged from the chaotic din.

She’d seen someone. A face, crouched down at the rear of the car, peeking around the taillight and made closer than it appeared by the sideview mirror. When the screaming started, he’d given up on stealth entirely and ran, in full view, back to the grove of trees.

My uncles had been gone for hours at this point. They should have been back long ago. But not a single car had driven past the main road the entire time we’d been at the riverbank.
By now I was uncontrollably crying and had my arms wrapped around my stomach as I rocked back and forth. Snot bubbled from my nose and dribbled down my face as I repeated the only words I could think of like a mantra: I wanna go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go …. I suspect my sister was in much the same state, but in all honesty I don’t really know. A terror unlike any I’d ever known had gripped reality. It narrowed the focus to a mere pinpoint where nothing existing but fear. The entire universe was a single emotion. The cosmos was complete and utter horror. Only my repeated pleas anchored me to whatever floated beyond the dread.
I wanna go home, I wanna go home, I wanna go ….

My mom turned the ignition, threw the gearshift into reverse, and slammed her foot onto the gas. The engine revved and the wheels spun with an insistent drone familiar to anyone whose ever been stuck in the mud or snow. The station wagon rocked backward but never really moved. It lurched forward as my mom let up on the gas, then shot backward again, only to be stopped a fraction of a second later. Not able to drive forward and unable to reverse, we were stuck.

Despite the rolled up windows, the stench of burnt rubber was strong and my mom quickly shifted from drive to reverse, drive to reverse, attempting to rock ourselves free. Someone was yelling that this couldn’t be happening, and someone else chanted Please God in the same wailing tone that I repeated my four words.

It was obvious we weren’t going anywhere without knowing what we were up against. It was complete pandemonium within that car but somehow it was decided that my aunt would open her door, peek her head out super quickly, and see what we were stuck on.

The thought of having that thin barrier between us and them removed, of being completely vulnerable, even for a fraction of a second, was enough to make me pull myself into the tiniest ball possible as I cried, screamed, and tried to make words with a throat that hitched too severely to form sentences. That’s why people moan when terrified, I think: because the synapses have gone haywire and they’ve devolved to the most primal forms of communication.

I remember my aunt saying "It’s rocks, Brenda, oh my God, it’s rocks, they’ve blocked us in."

One large stone placed in front of each wheel. One large stone behind. As effective as the boots they use these days for parking violations. We weren’t leaving the riverbank. Not unless someone moved those rocks. Not unless someone left the safety of the car.

Here’s where the frailty of memory comes into play. What I remember is being told I would have to do it because I was the smallest. I could slip underneath the car where they couldn’t get me. I could move the rocks. It even seems like I can remember shimmying across the rough ground on my belly, the stench of exhaust, oil, and grease just above my head. My mom, however, says that didn’t happen. And to be honest I really can’t picture her sending a little boy out on a mission like that. You just have to know her to get what I mean. It just doesn’t seem to be in her nature. So maybe this was a fragment of a nightmare I had later, fused with memories of the actual event. Or maybe that entire episode played out in my mind then and there. I’ve always had an extremely vivid, visual imagination. It was even stronger when I was younger and pictured things as clearly as if I were watching them on TV. So this is a possibility.

Regardless of who actually removed the rocks, my mom finally got that car moving. If I thought the drive in was rough, it was a stroll through a meadow compared to our exodus. With each bump, with each gouge in the road, we were jarred so savagely that our jaws snapped painfully shut. With one hand braced against the ceiling and the other clutching the door handles, we hung on with everything we had. Our bodies wanted to whip about like rag dolls and the tailpipe scraped against rocks so roughly that we could feel the vibrations through the floorboard; but my mom didn’t let up on the gas until we’d fishtailed onto the main road.

Heated discussion ensued. My mom and aunt wanted to wait at the wide spot across the road for my uncles to return. As previously established, I just wanted to go home. I wanted as much distance between me and that river bank as humanly possible, to be safe within my bed with my stuffed monkey, my encyclopedias, and my Wild Kingdom animal cards in their rolodex-like container. Familiar things. Good things. Safe things.

