Lost Hollow constable Graham Gordon just walked into his abandoned childhood home for the first time in twenty years. Local teenagers have been spreading rumors about disembodied screams coming from inside. Now, thanks to a rickety set of cellar stairs and the hateful spirit of his dead father, he might never escape.
Meanwhile, Channel 6 News feature reporter Afia Afton—whose father is the victim of a local decades-old hate crime—is meeting with town administrator Patsy Blankenship. Her mission is to develop a ghost story feature for a special to air on the station’s Halloween broadcast. When Patsy tells her about the screams at the Gordon place, the past and the present are set on a collision course with potentially catastrophic results.
Can Graham come to terms with his father’s past and redeem his own future? Can the murder mystery that has haunted Afia for most of her life finally be solved?
It’s a fight for the future and the past when spirit and flesh wage war at the Gordon place.
There comes a time in a character arc in which the characters know that something but must be done, but they aren't sure they're the right characters for the job.
In this scene from Chapter Nine of THE GORDON PLACE, Staff and Afia are investigating pawprints that litter the front yard of the old Gordon house. They've been told a story about a demon dog that haunts the area, and are therefore curious. However, the place is private property and they have not yet obtained the owner's permission to intrude.
With this back-and-forth, I wanted to capture that timeless human desire to offload responsibility for a spurious or distasteful choice on someone else. Both Afia and Staff know that they need to press forward, but neither of them wants to deal with the potential consequences of having done so.
The world is full of people who like nothing more than to exert power over others, to control. Lee Gordon, Graham Gordon's dead father, was one of those people. He violently abused Graham when he was a child and now, in death, he has taken ultimate possession of his son.
In this scene, I wanted the reader to understand that Lee Gordon's possession of his son's body--literal and psychological--does not come easy. Graham has spent the 20 years since his father's death suffering the consequences of the abuse, trying to deal with it. The last thing he ever expected was to be forced into confronting his father's actual controlling personality one more time.
The lessons we learn in life sometimes need to be relearned, and often we'll be presented with opportunities to relearn them if we don't get it the first time.
It's Graham's turn to learn again.
The world is much smaller now thanks to the Internet and social media, but it's not so small that there aren't still those of us who cannot break out of the bubble of our own narrow world view.
In this scene, Patsy Blankenship has introduced reporter Afia Afton and her cameraman "Staff" to Jeremy Beard, a very young local who claims to have witnessed bizarre things at the old Gordon place.
Thanks to limiting himself to only the world of comics and science fiction movies, Jeremy doesn't have much experience yet with the way the world really works. Nor is he particularly aware of the diversity of backgrounds, thoughts, and life experiences within it.
In Jeremy's mind, everyone is a caricature in the great comic book of life, and he simply doesn't understand how wrong that view is.
The old saying claims that time heals all wounds, but often time only forces us to perceive our injuries in a different way. Sometimes, as is the case for Graham in this scene, we discover that the monster we perceived standing in the corner was really just an angry shadow trying to exert some control over its own existence.
When Graham was a child, his father was a powerful, intimidating figure who exerted control over every aspect of the child's life. As a grown-up, Graham sees in his father only a mean and sad old drunk who has no muscle or bite at all.
More than that, Graham is angry with himself for having allowed a mean and sad old drunk to exert so much control over him. The passage of time might heal some and might change perception for others. Often, it also causes us to regret our anxieties of the past and the actions they either caused or prevented at crucial moments for us.
There are all kinds of noble reasons to become a public servant, and no doubt a majority sign up for police work because they truly want to serve the public good. But some, like the deputies in this scene, are lured by the promise of power over others.
When you're a latchkey kid (let alone a 12-year-old female African-American latchkey kid), you're wary of anyone who comes pounding fists into your door, badge or not. In this scene, I wanted to capture that fear of the stranger knocking on your door when no one is there to protect you.
For young Afia, the fact that the strangers are a group of white men wearing badges is not comforting. Nor is she wrong to feel that way as her capable senses both see and hear how callously--without the slightest respect for her or her property--the group of men tread into her home. They are irritable, bored, and impatient to complete their task.
They don't care that they are about a break a terrified little girl's heart and change her life forever.
