Bad Men Doing Bad-Man Stuff

Presenting a bunch of reviews of action books for the eyeball part of your face!  I'm pretty sure at least a few of these haven't been covered anywhere else yet so they'll hopefully be useful.  Enjoy!  Learn things that'll never do you any good but may be entertaining!  Or just look at the pictures.  You like pictures!

 That's about as badass a cover as you're going to find.  Looks like the cover of one of those old "sweat" magazines. Looks like the artist who did the Lone Wolf series covers, and several others.  Briggs looks like a BMF fo' sho'.

The Killing Ground - John Hardesty (Leisure, 1978)
Joe Briggs is a mercenary who's been targeted for assassination by the CIA.  After an attempt at him fails, Briggs agrees to lead a UN force against IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland to quash the grudge the CIA has against him.  He's soon in even more trouble, though, as the terrorists decimate his troops in a series of violent attacks and traps.  He manages to score some victories with the troops he has left, but they're dwindling and the UN wants to pull him out.  By then he's got personal business to settle with some of the terrorist leaders, though, both avenging some of his officers and a girlfriend they murdered, as well as wanting to finish what he started and prevent some political assassinations.   So, a showdown with the terrorists' top killer is inevitable... especially since Briggs is now on their death list, as well, and won't be safe anywhere unless he finishes it.  Decently written action novel, with frequent fight scenes that are handled realistically; Briggs is tough, but he's no superman, and he doesn't always have a lot of luck, either.  Not bad.

One of the few books I've ever seen that devoted all the cover art to someone who's actually a fairly minor character.

Black Narc - Jeffrey Feinman  (Manor Books, 1977)
Jacobs, the narcotics agent who's the main character in this book, is actually Jewish, but I guess Jew Narc wouldn't be as exploitable a title.  Jacobs is burned out and taking some vacation time with a girl he picked up.   All he wants is some fun but she's in some trouble because an ex-Nazi turned porn producer wants her to star in some depraved snuff-style films he's making, and Jacobs doesn't want that to happen.  Then an old colleague named Washington - who is a black narc - shows up, needing help in busting a bunch of criminals which includes the ex-Nazi.  They found Washington out when he was compromised while working undercover, and now they're threatening  his family.  Washington is a gimmicks whiz, and Jacobs and his girlfriend help Washington plant bugs in the Nazi's office, but they end up recording Washington getting murdered by the thugs.  Jacobs and Washington's sons want some off-the-books revenge for that.  Decently-written pulp novel that's not nearly as exploitative as the title would lead you to believe, and to my knowledge it never actually came out as a movie despite the claims on the cover.

The Burning Season - Wayne D. Dundee  (Dell, 1988)
Inaugural appearance of private eye Joe Hannibal, who in this one is playing bounty hunter as he tracks down a criminal hick named Junior Odum.  He catches Odum at his mother's grave, and Odum stands to give him trouble but swears to go along peacefully if Hannibal will investigate his mother's death.  Supposedly she burned to death while smoking in bed but Junior is convinced that someone killed her.   Junior's right, and finding out who did it will land Hannibal in a few tough scrapes.  Andrew Vachss compared Dundee with Mickey Spillane but I don't really see that; Hannibal is more of a Rockford type than a Hammer, avoiding fights when he can but getting in a few nonetheless, and taking almost as much damage as he deals out.  While the book is gritty it's not really all that hard-boiled, and reminded me a little of James Lee Burke's stuff.  In any case, it's good and well-written, with a solid eye for setting, character, detail, and pacing.

Mafia: Operation Hit Man - Don Romano  (Pyramid, 1974)
Part of a series of unrelated Mafia novels, this one depicts the saga of Dom Caressimo, a former soldier enlisted as a hit man by the mob as a way to start a new "Murder Inc." type of business.  Dom is given assignments and paid upwards of $10,000 a hit, and he's doing well and getting rich until a contract goes out on a girl he once had a fling with.  He fills the contract, in a way that can lay the blame on a serial rapist, but afterwards he has an impotency problem.  He learns that he can temporarily cure the problem by visiting a dominatrix, but for some reason this bit of kink so unnerves the mob that when they get wind of it they decide that Dom may be a liability.  Murder doesn't phase these guys, but a little hanky-spanky gives them the vapors?  Dom finds out they want him dead, though, and he's not a safe man to cross.  Sleazy but well-written sex and violence that plays kind of like one of those Italian crime movies. 

The Headhunters #1: Heroin Triple Cross - John Weisman & Brian Boyer (Pinnacle, 1974)
This is kind of an odd choice to build an action series around -- a police department's Internal Affairs Division -- the watchdog unit that tries to bust dirty cops.  In this book, at least, the authors don't seem to know what to do with the concept, either, and the unit takes a back seat to the criminals as most of the narrative focuses on a high-living Black drug kingpin and his dealings with a brutal, corrupt Black cop.  There's some decent action and drugs and sex sleaze (including a woman who specializes in an act so depraved the reader's never allowed to know what it is) but the narrative gets so muddled you stop caring after a while, and it's trying so hard to read like a blaxploitation movie that it gets embarrassingly racist and silly.  The writing itself isn't bad and I'm betting there's a better book in the series.

You can read a much better review of this book at the great blog, Glorious Trash.

Is that Zach Galifianakis?

Lethal Injection - Jim Nisbet  (Overlook Press, 2009)
A prison doctor is disturbed by a prisoner's nonchalant response to his execution and starts believing the man was innocent.  Driven to find out and with his own personal life in free-fall, he tracks down some of the dead man's partners in crime and tries to uncover the truth about what happened.  His new friends are scary sociopaths and definitely not safe company, and when he finds out the truth, even that has more secrets and drags him further into darkness.  The characterization is a little weak; it's hard to feel much sympathy for such self-wrecking douchebags, but the situation is bleak and severe and packs a punch despite the lack of sympathetic protagonists.  Solid neo-noir.

 The cover art is the best thing about this book, easily.  Gotta love the Glenn Danzig guy in gladiator/bondage gear on the back whose arm's a squid, and the ax-weilding guy with a spider-plant-flower beard and the Cuisinart haircut.  And the insect-face guy must've won one helluva rodeo to score that belt buckle.

Mutants Amok #1 - Mark Grant (Avon, 1991)
In the future mankind bred mutants to fight their wars and do their work, but it backfired and the genetically-engineered monstrosities have enslaved mankind.  Most humans work on farms or are used for horrible experiments, but small bands of human rebels try to free mankind from the mutant enslavement.  One rebel leader named Max Turkel crashes his plane near a farm and is hidden in a treehouse by a human who's never known anything but enslavement.  Turkel is pretty much of a jerk, getting drunk and making lame sex jokes, but somehow he inspires others to seek freedom, and when they farm boy's girlfriend is abducted for mutant experiments, he teams up with Max to fight back.   The whole thing's too sci-fi goofy for me and you can't really take it seriously (the mutants bred a race of Hobbits for Christsake), and Turkel is a clownish, unrealistic oaf of a hero.  There's lots of gore but it all comes off as cartoonish, and the mutants are so evil I'm not sure how they'd maintain a society when they kill each other off so randomly.  If you have a tolerance for sci-fi and aren't too picky, though, you may get more out of it than I did, because it's not boring or anything, just wacky.  


Best Music of 2011 ...so far...

(There's a few links below to click on, if you wanna find out more or hear some stuff...)

Administration Shock Him - 39:03 (blissed out post-rock)
The Atomic Bitchwax - The Local Fuzz (one excellent long-ass stoner-rock riff-a-thon)
Cave - Neverendless (weird + krautrocky)
Charts and Maps - Dead Horse (crazy time-signatures + saxophone-infused math-y post-rock)
Clouds as Oceans - Tides (some dreamy instrumental post-metal with lots of shoegazer-y washes of sound)
Danava - Hemisphere of Shadows (sooooo full of crazy-insane riffs... 70's-worshippin' stoner metal at its finest)

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light (intense + introspective spaghetti-western metal)
Empire Express - Valleyland (excellent filmic post-rock)
Eternal Tapestry - Beyond the 4th Door (kooky space rock - like Hawkwind trying to play Meddle-era Floyd)
Felipe Arcazas - Induction to the Subconscious (desert rock very reminiscent of some of Brant Bjork's solo stuff... tasty guitarij)
Fire Spoken by the Buffalo - Hiatus (intense guitar-heavy post-rock)
Garage a Trois - Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil (freaky-ass post-rock meets jazz... with vibraphones! And the same drummer as Critters Buggin, if you're old like me...)

