Friday Pasta — Model Edition

This week’s post is a little different. I wouldn’t call this pasta creepy; disturbing and twisted work much better. However, it is a fun read; I love the… slow descent, as I like to to call. I won’t say much because that will give it away and this story is better without knowing anything. Here is Cheap Perfume and Watermelon Shampoo by Heather Ions.

My name is Georgina Adams. I’m twenty-eight years old. In February, I’ll be twenty-nine. I live alone in a spacious apartment in Rouen. I am perfect.

But I haven’t always been so. When I was a child, I lived in a little town in England called Selsey. I was called ugly by the other children in school. Sometimes they would throw stones at me. Sometimes they would wrestle me to the ground and pull up my shirt so all of the children could see my flabby, white stomach and my stretch marks. In class, they cut my hair with a pair of scissors, because it was long, and flaxen-coloured, and frizzy… and that offended them. Amelia Doherty was my worst tormentor in school, and the self-made scars across both sides of my upper arms bear witness to this. Now, I am no longer fat or ugly. I model for La Dupine, in Paris. One day I am going to be an actress.

I eat a strict but balanced diet and have a regimented exercise routine. Every morning, I wake up at 5am. I tie my hair up and I go running. It’s usually light by the time I get home and I can hear birdsong. I eat a half of pink grapefruit and drink a cup of warm lemon water. I rinse my face. I wax my pores. I use an intensive face wash to get rid of any impurities. Then, I use a vitamin-enriched gel while I shower. I then apply a thin layer of oil-balancing moisturizer to my skin. Before I leave the house, I apply a light spray of mineral mist to my face and neck. I don’t sleep in. I did this only once and I could feel the impurities in my skin. I could feel the bacteria in every crevice. I could smell the oil and the grease.

Every night, I apply a cooling, charcoal face mask before I go to bed and wash my face again. Before I sleep, I apply the night time gel that prevents spots. I like this product the most because it stings. I imagine the impurities burning to death for their sins. During the day, I take a witch hazel cleansing face cloth from my hand bag and wipe my face. If there is too much brown residue on the cloth, I have to chastise myself. I wear a hair tie around my wrist and I twang it every time this happens. I remember when Rory Aithwaite used to sit behind me in art and flick elastic bands at me. It enters my brain every time I punish myself.

One Sunday, while I was sitting on my balcony drinking tea, I thought I saw Amelia Doherty climbing out of a little mustard colored car in the street below and walking into my apartment block, carrying a brown suitcase. I was almost certain. I ran inside and carefully opened my apartment door. I could hear footsteps below, followed by the metallic click of of a lock, and the yawn of an opening apartment door.

“Mademoiselle Adams, ca va?” came man’s a voice from behind me. I gasped as I turned my head, and then gasped again when I heard the door below me abruptly shut, followed by a muffled locking sound from within the apartment room.

“Oui, je suis” I replied, feigning a smile to the man who I quickly recognized as my handsome neighbor, Monsieur Renaud. He had just left his apartment for work and was carrying a briefcase and a navy jacket. I collected myself and retreated back into my apartment. I later gleaned from another neighbor, Camille, that the resident below was a Mademoiselle Dionne Barbier, and she taught fine art. This put my mind at ease. Yet, every time I saw Mlle Barbier, I could not help but take a second glance. She was a precise replica of Amelia Doherty; a spitting-image of waxen skin and raven black hair.

It was when I walked passed Mlle Barbier’s apartment door later that afternoon that I first smelt it. Amelia Doherty used to wear cheap perfume and she would wash her hair with a shampoo that reminded me of the watermelon sorbet that they used to sell at the little ice cream shop in Selsey. I remember first noticing this when she pushed me up against the wall on the second day of my third year of senior school. She faced me, her perfect little nose almost touching mine, and told me I was, as the French say, “Un gros, moche, stupide vache!” Now, as I descend the tiled steps and walk down the corridor passed Mlle Barbier’s apartment door, I can smell that same tacky, cheap perfume and and that watermelon shampoo. Perhaps it was Amelia and she had followed me to France to ruin my life again. To destroy me. To remind me that I’m worthless. I came to Rouen to forget that.

The next morning, I decided to walk passed Mlle Barbier’s apartment door again, just to be sure. I am not a lunatic. At first, all I could smell was the musty walls and the aroma of sweet pastries filtering through an open window in the passageway. Then, as I drew closer, the smell hit me with such potency that I stopped walking and dropped my shopping bag. I turned to Mlle Barbier’s door. It was pure white with a little black spyhole in several inches from the top. I wondered if she was looking through it right there and then, watching me, delighting in my horror. Another door opened and Camille stepped out, fumbling through her handbag for her keys. I asked her if she could smell it too. She inhaled deeply and with a smile, she told me that all she could smell were croissants. Then she hurried down the stairs and out of the front door. There were only two possible conclusions to this incident: I was a lunatic, or Camille was lying to me.

Why would she lie?

My question was answered the following morning. I opened the doors of my little balcony and was met with the voices of two women talking in balcony below. The first voice I recognised to be Camille’s, and the second could be none other than Mlle Barbier who, I remind you, lived directly below me. They were talking like they were best friends. I couldn’t fully decipher what they were saying, but when I heard Camille say my name, my heart stopped. She had betrayed me. Amelia had discovered my happiness and employed Camille to help her thwart it. I always knew Camille secretly harboured envy towards me since she found I’d resigned at Cafe Bertin to model clothes in Paris. Reader, I know this sounds like lunacy, but it actually makes perfect sense. Amelia did the very same thing when we left primary school. She took away my best friend, Caroline, and turned her against me. Cigarette smoke began to rise from the balcony below, and with it, the unmistakable smell of cheap perfume and watermelon shampoo. I shut the doors quickly and ran to the other side of the apartment. Of course. Of course! They were using the fragrance as a means to contaminate me. Camille must have told her that my skin and my hair are my greatest assets, and so, she is going to destroy them with these sickly chemicals. I locked every door and window and stuffed every crevice with tissues. I did not leave the house that day.

I laid awake that night thinking about… Diomelia. I heard jovial voices from outside. One of them was Mlle Barbier, and the other was a man’s voice. I sat up in my bed. When I realized that it was Mr Renaud, tears rolled down my cheeks. She must have discovered my feelings towards him and has turned his mind too. It must be the smell that’s doing it! Perhaps that’s why they can’t smell it. I heard them both break into laughter as I thought of this. They can hear me. Suddenly, I imagined my perfect little apartment block was a layer of perfect, alabaster skin. Each window was a pore and the window of Mlle Dionne Barbier’s apartment was a blackhead. An ugly, pulsating blackhead. It needed removing. It needed lancing! I needed to cleanse this apartment of impurities. I was hit with a sudden wave of nausea and I ran to the bathroom. I could smell the perfume and shampoo in my own apartment now; in my own room. I raised the back of my hand to my nose. It was on my skin and my clothes. The smell was so powerful it was making my nostrils burn. I gagged and I balked into the toilet. That’s where I fell asleep, shortly after 3am.

I slept through my alarm for the first time in three years – because I’m pathetic and lazy. “Stupid Georgina. Stupid, fat, ugly, pointless Georgina” I said, twanging the hair tie until my wrist is as pink as the sunrise over la riviere Siene.

Do not worry, reader: I did manage to remove the blackhead out of its pore. I cut it out bit by bit. I cut away the black hair, the vicious tongue, the perfect little nose, every single finger that used to scratch my cheeks until they bled. I carried the fragmented little comedo to the canal, and then rewarded myself with a cigarette as I drove back home. My apartment block is clean once more and so am I. What more, the smell completely disappeared. That night, when I let the hot water from the shower wash over me I was happy for the first time in years. I was euphoric. I was clean. As I watched the red water fade to pink as it spiraled down the plug hole, I smiled. Then I massaged a deep-cleansing body lotion into my torso.

My name is Georgina Adams. I’m twenty-eight years old. In February I’ll be twenty-nine. I live alone in a spacious apartment in Rouen. I am perfect.

