Thursday, July 10, 2014


Something is hunting my family.

I'm not sure what it is, because every time I close in on a grain of discovery, it is snatched away from me.

It has been going on for years. Decades, even. I think I finally noticed the strange similarity when my cousin Melinda went missing after a midnight drive a couple of years ago. Back in the mid-2000's, my Aunt Kelly and my young cousins Marissa and Kevin were found murdered on their front lawn by my Uncle Trent. They actually accused him of the murder at first, but were unable to make charges stick. He was found murdered in his own home a week after the police first talked to him. Police ruled it a suicide, but we knew better.

One of the strangest disappearances of all was my cousin Leo, who was led into an old building near his home by a man none of us knew and never came back out anymore. There were a few witnesses who reported seeing him walk toward the old building and go around the back. The man leading him was never properly described, and no one in the family knew who he was.

I don't know who will be next. It may very well be me. I have a few reasons to think it is likely.

Lately it feels like someone is following me. Every time I go out in public, I can feel someone's eyes on me. I catch glimpses of people keeping pace with me out of the corner of my eye, but they're never there when I look directly at them.

Then there's the graffiti. I first noticed it when I was taking the train three weeks ago and looked down at the wall of the car where I was sitting. Scrawled in sharpie were the words "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Kelly."

I thought of my aunt when I saw those words, but I didn't think much of them. Kelly is a common name, and the whole sentence just looked like the kind of stupid nonsense kids write on walls.

But then the other day I had to use a public restroom. I don't see graffiti in public restrooms much anymore, but I saw it that day. Scrawled in what looked like the same kind of sharpie: "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Leo."

That put my hair on edge. I had now seen this idiotic phrase and both times the name was one of my relatives.

I kept a lookout for more after that. And I saw them. In little secret, out of the way places I happened to look. "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Melinda." "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Marissa." "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Kevin." "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Trent." "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Louise." That last one was my great-aunt Louise who I hadn't heard from in years anyway, but it was still disconcerting to see.

Then one day I saw one day another scribble in sharpie, again warning me who Ol' Uncle Quarrel has. This one was different, because I had not heard anything about his disappearance. The name was Jeremy. My brother.

I had not spoken to my brother in more than a month. We lived far apart. He had his family and I had my job. We never had a falling out of any sort. We just sort of drifted out of each other's circle and decided we were okay with it.

My blood froze in my veins at seeing his name. I called him immediately. I didn't even stop to think up a reason to call him out of the blue. I just got out my cell and called him without a second thought. It went to voice mail. I called his wife, Hannah. She assured me that he had left for work the way he normally did and she had no reason to believe otherwise. I asked her to text me that evening if she didn't hear from him, but to have him call me if she did.

I never heard back from either of them. I didn't sleep at all that night, waiting to hear from them. I tried to tell myself that she just forgot our conversation. The next day I called them back. No answer at any of their numbers. I called my parents and asked them to call their numbers. Dad later called me back and told me they had no answer at any of their numbers after repeated attempts.

And two days later, I saw the scribble on the side of a wall downtown. "Ol' Uncle Quarrel has Hannah."

I decided to speak up here in this post because the nature of the graffiti has changed recently. Two days ago, I found some that said "Ol' Uncle Quarrel says you're next." Yesterday it said "Ol' Uncle Quarrel is coming for you." Today, I found a scribble right outside my apartment that said "Ol' Uncle Quarrel is almost here."

But I'm glad I wrote this post. Time has run out for me, but maybe someone will see this and keep the investigation going. I don't know who or what this Ol' Uncle Quarrel is, but I know he's coming for me. There are footsteps in the hall. There are sounds of things crawling. Ol' Uncle Quarrel is almost here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shut That Damned Door!

My parents died in a car crash when I was fourteen.

Don't feel bad for me or anything. I've made my peace with that years ago. Life with them was never great, but I do miss them. It's just that if they taught me one thing it's to not sit around wallowing in self-pity.

I just wish they hadn't sent me to live with my Aunt Louise.

Anyone have that one family member that's just a little strange, a little cut off from the rest of the family? Aunt Louise was ours. She was also our closest living relative. Dad's family lived on the other side of the continent. Mom's parents were both dead and she was an only child. Aunt Louise, her mother's sister, actually, so my great-aunt, lived just an hour from where we did.

When my folks were alive, we rarely visited Aunt Louise, and to be perfectly honest, I half expected her to refuse to take me in. I was fully prepared to become a ward of the state, or move across the country, as soon as I heard that Children and Family services had contacted her about taking me in.

But she accepted. I'm not sure how willingly, or graciously, because I wasn't privy to the phone conversation where she agreed to take me. I was surprised, though, at how nice she was to me the first three days I was there.

I want to make something clear; while Aunt Louise was cranky, odd, eccentric, uncouth, and several other less-than-flattering adjectives, she wasn't a complete bitch. She had a rather abrupt, even abrasive, way of speaking, but she wasn't cruel. I had never taken the time to really get to know her during my initial fourteen years, but I could tell that she mostly kept to herself and didn't particularly like people, so naturally I assumed that she was a reclusive, curmudgeonly bitch.

Really, what surprised me most when I first moved in, it was how normal everything seemed. At least at first. Aunt Louise cooked, cleaned, watched TV, talked to neighbors on the phone, etc. just like anyone else would, and she told me right away that she had little in the way of expectations from me, or at least, none that my parents wouldn't have; don't stay out too late, let her know if you're going to be late coming home, finish your homework before you watch TV, clean up after yourself, etc.

There was one rule, however, that was strange. And it stood out from the other rules in how strange it was. At first I tried not to worry about it; old people sometimes have peculiarities. I initially thought that was all this was. I was wrong.

She insisted that any time I entered or left a room, I was to shut the door behind me right away. It didn't matter if I was only going to be in that room for a few seconds. If I entered a room, I was expected to immediately shut the door, and the same was true if I left it.

I often forgot this rule in my first week or so there. She never failed to remind me of it. "Shut that damned door!" she would yell, any time I forgot. It never seemed to matter where she was in the house, she could always tell when I had not shut a door just after opening it.

Her house was old, and my understanding is that she was not its first owner. She had lived in it since Mom was a girl. I had no idea how old it was. It could easily have been over a hundred, judging by its design and layout. It had two floors, a basement and a sub-basement. That last floor threw me for a bit of a loop when I discovered it existed. I was washing a load of my clothes when I noticed a door, closed, naturally, in the far wall of the utility room. The basement was unfinished, with mostly dirt flooring and bits and bobs stacked or piled or shelved everywhere. The only room you could really walk through without fear of stepping on something or knocking over a stack or pile was this laundry room, which was also the only tiled floor down there

The door I found in the basement had a board laid across it, easily moveable. It was as if Aunt Louise wanted a border there but not one that she couldn't get past, if need be. My curiosity overtook me the second time I saw it, and I slid the board away from the door and tried it. It was locked.

This didn't strike me as all that strange right away. That is, until I realized that this was the only room in the house, other than the doors leading outside, that Aunt Louise kept locked.

I asked her about it one day. She was cooking.

"The door in the basement?" she answered. "That's the sub-basement. Not much down there. I mainly keep my preserves down there. It's cool enough for them to keep."

"Right," I answered. This didn't really explain why she kept it locked. "So if I ever wanted to take a look around down there..."

"For the love of Christ, boy, why would you want to do that?"

I noticed with that response that her face had changed. Aunt Louise mostly wore the same expression; a scowl like someone had just tracked mud onto her freshly-shampooed carpet. Again, she wasn't as nasty as her expression indicated, but it was the expression she was most used to making, apparently.

But when she responded to my desire to see what was behind that door, her eyebrows raised and her mouth quivered for just a second before answering. It was so slight, others might not have noticed it, but by that time, I knew enough about Aunt Louise to equate that with a scream of horror.

I knew then that I had to see what was behind that door.

I've always been a curious type, you see. I've never been able to stay away from something that aroused my curiosity, even if my good sense told me better. I wanted nothing more after that than to see what was in that sub-basement.

But how was I to get around the lock? That was going to be an issue. Aunt Louise kept all her keys on a single ring. There weren't that many of them, but I figured if the door to that sub-basement was anywhere, it was there.

I just had to find a way to take it from her.

This turned out not to be so simple. For one thing, it was not possible to get around the house without being heard. I couldn't sneak from my bedroom to hers in order to sneak the keys without opening and closing all doors in between us; mine, the door in the far part of the hallway, and hers. Believe me, even if I simply left all doors open, she somehow knew. I once had to go to the bathroom in the night, and I forgot to close the hallway door. I had just made it to the bathroom when I heard her yell, even while asleep, "Shut that damned door!" I hurriedly turned back and went to close the hallway door, forgetting to close the bathroom door, and I heard it again: "Shut that damned door!"

For that matter, Aunt Louise's room had a squeaky door that also had a catch to it, so when she opened it, it sounded like a choom-creeeeeeeeeeeeak. There was no opening of her door without her noticing.

So I forgot about the sub-basement door for a while. I placed my curiosity on the back burner and just tried to get along with the taciturn old woman for a while. Life got a bit easier. As long as I remembered to keep all doors shut at all times, the two of us got along famously. She didn't get in my face about things, and I didn't get in hers. It was a pretty silent house, but one that I got used to living in. I didn't even think it strange anymore that every part of the house that one accessed through a door always had its door shut. It would have struck me as more odd if any doorway was ever left open.

