Tag Archives: zombies

Why Horror, Bob? – A Childhood Memory

Where Did That Come From?

 

In horror writing circles, an axiom exists that one’s stories are stronger if they actually horrify the writer.

I’ve written scenes with my face half turned away from my computer screen, horrified by the words appearing there…

And if you write enough stories, you start to see patterns. You see recurring themes and images.

In my own writing, I’ve noted a recurring theme of “children in peril”. And it freaks me out.

Now, I really have no idea where this comes from, but it definitely finds its way into a lot of my stories. A lot of them.

I wasn’t an abused kid. My family was loving and somewhat normal.

But there was this one experience, back in, oh, I’d say 1972 or thereabouts…

A Salem Story

 

I want to tell you a story about Salem, Massachusetts – my hometown.

The Salem Theater on Essex Street would let anyone in with 50 cents to see the Saturday afternoon matinee double feature. Yes, they were usually horror movies.

I was a regular. I was big for my age. And many times the ticket taker would conveniently look the other way, tear my ticket in half and wave me through.

My parents thought I was safe at the library or at a friend’s house. But I was at the Salem Theater watching “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” or “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant” or “Dracula A.D. 1972” or (moment of silence, please) “Attack of the Mushroom People”.

Those days the world was all Watergate and Vietnam. Horrors that beset adults.

Being eleven years old, the thing that made me want to shit my pants was the thought of the giant ants from “Them!” clacking their way down Lafayette street cutting people I knew in half in their enormous pincers. Such were the times.

That was all about to change.

One Saturday in late fall, I’d gone to the movies with a friend to see “Night of the Living Dead”. I was so horrified by the sight of things that used to be people fighting over intestines, gnawing on ulnas and generally cannibalizing every living human that got in their way. My lifelong fascination with zombies, in print and on the big screen, dates back to this day.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about.

Fully satisfied with the afternoon’s horror renderings, my friend and I left the theater in near dark. I remember the light bulbs around the edge of the marquis were twinkling. The YMCA across the street seemed closed. No lights.

We walked down Crombie Street, heading for Riley Plaza and the train tracks.

Back in 1972, the Salem stop for the commuter trains from Boston (the “Budliners) was under Riley Plaza.

I was a little late and needed to hurry and get home. So I decided to go down through the train station and walk down the tracks that ran parallel to Canal Street.

My friend and I parted ways at the stairs leading down to the station.

“Good movie, huh?” he said.

“Yeah. The part where they  pulled that guy’s intestines out was wicked cool,” I said, I think with a little too much bravado.

“Well, see you at school,” he said and headed off up Washington Street.

Me. I looked down the stairs leading to the train platform. It was too dark for me to see the bottom. A wind heavy with diesel fumes and a chemical smell from the leather factory blew up into my face.

Suddenly, heading down into the dark, alone, didn’t seem like the best plan. But, inexplicably, I took the first few steps down toward whatever awaited me down there in the gloom.

Looking back on this, forty years later, I’m amazed that I still recall so many seemingly insignificant details: the increasing smell of urine as I descended; the feeling of leaving everything safe and OK as the sound of Riley Plaza traffic receded behind and above me; the one piece of Bazooka Bubblegum I held tightly in my left front pants pocket, like some talisman to keep me safe.

I got to the bottom of the stairs and stepped down onto the platform. The traffic above was muffled to the point where I felt impossibly isolated, like I’d entered another reality. One that existed next to, or even within, my own world.

The darkness around me was complete. I raised my eyebrows to open them as much as I possibly could. There was a vague bluish-purple zone way up in front of me that I assumed was the end of the tunnel. And freedom from the terror that was now rising past my sternum and lodging itself directly at the base of my throat.

That’s when I heard it.

A rustling just behind me. Something down low, near the ground. I froze.

My heart was aching, it was pounding so hard. I couldn’t see anything.

Then something grabbed the bottom of my left pant leg.

And tugged at it.

I was so horrified at what was happening to me, I’d failed to register that the Budliner was nearing the entrance to the tunnel. It’s bright, Cyclops light progressively filling the tunnel with a cone of light.

