Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?
Tommy: The Heidi Allen case in Upstate NY. I’m of the camp who doesn’t believe the men arrested for her murder were guilty, and that she was killed by drug dealers.
Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?
Tommy: Bigfoot. I thought I saw Bigfoot when I was a child (it was most likely a deer), and the neighborhood kids pulled a prank, and dressed up in a Planet of the Apes costume and pretended to be Bigfoot, which scared my mother.
Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?
Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?
Tommy: I’ve watched horror movies since I can recall, courtesy of Monster Movie Matinee on Saturday and Sundays. There was never that “Oh, I saw this then,” moment, but it was likely a King Kong or a Godzilla Kaiju movie.
I was 11 when I read Salem’s Lot. I bonded with Mark and saw it through his eyes. I didn’t understand much of the adult content, but when Mark was the focus, and even Ben, I found myself lost in the story.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
Tommy: Pet Semetary. It scared me as a kid, seeing it through Ellie’s eyes. It scared me as a father, seeing it through Louis’s eyes. And it has scared me as a grandfather, seeing it through Judd’s eyes.
The God Provides — The foothills of Upstate New York are alive with something terrifying. It hunts, it tempts, it traps, and there’s no escape. Thomas R Clark re-invents Irish Mythology and takes you on a bloody, emotional, and horrific journey back through time with the tale of the McEntire clan, and the devastating secrets they hold. The author of the Splatterpunk Awards nominated Bella’s Boys: A Tale of Cosmic Horror has crafted a story that’s part The Wicker Man and part Cycle of the Werewolf, but at the same time like nothing you’ve read before.
“Nick? You’re playing some fucking joke, right? I mean what are the odds of this happening?” Bob Clark, manager of the Great Ontario Mall said to the elderly man in a Santa Claus outfit sitting before him. This guy was on point with the familiar red suit, complete with white and black trimmings. Oh, and the classic Santa hat. He even went as far as to wear the round-lensed spectacles. He was good. “Let me guess, you changed your name to Nick when you grew that beard out and started playing Santa?” He watched the old man shake his head.
“Nope,” the applicant said. “It’s always been my name. Nick Samuel. You do know Nick is a common fucking name, right? It shouldn’t surprise the shit out of you or anyone else.”
“It’s ironic, that’s all I’m saying.” Bob opted for damage control, so they could get on with the process. He wasn’t sure if he trusted this creepy old dude. “So I assume you’re interested in becoming our Holiday-”
“Yes,” Nick interjected, “I fucking accept. I’d like to be your holiday Santa.”
“Hold on a minute, Nick. I didn’t say you had the job.” The old man released a jolly chuckle of ho’s in response. Bob cut back in, “What’s so funny.”
“What? The ho-ho-hoing? I’m Santa, it’s what I fucking do. And, we saw you were looking for Santa’s Helpers, too.”
“We?” Bob raised an eyebrow.
“I have my own assistants. We’re the remedy to your situation.” The old man made a fist with each of his black-gloved hands and pointed his thumbs behind him. A pair of sultry women stepped out from behind Nick. Bob wondered where they came from. The last he checked, only Nick here in his Santa suit entered his office. These women manifested from out of nowhere. The pair stood at Mr. Samuel’s left and right. “These are my elves, Lily and Aggie!” The women curtsied on cue and handed Bob their resumes. He reached across his desk and took them, nodding as he did.
Bob was forced to admit, this was convenient. It would save him time and headaches. His former Santa, Kenny Saint-Claire, used his daughters as his helpers for years. But they grew up and moved out of town and Ken got caught groping one of the replacement Elves last year. It was quite the scandal for a small city like Fenton. Now Ken was fired and Bob needed a new Santa.
“Well, Bob? What do you say? Is it a deal?” the old man’s tone startled Bob. It was almost rehearsed, wooden, as if Nick were playing a role, not that of Santa, but of Nick Samuel. Bob fumbled with the resumes in his hand.
“Yes, that’s nice. Do you have references?” Bob forced out to regain control of the interview.
