Tuesday, October 27, 2015

THE GAL'S 31 DAYS OF HORROR: Ian McClellan


Why Halloween Rules and a Short Story
By: Ian McClellan

For as long as I can remember, I've been a huge fan of all things horror.  When I say, "as long as I can remember," I don't mean since I stayed up late one night when I was twelve and watched The Exorcist, or when I was in high school and picked up my first Stephen King book.  I mean when I was five or six and was mesmerized by the old black and white horror classics.  Growing up on a steady diet of Dracula and The Thing, and then eventually finding my true love when I caught Night of the Living Dead, it makes sense that Halloween would be my favorite holiday.  Non-stop horror flicks on TV, costumes, jack-o-lanterns, vandalism; what's not to love?  Even the origins of the holiday sound like something out of a horror tale.  Around the time Jesus was doing his thing down in the middle east, my Celtic ancestors had been celebrating Samhain for centuries.  It was the last day of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, a time the Celts associated with death because it was cold and dark and they didn't have flu shots or space heaters or attic insulation for their huts.  The spirits of the dead walked the earth on Samhain.  The Celts made a sacred bonfire, sacrificed crops and cattle, and wore the heads and skins of animals.  Ah, the good old days.
            This is all great if you're like me and really dig horror, but what about folks with less macabre tastes?  Don't they get to enjoy Halloween?  Absolutely!  One of the great things about the holiday is that it's for everyone and you can celebrate it however you'd like.  Not looking for a scary costume?  Be a pirate, or a cop, or a nurse, or anything that isn't what you are the other 364 days of the year.  There are also plenty of horror "light" movies to watch that really aren't very scary.  Off the top of my head, I'd say Hocus PocusBuffy the Vampire SlayerEdward Scissorhands, and anything with the world Paranormal in the title should fit the bill.  Im sure there are others if you look of them.  Of course, let's not forget candy.  Who doesn't love that stuff?  I usually save most of my calories for beer, and even I stuff myself full of Peanut Butter Cups and Butterfingers on Halloween.  There really is something for everyone to enjoy on October 31st, except those few whacks who think it's a gateway to Satanism or some such nonsense.  Those folks should lighten up, have a few drinks, and go get those poor kids some costumes and Harry Potter books.  Whacks aside, I'd say that Halloween is the quintessential All-American holiday that can be enjoyed by everyone.  I'd even go as far as saying we should replace "trick or treat" with a U.S.A. chant.
            
If you prefer your Halloween to be more horrific, here's a frightening tale that you can read Saturday night as you eat your candy.  Make sure to turn on all the lights first.

