This is my entry into Whitix's Summer Writing Contest. I hope you enjoy!
Women, Horror and Kenny's Struggles with Both
Lost in the archives of NBC, never viewed by the public, locked away for all time… The Office: Michael’s Bad Day. It began as most episodes did, with a soft opening featuring Jim Halpert pulling a prank on Dwight Schrute. Jim messed with something on Dwight’s computer, which caused every website he attempted to open to direct him to a sex offender registry.
“Very funny, Jim. What did you do to my computer?”
Jim looks at the camera and makes his trademark face. “Oh, the cops were in here earlier, Dwight. They were doing something on your computer. They said you needed to register on some website or something and they set it up to auto-load so you could find it.”
“Stop it, Jim! I am not a sex offender!”
“Well, that’s not what they’re saying about you on the news.”
“Damn it, Jim,” Dwight grunts with annoyance as he marches into the office of Regional Manager Michael Scott to lodge a complaint against his co-worker. Jim smiles and follows Dwight into the office and then both men can be seen stopping and looking concerned.
Michael Scott, usually a happy and goofy character, is instead seen sitting slumped in his chair with his head in his hands. Soft weeping can be heard.
“Michael, what’s the matter, who hurt you?” Dwight asked, showing concern laced with his typical bootlicking mentality.
“I don’t want to live anymore,” Michael responds, never looking up at the camera.
The episode then goes through the normal opening credits. However, the normal little song that played seemed… warped somehow. It was playing much slower and some parts of it seemed to play backwards. The overall lighting also seemed much darker. The ending of the credits though, that’s what really scared me. Instead of showing the little wooden office sign, it showed a tombstone. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what I was watching anymore. Why did I choose to download this off of a Russian torrent website? What was going on here?
The episode then opened, but it remained where the soft opening left off, with Dwight and Jim expressing concern for Michael Scott.
“Are you okay, Michael?” Jim asks.
Slowly, Michael lifts his head, his eyes red from crying, and looks Jim in the eyes.
“No one came to my BBQ. I made sure everyone was off for the weekend, even went around and asked if anyone had plans. Everyone said they weren’t doing anything. The I.T. guy checked your emails and we didn’t find any big RSVP’s going on in there, Jim!”
“Wait, you checked our emails?” Jim asks.
“Yes, Jim, I checked your precious emails. So, I send out my invite for a huge gathering at my condo, and no one showed, not even you, Dwight!”
“Sorry, Michael, I had to castrate a horse and then my mother…”
“Not helping,” Jim whispers, jabbing Dwight with his elbow.
“I am just so tired of being lonely…” Michael whispers, and begins to cry again.
“We should go,” Jim tells Dwight. The two men exit the office when suddenly Michael bursts through the door with a handgun raised in the air.
“I am just so tired of being lonely!” he screams, firing a shot through the ceiling. Other members of the office cringe and gasp as Michael Scott begins aiming the pistol towards his staff.
“Michael, wait. I would have come to your BBQ, I never miss free food,” Kevin Malone, the obese accountant tries to explain, before Michael shoots him in the chest. The rest of the staff scream and begin to try and find an escape. The camera then cuts to one of those “talking head” segments, showing Kevin’s corpse propped up, a large gunshot wound oozing blood from the center of his chest.
The episode then cuts to black, but sadly doesn’t end. I could still hear people screaming as the voice of Michael Scott could be heard shouting about being lonely no more, then a gunshot. This repeated for about 10 minutes, just that black screen with the horrible sounds.
Finally, the episode resumes, showing Michael Scott sitting in his condo. The corpses of his co-workers are thrown about his living room, some sitting in chairs, others just tossed on the floor.
“I guess they don’t mind hanging out with me now!” Michael shouts towards the camera, his face alive with morbid insanity.
In the next scene…
“Okay, dude, stop, this fucking sucks!” my so-called best friend, Jason, shouts through sarcastic laughter and possibly genuine annoyance.
“Wait, what… I’m not even done with it yet; there are still four more chapters. Michael Scott goes to New York next and confronts the corporate bosses for never giving him his proper respect, then he returns to deal with the bodies, it gets better!” I argued back.
“No, Kenny, this is garbage. If you submit this they’re going to laugh you right out the front door. The Office, really? You think this is a good premise for a horror story?”
“I think it has potential,” I tried to convince my friend and roommate, but I knew Jason well enough to know it was a lost cause.
“What else do you have?” he asked.
“Okay, I have this one I wrote about a secret ending in an old VHS copy of Ol’ Yeller, you know, the story about the dog that goes rabid. See, in this one, he escapes and mauls the family and…”
“NEXT!” Jason shouted, still laughing.
“Fine, how about this. Since I work at a used video game store and all, I wrote one where an old man comes in with a used copy of some NES game, but the label is missing and…”
“Oh Christ, no… NEXT!” Jason screamed.
“Shit, okay, let me just pull this one up… here we go. It opens with: In any town or city, go to any video store or mall that is opened after 8pm and ask the clerk for the back room. He’ll give you a sad look but hand you a key, take the key down a long hallway which wasn’t there before…”
“Mercy, Kenny, I beg you for mercy; no more shit stories tonight. I don’t think I can take them anymore.” Jason, always the performer, got down on his knees and mock pleaded with me. I felt like shit.
“Kenny, I don’t know how to tell you this, but… well, you suck at writing horror.”
He was right, I knew he was right, and it stung. I’d always loved horror. I’d watched just about every horror movie and read all the scary books from the time I was old enough to watch or read anything. I loved the genre. However, Jason did have a point- I was pretty lousy at this. All my ideas were either stupid, unoriginal or, as he loved to say time and time again, cliché. I swear that’s Jason Holmes’s favorite word, folks; cliché. I felt like I was stuck in that episode of South Park, the one where the guy kept trying different schemes but it turned out The Simpsons had done them all before. Yeah, that’s how I felt- Kenny Leonard, master of the shit story.
