Thursday, October 6, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Today I kick off my serial novel, Sawbones. I actually wrote the first draft prior to Bleed, though I’ve obsessively toyed with it ever since, and I’ve decided to serialized it online after seeing quite a few fun and successful ventures other authors have done similarly (Dan O’Shea’s Rotten at the Heart comes to mind).
My intent to post a new chapter three times a week—Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays—with occasional breaks for when I’m at cons and such. I encourage comments and emails and general word-spreading. A synopsis/blurb is below, along with a link to find Sawbones. I genuinely hope you enjoy reading it.
In the summer of 1865, a man who calls himself Dr. Septimus Whitehall arrives in war-ravaged Southern Alabama with murder on his mind. Whitehall has come to make himself into a killer, armed only with a list of names and a savage rage. First, he practices his craft. Then he begins his mission in earnest: killing each and every person on his list in revenge for an ambiguous crime against a loved one. From Mobile to Little Rock, Nebraska to the Dakota Territory, Whitehall slashes, shoots and burns his way across the country in the name of vengeance, all of which leads to the final showdown with the architect of his anger in New York City.
As Whitehall’s list grows shorter and the trail of blood, bodies and flame grows longer behind him, the origin of his resolution to kill gradually becomes clearer. He kills to avenge a mysterious red-haired beauty from the Bowery, but his sworn mission may be the result of delusion and fevered fantasy.
Begin reading Sawbones at edkurtzsawbones.wordpress.com.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Yeah, so my hairline is making a run for it, and my waistline won’t quit expanding; I’ve got a bad back and a heart murmur, high blood pressure and even higher cholesterol. The hair in my sideburns and around my neckline started turning stark white about a year ago, and I shave a hell of a lot more often since my chin whiskers followed suit. Christ, I’m getting to be an old man!
But I am a child. In that distinctively male way of immaturity in perpetuity, yes—just the other night I was watching The Karate Kid with friends, and I honestly couldn’t help but chuckle every single time Pat Morita said “wax off.” Saith my pal Hershal, “You’re such a child.” So yes, there’s that—god knows I stand firmly by my well-worn maxim every fart is funny—but there’s something else, too. Something I didn’t quite comprehend until a tiny ah-ha moment that slapped me in the face last night. Bear with me—I shall try to stay on track.
I was watching Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1962 supernatural social reform noir Pitfall, an intense and moving surrealist film written by one of my favorite novelists, Kōbō Abe (if you haven’t read Woman in the Dunes, you need to unfuck that). I could probably prattle on about the intricacies of Teshigahara and Abe’s film, but it was something largely inconsequential (though not really) that struck me with regard to the topic at hand. The protagonist, an unnamed miner, is working one of the many mines he plans on deserting, and his young son is playing with the clods of earth he carries out in baskets. When the mine’s owner comes along to check up on the proceedings, he finds the boy spitting on the clay to moisten it as he shapes it into various strange formations. The owner finds this charming—the “work” of a child, as opposed to real, adult work. The sweat of the brow and all that sort of thing. Someday, the viewer might presume, this kid will grow up to toil in the mines, himself. And the time for shaping clay will be long behind him.
Childish, I tell you!
Isn’t it? Isn’t the urge to create something from nothing—and I mean something with little to no teleological value, here, not a table or an engine or a better mousetrap—essentially the initiative of a developing mind? When I was child, I wanted to do everything creative people did. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a comic book writer/artist, a musician, an actor, a filmmaker. Over time, I determined that most of these weren’t as much fun as I’d hoped, or that I wasn’t any damn good at them, but some remained. In my 20s I blew a substantial portion of my late father’s inheritance bread making a 16mm film out in Hollywood (it was terrible). I also wrote middling plays, tired Bukowski-wannabe poetry and I even tried my hand at painting an extensive series of truly vomit-inducing self portraits. I look back now and think I was trying to find my voice. Everybody else figured I was a late bloomer. Somewhere in between these assessments, I was staving off adulthood as desperately as possible.
And I still am. The truth is—to quote Tom Waits—I don’t wanna float a broom. Sure, I’ve got a day gig, but I selected one that allows me to spend the bulk of my time writing. Sure, I’ve got Cup O’ Noodles for lunch today, but I’d rather worry over problems in my novel while eating that than worry about what I didn’t do (and why the hell didn’t I?) while dining on finer fare. Is that childish, or at the very least child-like? Probably…there’s some modicum of reality in the dichotomy between the miserable miner in Pitfall and his playful, creative boy. All children make art, while only very few adults still do, respectively. And yet, it takes the experience and insight of a grown-up to create something like Teshigahara and Abe’s harrowing masterpiece, or the marvelous Peter Straub novel I’m presently reading, for that matter, or anything of real consequence. Well, except Mozart. And Béla Bartók. Oh, and Picasso, of course.
And Alexander Pope, Leonardo Da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer…but there are always exceptions to the rule, right?
All right, so there are no absolutes. But that’s not my point. My point is that it takes a certain refusal to heed mean old Paul of Tarsus’ admonition to “put away childish things” to pursue what one might vaguely describe as artistic undertakings. (Though I would argue a good life philosophy would be to always circumvent Paul—that guy was such a prick. For realsies.) Does this mean every so-called artist is as much of an immature child as I am? Certainly not. I categorically refuse to wear neckties regardless of the occasion, I never finish my vegetables, I’d have Reese’s™ cereal every morning if my wife would let me, and I never—never—wear pants on weekends. I’d be like this if I never wrote a word in my life. But I argue it is because of my childishness that I am able to tap into that energy, to access those aspects Herr Kant’s perceptual manifold, as it were. It is my Key to the Kingdom, and if it means that I indulge in the occasional flatulence competition and helplessly titter at every perceived adianoeta (heh, I said titter), then so be it.
