Hi folks, I’m Lucas Mangum. I’m an author of dark fiction with several books published by independent presses. At this stage in my life, I’ve noticed my work has a variety of recognizable themes and motifs. With some heavy revisions, putting them together could almost form a sort of meta-narrative. Now, I’m not deluded: I don’t think I’ve originated archetypes or motifs, though I do believe I’ve made them my own. While listening to an episode of the Weird Studies podcast in which they covered the Sun Ra film Space is the Place, I thought it’d be fun to pull out essential passages that best represented this overarching narrative.
I kicked things off with an excerpt from FLESH AND FIRE, originally published in 2016. You can read that post right here or you can get the book in its entirety for FREE (that’s right, FREE) by subscribing to my store’s newsletter.
This week, I want to talk about the world beyond. By this, I don’t necessarily mean the afterlife. I’m fascinated by alternate realities, alternate timelines, worlds layered upon ours, some only slightly different, others vastly different. The concept of infinite dimensions makes the hardships of the here and now easier to digest. I may not have something I want in this world, but another version of me in another place I’ll never visit may have that thing, so in some distant way, I have everything I could ever want or need. Do I believe this absolutely? I don’t know. I think that’s the only honest answer.
As a horror writer, it’s my job to explore the darker side of this. What horrors await us in these infinite other worlds? How can events in other dimensions negatively impact our day-to-day lives?
In my novella MANIA, a controversial independent filmmaker who chooses a supposedly cursed screenplay as his next project. Everyone who has tried filming it has either died or lost their sanity. Despite the book’s short length (30,000ish words), it has some more layers and goes in, what I think, are some interesting directions. A Hollywood cult created the screenplay and orchestrates other sinister events in an ethereal place they call Behind the Scenes.
The excerpt that follows is from late in the book. The main character’s girlfriend has been captured by the cult and he’s been framed for the deaths surrounding the screenplay. A visit by the ghost takes him to the tangential place he needs to go.
Ward woke coughing blood. He spat out a wad of congealed crimson. His ribs and face throbbed in all the places they hit him. At least he knew he was still alive. Marielle never showed.
His first attempt at getting to his feet ended with him collapsing back to the floor. He wondered just how badly he was hurt. Could these injuries kill him? He tried again, using the couch for support. He groaned as the pain spread across his body.
He wondered as he sat in the dark if now, in this moment, that businessman and the others were killing Rachel. How badly would she break down? Would she cry out to him? Or God?
He didn’t want her to suffer, but knew she would.
The futility of any action he could take pressed down upon him, made him cry in the dark. It crushed his will to live.
He cursed and pounded the ground of the apartment. Fresh pain bloomed in his hand and warm blood drizzled from his knuckles. He examined his wounds with morbid fascination. Poked at the scrapes on his hand, flexed his fingers and caused more blood to pour. The outward pain dulled the inward despair.
He slammed his fist into the ground again. This time he grunted against it. He thought he broke a finger. He thought about pain as a doorway, about weakness leaving the body.
Back when he suffered from depression, he once cut himself too deep and had to go to the hospital. Rachel went with him and took him home after the doctors cleared him. She held him, made him promise that he wouldn’t give up, said she loved him and didn’t want to lose him. Remembering this now brought another rush of tears. She hadn’t given up on him, so how could he give up on her now?
He thought of Marielle sparing him in the fire. He shook his head. If she cared about him, why did she kill Jay? He remembered the screenplay and who she was before she became a monster. She was alone, desperate, and afraid, like he was now. She was turned into a monster, but maybe pieces of her old self still remained.
He was never a praying man. Religion had no place in his family. Even his grandparents had a greater interest in the arts than in religion. Now, he imagined himself as a devout man who still cried out to God, even after God killed his loved ones or gave him a crippling disease. Marielle killed his friends and set these dark events in motion. But maybe she could help. He called her before, by working on the film. Perhaps she’d hear his call again.
“Marielle.” He kept his voice at a whisper as he repeated her name.
Ward pressed his fists into his forehead. He shut his eyes. He called to her again and again, tried to picture her.
Panic rose within him as time passed. He thought of Ashton Smith, the doomed director who previously tried to bring Mania to the screen. Ashton went crazy calling for her. Ward wondered if his circumstances were the same.
“Marielle, please, I need your help Goddamn it.”
He rose to his feet, dull aches pounding his ribs. “Please, don’t let them hurt Rachel.”
