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Genre Writing: Horror – What is your fear?

We all have fears. They can be legitimate fears like losing a parent or child, losing a job, a ligament and more. Some fears appear in the form of phobias – fear of spiders, clowns, germs, heights etc. Common fears that are almost universal are the fears of anticipated pain, approach of death, of not being in control, and next to them, the fear of the unknown.

Movies like Scream/Friday the 13th, Halloween etc are scary because you don’t know who the killer is, you don’t know where they are or where they will come from. All you can expect is a knife plunging down.

Movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Candyman, The Grudge, etc are scary because there’s a supernatural element to the “killer.” You can’t necessarily escape them once they have their sights on you.

Final Destination means you’re definitely going to die soon, unexpectedly and quite possibly, in a horrifying manner. You don’t know where and how death will approach and you can’t beat it.

They are combinations of the unknown, trying to gain control and failing, and the anticipated pain/death. And that’s scary.

The Role of the Author

As much as we all have fears, we do not all have the same fears. Someone could watch the new IT movie and scream the entire time and someone else could watch it unfazed. This is what makes horror such a fickle genre. It is mostly subjective.

When I’m ink-deep in my horror story, there are a number of thoughts that swing through. The main thought is: am I portraying a true reflection of the horror. Here are some factors to consider.

Realism:

How close to real is the story and characters. Are they believable. What are the possibilities that the story could happen, supernatural or not. Do the fantastical elements make the story ridiculous or a little too close to home.

With that I try and add as many facts as possible. Perhaps reference real things that the reader might come across or may have heard about in real life. Things like:

  • It is more effective to sew a human mouth or eyes shut than to use superglue.
  • A medical practitioner has the tools/knowledge/skills required to be a proficient serial killer. (Charles Cullen – a former nurse who is the most prolific serial killer in New Jersey history and is suspected to be the most prolific serial killer in American history.) ~ Charles Cullen
  • Nurses and paramedics have more paranormal “experiences” than most due to being present when someone is about to die. (Apparently the ghost has even been seen down in the ER, ducking in and out of patient rooms and peeking around curtains.) ~ 49 Real Nurses Share The Terrifying Hospital Ghost Stories
  • Most people don’t have foresight before someone close to them dies. Not even twins. (They may be very close, very similar in manner, habits and health, but this doesn’t mean they share some otherworldly connection that the rest of us don’t have.) ~ Can Twins Sense Each Other
  • Sleep apnoea may cause people to have waking nightmares where their bodies are paralysed and they feel a presence in the room, or someone sitting on them. Usually an unidentifiable face or shadow is present. Most attribute it to a supernatural presence. It’s not. ~ Is Sleep Paralysis Linked To Sleep Apnoea?

Sleep Paralysis gif

Logic:

How logical is the story. Do the characters react in a realistic way. Are the events in the story making sense and as close to real as possible. Sure some supernatural elements do not have complete scientific evidence, or anything we can truly attribute them to beyond an unknown force. However, there are physical manifestations that may occur preceding the supernatural, and those can be used to add the “logic” to the story.

13 Famous Curses

As Thomas Busby was being led to his execution, he reportedly shouted that anyone who sat on his favorite chair would die.

Tony Earnshaw was not a superstitious man; he initially dismissed the Busby curse as nonsense and the previous deaths associated with it as coincidences. But then people started dying on his watch. Earnshaw overheard two RAF airmen daring each other to sit on the chair. Both did, and both died in a car crash later that day…

ThinnerCurseStephenKing

Pain (Emotional/Physical):

Pain may be in a physical or emotional level. The actual knife plunging into the victim, or the emotional trauma of waiting for the inevitable knife to plunge into the victim. The emotional side of horror is just as effective as the physical. Perhaps more so. Horror is about the terror than it is about the death after all.

Stephen King’s horror focuses on the characters. Invests the reader in their lives, habits, thoughts and feelings until we are almost seeing the world through their eyes. So when the horror hits, our emotions become entangled with the character and we feel it with them.

Clive Barker on the other hand focuses on the sheer physical manifestation of that horror, both in its visual representation (description) and the brutality of it.He takes great pains in cataloging the look of his creations and the horrors they have to endure.

For me it is a combination of the two. There must be some investment into the character. Enough to make you relate to them in some way. Let you feel empathetic to their situation. The emotional trauma they experience combined with the physical torture they must endure.

“Mommy?” Evie turned from the couch, a questioning look spreading across her face and disheveled hair. Her eyes fell on the axe flashing distorted images of the TV screen.

“Mommy!” Fear laced into the voice as her body attempted to crawl into the safety of the leather. Squeaking with her movement.

Rebecca grimaced,

“I’m not your mommy.” And with all the force she could muster, swung the handle hard and fast towards the girl’s face

~ Faux – A Wattpad Horror

Horror is not Gore – It’s… Paranoia

Many people think horror equals gore. For me it’s not about gore all the time. It is about the characters and the situation leading towards the gore. By the time you as the reader get to that part, where the axe meets the face, you’ve understood the situation.

The horror of relating to the killer.

The horror of being in the victim’s shoes.

