Christmas Takeover 8: Mark Slade: Merry Christmas, Joo-Joo

Merry Christmas, Joo-Joo

A Story by Mark Slade
2,242 words

“I need presents,” Vance said through dried, chapped lips.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Brian shivered, clutched the flannel blanket close to his neck.

The apartment was cold, at least ten degrees, Vance was sure of it. He and Brian hadn’t the money to pay the electric bill, with Brian being the only one to hold down a crappy job at Burger Hut. The apartment was a simple one bedroom, the bedroom belonging to Brian, because he found the apartment and his Father had paid deposit. Vance sat on his bed, a green sofa with springs coming through, often poking him in his ice cold ass. He had three shirts on, two pairs of dungarees, and his True Blue mountain climbing coat with fur inside the lining. The Oakland Raiders toboggan on his head still didn’t keep his ears warm, which irritated Vance to no end. It wasn’t like Vance didn’t want to get a job. He just hadn’t found anything he liked yet. His parents were tired of floating him money and friends had dwindled to just one, Brian, who was always broke.

“We can’t keep breaking into people’s houses and stealing their stuff. Anyway,” Brian sighed. “We never get very much money at Ted’s Pawn shop when we sell things to him. Cheap crook.”

“No, man,” Vance fumbled in his coat pocket for cigarettes, only to find his lighter. “It’s Christmas, right?”

“Yeah. So what?”

“We wait for the mailman, or UPS or Fed ex, or whoever and watch to see if no one gets the package.” Vance smiled and nodded like he’d just laid out the plans to Fort Knox and steal gold.

“That’s just… low, dude. I mean, steal Christmas packages from people. You are a sick man.” Brian rose from the dirtiest, dingiest Ez chair this side of the Milky Way. So many stains on a cream colored furniture and cigarette burns, the cream color was now a rust brown. ”I’m making some coffee.”

“I’m a desperate man. I need presents for mom, Janice, and Helen.”

Brian looked at Vance. He blinked twice. “Helen Spotter doesn’t even know you exist.”

“She will after the cool present I give her.” Vance rose from the couch, danced in a crouching position, and then sat down again. That was something he did when he was excited, which was often. Vance’s mom admitted to Brian that a quack doctor convinced her that Vance needed Ritalin to calm down her six year old son. After six more years of this medicine, that her child did not actually need, she noticed a breakdown of a mental attention span, sporadic illusions, and an inability to stay focused on one subject after more than ten minutes of conversation. She said she had never told a soul, but felt she had to confide in Brian.

“Sit down, you fool! We are not stealing from the neighbors, okay? It’s wrong, especially Christmas. Only jerks do that crap.” Brian went into the kitchen, turned on Luke-warm water from the faucet and dropped four spoonfuls of instant coffee in a cup. “Furthermore,” He reentered the living room and sat in his Ez chair, sipping the coffee. “Helen Spotter will never know who you are, because you are not friends with anyone she knows.”

“Oh… my friend,” Vance said. “You are wrong. Tommy Longdale has a girlfriend who is friends with Helen.”

“I’m trying to dissuade you as gently, carefully as possible, Vance,” Brian told him. “They go to Sparrow University. You are an unemployed looser. What makes you think Tommy Longdale will set you up with his girlfriend’s friend?”

“I once gave him some E at a party,” Vance responded after a long pause.

“Oh yeah. Now that is the kind of logic that could fix this country’s problems.” Brian said.

“I think so, too, man.”

“You don’t even have any money to take her out,” Brian slurped his barely warm coffee and made a face.

“No! No, I don’t. But you do.” Vance raised an eyebrow.

Brian snarled at him. He hated it when Vance did his Jack Nicholson impersonation.

“That’s a lame Jack impersonation, butthole.”

“You know it’s not…” He continued, now going back and forth between early Nicholson and later Nicholson. “I want you to hold it between your knees. What are you, on your period?”

“He didn’t say that in THE DEPARTED. Ray Winston said it.”

“No, Jack said it.” Vance insisted.

“You are a twerp. Half the time you don’t remember what you were talking about ten minutes before.”

“I do too! God, you can be so… so… whatever!”

“Okay, what were we talking about?” Brian prodded Vance. He knew the answer, he just wanted to have some fun with him. He liked making him feel small.

“We were talking about Jack Nicholson. There! Whoosh!” Vance threw an imaginary basketball through a goal, net and all.

“No.” Brian laughed. “I thought we were talking about stealing from the neighbors again.”

Vance looked lost for a few seconds. Then he remembered. He smiled as it came to him. “Yeah, man. We could wait for the mailman, or… or Fed Ex…”

“I’m not doing that.” Brian said.

“You have to. In three days, it will be Christmas. And you get paid next Wednesday. Your mom will be disappointed.”

Brian made a face again. “You are a turd.” He said. ‘You use my mom all the time.”

“It’s because you know I’m right. She thinks you are the sweetest boy she ever knew. She says it all the time.”

“Shut up.” Brian was stewing, getting angrier at Vance just looking at him.

“Hey,” Vance rose from his couch and looked out of the window, keeping the curtain partly open. “There’s Fed Ex delivering to Mrs. Hoppa.”

“No, we can’t take from an old woman. She bakes cookies for us and brings us her left overs, Vance.”

“Yeah,” Vance put a hand on his stomach. “That island food gave me the screamers. It’s too freakin’ spicy.”

“What do you expect, dummy. She is from Haiti.” Brian snorted.

