ONE AND ONLY, Chapter 3

THREE: THE BLADE

1

Aldous Armstrong put the finishing touches on the black, curved blade painted across his eyes and took a step back to examine himself. His eyes were intense. His hair blond and gelled into a sharp point. His torso looked cut to shreds, nearly unrecognizable from the flabby, pale body he used to see in the mirror. After spending hours a day in the gym and eating a diet consisting strictly of fish, eggs, and fruit, he’d sculpted himself into a new form, erasing the malleable weakling he could hardly stand to look at. He was Aldous “The Blade” now. Tonight, he was supposed to win the belt. Everything had led to this.

He checked his phone one last time. The message from his sister said Caroline had just picked her up. They were going to get some beer, then come check out his show. He didn’t like them breaking the law and wished she would just let him pick up beer for her. She never listened. An hour had passed since the message, and she hadn’t sent him a follow up to let him know they’d arrived safely.

His thumb hovered over the screen to type a reply, ask her if she was here. Someone knocked on the bathroom door.

“Hey, Blade,” the guy on the other side said. He didn’t recognize the voice, but Sal the promoter had new volunteers every show. “You’re up.”

“All right,” Aldous said. “Coming.”

He set down the phone and opened the door.

2

“What are you doing, Caroline?” Amber called from the road. “We’re gonna be late.”

Caroline ignored her, walking deeper into the woods, though the apparition had long disappeared. It was no apparition, she told herself. It’s Marybeth.

She pushed aside a flimsy branch and ducked under a sturdier one. Every step down the rocky path sent painful vibrations up her legs. She took out her phone and switched on the flashlight app. Newly illuminated, the dark woods didn’t look real. It was as if the trees themselves were ghosts, too, and not just the girl she was following.

A bird took off overhead, its wings moving with heavy grace. It sounded like an owl. Her footsteps made heavy, lonely sounds. The girls on the road, still calling after her, but not daring to give chase, sounded far away. To see how far she’d wandered, she risked a look over her shoulder. She could still see the outline of her car. Its headlights. The three dark shapes of her friends on that lonely country road.

“Caroline,” someone said.

Their voice was a whisper. Caroline shined her phone in its direction. The light reflected off of two dark eyes, looking almost like distant stars. It showed a gaunt form, hunched over in the woods. She peered into the shadows for a better look.

“Marybeth?”

“It’s me,” she said, holding out her arms. “Please help.”

3

“And action,” the kid behind the camera said, a slight tremor in his voice.

Aldous didn’t recognize him either. Another new face. He hoped the kid knew what he was doing. Aldous was about to cut a legendary promo. He couldn’t have the footage all shaky. He paced while the camera rolled to stay in character. The interviewer, longtime friend Julie Blazer began.

“Aldous ‘The Blade’ Armstrong. Tonight’s the night. You finally get your shot at the Broken River Wrestling championship. What’s going through your mind?”

“I’ll tell you what’s going through my mind!” he hollered. “Tonight’s the night, yeah, just like you said. I’ve waited my whole life for this. The dreaming. The training. The fighting. It’s all led to this: the Blade, one on one with Trashcan Tommy for the Broken River World Title. What’s going through my mind? I’m hearing Trashcan’s words as he stood over me a month ago while I was handcuffed to the ring post, kneeling in a puddle of my own blood. He said I’ll never get a chance at his belt. He said even if I did I’d never beat him. Well, Trashcan Tommy, I’ve got my chance tonight, and you may think I can never beat you. You may think that because Black Metal Steve and Doom Dog Harris will be in your corner, but I’ve always had the odds against me. I like having the odds against me. I’m gonna take on Black Metal Steve. I’m gonna take on Doom Dog Harris. And then, what then, Trashcan Tommy? It’s gonna be just you and me, and you know that, one on one, you ain’t got a chance of holding onto your championship. It’s coming home with the Blade, yeah!”

“And, Blade, you said last week you wanted to dedicate this match to someone special. Do you want to say who it is? Are they here tonight?”

He thought of the message from Amber and how long it had been. He hoped she was in the audience tonight with her friends. If the young cameraman had everything set up correctly, this interview would be on a live feed for people in attendance.

