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Category Archives: Weird Fiction

Recently, Kirsten and I caught the new Netflix documentary Devil at the Crossroads about the life of Blues legend Robert Johnson.

In June of 2004 I had to attend a class at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi for four weeks.  Keesler is located on the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi right down the road from Gulfport – a very popular vacation spot.

My weekends were free and I spent my time going for runs on the boardwalk, swimming in the ocean, playing some classical pieces on my guitar, catching up on reading, and writing a story churning around in my head. But one particular weekend a series of strange occurrences beset me and left me with a rather bizarre story to tell.

Friday after class I returned to my hotel room a little tired and decided to take a nap before dinner.  During this nap I had the strangest dream.  I was driving in a big convertible Cadillac down a country road when I came upon a black man running down the side of the road.  As I approached he turned and I could see terror sprawled on his face.  His wide eyes saw me and he thrust his thumb in the air indicating he needed a ride. I slowed down and noticed in his other hand he was carrying a worn guitar case.  I stopped to pick up the man and he removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow as he hurriedly climbed in.  He thanked me and introduced himself as Robert.  I started driving again and I noticed he kept turning to look nervously behind us as we drove and made small talk.  Obviously something was after him and he kept searching to see if it was behind us.  Finally, as we passed a sign which said Union Church, the dream ended with a large dog racing into the road ahead of us.  As I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the animal he screamed something about the hellhound.

I awoke from this dream with a start and was momentarily confused as to where I was.  As I regained my bearings I thought about the dream.  The dream was easily interpreted as a meeting with Robert Johnson, the infamous blues guitarist and native of Mississippi.  It struck me as a strangely vivid dream and my thoughts kept returning to the story of how Robert Johnson had supposedly met the Devil at a crossroads near Clarksdale or Rosedale in order to make a deal with Satan. Supposedly he had traded his soul for fame – it was an old myth which had been retold many times, in many different forms.  The story of Faust and Paganini were probably the most famous versions; but the Robert Johnson story had spawned similar stories about the members of Led Zeppelin and was recounted by other artists including Charlie Daniels.  There was even a movie made in the eighties called “Crossroads” about the legend in which the protagonist avoids losing his soul by playing an arrangement of a Paganini violin caprice on the guitar.

I went to get some dinner and thought more and more about the story of Robert Johnson.  The details were sketchy but the legend had prevailed.  Johnson had been an untalented blues guitarist who hung out with notable bluesmen Willie Brown, Charlie Patton, and Son House.  He left Robinsonville and returned home to Hazlehurst where he met Ike Zinnerman.  Zinnerman, an Alabama native like me, used to proclaim he had learned to play guitar by sitting on a tombstone in an old graveyard late at night.  Most people believe it was under Zinnerman’s tutelage Johnson became such a good guitarist.

But rumors began to spring up it wasn’t Zinnerman at all which caused Johnson to become so suddenly good.  When Johnson returned to Robinsonville his old idols took notice of his marked improvement and Son House began to tell of how Robert had met Satan down at an old crossroads in order to sell his soul in exchange for his blues playing abilities.

Robert himself never denied this rumor and, in fact, wrote several songs such as “Me and the Devil Blues”, “Hellhound on My Trail”, and “Cross Road Blues” that seemed to confirm the story.

Supposedly, according to another blues guitarist named Tommy Johnson, a person wishing to make such a deal with the Devil would sit at the crossroads about midnight and play their guitar until a strange black figure would arrive.  This black figure would, of course, be Satan himself.  Satan would take the person’s guitar, tune it, and give it back.  This would be the end of the deal and the person would suddenly possess supernatural skill and whatever fame and fortune they so desired.  But in all such tales there is never a satisfactory end and the poor individual who pays their soul usually is haunted by tragedy and pain.  In the case of Robert Johnson, he died of poisoning from one of two possible people in a jealous love triangle only a few years after tasting a little of the enormous fame he now possesses.

Just where this notorious and mystical crossroads is, is also a matter of some speculation.  Most accounts place it somewhere around Clarksdale and Rosedale in the northwestern corner of Mississippi.  But this doesn’t really seem to fit with Johnson’s sojourn back to his hometown of Hazlehurst.  Something in my dream kept gnawing at me.  It was the place name of Union Church – I had never heard of this place before in my life.