“I’m going to snag that box before her daughter brings her back.” Vance headed to the front door.

“You jerk. You’ve been scoping her all morning.”

“Be back. Wish me luck.”

“I hope she catches you!” Brian yelled to him as Vance slammed the front door.

Brian jumped up from his Ez chair and ran to the window. He pulled the curtain a bit to the left to view Vance’s theft.

Vance crept up Mrs. Hoppa’s slither of a driveway to her apartment door, past a small bush that was turning a sick yellow. He looked around, smiling like an imbecile.

He bent down, looked at the small box. There was writing on a tag that even if Vance could read past third grade level, he wouldn’t be able to understand it. He just shrugged, then snatched the box and jogged as fast as he could back to the front door of their, quickly opened the door. He took one step and his left foot clipped the molding in front of the door. Giggling, Vance fell hard on his face. The box slipped out of his hands and slid across the living room floor like a hockey puck.

Vance laughed hard, rolled over on his back. He kicked the front door shut with both of his feet. “That was too freakin’ funny!” Vance yelled.

Brian stood over Vance, his hands on his hips. He was giving Vance that “wife” look, his head tilted to the left, a disappointed expression his face.

“What?” Vance was confused.

“Don’t ‘what’ me.” Brian spat at Vance. ‘I told you not to steal from that poor woman.”

“So,” Vance’s bottom lip drooped, hurt he was being told off. “I’m a free man. I can do whatever I want!”

“One day,” Brian wagged a finger at him. “You’ll get caught and I will not be there to bail you out!”

“Don’t… You… hey! You know, you helped last two times. All that weed you stole from Mr. Dillinger. That was a poor old man who has cancer, douche bag!”

Nothing more was said for about fifteen minutes. Both were at their own places, sulking, sitting on the sofa and the Ez chair.

Finally, in a spur of the moment, Vance hopped from the sofa and retrieved the box. He sat back on the sofa, began opening the thin layer of tape on the box. He placed a hand inside the box. When he pulled his hand out of the box, a yellow beaded necklace was caught in his grimy fingernails.

“Yeah!” Vance said, excitedly. He squatted and did his little dance. “That’s what I’m talking about! Look at this, Bri.”

Brian laughed. He shook his head. “Yeah, man, that’s nice.”

“You know what it is?”

“No,” Brian scrunched up his nose. “A necklace?”

“Not just a necklace,” Vance whispered like it was secret. “A Joo-Joo necklace.”
“I don’t know… what a Joo-Joo is, Vance.” Brian was tired mentally. Vance always did that to him.

“Man, it means good luck! And I heard on the History channel you can use it to make people do what you want. You’re own slave, dude.”

“You really believe that?” Of course he does, why even ask, Brian thought. “So… you want Helen Spotter to be your own personal slave?”

“Damn right.” Vance said. “I might even get laid.”

“Go for it, dude,” Brian said, smiling.

Vance felt his coat pocket vibrating. He took out his phone, looked at a text message. “Hey… things going right for me finally. That was Tommy Longdale. I got a date with Helen Spotter. Of course, Tommy and his girl will be there. So what, huh?”

“Way to go, Vance. I’m happy for you.” Brian rose from the Ez chair and patted Vance on the shoulder.

“I’m gonna get some and have a slave. Merry, Christmas, Joo-Joo!”

There was a loud rapping at the front door. Night had fallen and it was even colder inside the apartment. Brian was groggy. He turned in his chair, yawned. He didn’t want to get up.

But somebody was relentless with their knocking and the noise was hurting his head. Brian clumsily got to his feet. He slowly ambled to the door. He bet it was Vance. He probably forgot his key.

Brian opened the door and saw a short old, black woman in a handmade dress and a multicolored scarf on her head. It was Mrs. Hoppa.

“Where is it?” She spoke in harsh island dialect.

“Where’s what?” Brian said, trying to wake up.

“My package!” Mrs. Hoppa lowered her eyebrows. Her nostrils were flaring, cold air snorted through them. “You are a thief. The pair of you. I treat you like my own sons. That package was from my own son, still in Port-au-Prince. I may never see him.” She fought back tears, held a handkerchief to her nose, and looked away from Brian.

Brian cleared his voice. “We didn’t take that package.” He said.

“You didn’t?” Mrs. Hoppa looked at Brian suspiciously.

“No. We saw Mr. Dillinger around your door. He was even talking to the Fed-Ex guy. I’m not sure, he… might have took it.”

“Pity be him,” Mrs. Hoppa said. “That necklace… bad… if worn, you become the slave of whoever give you that necklace.”

“Oh… yeah?” Brian was nervous. He began tapping his foot without knowing it.

“Oh yes. To pay for the deeds you master or mistress wishes you to do, you have to make a human sacrifice. Eat the flesh of the innocent.” With those words, Mrs. Hoppa lunged at Brian.

Brian jumped back. “We don’t have it!” He screamed, slammed the door in Mrs. Hoppa’s face.

Brian paced the living room. No, he told himself. That crap is not. It can’t be.

There was another round of knocking at the front door.

Brian hesitated. He touched the doorknob, then withdrew. “We don’t have you’re package.” He yelled at the door.

“Brian,” A muffled voice could be heard. “It’s me. I forgot my key. Open the door, will you?”

It was Vance.

Brian was so happy to hear that it was Vance at the door, he swung the door open violently.

Vance was standing there, smiling like an imbecile. He was covered in blood, his clothes were torn. Still, Vance was on top of the world.

“Dude,” He said. “What an evening!”