This went on the rest of that night. I would show Jason something else I’d written, which he would laugh at, or brainstorm a different idea, which he would also laugh at. This was becoming depressing. The ideas, like The Office story, seemed really crisp and original in my mind, but once they were laid out on digits, well, it just looked pathetic. Hey, like I said, I admit it, I can’t write.
So why even try, right? Okay, well, at the risk of sounding cliché, that fucking word, I was doing this to impress a girl. Yep, that’s right, Faithless Reader; this was all about a girl. Sounds like the start of some lame rom-com rather than a scary story, doesn’t it?
So, fast-forward to right now, the present. I am sitting at the Good Groove coffee shop in Pearl River. What a freaking little hick town this is, folks, let me tell you. It’s about an hour from New Orleans, and how I wound up here is a story almost too boring to be worth mentioning. But, I need something to do to kill the time until they call my name, so why not, here goes.
Jason, my shit ass roommate, and me both work at The Plaza, a giant mall in eastern New Orleans. I work at this hole called Gametrader, a little privately owned used game place. There are four of them in the city and one about to open out in the sticks, which is part of the reason why I am sitting in the weird little bohemian refuge in the middle of cousin-fucking territory. All will be explained though, oh Faithless Reader. Yeah, all 16 of you that read my blog anyway.
So, I work as a manager at The Plaza location. The Gametrader out in the sticks, that’s in a town called Bogalusa, Louisiana. Don’t believe me, look it up. It has a paper factory and stinks like rotten eggs and cabbage half the time, but the owners, in their eternal brilliance, decided to put a new store out there. See, Gametrader is so small that as a manager I essentially report right to the owners themselves. It’s cool I guess. I mean, I am a two-time community college dropout, and I doubt I will be able to convince my mom to send me back a third. Guess it’s true that not all nerds are smart, right?
So, having a management job is actually pretty lucky for a guy like me. Twenty-two years old, no real education outside of four very marginal years of high school. Gametrader pays enough for me to make my half of the bills each month, with enough cash left over to keep my World of Warcraft account going. Yeah, I know, my life is lame.
Anyway, a few nights ago, as I am getting ready to close up Gametrader and go home, one of the owners drops in. This wasn’t too uncommon, like I said; we were a small company and the owners were very hands-on.
“Kenny, how’s it going?” asks Jon, the owner.
“It was a busy day, Jon. Made some good sales. I got us a copy of Final Fantasy 8, convinced the guy to trade it in for store credit.”
Jon was pleased with that. This was usual banter between us. He liked when we bought expensive games off of people for crap like store credit. Typical mind set of the owners. Of course, Jon wasn’t the one that had to get chewed out by said kid’s parents later when they found out that I bought an $80.00 game off of some kid for $20.00 store credit. It didn’t really bother me though. He was happy and therefore I was happy. Anyway, Jon was carrying a huge cardboard box full of random game stuff. Controllers from old systems like the NES and Sega Master System. Games galore of course, and other little accessories that only the most hardcore gamer might remember. He sat the box down and gave me this crooked little smile that I knew was going to translate to a pain in my ass.
“So, what’s my favorite manager got planned for tonight?”
Great. Nothing good ever follows when he refers to me as his favorite anything.
“Just going home to watch TV or something.”
“Great, so you don’t mind running these out to the new store tonight, do you?”
“As in Bogalusa? It’s two hours away, Jon, and it’s already almost 9PM!”
“Yeah, those guys are working overnight out there, setting up the final touches on everything. We’re doing a sort of grand opening tomorrow. I really want to have these old games and extra accessories out there so they can fill their rare case.”
“It’s kind of late though…” I was trying to argue back, but I knew he was going to keep pushing.
“Time and a half?”
Damn him. That would be a nice boost to my paycheck. I could probably afford this old Magic card I’d had my eyes on. Yes, I’m a nerd, we established that.
“Fine, Jon, you got it.”
He smiled and shook my hand. We shared a few more words before he headed on out, leaving the box of crap behind for me to truck out into the green country. I glanced into the box, and found it much as I expected. Just a lot of gaming junk and accessories. Then something caught my eyes- an NES game that was missing the label. It looked old, and in place of the title, written in black marker were the words, “Death Game: Do Not Play.” I simply couldn’t help myself… okay, okay, just kidding folks. There was no missing label game, just a bunch of random NES and Sega games and controllers. Ha, creepy NES game, what a load.
After locking up the store and loading the box into the trunk of my car, I began the long journey from New Orleans to Bogalusa. Music helped a little. I tried to call a couple of people, the few friends that I had at the time, but no one was answering. The radio was just recycling the usual Top 20 garbage, and soon enough I turned it off and just listened to the silence of the road around me. I was passing over the Twin Span, a pair of bridges that extends over Lake Pontchartrain connecting New Orleans East to the small suburb of Slidell when the fatigue started setting in a bit. Now, I’m young enough to be able to hang in there, but still, the idea of driving on some super dark country roads with my eyes weighing me down didn’t exactly appeal, so I decided that I would push on for a few more minutes and then find a place to buy some coffee.
Okay, Faithless Reader, I guess it’s only fair to admit that I am pretty dumb, as if my sample of stories I mentioned above aren’t enough to demonstrate that. I must have passed half a dozen all night gas stations and never once pulled in. I kept on going, exiting in Slidell and converting over to the smaller highway that would take me through Pearl River, out to some little dirt town called Bush and finally into Bogalusa. Maybe I exaggerated when I said it was 2 hours away, maybe more like an hour and half, but still, I was getting sleepy and the darkness all around me wasn’t helping. I had officially entered Pearl River, and from the looks of things, I was starting to think my coffee break would never happen. The whole town looked dark. Nothing out there but dirt roads and trees for miles. I was starting to think I should just turn around and go back to Slidell when I saw a sign up ahead.