Ward turned to find her with him. He opened his mouth to scream, but her kiss swallowed it whole.
Instead of the life draining from him, energy poured into him. The pain from his wounds became sources of strength. Redness filled his vision, as if blood poured down the lenses of his eyes. The throb of his heart grew stronger with every beat, pumped fire through his veins.
Marielle pulled her lips from his, pulling him from one dream to another. The first was raw sensation, elevated to its absolute peak. In this new dream, his perceptions changed yet again. His flesh tingled. His pain dulled. An iron gate rippled like a reflection in water.
They were in front of Mr. Whale’s mansion. Ward had a gun in his hand.
“How did we…?”
“Just follow me,” she said.
Her body oozed through the bars, and reformed as flesh on the other side. He stared.
“Come on,” she said.
“You killed all of my friends. You tried to kill me.”
“It was the curse. I couldn’t stop it.”
“Why help me now?”
“They want to replace me. I won’t allow them.”
“And after we’ve stopped them, what then? You go back to trying to kill me? Trying to kill Rachel?”
Her eyes darkened. “I don’t know the future. But right now you need my help.”
He nodded and stepped forward, through the iron. It felt like something reached inside him and massaged his organs. No pain in it.
He followed Marielle up the cobblestone path. The gargoyles turned their heads to watch the intruders, eyes glowing red, mouths twisted into jagged-toothed grimaces. What was once stone was now reptilian skin, the verdant scales glistening as if slimy.
“What did you do to me?”
“I’ve taken you to the temple like you’ve asked.”
“I mean what’s happening to me?”
“All they do takes place Behind the Scenes.”
“Behind the scenes of what?”
“Of the world you know.”
Fascination trumped all fear. As a child, he always liked to watch behind the scenes documentaries telling the stories of how his favorite films were made. A peek Behind the Scenes of the world eclipsed anything he experienced before.
Beneath his feet, the cobblestone cracked and heaved as if something below was breathing. The clouds above swirled, black in color and set against a fiery red sky. The mansion on the hill had transformed. No longer a piece of Gothic architecture, it split and twisted into something out of a German Expressionist nightmare, all zigzags, bends and spirals.
He wondered if he’d followed Marielle into Hell. If so, what waited for him here?
They entered the mansion. Red cracks split the walls of the hallway leading from the front door. Light pulsed from them, making fiery haloes in the darkness. The floor shifted and groaned beneath Ward, as if the house stood on unstable ground, or that long prophesied earthquake had finally struck Los Angeles. Ward held out his arms to keep his balance.
“What now?” he said.
“Go to the room where my story was given to you.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going with you. My congregation must pay for their apostasy.”
They entered Mr. Whale’s crypt of the cinematic dead. Through his new perception, the room had taken on a macabre quality. Theda Bara’s eyes in the poster for Salome bled thick black bile down her cheeks. The walls had turned flesh-colored and expanded like a pregnant belly, the life inside rolling and writhing. Torn pages from books and screenplays fluttered through the air like shreds of confetti, the words upon them written in blood-red calligraphy. Actors and actresses on the covers of DVDs and VHSs spoke garbled gibberish through shredded, oozing lips. A fecal smell choked the air.
Marielle walked to the Salome poster and tore it down, exposing a vertical slit in the wall. She pressed her hands on either side, pressed her face forward. She licked its edges, rubbed her face against it, kissed it. It expanded, leaking clear mucus. She continued to lick, massaged the sides of it with her hands. Flaps of skin grew out along the edges of the slit, embraced Marielle’s head and shoulders.
The slit parted and Marielle dove between its lips. A throaty moan reverberated in the air of the room. As Marielle disappeared inside, her faint voice called to him. He went up to the crevice, held his breath, and attempted to crawl inside.
It resisted, tightening around the edges. He looked the wet hole up and down, recalled how Marielle had gotten through. He bent forward and ran his tongue along its edges. The discharge had the consistency of honey and tasted like white wine. Its fragrance overpowered the fecal stench in the room as the lips opened wider, the flaps of skin again protruding to wrap around Ward’s head. He crawled into the sweet darkness.
The slick walls pressed against him, encircled him with incredible warmth as he inched forward. Blinded by darkness, he moved by feel. Some parts of the passage constricted and he struggled to get through them. In others he could almost stand and walk.
The channel grew wider and spilled out into a dark chamber lit by a single blue orb suspended in the air. Across the room, Rachel hung from a cross.
MANIA is available on Amazon.