Tag Archives: Horror Fiction

How Not to End Up Like My Characters

self defense

Why I Know This Stuff: 

Because of the genre I write in, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can go wrong. What terrible things can happen, and what events lead up to them.

Mostly, these are fictional things. Every once in a while, I’ll have a scene inspired by something that has happened to me. My writing is never taken straight from my life, but once in a while, there is a resemblance. This has led me to modify my own behaviors in order to avoid ending up like the people I write about.

Like Liam Neeson in Taken, I have developed an unusual (if slightly less lethal, and less extensive) skill set.

I know kicks and strikes, tactical holds and weapons takeaways. I know where to hit a person to disable him temporarily, where to hit him to injure him permanently, and where to hit him to kill him. I’m thankful that so far I haven’t needed to utilize these.

I also know observation techniques. My dad is a detective.  Awareness of his environment is a matter of safety, and even survival, on a daily basis.

While we were growing up, my siblings and I were constantly hearing, “Look around! Pay attention! Be observant!” It was kinda like Psych with less pineapple.

psych

I’m a daydreamer by nature, so this was a difficult skill for me to master.

I’m glad I did.

Why I Think It’s So Important:

I used to ride the bus down Division Street to and from the Plaza each day on my way to college.

spokanebus plaza

For those of you who don’t live in Spokane or don’t ride the bus, the Plaza is the Twilight Zone concentrated into the space of a mid-size department store. There was at least one fight almost every day. The local news ran stories about people getting stabbed there despite the fact that there was always at least one security guard on duty. The Plaza made me realize that perhaps my father was not quite the paranoid hard-ass I’d thought him to be.

plaza stabbing

When a guy sat down behind me on the bus one afternoon, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what it was about the man. He looked like he’d been in a fight, but so did lots of people there. He wasn’t very old. Early thirties, late twenties. I felt like he was watching me. Like an itch I couldn’t reach, being near this guy was making me antsy.

He asked me for a nickel and I gave him one. (Bus riders gotta stick together, ya know?) His gaze as he took it struck me as too intense. I wanted to change seats, but the bus was full. I thought about talking to the driver at the next stop, but what would I say? It’s not like he’d been rude or unpleasant. He was just creeping me out something fierce.

Well, I thought, it’s possible this is all in my head. Maybe I’m (God forbid) turning into my father. Besides, what’s the worst this guy could do on a bus? Stare at me? But when I got off the bus… That thought got my adrenaline flowing again.

My stop was the Hastings Lot. The end of the line. This time of day, I was often the only one in the parking lot. There were a few businesses around, but not close enough that I was sure anyone would hear me scream. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Dead battery. I might be in some deep shit.

I considered my options. I could go about my day as usual, and hope he wouldn’t follow me to my stop. We weren’t very far down Division. I decided if he was still there when the bus reached the Northtown Mall, I’d get off. The mall was always packed. I could yell for help if he came after me, maybe even lose him in the crowd.

He talked to me, off and on. Asking me questions. I don’t remember what they were. Normal things. Small talk. I didn’t tell him much about myself. My answers were vague, but polite. I didn’t want to be rude in case I was being paranoid. In case he was a nice, normal guy. Didn’t want to hurt his feelings for no reason. We reached the stop before the mall. He was still there. Still talking to me. I got out of my seat as the bus pulled up to the curb near the mall. I pushed my way to the front, and was the first one out the door. He got up, and followed. I was running the minute my sneakers hit the sidewalk. I jumped a short concrete wall around the mall parking lot, and sprinted for the nearest entrance. Better to be paranoid and alive than risk being tossed in a panneled van and driven to a basement somewhere.

I risked looking back once, and felt both vindicated and terrified to see him running after me.

Yay, I’m not crazy afterall!

Holy shit, this dude is really after me!

