Anniversaries

As 2019 dawns it brings with it two big anniversaries for me and two signposts in my writing.

My first book Back From Nothing was released in 1999.

I was a kid then, in more ways than one, and to have a book out was something I never imagined happening. I have gone into the story about it all but really, without the support of my folks, especially my mom, and without her investment in me and my writing, it never would have seen the light of day. I tried traditional publishing first, months and years and never got anywhere so I went the road I’d rather have not taken with subsidized publishing. I cant say I regret that path though because in all those years I never found any luck with traditional publishing. Even after all these years. Thankfully the market changed and opened up to allow people like me in, but it took a long time for that to happen. For the first few years after BFN was published I did everything I could to promote it. I did comic cons and took it with me. I made up chapbooks to keep pushing new work out. I created blogs and websites. I did readings. It got hard, promoting something that aged quickly – I put the book together in the late ’90’s so the stories weren’t new when they reached the public – but I never stopped believing in what I was doing and the path I had carved out.

The one regret I have, I suppose, is that all of the files for that book were from a word processor and are long, long gone so whatever exists of the book exists. Not that I expect to sell out, but it’s sad to think that if I did the book would just be…gone.

The book isn’t perfect. Far from it. It features the first writing from when I really got serious about things but it has some great ideas and is raw in a lot of ways but I love it for that. I went for it with those stories and just wrote and a lot of people don’t do that. It’s an imperfect book but that’s what makes it beautiful and it’s twenty years old this year.

Wow.

 

In 2009 I was still promoting BFN at shows but I had reached a point of frustration where I needed to do something else. I had never stopped writing and had gotten some stories published in a magazine and in an anthology but I hadn’t progressed. I remember being at the Motor City Comic Con and my table was next to a guy selling one book, a huge fiction book about a superhero that he was selling for $25. He barely had a set up but was able to pitch the heck out of the book and his charisma sold it for people. I watched stunned as he sold dozens of books. I asked who he went through and he said he’d put it out himself and like that lightning struck me and I knew what I had to do. I immediately started looking into self publishing. What you have to remember is that before that time it would cost hundreds and thousands of dollars to put your own book out and it still held the mark of Vanity Publishing, the notion that if you were to put your own work out then it meant it wasn’t good enough for a publisher. We know a little better now. The times changed. Self Publishing costs came down, big companies got into things, and slowly we have gotten more acceptance. Telling an author that their work, if it’s self produced/published is no good or lesser than anything with a traditional publisher is to tell all artsits that unless someone tells them their work is good that it’s no good. Some of it was protecting the status quo but some of it was concern for lesser works flooding the market.

The market got flooded.

It’s a bit chaotic.

So be it.

Better that more voices are heard than less.

Better that more people get the opportunity to pursue their dreams than less.

Traditional publishing got languid and lazy and there had to be an alternative.

There is.

When I put This Beautiful Darkness out I hadn’t known if I’d ever get a chance to put another book out. My fire for writing, while low, had never died, and I found a way. The stories found a way. I still remember the reveal party I held, proud to be able to show my friends, family, and loved ones the new baby I had put together. And this book was a better reflection of where I was as a writer and where I was going. I finally had something else to promote and to sell and to build from.

I haven’t looked back.

Now I do.

It’s been ten years and wow, over a dozen more books written and released. Since then I have written novels, fantasies, children’s books, and none of it would have come to be if I had given up. None of it would have happened if I had not found self publishing. That gave me the opportunity to experiment and to play.

In honor of this anniversary I am putting a new version of This Beautiful Darkness out. Reformatted and with a new cover and new story added to it. I am not sure that the book and its anniversary would matter to anyone but me but it does matter.

Both books matter.

So much.

If I died today those are part of my legacy.

They are part of who I was and who I am.

I am not sure what this year holds but I want it to be special and I am working on making it that way already.

this beautiful darkness 10th anniversary cover re-size

 

…c…

The Gore Score

I discovered horror movies as a little guy, having seen my first one at six and then falling in love with the genre on the for real-real until I had seen THE THING years later. When I fell for scary movies, as they will always sorta be to me, I fell hard and the older I got the more insatiable I became. It was a new love and when you fall baby, you fall hard.

My tastes changed. Slashers to monsters to classics to foreign to gore. Oh yeah, that gore phase. It hit me heavy and hit me hard. I was a fan of special effects and dreamt of following that career path myself one day – spoiler alert, I for sure didn’t – and that was what really got me into the gore – the work behind the scenes. There was an artistry to all of it, a craft. I fell in love with the personalities behind the gore, the process of it, and the risque nature that it all catered too as much of the ‘good stuff’ was cut out. Gore, even the most realistic, was just another part of movie making. Another aspect of storytelling. It was a visceral part of it that conveyed the terror and cost of facing the darkness.

