Just when you thought it was safe to go on the Internet…
It’s been years since true crime author Niles Highsmith and his brother Leon disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Left to pick up the pieces, Dana can’t seem to break free from the dark web cultists and their strange gods. As personal tragedies pile up, the world itself begins to fracture. The dark web isn’t just on the Internet anymore. Its influence spreads through the world’s darkest corners, whispering in the ears of elite and deplorable alike. Though pockets of resistance rise, time is a flat circle and nothing is what it seems.
Do stories haunt you?
This one haunted me. Gods of the Dark Web remains my most widely read and reviewed book, but the extreme violence and mean spirit of it unsettled me so much that I never wanted to return to its world again. Still, a lot went unsaid by the time I reached its final page. What happens to Dana after her uncomfortable encounter with Niles, the book’s protagonist (though not a hero)? How did all this start? What are some of the big picture consequences?
Despite the book’s success and the narrative’s plethora of unanswered questions, I moved on, writing messy attempts at epics with We Are the Accused and Extinction Peak, the transgressive but ultimately hopeful Saint Sadist, and the brutal fun of Pandemonium with Ryan Harding. However, as our world became a more frightening place every day–reaching the nightmarish peak of 2020–and I teetered on the verge of a mental relapse, the world I’d allowed my readers to glimpse in Gods, a twisted mirror of our own, haunted me.
I wrote Darkness, Digital over the course of a year. First, calling it Spidergod and attempting something larger in scale, something akin to Hellraiser meets The Matrix. That first draft petered out and I ultimately scrapped it, deciding to salvage what I could as short Dark Web-related stories, but soon, a through line emerged in the narrative. I found a way to collect these pieces into a new novella. Darkness, Digital: Gods of the Dark Web 2 is the result.
The book, this whole series, is a nightmare, one freakish simulation in a web of freakish simulations, a perfect reflection of this moment we’re all having. And yeah, I said “series,” so you can expect more of these, and a lot sooner than the three years that have passed since the first book’s publication.
Darkness, Digital will be out VERY soon. Others will follow.
PATTERNS OF CHAOS, a signed limited edition hardcover collecting my novellas EXTINCTION PEAK, MANIA, SAINT SADIST, and the never-before-published SKULL FOREST is now available from Thunderstorm Books.
A brother and sister embark on a perilous journey across a wasteland overrun by dinosaurs to rob the mountain home of a corrupt California senator. But the home isn’t empty…
When the faces of their missing friends appear in an eerie painting, teenagers Nathaniel Ernest Brown and Haley descend into dark places to set things right. But the creature who took their friends is waiting…
A controversial film director plans to adapt a cursed screenplay and attracts the ire of a vengeful ghost. But she’s not the only one in Hollywood who wants him dead…
Pregnant with her father’s child, nineteen-year-old Courtney escapes her abusive home and finds shelter at the homestead of an earth-worshipping cult. But the congregants aren’t what they seem…
PATTERNS OF CHAOS collects four novellas by Lucas Mangum, including the Splatterpunk Award-nominated SAINT SADIST and the never-before published SKULL FOREST.
Yesterday, my nasty, cosmic horror creepypasta turned 3 years old.
Weird timing, as I finished work on the sequel last week. If you haven’t picked up this one yet, you can grab it on paperback, digital, or audio right here. I wrote this book in a month, yet it remains one of my most popular titles. Go figure. I DO have a very limited number of signed copies on hand. 17 bucks, includes shipping. If you’re interested, hit up the contact form and let me know.
As much as I like this book, it barely scratches the surface of the mythos behind the narrative. It’s something I explore a little deeper in the sequel. More on that later.
The rest of the week will be spent on the Wesley Southard collab and editing new episodes of White Trash Occultism.
13 weeks. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve had any alcohol. Aside from some scatterbrained moments and bouts of mania, my focus feels a lot more stable. There were some real problems in the beginning. A shorter fuse. What felt like a million near-panic attacks. But that seems to have stabilized a bit.
