THE BLINKING LIGHTS

Tommy kept the Christmas tree up several months after the holiday season was over; he thought it made a good nightlight in the living room when the overhead lamp was too much. The soft cozy glow it gave off felt homie. It made it a lot easier to cope with the multiple stab wounds he would puncture into the body of his victims. He just had to find a way to deal with the screams. Stuffing a sock in their mouths did well to muffle the pitch and make it hard for any neighbors to hear them cry out in agony. But, it didn’t stop their shrills fromĀ putting him on edge. So, he decided to start playing Bing Crosby albums as loud as he could while he flayed their skin from the bone. Bing’s deep, smooth voice wound its way through his soul, putting him at ease as he cast both sharp and dull objects down into the fragile flesh of his prey. The effect the crooner’s golden tone had on his spirit made his arms move without hesitation, as if they were wings guided by the breeze. Each cut, each carving, each beautifully barbaric strike burst through the bodies like they were water. Often, he watched their glassy eyes swiveling wildly in their blood-soaked faces, and felt comforted by the reflection of the blinking Christmas lights dancing in their watering eyes. Once the life drained away, there was a slight sense of serenity in those dead eyes: a calm beauty, like they had finally gone home and he had been the courageous carrier to convey them there. It was almost heroic.

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IN THE FLESH by CLIVE BARKER

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As a writer myself, if I had to name the most major influence on my own style of work, Clive Barker would be the one to jump directly into mind. When I first read him, I said to myself, “That’s how I want to write.”

 

I’ve bounced all around genres trying to find a way to get published, and Barker’s style of internal dialogue is always there; his deep, vivid descriptions of the landscape prevails. I’m not saying I pull it off as well as he does, but I certainly try. Once I went with horror writing, I realized where my home is, and it is due largely in part to the influence of Clive Barker.

 

Everything that I love about Mr. Barker is contained within the short stories of In the Flesh: the nightmarish horror that bends the very air around it; the surreal mythos that seek no apologies for being morbid and disturbing; the unabashed propensity towards violence and the grotesque; the living breathing characters of both good and evil; the seedy urban backdrops detailed into life by the author; and the entrancing tales of struggles against insurmountable situations written in the prose of someone who sees beauty in agony and poetry in pain. When it comes to horror storytelling, there is no author as masterful as he.

 

With that said, I loved all four tales in this book. I will offer here a review of each:

 

“In the Flesh”: Darkness confined to a space no larger than a closet, yet Barker expands it beyond the limits of imagination by creating a harrowing, dream-like city for the damned and the depraved. Here he creates fright on a whole new level with a chilling backdrop to paint his visions of pain and suffering. I wish he would give us more stories from this City of Killers because it is fascinating enough to warrant its own legends and chronicles.

 

“The Forbidden: This is the origin of the infamous 90’s Hollywood slasher known as the Candyman. Set in the dregs of a rundown London slum, this tale shows Barker’s appreciation for the downtrodden and the decomposing icons of man’s mighty failures, seen through the eyes of a curious woman fixated on the graffiti murals sprayed across the crumbling architecture of a forgotten and partially-abandoned area of town. I find the setting to be one of gorgeous misery and almost folkloric squalor worthy of a horrifying urban epic. It is an ideal place for the supernatural madman with a knack for eviscerating his victims and removing bits of them to leave behind hacked-up husks of their former selves. Although no back-story of the Candyman is offered, it adds a spicy mystique to his being, making him both frightening and fascinating. I certainly wish Barker would have expanded on the character. But, I am happy with the tiny piece of deadly sweetness that he gave us.

 

“The Madonna”: Undoubtedly my favorite of the collection. The concept contained in the tale’s central narrative is one that is personal to me and my beliefs. It almost makes me feel connected to the author as it appears we may share similar views on such things. The world he creates in this magical tale of fearsome fantasy carries so much depth and potential that I was disappointed when it ended. I wanted to read an entire 600-1000+ page novel on the world and the characters and the myths. What he gives to us is a thought-provoking, enticing scenario of creation and mankind’s role in it. The lure of Feminine Superiority and dominance is a theme that appeals greatly to me, and the play on the fantastical stories about mermaids or Succubae or angels gives an air of classic fairytales, but only told from the shadows: the parts of the stories parents leave out to keep their children from becoming captives to nightmares. I loved this story and was dying to read further.