I have to admit though that I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having been drawn but the sheer audacity of the gore itself. Yeah, I liked how it was made but I really loved the nastiness of it all. There was something dangerous about all of it. You’d see mainstream movies that would slip in an exploding head, or a gutted person that would rival what you’d see in the indie and foreign fare. Gore was, to my youthful self, the creme in the cookie of horror. Sure, sure, it was fantastic to find a movie with a goof story and great characters but darn it, what good was all of that if there wasn’t a head getting bisected or someone’s chest erupting into a crimson mist?

Right?

Gore is not for the faint of heart, and I get it. Even reading extreme violence can churn the stomach. What’s funny is that, as much as a kick as I got out of a bit of the old ulta-violence I didn’t really write a lot of it. I wrote some, but I never went all in for gore. I will say though, now that I have made a couple movies, I did go for a gross out in the second film, though a little bit of that ended up on the cutting room floor. There’s just something satisfying about creating an illusion of destruction knowing that it’s all done with some store bought meat, some fake blood, and quick editing.

What’s interesting is that as I have gotten older my gorehound status has sorta waned. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy a good gut munching but with the advent of ultra-gore movies coming out of the sub-basement of the underground horror movement, I find that without any reason or context, it’sjust a mass of fake blood and fake body parts. You can force ‘care’ for a character, in that, you never want to see anyone get tortured or abused (OK, I don’t want to see that) so you can take a complete stranger, a blank character, and drop them into that sort of an environment and you’ll elicit an emotional response but it’s not earned. It’s the equivilent of a jump scare. It’s cheap. With a smart filmmaker and good way to mask what they are shooting to give it authenticity you can for sure make some low rent horror look utterly believable and horrifying. Great. There is a skill to that. But it’s when you care about the character and understand the situation that it all begins to mean something. You can be affected by anything but the things that stay with you are the ones that put you in that place mentally and emotionally. So while I still get a kick out of gore, especially the fact that basic cable television gets away with things that ‘R’ rated movies didn’t just a few years ago, the grotesque thrill from watching gore with no reason or story just doesn’t have any interest for me. That’s why I never watched the FACES OF DEATH movies because, even though most of that footage was faked, I had no interest in watching just scenes of death and murder. Fake or not. And there are people drawn to the real stuff, and man alive is it ever out there to find, but again, there’s a difference. I can go in my basement and put together something to pretend that a horrible act happened but no one is harmed. People that want to watch real people being harmed, beyond an initial curiosity, are a whole other cat.

It’s weird that we’re in an era where you can make things more realistic than ever and thus nastier than ever but I still look back with fondness to the days of my youth when we’d find a movie we hadn’t seen and would be shocked at how gruesome it got. Or the thrill at seeing a gore scene pop up in a Hollywood film as if to wink that hey, we like that stuff too.

While I have aged, and my tastes had definitely changed from what they once were, I still am a gorehound at heart, just of a different kind. I don’t get a kick out of seeing gore for the sake of gore anymore, though it’s interesting to reason out how it was done and how they made it look so real. It’s an art, all of it, and I still appreciate that aspect of it. Maybe that too will change and I’ll begin to like romantic comedies and safe sit-coms about families but for now, I’ll still revel in my gore, and giggle every time a head explodes.

…c…

Kissing – a Creepy Christmas Tale

Kissing

When I was a little kid Christmas was the most important thing in my life. I loved everything about it. I loved the music, the lights, the church service, spending time with my family, spending time with my friends, like I said, I loved all of it. Christmas, with its mythology, and its mystery was what the magic of childhood was all about for me. Sure, my birthday was always nice but there was something about Christmas that was different. I suppose that something was Santa. The fact that there was a man that watched us, that judged us, kept track of what we did, and who rewarded us or punished us out there somewhere and no one stopped him fascinated me. Don’t get me wrong, I believed in him, I sorta had to or else, according to my older sister who insisted that once you stopped believing that you stopped getting presents, but the idea that this man, this god, existed was incredible. Any questions I had were answered with kiddie books, television specials, or old songs and nothing else. It was as if he existed above and beyond anything but God Himself. So, there I was, a seven-year-old just a few weeks shy of eight and as excited by Santa as I was just as frightened by him. That fascination ruled my childhood, until I was seven and then that fateful Christmas Eve came and changed everything, for all of us.