We ended up waiting, much to my distress. The engine was left running and the car was left in drive. We watched for someone to emerge from the other side of the road, ready for a quick getaway. Much later, my uncles finally showed up. Before they were even out of the truck my mom and aunt had covered half the distance between the vehicles with my sister and I hot on their heels. Joan ran into Boyd’s arms and my mom let her brother hold her as stress turned to tears on the shoulder of his green tee-shirt.

My uncle’s voices were soothing as they gently asked what was wrong, what had happened and I knew, without a doubt that they would protect us. As long as they were around, there was nothing to fear.

They said the first pay phone they’d come to didn’t work. So they had to press on. And on. They said they eventually intersected two counties before coming to the next phone and were able to call my grandparents.

A few years back a suspicion dawned upon me. They had been gone a long time. I called my mom and asked her about that night. If it had all been a hoax. I suspected Boyd and Bobby had circled around to the road on the far bank, and then waded across the river to scare us. Which may sound extreme. But you have to remember that in this part of the country it was considered a rite of passage to take a young kid into the woods with a paper sack and inform them that he was hunting a nocturnal animal called a snipe. The adult usually had a couple sticks of wood and explained that he’d go out into the forest and bang them together. The sound would drive the snipes toward the clearing and the kid’s job was to catch them in the paper sack. The adult then wandered back to the house or camp, leaving the child in the middle of the woods on a darkened night. Sooner or later the youngster realized there’s no such thing as a snipe and he’s been left in the woods alone. This is how my paternal grandfather taught me to find my way out of the forest. And how his father probably taught him. So you see, it seemed entirely reasonable to think that night could’ve been nothing more than an elaborate, if not somewhat cruel, prank.

My mom, however, said that wasn’t the case and both my uncles swore on all they valued they had nothing to do with the entire ordeal. And I have no choice but to believe her. My uncle Bobby is dead now, taken from us by an aneurysm. But he was a good man. An honorable man. So is Boyd. And their word, even second hand, is good enough for me.

True story.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Bowie V. Ibarra has terrified readers with the Down the Road series, thrilled them with his Pit Fighter Books, and kept us on the edge of our seats with titles such as Big Cat and Codename:
La Lechusa. Six Demon Bag was fortunate enough to snag this author for our very first interview.

Hi Bowie and welcome to Six Demon Bag. I’m going to start off with what will be my standard opening question, which you can interpret and answer however you please: if you were in possession of a 6 Demon Bag, what would yours contain?

Two hookers, a 24 pack of beer, a flanged mace, general provisions (food and water), and David von Erich.

With that question out of the way, why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your work. 

I’m an artist from Texas just trying to make it happen in the world. I like zombie movies, combat sports, music (classical, oldies, 80s, country, techno, tejano), dancing, and conspiracy theories. Also, long walks on the beach. 

I first became aware of your work through your Permuted Press title, Down The Road. If I remember correctly, Permuted picked this one up around 2006 or 2007. How you do feel you’ve grown as an author since then and what do you feel is the most important element in ensuring a writer’s skills continue to develop?

By leaps and bounds, that’s for sure. "Down the Road" was my tribute to Romero and his works. As I observed my works, I could see what some of my strong points were and some things I needed work on. I took my observations and reviews I received and let them help me grow. Readers will find a distinct evolution from the first entry, "Down the Road", to the third entry, "Down the Road: The Fall of Austin". And I know I’m only getting better.I didn’t think there was much out there in regards to zombie horror. And, truthfully, there wasn’t. But now we’re riding this big zombie wave and you can’t throw a rock without hitting something zombie related. Which is great, and I’m glad that I was part of that big first wave along with Permuted Press. 

Time for another standard 6 Demon question: There’s a train rocketing through the night with nearly a hundred people looking out the windows. The only person actually sitting in their seat is a small child who gazes unwaveringly at the floor. What is going on with these people?

The people are all dead, having been frozen in place forever by an alien force, and the little girl is the only one who is alive. She is too scared to look into the dead faces of her family and the others.

Apocalyptic and zombie authors write about some pretty brutal stuff. Is there anything you’ve ever done to a character that you either felt bad about or regretted once the tale had been published?

