The Path Back to Aira: H.P. Lovecraft’s Quest of Iranon

It always comes back to Lovecraft, for me.

When I peel back the opaque shroud of time from my mind, I remember that H.P. Lovecraft was pretty much another writer like Edgar Allan Poe to me, before I actually read his work. Certainly, when I read “The Tomb” in those early days, it didn’t disabuse me of that notion, though I had no idea of the depth of his terrifying vision and how it fit into — and beyond — the evolution of humanity until I read “The Rats in the Walls”: problematic elements, and all.

Then, one day, after getting and reading The Dream Cycle of H.P. Lovecraft with Neil Gaiman’s introduction telling us how extremely racist he was, as if it hadn’t already been clear, and my own head being filled with Lovecraft’s epistolary first-person scholarly tales of meeting horrific things that have always lived side by side with what we think is normal, though devoid of sex beyond anything squeamish and disgusting, and certainly far from intimacy tat was anything other than camaraderie I found “The Quest of Iranon.”

I remember reading it that first time. It was evening, I think, and I was sitting on the bench at Vanier College at York University. This was my Undergrad year after all my carefully laid plans fell apart, and I was tired of being so structured: and I just wanted to take the courses that interested me and — for the first time — genuinely explore my surroundings. I was pretty young then, about twenty-four or so, and between the end of my first relationship, quitting my Creative Writing Program, and not taking a full course load anymore I guess I was in the place where these stories would affect me.

They spoke to me then, with grandiose language — heightened diction, my teachers called it — but also about dreams, and nostalgia, and loss. “The Quest of Iranon” has gotten some flak over the years. Some have said it is heavily derivative of Lovecraft’s favourite writer and once of his influences, Lord Dunsany. I imagine others have seen it as a lot of navel-gazing on the part of the protagonist, and melodramatic self-pity. I know at least one person who has no patience for this story, and saw it as tremendously self-indulgent and perhaps even a little preachy. When I was reading Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Arkham and Beyond, he referenced Brian Humphreys in his “Who Is Iranon?” who read the ending of the story to mean that Iranon’s physical translation is literal and entails that he is related to the Gods, or the Great Old Ones in some way before stepping into a space that changes him. It is the closest horror interpretation, or Mythos one, I’d seen at that point.

For me, aside from some Cthulhu Mythos or Dream Cycle references — world-building crossover — the horror of the narrative is entirely different. I read the story as as a parable or a metaphor. Iranon is an artist. He fuels himself on his passion and his dreams. He goes to one place that wants him to get a “proper job” in order to survive, only mildly tolerating his natural abilities, and completely ignoring the fact that they just toil for the sake of work, and forgetting the finer things with which they could strive. It’s the dreamer verses the cold, grim real world trope, which I’m sure has felt trite to people who have actually worked at manifesting their dreams, but it’s also an observation about how fickle fame or respect for someone’s art can be as Iranon goes to another city and eventually, for all his initial favour, is replaced by the new. A lot of these ideas and themes are refined in Lovecraft’s later works “The Silver Key” and “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”

But Iranon’s goal, to return to Aira — this beautiful land where he is a Prince — is the one thing that keeps him going. He travels the world, telling stories about this place where he feels like he belongs, and he understands things, and it allows him to remain vital. This impulse maintains his sense of youth. I imagine that others can’t even believe it, like his friend Romnod who follows him as a young boy, his constant companion for a time, only to settle in a city and die an old drunkard.

People laugh at Iranon. Or they ignore him. Or they simply don’t see him at all. And yet he continues traveling, and playing, and making his songs, still seeking his lost home. He still wants to return to Aira.

It’s only at the end, when he encounters an old shepherd at the edges of a desert, that he realizes the terrible truth of the matter.

There is no Aira.

The implication is that the shepherd and Iranon were friends years ago, beggar’s children. Iranon himself had been an orphan telling everyone about the magical city of Aira where he said he was a Prince. When Iranon remembers this truth, his self-delusion is gone. His dream is dead. He withers away, looking and feeling every bit his age. And realizing that his whole life was basically a lie, he goes to die in the quicksand rather than continue on with the rest of his miserable existence.

It’s that whole trope of “Forbidden Knowledge” or “You can’t handle the truth” that leads this formulaic story — with Iranon constantly asking every stranger he meets if they know where Aira in an almost poetic verse — to that predictable place. It’s so easy to scoff at that, or say it isn’t scary, or look down your nose and have no patience for dreamers that aren’t professional and don’t see their passion as actual work. You can even argue that it’s something of a maudlin tragedy, and you can see it in Lovecraft’s other stories: in “The Outsider” whose protagonist realizes he is an abomination and tries to forget, and some of his more racist works like “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” or even “The Shadows Over Innsmouth” where the protagonists realize they have inhuman ancestry in their blood, and either flee from their fraying humanity, or kill themselves.

Lovecraft has always stated that humanity’s greatest fear is that of the unknown, while at the same time positing that if people realized the ultimate truth, it would destroy their sanity.

I think “The Quest of Iranon” works for me because it makes me think of another interpretation of horror. Imagine you have this idea of who you are, and where you come from in relation to that. Consider that you are constantly having that sense of self challenged, and struggling to undertake the actions that make you happy. You go through all of that, and you keep that certainty alive and it strengthens you. Perhaps it is challenged, and you learn, but that core of you is still there, and it inspires you to go onward, and keep living.

And then imagine, one day, you find out that everything that you thought — that you genuinely wanted to be be true — is not only false, it never happened. You were never going to find your home. You were never going to find that peace. You were never who you thought you were.

The horror in “The Quest of Iranon” is more than just coming to the discovery that you are the alien, the monster, or the Other. It’s that you just aren’t that important. You’re not that special. And some people might cynically acknowledge that and think you were foolish for ever thinking otherwise, that this what adolescents and young adults have to accept in order to grow up, but consider what happens to someone when they believe they can never be happy unless they find the thing that, in reality, doesn’t exist. And everyone else is fine with that, or they can move on, or settle down, but you just … can’t.

I think that everyone has had a moment like this. Obviously, we don’t all go into quicksand and die, but sometimes we want to forget this disappointment. Sometimes you just want to forget those dreams that you thought were so important and now they just embarrass you, or anger you, or merely make you terribly sad in that they are not reality, and they will never be.

I’ve thought about Iranon from time to time, and Aira, and the place of youth that we all cobble together from our better memories as some kind of idyllic past that didn’t happen, but you wish it had. Or maybe it did happen in a different form. Even Iranon thought, despite knowing better, that some cities might have been his Aira and enjoyed them for whatever time they were worth.

To this very day, I don’t know the way back to a place that probably never happened, or didn’t the way I thought or wished it would. But there is nothing to laugh about that, or turn your nose up from. It doesn’t make you superior to believe that you are beyond this yearning, or nostalgia, and especially not if you look down at others for feeling this way. Maybe the horror is when you’ve felt like you lost something you never had, and everyone else just doesn’t — or doesn’t want to — understand you. Or see you.

It’s a haunting story, “The Quest of Iranon” especially during a time when dreams are important to take our minds off of a terrifying reality, or to add meaningful flavour to it. Art has kept us going through seclusion, and united us. Maybe Aira doesn’t exist, but perhaps something imaginary needs to have been, and to be.

I haven’t been in Undergrad in years. I’ve met and lost friends along the way. I’ve been in different places. I’ve still dreamed. Perhaps, one day, I will rediscover my Aira, or the very least find the strength and will within myself to let it go.

Behind My Son of Shadows

Nothing ever goes according to plan. This is especially true in the mad science known as creative writing.

I’d been planning to place something within the Reanimation Station for quite some time, to take apart and rewrite an old film and make it into a more coherent story. There have been some smaller, minor experiments before that point: splicing Society and They Live, looking at alternative story ideas and possible narrative execution derived from Cannibal Holocaust, From Beyond, and even Hogzilla, and outright creating a short continuation or epilogue to Crimson Peak.

But this wasn’t enough. It’s never enough.

Before undertaking this Project, without a hope for financial compensation and only out of the perverted goodness of my black heart, I needed to attempt something … larger.

‎Harry Kümel’s Daughters of Darkness is not a bad film, though it isn’t as well known as it should be. In fact, it is a great movie. But, as most homage and fanfiction writers do, I wondered what would have happened if it had gone … differently.

It all began with the premise: what if Stefan, who claimed to be the heir to Chilton Manor, told his new wife Valerie the truth about his phone call back home, and what he truly wanted out of her?

I’d already seen the film twice, but that wasn’t enough. The first Phase of my process was reading up on the movie, on the characters, and even some basic thoughts from critics and its director. I also thought it useful to fill in some gaps about Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess of Hungary, herself. I knew that in order to make the story compelling, I needed to consider what each character was thinking and feeling beyond how their movements and facial expressions are telegraphed in the film.

But even before all of this, I’d already decided that the story was going to be two scenes: the first being the aftermath of Stefan telling Valerie the truth and him meeting Ilona Harczy in the honeymoon suite as per the usual proceedings of the film, and then the Countess Elizabeth Bathory also coming into the room to talk with Stefan privately, and confront him over the knowledge of what he really is.

It sounds simple, right? The film works well not just because of its turns in lush and austere aesthetics, but also due to what it doesn’t show or say. I know that ascribing clear meaning or explanations to things from the film wouldn’t work as they are not in the film. That is a personal rule of mine. If I am going to work in someone else’s playground I am either only going to play with the toys they’ve left behind, or take note of those items and bring some that potentially complement them.

For example, there are a few references to Elizabeth Bathory, and I did place some Dracula allusions into the narrative as well. What’s fascinating is that from Bathory, and Vlad Tepes came in no small part influence for how the image of the vampire is depicted in the literary arts. Yet Dracula isn’t necessarily Vlad Tepes, and the historical Elizabeth Bathory isn’t a vampire. It is the ideas of these legends based off history and folklore, these created identities that are the most fascinating elements to me. They are fictional personas masking something else entirely, another concept or truth that ultimately gets revealed while saying very little about their concrete origins. And if you have watched Daughters of Darkness, you also know that this applies to Stefan to some extent as well: in that he too is a construct over another, darker truth that gets realized one way in the film, and I attempt to reveal in another in my own derivative narrative.

Unfortunately, what was supposed to be sparse with little bits of ornamentation changed into something else in the operating theatre of my writer’s mind. The truth of what happened with Stefan and Valerie in my narrative, in contrast to the film, was going to be slowly revealed and only touched upon: kind of like how the characters in Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” talk about abortion without being blunt or direct about it.

But if we are going to go into literary influences that aided me in building on, and understanding this cinematic narrative, I would also mention Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice: a novella that deals with homoerotic and queer undertones along with the dissolution of a morality and mind obsessed with possessing youth and beauty. Ostend in Belgium, while not Venice, Italy still has some of the architectural and ornamental tradition that mirrors the latter.

There is definitely a Continental European literary influence over Daughters of Darkness, especially in seduction and love as a passionate force that destroys bourgeoisie mentality — a middle-class mindset — and that life itself.

My alternate ending idea changed, however, when Ilona Harczy wanted more “screen time” in the narrative. To elaborate, she spoke to me. One thing that I’ve seen online is that different reviews of Daughters of Darkness ascribe a variety of perspectives to the film. But what they all seem to agree on, or most of them, is that the women — the vampires — are lesbians. It does seem that Elizabeth and Ilona are in a hierarchical lesbian power exchange relationship, especially accentuated by the fact that Elizabeth is the vampire that made or sired Ilona: compelling her with what seems to be a bond. And towards the end of the film, Valerie is influenced by that same magnetism. But I think there are complexities there that are more than just a black and white sense of sexuality, or even gender understanding.

Ilona, to me, wanted to leave the worn down, exhausting relationship she has with her domineering partner, still hungry for blood herself but also for companionship with someone other than Elizabeth, maybe even a temporary reprieve from her own sense of unhappiness. She is a mirror to Stefan in that he too trying to run from his own responsibilities, wanting to embrace his hungers, his appetites but only able to make excuses to attempt to escape the inevitable as well. Neither character is happy, and in this derivative construction of mine, I wanted to make it clear that they know this on one level: even if it is lost in translation between them.

I was content to let Ilona have her time with Stefan, but then a new challenge arose. You see, I really liked — love — Kümel’s dialogue. There are some lines in his film that I just wanted to exist in this alternate ending that was quickly becoming an alternative chapter. It began with Stefan and Ilona, and then after Ilona’s limited third-person narrative, I had to go back to Valerie and see what her interaction with the Countess would be like.

Valerie runs away, this time from the verbal truth and not the visceral, punitive corporeal punishment that Stefan utilizes against her in his sense of thwarted ambition — of being the subordinate instead of the master as he thinks a man should be — and the Countess finds her. I didn’t want to reveal too much about what happened, or what was said otherwise there is that fear of repetition in the narrative. A lot of the lines still worked, especially when applied to Valerie realizing that Stefan’s sadistic desires, and his sexuality are not what she expected: or the truth about his home life.

I think where I had to be really careful was attempting to get to the third-person limited perspective of the Countess. Whereas Valeris is a central protagonist in the film and much about her own development is already made clear to the point it being dangerous repetition, Elizabeth Bathory needs remain more of an opaque, yet open mystery. You can, and you should, read between the lines. She has seen it all. In fact, she has done it all. When you look at her interaction with Stefan in the film, you see they have a lot in common. The difference? The Countess reached the point where she can enact these desires. Stefan has not.

