Welcome to debbiekuhn.com

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY - "MIDNIGHT AT WAVERLY HILLS"

August 22, 2014

Happy Friday. It’s time for another flash fiction tale. “Midnight at Waverly Hills” was written a decade ago. I set it at a local haunt here in Louisville – Waverly Hills Sanatorium. (I posted the prequel, “One Last Night at Waverly Hills,” a couple of months ago, and you can find a full-length ghost story about Waverly in my eBook collection, “The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories” – on Amazon, B&N, etc.)

Hope you like this one: Two teenagers have a rendezvous with terror at an abandoned tuberculosis hospital.

 

MIDNIGHT AT WAVERLY HILLS

 

At least it had stopped drizzling.

A minute before, Brad had thought he’d heard a scream, but then decided it must have been the fierce March wind screeching through the old sanatorium’s busted out windows.

Waverly Hills had closed down in the 1960s – once the “White Death” that was tuberculosis had been eradicated. Now the supposedly haunted hilltop structure was on the National Register of Historic Places. Teenagers were no longer allowed to trespass for the purpose of getting high, making out, or doing damage.

But Brad’s rich, pretty girlfriend was used to getting her way. Earlier that evening, Jessica had bribed the security guards into taking a break around midnight. She was supposed to meet Brad here at the front entrance, below the gothic-looking stone tower.

She was late. Had the ghost-hunter extraordinaire gotten cold feet?

Brad sincerely hoped so. He took a deep breath of cool, moist air, and glanced around nervously as the sounds of footsteps and rustling dead leaves reached his ears. He aimed his flashlight down the covered walkway to his left – and felt both relieved and disappointed.

It was Jessica.

“I thought you’d chickened out.” He gave her cold lips a light smack.

“Not a chance.” She pushed open the heavy wooden doors and stepped aside. “You can lead the way. I forgot my flashlight.”

Brad did so reluctantly.

The decaying interior reeked of mildew. The once lovely woodwork in the lobby was covered with obscene graffiti, and on the marble floor, murky puddles of water lay between piles of plaster and debris.

The preservationists are going to have one hell of a time restoring this place, Brad thought.

“Thousands of people died here,” Jess whispered.

“Not hard to believe.”

“It used to be so beautiful.”

Brad didn’t care. He wanted to get the ghoulish tour over with.

He aimed his flashlight up the twisting main staircase. “Where we headed…Room 502?”

“Yeah, we can go there first.”

Something small and sharp hit Brad on the back of the neck, then bounced off and landed on the step behind him.

“Cute.” He leaned over and picked up the vintage bottle cap. “Just remember, babe…if I turn and run, you’ll be left in the dark.”

“That wasn’t me, Brad. It was probably the spirit of a child. Lots of sick children were treated here, too.”

“Whatever.”

Brad slowly moved up the dilapidated open stairway, holding Jessica’s hand. Shadows danced around in the eerie moonlight. Dark shapes seemed to reach out for him at every creaking step and turn.

He quickened his pace, dragging Jess behind him until they reached the fifth floor landing.

Actually, there was no fifth floor – they stepped out onto the windswept roof. Room 502 had been built below the now empty bell-tower, and was used to house TB patients who were mentally ill.

It was where a distraught young nurse had hung herself in 1928.

Jessica stepped past him into the ice-cold room. “Can’t you feel the sadness?”

Brad figured that was a rhetorical question. He was feeling more uncomfortable by the second.

He tiptoed around the litter, following Jess and keeping her in the beam of his flashlight. The wind howled around them like a million banshees. Despite the numbing cold, he broke into a sweat beneath his denim jacket.

“Jess, come on, we’d better head downstairs.”

“Okay. There’s one more place I want to show you. It’s on the first floor.”

Jesus H. Christ. How’d he end up with such a creepy girlfriend?

Brad knew what Jess wanted to see, and he’d been hoping she’d forget about its existence.

The Death Tunnel, or “body chute,” was located at the rear of the building. It was a five hundred foot tunnel that led to the bottom of the wooded hill, where cadavers were delivered to the crematorium, or picked up by hearses for burial.

The bodies were dropped a hundred feet using a stretcher mounted on rails.

Brad stumbled after Jessica down the first floor hallway. He felt drops of water hit his face, mixed with bits of plaster. Trusting the roof to hold them up had probably been foolish.

And they weren’t getting any smarter. They should’ve left for home by now.

The opening to the tunnel was in the wall straight ahead.

Brad leaned over and pointed his flashlight down the concrete shaft. The rails and stretcher had long since been removed.

A bat flew out of the tunnel and over his head. He jumped back with a startled yelp.

“Jess, hurry up and have a look. I’m not spending another minute in this hellhole.”

