Friday, February 2, 2018


Some of you probably read Clown Tear Junkies by Douglas Hackle. A few of you may even recall that I did a fairly lengthy review of it here on The Strange Edge Blog, and that was the last thing I ever posted for YEARS. It's true--I kind of stopped blogging after reading Douglas Hackle's debut collection, and I'm not sure that was a coincidence.

Now Hackle is back with his second collection (and he released a novel in the meantime, The Hottest Gay Man Ever Killed in a Shark Attack, along with the novella The Ballad of TERROR TINY TIM included in The Strange Edge Press' Four Gentlemen of the Apocalypse). I really liked his first collection, Clown Tear Junkies. It may have some of my all time favorite bizarro-absurdist stories in it. However, Is Winona Ryder Still with the Dude from Soul Asylum? and Other Lurid Tales of Terror and Doom!!! transcends that one on every front.

Every front. Eastern. Western. North Africa campaign--ALL FRONTS.

The book, like the title, is couched in the kind of humor and references that come from growing up a late Gen X-er, and that's who the humor is primarily targeted toward. Many of us in that age group recall the starlet Winona Ryder and the dude from Soul Asylum (who it may behoove us at some point to remember is named Dave Pirner) hooking up in the 90s. Then we got older, stopped caring as much (or at all) about celebrity gossip and are currently clueless as to whether they are still even a couple. I mean, Ryder is back on Stranger Things, so who knows what ever became of Pirner. Much like our cluelessness about this one-time power couple, the characters in this book are often just as clueless, though not always about the same things as the reader.

So there's quite a bit of 80s and 90s nostalgia soaking the pages, as could be expected, like the thoroughly apocryphal mythology surrounding Phil Collins' hit "In the Air Tonight" or the story behind the "ghost" seen in Three Men and a Baby. Hackle has a knack for picking up on all the urban myth and unsubstantiated conspiracy-rumor of his generation. But Hackle also has a knack for picking out absurd modernisms from all throughout the Internet Age, so the youngsters (those under 35) may find some comfortable hand-holds along the way. But really, there's a lot of "you had to be there" moments here, so if you aren't circa 40 years old, you may find this somewhat alienating, which may add to the overall absurdity, but won't make it hit home as hard as it did for me personally. If you didn't use tokens at an arcade, and you haven't seen Krull twenty times on TV, and didn't hear Uptown Girl a million times in elementary school, then you, sir or madame, are not me.

An artist's interpretation of what Dig-Doug Hacksaw might look like today.

In terms of style, the rough-edged journeyman of Clown Tear Junkies is with us no more. These stories are far more polished, far more nuanced, and perfectly targeted, even while combining several absurd premises into one. The random experimentalism has been replaced with deliberate and scalpel-sharp attacks on the psyche. The stories are all still, for the most part, FUN to read, he hasn't lost that, but they are also resonant on a deeper emotional level that makes me more inclined to raise his Surreal level as high as his Absurd. This time when he mashes keys to end a story with a (seemingly) random series of characters, he's definitely doing it to signify he's already accomplished his story goal, instead of merely not being able to think of an ending. Most of these stories are laugh-out-loud funny and yet the most powerful ones are also troubling, haunting, and existentially threatening, like a megadose of Kafka fell into your bowl of Lucky Kharms®. There's the horror of not knowing one's place in the universe, and the horror of the bureaucracy that goes into planning a really special birthday surprise and the clean-up thereafter. There's the horror of becoming someone other than who you thought you were, and the horror of realizing the author has seen Amadeus too many times. There's the horror of being perpetually pursued, and the horror of becoming the pursuer. Really sophisticated, and yet still silly.

Hackle breaks new ground for himself here. "Our Hearts Will Go On, Yo" begins as the most ridiculous of Titanic-spoof premises and winds up a very compelling story of bonding while watching James Cameron's Titanic with an evil scarecrow. "The Two Times I Was a Mean Man" shows Hackle's skill at both repeating a gag without making it boring and constantly redirecting his narrative in unexpected ways, which would challenge even the most skillful guys and gals of capital L Literature. "All Superhero Movies and Shows Are Fucking Boring, Zombies Are Lame, Cthulhu is Stupid, and Everything is Fucked" presents its title thesis very subversively--not one of the things listed is actually directly stated, but instead Hackle presents a story that is the very antithesis of modern "genre," while at the same time poking fun at the postmodern (i.e. everything is fucked, indeed). And "The Unpursued Person" is bordering on being a Brian Evenson story, a full exploration of social illusion, paranoia, violence, and the primal urge to fill societal roles with no clear purpose. My personal favorite, though, is "Not That It Matters, But the War of 1812 Was Kinda Hawt." Just so many delicious absurdities to this one and they all pair nicely.