I was thinking about character motivations and dynamics. I considered the fact that Elizabeth would like to travel around a great deal, not just because the Bathory family lost their land ages after the Blood Countess’ house arrest and death, but also because if she had been entombed alive in her own home, she wouldn’t want to stay in one place for too long. It would terrify the hell out of her, which is why she needs to move around so much, and how she came to the hotel at Ostend again. At the same time, the Countess is old. It’s said that it is never polite to speculate on a lady’s age, but when you see Elizabeth interact with others, in the way she moves, or looks at them, or smiles it really does feel like she is ethereal, that she is attempting to remember how to affect human mannerisms and emotion when the only real feelings she channels anymore are disaffection and hunger. She’s jaded and tired, and while Ilona is desperate to feel something else — anything — Elizabeth has particular tastes and likes to take incredible risks.

I added even more literary references, especially from Milton’s Paradise Lost. The historical Elizabeth Bathory, who apparently suffered seizures and some say actually bathed in the blood of healthy innocents to stop them, was also a highly literate young girl who speak Latin and ancient Greek. She was smart, and if the Countess of this film is her, or descended from her, or bases herself off her, I can see her comparing her idea of love to Satan, Death, and Sin. I know that it’s Mary Shelley who makes references to Paradise Lost in Frankenstein, but it just suits the Gothic environment crafted in Daughters in Darkness.

Writing this has been challenging. Imagine filming, and the conceit that a lot of the work in film is post-production: in the editing room. So consider finding a complete and excellent film, a masterpiece, and cutting apart pieces of it, and splicing together dialogue into different spaces, with words that are your own and might possibly complement the original dialogue: while something new. That’s what I attempted to do here.

However, and this is important, I didn’t want to destroy the themes of the film. A part of me wonders, even now, if making this ending focused on Stefan doesn’t defeat the purpose of the film, or go against the natures of the characters involved. Certainly, I can’t deny that I changed its trajectory and emphasis on women while, at the same time I feel like it still explores those elements amongst power dynamics, and the questions of eros, and freewill.

Let me just say: rewatching the film again, and going through various scenes and their dialogue made me truly appreciate the detail and layers, the nuances, in the narrative. Elizabeth is calculating, but she isn’t all-knowing. She just knows how to adapt like, in Kümel’s words to Mark Gatniss in Horror Europa, any good “demagogue.” Elizabeth is a casual opportunist, and while she seems to have preferences towards Valerie, for what seem to be similar reasons as Stefan’s, she doesn’t rule him out either. I think what gets me is her speech to Valerie in the film about what men want from women, sexually and kink-wise, and all the while you begin to realize that when Elizabeth is talking about what Valerie is expected to do for Stefan, she is really wanting Valerie to undertake these actions for her. In a way, Elizabeth is projecting her needs and desires on Stefan and men to introduce them, or define them, for Valerie. She is basically manipulating and grooming her away from Stefan after their violent encounter in the film.

In my story, it is a longer game, but Elizabeth does use the situation to win Valerie’s trust and take advantage of her vulnerability. What happens when someone is young and in love and invests this whole energy into a risky business of a person that doesn’t pay off, or turn out the way they think? They panic, and seek someone who knows, or seems to know what the deal might be. And while Stefan does have Dominant, and sadistic tendencies, he does share in the fact that he is bisexual — just as the female characters all seem to be. In the film, he associates gender with a power dynamic: he is a submissive or subordinate partner to his male partner at Chilton Manor, while he chafes under as he has other needs, and inherently believes that a man should be dominant over a woman. That chauvinism is there. However, in the scene in the lounge he does give into the Countess’ sensual domination — whether supernatural, or not.

Elizabeth can read Stefan. You can also interpret this as she talked with Valerie about him. And when someone trying to still feel something, to keep experiencing pleasure, can get more than one good thing, they will. Stefan has the tendencies towards sadism, but Elizabeth has learned it, and it is telling that he calls his partner in England “Mother” but the film Elizabeth wraps her arms around him, and in my fiction she ends up taking the control that he wants to give.

There are other elements that I didn’t plan that turned out well, such as Ilona’s eventual fate. I’ve been reading Clive Barker’s Imajica recently, and the novel begins with a theory of fiction in which there is only room for “three players” in a narrative: be they characters, or themes and three it becomes: though whether or not it will become two, then one like in the film isn’t clear by the end of my narrative. This riff or modification of Aristotle’s Poetics aside, it works out well, especially in using the Chekhov’s gun objects from the film: the razor that Stefan accidentally cuts himself with at the beginning of the story, and Ilona’s pearl necklace. The first item had already been there, and gets used in a different way in the film whereas I worked the necklace in differently.

Originally, I was going to have Ilona drop the necklace when leaving Stefan and Valerie’s honeymoon suite:

In her haste, in her stride to leave, Ilona drops the pearl necklace onto the floor. It snaps, spilling every ivory bead, each one rolling away, releasing them into the shadows gathered under the bed. 

However, there is no way she would have accidentally destroyed that necklace. It is a good image, and excellent foreshadowing, but I found a place where it fits far better, and used more than it was in the film. I had even used a third-person limited Stefan perspective that I didn’t end up using where he compares Ilona’s teeth to the pearls:

Stefan feels her watching him as he showers.

The weight of what happened before, with Valerie, hasn’t left him. Something, after Ilona however, feels more coiled. He turns around to see her. In the light of the bathroom, he sees her luscious lips, parted, and her teeth — paler than the pearls that were around her neck, dashed onto the floor like the rest of the room by his hand — exposed.

It is a good paragraph, as well, but in the end I used Ilona’s perspective instead and moved the pearls reference downward, and then away from there to her denouement in the bathtub of her’s and Elizabeth’s suite.

I don’t really know what else to add to this behind the scenes, or backstage look at my literary homage to Daughters of Darkness except I think that if I had to explain how the title works beyond it being a gender-bent version of the English title, it would go a little something like this.

Basically, Stefan who claims to be from Chilton Manor is part of an unofficial and illegal relationship with a more powerful man who stays in his estate and calls himself “Mother.” Valerie wants to protect him and be his wife but she’s basically young and with little substance beyond what she can become. Ilona, who seduces him, is dressed in black and wishes to be free, already resigned to what happens to her with moments of defiance — like him — and when she touches his face and hair, she almost seems to see a reflection of herself except so much younger. And Elizabeth, who plays with him and his wife, is an older feminine version of what he is, and what he could be. But like the shadow of shadows, he is always going to be tethered to something: his partner, his idea of what a man should be, the Countess, his sexual desires, and his unacknowledged needs. Originally, I was going to have the story end where he and Valerie almost touch fingers after the Countess claims them, after he is turned on the memory of Ilona’s final fate. But I needed to have Elizabeth behind them with, yes, that gimmicky black raincoat that looks like a vampire cape or the wings of a bat. It mirrors what Valerie, or the form of Valerie, does at the end of the film with that couple she meets after this is all said and done.

Stefan may have a different existence in this story, in this alternate ending, but he is still a shadow. He is still subordinate to someone else. He is still a slave to his passions. The difference? He knows it now. And he has died for them: just in a different way.

I hope liked this look into the bloody mess of my creative process, and that I will see you all for the next experiment.

Son of Shadows

Dedicated to Harry Kümel’s 1971 film Daughters of Darkness

Stefan feels nothing.

He sits in the King-sized bed, now empty aside from himself. And he doesn’t count. The honeymoon suite is a mess. After he and Valerie talked, after she left … he must have destroyed the entire place. All the blankets, his clothes, the ornaments, even the bathroom toiletries are strewn everywhere.

And the phone. The phone is in pieces on the floor, against the wall. The same phone that he called …

Stefan notes his hand. His belt is the only thing he’s kept on him, wrapped around his hand. Pins and needles prickle across it as he realizes he must have blacked out with the strap around it, gripping it into a tight fist.

His chest feels tight, as the events from hours ago fully materialize back into his conscious mind. He sits up, maneuvering his legs so his feet can touch the cool wood of the floor. He puts his head in his hands. The leather of his belt, and the metal of the buckle keeps him grounded. All that volatile emotion that he’s tried to avoid, and all he feels now is hollow. Of course Valerie is gone. His wife. As if …

He lifts his head out of his palms, and blinks. There is a figure, standing near the window. So silent …

“Valerie?” His heart leaps into his throat, with many other feelings that are harder to define.

She steps away. The woman isn’t Valerie. She has short black hair. Red lips. White skin. So pale … so …

“Ilona.” Her name comes to his mind, as does her smile at him from the stairway from what seems to have been a thousand years ago. Stefan’s fingers are inches away from where the lamp used to be, until he realizes that it’s one of the things he’d already smashed in his earlier rage. He lowers his hand. Ilona is at his side, sitting at the edge of the bed.

“Why are you here?” He asks her, suddenly feeling incredibly exhausted.

He can see her a little better now, in the dark. It’s foolish that he mistook her for Valerie, showing him just how foregone he really is. He can see her black dress, her clothing not like Valerie’s lighter colours. And the pearl necklace stands out around her neck and chest like a string of small full moons.

“I’m so unhappy.” She tells him, tracing a hand across his cheekbone. “Unhappy.” Her fingers trail down his chin, and rest in her lap. In the darkness, she is an eclipsed silhouette, a silvery outline of a ghost. Stefan doesn’t say anything. What does one say under these circumstances? It’s not the first time he’s heard a woman say these words, directed at him, or no, far from England, in a Continental hotel room. But perhaps it’s the first time they really hit home, in the moment.

Instead, seeing this vulnerability that he can somehow feel, he touches her cheek. He looks her in the eyes. “You’re as white as a sheet.” He murmurs, remembering his own terror.

Ilona turns away from him. “No, no.” She whispers. “I’m frightened.” She pauses for a second, as though letting that admission sink in. “I don’t what’s going to happen … to any of us.”

It is such a bizarre thing to say. But Stefan has nothing witty to say. Nothing clever. Nothing dismissive. He thinks back to the events of the evening, and the phone dashed against the wall of their honeymoon suite, feeling the old, oppressive tide of helplessness rise up inside his throat again, no longer enraging him, merely threatening to choke him and take him down with it into its depths of self-loathing. “Neither do I.”

They sit that way for a time. He feels something cool and soft on his hand, on his fist wrapped in his own belt. He realizes it’s Ilona’s hand. He feels her other hand stroking his hair, bringing him closer to her.

He shouldn’t. It’s a bad idea. It’s not good to look up at her right now. It’s bad enough that he’s naked. Because if he does look up at Ilona, if he meets her gaze …

Stefan does it anyway, another terrible decision in a series of awful life choices. There is some consistency in that much. Ilona’s eyes are dark, and they reflect no light. But they are deeper than the unlit room, and there is both a sadness that makes her seem a lot older than what she is, and a hunger beyond a simple midnight rendezvous. For some reason, they make her red lips seem more crimson, less of a pout and more of the orchid that … Stefan doesn’t want to think about.

“I know.” She says, softly. Her lips are inches away from his own. “You didn’t understand anything yet.”

“No.” Stephen also admits, more to himself than to her. “I’m afraid not.”

“How could you?” Her gaze is the equivalent of a sad shake of the head as she lowers her hand again. “Anyhow, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“No.” Stefan says, thinking of his own circumstances and the bed that he unmade in which he must lie. “I suppose it doesn’t.”

Her hand keeps circling on his own, over the belt. Somehow, he can feel her fingertips trail across the veins underneath. Slowly, imperceptibly, his hand begins to unclench, to let go. All that’s left is that one emotion in Ilona’s eyes.

Loneliness.

And as she strokes his hair, with a combination of fondness and despair in her gaze, her generous lips brushing against his cheek, as she gently but firmly pushes him back onto the bed, her mouth on his collarbone, his chest, and trailing wetly lower, Stefan gives into that loneliness as well.

*

Ilona’s mouth tastes of both Stefan and Valerie. She knows they’d made love, before the telephone call. Before their argument. Before Valerie left. It’s the closest she’s come to having either of them. She remembers her orders, as much as she would nothing more than to discard them, and slake her thirst.

But she has done this. She can no more disobey Elizabeth than leave her. Yet it is the smaller things. The little moments under her. Away from her. They are victories. That is what Ilona tells herself. After sampling the other precious substance that Stefan had to offer, to distract him, to become diverted herself, her core contracts within herself, and around him as she moves slowly, sinuously, contorting her body in the way that he needs. That she needs.

Ilona Harczy knows what she’s doing. She’s done this for a long time. She doesn’t know if she does this for her own enjoyment, or Elizabeth’s, just as much as she’s forgotten the fine line between loving her Countess, and hating her. It is same with this young man. She isn’t blind. And neither is he. In the darkness, at least he won’t see the red stain on the side of her throat. Not that it matters. It’s too late for them, one way or another.

He’s so callow, and venial. So weak. And yet, there is anger inside of him — a profound unhappiness at his life’s circumstances — and a concurrent fear of leaving those elements that so confine him. The truth is, for all she sees the seeds of what Elizabeth finds amusing in the man while lusting far more for the girl — the traits that attract her like for like — she sees a scared youth: trapped in more ways than one.

And Ilona can relate to that sentiment. For deep down, as she folds herself back and moves, and he loses himself in her, and as he gives her the means to take the edge off her red hunger for a time, her red lips parting at their temporary solace, Ilona knows that the person she despises more than Elizabeth is herself.

This is something else that she and Stefan have in common: this, and this momentary, sweet sensation of blissful, unthinking oblivion.

She lies with him for a while, in the dark, watching the rise and fall of his chest. The sound of his heartbeat against her ear makes her feel alive, gives her a sense of anticipation, of having something other than more cold nights with Elizabeth with which to look forward, if only for a little time.

Ilona unwraps Stefan’s belt from around her neck, from where she forced his hands around it, which she inevitably took from his grasp. She touches the imprints left in her flesh, and smiles.

This. This much, right now, is hers.

*

“Do my questions upset you?”

