February 13, 2015
Happy Friday the 13th! Thought it was time for another flash fiction story from yours truly. This one mixes horror with humor: A salesman takes an unwise detour on his way to a Vegas convention. Hope your Friday the 13th isn't unlucky, and your Valentine's Day is memorable.
Lonnie Maitland was less than an hour away from Vegas and he felt dangerously tired. He had opted to drive to the mandatory software convention all the way from Sacramento because he absolutely hated to fly – the very thought of it made him queasy.
He yawned and switched on the radio. He got static at first, but then The Eagles blared forth with their classic hit, “Hotel California.” He turned the volume down and hit the scan button.
Another station was playing the same song.
Lonnie hit the scan button again. He could only pick up three stations in that area of the desert and “Hotel California” was on all of them.
He switched off the radio, thinking he should find a place to spend the night. Vegas would be there in the morning, but he wouldn’t be if he fell asleep at the wheel. Besides, the convention didn’t start until noon.
Another five miles raced by and then Lonnie noticed a blinking neon sign on the right side of the highway. It said, “HOTEL CALIFORNIA – Next Exit.” Strange coincidence, but still, it sounded like an interesting place – even though it was in the middle of nowhere.
Lonnie exited I-15 and followed the signs. He maneuvered his Taurus into the hotel’s deserted gravel lot and pulled up next to the entrance. It wasn’t what he’d expected. The rustic building was three stories tall and had a front porch that ran its entire length. The structure looked like it belonged in Dodge City, circa 1888.
He hoped it had a restaurant.
Lonnie entered the old-fashioned lobby and heard a TV on low volume, broadcasting a game show.
The place had a musty, rosewater smell. He walked up to the front desk, where he could just see the top of someone’s head on the other side.
“Excuse me. I need a room, please, just for one night.”
The old man got up slowly and turned around. He was dressed like a saloonkeeper. Without hesitating, he took a key out of a cubbyhole and handed it to Lonnie.
“Room 312. Pay in advance.”
Lonnie settled the bill.
“Is the restaurant still open?”
The old man shook his head and sat down again. “Vending machines are out back.”
Lonnie sighed. “Thanks.”
At least the place had an elevator that worked.
The interior décor was Victorian – including all of the furniture. Lonnie’s four-poster was almost too short for his long frame. He collapsed on it and switched on the little black and white TV across from his bed.
There was only one station and it was broadcasting an episode of The Twilight Zone. Lonnie tried to watch the show, but his stomach wouldn’t stop growling. He decided to grab a soda and some junk food.
Once downstairs, Lonnie nabbed a 7-Up out of the only vending machine that worked and reluctantly returned to the elevator.
Something didn’t feel right, and he hesitated a moment before stepping inside. When he pressed the button for the third floor, the contraption took off with a jolt.
The elevator reached the third floor – and continued climbing. Its speed increased.
“Whoa. What the hell?”
The elevator whined, reaching Floor 50, Floor 80, Floor 100. It finally stopped on the 200th level with an abruptness that sent Lonnie sprawling.
He got to his feet, his 7-Up wasted, just as the elevator doors opened.
Lonnie let out a girlish giggle. This was just a dream. He’d fallen asleep watching The Twilight Zone and now here he was in La-La Land.
He stepped out of the elevator into a circular, dimly lit room that was half the size of a football field. It looked like a garish lounge bar.
A waiter in a white coat appeared in front of him. He bore an extraordinary resemblance to Rod Serling.
No worries, Lonnie thought, I’ll go along for the ride.
“It’s good to see you again, sir,” the waiter said. “Your party is waiting.”
Lonnie noticed there were other people there, and grinned. He recognized all of them.
Elvis sat in a pink Cadillac, next to the lovely Miss Monroe. Abe Lincoln was engrossed in a philosophical discussion with Jim Morrison. Liberace tickled the ivories on a raised platform.
Lonnie followed the waiter over to a large, round table. It was set with crystal and fine china.
“Have a seat, Mr. Maitland.” The waiter rang a silver bell. “Attention, everyone, our guest of honor has arrived.”
“What’s the occasion?” Lonnie asked, as the dead celebrities gathered round.
