Queen of the Wolves: A Tale told in Parts by R.k.Kombrinck

Freaky Style by Victor Castillo

Queen of the Wolves

By R.k.Kombrinck

Chapter One

Shelley put her arm around Stephen’s waist as they stood leaning against the car in the driveway. He felt her grab onto his back belt loop and they both gazed up at the house. She rested her head against his arm and sighed.

“Home.”

Stephen smiled and kissed the top of her head. “You sure you wouldn’t have preferred a nice, doublewide trailer? Thirty-grand and we could drive it anywhere we wanted.”

She tapped his chest affectionately. “Please don’t ruin this moment.”

He squeezed her tightly and nodded. They watched the sun set behind the newly built home. Golden light flared around the peaked roof like a halo and cast the front yard into a cool, comforting pool of shadow. It felt like a dream. With his wife beside him and a warm, almost-summer breeze blowing against his face, Stephen thought he might never stop smiling. Then he heard a brittle voice call out from behind them and his smile vanished.

“Hello? Hey there.”

 A small woman in a tank top and capris was scurrying up the sidewalk towards them. Her eyes were hidden behind giant, round-framed sunglasses. She may have been thirty, or forty, it was hard to say, but she was well built with pretty chestnut colored hair and smooth white skin. Gliding along beside her was a little girl. Like the woman whose hand she clung to, the girl’s age was hard to pinpoint. She was tall enough to be a third or fourth grader, but something in her eyes made her seem younger. Maybe it was the way she searched the clouds as they walked, oblivious to everything else around her. They stepped into the yard, facing Stephen and Shelley and the woman pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head.

“Howdy neighbors!” Her voice was low but still managed to be strident somehow. Stephen was immediately put off but he smiled anyway as she introduced herself. “ I’m Alicia Schilling and this is my daughter Rita. We live three houses down.” As soon as she was mentioned, Rita dropped her mother’s hand and sat down in the cool grass, tugging at a dandelion between her splayed feet.

“Hey, how you doing? I’m Stephen and this is my wife, Lachelle.”

Shelley reached out her hand to the woman. “Hi, you can call me Shelley.”

Alicia shook Shelley’s hand and examined her face. “Lachelle. That sounds like a black name.”

Stephen didn’t look at Shelley, but he knew that the smile had frozen hard on her face as it had his. Alicia sensed their discomfort and went on cheerfully.

“Oh, it’s okay, there’s a couple of ‘em living on the street. Fine people. Really well spoken. I think he’s a teacher or something.”

Shelley coughed into her hand and tugged hard at Stephen’s belt loop and he looked down at the little girl on his lawn as a means of escape.

“So Rita. Did you know there’s a song named after you?”

The girl looked up at him and smiled sweetly. She had her mother’s hair, though longer and less processed, and icy blue eyes. “There is?”

“Yep, ‘Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.’ It’s by an old group called the Beatles.”

The little girl rolled her eyes amiably. “I know who the Beatles are silly. They sing, ‘Yellow Submarine.’ I don’t know the my-name song though.”

Stephen chuckled. “Well, I’ve got it on a record somewhere in a box in the house. When I find it, you’ll have to come by and listen to it with us.”

Alicia nodded, her sunglasses swaying atop her head. “Oh yeah, that sounds great. Rita loves music.” She looked down at her child with mock exasperation. “I’ve tried to get her to listen to the girly dance songs I like. You know, whatever’s popular, but she only likes that old stuff.” She sighed. “She’s my little fuddy-duddy.”

“Funny-dunny!” Rita called out in a high, nasally voice before melting into a fit of giggles.

There was a pause then, and several seconds of silence spun out between the adults while Rita chattered away to herself on the ground. Finally, Shelley stretched and gestured towards the house. “Well, it was great meeting you guys. We’ve got a lot of unpacking to do though, so. . .”

Stephen jumped in. “Yeah, thanks for coming over to welcome us. Feels good knowing we’ve got such nice neighbors.” He looked at the little girl and found her staring intently at their house. He followed her gaze, thinking she saw a bird or a squirrel up by the garage but there was nothing. “And Rita, you’re welcome to come and listen to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or the Monkees any time you want. Me and Shelley like those old songs too.”

Rita popped up from the ground and stood beside her mother. “Mommy, can I?”

Alicia took the girl’s hand and smiled indulgently. “Definitely. So long as Stephen and Lachelle say you can.” She looked to Stephen and Shelley and winked. “Careful guys, I may just leave her with you and run away to Barbados with some hot young stud.”

Rita’s face went dark. “Mommy, no! With Daddy.”

Alicia’s grin dried up at the mention of Rita’s father. “Hush.” She dropped her glasses back down over her eyes (Stephen thought they made her look like The Fly) and stepped back onto the sidewalk. “Well, you two have a good night. Don’t work too hard unpacking, and feel free to stop by if you ever need anything.” She pointed to a large house with a tall hedge running along the property line a few hundred feet away. “Or if you just feel like visiting.”

“We will.” Shelley waved and smiled as Alicia and Rita turned and walked away. “See you guys later.” She favored Stephen with raised eyebrows. He knew she’d have a lot to say about Alicia Schilling once they were back inside the house. They had made it almost to their door when Alicia’s quiet, grating voice floated back at them from a ways up the street.

“Hey! Your house is a Wagner-Klein, isn’t it?” She was standing in front of her own house, her hand on one slim hip while Rita looked on with solemn eyes. “Most of the houses back here are theirs.”

Stephen answered. “Yeah, they drew it up, contracted it, everything. Even did some interior stuff. Carpet and what not.”

Alicia made her way back, stopping halfway between their homes. “Who designed it? The house I mean.”

“His name was Hari something. Hari Ka—na. . .Ka—ni. . .”

“Kaniyar.” Shelley finished for Stephen as he kept trying to pronounce their architect’s name.

Alicia made a sour face. “The Indian boy?”

Shelley’s voice was clipped. “Yeah, he was Indian.”

“We met with him three years ago when we thought about building a place over in Delhi. I didn’t like him, he was strange.” Alicia inclined her head towards Stephen and Shelley’s house. “That explains all the weird little designs along the top of your back porch.

There was a twitch at the corner of Stephen’s mouth. When had she been in the back yard?  He felt Shelley’s elbow dig back into his gut and she called back in a bright, false voice.

“Yeah, well. We’ve gotta get back in there. Seeya!”

Alicia looked at them a moment longer, unsure, and then her face rearranged itself into a similarly false smile. She waved and headed back to her own house without another word.

Shelley leaned back against Stephen, her head resting on his chest. “Jesus, Steve.”

He nodded, squeezing her arm. “I know, come on, let’s get inside.” They slipped quietly into the silence of their new house and the sun, without anyone outside to watch it, decided to give up the ghost and set.

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Stephen dragged himself up the carpeted stairs, a heavy box marked, “misc” hugged to his chest. He was out of breath and sweating. He stopped at the top and set the box on the second floor landing. The set of pull down steps that led to the attic hung open in the middle of the hallway. He could hear the scraping of boxes being shoved around on the hardwood floor up there and then Shelley’s voice floated down to him.

“You alright?”

“Yes.”  He leaned against the banister. “I’ll be there in a sec. This box is just heavy.”

She laughed. “I got your records up here on my own. Don’t talk about heavy. I’m a teeny-tiny girl.”

“Yeah, a teeny-tiny girl with a black girl’s name. Probably makes you tougher.”

A moment later Shelley’s face peeked down at him from the trap door. “Oh my God! What was that all about?”

Stephen shrugged. “I don’t know. The brochure didn’t say anything about casual racists.” With a grunt he hefted his box and headed up into the attic.

The room was large with heavy beams crisscrossed below the angled ceiling. A small triangular window looked out the back and over the top of the covered porch. The whole space smelled of freshly oiled wood. A few large boxes had been stacked along the wall while still more were scattered throughout the middle. Shelley knelt beside an open box marked, “books,” idly flipping through its contents.

“Seriously, that was awful. She doesn’t even know us and she’s comfortable talking to us like that?” She looked up at Stephen. “Think about what she must be like when she’s with her like-minded, WASP’y book club or whatever it is she has.”

“Yeah.” Stephen set his box down and slid it across the floor to the wall. He turned and sat down on it. “It seemed like there might be something with her and the husband too.”

“Of course there was. They can’t be a stereotypical suburban family in a stereotypical, cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood like this without an impending divorce. Question is, which one of them is having the affair?”

Stephen made a face. “Hey! We live in this cookie-cutter neighborhood now. Should I start worrying?”

Shelley pushed the box of books against the wall and moved over to him on her knees. She wrapped her arms around his waist and looked into his eyes, smiling. “No. Because we’re better people than they are.” She laughed,  delicious sound, and kissed him deeply. She sat back on her haunches, her cheeks flushed. “Don’t you agree?”

“Yeah, definitely we’re better. Obviously. I liked the kid though. She seemed sweet.”

Shelley nodded as she began pulling her sweaty T-shirt over her head. She dropped it to the floor and reached behind her back. “Yes, she was very nice.” She stripped away her bra, revealing plump breasts capped with hard, pink nipples. “But enough about the neighbors. I suddenly feel like christening the house.” She moved back into Stephen’s lap, her hands twining behind his neck. Stephen slid his fingers down along her bare back, sighing.

“We christened it the night we got the keys. Remember?”

Shelley undid his belt and nodded, licking her lips. “Yep, but not the attic.”

Stephen leaned back and let her unsnap his jeans and pull his zipper down. “You’re right. I forgot. Please proceed.” He hoisted himself up long enough to slide his pants down and then knelt on the floor beside her. He began kissing her neck, his warm lips and tongue exploring the hollow of her throat. He felt her hand slip up along his thigh and he moaned softly. “Oh yeah, that’s it hon, keep going. Keep doing. . .” His voice trailed off as he looked over her shoulder. His eyes widened with shock and his stiffening cock went limp in his wife’s hand. She looked at him, alarmed and spun around to see what had upset him. A startled gasp escaped her as she followed his gaze.

They were both gawking at the set of steps at the back of the room. At the top of the steps was a door, hanging slightly ajar.

“Stephen?” Shelley’s voice trembled and she covered her naked breasts with her left arm.

“I see it too, Shell, I see it too.”

Neither the steps, nor the door had been a part of the room thirty seconds before. They had just suddenly appeared, as if from nothing.

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©2013 by R.k.Kombrinck.

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R.k.Kombrinck is a writer and artist who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons.  He is a founding cast-member of the popular horror podcast “Night of the Living Podcast.”  He enjoys iced-tea (unsweet) and genuinely believes in Sasquatch.

You can find his work online HERE

Mr. Flyspeck (a flash piece)

(This is the flash story that I won the Pseudopod Flash Contest III with. 500 words to woo a group of hardened horror readers and get their votes. Hope you like it as well as they did. Sometime in late fall/early winter, maybe the first of the year, this will appear as an audio podcast at www.pseudopod.org. Hephoto by Jixarad over there to check out a ton of great horror shorts and flashes read by their talented voice performers)

 

Mr. Flyspeck

by R.k.Kombrinck

Celia stood in the foyer, looking up the staircase. Her grandfather’s house was quiet. Empty. Sunlight spilled through tall windows, and shadows couldn’t find a foothold. It was bright and familiar but she didn’t want to be there. Not alone.

“Hello?” She felt stupid calling out. Grandpa’s nursing home needed his insurance papers. It would only take a few minutes to find them. They were in his room somewhere, in a box. There was no reason to think about anything unpleasant. But she did. She thought of the attic. The creaky wooden stairs that dropped out of the ceiling. The huge, wooden wraparound desk  against the wall. The bitter taste of pills on her tongue. The ambulance ride.

She thought of Mr. Flyspeck.

She’d been six years old, exploring the attic, looking for old toys. She’d heard a voice and looked up. She hadn’t been afraid, only curious and surprised. Something was sitting on the desk. It looked like a rat, or mouse. Three feet tall with orange fur and wild eyes. She remembered how it smiled at her. How it spoke.

He called himself Mr. Flyspeck. They talked about her mommy and her brothers, her grandma and grandpa. He said he lived inside the walls and could walk through closed doors. He liked to watch her sleep and take her baths. Then he told her about the pills on Grandma’s nightstand downstairs. If she ate them all, she’d be able to walk through walls and doors, like him. She thanked him for such a wonderful idea and headed to her grandparents’ room. She’d gobbled half the bottle before her brother walked in and caught her. She didn’t remember the emergency room or having her stomach pumped, but she did remember her mother’s tears shining red and blue in the spinning ambulance lights.

Grownup Celia pushed away the murky images. She stepped into Grandpa’s room and opened his closet. There were boxes sitting in the shadows. She sifted through them, not finding the papers she needed. She looked up, frustrated, and saw a large, fireproof case huddled in the back corner. She crawled over and pulled it towards her. She lifted the lid and screamed, jumping backwards, colliding with the wall. Lying in the case, smiling up at her, was Mr. Flyspeck.

When she’d caught her breath, Celia leaned forward and gingerly lifted the lid again. There he was, not moving or speaking. With a sudden bloom of understanding, she could see what her childhood self had not.  Mr. Flyspeck was a puppet. Her mind reeled. *Why was this in her grandfather’s closet?* She studied its rodent face. It reminded her of Grandpa.   A thought blossomed within her. An *awful* thought. Suddenly its familiar smile filled her with a terrified rage. She started shaking it violently, screaming.

“Talk to me, damn you! Be alive! You’re not a puppet! You’re not him! You were never him!” But Mr. Flyspeck said nothing and after awhile, Celia began to cry.

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©2013 by R.k.Kombrinck.

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R.k.Kombrinck is a writer and artist who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons.  He is a founding cast-member of the popular horror podcast “Night of the Living Podcast.”  He enjoys iced-tea (unsweet) and genuinely believes in Sasquatch.

You can find his work online HERE

 

Who decides what horror is?