Where the dark no longer feels safe and the light can only ease your fears so much. Where every sound makes you shiver. Where fiction crosses over the thin line into reality.


Have you read a book or watched a movie that really scared you enough to be paranoid? What was it? Why do you think it caused those feelings in you? Let’s chat!

 

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Friday Fiction: The Faithful in Fairland

Cliche #1:

A priest who has lost his faith and now must face a supernatural evil that will lead him back to his faith.


He walks with a slight lilt. His black vestments usually hide the limp but today he wears a plain black shirt and jeans. The clerical collar makes its usual appearance and so does his dazzling white teeth smile. The congregation has gathered outside his house as a silent mob. They hold no torches or pitchforks, but their eyes are daggers and their pursed lips contain venom waiting to be unleashed.

Nonetheless he spreads his arms out in a welcome gesture, a token to his past life as pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“Well this is a warm welcome.” He says to the sea of faces. The community of Fairland were always a close-knit family, and today the family is more united than ever.

“Have you truly abandoned your faith, father?” A woman says, stepping forward from the parting crowd like a biblical figure. In her hands she clutches a bible to her flowery dress.

“I have no idea what you mean?”

“Oh you know exactly what you mean.” Her knuckles turn white as she clutches the book tighter. “We know about Claire. Father.”

If the priest shows any concern it does not break on his lined face. Not even a twitch of his white-whiskered mouth.

“Claire? Claire is dead my good people. Did you come disturb me over my dead wife?”

“Oh she’s most definitely not dead.” Emily says. The crowd murmurs in agreement but keep their voices to themselves. Only the appointed speaks now.

“Emily, you were at her funeral as many of you were too.” His eyes flit to familiar faces. They do not look away but keep a steady, silent watch over him. They do not notice the tremble in his hands as he moves them behind him.

“We buried her body, you’re right pastor, but not her spirit.”

The priest’s smile widens before he barks a loud laugh. The crowd stirs uneasily.

“My, that is unexpected. As the Word of God states, absent from the body present with the Lord.” he says. Emily raises the bible like a weapon, the leather bending between her fingers.

“You dare mock the word of God!” She takes a step forward. The crowd simultaneously follow.

“You who once did the work of the Lord until drink took over your soul and tainted your words!” Emily takes a step. The crowd takes a step. The priest steps back twice until he’s in the gloom of the house.

“You who baptised our children in the holy water while you yourself baptised your soul with the blood of Satan!” By now Emily is on the porch step. The crowd funnels in behind her. As she takes a step forward, the priest shuts the door quickly. But it is too late as Emily’s foot works to jam the door. Only the door does shut with a resounding bang. He looks down at the severed foot as blood begins to gush onto his shoes.

“Oh dear Lord.” He mutters, shuffling back with his hand clutching his heart. As he whirls about he finds Emily standing before him, a stump of a foot dragging blood with it as she steps forward.

“Where has your faith gone!” She screeches. The priests quickly widening eyes now shut completely. He shuffles back, almost slipping on the blood before the door holds him up.

“Where is your faith!”

Behind him, through the door he hears the crowd chant.

“Faith. Faith. Faith.” It is monotonous. Buzzing against his ears. “Faith. Faith. Faith.”

He opens his eyes and sees Emily in her true form. The same one he buried so many years ago. Scalp caved in at the left temple where blood oozes with the wriggling form of thick white maggots. Her skin bloats against her bones, garish green over portions of porcelain white skin. She shuffles forward, the bible still clutched between the bones of her decayed hands.

When she throws the book at him, he realises it is not a bible at all. It bangs against the door beside his head and flops onto the floor open. A picture slides from the pages and lands at the man’s feet. He looks up and Emily nods her head to it. Her face no longer pulls taught but slacks downward as though forlorn. The priest bends down and lifts the image,

“Oh lord no.” He says, the image shaking between his fingers. In it is the community of Fairland, familiar faces he’d nodded to outside. He stands in front of an altar before their bodies, all of them lying haphazardly across the pews of the church. A dark shadow stands behind him, hands on his shoulder like a proud father.

“How… when…” he falls to the ground.

“After Claire died, you changed. You let it in.” Emily says. He looks to her to find her jaw hanging agape. Black liquid pours down her chin.

“Restore us before we are taken into the bowels of Sheol.” Emily whispers. Then her rotting body falls to the floor face first. As it hits with a wet smack, a rosary rolls across the floor to his feet.

“Where is my faith…” he whispers to the now empty house.


Okay it sure could use a little more work, first draft after all, but you get the gist of it yeah? And what about that silent mob? Reminds me of a scene in R.L. Stine where the kids move in to a new neighbourhood only to find all their neighbours are ghosts. *Shivers

Did I do the cliché justice? Have you read/watched anything familiar? I would love to know.

 

The Hellbound Heart – Recommendation

Clive Barker is widely acknowledged as the master of nerve-shattering horror. The Hellbound Heart is one of his best, one of the most dead-frightening stories you are likely to ever read, a story of the human heart and all the great terrors and ecstasies within. It was also the book behind the cult horror film, Hellraiser.