The waiter smiled. “Your 40th birthday, your latest promotion, your recent divorce – the
occasion is whatever you wish it to be.”
That made sense – it was his dream – although he couldn’t figure out why Liberace had been included.
“I only invited the people you miss and admire most, sir.”
So Rod Serling could read minds? He still wasn’t perfect.
Lonnie smiled apologetically. “But I don’t like Liberace.”
Rod the Waiter snapped his fingers and the flamboyant pianist was instantly replaced with Frank Sinatra, who began belting out the lyrics to “My Way.”
“Later, Frank,” Elvis yelled, grabbing a seat next to Marilyn. “It’s time to eat.”
The party of six was treated to a sumptuous feast – all of Lonnie’s favorite dishes. The waiter was quick to clear the table and refill their champagne glasses.
Lincoln solemnly proposed a toast in Lonnie’s honor.
“I’m not sure this soirée was such a good idea,” Marilyn cooed.
“Take a valium, sweetheart,” Frank scolded, lighting a cigarette.
Jimbo slid underneath the table.
The waiter brought out a towering hot fudge sundae and presented it to Lonnie with a flourish.
Everyone watched as he shoved a hefty spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.
“Aren’t you guys having dessert?” he asked, licking his lips.
The celebrities laughed hysterically, as if they were all in on a private joke.
When the room fell silent, Lonnie was allowed to see their true, grotesque forms. The lounge bar became a Mother Ship.
He was trapped in a nightmare.
“This is no nightmare, sir.”
As a dozen green tentacles snaked around his waist, Lonnie suddenly remembered why he was afraid to fly.
January 12, 2015
“Horns” is based on the novel by Joe Hill, and for the life of me I can’t understand how I never got around to reading it. I’ve read all of Joe’s other books and loved them. That’s why I didn’t pay much attention to the mixed reviews this movie received upon its release last fall.
I have no idea how the film compares to the novel (screenplay by Keith Bunin), but I’m happy to say I got a kick out of this flick, which was directed by Alexandre Aja. Part horror-fantasy, part comedy, and part murder mystery, it’s a genre-bending blend of fun.
Twenty-something Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is in a sorry state. Grief-stricken over the murder of his longtime girlfriend (Juno Temple) and wrongfully accused of the crime, he is now a pariah in the Washington logging town where he grew up. Even his parents (James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan) and his drug addicted older brother (Joe Anderson) think he’s guilty of the brutal rape and killing. The ethereally beautiful Merrin was found slain beneath the idyllic treehouse hideaway she shared with Ig, her head caved in by a rock. Ig and Merrin had had a very heated, very public argument on the night in question. It doesn’t help matters that Ig can’t remember anything that happened afterwards, and the only person willing to help him fight the murder charge is his childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella) – a straight-laced public defender who once saved Ig’s life when they were kids.
But even Lee thinks it’s doubtful his friend will be cleared, and Ig is soon overwhelmed by the constant harassment from the media and the town’s residents. After a night of heavy drinking and all-out debauchery, Ig wakes up with a mother of a hangover and something else he wasn’t expecting: a pair of budding horns. The painful protuberances grow fast and he can’t find a way to get rid of them. Oddly enough, his friend Lee is the only one who can’t see the horns. Everyone else is unperturbed when they notice them growing out of Ig’s forehead, and for some reason they can’t resist the urge to confess their sins and secret desires to him. Ig is horrified at first, but then he realizes he can use the horns’ power to help him find Merrin’s killer.
I enjoyed the twists and turns, the flashback scenes and the over-the-top confessions (disturbing and often hilarious). Don’t expect a positive portrayal of small town life in this raunchy, violent supernatural thriller. I also don’t agree with the comparisons to “Twin Peaks.” That TV show was a whole different sort of surreal – and it had quite a few likeable characters. I can’t say I liked any of the characters in this movie except for Ig and Merrin. (Well, perhaps Merrin’s devastated father, played by David Morse.)
Daniel Radcliffe’s intensely emotional performance is superb, as is Juno Temple’s. (They both achieve convincing American accents as well.) I think if a less talented actor had taken on the role of Ig Perrish, the results could have been disastrously corny. Even when Ig begins to embrace the dark side, seemingly becoming a real devil, it didn’t strike me as cheesy or implausible. Radcliffe has an appealing presence and it was easy to care about his unfortunate character.
