Blogoween Day 13 – Spooky NaNo Prep

blogoween

I don’t think there’s anything particularly spooky about National Novel Writing Month except maybe the bone-crushing fear of taking on such a terrifying task or the horror of putting yourself through a grueling 30 days of writing to reach 50k words. But unless you’re writing horror, or a thriller, or darker paranormal stuff, or real-life scary things, or, well, you get the picture, you’re probably not going to immerse yourself in spookiness for NaNo.

Still, we should discuss since it’s lurking just beyond the horizon of Halloween, aaaaand I need a topic for today.

I’ve written a few (well, more than a few actually) blogs about NaNo in the past:

If you don’t have time for all those, well, I don’t blame you, Dear Reader, but the gist of everything is this: I’ve never hit 50k words during actual NaNoWriMo, but I sure blog a lot about planning to! November 2017 I did manage 30k, and then last July I completed Camp NaNo, and I actually got 50k words done in 31 days! So I have a lot of confidence for this month coming up, and I’ve identified the tools I need to do it.

I hit a slump in August and September, just after wowing myself with 50k words for the first time, but surprisingly it wasn’t because I wore myself out. On the contrary, I was actually more pumped about writing in July and just after than I have been in years–I felt the invincibility that only teenagers in fast cars feel–it’s just that the rest of life got in the way. So near the end of September I formulated a plan:

  • October: Blogoween and catching up with Vacancy
  • November: National Novel Writing Month with a completely new project
  • December: Edit She’s All Thaumaturgy (working title, 2018 Camp NaNo project)

October is meant to be prep month for NaNo-ers, Preptober, I think? So to warm up my creative juices, I decided to blog every day. Sticking to a daily writing/creative task is good practice regardless of if you’re working toward something, honestly, and for me it’s been a way to sort of clear out the cobwebs (ooh, I see we are getting a bit spoopy, huh?)

And of course the other point of Preptober is planning your novel. I’ve learned that I am absolutely not a pantser like I believed for so many years (it was a bit like finding out I was a Hufflepuff and not a Ravenclaw like I thought for so long), but I’ve been torn the last couple weeks on which plot to pick: I have two projects that could neatly fit themselves into the month 1) The Last House on Magic Lane and 2) This One’s Embarrassingly About Vampires and Werewolves. (Neither of these are even working titles, they’re just what I’m calling them for this post, but there is a part of me that kind of wants to be the author who titles her books these things.)

Last House is something I came up with quite a while ago–it’s another story about a charmed place, as I am so wont to do, and has a complex history and soap opera feel to it. In fact, I originally conceived of it as another serial that I wanted to be a long and complex parody of a soap opera, told from many viewpoints spanning a few generations, but I’ve since scaled it back to a one-off. The story does lend itself, though, to a possible trilogy, and might be better served that way, so it may not be the best contender for NaNo. Right now, this book is a collection of scenes and an overall mythology, but a lot of the motives and characters are not neatly defined.

Embarrassing is kind of the total opposite: it’s a much newer idea, the plot is reliant on a much smaller cast moving from pace to place, and it’s absolutely a one-off. The other pro to Embarrassing is that I have the plot and characters almost entirely mapped out; Last House would require significantly more work to get it to the same place. So the choice seems easy, right? Except it’s not because Embarrassing is exactly that: EMBARRASSING. Well, okay, not really, but it falls squarely into young adult paranormal romance territory (I mean, I have it saved in a folder called “Wattpad” on my Google Drive, for goodness sake!), and my fear is that I’ll fall into all the easiest tropes and cheesiest writing if I go with this story. But maybe that’s who I am and I should embrace it? It’s just a first draft, after all, and I can trash it if I want, but I’d really like this to be something I can come back to in a few months (like I will be doing in December) and rework into something publishable.

Then again, maybe Embarrassing, like Blogoween, is exactly what I need right now. Maybe I need to purge these ideas and words from my system. And maybe it will end up being great after all?

I should probably not rush Last House. With only 18 days to go in October (and a LOT of crazy life stuff happening in that short time) I don’t know that I could even successfully plot out where I would want the story to go over the course of a single novel anyway, and I’d ultimately probably feel like I was cheating myself and the story if I cut out all the grandiose plans I had for it. So, I guess that settles it? This One Is Embarrassingly About Vampires and Werewolves it is? Have I talked myself into it?