Full disclosure, I originally published three of these stories: "I Won the MegaSuperLotto" here at this blog, "The Case of the Already-Solved Case" at Bizarro Central, and "The Powell/Fourth Dog Incident" in The Strange Edge Magazine, Issue 0. Those are three solid stories (the first two are flash fiction pieces), but they're not even the highlights of this collection. Though, Powell may continue to haunt you with refrains of "Would you mind telling me this story again, Mr. Hackle?" But by that point, Hackle has already transformed, no longer the Hackle who told you the story in the first place.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Top 25 Movies of 2017

That's right. Another year is over and everyone wants to know what the best movies were. Most people give you a top ten. But not me—not this year. I'm giving you the twenty-five best movies because it was a great year. I'm not even kidding. Movies that would have been number one in another year were pushed out of the top five. It's totally demented how many good films I got a chance to see this year. So without further ado

 25. Marshall (Dir. Reginald Hudlin)
Yes, it's Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, starring in a gripping biopic that covers a court case in the 1940s that the NAACP-employed Marshall fought on behalf of a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. Now, a lot of these historical pictures can be ponderously self-important to the point of loosing the engaging, urgent story that really draws the viewer in. This is not one of those.

24. Girlfriend's Day (Dir. Michael Stephenson)
This quirky noir satire stars Bob Odenkirk as a man struggling in the seedy underbelly of the greeting card industry. The creation of a new holiday, Girlfriend's Day, leads to a web of violent intrigue, and Toby Huss plays a reformed neo-Nazi skinhead in this, but the less I say about it the better.      

23. Tragedy Girls (Dir. Tyler MacIntyre)
Smart, transgressive, self-aware horror comedy for fans of Detention, All Cheerleaders Die, or Cooties. Totally original take on the whole teen-killer phenom, where two bloggers decide the way to get more clicks is to create more tragedies with their own hands. 

 22. The Void (Dirs. Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie)

A Lovecraftian horror fest with moments of Cronenbergism, this is brought to us by Astron-6, the brains behind Manborg and Father's Day. Truly some of the most fucked-up practical effects we've seen since the 80s. 

21. Downsizing (Dir. Alexander Payne)
Matt Damon gets real small and hangs with Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, and a one-legged Hong Chau in this dramatic exploration of fringe sci-fi, brought to us by the guy who did Sideways and The Descendants, which completely lacked the science fiction element that pushes this into the realm of the very interesting, instead of simply examining the tortured souls of the privileged yet again.

20. Brigsby Bear (Dir. Dave McCary)
The tale of a boy abducted at a young age and raised in a bunker in what he believes to be a post-apocalyptic world. His one true passion is the television program Brigsby Bear, tailor-made for him by his captor-parents without his knowledge. When he is suddenly rescued in his early twenties, he finds that gaining his freedom may cause him to lose the one thing he truly values—Brigsby Bear.

19. Wonder Woman (Dir. Patty Jenkins)
Probably the best WWI movie we've seen in a long time and definitely the most coherent and conventional script we've seen for any of the new DC films. Inspirational, bad ass, sappy when it needs to be. All around, a really good action movie. Gal Gadot does an amazing job as Wonder Woman, and it's kind of a shame she isn't going to win an award for this. 

18. Justice League (Dir. Zack Snyder)

Proving again that Zack Snyder's movies aren't for everyone, this film was branded with the comical label of "high-grossing flop," because apparently it's only made $650M worldwide (on a $300 budget). What a tragedy! It surely led to the wild-eyed speculations that DC would be cancelling all future movies and abandoning any hope for their franchise. Because... Thor: Ragnarok made $850, I guess. Anyway, this movie is exactly what I want from the DCU, highly reminiscent of The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians Saturday morning cartoon from 85. Can't wait to see what they do with the Legion of Doom. And dare we hope for Mister Mxyzptlk in the next Superman film???

17. Happy Death Day (Dir. Christopher B. Landon)
This one was a TOTAL surprise. The only reason I saw it was because I had MoviePass and didn't actually have to pay for it. I was expecting a glossy teen scream fest, and actually received a smart, well-paced horror thriller that had a fun twist after a few breakneck turns. And that baby mask! That's the school's mascot, believe it or not.

16. American Made (Dir. Doug Liman)
Yet another impressive biopic, this time a little more gonzo than Marshall. This amazing tale gives Tom Cruise the chance to remind us that he can actually be charming. If you like Contras and cocaine, this is must see. So much better than Blow, which actually made me angry watching it in the theater.

15. The Beguiled (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
Coppola helms this remake of the 1971 film based on the 1966 novel, the story of a wounded Union soldier "captured" in the South by two women and some girls left behind at a boarding school. Classically leaving us to ask "Is Colin Farrel the beguiler or the beguiled?" it does provide us with one definitive answer: If given the opportunity to sleep with Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, or Elle Fanning, do not choose Elle Fanning. (And, I mean, who would?)

