Book Review: DEAD INSIDE by Chandler Morrison

dead inside cover
I used to work as a 9-1-1 operator and let me tell you: my coworkers, in particular, the ones who’d been there a long time had the darkest senses of humor. If they didn’t laugh at the horrible shit they heard about on a daily basis, they’d go absolutely mad.

My mother used to be a lawyer who exclusively handled cases involving abused women. This type of work led her to stop watching violent movies and she no longer laughed at black humor.

Neither my former coworkers, nor my mother are wrong. My former coworkers are not insensitive, and my mother is not a “snowflake.” We all deal with life’s nightmarish qualities in our own ways.

We all have our own coping mechanisms for the apocalypse.

Some of us need experience trauma within the pages of a book or in a film or in a song. Such an act can take the power away from real world horrors. As a lifelong horror fan, I know all about that.

This brings me to DEAD INSIDE by Chandler Morrison. You know the book. It’s the one that caused quite a stir at Bizarro Con in early 2019 after its author performed one of its shocking scenes.

People have written and talked about that particular event at length. This post isn’t about that. This post is about the novel.

And let me tell you: For those of us who need to feel the fullness of the world’s horror and absurdity in the pages of a book, meet your new favorite read.

This is not an easy read. Often, I had to stop in order to catch my breath. It’s got a sense of humor as black as Texas crude. It’s got gross-out moments which would make even the most seasoned fans of extreme horror blush. There are sex scenes to make you feel at once aroused and disgusted.

More than anything, though, DEAD INSIDE has a tremendous amount of heart. These characters, abhorrent at first glance, are tragic figures. One has lived with his monstrousness all his life and doesn’t know how to face actual love. The other became a monster after facing intense childhood trauma and, despite occasionally wishing she could, she never looks back.

I don’t want to say much else. This is not the sort of book you want to spoil, so I’ll close with three comments:

First, context is king and even that infamous scene has a purpose in the novel’s narrative. So much hinges on that moment, the story couldn’t exist without it. It is the opposite of gratuitous.

Second, my God, does Chandler know how to end a story. Both DEAD INSIDE and UNTIL THE SUN left me screaming for more. He sets it up so you should see it coming, but he’s so clever, you won’t.

Last, I’m not an asshole. This book is not for everyone. We all deal with our apocalypse in different ways. If you’re like me, and you rely on dark fiction for catharsis, grab DEAD INSIDE now, and prepare to revel in the ways it will hurt you.

Dumbest Apocalypse Ever

So, multiple states decided to exempt churches from shelter-in-place orders enacted as a result of the Coronavirus.

I’m not a religious person. “Spiritual” is probably a more apt descriptor of me, but that word’s been cheapened in recent years. That said, I’m not going to go on a tirade about how religion is poison and the Bible is a fairy tale. I’m not sure I feel that way. In fact, when I stayed in a psychiatric hospital for a long weekend, I saw how religion really gives hope to addicts and the mentally ill. Attempting to take that away from them like most militant atheists try to do seems needlessly cruel.

What bothers me almost as much as how attending religious services in person puts the most vulnerable among us in danger is the defense used by some of these religious types.

Their logic stems from the belief that the blood of Jesus will protect them. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a case of putting God to the test, which Matthew 4:7 explicitly warns against.

So, I dunno, maybe listen to your own scripture and stop endangering people, ya jerks!

No, Antonio, the Novel is Not Dead

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Something called an Antonio García Martínez unleashed a tweetstorm which basically boiled down to three things:

  1. The novel is dead
  2. Short stories are dead
  3. People with less than 600 followers aren’t allowed to have opinions.

I’m not taking his words out of context. I didn’t even want to write about this, because I don’t want to give the jerk the attention. But you know what? If people like him, who I honestly hadn’t even heard of before today, can breathe hot air on Twitter, I can talk some shit here.

It’s MY blog, bitch!

