31 Days of Halloween: Last Shift

Now I gotta tell you guys, Last Shift is a pretty good one.

last-shift-posterOfficer Loren is working the final shift at a police station that is being closed. The official story is that there’s a new and better station down the street. But hey, when is the official story ever the real one, right? Turns out something crazy went down at that station. And wouldn’t you know it? it was one year ago, to the night. Now she’s got to make it through to the end of her shift. Or the end of the world, whichever comes first.

In my view, there’s little more unnerving than a  story about a person who is facing horror alone. No back up. No one to rely on. No one to even talk to and ask whether you are going crazy. That’s what this movie does best. It’s a big challenge for actress Juliana Harkavy to pull this off by herself, but she does it magnificently. By the end of the movie she is questioning her sanity, and we are questioning everything we see. And it’s all creepy.

The movie doesn’t quite achieve legendary status, though. I’m not sure what it’s missing. The story line and subplots never really comes full circle, and you do start to wonder why someone doesn’t come by to check on her at some point. (I’m also using the alternate poster, as I hate the main one.) And I admit to not loving the ending. Throughout there’s just something that’s not quite right, even if it’s hard to put your finger on it. I’m reminded of Sinister in this respect, a movie that I thought was terrifying at times, but also had something missing.

Still, Last Shift is a great way to spend a late October night. Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments.

4 Stars

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: The Best Scenes in Horror Movie History Part II

And now five more of the best scenes in horror. Enjoy!

Dawn of the Dead (2004) — The World Ends

One of the best remakes ever–and that’s saying a lot considering the source material–Dawn of the Dead also has one of the best scenes of any zombie film. Most zombie movies, for whatever reason, don’t show the fall. The pick up sometime later. But this movie managed to capture exactly what it might be like to wake up on the last day of civilization.

The Babadook — Dook, Dook, Dook

I loved The Babadook, and I think a big reason is this scene. It starts so innocently, and yet it gets under your skin, unnerving you, making you think you something is watching over your shoulder. And maybe it is.

Sinister — The Lawnmower Scene

Sinister is an underappreciated horror movie in my view. But I don’t know anyone who didn’t appreciate this scene. Perhaps the single greatest jump scare out there. Turn the lights down and the volume up.

Army of Darkness –Hail to the King, Baby

Most horror movies sputter to their conclusion. Not Army of Darkness. It ends with one of the single greatest scenes in all of horror history. I can quote the whole thing. Who can’t though?

A Nightmare on Elm Street — Falling Asleep in Class

This is, without a doubt, my favorite scene in all of horror. It’s perfect. Perfectly written. Perfectly acted. And it sums up everything that A Nightmare on Elm Street is about. (As an aside, Nightmare is my favorite horror movie.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: The Best Scenes in Horror Movie History, Part I

Yesterday we did the best opening lines in horror novels. Today, I want to share with you some of my favorite horror movie scenes. I don’t know about you, but a good horror scene makes me positively giddy. Like, laugh out loud, smile like a madman, giddy. Am I the only one? No? Yes? Anyway, here we go. Let me know your favorites in the comments.

Oh, and P.S., in the tradition of all great horror, this post will have a sequel. Come back tomorrow for Part II, where I reveal my favorite horror scene of all time.

Suspiria — A Beautiful Death

From the finest Italian horror movie ever made comes this gem. Occurring about five minutes into the film, it sets the scene for what’s coming.

Insidious — Tiptoe Through the Tulips

This scene is everything that quiet horror should be. An ordinary day, a record player (always creepy), no reason to think anything is going to happen. But if you are watching, you’ll spy something out of place early on in the scene. I love this scene, and I get chills every time I watch it.

The Shining — Come Play With Us

This one is almost cheating, but man is it good.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — The Record Scene

Another scene involving a record player, but very different. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of the most visually stunning horror films ever shot, and this scene might be its most beautiful.

Hellraiser — Demons to Some, Angels to Others

The best scene in one of the best horror movies ever made, here we meet the Cenobites in all their glory. I’ll always believe that this scene and our desire to see more, learn more, and know more about the Cenobites spawned the countless Hellraiser sequels. After all, they have such sights to show us.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: The Best First Lines in Horror

51vefbadjql-_sy344_bo1204203200_A great first line can make a book, and the inability to come up with one has stopped more than a few writers from every getting on with the rest of the story. Here, I present to you some of my favorites (and some of them are more like first paragraphs). Leave yours in the comments.

I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. — A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

So intent was Frank upon solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring. — The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats. — Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead. — John Dies at the End by David Wong.

