Tapeworm: Day Nine

Further down the hall he crept, hefting the crowbar. It felt right, that weight in his hand, the slight imbalance it gave his steps as he padded along the carpet. He passed more irrelevant family photos — the cop winning a potato-sack race, or some other such stupidity. Who cared? All that mattered was the crowbar, and how it felt in his hand, and how it would soon feel to swing it down —

— he paused. Voices. Not just the cop, but one he thought he recognized. He slowed but didn’t stop, making sure to roll his soles along the carpet as he walked. He felt little jolts of static electricity between his hand and the crowbar, but didn’t worry. He just had to be quiet, to figure out this new information. Everything still felt right.

And just as he could make out what they were saying, he recognized the other voice: that redhead who’d been snooping around. That redhead he wanted oh, so much to take for a ride in his van.

He got to the doorway that opened into the living room and paused, one last little spark jumping between his weapon and sweaty palm.

With slow, syrup-flowing ease, he peeked just enough to see the two of them.

“I just wanted to know. I mean, if there’s any way you could tell me.”

There sat the cop. And beside him on the sofa —

“Well, why didn’t he come ask me himself?”

“You know Eugene — he’s busy with his little brother now. But Mary Beth getting killed really messed him up, and Oscar too.”

The cop laughed. “How can you tell, with that spooky little kid?”

The killer shook his head and pulled back out of sight. This wasn’t right. It was supposed to be the redhead sitting there with the cop, comparing notes on the murder. Not some Asian chick he’d never seen before. This didn’t feel right. Suddenly, the crowbar grew heavy in his hand. He had to leave. None of this was right. The — the pattern, what he knew had to happen, wasn’t happening.

He took a step back, paused again.

“Don’t be mean,” said the Asian girl, and he heard a soft slap, like she’d smacked him on the arm. “Both of them have been through a lot, and Mary Beth’s dying has really –”

“What about me?” the cop cut in. “Mary Beth Carver was my date to the Senior Prom. Maybe I’m hurting, too.”

“Poor Officer Jacob,” the girl said, flirty and fake-sad. “Did you get your feelings hurt?”

“Maybe,” said the cop, sulky.

The girl sighed. “Okay. How about this? You tell me what I want to know, and…we can go out. Take me to a movie or something.”

“A real movie? Not one rented from your crappy store?”

“A real movie,” she said. “Dinner, too. But not from your brother’s crappy burger place.”

“…Okay,” the cop said. “But it’s my ass if gets out that I showed you evidence. Hang on,” he said, and there was the sound of papers rustling.

And with that sound came a calm that swept over the killer. Things…even with this being the wrong girl, things started to feel okay again. The pattern, the way events were supposed to happen, was reasserting itself.

They were discussing the murder, just like they were meant to.

“Holy…” the girl breathed.

“Yeah,” said the cop, with a little bit of sick-sounding pride. “Whoever did this went to town on the poor thing. The coroner says a knife, but we haven’t found it yet.”

The killer didn’t move, but static arced between his hand and the crowbar again all the same.

“Ugh,” the girl said at last, after a few more seconds of shuffled papers. “Okay. All right. I’ll just take these to him, and –”

“Uh-uh. Bad enough I showed you them. I can’t let you take evidence. I have my place and respect in the community to consid–”

“…Shut up,” the girl said, urgently but not unkindly. “Hang on, Jacob, and just hush for a second. Let me see that second one again…”

More papers shuffled. More and more, the killer felt comfortable.

“I’ve seen that before,” she said.

“What, a dead body? You and me both…”

“No,” she said. “It’s just…just familiar, is all. I can’t place it. It’s right on the tip of…” A sound of papers being sat down, then: “Never mind. Maybe Mary Beth’s got me shook up, too.” The killer heard her stand, and shrank back further down the hallway. He was in direct line-of-sight of the front door. Best to fall back to the bedroom and wait. If he strained, he could still hear them.

“Don’t forget about that date. Fair’s fair.”

Another sigh from her. “I won’t. You know where to find me.”

“At the crappy video store, roger that.”

“It’s not that crappy. We’ve got a cat.”

“I’m allergic to cats. If you’re around the dumb thing, you better shower before our date.”

“You smooth talker,” she said. He heard the unmistakable sound of a peck on a cheek. “Thank you, Jacob. See you soon.”

The front door opened, then closed, and with that solid chunk of sound, everything locked back into place. He just had to kill the cop, now. And if the girl wasn’t the redhead, that was fine. He could still take this one for a ride in his van.

The only itch, the only bit of the puzzle that still sat loose, was whoever this ‘Eugene’ person was. She was going to discuss the murder with him, too, and the killer didn’t know what to think about that. Another person involved meant another person to kill, for sure.

The killer tabled that for the moment. He’d figure out what to do about ‘Eugene’ soon enough. But for now, his task was clear.

He heard the cop walking down the hall toward him. He wouldn’t be coming to the bedroom, though. Most likely, he’d turn and go to the kitchen instead.

The killer hefted his crowbar and listened to the footsteps, and for the turn that would put the cop’s back to him.

*****

Today’s Words: 1034
Total Words: 9940

*****

Notes: Still massively behind schedule at this point, but I’m going to try my best to finish by the deadline!

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

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Tapeworm: Day Eight

***
They were kind enough to pretend I wasn’t crazy.

This time, Sandra unlocked the snack machines out front and let me pick what I wanted, coming back inside with my Coke and Pay Day, and also some choice words about the ‘Cobra Kai wannabes’ that had hassled her while she was outside.

Derrick came back from his appointment and, after a quick word with Sandra I couldn’t quite hear, greeted me with a slow, soft, “Heyyy, buddy…” instead of his usual clipped “Hey, what’s up?”

I didn’t mind. I knew how lucky I was that no customers had come in while I was flipping out. I figured word of my temporary insanity would get back to the boss anyway, not out of meanness, but simple concern. I was the guy who never lost his cool, not even when a customer was screaming in my face, so to see me on a rampage had to have frightened Sandra.

It frightened Oscar, too; I could tell. He’d calmed down and was back to his normal, polite way of talking, but as I sat there with him re-watching Duck Tales, I could see from the corner of my eye that he kept turning to look at me.

I felt sick, angry, and ashamed.

Mainly, though? I felt confused. Oscar had been gone. I knew that, I absolutely didn’t imagine it. But as I sat there, calming down and feeling the stress and fear drain out of me drop by drop, I figured I must have just missed him, looking in one room while he left another, that kind of thing.

