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Grady Hendrix

Fiction and Excerpts [2]
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Fiction and Excerpts [2]

Horrorstör (Excerpt)

|| Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking. To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they'll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

If Stephen King and Oliver Stone Had a Baby They’d Name It Shinglo

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, where out-of-print paperback horror from the Seventies and Eighties straps on its M-16, scrawls “Born to Kill” on its helmet, and slogs out into the jungles of ‘Nam to get possessed by demons from hell before coming back home and stirring up trouble in Cleveland.

Every single horror paperback of the Seventies and Eighties is a special snowflake, each one a unique arrangement of Nazi leprechauns, arm-eating whales, jogging cults, and extraterrestrial orgasms. But one thing many of them have in common is their hero: the Vietnam vet. Tim O’Brien’s moving and accomplished memoir about his tour of duty in ‘Nam, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, came out in 1973 the same year the US was withdrawing from Saigon. But horror had been there first. Bob Clark’s Deathdream, about a young soldier coming home from Vietnam to reunite with his family who do their best to overlook the fact that he’s now a flesh-eating zombie, came out the year before in 1972, as did Stanley about a Vietnam Vet killing people with snakes, and Targets had a deranged Vet turned drive-in sniper all the way back in 1968. Since then, Vietnam vets have become motion picture shorthand for damaged goods. Whether it’s Invasion of the Flesh Hunters (1980), Don’t Answer the Phone! (1980), Fleshburn (1984), House (1986), Combat Shock (1986), Fear (1988), or Jacob’s Ladder (1990) the traumatized and often violent or deranged Vietnam Vet has become an eye-rolling cliche.

Horror fiction, on the other hand, turned Vietnam vets into heroes.

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What’s the Matter with the Midwest, Oklahoma Edition: Blood Sisters

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that magical day of the week when we turn to dusty old out-of-print paperbacks of the Seventies and Eighties to learn about the world around us.

Last week, we confronted the question “What’s the matter with the Midwest?” and learned that mostly it was an issue of both immortal, blood-drinking serial killers cruising around in stretch limos with their psychotic lesbian henchwomen, and constipation. But to be scientific about it, that told us what was the matter with Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and as we all know, unfortunately there’s more to the Midwest than a single town in a single state.

Believe it or not, that ominous region known as the Midwest covers twelve states, and all of them are problematic. Wisconsin was home to cannibals Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein; Illinois is where you can find the Seven Gates to Hell; Indiana hosted the murder of Sylvia Likens which spawned numerous books and movies; Iowa is infested with dragons; Minnesota is home to the infamous wood chipper murders; Ohio contained the haunted big box furniture store Orsk; North Dakota is stalked by pterodactyls; Charlie Starkweather hails from Nebraska; a Michigan crime inspired the horror movie Jeepers Creepers; Kansas hosted its own personal war; and Oklahoma? As you can see by the cover of Blood Sisters, it has an unusually high graduation rate for skeletons.

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What’s the Matter With the Midwest? John Tigges’s Vessel

Welcome to Freaky Friday, that day of the week when the great political issues of our day are solved by out-of-print paperbacks from the Seventies and Eighties.

In his famous 2005 book, What’s the Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank examined what are derisively called the “fly-over states” to see how they’ve changed America’s political calculus over the last 20 years. I’m no political scientist, but judging by what I’ve read in horror novels set in the Midwest, what’s changed is that everyone’s a depraved whore. I was born and live on the East Coast and my hair turns white at what people get up to in the Midwest, and before you start writing sharply-worded letters to Tor telling them I’m being judgmental, I’d like to direct your attention to Exhibit A in this Gallery of Shame: John Tigges’s Vessel—in which immortal witches kidnap young women, lock them in dark rooms, and make them constipated by feeding them “food you probably never ate too much of at home.”

What kind of food is served by these sadists? “Spinach, beans, cabbage, broccoli, peas…Oatmeal, almonds…and different tasting breads. Not the good old fashioned white stuff you get in a supermarket either.” As one of the girls says, “Sounds like this might be the room in Hell to punish people who never ate stuff that was good for them while they were on Earth.”

SOUNDS LIKE SOUTH DAKOTA MIGHT BE THE STATE IN HELL TO PUNISH PEOPLE WHO’VE NEVER BEEN WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI!!!!! Welcome to this edition of Freaky Friday where we ask: What the hell is the matter with the Midwest???

