Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween Horror #2: "The New Kid"

 As promised, here's a second Halloween Horror for your reading, whatever works. I wrote this flash piece a couple years ago for an anthology call for, if I remember correctly, PG-related or less tales, and I vaguely remember a campfire mindset as being part of the deal as well. Either way, it did not get accepted for the anthology, has been sitting on my laptop since then, and since I think at the very least it works, why not share it? Now, mind you, I write Very Adult fiction, so this was me tamping back some of my natural writer's instincts, haha, but it was fun and is rather creepy, fits the Halloween bill, so here ya go. The tale is called, "The New Kid."  



The New Kid

By John Claude Smith


When you’re eleven-years-old, moving to a new house the day before Halloween is a big deal.  We spent that day and much of Halloween day unpacking boxes.  I grumbled about not being able to celebrate with all the rest of the ghosts and demons.  My mother, ever aware of her son’s love of all things scary, decided at the very least to purchase a few bags of candy and let me be in charge of handing it out to all of the trick or treaters. 

It wasn’t the same, but it would have to do. 

After a slew of five-year-old princesses, mini-vampires and various superheroes, some kids with really grisly make-up showed up.  They had peeled skin hanging from their faces, bones jutting out, eyes wide open with no lids, so they couldn’t blink.  That was just for starters. 

“That’s really icky, looks real,” I said, always one to like gross stuff. 

“Thanks!” a kid with his jaw split in half said, more so, slurred.  “My name’s Todd Richmond.”  He extended his bony hand toward me.  I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how he did that, made the bones look so real.  I shook his hand and said, “I’m Rick.  Rick Myers.  The new kid.”  I laughed, kind of nervous, but not really.  I was outgoing, had to be, what with all the times my family had moved because of my dad’s job.    

Todd stepped aside, and his band of gruesome friends gathered on the porch. 

“I’m Sandy Weathers,” a girl said, her left eye dangling by the tendrils on her bloodied cheek.  

“Mick Johnson,” said a tall boy whose torso was splayed open and spilling glistening guts. 

“Juan Lopez,” said another boy, the left side of his face…gone.  Each one, as they stepped on the porch, said his or her name and reached out to shake my hand.  I felt like I would fit in here just fine.

Finally, the last kid came up, a girl with long dark hair matted with blood and a stomach-churning chunk of brain hanging out.  Her face was all scraped up, like it had been used as a tire burning rubber to screech to a stop.  She even smelled bad, really bad.  I smiled and cringed at the same time.

“I’m Regina Prine,” she said.  “Welcome back.”  She held out her hand like all the others.  Two fingers were missing.  As I took it I said, “I’ve never been here before.”  She said, “I know.  You’re the new kid.”

That was odd, but before I could say anything else, they traipsed off to the house next door.

After the weekend, I made way to school for my first day.  I spent the first week getting to know the teachers and classes, but realized I’d heard none of the kid’s names from Halloween during any of the rollcalls.  I figured perhaps they were a year older or a year younger…or just had different classes.  Who knows? 

During lunch on Friday, I decided to explore the school, see what it was about.  I made way past lockers and down a narrow corridor by the administrative offices toward what looked to be a collection of medals or awards for sports and what-have-you. 

After inspecting them, I moved toward the end of the corridor, where there was a large plaque behind glass.  I wondered what award this would be for…when my blood turned to ice.

I immediately noted the names listed on the plaque: Todd Richmond, Sandy Weathers, Mick Johnson, Juan Lopez, Regina Prine, and more, but the first five names caught my eye as they were the names of the kids who had shown up at my door Halloween night.

And they were all dead.

But they couldn’t be.  The kids who came to my door were dressed up as the victims of a bus accident from a few years previous, as indicated by the plaque.  No wonder I hadn’t heard any of the names during rollcall.  Those kids were dead.  These kids were just cruel.

As I turned in disgust from the plaque, I saw a really messed up girl at the end of the corridor by the exit doors.  It was Regina.  She walked toward me.

“Why are you still wearing your make-up?” I asked.

She only shook her head.

I stood there like a statue, feeling uncomfortable and not really wanting to deal with Regina Prine if she was into such mean tricks.

As she neared, she said, “You know where this is going, don’t you?”

“What are you talking about?”  I fidgeted, tried to stand tall, but felt my legs wobble.

“We’re not cruel kids or mean kids,” she said.  I gulped, wondering how the heck she could know what I had thought.   “We’re just dead.”

“Excuse me, I need to go.”  I took a step to scoot by her, when two sets of hands grabbed my arms from behind.

“You just need a reminder.” 

Somebody behind me laughed.  I think it was Todd Richmond, as it had a slurry sound.

