A Few Words With Jim Johnson (Wrestling Promoter)

Jim Johnson was, at one time, one of the most powerful wrestling promoters in the south. During the territorial era of the sport, Jim was a major player in Western Tennessee Championship Wrestling and Mid-Tennessee Wrestling. He was gracious enough to sit down and talk to me about his early years in the business, and the infamous 1982 Jack Steele incident, where Johnson and several others allowed a wrestler to be beaten to death by angry fans.

 

 

 

Q: How did you get into wrestling?

 

A: Well, I was cleaning office buildings in Memphis…about 1970. One of the places I did belonged to Western Tennessee Championship Wrestling, the big promotion at the time.

 

Q: Can you explain what you mean by “promotion”? For the listeners who don’t know much about wrestling?

 

A: A promotion is a company. Like WWF. Back then, there wasn’t one or two big promotions like there are today; there were a bunch of little ones, and they were regional. You know…self-contained.

 

Q: You caught the eye of WTCW promoter Jerry Barnett. Correct?

 

A: Yeah…Jerry was a big ‘ol fat bastard. Loved the guy. He’d be in his office late every night and we’d talk while I was taking his trash out. One day in 1971, he asked me, “Jim…you ever think about wrestling?” [Laughs] I said “Hell no. What’d I wanna do that for? Get my ass kicked every night? Shit.” That’s when he explained the business to me.

 

Q: That it was fake?

 

A: Pretty much.

 

Q: What happened from there?

 

A: Well, Jerry put me in a match against one of their lower card guys. September 15, 1971. We were at the Memphis Coliseum taping for TV, and I didn’t do very well. Jerry liked the promo I cut, though. He said I was a big loud mouth son of a bitch and he wanted me to be a manager. I didn’t know how to manage. Basically, I’d come out to the ring with my guy, talk trash, help him cheat when the ref wasn’t looking. That kind of thing.

 

Q: So you were a heel?

 

A: Yeah. Bad guy.

 

Q: You did well.

 

A: I did. I got good at the business. I’d help Jerry come up with ideas and things like that.

 

Q: When did you go to Nashville?

 

A: 1976. The promotion there, Mid-Tennessee Wrestling, wasn’t doing too well, so he thought he’d send me and I’d help turn it around.

 

Q: Did you?
A: I did. By 1978 we were big. We’d do shows in Chattanooga, Louisville, even Knoxville. Sometimes I’d drive back to Nashville from a show at two in the morning with thousands of dollars in the glovebox.

 

Q: Did you carry a gun?

 

A: Of course I did. Like I said, I’d be on the road late at night all by myself with thousands of dollars. I also needed it just in case people got too crazy.

Q: At the shows?

 

A: Yeah. You gotta realize, wrestling was a big deal in the south back then. No one knew it was fake, they thought what they were seeing was real, and tempers flared. Me being the heel manager to heel wrestlers, sometimes I’d have to show my gun to keep fans from mobbing us when we were trying to leave the arena.

 

Q: When did you become the promotor?

 

A: 1979. The guy Jerry had me working under, Big Bill Fisk, had a heart attack and I took over. Jerry wanted to buy the promotion out, but I wouldn’t let him. [Laughs]. I liked what I had going.

 

Q: When did you meet Jack Steele.

 

A: [Sigh]

 

Q: I’m…

 

A: I met him in 1980. Jerry gave me a call and said he had this new guy who was gonna be big, but that he was a babyface [Good guy] in Memphis and he’d do better as a heel. Asked if I’d take him. I said yes. That was Jerry’s way of paying me back for not selling out.

 

Q: Can you tell us a little about Jack?

 

A: He came into my office his first day in town. Big dumb bastard with blond hair. I honestly think he was kind of retarded.

 

Q: He was difficult to work with?

 

A: Very. Very difficult. Couldn’t follow direction. Didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Rough.
Q: He liked hurting people, right?

 

A: Yeah, he did. Sadistic. In wrestling, you have to put your trust, and your faith, in the other guy. It’s like a highly choreographed danced. You’re flying around, throwing punches, kicking…and it’s all faked, but you have to know how to do it, and you have to care enough about the other guy not to actually hurt him. I can’t tell you how many times guys would have heat [Animosity] between each other, and take it out in the ring. You don’t pull a punch and let it land real, what are we supposed to do? All you have to say is “It was an accident, boss,” and I don’t know any better. Jack…he’d hurt people. You can slap and hit someone and make it not hurt, just like they did in vaudville. Jack wouldn’t do that. He’d hit you for real. He’d really choke you. When he’d pick you up to do a body slam, he’d squeeze your balls just because. There was something wrong with him. After a while, no one wanted to wrestle him.