Yes, I am a child, and no, I don’t want to grow up. One of my greatest heroes, a well-known author, once offered a sound piece of advice to me upon my request for whatever kernels of wisdom he had for a young writer. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Not unless you have to.” It isn’t prudent, you see—I think that’s what he was telling me—nor is it in any way sensible to seek this calling. Don’t do it—it’s irrational, absurd, a child’s dream.
Yep. Absolutely. And it’s mine, all mine.
Monday, May 16, 2011
If David Cronenberg and Frank Hennenlotter decided to remake LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HELLRAISER, BLEED would be the result. It reads like an 80s-styled horror novel with the gruesome feel of a classic splatter film--but where most gore-film inspired novels falter, BLEED finds its strength.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Of course, it wasn’t then and it sure as hell isn’t now. But I was stupidly unaware of the plethora of marvelous small press publishers out there (lookin’ at you, Deadite), and so when the books suddenly stopped coming, my heart sank. It was Richard Laymon’s Funhouse in particular that clued me in that there was trouble in paradise—the damned release date just kept getting pushed back. Then, the news broke: Dorchester was broke, and they were getting out of the mass market paperback business. My heart broke.
Between the end of 2010, when I discovered this sad news, and March of 2011, I finally caught up with the rest of the genre and discovered the multitude of other terrific venues for horror fiction. Always a day late and a dollar short, but hey, I got there. I bought and read a lot of books and a lot of authors who were new to me. I also bought a shitload of used books. Then, in March, Brian Keene dropped a bombshell on my head—he spearheaded the movement to boycott Dorchester Publishing, because they were screwing the hell out of their authors by denying them their due revenue and selling books to which they had no right. Brian built a mountain of evidence to back up his position, and he gained a hell of a lot of supporters that included authors, publishers, agents and readers. I was among them, because I was pissed. I still am. I’m a burgeoning genre author myself, and it chaps my hide to see respected artists treated this way. And I agree with Brian that readers ought to know where their money is going; I don’t want to spend my hard-earned bread on a copy of The Rising if Brian isn’t getting a penny of it. That’s bullshit. Hell, I even blogged about it. I was one hundred percent on board.
Fast forward a couple of months to World Horror 2011, which I discussed in detail here. As I’ve said before, two of my favorite people from that con were Jack Ketchum and Gord Rollo. Spectacular people, writers I admire. I spoke a little with Gord about the Dorchester kerfuffle, though I never mentioned it to Mr. Ketchum. Here’s the thing—Jack Ketchum had a new book coming out right after the con. It’s called The Woman, and he co-wrote it with Lucky McKee in tandem with their film version (review forthcoming). I was foaming at the mouth over this book. Ketchum is my hero, my favorite living genre writer and the guy most responsible for inspiring me to throw my own hat into the ring. There was no way in hell I was going to miss this novel.
Did I mention it was published by Dorchester?
I knew that, but I ordered it post-haste anyway. Didn’t even give it much thought. The Woman is one of DP’s new line of more expensive trade paperbacks, a chimera whose existence many have doubted, though I saw one of these mythical beasts during the WHC mass signing: Spore by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow. Even Skipp seemed surprised by it, and it was sitting on his table. (To be truthful, I’d sure like to get my hands on that one, too.) And then there’s Gord Rollo’s latest release, Valley of the Scarecrow, which Dorchester was supposed to have released in mass market paperback last year. Now, in May, Amazon says they have it in stock in a trade paperback edition. The last time I talked with Gord, he said he hadn’t yet heard if anyone has actually held a copy in their hands. Valley is chilling in my Amazon cart as I write this, waiting on my next paycheck. Another Dorchester title for the guy who so vociferously joined the chorus of angry voices demanding the Dorchester boycott.
I feel like a fucking fraud. But I’m loyal to Jack Ketchum, and I’m loyal to Gord Rollo. I love their books; hell, I love them. I want to support their work. I want to read it as a fan. And I want them to get paid, for crying out loud, though whether or not my purchase(s) will contribute to that I don’t know.
What my puzzlement over these few books has made me realize is that it was easy to join the boycott when I didn’t think Dorchester was going to put anymore books out, anyway. Now, it’s not so easy, at least not for me. I still agree with everything Brian has said on the subject. I certainly wouldn’t buy any of his books that were being sold under shady circumstances detrimental to him, or any other author who has asked the same. But does that mean I should boycott The Woman, which Jack Ketchum does not want me to do (he had fliers for it at WHC), or Valley of the Scarecrow, or Spore? In March, the issue seemed pretty black and white to me. Today, I see varied shades of gray. I don’t have an answer yet.
So I’d like to open up the floor to discussion. There’s a comment section below, and I’d like to see authors, readers or anyone else with a stake in this issue chime in. Call me out, educate me, verbally abuse me if you must. I’m a big boy. I can take it.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station - is said to make living men insane and dead men rise. Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil. But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he'll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell... In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood.
I recently had the privilege of meeting John Hornor Jacobs at the World Horror Convention here in Austin, Texas. I’d already connected with him to a small degree online, the result of my varied internet travels that led me to a new genre writer from my hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. And his forthcoming first novel, Southern Gods, looked amazing.
