Hungry Eyes, Part 1

Scary eyes

People had found Anna unsettling since she was a very small child. She was used to it. But you never got used to it. Very few adults are willing to tell a little girl that they find her creepy, and other kids didn’t talk that way to her. But she knew. She knew before she had words for it.

It wasn’t her fault that her long black hair hung in bedraggled strings that tended to cling to the pale skin of her face. It wasn’t her fault that her strangely shaped bones made whatever clothes she wore look ill fit upon her frame. And she certainly didn’t try to play so vigorously that all of her clothing existed in a perpetual state of raggedness.

None of that really mattered. She could wear a hat to cover up her hair. She could spent more time in the sun and try to get some color on her skin so she looked less like a corpse. She could be very careful with her clothing, only wearing the best materials and discarding them when they tore.

She had a photograph of herself from her second grade picture day, dolled up like a princess, and in one shot where the photographer caught her from a specific angle she looked perfectly normal. Even on that day, she remembered, everyone looked away. Adults and children alike. Even the photographer could barely keep his attention on her long enough to take the picture.

The others didn’t know what is was about her that unnerved them. But Anna knew. It was her eyes. Her eyes were hungry. They were always hungry. She asked her mother about that, once. Why her eyes were so hungry. Her mother just looked frightened, and told her not to talk like that.

It didn’t matter. Anna didn’t her mother’s help with her eyes. She could feed them herself. It had been agony when she was little, when she didn’t understand. All she knew was that her vision ached something awful and it kept her from sleeping. Sometimes it ached so much that she couldn’t eat, couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Maybe that was why she was so skinny.

Her mother told Anna she had almost died as a baby because she wouldn’t feed on mother’s milk. Anna remembered. It was because her vision hurt. Hunger pains. It was her earliest memory, and it was sharp.

When she grew up a little she learned she could feed her eyes with colors and images. Not the normal kind. They liked red things, bright and runny and vibrant, in as many shades as possible. Streaked through blue and green, screaming their contrast. They liked sharp angles, pressed together. Twisted and broken shards and shreds of glass and metal and paper, strewn over empty tables so her eyes could drink in ever contour.

And they liked to look at flesh. Maimed, mangled, bleeding raw. She had learned that more recently. Anna didn’t like to look at these things, but her eyes did, and she had to keep them fed. They were so hungry.

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He Hates Ghosts

Old man on bus

 

I am feeling singularly uninspired today. At least, to write any stories. I’m feeling highly inspired to play video games. I tried a few things, and I looked at some prompts for writing various types of stories online, because sometimes those are helpful. When I ran into a list of horror prompts that included the following:

There is a priest who is a vampire

I decided that inspiration had gone to lunch, and I wouldn’t bother it. So here is a little poem about ghosts!*

He Hates Ghosts

We thought

we had a ghost

in the attic

with the noises

and the moaning

and the creaking of floorboards

at 3 in the morning

Finally, we got tired of it

and checked

and it turned out

it’s only Uncle Steve

and he hates ghosts

*It may not actually be about ghosts

The Scar

Scar

You’re staring.

Don’t worry. Everyone does. They can’t help it. You probably didn’t realize you stared. Even now, when I’ve caught you, you have no idea why you were doing it. You don’t know why you can’t look away.

And you can’t look away. The fact is, someone could hit you in the head with a fireplace poker, and you would still struggle to look away. You don’t know why. Just like you have no clue what’s causing that sick feeling in your gut, like your intestines are full of frightened parasites all scrambling to escape you, like rats from a sinking ship.

Don’t panic. I’ll tell you. It’s not a secret. I have no secrets. Not anymore. You’re staring at my scar.

Go ahead. Look for it. Search my face, my neck, my exposed arms. You won’t find it. Strange, because you’re looking right at it. Right now, if I asked you to close your eyes and describe my eye color you wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s true. You wouldn’t even be able to describe the color of my skin.

You can’t focus on anything, right now. Nothing but my scar. It’s gnawing away at you and you can barely remember why you came here and what you’re doing and it’s driving you insane that you can’t look at or think about anything else and you can’t even find it.

It’s there. It’s right here. You can’t see it because it’s in a place you’ve never paid attention to, even though you’ve look there thousands of times before. Every time you look at another person, or an animal, or a tree. Because they all have them.