Good Grooves Coffee House. Oh wow, if this joint was open I was saved. Hot java, good grooves, what else could a 22 year old that managed a video game store ask for? A hot girlfriend perhaps? Who could have guessed, right?
Firstly, I was amazed that the place was open this late in a place like Pearl River. Not only was it open, but it seemed to be doing quite a bit of business as well. Cars were lined up in front of the place and also parked along the highway for a good distance. I found a place fairly close to park, locked up the car and trotted over. Looking through the glass walls from the outside, I could see the coffee shop was lively for almost 10PM in a town that seemed to go to bed around 7. Lots of young people, college types maybe, were sitting at tables, sipping coffee and chatting. I walked in, feeling that slight sting of social anxiety that comes standard with all nerdy types like myself, and that, oh Faithless Reader, is when I saw her.
Mid 20s, hair dyed pink on one side and blue on the other. She was wearing some anime shirt or another, a short skirt and some rather impressive moon boots. I think I died and went to nerd heaven. She was a geek’s wet dream. She was standing behind a table that had been set up like a booth, and a couple of other folks, two girls and a guy, were standing around chatting with her.
I begged myself not to fall in love on the spot. Not real love, you know, infatuation I guess is the right word. Still, I couldn’t leave this strange little late night coffee spot in the middle of nowhere without at least checking out the sign that she’d hung from her little table-booth she was standing behind. However, before I could even read it, she addressed me.
“Oh, we have another horror fan here, I think?” she said to her three friends gathered around her.
I wanted to say something cool in response, but of course muttered something stupid. Girls like her made me stammer like a damned fool. I’m such a lucky guy.
“Horror, yeah, it’s the meat to my life sandwich,” I replied, and felt like a fucking idiot. To my amazement she actually laughed though.
“What’s your name?” she asked me with what seemed legitimate interest.
“I’m Tempest Avalon, and I’m hosting a little local horror writing challenge, as the sign says.”
The sign did in fact confirm that the flirty little Tempest Avalon was running some sort of horror contest.
She continued, “There will be prizes for the top 3 stories. 3rd place gets a gift certificate for GameStop or something, 2nd prize is $200.00. First prize gets a date with me!”
I could tell she was trying to hold back laughter with the 1st place prize. It was probably a larger cash purse or something, but in all truth, I liked her suggestion better. In a strange moment of smooth confidence, I actually said something that didn’t sound like virginity pressed into a blender and poured into a dumpster.
“I want that prize, if you’re serious. I’ll write something that’ll make Stephen King shit his pants.”
Tempest’s friends rolled their eyes in the automatic pretention that likely follows them everywhere, but she was actually staring hard at me, a small grin on her face.
“Okay then, Kenny, go for it. You win first prize and we’ll go out on a date.”
“Sure, why not. I can see by your t-shirt that you work at Gametrader. I guess if I could sleep with a professor for a good grade in psychology, I can sleep with you for a free copy of Chrono Trigger.”
I was struck silent. She broke that silence with more laughter.
“Kidding! About the sleeping around for a game, not the date, though. I’ll honor that.”
Damn if this wasn’t going well. Anytime a girl spoke to me for more than a few minutes was a win in my mind, but when she added on a potential night out, well damn, I mean… damn! I wanted to stick around and chat with her a while longer, but then I remembered the box of games that I had to get out to Bogalusa. She gave me a copy of the rules for the contest, the due date to turn in my story and a few other contest specifics. I bid her goodnight and left without even buying any coffee. I was plenty awake now.
I drove the rest of the way out to Bogalusa with a smile on my face and a strange energy burning inside me. Just like that my night went from running boring errands for my boss to potentially going out with a girl that was way too hot for me and apparently funny and into horror as well. I thought I was going to wake up any minute from some awesome dream.
The contest, now, that was simple enough. Write an original horror story; submit it to her by the following week and then show up Friday night when they’d announce the winners. She, along with her three friends that she referred to as the admins, would be doing the judging. Too easy, right? After all, I’d been a horror fan since I was old enough to be a fan of anything. I’d seen hundreds of horror movies, and was a regular at the infamous House of Shock haunted house every Halloween. I was pretty confident that I could put together something scary enough to win a coffee house horror contest. Write it, print it, and drop it off. Three easy steps to win a date with a girl that I’d likely be afraid to speak to under any other circumstances. Good times, hell, good grooves.
The rest of the trip to and from Bogalusa went smoothly. With my mind on the lovely Tempest, I barely noticed the distance closing. I got to the new store, delivered the games, made some small talk and then was on my way back home. The entire ride back to New Orleans, I brainstormed different story ideas. Such gems as The Office lost episode one that I already mentioned came to mind. I decided that I’d go home and write a few of them and enlist my asshole friend and roomie to help me pick the one to submit. However, as you already know, he hated them all and I had no clue what to do after that.
Country Roads and Writer's Block
Over the next couple of days I just sort of went through the motions. Go to work, come home, try to write something, get made fun of by my roommate, try something else, fail, wash-rinse-repeat. That was the great story of Kenny Leonard: Horror Writer Extraordinaire. I sat in front of my computer for over an hour, trying my best to just get the first damn paragraph going on something that didn’t come out terrible, but it seemed nothing I did was worth submitting. Then something happened. Maybe it was the miserable reflection of my face gazing back at me from my screen; maybe I was just sick of my friend making fun of me. It was like, in The Grinch movie. You remember that part where he grows a heart? Well, I think I grew some balls. I decided, totally spur of the moment, that I’d ride out there to Good Grooves and just ask Tempest out on a real date. I’d tell her that I was too busy or something to write a worthwhile story, but that I really was interested in the date. I’d give her my phone number and just head on out the door. If she called, great, if not, well, I always had my level 85 Paladin in Warcraft to dry my tears. Yes, I am a fucking nerd.
The ride out to Pearl River was as boring and mundane as ever. I kept going over how I would ask her out in my head. I was preparing for rejection, but figured I’d likely never see her again anyway. A moment of embarrassment and then I would be done trying to write some horror story that I clearly lacked the skill to accomplish. And who knows, maybe she would say yes. Double win, right?