In a quiet house on a quiet street Frank and Julia are having an affair. Not your ordinary affair. For Frank it began with his own insatiable sexual appetite, a mysterious lacquered box- and then an unhinged voyage through a netherworld of imaginable pleasures and unimaginable horror… Now Frank- or what is left of Frank -waits in an empty room. All he wants is to live as he was before. All Julia can do is bring him her unfulfilled passions…and a little flesh and blood…


First of all, not for the faint-hearted. Second of all, not for the squeamish, easily disgusted, or those with an overactive imagination. Lastly, it’s definitely not Stephen King so don’t even use that as a gauge for your own propensity for horror fiction. This is other level horror.

Also, I took the time to finally watch the (in)famous Hellraiser movie and man is Clive Barker sick. Like wow haha. It’s a completely different kind of horror compared to Scream (I’ve watched all of them, and I just finished the Netflix series), Wrong Turn (meh), Silent Hill or a number of other’s that I watched. I’m planning on watching every “Hellraiser” movie and also Books of Blood. Can’t be a Barker fanatic if I haven’t even seen/read all his works right?

 

Friday Fiction: The Playground


The four fundamental elements I spoke about in Genre Writing: Horror Fundamentals are: Atmosphere. Fear Factor. Character Flaw. Plot Twist.

The sunlit jungle gyms and slides were half obscured by uniformed, screaming children. They scampered about like mice, eyes alive, front teeth missing, dirt and dust over their shorts and skirts and shirts and knee length socks. One of them, on his way down the scorching, silver pole leading to the graveled floor, looked across the playground. Three of the fourth graders were leading a second grader towards Big School. They weren’t allowed there during school hours. Not at all.

He slid down quickly and started to follow,

“Where you going Ted?” Leena asked. Ted shot her a dark look, index finger rising to his lips,

“I’m coming now.” Ted whispered, turning to see the other kids slip through the side gate.

Ted ran as quickly and quietly as he could. Were they trying to get the second grader in trouble, his mind asked. Was the kid in trouble? Why was he following them at all?

As he peeked around the corner, he felt the hairs on the nape of his neck rise. They weren’t going to the Big School after all. They were heading to the disused toilets in the back corner of the old classrooms. A bricked wall separated the two halves of the school, which had cut off the toilets from being seen. Since no one used it, there were no lights inside, and to enter you had to walk through a small corridor. All in total darkness.

Ted shivered.

Sometimes, he and his friends would dare each other to run past. Once he’d dared his friend Johnny to knock on the door. Johnny did. A moment later he’d ran out crying, claiming he’d seen massive red eyes staring at him. They never did go back.

Ted wouldn’t have followed these kids today. Not since that day with Johnny. In fact, not ever. But what if the kid was going to get fed to that red-eyed thing Johnny saw. What if the fourth graders didn’t know? What if they did know?

He thought about calling a teacher but it was already too late. They were approaching the corridor and he could hear the older boy’s snicker. The other kid was crying. But what could he really do? He didn’t know but when all the kids stepped into the corridor, Ted hurried after them.

The entrance was dark. Just a rectangular wall of black. Ted had never seen the sun shine on this side of the building. From inside he could hear whispers, and the younger boy’s sobbing. Someone told him to shut up or they’d leave him inside. Then it went eerily quiet. As though all sound had been cut off from inside.

Ted waited at edge of the corridor, leaning in to hear better. He thought he could hear shuffling. Or maybe mumbling. He wasn’t sure.

Then someone screamed and all the blood drained from his veins and filled up with liquid ice. He stood frozen. Another scream jerked him backwards against the wall. He couldn’t see or feel the shivers that took over his body. He stared at the darkness and he felt it stare back at him.

Then two red eyes blinked open. Ted screamed. His body came back to life and he pushed away from the wall to run. A warm hand gripped his calf. He screamed again.

“Ted! Ted!” He turned around and it was the second grader. He was okay. Ted fought to calm down but then he saw the streaks of red on the kid’s arm.

“What… what happened?”

The kid smiled, revealing more of the red on his teeth.

“Well… we won’t be having a bullying problem anymore.”

Did you pick up the four elements inside the story? What basics do you use to craft your story?

Genre Writing: Horror Fundamentals

It was a dark and stormy night. The monster under the bed reached for my dangling arm. Little did it know, I was waiting for it instead.

And that’s how you write a horror story. Well not really, but the little piece of micro fiction above uses basic elements I include into all my horror stories. In today’s segment, I will be breaking down the story to show you how I write horror.

Remember, this isn’t the only way or the best way to write horror, it’s my method for building the foundation of a horror. Right, let’s get into it.

It’s All About Atmosphere – It was a dark and stormy night.

Atmosphere is such an important aspect of horror. It creates the mood of the story and helps put the reader’s frame of mind into the right state. Subconsciously, the reader knows the story is going to be dark. You see it on TV and in movies. The Blacklist is my favourite TV series. It has a dark grungy tinge to it compared to NCIS Los Angeles where everything looks hued in gold (ugh). If you watch horror films, you’ll notice that there’s a dark tinge to everything, even during the day.

Which is why the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night.” became so popular in writing. People knew immediately that what was to follow wouldn’t be good. Because good things never happen during stormy nights.