Giants - s/t (guitar-driven post-rock with some very pretty moments)
Gillian Welch - The Harrow and the Harvest (absolutely wonderful strippt-down American roots music... Thoroughly recommended!)
Grails - Deep Politics (some of the best trance-inducing space rock ever...)
Long Distance Calling - s/t (amazing post-metal, with top-notch bass + drumwerks; even the songs with vocals are good...)
Lunar Dunes - Galaxsea (future-retro space jazz... this'll be the music playing in the waiting room for your robodoctor in a coupla years)
Mastodon - The Hunter (...it's less proggy than the last one; more heavy, shorter songs... good stuff)

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (typical Mogwai, with epic highs + tender lulls + bashing, crashing, angelic choruses of layered + effected guitars... some truly apotheotic stuff, esp live)
Psychic Ills - Hazed Dream (space rock done right... loads of delay, reverb, sorta-tribal toms... downright psychedelic from git to go)
Radar Men from the Moon - Intergalactic Dada + Space Trombones (instrumental Danish band with a sound that lands somewhere near classic Kyuss; bounces from heavy to brokedown in the best ways)
Riding the Diplodoc - Dilettantes Like Lions (instrumental math-rock at its most frantically spastic...)
Russian Circles - Empros (a departure of sorts, more bass-heavy - + the bass more fuzzy - than previous releases; still a great album, but with the band accessing a bit more noise than in the past, at least on record... seen em get rather noisy live + hope to again soon)
Sonic Youth - Simon Werner a Disparu (this is the soundtrack to some Frenchie movie... but the band put the score together using outtakes from the Daydream Nation sessions, so I perceive this as really more of a bonus disc of those sessions, since it's unlikely that I'm gonna watch the film. If you like Daydream Nation, you should get this right away, cuz it's very much of that same tone, particularly regarding the guitar tones + tunings)

Tommy Guerrero - Lifeboats and Follies (another collection of tasty grooves from our favorite skater-hero... the basswerk is - as usual - ultra-tight + funky)
U.S. Christmas - The Valley Path (another single, album-length track... not as directly stonerific as TAB's new one, but more of a psychedelic journey. Good, but it hasn't snagged me as viscerally as their earlier releases)
White Hills - H-p1 (fucking rawk! trippy + wild + heavy + dripping with effects + incredible!!!)


Playing to the camera

Only the first two of these are really new reviews, but I thought a post covering the subjective-camera horror flick genre might be handy.  Not that this is everything by a long shot... just the ones I've got reviews typed up for.


Atrocious  (C, 2010) A Spanish entry into the Blair Witch found-footage subgenre has a couple of teens on vacation trying to document an urban legend of a ghost at their holiday villa.  Supposedly a little ghost girl haunts an old hedge maze on the property.  They wander around the poorly-maintained labyrinth and don't find much of anything.  Then their dog is killed and thrown down a well, and their little brother goes missing, and then things get worse.  It's well-intentioned and it tries, and the actors are likeable and game, but the director doesn't have a good instinct for suspense or fear, so far too much of this is just night-vision shots of weeds that go on and on.  The movie also can't make up its mind about the nature of the menace; there's a non-supernatural solution that doesn't explain the girl's eyes suddenly turning blue.  Overall it's lightweight and amateurish, but if you're a fan of found-footage horror it's good enough to bear with through the slow stretches.

Home Movie
(C, 2008)  Subjective-camera take on the evil-child movie is quite effective and creepy.  Jack and Emily, a brother and sister who have a strange rapport that alienates them from the rest of society, live with their mother (a child psychologist) and father (a silly pastor who doesn't let his calling stop him from drinking and farting and making sex jokes).  Jack and Emily rarely speak or even acknowledge anyone but each other, and they alarm their parents with increasingly aberrant behavior.  First they’re hard on their pets, making sandwiches of the goldfish, putting frogs in a vice, and crucifying the cat.  Then they turn on a classmate, cornering him and repeatedly biting him.  And finally their little game involves their parents....  The acting is great and believable, and as more and more bits of Jack and Emily’s game are revealed, tension builds.  This is a standout in the killer-kid genre, both due to the subjective-camera approach and to the almost-documentary realism that makes it all more unsettling. 

Grave Encounters (C, 2011) Faux-reality show in the Blair Witch mode.  This kind of thing has become very familiar but can still pack in some tension and scares if it's handled well... and this one's handled very well.  It never quite manages to come across as real -- it always looks like acting -- but it does manage plenty of creepiness and some highly effective shocks, and it builds to some heavyweight darkness.  A TV crew locks itself inside an abandoned mental hospital for the night to film an episode of one of those ghost-hunter reality shows.  At first they're disappointed that the place is quiet and boring, but then little things start happening... and then they get a whole lot more than they bargained for.  Doors that used to lead to exits now just open on to more labyrinthine corridors, and they're populated by some very spooky and disturbed spirits.  And morning never comes; it remains dark outside no matter what time it is.  They're left in the dark with limited light and something seems determined to keep them as patients in the hospital.  It's a bit derivative but it works well and ranks high on the disturb-o-meter, and builds in creepiness as it goes, ending up intense and packing lots of dread.  Recommended. 

Blair Witch Project (C, 1999) Hey, you really can make a good movie in your backyard!  The Most Profitable Movie of All Time (cost like $30 grand to make and grossed hundreds ‘n’ hundreds o’ millions... that’s a return-on-investment of... let’s see... a real whole bunch!), and you probably already know as much about it as me and I’ve seen it a dozen times.  Bascially, it’s one of the most original horror movies in years (although the “found footage” concept has been used – anybody remember Cannibal Holocaust?  And did anybody watch the even cheaper $900 feature, The Last Broadcast?) and it may save the sagging horror genre ‘cuz (A) it’s actually scary, not funny, and (B) there are no special effects at all.  Unless stick figures and piles of rocks are special to you.  Plot is simple: three college kids go out into the woods to research the legend of a witch, and they get lost and stalked by something unseen, and end up... well, let’s just say they’re never seen again and all they find is the footage they shot, which makes up the entire movie.  But, on this one ya can’t really stop with just the movie.  There’s a cool website for info on the legend, a comic book recounting the history of the Blair Witch, a book detailing the search for the missing students, and even a “soundtrack” CD with the goth songs that were on the tape left in Josh’s car.  (The CD has some extra footage you can watch on a computer – just in case you don’t have one, it’s just Josh wanting to try to signal planes, and Heather and Mike telling him he’s nuts).  There was also an “In Search Of”-style mockumentary that aired on the Sci-Fi channel and another short film called Burkitsville 7 that aired on a cable service (that one’s mostly about Rustin Parr).  This doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but the hype was so heavy that nothing could.  And, even though the movie does get a little tiresome with all the “oh damn we’re lost in the woods” stuff and only really gets tense in the last ten minutes, this one is a definite must-see.  The unsteady camera work caused some sensitive members of the audience to puke, and the intensity of the film caused one girl in the theater I was in to start crying... that’s so cool!