“We’re not from around here, as you probably guessed. We only come through this way every so many years. Last year I was in Auburn at another dying mall. They had the busiest season since their catalog anchors left. But, of course, I have references! Elves, do we have references?”
“Yes we do, Santa,” the women replied in unison.
“But Bob here, he doesn’t need to check them, does he.” He wasn’t asking them a question.
“That’s right, Santa, Bob doesn’t need to check our references. We’re all set.”
“I don’t need to check your references. You’re all set,” Bob said. He felt a warmth in his groin and was surprised to find his dick was getting hard looking at Santa’s helpers. This was an odd one. Bob was gay, and for the first time in his life since coming out, he questioned his sexuality, “You start next week, on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.”
“Excellent, Mr. Clark. It’s a pleasure doing business with you. Now, one thing, for insurance purposes, all the parents must sign a waiver in order for their children to sit on my lap. It protects me, protects them. You know how it is.” This was something Bob hadn’t considered. Nick was right.
“Damn, I don’t have one. I can draw a form up-”
“No, no need to do that. I have forms they can sign. It comes with being a freelance Santa.”
“Oh, okay, Mr. Samuel.”
“Call me Nick. Old Nick is what my friends call me.”
“Old Nick it is,” Bob corrected himself.
“So what would you want for Christmas, Bob?
“I wish for this Mall to have a successful, record-breaking shopping season.”
“Amen to that, Bob. Amen to that,” Old Nick said, before breaking back into a low series of ho-ho belly rolls…
Mike Lombardo stood in the reception line at Steve’s funeral, trying to think about everything but his brother dying. It was difficult to do, to keep his mind blank, with the constant stream of mourners shaking hands, hugging or just nodding. Mike and his wife stood with his sister-in-law and mother. The line of people coming to pay their respects was a nonstop train all day. It was finally beginning to abate some, much to Mike’s relief.
Mike hated funerals, but he hated cancer more. The shit ran in the Lombardo family, rotting the men from the inside. First their father, John, and now Steve. Mike didn’t know what killed Grampa Lombardo over in Italy, but he was confident ass cancer ate him, too. Mike’s older brother came clean about how sick he was just after New Year’s, and he didn’t make it to fucking Thanksgiving. Mike didn’t feel sick. His brother hadn’t, either. But fear of a positive diagnosis prevented him from going to a doctor.
A man Mike didn’t know was approaching the line. He looked familiar, but Mike wasn’t sure. Elderly with a white beard, and accompanied by a pair of lovely, albeit much younger women- one blonde, one red-headed. Both were painted into skin-tight black mini-dresses. And as cute as those women were, this was his cue to leave.
He felt the urge to pee come on. Mike knew his bladder and feared pissing his suit pants. He excused himself and made haste to the restroom, avoiding making eye contact with anyone who might wish to stop him and make conversation. Lombardo nodded to them, mouthed the words ‘Thank you’ in a nearly inaudible whisper, and ran off.
Mike made it to the urinal in record time, dripping while in the act of unbuttoning his pants. His dick was hard, for some reason. It was odd. He wondered why he would be sporting a woody at his brother’s funeral. It made pissing and directing the stream all the more difficult. The relief of finally breaking the seal was euphoric. Much like the last ten months of Steve Lombardo’s life.
The brothers shared a bucket list year. From concerts, finally seeing KISS, their favorite band, together. A trip to the State Fair, camping at the State Park. A trip to Atlantic City where they lost more than they won. They scoured garage sales, buying toys they owned as boys growing up. Their best picks?
The Shogun Warriors they got for Christmas when Steve was five, and Mike was four. This Christmas in particular stuck with Mike. Though he was young, he remembered it clearly to this day, playing with his brother with those giant robots, nearly as tall as they were. So when Steve insisted on being buried with the Shogun, Mike didn’t find it to be odd.