Above story was NOT written by me and I take absolutely no credit for it. All rights go to Heather Ions

A Princess of Mars — A Review

I really had no intention of reading A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I had previously read the first two Tarzan books also by ERB. While I greatly enjoyed the Tarzan books–especially the first one–ERB’s Barsoom series, of which APOM is the first, just didn’t sound all that interesting. But eventually, due to hearty recommendations from the circle of blogs I read, I decided to try it anyway. I was pleasantly surprised.

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The premise of APOM is fairly simple: an ex-confederate soldier, John Carter, wandering through the American Southwest finds himself transported to Mars. He soon finds himself right in the middle of a bloody conflict between multiple, Martian factions. The story is simply good old-fashioned adventure and I definitely enjoyed the story in spite of some fairly big annoyances.

Let’s start with the positives. First, ERB has a fantastic imagination. APOM features green warrior savages, sultry maidens, airship battles, sword-fights, and gun play all on a dying planet. What’s not to like? It’s not anything “literary”, but after spending a college career studying “literary” works, I’m glad it isn’t. The action is constant with appropriate breaks in-between, and ERB’s writing conveys it well.

The characters, for the most part, are adequate. The heroes are heroic and villains villainous; In this day and age, it’s quite refreshing. The current trend of not-so-good good guys and not-so-evil bad guys is really starting to wear out its welcome. The best character by far has to be Tars Tarkas. His story arc actually has some depth to it and possibly the best part of the book. Now, I’ve heard complaints of the fact that the love interest, Dejah Thoris, is far too human-like for a Martian. Apparently this strains credulity with some people. Well the Mass Effect series features an entire alien race capable of sex and reproduction with any species, and I didn’t hear any complaints about that. If anything, Dejah Thoris is a far less egregious example.

Now despite the positives, there are a few annoyances worth mentioning. The biggest is ERB’s reliance, nearly to a fault, on coincidences. There are just way too many blatant coincidences. A few lampshades would have really helped. There’s one where John Carter, after being pursued for many miles by the red faction, just happens to crash land into the middle of a battle by a couple of tribes of the green faction. It just so happens that one of John Carter’s few friends just happens to be involved in this battle.

A second annoyance is the romance. The romance in APOM straddles the line between cringe-worthy and bearable. Granted, ERB seemed to live during a time where love-struck males put their lovers on pedestals higher than skyscrapers, so I won’t hold that against him too much. But still, it’s not exactly fun reading either. John Carter just barely meets Dejah before falling completely in love with her and vows to win her hand in marriage. I’m sorry, that’s just too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to wholesome romance, but this is just… lame. Tarzan and Jane’s romance was better written than John Carter and Dejah Thoris’, so I know ERB has that ability.

One final annoyance is that ERB seems to enjoy starting plot lines out of nowhere and then quickly ending them without developing them enough. The atmosphere-machine-thing toward the end is the biggest example. That plot line could easily have lasted an entire book, but ERB starts and concludes it in a couple pages. As a result, I was far less invested in it than I would have been otherwise.

As I said, these are annoyances. They aren’t exactly huge negatives or problems with the book, just annoyances. However, there are enough that they stand out and prevent me from giving APOM a higher score. That said, APOM is a fun read with plenty of heart, action, and imagination. I enjoyed it for what it was and don’t have any serious complaints beyond the annoyances mentioned above.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday Pasta — Prime Edition

This week’s creepy pasta is fantastic. It’s the kind of pasta that feels like an urban legend. It’s mysterious and chilling and leaves the ending a bit open… maybe a little too open. Alright, I’ll be honest. The ending isn’t the greatest because it leaves things far too ambiguous. However, the pasta itself is good enough to recommend in spite of the opaque ending. Here is Prime.

In August and early September of 2001, a series of extremely bizarre murders had investigators puzzled. The national media lost interest in the events following the hoopla surrounding 9/11, but amateur detectives and conspiracy theorists continue to be fascinated by the cases. Dubbed by the news the “Prime Murders”, a series of strange ] killings in rural Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and Minnesota left authorities in the dark.

The first case was Jerry Thompson, a 32-year old man from Missouri who went on a camping trip deep in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forests in Northern Wisconsin. He brought a friend, Alex Eyrie, on the trip. On August 11, park rangers received a mysterious 911 call, from an individual who did not speak. Tracking the origin of the call, police found the mutilated and dismembered body of Jerry in a small creek. Although the corpse was heavily manipulated, its eyes gouged out, authorities were able to identify the body. The corpse had the word “sieve” crudely carved into the stomach. Alex was found nearby, tied to a tree, but physically healthy and with access to food and bottles of water. Although he was neither dehydrated, malnourished, nor physically harmed, Alex was still mentally unstable and shaken from his experience. In an interview with the police, Mr. Eyrie claimed that he did not make the strange 911 call, and was unaware of who did.

Mr. Eyrie explained that a strange masked man appeared on their campsite. He had black drapes covering his face, and some kind of handgun, and shot Jerry in the leg so that he was unable to move. Next, he tied Alex to a tree, setting aside granola bars and bottles of water for him. Then, the killer shot Jerry in the head, killing him, and proceeded to mutilate the corpse in front of Alex. What was strange was that the masked man did not speak at all during this encounter, nor remove his face garments. The local news caught hold of the story, but the national media remained uninterested at this point.

On August 13, similar events occurred in a small farmhouse seven miles outside the village of Aniwa, Wisconsin. Authorities received a strange 911 call from some person who did not speak; tracking the location of the call, police found the similarly mutilated corpse of Merry Williamson, with the word “sieve” carved in the abdomen, and gouged-out eyes, in the basement of the home. Her husband, James Williamson, was found tied up in the same cellar, with granola bars and bottles of water set aside for him. James was mentally disturbed after the incident, but was able to describe a strange masked man who did not speak. Police immediately connected this killing with the camping murders, and investigated the concept of a possible serial killer afoot. Warnings were broadcast on local TV and radio stations in northern Wisconsin, advising citizens to be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious events to the authorities.

On August 15, two different killings in the morning and evening occurred in northern Michigan. Ahmeek, Michigan, saw a total of three deaths. Two college students were murdered in their home, with the same pattern of mutilation, but this time there was no witness or 911 call. A similar event afflicted a lone 43-year old man in the same town. Police discovered the same “sieve” carving, connecting the incident to the previous events. At this point, authorities around the nation really began to take notice. As the crimes passed over state lines, the FBI became involved.

Police noticed that all the victims of the killings had previously had their email account or computer hacked, several days before the murder. On August 21, the FBI received a strange letter in the mail from an individual claiming to be the killer. The 723-page document was nearly incomprehensible, but had the phrase “realizing the sieve of Eratosthenes, for the salvation of all Mankind” repeated frequently. The letter seemed to discuss bizarre forms of astrology and the occult, with numerous diagrams illustrating the positions of the planets. The author, presumably the killer, wrote about the end of the World and mass cataclysm. The letter had no return address, but police matched DNA samples found on the document with evidence on the crime scene, confirming that the murderer had handled the letter. Unfortunately, the police had no suspects that matched the DNA evidence.

James Harrison, an investigator for the FBI, noticed an eerie fact about the murders: only individuals with a prime serial number (the final four digits of the social security number) were victims of the killer. Only about one in ten individuals have a prime serial number. This would explain why the killer hacked the victim’s computers and email accounts–he was determining their social security number, and only pursued those with a prime serial.

On August 25, three additional killings occurred in Waite Park, Minnesota. In every case, the corpse was mutilated (dismembered and the eyes gauged out); the word “sieve” was crudely carved into the body; the witnesses were tied up but given food and water, and emerged mentally unstable; there was no evidence of rape or sexual assault; a mysterious 911 call from a non-speaking individual brought police to the scene. Authorities suspected that the killer purposely called 911, perhaps to add thrill or excitement to the crime. The five witnesses described the same masked figure. Two men in their forties, who remain anonymous, and one male high school student were killed on the 25th. Three additional deaths occurred in Waite Park, on September 1, 3, and 7, following the same pattern; every victim had a prime serial number.