Last Exorcism, The (C, 2010)  Combination of Marjoe, Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist, and just a tad bit of Rosemary's Baby tossed in for flavor.  An evangelist who's been performing exorcisms decides to perform one more and film it, because he doesn't actually believe in God or demonic possession and wants to expose it all as a fraud.  He's a nice person and cares about the people he's been preaching to; he's just decided that exploiting their ignorance for money is harmful and wants to do his part to stop it.  He chooses a random letter requesting exorcism and heads to Louisiana with a two-person film crew and meets a 16-year-old girl named Nell who's been exhibiting some strange behavior, such as mutilating her father's cattle during sleepwalking episodes.  Her father is an evangelical lunatic who's kept the family separated from society and firmly believes in demons and exorcism, and Nell is a fragile, nice girl but very creepy.  Her hostile brother seems protective of Nell but his animosity toward the exorcism crew is chilling.  They do an exorcism and  it seems to have taken care of the family's psychological needs... but then it becomes evident that more than psychology is at work in this case.  I'd heard that this movie sucked, but it worked well for me, even though the filmmakers blow the whole Blair Witch "found footage" concept -- it's like they forgot they were even trying to do that sometimes and shot scenes from several different angles when only one camera's supposed to be present.  The casting and acting are very good, especially Ashley Bell as the possessed girl, who can snap from being a nervously-friendly sweet girl to a screaming malevolent fury in seconds; she really goes balls-out in the possession scenes, which include a few twists we haven't seen before.  It's creepy on a lot of levels.  Evangelicals are creepy to begin with and they're portrayed convincingly -- I know a ton of people who project that same eerie, almost-mental-illness cultishness.  The possession antics are disturbing, but it's also scary on an even-if-she's-not-possessed level because the girl is dangerous even if she's just crazy, and the father may also be on the verge of doing something violent in the name of acting on his beliefs.  I had my doubts about this one due to some bad reviews (I've got to quit buying into that; modern audiences just seem to have no attention spans anymore) and the fact that Eli Roth was connected to it; I've not been impressed with his work at all, but he produced, not directed.  The ending is pretty weak and is hampered by lame special effect bullshit, but overall this one's worth watching.

Collingswood Story, The (C, 2002) This movie is so low budget that you can figure if they already owned the camera and got volunteer work from the actors, they probably literally made money on the first DVD sold... but (and this is unusual for these cheapies, which honestly usually aren't so hot) this one deserves to make a lot of bucks and sell a lot of DVDs, because it's very creepy, true to its concept, and the acting is great. When his girlfriend moves away to Collingswood, New Jersey to go to college, a guy named John buys her a phone cam for her computer so they can stay in touch. The movie consists of their calls to each other and various other phone cam weirdoes. At first the movie's mostly concerned with the strained, awkward distance relationship, but then they get involved with a creepy cam psychic who tells them that people were killed in cult rituals in the house where Rebecca is living, up in the attic. Unluckily for all involved, Rebecca is a brave young lady, has a laptop, and a hundred foot phone cord... It's an obvious variant on The Blair Witch Project but manages to hold its own and build some serious intensity, leading to a legitimately scary climax that is both slightly disappointing (it doesn't make complete sense) and perfect for the story (are things as creepy when they do make complete sense?) You'll have to seek this unique format little movie out through its website (www.collingswoodstory.com) and deal with Paypal to order it (I'm not fond of the Paypal experience, sorry) but it's worth the hassle, unless you're one of those people who absolutely hated Blair Witch Project... and maybe even then, since these actors are a little more likeable and some have found this to be scarier (I wouldn't go that far, but Blair Witch really worked for me; this worked too, though). It also does a great job tapping into your voyeuristic instincts, so even though the movie is mostly all talk (My Scary Ass Dinner With Andre, sorta), it keeps your interest.

Expedition, The (C, 2006)  Blair Witch Project worship meets Session 9 cultism in a film probably financed by somebody’s tax return.  Five documentarians who say “fuckin’” before every noun and most of their adjectives and verbs too enter the long-abandoned Saratoga Homestead Hospital to videotape it all.  It’s not really supposed to be haunted even though it’s an extremely creepy place, but they soon notice strange things happening, such as cold rooms and presences that make their cameras go staticky.  While they’re wandering around the ruins one of their friends, fuckin’ Tom, goes missing and they have to search the building looking for him.  Every once in a while they cut to footage of the police interrogating one of the filmmakers, and occasional “reenactment” footage.  The strong point of this is definitely location;   the huge, crumbling old tuberculosis clinic is atmospheric in the extreme, and would be highly creepy even if they weren’t trying to make a horror movie out of it.  The main weakness of the movie is length;  there is no reason whatsoever that such a scant story (premise, really) with almost no narrative drive needs to be an hour and 48 minutes long.   At around half that length you might generate some spookiness (even if it’s extremely derivative of Blair Witch) but as it stands only an obsessive interest in urban exploration kept me watching.  A music score of constant eerie music does manage to create some false tension, even while it spoils the cinema verite.  Worth checking out for patient fans of Blair Witch-like films, and still better than many homemade horror films just because of location.  Available ultra-cheap on the Mortuary of Madness 50 movie set.

Off The Beaten Path (C, 2004)  Blair Witch-inspired shot-on-video horror about four amateur filmmakers investigating a story of a Satan-worshiping hermit named Jasper Hagen who did evil things in the backwoods.  It deviates from the Blair Witch style by alternating regular filmmaking (establishing shots of their truck going down the road, etc.) with the point-of-view footage shot by the actors.  They go out in the woods looking for cabins and spots were dead bodies were found.  Deep in the woods they find inverted crosses and carvings on trees (it's typical stuff any metal kid would carve, but it freaks them out) and only the main guy wants to keep going; the others are all easily terrified.  They press on and find some creepy abandoned cabins, a pentagrammed altar, and a book with crazy things written in it.  Then it variates into an Evil Dead rip-off, but with much, much milder gore.  It’s very amateurish and highly derivative, and screws up its “found footage” atmosphere with too many non-P.O.V. shots, and it’s obvious when the actors aren’t ad-libbing (when they do they sometimes come up with hilarious lines like “inverted crosses in the shape of a pentagram!”), but despite the limitations, it does still manage to generate a few moments of tension and spookiness, and is a whole lot better than most of the no-budget shot-on-video dreck that’s saturating the market.  But, that’s faint praise indeed.  If you loved Blair Witch and aren’t picky, you’ll probably welcome this one.  Only an hour long.  Found on the Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares 50 DVD pack.

[REC] 2 (C, 2009) Picking up where the first left off, but weaving together a more complicated timeline involving multiple sets of protagonists (who all happen to be carrying cameras), this is another grade-A Spanish scarefest.  To make any sense of it you will have to watch the original first, because it's not very merciful about catching you up.  A SWAT team is sent into the building to try to contain the outbreak, and they find a priest who's seeking the blood of the original possessed girl, which is the only thing that can stop the demonic-possession-virus from spreading.  They have a bunch of hard luck and are whittled down pretty quickly by the frantic zombie-like horrors infesting the building, who are now sometimes manifesting more demonic powers, such as crawling on ceilings.  Also a group of teens, bored after their bottle-rockets-and-love-doll experiment doesn't work, sneak into the building and soon wish they hadn't.  The attacks are frequent and scary but they also get numbingly repetitive after a while because they're so chaotic; there's only so many times a bloody screeching person can run at a camera and attack it before you start thinking "this again?"  And the movie relies on jump-scares so much that it could work as a kegel exercise video.  The subjective camera thing starts wearing out its welcome in this one because between the darkness and the camera being thrashed around and broken up you end up not seeing much.  But the situation is so creepy and the visuals so hellish that none of that matters too much, and this sequel is a very worthy follow-up, as horrific as the first chapter.

Paranormal Activity (C, 2009)  It was about time for the next Blair Witch Project, and this is it; another simple concept with a “less is more” approach that effectively exploit’s the audience’s imagination for maximum impact.  Filmed on a budget lower than Blair Witch and proving that all those “Pendulum Pictures” 50-pack movies have no excuse for sucking so bad, the whole film takes place in an apartment, with a brief early-morning foray into the back yard.  An apartment is being plagued by poltergeist-like activity, the source of which appears to be a demonic presence that’s followed a girl since she was a child.  Her boyfriend is overenthusiastic about getting as much of the activity on tape as he can, so he provokes the presence to increase its activity.  It obliges him and they soon regret it.  The film’s all shot from one camera, often stationary, and often while the actors are sleeping.  Most of what happens is simple and subtle (doors moving, lights going on, sounds from other rooms) but intensity builds nicely and then stays constant.  There is a slight over reliance on “jump scares,” but they work, and they movie also focuses on creepiness.  It has a very good sense of what works and hits it pretty consistently.  This movie made it to national theatres through word of mouth and people demanding it, so we’re lucky it got released.  It makes me wish similar films like Ghostwatch, The Collingswood Story, and The St. Francisville Experiment (a lot of people hated that one but I liked it, so sue me) had also gotten that chance, even though Paranormal Activity is better than those.  Audiences reported problems sleeping because the film scared them so badly.  It didn’t affect me that strongly, but I still think it lived up to the hype, and definitely wasn’t a disappointment.  There are two alternate endings; I like one of those a little better than the one they ended up using for the theatrical release (under Steven Spielberg’s recommendation).