You are staring at me not because of what you are seeing, but because of what’s missing. It’s as if someone stripped all of the color from their skin. You couldn’t help but stare at the colorlessness, because up until that moment you had assumed such a thing was impossible.

I thought so, too. I didn’t mean to do it. I was just bored. I was bored and curious and playing around with my knife. This knife. It’s very special. I don’t know if it was special before I used it to do what I did, or if using it made it so. But it’s special now.

This is the knife I used to reach in and gouge out my own soul. I didn’t know there was such a thing as souls. I still don’t, really. I don’t know what they are, or what they’re for. But I know what it means to lose one. I know what it feels like to rip it out.

Maybe I should have stopped after I started digging. It was like a sore on the inside of your mouth. You know you shouldn’t worry it, but you can’t stop. You can’t stop until you’ve ripped your essential essence from your being. It’s happened before.

You won’t remember. You people never do. I could stab this knife into you and slice off your finger and you would have no idea how it had happened. You’d make up a story. Or someone else would, and you’d believe them. Explanations are like souls. Your mind can’t stand when they’re missing.

I could stab this knife into you, deeper than your finger, deeper than your flesh, deeper than your heart. I could make you like me. You’d remember me, then. Then, only then, you would understand.

But I won’t. Not this time. Instead, I’m going to walk away, and only once I’m out of your sight, only once something mundane and fleshy and full of color blocks your vision will you forget me.

But you won’t. Not really. You people never do. You just pretend. You come up with stories that explain the wriggling in your stomach, the panic that nestles in the back of your mind. The stories amuse us, as we watch you. They’re all we have left.

You still amuse me. So I won’t cut you. I won’t make you like me. Not this time. Not just yet.

Sweet dreams.

Hungry

Trou noir / Black Hole

I’m hungry.

It’s funny, that’s the one thing, I think, you can never get used to. I got used to being lonely, a long time ago. I got used to being bored. I got used to that weird feeling that we never had any reason to come up with a word for when it’s been so long since you’ve spoken to someone that, no matter how much passion or rage or lust you once had for them, you can no longer remember their name.

I can’t remember anyone’s name. I don’t even really remember what that means. Name. It’s like playing racquetball, or having blood. I remember that those were things and that once I care about them, but I have no sense of what they actually were.

I’m used to all of that, now. If it bothers me in moments, I don’t recognize it for what it is. It has dissolved into the slurry of what remains of my existence. But the hunger. I don’t think you can get used to that. If I haven’t, no one can.

When I was a small child of whatever sex I was—whatever that means—there was a picture about people who were trapped together in the mountains. Mountains were big and cold. I remember that. That’s what I remember about mountains.

These people were trapped in the mountains and they had no food, and nothing to hunt. Eventually, the living decided to eat the dead. It was a big controversy among people. Would you do that? Would you eat the dead flesh of your own species to survive.

It’s funny. Some people thought they wouldn’t. That’s funny. I think about that sometimes, and it makes me laugh.

Continue reading

One Last Time

Light in a Dark Room

“We’re going to die,” she said, her voice flat. “They’re not going to let us go.”

He looked at her, at her face. His dying phone barely lit the closet the two of them were squeezed in, but he knew those features too well. They were blank. She said the words in perfectly matter-of-fact tone, like she was telling him the local Quizno’s was closed for St. Patrick’s day. She, who got emotional over socks.

He knew what that meant.

“Damn,” he said.

“Damn?” she raised an eyebrow. “I say we’re going to die, and what you come back with is…damn?”

“Well what the fuck am I supposed to say?”

“You’re supposed to argue with me!” She tried to throw her arms in the air in indignation, but the space was too cramped. It almost made him laugh. Almost.

“You always argue with me,” she said. “Last week I bought a Powerball ticket and you wouldn’t shut up about the fact that I should have gone for the Mega Millions. You argue with me over every…” she fell silent. “You’re not arguing.” She looked into his eyes. They were tender, curious, bewildered. Her eyes. “Why aren’t you arguing?”

He shrugged. “Because you’re right. When you talk like that—all flat like a golf announcer–it’s because you’re right. It’s always because you’re right.”