“They say you can’t take it with you. Well, I say fuck them, whoever the fuck they may be! If it’s what damned me, then it’s coming with me. Fuck ‘em!” Steve told him at Halloween. His wife balked at the notion. Earlier today, Mike handed the mortician a hundred dollar bill, and he slid the Shogun Warrior into the bottom of Steve’s casket. It was there now, resting next to his legs.
Mike left the lavatory and found his way back to the reception line. It was empty, for the first time today. He saw his son, five-year-old, Brian, standing by the photo board. It was covered in pictures of Steve, from his time in diapers up to the concert back in August. Brian was focused on a single picture, looking at it with curious nods of his head. Mike went to his son’s side.
The Polaroid printed picture was from the Great Ontario Mall about forty years ago. Mike and Steve were sitting on Santa’s lap. The eyes of all captured in the picture glowed a demonic red from the reflection of the cheap camera used. Christmas 1978. The year they got the Shogun Warriors. Mike remembered this picture and the day it was taken as if it were yesterday.
“Hey, son. That was your uncle Steve and me when we were your age.”
“Why is one blurry?” Brian asked, pointing to Steve, sitting on Santa’s knee. His image was a blur. His face, his hands, all clouded up. You could tell someone was in the picture, but who they were, you couldn’t tell. Mike only knew it was Steve because he knew the picture. He pulled the picture off the poster board and put it in his pocket.
“Come on, let’s go stand over here with Mommy and Gramma and say hello to people coming to say goodbye to Uncle Steve.”
“Okay, Daddy.” The little boy took his father’s hand, and the duo joined their family in the reception line…
Snow assaulted Fenton, New York on Black Friday. A freak lake effect storm with a below-freezing wind chill struck from the north of Canada. The snow was dropping an inch an hour on the Ontario shoreline city. Visibility was next to nothing. But that didn’t stop the regional shoppers from filling the parking lot of the Great Ontario Mall with their cars, trucks, and vans. If this were an indication of the shopping season to come, the mall was in store for a record year.
Retailers within the complex’s walls were holding incredible sales, drawing out the local residents. The mall was alive with activity, including the seasonal debut of Santa Claus and his helpers, taking Christmas wishes from the young brave enough to sit on Santa’s lap and have their picture taken.
Lines of traffic, headlights burning white circles into the falling snow, circled the building. Stuck in this jam, trapped in their Chevy Cruze, Mike and Lexie Lombardo waited patiently. Their son was sound asleep in his car seat. They were doing this for him, taking him to see Santa on the day he appeared at the mall.
For weeks little Brian had looked forward to this event. The little boy nagged his mother until she made a treat to bring Santa. Sugar cookies covered in green sprinkles. And yes, they brought enough to share with Santa’s helpers. After all, the elves were important, too! They made the toys.
The only positive thing? There were so many cars in line, the snow wasn’t covering the road. It was covering the cars, instead. The wipers of the Cruze pushed piling snow off the windshield. It was falling fast enough to cover the hood, the hot engine melting patterns in the accumulations. The farting sound of rubber squee-geeing across glass filled the car.
“Can you turn the wipers off? That sound is driving me up a wall.” Lexie asked her husband.
“I wish. The snow is falling too fast. I can’t believe this weather, Lexie.”
“Remind me again why we came out in it.” She said, rubbing her hands together.
“For Brian. To see Santa and give the jolly old elf some cookies and a Christmas wish-list.”
An hour and another inch of snow later, they found parking. Once inside the mall, the congestion wasn’t any better. Sure, there was no snow, but the heat of the mall combined with the heat of the bodies in the mall made for tropical conditions. Mike was sweating his balls off, beads of it poured down his forehead and neck. Lexie was flushed, her ponytail dripping in her own perspiration. But little Brian was a smiling bundle of joy.
The boy was here to see Santa and tell the legend what he wanted for Christmas. He was a good boy all year, so no coal in his stocking. He gave zero fucks about the temperature. He cared even less about the line to see Santa, which curled through the mall and moved at a snail’s pace.