I beat him to the mall, and ducked in the Barnes & Nobel. I stayed near other people. Stayed behind the bookshelves. I could hear him cursing. I didn’t move for fear he’d see me looking around the shelves. After a short time, he left. My heart was still pounding. I was drenched in sweat, but I was safe. I kept an eye out for him as I left the mall, as I got on the next Division Street bus, and as I got off the bus at the Hastings Lot. He never reappeared.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed on the first bus. I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that it wouldn’t have been anything good. I hadn’t dropped my wallet. If he had wanted my phone number, that was a hell of a creepy way to try to get it. There just wasn’t any legitimate reason for him to be running after me. Traumatic and life altering? Not really. Scary? You bet your ass it was.

The end result was that I decided to educate myself. I went to self-defense classes, read books and studies on the subject, and bought pepper spray.

Now that I’m over twenty-one, I have a concealed carry permit, a Glock with night sights, and (thanks to my dad) a skill level with a handgun that falls somewhere between that of Clarice Starling and Stephanie Plum. (I’m not a marksman, but the gun doesn’t sit at home in my cookie jar either.) I have never shot anyone, and would greatly prefer not to do so in the future, but I firmly believe it’s better to have my gun and not need it than need it and not have it. My goal is to have a schema* for every scenario. If some wanna-be gangster rapist comes at me with a gun, I have the luxury of knowing my gun is bigger, and, frankly, that’s a load off my mind.

stephanie plum

clarice

 I constantly plan and re-plan what to do in various worst-case scenarios. I always, always looked at the people around me. Not because I expect bad things to happen, but because it makes me less vulnerable in case they did. Despite a few bad experiences, and the crap on the nightly news, I still believe most people aren’t going to hurt me. But now, I remember they have the potential to. And I trust my instincts.

*This is a cop word. It means a plan of action. Not sure if that’s common knowledge.

 Things for Beginners to Consider:

  • What are the laws in your state concerning self-defense, gun ownership, and concealed carry?
  • What local classes are available to you?
  • What are your personal values/beliefs, and what level of force are you comfortable using to defend yourself and the people you love?*  ** ***
  • How secure is your home? Your car? Your work place? Are there steps you can take to make these places safer?
  • What are your current personal strengths? (Are you a runner? Do you lift weights? Are you persuasive?) Develope the skills you already possess to your best advantage.
  • What are your current limitations? (Out of shape, freeze under stress, uncomfortable with confrontation even in extreme circumstances.)
  • Can you improve yourself in these areas?
  • Under what circumstances is it in your best interest to escape/evade?
  • Under what circumstances should you fight back?

* Do not purchase a weapon you are not willing to use. It’s not worth the risk of an attacker using it against you.

** Practice often with any weapons you do choose to purchase so you can use them effectively.

*** This includes things like car keys! I carried my keys a certain way in dark parking lots for years before practicing strikes on a dummy with them in a self defense class and realizing that the way I’d been holding them was totally ineffective.

Further Reading:

Online:

A summary of things to do (and things not to do) to decrease your odds of being attacked, based on an in-prison survey of rapists and date rapists:

whatnottodo

http://sorenthan.tumblr.com/post/26113337415/larrystylinsoneternal-opal-leaves-through

An online tutorial on how to escape and evade in an urban environment:

itstacticale&eu

http://pinterest.com/pin/545780048562052273/

Offline:

Fightlike a girl&win

Fight Like a Girl… and Win by Lori Hartman Gervasi

Local Resources:

(I know there are many other classes in the area, but these are some I have been to and would personally recommend.)

Classes in the Spokane Area:

These are free, and they’re amazing!

Spokane Police Academy

2302 N. Waterworks

Spokane, WA, 99212

Phone: (509)742-8100

survival mindset

  • Enhancing the Survival Mindset 1 (Women over the age of 16 only)
  • Enhancing the Survival Mindset 2 (Women over the age of 16 only)
  • Violence Prevention in the Workplace (Men and Women)
  • Personal Safety and Awareness (Men and Women)
  • De-escalation Training (Men and Women)

To register, visit:

http://www.spokanepolice.org/services/training/civilian/default.aspx

Classes in Cheney, WA:

These are great for all the striking practice they give you, and the atmosphere is fun and empowering. Everyone cheers each other on as you learn.