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. — I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow. — Carrie by Stephen King

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous. — The Picture in the House by H.P. Lovecraft

A considerable number of hunting parties were out that year without finding so much as a fresh trail; for the moose were uncommonly shy, and the various Nimrods returned to the bosoms of their respective families with the best excuses the facts of their imaginations could suggest. — The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. — The Haunting of Hill House  by Shirley Jackson

This is not for you. — House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: The Ritual by Adam Nevill

220px-the_ritual_adam_nevill_coverI’ve been meaning to read Adam Nevill for a while, and in the spirit of Halloween, I picked up one of his many highly regarded novels–The Ritual.

Four friends from University strike off into the Scandinavian hinterland to rekindle their friendship while enjoying the majesty of the great outdoors. But at least two of the crew aren’t the athletic specimens they once were, and after an accident gives one a bum knee, they decide to take a shortcut through an uncharted forest. Things get bad when they discover the corpse of a large animal hanging from a tree–minus its skin–and they get worse when they find an ancient idol in a forgotten farmstead. Now something is hunting them, and what started as a camping trip soon becomes a fight for survival.

This is a pretty freaky book, but I came away from The Ritual feeling strangely about it. The novel is in two parts. The first part, I loved. The second part…I felt like it went a little off the rails, thought it redeemed itself toward the end. So I can’t recommend The Ritual unreservedly. Having said that. Nevill is a true talent. His writing sings, and he has a way of pulling you in that a lot of other authors could learn from.

The Ritual was my first book by Nevill, but it won’t be my last.

3.5 Stars

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton has a lot of music, but his best offerings, in my opinion, are horror themed. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: Cast A Deadly Spell

250px-castadeadlyspellWhat a crazy trip of a movie this is. Released in 1991, Cast A Deadly Spell (available for free on Amazon Prime) is quite literally a Lovecraftian movie, and they aren’t subtle about it–the main character is a hard-boiled detective named H. Phillips Lovecraft. The movie takes place in an alternative 1940’s Los Angeles where magic has been discovered and everyone uses it. Everyone but Phil. Phil’s on the trail of a stolen book that is said to be able to open the gates between this world and the world of the Old Ones. The Necronomicon, of course. Cthulhu gets name dropped, and Yog Sothoth makes an appearance.

I’m not sure how I missed this movie all these years. It’s got a fairly well-known cast–Fred Ward plays Phil Lovecraft, David Warner plays the big bad, and Julianne Moore shows up as Phil’s love interest. The movie is decidedly tongue in cheek (the style actually reminded me of the Dick Tracey movie from a year before). At times, it’s downright silly, but delightfully so.

I don’t know, I’m sorta at a loss here. Just go watch the movie and tell me what you think. It has it’s flaws, but if you are a fan of Lovecraft, it’s hard to imagine you not enjoying it.

3.5 Stars

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Movie Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: An Interview with William Holloway, Author of The Immortal Body

I’ve run this interview before, but William Holloway is a name you need to know. So I am running it again.

William Holloway is the best new horror writer publishing today, and recently he released the first novel in his six-part Lovecraftian epic: The Immortal Body. William was kind enough to spend a few minutes answering my questions. Pay attention folks, because soon you’ll only find him in the pages of high brow literary publications that charge an access fee. He’s that good.

Let’s start with the most important thing—tell us a little bit about your most recent book.

The Immortal Body is the first novel of the Singularity Cycle, which is a six part Lovecraftian novel series. The first two novels; The Immortal Body and Song of the Death God have been completed for a while and I’ll be done with the third one in the next few days, then it’s on to the forth. I don’t want to spoil the surprise too much, but suffice it to say that each novel, though part of the same overarching story, are very different creatures.

The Immortal Body is largely told via the POV of the police investigating a series of nightmarish murders. Their real challenge is for them to see the thing that is happening in front of them, to see the impossibility of it and once they have crossed that threshold, to not go mad. There’s a lot happening in this book, and granted, it’s not for everyone. It’s a dark novel, I think as dark as one can be without wallowing in nihilism. It’s bloodier than most of what we see these days from Lovecraftian horror novels, and goes places that most horror will not go. That said, there’s an animation of the gritty and the grimy and the banality of everyday human evil and suffering that contextualizes it into the cosmic.

The word Lovecraftian gets thrown around a lot. But while The Immortal Body has Lovecraftian elements, it is also a mythos unto itself. Do you consider yourself Lovecraftian, and has Lovecraft influenced your writing?

Lovecraft has influenced my writing more than any other writer, and yes, I definitely consider myself a Lovecraftian though I don’t know that I’ll ever do formal Lovecraftian Mythos writing. The Wendigo made an appearance in Lucky’s Girl, but I can’t see myself writing a novel specifically using Lovecraftian Mythos deities. But, who knows? Maybe one day.

Who else?

Clive Barker and Brett Easton Ellis deserve honorary mentions as well. Both of them taught me that there really are no limits.

