(Un)Dead in the Darkness

Hey there, friends and fans! Once again the power of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us! I hope this year is proving to be lovely and terrifying for each and every one of you. I’ve immersed myself in countless instances of new horror, and look forward to enjoying it for one more day before the world turns over to Christmas.

As a horror lover, I often consume all manner of spooky, scary, eerie, and dark stories. From ghosts and goblins to aliens and demons I have watched, read about, and listened to stories of it all. But through everything there is one creature that has captured my interest above all others. I’m speaking, of course, about the vampire.

Cultures the world over have told tales of the blood or life-energy draining creature that comes to us from the grave, spreading its chilling affliction. Sometimes these creatures are described as spirits who come and slowly pull life from the living, while others present us the image of corpses who dig from their earthy beds to consume the driving force of their dead relatives. Still others present us with the image that has become synonymous with the word. A pale skinned, dark clothed figure with menacing eyes and fangs long enough to pierce the throats of their living victims. These creatures rise in the night and drain the blood from unsuspecting mortals, often leaving death and infection in their wake.

Something about this creature has grabbed the imaginations of writers, music and film-makers, readers, and even avid television watchers for centuries. The most famous vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, has appeared in more than 200 instances of film and television alone. And we still can’t get enough.

But why? What is it about these immortal beings bent on taking our lives, our will, our mortality that makes us fascinated?

Earlier this year I  had a chance to sit down with Dacre Stoker, great grand nephew of the infamous Dracula author for a discussion on the latest Stoker contribution to the Dracula legacy, the novel Dracul, written with author J.D. Barker. Stoker had much to say on the reason vampires have remained such a popular legend throughout history.

“The vampire was actually created out of something that everybody in the world believes in or thinks at some time: and that is what happens in the afterlife,” Stoker said.

In times of death, disease, famine, growing scientific belief, and general open-mindedness, the legend of the vampire ran rampant and explained a lot of horrific death as well as the spread of illness. Stoker said he felt one thing that contributed to the power of the legend was the knowledge of the time.

People weren’t aware of how illness worked. Germs and viruses were knowledge far beyond the most advanced medicine. When an explanation came along that gave a possible insight into the death of a large number of people, it took root.

The legend of the vampire, in addition to help explain violent death and illness, was also increasingly appealing for those examining mortality.

“What if there was immortality,” Stoker said, noting that this question alone makes the appeal of the vampire grow exponentially.

In literature and film there are few creatures as versatile as the vampire. Even in the Anne Rice saga of bloodsucking creatures of the night, there are class systems and different beliefs and ways of life. From the high class vampires that blend into sophisticated society to those who live in tombs under graveyards, almost no two vampires are the same.

Personally I feel part of the appeal of the vampire is not only the fact that they do have such versatility, but what they stand for. For millennia humans  have been terrified of dying, death, and what lies beyond. The vampire stands as a doorway to that question. On the one hand, the vampire can dole death daily as a means to survive, literally taking the lives of others to continue their own, but they can also provide immortality to those they choose. This almost reversal of a divine power is enticing to anyone who has ever pondered the end of life and what else may exist. Stoker said this thought of death is one of the reasons vampires will always be a part of culture.

“It’s so deep rooted in our psyche, that quest to find out what happens after we’re dead. That’s why it [the vampire] never does go away.”

So, as the spooky season comes to a close over the next few hours (or days, depending on your interest in multi-cultural views), I invite you to ponder the vampire. Is it a cunning, shadowy demon, hiding in the misty ruins of a graveyard, or is it a suave and charming socialite who attends the highest social functions and feeds only on the upper class? Whether you fear a spirit who feeds on energy or a fanged physical being that slips into open windows in the night, I advise you to be on the lookout tonight, when the veil between worlds is thinnest. Make sure the window latches tight, hold tight to your crucifix as you cross the darkened dooryard after work and, whatever you do, don’t invite someone you don’t know to cross your threshold.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

New Short story, Summer Blog-A-Day!

Hey there friends and fans! The day is finally here! It’s my day to contribute to the Summer Blog-A-Day event, and I’ve got something fun lined up for you, as promised. This short story is one that is actually a separate, but relatable prequel piece to one of my novels, currently awaiting its second edit. I’m ecstatic to present a bit of my version of the myth that you’ll all quickly come to recognize. It’s not explicitly explained in the story, but it’s pretty clear this story takes place quite some time in the past, and if I’ve embellished anything, I certainly did so for a reason, and I do hope it will be enjoyed. Without further ado, here is my brand new bit of work, tentatively titled “By the Light of the Moon.”