14. Split (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Amazing performances from Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy in this story of a teenager held hostage by an unstable abductor with multiple personalities. Really impressive feat by Shyamalan, who had been doing mostly mediocre work for a while. I won't spoil the "twist" for those of you haven't seen it, but I will say that you can expect a "sequel."

13. The Disaster Artist (Dir. James Franco)
I've been a fan of The Room and Tommy Wiseau since about 2010. But you don't have to already be a fan to enjoy this biopic—it makes you a fan by giving you the whole (abbreviated) backstory. James Franco has definitely earned my full respect with this one.

12. Dunkirk (Dir. Christopher Nolan)
I'm not really a big fan of war movies, and more so WWII movies, of which I really only like Saving Private Ryan and this one. But there's something about the bleak and brutal portrayal here that really works. No semblance of honor, or patriotism, or duty. It's pure survival in an all-out retreat. Something we don't normally see. Something primal. 

11. Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Veering distinctly from the gritty noir of the much-over-praised 1982 original, this film is absolutely immersive in its atmosphere which tends more toward a grown-up version of Steve De Jarnatt's Cherry 2000, if we are being honest. And that's fine. Look, you've got the whole computer-wife thing. You've got the whole fear of loosing the computer-wife when the protagonist is forced to carry the last remnant of her on his person into the badlands. You've got the whole sand covered Las Vegas. That can't be a coincidence. Anyway, this film is great and touching and anyone who says otherwise has no soul.

10. I, Tonya (Dir. Craig Gillespie)
Look, I never thought a biopic about Tonya Harding would be a film I love, much less something that could make Harding into a sympathetic character. This does just that, with ample black humor and absurdity, all drawn from real interviews. 

9. Wilson (Dir. Craig Johnson)
Apparently based on some kind of comic, this is a nice change of pace from superheroes. Wilson is hilarious, and Harrelson proves how he can carry a comedy, in one of the funniest of the year. This story of a misanthropic, neurotic loser made me laugh out loud so many times, I should probably own it. 

8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir. Rian Johnson)
Notice the director can't even afford either a real first name (Rian?) or the initials J.J. Despite some notable flaws, this is still a great Star Wars film. Kylo Ren and Rey become more compelling, while Finn goes on a nonsense side-mission just to have something to do. And Poe causes trouble, because that's what little boys do. But if you are looking for that old fashioned world building you might have found lacking in The Force Awakens, get ready.

7. Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)
As soon as I saw the theatrical trailer (before a showing of Split) I knew this movie was going to be something special. Just absolutely compelling and relevant in a way that so many heavy-handed socially conscious films miss. I think Peele may be the way forward, for bright, young artists of color to finally find an active voice within genre films, that is both entertaining and enlightening. 

6. mother! (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
This is one of the most bat-shit insane films ever committed to celluloid. You'll be watching it in utter disbelief and reeling from the chaos until you realize there is a pattern: the whole thing is based on the Bible, albeit a rather deranged and inventive take. That doesn't stop it from being one of the most Bizarro films of the year though. 

5. The Shape of Water (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Where so many other films read to me as sappy, schmaltzy, and false, this one absolutely succeeds in being genuinely emotionally moving. Without being at all "weird for the sake of weird" (whatever that means), del Toro has crafted a wonderfully original fairy tale. Simply beautiful. 

4. I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore (Dir. Macon Blair)
If you ever find yourself asking, "Hey, what's the exact kind of movie G. Arthur Brown thinks there should be more of," this is pretty much it. It's black comedy, and it's crime drama. It's bleak and gritty, and ridiculous and absurd. It's got David Yow, whom I've loved since I first heard The Jesus Lizard's Puss on the split single with Nirvana; Elijah Wood, whom I've loved since Wilfred; and Melanie Fucking Lynskey, whom I've loved since she killed her mom in Heavenly Creatures. Exactly my kind of movie. And makes think that if anyone ever tries to adapt a Brian Evenson story, it should probably be Macon Blair.

3. Suburbicon (Dir. George Clooney)
Another great movie that got panned by the soulless critics. One of the most intense films, after mother!, I saw all year. Clooney handled the Coen material with a delicate tension that came off as probably darker than it would had the brothers directed it instead. The trailers made this look like it was going to be an entirely different movie, and I think that hurt it a lot at the box office. But trust me, this will be a cult classic in short order. 

2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Dir. Martin McDonagh)

McDonagh has officially arrived, if you had any reservations after In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. A nearly perfect movie, it hits the cultural zeitgeist as well, cleaning up at the Golden Globes. Frances McDormand turns in one of the greatest performances of the year, along with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who support the fuck out of her with dedicated passion. I can usually think of at least one thing I'd change about a movie to make it better (even for my number one pick this year). Here, I can't think of a single thing. Except maybe I'd have liked to have seen Colin Farrell in it, even in a small supporting role.

1. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Piggy-backing on his previous film, The Lobster, Lanthimos establishes a solid brand of irrealism here that is neither absurd nor surreal, but something completely distinct with a tinge of detached expressionism. Loosely based on Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides, this is still one of the most original stories I've ever seen. Shockingly so. The beginning is a bit of mystery, trying to figure out who these characters are, what their relationship is, and who is going to be the conflict. Not many movies dazzle me with those answers like this one did.

So that's the top 25. A few honorable mentions should probably go to

Dave Made a Maze
Definitely the most Bizarro movie I saw all year. It's premise and presentation are astoundingly strange, but it's a little thin on story and thus did not make it to my Top 25.

The Square
One of the best art films I've seen in a while, probably because it is a commentary on art. Some shocking and bizarre sequences here.

The Bad Batch
Okay, I haven't actually seen this yet, but from the trailer alone, it's Bizarro as fuck and you should probably see it.

Update 1/11/2019: I finally saw this. It's good, amazingly landing at #26 on my list, so I don't have to edit my top twenty-five. Not quite as bonkers and I'd expected, but very weird. And Jim Carrey is in this (see if you can spot him).

Friday, December 23, 2016

The State of Bizarro Report, vol. 1: What is Bizarro?

A certain other blogger has been making a lot of claims about Bizarro recently, most of which are highly exaggerated or outright falsehoods. In the interest of giving some positive clarity to the matter, as well as some actual history, I've decided to put together just a couple of blog posts about it. If any of the information I give here is inaccurate, PLEASE do not hesitate to contact me to correct the info.

That being said... where do we start?

A lot of people start with a seemingly simple question:


That's a good question, but it's not a simple question to answer, and that answer is inextricably tied to the origins and development of the Bizarro scene. The most basic attempt to give a guideline (and a guideline is far more important than a dictionary definition here) is this: Bizarro is the literary equivalent of the cult movie section of a local video store. This is a section full of lots of different, off-kilter, and genuinely strange movies by filmmakers like John Waters, David Lynch, Takashi Miike, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jan Svankmajer, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, Lloyd Kaufman, Terry Gilliam, and Yorgos Lanthimos.

That covers a lot of territory and some people find that confusing - everything from surreal art-house to low-budget shock films - but it's hard to make it any clearer in less than a thousand words of explanation. Recently, when I used that rule of thumb, the person asking responded that this guideline was "uselessly broad." And I responded, "Well if American Psycho, The Wolf Man, Dead Alive, Jacob's Ladder, Scream, Shaun of the Dead, Jaws, Videodrome, and Critters are all the same genre, how usefully narrow is that?"

EVERY genre is extremely broad, and until you understand the associated elements and the aesthetic you won't get it. All Bizarro could be classified in other genres, though not necessarily in a way that's sensible. Just like one person might argue that American Werewolf in London is a Comedy movie first and a Horror movie second, or that Bone Tomahawk is a Western first and Horror second, Bizarro is one particular metric that overlaps with a lot of other genres. And that metric is WEIRDNESS. If the appeal of something is that it is entertainingly weird, then it is Bizarro. Period. Regardless of whatever other elements are in play from any other genre or style. A lot of Bizarro is trangressive, or surreal, or absurd, or grotesque, or perverse, or incorporates horrific elements, but none of these have ever been required for a book to be considered Bizarro, only weirdness.

Is a category of weird books useful? If you don't think so, then Bizarro may not be for you. This is a category that didn't necessarily happen by design - just like Lynch didn't decide at the outset to be a cult filmmaker - but it is also not something that happened by accident. Bizarro coalesced when a tiny group of writers and small presses noticed there was a growing amount of hard-to-classify underground lit that shared some similarities. There were "Horror" authors whose work was far more weird than scary, and often darkly humorous. There were authors writing with elements of Sci-Fi that focused less on the science and more on the general weirdness of the world it allowed them to create. There were authors doing almost experimental literature that was too low-brow to be taken seriously in the academic scene and used genre elements that ghetto-ized it. And they looked around to more popular authors who were hard-to-classify like Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Roald Dahl, or Joe Lansdale, and they decided that not only was there already a genre of weird in existence, but it needed a label so that people who were into weird stuff could find it more easily.

So three presses got together and decided to brand their releases as Bizarro. It was extremely small at first, mainly limited to authors already involved with Eraserhead, Raw Dog Screaming, or the now defunct Afterbirth Books. This was 2005, when "Bizarro" was picked as the genre tag for all these previously misclassified books. Those first Bizarro authors had already been writing Bizarro since the early 2000s or even the 90s, but they'd never had a name for it. They'd never had a convenient way to communicate to readers what their stuff was all about. Bizarro, as a label, changed that.

