Short Fiction Spotlight: “The Lothario from an Unknown Zone” by Bob McNeil

A man-sized mosquito descended on 43rd Street and 7th Avenue amid a warm afternoon. The horrific creature’s presence made me scream. However, my legs, quite inexplicably, could not flee the fearsome scene. Amazing still, I was the only person who noticed the otherworldly invader. So, as a result, I concluded the scenario was a hallucination. My confused brain felt like a strange terrain. I did not enjoy dwelling in it without the weapon of reason.

The being that defied a logical category stopped and stared at the metropolitan masses. Fascinated by the pedestrians, cars, and buildings, the creature used one of its legs and reached under its left translucent wing. Right from beneath that aeronautical appendage, the thing pulled out a camera. Fearful of its appearance and amused by its actions, I unexpectedly laughed. Taken aback, I concluded the weird winged entity was a tourist, if you will, a shutterbug.

Any notion that my day could not get more unearthly flew away when a naked woman approached the inexplicable vermin. This lady on the street was Aphrodite of Knidos incarnate. Mystifying yet true, she hugged the insect. The being, thereafter, fondled her with desire.

Unconcerned with the masses around them, they walked hand in hand towards the Hotel Retcher. Silent as a leopard, I followed them. Unfortunately, at a distance of around ten feet, I could not hear their conversation. An orchestra of car noises and crowds obscured any chance of hearing the discussion.

The bizarre pair entered an ill-famed tan-colored hotel. Known for its cheap fee, murders, suicides, bed bugs, and filth, the 24-story establishment was appropriate for them. Already registered there, neither the insect nor his mate went by the greenish-white front desk with numerous clocks above it. I, overcome with curiosity, looked at the clean pate of a pale clerk who was gazing in a westerly direction.

East of understanding what was going on, I followed the couple into a lobby that looked like the 1970s threw up all of its cheesiness on the place. The vomit was composed of a mirrored ceiling, pleather-adorned lavender couches, machine-made marble columns, and Polywood tables.

Fear prevented me from entering the same elevator with the two beings. Unconcerned with me standing outside of the closing doors, they hugged and kissed. Obsessiveness made me look at the display of ascending numbers on the wall. Staring upwards, I saw that they got off on the thirteenth floor.

Either perversion or concern, term it what you want, motivated the following action. I got on the next elevator after them, and it was surprisingly quick. It was fast enough for me to observe the couple enter room 237. Aware of my presence, they both turned around, stared at me, and slammed the door. Accepting my stalker status, I was impervious to disgrace. Undeterred, I resumed my investigation.

Hesitantly, I walked out of the elevator. A crud-and-bubblegum-dappled reddish carpet met my well-worn teal sneakers, and sneak I did. My oracular sense was Orwellian when I went to the room and got a keyhole view of their activities. No amount of bizarre internet searches or horror movies could have acclimated my mind to what I saw next.

Standing upright, the humanoid pest presented its long and erect member. Irrefutable exultation was tattooed on the female’s face while her legs bestraddled two wings. Either because of the stinger it stuck into her foot, or the phallus stuck in her orifice, she screamed in a way that reminded me of mating cats. From then on, the couple utilized just about every known position in the Kama Sutra for about an hour.

Sated with their mating, it appeared the two were ready to rest. Moments from falling into fatigue, the female turned towards her male counterpart and said in a blissful whisper, “Promise me that you will not get this buzzed for some huzzy.”

Pausing for a moment, her surreal inamorato responded in a tone that sounded similar to an electric saw. He said, “Only a bugged-out being would forsake you.”

At peace with the answer, the female cooed then fell asleep.

Amid her snores, the male got up and crept towards the door. Afraid of being discovered, I inferno-footed down the hallway by the time the thing opened its means of departure. Somewhere safely away, I saw the mosquito come out of the room.

Cupped in the odd anthropoid’s limb, something on the order of an iPod sat. He whispered, “I’m waiting for you, lovable owner of my libido, on the thirteenth floor.”

More or less, the distance between us was equivalent to 100 feet. Furthermore, I hid behind the corner of a wall that led to another section of the floor. Unluckily, my shadow revealed where I was.

Each of my eyes has hundreds of lenses, and they all see you, annoying voyeur. You want to know who I am, don’t you?” the creature said after spinning its head in my direction.

Sheepishly, I peered around to view the freakish speaker.

Let me reveal the guy behind the disguise,” the surreal spieler said as it stood up and turned into a tall nude man. That was not what amazed me. What summoned enough awe to make my heart quake in my chest was the newly made human form changed its colors over and over again. No joke, for quite a few minutes, it donned every shade known to humanity. I mean, it was black, then white and every hue in between. Obstructed by the distance, I could not make out miscreation’s facial changes.