 

Moonlight shone brightly through the air, thick rays cutting the heavy fog that lay on the ground. The men crept silently forward through the forest, each fearing the next shadow would be guarding their quarry. Oiled rifles glinted in the night as six pairs of eyes darted nervously around in the hazy darkness, hunting a creature they weren’t sure of, each of them somewhat terrified it was also hunting them. They all froze as a twig snapped in the darkness, silencing the few night bugs that still filled the Autumn air with their song, sounding like an explosion to the overstrained ears of the hunting party. They were more on edge than ever as they looked around them in the darkness, each expecting an attack to come from the most unexpected place.

The men had been brought out by a string of cattle slaughter on their farms. More than two dozen animals had been killed between the six farms in the last week and a half. The killings started at the Jones farm on the far side of the mountain, progressing a bit farther over the mountain to a new farm each night. The farmers had dealt with the killing their own way for the last week, until the handful of men stumbled upon one another in town that morning. Each had come with his own story of hardship and gore. None of them had been able to kill the creature. In fact, none of them had even seen it. Until Josiah Ramey showed up.

At six foot six, the dirty farmer was larger than life and twice as ugly, and he came packing a tale that ran chills through the rest of them. He’d heard his horse being attacked in the night and had run outside with his gun, expecting to rustle up a coyote or even a bear. He’d had no idea what to do when the beast he saw there stood straight up and howled at the moon. He swore the beast was every bit of eight feet tall and looked fit to rip a house apart if it took the notion to.

Standing there in the square, discussing the beast Ramey claimed to have shot at, a plan had come together. The animal had been crossing the mountain killing one farm at a time, almost on a schedule. If it had hit the Ramey’s farm the night before, it was sure to be after the Randolph farm that night if the pattern held up. Assuming there was a pattern, that is.

The men all knew that Ben Randolph, the owner of the small sheep farm at the base of the mountain, was away downriver visiting his father. Word had come to some of them that his father died a couple of days prior and Randolph had been hooked into burying the old man, leaving his wife alone in the house on a night when the killer beast could be coming to destroy the place.

“If she’s there alone when it comes and nobody is there to help, there’s no tellin’ what ruin that man’ll come home to. Just had his Pa die, he don’t need to find his woman ripped to bits too,” Ramey encouraged.

Tom Jones, who felt certain the barbarous Josiah Ramey had more than the Randolph man’s best interest at heart, nonetheless was inclined to agree. He’d seen the way the beast had torn into his own small farm. Three hogs, a mess of ducks and his dog had all been taken in the night without so much as a peep that he had heard. Whatever the creature was, it was dangerous. No matter how queer the Randolph’s appeared to be, no man should be made to bury his father and his wife in the same week. So, he and the other men had agreed. They’d meet at the edge of the Ramey field in case the thing had more business to attend to there and make their way through the few miles of forest that led to the Randolph homestead.

Now, more than halfway through the journey, with nothing to show for it but a bunch of fear-and-sweat soaked farmers tugging their planks in the woods, he wondered if he might be regretting his decision.

“Sorry boys,” came a whisper from the darkness. “I can’t see a thing through this fog. Dern stick coulda jumped up and bit me.”

“Mayhap it will yet, if you don’t shut that hole in yer head, Bob White,” Jones threatened, feeling his own heart rate slow down a hair at the knowledge that their quarry hadn’t decided to make them its latest meal.

The other men snickered into the forest as they started moving again. Bob White whispered an apology as Jones lay a hand on his shoulder to let him know no harm had been done. The hearts of the men pumped with renewed ferocity as they went forward. Within minutes they had covered more than half a mile, entering the clearing that was the halfway point between the two farms. The smell of blood hung heavy in the air. They cautioned each other with just a glance, each of them nodding as the message was passed on. The moonlight illuminated the clearing like a spotlight, the fog rolling through the high grass in the small open area, exposing and once more hiding the body in the center.

Jones approached slowly, signaling the others to hang back. He could feel small bones under his feet as he got closer to the body. The putrid aroma of feces mixed with that of the blood, creating a cloud of scent that turned his stomach as he looked down into the eyes of a dead deer. The animal’s eyes were opened wide in what Jones assumed to be a mix of terror and pain. Organs were spread about the clearing, the animal’s limbs lying feet away from its torso. He realized as the fog rolled away for a moment that this is what he’d been walking on. He felt his gorge threaten to rise in his throat, a belch that tasted suspiciously like the night’s chicken and beans slipping through his lips with a whisper. Jones tensed as darkness fell all around him, a heavy rumbling rising from the distance. His heart skipped a beat as he looked skyward to see a thick cloud siding across the moon. Thunder. It would storm by dawn.

