Welcome To Point Pleasant (Check out my short story “Devils Moths Owls”)

I wrote this short for a horror-themed publication but I recently discovered thanks to my paranoia (long story) that said pub actually went under, so I reached out to them and officially told ’em I was taking it back from them in case they somehow wanted to come back from the dead. I wrote it specifically for that pub/project (a ‘zine basically), so I don’t have the inclination to shop it around to anyone/anywhere else (also it’s relatively short). Anyway, here it is with a slightly-more polished ending, enjoy.

“Devils Moths Owls” by Costa Koutsoutis

“Ahhh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your driver, just letting you know I spoke to one of the officers from the accident up ahead and we should be mov…”

Ty woke with a start, wiping drool from his chin, the old man next to him on the bus still knocked out. The bus was dark, unmoving, and he looked at his watch, groaning.

They’d been on the road for hours trying, and he was already half a day late getting to his parents’ house in south Jersey. They’d left upstate New York hours ago, and were barely a third of the way there, somewhere on the Jersey Turnpike barely out of New York, in the dark in deadlocked traffic. He turned to look out the bus window, into the darkness of the trees on the other side of the turnpike barrier, a blackness darker than the dark of the sky.

Something red blinked at him from within the trees, wide and oval, like a squashed stoplight. And another, and another…another, another.

There was a cluster of them, red pairs, occasionally blinking, watching the bus through from the darkness of inside those woods, the masses on the sides of the Jersey turnpike that no one ever looked into, looked at, thought about, the spaces between townships, lining the roads, the highways, the state. No one else on the bus seemed to see them, just Ty, the bunching almost directly across from his window as the bus sat there, unmoving, unable to drive past this one dark spot.

Ty stared, rubbing his eyes. This couldn’t be right. “What the hell?” he muttered softly in the dark of the bus, looking right at the cluster of red, as one pair after another blinked periodically. It didn’t seem real, but they had to be. Could it be some signs? Some kind of red light that was for sensing speed or something? No, it couldn’t, they were in the middle of nowhere.

One set of the red eyes disappeared, and the tops of the trees, darker against dark, seemed to shake and shudder. Ty looked up, his face pressed against the bus window, seeing…something, emerge from the tops of the trees. It was hard to tell, some kind of tall bulky body with no head, just a fat bump, shoulders bulky..no, not shoulders.

Wings.

Giant, feathery…maybe, feathery? Not like, dragon wings, but, bird wings. Giant bird wings.

The rest of the eyes, red and periodically blinking in the cluster of the center of the darker-on-dark of the trees still stared out at him, and even through the distance and the window of the bus, Ty shivered. It wasn’t something stupid like the Jersey Devil or whatever, more like, like a bird. Like an owl or something, an owl nest, just a trick of the light. He looked back up at the treetops, at the one…owl…that was up there now, an owl, just looking bigger because of the night, the lack of sleep, with the fat round head and giant wings…and long torso and humanlike legs.

No. No, that’s not right. He stared harder, at this point face directly against the glass, his breath fogging the window, at the tall headless figure with the bright red eyes and massive wings perched on impossibly-long legs on the treetops, looking like it was switching between preening its wings and staring down at the bus, staring at him, a headless man with large folded-back wings and red glowing eyes from a face in that broad chest, just like the clutch of eyes from within that darkness below from the trees.

It was some kind of giant owl, an owl-man, maybe, Ty thought, groping for his phone in his pocket, afraid to look away but knowing he had to, had to look it up, look up something that was tickling at the back of his brain along with that other thing, the old fear. The impulse to hide from a predator that prey feel, an automatic chemical thing that humans had long ago lost. His fingers worked without his eyes breaking away from the window as the giant at the top of the trees stretched out those large wings, spreading wide and blacker-on-black against the sky.

The bus started to move suddenly, a jump forward shifting into an accelerating glide forward, and the view began to shift. Ty turned, as much as he could, backwards to look back at the eyes, watching them continue to slowly blink out of existence in the dark of the side of the highway, the one last pair, the largest, up on the top of the trees, continuing to watch like red pinpricks against the darker-on-dark of the woods by the side of the turnpike.

Ty slumped against this bus seat, realizing he was drenched in cold sweat, like he’d just avoided something, unspeakable, horrible. He looked down at his phone, hands automatically having typed something in, the search results for “giant owl red eyes” loading, ready to be seen just by scrolling the down the phone’s screen.