“Let me go,” I said, but my protests were useless as I followed her finger as it moved toward the plaque. 

I knew where this was going.  I always knew were this was going.  But ignoring it seemed a better option than confirming the obvious.

Her thin finger landed just below a name.  My name, of course.  Rick Myers.  I was a part of that tragedy. 

“This bus ride was your first and last with us.”

I knew this as I saw my reflection in the glass covering the plaque.  I had no nose, and the top of my head was sheared off.  The hands holding me released me.  I wasn’t going anywhere because you can’t run away from the truth 

“You’ll always be the new kid,” Regina said. 

“For ever and ever and ever…”

Fun, eh? 


Anyway, if you'd like to read some of my more adult fiction,'s the Amazon Author page link. Go! Buy some! Make me rich! Or at least get something to give you the creeps this Halloween...or year-round. 

This art comes courtesy of John Kenn. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Halloween Horror #1: "The Perfect Pumpkin"

 As I run my fingers through the cobwebs here, thought it might be an amusing way to kickstart this blog thing again, or at least for a while. We'll see. 

First up, an oldie but a goodie, or at least a creepy damn thing: "The Perfect Pumpkin." It's been published a few times, probably my most reprinted piece, actually. I mean in anthologies and not just on my blog, of course.

In a few days, I'll post another Halloween horror tale, a flash piece. But for now, here we go. 

The Perfect Pumpkin

by John Claude Smith



“If it wasn’t a week before Halloween, I’d be scared crazy.  But I know you well enough, Danny, to know that you like to tell stories, and I’ve already heard this one a dozen times over the last two weeks.”

“But it’s true, Melinda.  Cutter’s farm is where old Dr. Ranier does abortions, or at least did them.  Look, it’s perfect: it’s just far enough out of town as to be kind of anon … anonymous.  He used to be a doctor, a…a baby doctor—”


“Yeah, yeah, an obstetrician.  And he was disbarred—”

“That’s for a lawyer.”

“Well, shit, Brainiac!  He lost his license and moved out here, about ten, maybe twelve-years-ago, and since he’s not really a farmer, he has to have some income, so he—”

“So he sets up office as a country abortionist.”

“And the babies are supposed to come back to haunt anybody who trespasses—”

“Stop!  I’ve heard enough.  He must be doing some farming now, otherwise, where’d all these pumpkins come from?” 

“I dunno, they must grow wild.  Creepy stuff, eh?”

“Just nightmares or rumors.  Made-up stories meant to scare teenagers from having sex, and in this case, ‘cause of the abortionist slant, getting pregnant and all that.  Kind of a gruesome safe sex message, don’t you think?  And isn’t that what all horror stories made primarily for teenagers are up to, anyway?  Just like in the movies, if you’re a teenager and you have sex, the boogyman’s gonna get you—ooooOOOOOoooo, I am so frightened.”

With whiplash precision, she shifted her attitude from mockingly scared to salaciously seductive, easily distracting him.  “Danny, oh, Danny, bab-eeeee...” She purred the last syllable, long and languid.  She grabbed his crotch, squeezing hard, whispering something nasty and oh-so-enticing in his ear.  As his penis turned to steel, his brain turned to mush.  

Having gotten his attention, she let go and backed away.  “You gonna help me get a perfect pumpkin from this patch or not?”

“What about my—”

“Later, big boy, when we’re out of range of any sexually oppressed boogymen disguised as abortionist farmers.”

 Danny Cruise peered out at the fog-mottled field, wispy tendrils like plumes of thickening smoke eerily weaving through the pumpkins, looking like a congregation of ghosts…or a herd of monstrous beasts lashing the pumpkins with writhing tentacles.  His imagination sprang back to life with a potency that unnerved him while coinciding with the deflation of his penis.  Melinda Harner, his girlfriend, folded her arms across her burgeoning bosom, trying to fend off the October chill.  She peered at him, obstinate in her quest to obtain the perfect pumpkin.  Now that she had spotted what she claimed was the most perfect pumpkin for miles around, in which she would carve the winner in the school contest, something that brought a wee bit of fame in a small town like Bloomfield, she was dead set on obtaining this pumpkin, and only this pumpkin.  No other pumpkin would suffice.     

Danny hopped over the barbed-wire fence, ragged metal tips ripping two fingers.  He winced, put the stinging fingers in his mouth, and sprinted toward the fog-embraced pumpkin patch.

“Which one did you want?”  His voice seemed not to carry, trapped in the puffy white shroud of fog.  But it did carry, and she responded

“There,” Melinda harrumphed, pointing to his right at the perfect pumpkin for her to carve a masterpiece.  Her voice hit Danny with the force of a thunderclap; goosebumps tickled his flesh. 