Which brings me to the day Aunt Louise fell asleep while watching The Price is Right. It was a summer day, and pretty hot. Louise was slightly less worried about windows being open than doors, but she still tended to only open one at a time, and today she had just one open, one that wasn't doing much at all to cool down a boxed-in house that had zero room for airflow thanks to Aunt Louise's chief eccentricity. So, naturally, she fell asleep. And I saw my chance.

Her purse was at her feet. I was sitting in the chair directly beside hers, reading an Avengers comic book and trying to ignore the repeated calls of "Come oooooooon doooooown!" from the TV. I looked over at her, and saw that she was in a deep doze. Her hearing wasn't the greatest even when she was awake, though she was far from deaf, but I figured in her snooze, there would be little chance she would hear the tiny noise of me rifling through her purse.

I found her keys almost immediately and headed for the stairwell. If she woke up when I opened the door, I would just claim I was doing a load of laundry. But she was unlikely to wake up unless I forgot to close the door, which by now I never did.

I headed down the stairs, for some reason tip-toeing even though I wasn't yet at the place I had been shut out from. I felt absurdly guilty, despite the fact that Aunt Louise had never expressly forbidden me from doing what I was now doing.

The door to the basement was closed, of course, but unlocked, as always. I ducked through and closed it, waiting a few minutes, listening for a shifting of Aunt Louise's frame in her chair, indicating she was getting up, or perhaps her voice calling to ask why I was in the basement.

Quietly, I crept for the laundry room, opened the door and closed it just as quick, slipping inside. I felt for the chain-pull for the light and pulled it. Low, eery light flickered through the room. I had never thought of the lighting in here as eery before, but I did now. There was something about this entire endeavor that felt wrong.

But my curiosity overrode my sense of caution. I crept toward the door and slid the board away from it. Aunt Louise had apparently put it back in place after the last time I had done this. The question of why she had done so played in my brain for a moment, but I ignored it and brought out the key ring.

I found the right key on the third try, and heard a loud chuck of the lock sliding away. I froze, heart beating in my chest, waiting to hear a cry from upstairs. Nothing.

The door opened silently as a ghost. There wasn't any light to illuminate the staircase beyond. I didn't even see a chain-pull for a light on the stairs. My brain was screaming at the rest of my body to turn around and forget this little adventure, but I paid it no heed and crept down the stairs, feeling along the wall for guidance.

It turned out there was a tiny amount of light, coming through vents in the ceiling. It wasn't much, but I could see that there was a pull-string light, just a few feet from the foot of the stairs. Stupid place to put it; it should be right at the landing. But I walked down what appeared to be a fairly compact hallway and pulled the string. If possible, the light that flickered on was lower than the light from the laundry room. I could barely tell I'd turned it on.

I looked around and saw that, indeed, Aunt Louise did have rows of preserves down here. I was somewhat disappointed at the mundane answer to the mystery. For a moment, it seemed that the secret sub-basement was exactly what it was supposed to be.

Except...I could feel a puff of a warmish breeze that should not be possible down in the hard-packed earthen walls and cooler, subterranean air. The sense of wrongness was still there, and still strong, and I realized that the long row of shelves holding jars ended in a doorway at the end. A doorway that didn't have a door.

I crept forward, arms in front of me, stepping carefully. The room beyond the door was dark and smelled musty. I couldn't feel a source of the slightly warm air that was brushing against my skin. But I was noticing that the closer I got to that room, the warmer the air became.

By the time I was at the mouth of the tunnel (somehow I had started thinking of this place as a tunnel by this time), the air wasn't just warm, it was humid. Fetid. The smell went from musty to moldy, to something even worse. I was assailed by that sense of wrongness stronger than ever. I had to get out of here. Why was I walking even closer?

There wasn't much light, but I could see the outline of another door on the other side of the room. It was ajar. Seeing a door ajar in Aunt Louise's house was like seeing a shattered window in anyone else's. It was wrong. It was not meant to be. But then...I wasn't precisely in Aunt Louise's house anymore, was I? This tunnel was not built for this house. I knew that in my soul. It was here before. Long before. This was a place that had only become attached to Aunt Louise's house by short-sighted builders, unaware of what they had unearthed. What they should have left buried.

It took me a moment to realize that the room beyond, the very room I was about to step into, was moving. The light was too dim to really see what was happening, but there was motion beyond it. Unceasing, slow, lazy motion. All along the walls, the floor. I could hear a slight squelching noise from its every corner. Things were crawling, expanding their pulpous flesh.

And looking at me. Daring me to cross that floor and shut the door on the far side, forever closing out what might be coming through it. I heard sucking sounds. Some formless, gelatinous presence stretched and flexed in the darkness.

In that moment, a sense of understanding came to me. I was not the first person to stand at this door. This door that could not be closed. Not the first person to see that other door, the one that was not meant to be, standing open on the other side, and knowing that it always would, until someone worked up the courage to cross the threshold and close it.

Aunt Louise had not had the courage, so she had fled, and kept every door in her house closed at all times, hoping against hope that keeping her doors closed at all times would alert her when whatever was beyond that damned door finally came for her.

I didn't have the courage, either. I turned and fled, and never looked back. When I was sixteen I moved out of Aunt Louise's and into a Halfway House. Once I was eighteen I got a job upstate, and moved there. I never went back to Aunt Louise's and never called her, tried hard to not even think about her.

But I haven't been successful. I still think back to the day I stood at that doorway, about the squelching, wriggling things that waited in the dark. And I wonder if Aunt Louise ever found the strength to cross the room and shut that damned door.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Disappearance of Joren Vanger

Ten years ago, Joren Vanger, known better by his stage name Necrothrål, disappeared into the aether.

You may not know his name, or even his stage name. His act was part of a niche market; the kind that refuses growth by its very nature.

The "black metal" genre, a dark offshoot of mainstream metal, has been sneeringly referred to as hipsterism for metalheads. This is because, if you've heard of them, then they probably aren't a black metal band. These are the guys that make Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper look like posers.

The black metal scene has little to do with entertainment. The bands, fans, groupies, club managers, etc., all consider themselves part of something greater; a subculture that is about authenticity and not at all about spectacle. Many bands don't play live at all, though Desicræd did. Others refuse to appear in public unless it's to perform, and they treat their concerts like rituals. They pile their stages full with charming set pieces like severed animal heads, inverted crosses, pentagrams and other demonic symbols.

For the last twenty years, Desicræd, pronounced "DES-uh-Creed" has been one of the biggest names, if indeed the term "big name" can be used with this genre, in black metal, and it was owned and managed by Joren "Necrothrål" Vanger, who wrote their lyrics, arranged their songs, played lead guitar and was also their lead...bellower. For many, he was the band, and this was later proven by the fact that they completely fell apart after his disappearance.

Vanger, born in Askersund, Sweden in 1959, migrated to the US with his parents in 1972. After a bitter falling out with his family, he founded Skitpågud, his first band, in 1985. Skitpågud  stayed together for just over a year before dissolving, and at that point Vanger, who began calling himself
Necrothrål, and his bass player H'arr Bŷngr (real name Kyle Cormier), became the founding members of Desicræd, along with drummer Kurtis "Baphomeat" Stocker and backup guitarist Lynsey "Sacrifeast" Cohen.

Listening to a Desicræd album is quite the experience, let me tell you. Vanger's shrieks sound like rapacious demons bursting from Hell to drag a terrified soul to the netherworld.

Desicræd exploded in the mid-eighties at the SkriptürPhage Festival, where they were a regular performer. Their concerts were more like bloody orgies, wherein Necrothrål would appear to bleed black blood, animal guts and semen were thrown on audiences, and occasionally there were actual murders that took place. The band members were in and out of prison numerous times. Necrothrål would repeatedly dare God to stop his "ritual", and would claim that "God is a liar and Satan is a pussy." The main idea behind Desicræd was that a lying god enslaved a weak, pathetic Satan, and that the only true gospel was that of Desicræd. Necrothrål claimed to be the true ruler of Hell, and that he and his band were weakening the barriers between this "false" reality we lived in, created by the liar god, and the "true" reality of the Hell that Necrothrål ruled.

They were hardly the first, or only, band in their market who made satanic or demonic claims, but they probably were the most brazen. Several bands approached the subject differently; many denied that such concepts as "God" or "The Devil" even existed, and therefore good and evil were mere fallacies. Others denied God as ruler and called Satan their master. Desicræd's position as Hell's true ruler, and their idea that they were literally attempting to bring about Hell on Earth, was relatively a new approach when they first entered the scene, and later bands that took that approach seemed to mix their approaches.

Necrothrål had a personal "glyph" that didn't seem to match any known glyphs from old Norse, Celtic or any other older mythologies that were popular among the black metal scene. He wore the glyph on his clothing, carved into the band's intruments and stages, and he would often personally carve it into the skin of concert-goers, as well as his own skin.

It adorned the cover of the band's first album, Carnal Cathedral, but strangely enough, when it appeared on their second album, Pentalurgy, it was slightly modified. Necrothrål claimed he, and the band, had entered "second phase".

Second phase lasted into the nineties. There was a third phase that ended in 2003, whereupon Joren "Necrothrål" Vanger disappeared.