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Bringing an Uzi to a Vampire Fight: Nightblood

Welcome to Freaky Fridays where paperbacks are still on the racks and they’re full of sexy vampires and the even sexier men in leather trench coats who kill them.

If you thought ‘Salem’s Lot needed more automatic weapons, then T. Chris Martindale’s Nightblood is for you. In the Seventies and Eighties the rugged, emotionally repressed tough guy who was equally comfortable with both guns and lovemaking was the leading man of choice. The hottest ticket in male hunkdom was the Vietnam vet because he’d seen such things that he was basically Rutger Hauer at the end of Blade Runner only he didn’t dye his hair. But after Anne Rice’s slim-hipped, glam vampires took over horror in the mid-Eighties they provided horror writers with a template from which all future leading men would be forged, giving rise to a legion of edgy male leads who were conflicted, tormented about their motivations and, when they confronted their nemesis, were subjected to a speech about how they’re both the same underneath the skin.

Martindale saw that trend and said, “Oh, hell no.” He took Anne Rice’s sensitive vampires and machine gunned them into kibble. He set them on fire. He stuck bombs down their pants. His book’s hero? A Vietnam vet dedicated to avenging evil, wearing a trench coat and toting an uzi. A man as reliable as a divorced dad, roaming the country, parking outside lovers lanes and spying on them from his creeper van to, erm, make sure no vampires were about. Or anything. Instead of doubting himself, he was sure of his abilities to kick ass. Instead of worrying about whether gazing into the abyss would turn him into an abyss too, he worried about making pipe bombs. Instead of carrying baggage, he carried an uzi. Ladies, put on your running shoes because this stud is single!

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The Horror of Fitness Fads: The Glow

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that magical day of the week when we put on our light blue Adidas track suits and go jogging! Then we come back home, pour a big glass of grapefruit juice and read a crunky old paperback from the Eighties.

In 1963, a small pamphlet was published in Oregon called The Jogger’s Manual. Sponsored by the National Bank of Portland and the Oregon Heart Foundation it told readers how to give this crazy new sport a whirl:

“Start with a short distance then increase as you improve. Jog until you are puffing, then walk until your breathing is normal again. Repeat until you have covered a mile or two, or three. Jogging…can be done ‘anywhere’ and by ‘anyone’ — male or female.”

With those words, a boom was born. In the Seventies, everyone jogged. Jim Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running sold over a million copies. Magazines like Runner’s World, Running, The Runner, and Running Times appeared. President Jimmy Carter put on unflattering workout shorts and jogged, even though he wasn’t very good at it. During the Seventies, 25 million Americans took up jogging. Did you really think no one would write a horror novel about it?

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Drug Lords and Were-Beasts: Nightlife

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that day of the week when you take off your business casual, put on some stonewashed jeans, a white blazer, an electric blue silk shirt, and a pair of Vuarnets. You pour yourself a big glass of tequila, put on “Smuggler’s Blues”, and do a lot of cocaine while reading an out-of-print paperback from the Eighties. Or, hey, even the Nineties. We’re not judging.

At the end of the Seventies and Eighties horror boom, Dell tasked editor Jeanne Cavelos with launching a paperback originals line. And so, in the early Nineties, Cavelos launched the Abyss line ,which set a high water mark for groundbreaking horror fiction from authors as diverse as Melanie Tem, Michael Blumlein, Kathe Koja, and Poppy Z. Brite. But for every experimental, avant garde novel like X,Y they published, they also published some jaw-dropping, head-scratching slabs of weirdness like The Orpheus Processa book so weird and broken that you can only goggle at it in awe.

Nightlife is no Orpheus Process (what is?) because it’s actually a lot of fun and doesn’t make your eyeballs spin around in opposite directions when you try to read it. But still…

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Nazi Super Babies: Psychic Spawn

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the day of the week when we bring you wisdom right out of old paperbacks. Most of that wisdom involves how you should avoid children at all times.

Every child kills in its own unique way, each one a special snowflake of homicide. If you’re in The Children, you are a child’s body with Howard Hughes’s brain transplanted into it and you show up at reporters’ front doors in your private school uniform asking for autographs, then when they bend over to write it you pull out a silenced pistol and blow their brains out. If you’re the young, Jesus-addled child in Mama’s Little Girl, you hate brains, too, but you use a hammer to get at them. If you’re an army of children controlled by an evil psychic child in Piper you wait until Halloween and then you and your friends go on a kill-as-kill-can rampage that sees thousands die at your tiny hands.