That didn’t make my fear from earlier any less legitimate. And if I’d gone a little crazy? If I’d felt a need to tear down the store to its individual bricks…?

I turned to look at him as he looked at me, and I smiled. He stared at me a moment longer, serious and quiet, then nodded and went back to watching Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

I finished the last bite of peanunts-and-caramel and chased it with the last swallow of soda. “I’m gonna throw my trash away, okay?” I asked, and Oscar nodded again, not looking at me this time. I stepped out of the room and left the door wide open, wadding up the candy-bar wrapper and stuffing it down in the Coke can. I didn’t crush the can. I wanted to crush something, but I didn’t think the can would be enough to soothe the urge.

I hadn’t thought about Mom in months. Of course she was on my mind when Dad married Jenny back in April, but not in the usual way. Typically, I’d think about Mom when someone invited me to a pool party, or when I filled up a pot with water to make macaroni & cheese. And then, still, eighteen years later, I’d get a little short of breath, a little unfocused in my eyesight, seeing her looming over me, pushing me below the waterline in the bathtub, screaming at me, the sound and sight of her distorted as I went under.

Mom’s face. Jesus, the expression on her face.

When Dad got remarried, though, the thought of Mom sitting docile in her room at the mental hospital four counties over didn’t make me nauseous, or anxious, or scared.

I just felt sad.

But there she’d been today, back in my mind after a long time away, when I thought something had happened to Oscar.

I stopped for a second in the hallway, resting my open hand where I’d collided with the wall earlier. Shortness of breath? Check. Blurry vision? Check.

Overwhelming urge to grab a movie off the bottom horror shelf and entrer into it, to lose myself and make all this go away, just for a little while?

Check, gold star, two thumbs up.

Derrick was dusting the shelves and Sandra was re-shelving some returns as I dropped my empty in the trash can under the counter. I shot them a quick, sharp wave and a pained smile as they turned in unison at the sound.

“Doing better,” I said, and went back to Oscar, who had done me a huge favor by not having vanished this time.

I squeezed Oscar’s shoulder. “Want to make like a tree and get out of here?”

He looked up at me. “But you have to work.”

“They can cover for me. I think they want me to go home and get some rest, anyway.”

“Because of when you were running around and screaming.”

I choked out a little laugh and handed him his backpack. “Don’t ever change, bro.”

***

Broad daylight this time, and a guy for the killing. It was easy enough to get into the house: a loose screen, accessed from a backyard empty of dogs. He slid the exposed window up and levered himself over the sill, taking care with the knife. The blade still wore the crusted blood of the girl, and he didn’t want to accidentally cut himself. Who knew what kind of germs it might be carrying?

But when he got inside the guy’s house, the knife wasn’t a knife anymore. It had changed, somewhere between backyard and bedroom, to a crowbar, clean and pristine. His mind, too, had undergone a shift: no more piano music, no more thrilling memories of butchering that nubile cheerleader in her shower. Now he sought to kill the cop who was getting too close to finding out the truth about his organ-thieving operation.

First the cop would die, then that nosy redhead, but not before he took her for a ride in his van.

New goals, new weapon, and, as he looked at his now clean and stainless hands, new person.

But still a killer.

He crept out of the room and into a hallway lined with photos: the cop at a shooting range, the cop getting some medal pinned on his uniform, the cop hugging some old lady.

But the man with the knife-turned-crowbar and head full of rewritten motivation didn’t care about any of that.

Not when there was murder to be done.

*****

Today’s Words: 1021
Total Words: 8906

*****

Notes: Point One: Hugely behind schedule at this point, but I’m going to try my best to finish by the deadline. Point Two: I tweaked Day Seven to change Goof Troop to Darkwing Duck, as the former wouldn’t have existed at the time the novel is set. Not the first anachronism to slip by me, and definitely not the last!

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Seven

I stormed into the room, not wanting to panic first thing – he had to be in the bathroom, right? Or he’d just wandered back into the storeroom and was checking out the busted Gyruss machine back there – but the panic came, all the same. I closed the door, and he wasn’t hiding behind it, but that was stupid of me to check because Oscar wasn’t the kind of kid who played hide-and-seek. He was the kind of kid who vanished and reappeared at home all the time, and I couldn’t tell him how every time he did that it killed me, it absolutely shaved years off my lifespan because I didn’t know if something had happened to him or if he’d just wandered off on his own –

– I burst out of the room, nearly skidding on the tile floor and smacking into the opposite wall. Bathroom next, he had to be there, why wouldn’t he be there, but why couldn’t I stop worrying that he wasn’t? “C’mon, buddy,” I groaned to myself as I went further down the hall in our small building, so small there were only a few places he could be, and I’d find him soon enough and everything would be okay, okay again, perfectly fine again. I reached the bathroom and knocked rather than pounded my fist, no matter how much I wanted to do otherwise. “Dude,” I said, and I was sure Sandra heard me, heard the fear crack my voice, heard how I couldn’t modulate my tone and volume. “Are you in there?” And there was no answer, of course there was no answer.

Down the hall to the last door, the storage room. We didn’t have a back door – no one could have gotten in, and he couldn’t have gotten out unless he or they tunneled through the wall, and there wasn’t anyone in the whole wide expanse of Smithee, Texas, that could have pulled that off except for Oscar himself. Oscar could have burrowed his way out of the store, just like that convict in Different Seasons, and I wouldn’t be the wiser until I threw a VHS tape in frustration and busted through his poster of Darkwing Duck covering the hole in the wall. Hell, what was that guy’s name? What was the story’s name, on top of that?

I paused before I touched the doorknob to the storeroom. I had a picture in my mind’s eye of grabbing the knob only to have it buzz and vibrate in my hand like I’d failed to remove the Bread Basket while playing Operation. BZZZ! HE’S NOT HERE! I hesitated but still yanked at the doorknob and twisted it. I heard Sandra calling my name, asking me what was wrong, but I didn’t need her help. This was all on me. This was mine, and mine alone.

Inside the storeroom, Oscar wasn’t behind the stack of Coke pallets. He wasn’t behind the cardboard boxes of Lance potato chips. He wasn’t in the corner, in front of, on either side of, nor behind the lousy Gyruss cabinet. He wouldn’t come out no matter how much I shouted his name, no matter how much I shouted the word “PLEASE,” either to him or to God above. He wouldn’t come out. Why wouldn’t he come out?