Now, understand that in the world of black metal, becoming an "unperson" isn't all that hard. For one thing, it's not uncommon for some bands to simply never release their real names or identities to the public. That way, if they chose to stop performing, or if they die, no one knows where they went because no one knew who they were outside of their metal personae.

Joren Vanger's real name was known mainly because he had used his name in the early days of Skitpågud, and because on occasion Lynsey Cohen or Kurtis Stocker would agree to interviews and would openly use their real names. Vanger himself, by the time Desicræd had become huge in the scene, would only answer to Necrothrål and would speak of Joren Vanger as if he was a deceased former self.

I say that to speak to the idea that for about five or so years after his disappearance, no one thought it was strange that he was gone. That is, until Desicræd tried to put on a concert/ritual without him that was mostly H'arr Bŷngr screaming to Hell to give Necrothrål back, saying "His work on this plane is unfinished."

They later acknowledged that there was a planned "fourth phase", but that Necrothrål had disappeared right as it was about to begin. This made him somewhat of an anomaly. For a band to acknowledge that their founder really was missing, and not just dead or retired, was far from the norm. For a while, people still treated it like normal, expecting that at some point Vanger would reappear, and claim to have seen and conquered Hell.

When he didn't appear on the anniversary of the band's forming, and didn't appear when the "fourth phase" had been meant to end, Lickz Magazine decided to send me on a journey to find him. I objected at first, as I have never covered the black metal beat before, but after learning how long he'd been missing, and that he had been officially classified as a "missing person", well, I could not resist. I love a mystery, you see.

The first place I went was the offices of the SkriptürPhage Festival, which are presently in Tampa, Florida, though it moves every few years. I spoke to Lugrë Legion, the organizer of the festival, who had been the man behind Desicræd's first public appearance.

Legion is a 67-year-old Norwegian who speaks English quite well, with a light accent. His real name is Gunnar, though he wouldn't tell me his last name. His look is a more casual biker-from-hell ensemble, including tattoos of demonic symbols, evil faces and phrases, etc., nearly everywhere; up and down his arms, his chest, his face. He wears mostly black leather, his hair is long and ragged and he's pierced through the ears, nose, lips, tongue and God knows where else. Unlike Vanger, Legion acknowledges that most of what happens at his shows is purely to excite the crowd and get them to buy albums.

"I used to be a believer," he tells me. "But I been in this industry a long time. I seen nothing to tell me there's a Hell below, a Heaven above. And I decided long time ago that I don't care. This scene, it becomes your life, you know? I know nothing else. I live and die metal, ya?"

He didn't have any clue what had become of Vanger. "He always a bragger, you know? He was angry, angry at the world, angry with anything beyond it. He decide a long time ago that no one was fit to rule him. He would be the ruler, ya?"

I asked him about the glyphs that Vanger had used, and what they meant as far as the corresponding "phases".

"Glyph looked made up, ya? He said it was for ritual, that the phases were the removal of reality. I dunno. Never saw one like that."

Further questions with Legion went nowhere, so I decided to stop in at the offices of Excrement Throne, the label that Desicræd was last with. I spoke with a woman there who would only identify herself as Succubus, and who told me in no uncertain terms that they did not talk to the press.

Needless to say, Kyle Cormier wouldn't talk to me either, and I couldn't get ahold of Stocker or Cohen.

Vanger hadn't spoken to anyone in his family since first started performing with Skitpågud, so none of them were any help. He didn't keep a publicist or an agent, and if you need to ask why, you haven't been listening to anything I've said about the world of black metal.

It appears the disappearance of Joren Vanger will remain a mystery.

--Steven Faraday, Lickz Magazine

I wrote that article a year ago, and honestly, was glad to be finished it. My leads all quickly went nowhere, and the lone attractive element to it, the mystery, seemed little more than a poor effort to disguise the suicide/overdose/accident/retirement/whichever that had stolen their lead singer from them, all in an effort to retain some of the cred they'd developed over the years.

Never would I have dreamed that I would get an actual response. Few in the black metal scene likely even read the article and outside the scene, few people would have cared about Joren Vanger. But three days ago I received an email from a blocked address telling me that if I truly wanted answers, I should come to a local bar where I was to meet at a specific booth. In order to not draw undue attention to this place, I will refrain from naming the establishment.

At first I believed the email to be spam, but I read it again, and realized that if it was spam, it was a terrible example of the form. I wasn't being asked to send any of my personal information back to them, wasn't even being asked to reply at all. Just show up if I wanted answers.

I deleted the email but I was curious enough that on my lunch break I headed over to the bar and looked for the booth. It was dark back there, but I could see two people seated in the gloom.

One of them was easily seven feet tall and dressed like a biker, in leather and chains with big rings on his fingers and patches on his jacket. I couldn't get a look at his face, for some reason. The skin tone on his hands seemed all over the place, a mix of every skin tone known to man, all in one color that was all colors, and no, I don't mean it was white. I mean it literally looked like one color and all colors at the same time. I don't know how else to describe it.

The second man was smaller and easier for me to get a look at. He wore a natty little pinstriped suit with a bow tie. His hair was golden blonde and his eyes were of a deep, pure blue. There couldn't have been more of a difference between he and the big one, yet here they sat, together.

I had the sense upon seeing these men that I should turn around and leave, and pretend I never saw them. Somehow I could just tell that meeting them wasn't supposed to happen. But as I was turning, the larger man called out to me.

"Steven Faraday?" he boomed. His voice sounded deep, like Ving Rhames, only louder and carrying further. "Come, sit. Have a drink with us. We're buying."

"He's buying," said the other man. His voice sounded like every used car salesman you've ever heard.

Slowly, hesitantly, I sat. Even sitting at the booth it was hard to get a look at the big guy's face. It was almost more like I couldn't look directly at it, like any attempt to get a closer look ended with me perusing the wall beside him instead.

"We understand," said the smaller man. "That you're interested in the whereabouts of Joren Vanger."

"Well," I said. I still wasn't sure I should even be here. "More of a professional curiosity, really. I didn't know the man, or anything."

"Yet you're the only person to ask directly about his whereabouts since his disappearance," said the big guy. His voice was so loud, but no one else in the bar seemed bothered by it.

"Well, ask the right way," said the little guy, "No ritual needed, no demands made of the afterlife. Just a question."

"And you two know the answer," I said, somewhat incredulously.

"We do," said the little guy. "And believe me, we don't usually divulge information like this. But good old Necrothrål was a special case." He spoke the name as if it amused him.

"Few people actively seek to bring the realm of the damned to this realm," said the big guy. "Joren Vanger did, and he got closer than even he ever realized he could. He understood that knowledge of that forbidden act would not be found on this realm, so he sought it in other realms."

"That glyph," said the little guy. "I'm still trying to find out how he got his hands on it, but he never should have had it. We'll just say that much."

"When you issue challenges to the Supreme Being," said the big guy. "Most of the time you're just beating your fists against a brick wall. How could any mortal truly challenge the Divine? Most of these challenges are not issued with any sincerity, whatever the challenger may say, but when they are, it can be rather amusing to see what happens when the challenge gets answered."

"But it wasn't enough for Necrothrål to challenge just Heaven," said the little guy. "He had to declare the Devil a mere pawn himself."

"And in that, he was more right than most," boomed the big guy. The little guy seemed to quiver a little, then regained his composure.

"Whatever the case, Vanger found this glyph and began modifying it, using it in his rituals, making sacrifices to it, and using it to peel back the layers of reality until he really did come close to reaching his goal; becoming the only human to see the Valley of the Lost without actually shuffling off this mortal coil, as they say."

"Wait, wait," I said. "Slow down. You're saying he managed to find the gateway to Hell?" I shook my head. These guys were clearly having one over on me.

"No, no, not at all," the little guy continued. "There's no gate. Not in the literal sense, at any rate. But Vanger was like the rest of you, and figured there had to be. And he thought he'd found the key."

"But it was more like a one-way ticket," said the big guy, with a soft chuckle. "The thing is, people don't get what they deserve. They get what they long for. That's another misconception about the afterlife. You don't go to Heaven for being good, and you don't get sent to Hell for being bad. You are sent to Heaven if you truly desire to go there, and the same is true of Hell."

"He wanted to rule it," said the little guy. "But he didn't understand, that's never part of the bargain. If you actually go to Hell, you're automatically a prisoner there. No one there gets to rule." He shot a dirty look at the big guy.

"But he did truly desire to go there," said the big guy. "And now, that's where he is."

I sat for a little while in quiet disbelief. Finally, I thanked them for the drink I hadn't touched, and left the bar.

I think back to that afternoon in the booth though, quite often. I think back to the amused voices of two drinking companions who seemed each other's exact opposite, and who didn't seem to like one another much, but both of whom spoke assuredly of a man who had done all he could to reach the pit of damnation.

I've listened to a few Desicræd songs since meeting these two men, and I think my estimation of Vanger's lead vocals was off. They don't sound like demons screaming anymore. They sound like the agonized howls of a man being tortured beyond the imagination of even the sickest soul.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What the Hell is that Song

Every now and then, I get a snatch of a song running through my head. When that happens, it can drive me nuts, and it's a devil of a time trying to get another song in there to replace it. It's gotta be another song, though. I can't ever just have a head full of peace and quiet. Sometimes the song I try to listen to and replace the persistent one will instead mix with it, creating this weird cacophonic mash-up in my skull that makes me want to stab somebody.