 

We were not a rich family, not by a long shot, but dad had a good job and mom did some floral work for a funeral home and they did OK. We weren’t rich but me and sis never wanted for anything and mom and dad seemed happy as far as I could tell. Christmas meant a lot to our family. We weren’t really religious, going to church on Easter, on Christmas Eve, and a couple times in the summer, but mom and dad drove into us that this was a time of year for giving and of honoring the sacrifice of the Savior. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that Savior guy but they told me that Santa served the Savior and I figured, well, if that was the case then he must be a pretty good guy. Late at night sometimes though I have to admit that the idea that the man that watched and judged me was serving someone else, well, that gave me the creeps because it meant someone was watching him watch me. It was a lot for a little kid to worry about so I tried to push all of that out of my head to focus on the good things about the holiday. Every Christmas there were presents under the tree and we’d all go out together and pick out and buy something for a family from town that weren’t doing as well as we were and that was part of the joy of the season for us. Christmas Eve night, after the midnight service, we came home, said a prayer, and then went to bed with Christmas music playing on the radio all night and the tree left on as well. I would lay in bed listening to that faded holiday music, staring out my bedroom door at the glow of the lights and slowly I’d drift off, wondering whether Santa would think I’d been a good boy or not that year.

 

There had been no plan to stay up to see Santa the night I did. I had been lying in bed, thinking, my mind bouncing between thoughts of presents and thoughts of coal – or worse – when I noticed someone go past my door and out towards the living room, where the tree was. None of us put presents out before Christmas Day, mom saying that the time between Midnight and seven were Jesus’ and that our presents could wait. I didn’t know what that meant but I went along with it because so long as I stayed in bed until seven in the morning there were presents out there waiting. One year my sister had gotten up early, when I was still really little, and because of that there’d been no presents until noon that day. We didn’t get up early after that. My first thought was that Paula was out there, snooping for some reason, and so I was up immediately, wanting to make sure she didn’t get us both punished. I got up and out of bed as quietly as I could and slowly padded out of my room and down the hall. The closer I got to the living room the brighter and louder things got, the hall lit up in a rainbow of warm colors and sounds from the tree and radio. Even then, knowing I was risking trouble I couldn’t stop the lightning that I felt in my heart and hands as I approached the living room.

There was carpet through the house which softened my steps but I felt like there were eyes on me just the same. A chill ran through me as I thought of Santa watching me then, wherever he was, and knowing I was awake during Jesus’ time. Knowing and judging. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop moving. It was as if someone else was in control of me and driving me forward. In two more steps I was at the end of the hallway and I finally got control of myself and stopped, looked around, then leaned my head forward and started to speak when I saw that my sister wasn’t alone. My mouth dropped open as my eyes adjusted to the blinking lights of the large tree that sat in the far corner of the room and I saw who the two figures were.

Mom.

Santa.

Santa?

I closed my eyes and shook my head like I had seen people do in the movies.

I opened them and looked again.

Santa.

It was him.

A large man, taller than dad, which put him close to seven feet tall. He wasn’t fat and jolly but looked stocky and thick, his stance wide. Sitting on the floor beside him was a worn black sack. I watched as he approached my mom, removing a sequined green glove, and held his hand out to her. His hand looked strong in the dim light and as her own small hand took it a shiver ran through me. Mom wasn’t a tall woman, barely standing over five feet, but he dwarfed her, making her look like a child. I closed my eyes again and shook my head. I had to be wrong.

I suddenly remembered that silly old song about Mama kissing Santa Claus and realized that this was just dad. Dressed up and playing. I hadn’t seen right because of how dark it was and how much nervous energy I had. Dad. Geez. I opened my eyes and smiled at how stupid I had been. My smile dropped as I looked again and saw mom kiss the back of the large man’s hand.

It wasn’t dad.

It wasn’t Paula.

It was my mom and a stranger.

It was mom and Santa.

The cold reality of the full scene poured into my brain – Santa was real.

He was real and he was here and he was trying to kiss my mother.

I felt a scream well up in my throat but before it could get free, I was grabbed from behind and pulled back into the hall. I turned, horrified into silence, and saw my father, the rumor of scruff on his face and his eyes bloodshot and ringed in darkness.

 

“No. No. You can’t see that. You’re not meant to see that.” Dad whispered.

 

I opened my mouth to speak but dad pushed his hand against my mouth to stop me.

 

“No. Come with me, into your room. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you everything.”

 

Saying that dad turned and headed for my room, stopping only for a moment to look over his shoulder, not at me but towards the living room, before disappearing into darkness. I turned and looked into the living room and saw the large man embracing my mother as he leaned down towards her, eyes closed. He had a hand on her side and his right hand I couldn’t see but knew it was on her hip. Or lower. I saw mom turn her gaze to me and watched as a tear ran down her face then I retreated into the hallway and into my room.

Dad was waiting for me.

 

“Paula doesn’t know, and I beg you not to tell her. I know you have questions but please, just listen. OK.”