No, although many of my readers have. There was a lot of sympathy for the character Misty in DtR, and even for the protagonist, George. But the zombie apocalypse is cruel and unforgiving. Very bad things happen to good people. It’s a lot like real life, in a way. But if George A. Romero taught me anything with "Night of the Living Dead," its that no matter how hard you try, no one makes it out alive in the zombie apocalypse.

Let’s assume the Mayan doomsday prophecies are true and the world actually does go tits up at the end of this year. You are one of the few remaining survivors in a now dead world. What skill sets do you possess that would help ensure your survival in this harsh, new reality and how would you leverage those to your advantage?

Man, at the end of the world, I have few skills at all that would be useful. I could use a firearm, I could help support people. I could fight, I guess. But I’d be more ready to sacrifice myself for the good of my family and friends than anything else. We’ll say ‘take orders’ is my best quality. 

Out of all the characters you’ve created, is there one in particular with whom you most closely identify? What is it about this character that seems to resonate with you and how did he/she come about?

I like "El Aire", El Rey del Cielo, from my upcoming "Pit Fighters" combat sports series. El Aire is everything I used to want to be in my youth: A masked Mexican luchador.

Truth is, when I graduated from college, I wanted to travel to Mexico and train in lucha libre. El Aire was to be my masked persona.

Alas, it was not to be. I blew out my knee roughhousing with some friends of mine and had to have surgery. That pretty much put me on the sidelines for a while.

When I did train very briefly, I never, ever wanted to do it again. Never in my life had my entire body hurt from head to toe from the training that I did. I was also hoping to start a family and get married, and decided to learn to wrestle for very small paydays was not worth it. So I walked.

Instead, I could live through El Aire and have all the fun I imagine a luchador might have in the world of pro-wrestling.

It’s so strange to look back at how it all played out now. 

You’re walking through a cemetery at night and an apparition appears among the labyrinth of headstones. This spirit informs you that that it has the power to grant you a single wish with no unforeseen consequences resulting from said wish. The only stipulation is that you cannot personally benefit from what you ask for. What would that wish be?

Easy. A good and happy life for my daughter. 

You’re from Texas so maybe you can give me an insider’s perspective. Why do you think so many zombie novels have the first outbreaks of an undead uprising occur in that state?

That’s a good point. JL Bourne’s "Day by Day Armageddon" and Joe McKinney’s "Dead City" are just a few that come to mind. It’s a good spot to start a story, I imagine. Lots of fun cities for mayhem. Great culturual diversity as well, so you can get different points of views. 

We’re coming down to the wire now. Are there any questions you wish I would’ve asked but didn’t? And feel free to provide the answer. That’s right. At 6 Demon Bag, we give you the opportunity to interview yourself.

Q – Why have you not given up writing? A – There’s just too many bad ass stories in my head for me to stop.

Q – Tell us about your most recent outings. A- ‘Codename: La Lechusa" is an action/adventure story featuring a single mother who is also an assassin on the side. It’s a great superhero story with a real edge to it.

"Big Cat" is an 80s inspired horror story that revolves around two friends and the conflict that erupts between them when a female friend who was attacked by the cat prompts them into hunting down the beast.

Since you got your feet wet by interviewing yourself on that last so-called question, I’m leaving the wrap up in your capable hands. While I jaunt down to the store for a pack of smokes and microwave burrito, feel free to seize control. Anything at all you want to talk about or promote is fair game; the forum is yours. Ready … GO!

You can network with me via my personal website, ZombieBloodFights.com. There you’ll find my Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube account. Check out the book trailers for all my books at the YouTube page. They are some of the best low (read: no) budget trailers you’ll see on the net.
Also, check out my Blog page for great reviews, interviews, and commentary on all things zombies, blood, and fights. You can find all these links at ZombieBloodFights.com.

Thanks for this opportunity, William!

And thank you, Bowie! It has been a true honor having this opportunity to pick your brain.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Conjuring The Devil: A True Story

When I was a kid, I decided to conjure up the devil. Which may sound strange, but was actually pretty standard for the way my mind works, even as a child. Exactly why I wanted to see the Devil, I can’t say. It’s not as though I had any pressing questions I wanted to ask. Nor did I have any intentions of selling my immortal soul. At that age, the only thing I really wanted was for this cute little girl named Billie Jo to notice me; but even her attentions weren’t worth the cost of a soul. Besides, I was a rather bookish little boy and knew all too well how deals with Old Scratch turned out. There was always some loophole that tricky little bastard would find, some way of royally fucking you over without ever really reneging on the initial agreement. And I wanted no part of that.