On the night of September 10, park rangers found a corpse deep inside Chippewa National Forest, miles from the nearest road or major trail. The body was dismembered and lacked eyes, and had the same strange “sieve” scrawled across the abdomen. Checking with the records department, police found that the victim, a Missouri college student aged 21, had a prime serial number. Although there was no witness, the authorities made a breakthrough; a digital camera had been set up inside the tent, and may have filmed the murder. The device was badly damaged, but police were able to eventually recover the footage. Immediately, the case was closed, the footage was destroyed, and the investigation ceased due to “lack of evidence”.

I have a good friend who once worked as an intern in the FBI department relating to video evidence. While the footage was being destroyed, he managed to copy the first half of the film and save it on his hard drive. In 2001, he offered to show the video to me. What I saw was extremely disturbing.

The camera was pointed toward the entrance of the tent. The first eight minutes show simply the plastic wall and zipper of the tent. At nine minutes in, the zipper begins to open. A masked man with pitch black facial garments starts to enter. Screams are heard. The masked man quickly pulls out a handgun, and fires a bullet, presumably maiming the college student in the leg. Slowly, the man closes the zipper to the tent, and begins to unmask himself, revealing a horrifically disfigured face. The ears are gone, only a single bloodshot eye is present, the nose is partially severed, and, worst of all, a huge gaping hole can be seen in the left cheek, allowing one to peer into the murderer’s mouth and esophagus. After three minutes of staring at the maimed and screaming camper, the man curls his lips, breaking into a strong smile. At this point, the video cuts to static.

The remaining half of the footage was destroyed forever.

Above story was NOT written by me and I take absolutely no credit for it. All rights go to the original writer.

The God-Machine Anthology — A Review

Full disclosure. I have never played any of White Wolf’s tabletop RPGs. I’ve read a few of the source books in the old and new World of Darkness settings. I’ve also played the PC game, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines. That is really extent of my exposure to White Wolf.

I love the new World of Darkness setting (I think they call it the Chronicles of Darkness now). It’s creepy in all the right ways. The God-Machine Anthology features short stories set in the World of Darkness, and when I saw how cheap it was, I couldn’t resist.

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The World of Darkness is much like our own, just darker and scarier. Oh, and supernatural creatures are all real. Furthermore, with the God-Machine Chronicle, there is some weird cosmic machine out there that is… well god-like.

Generally, the stories are well-written and interesting with a couple of exceptions. In addition, the stories are short enough that reading a crappy one doesn’t feel like a huge waste of time.

Personally, my biggest problem with the stories are the lack of explanation. Now, I don’t mind mystery in my horror. I also don’t mind when the ending is left a tad mysterious in order to fuel your imagination. What I don’t like is when things are barely explained at all. There are a number of stories that feel like they end too soon without any sort of explanation. Too many stories end this way and make it a far bigger problem than it should be.

Another problem is the glaring errors. The book is about only about 230 pages and, yet, there are way too many typos and grammatical errors. A few errors here and there don’t bother me, but this was way beyond my threshold. They were just a bunch of stupid mistakes that should have been caught by a decent editor.

Because these sorts of anthologies feature stories of various quality, I decided to give a short blurb for each story below and then a final grade for the anthology as a whole.

(1) Voice of the Angel: 3.5/5

I have nothing to really say about this story, other than I found it enjoyable. The story reads like a religious sermon. To that end, there really isn’t a plot with characters in the normal sense. As I said, this feels like a religious sermon where the preacher discusses our mythological history and then ties it to modern events. There is a generous dose of cosmic horror throughout but I feel weird calling this a story. there is no climax, no real characters and the plot doesn’t feel like a plot. It feels more like a history lesson. Albeit a very interesting one.

(2) The King is Dead 3/5

I will say that this story was well-written. The 1st person narration sounds as like a real person telling you a story. Apparently the main character’s father died and that was the only thing holding him back from leaving the small town he grew up in. And yet, he can’t really leave for some reason. The story starts out interesting but the ending is a tad of a let down if we consider the build up. I was expecting a little more. In addition, the ending teases far more than really explains anything.

(3) Chicago Politics: 3/5

This story is far too short. Just as it gets going, it ends. It introduces quite a few characters and nothing to really differentiate them. I found myself constantly going back in order to figure out which character was which. There is nothing really “horror” about it, just a bunch of politicking during an election in Chicago. We get a bit of horror at the end but again, the pay off is disappointing. The story isn’t bad, just a few more pages fleshing some things out would have greatly benefited it.

(4) The Observer Effect: 3.5/5

A woman down on her luck decides to visit her sister in order to have a place to crash for a couple of days. The sister reluctantly agrees. However, everything is not as it seems. This story starts out very interesting and slowly discovering that not everything is as it seems makes for a very compelling read. I really enjoyed this story, but again, hardly anything is explained. Just a page or two giving better hints at what exactly happened would have helped. Right now the story is just maddening. I really wish there was a little bit more to go off of.

(5) Road Gospel: 2/5

While well-written, the story itself leaves a lot to be desired. The story starts out normal enough, but then takes a turn into bizarro land. There is really nothing scary or “horror” about this story, just bizarre. Once that turn is taken, things stop making any kind of sense. I had no idea what exactly was happening. As such, I found it unfulfilling.

(6) Prodigal: 4.5/5

I really enjoyed this story. A lapsed Catholic comes to a priest for confession. His confession makes up most of the story. I don’t want to say more in order that I don’t spoil it. I will say that the story gave me a few chills. It was scary but in a more conspiratorial way. You’ll see what I mean if you read it. This story also finally finds that sweet spot between leaving things mysterious without making the reader feel lost in the dark.

(7) Quality of Life: 1.5/5

This story was crap. No other way to put it. A woman with her husband move into a seemingly picture perfect suburb straight out of the fifties. That alone should tell you that this is nothing more than a cheap Stepford Wives knock-off. The author does absolutely nothing new with this beyond connecting it to some kind of cosmic machine. It’s boring, it’s trite, and it’s completely unoriginal. The story is well-written, but if it’s a crappy one, then does the writing really matter?

(8) Residents: 3/5

Like most of the stories in this collection, Residents was well-written. A janitor meets a professor. Some weird occult symbols are involved and uh… stuff happens. Now, the story isn’t necessarily bad… it just… well, I’m not really sure what happened. Up to a point, things move along steadily, and then the ending just sort of pops up without any explanation. I have no idea what happened. Other than that, I have no other complaints.

(9) Pilgrim: 3/5

The idea here is actually pretty interesting. An event planner is looking to plan a crazy party out on some ruin in Cagliari, Italy. Apparently the ruin has a storied history and the main character just contracted some weird disease. The biggest problem here is that the author tried to cram too much into a 8-9 page story. There is the disease, the ruin, an infamous event in the past, and some other things I’m forgetting. By cramming all this into such a short story, there really is no suspense as the author has to move quickly to cover all the bases. While I’m all for moving things quickly, jamming all these subplots into such a short story really kills the suspense. As such, the story was decent but the lack any meaningful suspense held it back.

(10) Stories Uncle Don Told Me: 3.5/5

A young man’s uncle has just died and he recounts some of the weird stories the uncle told him. The mini stories themselves read like tiny creepy pastas. These tiny creepy pastas are actually chilling and I commend the author for that. The young man and dead uncle becomes the frame tale that glues everything together. This frame tale, while intriguing, ends up not making a whole lot of sense to me. I really do wonder if I’m missing something because the ending just comes out of nowhere. The manner in which the stories end up tying together just isn’t explained very well, if at all. With a little bit of an explanation, this story could have been perfect.

(11) Ouroboros: 3/5

A young woman with some issues and/or baggage attempts a ritual to save the world… or something like that. Don’t have too much to save about this one. The story is interesting enough to keep you reading without too much complaint, but the ending fizzles out into mediocrity. It’s not bad, mind you, just unremarkable.

(12) M.R.E: 3/5

The biggest problem with this story is that it feels like a prologue to a much longer work. A bunch of ex-soldiers meet up for some kind of gig; the supernatural is involved. The writing itself is quite good and the characters are drawn as well as they can be in such a short story. However, the story itself is unremarkable. Nothing surprised me and nothing really stands out either. As the set up to a longer work, this definitely has potential; on its own though, the story is just meh.

