Category Archives: horror

Sitting in Darkness is Back!

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I have finally seen the error of my ways.

Despite knowing better, I have allowed Resistance (as Pressfield would term it) to kick my ass and stand with its jackboot on my neck. And, as Pressfield so accurately predicts, this turning away from my passion has resulted in a deep undercurrent of discontent.

A new job has me on a commuter train after years of working from home. Funny thing: with less ‘free time’ I’m actually getting some writing done again. It’s like characters in a story: when we limit their freedom of movement, they are forced to actually DO SOMETHING to counteract what is threatening them.

Suffice to say I was never so happy as when Sitting in Darkness was rolling merrily along, and I was churning out weird, little stories.

It’s time for me to go back down to that dark place where the stories live. Maybe other things are down there too..but I can’t control that.

I hope you’re well, Reader.

I hope you find this blog again.

Stories are coming.


Interregnum

First of the dead comes callling

 

The world no longer tolerated human sounds.

We again had only the wind and birds and streams, not the constant thrum of industry.

Cars and trucks and trains lay askew, smoking and silent under gunmetal skies.

Whatever happened had passed us by – it was elsewhere, an abstraction.

In the first weeks we heard only whispers and rumors – fevers on a distant continent.

We cut wood and drew water while the world bled away from us.

The sun warmed our shoulders and backs in the garden.

We made love, and ate, and said beautiful drunken things.

We ran naked through the house, delirious in the aftermath of history.

We lived as the Creator had always intended.

And it was only after the first of the dead scratched lightly at our bedroom window

That we realized the world would have its horror – our dreams be damned.

_____________________________________________________

For the flash fiction contest over at terribleminds. The theme was disease and horror. Happy Halloween from Sitting In Darkness!

Image by Burtoo


Reaching Out

 

 

 

 

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I am still in here.

In this blog.

In these stories.

New horrors coming.

Parched and dry,

Reaching out to you.

Can you see me?

Am I real?

________________

Sitting in Darkness has been inactive for a while – but I have sprinkled the ‘tana leaves’ into the tea, and made the dusty beast drink. Soon Sitting in Darkness will be dragging its dead feet into your reading space once again. 

Image:Eflon

 


Deep Ones

The Deep Ones took her on a beautiful summer day.

She’d been lolling in the gentle surf, eyes half-closed against the sun and its glittering reflections. On the cusp of womanhood, her scent drew them in, just as the elders said it had happened in the time of horrors.

The Deep Ones dragged her to the bottom and drowned her, leaving a seed deep in her dead womb. It burst forth, fully tentacled, a storm of blood and bubbles.

Decades later, his stolen daughter a local legend, the fisherman spied a tentacled horror on the bottom – and wept in recognition.

_________________________________

Thanks to Emma Audsley who posted this excellent image (drawn by Victor Hugo, no less!) as a prompt for a 100-word story on her active and excellent blog, The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog. I responded to Emma’s prompt with the story you read above and I’m re-posting it here because I like this tiny tale.

Interestingly, I found the following text from Victor Hugo accompanying the image when I downloaded it from 50 Watts via Flickr.  Strange and fun, I think, how it meshes with the story I wrote having only seen the picture. More a testament to Hugo’s drawing than my writing, I suspect.

At night, however, and particularly in the hot season, she becomes phosphorescent. This horrible creature has her passions, she awaits her submarine nuptials. She adorns herself, setting herself alight and illuminating herself; and from the height of some rock she may be seen in the deep obscurity of the waves below, expanding with a pale aureole — a spectral sun.


Thinking About Horror…How Does it Feel?

Decided to write a horror story? Don’t think about it.

 

Use your feelings and fears instead.

Someone once said, “I write in order to discover what I think.”  Could’ve been Blaise Pascal, or Joan Didion. Maybe Susan Sontag. I can’t remember.

The quote is accurate enough, I guess. A bit intellectual for me, though. Because I am naturally suspicious of what I think. Too many filters and prejudices attach to thinking, like those suckerfish on sharks.

I’m more comfortable with the statement, “I write in order to understand what I feel.” That’s seems a little closer to the mark.