 

Q: Why didn’t you fire him?

 

A: We had a contract. We signed it on July17, 1980, and it was up on July 17, 1982. I didn’t have the money to deal with lawsuits or anything like that, so I usually let guys ride. I did the same with him. I took him aside and chewed his ass a little, but that didn’t do anything.

 

Q: He was also successful, though.

 

A: Well…yeah, he was. I don’t know what it was about him, but he got more heat from the crowd than any other guy I’d ever seen. I was still playing the heel manager, so naturally he was under me. Standing by the ring while he wrestled, I got…you know…a vibe from the crowd. They hated him.

 

Q: What happened with Bob Stevens?

 

A: [Sighs] Bob was our top face. He and Jack had a feud during most of 1981. In November they had a match in Louisville. I was at ringside, and I distracted the ref so Jack could hit him in the groin. Well, he really hit him in the groin…so hard, Bob never wrestled again.

 

Q: Were you mad?

 

A: Was I mad? Hell, yes, I was! I suspended the big dumb fuck and almost didn’t bring him back in, but I needed money.

 

Q: He was still doing…still hurting people?

 

A: Yeah.

 

Q: And you had enough of it.

 

A: I did. I called Jerry and let him have it. He calmed me down and we talked. I told him I wanted the bastard to get a dose of his own medicine, and would he help me. He said yeah, what did I have in mind? I told him, and he agreed.

 

Q: You went to Memphis?

 

A: Yeah, me and Jack. The champ in Memphis at the time was Davey Gaston. Young, good-looking kid. Everyone loved him. Me and Jerry set them up in a series of matches during June and July. A feud angle. Hyped it. The last match was July 15. The crowd was all fired up from Jack, and me talking trash. At the end of the match, I had Jack give the kid a low-blow when the ref wasn’t looking. He won. And to add insult to injury, it was a title match.

 

Q: I bet the crowd wasn’t happy.

 

A: No, they weren’t. I went backstage with Jack to get ready to go. While I was in the locker room, Jerry had a few of his guys go out into the crowd and start working it, you know? “That son of a bitch took the title! He’s a cheater!” I left the building about fifteen minutes later and got in my, went around to the side door, and parked. About fifteen people were waiting for Jack to come out.

 

Q: What was your plan?

 

A: I was gonna let the crowd play a little. Then I was going to walk up with my gun, wave it around, and, when they were gone, I was gonna scrape Jack off the ground and take him home. On the way, I was going to tell him exactly what happened and why. Then on the 17th, I was going to decline to renew his contract.

 

Q: Only it didn’t happen that way.

 

A: No. Jack took a shower, so he was a little bit in coming out. When he finally did, the crowd grabbed him, dragged him out, and started in. I remember he was on the ground trying to cover his face, and everyone was kicking him, hitting him, screaming. I waited five minutes, then I got out, ran over, “Hey, get out of here, you rednecks or I’m gonna shoot you!” The people scattered and…

 

Q: Jack was dead.

 

A: Yeah. Southerners took their wrestling very seriously at the time. Someone brought a knife. Or a couple people brought knives. He was stabbed something like sixty times. His nose was broken, his head was caved in. Someone tied a noose around his neck, so they think they were going to lynch him before I came up.

 

Q: What did that do to you? As a promoter?
A: It ended me. There was a big investigation. I went to jail, Jerry went to jail, his buddies went to jail…even though they weren’t a part of the mob, you know? They just whipped them up and told them where Jack was gonna exit from.

 

Q: How long were you in jail?

 

A: Three years. I got out in August 1985 and got a job working for Jim Crockett in the Carolinas. I couldn’t be on TV because of who I was, but I worked in creative. I stayed when it became WCW but left in 1989. Since then, I’ve been out of the business.

 

Q: Do you regret it?

 

A: What I did to Jack?

 

Q: Well, that and being away from wrestling.

 

A: Well, yeah. I didn’t mean for him to get killed. I just wanted him to get roughed up a little. As for being away from wrestling…yeah, I miss it sometimes, but with the way the business is now, you know, like a big corporation…I don’t think I’m missing much.

 

Thanks again to Jim Johnson.

Back in…Red?

Looks like I haven’t posted in a while. Shoot. Well, I have a good reason, honest: I moved from Sunny Central Florida to Snowy New York State (Albany area, to be exact) and started a new job. My relationship of four years also came to an end. No need to comment how sorry you are (all my beautiful, adoring fans). Hey, shit happens, right?