I closed the door behind me, and it didn’t buzz in my hand that time either, because I wasn’t playing some idiotic game about removing organs, I was wasting time while some lunatic was in the back of a van removing Oscar’s organs for real, just like the killer in Gutgrabber. He’d lure high school girls into his van with his hypnotic powers, then go nuts on them with a saw, an axe, a power drill, and I would have given anything to entrer into that movie right then, to share a Dr. Pepper with the cute redhead who saved the day at the end by drilling through the back of the killer’s head as he drives then leaping free of the van just as it goes off an overpass to a fiery explo–

God. Oh, God, oh dear God, oh Heavenly Father, that’s all I do, isn’t it? I watch those awful movies, and I lose myself inside them, and this is my punishment. This is what I deserve for being a terrible person, I mean, just a second ago I shoved past poor Sandra and all she was trying to do was help. I deserve this. I deserve worse.

Momma. You were right, Momma. You were right to try to drown me in the tub when I was little. You knew, even then, didn’t you? You knew who I’d grow up to be. You knew if I had any responsibilities beyond a low-paying job that kept me in junk food, I’d fail.

In charge of another person’s life? God. Momma. Oh, God, oh Momma, he’s dead, Oscar’s dead.

I sprinted back up the hall and slung open the door to the front, looking under the wooden a-frame shelves stacked with movies, shouting Oscar’s name even as Sandra shouted mine. The cat ran to a corner at my bellowing, hackles up and tail poofed. A fat lot of good the damned cat did us. Oscar wasn’t up front, either. How could he have gotten past us?

”Oscar!”

”Eugene…!

OSCAR!”

”Eugene, he–”

OSCARRR!!”

”EUGENE!” Sandra hollered so loudly, her voice spiking into a shriek, it shocked me, quieted me for a second, just long enough to hear that she’d hadn’t only been yelling my name.

“He’s back here! He’s right where you left him!”

I turned to face her. She stood in the doorway to the hall, face flushed, hair disheveled.

“What?”

“He’s in the back room,” she said, eyeing me like I’d sprouted a second, third, and fourth head, “watching his tape. But he’s scared to death from you acting like a psycho.”

I ran past Sandra as she barely got out of the way. A trick, it was a trick, she was delaying me so her partner could make his getaway. Oscar couldn’t be in there. I looked, I looked everywhere

And there he sat, staring at me, eyes wider than I’d ever seen.

“Eugene?” he asked. He sounded like a kid for once, instead of a little professor.

“I looked in here,” I said, hoarse, as Sandra came walking up cautiously.

She reached out and put a hand on my shoulder, echoing Oscar. “Eugene…?”

I turned to her, and felt a tear forming. “I…I looked in here.”

*****

Today’s Words: 1092
Total Words: 7885

*****

Notes: Behind schedule already! Should get caught up this week…

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Six

Inside, Oscar got lavished with attention from Sandra and Derrick, even more so when I told them what had happened.

“You poor baby,” Sandra said, hugging Oscar and stroking his hair. His face looked like he was torn between being happy and mortified.

I unlocked the soda and snack machines out front and let Oscar pick out whatever he wanted (Mr. Pibb, 3 Musketeers, Andy Capp Hot Fries). A couple of Karate Kreeps from the dojo spotted us and headed our way, lured by open snack machines to ransack, but I closed the doors and we got back inside before they reached us.

Derrick split for his appointment while Oscar played with Quentin. “No, kitty, the soda is too sweet for you. No, kitty, the fries are too spicy for you. No, kitty, the chocolate is poison to you.” After a minute, Oscar brought his snacks to us and put them on the counter, Quentin following with plaintive little meows.

“How about we set you up in the back, buddy?” I asked. “Pick out a movie to watch. Anything you like.” He almost immediately came back with DuckTales: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. We got him settled in the back room with the repair table. In addition to the splicing and respooling stations, we had a little TV/VCR combo for testing tapes. I started the movie while Sandra organized Oscar’s snacks by his side. I snatched a Hot Fry and popped it in my mouth.

Oscar and Sandra looked at me, unsympathetic, while I coughed from the spiciness.

“I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit, okay? Just holler if you need anything.” Oscar nodded, already watching the mandatory eighteen hours’ worth of coming attractions and ads Disney put at the beginning of all their tapes.

We left, closing the door to just a crack.

“How are you?” Sandra said as we returned to work. She started putting un-rewound returns in the rewinder machines while I made notes on Post-Its to stick to the offenders’ membership cards. A twenty-five cent fine: that’d show them.

“I honestly don’t know. I wish I knew what happened.” I looked up from my note-writing at her. “I mean, it can’t be good if every cop in town was there. Jacob Newmar said they were sealing off the whole block.”

A rewinder sprang open. Sandra emptied it and put in another tape. “’Can’t be good’ is code for ‘can’t be natural causes’, right?”

“What natural causes?” I asked. “She was, like, twenty-six. But yeah…if she slipped in the tub, they wouldn’t call in the whole police force. Even if she, who knows, hung herself or something, you wouldn’t think all the cops would be there.”

“Although,” Sandra said, “if she gassed herself in the oven, they might have closed down the block in case of an explosion.”

We debated whether or not the kid finding her body disqualified the ‘house full of natural gas’ theory for a few minutes, then I went back to check on Oscar. The previews were over, and Uncle Scrooge was in full treasure-hunting mode. Oscar didn’t notice me peeking in; he took a sip of Mr. Pibb and let out a real barnstormer of a burp.

I stepped back from the door, held up ten fingers, and rejoined Sandra up front. She watched Quentin, who stared lazily at her, sprawled on his back, from a small wedge of carpet warmed by a late-afternoon sunbeam.

“That’s the life,” I said.

“Sunlight?” she shot back. “Ew, gross.” She raised a finger to her ear and scratched at the ever-reddening skin around her new piercing.

“Don’t you have something to put on that?” I chucked a thumb at the restroom. “We’ve got rubbing alcohol.”

“So I was thinking,” she said, as if I hadn’t spoken, “we’ve pretty much ruled out everything except foul play, huh?”

“Foul play?” I said. “What are you, Hercule Poirot?”

