Archive for the ‘Nick Slosser’ Category

October Reading

Posted: October 24, 2010 in Nick Slosser, The Whole Works

“October Reading” by Nick Slosser

Nick’s six picks for October reading:

The time has come for variegated leaves to fall and decay, for spiders to drift by on long strands and brisk currents, for air to chill flesh and bones from inside out, for clinging fog to dim and blur streetlights at night and slink around ankles in the morning.  It is the season of the witch, the time of the werewolf and vampire and headless horseman, when the Autumn People roam the October Country.

It is also the time of year when I most like to read old-fashioned ghost stories, one right after another.  So I thought I’d share some of my most horrifying reading experiences—not the kind that make you jump with fright, there are movies for that sort of thing.  I’m talking about the kind that can make you shiver beneath your blanket, that make you shut the book with your finger tucked inside to hold your place, just to pause and savor that stomach-churning feeling of delirious dread for a few seconds more.  You know what I’m talking about.  So here they are…read (and watch) at your own risk:

Turn of the Screw (1898) by Henry James:  An absolute classic.  Written in the author’s ponderous style, which only serves to shade the story in deeply gothic tones, the story of a naïve governess and her two strange wards who may or may not be communing with malevolent spirits is the epitome of old-school ghost story—slow-building, atmospheric, and steeped in dread.  Also, check out the movie with Deborah Kerr, called The Innocents (1961), which embraced the tone of the original through its use of lighting and music rather than cheap, cats-jumping-from-closets-type thrills.

Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker:  The novel that until the last second was to be named “The Un-Dead,” was neither the first, nor the best, vampire story ever written, although it was the single most influential one.  Its villain has shown up in more movies than any other character, except possibly for Sherlock Holmes, and like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), all subsequent vampire stories must address its legend.  Written in a series of letters, diary entries, ships’ logs, and medical notes, Dracula gains its horror not from the concepts—we’re far too savvy to be shocked by the revelation of bloodsucking nosferatu—but from the vivid, though sometimes veiled, first-person accounts of the dreadful events.  Watch, for example, Harker’s reaction when he discovers the date beyond which the Count will no longer have use for him—ie. the last day of his life.  Also, see F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), the Spanish version of Dracula (1931), which was filmed at the same time (though at night) and on the same sets as Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi Dracula, and Frank Langella’s highly seductive portrayal in Dracula (1979).

I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson:  Imagine being the last person not turned vampire, scavenging by day, holed up and alone by night.  In this psychologically-chilling tale, the horror lies not in the monsters, but in the end of the world as we know it, and the isolation it forces upon the survivors—or survivor—even as he’s being taunted throughout the night by the creatures outside.  In this sense, the story is more akin to zombie flicks, where a handful of survivors secure themselves inside a farmhouse or mall, only to face an unending stream of horrors.  For movie versions, ignore the Will Smith atrocity, which misses the whole point and focuses instead on CGI, and check out either Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1954) or Charlton Heston in Omega Man (1971).

Rosemary’s Baby (1967) by Ira Levin:  One of the great oracles of everyday horror, Ira Levin takes the age-old story of a deal with the devil and sets it in a modern New York apartment building.  What unfolds is a raw, uncensored narrative of witchcraft, devil-worship, and unholy communion—and when I say raw, I mean raw, with a page-specific put-down-the-book-and-go-ugh! moment.  Also, check out Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which scared the socks off—and the pants back on—many young wives back in its day.

The Shining (1977) by Stephen King:  Though he’s hit-and-miss for me, every so often Stephen King can come up with a dilly of thriller, and The Shining is one of them.  Whether it’s the idea of supernatural phantasms walking the halls or evil lingering after a heinous crime or normal people turned axe-wielding psychopaths or creepy children just being creepy, something in the story will horrify you.  But whatever you do, do not look in Room 217.  Do watch Stanley Kubrick’s all-time great The Shining (1980).