I just got back from the most recent “Horrorhound Weekend” horror cryptkeeperconvention in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, where many castmembers from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” were in attendance. Because that show is very popular, even amongst people who don’t typically consider themselves “horror fans” the convention had a lot more “mainstream” (read: normies) visitors than ever before. Because of this, many of the fans who’ve been coming for years and are a part of the horror community felt like their sanctum had been infiltrated. This caused somewhat of a backlash against the “Walking Dead” cast within the comment threads of many a Facebook group and it led to a lot of comments about how, “The Walking Dead isn’t even real horror,” and “real horror fans” don’t like it.

Stop right there.

Let me dust my shoulders off.

First off, yeah it is. It absolutely is horror. The definition of “horror” is:

  1. An intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.
  2. A thing causing such a feeling.

And I would say that the events portrayed on that show meet those requirements. After all, if George A. Romero’s “Dead” series is horror, why wouldn’t this be? Because a lot of the stories deal with the human drama that occurs within an apocalypse scenario that involves zombies as much as the zombies themselves? Give me a fucking break. The original “Dawn of the Dead” had so much downtime with the characters goofing around the mall, sleeping, talking, blah blah blah, that the same could easily be said for it. In fact, good ol’ George has said endlessly that it’s the human story within the zombie framework that he’s really interested in. Those are the stories he wants to tell. Someone even said, “Well, it’s not horror, it’s sci fi/fantasy…” Shut up. Why are we splitting hairs? It’s so fucking silly that it hardly bears thinking about. But I am thinking about it because I don’t like being told what things are by people who aren’t the definition police, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t tell me what is and is not horror, and don’t tell me I’m not a “real” fan if I like certain things.

I’ve been in love with this genre for nearly my whole life. Thirty years, since I was six years old. I’ve seen countless movies, read novel after novel, collected the comics, written in the genre myself, done horror themed artwork and have wallowed in every aspect of it ad nauseum. I’m on a weekly show where I discuss this shit with my other horror-nerd friends. I know what I’m talking about. I AM a fan of “The Walking Dead” both the comic and the series. I find it frightening, dramatic, well written, well acted and as good as anything else. So to the definition police, write me a ticket for, “Not being a true fan of horror.” Then go fuck yourself. People can like what they like. Just because you (again, I’m speaking to the people who feel they speak for the genre and its community here) don’t like it and think that only slashers, or only French revisionist horror, or only atmospheric supernatural fare, or only exploitation/grindhouse is the “real deal” don’t make it so. I hate “Twilight.” Hell, most of us do, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who are horror fans who also, inexplicably, enjoy it. You can’t tell them they’re not real fans and, as much as I hate to say it, you can’t say it’s not horror. It’s very light, admittedly, but vampires and werewolves equal horror. They just do. Get over it, get over yourself. Same goes for “The Walking Dead” or anything else that has the elements that we think of as horror. Things can be more than that, they can be sci-fi/fantasy or urban gothic or Southern fried nightmare but so long as they’ve got a monster, or a ghost, a zombie or a serial killer hacking people up in disturbing ways…it counts.

I just wish I understood where those people get off telling others what is and isn’t horror. What qualifies them? If you’re one of these people, tell me, what makes you more qualified than me to decide? I’m not saying you have to like the show. I’m not saying you shouldn’t express the opinion that you think it’s shit, or overwrought, or a soap opera or whatever it is you don’t like about it. I think you SHOULD express those opinions, but don’t try to say that it’s not horror. Or that anything else isn’t. Things are what they are. You don’t have to like it. I hate those stupid “Hatchet” movies (I do like director Adam Green though…”Frozen” was great) but I would never say that people weren’t real fans for liking them even though there aren’t any supernatural elements in it.

All I’m saying is, quit trying to tell me what is and is not horror. Have I driven this home yet?

From Next Door (flash piece)

 From Next Door

from next doorby R.k.Kombrinck

Lynn woke to Pepper’s tongue on her face. The dog needed out. With a groan, she sat up, glancing at the clock on the stand; 2:45 a.m. Beside her, Abbie pretended to sleep, ignoring the situation. The dog never bothered her. It was frustrating.

“Okay, okay, I’m coming.” Lynn stood and followed Pepper out into the house. She didn’t need any lights, she’d made this trip a thousand times. She opened the back door and watched the dog run out into the moonlight. A breeze blew in and she shivered, willing Pepper to hurry.

Instead, the dog stood in the middle of the yard, facing the neighbor’s house. She laid her ears back and growled, deep in her throat. Lynn leaned out to see what had her riled up.

Standing at the fence between their houses was a shadowy figure. A short, female shape in a housecoat that Lynn recognized. It was Mrs. Rafkin, from next door. Except it wasn’t. Couldn’t be. Mrs. Rafkin had passed away three weeks earlier. Lynn and Abbie had gone to the service, bringing a small but lovely bouquet for the family.

Lynn squinted. She rubbed her eyes. The figure remained. She couldn’t see Mrs. Rafkin’s face but her shape was unmistakable. She’d hung laundry on a line out there every day, chatting with the girls as they tinkered in their flower garden or played with Pepper.

Don’t be stupid. She chided herself. It’s just a weird shadow, or a bush. Except there were no bushes along the fence and nothing she could think of that would cast such an odd shadow. It could only be a person, but obviously not the deceased Mrs. Rafkin. She considered calling out, then thought better of it. She whispered hoarsely out the door.

“Pepper, come on.” The dog whined and trotted back inside. Lynn lingered a moment longer, straining to see the details of the person’s face. As she watched, the figure raised its hand and waved to her, very slowly. A chill slid down her naked back and her heartbeat quickened. She slammed the door and took a step back. She was breathing heavy. She locked up and hurried back to the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. She climbed into bed and scootched as close to Abbie as she could.

Abbie raised her head. “You’re freezing.”

“Did Mrs. Rafkin have a sister? A twin maybe?”

“What?” Abbie flipped around to face Lynn. “Why?”

Suddenly, Pepper whined, scratching to be let in. Lynn whimpered. “Can you please let her in?”

Abbie sighed, throwing the covers aside. “You’re being weird.” She stood, walking around the corner of the bed and then stopped abruptly. “Oh never mind. She’s right. . .” She looked up at the door, where the scratching continued from the other side. “. . . here.” She looked to Lynn. “Why did you ask about Mrs. Rafkin?”

Then a low, gravelly voice called from outside the door. “Girrrrrrls. . .” The knob turned and the door opened.

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©2013 by R.k.Kombrinck.

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R.k.Kombrinck is a writer and artist who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons.  He is a founding cast-member of the popular horror podcast “Night of the Living Podcast.”  He enjoys iced-tea (unsweet) and genuinely believes in Sasquatch.

You can find his work online HERE

R.I.P. Richard Matheson

R.I.P. Richard Matheson

by R.k.KombrinckRichard Matheson

Without Richard Matheson, there would be no “There’s a creature out on the wing of the plane!” Without Richard Matheson, there would be no X-Files. Without Richard Matheson there would be no Night of the Living Dead and that means there might not be this entire zombie apocalypse culture that we enjoy as horror fans today.

“I Am Legend,” is a simple idea with a nifty twist. If you’ve never read it, I’m kind of spoiling it here (and please do not judge it based on its film adaptations—“The Last Man on Earth” is the best of them but “Omega Man” and Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” stray far from the source). Go out and get it. It’s the tale of a world overrun with the undead—not flesh eating zombies but rather, vampires. The vampires are not the gothic, Dracula types that had come before, they were your friends and neighbors. They’d lost a lot of what made them who they’d been and were sort of sluggish and dumb. Matheson took the idea that, the way vampires multiply, they could eventually overtake the world. He goes on to wonder, what if you were a lone survivor, maybe THE lone survivor, of this scenario. How would you spend your days and your terrifying nights? How would you avoid the creatures that surrounded you? It was the first really modern look at vampires and updated the creatures accordingly, blending science with folklore. There was still the sexual undertones, the females positioning their bodies outside Neville’s door to try and lure him out…Neville, getting an erotic thrill from dispatching the female monsters…it retained much of the classic trappings; garlic, crosses, daylight—and turned them on their heads. He followed the idea to its only logical conclusion, not forcing the narrative to go somewhere convenient, and we are the beneficiaries of this nightmare. This is the book that inspired George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” (he says himself that he basically “ripped it off,” though that’s a stretch, he certainly took it in his own direction). He turned the vampires into thoughtless, flesh eating corpses, risen from the grave to hunt the living and overrun the world and with that film and concept a much bigger landscape of horror was born. Now, zombies are part of or pop culture consciousness and everyone knows what that apocalypse will look like. It’s a scary book with a great ending, I highly, highly recommend it.

Richard Matheson is as responsible for that, if not more, than Romero.

Of course, he gave us a lot more than “I Am Legend.” He penned, “The Shrinking Man,” “Hell House,” “A Stir of Echoes,” and “What Dreams May Come,” all of which have been adapted to film. He wrote a ton of “Twilight Zone,” episodes, he wrote for “Star Trek,” and he wrote the story that became Steven Spielberg’s first major gig, “Duel.” He also wrote the teleplay to the original, “Night Stalker” TV movie, which returned to vampire territory—this time playing the vampire as a sort of serial killer—and introduced us to the great, rumpled reporter, Carl Kolchak. A TV series was born out of that TV movie, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” in which Darren McGavin’s Kolchak wound up on the trail of a different monster each week. “X-Files,” creator, Chris Carter has stated this as the inspiration for his own “monster of the week,” show. There was a lot of other TV writing as well as novels, short stories and nonfiction too. He kept writing up through 2012, still going strong.

Richard Matheson died today at the age of 87. According to his daughter, he was surrounded by loved ones. We lost one of the great ones. He will be missed.

New listeners, wondering what’s up? Stop here for a sec.

Hey guys, thanks for stopping by. If you’re new (which seeing how the title of this post is directed at new listeners, I’m assuming you are) then let me first give you a high-five for making the right choice. *high fives* And now, I’ll break down the show a little bit for you, so you know what you’re in for. How's my makeup?

Night of the Living Podcast (the NOTLP) is a weekly show where we, the crew (Amy, Andy, Chiz, Erica, Freddy and Kelley) discuss various horror themed shit. Three shows a month are dedicated strictly to movies and each of these episodes consists of two segments. “Straight to Video Russian Roulette” is where a random crew member is assigned a film that was released direct to DVD or streaming (maybe it had a VERY limited run at conventions or festivals) and they let you know if it sucked or was good. The “Main Attraction” is where we talk about a movie that we all watched and we dissect it and give it a good once over. We don’t overshine it but it gets a good polish. We’re not journalists or actual critics, we just know what the fuck we do and don’t like (sometimes).

Then, once a month is our “Listener Feedback/Miscellaneous Debris” episode. In this episode we read your emails, play your voicemails (we love hearing your melodious voices) and we do a bit of genre news. This is also the episode where we do whatever else we want. There’s a segment called, “The Book Coroner” where we autopsy some horror lit, and there’s “Andy’s Porner” where Andy breaks down some horror themed porn for you to let you know if its worth a jerk/diddle. Anything else we feel like talking about, video games, comics, etc. gets thrown in here. If you’d like to check out a sample of what kinds of things to expect, you can download our “First-Timer-Primer” right HERE.

And that’s about it. Feel free to browse through all of our old eps if you like what you hear. They go back to episode 75. For episodes 1-74 you can obtain an archive DVD for a donation of $10. Thanks and have a good time!

Haunted Tour of Cincinnati


I’m into freaky paranormal stuff. –
Snooki

If you’ve listened to Episode 343, you know that recently Freddy and I went on a ghost tour in Cincinnati. And you know that we have vastly different approaches to ghost stuff – I believe and he’s a total skeptic. We’re a regular buddy cop show on Fox.

Our tour guide was Dan Smith of Haunted Cincinnati Tours. Dan has also written two ghostly guides – Ghosts of Bobby Mackey’s Music World and Ghosts of Cincinnati: The Dark Side of the Queen City. Dan was a great storyteller, prepping us as we drove to each new location.

Our tour began at the Taft Museum of Art in Downtown Cincinnati. There have been sightings of a woman in pink said to be Annie Taft, William Howard Taft’s sister-in-law. Not much happened at this location. We wandered around outside the gates and stared at the building and lawn. So is it haunted? No ghosts waved at me from the windows, so I have to say no for now.

Taft Museum
Pretty. No ghosts 😦

 

We headed to Eden Park next. This drive had my favorite story. George Remus was a Prohibition bootlegger and Imogene was his loyal wife…until she wasn’t. George asked her to get “close” to a prohibition agent after he was sent to jail, which she did. Real close. Imogene and the agent ran off together with George’s money. Later, after George was released, he got his revenge by shooting Imogene to death in public, after a car chase, at Eden Park. He was acquitted by reason of insanity. And now park visitors claim they see a woman in black haunting the area around the gazebo…Imogene. I took a ton of pictures at this location and one turned out interestingly. But after some googling, I’m thinking what I see to the right in the picture below  was a sign’s reflection. Or it’s a ghost. It’s way more fun to go with the supernatural explanation though.

Eden Park
Mysterious figure to the right? Or a sign’s reflection? Or Tweedle Dee out for a night stroll?
Where Imogene Died
This is where Imogene was shot to death by her husband, George.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was an abandoned school in Walnut Hills. According to Dan, the school was home to a ghost named Walt. I like guys named Walt generally – Walt Disney, Walt from Lost, Walt Whitman. But Dan warned us that this Walt had a filthy mouth. When we got to the school, we broke out the Spirit Box in the gym. Most questions we asked of Walt were answered with “leave” or “bishop” or “bye.” I guess Walt sensed there were ladies present and kept the sailor mouth to a minimum. The school didn’t yield any concrete evidence either – unless you buy into the spirit box. I think it sounds like a neat idea, but live, in person, it just didn’t seem like anything to me.

Where Walt, the sassiest ghost, lives.
Where Walt, the sassiest ghost, lives.

 

Our next stop was Music Hall, which was actually built on top of an old Potters Field. There are thousands of bodies under the building – with no way to determine who they were. There wasn’t much ghostly activity that night, so there really isn’t much to report. We wandered around outside the entrance, never going inside, getting strange looks from the old white people leaving the symphony.