“What the hell happened to you?” Brian threw his arms up in the air, shocked.

“Nothing, really. Just wild time. You gonna let me in?” Vance tried go through the threshold, Brian blocked him with an arm.

“You kill somebody?”

Vance shook his head. “No. God. Things got a little weird. I gave Helen that necklace. I told her I wanted to make out. We did, she went nuts and ate Tommy Longdale and his girlfriend… about ten more people in the restaurant.” Vance said non-nonchalantly.

It was too much to take in. Brian leaned against the door. He rubbed his face a few times with his hand. “Vance?”

“Yeah, Bri?”

“Where is Helen Spotter?”

“Right here, buddy!”

Helen appeared from behind Vance, her dress ripped in many places, her olive skin drenched in blood. She had deep dark circles under her eyes, and pieces of flesh at the corner of her mouth. She was looking straight at Brian, looking very ravenous.

Christmas Takeover 7: Mark Slade: Santa’s Bag

Santa’s Bag

A Story by Mark Slade
2,796 words

On a lonely street corner, off Main and 3rd, a bag lay on the opposite side of the trash cans scattered in a dark alleyway. Once in a while a street light would shine its florescent blue light on the pavement to reveal movement inside that bag. Just tiny inklings that something was definitely inside it. The sound of scratching, and a low growl. But the bag never moved from its spot.

On other street corners in the city, the hustle and bustle of people and cars making their way to their destinations. On one of those particular streets, Dave Lomax was fighting his way through a crowd outside an Adult theater to find a seat to spend his third night of restless sleep while men in trench coats explored themselves watching people have sex on the screen.

Just as he was sneaking through a side door, a hand grabbed him. The hand belonged to extremely large black man in a leather coat.

“You don’t think you were goin’ in there without payin’, were you, Chief?” He said pushing Lomax into a brick wall outside the theater.

Lomax felt the pain in his back surge. He shook his head no. “I actually got confused what door to go through.” Lomax smiled.

The black man’s nostrils curled up. He sniffed the air. “Shit, man. Go get cleaned up. Look, I don’t want to be a hard on, but you can’t keep sneakin’ in my house smellin’ up the place. You need a place to sleep, I know the Boys club has some beds open for the holidays. If I give you a twenty, you promise not to drink it all up?”

“You’d do that?” Lomax was stunned. The couple months he’d been kicked out of his house by Lisa, he’d witnessed the dregs of humanity. He’d gotten a place at hotel with a roommate, Charlie Day…a real scumbag-drunk—stole the last fifty from him, then kicked him out when Lomax couldn’t procure the rest of the rent.

The black man smiled. “Dude, I know what it’s like on the streets. I might run a movie house that shows tits and ass, but I still follow the laws of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Here you go. Don’t–” He placed the twenty in Lomax’s hand, pulled it away, Lomax still had a piece of it. “Don’t drink it up. Understand?”

Lomax nodded quickly. “Yeah, yeah. I don’t usually drink, just lately–“

The black man shoved Lomax into the gutters. He fell into the icy snow caked on the vents.

“Merry Christmas. Get cleaned up,” The black man wagged a finger.

Dave Lomax just sat there. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered, his spirit crushed.

Lomax picked himself up and headed down the street the opposite way. He stopped a minute to stare at the many HD TV’s that were in a store window. On the screens was the Charlie Brown Christmas.

Christmas is not what it used to be, he thought.

He shuffled along, kicking snow with his boots, letting some of it ride on the top for a few feet. Before he realized it, Lomax was down an alley that had no outlet. He looked up and he was on Main and 3rd. He heard a noise behind the trash cans. He saw a stray dog sniffing at a yellow bag that resembled potato bags at grocery stores. The bag moved to the left and the dog jumped at it, wagged its tail.

“I’m not drunk,” Lomax said to himself. “I haven’t even started. But that bag… oh… its cat in it.” He rubbed his tangled, greasy hair. He laughed, walked toward it. “Hey, you dumb dog. That’s just a cat in that bag–“

A thin green arm reached out. Its three fingered claw took hold of the stray dog by the back of its neck and pulled it inside the bag. The dog gave out a yelp and disappeared into the dark opening of the bag.

Lomax stopped dead in his tracks. Stunned, he staggered back a few steps. “What the hell?” He cried out, his voice bounced off the cold dark night.

Lomax looked behind him. No one there. No one saw it. He rubbed his three day old stubble, put a hand in his pocket. His eyes grew wild. He felt in a once empty pocket and found paper there. He pulled his hand out. Lomax was holding several hundred dollar bills. A few minutes before the event with the dog and the bag, he was thinking about having money–lots of money—so much, in fact, his pockets would never be empty. The twenty was still in the other pocket.

Lomax knew this to be strange. I’m not dreaming, he thought. Because he’d just pinched himself. He looked behind him, no one standing there. He trotted to the bag, which was still moving on the pavement. He heard rustling, a low growl. He hesitated at first. Then decided to scoop up the bag.

“Funny,” He said. “On Christmas eve I find Santa’s bag.” He slung over his shoulder and heard the thing growl louder. The stray dog yelped. “Hey,” Lomax yelled at the bag. “I don’t know what you are, but you be nice to that dog.”

He walked to the other side of Main and hailed a taxi.

The hotel room was dingy and smelled of garlic salt. That was because Lomax’s roommate, Cedric, cooked everything with garlic salt. Even toast. Lomax didn’t need a key to get in, the lock never worked. All he had to do was jiggle the door knob and the door was open.

