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Archive for June, 2014

All in a Day’s Work: Chapter 2

Zeru is back! I’ve been really busy and without a lot of creative/inspiration time, so I returned to this story to help me continue working on something even in the face of mild writer’s block. As I said in the first one, this is not a formal project with a clear trajectory and plan, but something fun to return to and play around with. I think of it like a sitcom in one sense, just little glimpses of Zeru’s (self-inflicted) drama-filled life. This one is more of a connector section, but I thought it was fun nonetheless.  I’m a little irritated that more does not happen here, but it was getting really long, and this felt like the logical breaking point. It also felt rushed to move to any other portion too quickly, and a wasted opportunity to skip exploring some of the fine skills required of humans. Again, this story follows Zeru, the bumbling demon who is trying to grow used to his new human host, and to navigate the complexities that can be easily overlooked by a native human.

Here’s Chapter 1 for anyone curious/intrigued/enraged!


Zeru woke, stretching his newly stiff arms. His neck was killing him after collapsing in a notably uncomfortable position. But oh, what a wonder sleep was! Never had he experienced the exhilaration of just shutting down and letting his thoughts wander and explore. Michael had all sorts of wonderful thoughts clashing around inside, and Zeru felt like he could drown in all the possibilities. Speaking of, Zeru checked on Michael. He was still there, still hesitant, terrified of what might happen next. And scheming. Zeru sighed. Humans.

Standing from bed sent darts of pain shooting through his legs, but it was a blessed feeling. To actually feel his body rise, to step away from a beautiful sleep, it was the greatest thing he had ever experienced. Of course, Michael couldn’t appreciate the joy of morning aches and pains; he was so focused on chasing every happiness that he was unaware of the miracle of his own senses and body. Never having had a body to call his own, Zeru reveled in the rhythmic pops of his joints as he stretched and began to walk. He tested the feeling of his slightly stiff joints and tendons, feeling them strain as they warmed up to the slightly chill morning air of the apartment. As his jaw stretched itself wide, releasing a completely instinctual yawn, Zeru vowed to never let go of his appreciation for this marvelous moving human machine.

His exploration o f the complexities of human movement had only just begun for the day, after all. First things first, he reasoned. He needed to be able to talk, because he could explain away any other oddities if only he could speak.  Zeru posted himself by the bathroom mirror and began to try to force his face to contort into all kinds of strange shapes, but he caught his own dark eyes in the mirror. In one fell swoop, he understood the allure and danger of narcissism.  His face was ruggedly handsome, even with slightly bloodshot eyes. Michael’s stress would be the death of him, Zeru chided. But still, there was the chiseled jaw, the day’s worth of stubble, and a single row of dull but shining teeth. What a face. Zeru liked this body, he liked it very much.

How much time had passed in wanton admiration of his suitably handsome human face, Zeru was not sure. Somewhere in this large and labyrinthine building, another human slammed a door and stomped down the hall, snapping him from his idle reverie. He had a job to accomplish, he chided himself, and began to focus once again on his exercises. He tried to recall the notes from human studies, practicing basic phonics and lingual movements. Tongue behind the teeth, breath softly. Lips puckered, plus a low hum. Grit the teeth, breath through them,  now a quick tap of his tongue against his teeth. Slowly, with rehearsed patience, Zeru felt the brain and muscles begin to cooperate, producing a gentle baritone recitation of various letters and nonsense sounds. Humans were awfully complicated with their whole “speech” thing.

The light behind the faded blue curtains drifted across the apartment floor, now disappearing as the sun made its way to its apex. “Hello,” stated Zeru, savoring the feeling of words flowing off his tongue, “my name is Michael, and I make bad decisions.” He laughed; Michael raged. It was not nice to taunt him, Zeru knew, but Michael had been entirely unhelpful throughout the entire process, so he had to admit his frustration was showing. Now that he had conquered language, Zeru wondered what new challenge would face him in this human form. The tiny muscles were beginning to get easier to control, and he was even able to brush his teeth with only limited jabbing. The tooth brushing was again a bit of a challenge, what with that handsome face staring back at him.

Without warning, a sudden pain roiled across his abdomen. He felt as if his intestines were coiling and rolling over one another, tangling into knots and releasing in rhythmic waves. Zeru grasped the bathroom vanity (how apt a name!), his nails digging into the soft ply wood underside. Had he done something wrong? Was he dying? Was the body dying? Was Michael pregnant? Was he a woman? The world reeled for Zeru in this few moments before the pain subsided, a dull growl still echoing through his stomach. He turned to Michael, panic rising as he queried the frantic man, terrified that he was killing the relatively likable host.

No, came the response. No, you hell spawn. I’m hungry.

The reality clicked for Zeru, and he thanked Michael for his willing cooperation in this endeavor. He had known humans had to eat, and had planned on it eventually, but he did not realize what pain was associated with avoiding food. What a terribly parasitic relationship.

Zeru glided to the kitchen, admiring his grace and ease with these cumbersome limbs. Food was kept in the refrigerator, he recalled from his lessons. Refrigerators were large, cold, metal boxes. He reached out, grasping the slender handle, and pulled open the surprisingly heavy door. Inside, flies buzzed as a wave of putridity wafted from the open door. It did not take Michael to explain to Zeru that such food was not worth eating, as the green, fuzzy appearance and smell of death was warning enough. He sighed heavily. Of course he knew that food spoiling could happen around demons, but he had hoped to avoid that particularly nasty side effect. Hopeful, but doubting, Zeru reached up to open the nearby cabinets, but saw boxes filled with desiccated foodstuffs. Opening one can revealed ample mold and a distinctly gelatinous quality that made Zeru’s hunger shrink in fear.

