Archive for Horror

This Is Why We Need The Twilight Zone

Posted in movies with tags , , , , , on April 29, 2012 by bradellison

Well, there are many, many reasons why we should be thankful for Mr. Sirling’s magnum opus, but the thing on my mind now is the fact that if we were still making new episodes of the Zone, maybe we wouldn’t have so many mediocre horror movies that play out like Twilight Zone episodes filled out to triple- or quadruple-length with filler. The breath-taking boring, preachy, stupid and generally terrible Sublime remains my go-to example for how awful these things can get, but a lot of the ones I’ve seen are more in the mediocre category, including the one I watched last night. Gentle readers, I give you Dead End.

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We present for your consideration the Harrington family, a seemingly ordinary family of utterly unlikeable middle-class white people on their way to Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. Little do they know that their shortcut through the woods is about to take them neck deep into…

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This picture seems to have been pretty well reviewed by both mainstream critics and more hardcore horror fans, and I am not quite sure why. It would have been a fine 25-minute TV episode although I still might have gotten sick of the characters and almost certainly would have guessed the twist, (especially seeing as how The Twilight Zone used pretty much the same twist more than once already), but I spent more than triple that time sitting through this movie.

To its credit, that time wasn’t completely wasted. This was no Sublime. There were some genuinely creepy moments the film can take credit for, some others that exploit our natural fear of being lost in the woods at night, and a couple more moments that would have been creepy had they actually been able to put together a full mutilated corpse instead of blatantly cheating with camera angles. Shots of people staring at the camera talking about how gruesome what they’re looking at is can only go so far. Further adding to the movie’s sins, everybody’s overacting in a manner that might charitable be described as operatic, and they’re bringing this scenery-chewing to bear in service of depicting a bunch of assholes. Then there’s the fact that the twist/explanation for all the spooky shenanigans is an outright cliché, a chestnut on par with “it was all just a dream (or was it?), ” so I spent most of the movie waiting for them to acknowledge what I already knew and hoping in vain that a new spin might be put on it. No such luck. Instead we get inexplicable stupid decision (when they stop at the spooky cabin to see if there’s a phone they could use to call for help for the spooky woman in white they met hitchhiking, teenage son decides it’s an ideal time to go off into the spooky woods alone so he can pin a centerfold to a tree and rub one out) after inexplicable stupid decision (teenage later, after the first member of the party has been kidnapped and grotesquely murdered and another has gone catatonic, goes off into the woods to smoke a joint). I say “grotesquely murdered” there, but I’m having to take the characters’ word for it since I saw the body. I’m all for subtle, low-key horror, but if you can only afford to make a severed ear instead of a whole mutilated dead person, maybe fix your script so that ear’s all they find. The final cherry on top of this crap sundae is one of the stupidest epilogues I’ve seen in recent memory. Spoiler alert, but turns out Death has an awful, awful haircut.

To sum up, you can skip this one, but it does join eating paint chips, listening to dial-up modem noises and punching yourself in the breadbasket in the pantheon of things that are better than watching Sublime.

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We’ve All Been Here Before

Posted in movies, Stuff I think is cool with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by bradellison

I’m gonna talk about The Cabin In the Woods some more.  I’m not going to get too much into the awesome details, but if you have yet to treat your eyeballs to it, maybe save this one for a bit until you’ve had the chance to do so.  It’s rich and tasty sauce.

A great man named Ash once spent a couple days in this cabin.

Continue reading

NaNoWriMo Day 3

Posted in Words with tags , , , , on November 4, 2011 by bradellison

A few hundred short of my personal goal, but still making good time and on track for the finish line. This one’s for Two-Gun Bob.

Austin

While Amir continued playing Call of Duty in the living room, Phil closed his door, stripped off his clothes and crawled into bed, his iPod playing Iron Maiden just softly enough for the familiar rhythms to lull him. In minutes he was shut of the waking world.

His dream was real, more real maybe than anything in his conscious day. In his dream he walked with booted feet from a dusty street and through a wooden door, into a bank whose furnishings and occupants all had the look of days gone by. The teller in his grated booth looked up, but by then Phil had already pulled his bandanna up over the lower half of his face in one sure movement of his left hand, and like a conjuring trick his right hand now held the smooth sure weight of a peacemaker. His thumb had already pulled the hammer back without a thought, and his finger was on the trigger.

