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Boto

lone car

She was out of my league, that was for sure. Not just that I had no chance with her. I mean I don’t even think I was allowed to look at her, really. Not short, pudgy me, coming out of the Quick Mart, gas station hot dog in one hand, Slush Puppy in the other.

She was cursing, in a southern twang that went with her husky voice. What made me notice her then, and not before when my fat ass was too distracted by the promise of sugar and tubes of meat, was the way her tank top jumped when she kicked the flat tire. It leapt as her flip flop slapped ineffectively against the rim. The sight was near-religious for me.

I looked away before she could catch me scoping her out, heard her yell into her phone. “Babe, c’mon! It’s not like I ran over that nail on purpose! Don’t be that way…I don’t know, I’ll call a cab or…”

I’d already tuned out by then, not eager to imagine the hunky, likely depressingly superior male specimen she was talking to. I’d set my junk food on the roof of my Acura and was fishing for my keys when I heard her say “Hey, excuse me? Excuse me!”

I wasn’t trying to be rude. There was just absolutely no reason for her to be talking to me. I didn’t realize what was happening until her voice, jarringly close, said “Hey, hold up!”

I turned, chili dog in one hand, jumbo Slush Puppy in the other, the breeze emphasizing how desperately baggy my shorts and tee shirt were.

“Hi,” she said, giving me a small smile. Auburn hair. Tan skin. Freckles on her nose, almost invisible under the halogens of the gas station. Every part of her lean, soft. I was almost hot enough for someone like her, once upon a time.

“Hey.” I dropped into the driver’s seat, still under the impression that there was nothing this Homecoming goddess was going to need me to stick around for.

“Where you headed?”

“Uh…just, just home.”

“Where’s home?”

I searched her eyes. They flickered down the road.

“That way,” I told her, pointing down the highway. She lit up.

“Oh, awesome! Can I get a ride?” She was beaming, already assuming she had her answer.

“Well, I’m kind of low on gas…” You’d probably want to call me an idiot, but really, what chance would I honestly have had with her? Do you really think I was blowing anything?

“Oh, I’ll pay you! I’ll totally pay you!” She swiped her hand like it was a done deal. “But my boyfriend has the money, so…”

“I dunno…” I said. Look, sex was not going to happen, okay? No matter what heroics I performed. Why go through the trouble when I already knew the outcome?

“Please?” She made a pouty face, reached through my open window and grabbed my arm. The way she was bent over, I could immediately tell she was a B-Cup.

“Okay,” I agreed immediately.

***

She told me her name was Britty. I thought that sounded fucking stupid for anyone else who wasn’t hot enough to instantly render men retarded. On her, however, it was perfect. She ran back to her car, reached inside, grabbed her bag. She banged her head on the door frame, and in her anger she kicked the car again.

“OW!” she screamed, immediately falling and grabbing her foot. Her face was scrunched in a look of pure agony.

I climbed out, jiggled over to her. I felt like a big strong man, despite my gut bouncing even more than my knees were. She was sitting almost Indian-style. The toe beside the big one on her right foot was swelling up.

“Looks like ya cracked it,” I said, hating how high-pitched my voice always was.

“Can you help me up?” She sounded so small and hurt I felt bad about the constant sexual thoughts I was having about her. She reached out her arms, wrapped them around my neck as I scooped an arm under her knees and shoulders and hoisted her up. I’ve carried heavier bags of groceries.

I got her into the passenger seat of my car. “Thank you,” she said sheepishly, smiling an embarrassed but grateful smile at me. It made me feel like a hero, despite my complete lack of definition.

She curled forward, cupping her injured foot as I closed the door. I jingled my keys as I walked to the driver’s side, using the sound to distract myself from my jiggling gut.

***

She called her boyfriend, told him she’d caught a ride with “some guy.” Apparently he wasn’t pleased with that. “Don’t get that way. Jesus, you know that’s not gonna happen. Ugh!”

Guess he was the jealous type. Whatever.

“So how far to your boyfriend’s place?” I asked when she hung up.

“About twenty miles.” She’d taken some pills she had in her purse, and her foot seemed to be bothering her less now. She was leaning back, looking out the window, when suddenly she sprung forward in her seat. “Shit! You have gas for this, right?”

I hadn’t thought about that. Honestly I’d just popped in because I have zero regard for what I put into my body. I checked my fuel gauge. “Uh, yeah…probably.”

“Damn, I’m sorry! I didn’t even think…” She fished around her purse. “Let me get you gas, okay? At least a gallon for the drive? Would that be enough?”

“This is a Prius. A gallon would get me to the next state.”

“Cool. Pull in here.” She waved me into a Citgo, handed me a credit card. “I trust you,” she smiled, looking me in the eye, clamping the collar down hard on my sense of ethics. Ugly boys can do no wrong to pretty girls, and she knew it.

I took the card, got out, ran it through the slot on the pump. She told me her zip code, and as soon as I punched it in, the computer read “DENIED.”

“Uh…it didn’t work.”

“Weird. Try it again.”

I did. “Nothing.”

“Shit!” She opened up her purse and climbed out. She winced as she balanced herself on her injured foot, shifted her weight, and hobbled over to the ATM. She swiped her card, punched numbers, yelled: “What the FUCK?!”

