A yellow shipping envelope, stretched taught over the VHS tape it contains, lies in a tuft of grass that grows along the edge of a gravel driveway. Black liquid is smeared around its edges and surface like cancerous warts–sticky pools refusing to dry in the unseasonably warm morning sun. Black magic marker scrawl, ALL CAPS, reads:
THE SECRET GOATMAN SPOOKSHOW
S1E6: CHAINSAW PARALLELOGRAM
FOR IMMED. RELEASE
A middle-aged man with a bulbous stomach, balding head, and thin-frame glasses steps out onto the low porch of his cabin, the screen door slamming shut behind him with an exhausted clap. He steps down into the crab grass-overrun yard. Shadowing the gravel driveway, he feels the earth and grass cool against his bare, callused feet. It’s 20 yards to the edge of the driveway, where the bushes and low trees part to connect the line of gravel to a lonely mountain road. Blacktop simmers in mirage-like fury, even so early in an autumn day.
His lower back offers a sharp geyser of pain as he bends down to collect his prize. He runs his fingers over the package, over the scrawled handwriting. He looks up and down the road. No traffic, no delivery truck. Weeds, green and yellow and tall, sway in surrender to the too-early heat. Crows caw at him from limp power lines. He makes his way back inside, shading his pale brow from the relentless sun.
He grabs the fresh six-pack of Coors from the otherwise-empty top shelf of the fridge, then makes his way down the sagging, narrow staircase into the basement. His bare feet shuffle along concrete before finding footfall on a square of cheap shag carpet. Upon this stands his chair and desk; upon that, the black computer tower, keyboard, speakers, and the widescreen monitors paired in a loose V.
He sweeps aside gas station sandwich wrappers, and reaches underneath the space between the monitors to pull out the VHS deck. Wires run from its backside to adapters plugged into the tower. Dust clings to his finger as he presses the OPEN button. Gears whir and plastic rises. Hands tear across the length of the package, and out slips the VHS tape, a white label reading “S1E6” in the same impatient scrawl as on the envelope.
The deck accepts the tape with a hungry mouth, then closes. The man taps the ENTER key and the computer is roused, its twin monitors revealing a desktop cluttered with icons, the background wallpaper a black and white photo of a local cemetery, overgrown and hidden in the shadow of the impenetrable woods. A few clicks on his mouse and a digital glass sand timer appears at the center of the screen, giving way to a windowed display showing a timestamp, a black field, and a row of buttons underneath. He taps the PLAY arrow and the red circle for RECORD, and the VHS deck whirs to life. His computer begins to translate the analog images and sounds to digital.
He leans back as the black field gives way to static, then to the image of a pine and aspen forest, the camera shuffling over a broken rock and dirt trail.
The beer can gives up a sharp hiss as he starts in on his liquid breakfast. Unlike everything else in his life, the show–recorded on the tapes that appear at the edge of his driveway a few times a month–has never disappointed him.
“You’ve never seen it?” Nathan asked, fingers tapping along the keyboard. His thin shoulders are hunched, his posture much worse than it should be for a man in his mid-twenties. The image of his 204 unread email messages disappeared in a flash, replaced instead with a stark-white background, home to a dozen smaller windows: videos from corporations, movie companies, videogame-streaming teenagers, and independent auteurs alike. He guided the cursor up to the search bar, and typed: The Secret Goatman Spookshow.
Simon shook his head.
“No. Too busy with work. I don’t watch a lot of TV.”
“It’s not on TV. It’s only online,” Nathan said, scrolling through the results that appeared after an instantaneous search. “YouTube, Vimeo. Couple of torrents floating around, users who’d collected the episodes and put ‘em out again. Remixes of them, too. Film school bullshit. The hipsters at CU would love it.”
