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Monday, October 28, 2013


"Alone.  That was the word with teeth.  The most awful word there was.  Hell was just another way of saying it."
 - Victor Standish

          My Twelfth year was a bit like Twelfth Night, the eve that church-goers call the Eve of the Epiphany … a fancy adult word that describes what the donkey felt when the two-by-four smacked him.

The twilight wind moaned from the northwest, and entered the woods and bared the golden branches, and danced over the dying day, and led a swirl of scarlet and gold leaves.  Had they dreaded this day?
If so they danced now that it had come.  And away with a raspy ballet of spiraling leaves, high in the dim light of the Harvest Moon went wind and leaves together.

           None of the trudging people beside me noticed the dance of the dying leaves … or me, for that matter.  I studied the troubled eyes of those who could not see what I saw.  After a bit of thinking, I decided I had been wrong about them.  They were not alike, but different one from another, because they held different dreams … or the corpses of them in those sad eyes.

        If I managed to live long enough, would my eyes deaden into the black pools they were?  For me it was still very difficult to draw away from the call of my dream.  It was like a warm fire, or a hard-earned sleep, or like a haunting song from one of those sirens Ulysses dared to let himself hear.  Yet there was a stillness all about it, a stillness full of Christmas lights … my dream of home.  Not a place but a person who would want me just for me not for what they could get out of me.

          Typical of my luck, my Greyhound bus had broken down in the most remote part of the state of New York.  But at the time, anywhere out of Cleveland was all right by me.  It had been a long hike to the only house in the diseased landscape.  I’m not being colorful here.  The whole countryside looked like it had been passed over by one of those famous plagues that had finally made Pharaoh toss the children of Joseph out of the country. 

          I always identified with those wanderers.  Having your mother abandon you in the roughest cities in the country, then pick you up when her latest bad boy love had ditched her will do that to a kid.  At least that was what I thought was happening at the time. 


          I was wrong, of course.  So sue me.  Parents don’t make it a habit of explaining the screw-up’s of their lives to their kids.  We just have to play catch-up, try to make sense of the madness the best way we can, and deal with the fallout while keeping our heads low.  Childhood, despite what adults keep saying, is no picnic.  Mine sure as hell wasn’t.  But on the plus side, it wasn’t boring.

           I made my way carefully in the deepening dark.  A twelve year old kid was very small, and this night seemed very large and full of hidden dangers.  I have always known I was an outsider, a stranger no matter where I roamed among those who were still men.  There are horrors beyond life's edge that most don’t suspect, and once in a while a wandering stray calls them just within range.  Yeah, all too often I was that stray.

           I learned to walk on cat-feet by living on the streets of too many hard cities for six years … since I was seven.  I knew why dogs howl at the dark and why cats prick up their ears after midnight.  I shuddered, for all too often I heard the beating of black wings and the scratching of half-seen shapes on the pavement hidden by shadow.

          We walked into an uneven clearing, whose floor was veined with gnarled roots.  A huge mansion towered over us like the cast-aside skull of some forgotten and damned god, its twin blank windows looming over us as if they were the eyes of a lost soul searching to see if we would feed its hunger.  I smiled of salt.  I had gone hungry for so long that a meal of my scrawny body wouldn’t fill a ghost.

          The owner of the place met us at the door of his broken-down mansion as if he had been expecting us.  I didn’t like the look of him as he sat smiling in his weird-shaped wheelchair.  I couldn’t quite make out his face in the dim light.  All I saw was that big smile as if he was the big bad wolf, and we were all Little Red Riding Hoods.

          And he smelled funny. 

           Not “Ha-Ha” funny.  Damn odd funny.

          The six other stranded bus passengers hugged the heat of the room’s fireplace. 

But not me.  Something struck me strange about the dark room with all its dusty mounted heads of bears and deer on the wall.

          It should have been roasting hot in this place.  And here I was still shivering.

           Of course, I had eased into the far corner.  Even the shadows around me seemed cold and unfriendly.  I might have only been twelve years old, nearly thirteen actually, but I hadn’t survived all by myself for years on the mean streets of ten cities by being trusting.

          So there I stood.

