On a colonial village field trip, Mike was attacked by a deranged candle-maker and his "buddy" Trent fled, to his undying shame. As adults, screenwriter Trent runs into professor turned soldier Mike when they stumble upon a preternaturally dead cat in the library. Mike believes there's one sinister force behind this and other strange, inexplicable incidents- and he's taking reluctant Trent along for the investigation. Meanwhile, Trent begins to wonder if Lilith, his alluring and inscrutable new girlfriend, may be demonic herself- or if that's just his paranoid Catholic guilt. Dan Wakefield's Going All The Way meets True Detective, Hellish Beasts is an idiosyncratic, darkly humorous, and introspective Horror Noir. With an insider’s appreciation for the Los Angeles landscape, this is a serious examination of the duty of friendship, the burden of guilt, the uncertainty of a devout Catholic in modern dating, and the struggle of leaving your 20s behind.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.66(d)|
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The Buddy System
I don't expect you to believe. It would certainly be easier to write the whole terrible experience off as fantasy, and God knows that'd be preferable. That if the entire, fevered, haunting ordeal was merely a scary story to tell in the dark, and shelve when Halloween is done, and it comes time to move on to November and the more familiar time and warm holidays that come with it.
You do that, and God Bless you, and God smiles upon you. Myself, I cannot forget, and I know that it is vain to even try and perhaps ill-advised to desire. The nightmare haunts me still, perhaps not as it did when the danger was fresh and real and my breath still short, but the haunting is there. There are some nights, fewer now and far between, but tiring and terrible when they do come, where I still find myself awake in wane hours, paralyzed to move, not daring to make a peep, and wondering if all the king's horses and all the king's men may charge in and take me to some fresh Hell, the likes of which I'll describe presently. As is, I don't hear the sonorous buzzing of the piper's tune, nor is my nose plagued with the scent of burning flesh, and it's been a good long while since a bee stung me in the privacy of my own quarters. Yet the memory persists, and I hesitate to write it down. It may be that by typing it out, putting the whole wretched thing to paper, at last, I'll have exorcised some demon. Or at the very least, told a story.
It wasn't all bad though. There were sights seen, lessons gleaned, and a new look at Los Angeles. Love and friendship, even in such a twisted yarn like this, can be appreciated. Lilith was a heavenly creature, and even Mike turned out okay in the end.
I don't expect you to believe, but I'll ask you to read. Indulge me in that, if you will. It is, by my own estimations, something of a great quest.
And like many great quests, it started with a question. And that question was this:
Do you think our way of life will ever be caricatured as a historical theme park? When I was a kid, we would go on these field trips to colonial days attractions, where they have people dressed, acting, and talking in a simulation of what life was like in the 1700s. It'd be weird if 300 years from now tourists are going to, I don't know, "21st Century Village" or something.
I mean, those places are pretty weird already. Colonial Williamsburg was one we went to. A "living museum." Field trip in 6th grade. It was fun to ride the horses and play with the 17th-century toys, but not everything was always on the level. We used The Buddy System. I was partnered up with Mike Kripke; we were both kinda class clowns and sort of lagged behind.
Mike Kripke. There was a kid. The kind of guy you loved to bring around because he made your parents uncomfortable. No filter and he was always saying the weirdest stuff. He told me that earthworms tasted "milky." Dared me to try it one time, but I chickened out.
Mike played soccer and basketball. Which we all did-but he also played football, indicating he was of a tougher constitution than I was. Keep that in mind, as it will come up later. He wasn't a very tall or bulky boy, but he was a force to be reckoned with on the field. He was very casual about it, however, acting like getting knocked around when he was still in grade school was no big deal. Nor were his preponderance of merit badges anything he would brag about, nor thinking the machete collection his Dad let him keep in his bedroom anything more than rote. Never before and rarely since had I known a guy so nonchalant about his own distinction.