And finally, we made it to our last stop, the one that had me very nervous and excited – Bobby Mackey’s. If you have watched any ghost hunting or ghost documentary type shows ever, you’ve probably heard of Bobby Mackey’s, the haunted nightclub in Wilder, KY. Dan’s story during the drive, of accidentally allowing a demonic presence of some sort into his life after a visit, was creepy as shit. We were warned to not taunt anything or engage with it or believe anything it said or showed us. If we did, we could potentially invite evil into our lives. It sounds real dumb as a I type, but it was super effective in the moment. We entered the basement of the honky tonk – we never actually saw the bar area – but that night it was hopping and it felt like the rickety building might collapse in on itself. We saw the gate to hell, the wall of faces, the dressing rooms near where Johanna committed suicide…all of the hot spots. I can’t say I found any evidence or felt anything paranormal, but the history of the place – real or not – is enough to get the imagination going. And I don’t think I brought anything evil home, although I did find a ton of bird shit on my car today and maybe that’s a sign from a demonic presence…inhabiting a very sick bird.

 

Bobby Mackey's
I felt chills here. It was the douche chills when I remembered that the Ghost Adventures crew had been here.
Dressing Room
A dressing room “backstage” at Bobby Mackey’s. Very creepy after hearing the story of Johanna’s suicide.
The Gateway to Hell at Bobby Mackey's. A hole in the floor, basically.
The Gateway to Hell at Bobby Mackey’s. A hole in the floor, basically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we didn’t find any conclusive evidence on our tour. I wasn’t really expecting to. I did learn a ton about the Greater Cincinnati area and it’s ghosts. Every city has them, but I’m partial to ours. They like to haunt interesting and beautiful places. That’s smart of Cincy’s ghosts. Hanging out at a mobile home park or mall for eternity doesn’t sound like fun.

The Smiler: Prologue

This is the seven page prologue to a webcomic I was planning on putting out back in 2010-2011. I may eventually revisit it, but doing the writing, penciling, digital cleanup and coloring all by myself at this level of detail was overwhelming and it got scrapped. It’s kinda cool though. Some of you may have seen these before. Some not. Hope you think it’s cool.

thesmiler cover

 

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The Smiler Group Pinup

Introducing Kids to Having Fun with Horror

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I don’t have children, but if I did, I’d give them to Jason “Fozzie” Nelson to raise as his own because that shit looks like a hassle. Who is Jason “Fozzie” Nelson, you ask? He’s a personal friend of mine and one of NOTLP.com’s new writers. You can read something that he wrote for a grown up audience here. Fozzie isn’t all scary tram monsters, though. In fact, he is a big cuddly guy who can make his friends feel like the most important people in the world. When we told Fozzie that two of our podcasters (Mike and Erica Chiseck) were expecting their first child, he responded by writing a book. Anyone who knows the Chisecks knows that their child will be introduced to wild fantasy stories early in her life. The idea of the book was to help Mike and Erica explain to their little girl that the monsters and villains in these stories are only make believe. The book doesn’t encourage something as irresponsible as screening The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for your two-year old. Think more vampires, ghosts, and goblins. Andy Kahl’s unique illustrations reminded me of Eric Carle’s children’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Fozzie has titled the book Big Scary Make Believe Land and it’s now available for your Kindle on Amazon.

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Freddy Morris is a founding member and co-producer (with wife Amy Morris) of Night of the Living Podcast. He has written for his high school and college newspapers, HorrorHound Magazine, and from time to time, writes lewd graffiti on bathroom stall doors and angry letters to the editor at Cat Fancy. Freddy also hosts and produces the film history and appreciation podcast, FilmMad Society. He lives in a tiny house in Cincinnati, Ohio.

#HeyNOTLP Presents: Back To School, Horror Style

HeyNOTLP

Once a month, we (or YOU) ask the blogging staff here at NOTLP a survey question. This being September, time of 5-Star Notebook sales at Staples and increased vodka consumption in faculty lounges, we have no choice but to wonder:

What’s your favorite horror film for back-to-school season?

back to school

Emily Intravia

Between the dilemma of what to wear and fear of strict teacher assignments, the first day of school was always a source of stress growing up, but I can now comfort myself knowing that things could  have been worse. As a graduate of the class of 2000, I never had to deal with all the horrors that apparently came just one year before: gang  warfare, corporal punishment, murderous robots, and Stacy Keach’s  mullet. I’m speaking, of course, about Mark L. Lester’s pseudo sequel to his gritty and fabulous Class of 1984, the then-futuristic Class of 1999. I may have had nightmares about physics tests and cursed my marching band uniform, but when I think of what could have been my fate–Pam Grier as an evil cyborg chemistry teacher, constant rape-threat, being spanked in front of my peers–I’ll make sure to really live it up at my next reunion.

class of 1999

Kelley Kombrinck

Mine is John Carpenter’s Halloween. Quite a bit of it takes place at the girls’ school. There’s all that great autumnal imagery. Blowing leaves. Early dusk. Sweaters. It just always reminds me that, “back to school” time is also, “try not to get murdered” time.

halloween girls

Robert Best

Fall is my favorite time of year, so It’s hard to beat Halloween for atmosphere and overall greatness. I think that Trick R Treat also deserves to become a fall classic.

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Matt-suzaka

This might be the toughest question yet, as I can easily answer with a large number of movies, most of which would fall under the Slasher category. With that said, my decision came down to the film I believe best conveys high school/teen angst, which left me with two films: Ginger Snaps and 1986’s Trick or Treat. Now, seeing as I was a “headbanger” who grew up in the ‘80s who never felt the joys of menstruation, my final choice had to be the film I could best relate to, so Trick or Treat it is.

trick r treat

What makes Trick or Treat such a great high school horror movie is the way it captures the heartache that some teenagers face in high school. In this instance, Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer is the lone metalhead in his school, which results in him being the target of constant bullying and rejection from girls. Eddie’s a loner, whose only solace can be found in the one place where he is not judged for being different; a place where he can be surrounded by those who appreciate him for who he is. And that place is his poster covered bedroom where escape comes at the needle point of a record player.

eddie

While I was an outsider type in my youthful years, I was lucky enough to not have had to deal with the shit that Eddie has to deal with in Trick or Treat because, well, I was basically awesome. However, as amazing as I was, I was certainly an angsty teenager who thought that any little thing such as a girl not liking me (WHORE!), or my favorite band breaking up was going to result in the world erupting into flames. And the best way for me to deal with ridiculous thoughts was to emotionally rock out to some pajama jammy-jams in my poster covered bedroom, just like Eddie.

 

Trick or Treat seems to understand what it’s like being a teenage metalhead in the 1980s as well as any film ever has. However, this understanding transcends its time period and musical genre, as anyone who has ever felt rejected for being different can and will relate to what Eddie goes through in Trick or Treat.

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Freddy Morris

Back to school was always an exciting but stressful time for me. No film really captured the uncertainty of what lay ahead each September more than Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars. I was about the same age as the film’s hero when I saw it. The idea that David’s neighbors, teachers and even his parents were being controlled by aliens made me feel hopeless and alone. The film’s bleak ending fed many of my childhood nightmares. School was often a familiar place, but sometimes it could be as strange and hostile place. Invaders really expressed this sensation well.

invaders from mars

Got picks of your own? Share  them in our comments section, and don’t forget to ask us YOUR questions via Twitter with the hashtag #heyNOTLP

Short Story: “See Ellie Learn”

 See Ellie Learn

Robert R Best

"See Ellie Learn" by Robert R. Best

 

Ellie shook excess water from her hands as she stepped back from the sink. The kitchen of her student apartment was small, but got the job done. Ellie was 19 and scared to be alone in the big world of college. But her parents had insisted it was time for her to get out of the house and learn.

She wasn’t completely alone, she reasoned. She had a few friends. She had Trina, her roommate. Things were looking up. She enjoyed learning.

A slight moan came down the hall. Followed by a tiny ripping sound. That bothered Ellie a bit, but not enough to hurry.

Her eye fell on the phone hanging from the wall. A small answering machine sat on a stool beneath it, the wires wound around the legs of the stool. The machine was Trina’s, provided by Trina’s mother, but both girls used it.

A red light flashed in the corner of the machine. Ellie frowned, considering ignoring it. She’d broken several of her parents’ answering machines while growing up. She didn’t want to upset her roommate. She stared a moment longer, then walked briskly over to the stool.

Continue reading “Short Story: “See Ellie Learn””

I Remember Coffee (a flash piece)

  I Remembcoffeeer Coffee

by R.k.Kombrinck

I remember coffee.

I used to need two cups every morning, just to wake up. Now, I hardly sleep. They’re always banging on the walls, the doors, the boards nailed over the windows. If the noise doesn’t keep you awake, the smell will. You’d think after awhile you’d get used to it. You don’t. It just gets worse. Stronger. You’ve smelled rotten meat before. Just imagine being buried under it 24 hours a day for seven months.

We used to leave sometimes, to scrounge for food and supplies. But it wasn’t long before there were too many of them shambling around out there, grabbing at you. Biting. We lost nine people, including Carrie, before we realized it was too dangerous to leave.

God! I would give anything for a cup of that shitty instant coffee she used to make. I thought it tasted like garbage. Now that I’ve eaten actual garbage . . . and rat and. . .well, never mind. Let’s just say I miss my morning coffee. I’d give about anything for one more cup. One more sip.

Sounds like Michael and Brad just took Lindsay in the other room. I won’t tell you what goes on in there. After a month or two, boredom makes people dangerous and strange. She hasn’t fought back or cried in a long time. Not since Del, Mike B. and Clutch died. And by, “died” I mean, were killed. By the rest of us. Now she only has to deal with two guys taking her in the room, and we have enough spoiling meat to last us a while longer.

Carrie thought this thing would blow over. She was an optimist. In the mornings, before this all started she’d say, “Wake up, it’s gonna be a beautiful day,” even when it wasn’t. I was always such a grump before I’d had my coffee. She held on to her hope till the moment they tore her guts out in the alley behind the grocery store. I tried to go back and help her. Clutch dragged me back to our building. Saved my life. Just writing that sentence makes me want to laugh. When I think about the way things are out there and the way they are in here . . . not much difference anymore, really. I guess I’m actually glad that Carrie isn’t here to see this. I miss her though. I wish it would’ve been me. In this world that’s a very selfish thought to have.

Well, if anyone finds this letter, I hope it means that the living survived the hungry dead. Maybe you’re reading this over a cup of coffee. I doubt it. Carrie was the optimist, not me. I’m going to go downstairs, while the others are busy, and pry the boards and nails away from the door and open it. If somebody’s going to eat me, I think I’d rather it be the monsters outside rather than the ones  in here with me.

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©2013 by R.k.Kombrinck.

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R.k.Kombrinck is a writer and artist who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons.  He is a founding cast-member of the popular horror podcast “Night of the Living Podcast.”  He enjoys iced-tea (unsweet) and genuinely believes in Sasquatch.

You can find his work online HERE

 

 

 

NOTLP & Friends do a little ghost huntin’

Ash Cave during the day. When things are a 1000% less spooky.
Ash Cave during the day. When things are a 1000% less spooky.

We recently had the pleasure of experiencing one of the world’s most spectacular places – Ash Cave at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio – at night. It was truly one of the spookiest experiences I have ever had. Did I see a ghost? No, but I believe I heard one. Did my friend Kelley speak with the dead Native American Chieftains buried there? Maybe, the dowsing rods were a little confusing. Did we get to play with a Geiger counter? Fuck yeah. Did we generally freak ourselves out? You betcha.

We met the park’s naturalist, Pat Quackenbush, at the entrance at sunset. He set the scene for us with a couple of ghost stories from the area. And then we were lead down the trail that leads to the cave…in the near absolute dark…with no lights…as Pat continued with the ghost stories sprinkled with facts about the area. I stayed in the back of the line of people with Kelley as we walked along. We had both read the story in Pat and his wife Jannette’s book, Haunted Hocking, of a woman in white who is rumored to peek out from the trees lining the path, scaring the crap out of stragglers. So Kelley was intentionally straggling, and I was just stupidly along for the ride.

How stupid? Find out by clicking here

Look Back in Horror: There is No Escape!

The-Boogens-PosterDon’t worry; this column isn’t going to be about introspective navel-gazing. Okay, maybe a little. But humor me and I’ll humor you. Mainly, we’re going to look at where modern me developed an obsession with things that go bump in the night.

It was January of 1977 and folks in the Hoosier state were stranded indoors because of the blizzard raging outside. On the 22nd, at 5:06pm, I came kicking and screaming into this world and I haven’t shut up since. I’m now 36 and like most people wonder how I get here. Here being all the pieces of the puzzle that make me who I am.

Since discovering NOTLP, I’ve thought of the crew as kindred spirits. They grew up in the Midwest too, just a little over an hour from where I did. I’ve always just assumed that our childhood was shaped by some of the same touchstones and experiences. Continue reading “Look Back in Horror: There is No Escape!”

#HeyNOTLP Presents: Our Favorite Movie Theater Moment

HeyNOTLP

Every month, we (or YOU) ask the blogging staff here at NOTLP a survey question. Since the weather outside is frightful, we’re taking our seats in a nice air conditioned movie theater for this:

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What is your favorite cinematic experience?

 

Emily Intravia

It’s hard to believe that I never saw an official Friday the 13th film  in the theater until Jason started Shocker-ing small towners. Since my  memories of Jason Goes To Hell: The (Not At All) Final Friday are hazily clouded with images of question marks regarding Mr. Voorhees’ newfound  psychic powers and extended family, I’ll have to go with 2003’s opening  night festivities for Freddy vs. Jason. I wasn’t drunk, but it was clear that a good 75% of the rest of the sold-out Long Island audience had  most certainly enjoyed the kind of campfire festivities that would  render them easy pickings at Camp Crystal Lake (this was confirmed  halfway through the movie when half a bottle of Jack Daniels rolled down the angled floor and hit my foot). I’ll never argue that Ronny Yu’s mash-up is a GOOD movie per say, but unlike say, A Nightmare On Elm St. 5, Freddy vs. Jason was affectionately made to please its franchises’ fans. When you add a packed house of Friday night ticketbuyers, what you get is pure joy: screams of fear, hoots for gratuitous nudity, aww yeahs for drug use, boo yahs (seriously) for the death of Kelly Rowland. Had that same audience surrounded me for a viewing of Breaking the Waves or Hamlet, I would’ve been furious. But amid the bad pot jokes onscreen, the strained puns juicily delivered by Robert Englund, and the consistently dumb decisions made by its characters, Freddy vs. Jason got the exact crowd one needed to truly enjoy what it had to offer.

