Posts Tagged ‘Richard Matheson’

She heard a crash and spun around in the dark room, barely able to see in the feeble light filtering in through the boarded up window.  The building had been compromised.  She saw the undead, Dick Clark and Richard Simmons.

The Oxford comma will always remain dear to me.  I am supposed to write in AP style at work, but I choose to practice literary passive resistance and sneak the Oxford comma into grants, reports, and guidance documents.  When I don’t use the Oxford comma, my writing feels naked, vulnerable, and incomplete.  When the Oxford comma is not used, it does open the door to some amusing ambiguities.  Here’s some of my favorite examples:

We invited the strippers, JFK, and Stalin.  We invited the strippers, JFK and Stalin.

I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.  I would like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

The specter of the run-on sentence also rears its head without the Oxford comma:

The restaurant offered egg salad, ham and cheese and roast beef.

Earlier this year the Oxford comma garnered quite a bit of attention when the University of Oxford announced that the Oxford comma (or serial comma) would no longer be used as the preferred style for their press releases.  Big sigh of relief.  That means the Oxford comma will remain part of their style guide, but it is still troubling to me that it has become a grammatical second-class citizen for Oxford’s internal Public Relations department.  Maybe I am over-thinking it, but doesn’t every step down that sort of path lead to, well, decadence?  I wonder what Jacques Barzun would have to say on the issue.  Surely there must be some connection between the decline of Western civilization and comma usage. 

Although I understand that it is a discretionary writing practice, and predicated to some extent on what style you’ve been taught, I feel a kinship to the Oxford comma.  In Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend, he advances the idea that when everyone else becomes zombie-like creatures, it is us – the lone holdouts and survivors fighting for our old ways – that are the monsters in the eyes of the majority.  It’s an interesting idea.  I kind of like the idea that someday I will be creeping about in the dark like Bela Lugosi, cape obscuring my face, spraypainting grafitti using the Oxford comma to the horror of the townsfolk. 

How about you?  Any fans of the Oxford comma, or of not using it?  The issue seems to be a bit polarizing! For those of you not comma-obsessed like me, any other writing conventions you can’t live without?

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I’m not sure why he thought it would be a good idea, but my first exposure to vampires came when I was about seven years old, watching Kolchack (the Night Stalker) and Hammer horror films on Friday nights on a tiny black and white television set with my father.  I remember hiding my head under my blanket on the sofa during the scary parts, peeking out just in time to see Van Helsing or one of his counterparts pounding a stake through the heart of a vampire just as the last lingering rays of sunlight are about to leave the crypt in utter darkness,  and I remember the ghastly countenances of Max Shrek in Nosferatu, and Kurt Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot. 

I remember being terrified of, but not wanting to miss, a single movie with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Lon Chaney Jr., or Bela Lugosi in them.  I remember waking up with nightmares after watching Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth, the 1964 film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend.  Most of all, I remember having an almost visceral understanding that vampires were inhuman, deeply evil, and insatiable creatures of the night.  Things to be feared.  And fear them I do.  I’d like to share with you my first attempt at vampire fiction, Stash.  It’s also my fledgling attempt at stream-of-consciousness narrative.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.  I wanted to tell a story about vampires that don’t glitter or wear eyeliner or suffer from existential angst.  I wanted to tell a story that will keep you up at night, and perhaps make you double check the locks on your doors and windows before you seek an uneasy slumber.  Enjoy!

I’ve never kept a journal before but I’ve never been in the business of stealing life before either, so like my dad used to say, there’s a first time for everything.    

I got this notebook at a Walgreens in Ferron, Utah.  The flashlight I found in the glove compartment of this car.  It’s a 1969 Chevelle – a sweet ride.  The flashlight is tiny, just a small Maglite, but it’ll do.  After sunset I’ve been locking myself in the trunk of the car.  Because I don’t want to make it easy for Nathan when he comes for me. 

I’m lying here in the dark, writing in this journal.  Waiting for sleep, sunrise, or death.  I don’t care which anymore.  There’s enough light in here from the flashlight to see my notebook and to make out a few other dim shapes that share this coffin-like space with me.  A sleeping bag, but I wadded it up and use it as a pillow.  I don’t need it in the summer heat.  A couple of old milk jugs filled with water.  A pneumatic jack.  Not the cheap ass miniature kind that comes with cars nowadays this is a nice one.  I don’t know why I kept it though, it just takes up space.  I had to ditch my spare in order to crawl in here, so if I get a flat in the desert, I’ll be shit out of luck.  I’ve also got a shovel and a Mossberg pump action back here with me.  Not that the shotgun would do any good if Nathan finds me and decides to peel the metal skin of this car away like tissue paper. 