The bus rolled on, and the whole time, his hands rested on the phone, never looking down, preferring instead, he thought, closing his eyes as the darkness out the windows was replaced by the artificial brightness of street lights and restaurant windows, a comforting shield against whatever was behind those eyes.

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Buy Me A Cup Of Coffee, Maybe?

I started a Ko-Fi page, where you can donate a tip (buying me a cup of coffee, because it works in $3 increments) if you like my writing.

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Check it out, and if you like my work you can maybe show your appreciation. It’s basically a tip jar, a halfway point in my constant desire to be left alone and wanting to try and monetize my writing in some way. I don’t feel like I have the energy or the output (or the fanbase) to have a Patreon page and regular updates and special tiers or however it works.

Anyway you can click the link in the sidebar on my site, or subscribe/save my profile directly, whatever works best for you.

This way, it’s more like a show of appreciation for my work in general, or for something in particular you liked that I did. I’ve felt dumb about doing something like this for a while because it partially feels like a “hat in hand” sorta thing, hustling for money, but also because I genuinely never feel like I’m doing enough actual writing and publishing (even though I do have a full-time teaching schedule). But you know, self-doubt and imposter syndrome and all…anyway, don’t take this as an obligation, simply a reminder, a notice that it’s there, and that you’re under no obligation to use it.

Anyway, semi-regular broadcasts returning soon, check it out and lemme know if this is or isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever had.

Try Out My New Chapbook, “BRICKED”!

Hey I have a new thing! I put together another little chapbook.

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BRICKED: Short Stories is a sort of “sequel” to the previous one, BURIED, and is more of what I seem to do best, horror and crime short stories. Besides “Basements,” everything in it is all-new stuff.

It’s five stories about weird and dirty stuff, be it supernatural or just ugly reality, and I hope you enjoy it. It’s $3.70 for a print copy plus a free digital download (I’m going through MagCloud again), or 99 cents for a digital copy only.

I hope everyone likes it, spread it around, check it out and let me know what you think. If you’re a subscriber of my “Scrapings, Etc.” newsletter there’s an upcoming issue about how I make these little chapbooks with my limited knowledge of design and limited toolset, so stay tuned for that too.

Enjoy My Short Story “Basements”

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One of the stories I’d been circulating and submitting, a little weird fiction, a little crime, a little personal fiction. This got a dinged (which I can see why) or just ignored by the places I shopped it to, so it’s been languishing.

I can’t really think of any place for it, even after some work and cleaning up. Figured it should still see the light of day, so why not read it & let me know what you think.  Continue reading “Enjoy My Short Story “Basements””

No Maps For These Obituaries

 

I wrote this essay for something, but it never went anywhere and because it was like five, almost six months ago, I’m gonna put it up here. I really liked finishing this, and it was the culmination of something I’d been trying to get out for a while.

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About five years ago my brother told me that someone we’d gone to school with, years and years ago, had died. He and his girlfriend (the older sister of another schoolmate) had overdosed on heroin (I thought about it recently and counted how many people I knew who had through the years descended into serious drug abuse and it sorta shocked me, but that’s another story.)

It was a lifetime ago, knowing those people, when the guy and his friends alternated between picking on me and being friendly with my circle of friends, who were a few years younger. Sometimes thinking back on that period of my life, my childhood basically, it feels like the movie on the childhood of someone completely unlike me.

I’ve thought about that random conversation a lot since then, especially throughout working on the Internet, writing and publishing on the Internet, and communicating with people on the Internet. I’ve thought about it a lot as well as I’ve periodically had nothing to do and decided to see if old friends I’ve lost track of were out there, throwing names into search engines and social networking platforms. It’s not an obsession or anything, because honestly half the time I’ve forgotten people’s last names through the years, forgotten how to spell the names I did remember, and constantly tell myself that just because I have a bizarrely-obsessive hoarding mind that keeps memories like old user manuals in junk drawers, others don’t do that. I managed to track down my 3rd-grade “best friend” recently because his complete name came to me as I sat at work, and it was a surreal thing to see his face on the computer screen, older and yet, familiar enough that I could remember us at his house, playing in his room while our moms chatted, mine offering her a friendly ear as his parents divorced. At least that’s what I remember, and who knows if that’s even a true memory at this point?

Am I a memory that randomly comes up in their minds too? Did he ever think about me? Did any of them? Or have I completely faded from the collective memory of some people, no matter how hard we might try?

