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Grady Hendrix

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

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

|| A heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade, but is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

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.

Erotic Paperback Horror: Let’s Get it On

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the one day of the week when you can turn the lights down low, and get freaky with a forgotten horror novel from the past that knows how you like to have your flowers rearranged.

Paperbacks from the Seventies and Eighties have a smell — an overpowering stink of rotting wood pulp and cheap cardboard that makes your eyes water and your tongue go dry. It’s the stink of wet library, used bookstores, and Goodwill. But these books also have another smell beyond that smell. It’s a rich, deep musk that smells like hairy chest, chiseled chin, and blow dryers. It’s the smell of Queen Anne’s Lace, pink wine, and orange sunsets. It’s the smell of denim stretched over hot packages, bearskin rugs by roaring fireplaces, Japanese whiskey on the rocks, leather driving gloves, and mounted longhorn horns. It’s the smell they bottled to make Mandom. It’s the smell of Tipalet cigarettes. The smell of Weyenberg Massagic shoes. It’s the smell of sex, Seventies style.

Seventies sex lasted into the early Eighties, but died around 1985 as AIDS and the rise of the moral majority took the fun out of boffing total strangers. But for almost fifteen years, Seventies Sexy was tops: manly men, surrendering women, belly bracelets, and lots and lots of hair. Not only was it in movies, pop songs, and television, but it infiltrated horror novels, too. Which brings us to today’s Freaky Friday and our discussion of two of the gears on the transmission of Seventies Sexy: Swinging and Hemingway.

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Freaky Friday: Phantom of the Soap Opera

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the only place on the internet where you can relax and forget your troubles to the soothing sounds of forgotten horror fiction.

You didn’t get between my grandmother and her stories. That was the first relationship I learned to respect as a child: when The Guiding Light came on, I could be on fire, floundering in a pool of my own boiling blood, screaming for someone to put a bullet in my head so the pain would stop, and she wouldn’t notice until her story was over. Soap Operas? Respect.

But today, even though soap operas are dying (with only 4 left on the air, as opposed to 15 in 1981), the idea of a slasher taking place in the world of daytime dramas is still a strange one. After all, despite Dark Shadows, horror really doesn’t have a place in the brightly-lit, soft focus fantasyland of the soap opera. The world of soaps is a place of weddings and baptisms, where long lost twins are reunited, and people are buried alive, where characters are possessed by demons, get abducted by UFOs, discover lost underground cities, take over the Earth with weather machines, get stalked by serial killers, murdered by carnation-dropping serial killers, turn into werewolves, mauled by tigers, get massacred at coronations… okay, okay, soap operas are basically horror movies. And all Judi Miller’s 1988 horror novel, Phantom of the Soap Opera does is take that very literally.

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John Halkin and Mark Sonders Agree: Insects Want our Booty

Welcome to Freaky Friday, that one moment in the week when the truth about insects is revealed and you feel justified for having hated and feared them since childhood.

Insects—vital part of the ecosystem, or disgusting horrors bent on our destruction? Are they small miracles designed by God, or the vomit-inducing creeps who got tangled up in Kate Capshaw’s hair in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Could they be a vital part of tomorrow’s food chain, a high-protein, low-cost appetite buster? Or could they be horny monsters from Hell who want to gobble our junk? After reading a bunch of insect attack novels, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Whether it’s beetles and worms in John Halkin’s Blood Worm, caterpillars in his Squelch, or moths in Mark Sonders’s Blight, insects in horror fiction seem united in their plan to wipe humanity from the face of the Earth. Whenever I complain about how creepy spiders* are, it’s only a matter of time before some yoga dork carrying a copy of Zen Surfboards tells me that they aren’t eight-legged horror shows with too many eyes and no social skills but are instead a vital link in the food chain that maintains the integrity of Gaia. Maybe, but I wish that whenever a caterpillar started ranting about wiping mankind from the planet there was another caterpillar with a gluten allergy and a blue mat rolled up on its back to say the same about humans.

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Skeleton Doctors are the Worst Doctors: The Children’s Ward and Alison’s Baby

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, where we read books from the past in an attempt to understand man’s ancient enemy: the skeleton.