“Well,” came a whisper from just behind him. “I guess it started early.”

He whirled around in a flash, leveling his rifle at Josiah Ramey’s head before he came to his senses. The man shot him a dangerous grin and brushed by him, crouching to examine the deer. The other men crept forward as he looked over the kill.

“Still fresh,” he whispered again, his hoarse voice floating through the low mist like an apparition all of its own. Without a second’s hesitation he plunged his hand into the nest of viscera that was the deer’s open chest, releasing a burst of thin steam. “Very fresh,” he said, pulling his hand out and slinging steaming droplets of blood from his fingers. “Still warm.”

Jones heard one of the other men belch behind him, could almost feel the threat of the man’s vomit rising to his mouth. He crouched down beside of Ramey, leaning in to whisper in the larger man’s ear, a move which likely saved his life. With a rush of air and a ground shaking thud something landed just behind Jones. He whirled around again, raising his gun to see what was happening. Without warning his foot caught on one of the shattered leg bones he’d stepped on before, sending him to the ground under his own weight.

As he lay there, peering through the rolling mist, a larger than possible shadow rose before him. He could see the matted hair of the beast standing out at all angles against the moonlight. His heart slammed into his ribcage, fear flowing through his veins with renewed vigor as he was sure the thing was facing him, preparing to slam into him and rip his life from his body. In an instant he pictured his own body lying shattered and empty like that of the deer. It wasn’t until the thing raised a huge hand-like paw that he realized that it wasn’t facing him, and that the hand he saw shadowed against the pale Autumn light was much more human than should be possible.

He was unable to move as the thing’s paw shot forward, clawing through the air until it met one of the men in front of it. From his angle, Jones was unable to see who. Whoever it was fell backward with a scream of pain and fear. He saw the darkened figure he recognized as his own closest neighbor, Jim Hall. Hall shoved his rifle forward into the beast’s face, his prized Remington getting one shot off before the thing grabbed his arm. He saw the beast flinch as the bullet struck it, a growl rising through the air, once more silencing all night life in the area. He could feel the warbling tone of the beast’s anger flowing through his body, as if the very air itself was vibrating with the beast’s malice. He watched as it swiped the gun out of Hall’s hand and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground as it released its hold on his arm.

Hall swung his arms forward, striking the creature about the face and shoulders, his feet flying forward and kicking every other part he could reach. Jones felt, rather than heard Ramey finally going into action. The big man was rising to his feet, leveling his powerful shotgun at the beast’s back. Jones could sense that it was going to do no good. As he watched, the beast pulled Hall toward its face and let out something that sounded like a mix between a bark and a scream that ended in a long, eerie, trailing howl as it raised its head to the sky. The men felt as if they could tell what was coming before it happened, but none of them were prepared for the violence and finality of it.

Hall took a deep breath as the thing loosened its grip on him for a moment. In the next instant the beast locked eyes with him, and he knew his life was nearly over. The other men all raised their guns, Jones raising to one knee as he watched the beast open its mouth wide than anything he’d ever seen. In the clearing five weapons prepared to fire as the beast darted its head forward, pulling Hall’s head into its gaping maw and slamming its jaws shut. They heard one whimper from the man before the beast let his body fall to the ground, crunching the bones of its prey in its jaws as blood and chunks of skull slipped out from between its lips.

The shotgun blast nearly deafened all of them. Ramey lunged backward with the force as his weak legs threatened to give out on him. The beast bent forward with the force of the blast that slammed into its back. Chunks of fur and blood rose into the air, splattering the three men closest to the beast and turning the thickening mist a dull pinkish red in the glowing moonlight. The beast rose slowly this time, heavy mist rising from its skin as the open wounds on its back slowly closed themselves, fresh flesh knitting itself together as if by some unseen hands. The thing turned around slowly, deep red eyes glowing like coals in the darkness as it met Jones’s gaze and began growling once more. He could sense the thing preparing to pounce on him as another shotgun blast tore through the night. This time it was the thing’s chest that ripped itself apart under the high-pressure buckshot, sending the thing flying off its feet and right on top of the twitching heap that was all that was left of Hall.

“Run boys,” Ramey shouted from beside them as he reloaded. “We gotta get there now.”