She jammed in her PIN again, stabbing the keys like they’d insulted her, apparently got the same response. “AHHH, GODDAMNIT!”

“Everything okay?”

“No everything’s not fucking okay? GODDAMNIT! GODDAMNIIIIIIT!” She balled her fist like she was preparing to punch the machine, but probably remembered her injured foot and dropped her arm. “My money’s gone! MY FUCKING MONEY’S GONE!”

“Fuck,” I said, as sympathetically as I could.

“I had two-thousand dollars in there! Oh no! Oh no!” Her voice had that whine that told me she was about to panic-cry.

“Hey, it’ll be fine. Just call the bank. Most of ‘em have fraud protection. They’ll put your money back.”

She didn’t seem convinced, but it seemed to comfort her somewhat. “You think so?”

“Totally. Same thing happened to me once. Got my money back the same day.”

She pouted, scrunched her eyebrows. “I’m sorry I can’t get you gas.”

“Shit, don’t worry about it.”

She hobbled back to her car, her foot clearly hurting her more than it was a second ago.

“You sure you don’t want me to take you to an emergency room?” I asked her.

“No, I’m fine. I’ll just…I’ll have my boyfriend take me to the doctor tomorrow.” She made a small, sick sound as she pushed herself into her seat with her foot.

I filled up my tank, and we were back on the road.

***

Her foot was really bothering her. She was moaning in discomfort two minutes in.

“Maybe you should take a couple more, um…pills.”

She looked at me then, unsure if I was judging her or not. “I’m not an addict.” She didn’t say it defensively. It sounded more like she was trying to convince herself.

Well, I thought, that was unprompted.

“Oh, no, I just…I mean, if you’re not going to the doctor about your foot until tomorrow, I just figured you’d want it to hurt less. I’m pretty sure you broke something.”

“Yeah, maybe…” She was staring through the floorboard, trying to convince herself that she wasn’t trying to convince herself. Finally she dug through her purse.

“I’m only gonna take a few.” She was telling herself, trying to make it sound like she was telling me. She spilled a small handful out of the bottle, rolled a few back inside, then tossed back the rest. She took out a bottle of water and took a deep swallow. When she put the cap back on, I smelled that it wasn’t actually water she’d just swigged.

She was completely out before I could ask her which road to turn off on. Shit.

***

It was completely dark when she started awake, taking a rushed breath and blinking her eyes. I’d pulled into a paved lot for a hair salon that hadn’t been built yet, waiting for her to rouse and tell me where to go. She’d been out for a couple hours

“Shit! What time is it?”

“About eleven.”

“Fuck. Fuck!” She dug out her phone, swiped her finger over the screen. She shook the knee of her good leg as she waited for an answer.

“Hey Brian? Jesus, babe, I’m sorry. I’m on my…don’t be that way! Jesus! I hurt my foot and took something for it. See for yourself when we…the fuck are talking about?! You fucking ashsole, you know I wouldn’t…what do you…?”

She had a look of disbelief.

“What? You can’t be serious! Babe, I would never do that! How could you think that? I told you! I hurt my foot! I took some pills and…Brian, please listen!” She was crying, sobbing actually. The kind of sob that hits you by surprise, so you don’t have time to mask the panic. “No! No! Babe, I moved all the way down here for you, why would I…babe, no, listen! Why would I…babe, please. No! No, Brian, I…!” She looked at the phone, fear rising, swiped her finger over it, held it back to her ear. I heard what sounded like voicemail. She dialed again. Voicemail. Again. Answer this time. Couldn’t make out the words clearly, but it sounded like Brian didn’t want her coming home.

She started sobbing, bawling, and smacked her phone into the dashboard as hard as she could. I heard the screen spider web, and she hurled the little box through the window. She curled up, eyes against her knees, her tears making dark streaks across her jeans.

I sat in uncomfortable silence, not sure what would be the right thing to say. Obviously the plans had changed.

“Wrong guys. I was pick the fucking wrong guys…”

Abruptly she opened the car door. I assumed she was going after her phone at first, then I noticed she was dragging her bags with her.

“Hey! Where you going?”

She sniffled, wiped her eyes, then in a disgusted voice she said “Well, obviously you don’t have to take me anywhere now. But I appreciate your help.”

“What?”

“I’m gonna go. I gotta…I gotta go catch a bus or something…”

“The bus station is miles away! I can’t let you out here this late! We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“It’s alright. I can make it.”

“Bullshit. Your toe is broken. No way you can walk this highway like that.”

“I’ll be fine…” She sounded less sure, and glanced over her shoulder down the dark road.

“Look, let me take you to the emergency room.”

She shook her head. “I can’t pay for it. I don’t have any insurance or…” She started crying again. Holy fuck, was she having a shit night.

“Come on,” I pleaded, figuring I was being more genteel than creepy. I wanted so much to help her out, to be enough of a hero for her that maybe, maybe, in some fucking way, she would overlook the fact that I looked like a pimply bag of shit. “We have to get that foot looked at. You won’t make it far off the bus if it isn’t treated.”

She seemed to be considering this.

“I can’t leave you out here,” I told her. “I just…can’t, man.”

She smiled. Her eyes had that sad light girls get when something touches them.

“You’re so sweet!” She said it to me like I was her fat-assed little brother. But I would take that over abandoning her any day.

She gave the highway another glance, then climbed back in. In another moment we were moving.

