It's taken me a while to open up about what happened last October, but I've finally decided to tell the world, no matter what the cost. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a convention of any kind, and I’ve never been to a horror convention before. I used to go to the occasional comicon when I was younger, but I gave those up about twenty years ago. I didn’t know what to expect from Rock & Shock, but I went there on a mission: to meet some of the writers of the New England Horror Writers’ organization. My brother, Denny, came with me, since he is a horror fan as well and was curious to check it out.
When we got there, my brother wanted to know if I wanted to find the horror writers first. “Nah,” I said. “Let’s check the place out, and when we find them, we find them.” So we wandered and meandered through the maze of B-schlock horror dvds, gory movie posters, bizarre original art and gruesome dolls that no parent would let there kids play with, unless they were trying to raise a serial killer. In short, it was awesome! Or so I thought.
Denny is a big fan of zombie flicks, so he was drawn over to a guy who was selling zombie swimsuit calendars. He was nice enough, but he seemed really nervous. His eyes kept darting left and right, as if he was expecting something bad to happen. My brother was really interested in the calendar, but we told the guy we wanted to go through the whole place once and get a feel for what we wanted to spend our money on. We promised we’d be back later.
Eventually, we found our way to the NEHW table. I introduced myself to the first guy I met there, John McIlveen, who gave me a big, strong, fuzzy handshake. Did I say fuzzy? Well, his palm may have been a bit hairy, I guess. Maybe I just imagined it. He introduced me in turn to Scott Goudsward, Danny Evarts, and Stacey Longo.
I had the idea that I wanted to get some of the novels that our members had written, so I could review them on Amazon. Still, when I got there I saw there were more books than I could possibly afford at one stop, so I asked Scott what he recommended.
“Well, mine are over there,” Scott answered, “but I don’t want to pimp myself so…”
“No go ahead,” I encouraged. “Pimp yourself. What books have you written?”
“Well, there’s Shadows Over New England and Shadows Over Florida, about haunted locations in those states,” Scott said. “And then there’s Trailer Trash.”
“Oh really, what’s Trailer Trash about?” I asked, curious.
“It’s about his life,” John McIlveen joked.
Scott smirked. “Yeah, well … see, it’s about this kid who becomes a vampire hunter, but eventually he realizes he has a lot in common with the monsters and ends up befriending them.” That sounded good to me, so I grabbed a copy and went over to the other table.
“What do you recommend, Stacey?” I asked.
“There are some anthologies over here,” Stacey said. I saw some of her short stories were in those collections. “There are also some vampire books over here. I don’t particularly like vampire books, she added. “They get everything wrong.”
My brother snapped a phone picture of Stacey and I looking over the anthologies, and then called me over. “Dave, try this one by Jennifer Yarter-Polmatier.” He showed me a book called The Madness Within. “It’s about a girl who grows up to be a serial killer.” That sounded good to me, so I picked up a copy. And hey, who can resist a book of haunted stories set in Disney World? So I grabbed Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole by Kristi Petersen Schoonover. John McIlveen was selling Strange Seed, so I took one of those as well. My brother had been talking with author Nathan Wrann while I was shopping around. He introduced me and we started talking about what he was selling.
“Give me your elevator speech,” I prompted.
“Well, I don’t really have an elevator speech,” Nathan admitted.
“Okay, what’s this one about?” I asked.
“That’s a young adult vampire story,” Nathan explained. I picked up a copy of the book called Dark Matter Heart. “Kind of like Twilight without the romance.” Not being a fan of Twilight, I just smiled, nodded and put it down. Nathan could tell I wasn’t interested in the bloodsucker book, so he showed me another. “I also have this one over here, called Europa.”
“What’s that about?” I asked, now a little hesitant after the YA vampire novel.
“It’s like The Thing.” Nathan said. That perked me up. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, as far as I’m concerned. Nathan explained that this book was about a team of scientists working on a moon of Europa, “so it’s got that atmosphere of perfect isolation.”