Let’s take a look at a few things. First, what the fuck is an Antonio García Martínez?

  1. Not a novelist. He wrote a book called Chaos Monkeys, which as far as I can tell, is a memoir about his life in the tech industry. He calls it an exposé. Not a novel.
  2.  Not a short story writer. Checks his biography on his website. Nope, not a short story writer.
  3.  He doesn’t know how opinions work. Everyone has them, regardless of how many Twitter followers they have. If he’s suggesting people with less than 600 followers shouldn’t voice their opinion, that’s some elitist bullshit.

So, are novels still being written? Don’t check Amazon or Wikipedia, I’ll save you the trouble. The answer is yes. I suppose a book written doesn’t necessarily have life, so maybe all these novels aren’t being read (or consumed).

Nope! People are still reading. Those who aren’t reading are listening to audiobooks, or their watching good TV, and guess what, Antonío, good TV shows are laid out like novels, chapters, backstory, theme and all.

What about short stories? Still being written? Yup. Still being read? Not a whole lot, admittedly, but there sure are a lot of fiction podcasts out there. Guess what their content is. You guessed it: short stories.

Oh, and, in case anyone’s counting, I have 604 Twitter followers, but I had opinions when I only had 599, and when Twitter wasn’t even a thing.

Listen here, chump, just because no one bought whatever shitty fiction you undoubtedly tried to sell doesn’t mean the art form is dead. It means you suck.

 

 

Fighting as Storytelling

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Photo via Showtime Boxing

I’ve been watching lots of fights lately. Boxing, UFC, and even the bare-knuckle stuff (which I enjoy, but also can’t believe it’s legal). People often ask me why an intelligent, literate dude like me enjoys watching people beat the crap out of each other. They say my love of combat sports runs in contradiction to my personality. An easy answer would be to simply say people are full of contradictions, and then just put it to bed, but this is a blog, so let’s dig a little deeper.

I’m both a storytelling enthusiast and a storyteller myself.

A fight is the oldest and most primal type of story there is.

Before I dive into this further, I want to clarify a couple of things. First, I’m not a meathead. I don’t fancy myself a tough guy, by any means. Second, I think fighting outside of a sanctioned, sporting event is almost always foolish and unnecessary.

With that out of the way, what is a fight, really?

Two combatants who want the same thing (a win, sometimes a championship). Each of them must stop the other in order to accomplish this goal.

So, what’s a story?

Two characters who want the same thing (a win, usually some form of self-fulfillment). Each of them must stop the other in order to accomplish this goal.

Here are some random examples off the top of my head:

In MOANA, the lead character hopes to restore the world to its previously balanced state. The lava monster Te Kā, a heartless shell of the goddess Te Fiti, also wants to balance the world. Their methods are different (much like each fighter has their own style). Moana seeks restoration. Te Kā seeks the eradication of humanity.

In STAR WARS, the rebels and their Jedi allies seek balance to the galaxy. They believe restoring the Republic is the way to do so. The Empire and their Sith allies also seek that balance, but by contrast, they believe domination and the destruction of the Jedi is the key to achieving this goal.

In my book SAINT SADIST, the protagonist sets out on the road, not just to escape an abusive environment, but to become herself. The multiple antagonists she faces aim to mold her into who they believe is the most perfect version of herself. Their methods are abusive and their visions for her are skewed because they aren’t her.

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In a mystery, the criminal wishes to get away with their crime, while the detective hopes to solve the crime. While their goals are different, they, like fighters, aim to outdo the other in their achievement of their goal.

In a romance, the hero and the heroine, are both looking for love. They often find themselves at odds with each other, because their own damage prevents them from seeing how perfectly matched they are. “Love is a battlefield,” as Pat Benatar said, and like fighters with good sportsmanship, the battle ends when the combatants, no matter how bloody, embrace each other.

I could go on and on.

Perhaps, I’m simplifying things, but I don’t think so.