“This match is dedicated to my sister, Amber. She’s here tonight, and she’s gonna watch me win, yeah!”

4

Caroline approached Marybeth with her arms outstretched. In the shadows, the other girl’s features were difficult to make out, but Caroline could tell there was something terribly wrong. Had she been buried alive? Had she been embalmed alive? No way could she have lived through the fall off the cliff, yet here she was, very much alive. She glistened with a thick liquid.

“Marybeth, what happened to you?” Caroline asked.

She almost asked if the other girl was okay, but she knew better. The reaching hands of Marybeth looked gnarled and bony, like skeletal claws. But Caroline kept approaching her. If her classmate and friend was sick or hurt, she wanted to help.

As she drew closer, an offensive odor wafted toward her. It stung her nose and made her eyes water. It reminded her of stagnant water and bad food. She realized, too late, that the smell was coming from Marybeth. The girl who’d been the love of Mason’s life was decaying at an incredibly fast rate. Clumps of skin turning into hot honey and falling like wet rags around her feet. Caroline’s bottom lip quivered. Her bladder threatened to let go. Her feet locked into place against the advice of every voice in her head.

“Please, no,” she said in a quavering whimper.

Marybeth’s melting hands grabbed fistfuls of Caroline’s hair, pulling her into a noxious kiss.

5

The Blade tromped to the ring, fists balled at his sides, head lowered like a bull ready to charge. Cheers filled the audience. He was old school, born in the wrong era. The wrestling business had gotten away from itself in the last few decades, becoming less and less serious, more and more winking at the camera. When he walked down the aisle, he aimed to project believability. He was an artist and as tough as a five-dollar steak.

He stopped at the bottom of the ramp and surveyed the scene. An audience of a few hundred, standing room only. They were packed into Heathenish Brewery, known for its IPA and grimy, underground hip hop shows. The wrestling fit in perfectly because the promotion treated itself like a shoot, keeping kayfabe like one of God’s commandments. It wasn’t WWE because it was real as fuck.

He looked for Amber’s face among the crowd. Tried to spot her friends, too. He didn’t see them, but maybe he’d missed them. He didn’t take more time to look. It was time to hit the ring. He leapt onto the apron and grabbed the ropes. He reared back his head and screamed his trademarked war cry. People yelled along with him. He was the babyface. People were ready to watch him win.

The lights went down. A grimy dubstep song played over the PA. Trashcan Tommy sauntered out with Black Metal Steve and Doom Dog Harris in tow. They made for an intimidating sight, like the Road Warriors of old with a twenty-first century facelift. Spiky helmets topped their heads. Their cut torsos glistened with water and sweat. As they approached, the Blade paced the ring, never taking his eyes off his opponents.

Mikey Clegg was the referee for the bout. He was a wiry kid, but Blade thought he was super-cool. Knew a lot about the business. His house was full of memorabilia from the old days. Bills from defunct promotions like Mid-South and Stampede Wrestling covered the walls of his room. He even had a replica of WCW’s big gold belt hanging above his bed. Blade liked shooting the shit with him. Now, though, it was all business. All theater. Each actor playing their part.

The trio of heels climbed onto the ring apron. Mikey stepped forward waving his hands and pointing to the back. He was yelling that he wanted Black Metal and Doom Dog to head backstage, so they wouldn’t interfere in the match.

The Blade stepped forward, putting his hand on Mikey’s shoulder.

“Let them stay,” he said. He pointed to the bejeweled belt around Trashcan’s waist. “For that, I’ll take all three of em on if I have to.”

Right on cue, Black Metal and Doom Dog slipped through the ropes, coming at Blade full steam ahead. The Blade put out both his arms for a double clothesline, dropping both heels to the canvas. Black Metal got up first. The Blade hugged him for a belly-to-belly suplex, slamming him to the mat. While he rolled out, Doom Dog swung for him. The Blade ducked the blow and grabbed Doom Dog by the nape of his neck, aiming to throw him out of the ring. Before he could, Trashcan attacked from behind, clipping the Blade’s knee.

The bell rang. Shit was on.

6

“Caroline, what the fuck?” Amber said. She was now standing on the edge of the woods. “You better not make me go in there after you.”