Now, personally, I think the best horror stories always have that element of isolation. There has to be no chance of rescue, you know? You’re on your own and have to survive the monster and escape to freedom. Bleak isolation is present in The Thing, Alien, The Shining and Night of the Living Dead, as well as so many other great horror stories. He had me convinced. That was enough for now, I knew I could buy a few more at Anthocon in a few weeks, which was the next con the NEHW would be at. Until then, I had enough reading material to hold me over. I got all the books signed by the authors who were present. An attractive woman in a smokin’ miniskirt had also wandered over. She turned out to be Yarter-Polmatier, so I was able to get her book signed also.
My treasures in hand, Denny and I went to check out the celebrity room. Naturally, there were long lines for the top celebrities like Robert Englund, Lance Henriksen, and Roddy Piper. For reasons I can not rationally explain, Ace Frehley had at least a hundred people waiting to meet him. Denny noticed a few celebrities with the word “zombie” among their movie credits, so we decided to visit them. The first was Addy Miller, a ten year old girl who had the distinction of being the very first zombie on The Walking Dead. We talked a while with her friendly mother before moving on to the next zombie. In the almost exact opposite corner of the room sat Sherman Howard, who played the zombie Bub from Day of the Dead. Denny got an autographed picture of Bub with a razor to his face. Sherman signed it “There’s something about an aqua velva man.”
We decided to check out the rest of the convention and make good on our promise to visit the zombie calendar guy again.
“Oh, it’s you guys again, thanks for coming back,” he said appreciatively. “My name’s Rocky and the calendar was my idea.” We introduced ourselves as well. I told him I was here to see the horror writers, but I was impressed with the rest of the event as well. “Look guys, I was wondering if you could do me a favor?”
“What’s the favor?” Denny asked. Rocky looked quickly to his left and right. When he was convinced the vendors nearest us were busy with their customers, he started hurrying through his story nervously.
“I’m so screwed,” Rocky told us. “I won the lottery!”
“What’s wrong with that?” Denny asked.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “People are usually happy when they win the lottery.”
“No, not that kind of lottery,” Rocky said. “The freakin’ Rock and Shock lottery, man!”
“What’s the Rock and Shock lottery?” I asked.
“Yeah, what could be so bad about dinner with Robert Englund, or something like that?” Denny laughed. “Freddy Krueger give you nightmares?” I chuckled.
“No, it’s not like that,” Rocky said. “With the Rock and Shock lottery, winning is definitely losing. I get to be the lamb!”
“What lamb?” I asked.
“Jesus, I thought you said you were with the writers,” Rocky said, exasperated.
“Actually this is my first time meeting them. It’s my first time at Rock and Shock too,” I explained.
“Freakin’ virgins! Great, just great.” Rocky ran his fingers through his spiked hair and looked around fearfully, yet again. “The lamb,” he continued, “is the sacrificial lamb, man. Every year one vendor is sacrificed to the horror icons on Saturday night. In return for the sacrifice, the horror icons bestow prosperity on the rest of the vendors for one year, until the next Rock and Shock. That’s the lottery that I won.”
“Come on, buddy. You’re messing with us,” Denny replied.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot of the Shirley Jackson story,” I noted.
“Oh really?” Rocky said. “In the Shirley Jackson story, do the horror icons sit around this big table and drink the blood of the sacrifice out of a giant punch bowl? Hmm? Do they? All the other vendors just sit there and watch. I know, I’ve seen it a half dozen times.” He stopped a moment, shrugged, and continued his tale.
“It’s a sickening sight. I bet you expect me to say the horror icons physically morph into the demons they play in the movies. It’s not that simple. It’s more like a possession takes hold of them. Look, these horror icons, they seem like nice, friendly people when you talk to them. But at the sacrifice, it’s like you can see this evil invading their souls. They still look the same, mostly, but you can still tell they’ve turned into monsters. It’s a horrible thing to see. Gary Busey is an animal.” He was even more agitated now as he apparently contemplated his fate.
“Why would the vendors keep coming back, if there was a chance of that?” I said.
“Are you kidding? In this economy?” Rocky said. “People will do just about anything for a year’s worth of prosperity. There’s a hundred vendors here. That’s only a one percent chance you’ll get chosen. It’s worth the risk.”
“Well, then stop complaining about it,” Denny said, playing along.
“I’m not so sure I want to join the New England Horror Writers group if there is any chance I could get killed at a con,” I joked.
“Oh, the writers, they’re not vendors,” Rocky said. “Technically, they’re part of the celeb room.”