Well, I guess so. Now to finish fleshing out the plot, and crossing all my appendages that I can shit out enough words in November to make it count!

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Blogoween Day 12 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Saber and Parchment

FFF - Blogoween

Note: This is written in first person, and sounds a lot like normal blogging me. Though it’s based on true events, it is, obviously, fiction. It was written originally in an attempt at the NoSleep style, part one to a longer story. Perhaps I’ll continue, only time will tell, but I do think it can stand alone.

Saber and Parchment

I met Nick when I was in my final semester at [redacted]. We had an American lit class together, and our mutual love of Poe evolved into love for one another. We moved in together that summer, some might say too quickly, but we knew we were meant to be together. It felt like fate.

Or like a totally manufactured series of events.

Maybe I jumped in head first because I never thought I could have anything normal, and Nick felt like my chance at normal. Up until my last couple years of college, my life had been so full of fucking noise–just this constant background chatter from what I affectionately call the Other Side, like background music that would occasionally crescendo into some horrific experience. But since about my sophomore year everything had gone quiet, and when I met Nick I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d imagined everything in my life up until that point.

Nick was a year older than I, but I finished my degree first as he was balancing school and work to help pay for his degree. Nick’s job was unique: he worked third shift for the university’s emergency facilities department. It was way too easy, and he got paid way too much to do it, even as a student employee, and of course he loved it. Basically, he waited to get alerts that could range from the temperature gauges in the science facilities varying by a degree, to a forced entry through any of the keycard-access-only dorms, and when they came, he would dispatch the right people to handle the issue. The alarms didn’t sound often despite the university being massive, and most of what he handled were drunken students stuck in elevators, or drunken student pulling fire alarms, or drunken students, well, you get the idea. There was always one other employee, a non-student, there as well, so Nick spent the majority of his time writing essays, watching pirated movies, and on rare occasion he’d go “exploring.” It was a sweet gig, and he was going into his fourth year at it when we moved in together.

I was newly graduated with an English degree and no idea what to do with it, but lucky enough to snag an editorial assistant job with a favorite professor of ours, the very professor whose class Nick and I met in. I could work anytime I wanted, so we both ended up living nocturnally that last semester he finished up school.

We lived in a shoddy one bedroom just off campus, but popular housing for students as some of our classmates lived in the same complex, and walking a couple blocks would get us on to university grounds. The school was spread out over hundreds of acres, and though it had its own transit system, it didn’t run at night, and Nick was usually scheduled from 10pm to 6am. His office was in one of the oldest halls on campus so there was very little parking near it, and most parking on campus required a pass that we were too cheap to shell out for anyway. He usually biked there, but when it was raining or particularly freezing, I drove him. I liked the drive, even at 15 miles an hour on old cobbled streets, and more importantly, I liked knowing Nick was safe.

I imagine there are other things like it, but in all the years since, I’ve never quite experienced the silence that is driving through a university campus just before sunrise. Parties ended hours before, classes have yet to start, and exhaustion settles over the grounds like a dense fog. In those moments, the towering halls and copper statues seem like relics from lifetimes ago, and you wonder if anyone will ever return to these ruins after you.

Of course, even in the predawn there are people out, very few, and most unseen–this I know better now than I ever wished to.

Summer passed uneventfully, with Nick taking a couple evening classes, and me getting paid to collect research for Professor White. He was working on a book about magic and folklore in literature with plans to publish in the following year. I was reading through renaissance poetry and romantic gothic novels to find the exact passages he would reference vaguely from memory in his notes, and typing up the information for him throughout the night, then Nick would come home by sunrise, we’d sleep for a few hours, and start our day over again. By fall we were in a pretty good rhythm save for Nick picking up an early morning class twice a week.

Nick’s job was technically high security, but he’d ask me to come eat “lunch” around 1am with him on occasion. I’d bring fast food if his counterpart John was working, and a burger or a couple tacos would keep him quiet about my presence. One night I got a Skype message from Nick–texting didn’t work from his basement office–asking me to come for lunch in the next hour. I hadn’t planned on it, but Nick typed out that he’d found “something awesome” and needed to show me.