West Plains Karate &

Self-Protection Connection

422 First Street

Cheney, WA, 99004

Phone: (509)559-5432

Women’s Self Defense

westplainskarate

  • 5-hour Intro
  • 24-hour Advanced

For times, prices, and registration forms, visit:

http://www.westplainskarate.com/testimonials.html

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5 Infectiously Good Books: Fiction

As many of you know, I’m writing a novel that has to do with an epidemic. (Those of you who don’t know, go read https://theoccasionalmeatcleaver.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/my-novel-giving-an-old-disease-new-life/)

That being the case, I thought I’d share some books on the subject of infectious disease that I found inspiring:

blindnessthebook

1.) Blindness by Jose Saramago

This is one of my favorite books of all time. His characters hardly ever have names, there are no dialogue attributions… Truth be told, his novels look like Gertrude Stein’s poetry, but that is said with affection because I love them both. If I tried to mimic their style, it would look like something written by a not-too-bright second grader. When they do it, somehow it’s brilliant. Still, it can be disorienting, so if you don’t feel up to the book, there is a movie version.

blindnessthemovieposter

 In my opinion, both are modern classics and not to be missed.

blindnessthemovie

[Be advised, both are very graphic, and not to be watched or read with children. And, really, that goes for everything on this post.]

thestand

2.) The Stand by Stephen King

Apocalypse by government engineered flu virus, and that’s not a spoiler. That’s the first chapter. Does it get any better? This book is regarded by many as Stephen King’s best work. I’d certainly call it one of his best, but I find it difficult to play favorites with his books. This one is also a movie, but I can’t vouch for it as I haven’t seen it yet.

contagionbook

3.) Contagion by Robin Cook

Robin Cook’s mind is so twisted, his books make me shudder. Ah, how I envy him his disturbing imagination. Envy aside, this book will have you reading late into the night and avoiding hospitals. I guess that goes for all of his books, but this one in particular involves the 1918 flu, so it was of special interest to me.

contagionmovie

The reader should note that the movie Contagion has nothing to do with this book, and is a completely different story.

firsthorseman

4.) The First Horseman by John Case

I can’t stress enough how much I like this guy’s style. No frills, no self indulging tangents, just pure, edge-of-your-seat story. I love all of his books, but this one involved a cult trying to start a Spanish Flu epidemic, so it was good market research for me as well as a good read.

cobraevent

5.) The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Interesting villain? Check. Terrifying biological terrorism? Check. Images you wish you could get rid of, but can’t? Sooo many, but that’s part of a successful horror/thriller book. You know it’s good because it kinda makes you sick. Great, suspense-filled book.

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Another Little Piece of my Novel

securitycamera

{FYI: This post is not suitable for children. That will probably be the case for the whole book.}

This scene takes place 3 months after the last scene.

Hailey couldn’t help noticing the security camera. She felt so aware of them. Logically, she knew they were a good thing. Necessary even. They kept people safe, herself included. None of that changed her constant feeling of being watched. Her run-in with the late Frank Moore had affected her more than she cared to admit.

            Before the attack, she had thought of herself as capable and safety-conscious. It had been a wake up call. Now, she knew the mace in her pocket and being a decent runner wouldn’t do a thing for her unless she stayed alert enought to use them before it was too late. She’d since enrolled herself in every self defense class she could find. She learned kicks, strikes, observation techniques, a decent ammount of kick boxing, some tei-kwon-do, weapons take-aways. She’d amassed a mini library of combat books, her favorite being, Fight Like a Girl… and Win.

            After all that, she was finally starting to feel safe again. Still, she had some lingering psychological issues. She didn’t trust people. She was jumpy a lot of the time, and she found herself worrying about inherently non-threatening things like security cameras at the hospital where she worked as a janitor.