Jacobs sought me out after a panel at the con, and we chatted a lot over the course of the event. He’s a great guy, very funny and gregarious, and I gather that he received a
First things first: Southern Gods is a terrific novel. It is Southern Gothic, noir crime thriller and intense Lovecraftian terror rolled into one marvelous story of bad blood, demons both personal and real, and hard-earned redemption. And Jacobs writes with such a sure hand you’d swear he’d sold his soul to the devil just like the folks in 1951 rural Arkansas whisper about Ramblin’ John Hastur in the novel. Of course, Ramblin’ John’s story is a great deal more complex—and more sinister—than that, but I have no intention of ruining the ride you have ahead of you. I’ll just say this: if William Faulkner, Jim Thompson and H.P. Lovecraft had an orgiastic blood sacrifice ritual to honor the Old Ones in the Delta Swampland at the height of the muggy Deep South summer at midnight, Southern Gods would probably be the result. Yeah, it’s that damn good.
I don’t see writing this tight too often, and the mounting tension is so expertly paced that I found myself breathlessly turning the pages. The denouement smashed me in the face with breakneck madness and terror that included a rare element lacking in a lot of horror fiction—heart. Jacobs’ characters are extremely rich, and their journey to the incredible close of Southern Gods all but left me gasping for air. This is the sort of book you just silently hold in your hands for a while after finishing it, thinking it over and basking in its masterfulness. That’s what I did, anyway.
Now that Jacobs has sold his second novel, This Dark Earth, to Simon & Shuster, I’m going to have to figure out a new scheme to get my hands on that, too. If anyone has any sordid details with which I can blackmail him, please pass them along. I don’t want to have to wait until the next John Hornor Jacobs hits the shelves.
I hereby pronounce myself a fan. And I reckon come August 9, we will be legion.
Southern Gods is available for pre-order now at Amazon and just about everywhere else. It comes out on August 9, 2011 from Night Shade Books. Do not pass it up. Because it’s fucking good.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
I’ve been writing horror fiction for a few years, but alone in my office—after all, writing is (usually) a solitary craft. My thing used to be cinema, years ago in my twenties, but that’s a group effort. I don’t dig groups. So I turned to fiction.
Which brings me to the 2011 World Horror Convention.
I discovered the Shocklines forum in April, joined, and began lurking posts to see what the hell other people in this game were like. They seemed like pretty cool folks for the most part. I was startled and pleased to find several authors whose books I’ve read thoroughly engaged there. But the thing that surprised me the most was something that never really occurred to me—there existed such a thing as a horror fiction community, and they were preparing to congregate ten miles from my front door.
Naturally my first inclination was to check out all the available details about the convention—who was going, what it entailed, how much it cost. My second inclination followed forthwith—no way am I going to thrust myself in the middle of a few hundred strangers in the horror community. I’ve read their stuff. Surely they must be really, really odd people. Maybe a bit touched. And none too friendly, either.
Thusly ambivalent, I posted on Shocklines with the fairly basic question: should I even go to this damn thing? R.J. Cavender led the chorus of voices that followed: quit being a pansy and register, already. Lincoln Crisler and Martel Sardina chimed in, telling me to come and say hello to them. I then received an email from Harry Shannon informing me that Drew Williams was fully registered, but unable to go. He wanted to transfer his registration to me. Complete stranger. So that was that; I had to go, now.
Immediately I set to scraping the money together to get my wife, Megan, on board as well. She’s the extrovert, the bubbly, smiling one. I figured it couldn’t hurt. It sure as hell didn’t. Ask Gene O’Neill.
We arrived Thursday night in time for the opening ceremonies, after which we lingered in the hallway and gawped at the writhing throng. From amongst them, two guys came barreling out, directly at us. I gawped some more, because I recognized Gord Rollo and Gene O’Neill. They wanted to know if I was Ed Kurtz, the guy from Shocklines. Holy shit—real, honest-to-hell writers were asking me if I was who they thought I was. The ice was broken. The rest, my friends, was cake.
We spent a lot of time with those fellas, chatting and gathering invaluable advice. Almost every time a professional question occurred to me, I tracked down Gene to ask him. Every time we saw either him or Gord anywhere in the hotel, it felt curiously like running into old friends. Later, at the Bad Moon Books release party, Gene took a moment to introduce me to the entire room and Joe McKinney read aloud from the blurb he gave me for my book, Bleed. The next thing I knew, people were shaking my hand and introducing themselves. Among them was John Everson—whose name I’ve been mispronouncing for years, alas—a wonderful writer and, again, a very nice guy. I was on cloud nine.
The parties were amazing. I got tight and talked e-books with F. Paul Wilson in the hallway at midnight. I drunkenly introduced myself to Mary SanGiovanni, told her I was a fan, and then misspoke the title of one of her books. She wasn’t fazed; she’s much too nice for that. (Nonetheless, my apologies to Mary—to be clear, I loved The Hollower and don’t know why I called it The Hollow Man. Jesus, that’s embarrassing.) Crisler invited me to a guerilla reading with the gang from Shroud Magazine, where we heard some great readings from Crisler, Sheldon Higdon and Richard Wright. I even read a bit from my book, something I’d never done before. No one threw rotten fruit. I was amazed.
Much of the event was spent in the outdoor smoking area, where alliances are struck between fellow tobacco aficionados. There we met some marvelous people like Rena Mason, Selena Bargsley and Joe Wight. I had a couple of nice chats out there with Deadite/Eraserhead people like Rose O’Keefe, Jeff Burk and Andersen Prunty. I talked with John Skipp for half an hour before I realized I was talking to John friggin’ Skipp. I apologized and explained that I never knew what he looked like; he grinned, pointed to his face and said, “Like this.”