I brought some Thai for all three of us, and left the car in a delivery area safe enough for an hour or two. Campus police seemed to like nothing better than to call a tow truck on passless cars, but didn’t start patrolling until around 5am. Nick was waiting for me at the door: his ID was high security and allowed him into most buildings on campus, but mine just gave me special library access, and without cell service down in his office, he wouldn’t know I was there otherwise. The emergency facilities office was a small room in the basement of [redacted] Hall, a largely disused building that had stood on campus in some form or another since its inception. The office had a number of cubicles, two glass-windowed offices for management during normal business hours, and cement block walls painted hastily in hospital white. Monitors lined one wall, most filled with text, one of them displaying a live video of the hall we’d just walked down, and a gentle hum filled the room. That hum let you know everything was fine.

We ate, and Nick told John he was going to take a break. John waved him off and hunched over in his chair, eyes closed. When we were out in the hall, I asked Nick what happened if John fell asleep. “He always does,” he told me, “but he’s never missed an alarm yet.”

Nick took me to the end of the hall where a heavy, fireproof door opened into a dim stairwell with the swipe of his ID. To my surprise, the stairs headed down. I grabbed his arm when the door slammed behind us, echoing into the empty space. “I thought your office was the basement?”

“Sub basement,” he pointed over the railing and winked a blue eye at me.

“Are we allowed down there?”

Nick shrugged and held up his ID, “I guess.”

Another fireproof door sat at the bottom of the stairwell, and through it a sadly-lit hall that was too dark to see its end. I immediately didn’t like it, but Nick insisted I had to see what he found, which he still wasn’t defining for me. He swiped his badge on the second door on the left and turned the handle, “You’re gonna love this.”

A single light shone down from the room’s center. Some old desks were upturned in the corner, but otherwise the space was empty. I looked back at him, and his face immediately fell. “What the hell?” He moved passed me and looked around, but there was nowhere to really search in the small space. “I swear it was right here!”

“What was here?” I gnawed on my lip. Nick was a bad liar, and his surprise seemed pretty genuine.

He walked to the corner with the desks, “This bin…this big rolling bin full of books.” Nick held his arms out to mimic the size, “Like loads of books!”

My heart sort of skipped at the idea of something so large and presumably heavy just vanishing in the middle of the night. “And you’re sure it was this room?”

“I left the light on,” he screwed up his face, gesturing to the fixture above us that had indeed been on when we entered, “I mean, it was right here, and it was huge.”

I wanted to bolt, then calm washed over me as I realized. “Huge, hu?” I went up to him and slipped a finger into his belt, “Like something else?”

His face changed, sort of giving me a stupid grin, “Yeah…” then he shook his head, “But no, seriously. This is weird.”

Now that was weird: he’d never turned down an opportunity to fool around.

Nick moved past me and my advances back out into the hall. From the doorway, I glanced down into the darkness at its far end as he started opening other doors. When my stomach flipped, I tried to convince myself the Thai just wasn’t sitting right, but when I followed him into a different room across the hall, the queasy feeling wouldn’t rescind. Nick was very still, staring at the back wall. Again there was a small pile of desks to his right, but the room was larger, and its most prominent feature was a chain-link fence reaching from floor to ceiling, caging off the back half of the space. The light above where Nick stood shone only slightly beyond the cage, but there beyond the fence was a rolling bin like he’d described.

“That’s it,” he pointed when I came up beside him, “The books I wanted to show you.”

I closed the space between myself and the cage, peering into the bin through the links. It was full to the brim with books, most with tattered covers. They looked like they might have been headed for an incinerator, but they also had some beautiful leather covers and ornate script along their cracked bindings, though it was too dark to make out what they said. I smiled, momentarily forgetting the weirdness of the situation, and searched the fence for an entryway, but there was a padlock on the chain-link door.

“Well, these are cool,” I offered, “It sucks they’re probably going to be destroyed.”

