Birthday Apocalypse

Yesterday, I turned 36. I spent much of the day eating good food and playing Magic the Gathering: Arena. My partner and toddler made my day special. They usually do. We spent time in the backyard and went for a brief walk.

My partner got me a heavy bag so I could practice what limited kickboxing strikes I know and stay in shape. My mother-in-law sent me a $50 Amazon gift card. I also received a bunch of nice messages.

Aside from this blog, I didn’t do any writing.

Progress was slow on  Spider God this week, but I’m sure I’ll get back to it this week.

It’s been a time for reflection and pause.

Outside, the apocalypse continues. I can’t imagine doing this without an internet connection or alcohol. Supposedly, we’re going to reopen America, but the America we knew is gone. The world we knew is gone. I’m under no delusion things will be the same. My partner says the world is always changing, which is true, but this feels bigger and much scarier.

I’m tired and not okay, but at least I’m not alone.

 

 

Playtime

It’s Saturday morning, somewhere in Texas. My son is playing with his  Transformers. I got a couple of nice royalty payments this week, so I decided to get Game Pass for my PC. If you’ve got X-Box game recs, hit me up in the comments.

Games and comics are good for winding down. I still very much enjoy reading prose, but because doing so is necessary in order to keep my writing tools sharp, it sometimes feels more like work than play.

And I need to play.

It’s not just something kids do.

It’s something adults need.

Lately, I’ve been playing  Magic, the Gathering: Arena . It’s a lot of fun. I didn’t play  Magic as a kid, but always wanted to. There’s a lot to learn, but again, in the context of play, it doesn’t feel like work.

Reading comics and playing games has strengthened my writing, strangely enough. While I want Spider God (Gods of the Dark Web, Book 2)  to have the quick pace of its predecessor, I want it to be more epic in scope. I want to deepen the world and give the characters more complications as they move toward their ultimate destinies.

Comics and games are great for this. Not only are the worlds rich, they enhance and keep the pace fast by having each obstacle tied to a different setting. Interaction with the world has a very specific role in the plot mechanics. I think that’s something prose writers can really learn from. I know I certainly have.

I’m about 11-12,000 words into Spider God. I’m shooting for 60,000, but I’d be happy with 50,000 and thrilled with 70,000. We’ll see where I land.

Yesterday, the audiobook for my Splatterpunk Award-nominated novella Saint Sadist was released. Today, it’s placed #88 in Gothic Horror audiobooks, so that’s pretty dope. You can help me reach #1 by ordering your copy here. It’s free with an Audible membership, or you can cop it for the price of a venti mocha. I know a lot of you have read it on paperback or e-book, but believe me when I say the audio, performed by Melody Muzljakovich, is the way this story was meant to be experienced. She brings the narrative and its characters to chilling life.

That’s it for now. Stay safe out there and remember: take time to play.

Fighting as Storytelling

Wilder-Fury_@ShowtimeBoxing-770x513
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.

saint-sadit-cover

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.

 

 

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.

Free E-Books

Hi, gang! I just wanted to let everyone know my Richard Laymon tribute story Cruel Summer, my dark thriller Long Night at Jade’s Diner, and my cursed screenplay novella Mania are all FREE on Kindle this week.

Call it a Halloween present.


In other news, it’s Monday and I’m tired. My brother-in-law makes very good, but very strong margaritas. Nonetheless, I’ve got words to write and customers to assist.

On the agenda, I want to get at least another 5,000 words on Pandemonium before I kick it back to Ryan, and I need to do revisions on a top-secret film project (more on that when I can talk about it).

In the background, I’ll have Cannibal Terror on. Halloween’s almost here, gang, and I can’t be more excited.

Extinction Peak-A Novel of Dinosaur Horror

I’m about to make what will likely be one of my final passes on Extinction Peak, my dinosaur horror novel. Some of my work comes from my subconscious and flows rather easily. This book was not one of them. I wrote the first draft almost five years ago. The version that exists today has only the title in common with that old draft.

Weirdly, this book will likely be more fun to read than some of my other titles. It relies heavily on world-building and action, not symbology and style. That’s not to say it lacks depth. If you’re looking for it, my thesis will present itself. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Jeff Burk made it official the Monday after Killer Con, so I’ll announce it here: Extinction Peak is set for publication in 2020 by his new press Section 31 Productions.

Killer Con 2019 Itinerary

The following is my Killer Con itinerary:

Thursday night around 7ish, you can find me at the bar.

Through most of Friday, I’ll be in the dealer’s room lending a hand to those who need one, BUT Friday night I’ll be a contestant in the Wings of Pain Challenge, which starts at 8:30. “But, Lucas, aren’t you vegetarian?” To that I say, “Shane McKenzie was kind enough to get me plant-based wings so he can punish me with hot sauce.”

