Christmas Takeover 4: Dev Jarrett: Here We Come A-wassailing

Here We Come A-wassailing

A Story by Dev Jarrett
2,990 words

From his recliner in the living room, Ed heard the Bittermans’ dog going apeshit. Not just barking—the damned mutt was howling to wake the dead. He picked up his phone from the coffee table.

“One of these days, Jack, somebody’s going to call Animal Control on your dog. I know he’s not mean, but he’s so goddamned loud. What is he even yapping about?”

“Carolers,” Jack answered. “They’re on the front lawn singing, and holding up a sign asking for donations. Don’t worry, as soon as they’re gone, Elvis will calm down.”

Ed sighed. “It’s okay, man. He’s not really bothering me, but I know Butt-Lick’s probably already calling the Homeowners’ Association about it. You know, Wahh, they’re violating the covenants, and I’m a little brat.”

Butt-Lick, the mutual next-door neighbor between Ed and Jack, was a real piece of work. His actual name was Gene Snavely, but they’d both called him Butt-Lick since the Independence Day Block Party five years ago.

Ed and Jack had been talking about an upcoming fishing trip when a woman near the cornhole boards screamed. Gene, a retired car salesman, lurched into action, dropping his paper plate of potato salad and barbecued ribs onto the grass.

A kid was choking. She had apparently taken a huge bite of a bratwurst and tried to swallow too quickly. Her face was turning purple, and before anyone else could react, Gene grabbed her around the belly.

He used the Heimlich Maneuver on the kid. After the offending chunk of brat had popped out, Gene had looked around with a huge barbecue sauce-smeared grin on his face and said Yep, that Hind-lick Maneuver works ever’ time! Ed had snickered and whispered his thoughts to Jack, and from that moment forward, Gene’s new name between the two of them was Butt-Lick.

Butt-Lick could be considered heroic by his quick thinking and saving that kid, but he more than made up for it with everything else. He was truly the worst kind of neighbor to have. He constantly gave unsolicited advice on everything from killing weeds in the front lawn to investment banking, whether he knew anything on the subject or not. Also, every time he saw something on the street that he didn’t like, he’d file a complaint with the Homeowners’ Association instead of stepping across the lawn and simply suggesting that the guy next door put away his empty trash cans or move the car parked in front of his mailbox.

Ed was a widower and spent most of his time at work, and as a result had relatively few encounters with Butt-Lick. On the other side, though, Jack Bitterman was young and married, with two happy kids and an obnoxiously friendly Golden Retriever. Somehow, Butt-Lick always managed to see every move the Bittermans made, and he always found something to bitch about. Dog barking, dog poop, toys in the yard, trash cans left out, anything was fair game.

“You’re probably right,” Jack said now. “That guy is such a knob. Anyway, thanks. And if I don’t see you between now and Tuesday, Merry Christmas!”

“You, too, Jack—” Ed began, but Jack started speaking away from the phone.

“Lindsay, honey, don’t open the door, we don’t know those people. Lindsay, stop! Hey, excuse me, please back out of my house. What do you think you’re doing? Out! Get out! Right now, before I call the cops! You—”

The line disconnected.

Lindsay was Jack’s daughter, seven years old last month.

Ed took the phone away from his ear and cleared the call, then lay the phone on the coffee table. He went to the front door and opened it. Standing on his front porch, his breath fogging with each exhale, he could see the line of young pine trees Butt-Lick had planted along the property line in an effort to get some privacy from the Bittermans’ lives, but he couldn’t see anything beyond the trees clearly. The front porch light shone on the driveway and the lawn, but the furtive movement he saw was mostly obscured by pine boughs. He heard high-pitched snatches of a Christmas carol on the chill breeze, but couldn’t identify the song.

Elvis’s yapping grew more frantic, then abruptly cut off with a yelp. A child’s giggle filled the silence.

That doesn’t sound good. Frigging creepy, actually.

His first instinct was to call 911, but he wanted to make sure he wasn’t overreacting. He knew Butt-Lick had called the police on Jack’s kids before because of a misthrown football breaking a window. Ed grabbed a flannel shirt to throw on over his t-shirt and shoved his feet into a pair of slippers, then stepped out into the evening darkness.

The December night was chilly, but not cold. Maybe upper forties, but Ed was getting to that age when he’d rather be sweating his balls off in heat than spending even a moment in actual cold. He’d had a few real White Christmases as a kid when he’d lived further north, but he wasn’t expecting one here in South Carolina anytime soon. Still, the wind went through the flannel like it was nothing, and the chill grabbed hold of his spine in a grip that he knew would ache the rest of the night.

Ed stepped off of his driveway and into Butt-Lick’s yard, psychically daring that halfwit to start griping about him trespassing. The dry, dormant Bermuda grass crunched beneath his slippers as he shuffled forward. He saw no movement of the front window curtains, and the old bastard’s porch light didn’t flare to life.