Nick came up next to me and pulled out his flip phone–old, even for those days–and pressed buttons furiously, “That’s not all. I took this to show you in case you couldn’t come by.”

He pulled up a picture, low resolution and shadowed on his tiny screen, but I could tell it was one of the books, lying open on top of the pile. I glanced at the bin again on the other side of the cage, nowhere near close enough for him to have gotten the shot, and what was more, none of the books were open. Looking back at the photo, I could see text on one page, and a drawing on the other, but it was quite blurry.

“I thought–”

“Shh!” I cut him off, snapping my head toward the cage. Something there, in the space beyond the light, had moved.

We were both silent, and I stared unblinking beyond the fence. It had been a subtle sound, a gentle sliding of material against itself, but distinct enough in the quiet of the hall’s sub basement to catch my attention. I held my breath standing there, trying to keep my mind from conjuring up all sorts of imagined visions and sounds in the darkness. I saw nothing, I heard nothing, but what I felt to this day I can barely explain. It was a bit like the feeling you might have gotten when you were little, immediately after one of those old tube televisions were turned off. The static is still there, radiating out into the room as it dissipates. I could feel the static of whatever had been there until its energy was gone.

I nudged Nick and gestured to the door. He said nothing, but backed up toward it, both of us still staring into the shadows until we fumbled back out into the hall. My heartbeat quickened as we scurried to the stairwell. Nick swiped his badge and the panel lit up green. As he pulled the door open, I glanced back because, well, I’m a fucking idiot, I guess.

In the blackness of the hall’s end, I saw it. In silhouette only, it stood there, taking up the space of the corridor unlike any human man could, its shoulders too near the ceiling, its chest too broad. It didn’t move to follow, but it stared after us with intent. I didn’t need to see its eyes to know it was looking right into me. And my first and only thought was, Not again.

We thundered up the stairs and let the fire door slam behind us. Nick turned to me to say something, but before he could get a word out I interrupted him. “Don’t go back down there!”

He took a few deep breaths and scratched the back of his neck, “Oh, uh, okay?”

“Promise me!”

I barely remember lunging forward and grabbing his shirt, but his hands were on my wrists and he tipped his face low to be near mine. “Okay, okay, I promise!”

Nick was a bad liar, but he turned out to be worse at keeping promises.

Podcast: Vacancy 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

Episode 1.17 – What They Were Looking For

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading or listening here.

Today was almost a disaster when I realized while editing in sound effects that I hadn’t actually finished recording the vocals for this episode! I don’t know how that happened, usually I sit down and record three episodes all at one time, but apparently I got bored three quarters of the way through and just stopped this one. Crisis averted, though, I finished it up and here it is.

I was listening to The Magnus Archives today and thinking about how cool it would be to have voice actors for all the characters. Of course, I’m not writing Vacancy to be an audio drama, so it’s not great work for anybody, but it would be neat to hear. Maybe someday I’ll write an audio drama specifically, but for now I really enjoy making these as they are.

Vacancy’s Theme is “Planet Bullspit” by Corey Major

Vacancy Episode 1.17 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

Vacancy – 2.04 – Harvest Fest (Part 3 Final)

 Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

v 2.04

Waves broke on the rocks, the spray cold on Lorelei’s ankles. The sun was just disappearing on the horizon, and a gust swept down the coast making her stop in her tracks. Beyond them, she could see the walkway narrowing as the rocky ledge curved, and the beach was far off behind them. A handful of boats bobbed in the waves just off the rocks, the water below black and who knows how deep.

“Are you sure this is right?” she called ahead to Grier at the lead. He was skillfully stepping over the craggy landscape while not even looking at it, his eyes glued to the map in hand.

He shouted something back, his words lost in the wind. With a deep sigh, she continued on behind Hotaru who had surprised her with her own surefootedness, so different than when back at the manor.

Finally they came to the peak’s end, barely wide enough for the three to stand alongside one another. A grey, choppy ocean reached out in all directions, cutting into the reds and purples of the sky. She wrapped her arms tightly about herself and stood very still, trying to bury the thought that it might be nice to jump in.