After having heard about the fat, perfect pumpkins in this patch, as well as the sordid recent history of the farm via whispers in the hallways at Lincoln High, anxiously retold by Danny mere minutes ago, Melinda knew she had to check it out.  Her nature was competitive, and she was always looking for that special edge.  If this patch had the perfect pumpkin she coveted, she knew the edge would be hers.  No horror stories were going to stand in her way.  

“Here?” he said, pointing at one of the dozen or so seemingly perfect, unblemished pumpkins in the direction she had pointed.  How could she even tell the difference?   

“No, there,” she bellowed, the volume almost knocking him over again.  It was cold, and he was tired and if he didn’t really love her, he’d already be anywhere but here with a space heater melting his icy flesh and thawing out his freezing blood. 

Without speaking, he pointed, and she nodded her head, yes--thank God!  He pulled out his switchblade and cut the coarse vine, trying to disengage the pumpkin.  After a brief struggle he was victorious, but noticed he’d smeared blood from his sliced-up fingers all over the ragged stem.    

He plucked it from its roost, amazed by its weight.  It was about as big as a slightly super-sized basketball.  Not huge, but its heft made his arms ache.  She better be really appreciative for this, he thought, and ran back to the fence.  He handed the pumpkin to her, so he could hop over the fence again.  

“Careful, it’s heavy,” he said, as he put it in her eager hands.  She grunted and agreed.

“Damn!  For its size, that’s gotta be the heaviest pumpkin I’ve ever felt.”

Danny braced himself and leaped, this time with even less grace, catching his foot and plopping down hard on his butt.  Melinda laughed at his awkward predicament.  He frowned at her.

“What?  I do this favor for you and you laugh at me now, ‘cause I’m cold and tired and…”

She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead as he brushed the weeds out of his hair and clothes.

“Carry this, would ya?”  More insistent than requesting, already handing him the pumpkin.

“I’m just your slave—”

“Slave to my beguiling charms.”  She put on the act, puppy dog eyes and pouting lips on full display. 

They started the two-mile trek back into town, their pace brisk, trying to keep warm.

“It’s probably cursed.  Probably why I tripped up going over the fence.”

“You’re just clumsy.  There’s no curse for takin’ a pumpkin.  No dead babies gonna haunt you.  I’m just gonna carve a winner out of this one.”

“That stuff is true.  I mean, all that about Dr. Ranier doing abortions and stuff.”  He put his fingers in his mouth again, balancing the pumpkin against his chest.  Apparently, the cuts were deeper than he’d thought, and continued to bleed profusely. 

They both fell silent for a handful of minutes, purposeful strides taking over as the night grew even colder.  The overcast skies portended rain and they just wanted to make it home before it started. 

And then Danny stumbled, dropping the pumpkin.  Not hard, catching it before it really hit the ground, but enough to have it land with a leaden thump on the dirt.

“Damn it, klutz!  Do you need walking lessons or what?”  Melinda was beside herself with anger, squatting to inspect the pumpkin.  All this for naught, she thought; all this for naught.

“Shit, Melinda.  It’s not like I meant to—”

“You bleedin’ on it?”

“Yeah, cut my fingers on the fence, bled on the stem.”

Melinda scooted away from the pumpkin, inexplicably alarmed.  “How can that be?  The pumpkin’s got blood comin’ from inside.”

They both watched as a thin line of blood trickled from a miniscule crack at the bottom, where it had hit the ground.  The red liquid pooled in the dirt.

“T-That’s impossible,” she said.  “Can’t be any blood comin’ from inside a pumpkin, only pumpkin, seeds and all.  You must have bled a lot more than you thought.”

She forced a smile, obviously in denial of what she was witnessing.  More blood seeped from the crack. 

Danny pulled out his switchblade and approached the pumpkin.  He knelt before it, not sure what he was going to do, but feeling safer with the knife in his hand. 


With suddenness, curiosity took over, and he plunged the knife into the thick hide of the pumpkin.  Blood gushed out, mixed with another unknown fluid that diluted the crimson tide, along with stringy pumpkin guts and pumpkin seeds, spattering the dirt and his shoes.  He pried with the knife and his fingers, pulling the pumpkin apart. 

“Oh, Christ!”  He moaned in revulsion at what he saw. 

Melinda squealed, “What is it, Danny? What is it?

The pumpkin had split wide open like a cracked egg.  Danny jumped to his feet, hands dripping wet.  An intolerable stench was belched from within the split pumpkin, forcing him to cover his face with his sleeve, while Melinda openly retched, dry and empty.  She was on her feet as well, fingers digging crescents into Danny’s arms.  He didn’t feel a thing.  They both just stared in horror and disgust.