Without a second thought, Jones took off, hearing the other men behind him. They ran like none of them ever remembered running before, thinking only of getting to the Randolph farm ahead of this thing and, hopefully, of finding a way to put it down once they got there. For just a moment he wondered if maybe they were acting a little harshly, knowing the kind of damage a close shot with Ramey’s shotgun should do to any animal that lives and breathes. With that kind of spread and stopping power hitting it in the chest at such a close range, it should have blown a hole clean through it. But hadn’t he seen the same shot take it in the back? And the thing had literally healed right before his eyes. Is it possible anything different would happen with a shot to its chest?

As if in answer to his question he heard the enraged snarl of the thing cut through the night just before he broke the tree line. One of the other men let out a cry that was either fear or pain. Jones honestly didn’t have time to tell. He was plunging into the forest, cutting through the thick brush until he burst on the beaten horse track that had been used by anyone hunting in these woods for years. His feet flew, his muscular body carrying him faster than the others. Soon he could hear the panicked footfalls of the other hunters behind him, the clodding sound of Ramey seeming just behind him. With another snarling howl and crash of brush, he heard the beast hot on their trail. His heart raced faster at the thought of the gigantic terror slamming into the ground, gaining precious inches as it pursued them. Cold sweat ran down his back as he felt the ground shake beneath the thing’s long gait. What in the world had they discovered in the woods tonight? Just what dreaded beast from Satan’s own court had disrupted life in his mountains? And how in the name of God were they supposed to get rid of it?

These questions and more flowed through the minds of all the men as they scurried through the darkened forest, hoping their not-so-fearless leader was taking them in the right direction. The last man in the line, the oldest and slowest, was pushing himself as heard as his heart, lungs, and legs would allow him to. He could feel the beast’s thunderous footfalls seeming just inches behind him. “I’ve just got to get there. I’ve just got to get there,” he told himself over and over again as his lungs screamed for more oxygen and his legs told him of their pain. As he was beginning to worry that he just wouldn’t make it, he spied ahead the break in the trail that meant the forest was coming to an end. Hope blossomed in his heart. If they were at the forest’s end they were only about half a mile from the Randolph place. There they would be able to make a stand against this thing. His wife’s face flashed before his eyes as he gained renewed energy. He pushed himself along a little faster as he began to think this wasn’t the end after all. Keeping his eyes on the edge of the forest and the silhouettes of his fleeing comrades, he didn’t see the pine root sticking out of the path. The same pine root that had caused his wagon to hang up more than once on this path. The same pine root that now snagged his boot and sent him flying forward, his iron flying out of his hand and striking his nearest companion in the back, leaving him temporarily empty-handed.

The man slammed into the ground hard enough to make his teeth snap together, severing the tip of his tongue and shattering a handful of his remaining good teeth. The sensation rang through his head as if he’d shoved his head into a clanging church bell. His body slid forward on the bare earth, scraping his chest and arms in a dozen different places and gouging a hole in the side of his cheek that nearly tore through to the inside of his mouth. Confusion set in instantly once he finally came to a halt. He was unsure of where he was and why he appeared to be lying on the ground in more pain than he’d felt in years. The sound of the creature coming to a halt behind him, snarling in victory and revenge brought him back to reality. He flipped over, his hands shooting out to reach for his missing rifle, but it was nowhere to be found. Trembling like a leaf in the wind, he looked up, directly into the eyes of the beast they’d come to find, regretting his decision to join the men on this suicide mission. His bladder loosened as the thing crouched in front of him, looking at him with both a bestial rage and a human curiosity. It scented the air before his face, not making any sudden movements. The man was suddenly painfully aware of his wounds, of the blood pouring down the back of his throat and running out of his split lips and down his chin.

Saliva dripped from the thing’s mouth as its thick, red tongue licked its lips.  He could smell blood and rot on the beast’s hot breath. His heart was beating faster than ever as the beast opened its mouth and loosed another of its snarling howls, sending ropes of bloody saliva over his face.

In an instant the beast locked eyes with the man and slashed one of its huge paws forward, ripping through the flesh of the man’s torso. He felt the creature’s claws scrape his ribs before sinking into his abdomen and tearing a fistful of his body away. Unable to move, or even scream, the man felt the creature push him onto his back and grab his rib cage. With barely any effort at all the thing tore his chest open and ripped his heart out of his body. The last thing the man saw was the beast, unlike anything he’d ever witnessed, toss his still-beating heart into its mouth and bite down.