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Freddy Morris

Before I started pursuing girls in earnest, my biggest thrill in life was going to see a scary movie without adult supervision. In 1993 I was 15 years old. I was working at a Wendy’s, and I was spending all of my meager pay on grunge albums and tickets to movies at the Super Saver Cinemas in Forest Fair Mall. My friend Matt (formerly of Night of the Living Podcast) was 13 and his parents had a strict rule: they followed the MPAA PG-13 guideline to the letter. When Matt turned 13, it was a big deal because now he could see PG-13 movies. My parents were more relaxed about this sort of thing. I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted my whole life, so when Matt’s mom began to cut the apron strings I was really excited to share the world of onscreen shocks and gore with him. Matt’s mom was the best. She would drive us to the now mostly dead mall, and Matt and I would have hours to ourselves. We’d play Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat in the mall’s arcade and we’d buy cheap movie tickets. We would tell Matt’s mom that we were seeing movies like The Mighty Ducks or Home Alone 2, but we were really sneaking into Reservoir Dogs, Dr. Giggles, and Candyman. It was this last one, Candyman, that really had an impact. This one was intense. We were in a mostly empty theater. As the tension would build onscreen, I could sense that Matt wasn’t moving. When I looked at him, he was staring at the screen, glassy eyed. Petrified. He was pushing himself into his seat as if he could push hard enough to push his way out of the theater entirely. I feel like I witnessed a rite of passage for Matt that day. That night we stayed up torturing each other by saying “Candyman” in the mirror. In the film, if you say his name five times, he appears and guts you. Despite being a couple of smart boys on the verge of becoming men, neither of us had the balls to make it to five. Not then, not ever.

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Mike Guendelsberger

Hands down, it was The Blair Witch Project. I realize that a lot of people hate this movie and find it completely unscary, but I thought it was brilliant. I missed the initial run of it, so when I saw it I was in one of those cheaper theaters with sticky floors and outdated, geometric patterned seats. There were only a handful of people in the theater. No one talked during the entire thing and when I walked out, I kept looking back over my shoulder. Even at dinner later on, I kept looking out the window, expecting something to scratch at the dark window beside me. I’d never experienced that before–that lingering feeling of dread and concern–and I don’t think I’ve experienced it since.

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Kelley Kombrinck

Mine is very sentimental. I’ve had a lot of good theater-going experiences with horror movies, no really REALLY bad ones, but the one that means the most to me was when my father, who was laid off at the time, took me to see Godzilla 1985, when I was 8 years old. Godzilla was a big part of my young life. One could say I was obsessed. I would watch the Godzilla movies on WXIX on Saturday afternoons with my arms around my Godzilla and my Rodan toys as if they were stuffed animals. My dad enjoyed the big atomic lizard too and when Godzilla 1985 was released, he promised to take me. My mom hated (and still hates) those kinds of movies so it was just me and him. It was a stormy day and as we watched, thunder boomed outside and I could almost imagine it was the footsteps of Godzilla himself come to stomp the theater flat. We had the place to ourselves and it was a lot of fun watching the giant sea-louse at the beginning try to kill that guy on the boat…watching Godzilla’s fury tear through Tokyo again and even the tacked on Raymond Burr subplot that mirrored the original Godzilla. My dad did this with me frequently (the last movie I ever got to watch with my dad at the theater was Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Kind of ironic and it was also a great time), taking me to see Harry and the Hendersons, The Great Mouse Detective, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, et, al, but it was Godzilla 1985 that I remember the most clearly and with the most fondness. He really knew how to make this kid’s day.

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Matt-suzaka

I’ve had my fair share of memorable theatrical experiences with horror films throughout my life, with each one being special for their own specific reasons, but the one theater experience that has left me with the fondest of memories was watching Wes Craven’s Scream for the first time.

I recall seeing a number of TV spots for Wes Craven’s latest foray into horror, but despite being a big fan of much of his previous work, I was not at all impressed with what these TV spots were showing me. In fact, Scream was little more than an uninteresting droplet in the sea of horror, so I think it’s fair to say that my expectations were quite low.

Regardless, due to some divine intervention, I found myself sitting in a theater seat on opening night, and the film I had no interest in seeing opened with a sequence that, for the first time in many years, had me sitting on the edge of my seat. I was completely and totally engulfed by what was transpiring on screen as Casey Becker became the target of a sadistically clever murderer that the world would soon come to know as Ghostface.

The opening to Scream left me, and the rest of the audience alike, in a state of utter shock. What appeared onscreen in the opening moments could not have been expected by any audience member, and the fashion in which it all came together was nothing short of terrifying. I was left with a feeling that I hadn’t felt in many years with a horror film, and that was a feeling of uncertainty, a feeling of despair, and a feeling of fear. Most importantly, however, I was left with a feeling of happiness, because all of those collective emotions are what I hope to achieve whenever I sit back to watch a horror film.

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Share your own beloved cinema moments in the comments below, and don’t forget to ask us your questions for future columns over at Twitter with the hashtag #HeyNOTLP.

Just remember to kindly turn your cell phone before the previews.

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Short Story: “Giggles”

Giggles

by Jeremy C. Shipp

Joan says that some people have skeletons in their closets, but she has a clown in her attic. I take this as some sort of weird metaphor until she leads me up into her attic and I see him. He has hair made of what looks like pink insulation. His face is covered with white spiderwebs, and he has black widows for eyes. His teeth are long rusty nails.

I smile. “Where did you get this thing?”

The statue, or what I thought was a statue, takes a step forward on wooden legs.

“I am not a thing,” the thing growls.

I know this is just one of Joan’s sick jokes, but I can’t help standing there, frozen with fear like an idiot.

Joan squeezes my hand. “It’d probably be best if you didn’t say anything. At least, not for a while. You need to learn the rules first.”

Her words pass through my head, and I try to grasp at them, but I don’t catch a single one.

“I know this is weird, honey,” she says. “But you need to try to stay calm. Giggles can smell fear, and he doesn’t like it.”

“It smells of feet,” the clown says, his voice like the creaking of a door.

Joan’s never gone to so much trouble to freak me out before. I feel sick to my stomach with dread, but even more than that, I feel flattered that Joan took the time to set up such an elaborate scene for me.

“You’ve outdone yourself,” I say. I try to laugh, but it comes out a croak. “Seriously, where did you get this thing? Don’t tell me you built it yourself.”

“I am not a thing!” the clown roars.

And a moment later, he’s standing right in front of me with his wooden fingers wrapped around my throat. The clown’s barely touching me, and I know this is just part of the hoax, but I feel like kicking this monstrosity and running downstairs. But of course I don’t. I don’t want to disappoint Joan.

Joan sighs. “Let him go, Giggles.”

The clown releases my throat and backs away.

“I was serious about you not talking for now, hon,” Joan says. “Giggles is virtually harmless in his current state, but his state could change if you keep insulting him. I probably should have explained all the rules to you before bringing you up here. I guess I didn’t think you would take me seriously until you saw him. Anyway, rule number one. Don’t insult Giggles. Rule number two. When we’re up here, there’s no talking politics or religion. We need to keep the conversation light and positive. Stress-free.  Rule number three. If all else fails, smash a pie in your face. Works like magic.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I say.

Joan frowns. “I wouldn’t recommend cursing unless you’re doing it for comic effect. We don’t want to upset Giggles. If he loses control, the whole of civilization could be in danger.”

I smile. “This is fucked up, even for you.”

She sighs. “This isn’t a joke, Mark. I’m baring a part of me that I’ve never shown to anyone outside of my family. You could at least try to take me seriously. Can you try?”

“Fine.”

The clown turns to Joan. “I tire of all this melodrama.”

Joan walks over to a cheap foldout table to my right. She sprays whipped cream into an aluminum pie pan, and then she smashes the prop pie in her face.

The clown chuckles.

“That should hold him for a while,” Joan says, wiping her face off with a towel. “I‘ve been standing in the shop all day. Giggles, you don’t mind if we sit on your couch for a while, do you?”

“Go ahead,” the clown creaks.

When I walk past the monster, he stares at me with his arms crossed over his chest. The sight of him makes me shudder. His proportions are strange, and I don’t see any conceivable way that this could be a man in a costume. He must be some kind of robot.

Joan leads me to the opposite end of the attic, where we sit on a hideous daisy-print couch. The couch faces a pyramid of televisions.

“Giggles watches a lot of TV, huh?” I say, smiling.

“In a manner of speaking,” Joan says. “But let’s forget about the televisions for now. We can discuss that later.” She takes my hands and looks me in the eyes. She looks like she’s about to cry.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

“I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid that once you learn my true purpose, you’ll get weirded out, or you’ll be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I do, but it’s not normal. I know you’re not a judgmental person, but you are traditional in a lot of ways. I can give you a semi-regular life, but only semi. I can never go on vacations. I can’t even leave the house for more than five hours or so at a time. And if we have children, we’ll have to choose one of them to take my burden. That won’t be easy. None of it will be easy.”

Joan hardly ever cries, but right now, I watch her wipe away a tear.

Maybe this whole clown thing is more than an elaborate prank. Maybe in her own strange way, Joan is trying to open herself up to me.

I put my arm around her. “I hate to tell you this, Joanie. But the fact that you’re not normal comes as absolutely no surprise to me. You’re a weird lady, and I love that about you. So if you have something strange to tell me, just tell me. I’m a barrel of ears right now.”

My girlfriend smiles a little. After staring at the blank televisions for a while, she faces me and says, “I’m an entertainer. My calling in life is to entertain Giggles and keep him pacified. If he becomes too distraught, his consciousness could break free of the attic, and he could cause a lot of damage. Deep down, Giggles is a good person and he doesn’t want to wreak havoc on the world. But he has some self-control issues.”

“So…you’re saying you want to become an actor?”

Joan sighs. “This isn’t about what I want, Mark. This is about what I am. I’m an entertainer with a capital ‘e.’ I’m one of the protectors of the planet, just like parents and my grandparents and my great-grandparents. I know we’ve talked about the possibility of us getting married. You need to know that if that happens, you won’t just be married to an Entertainer, you’ll become one too. You’ll gain a divine calling, but you’ll lose things too. Things you’ll never get back.” She looks down at her hands on her lap. “Maybe I should have told you all this back when we first started dating. But…I guess I was being selfish. I didn’t think you’d give us a chance if you knew the truth. I’m sorry that I kept this from you.”

I don’t understand what the fuck Joan is talking about, but at this point, it doesn’t really matter. She seems sincerely worried about our relationship, and I don’t want her to worry.

I kiss her forehead.

“Is that all you wanted to tell me?” I say.

“Almost,” she says. “I’ll tell you the rest later. So you don’t hate me?”

I laugh. “I don’t hate you.”

That night, we eat spaghetti and we watch Arrested Development, and I keep waiting for her to explain to me what the prank meant. But she doesn’t bring up the clown at all.

In my dreams that night, I’m up in the attic, sitting on that ugly daisy-print couch. I’m not worried about running into that clown, because I get the feeling that he’s downstairs with Joan. I think she mentioned that the two of them would be cooking breakfast for me. Joan’s a good cook, but I’m afraid that the clown might put spiders in my food. Nevertheless, I’ll eat whatever they make me. I don’t want to be rude. For now, I’m supposed to stay up here and keep an eye out for criminals. Recently, someone has been stealing televisions from various attics in the neighborhood, so we have to take shifts guarding the TVs up here. It’s boring sitting up here alone, so I try all the different remote controls on my lap, but none of them work. The televisions continue sleeping. When I look into the darkness of the screen right in front of me, I expect to see my reflection. Instead, I see a void.

The void reaches out at me and fills the entire room. I know I should feel freaked out at this point. I’m not. I should head downstairs and ask Joan for help. I don’t. Instead, I sit there in the dark, waiting.

After a few moments of silence and stillness, two cold hands grasp my shoulders.

“Is that you?” I say.

“Who else would it be?” Joan says. She sounds a little distant and choppy, like her voice is being played on a cheap voice recorder. That disturbs me, of course, but when she starts massaging my bare shoulders, I put the strangeness of her voice out of my mind. Right now, I should just enjoy this. It is my birthday, after all.

Joan massages me so hard that her thumbs penetrate my flesh. I can feel her caressing my bones. I groan. She giggles.

“What’s so funny?” I say.

She laughs again, and she doesn’t sound like Joan at all anymore.

When the void disappears and the lights return, I turn around, half-expecting to find the clown standing behind me.

But it’s only Joan.

“You have magic fingers,” I say.

“That’s what they tell me,” she says.

“They who?”

“They, the guys I’m banging when you’re playing video games.”

Joan smiles, and her teeth are long rusty nails.

“What happened to you?” I say.

When she opens her mouth to respond, all that comes out is a green balloon.

“Fuck,” I say. I reach down for my phone so that I can call the hospital, but I’m completely naked.

I need to go downstairs. I can’t move.

The balloons in Joan’s body grow, and she gets bigger and bigger. I hope to God that she doesn’t pop.

The next morning, I wake up to find my blankets drenched with sweat. I know that I had a nightmare, but I can’t remember much of it. I think me and Joan were having sex, and I think the clown was there. I remember his teeth.

When Joan’s out for her morning jog, I climb into the attic and I find the clown propped against the wall near the couch. I approach it. I press my hand against its wooden torso. I study the face closely. Those spiders certainly look real. When I touch one of them, the black widow falls to the floor.

“Why did you remove my eye?” the clown says.

“Shit,” I say, backing away. “Sorry.” Immediately I feel like an idiot for apologizing to a robot, or whatever it is.

“Your apology means nothing to me, human. Tell me a joke, a good joke, and I will forgive your insolence.”