“I don’t spend a lot of time online, either,” Simon said, trying in vain not to sound like a self-righteous hipster. But it was true, artists’ cliché or not: he didn’t have a lot of free time lately: night shifts waiting on the demanding and entitled crowd at upscale Gozer’s left him exhausted Wednesdays through Sundays. Then there was his own film project–that semi-aborted documentary, lingering on two years after he started it, data soaking up space on his hard drive. Ten hours of interview footage, tons of B-roll of downtown Denver and the nearby mountains: but no clear direction or narrative to speak of.
Simon had envisioned it as a slice-of-life documentary following an individual or group in Denver’s transient homeless population. He’d interviewed bums and drifters, crazy folks and those just wanting to live the lifestyle. He’d honed in on a pair of teenagers. They were addicted to heroin, sure, but compelling, still street-beautiful: innocence and vigor flushing away from their faces, day by day. Then they’d disappeared, and his project went adrift. When he drank–which was more and more often–he suspected that he never would find the film’s purpose, no matter how much he cut or re-cut the footage.
“Here,” Nathan said. “This is the pilot. Check this out.”
Simon leaned forward, his hand gripping the back of Nathan’s wooden chair.
Nathan clicked on the enlarge icon, and the black frame filled the screen. Slowly, some text faded into view: simple sans serif font, like something out of a Windows 95 clip art program–the sure mark of an amateur YouTuber, or someone wanting to affect such a pastiche.
THE SECRET GOATMAN SPOOKSHOW
S1E1: GROAN VOID / PILOT
“What is this, a horror short or something?”
“It’s ‘or something,’” Nathan said. “Just watch.”
The text disappeared as a cross-fade brought in the image of a wooden table. No, not quite a table–plywood held up by waist-high concrete brick columns. The image was fuzzy, but Simon could make out a bit of the surroundings and background: concrete floor, concrete wall to the right, plywood wall immediately beyond the table. A pure white sheet hung suspended over a space in that wall.
There was no music, but there was a low droning–like malfunctioning generator noise. The rhythm was all off, giving it a low, electronic insect-hum finish. The volume on Nathan’s speakers was set to low, but the sound seemed to grow louder. Simon imagined his teeth vibrating along that same hideous frequency, enamel and roots and sharp points vibrating on a subatomic scale.
A chainsaw blade, still as monochrome waters, parted the hanging sheet. Out stepped the goatman.
He wore blue mechanic’s overalls striped with black slicks. He seemed tall, although the lo-fi camera image did nothing to help define the spartan room’s true dimensions. His arms and legs filled out the uniform, giving him a muscular look, the impression of which was confirmed by his large weight-lifter’s neck–dark-olive flesh bulging like a bundle of wires. His head was that of a white-furred goat, large horns curling up and out and back, face long and eyes black and brown, but dead, like this was someone’s bad taxidermy job turned into a Halloween mask. The camera angle and low resolution made it difficult for Simon to see where the seams of the mask and his neck met.
The goatman held the chainsaw out in front of him: a heavy, bulky, yellow thing, its blade spattered with ichor. He leaned forward and extended the blade out, then straight up, like a knight of the realm raising his sword in a ritual salute. The goat eyes closed, and the lips began to tremble. Murmuring–indistinct, half-formed words–accompanied the hum of the generator. As the words whispered on in unintelligible fury, Simon felt the tentacles of an oncoming headache stir within his skull.
While the goatman stood in silent repose, a figure in white medical scrubs, complete with surgical hood pulled up to hide its scalp, stepped into the frame, its back to the camera the whole time. The figure grunted and dropped something onto the makeshift table, then bowed its head and backed out of the shot, feet shuffling along concrete like paper slippers over operating room floor.
Meat. A slab of red flesh, pounds and pounds of it, marbled with fat. Bacon, maybe, or muscle cut off from a cow’s backside. Blood, too bright and too syrupy, dripped down onto the table and floor like polluted water from a leaky faucet. It was surely just Karo syrup and red food coloring, spread over the slab of flesh with all the subtlety of a Lucio Fulci gore effect.