It wasn't the first time any of us had gone colonial. Virginia history was very big in Virginia and a constant part of our primary curriculum. So, we had the treatment, read the books, gotten visits from in-character historians who told us about chamber pots and pre-revolutionary medicine. Madame Goodrich, I'll call her because I don't remember her name, and her servant Tabatha gave an assembly. The petticoated lady held a glass ball to Samantha Smeaton's arm and told her that ordinarily, it would be superheated, so as to create a vacuum effect when pressed to bare flesh. Suck the blood out. They were crazy about blood-letting back then. Tabatha matter-of-factly told us, "Most of us wouldn't be like Madame Goodrich. 98% of people back then lived in ordinary houses. Only a few owned plantations."
I always thought that was odd, because she said "us", as if it would be us, and not other people 200 years ago. I wouldn't have lived in a shack or owned a plantation. I wouldn't have lived anywhere back then because I didn't live back then. It was a stupid hypothetical. I don't believe in reincarnation.
But I did like time travel.
By this point though, maybe it was a little lame. Or perhaps it was just a result of overexposure. I still got a kick out of it. Mike said it was boring, and I didn't challenge him on that.
"What's the point?" he asked, kicking at the dirt. "These people didn't like living back then. Why do we have to pretend it's so neat?"
"What do you mean they didn't like living back then?"
"They used, leaches, remember? They won't shut up about the leaches."
"They didn't know any better."
"And their babies all died, and people only lived to be like 50. It sucked."
I don't know why I felt the need to defend the quality of our ancestors' lives, but I argued. "They didn't know things would be better though. It was the most advanced technology, and medicine had ever gotten."
This gave Mike pause. "So is today. This year. Never been better."
"Do you think that's the way it goes?" I asked. "Things just get better?"
"The better the future gets, the worse the past looks." He gazed up at the sky, contemplating the futility of progress and retrospect. "Maybe someday they're looking back at us like barbarians. Right now they're calling us uncivilized and stupid."
"Right now?" His timing was confusing, but his point was prescient.
"Yeah, like in the future, they think we're a bunch of cavemen!"
"'Cause we don't have flying cars or robots?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, and other stuff too. I mean, they had slavery back then." He gestured around to the theme park emulating that "back then."
"1800, they had slaves."
"1900, they don't have slaves."
"But white kids and black kids still have to go to different schools. And in 2000, we know that's bad, but in 1900 they thought that was okay."
"And they were wrong."
"Yeah, but they think they're good because they're better than 1800 when there were slaves."
"Well, we're better than 1800 and 1900." I wanted to defend our year, though I could see where he was going.
"Are we good though? What are they saying about us in the year 2100?"
* * *
One thing I always loved was the candle maker. I thought it was neat to see them dip the wick into the hot vat of wax and take a perfect candle out. Mike wanted to go to the well, but that didn't take too long-I mean, it's just a well so then we went to the ... what do you call it, a candle shack?
It was different this time. I guess by the time you're 12, you're not as easily impressed by simple stuff. The candle maker-the "Chandler", was this big sweaty guy with a dirty shirt. I mean, he's dressed in the colonial clothes, so I guess they were pretty dirty back then, but it was still off-putting.
There was just something ... wrong with the guy. Maybe it was his bulbous cheeks, sweaty and puffy (ruddy?), or his beady little eyes, blackish pinpoints in a bowl of baby flesh. He never quite looked you in the eye, but perhaps I preferred that with him.
And it really smelled in there! I didn't remember it smelling that bad before. I asked the Chandler what that smell was. He said it's the tallow. (It turns out, it wasn't the tallow)
He was sweating profusely, and he asked us, "You boys want to see me dip my wick?" Mike sniggered at that. I didn't get it at the time, but now I can see the double entendre. Seems a bit inappropriate of a joke to make around kids.
We gathered around. He dipped the wick in the vat and sort of stirred it around. Did it usually take this long? Then after a minute, he took out the wick. Not the best I had ever seen at that or any other colonial establishment, I can tell you that. It was all crooked and uneven. Bulbous at the base like the guy's puffy cheeks, and then coming out to a thin, spidery tip, like a witch's finger.
I was unimpressed but too polite to say anything. Mike, on the other hand, had a mouth on him.
"What a crappy candle!" he said. Chandler turned red, either out of anger or embarrassment. I think he knew it. The boy was challenging his craft. So he challenged the boy. "Think you could do any better, kid?"
