Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Human Monsters

While there is always a lot of talk about the supernatural creatures of the night, and the abominations from outer space in horror, there is one beast that a lot of people don't like to talk about or admit exists, and that is the monster inside each and every one of us. We make light of them and try to understand them in the forms of Normal Bates, Hannibal Lecter, Dexter, and Jigsaw. We cheer as they get hunted down and brought to justice in movies like Se7en, Red Dragon, and Zodiac.

As you're watching Marathons of Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and any of dozens of other horror movies this halloween, keep in mind that a lot of these human monsters you're seeing dash and stab across your television screens are based on real events, or at the very least, what they do pales in comparison to things people have done to each other.

The character of Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre is loosely based on one Edward Gein. A Wisconsin man who dug up bodies from the local graveyard and fashioned them into macabre trophies and keepsakes. These included skulls used for bowls and set on the posts of his bed-frame, a belt made of human nipples, several masks made from corpses faces, and even a lampshade. On top of the bodies dug up from their graves, he also killed two local women for some projects which required "fresher" parts. He was caught, tried, and declared legally insane. After that he spent the rest of his life in a mental institution.

Then, you have tales told of such people as Elizabeth Bathory, the fabled Blood Countess, who supposedly tortured and killed hundreds of young woman to bathe in their blood in the belief such an act would allow her to retain a youthful appearance. And of course, there is Vlad Tepes, the man whom the monster of Count Dracula is based on. Vlad was a butcher on the field of battle and was known to be a fan of torture, in particular, the grotesque impalement. After a battle he was known to not only have every fallen foe lifted up onto stakes, but also the ones that remained alive. Some accounts claim that any of his own men that were wounded in battle were also given the treatment as a punishment. Entire forests would be cut down, and then raised with human bodies, some of them still alive and begging for death as slowly slid down the poles. Among these killing fields, Vlad would often have his victory feast, dining among thousands of the dead.

Of course, those are merely some of the most famous monsters of human history, there are hundreds, possibly thousands more, their names lost to history as people have tried to cover up their foul deeds and grant them the obscurity they truly deserve. People like the unnamed doctor that ran the hospital on the island of Poveglia, who tortured patients, conducting live lobotomies and brain surgeries, before ultimately going mad and throwing himself from the island's bell tower. (Check last week's blog post for a video detailing the history of the island of Poveglia.)

So just keep in mind while you're watching those horror marathons on TV this Halloween. Despite what some of the things those monsters and maniacs do, most of it doesn't compare to the horrors people have inflicted on each other over the centuries.

One other detail I want to add in today. My book Class 5 will be free to download on Kindle all day October 31st. So if you haven't snagged a copy and given it a look, go ahead and do so, and enjoy!

~ Shaun

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Halloween Grab Bag

Yeah. I missed a week. Not that it seems to matter too much, my post two weeks ago about 2-sentence horror stories has over over 100 views since posting, which is a new record for my blog here. It is a pretty good one, so I recommend giving it a look if you haven't yet.

With October, comes Halloween. And with Halloween comes pumpkin carving. With that, comes my first giveaway contest.

I'm challenging everyone who wants to try, to a pumpkin carving contest. Email them to me here, post them on my facebook page. You've already done carving, you've probably already posted pictures, why not try to get something free out of it?

At the end of the month, I'll put up a poll on my facebook page for people to vote on the pumpkin they like best. The winner will be contacted and I'll send them a signed copy of the 2013 Seattle Crypticon Anthology, which includes my short story "On Tonight's Edition...". Note, your pictures will be posted on my Facebook page for people to vote and the winner will also get mentioned on my blog here. So let's see what you've got.

Of course, with Halloween coming up, you have all manner of scary shows coming up on TV. From the classic It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! to the new Toy Story of Terror! featuring the characters of Toy Story.

Some of the best scary shows are the ones not making the rounds these days though. Back in the early 2000's, there was a series that came around every October, showcasing some of the most haunted places on Earth and delving into their back-stories. These included places like the plague-island Poveglia, Chillingham Castle in England, and Magnolia Lane Plantation in Louisiana. Every year, they would take a family of five and dare them to spend the night in these places, to see if they could take it. The series was called, rather unoriginally, The Scariest Places on Earth. I loved this show, and would've given my toes to know when they were doing the casting calls for families to send to these places. It is unfortunate now, that the show never made the jump to DVD, though a few VHS copies can still be found. Still, a few enterprising individuals have uploaded several episodes to youtube, for which I am especially grateful.