“You’re just the sweetest thing ever,” she told me, her voice thick with her melted heart. In her tenderness, I had become simultaneously heroic and, consequently, devoid of sexual intrigue.

I could live with that.

***

The hospital was another ten miles. It was a sleepy, spread-out Georgia town. Nothing was a close drive away.

She’d taken some more pills for her foot. Fewer than before, but enough to put a dopey smile on her face. “You’re so amazing,” she said, almost with a slur. “You’re like, my fucking hero.”

I smiled. She scooched up, leaned over, gave me a clumsy kiss on the cheek. “Fuckin’ knight in armor,” she told me, and started giggling. She fell back into her seat, punched me playfully in the shoulder. My arm rippled where she hit me. Everything on me was so loose nowadays.

She moaned, contented, wrapped her arms behind her head. “I feel so fucking safe around you.”

“I’m glad, Britty.”

She gave me a smile of instant friendship. “Hey, what’s your name?”

I shook my head. “You probably couldn’t pronounce it.”

“Try me!”

I shook my head. “It’s an old name. They don’t really make the letters for it anymore.”

She scrunched her brows, shook her head. Tried to make sense of what I just told her.

“Wait…what?”

“How’s your foot?”

She sighed. “Still fuckin’ hurts.”

“You should take some more pills,” I told her.”I mean, what harm could they do now?”

“Yeah,” she said, slick and lazy. “What harm could they do now?”

She tapped a few into her palm, swallowed them.

“Sure that’s enough?” I asked.

She smiled. “Fuckin’ right.” She poured more, a small handful. She chased them with the rest of her vodka.

“Sure that’s enough?” she slurred back at me.

I smiled. “You would know, wouldn’t ya?”

She nodded. “Shit yes, I would.” She drained the rest of the bottle.

“You good?”

She leaned back, got comfy. “Mm-hmm,” she murmured. “Hey, where we goin’ anyway?”

“To my place.”

“Hey – but what…”

“Don’t worry…I’m a gentleman.”

She laughed, barking and uncomprehending. “Ha! Yeah…fuckin’ knight an’ armor…”

“Yeah,” I said. “Night.”

***

She was still warm when I stopped the car behind my house. Her breath hissed out of her when I picked her up and carried her inside. Rotten floorboards threatened to give under my weight and hers. Light from the half moon peppered in through holes in the roof.

She’d died before her gag reflex could kick in. Thank Christ. I hated having to scrub out my car.

I hear my brothers smacking in the night. They’re hungry, but she’s mine.

“No, you handsome devils,” I tell them. “Sate your lusting bellies elsewhere.”

They growl, irritated, but any of them would say the same to me. They would have no trouble finding prey. They’re so beautiful, all of them. Some could even slip into dreams.

But seduction is such a misunderstood art. There are other ways to break down the walls between prey and their trust. And it’s the trust we need. To feed. To fuck. It’s the trust we take, so that we may live. The infinitely harmless can be as inviting as the sensuous nighttime lover. We all have our guile.

I kick aside the loose boards in the floor, step into the dark, flowing water. Country plumbing, in days before daylight could travel through wires.

I step into the rushing water, my bulk consumed by its chilly froth. I sink with her, down to the dark place others only see in dreams. My gorgeous brothers spread into the night. They only have so long before daylight robs their looks.

Demon lovers. Nightmare beasts. Forceful and potent. Lean and beautiful. Fat and hungry.

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Stones for the Living

mezuzah

“But I wanna keep playing!”

“No, kiddo. In by dark. You know the rules.”

“But it gets dark so early now!”

“Inside, fella. Now.

Heath pouted and shuffled inside. Leslie tried to put a comforting hand on his son’s shoulder, but the little guy jerked away from him and ran inside.

“How come he can’t stay out?” one little girl asked.

“I just feel safer with him inside.” Leslie made sure the beer bottle stayed hidden behind the door frame.

“But it’s only six,” the little girl said. She wasn’t arguing, just confused and asking questions, the way little kids do. Her head was tilted back so she could see from under the oversize hood of her pink parka.

“I know. Go on home, guys. It’s already gettin’ cold.”

As if for dramatic emphasis, the Tennessee mountain wind blew a small gust. The children hugged themselves against it and ran off. A couple snowflakes blew by and melted as they set down against the brick by the door.

Leslie set the deadbolt against the November chill, and listened to Heath wailing in his room down the hall. Since Anne had died he’d taken to telling Leslie he hated him. He was six; he’d stop eventually.

Leslie would give him some space till supper. He swigged his beer and ran a finger along the mezuzah by the door. They’d hung it inside, to avoid any mishaps from curious little hands. A small fleck of blue paint flecked off on his finger. He touched the little box so often the Hebrew lettering was wearing away. Hanging it inside had actually reduced the case’s lifespan. Maybe he and Heath could touch it up.

Half an hour later he heard scratching at the patio doors to the side of the house. Leslie ignored it long enough to chuck his empty and grab a fresh bottle from the fridge. He loped across the living room, feeling suddenly, overwhelmingly tired. He stared at the closed Venetian blinds for a moment, sipping his beer, then reached out and pulled the drawstring.