Ed found himself standing before the line of pine trees, trying to find a clear line of sight into Jack’s family’s yard. Butt-Lick had been thorough, though, and Ed only got glimpses. The carolers wore mixed colors of clothing, but all seemed to be wearing red stocking caps. The song he heard was clear enough now, sung by a small group just beyond the trees. It was The Wassail Song, but the lyrics sounded off. The song wound down and ended, and in the new silence, Ed heard a muffled scream from inside the house.

That’s it. I’m calling the cops.

Behind him, a sound softly rang out. A single person, slowly whistling the opening bars of The Wassail Song. The sound was haunting, almost echoing in the sudden stillness of the night. Ed jumped, turning with a jerk.

The man standing before him was tall and thin. In the dimness, Ed couldn’t make out much of the man’s facial features, except for the shiny, dark spatters on his cheek. The spatters looked black in the darkness, but they could only be blood. The man’s mouth changed from a whistling pucker into a grin. A crisp voice spoke from beneath the knitted red stocking cap.

“Come along, my friend. Well met.”

Ed jerked backward, but too late. A hand closed like a vise over his arm, and propelled him with wiry strength around the stand of pine trees as the carolers began singing again where the whistler left off. The carolers, adults and children, looked gaunt, almost feral, despite their cheesily matching red stocking caps. Their full smiles looked sharp, hungry and expectant.

“Here we come a-wassailing, with knives so keen and bright,” they began.

Those are not the words, Ed thought as the man yanked him helplessly up the front steps and through the door into the Bitterman household. Ed thought he heard crying, deeper inside the house, but the voices of the carolers intruded.

“We’ve come to take your sacrifice, to join our sacred rite.” Then the singers launched into the chorus, which in itself sounded like the lyrics Ed knew.

The front hall of the house was a shambles. Jack and Tara’s efforts at interior decoration were a complete wreck. Picture frames were on the floor, their glass kicked in and the pictures torn. Fans of blood were sprayed onto the wall instead. The table by the door was nothing more than varnished kindling and silver shards of shattered mirror. The wiry man dragging Ed into the house yanked him forward into the living room and threw him into an overstuffed chair. Ed saw Jack’s cell lying on the floor, its dead black screen a thousand-faceted mosaic.

“Hey! Stop!” he said when he finally found his voice.

“Keep the axe on him,” said a huge, round, baritone voice, and Ed turned to the fireplace as an axe head thumped heavily onto his left shoulder. Ed reflexively turned toward it, and felt the cold, sharp edge of the blade press into his neck. He imagined the thin one holding the other end of the axe handle. Shuddering, Ed refocused on the large figure before the fireplace.

A huge man, practically a giant, stood before him, his arm resting on the mantlepiece. The man’s shoulders were broad, and behind him, over the mantle, Ed could barely see Jack’s wall-mounted television playing A Christmas Story. The man wore a knitted red cap like the others, but his was different, floppy cloth over a tighter headband, with a jaunty puffball on top. A tam o’shanter, and at the front one side of it slouched over the big man’s face, obscuring his left eye.

“What is this? What have you done to this family?”

The man erupted in hearty laughter, dramatically gesturing with outstretched arms. “Ah, good neighbor, have you not heard our song? We’ve come a-wassailing.” He paused, then smiled good-naturedly. “Forgive me. Allow me to explain. You do know where the tradition of caroling originated, don’t you?”

Ed didn’t answer this crazy man. He shifted, shrugging the bruised shoulder that held the cold weight of the axe head.

“The turn of the seasons depends on sacrifice,” the giant said matter-of-factly. “It began with the Wild Hunt, a beautiful spectacle. My hunters and I rode through the winter solstice night, hunting souls for sacrifice. We grease the wheel of seasons and keep it turning, so that Winter may pass and life may return in Spring.”

Sacrifice? What the hell is he talking about?

“Yes, those were heady days. Riding Sleipnir across the night sky and stirring up storms as we hunted souls. Ah, such glorious times. But we found we didn’t need to harvest souls to turn the seasons. We only needed the willingness of mortals to sacrifice of themselves.”

Ed gripped the arms of the chair. He had to get away from here and call the police. He slowly shifted his body infinitesimally to the right, away from the axe. The axe head didn’t move.

“In time, the Wild Hunt became wassailing, where groups of the devoted went from house to house chanting and asking for offerings. In return for an offering, the households were blessed. Those who did not give, naturally, were cursed. The faithful did the work, and I was allowed to rest.”

Outside, the song ended. After a silent moment, the thin man behind Ed began his slow, melancholy whistle of the song’s first few bars, then the singers outside began to sing again.