In the last several weeks, there's one song that's been pretty persistent, and the craziest part is that I have no idea who the artist is, what the song's name is, or even the words. All I can remember of it is a single refrain that repeats the same line three times. The first time is clearly the main melody, the second is a counterpoint, and the third is the continuation of the main melody. It's a strangely pleasant song, sounding like something Del Amitri would come up with, but I've listened to their entire repertoire, and nothing matches.

Whenever I have heard it in the past, it's always been in a crowded mall or restaurant, and I can barely make out even the tune over the noise of other people. The only part I recognize is the part that repeats in my head, and so my brain picks it up above the noise, only to tune out again once that part is over.

As best I can make out, the line is "When I turn it out". I have no idea what that means, but that's as close to what I hear as any lyrics.

When I tuuuuuurn it ouuuuuuut...
When I turn-it-ou--ou-ou-ouuut...
When I tuuuuuurn it OUUUUUT...

On that last line, the singer soars up into falsetto. He has a light tenor voice as it is. Like I said, not at all unpleasant to hear. I have just kept wishing of late that I knew more of the song, or even what those lyrics were saying.

Like a time a few weeks ago that I overheard it somewhere in the background at work.

I work in a cubicle farm. What I do there is not important. I don't mean I don't want to tell you; I mean it just isn't important. At all. If I were to come in to work and all my co-workers had been brutally murdered, I doubt anyone would notice.

We spend a majority of our day filling out pointless reports. Remember the movie Office Space? That's my life, in a nutshell. The worst part is, it takes up most of my life, is pure drudgery the entire time, and leaves me too exhausted to do much else when I get home. Doing boring, repetitive work is probably the most tiring kind of job one can do. Even a rigorous physical job still leaves one feeling like they've accomplished something. My job is a soul-sucking nightmare.

But, regardless, sometimes someone turns a radio on to break the monotony. It rarely works, but this one time, I swear I heard that song again. I was sitting at my desk, realizing how much overtime I was going to have to put in so I could actually finish all my reports for that day, when I heard that song again. But this time the words sounded different to my ears.

You're not geeeeeetting ouuuuuuut...
You're not get-ting-ou--ou-ou-ouuut...
You're not geeeeeetting OUUUUUT...

Heh. Fitting. I was likely going to spend the whole evening looking at this pallid office interior. Not getting out indeed.

I had a date that weekend. I don't date much anymore. In fact, my social life in general kinda sucks. But this girl was cute, even if she was abominably stupid. I kept listening to her natter away at me all evening, pretending to be interested, but only because this girl was sending me signals that if I paid enough attention to her, she might pay special attention to me at the end of the night, if you catch my drift. Some of you might be judging me for that, but you just don't get it. I get little to no excitement in my life. I have few friends and almost no time for romance. I gotta take what I can get. Most nights, if I want any action, I get it with RedTube and my only steady girlfriend, Palm-ela Hand-erson. Unless I was missing my signals, this girl was probably as hard-up as I was, and just as casual about who she used for service.

But about half-way through the date, that song came on over the PA system. It was quiet. Almost too quiet. But I heard it, and I thought the lyrics sounded different yet again.

She's not puuuuuutting ouuuuuuut...
She's not put-ting-ou--ou-ou-ouuut...
She's not puuuuuutting OUUUUUT...

I ignored the song, figuring my own subconscious was playing a trick on me. But it wasn't. The song was completely right. At the end of the date she didn't even want a ride home, and didn't even kiss me. That was a wasted $70. And what the hell was that song? I wondered more about that on the way home than anything else.

Two weeks ago my boss, Albert, took special care to come by my desk and make an example of me. Turns out form I submitted had some incorrect information on it. I doubt it was really the end of the world, but that's the kind of thing Albert is there for, to catch me in an error and humiliate me. He seems to be the only one there who loves his job.

There are certain types of bosses in the world, and the one I hate the worst is the one that's invisible unless you screw up. In fact, I once had a problem that I wanted to send up the ladder because I felt like it was beyond my pay grade. I couldn't find Albert anywhere. He was never at his desk, never wandering around my area. Always I was told he was "in a meeting" or "on a break". That same day, I was so preoccupied by the one problem that I ended up misplacing a decimal on a report I was working on. I heard from Albert in less than fifteen minutes. I later counted how long it was until the next time I saw him. It was nearly three days, and exactly twelve minutes after making another "mistake", this one on purpose just to see how quickly I could bring him out of hiding.

The explosion I got from Albert two weeks ago wasn't even my fault. It was his. The information that was "wrong" was information he had added, thinking he was correcting me, then sent on. Turns out that I had put the right information on the form. So he screamed at me for twenty minutes, making sure everyone knew how badly I had "screwed up". Covering his ass.

I walked past his car on my way out to get a smoke. I needed a smoke break like, yesterday.

I'm not sure where I heard it. There wasn't a radio in the parkade, nor was there any sort of PA system. Maybe it just ran through my head, but I heard that damned song again. And yes, again the words were different.

Why not buuuuuurn it dowwwwwwwn...
Why not burn-it-dow--ow-ow-owwwn...
Why not buuuuuurn it DOWWWWWWN...

And I stood there by his car, hearing that song in my head, and I had an evil thought. Why not burn it down? The bastard didn't deserve a car this nice. I did more work than he did, got paid less and drove an old beater.

I knew there wasn't a working security system in the parkade. The building was old, maintenance was behind, and I once had my car keyed, only to be told by our lone night security guard that I was up a creek because unless he catches the vandal in the act, he can't do anything.

I paused by his car for a moment, and then walked over and opened the gas tank. I took a long drag off my smoke, and dropped it in. I hurriedly replaced the cap and jogged for the door.

In movies, cars that have their gas tanks hit with a bullet or lit on fire explode immediately. In real life, it takes a bit more time. I heard the tank itself ignite, but the fire was contained within the vehicle for nearly six minutes after I hit the stairs. I heard the detonation from there.

My heart was hammering. I couldn't believe what I'd done. I went into self-preservation mode, high-tailing it up the stairs and hiding in a janitor's closet. I waited there for twenty minutes and then walked back in calmly, pretending I had gone up the block for lunch.

I sat at my cubicle and ignored everyone for the rest of the day. I tried not to hear Albert as he burst into the office in a panic. I ignored my own pounding pulse. As the fire department cleared the building, I walked calmly along, facing the ground. They had the fire contained within a half hour, and I moseyed back in, just as calmly.

I had never done anything like this in my life, but I couldn't ruin it by giving myself away. I sat back down, quietly, trying not to sweat, trying to keep my breath even, until the end of day. Then I went down, along with everyone else, to the parkade.

The fire from Albert's car had damanged three other vehicles. Two were undrivable. Mine wasn't one of them. I was able to retrieve it and I drove out of the parkade in complete silence, staring blankly ahead.

About three blocks later, I got the giggles. They started small, but eventually, I was laughing like a junkie pumped full of sugar. I had always been a law-abiding citizen, and I lived a life of misery. But now, I had committed a full-on criminal act and damn it, but it felt good! And Albert, well, how deserving was he, the bastard!

And there, maybe coming from another car, was the song.

Well we buuuuuurned him baaaaaaaaad...
Well we burned-him-ba--a-aaaad...
Well we buuuuuurned him BAAAAAAAAD...

We had, indeed, whoever "we" were. It was a wonderful feeling. A feeling of freedom! I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything.

And I felt that freedom until three days later, when Albert cornered me in the elevator. He was spitting mad.

"I know it was you," he sputtered. He could barely contain his fury in that flabby little five-foot-six frame. His bald head was glistening with anger-sweat.

I was cool. "What was me?"

"You blew up my car, you bastard," he said. He edged closer, like he was going to take care of me right there.

"That's crazy," I said. "I wasn't even in the building."

"You were. No one saw you leave. No one saw you come back. I asked around. There's only one place you could have been. The parkade. Everybody else was accounted for. Everybody but you."

Maybe it was the elevator playing it, or maybe it was my own imagination. But I heard the song again. With the lyrics changed. Again.

Gotta taaaaaake him ouuuuuuuuut...
Gotta take-him-ou-ou-ouuut...
Gotta taaaaaake him OUUUUUT...

I suppose it might have been saying "take him down", for that matter. It was so faint. I never have heard it clearly. But I knew the song was right. Albert had to go down. And I was the man to do it.

I didn't ever own up to torching his car, but I stopped denying it. I knew he couldn't prove it, so instead of denials I began taunting him. Gently, but enough to show him how aware I was of just how little he could do to me. I even began ignoring his constant finding of "mistakes" I had made, which weren't even mine.

And then four days ago, I met him in the elevator again. He had taken to turning his back to me, spurning me. That was his mistake. I lifted the straight-razor I had brought from home and sliced his carotid.

Blood was just everywhere. I mean, everywhere. The door opened on the parkade, and I just about fell on my ass from all the slickness. I dragged Albert to my car and put him in the trunk. The entire time, from somewhere, came that same song, the lyrics changed yet again.

Gotta buuuuuu-ry Aaaaaaal...
Gotta bur-y-A--a-aaaaal...
Gotta buuuuuu-ry AAAAAAAL...

I did bury him. In a shallow grave twenty feet from the highway in a field. I don't know if they found his body, but I know one thing. I forgot that the cameras in the elevator worked just fine.