Paranormal Activity 3
(C, 2011) The tricks are getting a little familiar and losing their ability to terrify -- it's kinda becoming a chain of  "oh, that again" -- but the series is still solid and hasn't had a bad one yet.  This is a prequel, consisting of video tapes shot when Katie was having her first supernatural troubles as a little girl.  Her sister starts a weird friendship with an imaginary friend named Toby... who turns out to be neither imaginary nor friend, as he terrorizes her family.  Like the others this starts out with little creaks and movements that get her stepfather obsessed with filming them all on his videocameras, but he conveniently captures more than he counted on.   A little less is left to the imagination than in previous installments, and it still unfolds pretty slowly, but it pays off with some freaky special effects and an ending that explains maybe too much.  They should probably end it here, but it's not a disappointment.

Nothing in this trailer appears in the film, by the way...

Others I didn't have reviews typed up for:

St. Francisville Experiment


Men with Knives

Here's my contribution to our little horrorfest. I haven't written fiction in over 20 years, and it probably shows, so all critiques are welcome. Enjoy.

Men with Knives

“No. No.”

Anna’s great-grandmother lay completely still, her face compressed into a pained scowl, eyes closed, voice varying between a near-sob, a whisper, and defiance. “No no no no. No,” she kept saying. Anna didn’t know what to do. She was relieving her mother, who was clinically exhausted from weeks of bedside vigils. It was 11:12 PM, really too late for a 16-year-old, but Anna was the only child of an only child, and her father hadn’t been around since she was six, so she and her mother had little choice. They had left her great-grandmother alone many times during her roughly two-month hospital stay, but over the last several weeks she had become much frailer and far more delusional. Plus, they had begun to sense that the nurses were simply done with them, ready to see this one off and let someone else’s relative while away their remaining hours with a bedpan and Jell-O. Thus they more or less stayed with Momma (they both called her this) around the clock, alternating day and night shifts every few days. Only her mother’s job as an Accounts Specialist at the hospital allowed such an arrangement – 24-hour visitation was only permitted for parents with newborns, but the hospital administrator liked Anna’s mother and knew that her grandmother was dying, so he made the exception. Anna often wished he hadn’t.

Anna found she could usually sleep okay despite Momma’s fitful moaning, even in a hard, reclinable hospital chair, but not tonight. She was fidgety, like something indistinct was bothering her. And Momma was definitely bothering her. Her moaning was often wordless and elusive, but tonight it seemed more intense and focused, as if she were moaning about something specific.

“Shhhh, Momma,” Anna whispered. “It’s just a bad dream. It’s OK. Just go back to sleep.”

Momma groaned and said, “No. No.” Then in that urgent whisper again, almost like she was scolding someone without wanting others to hear, she said, “No. No sir. No.”

“Momma, shhhh. No one’s here but me. It’s just me and you.”

Momma groaned, and her features seemed to relax a bit. Then she opened her eyes. She was lying flat on her back, face to the ceiling, and after a beat she looked over at Anna, her brow furrowed in concern. As she looked at Anna, her eyes narrowed in panicky recognition, and then she looked jerkily around the room without lifting her head, her brittle, unwashed hair making a whishk noise against the stiff hospital pillow case.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Momma said slowly. “Not safe…not safe here…Anna.”

This surprised Anna – at her most lucid, Momma often confused Anna with Eleanor, a friend from Momma’s childhood. Mostly she just didn’t seem to recognize Anna at all.

“Don’t say that, Momma,” Anna replied. “It’s very safe here. It’s a hospital.”

Momma searched the room for several more seconds and then looked at Anna with encroaching terror. “There are men,” she said intently. “Here. There are men here.”

Anna snuffled a laugh. “At the hospital? Yes, Momma. Your doctor’s a man. You remember? Doctor Garr-“

“There are men here,” Momma interrupted. “There are men here. They have knives.” She was looking at Anna in real terror now. “They have knives.” Slowly, with emphasis, she continued, “They are in the chairs. They have knives. It’s not safe…here.”

Anna knew that Momma hadn’t been in an operating room in nearly a year and hadn’t had any procedure more serious than a bedsore treatment in months. “What men are you talking about? Doctor Garrison? One of the nurses?”

Momma kept looking at her, wide-eyed and scared, and for a few seconds Anna just looked back. Then Momma searched the room again, only her small head moving, and returned her eyes to Anna as she whispered, “There are men here. They have knives.”

Anna sighed, letting a bit of exasperation slip out. She thought for a moment, staring at the tan corduroy window curtain, and began looking for the remote control with the nurse’s call button. “I’m just gonna ask Miss Frankie if you need some medicine or something. Where’s the remote?” Momma only stared at her. “Shoot,” Anna said, gingerly lifting Momma’s blankets as she looked for the remote. Not seeing it (she didn’t search long – Momma’s bony body bothered her), she looked at the wall behind Momma’s bed to trace the cord and saw it just beyond Momma’s left shoulder, running down toward the floor. She pulled herself out of the chair and started to walk around the foot of Momma’s bed.

“Don’t go,” Momma whispered. “Don’t go…Anna.”

“I’m not, Momma. I’m just looking for something,” she said as she got around the bed. The remote was on the floor; Anna took two steps and knelt to pick it up. As she did so, a chill blossomed in her spine, and every fine hair on the back of her body crept upwards. It was a familiar sensation – one she sometimes felt at night after a scary movie, especially if she was alone in the house – but much, much stronger. The feeling intensified fast, as though the chill were enveloping her entire body and the hairs were literally trying to crawl up her back. Her ears began to ring and the ringing kept rising louder and louder until it approached a scream. Anna had frozen, still on one knee, eyes glued on the remote. What the fuck? she thought and almost said, and as the sensation became unbearable, she stood up quickly without  grabbing the remote and whirled around to her right, scraping her wrist and thigh on the nightstand, involuntarily folding her arms and grabbing her biceps, rubbing them as she looked around the room, breathing rapidly through her mouth, her pulse impossibly fast.

Anna looked toward the wall-mounted TV and darkened entryway, not focusing on anything other than the chill and the ringing, which were less intense but not gone. She was light-headed from standing up so quickly, made worse by the continuing sensation. She was scared she might faint and closed her eyes, breathing deeply to try and regain control of herself. After perhaps twenty seconds, the sensation began to ebb, and after ten more, she felt centered enough to pick up the remote. She held onto the bedrail and bent over at the waist to grasp it, not wanting to risk kneeling again. When she righted herself, she pressed the red “CALL” button and waited for a response. None came. She tried it again but got nothing.

“Is this thing broke, Momma?” Her voice was unsteady. She looked down. Momma had drifted off to sleep again, the papery skin of her brow still furrowed.

Anna exhaled through her nose, mouth set, put the remote on the nightstand, and started walking toward the door. “I’ll be right back, Momma.” As she approached the door, she paused to look back over her shoulder. Momma’s withered frame formed a small ridge in the middle of the bed, just below her tiny head and cinched, sleeping face. Everything in its right place. Weird, weird, thought Anna.

She closed the door quietly behind her and walked down to the nurse’s station. The nurse named Renata sat staring intently at a computer screen, chin in her left hand, index finger over her mouth.

“Hey. Where’s Miss Frankie?” Anna said. She was still unnerved from the last few moments and did not like Renata anyway, so she sounded annoyed, but Renata barely acknowledged her at all, let alone notice her temperament.

“Went home,” Renata said from behind her finger, eyes never leaving the screen.