           No one's life should be rooted in fear. You take one look at a new baby, and you just know deep down we are born for wonder, for joy, for hope, for love, to marvel at the mystery of life, to be awed by the beauty of the world, to hunt for truth and meaning, to pick up a scrap or two of wisdom here and there, and by our treatment of others to brighten the corner where we are.  But life on the streets beat the truth into me: the predators out there don’t give a damn for your dreams … or you for that matter. 

          Our host at the far end of the dining table called out to me.  “Come, boy, warm yourself by my fire.  It was a long walk from your broken down bus to my estate.”

          “Name’s Victor Standish, sir.  And I’m just fine right here.”


          I strained to make out his features, but the shadows, that didn’t seem to be cast by anything, swam with a life of their own around his face.  All of this had gone from strange to spooky.  I smiled bitterly.  Story of my life.

          “Where’s our driver?” I asked.

          The old man cackled, “He asked me where the phone was.  He seemed in a hurry to contact his superiors.”

          I snorted, “He had that many quarters?”

          “Show some respect to your elders, boy!”

          “Respect is earned.  And the name’s Victor Standish.”

          He shifted in his wheelchair angrily.  I went even colder.  His body squished when he moved.  And that blasted wheelchair blocked the only exit out of here.

          “Tonight is a rare night … Standish.”

          His words were spoken oddly … as if human speech itself was a thing foreign to him.  My hands went to my pockets.  I fingered the ice cold ball bearings I kept in both pockets.  He smiled wider, and I saw his teeth were pointed.

          My fingers closed around two ball bearings as he laughed.

          “It is Samhain, summer’s end, Standish.  The Celtic New Year began this nightfall.”

          “Funny.  You don’t look like a Druid.”

          His eyes narrowed, but he kept on in that strange way of his.  “In your ancient Welsh tradition, this evening was called Three Spirit Night, when all manner of beings could wander between realities.”

          I went much colder at his use of “your,” as if he did not belong to the human race.  He wheeled his chair closer to me by only inches, but he still felt much, much too close.

          He wheezed low, “You really should have sat with your fellow passengers.  It was over so quickly for them.”

          I flicked my eyes to them.

          Oh, crap.  Some were slumped on the floor.  Some were sprawled across the table.  Some sat bonelessly in their chairs.

          Their eyes were … melted, flowing down their withered cheeks like candle wax or mucus.  And their shadows were gone … as if they had been eaten by the fire.

          “You hold in your fear well … human.”

          The fingers of both hands picked the largest ball bearings they could find. 

          I glared at this … thing.  “You killed the bus driver, too?”

          “Oh, yes, quite dead is he.  You I kept to play with.”

          “It’s been a long day, sir.  I’m all played out.”

          “I think I’ll eat your sharp tongue last.”

          There was nothing in that for me but pain, so I just asked, “H-How did you get here?”

          He laughed wetly, “You think me some space creature?”

          He turned for a moment to stare into the fire with eyes that seemed to be looking at things I was just as happy not seeing.

          “In a way, I am from beyond the stars.”

          He turned back to me, and the shadows were cast back by the fire’s glow.  For just a moment, I caught a glimpse of a wet, scaled face, more insect than fish.  His eyes were rheumy and totally empty of anything remotely human or merciful.  Then, the shadows happily returned to mask that nightmare face again.

          I fought back a shiver.  He saw me.  He chuckled in a squishy gurgle.

          “It began with the meteorite.  That black seed of my birth landed in the far end of this estate on the night of Samhain in 1843.  Men could not approach the site for weeks because of the intense heat.”

          Again, he squished that inhuman laughter.  “And by then, the trees and the wild life were taking on strange shapes and smells.”

          He wheeled closer still.  “Men of your so-called science finally came to investigate.  Those who managed to survive their sudden illness to race home did so only to die in convulsions in their beds.”

          Ever closer he wheeled.  And I saw that tentacles, not fingers, grasped the wheels.  “As fate would have it, the lovely wife of this estate’s owner was pregnant at the time.”

          The wheels squeaked as he rolled right up to me.  “She did not survive my birth.  I emerged quite hungry you see.”

          He squished a growl, “As I am hungry now!”

          I tore both hands out of my pockets, shooting two ball bearings into his open, drooling mouth.  “Eat this!”