If you want to see more, you can hit the Youtube link at the top, go to playlists, and check out the one titled Scariest Places on Earth. You can also check out the other two playlists, which compose the majority of the music I write by if you're curious.

That's it for this week. Have fun, and let's see some pumpkins!

~ Shaun
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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2 Sentence Horror Stories

So, a while ago, the website Reddit had a little contest or something for its users to come up with two-sentence or less horror stories. The best of this contest hasn't quite gone viral, but it has popped up in several places that I've seen and while they won't keep you busy through the night reading them, there are some very nice little bits in there.

Of course, some have been around for a while now and turned into meme's. Ones which I think a lot of people have probably seen by now. These would be.

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door.
Dude! Where did that spider go?!?

A few are actually really good though, and can very well be considered stories in their own right. There is one that had been almost universally declared the winner of this little contest, as it consistently gets listed as one of the best that was submitted.

Now, I want to go over this short piece, because there are a couple things here which are great examples of what makes a good horror story, of any length. 

1. An unexpected twist. You know this is a horror story. You read the first sentence and you're sure there actually is something under the bed. The monster grabs him and pulls him in, or something along those lines. What you're not expecting, is him to see his son under the bed, when his son just asked him to check for monsters while being tucked in. Which brings us to...

2. The "Oh shit." moment. You know the one. That point in any good horror story when you realize the hero or heroes are in it pretty deep. It could be where they've fallen into a trap or when the villain/monster reveals just how powerful it truly is. That moment in this short piece is right after you read the second line and the realization hits you that whoever just got tucked in is now sitting above the father who is down on the floor looking at (what we presume to be) his real son under the bed. Not only that, whoever (or whatever) is in the bed, asked him to look fully aware of what the father was going to see. There is no doubt in our minds at this point that whatever happens next probably isn't going to be pretty.

3. Not really a third, but just something else I want to point out as a reminder. Characters and Setting. A father, tucking his son into bed at the end of the day. Could there really be a more peaceful, sweet, little family moment? It feels like a very vulnerable moment, where something could easily slip in and strike, but at the same time, the idea that a monster or spirit or what have you would dare to step up at such a point is almost infuriating. 

Of course, there are several others. The original page on Reddit has over 1,000 comments. So, without further ado, here's more of the best. 
My grandmother told me that it was a gift to see the angel of death in front of people's houses, to know that he'd be collecting someone there soon. I thought it was a gift too, up until the day I began to see it in front of every house. ~ Ressurection_man
I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I though it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror again. ~ therealhatman
My daughter won’t stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night. I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn’t help. ~ skuppy
Nurse’s Note: Born 7 pounds 10 ounces, 18 inches long, 32 fully formed teeth. Silent, always smiling. ~ ichokedcheryltunt
 You can find the whole thread here. 

Now, as some of you may have noticed, I fancy myself a bit of a horror writer as well, so I thought I would give this neat little challenge a try.

1. 2:47 PM. The moon set hours ago, but the sun hasn't risen yet.

2. I never swam in the lake. It was always too crowded with the people who lived in it.

3. I came home to find every door in my house shut and locked. I live alone and most of those doors don't have locks.

So there you have it. Now, I challenge my readers to go ahead and leave a comment (or two, or three) with whatever stories they themselves can come up with. Only two rules, it needs to be Horror, this is October after all, and they have to be two sentences or less. Ok? On your mark, get set, GO!

~ Shaun

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Class 5: Chapter 1

October is here, so let's start off a month of horror with a sample chapter from my latest book, Class 5. Enjoy...

Jerry Davis climbed into bed, pulling the blankets up under his chin. He had never been scared of the dark and had never worried about monsters in his closet or under his bed. He knew there was nothing there during the day. It wasn’t like anything could sneak up to the house unseen, even at night. The most he had to worry about was the occasional scorpion or rattlesnake getting in.

Out in the Arizona desert it was hard to find babysitters, and his parents both worked nights a lot of the time, so he had to be brave. He didn’t mind being left alone at night. He was going on twelve years old after all and was practically an adult. Garfield and Timmons were there, so he wasn’t really alone anyway. Timmons was a black and white tabby and an expert at killing whatever wandered into the house, whether it was a spider, scorpion, or snake. Garfield was an orange Maine coon, the loudest cat Jerry had ever known, and he often played the alarm for Timmons to come attack something.

