Peter Scartabello: Music of the Weird

Alex's Evil Tracks

 

Image result for Peter ScartabelloRhode Island-based composer Peter Scartabello began writing music and playing drums at the age of 9, working his scores out on his older brother’s four-track player. He used an old Macintosh computer to translate the sounds in his head to traditional notation. When in high school, he wrote songs for and played in a doom metal band, and between 1990 and 1991 went on to study composition and music theory at Manhattanville College in New York, as well as playing percussion with the Manhattanville Symphony Orchestra. After returning home he attended one year at Rhode Island College, then  finished off his bachelor’s degree in classical composition at State University of New York’s Purchase College. His first major work was entitled Drochthamion Demonica, written for synthesizer and orchestra. In 1991, he completed Two Symphonic Poems for orchestra. In that same year, he studied percussion with George Goneconto at Rhode Island College.

 

Scartabello has written scores and soundtracks in many different modes and genres, but seems to inevitably find his way back to the weird and horrific. To stay clear of the cliches that bedevil horror soundtracks, and to avoid an obvious match of music to onscreen action (called”Mickey Mouse-ing” in the industry), Scartabello dabbles with nonstandard instrumentation. For example, he used the sounds of different metals scraping together for the Bunnyman films by Carl Lindberg, about a chainsaw murderer who dresses in a bunny costume.

Scartabello currently lives in North Kingstown, Rhode Island and teaches percussion, piano and composition at the Knapp School of Music in Peace Dale, Rhode Island.

Alex S. Johnson: You’ve scored the Bunnyman movie series and set pieces by such authors as Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith to music. How long have you been a fan of weird fiction and horror tales?

Clark Ashton Smith

Peter Scartabello: I discovered Lovecraft when I was about 14 or 15, so for about 30 years.

 ASJ: What considerations do you make when creating sound settings for weird poetry or tales?
 PS: I think the main consideration, and what I’ve gleaned from HPL, Machen, CAS, Poe, et al., is how vitally important atmosphere is. So my main objective is to always try and capture the atmosphere; then everything else kind of falls into place.
ASJ: What elements make a piece of music scary? Are there certain tones, modes, scales or intervals that are especially good for evoking dread?
PS: I don’t always go for scary. I prefer more of an other-worldly, cosmic horror kind of feeling. What I love most about weird fiction is when I am transported to a place that is strange and beautiful. Scary is boring to me. Without getting too technical, in my music I often set up a scaffolding based on a scale, so indeed as you said, the intervals are important to creating a certain sound. But music is so subjective, and over the years I’ve realized that what people feel from my music is so different than what I feel. That is not a bad thing to me, but exciting and interesting. The music I write is often very complex and I feel that sometimes the only way people can grasp it is to hone in on one aspect of it and run w it, but it is my hope that they will delve deeper and become more active in their listening. Because I really think the point of art is to share your experiences.
ASJ: Who are your influences as a composer?
PS: My influences as a composer are so voluminous and varied. But if I had to narrow it down to few that changed the trajectory of my work I would say, the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik, the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, Finnish composer Aarre Merikanto, Xenakis, Roger Reynolds and the early composers, Gesualdo, Marenzio, De Lassus etc…. 
ASJ: You work in both heavy metal and classical modes. What do you see as the connection points between these two genres?
PS: That’s a difficult question. Heavy Metal is more of a nostalgic thing for me. It represents perhaps why I got into music in the first place. I love the early NWOBHM bands like Maiden especially, but now I am drawn to the more progressive bands like Deathspell Omega and Gorguts. But I think perhaps the essence of the metal connection is it is very Romantic in its over-the-top expression. I’ve always been a Fantasy and Science-fiction fan, so those elements have always found their home in heavy metal. There is also the aspect of non-commercial consideration that I love. When I grew up w MTV and pop music Heavy Metal was  breath of fresh air. Hearing bands like Maiden, Slayer, Queensryche, Morbid Angel, Death was so refreshing in many ways.
ASJ: Who are your favorite horror authors/directors, and why?
PS: Favorite horror authors is another tough question, but of course HPL, Poe, Machen, Le Fanu, M R James, for the atmosphere as I said before. For directors, I like [Dario] Argento because of his stylized approach. I like a lot of the 70s Italian directors. But horror movies are a completely different animal for me, and I have yet to see a director capture what the horror writers that I mentioned have done. I go for the fun campy stuff mostly, like [Don] Coscarelli’s Phantasm and [John] Carpenter’s great work. Movies are more visceral in nature, disturbing in a different way.
ASJ: What sides of your work do you think aren’t paid enough attention to?
I think in general people are more visually oriented so I would say the music in general. It’s a strange climate right now in the music world, exciting in that artists have the freedom to a lot on their own without a record label; but it’s also a double edged sword, because how do you market yourself and how do you prevent people from stealing your music or just getting it for free? I don’t care all that much that I end up on torrent sites, I think it’s cool when I see my album on a Russian doom metal torrent site, because ultimately I want my music to be heard, but that’s why I got into film music, I can make money and survive with that.
ASJ: What are your current projects, and what can we look for soon from you?
Currently I am finishing up a single song Sky Shadow Obelisk EP and am scoring the 3rd Bunnyman film, Bunnyman: Suffer the Children. And over the Summer I will be recording a guitar and electronics  piece I wrote for the Guitarist Phil Mazza called “Traversing Aggripa’s Magic Square.” So, lots of irons in the fire, so to speak.

 

Peter Scartabello Official

Film and TV pro Official

 

 

The Clown Oroborus by Alex S. Johnson

The Clown Oroborus by Alex S. Johnson

Reginald Snubb was a man in his late forties, bald except for two cottony puffs of hair that simply resisted the barber’s scissors–sheered, they would grow back in a fortnight, bigger and puffier than before. Other than that, and his prominent round nose, the roseate color of which appeared evidence of secret tippling, and a burgeoning double chin, he was reasonably good-looking, one might say well-preserved for his age. Even so, he was ashamed of his appearance, did most of his business by phone or email, and spent his time immersed between the covers of his favorite books. He loved books as much as he hated clowns. And he really loved books.

Clowns were a different matter altogether. There was something uncanny about them; they, in fact, anything to do with the circus arts, sent a bolt of terror up his spine. When McDonalds ads appeared on TV or before YouTube videos, he would switch channels, avert his eyes, try to focus on things that made him feel at home. Things that didn’t seem to jeer and leer at him through the screen. There were certain segments of town he avoided, and one block in particular–hell, one neighborhood–he took pains to circumvent. A dull pain would begin to throb at his temples when he got within five miles of the place, and flashbacks of harlequins in whiteface, mimes and figures on stilts shot through his mind with strobing intensity. He seemed to feel a ghostly kid-gloved hand close over his as he gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying not to steer off the road as he blurred his vision to ignore the looming billboard for the latest scary clown movie the studios kept churning out; and sometimes, when he was very tired and driving at night, he would see a pale face in the rear view mirror that simply wasn’t supposed to be there.

Snubb knew his fears were irrational, and that the effort to avoid clowns was limiting his lifestyle. Not only that, as a businessman he couldn’t afford to kick the clown dollar out of bed. A carnival was coming to town, and Snubb’s acreage was ideal real estate on which to erect tents, rides, a funhouse and all that kind of thing. Inevitably he’d get a call from the property manager, and if the carny credit was anywhere decent–better if they had the cash on hand–he would pretty much have to welcome the greasepainted mob to his turf.

Sitting with his shrink, Snubb explored different methods for overcoming his phobia. Finally, Dr. Strudel suggested aversion therapy–confronting his fears directly. The therapy might involve, for example, draping his study with circus posters, pictures of clowns, rubbing cotton candy into the doors and window frames, saturating his senses with the sights, the smells and–but he drew the line at whatever clowns might taste like.

“You’ve got to get beyond this,” Dr. Strudel said, scribbling furiously in a pink leather bound notebook. He peered over his half-glasses at Snubb, who was curled up on the couch in a fetal position. “It’s not healthy for a grown man. And no, I’m not suggesting you go out and lick a clown, for heaven’s sake’s. Be reasonable. Have some peanuts lying around, this kind of thing. Those little aluminum foil packets. So salty and tasty…”

“Maybe I could start by reading a book on the subject,” Snubb said. And thought: He’s right…those peanuts are delicious. The best thing about airplane food.

“Well sure, if you want to use the slow immersion approach.” Dr. Strudel scribbled some more in his notebook and drew his fingers through his Groucho-esque mustache. “But didn’t you get a call from your property manager today, something about a carnival coming to town?”

“I did?”

Dr. Strudel coughed and mumbled something into his dictaphone. “You should check your messages more often. You can use my cell if you like.”

“That won’t be necessary,” said Snubb, his face draining of all its color. How did Strudel know these things? Had he babbled under hypnosis? Was the doc connected to some kind of… Snubb stopped the thought before it could unspool whatever paranoid delusion prompted it. Just as he tried to chop off the thought that succeeded that one before it had a chance to bloom. This notion, however, flooded his brain anyway.

Is it just my imagination, or does Strudel have an abnormally large shoe size? And why didn’t I notice that before? Does he have a cold, or is his…bulbous nose, which looks like one of those artificial cherries now…“I’ll go down to Barney’s Books today,” he said, abruptly unfolding his lanky body from the couch and rising. Just before he closed the door, he seemed to glimpse a child’s balloon scudding against the window glass on the third floor office, a pair of kohl-haloed eyes…

But books–now those were safe. He loved books. Books of all kinds. If he came upon something upsetting, he could simply close them. And so what if a book happened to contain clowns? Was even devoted to the subject? Snubb had gotten through Rabelais without incident, and the classical French author was all about the carnivalesque.

Two hours later, Snubb gingerly removed the volume from the medium-sized paper bag with the Barney’s Books logo stamped across it, turned on his study lamp, adjusted his reading glasses and began to peruse A General History of Clowns (Cherrynose Press, 2012).

The frontispiece depicted a fearsome-looking member of the tribe in full regalia, apparently boxing with an animated cabbage, along with this caption: “Joseph Grimaldi (18 December 1778 – 31 May 1837) an English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era, chiefly for his portrayal of the harlequinade role of Clown. Grimaldi’s whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns.”

Fingers of cold fear traveled along his arms. He could swear he’d seen that face before. But where? He dropped the book on his desk, face-down, and thumbed his cell phone, scrolling through his messages.

Sure enough, there was one new message: 12:15 pm, Bartlett Properties.

Snubb decided to listen later. Although he knew this wasn’t brave of him, and certainly went against both the letter and spirit of Dr. Strudel’s counsel, he simply couldn’t stand to hear the saved call. Feeling like the lowliest form of a coward, he turned the book over and flipped to the first page of the text proper. And read this:

“Reginald Snubb was a man in his late forties, bald except for two cottony puffs of hair that simply resisted the barber’s scissors–sheered, they would grow back in a fortnight, bigger and puffier than before.”

Snubb refused to read of whatever horrors followed. There were a few possibilities: either he had become locked into a Julio Cortazar pastiche, his fate destined to match that of a character in one of the South American master’s fictional puzzle boxes, or he was going quietly insane, like some armchair-bound scholar in a Poe story. He glanced around him, but the study looked the same as it always had: muted brown wood, framed photos of ancestors who bore the same genetic curse he did–which comforted him and made him feel less like a freak–an enameled purple box he never opened which held family heirlooms, a hole punch, a stapler and a pencil holder, among other standard office supplies on his desk.

At least his immediate environment remained stable.

He wracked his brain for a solution to the dilemma he found himself caught in. It was as though the universe was pressing him to take on his darkest terrors head-on. He’d thought reading about clowns was the safe thing, but it turned out to be the exact opposite. He’d thought putting off the message was a prudent decision, given his state of mind. Now, though, his choices had shrunk, atrophied as surely and inexorably as his hair follicles–except for those pesky cotton puffs.

Snubb picked up the cell.

He found the message from Bartlett Properties, held the phone to his ear, took a deep breath and pressed “play.”

At first, nothing; then, the crackle of static, through which he faintly discerned the wheezing, underwater warble of a calliope. The honk of a bicycle horn, loud enough to nearly make him drop the phone. And a sly, insinuating voice.

His own.

“There’s no point in hiding from your legacy, Snubb. You know what they say in our profession–once a clown, always a clown. In your case, clowning comes naturally. You might say it’s in your blood.”

No! This was madness. There had to be some rational explanation. Snubb tried to rise from his chair, but an invisible hand–the same kid-gloved fingers that had closed on his while he drove around the dreaded downtown neighborhood–settled on his shoulder and pressed down.

“Take a look in the mirror, Snubb. A nice, long look. Don’t worry, I’ll be here to help you adjust. I’ve always been here. I’m you.”

Clutching the cell to his ear, Snubb walked out of his office, down a hallway that scrolled with circling spotlights of green, blue and red, as the calliope music rose, as his size 14 men’s shoes closed the distance between himself and the mirror at the end, right next to the kitchen.

He gazed for a while at his reflection. The cherry red nose, the furry orange eyebrows, the pink tufts that jutted from behind his ears. He looked down at his shoes, and the reflection seemed to wink at him.

So there was no Dr. Strudel after all–it was a ridiculous name to begin with. No property manager, no acreage to rent. The book was real enough, but then, any clown with a credit card could buy the ubiquitous history and take it home with them. In the end, it was just him–Snubbsy the Clown, a carny in denial.