I Don't Know
He could remember that day so vividly.  It was the day he caved in.  The day he finally cried "uncle" to God and changed his ways for the better.  He hadn't been a terrible guy up until that point, but he hadn't been the man he could be, either.  The woman lying on the bed in front of him, the woman he loved more than life, needed him to be that better man.  Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at her.  She was so thin.  Her skin had yellowed and her hair was mostly gone.  Of course, none of those things mattered to him.  All he saw when he looked at her was the most beautiful woman in the world, the love of his life.  He clasped her cold, frail hand in his and prayed to a God he wasn't sure was there to hear him.  He swore that he would do whatever was needed, he'd become whomever God wanted him to be, if He would only lift the horrific curse He'd inflicted Rebecca with.  He put his head down on the bed, exhausted, and listened to the monitor's rhythmic beeping.
            Beep... beep... beep... beep...
            "Honey, are you home?"
            He jerked away and looked blearily around the room.  It took him a moment to come back to the here and now.  Rebecca was fine.  She'd pulled through.  That had been years earlier.  Since then, he'd done alright by them, being a good husband and provider, and a good father to the two children that they eventually had.  His day job as an electrician earned him a very decent living, and his writing career was starting to take off.  He wasn't on the best seller list, but he was making a lot of headway.  He wiped the tears from his eyes and looked at the computer screen.
            "What?  This can't be right."  He scrolled through what he'd written that day.  The document was well over two hundred pages.  It wasn't just long, but it was also perfect.  Skimming through what he'd written, he couldn't find a misspelled word, a missed period, or any of the other simple mistakes any writer makes on the first draft of their work.  Looking at the computer's clock, he saw that it was eight o'clock at night.  Rebecca had left with the kids just before ten a.m.  He'd gone to his office to do some writing.  That was the last thing that he could remember.  He hit the word count button.
            This document contains 123,000 words.  The word count does not include footnotes, headers, or footers.
            "Wh... what the fuck is happening?"  He'd never written anything even close to that length before, his last novel being his longest at just over eighty thousand words.  That had taken him six months to finish in his spare time.  How could he have churned out so much in about ten hours?
            "Honey," Rebecca called out as she opened the door to his office.  "Are you..."
            He jumped and put a hand to his mouth to stifle a scream.  She looked at him and her face dropped.
            "My God!  Dan, are you alright?"  She ran over to him in a panic and threw her arms around him.  He noticed his hands were shaking violently as he picked his arm up to hug her back.
            "You're drenched in sweat," she said as she pulled back and wiped his face with her shirtsleeves.  "And you're white as a ghost.  How do you feel?  Are you breathing okay?  Does your chest hurt?"
            "Yeah, I mean no.  I don't know.  I don't remember."
            "You don't remember what?  What have you been doing all day?  You look like you've been on a crack binge."
            He couldn't help but chuckle at that.  He hadn't even smoked pot in over a decade.  He certainly hadn't been on any crack binges.
            "I've been writing," he told her, not going into any detail.
            Rebecca looked at the computer screen and her mouth fell open.  She turned to him, confusion all over her face.  She knew there wasn't anything that he'd been working on.  Just that morning, he'd told her that he had a project he wants to start, but didn't know how to describe it.  He wasn't even sure what it was about, he just felt something inside of him tugging on his brain, some story that yearned to be told.  She'd suggested he just sit down and start writing.  Apparently, he'd taken her advice and then some.  He'd sat down and written a book in one day.
            "Did you do this today?  Is that even possible?"  Her tone was drenched in disbelief.  If he didn't look the way he did, she would have thought he was pulling some kind of prank, like he'd somehow been working on another book without her knowing, and this was his way of surprising her.  There was no way to fake the sweat that was still cascading off of him or the drained look on his face.
            "Baby, I don't know.  I really don't remember."
            "How can you not remember?"
            Before he could answer, their kids came running into the room.  Morgan and Ryan had brushed their teeth and changed into their pajamas.  They crashed into their father and hugged him tightly.
            "Hey, I missed you guys today," he said, telling a little, white lie.  He always missed his kids when he wasn't with them, but he couldn't remember if he had that day.  He leaned over and kissed them both on the head as he ruffled their hair.  "Mommy and Daddy are talking right now.  Go upstairs and go to bed, and we'll be up in a minute to say goodnight."
            "Okay," they said in unison before running off.
            Rebecca looked at him with a raised eyebrow and a worried expression.  "Have you eaten anything today?"
            He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to say that he didn't remember for the umpteenth time.  The idea of eating something made him feel very nauseas.  "I need a drink," he decided.   Rebecca couldn't argue.  She felt like having a drink, too.
            As they walked out of the room, something occurred to Dan.  He went back to the computer and hit the save icon.  The "save as" box popped up.
            "Jesus," he blurted out.  "A hundred and twenty-three thousand words and I never saved it once.  Crazy."  He thought back to all of the power surges and computer crashes he'd been through over the years.  He'd lost as much s a couple of thousand words a time or two.  Since his writing time was so limited, losing even a couple of hundred words was soul crushing.  Over the years, he'd become an obsessive saver, usually hitting that little floppy disc icon every paragraph or two.  He looked at the computer screen.  The "file name" space was highlighted.  How do you name a book that you don't remember writing?
            "I don't know," he answered himself.
            "I Don't Know" he typed, and hit the save button.
            The lights in the room flickered for a moment.  As they did, Rebecca thought she saw her husband's face change in the ebbing and rising darkness.  It became something grotesque and abhorrent.  She gasped and jumped back.
            "It's okay, baby.  Just a short or something.  I'll check it out some time tomorrow."  He spoke dubiously, trying to convince himself as much as his wife.  He looked at her and managed a slight, tired smile, his face the one she knew, the one that had been by her side through so much over the years.
            "Yeah.  Sure," she said, unconvinced, as she walked out of the room and tried to calm her pounding heart.