Up against the east wall, everybody!” said his partner, stepping in right behind him, likewise masked and armed, covering the left-hand side while Phil covered the right. The bank’s patrons cowed easily, it seemed, and were in a moment lined up along that left-hand wall under his partner’s gun.

Keep ’em covered, Jesse,” Phil said, although he knew with dreamer’s sureness that Jesse wasn’t his partner’s name.

All upon it, Frank,” came the reply, though he knew with same sureness that Frank wasn’t his name, not even here. “Go on and make the withdrawal.”

The clerk was a short, solid man, with a thick chest and short arms. His round face didn’t show anything like fear, and wither perhaps like knowing like, Phil

Harry

immediately figured him to have served in the war. Those short arms of his ended in hands below the counter, and

Harry

didn’t care for that at all. He pointed his revolver arrow-straight at the bridge of the clerk’s nose, and told him “hands where I can see them now, God dammit! I swear I’ll kill you!” His voice boiled with some fury, though Harry didn’t feel anything at all but a heightened sense of things and a thrum of deadly excitement in his veins. It was all about controlling the situation, keeping the prey off balance, just like raiding a numerically superior force had been back home in the war.

If you’re the James boys I’m U.S. Grant,” said the clerk, whose hands were up, and trembling slightly though his face showed nothing but anger. “And you won’t get away with this.”

Jesse, shoot a customer if he keeps mouthing!” said Harry, stepping closer so he could have put the muzzle of his gun against the clerk’s head if not for the screen between them. “Keep talking big and it’s a citizen’s blood on your hands. We’ll have the railroad money from that safe, and any gold or silver you’ve got besides. We’ll have it now!”

The clerk followed instructions, maybe spurred by the weeping of one of the female patrons. He bagged the funds as Harry ordered and tossed the bag over the screen. Jesse, whose real name was Jessup Ewell, scooped it up and they both began to back out. It had been three minutes, and they were on borrowed time and knew it.

Not the James boys by half,” said the clerk. “Though I figure you for Missouri secesh trash like them, at least.” He packed a lot of contempt into every word of that assessment.

That was probably what cost him. Outlaws get used to hearing all manner of words aimed at them, but tone can sometimes cut to the bone despite all. Jessup didn’t say a word, just narrowed his eyes in icy fury and put a bullet into the clerk’s chest. He pulled the hammer back and did it again, since the man was still somehow on his feet despite the teaspoon of lead that had just punched into his left lung. That second one did for him, though, at least enough to put him on the ground, and the confines of the bank now reeked of spent powder. The customers began to scream, and one man tried for his gun. Harry had to put a stop to that, and he reckoned that his shot had left the fool’s arm broken but that his life wasn’t in grave peril. Such judgments weren’t a priority at present though, for their time had been cut short to nothing by the noise of the shots.

Woodrell, good man that he was, had continued holding the horses even when things had clearly gone to Hell, and Harry swept into the saddle in a smooth flow of motion, spurring his gelding without gentleness and letting out a whoop as though he were charging with fifty men alongside him instead of two.

The three of them rode in an arrowhead, Harry at the point, and as shouts and shots began to follow them he took the reigns in his teeth, pulled a second pistol from a saddle holster, and looked to ensuring a clear path ahead.

In the war less than a dozen Missouri guerillas charging in that manner could break the ranks of trained veterans with numbers and discipline on their side. Three such men were sufficient to thoroughly scatter the civilians that stood between them and the open plain. Harry fired four shots, two from each revolver, none of them striking anything of note that he could see, and to either side he heard his comrades likewise spreading cover for themselves.

They were clear of the town now, open wind in their teeth, well mounted and burdened with nothing but the money, for which cause Jessup had been allotted the best horse, as the plan had him toting it from town to the place where Mackeson had fresh mounts waiting. The plan had not had him nor any of them dropping their hammers, certainly not for something as negligible as a bank clerk’s insult, but after eight years as unreconstructed outlaws there was a clear understanding that sometimes insults cannot be borne. They’d all ridden together time and again for more than ten years, a time gone by when only Harry of them all had needed regular shaving, and after so long in the brush and on horseback, behind the gun together, there wasn’t much that needed to be said. Not aloud.