The sheer absurdity of it all came at last into blinding focus, and as he began to laugh, he heard a chorus from the kitchen, and his study, and his living room, a chorus of echoes from his carnival fraternity.

Snubbsy laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks and smeared the greasepaint he applied every morning with automatic precision.

 

 

Evil Tracks: Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches

Alex's Evil Tracks

 

Karyn Crisis first came to fame as the frontwoman for the progressive/hardcore/death metal band Crisis. Her fiery lyrics, dynamic performances and vocal fluency–from a lilting soprano to the scariest growl in metal–won her international acclaim. After several albums and side projects, Crisis the band called it quits, but Karyn continued her musical and spiritual journey. In 2009, Karyn moved to San Francisco and married Davide Tiso of Ephel Duath. There in the California Bay Area she began to explore her psychic abilities and mediumship, and has become a well-respected lecturer and healer. In 2014, she joined forces with Tiso, Ross Dolan  Mike Hill and Charlie Schmid of Vaura, to form Gospel of the Witches; the band recorded 13 songs which compose the band’s debut album, Salem’s Wounds.

 

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Alex S. Johnson: Hello again, Karyn. I’m delighted to have the opportunity once more to interview you. I’m curious if there was a crisis, so to speak, or a tipping point in your life that led you down the road to Gospel of the Witches and mediumship?

Karyn Crisis: I have been aware of the spirit world since I was a child: both “ghosts” and astral people as well as higher Spirit Guides of various types. Much of my life I found the “ghosts” annoying and worrying, because many of them were in bad moods or were territorial. In contrast the Guides were helpful and encouraged me to dream big with my music and art and also gave me information to heal damage done to me by the American Medical Association.

I almost died when I was younger, so my psychic perceptions naturally increased after that. At the end of 2005 when I left my band Crisis, I asked the Universe to teach me what these experiences were all about and what was my role in them. So from that point on, I began a journey that connected me with healing abilities, understanding of my psychic senses, and then training how to organize my life as a Medium. The “ghosts” were just trying to haunt me into myself, to make me aware of my ability to communicate with them and also to help them. In 2008 when I went to Tuscany, Italy, everything was taken up a notch when I “met” the spirit of an Ancient Teacher of the Old Ways named Aradia. From that point on, long story short, Gospel Of The Witches came into focus, my professional life began as a platform Medium, and many pieces of my life made sense to me finally.

Musically, artistically, I put a tremendous amount of intention into everything I do. Whether or not the expression seems sophisticated or not, there is a great amount of sensation imbued in every action. It’s most important to me how things “feel” along the way rather than how they are observed from the outside. In magical practices, physical objects are representatives of everything under the surface, if you will; everything that energetically takes place behind an action.

 

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AJ: What part does ritual and magic play in your life, if any; if so, do you design your own rituals?

KC: Magic is the art of moving energy, simply put. I already was well acquainted with my own personal “magic” through art and music, if you will, through my voice. After 2008 I began learning magical practices and old rituals. I learned the system behind them (the Natural Laws of Energy which are largely misunderstood), which means that I know how to use “magic” without any tools. However, I also learned the importance of ritual, what it represents, and the wonderful resonance of ancient lineage that it reawakens. My daily life is magic and ritual, though I am not attached to robotic rituals. I use a system, and that system is expressed many ways.

Artistically, naturally I have always thought of my work as a ritual before I knew anything about organized rituals. I consider every word or brush stroke important. With words especially, I’ve always thought about word choices as important, the pitch they reach to have meaning, a color expresses emotion in action…

AJ: Tell me about the very evocative initiation imagery in “The Ascent” video, if you would.

KC: The video for “The Ascent” is inspired by a story Davide help me translate from Italian author Carlo Napolitano. The story is about a man seeking the Great Mysteries in Italy and what happens to him along the way deep in the forests. Essentially, he becomes like the Hanged Man of the Tarot, an “upside down” perspective put upon him turns his world upside down.

I took the idea further, that this action is like a ritual, a rite of passage for any seeker of any path. So in the video you see me in the forest, guided by a Spirit Guide, taken into this ritual by several druids, “turned upside down” if you will, introduced to the Feminine Mysteries, and am transformed.

AJ: A long time ago I dubbed you “The Exorsister” in an article. It seems somehow prophetic now. By exorcising personal demons, do you think you cleared the way for mediumship?

KC: As I mentioned the Mediumship was always there. However, it was unorganized and I didn’t know the rules: I was just born into it. I didn’t have time to “think” or ruminate about whether the Spirit world existed-it was always as real as the physical world, and much harder to ignore. However, there definitely had to been some healing and learning and changing on my end to find my way to being trained under an NSAC Certified Spiritualist Minister and tested in public myself. In order to keep good quality “spirit company,” there are techniques than need to be used to keep that vibration (that channel) bright and high-quality. Part of me was already there, but daily life Karyn certainly faced much darkness and despair…I had to learn a certain amount of control over that to be able to open up responsibly to Mediumship. My personal demons were just my own thoughts; they weren’t people, so-to-speak, but my thoughts did keep me, at times, from embracing who I am and what my individual circumstances are and how that can be a positive thing!

AJ: Having covered the metal world for a long time, I’ve seen a lot of the pitfalls and dangers. How have you been able to steer clear of them–or have you?

KC: Without you mentioning which pitfalls and dangers you mean, it’s difficult to comment. For me, the pitfalls and dangers would be worrying too much about what other people think once my work is released out into the world, putting too, much weight on financial success as my worth. If you mean in terms of partying and self-destruction, those are not pitfalls that were ever tempting to me. The real danger in my opinion is letting all the “stuff” around music kill the creativity. Music is a really difficult world. Just because you have creativity bursting from you doesn’t mean you will be able to find the outlet, whether the outlet is a band, playing live, releasing an album.

People are really flakey. People have bad intentions. People use each other. In the music world, there are many of these people. However, there are long-lasting, wonderful experiences to be had from music. While the business world is really destructive–I think of it as a giant bulldozer flattening entire cities, the cities being musicians and their hope and hard work–musicians and music fans are truly amazing people. The longest lasting friendships I have are all with people I met while touring.

 

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AJ: What current projects are you most excited about?

KC: I’m about to go to Italy to complete research on the ancient Medicine women who were there, who became targeted as “witches” during the Inquisition that lasted 700 years in Europe. I’ve made a short film about it you can watch here

I’ll be traveling and meeting with practitioners, historians, locals, and authors to recover their stories beyond the myths, the folk stories and rumors, beyond the religious and military’s anti-healer campaign. I will start in the north, where the Inquisition began and go deep into the forests to see what secrets they hide, then onward to the remains of a temple for the Goddess Diana where people left clay figures for healing requests. There I will bury prayer requests of friends. Then I will travel south to Benevento, an important pagan crossroads in Italy, and the home of the Janara.

I’m also working on the next Gospel Of The Witches album.

AJ: Fantastic!

KC: Thank you for your time and support over all these years, Alex!

AJ: Thank you, my friend. Good catching up, and I look forward to the results of your trip and the new Witches album.

 

crisis1How to contact and learn more about Karyn Crisis and Gospel Witches:

Gospel Witches Official

Gospel Witches Facebook

Karyn Crisis on Metal Archives

Karyn Crisis Official

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hekseri: Witching Metal by Alex S. Johnson

Alex's Evil Tracks

Recently I sat down for a virtual chat with Larissa Glasser and Iron Megiddo (Megan Lowe), the co-founders of the black/dark/thrash/occult metal band Hekseri. The Boston, MA-based unit plays in an aggressively stripped-down style that should appeal to fans of bands like Mayhem, Venom and Sodom. In addition to playing in Hekseri, Ms. Glasser is the librarian for Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum and writes science fiction and horror. Megiddo currently resides in Bergen, Norway.

terror trax

Larissa Glasser

Alex S. Johnson: What were you doing before you met Megan?

Larissa Glasser: I was playing in a band and Meggido (Lowe) came in to work with us, and her playing style was much better aligned to the kind of metal I wanted to be playing, plus I could see she really knew her way around the fretboard so I realized, “I need to form a band with this person.” My own main influence is of course Venom.

AJ: I gather the kind of metal you wanted to be playing was less Iron Maiden and more down and dirty thrash?

LG: Actually my old band before Hekseri was more death metal, but it was losing me because the drummer was trying to tell me how and what to play on bass. When Meggido and I started Hekseri, at least I had some creative input. We both liked thrash and black metal. Our sound developed into Witching Metal over time.

Witching Metal is what Hekseri practices in response to the bullshit subjugation and scapegoating of women throughout history. Metal already thrives on rebellion, but we wanted to clearly define where we stand with our material–there are still issues of sexism and misogyny to be confronted in society and because the witch instills such fear and awe, especially today, I think it’s a powerful identity. We also mix our many literary and metallic influences into the Hekseri cauldron, so that is something else we offer. Keep in mind–the witch is also a healer. We certainly aren’t the only practitioners.

AJ: Could you tell me about your work as a writer of speculative fiction, and how that ties in with the music and lyrics of Hekseri?

LG: Writing metal lyrics is for me a lot like telling a story, being descriptive (especially with violence), actions and reactions with narrative cause and effect. As with SF/Horror writing, you try to be evocative and stir up an emotional reaction in the reader/listener. I based the lyrics for “Awakened to Wrath” and “Kingwrecker” completely on the Beowulf battles with Grendel and Grendel’s mother. So yes, horror fiction can also taps into legends and myth. Otherwise I’ll just go into Deicide/Sarcofago mode and write a metal screed against religion. Depends on how pissed off (inspired) I get at a given time. Meggido writes most Hekseri material, and she and I have collaborated on a few songs.

Iron Megiddo

AJ: You have a very gritty, old school black metal vocal style. What are some of your vocal influences?

Megiddo: In terms of influences, I definitely don’t consciously think about trying to sound like anyone in particular. I’ve noticed maybe that certain things sound like certain vocalists at times, but other than that I am sure it is all sub-or unconscious. I let my own convictions, feelings, impressions and dreams just possess me and whatever sounds come out, come out. In the context of Hekseri, I think that was still developing and with Witchblood my ability to “channel” has grown so much more. My favorite musician of all time must be Quorthon though, and I have perhaps been unconsciously affected by Proscriptor from Absu…

AJ: What do you love about Quorthon/Bathory?

Many things. I like the way he progressed throughout Bathory… not that he evolved for progression’s sake, but it was an authentic progression. First the visceral, more raw and primitive black thrash which eventually became black metal on Under the Sign of the Black Mark, then the so-called Viking metal which first began to arise with Blood Fire Death but really didn’t become full-fledged until Blood on Ice and Hammerheart, Twillight of the Gods. Quorthon was a musician who poured out what was in his soul, the most honest musician in heavy music that I can think of. Really, it just resonates with me, from the raw and primitive to the Viking metal that was more about him digging into his roots as a Scandinavian than about some cartoonish representation of vikings, which I think today’s Viking metal is about (which I do not listen to–the only Viking metal for me is Bathory). The musicians and groups which managed to get into the heart of what this is such as Mayhemic Truth/Morrigan (DE) and Stormheit (FI) that somehow have that Bathory “feel” and a bit of the sound though are authentic with their own vision, such as Stormheit’s very Finnish national romantic poetry as song lyrics on Chronicon Finlandae, this is closer to what Bathory was at the heart of the “Viking” era more so than things like Amon Amarth or whatever goes for “Viking” metal these days.

AJ:  Let’s get down to Hekseri. how did the band come about? and what was the intent of the project?

M: The intent of the project was to play heavy metal. It took form as we went along

AJ: were there major bands that inspired the journey?

YouTube Link

M: I remember the guitar that I had at the time, a Jackson Randy Rhoads soloist, I played a lot of Iron Maiden and a lot of riff based heavy metal with intricate solos. It wasn’t long after we started that the style of writing I had made it clear that we would be in a much more raw direction…also thanks to Larissa in part for inspiring that turn of direction and helping to influence my getting more into Venom and such things that are a lot less “refined.” I got more in touch with my Slayer side and we went with the faster the better, the more disgusting the better. But before we started up I was shooting for something more melodic. Speed and a dirty sound fit the attitude much better… I think we were and are angry people, ha ha. The world we live in is pretty ridiculous, or the modern society rather. When you just want to create and do something with your dreams and you have to work some soul numbing job and you see the idiocy that reigns.. when you are young, it pisses you off, just the way things are accepted to be. Perhaps it was an immature rage in my case in some ways, but it fueled the music and let’s face it, society is still fucked in countless ways.

Hekseri Offical Site

Hekseri in Decibel Magazine

More Hekseri Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Children of the Grave by Alex S. Johnson

Children of the Grave by Alex S. Johnson

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They tramped back from tomorrow into today, born aloft drops from a blinding sun, on rifle-cracks of wind, in the pits of black stars.

They came from cracked temples where sacrifice never slept, where green, mossy things little different from rocks formed long steps that writhed at night and died by day. They were the tomb-children, the beings of dark fancy evoked by witch-candle. Their eyes crawled with scorpion ghosts and they lived inside the cells of men, citizens of present time, flesh slowly unwound like a shroud.

By the churchyard they gathered, among the toppled granite crosses, faces stained with holy light. The priest who kept watch fingered his rosary and gazed up at the body of the Savior, who seemed powerless to do more than watch.

Once potential, hosts of golden wonders, deprived of air and succor, food and care, the bodies of the children faded away; but not their spirits. These took longer to disappear, to scorch emblems into walls and fences and even beneath the curious, quaint faces of the villagers, whom time had forgotten, who moved in a shrouded dream, scratched like the emulsion of black and white movies.

