Chilling Chat: 10 Quick Questions with Sumiko Saulson

chillingchat

Sumiko Saulson is a cartoonist, horror writer, editor of Black Magic Women – on the 2019 Stoker’s Recommended Reads List – and 100 Black Women in Horror Fiction. Author of MauskaveliSolitude, Warmth, Moon Cried Blood, Happiness and Other Diseases. Comics Mauskaveli, Dooky, Dreamworlds, and Agrippa. She writes for SEARCH Magazine.

1) How old were you when you first discovered horror?

My parents were both big horror fans, and I was watching horror movies in the theater when I was 4 or 5 years old. My mom told me dad took her to see Rosemary’s Baby when she was pregnant with me, but of course, I don’t remember that. I do remember watching Dark Shadows with Mom, Outer Limits and Twilight Zone with Dad, and going to see It’s Alive, the first horror movie I actually remember, when I was about 5 years old. It was about a horrible monster baby who ate people. I loved it! The first horror novel I read was Peter Straub’s Ghost Story when I was 11. I was also reading a lot of horror shorts among the sci-fi shorts in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

2) Who is your favorite author? Who has influenced you?

My favorite writer changes a lot and at the moment it is Toni Morrison, who isn’t even a horror writer but is one of my most-read writers nonetheless. My influences are all pretty mainstream. I picked up The Talisman when I was 12 and added Stephen King to my favorite writer’s list along with Edgar Allen Poe. Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Christopher Rice, Susan Cooper, Frank Herbert. I have ingested so many books by a few favorites that I am sure my writing style has been affected. I am also a huge fan of anthologies and sci-fi, horror, and fantasy magazines where you can gain exposure to lots of different writers in small tastes, and see who you like. I read a lot of Weird Sisters and other horror tale magazines as a teen. Those affected me. Mythologies have affected me a lot. I read a lot of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology as a kid, and as an adult, I casually read both historical mythologies and created mythologies. I should have listed CS Lewis because the created mythology in Chronicles of Narnia impacted me heavily as an adolescent.

3) What inspired you to write your piece?

The song’s title “Under the Water” is from the song of that name by the artist Jewel from the movie The Craft. The story I wrote is about a ship that is being seduced by a giant cephalopod (squid or octopus) type sea monster such as a Kracken who wants her to become a ghost ship. Both the ship and the monster are female. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was definitely an inspiration, as were Greek and Roman myths about sea monsters such as the Kraken and the Charybdis – a monster whose mouth created whirlpools to drag ships to the bottom of the ocean. The ship would have to sacrifice her human cargo to the monster, so they would become part of a ghost ship. As the ship is dragged deeper into the depths by the cephalopod, she begins to doubt the sincerity of the sea creature because she sees lots of dead seamen from the past and torn up ships. Then, the monster starts talking to her like Armand in The Theater of Vampires did to the woman he drained on stage, about how even if she’s being lied to it would be a glorious noble death so she wins either way. That part of the story was inspired by my former fiance’s battle with drugs, which ultimately ended his life, not long after. I had written a lot of sea stories the year prior about the drowning man sort of feeling being dragged down into the depths of addiction gives one. So this is sort of an allegory. Drugs are seductive and so is the sea creature.

4) How much control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will?

Some of my characters have more free will than others. It depends on whether the story is world-driven or character-driven. The vast majority of my stories are character-driven, which means that about a third of the way into the story, the world is built, the scene is set, and the characters sort of begin to write themselves. The more free will the characters have, the less technical and more moving the writing is.

5) What did you learn from participating in the contest?

I do my best work short story when I have more time than was allotted during the contest. I have great story ideas, but my ability to follow through and edit them on such tight deadlines is severely inhibited. I’m good at taking, absorbing, and responding to criticism but I dislike it. I am very absent-minded, probably due to having post-traumatic stress disorder. Greg – my ex-fiance – overdosed May 26, 2017, and I could have pulled out of the contest, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to. I am a very determined person. I found out I am tougher than I think I am. I found out I CAN work on those tight deadlines, even if it isn’t my forte. And sixth place out of hundreds who applied and I think 15 or so who competed is not too bad. I also learned that it is really important to have clever story titles. And that I need someone else to proofread my work before I send it in.

6) Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

I don’t regret doing it so I absolutely would. I regret not asking for help after Greg died. I literally sent in the wrong manuscript, and I lost 10 points for not reaching the right word count and dropped from 4th place to 9th place overnight because I made a mistake and sent in the wrong file. It makes me want to cry when I think about it to this day. I had a version of the story that was completed, and I could have sent it in and I definitely would have placed higher – maybe 4th place, if I hadn’t slipped up. I can’t prevent people from dying, but I can ask for support when I need it from my family and friends. On the bright side, I did get the story accepted for Loren Rhoads’ charity anthology, Tales from the Campfire. She said it was her favorite one in the whole anthology! Of course, I edited it twice – once for an anthology Dan Shaurette was working on called Not Today  – he rejected it – and then for a Mary Shelley work honoring anthology of some kind that rejected it. Getting rejected and doing re-writes seems to be a part of the business. And I finally took the judges’ advice and changed the damned story title! It was called Experiment IV, it is now called Unheard Music from the Dank Underground. The advice about avoiding dull story titles was some of the most memorable from the contest. I would say it was an educational experience and that I notice the people who were in the top five are all popping up all over the place and quickly moving ahead in their careers so I think it’s educational, and good experience and people should go for it!

nghwedpsm7) What is your favorite horror novel?

         The Vines by Christopher Rice

8) Favorite horror movie?

        Candyman

9) Favorite horror television show?

        Supernatural

10) What does the future hold for you? What do we have to look forward to?

As you may know, I am the only black author who completed the contest, and even though I made it in sixth, not first place, that alone makes me a winner just because I decided to stick it out and to represent. I totally hate it when I am watching Face/Off or some other horror related contest and the black guy gets voted off in the first or third episode, so I was very determined to stick it out.

I got a lot of interest from black anthologies and people who are interested in horror authors of African heritage. I got three stories in Scierogenous II which is edited by Valjeanne Jeffers and Quinton Neal. I also edited Black Magic Women, a horror anthology on Mocha Memoirs Press. It ended up being on the Bram Stoker’s Recommended Reads list in 2018 and did quite well critically and in terms of sales. I edited Crystal Connor’s YA horror story My 1st Nightmare. I am editing my second anthology, Wickedly Abled, a collection of stories horror, dark fantasy and dark sci-fi by and about disabled people. I am working on Akmani, the fourth book in the Happiness and Other Diseases series and Disillusionment, the second in the Solitude series. I am starting to appear at conventions nationally and not just locally. I’m still churning out short stories and getting into more and more anthologies.

From the Vault: The Inimitable Tony Todd by Sumiko Saulson


From the Vault – So Good, it Bears Repeating.
Heroes of Black Horror History: The Inimitable Tony Todd

By Sumiko Saulson

My first exposure to the versatile and prolific Tony Todd was in 1990, when he starred as Ben Jones in the remake of George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.” Too young to have seen the original performance by Duane Jones, Todd’s take on the role was indelibly etched in my mind moving forward. My budding infatuation with Tony Todd became a full-fledged love affair two years later, when he acted in what many consider his career-defining film, “Candyman.”

