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I have dreams. Some good and pleasant; filled with fluffy clouds scudding in an azure sky, warm breezes, brilliant sunshine, picnic baskets, and sticky fingers. 
Some… not so good. In those dreams, the fingers are sticky, too; not with cotton candy, or caramel apples, but with blood. There is death, divorce, decay, mayhem, mischief, and maybe a glimmer of hope. Hope that I might wake up.
But what if I don’t? These are my Mean Dreams. They have teeth, biting with the carrion beaks of buzzards, fetid, foul, and smelling of the grave.  The air is redolent with their heavy scent.

They will linger long in your memory, too, these Mean Dreams.
Mean Dreams, an anthology of stories, coming by the end of 2015. 

 
Folks, my ebook, Casita 106 at the Red Pines, is on sale for $.99 for just one more day. Following are the opening paragraphs:

“On the highway just outside of Sedona, home of Arizona’s red rock country, is a retirement community, Shady Acres. Bisected by a road, the other half of the community was split off, and instead of retirees the property was used to attract vacationers as a timeshare. They called it the “Red Pines.” It was a way for the owner to keep a good revenue stream coming in year round. Too bad it was this side which sat upon an old indian burial ground–bulldozed in the name of progress, and profits. 

With stuccoed walls, and large windows, every unit accommodates four comfortably. Well, mostly. A single wide all gussied up is still a single wide no matter how fancy it is outside.

It’s the allure of the environment that draws people there. It’s close enough to town, but far enough away from the tourists clogging the area. It’s like camping in style: all the units have plumbing, hot and cold water, microwave, refrigerator, stove… All the comforts of home in the beautiful pines.

Or so Jack and Veronica Hartman thought on their way up from the Valley of the Sun. As timeshare owners, they had a membership in RCI (the preeminent exchange company in the business), which gave them access to thousands of properties outside their club. Having already used their points on a trip to Park City during ski season, they went looking for an extra vacation to get out of Phoenix’s mind melting heat.

Having waited so late in the year to book this trip, they had to take what was available: the Red Pines Lodge.

They hoped for a vacation to remember.”

Get your copy on Amazon:

Casita 106 at the Red Pines

“Isn’t there enough real horror in the world? Why do we need horror stories?” I have been asked these, and other, questions. In fact, I was once on the receiving of a fundagelical intervention because I had the temerity to read the Harry Potter books. In some circles (yes, folks, they’re still out there!), somehow the Old Testament command, “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” has come to mean “thou shalt not read the exploits of a certain boy wizard.” Never mind that it’s fantasy, never mind the fact that the stories are rife with not only biblical–dare I say Christian–themes. The books start with a mother giving her life for her only son. There is sacrifice, honor, loyalty, facing adversity, standing up against the odds. I could go on.

And we’re worried about fantasy depictions of magic? Talk about straining at gnats! But I digress. Yes, there is real horror in the world–rapes, murders, war, torture, sex slavery, racism, and on and on and on. The thing is: horror stories don’t add to the horror in the world; rather, they give us a vicarious outlet for processing those real horrors we experience in life (or see in technicolor on YouTube). The horror story, because it’s a story, gives a safe place to feel our fears. We can put on a movie, or curl up with a book, in the safety and comfort our own homes. If it’s too much, we turn off the movie, or put the book down. We are never really in danger, but the stories remind us of the one fact we seem to almost willingly want to forget: the world is not a safe place. We, especially we in the West, crave nothing so much as safety and comfort. And we become quite wroth when anything threatens that delicate equilibrium. We don’t like to be made to feel uncomfortable. But this is exactly why I both read, and write, horror stories. It’s when I’m feeling the most safe and comfortable that world is most apt to collide head on with me (or I with it). The horror story is a necessary tonic; it reminds us that things aren’t always good, that sometimes things don’t work out for the best in this world. Young men die (I just lost a coworker who was only forty-nine!), while greedy grow old. Babies are born crack-addicted, or with AIDS. Praying grandmothers, serving with all their strength husbands suffering from strokes and with dementia, die before their ill spouses…

It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

The horror story comes along, telling us, “Yes, this world is a wilder, weirder, darker, more mysterious place than you can possible imagine.” But you can survive. You will face obstacles you never dreamed of, and will overcome them. The thing is we have to be willing to be made to feel uncomfortable. I find that not many are. We eschew that which makes us feel uncomfortable. Instead of facing our fears, we often give in them labelling it wisdom. Whoever said this world is a safe place?