I do feel the need to apologize. I anticipated ONE AND ONLY would be a bigger story than it is, but I dunno. I think it’s done, at least for now. I’m sorry if any of you were waiting on more. Ideas can be fickle sometimes. I’m not saying never, but I am saying not now.
Hopefully, that means more blogging here. I’ve missed connecting with you all on a daily basis.
Tomorrow morning, Jean and I head to the hospital to induce baby number two. I’m excited to meet her. Nervous about being a parent again, especially in this nightmare era, but mostly excited.
That’s all for now. The new episode of White Trash Occultism will go up later, so I’ll try to remember to link to it here.
People beat up on themselves for breaking things like New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s dumb. Goals and approaches to reaching those goals are fluid things. With that in mind, you can expect a blog here every week, not every day. I will continue to serialize ONE AND ONLY and post an introductory blog before each entry. I think that’s the best way to use this space and my time.
I’d initially intended to release ONE AND ONLY in parts on Amazon in a desperate attempt to game the algorithms, but given the experimental nature of this project, I think I’d rather offer it here. There will be a new chapter here weekly and revised digital editions of each part (4 total) for pay-what-you-want every month or so.
Will there eventually be a physical book? Yes. Eventually. It’s a long-term goal, but not a huge priority. The explicit purpose of this project is for you to get a little insight into my process from beginning to end. Give you a chance to experience the metanarrative.
Besides, I have enough collaborations in the works to fill my release schedule for the next two years. No need to interfere with that.
I was going to blog about the allegations against my favorite artist, but frankly, my take doesn’t matter.
Anyway, today will be spent working on ONE AND ONLY’s next chapter. It will be ready by Monday, along with notes on the inspiration behind it.
The latest visual novel I played was called THE SONG OF SAYA. Let me tell you, for a game that came out almost twenty years ago, it feels like it hasn’t aged a day. There’s so much care given to its story and characters. It’s full of truly grotesque moments and the ending I got really resonated. As a visual novel, it has multiple possible endings. I won’t spoil anything, but if you like movies like David Cronenberg’s THE BROOD, you’ll find a LOT to love in SONG OF SAYA.
I can’t believe I’d never even heard of it before a couple of weeks ago. Well, I guess I can believe it, since I’m still relatively new to gaming. Though I used to play as a kid and teenager, I didn’t start gaming in my adult life until last year. Still, you’d think a game like this would be more popular. Anyway, it absolutely should be.
It’s pretty cheap on Steam, just saying.
When I started playing games again a year ago, I didn’t think of it as part of my writing life. It was more along the lines of something I did to wind down. Relax.
Don’t get me wrong. Games can be good for that. I especially love beat em ups, shoot em ups, and (oddly enough) strategy. But visual novels, man. They feel like a genre after my own heart. With a little bit of work, I could see myself making one someday. I’m not showing my hand here or promising anything. But it’s something that’s definitely crossed my mind. I just don’t want to get ahead of myself. Pacing is so important for me so as not to feel overwhelmed by all the things I have in the pipeline.
This weekend, I put down a few thousand words on my collaboration with Wesley Southard. It’s really coming together nicely. Wes has some serious writing chops, a healthy level of enthusiasm, and he’s fun to work with. I’m glad this second entry in my accidental trilogy (composed of collaborations and tributes to existing works) is with him. We’re tipping the hat to the films of Lucio Fulci this time.
I always say write the kinds of books you want to read. Lots of people have said it before me, but it’s something I absolutely vibe with. Doing books modeled after films I love–first with PANDEMONIUM, now with the Fulci book–feels like the most natural thing in the world right now. I think that sense of fun carries over to the writing and makes it fun for the reader, too.
White Trash Occultism, the show I cohost with Kelby Losack and J. David Osborne, seems to be finding its legs. We’ve got two episodes up and two more in the can. We’ll be recording episode 5 this week and then taking a week or two off. My daughter will be born any day now, so to mitigate my mental adjustment, I want to take a couple weeks to just be with my family. In the meantime, you can check out the show on my YouTube channel, or the audio on Kelby’s podcast Heathenish Radio. It honestly probably needs its own YouTube channel, but I’m not in a rush.