Cedric was sprawled out in the middle of the floor, a bottle of Jack Daniel in his hand.

The room was a mess. Take-out boxes from various places littered floor along with dirty laundry. The TV was on, the weather man showing a map where Santa Clause was last spotted, Turkey it seemed.

Lomax sat on the torn sofa, bag beside him. He kicked Cedric a few times. Cedric looked like a gulley dwarf from the latest Peter Jackson movie. His brownish-red beard hung past neck, inching toward his chest. He must have grown it to make up for the lack of hair on his head. His round, plump body heaved and he coughed every time Lomax kicked him.

Cedric shot up, ready to run. He yelled out something inaudible, waved his hands around wildly.

“Cedric,” Lomax said. “It’s just me. Cedric, its Dave.”

Cedric looked confused, staggered where he stood. Clarity came to him. He looked at Lomax, snarled.

“I kicked you out, you bum,” Cedric tried to pick up the bottle twice without falling. The third go was success. But he soon tossed the bottle when he found out it was empty.

“Yes, you did, my so-called friend. I’m here to pay my share of the rent,” Lomax threw down a hundred dollar bill on the floor. Cedric’s eyes grew big, he leaped for the money, fell on his face.

“Oh, yeah, and tell you to fuck off.” Lomax stood grabbed his bag. Cedric held on to his legs. “Get off!” Lomax shook Cedric off.

“Don’t go, my friend! Please take care of your Cedric! He will do anything–well almost anything–for you! For you!” Cedric was on his knees, pleading, praying to Lomax. “I don’t care how you get financial aid, even if you sell yourself on the street–“

“I don’t do that, you idiot.”

Cedric’s eyes moved back and forth, he was thinking. “No?”

“No. I think it’s this bag.”

Cedric stood. He only came up to Lomax’s chest. He scratched his bald head. “A Santa bag?”

“I thought the same thing when I saw it,” Lomax said happily. “I found this bag—I was thinking of money—oh, you wouldn’t understand.”

“Stay. Explain it to me. I know I could relate–we’ll order a pizza. Yes?”

Lomax thought about it. He was hungry. Oh, Cedric was alright.

“Yeah. Okay.”

Lomax turned his back to call from Cedric’s cell phone when he heard a scuffle and Cedric screamed.

Lomax turned back around. On the phone a voice kept repeating “Hello, hello?” His Santa bag dropped to the floor.

Lomax sighed. “Shit,” He said, pressed a button on the cell phone and the voice disappeared. He threw the phone on the sofa and picked up the bag. He heard a low growl from the bag and more scuffling. Then he heard Cedric call out for help.

“Hi,” he heard a female voice.

Lomax nearly jumped out of his skin. A short brunette was standing in front of him. She was wearing a blue halter top and a short mini skirt. Lomax dropped the bag. His mouth hung open. He couldn’t believe it. Just as he was calling for pizza his mind roamed. He began thinking about sex, then his thoughts became a lot more specific.

“You called for a date,” The brunette kissed Lomax.

Later on, Lomax just sat in the hotel room, bored out of his skull. It was eleven pm now. The brunette had long disappeared. He was sick of hearing the dog whine, Cedric cry and beg for help, and whatever that thing was in the bag growl and terrorize the dog and Cedric.

“This is shit,” He said. He should be with Lisa and her kids, getting smashed, opening presents. He should be with Lisa. Yes. She should not had kicked him out, settled in with Jack. All because he lost his job at the plant and he couldn’t handle her taking his spot as the breadwinner.

Well, all that has changed now, Lomax thought. I’ve got money. Endless money. Now I can take Lisa back, buy her anything she wanted. Jack can be out on the street, like Lomax was.

“Yeah… I’m going over there and bring loads of presents… food… booze…”

Lomax stood in the driveway of his ex’s trailer, the only trailer in an upper-middle class neighborhood. Her father had left it to her, never thought of building a house because he thought it was too much work and a waste of money, he already had a home. The trailer was old, at least twenty years, and the aluminum siding was not silver anymore but a depressing rust color.

Good, Lomax thought. Lisa is home. He could see her Toyota in the driveway, but he also saw Jack’s Prius.

“Shit,” He said to the thin layer of Christmas lights on the telephone pole. The lights blinked on and off, telling Lomax not to worry about Jack. It told him he was in charge of the situation. Plus, he had two plastic bags of groceries and his Santa bag.

The trailer was lit up with way too many lights, at least ten strands crossing each other. And in the front yard was a snowman missing an eye and his plastic carrot meant for his nose, was now comfortably in his crotch.

Lomax knocked on the screen door.

Lisa opened the front door. She stepped outside on the step, shut the door. Her short brown, wavy hair was stirring slightly in the cold breeze. She was cold, the Christmas sweater exemplified her best assets, but those green eyes always melted Lomax’s heart.

“Hi, Lisa,” Lomax grinned at her.

“What do you want, Dave?” She said coldly, folded her arms.

“I wanted to see you and the kids,” Oops. I didn’t get the kids anything. He thought. Trish, 9, Cory, 6, what would I get them anyway? I never took time to get to know them—

“You know Jack is here. And after the last shenanigan you are not welcomed here.” She turned to open the door, Lomax touched her shoulder. She shot a cool look his way that was like a knife through his heart. Lomax withdrew his hand.

She was referring to a drunken incident when Lomax climbed through their bedroom window and passed out in their bed. Jack beat Lomax with a baseball bat, thinking he was burglar. After the ER room, Jack was apologetic.

“Who is it, Lisa–Oh, it’s Dave. Let him in, Lisa.” Jack was the best looking guy Lomax had ever seen and the nicest. That’s one of many reasons he hated him.

“He was just leaving–” Lisa’s nostrils flared up, and that cold stare–all Lomax could do was avert his eyes.

“Nonsense, Lisa. Come inside, Dave. God, the kids really miss you. They will be glad to see you. “OH yes, they were glad to see me, Lomax thought. He’d been there thirty minutes and the kids said hi, rushed off to bed. Lisa went to her bedroom. Jack was the only one happy to see him. Loads of endless fucking questions. It was a slow death. Being with a man who stole your life and he was happy to eat his cake too. The fucker.

“So, what’s with the bag? Are you playing Santa this year?” He was smirking. Thinks he can tell a joke. The fucker. “Is my present in there?”

Suddenly an evil grin overthrew a depressing scowl on Lomax’s face. “Actually…it is. Would you like it now?” Lomax stood from the couch and walked toward the corner where the Christmas tree was. Jack followed closely on his heels.

“You didn’t have to–yes. Yes. I’m honored… look I really want to be friends, Dave… could that…?”

The bag was gone.

They heard a noise in the hallway to the bedrooms. Something loud hitting the tin floors of the trailer. Lomax and Jack rushed to see, they found the bag there. It was inching across the floor. They heard Lisa’s voice, the kid’s, of course the dog and Cedric. All of them simultaneously making a horrible mash of noise. Then there was the growling, the sound of something scraping the inside of the bag, followed by them screaming.

Jack backed away from the bag. “What’s in there, Dave? You’ve got the devil there haven’t you?”

Lomax didn’t know what to say. He shook his head half-heatedly. “I don’t know what’s in there. I don’t… maybe it is… but I don’t think it hurts anyone… all I know is it takes things, then whatever you wish for… magically appears…”

There was a knock at the screen door, very loud pounding.

Someone has called the police on us, Lomax thought. Jack ran to answer it. Lomax pushed him out of the way. They found a short, over-sized man in a monk’s frock. The Monk bowed, removed his hood.

“I’m sorry to bother you so late. I think you have something that belongs my temple.” The Monk said.

Lomax was pushed aside as the monk made his way through the front door. The monk smiled. He nodded. “Yes, you surely do have it.”

“Is that the devil in that bag? Your here to do an exorcism, right?” Jack came to the monk, wild-eyed.

The Monk laughed. “No, far from it. Gumar is not a devil… but a poor unfortunate creature that seemingly tricked one of my brothers to take him into the city.”

“Will he–does he hurt anyone in the bag with him?” Lomax interrupted the monk’s jolliness.

“No, by all means. Gumar loves to have fun—well his fun is scaring people, holding them in the darkness. He harms no one. He is a bit aggressive. It was terrible for Brother Sella. He apparently was robbed at gunpoint, beaten and left in an alley. He came back to Temple with that story.”

“How did you know where the bag was?” Lomax said. “Can you get them out of the bag?”

The Monk shrugged smiled. “I followed the smell. Do you not smell the terrible stench?”

“I thought it was Dave, since he is homeless.” Jack said.

Lomax cut his eyes at Jack.

“As far as releasing everyone,” The Monk sighed. “That depends on you,” He turned to Lomax. “Would like to keep receiving presents from Gumar? Or…give the bag back to the Temple. It’s up to you.”

Lomax thought a minute. “Yeah… I’d like to give the bag back to the Temple.”

The Monk smiled. Lisa appeared, as did the children. They immediately clung to, she hugged them nervously.

Then Cedric appeared, the dog ran from one person to another, happy it was out of the bag.

The Monk threw the bag over his shoulder. Lomax saw him to the door.

“Look,” Lomax placed a hand on the Monk’s arm. “I don’t get it. Where was my last present when Lisa and the kids were in the bag?”

“Remember,” The Monk walked outside. He turned to Lomax, laughed. “You wished this would be over. And it is.”

Halloween Extravaganza: Mark Slade: No Hockey Masks or Machetes Allowed

No Hockey Masks or Machetes Allowed
(Top 10 Episodes of Friday the 13th: The Series)

For Tim and Sarah

Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990) may have been the best television show of the 1980’s. It is definitely in my top ten of TV shows. There was nothing like it on the air at that time. Combining the horror of past shows like The Twilight Zone, fellow anthology shows Tales from the Darkside, Monsters, and Night Stalker—with the modern horror of the films of its day (gore and sex) was brilliant.

This TV series has no relation to Jason or the Friday the 13th films except its producers. Originally it was to be called The 13th Hour, but it was probably a better marketing idea to cash in on the films. Strangely, now there is a TV show in the works based on the films and will share the same title. That’s lazy on the part of network execs. You can just as easily use the Jason name in the title and everyone will know who you are talking about. In England, the show was known as Friday’s Curse.

This show was created by Frank Mancuso Jr. and Larry B. Williams. Shot and produced in Canada. I wonder if this was one of the shows to give producers an idea how many great locations and how much cheaper it was to film in Canada. The eerie theme music was composed by Fred Mollin.

The premise is that two cousins by marriage who never met, inherit an antiques shop after its owner, Uncle Lewis Vendredi (played by great character actor R.G. ArmstrongPat Garrett & Billy the Kid, White Lightning, Children of the Corn), dies mysteriously. Micki and Ryan soon learn that the antiques sold there were all cursed by the devil himself. With the help of Jack Marshak, the three hunt down these objects, learn the dangers of this job, even feel guilty not being able to prevent deaths.