They drifted down from space in ships like glass coffins, wielding signs of peace in one hand and destruction in the other.

Deep in the earth, their shadows echoed with them, the bones waiting, quiescent, for a chance to hatch. And surfacing, ripening in the moist night air.

And they gave the bones blood. Not theirs, of course, since every final drop had been purged from their bodies; as they churned and chafed in shackles, crying out to no avail. Because their hurt went unheeded, crafted by the adults in whose power they remained locked.

The crimson nourishment they gave came from their hosts: the fiends of their fathers, the madcap jesters who amused themselves by crippling children. Those who had forged their death like pyramids, laying on brick upon another until the kids were lost, smashed under rock. Blind and dead, but their eyes still burned, and sometimes, late at night, the villagers saw them, peering out through the trees, or on the edge of the lake, or in subtler forms that flashed gently by as they tried to sleep. The bodies of the scorpions growing larger, until nothing could be seen of their once-innocent regard but cosmic blackness.

They left signs of their presence, diary entries of their wanderings discovered later in the crypts beneath the town, where shameful deeds had been done. Blood graffiti, cryptic feathers, semi-liquid offerings of flesh. They dropped hints, whispers in the ears of apple-cheeked old women, young, hearty men, hints of a coming nightmare. They wrote in curvilinear script, in hieroglyphs, in tongues of honeyed mist. Sometimes they chuckled from haybales as the harvest proceeded; sometimes they were only felt, as an absence, a sudden darkening, a sketch of terrible things that might yet be.

And the screams of the villagers rang among the hills, only to be stifled as the candles were snuffed, the mouths closed, the stitches lashed through the soft skin of eyelids. Their animals ran loose and free, especially the cats, who meowed in sympathy with the children. They understood the pain as only creatures with the wild in their veins could understand it. And they joined in the games, sometimes playful, sometimes cruel, the kids crafted from suffering and flesh and bodies and bone and hurt.

When they were done, giggling with glee that shaded into evil, they ascended once again, the tracks of the coffins etched briefly into the dark, as the wind shrieked and a storm gathered.

Only to be remembered as stories, legends, tales told by the fireside to the children of the grave.

 

 

The Girl in the Lake by Alex S. Johnson

The Girl in the Lake by Alex S. Johnson

Sam looked exactly–I mean, the resemblance was uncanny–like a little kid who’d woken up extra-early Christmas Day so he could get a sneak preview of the presents piled in front of the hearth. He was about to reach forward and touch the black streak on the pine’s bark when Jeremy cut in.

“Dude, maybe you should just take a picture or something. Shit looks toxic.”

Sam shrugged and withdrew his hand, wiping it off on the front of his t-shirt–made of hemp fiber, naturally–which was a blazing fluorescent green and featured a picture of a bear smoking a bong.

“I guess you’re right, Jer.” He shrugged off his small backpack, covered with patches from various jam bands, and set it on the ground in a bed of needles. “Then again, all this land is saturated with poison.”

Scott coughed. His dad was one of the biggest investors in Green Chemical, and besides, they were trespassing on private property. If his dad even suspected what he’d been up to, he’d wind up losing the last privileges he’d been able to hold on to, and spend every day till his 18th birthday locked in his room puzzling over the higher math. For some reason his dad and I got along fine, even though he liked to call me a “socialist wingnut.” But he hated Sam and Jeremy with a passion.

The sun was setting, shafts of amber light flickering through the pine forest. Beyond the clearing, Lake Soutaine cut a big bite out of the woods, a darker, evil shade of green. Two summers ago it had been pure blue, and not off limits. We used to go there all the time. There was even an ancient tire swing hanging over the water, but the rubber was flaked,  and covered with some kind of white fungus.

“You guys mind if I blaze one?” Sam asked. He passed his arm through the tire before anybody could stop him. “For old times?”

“Jesus, Sam…” Scott started. He slumped his shoulders with a defeated look. I could see in his eyes the flicker of rebellion begin to grow. “Yeah, it’s chill. Fuck it, you know? We’ve come this far.” Then he pulled his polo shirt over his head. Damn, he was cut.

“Don’t even think about it,” Scott added. I smiled. My friends could be dicks sometimes, but they were totally cool with my sexual preferences, and that pretty much trumped any of the crap they gave me. They were dicks to everyone, and to themselves. Sam retrieved a baggie from his pack and plucked a joint from the nest of sticky. “So you guys remember that little girl who disappeared a couple of years back?”

The air was growing cold, and I wished I’d brought my jacket. For some reason Scott was strutting around shirtless like the cock of the walk. I didn’t mind at all. Sam was oblivious as he flamed up the J and wrinkled his nose. It was some old school skunk. I could tell we were all getting a contact high. And just a bit of the paranoia. Which was perfect for Sam’s purposes.

I told you my friends were dicks.

“Let’s make a drum circle,” he suggested. Scott started to laugh, so hard he was choking and red in the face. “Are you fucking serious? Dude, you’re a walking cliche. Don’t we need a drum or two for that?”

“Figure of speech, dude.” Suddenly I think we all realized how long a day we’d had. It felt right to sit down, get comfortable and listen to a scary story. After all, the initial purpose of our expedition–Sam’s idea, of course–to investigate, document and blog about Green Chemical’s despoilment of nature, seemed more and more naive. Of course GC was taking a giant dump on the planet. That was a no-brainer.

“Her name was Tanya,” Sam began. “She was 11 years old when she went missing. You remember her mom going on TV and pleading with the kidnappers. But there was never a ransom note. The case is still open with the police, but most people think she’s dead.”

“Very sad,” I said. “She was a beautiful kid.”

wp-1459269747286.jpg

“That she was,” Sam agreed. “But I have a theory. Tanya loved swimming in Lake Soutaine. The day she went missing, the last time she was seen…” Suddenly there was a plop and splash from the lake, as though an enormous fish had jumped. My blood turned to ice. This wasn’t fun any more.

“I think we should get the heck out of here,” said Scott, standing up.

“Oh come on, dude,” said Sam. “It’s just a story. Anyway, my theory is that Tanya drowned. She was a great swimmer, but something got her. Pulled her down. A week later, if you remember, the county closed off this section of the woods and all of Lake Soutaine. I don’t think that was a coincidence.”

“You’re freaking us all out,” said Scott. “Besides, I might as well face my punishment now. My dad’s going to love this–staying out all day on a weekend before finals, stumbling in reeking of weed.”

“No one’s stopping you, dude,” said Sam. “How about you guys?” I shrugged. “Even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t. Basically paralyzed with fear. Please continue.”

“That’s the spirit! All right. So Tanya drowns, and obviously, she dies. But she doesn’t die all the way. The chemicals somehow reanimate her, turn her into a zombie. And she’s…”

“You’ve been reading too much R.L. Stine,” said Jeremy, who up to this point had been silent, his eyes glassy.

“Right behind you.”

I couldn’t move. I felt like some kind of morbid looky-loo at the scene of a traffic accident. Of course there was nothing there. Sam was making this all up; he’d admitted as much.

Because if he wasn’t, then the little girl standing behind Jeremy, half her face rotted off, shiny with algae and glowing like a halogen lamp, wasn’t just some kind of hallucination from the angel dust I suspected the weed was laced with. If he was reporting the empirical facts, as I now believed he was, the blood spurting from Jeremy’s neck stump now was as real as the crater Tanya had scooped from Sam’s face, and the sparks–like a handful of glitter–drifting in the girl’s blind eyes as she turned towards me with a lipless grin.

 

April’s Demented Children by Alex S. Johnson

Come Out and Play

This month’s theme on HorrorAddicts.net is demented children. Creepy kids. Scary small ones. Terrifying tots.

How did this enduring horror trope come about? From Henry James to Shirley Jackson, Ramsey Campbell to Stephen King and beyond, hundreds of 80s midlist paperbacks–and that’s just the literary end of the seesaw–kids have been frightening us, haunting our imagination. Carrie. The Omen. The Exorcist. The Bad Seed. The Brood. Let the Right One In. Children of the Corn…the list goes on and on. And that’s not even touching the plethora of powder-faced ghosts with eyes like piss-holes in the snow, courtesy of J-Horror.

The Exorcist

Who will ever be able to forget, to scratch out the brain cells permanently burned with images of Linda Blair as 12-year-old Regan McNeil in The Exorcist, welts scrawling out the words “Help Me” on her skin, tumbling backwards down the stairs, her head twisting 180 degrees, as she suffers the agony of demonic possession? Never mind the scene with the crucifix. How about little Damien Thorne in The Omen, whose idea of good fun at a birthday party is watching his nanny hang herself from a window? And Michael Myers, standing in front of his house in a clown outfit, fresh from slaughtering his older sister in Halloween?

Childhood is supposed to be a golden time in our lives. A time of innocence and play. Exactly how did it become corrupted? What is the resonance in actual life of these abominations?

“Come and play with us”

The real horror, I suspect, lies in the way the evil of the adult world seeps into that golden realm. Try as we might to protect them from harm, children are victimized psychologically, sexually, physically and in other ways. The fallout from this trauma becomes compressed in narratives that detail our deepest fears. These children are aspects of ourselves, writ large. Because nobody escapes childhood unscathed. Even if we’re popular, well-liked, we see how bullies mistreat the weaker kids (Carrie, Christine, Evilspeak), and the subconscious projects means of, if not righting these wrongs, at least a good, satisfying round of havoc, blood, fire and the creative use of cutlery.

Carrie

As with many aspects of life, denial of the problem is no solution. Children are our most vulnerable citizens, and it’s little wonder that they serve so often as the source of fear. As of 2015, statistics indicate that at least 1,500 children die of abuse yearly in the United States alone–a collective wound that festers and burns.

This assumes that all children come into this world a blank slate, and it is purely environment that shapes them. And that is much too simplistic. Part of the fun of child-themed horror–for after all, we are talking about entertainment, however dark its roots–comes from the recognition that kids aren’t innocent in a metaphysical sense. Rumors of demon broods are more factual than they appear.

Have you Seen this Baby?

Children arrive smeared with blood and mucus, chaotic blocks of potential awareness, maturity, intelligence and empathy. Playful mischief can and does register as cruelty. Witness your normal baby, the ultimate megalomaniac, demanding all to serve him, worse than any tyrant.

So, as Facebook relationship status has it, “it’s complicated.” Horror gives us a means to deal with our helplessness in the face of core human evils, gain some kind of catharsis and challenge the fears that might otherwise overwhelm us. We were all children once, and the choice is perennial: giving in to the dark side of adulthood or finding some means to free ourselves from the contagion.

April is the start of Spring; new life flourishes where the old dies. So let’s enjoy a month of enfants terribles, sanguinary small fry, knee high nemeses, miniature malefactors. The stories we tell about the younger versions of ourselves can be a source of healing and pleasure.

And now, without further ado: HorrorAddicts.net presents April’s Demented Children.

  1. http://blogs.indiewire.com/pressplay/children-in-horror-films-the-kids-are-not-alright-20141029
  2. http://horror.about.com/od/horrortoppicklists/tp/20killerkids.htm
  3. http://www.listal.com/list/kids-of-horror
  4. http://www.research.lancs.ac.uk/portal/en/projects/children-in-horror-fiction-and-film%28d05fc303-7e18-4765-9ae5-2236ebfeac9a%29.html

 

Negative Wonderland by Christina Engela and Alex S. Johnson

Alyssa Lydelle was amusing herself with vintage stereopticon images of a very distant ancestor when the ship’s gravity failed.

The lure of space travel was wearing thin, although she was proud to be the youngest Commander in the Interstellar League, and manned her binnacle adeptly. How often had she shrugged off meteor storms, event horizons, alien attacks and the buffoonery of her crew as just another aspect of the job, a choice among evils? She told herself to get a grip, relax and wait till the backup generator had her on her feet again.

Peering through the spaceport, she gulped. The instruments had run amok, and she knew why: this wasn’t just a black hole, it was a very Titan of imploding stars, and the control panel was already rippling. Unusual animals of various shapes and sizes slammed against the glass and the ship rocked; Alyssa still floated, and all seemed, if not lost, on the far side of found.

 If only she could shoot the ship back in time to a more peaceful age, an age in which young girls might drowse with their cats by a stream and watch white rabbits with large pocket watches dash towards an important, yet quizzical, appointment deep underground. As she mused in this way, the gravity kicked on and she slammed to the floor, various tools following, a rain of wrenches and wire-snippers and Victorian artifacts until she sat inside a circle of metal detritus.

Alyssa had just begun to contemplate the astrophysics of rabbit holes, and whether waist-coat pockets were actually puckers in space-time, when she felt herself floating again, and cursed the outdated artificial gravity drive foisted on her by a cut-rate vendor. Oddly enough, she wasn’t floating towards anything, or even about the cabin, yet she felt and saw her body begin to stretch like taffy, her face mashed up against the spaceport. The bright black metallic spaceboots telescoped into her stomach, and like an inchworm she was propelled by stuttering increments through the glass and into the maw of the black hole.

A deadly fear gripped her as she twirled through and downwards a sucking funnel of some kind. Alyssa hoped she was just dreaming, and would soon wake up in the cryobay just in time for tea, but she suspected that what was happening was actually happening, and would continue in this vein indefinitely.