Once again, I feel the urge to kick the monstrosity and run downstairs. “You’re the clown. Why don’t you tell me a joke?”

“I am not a clown! I am burdened to take this form only because Joan’s great-great-grandmother cursed me. She was a powerful witch.”

“Ah, of course.”

The clown sighs. “I did not want to kill her, but she angered me so. I wish we could have had more time together.”

At this point, a black widow climbs up the clown’s face and replaces the missing eye.

“I feel melancholy,” the clown says. “Perform for me a silly dance, and be quick about it, mortal.”

Without responding to the ridiculous request, I head downstairs and find Joan in the kitchen, scrambling some eggs.

I massage her shoulders for a while.

“Thank you,” she says. “No wonder they call you Magic Fingers down at the bathhouse.”

“Shut up.”

We sit and start on our eggs.

“So what is he, really?” I say. “The clown.”

“Oh, he’s not a clown,” Joan says. “He’s a…well, it’s a little hard to explain. Do you know anything about naiads, dryads, creatures like that?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s what he’s like. His presence exists in the attic, and in a sense, he is the attic. You might say he’s a corporeal spiritual being.”

I laugh.

Joan frowns. “Why do you always do that?”

“What?” I say, and I take another bite of eggs.

“Whenever I try to tell you something serious, you laugh at me.”

“That’s not true.”

“Well, I shouldn’t have said that you do it all the time. But you do it sometimes. Sometimes, when I’m talking, you act like everything’s a big joke. Like last week, when I told you I was thinking of voting Republican this year. You laughed in my face.”

I sigh. “I laughed because you’re the most liberal person I know. And I laughed because when you said you might vote Republican, your tone was sarcastic. I honestly thought you were joking.”

“Well, I wasn’t. Look, honey. All I’m saying is that I want you to take me more seriously.”

“I will, and I do. But how am I supposed to know when you’re being serious if you don’t sound serious?”

“OK, maybe that’s something I need to work on. But if I tell you that I’m serious about something, can you make an extra effort to take me seriously?”

“Fine.”

That night, Joan asks me to follow her into the attic. I have a headache, and I’m not in the mood for more of this clown shit, but I go with her anyway. Hopefully this will be the last performance of this strange little play of hers.

In the attic, Joan pours salt on the floor, drawing a picture of a chubby two-headed dog.

“Stand on that,” Joan says. “Just don’t step on the eye.”

To be honest, I’m a little annoyed at Joan for taking this hoax so far, but I am impressed at her creativity.

I step on the salt dog.

Joan stands beside me, and holds my hand. “Honey, I know you’re having a hard time accepting the truth. So…I thought that seeing a regenesis might help.” She faces the clown. “Whenever you’re ready, Giggles.”

“I have changed my mind,” the clown says. “I will destroy myself, but only if you throw a pie in the man’s face.”

Joan sighs. “That wasn’t part of the deal, Giggles. Mark hasn’t taken the oath. He has no obligation to serve you.”

“I am not asking for an oath,” the clown says. “I am asking for one pie.”

“Mark isn’t an Entertainer.”

“And yet a pie in his face would entertain me.”

“If it’ll get things moving, go ahead and pie me,” I say. “I don’t mind.”

“Then we have a deal,” Giggles says.

At this point, the clown-bot races across the room and drops down into the hole in the floor.

“Is that what you wanted to show me?” I say.

“No,” Joan says. “Stay on the symbol.”

After a few moments of silence and stillness, a section of the floor erupts into a column of shattered wood. The wood twirls a few feet in front of me like a miniature tornado. Bits of insulation bursts from the walls and collides with the swirling splinters. Spiderwebs drift from above like tiny parachutes and enter the chaotic column. I feel myself taking a step backwards, but Joan grabs me and holds me in place. She squeezes my hand so hard it hurts.

The tornado spins faster and faster, sending multicolored embers in every direction. I hold my hand to my face to protect myself, but none of the sparks seem to touch me.

Once the pandemonium subsides, Giggles appears a few feet in front of me, as if formed from the swirling splinters and spiderwebs.

“It’s safe to get off the symbol now,” Joan says.

I study the clown in front of me. He looks almost like the one from before, only this one has daddy longlegs for eyes, and his proportions seem different. I’m not sure how Joan orchestrated the tornado, but I’m definitely impressed.

“How did you manage that?” I say.

“Like I said, Giggles is one with the attic,” Joan says. “Once his body left the attic, it became inanimate, and another body had to form in its place. What you saw was his regenesis.”

“Right.”

At this point, Joan smashes a whipped cream pie in my face.

The clown chuckles.

In my dreams that night, I’m up in the attic, sitting on a grotesque spider-print couch.  It’s a little unsettling how the spiders crawl around. Then again, they’re trapped in the fabric, so there’s no real reason for me to move.  I try the different remote controls on my lap, and finally one of them works. The televisions turn on. On one of the screens, the clown beats Joan with a rubber chicken. On another screen, the clown throws a flaming pie at Joan’s face. On another, Giggles sits on her and sprays seltzer water down her throat.

I need to go downstairs. I can’t move.

All that I can manage is to press my finger against the remote. I’m hoping that this action will deactivate the televisions, but instead the TVs only grow larger, and a laugh track plays in my mind. The voices sound a little distant and choppy. I can feel spiders crawling on my face.

“Stop it!” I say, to the voices and spiders and the clown.

They don’t stop.

“Help me,” Joan says, on every screen, simultaneously.

I hope to God I can save at least one of them. Who am I going to marry if I don’t?

The next morning, I wake up to my heart racing. I know that I had a nightmare, but I can’t remember many of the details. I think me and Joan were sitting on a couch, watching some horror movie. Or was it a comedy? I remember laughter.

After Joan returns from her morning jog, she tells me she knows I’m having a hard time believing in Giggles. She tells me to take apart the clown’s body and see for myself that it’s not a machine or a puppet or a costume. She doesn’t give me the new body in the attic, but the old body that dropped out of the attic last night.

To be honest, I am a little curious about the clown’s inner workings. So I drag the robot into the backyard. I consider all my options, but in the end I decide to smash the monstrosity with my mallet. Every time the metal collides with the clown, I feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. A strange thought erupts in my mind. The thought that this clown deserves to be punished for what he’s done.

After I finish demolishing the body, I search through the remains. All I find is wood and nails and insulation. There is no machinery. No computer chips. While I was asleep last night, Joan must have replaced the robotic clown with this simple wooden one. I have to hand it to her. When she dedicates herself to a hoax, she goes all out.

I laugh.

I leave the obliterated clown where it is and return to the house. I make us some French toast.

When Joan returns from her jog, she kisses me twice.

“You’re in a good mood,” I say.

“French toast will do that,” she says.

We sit and eat and smile.

Joan glances at her watch. “Shit, I have to go.”

“Have fun at work,” I say. “Here’s hoping Charles won’t be such a bastard today.”

“Oh, he will be. But I’ve learned how to avoid internalizing his bitchiness and blaming myself. You see, I’ve been cheating on you with this self-help guru. He’s helped me a lot with this stuff.”

I grin. “Shut up.”

My girlfriend eats her French toast, and after a while, her smile becomes a frown.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

Joan stares at her food. “I haven’t told you everything yet. I mean, about Giggles. I’ve done something, Mark, and you’re not going to like it.”

“Maybe I’ll surprise you.”

“You won’t. I sort of…deceived you.”

“In what way?”

She lifts her fork and sets it down again. “I don’t want to tell you and then have to leave for work. Can I tell you tonight? You want to meet back here?”

“Sure.”

Joan kisses my cheek and bikes to the office, which is only a couple blocks from her house.

While I’m getting ready for work, all I can think about is that stupid clown. I know he isn’t real, but nevertheless, he’s important somehow. Maybe to Joan, the clown represents a wedge between me and her. I feel as if we’re drifting apart, and I don’t know why.

Joan jokes around about cheating on me. But maybe it’s not a joke. Maybe she’s cheating on me with a clown, or maybe she just feels like a fool for sabotaging our relationship.

Whatever’s going on, I need to cut through all the clown bullshit and get to the truth of the matter. I’m tired of being played with.

Before I need to head off to work, I go up into the attic and sit on that atrocious couch. I don’t know why exactly, but I feel drawn to the pyramid of televisions. Have I been dreaming about these TVs? Maybe they can give me some answers.

“I did not give you permission to sit on my couch,” the clown says, standing to my left.

I ignore him and look around for a remote. There isn’t one.

“You have to turn them on manually,” Giggles says. “Allow me.”

The clown moves faster than I would think possible. After a second, all of the screens are on, and Giggles is sitting beside me.

I study the pyramid.

What the fuck?

On one of the screens, I see Joan’s kitchen. On another screen, the living room. On another, the bedroom.

I haven’t noticed any cameras in Joan’s house. They must be hidden. But why?

“I can imagine your surprise,” Giggles says. “You humans are private creatures. You like to keep your most intimate thoughts and deeds hidden from all but your dearest kinsfolk. And of course there are some thoughts and deeds that you attempt to hide, even from yourselves. To think that I have been watching you must disturb you.”

I stare at the clown. His spiderweb face trembles in the breeze from the open window. I don’t know why, but Giggles seems almost real to me right now. Maybe it’s the thought of him sitting up here, watching me and Joan go about our lives together. I hate him.

“You are likely worried that I watch you as you are having sex,” the clown says. “I witnessed this act only once, and let me assure you that I do not find your lovemaking to be the least bit entertaining.”

I stand. I need to get out of here. If I stay much longer, I’m afraid I’ll lose my grasp on reality.

“You would be a fool not to forgive Joan,” Giggles says. “I have spent many years under her care, and for a human she is quite compassionate and just. She set up these televisions for your benefit. She had no desire to hurt you. I am sure of that.”

I head downstairs and drive to work, hoping that by surrounding myself with normal life, I’ll be able to think normal thoughts again. But I don’t. I know that only an idiot would feel anger toward an inanimate object. I can’t help it. I despise the clown for witnessing my most intimate moments, and I’m angry at Joan for letting that happen.

After work, I return to Joan’s house. She’s prepared a nice dinner for two of us with eggplant parmesan and candles and daisies and Enya. As soon as I see and hear all this, most of my irrational anger about the clown disappears.

“Very romantic,” I say.

“I learned from the best,” Joan says. “Not you, obviously.”

I grin. “Shut up.”

“Before we sit, would you care for some before-dinner nuts?” She holds out a can of nuts that is obviously full of fake snakes.

“You really expect me to fall for this?”

“Well, you’re not the sharpest spork in the cabinet.”

“I don’t think people keep sporks in cabinets.”

“That just proves how little you know about the world, honey.”

I open the can, and a snake peeks his head out.

“Shit!” I say, dropping the can.

The serpent slithered across the carpet. Joan carefully picks up the black and yellow creature. She laughs.

“Nice one,” I say, and I mean it.

“I liked the part when you screamed like a little girl,” she says.

“Shut up.”

I want to enjoy this moment as I’ve enjoyed all of Joan’s little pranks, but my mind keeps focusing on the clown. Is he up there right now watching us? Is he laughing?

And then an even more disturbing thought erupts into my mind.

“All these pranks,” I say. “You don’t do them because you want to. You do them because you have to. They’re all for the clown.”

Joan’s smile fades. “You know about the cameras?”

“How much of what I know about you is just an act?”

“It’s not like that, Mark.” She stares down at the squirming snake in her hands. “I love joking around with you. The only reason I installed the cameras is because I wanted to spend more time with you. I thought if we could entertain him from anywhere in the house, then I wouldn’t have to spend so much time in the attic. I didn’t want my duty to interrupt our lives.”

“You should have told me.”

“I know. I know that. And I feel horrible. I’m sorry, Mark.”

I don’t respond.

Joan carries the snake into the other room, and she comes back crying. Seeing her sad usually breaks my heart, but right now her tears just make me angrier. She should be comforting me.

I sit and eat in silence.

Joan tells me about her misadventures with Charles at work. I smile a couple times and speak a few words, but that’s all.

Hours later, we’re sitting on the couch in the living room, and Joan says, “Are you coming to bed?”

“Not yet,” I say.

She kisses me and heads upstairs to the bedroom.

I know that I’m probably going insane, but I’m truly starting to believe that the clown in real. What I saw in the attic last night with the tornado of wood was beyond amazing. There’s no way Joan could have orchestrated that.

Maybe there is some magical creature watching me at this moment, laughing at me. If it wasn’t for that stupid clown, Joan and I would be upstairs cuddling right now.

Enough whining. If there’s a problem, I just need to fix it.

I enter the attic and connect a DVD player to one of the televisions. I put disc one of the Monty Python box set into the player. I press play.

“Come here,” I say. “Watch this.”

Giggles sits beside me and stares at the screen, tilting his head to the side.

I sigh. “So you’ll laugh at a pie in the face, but Python doesn’t even make you smirk? What’s wrong with you?”

Giggles faces me. “Joan has spoken to me of these python men, and I am sure that they are talented in the ways of buffoonery. However, their humor passes through me without touching my spirit. My being cannot connect with anyone who exists outside of this house. That is why Entertainers are necessary to keep me pacified.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

The clown shrugs.

I should’ve known that solving Joan’s problem wouldn’t be so easy.

Joan feels some sense of obligation to keep this clown entertained, but she shouldn’t have to sacrifice any of her time and energy for this freak. It’s just not right.

In my dreams that night, I’m up in the attic, sitting on a couch. I try to sit up, but the couch is coated with spiderwebs, and I’m stuck. I hear whispering voices behind me.

“Joan?” I say. “Is that you?”

At this point, all of the televisions turn on. One one of the screens, Joan massages the clown’s shoulders in the kitchen. On another screen, she rubs the clown’s oversized feet in the living room. On another, she kisses him on the lips in the bedroom.

I need to go downstairs and stop them. I can’t move.

Behind me, the whispering evolves into laughing. Then the laughing evolves into moaning.

“Stop it!” I say.

They don’t stop.

I can feel spiders crawling on my legs, my arms, my face.