 

“Babel’s Children”: This short-fiction stands out from the rest in the sense that it doesn’t delve into the twisted and agonized, or the Hellish or wicked. But, it doesn’t fall short on the bizarre meter as it is actually quite a what-if scenario that is excruciatingly horrifying, but also very plausible. Sometimes, if you really take a look at what goes on in the world, you could honestly see the plot of this story not being far from reality. But, this story begins as more of a suspense-thriller and ends under the guise of government-conspiracy-action novel. Either way, I felt this was a satisfying end to the book considering it ended on a note that felt very satiating and didn’t make the reader pine for the rest of the tale.

 

 

So, I continue to thoroughly enjoy Barker’s work, and even more see why he is my favorite author. I look forward to reading more of his stuff as time goes on.

FROM THE PLEASURE HUNT

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Silhouette’s putting her clothes back on when I wake up. I assume she is about to split, which is fine; it’s the nature of the rendezvous: no strings. The creak of the mattress when I move alerts her to my waking. She finishes pulling her blue tank-top back on and looks over at me from across the room.

“Hey,” she says.

“You leaving?”

She smiles. “Yeah, you know. I got to get home. I didn’t want to wake you up since you told me you haven’t been sleeping too well.”

“It’s okay. I was kind of crazy tonight, anyway.”

She smiles. “We all have our moments.”

I can’t help but look at her long, toned legs as she stands before me in her skimpy dark underwear. Her messed up hair reminds me of everything we just did and, like everything else, that reminiscence reminds me of Dark Dance.

“Hey, do you know any other women in the Club,” I get the bright idea to ask.

She flashes me an uneasy look. “Yeah. Why?”

“I was just wondering about one in particular.”

Silhouette grabs her short black skirt off the floor and starts to slide it back on. “We’re not supposed to talk about things like that.”

“I know. But, I had a rendezvous with her and now I can’t seem to locate her in the database.”

After her skirt is all the way on, she replies, “That’s weird. Do you think she had a bad experience with you?”

“No. Why?”

“Maybe she blocked you.”

“I don’t know why she would. Nothing went wrong. Even if she did, that would just prevent me from sending her messages or requests. I would still see her name.”

“That’s true. I really don’t know what to say to that. What’s her name?”

“Dark Dance.”

“I never met anyone with that name.”

“Are you sure?”

I don’t quite believe her. Her answer was too quick, as if she expected me to ask her that.

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Then why was she just in here?”

The look Silhouette gives me is apprehensive. “Someone’s in here? Is this some kind of joke, Cupid? Are you setting me up? They know at the Club that I came to meet with you. I signed off for our rendezvous.”

Her voice speeds up as if she is trying so hard to talk fast enough to hide her lies. I stand up from the bed. “You know she was in here; don’t act dumb. You can’t tell me you didn’t see her.”

“I didn’t see nobody, man,” she responds as she backs away from me.

I stop at the edge of the bed and hold up my hands. “Relax. It’s okay if you had her waiting here. I get it, now. You and her are friends and you like to play games. That’s cool. You don’t have to hide that from me. Just tell her I’ve been trying to get back to her since that night she and I met up. In fact, all this is actually a relief. I kept having these very realistic dreams about her and it was starting to freak me out. I was beginning to think I was going crazy or being possessed by a demon or something. That’s why I was so distracted tonight.”

“Look Cupid, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know nobody named Dark Dance. Whoever she is, it sounds like she’s fucking with your head. You might want to leave that shit alone.”

“Come on, Silhouette. The game is over. You two don’t have to keep playing me. I matched with her the same night you and I met up. I ain’t stupid.”

“No, you ain’t stupid, you’re just crazy. Now, I’m gonna go, okay. I think it might be better if we make this our last meeting.”

For a second, I study her to discern if she is lying or not. I’m usually pretty good at spotting an untruth etched on someone’s face. If a person normally looks people in the eyes, you’ll find their eyes darting side to side or looking away; if they are timid and don’t usually look people in the eyes, they will glare at you when they lie; the lips will pucker or tremble slightly, or they will crease their forehead in consternation. There may be an odd expression formed in their eyebrows. The voice gets either thicker or thinner than usual. It isn’t in the pitch like people think, but in the harshness of their words. I also watch for nervous ticks. There are subtle differences in the motions a person makes whether they are lying or they are nervous that the person they’re talking to doesn’t believe the truth they are telling them. Silhouette looks like she is lying, but maybe my judgment isn’t clear, though I think it is.