I am as humdrum as a housefly. 20% of the male population that cheats in relationships is no different than what I am. Based on your expression, the General Social Survey (GSS) stat does not make you adore my existence. Nevertheless, you have known and will know more men of my kind.”

Pleased with his last declaration, he laughed, pitched the phone aside, and transformed into what I assumed was an English mastiff. Not being an expert, I think its skin had a brindle look to it.

No sooner had it transformed, another female trod out the elevator. This other lady reminded me of a fertility goddess I saw in a book. Aside from being nude as well as zaftig, her pallor and hair were stone-grey. Her voice, contrary to her size, was small and tinny.

My dog, are you still sugary and servile? Am I still your only mistress?”

Of course, I’m a loyal whelp,” the canine replied in a low growl.

That ended their exchange as the two took the elevator.

Fixated on information, I bolted over to the lift. Numbers above the machine indicated they went all the way down.

By way of the stairs, I ran to the ground floor and out onto the street. For my effort, all I got was sweat. The duo went somewhere beyond my two viewfinders.

The clerk peered out the entrance and asked, “Sir, is something wrong?”

I replied, “It bugs my brain the way some men are more promiscuous than dogs.”

Confused, he tilted his head leftward while I rightly questioned the saneness of mine.

The End

© Bob McNeil 2020 All Rights Reserved.

Géza Csáth by Rhys Hughes

Géza Csáth (1887-1919)

by Rhys Hughes

For those who speak not a word of Hungarian, which is the majority of the talking world, it may be helpful to point out that the author Géza Csáth is actually pronounced something like: GAYSO CHATTER! It may be helpful, or it may be pompous. He was a genius. He died a narrow physical wreck in the wake of a grand psychological mess. Quite mad, but the war was even less sane than he. The Hungarian nation has produced a number of supremely talented writers, in all genres, who remain virtually unknown outside that ancient furious land. Many were born when Hungary was much bigger than it is now. As a consequence, the contracting borders have sometimes left their birth towns stranded in other countries.

Mór Jókai, one of the truly great historical novelists of the region, grew up in Komárno, which is now just over the Danube in Slovakia. Géza Csáth entered the world in the south, in Szabadka, in present day Serbia. It was a cultured age, but Hungary was due to crumble, together with its cooler sister, Austria, and extremely lean times were written on the potshots of Sarajevo, 1914. Not quite a case of ploughshares into swords. It was worse than that, iron bedsteads and railings into bayonets and bombs. But before the mustard gas was brewed, Central Europe was swathed in coffee steam and sweetened with waltz tunes. Only its depths were properly agitated.

There were a few ominous ripples in Csáth’s youth. Disagreements with his conservative father; the early loss of his mother; the silencing of his hopes for a career in music. But he was more practical than his later history might suggest. He enrolled in the Budapest Medical School and took a degree in general medicine. He went on to specialise in neurology and even became something of an expert in mental disorders, first from the outside, and then with the addition of a growing opium addiction, from within. His years as a researcher with the renowned Professor Moravcsik also contained the bulk of his literary efforts. In his spare time, he wrote music reviews, a play and almost a hundred strange stories.

It was the twilight of Mitteleuropa’s Silver Era, an age whose absurdities, reflected in the fictions of Musil and Kafka, seem modern in their sense of the tense, in their dark frustration and boredom, more closely matched with our own anxieties than those of the period of reconstruction that exists between. It is one of the reasons why Kafka is rarely assumed to have lived so long ago as he did. Csáth is another writer, as incisive and terse as Kafka, whose concerns reflect our own fear of bureaucracy, a clear fear of the soulless control process that nonetheless remains vague in imaginary outline, its true shape doubtless locked away in a filing-cabinet lost somewhere in the guilty labyrinths of our own inefficiencies.

But for Csáth, the implacable and monstrous bureaucracy in question was never alien to the community. It was not a pointless system imposed on ordinary life from above. Rather, its cruelties were developed from the bottom up and include the awkwardness of sympathy and superstition. In his fantasies there are often no genuine oppressors. There are not even any mistakes to blame for the situations, which are barely tragedies but horrible all the same. Many of his stories do not consciously seek menace, or else caress it softly when they find it. The organic adjuncts of the art-nouveau movement frequently intrude, directly in the ophidian shape given to his work by the artist Attila Sassy, whose etchings inspired new tales as well as decorated those already written, or indirectly in the languorous loomings of his romantic passages, with their wise and cryptic heroines.