On the television screens, all of the Joans begin to remove their clothing. I try to turn my head. But instead of moving my body, I move the entire couch. The couch spins around and faces away from the TVs.

Now I’m watching as Joan and Giggles writhe together on the floor. They whisper. They giggle. They groan.

When Joan stands up, the clown is gone, because she’s taken him inside of her.

Joan approaches me with outstretched arms. Splinters erupt from her chest. Spiders crawl out of her nostrils. Her eyes grow fuzzy and pink like insulation.

She smiles at me, and I hope to God she doesn’t want to absorb me too.

The next morning, I wake up with my heart pounding and my chest aching. I know that I had a nightmare, but I can’t remember all the details. I think me and the clown were sitting on the couch, watching Monty Python. No. That actually happened, last night. Didn’t it?

After Joan returns from her morning jog, I serve her an omelette.

She takes a bite. “This is eggcellent.”

I smile a little, but I’m not in the mood for puns this morning. “Let’s say you’re right about Giggles. Let’s say he’s some kind of weird creature and your family’s been entertaining him for generations. Why keep the tradition going?”

“I do it because I have to, Mark. Like I already told you, if I don’t keep Giggles pacified, his presence could expand beyond the attic. And if that happens, the entire world could be in danger.”

“But how do you know that? What makes you think that Giggles is so powerful?”

“It’s written in the books. I can show them to you if you—”

“And who wrote those books?”

“My ancestors.”

“And how do you know that what they wrote is true?”

“It is true.” Joan presses her hand against her chest. “It’s one of those things you can feel in your soul.”

“I don’t feel it in my soul.”

“You’re not an Entertainer.”

I take a bite of eggs. “I know you were raised to fear Giggles, but let’s try to think about this rationally. It’s absolutely absurd to think that some freaky clown made of wood and spiders could be any sort of threat to the civilized world.”

Joan sighs. “You think that because you’ve only seen Giggles in his passive form. When he loses control, his powers grow.”

“Have you ever actually seen that happen?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so.”

Joan stabs her omlette with her fork. “Look, honey. I know you mean well. You want my life to be less complicated, but life is complicated. You’re going to have to trust me when it comes to Giggles. I’m no witch, but I can sense his power in my dreams.”

I want to tell Joan that dreams don’t mean anything, but I’m tired of arguing. And I get the feeling that there’s no way I’m going to win this argument. Joan can be so stubborn sometimes.

The only way I’m going to convince her that the clown isn’t dangerous is if I prove it to her.

Later that day, when Joan’s out walking the dog, I enter the attic, dragging my mallet behind me. I sit next to clown on the couch. “She hates you, you know.”

“Who?” the clown says.

“Joan. Sometimes, when we’re in bed together, she tells me how much she despises you. She resents you for taking up so much of her time. She can’t travel because of you. She can’t even get a full-time job.”

Giggles frowns. “Joan has never shared such feelings with me.”

“Of course not. She’s scared of you.”

“She has no reason to fear me. I am her friend.”

I laugh. “Joan would never be friends with a thing like you.”

The clown touches his hand to his wooden chest. “I am feeling wrong. Make a silly face for me, mortal. Be quick about it.”

At this point, I grab my mallet and hit the clown over and over.

Soon, the tornado of splinters appears in the center of the room. Multicolored sparks fly in every direction. They burn my flesh.

As soon as the clown’s new body appears, I smash that one too.

“Stop this at once,” Giggles says. “Joan cares for you. I do not wish to harm you.”

Another body appears, and I try to attack that one, but it’s much bigger than the last. And it seems to be a lot stronger. With the swipe of his arm, the clown easily knocks the mallet out of my hands.

“Do a funny jig,” the clown says, and the spiders of his eyes wave their front legs at me. “Tell a joke. Please.”

I don’t move or speak.

After a few moments of silence and stillness, the attic shakes. Stacks of boxes tumble and the pyramid of televisions crashes to the floor. The clown screeches like an owl. Then he runs and jumps and breaks through the closed window.

I expect another splinter tornado to appear, but the attic remains quiet.

Maybe I killed the freak.

Right after that thought flashes in my mind, I hear a chorus of screams and clashes from outside.

When I look out the broken window, I see him.

His body consists of sedans and minivans and lawnmowers. His hair is a crimson tree. His teeth are enormous shards of broken glass. He has asphalt eyes and a face that’s made up of human heads. To the right of the clown’s nose, I see Joan’s screaming face.

Fuck.

I race over to the cheap foldout table, and I spray whipped cream into an aluminum pie pan. I run back to the broken window.

“Giggles!” I say.

As soon as the gigantic clown looks at me, I smash the pie in my face.

“It is much too late for that,” the clown thunders.

And when he laughs, the world goes dark.

* * * * *

For more twisted tales like this one, check out ATTIC CLOWNS.

Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of Cursed, Vacation, and Sheep and Wolves. His shorter tales have appeared or are forthcoming in over 60 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Apex Magazine, Withersin, and Shroud Magazine. Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with a couple of pygmy tigers and a legion of yard gnomes. The gnomes like him. The clowns living in his attic–-not so much. His online home is jeremycshipp.com

Feel free to contact Jeremy via email at: chrismatrix(at)yahoo(dot)com

Winning Story – “Pockets” by Harper Hull

The 5 finalists for NOTLP’s Flash Horror Contest:

Bottom Up Rot by Jody Sollazzo

The Projectionist Dreams by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd

Pockets by Harper Hull

Severance by Marshall Edwards

Taste by Ben Sharp

And now, the winning story:

POCKETS by Harper Hull

Tilly stood on the highest of the wet, green hills and looked out across the lake, her mouth down-turned and her brow furrowed. He was supposed to be here by now. He usually was. As she scanned the still waters Tilly stuck out her bottom lip and blew the hair off her face but it just fell back across her eyes, making her even more grumpy-faced. She hoped beyond hope that the familiar yellow glow of da’s helmet lamp would suddenly appear way down in the lake and get brighter and brighter as he approached the surface; there was nothing. He wouldn’t be waving to her tonight, flashing his smile and beckoning her to come on in. It seemed to Tilly that everyone hated her this evening.

It was her ma who had finally convinced her that she needed to be with her da.

“Tilly, you little idiot, get to your room and stay there!” her mother had shouted at her earlier that day after an incident involving a spilled milk bottle.

Tilly had cried and yelled back that she wished she was with her father instead, that he would be nice to her, as she stormed up the stairs and slammed her bedroom door. Her mother had wept a little as she mopped up the mess on the floor, also wishing that Tilly’s father was still around.

As the sun began to set and dusk quickly unfurled across the peaks and valleys of North Wales the little girl stared into the lake and, as usual, let the shapes and lines of the buildings beneath the water form slowly, knitting together corner by corner, shingle and cobble, until she could visualize the drowned village in its entirety. She could see the dark rise of the church tower, the slanted roof of the pub on the corner where her da had apparently spent so much time, the little school-house that her own ma had attended when she was just a child. Off to the north end of the lake loomed the dam, high and white against the speckled, out of focus twilight sky.

Tilly tried to imagine the village as it was before the flooding, before the dam, when it was still alive and loud and full of people. It had been before her time; she’d lived all of her seven years in the new coalmining town.

No-one lived in the old village anymore, except for her da.

He was down there, whistling a tune as he wandered the wet, empty streets in his big brown boots and shiny lamp helmet, black dust covering his face and making his teeth look extra white when he smiled up through the water at her. He wanted her to join him, she knew; he’d look after her properly, not like her ma who was always angry or sad or both. Always going on about the ‘black lung’ and ‘no compensation’ she was or, worse recently, talking about moving away, into England. Away from da! Tilly wouldn’t let that happen.

She’d made her decision that afternoon, after the milk accident, and had stuffed her little backpack with everything she thought she’d need. Her favourite book – the story of a Princess who was rescued from an island of dragons by a handsome Prince – was at the very bottom. Clean socks, her purple toothbrush, a photograph of herself as a baby with both ma and da that she’d sneaked from the sideboard and some chocolate as she imagined there was no chocolate where she was going and her da would have missed it. She’d also rummaged in her ma’s knicker drawer as she knew that was where she kept a lot of da’s old things. His stiff, black leather wallet had been in there and she’d found a small piece of paper folded up and pushed deep inside one of the pocketed creases. Two lines had been handwritten on it with a name printed underneath – Dylan Thomas – and she’d taken that too as it had felt like something that meant a lot to her father. Tilly was good at reading and although the words hadn’t made sense – ‘raging against night and not going gently’ – she had sensed something in them none the less. Da would appreciate having it back.

Now, impatient, wearing her bright yellow Wellington boots and with her orange raincoat buttoned up tight, she pulled the oily hood up over her head and tied the cords taut before she walked down the hill.

At the edge of the lake she had a brilliant idea and, kneeling down, started to push the biggest pieces of stone she could find into her pockets, filling them all up until she struggled to stand upright again. Tilly thought this was a wonderful plan; since it didn’t seem that her da would be waiting for her in the water to lead her down to her new home she’d just have to improvise. She imagined how surprised and proud he’d be when she dropped down into the sunken village and surprised him with a hug and a kiss.

Moving slowly because of the new weight Tilly sloshed forwards into the cold water, gasped at the icy shock, yet continued to move out into the lake towards the deepest part, despite her stiffening legs and arms, where she could float down to the old village and live happily, whistling and skipping and laughing with her da holding her hand beside her and never shouting at her for dropping bottles of milk by accident. The chill water filled her open mouth and made her teeth sparkle.

As night hid the flooded valley under its black weight not even a small, white, sightless fish swam amongst the ruins.

R.I.P. Ray Harryhausen

We lost one of our own today. A pioneer and himself a fanboy. Ray Harryhausen,Ray Harryhausen world class stop motion animator died today at the age of 92.

I’m not going to go into all the wiki of Ray’s life. It’s all there if you want to look up the who’s, when’s and how’s of his life and I encourage you to do so. Instead, I’m just going to tell you what he meant to me. As an impressionable young weirdo, nothing was more interesting or important to me than monsters. Especially big, giant marauding beasts and dinosaurs. And like many of you, I spent many a Saturday afternoon in front of the TV watching old monster movies. The man who made the best monsters for those movies was Ray Harryhausen. I saw the “Sinbad” movies he worked on as well as “Octopus” and “20 Million Miles to Earth” but it was “The Valley of Gwanji”, a movie that combined two things I loved–cowboys and dinosaurs–that really fired my imagination and kept me grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t need great acting or even much of a story, so long as a movie had monsters that convinced me and Ray’s always did. In fact, I can go from watching “Jurassic Park” and “Lord of the Rings” to watching “Valley of Gwanji” and Ray’s monsters still convince me.

Many of you are familiar with stop motion animation, I’m sure, but for those who might not be I want to give you an idea of what he did. In a typical movie there are between 24 and 30 Frames for every second of film shot. That’s at least 24 little adjustments Ray Harryhausen had to make just to create one second of action. Now think about something like the scene from “One Million B.C.” where the pteranodon is trying to feed the lady to its babies. There were probably three wing flaps per second…that’s 72 adjustments for just a couple of wing flaps that had to be set up and shot. Think about how frustrated you get when you type a few paragraphs, forget to save them and then lose them. Now imagine what it must’ve been like to lose, as Harryhausen inevitably did, a few minutes of film here or there. It would’ve consisted of weeks worth of painstaking work. That’s how you know he loved his job. It required an amazing amount of patience, endurance and precision in addition to outrageous imagination and profound insight into movement, anatomy and life.

Ray Harryhausen got into animation because he was a childhood fan of the work on “King Kong.” Just like many of us who choose creative livelihoods, he was also a massive fan, inspired by the work of others. He had many imitators but no one could breathe magic into those stop motion models the way he did. Every eye roll, facial expression…the fluidity of a tail twitch or the way a monster twiddled its fingers…that’s where his genius lay. He always made a believer out of me and he still does. Below is a four minute compilation of every (so it says) creature that Harryhausen ever animated for film. Give it a watch and see if he doesn’t make a believer out of you too. You will be missed Ray. Sleep well.

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

R.k.Kombrinck is a writer and artist who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and two sons.  He is a founding cast-member of the popular horror podcast “Night of the Living Podcast.”  He enjoys iced-tea (unsweet) and genuinely believes in Sasquatch.

You can find his work online HERE

 

The Small Scream: Amy talks genre TV

Small Scream

I like to watch TV. I’m going to attempt to say things here every so often that relate to the genre stuff currently on TV. I won’t do this as well as the professionals. For that, you need to listen to Big Red Podcast. And I don’t have fancy cable, so no Dexter for me until DVD. And I find True Blood ridiculous and no thank you.

And real quick, before we get into this…I was just thinking about The River the other day. Anyone remember that from last summer, the found footage show from Oren Peli? Sure, it had flaws, but it was fun. I wish it wasn’t cancelled. Watch it on Hulu if you’re so inclined. It goes to show you that genre TV is often an experiment and sometimes those experiments go kablooey. Sometimes it’s sad and sometimes it’s for the best, but it’s good to have networks out there giving it a go again even if these new “experiments” are really just rehashing old material.

Ok, so I’ve been watching Hannibal and Bates Motel. Good enough shows, Hannibal being the better of the two at the moment. As a non-DVR haver, I’m watching online and usually on a week or two delay. So I’m not completely caught up, but that doesn’t stop me from completely judging the shows based on what I’ve seen.

More this way Couch Potatoes

Short Story: “Ockham’s Razor”

tramduc3

Dani sat uncomfortably across from her date wishing that she were anywhere else in the world. She wished that she were somewhere quieter; somewhere she didn’t have to wear a ridiculous skirt and make-up. Anywhere it wasn’t over 90 degrees in the evening. It had been a long time since she had been on a date, a first date anyway, but she was sure that guys liked it when you listened to their stories and laughed at their jokes. It was hard to focus. She wanted to not only listen to her date, but to care about what he had to say.

She had met Carl on a dating website and after much encouragement from friends to “get back out there” she had agreed to go out for drinks. Only drinks.

“Hey, you wanna get out of here?” Carl asked softly, leaning in and placing his hand on her knee.