* * * *

"So, what's it about?" she asked as they both sipped their drinks in the living room.  Neither of them were big drinkers, and it was a rare occurrence for them to both be on the couch with a glass of whiskey in their hands.
            "I don't know.  I was in some sort of trance, a fugue, until I heard you come home.  It's crazy.  I was thinking about... when you were sick.  When I came to, I was crying.  The book, or whatever it is, was done.  I just skimmed through it.  Here's the really funny thing, the thing I just can't get my head around.  What I saw was flawless.  I couldn't find a single typo.  I have this weird feeling, like I won't when I go over it in more detail.  How can I write something that long so quickly and not make a single mistake.  It's unfathomable."
            An avid reader, Rebecca had been his proofreader for years.  He had a good grasp of the mechanics of writing, but when he got in "the zone" he made a few mistakes.  All of his writer friends said they did the same thing.  Writing a first draft wasn't about creating a polished, finished product, but getting your thoughts out.  That's why you proofread and edit afterward.  She'd never seen a single page of one of his first drafts that didn't have some small error.
            "Well, the parts that you skimmed through, did they give you any idea what it's about?  Can you even guess what genre it's in?"
            Dan's eyes moved back and forth as he searched his mind for the words he'd read.  "You know, I can't remember now.  I remember reading things, and I remember there weren't any mistakes, but I don't remember what I read."  His face turned in fear and disgust as he recalled a sense of dread.  "I remember feeling bad as I read stuff.  I don't remember why, but I just felt... God, so bad.  Awful."  He clutches at his stomach.
            "I want you to go see Doctor Hill tomorrow.  Whatever happened today could mean something is very wrong with you."
            She expected an argument.  Dan hated to go to the doctor for himself.  He looked at her with a pained expression on his face and nodded.
            "Finish your drink and let's go to bed.  I'll make an appointment first thing and maybe we'll read this book of yours before we go."  He shot her a horrified look.  "We'll read it together.  It's just words on a computer screen."