I still don't know what song that is, though. I think about it sometimes. Wonder if I ever really have heard it right. Wonder, in fact, if I've ever actually heard it at all. I don't know the answer to that, and I'm not so sure it matters anymore.

But it does play inside my cell, sometimes. A familiar version of the words, playing softly, usually when I'm trying to sleep. Almost sounds like it's gloating.

You're not geeeeeetting ouuuuuuut...
You're not get-ting-ou--ou-ou-ouuut...
You're not geeeeeetting OUUUUUT...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"I'm Not BrainDaddy!"

I've never been what you'd call a "gamer".

Sure, I own a console. It's outdated by now. I like to play the odd game. But that's about it.

I'm almost forty. Old enough now that when I was at the height of my "gaming" years, all that really entailed was getting together with friends to play Mario or Castlevania, or Excite Bike, or Punch-Out. Maybe Sonic if a friend had a Genesis, which no one does anymore.

Keeping up with the latest trends in gaming was never interesting to me. I have a lot of interests; reading, watching movies and television, listening to music. But gaming? It was never a hobby. More like a pastime.

Like most pastimes, I don't really understand when someone makes a lifestyle out of it. Today the gaming scene isn't aimed at the casual gamer. You get accused of being a "n00b" if you aren't up to date on everything. It's almost a religion.

So I leave it alone, and have been content to do so for several years now. For the most part, the gaming world has also left me in peace.

There was one time, however, when the gaming world decided not to leave me in peace. In fact, the whole experience was enough to turn me off gaming for life.

It happened at a pretty low time in my life. I had just had my ex-wife file for divorce from me, and I had moved back in with my parents while looking for a new place to live. I had recently gotten a new job after the one I had been at fired me for all the time I missed due to divorce proceedings.

My new job was as a systems analyst for a major company. I was one of many, a cog in the machinery, but I had been in a few jobs like this in the past and they all operated differently. Some of them you only had to care about while you were there, while others expected you to bring your work home with you, and I had not yet figured out which kind of job this was.

So when the call came, and I didn't immediately recognize the voice or the number, my first inclination was that it was probably someone at work. My mother answered it, and I heard from across the room a mail voice ask if Brandon was there. Mom handed me the phone.

"Hello," I answered.

"Hello, is this Brandon Coates?"

"Yes...who is this?"

"Um...I need to confirm some codes."

At this point, I still thought this was a work call. I didn't recognize the voice at all, but I didn't know everyone at the office yet. Maybe this guy needed me to confirm my employee ID or something. Or perhaps he needed to make sure I had all the access I needed for the systems I was going to be helping maintain.

"What sort of codes?" I asked.

"Look, the fucking codes you provided aren't working," said the voice. At this point I began to realize this wasn't a work call. I was momentarily stunned, unsure how to respond to this jackass who was already getting hostile with me. His next words removed any doubt that he'd gotten the wrong Brandon Coates. "For NBA Live. On xBox 360."

I'm only barely aware of the game system called xBox. I've never played a game on it nor did I ever plan to. Also, my job had nothing whatsoever to do with game systems.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm pretty sure you have the wrong number."

"Don't fucking lie to me!" The dude was really angry now. More angry than he should be over something as simple as dialing the wrong person in the phone book. "You're Brandon Coates! You said so! Now fix these goddam codes or fuck you, fuckin' BrainDaddy punk!"

"Okay," I said. "I'm hanging up now. Don't call me again." He was still yelling as I hung up.

I didn't give the matter a second thought. Likely the guy was just pissed and said some things in the heat of anger that he would regret when he calmed down later.

But a couple of days later, I got another call. This time my father answered it, and after a moment, handed the phone to me with a concerned expression on his face.

I took it and said hello again. The voice on the phone was not the same man who called before.

"Brandon Coates?"


"Listen, fuck you, BrainDaddy. You're a fraud and a joke. If I see you again, you're fuckin' dead."

I couldn't help it. I got pissed. "Listen, fucknugget, you've got the wrong guy! I told your buddy a few days ago that I'm not the Brandon Coates you're looking for and this call is harassment!"

"Yeah? You like it? Wanna suck my dick?" I hung up. I almost couldn't muster the restraint to keep from hurling the phone across the room.

"Who are these people, Brandon?" my father asked. The look on his face made me realize that he was concerned, not for his son who was being harassed for the crime of sharing a name with another guy, but concerned about his son who might be involved in something dangerous. I hadn't said anything to them about the last call other than "wrong number" but a second call, from an obviously different person, cursing me out and threatening me? Dad was sitting close enough to me that I know he heard the other person's threat. His suspicions were raised.

My parents and I get along okay, but to say they haven't always been on board with things I pursue is an understatement. For one, they were against my marrying my ex-wife to begin with, and several times in my life I'd had money problems. I could tell by the way my father asked "Who are these people" that he fully expected me to answer, as if I knew. He likely thought they were money lenders or worse, wondered if I'd started selling drugs or something.

The truth, in this case, would truly set me free, at least as far as he was concerned. "They think I'm this other guy who has the same name," I said. "They keep calling me BrainDaddy. They think I'm involved with the xBox 360 or something. I have no idea what they want, but they won't believe they have the wrong guy."

"Well, these calls need to stop, son," said Dad, the tone in his voice exactly the same as the one he used to use when I was in school. "These bad grades need to stop, son." Just the same tone, like the calls were my fault.

I honestly didn't know what to do. Contrary to whatever my father's suspicions are, I have never been involved in any criminal activity, and I didn't know how to deal with harassing phone calls. Also, a naive part of me thought the calls would stop on their own. That sounded like the easiest way to deal with it.

And for about a week, it was. And then, one Saturday when I had nothing else to do and both parents were gone, the phone rang.

I took one look at the caller ID and let it ring. The number and caller's name were blocked. It would most probably be someone calling for Mom or Dad. I had made it a point to not answer their phone if they weren't there. After all, I had a cell phone and most people who needed to contact me would use that.

My parents are very old-fashioned people. They don't have voice mail. In this case, it was probably a good thing they didn't, or it would have been them that heard the message. They still had an answering machine, as if it was still 1988, and, like all answering machines, it didn't give a shit about privacy.

Blasting through the house loud enough that two senior citizens could hear it no matter which room they were in, came the following message.

"BraaaaaaaainDaddyyyyyyy..." drawled a gravelly voice. The person on the other end sounded either like they had just woken up, or was drunk, or had a bad cold. "I saw you at GameCon....sooooo was like lightning through my penis,'re gonna take my dick up your ass so sooooooooon....."

There was more, but it was just muffled curse words. I let it finish, and then I immediately erased the message. I decided it was time to get serious. Clearly they weren't going to stop. I could hardly believe what was going on. These people, all of them sounding like young men in their early twenties tops, had taken what I was starting to realize was an online vendetta way over the line. Their actions were bordering on illegal, and I knew I had to do something before they decided to...who knows? Show up at my parents' doorway armed?

I fired up my laptop and googled "Brandon Coates" "Brain Daddy". Search results were plentiful. The first three hits were nothing close to what I was looking for, but the third had the headline "BrainDaddy Brandon Coates gives his opinion on Call of Duty: Black Ops..." There was more, but that was all I needed. Clearly this was the guy that the assholes calling me had thought they had reached.

I opened the link and read a little way. It turns out there was a guy in my city, a really young guy by comparison, who did indeed have my name, and who was apparently quite the gaming guru. I'd never heard of him, because I wasn't a gamer, but if I were, there's no way I wouldn't have known who BrainDaddy was. He had a following on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and several gaming websites, wherein he would offer advice, reviews, offer cheat codes, etc. Apparently he was one of the most sought-after game reviewers in my area. He had had made friends with some of the most influential names in the gaming scene. And from what I was starting to pick up on, he had also made several enemies.

Finding his email was no challenge. As luck would have it, he did have it listed on his Facebook page. It was probably a business address, maybe one that he didn't even personally check, but I didn't care. Even if one of his subordinates read it, they would at least take the message I was about to send seriously.

"Mr. Coates,

You don't know me but we have the same name, and apparently this is enough for several severely misguided people to confuse us.

Over the past few weeks I have received several harassing, threatening phone calls from people who believe I'm you. I neither know, no care what you did to piss them off so badly, but I urge you to take action to get this all to stop.

You appear to have resources to contact your followers, and if I were you, I would use those resources to inform them that they have been contacting a person with your name and behaving in an illegal manner. If these calls do not stop, my next step is legal action. I have a feeling you don't want that. I urge you to take this seriously. These calls stop, or you'll hear from my lawyer."

I know what you're probably thinking. Why blame him for this? Why threaten him with legal action? After all, it wasn't him that had made the calls. No, it wasn't, but I know a thing or two about online flame wars, and I know that generally when it's reached a level like this obviously had, both parties likely share blame. If legal action was being threatened, this other Brandon Coates would take me seriously.

It turns out, I really, really should not have done that.

The next call was not to my parents' house. It was to my cell phone.

I wasn't able to answer when the call came through. I was at work. In fact I didn't even see the call until my lunch break, when I checked my phone and saw a waiting voice mail.

My call history showed one missed call. Naturally, it was a blocked number. I had no way of reaching the person who had left me this message. Of course, I knew who it was.