White Fell or The Werewolf (1896) by Clemence Housman:  An exquisite femme fatale named White Fell, who simultaneously embodies all that is desirable and destructive, wanders into a lonely farmhouse where live two brothers, a grandmother, and a baby.  Her charm and beauty mask her terrifying hunger, and horror after horror are visited upon the family until the younger brother sees her for what she is and chases her deep into the Scandinavian forest in one of the most exciting scenes I’ve ever read.  If consumed in one sitting, the tale is breathtaking.  I know of no movie adaptation, but for deep-in-the-forest, don’t-stray-from-the-path werewolf yarns, check out Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984) and Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers (2002).

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Friday Flash #3

Posted: October 15, 2010 in Nick Slosser, Only Friday Flash

“The Good Doctor” by Nick Slosser

The good doctor wasn’t home.  Anyone with eyes could see that.

Newspapers weren’t piling up outside his door or anything that obvious, but it was apparent that he hadn’t been home for at least a week.  Maybe it was the yellowing patch of lawn or the car that hadn’t budged an inch.  I can’t be sure.  Then again, what did it matter?  What mattered was the butcher had killed my wife.

He had wielded a knife under the guise of healing—she had a tumor, or so we’d been told—and he had sliced into her with the skill and coordination of a spastic gorilla.  This after convincing us surgery was the only way for her to live.  It would be delicate, he had said, and risky, but he had performed this particular surgery hundreds of times without major mishap.

“Dr. Castle is a leader in the field of neurosurgery,” said one of the nurses, the one who’d been doe-eyeing the doctor, after he’d left the room.  “He’s at the very cutting edge.”

‘Ha-ha,’ I had thought, even then, before my wife was dead.

“Really, he has the hands of a god,” she continued.

“And the ego to match,” the other one muttered.

I called the hospital where he had botched her surgery and was told that he’d taken a much-needed vacation.  When I asked about his return date, the switchboard lady had said, “Sir, I’m not at liberty to divulge such information.”

He kills my wife with his “hands of a god,” then flies off to Europe or Jamaica or something, and she has the gall to hand me ‘not at liberty, sir.’  Clearly, the hospital was circling the wagons to protect their own.  I was right to sidestep the usual channels.  The law would provide no justice for me—or her.  Sometimes a man must go it alone.

I approached the house.  It was dark, and there were many trees.  I cut through the park across the street, just another insomniac with nothing better to do.

The park had been perfect for staking out his place without generating suspicion.  The row of two- and three-story houses was one of the most expensive areas to live in if you wanted to stay within the city proper.  Still, I was surprised to track him down at this address and not one of those gated communities in the suburbs.  It didn’t seem a killer’s style.

I got inside, no problem; the house dated back to the 19th century and so did the locks.  I kept the lights off, not wanting to alert the neighbors.  Somewhere in here I would find damning evidence:  proof of tax evasion, kiddie porn, something.  I stayed in the front room to wait until morning.  Then I’d begin my search in the light of the sun.

I must have dozed, because when I opened my eyes, the light was artificially bright, the room had changed, and I was unable to move.

“Ah.  Hello, Mr. Body.  Sleep well?”

“What did you do to me?” I tried to say, but my muscles would not respond.

“Relax, Mr. Body,” said the doe-eyed nurse who smiled as she came into view.  I must have managed a strange look, because she continued:  “Oh, that’s just our little joke.  After all, once you’re on the slab, that’s all you are—a body.  Isn’t that right?”  She smiled again, and for the first time I could see the crazy in her.

“Nurse, why don’t you tell Mr. Body about his own personal contribution to science?”

“Of course, doctor.  You see, Mr. Body, Dr. Castle truly is on the forefront of neurosurgical research.  He’s made tremendous advances in excising tumors located exactly where your wife’s had been.  Of course, we’re wholeheartedly sorry about what transpired, but maybe in the long run it was for the best…for future patients, I mean.  You see, that tumor was in an extremely tricky spot in the brain, and the procedure Dr. Castle tried has not yet been fully accepted in the medical community.  It’s still, shall we say, controversial.”

“But not for long,” the doctor added.