I’d recommend this film to fans of dark fantasy and horror (who don't mind a hefty dose of black comedy). It’s devilishly delightful. (Pun intended.)
December 14, 2014
Happy Holidays. Like many of you who celebrate Christmas, every year when I hear that Andy Williams song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," I always wonder about the lyrics that say, "There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago." Christmas isn't usually a time for horror tales, but there are movies and TV shows that beg to differ. I've decided to list five of my favorites.
"And All Through the House" - Tales From the Crypt (British TV Series/1972)
The first time I saw this old episode on late night TV, I couldn't help but be impressed. Joan Collins plays a wife without good cheer who murders her husband with a fireplace poker on Christmas Eve. Naughty. As she's trying to dispose of the body, an escaped homicidal maniac dressed as Santa tries to break into her house. Alas, she can't call the police because she's just committed a dirty deed. Love it!
"How The Ghosts Stole Christmas" - The X Files (TV Series/Season 6, Episode 6/1998)
The X Files is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. In this holiday offering, agents Mulder and Scully end up investigating a house on Christmas Eve that's supposedly haunted by a pair of doomed lovers who killed themselves eighty-odd years before. Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin are wicked and delightful as the ghost couple, Maurice and Lyda. The two string the FBI agents along, while providing insights into Mulder and Scully's relationship and personalities. This episode is in my top ten favorites.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Movie/2010)
This is a Finnish film, based on the premise that Santa Claus has always been evil. (Think of the early European myth of the horned Yule Goat who demanded gifts on Christmas Eve, and who worked with a sidekick called Krampus - a red demon who punished naughty children.) Trouble starts when an archaeologist digs up Santa's old tomb. Now no one in the Finnish village is safe. This flick is a mix of horror, fantasy and comedy - definitely off-kilter.
Everyone is probably familiar with this flick. A salesman (Hoyt Axton) buys his son Billy (Zach Galligan) a magwai for Christmas. But the cute, furry little creatures have a very dark side, and if you feed them after midnight or get them wet, you will find out how much trouble they can be. Of course, Billy can't follow the rules, and his town soon suffers the consequences. Phoebe Cates also stars as Billy's girlfriend. (Her story about her dad's gruesome death struck me as funny, though it wasn't meant to be.)
A Christmas Carol (TV Movie/1984)
Yeah, I know. Dickens isn't scary, really, but there are some spooky moments in the beginning, when Ebenezer Scrooge (played by George C. Scott) is visited by his late business partner, Jacob Marley. I love this movie despite the sentimentality, and this is my favorite version out of all of them. But still, I often ask myself why I let Tiny Tim gut me like a fish every December.
And there you have it. Speaking of spooky tales, if you like scary fiction, please check out my latest eBook release, available on Amazon and other online stores, called "The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories." It definitely isn't for kids!
Hope all of you have a safe and happy holiday season.
October 22, 2014
It's my favorite time of year, so I'm posting an excerpt from the first dark tale in my collection, "The White Death & Other Ghastly Ghost Stories." In the "The White Death," a reluctant candy striper suffers through a night of hell in a hospital that used to treat tuberculosis victims. (The setting is my favorite haunted place in Louisville - Waverly Hills Sanatorium.)
Have yourself a wicked little Halloween.
THE WHITE DEATH
Brenda Morris climbed out of her foster mother’s ’64 Buick Riviera and slammed the passenger door shut. She was supposed to have Thursday nights off, but the old bat was forcing her to fill in for another candy striper that’d gotten sick at the last minute.
Yeah, sick of working at a geriatric sanitarium, probably.
Brenda stalked away from the car without bothering to wave goodbye and headed towards the institution’s imposing main entrance.
She took a deep breath, savoring the brisk October air, and gazed up at the gothic monstrosity that was Woodhaven. A full moon hung so low over the hilltop structure that it appeared to teeter upon the bell-tower.
She stood still for a moment to admire the effect. “That’s just so bitchin’.”
A whirlwind of dry leaves skittered past her, and she exhaled slowly. No use putting it off any longer.