“You…you believe me?”

“Of course I believe you. You’re the smartest woman I’ve ever met.”

She fell silent again. He wondered what was going through her mind. If she was about to break down. He wouldn’t blame her.

He wondered if he should hold her, wrap his arms around her so tightly that she might break. That’s what he did when her mother died. It was the only thing that calmed her down.

“I didn’t know that,” she said.

“What?”

“That I…that you thought I was smart. I didn’t know that.”

“I…what? Of course you are. You know, like, practically everything about everything. That’s why I fell for you in the first damn place.” He kicked the wall in frustration. For a moment he worried that the people outside would hear them. Then he realized it didn’t matter.

“You never told me that,” she said.

“Of course I did,” he snapped. Wait, had he? Had he ever actually uttered those words? “I didn’t think I need to. I thought it was obvious. I mean, how could anyone know you for more than five minutes and not realize how brilliant you are?”

“Then why are you always arguing with me? Telling me I’m wrong?”

“About what?”

She rolled her eyes. “About everything. You tell me I’m wearing the wrong lipstick to go with my dress, or that I hold my chopsticks wrong when we go for sushi. Or that I use Google wrong when I’m trying to find the names of they guy who wasn’t in the Beatles.”

“Almost everyone who has ever lived wasn’t in the Beatles,” he said. “I think you mean the Beatle who was replaced.”

“See! You’re doing it now.”

“No I’m not,” he said. “Okay, maybe I am.” He wrapped his fingers around themselves and clenched tight. “I argue about…about stupid things. Little things. It’s not you. It’s just…I do that to everybody.”

She shakes her head. “You do it to me more.”

“But…not about real things. Not about things that matter. On those…I mean, you…” He took a deep breath. “I let you figure that stuff out. Because I’m not…smart enough.”

The silence hung heavy between them.

“Damn,” she said at last.

He laughed. He couldn’t help it. She looked at him like he’d just tried to eat a tire iron. Then she started to laugh, too.

“You really mean that, don’t you?” she said. “You think I’m brilliant.”

“Of course I do.”

She fell silent again.

“I wanted you to argue with me.”

“Huh?”

“When I said it, that we’re going to die, I…I knew it was true. But I wanted you to argue with me.”

He nodded. It made sense.

“I…I like when you argue with me.”

He started. “What do you mean?”

“You heard me.”

“But all you ever do is complain about it.”

“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry. I don’t…I don’t know anything.”

“Yes you do.”

“I don’t feel like I know anything. Not until, not until I’ve said it to you. Not until I’ve made you shut up about it.”

He laughed again.

“Always happy to help.”

“I need you,” she said. “You know that, right?”

He looked at her. “You’re the most important thing in my life. You know that, right.”

She grabbed his hand and squeezed. “I didn’t.”

He shook his head. “Neither did I.”

She smiled. “We actually had something here, didn’t we?”

The past tense gripped at his chest, but it was strange. He felt calm. Scared, yes. Even terrified. But calm.

“I guess we did,” he said. “I wish we had…”

“No,” she cut him off. “Don’t do that. Don’t go that way.” He nodded. She was right.

It’s good to know,” he said. “Before it ends. I mean, I don’t want it to…”

“It’s horrible,” she agreed. “But yeah. It’s good to know.”

A creaking sound echoed through the corridor. Light spilled in. Whoever was out there was coming.

They squeezed each others hands tightly, then they looked at each other. For the first time. One last time.

The Monsters Within, Technical Notes

Evil Pumpkin (4)
We try to deny it, but we all have monsters within us. They seethe just below the surface, all fangs and teeth and incorporeal rage. We glimpse them when we turn away from mirrors, out of the corners of our eyes. We feel them when we look at a beloved friend lying asleep and some part of us, some dark, hungry part of us that cannot be tamed, feels the urge to do something terrible. It is not enough to acknowledge these monsters. We must understand them, lest they control us, urge us into actions as horrific as they are sublime.

This understanding is my great endeavor, and it is through this work that I have discovered these truths that I am about to unveil. These monsters are not nameless, nor or they formless. Once the light of rigorous scrutiny is shined upon them, they are all too familiar. We each are made up of not one monster, but three.