After eating I returned to my room and proceeded to peruse the road atlas of Mississippi.  I quickly found the cities of Clarksdale and Rosedale.  It took me a few more minutes to locate Hazlehurst off of I-55 and Highway 28.  And then I saw something which gave me a little bit of a shock – southwest of Hazlehurst was a town called Union Church!

Suddenly, the sign in my dream flashed back into my mind and I could see there was a number alongside the name of Union Church and the number was nine.  I looked at the map and calculated nine miles outside of Union Church coming from Hazlehurst would place the location of where the hellhound stopped the car in my dream inside of the Homochitto National Forest at the crossroads of Highway 28 and Highway 547.  For several moments I sat in bewilderment wondering what the dream could mean.  The similarity of the dream to the map was eerily accurate.

The dream and my following discovery on the map kept buzzing around in my head.  As I sat in my hotel room and strummed on my guitar I wondered how long it would take to get to the Homochitto National Forest.  I sat down with the map again and did a rough calculation of approximately 180 miles.  If I drove 60 miles per hour from Gulfport to Highway 28 and then 50 miles per hour on the smaller highway till I reached the forest, I concluded I should be able to make the trip in four hours pretty easily.  I looked at the clock and it was almost 6:30 p.m.  That would put me at the crossroads this very night at around 10:30 p.m.  Plenty of time to make it before midnight.

Before I had time to question the absurdity of my actions I had grabbed a few articles of clothing, some toiletries, the road atlas, and my guitar and was pulling out onto I-90 from Biloxi to Gulfport.

As I drove the two-door rental car along the coast I pondered just what it was I was hoping to achieve on this trip.  Would I really meet someone claiming to be Satan at the crossroads?  If I did have a chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and guitar virtuosity, would I do it?  I used to dream of being a well known guitarist but that had faded over the years. While I still enjoyed music and worked hard at improving my playing, I really had no desire to be known for my playing ability.  I still entertained dreams of being known for my compositional ability on the classical guitar but that too was secondary to my real passion – writing.  If I had to choose what posterity would remember me for it would be as an author of short horror and weird fiction.  Now, if I had the chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and writing virtuosity, I would definitely do it.  That’s how badly I wanted to be a well known author.

I recall the drive very well.  I grappled with the urge to smoke on the drive is why.  I used to be a very unusual smoker.  I never really was a true smoker by any stretch. I never smoked during the day for one. When I did smoke was when I had a few beers in the evening.  I would smoke when really bored or when stressed out about something, too.  I always exercised fairly regular to ward off the bad effects of smoking so I didn’t really over worry about my habit. I did want to quit completely because I knew it was unhealthy.  I had been doing pretty well on the trip so far at quitting but the drive was really boring.  Finally, I gave in to my desires and stopped to buy a pack of smokes.  After having the first wonderful cigarette I cursed my weakness and vowed to quit after I finished the pack.  I had done it many times before but this time it really stuck in my memory.  You’ll understand why in a moment; but first, let me tell the rest.

It was about 9:45 when I reached Hazlehurst.  I briefly entertained the idea of stopping and seeing one of the town’s Robert Johnson tourist attractions but decided it would take too long.  No, I was being driven by an inexplicable force and my only concern was my dream-revealed destination.

The rest of the drive was over quickly and I soon was entering the Homochitto National Forest.  The crossroads was immediately inside the forest and before I realized it I was upon the Highway 547 sign.  I stopped quickly and pulled over on the shoulder of the road staring at the sign which said Union Church was nine miles down the road.  I looked at my watch and it read 10:27 p.m.  I sat for a few minutes and smoked another cigarette. The traffic on Highway 28 was light – only an occasional car passed by.

I waited until there was no traffic coming in any direction and then I retrieved my guitar from the back seat and found a spot to sit. It was a nice night – hot but clear. A slight wind blew from the west which served to make the heat at least tolerable.  It was fairly dark but I could see well enough to find a dead log at the edge of the woods on which to sit.  I was close enough to the road to see it but hidden enough where passing cars wouldn’t notice me.