There was no food.

The reality settled in with a firm and heavy hand. There was no food in the house, and he probably needed to torch the refrigerator before something sentient waltzed out. There was no food in the house, and he was likely going to starve to death, because acquiring food meant leaving the house, overcoming the stairs, findings a store, and managing to pass as suitably human to buy something to sate the gnawing ache building once again in his gut. There was no food.

This is silly, Zeru chided himself. You are a demon of the Sixth Legion, born and raised to take the world by force. You might not be good at your job, but by Satan you will not be defeated by a flight of stairs.

Zeru seized the brief moment of courage and confidence provided by his pep talk, grabbed the apartment keys from the table near the door, and ushered himself into the hallway. It was somewhat quiet, with the soft hum of human activity bustling behind the many doors. He paused for a moment in front of the beautiful woman’s door, his eyes wishing to peel back the heavy door and see her bright face once again. Oh, she was a beauty!

Distracted again, he reminded himself. It was time to descend the stairs. One at a time, and use the railings. It would not do to tumble down them and crack his skull wide open. He was, true to his word, trying to keep Michael’s body in pristine condition during his trial period. It was surprisingly easier to descend the stairs that it had been to climb them, and his slightly improved motor control made it even better. Down one, shift weight a bit, judge the distance down, move down another step. Before long, he had it down to a relatively smooth rhythm, though still somewhat unstable on the transfer.

Zeru remembered seeing a Dale’s Grocer on his walk home the previous night. Surely they would have food. He set off down the sidewalk, noting a surprising number of pedestrians milling about on the sidewalk. Glancing at a brightly glowing sign, even in the noon day sun, he noticed that it was officially Saturday. Ah, so this is what a Sabbath was like! This realization added a slight levity to his steps, sending him swinging happily down the street towards the tiny shop he had seen the night before. His progress was slowed as he walked past an open door, smelling something tantalizing drifting out and enticing him towards the opening as his mouth watered ravenously. Take out, he purred, the word rolling around ecstatically in his thoughts. He felt the subtle draw, felt his body begin to ache for the cheap but greasy food. Zeru steeled his resolve against the temptation; food like that would make your body sluggish, and a sluggish body was no good for the cause. He felt himself strain against his body’s inertia as it drifted fatefully towards the doorway, finally tearing himself at the last moment to proceed down the road.

Fortunately, he soon saw the tiny grocery rise into view, and he directed his feet towards its dingy glass door. Inside, there was a hodgepodge of strange foods with bright to muddy colors, all demanding his attention. Zeru suddenly felt very overwhelmed, and Michael had little interest in helping him. Having heard Zeru’s panic regarding hunger, the man had decided that he could probably starve the demon out. But Zeru was not going to be so easily derailed.

Uncertain of the offerings, annoyed by the tinny sounding music playing over hidden speakers, and struggling to see in the dim and flickering fluorescent lights, Zeru made his way through the meager aisles, gathering a few “fresh” offerings (though they looked barely more edible than the food in his unfortunate freezer—the smell was however an improvement), a few things from the frozen section, and a smattering of cans and jars. The cashier did not raise a single disinterested eyebrow, and Zeru considered this a success. He was not sure what these things were or what to do with them, but many of the items had plentiful writing on the front and back; surely that would explain its use.

Feeling triumphant, Zeru plodded back towards his apartment. The giddy Saturday was suddenly humid and hot. At least hell was a dry heat, Zeru mused. Sweat trickled down his back, an uncomfortable sensations that reminded him of his initial formation way back in the days of old. An involuntary shiver ran through his body, rustling the paper bag noisily and drawing a few startled looks from passersby. He continued walking, his eyes forward as his stomach grumbled again.

Back at his building, Zeru felt his confidence begin to wane as he considered the sharp incline of stairs greeting him. They smiled like crooked teeth in a sideways giant, and Zeru hated how they mocked him. Deep breath, he coached. You can do this. Nevertheless, he felt himself pause, almost froze on the landing s he remembered his awkward shambling ascent the night before. He could just see his hard earned food skittering down the stairs and along the hallways. Repositioning the bag so that it was even more firmly in his grip, Zeru took a step, placing his foot gently on the first step. He slowly shifted his weight, feeling a discomforting sense of unbalance as his second foot swung forward toward the next step up. It was a success, he cheered as he straddled the two steps. One down, and only a mountain left to go.

Up was slower than down, but far more successful than the previous night. He steadied himself, breathing deeply with each step, and made slow progress. Slow and steady wins the race, yes? The door to his hallway appeared on the horizon, steadily building to fill his view until Zeru had succeeded. He valiantly swung the door open and marched triumphantly to his own abode.

As he fumbled with his key, trying to determine which key it was and how to properly manipulate such a tiny device, he heard another door open before hearing a comforting laugh.

“I thought I heard you out here. Seems like last night got a bit out of h—are those groceries?”

Her shock froze him in place. Did humans not buy groceries? Was there something deviant about his bag? Had he somehow offended this beautiful sculpture of a woman? She walked over, peering into the bags.

“I’ve never seen you cook more than a can of soup,” she chided, pulling out a round green item he had purchased under the guise of its freshness. “So you’ve got lettuce, canned corn, pasta sauce, bacon, and apples? Please tell me what you’ve got planned for these.”