Skeletons are the worst. They lurk inside our skin, waiting to jump out and use our computers, dance obscenely in graveyards, and conduct unauthorized medical procedures on our young. But even worse than a skeleton is a skeleton doctor. First off, I’m not even sure their licenses to practice medicine are legit. Second off, I think every parent’s nightmare is that your kid goes away to college then calls to say he’s gotten married to a doctor, but when he brings his fiance home for Hanukah she’s a skeleton doctor.

“Your father and I wanted you to marry a real doctor!”

“Mom! A Gina is a real doctor, she just also happens to be a skeleton!”

“You’re killing your father!”

And another mother’s heart is broken.

Freaky Fridays has always prided itself on not blindly discriminating against anyone based on the quantity of their skin, so it was educational to read The Children’s Ward by Patricia Wallace and Allison’s Baby by Mike Stone and realize that, yes, in fact all skeleton doctors are fabulously incompetent and should immediately be turned into xylophones.

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The Mary Sue of Serial Killers: Slob

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that magical time when you touch the forbidden shampoo bottle and the Wishing Buffalo appears to read you a book from the musty and ancient land of 1987.

Collectors of fine art. Avengers of the weak. Men of taste and refinement. No, I’m not talking about Harvard graduates, I’m talking about serial killers (although there’s probably some overlap). In real life, serial killers are usually poorly educated rapists with substance abuse problems who are prone to bed wetting and setting fires. Yet Dexter, Hannibal, and Bates Motel will convince you that any mother would be proud if little Johnny grew up to murder her, stash her corpse in the basement, and make a vest out of her skin. Many of the most critically acclaimed cultural moments of the past decade (True Detective, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, No Country for Old Men) and previous decades (M, Psycho, Arsenic and Old Lace) would be incomplete without these compulsive masturbators and necrophiliacs.

Of course, if Hollywood told the truth about serial killers no one would watch because the number one rule of screenwriting is that you can never kill an animal and pretty much every single serial killer started out offing animals. But never mind! They know their wines! So now, meet Slob, the serial killer novel that Stephen King called “almost too crudely terrifying to read.” Well, he’s right about the crude part.

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Toy Cemetery: The Worst Cemetery of Them All

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the only time during the entire week when you can relax and read about books that can’t hurt you anymore because they were written long ago on strips of bark.

“As the years go by, our friendship will never die. You’re gonna see it’s our destiny. You’ve got a friend in me.” So sang Randy Newman in his theme song for the hit 1995 Pixar film, Toy Story, about a young boy imprisoned by his talking toys who try to foil his every step on the road to adulthood. It’s harrowing to watch this young man attempt to reach adulthood while surrounded by yammering, clacking, animated toys, many of them backed by major corporations, who view Andy’s maturity and subsequent freedom as an existential threat to their existence. People around the world identified with Andy’s struggle against these tiny tyrants and the movie spawned two traumatic sequels, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, which made the threat clear: if you were unable to destroy your childhood toys, or at least pawn them off on a smaller, weaker child, then they would do everything in their power to keep you enslaved to their own desires, and if you tried to escape they would pursue you to the ends of the earth—relentless, untiring, unstoppable. They will not rest, they will not sleep, no matter where you go they will follow, even “To infinity…and beyond!”

Is it any surprise then that worst cemetery of them all—worse even than the pet cemetery or the Neil Gaiman cemetery—is the Toy Cemetery?

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Abracadabra: The Only Good Magician is a Dead Magician

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the only weekly celebration of forgotten pulp fiction that comes fully approved by Magnus Trench.

Hating clowns is a waste of time because you’ll never loathe a clown as much as he loathes himself, but a magician? Magicians think they’re wise and witty, full of patter and panache, walking around like they didn’t deserve to be shot in the back of the head and dumped in a lake. For all the grandeur of its self-regard, magic consists of nothing more than making a total stranger feel stupid. Worse, the magician usually dresses like a jackass, sending the message loud and clear, “I may be a balding hippie wearing rainbow suspenders, but you can’t even stop me from stealing your watch and pretending to find it behind your ear.” We’re supposed to ooh and aah over their feats, which mostly consist of hiding things in their waxy orifices when we’re not looking, producing body temperature quarters and handkerchiefs from their nooks and crannies with a flourish, standing motionless until we’re guilted into applause, at which point they beam and wink as if they’ve just performed surgery on the President rather than befuddled a mouth-breathing child.