I opened my guitar case and pulled out my guitar.  I felt a little weird about the whole affair but I thought it would at least make for a good story to tell my friends.  At first I started playing some blues licks but I felt the need to play something a little more challenging.  So then I started playing Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for the Guitar.  This was a rather difficult piece I had been working on recently and it somehow seemed appropriate at the time.

I played this piece and then played a few others then took a break to smoke another cigarette.  Then I got up and walked around for several minutes and returned to the log to sit and wait.

It was getting close to 11:30 and I was growing bored of this whole ordeal.  I decided to play the Paganini piece one more time before calling it a night.  My attention was completely focused on my guitar when a voice made me jump and scared me so bad I dropped my guitar as I rose and retreated from the voice.

“Whatchoo doin’ out here this late at night, boy?”  I recovered enough to regard an old black man standing at the edge of the road about 20 or 30 yards away.

I really didn’t know what to say in reply so I made up a lie. “I’m just passing through and was getting sleepy at the wheel so I stopped to get some fresh air and wake up a bit before continuing on.”  Was this really the Devil coming to make a deal with me?  The old man sure didn’t look like the Devil to me.

“What kinda music you playin’?” he asked walking a bit closer.

“Oh, it’s classical music,” I said by way of explanation.

“Uh huh,” he mumbled as if not really caring.

“What are you doing out here this late?” I asked.

“On my way home.  My name’s Esau,” he said.

I introduced myself as I walked over to meet him and shake his hand.  “Do you want to tune my guitar?”  I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth as I spoke them.  It sounded so ridiculous and I cursed myself before I had even finished the sentence.

“Tune your guitar?” he said in confusion.  “Tune your own damn guitar, boy.  I don’t know how to play no guitar.”

“I’m sorry,” I said uncomfortably.  I produced a cigarette and lit it.

“Mind if I get a smoke from ya?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said offering the pack and my lighter to him. He took a cigarette and lit it, took a long drag, and made a face as if he were relishing the taste.

After a moment he looked at me and said, “Well, I guess I best me moseyin’ along.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.  I remember thinking if he were the Devil then he sure didn’t make me feel scared; and he sure didn’t seem to care about making any kind of deal for my soul.

“Well, it was nice meetin’ ya,” he said as he headed back to the road.

“Nice meeting you too,” I returned.  I picked up my guitar and began putting it back in its case. He made one last comment before getting too far out of earshot which completely changed the harmless little encounter into something I swear made me think he was actually the Devil.

“Thanks for the smoke, boy.  I’ll settle up with you when I see you again.”  This last comment struck me as so strange I couldn’t formulate a response.  Before I realized it, he had disappeared into the darkness.

You might well think this chance encounter was just a coincidence and his comment at the end meant nothing at all.  I would’ve dismissed it too if the story had ended there.  But it didn’t.

I had planned on spending the night in my car and heading back to Biloxi the next morning but I was too rattled to sleep – especially at the crossroads.  So I drove back that night.  I had pretty much convinced myself my imagination was running wild trying to attach some weird meaning to an otherwise harmless encounter by the time I reached Hattiesburg.

I smoked as I drove and promised myself that after this pack was finished, I would quit again.  The pack was getting low and just after I went through Gulfport I pulled the last cigarette out of the pack and nearly had a wreck at what I beheld.  The cigarette was a solid black cigarette with one white marking on the side – a skull and crossbones.

I had to pull over to the side of the road to catch my breath.  My heart was thundering inside my chest.  My mind reeled at the meaning of the cigarette and just how it could’ve gotten in the pack.  Did the old black man use some slight of hands or was he really the Devil?

It took me several minutes to regain my composure. I drove back to my hotel room and sat on my bed looking at the cigarette wondering what to make of it.

Finally, I decided it was the Devil I had met and he knew it wasn’t virtuosity on the guitar I wanted.  No, he knew it was virtuosity in writing I desired.  That was my passion; my weakness.  I also knew the deal would be made if I smoked the black cigarette.

I can’t say how long I sat there struggling over whether or not to smoke the black cigarette.  I won’t tell you what I finally did but one day you’ll know…one day, you’ll know.