Anna waited for an offer of help. Receiving none, she replied, “Well, Momma’s acting weird, kinda talking out of her head. Is it time for her to have some medicine or something?”

Renata said something indecipherable behind her finger. “What?” Anna said.

“Weird how?” Renata said, only slightly more clearly.

“Like I said, she was talking out of her head, talking about it’s not safe here, men have knives, and et cetera.”

Was talking?” Renata replied, large eyes looking at Anna now, eyebrows raised, left hand still in place as though her head would pitch forward helplessly without it.

“Well, she was asleep when I left the room just now,” Anna said, knowing what was coming.

Renata shrugged and smiled patronizingly. “Probably OK, then. Folks in her condition have episodes like that. She’s not due for meds til 6. Can’t give her extra unless she gets violent.”

Anna put her hands in her hoodie’s pockets and sighed, angry but helpless. After a beat, she turned to her right and went back to Momma’s room, then stopped and turned around again. “Momma’s remote’s broken,” Anna said brusquely. Renata was back in position, studying her screen. After several barren seconds (during which time Anna thought You’re such a bitch), Renata said, “We’ll tell the engineer” without looking away. Anna turned and kept walking, knowing she was raised to say “Thanks” no matter what but not giving a damn.


At first Anna thought she was in the wrong room. She hadn’t bothered to get up and turn off the overhead lights earlier when she was trying to go to sleep, but this room was dark. Moonlight and the glow from the parking lot lights seeped in as a light-blue border around the heavy curtains. Anna saw the figure of a person seated in one of the chairs near the window and started to whisper an apology for entering the wrong room. Then she looked at the bed, and there was enough bluish light for her to recognize Momma’s form on the bed and enough hallway light to see her own satchel slumped against the chair where she had just been sitting. Anna frowned.

“Hello?” Anna said. “Who-“

Before she could get out another word, the figure in the chair raised its face, a lumpy, misshapen face so white it faintly glowed around eyes like small black dots. Anna’s own eyes bulged at the sight, and the sensation from a few minutes before returned with terrible ferocity. Her pulse spiked so suddenly she was sure her heart had burst, her skin crawled in every direction at once, and the ringing in her ears sounded like the hiss of a cat amplified a hundredfold. Anna was sure the noise was coming from the face, even though it had no discernible mouth. Then she saw a glint of metal low on the shadowed figure’s blackness, and she screamed.

With no idea she was doing it, she whipped around and ran, slipping and falling on the shiny hospital tile but regaining her feet quickly on pure panic alone. She sprinted and slammed palms-first into the nurse’s stand. Renata, who had been standing and leaning over the counter looking toward Momma’s room, jerked backward at the sound of Anna’s voice.


In a nanosecond, Renata snatched up the phone and slapped four numbers, breathed through her nose rapidly while waiting, and then said firmly, “Kenneth, emergency, room 303, hurry.” Then she hung up and dashed around the nurse-station counter toward Anna. “What is it?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” Anna sobbed. Her hands involuntarily came up to her mouth and she sprayed them with spittle as she watched Renata run into Momma’s room. She knew she should follow but simply could not make her legs move. I’m paralyzed, she thought idiotically and nearly cackled. Then she realized she should have heard something by now, but she forced herself to hold her breath and found there was no sound of any kind apart from the residual ringing in her ears. The hospital itself was silent.

Several very long moments elapsed during which Anna tried in vain to will herself to do something, anything. Finally, she managed to say “Renata? What is it?” Silence. “Renata? What’s in there?” Silence. Didn’t she call the security guard? Anna thought. Where is he?

Without actually knowing she was going to do it, Anna started walking carefully toward Momma’s room. She was terrified to the point of catatonia but now suddenly couldn’t stop herself from moving forward or even understand how she was moving at all. And yet, a wily part of her consciousness tried to poke through, tried to say You were seeing things, there’s nothing in there, the lights are on, Renata’s looking Momma and the room over, she just didn’t hear you call out. She tried to hold onto this idea and literally whimpered with the effort, so buffeted and frenetic was her mental state, as she kept padding toward the room. When she got close, she didn’t stop and peek in but just kept moving forward until she was facing in through the open door and could see inside.

The room was full of figures like the one she had seen moments ago. A host of bulbous white faces rose up before her, pairs of dark eyes staring cold as space, countless glints of metal winking against the black mass. The exploding heart, the spasming nervous system, the hiss-scream in her ears all returned, and for a long moment the combined sensations were so overwhelming Anna felt like her entire being was wrenching itself apart.

And then she was in the room, swallowed by the blackness, the spasm and the screaming somehow louder, her entire body rigid but trembling, not moving of its own will but being pulled and tossed, her eyes and mouth stretched to ludicrous sizes in purest shock. Her field of vision saw nothing but blackness and those nearly glowing faces, devoid of features, spread all over what she thought had been Momma’s hospital room. Anna’s mind was scraped bare by her fear; no thoughts flickered across, no coherent messages fired, only the involuntary reception of her surroundings, as if the blackness and the faces were crowding out everything else. Yet even this idea – Where is my mind? – eventually shuddered forth, and she slowly began to cogitate again. Even as the screaming hiss continued, even as she felt adrenaline blasting through and urging her flight, she formed centering thoughts: Where’s Momma? Where’s the nurse? What the hell IS this? And then the memory of glinting metal appeared, summoning Momma’s words from before: There are men here. They have knives.

For the first time since she came into the room (how long? she frantically wondered), Anna focused her eyes, looking for metal, knives, but also evidence of the hospital room: the bed, the chairs (the men! she thought, panic rising, there are men in the chairs, Momma had said), the curtains, the faint blue light. Nothing to indicate the hospital room. But beneath the white faces, she could indeed see glints of metal, thin white horizontal flashes whose ominous flickering made her notice her pulse, which felt like a mallet pounding the inside of her breastbone over and over. I can’t do this, she thought suddenly, and she began to cry, an awful, plaintive wail that shocked her in part because she’d forgotten about the concept of sound at all save for the screaming. As she did so, the metallic flickering came closer, in near her abdomen. “No, no, no, stop it!” she sobbed, “Go away! FUCK YOU!,” though this last came out as “fug you.” “FUCK YOU! LEAVE US ALONE! GODDAMMIT FUCK YOU GO AWAY!,” and then Anna just screamed wordlessly, long and loud and high, until the blackness consumed her fully, and she lost consciousness.


Anna’s eyes slipped open. She had been semi-dreaming for what seemed like days, floating in a featureless gray mist, feeling cold but otherwise placid. Awake now, she simply stared at the ceiling, and her first thought was There are men in the chairs they have knives. She gasped and sat up in a panic, looking around desperately, wincing at the pain in her body. She was alone in a hospital room. The door was closed. There were chairs and a wall-mounted TV and heavy curtains around which faint blue light shone, but nothing seemed amiss. She still wore her hoodie, jeans, and sneakers, and her dull brown hair, though mussed and badly in need of shampoo, was still in a ponytail. Her mouth tasted doughy and stale, and she ached all over, especially in her abdomen (from screaming, she thought blankly). Everything was silent.

After several minutes of sitting still and blinking, letting her mind gather itself, Anna cleared her throat and said “Hey.” Her throat was shredded and hurt badly, but she kept going. “Hey. Anybody there? Renata?” Silence. “Anybody?” It occurred to her to look for the nurse’s call button. She instinctively looked over her left shoulder and down, and there it was on the floor, cord running out of the wall. The sight of it summoned a wash of memories, most unnervingly her attempt to pick up the remote in Momma’s room and what happened when she tried. Momma, Anna thought. She knew she had to find Momma and find out what was going on, but she wasn’t ready yet. She eased back down into a reclined position on the bed, and for a poignant instant she realized that the only thing she wanted to do was put her head on the pillow, curl up, and go back to sleep, no matter what had happened or was still to come. Instead, she rolled on her left shoulder and reached down with her right arm to get the remote, the right half of her body off the bed, her senses anticipating something terrible. Nothing came. She plucked the remote off the floor and rotated back into a sitting position, her legs rising off the bed slightly to account for the weight shift, much to her abdomen’s displeasure.