Within the womb of the pumpkin, entwined within a network of ripped veins, a ruptured clear sac, and pumpkin guts and seeds, two large yellow eyes, like jaundiced moons devoid of pupils, attempted to blindly seek out the source of intrusion.  It probably did not see them, thought Danny, as his stomach roiled like a fist-sized hurricane, battering his insides. 

It was a fetus, a mutation of inconceivable ugliness borne of nightmares and rumors and curses made real. 

“Oh my God, Danny…Danny!  Melinda cringed, teetering on hysterical.

The obscenity, skin stained with blood but otherwise as orange as a healthy pumpkin, turned itself in the direction of Melinda’s voice, the tiny holes where ears should be steering it in their direction.  Gurgling noises emanated from its throat, wet sounds and orange spittle passing by its lipless slit of a mouth. 

“We need to go--now! Melinda, beside herself, doing a nervous dance of desperation.  She wanted away from here posthaste…or sooner!       

“Wait,” Danny said.  “I think it’s trying to say something.”

Melinda pulled harder on Danny’s arm, afraid to leave without him, the night and clouds and vast darkened landscape uninviting despite her urgency to run as far away from here as possible.   

C’mon! Let’s go!

The sound that rose from the baby’s mouth unhinged the muscles in Danny’s legs.  He slumped to the ground, transfixed by the fetal abomination squirming and convulsing and hideously alive within the pumpkin.  Melinda tumbled with him, but not for long.  He scrambled to his feet and dragged her to hers, his feet pounding the dirt like a chorus of hammers, matching the freight train rhythm of his heart.  His swiftness almost lifted Melinda into the air as one would a kite.   The utterance repeated again and again--insistent--scarred the night with its cawing message, resonant and haunting, cursing both of their ears forever. 

One word, only one, but Danny and Melinda would remember it until the day they died. 

“Daddy,” it screeched, it begged.


I hope that creeped you out in a good way. I'll hit you with another trick or treat flash piece in a couple days. 

It would be remiss of me not to link you to my books. Here's the Amazon Author page link, so you can check out Occasional Beasts: Tales, The Wilderness Within, Riding the Centipede, Autumn in the Abyss, The Dark is Light Enough For Me, and some anthologies in which my tales appear. 

As I check before publishing, not sure if the link is working, so here ya go:

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Happy First Birthday, Occasional Beasts: Tales!!!

Yes, it's been one year since my fifth book, Occasional Beasts: Tales, was released into the wild by my wonderful publisher, Omnium Gatherum. I believe it contains a lot of my best fiction, including personal faves, "The Glove," "The Wounded Table," "The Land Lord," "The Johnny Depp Thing," "Beautiful"--okay, you get the gist. 14 tales, 4 published here for the first time.

Have you read it? Have you reviewed it? I

Here's links and snippets to a few reviews to whet your appetite, just in case you haven't read the collection.

"For a few years now, I have been a big fan of John Claude Smith's twisted view of the world. This collection of tales only serves to remind me how skilled, (and twisted!), he really is."

Read the whole review at Char's Horror Corner.

"John Claude Smith’s new collection Occasional Beasts: Tales fearlessly explores themes of transformation and transcendence through a menagerie of monsters that are supernatural, human, or often something in-between. Like peering into a darkened aquarium or down a misty alleyway, dark things lurk behind the grit and ragged edges of Smith’s physical and psychic environments. When those beasts pounce, however, Smith’s creation of indelibly horrific images is second to none and the result is satisfying horror with hidden depths."

Read the whole review at Hellnotes.

"Occasional Beasts is a relentless collection with wonderful proses and horrifying images sprinkled throughout. John Claude Smith is in such command of his craft, with each of the fourteen stories proving this."

Read the whole review at The Horror Club.

Just a few, but again, if you've not picked up your copy, by all means, please do.
Here's the Amazon link for Occasional Beasts: Tales.

My Beasts look forward to spending time with you...

Here's a Fabulous photo of my girlfriend, Alessandra, with some fella named Lansdale. With the book, of course! In Rome as well!


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Shape of Things to Come Lives in a Tunnel Beneath the Town: Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes # 14: "The Land Lord."

Delayed a bit. Dealing with real life. And politics.

After I went through a break-up in 2005, and after a year in-between, I rented an apartment in Hayward, California. I would often take walks to a Starbucks (which is something I do rarely nowadays) or for food, which was about a mile away. Along the way, I would pass over a small bridge...which inundated me with the worst smells.

Where do writers get their ideas? Every-damn-where.

The seed was planted, that bridge is the opening sequence in my 15,500 word tale, "The Land Lord," that wraps up my collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales. We--my publisher and I--decided to bookend the collection with the two longest tales.