 “Hello Alyssa” said the cat in the sudden, peaceful new silence – the sort of sudden silence that falls after a thunderclap. It was an unusual breed of cat, if there could be such a thing, thought Alyssa, since cats were cats generally and pretty much all the same. All other things being equal, this cat was unusual because of its weird smile–which seemed separate from the rest of it–but perhaps even more because of its uncanny ability to articulate vowels. It had said ‘hello’. In an English accent. While smiling.

The where-to’s and why-fors of where she was and how she’d arrived completely eluding her for the moment, her social conditioning told her it would be bad manners to not respond. Especially to a cat with a smile who had said “hello,” and in a place with purple trees and orange grass of which she had no recollection of how she had got there.

 “Hello.” She replied. “Mr. Cat?”

“Don’t mind if I do. Extra cream, please,” said the cat.

“I’m so sorry,” said Alyssa–and she really was terribly sorry, besides being confused and out of sorts from the abrupt transition to this odd world. “But I’m afraid I don’t understand, not one little bit. Just now I was wishing…”

“You were wishing for some tea,” said the cat amiably, curling up at her feet. “Please sit down. You’re making me uncomfortable, with the standing and the bizarre accent.” Suddenly a full tea service popped up beside her, much like a mushroom the morning after rain. Alyssa, anxious not to offend any alien inhabitants (a previous misstep on her part had nearly set off an intergalactic war), kneeled in the orange grass and poured the steaming hot tea into a tiny china cup and offered it to the cat. “You know, I own a cat much like…” and she paused.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh dear,” said Alyssa. Despite her best efforts, the cat looked terribly offended. “You must forgive me, dear cat, kind cat…for you see, I’m so very new to your world, and I’m bound to make mistakes.” Embarrassed, Alyssa lowered her head and scooted her own, human-sized cup below her chin. Her hands trembled so hard that she spilled half the tea down the collar of her spacesuit. She suppressed a cry as the liquid cooked her skin, but let it out as a horrified scream when she looked up and saw the cat adorned with the robes of a Justice, holding a gavel high above its head.

“Trafficking in feline slaves is not just a ‘mistake,’ as you so naively put it,” said the cat, green eyes blazing, its teeth sharp as razors. “You have confessed your crime, and must take the punishment.” The gavel came down.

Hoots, hollers and alarming joy for the “fresh meat”greeted Alyssa as rough paws seized her from behind, a black sack reeking of Schrodinger’s Catnip placed on her head, whereupon she was dragged through a portal that was the mirror-opposite of the one through which she’d entered.

“Oh dear oh dear oh dear,” said Alyssa to herself. “A reverse-negative black hole. I’ve heard these are very bad and impossible to escape from.” The hood was yanked off, and she found herself staring through the bars of a grim, squalid cell, so small she had to squeeze her limbs together to avoid contamination from the toxic-looking bacteria that stained the walls.

“Not impossible, just unlikely,” said the cat, who was reduced now to a streamlined and awful grin hovering on the periphery of her vision. “Unless, of course, you choose the Ultimate Option.”

“W-what exactly is the Ultimate Option?” stammered Alyssa.

The cat drifted directly in front of her face. “Come a little closer, and I can bite your head off,” it said.

“But…even if I agreed, there’s no way I can fit my head through the bars.”

In response, the cat rummaged through its coat pockets and found a chunk of biscuit. “Ordinarily, you’d be right,” it said. “But if you take a bite of this, you’ll find the maneuver quite easy.”

Alyssa closed her eyes and opened her mouth. Protest and struggle were futile. Plus, the biscuit’s extraordinary taste distracted her from the pain as the cat’s jaws slammed down.

On a summer morning, the cat drowsing beside Alice near the stream awoke from a pleasant dream. When it smiled, it felt its grin begin to pull away from its head; but only a little bit.

 

 

 

 

Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision

Alice was no longer curious in the same way. At 22, she’d felt for years that there was something different about her.

In her dreams–not the daytime reveries in which she was plucked to the land of Mad Hatters and White Knights whose words gave her a headache because they ran backwards–she was a proper Victorian gentleman, a scholar with leisure time to spare who investigated crimes using a new deductive method he had invented.

Armistead Ramsgate was a fresh breed of detective. And gradually, it appeared that Alice was able to cloak herself in his skin not only in daydreams, but at points in real life. These points appeared as mathematical characters that expanded from textbooks (a girl pursuing the rigors of mathematics being a thing frowned upon by family, friends and nosy neighbors, but she didn’t care so much what they thought) into affable, ambulatory gateways that provided a cloaking mechanism for her. Armistead showed up in drawing rooms, the toast of London society, puffing on his Meerschomb pipe as he enlarged on the virtues of “the behavioral analysis”. Alice was sitting by the river, dosing off over a book on Symbolic Logic by her old friend Professor Carroll, when suddenly she saw a familiar, furry face blur by. She refocused her eyes for daydream vision and noted with a start–and a burst of adrenaline–that the White Rabbit was splashed with clots of blood, his fur matted with it, tufts hardened to rusty spires.

“How now, my good rabbit,” she greeted him, and her voice deepened with the gravity of Detective Ramsgate.

“Who are you?” the White Rabbit burst out. Then he consulted his pocketwatch. “Time is running out. I have to catch him. Toodles”.

Ramsgate recalled the White Rabbit’s penchant for mania and realized something was terribly, terribly wrong in Wonderland. She jumped down the familiar rabbithole; the sawlike edges of the vortex were crusted with gore, and menacing faces grinned at her as they sailed down like cards to the bottom, and out. Alice had the Eat Me, Drink Me routine wired by this point, and after the tiresome exercises in redundancy popped through a series of mirrored hallways to Wonderland.

Body parts dotted the landscape. The Cheshire Cat’s head was impaled on a lamp post and his grin flickered in blue flame. Unhappy card faces punched with jagged tears ran frantically back and forth. The Mad Hatter, his eyes gouged out and weeping mercury, plunged forward into her arms.

“I’m not really mad, you know,” he gasped before expiring.

Ramsgate shuddered and wondered if direct contact with the Hatter’s corpse might drive him actually insane.

“Don’t worry, you’re the only rational being left,” said the Mad Hatter’s instant ghost. “Have fun, strange gentleman!”

“How do you like my new, improved Wonderland?” asked a voice from behind–low, breathy, sensual and female. Ramsgate whirled around. The voice seemed to be coming from behind what was left of the mushroom. He looked up and saw bits of caterpillar wriggling from the branches of a very tall and worried tree.

“I don’t like it one bit,” Ramsgate exclaimed, for a second lapsing into the Alice voice. He cleared his throat and began again. “Sir, you have disrupted the fragile equipoise of mad logic in this world, and that is a crime. I will discover you and ensure you meet with the punishment you so justly deserve.”

“Tut, tut, Alice,” chided the voice. “So formal. You’ve obviously forgotten the value of fun!”

The voice had a point, thought Alice. Shrugging off the Ramsgate suit, she stood, an unusually tall, full-figured woman, with long blonde hair, clear blue eyes, wearing a gown tailored after the fashions of classical Athens. “The game’s a foot,” she improvised.

“That makes no sense at all. In order for the game to be a foot, we would have to redesign it entirely along the lines of podiatry.”

“Now who lacks a sense of fun?” she said, scoffing.

Silence.

“I deduce from the state of your victims that you, sir, are an unpleasant, small female with a grave personality disorder. You have no self-esteem to speak of and enjoy cruelty as recompense for what you think of as the world’s conspiracy against you. Failing to find contentment in the killing spree you carved through Whitechapel, you fell down a rabbithole of your psyche’s own devising. I name you, Madamoiselle. You are the Ripper in Black. Show yourself!”

“A nice speech. I suppose next you’re going to say I was jealous of those whores,” said the voice. “All right, I’m coming out.” There was a bustle in the hedgerow and the Ripper appeared. As predicted, she was a frowsy, stunted woman wearing an eyepatch, a dark gray suit with a cloak, a tall black silk hat over severely cropped red hair, and just a hint of frilly garters emerging from her trousers.

Alice gasped with laughter.

“I’ll cut you, I will,” said the Ripper, lapsing into the Cockney dialect of her youth.

“I see Paris, I see France…” then Alice was on the ground, helpless with mirth.

“You little bitch! I’ll tear out that tarty tongue of yours and feast on it, me!”

“Seriously?” asked Alice, wiping the tears from her cheek. She hadn’t had this much fun in years. ”

“Grimly serious, yes, I am. Behold the Ripper in Black!”

“That’s not a moniker I’ve seen in the newspapers, Mistress Black.”

The Ripper tittered. “It’s my own invention.”

“And speaking of which…” Alice negotiated several trains of thought, then jumped off. “This is still Wonderland, and Wonderland rules apply.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“Meaning…” Alice enacted her words as she uttered them. “Meaning…I’m going to turn you inside out and expose your guts to a laughing chorus of revived animals, berserk royalty, Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the Jabberwock.”

The Ripper’s steaming entrails flopped about as she lay on the grass, a small, squeaky voice cursing Alice and her family to the seventh generation from deep inside her inverted mortal coil.

Alice smiled with satisfaction. “That being much too easy, I expect you will return in some other form. Be that as it may, I have equations to solve and puzzles to operate.”

And Wonderland was restored, at least temporarily, a plaque erected to honor Alice for her “Contributions beyond the call of duty,” a grand festival hosted by the Mad Hatter, and a delay of execution from all the different varieties of Queen.

Free Fiction Friday: Children of Doom by Alex S. Johnson

Children of Doom

by Alex S. Johnson

(An original story inspired by the song by St. Vitus, words and music by Dave Chandler)

They were young, so very young, when they passed through the spacegate.

Infants. Not physically or even intellectually, but emotionally–in their hearts and vision, the ways they had learned to respond to the world they came from.

It was a world built on pain. On tender openness met with fear, wrath, the strangest hostility. And this from the people who they called family. Mom and Dad. Aunt and Uncle. Sister and Brother.

Good citizens. Loyal friends. Faithful companions. But the children knew another side. The faces that smiled in public and bared their teeth in soundproofed privacy. A different kind of smile.

They were frozen behind their eyes, their faces made masks harder than jade. And when they wept–and they did weep–it was alone, knuckles pressed to hairless cheeks, clutching plush animals long ago outgrown, their only succor the blessed day their lives on earth would come to an end, or they managed to escape the present hell for the streets and alleyways where even more terrible predators lay in wait for them.

This further fate some of them knew, and then they prayed again. For death.

Their souls were snared in the sickly web of flashbulbs, in photographic images that stole the brilliance within them, leaving only husks of flesh.

Yet all that changed upon translation.

Walls of green marble, etched with the silver script of the arachnid gods, yawned to receive them.

They found themselves in an enormous vaulted gallery, the ceiling lost even to the memory of those that had built it.

Guards in uniforms made of blinding light stood on either side of a shattered throne black as the dreams of obsidian.

A bodiless voice spoke from the heart of that darkness, reaching into their minds. The voice knew of their secret sorrow, what they had endured and suffered. The things they had done and seen and been forced to witness, rituals of sickness carried out in suburban garages and sound-proofed chambers by Boy Scout troop leaders and pastors and priests, presidents of the local Chamber of Commerce, pillars of their communities. Children’s entertainers, clowns hawking paper cones stuffed with poisoned cotton candy.

The voice knew their anguish, and in some sinister way they couldn’t yet fathom, suffered and delighted in it simultaneously.

As they stood before the blackened throne, the guards swept wings like jagged lightning around and over them, and for the first time in their lives, they felt peace.

Comfort. Understanding.

For so long they had identified themselves with those who had hurt them. They didn’t dare feel the anger that was their right. But the kiss of the guardians’ wings bestowed something deeper than anger. And more frightening.

It was a cold feeling.

A feeling beyond mere hate or the will to vengeance.

Slowly they changed. Transformed. Were cloaked in an armor stronger than titanium.

The gates of chased silver opened once more in the cold marble wall.

Their return went unnoticed at first, simply because their bodies remained on earth, seemingly animated. But their souls no longer lived there.

The kids came in the dead of night.

With scythes of carved bone, blades of mirrors, luminous swords.

With steel and fire and howling weapons hewed from stars and blood and nightmare.

Wreaking an apocalypse unknown and unseen by the vast majority, those who had honored and protected the children in their care.

They took the predators to the places of private agony. The cork-lined rooms with walls of reinforced concrete. The basements where hung flesh-crusted chains, bricks soaked with suffocated screams.

Slowly, quietly, with infinite care, they returned the gifts of horror.

At first the adults pleaded. Cajoled. They knew they had done wrong, but they could change their ways. Life would be different from now on.

They were so very, very sorry for their crimes.

Until they couldn’t plea, or cajole, or speak through slashed throats, eye sockets weeping blood.

No remorse, no repentance, from the Children of Doom. They were deaf to the death rattle, the awful, high-pitched, animal screams.

At some level, they seemed to enjoy their work.

“‘O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,

‘You’ve had a pleasant run!

Shall we be trotting home again?’

But answer came there none–

And this was scarcely odd, because

They’d eaten every one.”

–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

 

 

 

 

 

Serpentine

Serpentine by Alex S. Johnson

inspired by works of Ralph Ellison and Bram Stoker.

 

Forget the ghouls of stage, screen and novels.Serpentine

Or rather, remember them–with a difference.

One day, it was I believe in midsummer, I awoke, wiped the crust from my eyes and saw with a new, startling clarity. It was reminiscent of my first pair of glasses at age 12, when the world screwed into focus, from a Monet painting of water lilies to the stems, leaves and green water.