Conversely, many pieces have the detachment and brutal precision of a medical report. A few adopt both approaches at the same time, the two styles having decayed and fallen into each other. The dreamlike qualities in these tales and others are not used to provide escape from horror, but merely to embroider it, draw it out in swirls, like the smoky curlicues and gossamer tendrils of any fashionable interior. For Csáth, evil is the basic furniture of life. Our beings in this world are furnished with it, we rest on it when weary on the journey from womb to grave. The style of its design is less important, a minor quibble of aesthetics rather than ethics.

As his taste for opium grew stronger, and distaste for his own weakness deepened to a perilous level, Csáth sought a certain amount of redemption in the massive war that had just commenced. But his madness was amplified by his exterior conditions and duties. He survived the giant hell but returned to a more condensed nightmare. Unlike Jaroslav Hašek, that other sentimental cynic of the perfect page, Csáth did not embrace politics, satire or practical jokes. He shot his wife instead. His subsequent imprisonment in an insane asylum was terminated by a daring escape.

On the way back to Budapest, he discovered that the Hungarian borders had already shrunk beneath his feet. He was now in Serbia and had to cross a demarcation line guarded by soldiers. They refused to let him pass, warning him off at gunpoint. He backed away and then abruptly swallowed poison. The Hungarians are experts at suicide. Before they can graduate in this most serious of disciplines, there are levels to be achieved, stations on the route to nothingness, little termini, practice runs. For Csáth the most significant of these were opium and morphine. He reached the first promptly at the age of twenty-one and arrived beyond the last exactly a decade later. So in essence he will always remain a young man, the tales that survive him glowing abominably with the static energy of waste, frustration and ultimate doubt.

Greetings from Doomsday: Malagueña

Good morning and welcome to the end.

You wake up to a trail of garlic cloves running down your staircase and no one will cop to putting it there. You’re filled with an ineffable sense of dread. You don’t know if the garlic was put in place to keep the vampires out or to ensure that you were kept in. Then you wake up and realize it was a dream and that monsters don’t exist in the form of bloodsucking ghouls.

The vampires in your life are emotional vampires, they’re the relatives who guilt you into donating to a charity that routinely misleads donors about how much of their charitable contributions actually go to those in need. These vampires are self-serving, passive-aggressive vampires, the kind of ghouls that Skype to say that you look like you need more color and that you should get some sun.

The vampires are everywhere these days, boys and girls. They’re the frothy-mouthed shit-heels who refuse to wear face masks and insist that COVID-19 is a “libtard hoax.” They do not fear the Morning Star like their ancestors and they aren’t modest enough to take the form of a bat. These revenants are shameless, myopic carnivores who feed on fear and demand special treatment.

You see them standing in line at the Post Office, openly ignoring signage that tells them to keep six feet between themselves and their fellow humans. They’re the old, hunched savages whose grills are slick with a film of sweat and stupidity and whose hands are perpetually restless. When they’re not hustling their balls they’re flailing ever closer to your comfort zone, hacking and coughing and assuring you that they’re not sick … but they’ve been sick their whole lives. Ignorance is a disease and it’s bred right into these blood simple morons.

The good news is, you’ve got the power of Horror on your side. Vampires cannot enter your home if they haven’t been invited. They can brag, bitch and bully their way into a big box store, but the manager won’t let them have more than their fair share of toilet paper. They can act as entitled as they want, but persistence repels them like a crucifix to the solar plexus.

“I’m sorry, sir, but these are the rules. There is a limit of one per customer.”

“I’ve been shopping at this shithole since you was swimming around in your daddy’s balls! I don’t need to take your shit!”

“Sir, there’s no need to be rude. I’m just following company policy.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They slink away like the wounded hellhounds they are, barking obscenities at themselves as they waddle back to their shitty American-made automobiles and concentrate their fear-based hatred in other directions.

Vampires cannot enter if uninvited.

Outside they’re holding black delivery drivers hostage in gated communities for doing their jobs. The King Vampire is dreaming up conspiracy theories and encouraging the public to mainline household cleaners.

Inside you’re making music with friends from other countries. Outside the party line is blaming China. Inside you’re learning how to knit face masks for the homeless. Outside they’re beating black men about the skull and waving their batons at bystanders. Inside you’re taking an online course in misconduct law.

Even horror movies have happy endings sometimes.

Outside they’re going without masks and cutting each other off in traffic. In here we’re smoking on some Boost 20:1, riding high and drinking in the mellifluous licks of Jose Feliciano. Inside is good for now, inside here was always good. Hold your partner close because your dance card is clear and it’s time to boogie on the home front.