I was cooking glass in an abandoned wreck of a house near the Missouri river when Nathan found me.  It was a dilapidated dump in the middle of nowhere and I was cooking with the Hawk.  Hawk’s real name was Lawrence or some shit like that, but everyone I knew called him Hawk.  He could sniff out 5-0 like he was psychic or something.  Probably he was just paranoid, but we cooked together for almost a year and never got busted so what does that tell you?  He could boost pseudo like nobody’s business too.  He was smooth.  Hawk would go on these “shopping trips” and come back with all sorts of good stuff.  I had to get the red P and the anhydrous.  I grew up on a farm in Indiana, so that was no big thing. 

It was raining and just before midnight when Nathan walked in on us.  Hawk – I said he was paranoid, right?  Well he had an itchy trigger finger and he popped off three rounds into the guy’s chest with his monster of a gun, a .50 caliber Desert Eagle.  He was at point blank range.  It didn’t do a damn thing except punch holes through the man’s white shirt and chest, and through the wall behind him.  I was half-blinded by the muzzle flash, but what I could see for sure was the man, standing there, leering at us.  I saw blood on his teeth and I guess Hawk did too.  The man walked over to Hawk, and I swear to God I can still hear the sound of his boots crossing the old, rotting wood floor.  I watched him touch Hawk’s cheek, running a long, thick, yellowed fingernail across it in some sort of sick caress.  Hawk stood his ground, I’ll give him that.  The man’s nail looked like a dagger and it slashed like one, too.  One minute Hawk was standing there, staring at the man, and the next minute he was clutching his throat with both hands, blood spurting between his fingers.  He tried to talk but the words just kind of bubbled and garbled in his mouth.  I could see fear in Hawk’s eyes, but what haunts me most is that last look of confusion in his steel blue eyes as he turned to look at me before he collapsed. 

I knew he was dead before he hit the floor.  That was good because the thing that looked like a man fell on him, ripping even more deeply into his throat with sharply pointed teeth, tearing at his flesh with those terrible clawed fingernails.  Hawk’s blood was smeared all over his chin and cheeks.  His lips were painted cherry red with gore, like a cheap hooker.  When he had his fill he looked up at me and smiled, but his eyes were dead.  Bottomless orbs set deep into black-purple hollows above a gaunt, thin face and high cheekbones. He pointed at me and said something in a voice that sounded like sandpaper rasping in a mouthful of gravel.

Cook or die, he said.

Looking back maybe it would have been better if I had died, but maybe not, since Hawk got up and walked before the night was over.  He had the same dead eyes and same deadvoice as the thing that told me to call it Nathan.  Hawk brought back a small child from a nearby farm.  A boy, maybe eight or nine years old.  At first I thought he was dead but after a while I could see a faint pulse in his neck and when I kneeled beside him I could feel the feather touch of his breath against my cheek.  I took half a pint of his blood, filling the plastic bag Nathan had given me with a steady flow through IV tubing.  I had an aunt who went to college to learn how to take blood – there’s a name for that job.  I always thought she was creepy, but anyway stealing blood from another person – stealing their soul and vitality – is a lot easier than you might think. 

I don’t know if Nathan has the capacity for mercy.  Most likely he doesn’t care.  But I’m pretty sure the boy lived after we left him.  Twilight chased us into the cellar of a burned out house twenty miles away, near St. Joe, Missouri.  I slept that day with the thick stench of dirt, death, and decay in my nose.  I couldn’t run even if I had the nerve.  Nathan had handcuffed me to Hawk and we lay side by side under a pile of filthy tarps blocking the light of day.  At some point, I dozed off and awoke with a start at the feel of Hawk’s teeth against the soft flesh of my neck and I swear I stopped breathing when I saw his eyes.  No longer blue, but black as pitch with a dull red cast surrounding the pupil.  Nathan pulled Hawk off of me, striking him so hard across the face that I heard something in his neck snap.  After that, Hawk’s head canted slightly toward the right.  Somehow that was the worst, as if his deadvoice, black eyes, jagged wolf’s teeth, and breath that reeked of the grave wasn’t bad enough.  His head was just wrong on his neck somehow. 

Now every cook has his own signature, me included, but that night Nathan ordered me to cook glass but it wasn’t normal crystal it was crystalline maroon, nearly black at the tips it was so rich in hemoglobin.  At some point during that first cook I gagged until I saw black spots in front of my eyes and I was dizzy on my feet.  I puked into that first batch and Nathan beat me until I really did pass out.  I awoke to feel a tongue lapping at the blood that had welled up in the deep gashes in my cheeks and neck and chest, and I screamed until I was hoarse and my throat was raw.  It was Hawk.  He laughed in his deadvoice and I hoped he would just kill me then but Nathan returned with everything I’d need to start over and so I did.  What I created was unspeakable.  Nathan loved it.  He powdered out some of the crystals with the butt of Hawk’s Desert Eagle and snorted it from the tip of his dagger-like talon.  The one that had slashed Hawk’s throat open the night before, although it already seemed like an eternity ago. 