*And it was really smelling bad now.* Hog fat left out in a rotting pumpkin bad.
Mike cocked a smirky grin, stepped up to the vat. "Yeah!" He reached for the wick.
Chandler bellowed, "FEEL IT!" He grabbed Mike's right hand and shoved it in the wax.
His screaming was ringing in my ears, but as piercing as that shrill shriek hurt to hear, at least it masked the nefarious, the horrifying, the unspeakable sound of Mike's burning flesh. Bubbling and melting in the fiery wax. Sweat must have been pouring down the Chandler's face as he punished the boy who embarrassed him. I could hear Mike crying. But I was powerless. It wasn't my hand in the wax. So what could I do?
So I ran.
I wasn't proud of that. He was my field trip partner, and I left him behind. That was the whole point of The Buddy System. You watched out for each other. Accounted for the other guy. Everyone back on the bus.
But there I was, a scared little boy, running across that stupid little theme park, huffing asthmatic, looking for an adult to make everything all right. Only my eyes were wet. Mike's whole world was melting.
I found the Town Crier. My class had gone on to churn the butter, and by then Mrs. Linne still hadn't noticed we were missing. But then that's the irredeemable flaw intrinsic in The Buddy System. Both for one and one for both. "Does everyone have their buddy?" Yes ma'am, but what if they're both missing? We were.
The Town Crier was a middle-aged man with anachronistic glasses and balding hair. His sneakers, clumsily visible underneath his smock, relieved me. This was the present, and he knew it.
He was alarmed by my tears even before I told him what happened. And I wouldn't stop crying for a while. I didn't have to tell him much. Just saying the words "Candle Shack", as inarticulate and inaccurate as that may have been, was enough to cue him in. He knew what was going on before I did.
Speaking of candles at all raised an eyebrow. Because at that point they had no candlemaker. Least of all that beast in the shed.
I received more of an explanation later. I was waiting in the police lobby for my parents to come pick me up. I had already told the Crier, teachers, and the police what happened. The facts, such as I had them, had been conveyed, and now I suppose it had come time to console the boy and tell him what happened.
"I know you're scared," I heard a soft but commanding voice tell me. A large man with brown shoes and a dark tan suit was standing over me. I didn't look him in the eye. All I could stare at was his suit, the color of which I would associate with beeswax. Couldn't get my mind off it. I could still smell it, stronger now that I was confronted with a similar color (to my eye and mind). Somewhere between honey and burning flesh. "It's alright to be afraid. You should be in these times, but you have to know there's nothing you could do."
He put his hand on my shoulder. It was meant to be comforting, but I jerked back, so quickly that it might be rude, but he didn't object. He understood I was on edge, even if he didn't know that being touched right now felt like a bucket of ice water. Truthfully, all but one of the adults I met today had been kind, helpful, gentle people. But that experience was tainted, and I was seeing my elders through frightened lenses, exaggerating their traits as if through a funhouse mirror. Madame Goodrich with her thin neck and creaky voice. The Town Crier who might look like Santa on a brighter day but now his glasses had a sinister glare, and his wispy strands of white hair creeped me out. The officer in charge with his buzz cut and super-serious demeanor seemed like he could yell to me at any moment if I didn't give the right answer, and I kept staring at his gun, black and cold in its holster. I bet it was heavy. Loaded. Now this would-be friend with his deep, yet effeminate voice, and suit that evoked that old smell of wax and therefore animalistic pain with tinges of sweetness. It wasn't his fault, I tried to tell myself. He couldn't have woke up this morning, put on that suit, and known there would be the victim of a wax incident to talk to.
"There's nothing you should have done, either," he went on. "You shouldn't think you should do anything but run when there's a ... sick man like that."
"Who-who was he?" I asked.
"You've lived a charmed life," he said gently as if this would explain. "There are people you can't understand."
The "Chandler" didn't even work there. He was just some guy who was obsessed with colonial times but didn't get hired because he wasn't any good at anything. Couldn't shoe a horse or bake a shoefly pie. Couldn't even recite Governor's Names in The King's Old English. And I knew he couldn't make a candle worth a damn. But he loved this place. It was his own personal Fairyland. Didn't want to leave. Wouldn't take no for an answer. They rejected his application. They turned him down when he tried to get another interview. Finally, they banned him from the park. That didn't work.
