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.
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.
I’ve spent a good portion of this week playing DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. It’s a game that came out about four years ago in the visual novel genre. For those not in the know, a visual novel is a game that’s designed like one of those old “choose your own adventure” books. It’s an interactive story, complimented by art and visuals, but the graphics are a lot simpler than traditional games.
This game has completely absorbed my imagination. You play a high school boy who joins a literature club at the urging of his female friend Sayori, only to find it populated by three other ridiculously cute young women. The apparent object of the game is to woo one of these girls with your poetry, but there’s an important twist. DOKI DOKI isn’t a dating sim, it’s a horror game. And when the horror comes, my GOD. It doesn’t jab you in the face or kick you in the gut. It takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.
I’m not finished with the game yet, but with its darker elements now in gear, I’m even more engrossed than I was before. The tonal shift is so dramatic. The structure of the story, so surreal. It’s a wonder why such dramatic changes aren’t used more often in art.
I have my suspicions about American audiences wanting their serviceable, formulaic stories. Art that doesn’t challenge them too much and never makes them feel unsafe. I’ve nothing against that sort of thing, BUT I think it is important to challenge ourselves sometimes. It’s important to step out of our comfort zones. A dramatic tonal shift in the story your telling can be a huge boon for that story. I’m not sure if I can find a way to do it in my free ongoing serial ONE AND ONLY, but it is something I want to keep in mind for it, and future projects.
From what I understand, Asian cinema has been employing these dramatic tonal shifts for a while now. Outside of the original FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, I can’t think of any American movies that have embraced this technique.
I think the reason that a shift in tone or genre can be so effective is that life is not one genre. So, even if your story is pulpy and larger than life, a dramatic tonal shift will affect your audience in a visceral way. It will make your unreal work seem more real, at least on a primal subconscious level, because the change will mirror the changes present in life. Life has moments of tenderness, horror, somberness, joy, and laughs. Oftentimes, these moods shift with little warning. Sometimes when the change comes, it takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.
That’s not always the experience I want with my fiction–I like a good Marvel movie like anyone else–but it’s something I’d like to see more often. More irreverence. Weirdness. Tonal shifts that take you in a whole new genre. That’s the shit that sings to me.
Some of you may remember that I have a Twitch channel that I mostly ignore. After I’ve played through DOKI DOKI, I’ll probably play it again and stream the experience there. Playing visual novels is probably the most comfortable way for me to use that channel.
The new episode of White Trash Occultism will go up late. Last week got away from me, and it required some additional edits. I’d initially wanted to stick to a weekly schedule, with a new episode every Tuesday, but I think bi-weekly is more realistic, even if we record weekly. That said, I’m eager to get it up there because I think we hit our stride this episode. It feels like it’s found its tone. That’s not to say it won’t evolve further as we continue to record new episodes (we’re recording episode 3 tonight). I think art is a perpetually a work in progress. Even completed works are really just part of a larger work, even if that larger work is the artist him/her/them self.
That philosophy is a huge part of why I’m releasing ONE AND ONLY on my blog a little bit at a time. To show that progress in real time. This book is a distillation of my interests into a singular work. It’s horror, it’s a tragic love story, it’s littered with occult themes, and one of the characters is a pro wrestler working for an indie promotion. Of course, I have other interests beyond these things, but I don’t know, I’m having a moment right now. Not so much an identity crisis as it is a strong desire to give my small audience a statement of purpose.
I don’t think it’s possible for artists just starting out to do this. None of us emerge fully formed. It involves self-exploration, failure, living, and practice. And even after you’ve found the thing you do, that doesn’t mean the discovery process is over. Your inspiration, your ability, will ebb and flow. It’s not something we want to admit. We want to believe we can become an art factory, an operational flesh facility generating a perfect product over and over until the grave eats us. It’s just not the way it is. There is no perfect product, first of all, and machines break down, they get rusty, they need maintenance and repairs. Sometimes, the standard of quality slips (remember Windows Vista). Even that is part of the process. All of it is.