“So, you’re telling me you didn’t know she was in here?”

“I never saw her.”

“How could you have missed her? She stood right there beside the bed and told me to do everything I could to satisfy you. She’s the reason I was able to perform, so well. When I was going down on you, she ordered me to please you like I would her. She even stood right behind me and made sure I moved the right way during sex. Now, why would she do that if she didn’t even know you?”

Silhouette’s mouth hangs open in disbelief. I can read the shock on her face; she’s been caught in her elaborate scheme against me. I know something is amiss; she and Dark Dance are playing me for a fool and I refuse to sit back and accept it.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” I ask, growing angry.

“What angle are you working, Cupid?”

“No angle,” I reply and move towards her.

“Back off, Cupid, and put your clothes on.”

I was unaware of my nudity during my interrogation of her. I look down and see my cock swinging.

“Just tell me where she is. That’s all I’m asking.

She shakes her head and says, “I’m out of here. You’re fucking nuts, man.”

When she turns to go, I reach out and grab her arm to stop her. She yanks it away and says, “Don’t put your fucking hands on me like that, again.”

“What are you hiding from me?” I demand to know. “Why was Dark Dance here and why won’t you tell me anything?”

“I done told you, psycho, that I don’t know this bitch.” Her slightly confused decorum suddenly transitions into anger; she squints and wrinkles her brow, and then begins to rummage through her purse. “If this is some sort of scam where you lure me in here to steal my shit, I’m gonna cut your fucking nuts off. And if some crazy bitch is helping you, I’ll slit her throat.”

“There’s no scam and you know it,” I tell her. “You’re the one hiding something. Don’t try and turn this around on me.”

Once she is satisfied that all the contents of her handbag remain, she points at me and says, “You and that crazy-ass hoochie of yours better stay the hell away from me.”

Something then goes off inside me–a warning light, or a bell–and I become enraged. I lunge at Silhouette and push her up against the wall, making a mirror rattle. My hand grasps her chin from underneath, two of my fingers up by her lips, and I look into her eyes. They carry no fear, only surprise that turns to seething anger.

“Don’t you ever talk about her like that. Do you hear me?”

Her mouth opens and my middle and index fingers curl into it. Her teeth then clamp down hard of them both, making one of them bleed. I cry out and try to pull them free but she bites down harder. When she finally lets them go, I back up and she uppercuts me hard right in the chin. I then stumble back and feel her foot slam into my balls and the crushing feeling instantly forms in the pit of my stomach. Surprisingly, I don’t fall, but my hands go right down to cup them.

I don’t even know what’s going on when I feel her fingers tighten around my wrists and pull my hands away. It doesn’t even register with me until I feel the gut-wrenching impact of her foot smashing my testicles upwards, again. This time, my legs buckle, but her hands press my shoulders and I stay on my feet. Quickly, her arms slither under my arm pits, leaving my arms dangling, and I feel something harder rise up to crush my nuts.

“How’s that, motherfucker?” she asks.

My face falls forward, leaning on her shoulder, and a low, beastly moan escapes my lips. I feel a second blow ravage my balls.

“You stupid fucking bitch!” she scolds me right in my ear.

I gasp so hard I feel like I swallowed a part of my throat. Bile rises up and I begin to cough. Drool drips from my mouth and runs down her shoulder blade. A third shot ties my stomach into a million knots.

“How’s that, pussy-boy?” she asks.

I want to beg her to stop, but I cannot talk. The sweat is standing on my forehead and my gut is convulsing. My lungs scream for air but none comes. When the fourth blow lands, I become so lightheaded that I can barely see anything beyond the twirling red and yellow stars circling against the growing darkness of my vision. She lets me go and I crumple to the floor in a defeated heap.

She laughs when I hit the ground. “Aw, did that hurt your vulnerable little balls? I hope so, you fucking scrub. Teach you to put your hands on me.”

I lie on my back, legs bent at the knees, trying to breath, holding my testicles as if that will help. I am easily defeated, but breaking me isn’t enough. Perhaps feeling she still has a point to make, she leans over, grabs my knees to spread my legs apart and stomps once, then rears back her leg and plants it right into my crotch. The presence of my hands on guard only adds more pressure to the assault and I cry out.

“How does that feel?”

“Please! Stop!” I gag.

“What was that?”

“I’m sorry!”

“Yeah, you are sorry. You ain’t so tough, now.”