            Although, as her best friend Dahlia would say, “Just ’cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get ya.” She pushed her cleaning cart in the elevator and pressed the button for the main floor

                        *                      *                      *                      *

            Deacon was in the security booth watching the screens. This was definitely not his dream job, but it was the closest he could get for now. Some day soon, he would be a detective working high profile cases: putting together patterns no one else could see, finding evidence no one else had thought to look for. It was what he was born to do. His calling. For now, he sat in a concrete box and stared at security monitors.

            Still, he found it strangely thrilling to watch people who didn’t realize they were being watched. He guessed most people knew on some level that most of the hospital was being monitored, but he constantly saw people adjust their underwear and pick their noses. It just went to show how talented people were at ignoring the obvious. Sheep, that’s what they were, he thought. He watched in disgust as a copious woman in an enourmous, neon pink dress bought five Snickers bars from a vending machine in the maternity ward.

            He turned his attention to the screen showing the parking garage near the trash compactor and the freight entrance. The pretty blond cleaning girl was there. Her back was to the camera, which was how he liked to see her. She had such a sweet ass. You could tell even in scrubs. Her hair was in a ponytail today. He liked that better than when she wore it in a bun, but he wished she’d wear it down sometimes. Some of the other cleaning girls wore their hair down. She was throwing big bags of trash in the compactor. The way she moved was graceful, like a dancer. She finished loading the compactor and started toward the control panel to turn it on. On the way, she dropped the key. When she bent to pick it up, he got a great view of her backside and her v-neck scrubs top fell forward, giving him a glimpse of her bra. His body’s response was instant, tight, uncomfortable. He looked away and thought of the woman in the pink dress, before what was happening in his pants could become noticeable to Shantelle, the other guard in the security booth. He glanced back at the blond girl as she put the key in the slot and started the compactor. For no apparent reason, the girl stopped what she was doing, looking up at the security camera. Deacon broke out in a cold sweat. You can see her, but she can’t see you, you idiot! He told himself, taking a breath and letting it out slowly. Yet it seemed, for a minute, that she could see him. She stared at the camera, faint lines forming between her eyebrows, as though she was looking at him through the camera, wondering what he might be up to. She finished her work and left. He shook off the feeling of being discovered. That was just assinine. She didn’t know he was watching anymore than the rest of them did. As though to illustrate his point, a portly gentleman on the third floor screen looked around, and, seeing no one, scratched himself like a monkey with fleas.

security monitor3

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Warning Signs

theshiningtwins

There is something perverse about horror fiction, whether you’re writing it, or voluntarily picking it up off a bookshelf. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s anything extreme enough to qualify as a mental illness. (So you just tell those men in the white coats to stay back!) It’s just… slightly less than socially acceptable in some circles.

Most people like pleasant things. Pleasant smells, pleasant sounds, pleasant books… you get the picture. Whatever else you could call my writing, it isn’t pleasant. That’s not what I’m going for, but apparently because I gave up the black trench coat and eyeliner that were my go-to fashion accessories in high school, people are sometimes surprised when I start reading my novel and nothing about it is pretty, sweet, or nice. Many times, someone comes up to me after a reading and says, “I didn’t expect to hear something like that from someone who looks like you.” It has never been presented as a criticism, but I get the feeling the other person and I both leave a little bit confused about what just happened. It seems so funny to me, the thought of having some visual aide on my person to warn potential readers about the graphic nature of my writing. Like a poison dart frog warning away would be predators with its bright, poisonous skin. What should I look like, then? Should I start wearing my Mrs. Lovett Halloween costume every time I read at Auntie’s? Brandish my plastic meat cleaver as I step up to the podium, so anyone who is uncomfortable with disease and decapitation, can go to the bathroom, or browse, and then come back when I finish reading? Perhaps a sign. Or something printed on a tee-shirt. “Warning: contains homicidal fiction?” I think I could have fun with this…

For a while, when this first started happening, I did go back to my old way of dressing. Black on black on black with heavy eye make up and boots, but that doesn’t really feel like me anymore. Well, not most days. And anyway, I’m not sure that’s really what’s tripping people up. I’m still relatively young, and I’m female, and I can write fight scenes that make grown men say, “Oh, man! That is so gross!” Maybe this is unusual. Being from Deer Park, where lots of high school girls go hunting,* and help butcher livestock, it’s sometimes hard for me to say what’s normal. In any case, if I can give my dad, a police detective, or my brother, a fellow horror movie connoisseur, the heebie-jeebies, I feel like I’ve done my job.

claudia

* I don’t mean just tagging along. I mean they have the gun, they do the shooting, and they do the field dressing.

