Tag Archives: scary stories

Just Down Downs Road

In spite of the fact that I do not believe in monsters, the supernatural or Lovecraftian horrors, I will still go out of my way to try and find them. I’ve gone to Boston Commons trying to find the numerous ghosts that are supposed to have been sighted there. I’ve journeyed down abandoned stairwells hidden away in the walls of the bookstore I worked at.

And now I’ve walked down the legendary Downs Road. There are a few blog entries already written on the subject and the road has worked itself into a few book on haunted New England locations, but that’s not how I first found out about it. A friend of mine claims to have had his own spooky experiences on the road involving a dream catcher and he has been wanting to go back.

Now, we’ve been wanting to go down the Downs Road for a year and a half now, but haven’t had the time or the resources until recently. If you don’t live in New England, you may not be aware that less than two weeks ago, three feet of snow were dumped on the whole region. Snow and rain were also forecast for the whole day. But that didn’t matter, because we were goin to hunt monsters and ghosts and redneck hillbillies and whatever else might be lurking on the road.

Because the stories aren’t really clear what lives on that road. There are stories of ghosts and stories of malformed hillbillies and stories of a four foot tall bigfoot. There’s no one thing that ties together the stories except for creeped out hikers and scary experiences.

My friend, a third friend and myself all went out at around 5 yesterday in the hopes that on our way back it would be truly dark and we could get proper scared. To access the road, you need to drive to Hampden, Connecticut, to the end of a residential street that ends in a cul de sac. At the end of Downs Road, there’s a second cul de sac that’s located one town over, in Bethany.

We marched through snowy woods in snow over a foot thick while we got more and more soaked in the rain. We came across strange tracks in the snow that seemed to belong to some large, three toed creature. But I’ve spent enough time in the country to know that I know nothing about animal tracks. What look like monster tracks to a city slicker like me are most likely tracks made by squirrels that have altered as the snow melts, making the tracks appear larger than they were at the outset.

We heard the occasional owl and saw foot prints from other people hiking through, some of which stopped abruptly in the middle of nowhere, but I’m going to chalk that up to the tracks merely fading as time went on.

We explored the old ruins and the stone walls that cross the countryside. It’s eerie, there’s no doubt about that. It’s so quiet and the little bits and pieces of someone’s failed attempts to colonize the woods are not exactly uplifting. That’s what unnerved me the most; it was a reminder of a time when someone could walk into those woods and never come out again, when the wilderness spanned much further than two cul de sacs, and a body could get lost forever in the wilds.

We walked the length of Downs Road and back again and we saw and heard nothing of note. We were soaking wet, exhausted and ready to make the two hour drive back to Boston. On the way back, we reflected on the sobering realization of an era long lost and the reminders of our own fragility in the face of the unforgiving wilderness.

Or we belted out Weird Al songs while eating junk food.

D-

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: Even a Man Who Is Pure in Heart

For 31 Days of Spoooktacular, I wanted to do the occasional spotlight on the monsters that have formed the deep and gristly backbone of pop culture. Through a society’s monsters, you can tell a lot about that society. What scares us, helps to define us. It is no coincidence that, in the wake of World War II and the Emergence of the Atom Bomb, atomic horrors plagued our silver screen.

More telling, is the changes we made to old legends.

The werewolf, in the olde days, in the olde country, was a man or woman who had made a pact with the devil and, through that pact, had gained certain supernatural powers, including, but not limited to, changing into a ferocious beast. The idea was that this was a gift, a boon for giving oneself to evil. They were satisfying their baser urges.

Once it entered modernity, specifically the movies, the werewolf became a different kind of creature. No longer was the lycanthrope a witch or savage, but an innocent who had been cursed by the bite of another werewolf. The transformation could only happen under the light of a full moon, or a around a full moon. The person change against their will and, once transformed, lost all control.

It became a symbol of repression unleashed, of inner savagery, a beastial nature unchained.

In more recent years, it has followed the route of vampirism. Rather than a supernatural curse or a religious affliction, vampirism and lycanthropy have both become diseases. The disease is transmitted by a bite or scratch and produces extreme changes in both physiology and psychology.

It is the last gasp of the mythology to survive in our modern times as a viable thing that exists beyond entertainment, as a lesson. Because that’s what monsters are. Monsters are how we teach our children fear and how to deal with that fear. Be careful after dark. Do not talk to strangers. Stay in church and with your community. Do not go up to make-out point.