“The island.” Grier turned from them and headed back, but only so far, stopping at the small dock and untying one of the dinghies.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Lorelei slipped against the rocks as she went for him, falling onto her knees. Hotaru helped her up just as Grier was stepping into the boat, “That’s not yours, you can’t just steal a boat!”

“The end of the map, X marks the spot,” he waved the map overhead as he sat, “And we’re just borrowing it. Nobody’s around to stop us. Are you coming or not?”

“I absolutely cannot believe we are doing this.”

Lorelei could feel the tightness of the frown on her face, her arms crossed. She wasn’t going to help row, but Grier didn’t seem to need assistance. In fact, he seemed to be doing better than she could have ever expected, taking all three of them out further from the shore.

“There better be something good out there,” she grumbled, “If this treasure ends up being the friendships you made along the way or some shit, I am going to be pissed.”

With the blackness of the water all around them, Lorelei shifted to center herself in the tiny vessel. When she saw the spit of land and the lighthouse atop it, she relaxed until she realized they weren’t headed exactly for it.

There was an even smaller mass, rising up from the water just beyond where the lighthouse’s island stood. It, like so many other things they’d seen that day, couldn’t have been seen unless you knew it was there. And of course Grier did.

He was quick to scuttle out of the boat and up onto the rocks, and they lost him almost immediately as he crested the small hill. “Hotaru,” Lorelei huffed, pulling herself up next to the girl, “Can you rein him in?”

“Probably,” she craned her neck up over the rocks and smiled, “but I don’t really want to.”

Grier was kneeling at the top of the hill. The sun had finally disappeared, and the darkness had come upon them quickly, but the sky was cloudless, and his form was lined in a silver light. He had the map spread out on the ground, a hand against it.

“Is this the X?” Lorelei ventured, hoping to be done.

He said nothing for a long minute then sat back, “Yeah. This is it.”

The sudden somberness to his voice struck Lorelei harder than the chill in the air.

“So, no treasure?” Lorelei could tell Hotaru felt silly saying it.

He glanced around at the spot, bare and surrounded by water, then shrugged.

Waves crashed against the rock, and the wind blew in strong, constant gusts against their ears, and the three were quiet. No one was ready to say they had to go back yet.

“He said I’d find it,” Grier turned up a lip, “if I was worthy.”

Lorelei hadn’t heard the words the man had whispered to him at the booth, but she’d been afraid of what it might have been. A scam, she thought, was most likely, with danger a close second, but now, she realized, this was much worse.

“Well,” Hotaru took a step closer to him, “aren’t you?”

He raised his eyes to hers, and she grinned knowingly back. For a second, it looked like Grier was glowing.

A light burst forth from the map so bright they all reeled back from it. There was a cracking sound, somewhere below them, and Lorelei again fell to her knees knowing full well it would do no good if they were about to be plunged into the blackness of the ocean. But instead, the little isle shifted just enough so that they could feel they weren’t in the exact spot they’d begun in, and then the light was gone.

In place of the map sat a box, no bigger than Grier’s palm, but he was quick to take it up and hold it out to them. With little hesitation, he threw it open, and Lorelei held her breath when he peered inside.

From its shallow insides, he held up an oval pendant just before his face and squinted. In the dark, Lorelei had to come close, but when she saw the familiar outline of the chipmunk, she quickly covered her mouth.

“What is it?” Hotaru cocked her head, peering up at Grier’s hand.

“No clue.”

Hotaru giggled, “It’s kinda cute.”

“You want it?” Grier motioned to hand it off to the girl.

“No!” Lorelei shouted, her breath catching, and the two stared at her blankly. Her mind raced. Could she tell them about the brooch, the letter, Conrad’s family? She swallowed, “That man. He said it was yours, Grier. You need to keep it.”

He flipped the pendant over in his hand, “I wouldn’t have even found it without Hotaru, though.”

“She’s right,” the girl said quickly, “It’s yours.”

Back on the mainland, they reached the festival grounds just as the first firework burst in the sky. Grier was purportedly ravenous and ran off for food before, Hotaru following after, and both were gone before Lorelei could get her bearings again. She sighed and sauntered toward where their booth was when Conrad suddenly popped up in front of her. “You’re alive!”