(13) Eggs: 4/5

I really enjoyed this story. We start off right in the middle of things and the story never really slows down. A man gets hired to work for a huge company and his first assignment for the company is… well, a little weird. The story has a mysterious vibe to it that kept me reading. The ending is decent, just suffers from the chronic not-really-sure-what-happened syndrome that seems to plague the rest of the novel. Luckily it’s not as enigmatic as some of the other stories so it gets a higher score.

(14) Delivery Boy in Blue: 5/5

This is possibly my favorite story in the collection. A police officer in the middle of a routine arrest is ordered to bring his detainee to a different station, not the usual one. And thus, a nightmare begins. This story is just plain fun. Horror stories with intrigue and mystery tend to be my favorite, and this story brings it out in spades. I don’t want to spoil too much, other than to say that the story alludes to things much bigger than the protagonist in a very interesting way. Altogether, it’s a fantastic story with a decent ending that leaves things mysterious, yet decipherable.

(15) Concessions: 3.5/5

A rookie detective begins to experience weird things on the job… weird things involving her own department. The author clearly put some effort in her writing and the characters are written decently. The story is interesting enough to make you want to keep reading. The biggest problem is that the climax felt a bit too anti-climatic.  I was waiting for a bigger payoff that never really came. The ending itself teases more than it delivers, but it didn’t leave me scratching my head. A decent, interesting story that doesn’t quite deliver on its full potential.

(16) Diamonds: 3.5/5

I really wanted to love this story. It’s got great writing and a great depiction of the drudgery of office work. The story concerns a psychotherapist clearly fed up with his job at an asylum. He begins to talk to one of the patients whose madness seems to have rubbed off on him. I won’t say more because it’s a fun story to read. The only reason why the story doesn’t score any higher is the ending. The ending is just maddening. There really aren’t any revelations beyond something weird on the top floor of the building. Even that isn’t really much of a revelation. Therefore, you never really understand what is going on. Like I said, maddening. I really wanted to like this story but the cryptic ending held it back.

(17) Just a Bite: 4.5/5

This story got me hooked from the very beginning. That is a huge plus in my book. In this story, we have a student who has just returned from an archaeological trip to Thailand; this student begins to act very weird. The author plays with lovecraftian themes and that is never a bad thing in my book. I love Lovecraft. The ending works and doesn’t feel like it’s missing something. I just wish the story was a tad longer.

(18) Go Back: 4/5

Like the “Diamonds” story, this one could have scored much higher yet doesn’t due to a frustratingly opaque ending. Here, a woman goes back to the town where she and her late wife had their honeymoon and things are a tad different than what she remembers… or maybe too similar to what she remembers. The story is extremely intriguing and the author has serious skill at slowly revealing that things aren’t quite right. But once again, the ending is a huge disappointment. It is so frustratingly ambiguous, and I have absolutely no idea what happened. There is a revelation, of sorts, but it doesn’t really explain anything. I have no idea how things are tied together or what the revelation even means. If the author worked a little bit more at tying things together, then this would likely have been the best story in the anthology.

(19) The Upstairs Tenant: 3.5/5

A man in the final stages of a life spiraling down the drain starts hearing weird noises coming from the hot tenant upstairs. The story is decent enough with decent writing that, like the other stories, could have benefited from a bit more explanation. Just past the half-way point, the story starts getting really weird. The payoff is… well not as exciting as I thought it would be. Not bad, but not the best either. Other than that, I have no real complaints.

(20) Grind: 2/5

This story kind of sucked. Two totally cliche, southern-white-hick caricatures get jealous of a rich black man and decide to fuck shit up, so to speak. They are treated to a nasty surprise. The ending is, well, comical because it is so ridiculous. The stories in the anthology take themselves seriously enough, but this story just makes me laugh. The ending is lame, the characters are walking stereotypes and the story just isn’t very interesting. In short, the story is fairly disappointing ending to an decent anthology of horror stories.

Overall, I’d have to say that the story are decent enough with a few standouts. However, due to a lack of explanation, many of the stories were not as good as they could have been. The writing was generally excellent with generally interesting characters. I really wish that some of the stories lived up to their potential.

3.5 stars out of 5

Friday Pasta: Summer Camp Edition

This week’s pasta takes us to a familiar place, summer camp. There is so much tension in this story, and it doesn’t let up until its blood-soaked conclusion. Now, I’m usually not a fan of gory horror because, most of the time, it’s overdone and intended solely to shock the reader. Rarely have I read a story that uses gore sparingly and effectively. This is one of those stories. But be warned, it’s truly disturbing. Here is Every Beast May be Conquered by hdalby33

Every summer camp has their legends, and ours was Camo Boy. A borderline recluse in a camp filled to the brim with over-energized kids. The nickname came naturally, given the boy’s predilection for only wearing faded sets of camo.

His father dropped him off at the foot of our cabin with a military surplus trunk, a knapsack, and a steel canteen. I wasn’t sure why he needed all that. This place wasn’t a boot camp, hell it could barely be called a camp. More of a youth hostel for kids between the ages of 7 and 13, with top of the line speedboats, fancy ropes course, riflery range, decent mess hall, modern chapel (yeah, basically a Christian Summer Camp, but it was cool. Seriously!), and an old stable at the top of the mountain.

To better imprint the layout of our camp, permit yourself to imagine a web of dirt roads woven into a cluster of three, round-sided mountains cut in the middle by a big ravine. We were at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Burton, Georgia, set back in a cove on one of the gorgeous lakes in the local area. There were plenty of other people living on the lake too, many with impressive speedboats and pontoons in equally fancy boathouses.

So, no, it wasn’t really camping. More of a supervised getaway, where kids were under the care of slightly older kids who’d gone through their time as campers and graduated to counselors. Everyone knew everyone, no one minded the subtle Christian overtones professed by the camp’s director, and we all had a wonderful time.

It was my third year there. I was eleven years old, so this was back in 2005. Camo Boy seemed to be roughly my age, but he carried himself like one of the counselors. Quieter, more serious, only mumbling to any kid that approached him. His dad, a giant of a man dressed in similar army fatigues, had just finished signing off on a health form. He handed it to the head counselor, shook their hand, and gave his boy a squeeze on the shoulder. Then he stepped up into a vintage pickup truck finished in faded, forest green, and rumbled off.

Camo Boy was left standing at the entrance, watching kids and counselors shout and laugh. He had short, sandy hair, a narrow complexion, and light-grey eyes that flickered over the cabin in the way a drone took footage of its targets – not overly hostile, but cold and curious.

I watched from the other side of the cabin, having just finished unpacking my trunk. I wasn’t terribly quiet as a kid. Rather I simply had trouble socializing with others; a mild strain of Asperger’s saw to that. So I tended to pick out other kids who displayed similar qualities – those who read rather than played, or did play, but did something interesting and solitary.

As I sat by, a hand found its way onto my shoulder. I looked up, startled, to see the head counselor, Michael, nodding toward Camo Boy. “C’mon, bud. We try to include everybody here.”

“I guess,” I sighed. “But you’ll owe me for this.”

Michael chuckled. “Deal.”

Slipping from my bunk, I quietly padded around a group of kids playing mini-basketball in the center of the room, and approached Camo Boy. He eyed me warily, but didn’t seem to mind my approach. I stuck out a hand, eyes pinned on the ground and mumbled. “I’m Sean. Wanna bunk with me?”

Camo Boy took my hand and shook it. His palm felt sweaty and rough, with a powerful grip for an eleven-year-old. He told me his name in a soft voice, but I’d already christened him ‘Camo Boy’ in my mind. He released my hand after a moment, seeming far more relaxed now that he at least knew someone.

“This your first time?” I asked, making awkward conversation.

“Yeah,” he said, shouldering his pack. “Though I think I could handle it.”

“You think?” I asked, braving a smile. “I thought you were prepping for Doomsday with that gear.”