The goatman’s eyes flashed open and the murmuring ceased. He lowered the chainsaw blade back down, directly above the slab of meat. He pushed on the choke then pulled the cord; the motor growled, once, twice, smoke poured out of the exhaust slits, black and heavy.
Simon wanted to cough, his throat alive with the acrid taste of smoke.
The goatman pulled the trigger and the chainsaw’s blade spun, a whine of impending violence. He lowered the blade into the hunk of meat. Blood–or its facsimile–sprayed out in all directions, streaming across the frame in liquid arcs of crimson.
“What the hell. Is there a hose fed in from the underside of the table or something? It’s too much blood. Looks fake.”
“Shh,” Nathan said, not tearing his eyes from the screen.
Blurry, misspelled words in spook-blue appeared at the top third of the shot, flashing over and over again as the goatman ran the blade down into the center of the butcher’s cut:
As the goatman brought his chainsaw blade—the motor pouring smoke, his neck bulging with effort and sweat–up and out of the meat, he shook his furry face, now spattered with blood (or syrup, which would be harder to clean out, Simon knew from experience). The text faded from view, but not before flashing one more time, crooked and larger than before, like an errant frame missed by a lazy editor. But if the effect was digital, such an aberration was purposeful: maybe an affectation of bad editing, grindhouse-style.
The goatman spun the chainsaw blade to chaotic life, its howl accompanied by other sounds, problems with the audio, maybe: the crunching of leaves underfoot, the human-like cry of a fox on a moonlit night, the murmurings, now louder than before, spoken or mumbled with the desperation of deathbed prayer.
The rush of blood from the meat resumed, the source of the effect well-concealed, and its chorus of crimson was soon joined by geysers spraying out at the goatman from off-camera. Thick, flowing streams of red that were too viscous to be real blood, too wide in stream and great in volume to be anything but two fire hoses turned on to full blast, spraying out an unending tide that almost completely obscured the goat-headed creature and his bizarre, foul work. It was hard to see anything beyond the spray, and yet the sounds of chainsaw blade and voices implied that, indeed, the show was continuing on.
“The hell,” Simon said, finally. “How long do they hold this shot?”
“Another minute or so,” Nathan said. “It’s actually not worth watching after this point.” He slapped at his spacebar and the video image froze, just one more indistinct frame of red, bubbles, and spray; and somewhere in the center, the implied outline of a man-thing in overalls, standing sentinel within the deluge.
Nathan turned to face his friend, a satisfied smile on his face.
“Weird, right? What do you think?”
“Art school project, maybe? Viral video joke?”
“A joke?” Nathan rubbed at his chin, fingers running over the stubble. “Maybe. But I don’t get it.”
“I don’t think I do, either.”
“Want to watch episode two?”
“Yeah,” Nathan said, already moving his mouse and clicking away. “A few.” He pulled up episode two:
THE SECRET GOATMAN SPOOKSHOW
S1E2: OWLS GATHER WHILE YOU SLEEP
It opened on a dark, steady shot, the frame moving down stairs into a basement. A ring of black candles stood burning over a red-splashed pentagram of flowing purple wax. The soundtrack was animal whining noises mixed in with the murmuring of an unintelligible, static-filled radio broadcast. Figures emerged from the dark, each carrying a perfectly-black cube. The candles flickered as they began to chant.
“Where’s the goatman?” Simon asked.
“He’s not in every episode.”
“But he’s in others?”
“Every now and then he shows up. But usually each one is different. Like a standalone story; or concept piece.”
“The lighting’s shit, but the composition here, the editing…it’s not bad.”
“Getting inspired?” Nathan asked, smirking. “Aside from Behold the Undead of Dracula, I didn’t think you were into horror stuff. But I knew you’d like this.”
“That was a favor for a friend. And I’m into what I’m into.”
“Watch this part,” Nathan said. He gestured to the screen, which flickered digital candlelight back onto his face. “This is where they bring out the fetus.”
“Is that… That doesn’t look human.”
“It looks real though, doesn’t?” Nathan was smiling, his eyes wider than ever.
