I knew I was going to win the award.
The room was full of expectant authors, all eager to win the big prize of the evening: “Most Hair Raising Tale Likely To Be Made Into a Screenplay”. Everyone knew where the bigwigs from Amazon and Netflix were sitting.
The room was full of wannabe ghouls and a few actual ghouls who hovered in the background chatting amongst themselves. Ghouls tend to be solitary beings, but they like to gossip just as much as any human does and the Frightful Awards were a chance for them to mingle without actually scaring any of the silly authors who made up stories about them.
For the most part, ghouls mind their own business. Rip up a grave here or there, feed on a corpse, put the dirt back in the grave and no one is the wiser. Life goes on….or whatever the appropriate expression might be for the undead.
I wasn’t a ghoul. I don’t want to be a ghoul. Eating corpses is disgusting. I just want to be famous…you know like on Twitter where authors use #ShamelessSelfPromoteMonday without actually sharing their work? Oh yeah, and they do the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday. What a grand idea…spit the same tweet out over three days and wonder why nothing was happening. It’s not like Twitter is chain mail and on the third day, you gain 10k followers. Dumb asses.
I had a much better plan. If you are looking to do some business, then commit and go directly to the Dark Master. I knew it was risky. I didn’t even have a TikTok account so who was I to contact the Dark Master? I mean, what the hell did I have to lose by DM’ing the Dark Master? In my defense, my Instagram account was doing OK. You can find me at @Brazen&Proud. Give me a few likes, ok?
A few weeks before the award ceremony, I sat down with my planchette, that little wooden board that makes automatic writing and contacting the Master so much easier.
I got it from a bookseller who had one of those weird little kiosks on the Seine in Paris. He had it in a beat-up old box on this little shelf that held some old French cookbooks. When I asked him how much it would cost, he jerked like a marionette suddenly made to dance a jig. “Prends-le. Pas d’argent. Si tu le veux, c’est à toi.” “Take it. No money. If you want it, it’s yours.” And he shoved the box into my hands and shooed me away like I was a very contagious leper with a bad case of herpes.
I’m no fool. Free is free and I had wanted that planchette, so I grabbed it before the bookseller could change his mind. Not that it looked likely that he was going to want it back.
I just held onto that box, unopened, until I felt the time was right.
I knew messing around with it was dangerous, that sometimes it opens doors you don’t want to be opened. On the other hand, if you needed to get a boost with your writing, it could be mighty helpful. You could even say that the Dark Master was a top-tier influencer in that respect. You don’t think Truman Capote didn’t chat with the Master every now and then? Think about it. A little Southern fey dweeb had the world at his feet, hanging on to his every word. And this was before Facebook. He had to work 1,000 times harder to get noticed and liked.
My quest may not be unique, but I was sure my solution was close at hand. A few weeks before the Frightful Awards, I took out the box and cleared my mind. That was the easy part, I had been trying to write a story that just wouldn’t come, so going blank was a goddamn relief, if you know what I mean.
Because I have dreams and I knew I was close to figuring out what those dreams must mean. I’ve had them forever. I’m on a horse traveling through an aspen forest and I know someone is watching me. Watching over me, because aspen forests are freaky – all those tree eyeballs staring at you. And that whole forest is a single living organism with one massive root system. In the dream, I’m being pushed forward by a strong wind and there’s a red light glowing ahead. As I get closer, the air feels hotter and hotter and I know He is waiting.
I see you nodding your head. You know what I mean, right? Have you had the dream too? No matter if you haven’t, sooner or later it shows up inside your head and you have some choices to make.
I set up my little planchette with a pencil and straight up asked how I could become a famous, award-winning author. Nothing happened. So, I waited and asked again. My mother said I was always a stubborn jerk, I prefer to think of myself as tenacious. Finally, the planchette started to vibrate and the pencil connected with the piece of paper underneath it. Truth be told, I was worried it was going to be written in French and my French is not exactly up to snuff, but it looked like it was forming English words. G I V E Y O U R S O U L T O M E.
Geez Louise – does it always have to be your soul? Couldn’t it ask for your right hand, or your eyesight, does it always have to be your soul? So cliché.
So, I say, “How exactly do I do that? Is there a collection agency or something?”
And the damned pencil marks out “L O L”. Good thing that board didn’t have emojis on it or I’d seriously be lost in the land of eternal clichés.
Then the pencil moves again and spells out “G H O U L S W I L L C O M E”.
Which is how I know about those corpse eaters. And can I tell you, they have the absolute worst breath, it is the stench of sewer mixed with rotted ground meat. And if you have ever left ground meat in the back of the fridge and wondered if there was a corpse in there, that’s getting close to ghoul breath.
After that message, the planchette stopped vibrating and I knew that was all the info I was going to get. I went home and without even thinking about it, I wrote a ripping roaring scary tale. Best one I ever wrote. Slept like a happy baby that night. It was also the last night I ever had any more sweet dreams.
The next day was a regular work day and I had dinner plans to meet a friend. I was hoping to hit him up for a loan, you know, just for a few days until I sold my story. I was riding my bike to the restaurant where we were supposed to meet when I got a flat tire and had to stop. And wouldn’t you know it, I was stuck at the far end of town, by the cemetery. Of course. Where else?
I figured I’d have to walk & push my bike a mile or so to the restaurant when I saw this old dude sitting on a tombstone. And, what good luck,, he was holding a bike pump. Almost like he had been waiting for me.
“Need a hand?” he asked.
Being a #SelfServingOpportunist, I said, “Sure. Can I borrow that bike pump for a minute?”
He didn’t get up, but just held out the pump, so I had no choice but to walk over to him. When I got close enough, he grabbed my wrist. Grabbed it hard and it was hellfire hot – like he was branding me or something. I screamed, stumbled back and must have hit my head because everything went black. When I came to, my wrist was screaming painfully and it looked like it had been seared. And the smell was intense, like a steak on a sizzling grill. I’m never eating steak again, I’ll tell you right now.
That old dude was still sitting there, just waiting for me. He said, “You will win the award on Friday, don’t worry. And I’ll be back to collect your payment. I’m sure you won’t try to run away from me, will you? Because something terrible might happen and I’ll get lunch if you follow my train of thought.”
That’s when I noticed a few other ghouls, I guess that’s what they were because they were picking and choosing graves to dig up, like looking for the ripest fig on a tree. They were literally chowing down on some poor old lady when I got on my bike and rode home. I guess that ghoul inflated my tire, which was pretty decent of him, but my wrist hurt too much to keep my dinner plans.
I went home and put some salve and a bandage on my wrist and you know, I’m actually afraid to take the bandage off and see how it’s doing. This is why on a summer night, I’m wearing a long sleeve dress to this award shindig.
The master of ceremonies has just announced this will be the final award of the evening. I smooth my hair, get my face ready to burst into a surprised smile and wait for the announcement. I get ready to let the applause wash over me just as I see the old dude ghoul catch my eye and raise his glass in congratulations. Things were going exactly as planned.