“I think you’re gonna have to,” Farrah said.

“Hey, fuck it,” Felicity said. “She wants to go exploring the woods at night, that’s her prerogative. Let’s go watch some pro ‘rasslin’!”

Amber and Farrah flashed her angry glares.

“What?” she asked. “I’m just sayin.”

“I’m not going in there unless you two come with me,” Amber said.

“Or if you’re crazy like Caroline?” Felicity said.

“What the fuck, bitch?” Farrah said. “That’s our friend.”

“And I’m your sister, so?”

“Are you two coming with me or not?” Amber asked.

The twins exchanged glances. They nodded and followed Amber into the woods.

“Caroline,” Amber called out, switching on her cell phone light.

No one answered. The others called her name, too.

“Where do you think she is?” Farrah asked.

“I wonder if a bear got her,” Felicity said.

Farrah backhanded her on the upper arm.

“There aren’t any bears around here, dipshit.”

Something crashed in the nearby shrubbery. It sounded like an old, dead tree fell over with a series of splintering cracks.

“What was that?” Farrah said.

“I’m betting a bear.”

“Shut up about the bears,” Amber said. “Caroline! Where the fuck are you? This better not be some fucked up joke.”

The woods settled in the wake of the fallen tree. The silence made Amber want to turn and run back to the car. It was the sort of calm that only preceded a storm.

“I think we should go back to the car,” she said.

“What? Why?” Farrah asked.

Felicity was already on her way back.

“Just … this doesn’t feel right,” Amber said, brushing past Farrah.

“But what about Caroline?” Farrah pleaded. “What if she’s in trouble?”

“We’ll call somebody,” Amber said. “We’ll wait by the—”

Before she could finish, Felicity’s feet lifted off the ground.

7

The uppercut lifted The Blade into the corner. Trashcan was a snug worker, but the Blade hardly felt a thing. He made it look good though, buckling against the corner and kicking his legs into the air. Trashcan grabbed the Blade’s throat in a mock chokehold. Mikey yelled in mock outrage, counting toward a disqualification loud enough for the jeering crowd to hear. Trashcan released the hold at nine and walked away to work the crowd while the Blade collapsed to his knees in mock weariness.

It was an Oscar-worthy performance, and he hoped Amber was there to see it.

Trashcan stomped back to the corner to resume doling out punishment, but the Blade surprised him with a single-leg takedown. The small crowd erupted as the Blade tried to transition into a leg-bar. When Trashcan squirmed to the ropes, allowing for a break, the crowd booed. They were buying in, Blade thought. They were true believers already, but him and Trashcan were just getting started.

The Blade let his opponent stand. Trashcan threw a roundhouse. Blade blocked it and countered with one of his own, spilling Trashcan to the outside. Blade hit the ropes once, twice, then went for a dive. Trashcan moved. Blade caught himself and spun back into the ring. He made a beckoning gesture at Trashcan Tommy. Trashcan gave him the finger. He went to leave the ring in pursuit, but Mikey grabbed him and yelled for him to stop. The Blade feigned outrage, gesturing at the retreating Trashcan and yelling.

The Blade backed away as Mikey began to count Trashcan out. As planned, Black Metal and Doom Dog hit the ring. Doom Dog kicked Blade in the gut. Black Metal lifted him in a fireman’s carry and dropped him for a Death Valley Driver. They subsequently rolled out of the ring, leaving Blade laying.

Outside the ropes, Trashcan spread his hands and conveniently agreed to come back inside. He slipped through the ropes and onto Blade for a quick cover. One. Two. Blade kicked out. Trashcan pulled him into a sitting position and clamped on a painful-looking, but safe headlock. It was time to build heat.

8

At first, no one knew what the light around the levitating Felicity was. When it began to crackle, when her screams of surprise and fear became cries of agony, Amber could tell her friend was on fire. Suspended in the air and burning like an effigy.  Felicity’s screams were soon joined by her sister’s and by Amber’s, too. The woods seemed then to fill with screams. A chorus of pain and terror, far too loud and layered for three voices. Soon, Felicity stopped screaming and dropped, smoldering, to the rocky path. This brought fresh screams from her friends.