 

 

Midnight Ramblings

SPIDERGOD

As the world hides behind closed doors, I’ve returned to the world of one of my bleaker works. GODS OF THE DARK WEB now has a sequel in progress. It’s called SPIDERGOD.

It is not directly about our current pandemic.

It’s not about the political shitshow in which we’ve found ourselves in the past decade.

It’s not about incels or mass shootings or shifting identities.

Yet, it’s about all of these things.

I don’t fancy myself a genius or a prophet, but I do think a lot and I listen.

God is always speaking. Sometimes, she whispers. Other times, she screams.

I believe right now, she is doing both.

Here is what she’s saying:

We’re all trapped inside ourselves.

Life has turned into a metaphor for itself.

We’re scared and we’re not alone.


Currently reading: DEAD INSIDE by Chandler Morrison & LAKEHOUSE INFERNAL by Christine Morgan. Both books are excellent efforts from two authors I’m proud to call contemporaries.

Currently watching: THE SECT (dir. Michele Soavi)

sect

Vision 1

On the side of the main drag, some five miles from Daddy’s property, I have a vision:

A genderless angel falls, wings on fire. When it hits the ground, the sky turns red. I’m caught in the infernal blast radius. My child swims like a fish in my belly. Tongues of fire rise alongside me like burning buildings. They line the road ahead and I walk on.

A prophetess whore in exile, onward to Canaan.

– Saint Sadist, 1:5 (Coming soon to Audible, now free on Kindle Unlimted)

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Audiobooks from Hell

Last night, I appeared alongside voice actress Melody Muzljakovich on the excellent podcast, Audiobooks from Hell, hosted by narrator Sean Duregger. We discussed his narration of the GODS OF THE DARK WEB audiobook, which you can get now on Audible from the fine folks at Crossroad Press. It’s worth mentioning this new edition is the version I prefer and not just because of Sean’s excellent performance. It cracked the top 20 in Horror Fiction last week and remains Crossroad’s bestselling title on Audible at the moment. Super-cool!

Anyway, the podcast was a lot of fun to record. Melody has an audio version of SAINT SADIST in production as we speak. It was cool to hear about her process and how she interpreted the material.

Give the show a listen wherever you get your podcasts.

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The Essential Lucas Mangum: Into Beyond, 1

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.

 

The Essential Lucas Mangum: Dark Descents, 2

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.

Last week, 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’ve decided to feature a selection from my troubled, unhinged novel WE ARE THE ACCUSED. I wrote this book while working as a 9-1-1 call taker. I was settling into life as a suburbanite, a role which I’m still not entirely comfortable with. I’ve mentioned in interviews and on social media that I went crazy while writing this book. There’s a moment I’ve alluded to in which you can actually see me, as the author, lose my mind. Maybe I’ve got some bias, given I was there, but I think maybe it will be obvious to you, the reader, as well. I’d be curious to know what you think. Feel free to sound off in the comments or email me.

This book was supposed to be my epic. I had high hopes for it. Unfortunately, mental illness got in the way. I regret it so badly, the publisher and I have agreed to issue a revised edition, which is currently in the works. The scene below depicts the book’s protagonist, Bianca, descending into darkness after witnessing one too many atrocities. Especially troubling to her is, just before this, she slept with her high school sweetheart, which is a huge no-no. She’s a cop and he’s an ex-con. With this on her mind, she goes to interrogate a witness, and finds something far more frightening. Her darkness begins as a coma and evolves into, well, something else. Check it out beyond the break.

If you’d like to have this book before the revised edition is released either later this year or early next year, consider buying from Indiebound, Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

WeAreTheAccused_v2


Morning came with dirty gray light. Exhaustion weighed down all of Bianca’s limbs. Her eyes itched with unrest. Jason snored softly. She could only hear it if she lay still. It was kind of cute and reminded her of nights she snuck out of her parents’ house to stay with him. Her lips twitched with the beginning of a smile, but she made herself get control.  

