This episode of PseudoPod is brought to you by AMC Shudder. Check out Shudder’s great content at shudder.com and use promo code pseudopod for a free 30-day trial. What’s waiting for you in this trial? Shudder is a premium streaming video service, super-serving fans of all degrees with the best selection of horror and thrillers. Not only classics you know and love, but a couple less visible gems that we want to draw your attention to.
Firstly, The Old Dark House is a classic horror film created just before the Hays Code dropped, so there’s some content that is particularly shocking for its 1932 release date. This also was inspirational for a young Ray Bradbury and his Uncle Einar stories, which were inspirational for the artist Charles Addams. Secondly, Murder Party is an exceptional entry in the black humor end of the genre, made all the more striking if you know any struggling creatives. I first saw this at a horror film festival wearing my Army of Darkness shirt. One of the filmmakers greeted me at the door, and noting the shirt, assured me I would love their film. They were not wrong.
The thing I’m most looking forward to is the Shudder original series released this week — Critters: A New Binge. I have an arguably unreasonable affection for the Critters franchise, as they indelibly scarred me as a kid. Head over to shudder.com and use promo code pseudopod for a free 30-day trial.
“…and now, some excerpts from Cacophonus Audio’s forthcoming dramatic audiobook adaptation of Buzz Dixon’s 1980s horror classic…THE GERUNDING…”
“It is precisely because we fear that which we fear that we are afraid of it. ”
—Larimo Kurlius, Intellecto Pretentioso
Luckinbill, Maine, 1807 B.C.
Konomoro, wisest of the witch doctors in the seven tribal councils, felt uneasy deep in his red heart. The Norseman standing before him was stark naked and drenched in blood that gushed from hundreds of ornate, foreboding runes carved in his body.
Surely this was an evil sign…
“I know you’ve been worried about me, honey, but I feel we can put our marriage back together and land the Squiggly account if we rent that lovely old place up in Maine…”
“You rented the Nimrod place to out-of-staters? Are you daft?”
“No! And if you know what’s good for you, you’d better not go spreading any of your wild tales…”
“It’s nothing I can put my finger on, Chester. Just this strange feeling I’ve had ever since we moved in…”
Out in the woods, something watched…
In the kitchen, Gwendolyne felt the cold, icy caress on her inner thigh again. She shuddered and flushed in shame. Across the breakfast table from her, Chester and Little Billy kept eating their 100 percent-fortified Chewie-Pooies with Lip-Smacking Choco-Power Flavor Bits, unaware of the spectral molesting going on under her Sears Windsong Serenade terry cloth robe…
She never made it to the back door of the Kentucky Fried Chicken stand. From out of the shadows, eyes blazing red with a fury known only to hell, a huge shape swooped down upon her. She had time for one tiny, futile scream before the thing began rending her limb from limb.
Gretchen Oglethorpe had fried her last chicken…
“I’m sure, Mrs. Farley, But until we find out who did, I’m gonna have to question anybody who might know anything about the murder—including your husband…”
With trembling hands he broke the brittle seals on the musty old file that hadn’t been opened in over a hundred years. It bulged with crumbling yellow documents. The ink had faded and the handwriting was scratchy, but he was able to read them.
“By Jove!” he said. “This involves the royal family…”
“Billy! What happened to you?”
“Some boys beat me up on the way home from school, Mom. They said we lived in a spook house…”
“Haven’t you had enough, Mr. Farley?”
“Damn it, I’ll say when I’ve had enough. Just keep pouring ’em and keep that damn dog away from me…”
“Every chicken in the coop, Sheriff. Like something scared ’em to death…”
His father had told him to never, ever look behind the musty pile of junk in the corner of the cellar, but parental admonition had never stopped a determined nine- year-old.
Carefully he moved aside a rusty old bike, a steamer trunk, some old snow tires, and two large china barrels. To his surprise, he found a stout oak door behind all the junk.
The door swung open at the slightest touch of his hand. And inside the door…
“Well, something shaved all the hair off Little Billy and glued chicken feathers all over him! Chester, we’ve got to get out of here!”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You’d like to see me fail and crawl back to New York City with my tail tucked between my legs…”
…vomiting huge gouts of thickly congealed blood…
Stepping over his deputy, who had fainted when he saw the carnage, Sheriff Holcomb shook his head. “Another one…”
“He was home all night. Honest, Sheriff…”
Billy knew he’d have to go down into the cellar again…
That night her spectral lover took her with greater force, greater passion than ever before. In the midst of her ecstasy, she cast a worried glance at Chester.