Vocabulary Is Important: I am a descriptive writer. I want you to have a strong image of the world, characters, mood, and world as you read. Each word I use must convey something. Whether it is unease, foreboding, anxiety, apprehension, or tension. From describing the world to describing the character. Atmosphere is my scary soundtrack playing in the background, building you up for the scare.

At night however, the park was a void surrounded by dark, silent husks, watching over the emptiness.

~Current WIP

Fear Factor: The monster under the bed.

Everyone has a fear. It could be spiders, heights, enclosed spaces, clowns, snakes and various other things. There are movies and books for each of those fears I’ve listed. The greatest fear however, is the fear of the unknown. You may not be afraid of spiders because you’ve had a pet spider and you think they are adorable. But what if the spider started acting in a way you’re not used to. Uncharacteristically. Malicious. Vicious. Dangerous. Would you be afraid then?

Then of course you have the occult and that’s a whole different set of unknown variables.

 

Create the Fear: When I write horror, I do not know what everyone’s fear is. In that case, I will either use my own fears, or find a situation that could induce fear with the right elements. Things like:

  • I’m home alone… but there’s a noise in the house.
  • I find an old journal… but it starts filling itself out.
  • I wake up… it’s the middle of the night and there’s a shadow at the foot of my bed.

Occasionally I will use real-life experiences (sleep apnea – sleep paralysis) or really creepy facts, for the basis of my horror.

Did you know that when you wake up at around 2-3AM without reason, there’s an 80% chance that someone is staring at you?

The Characters Are Flawed – …reached for my dangling arm.

Some horror writers use subtle descriptions to show a character flaw, something as mundane as hair, nails, a smile, eyes etc. These specific details become the medium to show how characters digress during the course of the story. We are shown that they are “real” people. At the same time they begin to fall into a character type. Things like artificial features create a character trope. The flawless cheerleader equals killer fodder. The grungy outcast equals the hero. The religious zealot equals crazy misunderstood sub-antagonist.

Also, when someone is in a stressful situation they may lose their sense of self, letting themselves go, lack sleep etc which may cause them to make bad decisions. Actions may also show a break in their character, like leaving an arm dangling over the edge of a bed (bad mistake) when they would have snuggled into their blankets. When someone is put into an unknown situation, they may react differently to their usual self. Fear does that. The teen getting chased who goes upstairs. The kid who tries to get over their fear by going to the basement. The character who stands to fight instead of running.

Describe Their Digression: Characters barely start off insane (unless you’re writing from the “killer’s” perspective.) I’ll start off with the character being “normal”, doing the right things and being a productive member of society. Then slowly I let the paranoia sink in. Something as routine as opening the wardrobe becomes an anxiety inducing experience. The sense of “safety” vanishes and the characters have nervous breakdowns during regular everyday occurrences. The fear becomes irrationally real. When done right, you too as the reader will feel their apprehension.

It was a door. Just a door. Wood. Golden handle. Keyhole. A door. Nothing seemed to exist past the door; not the voices from the television set in the lounge, not the incessant banging from the brat in the adjacent apartment, and not the beep of the microwave stating its completed cycle. Only the door.

~ Current WIP

The Twist – Little did it know, I was waiting for it instead.

Horror is a delve into the darker, perhaps more realistic side of humanity. The side where bad things happen to good people. Adding a twist to the story can create strong tension between the reader and the unfolding story.

Foreshadowing works wonders when creating clever, unexpected twists. For instance, there might be a monster that appears under a bed. You show a new character buying a new bed and bringing it home. At night they go to bed and they hear scratching below. The reader anticipates the monster but when the character checks under the bed, there’s nothing. As they rise back to get into bed… BOOM monster is under the sheets.

Make or Break The Cliche: Cliche’s are great because they work. The monster under/in the bed/wardrobe/basement/attic is a common component in horror. Much like the dilapidated haunted house. They work because there are a lot of unknown variables attached to them. And its dark in there.

I use cliche’s often. What I do, however, is add a twist to them just to mix things up. I direct the reader through the usual expected path, then throw in hints that imply one thing, only to reveal it to be something else. For instance, writing about a haunted house, but making the monsters inside be the victims instead. Here’s one story playing on this idea: Friday Fiction – Random Prompt

Stephen King is an example of an author who varies the stories he writes. For instance, he writes the cliched haunted house story in The Shining. On the other hand, he takes a mundane object like a car, and turns it into Christine, the car with a mind of its own.

The Beauty of Horror

While horror freaks me out, it is that very fact that makes it such a beautiful thing. That words on paper could induce as much fear and paranoia as a movie. How words can impact the mind and emotions. It’s just great.


In my next segment I’ll talk about my research. It’s quite interesting if I do say so myself and the first rule of research is… don’t get freaked out haha.

Have these points helped you out in anyway? Are there any fundamentals that you use in your writing, horror or otherwise? You got any tips of your own? I would love to know.

Friday Fiction: Regrets

 

“There is no black and white when it comes to stalking. You’re either doing it or not doing it.” Haley said. She leaned over my shoulder. Her scent filled the air.