I could dial in the focus even further and say, “I write in order to know what frightens me.” Now that seems true. And maybe that’s why most of what I write (and read) is identified as “horror”. After all, horror fiction is most concerned with the evocation of dread, right?

I think, therefore I ape….

That sub-head above caused me no end of anxiety. I mean, who the hell am I to tell any writer how – or how not– to approach a story? It’s ludicrous. But, as a READER, I know in my guts if a writer was just plowing the same old horror field, or if that writer was really down there in that basement with some un-named…thing. Or trapped in ‘The Penal Colony’ with Kafka’s protagonist.

As a writer, thinking too much tends to make me wily. I’m looking for an audience, or a cheap reaction. And the stories that spring from that soil usually never make it off my hard drive. But when I’m fueling the action of a story with my own revulsion and fear? Well, then I think I’m onto something true and good and worthwhile.

So, as I write a story, I’m always asking myself, “Does this frighten you, Bob?”

Since you’re reading this, I assume you are, to some extent, a horror fan (or a much-appreciated supportive friend who checks in on this blog every now and then) and, like me, completely unfazed by werewolves and vampires. Those old world tropes just don’t cut it anymore. Oh, they can be written as sexy and angst-ridden to appeal to a YA audience. But scary? Pazuzu-scary? No way.

And that New World, post-industrial trope – the Zombie – has been so done to death in fiction and movies, it’s become a parody of itself: undying, yet devoid of life.

I’m not saying a story written to these tropes cannot be effective. I’m saying any contemporary story using these tropes, will find success only insofar as it touches on more timeless, even phobic, fears.

Like claustrophobia, for example. One of my…problems.

If a writer wants to crank up the tension in a story, the easiest way to do it is by progressively limiting the mobility and the choices of the characters. Melville did it in Moby Dick. The moment the Pequod left the dock, those sailors were doomed, with no escape but a watery death. Where, in the trackless wastes of the Pacific, could they run to escape Ahab’s obsession?

Stephen King made immobility and the lack of options famously explicit in Misery. The protagonist is successively and progressively immobilized by accidental injury, involuntary drugging at the hands of a crazed fan. He is even hobbled, for Chrissakes (just to drive the immobility point home, in a spectacularly gruesome scene). And not only that, this all takes place in a remote cabin where no one will come to help. Talk about dwindling choices! And King’s own anxiety in relation to this situation is apparent in the writing.

Exorcising demons

 

I believe all writers – not just horror writers – use their fears to create their greatest stories: fear of intimacy, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of people not just like them. It’s almost as if the act of writing itself were nothing but the exorcising of these fears.

And maybe that’s just what it is.

My strongest stories are those composed of scenes that make me flinch. The ones that make me feel I am, myself, this character undergoing this horrifying experience. I may even turn my head away from the page as I type – but my fingers know the words, and won’t stop until the story is told.

To write a story and not be moved by it is a cheat – to both the writer and the reader.

I think I’d like to write a story now.

And I feel it is dark enough to get it done.

____________________

Image by Pink Sherbert Photography


Interregnum

The world no longer tolerated human sounds.

We again had only the wind and birds and streams, not the constant thrum of industry.

Cars and trucks and even trains lay askew,  smoking and silent under gunmetal skies.

Whatever happened had passed us by – it was elsewhere, an abstraction.

So we made love, and ate, and said beautiful drunken things.

We ran naked through the house, delirious in the aftermath of history.

We lived as the Creator had intended.

And it was only after the first of the dead scratched lightly at our bedroom window

That we realized the world would have its horror – our dreams be damned.

______________________________________

Image by Burtoo


Once Upon an Apocalypse (or, the Continuing Pursuit of Publication)

I’ve found I can’t ONLY write a novel. I mean, to write-write-write and not finish anything for months will kill me.

So, I’m peppering my novel writing efforts with some short stories, and making an all-out effort to get myself published. Officially.

Right now, I’m focused on completing a submission for the upcoming anthology, Once Upon an Apocalypse. Check it out here.