Friday at 9 pm, you can find me at the Death’s Head Press party in the Convention Suite. That is, if Wings of Pain doesn’t totally ruin me.

Saturday, I’ll be supporting folks in the dealer’s room again, but after that, you can listen to me and several others as we take part in the panel How Not to Kill Yourself, which is all about staying sane while writing about terrible things. The panel starts at 6 pm.

Like last year, I’ll be participating in the Grossout Contest at 10 pm on Saturday. Unlike last year, I’m walking home with first prize this time around. At least that’s the goal!

At 1 pm on Sunday, I’ll be a part of the Clash Books reading block.

Now, I’ll be around all weekend, but these are the parts of my itinerary that are set in stone. Hope to see my Mangumaniacs there!

Want to attend Killer Con? You can register here.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 12 – Free Serial Novel

The books became her life. She ate less, slept less. Sometimes she woke up in the middle of the night to start reading again. She read at work, at school, in bed, and on the toilet. She stopped seeing friends. She stopped going to see Ruthanne.

Jake started coming around less and less. The last time she saw him, he said he could tell he wasn’t wanted, told her to call him when she’s ready to come out of her cave. She wanted to stop him at the door, throw her arms around his neck and say, “Of course I want you. Please don’t go.” Instead, she stood and watched him leave. Once he was out the door, she opened The Cosmic Heart and started reading again.

She never stopped to cry for his absence. Never stopped to think about what her obsession was doing to her life. She just kept reading.

Katie believed that within their pages, she could find some kind of meaning. A cure for cosmic ills? Nothing so dramatic, but she hoped to at least find something, some nugget of wisdom, some piece of magic to help her get her thoughts in order. To help her make sense of what had happened to her family. Maybe help her find out what happened to Melissa. Maybe find out what really happened to her father, somehow.

She supposed this was what it was like when someone began to explore a religion, particularly if they were someone who expected a religion, a faith, to fix them somehow. Like alcoholics who swore off the sauce and gave their addiction to a higher power. Like a CEO who loses all his earthly gains and decides to reject materialism altogether, throwing himself into Eastern thought. Like the child whose family is killed by drone strikes, and grows up to be radicalized, a killer for their god. All different degrees of mad devotion. She wondered where she lay on the spectrum.

Something swam behind the veil. She couldn’t see or hear it—couldn’t even see the veil, really—but she knew it was there. Just. Out. Of reach.

The only things that remained from her life before the books were the dreams. Everything on fire, spiraling into that unfathomable black hole.

Three months after she obtained the books, a call from Ruthanne woke her from a midmorning nap. Hearing her therapist’s smooth, clean voice brought Katie, not just out of sleep, but also back from the brink of disappearing completely into her own head.

“Ruthanne, hey, how are you?”

“Concerned about you. I haven’t heard from you since before the funeral.”

“Yeah…”

“Is everything okay?”

The question, standard enough, something people asked each other all the time, carried great magnitude. How Katie answered it seemed like the most important thing in the world. Despite that…

“I, uh, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe I should schedule another appointment.”

And so they did. The next morning Katie entered Ruthanne’s office, comforted by its familiarity. The smells of cinnamon and chili powder. How the building’s temperature never dipped below seventy-two degrees or above seventy eight. She crossed her arms and plopped down in the waiting room, feeling at ease for the first time in months.

She made it a point not to bring the books with her. She wanted to have her head clear for the conversation. Hoped Ruthanne would serve as the perfect sounding board for everything she had been going through.

A door opened and Ruthanne padded down the hallway. She always moved in slow, purposeful strides, feet soft on the ground. Her skin always had a glow to it, like a serene energy pulsed somewhere within her. Katie sometimes wondered if Ruthanne’s catlike manner of movement was all part of an act, something to make it seem like Ruthanne had it all figured out when she was perhaps more damaged than Katie, or any other client. The glow made it seem like more than an act though. Something like that was hard to fake.

Katie knew very little about Ruthanne’s personal life. Once she looked Ruthanne up on Facebook, but most details were hidden from people who weren’t friends, and Katie couldn’t bring herself to send a friend request to her therapist.

Ruthanne smiled and it held a warmth Katie felt she didn’t deserve. When Katie examined the last few months of her life, she saw a woman who had isolated herself, engaged in selfish pursuit of answers while neglecting people who only cared about her. Deserved or not, Ruthanne’s smile Katie even more at ease. She felt okay admitting her own faults around Ruthanne, and part it was because of that smile. So welcoming, so soft. On the way to the office, Katie hadn’t been sure how much she would tell Ruthanne. After that smile, she decided she would confess a good portion.

They said their hellos and Ruthanne led Katie back to the room where their sessions took place. Katie sat in the corner seat of a teal sofa and Ruthanne sat across from her in a flowered armchair. Ruthanne rested a legal pad on her knees, but she seldom wrote in it. For the most part she just listened. Only time she scribbled something down was when Katie said something pivotal, profound, something they could return to later.