Amber backed away from the crispy corpse while Farrah drew closer.

“Don’t,” she managed to mumble.

Farrah had no reply. She just kept approaching her dead sister. Her screams had turned to whimpers. Mumbled words of grief that Amber couldn’t make out, but she imagined their meaning. She had no sisters, only her brother Aldous the Blade. She remembered the time he’d been in an awful car accident. He was sixteen and had just gotten his first car, a red Audi. Someone t-boned him at the intersection of Beacon Hill and Swamp Rd. The Audi was totaled. Aldous was almost lost, too. She remembered how scared she’d been, watching her big brother in the hospital bed, wondering when the machines would flatline to indicate the end of his life. That pain she’d imagined could not compare to what Farrah felt now. Amber’s had been imagined, her fears never realized as Aldous made a miraculous recovery, mounting a comeback like the wrestler he’d soon become. Farrah’s agony was all too real.

Amber took another step back and bumped into something. It felt human, soft and feminine. She spun.

“Caroline?” Her friend was standing there, saying nothing, wearing a blank stare. Amber’s tone sharpened with worry. “Caroline?”

Behind her, Farrah commenced pathetic wails of grief. The remains of Felicity smoked like hamburger left too long on a hot pan.

Caroline’s lips twitched. She still hadn’t spoken. Her eyes were hard and expressionless.

“Caroline, what’s going on? Where’s that girl? We have to get the fuck out of here.”

All of this spilled out of her mouth like loose M & M’s from candy machine. In response, Caroline touched Amber’s chest with two fingers. It looked like a light touch. It was a light touch. But somehow, Amber was now barreling backwards. She crashed into Farrah and the cremated remains of Felicity crunched beneath them. The girls screamed, flailing and smacking each other as they scrambled to their feet.

Farrah reached hers first and sprang for the car. Something yanked her back onto the corpse of her twin. Amber got up and ran, her friend’s screams dying behind her. She hated herself for doing this, leaving her friend to die, but she wasn’t a goddamn superhero. No way she could fight the … whatever the fuck in control of Caroline’s body.

By the time she got out of the woods, they had fallen silent. All she heard was her own ragged, rushing breath as she piled into the car and shut the door behind her.

Fuck. Caroline had the keys.

Amber looked back toward the woods. The killer in the guise of her friend stood on the edge of the road. She held the keys and jangled them tauntingly.

NO!” she screamed. “GODDAMN IT!

She considered leaving and running, but maybe if she kept the doors locked, she could be safe. Maybe… Caroline dropped the keys and raised her other hand. She looked as though she meant to clap.

“Oh my God, what the fuck, what the fuck?” Amber whined.

When Caroline’s hands came together, incredible crushing pain enveloped Amber.

She died before she could realize the car had collapsed on her.

9

It was time for the Blade to make his comeback. Trashcan Tommy whipped him into the ropes, setting up a pop-up powerbomb. Blade telegraphed the move, diving over Tommy’s head and hooking his legs under his opponent’s arms. The sunset flip drove Tommy back-first to the mat. Tommy rolled back to his feet. Blade was there to meet him with a clothesline. Tommy jumped up and met another clothesline. When Tommy got up a third time, Blade kicked him in the gut to set up the Blade Runner, which was a variation on the old Stone Cold stunner.

Before he could apply the move, Doom Dog slid into the ring. Took a swing at Blade, who ducked it and gave Doom Dog the Blade Runner meant for Trashcan. Black Metal Steve was next, attempting a tackle, which Blade sidestepped, sending Black Metal sailing out of the ring.

Trashcan had regained his bearings and wrapped his right hand in what looked like brass knuckles but was actually made of foam. Trashcan swung. Blade blocked it. Kicked Tommy in the gut and successfully hit the Blade Runner. He covered Trashcan Tommy for the one-two-three. The bell rang. New champion.

As the Blade raised the belt in the air, he scanned the audience once again and wondered where Amber was.

12/29/2020

I got off to a slow start this morning. By the time I got the little guy off to preschool, it was time to log into work. But I said I’d blog every day, so blog every day I shall. Today’s is late.