On screen, the chanting stopped and the background noise cut out. The black cubes began to glow. The baby-thing wrapped in blood-smeared plastic wrap raised its distended head and began to croak out the prime numbers.
By the time it reached 13, Simon told Nathan he’d had enough.
Simon had been staring at his computer screen for 10 minutes. He’d re-watched a few clips, a string of edited-together panoramic city shots; good stuff, but needing a home. He’d considered overlaying a grizzled drifter’s monologue on the footage, but it didn’t quite work. It didn’t flow.
He finished his beer and crushed the can, then tossed it into the overflowing wastebasket. His room was beginning to smell like a brewery. He knew he should clean. But he also knew he probably wouldn’t.
From above came the pulsing of music. Bass lines riding below repetitive melodies–pop-hip hop trash that the white morons who lived above him never, ever grew tired of.
He didn’t even bother to save. He just quit out from the editing program and slapped his laptop shut. He pulled out his green duffel bag (great find at Goodwill) and began to pack. The city was closing in on him again, and ever since Nathan had shown him the Spookshow the day before, he’d had the crawls.
The family cabin stood several miles outside of Fairplay, overlooking a wide valley between stretches of gray mountains, the tops of which were frosted with snow, even in the warmth of early fall. The aspens at this elevation were already beginning to shed their colors for the season, half-naked skeletons standing watch over rock and crag.
In the three-hour midnight drive along 285 from Denver, the darkness of the mountains was menacing. He had barely seen Lumberjack Jack through his headlights, that totem pole of a man, cut 15 feet high to stand vigil outside of the Mountaintop Mexican Café, in bright red-and-blue painted-on flannel shirt; smile more like a grimace, hands thick with fingers spread over an impossibly-large red axe. Jack’s face had leered at him through the dark, dead eyes not at all comical or kitsch; somehow unfamiliar, despite having greeted Simon innumerable times on the ride up from Denver.
But now, with the first rays of golden-pink light heralding the approaching morning, Simon saw the boundless beauty of this landscape. Perhaps the mountains would help him find what he needed.
The air inside the cabin was cool, the smell like coming home for Christmas: scented candles, potpourri, and fabric softener. His parents usually came up here once or twice a month to clean the place, to collect the mail, to crank the heat a bit and stare out the wide windows. Despite its lack of clutter, it felt lived in, familiar.
He set his backpack on the table. The large, open room was dining room, kitchen, and living room in one. A guest room was at the rear of the house, standing directly across from the staircase that led down to the furnished basement.
Simon pressed a plastic button on the wall unit to crank up the heat. The furnace rumbled to life and vents immediately pushed out warm air. No sooner had Simon put his frozen burritos, beer, and milk away in the fridge than he found himself stumbling toward the couch. He fell asleep watching the sun come up over the eastern slope.
The coffee was the cheap stuff (his mom never listened), but it was coffee all the same. He sat down with a steaming mug, his back to the kitchen, laptop open on the table. He faced the large windows that looked out on the scattered, bare trees, then beyond to the downslope of the ridge leading to the valley below. Quiet–just the wind caressing the house, whistling ever-so-seductively, the sound of branches moving in the air, the call of a bird or two.
He convinced himself that he would get to work–after he checked his email.
Nathan had sent him something; the subject line: “new episode of the spookshow.”
Simon clicked the link.
THE SECRET GOATMAN SPOOKSHOW
S1E6: CHAINSAW PARALLELOGRAM
The opening shot followed a lonely, broken-stone trail winding through a forest: pine trees, and aspens holding yellow leaves that the wind carried off in quick, silent rushes, revealing bone gray branches clawing at the darkening sky.