Feeling its nearly insatiable hunger already rising again, the beast rose to its feet once more and looked toward the edge of the forest, seeing the last of the hunter’s shadows fading just out of reach of the forest’s reaching branches. Bounding forward, the beast once more put on the chase.

Jones heard the beast roaring behind them, heard his neighbor falling, but his legs wouldn’t stop carrying him away. He kept picturing the Randolph woman, a pretty young thing that he’d met once or twice in town, coming out to see what was causing a ruckus with their cattle. He could almost envision the terror on her face as the beast they’d encountered in the forest leapt toward her. She wouldn’t stand a chance if they didn’t warn her. He knew he couldn’t let this happen. A stitch formed in his side as he maintained his rapid pace down the nearly clear hill from the forest. He could see the roof of the Randolph farm over the dying corn stalks remaining in the field. It wouldn’t be much longer now, he knew, as the sound of the beast’s pursuit returned to his ears.

Jones rounded the corner of the garden first, nearly running headlong into Karen Randolph, holding a shotgun of her own.

“Ma’am turn around, we’ve got to get inside,” he panted, the long run finally catching up to him. The others fell in line behind him, ragged breaths filling the night air with even more steam.

“What in the Lord’s name is going on,” she asked them in a voice that could make the angels cry, raising her gun to point loosely at the group of men. “I heard this shootin’ and carryin’ on out here. What in the world are you men doin’?”

“There’s some kinda animal out there, ma’am,” Jones started, before Josiah Ramey cut him off.

“There ain’t no time to explain out here, Mrs. Randolph. We got to get inside ‘fore our death comes outta them woods.”

“I won’t be invitin’ a bunch of rough necked sweaty woodsmen in my house in the dark o’the night. Now tell me what in the world is goin’ on.”

“A beast ma’am, “Jones pleaded. “It’s taken two of us already. We have to get inside where it’s safe. Shotgun wasn’t strong enough to stop it for more than a minute. We have to go now,” he said as the beast let out a loud snarl, the sound of brush rustling coming from behind them.

Panic finally crossed the woman’s face as she realized what they were saying to her. Jones felt relief flood his heart as he thought she was finally seeing the problem. A cloud covered the moon once again, thunder rumbling heavily in the distance. He felt the first drops of rain pattering down on his bare arms. He kept his eyes locked on the woman’s, silently urging her to move, as the moon broke free of its cover, shedding fresh light on them all. In the sudden burst of illumination Jones could have sworn her eyes flashed a red-goldish color, but a sound from behind them broke his focus.

The beast tore through the underbrush and burst out of the forest directly behind them, less than half the distance it would have had to cover if it followed the path. Standing tall on its hind legs and howling at the moon the creature looked more human than beast, save its shaggy coat and long, canine head. Their time was running out. Jones and the others turned, backing away slowly, guns trained on the creature, until Jones felt his path blocked by the Randolph woman. She was staring straight ahead, eyes locked onto the creature, and she wasn’t budging an inch.

“Mrs. Randolph. Karen,” he shouted, hoping the use of her first name would shake her into action. “We have to get inside. Now.”

But it was too late.

The creature dropped to all fours and bounded forward, reaching them in three long strides of its full-bodied stance. All four of the men felt their hearts constrict in their chests. It was now or never. Josiah Ramey shouted a command, all the men following his lead and aiming for the beast. As the creature once more rose to its towering height above them, all four guns went off, sending more than two pounds of hot lead into the creature’s torso.

The beast was knocked off its feet again, the moon now running between the clouds as if to hide from the terror itself.

A hissing mist rose from the beast as the moon once again came out from behind the clouds, an almost human moaning coming from the blood-soaked shape in front of them. Rain began pelting down as the creature stirred on the ground. As the men watched, the beast stretched its hands and flexed its mighty paws, rising slowly to its feet again. None of them could move. They had put enough firepower to this creature to stop a charging bear, and it was still living. A whimpering scream rose from behind Jones, a sound that seemed to be a mix of fearful and triumphant. He turned quickly, remembering the woman was present. He felt a sliver of guilt for exposing her to such carnage, his own sorrow momentarily confusing what he saw before him.

Karen Randolph was aiming her shotgun at the back of Josiah Ramey’s head. He leapt forward as she pulled the trigger, knocking the barrel of the gun to the side as the creature regained its footing. Two full shells of buckshot were driven into the creature’s unexpectant shoulder, driving it to the ground again with a scream of pain like nothing any of the men had ever heard. Jones stopped short as Karen Randolph loosed a shriek to match that of the beast. With a strength he couldn’t have imagined her having, the woman threw him to the ground and drove a boot clad foot into his sternum, reloading her gun while she did so, aiming it at the men, who were once more aiming on the writhing creature on the ground.