“No,” she said. “And get it straight: I’m Charlie Chan.” She swapped out tapes in another rewinder. “Look, all I’m saying is…it’s too over-the-top a response for it to be anything but murder. We’ve got one of the lowest crime rates in Texas, especially violent crimes. Of course the cops would overreact if someone got killed here. They’re bored out of their minds most of the time. All they ever have to do is set up speed traps and collar a drunk once in a while.” She took a deep breath and looked at me expectantly. “Don’t you want to figure it out? I can ask around; a friend of mine works at the funeral home, and –”

“Listen,” I said. “I just…it’s a damn shame that Mary Beth died. She was nice to Oscar. She understood he could be…challenging. But I’m not saying this is some mystery I want to solve. I’ve got a kid brother to take care of. I hate that a nice girl is dead, and part of me wants to know what happened to her for…I guess closure.” I took my own deep breath. “But I’ve got more important things to worry about.”

Sandra looked like she wanted to keep arguing, but paused, deflated a bit, then patted me on the shoulder with a smile. “Then go check on him. Go hug him, even though he hates it.” She pointed at the stack of customer cards with Post-Its. “I’ll start working on the hell-o-phone.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Are you sure? I can split the stack with you, if you…”

This time, she jabbed me in the shoulder with a fingernail. “Go on.”

I went, walking down the hall, hearing her call the first of the customers with new fines, knowing ninety percent of them were going to chew her out for doing her job. I felt crummy about it. “…Hi, this is Sandra Sakamoto at MovieMaster Video. We just wanted to let you know…”

I felt bad, sure, but I’d feel worse if I neglected Oscar. He and I were all each other had now – me and him against the world – and if anything happened to him, I didn’t know what I’d do. Six months since our parents had died, and he was the axis of my universe now and forever.

The tape continued to play, audible from outside. I peeked in the back room again, but after a second opened the door wide.

Oscar was gone.

*****

Today’s Words: 1068
Total Words: 6793

*****

Notes: I should perhaps mention in the text at some point that this story is set in 1991. Oops!

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Five

We filled the rest of the morning with chit-chat and grunt work – dusting, vacuuming, straightening boxes on the shelves. We were due for a full inventory, but couldn’t even bother trying to find a coin to flip for the privilege.

Weekday business was an empty gesture. The only people who came by were retirees looking to rent black-and-white classics. One old gentleman, who always wore a suit when he went out to run errands, hadn’t been in the store for a few months, and gave me his condolences about Dad and Jenny.

After he left, I went over and petted Quentin for a few minutes while Derrick carried the trash out back.

We almost always had two people working at any given time. I think the boss’s philosophy was that if one of us got shot in a robbery, the other one could keep working.

Derrick and I did our usual weekday late lunch – pizza from the place next door — and were finishing up when Sandra came in to spell me for the hour it would take to pick up and deliver Oscar. Her Morticia hair fluttered in the breeze from outside as she shoved the door shut. She stopped to scratch Oscar’s jaw; he leaned into it appreciatively.

“Y’all need to clean up better,” she said. “There’s a huge ball of dust on the war-movie shelf.” Quentin swept his tail back and forth over Sean Penn’s shouting face.

“That’s Russian Blue dust,” Derrick said. “The finest kind.”

Sandra quit scratching the cat and switched over to scratching her newest piercing, a silver stud in the upper part of her ear.

“If you pick at it –” I started.

“Yeah, yeah, Mom,” she cut in, breezing past me through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door. “You didn’t save me any pizza, did you?”

Derrick offered her a crust he’d half-gnawed, and she rolled her eyes.

“Hey, could you toss me my backpack?” I asked, and she did, fetching it from under the counter. “Thanks. Back in a few.”

“Say hi to my future husband,” Sandra said. That Goth girl was the only person who could get Oscar anywhere near flustered. He borderline-stuttered whenever she teased him.

Maybe there was hope for him. It had taken me months to get over my own stutter around Sandra.

I waved goodbye, leaving Derrick and Sandra to resume their argument about the lack of leftover pizza, and stepped outside.

The Future Bullies of America club, AKA the kids’ karate class at the dojo a couple of storefronts down from us in our little strip mall, was underway as moms delivered their gi-wearing, dead-eyed brats from school.

Oscar would have been out of class for a few minutes, but he knew to wait and not to ride with anyone else even if he and I both knew them. All it would take was one error in judgment on his or my part, and our caseworker would crash down on us like Thor’s hammer.

Five minutes to the school from here. I fired up the car (needs an oil change, more money we didn’t have) and headed over to Smithee Intermediate.

And there he waited, his own backpack slung over his shoulder. He probably didn’t need me for transportation – he knew how to ride a bike, and we lived close enough to the school that a bike ride was feasible – but that was for a later time, when we had more money.

When I was used to being a guardian: just a fancy word for parent.

When I didn’t see danger and death around every corner and up and down every street.

When I didn’t think giving Oscar a bike might mean his running away in the middle of night because he couldn’t stand my inept guarding/parenting another second.

“You’re not smiling,” he said as he climbed in a buckled up. “You can’t hang out today.”

“Sorry, buddy,” I said. “Derrick had to reschedule his doctor’s visit for his knee, and I have to cover for him.”

“It’s okay,” Oscar said. “Let’s not be late for Miss Carver.”

We drove in silence for a couple of blocks, then I switched on the Steely Dan. I always tried to play something with piano in it when we went to his lessons – Joe Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John – to encourage him. I suppose I could have played Beethoven or stuff like that, but I didn’t have the heart to steer him that direction. Classical piano was noble, but pop stardom would pay his bills.

I looked along the street at the orange-and-yellow foliage as we drove. “So hey, time’s starting to run out. What do you want to be for Halloween?”

Oscar thought about this for another block. “Santa Claus.”

I stared at him. “…Dude. That’s utterly insane. High five.” I held out a palm and he gingerly pressed his to it.

“Can we make the car look like a sleigh?”

“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” I made the next-to-last turn before Miss Carver’s street, and felt a different pang of regret over not being able to hang out today. Mary Beth Carver had been three years ahead of me in school, a senior when I was a freshman, and was the subject of many, many arguments over who among me and my hormonal-moron friends had ‘dibs’ on her.

None of us, as it turned out. She was dating one of Derrick’s former teammates.

But still…le sigh, to quote the great romantic of our age, Pepe Le Pew. Miss Carver looked not unlike Darcy from Shower Killer, a fact Freud would no doubt spin off into a dozen theses. Both slender, both had a blonde pixie cut…

I made the final turn onto her street. Well, maybe I could hang out for five minutes? Ten?