 

Since I last posted I have self-published a novella and am gearing up to self-publish my novel: Dracula 1912, which takes Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Dr. Van Helsing and drops them onto the RMS Titanic. How’d that happen, you ask? Well, you gotta read the book.

 

That novella I mentioned is doing pretty well. Downloaded tens of times. The Rocking Dead: Seasons 1-3. It’s a spoof of The Walking Dead. Yeah. That’s all you need to know right there!

 

Anyway, sit tight, I’ll be back and posting my drivel regularly before you know it.

 

P.S. Almost forgot to mention: I’ve also been busy editing the Third Spectral Book of Horror Stories for Spectral Press, a project that means a hell of a lot to me. The Spectral BoHS series is like a modern day version of the Pan Book of Horror Stories…or any of the other old horror anthology series’. I’ve selected some fantastic tales by some wonderful writers. It should be out in October. More later. – JR.

 

 

Guest Post: The Corruption of Horror by Anthony Servante

This week’s guest post is an insightful examination of the genre by a man who knows his stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Anthony Servante.

 

***

Horror is a state of aversion when we do not look away. What repulses us attracts us as well. That accident on the freeway where the body parts liter the lanes. We crane our necks to catch a glimpse as the police wave us by the crash scene cordoned off by several glowing red flares. It is at once horrific and beautiful. The lovely lights of flares and headlights covering the awful scene. It is a voyage by Marlow down the beautiful Congo River that leads to the “horrors” experienced by Kurtz in HEART OF DARKNESS (1899) by Joseph Conrad. As readers, we take a trip through beauty to reach horror when we read works of the Grotesque.

 

Allow me to elaborate.

 

When balanced with Beauty, Horror becomes a work of Romantic Grotesqueness. Since the Age of Romanticism (late 1700s to mid 1800s), the literature of the Grotesque exemplified Nature and Imagination paralleled. Nature defined as that lovely mountain, but also that tiger ripping a man apart, for both are part of nature. Add Imagination as the exaggeration of nature, the writer describing the haunted mountain or the demon substituted for the tiger. In the author’s hands, nature takes on Grotesque elements, namely, Horror and Beauty, for both become as one in the work of the writer. This is the literature of the Romantic Age.

 

In the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Mary Shelley, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we can see the original concept of Romantic Horror (or the Groteque). In DER SANDMAN (1817), Hoffmann juxtaposes a mysterious figure who steals the eyes from sleeping children with a love triangle between the narrator and a potential victim. In FRANKENSTEIN: The Modern Prometheus (1818), Shelley compares the beauty of birth and life with the creation of a human being from dead body parts. In RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER (1798), Coleridge contrasts the wisdom of agedness with the teachings of Life in Death (a beautiful woman skeletal in appearance) and Death (appearing as a skeleton) who gamble for the life of the aged mariner. Here are the elements of Horror (child abuse, graverobbing, and man’s random relation to death). Here, also, we have a woman finding true love, a monster blessed with high intelligence, and a man who escapes Death to grow wise and pass along his wisdom to the younger generation who’ve yet to meet (that is, understand) inevitable death.

 

Today, however, Romantic Horror has been stripped of its element of Beauty. For the sake of clarity, I can list many authors who continue the tradition of the Grotesque (e.g., the Bizarros carry on the tradition, especially writers like Gina Ranalli), but in this age of ebooks and shock value horror stories (from film to paperbacks), Beauty has been replaced with Gore and Sensationalism. In my interview with Sarah Karloff, daughter of Monster Icon, Boris Karloff, she told me that her father didn’t care for the word “horror” to describe his movies; he preferred the word “terror”, the subjective reaction to horror, that is, repulsion. Think back to our example of the traffic accident, a freeway strewn with body parts: A terrified person would not be attracted, only repulsed. Karloff saw his films as terrifying, designed to scare, not to provoke awe. The Grotesque provokes awe. Horror alone provokes repulsion.

 

In the Horror literature nowadays Gore has replaced Beauty. In what I termed the Aesthetic Grotesque, a subjective correlative, Horror and Gore have become its own oeuvre. It provokes morbid fascination rather than awe or respect. We have the Snuff genre, Extreme Gore, and Torture Porn. It has become a form of Gore worship that exploits gory pictures and stories for their own sake. The abandonment of Romantic traditions in the literature of the Grotesque has given way to an individual appreciation (aesthetic) of that which would otherwise be repulsive. Today’s horror reader celebrates excess in blood and mutilation as an end in itself.