The first thing I saw was my girlfriend’s portrait next to my computer, in the frame carved from a tobacco box by my great-great uncle, before his move from Alabama to New York in the mass northern movement. I had stared at her dark, curly hair and deep brown eyes so often that her features were embedded in my brain. She was off visiting relatives in Idaho; or so she claimed.

Or maybe she was just passing, as in through. Or for. Black or white, with a shortcut to shades in between. I was more cafe au lait.

But something was different. In her eyes, a glimmer, just a pulse at first. Then the snakes leaped out.

You think I’m crazy. I thought I should either admit myself to a mental hospital or check my meds for interactive effects.

They weren’t large snakes, but vipers. Small, darting across my desk. I raised my hands automatically, but they shot towards my neck and took hold.

A period of blackness. Then a flashlight shining in my eyes. I was disoriented. I looked up, and it was Lateisha, pouring the beam of a Maglite into my retina.

Darling, I was so concerned…

I believe these were her actual words. She was concerned, had a hunch, female intuition, a premonition that something was dangerously wrong with me. Had rushed to take an early flight home. Screamed at the cab driver who was already going 30 miles over the speed limit, weaving between lanes like a drunk on a terminal bender. Snakelike, even.

Yes, I have always maintained a sense of humor, even on good days.

She was wearing a different perfume than usual.

No, it wasn’t perfume. It had a darker, more masculine scent.

Cologne.

I sniffed the air. She looked startled.

“What is it, honey?”

“Nothing.”

“It’s never nothing with you. Nothing means something. Talk to me.”

I sat up on the bed, where I’d taken refuge, my brain burning. I couldn’t say what was on my mind, my suspicions. But I was too out of it to fake it.

I nearly told the truth, and saw a tail beneath her right eye. Just a flash. I turned away from her.

She leaned over and held my face in her hands.

“You’re scaring me, Don. Should I call your doctor?”

A reptile handler would be more helpful, I thought.

The transformation was sinuous and sudden. I felt the sting of the bites, but no pain. I thought perhaps that the snakes from the photograph had embedded themselves in my neck, which thought, doubtless insane, was no crazier than Lateisha’s actual flash-morph into a monster.

Those were difficult times for me. Obviously, although I had to fake it to make it when my shrink asked me about hallucinations, I was probably hearing sounds that weren’t there and seeing things that looked like loved ones–with scales and yellow slits for eyes.

This was the first episode. After that came old classmates, my best friend from high school, Mom and Dad. Variations on a theme.

Mom, I discovered, was a vampire.

Dad was a ghoul.

My best friend from high school, Henry, was more complex; assembled from rotten body parts by my Dad.

It reached the point where I grew nostalgic for the simple serpentine that had stolen my heart and infected by bloodstream with her venom.

You will find the process is not as painful as it seems. As they say in recovery circles, keep coming back. It does get better.

You may well mistake me for your favorite armchair, but I am watching. Always.

You may think of me as a lampshade, and if so, I safeguard the light for your reading pleasure.

If you find traces of me on an operating table on which you’re strapped, the anesthetic will take effect soon.

Mutatis mutandis.

And now, to the air.

 

 

Free Fiction Friday: Burning from the Inside (Envy) by Alex Johnson

Burning from the Inside (Envy)

by Alex S. Johnson

Don’t stop–you’re almost there.

But the integument was sticky and hard to handle, and she was working from a medical textbook, the lines of type blurring, completely winging it, besides the over-reaching mental hammers from the blow.

Lines. She snuffled and the cocaine-flecked mucus dripped onto her tongue. A tingling, metallic sensation.

Chemical hammers smashed her brain when she needed more than anything precision, a hand that didn’t shake, eyes that didn’t flash with demons.

Just concentrate.

The “rock star” lay on the gleaming, sterile operating table, silent as Stephen in that Chris and Cosey song. But unlike Doctor John, Sondra wasn’t taking trophies simply to get off. There was much more to it than that. She was giving herself the face she deserved, had worked and sweated for. The well-padded industry audience expected a cynical indulgence, a vanity fair. Not Liquid Bambi, who reports in Billboard said was missing in action. When Bambi strutted down from the Vampire Room in glorious boudoir gear, they’d lose their shit.

Fat beads of blood on stainless steel, running into the grooves. Because her nose was acting up again.

More lines. Color within. Don’t stray from the path. You can do this thing.

Next week was the showcase at the Whiskey. Granted, she had paid–again, through the nose, as it bloody were–but that was the way the game worked these days.

If only she had the talent encased in the semi-conscious artist on the slab.

If you cut her, you will come.

Nice, Sondra, a good jest, but it won’t lift the face intact.

Screw this. She reaches and pulls. It’s a nice little moment, straight out of Les Yeux Sans Visage (which had just played at the Hollywood Forever cemetery).

Finally, the idol’s mask was free.

Dripping wet as sex, smeared with the red, red krovvy, but fully wearable once it had been cured. And a little juju, dark, rich, opiate bloodrush with the spirit of her great-grandmother howling inside, bent over backwards with the force of the loa as it pounded and pounded.

Sondra put it on. And gazed at her reflection in the metal. And sought a mirror to primp and preen before. And nearly vomited with the rush. It was everything, sex magic heliotropes blazing across the last stretch of land before the Pacific tide, salt, kelp, sacrifice. Where the sun went down melting the horizon.

She gyrated in her white lab coat and did a striptease, Doctor John’s Traveling Apocalyptic Nightmare, starring Sondra De La Guerre, late of New Orleans, West Hollywood’s finest.

Oh the stunning eroticism of her body, so lean and skinny her ribs ran like window slats beneath her breasts. She photographed so well.

She had thought and pondered and considered how to replace Bambi. It was easy in this town to find someone, or a few someones, brutal, degraded and greedy enough to kidnap the star from her Beverly Hills Hotel under some simple pretense and shuttle her out as an emergency–make way, make way–shove her into the waiting ambulance driven by an ex member of the Polish Mafia, gun the engine and burn rubber to the hole-in-the-wall porn store on La Brea where they carried Bambi’s limp body into a storeroom, tied her up and texted Sonda with the code.

Sondra could not wait for showtime.

Showtime

Backstage she ignored the ponderous critique that she might lay off the Bolivian until after the gig. Apparently glazed over with ennui, the label reps would regard her coldly, assessing her every move. If she stumbled on this one, her career, which had budded several times without flowering, was finished. Then she’d have to return in shame to her home in the Lower Ninth Ward and sell her skeleton to johns who liked their whores with a little less flesh on their bones.

Even behind the narcotics, she realized her secret plan was completely insane. Wearing the actual face of a real rock star to shock-start her own rocket to the top of the charts was madness maddened, and she would never get away with it. But. It had never been done before. Combining the cutting-edge aesthetics of an Ed Gein with Bowie body English, traces of the Runaways, a little Trent Reznor, a dash of Manson, Sondra’s performance would make headlines and focus the nation’s attention on her. Her, not that–admittedly talented–twat whose visage she’d snatched.

Industrial beat, rubber drums, the sh-sh-sh of digital cymbals. Floodlights. Flashbulbs. A strange, high buzz in her inner ear.

She grabbed the mic and tossed her long, raven-black hair, feeling spectacular now in a red vinyl jumpsuit that accentuated her curves and streamlined her gaunt torso. Right horrorshow. The Diva of her time.

The crowd was silent. Nobody said a word.

“How are you feeling tonight?”

More flashbulbs. Sonda blinked.

Something was wrong.

She felt the Bambi mask writhe and seethe against her skin. Hot filaments pierced her forehead, her cheeks, her eyes. She screamed.

She could barely hear the din of the audience. Sirens in the smoky distance. The crackle of police radios.

Bambi’s face began to devour her own. It burned like acid, like napalm. She smelled sizzling flesh and brought her hands up, screamed again with the pain as her fingers stuck to the mask and through to her skull and she pulled and it came away in flaming ribbons, tassels of fire…until the red bundles of her face muscles gleamed forth and she opened her mouth and a beautiful, sweet song poured out, but it wasn’t her own.

It would never be hers.

The limelight. The glamour. The accolades. All reserved for the real rock star, as the fingers of pain thrust down Sondra’s throat and opened her up, all the rotten green stuff within slopping out. The color of money, of jealousy, greed and envy.

Which was, in the end, her entire legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Fiction Wednesday: A Date with Monsieur Baudelaire by Alex S. Johnson

A Date with Monsieur Baudelaire
by Alex S. Johnson

“Well, this is awkward,” said Giselle Duras (in French, of course, as that was her native language). She had shown up promptly to the small artist’s cafe in Montparnasse and now anticipated trekking the Walk of Shame known to other artist’s models who had been stood up by the distinguished and infamous author of Les Fleurs Du Mal.

Mlle. Duras was just about to collect her parasol and beat a quick exit through the kitchen when a thunderous voice called from just behind her. She started, blushed and brought her lace-gloved fingers to her mouth.

“Monsieur!” she said. “You scared me!”

“Sit,” he said imperiously.

She did as he instructed.

“I hope you weren’t planning to beat a hasty escape through that squalid kitchen. At best, you would smear your dainty boots with offal; at worst…” he shuddered and a grave look settled on his oddly handsome, square-jawed face.

Charles Baudelaire sat his tall black velvet hat on a seat beside him and, like a conjurer, produced a large package from beneath his cloak.

“Your beauty merits more than the baubles a handful of francs can summon,” he said with a grandiloquent sweep of his arms.

Mlle. Duras pushed her veil aside, revealing her pale skin and dark blue eyes, her delicate features and thin nose.  She examined the box. It was covered in black crepe with an oxblood ribbon. She thought for a moment there must be some error. It looked more like a consolatory gift given a widow than a romantic gesture. But as Monsieur was well known for his eccentricities in art as well as life, she suppressed the desire to call the gendarmes strolling the dank alleyway behind the kitchen. She mustn’t let her nervous fears overwhelm her.

Mustn’t.

“You are like a fair and fragrant rose, ma cherie,” Baudelaire added. Now he was laying it on a bit thick. But he was, after all, the celebrated author of forbidden works, and she was more than a bit curious what mysteries the box held within it.

He tapped the package with a long, cadaverous finger. “You reject my present?”

“Pour moi?” she asked, her eyelashes fluttering. His lips pursed to a thin white line uncomfortably close to a scar.

“You reject my present, you reject me!” he announced to the cafe in general. Two painters who were guzzling their lunch turned around and, upon seeing the great poet in their midst, turned green and left the cafe on their knees, bowing and kissing the floor where his boots had left muddy tracks spackled with clumps of snow.

“No, no, please,” said Mlle. Duras. “I am flattered and honored you would think to bestow such kindness on a mere model, especially on a first date.” She hoped he wasn’t like the other great poets she had met under similar circumstances, who expected, nay, demanded favors she was ill-equipped to bestow. She was saving herself for a nobleman, although she thought perhaps once that grim ritual had been executed, she might keep a poet on the side for sport.

Duras had been raised in a convent until released at the age of 18 into a world she didn’t quite understand, and soon learned that her knowledge of the scriptures, prayer and fasting was inadequate to the challenge of life in Paris in the late 19th Century.

Her fingers trembling, she plucked the bow from the package and proceeded to carefully unwrap it.

“Close your eyes,” said Baudelaire once the box lay bare.

She complied, terrified now.

She heard rustling and fluttering as he pushed the wrapping paper down flat on the flowered tablecloth and popped the box open.

“Et voila!” he said. “You may look now.”


 

Shortly after her date with Monsieur Baudelaire, Giselle Duras returned to the convent a nervous wreck, her mind shattered beyond any hope of recovery. The other artist’s models didn’t miss her, were glad, in fact, that “the neurotic bitch went home to Jesus.”

To her dying day, she would never forget the cloud of flies that swarmed up from the rotting head, one eyeball still intact, shreds of flesh clinging to the bones, the sickly-sweetish odor, and, worst of all, Baudelaire’s smile, accompanied by tender words, at the revelation: “One day you will be like that, my love, my indolent, catlike goddess. Your skin will shrink on your frame, your sockets will inhale your vision, and you will exhale the vilest stink that to my nostrils glorifies the odor of the grave over any perfume. Worms will crawl along your clavicles and tree roots will impale your soft tissue. Then you will bloat like a pregnant cow…”

She had barely been carried out the cafe door when another model plumped herself down in Baudelaire’s lap and, caressing him slowly, kissed him on the neck. “I’d be delighted to get a gift like that from such a fine gentleman as yourself,” she said, her nostrils flaring like a pig. She shifted her heavy buttocks against him.

“You too will be like this,” he said, after the stormy look of disappointment had passed. “My love, my goddess, my angel of the gutters.”

“Aw, you poets and your fancy talk.”

Free Fiction Tuesday?: A Christmassacre Carol by Alex S. Johnson

A Christmassacre Carol

by Alex S. Johnson

(inspired by the album Slashing Through the Snow by Venus de Vilo and with apologies to Dickens)

Morley was dead. He had been tending this way for a long time, but now that winter snows swirled around his tombstone, the general report was that if he weren’t dead, he would be, at best, some kind of slavering, rotting ghoul to frighten little children already terrified by the advent of Christmassacre. Excepting, naturally, those fiendish tykes for whom the slaughter of their parents was a consummation devoutly to be wished and, indeed, prayed for.