“Here we come a-wassailing,
To take your pound of flesh,
We’ve come to take your sacrifice,
Your soul from body thresh…”

The big man smiled again. “Mortals continued to give to the wassailers, and eventually the threat of a curse was no longer needed. The wassailers eventually became modern carolers. You have probably even seen in your lifetime when carolers came around and sang, many people offered them snacks, or warm beverages, or even—” he winked his visible eye “—a tipple of spirits.”

Ed did remember carolers coming to the house when he was a child, and his mother always gave the singers a cup of hot chocolate to send them on their way. She’d said it was just the right thing to do, to give them something for their musical entertainment. Ed didn’t see things like that these days, though. People were too scared to open their doors to anyone, and with good reason.

If this crazy person was to be believed, Mom had been more right than she’d known.

“Sadly,” the man in the tam said, “that time has passed, and I must again take my place at the head of the Wild Hunt. The seasons must change for the earth to live, and the turn of the seasons demands sacrifice.”

Ed shifted again, slightly. If he kept his movements small, maybe he could eventually lunge away and get clear of the axe resting on his shoulder. Beyond that, he had no idea. Escape through the kitchen, out the back door, maybe. He needed time to stall.

“But, ahh,” he said, “this family didn’t have extra to give. They’re both schoolteachers.”

“Friend, look around yourself. This house, this neighborhood, this very quality of life?” He turned and smashed a fist through the TV screen, sending sparks flying. Ralphie, dressed in a pink bunny suit and glasses too big for his face, stuttered, blinked, then disappeared. A wisp of smoke rose from a crack in the screen. “The way they—and you—live is obscene, profligate! This family has plenty, they give nothing, and the universe demands their sacrifice. Theirs, and yours, and many others. You know this is the truth.”

He leaned forward, putting his large shaggy head level with Ed’s. “And believe me, I know about sacrifice.” He lifted the fold of tam o’shanter from the left side of his face, smiling as he revealed a wet, empty socket where his eye should be. “I’m sure you’ve heard the story. A long time ago I gouged out my own eye and dropped it into the well in order to gain wisdom.” Ed shuddered.

“But why are you here?” Ed strained to lean back, away from the big man.

“We go wherever the hunt takes us next.”

The back door crashed open, and a small figure backed into the kitchen, bent over and dragging something heavy.

It was a small girl in a dark brown coat, the red knit cap askew on her head. She turned to the big man.

“What about this one, Father Odin?” she asked. Her mouth and chin was smeared with blood and her eyes were bright silver coins. She dropped Elvis’s limp forelegs onto the floor, and the dog didn’t move. The crest of the little girl’s ears were long and pointed through her hair.

Odin? An elf? Ed thought he must be going crazy. These were creatures from myth. The story of the eye and the Wild Hunt? No way.

“An excellent start, child.”

The elf girl beamed at the praise.

The back door was blocked now, by the Bittermans’ dead golden retriever and the elf child.

There was one other way out. Ed knew that Jack and his wife had a door onto the back deck from their bedroom. He could get out that way and get to his house, where he could call 911.

The thin man behind him whistled the first few bars of the song, and Ed took his chance. He ducked to the right, at the same time shoving the axe head away from his neck with his left hand. He tumbled from the chair and went in the only available direction, the hallway toward the bedrooms.

“Ha!” the rich voice of Odin roared behind him, laughing triumphantly. “Just like the old days!”

Outside, the carolers sang louder.

“Good master and good mistress,
While we cleave from you your life,
The earth shall drink your blood
From ev’ry dripping hunter’s knife…”

Ed raced into the master bedroom, then stopped. Jack, Tara, and both of the kids had been killed and gutted and tossed onto the bed. Their bodies made a bloody, lifeless heap on the quilted bedspread.

OH GOD! his mind screamed. They’d been slaughtered, butchered.

The back door was on the far side of the bed. Ed ran around the foot of the bed, avoiding looking at the ropes of viscera piled on top of the bodies. He tried and failed to ignore the thick smell of all the spilled blood. He reached for the door.

From the hallway, the axe came spinning out of the darkness. It chopped through Ed’s outstretched hand and buried its head in the doorframe. Ed’s fingers fell to the floor as his hand began to jet blood onto the wall.

Ed shrieked, looking down at his twitching fingers on the carpet. He reversed direction from the door to the window, on the side of the house. He yanked the curtains out of the way, bringing down the rods and drapes together.

“Yes!” Odin sang out joyfully behind him. “The Wild Hunt rides tonight!”

Ed slammed his fist against the glass, but it didn’t break. Across the side yard, he saw Butt-Lick peering disapprovingly out the window, looking directly at him.

“HELP!” he screamed.

Butt-Lick raised a stern eyebrow at him, his frown unmistakable even at this distance. He shook his head and picked up his phone. Ed watched helplessly as his neighbor dialed and put the receiver to his ear. He pointed to Ed, and then, meaningfully, to his phone. He was no doubt either reporting to the Homeowner’s Association, or calling to make a noise complaint to the police.