Back to real life now.  

She left without saying goodbye. She went home to shower and change clothes before heading to work. When she arrived at her office, there was a message for her from Pastor Rickman’s secretary. The message provided the address and contact information for Becky Rogers. Bianca tried calling the Rogers’s residence first, but got no answer. She went back to her car, put the address in her navigation and left the office. Cold Bitch front and center, she did her best to focus on work and push last night as far away from her memory as possible. 

Becky’s house was, like most houses in Blue Brook, modest. A shotgun, surrounded by a chain link fence, its most distinctive feature was the cherry red Pontiac parked in the driveway, all kinds of extravagant in the face of its plain surroundings. Bianca ran her fingers along its sun warmed rear panel as she approached the front door of the house. She raised her hand to knock and paused. Her breath caught. Every muscle tensed.  

The door was ajar. A bloody handprint smeared the jamb. Looked like someone had gripped the doorframe, then was dragged back inside. She reached for her radio and stopped when something rustled behind the door. She reached for her gun instead.  

“I’m a Detective with the County Sheriff’s office. If you can hear me get away from the door and keep your hands where I can see them.”  

The rustling continued. Something crashed and Bianca took a step back. She tried to ignore the blood pounding in her head. Tried to ignore the nagging memory of the time her unit entered an Al-Quaeda hideaway and were greeted by a thirteen-year-old kid with a bomb strapped to his chest. She didn’t fire the lethal shot, but witnessing it scarred her just the same.  

She pushed the front door open with the toe of her boot.  

The balding, large-framed man stopped chewing through his wrist when she entered. He looked up, his expression at once rabid and guilty, like he’d been caught stealing from a church’s collection plate but was too crazed to stop himself. He pulled his arm away from his mouth. One tendon caught between his teeth, stretched and snapped. A beard of blood glistened on his cheeks. His bleeding wrist sprayed his ear and temple, but he hardly noticed. Instead, he rose to his feet and stalked toward Bianca.  

“St-stay where you are. I’ll call an ambulance.”  

She glanced behind him and her stomach flipped. Gristly stumps of limbs were strewn across the room. Knives of various sizes stuck out of the torso of a young boy. A woman’s head hung from the ceiling fan, the fan’s chain looped through her nose and mouth and tied in a knot. The man (Mr. fucking Rogers?) took another step toward her, dizzy and slow, teetering on wobbling legs, but no less menacing.  

“Fuck.” She removed a hand from her gun and grabbed the radio. “This is Detective  

Viteo. I need assistance at…”  

Mr. Rogers crumpled to his knees, but he still reached for her. He reeked like he had taken a bath with a thousand crusty, old pennies. His fingers clawed the air.  

“Viteo, do you copy? What’s your twenty?”  

“I…uh…”  

Mr. Rogers’ eyes bulged. His mouth gaped. Something red stormed between his teeth.  

“Viteo?”  

A plume of the fog shot forward. It darted for her like a heat seeking missile. She stumbled backward and rolled her ankle. She cried out, fell through the door and off the front stoop, managing to tuck her chin in time to avoid a direct blow to the back of the head. The fall still hurt like hell. The radio broke apart under her ass. Her gun went off, the wayward shot exploding a potted plant.  

The red fog swirled over her like a hurricane. Sheet lightning glowed at the cloud’s center. There were whispers and a deep, savage tickle, like ants crawling under every inch of her skin.  She remembered the moon shaped toy that hung above her crib and played Brahms, only the song was slowed down, lower pitched, minor and gloomy. The walls around her glistened with blood. The bars on the side of her crib were twisted, metal tentacles like the remains of a blown-up building. The coppery stink was oppressive. Everything hurt, like she lay on a mattress full of rocks.  