I nodded.

 

“I found out about Santa when I was your age. All I had wanted in the world was proof that my brother, your uncle, was wrong, and that Santa was real. I waited behind the tree, hidden by presents, for him to come. I was asleep when I heard the sound of bells jingling. I looked out between the branches of our tree, all lit up in red, and saw the man in the suit. It was the best moment in my life. It was proof. Proof that the story was real. I started to step out from behind the presents and tree, to speak to him, when I saw my mom. She looked like she was in a dream, her hair in curlers, her tattered blue robe open revealing something red and silk that showed more skin than I had ever seen before. I felt myself blush. She went to Santa and he held his hand out to her and she kissed it and he grabbed her, rough, like he owned her. I watched them kiss, watched him grab and hold her in a way I had never seen dad do and then I closed my eyes. I had seen to much. Too much. I heard the bells again and they seemed to get louder, louder, louder and then I felt hot breath on me and I opened my eyes and looked up and there he was, as large as god, bent and staring at me with dead eyes, empty eyes. As if he saw something but not me. ‘Shhhhhh,’ he told me, then reached towards me but my mom grabbed him and begged him ‘no!’ and he stopped and turned and left me and I watched as he put an arm around her waist, put a finger to his nose and then they were gone. Just gone. That’s why you never met your Gramma Ann. She’s, she’s just gone, son. Gone. With him. One of his…brides.”

 

Dad was crying. Shaking. He took a breath and continued.

 

“Santa is real. Christ I wish he wasn’t, but he is. I dunno what he is, what he really is, but he’s real. How many people know he’s real I can’t tell you but it’s not everyone. He doesn’t come see everyone. Not anymore. Maybe there was a time when he could, thousands of years ago, but he can’t anymore. Heck, maybe he can. I dunno. I think I have met three people in my life that knew he existed and they were other kids whose mothers disappeared at Christmas just like mine had. They knew. I think, I suspect he takes a new bride every year. When he visits your home he leaves presents, special presents. When he leaves with a bride, he leaves something…else.” I opened my mouth to ask him what it was but dad shook his head in response.

 

“I don’t know what he leaves, if that’s what you were going to ask. I saw the present, clear as day, but dad opened it that Christmas and it disappeared afterwards without me ever seeing what was in it. I just don’t know. We knew he was coming this year because your mom started having the dreams. Dreams of him. Dreams just of him watching her and over the last month he got closer in the dreams until tonight. Tonight, he came. She told me about the dreams and I knew what it meant. What it means. I never told her about my mother. Never. And I never told her what might happen tonight. I don’t think I needed to. I think…I think she knew.” He grew silent.

 

“But…is he going to take her?”

 

“I don’t know, son. I just don’t know. I know enough not to try to stop him. There are stories, if you look for them, about disappearances and deaths on Christmas Eve. Stories passed down in families and in the news. Stories that tell you that you shouldn’t try to stop him. You just pray that he doesn’t decide to take your, your…” He sobbed then clamped his hand over his mouth quickly.

 

In a moment he spoke again.

 

“We just pray, son. We pray that he takes his kiss, what he usually comes for, that Christmas kiss, and nothing else. This is his holiday, we are his, and if we don’t do as he wants, as he demands then…” He grew silent again and we sat in the dark, sitting on my bed and waited silently.

 

Five, ten, twenty minutes went by and then we heard the sound of bells jingling and getting closer, and closer, and closer, then we heard them next door, in Paula’s room. Dad grabbed my hand. We held our breath and then heard the bells again and heavy strides moving down the hall. We heard mom scream and dad was up and out the door before I knew it. He ran down the hall and I sat on the bed, staring out into the hallway as the lights of the tree cycled through their colors. I sat listening to mom and dad as they screamed and moaned, the lights flashing red, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and trying not to think of anything at all. Santa’s face forced itself into my mind. The long, thick beard, matted and yellow. His calloused hands. The one thick gray brow that crossed his forehead. The leering smile. The way he had looked at my mother, as if she was a thing. A possession. I thought of these things and I suddenly thought of Paula, my sister, and I started to cry.

 

My sister disappeared on Christmas Day when I was seven years old. We don’t know what happened. She was thirteen and headstrong and dad told the police that she had been upset about not getting something for Christmas that she really wanted and had threatened to run away because of it. I didn’t remember things that way but the more time has passed the more it sounds about right. The truer it becomes. It’s been twenty years since that night, dad is gone, mom is in an elderly home. We never celebrated another Christmas after that year. We put the decorations up. We shopped for a donation present. We went through the motions, but we never celebrated. Never gave or got gifts in the family. And we never went to church again. We did what we had to, and that was all. Because he was watching. He was always watching.