 

We witness this overkill in the cinema of violence where excess is a challenge that must be surpassed by each new film-maker who takes up the gauntlet (Japanese Manga horror gleefully ups the ante on the gore scale). It is more than “cult” literature and film; it seeks to replicate realism with its book descriptions and film special effects to tantalize both reader and film-goer to question the authenticity of the gory scene at hand. We’ve come to expect buckets of blood to gush from a wound Monty Python-style, even as our rational mind tells us there isn’t that much blood in the human body. It is a corrupted branch of the Grotesque that exaggerates the gore and relishes the deliberate elimination of Beauty.

 

But let’s be clear about the definition of “Beauty”. By this word I do not mean only the attractive. I also include well-plotted stories, well-developed characters, Grand Guignol as an outlet for mounting suspense (as opposed to an entire work of Grand Guignol, which is a contradiction of its intent). It is Salome carrying the head of John the Baptist as opposed to Quasimodo carrying the decapitated head. It is heroism in a zombie apocalypse. It is sacrifice to save a young girl from demon possession. It is the ying to the yang in meditation. It is balance in literary exposition.

 

So, besides balance, what is missing in today’s Horror market that breaks with tradition? Simply put—Beauty. In the movie THE WILD BUNCH, director Sam Pekinpah paints a work of beauty with his gory finale, a bloodbath filmed like a gentle ballet. It is not an easy task to accomplish, but Pekinpah was a maestro. He made Gore beautiful. And that’s what’s missing today: An attractive goriness. What we have instead is gore for the sake of gore, bereft of beauty or attractiveness. A zombie eats a human face for two pages. The writer pads the work with gore rather than provoke the readers’ desire to glimpse the horrific scene and linger. It is pornography without love. It is aversion without romance. It is a creepy guy on a long long date, where the girl dreads being driven home by this person. Very unlucky girl.

 

Lucky for us, the reader can simply close the book. And many a book of horror gets closed today. The lost art of creating the Grotesque by combining elements of repulsion and attraction remains elusive in the hands of self-published writers and small presses. There’s no perfect formula that I can give here for the perfect work of Horror. I can only observe and report the trends of Horror and Terror, for I very infrequently encounter a good work of the Grotesque.

 

But just to show that there are a few who can accomplish what the Romantics created hundreds of years ago in literature, I shall name a few authors who should be sought out and emulated: Hank Schwaeble, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Graham Masterton, William Cook, and Ray Garton. I must keep my list small for the sake of brevity on this piece of nonfiction. Should you wish to learn more about authors who echo the tradition of the Grotesque, visit my blog and see what’s new.

 

 

Anthony Servante is a retired college professor. He has taught English and American Literature. He writes literary criticism for a Literary Journal under his real name. Anthony Servante is his pseudonym for writing about Horror on his blog, the Servante of Darkness. Although he covers music, film, art, and poetry, his main interest remains the fiction of Horror.

His books include:

KILLERS AND HORROR: INK BLACK, BLOOD RED (2013), a study that compares authors who write fictional serial killers with real serial killers.

http://www.amazon.com/Killers-Horror-Ink-Black-Blood-ebook/dp/B00GC03P1I/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451993704&sr=1-3&keywords=anthony+servante

EAST LOS: Death in the City of Angels (2012), a Noir novel about a drunken detective who sobers up to find a serial killer beheading young gang members in 1970 East Los Angeles.

http://www.amazon.com/East-Los-Death-City-Angels/dp/1503236226/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451993929&sr=1-4&keywords=anthony+servante

Anthony Servante has also written for Serial Killer Quarterly (SKQ):

http://www.amazon.com/Serial-Killer-Quarterly-Vol-1-No-2-ebook/dp/B00MPUZS0K/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451993929&sr=1-1&keywords=anthony+servante

His blog can be found at:

http://servanteofdarkness.blogspot.com/

 

 

They Live: Review

 

They Live

 

 

I’m a reader. I watch very little television and very movies. When I was younger, though, I was a film buff. I saw many classic horror movies, from Fulci’s Zombie to Raimi’s Evil Dead. I prided myself on seeing those movies, the more obscure the better. Some slipped through the cracks, however, and I’ve been slowly seeking them out. Just an hour ago, I finished John Carpenter’s They Live. Released in 1988, it follows a drifter (pro wrestler Roddy Piper) as he discovers that the world is controlled by alien beings.

 

This is my review.

They Live is a political film. Carpenter was reportedly disenchanted with the rampant consumerism of the 1980s. He said in an interview that every time he turned on the TV someone was trying to sell him something.