That bridge, those smells--I wrote them down way back when, started to build a story, but wasn't sure about the characters. I felt it needed something more, or needed to be told in a different way. I shuffled the two characters out--Regina and Jeff--and worked with a gay goth couple for a bit. That didn't do it, though I liked those characters enough to save that version and might drop them into another tale. I went back to Regina and Jeff and found their true paths, their voices, and finally could lock in and go for the ride.

But I needed something more between that opening and where it all ended up.

That's when the town itself, Hayward, helped out. Everything described in "The Land Lord"--the homeless, the hookers, the grimy feel of things--was inspired by that place.  The broken down auto shops.  The closed down businesses, everything became a part of the well as one curious addition: an element from the movie Jacob's Ladder.


Jacob's Ladder is a subtle, hallucinogenic mind-trip, those subtleties consistently nibbling at the edges; okay, it's not always subtle, there's some pretty heavy-duty nightmarish stuff, too.  Scenes in the movie where something moves, quivers off to the peripheral--or perhaps even right in front of the main character, like with the homeless man on the metro (bus, well, I don't remember; haven't seen the movie in too long and need to rectify that), when a strange appendage slips out from beneath his coat, before slipping back under. Did Tim Robbins' character see that...or was it just a trick of his tired eyes and mind?  THAT was the stuff I wanted. So I threaded in scenes where that kind of feel, that undercurrent of something not right--a twitch beneath an eye, for example; other physical oddities that might seem like nothing, but within the fabric of the tale, they help layer the overall odd tone--holds more weight because it only adds to the blurring of what's real and what's actually going on. That weight of something weird always nibbling at the edges was key for me in getting through the escalating dread and on to the resigned, bleak finale.

All of the pieces in place so that our narrator, Jeff, could meet the land lord. Not a landlord. The Land Lord. That thing that lives beneath the town...

Here's a sequence where Jeff has stopped one of the people who wanders the streets. Homeless? Well, you'll see.  It's late at night as this conversation takes place...


I stared at him as he searched for the words, his cadences crisp, his focus narrowing; no repetition driving him now.

“In reality, one just needs to adjust, I guess. To let go. To give in,” he said, amused, as if this epiphany meant the world to him.

Despite the more tranquil impressions he exuded, I felt my anger rise. “Christ, I should have known not to expect any real answers from a man in league with the vagrants, the homeless—

“Homeless? You think these people are homeless? They all live in the town. They’re all essential parts of the town. Like organs, or maybe blood. They flow through the town and the town thrives.” He glared up at me, eyes steely, features rigid.

“I own a shop like this one down the road, auto repair.” His focus altered, he continued: “I bought it a year ago, the rent was good and cheap. I had employees, the whole deal. But I was only open for about six months, lost my employees, lost myself as well.”

I looked deep into his eyes. He was here with me right now, not mentally somewhere else. He’d even stopped his pacing. I knew he was telling the truth. His take on the truth, at least.

“What do you mean you lost yourself?”

“I’ve been living in the building since my business closed down. Couldn’t afford two rents so I kept the business place, hoping to reopen but…it doesn’t care.”


“I slipped, heard about it, checked it out, and now… I need it but don’t want to give in to it, can you understand?”


He instantly switched into paranoia overload, looking everywhere, over his shoulder, over mine, a long trespass to the tunnel. Somebody’s listening

“The land lord,” he whispered.

“A landlord?” The landlord again?

“No. Not a landlord, but the land lord. A different entity than a landlord.” He split my one word into two, an ax to the trunk of a tree. I was at a loss. “Completely different.”

His whisper circled, then, swooped down as an owl snatching its prey. His tone changed—mutated—the chilled serenity of the whisper ground to gruel and devoured by his Mad Hatter alternate-ego. “Fucking stupid, trying to resist it now that I’ve had a taste. You’re feelin’ it, too, I can sense it in you. You should join us.” His smile grew wide, then crumbled under the weight of something I could not imagine. “No, you should leave, now… Leave now!”


Which, of course, brings me back to one of my favorite themes: addiction.  There's a sense that drugs are behind everything in this tale, but look deeper.  Look into that tunnel, to get to the truth.

Occasional Beasts: Tales is available to purchase now! Check the hyperlink by clicking on the title or right HERE.

I've enjoyed this overview, slim as it may be, of the tales in my collection. Looking back on them brought some memories I enjoyed, and that only could have happened while digging into these story notes.

Ah, but what's next? There's some anthologies out or out soon, with tales by yours truly in them. I'll give you some details about them soon!