“So do they drink the blood too?” I asked, curious to see where he was going with this.
“No, they don’t drink the blood, but they don’t sit with the vendors, either,” Rocky whispered. “They just stand around the table near the horror icons. They drag the body of the victim off. Then they’re gone.”
“Well that doesn’t sound too bad, Dave,” Denny kidded. “Maybe you can join them after all.”
“Listen,” Rocky interrupted. “I’m having this party with all the zombie girls from the calendar. If you guys help me get outta here, you can come. It’s gonna be sick. You’d like that, right? Come on guys, help a brother out.”
“Why can’t you just leave on your own?” Denny asked him.
“Cause they’re watching me, man!” Rocky whined. “Plus, I’m sure they’ve messed with my car by now. I’ll never get away. I need a distraction,” he thought it over for a few frantic moments. “Okay, I’m going to summon my girlfriend; she’s the zombie on the cover. She does this great dance of the dead. After she gets up on the table, people will gather around. It’s really hypnotic. You guys can sneak me out of here then.”
“She’s coming in zombie makeup?” I asked.
“Not makeup, man. She’s a real freakin’ zombie! All the calendar girls are.” Rocky exclaimed. “You guys really are Rock and Shock virgins.”
“All right then,” Denny said. “We’ll come back when your zombie girlfriend gets here and smuggle you out, okay?”
“When will she get here?” I asked.
“In a little bit,” Rocky’s eyes rolled back in his head and a bit of drool slid out of the corner of his mouth. Denny and I just looked at each other. Was he having a stroke? In a few seconds, Rocky snapped out of it. “All right, I just summoned her. She’s on the way.”
“Yeah, okay,” Denny said. “We’ll check back in a little while. Then we can help you escape, or whatever.” We walked away.
When we got around the corner, I said, “What a nut case!”
“Maybe it’s just part of the show,” Denny suggested.
“That’s got to be it,” I agreed. “Like some prank on Scare Tactics. Want to go get zombie caricatures of ourselves?”
“Let’s see how long the line is,” Denny said. Along the way, we bumped into Stacey from the NEHW.”
“Oh, hi again,” I said.
“Hi David,” she said. “Did I see you guys talking to the zombie calendar guy?”
“Oh, yeah, Rocky,” I confirmed. “That guy must have forgotten his meds or something.”
“You were over there for quite a while,” Stacey said, folding her arms in front of her.
“Well, he had this really crazy story to tell,” I explained. “We were actually wondering if it was some sort of trick the Rock and Shock people pull on unsuspecting noobs.”
“What did he tell you?” Stacey asked, blinking innocently.
“Something about a lottery and a sacrifice,” Denny said.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to divulge the whole story to Stacey, just in case, you know? But since Denny started the ball rolling and I am not very good at making up lies on the spot, I decided to relay Rocky’s twisted tale to Stacey. “He’s nuts, right?” I said.
“Huh,” Stacey said, licking her lips. She looked around and moved closer to me, showing a little too much tooth. I was uncomfortable, so I backed up until I hit a wall. “Listen, David. Jason likes how you stepped up to help out with the publicity committee. He thinks, maybe, that you have something to offer our group, some potential. I don’t know if he’s right, but that’s his call. In regards to Rocky, I just want to offer you this advice. Walk away.”
“Now wait a minute,” Denny said. “We don’t like threats.” Suddenly, two huge Predators came up behind my brother, and seized him. I had seen them earlier in the celebrity room and assumed them to be men in costumes, of course. Up close and personal, I wasn’t so sure those were costumes. My brother is not a small guy, but the Predators towered over him. Denny struggled a bit, to no avail. They had him.
“We don’t want any trouble,” I said. “Let my brother go.”
“I’m sure we can come to an arrangement,” Stacey smiled. “If you guys agree not to interfere with our dinner plans, then I can forget this ever happened.”
“Dinner plans?” I said.
“Of course,” Stacey said. “Rocky’s not a writer, so he doesn’t know what we do.”
“Yeah, he said you guys take the victim’s body and leave. That’s all he knew,” I said.
“The horror icons get the blood,” Stacey said. “But the horror writers, we get the meat!” She had a wild look in her eye and I felt real fear. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. If this was really just some prank, it was working. I wondered if was going to say–no, I prayed she would–“Are you scared? You should be, because you’re on Scare Tactics!”