Organized pursuit took form, of course, though the chaos they’d sown behind them bought a number of precious minutes. Their lead started good, and they weren’t shy to use their horses hard. Even in that open country they were past seeing unless their pursuers had a spyglass, possibly mounted atop a crow’s nest, and that possibility did not much trouble their thinking.

Mackeson said no word when they reached the rock-shaded changing place, just nodded and mounted himself as his comrades sprang from saddle to saddle. Their tired steeds stood where the reigns had been dropped, flecked with foam and breathing heavy, but not about to die. Woodrell doubtless comforted himself knowing that the hunters behind them would not waste good horseflesh. They would recover and maybe lead happy peaceful horse lives henceforth, which made them objects of some envy for an outlaw with a thoughtful nature.

The fresh horses they used more carefully, and rode with some mind to concealing their tracks, though that wasn’t a great worry. Once they got onto the rocks, it’d take a better man than the sheriff behind them to track them.

Phil woke up in a sudden way, without transition, and the smell of the west Texas plain was still in his nostrils when he went to the bathroom.

In the mirror, he saw reflected a tall, rangy sun-weathered man, slightly resembling himself but definitely not himself. He recognized Harry the bank robber and unreformed guerrilla in his mirror.

You’d best start listening to me, boy,” the reflection said. Phil felt his own mouth shaping the same words or similar. “You’re runnin’ out of time, and you’re on a track to get killed. Pay attention tomorrow, ’cause there’s black wings flappin’ and your doom’s on the road to Austin.”

Phil woke up in bed again, this time unsure of exactly what state he was in, deciding ultimately not to risk anything. He stayed in place until all the craziness went away, and finally woke up in the sane light of morning, his two alarms dueling with each other in an awful cacophany.

NaNoWriMo: Day 2

Posted in Words with tags , , , on November 3, 2011 by bradellison

Another day’s wordcount met.

Austin

Phil Warner’s hand spidered over to his alarm clock and flipped the switch to shut it off entirely, since the thing hadn’t taken the hint from the snooze button five or ten minutes ago.

Two minutes later, his cell phone alarm went off, and this one he couldn’t find without opening his eyes and rolling off the bed. He did these things, making an incoherent moaning noise that was meant to be profanity, found the phone in the pocket of yesterday’s jeans, and blindly pawed at it until he got it to shut up. By that point he was on his knees on the floor, eyes squinted and gunky but technically open, and he concluded that it was too late to turn back now. Phil lurched into the bathroom, splashed some water into his face, studied himself in the mirror and decided he could go another day without really needing to shave.

Phil brushed his teeth, rinsed his mouth out with water, then swished some mouthwash around and spit it back into the bottle. Payday was a week off and there wasn’t any room for new Listerine in the budget until then. He set the cheap CD player on the bathroom counter to playing some Pogues, and dragged his scrawny body into the shower.

Ten minutes later he smelled and felt a good deal better, and after toweling off he put his pants on and headed to the kitchen of his apartment.

Morning, Amir,” he said to his roommate, who was already well-dressed, clean-shaven, and most of the way through a delicious-looking egg and ham sandwich. Amir nodded, then turned back to his newspaper. Phil poured himself a bowl of corn flakes, got himself some coffee, and snagged the comics section.

Fucking Family Circus,” he said. Amir made a non-commital humming sound.

Amir Khouri was the better looking, more stylish, and better paid of the pair. They’d roomed together for about seventeen months, and got along well, but aside from their love of Sylvester Stallone films they didn’t have too much in common. Amir was gainfully employed as a clerk or secretary or something of that nature in a fancy office building with a nice view of the Capital, and his egg sandwich finished he now got up and headed out the door on his way to that office. Phil, on the other hand, generally answered “galley slave,” when asked what he did, and he worked in a cubicle in a large windowless room in an anonymous business park up north. After finished his corn flakes and his coffee, he found the opinion page so he could read Doonesbury, then found a black t-shirt that didn’t smell like anything, slipped his feet into his flip-flops, and climbed into his ’94 Honda to drive to work.