“I like to be prepared,” he replied ominously. He seemed half-joking, as he flashed a lopsided smile my way, but there was an edge to his voice. “My dad and everything…”

“Military upbringing,” I nodded. “Don’t worry. It’s pretty badass, honestly.”

“If you like it, I can show you some stuff later,” Camo Boy said as he hooked his knapsack onto the bed above mine with little effort. “Seems like there’s plenty of stuff to do around here.”

“Oh, tons,” I said excitedly. “Archery, tubing, riflery, blob wars, water games, arts and crafts, Capture the Flag.”

Camo Boy hoisted himself onto the side of the bunk and slid his covers on with liquid precision. Military training. “Sounds like more than enough to keep us occupied.” He lifted himself onto his bunk and rolled over to look down at me. “Open my trunk, would you?”

I did as told. It was a worn, black-leather thing, with army insignias and hazard stickers placed at its corners. When I opened it, I got pretty much what I expected: uniform rows of clothes, toiletries, and extra blankets. I looked up at Camo Boy questioningly and he pointed to the right corner of the trunk, where an old blanket sat.

“Lift it,” he said simply. Beneath, I found a massive K-BAR Knife. With a ribbed handle and massive blade sheathed in an oiled-leather case. “Pass it to me, quick.”

I tossed it up to him, and scrambled up a moment later. “That’s a damn sword,” I said excitedly. “What do you need it for? Killing bears?”

“Nah,” Camo Boy briefly unsheathed it to reveal the black blade, worn but lethally sharp. “It’s an old habit. Sleep with protection.” He held the blade to the light and winked at me. “Only mine’s not made of rubber.”

I didn’t know what he meant, but laughed anyway. We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon together, trading stories and potential activities to do the next day. When dinner was called, I went along with my new friend. No one seemed to give us a second look. I couldn’t wait for the rest of the week. Not when Camo Boy’s expertise could teach me so much.

Dinner passed quickly. It always did the first night. Then we went to the Colosseum, a big concrete depression built right over the creek leading to the lake, and had night program. I explained to Camo Boy how we mixed Christian songs with regular, pop music as a way to make sure the youngest of us weren’t bored. He didn’t seem to mind, but he also didn’t join in either.

For the most part Camo Boy was silent, swaying with the music. At one point he pointed back behind us, to a dirt road that led away from the main road and up to an old, wooden structure. I explained it was the riflery range and that we could sign up for it if he wanted. He found that quite appealing.

After night program, we all headed back to our cabins, simultaneously tired and energized. We’d selected four activities, or skills as the camp called them, for the next day, and I ended up doing the same ones as my new friend – archery and riflery in the morning, horseback in the afternoon. A solid schedule.

Back at the cabin, we were given half an hour to talk and hang out before bed. Camo Boy spent it sharpening his knife, being careful to keep it out of view of the counselors. I told him I sometimes hunted with my dad and knew how to strip a bird with a knife, which he took polite interest in.

He explained it was great to know that stuff, to be ready for anything, but I could learn so much more. As we slid into our beds and the counselors called lights out, I asked if he could teach me some things. He said he’d be more than happy too.

Morning came in the rapid-fire style I’d grown accustomed to with camp. I assumed Camo Boy endured similar scheduling with his army background, but he seemed a bit slow to adjust. When I woke up and shook his shoulder, he sort of jumped, eyes wide and alert, his knife in hand. I made him hide it before the counselors could see, trying to laugh it off.

“C’mon. Time for morning exercises.”

After that initial moment of panic, Camo Boy returned to his quiet ways. We spent about fifteen minutes at the waterfront, doing “exercises,” but really only annoying the hell out of the rest of the lake’s inhabitants with cheers, laughing, shouting, and occasionally throwing someone in. For all intents and purposes, Camo Boy was in excellent shape, doing each exercise with little difficulty and even garnering the attention of the rest of our cabin.

Before we knew it, he and our head counselor, Michael, were in a contest to see who could do more push-ups. I filtered out at around ten, but Michael and Camo Boy held strong through twenty, then thirty, all the way up to fifty, and Camo Boy barely broke a sweat.

Eventually, Michael broke and collapsed in the gravel of the waterfront amphitheater, defeated. Our cabin herded him and Camo Boy down toward the dock, jeering at our head counselor and cheering on our victorious friend. Michael, being a good sport, accepted his punishment, but at the last moment, dragged Camo Boy into the water with him.

I jolted as they went under water, seeing Camo Boy’s features widen with the same fear he had when he awoke. They disappeared for a moment, before resurfacing. Michael filled the air with curses, clutching at his nose as it pumped blood all over his face.

Camo Boy stood in the shallow water, arms folded across his chest as he shuddered. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean too… you caught me by surprise.”

Michael wrapped a towel around his nose and laughed. “Don’t worry, dude. You just caught me with your elbow. Good match?” He stuck out his non-bloodied hand.

Reluctantly, Camo Boy took it. The rest of our cabin and all the other campers watched in fascination. When they broke apart, the bell for breakfast rang and everyone ran for the mess hall. I stayed behind with Camo Boy, who shuddered in his soaked fatigues. We went back to our cabin while Michael went to the nurse’s office, and looked for dry clothes.

We marched up the dirt road in silence, before I finally broke it by saying, “So how many push-ups can you do?”

He looked at me, surprised. I shrugged. Michael had said good game, so I didn’t care much about the nosebleed. “I don’t know,” he replied, “But where I come from, the victor doesn’t get thrown in with the losers. It’s poor sportsmanship.”

I regarded him as we slipped into the cabin and went to our bunk. “It was just a bit of fun, though.”

“Either way,” Camo Boy said, slipping into fresh clothes and thumbing his knife for a moment. “He shouldn’t have done that.”

I wasn’t sure how to reply to that so I just said, “Let’s get some breakfast. You’ll love the rest of the day.”

He didn’t seem convinced, but accompanied me anyway. Breakfast passed rapidly, as did chapel time – where we did a bit of heavenly worship – and then it came time for skills. Camo Boy seemed to brighten at the mention of those. Propulsion-based activities were right up his alley.

Our first skill, archery, took place on a big field set back into the mountain. We were given cheap compound bows and colorful arrows. The counselors in charge ran through the same monotonous spiel about odd-fletchings out, always aim down-range, and never dry fire crap I’d heard before.

Camo Boy didn’t seem to be paying attention to them. Instead he grinned at me and leaned on his bow. “You still want me to teach you some stuff, right?” I nodded. He grinned wider, a hint of something sinister in his grey eyes. “Just watch me, then.”

The counselors – a young girl named Stacey and slightly older boy named Travis – were distracted as they told everyone to line their shots up. Most kids could barely pull the bows back, and some couldn’t even knock their arrows. Camo Boy and I were the only ones even remotely equipped.

When the girl gave the command, arrows flew in every which way toward their target, slapping against the foam-padding like rain. I noted Camo Boy hit near center every time, releasing the arrow fluidly. When it came time to put our bows down, I didn’t see him stay back as I was too eager to see how I did. I walked up to the target, noting my arrows and reached up to grab them.

“WHUMP!” I cried out and stumbled back as an arrow embedded itself where my hand had been a moment prior. A faint cut appeared on the webbing between my thumb and index finger. I looked back at the counselors, but they were assisting the other campers in finding their own arrows, and then I looked to Camo Boy. He smiled wickedly and dropped his bow, before striding over to me and yanking out the arrow.

“First thing you’ll learn, don’t walk into my line of fire,” he laughed.

I nodded quietly, cradling my hand. No one had seen what he’d done, and if I told on him, the counselors would claim it an accident. “Nice shot,” I muttered.

I avoided walking anywhere near Camo Boy’s line of fire after that. Always waiting until he went to get his arrows and following suit. We slowly forgot about the incident after awhile, and when the bell rang to signal the end of the skill, we were laughing once more. Riflery was next.

As I told Camo Boy the day before, the riflery range was this rather creepy skeleton of a building, two stories high and stacked with musty mattresses on the second floor. They four kids shoot at a time, but he and I were lucky enough to go first.