Valerie looks out into the sea, at the dark grey sky, and the turbulent waters. They mirror her heart like some brooding form of romantic cliché. The Countess’ … Elizabeth’s dulcet tones are soft. Inquisitive. Once, that same whispering voice entranced her, just as much as it repulsed her in the lobby of the hotel with what it promised her, with what it shared with Stefan.

Stefan …

“The answers …” She replies quietly, bitterly, realizing yet again in the fog of confusion and pain that Elizabeth’s stories from the hotel lobby, and Stefan’s conversation with her that night aren’t, in their very nature, that dissimilar after all.

There is a chuckle. Faint and throaty. “Not always pleasant, eh?” The Countess sighs. Valerie is mindful that she’s still holding her carryall, having intercepted her at the train station so fast.

The dead travel fast, she thinks to herself, and wonders of the truth of it, especially of the girl in Bruges. Valerie tries not to shudder in the cold winds of the night. Elizabeth, however, continues speaking as though reading her mind of that afternoon. “But as I always say, one must never be afraid to look deep down into the darkest deeps of oneself where the light never reaches.”

Valerie turns to look at Elizabeth. “But you cannot imagine what —”

The Countess smiles. Her hair is wavy, and golden. There are laugh lines around her mouth and eyes. Between her and Stefan, they believed her to be in her mid-thirties, but as Valerie looks into her eyes she sees a wryness, an old amusement. Her smile makes her cheeks dimple, her cheekbones more prominent. There is something glamorous about the Countess, obviously regal, and incredibly worldly.

“Oh, yes.” Elizabeth says. “I can.” She puts an arm through hers and Valerie, again despite her best judgment, allows her to do so as they walk. “It’s not so difficult to see through your Stefan.”

The jolt of her words hits Valerie, as she remembers Bruges, and the Countess’ arms around him in the armchair, and the phone call. That damned phone call …

“Tell me, Valerie.” Elizabeth says, smoothly interjecting over the trembling storm inside her heart. “Didn’t you already know?”

Valerie suddenly feels tired. The fury, the hurt, the way his dull, flat tone hit her harder than any belt ever could, leaving a numbness inside of her that reminds her of just how young and idealistic, how stupid she really was: that she still is. “He said the same thing to me.” She murmurs. “On the bus, back to the hotel.”

“It began in Bruges.” Elizabeth prompts quietly, her question more of a gentle statement, a lingering on the skein of her mind.

Valerie finds herself shaking her head, feeling herself hurting again. “No.” She blinks back tears. “It was before. On the train. In the bed. Our words to each other.” The two of them walk back into the darkness as she allows herself to full her resignation. “Deep down, that was when I knew.”

*

“You’re both so young.” Elizabeth Bathory tells Valerie as they head to her rooms after walking a few hours through the deserted city. “You can’t give up after a few days.”

“I —” She watches the young woman, barely out of girlhood, her blonde hair a white-gold, her sky-hued eyes keenly poignant, not like the faded disenchanted blue of Ilona’s gaze. “I don’t know if I can face him. Right now.”

“It’s all right.” Elizabeth tilts her head, and attempts a smile. It’s hard, sometimes, to remember how to make a facial expression that is so reassuring. “You may stay with us for the night. I will join you shortly.” She turns and pats Valerie’s hand, holding it in her own for a few beats. “Trust me, Valerie. I meant what I said by the sea.” So many changes, the prospect of it fills her with a warmth she hasn’t felt in a while, not with Ilona, not even in Bruges, and Nice, and Monte Carlo. She realizes the name for this feeling. It’s genuine excitement. Elizabeth doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, and she adores it, almost as much as the woman she is putting into her room. “You do understand Stefan, if you truly think about it.”

“I …” Valerie finally looks down. “I’ve tried. I can’t help it. He … frightens me. He needs help. And I …” She turns her face. “I don’t know.”

“Does he?” The Countess asks. “Or is that what he said scared something within yourself? Are you truly frightened of your own feelings?” She shakes her head at the younger woman’s silence. “Don’t trouble yourself with this right now. Get some sleep. I will …” She pauses, considering her next decision. “I will send Ilona to check in on you.”

“I …” Valerie actually meets her gaze. This pleases Elizabeth a great deal. “Thank you, Elizabeth. I don’t know what I would have –”

“You would have left.” Elizabeth sighs, deciding on honesty. “And you would have regretted it.” She leans forward, and gently kisses Valerie on her pallid cheek, the colour and texture of warm marble. She smiles, a little more truly, at the red mark that she’s left there, the Dionysian upon the Apollonian. Such a symmetrical, Grecian beauty. “Have a good sleep. Tomorrow evening, we shall speak further.”

She hands Valerie her luggage, and gently but firmly pushes her through, past her threshold. Then, when the door closes behind her, she lets out a faint huff. Right. This is a … complication. But if time has taught Elizabeth Bathory anything, it’s that for all things change the right amount of patience will allow everything to fall into their places.

This is her thought as she walks towards the honeymoon suite, and lets herself in.

*

Ilona watches Stefan bathe under the shower. She doesn’t care, at this point, if he sees her looking at him. Her lips are parted, and her teeth are exposed. In the light of the bathroom, he can probably see her, if he just turns around.

She observes his shoulders straightening, his posture under the running water becoming still. His neck is rigid. When he turns to look at her, she closes her lips. There is a new light in his eyes. He’s grinning. They are just separated by their naked bodies, and water.

“Come on.” He says, his tone lighter than when she first came upon him. She can see him eyeing her, her flesh, and the marks that he’s left on her.

“No.” Illona says, her skin crawling away, instinctively, from the running water. One of her first lessons that, in her eagerness, even now she sometimes forgets.

“Come on in.” Stefan invites her, his smile almost matching his dead set eyes.

“No.” Ilona says, a little more urgently, fear of another kind creeping into her heart.

Stefan smiles. It’s as though he’s sensed this spike of terror. He comes out of the shower. “You’re not afraid of a little water, are you?”

Stefan’s arms are around her. He grabs her, forcefully. Their liaison has woken something inside of him. She can see the fire in his eyes, but it is the water and not the figurative blood in it that scares her far more. Suddenly, she is reminded of just why Elizabeth has her eyes on this couple. She thought it was just the girl, but …

“Ilona. There you are.”

Thinking of, almost literally, the Devil. Ilona turns, in Stefan’s grasp, to look at her Countess. She’s alone. The girl is nowhere to be seen. Did she think she was going to take him? Even now, Ilona knows better. There is a faint amusement in Elizabeth’s eyes as she takes in the scene. Stefan, for his part, tenses. His assertiveness, his aggression, leeches out of him as he looks from herself, to the Countess. And back. For some reason, Ilona finds herself putting a hand on the small of his back.

“Now —” Ilona isn’t sure whether Stefan is about to issue a demand, or an excuse.

It ultimately doesn’t matter. It never did. Elizabeth shakes her head. “Come now, Ilona.” She says, her voice melodious, drifting. She tosses Ilona’s black dress and pants to the ground. The white pearls stare up at her like sightless eyes from a dark shroud. “We have a guest in our rooms. I need you take care of it.”

It is clear to Ilona to whom Elizabeth is referring.

She stares into Elizabeth’s eyes. It’s strange. She’s noticed, over time, that her Countess merely runs through the bare minimum of emotions beyond her strong appetites, a dance or pantomime of social behaviour barely recalled. Even in humiliating her right now, though this is not even close to the worst of it. She turns back, to look at Stefan. She can feel him breathing hard, his wet body rigid, his face full of fury and passion before slack and speechless.

“Now, please. Ilona.” The Countess brings up her willowy arms, and delicate fingers like she is wearing her boa and dress, and not her simple white sweater. This is Ilona’s summons.

Ilona turns back to Stefan. A smile curls on the side of her red lips, as crimson as Elizabeth’s. She reaches up, and grabs the sides of his face. Then, she crushes her lips against his own. She trails her lips down, to Stefan’s neck, letting them linger against a faded scar from the nick of a razor, allowing Elizabeth to see it. It had been good to feel like a desirable object again as opposed to a detached entertainment, an echo of both being the lover and the ardently beloved. There is a defiance in her heart, for a second. A thank you. A goodbye.

Ilona turns, and bends down to pick up her clothes. She doesn’t look at Elizabeth in the eye. She’s done enough. She’ll probably pay for this later. But it’s worth it. Just for that moment. As she walks past Elizabeth, putting on her slacks, pulling her blouse over her head and chest, she wonders wonders if her Countess would be jealous that she got that taste of her lovers together — of the complete set — first.

This what Ilona uses to fortify herself as she returns to their rooms.

*

Stefan can barely process what’s happening. He feels Ilona’s lips on his skin, on his neck. She’s so pale, even after what they … what they did together. And that emotion in her eyes when he came for her, to drag her into the shower. It was genuine fear.

He recalls the bed. The coolness of her body against his. The way she slowly moved, the position she fell towards, what he did to her, what she made him do to her. Even her hands in his own felt like … and the way she remained so utterly still.

The weight of what happened before, with Valerie, hasn’t left him. But something that had been building inside of him — coiled — ready to pounce, ready to explode has, for lack of a better term, unfurled. It thrums inside of him, even now, at this strange scene. He watches Ilona’s perfect, porcelain buttocks retreat into the shadows of the room, thinking about how she instinctively sucked on the part of his neck that he cut, the sight of blood making him feel … behind the Countess who, idly, strokes her dark hair as she passes. It’s a detached gesture. A possessive one. It’s like the way a girl would play with one of her dolls.

And suddenly, the reality of what has happened, what he has done, all of it, hits Stefan. Hard. He tries to recall what he was trying to say to the Countess before she’d interrupted, but the words don’t come out.

“Your wife is staying in our rooms.” The Countess tells him softly, her gaze never wavering.

It occurs to Stefan that he’s still naked. “Oh.” He replies, then takes a step back, sitting on the rim of the bidet.

“You are having troubles.” She says. Her face seems sympathetic, but Stefan can tell there is something hard about it, an effort, like the muscle memory doesn’t entirely recall the motions.

“She …” He stops himself, thinking about their time on the train, on the bus, on the boat. “She doesn’t want to see me, anymore.”

The Countess almost glides. She sits on the edge of the bathtub. It occurs to Stefan that both she and Ilona match the ivory material. “Do you wish to talk about it?”

Slowly, Stefan shakes his head. “If my wife is with you, surely you’ve already talked. And …” He waves his hand, at the room, at all of this. “I think I’ve done enough.”

“Have you?” Unlike Ilona’s sad eyes, or the heavens in his wife’s, the Countess’ are a darker, almost steely grey. “Tell me.”

“Countess —”

“Stefan.” She trails her hands over his, folded over his lap. “Remember our talk. We are friends now. You may call me by name, yes?”

Her touch is faint. Ghostly. But muscles in Stefan that he didn’t know were tense begin to loosen. “Of course, Elizabeth.”

She smiles. It is a radiant smile, almost tentative in the manner that he’s observed. “Come.” She puts her arms around his shoulders. “Let’s go back to your room, and talk some more, yes?”

Stefan nods, once. He lets her help him up. They walk across the tiles, and the mirror, and he is so lost in his thoughts he doesn’t particularly see anything other than the outline of himself, wandering through the fog on the reflection. A part of his mind registers, distantly, that his razor isn’t on the basin. It must have fallen in, he supposes. Instead, Stefan focuses on the Countess’ movements, and her form leading now him by the hand. Whereas Ilona reminds him of a flapper from the Roaring Twenties, Elizabeth is akin to a ghost of an actress from the era of Silent film, ethereal white and faded gold. A queen from a bygone time.

He finds himself seated on the bed, still rumpled from his time with Ilona, from his rage, from his time with Valerie. She sits beside him. Their feet almost touch. A part of him wonders if he should cover himself. He can see his clothes on the floor, his white shirt, his black pants, his red sweater …

“We wear similar colours, you and I.” Elizabeth laughs softly.

Stefan recalls her attire when they first met, and realizes she’s right. He decides to give up, that it is far too late for modesty. She’s seen enough of him tonight. It seems as though everyone has, at this point. “Great minds.”

“Yes. With great expectations heaped upon them.”

He looks up at her, his eyes scrutinizing. “How much do you know?”

She shakes her head, the look on her face distant, musing, mulling something over. “You are so sad. So tense. I can see it.”

He feels her move up behind him, folding her legs until she has them on either side of his, her feet hanging again from the bed frame. Stefan doesn’t know what to think of this. He’s just, he’s so tired. Her hands are soft, but firm on his shoulders as her fingers begin to knead the muscles underneath.

“She wouldn’t let up.” He explains, her hands finding the knots in him, unkinking them. His mouth opens and closes almost of its own volition. “She wanted it to be known that we were married. I tried everything. And I thought that maybe …”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. He knew what the result of that call would be before he even made it.

“Family.” Elizabeth drawls out, silvery, behind his ear, making goosebumps crawl up the bare flesh over his back. “It is the first love. Obligation and Duty are unto it like Sin and Death to Satan.”

Paradise Lost.” For a few moments Stefan allows himself a crooked smile, losing himself in the voice of the Countess. “I wonder if it is possible to lose something that you never had.”

“Lucifer had no choices. You never have a choice.” The Countess says, her fingers moving towards the sides of his neck. Perhaps it’s just Stefan’s imagination, but there is a lilt to her tone that hadn’t been there before. “That has nothing to do with love. That is what I told Valerie.”

He stiffens under her touch, hearing his wife’s name again, recalling that night. “What do you know of that, Bathory?”

The absolute venom in his voice startles even him. The Countess’ fingers stop in their massage. Stefan breathes in, and lets out a long sigh. “Of course you know. A stupid question.”

“You told her.”

“Yes.” Stefan says. “After the call. I felt it welling up inside of me. That helplessness. I thought — I thought she wanted to know. About me. I thought that maybe …”

Elizabeth starts to probe the back of his neck with her fingers, her clothed body against his spine.