My heart was hammering in my chest, more with anger than with fear, but I was a little afraid, too. Whoever these assholes were, they had gotten ahold of my unlisted cell phone number, which I had only recently acquired (after changing cities to move in with my parents) and which I had in no way shape or form put online, even in an email.

I went to my car and retrieved the message. I sat there, feeling hotter than I should considering it was snowing outside, and listened. The voice that spoke was deep, raspy, haggard, and barely qualified as human.

"Hello, Mr. Brandon Coates, a.k.a. BrainDaddy. Obviously you don't know what's good for you. You think you can fuck with us, but you're wrong. We know where you live. We've watched you sleep. We're watching you right now, as you sit in your car. You will never see us, but we always see you. You belong to us now, fuckball. Your worst nightmare has only just begun."

Cold sweat broke out all over me. I was shaking. Never in my life have I felt such fear. My head began to whip around, looking at everyone who was passing by where my vehicle sat, just on the side of the road, less than a block from my office. That guy in a grey suite, was he looking at me? No, he was looking behind my car at a female jogger. What about the seemingly benign homeless man just a few feet away? Or what about that guy about to cross the street...

My gaze went past the man waiting to cross. Behind him was a silent, still figure, staring straight at my car. No one else seemed to notice him, but I couldn't help it. He was short, almost dwarfish, and his proportions were strange. One arm was longer than the other and his head and neck sat at a strange place on his body, almost to his shoulder. He was wearing a Halloween werewolf mask.

In shock, I straightened in my seat and blinked my eyes a few times. When I looked again, he was gone.

My phone rang just then. It sounded to my stressed ears like an air raid siren.

"We've let you see us, BrainDaddy. I hope you understand we mean business now."

I swallowed. Clearly this person would not be threatened by legal action. "What do you want?" I croaked.

"We want you," said the voice. "To die."

There was silence on the other end for a while. I thought the person had hung up. And then:

"But first we will kill your parents. First your mom, and then your dad, so he can watch her die. Then we're gonna kill your cheating whore of a wife. Then we're gonna kill your brother. When everyone you care about is gone, we're gonna kill you."

"Why?" I heard myself ask, as if from far away. "Why are you doing this?"

"Because you don't know who to fuck with and who not to fuck with, BrainDaddy. You don't know the kind of deep well of shit you've disturbed. Apparently nobody told you the kinds of things we can do. Or maybe you don't believe we can do them. I hope you believe now, BrainDaddy."

I swallowed again. I was totally dry, so it felt like my throat was rubbing against sand paper. "I thought...this was just about...cheat codes or something."

"It always starts small," said the voice. It kept getting deeper and more evil-sounding. If Satan ever spoke to me, I imagine this is what his voice would sound like. "High-minded shits like you think you can scam and scam and never get caught. We're here to show you just how wrong you are. You have no idea how badly you've fucked up."

The line went dead.

I spent the rest of that week in a cloud of fear and misery. I could hardly eat. I could barely breathe. I didn't dare call the police or try to warn my loved ones of what was happening to me. I knew they were watching. I knew that one false move from me would only hasten the punishment they felt I was due.

I spent most of my time at home staring at my laptop screen, wondering what I could possibly do to end this hell I had found myself in through no fault of my own.

And then, in the corner of my screen, a chat window opened.

I hadn't used MSN chat for over a year. Most of the people I used to keep in contact with were no longer a part of my life. I had forgotten that the program was in my startup list and constantly running in the background.

At the sight of it, I felt the panic rise. My vision blurred and for an instant, I was certain it was these people again; these faceless people who were always watching.

But the screen name was "BrainDaddy". Here's a copy and paste of our chat (it was still logged in under my now-ancient screen name "DrinkPBR":

[[BrainDaddy]]: I'm sosorry, dude
[[DrinkPBR]]: WHAT THE FUCK, MAN??!!
[[BrainDaddy]]: I can't stop what's happingin
[[BrainDaddy]]: Real sorry
[[DrinkPBR]]: What's happening!? I can't breathe, I'm afraid to go outside!
[[BrainDaddy]]: It's complcated, man. I can't really explain. I never ment it to hurt people.
[[DrinkPBR]]: Dude, I warned you that if you didn't make this stop I'd get the police invovled!
[[DrinkPBR]]: Who are these people??
[[BrainDaddy]]: Nothin the police can doo
[[DrinkPBR]]: What the hell is that supposed to mean?
[[BrainDaddy]]: Lisen, I dont have much time to explian. They where after em but I pankiced and told them I wasnt me. I saw your name come up on facebook and I said it was me
[[DrinkPBR]]: Okay, first, your ass is so sued. Second, your smug fucking face is plastered all over these gaming sites. How did you manage to tell them I'm you?
[[BrainDaddy]]: They dont see like we do. Not really. Can't expaln much beter. There not like us. They love to play games but they hate it it when you ofend them. Told them once to go fuck themselfs. Now they want me dead.
[[DrinkPBR]]: No, they want ME dead, asshole! And they're watching me right now, so don't tell me they don't see!
[[BrainDaddy]]: They hear you and they smell you but they dont see. Lik I said its complicated. That's why I'm messenging you. If you don't talk, they don't knwo.
[[DrinkPBR]]: Just tell me who they are. I don't want to spend the rest of my life afraid!
[[BrainDaddy]]: Thats not how this works. You dont get to escape. They say there coming for you, then your dead.
[[DrinkPBR]]: You escaped them by telling them I was you!
[[BrainDaddy]]: Got lucky. There was another Brandon Coates in my city. But were the only 2.

Except he was quite wrong about that. He was the only Brandon Coates in the city. I was, in fact,  born Warren Brandon Coates, Jr. I went by Brandon, because my father went by Warren.

I quickly logged off the chat room and went to work. I went to my Facebook page and changed my name to Warren Coates, Jr. I did the same to my Twitter name, my LinkedIn resume, my email address. I changed the voicemail message on my phone to "You've reached Warren...", etc. I pulled out my driver's license and smiled, seeing that my name read "Coates, Warren Brandon Jr.".

And I waited. It wasn't until the next day that I heard from them again. I let the phone ring. Eventually it went to voicemail.

I waited for over an hour before I had the courage to retrieve the message. It was the same voice, but the tone of his message was light and friendly. "Oh, sorry. I must have the wrong person."

I never heard from them again. After a few years, I was able to relax, finally, convinced that I was safe.

Yesterday I googled "Brandon Coates" "BrainDaddy" again.

The first hit was his obituary. That suited me just fine. Fuck him, anyway.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bored? Come Try This...

Maybe it's late at night, but you can't sleep. You're bored, or you can't stop a bazillion thoughts from racing through your skull, or maybe you had too much coffee, or you're a little drunk. Whatever the case, I've been there, my friend. I know how it feels to sit there and realize that you're not really living right now. You're just existing. Surely there's something you can do, right?

But no matter what, no options presented seem like something that feels right. It's definitely not clubbing night. Watching TV or playing video games seem like mind-numbing options and you've likely been surfing the net all night and have realized how little satisfaction you're getting from that, too.

Well, good news, because I have a solution. This option might require you to put on pants and walk somewhere, but it's worth it, I guarantee it.

See, there's a building not even a block from where you live, and at any time of the night you'll find the rear entrance unlocked. During the day the place is locked up tight as a drum, but for some reason, once night falls outside, whatever time of the day that happens to fall on at any time of year, you'll find that rear entrance is open and waiting.

What are you waiting for? Christmas? Get your pants on, put on your shoes and get your ass down there. Didn't I promise it would be worth it?

Only, one thing. You've got to follow my instructions to the letter. To. The. Letter. That's very important. Got that? Okay, good. Are you ready? Then let's go.

The building is just up ahead. See it? It's an old office complex that's currently unoccupied. I'm not sure what businesses were once housed here, but for now, it's empty. It's been here for years, and I don't recall a time when there was an actual business open there.

Yes, of course I'm sure the rear entrance is unlocked. Didn't I say that? Let's head around the back. Don't worry, I know the lights are off. It's not like this building advertises itself to the general public. Only a select few have ever attempted what you're about to attempt. Stop worrying, okay? You'll be fine, as long as you follow my instructions.

There's the entrance. Go on and try the door. See? It opens, just like I said it would. Now, proceed to the first elevator you see. What do you mean, it's too dark to see? Just use your flashlight. You didn't bring a flashlight? Didn't I tell you to? Oh, no. My bad. Well, you've started now. You can't turn back. You don't want to know what happens if you ignore me and turn back now. You'll just have to use what light there is from the moon to proceed.

Okay, the elevator is ten paces forward and to the right. This building is ten floors tall. You will be going to the eleventh floor. What you...shut up, I'm explaining. What you need to do is get in the elevator and immediately press and hold the button for the tenth floor. When it starts to flash, let go of it right away and tap the button for the first floor...

Phew. You did a good job there. Now the elevator is proceeding the the eleventh floor. If you'd pressed those buttons any differently you might have wound up on a different floor, and believe me, you don't want that.

The elevator doors open on a hallway that leads straight forward to a brightly illuminated EXIT sign. This is not our path. You run for that exit, and you'll probably never make it there. If you do, you'll find out that the sign lies. Instead, you need to turn to the left and take the first door you see.

Wait! Is that really the first door you saw? You were about to head into it without even realizing that it was not the first door you saw. It was the second. The first door you saw was the one your eyes cast upon as you were turning. It's the second doorway on the left, true, but it wasn't the first door you saw after I gave the instruction.