The moonlight was hidden once again as lightning flashed in the sky, rain pelting them harder now. In a muzzle flash that nearly blinded him, Jones watched as the grieved woman emptied her weapon into the back of the man closest to her. With a scream of rage, the beast on the ground sat up, blood pouring from a wound that didn’t seem to want to heal. The buckshot had torn away half the thing’s shoulder, leaving its arm a dangling mess, and had ripped a good portion of its cheek off. Jones finally got his first close view of the creature in that instant, and it was then that he became certain the powers of Hell existed, and he was staring one of them right in the face.

The beast rose slowly to its feet, wolfish legs bringing it to a towering height of at least eight feet, just as Ramey had told them. Dark brown fur coated the thing’s body from head to toe, its blood-soaked torso more muscular than the largest farmhand Jones had ever seen. It hunched forward on its canine legs, a thick brown tail swishing back and forth in the mist. Thick, muscular arms took the place of what should have been the wolf-creature’s front legs. He saw, with an added horror that his earlier observation was correct: the beast’s fur-covered claws were almost identical to human hands. The beast’s head was long and wolfish, huge ears standing tall on the sides of its head. It was the face that made Jones gasp, his breath hitching in chest. Two large red-gold eyes peered out of the blood matted fur at the base of the monster’s snout, glaring at each of them in turn while its long snout, oozing with saliva and blood, showed them the teeth that had taken the lives of two of their friends. Jones was drawn to the left side of the beast’s face, however, certain that he could see something more inside the hole made by the woman’s stray buckshot.

With a howl that sent night birds flying for miles, the creature swiped forward and sunk its claws into the face of the man in front of it, crushing the skull beneath with Ramey hurriedly trying to reload his shotgun while Karen Randolph did the same. Jones regained his feet as the moon came out from behind the cloud again, leveling his gun the thing’s head and firing as Ramey loosed his shot as well. The two shots collided in the air before the beast’s face, causing an explosion that sent fire and shards of metal in every direction. The beast howled in a pained rage and dove forward at Jones, hitting him low across the torso and driving him back to the ground at the edge of the corn. Blood soaked Jones now as he saw the mist once more rising from the beast’s skin.

The creature rose up from its low position on his body, its eyes meeting his as blood and thick ropes of saliva coated his chest. His horror was renewed as he saw the disturbed flesh and bone exposed by the firestorm of the two gunshots. He could see the almost completely dislocated lower mandible, being held in place by a few ropes of sinew and gristle. As he watched the moon escaped the clouds once more, heavy mist rising from the edges of the wolf beast’s head where the light touched it. The creature looked up at the sky, exposing the face beneath the flesh that Jones was certain he’d seen. The torn flesh of Ben Randolph’s cheek was slowly hidden as the flesh knitted itself back over the exposed area.

Ramey, not seeing this, rapidly approached the beast from behind, swinging his gun with all his might. Blood gushed forward as the metal connected with the beast’s head, flowing over Jones’s face. Chunks of flesh and fur flopped forward exposing more of the face within. One red eye remained on the right side of the beast’s head, the mist rising heavily as new flesh knitted over the torn flaps. A scream rang out beside the group, followed by a gunshot that sent Ramey to the ground. At the sound of his wife’s voice, Ben Randolph’s one exposed eye fluttered open. A red-gold glint remained in the eye for a moment as his mouth opened.

“Krrrnnn,” came a guttural growl from within the split head. In an instant the Ben-beast was standing, dragging Jones with it. “Krrreennn,” came the growl again.

The woman stood weeping before the beast as it held Jones in its great paws.

“It’s OK, Ben,” she said to the beast, lightning splitting the sky as the moon was finally covered by the heavy clouds. Fat drops of rain slapped every available surface, pelting Jones’s skin with enough force to leave welts on his face. The beast’s claws flexed, leaving gouge marks in his chest as the woman reached out and touched the beast’s shoulder, the wound her gun had left now closed, only a bright white scar remaining to show where it had been.