Not having seen the original “Night of the Living Dead” until well after I watched the reboot, my first exposure to black representation in horror films had instead been the second in the Romero series of zombie films, “Dawn of the Dead.” In it, Ken Foree starred as the musclebound action hero type character Peter Washington. I was only ten years old, but I loved and rooted for its hero. Like many African Americans, I was proud to see such a positive portrayal of a black man in horror.

Watching Tony Todd in the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead” was a much different experience. By then, I was a twenty-two year old woman and immune to neither an actor nor a character’s sex appeal. Ben Jones as portrayed by the unusually tall and thin Tony Todd, who is 6’5, was not a powerful man of action, but a soft-spoken, thoughtful character that remained poised and dignified in the most unusual and dire of circumstances.

Although both films are about humans trying to survive a zombie outbreak, unlike the action packed “Dawn of the Dead,” “Night of the Living Dead” spends a lot of time with its main characters in hiding or isolation. Ben Jones and Barbara Hamilton, a young white woman portrayed Patricia Tallman who is attacked by a horde of zombies at her parents’ gravesite at the start of the film, first discover and then gradually begin to rely on each other. Ben is a sensitive, soft-spoken character whose demeanor goes against stereotypical portrayals of black men. He rarely loses his temper, even when faced with racism on top of adversity. Along with other characters, the two struggle to survive against unfavorable odds by keeping their wits. Brains and calm and collected mind become more important than brawn and weaponry. Ben’s upbeat attitude in the face of tragedy gives the film heart. Because the Barbara character has more agency in this version than in the original, the Ben character is less the clear-cut protagonist of this film and Barbara’s role is more active and central.

After Candyman came out, I wasn’t the only one swooning over Tony Todd. His portrayal of the story’s iconic urban legend inspired title character was both nuanced and provocative. The movie was written by British horror master Clive Barker and directed by fellow Englishman Bernard Rose. Its subject matter, however, was distinctly American. Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Public Housing Projects, it tells the tale of Helen Lyle, a white graduate student portrayed by Virginia Madsen who is investigating the true histories behind urban legends.

Despite the presence of a central white or white-passing character (the character is allegedly a distant descendant of Candyman), the backstory’s premise is steeped in the history slavery and the restoration. Most of the supporting cast is African American, including Helen’s bestie, Vanessa Williams, played by Anne-Marie McCoy, and Helen’s Cabrini information source Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh, played by Kasi Lemmons. There are several other key African American characters and a wealth of lesser or background characters.

None of the characters, including the protagonist, steal the show in quite the way Tony Todd’s charismatic and frequently sympathetic villain Candyman does. The brooding bad man approaches Helen in a provocative and often flirtatious manner, imploring her to understand the dark history of injustice and terror that lead to his monstrous afterlife. His deeply resonant voice is seductive and haunting. His character evokes such pity and empathy in the viewer that even as a villain, he could be considered a Byronic hero. When pleading fails, Candyman resorts to threats and bargaining. Helen is the hero and the catalyst for the story, but Candyman is clearly its star. In spite of this, and his stand out performance, Todd didn’t win any awards (he was nominated for one, “Fangoria”), while Virginia Madsen won three.

From the start of his acting career, Tony Todd seemed poised for the world of speculative fiction. Although “Night of the Living Dead” was his first starring role, his motion picture debut was as Barrington in the 1986 fantasy “Sleepwalk,” about a Chinese manuscript with mystical powers. Fantasy and horror weren’t his only speculative acting roles. Some of you will remember his appearances on sci-fi television program “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Worf’s younger brother, Kurn.

Todd is often cast in villain roles, and horror is the genre he is most solidly associated with. He played the villain Grange in 1994’s classic dark fantasy film, “The Crow,” starring the ill-fated Brandon Lee, who died during production. The movie, based on a dark super hero comic book, contained many elements of horror. Grange, a gangster, is merely a henchman of the main villain Top Dollar. However, in classic Tony Todd character style, Grange is the one who discovers that the crow is the source of hero Eric Draven’s powers.

His characters often have dark mystical knowledge, even when they are neutral, or on the side of good. William Bludworth, his character in the “Final Destination” series, is a coroner who has some special magical knowledge of how death (the entity, not the action) operations. Like Grange, William Bludworth can be considered somewhat problematic as a cinematic trope known as the “magical black character.” These are token black mystics who use their special magical knowledge to aid the story’s white protagonists (or in the case of Grange, villain). However, he is a notable character in the series by virtue of being the only repeating character besides Clear Rivers, the original protagonist (played by Ali Larter) to appear in more than one film. Since death never appears in the flesh in the movies, the Bludworth character acts as an anchor for its personification, performing as a medium or mystic of sorts. He appears in more than half of the movies.

The movie “Candyman” spawned two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999).  While “Farewell to the Flesh” was well-received and succeeded as a sequel, it lost much of the Afrocentrism of the original 1992 Candyman film. Fay Hauser as Pam Carver plays a significant enough role to prevent Todd from being the token black actor, but the significant decrease in black actors in both speaking and background roles makes certain elements of the backstory a bit more problematic.

In the story, Candyman originally existed as a free black man Daniel Robitaille.  He was an artist and the son of a slave. His eternal torment is the result of having been tortured, maimed, and murdered by a white mob for sleeping with a white plantation owner’s daughter whose portrait he had been commissioned to paint and getting her pregnant. Candyman’s central targets as victims are women who are descend from his bloodline.

The story becomes increasingly problematic with each sequel as the viewer begins to wonder why these descendants of Candyman’s biracial daughter are predominately white. By the third film, one begins to wonder why the blonde starlet (Donna D’Errico) is the descendant instead of her black girlfriend Tamara (played by Alexia Robinson). In a seeming effort to relieve the second movie’s lack of color, the third film takes on a Day of the Dead theme, a series of Latino secondary characters, and a new Los Angeles location. None of this saves the movie, which is by far the worse of the three. Some of the other acting performances were so bad that not even Tony Todd could save it, and it ultimately killed the franchise.

Although these are his best-known horror series, Tony Todd’s notoriety as a horror actor has landed him a number of parts both large and small over the years. He played a parody of himself as an obnoxious, entitled actor in two episodes of the television show “Holliston” entitled “Candyman.” Some of this other movie roles include Ruber in “Dead of the Nite,” a story of ghosts, ghost hunting, and murder; Reverend Zombie in “Hatchet II,” and Reverend Abraham Stockton in “The Graves.”