We traveled across the Midwest in an old white cargo van, taking the back roads and stopping for a few days at a time in dead and dying towns in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas before Nathan decided to head west.  Personally, I think he hated the humidity.  It accentuated the reek of offal and death that emanated from the van, and the stench from our cooks hung over us like a coppery yellow curtain.  It was time to move on, but we left a trail of corpses in our wake.  Sometimes we just took blood and left men, women, and children behind – deathly pale, comatose, barely breathing.  Their souls belonged to Nathan.  Their essence and flavor was trapped in the rock.  He could come back for them at any time, and sometimes he did.  Other times Nathan killed them slowly, taking perverse pleasure in my horror, making me watch.  Then making me cook. 

Did I tell you they sold the stuff?  Nathan and Hawk smoked that blood red crystal constantly.  It made them edgier and more violent, but it also made them faster.  And it made their bloodlust run hot.  The grams of rojo skante that they didn’t smoke up they peddled.  I saw them selling it in seedy motel parking lots, behind truck stops and strip clubs, in dark alleys, outside bars and frat houses, one time in the men’s room of a Quik Trip in Norfolk, Nebraska.  There was always a demand, and there was always plenty of blood.

I lost track of time but we had been holed up on the outskirts of Vegas for at least a week the night Nathan went out to hunt and forgot to shackle me.  We were staying in a trailer house on the edge of town.  No one had lived in it for at least a decade by the looks of it.  The roof had caved in over the bathroom and the rear bedroom.  Nathan and Hawk didn’t seem to mind; they just pissed blood in the kitchen sink.  I could hear rats scurrying beneath the trailer at night, and could glimpse them occasionally through holes in the rotted floorboards. 

Nathan had gotten in the habit of chaining me to something during a cook so he could go out and hunt.  I cooked because there was nothing else to do.  Sometimes Nathan shackled me to a pipe, or an old radiator, and once heaven help me he cuffed my ankle to the wrist of a dead woman in a pale yellow floral print dress, her face beautiful on one side, ravaged by his teeth on the other.  But that night outside of Vegas he forgot – or maybe he was testing me – but I found myself alone and not wearing a chain.  I sat in the moonlight outside the trailer for at least an hour, frozen with a sick paralysis.  It wasn’t until I heard the shrill scream of some small animal turned prey in the clutches of a coyote, or maybe an owl, that I was able to act.  I lurched to my feet and I ran.  I ran toward the city lights glowing like a mad carnival in the distance.  My feet pounded and echoed on the pavement in the inky desert darkness and it sounded as if I was being chased by Satan himself.

I had no money and my clothes were filthy from living rough in them the past three or four months.  Truth is, I didn’t really know how long I had been Nathan’s hostage.  Nathan’s cook.  I stole some clothes – they were baggy and ill-fitting but clean – from a Salvation Army donation box.  I stole a woman’s purse from a dingy bar while she tried to sashay but mostly staggered around a pool table with her boyfriend.  I doubt if they even noticed me.  I ended up with $76 in cash and a handful of coins, ditching the purse in a dumpster behind the bar.  Sixty-six dollars got me a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Ogden, Utah.  The bus didn’t depart until 8 o’clock in the morning, so I watched television in the brightly lit waiting room and relaxed for the first time in months in a grimy plastic chair, surrounded by the living.  I bought a couple of cheeseburgers from a Burger King across the street, but only managed to choke down half of one.  I could taste the blood in it. 

I spent a couple of days wandering around Ogden, enjoying the view of the mountains, the feel of sunshine on my face, and the clean, fresh air.  When it was time to leave, I stole the Chevelle from the faculty parking lot at Weber State University.  I didn’t even have to break out a window.  It was unlocked.  The V8 Super Sport didn’t purr – that thing growled its way to Ferron, where I knocked off a liquor store and got gas money and enough scratch to pick up the Mossberg from a pawn shop after I made my way to Moab.  By then I’d also ditched my spare tire, and started locking myself into the trunk at night.  I’d been hearing Nathan’s voice on the wind.  Calling my name. 

When I think about it, I think maybe Nathan understood why I had run.  Understood way down deep, in that part of him that had once been human.  What Nathan didn’t understand, and I don’t either, is why I stole his stash. 

I parked the car as the sun was lingering low and gold on the horizon, pulling off the highway beside a lone Joshua tree.  There’s been almost no traffic since.  From the sound of it, four or five semis and a handful of cars have passed since I started writing in my journal tonight.  Most of the pages are full anyway, and I am not sure what else there is to say.  I’m going to put my notebook in a ziplock bag and bury it beside the Joshua tree.  Maybe someone will find it one day.  Maybe not.  In the end, it might not matter.  After I bury the notebook I’m going to start walking east by the light of the full moon.  I don’t think I’ll have to walk very far.  I heard shrill laughter outside my car last night, you see.  I heard the sharp rasp as my trunk got keyed, but I don’t think it was with a key.  I heard a deadvoice whisper my name through the lid of the trunk in a sibilant hiss.  No, I don’t think I will have to walk very far at all.  Nathan wants his stash back.

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