The two cats watched him head to bed and left to patrol the house before joining him. It was funny to Jerry how they did that every night. He couldn’t imagine a dog would guard the house more zealously than those two did.

He yawned, the soft music from his radio filling the room. He was happy it was summer break, unable to imagine being stuck in that stuffy school building in one hundred degree heat. His own house was bad enough, and it had air conditioning built in. Today it had only hit somewhere in the nineties, but that was still too much. Jerry missed living further north with real trees and real seasons.

He closed his eyes and listened to the radio. It was a channel his mom picked—soft rock with a lot of songs about love and happy couples. It wasn’t his preferred music, but it did help him get to sleep. Tomorrow would be fun too, with his dad’s days off starting. He’d get to sleep in really late, and then they would go into town together or something. His dad made it a point to spend time with him whenever he didn’t have to work.

Smiling, thinking of the day ahead, his eyelids started to feel heavy even as they were closed. He felt Timmons jump up onto his bed and pad his way up to him, nuzzling his hand to be petted and to make Jerry move his arm just right so he could curl into him. A minute later the mattress dipped again as Garfield jumped up and nosed Jerry’s other hand. He curled up with his two cats, one on each side of him, both purring quietly. With the soft music playing, he could feel the cats purring rather than hear them.

Then he felt the purring stop as the bed gave way under another weight. His heart immediately jumped into his throat, but he forced his eyes to stay shut. He had to be dreaming. There weren’t any predators out in the desert, with the exception of the odd coyote, and one of those couldn’t have gotten into the house. The radio continued to play as an odd smell reached his nostrils. His mind tried to place it in the zoo category, listing it along with the smell of the elephants, but it was completely new to him and it certainly wasn’t an elephant on his bed.

Timmons and Garfield stood up, facing the foot of the bed. Garfield howled at the sight of the form sitting on the edge. Timmons hissed and swatted in its direction before jumping back a little. It moved farther up the bed, the smell becoming stronger, more foul. There was a hint of sweetness, like an apple had fallen from the tree and was left to rot on the ground. A growl, but higher-pitched, filled the air. The intruder spread out onto four points, slowly moving up toward him on the bed.

Timmons and Garfield both hissed and dove off the mattress; Jerry could hear them tearing through to the other end of the house, leaving him alone with whatever else was on his bed. He didn’t dare open his eyes, even as its front most point passed his left foot, advancing toward him. The smell only got stronger and more rancid as the creature approached. The sound it made reverberated in his small bedroom, the pitch of it getting lower and sounding more wet. A few more steps and it was hovering over him. He could feel the heat of its breath on his face; the smell was overwhelming. He squeezed his eyes shut as tears welled up under his eyelids.

His breaths came in short, shallow gasps. This was definitely a predator. What it was or how it got in he didn’t have a clue; he didn’t want to know. He lay there as still as he could, hoping it would think he was dead and go away. Maybe chase after the cats. He was ashamed of himself for that thought, but he was scared, more scared than he had ever been in his life. More scared than the time Porky Roebuck and his buddies had chased him up a tree with baseball bats.

It made a sound at him, almost sounding like words. For a moment the poor attempt at speech eased his fear and made him curious. After all, no predator he knew of could speak. He slowly allowed one eye to split open just a hair.

It stared at him with large, empty, black eyes, like the sharks he had seen on the Discovery channel. Its skin was almost transparent, milky white; dark veins throbbed gently underneath. No hair grew anywhere. It’s mouth hung open, seemingly stretching from one side of its head to the other. Small, pointed teeth, more than Jerry could count, lined both the top and the bottom lips. He couldn’t breathe at all. He was frozen in fear. His one partially open eye could only watch as saliva filled to the cusp of its lower lip and spilled over, running down its chin and dripping down onto Jerry’s cheek.

The wet contact broke his paralysis and everything went at once. His young bladder erupted under his blankets. He screamed in pure terror as both eyes flew open, the sudden sound spurring the predator into action, its teeth driving into Jerry’s face. His small bedroom was flooded with sounds: Jerry’s screams, the wet crunch of teeth on skull and flesh, and the radio giving it an underscore of Hotel California by The Eagles.