Meanwhile, Urbangeezer Screwed was counting his money. Thanks to his miserly character, or so he believed, the money was more plentiful than ever in the year ________ in which our tale occurs. He had just dismissed his churlish assistant, Fob Crutchhead, who no doubt would waste Christmassacre in the foolish expenditure of glad tidings to all, yadda yadda. As far as Screwed was concerned, Christmassacre was a crumbug phonier than the holiday it had replaced.

“Bah,” said Screwed to the empty office, which echoed the word in a manner foreshadowing the specters that would shortly enter his life and change him forever.

“Whoo!” came a shivery voice from behind the curtains.

“Stop trying to scare me, Crutchhead. I’m not buying it and it won’t work. Go sell crazy elsewhere. And for the record, you can keep Christmassacre in your way, and I will keep it in mine, by ignoring its baneful existence and counting paper.”

“It is I, Morley,” the voice continued.

“Like hell it is. Come out, come out, wherever you are, and I’ll bite your bloody face off! I have no time for your foolish shenanigans.”

Screwed pulled his cap down over his bristly eyebrows and sighed. Every year it was the same nonsense, and if Crutchhead thought his silly annual prank would soften Screwed’s blackened old heart to the plight of Little Tomby, he had another thing coming. Plus, he suspected that Tomby wasn’t even Crutchhead’s real child, but an orphan he had plucked from the streets to earn sympathy.

“Seriously, mate, wake up and smell the moldy Christmassacre pudding!”

“All right, that’s it.” Screwed threw down his ledger and headed towards the window, which was fake and opened on nothing more than the sub-office where he kept the jewels and important papers.

“That’s the last mess you’ve made that I have to clean up!” shouted Screwed at the window. “Disrespecting the employer that’s kept you in geese for the past decade, defying my desire not to celebrate the worst idea for a holiday since the Yanks foisted Thanksgoony upon us, and…you are so freaking fired.”

Screwed pursed his lips in a refinement upon the fowl’s sphincter Crutchhead would not be enjoying this Christmassacre, or any to come.

Suddenly the air grew cold, and Screwed shivered, wondering at the sheer gall of his soon-to-be-ex-employee. “That tears it,” he roared. “Do you know how much hot air costs? Do you have any idea how much I have scrimped and saved and sweated over a hot ledger simply to sustain your reeking carcass, long may it burn in Hell?”

“I’m afraid you are late for that particular pity party,” said Morley.

The excrement was about to manifest in a most tangible way.

Screwed rubbed his eyes at the apparition that suddenly appeared before him, all clanking chains and a white sheet that Screwed was fairly sure had been stolen from his bed a fortnight ago.

“Are you taking the piss?” Screwed ejaculated. The ghost smirked at the author’s deliberately ambiguous use of an antique synonym for “quick verbal utterance.” And even supposing another meaning was intended, the ghost had no physical form and thus would be spared any bothersome stains upon his person.

“Seriously, though, it’s you, Crutchhead, innit.”

Morley removed his jaw and placed it on Screwed’s desk.

“Okay then, maybe you are a haunt come to address my so-called wrongdoings,” Screwed sputtered. “Well, get on with it. I don’t have all night.”

“I am the ghost of Christmassacre past, passing and to come,” said Morley.

“What, all three?”

“I thought you would appreciate the economy of it.”

“So…you’ve finally taken a cue from the old man. Ha ha, I get it. Very amusing. Well, do you have any other tricks up your sleeve?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” said Morley. “Fortunately for you, my sleeves are empty.” To demonstrate, Morley rolled the sheet past his skeletal forearms.

“And now to the meat of the thing. So to speak. First, I must warn you that anything you say in your own defense will be turned against you on the final Day of Reckoning.

“Second, you don’t want to traipse down the primrose path that led me to these”–Morley shook his chains–“and these”–he rattled his skull-faced manacles–and this“–but decorum forbids more explicit description of the latter horror lodged in Morley’s rear; or what might have been his posterior had he flesh.

Which he didn’t, being a ghost.

You get the idea.

“I’ll shorthand this. Change your wicked ways and stop being such an infernal ass hat, or you will suffer the same fate as me, only worse, because compared to you I’m a bloody angel. Excuse me.” Morley shrugged off the bedsheet; in its place was a pair of fiery wings.”

“Now that’s impressive. Not. Can you tell I’m being sarcastic?”

“Fine. Now hear this: if you maintain your attitude toward Christmassacre and all the joys it represents, you will spend eternity in Hades. Some blokes like to dub it Hell; I much prefer…”

Pommes du terre frites?”

“Mmm-hmmm.” The ghost shook himself and pounded his skeletal hand against the wall in frustration. In life, he had enjoyed more than anything else this French delicacy. Now, he didn’t have the literal stomach for it.

“In conclusion, I present to you the most dreadful sight imaginable. Hold on.” Morley’s wings vanished. Suddenly he stood encased in a cube of gelatin.

“You’re a self-righteous, money-grubbing slimebag of the first water, and for your crimes you will be held prisoner in the jellied hooves of those nags you rode to death in life. And I am so out of here.”

With those words, the ghost disappeared.

“That’s it?” said Screwed. But even as he uttered these syllables, he felt the moist grip of death upon him.

“Wait…wait. Hold on a second.”

“You are Screwed, old man,” came Morley’s voice from the ceiling.

“Don’t I get another chance at redemption? I can change my ways any time. ‘Satan bless Christmassacre and Little Tomby, every one.'”

Morley sighed. He was duty bound to reward sincere contrition with a stern rap on the knuckles and a Get out of Hades Free card.

“Your repentance isn’t credible, but what do I know? I’m just a book-keeper.”

“Crutchhead?”

“Before I came into your employ, I spent some time as a magician’s assistant.” Crutchhead emerged from the closet, his hand extended. “No hard feelings?”

“Yeah, well, you had me going there,” said Screwed feebly. “I give up. Maybe Christmassacre is a good thing. I don’t know. You wouldn’t happen to have some gin on you, by any chance?”

“Would laudanum serve?” Crutchhead produced a test tube full of a brownish liquid.

“Oh Hades yeah. Let’s get polluted and view Stereopticon pictures of unclad damsels.”

 

Music Review: Slashing Through the Snow by Venus De Vilo

Music Review:  Slashing Through the Snow by Venus De Vilo

by Alex S. Johnson

"SLASHING THROUGH THE SNOW" ALBUM, COMIC BOOK AND "KILLENDAR 2016" cover artartwork copyright (c) Venus De Vilo 2015. All rights reserved.

Venus de Vilo’s Slashing Through the Snow is a three-song monsterpiece that should appeal to fans of Gothic singer/songwriter/cartoonist Voltaire, whose sinister snark makes him De Vilo’s twin when it comes to tuneage. The Dublin native plays her own instruments accompanying a voice that’s a bit like Lydia Lunch meets Jello Biafra with Nick Cave lurking somewhere in the shadows.

The only problem with this release is that it’s three songs. One of the many upsides is that the songs–“Santa’s Slay,” “Mistletoetag” and “The Night Before Christmassacre”–are such deliriously wrong and madly delicious ear candy they will burrow into your brain folds faster than a maggot on the Swedish biker crank.

De Vilo has been described as “the love child of Marilyn Manson and Amanda Palmer,” and the blurb is dead on, if the greying matter on display here is any bloody indication. I would add Edward Gorey and Tim Burton, among other artists who combine dark wit with horrific themes; one is reminded that H.P. Lovecraft’s first published story, “Herbert West, Reanimator,” was intended to be funny and appeared in a humor magazine (Little Known Fact Department).

If you ever wondered about the predatory character of Santa Claus, “Santa’s Slay” will set the record straight. Anybody who spends Christmas night breaking and entering into the homes of complete strangers with a “naughty and nice children” list pasted against his jelly belly should by all rights be listed on some kind of international Most Wanted list. Not to mention that Claus had done this once(?) a year for centuries before he began to sport the Coca-Cola corporate colors, and we have a big, bad, red and white problem on our hands.

De Vilo’s version strikes me as the more accurate–in her take on the legend, Santa takes a sharp weapon along with his gifts. And why not? Why stop at home invasion and stalking kids when you can add serial killer to your credits?

Preparatory to “The Night Before Christmassacre,” “Mistletoetag” tells the grisly yet hauntingly beautiful story of a bad romance. And then we have the sizzling giblets of the thing…

Santa’s slayride sets the stage for the unholy blessings of “Christmassacre,” where everything dreadful lurking beneath this beloved holiday worms to the surface and takes heads. Eerie keyboards echoing Keith Emerson’s score for Dario Argento’s film Inferno lead into the secret history of Yuletide. Yup, folks, “fresh from his spree,” it’s “f**king Saint Nick!” His hair soaked in gore, looking like Leatherface merrily dolled up in seasonal department store drag, the better to sit you on his lap and ask what you really want for Xmas…

De Vilo spares no institution, person, place or thing with her caustic, hilarious songs. If you’re easily offended, this download is probably not for you. But if you like brilliantly funny, razor sharp songwriting, Slashing Through the Snow is well worth the Euro.

Just a taste of De Vilo’s lyrical gifts, from “Mistletoetag”:

A mince pie for one and a bottle of wine,
This time last year, he was all mine,
under mistletoe, in our paper hats,
Now all that he wears,
A MISTLETOETAG…

On Bludgeon, On Shitsen…

For more information, go to: https://venusdevilo.bandcamp.com/album/slashing-through-the-snow-album-comic-book-and-killendar-2016

 

Free Fiction…Tuesday! We Have Always Lived in Our Heads by Alex S. Johnson

We Have Always Lived in Our Heads

by Alex S. Johnson

giantskullAt first it seemed that we were lost. Abandoned first by our captain, then the first mate, and speedily, the entire crew. Something had spooked them on the shore, in the fog, and they couldn’t wait to scramble down the jointed gray steel ladders into the dinghies and rowboats. Whatever siren or ghost or devil beckoned them from tortured dreams, I still don’t know. But I have my terrible suspicions.

When the storm hit, churning the water into a froth, the skies vast sheets of blackness stuttering flames, we saw them drown. One by one the tiny crafts capsized, and we were helpless as the fierce currents formed whirlpools, sucking the boats in our wake down into a vortex, as tons of water cascaded onto the toy vessels and crushed them like matchsticks.  There was nothing we could do to help them.

Then lightning seized the tackle, and fire streaked down like rivulets of gold. The forecastle began to burn, and the deck smoldered and crackled. The fire seemed like a living thing, so quickly did it consume the wood and canvas. Thick smoke moved through the cabins, and all around me sounded the panicked cries of the other passengers.

I quickly seized a bucket of water and dipped rags, passing them out to my fellows. But they were adults and could endure more.

What worried me most was the children below decks; I feared they would not survive.

They already suffered much terror on the journey, and I thought I could hear them wail through the thick walls of the hold. But I was already delirious from smoke inhalation and could barely keep my head up.

I told myself I needed to keep moving, to save myself before I could render aid to anyone else.

The ship then struck the rocks and the passengers were thrown to the deck, skidding sideways down the slippery planks as the ocean seeped in, and the flames sizzled and snuffed out. The ship groaned and shuddered as it crumpled in on itself.

There was no time left to escape. Those that remained were doomed like the captain and crew to a suffocating, watery death.

Quickly, I grabbed the hand of the passenger nearest me, a young woman named Chelsea–pale skin, ash-blonde hair, sorrowful deep blue eyes. We clutched one another, our hearts beating fast, the water rising on the deck, a ripple of rents yawning in the wood, splinters flying like sparks. The ship lurched again and I must have struck my head on the rigging, because all I remember between that moment and awakening was a merciful dark cloak of unconsciousness.

We had to leave the bodies on the shore; there was no other choice. At first it seemed that without them our tender, smoky forms would simply evaporate, becoming one with the sky and sea. As we proceeded along the sands, the bodies looked like stranded wrecks, flesh sculptures hung thick with draperies of plankton and algae. We couldn’t see our smoke-selves, but found we could communicate telepathically.

And that is when we discovered the heads.

They were titanic, curiously mustachioed and large as houses. We thought they might have been the heads of giants the rest of whom were sunk deep in the surf, but after we had determined that the heads were, if not dead, frozen as in trance, we grew bolder and began to dig around their circumference.

Nothing lay beneath. The heads were self-contained, and whatever life had animated them did not require oxygen or blood flow to thrive.

One of the passengers, a slender young man I came to know as Tony, suddenly cried out. Several of us looked over and saw what had excited him: a passage between the thick, fibrous ropes of mustache hair. Cautiously, we peered within the darkened interior. Expressions of shock, joy and wonder burst from our lips.

These were not merely mammoth heads; they were homes. We found fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, attics, crawlspaces, even cozy nooks and dens. We had no idea what material composed the furnishings and rooms; all we knew was it had to be organic.

Over time we settled in, began to build families. Generations of beings made of our smoke-stuff, puffed from vaporous loins, grew from the seeds we planted then. It was clear almost immediately we would have to find other dwellings; if not heads, then at the very least as comfortable and habitable as our original domiciles.

But there were only so many heads. We had a serious housing shortage on what might have been our hands, had we physical form.

Then we remembered the bodies, long abandoned. They would be rotting hulks by now, piles of slick bones. But surely there were others, fresher, to house us.

We selected a small group of our wisest and eldest to make a reconnaissance trip. Their mission was to look for bodies, preferably empty.

When they returned, their report was discouraging. To find untenanted bodies, we would have to turn ghoul, waiting for the moment of brain death to squat inside a new corpse, hiding out until the soul escaped and we could claim residency. As spirits ourselves, this hardly seemed like an ethical course of action. We weren’t cuckoos, after all, just houseless ghosts.