 

Carpenter is fairly liberal, and the 1980s were a liberal’s nightmare. Ronald Reagan was president and political correctness didn’t exist yet. Everyone was all about making money and looking out for themselves. Scary.

 

Carpenter channeled that into They Live; many of the aliens are wealthy, powerful, or both, while the poor schlubs are human.

 

The first thing I have to say about They Live is: Overall, I liked it. It was effective and fun.

 

The acting though…

 

Look, Roddy Piper was a great wrestler. I’ll shout that from the rooftops. RIP and all that.

 

But he wasn’t an actor.

 

His performance was stiff and Shatneresque. His costars weren’t much better. In fact, the best actors in the whole movie were the bit players. I don’t know if they were actually good or if they just got less rope to hang themselves with, but I digress.

 

Despite the bad acting, the movie works because the premise is so damn scary. Piper uses a pair of special sunglasses to see the monsters in his midst. Everyone else…well, no glasses equals no sight. That, to be, is the most frightening aspect of the film. These aliens are living among us and we don’t know. It would be bad enough if they were hiding and planning to attack at midnight, but that’s not the case. They were interested only in exploiting earth’s resources. Therefore, we never would have known. We would have lived, loved, and pooped and been none the wiser. They controlled the media (billboards of beautiful women on tropical beaches were revealed to be simple messages: OBEY. CONSUME. MARRY AND REPRODUCE), the government, everything. And we didn’t know, wouldn’t have known…until it was too late.

 

The story moves at a brisk but reasonable pace. I would have liked at least another twenty minutes, though. A little backstory on the aliens would have been nice, but that’s a dangerous proposition: Too much backstory and they lose their mystery. Still, it would have been cool to know a little more. There was also a fair amount of action (Piper walking into a bank with a shotgun and killing aliens. Now that was fun!)

 

Taking the limitations of filmmaking in 1988 into consideration, the special effects were good. The aliens were genuinely…disquieting. The political undercurrent is a problem for me because I don’t believe every rich person is evil, as They Live seems to imply. However, possible classism is a secondary concern for me; the poor acting ranks number one.

 

All things considered, I really enjoyed it. Had I seen it as a kid, or even a young teenager, I might have loved it. Being a jaded critic…I’d give it three out of five. Definitely worth the hour forty minutes.

A Few Words with Ben Eads

CrackedSkyWS

 

I talk to horror novelist Ben Eads. You can find Ben and his work here: www.beneadsfiction.com

 

 

JR Q: When were you first drawn to horror fiction, and why?

BE: When I was eight years old. I remember my third grade teacher passing out little catalogs we could order books from. The cover of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark struck me. It was scary! I loved listening to my grandfather tell ghost stories, so I couldn’t wait to read more stories. For some reason I loved being scared.

 

JR Q: Did you have any teachers who encouraged your interest in literature?

BE: Aside from my third grade teacher, not really. However, when I was twelve, pushing my lawn mower around my neighborhood for Nintendo game money, I met a friend of author Richard Adams. He knew a lot of writers and was a writer of note himself. Everyone at school was reading the usual: Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz and John Saul. He introduced me to the work of Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Leiber, Philip. K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, etc… Every week he would have a new stack of books for me. I have him to thank for broadening my horizons.

 

JR Q: What was your first published piece of fiction? And do you think it holds up today?

BE: My first pro sale was to Shroud Magazine in 2009. They were kind enough to purchase my short horror story Full Circle. Like most writers, I don’t look upon my early work fondly. In no way does it hold up today. It’s a pretty terrible short story!

 

JR Q: What’s your most recent project?

BE: I just finished final edits on two short stories. One will be published in an anthology edited by Bram Stoker Award © winner Michael Knost. I’m really proud of that one. It’s more literary than horror. The other short story I’m equally proud of will be appearing in Crystal Lake Publishing’s anthology Tales From the Lake Volume: 2. The latter is straight up horror, and I get to share the pages with some of my favorite authors: Jack Ketchum, Rena Mason, Ramsey Campbell and Lisa Morton. Both anthologies will be published this year.

 

JR Q: Do you have anything in progress now?

BE: I’m currently working on a new horror novella. It’s chocked full of darkly sweet goodies! I’ve got a really good feeling about this one—two others blew up in my face before this one—and can’t wait to draft it, polish it, and submit it!

 

JR Q: Plug your work.