Lyrics of Mature Hearts by Bob McNeil – Poetry Anthology

In his landmark Surrealist novel Nadja, Andre Breton said, “Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or will not be at all.” This sentence perfectly conveys our involuntary attraction to both the Romantic and the macabre. It speaks to the love that exists in all things, whether it’s our treatment of life or the subject of death.

It is impossible to write anything of merit that does not acknowledge, in one way or another, the inevitability of decay. Humans, like all other species, are built for obsolescence. Still, this is a fact which is difficult for modern writers to confront and even rarer for readers to embrace.

This explains why older characters have become a bit of an endangered species in contemporary fiction. It also explains why everyone should pay attention to the new anthology from Bob McNeil and Gordon P. Bois.

In Lyrics of Mature Hearts, an independently-published collection of poetry, McNeil and his authors candidly deal with the issue of adulthood in various poetic variations.

The genesis of the project demonstrates the unpredictable paths that life takes us on as the sand passes through the hourglass. About a year ago, McNeil was approached by a talented Chicana poet on Facebook. She proposed a collaboration in which the pair would use Elizabeth and Robert Browning as sources of inspiration.

Although initially intrigued by the offer, McNeil ultimately thought it odd to express adoration for someone he wasn’t intimately familiar with. After giving the idea some more thought, he proposed they work on an anthology on life and love by older people.

The poet agreed, but eventually quit after the project became too difficult. McNeil was, by now, so committed to the project that he carried on without her. Soon, he and his colleagues had filled nearly 70 pages with lyrical works about the growth and growing pains of getting old as well as the prevailing love many of us carry, for life and for each other.

If all of this sounds somewhat maudlin consider this: Bob McNeil has penned some of the smartest short horror fiction of the 21st century; his work has appeared in several print anthologies from Deadman’s Tome, among others. Lyrics of Mature Hearts is more than just poems about the aging because McNeil is more than just another Poe wannabe.

Check out the book here.

Weird Writers Recommend Hammer Films

Nicole Cushing: Vampire Circus (1972)

Why? Well, for me, a successful horror film plucks the same nerves as a nightmare. It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. It just has to make enough sense that it doesn’t lose you. In this movie Hammer gives us nineteenth century vampires who: (A.) form a traveling circus, in which some of them (B.) shape shift into circus animals, and (C.) use a magical mirror to kill townspeople. Somehow, Hammer manages to sneak eroticism into the midst of all this. Oh, and the whole thing takes place during a plague! It’s a mosh pit of decadence, decay, and delight.

Johnathan Raab: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Christopher Lee is at his best, playing the hero Duke de Richleau this time, spouting pseudo-metaphysical occult nonsense and casting spells in his quest to deliver his friend from the clutches of satanic evil. Everyone is taking the creaky, goofy supernatural proceedings extremely seriously, which makes for a fun romp as the ghastly magic and ghouls serving the Goat of Mendes show up. Reading the book might help you understand the truncated ending, but I don’t recommend it—just follow Sir Christopher down the black magic rabbit hole and enjoy Hammer at its silly and spooky best.

Amy Vaugh: Straight on Till Morning (1972)

In the first half of 2019, I watched all 54 Hammer horror films. I wrote about it for Ginger Nuts of Horror. Of all of them, the weirdest, most disturbing, most memorable to me is Straight on Till Morning. This movie tells the story of a naïve young woman looking for someone to father the child she desperately wants. The man she decides on is a Peter Pan-like serial killer who brutally murders any woman who gets close to him. There’s a merciless off-kilter tension created by the juxtaposition of their childishness and the gravity of the situation.

Straight on Till Morning may not be a great movie. It may not even be representative of what most people think of as the Hammer genre—being much more like Die! Die! My Darling or Crescendo than like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde or Dracula A.D. 1972—but damn if it isn’t one of the creepiest films ever to come from the House of Hammer.

Sam Richard: To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

Christopher Lee, Natassja Kinski, and Richard Widmark star in this adaptation of the Dennis Wheatley novel. Literally what’s not to like? Hallucinatory and dreamlike plus it boasts amazing music, this would be the last Hammer film until the studio returned in 2011. Not typically a fan favorite, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this one when it was over. Often overlooked which is a shame because it’s worth it for the performance alone.

Garrett Cook: Night Creatures (1962)

My favorite Hammer film features no real monsters but greed. It’s a swashbuckling adventure featuring Peter Cushing as a swashbuckling “reverend” with a secret. We’ve got fake ghosts, Oliver Reed and Cushing putting Errol Flynn to shame. Night Creatures is infectiously charming and shows the class, integrity and personal power of a brilliant actor.