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My Novel; Giving an Old Disease New Life

Biohazard2
I haven’t put any of my own writing in this blog yet, so here’s the introduction to my novel in progress, Isolation. Tell me what you think. Would you keep reading? Please Comment.

Found during the 2012 renovation of Shady Hills Mental Hospital:

January, 8th, 1918

Dear Abelard,

            I beg your forgiveness for my lapse in our correspondence. Rest assured it indicates no waning of my fondness for you, rather an overwhelming increase in my duties as a physician, here in Shady Hills.

            I fear I may have erred in hoping for a quiet country life out West. The Spanish Flu, as I’m sure you know, (your own hospital having been ravaged by it not long ago,) is a formidable foe indeed.

            Of late, I fear there may be a still more sinister illness making its way through my little town. The main trouble is, I am, as of yet, unable to find any consistency in the symptoms or presentation. Whether it is all one virus or many, I cannot say with any confidence. It has been like an epidemic of madness. I’m certain you’ll think me overly dramatic, but I tell you it is so.

            Several patients of mine have, without warning, gone comatose. They sleep for days, weeks, months, and nothing can rouse them. Some have died in this condition. And yet, these are unlike comas I have seen in the past. The patients are unconscious, of this there is no doubt, but they stir, occasionally, or mutter things. They have been known to respond to music, or the voices of loved ones. They will sometimes squeeze one’s hand or move their hands and feet when prompted. To look at them, one would think they were merely napping, and could wake at any moment.

            No head injury, nor known illness can be found in any of them. Stranger still, There have been, mixed in with the occurrences of these strange comas, cases of extreme insomnia, hyperactivity, and even violent mood changes. Dyskenesia is also common, as are headaches (of the migraine variety, I believe), and occulogyric and facial tics.

            Everything indicates some malfunction of the central nervous system. I would be tempted to liken it to a burst of shrapnel to the brain, but my patients are civilians, without history of trauma, serious disease, or a congenital mental illness. I am at a loss as to what this could be, or how to proceed with treatment. Needless to say, this has everyone in town, myself included, on edge. I fear panic may ensue, if I remain unable to stem the spread of this infirmity, whatever it is. I pray, with your experience, you may be able to provide me some insight.

            Give my best to Elizabeth and the girls.

            Your Friend,

            Stewart Milhone

Shady Hills Gazette  May 2, 2012

Due in part to a renewed interest in public health following the Bird and Swine Flu epidemics, the mayor has decided to renovate the old Shady Hills Mental Institute. The Institue was built during the Flu Epidemic of 1918, and was originally intended to help house patients who needed to be quarantined. After the flu epidemic subsided, the town voted to keep the building open, but convert it to a long-term care facility that housed WWI veterans, people disabled by complication of the flu, and so on until the building lost it’s government funding in the 1960s. Current plans are to convert the building to a museum celebrating the town’s history and heritage. It is hoped that this will foster a sense of pride among residents and promote tourism. The renovations, beginning later this year, will be done by independent local contractor Frank Moore, the same man who renovated the high school gym so nicely.

*                       *                       *                       *

Chapter One

            Before the headaches, Frank used to sleep soundly. Kyra used to joke that a marching band couldn’t wake him. Now, he was plagued by headaches that made colors flash before his eyes in time with the pounding in his head. Headaches so intense he sometimes prayed for death during them so he’d be free of the pain. Nothing blunted the pain. The only thing worse than the pain was the insomnia. He couldn’t sleep and he couldn’t shake the disturbing ideas that seemed to come out of nowhere, invading his brain.