He bows his head. “I told her everything. All of it. The Manor. The Continental trips. Being alone. I thought maybe if she understood that, realized that, she might know where I came from. She might … know me.”

“You went to the only place that could understand you.” Elizabeth’s words flow through his mind like smoky molasses. Rich, and elegant, and deep. “It’s all you’ve ever known.”

“But it wasn’t enough!” Stefan hisses. His fist tightens as he clenches his jaw, looking away. “I needed more! I need more. I …”

“You wanted to hold her down.”

“Yes.” Stefan murmurs.

“You want to have power over her.”

“Yes.” Stefan feels Elizabeth’s fingers splay out on his chest.

“You wanted her to feel what you have felt, all these years.” Her hands roam around his ribcage, her lips in his ear, her legs wrapped around him.

“… yes.” Stefan closes his eyes.

“You wanted to take that belt, the one you didn’t use, the one you thought about using on her, and thrashing her with it within an inch of her beautiful life.” Elizabeth’s hands roam downwards.

“Mmph.” Stefan groans, his eyes clenching shut, his body betraying him under her hands.

“You wanted her to be like the girl from Bruges.” A pair of lips husk as they kiss his earlobe.

Stefan’s eyes flutter. “Oh god …”

“No.” Elizabeth murmurs. “We are talking about love, remember? God has nothing to do with it. Or everything to do with it, if Family is the first love as is to Satan. You told her all of that, didn’t you?” She continues stroking him, idly. “Just as we talked about those things back in the lounge.”

Stefan’s throat is dry. Something is tensing up inside him, a massive knot in his chest. In his lungs. In his heart. “I can’t …”

“It’s all right, Stefan.” Elizabeth tells him, one hand stroking the side of his face. “That is why you love her. Valerie. It’s what you dream of making out of her, what every man dreams of making out of every woman — a slave, a thing.” Her lips drone into his eardrum. “An object of pleasure.”

Her other hand lets go of him, and scrapes her nails up his inner thigh. “It is understandable.” She tells him, his senses everywhere, his body trapped between the state of animation and stasis.

“It sounds …” Stefan says, his mind almost back into his body from Elizabeth’s caresses. “It sounds like you want this as well.”

“Mmm.” Elizabeth’s hands spread across him again, going lower. Stefan finds himself thinking about Valerie again. Valerie. If Ilona is a doll, and Elizabeth a femme fatale, then Valerie is a nymph. Playful and coy. The answer to that age-old question as to how something so innocent can be so lustful at the same time. And she knows. She knows what he is.

“They are fantasies.” Elizabeth says, teasing him again. “Fun. Little things to spice up a dreary life. All to make a show, like that week in Bruges.”

“Is that what you are …” Stefan sighs, his mind coming back to him. “Like in the stories? Erzsébet Báthory tormenting young women, the only thing she’s known her entire life … in a life of Obligation, and Duty? Sin, and Death? And Satan as her Family …”

He looks to see Elizabeth staring at him, her eyes misty but gazing right into him. “And what if I were?”

“Hm.” He lets himself become distracted, by the thought, entertained by it as she is amusing him now. “It would explain a lot. After all, if she still lived, she wouldn’t want to be stuck in one place. She’s always been stuck, hasn’t she? When she was born, when she lived … and when she died. You’d feel trapped. Claustrophobic.”

“You make me sound like some kind of ghoul? A vampire?”

He laughs. “You can’t stop. You could have a mansion, an entire Castle, to feed to your heart’s content. Why travel against the edge of the sun to do so?”

“Why don’t you stay and enjoy the garden in England? After all, who understands a boy better than his own Mother?”

Stefan’s heart jolts as Elizabeth’s grip tightens. He finds that he has nothing to say.

“No.” Elizabeth murmurs into his neck, continuing her movements. “Just as Dracula is not Vlad Tepes, I am not my ancestor, the Blood Countess. I am even less than that, Stefan. I’m just an outmoded character, nothing more. You know, the beautiful stranger, slightly sad, slightly … mysterious … that haunts one place after another.”

“W-who are you?” Stefan grits his teeth against the growing sensations in his body. “Are you even real?”

“Are any of us real?” Elizabeth asks. Even her breath smells red. “We all make stories of ourselves over time. Little artifices. Fictions. Am I the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, for instance? And are you really Stefan of Chilton Manor?” Stefan opens his mouth, and he is past the time for words. “Come.” Elizabeth purrs, wrapping herself tightly around him, as he loses himself in her embrace, as he lets her let himself grant him permission. “Let us make a new story together.”

*

Stefan stands on the boat in the night. Everything after their time in the honeymoon suite moved so fast. Elizabeth explained to them that it was like this: time moving slowly, in increments, and then all at once.

He remembers Valerie’s screams as they came into the bathroom of Elizabeth and Ilona’s suite.

Poor Illona. Stefan finally figured out where his razor had disappeared. In the end, she found the water after all, and turned it red. Their favourite colour. Valerie, her white sweater covered in blood, like the spot on Ilona’s pale neck grown and turned large. Stefan keeps the image of Ilona’s body in his mind’s eye.

Elizabeth assured Valerie that it hadn’t been her fault. That she didn’t suspect her, despite the implications. Of course it hadn’t been Valerie’s responsibility. A part of Stefan wanted to rib her further, as he had with the Belgian newspaper, to rankle her, to probe that place, to enjoy her squirming. But restraint. Elizabeth teaches restraint. And patience.

Stefan decided to dig the grave, in the mud, in the darkness, though it’d been Elizabeth’s plan. He hadn’t forgotten how quickly she’d come to that decision, to deal with Ilona. He’d laid a kiss on Ilona’s lips, so pale in death, that when Elizabeth threw the earth on him, and he’d become tangled in the corpse’s limbs, it’d taken him aback. He wondered then, if this had been her plan all along, to bury them together … until a hand reached down …

And Valerie pulled him up. Despite everything.

Then, the Countess’ red bed. And the two of them, as she explored them, and the violet boa around her shoulders. Seeing Ilona’s body, being entwined in it, terrified but … excited him. It helped make that night even more memorable. He wishes he can thank her for that. The last thought he had, of his old life, was seeing Elizabeth’s boa, its feathers reminding him of a bird in a gilded cage, and he couldn’t help recalling the orchid: the Laeliinae, Cattleya violacea. 

Stefan doesn’t think of flowers anymore. Instead, right now he stands on the deck of their ship, wishing it called the Demeter or at least the Persephone, crossing, in Elizabeth’s words, the River Oceanus. It is much calmer now than in those early nights. He turns to his side. Valerie stands there, a stoic, white statue from another time.

“Tell me.” He says, also from another place, another era. “Do you love me?”

Valerie inclines her head. “Don’t you know?”

Her mouth moves, her pouting naivety now become a calculating Galatea. “No.”

Stefan nods.

There is the pause, of a breath that neither of them need anymore.

“And you?” She asks, her eyes far away, the firmament in there as dark as the night that they have led her into, that they were destined for together.

He remains facing away from her, all of his lies now laid bare, now knowing every sordid part of each other. Now knowing, and reveling in, what truly he is. “No.”

Valerie also nods, curtly, hiding her face under her platinum bangs. “That’s good.”

And as their fingers reach each other’s, before Elizabeth can call for them again, Stefan thinks about Ilona’s necklace. She must have dashed it to the floor when she entered the bathroom. He imagines it, in her haste, in her stride as Stoker might have said, snapping, spilling every glorious, ivory bead, each one rolling away, released into the shadows and the crimson tide lapping around them. He considers what kind of newspaper article that would have made, back in Ostend. Stefan grows hard.

Their fingertips almost meet even as Elizabeth comes in from behind, languorously stretching out her arms under her black raincoat, sheltering them, feeling her presence looming over them all.

Shall I Come to Thee

Dedicated to Guillermo del Toro.

Carter McMichael departs from his automobile, leaving it on the road down below, as he ascends the rest of the land.

He has no idea how his father managed this trek, at a much longer distance, up this mountain of clay, in a snow storm. But he had: otherwise neither his mother, nor Carter himself would be here. That had been the extent of it. Carter had known that his mother, Edith, had been married to another man before his father, and that she had suffered from an illness that precipitated him to come here, to England, to Cumberland, to the manse at its centre, and he had taken her away with the aid of the villagers once the weather cleared.

There had been some sort of scandal. Neither his mother, nor father elaborated on it — no one in fine society, neither American nor European, would do so — but whatever happened resulted in the deaths of the entire baronetcy of this territory: both the baronet himself, and his sister. It is a small rural territory, even now, well into the twentieth century after an entire World War the town is relatively isolated. Even so, news did get out.

Carter takes a few breaths, and a pause. He had always been a sickly child, something to do with his mother’s condition but his parents would never elaborate on it. The Spanish influenza had taken his mother on his seventeenth birthday. He couldn’t be at her bedside, couldn’t even say goodbye to her. His father had forbidden it, given how delicate his constitution had always been.

He coughs, letting the heaviness ease out of his lungs. His father hadn’t wanted him to take this trip. But he needed to know. He needed to see this place for himself.

The townspeople had given him directions, had even been friendly enough, but there had been a sense of reservation behind their politeness: a degree of caution. His father had let him go. He was well past the age where he could be told what to do, even though the man always told him he needed to settle down with a good woman, to eventually get his bachelor’s days behind him. Doctor Alan McMichael had been a large, gold-haired man of great curiosity, but the death of his wife had visibly aged him, bowed his shoulders, his blond hair turned grey.

He’s always delighted in showing Carter his “spirit photography” and the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that he claimed he only gathered because of the man’s background in ophthalmology: but he fooled him as well as mother, which was not at all.

“She made me promise.” The old man had told him, clasping his hands. “She told me we would tell you when you were older. But the best …” He had a far away look on his face. “The best way is that you go there, and see for yourself. That is what she told me.”

“What is up there?” He asked his father. “Is it like Mother’s book?”

Alan McMichael had smiled at him. “Your Mother always took some creative liberties, Carter. The truth is … much more banal. You will just find dirt there. And ruins. But, if there is anything else to be found, she told me that you would find it. That you would see it. Whatever you do find, come back to me afterwards. We will have a proper talk. I promise.”

That was when his father handed him a letter. The envelope was old, and not addressed to anyone that Carter recognized until … he paid attention to the name.

Now, catching his hitching breath, Carter has left the trail and come to the top of the land. The fence still stands, in the distance. And so does the structure behind it. Its sharp towers point up to the sky, and while some of them have broken away with time, he recognizes it from the photographs, from the descriptions.

Allerdale Hall.

Carter continues walking. This is the inspiration for his Mother’s novel. This place where she traveled to as a young woman, a girl, younger than he is now, and away when sickness or … worse afflicted her. The envelope with the letter acts as a bookmark in the book he carries in the crook of his arm as he strides forward, to take in this whole scene for himself.

In retrospect, Carter isn’t sure whether or not it had been a smart idea to reread Mr. Stoker’s novel on the journey to England, or to Cumberland proper. It is his favourite book, and it certainly captures the Gothic romance and horror genre in which his Mother worked, but its more modernist elements appeal to his sensibilities: as both a reader, and a writer himself.

As he approaches the mansion, he’s easily reminded of Castle Dracula or the Exham Priory of one of his favourite pulps. One of the towers has fallen, the other just a haphazard set of bricks and mortar. Only the central one remains whole and as it is, it approximates a slant reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. His father hadn’t been exaggerating. The mansion is crumbling in on itself, upon closer inspection, sinking deep into the red clay. Even now, the soil looks like blood.

It squelches under his boots, trench boots that he never got to wear in their intended place as he had been exempt from Service. It’s less like blood now as he comes to the door of the gate, swinging it open on its rusted hinges, and more like gore. The air itself smells … metallic.

Carter notes that the pits on the property are still existent, but closed up. And all of Thomas Sharpe’s equipment, his machinery which he had designed himself, had been removed. Apparently, after the disaster that came to the baronet others began to see the potential for the late Sir Thomas’ inventions. As it had transpired, his mother had inherited the technology, along with the whole of Allerdale Hall itself as Sir Thomas’ widow.

According to his father, Carter’s mother had agreed to give both the patents and schematics of her former husband’s works to eager investors. Carter knows that red clay contains ultisol and can used for brick-making — which the Sharpes had done for the Crown before the fall of the Monarchy, and the rise of Cromwell’s Commonwealth. That is what he learned from an old British textbook by one Mr. Salisbury he purchased in London. But the iron ore rendering became more important in this era, especially on the eve of the Great War when the Allies were hurting for it. Hence the letter he carries with him now.

It’d been addressed to the Lady Sharpe, from 1914. And it had taken him a moment to realize that the lady it was written to was Edith. It’d been from the British government, requesting that the Lady Sharpe — who had done business with clay-mining equipment — release her late husband’s land for the War effort. His father hadn’t given him any copy of a reply letter.

Carter isn’t sure how a baronetcy works according to English law: if a baronet relinquishes all lands and titles upon remarriage after their spouse’s death, or if they retain these privileges. He also isn’t sure why they simply didn’t seize the land for the Crown, and take the resources for their own. All he knows is that no one in the village felt inclined to talk about the mansion, or the Sharpes. They didn’t even talk about his mother.

The newspapers, however, did the rest. And the legend as well. They are what led him here.

He walks towards the steps of the great mansion, as though sagging under the weight of its own unstable foundations, and the sins committed within it. Carter’s foot hits something. He looks down, and sees … a ball. Carter almost missed it. It’s a small, rubber, red ball. It rolls away into the dirt of a deeper crimson.

The door stands in front of him. The wood is frayed, the hinges on the frame askew. There is a key hole. Carter doesn’t have a set of keys, but he doesn’t need them. Not anymore.

Before he pushes the door in, he slowly breathes in, and out. Once he’d found about that his mother had been the Lady Sharpe, he’d looked into the truth about Allerdale Hall. How the Lady of the Hall had died. How her daughter had been locked up in a mental institution in Switzerland for a time. How Sir Thomas’ wives had disappeared over time: the wives he had before his mother.

His mother never told him about any of this. But he recalls his father’s words. He also remembers the legend of the Black Ghost.

The door protests, but Carter manages to go into the mansion. He realizes, only moments later, that he needn’t have bothered. Sections of the wall have already fallen away. The hall itself is strewn with debris, the carpet stained in mud and dust. What his father had explained as the decaying skeleton of something once so grand, was now almost in complete ruin. No one had bothered to repair or renovate the structure. No one had attempted to tear it down either.

It had just been left here. To be forgotten.

But even in its dilapidated state, he recognizes it. It’s the interior of the Great Hall in his mother’s work Crimson Peak. He can make out the Gothic architecture, the ornaments, the colour, and even the smell. The winding staircase has collapsed, the place where the lift used to be is empty and probably lost in Hades, and the hole in the ceiling has grown into a maw of a leviathan defying the heavens with its rotting grandeur. But this is the place. He wonders if there is a clockwork workshop above, or multiple suites, or the bathtub of blood, or even the nursery …

It’s real. It’s all real. The shattered windows of the estate seem to follow him as he looks around, like the eyes of some restless dead thing. Even as the wind blows, he can hear his footsteps on the cracked tiles. It’s perfect. The ambiance of this space speaks more than a thousand written words. Ghosts can easily live here. And, if he remembers the novel correctly, the library should be on this floor ….

Let the wind blow kindly …

Carter pauses. The air howls above. It’s strange. For a few moments, he wonders if he heard something. Perhaps he had just been too focused on the atmosphere here. On the story he’d heard from town. He sees the curvature of the hall, and turns left. The library should be that way.

In the sail of your dreams.
And the moonlight your journey …

The light is wan and pale as he enters the darkened room. It’s gloomy, but Carter can make out rows upon rows of mouldering books. It hurts his heart to see them like that. Each one of those books could have been first editions, Greek and Latin-translations gone to dust. Why had no one cleared them out? Why hadn’t his mother taken them? And it’s as almost as though his thoughts have become someone else’s words, those of the wind … Notes drifting in the air.

And bring you to me …

There is a keening in Carter’s chest. It’s not his lungs. It’s a growing sense of sadness, and disconnection. It feels as though there is a song in his head, and the sound of piano keys playing. He reaches the mantle piece and sees the inscription. His parents spared his Classical education no expense.

“I shall lift up mine eyes,” he whispers, his eyes squinting in the gloom, “onto the hills …”

We can’t live in the mountains …

Carter turns as the voice materializes, fully, into the room. He looks away from the mantle over the fireplace, and sees the piano.

We can’t live out at sea …

The piano is lopsided, dusty. Falling apart. But the seat is still there. And someone … someone is sitting there. It’s a shadow, in the darkness. Carter hears the voice. Her voice. A part of him remembers what the villager children said. He blinks. But the form is still there.

Where oh, where oh, my lover …

The song is unbearably sad. The piano keys and their strings, which should by all rights not even be functional, send the pang into him. It reminds him of the day his mother died. But it’s more than that. It’s of a time that’s over. Something that happened, and never should have been. A bittersweet poignancy. A love lost forever.

Shall I come to thee?

Carter’s brow furrows as the feelings threaten to overtake him. He can almost see two forms, in the darkness, in a lost room, holding each other, one rocking the other back and forth, spooning them, cradling them. But that was over. A long time ago. And it will never come back.

There is only silence. She doesn’t turn around. Slowly, as though his pain reaches out to hers. Her dress is black, almost gossamer. So is her skin, though her hair is darker. Carter can’t help himself. Something in him aches at the sight of this lonely figure. He reaches out a hand, as though to touch her shoulder.

“Thomas?” There is a whisper, in the wind. “Have you come back … to me?”

Carter’s hand stops. The realization of what this is, that this is not just a story he’s reading or hearing about around a campfire, that this isn’t one of his father’s slides, hits him like an icicle to the gut. His throat is suddenly very dry. He takes a step back. And another.

The room feels cold and not just because of the mountain’s high altitude. He turns, to run, to get away from …

She might have been beautiful once. He can see that. There is a wound in her chest, blacker than the rest of her. And her face … it’s caved in. As though something crushed her skull in, like they said his grandfather’s had been at the Gentleman’s Club one day. But it’s all of her. It’s as though she is a translucent, blackened version of ligaments and skin. She doesn’t move right, as she jerks towards him, but there is a smoothness to her facial features or what is left of them.

“Thomas.” She whispers, bringing a long, blackened hand towards him. For a few moments, Carter thinks he can see the bloodshine of a stone on her finger. She is like Allerdale Hall, made incarnate. “Tell me, when will she let me be free … Thomas …”

Then, her face warps and twists. Pure hatred and an endless sorrow from hell itself engulfs her gaze. It’s the most horrifying thing about this apparition as Carter staggers backwards, as she lifts a cleaver — glinting with midnight malice — above her head.

“Now you will see!”

Carter falls to the ground, screaming as black moths explode all around him, fluttering mindlessly. Then, he feels nothing. Just a frigid breeze. He can’t breathe. Carter is gasping for air, his heart pumping hard. He looks up, finally. There is nothing there. No one. His mind is detached from his body, viewing the entire situation, processing this impossible thing. That’s when he sees it.

It lies on the ground. A red stone glittering off a golden ring. A part of him wants to reach out, to touch it, to take it for himself. There is a part of him that thinks it belongs to him. The rest of him runs out of the room, down the hall, outside the ruined mansion, shouting incoherently.

He is on his knees in the red mud, trembling. Carter is numb. Empty. It’s like what they said about shell-shock from the trenches that he’d been thankfully too young, and too infirm, to be drafted. That’s when he begins to notice something else.

There is a man. He’s standing right in front of him. Carter stands up, his body freezing into place. The man looks at him. He’s pale. Incandescent. There are marks on his chest, and a cut under his eye. But he can’t deny it. He knows that face. It’s his own face, but without his mother’s eyes.

The man reaches forward. Pallid fingers seem to cup Carter’s face. Carter doesn’t feel anything, but he experiences everything. The man smiles at him, sadly, his gaze full of regret and resignation. Then, he’s gone.

Carter drops his book. He must have been holding it through the entire ordeal. He crouches down on the ground, his elbows on his red-stained knees, as he proceeds to cry into his hands. The letter to Lady Sharpe flies out of the pages of his book, and into the winds.

*

“Why didn’t she destroy the mansion?”

It’d been a month since Carter came back from Cumberland. He sits at home with his father, in his study. The books with their horror stories still manage to comfort him even after everything that’s happened; the medical specimens in jars no longer threatening given that they are actually dead.

Alan McMichael looks tired behind his spectacles. They are so much like Edith’s when she still lived. He sighs, looking at his son.

“She wanted to keep her there.”

There is nothing else said between them for several moments, just the sound of the grandfather clock marking time. Carter slowly shakes his head. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were always a sickly boy, Carter.” His father says, sadly. “It was best you were just entertained by those stories, and not afraid of them. There is so much … I wish she and I could have told you.”

“You can tell me now.” He says to his father. “I … how did you know?”

Alan squints up at Carter, scrutinizing him. He doesn’t say anything for a few moments. Finally, he sighs. “Carter, you know your favourite novel?”

Carter tries to maintain his composure. “Yes. What … of it?”

“Do you remember the end of it? How Mr. Stoker ended the entire thing?”

Carter takes a moment. He looks down to sip of the glass beside him on the easy chair. His father had prepared brandy in advance. He now fully appreciates this fact. “It is a happily ever after, of sorts.”

“Your mother always loved stories that ended that way. Even if life didn’t always do so.”

“Everyone survived.” Carter murmurs to himself. “Except for … Quincey Morris. The American.”

Alan laughs. “The hunter. The one who stabbed Dracula with a Bowie knife.”

“He –” Carter pauses. “The Harkers. Mina, and Jonathan. They named their son after him. After Quincey. Quincey Harker.”

Alan doesn’t say anything as he sips at his own brandy, waiting with the decanter at the table next to him.

“I always wondered.” Carter says. “If Quincey was Jonathan’s or …” He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose.

In a low voice, Alan McMichael speaks. “Your mother loved me, Carter.” Then, the old man sighs. “But she had been in love with someone else.”

Out of the corner of his eye, for a few moments, Carter can almost see something bright. It isn’t from the hearth. A figure, in white. His mother. Paler. Wan. Her hair an unbearably bright gold. She’d been so sick. She seems to smile at the two of them. He can almost hear her voice, asking him as she had always done, if he had been inspired.

Tears well up in Carter’s eyes again. She could have told him, but perhaps this was her way … their method of telling him the greatest ghost story of all time: told in the most poignant manner possible. Carter smiles reaches out and takes his father’s hand in the space between them.

“Tell me everything.” He says, and he realizes that it is just the two of them now. “Father.”

Pearls Before Swine: A Rewrite of Diane Jacques’ Hogzilla

I never, until very fairly, thought I would write something about a 2014 film literally called Hogzilla, but here we are.

It’s happening.

Right.

This film, which had been incomplete for several years after being directed by Diane Jacques, was shown on second last week of Season Two of The Last Drive-In. I swear, I was even going to go into this earlier but as a student of horror rather than the Doctor that I have attributed to this Blog — much like Victor Frankenstein is called a Doctor by Hollywood but … less impressive than that — I have had some … remedial horror viewing to do. But I wanted to get here while it is still fresh.

I won’t go into the effort that was made to put this film together, to have it viewed on the show by Diana Prince — and presented with classy style as Darcy the Mailgirl — or how The Last Drive-In director Austin Jennings “restored it from previously existing cuts, since the old sequences and project were a mess” according to a Tweet he made on June 13th. I definitely will not be covering how this film was made, as Joe Bob himself and many others have definitely covered by now, I’m sure. There is even a Hogzilla Restoration Project involved and … I don’t know whether to commend them for their utter loyalty, or truly give up on the human race as sane.

This film is unique in another way for The Last Drive-In. As of recently, I discovered that while Hogzilla itself isn’t on Shudder, the Joe Bob episode that plays and comments on it, actually is. The only parallel I can find to that is the fact that there are two versions of The Last Drive-In showing of Cannibal Holocaust — with the film, and without it.

I don’t know how I feel about having watched this. But Horror Doctor, you might ask, speaking of Cannibal Holocaust didn’t you watch it not long ago? Didn’t that mess you up? Didn’t it leave you with a sense of guilt, but also some guilty-pleasure?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. Cannibal Holocaust left me feeling dirty, especially for loving it. I’m left to the auspices of my own conscience about that one. But you see, Cannibal Holocaust was well made. Hogzilla

To give you an idea, based on Joe Bob verbs, it was like … Cannibal Holocaust is the dirty “aardvarking” that you regret, but you secretly go back occasionally because deep down it felt good, though societal norms tell you it should not. Hogzilla

Hogzilla is just aardvarking. Dirty, bad aardvarking. There is just no saying otherwise. Like, Tommy Wiseau attempting an … aaardvarking scene bad except without that. And yet. It was a spectacle.

And that spectacle was held together by: the acting presence of Joe Bob Briggs himself.

Never mind the weird shirt that said “Marines” on it. The extremely slow pacing, and the unlikable and not even interesting news cast crew characters. Two sets of credits between two separate introductions. The character relations that just happen without any development. And a really … messed up mutant hog prop that isn’t even seen that much, and it’s mostly just a camera that sneaks up and kills, and very awkwardly. To be honest, I was just more transfixed by the absolutely vapid and horrible characters we had to deal with, after a jumpy two introductions, that took too damn long to die horribly, to notice the other things. It was so messed up, that it took Job Bob’s segments and the red carpet premiere treatment of The Last Drive-In itself to keep me from depression.

And yet …

Maybe I’ve just gone insane. It’s not the first time a fake mad scientist has claimed such a state. But here is the deal. You see, I have already begun some preliminary experiments for the Project that I want to host on this site. You have, no doubt, read some of them by now, those of you interested in such things from my “Strains and Mutations” area. Society and They Live … and they do, have been surprisingly cooperative under my ministrations. But, to get to the point: I want to take Hogzilla, and I want to explore how I would rewrite it.

As a story.

In the words of Joe Bob, as both himself, and Andy McGraw, “It’s gonna get nasty.”

The way I would write Hogzilla as a story — in prose or as a screenplay (if I could write screenplays, which I have never tried to seriously do) would go a little something like this.

It’d need to have the tone of something between a lampoon or a parody of human selfishness, and self-centredness with a production value and ideology similar to Troma’s War. This allows for a certain level of ridiculousness and camp, while genuinely displaying grossness and suffering in many of its forms. Telling or showing a story straight through this lens would be a fine line, but we can keep it in the pen I’m sure: until we need it to get momentum charging down that climactic trail.

So, our story would begin with a brief account of those Monster Pigs, or Hogzillas from the past. I would even place a very brief account, a newspaper heading like the one in the film about Joe Bob’s character Andy McGraw — a nice easter-egg — and the tragedy of his son, but we would really focus on the news cast crew.

The thing is, I agree with Joe Bob in that Diane Jacques should have edited out the beginning with his character McGraw, his son, the Hogzilla beast, and the police officer. I also understand, however, why it was kept in by Jacques and Jennings: Joe Bob is the main attraction in this film. Let’s be honest. And in terms of when the film was shown in the eighth week of The Last Drive-In, it had come right after Scare Package: with the last anthology film “Horror Hypothesis” actually featuring Joe Bob as well — also predating his reemergence at The Last Drive-In — so thematically, it would make sense to keep his appearance in the following film: the show itself just barely keeping Hogzilla cohesive, and watchable.

So, about that newspaper clipping with McGraw. I like the idea that the clipping of him with his photo looks old. Like 1950s or 1960s old. This story about a drunk father that accidentally killed his son happened decades ago, and you only see it on the side in passing with a headline like “Child Dies During Hunting Trip: Accident, Or Hogzilla? Father Still Missing.” It’s one of many clippings included with accounts of the Chris Griffin killing a wild boar-domestic pig hybrid in Alapaha, Georgia 2004 story, and the account of “Monster Pig” supposedly killed by the eleven year old Jamison Stone in 2007 at the Lost Creek Plantation, a commercial hunting reserve outside Anniston, Alabama. One of the reasons I think this film was made was to attempt to draw on a kind of “Monster Hog exploitation” that was going on in some news media at the time. It didn’t age well, but it is still something we can work with in its own story. Some of these clippings were already added by Jacques in the film, I just think we can streamline them a bit more.

Perhaps as we narratively transition, we realize these clippings are being held by one of the initial characters. These are a news and stunt crew with some models, as we do require the gratuitous boob shots for the Drive-In Totals. They are all in Central Florida, going to an old Plantation, a hunting reserve that has been used for decades until it was abandoned one day. There are legends, of course, that the place is cursed and there has been sightings of this beast called Hogzilla that attacks people. This way we establish a scene, and a history of animal exploitation and violence here. They are setting up deeper in the bush, preparing for something. They even have a cage with them. And then, we have a perspective from those bushes and the beginnings of an assault on this skeleton crew in the bushes near the plantation.

Now, we have our intrepid idiots. I would keep all of their personalities the same, except they are a safari team now: with some newspeople and hunters. I think most of them, with the exception of Frank and Dr. Laurie Evans should be unsympathetic as fuck. They are greedy, opportunistic, and they are used to getting their way. Frank is the assistant that is always the butt of their jokes, and Laurie is there as the veterinarian to know what they are dealing with. She believes they are going to capture Hogzilla for study, and has the appropriate tranquilizer equipment. It is going to be a big scene: tracking this beast down, and taking him, and smiling for the camera. Too good to be true, right?

I like the idea of McGraw appearing out of nowhere with his boar tusk-topped staff, like some grizzled Bruce Campbell/Ash Williams analogue with a one-thousand yard stare: much like the one Joe Bob wore that night at The Last Drive-In when his crew in an ultimate act of betrayal switched out a film he wanted to show in order to reveal this twisted monstrosity of a direct-to-video film upon the world at large.

He gives them the warning that they do not heed, because they are — again — stupid. McGraw’s line “There ain’t no hogs here. There’s demons and devils and creeping things, but there ain’t no hogs” is purely inspired, especially when delivered with that haunted stare of a man who has seen far too much.

So are you with me so far? Right. Right off the bat, like in the film, things go wrong. Our primadonna newsman, Brad Bennett, can’t get in contact with the team of people that were supposed to be here: though we don’t know that. He just seems to be bitching into his cellphone for the usual reasons, but there is some tension there, and it explains that he is actually contacting people that are nearby and not out of complete Wifi range. Then the elements betray them and they lose their tents. But it gets worse. During one night, something happens to their supplies as well. They are just destroyed. Gone. It looks like a wild animal went through them, along with with their tents. They see tusk marks on the tree trunks.

The character of Joanna immediately, like in the film, blames McGraw because she is a bitch. I like the idea that she is the former wife of a character in Jacques’ previous film Off The Chain, and I would keep that in for sure.

Now I would have them order Frank to go salvage the vehicles for anything to eat while they try to rough it in the Plantation, with what’s left of their equipment. They make fun of him for his weight and his penchant in eating Pork-rinds. Then, he is at the trunk when they hear a scream, and a squeal. They go, and find that Frank isn’t there anymore, but there is a whole lot of destruction and blood. Something got him.

One by one, I’d have them give into paranoia and blame each other. I would have Mitch — the marine guy — guarding Laurie, and they start to have a bond: her being attracted to him, and him being protective of her. Now, a few more of the crew get taken down, and are found gored to death, even mutilated. Eventually, the remaining crew come across a large hog. Our marine, as he calls himself, guns the pig down. And he seems to have dealt with the beast.

But then, the attacks continue. Eventually, Mitch and Laurie are the survivors. And Laurie … finds there is just something not right about this situation. About any of it. The attacks do not seem entirely consistent with a boar’s behaviour, hybrid or injured or not. And she genuinely knows something is wrong when the pig is killed, and she sees it is in no way large enough or powerful enough to have done any of this.

And then, Mitch gets messed up in an animal trap made of tusks. We find out that Frank didn’t die. He has orchestrated all of this. He explains to Laurie that the marine — who is not a marine at all like he has been claiming this entire time, but a weekend warrior buddy of an executive — and another of the crew arranged in advance to have a drugged-up pig sent here to the Plantation to be released and taken out so that they could make it look like they found, and killed, Hogzilla. They never intended to just capture it alive, but to make a spectacle for the views. He tells her that this is what they did to a pig named “Fred” back in 2007 at the Lost Creek Plantation. Frank reveals that this pig’s name is “Harry.” Laurie is disgusted with this, but then Frank reveals that the reason he killed everyone here is because he is tired of all the fat jokes, all the comparisons between him and something unclean, greedy, and disgusting as a pig: when it is human beings that project all of these qualities. And you have to admit, when you watch Hogzilla, it is absolutely shitty how they treat Frank and when he takes that gun and imagines shooting them, I can totally picture him doing it, and I almost wanted him to do so.

Of course, Frank isn’t a good guy. His plan has been to kill the whole crew and be the only survivor, filming the wreckage, and taking all the credit for the footage. He claims that the “marine” would die a hero at least, having died taking out Hogzilla, while Laurie was just an unfortunate casualty. He doesn’t listen to her appeals to his humanity, stating she barely even looked at him, never mind defended him the entire time against the others they were there. After mashing Mitch’s” body a few times with a tusk in his hand, he is about to kill Laurie …

When a great dark horrible shape smashes out of the bushes and gores the hell of him. Frank is screaming the entire time as the real Hogzilla, his eyes piss-yellow with hate, continues to charge through, throwing him around, screeching. Laurie runs, only for someone else to push her out of the way.

It is McGraw.

McGraw charges forward, with a gun. He wields his walking staff with the tusk as well, which we see is actually a spear. His face is smeared with a line of blood, like warpaint. He launches himself at the great boar that is Hogzilla. And he actually manages to land a blow. But the beast is too strong. He looks like he is going to be thrown aside, or trampled. Laurie finds her tranquilizer gun that she remembers she has, the one they didn’t let her use on poor Harry as she wanted to capture Hogzilla alive. The darts barely do anything. Some miss. But then, before the beast comes for her, she lands a few more hits. The beast slows, just enough for McGraw to get the killing blow through its head.

McGraw is gravely injured, though he claims he has suffered far worse pain. Laurie tries to help him, to bandage his body, and get him out of that place. He tells her that he tried to warn the rest of the crew and models in the bush, had even spent his time trying to save them, but it was too late. He’d been spending the rest of his time tracking “the Beast.” He also tells her about his son, Robbie, and the whole sordid story about how he had been the local drunk: and how in just one moment of negligence he lost his son on this very Plantation, to this beast, forever. He has already added the other tusk the boar left behind to his spear.

Laurie says it’s all right. He avenged his son. They can go back, and prove that Hogzilla existed and clear his name. But McGraw just wearily shakes his head. He says that he committed himself a long time ago, that beasts like Hogzilla, like the Monster Pig, they are created from humanity’s covetousness and cruelty inflicted onto nature, onto animals. That they made Nature their own demons, and that someone — with nothing left to lose — has to deal with those demons in their own way. It is his penance. It is all he can do right.

They get out of the wilderness and McGraw gives Laurie directions to the nearest town. She walks on, but as she looks back to say something to McGraw he is gone. She keeps walking until she meets the local sheriff. She tells him what’s happened and who she met. He tells her that’s impossible: as the whole incident with McGraw happened forty or fifty years ago. The man Laurie’s seen is nowhere near elderly, and realizes his hunt has only just begun.

Meanwhile, a trunk loaded with piglets — with men cursing and poking at them — bursts a tire. The trunk veers off. As the drivers and workers are trying to right it, one of the pigs — young, but large — gets out of the pen that crashed, looks with fierce eyes and feral anger, and runs off into the bushes.

So yeah. I applied some elements from Jaws, and Mononoke Hime into this rewrite. It’s not perfect.  Neil Gaiman once said that when someone looks at a story and it doesn’t work, they are almost always right. But when someone suggests a way to “fix” it, they are almost always wrong. But then, I don’t think Neil Gaiman has ever encountered something like Hogzilla, or thought of working with it. So, I guess there’s that.

But yeah, this was so dirty to write. And it felt like bad Aardvarking. But I won’t lie. After a while, I began to feel happier than a pig in shit.

And right. This really did get nasty.

 

Society Lives

Dedicated to Brian Yuzna and John Carpenter. Contains vulgarity and body horror. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

“Huh.” Judge Carter rolls the cigar in between his index finger and this thumb. “You really do look pretty strange without your satellite. Doesn’t he, Jim? Nana?”

“Yes.” Jim shakes his golden-haired head slowly.

“He looks … fascinating.” Nana trails a finger down the sharp angles and cratered contours of the other’s cheek.

“Hm.” Judge Carter settles back into the chair. “What do the rest of you think?”

He stirs on the bed. He finds himself tied to it. Where did that girl go? He was going take her asshole. Or maybe he did? She just screamed at him. Fuck. They do that sometimes. But why … he can’t move. Are these his handcuffs? But then he begins to register their words. He recognizes them. Judge Carter. Jim and Nana Whitney of the Beverly Hills Whitneys. The whole social circle.

“Judge Carter.” He tests the bonds, experimentally. “There seems to have been a hiccup.”

“I’ll say.” The old man chuckles. “Wow. You’re really not much without those disguises. are you? What do you think, Dr. Cleveland.”

“Oh I don’t know.” The heavy-set, balding older man looks down at the figure like he is a strange specimen. “Body language and facial tics are in line with … human psychological behaviour.”

“Blue skin.” Judge Carter whistles. “Large cartoon eyes. No nose. That’s what folks look like from Andromeda? Huh. Can any of you make yourselves look like this way?” He shakes his head, smiling. “I know I sure can’t.”

“We … we had an arrangement.” He tells them, trying to remain firm, to remember his place in all this, to keep control. “You have your territories. We have ours.”

“And you keep all the good toys to yourselves.” The Judge says. “Except for the tech that we use to make sure our territories aren’t … disturbed. And we can eat in peace. But you weren’t watching the news, were you my friend?”

He looks around, hoping to find …

“Looking for this?” A smiling woman, much like the one he’d been fucking in the ass, holds up his wristwatch. “These give you quite the trip, don’t they?”

“We had an agreement!” He tries again, a little more concerned as the women begin caressing him, stroking him. He’s still naked. And he realizes they can see him. They can see everything.

“Yes yes.” The Judge waves his cigar with one hand, absently. “Goodness. We had to use all the tech you gave us to cover our territories from your blunder. Otherwise, we’d have lost everything. Our circuses. Our bread. Everyone knows about you, man! Well, they almost did.”

The figure struggles against the touches of the women. Of the men. They are all holding him, stroking him. He begins to feel hot.

“We had to cover for you. You left a vacuum when your satellite got blown to Kingdom Come.” The Judge grins, and the others laugh with him. “And nature abhors a vacuum. There is a child I know, he has great promise.”

“Listen.” The figure says, his skin feeling clammy, soaked in sweat, in slick with liquid. How did he get so warm so fast? What is this? “My people, we can fix this, and everything will …”

“Be back to normal? No. No, friend. I’m afraid it’s too late for that.” The Judge gets up, putting the cigar in his mouth, resembling nothing less than a distinguished caricature of Pop-Eye the Sailorman, Around him, the Whitneys and the others begin stripping off their clothing. “The boy I’m talking about, he is still in secondary school, mind. But he likes to say that the rich suck off the poor. That, in itself is a terrible choice of words. It’s actually always been the other way around. You’d think, by now, that we and you would both understand that fact of life.”

“We will regain control!” The figure says, feeling his grind down under the weight of so many hands and … arms and legs … and … genitalia … and …

“Hm.” The Judge brings a rolled up magazine to his face, letting the figure see it. “Miss June.” He grins, chewing on the black cigar. “Usually my favourite. At least I don’t need those new-fangled 3D glasses that were going around to read it now.” He unrolls it. “Hmm. Marry and Reproduce. Obey. Well.” He puts the slick papers down, creased and greasy with sweat or something else entirely as he begins take off his own clothes. “You don’t have to tell us twice.”

“No …” The figure’s gaunt, bony face slackens in the non-human equivalent expression of horror.

“Oh yes.” The Judge croons, stretching, continuing to stretch, rising up almost to the ceiling, parts of him. “Maybe you could do this, once. On other worlds. After other hostile takeovers. But you forget. Old money always trumps new. Land rights over Industry. And you never endanger the flesh market.” He growls. “A true blue-blood would know that.”

“No … oh no …” He writhes as their limbs cover him, flesh and pink and expansive.

“Hey honey.” Nana Whitney looks to her husband as she also puts a hand around the Judge’s shoulders. “He looks like a blue skeleton.”

“Still has a cock though.” Jim Whitney tilts his head around. “The more you know.”

“Marry and Reproduce.” Judge Carter has a drink in his hand, that he raises and sips at, another limb sprouting from him to take his cigar. “Obey. We have our own imperatives, as well.”

The figure moans in fear and agony as limbs begin to not so much meld into his blue flesh and protruding bones, but meld into them, sink into them, exploring cavities that were hidden by ligaments, making others that didn’t exist before.

“First we dine,” The Judge grins, putting down the glass. Then he puts the cigar back into his mouth, “then we copulate.”

Mouths bite and lick at the figure’s skin, kissing, sucking, suckling  … attaching. Beige grafting into indigo. The figure screams, but limbs wetly cover his mouth. The Whitneys both kiss the Judge on either side of his face as they go onto the massive bed with the others.

“Usually, it’s a hunt of our own choosing.” Judge Carter tells the engulfed figure, grinning voraciously at his kicking, and his body distending under the touch of the others. “We’ve done some of our homework. You are called Fascinators sometimes. I’m sure I speak on behalf of the entire Society here, when I say: we’ve always been curious to know just what a Fascinator tastes like.”

There is only muffed gurgles, and whimpering as the Judge descends on what is left of the being, looking more like a mass of cheap pink blue-berry bubble gum than anything close to humanoid.

“Hey …” The Judge burbles to no one in particular, to everyone as he joins the rest in their feast. “Please remind me that we now have one more vacancy to fill in Washington.”

 

Family

Dedicated to Brian Yuzna and Society.

It’s been four decades since the Party at the Whitneys. No one touched us after that.

I’d say we’d been on the run, and sometimes the others tried to get us, but it’s all been pretty half-hearted. It’s just more of their games. A lot of the time, it isn’t even them, just everyone else — ordinary people — sent out after us: to deal with our terrorism.

Our fun.

It was so great, getting in Billy’s car, the wind in our hair, speeding away at the dawn. That fool, Teddy, got what was coming to him. I always knew there was something special about Billy. He was just so … intense, you know? It was more than just a drive to succeed, and the petty politics of popularity in the gymnasium that day when he put Petrie in his place. It’d been a game. Even though he didn’t know the rules, or the why of the game, he always knew that none of it was real. You don’t breed that kind of passion. That kind of awareness.

I knew then that I wanted him. And I showed him exactly what I wanted.

Just sophomore games. Teddy the Tycoon. He didn’t take any of it seriously, even by the standards of the Society. And he paid for it. It got old fast. The coming out, and then just sagging flesh, old man skin, elastic girl parts, boy bits that like to show just how big they are, and a massive sunken pit of gross ennui, of pure boredom that can only stimulate itself by playing with other people’s lives. It was all just masturbation after a while.

Until I met Billy.

Maybe the Whitneys thought he was something like their pet. I remember Dad doing something like that, even though we were … well, not the highest in the Society. But Daddy got old and Mom … Mom was always hungry. She came after us, after the Party. When you get old enough, and you shunt so many times, when you overeat, it gets harder to maintain that mask of humanity, and Mom already had so many problems doing that at her best, may she rest in peace. It was only because of the virtue of our birth that Mom even survived that long, and I had to keep eye on her when her faculties … changed. Just think about cannibalism and prion disease taken to its end result, but in a body that constantly grows like cancer.

Like …

It’s hard to think about now. She had always been trying to eat Milo’s hair. For some reason she had a thing for hair in her last days. I think it was the Keratin, even though it was so bad for her. But she guarded our lives. She was fond of Milo, or his hair. And I made it clear that Billy was mine. And god help me, for all her faults, my Mom loved me, and I loved my Mom. She remained strong and she could sure shunt towards the end.

Even though we had Mom in tow, it was mainly just the three of us: me, Billy, and Milo. We still had property in the suburbs, something the Society finds more gross than any of the parties. Billy adapted quick. He was always trying to expose them, the others. He learned how to moderate BBSes, then the Net, and then chat forums.

Forty years of running to different properties, and organizing rebellions that pretty much got squashed, though we took a few of them with us. The Whitneys really underestimated Billy. But I don’t know. They bred him to be the apex of what they think a human should be. like a well-groomed pet, or a pig made to slaughter. I guess he was more of a boar? But like I said, Billy had always been too smart. I watched him in school, and knowing he was almost eighteen — which is when the shunting would start — I made my move. I wasn’t even thinking. I just wanted to have my fun. I just wanted to see how he ticked.

If only Shauna knew. That bitch wanted into the Society. You know, to this day, I almost regret interfering — though I definitely rocked his world and I will never take that back — if only to see the look on that blonde bimbo’s face when she saw what high society is really about. I’m not sure even they could digest all that silicon though.

Billy was just a tool to her. He was prime food to the Whitneys. And what was a diversion for me … That will. That gall. That ambition. They thought it was cute. I think, sometimes, maybe when we had sex that night at my house a part of me went into him. Maybe that’s how he split Teddy from the inside out. Teddy thought to shunt Billy, but Billy ended up shanking him. To this day, I’m not sure anyone has killed one of us mid-shunting. I didn’t even know it was possible. I don’t think the others did either. That’s why they keep their distance, and come at us through their proxies, through their up and comers promised a place in Society. A whole lot of wannabe slaves. A whole lot of Shaunas.

But I think, looking back, it’s less what I did with Billy. I remember when he and Milo suggested that maybe we had been a parallel evolution — one step from the primordial ooze that kept closer to where life came from — while the rest of life became more solidified. Maybe in making love to Billy, I woke up a part of that shared beginning, and Teddy’s end … and that of a few others. Or perhaps Billy was just that strong.

It was an adjustment. We found others. People that discovered the Society. And others that used to be a part of the Society, kissing cousins that got tired of being disrespected, and didn’t really care for playing with their food. Humans are mostly dessert anyway. We can easily live off of our leeches. But the most challenging adaptations came from just the three of us.  I remember, in the beginning, that anger and hostility. Milo didn’t just love Billy. He was in love with him. I mean, seriously: the shrunken voodoo head, the naked action figures, and the dolls were much more than a subordinate jealous of his social superior. And his real hate of me was pretty clear at Teddy’s party.

Obviously I had no issues with it, given where I came from. And Billy and me … well, we shunted, in a way. It’s not something I have to do, but it’s enjoyable. But what few know is that while we devour enzymes and nutrients from a person, we can also give some back.

I never forced it. It was Billy who wanted to see what I could do. I guess that quip about my piss made him curious. But I saw what the Party had done to him, after the years of gaslighting by the Society, making him watch Blanchard die, nearly killing him too. He was the one that asked, and we explored that. I remember, like it was yesterday, the feeling of him being inside of me, and me being in him — really in him — like we had never been before. Sometimes, Milo even joined in, and it almost … it almost felt like what family used to feel like for me. It was different. There was something reaffirming about it. Something vital — even alive — warm and gentle and vibrant in ways that no mountains of greedy flesh could ever really feel, or emulate.

Billy lived longer than he would have. It turns out, he did have a mutation after all. In my darkest days, I think maybe that’s how he resisted Teddy’s shunting.

It was cancer.

Billy … Billy made me promise that we would be together. I didn’t care about the mess, or the sickness. Or appearances. I took care of him until I couldn’t. And then we shunted — we truly shunted — that one last time. And he went inside me, and I went inside him. We ate, and we copulated. And a part of him is, and will be with me, me. Forever.

As for the other part … Sometimes, I think I can still feel him. Sometimes I see him in Dave, our son. I wonder: just what kind of world are we still going to make together?

A Visceral Response to Lifers: Horror Fan For Life

I wrote another version of this, but like many films — horror or otherwise — I feel like I lost the plot. I tried to be too clever about it, which is something I’ve been accusing other creators, in other media, of being. But this isn’t something to try to be smart about. It’s something I wish I can say directly, and as clearly as possible. It’s how someone else’s story — and the experiences of others — hit me under the umbrella of the horror genre.

A few months ago, about a month into life beginning to stand still thanks to the Pandemic, KreepazoidKelly: a makeup artist, model, interviewer, and general good will and ambassador for horror media and the community mentioned that there is an article about her in Fangoria Magazine. At the time, I thought she had written something for Fangoria, but it is a piece created by the writer and actress BJ Colangelo from many of their interactions about KreepazoidKelly — or Kelly Barlow — an ultimate horror fanatic: a “lifer.”

BJ Colangelo’s article about Kelly, titled “Lifers: Horror Fan For Life,” can be found in Fangoria Vol. 2, Issue 7. It talks about her life, her influences, her achievements, and her struggles with brain cancer and its associated maladies, along with the emotional toll its taken on her, while at the same time relating it all back to their mutual love of horror. Both Colangelo and Kelly are cancer survivors as well as horror fanatics, and I can’t and won’t speak for their experiences, but there are two things in the article that really hit home for me: that stabbed me in the gut.

Before I go into that, there is a way that Colangelo frames her entire article that really appeals to me, because it’s something we all do: not just in the horror fandom, but in all geek circles. Interspersed throughout her writing is an ongoing, short form dialogue with Kelly comparing and contrasting different horror characters, and asking for her favourite films and moments, and why. It’s something I actually want to engage with on my own, because as I read it, some of my own answers came to mind as I imagine they did with a lot of Fangoria readers.

Quick! Without thinking! Who would win in a chainsaw fight, Leatherface or Ash, and why?

Colangelo explains why they do this, and I can understand it as well. For Kelly, and others like her, it is a way to distract from the constant of daily pain. It is the reason why someone with chronic and/or terminal illnesses — or someone associated with them, someone knowing or watching someone they love go through them — can enjoy, and even embrace, horror. It’s better than dwelling on it, or being overwhelmed by the despair of that helplessness, of not being able to do anything about the inevitable beyond simply continuing to fight, to exist, to keep engaging, and going on for as long as you can.

Kind of like I will be in this article.” I will tell you. “Because as of this writing I haven’t seen Chainsaw Massacre yet, but while I know Ash from Evil Dead is far more intimate with his chainsaw out of necessity, Leatherface’s is his love, and I will have to go with Kelly on that answer because, seriously? Ash can barely focus on the things that matter. Like, you know, that mystical spell that comes from The Day The Earth Stood Still? Klaatu barada, um … oh damn. I’ve lost my train of thought, and I’m dead now. Because Leatherface.

Kelly is someone who, with the chainsaw of her beloved genre, could eviscerate a person like myself who lost something, and tries to fill that void with the remnant of what came before that loss, literally and metaphorically opening me up to realization that there is still so much left to feel, and discover. She has done enough horror makeup to know how to make it look like her insides are on her outsides, and taking what is inside of her and projecting it externally: expressing it, accepting it.

Quick! Without thinking! Friday the 13th, or Halloween and why?

I’m terrible at not-thinking. Grief makes it even worse. I’m at a loss. I am only starting my journey in horror with fans around me, while Kelly, and Colangelo, and others have been in it for ages. I know, as I write this, I am putting myself into the conversation — not just between the two of them, but between the dialogue that has been happening with so many people in the horror fandom and the industry for years. Even so, it tugs at the corners of my blackened, twisted heart.

I’ve barely seen either horror series.” I admit to you all. “But while I love Halloween because it’s how I truly found and interacted with the Drive-In Mutant Fam for the first time with my story prompt, Friday The Thirteenth makes more sense to me because Jason Voorhees is dead, and even though that isn’t always true in continuity, it makes more sense that he has supernatural powers and can survive anything compared to what should be a simple lunatic like Michael Myers. 

It affects me, because I know I might not ever be able to have this conversation, because I wish I could. I’d seen Kelly in passing on Twitter ages ago through mutual horror followers, talking about her illness, receiving support from so many people whose lives she touched, or who just heard her like I had. I also left my support. It wasn’t until a little while ago that I’d seen her post again, and after some interaction we added each other on social media. I began to look at her interactions with others, fans and creators, and her own Live-Tweets during The Last Drive-In on Shudder. What I saw — which Colangelo also states in her article — is someone who promotes both mainstream industrial and independent horror productions and works, a person who attempts to keep engaging with a community: a truly beautiful being, inside and out.

In her article, Colangelo mentions how in October of 2019 Kelly found out that her cancer is terminal.

Quick! Without thinking! If you could keep any horror monster as a pet, who would you keep, and why?

I’ve been thinking about how I wish I could talk with her. I know that Kelly has many people leaving her well-wishes and even in a best case scenario, being well-rested, and comfortable she can’t get to us all. A major part of me, after everything, wishes I found her before now, even wishes I’d gone further into horror more than a year ago. But it’s not just because of Kelly.

I mentioned, earlier, how there are two elements in Colangelo’s article that stood out at me, that stabbed me directly, and went for the killing blow. One of these things, was dealing with the question of why someone who was dying or suffering from a serious chronic illness would still want to surround themselves with horror. Colangelo seems to state that horror can take the terror someone is feeling toward their own sense of mortality and put it on the outside, allowing it to be faced tangibly. Perhaps there is also the catharsis of it, the purging of all those volatile emotions and fears into something resembling meaning against the backdrop of the senseless and unfairness of a chaotic and arbitrary world.

And then BJ Colangelo, while listing the wide array of Kelly’s ailments related to her cancer, mentioned scleroderma.

I would also choose Bob from Creepshow‘s ‘The Finger.'” I admit to all of you, my face bowed down. “He’s a mess and he kills massive amounts of people. But he’s loyal. You never doubt his love for you. Ever. He would be the best pet ever. I wonder if you could order him to kill a nation, or an entire world for you. But I think I already know the answer to that. Such a large love from such a small, beloved, monstrosity.

My former partner, Kaarina Wilson, had been sick for a long time. She passed away in April, from complications due to various auto-immune disorders: including, primarily, scleroderma.