Wrong, double lose. When I got there, the place was closed. Fucking Pearl River, damn hick town, who the hell closes the only coffee house at 8pm on a weeknight? Sure enough though, no cars were there and the lights were all off. Great, I wasted gas and time to come out here for nothing. And that folks, is when I noticed the sign above the store. It no longer read Good Grooves. It now read: Pearl River Funeral Home-Established 1959. Had this place been a funeral home all along? Had I…
Kidding!! Sorry, Faithless Reader, I couldn’t resist. No, the place was still Good Grooves; the sign on the door just confirmed that I’d decided to come out here on the one night of the week that they close early. Lucky me, right? So, now I was out here, all alone at night in the country with nothing to do. I honestly didn’t want to go back home and deal with another night of my roommate making fun of my inability to generate a scary story. So, once again I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and decided to just ride out to Bush or Bogalusa, and then turn around and head back to New Orleans. I sort of found that I enjoyed driving through the country at night. There was a peace and silence to it that couldn’t be found in the city. Plus, I had nothing better to do, so why not clear my head. Maybe I’d finally come up with that horror story and still win my date with Tempest. And maybe pigs will fly too; I mean, it could happen, right?
Okay, Faithless Reader, this is going on longer than I thought. I meant to just pass a bit of time until my name was called, but it seems that the “admins” as Tempest called them are really taking their time. It’s all good though. I won’t bore you with an overly descriptive piece about the ride out to Bush, as there isn’t really anything to say on it. A dark country highway; just picture that and you get the idea of what the stretch of road between Pearl River and Bush, Louisiana is all about. A house about every quarter mile maybe, streetlights even further apart than that, that sums it all up.
I was about 25 miles outside of Pearl River when I started getting bored with driving. Knowing that I still had a ways to go, I decided to find a side street and turn around. Going home might be boring but this was worse. Perhaps I was just too disappointed that the coffee shop was closed. No Tempest to ask out, just a dark building followed by a darker road. I spotted what I wanted about 30 meters up, a small dirt road. It was one of those common sights you see out here on dark country highways. There was a yellow metal single-armed gate hanging open, which I assumed led to a farmhouse sitting way off the road. I slowed down and pulled onto the gravel street, intending to just back up and head back towards home. That, Faithless Reader, is when it all got nuts.
She came running out of the woods at the sight of my headlights. At least that’s what I think lured her out. A woman, maybe late 20s, I couldn’t tell from the seat of my car. She was pale, her hair and clothing jet black. I almost laughed at the sight of what I swore was a scene kid, a goth girl in other words, running around out here in the backwoods of St. Tammany Parish. She looked directly at me, her face pale, and her eyes wide and terrified and immediately ran towards the passenger side door. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I should lock the doors or let her in. She was clearly frantic, shouting something into the night. I turned off my radio and cracked the passenger side window. I wasn’t sure what she wanted, and she didn’t exactly scare me, but the situation was too strange to not make me feel at least a bit unsettled. I figured it was better to find out what she wanted before I just let her in.
She arrived at my passenger door and started pulling on the handle, seemingly amazed that it was locked. “Let me in, man! C’mon, let me in!” she gasped between breaths.
“What’s going on, what happened to you?”
“Fuck, hurry!” she continued to shout through my window, frantically tugging on the door handle and casting quick glances around. With no other immediate options, I hit the unlock button on the door and she quickly climbed in.
“We have to go, they’re out there hunting for me right now!”
I’d had enough. “Look, tell me who you are and who’s after you?”
“Just drive! I’ll tell you, but please, don’t fucking keep sitting here!”
I was nervous, hell, damn near terrified. This was happening too fast. Not even a minute ago I was just some guy cruising down a dark road and now suddenly I’ve got this crazed woman in my car. I drop the car into reverse and begin to back up, intending to right myself on the main highway and head to the nearest police station or something, when suddenly glaring headlights from a large vehicle behind me dominate the entire interior of my vehicle.
“Oh shit, it’s them,” she whispers.
“Drive, don’t just sit here.”
I continued to gaze into my rearview mirror. The vehicle, which appeared to be a large van, simply sat there, blocking the way out to the highway and assaulting my eyes with its damned high beams.
“There’s nowhere to go, they’re blocking the exit!” I replied to her, doing nothing to hide the growing panic in my voice.
“Go straight. This dirt road goes on for some ways I think.”
“Do you live out here?”
Well fuck me, then, how can I trust her to know where to go? Still, it’s better than just sitting here going blind from some asshole’s brights, so I begin to slowly pull forward. As I do, the van begins to move with me.
“They’re following us,” I say, as though this isn’t obvious.
“They will until they get me, and you as well now that you’re involved. Just keep moving; maybe this dirt road connects to another highway up ahead.”
I pushed on, maintaining a slow pace. I wanted to get away from whoever was in that vehicle, but the idea of going off the road and wrecking with this nutjob behind me was even worse. I drove for about a quarter of a mile and the dirt road did not appear to lead to anything helpful. The van behind us continued to follow. I rounded a curve and was grateful to be away from the glare of the headlights. Time moved slowly, and eventually it dawned on me that the van wasn’t behind us, at least for the moment.
“Where did he go?” I asked.
“They’re toying with us; it’s what they do. They were ready to finish me off before I escaped, but now that you’ve come along, they have a new game to play.”
“Okay, let me just fish out my cell phone and I’ll get the police… Shit!”
I know this sounds almost as lame and predictable as the “no service” angle, but I actually left mine at home. Yeah, I was in such a rush to come out here and meet with Tempest that I forgot that stupid pocket computer that everyone can’t live without. Fuck me, right. What kind of nerd leaves his technology at home? Either way, I needed to know just who and what I was dealing with here, so I pressed this mystery woman for some answers.