Tony Todd remains very active in acting and other pursuits and at 61 years of age, is still widely regarded as a sex symbol. He was a voice actor in a 2015 animated treatment of “Night of the Living Dead” subtitled “Darkest Dawn.” Other 2015 forays into horror for the busy actor included Eddie in “Frankenstein,” Detective Johnson in “Scream At The Devil,” Dr. Murphy in  “Agoraphobia,” and the pastor in “Live/Evil.” “Frankenstein” was written and directed by Bernard Rose, co-wrote and directed “Candyman.” Tony Todd also keeps up his creepy bad guy image with a recurring role in the television series “The Flash” as Zoom, an arch-villain who is kind of the anti-Flash. He stars as Detective Sommers in the horror film “Zombie,” currently in post-production.

In addition to his successful movie career, Todd has a substantial history in both Broadway and off-Broadway theater. His onstage credits include Donkeyman in Athol Fugard’s “The Captain’s Tiger,” the title role in August Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” and Reuben Tate in “Zooman and the Sign.” He continues to be active in theater, and is currently starring in Jack Megna’s “Ghost in the House,” a historical piece about Jack Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. A victim of Jim Crow laws, the boxer convicted of violating the Mann act in 1913 for traveling with a white woman across state lines for “immoral purposes,” despite a lack of evidence. One of Tony Todd’s personal causes is working with other celebrities to ask President Obama to issue a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson for his unjust imprisonment.

**********

sumiko armband

Sumiko Saulson a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer. Her novels include “Solitude,” “Warmth”, and “Happiness and Other Diseases.” She is the author of the Young Adult horror novella series “The Moon Cried Blood”, and short story anthology “Things That Go Bump in My Head.” Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian, and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She is a horror blogger and journalist

Kidnapped! The Revival of the Psychological Horror Film by Sumiko Saulson

The Revival of the Psychological Horror Film

Many believed 2016 was hexed. A strange rise in celebrity deaths and rampant international terrorism reinforced the impression. There were viable explanations for the trends, such as Baby Boomers entering their golden years. Nonetheless, the superstition persisted.

The media responded with excessive coverage of real-life brutality. It often included graphic video imagery, such as ISIS executions. News footage became more violent than the latest episode of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. To worsen matters, with the popularity of social media, people were getting instant updates on the world’s latest tragedies twenty-four seven. Oversaturated by non-stop coverage, our appetite for bloodthirsty gore-centered horror began to taper off. In theaters, we saw a resurgence of the psychological horror film in theaters. Torture porn like Purge: Election Year became harder to find. Creepy, suspenseful horror movies like as Lights Out and The Boy abounded.

Psychological horror relies on suspense and character development. It preys upon primitive fear of the unknown. Classic psychological horror films include Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho and Jacob’s Ladder. While not completely free of the gore and nerve-shattering jump cuts splatter films rely upon, these movies use mystery and dramatic tension to weave a sense of dread.

The VVitch, one of the most successful films of 2016, fits into this subgenre. It creates a chilling atmosphere by introducing supernatural elements gradually to build anticipation. It doesn’t rely on special effects for its punch. Using character behavior to convey danger, like The Shining and The Amityville Horror before it, the movie creates a portentous atmosphere before any real danger comes into play. Ouija: Origin of Evil is another psychological horror film which combines the suspense of psychological horror with more traditional creature makeup, special effects and sound effects. This is similar to classic supernatural thrillers such as The Exorcist, and The Omen

Not all psychological horror films are supernatural. Jordan Peele’s debut horror film Get Out combines science-fiction elements with horror, akin to The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers before it. Like many films in this subgenre, it involves mystery, placing a skeptical protagonist in an unnatural setting that prompts his investigation. In this film, a black man, Chris Washington, goes to meet his white girlfriend’s parents, who live in a gated community. As the audience follows the protagonist through this seemingly ordinary town, a series of surreal, strange events ensue. He notices something is very wrong with the people of the town, and the fabric of reality begins to unwind around him.

While some psychological horror movies such as The Forest and The Conjuring 2 are not very good, award-winning non-comedy horror tends to fall into this subgenre. Only 14 horror movies have ever won Academy Awards. Oscar-winning psychological horror films include Sleepy Hollow, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Misery, and Black Swan. They use careful plotting, excellent writing, and convincing acting to engage audiences instead of cheap thrills, gimmicks, and special effects.

 

********

 About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

Kidnapped! The Rise of Count Slackula by Sumiko Saulson

The Rise of Count Slackula

Come here, one and all! Read for the first time anywhere the true and mysterious origins of the spooky supernatural mouse heroes known as the Mauskavelians. Here the amazing story of the undead superhero mouse Count Slackula.

Once upon a time, there were three laboratory mice. Their names were Mauskaveli, Petricio, and Rogue. The three lived together in a cage for so long that it became quite natural for them to snuggle up at night in a cuddle puddle. They were friends, and lovers, being three mice trapped together in a single cage. The only downside to their carefree life was the presence of annoying genetic research scientists who experimented on them day and night.

They experimented on Mauskaveli to see if they could give her super intelligence. She is now one of the smartest mice in the world. They worked on making Petricio highly sexually attractive and seductive – to other mice, that is. It’s a good thing they’re polyamorous because Petricio is a regular mouse Cassanova. Rumor has it scientists intended to use his musk for human perfumes someday. He didn’t look forward to being dissected. Rogue was originally a test subject for curing male pattern baldness, but the injections they gave him to try to regrow his hair had no effect on his bald spot. However, they did give him strange regenerative powers. His wounds began to heal on their own.

One day, the scientist’s formulas spilled into the bottom of the cage, causing a transmutation process in the uncleaned poop in the tray below. That process leads to the creation of a small, feces-based life form named Dooky. Dooky calls himself a cat-batz and insists that cat poop, not mouse poop, is his true origin.In their free time, the mice and their flying pet poop Dooky played games and pretended to be superheroes. But superheroes didn’t live in cages.

Mauskaveli knew they had to escape.

The three of them busted out of their cage one night and moved into a nice, warm storage room at a print factory. That’s where Mauskaveli formulated her plans to organize a rodent rebellion against the oppressive humans. They snuck in at night to print tiny comic books to educate other mice about the dangers of eugenics scientists and other anti-mouse forces.

Their little team of three was happy, listening to the radio, throwing dance parties for other mice, and loving each other. They called their band of mice Micki Menage. Soon after the escape, they found out that Mauskaveli was pregnant. They weren’t sure which one of them was the father, but they suspected Rogue-9 because the baby was born with the power of necromancy. They named their spawn DeathAngel, because he was a MauzReaper.

Unfortunately, Rogue-9 had a tragic mousetrap accident when DeathAngel was just a pup. The baby mouse shocked the grieving Mauskaveli and Petricio by resurrecting Rogue-9 from the dead. That’s how they found out he was a mouse necromancer.

I am Count Slackula,” Rogue-9 cried as he rose from the grave, “enemy of Nazi scientists and friend to the poor and disenfranchised.” From that day forward, he was known as Count Slackula.

Perhaps you would like to know more about Count Slackula, Mauskaveli, Petricio, DeathAngel the MauzReaper, Dooky the CatzBatz and friends you haven’t met yet like Tumimaus and Joe. Come one, come all, and read the Mauskaveli comic book. Color the Mauskaveli coloring book!