We use our monsters to learn what to be afraid of and how to deal with that fear. The lessons we learn from our folktales are meant to leave lasting repercussions that affect our behavior well into adulthood. The werewolf, the vampire, the ghoul, the goblins; they have lost resonance. They don’t function in our world anymore. In spite of increasingly desperate attempts to make them relevant, they are falling behind.

They have nothing left to teach us. They have nothing to scare us with. In a world with bombs and serial killers and viruses; the occult loses all meaning. The werewolf has lost his bite.

-D-

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: Portrait of a Slasher Movie

The slasher movie is, by far, one of the subgenres of horror that most sticks to a formula. And here is the formula:

Pre-Credits Kill+Character Introduction+Cat Scare*+Minor Character Killed Off+Pointless Drama/Comedic Scene+Secondary Character Killed+Hero(ine) and Killer Meet-Up+Hero(ine) Triumphs+One Last Scare=Slasher Movie

This is, for the most part, how every slasher movie plays out. You have the pre-credit sequence kill, which is either part of the back story or is set in modern day and sets off the chain of events. This is where you’ll see characters defiling graves or having sex when they should have been paying attention or telling stories around a campfire about the killer. If this is a sequel, this is where you’ll most likely see a character from the previous movie get killed off (see Friday the 13th Part 2 or Scream 3).

Then comes the cast introduction. During this point you’ll see a barrage of cliches come at you. Don’t worry! Most will be dead in 90 minutes. This is also the point where you’ll meet an ancillary character. Now, the ancillary character can fulfill numerous roles. They’re the Red Herring: “Who’s that?” “Oh that’s crazy Bob, he lives in the woods where we’ll be camping!” The Red Herring will show up lurking, here and there, through-out the movie and then will end up dead at the three-quarter mark.

There’s the Small Town Sheriff. He will say, in one form or another, “Those damn kids!” before the movie is over. Though he’s going to be an asshole throughout the entire movie, he’ll most likely show up toward the middle or end and seem like he’s going to do something to affect the outcome and give the audience false hope. He’s actually going to be murder fodder and everyone’s hopes are dashed.

There’s the Doomsayer. He (or she) is an old and crusty oldtimer who knows more than everyone else, but will be completely dismissed as being either old, crazy or both. The Doomsayer can also play the part of The Red Herring. It’s a toss-up to whether the Doomsayer will show up beyond the Introduction.

Then there’s the Cat Scare. The Cat Scare is when a character hears a noise, goes to investigate and finds a cat. It is almost ALWAYS a cat. And it’s always a cat that has somehow ended up in a cupboard. I have owned numerous cats, but they rarely ended up in cupboards.

Right after the cat scare, Minor Character death. The Doomsayer is a good choice for this, but sometimes it’s the gas station attendant or the lonely hitchhiker or any person who is not one of the fresh young teens.

Then you have the pointless drama and light-hearted comedy to trick you into thinking that that this movie is more than nubile young people being offed with chainsaws.

This is when the secondary characters start dying, one by one and, depending on how many characters there are, depends on how long this process will take.

After all the non-essential personnel are removed, the hero or, more frequently, the heroine meets up with the monster. If the monster is masked, this is where he’ll be de-masked. If the killer is actually the boyfriend, long lost-brother or the mother of a deformed little boy who drowned in the lake, this is where the shocking twist is revealed.

After the Killer is dispatched, the Hero(ine) and her/his Boyfriend/Girlfriend walk away from the body. Then the body moves, or the little boy comes out of the lake or the second killer steps out of the shadows or the Hero(ine) turns around with a crazy look in her eyes and you know SHE’S the killer now. This is the Final Scare. It can be either followed with a re-assuring shot of the Hero(ine) waking up or a freeze-frame of the Final Scare.

Bam. You don’t ever need to watch a slasher movie ever again. Because you just did. All of them.

-D-

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31 Days of Spoooktacular: The Learning Curve (Part 2)

A few months ago I talked about reading older horror authors in order to see what had come before and learning from it. Just reading modern work is like reading the stuff that came before, but diluted, with six degrees of separation. You’ll see a little bit of Matheson and Lovecraft in a Stephen King novel, but it’s not the same thing as reading Matheson or Lovecraft.

The next author I chose was Robert E. Howard. Now, for the few of you who recognize his name, probably know that he created Conan. But you might not know that he was best friends forever with Lovecraft and that they cribbed from each other’s works.

I was not as enthralled with Howard the horror author as I was with Howard the Conqueror. His horror loses some of its punch because of his heroes. He’ll write a scene of depraved horror that will give you chills, vicious, awful stuff that surprised me with its vivid graphic-ness. But, in the middle of this scene, he plunks the square jawed hero, unflappable even in front of the frightful, mind-bendingly terrible. When the hero is in control almost at all times, it robs the scene of its fear. To be fair, not all of his stories featured Conan Lite running around, but his heroes were generally of sterner stuff than the average man and would triumph over their foes more often than not.