* * * *

The book made Dan more money than he would have ever dreamed a simple guy like himself could earn from putting his thoughts into words.  After years of ten hour workdays and all night writing marathons, his hard work had paid off and he was finally able to give his family the finest things in life.  He reaped the benefits, as well, but that was just the icing on the cake.  To Dan, providing for his wife and kids was the real reward.  With the money he'd made from one smash hit, even his kids' grandchildren would be set for life.
            He got out of bed as quietly as he could, trying not to disturb Rebecca.  He slipped on his cashmere robe and went downstairs to get a cup of coffee, stopping for a moment on the way to enjoy the breathtaking view of the ocean from his living room.  The house was beautiful, but that view had been the real selling point.  Most of Dan's days started with him drinking coffee and looking out at the ocean.  He didn't read or write.  He just sat with his coffee and watched the waves crashing into the craggy shore.
            In the kitchen, the intense aroma of gourmet coffee hit him he second he opened the door.  He poured a cup and held it under his nose, taking in the exquisite scent with a deep breath.  The smell alone was worth the forty or fifty dollars a pound that the stuff cost.  He took a sip.  Liquid heaven.  He went back into the living room, wondering how his life could be any better.
            Dan held the mug close to his face, savoring the aroma as he walked to his usual morning spot at the table.  He pulled out a chair and looked out the window, stopping suddenly as he was about to sit and put his coffee down.  The entire horizon was filled with a black cloud darker than anything he'd ever seen.  It raced toward the shoreline at an unnatural speed.  Dan had watched the ocean storms descend at the coast countless times, but had never witnessed anything so dismal and menacing before.
            "It's beginning," Rebecca said behind him.  Dan dropped his cup, startled.  The mug shattered and the black liquid it had held spread across the white tile floor.  He turned to see his wife and children standing behind him, watching the ominous scene outside and smiling.
            "Wh... what's beginning?" he stammered, confused and frightened.  "I don't understand."
            "It's okay," she said as she approached him.  "It can't hurt us.  We brought it here.  It will burn the rest of the world, but it won't touch us."
            Dan turned back to the window apprehensively.  He saw that it hadn't been dark clouds he'd seen in the distance, but smoke.  The ocean was on fire, a giant wall of flames rushing toward land, a burning tsunami that would turn humanity into ash.  He looked at his wife, and realized that it wasn't really Rebecca standing beside him, but some abhorrent thing that looked like Rebecca.  It put a hand up to his cheek as the sea of fire hit his home.  Something burned him to his soul, but he couldn't tell if it was the fire or the touch.
            Dan's eyes sprang open.  He gasped and almost screamed, but stopped himself.  He sat up and looked around.  He was in his bedroom, not in a mansion overlooking a flaming ocean.  He was an electrician that did a little writing on the side, not a wealthy novelist who wore cashmere robes and drank ridiculously expensive coffee.  Rebecca was sleeping next to him, but didn't appear to be doing so any more restfully than he had.  The bedroom door was cracked open, and he cold see the dull, soft glow of a screen illuminating the area outside.  He got up and put on a robe before heading downstairs.
            He could see the light was coming from his office.  As he reached the bottom of the staircase, he could hear a low, guttural moan from the same room.  Filled with a terror unlike anything he'd ever imagined, and wondering what could make such a noise, he looked for anything that could potentially be a weapon.  He settled on an umbrella by the front door, doubting he owned anything at all that would be effective against whatever waited for him in his office.
            The closer he got to the open door, the slower his footfalls came.  The thought of his wife and children upstairs and forced himself to continue, to fight past his fear.  He got to the edging of the doorframe and used every ounce of his will to make himself look into his office.
            Dan dropped the umbrella in horror.  Ryan sat on his chair, one hand flat on the desk, the other on the computer's mouse, scrolling with his index finger.  His eyes had rolled back into his head, which lolled slowly.  His mouth was open, the unholy groan Dan had heard falling out of it.
            "Ryan!" he cried out, terrified.  His son looked at him with dead eyes.  A blackness spread from them, coloring the veins in his face.  Dan ran to his son and grabbed him by the shoulders.  He shook the boy, calling his name over and over.  Ryan's eyes rolled forward.  He looked at his father and burst into tears.
            Dan wrapped his arms around his son and hugged him tight.  "I love you," he said and kissed his head.  "Listen to me very carefully.  I want you to stay away from this computer.  Just stay out of this room altogether until I say otherwise.  Okay?"
            Ryan looked at his father, his face a mask of confusion.  "But you said to read it, Dad.  You woke me up, and I said I was tired, but you said to come in here and read what you wrote.  You said it was important."
            Horrified, Dan searched his memory for some recollection of waking up his son and telling him to read the book.  Just like when he'd written the wretched thing, he couldn't remember doing so. "It's too dangerous," he muttered quietly.
            "What?" Ryan asked.
            "Nothing.  Go upstairs and go back to sleep.  Do not come back into this room no matter what."  He hugged the boy again before looking at him sternly and repeating himself.  "No matter what.  Understand?" 
            Ryan nodded and ran out of the room.  Dan watched him go, running by his mother, who was standing in the doorway, without a word.