“It’s Instagram though.”

“Right. Legalized stalking but it’s still stalking.”

I swiped through the images then stopped. The image was of my stalkee – Jordan Washington. She’d tilted her head just enough to let the black braids hang down one side of her face onto the picnic table. Sunlight dulled against her face enough that it made her skin almost golden brown. And she had a pretty face.

“You see that don’t you?” I asked Haley. I could hear the grin in her voice,

“She’s definitely pretty.”

I pinched my fingers together against the screen and slowly pulled them apart. Zooming in past her shoulder to the tree in the distance. I kept my fingers from shaking and ignored the hairs on my nape rising.

“You see that though?”

“No I… oh…” Haley’s hand gripped my shoulder tight. “Dude!”

“I know. Hold on check.” I swiped through a couple more images, zooming into key areas just beyond Jordan’s smiling face. One of these was in her bedroom and the mirror behind her reflected the open window.

“Tyrone.”

“Yeah?”

“That’s you isn’t it?”

“Yes and no. Either I have an evil twin brother, an evil clone… or someone out there is pretending to be me.”

Haley’s hand gripped tighter.

“Or some-thing.”

*

Jordan Washington. That’s where it begins. That’s. Where. It. Begins. Begins. Ends. There is no… there is no time and there is all the time. All. The. Time.

I am. I am not ready to lose her. Not again. Not when I must. I must…  Must find. Must find Jordan. Must. Save. Her.

*

Jordan lay under the covers with her phone shaking between her hands. She hadn’t logged in to Instagram in months yet new photos kept posting themselves on her feed. Each of them with his figure in the back. The wooden floorboards creaked. An invisible weight pushing against her chest, squeezing her lungs together. Her breath came out short and shallow and she fought to keep it quiet. From beyond the blanket she sensed a shadow. Like cold hands pressing down her shoulders, grazing her spine from neck to lower back. A single harried breath echoed across her room, freezing her on the spot. Her hands were shaking so bad the phone fell out and hit the bed.

“GET OUT TYRONE!” She screamed, throwing the blankets off and sitting up quickly. The room was empty. Silent. She swiveled her head around thinking she might see him and hoping she wouldn’t. Nothing.

“I need to get out of here.” She whispered into the air, hands running through her hair. She’d already bought her train ticket and couldn’t wait for morning. Whatever game Tyrone was playing she couldn’t take it anymore. She slipped under the cover and picked up the phone to see the time.

Her breath caught in her throat for a second before a scream escaped her lips. The screen was filled with Tyrone’s face, haggard and drooping. Two words were emblazoned across the image.

“I’m. Coming.”

*

Fog sat across the horizon like a blanket, cloaking the street enough that we could barely see what was ahead of us.

“Put on the fog lights.” Haley said.

“I did. It’s not working.”

“Well then drive faster! Or… do something!” She sat forward on the passenger seat. Her hand angled away from her lips as teeth chewed through fingernails. She’d been like this since I picked her up five minutes ago. Outside, the morning fog continued its endless descent.

“If we get into an accident then it will all be for naught.”

Haley shook her head,

“If we don’t get there quickly it may be too late.”

I sat closer to the steering wheel and peered through the fog. I knew the road well enough but even in that fog it was difficult to anticipate anything. Eventually we saw the off-ramp we had to take, and the green sign above us.

Lincoln Station

It was still early enough that we had ample parking space, but there was still some life. A woman hauling out a large travel bag. Business men in suits chatting on phones. Children clinging to parents. All of them swaddled in heavy clothing. It was unceremoniously cold.

“Dude just park anywhere.”

“Chill!”

“I can’t chill! You saw that last post this morning right? That Tyrone-Clone keeps getting closer with each pic and this time it was literally standing over her. By her bed!”

“Why can’t she see it though? Or feel him? Or something!”

Haley shrugged, then chewed another nail, gazing off towards the train tracks in the distance.

“Maybe she does.”

I found a space and we jumped out of the car, racing towards the open platform where a small group had already formed. I could see the faces of those around us watching with raised brows, upturned lips or rolling eyes.

“I can’t see her.” Haley called from the other side of the crowd. I walked to the edge of the platform to see better. I would have thought in such a small group she would be easy to see. The sound of the train approaching rumbled the tracks. I turned towards it, squinting through the fog.

I saw her. On the platform ahead of us. Just a dark silhouette walking slowly away but it was her alright.

“Found her!” I shouted but Haley didn’t respond. Maybe she’d gone into the building to find her. It didn’t matter. I rushed towards her, past the little white barriers that looked like tombstones. The fog was dissipating enough that I could make out the roofs of houses from across the tracks.

“Jordan!” I screamed. The figure didn’t turn around. I ran towards it quickly, feelings my fingers and toes growing numb in the cold. My breath puffed out in clouds.

“Jordan!” She whirled about quickly to face me, her eyes wide and mouth agape.

“No!” She ran. I chased.

“He’s coming!” I screamed at her, following.

“Get away!”

The tracks grumbled louder. A horn blared. A headlight cut through the fog.

“Jordan!”