And then there was the most luminous smoker of them all—the legendary Jack Ketchum.
What can I say about this cat? I was legitimately afraid I’d vomit on him the first time I shook his hand. The only reason I didn’t was because he was so damn open and friendly and happy to talk with people. He’s genuinely interesting, the epitome of cool, and the author most responsible for this ill-conceived decision I have made with regard to writing. I kept calling him Mr. Ketchum; he told me to call him Dallas. I’m still shocked how comfortable I became talking with him over the course of the con. There is, I think, an inherent risk in meeting one’s heroes—what happens when your idol is an asshole? I don’t know, because mine is a consummate gentleman. So there.
I went into WHC a Jack Ketchum fan. I came out of it a big admirer of Dallas Mayr, too.
On Saturday I did three pitches—surely the most nerve-wracking aspect of WHC about which I worried endlessly. I needn’t have, though. Not only did two of them go quite well, but Rhodi Hawk did such an exceptional job of organizing the thing that it went off without a hitch. I expected it to turn my hair stark white and permanently ruin my psyche, but due to her efforts it was actually a pleasure to be involved with it. Kudos to her.
I enjoyed several great conversations with Wrath James White (a superstar in his own right and a marvelous person), connected with a fellow genre-writer and fellow Arkansan both in John Hornor Jacobs, and even got to chat briefly with Del Howison on a couple of occasions (my wife was particularly taken with Del). I was very pleased to meet Lee Thomas (I’m reading The German presently and hot damn is it good), and I am exceedingly impressed with the hard work and bravery of Nate Southard, who is not only an excellent writer but a stand-up guy who has clearly earned the respect he is given. From everything I’ve heard, the folks on the committee managed to put together a convention for the history books, and I’m so gratified that such a great one turned out to be my introduction to this incredible community of incredible people.
It was also very cool to meet Steve Niles, Chris Roberson, John Picacio, Vinny Chong, Gabino Iglesias, R.J. Sevin, Roy Robbins, Jim Gavin, Meghan MacInnis, Jared Sandman, Elias Siqueiros and probably a dozen other people I’m egregiously neglecting here.
And do you know who snubbed me? Brushed me off? Made me feel like I didn’t belong there? Nobody. Not one person. I won’t say that it has restored my faith in humanity, but it sure was great to be there. I made some friends, acquired too many damn books, learned a lot, and I’m already excited about the next one.
To all of you mentioned above, thanks. I’ll see some of you in Vegas in the fall, and more still in Salt Lake City in 2012. Good luck to those of you who are up for Stokers in June. And quit writing so many fabulous books, goddamnit. I’m not made of money, you know.
Addendum: I would be remiss not to mention Brandon Zuern and Brad Bankston at Austin Books & Comics, who kindly hosted my book and signing. They're the greatest comic shop in the world, and great friends, too.
Monday, April 18, 2011
In other news, a nice review of Bleed was posted at Anything Horror Central, which you can find here. To quote: “This is a fun, gory creature novel by a really fresh and original voice. Highly recommended.” Aw, shucks!
Also, Michael Knost is still accepting donated books for a 12 year old girl who lost her entire library to a flood. More info here. I sent the Twilight series, which may or may not have been a good deed.
That’s all for now –back to work.
Cheers and Fears,
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Horror author, editor and columnist extraordinaire Michael Knost posted a plea for assistance over at Shocklines and on his blog today, and I know some of you will want to help out. His message follows:
Would you consider helping, please?
A 12 year old girl in my area has lost everything in flood waters. She lost her clothes and electronic devices, but what devastated her most was the loss of her books. My friends at the local radio station (WVOW) are putting together a book drive for her. Please consider donating (age appropriate 12-year-old) new or used books.
If you send them to my address, I'll make sure they get to her. This breaks my heart.
PO Box 12
Logan, WV 25601
Please don't send clothing or money, just books. I am told the little girl is really emotional about losing her books. I can relate. Even as a child my books were very special to me.
You have my permission to repost this in blogs, message boards, or wherever it will reach others that would help.
Friday, April 8, 2011
In the meantime, I’m feverishly working on the new novel, Control. I don’t really want to say too much about it just yet, except that it shares a universe with Bleed (to a certain extent) and that where Bleed is dripping with the red stuff, Control drips green. It should be out in August, so keep an eye out for it!
Lastly, I’m in the beginning stages of brokering a deal with an incredible artist for a very different kind of project from anything else I’ve ever done. Details will be forthcoming, but believe you me—it’s going to be fantastic.
That’s all for now…I’m in the middle of a deeply irreligious sequence in Control that I hope will rattle at least a few cages. Then maybe I’ll have a chance to attack that meatball sub in the fridge…
Cheers and Fears,
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
(Obviously, all rights reserved, do not copy/paste this anywhere, it's copyrighted and I'll be very, very cross with you if you do anything untoward.)
Despite having spent an entire childhood hanging his head in shame and loneliness due to a lifetime of chubbiness, a growth spurt the summer of his fourteenth birthday had blessed Matthew with an altogether new body. It was as though god heard his prayer and fulfilled his most earnest wish––almost overnight, he was tall and thin and even more than a little handsome. That Fall Matthew commenced his high school career with a confidence he never knew was possible. He held his head high in the hallways for the first time, and the other kids took notice. His old junior high buddies were confused, his former antagonists were impressed, and several fresh young girls recognized his existence as though they had never seen him before, which they probably had not.