“Weird Fiction” has always been a genre dominated by the short story. Lovecraft, Blackwood, Laird Barron are masters of that form. But you seem to prefer the novel. Any reason?

I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t seem to write a short story. In fact I seem to be constitutionally incapable of doing so. My stories just aren’t short. It’s a talent I envy.

I know The Immortal Body is part of a series. Do you know how many books are going to comprise that series? Do you have the whole story worked out in your head, or does it come to you as you write?

It’s going to be a six part series. I have the general idea worked out of what will happen in those stories and how the stories link together, but as you know, things come to you while you’re writing. I’ve tried using really structured plans for writing a novel but when the words start to flow, that plan disintegrates. Ultimately I end up with what I want, but the means to get there changes along the way.

Do you have a George R.R. Martin plan? In other words, what happens if you die before you finish it?

Well, without giving a way too much, that particular problem is solved by the very structure of what I’m writing. But, if that day ever comes, I hereby pass the torch to Brett J Talley to complete my work.

You’ve seen the good—and bad—side of publishing. Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are.

One of the worst spots that you can find yourself in is to have written a book that you know has merit, and then to confront the fact of publishing without a roadmap. That’s exactly where I was with The Immortal Body a few years back. There’s a bit of backstory to this and most of it has to do with naiveté. I wrote The Immortal Body (and about half of Song of the Death God) in in a short frantic blast. I never even thought about publishing it. Eventually I ended up on a friend’s self publishing vanity label. And then, nothing. I realized at that point that no one was buying it because no one knew it was there, so I started mailing out copies to people whose names I found on the Lovecraft eZine. You were one of them. Most of them never responded, but a few did, yourself included. Through you I found out about this guy in England named Graeme Reynolds who wrote a werewolf novel called High Moor. I read it and I loved it. I friended him on FaceBook and he read The Immortal Body and he liked it a lot. Shortly after that I wrote Lucky’s Girl, and sent it to Graeme because Lucky’s Girl had werewolves in it, and Graeme is the King of the Werewolves. I was looking for pointers on what to do with it, not to actually submit it. It hadn’t occurred to me that he’d want to publish it, but he did, and of that I count myself very fortunate.

Do you have any advice for new writers just starting out?

You have to find your people! Where does your audience hang out? Is there a website they frequent? A dark alley somewhere? I made zero progress until I found The Lovecraft eZine. And, you also have to remember an important rule; as much as it’s nice to be read by other authors, to be considered that guy that other authors think is super duper, you’ve got to focus on finding and keeping your audience. Other authors are not your audience. What other authors can do is give their seal of approval to your work, but ultimately you’ve got to move past them and carve out a niche amongst paying readers.

Who are your favorite authors working today?

Adam Nevill is the best writer in horror today. That’s a well known fact in the UK, but the US hasn’t caught on to that yet. Then there’s these Lovecraftian guys; Brett Talley, Rich Hawkins, Scott Thomas.

What’s your favorite scary movie?

Probably Alien.

Halloween is coming up. Any traditions?

Sadly, no.

The Immortal Body just dropped, but what should we look forward to next from you?

Six months from now Song of the Death God will be released. This is the Second novel of the Singularity Cycle which will ultimately be a six novel Lovecraftian epic. Again, without give away too much, each novel is very, very different, but they are all part of the same continuum.

And where can folks find you on the net?

Facebook. I don’t have an author page but I’ve been told I should get one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: Short Stories for Short Attention Spans

So we are getting closer to the big day, and some of you–yeah, I’m looking at you–probably haven’t done anything to celebrate. And while it’s still possible for you to catch a movie or two, time is running short for any literary outings. But fear not! Well, do fear, but only in the Halloween way. I digress. Some of the best horror fiction comes in the short story form. Here are five short stories that are guaranteed to satisfy your need for some thrills and chills this season.

  1. Hot Tub by Hal Bodner: From the anthology Hell Comes to Hollywood II: Twenty-Two More Tales of Tinseltown Terror, this quirky tale is also the most recent on the list. Hal Bodner is the master at comedy-horror and his talents are on full display in “Hot Tub.” The best piece of short fiction published last year and a Stoker nominee to boot, do whatever you need to to track down this gem.
  2. Mourning House by Ronald Malfi: Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I talk about this one all the time. But I can’t help it. I love it. A haunted house story to reinvigorate haunted house stories, Malfi is a master and this is a wonderful introduction to his work.
  3. The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood: A true classic, I was shamefully unaware of this story until very recently, and I put it on the top of my Halloween reading list this year. Magic, unnerving, spooky, “The Wendigo” holds up amazingly well despite being over a hundred years old. Available for free at the link above, I would advise buying the audiobook narrated by Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot. And yes, it’s every bit as good as that name would suggest. Listen to it, and then you too can say that you have seen the Wendigo.
  4. The Statement of Randolph Carter by H.P. Lovecraft: I could have put a dozen or more of Lovecraft’s stories in this space, but I wanted to share with you the one that first hooked me on his writing, and my sentimental favorite of his ever since. There is a purity to this story–of horror, of plot, of the final haunting words–that make it one of Lovecraft’s most evocative stories. Check it out, and then let me know your favorite.
  5. The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers: The story that, as part of a quartet of works mentioning that enigmatic work, The King in Yellow, introduced us all to a world of madness and insanity that continues to inspire artists of every strip. Read it, but beware the yellow sign!

