Monday, October 22, 2007
With the Halloween approaching I thought I'd dust the essay off and share again.
Update: Language Warning. I get a bit potty mouth in this one.
Here's PEERING INTO DARKNESS.
When was the last time you were really scared?
I mean really fucking scared.
Not the quick adrenaline shock that comes when you slam on the brakes and narrowly avoid rear-ending the car in front of you, but that sick-to-your stomach, creeping feeling where you are absolutely certain that something awful and vile is going to happen.
True story –
In the year after college I worked for an apartment management company renting units and dealing with tenants. An older woman, the mother of one of the tenants, came in late one dreary September day and needed to get into her son’s apartment. We hadn’t received a rent payment in almost two months and we were fairly certain the guy had just disappeared and abandoned his apartment. The mother was there to pay the balance, remove some of his belongings, and sublet the apartment.
My boss, Steve, wanted me to go over and unlock the door and stay on site until the woman had finished and lock up behind her.
“Go now, man. You gotta see this guy’s apartment,” Steve said. The mother had to fill out some paperwork and I would have a good ten or fifteen minutes at the guy’s apartment by myself.
The guy – I’ll call him “Max,” as I’ve long since forgotten his real name – lived in a basement studio apartment right across from the laundry room of a small, older building with nine units.
Max was a LARGE guy. By large I mean HUGE – easily 6’6” or 6’7” and a flabby 250 lbs. Max was also a very odd guy. He liked to pace between the parked cars in the small lot behind the building for hours, and had taken to sticking his head out his door and glaring at each tenant as they tried to do their laundry. One tenant was certain Max was holding a hammer as he watched her sort her whites from her colors. Most tenants in the building began frequenting Laundromats.
Max’s studio apartment was the only one in the building located below ground, and it had no windows. None. No source of natural light. So, when I pushed open the door to Apartment A, the room was completely dark except for the light spilling in from the hall. The switch by the door failed to produce light of any kind, but I could make out a standing lamp next to a mattress resting on the floor. I stepped over some scattered magazines or newspapers and turned on the light.
And there I was, standing in a room covered from floor to ceiling in images of bondage, S&M and gruesome torture.
Neat stacks of cheap leather-fetish porn mags were against one wall, each about two and a half feet high. More magazines were scattered across the floor along with hundreds of pages torn from other issues and tossed casually around the room, and in piles so deep you couldn’t tell the color of the carpet.
Scotch-taped to every inch of wall was Max’s original artwork, his twisted creativity on display, where he could really amp up the action from the magazine photos and manipulate and control his sadistic fantasies.
A pencil-and-charcoal drawing of a blindfolded woman lashed across a bed of nails.
A woman nailed to a cross and hung upside down, done in marker.
He’d saved the most graphic of the images for the wall and ceiling above his bed. These were the last images Max would see when he went to sleep and the first thing he’d gaze upon when he woke up.
A crayon drawing of a woman with hundreds of small cuts across her back tied to a rack and suspended above a pit of fire.
Women with spikes through their breasts and with flesh pierced by dozens of hooks.
This isn’t what freaked me out. The explicit stuff didn’t really get to me. It was two other things, really.
One was the hammer lying next to the door, sitting there, waiting for Max to take it in hand to defend against perceived threats outside in the hallway.
The other was the small, child-like handwriting underneath the most prominently displayed and most violent series of pictures.
The writing on each picture read, simply: “SARAH.”
That really fucking got to me.
Sarah was someone’s daughter. Maybe someone’s sister or girlfriend. Someone’s mother, perhaps.
Max had decided that she suited his taste.
He knew exactly with whom he wanted to dance. These weren’t random, sick thoughts on paper. The pictures were simply a blueprint for what he really wanted to do to Sarah. She probably had no idea that Max was watching and plotting. I knew damn well that she had no idea her naked image was plastered on Max’s wall, or she would have run to the cops as fast as she could.
At that point, I could feel Max there in the room with me. His presence filled the small space. A door closed loudly somewhere upstairs and I got the fuck out of there, barely remembering to lock up behind me.
I ran into Max’s mother coming down the stairs and had to descend to the basement once again to open the door for her. Before going inside she turned, smiled, and said, “I’ll be just a minute. I only need to get some clothes. I don’t like to be in there.” She knew about her son. She understood when I told her I’d wait out in the hall.
As it turned out, Max had been committed to an institution and she was taking him some of his things. I hope he’s still there rotting, frankly, and that Sarah is far away.
The apartment was soon cleaned of the filth and closed up never to be rented again.
As for Sarah, I never did find out who she was exactly. I checked the tenant list for the building and didn’t find a Sarah listed. She’ll never know how close she came to, what I believe, was a monster.
When it comes to movies that really creep me out, it’s not the flicks with demons or monsters or undead stalkers in hockey masks that get to me. It’s always the film where the human mind is the real villain that scares me. Give me a well-done and cliché-free serial killer movie, like The Silence of the Lambs or Seven. I think it’s because of my short time in Max’s apartment, where I peeked into the window of a really dark and twisted psyche. I found that, for myself, the scariest of monsters lives inside the disturbed mind
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE LOST SQUAD
I originally hooked up with artist Alan Robinson in 2002 when I’d caught his artwork posted on the Digital Webbing message boards. A cross between Mike Mignola and Travis Charest, his style drew me in instantly and I wanted to write something tailored specifically for him.
I had already published two short stories in Digital Webbing Presents, the terrific anthology comic and training ground for comic creators, and had another accepted for print when I dropped Alan an email with the offer to write a short story for him. I wanted to create something that was a self-contained story but also had the opportunity as on ongoing for DWP.
Alan signed on for the eight page story and his art samples served as inspiration for the ragtag team of soldiers sent to fight the untold battles against strange beings and fantastic weaponry across the European battlefield. Alan knocked it out of the park with his designs and storytelling and has become a terrific collaborator and also a good friend. Thank you, Alan.
The Squad’s first adventure, UBER-JAEGER was published in early 2003 in Digital Webbing Presents #7. The story actually takes place after Operation: Crystal Ball and during the very real Operation: Market Garden when in September 1944, the Allies dropped behind enemy lines into the Netherlands to capture bridges into Germany. Our story opens as the boys parachute in and move to secure a very different objective from the rest of the Allied forces.
The reaction was strong enough to encourage Alan and I push on with the further adventures of the Lost Squad and expand the ideas. And, thus, here we are.
Thanks to Ed Dukeshire for giving the world the Digital Webbing Presents anthology and for the opportunity to try out our little WWII action-horror-sci-fi concept on readers.
I’ve been asked if this story is “in continuity” and the answer is, “Not yet. Wait and see!” We’ve got more in store for the squad and have outlined their adventures all the way until the end of the war. So stay tuned and thanks for reading.
May 2, 2007
So there it is. I hope that clears up any confusion. Anyone with questions can email me at the Mailcall! email address. I'm hoping that future editions of the trade (sales allowing) will include the proper introduction.