Anna pushed the red button, not remembering if it was supposed to have a corresponding light of some sort. It didn’t, and she heard nothing, though she felt sure she’d have heard some sort of buzz or ding given the hospital’s preternatural silence. She pushed it again – nothing. Anna opened her hand and let the remote slip onto the bed. It landed near the bed’s edge and fell, clacking heavily to the floor.

Anna sighed through her nostrils, looked around the room, and swung her legs off the bed to her left. She put weight on her feet tentatively, knowing her legs would be rubbery. She stood there for a few seconds, rubbing her palms on her thighs as if to massage her legs back to full strength. There was a leaden feeling inside her chest that she knew was fear, but she started walking anyway. When she got near the end of the bed, she stopped involuntarily. Not aware she was going to do it, she stepped to her left toward the window and reached up to part the heavy curtains but found she had no desire to look outside. She merely stood there for several minutes, rubbing the curtain’s rough ridges, thinking of little besides how the fabric felt under her fingers. In the back of her mind, she knew she should be thinking of Momma, of escape, of just what in the fuck those black shapes and white faces were, but it was as if her mind was in full retreat, literally running away from anything but these curtains.

Anna stood there stroking the fabric for nearly fifteen full minutes, her mind an almost total blank and thus the fifteen minutes elapsing in what felt like a blink or two of her eyes. Then, suddenly, she let her hand fall toward her right leg, lightly slapping the curtains as they fell. And then just as suddenly she grabbed the curtain with her left hand and pulled it roughly to the left. The curtain rings did not slide well, so the top of the curtain stayed mostly in place while the curtain’s right edge cut a diagonal line across the now-exposed window.

She appeared to be on the third floor, and the window looked out upon the intersection of Grassley Avenue, which ran right-to-left across her field of vision, and Sullivan Street, which formed a “T” with Grassley just outside her window, meaning her view looked down Sullivan Street as it progressed into the distance. Streetlights, parked cars, stillness, a light border of condensation around the window.  Everything in its right place, she thought.

And then she saw it: a broad black figure standing at the corner of the two streets, down and to the right in her field of view. Its back was turned to her, and she stood there frozen as every hair on her body tried to move. Close the curtain close the curtain! her inner voice said, but she felt encased in stone, physically incapable of movement. The figure began to turn, and as its white face came into view, that awful hissing scream returned to Anna’s ears. The face was looking straight up at her. Its black form rippled with what might have been the movement of an arm, and Anna saw the thick blade of a knife reflecting the street lamps’ glow.

Anna suddenly threw the curtain closed to her right and staggered backwards. “Shit! Shit!” she said, high-pitched and near hysteria. She covered her face with her hands and breathed deeply through her mouth, and in the silence that followed she heard the door click open behind her.  She whirled around to her right in time to see the door slam open as a dark shape sailed into the room. Anna screamed involuntarily and jerked away from the shape with panicky speed, fleeing into the corner of the room and pushing unthinkingly against the converged walls as if she meant to plow through them. The shape landed where she’d been standing with a squishy, sickening thud, and she saw numerous dark blobs seemingly hang in the air in front of her before they hit her face, hoodie, hands, and jeans. Some of what hit her face landed on the left corner of her mouth and splashed in. It was blood. She spit instinctively and pushed open the curtain to her right in one spastic maneuver.

With the outside lamplight filtering in she could see that the shape was a body and that it was shiny with moisture. It appeared to be a black man in dark clothing, though how much of this darkness was the clothing and how much was apparent moisture she couldn’t tell. He lay completely still and did not seem to be breathing. His eyes and mouth were wide open.

Anna was crouched in the corner of the room and simply stared at him, stunned into silence and nearly devoid of thought. She stared at his face unblinkingly for several minutes before her eyes crept around to the rest of his body. His head was near her and his legs were straight out toward the door, feet pointing at 10 and 2. His left arm was bent at the elbow, and his left hand sat thumb down on the left side of his chest. It was a strange position. His right arm lay splayed to his right, palm looking up at the ceiling, fingers slightly curled and partially under the hospital bed. Then Anna saw that part of the darkness of his figure was on the floor around him, and she realized at once that it was blood and that this was also why his clothing shone with wetness. She instinctively looked at the wall to her left and saw dark drops and gobs of blood there, so much that she was shocked she hadn’t seen it already. “Oh God,” she murmured. She looked back at the figure and understood in a flash that he was the security guard Renata had called......when? How long had it been since she’d been in Momma’s room (Momma) and seen something in the room (there are men they have knives) and run out to tell Renata? She couldn’t begin to imagine, could not even mentally approach the concept. Where is my mind? she thought desperately.

With a start, Anna remembered the figure outside the window, and, never taking her eyes off the guard, she pushed up with her hands to try and stand. Her hands and sneakers pushed against wetness and she slipped several times, but eventually she managed to get her knees underneath herself and rise, muscles aching everywhere. She turned to her right and touched the curtain and was struck with déjà vu, briefly reliving and reseeing the meditative period from before, but this time she didn’t hesitate. She pushed the curtain open to her left and steeled herself as she approached the window.

There was no broad, black figure on the corner like before, but even in the split second of relief this afforded, her peripheral vision caught two figures to her left, and she turned her head in that direction. These weren’t black masses or men with knives. They were smaller, and reclined. One lay on its right side, half on the sidewalk and half in the street, and the other lay face down fully in the street, just right of center. Both had large dark splotches on their bodies and larger dark spots around their bodies, all of it, Anna knew, blood. The one on the left was slight and barefoot and in a drab hospital gown, the one on the right larger in mauve-pink scrubs and pale shoes. It was Momma and Renata.

Anna let out a wheezing groan and spun to her left to run, but she forgot about the guard, and she stepped on his right arm, which rolled meatily beneath her left foot and spun it up into the air, sending her palms- and chest-first onto the guard’s shins and feet. She shrieked and rolled off of him to her right. The front of her body was soaked; the guard was sopping wet with blood. She kept scrabbling to get away and had just begun to sense that she was about to slam into a chair when instead she squelched into the sensation again. It was as strong as an electrical field: her skin felt like it was burning, her heart threatened to physically pound itself into her throat, and her ears filled with that screeching static hiss. "Fuck," Anna croaked in shock and pain, and then in a flash she knew it. The darkness was just inches from her. She looked up into a bulbous, faintly glowing white face and realized that she had fallen into one of the figures, a figure in a chair. There are men in the chairs, she thought wildly. And as she stared dumbstruck at the face, she saw the glinting metal of a knife raise up from her right, but instead of moving aggressively or poising for a stab, the knife kept moving toward the face with the knife tip pointed toward where a mouth would be. And the knife did not stop moving. It plunged into the white face and began moving in a circle, blobs of thick, dark blood oozing around the knife blade and out of the newly forming mouth, shockingly deep red against the ghastly face. Anna was transfixed to the point of transcendence, aware of nothing except for that white shape and its coming red rictus, now spread across the lower third of the face, a phantasmagorically large black hole, jagged with tattered bits of white flesh and great gobs of blood. Then the knife moved away and the face began to descend upon her, the gashed and profane lips seeming to move on their own, slithering as if in anticipation. Anna screamed hysterically and managed to get her right knee under herself, pushing up to strike at the face and mouth. But it was no use. Her arms slammed into the mouth up to her elbows, and even as she screamed louder and tried to pull away Anna’s whole body was devoured, crushed wetly into much too small a space despite the mouth's relative enormousness, her entire consciousness winking out, consumed by darkness.


    Okay, got another Halloween present for you.  I'm not sure I like this one as much as the other one  (so go read that one instead if ya haven't already- I need the attention!) but it's a lot shorter, which, depending on how much you hate my writing, might be a good special feature.  I dunno. :)  As always,  feedback is encouraged, here or on Twitter.  If it disturbed and upset you, GOOD!  If you thought it was funny, I'll take that, too.  And if you thought it sucked, lemme know why and maybe that'll help me next time I write something.

The title is odd.  I'm sometimes bad with titles.  Originally all I could think of for this was "Burials," but that's so generic.  Then I decided on "A Fitful Sleep," which might be better than what I settled on... but, I decided to go for the weird just to make you start reading just to figure out what the fuck that title was about.  If you think that title's stupid, you may be right and should go with "A Fitful Sleep" instead.