Ruthanne waited for Katie to talk. It was a ritual, in and of itself. Sometimes Katie started talking immediately. Sometimes it took almost a minute. Other times, Katie just wanted to scream and beg Ruthanne to talk instead. This time Katie led with an apology.

“I’m sorry I haven’t set an appointment in a while. It’s been a hard few months.”

Ruthanne’s eyebrows raised, imploring Katie to continue.

“The funeral was a nightmare. I had some kind of attack.”

“Like a panic attack?”

“I guess…I mean, I’m not sure. I thought I saw my father in the woods outside the church and…I don’t know. Jake and Dale said when they found me I was just screaming.”

“You said you saw your father?”

“I thought I did. My memory of that day is kind of foggy.”

“I can understand that, but you’re okay now though? No more attacks?”

“None.”

“What about the dreams?”

“They’re still happening. Pretty much every night, whenever I actually sleep anyway.”

“Are you not sleeping?”

“Not a lot. I got these books the day I was cleaning out Dad’s house. They were intended for him, but, you know.”

Ruthanne’s expression grew somber. Right on cue, but genuine.

“Did the sale of the house go okay?”

“Yeah, some developer bought it. Not the ideal buyer, but I just wanted to get rid of it, really.”

Katie stopped talking, let several beats of silence pass. She worried they were getting off track by talking about the house.

“So, these books,” Ruthanne said, as if reading Katie’s mind.

A nervous laugh escaped Katie and she covered her mouth.

“Basically, they’ve been my life for the last few months. I can’t stop reading them or thinking about them.” Ruthanne frowned. “They’re religious texts. I mean, sort of. More like, I don’t know, esoteric mythology or something. I never heard of them until they showed up at Dad’s house.”

“What are they called?”

Katie told her.

“Never heard of them either. Can you describe the symbol?”

“I can draw it.”

Ruthanne handed her the legal pad and a pen. Katie sketched a rough version of the symbol, about the size of her hand, its points and angles exaggerated, the animals mere impressions. She handed back the pad.

“I’ve never seen that before,” said Ruthanne.

“Yeah, I’ve tried occult message boards in every seedy corner of the internet you can imagine and haven’t come up with shit. It’s very obscure. The book explains it—and The Cosmic Heart’s—obscurity by saying people who share the wisdom without permission would be killed.”

Ruthanne laughed. Katie didn’t.

“You don’t believe any of this, do you?”

Katie kept a straight face, said nothing. Ruthanne took a heavy breath. Worry creased the therapist’s features. She wrote something down.

“Anyway,” Katie said, “my brother’s girlfriend went missing the day I got the books. I found my sketch of the man who assaulted me and my mother in her room. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but I don’t know.”

“Did you tell the police?”

“Of course.” Katie peered out the window. Several cars zipped by on the street below. Sunlight reflected off the window of a nearby building and made her eyes water when she stared for too long. “I guess I’m just looking for answers.”

“We all are,” Ruthanne said. “Especially in difficult times. You’ve had a tumultuous year.”

“I think the answers are in those books.”

“Like their message may help all of this make sense? Sure, I can appreciate that.”

“More than that. The books have these rituals and…”

“You’re thinking about trying them?”

“Well…”

“I wouldn’t recommend that.” Her voice hardened. Katie had never heard Ruthanne take such a tone. “When people are in a fragile mental state, dabbling in the occult, hell any religion, can have an adverse effect on your ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. I did a thesis on it.”

“Maybe, I don’t think I’m so fragile.”

“I didn’t mean…”

“Except, you did.” Ruthanne’s lips pressed together. Katie gave a dry laugh. “You want to talk about the difference between reality and fantasy? I never told you everything about the day my mother and I were attacked. That woman my father was with, the one the man who kidnapped us wanted back? She was someone from Dad’s past, someone who died and came back.”

“Katie…”

“At least that’s what he told me, and what choice did I have but to believe him after seeing a photo of her standing next to him when he was twenty-two. So, yeah, it’s safe to say, my ability to tell between reality and fantasy is a little skewed.”

“Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I have to ask.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. No, I’m not suicidal, homicidal. I don’t own any guns and I’m not fucked up on drugs.”

“I’m worried about you.”

Katie tried to focus on the comforting scents of the office, on Ruthanne’s kind face, even though the jaw was tight and the eyes bore into Katie. She needed to regain her composure. She hadn’t come here to fight.

The session’s time ran out without any other words spoken. This was becoming an uncomfortable pattern in Katie’s human interactions.

Katie handed Ruthanne a check and said, “I’ll call you.”

As she marched down the office stairs to her car, she wondered if she would ever see Ruthanne again.