Sometimes, wrestling is really silly.

Sure, it’s usually always silly, but there are times where it crosses into some kind of bizarro outsider art. A good example of this is the April 10, 2000 episode of WCW Monday Nitro, an episode where co-heads of creative Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo attempted to “reboot” the promotion. It’s some truly odd stuff, full of inside baseball and alliances between former enemies. You can check out some highlights from it here.

Other times, it becomes silly in hindsight. Take, for instance, this rap performed by the entire WWF roster in the 1980s.

While I do think it can be detrimental to your art to try and be silly on purpose, it can also be beneficial to lean into the inherent silliness of what you’re doing. Believe in yourself, brother!


Speaking of fully diving off the deep-end, self-awareness be damned, I finished listening to the audiobook of CAT MAGIC by Whitley Strieber. It’s a great book written by someone who’s developed an unfortunate reputation for being a little kooky. The thing is, it doesn’t read like a crazy person wrote it. I’ve read plenty of stuff by crazy people. I’ve even written a book while wrestling with insanity myself.

No, CAT MAGIC doesn’t read like the work of an unraveled mind. It’s a fun horror story about a battle between a coven of witches and a fundamentalist Christian cult in a small New Jersey town. There’s plenty of theological debate and fascinating insight into paganism within the book’s pages. There’s so much that I wonder if Mr. Strieber wrote the book while he was having a spiritual crisis of his own.


Tonight, I’ll be doing a test stream with friends (and excellent authors) J. David Osborne and Kelby Losack. We’ve got a secret thing in the works that I think will be really fun. All I’ll say about it is it involves movies, occultism, and Twitch.

I found out yesterday that I wasn’t storing my videos on my Twitch channel. Total n0ob mistake. Thankfully, I’ve only done two streams so far, but I’m kind of sad to know those are lost forever. I had a lot of fun thinking in public about creative decisions I made while writing the first chapter of ONE AND ONLY.


PANDEMONIUM, the book I co-wrote with Ryan Harding, has been out for two weeks. It’s doing pretty well, but can definitely do better. If you got some money or gift cards this past holiday, then you could do worse than this grabbing this one. It’s a horror novel themed around the world of hardcore wrestling, and a tribute to the Dario Argento-produced DEMONS movies. It’s got a ridiculously high body count, and for what it’s worth, it was the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything. Hope you’ll grab a copy.

This week, I’ll be working on my collaboration with Splatterpunk Award Winner Wesley Southard.

Our nightmare year is almost over!

Streets of Rage

If you haven’t seen the DEMONS films, I highly recommend doing so. The first one is the best, but DEMONS 2 and THE CHURCH also have some great highlights.

What I like about them is their apparent lack of structure and notable character arcs. They simply put interesting people in frightening situations and let the action play out. It’s not a bad model if you’re a writer who finds yourself bored to tears with blueprints like The Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat.

A good example of a book that employs this free structure is KILL FOR SATAN by Bryan Smith. Ryan Harding and I took a similar approach with our new book PANDEMONIUM, letting instincts and logic drive the narrative, rather than contriving a connotational psychodrama to show what our book is really about. Sometimes you just need to have fun. Cut loose and follow a natural progression, rather than attempt to manipulate the narrative. I think it worked out well.

One of the things we did in the novel that we didn’t see much of in the films we hoped to emulate was spill the action out into the streets. I understand why the movies didn’t do it. Every scene costs money in that business. When it comes to writing a book, your budget is limitless (not so much in publishing, but that’s probably another blog). We agreed that the action should spread from the primary location because that was something we’d always wanted to see more of in those old movies.

Also, I love old beat ’em ups like Sega’s STREETS OF RAGE. The fourth entry in that franchise came out this year and was a total godsend for me, who had just gotten back into gaming. While it lacks the splatter and demonic element of our book, STREETS OF RAGE 4 (and its predecessors) have an anarchic spirit that just works. It doesn’t have much in the way of story, because it doesn’t need much in the way of story. If you’re thinking about it too hard, you’re doing it wrong! I like to think PANDEMONIUM works in much the same way.

This is my roundabout way of saying a couple things.

