To my mind there has been a marked lack of scary films on Halloween for the last long while. I entirely admit this might be sentimentality – that all that were on in my day were weakass sequels (Halloween 6, I’m looking at you) and Halloween themed cartoons – but I don’t think so. I remember the Screams, the (original) Halloween, the zombie epics and the ghostly thrillers being on about this time of year. Terror Horror, Silly Horror, Scary Horror, Horrible Horror, and so on.
So, to shore up some mild catharsis, I usually read a little original internet fiction around Halloween. Characterised – insofar as I’ve read – as single-narrator perspectives of an odd-couple of college-going or college-age protaganist-friends, with the narrator going from ordinary to ‘earthshatteringly-special’ (arguably losing entirely what makes the off-the-cuff premise great – or displaying better plotting). One or both of these Protaganists inevitably develop a true love, nemesis and moment of heroic ingenuity.
Why web stories? Partially, because the only thing I feel cheated of, at most, is my time – if it falls down. And even that is hard to do – web stories are supposed to be silly, outrageous, crazy and horrifying.
Original ideas are what draw me most to these. While the format of events I’ve described above is typical, the plots are not. A strong, secret alcoholic beverage whose consumption causes you to black out for a period, leaving you without the problems you had before; A group of ex-high school friends trying to sneak into a Vegas hotel by pretending to be Elton John, while under the illusion that ‘Elton John’ is a band; Hired assassins working for various mobsters, wiping out a Magical Girl population explosion.
John Dies At The End: (read during Halloween 2007, when it was still free on the Internet, which it no longer is due its print publication and upcoming movie adaptation)
John and Dave are a very interesting set of friends. Their adventures revolve around their goldilocks-level exposure to a sticky black narcotic substance dubbed Soy Sauce; too little and you’re just a little trippy, too much and your body will become a carrier for an extra-dimensional infection that explodes you to spread itself. John and Dave, getting just the right amount – through a series of accidents – simply have their perceptions altered to a ghost-seeing, psychic projection mental state that facilitate crazy madcap hijinks.
However, the horror aspect is all very real – plenty of gore yes, but also some very interesting abstract concepts. While I’m not sure whether this predated Moffat’s ‘Blink’ -there is a scene where a man gaining futuresight from the drug, and who knows he is going to die, holds a farewell conversation with his girlfriend via a video tape- but it definitely predated ‘Pandorica Opens’ -inconsistencies in Dave’s retelling of his story (particularly the number of people) reveals that in the middle of the novel, a guy named Todd Brinkmeyer is erased from existence.
I mean, I get that these, and other things in the novel have appeared before, but they’re used so well. And now, to thoroughly bamboozle you, some quotes of Dave’s narration of an event John Narrated to Dave, which is not at all representative of the book’s usual style, but which I include here on the basis that they are some of the best in the book. And remember, as Dave says: “Now, I wasn’t there. So this story is hearsay. If you know John, you’ll take the details for what they’re worth. Please also remember that, where John claims to have “gotten up at three-thirty” to perform this investigation, it was far more likely he was still up and somewhat drunk from the night before.”
“At this point two elderly security guards in parkas, the guys who normally work the front desk at the plant, asked John to step behind the tape. John claims that here he told the guards that he could not speak English and when this failed to persuade them, he faked a violent seizure. I am unclear as to the purpose of this part of his plan. John flung himself down and began rolling around in the snow, thrashing his limbs about and screaming, “EL SEIZURE!!! NO ES BUENO!!!” in a Mexican accent. Half a dozen pairs of boots came mushing through the snow toward him.”
“Here’s where things get hazy. John claims that the men hauling him away from the scene were escorted by other men carrying submachine guns, though when pressed he admitted that they may have been mere flashlights. Either way, John says the men threw him down and intended to execute him, at which point he kicked one of the men in the face and back-flipped to his feet. He then wrestled away the man’s gun and “dick-whipped” him with it. I am unclear as to whether or not this means he struck the man in the groin or merely slapped him in the same manner in which he would slap a person with his dick. I never ask John to clarify such things. Anyway, he said he swung again and slammed another man’s skull with the gun, so hard it “made the batteries fly out.”
He then claims that in one continuous motion, he “triple-kicked” a third man in the face, while shooting a fourth “right in his damned cock.” John, of course, knew that he couldn’t leave that man just lying there, screaming in pain. So he grasped him by the sides of his face and mercifully snapped his neck with a sharp twisting motion of his bare hands. At this point John says that the rest of the hazard workers noticed what was going on and a chase ensued, at the end of which he escaped by stealing a nearby horse. This is the first inconsistency in John’s account, because when the story picks up he is calmly driving his Caddie back down the road, past Amy’s house and away from the Rooter plant. I suspect that, in reality, either the men at the cleanup site didn’t see John at all or they merely gave him a dirty look until he turned around and drove away. Again, I wasn’t there and I do not wish to cast an unfavorable light on John’s personal credibility.”
“A group of men carrying what had to be rifles stood around the vehicle and John immediately reached out and punched the switch to kill his headlights. Then it occurred to him that the lights suddenly going off might have been more noticeable than simply leaving them on, the sudden absence of light out of the corner of an eye being just as distracting as the light itself. So then he punched the lights back on, thought he saw two of the men turn toward him, and then quickly turned the lights back off again. Now he felt the strobing of his headlights was almost impossible not to notice and in fact all of the men seemed to be looking up the hill at him. The group might have either pursued him or raised their rifles to perforate his windshield, had a gorilla riding a giant crab not leapt out of the woods and eaten two of them.
You heard me.
John said the thing was as tall as the truck and walked on six legs that looked horned and armored like something seen at a sea food buffet. But there was a part that had the feel of a mammal, too, fur and arms. Please remember that from John’s distance the beast would have been the size of a dime, so I won’t criticize his crab-riding monkey description even though we all know it’s retarded.”