And a bonus: Nine Yards of Other Cloth by Manly Wade Wellman: The best story by a legend of horror that few know, this story is as melodic as a song and as haunting as the voice of a long lost lover. It introduced me to John the Balladeer and Wellman. Now it’s your turn.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: A Disney Halloween Treat

When you think about Disney, you probably don’t think about horror. But you would be wrong.

Very wrong.

Everybody has their inspirations. The classics, the old Hammer movies, Lovecraft, Poe, King, whatever. But for me, as much as anything else, it was those old Disney cartoons in the Octobers of my youth.

Cartoons were different back then, kids. It’s almost like they weren’t for children at all. They were mature, often violent, and occasionally terrifying. Two stick out to me. The first was called A Disney Halloween.

Essentially a clip show, A Disney Halloween brings together many of Disney’s best Halloween-themed shorts into one package. There are probably twelve or so vignettes. The first produced the images above, “A Night on Bald Mountain.” At the time, I only knew this was terrifying. Now, I understand it is an animated recreation of Walpurgis Night, the May-Eve, when all that is evil in this world rules the dark places of the earth. Later on, there is a discussion of cats and how they have been viewed as harbingers of evil throughout the ages. It includes a brief animation of the dark shadow of a man walking through a medieval village at night in the midst of a violent storm, while the good people of the town peer out from the security of their homes. It’s deliciously creepy, and you can see it below at 34:40. I’ve cued up the video to begin with a “Night on Bald Mountain,” but it’s fun to watch the whole thing.

The second Disney offering I want to highlight is one of my favorite productions, tv or film, animated or live action. It’s the Disney animated retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Narrated by none other than Bing Crosby, this is, in my view, the definitive retelling of the Washington Irving classic. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Literally. I’ve memorized the songs. And none are better than this.

If you want to see the whole thing, click here.

So why do I mention all this? It’s not just to tell you how much I love Disney. My love of horror was born with these cartoons, before I even know what horror was, certainly before I could read. Horror is like anything else; a true appreciation for it only comes with exposure. We aren’t born loving it, and if we want the genre to be strong in the future, we have to pass our love for it down. Whether that means sharing these videos with your kids, reading them a spooky story, or just taking them out trick or treating, what you do can change their lives. It sure changed mine.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: Horror Pet Peeves

Few genres call for the audience to suspend its disbelief more often than horror. Some of this is understandable–we’re dealing with the supernatural, after all. But some of them are just lazy, and they happen so often that they’ve become standard fare in horror parody’s. The car that won’t start, the heroine who runs up the stairs instead of out the front door, the amorous couple who insists on getting frisky in the abandoned field/house/road/cemetery/amusement park/slaughterhouse…you get the picture.

Here are three of my personal horror pet peeves. Let me know yours in the comments.

  1. The people who refuse to react properly to a paranormal event.

This one happens all the time. Something really crazy weird happens, the scene or chapter ends, and then the next chapter opens with the characters just going on about their business. Maybe they mention it in passing, maybe they talk about that really weird thing that happened, but they never react the way normal people would. Take any haunted house movie. How many of you would stay after even one of the creepy things in Insidious or Sinister or The Conjuring? Some ghost lures me into the basement and claps next to my head, I’m out, and I don’t care if I have to declare bankruptcy and live in my parents’ house for the rest of my life. A close corollary to this is the people who don’t call the police when they obviously should.

2. The people in a zombie movie that don’t kill every zombie they see.

You’re living in a zombie infested wasteland. There’s not going to be a cure, but you’ve got a pretty good setup in the local prison. But for some reason, you don’t kill the zombies gathered at the fence. You don’t kill the random zombies you see wondering down the roads when you go out on a run. You just leave them. Cause…why? This thing ain’t ending. So why not kill every single zombie you see? It might take a while, but eventually you and your group are going to at least thin out the herd a little bit. And hey, every zombie you kill is one less zombie that might kill you. So get to killing zombies. If we can wipe out the wolf and the buffalo, we can wipe out the undead.