Dani’s body tensed. She did want to get out of there but she knew in her heart that she was in no place emotionally to “get out of here” with any guy.

Dani quickly moved her knee, tucking both legs under the small table. “It’s actually a little late for me.”

“But the night is young,” he said playfully.

“Well I’m not. If I don’t get my full eight hours of sleep, I can’t function. It’s a sign of getting old.”

“Your profile said you’re twenty-six. Did you fudge the numbers a little?”

Dani smiled. “No I actually am twenty-six, but a very old twenty-six. I’m usually in bed by this time; face cream on and curlers in my hair,” she said with a smile.

“Do you have one of those diving bell night gowns that buttons all the way up to your chin?”

“Fresh!” she said coyly as she playfully smacked his shoulder.

Good banter, she thought. She certainly appreciated the verbal foreplay but knew that it was time to go home alone. “OK, I really need to go now if I want to catch the Tram.”

“At least let me drive you to the station. I’m parked in the garage next door.”

“Thanks but I need the fresh air. These drinks are going right to my head.” She stood to leave and felt more lightheaded than expected and felt like she was walking on a trampoline. Surprised by how intensely the two mixed drinks had affected her she realized that she hadn’t eaten, only a quick snack of shrimp crackers at home while she dressed. The vodka on her empty stomach must have been a bit more than her petite body could handle.

As she swayed she felt Carl’s hands around her waist guiding her through the crowd. Her mind drifted as she reveled in the sensation of a man’s strong hands on her body.

Through the haze, she thought she spotted her ex, Andy. She had broken up with Andy only a month prior when she realized that he was not ready for a relationship and most likely would never be. Their relationship had stagnated after 2 years and upon confronting Andy about their future Danie had realized it was best to part ways before she let him hurt her down the road. As she took another step, guided by Carl, she realized that Andy wasn’t a trick of her mind but a real-life fresh hell that she was slowly walking toward. Before she could avoid him, Andy looked up and locked eyes with her and smiled.

Dani attempted to smile casually, but she was unable to control her features. Sending a conscious direction to her facial muscles, “smile damn you!” she thought as Andy stepped away from his friend and took the five steps to be face to face with her.

“What are you doing here?” he asked with a knowing smile. He knew that large clubs with loud music had never been her scene.

“Of all the bars in all the world,” Dani slurred.

Andy smiled awkwardly. “I was just talking about you earlier tonight. We went and saw that new Meryl Streep movie, and I mentioned how much you love her.”

“I still do,” Dani said. Before she could say anything else, a young lady sidled up next to Andy, wrapped her arm around the small of his back, and whispered in his ear before laughing wildly.

Andy smiled and motioned to Dani. “Vickie, this is Dani. She’s the one I told you about.”

“What have you been telling this whore of a skank about me?” Dani thought.

“This is Vickie.”

Dani extended her hand noticing it felt amazingly heavy. Vickie shook it with one solid pump. Dani cringed silently as she felt Vickie’s ice cold hand–like grasping a rubber glove filled with icy twigs.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Dani said politely before losing her balance and falling against Carl.

Andy’s furrowed his brow. “You OK?” he asked.

Before she could respond, Carl spoke. “Hi, I’m Carl, Dani’s boyfriend.” Dani smiled. Her knight in shining armor had come to her rescue, saving her from embarrassment. “Dani and I have been celebrating tonight. I’m going to take her home now, but it was a pleasure meeting both of you.” Carl shook both Andy and Vickie’s hands before turning and quickly guiding Dani out of the bar.

* * * * * * * *

Dani’s legs were like limp pasta. Her head was a boulder threatening to roll off down the slopes of her body at any moment. She was disoriented from the drinks and seeing Andy with another woman had drained her will to move or to speak. She blacked out.   Continue reading “Short Story: “Ockham’s Razor””

#HeyNOTLP Presents: Horror On the Seas!

sharky shark

Welcome to the first installment of HeyNOTLP!, a monthly column wherein we (or you) ask a question to be answered by your very own merry staff of bloggers. Play along with your own answers in the comments section and send us questions for future columns over at Twitter with the hashtag #heyNOTLP.

HeyNOTLPBonus points if you rock that hairstyle

Today’s question is inspired by the apparent fact that June is National Seafood Month in the United States. The natural question for horror bloggers then follows: what terrifying water creature, real or fictional, makes you want to move as far away from the ocean as earthly possible?

Let’s turn it over to the crew:

Freddy Morris

Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll piss my pants at the first sight of a great white. I’ll stop whimperin’ an’ screamin’, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pizzeria chasin’ calzones and hoagies. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. Did I say piss my pants? I meant shit my pants wholesale. And I’ll do it quick. And it’s not gonna be pleasant. So, I guess I’ll find an apartment inland for $600.00; maybe $300.00 if I can find a roommate. Yep, I’d say for $300.00 we can get a refrigerator, cable, the whole damn thing.

Freddy's shark

Robert R. Best

Jellyfish. I know, but I saw something on TV about them when I was a kid and became convinced that one would sting me and poison me to death.

Robert's Jellyfish

Emily Intravia

Ariel was an idiot. I’ll never argue that point. A pretty idiot with a fabulous fiery mane, yes, but an idiot nonetheless. Sure, with his ebony hair and ocean blue eyes, Prince Eric had a certain Clive Owen dreamboat quality, but aside from being rich and having an awesome dog, he was hardly worth abandoning your own loving family, musically gifted seafood friends, and ability to swim with more skill than Michael Phelps after ballet lessons. The Little Mermaid made a stupid, stupid choice  in signing away her fins for a silent courtship, but that doesn’t make  Ursula the Sea Witch (and aunt of our ‘heroine’) any less scary. Like a loan shark at a cabaret or a credit card company in spandex, Ursula preys upon those who want something: more muscles, a slimmer waist, two legs, and so on. She draws up official paperwork and doesn’t even play the ‘too good to be true’ card. Your terms are set, the penalty is previewed, but as soon as it looks like you’ll come through with payback, the overweight octopus breaks out the magic and makes it impossible to make good on your wager. Not only do you have to give back that fabulous six-pack, but you’re also stuck as withering armless  seaweed. Forever.

Urusla's victims

Kelley Kombrinck

Spider crabs give me the jeebs. They’re basically giant, armored spiders that live in the water. Worst part is, they can live a good while on the land. I would hate to see one scuttling along a lonely patch of scrub along the shoreline, hunting.

Kelley's spider crabs

Fozzie

Recently I was walking in the park with my boyfriend and looked out over the bridge. I said “I know it probably won’t happen but what would we do if we looked out over that bridge and saw Cloverfield attacking the city?” George said we should go to the innermost room in our apartment building and wait it out. I said I think we would be safer in the open because Cloverfield could easily knock our building and we’d be SPOILERS! smooshed to death like Rob and Beth at the end of the movie. George said we can’t be outside because that’s where the back monsters (otherwise known as SEATs, which stands for “Something Else, Also Terrible” as described by Hud). So basically there’s nowhere safe when a Cloverfield attacks that is why he is my favorite, and most terrifying, sea monster ever.

Cloverfield

Tony Wilson

Two things prevent me from going into the ocean. One, I’m a pale white geek who instantly burns in sunlight and turns into Lobster Boy. Two, the imminent threat of Deep Ones. There are some folks out there who think The Shadow Over Innsmouth was just a story. It was a warning! You’ve likely seen people with the Innsmouth taint and had no idea you were in danger. Watch out for their bulging eyes, small ears, and chins so small they’re like an afterthought. Weird homeless guy downtown? Nope – Deep One Hybrid waiting to fully transform and go live with the others in an underwater city.

Deep Ones

Jeremy C. Shipp

More than any other beast of the sea, I fear the clown fish. And I’m not talking about those cute little guys from Finding Nemo. I’m talking about that polka-dotted leviathan who chortles in the deepest abyss of the ocean. Every year clowns all over the world travel to the coast without knowing why they’re doing so. And once they’re far enough out in the water, they cut off their faces. The clown fish collects these faces in a large fleshy sack. And using a sticky secretion, he attaches the faces to his own grinning visage. Also, starfish kind of give me the creeps.

clown fish in dots

Mike Guendelsberger

It’s a toss up between Jaws or The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  In the first instance, that bastard hated Sea World.  In 3D!  And what kind of creature hates Sea World?  And in the latter case, those dead eyes and fish gills just creep me out.  Any time someone tells me they have webbed toes, I immediately picture the Creature.

The Creature

Matt-suzaka

While not quite a sea creature by definition, any water based location where kids are swimming is a good reason for me to stay far away. Why, you might ask? Because, quite simply, you know one (or more) of them bastards is peeing their pants, and I’d prefer to not have any part of my body be engulfed in the urine of some gross, snot-lipped kid. No amount of chlorine can scrub that nastiness away, unless, of course, you counteract their urine with a pee barrier of your own. Yeah, that’s still pretty gross, but at least it’s your own piss. I’m also deathly afraid of sharks.

public pool danger

So what say you, dear readers and fellow waterphobes? Share your fears in the non-peed-in-water that is our comments section and don’t forget to submit your own question for a future column via Twitter with the hashtag #heyNOTLP.

Kings Island Halloween Haunt

Boo!

At Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt even the shrimp cocktail is haunted.

YOU CAN HEAR MY INTERVIEW WITH DON HELBIG, KINGS ISLAND’S PR MANAGER HERE.

It’s October. That means ladies are getting excited about wearing stylish boots and eating chili, and horror fans are getting all atwitter for their local haunted attractions. So, the NOTLP Crew pulled on their boots, ate some chili and headed out to Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt. Every Friday and Saturday night in October the Mason, Ohio amusement park made famous for the one-third replica of the Eiffel Tower at its hub and the legendary wooden roller coaster “The Beast” plays home to twelve haunts and two stage shows. Visiting Kings Island is always a good time, but it’s even better when there are parades of whackos in great costumes and makeup startling the guests on International Street.

Hello there.
The rope drop experience is full of scary folks like this creeping up on you while you wait in line.

Our visit to the park happened to coincide with one of the nastiest extended downpours that Mason has seen in a long time, so the outdoor haunts were understandably closed. Of the indoor haunts there was one standout. The new haunt “Board to Death” is one of the more clever attractions that I’ve seen. Each room is themed after a board game. The visitor is accosted by little people dressed as Mr. Monopoly and the angry spirits of sailors who died when you “saaaaaank their battleshiiiiiiip.” I don’t want to spoil anything, so do yourself a favor and be sure to visit this haunt!

Sploosh!
Freddy (L) and Mike (R) enjoying a brief reprieve from the rain.

As for this year’s stage entertainment, stop by the Kings Island Theater to see Ed Alonzo’s Psycho Circus of Magic and Mayhem 2 (and if you’re asking yourself why the name Ed Alonzo sounds familiar, just look at the image we’ve Saved below and it should ring a Bell). Ed Alonzo’s magic show is dirty and a little offensive, but in a fun vaudevillian way. His tricks are expertly executed and sometimes pay off with some pretty wonderful toilet humor so I consider his show a must see.

I'm so excited!
“Call me ‘preppy’ again and I’ll saw you in half.”

We didn’t see the other stage show, Hot Blooded, this year because of the rain. However, we’ve seen it before. When we saw Hot Blooded on a previous visit to the park, we had a great time tittering at its corny setup. It’s a sexy vampire story set to awkwardly covered rock songs.  The dancing is fun and the costumes are sexy so it’s worth checking out. Just don’t expect  Jersey Boys.

The NOTLP Crew wholeheartedly agrees that Kings Island’s Halloween Haunt is worth your hard earned Halloween dollars and worth the drive for anyone in the tri-state area. Friday Night Haunt admission tickets are available online for $26.99, Saturday all day & night are $32.99, and the park also offers a Fright Lane upgrade that allows you front of the line access for an additional charge. The Fright Lane upgrade can really be worth it if you value your time as the lines for the haunts can get very long. The park offers other combos that include a meal and discounts. Go to https://www.visitkingsisland.com/haunt/tickets-offers# for more information.

The NOTLP Crew would like to thank Kings Island’s Public Relations Area Manager Don Helbig for inviting us to this year’s RIP Party Media Event.

Alright, alright, alright.
FUN FACT: Woody Harrelson and Carmen Electra worked at Kings Island in high school.
Are those painted on?
FUN FACT: In 1972 The Partridge Family filmed an episode called “I Left My Heart in Cincinnati” in the park. Foreground: David Cassidy’s buns. Background: a one-third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower.

 

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!
FUN FACT:  The year after The Partridge Family filmed there, The Brady Bunch filmed “The Cincinnati Kids” episode where Greg almost becomes a furry and Mike loses some important architectural plans because Jan is so stupid.

 

 

 YOU CAN HEAR MY INTERVIEW WITH DON HELBIG, KINGS ISLAND’S PR MANAGER HERE.

That Psycho Has Been Part of My Life for a Long, Long Time

Before Night of the Living Podcast, a band called Draggin’ Ass Jones was a huge part of my life. I was one of five twenty-something guys who gigged, recorded a studio album, and generally cultivated one of five distinct views of what our band was and what I hoped it to be. I have a big special place in my heart for these guys, but like many indie contenders (“contendies?”) I got tired and decided to try something new. As anyone who is a longtime listener to the show knows, that’s where Night of the Living Podcast came into my life.

I’ve decided to share one of our songs here (see the YouTube video embedded below). I’ve been watching the new series “Bates Motel” on A&E, and revisiting the character of Norman Bates reminded me of the song. I was thinking about Norman Bates when I wrote the song. It’s been nearly eleven years since this recording was made. So much about my life has changed, but my fascination with this character is the same today as was then.

* * * * *

Freddy Morris is a founding member and co-producer (with wife Amy Morris) of Night of the Living Podcast. He has written for his high school and college newspapers, HorrorHound Magazineand from time to time, writes lewd graffiti on bathroom stall doors and angry letters to the editor at Cat Fancy. Freddy also hosts and produces the film history and appreciation podcast, FilmMad Society. He lives in a tiny house in Cincinnati, Ohio.