Here is a photo of...The Gates of Hell, in New Jersey. It's a tunnel. Not unlike the tunnel "The Land Lord" lives in, perhaps...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Sex and Drugs and Weirdness abounds with "The Johnny Depp Thing." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes # 13

One of the keys to writing is to pay attention to the world around you. And to the people you know, because they might tell you something that will trigger your imagination and lead you down the darkest paths. "The Johnny Depp Thing" was born out of a tale my friend, Michelle, told me about. The tale was pretty much a drug-addled bit o' weirdness highlighted by what she said was "these dragging sounds outside of the door." If I remember correctly, she'd gone somewhere south, perhaps even Mexico, and was hanging out with a bunch  of bad folks into drugs, and there was a point in the evening when she was sitting on the floor against the door to an apartment and...those sounds happened. (I'm banking some of my recollection is off, but you get the gist.)

This thought came to me, set the words loose, and the weirdness took a truly bizarre turn, what with the added element of Johnny Depp, the actor, as the focal point, an escape route, in a way, for a woman in a bad relationship. But not only is it a bad relationship, her tendency is to latch on to whatever her present boyfriend is into. So, if he's into heavy-duty drugs, well, she's along for the ride. Not strong enough to stand on her own two feet, she hitches a ride into the darkest avenues of the lost soul. Or something like that.

Drugs have played a big role in a few of my tales, as well as my Bram Stoker Award nominated novel, Riding the Centipede. I don't exactly know why, as I've done minimal drugs in my life...but as noted above, I pay attention to people, listen to their tales, and since a couple of my best friends have had considerable drug experiences, welllllll…

Why Johnny Depp?  Partly Michelle's fault--well, a strong element of her character insinuates the character of Erika Jonkers, our narrator of the tale. She likes Depp.  She likes her bad boys--she being Michelle--so since I sculpted Erika from Michelle, he became her fantasy.  Partly I just needed a male sex symbol, one who could sway her into giving all of herself...even if it means giving into something that's not quite what it seems. When you've been in abusive relationships, the illusion of something better will suffice. At least that's my thinking here.

Depp, soon after I completed the tale, went off and had an [alleged or not, I don't remember specs] abusive finale to his marriage, so it kind of fit, in a weird way, with the type of man Erika goes for, though he's not even "him"--the real Johnny Depp--to be honest, haha... I mean, it's all fiction and warped out of true. She may pick bad boys, but he's not even a he, he's an it.

(And did I mention Clark Gable makes an appearance, too?!  You'll see...)

There was a point, though, with the Depp controversy going on, that I contemplated changing the sex symbol from him to some other actor. Ethan Hawke was a momentary stand-in, but I decided to stick with Depp, baggage and all.

While I was writing this tale, I was reading Scott Nicolay's excellent debut collection, Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the Outer the Other the Damned and the Doomed. Something of his style infected the original version of this tale. As in, details abounded!  The original version clocks in at 6800 words; the version in the collection ends up around 5600 words. If there's ever a Scott Nicolay tribute anthology, this tale needs to be included! Perhaps the extended version, haha...

Names: Also at that time, I had discovered, via my girlfriend, a south African poet named Ingrid Jonker. Erika's last name is almost hers, adding an "s," as you can see. A nod to a great poet...kind of...

The tale is tonally the blackest of black humor, yet totally a weird tale as well. You'll see in the snippet here, as Erika leans against that door, her boyfriend, Ransom, asleep in a recliner, while the dragging sounds have stopped and something calling itself Johnny Depp expresses its desire to be her new boyfriend.


“So you really do look like Johnny Depp?” Erika asked one more time, for triple, hell, quadruple no lie confirmation.

“Spittin’ image. And Johnny wants to be your new boyfriend. Johnny wants a kiss.”

“You want to be my—Oh. Oh! What the…”

Erika quickly turned to Ransom, noted she hadn’t awakened him with her squeals, then turned back to the door.

Glistening moistly and sliding up from the slit at the bottom of the door was what looked like a tongue. She gathered it was about as thick as her skinny wrists, but considering what it was, that was pretty damn impressive. And freaky. It stopped about twelve inches from the floor, the tip tapping the wood left and right.

“I want a kiss,” the voice said from the other side of the door. Johnny Depp’s voice. Johnny Depp.

Erika had never read in any gossip rags or read on the Hollywood Sleaze Underground site she frequented online about Johnny Depp’s super long tongue. She even wondered how he could talk if his tongue was hanging out like that.

“I can’t… I mean…”

She didn’t know what to say as she watched the tongue tap, tap, tapping, as if looking for that kiss she wasn’t sure she was up to. She couldn’t even picture putting that thing in her mouth.

Erika remembered way back when she was a teenager and digging KISS before she got good taste and moved on to punk and hardcore, fantasizing about Gene Simmons’ flicking tongue while she masturbated.

Christ, imagine what Johnny Depp’s super long tongue would feel like? Especially since it’s attached to him!