                                                                     Mauskaveli Online 

                                                                 Mauskaveli Facebook 

                                                                 Mauskaveli Comic Book (Print) 

                                    Mauskaveli Coloring Book (Print)

 

********

  About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

Kidnapped! The Ride of Herne and Hespeth by Sumiko Saulson


This story was originally written for the Next Great Horror Writer contest’s campfire story contest. An excerpt ran on the Horror Addicts Podcast Episode 145, but this is the first print of the entire story. The story has since been edited to improve the transitions between the teacher’s storytelling and the student interruptions.

The Ride of Herne and Hespeth

What kind of mother sends her preteen to Halloween Camp? That’s what Denise wanted to know. She could have been trick or treating with friends. Instead, she was listening to spooky stories and having cook-outs. She gazed drowsily into the campfire. The marshmallow on the end of her stick was finally melted. She smashed it onto the square of chocolate atop the graham cracker in her hand. She was about to eat the S’more when Miss Foster’s shrill voice interrupted her reverie.

Children, gather round!” Miss Foster cried. “Pull close to the fire. Watch the sun end his nightly dance with the moon. Can you feel the chill night air rising around you, fog, cloaking your neck? Gather closer to the fire, and keep warm.”

There had been four children gathered round the fire before her rousing speech. Denise winced as a dozen more rowdy kids from Camp Mather crowded around the bonfire, bringing their hot dogs and body odor with them.

The story I am about to tell you is strange but true!” Miss Foster shouted. “The slaughterhouse down the road… did you know was haunted?

Almost on cue, a spine-chilling lowing sound pierced the bushes behind them. It sounded like a wounded man moaning in the distance. Lucy, the girl sitting next to her, jumped, knocking Denise’s S’more into the fire.

Damn it, Lucy!” Denise cried.

The groaning rose to a crescendo before dissipating in the wind. Towards the end, it became distinctly bovine. Could you hear the cows from the slaughterhouse a mile away?”

Sit still, Lucy! Don’t swear, Denise!” Miss Foster barked. “Why are you children always so unruly? Anyway, on with the story… where was I?

It’s haunted by ghosts, but not the ordinary kind. These are meaty ghosts, the skeletal remains of the dead cattle prepared for sale at your local delis and grocery outlets. The tattered bits of flesh that remain on the bone after the carving process begins to stink as the cow carcasses await burial in their mass graves. Have you ever smelled five day old hamburger? Naturally, the meat attracts maggots. The fervent breeding of insects causes the dead cow’s ribcage to rise and fall, almost as if breathing.”

Gross!” Wide-eyed Daniel squealed, quickly spitting out his hamburger.

Gross indeed,” Miss Foster approved. “And an affront to the vegan witch Hespeth. She walked by and saw the cow corpses writhing. Thinking a young calf survived, she ran into the deep pit full of rotting animals. But it was no calf! It was maggots! Some evolved into flies and few into her face. She was quite put off, and immediately hexed the place. She’d been meaning to for a while. Vegan witches hate slaughterhouses, don’t you know.”

If she loves animals so much, why doesn’t she love flies?” Lucy asked.

What she said,” Denise seconded. “Circle of life and all that. Doesn’t she respect it?”

She would respect you becoming part of the circle of life, meat eater!” Miss Foster hissed, pointing an accusatory finger at Daniel’s burger and Lucy’s hot dog.

That’s why she cast the spell… to put humans into their proper place on the food chain. The accursed skeletons lurched forth from their graves. The stink of rotting meat was cloying. A cloud of green malodorous E.coli bacterial surrounded them. Soon, the maggots began to hatch, sending out waves of hungry, carnivorous flies. The angry mob of dead cattle marched towards Camp Mather, looking for filthy meat eaters upon which to enact their revenge.

What’s wrong, Lucy! Are you having trouble eating your hot dog? You keep looking away as I tell this story, almost as if you feel guilty. There are some vegan marshmallow substitutes to roast if you’d prefer vegetarian S’mores…”

Lucy rolled her eyes and kept eating her hotdog.

Fixing her with an accusatory glare, Miss Foster continued. “Frothing at the mouth, hungry jaws snapping … Herne, the head of the heard, moved at preternatural speed towards Camp Mather.

Their first victim was Charlie, a hitchhiker eating a dollar menu hamburger. The herd charged towards him, hooves pounding the dust below. Herne snapped into Charlie’s flesh… angry molars munching his fingers like fresh cud. Green slime oozed from Herne’s open maw and dripping nostrils, mixing with Charlie’s blood as the fingers snapped one by one. The cannibal cow even ate the burger in his hand!

Why are you doing this to me?” Charlie screamed. But he got no answer. Cows can’t speak, you know. They lowed and mooed in laughter. Herne’s accomplices began with the man’s other arm. Soon, they’d ground him between their teeth into a human hamburger. Leaving the blood puddle that had recently been Charlie behind, the hungry pack of roving skeletal cows continued its rapid descent upon Camp Mather.

Am I making you nervous, Denise? Why did you stop eating your beef jerky?”

I’m not afraid of imaginary cow monsters,” Denise smirked.

You should be,” Miss Foster warned. “With no digestive tract to speak of, the herd had no way to digest the well-chewed bits of Charlie. Chunks of Charles fell out of their ribcages and down to the ground, trodden below angry hooves.

The stampede rushed into the side of a Safeway delivery truck, butting against it repeatedly until it toppled over. The driver’s blood-curdling screams were so ear-piercing they were heard by our camp director, Gwen Littleton. If you don’t believe my story is true, just ask Gwen!

Herne himself leaped into the cabin of the eighteen-wheeler and tore his blood-soaked teeth into the tattooed bicep of the driver, Daryl. The driver yelled, “What are you? Friggen zombie cows?” Irritated, Herne bit into the man’s juicy tongue, and yanking his foul-smelling head back, ripped it from his jaw.”

Miss Foster cast an irritated look towards Lucy once more. “Have you ever eaten cow tongue, Lucy? I see you’re eating an all-beef corndog. Do you think Herne would approve?”

Lucy shrugged, stuck her tongue out, and slathered ketchup and mustard on her corndog. Denise rolled her eyes.

Unlike Hespeth,” Miss Foster continued, “Herne was far from vegan. His large, square teeth sunk deep into the man’s lower lip, pulling at it rending flesh from bone. Blood spewed over the steering wheel as another stampeding cow slid it’s incisors into the driver’s jugular vein. The gushing maroon fountain pitched its moist payload with every breath, every heartbeat, and the smell of iron invading the cabin as the windshield was painted in clotted crimson.

The green bile and mossy rot of the original moldering cow flesh combined with fresh human blood and carnage as they tore in. One of Daryl’s extruded eyeballs detached from his head and plastered itself to the center of Herne’s skull. The feast was done. Like a festering wounded cyclops, Herne climbed out of the cabin and headed this way.