Magical Girl Hunters: (Halloween 2008 for the initial ten stories)
Yoi and Itami are young murder-minded sociopaths who fulfil hits on Magical Girls – of which there are many, in a universe where so many Magical Girls are being spawned that the MGs have to work niches like ‘littering’ and ‘illegal downloads’ – with lethal force. So, polluting corporations or whale-killer factory ships turn to the self-proclaimed Magical Girl Hunters. And, yes, in the tradition of the genre, these MGs can be as young as twelve. And yes, the Hunters do kill them. Did I mention the sociopathy?
Portraying the MGs as the willfully-endangered child-soldiers they are, Magical Girl Hunters is a Round Robin fiction – basically a group of authors takes turns at writing stories. This means the characterisations, motivations and quality can vary greatly – and that things get progressively more complex as it goes on. Particularly annoying, for instance, was the antagonist Ultra-san, who is built up through the early stories, given good backstory and a magnificent death – but then later writers kept bringing him back …
I’m a sucker for a good villain story, and later characterisations had more Yoi & Itami fighting demons who try to doublecross them on payoffs / Yoi having revelations about his own nature and his importance as the manifestation of chaos (which Dave was in John Dies in the End – pattern, yes?). This either ameliorates the more evil sides of their trade or creates a wish-fulfilment fantasy of making popular characters into heroes by cutting off the original ideas that made them so original – it really did depend on the author.
“I wish I could tell you that I sat in my office and brooded darkly until I came up with the perfect revenge plan, but I was distracted. Another trap was set for me outside the office door.
If I told you it was Itami, you might actually get the impression I was fooled by the thing waiting patiently for me. But frankly, even if I didn’t know he was in a hospital bed doing his best inanimate object impression, anyone with half the sense of a retarded sea urchin would have been able to sort this thing into the “not-exactly-human” category. It stood there, sorta lopsided, dressed in a trenchcoat… it had a black wig over its head, and under that I could see a cheap plastic mask, of which the lower jaw area had been cut free so the “mouth” could appear to move.
The -best- part, however, was the sloppily-lettered bit of cardboard hanging from its shoulders by a strand of twine, that read, “Me Itami”.
I sighed, as I looked at it from down the hallway, then walked to the door.
“Hey, Itami,” I said cheerfully, “All healed up?”
The Itami-thing lurched a bit, and a deep voice gurgled, “Me all healed, yep.”
I unlocked the door and walked in, and it followed. Well, at least it shuffled like Itami.
Taking a breath, I walked to the lone window, opened it, and yelled dramatically, “Good Lord! A whole dumptruck of -raw meat- has overturned in the street below!!”
Shoving me aside, the creature poked its torso out the window. “Where??Where?? Me want to see!”
Yes, I gave it a kick, and yes, it fell out the window. I watched it drop to the pavement, where it burst apart into a couple dozen small lizards, which scurried into the sewer, some of them making nasty gestures in my direction as they did so.
Fog Juice: 2009
Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw’s Nanowrimo novel. Jim, his girlfriend Rose and his butt-monkey Penfold are launched into a world where, like the above novels, the imbibing of mind-altering fluids sets off a crazy adventure of insight and hallucination. From the moored Accountacy Island, to the Pirate Ship won by his girlfriend by means she can’t remember, while the most megalomanical man in the world takes over people through their dreams – and all because he took a swig of fog juice.
This is part of the reason I read in Halloween – it is just before the (online) National novel writing month – Nanowrimo, so a lot of last year’s manuscripts are usually up by then. The pressure of writing to novel length within a month causes these authors to invoke Chandler’s Law – when in doubt, have a man with a gun burst into the room – but with ninjas, often. So many ingenious ideas are brought to bear in a panaphaly (?) of jokes, stories and delightful puns that this is just fun to read.
“Inept Richard is the most famous pirate in the entire history of modern pirating. Which is not to say he was a particularly good pirate. Indeed, many of his friends and contemporaries felt that he would probably have been more at home with a more sedate, less challenging job, like retail, or flower arranging, because he didn’t seem to be cut out for pirating at all. He could only stomach two or three pints of grog before starting to feel sick, he couldn’t wear an eyepatch for more than an hour or two before complaining about headaches, and it was widely believed that he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a cannon even if someone else loaded it, aimed it and pulled the trigger for him. And yet, every pirate knows where they were when Inept Richard died.
His fame was down to three factors. Firstly, he held the all-pirate record for most injuries sustained from a single blow in a one-on-one fist fight. Admittedly, this was on a technicality – he had fallen down six flights of stairs into an industrial tumble drier.
Secondly, he was the only man to return alive from Bustier Bill’s ill-fated voyage to the Caverns of Ignoble Treachery in Great Yarmouth. But most people had learned to stop asking him about that, because doing so would cause him to spontaneously vomit and go into a catatonic trance for anything up to a week.
Lastly, his death itself had something of a notoriety about it. In his final moments, Inept Richard inadvertently proved that it is possible for the human body to be moving at sufficient speed to pass straight through a metal grille, provided the grille is sharp and the human body suitably soft and pliant. I won’t describe any further for reasons of decency, but suffice to say Inept Richard was regrettably in no condition to write up his findings for the scientific community afterwards.
I know exactly where I was when Inept Richard’s remains were being scraped off the deck with a wallpaper stripper. I was running at full speed through the halls of residence at St. Crispin’s University, England in a state of absolute panic. I was attempting to convey this state as best I could with body language, by foaming at the mouth and waving my arms like a loon, and constantly gibbering in fear-stricken unintelligibility, and students were leaping out of my way left and right.”
Next week – 2010’s reading. Then, totally, Scott Pilgrim. Fo’ Realz.