3. The people who never listen to their significant others.

Don’t know why, but this one I especially hate. I read a book once where a husband and wife moved into a haunted house. Each chapter was told from one of their perspectives. Crazy things were happening to both of them. They didn’t tell each other at first (which also annoys me), but worse than that, when one would open up about some strange thing that was happening, the other would act like they must be going crazy. This happened again and again and again until finally I got so sick of it I stopped reading. You can make this trope work–if it’s only one of them hearing noises or seeing ghosts and that one happened to have had some mental breakdown in the past. But otherwise, spare me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: PenPal

penpal_cover_auerbachPenpal goes to show that crowdsourcing can work for horror fiction, too. Penpal is an example of creepypasta, 4chan babble for creepy copy and pasted stories. The idea is that you post a story online, usually, but not always, in serial form. People read it, paste it to places like reddit, people comment and question it, and those comments and questions lead to further chapters in the story. Most times it fails miserably. But other times, it functions  as modern folklore, with Slenderman being perhaps the most famous example.

Penpal was created in just this fashion, with the author, Dathan Auerbach, publishing the first chapter on the No Sleep subreddit. A Kickstarter later, and he had a novel that has since gone on to near universal acclaim, and with good reason.

Penpal tells the story of a man who has attempted to reconstruct the story of his childhood, connecting a number of strange vignettes into a coherent tale. The narrator’s problems began shortly after a school project involving an anonymous penpal, only his penpal doesn’t write letters back to him. Rather, he receives Polaroids. After realizing that he is the subject of many of these pictures,things get weird.

Penpal is told in the classic creepypasta style–first person, unpolished, almost stream of conscious at times. The use of memory is particularly effective. Each story has holes, and those holes are only filled in with reflection, after more information is known. The whole experience is deeply unsettling. At times, you feel as though you are locked inside a room with the narrator, wanting to warn his younger self. And yet obviously that is impossible. For you both.

This is a highly enjoyable book. I read it in two sittings. Once you start, you won’t want to stop. Though you might have a nagging desire to check your crawlspace.

4 Stars

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: Workman’s Wages

Today, I present to you my short story, “Workman’s Wages.” It appears in the anthology, Technohorror

 

Every morning was always the same, as sure as dawn follows the night. He awoke, screaming, the vision from his nightmare still palpable and real, like an image burned into the retina by a sudden flash of light. Always the same dream, filled with blood and pain and death. And her cold, lifeless eyes.

* * *

“This is our latest photograph of Cyrus Bishop.”

Sarah removed the cap from her pen, noting that the photo was at least a decade old. Arnette clicked a button. The next image was a corporate logo.

“As you probably know,” he continued, “Bishop Industries is the largest manufacturer of titanium alloys in the world. Bishop steel is stronger and more cost effective than anything else available on the market.” Arnette paused. “Mr. Ryan, am I boring you?”

Sarah glanced over at Jonathan Ryan. He was in another world, gazing out the window to the empty field beyond. He had done a lot of that lately.

“Mr. Ryan!”

Jonathan turned his head and looked at him, but his expression was as impassive as the sea. “I hear you,” he said finally. “You just haven’t said anything I find that interesting.”

Philip Rodriguez chuckled. Arnette and Sarah both spared him a glance. Rodriguez just smiled.

“Every day,” Arnette continued, glaring at Jonathan, “trainloads of titanium steel leave Bishop Industries for delivery around the world.” He clicked a button and a satellite image appeared. “The primary facility is located in Wyoming, and as you can see, it’s massive.”

Jonathan looked back out the window. Arnette frowned and glanced at Sarah, almost pleadingly. For some reason she’d never quite understood, Jonathan had always been her problem.

“Sir,” she said, hoping to spur Arnette to the point, “is there a problem with Bishop Industries? I was under the impression they were a rather well-respected company.”

“Oh, they are,” Arnette said. “Bishop Industries has given more charitable donations than any other company in America for the last five years.” As Arnette spoke, he brought up slide after slide of projects sponsored under the Bishop corporate logo. Hospitals, schools, parks. Bishop logoed doctors in Africa, Bishop relief aid in Haiti. “No, Ms. Bennett, one cannot say that Bishop has failed to establish quite a name for itself.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Rodriguez asked.

“Possibly nothing,” Arnette said, flipping back to the photograph of Bishop’s main production facility. “But at a time when almost all manufacturing has moved offshore, Bishop has managed not only to survive, but to thrive. We want to know how. Bishop steel cost half that of its nearest competitor and is twice as strong. The only reason the company hasn’t cornered the industry is its own production limitations.”

“Have there been union complaints?” Sarah asked.

“There is no union at Bishop Industries.”

“No union?” Jonathan said, finally interested. “How do they keep them out?”

“According to the USW, they have never received a request from any worker or group of workers at Bishop Industries seeking to organize, and no member of the USW has ever been accepted for employment at the Wyoming facility, nor have any of their members resigned from the USW for that purpose.”