As he started the car he thought he smelled something unusual, like leather and maybe a little smoke, but he decided it was his imagination after a minute. He tuned the radio to 93.7, and found they were playing Ozzy, “Bark at the Moon.” Phil decided that was a fairly good omen for the day, and sang along as he headed for US 183. As he turned onto 620 headed for Parmer, however, the Eagles started playing, and Phil called the radio a son of a bitch and turned it off.

The building Phil worked in was a big two-story block with a tan paint job, big parking lot and insufficient windows. He found a space upwind of the smoking porch, parked in it, walked up to the unlabeled door and swiped his badge to unlock it.

More veteran employees, who’d been around for two or three years, claimed that there used to be signs outside declaring whose offices these were, but that a more discreetly anonymous fashion was mandated after multiple irate callers threatened to show up in person to strangle the representative they were talking to, or firebomb the whole damn place. Phil and probably the majority of his coworkers could sympathize, but would have preferred being in the parking lot throwing Molotovs themselves, rather than being inside when the inevitable happened. This was a tech support call center, for a company that manufactured mediocre computer peripherals and had a sideline in crappy software. They maintained a reputation for reasonable affordability, substantial profitability, and abysmal customer service. And since Phil now had goddamn “Tequila Sunrise” stuck in his head, he felt even less happy to be here that usual.

That feeling didn’t subside any when he got to his cubicle and found the night-shift guy who shared it with him was once again working overtime past the point where he was supposed to have already left. By the time the inconsiderate prick had signed out of everything and Phil managed to sign it, he was on the edge of clocking in tardy. Looking down to the end of the row where his supervisor’s cubicle was, he saw that Charlie had noticed.

Charlie Petersen wasn’t a horrible boss, but God knew he wasn’t a particularly good one, and he was a stickler for schedule adherence. Last month’s mild bout of stomach flu had come at a time when Phil had no sick time available, and rather than get fired he had opted to come in and make a lot of trips to the bathroom to squeeze out anything that might still be in his digestive system. That hadn’t been good for his schedule adherence, his productivity, or the health of his coworkers, but so it goes.

Tequila Sunrise” remained stuck in his head the entire morning.

On his first break, Phil thought he heard someone call his name in the faintest of voices as he walked to the bathroom. He turned around and looked, saw nothing, and might have thought he heard that same ghostly whisper of a voice call him a stupid son of a bitch, but he figured it was just the air vent.

He was just a hired hand…Dammit!”

Phil washed his hands, looked himself in the mirror noticing the redness of his eyes and the bags underneath them, not really registering the tall pale spectral figure that seemed to be reflected behind him until he blinked.

God, he needed a vacation. That was clear. He needed to get out of this place, lie out on a beach getting some sun, drink something with no tequila in it whatsoever, maybe meet a girl, hit it off, dance the night away, generally live a little.

Instead of doing that, he went back to his cubicle, put his headset back on, and spent 17 minutes trying to walk an elderly man through the process of turning his computer off and then back on again. He wanted to put a gun in his mouth after minute three. Once this was done the problem wasn’t solved, but the old man had had enough and was demanding his money back, so Phil got to transfer him to Billing and Retention. Senile bastard had called Phil a goddamn pencil-dick in a fit of pique by the end of things, but Phil still felt a brief swell of pity knowing that he’d be facing at least twenty of the most frustrating minutes of his life on the phone before even having a prayer of getting his money back. So it goes.

Lunch. Phil got a slightly sinister barbeque sandwich out of the break room vending machine, ate it, went out to his car, and went to sleep for fifty of the best minutes of his working day.

Oklahoma

In a small room on the first floor of the cheapest motel in a one-horse town, the Driver’s body lay on top of the undisturbed covers of the narrow bed. He was naked, with whorled symbols and angular markings that might have been Phoenician or literal chicken scratches scribed up and across his torso, neck and face. He lay spread-eagle, a hunting knife in his right hand, a bundle of assorted feathers in his left. His breathing, heart rate and body temperature were all low enough to convince a layman that he was dead as all hell, which was part of why he’d been very careful about closing the curtains, putting out the do not disturb sign, chaining the door and jamming it shut with a chair before getting started.