“I was hungry?” Zeru felt off balance and uncertain. What if she realized something was wrong with him? Would she know the man she called Michael was being possessed by a rather incompetent demon?

“Oh, Mikey, I can see that. Have you ever cooked a meal in your life, though? I mean, one not in a box?” Zeru shook his head, feeling a sense of resonance with his internal Michael. She sighed.”Here,” she handed him the item she had called an apple, and then pulled the rest of the bag from his hands. “You munch on that, and then knock on my door about six. I’ll teach you how to make something delicious.” She smiled, her eyes flashing at him. Zeru might not know much about human behavior, but he knew what desire looked like. And right now, she was clearly a human gazing upon her desire. Zeru felt his confidence swell again.

“I’m sure everything with you is delicious,” he stated, leaning in what he suspected was an alluring way against the door frame. “Guess I’ll see you at six, then.” With that, he crunched into the apple, the dastardly fruit shooting a spray of juice across his face and causing him to briefly recoil. She laughed, turning back toward her apartment.

“You’re hopeless, Mikey, but at least you’ve got me to look out for you.” Following her final parting quip, she disappeared into the warm glow of her apartment, leaving Zeru standing in the hallway, watching her enchanting departure with ample appreciation. Distracted again, he reminded himself, and then went back to unraveling the complex secrets of these minuscule keys.


Thanks for reading!

Creative Commons License
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Working Title: Neighborhood Watch WIP

So, here is something new. I did just narrowly miss my “every two week” window, but it’s been a bit hectic. Getting old things wrapped up and new things started has kept me hopping in the real world, plus a sick day here and there to inhibit the writing process. This is a new piece I rather like, though it is very different in tone for me. Definitely taking a risk with the format of it as well.  However, I find the characters intriguing, and the format fun. I used a few textisms sprinkled in here, but I think it works alright given the email style and the character. I’m not sure on the title, but that’s why it’s a working title. Also, I tried to make the formatting as clean as possible, but if there are any critiques or suggestions regarding that, I’m all ears! Enjoy!


To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Hi Neighbor!                                                            June 4 2014                2:47am

Hello Sophia!

It’s nice to finally talk to you. And no, you did not write this email to yourself. I just needed some way to talk to you that would be inconspicuous. As a note, your tech security could probably use an upgrade; you never know who could be sniffing around for unsecure Wi-fi links. Lucky for you, I was the one to find it! I’ve tightened up the security a bit, and I can send you the deets later, in case you ever need work done on the connection. Consider it a perk of our new friendship. For ease, you can just call me Crypto. Obviously, that’s not my real name—that would be a stupid real name—but if I told you that, well, they’d have to kill me! And is Sophia ok? I’ve always loved the name Sophia. Introductions aside, I hope you don’t mind my little email intrusion. You see, I’ve found that people tend not to have the desired response when they get emails from john.doe@creepyshadoworganization.gov. It tends to get snagged by spam filters or trashed, plus it has the nasty side effect of alerting my bosses.

So, I’m REALLY not supposed to do this, but, Sophia, I just couldn’t let you get ripped limb from limb like the last one. I mean, really, you’re smart, kind, attractive, funny, and caring. You help Ms. Saunders look for her lost dog, send a hefty donation to cancer research centers, and even tip a generous 20% to delivery drivers. We need people like you in this world. So, I’m putting my neck out for you, but it’s for the greater good.

‘So, Crypto,’ I can imagine you saying, ‘is there any point to your ramblings or are you just hitting on me?’ The answer is yes. You’re a clever girl, so I’m sure you catch my drift. There’s a great coffee place you seem to really enjoy, just off Singer and Main. After this is all over, I’ll meet you there. 😉 But, for now, the point is the more important piece. You see, in my job for, well, Creepy Shadow Organization, I am tasked with observing the general living patterns of certain entities. Most of these entities are pretty nasty critters with beady eyes, long claws, sharp teeth, and gobs of fur. Trust me, my poor assistant is tasked with cleaning the enclosures, and those things shed worse than any long-haired house cats that I’ve ever known. And the smell! I’m sure you’ve got that slight whiff of rot, sweat, and feces, so you know what I’m talking about. Some of them are rather smart, however, and in that case I have to make detailed notes about stalking and hunting behaviors. Like a wildlife researcher. One who carries ample ammo, salt, holy water, and diverse religious symbols. It’s really quite a fantastic job. Which brings me here, tapping away on my/your computer behind Dr. Dan’s bushes.

As the scratching and wailing sounds may have alerted you (if the smell didn’t already!), you seem to be the chosen prey of my most recent subject. I call her Stretch McTerror. She’s pretty impressive without any modification, but her exoskeleton is uniquely designed, allowing her to grow incredibly tall at will. Admittedly, this ability also extends to her arms and their dangerous terminus of incredibly sharp claws. Her teeth aren’t so bad, but her breath will totally do you in. I mean, seriously, it’s toxic. We lost about three interns before we figured that out! Totally was missing from our research, but that’s what I love about my job. I’m always learning something new.

Right, so she’s chosen you. And, unfortunately for you, Stretch is also one of our more intelligent subjects. She very much likes to play with her food. I hope this helps clear up the screeching, claw marks on your trees and doors, and mysterious shadow figures in second floor windows. Congratulations, you’re not crazy! You’re just being stalked by a bloodthirsty monster. Who really enjoys skinning and eating prey. She’s a sadistic little critter, but you have to admire her tenacity. No, seriously, she followed her last victim across country when he finally decided his house was haunted. It took me days to clean up his place and make that look like an accident. I had to generate a lot of recent interest in woodworking through his internet history to get someone to buy an accidental table saw/sander death. Plus I had to put the tool purchases on my personal credit card, and the folks in Accounting still haven’t reimbursed me. Maybe I should convince Stretch to visit one of them! LOL!