Now, for a lot of authors whose work doesn't fit into traditional genres, Bizarro provides a haven and an opportunity to reach an audience that they may not have known existed before there was a rallying point, a short hand, a brand name. I didn't set out to write Bizarro. I know that I am not alone. I started out just writing stories that were too weird to get accepted by the Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and Lit markets I'd been submitting them to. I was getting rejected because I was submitting to the wrong places, not realizing how bizarre my work was by core genre standards. When I found Bizarro, I found the appropriate market for my work. And I was way late in the game compared to progenitors like Carlton Mellick III, Kevin L. Donihe, John Edward Lawson, D. Harlan Wilson, or Gina Ranalli. But I came to Bizarro the same way they did: seeking an outlet for a voice too weird to make it in other markets. If I hadn't found Bizarro, I might have eventually given up on ever getting published. You can only take so many rejections before you feel like your work must suck. And it's very hard to tell, especially with form rejections, if the problem is the quality of your work or that you aren't writing what the markets are looking for. If no other market is looking for your work, YOU are probably Bizarro.

Now, when I first heard of Bizarro and started to look into what it was about circa 2009, I was immediately skeptical. I looked around and got the impression that it was the paperback equivalent of Troma films and IN-YOU-FACE Gwar videos dripping with green hog semen. But this was not accurate. There were those books, don't get me wrong, and I'm not shitting on authors who write those kinds of books, but at the time it seemed to me that my weird was different from their weird.

I started to explore some Bizarro books and I was pleasantly blown away. The genre was incredibly diverse, and even titles that screamed GONZO SLIME EXPLOITATION were actually books that defied my expectations. There was something going on in this scene much deeper than superficial shock humor. There was an undercurrent of weirdness that ran through this material, from one end of the spectrum to the other. There were weird children's books and weird romances. There were incredibly well written books with cuss words in the title. It was hard for me to process. But once I got it, I had found my home.

From the time I got involved in Bizarro in 2012, the scene has only grown more diverse, more vibrant, and more creative. If anyone tells you anything else they are selling something. There are still plenty of shockingly extreme titles to choose from, as well as fabulously weird magical realism, weird noir, pop culture absurdity, high-brow strangeness, and even absurd Bizarro erotica that you can't imagine anyone jilling off to. There are so many flavors of weird here, I can hardly believe it.

And in closing the section, I'd like to visually list just a few TOTALLY BODACIOUS AND RADICALLY IN YOUR FACE TITLES that came out in the last five years, showing definitively that the Bizarro scene is not dead, oh no it's not.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Big Blue Dick: A Review of Clown Tear Junkies by Douglas Hackle

This is that painting by Munch, The Scream

Do you know that painting The Scream by Edvard Munch? Okay, now imagine that that character there in the foreground is real, and he’s called The Scream, and he doesn’t talk or make any noise at all, and he usually keeps his wavy hands next to his gaunt face unless he’s doing something else with them. And he hangs out with an immature, blue-collar jerk who takes him clubbing all the time, trying to pick up chicks. And the chicks all think the Scream’s friend is a loser, but that’s okay, because he’s got a pat response that puts them all in their place: he tells them they are 7s. Then goth chicks start to dig The Scream and he becomes a horror movie star, so the two part ways….

That’s pretty much what it’s like inside Douglas Hackle’s mind all the time.

And that’s pretty much the story The Scream, My Dog, part of Hackle’s collection Clown Tear Junkies. I spoilered the crap out of it, but you should still read it because it’s still good.

Camera zooming out for a moment, Clown Tear Junkies (WARNING: Contains zero clowns and/or circuspunk elements) is a collection of 27 very short stories. People like to use the term “absurd” to refer to this style of prose, and while some of it is absurd, Hackle’s style is much more nuanced. He draws equally from the wells of the existentially absurd turf mined by Kafka (see: Struggle of a Description); the playful, list-loving postmodernism of Barthelme; and obscure pop cultural references—Stiles from Teen Wolf makes an appearance alongside the chain-smoking Indonesian toddler of YouTube fame. What makes Hackle’s writing so much fun is his unpredictable wordplay and his juxtaposition of low brow fare and academic trivia. You’ll find quite a bit of recursive humor tying the stories together, not the least of which will be the intoxicating and addictive nature of clown tears (esp. when mixed with mime tears and mainlined—what a rush!). You’ll find yourself looking up words to see if they are in the real dictionary or at (yes, both chyme and chyle are for real). You’ll find yourself expecting the stories to be going in one direction; you’ll be surprised where they end up taking you.  

Now, there are a few moments when the stories just get downright silly, and there’s probably a story or two that doesn’t stack up to the rest of the collection. But 27 is a nice round number, and who are you to tell Hax to the Max to drop a story from his baby? I mean, these stories are like his children, and just because some of them are born with beards or flippers or lobster faces doesn’t mean you love them any less, right? Are you asking the man to pick his favorite child? What kind of a monster are you? Quit Sofie-ing his choice! When you do see one of these freak babies, do not make direct eye contact. Just keep your head down and push through to the next paragraph, which is bound to be creepily brilliant, like Crispin Glover playing Sherlock Holmes.