That's all the stories I've got for this year, but keep an eye on the blog because I think Kicker Of Elves may be working on something for ya, and that should be good!

Anyway... enjoy... if that's really the correct term for experiencing the nasty gack I'm about to put in your head... :)



    shik-chuff.  shik-chuff.

    It took Matt a minute to figure out that the noise that woke up him at two a.m. wasn't part of nature.

     shik-chuff.  shik-chuff.  

    Another two minutes went by before he realized that it was the sound of a shovel.  

    shik-chuff.  shik-chuff. 

    Someone was digging in his lawn in the dead of night, and it sounded like it was happening right under the bedroom window.

    He was awake then, and afraid, and trying to find and pull on clothes in the dark so whoever was out there wouldn't be alerted by lights in the window.    He wondered if he should wake Jennifer or not; he might need her to call 911 if whatever-this-was-going-to-be turned ugly, but if it somehow turned out to be nothing then he'd undoubtedly scare the bejesus out of her.  She often got spooked just by strange cars driving through the neighborhood, so digging on the lawn at 2 a.m. would surely mess her up good.   He grabbed his cell phone, deciding he'd call the cops himself if he needed them.

    He wasn't a gun owner.  He'd meant to buy one, flirted with it for years, but hadn't committed.  Too bad now.  The best weapon his sleepmuggled brain could come up with and that he could find in the dark was a hammer.  Not much against a guy who'd definitely have at least a shovel.   He'd just have to try to avoid violence if possible; always his first plan.

    He fished a flashlight out of a drawer and slipped out the front door.  He thought about locking it behind him in case the shoveler killed him and went in after Jen, but if that happened the lunatic could take the keys off him anyway.  He'd just have to not get killed, which was also part of his first plan.

    Great, we're thinking in terms of being murdered now.

    The shik-chuff was much louder out here, coming from right around the corner, and he paused, listening to it a second.  Definitely a shovel; he could hear the metal scraping on roots or gravel, and the digger's grunts and hard breathing.  Did he really want to confront this guy?  The mental state of anyone digging in someone else's yard at this hour -- or any hour, without permission -- had to be far off the rails and into the weeds.  He wondered if he should just go ahead and call 911 now.  But there was always the rare chance that there was some sane explanation, and he could end up embarrassed.  He'd better check it out first.  Face it up, be a man, sometimes the hardest job in the world.

    With a chill of fear, he peeked around the corner.

    There he was, a short, sturdy man, bald on top with a wild white fringe around the sides like some mad professor.  He was working the shovel hard, throwing his body against it as he piled dirt into the hole he'd been digging.  There was enough light from the moon and the utility pole up the hill to make out who it was fairly quickly; old Mr. Thorson from the next block.  Crazy Mr. Thorson, who didn't like neighbors.  Matt had once said hello to him after an ice storm; Thorson had been out looking at one of his pines that had come down under the weight of the ice and Matt had said, "Ouch, looks like you're going to lose that one," and Thorson had bared long yellow teeth at him and said, "Don't you worry about it, shitbrick."  Ended that conversation and all others in the future.

    Other neighbors he'd told about the incident had reported similar interactions.  Ernie Thorson was pathologically unfriendly at the very least, and probably full-blown crazy.  Nobody really knew what he did, because he made sure everyone minded their own business.  He was supposed to be retired from a job in an air conditioner factory or something, but he was so antisocial Matt couldn't imagine him holding down any job, anywhere. 

    Matt stepped out and switched on the flashlight and beamed it at Thorson.  "What's going on here?" he said.

    Thorson looked over his shoulder and grunted, "None ya GOT-damn business, pissteat."

    Matt barked a laugh at the absurdity that a burial in his yard was none of his business.  Fear was getting replaced by anger and bewilderment.  "Like hell it's not!  The fuck you burying in my yard?"

    Thorson ignored him and kept working the shovel.  He was almost finished covering up whatever he'd put down there, in a sizeable hole.  It was maybe a yard square, possibly enough for a body if it was compressed.  He slapped the flat of the shovel on top of the dirt to pack it, then crouched to arrange the sod back over it.

    Being dismissed like this just made Matt angrier.  "You going to answer my question?"

    Thorson looked at him and his upper lip pulled back in that ratty sneer-smile and he said, "So far don't look much like I am, does it?"   He snorted.

    Matt wondered if he could hit him, if it would ruin his life if he tried.  Would he lose his job for being involved in a brawl with a crazy old man?  Probably, and probably be left with no useable references, either.  It was something to consider, but he really did want to deck this arrogant sonofabitch.  "Well, you'd better!  Digging up my yard, burying... what did you bury?  Dig it back up!"

    "Not about to, and don't you be poking around down there, either.  I fixed your grass back.  A good rain or two and you'd never know anything was down there, so you forget about it, leave it be."

    "Like hell!"  Matt laughed.  "You're fuckin' crazy!  For all I know you killed a kid or something and tried to plant it in my yard."

    "It's buried now so you leave it be and nobody'll  know anything about it."

    Mike couldn't believe anyone would try to make this argument to him.  "You are... ah, fucking apeshit bugnuts, man!  Jesus Christ!  Okay.  Okay, I'm calling the cops and they can come dig it up."  Matt took out his cell phone.

    Thorson jabbed the shovel at Matt's face.  The edge of the blade was right under his nose, so close he could smell the clayey earth and the blood-like tang of rust.   "You ain't calling no-goddamn-body or I'll be digging another hole," Thorson snarled, spraying spit.  "You ain't gonna call 'em now and you ain't gonna call 'em later, neither.  I hear from the cops, you'll hear from me.  They won't haul me in for what I buried, and I will be back, and I'll for-sure-no-foolin' kill you.  I'll do it ugly, too.  Maybe I'll get the chair for it but I'm old, I don't much care, and it won't make no difference to you.  You leave that hole be.  Or maybe I won't kill you, just leave you blind and crippled and tongueless with no hands.  How'd that be?  I don't give a damn what I do to you, you got me, boy?  Don't give the merest shit!"

    Matt's blood had retreated somewhere deep inside him and he felt faint.  Thorson meant every word of it; looking at the crazed gleam in his eyes Matt had no doubt he'd carry his threats through.   Real violence was just seconds from happening, and Matt had never experienced anything like it.  He'd played some football, had a few playground scuffles, but this was something different, so severe it made him shake.  He felt almost certain of dying in the next minute.  "Ye... yeah, man, okay," Matt stammered, almost forgetting how to speak in the whiteout of terror.

    "You keep your mouth shut or I'll carve it so big it'll be no use to you, you fuckwallower," Thorson rasped, panting.  He, too, was shaking, apparently from the effort of reining back his urge to murder.  Matt's fear was feeding Thorson's rage, emboldening him.  "You leave the cops out of this, you leave everyone out of this, you leave yourself out of this, or you gone wish to grandmammy Jesus you had!"   Thorson took a knife out of his pocket and snapped it open.  It's blade had the wickedest shape Matt had ever seen, like a talon, and he backed away as Thorson gouged little shapes in the air with it.  "Ain't none of your business what I put down there.  Far as you're concerned this was just a bad dream you had.  Go get back in your bed and it'll be over.  I hear from the cops and you'll have nothing but nightmares ahead of you."   Thorson looked so crazy that Matt wasn't about to argue with him.  The hammer he was holding didn't feel even remotely adequate to deal with this, and he didn't want that knife punching into him, slicing.  He backed away, hands up, and kept backing away.  Thorson watched him, shovel and knife in his hands, not following.

    Nightmare.  This was just a nightmare.  That'd be easy to believe.

    Matt went back inside, locked the house, and vomited in the kitchen sink.  After washing up he crept back into bed and lay awake until dawn.

    A week passed and he didn't tell anyone what had happened, not even Jennifer.  He was ashamed of how afraid he'd felt of Thorson.  He'd never been a fraidycat but Thorson was crazy, truly crazy, and god knew what he'd do.  And it seemed safer to just do like he said, leave it be.   He hadn't felt like he could call the police anymore after the first couple of days, anyway.  He was implicated by his failure to report the incident quickly.

