A Great Time for Horror (with a bonus short story) by Wayne Lemmons
The guest blog series resumes with these two pieces from author Wayne Lemmons. The first is an essay concerning a ritual I am most definitely familiar with. The second is a dark short story about two young chums on an outing in the woods. Enjoy!
I have a memory locked away in a box that sits in the back of my mind. I drag that box out on sunny days in hopes that the darkness inside of it can be lightened by a cooler blue in the sky. I dissect its contents. I look at every single piece of it through the proverbial magnifying glass that each of us keeps locked in our minds to examine things when no one else is looking. I tread lightly upon it, my mental boots barely marring the surface enough to look underneath.
When I am done and unnerved, I close the box tightly and promise to save it for another of those sunny days.
I wonder if all writers do the same. I know that readers do, as I have thousands of times, but they open the boxes of others, pull out their own detective gear, and find entertainment in those feelings of unsettled fright and sometimes overwhelming greed for more of the same.
That’s what we do, writers of the horror genre. We find those rooms inside of us that are filled with tightly sealed crates. We open the boxes of thoughts that should never be mentioned in every day conversation and try to capture them with pages and ink, or more recently screens and graphic text. It’s a beautiful thing, really, that finding and capturing. I think that it keeps us from going crazy.
The people on the other side of the pages are much healthier when reveling in their obsessions. They sleep well, for the most part. They read twenty or thirty pages and lay the book on a well-lit nightstand and maybe talk about what they looked at to the person next to them. The really great ones finish the book and leave a review for the poor slob who wrote that book during sleepless nights over their fifteenth cup of coffee.
I see horror changing. It’s always been a changing genre, but over the last few years we’ve seen the market flooded with a million different kinds of horror. There is the subtle stuff, psychological stuff, old-school scary stuff. There are the extreme horror folks running amok. There are ghost stories and demon stories pouring from that great pitcher in the sky without an emptying in sight.
Isn’t that incredible?
The reader now has so many options that when asked what they’re reading it’s almost boring just to look up and say, “Horror,” without further description. Now you have to tell someone if you’re reading about the time someone’s Aunt Shirley murdered her entire family because her dead husband, Gilbert, was telling her all the stuff they say behind old Shirley’s back. Or you have to admit that you’re enjoying someone’s very descriptive scene concerning the separation of a human tongue from its rightful place in a human mouth.
These are far better days for the fans of horror. These are far better days for the creators of that wonderful feeling of true horror.
Are you tired of my ranting yet? I hope not, because I’ve left a box for you at the end of this paragraph. Hopefully you enjoy its contents as much as I will enjoy being rid of them for a while. ♦
“Come on, Andy! Hurry up!” Jacob shouted, turning as he ran along the path that broke into a wooded area behind his family’s home.
“Jeez! I’m going as fast as I can!” the other boy replied.
Andy was chubby and winded easily. He’d never been a boy built for running and would avoid the action in most situations. This was different, though.
Jacob had knocked on his door earlier in the morning with a rant about the most exciting thing. The boy had been flustered and anxious, rambling on and on about some “Thing” caught in the woods behind his New Hampshire home. Andy, who’d been in the middle of breakfast, was torn by the explanation. He could stay at home to finish the stack of pancakes that his mom had set before him, or see something extraordinary. For most boys the possibility of seeing anything more interesting than the walls of his bedroom would’ve sent them running without thought. For Andy, it was a debate.
“You gotta come, Andy!” Jacob urged, “You don’t wanna miss this!”
“Okay. Okay,” Andy finally gave in, “I just need a few minutes.”
The boy had gone back to his place, determination springing forth, and engulfed the contents of his breakfast plate. He chugged a glass of milk to flatten out the sugary sweet taste of syrup before running through the front door. His mother noticed that Andy hadn’t even taken the time to clean himself up. The boy was a mess in yesterday’s white tee and a milk mustache. She shook her head at him, but did not reprimand the kid. He didn’t often run off with his friends and she was happy to see him doing something other than shoveling snacks into his face while sitting in front of the television.
Jacob was far ahead of Andy, looking back over his skinny shoulder to shout at the fatter boy every few steps. Andy was sweating and gasping for breath as he tried to keep pace. It wasn’t working for him. Jacob was a slight boy and wiry to boot. He could’ve walked faster than Andy could run.
The bug of Jacob’s excitement had infected Andy by the time they’d rounded the side of the big house that sat on a closed cul-de-sac not far from Andy’s own home. Contagious feelings are part of a boy’s nature and the chubby kid without ample friends was more susceptible than most.
Tree branches flicked out in front of them, but Jacob was the only one with the reflexes to duck the assaulting foliage. The other boy simply took his lumps, the sting of switches appearing as red welts on his face and arms. His feet were hurting, too. The cheap athletic shoes he wore didn’t have the padding to support a child with his husky stature.