Anne was pawing at the glass like a stray cat. Her white gown was brown around her ankles, and her bare feet were blackened with dried mud. When she saw him she opened her mouth in a moaning hiss, leaning in and nearly pressing her blue lips to the glass. Her teeth looked sharp and shiny, worn the way a leather cutter’s knives are after sawing through countless hides.

She patted her empty hand against the glass. In the other, she held a small child’s jacket. A pink parka, the fabric torn – bitten – where the hood joined the neck.

She was pale. She’d always been pale, but not like this. Her face used to go red when she laughed too hard. Her cheeks would flush whenever she stayed out in the snow too long. Her skin would quiver with eager life whenever she climaxed.

When she was alive, her flesh would glow with pink heat. This woman outside his home now was gray and slack.

Her thick curls were tangled and dirty. He used to think of them as chocolate-brown but now the only word that came to mind was muddy. Her brown eyes were unfocused and unblinking.

She slapped the glass again, insistent but not insistent enough to break it. She looked to the side, and Leslie followed her eyes to the mezuzah on the frame. The letters here were painted green. Heath had added a little glitter when they’d made it. Here, too, the letters had been caressed so often they were beginning to fade.

Leslie closed the blinds on his dead wife, and went to make Heath’s supper.

***

While they ate they touched-up the mezuzah that hung by the front door. While Leslie held it in place Heath dabbed at the letters with a small brush. Drips of blue paint outlined the box against its bed of paper towels. Before the paint could dry, Leslie helped his son dust the letters in glitter.

“You did good work, kid,” he told him, kissing the crown of his head. The little boy smiled. Leslie wondered if the child heard the praise in the voice of his mother. He scooped him up under the arms and hoisted out of the chair, then set him on the carpet and gave him a playful swat on the rump. “Now go brush your teeth and pick out a story. I’ll tuck you in in a second.”

Heath was halfway to the hall when the knocking started at the door.

“Who is it?” Heath called out, excited over the idea of visitors. A throaty rasp called back to him.

“Baby, go brush your teeth.” Leslie grabbed his shoulder to stop him running for the door. He was careful not to squeeze too tight in his fear.

“Who is it, Daddy?”

“I don’t know, but it’s too late for anyone to be knocking on our door, kiddo. Now go brush your teeth. I’ll see who it is.”

Heath tried to hang around, but Leslie turned the boy around and nudged him till he scampered to the bathroom. The knocking had turned to hard slaps against the wood.

“Heath.”

Leslie blew on the mezuzah to dry it before hanging it back on its nail by the door. The rasping had turned to a growl.

“Hoooooold meeeeee.”

Leslie was almost relieved she’d died the way she did. Throat cancer. Never smoked in her life. When she died she couldn’t speak through the pain. Maybe pain was moot now, but whatever damage had been done had reduced her speech to garbled hissing. Heath would never recognize it as the voice of his mother.

Leslie had seen her buried. He’d tossed dirt on her coffin. He’d left a stone upon her headstone just the other day. So where did this thing she’d become come from?

“Daddy, I’m ready for my story!”

“Coming, kid!” From outside, Anne growled at the sound of his voice. He left her to the cold, and went to Heath.

***

With Heath asleep and the dishes washed, Leslie poured a few shots in his beer to guard against the mountain chill. By his second glass, he made his way back to the patio doors and opened the blinds.

She was gone. He turned on the floodlights, and could see small piles of kicked-up leaves leading to the treeline. Scattered on the ground were stones, like those he always left atop her headstone.

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New Halloween Twitter Serial: #theywontdie

About three years ago I began running serialized fiction on Twitter, telling my stories one tweet at a time. It was moderately popular, and for about a year I ran a new one each month, some with holiday themes, some without.

It’s been a minute since I was last on Twitter for any significant period of time. Life has been kinda hectic lately, but I’ve begun to realize that life is always kinda hectic. You can’t wait for calm to get creative. You have to get creative to spite the chaos.

So beginning today, I’ll be tweeting a new serial: #theywontdie, from my Twitter handle @TweetTheHorror. Graveyards are places for the dead, but that doesn’t mean the dead are there alone…

Keep them company here: #theywontdie.

Here I sit before my kingdom. Here I am the steward of this land and its decay.

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Filed under #theywontdie, Fiction, Horror, Miscellaneous

Fear and Feeling

Hallway

Recently I learned that there is a secret room in the basement of the building I work in. Though this will sound like absolute bullshit, the room is dark, covered in fading wallpaper, and is filled with broken dolls and torn teddy bears. And, naturally, some of those items are nailed to the wall.

There’s also a sink and bathroom that has seen recent and regular use. I’m not always a nice person, so I made sure to tell all of this to the girl who replaced me for the evening shift before I left. She’s told me before that she’s heard humming and moving below the floor, and this new tidbit of info caused her to give me a petrified look before I almost literally skipped out the door.

We love scary stories because they take our fears and transplant them outside the realm of everyday occurrence. We feel scared when we think we’re alone with a ghost. We are terrified when a human being comes at us with a knife. The things monsters might do lie in imagined, ethereal possibility, but we see our own actions every day.