            "I'm getting rid of it," he told his wife.  "I don't know what it is or where it came from, but I don't want it here anymore.  I'm deleting the file, and taking the computer somewhere to burn and bury it."
            Rebecca didn't say anything.  She only nodded in agreement.  She trusted her husband's judgment and was afraid for her children.  She hadn't witnessed the entire scene that had just taken place, but she'd seen enough to be terrified.
            Dan closed the program before opening the documents folder.  He found the I Don't Know doc, right-clicked on it, and scrolled down to hit delete.  A window popped up.
            "Are you sure you want to move this file to the recycle bin?" it asked him.  He dragged the arrow over the yes button.  Before he could click on it, a jolt of pain shot up his arm.  Being an electrician, he'd been shocked a couple of times.  Those two occasions in which he allowed himself to be careless in his work were painful and horrific for him.  The jolt he received in that moment was worlds worse.  It was a pain so excruciating that once it was over, he wondered how it hadn't killed him.  He looked at Rebecca with tears in his eyes as years of memories flooded his mind, memories of things that hadn't happened.  All at once, he understood.
            "My God," he whispered, looking around the room and questioning the reality of what was all around him, questioning his own sanity.  "Who answered my prayers that day?  What kind of deal did I make?"
            Rebecca snapped his fingers in front of his face.  "Dan, look at me."  He seemed to come back to the moment.  "What are you talking about?" she asked.
            Dan grabbed her and held her tightly.  He was crying.  "You were... supposed to die," he said in between sobs.  "This book is my payment.  It saved you.  I can't get rid of it."
            "Dan, that's crazy.  I didn't die.  I made it.  We had children and bought a house.  I cook you dinner every night and proofread all your books and blog posts.  Nothing can take that away.  You have to get rid of that file.  It's a danger to all of us."
            "Don't you get it?  Without that book, there is no 'all of us.'"
            Rebecca shook her head.  "That's enough," she said curtly.  "Take a deep breath.  It's been a crazy day.  Let's go upstairs.  We'll sleep in shifts in the kids' room.  That way, we can keep an eye on each other.  In the morning, we'll get our heads on straight and figure this out, okay?"
            She'd always been the more reasonable one in their relationship, the one who said things like "let's sleep on it," or "clearer heads prevail."  She was almost always right.  He nodded, kissed her forehead, and told her that he loved her very much.  As they were walking out of Dan's office, she shoved him from behind and slammed the door shut.  He turned back and hit the door as the lock clicked.
            "Honey, what are you doing?" he cried and started banging on the door.  "Stop!  You were right.  We'll talk about it in the morning."
            "There's nothing to talk about.  You know what the right thing to do is.  We have to stop... whatever this is."  Rebecca was crying.  She knew what she had to do, but wasn't sure what effect it would have.  Would she die?  Would her kids die?  Were there lives worth the evil that this book would unleash on the world?
            Dan started throwing himself against the door violently.  It was thick and sturdy, refusing to give him even the slightest sign of giving in to his assault.  He rested his head against the wood in defeat.  "Baby, please don't do this.  I die that day, too."  He thought back to the things that should have happened, but hadn't; the funeral, these soul-crushing depression, his attempts to dull the pain with alcohol, drugs, and one night stands with other lost souls, a gun in his mouth, a bottle of pills in his hand.
            "I DIE THAT DAY, TOO!" he screamed and drove his fist into the door.
            "Are you sure you want to move this file to the recycle bin?"
            "Daddy!?!"  Dan turned around at the sound of Morgan's voice.  His children stood on the stairs, terrified.  They were there, but they weren't there, like something in a dream you wake up from but can't quite remember.  He ran up the stairs and threw his arms around them, holding them so tightly that no force on earth could break their embrace.
            "DON'T YOU DO THIS TO US!  I DIE THAT DAY, TOO!  WE ALL DIE THAT DAY!"
            "I love you," Rebecca called out from the office.
            Dan closed his eyes and took a deep breath, wanting to breathe in the last moment he'd have with the children that meant the world to him, trying to take their very essence into his lungs.
            Beep... beep... beep... beep... beeeeeeeeeeee...
            Dan opened his eyes.  His wife lay in the hospital bed before him, her body lifeless.
            "No!  No!  Noooooo!!!!"
            A team of doctors and nurses ran into the room, yelling at Dan to stand clear and give them room to work.
            "I did my part," he yelled at them.  "I wrote the book.  I wasn't the one who deleted it."
            A nurse looked at him as if he were crazy.  She'd heard a lot of people say a lot of things in those situations, but never anything that off the wall.  "Sir, you need to give us room if you want us to help your wife."
            He looked at her for a second before running from the room.  He had to get home and get on his computer...  Dan realized he didn't own a computer, most people didn't then.  He grabbed a pad and some pens from the nurses' station.  Someone asked what he was doing, but he ignored them and ran off.  He had to get home, not to his house, but to  his shitty little studio apartment.  Hopefully, there was coffee there.  It wouldn't be that forty dollar a pound stuff that smelled so good, but that didn't matter.  He'd need a lot of coffee to write one hundred and twenty-three thousand words by hand.