“Barely,” she rubbed at her face, feeling a gritty, sandiness across her skin.

“Ziah was getting nervous,” he chuckled, “but I told her you’d be fine. She’d probably feel a lot better if you let her know you’ve not been eaten by chupacabras though.”

“Of course, but first, I need to tell you something,” she looked about for a second to ensure they were alone, “It’s been a long day, but basically Grier was given a brooch, like the one I got from Ms. Pennycress. I’m almost certain it’s the same symbol.”

Conrad’s brow darkened, “Like my father’s?”

She nodded. “Do you think it’s possible that your brother was here tonight?” Her stomach turned at the thought.

“No,” he shook his head fast, then screwed up his face, “Well, maybe. Do you think this has to do with the deed?”

Lorelei’s heart jumped. She had been wanting to bring up the deed for what felt like forever, from the moment they returned from his parents’ house, but the right time hadn’t come. Finally, she thought, and sighed, opening her mouth to speak.

But from behind Conrad, Britney’s voice was clear and piercing, “What deed?”

 

Table of Contents | Next Installment – 10/15/18

If you’re enjoying Vacancy, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!

For updates, you can follow the blog or my Twitter or Instagram for reminders of new posts.

Blogoween Day 5 – Freaky Fiction Friday: Best Friends

FFF - Blogoween

 

Best Friends

Marianne is my best friend. We’ve been together since the beginning of time, or at least it feels that way since I can’t remember an instance from before we met. When we were very little we would play most of the day and even sometimes at night when we were meant to be sleeping. If you would have asked her then, Marianne would have said I was her best friend too, even if sometimes she would do something bad and blame it on me, but it was okay because sometimes I’d do bad things too, and she would always end up the one in trouble.

Once I knocked over her milk–and it was an accident really!–but her mom didn’t see it that way. Marianne didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day, and I slept in the closet that night, but by the next morning we were back to having a tea party with her stuffed animals.

I will admit that over the years we’ve drifted. Days would go by, weeks even, and we wouldn’t even talk, but Marianne always comes back. A classmate turns on her, a boy breaks her heart, and when she’s finally at her lowest, she reaches out to me. She doesn’t need to know my part in those things–that would only complicate our relationship–she just needs to know I’ll always be here for her. I am her friend, after all. Her best friend.

Caroline would say that she is Marianne’s best friend. They met in Mrs. Mulberry’s third grade class and became inseparable, but I don’t know how Marianne could stand her with her whiny voice and stupid pigtails. Marianne ignored me when Caroline was around, but despite my best efforts they remained friends, so I came to accept her. I let them do whatever stupid thing Caroline suggested, work on projects I wasn’t part of, go to parties I wasn’t invited to, but I’d eventually get my alone time with Marianne. Even just for five minutes before falling asleep, we’d talk. And that was enough. It had to be.

Marianne was really nervous the night before her first day of senior year. We stayed up really late talking about how we missed being little and all the fun we used to have, how we’d play pranks on her mom, and how we’d fall asleep with Barbies in our hands. We even talked about how stupid Caroline’s hair was, and Marianne laughed! She thanked me for calming her down, told me that she loved me, and in her sleepy stupor as she closed her eyes, she said goodbye. Silly, I thought, she just meant goodnight.

I woke up last week to her call. She was so nervous all over again that I thought I was living the same night over again at first, but no. We caught up, apparently this last year has been great–without me–but she was a wreck trying to figure out where to go to college. Her mom wanted her to pick before graduation at the end of the week, and she needed help. That’s when it hit me: Marianne was leaving. I always had an inkling this would happen, but it never felt so real. Every time I’d watch her walk out the door, I never felt like this, like she might leave me behind for good.

I can feel myself slipping already. It’s like, I don’t know, like she’s able to look right through me now if I don’t go out of my way to get her attention. I didn’t want to break her volleyball trophy–really, I didn’t!–but I needed her to know I was there. To acknowledge me. Her best friend.

So after all this time, I finally sat Marianne down and told her that it was my turn, that I needed her now. I told her she owes me this, and, I mean, Marianne made me what I am, so she must want this too somewhere deep down inside. It took some convincing, some rationalizing, some coaxing, but in the end she understood. Of course she does, because really this is what she wants. What we both want. It’s the same thing when you’re best friends.