The challenge is to cross-pollinate the ‘story’ of classic fairy tales or fables with the zombie apocalypse. Great fun! I have mine well –started and no one has claimed this fairy tale yet, so I’m pushing to get it polished and submitted (and hopefully accepted).

Then back to the novel.

You all rock, for taking the time to stop by and read my scribbling. If you are also blogging and telling stories (especially edgy, creepy ones) you can count on the fact that I am visiting your sites and enjoying your writing also.

Random:  I dreamed last night (no – not that I went to Manderly!) about the Vincent Price treatment of I Am Legend, the early sixties Italian flick, “The Last Man on Earth”. Great fucking movie, the best of the attempts at telling I Am Legend in film. My wife and I sleep in 3-season porch that we’ve converted to a 4-season porch. It’s all windows, which are thrown wide open during the spring, summer, and fall. In my dream, I could smell the grass I’d mown earlier; the owl who-ing across the field made it all that much more quiet and peaceful outside the porch; the cool breeze forced me deep under the comforter.

Then the silence was shattered by a raspy voice.

Morgan!” 

It blasted in from the dark wood, and I sat bolt upright in the bed.

 Read the book, see that movie. Matheson and Price at the very top of their respective crafts. They were legend.

I’ll keep you posted on the anthology submission as well as the novel progress.

Day job tomorrow – must sleep.

_______________

Apocalyptic Sleeping Beauty Awakes image by Kelly Bailey


The Fire of the Gods

Fletcher at the Dig

His tent snapping in a hot, dusty wind, Fletcher found it nearly impossible to concentrate on his journal entry, an entry on which so much depended.

The porter, Daran, waited just outside with wide eyes, looking up at the group of riders carefully picking their way down the narrow trail snaking along the inner wall of the crater.

“Even now, Bryce approaches with a party of loyalists to steal the figurine,” Fletcher scratched quickly. “My initial academic excitement in the historicity of the piece has been supplanted by more fundamental concerns. No, that is inaccurate; it is an existential dread that now pervades my soul.”

Daran tentatively stuck his head between the canvas flaps. “Sir, only three kilometers more and Doctor Holcombe is upon us.” He looked back over his shoulder, panting.

Fletcher wrote on. “I am giving the figurine to Daran to get it out of the country. His wife’s cousin runs some sort of illegal smuggling operation along the passage to Peshawar. I can only hope that the figurine and this journal will make their way to you from this godforsaken pit. As long as the carving stays out of Bryce’s hands, all may yet be well. Nevertheless, his fumbling interference has awakened something ancient and, what is worse, it has taken nearly complete possession of him.”

Fletcher wrapped the journal, along with the figurine, into a leather sack. He bound it all together with a length of catgut, and rushed to the tent’s entrance. He pushed it into Daran’s hands.

“Take it, for fuck’s sake!” he said, “And do as I have instructed. Get it to Susan!”

He watched Daran’s eastward ascent out of the pit, intermittently hidden by the scorched, black trees and the great billows of steam.

“Godspeed,” Fletcher said, rasping, as he watched the porter climb up through the blasted heath. “Get it to Susan, Daran. My journal will guide her actions. She will know what to do.”

Fletcher  sat in his canvas chair, facing the flapping maw of the tent. The smell of all these burning things made him nauseous. He drew his machete from its scabbard.

And waited.

Fletcher at the Trial

“And your expedition ended in the deaths of several members of your research contingent. Is that not true?” The prosecutor pushed her glasses down to the tip of her nose, her dead, grey eyes fixed on Fletcher.

“That is correct. Several members of the group were horribly mutilated, including my research assistant, Bryce Holcombe, as you know.”

The prosecutor looked at the jury before continuing. “Yes, Doctor Fletcher. Those of us here in the so-called developed world can only imagine the sense of horror to which you were subjected in this circumstance.”

Blinding light crashed through the wall-length windows in the courtroom. Fletcher looked down at his shoes.

“Dr. Fletcher, would you care to comment on how your extended absence may have contributed to your wife’s state of mind?  I mean, raising three children alone, for twenty-two months, while her husband  was off in far-flung places, digging up old civilizations and whatnot. Do you not think that could be stressful?”