            He’d seen his doctor for the insomnia and headaches, but hadn’t mentioned the violent thoughts. The doctor dismissed both as products of stress and gave him sedatives to help him sleep. They hadn’t worked. He’d been awake for days now. He knew he was in bad shape. He was starting to see things.

            He was walking in the park now, well after midnight. He’d gotten in the habit of going out at night even though he knew it worried Kyra. Staying still would be like ceasing to breathe- he’d smother. It wasn’t something he wanted to do. It was a… what do you call it? A compulsion. He was like those guys who wash their hands thirty times a day and turn the lights on and off over and over. Recognizing it for what it was didn’t make it easier to stop. His marriage was starting to crumble. People he cared about were starting to think he was crazy, an asshole, or some combination thereof.

            The usual night crowd inhabited the park: teenagers drinking, druggies searching for a fix, and all two of the known hookers in town looking for customers. Lately, even they avoided him.

            He broke out in a cold sweat as a searing pain flashed inside his head, leaving as quickly as it came. He stifled screamed, not because of the headache, but because he saw a man up ahead on the path pull out a switch blade and stab an old woman in the chest. Shock and horror registered on her face as bright arterial blood spurted from the wound. With a throaty gurgling, she crumpled to the ground. The scream caught in his throat as he realized no one else was screaming. The teenagers swilled their beers and wine coolers, the druggies continued their hand offs, and the hookers trolled for lonely men.

            He looked again. The man was a Douglas fir growing beside the path. The old woman, a lilac bush. He wasn’t phased by how vivid it had been. Using the reactions of the people around him to determine what was real was all that still allowed him the appearance of sanity.

            He wandered downtown, following the river, to the old grocery store to buy a stale turkey sandwich or a candy bar. Not because he was hungry, more to pass the time.

            In the parking lot, he saw a blond girl carrying brown paper grocery bags. Before he was aware he’d changed course, he found himself following her. He hadn’t decided to, he just did. An uneasiness took root in his stomach as he followed her down the dark, deserted sidewalk. He was closing the distance between them. She was unaware of him, looking ahead at nothing in particular, humming something. He tried to stop, or turn around. He seemed disconnected from his body. Then he was behind her, wrapping her in a bear hug, knocking the grocery bags from her arms. He lifted her off her feet, carrying  her off the sidewalk.

        *                       *                       *                       *

            Hailey tried to scream, but the man’s hold was too tight for her to take a deep breath. She kicked wildly, flailing, hitting nothing. The man stumbled as she threw her weight around, but remained upright and kept moving, maintaining his hold on her.

            He dragged her to the alley. She swung her elbow into the side of his head. He dropped her. She landed hard, putting out her hands to catch herself. Pain shot through her left forearm. She scrambled to her feet, and turned to face him. Blood. He was bleeding. His forehead had split where she elbowed him, but his expression registered no pain. His face was slack, mask-like. His motions had an odd, spastic, mechanical quality.  He reached out, grabbing her right arm above the elbow. She kicked at his groin, but he blocked the blow. She hit him in the ear as hard as she could with her left fist, ignoring the pain lingering in that arm. A wave of pain so intense she almost passed out shot up her arm and through her entire body. It seemed to phase him, but he didn’t let go. With a cry of desperation, she kicked the sole of her left boot into the man’s stomach with all her remaining strength. He grunted, his face still blank, and lost his grip on her as the force of the kick pushed them apart.

            She turned and sprinted, glancing over her shoulder. The man was on the ground, making no move to get up. He shouted something, his head in his hands, his voice muffled. She could have sworn she heard him yell, “Run!”

            *                       *                       *                       *

            Frank sat in the grimy gravel of the alleyway. He couldn’t believe what just happened. He knew something was wrong with him, but nothing that explained this. He’d blacked out a couple of times, and sure, he had hallucinated, but he had never tried to hurt anyone. In the morning he’d call his doctor about all his symptoms. He’d get a second opinion, see a specialist if necessary. This had to stop. Now. The familiar ache started behind his eyes. As it grew in intensity, he couldn’t keep a conscious train of thought.