Erika also remembered reading on the Hollywood Sleaze Underground site that Simmons had had a cow’s tongue or donkey’s tongue sewn on to the end of his, like an extension. Like she sometimes added to her short black Betty Boop do. Hair Extensions. She figured Johnny Depp had to have done this, too. No way this was real.

“All real, dude,” the voice said.

Again with the cool mental connection. As if their thoughts were already making love.


Also of note: In researching heroin and making up my own form of heroin-based drug for the tale, for months afterward I got spam in my email from rehab or related places, wanting to help me with my, um...issue...

"The Johnny Depp Thing" is one of the four original tales included in my new collection, Occasional Beasts: Tales, hyper-linked right there, so click on the title and go buy your copy now!
Please and thank you!

Here's a photo of Mr. Depp reading some Hunter S. Thompson, before he gets into Occasional Beasts: Tales.

The final entry in my Story Notes is next. You'll meet "The Land Lord," and a whole town under his ominous influence.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Sinister Power of the Alternative Translation of "Vox Terrae." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #12

The original title of this tale was "The Alternative Translation." My girlfriend is a translator, so I'm sure I was influenced by that as I wrote the tale.  I'm also a fan of words being something more than words. You know this already if you've been paying attention. My novella, the title story of my mini-collection, Autumn in the Abyss, is the best example of this. Another would be my story from the Joseph S. Pulver Sr. edited Walk on the Weird Side anthology, 'Eouem Chumkpaa." Yeah, say that three times fast. So, words, living things, or something else, yes, I dig that idea.

Here's a snippet from the tale that leads you along that line of thinking...


The necessity of this journey wore me down, whittled the bark off the thin branch, though not with the goal of sharpening my perceptions. No, attrition was the goal, shedding the outer shell, shedding to reveal that which lived beneath until all that remained was nothing more than memory; then dust.

At the doorway, I stopped. Candles everywhere, colors richer than ever imagined—pure white heart wrapped in melting blue glass that rippled in the hemorrhaging crimson sun that devoured the room. Blackthorne stood front and center, a dark blemish, details left to my imagination. Not a good thing under the circumstances.

“Language is not simply spoken.” A buzzing—flies hovering over a carcass. “You think your race dictates the rules of this world, of everything? You think you are even the dominant species of this planet? There are many layers. You don’t even know how to cross between them, as my race does, and we are low on the totem pole of this planet’s residents. Language is not simply spoken as you understand it. It is experienced in many different ways.

“Would you like me to show you the alternative translation that Alicia knows so intimately, Kenneth?”

I nodded weakly, the words beyond my tongue, defeated. But I needed to know.

 The searing light flickered, then darkness…


This tale might perhaps be perceived as OTT description-wise, but man, it was so much fun to write.   Even as some of the sequence that follows the above sample was written years ago. I mentioned "Dandelions" was the oldest tale in the collection, but this tale contains the oldest handful of paragraphs, manipulated into shape to fit the parameters of what this tale needed.

That's how writers sometimes do it, y'know?  I had an old tale called, "Unveiling the Hell Machine," in which, not unlike a man opening Barker's Lament Configuration, the narrator ends up in a place where torments beyond his imagination are undertaken. He ends up being devoured then shat out and remolded into something almost human. Aaaand, you're gonna love this--I should find the paper manuscript, because the version I have in a file is incomplete; the typed up version has dates and makes me wonder (wonder what, JC? Well...)--well, in the original, after the person put through hell is shat out, he eventually becomes...President of the United States!!!  An evil, malignant president, with designs on annihilation of the world

Prescient, eh?

Fucking hell, I just remembered that was where it all ended up. I really need to pull the box out of the closet and see about the timeline. For all I know, I predicted the current abhorrent and quite dismal state of affairs, to put it mildly.

Anyway, in "Vox Terrae," we hook up with Kenneth as he searches for the alternative translation of the occult tome upon which the story was eventually named (as suggested by publisher Jordan Krall of Dunhams Manor Press, who published the standalone chapbook in which it was featured), with his sights set on finding out the meaning as it pertains to the death by suicide of his girlfriend, who suggested the alternative translation was her modus operandi for killing herself.

Oh, what a dark and sticky web of supernatural oddness I weave.

It gets even weirder as he collects his old friend, who's also into exploring books and ideas that tend toward obtaining forbidden knowledge, Ivan Sangkor--a character based on a person I met while looking over the occult section in a book store...just as I wrote in the story, haha...--and they head to Northern California to speak to Lorraine Blackthorne, the woman responsible for the alternative translation.

All kinds of surreal fun follows, especially within the old house she lives in.  A house that never seems settled.  A house that also makes a completely different appearance in a tale in final edits I'm presently writing, "Winter in the Wasteland."  I don't think that will be the last time I deal with that monstrous house, either.