From out front, the singers continued through the chorus, their voices in perfect harmony. They stopped again at the end of the song.

“GENE! STOP! HELP ME!” Ed shrieked again, smearing blood over the master bedroom window as he scrabbled at the glass. Butt-Lick disappeared from the facing window, and the light in that room winked out.

Behind Ed, the thin man began to slowly, softly whistle the opening bars of The Wassail Song.

The End

Dev Jarrett is a writer, a father of five, a husband, and one of those guys the US Army trained too much. He speaks Arabic, he can break ciphers in his sleep, and can still break down and reassemble an M4 rifle and an M9 pistol while blindfolded.

He’s visited many different countries in the past quarter century, and can’t talk about most of the adventures he’s had. On the other hand, it’s public record that he’s received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, so make what you will of that.

He’s represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and all he wants is to scare the hell out of you.

Halloween Extravaganza: Dev Jarrett: The Rise and Fall of the King of Halloween

Let’s welcome Dev Jarrett today, who has a story to tell us about his Halloween memories.


My eighth Halloween began on Christmas Day when I was seven years old. Looking back, I don’t even know if Halloween was that big of a deal to me until that age. I mean, make-believe is the realm of children, and pretending to be someone else is just another day in the life of a child. Trying on different masks and different identities is a normal part of finding out who we are. Some of us realize that we enjoy trying on ALL the masks, ALL the time, I suppose, and turn into writers—or maybe schizophrenics.

When I woke up on Christmas morning in 1978—yeah, I’m that old, so what—I found the most amazing gift ever. A “King of the Gorillas Movie Makeup Kit” was nestled under the tree next to the handheld Electronic Football and Simon. I loved all three of these gifts, and I think I played both of the electronic games until I wore out the buttons, but the biggest deal was the movie makeup kit. Yeah, the age recommendation was ten and up, but thankfully Dad (as he usually did) ignored that shit.

I remembered the Planet of the Apes movies and I thought of how cool it had looked in those movies that the actors spoke and their makeup moved with them. This was like that. Realism! Instead of simple face paint, this amazing kit had individual molds of facial features. You had to mix the gelatin stuff together, then pour it into the molds and wait for it to set. When they were cured, you had rubbery appliances to attach to your face with the special glue. After that, paint the appliances and the exposed parts of your skin and put the cowl thing on—clearly the lamest part of the kit. I mean, it doesn’t even really look like hair.

It had enough of the mix for two applications, so I knew I couldn’t wait. I asked Dad to make me up – and I guess in that sense, it was a big kid’s toy, and Dad was the big kid. He made the pieces and trimmed them to fit me, and painstakingly painted me up. And it was so friggin’ cool! Somewhere in my parents’ house is a dusty photo album containing a picture of me in a Star Wars t-shirt and gorilla movie makeup. I knew, absolutely, that this was what I wanted to be for Halloween next year.

I would be the King of Halloween. The KING. After so many years of wearing boxed costumes with dead plastic mouthslits, I was going to look REAL. Next fall, I’d be the scariest monster roaming the streets of my neighborhood. We packed everything away carefully and I waited for the calendar to roll around to October of 1979. While the other kids would have plain plastic masks with eyeholes and stupid costumes, their “Trick or Treat!” muffled and lifeless, I’d be able to show a moving gorilla mouth and say something super pithy and cool, like “Trick or Treat, human.” This would be SO badass.

Halloween finally came. I was excited, ready to take my place as King of the jungle and the neighborhood King of Halloween. Dad hooked me up, carefully constructing the disguise that would make me look like something out of a movie. The mixing, the placement, and the painting took so much time, and all I could do was sit still while he created my alter ego. When he finished, he took my sister and me out to walk the neighborhood. Mom stayed home to pass out candy.

Dad walked from house to house with us, but stayed on the street while we went up to the doors. The first few houses marveled at my glorious disguise, oohing and ahhing over the intricacy of my makeup. In all honesty, the rest of the costume was regular streetclothes, but the makeup more than made up for any shortcoming in the wardrobe department. I began to think I was receiving more candy than the other kids because my gorilla makeup was absolutely the best. My pumpkin-shaped bucket of candy was heavy with the good stuff, none of that orange- or black-wrapped peanut butter taffy shit.

Damn right. The King of Halloween. The King, baby.

But I didn’t know what waited around the corner.

Barely out of sight of our house, already riding high on the idea that I had absolutely the best costume anyone was going to see this year, we went to a house with streamers hanging across the entry to the front porch. The porch stretched all the way across the front of the house, and it was festooned with hanging cobwebs and more streamers. They’d swapped out their usual porch lightbulb for a bright orange bulb. It was cool to see someone else in the neighborhood making an effort for the holiday. We went up the walk to the door and rang the bell, and Dad waited at the curb.