Anyways, I wouldn’t suggest running. I also wouldn’t call the cops, because we have agreements with them. They’ll just tell you it’s some sort of prank, or maybe raccoons. They may send an officer to check the place out, but they’ll tell you they found nothing. It’s a dead end, I promise. Fortunately, you have someone even better on your side. Me. J

‘Now, Crypto,’ I hear you sigh, ‘what do you expect me to do with this terrifying information, then?’ Well, knowing is half the battle. You should totally know that one, Sophia. As for the other half…I’m working on it. I’ll be in touch once I figure something out, but please remember I’m taking a big risk even alerting you. Noninterference is like Rule 1 of my job. Just, stay safe, okay? And don’t let Stretch’s mind games get to you. Really, the weird things you’re seeing—I’m guessing from my experience blood dripping down the walls, corpses walking around with their skin flayed off, and disembodied eyes in the dark?—are not real. They’re just the first effects of slow exposure to her neurotoxins. Remember the breath thing? The current level is not meant to kill you, just mentally torture you a bit. I’d suggest opening a window, but she’d probably just crawl inside. Instead, just remember they’re not real.

Well, I’ll be in touch. Don’t worry, I know where to find you. Just write back if you have any questions!

Interferingly Yours,
Crypto

PS: Oh, and by the way, you can stop looking for Ms. Saunders’s dog. Seriously, you don’t want to find what’s left of it.

 ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 4 2014                10:19am

Is this some kind of joke? Is this Mike? If it is, we’re not getting back together. Are you the one who’s been stalking me and harassing me at home? Are you drugging me?!? Well, listen, “Crypto,” it’s not okay. And you know what? I’m calling the police now. I’ll show them your email, and then they’ll track you down. Creep.

  ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 4 2014                1:56pm

Ok, how did you do that? This email wasn’t here when the police got here, and now it’s back. I’ve even tried forwarding it to them, but it won’t send. Did you download some kind of virus onto my computer? You’re sick, dude. Get some help. By the way, I have a gun, so if you or “Stretch” tries anything, you can leave my place in a body bag.

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                4:22am

Sophia,

I told you the cops would not be helpful. I admire your courage and assertiveness, but it seems a bit misplaced. I’m not Mike, and personally, I think you’re better off without that oaf.. I’m just a friend here to help, but I can definitely understand the confusion. I was livid when I met my first entity. Ripped my girlfriend clean in half in the middle of a lovely camping weekend, but after meeting Dragon following my initiation (I didn’t name this one; I’m much more creative), I realized he was just looking for dinner. He’s no more evil than, say, an alligator or bear. Oh, and regarding the gun, if you could please avoid shooting at Stretch, I’d appreciate it. She’s not ready for live fire drills yet (though with her remarkable exoskeleton—shiny, isn’t it?—I think she’s going to pass with flying colors!). That’s why we generally start these in suburbs—fewer carry permits.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much to provide in the way of solution. I’m doing my best research, but no one has ever really figured out how to slow Stretch down. I mean, without killing her, of course, and she’s too valuable to waste. We just need to find some way to throw her off your trail and onto someone else’s. Personally, I’d love to figure out how to send her off to follow Mr. Connelly down the street from you. I mean, there are weird tastes, and then there are criminal ones, if you catch my drift. For now, though, keep doing what you’re doing. Stay alert, keep your doors and windows locked, and try to avoid any demonic or supernatural paraphernalia the best you can. We do know that sage acts as an appetite stimulant for darling Stretch, so you probably should avoid that one specifically. I’ll keep you updated!

Just observin’,
Crypto

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                9:05am

Were you in my house last night? I heard someone, and this morning I woke up to find some sort of…knives?…in all my pictures. And the smells gotten worse. And last night, I got up, and there was someone staring at me through my bedroom window. On the second floor! The screeching sound has gotten worse, and I keep seeing a man who walks around my house, covered in blood, while he rips off his own skin. Are you doing this? If so, please stop. I don’t know you, but please stop.

If not, can you help me?

  ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 5 2014                11:38pm

Sophia!

I’m glad you’re coming around. This will be much easier if we’re on the same page. Of course I haven’t been wandering around your house in the middle of the night. Nor am I in the habit of ripping off my skin. That’s gross. If I were in your home at any point, I would face sharp censure from my superiors for interfering in our little test. Hence my need for secrecy.

Regarding the “knives,” I do have to say, that took even me by surprise. I guess we were not as comprehensive in our pre-observations of Stretch as I had hoped. And again, it really does not appear in the literature. Then again, with a record like Stretch’s—well, her ancestor’s—there aren’t often many people left to detail her secrets. Her ability to shoot spines like there, and her precision! Truly remarkable.

I am happy to say that my research into the spines has provided some insight into a possible mechanism to dissuade Stretch. You see, Stretch and her kind were common in a rural part of Northern Italy long, long ago. It seems that locals would plant rosemary bushes around the property to protect the occupants from the eyes of the “Climbing Witches.” Being such an old text, I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same creature or if it was even effective, but it’s an interesting thought. I mean, rosemary has been associated with repelling witches in the past, so perhaps it will be helpful. It’s also historically associated with love. How long ago did you and Mike break up, if you don’t mind my asking? For research purposes, of course. It may help us identify how Stretch selects her victims.