He stood there, holding a bag of snacks for Santa in one hand, and his mother’s hand in the other, being…
With all the stress of the moment and location, Mike and Lexie had to admit their son was not a contribution to the trouble. The little things in life were working in their favor here. All of this made enduring the experience tolerable. As did Santa’s helpers.
Mike noticed the scantily clad beauties as soon as they rounded the bend. Santa was smack dab in the middle of a fake Christmas Village, but these ladies were shifting duties. And they looked familiar, as did the Santa. One blonde and one redhead. The sight of them made him forget about how uncomfortable he was standing in this line. Now the only thing uncomfortable was the unexplained boner Mike was popping in his jeans.
He put his arm around his wife. She reciprocated, dropped her hand and squeezed his ass. He never expected this from her in the mall, the sign she was horny. Maybe being drenched in sweat after being stuck in traffic during a whiteout of snow was a turn on. If it paid off, they’d have to do it again.
Another hour passed before they got near enough to the front of the line to fill out the paperwork for the pictures. They wouldn’t want anything more than the one complimentary shot, but there were still release forms and whatnot requiring signatures. It seemed like too much of a big to-do over something as simple as pictures with Santa.
“What’s up with all of this paperwork?” Mike asked the redheaded elf. Her name badge said ‘Aggie’.
“Legal mumbo jumbo. It’s the Twenty-First Century. Santa can’t afford any legal trouble, handsome.” She wiggled her eyebrows and shook her tits. Jingle bells hung off her tight sweater. They jingled and jangled as a result.
“Jesus, it’s like I’m taking a test. I’ve filled out auto loans and mortgages with less paperwork.”
“You can just flip through and sign at the ‘X’ on the bottom of each page if that will make it easier for you,” she suggested. He hesitated.
“But, what if we’re giving you permission to sell our child into slavery?” Aggie laughed out loud.
“With some parents, you’d think they wished for that. But no. It’s worse. You’re signing his soul away.” Mike shot Aggie an inquisitive eye. “Isn’t that what remote tribes of people think when you take their photograph, that you’re stealing their soul?”
“I forgot about- ” Mike started.
“Just do it, honey,” Lexie interjected. And Mike did, signing his name at the ‘X’ on a dozen more pages.
Fifteen minutes later Lexie handed little Brian off to Lily the Elf. A shit-eating grin covering the boy’s face with his eyes as wide open as they could go. A half dozen steps later, he found himself sitting on Santa’s lap.
“Hello Brian,” Santa said, following the boy’s name with a jolly roll of ho’s. “That’s a keen name!”
“This is for you and your helpers!” Brian handed Santa the bag of cookies.
“Oh isn’t this nice! Thank you very much, Brian. Lilly, could you take these and put them with our snacks for tonight?” The blonde Elf shimmied over to Santa and took the bag of goodies.
“I hope you like them!”
“What is your Christmas wish, young man?”
“My Christmas wish is for a puppy! I want a puppy for Christmas, Santa. I’ve been a good boy! My Christmas wish is a puppy! That’s it, nothing more!” Mike and Lexie heard their son. They looked at each other, sadness in their eyes.
“Well, that’s an easy one, Brian. It’s something Santa can handle. You keep being good until Christmas Eve.”
“I will, Santa. You know I will!”
“Okay, Brian. Look at the camera and say ‘Amen’ with Santa on three!” Lily the Elf said. “One… two… three… Amen!” Brian laughed as he repeated the words with Santa. Lilly snapped the photo and the flash lit up the Holiday set. The digital print captured the moment. Aggie handed it to Lexie. Brian took his father’s hand.
“I asked Santa for a puppy. Not a toy puppy but a real dog. Do you think he can swing it? He said he would! He said all Christmas wishes come true for good little boys, amen.” Brian eagerly spewed words out to his mother and father. They looked at Santa.
“I don’t know about that one, sport. We’ll see,” Mike replied.
“But Santa said my wish would come true if I was a good boy! And I’ve been a good boy, I’ve been the best boy, ever!” The tone of voice was downtrodden and dejected.
“Is there a problem with the boy getting a pet?” Santa asked.