It was like a dream; the best damn dream Matthew ever had. By the second semester of his freshman year, he scored a lead role in the school play––Mortimer in Arsenic and Old Lace––and actually turned the coach down when he asked Matthew to try out for the basketball team. He might not have been fat anymore, but he still loathed sports and just anyone who participated in them. Thinness did not change everything.
One thing it did change, however, was his relationship to the opposite sex. Just a year earlier, a blink of the eye on a cosmic scale, the only response he could ever elicit from a girl was laughter or contempt. Now they smiled at him. Genuine, entirely non-ironic smiles that conveyed interest in who he was and what he might come to think of them. Initially he played it cool. He maintained a veneer of indifference, a mask to conceal his persistent shyness. But that was before the party that followed the final performance of the play where Jacquie Koegler, Elaine to his Mortimer, dragged him into the garage for a half-hour make-out session. Looking back, Matthew would come to consider that the spark that lit the fuse.
Matthew and Jacquie had a thing for a while, a sort of hand-holding, necking, over the clothes foreplay kind of thing, but that came crashing down toward the end of summer. The longer these little private games went on, the more he wanted to advance them to the next level. Squeezing her small, pointy breasts through both sweater and bra had been nice at the beginning, but it was growing old and stale. There was more they could be doing, much more. And the more insistent Matthew became about it, the more upset Jacquie got in response. She wanted to wait until she was eighteen. He did not want to wait another day.
So he didn’t. When she showed up unannounced on his fifteenth birthday, he told her to get back in her car and go the hell away. Jacquie left in tears and Matthew began his systematic search for the easiest girls in school. Sarah was the first: an awkward, sweaty fumbling that took place in the backseat of her father’s station wagon. Matthew was so excited about it that he told nearly everyone in school the following term. Her reputation irreversibly ruined, Sarah transferred to another school district and Matthew never heard from her again. He never thought about her, either. By then he had gone from Jennifer to Tara to Candace, back to Tara and onto Emily, Sophie, and that red-haired girl from Delaware whose name he could not recall. He became more daring and pushy with each new experience, aware of the fact that for every girl who said No there were four more out there that were bound to say Yes.
Adolescence was glorious for Matthew. Whatever lay beyond that was the most inconsequential thing in the universe. All that mattered to him was the next lay, and whether or not he was going to experience something new and audacious, maybe even something no one had ever tried before.
He grew his hair long and pierced his ears. He acted disaffected and hip as hell and started smoking. He never had another girlfriend after Jacquie because commitment was nowhere when there were a thousand girls out there he had not yet tried.
Matthew turned eighteen the summer after graduation. Most of the kids he knew moved away, went to college, joined the service. The rest of them stuck around and took low-paying jobs, got apartments. A few went and got hitched. Matthew stayed at home, unemployed and disaffected in a very real way. Adolescence was at its twilight, a harsh reality he could do nothing about, and he was growing bitter about it. So he whittled the next year away in his room, alternately watching cable TV and reading paperbacks. And he ate. He ate a lot.
* * *
Corn chips with cheese dip, chocolate Ding-a-Lings, soda pop and beer. Ice cream when his mother brought it home from the supermarket, which was about once a week. He made sundaes replete with peanuts, chocolate chips, chocolate syrup and a ring of cookies around the three densely packed scoops in the bowl. Double layer nachos were another favorite, whereby he arranged a layer of corn chips on a serving plate, topped it with cheese and hamburger meat and jalapeños, and then repeated the process. He ate hot dogs three and four at a time and never got going in the morning until he had a full breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, hash browns with ketchup and heavily buttered toast.
Matthew ate and he drank and he smoked. Occasionally the telephone would ring and rarely did he assent to a visit from some old acquaintance, provided that they did not cramp his style and brought their own chow. Once, around Christmas, Tara called him up. She said she had been thinking about him and wondered what he was up to. She was preparing to move to Los Angeles, she said, and thought it would be nice to see Matthew before she left. It might have been an opportunity, perhaps even an invitation, but one look at the tower of polish sausages on the plate in front of him was enough to convince Matthew that he did not desire any companionship. He wished her a nice life and hung up the phone. After he finished off the sausages, he devoured a heaping sundae before waddling out to the back porch for a smoke. He fell asleep with the third cigarette in a row burning down to the filter in the ashtray.
* * *
At the end of his first year of legal adulthood, Matthew’s mother kicked him out of the house. He bummed around friends’ couches for a few weeks, but then the money ran out and he was hungry. Being essentially homeless was one thing, but missing meals was something else altogether. So Matthew took the first job he was offered, became a desk clerk at the interstate motel on the west side of town, and two weeks later he had his own place.
It was a crummy place, small and dirty and infested with cockroaches, but Matthew did not mind. It was a place to sleep. He spent most of his waking hours behind the front desk of the motel, anyway. That was where he met Carla.
She was tall and lean, her skin brown like tea and her eyes big and inviting. The first time he saw her, she was following a middle-aged slob in a trucker hat to the elevator, sashaying as she turned to wink at Matthew before the steel doors slid shut. He was not stupid––he knew what she was about and he expected he would see her again.
In fact, Matthew saw Carla quite a lot after that, two or three times a week. She always gave him a wink on her way to the elevator. Eventually, some four or five weeks into his job, Carla stopped at the front desk after her john went on his way. She wore pink leggings under a pair of tight cut-offs and an open back halter top that clung to her massive fake breasts. Nice, but not quite enough to sustain Matthew’s attention when there was a double bacon cheeseburger and a translucent bag of French fries in front of him.