#HeyNOTLP Presents: An American Horror Question

Welcome once again to the monthly installment of HeyNOTLP, wherein we gather up a few willing bloggers and ask them all the same horror-related question. Ask your own with the Twitter hashtag #heyNOTLP, preferably in your most flirtatious social media voice.

HeyNOTLP

And now for July’s question:

imgres-1

Break out the sparklers and bite into a hot dog! It’s Independence Day over in the U.S., leaving us this question to ponder: in your opinion, what film, television show or novel in the horror genre best represents the idea of America?

Andy Hung

Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s final episodes. People from all races, nationalities, sexes, abilities and even species coming together for a common good. It is the idea that the United States is a melting pot that always resonates with me. USA! USA!

Buffy & the Potentials

Emily Intravia

While I imagine every nation has its own image of the girl next door, I’d like to think Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is a little less universal. The title itself is clearly designed to summon an all-American image we’re all familiar with, an innocent crush on the perfect neighbor. Both Ketchum’s novel and Gregory Wilson’s film adaptation work hard to first capture the universal (or at least, national) fixtures of a childhood summer. Catching bugs, riding bikes, seeing your street from a different view on the annual carnival’s ferris wheel…all part of any suburban kid’s typical July. Of course, this being Jack Ketchum, that small-town nostalgia is quickly soured by the evils of man (and woman)kind, as that perfect girl next door is brutally tortured and degraded inside an otherwise insignificant home in anytown, USA. From the Charles Manson and Elvis obsessed villain of The Lost to the damaged mind of a Vietnam vet in Cover, Ketchum’s work is always infused by a twisted, fascinating, and unflinching sense of Americana.

The Girl Next Door

Freddy Morris

Nothing says America quite like Stephen King’s Silver Bullet. For hot dogs’ sake, the main characters are named Jane and Marty Coslaw, and if that doesn’t sound like “coleslaw” (the most American salad), I’ll eat the feather in my cap.

coleslaw

Silver Bullet has it all: decapitated railroad workers, a Christian lady so upset about being pregnant out of wedlock that she’s willing to OD (only to be eaten, ironically by her reverend, instead), a drunken abusive father who loves watching pro-wrestling and drinking domestic beer. Those are just the characters from the first act!  The residents of Tarker’s Mills exercise their Second Amendment rights and take to the woods with rifles, pistols and a baseball bat named “The Peacemaker” after Marty’s best friend is torn to pieces while flying his kite at night in the park. Marty and his Uncle Red bet baseball cards in their poker game, a currency that only an American kid really understands the value of. Marty defends himself from a werewolf by using illegal fireworks. Boom. What’s more American than that I ask you?  When Uncle Red has to make an excuse to the gunsmith as to why he’s melting down Jane’s silver crucifix to craft a silver bullet, he tells him that Marty just “discovered the Lone Ranger.” This film bleeds red, white and blue. When the kids and Red need to get the parents out of the house so that they can set their trap for Reverend Werewolf, they send them to New York. The ruse is that it’s a vacation that Red won from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. All this proves that it would be impossible to retell this story in Russian. Finally, an 11 year old boy defends his home from an intruder by shooting said intruder with his uncle’s .44 magnum revolver. ‘merica. Yep.

Silver Bullet

Mike Guendelsberger

For me, it’s a toss-up between Night of the Living Dead and its first sequel, Dawn of the Dead.  In the first, you have racial tension destroying the fabric of seven strangers who are trying to wage a war against the undead.  And in the latter, consumerism and overpowering desire to acquire “stuff” can’t be stopped by death.

dotd

Kelley Kombrinck

For me, Tobe Hooper’s original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror film that oozes America. First of all, a state of the Union is mentioned in the title, so, there’s that. I could go into the well-worn ideas about allegories to Vietnam and Watergate but that’s all boring. It’s the girls in halters and short-shorts. It’s the redneck, roadside bbq joint. It’s the dusty Southwestern landscape. The idea of teenagers off on an adventure through the backwoods. Those kids were basically the Scooby gang (van and all) and there’s even a man in a mask at the end (anybody ever mention the Scooby-Doo allegory? I’m on to something.) The opening scene with the crowd at the cemetery somehow reminds me of excited picnic goers. It could almost be the 4th of July on the Bicentennial. Also, its (as we all know) very loosely based on Ed Gein, an American psycho, so. . .America!

leatherface

Matt-suzaka

There are numerous horror films that capture America in one way or another, but the one that immediately comes to mind for me is Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm.

With its quaint ambiance and wide open roads, Phantasm’s small Western town setting evokes a deep sense of Americana. The safe and inviting setting perfectly captures America during a very different time. It’s a snapshot of an era where every home had a fireplace with a rifle above it and a freshly cooked apple pie cooling off on a windowsill, just waiting to be devoured by a couple of young boys after a day spent earning youthful battle wounds and grass stains while out playing with their friends.

What’s interesting about the America that is represented in Phantasm is that it’s very much an honest (albeit fantastical) one in that there is a hidden darkness that simmers just below the surface. The Norman Rockwell image of a perfect America really only exists in the skewed memories of nostalgic adults who, as children, grew up unaware of (or repressed) the varying levels of darkness that surrounded so many seemingly perfect families in small towns across the country. It’s a fantasy; an America that exists because it’s an America that many people want to exist. But unfortunately, however, there is evil lurking just below the surface, and the evil in Phantasm is represented by vicious dwarves, flying spheres and a supernatural undertaker known only as The Tall Man.

phantasm

Randy Katzen

Skipp & Spector’s novel The Bridge isn’t their greatest book, but it represents my view of where America is at currently. There are 3 storylines – The first is about a prominent local businessman dumping toxic waste. The second is about a renegade reporter trying to uncover the truth. The final is about a Hazmat captain and his girlfriend.  We’re piling up toxic goop everywhere. There’s no heroes to speak of and most everybody gets fouled by nastiness before it’s over. Sentient toxic sludge FTW! ‘Murrica, Fuck Yeah!

the bridge

 

Sad to see no love for Uncle Sam? Think we missed your favorite slasher? Tell us your picks in the comments section, and don’t forget to ask us your questions for a future column with the Twitter hashtag #heyNOTLP.

Look Back in Horror: Nightmare Theater

sammyterryIf The Boogens would make me hide behind the couch, there was one show that could coax me back out – Nightmare Theater.

The show started in 1962, well before I was born, when Indiana station WTTV purchased the rights to broadcast the now legendary Shock Theater package. The package consisted of 52 classic horror films, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man, released for TV showings, from Universal Studios. The show aired on Friday nights at 11:00 pm and following the trend started by other stations across the country, featured a horror host that introduced the movies and appeared during commercial breaks. WTTV producer, director, performer, host of the three-hour morning talk show “Coffee With Carter”, and general Jack-of-all-trades Bob Carter was tasked by the station with leading the charge.

The crew scrambled to put a show together over two frantic weeks. They didn’t even have basic promotional images to work with. “We went down to the Indianapolis Library and cut out pictures of the “Wolfman”, “Frankenstein”, and “Dracula” from the movies. The library has some ‘holey’ books there and they aren’t Bibles. I know because we put the holes in them,” Bob recalled.

sammy01

Just so they would have something to share with the sponsor footing the bill for the show, Bob recorded a few audio promotions, doing a spooky voice that would later be played over still images. When the sponsor heard these bits, he declared, “That’s the guy I want to introduce my commercials.” He insisted that the station use Bob himself for their regular host of Nightmare Theater. Now the onus was on the small crew to put a live character in front the camera.

During a brainstorming session, Bob came up with the name “Sammy Terry”. “Say it fast and it sounds like cemetery.” Next, they needed a costume. The wife of the salesman who brokered the sponsorship deal used some black material to fashion a cowl for “Sammy” to wear. The rest of the costume was created with a black windbreaker worn backwards, yellow dishwashing gloves with veins drawn on them, and a skull necklace. The skull like makeup and an ominous laugh completed the character.

The staff cobbled together a basic set that had Sammy seated with his legs under a coffee table to create the illusion of him sitting up in a coffin. The first couple of shows were completely adlibbed. “While the movies were on, we would be sitting around the studio deciding what we were going to do next,” Bob laughed. It wasn’t until later that the crew starting writing actual scripts and using cue cards. Sadly, from my research, it doesn’t sound like any of these early episodes were preserved outside of a few still promo photos.

The show quickly evolved, adding a haunted castle dungeon set and a real coffin for Sammy to rise out of. The costume and makeup got an upgrade as well. By the time the show was broadcast in color, Sammy Terry wore a crimson cowl and cape over his black clothes. His face had a ghoulish green cast to it that looked horrific when lit from below. The opening segment featured a worrying bell ringing twelve times while the camera slowly panned over the image of a castle down to the graveyard that lay next to it. “Ghost Girl”, as she was known to fans, faded into view holding a flickering candle melted onto the top of a skull. “In the dead of night, when the moon is high, and the ill winds blow, and the banshees cry, and the moonlight casts an unearthly glow…arise my love, with tales of woe,” she whispered.

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George the Spider

The punster needed a straight man to play off of and so “George” the rubber spider would descend from the ceiling to give Sammy someone to talk to besides the audience at home. (George was voiced by another familiar WTTV personality, “Cowboy Bob”, recording his bits and playing them backwards and sped up.) Another little known role played by Cowboy Bob was the white chair that Sammy Terry sat in when he read fan mail. You read that right – the chair. They would throw a white sheet over Bob (or sometimes Sammy’s real life son Mark) who was sitting on a smaller chair. The actor playing the chair held up a wooden T-bar for the chair back that would slowly rock back and forth while the mail was read.

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Sammy and Ghoulsby at the the Indy 500

My memories are from the episodes broadcast in the 80’s when the show featured occasional guest segments to promote events around town and characters like “Ghoulsby” the butler. Ghoulsby was a regular who appeared in a zombie mask, communicated in grunts, and hopped around a lot. I remember Sammy also had a skull that he talked to that he called, amazingly enough, “Skull”. “Bob” from The Dresden Files would be so jealous. Another regular gag was Sammy’s enjoyment of his favorite beverage, a “Type O” cocktail. He would hold out a mug that looked like the head of Frankenstein’s Monster and the red liquid would pour down from above or out of thin air courtesy of a visual effect.

Sammy Terry’s Nightmare Theater ran from 1962 until 1989 with a short hiatus toward the end of the 70s. The show touched multiple generations as parents who grew up watching the show passed that experience on to their children. As a kid growing up in Indiana, you were aware of Sammy Terry even if you hadn’t seen the show with your own eyes. My family talked about the show and how long it had been around. There was a shared experience of hearing that creepy laugh for the first time.

Combined with Scooby Doo, Sammy was a great introduction to horror for me as a little kid. Here was this ghoul in a crypt showing horror movies, but he’s also friends with a talking rubber spider. The host tells scary stories, but he also makes bad puns. He’s showing horror movies, but nothing really super scary. These dichotomies helped ease an impressionable audience into horror films, like learning to swim by starting out in the shallow end of the pool.

sammy02I have many fond memories of Sammy Terry. The first time I saw Phantasm, one of my personal favorites, was when it was broadcast on Nightmare Theater. I was 10 and had been devouring the Three Investigators novels over that summer. I was flipping through the TV Guide (we actually had a printed book with listings back in those days) to see what Sammy was showing that Friday night. It was a movie called Phantasm with a description that said: “Three youths investigate mysterious goings on at a mortuary.” I was a bit optimistic in thinking, “Holy shit! They made a Three Investigators movie back in 1979 and no one told me? Awesome!” I didn’t get to see “Jupiter Jones”, “Pete Crenshaw”, and “Bob Andrews”, but I did watch a flick that blew my 10 year old mind.

Like many horror enthusiasts, I enjoy meeting some of our TV and film favorites just to offer my thanks in person. In 2009, I finally had the opportunity to meet Bob Carter, the original Sammy Terry. He was the guest of honor at Paranormal Fest in Columbus, Indiana’s Historic Crump Theatre.

A large crowd of fans, young and old, showed up to see him. He showed some old clips of the show and told some campfire tales, which was great to experience with a group like that. After story time, everyone was invited up onto the stage for autographs and to see props from the show like the coffin and the castle painting featured in the opening.

tony_and_sammyI can’t explain how excited I was to finally shake his hand and say, “Thank you for giving me nightmares as a kid. You’re one of the people that made me who I am today – a mostly well-adjusted adult who loves scary movies.” I’m not one to really get sentimental, but I suppose that’s exactly what that moment was. Here was a direct link to my childhood, when life was a whole lot simpler. This was someone who stirred up my imagination when I was 5 and it hasn’t settled down since. I was probably just another face in the crowd that day to him, but for me it was more than another check-mark on the bucket list.

Bob is in his 80s now and has since retired. In 2010, his son Mark took over the role. Mark has been very active making appearances at conventions, Indiana events, and even as a character in a comic book. There have been a few recent Sammy Terry specials on TV with Mark playing the role, but no plans yet for a weekly show. You can visit him online at www.sammyterrynightmares.com and on Facebook.

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the character and Sammy Terry is still a well-known piece of local history. Not bad for a guy who started out in a backwards windbreaker and a coffee table for a coffin. I’m sure George would agree. Until we meet again, as Sammy would say, many pleasant nightmares.

Short Story: “Camp”

Camp

by Jeremy C. Shipp

(originally published in ChiZine and SHEEP AND WOLVES)

My muscles tighten. My teeth clench. My irritable bowel is seriously pissed off.

I’m no good at sitting.

“Hold it together,” my dad tells me. Not physically here, of course, but why would that stop him? Hold it together–that’s easy for him to say. He’s made of steel bars and rivets and bolts. Me, I’m held together with Elmer’s glue and pushpins and chewing gum.

Memories vibrate. They fall and crack open.

A few years ago I shit my pants on this very same two and a half hour bus ride. With liquid crap trickling down my legs, I stumbled toward the bus driver. In tears. In shame.

I begged him to take me home, but he said, “Sit down!”

I told him that I was sick, and he laughed at me and said, “No kidding,” but I won’t shit my pants this time. Even if I do, I’ll handle it. I’m bigger and stronger and smarter than I used to be. My dad made sure of that.

Continue reading “Short Story: “Camp””