The trees parted, and the trail ended at the lip of a moss-covered rock overlooking a winding road. It was dark–early morning, or more likely, evening. Cars traveled along the curved road below. Then came whispering from behind: two or three voices tinged with reverb, like chanting. Latin, maybe, not dissimilar to the voices in the previous videos. The camera panned left quickly. Trees, headlights, a column of color and bright lights–a nearby structure of some sort, but the movement was too fast to see. The streak of digital noise was replaced with the leering face of the goatman: bulging, dead eyes, lips moving out of sync with the multi-voice chanting. It was not the most effective jump scare, but it shook Simon, a bolt of cold adrenaline hammering through him.
“Jesus,” he said, offering a relieved laugh. Nervous.
Then a hard cut to the chainsaw, which was running at full throttle. Someone was screaming. The blood-soaked blade waved over the lens, moving closer, an obelisk of whirring grime-covered metal and smoke. A burst of garbled color, blocky images of trees, fields of black, and the video was over.
Thirteen seconds of black silence followed.
No, he hadn’t found an organized narrative, or even a broader point. But he’d trimmed a lot of fat–interviews with volunteers and social workers that went nowhere, B-roll of the city that was little more than padding. His film needed a point, sure–but it also needed paring down. The mountain air, the quiet, and the solitude had given him the clarity to see that.
But as he tinkered and cut, trimmed and reworked shot orders, Simon felt a draw back to the latest Spookshow video. It had been significantly less elaborate than the previous episodes. No special effects besides the goatman’s mouth, moving with that cheap rubber-animatronic effect, and the post-production lay-in of chanting voices. As rudimentary as the effects (blood, glowing cubes) may have been in previous episodes, they lent the proceedings a certain visual flair, a degenerate charm.
But why did he want to watch it again?
When he pulled up the newest episode on his browser, he noticed the view counter was already in the hundreds of thousands. Not bad for half-a-day’s run. Mercifully, whoever was running this bizarre channel wasn’t monetizing the videos. No pop-up ads, no commercial preceding the content. The show’s creators were artists, or savvy corporate viral marketers, eschewing short-term profit for hype and word-of-mouth. Simon half expected the next video to be the reveal: a trailer for a new horror film, ‘based on the cult Internet phenomenon’, full of endorsement quotes by people on Twitter. But his cynicism evaporated when the video started to play.
Again, the movement through the forest. The rock outcropping or ridge overlooking the road. A quick pan left, then the goatman. Simon was expecting the jump, but the image of that murmuring animatronic goat face–speckles of fresh blood along its dust-matted fur–still cut into him with a sense of unease. A ripping disquiet grew within him, as if he had allowed his morbidly-curious gaze to linger on the splatter of a car wreck just a moment too long, and he would not easily forget what he had seen, even if he wanted to.
Simon paused the video, then ran the cursor a few seconds back on the timeline. He slapped the spacebar and the camera panned left, fast. He pressed the spacebar once more. The image on screen was blurry, out of focus. He floated the mouse’s cursor over the timeline, back and forth, trying to find a frame that would let him see what that object was, that flash of bright blue and red just at the edge of the road.
Digitally mangled, the view skewed by streaks of light and recording artifacts that warped the shot; blue, red, flesh-colored wood, a solid, white smile under wide, familiar eyes that spoke of uncomprehending madness.
Lumberjack Jack. It had to be.
He ran the slider forward a few frames, back a few. It was clearly Jack, or another totem cut to look like him. He searched out other details in the frames leading up to that image: the curvature of the road, the thick pine and yellowed aspens, the downslope of the mountain just barely visible beyond.
He wanted to drive up there immediately, to visit the place where the Spookshow’s creators had been–but the sun was in full retreat, and the temperature would drop, even with the unseasonably warm weather during the day. At night, even the windows near the heating vents would begin to frost.
He knew he had to wait, because he didn’t just want to drive there–he wanted to climb up that ridge, to follow the path back into the woods. They were here–whoever had made these bizarre videos–in these very mountains.
That thought morphed his excitement into a drifting, undefined fear. He drank to ease his mind down, which was now spinning with images of the goatman or the robed figures creeping around the property, twisted hands trying cabin doors and windows for entry. He dreamt they were looking for him.