That’s what separates this show from a lot of copy cats (Warehouse 13). It’s very human and you get to know characters.

Also the talented group of writers and directors, actors, staff that ran this show, made it look and feel like a network TV series, not a low budget syndicated show. The stars had charisma, and melded well with each other. John D. Lemay as Ryan, pop star Robey as Micki, ever reliable Chris Wiggins as Jack Marshak, and later Steven Monarque as Johnny. 72 episodes were made, three seasons. Here’s the list:

1. Stick it in Your Ear (Season 3 Episode 4)

A hearing aid that lets the wearer hear the thoughts of people around him. Adam Cole is a mentalist in a double act that is going badly because he has a hearing problem. He goes to the ear doctor and promptly steals an antique hearing aide. This enables him to hear others thoughts. The only problem is the thoughts build up inside and if he doesn’t release them onto another poor unsuspecting soul, his body could release them for him, which is like an overload.

Why is this my favorite episode? How it handles the subject of con artists working in the so called “Spirit” profession. They make people think they have supernatural powers by using old Magician’s tricks, and steal hard earned money from the working class. It’s also one of the gorier episodes and a sex scene that the producers got away with because of late night syndication. But the script, direction, and acting is perfectly executed. It also contains my favorite quote and delivery between Jack and Johnny. Johnny: You guys won’t let me write about any of this stuff. Jack: that’s because you write fiction and that has to make sense. According to Wikipedia, this episode was influenced by Magician and debunker James Randi accused (and proved) that Healer Peter Poppoff used a hearing device to receive information about his congregation that he regularly cured of all medical problems they had.

2. Faith Healer (Season 1 Episode 12)

“First the glove heals, then it kills to pay for it.”

David Cronenberg directed this gem. The story bears some resemblance to the episode above, except a white glove that can heal, and if those ailments are not rid of in good time, the owner has the problems ten folds. What a unique and great idea, one I hadn’t seen used in horror television before. Just like the episode above, the makers had to have been following James Randi’s exploits to come up with this story. It also deals with body horror, which fit right in with Cronenberg’s other films. It even has one of Cronenberg’s mainstays guesting, Robert A. Silverman as a debunker, named Jerry, who specializes in faith healing con men. Jack and Jerry go way back, never seeing eye to eye about whether supernatural exists or not. The best thing about this episode is the twist in the story, something the viewer wouldn’t expect.

3. The Inheritance (Season 1 Episode 1)

This was the pilot episode about a killer doll. The episode that explains the premise of the show and introduces Jack, Micki, and Ryan. Sarah Polley is a little girl, Mary, who hates her stepmother, and to be frank, rightfully so. The woman is overbearing and controlling, and downright mean to the little girl. They wander into the shop and discover Uncle Lewis ready to close. They talk him into letting them look around and Little Mary sees a doll she wants. Lewis has second thoughts about selling it, and tells them to leave. Turning away a customer of cursed items has dire consequences, and the Devil or evil presence kills Uncle Lewis. Next we meet Micki who is about to marry a successful Lawyer. She has the intention of selling the shop. She meets Cousin Ryan. She convinces Ryan to have a sale so she can get back to her life, but Ryan really has nothing else going on. During the sale, Mary’s father buys the doll for her. The doll begins to talk to her, and they make a pact to rid themselves of the stepmother just as she wants to take the doll away. One late night they catch Jack Marshak sneaking around, and this is where Jack relates his story that he was the one that travelled the world collecting the antique oddities for Lewis to sell. They discover the manifest and the contract between the Devil and Lewis. The show is off and running.

4. Shadow Boxer (Season 1 Episode 8)

The cursed item is boxing gloves. When used, literally the shadow of a boxer appears on walls or buildings and beats their victim to death. A never- was been sweeps the floors and is prodded by fellow trainees at the gym, gives him cause for vengeance and builds an even bigger bloated ego. He first discovers the gloves in the manager’s office tries them on, and when the manager catches him, the shadow beats the manager to death. This definitely could have fit into the Twilight Zone. At one instance even Jack gets caught up in a tangle with that shadow.

5. Wedding Bell Blues (Season 2 Episode 22)

This episode is about a cursed pool stick. Danny is a talented pool hustler who is up to win 5,000 dollars in a big match. His fiancé Jennifer believes that he is the man who of her dreams. Jack and Ryan go off to find cursed snow shoes, leaving Micki to mind the store and eventually team up with that kid Johnny who is helping locate that pool stick. This is where we meet Johnny who ended up replacing Ryan as one of the main pursuers of cursed objects. This episode is notable for Lolita Davidovich guest starring as the sister of a woman who would do anything to make her boyfriend a success. Full of characters who care of nothing but themselves and pay the price for it.

6. Tattoo (Season 1 Episode 16)

This one is about a cursed tattoo kit. Gambler Tommy Chen can’t win for losing. He sees a rival gambler using a tattoo kit that not only gives good luck, but the tattoos he places on his victims come to life to ensure death as the price. Tommy kills the rival and takes the tattoo kit. His grandfather notices the writing on the box, he knows its evil and also the name of Lewis’s shop. He calls Jack and asks to return it. Which turns out that the kit is listed in the manifest. Tommy also owes quite a bit of money to the mob. He is given 24 hours to bring in a lot of money in a short time. An excellent episode that brings the gang into Chinatown and introduces the idea that they are a family, whether they believe it or not. The animation in this episode is tremendous, must have cost a fortune for TV.