 

Not long ago I decided to order a couple of Call of Cthulhu RPG materials. I found a great copy of “Dreamlands: Roleplaying Beyond the Wall of Sleep”. This is such a great setting book for the Dreamlands!

In the introduction, Sandy Petersen and Chris Williams provide sources for where they gathered their material from. While the Lovecraft citations are, of course, required, they also mentions works by Brian Lumley, Clark Ashton Smith, and Gary Myers.

My pursuit of these lesser known books by Myers, Lumley, and Smith began.

This would be a comprehensive library of Dreamlands related material that could be referenced for any adventures you might want to run in the Dreamlands for your role playing.

The Myers book was a pleasant surprise. It is a small, hardback edition. It might even be the first edition of the book. Pendragon Fine Books of California had it for a very reasonable price.

As far as I know, the only published Savage Worlds setting that takes place in the Dreamlands is the crossover book done for Aching! Cthulhu and DUST, which is an epic adventure!

And I must once again mention the map that ties all of this together at the gaming table, the map by Jason Thompson:

Map of the Dreamlands

Thompson also mentions Gary Myers as well as Lord Dunsany.

My last horror collection I wrote is entitled The Other Side of Despair. It was inspired by my studies in Psychology as well as the classic weird stories of Robert W. Chambers that was The King in Yellow.

I was posting a link to the book in a thread and happened to see a review. It was refreshing to see someone get the book as I intended it!

Here is the review by Arnstein H. Pettersen with many thanks from me, sir! I’m glad yo enjoyed it:

Using the science and art of psychology to descend from the ledge chiseled by Lovecraft, further into that dyscognitive abyss.
(Also containing the short story collection that amass to the tale of ‘The Scourge of Wetumpka’, which firmly resides within the Cthulhu mythos.)

The horror genre often brings psychology into the mix as it plies its trade; dread does after all reside within the limits of our minds. Yet only rarely does one find an exemplar of the genre as The Other Side of Despair, where the matters of the psyche is at least nine-tenths of the tale. Its eclectic assortment of short stories persists in pitching the perceptions of the fantastical against the fabrications of the mind, leaving the reader lost for answers in a dilemma akin to that of figuring out which one initiated the (seemingly) etrnal cycle of causality between the chicken and the egg. And to present this dilemma as vividly as possible we have to gain a most intimate insight into the cogitations of the perceiver – or if you prefer the imagery: to observe the prancings of the Devil through the eyes that behold him. It is clearly no coincident that the stories consist mostly of monologues, excerpts of diaries, and personalized letters; ways of narration that are tightly bound to the core of the narrator’s world and interpretation thereof. Yet, despite their differences, they belong to a common literary universe, amassing the information of the individual story into something larger, perhaps even into something resembling answers.

The first monologue is titled ‘Shockley House’, and it is these 18 pages who serve as our introduction to the overall theme of the book. It details an attempt to research hauntings as a psychological phenomena – “Ultimately, it falls into the psychological realm because a statement of belief about witnessing something supernatural, […] is a statement about the psychological state of the person’s belief in what their senses have conveyed to them.” – where the researchers utilize a house rumored to be spectrally inhabited in order to coax their patients into believing the haunting to be real. It is a tale that goes to great lengths in attempting to give a scientific rationale for the phenomena, postulating that it is indeed made from mental fabrications; and much of it is, unexpectedly, quite persuasive. Yet, after wholeheartedly attempting to win the reader over to its logic – going so far as to make nearly testable hypotheses – the tale changes. The aforementioned dilemma begins to form as the rationale begins to shows its cracks, through which the fantastical seems to seep out into reality. The resulting horror results as much from the questioning of the world fabric as from the happenings themselves, making it a truly Lovecraftian experience despite lacking a common mythology.