I never married. I never dated seriously. I never got close to anyone. Not women. I can’t tell you why. I just didn’t want to. I keep to myself, mostly. I go to see mom when I can but the later in the year it gets the quieter and more distant she gets. When Christmas finally comes these days I take time off of work, I hole up in my house with some liquor and a gun and I wait, and I wait, and I wait for a sign that Santa’s on his way.

 

 

RoadKill – a novel

A million years ago, back when I was still a kid that had never even thought about writing more than occasionally and certainly never had thought about putting a book out, I wrote a story called Roadkill. In my mind it was a novella but in reality it was probably just a long short story. I was in my mid-teens and had handwritten the story in a spiral-bound notebook. I thought I had written a great story. It was about two friends who had a bad habit of running animals down with a car. Things escalated when things with the boys went awry and the end was a bit of comeuppance from Mother Nature.

Ah, but that book was never meant to be.

I still remember my foolish mistake when I, carrying the notebook around with me after the story had been completed, put it on top of my mom’s car and forgot about it.

Poof.

Gone.

I was heartbroken at the loss of that story and for about thirty years I have been wanting to revisit that story, to re-visit and re-write the story. I even planned a sequel and started working on it. As I started writing more regularly, and doing shows though, I never seriously sat down to write that story. It slowly evoloved over time and I started to think about it but never wanted to write it. I just didn’t have an interest in writing a novel, let alone THAT novel. It was sort of the same mentality I have with video games – if I get stuck I just sorta shrug and move on. I dunno if it’s me giving up or if its me deciding that the frustration isn’t worth it. The fact was though that I was heartbroken to have lost that book and hated the thought of re-writing it from scratch. Maybe that was silly but it was how I felt.

WHen I started putting books out I started working through the stories I had been sititing on as well as putting together new stories. Over the last few years I have been working to clear the books, as it were – trying to finish projects tha I had started but never completed. That lead to the completion of A SHADOW OVER EVER and CEMETERY EARTH, as well as the conclusion of the Meep Sheep trilogy. I just wanted to get these stories that had been sitting around for a while off my mind and conscience. Because it felt like something to do with conscience – that I HAD to get these stories written and out. As if it had been a pact I had taken on with myself.

That brings us to ROADKILL.

I am of two minds with my writing –

On one hand I don’t want tp keep putting books out that very few people are interested in or buying. It just seems silly. I love writing, I’ll always write, but I don’t want to become a joke.

Then there’s the part of me that wants to keep writing and producing stories, which means putting them out. I don’t want to chase markets and try to get published in a magazine or something like that because I did that before and it was nothing less than frustrating. Would I love to get published traditionally? OF COURSE! But I just don’t want to change my focus to that because as many markets as there are, there are still ten times more authors than that and man, I just wanna write stories. That’s all.

Over the last couple of years I have started wanting to get back to this story and to finally tackle it. I fully admit though that this was the story, the book, that has haunted me for a while because it’s lingered for so long that it started to freak me out. Do I try to re-do that exact story or write something new?

Slowly I started to take notes to try to get the story down in my mind. I knew it was still a story about two friends. I knew it was dark. Very dark. And I knew it happened in Munsonville, my made up Michigan town where SHADOW takes places as well as some of my other stories. Then it became a matter of – OK, I need to write this. Another slow process where I’d write a little here and there. I knew how it started. I knew how it ended. The rest? Yikes.

Over the course of 2018 I have worked on and off on the book with a need to get it done but no drive to do the work. When I lost my job in October suddenly a lot of time opened up and the excuses had run out – It was time to finish the book.

I wasn’t sure where it was going.

I wasn’t sure what it was about.

I wasn’t sure how to get where I needed to be.

So I did what I do – jumped in and just started writing, letting the story and characters make their own direction. The book changed, a lot, from what I had been thinking. The ending was close to what I had been thinking but what it meant and how I got there changed. I also discovered some answers to mysteries I hadn’t even known existed. As I wrote the story got clearer and clearer and finally I had found the heart of the book and drove right through it.

I finished the book a week ago today and it still feels weird.

It’s been the longest gestating of my books and I hope that is a good thing.

I hope it’s good.

Heck, I hope it’s great.

I just know it is what it is.

And what it is, is DONE!

Well, sorta.

There’s a lot of work to do, editing, revising, and fleshing out, but it’s written and honestly, the rest is the easier part and to some degrees the part that is more fun because it means I get to start making this thing work better. What I have after that, well, we’ll see. I don’t see it being something a lot of people will want to read because, as I said, it’s dark, and it’s just weird.