The Driver himself, of course, was not home. The secrets he’d painstakingly scribed on himself were the keys to unlock his fetters, and also the road map to guide him back home into his flesh when it was time, which was far more sensitive work. Mishandle the former, and you’re stuck in your body same as before, feeling a fool. Fail in the latter, and your flesh withers on the vine while your animus is tossed on the wind until the sunrise burns it into nothing, unable to get back to shelter.

The Sun was freshly set just now, the Moon barely a sliver, and the Driver rode the wings of the night.

It is said that magic is a form of bondage, that every scrap of power a magician gets comes with its own link of chain, binding him in debt or obligation or other hindrance on his freedom. It is so said, and it is true. But to fly bodiless under a new moon is to feel freer than any man alive, no matter what price you’ll pay later for it. The whole countryside lay spread out before him, and his vision was not restricted by the limitations of his eyes. Dark nor distance hindered his gaze. He could see secrets. He was above all others.

Take heed of me,boy.”

As if it had read the course of his thoughts and deliberately contradicted them, his master’s voice came from above and behind him. The student turned his attention up and did as he was told.

To the flesh, the master was little to nothing. A cloud of bloody mist at most. To the unfettered mind, though, the truth of him could be perceived. It wasn’t the first time he had seen this truth, but being under its shadow still made him shudder, a ripple passing through his ethereal presence.

Take heed. Ye’ve got a taste of it now, what it means to be one of the marked. Ye’ve seen what’s offered by the Lords of the Dark. Ye stand with me now looking down on the ants below. In my time I soared over Lawrence, and St. Louis, and Richmond and Washington, and felt the surety of my power.

But ye don’t know a damn thing yet, boy. Ye don’t yet have the strength for true knowledge. And I’m not yet whole enough to pass it to ye.”

We have a bargain,” said the Driver.

We have a bargain. And yer side of it is to keep me fed, and also to see my business settled. Look ye to the southwest, boy. Follow me.”

Where the shadow of those black wings passed, grass wilted. A pregnant cat lost her litter when it went over her crossing the panhandle, seven unborn kittens stilled in the womb. In Denton a drunk husband felt a flicker of resentment flare up enough that he reached out and slapped his angry wife for the first time, and it felt good enough in the moment that he knew it wouldn’t be the last. In Fort Worth, a homeless drunk sleeping in an alley had what little warmth was left in his body flow out, and he never woke up in this world again. In this way the shadow of the master came at last to Austin, apprentice trailing after him.

Here, boy. In this city. There’s just one left of the cursed blood, one left to be punished. And this one, he’s the one I’m most after. I can still taste his forefather’s blood, and that taste, that scent in the nostrils, it draws me to him now.”

Take him, then. You got the juice.”

Ye know nothing, boy, like I told ye. I aim to make him suffer on his way out. I aim to use him to end my misery. Through him I’ll have flesh again, and for that I yet need the aid of flesh.”

And that’s why the road trip. I get you.”

That is why. Come here. Bring me here. I will teach ye how to bring living damnation, and how to steal living bones. High time ye learned some real magic. Serve me well in Austin, and ye get all that I have promised and more.”

I better.”

Moments later, the Driver opened his eyes, coming back into himself in a rush. After taking a moment to get used to his limbs and organs once more, he acknowledged the dreadful ravenous emptiness at his core, and went into the tiny bathroom, stood over the drugged hooker he’d sent for earlier and then wrapped in duct tape to keep her still and silent, and he proceeded to fill that emptiness, temporarily.

NaNoWriMo Day 1

Posted in Stuff I think is cool, Words with tags , , , , on November 2, 2011 by bradellison

Prologue

Missouri, March 1863

There was a cool tang to the air, despite the heat coming up and out from the barn as it really started to catch fire, and the panicked screams of the two mules and the scrawny milk cows carried sharply through it until Woodrell, the softest-hearted of the party, put carefully directed pistol balls into their heads. He was a cool-headed youth, and a deadly shot.

