Tuesday, October 14, 2014


It's what's for dinner. Whaddya' expect? Halloween's just a couple weeks away... A little October creepiness, courtesy of an excerpt from a story I wrote a couple years back for Living Ready magazine...

"Night has fallen. And there’s nothin’ we can do about it."
                                                                                James Dickey, from “Deliverance”

"Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos," read the bumper sticker on the truck in front of me. I was stuck in traffic on a sweltering summer day, just another trapped suburban lemming, one of the untold millions doing the routine shuffle from my relatively safe and domesticated workplace to my relatively safe and domesticated suburban home.

But I knew instantly what it meant. And I also knew that the humor in the bumper sticker’s allusion to the infamous “Dueling Banjos” song of the equally infamous movie “Deliverance” (which, of course, was based on the brilliant James Dickey novel) masked an uncomfortable yet fundamental truth of human existence:  It’s not the bump in the night that scares us. Or even necessarily what made the bump in the night. What scares the hell out of us is thinking about what might have made the bump in the night.

There are multitudes of fears. The world is awash in them. In fact, the human condition itself can be defined by how we have evolved in response to fear: Fear of being eaten by larger, more fearsome predators, fear of death by starvation, thirst or exposure, the fear of being captured by a rival tribe or clan, and above all else, the fear of the unknown, at a time when the unknown often meant quick (or slow) grisly death. These days, of course, we have many fears, but our daily fears tend to be more abstract, less primal: Fear of losing the house, fear of getting passed over for a promotion, fear of our spouse leaving us for a more successful partner. Modern fears. Bloodless fears. Knowable fears.

To most of us, the old fears, the evolutionary fears, have been relegated to the status of scary bedtime story; cautionary tales meant to teach a lesson. The rise of society, culture, rules, and laws have beaten back such old fears. Rare these days is the coppery, electric taste of true terror, of being alone, helpless and at the mercy of something monstrous and unknown. The artificial construct of our societal safety nets envelop us, protect us, lull us into a stupor of complacency.

But those old fears will not go so gentle into that good night. The monsters are still with us, will always be with us. They never left us, of course, because they are us, dwelling in the long-forgotten vestigial DNA of a million huddling, terrified ancestors. They are the firelight shadows dancing on the wall of the cave. They are the snapping branch, the creaking staircase, the rustling in the closet, the monster that sits hungrily, silently, just beyond the feeble light of our vision like some half-remembered nightmare, waiting patiently for those moments when we foolishly wander outside the dim circle of the campfire.

And when that happens, when we do find ourselves outside the safety nets of society, culture, and laws, we also find out, sometimes to our horror, that the monsters of our fears are often not nearly as terrifying as the monsters of our realities…

It was a fun little story to write, with the added bonus that doing the research for it terrified me enough to insure I will never again leave home without packing heat for mortal monsters, and my official Van Helsing Paranormal Foe Defense Kit for the immortal variety. It makes for some awkward public moments, what with the multiple firearms and wooden stakes and vials of holy water and rosaries and books of incantations and such, but hey, no one ever said preparedness was easy or convenient or mainstream, right? Besides, Oklahoma's an open carry state, so trust me, I've seen much weirder... 


  1. More like this please. You do it VERY well. October Country stuff, middle American horror. I'll blurb it unread.

  2. For most Americans, the old fears remain manifest threats, no? The dark hides evil, strangers are devils, foreigners are double-dog-dare devils... I mean, my satellite went out and I saw political commercials for an entire evening. I was awash in it. It's all fear. Even the academically astute, scientifically-friendly party to which I belong.

    But I second Steve. You're a genius writer.

  3. Thanks for the compliment, Steve. I'm kinda playing around with some genre fiction, but the problem is I look at everything I write and come to the conclusion that it's so derivative of others that it may as well be fan fiction...

    CG, yep. I'm told I should be terrified of literally everything these days. It makes for a much more malleable electorate if they have a few reliable boogeymen to take their minds off the stuff that's really terrifying...

  4. There's something to be said for embracing that primal fear. I fear further sliding into the modern description.
    Damn it all if the average person who gawks at my hobbies doesn't find them completely disconnected with their vestige of reality. Yes, I do kill and eat things. Yes, sleeping outside alone is normal and not scary. I fear those modern secure types more than bears, wolves, or the dreaded mer-squatch, who rides a giant skateboard through the pacific northwest from lake to lake..

    Good piece brotha man. Hope all is well.