          He choked in wet husks.  I darted around his chair.  Crap.  Three tentacles shot from his middle right at me.  Another kid would have died then.

          But I was Victor Standish.  I knew parkour.  I did a full Arabian cartwheel right over those snaking things.  As I flew over him, I saw razored teeth in a second snarling mouth in his damn stomach.  I sent two more ball bearings into that one as well.

          He squealed in pain.  Better him than me.  I landed behind his wheelchair with a light bounce.  I grasped the handles of the wheelchair with both shaking hands.  I shoved the nightmare creature with all my strength along the wooden floor.  You don’t get expert in parkour without building up a lot of chest and arm muscles.

          I ducked those middle tentacles as I ran.  What did it take to kill this thing?

          I whizzed past the dead passengers and shoved this squirming mockery of a man into the blazing fire.  His screams were … something I still have nightmares about.  But I’m still alive to have them.

         I turned to run when the damn thing started crawling out of the fireplace though he was going up as if he were made of dry driftwood.  I tore the poker from its iron sheath and smacked him three times hard on what was left of his head.  He slumped half out of the fireplace to lie still even though he was burning like candle wax.

          He smelled awful.  I ran out of the room, which was going up in flames all around me.  I was scared down to the marrow of my bones, but I keep telling myself that as long as I have laughter, I’m not without hope.  So I managed to yell over my shoulder.

          “By the way, Squishy, Trick or Treat!”                       

          If I had only known that the trick was on me, and the punch line would come for my soul in the haunted French Quarter of New Orleans.  Sometimes we laugh at the very time when we should be crying.  And we wish for all the wrong things.


  1. Whee, Roland, a creepy blend of fact and fiction. I have no idea how a six year old boy could survive the streets for so long, but it seems it created this love of the macabre.
    Nice touch with the bus breaking down. Trust Victor to withstand the onslaught of this squishy killer with tentacles.

    So, Roland, what's 'hotlinking'? It seems you are troubled about it.

    Thank you for posting for the WEP blogfest. It's always wonderful to have your dark stories to 'cheer' us up. I look forward to seeing if anyone can outdo you for horror this time.


  2. Denise:
    When my father abandoned me at six on the mean streets of Detroit, I happily was looked after by a street person named Maudie. After six weeks she overcame her paranoia of uniforms and took me to the nearest Salvation Army center. I was reunited with my mother.

    As for Victor, his mother prepared him with various teachers before abandoning him at the age of seven. And, after all, he was Victor Standish, the modern Huckleberry Finn! :-)

    I am cyber-challenged. What is hotlinking?

    Victor was tutored by the ghost of Bruce Lee in Cleveland, so he was not your average 12 year old!

    I hope you enjoyed my "Haunting" story. :-)

  3. It's interesting that Denise in Australia can't imagine a kid growing up on the streets, but here in the U.S. it's very common, something I wish weren't so.

  4. Kittie:
    America is still a savage place in so many ways. It is heartening that in Australia and New Zealand, life is not as brutal for children -- a fact I use in the first book of my LUCIFER'S ORPHAN trilogy.

    Thanks so much for visiting and leaving such a nice comment. :-)

  5. Having to live on the street is not good for women or kids, but some angels do appear.

    Didn't Gaiman have a homeless woman in his novel, Neverwhere? For me, I would be terrified.

    That a person can leave these past tragic events behind and not bear grudges says a lot about character.

  6. D.G.:
    Yes, Neil Gaiman did have a homeless woman in his novel, NEVERWHERE. I have said THANKS to the real Maudie and her dog, Tufts, by including them in FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE and END OF DAYS.

    I still have nightmares of my six weeks on the streets. My father hurt himself more than me and robbed himself while I got an education of looking beneath the exterior of people, learning the biggest hearts can lie under weather-roughened skin.

  7. Roland, Victor Standish and... Cthulhu... thank you for such a Halloween treat! :-) I've found myself rereading certain sentences just for their smart beauty.

    I'm very sorry though that you've had such terrifying personal experiences, and especially at such a young age. No child should suffer through that, and in fact no person. But I think that you, and Victor, are proof that a strong character and a beautiful heart will prevail.