Lumpy forms bulged from the hovering cloud. Amorphous, pulsing protrusions. Expanding, contracting. Unseen hands molded them into ovoid shapes of various sizes. Eyes opened on each of them, eyes wide with panic, terror. Mouths stretched into screams. These were the faces of the dead, Allan and Judith Robbins and their seven children, Andy Gage and Joseph Schroeder, Becky and Mr. Rogers and their only child. All of them had died for the same reason. All of them were sacrifices, and they wouldn’t be the only ones.  

The red cloud pressed on her from all sides. Filled her ears with screams and a sound like tearing paper. Her discomfort increased. The reek of blood blocked her nostrils, filled her mouth and throat, choked her. She would have screamed if she could have. Instead she coughed and gurgled. Writhed on the concrete, wrapped in the amorphous monstrosity.  

It wanted her, this entity. Wanted her to carry out the rest of its mission. It showed her things. Whispered suggestions to the buried monster in her, the same buried monster inside every human. The monster stirred, its waking thoughts poisoned by bloodlust, consumed by the craving to do harm to those its host loved. She witnessed herself smashing Jason’s face in with her pistol and fucking the last twitches of life out of him. Her hands pressed her mother’s head into a hot oily frying pan and inhaled the fumes of sizzling jowl. Pulling out her father’s teeth with pliers and replacing them with shards of glass from a broken bottle of Macallan.  

The monster inside her grinned. In the throes of pleasure, the beast released something like acid that surged through her veins, ignited pain, blinding, all-encompassing pain. She screamed against the choking mist. Willed herself not to give into the awakened monster. Called on, prayed, to her colder self for strength.  

The agony persisted for several more seconds, or several hours. She could no longer tell. She imagined a cold hand taking hers and pulling her from the devouring fog.

The red parted and she fell into an abyss, deeper than black.

Deeper than sleep.

Deeper than death. 

The Essential Lucas Mangum: Dark Descents, 1

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.

The first of these is excerpted from the first chapter of my debut novel FLESH AND FIRE, which you can get a FREE digital copy of by subscribing by email to this blog, or by signing up for my newsletter on my store page.

It depicts the protagonist Chloe falling into the abyss and meeting the demon who brought her. The descent into the pit has always intrigued me. Death of the hero, whether real or symbolic, often comes before the ultimate victory or resurrection, which is all well and good, but I want to know what happens down there in the dark. Is it necessary to descend? If so, why?

In FLESH AND FIRE, her fall is orchestrated by a demon who’s mistaken her for a resurrected lover from the past. Her ultimate revival is also at the hands of another. My reasoning for this is simple: I often struggle with the idea of free will. Do we have it? I’m not sure. Sometimes, I think our actions are mostly up to fate, our programming. It’s in moments where we reject our programming, that we grow and become something better. Chloe, who I clearly see as the hero even though we spend more time in Todd’s head, embarks on her journey due to influences of forces outside herself. Todd, too, acts in ways he believes he’s supposed to act due to the people who’ve guided him. They’ve both been programmed and their story won’t end happily unless they do things contrary to how they’re wired.

This passage is one of the earliest examples of me showing what I call the Engines of Ruin, hands of fate that push us toward destruction, masquerading as choice.

Flesh-and-Fire

If this is dying, Chloe thought, I’d like to do it again sometime.

The brightest light she’d ever seen washed over her, burning brilliant whitish yellow. Blinding, but soft, it reminded her of the sun, finally showing its brilliant face after weeks of rain and starless nights. It brought warmth, security, and a deep sense of euphoria, better than the greatest high, more intense than her strongest orgasm.

Moments ago, she’d been in her room, sinking into the bed below, as if it were a cloud. Her vision blurred and her surroundings fell further away. She gave each of them one final glimpse, pausing the longest on the Yamaha DX7 keyboard, upon which she played all of her music, and the photograph of her and Todd smiling drunkenly as they held each other in the parking lot of the Black Horse Pub.

As she slipped away, she only regretted not being able to tell him goodbye. Maybe even apologize. She settled for humming the melody to “Blissfully Damaged,” a song he’d written for her. Maybe doing so would, through some kind of clairvoyance, allow her to commune with him in her final moments.