However, I’m still not certain on the rosemary angle. It can’t hurt to pick some up from the grocery on your next trip out. And make sure to buy it fresh, not dried. It’s better for our entity purposes, as well as cooking, which is a wonderful positive of this experiment. Even if it doesn’t work, the rosemary is great with pork and chicken. I can send you some recipes later. Better yet, how about I’ll cook you up something savory after this is all said and done? To be clear, though, I wouldn’t get too hopeful, as the mortality rate in that town is still suspiciously high. I mean, not high enough to suggest wall-to-wall Stretches, but still higher than I’m comfortable with. The upside of this is that I can likely convince Corporate to send me on an investigative trip to Italy. You are, of course, invited. Assuming we can figure out how to keep Stretch from killing you.

So, start with the rosemary and I’ll keep researching.

Your Bookworm,
Crypto

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 6 2014                12:15pm

I bought the rosemary. Now what? I can see her, Crypto. I saw her last night at like 4am when I finally stopped trying to sleep. She was tall, but all crumpled down behind a tree in my backyard. And you’re right, she shines in the moonlight. You did not warn me about her eyes, though. Those eyes are worse than any I’ve seen in her hallucinations. All dark and knowing. I could see my soul in them, see it ripped apart. Why didn’t you warn me about her eyes?!

I don’t see her now, though. Am I safe during the day? Please let me know what to do!

Sophia

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                12:34am

Lovely Sophia,

Regarding your questions, first I think Stretch is mostly nocturnal, but as you’re seen, these sort of things can be…surprising. Second, I did not know about the eyes. Professional wisdom suggests you NEVER make eye contact with one of the entities. A lot of them can be hypnotic—so lucky you! I appreciate your honesty about what you saw. It seems to me as if Stretch uses her eyes as an extension of her psychological torture routine. Quite interesting, really. I may enlist some interns to determine if there is any variability in this behavior (in a controlled environment, of course).

As for the rosemary, I think I have some answers. Now, I’m not sure how avid a chef you are, but you will need some authentic sea salt, a mortar and pestle, and Italian olive oil. Again, don’t settle for any cheap knock off stuff. This needs to be the real deal. I would pick things up for you and drop them off, but, you know, the whole secrecy deal. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. I really don’t want to lose my job, as termination tends to be rather traumatic in my line of work.

Once you have all of these things, toss the rosemary, oil, and salt into the mortar and pestle, grinding it until it’s all a consistent…goopiness? I don’t really think there’s a good term for it, but make it all mixed together real well. Then, smear it along all your window sills and door frames. Even the ones in your attic. Trust me, the real spooky stuff doesn’t live in attics, but rather your backyard. Next, put a little on yourself. Just a bit behind you ears, elbows, wrists, and knees should be enough. The smell should be enough to convince Stretch to move on. Hopefully. I’m pretty sure it’s not a sage scenario. Let me know when you’re done, and I’ll let you know where she is!

With hope and curiosity,
Crypto

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                8:27am

I did it, Crypto. I got everything, just like you asked, mixed it, and smeared it everywhere. I smell like a cheap pizza parlor, but I did it. If this is some kind of sick joke, I hope you are enjoying yourself. Is she gone? I know it’s day, but can you see her?

Sophia

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 7 2014                9:31pm

I haven’t heard her again. Normally she’s begun scraping my windows and siding by now, if not growling. But it’s been quiet. And I haven’t seen any weird things all day, well, one or two floating eyes, but those have even gotten better. It still smells, though. I can just smell it over the rosemary and olive oil. Please let me know.

Sophia

   ______________________________________

To: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
From: Sophia Brimm <sophia.brimm@——-.—>
Subject: Re: Hi Neighbor!                                                     June 9 2014                2:08am

My Partner in Crime,

Sorry for the radio silence, but I wanted to be sure before giving you any false hope. It seems Stretch is not a fan of the new air fresheners you’ve deployed. She’s moved on down the road and, with a little help from some strategically placed sage, has found a new favorite house on the block. My only advice would be to avoid Mr. Connelly for the next couple of days, and don’t read the subsequent newspaper story. Trust me, you’re better off not knowing.

So, how about that coffee now?

Your knight in shining armor,
Crypto


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Horror and Mental Illness

As a preface, I am not a licensed anything, I am not providing mental health services, and I do not suggest that this should be used as any form of psychological advice. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, I encourage you to seek out a licensed therapist in your area and schedule an appointment. There are plenty of places that provide online lookups (here is the APA’s), and many great people out there very willing to listen and provide whatever help they can.


This is a topic that has been spinning around in my head for a while. I mean, the draft has been percolating since mid April, and the idea began far before then. I owe some of my inspiration to return to the topic to the recent creepypasta.com announcement regarding the Wisconsin stabbings.  It is a very well written discussion of horror, violence, and mental illness, and it touches on this cultiral war being waged against anyone with a mental illness. Now, my take is a bit different than that one, and obviously not directed at the recent events. I am instead looking at how horror as a genre has contributed to stigmatization of mental illness, but the recent events got my wheels turning back to this topic.

To get my biases out of the way, I have a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and in the midst of pursuing my doctorate. So, I have a may be a bit hypervigilant when it comes to identifying stigmatizing or discriminatory messages in the media. I suppose I’d rather be a bit oversensitive and prevent the risk of hurting someone than to laugh it off.