Specifically, we each have within us the following:

  1. A zombie
  2. A ghost
  3. A lycanthrope

Before I go into detail, a note on my qualifications. Firstly, I was born on October 27th, which was the date of the original Halloween (probably) back when it was a pre-Indoeuropean festival honoring Dark Cthonia, Lord of Horror Stories. It’s important to note that the reason their god of evil and fright was the god of stories, because unlike their descendants, these peoples weren’t dumb enough to think that shit was real. Also I made up the name Cthonia because records from that period are sketchy, but I think it sounds pretty call.

In addition to the birthday thing, I’ve read a lot of urban fantasy. Also my wife has read even more of it (all of it? nearly), and she’s told me about a lot of it in pretty good detail.

Okay, back to the theory. We are all made up of a zombie, a ghost, and a lycanthrope, and these three factors explain everything about us. Well, okay, they don’t explain everything about why we decide to become plumbers or why we like black olives. But they describe everything about how we manifest as monsters. Let us address each one briefly.

The Zombie: Our zombie is our corporeal body. That part of us that is nothing but empty, hungry flesh, seeking to sustain and duplicate our own existence mindless of the costs and the consequences. It also years to improve itself, to regain the intellect it lost when it was a complete entity, but its methods for doing so are as futile as they are useless. The zombie is even unable to recognize that the last sentence is redundant.

The Ghost: The ghost inside of us is our spirit, and our mind. The ghost allows us to think and function as intelligent beings, but it is shackled by its attachments. The emotional urges that make up so much of thought are present in the ghost, but it is lacking both the neurochemical factors that originally produced those urges and also the corporeality to act upon them.Thus, the ghost can think and feel but by itself it cannot change.

The Lycanthrope: The lycanthrope is the most rarefied of our monsters, but perhaps also the most important. The lycanthrope is the living principle. It is the spark of life that turns the lifeless zombie and the bodiless ghost into breathing, bleeding humans. It is also what lets us grow and change. But it also encompasses our rage, our passion, and the extremes of our emotions. NOTE: the lycanthrope was originally the werewolf, but the source material has taught me that maybe not everyone is a werewolf. Some people are turtles and probably also other things.

In a normal person, all three of these monsters are present and in balance. Strange things happen when you remove them.

If you rip the ghost out of a person, what remains is a ghost and a zombie. This is where ghosts and zombies come from. In this procedure, the lycanthrope is torn in half, and each of the remaining creatures has a fragment of it.

The zombie that remains is the hungry, mindless, brain-eating beast found in novels, movies, and parts of Detroit. It has no mind, because it has no ghost.

The ghost that remains has the personality of the original person, but obviously it also has no body of its own. It can interact with the physical world only weakly if at all. The personality that remains is only a shadow of its formal self, however, because it cannot change. Lacking the physical brain of the zombie and the full lycanthrope, it has only a limited set of emotions and thoughts, usually those it experienced at the moment of death. It is usually drawn to scenes of its life, people and places that remind it of what it was, in an attempt to regain what it cannot understand that it has lost. An isolated ghost is a slave to its own identity, as we all are, sometimes.

A full-blown lycanthrope manifests if this monster aspect gains dominance over the other two. The mechanisms for this are varied and outside of the reach of this endeavor.

If a lycanthrope is removed or destroyed from a person, what is left is a vampire. This conclusion is inevitable, both because of the logic I am about to present, and because of course there’s a vampire.

Once the life-force in the form of the were-creature is removed from a person, what is left is a body and a mind that are not alive, lacking in life’s vibrancy and dynamic nature, but still full cognizant and functional. It will not die naturally because it no longer has metabolic function. It can no longer change. It can still reproduce, but that reproduction is mechanical and infectious. It cannot create new life as that requires the lycanthrope. It can only transform others into those like itself, but since it has the mental awareness granted by its ghost, so do its “offspring.”

It requires very little additional speculation to see how this theory can be used to explain how people can be transformed into all variety of monsters. At least, all variety of the Urban Fantasy/World of Darkness/Halloween variety which are the purview of these notes. For example, it takes very little imagination to see how one would use these rules to explain the advent of mummies, or pumpkin kings, or teen wolves.