    And maybe it was nothing, anyway.  Thorson was so loopy he could have just been burying some old dirty magazines or a dead dog or something.  It didn't have to be anything illegal.

    But of course it probably was.  Would he be that frantic to keep something innocent a secret?  Would he risk getting caught burying something innocent on someone else's property? 

    Maybe.  The man was insane.  Irrational.

    It was probably something awful.  A dismembered body.  Maybe a child, or two.  Who knew what that psycho was doing at his house?   He was so secretive, so eager to keep people away, something bad must be going on there.

    Matt was too afraid to call the police, but he didn't think he could stand not knowing what was buried in his yard anymore.  It was preying on his mind, driving out all other thought until life was just a secret background for The Problem.  He would have to do something about it.

    More days passed as he kept an eye on Thorson's house until he found a night when his car was gone.  Matt waited until after midnight and snuck out with a shovel.  He had the patch of ground memorized and, shaking with fear, dug away at the top sod and set it aside.  Second thoughts were hitting him hard;  he didn't know if he could handle what he'd find down there.  But then, if it was nothing, he could leave it be and get the whole incident out of his mind.

    So, he dug.  Shik-chuff.  Shik-chuff.  It sounded a little like the needle digging at the end of a record, some finality. He couldn't see what his shovel was biting in the deep shadow that filled the hole, and he stopped every few shovelfuls to shine the flashlight down.  The soil was still loose, and the digging went quickly.

    Two feet down the shovel hit some soft resistance and something whined.

    Matt backed away from the hole, trembling.  The sound had been like a kitten's mewl, but thicker, phlegmy.  Something alive down there?  Impossible!  Even if Thorson buried a cat or something alive, that had been over two weeks ago.  It would have died by now.  Maybe it was a rubber doll that squeaked if it was squeezed.  But it hadn't sounded like that.

    He didn't want to see whatever it was.

    But there was no way he could just cover it back up.  He'd wonder forever.  He'd only dig it back up eventually, and now was the time, with Thorson not home.

    He shined the flashlight down the hole and saw a bit of muddy burlap.

    Carefully, he scraped the dirt away and revealed part of a sack, which he grabbed and dragged out of the hole.  It wasn't easy; the ground had taken a grip on it.

    Something inside was moving a little, and Matt quickly dropped it on the grass and backed away.

    Christ, what's in there?  Rats?

    Fighting back the fear, he reached for the neck of the bag and picked at the twine Thorson had used to tie it shut.  It was hard to pick apart the mud-slicked knot but he managed to wrestle it loose and, with intense fear, so bad it squeezed him like a vice, he opened the bag and shone the flashlight in.

    Whatever it was, it was badly decayed and unrecognizable.  It looked like maybe the upper half of a very deformed man, or a dwarf that had melted together in a lump.  The thing had a head of sorts, although without features, no eyes, just a hole that opened and shut with a dreamy slowness, something diseased having a fitful sleep.   There was a limb, or part of one, ending in a stub of skin-folds.  There was hair, mostly fallen loose in the bag but also sprouting from the thing.  Its flesh was slimy wet and horribly pale, rotting and sloughing, almost luminous in the flashlight beam.  It stank, though not as overwhemingly as he'd expect from its appearance.  Spoiled meat, confined sickness, rotting vegetable matter, sewer mud, snotty breathing, all combined.

    And yet, it moved.  Lazily, like a dreamer writhing while enduring a nightmare.  It couldn't possibly be alive, and yet, it stirred.  After two weeks in the ground.  After putrefaction.

    The thing had no definite shape.  He felt certain it was not and never had been human, unless it was some incredibly deformed mistake, some teratoma.  It was too big to be a baby, weighed around thirty, forty pounds.  Matt made himself hold the light on the head-like bulb and lean in.  Veins, but no place that eyes, nose, or ears could ever have been.  The mouth -- or orifice, more correctly -- was in the wrong place and toothless, a flexing fatty-yellow wound amidst the scabby luminous moonlight-skin.  Hair sprouted here and there, along with mold.  The smell was gassy, and like a dead rat squished in a mildewed book, and it clung to the back of his throat.  Here and there knobs or spines of bone protruded.  The inside of the bag was lined with slimy, fatty seepage.  Living foulness, opening itself like a baby bird wanting a worm, or a kiss. 

    And it seemed to be forcing itself into his mind with one horrible, insistent urge, like grease oozing through clenched fingers, foul and compelling, more impulse than thought, absurd but strong:

    “Eat me.”

    Matt turned aside and vomited, then stumbled away and looked somewhere else so he couldn’t get the thing’s message.  There was no telling what the thing was, it was indescribable, and he couldn’t imagine where Thorson had found it.  Was it some child of his, some deformed animal that he’d raised, some experiment?  Were there more such things in his house?  Something worse?  What had he buried in his own yard?  Had he been so afraid of getting impulses from the thing that he couldn’t have it on his own property? 

    He only knew one thing for certain; he wasn’t going to let it remain in his yard.  He’d never sleep again, knowing this thing was writhing in the ground below his bedroom window.  Wanting him to... to...

    He coughed and heaved.   There was plenty of night left, he could still get rid of this damn thing somewhere.  He was afraid to return it to Thorson, and dumping it somewhere on the side of the road wasn’t a good idea, because it might be found and then Thorson would know he’d dug it up.  It might even manage to crawl back, somehow get into his house.   

    Matt went and got a black plastic garbage bag and dropped the burlap sack into it and knotted it tightly.   He picked it up, along with his shovel, and he walked to the next block, where a meek little man named Leon Fleer lived.  Picking out a spot, Matt began to dig.  Shik-chuff, shik-chuff, he dug quickly and he dug deep, but apparently he didn’t dig as quietly as he thought, because as he was finishing up, out came Leon Fleer, bald, eyeglassed, wiry nervous-eater’s frame swimming in a bathrobe and striped pajamas.

    “Hey... hey, what goes on here?”  Leon peeped.  He sounded scared out of his wits.  Good.

    “None of your fucking business,” Matt snarled, panting.  “Go back to bed.”
    Leon blinked rapidly, his chin trembling.  His eyes were as blue and shocked as a baby doll’s, and Matt felt simultaneously sorry for him and aggressive, wanting to punch him.  Matt wondered if he’d looked like that when he’d confronted Thorson.  Probably.   “But... you’re burying something in my yard!” he said.

    “So what?”

    “So... what is it?  You can’t just...”

    “It’s something you’re better off not wondering about.”

    Leon blinked again, and looked even more harmless in his pajamas.  He hadn’t even brought a weapon.  Violence was an alien concept to this little man.  “But you can’t just... it’s my yard, you can’t...”

    Matt - amazed at himself - jabbed at Leon with the shovel and glared.  Leon stumbled back and adjusted his glasses, a nervous tic.  “I can, if you mind your own business.  And if you don’t, if I hear anything more about this, if I hear from the cops, then I’ll come back here, no matter what else I do, and I’ll chop you the fuck up with this shovel.  You got me?”

    “I... I...I...”  Leon wrestled with his glasses like they were a bat biting his face.

    Absurdly, the opening of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" went off in Matt's head and he had to fight an urge to laugh.   If he started, he'd probably keep doing it until they hauled him off.

    Instead, he snapped, “Don’t worry about what’s buried in that hole.  You’ll only be sorry if you if know.  It’s nothing illegal, but you don’t want any part of it.  You just leave it be, or you can start concentrating on what’ll be buried in the next one if you don’t keep your mouth shut.  Because it’ll be you!”

    Leon flinched and shifted from foot to foot.  He looked like he wanted to bolt but worried what might happen if he tried it.

    “Do you understand me?”  Matt spat.

    “Yes, yes, okay.”   Leon’s voice broke.  He held the glasses like they might serve as a shield against a shovel-blow about to cleave his face.  His hands were shaking

    “Don’t forget,” Matt said, pointing at him.

    Then he carried his shovel home in the starlight, though for a moment he considered leaving it there.

                    THE END