Also, I grew up loving horror movies. I was raised on the creepy and crawly and terrifying. I had my fair share of nightmares as well, and to be honest, I think that drove me deeper into the horror genre. Rather than running from my fears, I drowned myself in them and embraced it. I watched horror movies, TV shows, read the books, and wrote stories that tapped into those themes. I can say for certain that I read all of Stephen King’s IT at age 12, though that was one of a long line of his books that I had devoured, so my introduction into “adult” horror began pretty early. Going off to college did not dim my enthusiasm, and I found myself drawn more and more to writing darker stories as I jumped at every new scary movie in theaters. My boyfriend was kind enough to allow me this, and now as my husband he continues to consider supporting my habit with ample Netflix offerings. Yet, at some point in college, I ran out of time to read and write for fun, so part of that faded. Eventually I stumbled on the creepypasta community sometime during my first year in graduate school. Reading the stories on there was a joy, and revitalized some part of me. As this blog itself demonstrates, it even prompted me to pick up the pen (er…keyboard?) again. All of this to say that, despite my critique, horror is one of my first true loves in the realm of creativity. I just want to see it be the best genre it can be.

On to the point, now. The history of horror and mental illness goes way back. It’s almost unfair to say it, because understanding of mental illness has historically been poor, but the earliest overlap between these two concepts is likely the link between mental illness and demonic possession. I would imagine the link is undeniable throughout history, but I want to focus a little more recently as mental healthcare has made great advances which have yet to really pierce the current cultural milieu.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released in 1919, is considered one of the first horror movies, and one of the first to include mental illness as a significant component. It is available in public domain and can be viewed here.  Now, it’s an old silent film, and I doubt many readers are up for a 50 minute homework assignment prior to reading on. So, to summarize, it is the story of a man (Dr. Caligari)  who controls a sleepwalker, forcing him to commit murders in a small town. While some may consider it a stretch to consider sleepwalking a mental illness, it is in the DSM, so I think we can make the stretch (however, that opens a whole discussion about the current states of diagnostics in psychology, and I don’t want to go there). But, of greater interest is that the movie is actually being told from an institution by individuals with…let’s say poor reality testing. So, in a final twist, it’s revealed that the narrator invented everything in the throes of “mania.” I do not call this out as an egregious error of marginalization, but rather to show that the desire to bring mental illness into horror goes back well into our cultural history.

And, since then, horror has actively embraced the inexplicable link between mental illness and horror–and monsters, really. I cannot count the number of movies I have seen that use schizophrenia or dissociation (wrongly, I might add, but that’s another post) to create a monster capable of killing most of the remaining cast. Or the myriad of films that rely on an abandoned mental institution as their setting because, duh, the ghosts there would be particularly cruel, vindictive, and evil.   These ideas seem rather harmless until you sit across the room from a young man who states he has no aspirations for his future because he “is schizophrenia.” That his family will not take him back in because he is dangerous, despite the fact he has never demonstrated any aggression. Or until someone refuses to seek out help for depression, anxiety, mania, or psychosis because it risks being labeled a threat to others, thereby leading to years of suffering without treatment. That is a sampling of the harm these stereotypes create, and the reality is that it can be far more dangerous. Our misconceptions may even blind us to reaching out to those in desperate need of help because they do not match the often inaccurate Hollywood stereotypes of the mentally ill.

So, what prompted my long discussion here? I ran across a crappypasta.com post (which I will not link here, because I do not believe it was intentionally harmful, just buying into the cultural trope on horror) that stated that spirits of people once in the asylum were menacing and evil merely because they were institutionalized. Other spirits who were kind, caring, compassionate, etc. were deemed to not really be crazy people, but accidental souls who were locked away in the asylum for petty reasons, like sexual orientation or out of wedlock pregnancy. That stung me deeply, because I know so many kind, caring, and compassionate individuals who live in what are our current form of institutions. As I said, this was not the author’s attempt to stick it to the crazies, but rather someone who bought into the cultural myth of “dangerous” mental illness. Not to say that some people with mental illness are not dangerous, but then again some psychologically “healthy” (if there is such a thing) individuals also are very dangerous and not worth being around. It really has more to do with the person than a diagnostic label.

Do you have a point with all this rambling, Katherine? Yes, I do. I always do, it just takes me a while to get there. My point is easily misunderstood, so I will be blunt. I am NOT saying that mental illness should be taboo for horror. I think it can be terrifying, it can lead to great tragedy, and it can cause people to act in decidedly uncharacteristic ways. What I propose, however, is that we stop trying to make someone with mental illness always the bad guy. And stop with shoddy representations of mental illness. Plenty of people with a psychiatric diagnosis live healthy and productive lives. They are successful and treat their condition effectively. Do not use a dissociative cop-out or lazy mental illness tack to the end because you are too lazy to write a better ending. Stop making mental illness the butt of horror, and allow it to be an integral portion of the lives and times of characters. And for heaven’s sake, do some basic research before slapping some diagnostic label on someone. We live in the wide world of Google, so hop on over and type in “disorder XYZ diagnostic criteria” and try to get something right. I try to live up to this, and sometimes I do okay, but even as someone face to face with mental illness on a daily basis, it’s easy to buy the cultural lies.

We live in a world where nearly everyone either has a mental illness or knows someone who does. Why not write a representation of someone who lives life with this illness, who maybe is even the hero with it? I ask for people to be aware as they create media and speak with others that people reading, viewing, overhearing, and interacting with you may have personal struggles they are facing. If your mother, father, brother, sister, best friend, cousin, or next door neighbor had whatever condition you are writing about, would you be able to look them in the eye after s/her saw how you viewed people with his/her label?