Deep in his drunken stupor, he frowned at the violent jostling of the bed and rolled over on his side…
“Come on in, squirt. I like little boys…”
“Where the hell’s Billy? I wanna show him this keen new ax I bought…”
“Then, six months later, in the spring of 1908, the Carson family moved in; six in all, as I recollect. This time the carnage was even worse than usual…’’
“You scared the hell outta your mother, you little dipshit! I don’t want you talking to some half-baked old bitch who makes her living telling fairy tales to damn tourists! You pull a half-assed stunt like that again and I’ll knock your muthafuckin’ brains out with the back of my hand!
“Now say grace so we can eat…”
The trail had led him from England, across Europe, to Turkey, around the Mediterranean, over the Atlantic, through the dankest bowels of New York, and now stopped cold in Luckinbill, Maine…
“Just the wind…”
“No! No! Omigod, no! Gynaarrrggghhh…”
“Hey, Sheriff! Look at this! Some kinda charred circle in the grass and what looks like runes written around it…”
“I said I don’t want any damn cottage cheese. How many times do I have to slap this into your head, huh? I-don’t-want-any-damn-cottage-cheese…”
“Daddy’s been having a rough time, Billy…”
The sixteen Hell’s Angels were sitting on their big black Harley-Davidsons. One—less stupid than the others—nudged his friend. He pointed through the thick marijuana haze to the lone figure walking down the road.
“A citizen,” he said, making it sound like a cheap, dirty word. “Let’s roust him…”
“I don’t believe it! Fifteen Hell’s Angels wiped out, and all the survivor can say is that the attacker was eight feet tall, had glowing red eyes, and wings! Wings, for shit’s sake! I don’t believe it…”
“I’d appreciate it if you got off my front porch, pig!”
“You’d better be nice to me, Farley, ’cause next time I’m comin’ back with a search warrant…”
Deep under the black, still waters of Lake Tichimuni, something stirred…
“Perhaps I can help you, Sheriff. Sloane’s the name. Scotland Yard….”
“Billy, run! Go tell the sheriff…”
“Wait a minute, kid! Widow Bradley? She told you this?
“Hell, Widow Bradley’s been dead fifteen years…”
“Chester! No! Don’t! Argh…”
“Send an ambulance up to the Farley place. Not that she needs it any longer. And put out an APB on Chester Farley, white male Caucasian, yellow hair, eight feet tall, red eyes, large wings…”
“My God! What is it!”
“It is—or was—Chester Farley! Now shoot! Shoot! Shoo—arrgghhh…”
“Things have been happening to me that I don’t understand, Billy. You gotta believe me.”
“I believe you, Dad. Now untie me…”
“Dash it all! Don’t you stupid American blokes understand? It wasn’t Chester Farley at all! It was…”
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I abjure thee to come out of this body…”
“Mommy? Daddy? What have I done? Where are they?”
“Now, you just hush. You’re with Widow Bradley now. Everything’s going to be all right…”
Deep in the dank, stinking sewers of Calcutta, a baby that was human in outward appearance only cried and thirsted for blood…
“Mama!” is a Four-Letter Word
by Chris Sumberg
Excerpted from: Goodbye, Mother: From Shadow to Darkfall
(The Untold Story of the Sunnydale One)
[Forthcoming from This So-Called Playground Press, LLC]
Ray Toomie (Age 13):
I knew her. All the kids did. She was a real hard-ass. I mean, Ralph had me over one time, we were about nine. We started eating cookies from this totally innocuous jar – with pictures of Disney characters on it, you know? Very obviously innocent. And bang, out of nowhere, she shows up: “What do you think you’re doing? It’s only an hour ‘til dinnertime; you know that.” What could we say? She was always asking embarrassing questions – What do you think you’re doing? Where are you going? What do you mean “Out”? She seemed to get pleasure from putting kids on the spot.
Linda Squentin (Age 14):
I think she found me threatening, as a woman – although I was only seven or eight when I was “closest” to her. She once said to me I should put the top half of my bikini back on, that I would have to someday anyway. She couldn’t handle displays of femininity, sexuality. Looking back on it, I can see she was clinically repressed. She was uncomfortable with my body, with Ralph’s body, with her own body. Never once in all the years I knew them did I stumble into a room to find either of them nude.