First, if you are a writer, and you’re struggling with finding some heavier theme or subtextual underpinnings to your plot, maybe try scrapping those ideas altogether. Just let the action play out. Follow logic and instinct. If there is something weightier underneath everything, it will shine through without you ham-fisting it and insulting your reader’s intelligence.

Second, I’m officially launching my Twitch channel today! Join me at 2:00 pm, central time. I’ll be playing STREETS OF RAGE 4 and taking your questions about books, games, wrestling, Italian horror, collaborating with another author, and a whole lot else! While I intend to do a lot more than simple gaming with the channel in the future, I want to start with what’s familiar. So, come hang out with me this afternoon. You’ll be glad you did.

Amityville Man Cave

“What the fuck is that?” Deena said. 

“It smells like … Axe Body Spray,” Stephanie said. 

“Okay, so, I didn’t smell that five minutes ago, did you?” 

“No. Why are you so freaked out?” 

“Well, there’s something I didn’t tell you about this house we bought.” 

“Oh, no! What?” 

“It used to belong to Neckbeard.” 

“So? I’m sure lots of neckbeards have owned houses.” 

“No, not just any neckbeard. I’m talking about Neckbeard McDudebro.” 

“Oh, no. Him?” 

“Him.” 

“But isn’t he just an urban legend?” 

“Does that smell like an urban legend to you?” 

“No, it smells like Axe Body Spray.” 

“That’s because he’s here. This is the house of Neckbeard McDudebro and we are standing in his man cave!” 

“Why the fuck didn’t you say something?” 

“Because you wouldn’t want to buy the house if I did.” 

“You’re goddamn right I wouldn’t have!” 

“Ugh, the smell is getting stronger. I’m sorry, Stephanie.” 

“Sorry? In the span of a few seconds, I just found out ghosts are real, and my girlfriend is a fucking liar. I don’t think sorry is going to fix things. God, that smells awful. We need to get the fuck out of here.” 

“I don’t know if he’ll let us leave.” 

“Why the fuck did you want to buy his house so bad?” 

“Because it’s a nice house, and I don’t believe in ghosts.” 

“Well, actually,” a disembodied voice began, “I’m more of a poltergeist. Are you two going to scissor for me or what?” 

“Neckbeard?” both women said. 

“That’s right, bitches. Welcome to my house. Now you must do what I say. Because I’m dead, I’m no longer under your oppressive matriarchal rule. Now, boobs or get the fuck out.” 

A set of milky eyes opened on the wall in front of the women. Lips took shape and curved into a smile. 

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Stephanie said. 

“No, I think he’s serious.” 

“Well, he’s not getting boobs, so I’m getting the fuck out.” 

“Wait a minute. Fuck him. It’s not his house anymore. He’s not getting boobs and we’re not going anywhere.” 

Several seconds of silence passed. Then, 

“Well, if you won’t do what I say and you won’t leave, I’ll have to move furniture around and make scary sounds.” 

“Is that it?” Deena said. 

“What do you mean? Doesn’t that scare you?” 

“Not really.” 

“Deena, what are you doing?” 

“I don’t believe in ghosts and we’re tired from moving. Maybe we’re just imagining you.” 

“I’m real.” 

“I don’t know, man. I’m exhausted. I’ve hardly slept for days. Neither has Stephanie. I think you’re just a bad hallucination.” 

“Yeah,” Stephanie said. “And come on, moving around some furniture? Making scary sounds? We’ll just tell each other it’s the house settling or some shit.” 

“Like earthquakes. This is California.” 

“You can’t deny me. Boobs or get the fuck out.” 

“Sorry, man. You’re just an urban legend and not a very good one.” 

“But wait! The Axe. Surely you smell me. And my face on the wall. Surely you see me.” 

“I don’t see shit,” Stephanie said. “How about you, girlfriend?” 

“Nope. Just some weird shadows.” 

“But the smell, the smell!” 

“What do you think, Steph?” 

“I think that stink is just left over from when you were still alive. Even in death, your smell lingers, but you don’t. You’re gone. This is our house.” 

“But not this room. This is my man cave.” 

“You know what I’m thinking, Steph?” 

“What?” 

“I think these walls would look really good in pink.” 

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.

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.