My prayers were not answered.
“Okay, fine. Look, we’ll leave peacefully,” I said, holding my hands up. “Could you just answer a question for me?”
“What is it?” Stacey said.
“On Facebook, there was an invitation to go out to dinner that was sent to the whole group. Is that when you eat the meat? What if I had accepted?”
“In that case, Jennifer would have cast a glamour spell over you,” Stacey answered. “You would have been served whatever you ordered, but we would have been served the meat. The glamour would have kept you from seeing what we were really eating. All you would be able to see would be cheeseburgers, Caesar salads, quesadillas and the like.”
“Jennifer’s a witch?” I asked.
“She does have that Michelle Pfeiffer Witches-of-Eastwick-look going on,” Denny said.
“True,” I agreed. “Okay Stacey, we have a deal. We’ll leave quietly. When should we go?”
“Now would be good,” she instructed. “There may still be a place for you in the NEHW, but right now, you know too much. Just go home while I do damage control. And remember,” she added with a grin, “we know where you live. Jason mailed you a shirt, remember?”
Of course I remembered. I had ordered one of those cool New England Horror Writers t-shirts almost immediately after I joined the group. Denny and I left the building. It was not the bravest moment for a couple of hockey-playing construction workers, but we had entered a world we were not prepared for. In this case, discretion really was the better part of valor. As for Rocky, we felt bad, but he knew what he was getting into.
It was raining, so we hurried to the parking garage where I had parked my truck. I put the key in the ignition and turned. Nothing. I tried again. And again. Still nothing. Crap! I looked back at the parking garage attendant in her little booth, just a few parking spaces away. She pointed two fingers at her eyes, and then at us. I’m watching you. “We’re not going to say anything. We’ll mind our own business, I promise!” My shouts echoed hollowly in the parking garage. The attendant glared at us for a torturous amount of time, then nodded slowly. I turned the key again and the truck started. We got the hell out of there.
We drove home in silence for a while. About halfway home, Denny decided to look at the pictures on his phone. “Dave, look at this.” I was driving, but I glanced over.
“Yeah, so what. It’s a picture of me looking at books at the horror writers’ table.”
“Right,” he said. “But it was a picture of you looking at books that Stacey was showing you. She was right beside you.”
“She’s not in the picture now,” I said.
“But she should be.”
“Maybe you have the wrong picture?” I suggested.
“I’ve checked them all. I took three pictures Stacey should be in, but she doesn’t show up in any of them.”
“What are you saying. Stacey is a vampire?” I asked.
“Maybe,” Denny answered. “Hey, did you shake hands with John?”
“Was it just me, or did he have hairy palms? And I’d swear he sniffed me,” Denny commented.
“I thought I might have been imagining the hairy palms, but I noticed the sniffing too,” I remarked.
“What’s that a sign of, again?” Denny asked.
“Werewolf,” I admitted, my stomach sinking.
“Remember what John said about Scott’s book, Trailer Trash? It was Scott’s life story, an autobiography. What did he say it was about again?” Denny asked.
“Something about a monster hunter who sees the error of his ways and joins the monsters,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Denny said.
“Okay, so if Stacey’s a vampire, John’s a werewolf, Jennifer’s a witch and Scott is an ex-monster hunter, what about Nathan?” I said.
“I get the feeling he’s a new guy,” Denny said. “Maybe he hasn’t passed the initiation yet.”
I nodded. “What about Danny Evarts?” I said.
Denny thought about it for a minute. “You notice the way he stuck by Stacey’s side? Followed her around?”
“Yeah, so?” Denny said nothing, giving me a second to figure it out. “Oh, you think Danny’s a thrall?” He nodded. “I can see that,” I agreed. “So I guess I won’t be joining that horror writer’s group.”
“Why not?” Denny said.
“They’re freaking monsters man. I don’t know, but maybe that sounds kind of dangerous.”
“So? They seemed like a good group, otherwise. I liked them,” Denny explained. “Take out the whole Stacey threatening our lives thing, and I think it went well.”
“Well…I guess you’re right. I liked them too,” I said. “I guess we could give it another try at Anthocon and see how that goes.”
No mystery meat.