Mental illness is not an easy recipe for horror. It is not a one-way ticket to the greatest twist ending or terrible evil. It is a part of everyday life for millions of people, and horror needs to find ways to respectful work with that reality. Your words count.


Working Title: Interest Free for Ten Years WIP

First draft of something new. Another in the vein of “be careful what you wish for.” I keep writing things with young narrator perspectives, and I’m not sure that’s a strong suit for me. Additionally, this one still feels a bit rough around the edges. I definitely think the pacing of the last half is off, but  I’m not sure how to fix it without turning this into something just ridiculously long. It’s definitely a rough draft, but one I hope to get spruced up. I think it needs to sit a bit, and maybe revisiting it after I’ve gotten a bit of distance will do me some good. I’m not quite the fan of this one like I was for Pheromones, but not everything will always be your favorite! Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy, and let me know any thoughts or suggestions!


Lena knew her dad had been different. It hadn’t been a sudden shift, but at the same time it was a drastic change—drastic in those subtle ways that only a child would notice in her father. He still took good care of her, made sure she always had a well-balanced breakfast, healthy lunch, and hot dinner. She had nice clothes, fun toys, and a room all her own. But he was different. His eyes looked tired and angry so much of the time, and his skin felt hot to the touch when she climbed into his lap at night. The laughing man who had swung her around their stuffy living room was now quiet. Attentive, but distracted. And he left now every night, just after he tucked her into bed. His goodnight routine had shifted from a lengthy ceremony with stories, prayers, and tickling games to a perfunctory kiss on the forehead and distracted “Sleep tight.” Then the hallway light would switch off—though he knew it made her scared to have only the dim nightlight in her room—the front door would creak open, close, and then she would hear his keys scratch against the lock.

The little girl assumed it was because she was, as he had portentously informed her on her last—her tenth—birthday, a big girl now. Maybe big girls did not get told fanciful stories or fight wars with the tickle monster. Certainly big girls did not need hallway lights on. But Lena couldn’t help but feel that, even as big as she was, she still needed a daddy at home while she slept.

He was always home when she woke up. Sometimes he looked even more tired. Sometimes he came home with cuts and bruises. She saw it, but it did not make sense in her young eyes. Why was her daddy coming home with a bloodied lip and jagged tear through his shirt? Why did he sometimes stuff his clothes into thick black garbage bags and tuck those into his trunk? Why did he not sing or smile when he made her breakfast anymore? And why oh why did she sometimes wake to hear thumping steps and something sliding down the attic stairs?

It all began about a year ago, a few weeks after her birthday. She had been tucked tightly into bed when suddenly the sound of whispered voices snuck beneath her door. She could hear her daddy talking to someone, whispering furiously to some other person. The other laughed, deep and bellowing. Lena hated the way that laugh sounded, all deep and echoing. There was no happiness in it, but something cruel instead. Her father’s voice grew a little louder, speaking more quickly. From beneath the laughter, she heard a sharp thud as her father’s voice stopped. Lena hid beneath her covers, terrified to hear the sound of footsteps approaching her room. There was some more talking, a voice she did not recognize giving sharp, barking statements. It was all almost too quiet to hear, but enough to keep her ears straining. Eventually, her ten year old eyes could not remain awake, especially as no footsteps inched nearer. In the morning, her father was in the kitchen and buttering two pieces of toast, just like always. And so Lena assumed the last night was nothing but a bad dream.

After a year of a new daddy standing in front of her day after day, tonight was the same as all the others. The sullen man pulled a steaming, if somewhat bland, meatloaf from the oven. He heaved a portion onto her plate, joined it with a pile of mushy steamed broccoli, and filled her glass with milk. Silently, he sat and ate while she shared about her day at school, her upcoming tests, and those mean things that Lucy Neal said during recess today. Her father just smiled distractedly, nodding at the right places. After dinner, Lena settled in to watch some TV until 8:45 sharp. Her father leaned into the living room.

“Get ready for bed,” he intoned, a hint of irritation already in his voice. Lena wanted to argue, to put up a fuss, but the memory of the last time she tried still hung heavy in the evening air. Her dad had yelled so much, his face all red. His eyes, for once, did not look tired. But they looked oh so angry and that left her scared. Yes, her daddy had changed quite a lot over the last year.

Once she was tucked into bed, she saw, for an instant, a flash of her dad in those eyes as his face hovered over her forehead. She felt her dad in his lips as he gently kissed her forehead, but then he was gone and the tired man was back. Yet seeing that glimpse of her dad made her feel nostalgic—made her feel brave.

“Will you tell me a story, dad?” The man in the doorway paused, sighing heavily.

“No. Go to sleep. I have things to do.”

“Please?” There was that bravery, that childish desire to curl up with her father and listen to him regale her with some fanciful tale.

“I said no!” There was the angry man, and Lena felt herself shrinking into her covers as she began to sob.

“I’m sorry, daddy. I just—just,” she hiccupped with her tears.

“Let me guess,” he began, mocking her, “you just wanted a story?”

Lena nodded, trying to wipe away her tears before he got any angrier.

“Well, here’s a story for you, so sit back and listen. Once upon a time, there was a man. Now, this man wanted nothing in this world more than to have a family. Unfortunately, this man was an idiot who was completely incapable of finding a woman willing to put up with him long enough to incubate a little spawn, so he began to look for other options.

“Adoption wouldn’t work, as he was mostly broke and a single man. And his poor finances also meant he probably couldn’t buy a baby. Plus, the coward didn’t have the stomach to just go out and get one on his own, like any good desperate kidnapper would. The poor man eventually found some friends who could give him just what he wanted, for a price.”