                        *                       *                      *                      *

            Frank opened his eyes, and saw his front yard. He sat on the porch, slumped against the front of his house. He was cold, covered with dew. How long had he been here? How did he get home? He tried to remember, but couldn’t. His head throbbed, a vague, distant pain meaning this episode was almost over. He rubbed his temples. Wet. Why was his face wet? He looked  at his hand, fighting to see through the fading pain. Blood. His hand was covered with blood. Not just his fingers where he’d touched his head. His whole hand. Soaked. He looked down at his sprawled, unresponsive body and found the same to be true of his clothes. Was he bleeding? If all this was his, it seemed like he should be dead. He took inventory of himself, as he began feeling sensations besides the all-encompassing ache in his head. Legs were sore. Maybe he’d picked a fight and had to run. Face and arms hurt. Why? It felt like someone etched random lines on his skin with a hot poker. He peeled off his jacket. His hands and his forearms were covered in scratches. Cat? Too wide and deep. Thorns? That didn’t seem right either. Nails. Fingernails. He was panicked, nauseous. This didn’t look like a fight. It looked like he attacked someone. Not many men had fingernails long enough to lay someone’s arm open.

            He jumped to his feet. He had to get away from the house. Away from Kyra and Justin and the girls. Away from the people he loved. He didn’t know when the next blackout would come. He remembered his earlier thought that no one should be able to lose so much blood and live. Oh, God, no. What had he done? No memories remained, not even fragments.

            He started running. At the park, he stopped, bent over from a stitch in his side, and started laughing. Not because anything was remotely funny, but because he remembered thinking the tree by the path stabbed the lilac bush last night. Of course! Why hadn’t he seen it before? He wasn’t really covered in someone else’s blood. This wasn’t real either. It couldn’t be.

            He stopped laughing and sat on a park bench, still panting from the jog over. He was finally catching his breath when two men with matted beards and paper bags holding their bottles of breakfast, weaved his way. One stopped, looking at him, elbowing the other. Both did double takes.

            “You two okay?” Frank asked, wondering if they’d ask him for money or just mug him.

            “I’s ’bout tuh ask you that same queshion,” Said the bum who noticed him first. The bum blinked, squinted, and stared hard at him, “That your blood, or the other guy’s?”

            “What? Look, I don’t want any trouble…” This man was obviously drunk. It was a complete coincidence that this guy shared his earlier hallucination. Coincidence. That’s all.

            “Look, pal, it’s o’vious you got into it with somebody. I’s jus’ wonderin’ do you need help… Hey, an’ how come yer face an’ arms is scratched up like that? Whud you do? Knife fight a bob cat?” Whiskey scented laughter drifted his way.

            Frank looked down. He was still covered in blood. His tee-shirt becoming stiff and brown as it began to dry. It was under his fingernails. The scratches on his hands and arms were starting to scab over. This was real. This was very real.

            He took off running again as the drunks continued laughing. He could not- he would not go on like this. He was dangerous, not in control of himself. The time to try to fix this had come and gone. He wouldn’t put his family or anyone else in danger any longer. He knew what he had to do while he still had even a little free will left.

            As he ran toward the freeway, it started to rain. By the time he got to the side of the road, it was pouring. He was completely soaked. As if sent by fate, a red semi truck came into view just as he stepped on to the sidewalk. As it got closer, he had nothing in his head but pounding blood and adrenaline. He didn’t let himself contemplate what he was about to do for fear he’d change his mind at the last second. As the truck approached, he had little flashes of family memories. Dancing with Kyra on their wedding day. Alicia helping him refinish the kitchen cabinets. Justin learning to ride a bike. Daisee taking her first steps. He timed it just right. When he stepped off the sidewalk, the driver had no time to react. And, for the first time in a long time, there was no pain. There was only darkness.

            By the time Kyra awoke, and went outside to get the paper, all traces of blood on the front porch had been washed away.