So Caroline is coming over to spend the night, one last time before their big graduation bash. Marianne says she knows the words–I think she’s always probably known them since she made me–and I brought her the knife. I’m sure I can dye her hair or something, and if I can’t, well, it’s a small price to pay to stop being imaginary.

Podcast: Vacancy 1.16 – Here’s The Thing

Episode 1.16 – Here’s The Thing

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading or listening here.

Vacancy’s Theme is “Planet Bullspit” by Corey Major

Vacancy Episode 1.16 uses these sounds from freesound, all of which have been remixed. The inclusion of any sound does not indicate endorsement of this completed work or its author:

Blogoween Day 2 – True Terror Tuesday: The Spirits of Bourgeois Swamp

blogoween ttt

Let’s start light, shall we? Oh, and if you’d like a little ambiance, I created a fun haunted house-style mix over at Ambient Mixer.

A few years ago, Husband and I were living in New Tampa, Florida which isn’t a real place, it’s just a bourgeois name some wealthy but uncreative people came up with who still wanted to be considered in the city limits but have sprawling golf courses between their McMansion subdivisions. The smartest thing the New Tampa planners did was to plot the “city” down in the middle of a protected wetland-type-area. Yeah, I don’t know exactly how they did it either, but basically most of the developed areas there are surrounded by land that can’t be built on because it’s too soggy or too protected. I’m all for protecting natural areas and leaving wilderness untouched, and maybe this was the best way to do it, I’ll never know, but something about it feels icky.

We lived in one of the few apartment complexes allowed in the area because sometimes you have to keep the servants close what with gas prices being so high and their wages so low. We actually didn’t know anything about the area when we moved to it, we just picked the complex for its convenience to my new workplace. It was much nicer than any place we’d lived before; our apartment was on the back of one of the buildings and all of our windows looked out on what was essentially untouched forest/wetland. This made the apartment nice and cool and quiet, but it was also often a bit creepy. I made Husband sleep on the side of the bed next to the sliding glass door.

Speaking of Husband, you should know this about him: he thinks all of this is bullshit. He’s never had a supernatural experience, and doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons or anything like that. He loves fantasy stories, and he has a great imagination, but none of those things are real to him. Although I can’t wholly wrap my head around this kind of thinking, I’m really appreciative that I’ve married someone who can keep me grounded. (Though if we ever find ourselves in a horror-movie situation, he is the exact kind of person who will get possessed but insist there’s nothing wrong with the house, and WE AREN’T MOVING, DAMMIT!)

So while we were living there, we would go on walks in the evening along the driveways and parking lots of the complex that snaked deeper into the preserve. Even though there weren’t sidewalks, there wasn’t a lot of traffic. The complex had about 55 buildings, most of which were at the front and the main road, but there was a private road that went further into the forest and ended in a big loop with about 10 buildings off of it. The private road was maybe a third of a mile long, with dense woods on either side and a stream running under it in the center: I suspect there weren’t any apartments built right off of it because the land was too bog-like.

We were both working weird hours back then, so we’d often find ourselves walking kind of late, and once you were headed down that road with the woods on either side of you and the trees reaching out overhead, it got dark quickly. There was a single streetlight, maintained by the complex so that is to say, not well, right in the center of the road. It was that yellow, sickly color, dim, sometimes flickering, sometimes out all together.

We had a couple occurrences out there in the dark. Once as we were walking we could see something in the shadows of the road up ahead, black against the tar of the road, so just a weird outline on the street, but it was long and a bit winding, not like a branch had fallen from a nearby tree, but that would have been the most obvious thing. We got closer, and not unreluctantly–we just thought hey, what is that thing?

A snake. That thing was a snake. And not like a little garden snake–we certainly wouldn’t have been able to see a small thing as far as we were to begin with. I’ve happened upon plenty of snakes while walking in Florida and though obviously they give a fright because of how they move and basic human instinct is “GET AWAY FROM THE FAST, POINTY, POSSIBLY VENOMOUS THING!” I know logically snakes want to me around me about as much as Di wants to be around Rutherford (which is not at all). But this wasn’t that, Dear Reader, this was massive and fat and in the shadows of the trees and the evening, it was black.