Then I saw the cop cars, and hit the brakes.

…danger and death up and down every street…

We didn’t have many police officers in our small town, but when all ten cars in their fleet were lining a street and clogging someone’s driveway, all lights flashing red and blue out of rhythm with each other, it was an impressive sight.

Impressive and frightening.

“What’s wrong?” Oscar asked. “That’s Miss Carver’s house. What happened?”

“I don’t know, man,” I said. “Maybe we can find out.”

I cruised as close, as slowly, as I could until one of the cops – someone else I knew from high school – jogged out, palm outstretched, to stop us.

We were close enough to see the stretcher being wheeled out the front door, the black vinyl bag resting in a long lump on top.

“Jacob,” I said, rolling down my window. “What the hell’s going on, man? I’m bringing my brother to his piano lesson.” But I knew what he was going to say. What else could it be? When he spoke the words ‘Mary Beth’s dead,’ I could’ve lip-synced it along with him.

“How?”

“I got here late,” he said with a grimace. “All I know is, the kid with the lesson before y’all got dropped off, went inside, and found her.” He looked back at the house. “Poor little guy can’t stop crying.” He turned back to me. “Listen, Eugene, we’re about to cordon off the block. Y’all got to turn around and git.” He knocked on the roof of my car, shot me a sharp little wave, and trotted back to the other cops. I did a quick K-turn and headed away.

I looked over at Oscar. He sat with his fingers laced, staring at his lap.

Jesus God, first his mom, and now this? When was the world going to stop stomping on this poor kid and give him a chance to recover?

And what could I do to help? Anything?

“…Hey, buddy,” I said softly. “Listen…you want to come to the store with me instead of going home? Quentin’s there. Sandra, too.”

He thought about it for so long I thought he might be in shock or something, but finally he nodded. “Yes, please.” Then, after another few blocks, “…You said I was your brother.”

“Huh?”

“Back there. With the policeman. You called me your brother, not your stepbrother.”

“Oh! Um, yeah, I guess I did.” I tried to read his face – always an exercise in futility. “Is that…cool?”

Another few blocks, almost to the video store, and he nodded again.

*****

Today’s Words: 1399
Total Words: 5725

*****

Notes: Still getting a feel for the pacing on this one, and what I need to get done, plot-wise, as the month progresses. It’s a different challenge every year!

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Four

***

The knife slid in so easily it shocked him. He had expected some kind of resistance – the elastic give of latex, the syrupy goopiness of Karo and red food coloring – but there was none of that here. The knife parted skin and muscle and sank in deep without preamble.

It was, he reflected, like cutting into a perfectly prepared steak.

The girl was already dead before he started in with the knife, and he prided himself on her painless and humane euthanasia. All he’d had to do was show her his true face, only for a second, and she dropped like a sack of wet newspapers. But what a second: on her face flickered a span of emotions: despair, fear, loss, failure, emptiness, depression, and finally the knowledge that, having hit bottom, death was a wonderful mercy.

He couldn’t ask her what it felt like to embrace annihilation like the tenderest of lovers, so he busied himself with the blade instead.

As he worked, he kept pausing to wonder where he’d seen her before. She looked so familiar, an itch in his memory, but he couldn’t quite place the face.

Especially not after he’d finished working it over with the knife.

But still, looking at her, there in that bathtub without a shower curtain, he kept hearing something. Music, but a very specific kind: warm, with full chords and complex rhythms, resonant and mellifluous.

Just as he neared the end of his night’s task, it clicked in his head. Piano music! That’s what she made him think of. He would have snapped his fingers at the ‘eureka’ moment if they hadn’t been so slippery.

But as to why she reminded him of piano music…that, he couldn’t figure out. With a sigh, he stood and stepped out of the tub, leaving vile bootprints on the bathmat and tile. He looked down at the ruins of her body and sighed again as the piano music started up once more in his brain.

There was nothing more awful than getting a song stuck in your head.

He couldn’t imagine anything worse happening to someone.

***

Derrick was already at work when I got there. I knew from the sign posted on the door:

CAT IN STORE!

PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR BEHIND YOU!

Which meant Quentin was on the job as well. I pushed open the door and shoved it closed behind me, its little hydraulic strut wheezing with effort. Sure enough, there lay Quentin at the top of the Mystery shelf, looking at me as only cats can when you’ve woken them up.

“Q-man,” I said, and tickled him under the chin to switch on his purr engine.

“What’s up, Eugene?” Derrick rumbled from the counter, voice deeper than the ocean floor. Derrick had been a linebacker in high school until some turd from an opposing team lunged at him low on purpose and tore up Derrick’s knee. Now he was out of high school, walking with a cane for the rest of his life, and might not be able to do better than MovieMaster Video, job-wise, thanks to his sports scholarship drying up.

Go, Smithee Hornets. Yay.

“Hey, Derrick,” I said. “Just bothering your roommate.” I went back to Quentin’s chin, but he gently pinned my finger to the shelf with an enormous paw and began licking at the fingernail. I may have had a little smear of peanut butter there from that morning.

What? Oscar liked peanut butter on his biscuits, and after trying it, I was hooked, too.

Derrick shifted his weight and leaned on the counter at a different angle. “He’s in high spirits today. Caught himself a mouse before we left the house.”

“Well, somebody’s a good boy,” I said. I reached out with my free hand and scratched Quentin’s ear as he continued to lick my fingertip raw.

“Yeah, well, tell that to my mom. She’s pissed that there was a mouse in the house at all, killed or not.” He reached down below the counter and pulled out a returned tape in its clear clamshell box. “Oh, hey, man, somebody put an angry little Post-It note in their tape case. It’s that stupid sex-mummy movie.”

“Mmm. I was kinda expecting some blowback on that. Did you keep it?”

“No, I already flushed it.” He made a sock-puppet shape with his hand, and flapped it open and closed with his voice. “Blah, blah, wasted my money, never renting here again, blah, blah.”

“You’re a good man, Derrick. I don’t care what Quentin says about you.” The cat grew weary of my finger and let go. He stood, stretched, rearranged himself on the shelf and closed his eyes.