Jones, aware the creature was now staring at Karen Randolph, reached slowly for his revolver, realizing it still sat snugly in the holster on his hip. As he drew the weapon slowly, praying the wet bullets would still fire, the beast shot its remaining eye to his face, attracted by the sudden flex of his muscles as he drew the weapon. With no warning, the beast released his shirt with one hand, and shoved its hand through his chest, shredding his left lung and half the organs in his body, before snapping his spine. White hot pain flashed in Jones’s mind as he felt his body fighting to stay alive. Using the last of his strength, he raised the pistol with a shaky hand, and pulled the trigger. The bullet drove through the beast’s chest and upward into Randolph’s chin, sending a gush of blood and gore surging out of the man’s nose and mouth.

He was dropped to the ground before he knew what was happening. The beast dropped to its knees, pulling its breath in in gasps and jerks. Ben Randolph opened his mouth, a whimper escaping from deep within his body. His wife stood over his body, her mouth opening and closing in shock.

The moon once more escaped its cloudy prison, sending thick beams of light down over the wounded body in front of her, steam rising from countless lesions and gaping holes in the thing’s flesh. As she watched this spectacle, Karen Randolph raised her gun once more, tears streaming down her face.

“Karen,” the growling voice from within the steaming body muttered clearly, looking into her eyes.

“Shhh, Ben. Everything is going to be just fine,” she said as she squeezed the trigger slowly.

Jones watched as Karen Randolph discharged her weapon, Josiah Ramey’s head exploding with the blast, sending hot blood and shards of bone cascading down over Ben Randolph’s head before he passed out on the ground and knew no more that night. Lightning split the sky once more as the darkness streaked Jones’s vision. Steam rose heavily from Ben Randolph’s body as the bloody fur seemed to melt away before Jones’s eyes. He felt his life slipping away as he watched the beast before him melt away, leaving the bruised and battered form of the man whose wife he’d come here to save. The wife who now stood over her husband, a grin on her face. As Jones’s life left his body, he met Karen Randolph’s eyes, seeing a shocking red-gold glint in them for just a moment before darkness fell over his world for good.

 

There we go, everyone. I know this was a pretty lengthy piece, but I hope you all enjoyed it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story, and anything else you’re interested in. If you want to keep up with my work, check out more samples, or just see what else I’m up to, feel free to follow here or subscribe to my newsletter. I would also love it if you’d like my author page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/DMathewsBooks/) or follow me on Twitter (@DameanMathews) and keep the reading and writing going! Feel free to comment or message me at any time, and enjoy the rest of the Summer-Blog-A-Day event here (http://kaymacleodbooks.com/summer-blog-a-day-2018/).

The Exorcist

Happy Halloween, everyone!! I trust October has been a spectacularly spooky month for everyone, hopefully made all the much eerier thanks to this month’s book club read. William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” has been fascinating and terrifying audiences for nearly half a century now, but the text itself is written in a fairly timeless manner that allows the spooks and scares within to still affect readers today. The subject of many controversies of both religious and moral natures, “The Exorcist” still finds a way to worm its way into the minds of those daring enough to delve into its demonic depths.

First and foremost I have to say that, as a horror buff, this book has long been on my list of must-reads. The fact that I got to read it in October, for my Halloween book club choice admittedly makes it even better to me. The way Blatty tackles the very difficult subjects of possession and its effects on those around the possessed are still admirable qualities of the book. The helplessness that seems to drip off the pages from both Chris MacNeil and Father Karras are enough to give the reader cause for tears with each new chapter. The fact that Reagan’s consciousness is completely absent for the majority of the novel is something that differs from other exorcism tales of similar caliber. I like that, rather than being made to feel sorry for her because she begs us to, we are made to feel sorry for her because she doesn’t get the option of asking. I think that was an incredibly wise choice on Blatty’s part.

The continuous allusion to Karras’s failed faith, and the hints that he had done or said something wrong that wasn’t explicitly laid out by those around him is one of the endearing qualities of the novel for me. I loved the constant struggle between his science and medicine-based training for psychiatry and his religious need to see the meaning behind things and try to save Reagan’s life – even her soul. One thing that has seen slight controversy and confusion for critics of the work is the reveal of what Karras’s guilt may stem from. It comes from the end of the novel, when the demon is pushing him and screaming at him, and it’s one word in a part of the novel that moves about as fast as a bullet car. “homosexual.” The demon tells Karras what he has feared throughout the entire novel; he is not worthy. He is, in fact, so corrupt that worms won’t eat his corpse. The fact that this has slipped by without scrutiny and analysis for so long, to me, is a testament to both the author and the readers. Blatty spun the web so well that we see Karras’s worth, despite his worry. Even the critics of a time when being gay was seen as incredibly taboo didn’t have much to say about this because Blatty made it obvious that this made Karras no less worthy, no less of a holy man. I am rather fond of that and applaud him for it. I would have liked to see a short scene with Karras finally feeling his worth, but of course that could be his death scene if one chooses to interpret it that way.