About the author:
Ian McClellan was born in a small harbor town in southwest Ireland.  In an effort to be cliche, his parents moved the family to New York when he was thirteen.  One a promising up-and-comer in the world of competitive eating, his career was cut short by an ACL injury.  He now resides in Florida with his dogs and drives a truck for a living, but is crossing his fingers and hoping his writing career will earn him enough money that he can tell his boss where to stick it.



About the books:

Genre: Horror, Zombies, Political Thriller
Publication date: 8.7.2012
Pages: 280

Zombie//Apocalypse 2010: A Political Horror Story is a zombie tale with a political background story - not from a left-or right-minded perspective, but from that of an average American who feels left behind by he system.  It is the tale of a regular guy - an unemployed factory worker - in the first days of the end of the world, a time in which the ways of doing things have become muddled between pre- and post-apocalypse.  It may not be too late to save humanity, but any progress that is made gets sidetracked by the failings of the media and the politicians, religious fanatics, left-wing zealots, right-wing zealots, political correctness, and bureaucracy.  Will divisiveness and the failed policies of the past doom us in the future?  Yes, but at least there will be some laughs along the way.
            I've always been a huge fan of the horror genre and the zombie sub-genre in particular.  However, one thing always bothered me about zombie films.  I believed that if such events were to take place, government agencies would step in and contain the situation before it reached apocalyptic proportions.  After paying a little closer attention to politics in recent years, I now wonder how my garbage gets collected every week.  The idea for this story occurred to me as I watched a congressman argue that cuts needed to be made in some program (Social Security or N.P.R. or something along those lines) in order to fund aid to a comment that had been devastated by a natural disaster.  I wondered what he would do if the dead began to rise.  I set out to write a short story with this idea in my head (I've written quite a few, and may publish a collection of them next) but just couldn't ever seem to stop writing.  
            Zombie/Apocalypse 2012: A Political Horror Story is 280 pages long.  It contains a decent amount of carnage, a few curse words, and some innuendo, but no sex.

Genre: Horror, Zombies
Publisher: Severed Press
Publication date: 3.3.2014

Many people know that the 1969 moon landing was faked, but are unaware of the actual circumstances.  Find out how the U.S. faked the moon landing to avert the zombie apocalypse as the lives of a disgraced B-movie director, a bar owner, some drunks, an Army Ranger unit, a bunch of gangsters, an affluent but very dysfunctional family, and a few cops come together in One Undead Step.  One year after Romero shocked the world with Night of the Living Dead, a small city is rocked by grisly killings, the gory details of which are only known through whispered rumors.  The government presence that makes the populace all the more nervous is unable to contain the impending threat that grows out of control on a hot, humid night in mid-July.  As the city's residents fight for their lives, the Military rushes to make a film about two men landing a small spacecraft on the moon.  Will their plan work?  Find out as an evil man finds redemption, some soldiers choose between their mission and duty, a young couple finds forbidden love, an older couple reignites their passion, and a bartender gets stiffed for lots of drinks in One Undead Step.

No comments: