Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I actually wrote this piece to submit into a creative writing contest. The guidelines didn't say anything about not posting the material elsewhere, so until I hear otherwise I'm going to share it here. Just in time for Halloween, it's another scary story. Rosewood resort is the vacation destination of only the most posh and well-to-do. By why was the island abandoned by its indigenous peoples in the first place? Read and find out!

Aaron Matthew Smith
October 2010

“Max! It’s amazing!” Tabitha said as she stepped into our room. She slipped off her sandals and tread barefoot across the plush blood-red carpet, then dropped her bags onto the king sized bed and walked to the extra-large Jacuzzi in the corner. I crossed the room, past the mini bar and plasma television to our private sun deck. I swung open the French doors, allowing a warm salty sea breeze to fill the whole room. The evening sunlight painted the sky a panorama of pinks and purples, reflected brightly on the endless black ribbon of ocean beneath. The sound of the waves crashing against the rocky bluff below the window washed over me like a tangible thing, and I felt the tension melt away from my body.
Just then a heavy gust of wind tossed the curtains on the doors.
“What is it hun?” I said.
“Hm? I didn’t say anything,” Tabitha said from behind me.
“Oh. Um, nothing. Must’ve been the wind,” I said. I glanced out at the tranquil ocean once more before returning inside, closing the French doors behind me.

“The island chain that Rosewood Island Resort is part of is made of volcanic rock.” the tour guide was saying, pointing to the rocky bluffs at the face of the island.
“Kayak tours right after breakfast? Whose idea was that?” I mumbled.
“You were the one who wanted to take the ‘adventure vacation’,” Tabitha replied. We were on the dark side of the island now, shaded from the morning sun by the island itself. High above, the face of the resort loomed over us.
My kayak bobbed uneasily in the green water as I guided it to the edge of the bluff. The water came right up to a sheer wall of blackish volcanic rock, covered in moss and lichens where the water lapped the face. This far down, the stone was remarkably smooth. Father up, though, it looked sharp, like it had been cut out with a tool.
Just then, a sharp wind whipped around us, tossing a cool, salty spray over our whole group. On the wind came a low, sharp whistle which rose in volume until it couldn’t be called anything but a wail. The pure torment and pain in it chilled me to my core. I looked around and noticed some of the others in the group getting visibly agitated. The tour guide who’d been speaking smiled.
“The water has eroded deep caverns and passages into the face of the island over the course of hundreds of years,” he said. “When the wind rushes through the natural stone caverns in the face of the island, it creates a hollow noise like you just heard. The locals came to call them the Caves of the Damned.”
“Psh,” someone said, and I turned to find our other tour guide by my side. I’d lagged behind the others when I was examining the rocks, and the second guide was bringing up the rear of the group. “Don’t listen to that guy. He’s from the mainland. I grew up on these islands.” He glanced at me with dark, serious eyes. “You ever wonder why no locals work here at night? It’s because we know well enough to get off the island after nightfall.”
I really didn’t want to ask, but I had to know.
“What happens after nightfall?”
“The island wakes up.”
 “What do you mean?” I asked.
“This island is more than two hundred years old. And it’s more than an island. It used to be a temple.”
“To who?”
“Who? No, to what. Nobody knows. When the island first woke up, everyone moved to the other islands and destroyed all evidence of the old order. Only in whispers and fairy tales does anyone remember anything about it.”
“What about you? What do you know about it?” I asked carefully.
“No sir,” he replied, shaking his head. “They don’t pay me enough to go through that. No sir. It ain’t worth it.”
“Meet me at the hotel bar at eight tonight,” I said, “And I’ll make it worth it.”

He was there, just like I’d asked.
Adrian (he’d told me him name at the end of the kayak trip) met me at the entrance of the bar. He saw me approaching and walked toward me. Without speaking, I removed a fifty dollar bill from the pocket of my jacket. He palmed the note, then turned and headed through the main hall of the hotel, toward the patio. I followed him.
In a moment we were out from under the high crystal chandeliers and soft chamber music of Rosewood’s main hall. On the patio a live band played smooth jazz into the night. He led me to the edge, down a short flight of steps and across a sidewalk that lead to the edge of the vast garden.
Finally he stopped at the steel guardrail on the edge of the bluff. Beneath us was the sheer cliff face where sixty feet below I’d touched the smooth face of the stone earlier that morning. He leaned on the guard rail for a moment before speaking, watching the moonlight reflect in the endless, rippling black ribbon of ocean.
“Can you hear it?” He asked. “Calling your name?”
 “I have heard it. How does it know my name?”
“How do you know to call the ocean the ocean, or to call dirt dirt? You’ve grown up, and you’ve learn the names of these things over time. It’s the same way with the island. It’s very, very old. Older than the oceans around it and the skies above it. It has learned many things.”
The wind drew up around us suddenly, and despite the balmy weather I was chilled. Then, I heard it. The same tormented wail that had come out of the caves beneath the island that morning.
Adrian didn’t react to the screaming, but he watched me carefully.
“What is that?” I asked.
“The screams of the people that the island has devoured,” he replied. “My grandmother told me a story, when I was a boy. About a man who wanted to know all that the island knew. He wanted to possess that knowledge and power for himself, so he tried to go into the heart of the island to claim it. And the island devoured him, just like it does everyone.”
“What’s down there?” I asked as I peered over the railing, my voice tiny.
“Nobody’s ever gone down to see and came back to tell,” Adrian told me.
The wind rose again, and the wailing began anew, louder and more tormented that before. Fear coalesced in a cold, hard lump in my stomach, but something else blossomed to life there. A morbid curiosity, a need to know just what was lurking down in those caves. Could there actually be something living down there? Or was the island actually alive like Adrian claimed?
Or was it all some sort of hoax, cooked up by a guy working a summer job to spook an extra fifty bucks out of a naïve tourist?
“How do you get to the caves?” I asked.
Adrian turned to me, his dark eyes huge in the moonlight. “You can’t be serious. You want to go down into the screaming caves? Do you have a death wish?”
“I have to know what’s down there.”
“I won’t have anything to do with this,” he said, and turned to walk away from me. I grabbed his arm.
“Just point the way.”
Adrian hesitated. He wouldn’t turn around and look at me. Finally, he pointed with the arm I wasn’t holding. At the edge of the guardrail, where the carefully manicured garden ended, was an old, gnarled tree. Out of the light from the garden lamps, it was nearly invisible.
Before I could ask anything else, Adrian had pulled free from my grasp and headed back to the resort. I stared at the mangled, dried tree for a while. Why had the landscapers not simply torn the thing up? I had approached it before I’d realized it, and was soon reaching across the guard rail to touch it. As I did, something out of the ordinary caught my eye.
There was a set of narrow steps carved into the rock face beneath the tree, just out of site from the garden.
Equal parts madness and wonder overcame me as I climbed past the guard rail, gripped the edge of the tree for dear life and slowly began to descend those narrow, slimy steps. After a few steps, I had to let go of the tree and press myself against the cold stone. I had to keep going. If I allowed myself to stop, I knew that I’d be overcome with terror and be unable to go either back up or farther down.
The wind had shifted and seemed to be howling from beneath me now, trying to either blow me back up the stairs or off into the roiling sea below. Finally the steps lead into a sharp crack in the face of the bluff, like a wound torn into the stone. I squeezed into the crack and was for a moment relieved that I was no longer in danger of falling into the roiling sea.
A scream, louder and clearer than ever before, tore at me from within the crack, and the wind that came with it felt like the hot breath of some colossal animal. I couldn’t stay where I was; it was either keep going or turn back. I was this far into the island. If I turned back now, I could never live with myself.
The starry sky above me vanished from site as I followed the crevasse deeper. It turned into a tunnel, and I found myself surrounded on all sides by damp, cool rock, pitch black save for my cigarette lighter. Every few moments the screaming wind would tear past me as if it was in a rush to escape the cavern, blowing my lighter out and plunging me for a horrifying instant in complete wailing blackness.
The tunnel widened as I followed it deeper into the island until I was walking through a great dark corridor. The walls and ceiling were so far away now that my meager flame couldn’t reach them. In fact, the only evidence that I was still inside the island at all was the damp, rough stone beneath my feet.
That is, until I came to the solid wall at the end of the tunnel. Its surface was smooth and flat, not at all like the rough floor I’d been walking on.
“What is this?” I asked no one, my voice echoing eerily in the impossibly black cavern. I slapped the bare wall with my hand. It was curiously warm compared to the rest of the stone. “Is this it? There’s nothing here.”
“MAXWELL!” called a huge voice, so loud that I dropped my lighter and clapped both hands over my ears. The wick on the lighter continued to burn as it lay on the floor. In the tiny flickering light, I watched the stone wall before me split like a colossal mouth, tearing open with a sound like a landslide near the floor and splitting up out of view. I opened my mouth to scream, but the sound was drowned out by the horrible noise that came from the opening, a whistling scream like the sound of tearing metal.
The floor beneath me shuddered and I was thrown from my feet, tumbling face first into the horrible opening. I landed in a heap on damp, warm stone. My cries were washed away in the screaming wind that surrounded me like a hundred grasping arms, and I watched in horror as the yellow light from the lighter vanished and the rocky chasm sealed itself up around me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: "The Call of Cthulhu"

Mark Twain once said that "Classics are things that everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read". In this instance, that statement couldn't be more wrong. This is one of those pieces of work that I'd always wanted to read but never had. Well, I found a collection of H.P. Lovecraft's short stories on Amazon and couldn't pass it up.

For those of you who have been under a literary rock for the last eighty years (seriously, it was first published in 1928 in Weird Tales. Crack a book.), the tale of Cthulhu is one of the most influential works of science fiction in the last hundred years, influencing such prolific writers as Neil Gaiman and Mike Mignola (and if you've never heard of either of these titans, please go to wikipedia and brush up on your comic book writers).

The Call of Cthulhu opens in the office of a young man (Francis Wayland Thurstonwho has just received a shipment of items from his deceased granduncle's estate. In the process of sorting his granducle (George Gammell Angell)'s estate he uncovers a journal that outlines his uncle's obsession with a particularly strange bass relief sculpture. In Angell's notes, Thurston discovers that a sudden outbreak of worldwide delirium struck several people in countries all over the world between March 1st and April 2nd, 1925, one particular incident striking a young sculptor at the Rhode Island School of Design, possessing him to create a bass-relief sculpture of a colossal beast with a vaguely humanoid body, membrane wings and a head like a writhing octopus. On the date that the sculptor created his horrific masterpiece, a series of unexplained earthquakes shook the globe.

 Angell goes on to discover that a New Orleans police office found a similar idol at the gathering place of a cult responsible for gruesome human sacrifices in the Louisiana swamps. When Thurston reads his uncle's account of a ship that became lost at sea and came aground on an island on the date of the worldwide earthquake (in a portion of the Pacific where there should have been no island), Thurston takes it upon himself to meet the sole survivor of the tragic voyage.

My problem with classics is that, after a hundred years, sometimes literature begins to lose its elasticity. That is, the language and the subject matter begin to lose their relevancy in modern society. I had the same issue the first time I tried to read the Lord of the Rings; at 13, I just couldn't follow the singsong manuscript. I have to admit, though, I had no such trouble with The Call of Cthulhu (before I get all sorts of hate mail, I DID eventually finish the Lord of the Rings, and yes, I loved it).

Lovecraft's style of writing is very internalized. Even in the instances where one character is speaking to another, very often rather than use actual dialog the conversation will take place like this:
"And then he told me the story of the moment that the boat capsized, and the horror that seized him at that moment stripped every once of hope from his soul."
While this style of writing is a little difficult to get used to, I think that in the end it adds to the macabre tension that Lovecraft is so well known for. The creativity for which he has become so legendary is on perfect display in The Call of Cthulhu. If you've ever heard the name of the Great and Terrible One before and you've never read the original short story, I recommend it highly. In a manner of speaking, it is to modern cult horror what Lord of the Rings is to modern fantasy.

Monday, October 4, 2010


I didn't realize it until I'd finished the piece, but this week's entry is a a sequel to a story I wrote A year ago this week (new window). Plenty of zombie tension and action await in the sequel to "Preparations".