Now I’m not here suggesting that the horror story be all that we read; rather that we make it a practice to step outside our comfort zones. It may feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, but I think it’s ultimately rewarding. Beyond that, there is precious little other fiction where the veil betwixt the natural and supernatural is so thin–is rent in twain. Horror, and all fantasy fiction for that matter, treats the supernatural as de rigueur–as a matter of fact. Because we, at least those of us who call ourselves christians, live in those two worlds all the time everyday. To us, the supernatural is real. To the writer of fiction, while it might not be real, it at least reflects a worldview much closer to our own; namely, that there are forces which lie outside the realm of physics and rationality. Which can’t be neatly categorized or explained. Supernatural/horror/fantasy fiction, done right, allows for the most of epic of confrontations between good and evil with a capital “E.” In this way, we come nearer in approach to a biblical worldview than we would say a Tom Clancy, or a Lee Child, novel. In those, man is the architect of the evil depicted upon the story’s stage; in Tolkien, there is Sauron. In Harry Potter, Voldemort. In King’s The Stand, there is Flagg. Each of these, whether the author intended or no, comes closer to depicting the world as it is; namely, that there is an enemy, Satan, who is the author of evil. That there is in fact a transcendent evil originating outside our species.

This is why I both read, and write, horror stories.

Beyond that, these stories make us feel something–even if it’s revulsion. They are visceral, and as such can’t be ignored. Like a roller coaster, there are chills and thrills, but ultimately the ride comes to an end, and we get off. Hopefully, we take enough with us to counteract the effects of world which seeks to lull us to sleep, to pull the wool over our eyes. This is why I read and write horror stories.

How about you? Do you read horror stories?

  Folks, I’m excited today to feature an interview with newly published author, Chad Jones. According to Chad, he’s been writing stories since grade school. Most, however, he’s completed in the grey matter residing between his ears, leaving them there for his amusement. Sometimes, to his utter astonishment, these stories make their way out into the wider world. Casita 106 at the Red Pines is one such. Without further ado, here’s Chad:

(Following is a transcript of a telephone interview).

“Chad, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.”

“Sure. Flying monkeys couldn’t drag me away. Or maybe they could. Anyway. You wanted to talk about my new ebook, right?”

“Yes, that’s correct. First of all, you’re a Christian, right?”

“Yes, I am. Have been since nineteen eighty-eight. This has come up before, and I think I know where you’re going with this. See, here’s the thing just because I’m a Christian it doesn’t always follow that I’m going write quote-unquote Christian stories. Sometimes an idea grabs me, and I’ve got to follow it. The way I see, often the most Christian thing I can do is make the best art I can, and not just throw in explicit references to Jesus at every turn. Make sense?”

“I see where you’re coming from. So if I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is that a story starts with an idea, which comes to life in the characters, and grows organically from there?”

“I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Without living breathing characters there isn’t much to go on. Even a killer idea isn’t enough to save a story with characters that you, the writer, don’t care about. Really what I’m about is that I want the reader to feel something. So I have to feel it first. Even if it’s revulsion.”

“Speaking of, Chad, there are some revolting things that happen in your new story, Casita 106 at the Red Pines. I have to ask: where do you get your ideas?”

“Everyone asks this. Here’s the deal: we writers don’t know. Some things come from snippets of conversations I have with my wife. For instance, one time we were talking about the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. It got me to thinking what would it be like if zombie Ed McMahon came to your door with a check? That idle conversation sparked an idea that’s grown into a work in progress. Other times, it’s events. Casita came out of a trip my family and I took to Sedona, which is this really rich, beautiful, weird place. Part of a microwave really did fall on my wife, and I actually did have a dream about the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Those things combined in my head in this sort of frisson and Casita was the result.”

“That’s interesting. Thanks for the insight, Chad. But, c’mon, horror? I mean why do you write horror? Is that a very Christian thing to do?”

“I’m going to paraphrase the late C.S. Lewis here. He said that if one is a lawyer, or bricklayer, or whatever, one shouldn’t necessarily seek to leave one’s profession because one has converted to Christianity. God, he said, wants more Christian lawyers, et cetera. So it is with me. Horror is a genre I grew up loving, and found that that love didn’t dissipate just because I’d become a Christian. To quote director Scott Derrickson, “horror is the genre of non-denial.” We’re forced to confront our fears, and yet we’re able to do so in a safe, vicarious manner. Moreover, in my mind the genre is perfectly suited to explore the big questions of life, the universe, and everything. We are presented with ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and see how they respond. We get to ask ourselves: how would we respond? We learn something about ourselves while enjoying a rollicking good yarn. Or a good fright.”