I spent the better part of a week laying the groundwork for my little experiment. One of the key components to the setup was the mirror in which Satan’s face was supposed to appear. Easy enough. Between my mom and my older sister, there were several mirrors laying around and I chose one that was kept in a basket beneath the bathroom sink. It was about the size of a paperback, had a plastic frame of undetermined color (I am partially color blind) and fit nicely beneath the mattress of my captain’s bed. Red, however, is a color that I can almost always distinguish, so procuring a candle in that color wasn’t very difficult either. I grew up in a very rural area and it wasn’t unusual for storms to knock the power out, which meant there was always a supply of emergency candles and matches in one of the kitchen drawers. The problem was the taper I’d selected was quite a bit taller than the mirror. The instructions were pretty specific in stating that the flame of the red candle had to be reflected in the mirror. In a rare display of practicality, I took my trusty pocket knife and sawed approximately half of the candle away, which was then buried at the very bottom of the trash can in hopes that it would never be found.

The last piece of equipment I needed was sand. I’d initially considered going into the backyard and just taking some dirt from one of my mother’s flower beds. But dirt isn’t the same as sand, I reasoned, and I knew when it came to something like conjuring the devil cutting corners was the last thing you wanted to do. So I ended up filching a sandwich bag from the kitchen and taking a walk one afternoon along the bumpy, winding road of Falling Rock Hollow (pronounced in the local dialect as Holler). The road parallels an unnamed tributary of the Elk River and, if followed long enough, eventually comes to a nice little swimming hole, complete with a large boulder that the older kids used as a makeshift diving platform. The bank of the swimming hole was a steep incline where the roots of trees poked through hard-packed earth and the bed of the swimming hole was covered with algae slick stones and sharp little rocks that poked and scraped at bare feet. Separating these two environments however was a long, narrow strip of white sand.


After collecting a bag of the sand, I hightailed it back home. I’d simply told my mom that I was going for a walk, which was not exactly a lie. However, my self preservation instinct told me I’d be in a world of trouble if she discovered I’d walked all the way to the swimming hole by myself so I practically ran the entire way. It’s funny, in retrospect, how the threat of being in trouble was more scary to me than the prospect of conjuring up the Prince of Darkness. But I digress.

With all the key elements in place, my plan was set in motion. That night I laid in bed, pretending to sleep but actually listening to the sounds of the house. I could hear the muffled sounds of my parent’s television from their bedroom, the creaking and popping of settling wood, and my own pulse, beating rabbit quick. I had one of those flimsy, plastic wristwatches you use to be able to get from gumball machines. On the side of the face were these little nubs and if you squeezed both at the same time a very dim light would shine, enabling you to see the LCD. This allowed me to keep track of the furiously slow moving time.

Eventually, my parents went to sleep and the display crept closer and closer to the appointed hour. Around a quarter till midnight, I slipped out of my bedroom window with the collected supplies in my backpack and scurried through the darkness. Those who’ve never spent any amount of time in the country probably don’t realize exactly how dark it can get. With only scattered porch lights and a sky brimming with stars to light the way, the darkness completely envelopes you. And here I was, this little boy, crossing the swinging bridge that spanned the river and following railroad tracks that had ceased being useful when the oil refinery went out of business.

I ended up beneath an old train trestle, huddled in the shadows while I propped the mirror against a mound of cinders I’d scooped up from the tracks. Next was the mound of sand piled directly in front of the mirror, the red candle planted in the center. Eyeing my watch, counting down the minutes as midnight grew closer; I held my breath with the match pinched between fingertips, ready to strike at just… the right… moment.


The night was as quiet as the country really gets. Tree frogs chirped from the darkened woods that surrounded everything. Hidden insects whirred their wings and a howl hooted in the distance, so sad and forlorn that it could have very well been the last of its species. The Elk River gurgled and babbled over rocky shoals and all else was cemetery silent.