The house was being started as well now, and the noose was already hanging from the high sturdy branch they’d found overhanging the yard. The chicken hutch was pretty well torn up for kindling, and the chickens already stuffed into various rucksacks with their necks wrung, packed on horses and ready to serve as meals in future. Whatever of value the men had been able to find in the simple house was likewise packed, saving only the books, which even the least superstitious of them was not inclined to touch.

It was the Youngers who hauled old man Haverly out of his smoking house, together as they almost always were, and when they seen to the rope around his arms and chest and gotten him well settled with the noose, they went over to where Woodrell and Mackeson stood passing a bottle of rye back and forth. Cole Younger set to rolling a cigarette while Harry Branson took hold of their prisoner and the grim ex-farmer Wales took position his horse, the other end of the hanging rope affixed to his saddle horn.

“Ye’ll regret this, ye damned bandits! Ye’ll regret every day ye live, and for yer first century in Hell past that!” said Nathan Haverly, voice hitching some from the smoke of his burning home. He was perhaps sixty years, weathered by a passage of time that had hardened instead of withering, lank gray hair hanging like yarn past his narrow shoulders. Old Nathan’s face was like a much-used skinning knife, hard and sharp and cold, worn down to its essential form. His green eyes blazed under black brows, and his thin lips pulled back in a snarl to show his white teeth, still straight and strong in his bloodless gums.

“Shut up,” said Branson, not wanting to look as though he didn’t have control over his prisoner. His heart wasn’t as much in it as might have been, as hanging was never much to his taste, and though he wasn’t much known for fear when bullets or knives were at work, old Haverly’s reputation was an unchancy and menacing one at best.

“Doom, I see! Doom I call! Doom upon each one a ye!” Nathan Haverly, who men called a wizard, had raised his voice into something halfway between a human scream and a dog’s howl. He turned his head to encompass all of the party of Missouri guerillas in the sweep of his fierce emerald gaze, and hardened killers and brush fighters though they were, not a one of them held that gaze long. “Doom upon yer children! Doom on all yer blood and kin!”

“Told you to shut up,” said Branson, anxiousness and maybe some fear bubbling up to make him testy, and he puncuated his speech with the back of his left fist against the old man’s head.

Nathan Haverly moved quicker than a young man would. His head, neck, shoulders and all seemed to move with the same kind of boneless quicksilver lightningstrike flow that would be expected of a gunfighter’s shooting hand on the draw. That is to say, he moved like a striking snake, and with the same intent. Harry Branson felt sharp teeth sink hard into his left wrist before he understood what was occurring. his skin was cut, and his blood flowed, and the old wizard seemed to chuckle as he ground his teeth in a chewing motion and sucked it down his throat.

Branson took a Colt Walker revolver from his holster and jammed it into the old man’s midsection, pulling the trigger twice when the heavy barrel was well in place. Two heavy .44 balls ripped into Haverly, and blood flowed back out of him, baptising the gun barrel and the hand that held it. Branson shook loose, either hand dripping blood from varied sources.

“You’re a goddamned witch, Haverly,” he said. “You traffic with the Devil by light of the Moon by reputation, and by God your black books and box full of bones and witchery proves it well enough. But you hang now because you took money from Kansas sons of bitches to work your hexing devilry on your own Missouri neighbors. For that you fucking swing today!”

Wales took this as his queue to put his heels to his horse and pull the hanging rope taut.

Haverly was drawn to his tiptoes, but he grinned viciously with his crimson-smeared mouth. “Doom! I will see ye all in Hell with me, and I will stalk your children’s children until yer lines expire from the Earth! Doom! I will–” the balance of his intent was not expressed, for he was raised up now with his heels fully three feet from the dirt, and the noose was too tight to allow for more speech.

His eyes were undimmed for a while, though. As he strangled, legs kicking uselessly, he spun round and round, and glared at them all. As Wales tied off the rope around a convenient tree, and Cole Younger lit his cigarette and passed another to his brother, as Woodrell bandaged Harry Branson’s left arm and cleaned his wound with whiskey, and the old wizard voided himself and turned ghastly purple, he continued glaring.

After a few more minutes, it was over. With no more ceremony, the guerillas mounted and road away from the hanged man who still spun in the air above his farmyard. The pillar of smoke from the burning buildings rose up behind them as if to offer guidance to some party of Isaelites on their way to Hell.