7. Hate on Your Dial (Season 3 Episode 6)

Cursed 1950’s car stereo that can take you back to a simpler time, before you had to give people of color their rights. A poignant episode. Very well written (notable for replacing the adage of the N word with colored), extremely well-acted episode. You can see the influence of the 1988 film Mississippi Burning here.

Robert A. Silverman guest stars again, this time playing slow-witted Archie who buys the cursed car radio for his Brother Ray’s 1954 Chevy. When blood is drawn, the car can take whoever is in the vehicle back to that year. It’s no surprise that Ray hate’s black people, because his father (a member of the Klan) had murdered a black man and a mysterious witness put him in prison and eventually put to death by the state. Ray is enamored to be back in the past and see his father, whom he never met.

A ballsy episode, and frankly, I don’t think they can produce such a story these days in this PC world. Terrible times, no one should have to go through any kind of racism, or torment for their skin color or for any reason. But when dealing with villains of any kind, you can’t water it down (as in the last season of American Horror Story with Kathy Bates character). When you watch this episode, you come away informed and again, the villains in this episode have reason for the things they do, and the show doesn’t apologize, because they are villains. The ending is just and satisfying, the scenes with the Klan a lot scarier than anything the show has ever produced.

8. The Great Montarro (Season 1 Episode 6)

A pair of Houdin cabinets is the focus of this one. We get to see Jack discuss his early days as a magician. There is death as payment as always, and the victims get locked in the cabinets to guarantee magic works. Jack and Micki enter a magic contest. One of the few episodes where the owner doesn’t know about the curse. A very bloody episode. Once again we see Jack converse with people he knew back in his days as something other than a pursuer of cursed objects.

9. Bottle of Dreams (Season 1 Episode 26)

A bottle traps victims in their worst memories. This was an end of the season flashback episode, to help hype the coming season and help newcomers to find out more about the show. According to Wikipedia, this was also the result of a writers strike during production. Micki and Ryan are trapped in the vault with the cursed items. Rashid makes an appearance as does Uncle Lewis. It was an ingenious way of reintroducing Lewis, adding a possible helper and showing the audience all of the previous cursed antiques and backstory. Remember when shows used to use flashbacks? A thing of the past.

10. Cupid’s Quiver (Season 1 Episode 3)

This episode holds a special place in my heart. Not only was it the first episode I had seen, but on a Saturday night, watching TV with my brother and Father, trying to find something on at ten pm. I’m not sure why my Father stopped on the syndicated channel (the newly dubbed Fox 35 affiliate of Fox network) we thought this was a Fox show. I’m not even sure why it was on at ten pm, when usual time slot was eleven pm(on another channel, a CBS affiliate, it was on at eleven thirty and even spurred the local newscaster of the area to film a short commercial urging parents not to let their children watch this show). My brother and I were hooked( later to involve our younger sister in our obsession over Cursed antiques show), and our Father watched one or two more, then he didn’t care to watch anymore, probably the late hour and silly premise did it for him.

The Cupid of Malek makes women fall in love with the owner of the little statue. The three of them tear around a college campus looking for the statue and the person who owns it. You get to see some great animation with the use of the statue shooting arrows and his evil facial expressions. Denis Forest was great as both funny and a creepy would-be rapist. This episode was masterfully directed by Atom Egoyan, best known for such indie films as Exotica, The sweet hereafter, and Felicia’s journey.

It was hard to pick the top ten. I even had five more picked when I realized the article would be too long. I know I skipped fan fav’s as The Scarecrow, or Vanity’s mirror, The Quilt of Hathor, but these are my favorites. My list is way too long to include in its entirety.

Mr. Zero

Barry London is a Fixer by trade, lent out by his boss to other crime lords. He is sent to his hometown of Geneva, New Jersey to deal with corrupt cops at war with each other over a missing video, dealing with an ex-girlfriend who happens to be a cop, the wife of a good friend who also wants to sleep with him, both looking to tame the wild and rough London. On top of all that, London finds himself looking several murders and Firebug who torched a nightclub. The key to it all is cracking the mystery of Mr. Zero.

Witch for Hire

Do you need a potion? How about a spell? Maybe… murder someone? Evelina Giles is a witch chosen by magic, just like her father. She operates a shop in a sleepy college town in Virginia. When a businessman approaches Evelina for a spell so he can steal a project from his boss, Evelina’s practical joke turns deadly. Or did it? Now, along with her assistant Mungo and her Journalist-friend Jeanie, Evelina must investigate not one, but multiple murders.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Mark Slade

Meghan: Hi, Mark. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark Slade: Not a whole lot to tell. Been writing off and on my entire life. I am the author of A Six Gun & the Queen of Light, Blackout City Confidential, Witch for Hire (An Evelina Giles book), and Mr. Zero (A Barry London Novel). I also write and produce audio dramas Blood Noir and Daniel Dread.