It’s all so new still so I am thinking of things to add, things to flesh out, and that will keep happening. My plan is to let the book sit for a month or two and then dive back into it and then we’ll see what we see.

For now though, it’s good to have it done, my strange story of two friends on a dark path.

I loved revisiting these people and this town, and it’ll be ineresting to see what comes next.

…c…

Winter Chill

I think the holidays dredge up memories for all of us. Most of mine are good.
Despite my love of Halloween and all things dark and creepy I really love Christmas and this season.
Something recently made me remember something though that is a bit of a darker memory.
Call it the end of my innocence, I guess.
As I kid I believed in everything. 
I believed in ghosts – I had an invisible friend I called Ghost so you figure that one out.
I believed in the Tooth Fairy – and had a passionate letter writing affair with her until my sister clued me in to her being mom.
I believe in the Easter Bunny.
I believed in monsters – my sister and a cousin played heck with me one time the cousin was babysitting me.
I believed in a world of mystery and wonder and I believe in Santa Claus.
My family went all out for Christmas and Santa was no different.
He left notes.
He left tracks.
He left coal, as a gag.
I loved Santa because, above everything else, he represented the purity of that time in my life. Yeah, presents, sure, but magic.
Magic with no rational thought or reason but just magic.
Magic, once examined, falls into its components and while still special, it’s that chohesion that gives them meaning to us. It’s the larger picture. It’s the connection it gives you to others and even to yourself.
Magic is that thing that just IS.
We should always question, we should always probe, but we should also appreciate.
Yeah, love is a chemical reaction, a mix of sexual attraction, availability, and the opportunity to procreate.
But it’s more than that. It’s both simple and complex.
Yeah, it’s biology, but it’s something spiritual as well because chemistry pushes you together but spirtual connection can keep you together.
I remember the day my childhood died.
I was a kid around twelve. I wasn’t older but I dunno that I was much younger.
I was naive, and I suppose I still am.
I had two friends that were neighbors, living across the street. We were frienemies, as the saying goes. We hung out and were pals but there came a time when I fought with the older brother and in retrospect it’s scary how some kids and people can infiltrate your life and infect it when they should never have had access to you.
We were playing in the backyard of another neighbor, someone these brothers lived next to. It was winter and we were going out to the ice to slide around. It was the Christmas season. I can’t swear to you a date though it sems as if it was before Christmas.
The three of us were walking and all of a sudden they started talking about how there was no Santa Claus.
My mind went blank.
What?
For me, there had to be a Santa.
Even at that age.
We got presents on Christmas Day.
Not before.
My sister and I went to bed and I would get up and peek and see presents and the tree lit up and our stockings and it was magic.
I’d go to bed and get up at 5AM and get everyone up and it was Christmas!
I didn’t know mom and dad stayed up all night wrapping and putting things out.
I didn’t know that mom created the notes and trail that lead to a man that appeared from the chimney.
I dunno if I suspected anything.
Maybe.
I dunno.
But I know that for me, that moment was when childhood cracked irreparably.
The boys went on and on, talking about it, poking at me because I had believed, but it all became a bit of a gray blur.
There was no Santa.
Not a person.
Not a man.
That didn’t make Christmas any less special or magic.
It changed what the dayd was.
What it meant.
It still ws a day and time of power.
But…there was no Santa.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else says…it changed me.
It changed how I saw the world.
And that is what I am getting at.
Magic exists as long as we allow it to.
There are things that we must believe in, that we have to to save ourselves and our species.
There are Big Things that we have to believe in.
There are others though that change nothing other than the person.
But for some reason we feel a need to kill magic for one another.
We need to poo-poo everything that isn’t a part of our world view.
Sure, magic can be explained.
Everything can.
Butthose things that we hold dear and sacred should be left for us to hold dear and sacred.
Until and unless they begin to effect major things in our lives to our detriment or the detriment of others we need to allow people to have their magic.
Santa is important to kids because it fuels their imaginations.
It harbors a belief that the world is bigger than kids can imagine.
That is the cruelest turn, that we steal magic, as silly as it may seem, from children.
They will learn all about the bigger world.
They will learn all about how dark and miserable it can be.
Why force them to swallow it whole at an early age?
Imagination is the engine that drives the human race.
Magic is the fuel that runs that engine.
It is only through these things that we can see a world beyond our lives, our issues, our stressors, and beyond the worst of us.
Magic is hope.
Hope that some things don’t have explanation, need it, or warrant it.
Some things just are.
And why on earth do we want to kill hope.
….c…

End Times

2018 will be a year that sticks with me for many reasons but the biggest is the loss of my mother, something we knew was coming but which, as they say, you are never prepared for when it happens.

With mom it was a slow decline that we could only bear silent witness to. It was an awful burden but never more awful than her own, a woman who had suffered enough in her life.