Herne’s spectral eyes glowed like goals in the dark. The moment his formed so did like eyes appear in the cattle behind him. Herne, the sole bull in the stampede, was an oddity for a slaughterhouse. Where did he come from?

Some have associated him with Herne the Hunter, the stag antlered aspect of Cernunnos, the Horned God. Others have associated him with Baphomet, the goat antlered god the idolatrous Templars worshipped. Still, others say he descended from the Golden Calf the Jews worshipped coming out of captivity in Egypt. But who cares? I mean, really? If a molding dead cow skeleton is eating you, do you really need to know its backstory?

Like the world’s worst case of acid reflux, the beef from the local slaughterhouse kept coming back up towards Camp Firestone. I suppose it’s because we order so many hamburger patties to keep you kids happy during summer camp. I would, if I were you, consider a vegan lifestyle.”

Suddenly, Miss Foster stood and raised her arms to the sky. There was a gleam in her eye. The gleam quickly rose into a flash, and that flash turned bright red. The hidden moon rose from behind a cloud, round and full, and in its warm glow, the camp counselor began to transform. She stretched out, growing taller and leaner. Bones exploded from below her flesh, upon her skull, a headdress of bovine teeth.

It is I, children. It is Hespeth!”

Looking back over her shoulder, Denise saw two glowing eyes in the dark forest behind her. They were accompanied by a smell… rank, like the meat that went off in the refrigerator last month after the blackout. The electricity had been out for two days. The stench was heavy, cloying. Before she knew it the creature was before her… beside her… hungry.

Denise stared in shock as the zombie bull Herne chomped down on little Lucy’s skull. Jaw agape, tongue dangling, eyes bulging, arm hanging loose to one side, Lucy dropped the half-eaten beef hotdog into the dirt before crumpling to the ground.

 

********

About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian, and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

 

 

#NGHW News: Interview with Contestant: Sumiko Saulson

 

What do you love about horror?

Horror is the genre we use to tell cautionary tales, to warn humanity of the folly of our ways. It’s the genre that celebrates the struggle of the spunky underdog against nearly impossible odds. Win or lose, we are so deeply mired in the life of that character that we are concerned about his or her future. Horror is a character-centered genre because we need to care about the protagonist in order to relate to his or her fear. For all of the criticisms about how horror desensitizes us, it also forces us to learn empathy for those unlike ourselves, whose struggles we do not often consider, by asking us to take a cold, hard look at man’s inhumanity to man. Using monsters and other supernatural creatures to convey the story creates enough distance from our bad behavior as a species to allow us to think things over without immediately going on the defensive.

What was the first horror movie/story/book/show that you fell in love with?

Although “Planet of the Apes” is generally considered sci-fi, as a child the subtextual plot about the destruction of humanity that replaced us with intelligent apes was my first exposure to dystopic fiction, which many consider being horror. I was terrified when they showed the Statue of Liberty and revealed that this had all happened on Earth and was pretty obsessed with the movie when I was about five. However, the first purely horror film I fell in love with was “Ben.” I saw it with my dad when I was eight – he thought I’d like it because I had a pet mouse. It was a double feature with “Willard”… I absolutely loved it, and the Michael Jackson song as well. I was 8, so you know I thought Michael Jackson was cute – every little black girl in America did back then. But he wasn’t the one I was in love with – it was Ben. I was totally incensed by the cruel treatment of the poor, beleagured Ben by the evil rats and the cruel humans who picked on him because he was a rodent.

Can you describe the sort of horror stories you write?

My primary genre is psychological horror, such as you see on “Twilight Zone,” “Outer Limits,” or movies like the “Stepford Wives” and the recent Peele film “Get Out.”  I also write gothic horror and dark fantasy, but there is always an element of psychological horror, even when there are monsters like zombies. My horror stories are character-driven usually involve multicultural or Afrocentric characters, and often have strong female characters as their central protagonists. There is a lot of range in terms of goriness, depending on the type of supernatural threat and what the audience is, but some of my stories are really violent and relatively disgusting.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what?

I often listen to gothic or alternative rock music, punk, grunge, or metal. I also listen to rap, hip-hip, R&B, and soul. It really depends on what the story is. I usually pick out music that I think the character I am writing would listen to. Because it helps me to get into character and visualize the world that character lives in.

Do you have any hobbies besides writing?

I enjoy drawing and painting… in fact, I make comic books and little zines that are mini-comics. I work primarily in acrylics on paper, but also, on canvas or wood. I’ve had paintings exhibited in galleries and cafes. I also enjoy fashion, music, and going dancing.

What is your favorite part about writing?

I find writing very therapeutic.

What is your favorite word?

Proactive.

What is your least favorite word?

Ulcerated.

What turns you on in a book?

Humor. If I don’t like an author’s sense of humor, I am unlikely to find the story particularly interesting, regardless of the genre it’s written in. I can usually identify a particular author by his or her sense of humor once I am familiar with their work.

Why should people be on team Sumiko?

My stories make people think. I think I have something important to bring to the world of horror.

 

Follow the #NGHW Contest, this season on HorrorAddicts.net!

Guest Blog: Disheveled Dreams: Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson

guestblog2 
For the month of March, Sumiko shared an excerpt of her series, Happiness and Other Diseases.  
Sumiko says,
“It deals with the Demos Oneiroi, which is the Greco-Roman land of dreams. The book is titled Somnalia after Somnuts (Sleep Party).
In this specific series, his foil is his twin brother, Thanatos, the god of peaceful death (not to be confused with the god of War, Ares).
It’s a horror story with a paranormal romance at it’s center: Charlotte “Happiness” Metaxas, heir apparent to the throne of the kindgom of erotic nightmares, is in a constant struggle with relatives who want wrest control from her. Her dad, the classic philandering Greek God Brash, ran the kingdom like a really cool night club for kinksters. He reincarnates and leaves her to run things. to turn her paranormal romance kingdom. Her uncle, Phobetor, the god of Nightmares, thinks she doesn’t know how to run things, and tries to take over, accidentally turning paranormal eroticaville into the land of torture porn. Her sister, Mercy, doesn’t like being trapped in the world of dreams, and wants to creep into the real world like Freddy Krueger and take things over with her sidekick, sister Sympathy, the queen of hentai.
 