One friend I’ve actively looked up a few times online I’ve never been able to find, and I’ve probably been stuck on it because not only does he have the same name as someone relatively-famous, but also because I have a possible way to actively do it, but don’t want to intrude on it. I’m “friends” on the internet with his younger sister, a peer-mate of my younger brother.

I hesitate though, mostly because of basic civility, feeling like it’d be weirdly crass to just ask. Should I actively reach out to her to ask whatever happened to her brother? I’ve tried to look her brother up because, for lack of a nicer or more multi-depth way of saying it, he changed my life. He was the one who introduced us all to punk rock in the eighth and ninth grade, the beginning of a series of transformative waves in my life that made me the man I am today. It’s strange to look at someone like that, a peer who may not even remember who I am.

And like the ones who OD’ed, what if they died? Do I want to be the asshole who ends up reminding someone about a family member that’s no longer with us?

Writer and former cartoonist Ed Brubaker, probably best-known these days as one of the writers on the HBO series Westworld and the comics Kill Or Be Killed and The Fade-Out (both with artist Sean Philips), once said something in an interview that, though I paraphrase it and butcher it constantly in re-telling it, always sticks with me. When asked if he’d ever revisit or re-release his own early work, the comic Lowlife, he said sometimes things should remain in the past. Old work is old work for a reason, because you move on and improve from it.

It stuck with me. It’s the twenty-first century and nostalgia is in full, almost downward effect at this point as we obsessively archive, re-release, and redo (like the aforementioned Westworld, which I’ll admit to loving, or the big Hulu.com news to have the complete run of The Golden Girls, which I’m intensely excited about), we have a hard time letting go. We don’t even want all this stuff we save and revisit at times, but because we can, because post-World War 2 when the ability to archive and look back with nostalgia, we do it because we can, because now that things can be saved, they’re treasured, and things that are treasured are treated as archives of better times, times where we forget the bad and fetishize the good. Nostalgia, right?

There are, arguably, some times when it’s not necessarily “bad” and can even be healthy mentally, socially, and spiritually even. My grandparents, like a lot of Greeks, were refugees fleeing their home villages during World War 2 to avoid the Italian occupation, the Nazis, and impending famine, leaving almost everything. In the case of my paternal family, they went to Turkey, Egypt, and finally Ethiopia to wait out the war, briefly returning before coming to the US. Old property, old homes, old farmsteads and friends were left behind to create new lives here in New York City. First, in a mostly-Greek community in downtown Manhattan before moving to Queens, where, over time, a lot of those old friends from the old country came and also bought homes. Years later though, can you blame my grandparents for being nostalgic? For wanting to go back and find those old fragments of a former life, the life before they came to the US? The old properties, old family photos and toys and mementos, were left to literally rot, in some cases, before being rescued.

It’s not nostalgia here with blind and non-critical fondness, because if I asked my grandmother about what life was like then, in an area of Eastern Europe that still had dirt-floor homes and wells for water, she’d definitely point to her kitchen and indoor bathroom and TV. It’d be more like trying to maybe maintain a connection that was broken too soon, broken unwillingly. It’s probably not even nostalgia in the strictest sense, but an attempt at repairing a part of life that was tragic, sad, and taken away against their will. Still, when I sit down and hear her talk about old times, when she or other older Greeks who came to this country go back and refurbish old homes and properties and put the old photos in new frames up on the walls, there’s a level of fondness attached to it all, even if they know deep down it maybe wasn’t all that great. Youth can be a hell of a drug.

That desire for keeping what came before and bringing it around again every so often even influenced us, collectively, in a professional way. I’m a writer and teacher, and one of the ways that I promote my writing and shop it around is by making sure I can point to an archive of work, a backlog of stuff both old and new. When I just wrote for a living, I was regularly making sure that archive was accessible, that old work, old stuff, representations of older lives in some cases, were out there, easy to find. It didn’t matter, in a way, that some of it wasn’t as good as the newer stuff (it really wasn’t, I’ve come to realize. Woof, that old stuff is bad).

I gave up. I think it’s time to recognize that sometimes, old friends are the past, especially after over twenty years at this point. Human memory is a chemically-insecure and awful and almost tragically-flawed archiving tool, making us romanticize even the worst of times for us. While some friendships can last that long, and while some stuff from our pasts is worth revisiting, be it work or relationships or even the structure of how our life worked, just because it existed in a moment of space and time, doesn’t mean it needs to remain. In the end, as cliché as it might sound, I’m going to give up on trying to find out what happened to that one friend, the guy who basically changed my life and set it on the path that it is today, and let that mystery rest.