“I’m Carla,” she said between gum-smacks.
Carla smiled wryly and spit her gum out into her hand.
“Yeah? How you know that?”
“Javier told me.”
Javier was the night janitor and, according to him, an occasional client of Carla’s. Upon hearing his name, she gave a short laugh.
“Javier,” she said. “That fucking guy.”
Matthew nodded and stuffed a handful of fries into his mouth.
“At fuh’ing ‘uy,” he agreed.
Carla arched one well-plucked eyebrow and smiled from one side of her mouth.
“You can sure pack away some food, huh?”
Matthew swallowed hard and narrowed his eyes at her. A hundred nasty retorts flooded through his mind but he did not utter any of them. He only stared daggers at her until she took the hint and slinked off.
* * *
Food was becoming a problem for Matthew. Things that used to taste wonderful were losing their thrall. Worse than that, even the heartiest, fattiest foods failed to sate his demanding hunger. He was unabashed in devouring six prepackaged frozen dinners over the course of a single night shift, refusing to pay any mind to Javier’s astonishment at his persistent appetite and expanding torso. The following night he ate seven of them. He had to force himself to repress his gag reflex, choking back barbequed chicken medallions and apple cobblers and one cheese covered potato spear after another. They all tasted like cardboard marinated on a public men’s room floor, but he swallowed every bite. Yet it was all to no avail. Matthew was still hungry.
Carla winked, glided into the elevator and went up for a session with a sour faced black kid who looked more afraid than tough. An hour later the kid went through the lobby with his hands stuffed in his pockets, doing everything in his power to avoid eye contact with Matthew. A moment after that, Carla appeared in front of him, her blonde-tipped brown hair a shambles and her make-up smeared all over her face like a Jackson Pollack.
She was loaded.
Matthew shifted uncomfortably in his chair, plunged his hand into an economy sized bag of cheese doodles, and watched Carla sway back and forth as he shoved the orange-powdered curls in his mouth.
“You wanta go?” she slurred.
“Upstairs, dummy.” She cupped her small hands under her breasts and heaved them up. “You want summa this, fat boy?”
Matthew ducked his head like a disapproving parent.
“I’m not paying you for sex,” he said.
He meant it. Ever since high school Matthew had gradually lost all interest in sex. It was not guilt; he did not feel one iota of pity for the girls he’d duped into bed during his magnificent teenage years. He simply could not be bothered with that sort of thing anymore. It did not satisfy him.
“Who’s paying?” Carla said, a little too loudly. “C’mon up. I’ll show ya how’s it done. On the house.”
Matthew looked at Carla’s amplified cleavage, still hoisted up with her hands, and then back down to his cheese powder stained fingers. The cheese doodles failed to satisfy him, too.
He plugged his thumb in his mouth and sucked the salty powder off, followed by the rest of his fingers, one by one. All the while he considered Carla’s alcohol-fueled proposal. It had been a long time since last he’d laid a girl. A good two years and somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty pounds ago. Matthew could almost hear his dead father’s voice, upbraiding him from beyond the grave: You aren’t queer, are you?
Matthew wiped his slimy fingers off on his slacks and scooted back in the chair. Carla smiled, but it looked more like a sneer. She gestured with her hand and cooed, “Come on, then.”
Matthew got up and quietly followed her across the lobby to the elevator.
* * *
In the nine weeks since he began working at the motel, Matthew had never once set foot in any of its twenty-four rooms. He had no reason to––Javier and Maria cleaned them up and there was a contracted, on-call maintenance guy for when the toilets overflowed or the water wouldn’t come on. The only thing they paid Matthew for was checking the rooms out and maintaining some semblance of order in the lobby and front parking lot. Mostly he just ate and tried not to nod off. Once or twice he’d brought some porn up on the internet, but predictably he attained no pleasure from it.
Carla always used the same room, number 24 on the second story at the end of the hall. She had her own key and Matthew never gave it to anyone else. It was an arrangement between her and the boss; Matthew just sort of got sucked into it. Now, standing in the doorway to the infamously licentious room, he considered that arrangement and what perks the boss doubtlessly reaped from it. That, in turn, led him to wonder if the boss had in fact instructed Carla to play this stupid reprobate game. Give the lardass a whirl, it’ll thrill his huge pants off.
The notion sent shockwaves of hot anger through his body. As far as Matthew was concerned, he refrained from sex because he was uninterested, not because he was fat and, possibly, unattractive to the opposite sex. That anyone would ambush him like this and consider it a kindness was enough to make him scream.
He did not scream, though. He merely shut the door, latched the guard chain and stood there in silence to see what happened next. Carla smiled lamely and staggered over to the unmade bed. Javier and Maria never entered the room, either. Cleaning it up was entirely up to Carla.
“C’mon,” she said, patting the bed with one hand while fumbling with the buttons on her cut-offs with the other. “Siddown.”
Matthew did as he was told. The thin, soiled mattress creaked noisily beneath his weight. Carla wiggled her hips until the cut-offs dropped down to her ankles, stepped out of them and then started working on her halter top. Matthew had never seen anyone have this much trouble getting undressed.
“Aren’t you gunna get your clothes off?” she asked.
“It’s a little cold in here.”
“I’ll warm you up.”
“There’s a lot of me to warm up and not a lot of you to do it.”
Carla screwed up her face, trying to process that one and from the look of her gaping mouth and narrowed eyes, it was not working out so well for her.
“I mean I’m fat,” he explained.
“I don’t mind. I’ve fucked fat guys. I just do it on top, you know?”
She laughed a little at that, but Matthew did not find it particularly funny. When Carla finally got her bra unhooked, she made a diving stance with her arms and let slide right off. Matthew frowned at her naked breasts. They stood at permanent attention and he figured that they were too far apart and looked like she had stuffed a couple of softballs into them.
“You like em?” Carla asked.
Matthew shrugged indifferently.
“Five thousand bucks I got here,” she said, once again hoisting her breasts with her hands. She made them out to be her pride and joy. Matthew could think of a lot of better ways to spend four grand.
“That’s a lot,” he said.
“Still payin’ it off, but that’s what this place is for, right?”
“I guess so.”
“Get outta your clothes, now. Let’s get to it.”
She sloughed off her panties and performed an awkward tiger crawl across the bed to him, fighting to keep her balance all the way. Unsurprisingly, her breasts did not sway at all. Matthew sighed. He was beginning to wish he never followed her up there in the first place. All the same, he did as she asked and pulled his shirt up over his head.
“Attaboy,” Carla cooed.
He unbuckled his belt, unbuttoned his doodle-streaked trousers, and let them fall to the floor. Carla kneeled beside him on the bed, rubbing her cold, dry hands all over his flabby torso and making weird moaning sounds that were anything but alluring. The only thing about her that he liked was her perfume, but she wore too much of it.
“Boxers, too,” she admonished him.
He obeyed, bending over with some difficulty to push his underwear down. Now they were both stark naked, he and Carla––her with the unpleasantly bad boob job and him with the small, flaccid penis he could not see for his own massive stomach. He sighed again, wondering what had possessed him to come up there when he knew damn well what he was in for. Shame and disappointment.
It got worse from there. Carla reached out with both hands and began fumbling with Matthew’s sex, tugging and rubbing and rolling it around like she was trying to make a worm out of clay. The muscles in his stomach and shoulders tensed up and he knitted his brow. A minute later Carla released him and gazed at his penis with bewilderment.
“Nothing?” she growled.
That was about the size of it. Nothing at all.
His stomach rumbled.
Carla leaned back against the headboard and frowned. She was still glaring at Matthew’s limp penis like it was some complex puzzle that needed figuring out. Matthew felt like crying. All he wanted now was to get out of room 24 as quickly as possible and go find something to eat. Something good, something that might finally stave off the hunger. He thought that maybe if he was not so goddamned hungry then something might have happened between him and Carla.
He reached down, grabbed his boxers by the gradually weakening elastic and pulled them back up to his waist. Carla let out a snort.
“I’m going to get back to work,” he said lamely.
“Yeah,” she said. She was sobering up now, her face a mask of dejection and humiliation. “You do that.”
* * *
He lay awake most of the morning, listening to the cockroaches skitter inside the walls and worrying about the pain in his abdomen. When he got back to his apartment around six AM, he had made two hoagie sandwiches with provolone, pepperoni, salami, mustard and mayonnaise. They tasted like the back of a postage stamp and left him hungrier than ever. Around nine he started to cry. He did not know what he was going to do.
* * *
The lobby phone rang at a quarter to midnight. The LED readout on the little gray screen informed Matthew that the call was coming from room 24. He groaned and stared at the phone, waiting for it stop ringing. It didn’t, and he picked up on the fourteenth ring.
“I need help,” Carla weakly complained. “Can you come up here, please?”
“Kind of busy,” Matthew lied.
“It’s serious,” she said. “Please come when you can.”
Matthew grumbled and cursed under his breath, but he went up anyway.
She was bent over on the edge of the bed, sobbing into her hands. The room smelled musty and astringent, like sweat and liquor. It was only when Matthew sat down on the mattress beside her that he realized that Carla had been cut up pretty badly. A dozen or more seeping red lines adorned her arms, her neck and her face. He gently took her left arm and turned it over. Her palm was split open, too. She had tried to defend herself and got slashed for her trouble. Matthew made a clicking noise with his tongue.
“Is he gone?”
She nodded. Her face was a mess of streaked mascara and tears and blood.
“You want me to call the police?”
“No,” Carla said softly. “They won’t do anything. Not for me.”
Matthew frowned, realizing that she was probably right. People who got hurt during the commission of a crime did not tend to elicit much sympathy from cops.
With a heavy sigh he lifted himself up, waddled over to the bathroom and ran cold water over a washcloth. Then he returned to Carla’s side and gently dabbed at her wounds, washing the dried blood away. She winced. And the wounds started to bleed anew.
“There’s a first aid kit in the office,” he said. “Take me five minutes to go get it and come back.”
He started to rise, but Carla tugged at his sleeve to bring him back down.
“No, not yet. Please just sit here a minute.”
“Got to stop that bleeding.”
“I know. But just a minute. I won’t bleed to death or anything.”
He sat back down and looked at her. She did not look back. It was an awkward moment; he did not know what to say. He wanted to ask who the guy was and what set him off, maybe he was just a psycho who liked to cut women up, but he kept his mouth shut. There wasn’t any benefit in analyzing the thing right then and there. She just needed the company, he reckoned.
Gently wrapping his heavy arm around her back, Matthew drew Carla into him. She buried her face in his chest, cried a little more and, after they flattened out on the bed, she fell asleep. Matthew listened to her breath in and out for a while, and it turned out to be the first thing to successfully lull him to sleep in a long, long time.