The timing was perfect. The front door opened, and I was already expecting new praises for my amazing getup. I was distracted, and didn’t see the maniac. He jumped over the side railing of the front porch and charged toward us, howling like a monster.

When I look back on it now, I think he must’ve been dressed as Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but at the time, it was only a giant (a grownup? dressed for Halloween? WTF?) guy in a bloody shirt and lumpy plastic mask lumbering toward us and screeching. He may have even had a chainsaw, I don’t know.

The self-proclaimed King of Halloween lost his shit. He dropped his bucket of candy, yelled, and ran for his goddamned life. My little sister ran too, but I think my reaction probably scared her more than Leatherface. I sprinted back down the front walk to the street, screaming at the top of my lungs, and launched myself into my Dad’s arms, crying. I ruined his shirt, burying my face in his chest. He was laughing, and in the same situation, I suppose I’d do the same.

He held me for a moment, and protected me, and he told me everything was okay, and soon the effects of the jump scare passed. When I turned to look, tears still streaming down my tiny gorilla face, the Leatherface guy was apologizing while laughing, and had brought my dropped bucket of candy out to the street. Dad assured him everything was cool, that I was okay, and in a few minutes, we continued on our way.

The King of Halloween, the kid with the awesome movie-quality makeup job, had been handily dethroned by a guy in a lumpy plastic mask whose mouth couldn’t even move. Ugh. How embarrassing.

I’ll always remember that Halloween. Halloween is such a fun day that it’s celebrated practically every day in our house, but that one was the one that truly scared me for the first time.

I was super terrified, and you know what?

It was fun.

So now my wife and I have carried on our own Halloween tradition for the past 25 years, and every year our neighbors know us as the “Halloween House.” We dress up, we play our parts, and really get into the spirit. One year, Jennie actually built a working guillotine for a dungeon-themed Halloween! Last year we had a Pet Sematary, and this year’s theme is a Witches’ Sabbath. Let’s see how many kids (and adults) we can scare this time. Come visit!

Happy Halloween.

Dev Jarrett is a writer, a father of five, a husband, and one of those guys the US Army trained too much. He speaks Arabic, he can break ciphers in his sleep, and can still break down and reassemble an M4 rifle and an M9 pistol while blindfolded.

He’s visited many different countries in the past quarter century, and can’t talk about most of the adventures he’s had. On the other hand, it’s public record that he’s received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, so make what you will of that.

He’s represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and all he wants is to scare the hell out of you.

Loveless

Till death do us part… sometimes.

When a hapless explorer disturbs the watery grave of Muriel Wallace, a terrifying chain of events is put into motion. Corey Rockland, sheriff of a sleepy Georgia town, must now unravel the mystery behind a corrupt family and a broken heart dating back to the Civil War. Unless he can find a way to stop her, Muriel will unleash her vengeance on anyone she deems loveless.

Dark Crescent

If you could change the future, would you?

Bud Primrose, assistant coach of a Little League team, gets smacked in the head with a line drive and wakes up in the hospital with a kind of second sight.

If you saw a stranger’s death coming, would you try to save her?

He sees others’ deaths hours before they occur. When he uses this strange new ability to save a woman from a brutal murder, he becomes the thwarted next target.

If you had the power, would you use it?

Now he must do everything he can to save himself and the woman he loves from the razor-wielding maniac bent on payback.

If you had to face a killer, could you do it?

Casualties

Fresh from Afghanistan, crippled by both a crumbling marriage and growing paranoia, can a soldier save his family from the ancient evil in his own house? 

Sergeant First Class Chris Williams is back home, and he and his family are move to Fort Huachuca, a small Army post deep in the southeastern corner of Arizona.

From the time they move in, Chris and his wife Molly are struck by the preponderance of ghost stories surrounding their new home. Chris wonders why nightmares still plague him—then, he realizes the reason. He and his family are not alone in their house. An evil older than Fort Huachuca, older than time itself, lives there. Now, enough sacrifices have been made to its blood hunger that it can finally give birth to a powerful, deadly offspring intent on dominating our world.

Chris, Molly, and their two children become pawns of the evil spirit inhabiting their new neighborhood. Already casualties of life, crippled by both a crumbling marriage and growing paranoia, can Chris and Molly save their family from the evil already living under their own roof?

Little Sister

Seven year old Lucinda has a homemade doll that has a special kind of magic. When someone tries to hurt Lucinda and her mother, perhaps he’ll see the doll’s magic too.

For her seventh birthday Lucinda’s grandfather sends her a homemade doll. Her mother Sharon had a little sister once—and now Lucinda has a “little sister” of her own.    

Sharon’s boyfriend Deke is not the man she thought he was—he’s hateful and abusive, like something out of a nightmare. Now he’s on the run from the police and he’s taken Sharon and Lucinda with him.