Andy saw that Jacob had stopped up ahead and was incredibly relieved. He couldn’t have kept running for much longer, especially with the lump of fried dough sloshing around in his belly. He feared that he might still be sick even if they stopped running for an hour. He’d known eating so fast was a bad idea, but reason had been trumped by the desire for sticky sustenance.
He was soon standing beside Jacob, looking around the area for the “Thing” he’d been lured away from the comfort of his breakfast table to see. There was nothing sitting or standing in the area and the suspicious voice in the back of Andy’s mind was telling him that he’d been tricked, though Jacob had never done so before.
“Where is it?” Andy asked between heaving breaths.
“Just up ahead. It’s in the clearing,” Jacob answered, waving a hand in the direction off to the right of the path, “We gotta walk there. Running might make it nervous.”
“What is it, Jacob? Why is it all the way out here?”
Jacob looked at him in disbelief. Andy turned to look back the way they’d come and realized that he hadn’t run more than half a mile. It wasn’t as far as his strained lungs and legs had made him believe. For a moment he was embarrassed, but when he turned back to Jacob the boy was looking toward the clearing again. He’d likely already forgotten Andy’s misjudgment.
“You wanna be quiet. We don’t want it to know we’re there at first. It’s tied, so it can’t get me. Us, I mean. It might be pretty mad about being tied to a tree,” Jacob said, looking at Andy with a strange smile.
“Okay,” Andy returned, realizing that the only way to find out what it was that Jacob was so excited about was to just go look.
Both boys walked toward the indicated area, Jacob in the lead. Their steps were overly cautious and if an adult had seen them it would have been humorous to watch. When Jacob walked through a small passage in the surrounding trees, Andy lost sight of him. The greenery was so thick that once he went into it, he kind of disappeared to anyone on the other side. Andy followed, growing more nervous than anxious all of a sudden.
“It’s over there,” Jacob whispered, pointing to what looked like a brown boulder.
Andy squinted, trying to make sense of the form. He stepped closer as he noticed the separations in the rock, not cracks or anything like that. They were limbs. There was a head tucked against one of them. When Andy realized what the form actually was, he jumped backward, his feet tangling into themselves, and fell hard on his rear. His teeth clacked together violently.
“You okay?” Jacob asked, the beginning of a giggle clogging in his throat.
Andy nodded, afraid to speak. If the thing was what he thought it was, then it wasn’t a “Thing”. It was a gosh-darned bear! How had a bear managed to transplant itself into the woods behind Jacob’s house? Andy was full of questions, but had yet to gain the strength to speak. Wonder had replaced all of his voluntary actions. He sat there, gaping at the thing, as Jacob walked even closer.
“Oh yeah,” Jacob confirmed, that peculiar smile returning to his lips.
Andy looked at the other boy for a moment, thinking that the smile reminded him of the look that some animals, like the one in front of him right now, got just before they fed. The notion was ripped away when the body of the bear moved. Suddenly it was standing, turning toward them.
Jacob turned back to it, standing less than ten feet from the bear now. It seemed to grow from the ground, moving so slowly that Andy could actually see the muscles on its legs and back rippling with the effort. He couldn’t judge its standing height yet, as it hadn’t raised up on the strong hind feet, but he knew that it would be tall, very tall.
“You can come closer,” Jacob offered, “It can’t get us when we’re this far away.”
Jacob pointed out the rope tied around the bear’s neck and waved Andy over to where he was standing. Andy walked dazedly to Jacob’s side, never taking his eyes off of the animal. It had turned toward them, was staring at both boys as if in deep contemplation. It seemed to be wondering why they were there. That was the idea on Andy’s mind, anyway.
The bear walked to the end of its rope, the strands tightening once the bear had gotten within twenty-inches of them. Its mouth hung slightly open, the tongue hanging out of its great jaws, making the massive animal look like a pet that had been waiting for attention during the heat of the morning.
“I call him ‘Fur’,” Jacob said, “He’s nice.”
“Yep. I’ve been feeding him for the last few days. He eats a lot.”
Jacob was saying all of this in flat tones, a conversational voice that should’ve been reserved for discussing homework. Andy was a little bothered by it. The hair on his neck stood on end as the bear turned his head to look directly at him.
“My mom says that we shouldn’t go into the woods. Your mom says the same thing, huh?”
“She does,” Andy said, hypnotized by Fur’s eyes, “Says we can get lost easy.”
“Did you tell her we were coming to the woods?”
“Gosh no! She wouldn’t have let me come.”
“Good,” Jacob said, turning as if walking away from the bear.
Andy felt two small hands and a great deal of pressure on his back. He was thrown forward, didn’t even have time to scream, and the animal had him. Andy, who had never seen such a thing so closely before, would have the image of the thing’s teeth on his mind for the final few horrifying minutes of life he’d have to endure.
Jacob watched as the animal mauled the fat kid that lived close to his house. He’d been good to have around when no other kids wanted to play, but it was no big loss. After all, he’d found Fur strung up in the woods and would always have entertainment as long as he could manage to feed him.