Abracadabra is a horror novel about magic and magicians. It is warm and wise and full of love.

Kill me now.

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We’re All Going to Die Screaming in Phoenix: Dark Messiah

It’s Freaky Friday again, and that means it’s time to put down the tools of your oppressors and rest your weary enslaved head for a moment as we ponder the eyeball-frying fiction of yesteryear.

When I was a kid, we were all going to die. Making it to legal drinking age was a toss-up. Making plans for the future was speculative. Like most sons, I blame my dad. He told me that our hometown was one of the Soviet Union’s top ten first strike targets. Today, I’m not sure the Soviet Union even knew Charleston, SC existed, but at the time I believed him with every inch of my tiny body. We would be the first to die screaming in a nuclear holocaust.

I consumed everything I could find about nuclear armageddon: The Day After, When the Wind Blows, Amerika, Special Bulletin. The End couldn’t come fast enough because I had homework due on Monday. It would be bad, but I knew I would survive. World War III wasn’t going to be a like Threads where women stumbled around in the rubble birthing mutant babies and trading dead rats for sex. It would be like Red Dawn where I’d lead a motorcycle gang of commandos fighting back against Commie invaders with booby traps, causing the Soviet high command to shake their fists in frustration. “He is only one man!” they would scream at their henchmen. “Where is this Charleston, South Carolina and why is it causing the Soviet war machine to stumble?” David Alexander knew this feeling, too. It’s why he wrote Phoenix: Dark Messiah.

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The Sentinel: Throwing Birthday Parties for Cats!

It’s Freaky Friday again! That magical day of the week when all your cares fall away and you sink down, down, down into a deep, dark lake full of musty old paperbacks where the screaming never stops.

After William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist materialized in 1971 and defied the reviewers (“a pretentious, tasteless, abominably written, redundant pastiche of superficial theology, comic-book psychology, Grade C movie dialogue and Grade Z scatology,” raved Newsweek) to become a bestseller, and then the movie appeared in 1973 and defied the critics again (“a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap…a practically impossible film to sit through..establishes a new low for grotesque special effects,” cheered The New York Times) to become an Oscar-winning blockbuster, the paperback racks filled up fast with occult cash-ins.

There was Burnt Offerings, and Audrey Rose, and The Manitou, The Search for Joseph Tully, and… The Sentinel. Barely concealing its plan to cash in on The Exorcist’s success (it even sports a dollar sign for the “S” on the cover), it’s a Gothic melodrama about Catholic guilt, a battle between good and evil centered on one hapless woman, and it’s jam-packed with priests hiding secrets, sexual hysteria, and birthday parties for kitty cats… JUST LIKE THE EXORCIST. But author Jeffrey Konvitz wasn’t stopping there. He throws in predatory lesbians, gruesome murders, and New York models. Of course it got made into a movie — a movie featuring one of the most insanity-inducing endings of all time. Because in the world of The $entinel, too much is never enough. Especially when it comes to the polka.

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The Flying Eyes: They Fly, They Drip, And They Hate America

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that time when you can relax after a hard week of keeping America moving forward into the future, and read about killer babies, flying eyeballs, and black time travelers.

1962. America. Land of the free, home of the brave. A college football game on a crisp Autumn day in a small town in the heartland. Lincoln Hosler (“Linc” to his friends) is enjoying this wholesome display of good sportsmanship with his best pal, Wes, and the girl they both have a shine for, Kelly, when something swoops out of the sun. Is it a flock of birds? Some kind of high-tech jet plane? No, it’s…oh, god, it’s eyes. Giant, flying eyes. “The skin of the lids was a monstrous rubbery mass, the pores visible holes, and the lashhairs were as big around as matchsticks at the roots.” What sicko thinks up this kind of thing?

This book’s Norman Rockwell Americana is revealed to be but a thin crust masking an oozing core of tarry depravity, like Blue Velvet, only instead of a disembodied ear at the heart of horror it’s a disembodied eye. That flies. And talks. And batters people to death with its long, curly lashes. Did you just throw up in your mouth a little? Well, turn up the Paul Harvey, pour yourself a Budweiser, and pull up a pew. There’s more where that came from.