As we stood on the beach deciding on a further course of action, the landscape began to digest itself. The long strip of shoreline vanished; the sky overhead drew close like a drawstring bag, the ocean glimmered like a vast pool of mercury, became a single dot and disappeared, swallowing up the skeletons that had become host to a variety of crabs and other, unknown, jellied things.

Then the head houses slowly faded away, with just a scrap of nose or a bristle of mustache remaining before these too dissolved into nothing.

All we had known for eons suddenly revealed itself to be a mirage. A dream.

The dream trapped in the skulls of explorers who had dared the Sea of Darkness, to find not treasure, honor and reward but permanent incarceration in an astral museum gallery, sitting in boxes of alien glass and metal, gawked at by the descendants of the gibbering, tentacled horrors that had ambushed our expedition and taken trophies.

Our previous existence is not even a memory now. For all intents and purposes, we have always lived in our heads.

 

 

 

Review: Christmas, A Ghostly Gathering by Midnight Syndicate

by Alex S. Johnson

Midnight Syndicate has been a favorite of dark instrumental music fans for over 18 years, and now the Cleveland-based duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka have wrought their monsterpiece.

Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering revisits those aspects of the Yuletide season familiar to Charles Dickens buffs, specifically the spooky and ooky parts. “A Christmas Overture” by Douglas sets the stage for the Syndicate’s magical ride, and you can practically see Jack Skellington whipping on the horses of his pumpkin carriage as they wind through the streets of a sleeping New England village, spreading the gift of grim.

Next up is a version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sugar Plum Fairy” from the Nutcracker as one might imagine Italo-horror soundtrack greats Goblin playing it. Goosebumps galore ensue. This is followed by “Carol of the Bells,” composed by Mykola Leontovych, a holiday favorite haunted by choirs of lost angels.

Now we descend into “Night of the Krampus” courtesy of an original composition by Douglas. You’d better not shout, you’d better not cry, although you might want to scream and run for your life if this creature of German folklore, a sort of anti-Claus, spies you being naughty. This tune would make a fine accompaniment to a reboot of the old Hammer Films franchise–big breasted maidens hollering in terror, menaced by the Krampus, who is easily scarier than Frankenstein, Dracula, the Golem and the Wolf Man all stitched together in Peter Cushing’s laboratory.

And just when you think Christmas has become too genuinely frightening to serve as a context for hearthside cheer, “Angels We Have Heard on High” sing gently o’er the plains. But with the suspense built up from the previous songs, you might be wary of something dreadful hidden beneath their wings. Which is probably not “Greensleeves,” beautifully rendered here. Which is definitely “Up on the Housetop,” and whatever that might be, it means no good.

Fortunately, this chilling episode is succeeded by “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” although with the Danny Elfman treatment given this Christmas standard, they sound more like the League of Distinguished Gentlemen, gathered in a safe house somewhere in Victorian London as they work against time to foil a dastardly plot that threatens Western Civilization.

Midnight Syndicate 2015

Midnight Syndicate 2015

What’s this “Coventry Carol?” A thing to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. A song that could easily be titled “O Little Town of Deathlehem,” with none the wiser. Whatever is being born this day, it’s probably awful and best avoided for one’s mental health.

Similarly, “Little Helpers,” in another Douglas original, sound like nasty sprites with sharp claws and glowing red eyes, hopping up and down like psychedelic toads with deadly intent. They should be held at arm’s length if you can’t find a steel mesh net and some holy water. Seriously.

Ah, “Sing We Now of Christmas.” Nothing sinister here, right? A sweet, dark and somber rendition of the 15th Century French carol. So far, so not Satan’s coming round the bend. Yet. Suddenly we find ourselves swept into the heart of a “Winter Storm” (a Goszka original this time), and from there “Into the Stillness,” just shy of peaceful, a bit ominous actually…ok, something’s coming to turn the stillness into an abattoir. Could it be “The Parade of the Tin Soldiers?” For sweet little toys, they sound awfully like Stormtroopers from Hell. When, oh when, will it be “Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas Tonight?”

At last, it’s “Christmas at Midnight.” The chimney has been stoppered up to keep out the Krampus, with pots of boiling oil handy just in case he breaks through the barbed wire and armed guards. The children are shivering in their beds, wracked by nightmares, visions of big black spiders and rotting zombies dancing in their heads. Mom and Dad are with a therapist. And yet, despite all the horror and fear and creeping flesh, it seems we have all survived.

Just in time for the New Year’s Evil.

 

 

Free Fiction Friday: Bellamorte by Alex S. Johnson

Bellamorte

by Alex S. Johnson

Rising from her bath, Bellamorte took a moment to regard herself in the oval silver and jewel-framed mirror that stood in the east-facing corner of the tiny hut in the woods. Beside the fireplace hung the copper basin in which she’d heated the water.

Vanity, her good stepmother had called it. Self-regard, a sin for which the consequences were death. Yet, good as she was, Clarissa allowed it nevertheless.

She was convinced, bless her dear soul, that Bellamorte would eventually see the error of her ways and accept the true Savior.

Amazingly enough, all it took was a blush and a bowed head, simple words of a contrition she would never feel, for Clarissa to believe that her stepdaughter was headed down the true path. Give her time, and she would come around to righteousness.

Righteousness, yes.  For Bellamorte, this was her fine 18-year-old figure, droplets of water glistening in the firelight. Miniature echoes of her full breasts, womanly hips and dark thatch. Her waist-length, straight raven hair. Subtly Asiatic eyes.

Her younger sister, Donella, had not been as understanding. Donella clung to her prayerbook and her Bible like talismans. She lectured and read aloud from the volumes the village priest had given her.

Probably for a stiff price, smirked Bellamorte.

But Donella had been dealt with. Sternly, but more mercifully than she deserved. Bellamorte would never stoop to the cruelty of the priest and his kind.

She stoked the fire again with the poker and threw in a sprinkle of the rust-red powder from the pearl-colored sachet.

The fire snapped and sparkled. For a moment, a face appeared in a burst of grey smoke: the Lady of the Castle.

Her face was white as snow and her lips a rich scarlet. Long dark ringlets gathered on her shoulders.

Her eyes: terrible and beautiful at the same time, like the sweet tongues of Hell.

Fair Lady, I will be with thee soon.

Thoroughly toweling herself off, Bellamorte scooped a handful of the unguent–a clear gel that smelled of burning leaves, blood and opium–and carefully applied it, first to her forehead, then her shoulder blades, her breasts, and further south.

Her skin tingled, and at first a strawberry rash burst from the places she had touched. Then the rash receded and the slow bloom of ecstasy traveled in two directions: up her spine and down her flesh.

Deeper down. Crosswise.

Acorus vulgare, Verspertillionis sanguinem, Solanum somniferum, boiled together in oil. Indian Hemp and stramonium. To bind it, the blood and fat of night birds.

Then the charm was firm and good.

Outside the virgin snow spread across the countryside. Stars like diamonds studded the night sky. The moon was pregnant and about to give birth.

Bellamorte reached for the dress, a magnificent creation in violet: shot silk, with a ruffled collar, lacy puffed sleeves, low-cut decolletage, silver hem. She rolled the white silk stockings over her knees. Then the burgundy shoes.

The hut was ever so quiet.

Ever so peaceful.

And she looked and smelled and felt like Magic.

But she was losing time. The Lady was very strict about her new appointments, and Bellamorte did not wish to disappoint.

Gathering together her offerings of love, Bellamorte placed them in the wicker basket and covered it with a blue cloth. She plucked the half-eaten apple from the rude wooden shelf her grandfather had built and took a big bite. The sugar rushed through her bloodstream like living flame.

Now she would go.

She spun before the fire, counterclockwise, stamping out the rhythms of the Rede on the tamped earthen floor.

Bellamorte took one last look around the cottage. Her sister, stepmother and father, still as statues on the hay-stuffed cots. Three gifts for the Lady.

She pulled the thick woolen shawl around her shoulders and poked her head out the doorway, through the apron of cured leather.

Sniffed the air, the clean early-morning scent of nothing.

And bid farewell to the hut in the forest forever.

KIDNAPPED BLOG: Lovecraft’s Legacy: A Chat with Ashley Dioses and K.A. Opperman by Alex S. Johnson

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ADAshley Dioses and K.A. Opperman are a young couple making waves in the contemporary Weird Fiction scene. I recently sat down with the two for a chat via Facebook Messenger to pick their brains. Gently, of course.

Alex S. Johnson: My first question is how you two first became involved with weird fiction–who were the authors that did it for you?

Ashley Dioses: Actually Kyle got me into weird fiction. I have always been a horror and fantasy fan but I didn’t know there was a weird genre and when he first introduced me to it, I knew that I was greatly missing out.

KAOK.A. Opperman: H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith are my two foremost influences. Lovecraft came first, and solidified my desire to become a horror writer. I think he’s had a greater impact on me than any other writer. Smith, however, first fostered my love for poetry, specifically–but that’d be a long conversation!

ASJ: Right, the complete CAS poetry collection is what, 800 bucks and five volumes or something. Where would you recommend starting with Smith’s poetry?

KAO: Haha, not that bad. It’s $75, three volumes in paperback.

AD: Hippocampus has three volumes and the third is translations he did. The Last Oblivion is where I started with CAS poetry and I was mesmerized by it. I’m just now working through the first two volumes of the rest of his poetry volumes.

KAO: Those new to CAS will want to seek out Penguin’s breakthrough volume The Dark Eidolon and Other Phantasies. The Last Oblivion (Hippocampus Press) is an excellent intro for his poetry, specifically.

ASJ: Do you think there’s a resurgence in weird fiction fandom, and if so, to what or whom do you attribute it?

KAO: There is certainly a growing interest in Weird fiction, in part due to the Internet and increased networking. The flourishing of small press publishers like Hippocampus Press, which focuses on Lovecraft and all things related, has something to do with it.

lastoblivinAD: I think there’s a resurgence because I believe a lot more people, even younger people like ourselves are starting to discover CAS. Possibly HPL because of how you can find references to his work through other venues such as games, movies, and other written work. By learning about HPL, you would learn about CAS, which are two great weird fiction writers right there.

KAO: There is also the stalwart efforts of luminaries like S. T. Joshi, who continue to edit excellent Weird volumes, which subsequently reach a wider and wider audience.

ASJ: you were both involved with a new documentary on CAS. Wow did that come about, and when do we see it?

KAO: Darin Coelho Spring contacted me out of the blue. He ultimately chose Ashley and I due to our relatively young ages (I’m 28), as he wanted to touch on CAS’ ability to reach successive generations.

ASJ: Why did he choose you?

AD: He had heard about us from Spectral Realms and when he found out how young we are, and poets ourselves, he wanted to touch on that type of audience. He wanted to cover that every generation finds CAS and loves him even though he’s so obscure.

KAO: He has seen (correctly) that we are fast working our way into the Weird Circles, and are students and burgeoning scholars/writers/enthusiasts of the Weird. We’ve made some great connections, and are authors ourselves. He also wanted our poetic expertise–I am primarily a poet for the nonce.

ASJ: How does one work their way into Weird Circles?

KAO: You have to be really Weird…. One must be bold, and unafraid to meet such formidable persons as populate the field–gigantic minds, scholars of the first rate, connoisseurs of the outré, savants of the first rate. And then, once you’ve befriended the right people, you have to have the skills to hang! Haha.

AD: Just people to know, I suppose. Spectral Realms was something I only knew about through other people, same with Weird Fiction Review by Centipede Press. The more people you know involved with the Weird world, the more opportunities you get, whether it’s being invited to submit somewhere or being invited to check out local places of note that involved authors or places stories took place.

ASJ: Are there initiation rites one should know about?

KAO: Blood was drawn, sacrifices were made, Cthulhu was raised for a brief time–I can say no more….

ASJ: who are some other authors of the Weird that may be more obscure to fandom but merit another look?

AD: Wilum Pugmire for sure! Ann K. Schwader is another good one, for poetry as well.

KAO: Wilum Pugmire deserves FAR more recognition. He’s a Weird Lovecraftian writer of the first rate. I also want to mention poet D. L. Myers, whose verse is somehow redolent of Lovecraft, yet somehow even more twisted in it’s sheer ghoulish energy. Adam Bolivar, too, writes some darkly strange Fairytale Weird material, and is a first rate balladier of the macabre.

ASJ: What do you make of Bizarro fiction and its being hybridized with Weird?

KAO: I think Weird and bizarro are kissing cousins…who am I to stand in the way of such amor?

AD: I actually don’t know much about Bizarro to be able to compare the two.

ASJ: I think there was a panel at Necronomicon called the Future of Weird Fiction that addressed this question, is why I’m asking.Kanyeweird

KAO: I think there’s plenty of overlap. Some of what you find in Smith is, I think, Bizarro worthy. “Empire of the Necromancers,” for instance, and so much more….

AD: I heard of that panel but have not been able to find video of it.

ASJ: Kanye West, Reanimator is one of the titles I was thinking of.

AD: That sounds a bit too silly for my tastes.

KAO: One of Smith’s chief attributes was his vast imagination. He thought up scenarios and images almost impossible for the average person to fathom. Such is the nebulous borderland verging on the shadowed land of Bizarro….

ASJ: I’ve heard several commentators say Smith is difficult. Maybe he uses some recondite vocabulary, but his prose is clear and even gripping. thoughts?