I first wanted to write after seeing the Twilight Zone episode Mr. Denton on Doomsday. I loved how cowboys and weird stuff was happening. I wanted to know who did it, who Rod Serling was. Plus, my older brother had tons of paperbacks and the Twilight Zone magazine. That’s where I learned about Serling. From there it was Bradbury, Ed Mcbain, and Richard Matheson.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Mark Slade: Those secrets are buried with anyone who knows them! I don’t know. I think people know a little more than I want them to, but I can’t shut up. Well, my favorite movie isn’t Crime or fantasy or horror related. It’s a British film about WWII called Hope & Glory. John Boorman film. People may not know that. I am controlled by a Chihuahua through his psychic powers. I’m a Brit TV enthusiast. I love British Television programs, especially old ones. I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, but I think the world knows that. I’m also a jazz fan, but I love Rock n Roll. Guitar music, big Waylon Jennings/outlaw country fan… You know, I don’t think many people know I like Sade’s music.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Mark Slade: Where the Wild things Are. I saw a guy on PBS reading parts of it. I loved the art. But he left the ending. I think I got it from a school library and read it or maybe thought I read it. I probably made up my own story in my head. Second book, was an issue of Spider-Man. The death of Gwen Stacy, I think. Holy cow, it brought me to tears.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Mark Slade: Jim Thompson’s After Dark, My Sweet. And a biography of Ross Macdonald. Ross Macdonald was another writer that has cast a HUGE shadow over my life. Everywhere I go, his stories stay with me.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Mark Slade: Well, when my sister was reading Anne of Green Gables, I read it, too. I really liked it even though I wasn’t a young girl. Just a good story.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Mark Slade: Well, like I said before, I attempted when I was ten after that TZ episode. But at 14 I saw a movie on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and thought “Yeah, I can do better than that!” So I wrote a story about a father who threw his kids down a well. Naw, I couldn’t do better than that.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Mark Slade: Convenient place is more like it. Dining room, Dining room table.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Mark Slade: I think about what I’m writing way too much. Takes over my life. I also try to listen to music that might inspire stories and characters.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Mark Slade: Definitely Richard Matheson, Ed McBain, and Ross Macdonald. Sparse style, lots of dialogue. Get to the story as quick as possible. Writers I see in print now that I am influenced by a lot are Paul D. Brazill, ever since I discovered his story Drunk on the Moon – I’ve always wanted to write a story as good as that – and G. Wayne Miller. Everything he has written, non-fiction, or fiction, especially We Who Are His Followers. Great stuff.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Mark Slade: Let the characters tell the story. Who cares about literature or styles of putting words on a paper. Lit, that’s a made up marketing tool. Best stories and writers come from the pulps. No lie.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Mark Slade: Flaws. If they are truly a well-rounded character they can’t be completely a good person all the time, nor a bad person.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Mark Slade: Oh, crap! I hope none of them! They do some awful things. Might be some interests that are the same, other than that, none.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Mark Slade: No. Not at all. If the plot on the back interests me, I’ll read it.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Mark Slade: Ah man. Some sex scenes are hard, or they were. Now its not as big a deal. I think in my new book it’s a scene The Klu Klux Klan chase somebody. And its set in 1956. That was tough.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Mark Slade: That I do not know. We all feed off each other. No ego or lack of can change that. I just want people to like or give my stories a chance.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Mark Slade: Short story is definitely an art form. I just started novels. Getting it done and hitting a word count, plus making the story work. I write crime mysteries now. That’s a tough nut to crack.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Mark Slade: Not sure if I have a target audience. I’d like to have a general or mass audience, if that’s possible. Maybe people who enjoy Crime, Horror, and fantasy stories. Taking away from my stories, I think good characters. I hope. A story that sticks to your ribs, like good food. A story they’ll never forget.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Mark Slade: For Blackout city Confidential, two scripts and one story was left out and some artwork by Lissanne Lake. Lots of murders, lots of great art left in the cold. Too bad.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Mark Slade: A collection of all my short stories would be nice. One huge book. In the audio drama world, I’d like to do two projects: One an adaption of the Lew Archer books or Ed MacBain’s 87th Precinct. That would be really great. Another, Dangerous Duos, would be the title where unlikely fictional/or historical characters get involved in some sort of action story. The other part of the series would to take fictional characters who would go together and have adventures, like Mrs. Peel and Honey West. Or in the case of real people, Bruce Lee and John Holmes break up a white slavery ring. Or Jim Brown and Truman Capote investigate Ted Bundy.

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

Mark Slade: I have a book being edited by Next Chapter called Strange Corridors. Illustrated by Cameron Hampton. Its about a little girl taken by a mysterious Jester into weird lands. And I’m writing a book called Yardbird about a man doing the bidding of an oil tycoon, such as investigate murders, blackmail payoffs, get rid of dead bodies.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Mark Slade:

Amazon ** Facebook ** Twitter
Daniel Dread ** Blood Noir

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?

Mark Slade:

“This whole world is wild at heart and weird on top.”
—-Lulu from David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.

Mr. Zero

Barry London is a Fixer by trade, lent out by his boss to other crime lords. He is sent to his hometown of Geneva, New Jersey to deal with corrupt cops at war with each other over a missing video, dealing with an ex-girlfriend who happens to be a cop, the wife of a good friend who also wants to sleep with him, both looking to tame the wild and rough London. On top of all that, London finds himself looking several murders and Firebug who torched a nightclub. The key to it all is cracking the mystery of Mr. Zero.

Witch for Hire

Do you need a potion? How about a spell? Maybe… murder someone? Evelina Giles is a witch chosen by magic, just like her father. She operates a shop in a sleepy college town in Virginia. When a businessman approaches Evelina for a spell so he can steal a project from his boss, Evelina’s practical joke turns deadly. Or did it? Now, along with her assistant Mungo and her Journalist-friend Jeanie, Evelina must investigate not one, but multiple murders.

Blood Noir
Daniel Dread: An Audio Drama by Mark Slade & Lothar Tuppan