I remember getting the call that mom was going to be entered in hospice and it felt like the world had fallen away beneath me. It was early in the year and while there had been talk that she was nearing the need to enter hospice care, her finally entering it meant that the silent clock that had been ticking was suddenly very, very loud.

Time was running out.

For several years now I have had the awful understanding that eventually we would have our last Christmas together as teh full family. I have been very lucky to have my family alive for as long as I have. A lot of people don’t have that luxury. I can tell you though that it was an awful feeling last Christmas, a feeling of sick dread as the day drew on and it became time to leave because I knew that vague fear was turning from cold chill to ragged bone and time was just running out. It was a good Christmas, we had had better, we probably had had worse, but it was good. I won’t say I knew it was the last one but I had a bad feeling.

You just never know.

The reality of hospice care hit me when I went out to see my mom after finding out and saw the packet that was left – it detailed what Hospice was, had a series of forms to be filled out, including a Do Not Resuscitate form, and it ran through the signs that death was imminent. Then it was real. It was all real. I kept going back to that, over the next three months, wondering when the signs would begin and not realizing that things were already underway.

The hospice workers were good to mom. She’d never have to go to a doctor again. Her medications would be ordered and delivered. They brought air for her. They eventually brought a hospital bed for her. Nurses came, a social worker, and everyone we dealt with was sweet and genuinely cared about her. My mom was a charmer, a sweet woman who won over people easily with her humor and laughter and that stuck with her until the end. She had changed, to be sure, but she was still mom. After the stroke the onset of dementia crept slowly in but it did change her, her moods, her mind, bht she was always mom. That, at least, never changed.

The final three months were a slow march towards the end. The hospice care dropped off a photo album which would allow mom to record messages but she never did. Mom and dad were never ones to take to technology and that was just one more thing to figure out and it just never happened. We had a good day, I remember, when all of us got together with my wife and went over pictures together. We laughed a lot. Especially mom.

When the end came you could almost follow along with the symptoms in the material we’d been left. The curse for the living is to live with the regrets. The moments you regret. The things you said. The things you never said. We got our time to say goodbye, before, and at the end. As awful as it was, I am glad we were all there for it. I had taken to staying at my family’s house for the last two weeks of her life, only going to my own home to clean up and change, then it was back to the house. As the last few days came the nurses told us that she was close, that she was holding on though. It’s an awful thing to have to give permission to someone you love to die but I did, my sister did, but my father couldn’t. Until the end he began to believe that maybe she was just sick. She hadn’t eaten in a week and was barely taking fluids. She had lost so much weight she was literal skin and bones. I had the nurse talk to my dad, to insist that yes, this was the end, that we needed to let her go. To let her be at peace. My family was never one to say ‘I Love You’. It wasn’t that we don’t love one another but that it just was not something we did. That changed, for me, when she had her stroke. I probably didn’t say it as much as I should but I said it, and I said it a lot at the end. I was a terribly flawed kid, troubled, and I put her through Hell. I don’t think I could have ever said I Love You enough to make up for it but I tried. All I wanted is for her suffering to end. It seeemed to go on and on and on.

I had mentioned it before but it was a sweet bit of Providence that my wife and I took our dogs out to see mom about a week before she died. She loved dogs and our dogs were so sweet and gentle with her, our one Husky pup, Banshee, wanting desperately to get into the hospital bed with mom. We lost mom not long after and Banshee not long after that. I am glad they got to enjoy one another’s company before the end.

Family came to see mom. Friends came to see mom. People wrote. People called. Mom was afforded the time to say goodbye, though I can’t imagine how you even do such a thing, how you process it, but she at least got to see many people that meant something to her.

We were there at the end, her suffering finally ending after her body finally ran out of fight. We were able to be together, and were together when the nurse came to clean her, then the funeral home came to collect her, and then when we had to start dealing with the fact that she was gone. The finality of it all struck me hardest as I saw her name on the television during a local channels obituary list. I knew she was gone but it was so new it was as if she was a phantom limb but that was the first dirt on her grave, the funeral the last, and since it has been dealing with the aching realization of her absence. That the world didn’t stop spinning. That I was back at work a day after her funeral (my decision, having been out of work for almost three weeks), and that there could still be joy in the world all seemed strange to me. But we HAVE to laugh. We HAVE to move on. We have to or we die with those we lose. It’s only through that laughter, those tears, that love, and that pain that we keep their candles lit.