You might be surprised how many customers were perfectly cool about the store having a part-time cat. We had our share of sourpusses (sorry), and more than a few allergic people who couldn’t read the sign with ‘CAT’ in big, bold letters, but the majority of people loved Quentin to pieces, and he loved the attention. We had a whiteboard by the counter with weekly-updated employee movie picks written on it. We chose Quentin’s weekly pick by which shelf he lay on followed by the first box his tail drooped across.

He’d picked Casualties of War three weeks running. Maybe Michael J. Fox reminded him of a mouse.

“Hey, I did have one thing to ask,” Derrick said. “My orthopedic guy couldn’t fit me in on Friday like usual, so I have to go today. Can you cover for me?”

“What time?”

“Four.”

Yep. I could get Oscar from school and take him to piano lessons, but I couldn’t stay like I’d told him. But this was Derrick’s knee, the thing that had ruined his life and probably trapped him in this town, and y’know, if there was a chance he could get healed just a little bit more, then maybe he wouldn’t be a register jockey until he retired.

“Not a problem, man,” I said. Another disappointment for Oscar. He’d probably tell his piano teacher I had the hots for her.

*****

Today’s Words: 1013
Total Words: 4326

*****

Notes: Another night of fatigue and stress…hopefully I’ll have something profound to say about the novel soon…oh, who am I kidding?

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Three

I peeked into the living room as I passed by: no Oscar, but there on the TV bopped the purple dinosaur himself as a group of kids ring-a-rosied around him. He loved them, and they loved him, or so they sang. I walked to the television and turned down the volume from ‘jet engine’ to ‘jackhammer.’

“Dude!” I called out. “I’m home! Ready for supper?” No answer. “It’s poop on a roof! Ready in ten!” Nuke a can of beef stew and dump it on toast: easy-peasy, and quasi-nutritious. ‘Poop on a roof’ was our sanitized version of what Dad said he and his Navy buddies called it.

I continued to the kitchen. Still not a peep from little stepbrother. Most likely he was in the bathroom. I got to work on the POAR: bread in the toaster, tin can rattling in a circle under the mini-roar of the can opener. I went over Oscar’s schedule for tomorrow in the little part of my brain not occupied with worries about work and bills and trying like hell not to screw everything up and have Oscar get taken away and dumped in the foster-system meat grinder. Our caseworker, who I knew, I by-God knew thought I was an irredeemable moron, would be visiting next week to see how badly I was handling things.

I poured the Dinty Moore into a bowl, delicately draped a paper towel over the top like I was enshrouding the covergirl from Lust of the Mummy, and put the works in the microwave. The toast popped up, and I laid it on plates for the two of us.

Then nearly had a heart attack as Oscar spoke from behind me, whispery and slight. “Hey.”

I turned, gripping the countertop behind me for support. Oscar looked at me wonderingly with his big, watery eyes. “You startled me, bud,” I said. He considered this, then nodded in agreement. His floppy black bangs hung almost to his eyebrows. Time to add a haircut to the endless to-do list.

He looked past me to the plated toast. “Poop?”

“Yeah. Didn’t you hear me when I got home?”

He shook his head. “It was too noisy.”

“Yeah, you really –” The microwave beeped its angry little beep, and I fished out the bowl, pouring out the lion’s share on Oscar’s plate while he occupied himself with getting a glass of milk. “You really had the Barney blasting tonight.”

“I like it loud,” Oscar said, moving past me, his nearly-overfilled glass close to slopping over with every step.

“That’ll come in handy when you get into heavy metal,” I said. He sat his glass down on the dinner table and gave my joke some serious thought. After a moment, he shook his head and sat down. I delivered his plate, napkin, and fork, and went back to make my own meal.

“Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat,” he said, hands clasped and head bowed. I’d have to tell him some time not to do that when he visited a friend’s house. Smithee was a pretty churchy town, and most kids’ parents wouldn’t think that joke-prayer was too funny.

What was I thinking? Oscar would need to have a friend in order to go to a friend’s house. That was a big point of concern at my first guardian-teacher conference a few weeks ago. The expected spiel: bright, gifted, not antisocial so much as totally non-social. Other kids his age just didn’t interest him, it appeared.

Holding my plate, I watched him eat: quick, methodical bird-bites, one quadrant of the plate cleared at a time. I wondered if I confused or offended him with the way I usually wolfed my food down.

He also had some cryptic ratio of food bites to milk sips I hadn’t decoded yet. One more enigma in the mystery that was my stepbrother.

“You got piano tomorrow, right?” I asked, digging in. Shoot – I’d forgotten my drink. I got up and fetched a can of Coke.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Cool, I’ll drop you off and hang out until you’re done. I don’t have to be at the salt mines until five.”

“You don’t have any errands?” he asked, almost sounding hopeful. Working two shifts six days a week didn’t leave me a lot of time to spend with him. But I imagined our caseworker wouldn’t smile too brightly on my not being able to pay the bills or getting foreclosed.

“Nah, and I haven’t gotten to hear you play in a while. It’ll be fun. Besides,” I said, leaning in confidentially as though Barney might be eavesdropping, “your piano teacher is a stone fox.”

Oscar pondered this, solemn as a eulogy, then nodded and drank his milk.

We finished supper with a little more chit-chat. He told me about something funny he’d seen on TV; I laughed at his story and tried not to wince at how much I let the idiot box babysit him.

Do you think I’m a screw-up? I wanted to ask him. If he did…if he ever gave me any sign he wasn’t happy with my decision to raise him…I didn’t know what I’d do.

But I told him I’d take care of him at the funeral. I swore to him.

Oscar put his fork down on his empty plate with a clink. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his pajamas and gave an impressive burp. I held up ten fingers and said, “The Yugoslavian judge is especially impressed.” Serious as always, he turned and waved to an imaginary Olympic audience, then left to brush his teeth.

I finished my meal, thinking about everything in the world all at once, and how everything, for me, now orbited around that oddball little kid.

I went to his room a few minutes later. He’d tucked himself in and was already drowsy. What in the world would I do if I had a kid who wasn’t so responsible, so self-maintaining?

“Sweet dreams, pardner,” I said, and gently tweaked his earlobe. No kiss on the forehead. He’d made it crystal clear early on that only Mommy could kiss him.

“Good night,” Oscar said, and rolled over. I left his door open a crack, then went to my room and got ready for bed, changing out of my stale work clothes.

“You’re not a screw-up,” I mumbled to myself in the mirror with a stinging mouthful of Listerine.