We laid down on mattresses and shouldered our guns, once again ignoring the drone of the counselor’s instructions. I simply watched Camo Boy, noting the way he shouldered his weapon, relaxed his breathing, and peered down the firing range with absolute fixation. I squinted my eyes, trying to pick out what he was staring down. All I could see was a slight flicker of movement right below our targets.

When the counselors finally let us fire, I watched my strange friend carefully, catching a sickening grin spread over his face as he dipped his rifle low and fired. A small flurry of movement followed by the bullet punching into the dirt seemed to widen his grin even more. I shifted uncomfortably and fired my own shot, not caring where it went. Something about that malice in his features twisted my gut.

After we finished our turn, the counselors let us retrieve our targets and this time Camo Boy eagerly ran ahead of the other kids. He beckoned me off to the side of the targets and proudly showcased his results: a chipmunk, bucking in throes of death, a hole torn through its underbelly with shoe-string intestines dribbling out of it.

“Nice shot,” I said quietly.

“I was off by a bit,” he replied, slowly using the heel of his boot to crush the poor thing’s skull. “Meant to deliver a killing blow. My father loathes suffering.”

I nodded in agreement with the cardinal rule of hunting – quick, clean kills. Always. But a cold weight of dread in my stomach made me uncertain. He didn’t seem to mind stamping the creature out of existence.

We weren’t able to shoot again in the time left for that skill. Too many others and too few guns. I didn’t mind. Sounds of that chipmunk’s skull still crackled in the back of my mind.

When the end of the second skill came about, I was quick to forget my qualms. The next three hours took us through the high-point of the day: free-time, lunch, and rest hour. Or ‘craziness, refueling, and recovery’ as I thought of it. Those hours passed like a blurr, taking me and Camo Boy through a plentitude of activities before we wound right back on top of his bunk for rest hour. He did disappear for a short while during free-time, but I’d been so preoccupied at the waterfront, I scarcely noticed.

I decided to forgive him for his eccentricities throughout the morning. Chalked it up to adjustment issues. When I hoisted myself up amid the soft chattering of other campers pretending to be quiet during rest hour, I noticed Camo Boy fiddling with something.

It was small, white, and intricate, bound by string. I peered closer and jolted back when I realized it was the bones of the chipmunk he’d shot. “The hell are you doing with that?”

He only grinned, twirling the bones on a string. “Couldn’t let it go to waste.”

I folded my legs and eyed the bones nervously. “You didn’t… you know… eat it, did you?”

Camo Boy stared at me, “You’re funny, Sean, you know that? Of course I didn’t. Not enough meat.” As before, I couldn’t tell whether he was joking. He held up the bones, showing off the pearly-white quality to them. “There is a certain beauty to it, though.”

I shrugged. “Bones are bones, dude. You’re lucky I’m used to that kind of stuff or you could be in major trouble.”

“Not bones,” Camo Boy lowered the string, “Death. And I know you won’t tell anyone about this. I trust you.” He smiled that eerie smile, making me shift uncomfortably.

“Well not anymore,” I promised, looking at the bones and the K-BAR knife sitting between us. I imagined he could very easily do away with me in the fashion he had done away with the chipmunk. One quick slice of that knife… I shuddered.

Camo Boy returned to fiddling with his bones while I watched, listening to the other kids play cards and mini-basketball. Part of me deeply regretted forming whatever twisted version of a friendship this was with Camo Boy, but another part stirred with intrigue. His past, his skills, his family, and background. I wanted to know, but never really gained the courage to probe deeper.

After rest hour, time for third and fourth skills came along. Camo Boy and I had signed up for horseback riding which I was just now remembering meant we needed to walk up a long dirt road to get too. As per usual, Camo Boy had little trouble with the climb. He would’ve left me in the dust, sucking in breaths like a fish, but instead he lingered to laugh and encourage me along.

We reached the top a couple minutes later, sweaty and covered in dust. The barn and paddock for the horses squatted in a little clearing surrounded by trees and piles of gravel. We were surprised to find only us and one other kid had signed up, leading to a rather quick and engaging rundown of things. The counselor in charge here was far more attentive that those at archery, so Camo Boy conducted himself better.

Unsurprisingly, the military-raised kid showed impressive dexterity in handling his horse. He led it out into a dirt-filled paddock and briefly kneeled to attach something to his boots before mounting. I was pretty comfortably around the big animals, having ridden my fair share on trail rides and at carnivals. The other kid in our group, a timid girl with freckles and flaming red hair, required far more persuasion to even get close to her steed, so we were left to our own devices once more.

Luckily the horses were docile, gentle creatures, used to supporting little brats all day. I rode my horse around in circles, eventually getting the grey gelding, aptly named Silver, up to a trot. In turn, Camo Boy showed impressive skill with a deep-brown quarter horse named Dancer. He held his boots tight against its flanks, applying gradual pressure that made the animal step like a show horse.

I watched, impressed, as he took it around the paddock, making it prance fancily. Eventually he came up beside me, sitting erect and grinning.

I looked at his horse, at the fear shining bright in Dancer’s eyes and then noticed something dark red trickling along its flanks. Blood. Again. Camo Boy wore spurs on his boots, which he dug deep into the rescue horse’s flanks.

He noticed me noticing, and only smiled wider. “Control is everything. And it’s not hard to control beasts, Sean. It just takes a little pain.” He dug the spurs in deeper, making the horse whinny in protest.

“Stop it,” I said quietly. “He did nothing to you.”

Camo Boy regarded me with cold grey eyes, “Maybe I’ll dig my spurs into you someday. See how you react to pain.”

I’m not sure what fueled my reply, but I somehow held my ground this time. “No. You won’t.”

A glimmer of malice flickered in that kid’s face, anger briefly clouding his smugness. “One beast at a time,” he replied, before trotting off.

The remainder of the skill passed in relative silence and soon it became boring to churn about in circles. Seeing as I couldn’t avoid Camo Boy, he remained at my side and nodded to the far side of the clearing where an old cabin squatted on the edge of the treeline. I explained in grudging sentences how there used to be a horseback riding cabin up here, but it’d been put out of commission in the early 90s.

He mulled over this news with interest, keeping Dancer in check with the spurs in his boots. The only reason I didn’t bring the brutal practice to the counselor’s attention was out of fear. We ended up taking our horses back to our stalls, where Camo Boy quietly brushed down his ride and rubbed away the blood painting its flanks. He claimed kindness was the best dissolution for fear, that a balance of the two yielded the best results. I suspected he wasn’t only attributing that wisdom to the horse.

The rest of the day passed quietly for us, with a faint shower of rain coming down during dinner, but clearing up as the moon ascended. When we found our way back among other campers, I almost began to realize what it felt to be normal for a change. Time spent in Camo Boy’s company always felt elastic, stretched out and isolating. I welcomed the efforts of a couple other boys who seemed interested in getting to know the quiet, militant kid better.

To my surprise, Camo Boy greeted them with warmth. We spent dinner laughing and flinging food at one another, making crude jokes that only immature boys found funny, and essentially messed around like idiots. It almost made me hopeful that first night would work out. But, as with many things, I wholly underestimated the path that night would take.

That night we played a game called Capture the Counselor. It’s easy enough to follow, with all the counselors painting themselves different colors and each color being worth a certain amount of points. They’d go and hide around camp and the campers would wait for a little while, before running after the counselors in order to get points for their cabin.

Camo Boy treated the challenge as I expected: like a military exercise. He outfitted himself in his usual garb, styling himself in leafy patterns intercut with branches and twigs. And one small detail, one that only I seemed to notice, was he slipped his knife into his boot. When I asked him about it, he only shrugged and said something about wild animals. I didn’t press the issue.

So fast forward to about 8:30 at night, the sky shot through with a streaky overcast, the Colosseum packed with over-eager campers, and caches of counselors hidden all over the place. I’d already been roped into going with my new friend, and part of me actually hoped we could win this thing. Given our small numbers and his experience, perhaps he could track them down.