Mother and daughter must find some way to escape his blood-soaked grasp before he kills them both. They have no way out.

All they have is Lucinda’s homemade doll.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Dev Jarrett

Meghan: Hi, Dev! Welcome back… sort of. Take a look around and let me know what you think of the new place.

Now, It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Dev Jarrett: Well, you know what the man said… life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. I’m still writing, still loving every second of it, but I guess since we last talked, I’ve kind of been grinding. Leveling-up might be a good term for it.

When we last spoke, I’d done what so many only dream about—I’d landed a big-time agent. It’s like achieving a new level in a game. But at that new level, the enemies, monsters, and bosses are tougher, so you’ve got to GRIND, and learn how to use all the magical weapons properly. In the past three years, I’ve actually written three more novels. They’re pretty good. If I were still battling the slushpile at smaller, niche presses, I bet at least two of them would have already been picked up. But (to complete the metaphor) I’m on the big quest, looking to kill the most fearsome monsters in the land.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

Dev Jarrett: Up until December of last year, I was still a soldier in the US Army. Now, I’m a civilian. I’ve been spending the last few months unlearning a ton of the military mindset (“What? What do you mean I can’t deploy the knife-hand and cuss someone out if they work too slowly? Are you serious?”) Expedience is one thing, but some of that stuff can be pretty toxic sometimes, too. These days I write more, enjoy myself more, and let myself BE myself more. It’s nice.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Dev Jarrett: I’m okay with anyone reading my stuff—AFTER it’s published. In general, friends and close relatives might not make the best beta readers. They might feel obligated to only say nice things when asked their opinions, which is not fair to anyone, or to the work.

That said, I do have a couple of family members who read my stuff before anyone else. My wife Jennie reads everything first, and then my son-in-law Cody. They know the deal, and they don’t sugarcoat anything when I screw up.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Dev Jarrett: I think being a writer can go either way. I love what I do, and I’m grateful, but sometimes dream-time gets in the way of being present in the moment. I get an idea, get distracted by it, and realize that I’ve missed the last ten minutes of a conversation.

But it’s also an integral part of my makeup, the way I’m sure it is for many writers. I’ve GOT to write, or I get irritable. My wife has told me that it’s obvious when I’ve missed my writing time. When I can’t write, I’m just… off.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Dev Jarrett: I think my environment and upbringing made me the person I’ve become, and that’s what colors my writing. I was brought up in Columbus, Georgia, and had a pretty normal childhood. I’m sure I could find things to complain about – everyone’s got a hard luck story, after all – but it was mostly okay. I think my southern upbringing shows in many ways in my stories. When I was twenty-two, I joined the Army, and I’ve lived in a ton of different places in the service of Uncle Sam. All that life experience, the memories of all the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, shapes the stories I tell.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Dev Jarrett: We’ve all seen the meme where the writer says “Please don’t check my web history! I was just doing research for a book!” And yeah, to a degree, it’s true. We look up weird things, right? For a work in progress currently, I’ve looked up the nutritional information of dragonflies, Alabama cult leaders, ancient Babylonian gods, and rehab times for opioid addicts. How does any of that go together? Hopefully you’ll find out soon.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Dev Jarrett: For me, it’s usually the ending. Beginnings are great. You’ve got the freedom to build anything, and the whole field is wide open. The middle? Well, that can go either way. You’ve still got some wiggle room for additions and complications, but you’ve also got to build on the solid foundations you’ve already laid. The ending, though, is where you’ve got to bring it all back around, bring it all to completion. Put another way, if a gymnast doesn’t stick the landing, they probably won’t take home the gold.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Dev Jarrett: There’s not really a hard and fast answer to that, for me. When I start, it is usually just an idea or a visual that I can’t get out of my head. That may be an initial image, which begs me to track it down and find out what happens next, or an ending image, which asks me to find out what came before all that, what set it in motion.

I don’t usually outline in the sense of Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, lower case letters, but when I’m in the story, I generally have an idea of what’s going to happen next. I say generally, because sometimes my initial plans go completely off the rails.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Dev Jarrett: I let them run with it and try to stay out of the way. It’s a kind of magic, I think, when your characters take over their own creation. As writers, we have to allow our characters to react honestly, even if that gets in the way of what we think we want to say.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Dev Jarrett: I don’t have a problem with motivation to write. I often wish there were more hours in a day so that I could write more. Sometimes, I do have to kill distractions—social media is a big one, as is binge-watching TV. I know, I know, bingeing anything is really unhealthy, but even finishing the current season of a favorite show gives a small sense of completion.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Dev Jarrett: I love to read! I read every day, even if I only get to finish a couple of chapters. I recently finished A Boy & His Dog at the End of the World and Beloved. Now I’m reading The Bassoon King, rereading NOS4A2, and I just started King‘s The Institute.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Dev Jarrett: Looking at my recent and current reads, I like many different things. Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1988, and it’s a kind of ghost story. A Boy & His Dog… suckered me in with the title, and it was supposed to have a twist at the end that, in my opinion, didn’t “stick the landing.” The Bassoon King is a sort of humorous autobiography of Rainn Wilson. And, of course, NOS4A2 and The Institute are horror.