And there are a few moments where you think to yourself, “Is Douggie Hacksaw trying to tell me something?” It’s possible some of the stories actually have a meaning. Racism, homosexuality, intimacy, education, cosmology, music, art, life and death, puppets/poppets, chyme and chyle are all examined in varying degrees of insanity. At the end of the book, I learned that Strange House advertises within Rooster Republic books, and this seemed like a sort of conflict of interests, but nowadays networks advertise their shows on other networks, so whatever. It just makes it harder to remember which station the shows come on, but I have a TiVo, which doesn’t seem to get confused and can always figure out how to record the shows I tell it to.

I’d point out the highlights, but that’s almost the entire book. If I can only recommend three of these stories to strangers, I’d say that you, stranger, should start with The Perfect Popcorn: A Recipe, Fishing with Higginsworth Fig VII: A Tale of Denial, and Give Courtney Cute Anything She Wants.

The Scream, My Dog could really act as a sort of synecdoche here. Meaning, I could say, “You read The Scream, My Dog yet?” and you would understand that I meant, “Have you read Clown Tear Junkies by Dig Doug Hackensplatz yet?” We just have that kind of understanding of each other, don’t we, stranger?

Wait, forget it. Just read the whole damn book. We’re done here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Past's Body by Guy Anthony De Marco (Random Title 30)

 The minor wave of nausea passed quickly this time. My vision was slightly blurred, so I immediately scanned for a pair of glasses. They were on the bathroom sink, perched near the pink toothbrush.

I donned the glasses and looked into the mirror to see what today's psychotic killer looked like.

It was a she this time, and she just came out of the shower. Blonde, cute with a slightly upturned nose, and an impressive rack. I couldn't help playing with them in the mirror, pinching the nipples and licking my lips. Somewhere across space and time, I'm sure my physical body sprung a boner. It's a good thing the feelings generated by masturbation didn't get coded and transmitted, otherwise we'd lose agents far more often. As it was, when this chick woke up, all of the sensations would flood through her from the memory buffer, giving her an intense, instant orgasm. I explored her clitoris for a bit before I got back to business.

I left the bathroom, still rubbing my new-found cleavage, and found her closet. She was a pink freak, but there was a basic black, ultra-tight A-line dress tucked in the back. Her drawers were well stocked with the latest from Victoria's Secret, and I put on a thong and a push-up bra to accentuate her natural charms. As I adjusted the tits in the bra cups, I couldn't help but feel I'd seen her before. Probably in some porn vid, but that didn't seem right. Shrugging it off, I went to the box from Amazon on her kitchen table.

She was well organized, and I found a nice sharp knife to cut the tape. She was expecting a new iPad Air, but this box contained a gas-propelled pistol with five shots in the magazine. My new victim had dainty hands, so it took both of hers to hold the gun steady. Back to the closet, I dug out a black purse big enough to fit the pistol and a pair of black strappy stiletto Vera Wangs.

I knew the area and the time period well. The Ryndic Syndicate was particularly interested in the goings-on of scientists and politicians from this particular parallel universe. I snagged her wristwatch and keys from the table near the door and headed out towards Lexington Avenue.

Every step of the journey attracted every eyeball within a block on purpose. Even some women looked me up and down. I stopped at a newsstand to bend over, revealing my Yoga-sculpted ass to the world, so I could catch the date on the newspaper. I'd arrived at the right day, so my mission was on.

As I neared the Federal building, I saw my target coming out of the heavily guarded doors. I marched right up to him, and he was taken aback at the intrusive nature of a hot blonde in a tight dress. I pulled my pistol, and something happened that I did not expect.

As my finger tightened on the trigger, the target said, "Marcus! It's me, Marcus!"

My name.

In a previous jump point, in a body from the past.

I've been looped. The data connection to my real body was severed, and I had the most amazing orgasm. She was a real, make that I am a real squirter. I felt her flood running down my legs. The gun in my hands began to molecularly deconstruct, so I tossed it aside as the guards ran down the stairs and slapped some cuffs on.

Damn. It could've been worse. At least I can enjoy my new body in prison, unless I can get some poor schmuck of a public defender to get me off on a technicality, such as there being no real bullet in the dead man. I hope the top public defender is a woman, since I do have talent in oral sex with chicks. I hate sucking dick, but if I have to do it to get the best lawyer...well...a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® finalist; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.

A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia,, and

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thunder of the Second Mars by Ben McInnis (Random Title 29)

“He’s here, Murdoch”, Sam said, “I know he is.”
“Those canals are empty, kid”, Murdoch said, “This is stupidity.”
“His beacon is out there, can’t you see that. He’s got to be out there.”