And if you are Psychic Spawn, well, you’re going to kill psychically. Also, you’re a Nazi.

[As usual, the Nazis are to blame for everything.]

Man vs Militarized Nature: Killer

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet serving up the oldest and mustiest forgotten paperbacks from the Seventies and Eighties for your dining pleasure.

Right now, we’re in the middle of calls for a brand new build-up in American military force, and we’re also confronting the reality of the asymmetrical battlefields of the future. New challenges require new military tactics and that often requires new weapons, but please let me state now, categorically and unequivocally, that the Pentagon should never develop weapons that include: giant spiders, doorways to other dimensions, evil rattlesnakes, spray-on marijuana, anti-Vietnamese piranhagenetically-engineered barracuda, robot killer sharks, shark-octopus hybrids, human-shark hybrids, or dinosaur-shark hybrids. Not even one dollar should be allocated to fund even the most preliminary research in those fields.

The entire film and publishing industry have spent decades warning us about the dangers of laser sharks and hyper-intelligent stingrays, but every time you turn around yet another military experiment has escaped back into the ocean where it eats its weight in happy-go-lucky swimmers on a daily basis. In case we missed the point, Killer warns us of the dangers in doing something even as seemingly innocent and foolproof as training a giant killer whale to become a super-smart, ultraviolent, weaponized sushi platter. Trust me, even this can go wrong.

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Supernatural Urban Decay: Night Train

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, the day of the week we dive down deep into the depths of out-of-print paperbacks and emerge with a rose between our teeth.

The Seventies and Eighties weren’t a good look for any American city. All you have to do for proof is look to the incredible music coming out of New York and LA (hip hop, disco, New Wave, punk, glam metal), the amazing art (Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Karen Finley), and the groundbreaking theater (Robert Wilson, Ridiculous Theater, A Chorus Line)—cities capable of inspiring such an avalanche of talent must be hell on earth. Thanks to stupid urban planning decisions, crack cocaine, Reagan-era policies, and general economic malaise, every city sucked during these two decades. But the one that sucked the longest and hardest was New York City. Have you seen Taxi Driver?

So what did horror paperback writers do to cope with the urban hellscape in which they were living? They did what they’d always done: they wrote novels about monsters eating people’s faces. Come on inside, and let’s take a ride on Thomas Monteleone’s Night Train.

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Bad Science and Worse Parenting: The Orpheus Process

Welcome to your only source for the real news about the latest inventions and innovations in Science, the only field of study that destroys mankind on a regular basis. Broadcasting live from a collapsing tower constructed entirely of out-of-print paperbacks, this is Freaky Fridays.

Abyss was the hottest imprint in horror. Founded in the late Eighties, lasting into the early Nineties, Dell inexplicably decided to get into the horror paperback game even as the market tanked around them. Editor Jeanne Cavelos was given virtually free reign and she used Abyss to publish some of the most innovative horror fiction of those decades, issuing mind-melting, genre-redefining novels from Michael Blumlein, Poppy Z. Brite, Melanie Tem, and Kathe Koja. She also published The Orpheus Process.

Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 her “annus horribilis” which I’ve always interpreted to mean that she somehow read The Orpheus Process. The OP, is one of those books so over-the-top, so completely mental, so totally out to lunch that it never quite comes back from lunch even though you gave it $11 to bring you a soup and some breadsticks. It is the novelistic equivalent of going to the videostore to rent Gremlins and getting Boxer’s Omen instead.

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Hi, Satan! The Devil-Worshiping Pulps of the ’70s

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, your Dark Lord and Master who rises from the infernal pit and commands you to seek dusty out-of-print paperbacks from used bookstores and read them until your face melts off and slides down your chest.

Satan sure is a popular fellow! People are constantly praising him, praying to him, worrying about him, gossiping about him, cursing him, and sacrificing virgins to him. God’s pretty powerful, but Satan’s got cults, horror movies, the Smurfs, most children’s toys, and heavy metal music in his corner.