All of us have a life to give, and, as has been said, the price of loving is to suffer the grief of loss. It’s part of the deal. We are all flawed, and damaged, and most of us try to do the best we can, knowing that it’s never as much as we wish. We never pay the debts we create with people, not all of them, we don’t finish ever project, or live every dream, We do the best we can because a life is not meant to be perfect. It’s a long path that leads us through the dark towards an end we cannot imagine. All we have is one another in the end and the love we share together. Hate is a fast burning fire that will take all there is of you if you give in to it. The hope we have is that we have grace and wisdom enough to learn to let go of the slights done to us, large and small, and hopefully we can learn too to forgive ourselves.

There was no way to repay mom for all that she gave to us but hopefully she knew how loved she was. That was the last and only gift we could really offer – To be with her and to love her through the end.

…c…

 

Losing and Finding

It’s no secret that I am a devotee of the ‘found footage’ and POV subgenre of films. I think it’s fair to even call me a fanboy of sorts. There’s a power to that immediacy, to that manner of storytelling. I have talked about it before and having seen lots and lots and lots of these films my passion for them has yet to dampen.

Yeah, there are some mediocre entries, and some terribly lazy films based on that notion but there are also some very good and powerful ones. I think for me the fun is in finding the ones that are in the rough. Out of sight. Not as easily found. Lately I have been digging into YouTube and have found some gems. There’s something really pure and democratic about found footage and POV films in that anyone with a camera can make them. It’s up to the filmmaker/s to decide how stripped down or how over the top the films are. While some find this style tiresome – and I can see where it can absolutely be tiresome – there is also a freedom for the filmmakers to create as they wish. So much is dependent on the story and how it’s told that you can take something very simple and make it absolutely harrowing.

I happened upon EXHIBIT A recently, a POV film that tells the story of a family in turmoil as seen through the eyes of the daughter. It’s not a horror film, per se, but it’s absolutely chilling and real in a way that many mainstream dramas wish they could be. The use of the camera as a witness to the family, and to the tale as it unfolds makes the viewer feel as if they are a voyeur, able to see the larger picture but unable to change its path.

Another recent re-watch was of the film THE TUNNEL, a POV film following a news crew as they explore a tunnel system where homeless people have disappeared. Here you have the interjection of interviews and news footage (not so dissimilar to the way that POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES works) cut in with the POV footage of the crew as they descend into the tunnel system. This is a horror that is inherently inspired by aspects of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT but it creates its own voice and once it’s done they have created their own story of dread and haven’t relied on some of the pitfalls that undo so many other films.

There is power in the unseen, in these films, in the aspect of the campfire tale that they offer. The power of forcing us to use our imaginations to create the horror and to fill in the blanks. Lovecraft was very good at this, giving enough rough detail to aid us in creating the most horrible of things in our minds. You have to give something though. Some sort of something Even if it’s simply the dread of the actor. The beauty of BLAIR WITCH PROJECT is that we have such a vibrant view of the witch, of what she is, but it’s mostly from descriptions, from reactions, from evidence, and from her myth itself.

Brilliant.

Another thing that really pulls these sorts of films together is when they use the medium they are utilizing. That is to say, when the film reveals something that wasn’t discovered at first. The film LAKE MUNGO does this brilliantly, revealing truths up into the credits, thus changing how we see the film over and over again. The film LEAVING D.C. does a nice job of this also, showing a common man chronicling his move and happening upon something larger. He uses audio and his camera to capture things that he doesn’t experience at first but which reveal themselves as true upon examiniation. This allows the main character to be as vulnerable and in the dark as the audience is and the horror that is revealed becomes a shared link.

These films can be so very powerful but yes, they can be lazy.

You get the running in the dark.

The shaky cam screaming.

The dragging into the darkness as the camera watches.

Young people going places they are not supposed to.

People ignoring the warning signs of danger and bumbling straight into the jaws of terror.

This list can really go on and on but if you have seen one bad found footage or POV film than you can name the clumsy tropes before they even happen. And clumsy is the perfect word for it because the films that ‘get it wrong, are very clearly making a movie for money alone. And hey, do what you gotta do, but that disingenuous nature screams aloud because the filmmakers are simply hitting moment markers and ticking things off of a list. They are making one of these films because they are inexpensive and, for a time, were the flavor of the month.

This sort of filmmaking is what turns a fad into a trend into a nuisance. See: vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, and any of the movie trends that has taken hold of horror from time to time. Despite this though, there are still great films out there, and waiting to be made in this subgenre. Like anything else the power comes from how the work is made and what the story it is that is being told. Sure, there’s still going to be a lot of awful movies out there but I’ll accept them so long as there are still gems to find.

I suppose my attraction to these stories and films is that they capture what I love so much about scary stories and their telling – how they differ between teller and tale and that will always draw me back to horror. The dark is very deep and very hungry and I cannot wait to hear about the many monsters that live within in.

…c…