Fiction Friday: The Demon’s Favor

I first met Mr. Yao at a political rally, although this meeting didn’t occur in the conventional sense. Everyone attended the rally to raise money for street repairs. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing anyone would protest against. But you never know what motivates other people.

Everyone’s cheers and chanting fell. Muffled screams and load pops moved closer to the door. A man with a white beard crashed through the glass doors.

“Everyone run! He’s got a gun!”

Screams filled the room. Only the loud pops from the rifle broke through the screeching and yelling. I hid around a corner with two others. People fell like sacks of potatoes. Blood crawled along the grout between the tiles. Constant screaming. More rifle pops.

The active shooter turned towards me. I closed my eyes with my hands in the air; waiting. The screaming stopped; no noise.

Am I dead?

I waited a moment. Silence. I opened my eyes. Everyone stood frozen in place; like wax figures.

Is this death? Does time stop when you die?

That’s when I met Mr. Yao. He walked up to me while everything else remained motionless.

“Good evening, Mr. Pion. My name is Mr. Yao. I have a proposition for you.”

“What?”

“You see, you are about to get shot. I can stop this from happening. I can save your life.”

“How? What’s happening?”

“As you may or may not have noticed, I have stopped time. I can only hold it for a couple more minutes, so you must make a decision. Would you like to live…”

He pointed at the active shooter.

“…or die?”

“Of course, I want to live!”

“Excellent!”

With a smoky poof, a stack of papers and a pen appeared in Mr. Yao’s hands.

“I need your signature before we can move forward.”

I stared at the contract.

“What’s the catch?”

“Simply this, I do a favor for you today and in return sometime in the future, I will call upon you to do a favor for me.”

“That’s it?”

“That is it. Nothing more and nothing less.”

“What if I don’t do your favor?”

“Then you die like you should have to today.”

He remained calm and cool during the whole conversation. Everything about him looked pleasant except his smile; that wolfish grin.

Is this a lie so he can eat me?

“Time will be starting up soon, Mr. Pion. Sign or do not. It is your choice.”

I walked forward, took the pen, and signed my name.

“Excellent!”

He turned the page.

“And sign here.”

He turned another page.

“Initial here. Initial again. Sign here. Mother’s maiden name. Sign again…”

“Can’t I do this all with one signature?”

“And finally, stab your index finger with the pen and smear the blood on this page.”

“What?”

“I am kidding. That is a terrible joke.”

“What the hell, dude!?”

“Hey, lighten up Mr. Pion. I saved your life. And please do not call me dude.”

With a puff of smoke, he was gone.

“NO!” The shooter said.

The rifle jammed. Police fired their pistols. The shooter dropped to his knees and the rifle fell to his side. He choked on his own blood and fell to the floor.

“The target is down! Move in!”

The shooter looked up at me, struggling for words.

“Your turn.” He said.

***

Seven years passed, and I never thought of that day; a bad dream long forgotten. I lived alone, with my dog Max. I got home one evening excited to see my floppy eared friend.

“Hey Max. I got you a new bone.”

“Hello Mr. Pion.”

“Jesus Christ!”

With a lump in my throat and chest pounding, I grabbed the umbrella next to my door. Max put his head on the floor with his tail wagging in the air ready to play.

“Your jasmine green tea is delicious. And my name is not Jesus.”

“Who are you? How’d you get in my house? How’d you get passed my dog? Why are you sitting in the dark drinking my tea?”

“I am very offended that you do not remember me, Mr. Pion. I only saved your life many years ago from a misguided shooter. But to answer your questions, you may recall my name is Mr. Yao. I come and go as I please and Max is unaware of my presence, and I’m waiting for you to turn the lights on. Allow me.”

He snapped his fingers and the lamp next to him lit up. Max didn’t acknowledge him and acted as if only I stood in the room.

“I apologize; I didn’t recognize you.”

“No harm; no fowl. Do you recall the agreement we made?”

With a poof, a stack of papers appeared in his hands.

“I owe you a favor, don’t I?”

“Excellent memory, Mr. Pion. Yes, it is time to repay that debt. I am afraid you will not commit to what I am going to ask of you. Do keep in mind, by signing this document, you have already agreed to the undertaking. Would you like to review the contract before I continue?”

“I remember the agreement. Let’s get this over with.”

“Very well. Please sit down and enjoy this fabulous tea with me.”

A cup of tea poofed onto the coffee table. I couldn’t help but examine it before taking a sip. The aroma climbed up my nostrils with hot steam almost burning my nose. I burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth. It tasted sweet, as though Mr. Yao knew exactly how much honey I like in my tea. How did he make things appear out of thin air?

“Simply put Mr. Pion, in exchange for your life, you owe me another life. As I have said, you have already agreed to this and backing out now is not an option. We cannot go back in time to when you should have died so you must take a life. You can choose the life, or I can choose for you. I will give you one day to decide. I will return this time tomorrow.”

Poof.

He vanished as quick as he appeared. The cup of tea left with him and Max never noticed things coming and going in my living room. The lump in my throat wouldn’t go down and I felt nauseous. I’d never taken a life.

I couldn’t sleep. Max snored all night on the floor. I felt anxious the next day. Small children even scared me.

“Hey, mister? Bang! Bang!”

“Steven don’t point your toys at people!”

I walked by a movie poster covered with monsters and demons and a big, bold ‘Coming Soon’ on the bottom. Every time someone spoke, I heard something different.

“You gonna kill some people?” 

“What!? What are you talking about?” I said.

“I said, do you have a light?” 

“Oh! No, sorry.”

I avoided everyone the rest of the way home. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I decided not to go through with the contract.

It must have a loophole.

~ An excerpt from “The Demon’s Favor” from the short story collection The Morbid Museum.

Coffee and Contemplation: What’s So Bad About Horror?

With the sequel to the film IT (2017) releasing soon, I’ve become impatient. After seeing the first film, I added this film to my top 5 favorite movies. I felt the horror film had finally gained some credibility. Despite the popularity, horror still gets a bad name. Horror films are rarely featured at film awards except for special effects of sound design. The only exceptions are true crime films about murder or serial killers. Nothing with creatures or other supernatural figures make the cut unless they’re animated children’s films. I’m certain there are other exceptions but I’m too lazy to do that much research.

The newest rendition of Pennywise is a great film. It’s written well and directed well. Coworkers and colleagues of mine said they didn’t like the film. Their reasoning was they like classic horror movies and that one felt too “blockbuster-y.” I disagree. Classic horror is great, but one cannot compare that to newer films. Consider each film separately without bias from previous films. What’s strange is the media’s take on the new film from Stephen King’s novel. Many media outlets and blog writers didn’t call the film horror. Instead they used terms like “psychological thriller” or “coming-of-age.” 

These terms are good descriptors, but the term horror must be included as well. Laura Bradley writes in her Vanity Fair Article (2017), “The new It movie, you’ve probably read time and time again, is a great coming-of-age story a la Stand by Me.” Other than both stories being from the mind of King and both stories being about kids, these two films don’t have much in common considering genre. Bradley goes on in her article to make some excellent points about how Beverly Marsh is portrayed in the new film. It is worth the read. But why doesn’t she call it a horror film.

Another interesting fact most people may not be aware of, on Instagram, the hashtag #horror has a disclaimer. When you search this hashtag, Instagram gives this message, “Can we help? Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.” Last time I checked, enjoying horror films, shows, or novels didn’t mean you wanted to harm yourself. Instagram is attempting to censor many industries including female fitness influencers. I wonder if this was how the censorship in Nazi Germany started. When did America become a fascist dictatorship?

My main question is why does horror get a bad rep? Yes, there are some lower quality films that use the objectification of women to make up for poor storylines and terrible makeup or special effects. That’s a generalization of the genre. It has other facets. There are some great films that often get overlooked because the audience said it wasn’t scary enough. The film Jennifer’s Body (2009) is a brilliant film. The dialogue is smart and fun. The story sounds like an overdone troupe but it all works well.

The film tanked at the box office ten years ago. The reviews from critics and regular movie goers were harsh. It’s making a comeback as a cult classic but there are at least two reasons for its failure. Number one, it was marketed as a horror film. This is not accurate. Constance Grady called the film what it is in her Vox Article (2018), a “feminist horror comedy.” It was funny with great social commentary. The only people who thought it was scary were stupid men and boys. They were scared of the idea of a strong female character who ate men. It made them uncomfortable.

Reason number two, 2009 wasn’t ready for the statement the film made. The scared men and boys influenced the ratings and reviews. There were still large groups fighting against homosexuality. The public opinions of Megan Fox and Diablo Cody were poor. It was the perfect storm of negativity. I thought this film was hilarious and loved every minute of it. Do people only allow themselves to like horror films once they’ve been around for a while? Is it not okay to like supernatural horror movies when they’re new?

What I want from filmmakers is for them to focus more on the story and less on trying to scare their audiences. Those troupes are overdone. I want a good story. Jennifer’s Body has a good story. IT has a good story. I recently saw Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) and it has a good story. I haven’t looked for any reviews. I wonder what others are saying. It is a great film and a great adaptation of the children’s books by Alvin Schwartz.

I want audiences to change their perspective of horror film as well. I want hardcore horror fans to accept all form of horror. Not just slasher films or creature features. I want those who dislike horror to stop generalizing the genre and give new films a chance. Is that too much to ask? I don’t expect people to change overnight. I hope people will surprise me.

New Book Coming in September

I have a new book on the way, releasing on September 17 of this year. The Morbid Museum is a collection of short horror fiction. The prevailing theme is death. Curated by Siris Grim who may or may not be an immortal being, but he knows his museum stuff and his death stuff.

The collection includes 19 stories presented as exhibits in a museum. They are all framed around the story of the museum itself. It will release in both eBook and Paperback. You can pre-order the eBook now. It will deliver to the device of your choosing on September 17.

This is my first full-length collection of short fiction. Some of these stories I wrote many years ago and I’ve tweaked and edited them over time. A trained eye will notice which stories I’ve written more recently as they are better written. Some stories I wrote over 10 years ago. Others I started writing 10 years ago and only recently completed.

I’ve begun development on my next collection of short fiction. It won’t be a sequel to this book but it will have similar themes. I hope you enjoy this collection and look forward to my future works. If you enjoy these stories, I hope you’ll consider my other works. Thank you and enjoy.

Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide. He displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to buy a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?