* * *
The furious roaring of his stomach woke him up with a start. He glanced at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand and blinked until the glowing red numbers came into focus. Half past two in the morning and he was supposed to be at his desk. Not too many people came into the lobby at that hour on a Wednesday––or was it Thursday now? ––but still.
Matthew sucked in a deep breath and stared at the yellow, banana-shaped water stain on the ceiling. He could have eaten fifty bananas and he knew he would still be hungry when he was done. This was not the first time it occurred to him that life had lost all its appeal, all of its rewards and pleasures. He was merely going through the motions at this point, like a cockroach that did not even know it was alive. It just did as it was programmed to do––eat, shit, sleep, breed. None of which enticed Matthew in the least.
He supposed the cockroach probably had a more gratifying existence than he did.
Carla shifted, moaned softly. She flung her arm over Matthew’s stomach and nuzzled her face into his neck. Matthew shivered slightly as she lightly kissed him, wondering if she was still asleep, if she was dreaming that she was with somebody else entirely. Someone thinner, more handsome; someone who could give her what she wanted. She moaned again and moved her hand up to his face, cradling his fleshy jowls with her soft, wounded palm.
Matthew turned his head so that his lips brushed against Carla’s hand. His stomach growled again and his abdomen cramped. The prickly stubble on his face had scratched away some of the soft scab of the cut and it was beading up with bright red droplets.
He darted his tongue out and licked the blood.
His mouth watered at the sweet, metallic taste of it. Carla kissed him on the neck again, hard and lingering. The wound continued to well up and Matthew lapped it up over and over again. And Carla kept on kissing him, making loud smacking sounds and quiet, sensual groans.
“Are you awake?” he whispered.
Carla said, “Don’t stop.”
* * *
The day before Matthew’s twentieth birthday he received an unexpected phone call from Tara. She wanted to wish him a happy birthday and see how he was doing and tell him all about the baby she just had with her new husband who was off in Korea with the Army. It was an awkward conversation but not at all unpleasant, and they were both sincere when they expressed well wishes and said goodbye. Matthew hung the phone up with a smile. Then he brushed his teeth and got dressed and went in to work.
He did not much mind working on his birthday, although his shift started at midnight so he guessed it was not technically his birthday anymore, anyway. It was a slow night, only three check-ins, none of them remarkable in any way. Just a few weary travelers stopping over on their way to wherever. By four A.M. Matthew had not seen another human being in an hour and a half. The quiet was making him feel a bit lonely. The thundering in his expansive belly reminded him that he was hungry, too.
Fortunately for Matthew, there was a single solution to both problems.
He got up, rounded the front desk, and headed for the elevator. He rode up the second floor, walked down to the end of the hallway and shoved his key into the lock at room 24.
Carla sat in the wingback chair by the heating unit, smoking a cigarette and patiently waiting for him. A broad smile spread across her face when he came into the room. The scars on her face had healed quite nicely; Matthew could barely see them anymore. She was radiant. Beautiful. He returned the smile as he shut and locked the door.
She did not get up to hug him––she’d already unstrapped the prosthetic leg and leaned it up against the bed. It got a bit uncomfortable after a while, so Carla liked to keep it off when she did not need it. The tissue around the stump, about four inches above where her knee used to be, was not as smooth and colorless as some of her other scar tissue, but that was only because Matthew was not quite finished with it yet. There was still good meat there, around her fleshy thigh, before he would get to work on her remaining leg.
He crossed the room and leaned down for a kiss. She pressed her full lips tightly against his and they kissed deeply for a while. He ran his thick fingers through her hair while their tongues met and mutually explored, exposing the gnarled strip on the left side of her head where there used to be an ear. Matthew had eaten it raw, cartilage and all. Carla reached around and touched him with her three-fingered hand. He had taken the ring and pinky fingers at her request, leaving her enough dexterity with which to operate on a semi-normal basis. He gently kissed the tips of her remaining digits, playfully snapping his teeth at them as though he meant to bite them off. Carla giggled and gave Matthew a teasing shove.
“I missed you,” she said.
“I love you,” he replied. “My little sweet-meat.”
Matthew then lifted her up and carried her over to the bed. He undressed her, slowly and sensually, and then he undressed himself. They made love, moving in rhythmic harmony with one another, climaxing at the same time.
When they were done, Matthew took a hot shower while Carla waited on the bed and smoked another cigarette. Steam rose from his naked body in curling wisps as he came back into the room, toweling off. Carla was beaming, her big brown eyes taking him all in, loving him wholly. Stubbing her cigarette out in the ashtray with one hand, she held up the rubber tourniquet in the other. His knife gleamed on top of the comforter beside her, clean and ready.
“Are you hungry, baby?” she purred.
Matthew grinned, nodded, and went to work.
Copyright © 2011 by Ed Kurtz
Monday, April 4, 2011
In the meantime, if you’ve already burned through your copy of Bleed and are looking for something to sate your wicked thirst for terror until my next one, check out some of these other marvelous purveyors of nightmarish delights (too bombastic?):
URBAN GOTHIC by Brian Keene
DEAD CITY by Joe McKinney (also APOCALYPSE OF THE DEAD and FLESH EATERS*)
THE SORROW KING by Andersen Prunty
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an old mass market paperback copy of Tom Tryon’s The Night of the Moonbow to get back to.
Cheers and Fears,
*Joe McKinney's Flesh Eaters, the 3rd in his DEADWORLD series, comes out in paperback tomorrow, April 5th.