“Okay, I need information! Who are you and who are they?” I tried to sound stern and assertive, but this is me we’re talking about after all. I’m not really known for my ability to command a room.
“My name is Jodie. I work at a bar in downtown New Orleans. The guys that are after me are from some cult or something. I think they realized who my boss is and where I work and decided I was worth grabbing.”
“What kind of bar makes you the target of cults?”
“The secret kind.”
“Whatever, just, how did you get out here?”
“They are clever, that group back there. They baited me. First time that’s ever happened. I invited one of them to meet me to be taken to the bar- it’s by invitation only, you see- and once I met up with the guy, his pals came out and grabbed me. They took me out here to do some sort of ritual I think, but I was able to get loose and made a run for it. I’ve been hiding out in the woods hoping that a car would come by. You were the first person I’ve seen in hours.”
“You said they want to use you in a ritual? Like, sacrifice you?”
“Yes. I have some connections with some, well, people. I believe these guys figured that would make me a prime candidate for whatever the end state of this ritual is. Thank the dark lord they didn’t drug me or anything. It was my wits that got me out of there.”
“Out of where?”
“A little grove, somewhere out in the woods. They had an altar set up and everything.”
“Okay, how many of them are there?”
“Right, well, we just have to find our way off of this dark road and back to town. My car isn’t exactly going to win any street races, but I know it can take that van. Once we get out of here we’ll be fine, so just…”
Blinding light filled the car once more. The van was back. I risked speeding up some more, praying that I wouldn’t spin out on the gravel and smash into a tree or something. Up ahead I could actually see a small light. Yes! Our salvation. They’d have a phone; Hell, Farmer Bob would probably have a shotgun. I just hoped he didn’t try it out on me first, because I was about to start making a lot of noise.
I pulled onto the front yard of what turned out to be a small home. A single streetlight was fixed to the pole in front of their fence. I didn’t see any lights on. I looked back and saw that the van was still there, but it’d fallen back and pulled over to the side of the street. Its headlights were off now at least. As we pulled onto the front yard I turned my own high beams on and began to blow my horn for all it was worth. As I did that, Jodie continued to jerk her head around, checking on the status of our stalkers. So far so good. After honking the horn for what felt like an eternity, I saw lights start to come on around the home. Thank God, help was near.
The front door opened and an old man, probably in his 70s, stepped out on the porch. He looked pissed, but not insane. He wasn’t swinging a jug of moonshine or pointing a rifle at us, so I took that as a blessing.
“Let’s go!” I shouted at Jodie, and we both darted from the car towards the man on the porch.
“What the hell are you two doing out here at this time of night blowing your damned horn at my house!” he shouted in a shrill voice.
“Sir, please, people are chasing us in that van over there. They tried to run us off the road, let us in, please!”
He continued to gaze at both of us, as if he weren’t sure what to do. “If it was just you young man, I’d turn you around with a sore ass, but since you got the lady here, I can’t very well shut you out, now can I? Wouldn’t be Christian.”
Salt of the earth fellow was ol’ Farmer Bob, and let me tell you, Faithless Reader; I’d never wanted to kiss an old man so badly in my life. We entered his home briskly and I felt relieved when he shut and locked the door behind us.
“Now, you say they was chasing you?” he asked.
“Yes!” Jodie replied. “They kidnapped me and brought me out here.”
“Now, why would some fellers do something like that?”
I felt my face flush with annoyance. “Sir, can we please call the police? These people are dangerous!”
“Oh yeah, the police,” he stated, as though the idea of organized law enforcement was something brand new to him. “I’ll have to go to my upstairs closet and get the phone, though.”
Yes, Reader, he had to go and get his phone. His fucking home phone at that. He was muttering something about how telemarketers called him all the time, so he just kept it unplugged and put away. While he began to walk towards his stairs, Jodie and I, or is it me and Jodie, I suck at grammar too, went over to the window and looked out towards the van. I just about shit my pants when I saw three men exiting the van and walking towards the house.
“Sir, please hurry, they’re coming!” I called to him, and no sooner did he turn to respond then strong knocking began at the door.
“Oh, now what?” he almost hissed. “You two go wait in the kitchen. If these folks is really out to get you, they’ll have to get through me and ol’ Betsy here!”
Was ol’ Betsy his shotgun or something? He didn’t have anything with him.
“Ol’ Betsy is my dog. She’ll bite their asses off, she will.”
The old man grabbed a leash and began to speak to the air at the end of it. “Ain’t that right, Betsy? Gonna bite ‘em good now!”
“Okay, we’re fucked,” Jodie stated, and I really wasn’t able to disagree.
We ducked into the small kitchen and listened around the corner. We heard the door open and just when we thought things couldn’t get much worse, they did.
“Robbie! Is ‘zat you?” the old man asked.
“Mr. Walter, how are you?” a very polite and educated voice replied.
“Well, Robbie, I got two kids here that say you was chasing them around tonight. You ain’t out here kicking up sand, are you?”
“No, Mr. Walter. See, the two folks you have in your home right now were out messing around our property tonight. The girl is a witch; they were doing something strange out there in our grove. You see how she’s dressed right, getting into that hoodoo out there. We went to chase them away, but they stole something from our shed. We really just want to talk to them, get it back, you know?”
“Oh, well, shouldn’t you call the police, Robbie? I can go upstairs and get my phone if you want to call them here.”
“No, no, Mr. Walter. You remember our lesson from church last Sunday right? Forgiveness. We just want to talk to them and get back what they took, that’s all. We bring the law into this and suddenly people start thinking we have a crime problem out here. Taxes go up, people get scared. Let’s just handle this ourselves, huh?”
“I reckon. They seemed right terrified though. You and your friends here aren’t going to rough them up, are you? And don’t go hitting that woman. I don’t care if she stole from you or not!”
“Or course not, Mr. Walter. We just want to have a friendly sit down with them. Where are they?”
Jodie and I locked eyes and both whispered together, “Out the back door!”