Or maybe it’s just me.
I ended a collaboration over the weekend. The person in question is a bit of a perfectionist. I am not. Their way isn’t wrong. It just isn’t how I do things. Besides, with a new baby on the way in less than a month, I just don’t trust myself to keep up with them. Sure, it was an opportunity I closed the door on. Sure, I probably could have addressed my concerns with this person sooner. But I am imperfect.
I also found out that soon we’ll have to put down Jack, a cat who was our first baby and who we had to rehome with my father-in-law. I wrote about him here. I hate that we had to rehome him. I hate that shit got here. But life is imperfect.
Life is full of moments we wish we could revise. An artist’s backlist is full of works they wish they could fix with their newly refined skills.
But you can’t go back. You can only move forward, refining as you go.
While reading INSURRECTION by Peter Rollins, I was taken by a particular passage in the first chapter. He describes an imaginary audience full of real people who we want to see the things we do well and share in our pride. Because it’s a book on Christian thought, he ties this idea in to why belief in a supreme being is rather natural to us, but like the bad student I am, I took this small passage from the chapter and spent most of today meditating on it, ignoring the chapter’s thesis. I did this because the image resonated with me.
He posits that the only reason we do things well is that we not only want someone to see it, we want specific someones to see it. Is that true? It’s certainly a compelling idea.
I more or less gave up on my musical aspirations after my writing partner took his own life. So much of what I was doing back then was out of the mutual excitement me and that guy got playing music together. A lot of the lyrics are cringe-y now and the guitar playing is rather amateurish, but there was a spirit to the stuff, something he and I really got caught up in. We were feeling it. We were feeling it so much that when he died, it no longer made sense for me to pursue that vocation.
Now and again, I’ve attempted to resurrect those aspirations, but they really died with him.
There’s one exception: in the year after he died, I composed twenty pieces on my Casio keyboard. I was at the keys every day, playing, writing and rehearsing for people who weren’t there. Sometimes I played for my girlfriend, but most of the time, it was just me and those keys trying to understand each other.
Attempts to take those little compositions further never really went anywhere. Sad as it may be for some, I don’t remember how to play many of them anymore.
But, man, those hours a day spent at the keyboard or the rusty old piano in my mom’s dining room were often the only times I felt any sense of peace in the year after my buddy’s death. Sometimes people made tacky, but well-intended remarks, that he was watching and listening and proud of me. I didn’t believe that, and I’m not sure I do now. That’s not to say I don’t believe in an afterlife; I do, but it’s nothing like anything taught in any religion, or maybe it is because I’d have no way of knowing anyway.
I was in tune with something during that year. While I was still occasionally writing lyrics, they were never written or applied to the music because the music already said what I wanted to say. Were they fully fleshed-out compositions? Probably not. I’m not a pianist. I did everything by ear, could never get my left hand working as quickly as my right, and could never really get the hang of some of those full chords. But it didn’t fucking matter. What mattered was what those compositions meant to me.
Now, I know what you’re thinking:
“Okay, Lucas. We get it. You’re a serious Artist, totally up your own ass and don’t want your perfect little compositions tainted by outside influence.”
I get why you would think that, but remember, I just told you these were anything but perfect. They simply resonated with me.
Back at Killer Con 2018, Joe Lansdale told a captivated audience to “write like everyone you know is dead.” I’d spent the preceding years trying with varying degrees of success to break into markets. All that earned me was a long weekend in a psych ward and some serious paranoia issues. His advice really resonated with me though, and I got to thinking, “what if I didn’t care about finding a market? what if my next book was my last book ever? what if no one read it?”
SAINT SADIST was the result. I was way up my own ass writing that book. I didn’t have time to care about finding a market, if I’d never write again, or if no one read me. I didn’t care about any of this shit because that summer my brain legitimately tried to kill me. So, I wrote something vile, nasty, poetic, strange, and heavily influenced by my love/hate relationship with religion.