Brenda entered the ornate lobby and wrinkled her nose. One never got used to the cool mustiness and the smell of stale urine. Quite often, the pitiful moans of elderly residents could be heard echoing down the long hallways.
No wonder the place was short staffed.
Brenda climbed the winding staircase to the second floor. Before beginning her rounds, she paid a visit to one of the restrooms to wash her hands and run a comb through her auburn curls. She smiled ruefully at her reflection in the smudged mirror. The red and white striped apron made her look like a sweet, innocent fifteen-year-old.
Brenda’s foster mother – her seventh in so many years – no doubt wished it were true. The witch had busted her one too many times for smoking and sneaking out at night to meet up with The Wrong Crowd. She’d given Brenda an ultimatum: Volunteer at one of the local hospitals several evenings a week or spend some time in Juvenile Hall.
Brenda had picked Woodhaven because her dark nature was drawn to its morbid history. For several depressing decades it had been used as a sanatorium for those suffering from The White Death. Tuberculosis had claimed thousands of lives here – not including the suicides it had provoked among patients and nurses alike.
But, God, I’d rather die of a disease than grow old and useless, Brenda thought, leaving the restroom. She could hear a woman yelling just down the hall.
It was Mrs. Hauser in Room 212.
“Somebody help! She took it away! It’s mine and she stole it from me!”
Brenda reached the room and paused in the doorway, grimacing at the all too familiar sight. The old lady stood by her bed stark naked. She stared at Brenda with watery gray eyes full of righteous anger.
“Mrs. Hauser, calm down and tell me what happened.” Brenda hurried over and grabbed a blanket off the bed to wrap around the woman’s cold, saggy body.
“A strange little girl took my new robe. My pretty blue robe is gone – it’s gone and I want it back now!”
Brenda sighed. Mrs. Hauser was hallucinating again. It was probably another patient – they were always “borrowing” things from one other.
“Okay, stay here and I’ll go look for it. I’m sure the girl didn’t go very far.”
Brenda went back out into the hall, and a noise caused her to glance right, towards the elevator. Just before the doors slid shut she caught a glimpse of something blue.
Here we go.
Brenda hurried over and punched the UP button. Catching the person would be easier now. For some freaky reason, every elevator in the building insisted on visiting the basement first, no matter what floor was chosen.
She wasn’t really bothered by this fact – it just made the place more interesting.
Brenda listened to the distressing hum of the contraption as it ascended. It passed the first floor and then stopped. The doors opened slowly.
Empty. This meant the thief had gotten out on the basement level.
Well, they are loony, after all.
Brenda rode the elevator down and waited impatiently for the doors to open. When they did, she was grateful to see that the hall light had been left on. At least the morgue was located clear over on the other side of the basement.
Not that she was afraid of dead people. What could they do? It was the live ones that were scary.
As she exited the elevator, Brenda heard a cough behind her. She turned and looked as the doors began to close, but she saw no one.
"The White Death & Other Ghastly Ghost Stories" is available on Amazon (also B&N, iBooks, etc.)
September 26, 2014
Time for some free flash fiction. Here's my tale about a man who desperately tries to find a way out of a hopeless relationship. (Hey, when I was in New Orleans, I was tempted to believe in voodoo as well.) Hope you enjoy the story.
"Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"
Conrad Lucas heaved himself up to a standing position – blocking out the Houston skyline – and leaned forward against his Texas-sized desk. He stared at Doug the way a chained pit bull would eye a stray toddler.
“Not only are you moving back in with my sister, Wainwright, you’re gonna take her along on that business trip to New Orleans next week and you’re gonna propose. Have I made myself crystal-fucking-clear?”
Lucas had connections to every good guy/bad guy west of the Mississippi. Defiance would mean having to leave town and never being employed at a lending institution again…if he was even allowed to live.
Doug coughed. “Uh, yes, sir. Completely.”
His boss let out a grunt of satisfaction and sank into his massive leather chair. “When you two get back here, I’d better see a rock on my little sister’s finger that’s heavy enough to throw her back outta whack.”
She’ll get a big one, all right, Doug thought. And hopefully the skinny, blonde dingbat would choke on it.