Fletcher looked up at Susan. Her eyes were seemingly vacant, but inwardly focused, he knew, on an undying hatred for humankind.

Several minutes of silence ensued, punctuated by stifled coughs and aborted sneezes.

“Doctor Fletcher?” The prosecutor was now standing beside her table.

“Yes?” Fletcher asked.

“Your wife was found surrounded by your mutilated children. This jury would like your insight as to how that might have come about.”

Now Fletcher’s grief flowed out in great, heaving sobs. “It was a mistake!”

The prosecutor strode to the witness stand. “Doctor Fletcher. Do you have any idea what  the words Cthuga kraal boglarthop mean? Your honor, the prosecution introduces exhibit one-forty-three-A.” The photograph showed three humps under a white and red sheet. On the wall above them, the unintelligible words were scrawled in what looked like blood.

Fletcher looked out the window. Heat rose off the pavement of the courthouse parking lot in radiated waves.

“It means ‘Cthuga forever burns’.”

“What did you send home to your wife, Doctor, along with your journal?”

Fletcher loosened his tie and said, “An artifact.”

Susan at Home

She fed them.

She bathed them.

After stories, she kissed them and hurried downstairs to the package.

A large glass of merlot rested on the table as she eyed the leather sack and twirled the catgut binding round her index finger.

She ignored the journal. More of Fletcher’s tedious ramblings.

But the carving was exquisite. She felt its heat and breathed deeply.

The Fire of the Gods

It was much later that night when the children were startled awake by growls that shook the walls.

Together, frightened, they stepped lightly down the stairs.

“Mother?”

Silence.

Then more growling.

Mother?”

____________________________________________

Well, I haven’t participated in one of Chuck Wendig’s FF challenges for a while, so…  The challenge this week was to write a story under 1,000 words entitled “The Fire of the Gods”. Well, I dreamed of Lovecraft and August Derleth and this is what came out. The elder gods, the ancient ones, just love to mess with lower life forms… or perhaps they’re just misunderstood. Anyway – hope you enjoy it!

Image by Beesnest McCLain


All the Colors of This World…

The teacher’s day started like thousands of winter weekdays before it. She made up the twin bed, drank half a cup of instant coffee, fed the cats, put on her wool coat, and walked across the street to the school. She seated herself primly at her desk. The empty rows of desks reminded her of a barren, November garden. She awaited the imminent clamor of arriving children, children whom she would ignore today while she contemplated the dull grayness of the tenements outside her window and considered what must be done.

Today is the day, she thought. Let the nightmare end.

The teacher had left no note of her plan, but she had filled many notebooks describing her despair and her musings on the different methods one might employ to end one’s life. She would exit the world unheralded and unloved, just as she had entered it thirty-four years earlier. Why had kindness and warmth never bent in her direction? Her body had known no pleasure save for what little she, on those rare mornings, was able to provide herself.

A wasted life, best ended.

And then the new girl was presented to her, all large, sad slate eyes and dirty, coppery hair, and of course she had to be introduced to the class and found text books, and writing implements, and wasn’t this just the worst day to have this type of distraction?

But the teacher was one to fulfill her duty, no matter the inconvenience. She escorted the new girl to a desk where she immediately drew the stares and taunts of the class. The teacher, distracted, vaguely admonished the children to leave poor Agnes alone and get along with their lessons, please.

The tik-tik-tik of the freezing rain against the window mesmerized the teacher. The bells rang for recess but she merely sat, thinking of oblivion, until the children bolted of their own accord, casting worried glances in her direction. All except the new girl, who stood motionless in front of the teacher’s desk staring, holding a pink rose between her right thumb and forefinger.

And the teacher accepted the flower. She pushed its soft pink petals against her nostrils and inhaled deeply, so deeply her ribs ached. But the teacher did not release that breath. She closed her eyes, sat back in her chair, and held her breath, refusing to release the scent from her head. As if in a dream, she noticed that the sun had broken through a crack in the clouds and bore down on the large east windows. Shimmering light bathed her face, and from a place deep within welled up images of love directed at her, the teacher, the woman who never knew love, and then the teacher was startled awake when the new girl said, “Pink can heal.”