That’s it for now. This week will be spent compiling ONE AND ONLY, PART 1 for the eventual digital release and tinkering with an outline for a top secret project I’ll be starting in March or April.
I promised myself I wouldn’t turn this blog into a place where I just plug stuff all the time. That said, I did just get a stack of author copies this week. This book was cowritten by Ryan Harding and myself, and it embodies both the spirit of wrestling and Italian horror. A tribute to the DEMONS franchise, it boasts an on-page body count of 120 or so. As mentioned before, it’s the most fun I’ve had writing anything, and I think it shows in the writing. I’ve got ten copies here that I can part with. If you want a signed copy of PANDEMONIUM, PayPal 17 bucks to L[dot]Mangum[dot]Fiction[at]gmail[dot]com, and put your shipping address in the note. The cost includes shipping, and I’m happy to personalize the book anyway you’d like.
I’m sorry activity has been slow here. It may, unfortunately, get a little slower. While blogging daily is pretty great, it’s cut into my fiction writing time significantly. Because I’ve got some looming personal deadlines that I’d like to meet, daily posts are just not doable at the moment. While I still intend to post here regularly (3ish times a week), it may be a while before you see posts two days in a row. The flip side of this is that I’ll have more time to think about what I’ll post and it may result in longer, more developed pieces. In the end, we’ll both win.
As you may have seen on Monday, I finished the first section of ONE AND ONLY. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I’d say we’re definitely stepping into the meat of the story. We’re officially in the second act. Come next month, I’ll be releasing those first four chapters as a compiled e-book. I just got the cover, too!
I’m also working on THE FINAL GATE, which is a collaboration between myself and Wesley Southard. It’s a fun horror novella modeled after the films of Lucio Fulci. I guess you could say that between this and PANDEMONIUM, I’m in a bit of a tribute phase. We’re about halfway through the first draft and, as they say in wrestling, business is damn sure about to pick up!
Lastly, the second episode of WHITE TRASH OCCULTISM, a video podcast hosted by Kelby Losack, J. David Osborne and myself, is now live. You can check it out on YouTube. The show has really hit its stride. We’ve recorded four episodes and have gotten into some pretty heavy conversations about art, the occult, and the importance of free expression.
Okay. Here we are. The last of chapter 4 in my ongoing serial novel ONE AND ONLY. You can read previous chapters (and the other sections of chapter 4) right here. Getting chapter 4 right was a real bear! I think that’s because it’s a big turning point in the story. A moment where separate threads start to come together.
The clip above is from what, in my opinion, is the most explosive two minutes of television. Not just wrestling television, but ALL television. It’s a breaking point in one of my favorite slow-burn heel turns in wrestling. Bret Hart, after being screwed out of the championship multiple times, loses his mind on pretty much everyone, shoving promoter Vince McMahon and saying “shit” on network television in the process. It all ends with a brawl between four of the promotion’s top stars at the time. The goal was to build excitement for the pay-per-view for the following weekend, Wrestlemania 13.
That’s not what I’m doing here. I won’t end this chapter with a prompt to buy the rest of the book if you want to see what happens next, though I admit that I considered it. What I am thinking about is big buildups that lead to the next act. I think that’s where we are here.
Let’s do a quick recap. Mason (who’s scenes thus far are in the first person) has unknowingly brought his girlfriend back from the dead. It’s his fault she’s dead and though he performed a necromancy ritual, he’s still sure that he failed. His late girlfriend Marybeth has indeed come back from the dead, and she’s not alone. Something monstrous has overtaken her. Because dead girls make for bad hosts, this same monstrous thing has now jumped into the body of Caroline, a friend of Mason’s, after dispatching two police officers and three of Caroline’s friends. One of those murdered friends is Amber, sister to indie wrestler Aldous the Blade, who’s just won the championship and wants to know where his sister is. Things are about to come to a head, folks, and this big confrontation will lead us into the second part of the story. The underworld portion, if you’re following Dan Harmon’s story circle, I guess.