“You’re not a screw-up,” I told myself a second time as I dug around in the top drawer of my bureau to fish out my own VHS of Shower Killer.

“You’re not a screw-up,” I said for the third time, like I was summoning Bloody Mary or something. I placed the tape on my desk and sat down.

Not Deb. Not tonight. Tonight would be Alice Truly, assaying the role of ‘Darcy.’ The second victim of Lester, and the actress who adorned the movie’s box cover.

I concentrated, and a second later entrer Eugene into a shadowy hallway, looking from the darkness into another curtain-less, fog-less shower.

I was bored out of my skull in seconds.

*****

Today’s Words: 1188
Total Words: 3313

*****

Notes: Nothing to comment on tonight, sorry. Worn out! See you tomorrow!

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Two

“Is somebody there?” called the voice again — a guy. One of our semi-regulars here at MovieMaster Video, and one who was guaranteed to come in just when we were about to close and take his sweet time picking out a movie.

“Just a second,” I shouted back. I pushed the chair back under the desk, grabbed Shower Killer, and popped it in one of the rewinders on my way to the counter. I checked the clock on the wall as I went. Sure enough, ten minutes to closing time.

I parted the bead curtain separating the front counter from the rear of the store and smiled at the guy as he leaned on the counter. “I thought there wasn’t anyone here,” he said. I tried not to take offense at the idea that I would just up and leave and abandon the store.

“Nope,” I said. “Just getting things straightened up to close.” I didn’t put too much emphasis on the end of that sentence, hoping he could take a subtle hint. “You got a movie in mind for tonight?”

“Hmm,” he said, and pushed away from the counter, looking around the store. “What’s good?”

And that, right there, was the ultimate paradox of video stores: the employees always, always had better, and more complex, taste in movies than the customers. I could have recommended a dozen different movies to him that I personally found mind-blowing, but which would probably make him complain to my boss the next day for tricking him into watching something ‘weird’.

So inside of that paradox was a ton of frustration. Sometimes I wanted to go on the roof of the building and shout out ”Bad Taste! UHF! Waxwork! Young Einstein! They Live! The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover! Heathers! Erik the Viking! Tremors!” On and on until I was hoarse and/or a cop shot me.

At times like this, you had a last resort: a list of movies you’d set aside in your mind as being interesting enough that you could recommend them without your conscience bothering you, but still with enough mainstream appeal that the average customer wouldn’t be appalled by them. It was, by nature, a small list, so I had to use it sparingly.

Clue?” I suggested, pointing at the comedy shelf.

“…Eh, seen it,” the guy said. He scratched at his mustache.

Spaceballs?”

“…Eh, seen it.”

I looked at the clock. One minute past closing time. There was no telling how Oscar would react to my being late. One of the joys of raising a ten-year-old by yourself.

Time to get myself in trouble tomorrow, then.

“How about Lust of the Mummy?”

He perked up. “What’s that?”

I pointed at the horror section. “Bottom shelf, next to Twin Kill, Twin Kill, Little Star.”

He walked over, leaned and picked up the box. “Whoa, this chick’s hot!”

“She sure is,” I agreed, not telling him that she was only in the movie for about thirty seconds. The main villain of the movie was her sarcophagus, which rumbled along corridors like an ancient stone Soapbox Derby car, crushing the unlucky.

The guy read off the back of the box. “Erotic Egyptian orgies…”

Which weren’t actually depicted. Two old British guys discussed them in a long, drawn-out scene about as erotic as a kitchen sponge.

“A sensual female mummy with insatiable sexual appetites…”

Again, mostly handled with conversation, as the intrepid college students investigating the mummy (and periodically getting steamrolled by her coffin) gave shorthand accounts of her appetites read off of hieroglyphics. I knew all this because Lust of the Mummy was one of the first films I used my powers on, based 100% on that admittedly enticing cover photo.

I felt as ripped-off then as this guy was going to feel later tonight.

He finished reading the rest of the lurid sales copy in silence, then slapped the box on the counter. “Sold!” He fished his membership card from his wallet, along with the three-buck rental fee. I fetched his tape, thanked him, and wished him happy viewing.

With him gone, I closed up shop in record time and hit the road, fifteen minutes behind schedule. Supper would be something quick and simple. Didn’t want to have to keep Oscar up later than necessary on a school night.

Or maybe he’d have fed himself by the time I got home –- a bowl of cereal or a granola bar. I always felt bad when he did that. I was trying my best to take care of him in difficult circumstances, what with him and me being almost strangers. We’d only been stepbrothers for six months when –-

My car began to beep at me, telling me it needed gas. I tried to gauge how much further I had to drive until I got home, and the numbers didn’t pan out. I could get home, but I’d run out of gas in the morning before I could get to a filling station.

Even later getting home tonight, or late getting Oscar to school in the morning? Not much of a choice. I pulled into the Pride station with a sigh, and filled up, watching the traffic on the main drag cruise by.

Smithee, Texas, on a weeknight was not the most jumping of joints. Nine thousand people, and if they didn’t have to be out after dark, they never were.

A couple of uncooperative stoplights after filling up the car, and I finally made it home. This late, and Oscar was guaranteed to be in a bad mood. I paused as I closed the car door, catching sight of myself reflected in its window. I put on my best smile, and walked up the path to the front door.

I gripped the doorknob. Not for the first time, and I figured not for the last, I imagined I’d hear Dad’s booming laughter as I went inside.

But all there was, as usual, was the sound of one of Oscar’s Barney tapes blasting at full volume.

*****

Today’s Words: 1006
Total Words: 2125

*****

Notes: Not much to say tonight. Tired and stressed. See you tomorrow!

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day One

TAPEWORM

by Stephen Couch

If you’d told my sixteen-year-old self that at age twenty-three he’d be sick and tired of watching beautiful women take showers, he’d have called you a damn liar and probably kicked you in the shin for emphasis.

But there I was, fifteen minutes into the cinematic classic that was Shower Killer, watching Vivian McAllister (in the role of ‘Deb’) soap herself up with the kind of fervor for hygiene you only saw in the movies.

Through trial and error, and over a hundred viewings of Shower Killer, I’d found the perfect hiding place in Deb’s bathroom. You could crouch in the spacious bottom shelf of the linen closet, opening the door just a crack. From there, you had a clear line of sight to the vanity mirror, and Deb’s reflection in it.