Simon pulled up to the Café, its windows casting out golden-red rectangles of light along the empty deck tables and chairs. Flavor-rich air: sizzling fat, cheese, meat. Breakfast was served sharply at 6:30 a.m., just minutes away. A line of cars were already parked nearby, a line of customers sitting at the counter inside.
Lumberjack Jack faced the other way, greeting travelers as they reached the height of the mountain road. Simon parked next to the base of the giant’s wooden altar, walked a few paces beyond, his eyes on the ridge overlooking the restaurant. The pines parted at its lip, where green moss and large rocks the color of gravel-and-rust made their home. He started climbing.
Careful steps over rocks and frost-kissed soil. The darkness gave ground as the sun rose, but in the thicker stretches of trees it was still as black as undeveloped film. He reached the part of the trail where the video began. He turned and oriented himself to face where he had just come from, aligned with the camera’s view in the video. He even pulled up the camera app on his own phone, standing in that same spot, filming as they had.
The footpath soon gave way to a more subtle route–matted grasses and scarce underbrush marking a deer or elk trail. He walked for an hour, and, just as the morning chill began to fade from his bones, the trees parted. Ahead, a clearing, at the center of which stood a house. A squat, patched-together cabin with a single window facing Simon. He walked around to the front of the building, finding a gravel driveway that led off to a road beyond.
Not knowing why, Simon walked up to the low porch and knocked on the metal screen door, the sound like crashing symbols. Not knowing why, he waited.
A man, balding, squinting through his glasses, opened the door. His eyes glowed orange in the darkness of the cabin.
“You here for the show?” he asked, voice all gravel and cigarettes. “Of course you are. Wait here.” The door thumped closed. Simon stood there, unsure of what was being asked of him, unsure of what he was doing here at all.
The man returned, opening the door a crack. The smell of a wood fire stove and frying sausage wafted out, and on its ethers, the man’s hand drifted forward, holding a yellow paper package, brown stains along its surface.
“This is for you,” the man said.
“Came yesterday. The tapes just arrive, I don’t ask questions. Nobody to ask anyway. But if I was you, I wouldn’t open that. I’d just throw it off the goddamn mountain. I opened a package like that once, and here I am.”
A dozen questions pressed their way forward, a traffic jam of Simon’s cognitive functions. Then the package was in his hands and the door was shut, the scraping of metal-on-metal as locks worked into place.
In a black marker scrawl, the package read:
FOR THE ONE WHO COMES
He tore it open, shredding through the yellow paper and bubble wrap with his fingers. Inside was a solid black VHS tape with no label. Also: a red prescription bottle, the label torn off. Inside that: fat, soft pill casings, filled with green and gray matter.
The guest room’s TV had a built-in VCR. Simon had poured himself a whiskey (some of his father’s cheap stuff) to work up courage, and, with the alcohol beginning its welcome work in his blood, he turned on the TV/VCR combo and popped in the tape.
First static; then an impossibly black screen. It lingered, and Simon checked to make sure the TV hadn’t switched off or the power shorted out. But then ghost-blue san serif text faded in, the style a callback to the first episode he’d seen:
Simon dumped the pills out into his palm.
TAKE THEM, SIMON
His heart skipped, his mouth went dry.
THAT YOU MAY SEE
WHERE LINES INTERSECT
AND MAY PASS
The black field and spectral text disappeared. The auto-track function struggled with lines of distortion and gray snow. His decision to slap the pills into his mouth was no decision at all, merely a continuation of the drama that began sometime in the not-too-distant past, triggered and hastened by the Spookshow, bringing him here, so that, indeed, he may pass beyond, whatever that meant.