The rover bounded over the red Martian landscape. Sam was frantic. Murdoch had told him Charlie was missing. The tracker in Charlie’s ID chip had led them out here.

“Kid, you’re making a mistake”, Murdoch said, “it’s got to be a mistake.”
“Those chips are implanted, old man. You know that as well as I do.”
“Look, Sammy, I know what you are feeling right now.  Believe me, I’m just as scared for Charlie as you are, but we’re SecForce. You know the drill. We have to keep our heads about this.”

Sam engaged the rover’s hover-foil. They rocketed over the side of a canal into the inky darkness. They hit bottom with a soft thump. Sam clicked on the running lights and panned a hand search light around the canal bottom.

“The beacon signal is strongest up ahead”, Sam said.
“Whatever you say, boss.”, Murdoch returned.
“Did you see that?”
“See what?”, Murdoch said, looking into the darkness.
“I thought I saw something flapping.”, Sam said.
“Kid, there’s no wind down here” ,Murdoch said, “not even any static readings.”
“Look…right there.”, Sam said.

Sam and Murdoch got out of the rover. Their breath rasped through the respirators in their helmets. Sam pulled out a pair of electro-binoculars and scanned the area where he had seen the flapping. At first he missed it, but them a faint movement attracted his attention. Sam drew his sidearm and walked over to investigate.

“What did you see, kid?”, Murdoch asked.

 Sam grabbed the corner of a piece of camo-cloth. He pulled it aside revealing a cave entrance. Sam heard a tumble of small rocks from above. Murdoch lunged forward and caught a larger rock that Sam was leaning against and steadied it.

“Good thing I caught that, kid”, Murdoch said, “If that rock had fallen we would have been buried.”
“Thanks, old man.”

Sam continued forward. After a few feet the passage opened onto a vast antechamber. Sam’s searchlight could not see the any ceiling and barely reached the opposite wall. He looked down and saw a shape huddled in the center of the chamber.

“Charlie?!”, he said and rushed forward.

Sam slid to the ground on his knees and grabbed the end of the tarp. He pulled and pain exploded in the back of his head. Blackness consumed him.

Sam awoke. His head hurt. He tried to move and discovered his hands were tied behind him.  He was lying on his side. He took in a breath and realized his helmet was gone.

Damn, Sam thought to himself, I have about five minutes before I suffocate.

“Why, Sammy…why?!”

Sam saw Murdoch across the chamber from him. Tears poured down the older man’s face.

“Why couldn’t you just leave it alone, kid”, Murdoch moaned, “ I told you the canals were empty. I told you, but you couldn’t leave it alone. Now, I’ve got to give you to them or we’re all dead.”

Sam kept his breathing shallow and pretended to be unconscious.

“They told me a long time ago that if I gave them a sacrifice when the thunder roars, they wouldn’t come out of the canals. They would leave us humans alone in our ‘Second Mars’. I didn’t want to do it, kid. The first time I killed for them I couldn’t stand it, but after that, it started to feel good. I’m sorry, Sam, now you know their secret. They told me if I gave you to them everything would go back to normal.”

Sam started working his hands back and forth. He had his hands free in no time. He waited.
Thunder shook the antechamber.

“It’s time, Sammy”, Murdoch sobbed, “I’m sorry.”

Murdoch lurched over to Sam. His knife was clenched in his hands. Sam waited until Murdoch was almost on top of him. He kicked out with his foot and swept Murdoch’s legs out from under him. Murdoch crashed to the cavern floor. Sam wrenched the knife from Murdoch’s hands and drove it into his chest. Murdoch gasped once and died. Sam struggled to his feet, his lungs burning.

Something rasped across stone. It rose from the chamber floor and loomed above Sam. It looked like stone at first, but the rust-red surface of its flesh flowed like water. Shapes resembling eyes and mouths formed and dissolved at impossible angles. Sam tried to scream, but the lack of air constricted his lungs. Gasping for air, he stumbled toward the cave entrance. He could hear the thing behind him, gliding across the stone. With every step, Sam got weaker. The thing was right on his heels.

With his last burst of strength, Sam drove his shoulder into the loose stone in the entryway and rolled to the side. The rocks fell and crushed the horror just before it emerged from the chamber. Sam dragged himself along the ground to the rover. He opened the storage compartment and pulled a spare helmet over his head.. Sam fell to the ground sucking in cold, dry air. After a moment, he pulled himself to his feet. He glanced at the sensor array. His brother’s beacon was still pinging. It looked like it was right on top of him.

Sam whipped around. Cold steel tore into his chest. Sam gasped.  Charlie stood before him twisting the knife in his chest.

“I’m sorry, big brother”, Charlie said, with a twisted grin, “but it’s the only way.”