He had snuck in two days before. Slept in the barn, hid from passing by officials. Poked his head out and plied his trade to the unknowing tourists. I guess nobody complained about the shoddy workmanship on his candles, but when you're a 21st-century simpleton visiting an insane artisan gracious enough to bless you with his craft, what recourse do you have? Take your candle and shut up.
Then my parents came, whisked me away, the police psychiatrist/child caseworker or whatever he was, vanished, and I was taken to Wendy's for an extra-large Frosty and Blockbuster for two Adam Sandlers and a Jim Carrey.
John Henry Bowers was his name. He was promptly arrested and subsequently incarcerated. There was no trial or anything, so I guess he took a plea. I didn't really hear anything about him after I gave my statement to the police. Talking to the detectives was possibly scarier than the encounter with Bowers himself. Because I knew from the start, it was a bad situation. And I was so ashamed. The police, the teachers, and my parents kept telling me it wasn't my fault, wouldn't stop telling me what a good job I had done, how brave I was. That made it worse.
One thing that always confused me was, where did the wax come from? They told me that their actual Chandler, a man who had worked at the park for over 40 years, had passed away two months before and they had yet to replace him. But the candle shack was defunct then. And surely there was no residual wax. Yet he had a vat filled. Where did he get it? Nobody answered that.
There was an explanation for the smell though, partially at least. The man who burnt my friend's hand had not left his little shack for two days. He had soiled himself, repeatedly, not wanting to expose himself, or, which was worse, leave the sanctity of his wax.
Mike missed the next couple days of school, which was no surprise. I was dreading his return, and shamefully hoped it would be prolonged because I did not relish the conversation, the necessary and agonizing apology all the adults told me I didn't have to make. Trent, this was not your fault, you did the right thing, buddy. You're a hero. I didn't want to see the look in his eyes. Because whatever the teachers and our parents said, we knew the truth, he and I. I left him in a lurch. He got burned, I got out, and yeah, sometimes life is that simple. On an intellectual level, yeah, the grown-ups were right. I couldn't have done anything against the big crazy man and his hot bowl of wax. He could have shoved my face in the tub, and what would that have helped? But at the end of the day, you're in that moment, and you're seeing yourself, 12 years old for the love of God, but you know what? So was Mike. He stayed. He stayed and took it all, and I didn't do a damn thing about it. We were Buddies.
* * *
Mike got second-degree burns on his hand. They said that's less painful than third-degree burns, but I dunno, sounded pretty bad to me. He came back to school with his hand bandaged up. Completely in gauze, like a mummy. Gave me a little wave, which I returned with the slightest of nods. We didn't interact until lunch, and then, what, was I not going to sit at our table? Was he?
Kevin Furley and Tom Eisenbraun were already sitting in their customary spots. Mike wasn't there yet, so I sat down. Now he would have to make a mistake.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hellish Beasts"
Copyright © 2019 Brian Carmody.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents,
Chapter 1: The Buddy System,
Chapter 2: Renewal,
Chapter 3: The Misfit,
Chapter 4: First Impressions,
Chapter 5: Into The Little Cave,
Chapter 6: Applanation (Goldmann) Tonometry,
Chapter 7: San Simeon Saga,
Chapter 8: Rod Stewart Live,
Chapter 9: Starry, Starry Night,
Chapter 10: The Death of Gaston,
Chapter 11: When You Have a Hammer ...,
Chapter 12: Heavenly Creatures,
Chapter 12-A: A Serious Question,
Chapter 13: That Whole Ball of Wax,
Chapter 14: Agent Toastman,
Chapter 15: Cancer Pizza Party,
Chapter 16: Lilith,
Chapter 17: Hello, Ms. Chip,
Chapter 18: Corinthians,
Chapter 19: Long Live The King,
Chapter 20: So Long, Swampman,
Chapter 21: Sometimes There's a Girl,
Note from The Author,
About the Author,