Lena did not like this story. She was crying even harder, trying not to look in the angry eyes glaring at her from her father’s face. Try as she might, the covers could not hide her from those burning eyes.

“So, this stupid man agreed to pay the price so that he could get his bouncing bundle of joy. Within a month, a baby girl was waiting on his doorstep, paperwork included. And the man began to forget all about his little deal, chalking his good fortune up to a miracle.” The man moved and sat beside Lena on the bed. He softly grabbed her face, brushing the tears from her cheeks and the hair from her face. “Now, Lena, let me tell you something very important. When I—When we make a deal, we make it good. We aren’t about halfassing our work, or any of that tricky wish deal folks are always on about. Hell, we even give folks ten years, interest free, 0% APR. Better than any crook car salesman or furniture dealer. But, when that ten years is up, we do expect our payment. I mean, between you and me, that only seems fair. But our stupid little man in this story, he just never thought about how he’d handle it when time to pay came up.

“So, his free years flew past, and we came to collect. Now, you may have heard about selling your soul to the devil, Lena. Maybe you’re too young for that, but it’s a good time to learn. When you sell your soul, you see, you have to sign it over in blood. Someone else’s, specifically. Because we can’t just take souls all willy-nilly—that would be crazy!” The man wearing her father’s face laughed, madness in his angry eyes. “We need them damned, and so you have to make good on your promise. But your daddy, oh, he refused. He said he had a little girl to take care of. Of course! We gave you to him! He tried to go back on our deal, as if us holding up our end of the bargain somehow meant he shouldn’t keep his. But you can’t get out of our deals.”

Lena was frightened, because she suddenly understood those hushed voices from long ago. She understood why the happy man had disappeared and left her with this tired and angry one. And with understanding came fear.

“So, we took what we needed from him. If we can’t have his soul, we can at least have his life. Only thing, he was smart in the details he laid out. You had to have a healthy childhood. So, lucky me, I get stuck with babysitter duty for a snotty brat who wants me to braid her hair, play catch, and tell her sappy bedtime stories. As you’ve probably noticed, that’s not really my,” he waved his hands in the air, searching for the right word “thing. Instead, Lena dear, how about we make a deal?”

She sniffled, looking at him from over the covers. “Are you going to kill me?” He laughed again, but this time it was the same deep and echoing laugh she remembered from months ago.

“Of course not! That would be against the terms of our agreement. And we always honor our bargains, even if your daddy dearest was not so reasonable. I’m just suggesting a partnership. I give you everything you need to have a happy and healthy childhood, you let me do what I need. And shut up about the stupid stories and monsters under the bed. I’m the only monster to really be scared of.” He smiled, jagged teeth peering from behind her father’s pearly whites. “Think you can do that for me?”

Lena nodded numbly, unsure of what was happening. The man wearing her father tousled her hair affectionately. “See, I knew we could work it out. So, you have a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you in the morning, sunshine,” he singsonged on his way out the door.

For the next few weeks, there were no thundering steps up into the attic. No dragging later in the night. In the mornings, her daddy was standing there, fresh as ever with two slices of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice.

One morning, he was smiling a startlingly wide smile.”Morning, Lena. Breakfast is ready. Oh, and I have some business this afternoon—like we discussed?—so I won’t be here when the bus gets home. I’ll leave some dinner in the fridge.”

After getting off the bus to an empty house, Lena heated up the chunky mush from the tupperware. She watched TV all alone, much like she did most nights, she reasoned. Finally, Lena put herself to bed, far too young to do so. She locked the front door carefully, turned out the lights, and pulled the covers up to her chin. It was hard to fall asleep in the oh-so-empty house, but eventually her eyes drifted closed, and she dreamt of laughing faces and human masks.

It was late when the front door thundered open. Her clock read 2:46 as she listened to thumping steps move towards the attic. Lena was curious to a fault, and struggling against the fear that her daddy was really some sort of monster. Seeing that there was nothing going on would prove that all of this had been some strange nightmare, some misunderstanding and stretch of confusion. She opened her door just a crack, just enough to see her father dragging something heavy behind him. The attic stairs slid down, and he moved to drag his cargo up the stairs. Lena saw an empty-eyed face looking back at her from the long package. Stifling a scream, she dove back towards her bed.

A few hours later, the same heavy footsteps pounded back down the stairs. Through the still open sliver of her doorway, she could see the creature in her father’s skin carrying down more lumpy bags. He stomped out to his car, then back in for another bag. Lena shook, squeezing her eyes tight as her heart thundered even more than those pounding footsteps.

The next day, there were cops on her front porch. While she had felt shaky and scared on the phone, Lena knew what she had to do. There was a twinge of guilt as she gave her home address and her daddy’s name to the calm woman on the other end of the line, but she steeled her resolve to get rid of the monster living in her home. It did not take them long to find the evidence, especially with their eleven year old guide happily opening the door and pointing out the creaky attic. The bloodstains and remains up there were enough to convict him a thousand times over. Lena felt scared as they led the man away, but sure that she had made the right choice.

Only, as he left, he bent down next to her to speak for just a moment. She trembled slightly, and the police officers moved quickly to pull him back, but he had just enough time. “I suppose this means the deal is off, Lena dear.” And then he smiled. With that crooked smile, Lena saw her daddy’s eyes once again, sorrowful and scared, just as the police car door slammed shut. And she was not so sure she had made the right choice after all.

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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.