When the train’s light was nearly upon me, I somehow summoned the courage to turn around and see what was tugging at my leg.

I jerked my around quickly, like snatching a Band Aid off a scab. And then I screamed.

Here is what I saw:

Three zombies staggering toward me. Ripped clothing, dripping eyes, teeth shattered.

A fourth lay on the ground with a fistful of my pant leg in his hand. The scene all the more horrifying because of the train’s garishly bright light.

I knew then that zombies were real and I was going to be eaten. I would watch as they ripped open my belly and removed my intestines.

Without thinking, I kicked my leg free and ran screaming down the platform. And I didn’t stop running until the cramp in my side felt like a hot poker being twisted in my guts. I ran a mile, nearly to the A&P on Canal Street.

I never told anyone about it. I’d calmed down enough by the time I got home. The familiar surroundings and the smell of dinner brought me back to this world. The world I knew.

But ever since that day, I knew there was a world of horror that could rear up right out of the ordinary everyday world. A horror you never suspected was there.

Of course, looking back as a fifty-year-old man, I know that the zombies in the train station were just some homeless guys. Probably drunks, who knows?

So, is that why I like to write horror stories? Is that why “kids in peril” show up in my fiction? I don’t know.

I find it’s best not to look too closely at that stuff.

The writing is the thing.

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I’m currently writing a collection of short stories (horror stories, of course) all based in Salem. I think this experience of mine will end up in one of them. I’m planning on putting in some personal essays on fiction, horror, and writing as we go along. But I’ll still publish stories here, just want to mix things up a little. Hope some of my Salem readers recognized some of the landmarks in the piece above. Thanks everyone for continuing to show up to read some of my scribblings!

Image by Frederic Dupont

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Zombie Wranglers…

Zombie Wranglers

Derek sped after the strays, driving hard around a cactus, down into an arroyo, and finally emerging onto a flat plain. Out here in the open, the strays were no match for the speed of Derek’s horse. But they split up. So Derek chose the one that looked easier to catch: a fat rancher, once.

He threw his lasso and caught the zombie around the neck. Derek knew not to pull too tightly. Out in this heat, the bogeys didn’t stay together too well. And Derek had already been docked two days’ pay for damaging stock. Boss said the venture capitalists only paid for intact zombies. Why? Derek didn’t care.

The zombie struggled fiercely at the end of the static pole Derek had attached to it’s neck. The rope was fine for catching bogeys, but only a static pole or a head shot would keep them off you at this distance.

Riding back into camp, Derek called out, “We’ll need to ride the south fence later on to catch that other stray ‘fore it gets dark.”

“What difference does it make if we lose one?” Roy asked. Being the new guy, Roy had much to learn, in Derek’s opinion. A city boy who’d chosen to come out West for the job opportunities that zombie wrangling represented. Derek had been a wrangler long before the apocalypse. Back when the herds were horses.

“Well Roy,” Derek said, “for one thing, if we lose one it’s gonna come out of our paychecks. For another thing, when we can’t account for all the bogeys in the herd, that means there is a good chance that you might one day be over behind a cactus taking a shit or playing with yourself, and that missing boy’ll come up behind you and take a nice bite out of your ass.”

“Whatever,” Roy mumbled, and walked off toward the mess wagon.

“You think he’ll ever get it?” Manny asked.  Manny was one of the best wranglers Derek had ever worked with.

“He better. Or one day he’ll get one of us killed, sure as your shit stinks.”

Derek grabbed the static pole and pushed the captive zombie into the holding pen then went to the mess wagon for a cup of coffee. He sat down next to Roy on a tan, dusty rock.

“Boy,” Derek said, “I been out in this country my whole life. You don’t even know what you don’t know yet. This country don’t give you no second chances. Them damn zombies are just one more way to die out here. You understand what I’m saying to you?”

Roy looked down at his dusty boots. “You know what I was before I came out here? An accountant. Everything nice and tidy in a spreadsheet. I liked that. Then I watched  my wife and daughter get eaten. I wished I had a gun, been prepared. I might have saved them.  After that, well, there was no reason to stay in Philly. I always wanted to be a cowboy. Get to shoot things.”