Mason’s father was having a very bad night. He was having a very bad week. Hell, it was more than that. He was having a very bad second act. While the little girl playing on the race track that he’d built on the living room floor earlier that night gave him plenty of reason to be grateful, the void left by the death of his wife made its presence known more times a day than he could count. On top of that, he now had to worry about Mason. That boy was losing his mind as far as Miles Bell was concerned. The worst part was he couldn’t exactly blame the poor guy.
Yes, losing Donna to cancer was a real gut punch. But he saw it coming. Something about adulthood helps you expect bad shit to happen. You learn that you’ll soon know more dead people than living. At Mason’s age, though, shit like what happened to Marybeth just wasn’t supposed to happen. Still, he wasn’t exactly crazy about how Mason had handled it. Digging up her corpse? Performing some half-assed ritual? What the hell was all that? He knew his boy was weird, but there was weird and there was… whatever Mason was. Bizarre? Unhinged? Sick? He didn’t care to think of his son in those terms at all.
Most days, he felt like completely falling apart, but then he looked down at little Sheila. Running her little Hot Wheels around the racetrack. Making all kinds of cute coos and sighs. Occasionally looking back at him with the most loving expression. A deep love embodied there that he just didn’t feel like he’d earned.
Life could be beautiful, even in spite of the pain. Even in spite of … he cast a glance at the stairwell. He shifted in his seat and fought the urge to check on Mason again.
I had to go on foot. It was a lot slower than driving and a hell of a lot slower than astral projection. But still, I could feel the earth under my feet, the vibrations of its resistance. The worst part was I didn’t even know exactly where I was going. I had to stick to side roads and dark wooded paths. When I found what I was looking for, I wished I hadn’t.
One corpse, blackened and still smoking, lay in the middle of the trail. It smelled like overcooked hamburger. Another lay beside it. It was a girl I recognized. One of the twins, Farrah or Felicity. Her neck was bent at an unnatural angle, all the way backwards, so that the back of her head was nearly flush with the skin between her shoulder blades. Her eyes were frozen open in an expression of agonized horror. Her hands were claws, clutching for a life that had long ago left.
I got the awful notion that this was all somehow my fault. I had no proof. It was just a feeling, but it was a strong feeling. It felt like knowledge. Was this what religious people meant when they talked about faith? A strange certainty contrary to evidence? It was this unproven certainty that kept me from calling police. I’d be in deep shit if they so much as suspected my hand in this. I wasn’t sure how they could, but I was sure they would.
I scanned my surroundings. My heartbeat accelerated like the fist of a frustrated door knocker. I saw nothing in the darkness save for gray outlines of trees, but I knew I wasn’t alone. Someone had killed these two poor girls. I glanced down at the still smoking body. Whatever did this couldn’t be too far away.
I checked my phone and saw I wasn’t too far from the road. Spooked out of my mind, I headed for it. At least beside the road, I wouldn’t have dense woods on all sides. Deep shadows from which anything could jump out at me. No room to run.
When I reached the road, my feet stuttered to a stop. The wreckage of Caroline’s car lay before me. It looked like someone had smashed it like a beer can on the head of a frat boy. My guts plummeted. My pulse throbbed between my ears, heavy and sounding so much larger than something that could possibly be contained inside me. I felt the sight of my friend’s crashed car in my neck and shoulders. It weighed me down so heavily that my legs buckled, and I could hardly breathe. My hands and knees pressed into the pavement. I hardly felt the pain.
The sounds of approaching footsteps broke through the numbing despair. They belonged to an imposing shape.
Aldous “The Blade” Armstrong approached the broken-looking kid kneeling beside the smashed-up car. He still wore the championship belt around his waist. He still stunk and his blood was still up from the match with Trashcan. The sight before him made him shake. He recognized the car but didn’t want to believe his instincts. It was Caroline’s car. Amber’s friend Caroline. Where the hell was Amber?
He thought he recognized the kid as he walked past but didn’t take time to look closer. More than anything, he wanted to check the car. Make sure no one was inside. The way it was all wrecked, he didn’t think anyone could’ve survived whatever had happened.