I love reading horror, but variety is necessary, too. Not only should we all read deeply, but we should also read widely. I’m no snob about it. I think there is always time for both escapist reading and interpretive reading. Like a teacher once told me: there’s a time for champagne in crystal flutes, but there’s also a time for light beer straight from the can. Sometimes you get lucky and get them both in one story.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Dev Jarrett: I generally have no trouble with them. Translating from one medium to another is a challenge in so many ways, and no movie director will have had the same vision as anyone else who’s read a story and watched their own mind-movie.

I know people get bent out of shape about some movies not being true to their source material, but some things simply don’t translate. A character’s thoughts can’t be shown, and cheesy voiceovers haven’t really worked in decades. By the same token, movie tie-ins have the opposite problem. How do you translate a jump-scare to words on a page?

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Dev Jarrett: Of course. Sometimes, their end is an essential part of the story. Death is a part of all life, right? Even a character’s life. I’m no George R.R. Martin, but my mind hosts the occasional bloodbath, too.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Dev Jarrett: Actually, sometimes yes. Maybe that sounds a little sadistic, but the thing is, a certain amount of suffering tempers a character. There are those times when a character’s suffering is a part of the arc, and when they come out on the other side, they’re stronger for having survived whatever trauma they’ve had.

On the other hand, there are many characters I’ve created that I just… well… HATE. And yes, I love to see them get their deserved comeuppance. As viscerally as possible.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Dev Jarrett: Several of my early short stories were science fiction, and some of those involved extraterrestrial life forms, and they weren’t limited by our earthly physiologies at all. I guess that’s a kind of lazy answer, though.

I’ve had cars that were vampires, cicada vampires, were-raccoons, and a guy who turned into a catfish. Then there was the guy who was basically a colony of tiny creatures who could turn into anything. The best, however, is yet to come.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Dev Jarrett: That’s a tough call. In one sense, the best feedback received pre-publication is usually the harshest. Those things help make the story better, and make me a better writer. The worst in that case would be a beta reader going “Ummm, I don’t get it.”

Post-publication, the worst are the assholes. Everyone gets the trolls those only interest is punching holes and tearing down the work of others for no reason except making themselves feel superior. You’ve just got to ignore people like that.

Maybe not best, but certainly the most flattering feedback I’ve ever received was on a tiny zombie story I wrote. I never got on the whole Walking Dead bandwagon, really, but I thought of a different way to tell a zombie story, and an editor enjoyed it enough to publish it. One reviewer of the story said that they thought it could have “sprung from the pen of Ray Bradbury or Kurt Vonnegut.” That kind of comparison blew me away.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Dev Jarrett: I love them, of course. The very idea of having fans is intimidating and humbling, but if someone’s willing to give up their hard-earned money and a few minutes or hours to read something I’ve written, I absolutely want to make it worth their investment. Not simply the money, but their time, too.

I’ve had a few people follow my career, and ask when I’m coming out with something new, and it’s always flattering to be asked that. When my first novel came out, I was at the first Scares That Care Charity Weekend and someone came by the table and just wanted to shake my hand. He said he’d read some of my short stories and was glad to see that I’d gotten a book published, too. That was surreal, but inspiring at the same time.

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Dev Jarrett: There are so many great characters I’ve read over the years, that’s a challenging question. Now that I think about it, my answer may actually be a very common response to the question (and I suppose that’s one reason for the author’s continuous appeal to the world): Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower series.

Roland is introduced as a world-weary errant knight in a strange desert on the edge of a dystopian fantasy world, and that really appealed to me in The Gunslinger. What can I say? I was one of those kids who watched a ton of westerns on Saturday afternoons. But later on, Roland’s development through the entire series became beautiful, and wise, and even poetic in some ways. So many of Mr. King‘s fans say his masterpiece is The Stand, or possibly The Shining, but I completely disagree. In my opinion, his masterpiece is the character of Roland.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

Dev Jarrett: Wow. Not sure about that. I’d love to write a Discworld novel, but I don’t have the humor chops of Terry Pratchett, and I can’t think of anyone who comes close. We lost a treasure when we lost him.

I think I could write a novel of the Dresden Files. The sort of urban fantasy is fun to read – the juxtaposition of fantasy elements with our modern world seems like it would be a great playground. If I were able to do that, I don’t know what it would be about, but I’m sure it’d be much darker than Jim Butcher writes. Much more darker.