I've said enough.  There's a lot going on here and it's all rather grim when you get down to it, but an entertaining kind of grim, I hope.

"Vox Terrae" can be found in my latest collection, the reason I'm even writing these Story Notes.
You can buy Occasional Beasts: Tales by clicking on Occasional Beasts: Tales because that will take you to the link. So do that and enjoy this tale...and the rest.

Here's a picture of an old grimoire, perhaps a cousin to Vox Terrae...


Next up, the penultimate tale in the collection, which features a guest appearance by...Johnny Depp.  Kind of...  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Don't Shoot The Messenger--"Chrysalis." Occasional Beasts: Tales, Story Notes #11

It starts with the bird...


“What in the…?”

The black bird plunked down on the kitchen tiles and skidded along the floor to Regina’s feet. She turned and immediately took to standing on her tip-toes before her balance wavered and she set her heels back down on each side of the trembling creature. She shuffled to one side, the shock of the intrusion one to shake her out of the doldrums of her dreary existence.

While listlessly washing the dishes, she’d once again been daydreaming about suicide as a legitimate goal in life. A goal she knew she was too weak to attain. She used to write bleak, depressive poetry, which might seem a cliché many maudlin young girls on the cusp of womanhood undertake, but her aspirations and talent were obvious. A few years later, as Regina had begun to make a name for herself, the weight of her dead whale marriage crushed her Muse. She allowed real misery to derail her burgeoning writing career before it truly got off the ground. It sank without a struggle, an anchor tied to the ankle of promise.


...and immediately puts you in Regina's misery-laden world.  But it didn't always end up at Regina's feet.  She may have been the original focal point, but I went through stages, attempting to find another protag (who knows why, I don't; before I knew who she was, she was perhaps too "normal") and a reason for this bird to come crashing through a window. Another version had a junkie living in an abandoned building, but I ended up coming back to Regina.

Regina? Even though I like her here, I took the name from the girlfriend of one of my best friend's when I was 8-9 years old who told him he couldn't hang out with me and another of my friends because we weren't cool. Here name was Regina, and that stuck with me.  She may have been right, we may not have been cool, but when you're an awkward, shy kid, being cool doesn't matter. Survival without embarrassing yourself in front of the other kids did.

Anyway, with this tale, the bird crashing through the window was the key in unlocking part of a quirky poem Regina is meant to know.  Other messengers, some inanimate, come along to give her other pieces of the poem. She learns in the process, the poem is something more than simply words, it's a means to an end.

As my friend Marco Cinque, Italian poet extraordinaire once said, "Words are living things."  I believe this, in my own writerly way. I also used this as the opening epigraph for the title story to my collection, Autumn in the Abyss.

The words as living things in this tale inspire transformation which, if you've been paying attention, is one of my favorite subjects. You can read more about it and other worthy writing stuff, as well as more about the new collection in my Hellnotes interview.

Another amusing tidbit.  As the story unfolded--and often, as I am writing tales--some of what's going on around me made it into the tale. In this case, my girlfriend had either submitted a poem to, or mentioned, an online magazine called, Menacing Hedge. I mentioned liking that title, so decided to...borrow it, as you can read here.


She could make out the outline of the menacing hedge that rimmed the lower portion of the window; menacing because it seemed more a moat around a castle, filled with sleek, razer-fanged serpents that did not allow her to step any further than the front porch. Excursions beyond were always accompanied by Derek, except for grocery shopping, which he hated. He timed those brief outings, limiting her freedom, which she knew was only an illusion. She was never free. The sinister king, the sadistic ruler of this dismal empire, made sure of this.


It may all seem bleak, hell, those samples confirm it is, but it ends up in a place of absolute bliss. This was not totally of my doing. Sure, what I had originally set down was a positive outcome for Regina, but it was more subtle. When I submitted the story to Scott Dwyer for the excellent Phantasm/Chimera: An Anthology of Strange and Troubling Dreams, he said he wanted something more.  Something to really sink one's teeth into.  I gave him what he wanted and what I should have known from the beginning, because it really gave the story the proper finale. You'll just have to read it to see for yourself.

Where can you read it? In Occasional Beasts: Tales, my new collection. Please do! Let me know what you think of it. Order your copy at the link above or right HERE. Mwah!

Here's a piece of cool bird art. I bet those birds have many messages to spread around the world, eh? All except who the artist for the piece is, though it looks as though it was the cover for an album by a band called The Gloaming. Anyway, I like it.

Up next: the alternative translation of a rare book leads a man to a strange house, to find his lost love, who may or may not be dead. What the...?  You'll find out in "Vox Terrae."