“But sir, how is that even possible? How many non-unionized steel workers could there be?”

“Frankly Mr. Ryan, not enough. According to its IRS filings, however, Bishop has virtually no employee expenses.”

“What?” Sarah interrupted.

“That’s right, Ms. Bennett. Not only does Bishop not have union problems, but apparently his employees work for free.”

“What a minute,” Rodriguez said with a laugh, “that doesn’t even make sense.”

“Why would Bishop falsify his expenses?” Sarah asked.

“And that’s precisely why the IRS has never investigated. If Bishop wants to under-report his his deductions, no one is going to complain.”

“What about safety inspections? OSHA?”

“There’ve only been two.”

“Two?”

“The first inspector never came back. He sent in his resignation papers and apparently took a position with Bishop.”

“What about the second investigator?” Sarah continued.

“A Mr. Fox. He reported that Bishop had passed the inspection. In fact, he gave the company a perfect score, the first time such a thing had happened in the history of the agency. When pressed for further details on his report, he refused to give them. In less than a month, he had resigned his position with the agency and returned to Wyoming to work with Bishop Industries.”

“You’ve got to be kidding?” Rodriguez said. “And they didn’t send anybody else?”

“No,” Arnette said. “Bishop is heavily involved in the Democratic Party. He was one of the previous president’s most enthusiastic supporters. He has used that influence to avoid suspicion, or at least, the negative consequences thereof.”

“Until now,” Sarah said.

“Until now. We want to know exactly what is going on at Bishop Industries. We want to know how Bishop operates.”

“Why us?” Jonathan asked.

“Simple. Bishop has a lot of friends. And Bishop Industries supplies the military with a significant share of its raw material needs at low cost. We aren’t looking to shut Bishop down. Your job is to investigate and report. No arrests, no disruptions, secrecy is of the utmost. Whatever is going on at Bishop Industries, any decisions about its future are not for us to make.”

* * *

“So what do you think we’ll find?” Rodriguez asked as the black Suburban jerked its way down a road that looked like it hadn’t been paved in a couple decades. Sarah didn’t know where in the United States was farthest from the nearest city, but she was beginning to think Bishop Industries had found it.

“I don’t know.”

“What about Jonathan?” he said, glancing at the sleeping man in the back.

Sarah shook her head. “This is the best thing for him. Work will help him keep his mind off of it. Better than sitting around, thinking of her.”

Jonathan stirred. “Are we there yet?” he yawned.

“Bout time you woke up,” Rodriguez said with a grin. Sarah ignored them both.

“There it is,” she said. Rodriguez pulled the car to the side. The massive facility sat in a bowl just down the hill from where they stopped. Sarah got out of the car with a pair of binoculars.

“What do you see?”

Truth was, she didn’t much of anything. Nothing moved on the facility grounds. If it weren’t for the flashing lights and fumes emanating from one of the cooling towers, it would have been possible to mistake the plant for a ghost town. There was a railroad line that ran along the far perimeter of the complex. She assumed that was how they moved finished products.

“There are no cars,” she said.

“No cars?” Rodriguez repeated.

“None,” she said. “I don’t even see a place for the workers to park. I don’t know. There’s a rail-line. Maybe the workers take a train.”

“A train? From where? There’s not a town for a hundred miles.” Jonathan said. Before he could say anything else, Sarah interrupted him.

“Wait a minute I see something. It’s… What…”

As she watched, one of the facility doors opened. Workers emerged, heading towards another building ten, maybe twenty feet away. They were all wearing the same clothes. A uniform, she suspected. But that wasn’t what threw her. They were walking, no, marching, all in a line. The best she could describe it to the other two was military formation. But there was no foreman, no sergeant, no one leading them. They just marched, in time, across the empty space, as if they were on a parade ground. Sarah shivered.

“That gives me the creeps,” Rodriguez said.

Jonathan shifted in his seat. “What now?”

“Well,” Sarah said, “I guess we drive up to the front gate and introduce ourselves.” The other two looked unconvinced. “What else can we do? This is just a fact-finding mission, remember? I don’t think breaking and entering is in our bag of tricks this time.”

Ten minutes later they had reached the gate. There was no one in the guard station.

“State your purpose,” an obviously automated voice intoned from a small black box.

“We are here to perform a routine inspection,” Sarah lied. For a long minute only silence answered. Sarah glanced over at Rodriguez who gave her a “I told you this wouldn’t work” grin. But then the voice returned.

“Proceed,” it commanded.

They drove to an empty parking lot, bringing the car to a stop in-front of what they assumed was the main entrance. No one came to greet them. A single steel door appeared to give access.

“So do we just knock?”

Sarah grinned at Rodriguez. “Looks like it.”