The poison killing her now had also destroyed their relationship. She’d been clean for a while, but it hadn’t lasted. Once he’d seen he couldn’t help her, he’d run away. She didn’t blame him. He didn’t really know everything. He didn’t know about the dreams, or the monster that pursued her in them, or how she sometimes even saw and heard the monster when she was awake. She’d never told him and because of this he just saw her as an addict, no matter how much he’d loved her.

Now she’d never be able to tell him.

Now she was dying.

And she accepted it.

Embraced it.

She knew only the light and a euphoric sense of floating. She hadn’t expected this; she hadn’t expected anything. No undeserved reward, no cruel and unusual punishment. Only sleep. Whatever this was, this was better. As she glided through the sea of bright warmth, a soothing swish, like the gentle splash of waves on a beach, accompanied every movement. The place had a smell, too, sweet and strong. Like Mother, she thought, without understanding how she knew.

Natalia, her father’s only true love, had cast a shadow over their lives. She’d died while giving birth to Chloe, and existed only in photographs and Les’s stories. A mythic figure. Unreal in her legacy and tragic in her absence. Thinking of her brought a wave of sadness that broke through Chloe’s ecstasy, like a wind chill on an otherwise warm day. The next thing she knew, she was falling into darkness.

In the inky surroundings, the cries of countless others assaulted her ears. Some of them human, some animal, she could only interpret them as full of agony and fear. Underneath, a dry, gritty sound. Bone against bone, a chorus of grinding teeth.

Her heart hammered like a machine gun. No longer dying, desperation took hold.

As she fell, hands clutched at her from out of the darkness and she screamed. They tore at her clothes and kneaded her skin, pulling her out of the chasm and moaning like diseased animals. She saw only glimpses of the rotting, scaly things as they tore her black dress to shreds.

She twisted and kicked in their clutches, preferring to fall than to be groped. She clawed through a forest of bulbous hands. Something primal was awake within her, a violent will to live as old as the universe itself. Rather than pull away from the creatures and back into the pit, she dove into the tangle of limbs and reptilian bodies. She bit and scratched. She drove forward until she fell again. This time she tumbled down a spiraling wet shaft. She reached the bottom, wounded and bleeding, not yet broken, happy to stand on solid ground.

Dirty crimson light illuminated her surroundings. Pointed rocks grew from above and below. Somewhere nearby, waves crashed against land. Behind her, wailing and gnashing of teeth. The rocks along the wall jutted out like gnarled tree branches. Gray rags hung on them, along with something like hair. Some of them moved. She realized then what they were as the skeletal limbs reached for her.

“Help me,” one rotting mouth said, “please…”

Sobs fell from her mouth as she backed away, her cries echoing in the massive cavern. She turned and ran toward the sound of the waves but in front of her, she heard more bellows of pain. She stopped and looked around. Water splashed upon the shore, blood red in the dirty light. The dome of the cavern gave way to a sky full of swirling fire and black smoke. Panic surged through her, beginning in her heart and spreading like wildfire on a dry field throughout her body until a scream burst from her lips, joining the chorus of terrified, suffering voices. Like them, she had nowhere to go.

A lean, shadowy figure emerged from the blood-red ocean and put his face into the light. Deep angry scars marked his cheeks and brow. His eyes burned with something like rapture. She knew him. He was the monster of her dreams, her rapist and lover, her imaginary friend, her angel and demon, but this was no dream. Every precise detail overwhelmed her senses: the wet jagged earth digging into her feet; the stenches of burning hair and rotted meat filling the air. She had entered a new reality and he had brought her here. She thought of how she had felt guided tonight, by something outside of herself, to buy the heroin, to shoot enough to overdose, and she understood.

Samael approached her, reached out his hand like he was blessing a martyr, and she knew she was destined for pain.