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

Dev Jarrett: Obviously, I’d love to aim high on this one (Stephen King, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman), but I think I’d feel like those co-writer guys on a James Patterson novel must feel, like I’m just a punk getting carried by another name. (Not throwing stones here… that’s just how I’d see it for me, Dev “Imposter Syndrome” Jarrett.)

Realistically? Hmmm. I’m not sure. Someday, maybe Jonathan Janz. I met him once, and he is such a nice guy. I’d love to work with him. It could be about anything, but a concept I’ve been tossing around in the back of my mind is a horror story that involves a high school reunion. Collaboration sounds hugely interesting to me. I’ve never worked with someone on a single creation like that, but I think it’d be fun.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Dev Jarrett: I mean, after I finish my collaborations with Janz, Gaiman, Hill, and King, I might… well… no. I’ve got tons of work in the pipeline, at various stages of completion, and hopefully I’ll have something spectacular out soon.

Like I said, I’ve written a few novels that aren’t quite ready for prime time, but I suppose the NEXT thing you can expect from me is a new short story for the Christmas Takeover.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Dev Jarrett: I’ve got a small website that I’m terrible about keeping up to date, but it has links to all of the published work.

Website ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

Dev Jarrett: First, thanks for having me. I think we covered all the bases this time (I noticed that in our last conversation, I was kind of laconic, I guess? I wanted to make sure I opened up a little more this time).

Except, let’s see… dogs, not cats. Original flavor Oreos. I’m not an FPS kind of videogamer, I’m more platformer. If I were to have an 80s-era arcade game in my house, it’d be Joust. Mexican food. INT-J. Beer is great, but when it’s time for hard drinking, bourbon’s my poison of choice. Pretty much anything is good on a pizza, but I mostly only tolerate pineapple. My current playlist includes a little bit of everything, but it’s mostly rock.

And… there are always more stories to tell.

Dev Jarrett is a writer, a father of five, a husband, and one of those guys the US Army trained too much. He speaks Arabic, he can break ciphers in his sleep, and can still break down and reassemble an M4 rifle and an M9 pistol while blindfolded.

He’s visited many different countries in the past quarter century, and can’t talk about most of the adventures he’s had. On the other hand, it’s public record that he’s received a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, so make what you will of that.

He’s represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, and all he wants is to scare the hell out of you.

Loveless

Till death do us part… sometimes.

When a hapless explorer disturbs the watery grave of Muriel Wallace, a terrifying chain of events is put into motion. Corey Rockland, sheriff of a sleepy Georgia town, must now unravel the mystery behind a corrupt family and a broken heart dating back to the Civil War. Unless he can find a way to stop her, Muriel will unleash her vengeance on anyone she deems loveless.

Dark Crescent

If you could change the future, would you?

Bud Primrose, assistant coach of a Little League team, gets smacked in the head with a line drive and wakes up in the hospital with a kind of second sight.

If you saw a stranger’s death coming, would you try to save her?

He sees others’ deaths hours before they occur. When he uses this strange new ability to save a woman from a brutal murder, he becomes the thwarted next target.

If you had the power, would you use it?

Now he must do everything he can to save himself and the woman he loves from the razor-wielding maniac bent on payback.

If you had to face a killer, could you do it?

Casualties

Fresh from Afghanistan, crippled by both a crumbling marriage and growing paranoia, can a soldier save his family from the ancient evil in his own house? 

Sergeant First Class Chris Williams is back home, and he and his family are move to Fort Huachuca, a small Army post deep in the southeastern corner of Arizona.

From the time they move in, Chris and his wife Molly are struck by the preponderance of ghost stories surrounding their new home. Chris wonders why nightmares still plague him—then, he realizes the reason. He and his family are not alone in their house. An evil older than Fort Huachuca, older than time itself, lives there. Now, enough sacrifices have been made to its blood hunger that it can finally give birth to a powerful, deadly offspring intent on dominating our world.

Chris, Molly, and their two children become pawns of the evil spirit inhabiting their new neighborhood. Already casualties of life, crippled by both a crumbling marriage and growing paranoia, can Chris and Molly save their family from the evil already living under their own roof?

Little Sister

Seven year old Lucinda has a homemade doll that has a special kind of magic. When someone tries to hurt Lucinda and her mother, perhaps he’ll see the doll’s magic too.

For her seventh birthday Lucinda’s grandfather sends her a homemade doll. Her mother Sharon had a little sister once—and now Lucinda has a “little sister” of her own.    

Sharon’s boyfriend Deke is not the man she thought he was—he’s hateful and abusive, like something out of a nightmare. Now he’s on the run from the police and he’s taken Sharon and Lucinda with him.

Mother and daughter must find some way to escape his blood-soaked grasp before he kills them both. They have no way out.

All they have is Lucinda’s homemade doll.