A comic-book spin off “Dreamworlds” is a Cool World-like take on the series, where the dream world attempts to seep into the real world through this author in particular.”
Read an excerpt from Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson Act I: The Arrival of Happiness Nightmares
It was the same dream he’d had every night for the past year, but every time it haunted him, little details changed. Minor changes in setting and action were not the only differences in his bedtime story. Each time he had the dream, things went a little bit further than the last. The last couple of dreams had taken place in a powder gray office chair behind the plain white Formica-coated IKEA computer desk in his cubicle at work. He was tired of staring at the navy blue cubicle tiles. Four mismatched pushpins secured a print out of the company’s phone directory. He was more than a little relieved for the change of scenery. This time he was sitting on a barstool at Murphy’s Tavern. A half dozen co-workers from the call center were seated around the bar, sucking down shots of tequila and pint glasses of domestic beer poured out in abundance from the various ten-dollar pitchers purchased for the party.
Richard and Cindy from accounting were on stage, belting out their drunken rendition of “Summer Lovin’” from the musical Grease. Richard hammed it up with gratuitous hip gyrations, winking and serenading the secretaries seated in the front row. By contrast, Cindy failed to make eye contact with anyone, keeping her doe-eyed gaze fixed firmly on the karaoke monitor. Flynn remembered that part of the dream from last October. It was a going-away party for someone from the constantly rotating administrative pool temporary staff. He couldn’t remember the girl’s name, but he remembered her suits. She was in her late twenties or early thirties, yet she wore these tailored pink and powder blue designer suits that put him in mind of Nancy Reagan, of all things. They seemed very incongruous for a woman of her age and economics. He had always wondered if they were hand-me-downs from a formerly fashionable maiden aunt.
Richard and Cindy finished their song right after he finished his beer. Four drunken, obnoxious dudes from the IT department were half way through their voluminous and off-key rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” when that thing finally showed up. Just like in every previous nightmare, it materialized suddenly, out of thin air. One moment he was looking at his own dog-tired mug in the mirror on the bar back, the next he was staring into the gaping maw of whatever it was that terrorized his dreams. It rarely took the same form twice. This time, it was shadowy and semi-translucent. It had withered legs and arms resembling the gnarled branches of a lightning-struck tree. They were almost humanoid, yet woefully emaciated. The creature was straddling his lap, facing him, with its talons resting on either side of his shoulders. Flynn gasped as he felt its claws sliding effortlessly into the flesh of his right shoulder. He felt a hot gush of blood flow out of his wounds and then slowly trickle down the back of his white t-shirt.
He would have screamed, but he knew from experience no one in the bar would hear him. His breath came in ragged, gasping pants as he struggled to maintain his composure. That creature knew it was hurting him, but Flynn didn’t want it to see him sweat.
“So,” he hissed under his breath, “The last time you showed up as a foxy-looking redhead. You aren’t bothering with pretenses this time I see?”
“This isn’t my true form, either,” the thing cooed back, leaning over and licking the side of his face with its wide, green tongue.
In the mirror, Flynn could see a thick trail of snail-like goo on his face where its saliva touched him. Its breath was mossy and tepid, but not entirely unpleasant. It smelled like the inside of a cave on a camping trip he remembered from childhood. Without wanting to, he found himself relaxing into the short leather back of the barstool. He felt warm and a little dizzy, but he knew it wasn’t the alcohol.
“I thought I would see if you like it rough this time,” the creature whispered in his ear.
Flynn turned away and lifted a hand in front of his face. “Don’t, please don’t,” he begged to know before the words left his lips that all of his pleas would be in vain.
A slender tendril of quivering flesh extended from a spot in its forehead, above and between where its eyes would have been. Instead of eyes, it had a row of five vacant dimples, each a shallow, empty socket lined with a membranous gel that breathed in and out like the gills of a fish. The appendage was as thick around as a large earthworm and lengthened rapidly, engorged until the throbbing tip touched his skin. He could feel it writhing its way up his cheek. Although he knew what to expect by now, his body convulsed involuntarily. He felt the tendril wind its way up to his nose. It thrust itself into his nostril, sliding in deeper until it penetrated his brain. In this incarnation, the creature’s mouth was as wide as his own head. Behind the series of fleshy polyps that jiggled, dangling from its moist lips, its hideous jaws were lined with sharp, jagged teeth. Its voice was wet and sucking, the sound a puddle of hot shit in a clogged up bar toilet would probably make if it started to speak.
Flynn hated its voice. “I can do whatever I want to you,” it cruelly purred.
“I can even make you like it.” A mucilaginous blue fluid pulsated through the fleshy appendage, and Flynn watched helplessly as the drug traveled through the tendril and entered his bloodstream, headed directly for his brain.
Wave after wave of chemical stimulation hit his nervous system and as he succumbed to the intoxicant, his fear gradually gave way to intense, almost painful arousal. The air molecules surrounding the creature’s form trembled slightly, in a way only Flynn could see. He watched as its form slowly shifted, reverting to the familiar freckle-faced buxom bar girl with the rust-colored hair. Over her shoulder, he could see his face in the bar-back mirror. He could feel something foreign invading his flesh, throbbing under his skin in perfect counterpoint to his heartbeat. As each fresh wave of euphoria hit him, he observed a strange, orange glow pulsating in the veins that were pounding out a rhythm in his temples. When the girl bent over and bit his neck, he whimpered. “I don’t know what you’re doing to me,” he mumbled, “but I don’t really want you to stop.”
It laughed at him. “But you should want me to stop,” the woman told him.
“I am a parasite and I’m feeding off you. I will gradually drain the life out of you, and leave you a dead and empty husk. And you would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Flynn muttered compliantly.
“Yes, you should eat all of me until there is nothing left.” His reflection stared back at him, slack jawed and vacant.
The whites of his eyes were clouded by bubbling peach-colored swirls of viscous alien matter, like tiny ocular lava lamps. There was even a slightly pink tinge to the tear that was sliding down his cheek. Cindy and Richard were standing on either side of him now, watching the scene unfold in eager anticipation. Four drunkards from the information technologies department joined the telemarketing team. The whole group was riveted by the theatrics. The secretarial pool held him in its hungry gaze as the temp with the pastel Bill Blass suit pulled out a pair of orange-handled office scissors and slit open the front of his t-shirt.
“I love playing with my food!” the monster shrilly announced to its admiring sycophants.
The crowd oohed and aahed appreciatively as she used her razor sharp fingernails to shred the rest of his t-shirt before removing it from his body. It was white cotton, the perfect medium for absorbing the blood that had been expressed from the many little abrasions she’d clumsily left on his torso while removing the garment. When the creature bent down to bite his nipple, Flynn threw his arms around its neck and arched his back to make it easier for the thing to completely devour him. His labored breathing gave way to moaning and trembling with anticipation as he resolved to give himself over to this monster completely. Then he woke up.
“Fuck you, bitch!” he screamed at no one in the room.
“I want to live!” “Fuck you, too!” his neighbor screamed back from the apartment above, punctuating the exclamation with a stomp on the floor.