BE: My horror novella Cracked Sky is available from Omnium Gatherum Media, and has garnered praise and blurbs from the likes of Kealan Patrick Burke, Gene O’Neill, Mercedes M. Yardley, THIS IS HORROR, etc… It’s a heart-rending tale of loss, innocence, and the prices we pay for love. Cracked Sky has opened a lot of doors for me, and I’m over the moon to see it doing so well. Like much of my work: real-life horror meets the supernatural, coalesced by a sturdy foundation of emotions, and a faint light at the end of the tunnel.

 

 

The Shapeshifter Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

New Novella Features Native American Entity

Daytona Beach, Florida, January 4, 2016 – Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said that there is nothing to fear but “fear itself.”

That’s about to change.

Standing at 109 pages, the kindle exclusive “The Shapeshifter” from Joseph Rubas, a five year veteran of the horror genre, tells the story of an ancient entity who feeds on fear…by taking the form of its victims greatest terror. To one of its victims it manifests as slasher movie villain Freddy Krueger, while another sees it as a giant snarling dog.

Set in Harlow, Montana, a fictional village nestled among the lush, rolling hills of the Scandinavia Valley, “The Shapeshifter” includes as characters: Dale Parker, the sheriff, who was wounded in Desert Storm; Allen Sommers, a Native American handyman fresh from a stint in prison; and “The Killer” a mysterious hitman in Harlow for business.

Rubas, who is twenty-four, has been writing for over twelve years. His first piece “The Ghostly Hitchhiker” appeared in the literary magazine The Storyteller in 2010. Since, his work has appeared in a number of well-known publications including The Horror Zine (an online magazine that has published specific giants such as Joe R. Lansdale, Piers Anthony, and John Saul, and S.T. Joshi’s Nameless Digest. His short fiction is collected in “Pocketful of Fear” (2012) and “After Midnight” (2014).

 

Contact:
Joseph Rubas
jrubas91@yahoo.com
1830 S. Clyde Morris Blvd

Apt 42

Daytona Beach FL, 32119
Ph: +413-813-9781

###

 

Christmas Poem

The following is a Christmas-themed poem by Richard E. Wind.

So curl up by the fire and read on. It’s the holiday season!

 

My heart is divided in three

You, your brother, and me

As Christmas comes along

Gifts, feasts, and song

I keep trying to do my best

Hoping the world does the rest

To keep you safe and strong

Though everything around us is wrong

My heart is just too small

Too many fractures and falls

But, each day it grows a bit more

As I see so much of what’s in store

So as Christmas waxes and wanes

Lots of gifts, joys, candy canes

Darkness retreats under sun’s rays

And we’ll take it day by day

Beast

Free fiction.

***

“Oh, Justin, you know I don’t like you drinking those things!”

Justin Parker grinned with the sheepishness only a fifteen-year-old boy could muster, the long, tubular metal can raised halfway to his lips. In the sun falling through the sliding glass door to the porch, he was radiant, like an angel, and Julie Benson’s heart filled with love.

“Sorry, mom,” he said, “but I was thirsty, and I all I had was seventy-five cents.”

“That cost seventy-five cents?” Julie asked, disbelieving. She knew all about those damn energy drinks. Three and four dollars a pop. Filled with sugar, caffeine, and God only knew what else.

Justin only nodded. “Yeah. It’s new. Some sale or something.”

Julie held out her hand. “Let me see it.”

Sagging a little, Justin handed her the can over the island and she examined it. BEAST the red lettering said, and below that, a slogan: BRINGS OUT THE BEAST WITHIN.

Sighing, Julie handed her son back the can. “Those things kill people all the time. I don’t like you drinking them.”

“It’s fine, mom,” he said, taking a long sip. When he was done, he threw his head back, let out a satisfied ahhh, and smacked his lips. He looked like a drug addict.

Setting the can down, Justin came around the island and pecked her on the cheek. “I’m gonna go do my homework.”

“Your can.”

He was already racing through the living room and up the stairs. Since when did her son run to his homework?

Never. He was probably going to go text with that Krissy Mathers girl.

Julie sighed. As long as his work was done and turned it, it didn’t really matter, she supposed. When she was a kid, it was homework now.

Justin was a good boy, though. He always had his assignments completed, so Julie tried not to ride him too hard. She remembered being a teenager herself, and even to this day, she harbored just an ember of resentment against her own mother for the way she rode her.

Shaking her head, Julie picked up the can, felt the telltale slosh of one last sip, and paused over the trashcan. She rattled the can back and forth, lifted it to her nose, and sniffed.

The fruity odor was pleasant, but tinged with something else, something she couldn’t quite place. Wet dog sprang to mind, but that wasn’t it either.