Idyllic Rural Town vs. The Fallen Angel.

At precisely midnight I scratched the Light-Anywhere, blue tipped kitchen match against a rock and touched flame to wick. There was a soft yellow glow surrounding the candle and its aura reflected in the mirror like a fiery halo. At that very moment, wind started howling through the trees and from the other side of the river hound dogs brayed and barked as if suddenly startled.
I kid you not.

Needless to say, this kind of freaked little me out. I scurried out from under that trestle, scrambled up the embankment, and ran until stitches of pain pierced my sides and my lungs felt as though they were on fire. The entire time I felt like something was just behind me, something dark and fast, viscously ruthless, and wanting nothing more than to swallow me whole. To stop running would be to die. Of this, I was sure.

Familiar landmarks took on sinister new meanings in the darkness; when I came to the foot of the bridge, there was this little oasis of light cast from the lamps overhead. For one fleeting second I felt safe, like nothing bad could ever touch me; and then that little sanctuary of light was gone and my attention was riveted on the next street lamp, the next floodlight mounted to the side of Bridge Elementary. Moving through the night like a skipping stone through pools of light and shadow, I ran until my thighs felt as though their ligaments were being stretched on a rack, unntil I was half dizzy with hyperventilation and my stumbling feet wanted to betray me.

I ran.

I hit the fence separating the school’s playground from my yard like a pouncing mountain lion. With fingers hooked through the chain links, my toes knew the way. They’d been over this fence thousands of times before and knew exactly where the next foothold was, where the supports were weaker and the fence tended to sag. Vaulting over the metal pipe at the top, I landed beside a dogwood tree planted within an old car tire and scraped my knee on a half buried rock.

I then squirmed between the sill and my partially opened window, spun around, and closed the window as quickly (yet still as quietly) as I could. Leaping into bed, I pulled my Star Wars blankets up to the tip of my nose and laid there, watching the shadows of trees dance on my walls.

Too scared for crying, struggling to catch my breath, I laid there. I trembled. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut. But I couldn’t sleep. For my young mind told me that I’d left a portal open. I’d left the candle burning in front of the mirror with its wax dripping like blood onto the sand below. I’d opened a door and ran away without closing it. Letting who knows what in. And that is exactly how I spent the rest of that long night.

True Story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Blood Legacy by Carl Hose

Jack The Ripper, the Cleveland Torso Murderer, the Zodiac Killer: the public's interest in unsolved serial killings is a well documented fact. With a plethora of true crime books and television specials revisiting the historical details, it seems everyone has a theory or opinion. These gruesome killings capture our imagination and have haunted our nightmares for generations. And this is also the fertile ground author Carl Hose tackles with his most recent offering, Blood Legacy.

I'll admit I've been a fan of Hose's work for quite some time and Blood Legacy is a perfect example of why that is. Taking us from the fog-enshrouded streets of the 1800s Whitechapel District to a sanitarium in 1958, the author adds his own twist on Ripper lore… which can be a tricky undertaking. In the hands of a lesser wordsmith there is always the chance that fictional elements added to historical facts could come across as contrived and hokey. Hose, however, masterfully pulls off this feat in a manner that is as believable as believable as it is well written.

The bulk of the tale is primarily told through flashback sequences as a geriatric serial killer shares his story with an initially dubious author who has been invited to hear the old man's deathbed confessions. The pacing between these two distinct portions of the plot counterbalance one another perfectly, guiding the reader through eighty years of history with enough finesse that the plot details never become muddled or overwhelming.

I've been purposefully avoiding discussing those details here because I really don't want to give away too much. What I will say, however, that of all the books authored by Carl Hose that I've read, this one definitely stands out as my favorite. Well crafted and intriguing through and through, I strongly suggest this book for anyone with an interest in serial killers, Jack the Ripper, or horror in general. A word of warning, though: there are some extremely graphic passages within these pages and it is not recommended for children. For everyone else, however, I say go ahead and treat yourself to this book. I can almost gaurentee that you won't be disappointed.

Ebook available from http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/121372

Paperback available from http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Legacy-Carl-Hose/dp/0983376395/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326851056&sr=8-1-fkmr0