A stream of further expletives followed. They were laced with creative suggestions for what kinds of objects Flynn, and the whore the old man upstairs imagined he must have been banging last night, could unceremoniously shove up their collective ass. Flynn jumped up from the soiled beige frameless futon mattress he called a bed, and ran into the cramped little closet-like bathroom of his tiny apartment. He barely reached the toilet in time to grasp the sides of it and lean his head forward in order to evacuate his meager stomach contents into the bowl. Waves of unrelenting nausea caused him to vomit repeatedly until his stomach was empty. After all of the food was gone, he sat on the floor for another half an hour feeling his throat burn as he dry heaved and spat up stomach acid. He was sick like this a lot lately. Flynn stood up and turned to face the sink. There was no walking necessary… it was about two feet away from the toilet.
The room was so small he could extend his arm and touch the plastic curtain of the claustrophobic, coffin-sized shower. He looked into the mirror in the medicine cabinet. It was about three feet high and two feet wide, bordered with a thin strip of discolored chrome, covered in a film of soap scum, and occasionally dotted with random drops of toothpaste and dried dirty bathwater. He didn’t look so hot. Under his eyes were bags deep enough for a weekend shopping spree. His solemn brown eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. His once golden skin was now sallow and jaundiced. His cheeks were the gaunt, his eyes were sunken. He decided he looked like a junkie.
“This shit is killing me,” he told his reflection.
He could still feel pain in his shoulder blade where the witch had impaled his flesh with her claws in the dream. His body hurt in other places, but that was the worst. He lifted his hand and touched the side of his neck. When he pulled away his fingers, they were covered in blood. He stood back from the mirror and observed a dozen tiny lines on his chest, minuscule scabs where she barely grazed the skin, and the blood had already dried. His nipple was still bleeding a little bit, and it was sore when he touched it. Flynn sharply sucked in his breath. He was very shaken up. He was afraid he was going to burst into tears. Pulling himself together, he stumbled into the nearby shower and stripped off his boxer briefs. He tossed them out past the slightly moldy plastic shower curtain with the gaudy tropical fish and seahorses painted on it.sumikodreamcover
They landed inside out, and he shook his head a little when he noticed the stain from last night’s involuntary emission. He turned on the shower and enjoyed the hot water coursing down over his aching flesh. He was exhausted, but he knew he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He didn’t want to walk into Dr. Lester’s office smelling like jizz, sweat, and shame. He tried not to think about his night terrors, but the harder he tried to forget about them, the more persistently they prodded at his waking mind. Soon, he found himself with a raging boner. It was hard to deny that he did like it rough. Still… that was not something he wanted that nightmare succubus to know and he most certainly had no desire to be eaten alive. Of course, there was a very good chance this succubus creature did not exist.
Flynn had begun to doubt his sanity sometime last summer, about a month after the dreams began. His therapist had assured him this monster did not, could not, actually exist. He must be hurting himself somehow in his sleep. The exhaustion must be a sign of his depression. Lots of depressed people felt tired. He would feel better soon, when the medications started working. Dr. Lester had an explanation for everything. She even told him he should not be ashamed of his fantasies, no matter how perverse he might deem them to be. They were only fantasies, and everyone has fantasies. In fact, his fantasies weren’t even all that uncommon. There was no need to be embarrassed by them. With that in mind, he decided it would be very therapeutic to beat off in the shower. Commentary Nyx was impatiently waiting for an answer.
“Plot and scheme?” her son Thanatos, the god of death protested.
“We would never.” “Settle down, brother,” Somnus interrupted.
“Mother, it is not his fault. I know what you speak of. It is the work of my son, Brash, and his children.
They’ve grown unusually bloodthirsty as of late. “I apologize for their behavior.”
“Aaahhh,” his mother said. “I am aware of what you speak of and I appreciate your honesty in this matter. It seems Brash and several of his children have been dissatisfied with their rightful place in the underworld in the Demos Oneiroi and have instead decided to enter the mortal realm and inflict themselves upon the living like some plague or disease.”
“I will speak with them,” Somnus reassured her.
“It has gone beyond that,” Nyx warned.
“They threaten to disrupt the natural order of things and to cause war between myself and those of greater power than even myself. I have decided they must be tested, and punished if necessary.”
“How will you test them?” Somnus asked.
Nyx lifted a burdensome scroll to the table and partially unfurled it, revealing a spot in the middle. It was a map of the Demos Oneiroi, the Greco-Roman mythological realm of dreams. She pointed to a tiny spot on the map with the very tip of her slim, tapered finger.
“Do you see that young man there?” she asked, tapping the spot twice.
“Look closely, and you will see him. He is the one begging your granddaughter Mercy for his life.”
“I see him,” Somnus responded.
“The fate of the entire line of Brash lies with him.” she said.
“Let’s say that mortal is able to persevere. Let’s say he is able to survive for the short span these fragile creatures are intended to live. Perhaps he will become the progenitor of a bloodline, for offspring are the closest any mortal being comes to immortality. If he is able to thrive, then they shall as well. If not…”
“If not?” Thanatos asked a little too eagerly.
Being the god of death, he had a pleasant feeling about where this might be going.
“If not, then as they so envy the mortals, let them be mortal. Let their endless lives, with which they have become so bored and tired, come to an end,” Nyx ordered. “Let them die, like all the rest.”
“He is my son,” Somnus protested.
“Surely, you will at least allow me to call forth a champion, to protect this mortal upon whose fragile shoulders you place such a heavy burden?”
“Very well,” Nyx relented, after a moment of silent consideration.
“You may, but you must call forth a champion from your own line. More specifically, this champion should be one of Brash’s progeny. To the best of my knowledge they are cruel, brutal and irredeemable, but if you have one with whom you might trust such a charge, name him.”
“Her,” Somnus corrected.
“Happiness. I name her. She will protect him.” Nyx furrowed her brow. “I have not heard this name before. Who is she?”
“She is a demigoddess,” Somnus explained.
“She is the offspring of the most recent dalliance between Brash and a mortal mistress.” Nyx laughed.
“You mean a demisomnali? To be a demigoddess, she would need to be the child of a god, and surely we are not elevating your wayward son Brash to the same status as you or your brother?”
“Very well,” Somnus conceded, not wishing to offend his mother.
Certain among his thousand sons the Oneiroi were considered gods. Morpheus was the god of dreams, and Phobetor the god of nightmares, for example. Brash would have been the god of erotic nightmares, but he was obscure and had no worshippers.
“A demisomnali, as you say. I name her.”
“For their sakes, I hope she’s a great deal gentler than her sisters,” Thanatos remarked. “They’ve sent many a mortal my way.”
“I am a parasite and I’m feeding off you. I will gradually drain the life out of you, and leave you a dead and empty husk. And you would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Flynn muttered compliantly.
“Yes, you should eat all of me until there is nothing left.” His reflection stared back at him, slack jawed and vacant.
The whites of his eyes were clouded by bubbling peach-colored swirls of viscous alien matter, like tiny ocular lava lamps. There was even a slightly pink tinge to the tear that was sliding down his cheek. Cindy and Richard were standing on either side of him now, watching the scene unfold in eager anticipation. Four drunkards from the information technologies department joined the telemarketing team. The whole group was riveted by the theatrics. The secretarial pool held him in its hungry gaze as the temp with the pastel Bill Blass suit pulled out a pair of orange-handled office scissors and slit open the front of his t-shirt.
“I love playing with my food!” the monster shrilly announced to its admiring sycophants.