The following short stories do an even greater job of muddling the dilemma, bringing such vagaries as shadows and dreams into the deliberation. Especially difficult is the tale called ‘Children of the Wasteland’, which bases its premise on Zhuangzi’s butterfly conundrum: “Once upon a time, I, Zhuangzi, dreamt I was a butterfly […] unaware that I was Zhuangzi. Soon I awakened […] Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” (In fact, the tale is so convoluted that a tip is in order to facilitate the reading. It is not a spoiler and the reader will still have to do much puzzling to make sense out of that one. The hint is: Put to mind Brother Humphrey’s prayer.) Also, the tales are in a sense interwoven through a common world although the clues we are given to this lie discretely placed. The most obvious one is that several of the tales take place in Rathbone Asylum, but closer inspection will reveal others too. This is without a doubt one of the most intriguing works of horror which I have ever come across.

The bonus tale, ‘The Scourge of Wetumpka’ – which is quite some bonus since it covers nearly a hundred of the two-hundred and twenty-four pages of the book – has no connection to the tales of The Other Side of Despair. It is constructed from several short stories, each of which present its own part of the narrative; it builds upon H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, not to mention the works of several other authors who have continued his legacy, but most importantly it builds upon ‘The Colours from Outer Space’ to such a degree that the reader should be adviced to read that short story before embarking upon it. Indeed, this tale could be considered a continuation of the excellent tradition of fanfics (a tradition ancient compared to the term ‘fanfic’ and its modern stigmas, even predating our Current Era/Anno Domine), or, if one prefers to describe it as thus, it is a honorific towards one of the inspirations and thus co-creators of any current work of penmanship. Yet, it goes beyond this and brings to light obscure bits of history and actual conundrums, with notes carefully added with the information on what is accurate and what is embellishment, so as to avoid corruption of the facts. I was particularily fascinated by how little embellishment was needed for the author to connect the fictitious cult of ghouls to real historical events. In my opinion, this is a very welcome addition to the Cthulhu mythos. Also, since it consists solely of letters, clippings, recording transciptions, and similar, it would be an excellent piece of source material for game masters planning role-playing forays into the mythos universe.

Before ending the review, I’d like to note that David Maurice Garrett is not just a writer but also a musician (not to be confused with the violinist David Garrett) with currently six releases behind him, all of whom relate to the horror genre and Lovecraft’s works in particular. There is even a soundtrack for ‘The Scourge of Wetumpka’ among them. Whoever intends to delve into this book would clearly do well to check out these releases as well (the soundtrack in particular, of course).”

 

The story entitled “The Children of the Wasteland” that Arnstein mentions was featured on the Podcast Random Transmissions.

David

I am super excited about one of my stories from The Other Side of Despair being featured on the latest podcast episode of Random Transmissions. This podcast is super cool and you should go and check out all the episodes!

Random Transmissions

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My new book is out! So, what exactly is it about? Ever since I was a teenager I’ve loved to read Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. If you’re not familiar with these revolutionary authors, well, frankly, you should be! Anyway, my love for their work spread into other authors within the genre of short horror stories. This genre also includes other short works that aren’t exactly horror, but overlap with it nicely – a better term might be short dark fiction, or even short gothic fiction. This includes stories that are weird, strange, bizarre, suspenseful, or scary. Think of most any episode of The Twilight Zone and you’re on the right track. This genre actually influences much art today. If you’ve seen the first season of True Detectives, there were numerous references to a work by the weird tale writer Robert W. Chambers. This work, called The King in Yellow, was actually the basis for my current book. It is a set of stand alone short stories that all share a common trope, or story arc thread within them. In the case of the King in Yellow it is a play called The King in Yellow that drives people mad. In my book, The Other Side of Despair, it is a mental institution that is the backdrop for the protagonist of each story. BTW, the title comes from a quote by the playwright T.S. Eliot: “Where does one go from a world of insanity? The other side of despair.” So, if you want to expand your mind by exploring the minds of the mad, check it out.

The Other Side of Despair

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Infinity.  The human mind cannot even grasp the meaning of such a word.  To contemplate it during the brief snatches of sanity in the depths of Hell drives one right back into the screaming jaws of insanity.  But it’s not an insanity of senselessness.  It’s not the insanity of blank-faced oblivion.  Not an empty mind defunct and destroyed behind vacant eyes.  Oh No!  It’s a cold, calculated insanity where chaos runs amok and logic is only allowed in to heighten the misery to the apex of suffering.  It’s an insanity designed by pure, malicious evil.