Slowly and as silently as possible, we unlocked the back door and sprinted around the house towards my car. The scene out there wasn’t any better though; apparently this guy Robbie and his pals blocked the exit to the old man’s yard with their van. A metal fence ran the rest of the way around his house, and it looked too sturdy for my car to knock over without potentially fucking up the tires.
“To the woods!” Jodie whispered, and we bolted back the other way, hoping to find safety in the tree line.
“There they are!” I heard a voice shout just as we stepped from Mr. Walter’s mowed grass into the woods. I dared a glance back and saw the three men running towards us.
We ran as fast as we could through the tangle of roots and vines that dominated the ground. We could hear them hot on our trail, and as if God Himself was rooting for them, the beams of flashlights suddenly shot around the ground and trees.
“There has to be another house out here?” I mumbled.
“I don’t think it would help. Clearly these guys are locals out here and have the home team support. Anywhere we try and go, that guy Robbie will likely use the same lie.”
“Then we find a place to hide and wait them out until morning.”
“If we can make it that long.”
Just then, the voice of Robbie filled the night around us. Did he have a megaphone or something? I couldn’t tell then and still don’t know now; I just know he was loud.
“Attention Jodie and whoever the dumb fuck is that is helping you. You are quite screwed at this moment. You thought you were going to trap me in your little bar tonight, but Jodie, sweet Jodie, it is you that is now trapped. Your weakling little god, Din, cannot help you now.”
“What is he talking about?” I asked her as we crouched behind a log.
“Shhh!” was her response. Yeah, women totally dig me, Faithless Reader.
“Now, we both know why you’re out here Jodie,” Robbie began again, “but just in case your idiot friend there doesn’t, let’s just say they’ll be two sacrifices tonight. Talking about you, dipshit!”
Yeah, no kidding. I was a dipshit, all right.
“Now, we could search for you all night. You can try to wait us out until the sun rises, as I am sure you’re already thinking, so let me just cut to the chase. Jodie, sweet sweet Jodie, we’re going to summon a Lighthouse!”
“Oh nice, we’re fucked.” Jodie said to no one in particular.
“What is he talking about, a lighthouse?”
“It’s bad,” was her only response.
Peering from behind the log, I saw that Robbie and his two companions had stopped chasing us, and instead were standing towards each other. They were chanting something, I couldn’t hear what exactly though, and I doubt I’d have understood it.
“We need to move!” Jodie urged, tugging on my arm.
“Wait, are these clowns trying to… like, in Warcraft, summoning a demon or something?”
Honestly I was about to start looking for the cameras at this point. I had to be getting Punked or pranked or some shit. Was I really supposed to stand here and believe that this guy was about to summon some monster from the great abyss? Something called a lighthouse, of all things, to chase me and this hot girl through the woods? I was born at night, but I wasn’t born last night. I was actually on the verge of standing up and calling them out, saying something like, "Where’s Ashton Kutcher!?" you know, something dumb like that, when I saw the most unbelievable sight of my young and rather meaningless life.
The ground began to glow a faint red. The red became brighter and brighter as something, something with a red light obviously, began to rise from the earth. I stood there, mouth-hanging open, as Jodie pulled on my arm, as, well, this thing came out of the earth. The three men were chanting as this giant rose up, and when the ritual was complete, they began to cheer for it.
Now, I was sort of freaking out, okay, not sort of, I was freaking out all the way at what I was seeing. So, forgive me, Faithless Reader if I don’t describe what these guys called a Lighthouse perfectly. It was huge, I know that, at least 10 feet tall, and I’ll be damned three ways around if it didn’t sort of look like a lighthouse with arms. It had a tall, narrow body with some sort of symbol on what I suppose would be its chest. It had what I think were arms, but they were down at its side. It had no legs and was situated on the ground, balanced on its base like, well, like a lighthouse. Where its head would be was that bright red light, spinning about in all directions, focused out of a round porthole.
Robbie spoke to it, loudly. “Bring them to me!”
That’s when things went from crazy to Gary Busey in the blink of an eye. It let out a scream, I guess anyway. It sounded… mechanical, no, not mechanical, more… electronic. Imagine the old dial up modems when you’d connect to the Internet, and now imagine that noise trying to form a word, but screaming at the same time and you sort of get what this thing sounded like. Jodie was still trying her best to get me to move, but I was entranced. Its red light kept searching about, trying to lock on us, I guess. Then, after hearing the command and letting out its roar, it started for float. Yes, it fucking floated a few feet off the ground.
Suddenly I felt a firm slap, not gentle in the least, followed by the familiar heat form on my cheek. “Fucking GO!” Jodie whispered, and that was all the convincing it took.
We made a run for it, and as we did, that red light from the Lighthouse was on us. I heard that damned roar again but didn’t dare look back to see just how fast it could move.
“What… is… that?” I gasped as we ran.
“The ultimate hunting dog,” she answered.
I could hear small trees tipping over as this monster moved in closer. That red light never leaving us, it was locked on. If Jodie had a plan, she sure as shit wasn’t sharing it with me. Even with our lives on the line, attractive women gave me the cold shoulder. We made it to a small decline leading down into what I assume was a small depression, and we were given a moment’s grace from that red light.
“Good, it’ll have to find us again. Just give me one second, Kenny!” Jodie exclaimed, and began to draw some something in the dirt. I was trying my best to make out what it was- some symbol, it looked ancient, like from the Keys of Solomon. When she was done, she began to shout.
“Over here, asshole!”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Time to run some more!”
We made our way to an incline and back out of the depression, and Jodie grabbed me. “Watch this!”
The Lighthouse floated down the hill, its red light finding us immediately, and it let out another of its digital screams. As it drifted near the area of the symbol, there was a bright flash of light, like a small explosion of energy, and the Lighthouse tipped over on its side, crashing onto the ground. We started running again.
“What was that?!” I demanded.
“A little Din magic. That should slow the thing down some,” Jodie announced with triumph.