“But Nora wants you to, Brad, and so do I. I’d miss you, just like Nora missed all her patients when they died.”

“Not funny.” Brad whirled around – and his heart nearly stopped cold.

Jessica stood there smiling, blood running down her face. The right side of her head was caved in.

“I got here early and just had to have a look. Nora convinced me to stay.”

Brad’s knees wanted to buckle as he saw another figure step out of the shadows – a woman in an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform. Her head was tilted funny and there were rope burns on her neck.

“Say you’ll stay with us, Brad,” the apparition said, its raspy voice echoing off the high ceiling. “Join our family.”

Brad’s throat was closing up – he couldn’t scream. The flashlight slipped from his numb fingers and clattered to the floor.

The beams shot out in a wide arc, illuminating more of the hallway. Coming up behind Jess and Nora were a legion of half-naked entities, including children. They had pasty-white skin and sunken eyes. Blood dribbled from their mouths.

They shuffled towards him, blocking his escape. There was only one way out.

Brad took it.
 

Tags:

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

A REVIEW OF STEPHEN KING'S "MR. MERCEDES"

August 02, 2014

I love a good mystery. When I was a kid, horror fiction was my first love, but by the time I started Junior High I had also become obsessed with whodunits and sought out every mystery series in existence. When I heard last year that Stephen King was writing a hard-boiled detective novel I think I squeed a little.

“Mr. Mercedes” is set in a Midwestern town in 2010. The nation is still in the middle of a recession, and retired police detective Bill Hodges is so depressed and lonely that he’s thinking about eating a bullet. But then he receives a taunting letter from a killer he was never able to apprehend. The sick bastard had driven a stolen Mercedes-Benz into a crowd of job fair applicants, killing eight people. Then he had used an online social site called Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella to goad the car’s owner into committing suicide. Mr. Mercedes hopes to do the same to Hodges. Of course, in the meantime, he’s also planning a more ambitious attack on the public. Hodges is determined to stop him, and a game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

The novel isn’t a whodunit (as far as us readers are concerned). King alternates Point of View between Hodges and the killer, young Brady Hartsfield – who, like the character of Norman Bates, definitely has mommy issues.

Hodges’ motivation to intervene, despite his retirement, becomes even greater when he’s hired by Janey Patterson to find the secret tormentor who drove her sister to commit suicide.

The first half of this book has an old-fashioned feel to it that brings to mind the works of Chandler and Spillane. A broken, cynical detective haunted by the case he couldn’t solve gets involved with two wealthy sisters. An unlikely romance develops, leading to more twists and turns and a race against time. But even when Janey buys Hodges a fedora, he realizes he can never be a real-life Philip Marlowe. He lets Janey try it on for size, along with his seventeen-year-old neighbor and computer-whiz sidekick, Jerome. The fedora becomes somewhat symbolic, and with its sudden disappearance the book changes course and mood.

Hodges makes some mistakes, but so does Brady Hartsfield. And in the second part of the story we are introduced to a new important ally who comes to the aid of Hodges and Jerome. Holly is Janey’s neurotic, middle-aged “spinster” cousin. At first, I wondered if I’d be able to handle her eccentric behavior without becoming too annoyed, but I was won over fairly soon. King had me rooting for this unlikely trio. Hodges knows he can’t play the hero, and he won’t be able to catch the bad guy all on his own.

In the old days, a tale would pit a gumshoe (always a loner and the only hero of the story) against the mob or an evil mastermind. But now society has to deal with a different kind of enemy: mass murderers who gun down people at a McDonald’s restaurant or plow through a playground filled with children.

The world of Brady Hartsfield is a dark, hopeless one. I can’t say I had much sympathy for him, but I understood why he became a monster.

Just before I read “Mr. Mercedes” I found out that it was the first book in what would most likely be a trilogy. This pleases me. I love the main characters and I enjoyed the story from start to finish. So if you aren’t a fan of horror and you’ve been afraid to read a novel written by Mr. King, I suggest you give this one a try.
 

Tags:

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

"GRAN, WILL YOU TELL US A GHOST STORY?"

July 11, 2014

On this date five years ago my paternal grandmother passed away at the age of ninety-eight. I think about her a lot these days, remembering the times my brother and I would spend the night with her and she would regale us with tall tales while we drank our hot chocolate. My interest in horror was sparked by those visits and the ghost stories we would beg her to tell right before bedtime. (Probably why I slept with the hall light on until I was twelve.) And those tales didn't stop being told after we grew up. My late father had a love for them as well.

Today my favorite subgenre of horror is still the ghost story. I have a tremendous collection - tales written over a span of two hundred years by both male and female authors. I even own books filled with supposedly true stories, which were my gran's favorite kind.