I like the research that was put into this book as well. So often popular culture spins exorcism as an easy thing to get. You just tell a priest you  have a demon and soon there’s holy water and pea soup everywhere. But that’s not the case. The Church (notice that organizational classification) has rendered exorcism as a very taboo last resort. There are definitely hoops that must be jumped through and proof that has to be gathered before priests will be bringing The Host into your house and trying to rend the devil from within. The fact the Blatty emphasized that heavily here, and even presented us with a knife’s edge that could have led to Reagan’s death had the church gone in the other direction are further reasons I respect his work to no end. I loved the use of other languages, mentions of both religious and occult texts, and the overall feeling of added stress the reader is given at having to follow this proof-gathering quest. Had Karras been able to walk in and say “yeah, let’s do an exorcism” I don’t think the book would be nearly the great piece of work it is today.

There were a couple of things I had problems with, of course. One thing that I’m sure many of you noticed ( at least I hope it wasn’t just me) was Blatty’s style. He was great at setting up a scene for the most part, but there were times when his execution fell flat. A lot of times in the novel I found myself wondering why such pointless dialogue and irrelevant detail made it into the scene. I don’t know if Blatty just wasn’t good at dialogue, or if that was just his way. I haven’t read anything else from him yet, so I may have to return to that question at a later date. I also would have liked some sort of clear resolution of the strange priest that appeared to Karras in his room before Merrin was approved. We get a very tense conversation for a strange, crutched man who ends in Karras being warned to leave the MacNeils alone and to beware of Sharon, and then he wakes up, leaving us to think the conversation was just a dream before he finds the cigarette in his ashtray. One obvious interpretation would be that it was a nightmare visit from the possessing demon in an attempt to scare him away, but why the strange fat priest, why the crutches, why have him smoke the same imported cigarette as Chris, and why the warning to beware of Sharon? Am I missing something? One more minor thing I have a slight confusion about; Pazuzu is mentioned by Merrin, the statue of Pazuzu is the forefront of the beginning of the novel, and the name comes up again, but I don’t recall the demon or even Merrin explicitly saying that Pazuzu is the entity tormenting Reagan. I only bring this up because it has somehow become all but canon with the novel and the culture surrounding it, but I never got the solid affirmation I expected.

Regardless of those things I do think this book is well worth the read. For any lover of horror or even just mystery, this novel will keep you on your toes. I know there are a lot of religious arguments against it, but I don’t know if I understand that. The book certainly doesn’t encourage witchcraft or seeking demonic possession. If anything it does the opposite. Maybe it’s just the fictional representation that can be interpreted as supporting the attempts at exorcism. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, follow your own inclination when considering whether or not to read the novel. I recommend it, particularly keeping in mind the faults I mentioned. As always, I look forward to everyone’s contribution and comments. Feel free to comment on any and all posts or send me a private message anytime (you can send me a message on the website, and you’re welcome to send Facebook messages or DMs on Twitter). I look forward to conversation and further book suggestions! Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit tomorrow night to protect yourself, and keep in mind that, for myself and many others, Wednesday means Christmas will take over everything!!

October book announcement

Good Monday, everyone. I know life is too much like a horror story these days, but it’s time to make that October book announcement. This month I wanted to focus on something terrifying, yet fictional. Something we can feel afraid of, but understand that, when we close the book, the terror ends there.

To do this, I chose the novel that inspired the movie that has long been called the more terrifying movie in history (not to mention the subsequent television series, which just began its second season); William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.” The novel tells the story a young girl who is possessed by the demon Pazuzu who threatens not only her immortal soul, but those of her mother and the priests who attempt to save her. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.

This novel and its franchise has been scaring audiences for more than four decades and has inspired multiple sequels/retellings, as well as the sequel series and some of the most iconic cult horror scenes and references in pop culture history.

If demonic possession and terrifying scenes of religious desecration are too much for you, you may not want to sit this one out. As a Christian man, I understand if anyone wants to sit out. Fortunately the novel is fiction so, as a horror author, I’ll be checking it out for posterity and research.

As always, feel free to comment and message me your suggestions for future reviews. I look forward to speaking with everyone who participates! Expect this review to go up on Halloween, naturally, for fright’s sake. I hope you’ll join me in reading this scary novel, and I hope you enjoy!