Mike looked at Lexie.
“We live in a rental. The landlord has a strict rule. No pets,” Lexie told Santa. She held Santa’s gloved hand. He was strict about it. Not even a hamster in a ball or a goldfish in a bowl, ”I wish I could do something to change it for him.”
“Stranger things have happened. Amen.” Santa said, grasping Lexie’s hand with both of his.
“Yeah, whatever. Amen and all of that stuff. Merry Christmas, Santa.”
“Merry Christmas to all of you in the Lombardo family.”
Mike shook his head in denial. He hated disappointing Brian. Lexie hugged her husband and hung her head so Brian couldn’t see her face. Mike held her tight for another moment. Then, the three of them walked away from Santa and his helpers at the Great Ontario Mall.
Meghan: What made you decide you want to write & when did you begin writing?
Thomas R Clark: I read an anthology called More Science Fiction Tales when I was in third grade. It led to me writing my own stories down. The first story I remember writing was about alien crab creatures attacking an underwater city.
Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?
Thomas R Clark: Yes. My office nook in my bedroom. The dogs can sit on my bed and watch me.
Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
Thomas R Clark: I make soundtracks and fake covers for every piece I write.
Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Thomas R Clark: I have ADHD, so sitting in one space and focusing on the work at hand is difficult.
Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?
Thomas R Clark: Bella’s Boys, my cosmic horror novella. It was fun to write.
Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
Thomas R Clark: This is fairly direct, and each line answers both:
Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
Thomas R Clark: I have to be able to bond with them in some manner. In my own characters, I try to place common traits that might be shared by a large demographic.
Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
Thomas R Clark: None of them are… yet.
Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?
Thomas R Clark: Yes. I hate bad book covers. Thus far in my career, I’ve had complete creative control over my cover art.
Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?
Thomas R Clark: This is too broad. I am under mentoring and in workshops constantly. So I’m always learning. So… what I can say is this: I learn every day. And this is the advice I give to my peers. We can always learn more.
Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?
Thomas R Clark: A reimagining of when I was nearly abducted by a bad person.
Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
Thomas R Clark: I think outside of the boxes we have pigeonholed cliche tropes into. I blend genres, which makes me difficult to pin down and typecast. With the exception of Good Boy, most of my fiction is related in some manner, yet the subject matter of each is vastly different. Bella’s Boys is a cosmic horror story. Its follow up, Epic Fail is a slasher killer piece. Whirlwind, my current WIP, is a monsters on a rampage eating people book…
Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?
Thomas R Clark: Book titles grab a person’s attention as much as the cover art. I take a cue from King and look for simplicity. Good Boy is pretty forthwith. Bella’s Boys uses alliteration. Epic Fail is a vernacular of the modern era. All are memorable, each tells you something about the story.
Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?
Thomas R Clark: Although I love writing short stories, I’m finding the more I write longer pieces, the more comfortable I am becoming with them. So, I’ll go with novel/novella for my answer here.
Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.
Thomas R Clark: I’ve already answered a bit of this, regarding my books. My target audience is horror and dark fantasy fans. And I’d like my readers to learn a moral lesson or two in my narratives.
Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?
Thomas R Clark: Much of my “deleted scenes” go into a file for me to pilfer from when needed. I believe in recycling.
Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?
Thomas R Clark: My trunk is overflowing with bits and pieces of fiction from over 30 years of writing. Actually, the piece I’m working on now is a trunk piece I keep shelving. And I kept doing it because the book was getting too long and I was losing track of where I was and what to do. The last year I’ve learned a few new tricks to help me get over this hump, regarding note-taking on index cards and in a handwritten notebook.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Thomas R Clark: After Good Boy and Bella’s Boys, I have Epic Fail and Imaginos: The Eternal Light Anthology, a collection of short stories based on the music of Blue Oyster Cult, coming in 2020. It features some pretty big names in horror and the music industry. I’m also finishing a novel, Whirlwind, and two other novellas: a dark fantasy period piece called The Witch of November, and Falls Brook, a 70s grindhouse homage.