Deb didn’t have a shower curtain, and her bathroom never steamed up. Neither of these things made any sense, but hey, that’s the movies for you.

So there I crouched, watching a scene I’d seen dozens of times, both on TV and in person, bored out of my twenty-three-year-old mind. I thought about the drive home from work, and if I’d need to stop for gas. I wondered if any more customers were going to come into the video store tonight. I debated what I might fix Oscar for supper tonight.

I thought about anything other than the image in the mirror: Deb’s curves, and the suds slithering across them.

It was musty in that linen closet, and dark. My knees hurt, my back hurt, and part of me wanted to kick myself in the shin. I kept staring at the mirror out of habit, watching but not watching as my mind wandered.

“What am I doing here?” I muttered to myself.

In the mirror, Deb stiffened, and I froze, too, as I saw her react to my voice.

Well, shoot.

“Who’s there?” she called out, wiping a forearm across her eyes, peering out into the bathroom.

It wasn’t the first, or even the tenth, time I’d screwed this up and made my presence known to her. Sometimes boredom had even led me to do it on purpose, and I’d leap from the linen closet singing ‘Happy Birthday To You,’ or, on at least one occasion, ‘Hello, My Baby.’

“Is somebody there?” she asked again, clutching her shoulders and hunching slightly. Then, absurdly in her naked-and-drenched state, “…I’ve got a gun…!”

One thing I’ve learned in the five years I’ve had this power…powers? Abilities? Who knows, but that one thing I’ve learned is: when I travel inside of the reality of a movie, the characters can only recite the dialogue they’ve been given unless I directly interact with them.

Deb was going to be killed in a couple of minutes, so all she could say at this point was the terrible dialogue her screenwriter had given her. But if I chose to leap forth in full Michigan J. Frog mode, there was no telling what she’d say or do.

And I’ve found that could be very scary. Shatter the reality of a movie, and you can get a nasty cut on the shards.

“Brad?” she called. “Is that you?” Brad, her boyfriend, portrayed by lantern-jawed, feather-haired Tim Teaford-Taylor, was not the person lurking in her house. Deb’s murder, however, would spur him into amateur detective mode for the second and third acts of the movie, leading him to a final confrontation with the maniac lurking the halls of Deb’s house.

…No, not me. I was just a tourist here. The maniac, the titular shower killer, was nerdy Lester, played by Aldo Felsher. Lester, scrawny and buck-toothed, his glasses held together with tape, spent most of the movie using his power to stop time and ogle nubile, soaped-up cheerleaders before knifing them to death. The camera lingered on the stabbings even more lovingly than it did the latherings.

Which raised a fair point. Lester would be peeking around the corner of the bathroom doorjamb any second now, his eyes glowing with superimposed blue as he froze Deb in place (while the shower spray, seemingly immune to his ability, continued to drizzle). I needed to get out of there.

I could still remember how it felt the one time –- the one time –- I didn’t exeunt quickly enough.

How it felt when Lester froze and killed me, too.

Deb had defaulted back to shower mode, returning to the action the movie’s script dictated now that my small intrusion had passed. A creaking floorboard sounded from somewhere in the house.

“Who’s there?” she called out again, wiping a forearm across her eyes and peering out into the bathroom for the second time.

It was time to go.

And then came a sound that wasn’t on the movie’s soundtrack: a sound only I could hear. A cowbell jangled in the distance, jostled by the opening door in hung in front of.

It was definitely time to go.

It’s hard to describe the sensation of what I do when I do it. It’s sort of like pushing off with my brain, as if my brain had been crouched in starting blocks, ready for a relay race. The world of the movie I’d been inhabiting faded away, dissolving into the real world I’d left behind.

Exeunt Eugene Gerber, full-time video-store clerk and part-time superpowered voyeur.

I found myself where I’d departed from, sitting in a chair in the back room of my job, staring down at the VHS cassette of Shower Killer. Time had passed in the real world equal to what I had spent inside the movie.

And always, the strangest thing of all: the tape had advanced on its spindles despite not being inside a VCR. While I’d been away, a small amount of black, glossy, magnetic tape had unreeled from the left-hand side of the cassette and reeled itself onto the right-hand side. If you popped the tape in a VCR, it would start playing at the exact moment I’d left, with Lester working his mojo on poor Deb.

“Hello?” came a voice from the front of the store. With a groan, I stood up from the chair, stiff as though I’d been, I dunno, lurking in a linen closet.

Comic books are the damn liars, if you ask me. They tell you people master having superpowers within a few days and are ready to fight crime almost immediately.

Mastering powers? I’ve had this ability for five years, and I still barely understand it.

And as for fighting crime?

Ask me how many times in those hundred-plus viewings of Shower Killer I’ve been able to save a cheerleader from the depredations of Lester the murder-nerd…

*****

Today’s Words: 1119
Total Words: 1119

*****

Notes: This novel is dedicated to the employees and customers — living, dead, and otherwise — of Cisco, Texas’s own Dollar Video & Pizza (1989 – 1995).

*****

I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!

Tapeworm: Day Zero

Hello and welcome to my fourth year of a recurring writing challenge! The last three years, as part of the Countdown to Halloween blogging group, I attempted to write an entire Halloween-themed horror novel over the course of October. I tried to write every day and post that day’s prose to this blog, with the ultimate goal of a complete first draft before the month ended.

And did I succeed? Well…er, um, *cough*

That first-year novel, Face After Face, is still unfinished, stalled out at around 78K words. (You can see its health bar to the right of the screen). The second-year attempt, Voidville, fell just short of the goal by being completed on November 1st, and is still stuck as a first draft (although still free to read on this blog!). Last year, with Lanterns, I finally succeeded, finishing the book on the last day of October. However, it’s still a first draft, too (but also free to read on this blog…)

So welcome to this year’s Halloween novel: Tapeworm. I’m not going to reveal much about it (I’ve dropped some hints on Facebook, to the interest of a handful of people), but I hope you’ll give the first few chapters a whirl and see what you think.

If you’ve followed along with this challenge of mine the last couple of years, I should give you an update on my cat, Valentine. She’s hale and hearty at sixteen years old, and looking forward to the favorite holiday of black cats worldwide.

…And that’s all I’ve got by way of introduction. I’ll shoot for producing at least 1,000 words a day Monday to Friday, with more on weekends, and do my best to create a finished first draft of Lanterns on or before October 31st.

Hope you’ll come along for the ride!