We've all heard that you have only seven seconds to make a first impression on someone. However critical that really is, who can say? The importance we place on first impressions assumes that people's opinions never change or evolve, that whoever is performing the assessment cannot be swayed beyond whatever opinion was formed in that critical moment of first meeting
In this scene Staff, who has previously been called out by Afia for pre-judging the town of Lost Hollow, realizes that she is not where she came from. In nearly the same instant, however, he sizes up town administrator Patsy Blankenship in a rather unflattering way. He doesn't immediately hate her, but he is also not impressed with her seeming layman's knowledge of journalism, marketing, and design (all of which are things Staff has been more professionally exposed to because of his time in the news business).
Beyond sex or skin color, and despite our best efforts otherwise, even the best of us sometimes pre-judge others based on the flimsiest of criteria.
You need inner peace to be able to handle sensory deprivation.
There's an inherent sinister quality to complete darkness and quiet, especially in a world where we're accustomed to the constant white noise of a central heat/air unit, or the perpetual glow of television, computer, or mobile device screens. These are our comforts, the night lights of our adulthood.
In this scene, Graham Gordon awakens in the dark cellar of an abandoned house, completely devoid of normal nighttime sounds: no crickets, no buzz of lights or hum of a refrigerator. He cannot see. He hears nothing. And the only thing he can feel is the compacted earth of the cellar floor below him.
It is disorienting. Disorientation is frightening. And being scared means being vulnerable to all kinds of dark insanity from the voices in your head.
We're all more the same than we are different, so we are told. But each person in this world is also a product of his or her own upbringing, culture, and experiences. In general, we humans seem to like labels. We like to put other people in categories, sum them up in a digest form that we can easily chew on and use as a means of choosing how we interact with them.
In Chapter Two of The Gordon Place, I wanted readers to understand that "Staff" and Afia are more than individuals being thrust into a culture they consider to be backwards. They are also, in part, products of that culture. This fact puts Afia in the difficult position of having to defend her past against some assumptions Staff has made. That effort simultaneously sparks some difficult memories that continue to haunt her.
Anyone who has ever fallen off a bike and skinned a knee can tell you that a road is a dangerous place. You can break a bone or crack your skull open barreling down some stretch of interstate at 70 miles-per-hour in a cage of steel, fiberglass, plastic, and rubber.
Right now you are safe. You can comfort yourself by reading this book while curled up on your bed or in your favorite chair. Just don’t forget about what’s waiting for you just beyond the edge of your driveway.
ROAD KILLS is a collection of short tales of dark comic horror from the mind of Isaac Thorne. These stories are all connected to travel, to the road. After all, it is always lurking there, quiet and dark, just waiting for you to come out for a drive or a walk or a jog. However you next confront it, the road is already there, plotting.
Enjoy the ride.
Everyone tells you to do it at some point: let go. Let go of the past. Let go of worrying about the future. Let go of the need to control every aspect of your life.
The problem is that letting go of anything is much easier said than done. If it were easy to simply "let go" of anything that was damaging us, the mental health industry would be much smaller than it is.
In this excerpt from "Decision Paralysis" in Road Kills, Tina's grandmother is recounting a dream in which her dead husband tells her she needs to let go. Something deep inside her knows that something dark and awful is coming for her if she doesn't let go.
Something that has always fascinated me is the inevitable worsening of any given situation when someone remarks "Well, at least it can't get any worse!" Typically, the universe answers that question with "Hold my beer."
This excerpt from SAFETY FIRST, which is a short story included in my ROAD KILLS collection, is just the beginning of Matt's bad day on a yet-to-be-discovered moon of Neptune.
Over time, I've learned to never question whether things can get worse. The answer is always yes. They can.
When personal tragedy strikes, some men pray. Other men despair. This man goes to war.
Meet Diggum, the local graveyard caretaker, who lives in a small cottage at the edge of the lot. Diggum has spent most of his life angry with God, whom he blames for the devastating house fire that cost Diggum his family.
But Diggum has a secret. It is a secret he will carry to his own grave. It is a secret that he hopes will finally get him his ultimate revenge on God.
DIGGUM is a short tale of dark horror from the mind of Isaac Thorne, a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. His story is one of rage and revenge. At some point in our lives we all ask the “why” question. This gravedigger demands an answer.
There are events in every person's life that form that individual's mission. Sometimes it's a personal affront. Sometimes it's a simple sense of right and wrong. In Diggum's case, it's a personal loss.