What does he see in these things?

Justin and all his friends obsessed over energy drinks. First it was Red Bull, then Monster. She remembered how Justin used the green clawmark logo as his cellphone screensaver for years. He would also peel the stickers off the can and slap them on his wall, next to the Tony Hawk and Slipknot posters (she hated Slipknot, though Tony Hawk seemed a little shady too). Every time she took Justin to the grocery store, it was, “Mom, can I have a Monster?” “Mom, look, Monster four packs are on sale!” “Mom, I’m so thirsty, I need a Monster!” Monster, Monster, Monster, like it was the coolest thing in the world. When she was a girl, smoking cigarettes and listening to U2 was what the kids did when they wanted to feel grownup, now it was drinking Monster. She supposed she and her friends looked as juvenile and contrived as Justin and his friends sometimes seemed to her.

She raised the can to her lips.

Let’s see what all the fuss is about.

The warm liquid splashed onto her tongue, and a wave of nausea washed over her. Jesus Christ, it tasted like wet gym socks!

She dropped the can into the trash and went to the sink. She took a glass out of the cabinet and filled it with water. The taste was still there after a quick gurgle, so she started up the stairs. When she was done brushing and mouthwashing…

A crash on the second floor stopped her.

Justin cried out.

“Justin?” she called, worried.

Justin screamed.

Julie took the stairs two at a time. When she smashed through Justin’s door (ignoring the big red plastic stop sign and the “Parents use exit door” placard), she caught a quick glimpse of him falling into the gap between his bed and the wall.

“Justin!”

She started around the foot of the bed, but before she could reach her stricken son, her leapt up like a shot, landing on the bed and starling her so badly that she stumbled back a step, her hand flying to her racing heart.

Only it wasn’t Justin.

It was a…a…

The werewolf howled.

Julie couldn’t move. She was petrified.

“Woooooohw!” the werewolf screamed. It used Justin’s voice. “I feel great!”

It did a little dance.

It’s eyes fell on her.

Julie’s lungs shriveled.

“Hey, mom!” the werewolf said excitedly, “I feel awesome!

The room spun and Julie fell back; luckily the wall was there to catch her.

“Do you feel it too?”

Her mind couldn’t compute.

Seeing her terror (and puzzlement) Justin said, “Your hand.”

She raised her hand.

It was covered with bushy fur.

“Isn’t it great, mom? Wooooohw!”

Julie screamed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bradbury and One More for the Road

In 2009, when I was eighteen, I discovered Ray Bradbury.

 

I can’t remember where I first came across his work, but I do recall being enamored with it enough to check a collection of his out of my local library, a big ‘ol hardback totaling something like 900 pages. I don’t remember the title (I know, I’m terrible), but after a little bit of detective work, I’m pretty sure it was The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980). I didn’t read all of the stories, but I read most of them, and by the time I was done, I thought Bradbury was cool. Maybe not the best, but cool nonetheless.

 

Flash forward six years. 2015. I was rummaging through a local bookstore here in the Daytona Beach area when I came across a Bradbury paperback. One More for the Road, a modest short story collection gathering a few of his older works with some “newer” titles (the most recent, I think, was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2001). Of course, I snapped it up. It’s Bradbury. He’s cool.

 

Well…

 

I’m not going to lie. One More for the Road sucks. The stories are dry, brisk, and lack clarity: Several times I’ve found myself going back and rereading passages just to get my bearings. They’re missing an indefinable something that I remember the tales in The Stories…possessing.

 

No one can bat a hundred. Not even Bradbury. The man wrote fiction from the late thirties to 2012; of course he’s going to have a few stinkers. But now I’m starting to wonder if the problem isn’t me. Were those stories I read so long ago really as good as I remember them? Have my tastes matured, or simply changed? I can’t say. Looking back I remember really liking a few of those stories, especially Night Call, Collect and The Small Assassin. Did Bradbury’s style work for me then? Is One More for the Road Bradbury on an off day? Is Bradbury just overrated? I don’t know.

 

But I do know that One More for the Road just isn’t cutting it. I plan on finishing it, but it isn’t as magical as I hoped it would be, and for that, I am endlessly disappointed.

The Face of Horror

 

The man to have the most profound impact on the horror genre as we know it wasn’t Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, or even Edgar Allen Poe; it was Ed Gein, a mild-mannered Midwestern farmer.

 

I.                 The Movies

 

In 1960, British director Alfred Hitchcock terrified audiences with “Psycho,” the story of a man, his mother, and a rundown motel where pretty young girls (and nosey private eyes) disappear with alarming regularity. A stroke of cinematic brilliance, Psycho made 15 million dollars at the box office and was nominated for four Academy Awards. Considered one of the greatest movies ever made, it caused a controversy upon its release for a number of reasons, one being its “graphic” (for 1960) depiction of sex and violence; a woman is briefly seen in a bra, and two people are brutally murdered onscreen, their deaths in full view of the audience.

Despite the moral outrage surrounding it, Psycho set the bar for all horror films to follow, and was inducted into the Library of Congress’s Film Registry in 1992, deemed “Culturally or historically significant.”

Though it may be considered dull and slow paced by today’s standards, it was truly shocking stuff in 1960. It was (and is) one of those rare films that leaves its audience winded and shaking at the end.

Much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Fourteen years Psycho’s junior, Chainsaw premiered in the autumn of 1974. Made on a shoestring budget, the film, which follows a group of teenagers being picked off one-by-one by a family of backwoods cannibals, grossed 30 million dollars during its initial run. A contender for greatest film (horror or otherwise) of all time, Chainsaw’s enduring popularity has led to a number of sequels, several remakes, millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise, and even an Atari 2600 video game (one of the first horror-themed games ever released).

Unarguably one of the best horror films of all time, Chainsaw nevertheless owes much of its popularity to a misconception: as a marketing strategy, its director, Tobe Hooper, claimed that it was based on a true story. To this day, many fans believe that Leatherface and his depraved family of man-eaters actually existed. The fact of the matter is, they didn’t. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not based on a true story.

But, like Psycho, it was inspired by one.

 

II.               The Man

 

Born in 1906 La Crosse, Wisconsin, Ed Gein spent an oppressive childhood in nearby Plainfield. Completely dominated by his religious zealot mother, Gein was taught early on that the world was innately evil and that all women (with the exception of her) were whores. Neither he nor his brother, Henry, were allowed friends or a social life, and divided their time between school, chores, and nightly Bible readings.

Sheltered from the world until his father’s death in 1940, Gein began working odd jobs to help with household bills, making his money mainly by babysitting. In 1944, Henry Gein was killed in a brush fire on the family property, and Eddie has mother to himself.

But not for long.

Mother died in 1945, and Gein was crushed; he sealed her room off from the rest of the house and confined himself to a small room off the kitchen. During the ensuing years, Gein, who had always been an avid reader, began devouring lurid pulp magazines and anatomical texts.

Around 1947, he began visiting local cemeteries while in a “daze-like” state. With the aid of a mentally challenged man named Gus, Gein robbed something like forty graves, sometimes taking whole bodies, and others only choice bits and pieces.

In 1954, Gein graduated from grave robbery to murder. His first victim was Mary Hogan, a local tavern owner who went missing from her bar one night along with the cash register. Three years later, in 1957, a hardware store owner named Bernice Worden disappeared. Luckily, her son knew that Gein would be stopping by that day, and alerted authorities.

What the police found in that decaying farmhouse would haunt them for the rest of their lives: severed heads adorning the walls like fine art; tanned flesh stretched across lampshades and chair cushions; skulls sitting atop bedposts; and a box of female genitalia moldering in a corner. To cap it all off, Bernice Worden was in the kitchen, her headless body gutted and hanging from a meat hook.

The discovery of Gein’s crimes stunned the nation. An author named Robert Bloch, who lived a few towns over from Gein, heard about the story and made it into a book: “Psycho,” which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted. Tobe Hooper was also heavily inspired by the case (the chainsaw part was all him, though; trapped in a crowded mall during the holiday shopping season, he spotted a chainsaw in a hardware store and considered taking it up and cutting his way to the door). The events portrayed in Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never happened, despite what you might hear to the contrary.

Ed Gein, however, did.

 

III.             The Myth

 

Though he never wrote a word in his life, Gein did more to shape modern horror than almost anyone else; two of the most culturally significant horror films ever made owe their very existence to him. They are often referenced and paid homage to in films, books, and television shows, and frequently top various greatest ever lists. In the annals of crime, Gein’s case is still famous as one of the most bizarre and depraved. A number of biopics have been made about his life (such as Ed Gein, 2000, and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, 2007) and countless films have fictionalized his story, among them Three on a Meat Hook (1973), Deranged (1974), and Maniac (1980).

Unfortunately, Gein died in a mental asylum in 1984, never knowing the impact of his crimes. Today, his name is remembered by only a discerning few. His legacy, however, lives on.