He’d tried every way – short of hiring a hit man – to get out of his relationship with Charlene. As that Paul Simon song said, “There must be fifty ways to leave your lover.” Doug had left the little fool countless times, but her suicide attempts and stalking tactics, along with threats from the filthy rich Lucas family, always forced him back into her waiting arms.
And now he was going to propose.
“New Orleans is so romantic, hon,” Charlene gushed. “I just know this trip will be good for us.”
Doug grimaced as they entered their spacious, fifth floor hotel room. It had a wrought-iron balcony that overlooked rowdy Bourbon Street.
“Let me freshen up and then we’ll go to Antoine’s for dinner.” Charlene kicked off her high heels and headed for the bathroom. “Is that okay, hon?”
They’d only be in town for three days. He’d have to spring the hefty diamond on her before Wednesday. Doug figured he might be able to get through the ordeal if he drank enough Hurricanes.
Doug often wondered what had caused Charlene to become obsessed with him. He was just an average guy, after all.
It didn’t matter now anyway. It was Tuesday, and he would have to do “the dirty deed” right after dinner.
When his meeting wrapped up, Doug took a cab back to his hotel. But instead of heading up to his room, he decided to roam around the French Quarter. He was bound to enjoy the sights more without the magpie tagging along.
Noisy Bourbon Street was teeming with happy tourists. The humid air smelled like beer and spicy food. Doug could hear the upbeat strains of a Zydeco tune wafting out of a smoke-filled tavern.
It wasn’t long before he happened upon a fortuneteller’s shop. Colorful voodoo dolls were lined up on the other side of the window, and he paused to take a look, grinning.
If only it would work.
A pretty black girl opened the door of the little shop and motioned for him to step inside.
“Madame Lafay can help you, sir. She can cast spells for love and money – whatever you need. Come see.”
Her offer was too hard to resist. And he was in no hurry to get back to the hotel.
The spell Doug chose was meant to turn a lover’s heart to stone and end a hopeless relationship. He felt silly having a gris-gris bag in his pocket, but he was desperate to believe. And if it actually worked it would be worth far more than the $50.00 he’d spent.
There were other spells he could have tried, but if something happened to Charlene, Lucas would undoubtedly hold him responsible.
This mojo was much safer.
Doug rode the elevator up to the top floor of the hotel. Charlene was waiting for him in their suite, dressed to the nines. Chanel No. 5 hung heavy in the air. A small table smothered with china, crystal and silver had been set up near the open balcony doors.
Charlene smiled as he crossed the room. Doug leaned down and kissed her, and a delicious cold chill raced through his limbs.
He was suddenly hit with the realization that Charlene looked like a movie star. He felt like the luckiest man on earth.
She stepped away from him and her smile faded. Her face now wore an expression of puzzlement mixed with irritation.
“You’re late,” she said.
That was the sexiest voice he’d ever heard. Doug wanted to sweep Charlene up in his arms, carry her over to the bed, and make love to her in every position under the freaking sun.
“The meeting ran late.” What an idiot he’d been to keep her waiting like this. “I’ll make it up to you, sweetheart, I promise.”
“Forget it. I don’t know what I thought I saw in you, but it’s over.”
Doug couldn’t believe his ears. He dropped to his knees in front of her. “Charlene, honey, you don’t mean that. We were meant to be together.”
She laughed. “I can’t even stand to be in the same room with you.”
Charlene tried to step around him, but he jumped up and blocked her path.
“No, I can’t live without you.” Doug took the black velvet box out of his coat pocket and showed her the six-karat diamond. “Marry me.”
She snatched the ring from him and ran out onto the balcony. “Here’s what I think of your proposal.”
Doug reached her before she could throw the ring, but he’d rammed up against the rusted railing with too much force. Charlene was struggling, trying to hold on to the diamond, when a section of the wrought-iron gave way, sending her over the edge.
Doug grabbed her left hand. Now he could see the gris-gris bag she’d hidden around her neck, underneath her frilly blouse.
“I don’t need your stinking help, you spineless moron.” Charlene reached up with her right hand and dug her long, pointy fingernails into his flesh.
Doug screamed and let go. He watched Charlene fall away from him. He saw her body break on the sidewalk.
She was his one true love. Doug knew what he had to do.
He hurled himself off the balcony to be with her forever.