Over the last decade I've written my share of (published) ghostly tales, and once in a while I like to "pimp my wares" and remind people where they can be found.

Here are a few publications that are still available:

 

HARLAN COUNTY HORRORS (Anthology) by Apex Book Company - "The Power of Moonlight"

DARK LIGHT (Charity Anthology) by MARLvision Publishing - "Crasher"

THE WHITE DEATH AND OTHER GHASTLY GHOST STORIES - My e-book collection of 8 reprints and 2 new tales

 

I hope to write more in the future - without giving up the editing gig. In the meantime, check back here soon for my review of Stephen King's latest novel, MR. MERCEDES. I also plan to review Season One of the new Showtime series PENNY DREADFUL. Don't forget to sleep with the hall light on, okay?

 

Tags:

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

FLASH FICTION FRIDAY - "BLACKOUT"

June 20, 2014

“Jesus, what’s that smell?” Leon grimaced in the dark.

“It’s not me,” Marco said. “What did you eat, Gunther?”

"Nothing…yet.” Gunther’s stomach growled ominously. He was supposed to be in Central Park by now, not trapped in an elevator with two co-workers.

“Laverne Finkelstein’s gonna be pissed,” Leon said. “This’ll make the third time I’ve stood her up for dinner.”

“Ain’t your fault, man.” Marco blew out a sigh. “How long do you think we’ll be stuck in here? It already feels hot – and the air ain’t too fresh either.”

Gunther wiped the sweat off his bald head with a trembling hand. The power would be out for several more hours. What was he going to do about this latest screw-up?

“Hold on, I think I’m gettin’ a Jersey station on this thing,” Leon said.

The men heard static coming from the pocket transistor radio and then the mellow tones of an announcer. He was talking about Eisenhower’s trip to the hospital.

“This just in, folks – history in the making. Nearly the entire northeastern seaboard has suffered a blackout. The FBI and Department of Defense are investigating the possibility of widespread sabotage as a prelude to an enemy attack. Some sources fear that Unidentified Flying Objects may be responsible for disrupting the earth’s magnetic fields, as there have been numerous sightings across the nation this year.”

Leon made a rude noise and switched off his radio. “Crap, the Russians are to blame for this if anybody is. Those jealous bastards just wanna make us Yanks miserable, and they hate New Yorkers the most.”

“I don’t care who caused it – I just want it to be over,” Marco said, his voice strained. “I’m gonna go nuts in here pretty soon. Claustrophobia, remember?”

Leon laughed. “Don’t worry, if you get too crazy, Gunther will sit on ya, right pal?”

Silence.

“Right, Gunther?”

The elevator filled with a mysterious greenish-yellow light.

I couldn’t help it, Gunther thought. My watch must be slow. Stupid, inferior technology.

“What the hell…?” Leon backed into a corner. “Gunther, man, you’re freakin’ glowing.”

“That’s not the worst part,” Gunther said, as his head began to spin. This wouldn’t be happening if he’d been allowed to have a decent meal every week.

Marco screamed like a little girl. “We’re being attacked by aliens! Gunther’s a Martian!”

The two men jumped over to the elevator door and tried to claw it open.

Gunther grabbed his head with both hands and stopped it from spinning. He felt sorry for his new friends, but he couldn’t possibly hold off any longer.

His body swelled to twice its normal human size, tearing his cheap business suit to shreds. Then the top of his head opened up and two long, wart-covered tentacles snaked out onto the floor.

Leon and Marco gave up on their escape attempt and tried frantically to stomp on Gunther’s hollow, gray appendages.

Marco started to cry.

The tentacles danced around, easily avoiding injury. The men were grabbed quickly around the ankles and lifted high into the air.

Gunther stared into their terrified, upside-down faces. “Listen, guys, I’m terribly sorry about all this. It’s embarrassing, really, but I can’t look human again if I don’t eat something right away, understand? I wish there was another solution.”

The alien slung the men against the walls of the elevator until their heads cracked open. Brains made for a messy meal, but they were the only edible part of an Earthling’s body.

Gunther sucked their skulls dry and then pried the doors of the elevator open with his powerful tentacles. He had stopped glowing already.

The hall looked pitch-black to everyone but him. By the time he reached the empty offices of the Worthmore Insurance Company, he had once again assumed his human shape – albeit bloody and naked – without anyone being the wiser.

Gunther rinsed off in the bathroom and donned a spare suit that hung in his office’s closet. Afterwards, he rummaged through the drawers of his mammoth desk until he found PATTI, hidden in a leather eyeglass case.

In English, the device was referred to as a Portable Automatic Time Travel Instigator. It looked like a cell phone from Earth’s not too distant future. The one drawback was that it could only be used to travel forward – not back. That meant he would have to meet up with the Mother Ship at some point.