Florida is a great place for reptiles: it’s hot, wet, swampy, and there are year-round bugs and rodents. People have also released enough invasive species there to really amp up the scary factor when stumbling upon anything scaled in the state. I can’t tell you what this was–it was too dark and even in the light I honestly assume all snakes are good guys who should just be avoided–but it slithered away and into the woods with the kind of leisure that says, “I have no reason to be afraid of you.”

A second memorable moment was once when we had already walked down the road and completed the loop. We hadn’t measured time well, and upon return, we saw that the road had gone almost completely dark, but there wasn’t any other option–there was a single way back home, and it was through the heart of the wood.

My mind immediately goes to playing tricks on me, so I have to reason with myself, but the danger in that is I go too concrete: “Of course there isn’t a wendigo loitering behind the trees and sniffing the air for your blood, and those two glowing dots you see are very certainly not the piercing eyes of a skunk ape ready to attack.” I managed to calm myself down by chatting with Husband about something inane like work or football, and had actually put the spooky thoughts out of my mind when I heard it: the growl.

This noise shook me to my core, Dear Reader. We did not walk along the edge of this road, and it was wide enough for cars to pass one another, but even as we walked down its very center, I heard this growl in the space just behind my ear so that my jaw bone tingled. It wasn’t loud, but it was somehow right beside me. I didn’t have the nerve the turn and look, but I did feel something out in the forest. Not just behind me, not preparing to attack, but something lurking that was looking as us like we ought not be there.

Yes, I may have been too heavily invested in The Werewolf of Fever Swamp when I was a kid, but if nothing else R.L. Stein taught me not to dawdle when lycans are afoot. I grabbed Husband’s arm and started fast walking til we got past the flickering light then broke into a sprint. He was questioning me audibly, but not enough to make me stop. I didn’t explain, I didn’t even bother to ever look back, I just told him we had to go. When we got back home I told him what happened. No, Husband does not believe there was a werewolf in the woods that night. But he’s also not dead, so that is that.

Finally, the legit most frightening thing that happened to us on that road, and possible ever in our relationship, was another night, of course, when we were walking out towards the back loop of apartments. The streetlight had been properly maintained at this time and though still yellow and illuminating the humidity hanging in the air, it lit up the road enough in its center to make walking though the darkest parts tolerable. We were headed toward the light but in the darkest span of the road. It was quite quiet that evening, not even a breeze, and the woods on either side of us were still and heavy. Then there was a sound, somewhere off in the forest, more than the snapping of a twig, but not the fast and loud skitter of a small animal. No, this was slow and deliberate. We stopped to listen, but it was followed by nothing.

So we continued on toward where the streetlight stood illuminating the only bright patch on the road. Then, just at the edge of where the light ran out and the foliage turned from distinct leaves to shadows, a form emerged. Husband and I were petrified in that moment. This was no trick of the eye, there was nothing to question or second guess–something was coming out of the woods, and we, like hapless victims in the first fifteen minutes of your favorite creature creep film, froze.

Bursting onto the street up and out of the woods, it crashed through the brush like cannon fire and plunged itself out onto the road just under the light. The thing looked to be easily seven feet tall, even on four spindly legs, and had a head massive and branch-like. It stood there for just a second, regaining itself, its features obscured by shadows, then darted back off onto the other side of the road and disappeared into the woods leaving just the clamor of snapping tree limbs and crushed leaves in its wake.

Dear Reader, it was only your sweet namesake, a deer, but it was humongous with antlers like something out of a hillbilly’ wet dream. We knew almost immediately what it was once it had gone, but the jump scare we got that night will likely stick with us forever. Its size is most definitely hyperbolically painted into my memory, but not the scare we got.

So those are my spookiest stories from the time Husband and I lived in the boggiest but best apartment we’ve ever had. More to come next Tuesday, possibly spookier, possibly more supernatural. So far Blogoween is going quite swimmingly, but I’ve only had to post for two days straight, so I guess we’ll see! Stay spoopy, my deers!