The crowd oohed and aahed appreciatively as she used her razor sharp fingernails to shred the rest of his t-shirt before removing it from his body. It was white cotton, the perfect medium for absorbing the blood that had been expressed from the many little abrasions she’d clumsily left on his torso while removing the garment.
When the creature bent down to bite his nipple, Flynn threw his arms around its neck and arched his back to make it easier for the thing to completely devour him. His labored breathing gave way to moaning and trembling with anticipation as he resolved to give himself over to this monster completely. Then he woke up. “Fuck you, bitch!” he screamed at no one in the room.
“I want to live!” “Fuck you, too!” his neighbor screamed back from the apartment above, punctuating the exclamation with a stomp on the floor.
A stream of further expletives followed. They were laced with creative suggestions for what kinds of objects Flynn, and the whore the old man upstairs imagined he must have been banging last night, could unceremoniously shove up their collective ass. Flynn jumped up from the soiled beige frameless futon mattress he called a bed, and ran into the cramped little closet-like bathroom of his tiny apartment. He barely reached the toilet in time to grasp the sides of it and lean his head forward in order to evacuate his meager stomach contents into the bowl. Waves of unrelenting nausea caused him to vomit repeatedly until his stomach was empty. After all of the food was gone, he sat on the floor for another half an hour feeling his throat burn as he dry heaved and spat up stomach acid. He was sick like this a lot lately. Flynn stood up and turned to face the sink. There was no walking necessary… it was about two feet away from the toilet. The room was so small he could extend his arm and touch the plastic curtain of the claustrophobic, coffin-sized shower.
He looked into the mirror in the medicine cabinet. It was about three feet high and two feet wide, bordered with a thin strip of discolored chrome, covered in a film of soap scum, and occasionally dotted with random drops of toothpaste and dried dirty bathwater. He didn’t look so hot. Under his eyes were bags deep enough for a weekend shopping spree. His solemn brown eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. His once golden skin was now sallow and jaundiced. His cheeks were the gaunt, his eyes were sunken. He decided he looked like a junkie.
“This shit is killing me,” he told his reflection.
He could still feel pain in his shoulder blade where the witch had impaled his flesh with her claws in the dream. His body hurt in other places, but that was the worst. He lifted his hand and touched the side of his neck. When he pulled away his fingers, they were covered in blood. He stood back from the mirror and observed a dozen tiny lines on his chest, minuscule scabs where she barely grazed the skin, and the blood had already dried. His nipple was still bleeding a little bit, and it was sore when he touched it. Flynn sharply sucked in his breath. He was very shaken up. He was afraid he was going to burst into tears. Pulling himself together, he stumbled into the nearby shower and stripped off his boxer briefs. He tossed them out past the slightly moldy plastic shower curtain with the gaudy tropical fish and seahorses painted on it. They landed inside out, and he shook his head a little when he noticed the stain from last night’s involuntary emission. He turned on the shower and enjoyed the hot water coursing down over his aching flesh. He was exhausted, but he knew he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He didn’t want to walk into Dr. Lester’s office smelling like jizz, sweat and shame. He tried not to think about his night terrors, but the harder he tried to forget about them, the more persistently they prodded at his waking mind.
Soon, he found himself with a raging boner. It was hard to deny that he did like it rough. Still… that was not something he wanted that nightmare succubus to know and he most certainly had no desire to be eaten alive. Of course, there was a very good chance this succubus creature did not exist. Flynn had begun to doubt his sanity sometime last summer, about a month after the dreams began. His therapist had assured him this monster did not, could not, actually exist. He must be hurting himself somehow in his sleep. The exhaustion must be a sign of his depression. Lots of depressed people felt tired. He would feel better soon, when the medications started working. Dr. Lester had an explanation for everything. She even told him he should not be ashamed of his fantasies, no matter how perverse he might deem them to be. They were only fantasies, and everyone has fantasies. In fact, his fantasies weren’t even all that uncommon. There was no need to be embarrassed by them. With that in mind, he decided it would be very therapeutic to beat off in the shower. Commentary Nyx was impatiently waiting for an answer.
“Plot and scheme?” her son Thanatos, the god of death protested. “We would never.”
“Settle down, brother,” Somnus interrupted. “Mother, it is not his fault. I know what you speak of. It is the work of my son, Brash, and his children. They’ve grown unusually bloodthirsty as of late. I apologize for their behavior.”
“Aaahhh,” his mother said. “I am aware of what you speak of and I appreciate your honesty in this matter. It seems Brash and several of his children have been dissatisfied with their rightful place in the underworld in the Demos Oneiroi and have instead decided to enter the mortal realm and inflict themselves upon the living like some plague or disease.”
“I will speak with them,” Somnus reassured her.
“It has gone beyond that,” Nyx warned.
“They threaten to disrupt the natural order of things and to cause war between myself and those of greater power than even myself. I have decided they must be tested, and punished if necessary.”
“How will you test them?” Somnus asked. Nyx lifted a burdensome scroll to the table and partially unfurled it, revealing a spot in the middle.
It was a map of the Demos Oneiroi, the Greco-Roman mythological realm of dreams. She pointed to a tiny spot on the map with the very tip of her slim, tapered finger. “Do you see that young man there?” she asked, tapping the spot twice.
“Look closely, and you will see him. He is the one begging your granddaughter Mercy for his life.”
“I see him,” Somnus responded. “The fate of the entire line of Brash lies with him.” she said.
“Let’s say that mortal is able to persevere. Let’s say he is able to survive for the short span these fragile creatures are intended to live. Perhaps he will become the progenitor of a bloodline, for offspring are the closest any mortal being comes to immortality. If he is able to thrive, then they shall as well. If not…”
“If not?” Thanatos asked a little too eagerly.
Being the god of death, he had a pleasant feeling about where this might be going. “If not, then as they so envy the mortals, let them be mortal. Let their endless lives, with which they have become so bored and tired, come to an end,” Nyx ordered.
“Let them die, like all the rest.”
“He is my son,” Somnus protested.
“Surely, you will at least allow me to call forth a champion, to protect this mortal upon whose fragile shoulders you place such a heavy burden?”
“Very well,” Nyx relented, after a moment of silent consideration.
“You may, but you must call forth a champion from your own line. More specifically, this champion should be one of Brash’s progeny. To the best of my knowledge they are cruel, brutal and irredeemable, but if you have one with whom you might trust such a charge, name him.”
“Her,” Somnus corrected.
“Happiness. I name her. She will protect him.” Nyx furrowed her brow.
“I have not heard this name before. Who is she?”
“She is a demigoddess,” Somnus explained.
“She is the offspring of the most recent dalliance between Brash and a mortal mistress.” Nyx laughed.
“You mean a demisomnali? To be a demigoddess, she would need to be the child of a god, and surely we are not elevating your wayward son Brash to the same status as you or your brother?”
“Very well,” Somnus conceded, not wishing to offend his mother.
Certain among his thousand sons the Oneiroi were considered gods. Morpheus was the god of dreams, and Phobetor the god of nightmares, for example. Brash would have been the god of erotic nightmares, but he was obscure and had no worshippers. “A demisomnali, as you say. I name her.”
“For their sakes, I hope she’s a great deal gentler than her sisters,” Thanatos remarked.
“They’ve sent many a mortal my way.”