As we pushed on, I could hear the voice of Robbie shouting at his followers. “Help me lift it back up! They’re getting away!”
I was almost tempted to turn back and laugh. However, we weren’t out of the woods yet, literally or figuratively, so I figured laughter could wait.
“Shit, Doc Martin boots are not designed for running,” Jodie gasped, and I slowed down a bit to pace her.
“We have to be close to something.”
“Not really, they knew what they were doing when they brought me out here. Lots of land, little development, plenty of room to have a bit of fun with us. Yeah, these guys aren’t amateurs.”
That’s when I saw an opening ahead. A little clearing, if we were lucky, there might be another house there. This Robbie fuck can’t possibly know everyone in Pearl River.
“Shit,” I heard Jodie say as we entered the clearing. It was a small grove, and situated in the center was a stone altar. I could even see the slight glow of two small candles. “This is where I escaped from! I think they led us back here on purpose!”
“That we did!” the voice of Robbie announced from behind us. I turned just in time to be half blinded by the red light of the Lighthouse’s beam. I grabbed Jodie and started to move towards the other side of the grove, when I noticed the other two men step out from the trees.
“No more running, kids; running is over,” Robbie commented as he stepped around the Lighthouse and made his way into the grove. “Kid, I don’t know who you are,” he continued, “but you made a very dangerous friend in our little Jodie St. Amant tonight. Jodie here has been around for a long time, working for some sleazy folks, doing some really dastardly things. Enough to catch our attention anyway, and how unfortunate for her that she was so easily fooled into reaching out. As if any of us would bother stepping foot into the shit hole bar of hers.”
One of the other men, a skinny guy with long, curly hair stepped forward and spoke. “Din is dead, Jodie girl. Din is like, so yesterday. We’re on board with a whole new Hocus Pocus, and let me tell you, what we’ll get when we sacrifice one of Din’s most faithful, well, let’s just say 2016 is going to have a great second half for our little group here.”
Robbie chimed in again, “See, even Spencer over there knows the winning team, and it ain’t Din. Now, I’m sure you two are just dying to start running again, but let me tell you, the Lighthouse will be on you before you make it ten feet. Plus, as much as we would love to do the whole hooded cloak and dagger shit, the truth is, we all brought guns, so….. Yeah, run and get shot.”
“Or stand here and get sacrificed? Is that the other option, Robbie?” Jodie asked.
“We can make it painless,” the man called Spencer answered.
“But we probably won’t,” Robbie remarked. “And you, whatever the fuck your name is, I do apologize for this. We really just wanted Jodie St. Amant; we had no plans on a second sacrifice. But, as they say, it’s too late now. You’ve seen our faces, seen our van, I mean, c’mon, we can’t very well just let you walk on out of here, can we?”
The other man, Spencer, made some off color comment and the three cultists laughed. The Lighthouse simply floated in place. That’s when Jodie suddenly looked down at the ground and smiled a bit. Had she figured something out?
“Kenny, keep them talking. This guy Robbie likes to be entertained. I think if we can stall them enough…. Can you, can you do that?”
Hmm, run my mouth talking about nothing. Can I do that? Baby, I was born to do that.
“Telling secrets over there?” Robbie asked.
So, Faithless Reader, this was my time to shine. I had a beautiful woman next to me, three fanatics surrounding me and some sort of floating contraption doing all the heavy lifting for them. I couldn’t very well fight them. I couldn’t fight my way out of a wet paper bag, plus they had guns. What else could I do other than, well, run my fucking mouth? I guess it was worth a try.
“Hey Robbie, want to hear a joke?” I asked, trying to not sound terrified. “I promise you it’s really corny, and if you aren’t totally on board with killing me now, you will be after!”
Robbie seemed to open his arms a bit, as if to say, "Whatever."
“Okay, so, an aardvark walks into a bar, a secret bar, get it, and the bartender says, ‘We don’t get many aardvarks in here,’ and the aardvark says, ‘And with these prices, you won’t get many more!’ Get it? Waka waka, you fuck!”
“If this is your saving throw friend, you’re really not starting off too well,” Robbie answered.
“Saving throw?” I replied, “Robbie, have you ever seen me play Dungeons and Dragons? If I’m not rolling a critical fumble, then I ain’t rolling. I mean, I once failed to step down from a stool in that game. I blame the dungeon master for that one.”
“Can we just do this?” Spencer asked, but Robbie was laughing and gestured for me to go on.
“Oh, you want more? Fine, how about another joke? Here we go, same secret bar, I guess the one Jodie here works at that’s gotten you guys all pissed off and fired up. So this time a grasshopper walks in, and the bartender says, ‘Hey, we got a drink named after you,’ and the grasshopper says, ‘You have a drink named Greg?’ Get it? Waka waka!”
Faithless Reader, if you’re waiting for the epic battle scene with these guys, bad news, this is it.
Robbie chuckled a bit at that one. “Oh yeah, I’ve got a million. I would call them dad jokes, but what woman would ever sleep with me to have a kid? I swear, a woman told me once that she’d have sex with me if I wore a bag over my head, then she pulls out a plastic bag, ha ha. Yeah, she’d rather kill me than have sex with me, that’s the joke… WAKA WAKA, women hate me! You’ll actually be doing me a favor, Robbie, or should I call you Robert? I mean, my own mother once suggested that we just be friends. Yeah, I’m in a great relationship, I get laid right and left. First I use my right, and then I use my left. Can I get a waka waka on that one, Robbie?”
“Okay, kid, that’s about enough chatting. The Lighthouse here is getting impatient, and frankly we all got work in the morning, so…” Robbie gestured towards the altar.
“Wait, just one more, I promise. I actually wound up out here because I was trying to get a date, yeah, no shit. I came out here to ask out some coffee house girl, and then decided to take a spin. And get this: I’m trying to impress her by writing a horror story. I mean, really? If I wanted to give her a good scary story, I should have just shown her my Birth Certificate. I mean, it’s a short read but as you can see, the ending is terrifying!”