“So you’re saying that horror puts the reader in a crucible along  with the characters in a story, allowing them to share the experience? And decide what they might, or might not, do in a similar situation?”

“Something like that, yes. Have you watched the Walking Dead? That show is rife with questions of morality, faith, trying to hold onto our essential humanity while simultaneously trying to survive. Horror allows us to focus a high lens, or microscope, on these issues. They’re closer to the surface.”

“I see what you’re saying. How does that apply to your story, Casita?”

“Well, of the top of my head, we’ve got the ordinary people in a seemingly ordinary situation. They’re seemingly innocents. And then you as the reader find out, as the story progresses, that neither they, nor the situation is as they first appeared. Then we’ve got other characters who, in the name of survival, are complicit in something… I can’t say anymore here. Don’t want to spoil things for anyone who hasn’t read the story yet. I will say this: I wanted to take some of the normal horror tropes, and either run with them, or appear to run with them, and thereby subvert the reader’s expectations.”

“Sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this, Chad. Before we go, can I ask what’s ahead for you?”

“Sure, it’s your blog, man. You can ask whatever you want. To answer your question: I’ve a zombie story in the pipeline. When done, it will likely be the longest thing I’ve ever written. Beyond that, there’s a short story about an exotic dinner that isn’t what it seems. There are plans for a novel, but that’s a little ways down the road.”

“Those sound interesting. I look forward to reading them.”

“Thanks. Me, too.”

“Chad, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to check in with us. Is there anything else you would like readers to know?”

“No problem. Always willing to open up my schedule for you. Uh, yeah; folks can find Casita 106 at the Red Pines on Amazon. It’s hopefully a fun, quick ride for them with just enough tension (and a little humor) to keep them reading to the last page.”  

  
“Thanks, Chad. Good talking to you. Looking forward to the next time we get to check in. By the way, do you have an Internet presence? I know you writer types often seclude yourselves.”

“Sure. I can be found at RandomlyChad.com, and on Facebook at RandomlyChad. Check ’em out, folks.”

“Thanks, Chad.”

“Anytime. Goodbye.”

Your Last Day

randomlychad  —  January 21, 2015 — Leave a comment

The following is a story I submitted for consideration in a contest last month. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist. It represents the first time I’ve used the  second person in fictional form. A friend of mine read it, and pronounced it the most intriguing, evocative thing I’ve written. This piece is an adaptation from  a much longer work in progress.

Your Last Day

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill, you can bundle up for it. Chillier still is the city itself, and the cold within your soul. You don’t want to get up. You don’t leave your cracker box flat. You’d rather listen to the scurrying of your only friends: the rats and roaches.

But you know you’ve got to go.

You know you failed. Spectacularly failed. You wanted a little for yourself, so you reached for the brass ring. And it didn’t pan out. Not only that, but the boss found out. Mr. Osgood doesn’t suffer fools lightly. You knew the risk, but you were so alone, so unseen, so unknown. You’ve practically been invisible your whole life through, with no one taking much notice of you. No notice at all, really.

Except when you bolloxed things up.

Then they noticed you. Parents, teachers, employers: they saw you for the colossal failure you were…

You get up. Woolgathering won’t make this any easier. You shiver in the cold, stumbling towards the light switch. You flick it on, pass into the bathroom, relieve yourself. You flush, looking down into the swirling water, and see your life going down the drain with your urine.

If only.

But it didn’t.

Why did you cross Osgood?

You don’t know. Except you do: you did it to be noticed. But now you’re not sure you can take the heat your rash choice has brought.

Why?

Why?

WHY???

You’ve been noticed alright. Maybe for the last time. And when you’ve gone no one will know of your demise. Looking in the mirror, you see eyes bloodshot, red-rimmed. You should be weeping–the tears want to come. But you’ve none left.

They’ve been burned out of you, leaving just a cold shell of a soul. The things you’ve done. You knew there was no turning back.

But you had to try.

You turn on the shower, waiting for it to warm. It doesn’t. You get in, shivering all the more. You soap, lather, shampoo. Turning off the water, you reach for your towel. Drying quickly, you get out.

Do you even recognize that face looking back at you in the mirror as you shave? Who is it? Whose is it?

You don’t know. But you do know that it’s like looking at a dead man.

You finish, dressing quickly. Cold as it outside, you don’t bother with your coat. It can’t be colder than it already is inside you. All the tender, soft, human parts of you have long since turned to ice. It would have to be very, very hot indeed to warm you, bring you back. You chuckle, a sardonic warble in your throat.