She tripped. The world seemed to slow down as I watched her arms waving in an effort to balance herself. Her foot twisted. She leaned a little too close to the edge. Then she was falling. Onto the tracks. A screeching sound resounded as the train attempted to brake.

“JORDAN!”

*

The fog swirled around me like a cold hand. A silhouette appeared from it. Tall. Dark. Eyes like egg-yolks and yellowing teeth as sharp as knives.

“You messed up again Tyron. Man. How many times do you gotta do this?”

“Jordan.” The words escaped in a sigh. Everything turned blurry as tears filled my eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. Jordan this. Jordan that. You wanna save her? Again?”

My head shot up and I gazed at this…person.

“Yes.” I said.

“Good. This is going to hurt… again.”

*

“There is no black and white when it comes to stalking. You’re either doing it or not doing it.” Haley said. She leaned over my shoulder. Her scent filled the air.

“It’s Instagram though.”

“Right. Legalized stalking but it’s still stalking.”

 

Joyland – Review

Title: Joyland

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Book procurement: Bought a copy from Exclusive Books – Clearwater Mall.

Synopsis:

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time—Joyland is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all of the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank RedemptionJoyland is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.

 

Review:

First Thoughts

I read the synopsis on Goodreads and expected quite a horror from the King himself. The story itself was great but it didn’t give me nightmares, let alone tickle my horror bone. It’s much more of a mystery and coming-of-age novel than it is a horror. Which I guess is something I should be expecting and yet still fail to anticipate with each King novel I pick up.

Writing

It’s Stephen King so the writing is apt to be great and it is. Each word feels like it is necessary to the story and nothing was added for the sake of word count or flourish. The story starts off right off the bat with some insight to the main character Devin Jones. We are laid with the “coming-of-age” foundation and the oblivion of youth. As the story progresses this theme is revisited. The novel revolves around this a lot.

“When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”
~Devin Jones – Stephen King, Joyland

Is it horror? Well no. There a elements of horror in the novel. Specifically the legend of a murder in the “Horror House”. Devin is drawn to it as we would expect him to be. Madame Fortuna, the resident fortune teller, is not always right about her predictions but Devin are accurate. And no this is not a spoiler. Stephen King is known for his unambiguous foreshadowing and he dives right into it very early on.

Lastly, King writes to immerse you into the world he’s created and I was most assuredly immersed. I knew Devin, Tom, Erin, Lane, Fortuna and the Joyland amusement park as though I were there, or perhaps watched a film. Descriptions are clear, vivid and inviting. The characters come to life in their actions, moods, and emotions which King captures oh so well.

The Story

The overall story is much more a “thriller with horror elements” than it is a “horror with thriller elements.” Devin Jones narrates the story as a much older man, who is looking back at his Summer of 1973 working at Joyland, an amusement park in North Carolina. We are introduced to his friends Erin and Tom and the energy of an amusement park that we know will one day fade into nothing but for now is alive enough to have “charisma” to it.

“Climb aboard, Jonesy. I’m going to send you up where the air is rare and the view is much more than fair.”
~ Lane Hardy – Stephen King, Joyland

Devin Jones hears a rumour that there is a ghost in the horror house of Joyland. It becomes a mystery that he wants to solve. On top of that Madam Fortuna tells him a very peculiar future which Devin brushes off as just a sham. But part of him thinks there may be something to it.

Throughout the novel we re-live Jones’ summer. We experience his love and loss, his fears and anger, his sadness and hope. These elements reinforce the “coming-of-age” aspect and intertwine really well with the overall story.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to fault Stephen King. Some tend to find his character and world-building descriptions to be overbearing. I think they are his unique style and what makes his novels work.

I was watching Bag of Bones on Netflix and when Mike Noonan (played by Pierce Brosnan) drives through TR90 at Dark Score Lake, Maine, and he looks at the familiar places, it missed the Stephen King charm. Where every familiar house he passes gets its own “history” which you know will play a part later on in the book.

That “charm” is what makes Joyland a great book rather than an okay book. It’s what separates King from other novels and why I’ll keep reading his books even when they don’t become what I expect.

“The last good time always comes, and when you see the darkness creeping toward you, you hold on to what was bright and good. You hold on for dear life.”
~Devin Jones – Stephen King, Joyland

Rating: An engaging 4 out of 5

Salem’s Lot – Recommendation

Something strange is going on in Jerusalem’s Lot … but no one dares to talk about it. By day, ‘Salem’s Lot is a typical modest New England town; but when the sun goes down, evil roams the earth. The devilishly sweet insistent laughter of a child can be heard echoing through the fields, and the presence of silent looming spirits can be felt lurking right outside your window.

Stephen King brings his gruesome imagination to life in this tale of spine-tingling horror.


I may have read this book before but I was quite young. Memory is shoddy so I bought it and will be reading it. I’m taking a break from Stephen King though.

Apartment 12B

 

It was a week later that Apartment 12B swayed. Guttural whispers fell against the wooden door padlocked with a series of golden chain locks and a single metal bar as thick as a baseball bat. An ewer from St. Peter’s Basilica rattled across the floor, splattering holy water over the wooden panels, only for the liquid to evaporate in dark tendrils.