See what I mean? You have to follow my instructions to the letter. That was the last time I'm going to warn you that you're choosing wrong. Pay careful attention from now on or who knows what will happen?

Head through the door and sit down immediately.

Good job. You apparently understand now. Do as I say, and only as I say if you hope to get through this with your sanity and/or life intact. Ignore that cold sweat on your scalp and congratulate yourself that you didn't close the door but instead sat down as soon as I told you to.

The room before you is black. Blacker than anything you've ever seen. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. You need to sit there, perfectly still, not moving a muscle, until I say move.

Count your heartbeats. When you get to twenty, stand up. One...two... Remember to count heartbeats, not seconds.

There. You got to twenty and you are standing. Now, announce to the room, "That which is darkest is closest. That which is closest is watching. That which is watching is furthest."

Did you say it? You didn't hesitate after standing, did you? Did you speak as I told you the words or did you wait until you heard them all? If you waited, you are done for.

Okay, it looks like they're satisfied. That's good news for you. You may proceed. Take one step forward and then immediately turn right. Walk forward until you come to a door. Open it, close it immediately, and stand with your back to the room. This room will be as dark as the first.

Stop breathing. Hold your breath and no matter how much it hurts, do not let it out. What is in this room follows the sound of breath, and if it hears any, well, I won't tell you what it will do or you will release that breath and bolt for it. Keep holding your breath and count another twenty heartbeats.

Now, the breath must really be straining your lungs. I understand that. Stay facing the door, but walk backwards until your back presses against the far wall. Keep that breath held. Walk slowly. Ooh, I bet you just can't stand it anymore, can you? You simply must release the breath. I can't stop you. All I can do is remind you that you are not alone in this room, and breathing would be so much worse than simply keeping your breath held...

There's the far wall. Without looking, feel for a door handle. Open it. Step through and close it. Now release that breath. Feels good now, doesn't it? You're about a quarter of the way through, and you're still alive and still yourself. You're doing quite well so far.

The room you are now standing in is not dark, as the others have been. It's lit by a small fire on the far end. A huddled figure is sitting by that fire. Don't turn around! At least, don't do so, until you stand straight, and announce in a clear voice, "Might I share your fire for a moment?"

Now wait. Count your heartbeats again. If you get to ten and have heard nothing, hold your breath again and run back through the door you came in through without looking back.

There. Was that a soft grunt? Did it come from the figure? Be careful. Think hard about it. If you decide that it was indeed a soft grunt of ascent, turn and go to the fire and huddle before it like the figure is. While walking, you likely noticed that there are five doors in this room, including the one you came through.

Huddle on the opposite side of the fire as the figure, but make sure you huddle yourself in the same position. Never look directly at it. You won't like what you see. Now you may ask it any question you want to. Here's the catch. If it's the wrong question, you will be stuck huddled in this position while it can get up and leave. Most people ask it which door to take.

Good, you're asking him which door to take. And if you listen, he will tell you that it's the right-hand door closest to the one you came in.

Don't get up yet! Consider the fact that this figure is not your friend. It doesn't know you, and it  probably doesn't like you very much. Could it have lied? Maybe you should take exactly the opposite door it suggested. Or maybe this creature cannot lie, and you should listen to it.

No, don't ask me. I truly don't know. One of these doors is the right one, but it's never the same door. You get to choose whether you believe the figure or not.

Seems like you've chosen to listen to it. Let's see what happens...

Wow. Looks like today is your lucky day. You're doing very well so far.

You find yourself in another long hallway. This one is longer and much, much darker. There are two doors at the end. If you walk straight to those doors, you will be forced to choose one, and neither is marked. You can feel that presence, can't you. The one that's right behind you. You can feel its breath on your neck. You can sense how close it is. The hairs on your neck prick up.

It's going to follow you. If you look around, you will regret it. Don't speak to it. Don't acknowledge it in any way. Just walk. Walk until you hear whispering. If I were you, I would pay attention to that whispering. Not so much what's being said as which door it's coming from.

You're hearing it now, aren't you? Yes, just right up there to the right. You stopped as soon as you heard it. You're still listening. You're doing so well. Yes, it's still there, and yes, you still need to ignore it. Turn to the door you hear it coming from and walk straight toward it. Place your hand on the knob.

Now, here's where things get complicated. On the other side of that door is whatever you're picturing in your head when you turn the knob. So it's important, vital, that you do not think of the thing you fear the most. You know that thing that sometimes keeps you awake at night because you're certain that if you close your eyes, it will come for you? That creeping feeling you get when you think someone's watching you? That idea or thought that your deepest nightmares try to hide from you?

I'm warning you, if you're thinking about it, stop. Don't turn that doorknob until you've cleared it from your mind. Are you still thinking about it? You are, aren't you? The presence behind you is getting closer. You have three ways out of this. You can run for the two doors at the end and accept whatever fate lies beyond them, you can let the presence behind you catch you, and do whatever it's going to do, or you can stop thinking about your fear right now and open that door!

Whatever your choice, you're not bored anymore. Told you it was worth it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

"Scarecrow" by R. Scabree: A Review-as-I-Read Post

I have been in the mood to read something that truly scares me. That's pretty rare. I'm not a person who scares easily. It's possible that some modern writers are told to dial it back when they write scary books, because who knows, a kid could be reading them.

I dunno. But I do know that I have been feeling the lack of genuine scares lately, so I went to my local used bookstore and browsed the shelves in their horror section. I like used book stores because they usually have much larger horror sections than a chain store might, and they definitely have a lot of older stuff there, stuff you will never see on book shelves in modern book stores anywhere ever again.

I happened upon this book almost by mistake. It was one of the last ones on the shelf, and it was shoved behind some others, almost like the store wanted to hide it. One look at it and I knew it was old, quite possibly a first edition. The book was clearly first published long ago, and this one has been well-loved. Its pages are yellowed, dog-eared all over the place. The cover was peeling up and near to falling off. Actually, the cover is what caused me to pick it up. There was precious little description on it. Other than its title and the author's name, the front contained no information, and on the back cover, there was simply a Yeats quote.

"The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

That poem always gives me the shivers, and I was impressed by the decision to put it on the back, even if I did wonder what it had to do with a scarecrow. The first page had an excerpt, and it seemed to be about a farmer and his haunted scarecrow. That...really didn't sound too horrifying, but if the cover made me pick it up, the quote is what made me take it to the cashier. At worst, I would have wasted five bucks. At best, I might have a genuine undiscovered classic on my hands.

The cover of the book made it feel both ancient and timeless. It was very simplistic, but it evoked something in me; some primal feeling that I found impossible to ignore. I might be making too much
out of it, but I got a sense of foreboding looking at that cover. Modern novels tend to go all out, and create an image of a monster that might be found in a special-FX-laden big-budget horror schlock-fest designed to do little more than get teenaged asses in seats. This cover was far more minimalist, but conveyed more of a sense of unease in me than a million "killer scarecrow" movies ever could. So, I picked it up and brought it home.

I'm only a few pages in, but already starting to feel like I've made a mistake. I've never heard of R. Scabree before, but from the first few pages, he doesn't strike me as much of a writer. He goes pretty light on the scares and when he does try and scare you, he uses a torrent of cliches that I doubt would scare a five-year-old. I'm being a little more forgiving, though, because the book isn't very long, and it's not unlikely that these cliches weren't cliches at all when Scabree was writing them. Hell, he might have invented some of them.

The story, believe it or not, spends surprisingly little time out on the farm, or anywhere near the titular scarecrow. It's actually strangely political; mostly about this fifty-ish farmer named Fenton McCall and his tireless efforts to throw the local Farmer's Union rep out of his town, because he doesn't feel that they'll be fair to the workers. At least, that's mainly what it's about in the first three chapters. The only time the scarecrow itself makes an appearance is at the end of chapter one, wherein McCall has just finished setting it up, and thinks to himself that it's a "mighty fine scarecrow". That's literally all the scarecrow action we've gotten thus far.

There was one scene that was slightly unsettling, wherein McCall, who has been depicted as a stern but loving husband, snaps at his wife and calls her a "nosy bitch" when she asks about the assembly meeting he's just come home from. Just that one part, that's all that's gotten under my skin, and even then it was less about the out-of-character behavior and more just a sense that scene gave me that not all is well.

UPDATE: As it turns out, I was right about the scene being meant as unsettling. It's becoming clear as I read that Fenton McCall is slowly losing his mind. That's kinda more like a horror story, but still not particularly frightening. What does it have to do with the scarecrow, you ask? Well, as McCall's madness grows, he begins to imagine the scarecrow talking to him and following him as he does his work on the farm. It whispers horrific ideas, or at least, ideas that Scabree clearly hopes you'll find horrific, in his mind about murdering his nagging wife, and burning down the town assembly hall at the next meeting.

However, there was one thing I wasn't prepared for. The book is illustrated. I'm not kidding. I don't know how I missed that when I flipped through the book at the store, but there it is. The art is something special, not at all in tone with the rather boring book. I flipped to the incredibly sparse credits page and could not find mention of an artist, except the one for the cover image, and he clearly isn't the guy who made the illustrations on the inside.