Swallowing hard, he felt the pills tumble down his throat. He wanted water, but dared not leave the cold glow of the television. For several minutes he waited, expecting something to happen–the tape could end, or another block of text would appear, or–
Static, then shaky-cam imagery of shadows, fire, murmuring voices, and a looming statue overlooking a flowing brook. Robed figures moved about its carven altar. Flaming torches and a funeral pyre lit a giant owl’s magnificent chest and noble stone face. On the altar itself, fleshy-pink appendages whipped about, their movements masked by the fire. Ropes struggled to hold the mass. A wide and uncompromising mouth rose up on a quivering stalk, eager to kiss the darkness of the night sky.
Hard cut to:
A large, open space with no windows set along the concrete walls. Every few dozen feet stood mobile frames of low-rent community theatre-style fake wall with thin wallpaper or tarp coverings, some smeared with fake blood or bright-blue slime, some just the exposed rib cage of wood, naked and unashamed. Tables scattered about, home to props: oversized medical saws, forceps, syringes of all sizes and shapes, bronze razor-toothed cranioclasts, one of those strange cubes (not glowing at the moment), light sets, wires, Halloween masks grinning dead and mutant-stupid. This was a theatre department after all, one of the Grand Guignol tradition, its productions writ in blood and rubber terrors of the deep dark.
Harsh, cheap tube lighting buzzed overhead. The ceiling was high, and above him hung rafters and girders, home to stage and production lights, rope, catwalks. A soundstage built from nightmares.
And the smell: blood. Not sweet Karo syrup, red-dye-food-coloring blood, but blood, fresh, that animal-smell of an untidy butcher’s shop, the dripping recent-death stink of a whitetail deer hanging in your uncle’s garage. But also a gasoline smell–of spilled fuel, of running motor, of chainsaw smoke.
A low, guttural moaning drew his attention. Then a crash: the sound of metal folding chairs cascading over one another, shouting, and the whirring of the saw, furious and hungry, before it reached that shrill crescendo, finding purchase. The chainsaw’s whine and thrum guided him deeper, drawing him past endless rows of fake walls, props, light rigs, old boxes full of jet-black VHS tapes, computers set up on folding tables, their screens rich with endless rows of raw digital media.
The crashing and the whirring of blade was close now, just through the lazy curve of mobile set wall ahead. Production lights shined bright beyond, rays reaching over the crest of the faux-room. Simon approached a break in the walls, reaching forward, ready to push through to the other side.
“You’ll ruin the shot,” a voice said from behind. Simon whirled around, just as someone shouted “Cut!” from beyond the wall. The chainsaw whirred to a halt, coughing up smoke in a thick black vapor that drifted over to him.
Before Simon stood a man in black robes, hands out and open as if in supplicatory prayer. His skin was a deep white, as if he hadn’t seen the sun in many months. His blue eyes, set too far apart from one another, were all the more vibrant in contrast.
“Oh, well, that’s a wrap,” he said, offering a smile. A bad actor’s smile; his eyes and face at odd proportions, the uncanny valley brought to life: a bad special effect.
“This place,” Simon said. Memories bubbled beneath the present, bursting and sending up bits of shredded information, demands of incomplete thought, the smoke of this isn’t right and you come from elsewhere, how did you get here rising within.
“It’s where we film the Spookshow,” the man said, his smile falling flat, his face going limp. “You’ve seen a few episodes. And our bonus features, of course.”
Simon was aware of movement behind him, beyond the fake walls of the set. Talking, grunts of labor, the scraping of metal.
“We need to fill out some paperwork,” the man with the fake face said.
“Paperwork,” Simon managed.
“What skills do you have? Production-wise?” The man walked over to a nearby folding table and picked up a clipboard and pen. The flesh around his hands looked phony; translucent rubber or gelatin molded over bone framework. “You make movies,” he said, beginning to fill in fields and tick off boxes. “Don’t you?”
“Script writing, editing, my focus at CU. I have experience with lighting; running some cameras.” The words came out automatic, clipped.
“What editing software do you use? We’re in need of a new editor.”
“Final Cut. I know 7 really well, and I’ve been learning X. It’s not so bad since the updates a couple of years ago.”