Ben McInnis  has been writing for over 20 years. His published works include "The Oracle of Enheduana" (co-authored with Warlock Asylum), poetry published by, articles, and flash fiction published in a number of different venues. Ben is a married father of four living and working in the New England area.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Pets of the Missing Beast by S.T. Cartledge (Random Title 28)

Detective Snyder pulled his coat tight across his chest and cursed the bastard farmer who called him out to work so early in the morning. Actually, it was his boss who did the calling, passing on the farmer's message. The message was to be at this address within the hour or else he would be fucking fired. He had never been fucking fired before. He had come close a few times at this job. It sounded painful, and Snyder would rather not risk it. He trudged out into the frosted field, the grey snow crunching beneath his feet and forming a trail of slush puddles from his car. The farmer was waiting for him in the middle of the field, standing beside a fucking big hole.

“Wow,” Snyder said. “That's a fucking big hole.”

The dirt was scattered around the field and the hole disappeared, twisting and tunnelling into the earth. There was only a little snow inside the hole, like it had only been freshly dug.

“There's not a lot of snow down there,” he said. “It looks like a freshly dug hole. What are you doing, digging holes in your field at this hour of the morning?”

“That's the thing, man,” the farmer said. He spat tobacco on the ground. “I weren't the one what dug that hole.”

“Where does it go?” Snyder asked.

The farmer shrugged. “Don't think I know that much.” He blew his nose into a crumpled handkerchief. “What you reckon?”

“Beats me,” Snyder said. “I just thought I was going to have to check out some crop circles, or some shit.”

“Heh,” the farmer said. “Shiiiiit.”

Snyder pulled his torch out. He had one of those big heavy ones security guards carry so they can beat people with them. He jumped into the hole and sunk a few inches where he landed. There was more snow than he thought. Snow and mud, and blood and fur. Shining his torch through the hole, he saw it tunnelling down and around, the blood trailing like the beginnings of an underground river.

“There's blood down here,” Snyder called back up to the farmer.

The farmer responded with a daft “wha?”

“There's blood down here.”

“Wha?” the farmer repeated.

“Never mind,” Snyder replied.

“Oh, blood, yeah. There'll be a lot of that down there.”

Snyder froze in his steps. Not so much from the cold, but more from what the farmer said. There was most likely a monster down here killing things, and the farmer didn't seem fazed. He didn't seem remotely unsettled when Snyder arrived, now that he thought about it.

“See anything?” the farmer called out.

“Nothing yet,” Snyder said.

He followed the tunnel, the blood trail growing thicker the deeper he disappeared.

The splat-splat sound of his footsteps in the thin layer of blood coating the ground echoed through the tunnel. He paused. He could no longer hear the farmer. He could hear the deep-raspy breaths of some asthmatic creature further down.

He progressed slower, thinking of how he would need to soak his shoes in the sink when he got home. He could feel the blood seeping in and around the soles of his feet. In between his toes. The earth and blood had a pungent manure smell to them, or perhaps other smells were wafting from further down the tunnel.

The torch light strained his eyes, and he yawned wide, yearning for the coffee in his kitchen that had gone undrunk. That's when he saw the tie on the ground. And then a jacket. Shirt. Belt. Pants. Underpants. Two more ties and three shirts. Four pants and a belt. Seven shoes. A hat. A severed hand. An arm. Three feet and a full leg. Lying on the ground like a trail of breadcrumbs soaking in blood. A trail of breadcrumbs leading the opposite direction of safety.

Snyder wanted to turn back but he didn't want to return to the farmer empty-handed. He was a terrible liar, so it's not like he could make something up to keep the creep satisfied. If he turned back now he would make up some terrible story and he would tell his boss and his boss would see through his shit and Snyder would be fucking fired.

The wheezing was a lot louder now, and the blood flood was up to his ankles. He turned a corner in the tunnel and shined his light on a hulking great humanoid mole-creature. Black fur and pink eyes, squinting in the dim torchlight. It lifted its finger and made a noise through its clenched mole-teeth, “shhh.”

Snyder saw where the clothes and the limbs came from. Dragging themselves through the tunnel with the mole monster were about a dozen naked and semi-naked detectives with glazed eyes and filthy skin covered in dirt and dried blood. The mole monster gestured for the detective to follow.

Seeing the state these other men were in, Snyder had no option but to follow the beast. It grunted and grabbed his torch and smashed it broken on the wall. In the darkness the beast made sounds which could only be more digging, more tunnelling through the earth.

Snyder followed the beast in the soggy, pitch-black gloom and thought about how, when he failed to report back on the job, on top of being blind, naked, amputated, and crawling through filth, he would finally be fucking fired.


S.T. Cartledge wrote a book called House Hunter. He's also written some other stuff too. There are some short stories and poetry in magazines, some flash fiction and fan fiction online somewhere too. He also has some pretty killer unpublished stuff too. Like that story with the big guy and the dead things. And that other thing with the wicked cool aliens and the weird creatures. He hopes you liked this story and that you will consider being my *ahem* HIS friend.