The kneeling kid was whispering something Aldous couldn’t make out. He tried to ignore it, but the sound of it skittered across his brain like so many spiders. He looked about the car, the repeated whispers never stopping. The frame was bent and twisted. All the glass was blown out. Across the mangled hood, something dark glistened in the moonlight.
“Jesus,” he muttered. He turned to the distraught kid. “What happened?”
The kid didn’t look up. He just kept whispering nonsense. Aldous used the toe of his boot to nudge the kid in the forearm.
The kid looked up. Aldous definitely recognized him. Went to Amber’s school. Miles or Manny or something. Or maybe Jason. Mason? His eyes were wide and jerky. His lips were moving, but he’d stopped speaking. After looking Aldous over, he frowned.
“What are you supposed to be?”
Aldous was taken aback by the comment at first, then remembered he was still wearing his gear.
“I’m a wrestler. I came from a show. What happened here?”
The kid’s confusion faded. Even in the darkness, Aldous see the color drain from the kid’s face.
“I don’t know. They’re all dead.”
Something squeezed the Blade’s heart.
“Who? Who’s dead?”
The kid pointed behind him.
“Two girls. Back in the woods.”
“Who? Do you know them?”
“Twins. Farrah and Felicia or something. And this car … it belongs to my friend Caroline.”
“Jesus fuck. Was there another girl with them? Amber?”
“I don’t know,” the kid said, sounding like he had glass in his throat.
“Fuuuuck,” Aldous said. He ran for the woods, leaving the kid, broken by the road.
I didn’t have the will to follow the wrestler into the woods. I hardly had the will to rise to my feet. What a coward. What a fucking joke. I had it in me to shove my girlfriend off Sunset Cliffs. I had it in me to try bringing her back from the dead. And I couldn’t bring myself to do anything now. Something was very wrong here and it went beyond a bad car wreck. The inkling that this was somehow my fault had become an absolute certainty by this point.
I shifted and slumped. Faced the woods. There was nothing there to see, but it beat staring at the wreckage of Caroline’s car. I didn’t like the way the blood shimmered on the ruined hood. I didn’t like how fucked up the car was despite no sign of impact. Maybe it was a hit and run, but all sorts of alarm bells were going off in my head telling me this was something so much more. Something big and monstrous.
I peered into the darkness. The trees stood like towering, gray skeletons, their branches like witch’s claws. I could no longer hear the wrestler’s footsteps leading away from me. I wondered if he’d reached the bodies yet.
That was Amber’s older brother. I’d heard a little about him. Amber was kind of a bitch most of the time, but I didn’t want her to get hurt. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt. If only I’d been able to bring Marybeth back… maybe I could bring back everyone who’d died tonight. Maybe … maybe … maybe …
From deep in the woods, I heard a scream. It seemed to go on forever. It grew louder and louder. Whoever was screaming was headed my way. And fast.
The body flew by me. It flew like a projectile of hard flesh. It crashed into Caroline’s car and plopped to the pavement beside me. It was the wrestler. He lay there twitching and bleeding from the mouth.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God…”
I faced the woods, unable to look at the dead wrestler. Even though I was afraid to see whatever had done that to him, I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I had to see. This was why people in horror movies didn’t run right away: they didn’t really believe what was coming. They didn’t even really know what was coming. I sure as fuck didn’t and I couldn’t move because I had to see it. I had to see it to believe and I hoped that I’d believe in time to run.
When it came for me, it wasn’t what I expected.
It was Caroline. She was levitating, her feet three inches from the ground. Her eyes were glowing electric blue and her hair was blowing back though there was no breeze. I spoke her name. Her features twisted and she cocked her head.
“Oh,” she said. “You must mean this body. Why don’t you try looking closer?”
“You never were a smart one, were you?”
The levitating fiend groaned and then something happened which I can’t possibly explain but I fucking swear to you it happened. Caroline split into two. From the top of her head to her genitals, she tore herself apart, but before I knew it, after much bulging and twisting and churning, she reformed herself into two women. Caroline stood on the right and a half-liquified corpse stood on the left. When the girls spoke, they spoke as one.