And then it got published. And people started writing me to tell me they liked it. And then it got nominated for a Splatterpunk Award.
Maybe there was something to just writing for me and not even thinking about trying to sell something until the book is done. Sounds great, right? Of course it does! Do the thing only you can do and people will take notice?
Uh-oh. So, now that I know that people will take notice and enjoy my work if I don’t give a shit whether or not they do, how can I possibly hope to reach a place where I don’t give shit about what people think when I set down to write my next IDGAF masterpiece? I think I’m in trouble.
Perhaps the answer is to force the issue. With my current book in progress, I write what I want to write and throw it up, mostly unedited for the world to see a chapter at a time. It’s unfiltered Lucas Mangum. The type of shit that goes on in my head with little thought given to how I’m supposed to do things. Loose structure. Moments of cringe. Shorthand passages. It’s all there, for better or worse.
You can read Chapter 1, 2, & 3 of ONE AND ONLY. Chapter 4 goes up this Monday.
Yesterday, I was messed up on allergy medication, and I recorded this embarrassing video. I’m slurring bad and rambling, but at least I practiced talking in front of a camera? Yeah, there’s the bright spot. You have to find those positives.
I went to see my buddy Shane McKenzie last night. He laid some very exciting news on me about a film he wrote. I can’t divulge everything, so all I’ll say is it’s about to go into production with one of my favorite character actors attached. I’m happy for him. Dude works harder than anyone I know, myself included.
I’m almost finished reading Kenzie Jennings’ RED STATION. It’s part of Death’s Head Press’ popular Splatter Western line and a ton of fun. Kenzie has a lean style and doesn’t shy away from the nasty stuff. You can grab that book here.
Writing has been slow this week due to the aforementioned side effects of allergy meds. I started to hit my stride again last night, so hopefully that trend continues today. I’d like to get a new chapter of ONE AND ONLY up on Monday. Plus, I’ll be jumping back on the Wesley Southard collaboration soon.
White Trash Occultism, the new video podcast with friends Kelby Losack and J. David Osborne has been getting some nice traction. You can watch the first episode here. Episode 2 will be up Tuesday morning.
This weekend will be spent finishing up the new chapter of ONE AND ONLY and commencing my next section on the Wesley Southard collab. Like a shark, I must keep swimming, and speaking of Wes and sharks, he’s got a new book out called CRUEL SUMMER that looks like a wild ride. You can grab it here.
That’s it for today, gang. As always, thanks for reading.
Ricky Banderas popped up on my radar during his time with the short-lived Lucha Underground promotion where he wrestled as Mil Muertes. I was immediately taken by his intimidating presence and impressive physique. His character was a luchador riff on The Undertaker. He had casket matches, employed dark magic, and surrounded himself with death imagery.
With the recent release of PANDEMONIUM, I’ve been thinking a lot about wrestling and horror, times and places where they’ve intersected. I can think of few cooler examples than the Man of a Thousand Deaths. The above video depicts one of his resurrections. We’ve got some spooky necromancy images and a super-sexy Salina de la Renta foreshadowing of his debut in Major League Wrestling, where (as far as I know) he’s currently signed. Super-cool stuff.
I went to visit this guy yesterday. This is an old photo. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture yesterday. He’s not doing well, and I would rather remember him like this.
On the plus side, he did remember me.
Life can throw some strange and terrible curve balls sometimes. We had to rehome him (and two other cats) a few years back due to our son’s allergies. The news was the breaking point that sent me to the hospital.
I’m better these days, I guess. We go on.
I’m proud of what I’ve done to survive. I know the narrative online is that people like me don’t know what it’s like to really struggle, but I know my truth. I was born fighting and I fight every damn day to stay well.
Nuance, man. Deny it all you want, but it ain’t going nowhere.