But how does Satan work? Where does he go? What does he do? Can he be washed with water or do you need a fast-evaporating alcohol-based spray to get the grime out from between his wings? All the following books have something to say about Satan and so I’m going to run through them quickly to make sure you get as much useful info as possible in the smallest amount of space. It’s the Freaky Friday way!

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True Artistry in Paperback Horror: Ken Greenhall’s Childgrave

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, the last chance to rediscover the forgotten authors of the paperback originals boom of the Seventies and Eighties before all paper crumbles into dust and they’re lost forever.

The Seventies were a time when Americans abandoned the cities for the country, barely even stopping at the suburbs on the way out the door. All told, 1970-80 was the first decade since 1810-20 that rural counties actually grew faster than urban and suburban communities. This was the decade of white flight, when Americans abandoned what they perceived as dangerous cities and soulless suburbs to get back to nature and in touch with the land by moving to small town America.

What they found waiting for them were secretive, isolated gulags founded by Satanic painters, bloodthirsty fertility cults, and crazed religious sects. Sometimes they found hamlets that had built their town squares on Indian burial mounds or situated the local lunatic asylum over the site of a centuries-old massacre. It was a crisis in town planning that resulted in ancient curses, restless spirits, and bizarre rituals being unleashed on average Americans in unprecedented numbers. Books ranging from Harvest Home to The Curse to The Searing to Maynard’s House chronicled the carnage. Some writers, like Ira Levin, satirized the whole “Escape from Progress” project in The Stepford Wives. Others, like Ken Greenhall, took a considerably bleaker view.

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Insufferable Devil Children: Seed of Evil

Welcome to Freaky Friday, that day of the week when well-dressed children lying in their coffins stare back at you from the covers of out-of-print paperbacks. It’s creepy! Who makes a child wear a tie????

Dating is hard. Especially if you’re Patty Thompson, a divorced 23-year-old mother of two (Janet and Little Frankie). First, her chain-smoking mother, Lydia, lives with her and criticizes everything she does. Second, her dead end apartment complex smells like cabbage (“stale and sour”) which is a huge turn-off for any man she brings home who’s not a leprechaun. Third, the only bar she frequents is the Red Lantern Lounge at the end of her block where toothless alcoholics go to gum their rotgut vodka and their corpses get swept out at the end of the night. And fourth, she has zero self-esteem. Maybe less. “Patty glanced at her reflection behind the bar, then quickly turned away her head…the less she saw of herself the less she’d remember how pathetic she really looked.” Patty’s got so much going against her that it’s really no surprise to the reader that the first man she takes home since her divorce not only gets her pregnant, but turns out to be Satan. Or maybe James Taylor? But probably Satan.

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The Horrors of the Female Body: The Searing

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, the day of the week when we talk about female troubles. And to properly diagnose and treat them, we turn to the musty out-of-print paperbacks of the past for guidance. Because that’s where all the best medical knowledge is.

Let us pity, for a moment, women. They have a lot of problems that men don’t have to worry about. They age terribly, they’re always getting fat, and if they’re not completely careful every second of the day, they have babies. Also, they smell bad (feminine hygiene—learn about it, people). When they sweat it’s just terrible so they need to be extra careful about that, too. If they smile too much they’re creepy, but if they don’t smile enough they need to be shot with tranquilizer darts and put in a zoo.

Then there’s the entire issue of… Down There.

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The Food Pyramid of Death: The Farm

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, where we celebrate the one food group no one likes: you. Fortunately, out-of-print paperbacks from the dim and distant past are here to warn us about the menace of the Food Pyramid of Death!

Prepare yourself to meet The Hogs From Hell, little piggies so evil that when they go to market they eat the market. When they stay home, they destroy the home. Everyone likes to eat bacon, right? Well, in the United Kingdom, bacon eats YOU!

Old McDonald had a farm,
ee i ee i o
And on that farm everything wanted to kill you
ee i ee i o

As one character proclaims in The Farm, “There’s no doubt that those bloody pigs mean business.” And the business they mean is death! But these aren’t just random deadly piggies. This is the story of an entire farm on drugs, where every single pig, cow, horse, sheep, chicken, and bunny rabbit is on drugs and these aren’t fun drugs. These are drugs that command them to kill.

With a kill kill here
And a kill kill there
Here a kill
There a kill
Everywhere a kill kill
Old McDonald had a Murder Farm
ee i ee i o…

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