AD: Other than his vocabulary, I don’t think Smith is difficult to read at all. I found HPL far more difficult to read than Smith.

KAO: He IS difficult–that is beyond doubt. His vocabulary is a real test even for some of the academic elite. BUT–it was all for *effect*–the sounds of words, the sonorous rhythms, the bewitchment factor. Some enchantment is too high for average person to fully grasp. And so it is sought by savants, poets, and devotees of the strange and fantastic–though even they, at times, perish on the purple paths of lamia-haunted Averoigne….

ASJ: How long have you two been writing, and what have you had published? crimsontome

KAO: I’ve been writing since my early 20’s, so–6-7 years, perhaps. My crowning achievement, to date, is The Crimson Tome (out now from Hippocampus Press). It is full of rhyming, metrical poetry heavily influenced by CAS and HPL, all covering the many shades of horror and dark fantasy. Weird poetry is the technical term–the same meaning as with Weird fiction. I’ve a scattering of other publications, fiction and poetry, but none equal the release of The Crimson Tome!

AD: I started writing since I was in middle school, but I didn’t get published until the end of 2010, I believe. I was first published in the Horror Zine with two poems. It wasn’t really, until last year that I got on a roll and started getting published in more places: Spectral Realms No. 1-3 from Hippocampus Press, Weird Fiction Review from Centipede Press, Weirdbook issues 32 and 33 from Wildside Press, Xnoybis 2 from Dunhams Manor Press, Gothic Blue Book Vol 5 from Burial Day Books, and Necronomicum Issue 4 from Martian Migraine Press, among others.Necronomicum_title

KAO: Look for Ashley and me in Spectral Realms, Necronomicum: The Magazine of Weird Erotica, Weirdbook 31, Ashley in Weird Fiction Review 5, me upcoming in Nameless Magazine and Weird Fiction Review 6, and the both of us in the upcoming Gothic Bluebook. I’ll also add that I wrote an article for this month’s HWA newsletter, on my poetry and it’s Gothic elements. Oh–and we have articles in Hippocampus’ new edition of the infamous Book of Jade–mine’s on necrophilic imagery and it’s symbolic importance! Lovecraft praised The Book of Jade as a Decadent/macabre volume of unusual morbidity and merit. Personally, it is one of my top favorite books of poetry–once I have lovingly read several times.

KIDNAPPED BLOG: Echoes in Purgatory by Alex S. Johnson

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Echoes in Purgatory

by Alex S. Johnson

Her face swims in front of him. Curly red hair, green eyes, a concerned expression. In the next second she will touch his hand and it will all come back.

Every scarlet detail.

He wonders if she’s actually there with him, or just a projection of his subconscious. Whatever that might refer to here, in this unstable realm.

Shane knows what the priest would have called it, in Catechism classes. Purgatory. Limbo. The place in between.

Or just some extremely fucked up remake of Groundhog Day.

It amazes him that he’s held on to his sense of humor. But Shane’s ability to laugh at things that should, by all accounts, pin him to his mattress in the iron grip of depression, or catatonic shock, continues into the afterlife. This hinterland, where the only constants are frustration and despair.

She touches him. He glances up, looks into her eyes. She’s about to ask him what’s on his mind.

Honey,  you have no idea.

They’ve been friends since the previous semester, when she rescued him from an awkward moment with his Psychology professor. Which was around the same time he’d seen the flyer on a bulletin board at the Student Union.

Test Subjects Wanted For Clinical Trial.

And there was money attached, not a lot, but sufficient to cover his tuition. They hadn’t renewed his scholarship after his grades slipped at the end of Freshman year. Too much partying and not enough diligence in the library. Since then it had been touch and go, living off credit cards and dreading the prospect of spending the remainder of his professional life paying off the interest. Never mind the principal.

“What’s wrong, Shane?”

“Nothing.”

“Look, we’ve known each other for a while now, and something’s bothering you. Is it the money? Because I can always…”

He headed that one off at the pass. “I can’t, I just can’t. Just be my friend.”

“Of course. That’s a given. But honestly, I can afford it. And it would just be a loan. You can pay me back when you’re able to. I know you will. I trust you.”

The way he’d trusted the men and women in sterile whites. At first he’d been given to understand that the trials were for some kind of new drug, an anti-anxiety medication. But as the weeks passed, the little white paper cups with the tiny red pills gave way to tests. Tests that strained his nerves to the breaking point, induced anxiety rather than dialing it down. They assured him that everything was proper, in order, that they were following strict scientific protocols. But he left the lab feeling like a toy that had been hammered to bits. Or a lab rat that had pressed the wrong lever one too many times. The smell of scorched flesh in his nostrils. His own.

Shane never remembered the sequence of slaughter until he’d been engaged. That was one of the terms they’d used, one of the words that floated around in his head like a dead leaf in a pond. Engaged, or cut into the narrative.

They might just as well have called it being possessed, like the film he’d seen in Cultural Anthropology of the Voodoo Priestess ridden by the Loa. That was what it felt like, a dark imp pressing against his back and shoulders. Razor sharp claws scratching at his skin.

After waving goodbye to Lara he’d dashed across the quad, total tunnel vision, focused on breaking out the weapons cache in the utility cabinet in back of the gym.

Even now he wasn’t sure what the weapons were, just that they fit his hand and he knew how to fire them.

“I trust you too.” He trusted that she would never fully understand why he’d snapped. Neither did he. All he knew was that he’d slung the machine gun around his neck and started in with the pump-action rifle, picking off members of the varsity basketball team before charging into the cafeteria. Then he’d opened up with the machine gun. Shane was just as shocked as the onlookers as the bodies slammed to the floor. As he looked down at his hands, which had never handled anything more dangerous than a slingshot as a kid, briskly slamming off rounds like a professional mercenary.

It was like watching a silent movie after awhile. Deadly quiet, only the noise of his breathing and his thundering heart. Scraps of dialog fluttering by him, around him. The pools of blood spreading on the yellow tile. Sirens. His own voice breaking through, ordering them face-down on the ground. Knowing they would never rise again.

The warmth of her fingers cut him out. He started.

“I’m really worried about you,” Lara said. “You look absolutely exhausted. You really need to start taking better care of yourself.”

In a moment he would jump to his feet and plead some inane excuse. He picked up a single French fry and dabbed it in the ketchup cup. Feeling the surge come on him, fighting it back, hoping somehow that with all his prayers, this moment would be different. With God’s help, he might cut himself out of the narrative entirely. All a bad dream. Waking up in his student apartment with the Bowie posters on the ceiling and the metallic balloons, half-deflated, that bumped about the ten foot square space as a reminder of his drunken homage to Andy Warhol.

“I’ve got to get to my tutorial,” he burst out, looking at his watch as though it were a prop. He slicked his fingers through coal-black hair and regarded Lara with warm brown eyes that now looked black.

“I thought your tutorial was Friday,” she said.

“They changed it around. Look, I’m an absolute idiot at math and I really need to pass this course.”

As he ran across the quad, he looked back and saw her gazing at him through the cafeteria window. Her last sight of him alive.

And he was cut back in. Game on. Behind the walls he saw the green gridlines as they’d flashed to him through the Google glasses, over and over, until they haunted his dreams. Yet until some internal switch clicked, and the clock was running, the grid existed only as a faint flicker at the corners of his eyes, detached from the physical environment of the school, from the trials, from the before and after of his tenure as a lab rat.

Because there was a before and this was definitely an after. It started like a sickness, with Lara’s look of concern, her offer of financial help, wiping off the grease of the meal with a napkin, wadding up the napkin and pushing it into the cup of ketchup, dumping out the red plastic baskets into the trash, Lara half getting up, then sitting back down again, his forcing a smile and a wave as if everything was actually going to be ok, this time.

Shane’s glasses have misted up, but they’re another prop. That morning he’d put on contacts, automatic pilot, as though he wore them every day.

He sheds his t-shirt and dons the bullet-proof vest, puts on the black trenchcoat, slams shut the cabinet door and heads for the gym. His progress is inexorable, his will not his own.

And thus it runs until it stops and begins again, like a tape loop, a film, a memory of the future that slips relentlessly into the past as the past melts into the present.

There would always be echoes in Purgatory.

Always.

KIDNAPPED BLOG: Locked and Loaded by Alex S. Johnson

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Locked and Loaded

by Alex S. Johnson

I am an insect. A worm. Something gross. Gratuitous, a phantom limb.

That is how you see me, right? But that perception is incorrect. You must come to terms with the fact that I exist, and my existence is not dependent on your acknowledgement of it. Mister Rock Star. Mister Spin Magazine. Mister Rolling Stone. Mister Self-Destruct/Burnout/Fallout, every misstep greedily devoured by the press and vomited out for public consumption. You stare down from rock and roll Valhalla, never wondering about the speck in your eye. A plank, really.

Even though I’ve been with you every step of the way. And have helped, at times profoundly.

Remember your first record deal? When everybody in the industry who counted said you’d lost an engine on the runway. Your shenanigans with gangsters, drawing attention to yourself on the most negative level. As if you were hardcore, growing up in the suburbs with all the rights and privileges pertaining. And that girl, the redhead, the junkie–she didn’t do you any favors either. What was her name, Katrina? A real piece of work. If you didn’t realize that those track marks weren’t from insulin shots, you’re either a bigger fool than I ever suspected, or steeped in denial up to your eyeballs.

That was when I stepped in. I had to work hard behind the scenes, believe me. Hard out there for a ghost. Well, not a ghost so much as one of the host. Hey, that rhymes. Rhymes one hell of a lot better than most of your lyrics.

Are you paying attention now?

Apparently not. But that’s okay. I can be extremely patient.

You have no idea how patient I am capable of being.

Which is why it doesn’t really bother me that you refuse to accept, have historically blinded yourself to me, my reality, the care and concern I have for you.

Your future, your career.

If I wanted to, and trust me, I have the skills, I could MAKE you see me. Work some serious Tim Burton mojo. Make Beetlejuice look like Bambi. Bloodshot eyes on springs, oh yes; sloppy jaws spewing all kinds of rubbish, banging on your closet door when you’re shacked up with the conquest du jour.

But I’m not about the big bad noise. More of a creeper.

Like about now, for example. As you stuff the Bolivian Gross National Product up your nose, handlers and roadies all nervous, your agent trying to reach you on your cell which you won’t answer because he’ll probably want to lecture you like your mom always used to do. And you left that scene behind you long ago. I know. I was there too.

So what are you waiting for? The crowd is screaming your name. Two hundred and fifty thousand fans jammed into the biggest venue you’ve ever played. The Daulton Amphitheater, that’s a serious showcase. And the sooner you get your pampered ass out on that stage, the quicker you can run through your set. Yeah, all those songs.

But maybe you’re stalling because, at some level, you know what I say is true.

Lots of time. Oceans. I’ll let you process that.

Feel that numbness creeping up your left foot? Knock knock knocking on heaven’s empty bone. Whatever that means–you insisted on those lines. But if the shoe fits…

Trying to provide a little humor here. But you’re beyond that, obviously.

It’s not me, man. I know it’s hard to swivel your leatherclad hips and shake your tubesnake when you can’t feel your leg. Naturally you’ve collapsed on your side and your guitarist jumped in front of you, make it look like part of the show. To tell the truth, I don’t know what in Hell is wrong with you. Embolism? Lack of blood circulation due to the Bolivian, maybe. But I didn’t do it. I might have warned you that you needed to slow down, I mean in a general way. But specifically, the dead hand spreading its fingers across your belly? That’s a medical crisis, not a spiritual condition.

Of course, I can’t let you fall on your face now. Not with all these people paying good money to see you not make a total ass of yourself. Career suicide is simply not an option. You’ll have to save that for when you’re Old Elvis-sized and playing county fairs. Never mind the Fluffy Bunnies, here’s the Doom Hippies.

Shouldn’t have locked me out, dude. Unwise. Should have locked me in and loaded me into your chamber. But then you wouldn’t stumble and hurt yourself, and who cares about a rock star who isn’t damaged? Playing the world’s fool has been a real boost for your sales. Up until the fool became a drooling idiot. Half the audience is simply here for the sake of curiosity. Bunch of ghouls, if you ask me. Looky-loo’s at the three-lane pileup. But they’re OUR ghouls.

The good news is that now I have a port of entry. You wouldn’t give me one of your own will, but I’m not embarrassed to take a little advantage of a sick man. Especially when it’s for his own good.

So here’s Black Daniels, lead singer of the heaviest and slowest band in the history of metal, back on his feet. Maybe staggering a little bit. But he’s moving, and his eyes are open, responding to external stimuli.

Please don’t worry. I know exactly what I’m doing. And you have a better than front row seat. Hell, you’re so close to the action, you practically are the action.

I lean into the mike, and the peeps go nuts. Wipe my mouth–tastes like the last funeral of rubbish. (You really need to stop smoking, dude.) Count down the intro one more time. Savor the moment, the adrenaline rush, the band crunching behind me, infinite sustain, one chord per minute. The drummer nodding out between beats. The bassist taking a smoke break.

The ones that actually pay attention to the lyrics look a little shocked. Yeah, it’s not the words they heard on the album. These are of a superior class.

“And when you made your sacrifice to me

you offered up your soul to steal

such gives me bliss, I can’t resist

wolfed down quick, a starving man’s meal…”

But no, not so fast. You’re still not paying attention.

I’m not Lucifer.

I’m the one who came next.