As a teenager, I loved sneaking into cemeteries late at night. The local graveyard is huge, and I could burn hours just wandering around. I remember a scary moment as I sat beneath a tree, beside an old tomb that had been broken open long ago by falling branches. There was heat lightning in the sky, and something seemed to be scratching and muttering from inside the concrete hole. I was spooked, but I did not literally hide the way I did when I thought I heard living human voices, trailing along a set of railroad tracks, laughing and growing nearer…

There’s a psychiatric hospital in a nearby town that is largely closed down. I used to sneak into the larger buildings with an old girlfriend. We dropped dry ice in mildewed bathtubs filled with water, we looked through old x-rays, we studied forgotten maps leading to patients’ graves outside. Most of those graves seemed to be unmarked. Friends of ours loved to spin stories about ghosts still wandering the collapsing halls, and old patients who still lived in tunnels beneath the hospital grounds.

We need ghosts and monsters because metaphor absolves us of the sin of oversight. We thrill to scary urban legends about serial killers, because otherwise we would be left to sympathize with the old man muttering to himself in the cold. We tell stories of voodoo queens, because it hurts us less to fear an old woman who sleeps outside than it would to feel for her. We ask each other if we believe in ghosts, when our own indulgence compels us to never notice them.

***

Images taken from “Abandoned: A Look Inside Central State Hospital of Milledgeville, Georgia,” by Monica Waller. Follow this link to purchase her work.

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Goodbye, Mr. Harryhausen

beauty within beasts

“I brought in the stories many times. I don’t just do animation.”

–          Ray Harryhausen

I wasn’t a terribly special kid when I was a toddler. I bumped into things, sucked my thumb, refused to drink my orange juice from anything but my designated sippy cup. I just like every other technically-retarded illiterate munchkin in the world. I had an imagination, I’m sure, but it’s been so long I can’t recall what it was I typically did during my imaginative playtime.

So one day, in 1990, I was strolling through the family room while my father was eating a late lunch. I threw a quick glance to the television set and saw that there were men on TV. Not a rare thing, I know, but these men were being chased. By something huge, it seemed, gauging from their upturned, terrified faces. But what was it that had them so excited…?

I froze then, because HE appeared.

Thirty feet tall. Cloven hooves and gnarled claws. Brutish muscle and a ferocious snarl. A one-eyed, one-horned monster that, in that moment, seemed more real than real.

It was beautiful and glorious and savage and more vibrant than any image I’d seen before.

The CYCLOPS! Eater of men! Hoarder of gold! Beast of Colossa!

The men he chased fought for their lives, throwing spears and hacking at the monster with scimitars. The monster flung men aside with kicks of its hooves, and flung boulders at their boats as they rowed for their ship. It was amazing and thrilling and it WAS ONLY JUST STARTING.

I watched with fire in my blood as Sinbad – my new, lifelong fictional hero – returned to the cursed island to battle its monsters, blinding the Cyclops and luring it to its doom over the edge of a cliff. He and his men fought the vengeful Roc, a titanic two-headed bird who killed to avenge its invaded nest. Sinbad dueled an animated skeleton, fled a fire-breathing dragon that annihilated anything in its way, laying low even another Cyclops as it stormed after the hero. I was dazzled by the image of the giant crossbow, as it sank a bolt deep into the dragon’s neck, killing the beast, and with it, its evil master, the sorcerer who’d plotted against Sinbad the whole movie. I knew I’d witnessed a spectacle when it was over.

the beasts and the man

My father fed my amazement when, noting my clear enjoyment, he mentioned that there were more movies like it. “Sinbad movies,” as I started calling them, even though I quickly learned other movies shared their style, if not necessarily the same characters. It wouldn’t be until about third grade that I learned the name of the man who’d made that kind of cinematic magic possible. I read it on the back of my first VHS copy of “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad:”

“Special Effects by Ray Harryhausen.”

I hunted his name in everything. The Sci-Fi Channel (back when it was still the Sci-Fi Channel) ran a “Ray Harryhausen week,” showing a film of his every night. Every new movie to me was precious, like some kind of treasure you need special permission to see. I felt enormous pity for the persecuted Ymir in “20 Million Miles to Earth.” I was glued to the set when soldiers fought off the tentacles of the octopus in “It Came From Beneath the Sea” with flamethrowers. I bounced in excitement when alien warships crashed into the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building in “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.” And even now, during the iconic scene in “Jason and the Argonauts,” when Talos the giant statue turns his head for the first time to see Hercules and Palias stealing his treasure, I get a creepy chill. (Though not nearly to the extent as I do when Medusa descends upon Perseus and his men.)

medusa

There were so many movies, each one firing my imagination with new visions, like bursting seedpods. Few things have matched the wicked deadliness of the giant scorpions from “Clash of the Titans.” Sinbad’s duel with an animated statue of Kali (controlled by a pre-“Doctor Who” Tom Baker) in “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” is one of the most genuinely beautiful action sequences set to film. To be honest, I always found “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” to be a little weird, but its monsters were amazing, so the exuberant twelve-year-old in me can easily forgive its eccentricities.

I could go on for volumes about my adoration for each of his movies, and they really were HIS movies. John Landis, in an interview with him, noted that Harryhausen was probably the only effects artist who got the creative credit for the films he worked on. Not the directors, the producers, or even the writers; if Ray Harryhausen contributed to your film, it became “a Ray Harryhausen movie.”

And despite the colossal impact he had on generations of filmmakers (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Peter Jackson are just a few who have expressed their admiration and influence from Harryhausen’s work) Harryhausen never seemed pretentious or egotistical. He was simply driven by a feverish dream that he expressed through a quiet, methodical, single-minded devotion to perfecting his vision. Considering his love for grandeur, his evaluation of what made his work so dynamic was never in and of itself grandiose or flighty; he explained his vision and creative process in direct, practical language, and never wavered in what he thought made spectacular things so spectacular. He was artist and artisan, a student who surpassed his mentors, and left a world of students in his wake.

Ray-Harryhausen

***

            “I’m very happy that so many young fans have told me that my films have changed their lives. That’s a great compliment. It means I did more than just make entertaining films. I actually touched people’s lives – and, I hope, changed them for the better.”

–          Ray Harryhausen

My love for Harryhausen doesn’t diminish my appreciation for the work of his mentor, the legendary Willis O’Brien. O’Brien’s masterpiece “King Kong” mesmerized me, with its portrayal of the indomitable Kong braving both man and beast in two separate, but equally hostile worlds. I spent a lot of hours acting out scenes from that film, as Kong. I was always Kong. I was a scrawny, easily picked-on kid in glasses – Kong was a raging powerhouse, an unstoppable conqueror against a world bent on his destruction. It isn’t hard to see the appeal such a character would have for me.

O’Brien allegedly told Harryhausen, upon seeing test footage of animated dinosaurs that the young man had composed, that his dinosaur legs “looked like sausages,” and advised Harryhausen to study anatomy and illustrating. The impact of this advice is clear in Harryhausen’s work, with the meticulous detail in the musculature of his creatures, and the exact timing many of his sequences required. I know O’Brien’s eye for detail is responsible for this, but the vibrancy of Harryhausen’s work – the feeling that you’re watching a living spectacle unfolding before you – was a quality unique to Harryhausen himself.

Kong roared and beat his chest – Mighty Joe Young had playful temper tantrums, and flashed puppy-eyes when saddened. The dinosaurs of “The Lost World” snapped and smashed – Gwangi scowled at his foes, and screamed in agony as he burned to death. Willis O’Brien breathed life into beasts – Harryhausen gave them souls.

mighty joe young

***

            “I had to do learn to do everything, because I couldn’t find another kindred soul.”

–          Ray Harryhausen

Sometimes neighbor kids would ask me why I played by myself so often, swinging sticks in my backyard like they were swords, and shouting commands to my “men” to “keep fighting, drive it to the cliffs!”

“Is it because you’re lonely?” one well-meaning boy asked me one day. I couldn’t make him understand that I was just “playing Sinbad,” as my mother always called it, even if on odd days I was Jason aboard the Argos, or Perseus evading Medusa.
No, I wasn’t lonely. I was Sinbad – Sinbad, who lead men against monsters, and dueled sorcerers to the death.

sinbad and skeleton

***

“I was blessed with parents who indulged me and my interests. My father set aside the entire garage so that I could animate my own shorts, and my mother would help me construct my sets and build my armatures. Without their support, I probably never would have gotten into movies.”

–          Ray Harryhausen

Jason and the Argonauts has too many gods in it,” I once complained to my father. He laughed, and though I could hypersensitive at times when I was little, I got the humor in what he’d heard, and I laughed too. Gods, after all, were the only reason that movie worked.

“Yeah, you’re right kid,” my father said, sipping tea and eating popcorn. “They could probably cut a few gods out of this.” He knew what I loved – monsters, and the sword-wielding warriors who fought them.

But I watched anyway, as Triton pushed the rocks aside and allowed the Argo to pass. Then Jason fought the Harpies, and slew the Hydra, and dueled dead men, and I was sated. And I burned it all into my memories and dreams.

talos!!!

***

I’m nine years old, and I’m sword-fighting a great, multi-armed being in our living room. My sister helps me until she gets bored, which is okay, because I needed some of the crew to fall before this monster anyway.
I’ve just watched The Golden Voyage of Sinbad for the twelfth time. Something in me knows I will love his duel with Kali until the day I die. And though I believe I’ve improved the menace by giving my enemy twelve arms, I also know that, no matter how much I focus on it, the being in my mind’s eye will never match the vibrancy that Harryhausen gave to that expressionless statue.

But still I fight on, because Koura had to be stopped. Because Sinbad never lost.

kali

***

“I was never restricted. I was never told what to do.”

–          Ray Harryhausen

 I’m thirteen. I’ve only ever scribbled monster stories, written in No. 2 pencil onto typing paper. But now I’m working on something bigger, a tale about a guilt-ridden murderer, plagued by nightmares that lure him to the grave of his victim.

I look almost bored to everyone but my family. They see me writing all the time now – they know the actual intensity behind my efforts. My mother already calls me a writer. My father suggests books for me to read – they both read my stories when I go to bed, leaving notes in the morning telling me what they thought and what I could fix. They’re the only adults in my family who tell me I should keep going. All the others laugh as soon as I tell them that I want to be a writer when I grow up. One aunt tells me: “But you don’t have anything to say!

I say she should go fuck herself. My father laughs, then takes away my phone privileges.

***

My sister starts writing too. She’s a lot better at it than I am. For a fleeting second I’m jealous, then I chastise myself because it’s clearly important to her that I like it, and it’s plain to anyone that she’s got more talent at it than I do.

Soon I realize I don’t really mind at all anymore that she’s a better writer than I am. Because the creatures I conjure in my stories make my heart beat like a timpani, and though no one else I know will feel that way over inhuman giants, I do, and it’s enough.

majestic monster

***

I’m at Boy Scout Summer Camp. I hate summertime – I could never tolerate the heat as a kid – but I’m pretty good at scouting. I can light a campfire without matches, shoot five out of five clay pigeons from the air, and I’m the sole reason our troop won our knot-tying event. But I’m also the nerdy kid in glasses, so none of the other kids congratulate me. When our raft ride down a river goes badly, I’m blamed because I can’t steer us away from the riverbed brush fast enough. The boys complain to me for an hour and a half. Our assistant scoutmaster, an asshole named Hank, berates me as well until we make landfall. As I start to lift my end of the raft, Hank lifts it high enough that I can’t reach it, then waits a beat to chastise me, so it’ll look like I’m just walking while everyone else carries. Hank is in his forties, and I’m eleven.

He’s still bitching when we get to camp, how “Sean decided to take a nap while we hauled the raft up the bank.” He’s going on and on. We break for fifteen minutes before mess; I retreat to my tent, find an old issue of For Monsters Only! my father has had since he was my age. I love it for the biography of Ray Harryhausen.

Hank snatches it away. “You need to pay more attention,” he says, with the weird half-smile he always had. He says it like he’s mildly frustrated with me, like I’m a chronic nuisance. He’s holding a piece of my heart in his hands, crumpling it like my father’s monster magazine is trash. “Is this what you were daydreaming about when we were in the river?”

“Hey!” Mr. Chuck calls from his tent. Chuck’s the scoutmaster. He’s a Creek Indian, and the only parent I know who scolds his kid for not growing his hair out. Chuck is fond of me, because I always achieve my merit badges on my own. I don’t have nearly as many as the other boys – it takes time to earn badges when an army of your parent’s friends aren’t earning them for you, Chuck likes to say. I love Mr. Chuck.

“That boy pulls his weight,” Chuck snaps. He’s sitting on a cot, recovering from a twisted ankle he got the other day. “He does it a lot more than you think.” He’s getting upset by Hank’s automatic dismissal, an almost imperceptible shaking of the head, but he keeps his irritation to his eyes. “He’s the kid won us knot-tying, and he knocked his swimming requirements out in half the time the others did. You ain’t started cooking yet; give him his magazine back.”

Hank stands still for a moment, looking at Chuck like the scoutmaster had bitten into a baby. Then he hands me the magazine, one flex away from just tossing it to me. Chuck lies back down almost immediately. The boys, sitting around the picnic table, sound like they’re complaining about something. Ray Harryhausen’s monsters dance on cheap, yellowing paper. I smooth out the wrinkles Hank made as I read.

cyclops vs dragon

***

Koura hamstringed the griffin in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and because of this, the evil cyclopean centaur was able to strangle it and beat it to death. And in the evil monster’s victory, I saw every unfair teacher I had, every hyper-critical relative I knew, every bully who arbitrarily shoved me as I got in line for recess.

griffin vs centaur

And I saw Sinbad leap upon the centaur and strike it down. The bullies win a lot. But not always.

centaur

***

I have my arm around a girl in the front seat of her car. I won’t drive until college; I’m not popular, but people seem to like me, this girl in particular. We’re best friends, and almost more, but in six years I’m going to torpedo a budding romance between us through my own indulgent moodiness and selfishness. But right now we’re leaning against each other, talking about movies and aware of our touching shoulders. She has my hand in both of hers – she has a habit of counting my fingers. At sixteen I alternate my gaze between her lips and her cleavage. We won’t kiss until five years from now.

I’ve asked her what her favorite movie is. She goes on for a while about “The Man from Stony River,” an admittedly well-made movie that clearly spoke to something in her. She’s running her fingers in the grooves between my own, tracing the outline of my hand as she goes. She has blond hair that makes me think of sun-baked wheat.
“How ‘bout you?” she asks when she’s done. She curls my fingers, one by one, into a fist. This seems to amuse her; she grins while she does this. Even in the dark, I can make out how breathlessly red her lips are.

“When I was little,” I tell her, “you couldn’t convince me there was a bigger movie hero than Captain Sinbad…”

sinbad

***

The Ymir never wanted this. Kidnapped from home, borne in an alien world, mutated to freakish proportions, it is hounded by a cruel race and driven to flee atop the mighty Coliseum. The arena, where many helpless victims before it were slaughtered for the pleasure of bullies, will serve as its deathbed.

The peaceful, defensive creature screams in outrage, begging to be left alone. The humans shoot it down with rockets, and with an innocent cry, it falls and dies.

I empathize, probably more than I should, but the poor monster’s fate resonates with me. I’m twelve, and a bully has given me a bruise on my cheek. I knocked him down in turn with a shove. His friends took offense and broke the glasses I wore back then, snatching them off my face and snapping them in two. In a weird twist, my eye doctor will soon tell me I don’t need them anymore anyway.

The Ymir was an innocent. The humans forced their evil onto it, so they wouldn’t have to feel it themselves.

ymir

***

We almost had a romance. We’ve kissed occasionally, we hang out and cuddle and talk for hours on the phone. But I’m twenty-two and oversensitive, and like most men of my age and my temperament, I over-think things when I should really just let them be. Petty resentment borne of old adolescent jealousies scuttles our progress. I keep her at arm’s length, attack her with my words when she calls me out on it. She’s more patient than she should have been, and she tells me she’s no longer interested in us being together. I tear our friendship to shreds with just a few vicious words. I’m the bad guy, plain and simple, and I’m the worst kind – I’m the villain who thinks he’s a victim. A bully.

We talk only sporadically ever after. Over the next four years, I can count the number of times I see her on one hand.

The griffin fought for Koura as much as it fought for anybody, and he slashed its leg and left it to die. She was my best friend, and after she’d given me all she could, I pushed her away because I wanted more. Over the next few broody months, I still think about Sinbad and Jason and Perseus. I still daydream adventures to stick them in.

When I was little I was always in Jason’s and Perseus’s place. But for some reason, it feels more naturally to imagine I’m Sakura, the sorcerer who feigned friendliness, and threw the sailors who helped him to the monsters of Colossa.

I was her best friend, and I left her in the cold. Then again, I’m a grown man who still daydreams about pirates and monsters; she deserved a lot more room in my head.

I watch The Golden Voyage later that week. I wonder a little if I see it the same way as I used to.

prince koura

***

It wouldn’t have worked out, not as well as it does with the girl I end up with later. The first girl had liked me, but there was never any doubt in her mind that pirates and monsters were not for grown men.

The other girl I meet at a party. I say things that make her laugh, I get drunk enough to call a guy out when he tries to wedge himself between me and her. It’s a good night.

We don’t see each other for several more months, until a New Year’s party. She was blond last time – she’s a brunette now. But she remembers me. Good sign. She remembers something else, too:

“You like movies about Captain Sinbad, right?”

Better sign.

I can see myself falling in love with her.

parisa

***

I once found little glossy photographs of Ray Harryhausen’s armatures, in the back of an old antique shop. They were beautiful – I’d even call them sacred. The figures in the photos are posed on a desk, in the perfect angle to see their proportions by. Knowing their true size, in a weird way, makes them so much more real to me. I’m twenty-two.

One photo shows the man himself, smiling, aged, kind and properly grandfather-like. I buy the lot: they’re still in a lockbox at my parent’s house, in the closet of my childhood bedroom. I may keep them forever, even though I don’t want children. Maybe I’ll have nieces and nephews to give them to one day. Or maybe I’ll happen to have them in my pocket when I finally keel over. I’m good with either eventuality, really – it’d be a mortal sin if they went to someone who doesn’t understand how precious they are.

***

The woman I love and I aren’t together anymore. Both of us are caught up in life events that don’t leave enough room for the other. We still live together, we still love each other, but we sleep apart, work apart, live our lives in different directions. I see her maybe thirty minutes a week, to be truthful.

She knocks on my door when she gets home. It’s one of those rare moments when we’re awake and in the apartment at the same time. She’s had a busy, stressful day; she takes advantage of my presence to vent. She notices I’m not as attentive as I usually am.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, knowing it isn’t something as trivial as another rejection email. If I printed them out I’d have a small mountain; if I took each one personally, I’d be the world’s biggest alcoholic.

“My idol died,” I tell her, simply. She immediately knows who I mean. The only celebrity I ever said I’d actually mourn. The man who invented my imagination.

skeleton

“Oh, baby,” she says, and hugs me. I feel silly, getting sad over a man I never met. But I’ll miss him. I really will.

She hugs me. She has red hair now – she loves dyeing it. She’s wonderful. I don’t tell her that enough. Luckily I’m not so self-absorbed I don’t tell her then. She kisses my forehead, and I feel better. I’m not as good of a friend to her as I should be, but I’m so damn grateful for her. It seems like a crime to be sad around her – she always makes things around her better than they were before.

I hug her back, and tell her again that she’s wonderful.

***

The Rhedosaurus barrels across the screen of my laptop. I’m two beers deep, and the movie’s barely half over. I have four more DVDs to get through.

rhedosaurus

I pop open another beer. The bottle cap flies over the screen. The Rhedosaurus looks ready to tear into me.

“Here’s to you, buddy,” I say. I’m asleep before they even kill the monster, like I was when I first saw It Came From Beneath the Sea! when I was ten, though there wasn’t any alcohol involved back then. Just the same childish stubbornness I have now, that tells me I’m not sleepy, not really. I can keep watching…just…let me see this last part, before…before…

…before I have to turn it off…

it came from beneath the sea

***

Goodbye, Mr. Harryhausen.

You had the rare ability to bring your dreams to life before the eyes of others. And you did it before the eyes of millions.

Goodbye.

I’ll miss you, Mr. Harryhausen.

I’ll miss you so damn much.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Ray Harryhausen

Halloween Twitter Serial – Update

I’m thinking of expanding the format, so that the five-tweet-a-day regimen will be a minimum requirement instead of the standard. That’ll require more attention from me, but my ADD ass needs a little exercise in commitment anyway.

Bonus excerpt from what I’m working on: “The monstrous insects crawled, nightmare acolytes of the damnable tower.”

I don’t have a great opinion of most of what I write, but if anyone else ever uses that line, I swear I’ll sue. Even I think that’s a good’un.

– Sean, The Awful Writer

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Filed under Halloween Twitter Serial