  8. Vesper:
    Smart beauty. Victor just got a swell head from that. Luckily, he has Alice to keep him humble!

    I survived, made a good friend, and learned important lessons. Thanks for being my friend. :-)

  9. Yeah, I really am... Thank you, my friend. :-)

  10. Hi Roland, I like your style. Very evocative and tinged with irony. Sounds like you've had a hard road. Thanks for letting me walk with you for a while.

  11. Hi Roland,
    Wow! That was a stomach churning read. Hat's off to you for making me feel the horror and bleakness.

  12. Jenny:
    Everyone is having or has had a harder time than they appear. Thanks so much for the kind words. :-)

    I'm very happy (in a Stephen King sort of way) that my story made you feel the horror of the situation. Victor made out just fine. He is a survivor -- which is hard with his ghoul friend he found in the French Quarter. He never thinks of "finger sandwiches" in the same way!! :-)

  13. Wowo, my head is spinning! So many details and images in this, it was really, really rich. The story didn't really start for me until the dialogue between the boy and the monst but once that picked it sped full speed ahead. So fun!

  14. Beverly:
    Victor lives in his head as most solitary street people do so that is why all the description at the start. I'm glad you liked the monstrous encounter. :-)

  15. Great story! Creepy, entertaining, and insightful! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  16. The scratching of half seen things...I love your word play. :)

  17. You are a literary writer and do it with panache. Victor's character comes across very clearly, and makes you want to know more about him. Thanks for sharing this. Really "enjoyed" reading it!

  18. Hey, at least he wasn't in Cleveland.

    You have good voice, Roland. Very chummy. It works.

  19. Such a vivid story. Your prose is elequent, descriptive, and creepy.

    Well done Roland. Happy Halloween.


  20. Shew, Victor sure kicks ass. The squishy tentacled man is creepy, a good opponent.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  21. Thanks, Chrys!

    What you can't see but only hear can really be scary, can't it?

    The Victorian ghoul, Alice Wentworth, likes Victor, too -- and not just as a munchie! Thanks for the kind words about my prose.

    Yeah, Victor sort of used up Cleveland before it used him up! The Russian Mob still hunts for him!

    Thank you, Donna:
    Of course Victor takes all the credit!

    Believe it or not, Squishy comes back for revenge in UNDER A VOODOO MOON! Can't keep a good monster down!

  22. Monsters with tentacle are the worst kind!

    Growing up on the streets is a horrid thing, so glad you were rescued, and that Victor has learned and survived by his wits!

    Trick or Treat and Happy Halloween!

  23. Yes, Yolanda:
    Monsters with tentacles are the worst. Unlike me, Victor is a scrapper! :-) TRICK OF TREAT!

  24. "away with a raspy ballet of spiraling leaves", "he laughed wetly"...I love the way this is shot through with imagery and detail.

  25. Li:
    Victor thanks you! He is a colorful thinker or is that stinker? :-)

  26. Oh boy, Roland, I read it looking through my fingers, brave boy Victor, horrible tentacled monster, ugh!

  27. Saturday November 2nd, 2013

    Dear Roland,

    Your scariest stories are the ones that are closest reality. A monster with tentacles is hard to believe, and is not as frightening as a small boy left alone on the street in a big city. That is too much to imagine.

    I agree with Li, there is a lot of wonderful description here with the dry leaves in the beginning.

    I'm student-teaching and don't have much time to blog. But I wanted to thank you again for your kind words when I was having all my problems this summer.

    Bless you Roland!
    Anna's WEP-Challenge for October: Haunting

  28. Sally:
    Victor has dealt with monsters with human faces all his life from gangsters to the Russian Mob so a tentacled half-breed was "child's play" for him! :-) Glad you liked it.

    I lived that particular story and met some monsters with human faces. In the first Victor novel, I use the first seven chapters to detail his harsh street life and merge slowly into the supernatural.

    I was a teacher and I know how daunting and demanding student teaching is. I will pray for you to do it smoothly and well. And I was honored to write those words of support over the summer. :-)

  29. Hi Roland
    Another well written story. Marvelous how you describe things. Victor is one tough kid.

  30. Thanks, Nancy:
    Victor learned to be as tough as the streets upon which he lived -- laughing as much as he could to save his sanity. :-)

    Thanks for the nice words on my descriptions.

  31. Definitely a chilling tale! Your accompanying pictures are great, too.