It’s better this way.

 

Mouth Full Of Feelings

I drew a new WORKING TITLE page, a strange one where a horror idea I’ve been rolling around in my head (and is in a short story that I wrote as well) just sort of played out.

This page probably more than any other illustrates the “role” of WORKING TITLE, which isn’t to really tell a story but to just do something strange and try new things. I’ve always felt like I’m a less-than-competent cartoonist whose panels and final pages overall never look as good as notes and thumbnails, and I’ve been realizing that I need to go hard on really filling in the page.

I’ve always fallen back on minimalism to cover up what I think is a shitty art style and uneven lines (my love of minimal newspaper comic strips, which are VERY minimal, is part of it) but I’m trying to get more and more confident about filling space and adding stuff, so yeah…that’s where WORKING TITLE comes in.

Anyway, enjoy the comic.

Check Out “Hit The Till” At MONDAYS ARE MURDER

I’m really excited that my short story “Hit The Till” is being featured as a part of Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder story series, available at their website.

You can read it here!

Akashic Books are a great publisher with a variety of awesome titles, including their NOIR short story  collection series like Haiti NoirTwin Cities Noir, Brooklyn Noir, and they’re the home of author Joe Meno, who wrote some of my favorite books, The Boy Detective Fails and Hairstyles Of The Damned.

Seriously, what else have you got going on on a Monday? Check out “Hit The Till” and other Mondays Are Murder stories, spread the word!

A Strange Wolf Nipping At My Heels

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So to celebrate getting a little time off, I wrote and drew a new page in what I consider my “weird workbook comic,” WORKING TITLE. Nothing really happens, it’s mostly for stretching weird strange joke and story ideas out, trying drawing/cartooning things I haven’t really done before. I’m gearing myself up to write and draw some more comics, which I haven’t done in a while, so I figured this was a good way to get back into the swing of it.

It’s weird, I always tell myself I’m not going to work on comics but I can’t help but get sucked back into it, even though I never really think they’re that good. Always learning, always trying new things, I guess, hard to shake off a way of telling stories when you actually do like doing it.

Anyway, besides this there’s some more work coming out in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned.

Black Ink Is Back…Kinda

Hey, remember BLACK INK, the serialized mystery novella I used to do, featuring my character Ben Miles? If not, don’t worry, because now you can get the whole thing online for free.

I recently sat down and finished the whole thing, cranking out a semblance of an ending. I hate to leave a good idea hanging, and hey, if it’s free, you can’t be mad at me if it sucks.  I like writing Ben Miles stories, he’s a hard dude to shake, even if he’s not very good at his job sometimes.

Anyway, it’s free via my Smashwords author page to grab and read digitally, on your phone, tablet, computer, or whatever it is you use to read stuff digitally (like a Kindle? Do people still use Kindles? I feel like they do, along with bootleg tablets compared to fancy brand-name iPads, but what do I know) so let me know what you think of it, spread it around. Give yourself something quick to read for a commute or while you’re on the can, which is where I do all my serious reading these days.

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Manta Books brings in PI/part-time bondsman Ben Miles to track down a missing piece of comic book art. Simple, right? But nothing is what it seems when it comes to a Ben Miles case, and more than likely he’s gonna end up getting his ass kicked over a comic book.

 

Breaths

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Above is the desk, 2017.

Mostly paperwork, essays to read and grade, and my to-do list, but there’s usually project notebooks and whatever I’m reading or referencing. Actually, I think there’s a D&D handbook off-frame I was using as a reference for something Nightmare Party-related.

Oh, and of course the knife I keep around in the desk drawer for opening mail.

To get done;

  • THE SECRET PROJECT – Something I’ve been working on slowly. Involves working with other people. The script is haunting me, forever haunting me.
  • THE ACTUAL WORK – There’s a stack of essays to read and I’m working hard to stay on top of it all, better than previous semesters.
  • A FINAL SUBMISSION – The last of the batch of short stories and nonfiction essays I’ve been working on and shopping around, submitting since the end of last year.
  • CHAPTER 2 OF “PIONEERS” – I have…three pages of notes and haven’t even technically started yet. I should probably start.
  • THE THING ON THE THING – There’s a few blog posts to do, which I guess count as essays, with one in particular coming up next.

Alright, enough procrastinating.