The torments of Hell are a creeping, crawling evolution with no end in sight.  Like mad scientists the demons react to the specimen’s actions with sterile precision.  A torture may go on for years extracting every ounce of suffering from the doomed individual with only minor tweaks in administration.  Each variation is a carefully calculated and shaded nuance that prevents the damned from building the least bit of sensitivity to their unique ordeal.

The longstanding formula of Hell is nine parts suffering, nine-tenths part chaotic insanity, and one-tenths part logical sanity.  The latter being the small, finite hope needed to contrast and compare infinite damnation.  But it is abundantly clear that the spark of hope is the real thing in each person that is being tortured.

The longstanding maxim of Hell:  Hope be damned.

*

Thargus Ramuntula swept into the dingy cell like a flitting shadow and poured into the empty chair against the darkened wall.  Thargus was a lithe and dramatic demon.  He nestled into the darkness, unseen except for his slit-like, red eyes.  The two malevolent eyes studied the grotesque fiasco at the center of the room with mirthful intent.

Stephan Iskander was Thargus’s current subject.  A neon light projected a wavering, sometimes flickering beam of light on the form of Stephan who was strapped into a rusty, filthy, blood-caked dentist’s chair.  Fat leather straps secured his arms, legs, chest and head to the chair.  Stephan’s eyes were inhumanly wide with terror as he strained to look at Thargus hidden in the shadows.

It was difficult to see just what Stephan really looked like due to the large strap across his forehead and the bloody pulp that used to be his mouth.  Metallic hooks were anchored at various places within that pulp; cables, stretched taunt, radiated out from Stephan’s mouth into various places around the ceiling.  In life, Stephan had had a horrible phobia of the dentist and Thargus had chosen to spend the next several years playing upon this fact.

Thargus had grown bored of the most recent bout of torment and this day a profound sense of melancholy had settled over him.  It was rare that he felt these saturnine moods covering him like an oppressively heavy cloak, but today he found himself in need of sharing his dour mood with his subject.

“You probably spend a lot time regretting raping those little girls, Mr. Iskander.  And I’m sure you wish you could go back and change your life.  Knowing what you know now you’d probably be a model saint, I’m sure.  It’s funny, huh?  Why doesn’t He just show you all this beforehand and then you’d all be so good.”  He said the last word as if it caused pain to his tongue.  Stephan only groaned and continued staring wild-eyed towards him.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this but I’m feeling rather philosophical today.”  And with these words Thargus sat forward into the edge of the light as if he were about to impart some vast secret that would forever change the workings of Hell.  His skin was blackish blue and his lean, red tongue momentarily worked its way over his needle-like, yellow teeth.

“You shouldn’t beat yourself up about any of it because there is no such thing as freewill.”  He paused a moment for the dramatic effect, but it was lost on Stephan.

“That’s right, Stephan.  From the very beginning it was determined that you would do every single thing you’ve ever done and that you would wind up right here.  You might have thought you had a choice but it was always known; every little thing you would ever do.  Now isn’t that a kick in the ass?  The great, good, all benevolent, Big Guy created you knowing that he was sending you on a one-way street to Hell.

“Doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to do, now does it?”

Thargus paused to pick at his teeth with one long claw before settling back into the darkened chair.  Just then the door to the chamber opened and a lesser demon entered.  This demon wore a long white apron smeared with blood.  His head was hidden behind all manner of devices including a jeweler’s loupe and a doctor’s headlamp.  Stephan began to struggle and moan at the presence of the demon whose task it was to administer the excruciating tortures.

The demon paused and looked over at Thargus.  Thargus grunted with annoyance and waved his hand as if swatting a fly.  The demon squealed in pain and then scattered into thousands of tiny particles that disappeared into the darkness.

He continued as if there was no interruption.  “The supporters of The Great and Wonderful Oz would have you believe that there is a loophole that preserves your freewill.  They say that He doesn’t influence your choices; He just knows what you will choose when you freely make a choice.

“What a load of shit, right?  I mean, even your addled brain should be able to see the flaw in that logic.  He still knows what you will choose way before you ever existed and, yet, He still created the whole thing knowing that you would choose to be a pitiful little sex pervert – a slave to your drives and desires.”  Thargus rose suddenly from his chair and began to circle Stephan, his large, clawed hands clasped behind his back.  Stephan squirmed as his wild eyes tried to track Thargus’s circuits.