These pilgrims road away from it that day, but one by one they found their road in time.

No Home In This World Anymore

Missouri, September 2011

The Driver was near the southwestern corner of Missouri, savoring the night. He wore tight black jeans with gleaming rivets, black boots with steel taps on the toes, a white western shirt with a bolo tie, and a black leather jacket with a number of zippered pockets. All that covered a long and spare frame that stretched out more than seemed right, and in motion gave some the impression of a spider. His hands, in particular, long-fingered and white as they were, tendons standing out like puppeteer’s wire under the skin, seemed unwholesomely arachnid in their nature. His face was long, and somber as a hanging judge’s, framed on the sides by long black sideburns that came to an end level with his wide narrow knife-wound of a mouth, which often held an unlit cigarette that moved around like a conductor’s baton. Above the mouth was a long narrow blade of a nose, two black eyes warded by black-framed sunglasses in daylight hours, a high narrow forehead, and a glistening slicked-back pompadour that received frequent attention from the comb up his sleeve in idle moments.

The care he leaned against matched him. 1955 Cadillac convertible, gleaming black and chrome under the gas station fluorescents, upholstered in white leather and featuring a shifter capped with a custome silver skull. The original radio had been replaced with a small but elaborate digital music player that was currently pouring the honeyed voice of young Elvis Presley out of fine modern speakers. It was somewhere between midnight and three AM, and the cool air was sweet to taste.

We should eat,” said the passenger.

 

The Driver didn’t make any noise nor motion to signal it, but he assented.

 

No one else around. Just the boy behind the counter, alone tonight.” The passenger’s voice was a faint whisper of steel against a whetstone, coming to the Driver’s ears like a stray wind-borne tatter, but it came from the passenger’s seat. “It will be easy, though there is not much to him.”

 

The gas station had four pumps under a pavilion that drenched the lot in sharp fluorescence, and outside the spread of that light the moonless townless world beyond was an ocean of black. The highway was the only real thing in it, and it only existed as far as it could pick up scraps of that cold burning deathlight that the humming tubes tossed down. The only walls in the world were those that made up the sides of cheap box that served as a convenience store. The topic of conversation was lazily flipping through a months-old issue of Maxim and thinking it was about time for a cigarette, not paying much mind to his sole customer on the other side of the window and the parking lot.

 

Not much at all,” said the Driver. “Nothing there for me. Waste of my time.”

 

Food is food,” said the passenger, “and there is plenty of blood in him.”

 

That suits you, all right. I just don’t see the profit in it for me, especially since I’ll be doing the bulk of the work, killing him and burning the place down after and all.”

 

Young fools don’t yet know the value of taking all you can when ye can. Ye’ll learn yet, if only you’ll pay heed to yer master. Ye’ll do well to remember who it is that’s the ‘prentice, boy.”

 

They went back and forth a turn or two more, and the clerk turned a page, glancing up to look at the strange fellow arguing with himself or his empty car in the night. He applied himself to the magazine again.

 

Two minutes or so later the door chimed, and he looked up just in time to receive a narrow steel blade across his throat, across it and deep into it. By the time he had gotten over the surprise of it he was already gurgling out the last of his life, and the pain didn’t make any great inroads into his awareness before it got washed out with the tide of lassitude as everything ebbed one last time.

 

The Driver had donned one of those disposable emergency ponchos, taken from his copious trunk, before starting his butchery. On his way out, he intended to replace it with a couple from the convenience store’s stock, along with whatever food and drinks and such caught his eye. Before that, though, he had to finish things, opening the arteries in the dead man’s arms and legs and letting everything flow out. A rust-colored mist flowed in through the door and spread itself over all this crimson, and soaked it up with messy slurping sounds, getting thicker and brighter as it absorbed the murdered blood into its own essence.

 

While the passenger was about its meal, the Driver sullenly set to taking his own sustenance. Not much power in this dead man, not much mana or chi or psyche or whatever you’d like to call it. What best served the Driver’s wants were magicians or seers or faith healers, and next best was folk of particular strength of will or liveliness, be they bon vivants or staunch puritans. Such were the best souls for eating, but even a nothing of a man like this one had something to offer, he supposed.