Anthony Vlep (Age 15):
I had what you might call a “business relationship” with the deceased. I mowed her lawn. I did this because of the well-known tension between her and her son Ralph. His only outlet for aggression, since he was a minor, was to refuse to do chores. Although she still paid him an allowance, she was just controlling him with money, because she was pretty tight with the dinero. I remember finishing her lawn on a lot of occasions. She would squint at it – as if looking for screw-ups to pick at – saying all the while, “What a fine job you do, Tony,” in that fake-sincere voice of hers. Then she’d pay me, counting out each dollar into my hand. It was like challenging me to say, “Hey! That’s only four; I thought we agreed to five!”… She never did gyp me, but I kept an eye on her. That was the idea. She had to be the center of attention.
Jack Ripland (Age 16):
She had a weird – like “occult” – flare for sudden appearances. One day we were smoking, Ralph and I, behind the shed out back of his parents’ house. Just two kids being kids, you know?, very innocent. I’d just taken a long drag and was puking onto a heap of lawn ornaments – when suddenly she appears. All she says to Ralph is, “I’d like to talk to you, young man.” Very quiet, very rational. Like that guy in Silence Of The Lambs. Ralph went with her. I didn’t see him for the rest of the day. Who knows what went on in there? Anyway, after that day I received clear signals from her, that I was persona non grata at Ralph’s. She gave out these signals, nothing you could pin down, just this Norman Bates-type thing. Even if she wasn’t that crazy – and I’m no expert – she was two-faced, a real hypocrite. She never said, “Get lost, Jack, you bad influence.” Nope, she kept inviting me over to Ralph’s birthday parties, his personal jewelry outings to the malls, the whole nine yards. She never told my folks either. It was very subtle. And, for a child, kind of scary. She was a real power-tripper all right.
Mary Plecker (Age 14):
I first met Ralph when we were 10 or so. He had that subtle “hunted” look that really grabbed me. I wanted to mother him – more than his mother ever did. It was a scandal. Yes, everyone knew about it, her little moods. Sometimes, although he was just a child of fifteen, she would leave him alone for one, two, sometimes even two and a half hours at a time. He covered the rejection with sociability. He always threw money around – his parents’ money. I guess it was passive-aggressive, but, God forgive me, I think it was justified. I mean, what did they ever do for Ralph anyway? The flip-side of their rejection was a sort of “false interest,” you know? Ralph would come home from school, and his mom would serve him cookies and milk. She’d ask him inane things, which nobody could have any interest in: “How was your day?” “Learn anything interesting?” “Did you like that surprise I put in your lunch?” (“Surprise”? Ha! Usually just some hard-boiled eggs. Ralph hated hard-boiled eggs, but was too frightened of his mother to say so. In fact, he even ate the eggs, although they gave him terrible gas attacks. I believe he had Crohn’s Syndrome, although there was no name for it then.) The questions would go on forever, sometimes even extending to “Ralph’s Circle” as we thought of ourselves. (His father called us Ralph’s “gang of friends” – Can you believe that?) …”You’re the Plecker’s little girl, aren’t you?” she asked me once, that Joan Crawford smile stuck on her face like a decal. She’d put you in your place – “little girl” – like: “I’m the adult, little girl, don’t forget that!” Hell, I was twelve already! …God only knows what went on when there were no “witnesses” around.
Tad Tooner (Age 15):
She was a bad seed all right. And Ralph’s father was no help. He had this way of faking exhaustion, the “very busy day” routine. He stayed out of it, no matter what. Like one time, I guess we were about six or seven, and I was sleeping over. (What a joke – no one ever “slept” in that house. I was always afraid to shut my eyes, and would lie, shaking in my bed for hours. The only reason I went over there was because Ralph was my buddy, and I felt bad for him. I think I’ll bypass Hell just for what I went through then. Like one time, she comes in, it must be nine o’clock at night, we’re just turning in, and she just appears – and she says, “You kids need a glass of water before you go to bed?” … I mean the face, the face was all sweetness and light. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.) Anyway, we’re at the kitchen table, and Ralph asks for a simple bowl of ice cream. His mom, she was always keen to destroy a weaker person’s, a child’s, pleasure says no, he’s already had three bowls. So he slams his fists on the table and screams at his Dad, who is reading the newspaper (he was always ignoring us kids, a real dirt-bag) can he have a fourth bowl of ice cream. I think any rational person would have said, “What is a simple bowl of ice cream?” Ralph’s father just says: “Do as your mother asks you.” It was like that “Peace in our time” line, you know? Play the little diplomat. Meanwhile, the female Hitler’s running all over, going crazy.