But knocking was not required. As they approached the door, it slid open, revealing a shimmering brightness beyond. Sarah pointed to a dark black half-sphere above the opening.

“I think we’re being watched.”

Rodriguez looked unhappy. Jonathan looked like he didn’t even care. Sarah stepped into the light. As she did, she realized it was an illusion, one created by the bright bulbs in the ceiling reflecting off the solid steel walls within. The only thing that marred their simple and clean beauty was yet another camera.  Jonathan and Rodriguez entered. The door slid shut behind them. Before they had time to react, another door opened, revealing an elevator.

“This place is wild.”

Sarah frowned, unhooking the clasp on her gun.

“Let’s go,” she said simply.

The three stepped inside, and the door closed behind them. Now they were standing in a steel box. They could feel it begin to move, though there was no display to tell them whether they were going up or down. A few seconds passed, and the doors opened. A large room lay before them, with floor-to-ceiling windows forming the other three walls. They stepped out, and what Sarah saw made her draw her gun.

The great windows looked out over a wide open industrial work space that stretched out as far as Sarah could see. And everywhere below, there were people. Or at least, what had been people. Sarah watched them work, watched them march from one corner of the facility to another. They worked without pause, with brutal efficiency. From the nearest to the farthest, though, she knew they had lost something. Something basic. Their faces were blank, their jaws slack. But it was the eyes that made her shiver. The empty, soulless eyes. The spark was gone, the light. There was simply nothing.

“Beautiful isn’t it?”

The trance was broken for all three, and they turned as one, leveling their guns as they did.

“Oh my friends,” he said, raising one hand, “there’s no need for violence.”

Then he smiled. Rodriguez and Jonathan lowered their weapons. But despite the balding man’s advancing age, Sarah did not.

“Please Ms. Bennett, I promise that I mean you no harm.”

“How do you know my name?” Sarah asked.

He chuckled. “You give me too little credit, Ms. Bennett. We picked you up when you were a hundred miles away. We ran your photos through our database. I know more about you than you know about yourself. Now please, lower your weapon.”

For a second she paused, but finally Sarah complied.

“Excellent,” the man who was obviously Bishop replied. “Now, please, what brings you to our home?”

“Mr. Bishop,” Sarah said, her voice as calm and even as she could manage, “can you please explain what’s going on here?”

Bishop smiled. “You mean my employees? Wonderful aren’t they?” The old man walked up to one of the windows and looked out. “Perfectly efficient. They work all day and never complain. They live on the premises,” he said, turning back to the three of them. “The commute is minimal, a perk of the job.” Bishop’s grin widened, and Sarah shivered.

“What have you done to them?” Jonathan asked. When Sarah looked at him, she could see he was shaking.

“Done? Ah, that might be difficult to explain.” Bishop took several steps back. “Perhaps I should show you instead.” Then there was a flash of light, and everything went dark.

And then Sarah wasn’t in Wyoming anymore. There was a river, a blanket, a picnic basket. Her in his arms. His smile, his kiss. Her feeling of being one, with him, for the first time. The happiest moment of her life. The scene changed. She was home. Early, from a case. He had not expected her. And then it wasn’t her in his arms. It was someone else. And at that moment, her heart broke.

Her eyes opened and she saw Rodriguez lying on the floor. He had gone back, too. He was under center, the other team’s middle linebacker leaning over his offensive line, sneering at him. Then the snap. He dropped back, scanning the field. His line broke. He slid to the right, avoiding the sack. He saw Brent come open. He heaved it, as far as he could, farther than he thought possible. And then the ball was falling in Brent’s hands. He didn’t even see him score before he was buried in his teammates. The scene dissolved. He stood at his front door. He slipped a key inside. When he opened it, his mother was crying. It took him a moment to realize that his father was dead. Then he cried, too. When he awoke, it was to see the pain in Jonathan’s face.

He was standing at the end of a flower strewn aisle. Two hundred pairs of eyes were on him. But not for long. The music started. His mouth fell open, and they all turned to see why. She was a dream. The image of innocence, the picture of beauty. At that moment, he had never been happier. At that moment, he wished there would never be another moment, wished this would never end. Then he watched as her face melted, watched as she changed, as the world changed with her. The light fled. The darkness entered. She was sitting in the corner. The needle was still in her vein, her arm almost blue from the rubber tourniquet tied tight around her bicep. He heard a boom, boom, boom, and then saw himself enter the room as the door shattered. The man he had been rushed to where she lay. But there was no saving her. Not then, not now.

The scene dissolved again. He didn’t want it to, no matter how awful what had just passed might be. He knew what was coming. The sound of running water. A bathtub. Red streaks carved down her arms. Blood. So much blood. And her empty, dead eyes.

Sarah could barely pull herself to her knees.