His style is very vivid even if it's also simplistic. His drawings look almost like photographs, except blurry, or with eyes shown as glowing holes. I've scanned in the first image, which I trust you will agree is rather...strange looking.
That's literally supposed to be McCall and his wife. Yeah, I don't get it either. There's nothing scary about this scene in the book. They're just walking home from church and discussing the union leader. But this is how our illustrator chooses to convey that scene. If the book itself were one tenth as frightening as that picture, I'd probably give it a much more favorable review than I have so far.

I know that some of you might think the image is cheesy-looking. Okay, I'll grant you that even looking at it here on my computer, it looks way less intense. But there's something about looking at it from the page itself that I can't even begin to describe. A feeling like they're...looking at me, somehow. Maybe I just stayed up too late reading.

UPDATE: Taking a break from reading this damned book today. It's starting to get to me. Not Scabree's writing; it still sucks, but just the...I can't really explain it.

There's more pictures in the book than I realized. I'm not going to upload any more of them for now because I'm having a hard time bringing myself to look at them. It's not so much what's in them as what feels like is there behind them. Whatever it is, I don't like it.

I'll say this; the story has taken a strange turn. It's still barely talked about but Scabree at one point has the scarecrow, while talking to McCall, make mention of "they", as if he has someone he's reporting to behind the scenes. I don't want to dig out that passage right now because when I read it, it gave me a chill. There was a picture on the next page and somehow, I knew that "they", whoever they are, were in the picture. The picture only showed two young girls, but I could sense "them" in the picture, just the same.
That's enough of that. I sound paranoid, or something. It's really not as bad as I'm making it sound. Not really.

I decided to google "R. Scabree" today. See if there's anything else he's written. Literally only three hits came up. I'm pretty sure I would get more hits if I googled my own name. The first hit was a used book site that had once been selling Scarecrow, but it was out of stock and the site looked like it hadn't been updated in years. The second hit was a dead link, which was too bad because it looked like it might contain the most actual info about this book. Maybe it would even tell me who did the artwork within the book.

The final hit was a pure black page, and the "wait" circle kept spinning in the center, as if it was loading a video or something. I waited for nearly ten minutes and, while no video loaded, I could swear I heard whispers coming out of my speakers. They were low, and I never could make out what they were saying, but I could hear them, even as the circle kept spinning.

Now, here's where things get weird. I went back to the search page later on because I was gonna try and let that page sit there as long as it took to load, but the hit wasn't there anymore. The first two useless links still were, but not the last one, which was the only one that I seemed to get any kind of result from, even one so unsatisfactory as a blank page attempting to load a video.

So instead I googled the name of the publishing house that printed the book, Margrave Press. I got tons of hits, but when I put the name in quotes, only two pages of hits loaded, and only one hit seemed to have anything to do with a publishing company. It makes a brief mention of a guy named Tom Harky, who worked as a copy editor at Margrave Press for a short while in the sixties before leaving for Bantam when Margrave went under. I googled Tom Harky, who has his own web page with contact info, and so I sent him a short email. It went like this:

"Dear Mr. Harky,

I recently picked up an older, used book that was published by a now-defunct publishing house that you worked at until it closed. Do you remember much about your time at Margrave Press? If you do, I hope you can give me some information about a writer named R. Scabree, who wrote the book I'm reading. It's a horror novel called Scarecrow. Specifically, I'd like to know who it was who contributed the in-book artwork for the book, as it's very well-done, but I can't seem to find the name of the artist, and online info doesn't seem to help either.

Any help you can offer on this would be appreciated."

I also decided to google Wesley Childs, the artist who did the work for the front cover. He also has a website, but nowhere on it did I see the simple, yet evocative picture he had done for Scarecrow. In fact, nothing he had up on his website looked much like that.

We'll see if I ever hear back from either man.

UPDATE: Well, I am almost halfway through the book now. I decided to keep reading despite any misgivings I felt the other day. Scabree's skills with prose and dialogue haven't improved, but the story has taken a much darker turn. I guess I understand a little better why Yeats's "The Second Coming" was used as a quote now. As McCall's madness grows, the more he starts speaking in poetic, gloom-and-doom language, like the poem. He even quotes it a few times. At one point he screams at the man leading the town assembly meeting that "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity!"

He turns murderous later, and finally kills a fellow farmer, one that was the most outspoken that the Union should be formed, and just before slitting his throat hisses at him "Things fall apart. The center cannot hold."

My first reaction to this usage of the poem is to say "bullshit" because, honestly, it's like Scabree just liked the poem and thought it sounded scary, so he decided his murderous farmer would start spouting passages of it. There's no clue elsewhere that he's the kind of man who would even read Yeats. However, there is an Apocalyptic tone to the poem and the scarecrow has an Apocalyptic tone when he speaks to McCall. He warns him that the tide is turning and soon all innocence will be drowned, which also comes from "The Second Coming". Somehow, Scabree's able to make the lines sound like the scarecrow came up with them. Maybe he's not as bad a writer as I thought.

Also, those pictures keep appearing. I swear earlier today I flipped ahead five or six pages to see when this chapter would be over, and there weren't any pictures. Just now I flipped to the third page, and I was greeted with this:
I mean, what the hell is that!? It has nothing, literally nothing, to do with the story. And I could swear it wasn't there earlier today. Much like the others, those eyes, man. I want it to just be my imagination, but I swear they're looking at me, and seeing me. Writing it down like that it feels stupid. But all I can say is, read this damned thing for yourself and tell me it doesn't creep you out.

UPDATE: Heard back from Wesley Child today. He says he only barely remembers making that drawing. The dude is something like 80 now, and he was commissioned for that piece in the early 60's. He said he's never read the book himself, and that he only remembered the painting when I emailed him. He seemed surprised that anyone is reading this book in the modern age because according to him they only printed a handful of copies. He wasn't sure how many. He was not aware that anyone was hired to do in-book artwork or even that there was any.

This inspired me to try and get a hold of Tom Harky again. I decided it had been long enough that I should have at least gotten a form response. So I sent a quick email to him asking if he'd had time to consider my request. Almost immediately, and I mean like five minutes after I hit "Send", I received this from what I guess is one of his staffers:

"Do not attempt to contact us again. We are blocking your email and your IP address. Further attempts at contact will be considered harassment and will be dealt with by the proper authorities."

Whoa. I wasn't expecting that. I mean, I waited a week between emails and I was pretty polite both times. I'm trying not to read too much into that.

I went back to the book today, still not sure if I had the constitution to keep reading it. I don't want to see those pictures again. I don't want to feel them looking at me. The scarecrow is not actually speaking to McCall but it's clear that something is. Every time there's a mention of "them", the next page has a photo of those strange silhouetted people and I have to believe it's just the way the artist had with his work that makes me sure that something is watching me from behind those pictures. Something that doesn't like me. And it isn't coming, it's already here.

UPDATE: Okay, I'm sorry for the tone my review-as-I-go read has taken. I am trying very hard not to let my concerns show in my posts but it's slipping through.

I haven't had the strength to pick the book up since the last time I wrote. I got worse after receiving a second email from Wesley Childs. He apologized for lying to me, and told me that the reason he didn't remember the scarecrow painting is that he had been purposefully trying to forget it. According to him, as he was painting it he kept hearing whispering from it, and once it was completed, he could swear it was coming to life and talking to him through his dreams. He mailed it as soon as he could and spent days after that trying to get rid of the feeling of being watched, or believing that he heard whispers. He says he's never made a painting like that before and never has been able to again. It was the first and last work he did for Margrave Press.

He also told me that he met R. Scabree, but only once, and that it was just a pen name, but unfortunately he doesn't remember what the man's real name was. He said Scabree was a small man, who seemed nervous all the time. I wrote back and asked him why he thinks Tom Harky would wish to block me and threaten me with the authorities just for asking about this book. He replied just a few minutes ago to tell me that Harky has been asked a couple of times before, during Q&A sessions, about his time at Margrave, and any time he is asked, he immediately concludes the session and walks out. He won't talk to anyone about Margrave. Childs himself once tried to reach any other contacts that commissioned him for the cover art, but he found none. It's as if Margrave Press never existed other than its tenuous connection to one man.

UPDATE: It's been another week. Woke up this morning to an email from Tom Harky in my inbox. It wasn't the website address. It looked more like an account for personal use. It said only this:

"If you have that goddam book in your house, burn it. Burn it right the fuck now."

I haven't burnt it. It's on my coffee table right now. I can barely bring myself to look at it. Whatever is seeing me through that book can now see me even when it's closed. I have a feeling it's the Rough Beast, moving its slow thighs, slouching toward Bethlehem.

Maybe that beast inspired the great poet William Butler Yeats to write about it, and just over forty years later inspired a hack writer who called himself R. Scabree to do the same. I don't know. I don't care anymore. I just want it to stop talking to me, dammit.

UPDATE: I tried to burn it. I did. I used kitchen tongs and took it out to my back yard. I dropped it in an old steel bucket and struck a match. Then I held it there. I waited. I couldn't drop the match. Something was angry with me. Something was going to make sure that if I burned the book, I would feel every flame the book did tenfold. I put the match out and left the book in the bucket. I'm not going back for it.

UPDATE: I'm nearly finished the book. Somehow, I'm gonna make it. There have been no pictures for the last several pages. There don't need to be any. They see me through the words I read. They tell me what is going to happen. What has already been happening. I don't know why they would want me to know.