When the whistle was blown for everyone to go, we wheeled out of there like demons, powering up the stairs and heading straight for a predetermined area: the stables. We’d agreed this would be the most likely spot to stumble across a more valuable counselor given it was the furthest area from the Colosseum and the longest trek. Unfortunately, at some point during our sprint up there, a huge group of girls managed to split us up and when they cleared, Camo Boy was nowhere to be seen.

I wasn’t sure what to do; keep going or join another familiar face. Instead, the weather made that decision for me. Apparently the drizzle from a couple hours prior had only been a harbinger for a much larger storm cell, and big, heavy drops spattered the ground as I struggled to decide.

Rapidly, the rain worsened, turning from a light shower to a massive deluge in moments and drenching everyone, even through the canopy of enormous trees looming above. Counselors, painted in various colors, began to emerge from various areas around camp. I was about halfway between the Colosseum and the stables, close to the archery field, and a group of counselors herded us back the way we came.

I tried to explain to a girl painted in blue that I’d been split up from a friend, but brutal cracks of thunder coupled with the general panic of driving everyone back to shelter made it difficult. Her only reassurance was that another counselor had probably found him and told him to do the same. With no other option, I agreed to head back.

It proved difficult to get back to the Colosseum, even on a wide dirt road. The rain formed an impenetrable curtain against the luminous dark, and the trees cast giant shadows against the sky. By the time we reached shelter, several kids suffered from scrapes and falls, and the rain only added a chill to the night.

I went to sit with my cabin, watching soaked campers chatter among themselves and counselors blotched with discolored paint do their best to keep a headcount. It took some time, but eventually we all became settled. I’d been diligently counting familiar faces from the moment I sat down, but not because I was worried Camo Boy would not return. Rather, a sense of foreboding had bloomed in the pit of my stomach from the moment I got split up from him. I was worried other familiar faces might not return.

And as the role-calls for each cabin went up, my fears were confirmed. But it wasn’t a camper that was missing. It was our head counselor, Michael. Neither he nor the strange kid who liked to blend in were anywhere to be seen.

I could tell from the chatter among the staff that they were fully aware of the situation, but as rain pounded down on the tin-roof covering the Colosseum, the storm reminded us any search would be futile. I tried entertaining the hope that the two had just hunkered down elsewhere, but that horrible sense of foreboding disallowed me.

Feeling queasy, I stood up and walked over to one of my counselors. I told them I wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the bathroom. In their distraction, they nodded, before resuming an animated discussion on how to conduct a search in this weather. Slowly, I walked up the steps of the Colosseum and out into the rain-soaked night.

Even in the pounding rain I knew where I was headed. I knew this camp and its webbing of roads and trails intimately, even at that age. I took a deep breath, wiped my eyes clean, and made my way up to the stables.

I fell twice going up. The first time wasn’t bad, but the second split the skin on my knee open and a trickle of blood ran down my leg. In the cold, oppressive rain, I scarcely felt it. Instead fear throttled any other feeling out of me. Something about approaching the ominous and unknown did that to you. An uncertainty that you knew just enough about to formulate a terrifying hypothesis, and that fear backed up by a sense of absolute dread. It was like approaching a wounded predator and hoping the beast wouldn’t awaken with enough strength left to slice your guts open. A gamble, and one I had ample time to mull over and over in my mind as I stalked my way up the winding dirt road.

The stables… that place was infinitely creepier at night. The barn, an old, oblong homunculus of tattered wood, tin roofing, and looming hay bales. Then the abandoned, ramshackle cabin a little further beyond, where the woods softly grasped at it, trying to swallow it up. I shivered violently. Two creepy buildings for the price of one.

Swallowing my fear, I ventured into the barn. A dark corridor yawned before me, flanked to either side by ragged hay and saloon-style doors. I briefly imagined it to be a zoo, showcasing all the horrors of the world in one terrifying place. A soft snort from the nearest stall scared the shit out of me, but it was only Silver.

His big head loomed out of the darkness, eyes large and gentle. I smiled and patted his nose, shaking quietly. He managed to calm me somewhat, but then a horrible noise from the other end of barn shot through the tranquility. It sounded torturous – a mixture of a horse’s dying scream coupled with the hollow, echoing roar of some terrible beast.

Silver jerked back from my hand, his eyes flashing white in fear. I shushed him desperately, trying to calm the pulse of my own heart, but it did little. The old horse snorted and retreated into the darkness of his stall, leaving me alone once more.

Another bone-scorching bray pierced the stable, ringing off the tin roof and stabbing into my skull. Gulping down a sob, I slowly approached, praying it to only be a frightened horse.

Closer and closer I crept. As I went by the other stalls, I noted not a single horse came forth. They were all huddled at the back of their quarters, collectively in terror of something at the far end. Each step brought me closer, the rain’s pounding only interrupted by a devastating scream from that stall. I began sobbing as I closed in, trying to fight the wave of logic and reason pulling me in the opposite direction.

As I balanced on the brink of fight or flight, I steeled my nerves and rounded the corner of the final stall… and promptly screamed louder than anything humanly could. Michael stood before me, or rather was held up before me, nailed in place at the wrists and ankles. His body, painted a flaky red from the contest, was saturated with dark blood, and his pale chest heaved softly. He’d been crudely crucified against the rotting wood of the stall, but that had little to do with my scream.

Dancer stared back at me, through soft, gentle eyes, before another horrific scream rolled out of the old horse’s muzzle. Then he flopped back, his long face little more than butchered mask, skin limp and neck wrinkled, sitting atop Michael’s shoulders.

Dancer’s body lay to one side of the stable, a ragged stump left where the head had been. Michael, in agony and nailed up, unleashed another inhuman bellow against the rain. Each time he drew in a breath, trying to call for help, blood would seep from his chest where deep, childish letters had been carved.

A message would bloom to life in crimson lettering against his pale skin.

“Every beast may be conquered.”

Then Dancer’s head would lift, a large, hellish puppet on a string, and let loose another bray of pain that burrowed so deep into my skull, it pierced my core.

I heaved and sobbed at the brutal sight, grinding my hands into the straw. I wanted to go to help my counselor, but that noise blasted me back. I watched streams of blood spill down Michael’s chest, leaching his life out of him so that Camo Boy’s lecherous message could scrape my mind.

Then I heard a chuckle.

It sounded from behind me, clear as ice in the roar of the rain. I turned slowly and finally saw him, standing just beyond the stall’s door, gripping his knife in one hand, strings of blood and gore matting his hair and arms. He was smiling.

I croaked out the only thing I could, no longer caring about anything else as Michael loosened one finally death cry before sagging forward, dead. “Why?”

He only shrugged, coldly regarding the monstrosity he’d created and gripping his knife. “Because, Sean, all beasts must be conquered. I tried to teach you that today, give you access into my world. Into who I am. I am what you might refer to as an equalizer. Through all the blood and shit and gore and suffering, I eradicate chaos from this world. I bring control, little by little.” He pointed to the abomination nailed to the wall. “If others found this, they’d say it was some voodoo shit or pagan sacrifice. That I’m terribly insane, frightfully psychotic, and entirely unmade for this world.” He stepped up to me and pressed the knife’s edge to my cheek. “But I am made for this world. I know what I want. I want you as my witness, to see the bodies you must tear through and the gentle souls you must rip apart to bring about control. I’ll disappear soon, and you’ll be the only one who ever knew just what a fucked up little friend you made.” He began stepping back, out into the rain, leaving me in a state of shock and misery. “And at some point you’ll realize, I was entirely made for this world. Then, we’ll come together again.”