To me, horror succeeds better if there’s the potential for loss, if you honestly believe that the main characters are in peril. Stephen King knows this. That’s why he’ll lovingly describe a character’s backstory for ten pages and then off them unceremoniously. You have to believe that failure is possible, that it really might be curtains for the protagonist.

In terms of detail and fear soaked scenes of blood-curdling drama, Robert E. Howard gets an A+. For stories that are truly frightening, a B? That seems harsh. The man made Conan! But, in the long run, I think I learned a lot more from Matheson than from Howard.

-D-

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It’s on the Air

You can’t sense it, but I can. I step outside and I can smell it, hovering on the fringes, hanging back from the senses; that lingering odor of decay in a basement that promises something hidden under the floor. You don’t notice it.

But it’s coming.

It’s in the way the shadows are cast now; Longer, darker, stretched thinner like tension in a darkened alley when you see a slow movement behind that dumpster. You don’t see it, not like I do.

But it’s coming.

In the back of your mind it tickles; a fingernail running down your spine, the breath of a whisper on your ear in the middle of the night. It’s the hum in the air around a downed power-line. You ignore the feeling.

But it’s still coming.

Be prepared….

It’s almost Halloween.

-D-

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Learning the History

If there’s one thing that I’m particularly weak on, it’s my horror history. I don’t read a lot of horror to start and I read even less of the older examples of the genre. Sure, I’ll pick up some pulps or read more Lovecraft than can fill the forgotten tomb city of R’lyeh, but for the most part I stick to mysteries and detective novels and anything written by Stephen King.

But I think it’s long past time for me to go back to the old classics and relearn the old ways. I started with Lovecraft, because he is a compelling author, if stylistically repetitive after awhile. The more I read him, the more I like him and the more unnerving his stories are.

And then I went to Bradbury, because  he writes some truly chilling, relentless horror under the guise of Sci-Fi. “The Long Rain” and “Mars is Heaven!” are two of his creepier stories. “The Long Rain,” in particular, makes me want to curl into a ball and just stop reading. It seems never to end, much like the Venusian rain.

And now I’ve moved onto Richard  Matheson. Matheson, unlike the other two, is a writer with whom I’m only vaguely familiar. I’ve read I am Legend and I’ve read one or two of his short stories before, though only a few I’d call horror. But I picked up an audiobook recently of his horror works and he is a writer of singular tenacity. His usual M.O. involves an individual and then the slow, tearing down of that individual; a thorough dissection of them, either through their own idiosyncrasies or through external events beyond their ability to withstand.

It’s painful to sit through some of the stories, because they grind slow, but exceedingly fine and on some levels, they’re capable of making me uncomfortable and uneasy.

And I’m learning from him, learning about things that I can take away and add to my own fiction. It’s those little pieces that I’m looking to take away, to add to my abilities and tools as a writer.

And I think I have an idea.

-D-

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The North End Excursion (Part II)

There are places in this world where the skin of our world has been worn thin. Here, breaches can happen and travelers from our world can cross over to the other….just as they can also cross over into our world. These are places where the very fabric of reality has been frayed and where the unreal and impossible realities of other dimensions bleed into our own. These are places where the mad prophets have visions of phantasms and the insane see their brain-fever dreams made unbearable reality.

It was during my researches into the Necronomicon that I believed I found the location of one of these places. The Mad American prophet Lovecraft gave vague instruction about the location of a nexus where demons could cross into our world with the same ease that we cross the street. I made the decision that I would track down this place, this portal into other worlds, and I would see for myself if it truly existed.

With a fellow explorer, we made our way deep into the North End. We walked through markets that reeked of fish and sold strange and exotic fruits. We trudged up main thoroughfares clogged with the pulsing hum of humanity, tourists unaware of how close they were to some dark, elder nightmare

And after an hour of climbing up and down hills, we determined that Lovecraft was full of horseshit. We gave up on our quest and headed to the local Applebees, where we enjoyed four dollar Killians (a Friday special!) and nachos. I also ordered the Cowboy Burger, a delicious all-beef patty topped with fried onion rings and applewood smoked bacon and slathered with melted cheddar cheese. My fellow traveler into the dark abysses that hide beneath the skin of the world ordered the Bourbon Black and Bleu burger, which was covered in bleu cheese, mushrooms and smoky mayo.

It was delicious.

-D-

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