You leave your apartment. It could burn for all you care; you won’t miss it, or its old, moldy smells of decay. You look down at  your hands, imaging you can see right through them. Alas, you’re not that invisible–still essentially a man.

Maybe Osgood will have mercy.

And maybe whales don’t swallow tiny Krill wholesale.

Mercy?

Where is it? You’ve never seen, nor given, it.

Mercy is the dream of children. But you’ve awoken. And it’s not the world you know. Especially not here. Not in Osgood’s city. Where every dream is a reality. And nightmares lurk just beyond the veil. You know. You helped bring some of them to fruition.

Making your way down the stairs, you want to stop. But don’t. You know better, know nothing good awaits. But you’re drawn by some strange magnetism. You’re drawn to that great man, Osgood, who’s both more, and less, than that.

Had you but known? It wouldn’t have mattered: you would have done the same. You had your time in the sun.

Now it was time to pay the piper.

You make your way out of your building, into the street, not flinching at the cold. You pass the unseeing throngs, bundled against the chill. All your life this is all you’ve known: the hustling bustle of the salmon hordes, streaming this way and that. Everyone fighting for their piece, their dream, their brass ring.

You wish you could watch them burn, but as you head to the subway you know you won’t get the chance. If you were a man of regrets, that’s your only one: that you won’t live to see the world burn.

You deposit your tokens, passing through the turnstile, head onto the platform. Almost you look for number 9.5, but know he would find you even there. There’s no running. Your train arrives. You get on.

It’s a quiet ride to your stop. Cold and dark, people are more insular than usual. Nobody looks up, or around. No one wants to be bothered. Least of all you. You are cold and hard as a glacier, moving inexorably on to what comes next.

You tense your jaw, square your shoulders, squint your eyes. The train arrives at your stop. You get off, make your way back up into the world above. There it is, two blocks over, surpassing every other skyscraper with its sheer size: Osgood Tower.

You swallow. You will not plead. You will not simper, or cower. You will face your fate like a man. You don’t hurry, but you arrive at the building altogether sooner than you suppose. You enter through the revolving door, heading for the elevators.

You get on with a group, punching the number for the highest floor: 144. Osgood’s personal penthouse. They all quickly look at you, and just as quickly look away. They want nothing to do with you, or your fate. It’s almost like they can smell it on you, your utter failure. Your uselessness.

They shrink back as much they can. You don’t blame them. Then you do what you do best, and kill them all. All five souls who thought they were so much better than you. Looking up, you know all but Osgood’s private camera had been disable the moment you stepped on.

“Good, Jud, good,” a voice rumbles over the intercom. “But it’s not enough. Not by half. If anything, you may bought yourself some company for your journey.” The elevator continues to rise.

And rise.

Then it stops at floor one hundred forty-four.

“You know what this is, Jud, right? This is the end. The end of our journey together. The end of what I had hoped would continue to be a fruitful relationship. Alas, it was not be,” Osgood intones with a sigh.

“Goodbye, Mr. Mericot.”

“You’re the devil,” you hear yourself say. And the elevator, Osgood’s elevator, begins to make its plunge.

“No, Jud, nothing so dramatic. Not as far as this world knows. I’m merely your disgruntled former employer,” he says with a chuckle.

The elevator is falling so fast now, the blood you spilled begins to rise, spattering you, the ceiling, the mirrored walls of the car. Like the famous NASA plane, the so-called “vomit comet,” you begin to rise from the floor, feeling nearly weightless.

You feel like you’re falling forever… Forever falling. But you know there will be a sudden stop at fall’s end.

You keep falling, picking up speed.

And then you stop.

The bodies around you float to car’s floor; you follow them.

You’re not dead. At least you don’t think so.

Then the bell dings, doors sliding open.

“Welcome, Mr. Mericot,” a raspy, grating voice intones. “We’ve been expecting you.” You’re suddenly cold–colder than you’ve ever been. The last thing you want to do is leave the confines of the elevator. You try to hold on, but can’t–invisible hands drag you through the air as if you were so much ephemera. The corpses around you rise, streaking up, out, and away.

You know where you are. The one place colder than you. You try to scream, but icy air suddenly solid occludes your throat.

“Mr. Mericot, welcome to Hell.”

—————-

You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill…

—————-
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill… You’ve been here before. The sense of deja vu is a palpable thing. Like someone with synesthesia, you can taste it in the cool air.

Then it dawns on you: you’re reliving your last day.

For eternity.