“I’m sorry for that,” Bishop said. “But there was no way to tell you, no way for you to understand. Unless you saw. You will notice that you still have your sidearm. I did not mean to harm you, only to let you know the truth.”

Sarah couldn’t breathe. She glanced over to Rodriguez. He was still on his knees, and Jonathan was curled into a ball on the floor. She looked back at Bishop, and her eyes asked the questions that her voice could not.

“My workers require no wages,” he said. “They have agreed to a different arrangement, a different form of payment. I have given you a gift, you see. The best and the worst moments of your lives. Memories, happy and sad. Some from long ago. Others,” he continued, looking at Jonathan, “more recent. Ask a man to describe Heaven. He may say many things. No pain, no sorrow. No tears. Perhaps he would say that Heaven is living the finest day of his life, every day. And what if I could give that to you? What if I could give you your happiest moment here, on earth? To live again and again?”

Rodriguez had pulled himself to his feet and was looking out onto the factory floor. “And that’s what they see?” he asked. “The happiest day of their lives?” Bishop nodded once. “How do you make them work then? If they are seeing the happiest moments of their lives, why would they want to do anything but enjoy them?”

Bishop smiled. “Well Mr. Rodriguez, I apologize if I refuse you that information. Call it a secret of the trade. It is true, perhaps, that they would work harder were it not so. But we have a contract, after all.”

“You can’t do this,” Sarah said. “It’s evil.”

“Evil?” Bishop asked, shaking his head. “No, not evil. All here have chosen this place. I have the documentation, if you would like to see it. I give a gift that money cannot buy. Their bodies work so that their minds can be free.”

“I don’t believe it,” Sarah said. “No one would do that willingly.”

“Is that so, Ms. Bennett? Is that so? What do you think, Mr. Ryan?”

Sarah turned. Jonathan was standing. He was looking at Bishop. Then she saw it in his eyes.

“No. No, Jonathan,” she said, taking a step towards him. Time was short, so she spoke quickly. “You can’t do it. You can’t. I know you’re hurting right now, but it will pass.”

Jonathan glared at her. “It’ll never pass, Sarah.” Then he looked back to Bishop. “I want this.”

Bishop removed a paper from his pocket. “All you need do is sign. And of course,” he continued, glancing at Sarah, “you are always free to leave, though I doubt you ever will.”

Jonathan took a step towards Bishop. Sarah grabbed him. “Please, Jonathan. Please, just think this through.”

Jonathan looked at her. And for the first time in a long time, he smiled. “It’ll be OK.” But as he slipped out of her arms, she was afraid it would never be OK again.

“I trust you will explain to your bosses in Washington that nothing untoward is happening at this facility?” Bishop asked as Jonathan signed the papers.

Sarah didn’t answer. Finally, Rodriguez said, “We’ll tell them something. They’d never believe the truth.”

“What now?” Jonathan asked.

“Simple. You stand here, and I will do the rest.”

Jonathan stepped over to the side. He nodded once to Rodriguez, and then he smiled at Sarah again. She watched as a wave of light seemed to pour over him, from his feet up to the crown of his head. With every inch, he seemed to drift farther away, until finally she watched as something inside of him died, as the light that covered his body stole the glimmer from his eyes. A single tear rolled down his cheek.

“An effect of the process, only,” Bishop said.

As the suburban drove down the broken pavement, as it left Bishop and his empire behind, Jonathan took his place in the assembly line. He marched in time with the others. He worked without complaint or concern. And always his mind was filled with images of blood and pain and death. And her cold, lifeless eyes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

31 Days of Halloween: American Nocturne

51p2iqvvcjlI’ve said it enough that people are probably starting to think I’m a liar, but I’m not a huge fan of short fiction. I know, I know. Blasphemy. And I’m not really sure why. But other than a handful of people–H.P. Lovecraft (obvi), J.R. Hamantaschen, and a handful of others–I’d just assume read novels. So I began Hank Schwaeble’s American Nocturne with some trepidation. I like Hank, and the last thing I wanted to do was hate his book.

Turns out, I had nothing to fear. Except, maybe, the stories.

There are two kinds of short stories in American Nocturne. The first is what you might call a typical short story. It starts, you are introduced to some characters, they have a confrontation, and then it ends. These stories are quite good, but it is the second type I want to highlight. These stories offer you but a glimpse into some wider world. You are only there for a bit. You only see a fragment of the overarching story. And it’s amazing. More than once I wanted a full novel length from these stories, and if there’s a greater endorsement than that, I don’t know what is.

The best part of this book is a story from the Night Stalker universe of Carl Kolchak. It’s likely this is the last officially licensed Night Stalker story, as the creator of that series has now passed on. If so, it is a fitting ending to Kolchak’s career. I saved it for last, and I was glad I did.

Highly recommended.

5 Stars

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized