Archive for horror

The People at the Bottom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2016 by stantonmccaffery

 

Shit I’ve Gotten Published Elsewhere

I had a fun story published this month on Out of the Gutter Online’s Flash Fiction Offensive called We Got a Winner.  For the first time I wrote a character based off of myself. I’ve read that that’s not recommended, but whatever, I had fun with it. I just sat at the computer and said to myself, ‘What would I do if?’ and the result is what you’ll find.

Now, the funny thing about this story is that although it’s about a guy going to the liquor store to buy a scratch-off, I’ve actually never bought one. But after reading the story, my wife went and bought me one. She actually got it for me for father’s day and said, “No matter what you’ll always be a winner to me.” You’ll understand that line more after you read the story. So, anyway, I play the scratch-off, and guess what, I win a hundred dollars off the thing. I wanted to go out and buy another one, but everyone tells me that was a total fluke.

Shit I’ve Watched

A friend of mine got me into an early screening of the horror film Don’t BreatheThis is a bit of a twist on your standard home invasion film. The invaders are the protagonists and the home-owner is the villain. Plus, there’s a totally warped third act that actually had me biting on my knuckles in the theater.

I’m typically more of a fan of horror films that are heavy on theme, message, and atmosphere, like The Witch or The Babadook, but I’ll enjoy a movie like this as long as it isn’t completely reliant on jump scares and offers the audience something new and creative. And this movie does that in spades. Trust me.

The one complaint that I’ve heard about the film is that the protagonists aren’t sympathetic, that the audience can’t invest in them because they’re sort of reprehensible people. I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, one of the three robbers is pretty cold and unsympathetic, but for the other two, it was clear to me that they were doing what they were doing because they had to. One was doing it to get enough cash so her and her little sister could move away from their abusive mother and the other was doing it only because he had a crush on the girl and wanted to help her out.

I find myself on the side of unsympathetic protagonists a lot though, so maybe that says more about me than the movie.

Shit I’ve Listened To

I recently started listening to Drive-By Truckers. They’ve got a ton of good songs, a number of which have poetic socially conscious lyrics.

But nothing is as amazing as their newest song, What It Means. 

Here’s some of the lyrics:

Then I guess there was protesting
And some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that
They ain’t called colored folks no more
I mean we try to be politically
Correct when we call names
But what’s the point of post-racial
When old prejudice remains?
And that guy who killed that kid
Down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend
And wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried
And laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles

Shit I’ve Read

People tell me all the time about books I should read. Sometimes I get around to reading them and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it takes me a long, long time. Such was the case with the classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. Not until someone let me borrow their copy did I actually get around to it. But I’m glad I did.

Now, with a lot of crime fiction, there’s a ton of characters and a ton going on. It’s mostly dialogue driven and the author doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. It’s easy to get lost. I had to read it twice to fully understand it. I’m okay with that though.I like books that I have to read twice in order to understand. They’re intriguing, like a puzzle.

The same went for the other book I read this past month, Donnybrook, by Frank Bill. Aside from having a ton of characters and a lot going on, Donnybrook is a violent book about people at the bottom, people who I always think are more interesting than people at the top. Maybe the same could be said about Donnybrook as has been said about Don’t Breathe, that the characters aren’t sympathetic, that they’re too violent, their actions too nefarious. I don’t think so. I also think that as readers, we should be challenged by authors to care about people that normally we wouldn’t consider or think twice about. In the case of Don’t Breathe it’s the home invaders and in the case of Donnybrook it’s the bare knuckle boxing meth head. If the point of reading fiction is to expand our empathy, then we need to read works with unsympathetic leads and characters.

Shit I’ve Been Thinking About/Politics

When I think about issues outside of my own life, I try as much as I can to think about the people on the bottom. It’s how I was raised. It’s part of the faith I grew up with. But also, it seems that few others do, particularly those with power.

Here’s an article from the New York Times about how little the poor have been mentioned in this year’s presidential election. I’m not convinced the New York Times cares too much about the poor either, but whatever.

As poverty continues to grow in the U.S. it seems to me like it’s something we should be talking more about, not something we should ignore like we always have in the past.

My hopes for this changing aren’t high. We had Bernie Sanders, but I’m skeptical the movement he helped to birth will continue. Movements inspired around elections don’t tend to survive them. I’m fearful that once we avoid the disaster that is Donald Trump, people will be complacent with whatever non-progress we get from Clinton. The status quo is indeed better than the regression we would get with Trump, but it’s not enough. Certainly not for the people on the bottom.

Anyway, I think about all this as I drive around my town and I see flags lowered at half staff. I’m not always sure who they’re lowered for, but I’m pretty sure they’re not lowered for the people killed by police. And they’re not lowered for people that died because they didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford whatever treatment they needed to treat whatever medical condition they had. They’re not lowered for the people at the bottom.

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Working and Breathing and Living and Dying

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

(Short Story)

You wake up in a tent and you can see soft puffs of your own breath floating above your sleeping bag.

Standing over you is your former boss just as you remember her, sipping on coffee and asking what you’ll be working on today.

You run out the tent because you can’t stand to be around the cunt for another fucking second, but when you get outside you step into a white void, oblivion. It’s not even curious blackness that you could wander and get lost in. You know too well the loneliness of this nothing.

You go back inside the tent because maybe being around that witch is better than dying alone, but she’s not there anymore because even she has found something else. Instead you’re joined by yet another former boss who tells you that you need to prove yourself if you want that raise you so richly deserve. That bastard, you think, he’s been here two fucking months and I’ve got five years on the job and a master’s degree. He can go to Hell, but then, then you realize he’s not their either. It’s just you and all you’ve got are some shitty memories of how hard you worked but how at the end of the day none of it mattered one iota.

This is terror.

 

Guard Dogs of the Graveyard

Posted in Horror Fiction with tags , , , , on May 14, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

Image

(Fiction)

Around Newark, New Jersey there is an enormous cemetery that is actually divided in half by the Garden State Parkway. It’s about two miles down the road from Seton Hall University, where I went to graduate school. I heard a DJ saying on the college radio station once that he had heard multiple reports from callers about a wild pack of dogs roaming the cemetery. This morning on my train ride into NYC I noticed that you could see the same cemetery right before you pulled into Newark Penn Station. I’ve been reading Zombie short stories, so the below is the result.

 

Danny hung up the phone and walked down the hall to Rafael who was hosing down one of the empty cages. “A lady just called about the dog’s in the St. Luke’s Cemetery, Esposito. She said she was there putting flowers on her grandmother’s grave and a pack of six big dogs was running around.”

Rafael Esposito shook his head and turned off the hose. “I told you man, we can’t do nothing about those dogs.”

“This is like the third person this week that’s called,” said Danny. He tapped his fingers on his animal control officer badge that he had hooked to his belt.

“Ralph, or Mr. Sciorno, the man that used to have my job before he retired?”

Daniel nodded.

“He told me,” said Rafael, “don’t never mess with the dogs in the St. Luke’s Cemetery. Ralph said they’ve been there for years, been there longer than even he could remember and he said they were there for a reason.”

Danny tried hard not to roll his eyes. “What reason?”

“I never asked man,” said Rafael. “If Ralph told me something, I listened. Maybe you should try that some time.”

Danny walked back to his desk and thought about how much better it would be to work at the police department. But Danny was crazy and even in Newark that was so hard up for officers no one in their right mind would ever hire Danny as a cop. At the end of the day, after he vented to himself in the bathroom mirror about that dumbass Esposito, he figured that was alright. Fighting criminal’s dogs was close enough to fighting actual criminals.

When Danny got off of work he went home and ate meatloaf his mom left out for him. Then he went to his room in the basement and got his double-barreled shot gun. He stuffed a hunting knife into the side of his boot. When the sun fell he drove his truck to the St. Luke’s Cemetery and started walking along the headstones looking for the dogs. The street lights from all the nearby highways gave him enough light to see the pack running off in the distance.

In quick succession he fired two shots and fell two dogs. “Fuck Esposito and that dumb old fart.” The remaining four dogs came closer. They were like no other breed he’d ever seen. “Damn chupacabra,” he said. He shot two more. Then another. The last dog leaped.

Danny dropped the shotgun when the dog sunk its teeth into his arm. He could feel the teeth cut his jacket and then dig into his muscle. He swung his arm and carried the whole dog’s body with it. He bent down and pulled the hunting knife from his boot. “Stupid fucking dog,” he yelled. Then he stuck the long knife hard into the dog’s ear.

The next morning he wore a long sleeve shirt to work so no one would see the bandage. He turned on the TV in the office when Rafael went to gas up one of the trucks. It was tuned to a local news channel and there was a news lady standing in front of the St. Lukes Cemetery. He got real nervous until he realized they weren’t talking about the dead dogs. When he realized what they were talking about he damn near shit himself.

“Empty graves,” said the news lady. “That’s all there is left in the St. Lukes Cemetery. As you can see, in front of every headstone is a gaping hole.”

The camera did a pan of the graveyard to show dirt strewn about and countless gaping wounds in the green earth. Danny’s hands got sweaty holding the remote.

The news lady kept talking. “Local residents say that last night the dead came from their graves to walk the streets.”

Danny thought he was going to pass out. He thought maybe he was getting sick from his mother’s meatloaf but then he thought no, it wasn’t the meatloaf.

“The question remains,” said the news lady. “Why now? What kept the dead in their graves for so long?”

Danny rubbed the wound on his arm. He knew the answer. He ran down the hallway to the bathroom and then threw up in the toilet.

What about Fear?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 12, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

A confession: I go to church. I go every Sunday. I’m on the church council too, heck, I’m president of the Church Council. I say this with a little reluctance because as an aspiring horror writer I think there’s an assumption that you have to be a Satanist or an Atheist at least. What can I say; I’m a man of many apparent contradictions.

I see nothing wrong with this seeming conflict because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a church that encourages thinking and even…doubt. And doubts I have, trust me.

My church isn’t the church of sin and apocalypse, it’s the church of hope, reconciliation, and love. Believe it or not, I get some ideas for my stories or the themes within them from church sermons and liturgy.

I’ve wrestled over the years with many of the ideas I hear about in church. Hope was a big one for a long time because I just couldn’t find all that much to be hopeful about. That’s changed over the last year in part because of my writing, but now there is something else I’m wrestling with. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole fear thing.

I’m quibbling with progressive Christianity’s take on fear, that because we live in God’s world we have nothing to be afraid of. I’m sorry, but I’m still afraid of a lot of things. I’m afraid of going into ridiculous debt. I’m afraid of never paying off my student loans. I’m afraid of messing up as a parent. I’m afraid of dying alone.

All the things I’ve mentioned could be disastrous, I think. There are real things to be afraid of and shit, I haven’t even mentioned cancer. Regardless of how much God loves us there will be no divine intervention to save me. Religion, real religion, isn’t magic, and no one is going to save our asses from the scary things we can encounter in life.

Here’s what I think our interpretation of fear should be. It’s part of life. It can even be helpful. It’s helped us stick around as a species and evolve. But fear shouldn’t control us. We need to push on even though there are big scary things lurking around the corner.

Worse Than Death

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

Chuck Palahniuk says you should write about things that upset you. Franz Kafka hit a similar note when saying, “We ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us.” I agree with both quotes and have pondered them quite a bit, using them as motivators behind what I chose to write and read. In writing horror, upsetting is particularly important and more so, I think, is frightening.

Judging by the amount of religious reflection on the subject, I would say that for many folks, assuming they too follow the above admonitions, the issue that scares them or upsets them or wounds them is death. I, honestly, have never really been afraid of death. Okay, I admit, it’s a upsetting, especially in regards to loved ones, but it’s not all that frightening. Maybe I’m still too young for it to have really hit me. It’s possible I’ve still got that youthful sense of immortality. Maybe, but probably not.

Hell and the possibility of suffering in the afterlife have something to do with it. Past the age of eleven I haven’t believed in it. As I think I’ve made clear in my posts here, Hell is place on earth. We’re already there in many ways and we’ve made it a reality.

Death, I think, is an end, which makes it sad and unfortunate. It might not be an end to everything, however, it certainly is an end to our existence as we know it. But, and to a degree I suppose I am relying on faith here, it is also the start of something new; a new life; a new experience; a new presence; a complete absence; whatevs.

Here’s what upsets me and scares the crap out of me: continuation, the sense that something could go on forever. I get a nasty case of poison ivy each year that covers my body with leprosy-like lesions. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and it looks awful. Every summer when I notice the damn rash I get filled with the terrible and irrational thought, not that it could kill me, but that it will never go away. Imagine that, living the rest of your life with a hideous itchy rash covering your entire body. That’s worse than death.

Also what scares me is the thought of being stuck; in a bad job or in poverty in particular. To me, that’s the absence of growth and simply plain boring. A book that truly frightened me because it so accurately captured the dread of monotony and boredom was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The guy was stuck in a Soviet gulag filled with tedious, meaningless work that went on and on. Luckily, I’ve never been in a gulag, but the thought of it is terrifying.

Everyone has it

Posted in Horror Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

I had the idea for this short piece while sitting in a doctor’s office for yet another case of poison ivy.

(Short Story)

He walked into the doctor’s office concealing his wounds with a sweatshirt despite the heat of the day. The waiting room was filled with other patients, all entranced by a T.V. positioned in the corner. When called forward by the receptionist he walked silently from the room without attracting any attention to himself.

His wounds were bubbling under his clothes. Only thin fabric hid his condition, which grew each second in size and pain. The pain of a public eye on his shame, he believed, would be even worse.

A nurse asked what brought him in and he responded by rolling up a small portion of his sleeve, showing her only the least offensive sign of his illness. The nurse reacted with pity and said the doctor would be in to see him shortly. She left and went to the bathroom to tend to her own wounds, also hidden from other’s eyes.

In a mirror in the room he inspected his face while he waited for the doctor, who was late because he was inspecting his own face in a mirror. The man held tightly the sides of the mirror and gritted his teeth instead of screaming just as the doctor did the same. When the doctor entered the room he too reacted with pity.

His injuries bubbled into one another as he waited for the doctor to return with a prescription. In seconds he became only one mass of sickness, no longer displaying any signs of life other than suffering. Soon, he evaporated. The doctor returned to an empty room.

The next patient called up by the receptionist concealed her unsightliness with a purple scarf on her neck and an extra layer of foundation on her face. She pulled back only an inch of her scarf to show the nurse why she made an appointment. As she waited for the doctor she too evaporated into only a fleeting memory.

Attendants of the man-eater

Posted in Horror Fiction with tags , , , , on March 18, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

The plane was a beast. The flight attendants its servants. The airport its lair, a façade used to lure prey.

Passengers are welcomed aboard daily and shown to their seats. Overhead compartments are filled and closed. An attendant displays the safety protocol and another smiles and greets the flight’s youngest passengers, asking the names of their stuffed animals.

A sound is heard; a deep rumble. The plane has finished digesting its last meal. The passengers believe it only to be the engine starting.

When the planes takes off a man pricks his finger on his seat and it starts to bleed. An attendant brings the man a band aid and says she has no idea what could have cut him. She lied. It was a tooth, the plane’s tooth.

Up high in the air, before the seatbelt lights come off, all the seats grow teeth. With its many mouths, the plane eats all the passengers. At 30,000 feet, only the attendants hear them scream.