Beyond the apartment, harsh pebbles of rain lashed the transom window. The horizontal venetian blinds quivered against the glass, filling the dim room with incessant tapping.  Within the stark room stood a beige second-hand couch, bought from the ancient auburn head owner of Elise’s Pawn Shoppe on the corner of Marshall and Green. A rickety mahogany table, from the same place, angled away from the couch. Dirty coffee cups left stained rings on the wood where a heavy, leather bound King James lay haphazardly open to Matthew 3. Verse two highlighted with the red squiggly circles of madness.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

*

Elise Chambers was an aberrant old hag originating from one of the obscure Scandinavian countries. A refugee turned citizen, she’d set up Elise’s Pawn Shoppe in August 1972 with the help of her now departed husband Nathaniel Chambers. While many had found her flaming auburn hair puzzling, the beauty and presence she radiated left all who met her charmed.

Many who entered the establishment were both surprised and pleased by the quality and value of the items she sold at bargain prices. In fact, rumours once circulated that her husband was merely an accountant by day and an infamous antique embezzler by night. Though these rumours fell away quickly and replaced with darker, ominous whispers. Those that Elise Chambers was secretly a witch. Now in her old age, the constant stoop to her gait and the odd mumblings she spewed every once in a while, seemed to substantiate this ancient rumour.

Josiah Coleman had moved from Lower Parkhurst to Langdon following a prospective job offer. Previously a store clerk at Jay Jay’s department store, a new branch in Langdon promised the possibility of promotion to General Manager.

His long-time girlfriend and hopeful fiancé, Alyssa Walker, followed him to Langdon with devoted attachment.

Green Street hummed with quiet foot traffic and an odd car every few minutes. Garden Court, Waverley Heights, and Sunset Pines rose up along the street in brick and glass and painted walls.

Josiah and Alyssa entered Kamilah Court’s recently paved walkway hand in hand.  Giggles flitted between them like high school lovers in the early stages of their relationship. A selection of vehicles were parked in the lot, particularly a blood red Land Rover with Hamilton Real Estate painted on its sides. They’d been together three years that warm March morning, four in another six months where Josiah hoped to propose. The bricked building rose eight storeys high. Railed balconies stuck out at every odd window like stubs of grated tongues.

They entered the wooden double doors with budding excitement, taking in the drab white painted walls and plain single seater leather seats. There was nothing unique about the place yet the prospect of starting anew sparked something in them.

Esther Washington, their real estate agent, met them at the hallway with a wide smile. She was a tall glass of water. A rich, thick afro glistened under the fluorescent lighting. Her tight fitting bright red dress suit fit her snugly like a second skin.

“Mr. Coleman?”

“Josiah, please.” His voice seemed clogged in his throat. Then, remembering the woman clinging to him, “And this is uh Alyssa.”

Esther Washington shook both their hands then gestured towards the front desk. A bald, portly man looked up at them from the top of his wireframe glasses. They reflected an ongoing game of solitaire.

“Looking good today Esther.” His eyes barely passed over the couple. They drank in the real estate agent with a hint of desire.

“Thanks Joey. We heading up to 12B, that okay?”

“No problemo. Remember the elevator is broken. Gonna have ter take the stairs.”

She sighed irritably.

“We’ll be a’right.”

He nodded at her slowly and turned back to his game.

“That’s Joey. He’s one of the security guards in the building. Anything you need he can help you get. And sorry about the long walk.”

Josiah nodded slowly. Alyssa held on to Josiah’s arm tighter. She didn’t like the way he looked at Esther.

They stepped through the door into a cool aquamarine spiralling staircase. Alyssa gazed up through the oblong coiling stairs that reminded her of the Fibonacci spiral, only in the shape of a square. It ended in looked like a sunroof as she could see the blue of the sky from beyond. She turned to Josiah to tell him and found that he was staring at Esther as she climbed the stairs. Her hips swaying with each step.

She followed quietly though her thoughts were anything but quiet.

*

Following the quick look around the apartment, and Josiah and Alyssa establishing that it might be more expensive than anticipated, Josiah surprisingly agreed to the price anyway. Esther promised to bring the papers the next day and suggested the couple look at Elise’s Pawn Shoppe for cheap but aesthetic furnishing for the place.

So it was an hour later, walking down towards the end of Green Street that Alyssa raised her concern,

“I thought we couldn’t afford the place.” It was a statement not a question.

“Yeah but its real close to work and there’s a kindergarten too where you can find work.” He did his little playful grin but the look on Alyssa’s face told him it was time for that.

“Taken a real shine to Esther huh?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Josiah brushed the comment off. Bad idea.

“Right.” And that was it. But anyone knows that when a woman raises that kind of concern and then brushes it off, it’s not over. Not even close.

 

The pawn shop was a homely little place directly on the corner of Green and Marshall, looking out towards a quiet intersection. Surprisingly there were no hawkers on the street, not that either of them noticed. The large front windows revealed an array of lamps, vases and gleaming vanity sets. While the furniture looked old, they carried an air of newness to them. Like they had been freshly cleaned not moments before.