She spits on my face and storms out. As I roll on the floor, hacking up my lungs, I hear the sound of feet sliding across the carpet. When I look up, Dark Dance is standing before me, adorned in black leather shorts and a matching sleeveless black leather shirt. Her elbow length gloves and high-heel boots correspond with the rest of her attire. The room is relatively dark, but all the leather on her body seems to shine as if reflecting the moon.

As always, her sunglasses veil her eyes.

THE ROAD OF BLOOD

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Come one, come all, take a stroll down the Road of Blood…horrors and delights switch masks, wear alike faces. Tears are blood, blood are tears and dreams are husks of breathing fears.

If you’ve ever entered a nightmare, bones shivering in their tightly wrapped flesh coats, staring at the mouth of a monster, then you might have passed the road a time or two.

This is where everything dies, and his born, and lives and grows, withers, expands, decays, blows away as decomposed powder, or sinks to mingle with the cold soil of the Earth.

Life is nothing but a constant bleed. Every path is bound by horror. People live for fear, are driven by dread, and all of their monsters have a face and name, even if they remain anonymous.

On the Road of Blood, we will see all varieties of accursed creatures, monstrous maniacs, barbarous beasts, and vile villains from all walks–or crawls–of life, dragging themselves from beyond the light, clawing at the ground, collecting dirt beneath their nails, wishing it was the flesh of an enemy.

God forbid–and He did–that you splash through the crimson river rushing along this ancient street through the oldest of forsaken cities, beneath a ragged sky punched full of holes by the tentacles of the abominable beings occupying–in both senses of the term–the celestial realms of this dark and twisted section of the universe.

The Blackened Earth, beyond the gate of bones and skulls, beyond the wicked whispering void, vast and vicious, vacuous, vexing, destruction, death, eternal life and peril, hollow, slumbering stillness: the sickening cycle of suffering, bold, brazen, breathtaking, backbreaking, and beautiful–it is the mother and father, life-giver and death-bringer; it is all the Light and Darkness in the meaningless life of man.

As the blood washes out the village, collapsed on the roadside, on the outskirts, at the edge of oblivion, a ruined, toppled tangle of rubble and debris, new faces arise above the mass graveyard where the rotting tides submerge the dead, baptizing them in the blood before burying them just above the roof of Hell.

The Road of Blood never evaporates, or dries, or coagulates; nor does it become a tributary to drain or empty. It is eternal as long as the living breathe.

Find yourself swimming, swimming, breaking for the waves that crash the sepulchers, seeping into the cracks of decomposition.

Morbid it may seem, but this is life: a rivulet forever rushing towards the end. Blood only dies in water…

So let it rain.

THE TRANSPARENT CHILDREN

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When the bells ring, the children come running from the broken doors in the abandoned row houses along these deserted streets.

Secretly they all wish for something grander than this concrete meadow.

No flowers, no grass–only tufts of weeds popping up sporadically through the time-worn cracks of the pavement.

This land is like a flattened graveyard, and the children often write their names on the ground as if marking their eternity. They just forget to etch in the epitaphs. Maybe, every now and then, one of the older kids might stand up and recite a eulogy, not knowing of what he speaks.

Even as the sun hangs high and bright, the shadows engulf the sky with mighty palms, blotting out as much light as possible.

But, the kids are not deterred. They keep on playing, and talking, and walking, and praying, unaware that they are ghosts.

A child’s spirit is a wondrous thing, even in the face of a silent forever.

 

CEMETERY STROLL

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The leaves rustle in the cemetery winds. The air is still and I am alone. Caught in the fingers of some unseen autumn phantom, I turn to survey the necropolis surrounding me. Some find it odd that I come here, but I do not care what they think. They are nothing to me–people who know nothing of me, see nothing of me. I’d rather walk among the dead than subject myself to their opinions. So, here I am.

My boots–stained with pale, dried mud from the dreary grounds turned to marsh by the intermittent rain–crunch the fallen leaves, obliterating their husks, erasing the remnants of summer life.

Sometimes I hate when the sun shines. The breeze rustles the grass, it sounds like the day whines, crying towards the onset of twilight, unwilling to give way to the moon, like a child angry at bedtime.

“Oh, don’t kick and scream,” I say, gazing up at the darkening skyline. “There’s always tomorrow.”