He slipped off into the night, leaving me raw and exhausted. The sight of Michael, his body butchered and Dancer’s head slung over his own, no longer frightened me. Instead it was saddening. As I slowly lost consciousness, my vision tunneled around my poor counselor. A conquered beast.

~~~~~~~~~

No one ever found Camo Boy. He became a legend told around the campfire after that. A spectre of many camper’s imaginations, made infamous by his disquieting presence and ominous disappearance.

How did the camp continue to run after this terror, you might ask? Higher powers.

I awoke in the nurse’s office the next morning, apparently having suffered a serious bout of pneumonia-induced exhaustion. Camo Boy wasn’t stupid. He knew I’d be an uncredible witness on account of being a child and a victim of extremely stressful conditions.

When he said others would see the disgusting horror show he’d created, he meant they’d see it through my eyes. My words, no matter what they were, would control everyone else’s perception, whether they believed me or not. My details on what happened would incubate in the minds of disbelieving adults which would inevitably pass on to the gossip of teenagers and finally come to life in the wild imaginations of kids. And the infamous legend would only grow from there.

Still, there was the issue of how the crucified man-horse monstrosity never got found. Well from what I gathered, neither the body of the horse nor that of Michael was ever recovered. Just as Camo Boy had vanished, so too did a counselor and an old quarter-horse. The most common hypothesis was that Camo Boy had ridden the horse out into the woods, going deep in and Michael, who’d been reportedly hidden up near the stables during the game, had gone after him.

Of course the camp, in aid with local law enforcement, launched a massive search operation. They looked and looked, finding no evidence in the stall I’d claimed was drenched in blood. And beyond that, they never found any evidence of the missing individuals. I did witness a peculiar sight while in nurse’s office though – a giant, craggy man built like an ox talking to a distraught couple. Later I learned they were the parents of Camo Boy and Michael respectively.

My guess, as little as it counted for, was that Camo Boy’s father might’ve pulled strings behind the scenes. Either fueled by the same belief system his son worshipped or simply too careful to let anyone discover just how fucked up his kid truly was. I believe he had some part in blurring a couple important details. As for Michael’s parents… well they just had to accept that their son had perished in the wake of a righteous cause, even though his true demise was so much worse.

My own parents were called on account of my health and distraught condition, but the disbelief of a frantic child runs deep in the veins of adults and they didn’t want anything to do with my horrible explanations

I was scheduled to be picked up the next day from camp, and ended up spending one final night in the medical bunks. As I went to sleep, the torturous bellow from that night continued to ring through my ears, full of pain and malice, wanting to both be killed and to kill. At some point in the night, a brush of air woke me, and I found a knife embedded deep within the wood of my bunk.

It was dark, wicked sharp, and clean. Below it rested the letters C.B. Camo Boy. ‘Conquered Beast,’ I thought wryly, heart fluttering a bit. I yanked the blade out and stuffed it under my mattress, finding exhaustion weigh me down more than fear. I knew Camo Boy could do away with me at any point, so I felt little fear of him. More pity and grief.

One thought did still nag at me though. The fate of poor Michael, with his body carved and pale, seeping blood and gasping raggedly as he suffocated within the moist confines of Dancer’s hollowed-out head. Had Camo Boy dragged him out somewhere into the woods and hidden him?

Or had he ripped himself free of those nails and stumbled into the Appalachian Wilderness himself? I closed my eyes as another gut-wrenching bray branded my ears. I couldn’t be completely certain if it was only in my mind… or if it came from somewhere deep in the woods.

Above story was NOT written by me and I take absolutely no credit for it. All rights go to the original writer, hdalby33.

Monster Hunter Nemesis: A Review

After finishing Monster Hunter Legion so quickly, I thought I would take a break from the series and read other things. For some reason, however, I decided to read the Kindle sample from Monster Hunter Nemesis, just to see what will come next. I should have known that I wouldn’t be able to stop after finishing the sample. I finished the book a couple of days later. That alone should tell you how I feel about the fifth book in the Monster Hunter series.

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Monster Hunter Nemesis is awesome for pretty much one reason, Agent Franks. The fifth outing in the MHI universe stars MCB’s very own Agent Franks. The novel begins right after the events of the previous book. Shadowy government figures are using said events as an excuse to kick start an ultra secret and ultra dangerous weapons program called Project Nemesis. For good reason, Franks is opposed to this and resolves to throw a giant, bloody monkey wrench into those plans.

Now Correia’s action is topnotch. That much isn’t surprising. What really impressed me, however, were the characters. You’d think that a novel starring a character with practically no emotions and whose only real motivation in life is to kill monsters would skimp on characterization. In the hands of lesser writers, than may be true. Yet Correia manages to inject Franks with huge amounts of depth this time around (though you did see hints of it as the series progressed). Despite the psychopathic exterior, Franks actually has motivations beyond simply killing everything. Well kind of. I don’t want to say more as there are many interesting revelations about Franks that are best experienced on your own.

That said, there are many other characters in the novel. Grant Jefferson and Agent Archer return and they too are interesting. Grant Jefferson, in particular, speaks volumes of Correia’s skill atwriting characters. In the first novel, Grant Jefferson was the typical, good-looking, arrogant jock who messes with the main character. And while he is still all those things, Grant Jefferson has motivations beyond simply being an asshole and we see a lot of that in this novel.

In fact, that’s what makes this fifth novel so awesome; it’s one huge perspective shift. Not only for certain characters but for the MCB as a whole. After spending the last couple novels in the shoes of characters who practically loathe the MCB. Now you get to see things from the perspective of MCB agents.  You get to find out what makes Franks tick. Even Agent Myers gets the seeing-things-in-a-new-perspective treatment. Don’t get me wrong, they are all still the same characters and organizations, but they just feel a lot more three-dimensional after finishing this novel.

I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the characters; that doesn’t mean this book is skimps on the action. Hell, the protagonist is a perfectly honed, monster-killing machine, so you will get a lot of monster killing in this novel. What really makes the action awesome (besides the writing) is  Correia’s grasp on pacing. None of the scenes overstay their welcome. Correia knows just when to inject an action scene to keep things moving and when to end an action scene and let everyone gather their bearings.

The villains are colorful, evil and just absolutely fantastic. The ending was great though not what I was expecting. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. The ending, especially the last scene, manages to set things up for the next book in an intriguing way without feeling cliffhanger-y.

If I had to sum up this review in four words, it’d be “buy the damn book”. Balls-to-the-wall, monster killing action with likable characters. It really doesn’t get any better.

5 out of 5 stars.

Monster Hunter Legion– A Review

The past couple weeks have been quite hectic and I’ve not had the time to sit down and write about what I’ve been reading. Most of my free time was spent actually reading. As a result, I now have a backlog of reviews to get through. It’s not really a problem, just keep in mind that the reviews may be a bit shorter than usual. With that said, let’s begin with a review for Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Legion, the fourth book in his Monster Hunter series.

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I’ll start out by saying that I devoured this book. The premise is ridiculous in the most awesome way possible: the first annual Monster Hunter convention is scheduled with monster hunters from all over the world attending. Owen Pitt’s crew is there along with other MHI from across the country as well as representatives from the MCB. Then shit hits the fan and we have a crazy monster on the loose. Now, I won’t go into details because you really should experience this without knowing anything prior.

Let’s start with the good. Pretty much every character is distinct and interesting with their own personalities and motivations. The fact that Correia can create so many characters without them feeling like clones is a testament to his abilities as a writer. Previously, in my review of Monster Hunter Alpha, I complained that the female characters are all drawn from the same ass-kicking-action-girl mold with little to differentiate them. I’ll have to retract that. They may all be ass-kicking-action-girls but the female characters in this series really do have distinct personalities with tremendous depth. Holly Newcastle is a perfect example. She may come off as your typical stripper-turned-killer cliche but she really does come into her own as the series progresses, especially in this book. Correia really can do characters.

The plot is ridiculous, awesome fun that never lets up until the very end. There are twists and turns that are genuinely surprising without feeling like cheats. In addition, Correia pulls together a number of threads from previous novels and connects them in interesting ways. Again, I can’t say too much without giving things away. Though I will say that dragons make an appearance which isn’t really a spoiler because it’s there on the cover. Suffice to say that the plot goes in interesting directions while giving juicy hints of the cosmic forces manipulating things like pieces on a chessboard.

In the end, Correia’s Monster Hunter series continues to impress. Correia has likely topped his previous MHI books with Monster Hunter Legion. The action is great. The mysteries are tantalizing and the characters fun. What more could you possibly want from a book series about private companies hunting monsters?

5 out of 5 stars.