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Bloodrush: Baroque Murders and a Complicated Conversation about Race

You’ve survived another week! Have a Freaky Friday and relax knowing that whatever book I’m talking about was probably published a couple of decades ago and can’t hurt you anymore.

Hugh Zachary has referred to himself as “the most published, underpaid, and unknown writer in the U.S.” He’s written 50 books under the names Zach Hughes, Peter Kanto, and Pablo Zane, ranging from science fiction and horror to romance and The Beachcomber’s Handbook of Seafood Cookery. And in 1981 he wrote Bloodrush, which is one of those books that’s ostensibly a procedural mystery but that’s dripping with so much blood and gore and weirdness that it crosses the line into straight-up horror. It’s a cheap novel, printed on cheap paper, with a cover that looks like it’s been assigned by random lottery. I mean, what animal is that with its bright red fangs? A weasel? A lion? A badger? Whatever it is, I guarantee that it doesn’t appear in this book.

What does appear in this book is a lot of blunt, racially-charged language, because this book is about black people. And black supremacy. And black people going crazy because of racism. And killer cults of black nationalists. And it’s papered in wall-to-wall use of the n-word. And it’s written by a white guy. So here’s my question: is Bloodrush totally racist?

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism

The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act… different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries—and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

Like an unholy hybrid of Beaches and The Exorcist, Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism blends teen angst, adolescent drama, unspeakable horrors, and a mix of ’80s pop songs into a pulse-pounding supernatural thriller. Available May 17th from Quirk Books.

[Read an Excerpt]

More Vomit Than the Exorcist: Such a Good Baby

It’s that time again! You made it through another week in your productivity cube. Time to relax and read about a book that wants to crawl into your ear and lay its eggs inside your brain.

Babies. Are they, as Whitney Houston suggested, the future? Or are they, as I’m suggesting, self-propelled puke machines out to destroy your sanity with their constant demands for food, boobs, dry diapers, and attention? Are they adorable little moppets who teach you a kind of love you never thought possible before you held them in your arms for the first time? Or are they Facebook-clogging monsters whose carefully-designed faces are engineered to render us incapable of dropping them down the well? Future doctors who shine a ray of light into the darkness of the world, or future YouTube commenters dragging their poopy butts over our nice furniture, new outfits, and white rugs?

For Ruby Jean Jensen, author of Such a Good Baby, the answer is easy.

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Shadowland: Harry Potter For Grown Ups

You’ve survived another week! Have a Freaky Friday and relax knowing that whatever book I’m talking about was probably published a couple of decades ago and can’t hurt you anymore.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if Harry Potter had been written for adults. Just because it’s written for children, that doesn’t mean it’s somehow inferior in quality to books written for adults, but I’ve always had a (probably perverse) urge to know what would happen if a more adult sensibility ran through JK Rowling’s story of Chosen Ones, benevolent boarding schools, and relatively sexless relationships. There’s no real reason for adult fiction sensibilities to meet JK Rowling’s beloved epic, but then again there’s no real reason for Superman and Batman to fight either. Sometimes you just want your Star Wars action figures to marry your Barbies. Fortunately for me, Peter Straub already wrote a literary fiction version of Harry Potter when he wrote Shadowland, 17 years before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was even published, way back when JK Rowling was only 15 years old.

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Boys Who Like Girls Who Are Actually Boys: X,Y

You’ve finished another week slaving for your corporate overlords. Let’s celebrate with a Freaky Friday, but there’s no relief here. Not this week. Because this week we’re talking about Michael Blumlein’s X,Y.

Christopher Booker wrote that there are only seven basic stories in literature, but in horror it sometimes feels like there are half that many. I blame horror for the fact that I’ve become bored by zombies destroying civilization, for the fact that I yawn in the face of hillbilly cannibals, for the fact that I’ve become numb to yet another woman or child dying horribly and returning as ghosts. After consuming large quantities of stories that end with the narrator becoming the monster, or being revealed as having been the monster all along, or being killed by the monster, I’m desperately craving something new.

So when I came across Michael Blumlein’s X,Y, I got excited.

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