“Oh. Well, we use Premiere, but it shouldn’t take you too long to learn it. There’s videos online to help you learn. There’s videos for everything, aren’t there?” He looked up from the clipboard and gave a flat smile, but those eyes never alighted with anything approaching kindness.
“Who are you?”
“We’re expanding production. The demand for our product is quite…unquenchable. You understand. Like a thirst. And people drink it up. Yes? You understand the metaphor, yes?”
“Yes,” Simon said. Something heavy crashed on the other side of the set wall behind him.
“This is what you want, isn’t it?” the producer asked. “You’re a seeker.”
“Yes,” Simon said, his heart beating faster. A memory came to him: sitting in a cool room, atop a mountain somewhere, staring into a flickering screen…
“You should meet the artist behind our vision: actor, director, visionary. A true auteur! He’s the boss, but we don’t call him as such. He’s very hands off–as long as the crew gets the job done.” The producer pointed a rubbery, fake-flesh-wrapped hand behind Simon. “Here he comes now.”
Simon turned, and beheld.
The basement, or warehouse, or soundstage–whatever it was–filled with a deep rumbling, a bass line that was a series of undifferentiated notes, a subterranean droning, accompanied by the swelling of synthesizer song, a 1970s-era Goblin original motion picture soundtrack brought to life and dropped down to near-unsustainably low RPMs. And yet, music it was; beautiful, alluring–atmospheric, majestic, fearful, breeding excitement in the audience that preceded a particularly bloody kill, or, in this case, heralded the appearance of an intimidating but beloved Movie Monster.
Cerulean light, spectral in its incandescence, bled through the cracks in the set’s fake walls.
Rumbling–not part of any soundtrack–the sound of stone walls opening within some forgotten temple; the grind of dead earth falling down to smother a subterranean graveyard.
The false walls were pulled apart, not by hands or special effect, but by forces invisible and sinister. And there, the goatman, backlit by a radiant phantom blue flower of light, the fullness of his features cast in shadow and fog. The music swelled; a half-dozen vocal tracks all chanted that horrific non-verbal cacophony. They peaked in grotesque ecstasy.
Then all was silent.
He stomped forward, taller than he looked even in the videos, muscular and lumbering, his trademark chainsaw attached to a chain and leather belt at his side, like a knight’s sword or gunfighter’s pistol slung at the hip.
The mouth of the goatman moved, that fake-looking animatronic effect, but made no sound. Simon heard the words in his head.
I AM APPRECIATIVE THAT YOU FOUND US
“Thank you, sir,” Simon choked out, his words coming out with difficultly through the miasma of gasoline and rot surrounding the goatman.
I AM UNDERSTANDING YOU ARE AN EDITOR. A CUTTER OF FILM
I, TOO, AM A CUTTER
WELCOME TO THE PRODUCTION TEAM
“I’m happy,” Simon stammered. He tasted blood, and realized that it was streaming from his eyes down to the corners of his mouth, where it collected along the folds of his trembling lips. “I’ve known–I’ve known I would always contribute to something great. I’ve known my whole life.”
ARE YOU READY TO BEGIN OUR GREAT WORK
“Yes sir,” Simon said, bowing his head and closing his bleeding eyes.
GOOD. THAT IS GOOD
A hideous man-goat hand gripped Simon’s quivering shoulder.
THEN TOGETHER. LET US MAKE A NEW SPOOKSHOW
Droning-synth crescendo. Black. Silence. Roll credits.
The VHS tape wound from one reel to the next, playing for an empty room.
Jonathan Raab is the editor-in-chief of Muzzleland Press and an editor for the War Writers’ Campaign. He is the author of Flight of the Blue Falcon, a gonzo war novel, and The Hillbilly Moonshine Massacre, a novel about conspiracy theories, alien abductions, psychotropic moonshine, and what it means to come home. His upcoming occult-horror novella The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie will be available in late 2016. He lives in Golden, Colorado with his wife Jess and their dog Egon. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter at @muzzlelandpress
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Story illustration by John Solder.