They entered the store with a jingle from a hanging bell. Immediately they were struck with a waft of nostalgia. Josiah remembered Granny Dorothy’s living room. Of floor polish and freshly washed linen. Of Granny Dorothy knitting a sweater as she sunk into her floral armchair. Alyssa remembered the lime kitchen walls of Mewa Betty as she cleaned counter tops with rigorous flaps of her arm while Sunday lunch cooked in what seemed like an endless series of pots. Of the underlying aroma of something archaic obscured by wafts of fresh pine.

“Ah a budding couple on the cusps of mov’n in togeda yas?” Elise Chambers hobbled from seemingly out of nowhere and approached the parted couple.

“Ah yes.” Josiah replied. He scratched his head out of nervous habit. Alyssa cast an annoyed glance at him.

“Seems like ders trouble in paradise ‘dou.”

Alyssa, in her quiet fury, left the two and moved to a different section. She noticed a glass ewer that was apparently from St. Peter’s Basilica, filled with holy water blessed by the pope himself.

“Just a little squabble.” Josiah eventually replied, “We were recommended here by Esther Washington…”

“Ah yes. Tall woman shaped like a coke bottle yes yes she recommend people all da time. I know what you need.”

Josiah followed the old woman through the shop.

Elise led him past a section of brass instruments gleaming like the sun itself. Music systems both ancient and modern, with speakers and amplifiers lined together on triple layered metal shelves. Near the back end of the store was the furniture section and immediately a beige, polyester couch stood out to Josiah.

“How much for this?” He asked, turning to face her. For a moment he saw Elise as a young woman with fiery red hair and smouldering grey-blue eyes,

“How much would it be worth to you?” Her voice slithered across the back of his head. Warm as an embrace. Refreshing as a breeze.

“Alyssa Walker for Esther Washington.” He breathed.

Her lips curled up into a mischievous smile as she approached him slowly. A sultry tigress about to devour her prey. Josiah’s heart pulsated suddenly and wholly. Heat spreading across his forehead. She pushed him backwards against the couch and he was falling. Falling. Falling. He’d already forgotten the price he’d been willing to pay.

*

It was a week later that Apartment 12B swayed. Guttural whispers fell against the locked wooden door.

Josiah Coleman gripped the couch. Droplets of sweat cascaded down his large furrowed brows, staining the soft polyester seats. His eyes, almost black as coal, stared at the ceiling unseeing. The white boards fluctuating in and out of focus with the wavering apartment. His thick lips mumbled scripture into the air, quivering

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.”

But heaven was deafened to his words and only the rasping whispers beyond the wooden portal heard his words. And replied.

-God can’t hear you now-

-Repentance is futile-

-The roaring lion seeks to devour you-

-The serpent awaits-

“No!”

Josiah bolted upright and grabbed the holy tome from the table, a page tearing out between his trembling hands. And another. And another. They fluttered about him like gargantuan moths.

From across the room, the body of Alyssa Walker gawped at the door. Abyssal apertures gaped where her eyes and mouth should have been. A ragged breath crawled from her throat as a bulbous black insect ruptured its way out of the pink of her tongue in obsidian bubbles. The wings beat once.

Chain locks quietly slid across their respective golden tracks and rattled against the door frame. The metal bar screeched its way open and the door burst open with the fury of a hurricane. Josiah leapt to his feet facing the door.

“Time to pay the price Josiah Coleman.” Esther Washington entered the apartment with a grin. Her dark afro writhed as though it were made of bugs threatening to crawl down her face. The face that shimmered with Elise Chamber’s features.

“Please!” Josiah wheezed. Warmth quickly radiated into glacial surges of fear filling his head, chest and back. A warmth trickled down his pant leg.

“It is already done.”

Alyssa groaned from behind and Josiah spun around to face the woman he loved. The gaping holes in her face were quickly teeming with more of the bugs, wings oscillating to life with the growing swarm covering her body. She quivered to life and rose on her heels like a puppet pulled forward. Arms outstretched. She coughed and hacked and heaved, her body bending forward at an impossible 90 degrees.

A wet, slithering sound filled the room as one last hack coughed up Alyssa’s writhing black heart. It squelched on the floor and burst into a thousands of black shiny bugs that immediately rushed at Josiah. He shrieked. He ran straight into Elise/Esther who burst apart like scattered flies. When he turned back she was in her normal form. But her head was on backwards.

“Dear God!” Josiah screamed.

He didn’t notice the metal railing until the top half of his body was already leaning over. He was falling. The spiral stairs grew smaller with each passing second.

Like a cubical Fibonacci sequence.

The Dead Tell No Tales

Like leaves, green in morning spring,

Decayed flesh rises from watery ring,

The early bird catching the worm,

Maggots in eyes wriggle and squirm.

*

The dead tell no tales,

The Devil in the details,

Slashed throats tell no lies,

The Saint in the widow’s cries.

*

As darkness descends, it stalks the night,

Stars illuminating the victims plight,

Winter’s cold breath with gleaming steel,

Plunging through skin with religious zeal.


Been discovering and reading interesting horrors from authors Ramsey Campbell and Tom Piccirilli among others. Have you read something that inspired your writing?

 

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