The paths in this graveyard are hardly discernible; years of neglect in the form of bramble and debris clutter the walkways. Weeds overlap decaying, eroded tombstones, stained with enough moss and lichen to obscure the words. Nameless now are the corpses, ensconced in the dirt of the world. Earthen beds below the footsteps of life, cradled in the arms of forever. How peaceful it must be.

I am just a ghost in the world, but a visible one. These souls may still wander, but unseen. How secure the obscurity. Often times I wish I couldn’t even talk, then I’d have an unwavering excuse not to interact. I could hang back in the shades, hide in the corners, and pretend to be a carcass in a coffin, unnoticed by the passing crowd.

Ugh…sometimes I make myself sick with all this self-absorbed brooding. I feel like an emo kid’s diary, or his notebook of poems. Sickening. I’m too old for that. But, isn’t every person allowed introspection? I mean, I’m not sitting around burdening people with this sudden bout of narcissism; I’m not sitting in front of a mirror with a razor blade to my forearm. I’m just out peacefully strolling along this ruined resting place, overgrown by time. I find solace in the silence here when the world gets too loud.

A rustle in a large mound of decaying branches interrupts my reverie. At first, I imagine a bird or a rat, or some woodland creature scouring this wasteland for dinner, or perhaps nestling into their home. But, when I hear louder cracks ring out, I can’t help but to try and take a closer look.

As I draw nearer, the movement becomes louder, more pronounced. Several of the branches then sail into the air, landing far away on the other side of the hill of shrubbery and tree limbs, beyond my range of vision. I stop in my tracks, realizing that my company is not of the established denizen of a place like this.

I hear the branches begin to shatter as the massive lump of decomposing forestry starts to quiver, sending pieces sliding off the sides. Snorting grumbles cough out from the other side, followed by a garbled rumble that sounds like noises from cracked, distorted vocal chords.

My body tingles from feet to head, numbing all senses beyond fright. I start to back away, but cannot turn. My morbid nature dies to see what it is. A man? A monster? A beast? Entwined with that dread are exhilaration, excitement, and adventure. I have no idea what is actually about to emerge from the other side.

When I see a large black shape rise above the pile–which stands at least ten feet high–I freeze. I can make out a large, black cranium, jagged horns, and shaggy dark hair. The head looks from side to side and I see a prominent bottom jaw with an extremely long nose, curving downwards into a point. From the top lips hang a set of teeth as big as human bones.

“What the hell?” I whisper.

There is an unintelligible series of grunts just before I watch the head start to rise higher above the dead branches. Beneath the head is a broad, beastly, dark-brown body, rippling with muscles. The smell of death permeates the air. I don’t wait any longer to turn and flee.

I don’t make it far before I step on a bunch of twigs. A deafening, ground-shaking roar then sounds out behind me as I hear the pile of branches begin to be crushed and scattered beneath an immense amount of weight. Methodical, angry vibrations rattle my feet as I run. Heavy, rattling breath drags the wind behind me as whatever ungodly titan arose from the trees begins to lumber in pursuit.

The roar rings out again, almost tossing me to the ground. It is so much nearer, now. All the reserve within me is accessed and I set flight as fast as I can, praying that I don’t lose my footing. But, I don’t know where I’m going to go or how long I’ll have to run. How long can this monster endure? Does it have boundaries?

I’ll run until I’m dead.

The rotten aroma of putrefaction begins to swallow me. The abomination is right behind me. I can see its shadow steal the evening on the ground in front of me. My shadow is gone–erased–just like I fear I am about to be.

The unofficial entrance to the graveyard lies ahead: a small opening in the thin woods blocking the grounds from the highway. I see the gray, dying sunlight beyond it. Maybe if I can make it there, this otherworldly beast will not be able to pass through.

Guess I’m about to find out. I cross my fingers because I am almost all out breath.

SHE CAME FROM THEIA

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Born at the start of time, somewhere in an ocean of darkness, she and her kind arrived here on Theia, long before times we can even conceive. She has stalked the souls of men from the beginning, craving their blood and their bodies, bending them to her will. We have called her kind vampires, demons, and witches. But, the truth is, they are the original Queens of the Dark.

Now, under the online alias of Dark Dance, she has gone rogue to build an army of servants out of the desperate and the alienated. When Sexy Cupid crosses her path, he finds himself plunged into a nightmare like nothing he could have ever fathomed. As his obsession for her begins to devour him, he realizes not just his life is on the line, but the very essence of his eternal existence.

Come to The Pleasure Hunt, where all the world is dark.