*                       *                       *                       *

            Hailey rolled out of bed and staggered to her tiny kitchenette. She heard the coffee pot kick on automatically, picked up her mug to fill it, and yelped in surprise. Burning! Her hand, her arm were on fire! She dropped the mug back on the counter as though it had bitten her. Last night! How do you forget something like that? Maybe she didn’t want coffee afterall. She went to the living room switched on the TV, trying not to think about the lingering smolder of pain. The face of the man who attacked her the night before flashed on the screen, startling her. What was that bastard doing on her TV?

            The anchor said the man, Frank Moore from the caption, died instantly after jumping in front of a semi truck early that morning. It was almost certainly suicide.

            She turned off the TV, pulled her hair back and dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans. She drove to the hospital, signing herself in at urgent care. As she sat in the waiting room, she decided she wouldn’t tell anyone he attacked her. What would be the point? The man was dead. He couldn’t hurt her or anyone else ever again. His family had enough to deal with. The nurse called her back to the exam room. She changed, relieved the short sleeves of the exam gown covered the finger-shaped bruises on her arm. The paper on the exam table crinkled beneath her every time she moved. Her mouth felt dry, cottony. She jumped when he doctor knocked, but kept her voice calm as she told him to come in. The doctor seemed rushed, and looked at her chart more than he looked at her. Today, that was what she preferred.

            “So, tell me what happened.” He still didn’t look at her, continuing to type on his laptop.

            “Oh, I fell. Not much to tell, I guess.”

            “Did this happen while you were on duty, or on hospital property?”

            “No.”

            “Looks like you were lucky.” He told her, after a short series of tests.

            Yeah, sure, she thought, Lucky. She nearly burst into hysterical laughter.

            “Your wrist is sprained, but nothing’s broken.”

            She nodded, trying to think of an appropriate response, but he didn’t wait for one.

            “The nurse will be back to give you a brace, and some information to take home. All common sense stuff. Don’t forget to ice it, take something to help with the inflammation. That sort of thing.”

            Pulling out of the hospital parking lot, her face felt hot. How could this happen? How could she have let this happen? Without warning, tears filled her eyes. They flowed in salty streams, filling her vision, forcing her to pull over. She screamed at the top of her lungs. She punched the steering wheel with her good hand. Then she saw her face in the rearview mirror. Puffy. Red. Defeated. No! She wiped her eyes. Dried her face. Continued driving, but she was no longer headed home. She pulled into the parking lot of the local YMCA.

            Behind the front desk, the teenage girl didn’t look up from her magazine. Hailey cleared her throat. The girl sighed, setting aside her Cosmo. She gave Hailey an insincere, customer service grin.

            “Hi! How can I help you?”

            “I want to sign up for kick boxing classes.”

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The Occasional Meatcleaver

TOMC

The first time I tried to write a horror story, I was in the second grade and I put my class to sleep by reading it out loud. Fortunately, I’ve gotten much better since then.  By fifth grade I was making people speechless rather than tired, and by college I actually started writing things people thought were exciting and scary.

After years of writing, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with anyone who is interested:

5 Ingrediants For A Successful Horror/Thriller Novel

  1. A willingness to read a wide range of published authors. It’s easier to know if your writing is working if you know what has worked for other writers. What did you like about their work? What didn’t you like? 
  2. Make it your own. Make sure your story has something unsual: A strange setting, an object used in an attack that isn’t typically a weapon. Something memorable. Throw in the occasional meatcleaver.
  3. Start with a ‘what if’ scenario. Even if you have great characters, they need something to do. This is the case with any genre, but what you should do next is more unique to horror writing.
  4. Imagine the worst case scenario, then try to take it a step further. Everyone thinks, “What if my car breaks down?”  so your job is to think,  “What if my car breaks down and my child is having an asthma attack in the back seat?”
  5. Make yourself and your readers uncomfortable. Everyone has topics they naturally shy away from, but the tension and discomfort these subjects can cause is what will make your readers stay interested and emotionally invested in your story.

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