That’s when Robbie drew a pistol from his belt. “No more jokes, friend. Get on the fucking altar.”
I was trying to think of something else to say, something to keep this ridiculous banter going. These guys were done playing. As Robbie and his pals moved in, the Lighthouse began to drift towards us. I was still trying to find something to stall them, when finally, Jodie broke her silence.
“He’s here,” she said softly, and her voice simply oozed with glee. She sounded like a schoolgirl that just found out the most popular boy was going to ask her to prom. I looked over and saw her face, and for the first time tonight, she looked, well, more than human. Her eyes narrowed and her smile glowed in the faint light. It was dark out there keep in mind, but I almost thought just for a second that two small horns rose from her head.
“Get her, now!” Robbie screamed, and the Lighthouse advanced quickly. Jodie, however, did not move, but rather stood her ground, daring this monster to come. As it closed the distance between us, I watched something small, something so dark that it barely stood out in the gloom of this grove, dart by. The Lighthouse continued to drift towards us, but it was slower. Then I saw its arms fall off, followed by its head. After that, the whole thing just sort of fell apart where it was.
“Robbie, what just happened?” the third man, the one who hadn’t spoken all night, asked with a touch of fear in his voice.
“Din happened,” Jodie answered for him, a hint of laughter and demonic glee dancing on her lips.
“No, he can’t… when did you call for him?” Robbie stammered.
He shot his flashlight all around the grove, and that is when I saw it. Robbie locked on to… Din? I guess that was its name. It stood about 5 feet tall or so, and was as black as night with two tiny horns. Its eyes, though... its eyes stood out like nothing I could ever imagine. Human eyes, not glowing red demon eyes or anything like that. It had rows and rows of tiny, silver teeth, razor sharp.
“Robbie… What, what do we do man?” Spencer called out, sounding on the verge of tears.
“I’d consider running, boys,” Jodie laughed, and the three men took her advice, darting into all corners of the grove, and vanishing into the woods.
“Lord Din, thank you; my soul is yours always,” Jodie stated with reverence towards the tiny little fiend. He nodded slowly. “This man, Kenny, he saved me tonight. I would appreciate it if he were thanked, my Lord.”
“What about Robbie and his friends?” I asked.
“Din has marked them. They know it. He has seen them and they are in so many ways fucked. He may toy with them for a few days, maybe even a week. But they knew the risks when they played this game. They might try to hide, or find safety in a church, but Din will slowly take their lives apart until they are no more than blubbering fools on the floor begging for a swift death.”
“I… see?” I replied, not understanding anything other than being happy to be alive.
“Let’s get you home, Kenny. Sweet Unkillable Kenny. That’s how I’ll remember you. Saved my ass with corny jokes.”
“Yeah, lamest superhero power ever,” I commented back. Jodie and I walked out of the grove. The being known as Din stood still and watched us leave. Once we rounded the trees and escaped his gaze, I felt a lot better.
We found the road with little trouble. And there, sitting on the shoulder, was my car. I wanted to be surprised by this, but after a night of being chased by a lighthouse and joking my way out of being sacrificed and then being rescued by a scary little dwarf thing, hell, I wasn’t in the mood to question any good fortune.
“Give a girl a ride home?” Jodie asked.
We rode back to New Orleans mostly in silence. Jodie had a satisfied grin on her face the entire time, like someone who has just completed a long task and was now ready to reap the rewards. She directed me to take her downtown, near the French Quarter.
“This is my stop, Unkillable Kenny. Thanks again for everything. I owe you, and having one of Din’s favorites on your side is never a bad thing.”
“Okay… ummm, how about a million dollars?” I jokingly asked.
“Sorry, can’t do that one, nor can I make you a super model or send naked demon women to pleasure you all night. But, I heard what you said out there in the grove, about some writing contest.”
“Yeah, it’s some local thing. The woman running it said she’d go out with me if I won. I know, the lamest thing you’ve ever heard, but, I figured I could try at least.”
“I tell you what, Unkillable Kenny- write about this. You can even use my name, whatever. Write about the cultists out there, the Lighthouse chasing us through the woods. Feel free to even use Din’s name. He won’t mind; he likes a little free press here and there.”
“You think that’ll win?”
“Kenny, how can it lose? Now, I gotta get going. Thank you so much for everything, really. If, for some reason, you do find yourself invited to my bar, I promise you that the elevator will only go up.”
I had no idea what she meant by that, but from her expression I figured it must be a good thing. She leaned over and gave me a soft kiss on the corner of my mouth before climbing out of my car. Before she vanished in the French Quarter crowd, she turned and looked back at me one last time, bidding me farewell with a smile and a quick little wave.
I went home and wrote.
Good Grooves Revisited
And that brings us to the present, Oh Faithless Reader. I did exactly as Jodie instructed, I wrote the story about our little adventures out in the woods. I’m sitting here, in the Good Grooves coffee house, sipping a latte and feeling, well, like Unkillable Kenny. Tempest is up there, going through the stories along with her admins. It’s funny, they set up a box on the table with “deleted” printed across it. They told us that the losing stories would wind up there, essentially “deleted” from the contest. And you know, I actually feel bad for these other guys. I mean, they had to go home and think up some story based on just their imaginations. Me, I got to live a horror story. I mean, there was a beautiful damsel in distress, an evil cult in the woods, a monster chasing us, and a demon at the end. And with Jodie’s support, a woman who clearly can create exploding symbols and hangs out with demons, I know I can’t possibly lose. I even joked to Tempest tonight when I turned in my story. I told her, "Hope you like Italian." She laughed and squeezed my arm.
Well, Faithless Reader, they’re announcing the winners now. I’m going to head up and claim my prize. Chat with you later.
They put my story in the deleted bin…. It was… they said it was not up to their quality standards…
Written by K. Banning Kellum
Published July 2nd, 2016