 

Like a goddamn diet Coke,” he said. “I hope you’re enjoying the hell out of his juices.” And with poor grace, he jammed his thumbs into the dead man’s eyes and began the chant. When the vapor began to rise from the corpse’s open mouth, he lapped it up with greedy movements of his tongue and lips, swallowing everything the dead man had been.

 

Twenty minutes later the gas station was a pillar of fire, and the black Cadillac was cutting a swathe through the nothingness of the moonless night. Its headlights conjured the road into being as the two killers rolled into Oklahoma.

I’m back, baby!

Posted in Words with tags , , , , on February 13, 2010 by bradellison

So, within 48 hours of my last post, I got engaged, and I’ve been kind of busy ever since.  With, you know, fiancee stuff.

And I’m probably going to talk about that some in the future, in addition to catching up on all kinds of ranting on subjects ranging from whether Pat Robertson needs to shut his heretical, money-grubbing hate-spewing yapper (spoiler alert: yes he does) to whether The Wolf Man sucks (I’ll find out when my fiancee and I see it tomorrow) to who the best onscreen Philip Marlowe was (I need to rewatch Robert Mitchum’s Marlowe films to be sure, but right now my money’s actually on dark-horse candidate Elliott Gould from Altman’s The Long Goodbye).  Also, there’ll be more Brad Reads the Gospels, probably some stuff on the Book of Daniel, and even more Nerd Testament (because I really, really want to talk about the movie Ink from a Christian perspective).

First, though, I want to talk about Richard Matheson.

See, here’s the thing about Richard Matheson.  He’s a long way from being a household name.  Like, walk up to five random people off the street and ask them, odds are good you’ll get five people who don’t think they’ve heard of him.  I have tried this experiment in the past.  The score was different with my Facebook friends, but people I hang out with in not a representative sampling of the population, because I roll in serious nerd circles.  Five men on the street, they won’t know Richard Matheson from Adam.

But.

I can virtually guarantee that all five of them will be familiar with Matheson’s work.

What Dreams May Come.  Somewhere In Time.  The Incredible Shrinking Man.  The Last Man On Earth.  The Omega Man.  I Am Legend.  Stir Of Echoes. “The Zuni Fetish Doll.”  The Legend Of Hell House.  “Dance Of the Dead.”  Even Jaws 3-D.  All films adapted from Matheson’s work.

The Duel (which was Spielberg’s first movie).  The Devil Rides Out.  The Night Stalker and its sequel The Night Strangler The Martian Chronicles.  The 1973 TV version of Dracula.  The Raven.  The Pit and the Pendulum. All movies or TV programs he wrote.

If you watch movies at all, and I mean at all, odds are good you’ve seen at least one of those.  If you watch horror movies, you’ve probably seen several.

Like Star Trek?  He wrote “The Enemy Within” for the original series.

And then there’s The Twilight Zone.  Dude wrote sixteen episodes of the original series.  Sixteen of the best episodes.  “There’s a gremlin on the wing of the plane!”, that was Matheson.

And then there’s the knock-offs and parodies.  Ever see a Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons?  Chances are, you saw a Matheson parody.

And that doesn’t even touch the entire generation of genre writers he heavily influenced.  Most notably, Stephen King, who you may have heard of.  Except that Matheson (and I’m actually fairly sure Mr. King would agree with me here) is by far the better writer of the two.

So basically, Richard Matheson is one of the best and probably the most influential horror writer of the 20th century, and he deserves wider recognition.

Robert E. Howard Monday: Pigeons From Hell

Posted in Words with tags , , , on March 24, 2009 by bradellison

The footfalls were resumed. Branner was coming back. He was not running. The tread was even more deliberate and measured than before. Now the stairs began to creak again. A groping hand, moving along the balustrade, came into the bar of moonlight; then another, and a ghastly thrill went through Griswell as he saw that the other hand gripped a hatchet–a hatchet which dripped blackly…

Is it the scariest short story ever written in the English language?  Maybe, maybe not.  But better men than you have soiled themselves trying to read it while alone in the dark.  It’s a grim, nightmarish little piece of Southern Gothic horror about vengeance, voudun, and the taint left by the evils of slavery.