Aaron Matthew Smith- September 2010

“How does it open?” Donny asked, squatting down next to me.
“You ain’t never seen an ammo box before, dipshit?” Sam asked, crouching next to the two of us.
“Shut up,” Donny said.
“Both of you shut up!” I said, leaning past the two of them. The trunk of the old Buick station wagon had nearly been sheared off in the crash and revealed a gaping hole in the old car. Heavy, waterproof steel boxes of ammunition were scattered across the road. Some of them had shattered and scattered their contents all across the battered highway, now littered with crashed and abandoned cars. Many of the boxes, however, were still in tact and sealed shut.
“And who made you the leader of this outfit, Mike?” Sam argued not because he disagreed but because he liked to argue. I didn’t dignify the statement with a response. In a moment the ammo box was open and we started sorting through the bullets.
“Ugh, mostly shotgun shells. We only have one shotgun.” Donny said.
“Are the keys in the ignition?” I asked. Sam walked around to the front of the car.
“Yeah,” he shouted, “but it’s smashed. No way we can drive it outta here.”
He came back around and started helping Donny and me sort through the ammunition in the rest of the boxes.
“I still can’t believe we ran out of gas,” Donny said, casting a forlorn glance at the Volvo we’d taken from the pawn shop manager.
“Well, we couldn’t stop at that Gas-N-Go back down the road. There wasn’t anyone there to activate the pumps.” I said.
“They never run out of gas in the movies,” Donny said.
“If this was a zombie movie, we’d already have run into three hot girls also on the run for their lives.” Sam said. The three of us grinned.
We took a few minutes to gather all the ammo we could carry and then headed down the abandoned highway. It least this part was exactly like I always expected. There were cars here and there, some that seemed to have stopped where they were driving, most off of the road along the shoulder or occasionally in pieces all over the road where they’d hit other cars. I couldn’t hear anything. There was no traffic noise, no animal sounds, nothing. Donny rifled the 9mm out of his backpack and cocked it, and the sound sounded like a shotgun blast in the silence.
“We’re getting close,” Sam said. “That radio broadcast said that there’s a military outpost in Pittsburg. We can still make it before nightfall if we hurry.”
“But we don’t know where in the city it is,” I said. “How are we going to find it without a car?”
“There’s a car!” Donny said, pointing to a red Explorer. It was stopped in the middle of the road, facing the wrong direction in the right hand lane. He started jogging toward it.
“Donny, hold the fuck up!” Sam called, taking off after him. “We’ve got to check it out first.” I followed the two guys to the driver’s side door of the SUV.
“Ah geez,” Donny said, stepping back. As I approached, I noticed the middle-aged man slumped over the wheel. There was blood all over the windshield, like his face had just exploded all of a sudden.
“Looks like the tank’s nearly full,” Sam said, all but ignoring the corpse at the wheel. “Let’s drag him out of there and get this show on the road.” He yanked open the door.
The guy at the wheel made a guttural sound and lurched up in his seat, blood spraying from a ragged wound on his neck. The three of us screamed and leapt back, guns flying from holsters into our hands. The guy at the wheel turned to face us, and I gasped. The whites of his eyes were completely red, like all the capillaries in his head had ruptured. He hissed and growled, trying desperately to get out of the car but got tangled in his still buckled seat belt. It was the first time we’d encountered one of them this close.
Sam cocked the twelve-gauge shotgun and took a step forward. Then he emptied both barrels into the guy’s face.
“Jesus Christ Sam!” I cried, clutching my ears with both hands. The interior of the Explorer was covered in gore. Sam’s blast had all but removed the guy’s head from his shoulders.
“What?” He said, his unconcern causing my skin to crawl. “We needed a car. He’d have killed us if I hadn’t killed him.”
I closed my eyes against the mess I the car as Donny stepped up to help Sam clear the body out of the car. I’d never killed anything before. I’d never even seen a real dead body before, outside of a funeral.
That was when the rear driver’s door opened up and a teenager hobbled out.
Of course. The guy behind the wheel hadn’t bitten open his own neck. Someone in the car had attacked him while they were driving.
The guy looked about my age. His eyes looked just like his father’s, completely red where they should’ve been white. He stumbled out drunkenly and stood there for a second, just staring into space. I tried to call out, but my throat was suddenly parched and no sound would come out of my mouth. Donny and Sam were still concerned with the corpse in the drivers seat.
Then the guy turned and saw me. His mouth opened and he howled, a sound like a combination of a hyena and the shriek of tearing metal, the kind of sound that should never come from a human throat.
Before the sound finished, I’d plugged nine bullets into the creature’s head. The gun was in my hand before I’d realized it, and the next thing I knew I was squeezing the trigger and no more bullets were coming out. Sam and Donny were shouting something in my ear, but they were ringing from the shots and I couldn’t hear them. The guy who’d climbed out of the backseat was in an unmoving heap on the concrete. I felt their hands on my back pushing me into the back seat, and I allowed myself to be lead into the car. I didn’t have the wherewithal to stop them.
I wasn’t worried about the blood in the car. The three of us seemed to be immune to the disease for whatever reason. Sam was wiping the gore off of the windshield with a t-shirt, and Donny was checking the glove compartment.
After a moment, I realized the car was in motion and I was starring out the window. We were back on the road to Pittsburg.
“Turn on the radio,” I said. I wanted to hear the military broadcast again. Anything to reassure me that out there, somewhere, life was still going on as normal. Donny fiddled with the radio, turning the dial all the way left, then slowly all the way to the right. Then, he did it again.
“Nothing,” Donny said. “I can’t get the station.”
“Stupid shitty old radio,” Sam said.
“What if that’s not it?” I asked. “What if they’re not broadcasting?”
“Why would they stop the broadcast?” Sam asked. He glanced at Donny, then in the rear view mirror at me. We were all thinking the same thing.
The engine roared as Sam floored the petal. It was still an hour to Pittsburg, and we were running out of time.