You might notice that Diggum has a bit of peculiar dialect. I wanted the reader to know from the beginning that he had a religious upbringing and rural roots. Just as everyone has a catalyst that forms a mission, everyone has an upbringing and experiences that inform their reactions and decision-making.
The question, of course, is can one deny one's life experience instincts and affect an outcome, or is Diggum destined to dig his own grave?
BEDSIDE MANNER is a short tale of dark comic horror from the mind of Isaac Thorne, a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Throughout history ghosts have haunted the imaginations of young children. On a few occasions, they have reportedly compelled those children to perform unspeakable acts of horror against the living. BEDSIDE MANNER documents one child’s attempts to resist.
This scene sets the era of the story without explicitly mentioning a year. I wanted to create a sense of time and place in the reader's imagination rather than just plant a signpost in his or her face.
As a child of both the 1970s and 1980s, I vividly recall drifting off to sleep while my parents watched television late into the night. There are certain sounds and feelings I will always associate with my childhood bedtime. That's one of them. The other is the presence of the Mickey Mouse clock on my wall.
I never saw a ghost beside my bed. At least not that I recall.
She's not bad. She's just bored.
Tiffany is an above average girl, an all-American dream. Her mother is a successful lawyer. Her father is CEO of two different tech startups. Her social skills are exemplary. Her mind is sharp. Her instincts? Killer.
But Tiffany has a problem. She's bored. So bored. She has no idea what she's going to do with her life. That is, until the night her mother dies right before her eyes.
That night Tiffany decides she's going to go out and have some real fun. Some blood-soaked fun. Because fun is powerful and power is legit.
Because being bored is worse than being dead.
Because she can.
BECAUSE REASONS is a short tale of dark comic horror from the mind of Isaac Thorne, a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Most young people attempt to find themselves by changing college majors or working a variety of jobs, but Tiffany is not most young people. BECAUSE REASONS follows her on her murderous romp down a lonely desert highway, perhaps to her own destiny.
In this scene, Tiffany and her captive audience are exploring the beginning of her killing spree. It happened quite by accident but, like the kindling of a new romance or the spark of an idea for a fresh creative project, she's entirely consumed by it.
In a near future of zero tolerance, Big Brother is not entirely born of the government. He is also your local news, your social media friends and followers, your neighbors. Everything you say and do is monitored–and judged. Almost overnight, the fabric of society has dissolved into a culture of carrions: a murder of crows. It was only a matter of time before someone found a way to capitalize on it. Meet Internet, television, and radio sensation Nick Saint, a man who has built a media empire off the public shaming of both celebrities and average joes. Lately Nick has noticed a disturbing trend emerging from the culture he’s spent so many hard hours at work perpetuating. The crows are no longer interested in the food he’s providing, and scavenging for the dirty deeds of others is getting more difficult now that all the world has learned to watch their Ps and Qs. Can Nick continue to find fresh corpses for his starving flocks to feed on? Or will they finally turn on him instead? THE MURDER OF CROWS is a short tale of dark comic anxiety from the mind of Isaac Thorne, a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. A satire of modern media and popular culture, in which people are products and their imperfect humanity is entertainment, THE MURDER OF CROWS attempts to follow the trend to what could be its ultimate end.
Every cultural phenomenon eventually experiences a backlash: a reckoning, if you will, for the societal costs of its extremes. In this section of THE MURDER OF CROWS Nick Saint is pondering how difficult it has become for his media empire to find someone to shame because celebrities and politicians have become wise to his ways, and have found new ways to either operate above-board or avoid the spotlight. As such, his ratings across all media are dropping and his empire is in constantly more rapid state of decline.
Everyone looks back at their life at some point and wonders what they might have done wrong, what they might have done different, and what they might have done better. At this point in his life, there is some part of judgmental media personality Nick Saint that regrets his decision to make a living out of shaming the world. As the elevator rises from the garage floor to Nick's office on the second, he sees an image of his younger self in an ad on the back wall. It reminds him of who he was and his own relentless, inevitable rise to fame and fortune by eating the souls of the unfortunates he's destroyed.
They say it’s difficult to judge a person’s tone based on what they post online. Two social network friends of William Dennison are about to find out for themselves how difficult it can be. After losing both his marriage and his job in a single day, William takes to a popular social networking site to vent. A few irate posts later, however, it becomes clear to his friends that William’s state of mind is slowly unraveling before their eyes. Can his online friends stop William’s real life from collapsing before it’s too late? DISLIKE is a short work of dark social horror from the mind Isaac Thorne, a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Written in the style of status updates and comment threads on a social network, DISLIKE is an experimental story that attempts to place the reader into the mind of a user who is watching the events unfold onscreen. If you’ve ever posted your intimate thoughts in such a public way, you might think twice about how you phrase things after you read DISLIKE.
They look like us. They behave like us. They even have dreams and ambitions like us. But they are not us. At least, we do not like to think so. Sometimes, as is the case with traveling family man Reed Reese, we are confronted by these monsters. Usually when we are most vulnerable. They might not even view it as a confrontation, but we do. It ultimately leads to what all confrontations lead to: a fight or a flight. Sometimes one of those options is forced upon us. This is one of those times. Lurid, engrossing, and NOT for the faint of stomach, NOBODY WAS HERE is a short tale of dark comic horror that might make you nervous about your next pit stop along a rural stretch of Southern interstate. There is no rest at this exit. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you even get to relieve yourself. There is but one certainty when that heavy men’s room door whooshes closed behind you. You’ll never be the same.
You know that dream you have sometimes where you're desperately trying to get away from something and you just can't seem to command your legs to pump fast enough to escape?
Yeah, that one.
I wonder sometimes whether that dream is an ancient memory of some kind, a remnant of our ancestry from a time in which we were required to try to outrun lions.
It's sort of like male nipples, I suppose. Something we don't really need these days but we still have.
Even if that isn't the case, we can all relate to that dream on some level. Whether you're John Cusack frantically fumbling for your keys to escape the paper boy in BETTER OFF DEAD or Jamie Lee Curtis struggling in vain to outrun Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN, you've experienced that most basic fear: the urgent need to escape.
It is that need that this scene specifically strives to convey.
An individual's actions in any given situation often stem from that person's mindset at the time of said action. Mindset is a product of many things, including experience and environment. In Reed's case, his inability to wrest control of his own bladder from his wife and son creates resentment in him; a resentment that's buzzing around in his brain still as he finally gets to stop the car and take a leak and informs his actions and reactions when he finally comes face to face with Nobody.
Mike Bragg is a man you can trust. He’ll fix your car up right. He might even drive it home himself, just to make sure it’s running exactly the way he thinks it should before you get it back. But when he accidentally runs over a small brown rabbit on his way home from work one day, Mike chalks up the incident as just another insignificant rodent casualty. “Too many of them hoppers anyway,” he reasons. And maybe he’s right, because that very afternoon dozens of them begin to crowd outside the door of Mike’s humble abode. Watching. Waiting. Plotting? HOPPERS is a short tale of dark comic horror from the mind of Isaac Thorne, a nice man who simply wants to provide you with a few fun frights. Fast-paced and packed with edge-of-your-seat moments, HOPPERS is a story that might make you wary about what darts out in front of your speeding car on a given afternoon. Better to put that smart phone down and keep your eyes on the road than try to survive the vengeful roadkill vendetta of the HOPPERS.
In this scene, Mike ultimately decides that it's fine if his carelessness while texting and driving took a life, as long as that life was of a small rabbit.
"Too many of them hoppers anyway," he reasons.
Like most folks who have accidentally committed an act that makes them feel bad, Mike rationalizes it. He tells himself that it's not a big deal because bunnies are abundant. They're simply overpopulated rodents anyway, so no one will miss it.
This scene also highlights Mike's own living creature pecking order. Killing a human would have been murder. Killing a dog would have been sad and have possible consequences, but nothing life altering.
Killing a bunny?
Well, he thinks, who cares?
Something's out to get Mike in this scene and he knows it. He makes a break for his gun cabinet but cannot get it open.
The beauty of a character's panic is that it can be used for suspense and humor simultaneously. There's nothing better than a slapstick attempt to get something right only to have it repeatedly go horribly wrong.
Scenes like this always recall to my mind Ash's fight with his disembodied hand in EVIL DEAD II, a film I adore.
In any potentially catastrophic moment, a human being feels the urge to either fight or to flee. In this case, Mike has struck an animal with a vehicle, but does not yet know what animal he struck. Inside, he's feeling the fight or flight anxiety, struggling with whether he should go back and face the reality of what has occurred or flee the scene.
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