“Did you really have a choice, Stephan?  After all, His knowledge of your choices existed before you did.  Do you see the absurdity of the whole tragedy?”

Thargus stopped, grabbed the top of Stephan’s head in his huge hand, and shoved his face a fraction of an inch from Stephan’s face as he exclaimed, “Do you see, Stephan!”

Tears began to stream from the corners of Stephan’s eyes.

“The secret is this, Stephan:  God isn’t the great guy he’s cracked up to be.  God is a real mean sonuvabitch.”  Thargus released Stephan’s head and once again began to circle the chair.

“And still, He likes to keep this whole charade going; pretending he is good and we are bad and that all you mortals have a real choice between the two.  He cast me into this shit hole for all eternity because I point out his flaws – now that’s childish.  And he makes you think this is all your fault, when you never really had a choice – now that’s just evil, Stephan.”  Thargus stopped and stared piercingly into Stephan’s eyes.

“Wouldn’t you agree, Stephan?

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  Call it a rebellion, if you will.  ‘Cause, even from Hell, I can still piss Him off.

“How, you ask?  By bucking the rules.  Going against the establishment.  Upsetting the status quo.  By turning Hell into a little slice of Heaven!”  And Thargus began to roar with the most malevolent laughter Stephan had ever heard.  It was a deep, hearty laugh that erupted from Thargus’s abdomen.

“I’m giving you the day off, Stephan.”

With the wave of his hand the chamber transformed into the facsimile of a filthy bedroom.  Stephan found himself standing there, nude, his face no longer mutilated.  Thargus stood beside him, his huge form dwarfing the bewildered Stephan.  Stephan’s hand shot to his mouth and he felt his jaw for damage but there was none.  Stephan felt perfectly whole.

But there was a third person in the room, too.  Cowering in the corner on the floor beside the bed was a girl no more than eight or nine-years-old.  She was sobbing and curled into the fetal position.

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My story “Shockley House” was published in this year’s Halloween anthology The Yellow Booke.

July 2

I now spend the majority of my day caressing the walls – they are so clean that the shadows roam freely over them. I just sit and hum, and sing, and listen to the things they say.

The wisdom in their whispers is earth shattering. I see so many things that I never saw before. I’m beginning to realize that this illness wasn’t something that originated in me, but was planted in me by the ones out there.

July 8

I can only paraphrase their messages to me. I now see that one must sometimes pass through the fire to emerge on the other side as a new creature. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes after being burned alive. Like a butterfly awakening from a cocoon after a long period of transformation.

I see now that my life encased in this place, encased in my neurosis, my disease, my isolation, was all meant to be a cathartic process. Now, thanks to the shadows engulfing me, I have been purged. Leached of my sickness and given a clear path out of here.

They showed me worlds that shimmer and places of abundant peace where my new form will roam free. Free to wander those other lands only hinted at in their dim, ghostly visions. I know now that my flight above the guitarist was but a prelude to a journey I’m now ready to take.

Across the vast gulf of space and time there are worlds waiting to be seen. But before I can mount up with wings, I must set right the wrongs leveled on me by Dr. Kaplan, Angela, and Jeff. My preparation for tonight’s dinner has been meticulous but I must not falter. I must face this last obstacle with resolution and a steel will. My new friends have counseled me and taught me and opened my eyes to so much new knowledge that I sometimes feel an amazing sense of awe at the things the shadows say.

June 24

Awoke again last night hearing that tune in my head. While I hate the song, I find myself humming it as I clean. I tried to go back to sleep but it was useless so I just watched the wall. As I watched I noticed that the shadow seemed to move. It wasn’t anything startling or even very specific. It was more like breathing. A pulsing to the rhythm of the tune playing in my head and my own breathing.

Now that I’m fully awake I know that it was the tune playing in my head that caused my own breathing to match it and that the shadow only appeared to be pulsing to the rhythm of my own breathing – just an optical illusion, right? But at the time I was certain that it was the shadow leading the whole thing.