The teacher opened her eyes and wept and did not stop until well after the other children wandered back in from recess with fearful looks on their faces.

And so the teacher did not end her life that day. The teacher’s feelings blossomed as each day the new girl brought her another flower. And the new girl always seemed to know which flower was the right flower to present, as if the new girl could read her mind or her heart and apply the just right remedy. And the teacher learned.

She learned blue hydrangeas soothed. And orange nasturtiums thrilled. And white poppies intoxicated. And there was no end to her pleasure while she smelled the flowers, but in the evenings, she still could be counted upon to burn or cut her forearms until the kitchen table was slick with blood and tears.

One day the teacher asked the new girl why the feelings the flowers brought her were only temporary, and the new girl said, “Because you want to die, they will not take root. You are barren. I’m doing my best.”

And the teacher became angry at being called barren for the third time in her life, and she  shouted, “I don’t understand! Where do you get these flowers? I want to see where they come from, do you hear?” And she shook the girl back and forth and tried to reach into her pocket and pull out a flower to sniff, but the little girl threw the teacher off with unexpected strength.

Then it suddenly seemed to the teacher that it was sunset, although the children were at recess weren’t they?. The sky was dark, and a fiery red sun looked in on her and the new girl from just above the horizon, like some malevolent one-eyed god.

And the new girl was changing too. She grew taller, her head elongated and horns thrust themselves out of her forehead while her eyes migrated off to the sides.  She produced an enormous red rose from the pocket of her jacket and with a low, growl said, “Red means wrath.” And then the teacher was no more.

The teacher was never found, but everyone assumed the worst for in her desk were discovered several personal notebooks, written in her own hand, describing her black depression as well as her thoughts on ending her life. She also described a person she referred to as ‘the new girl’.

The bottom drawer of her desk was filled with dead flowers: azaleas, poppies, lilies, roses.

No one could make sense of the flowers.

And there had been no new girl in the teacher’s class this year.

_____________________________________________________________________________

This is one of those stories that was completely unplanned. I had not the faintest idea of what the ending of this story was going to be when I sat down to write it. Many times, one knows the ending and the writing is just a blazing of a trail to get there.

I hope people will continue to find the blog and read the stories. I’d like to think the stories provide some invitation to ponder or just a little entertainment on the train, the bus – some stories that don’t require a huge time commitment from the reader.  If you’re so inclined, please leave a comment thanks for stopping by. Hope you come back.

Image by studiobeerhost


The Dead Always Return…

 
The demands of economic survival have settled a pall of dust over this once-vibrant story blog.

I could make an eloquent appeal for society to support those of us committed to scribbling little stories – yes, even horror stories. But those  grapes are just sour, and I need to get clacking on the keyboard.

Now that I’ve established some sense of balance and equanimity in my new job, you can expect to see some fresh stories posted.

Halloween is almost here.

Each year, we return to Salem, MA for trick or treating and then we take up the costume watch at Haunted Happenings. We take the kids around to collect candy and fun along the same neighborhood route I took as a kid in Salem. The kids’ll then hang out at my parents’ house while the wife and I head downtown to see the show with friends.

By the by, I hope to have a collection of short stories completed for next Halloween. If you’re a regular visitor to the blog, you’ll get a free copy (I know who you are!).

In the meantime, enjoy this Halloween. Soon, the wind will turn seriously cold, the trees will click, and the moon will ride high and turn the buildings on Derby Street in Salem a silvery gray. I grew up down near Forest River Park and each October I think of ghosts in Pioneer Village as well as darker things blowing through those beautiful, barren trees.

If you haven’t been, Haunted Happenings in Salem is not to be missed. Perhaps we’ll see each other up on the Common, or pushing down Essex Street.

There is no better place in the world to sit in darkness than Salem, MA in October.

Sit under Hawthorne’s statue and try not to hear the darkness happening.

I dare you.


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