There is much left to be explored regarding the nuances of this theory, but its explanatory power is undeniable. As are its practical applications. By learning to comprehend our inner monsters, we can learn to resist them. More importantly, we can learn to harness and utilize them, for our own terrible, terrible ends.

 

Red On The Tip of My Pen

How well I could write if I were not here!

 

I don’t know how this happened. I think about it a lot. That gets me nowhere.

“I’m writing a new novel I’m really excited about,” I said to Maya on the phone the other day. That’s my mom. I call her Maya.

“Oh, great!” she said. “What’s it about?” I heard the apprehension in her voice. She knew what I was going to say.

“It’s a horror novel.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. You wouldn’t like it.”

“Right.”

“I don’t know where this comes from,” I said. “I never liked horror movies as a kid.”

“I know. That was your brother. Do you like them now?”

“Yeah. Kind of. I mean, I really like them. Some of them. It’s weird.”

“You’re weird,” she said, with the kind of unconditional affection wrapped in mild insult that is the hallmark of mothers everywhere. At least, the good ones.

As an adult, I love horror movies, but it was a long time coming. I’ve loved horror fiction for a long time, but something about movies put me off. I remember sitting in the finished basement where I spent almost all of the free hours of my childhood. My brother and I were both stuffed on the love seat with the brown flower pattern that used to be my grandmothers, watching our tiny TV. Mostly it got used for Sega Genesis games and Saved By The Bell after school, but it was the weekend, and either it was my brother’s turn or I didn’t have a game I was playing. He had the remote, and he flipped from channel to channel.

He stopped on a shot of a boy with wide eyes. Creepy music in the background.

“Change it,” I said. “This looks stupid.” He didn’t change it. An awful owl puppet showed up on screen, and something scary happened.

“Ooo, a bad horror movie,” my brother said. “I love bad horror movies.”

“I’m going outside.”

I didn’t love bad horror movies. I still don’t. I love good ones. But not all of them. When I talk to people about horror or browse horror websites like Bloody Disgusting I feel alienated. Because I love scary. I love creepy. I crazy love unsettling.

But I don’t like gore. Blood and guts both disgust and bore me. They’re supposed to do one, but not so much the other. Furthermore, I don’t even understand why people find them appealing. I mean that literally. I consider myself highly empathetic, and I don’t bat an eye at the fact people have different preferences than me. I don’t like raw onions, but it’s not weird that other people do. They have a different mind, different senses, different reactions to the same stimuli. So I accept that people dig sprays of blood on the screen. I’m just not sure why.

It’s more true for me than it is for other genres I don’t like. I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, but I completely grasp their appeal. Human connection, the fantasy of idealized romance, the warm, beautiful feeling that real love is out there, possible, never even that far away. But with gore? I just don’t get it.

Which makes the next part weird. This novel I’m writing, that one my mother will be sad that she can’t read if it somehow gets published? It’s pretty gory. There’s blood. There flesh flying off of people’s faces and splatting against the wall. At some point, someone’s head pops clean off and lands amidst a pile of Doritos. I’m less than 10,000 words in. And my other novel? That was pretty gory, too.

It’s not that I hate blood and guts. Not enough to turn me off of a horror story or movie that otherwise appeals to me. Sometimes it’s even the whole point, but everything else is so conceptually interesting or well written that I love it anyway. Kill Bill is one of my favorite movies. One of my favorite short stories is Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, which is not about cooking steaks on an electrified third rail. Although I should totally write that story.

When I read bloody, visceral descriptions of blood and viscera, I always wonder what the writer is thinking. Do they find this kind of thing appealing? Are the just totally unfazed by it? I used to think the answer had to be yes. Now I’m not so sure. Because I don’t find it appealing, and I am definitely fazed by it. But not while I’m writing.

I’ve noticed that my brain sometimes writes jokes I find distasteful for demographics I don’t identify with. The frattiest of frat boys, or the reddest of rednecks. Jokes I think would be legitimately funny to people in those groups, but that I don’t find amusing at all. Maybe generative creativity goes isn’t about the appeal to the brain that generates it. Maybe writers don’t always write for themselves, but for the ages.

Or in this case, ages 13-17, mostly male, parental permission required for entry.