I’ve become obsessed with the shadow on the wall and I actually caught myself just staring at it as I was sitting on my bed putting my shoes on.

June 27

I spent the last several days researching memory lapses and became quite overwhelmed with all of the information. I’m sure that the incident with the homeless guitarist wasn’t real. I believe I had an episode of dissociative amnesia brought on by the stress of my doctor’s visit.

I also believe that the hallucination with the man in the alley was of a dreamlike nature – a waking hallucination dredged up from my subconscious. The part that really has me perplexed is the tune he was playing. Did my mind concoct that too? Is the repeated playing of it in my head because I created it, or did I hear it somewhere else?

There’s now another shadowy spot that commands my attention. I can’t say if it’s a completely different spot or if it’s connected to the other spot on the opposite corner of the wall. I spend what seems like hours in my room cleaning the walls or just sitting on my bed humming that melancholy melody.

June 28

Angela called last night to see how I was doing. I told her about Jeff’s visit and how irritated it made me. She claimed to have no idea but I’m not so sure.

She seemed to be pleasant but now I distrust her and Jeff. I tried to be nice back to her but wound up making an excuse to get off the phone. I’m just so confused these days. I miss the times when we were close and could talk.

I had all of these conflicting emotions about the whole thing so I went to clean the wall and became so engrossed in the scrubbing and humming that I began to hear a chant. It had to be a figment of my imagination but it seemed so real.

The lyrics to the weird song were frightening to me too. But now I’m beginning to see Jeff and Angela for what they really are.

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June 21

I’ve made a concerted effort to quit washing my hands at least every hour but it’s so hard. The urge consumes me. It’s so bad that I feel I have to wash to release the pressure.

I found myself humming the melody to that damn tune while I was cleaning the kitchen and when I realized it, it scared me. I don’t know what happened or how to explain the incident in the alley, but I think it might have just been a dream. It’s so unlike me that it couldn’t have been real.

I started researching memory lapses and blackouts and I’m relatively sure that’s what happened to me. It’s the only reasonable explanation.

June 22

Last night I had a strange dream. At least I think it was a dream. I think it was like when you awaken in the night and you’re in that zone between sleeping and waking where you mix reality with your dream. I must have been dreaming about a mold or some other type of discolored spot on the wall that just wouldn’t come clean. This makes sense because I have such a fear of disease and filth that my nightmares tend to be about my inability to be clean enough or be healthy enough.

Nevertheless, when I awoke I instinctively looked to the wall where the spot was located in my dream and saw, to my horror, that there was in fact a spot on the wall. Groggily I arose and went to inspect the spot but it was only a shadow!

It was so weird because then I lay in bed and watched the spot wondering if I saw it in waking and unconsciously incorporated into my dream, or if I dreamed it first and then it just so happened that the shadow took on the shape of the spot in my dream?

June 23

Jeff came to visit today. At first I was so glad that he had made time to come by. Having my brother visit is such a rare thing that I was quite literally giddy. As it turned out, though, he’s about as much of an ass as Dr. Kaplan.

I knew the visit was bad the moment I let him in the apartment and he said, “Jen, you look terrible, are you getting any sleep? And this place smells like a swimming pool!”

I mean, what kind of greeting is that and how am I supposed to respond? Did he really expect me to be all cheerful and happy after he waltzes in here and starts in on me?

Things didn’t get any better from that point on, either. All he did was chide me for being such a recluse and obsessing over how clean everything is. He has no idea what I’m going through.

To be honest, I don’t even know why he came by. He claims that he was worried about me after he and Angela hadn’t heard from me in so long. He acts like it was my doing but it was he who put an end to Angela’s and my relationship. Does he really think I don’t remember that? And do you show your concern for someone by barging in their home and berating them about their lifestyle?

I was so furious by the time he left that all I wanted to do was work out. I figured a good sweat would burn off some of my anger. I went up to my room to change into my workout gear and noticed something strange. The place on the wall where the spot was in my dream was really discolored. At first, I thought it was a trick of the light, but as I got closer, I saw that it was true. There is something odd about that patch of wall.

I never did my workout. I wound up venting my anger into cleaning the wall.