Gunther didn’t want to think about that yet.

It was a shame he had to use the gadget again so soon, but he’d broken too many rules in 1965 to continue his studies.

The next full-scale invasions were due in 1977 and 2003. He’d heard all about the New York City riots of the ’77 blackout, and figured it would be the perfect time and place to go. No one would notice his solo arrival. He could get lost in the chaos.

Okay, what was that new password? He needed it to activate PATTI.

Ah, now he remembered.

Gunther punched in the letters R-O-S-W-E-L-L.

Roswell.
 

Tags:

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!

OH, MY GOD-ZILLA! (MOVIE REVIEW)

June 06, 2014

I had no intention of seeing the new “Godzilla” when I first learned its 2014 release date. But then I saw that excellent, intriguing trailer and I changed my mind. After all, I didn’t think I’d like “Pacific Rim” and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. And “Godzilla” had Bryan Cranston. I missed “Breaking Bad” and was jonesing to see that actor again on any screen. I rushed to the cinema that first Friday, hoping for the best.

I was expecting a darker film more like the original movie “Gojira” (1954), with Godzilla as the destroyer of mankind. (I’ve always heard that the old monster was considered to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb and the destruction of two Japanese cities, with helpless citizens and a no hope scenario.) In the current remake, directed by Gareth Edwards, Godzilla is a hero – a creature whose purpose is to restore balance in our world and save humanity.

The film had a promising beginning. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play nuclear experts living and working in Japan with their young son. When an unexplained disaster occurs at the plant, causing the death of his wife and other workers, Joe Brody (Cranston) spends fifteen years looking for the truth. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thinks he’s lost his mind. Joe might be a little crazy but he’s right about the cover-up. And humans will always be foolish.

The main premise is this: Two bat-like creatures (both referred to as a MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) arise from the ground and wreak havoc, awakening Godzilla’s slumber beneath the sea. He is compelled to track them down and do battle, resulting in much property damage.

And all that mayhem is exactly what diehard fans of Godzilla want to see. If you loved all the sequels that came after the original movie, then you will probably love this one, too. The special effects are truly awesome. No complaints there. The impressive monsters looked and sounded real.

But for some reason my temporary suspension of disbelief never fully kicked in. I was totally sucked into the “Pacific Rim” (robots vs. kaiju) universe. I think now it was mainly due to the degree of characterization present in that film. I cared about all the characters and that elevated the suspense for me. The main players in “Godzilla” all seemed one-dimensional in comparison.

Major spoilers ahead.

Bryan Cranston’s role was important, but it should have been a bigger one. I was disappointed that he didn’t appear in most of the film. I would have liked it better if he’d survived and fought the good fight with his son for a longer period of time. And Ken Watanabe was dreadfully under-used in his role as a scientist who stands around looking constipated and stating the obvious. David Strathairn plays a stereotypical over-zealous military commander.

Elizabeth Olson appears as war veteran Ford Brody’s wife, Elle. She’s a good actress, but her whining eventually got on my nerves. I also found it too coincidental when Godzilla and the other monsters decide to take their fight to San Francisco, where the Brody family now lives, putting Ford’s wife and son in danger. Taylor-Johnson (Ford) didn’t seem too invested in his role. I wanted to like his character, but I could never feel much empathy for Mr. Bland.

There were a couple of decent suspenseful scenes, involving children of course. And though I understand why one would want to save the best beast for last, I expected Godzilla to show up sooner and have more screen time. As for those close-up shots of the giant lizard staring knowingly into the lead character’s eyes after a near defeat, I just didn’t buy it. That would be like a human trying to communicate with an annoying insect.

Speaking of insects, I have to admit that I began to giggle during the military action, seeing the soldiers continue to shoot their machine guns when it was obviously having no effect on the monsters.

For me, the ending felt a bit abrupt and a tad hokey. I think Godzilla should have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to win the final battle. Instead, he gets up the next morning as though he’s suffering from a century-long hangover and staggers back into the sea – The End. I was hoping the final scene would have the camera slipping beneath the waves, showing us that his death had awakened his mate – the power behind the throne – thereby setting up a revenge flick for the sequel starring Mrs. Godzilla.

I shouldn’t have admitted any of this to a good friend of mine, who’s been a rabid fan of all the old movies since he was a kid.

“You just don’t get it. You’re not a true fan so you don’t understand the mythology. Godzilla is asexual. And this movie was almost perfect. You can’t totally trash such a classic monster.”

I backed off. “His radioactive dragon breath was pretty cool.”

“Of course it was! You can’t give ‘Godzilla’ less than three out of five stars. I mean it.”

Okay. Three stars it is.

But many of you out there might think it deserves five.
 

Tags:

Add comment

COMMENTS

No comments yet. Be the first!