They heard Manny scream from the direction of the holding pen. “Shit! I been bit!”

Roy’s face drained white. “Bit?”

But Derek was already up and running. “Manny! That damn thing circle back here already?”

Derek saw Manny’s boots sticking out from behind a rock. He sprinted over, breathless.

Manny’s eyes were wide. He was covered in sweat.

Derek saw no sign of the zombie.

“We gotta get you out of here,” Derek said, staying alert for any movement.

“Snake,” Manny panted. “It was a rattlesnake.”

“OK. Got it.” Derek slashed the wound and started sucking the venom out.

Roy came around the corner, wild-eyed.  He saw Derek sucking on Manny’s arm and said, “Derek, what the fuck are you doing?”

Derek turned to Roy, his mouth bloody, and said, “Now, hold on son -”

Roy put a bullet in Derek’s head and another in Manny’s.

He looked down at them.

There was a shuffling noise behind him.

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Photo by Ashley Campbell


All the Way Round the World…

cornfield sunrise

All the Way Round the World

Delsante Corporation told me I could take it or leave it. Can you believe that?

My family owned this farm for ninety-two years before I had to go and sell a majority stake to a local distributor. Well, Delsante is way up his ass so you know they’re now up mine.

But I tell you what: if I make it out of this alive, I am sure going to enjoy watching those corporate bastards take a red-hot one in the ass. Same for the USDA.

We had no choice. They told us to plant the G646-DSGMO-666 or we could forget about distribution of any of our corn. Well, if we can’t sell anything, we may as well just give the farm to Delsante and be done with it. They’ll hire some Mexicans to come up here and plant that shit for them and they’ll never even remember my name.

So we planted it, watered it, and did fuck-all that their scientists told us to do. I have never in my life seen corn get so big so fast. After a month, I could disappear into those fields. And I’m six-three.

The USDA inspector came out one day along with a fella from Delsante. They were so impressed with how things were coming along. They took some cuttings away in a small plastic bag. Never said a word to me what they were for.

Well, along about eighty days into the growing cycle we started seeing a rust-colored pus oozing out of that corn. I told everyone to stay out of the fields and not touch anything. We walked the perimeter. That stuff just dripped down the ears.  I got on the horn to the local distributor rep and I guess he called Delsante because they came out to the farm with a huge RV that had a lab right inside of it.

They set up spotlights on the cornfield and kept them going all night long. They said it was just a precaution. Precaution for what? I remember thinking at the time.

There were lots of guys in lab coats and SWAT uniforms. Nobody told us any details about the pus, but I could tell they hadn’t expected it, and they were running around like their heads were on fire and their asses were catchin’.

Then one day, I was over in the barn replacing a fuel filter on one of the combines when I hear somebody start screaming. I thought one of the lab guys had stepped in horseshit again. I looked out the window and saw a huge red dust cloud swirling around. All the lab guys and the SWATs were gasping and choking, falling to the ground. I could see they were dying. All of them.

Not thinking, I just ran for the combine and closed myself inside the cab. The wind blew that red dust right into the barn and it covered everything. I can’t see anything through the cab windows now. And there’s no water in here.

So, I’m hoping Delsante Corporation sends somebody out soon to find out what happened to their scientists and soldiers. I saw them die; at least I think I did.  But now I hear things shuffling around the barn and grunting. And one time, something tried to open the cab door, which I now keep locked. I don’t even want to think about what that thing was.

Far as I can tell, anyone coming near this farm will meet the same fate as those things stumbling around my barn. The chemistry folks at Delsante sure did a bang up job. The only thing I know about chemistry is H-2-0 is water and K-9-P comes out the ass end of a dog. But, I’m a farmer and I know pollen when I see it. That red pus dries and blows off. I think Delsante Corporation has a little problem with their fucked up corn.

G646-DSGMO-666 was engineered to survive. I think of all that pollen on the wind.

You can’t stop the wind. It goes all the way round the world.

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Now I want to be explicit and state that this is a work of  FICTION and any resemblance to actual corporations and/or actual persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.  Go here for the real horror story…


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