“No, not for long.”  The nurse put on her surgical mask and spoke through it.  “And you, like your wife, are going to play a critical role in the breakthrough.  You see, although medicine makes advances every day, it is hampered by an outmoded morality.  I’m sorry, but rats and pigs simply cannot replace human subjects where true innovation is supposed to be taking place.”

“In other words, how can I perfect this technique, if I don’t practice on live human subjects?”

“Which is why you are here.  The good doctor saw you in the park, Mr. Body, and knew sooner or later you’d come inside.  So, he canceled his vacation plans and waited.  And here we are.  Shame on you, by the way, for invading the doctor’s privacy.”

“Water under the bridge, my dear,” said the doctor, “now that he’s volunteered to become a donor.”  The nurse giggled behind her mask, and he continued:  “It’s funny, no one out there suspects that in this very basement, cancer—the curse of the modern age—is being cured.”  She sighed deeply, gazing starry-eyed at the doctor, even as metal instruments clattered on the tray she was wheeling toward me.  “But listen to me going on,” the doctor continued, “when we know how valuable your time truly is.  So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just get washed up.”

“Don’t worry.  As I said, you are in the best possible hands.  And even if you do survive, we couldn’t let you leave.  The doctor’s research is far too important for that.  But I can assure you, Mr. Body, the end will be painless.  Okay then, you ready?”  She placed an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth.  “Please count backwards from 10 to 1, starting now.  I’ll help:  ten, nine, eight…seven…”

Just Write

Posted: October 8, 2010 in Nick Slosser, The Whole Works

“Just Write” by Nick Slosser

A woman I knew in college was reading Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, cover to cover, hoping one day to be a writer.  By the time I learned of this, she had reached the J’s.  It was impressive.  And strange.  And ultimately pointless.

This woman studied literature; she understood symbolism, subtext, and style; she could deconstruct any volume in the literary canon; she could properly use alliteration and semicolons.  But she did not become a writer, because knowing these things was not helpful.  In her case, knowing these things was precisely what kept her from just plain writing.  She can’t even write in her journals now, because her words written in private and read by no one might be found wanting.  How can she write, when she knows so many ways to write badly?  Of course, I’m not saying writers shouldn’t learn the rules, like never begin a sentence with the word ‘but.’  But unless she forgets much of what she clings to, she’ll never conquer the blank page.

(Was that a good metaphor, ‘conquer the blank page’?  Is the act of overcoming white space with a clever string of words at all comparable to armed combat?  Honestly, I don’t know.  On some level, I don’t care.  That part of this page is no longer blank, and that’s what’s important.)

I struggled with this blog, and I’ll continue struggling with it for some time.  I’m not used to writing in this format.  What the hell should I say, and why should anybody give a damn?  This first entry has been extremely difficult—the Blank Page loomed.  My only defense was just to write.  Okay, so maybe my first line won’t displace the opener for A Tale of Two Cities as the Best First Line ever, but it got me where I wanted to go.

That woman from college won’t write, because she’s too afraid that her first word of her first line of her Great American Novel is going to be the wrong word.  That’s what dissecting and disemboweling the most important works by the world’s greatest writers has done for her.  It’s told her that no work is perfect, beyond criticism—that somebody somewhere will not get it and will cut it into juicy chicken strips.  Well, that’s probably true, but given the copious amount of crap that’s published and purchased every month, no matter how bad it is, somebody else will love it and swear by it.  Somebody, somewhere in this universe of infinite possibilities, will get it and treasure it and pass it on to friends.  Then it becomes this bond between you and that reader, the one who understands what you’re trying to say.  It’s not magic; it’s just connection between human beings.  But what else is there?

I had no idea what I was going to write for this first blog entry.  I just started writing.  And I have no idea if what I wrote was the right thing to write, but I wrote it.  All I can do is trust the reader.  Who knows, maybe somebody out there believes ‘conquering the blank page’ is a fine metaphor—the perfect metaphor, in fact, to express the challenging and often painful task of choosing that first word of that first line—and so wants to read more.  If I can trust in that, all that’s left to do is write…just write.