Wendy Bitts (Age 15):
I feel weird saying this, my being a female and all, but there was a strong anti-male atmosphere at Ralph’s. His father was just about castrated, if you ask me – always hunched up with that newspaper of his. It was a sort of wall. Ralph’s mother, she called the shots, and she didn’t like anything spontaneous. Like one time Ralph slammed shut the door to the oven, I guess he was about 10 or so. Anyway, a cake that was in there fell, a cake his mother claimed was for a dying old lady at her church. She put the guilt trip on him. She asked him if he could help her make a new cake. I mean, she did everything but put a dress and training bra on him. She had this oh-so-reasonable speech about this so-called lonely, so-called dying, so-called old, so-called lady, and how the cake would make her feel needed, and anyway, she said she and Ralph didn’t get to spend enough time together anymore, blah, blah, blah. I mean, it was a freak’s guilt-trip. Sugar is bad for the elderly. The woman was half-baked in my opinion.
John Pothley (Age 16):
The cake thing got around. You didn’t need to be a genius to see the humiliation. This was our buddy, we hurt for him. Of course, I guess now everybody can see the tie-in to his so-called “antisocial behavior.” I mean, the whole kernel for everything. I see it centered on the oven. I have this image of Ralph staring into the oven, his eyes dilating. I think that something snapped, or began to fracture inside. Although I wasn’t there, I can sense that happening. That cake was like Ralph’s life – a flat, brown, crumbly-assed disc.
Tanya Ebersol (Age 15):
I think you have to define subjective terms like “sociopath”, “third-degree murder,” “third-degree burn,” “premeditated”, “push”, “oven”. What do these words mean if we disregard Ralph? And what do they mean if we disregard his mother? There are other words that we all agree on, however. Words like “neglect” and “motherhood”. These words are ancient, carved in stone. So far, no one has dared to ask why this alleged “Sunnydale social pillar” was home baking cakes on a Sunday – a mother, a housewife, a middle-aged woman with leisure time on a Holy Day. I think things are structured in this society so that no one, and that includes judge and jury, will ask those hard questions.
About the Authors
Buzz Dixon wrote a big hunk of your childhood, from Thundarr to Tiny Toons, G.I. Joe to Jem, Transformers to My Little Pony, Batman to Chip & Dale — and he ain’t done yet!
Chris Sumberg dwells in the shadowy regions of East Tennessee with his wife and their motley collection of … creatures. His writing has been published in Bitter Empire, The Partially Examined Life, Horror Garage, Grievous Angel, Broad Street Review, and other magazines and journals. He has work forthcoming in Folk Rebellion, ChiZine Press’ War on Christmas anthology, and The Hamthology (a poetry anthology about ham sandwiches – no, really).
About the Narrators
Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, corporate customer service trainer, voice actor and professional robot girlfriend living in Atlanta, GA. She has a rather non-specific set of questionably useful skills, a plethora of hobbies, and almost enough cats. When not writing or on the phone, she stays entertained as a background actor and rogue. Follow her adventures at kittysarkozy.com.
Kate Kastelein lives in an old, slightly haunted house on the coast of Maine with her husband and two children. She writes a little bit of everything; speculative and dark fiction, non-fiction, and the occasional children’s book. Her work has appeared in Non-Binary Review, Medusa’s Laugh Press, the anthology Idol Talk: Women Writers on the Teenage Infatuations That Changed Their Lives, and numerous regional and online publications. She is an associate editor at Pseudopod, and has an MFA from the University of Maine Stonecoast Writer’s Program.
Shawn M. Garrett is the co-editor of PSEUDOPOD and either the dumbest smart man or the smartest dumb man you ever met. Thanks to a youth spent in the company of Richard Matheson, Vincent Price, Carl Kolchak & Jupiter Jones, he has pursued a life-long interest in the thrilling, the horrific and the mysterious – be it in print, film, art or audio. He has worked as a sewerage groundskeeper, audio transcription editor, pornography enabler, insurance letter writer – he was once paid by Marvel Comics to pastiche the voice of Stan Lee in promotional materials and he spends his days converting old pulp fiction into digital form for minimal pay. He now lives near the ocean in a small metal box and he hopes that becoming a Yuggothian brain-in-a-jar is a viable future, as there is NO WAY he will ever read all the books he has on his lists, or listen to all the music he wants to hear. Everything that he is he owes to his late sister Susan, a shining star in the pre-internet world of fan-fiction, who left this world unexpectedly in 2010.
Karen Bovenmyer is the Assistant Editor of PseudoPod. She is an academic, writer, and teacher at Iowa State University.