Going into our relationship, I knew Kaarina had been an advocate for auto-immune awareness. She led workshops, went into marathons to raise money for treatments and education, and throughout all that agony she would present herself and attempt to help others. Horror, to her, was what she was experiencing, what she was feeling from the that place of the inside turned out. When she experienced the horror genre, when she engaged in it, it allowed her to glorify that part of her mortality: to accept it. And while I can’t speak for for her or Kelly, or anyone, I’ve always gotten the idea that horror — in illustrating terrifying death — shows the vitality and voraciousness of that need to live: to truly do something, to be something, with whatever you have left.

I remember when I spent more time with her, Kaarina would look down at her finger. Scleroderma hardens and tightens parts of the skin, and bodily connections. It often has other illnesses like Raynaud’s associated with it that affect circulation. It got bad. Often, she would say that she would lose that finger.

She never did.

For me, horror isn’t so much dealing with the prospect of my own mortality, even during the current Pandemic, but processing grief, and that sense of a loss of time. That melancholy has always been there in me, and I imagine in a lot of other people — fans or otherwise — but my focus on the genre at this time, with my own interest in story and the darkness of the world, is something driven by my own sense of pain and loss, in an attempt to give me some meaning — and to reach out to others — in an extremely lonely time.

It’s why I began interacting more with the Mutant Fam, and participating in the Last Drive-In. And, in so doing, creating this Blog, then finding Kelly again, reading the Fangoria article about her, and writing this entire response. It comes full circle, like the limited spheres of social interaction we are supposed to have now in this time of the Pandemic, the bubbles we are supposed to isolate within to prevent the spread of disease, like the repeating psychodramas of things inside our heads that are hard to ignore during this time of trauma we are only beginning to know that others have been living with far longer than ourselves.

I am taking the bad, and the ugly in me and putting it out there, and projecting it. I know that. I think everyone of us in horror at some point or another does something like this. I don’t know when it will stop. I don’t know if it ever will. It’s like, I am writing for two instead of one. I am reaching out into the darkness to find a light that is similar to my own. To capture what is lost. To hold onto someone or something that won’t always be there, and should never be taken for granted.

Quick. Without thinking. If you could only watch one more horror movie before the end of your life, what would you watch and why?

Once, that would have taken me forever to answer. But I would choose Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s The Endless, because every reality and every life is a cycle, and they be both beautiful and horrific, and sometimes the most heartrending beauty is that moment when you have to say goodbye and let go — to abandon the familiar cycle of desperate nostalgia and fear, and embrace the terrifying, yet exhilarating vista of the unknown.

Like I’ve said before, and especially now on this Blog: I am no Doctor. I am just a student of horror. And KreepazoidKelly — Kelly — if you are reading this:

Quick. Without thinking. What is a piece of horror, literary or cinematic, fictional or no, that really hit you where it hurts? And why?

A Late Hell-o Letter to a Mail Girl

I didn’t find you in Themyscira,
but protesting from Twitter Jail,
Diana Prince, in black skull pasties, 
whose birthday I must hail.

Late is the hour,
that this gift will finally be seen,
after zombie parts, and puny words,
did I find you — the Mail Girl — on Halloween.

What presents can be offered,
to a girl that’s seen it all,
who’s clearly bought your gory props
from endless trips to the Chopping Mall?

Yet there must be something left to get
a person who’s among Fam’s fellow horror geeks,
someone who rolls your eyes at Ralphus,
and groans at the finger sandwiches of Bloodsucking Freaks.

Demonic oompa loompas aside,
there might yet be a chance, 
to say something more about a girl
who wants to show a larger Maniac from within your pants.

 

Darcy the Mail Girl, Diana Prince’s Cosplay from Mayhem


But this is no Crime Suspenstory,
about a head separated by an axe from its nethers,
though is it really a Seduction of the Innocent,
when you talk about someone who loves killing those Heathers?

Memories in tangents,
as you watch with us on screen that strange desire,
to witness the Brain Damage from another pair of pants,
and the psychedelic glory of Aylmer’s fire.

You’re  the type that pets the blue worm upon your shoulder,
as he hums on with his tune,
and though you like the visceral colour, Deep Red
it’s probably a giallo that is too awkward to fully consume.

We got to experience, together,
the Kaufman Troma of War.
Yet would Barb and Ken blow ups become anything
more than another bore?

I can’t do this, in one cut, like the dead.
Something else will have to be done, for Diana, instead.

For I can see you between white linen sheets,
with a determination that I must insist,
wearing a pallid guise so startling sudden 
It could scare a cowboy with a knife from the third Exorcist.

Perhaps that is a gift that would keep on giving,
endless dialogue written for a conclusion forgone,

Enough to keep you up and exhausted,
until feeling Deadbeat at Dawn.
Certainly, that’s at the soul of a Monster Movie Marathon.

I find at this point in this rhyme, 
that I’m at something of a loss.
I mean, isn’t writing this — for you — like Hollywood in a Grindhouse —
smelling of Dead Heat, and duck sauce?

Perhaps that last phrase came out wrong,
like a Green Inferno in the lawn-mowed grass,
but that is a can-of-bull in the turtle soup
Which does not take away from your understated sass.

There is something in the Mayhem
of seeing the Mail Girl dress from a film about a bloody corporate class.
Only to watch, together, a Kabuki Caligari, a Metropolis internalized,
an Iron Man of junk named Tetuso, an Akira-devotee, taking it up the —

Anyway. It was not a drill,
though I have a little more to say,
even though it’s two nights late,
from the time of your birthday.

Letters read, trophies brought, and Silver Bolos in advance,
I see you in the other things 
in the chuckles, quiet oh dear gods, smirks, and that particular blue-eyed glance.

But I think the thing I looked forward to the most
was when Shudder, finally, re-released the time when you got to dance.

From the belief of blood, and breasts, and beasts,
a Pandemonious Paradise Islander, and a Pr0n Knight, too,
I wish you the best, Diana, hell-o fiend:
a Happy Mutant Fam Birthday to you. 

Why is the Horror Doctor?

It seemed like a good idea the time.

Horror is pulp. I’m not talking about the old magazines made from cheap and often recyclable paper that are not known for their physical durability. I am definitely not referring to so-called mass-produced or “low quality storytelling.” It’s the closest to the dark building-blocks of the imagination: where fear, death, blood, comedy, tragedy, bodily realities, and the monsters that are archetypes that are both cautionary tales and ourselves, meld together or viciously separate from one another.

It’s a mess. Horror is messy. Weirdness is confusing, and playful. Terror tells you that something is wrong, and dread informs you that there is nothing you can about the inevitable.

Words are misleading when you really think about it. Naming something and defining it is hard when you are taking it apart, and trying to put it back together in some other kind of form. That’s why I thought it was a good idea at the time before I actually sat down, finally, in front of his computer screen, and began to type it all out.

Pulp, as has been used in different places, can mean something visceral and gross — a mashed and distilled version of what could have been a solid state before the blender or the force exerted to crush it — while, in a literary sense, it can mean something ephemeral and transitory, ideas and feelings that have poignancy until they eventually pass on with the people or things that carry them. I’m mixing metaphors here. If you follow me long enough, you’ll realize that I do that a lot. I mean, I might as well be taking about gore and ghost stories by this point, and you wouldn’t be wrong in including these thoughts.

I guess, for me, horror is a liminal thing. It is transitional. It is always in a state of change like the innards of the human body, or the feelings of a person under stress, or someone’s concrete thoughts before they are lost to the misinterpretation of outside influences, or the oblivion of forgetfulness.

This is my focus here, for this Blog, where I may or may not be playing a role half of the time. My problem has always been that when I review a piece of literature, cinema, or interactive narrative my brain does more than just take it apart. It’s easy to do that. Obviously, some people are better or more expert at dissecting matter such as doctors and butchers, but you will just have to settle for me. I am no H.P. Lovecraft, or Joe Bob Briggs. I’m definitely not a Carl Jung.

I’m more like, as the description of my Blog states, a Victor Frankenstein: with hopefully a little more sense of responsibility and just … well, sense in general. I don’t have a Doctorate in any sense. A Master’s Degree in Humanities and my own eclectic knowledge will have to do. I’m not a Cinema Student, or even a cinephile, though I do like some films and I appreciate the effort and the imagination that goes into them.

It all began, one day, when finally sitting down and watching an episode of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder, after watching several other horror classics and obscurities that I never got around to doing before the Pandemic. I was watching a movie that was going to be removed by Shudder, along with Briggs’ commentaries, and something just … clicked in me.

It wasn’t an immediate reaction, you understand. I’ve been grieving the loss of one of my partners, who was a major horror fan, and was instrumental in getting me to write again outside of an academic setting, and to watch weird and odd films that my very serious and formerly straight-laced self had no place for, even though I had a whole lot of thoughts. Horror is pulp, she lived with how messy her illness made her life physically and emotionally. Weirdness is confusing, as we didn’t always know how to feel about us or life. Terror tells you that something is wrong, and I felt a sense of falling, waiting for that other shoe to drop. And dread informs you that there is nothing you can do about the inevitable, like a slow, stupid, swarm of encroaching zombie sickness taking away all of your functions, or watching someone you love slowly disappear or worse — not seeing it happen at all, with just hints of it, and knowing that it is still occurring, and you are still helpless.

They say that there are three modes of fear: flight, fight, or freeze. I tend to call the last one fright. An absolute, paralyzing terror where you, again, know that something’s wrong though freeze is appropriate too given how you stay in place — not wanting to move, hoping you’ll survive if you just don’t change, just don’t breathe. It’s where the term “blood-chilling” comes from, I’m sure.

Our time together was messy, and also ephemeral. I recall details but even now a lot of them are fading from my mind, from my memory, over a relatively short period of time. I started Horror Doctor in my partner’s memory, on Blogger where we were going to collaborate on a project together, and because of my own lack of confidence and her own changing life, we never did. I had shared access to it, and I saw her own works, and an unfinished draft: something that will never be started, or completed.

But Blogger didn’t work for my purposes, and I came back to WordPress. Unfortunately, it too has suffered from change, and I may have to go elsewhere or go to another hosting site as figuring out Block Editor feels like putting a tombstone on my writing process before it even begins.

So what is Horror Doctor? Well, think about Victor Frankenstein. He was never a PhD or even an MD by the standards of fictional Geneva in the late 1700s. Victor is a student of old texts and, for his time, new discoveries. Somehow, he manages to combine ancient alchemy and what seems to be cutting edge science to make something new: to create life in a clumsy, artificial manner by taking something apart and putting it together in strange arrangements, and wondering why it isn’t beautiful when he pumps it with chemicals and possibly galvanizes it with lightning, and disowns the poor bastard when he’s done.

I’m not rich like Victor, a Baron’s heir. And while I attempt to edit my work, and I’m biased towards it, I know I’m not making any Adonises out of my parts. This Blog is evidence of that already. I’m not a web designer, blog creator, nor a graphic artist. What you see here, in terms of layout, is what you’re going to get for a while unless I can make some collaborative arrangements with my friends.

But I don’t think it’s ugly. I don’t think it will be. Certainly, my idea isn’t. Perhaps neither was Victor’s, when you really think about it. You see, my issue has always been like that I like taking things apart and putting them back together in different patterns. I have, what you could call, a synthetic brain: and no, that doesn’t mean I am an artificial intelligence, or a cyborg. It means that while I use analysis to look at different pieces of a thing, I primarily do it as an ends to the means of making something else. I’ve done it in my academics, my other articles, and here will be no exception.

You see, that day when I saw that movie Joe Bob had been examining on Shudder, I looked at all the ways it didn’t work … and then I thought to myself — a very dangerous thing to do in general for me — what would happen if this, or that, had been done instead? What would the narrative be like, the flow of the events become, if I changed elements around, if I grafted parts of it into different places? If I took some of the ideas in them and conflated them with similar mythological material? What if I took the bullshit, and bullshat it in a different direction?

You might say it would be fanfiction at that point. I began to think, then, about all those obscure horror movies that didn’t work, or were weird for some reason — that most people, not necessarily all — forgot about, and I started to ask myself: how could I get them to work for me?

That is the twisted, infernal heart of what this Blog is, my friends. Primarily, I want to focus on this film I saw, this weird, messed up thing that barely makes sense, that could make sense, and make it into a story that does. And if it works, I want to see if I can do it with others, on this Blog.

Obviously, I am not doing it for the money. There is no money for something that doesn’t belong to me. This is obsession, pure and simple. Perhaps some Pandemic boredom and ennui and existential dread with which to deal. And perhaps more than a little bit of grief to process.

And maybe, it will lead to an original work, to help me sift through the muck and the grime, and the filth and the guts of this thing. I’m not an augur, being able to tell the future of what I can make by searching through something’s insides but maybe it might trigger something, or become like some sort of weird Jack-o-Lantern that I can hollow out and eventually provide the basis of something entirely new.

I might, in addition to rewriting obscure horror films, write up some reviews on the genre here, some homages or fanfiction, and maybe even more thoughts. The thing is, for me — personally — horror is that archetypal place that I can draw on in between supposed “high-brow” and “low-brow” art, journeying through the guts to find the gem that I’m looking for. I guess, through doing this, through just watching these films and reading these stories, and not being rigid about my expectations, I want to be more fluid. I want to be more alive.

Victor Frankenstein abandoned his creature. And maybe my impetus will run, and I might do the same with this one. But I want to give it a good start first. And even this doesn’t work out, I can use it to learn how to make the next thing better, perhaps, or make it at all.

You get to see the creature get made, my friends. Or creatures. I’ll try not to take apart something I only began to put together. I always thought that the creature’s companion deserved better, whether in Shelley’s novel, or James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. Victor was never a Doctor, but popular consciousness ascribed him that title. Let’s see if I can, similarly and creatively, earn the designation of becoming a mad creator.

Come, let’s study a scary story with the Horror Doctor.

Frankenstein 1910
Image from Edison Studios’ Frankenstein, 1910.