Welcome to tonight’s feature presentation, brought to you by an unholy alliance of our spellcasters at Hex Publishers and movie-mages at the Colorado Festival of Horror. Please be advised that all emergency exits have been locked for this special nostalgia-curdled premiere of death. From crinkling celluloid to ferocious flesh — from the silver screen to your hammering heart — behold as a swarm of werewolves, serial killers, Satanists, Elder Gods, aliens, ghosts, and unclassifiable monsters are loosed upon your auditorium. Relax, and allow our ushers to help with your buckets of popcorn — and blood; your ticket stubs — and severed limbs; your comfort candy — and body bags. Kick back and scream as you settle into a fate worse than Hell with fourteen full features. Tonight’s director’s cut is guaranteed to slash you apart.
DIRECTED by Joshua Viola
STARRING:Bret & Jeanni Smith, Paul Campion, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Betty Rocksteady, Keith Ferrell, Gary Jonas, Mario Acevedo, Orrin Grey, Sean Eads, Joshua Viola, K. Nicole Davis, Stephen Graham Jones, Steve Rasnic Tem, Kevin J. Anderson
ARTWORK by AJ Nazzaro (Covers), Xander Smith (Story Illustrations), Aaron Lovett (Inside Flipbook Illustrations)
As Norman Bates once said, “We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”
Hex Publishers Founder Joshua Viola and Colorado Festival of Horror (COFOH) co-founders Bret and Jeanni Smith did … just a little bit. With the collaboration of three visual artists and 16 writers, Josh, Bret and Jeanni spawned the horror anthology: It Came From the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers as a companion book to COFOH, Colorado’s first dedicated horror festival coming in 2021. The three of them gave us a behind-the-scenes look into the creation of the anthology and fest, their love of all things horror, and a glimpse into their most haunting nightmares.
What evoked the concept and creation of the Colorado Festival of Horror (COFOH) and the companion anthology It Came From the Multiplex?
Bret: It was a dark and stormy night (I wish!) at the Mutiny Information Café when Daniel Crosier, Dwight Thompson and I brainstormed ideas for a new convention, one that was horror-themed since Denver has no annual horror convention and the horror community is teeming with interested fans. I met Josh Viola years ago at a MileHiCon and we became friends over many subsequent conventions. When he started Hex Publishers, I was a strong backer of all his publications. When we decided to create the Colorado Festival of Horror, I approached Josh about creating an anthology as the perfect accompaniment to our horror-themed festival.
Jeanni: I joined Bret as a co-founder of COFOH because it sounded like an interesting experience, something completely out of my knowledge and comfort zone. One doesn’t want to get stuck in a boring rut after retirement! The idea for the book came about after we read Georgetown Haunts, Hex’s companion book for a writer’s retreat. We thought, why not one for us?
Josh: I can’t speak to the festival, as I’m not involved, but Bret and Jeanni Smith who co-founded COFOH reached out to me in 2019 to see if I’d be interested in developing a themed anthology for their show. They’d seen what I did for the Georgetown Writers Retreat (Georgetown Haunts and Mysteries) and thought we could collaborate on something fun for their event. After a brief get-together over drinks at my place, we all agreed that our shared love and passion for 80s horror cinema was the way to go and It Came from the Multiplex was born.
Describe your first horrifying cinema experience.
Bret: I grew up fairly shielded from horror films. It was Christmas 1979 when I was home from college that I went by myself to a Washington D.C. “theater-in-the-round” for the film Alien. I am a big fan of Twizzlers so had my Coke and Twizzlers, ready for the largest screen experience of my life! At the shocking chestburster scene, I broke out in a cold sweat, and Twizzlers and Coke came really close to bubbling back up again. I had never experienced anything like that in a movie before. Science fiction and horror are an amazing match-up (and I still like Twizzlers)!
Jeanni: My first horrifying movie experience was really at home, alone, watching a late, late movie on TV. It was Wait until Dark with Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman being terrorized by Alan Arkin. The ending scenes of that movie scared the snot out of me! Oh, and Jaws. Definitely Jaws!
Josh: When I was ten years old, I saw Jurassic Park opening weekend with my grandparents. As most who witnessed Spielberg’s masterpiece for the first time, I was glued to the screen. It was literally an edge-of-the-seat experience. Near the finale, when Lex is being pulled up into the ceiling to escape the evil dinos, I yanked my feet up hard and fast when the velociraptor jumped up and snapped at her dangling legs. My grandparents sure got a kick out of it.
What is the earliest memory that sparked your love of the horror genre and artform?
Bret: I was in the 3rd grade and my Dad would show me classic Star Trek episodes when they first aired. As a grade schooler, my favorite episodes were the ones with a “monster” like the iconic Salt Vampire or the scary white, horned ape Mugato. Add a healthy dose of Star Trek in syndication and repeats of The Creature From the Black Lagoon and I’ve loved monsters and aliens ever since!
Jeanni: I wouldn’t say I really knew the horror genre well until our sons Xander and Cameron were in high school. They both loved it and would get me to watch certain things, knowing my likes and dislikes. Some of my favorites were recommended by Cameron: The Orphanage, Dead Alive and Shaun of the Dead. I find I gravitate to comedic horror – fewer nightmares!
Josh: I think it’s a combination of a few key ingredients for me. First, I’m an 80s kid. I grew up in a decade when creature features were commonplace. Satanic Panic was alive and well, and that meant I wasn’t allowed to watch any of that stuff. What do kids do when they’re told they can’t do something? They do it. I’d stay the night at friends’ houses with the sole intention of doing everything I wasn’t allowed to at home. That mostly meant playing Nintendo and watching scary movies. Ghostbusters was my icebreaker (and is still in my top 5), but then I discovered Aliens, The Terminator (yes, it’s a horror movie), Predator, Gremlins, etc. When the 90s arrived, I was a loyal Goosebumps fan. The rest is history.
Whether attending or volunteering, conventions are a huge part of your lives, actually bringing about your friendship and later creative partnership with each other. Describe the first convention you attended that hooked you for life.
Bret: I am first a Star Trek fan and in the 80s was enticed to attend a small Star Trek convention in Phoenix around the time of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I met Walter Koenig who as “Chekov” had the horrific experience of a Ceti eel going into his ear! That same year I met Jeanni on a blind date and took her to the Star Trek 20th Anniversary convention at the Disneyland hotel in Anaheim. We have attended conventions of all flavors ever since including literary cons, film festivals, horror cons and comic cons. Over my 34-year career with IBM, conventions were my favorite escape to feed my pop culture heart. During the pandemic I decided to list every convention or film festival I’ve attended and I’m up to 190, although only one so far in 2020!
Jeanni: I knew nothing about pop culture before I met Bret, but he was totally into Star Trek so I went with him to the 20th anniversary Star Trek convention in Anaheim, and had so much fun getting the whole geek experience for the first time. We moved to Colorado shortly after that and discovered Starfest and Star Con (they held two cons a year back then and were almost the only game in town). I think I’ve been to every one except the year I was giving birth to our first son, Xander.
Josh: I’ve never actually been to a convention as an attendee. I’ve worked every single one. My first was a local show in Denver called Majisticon, which was operated by my friend, Monte Moore. Then, in the early 2000s while in college, I attended San Diego Comic Con with Monte, helping him with his booth. When Hex started, I attended some other local shows, such as Mile Hi Con and Star Fest, among others. The first Denver Comic Con (now called Denver Pop Culture Con) was the first show where I really went all in, both as a sponsor and an exhibitor. I do shows every year, but I’m looking forward to attending as a fan someday.
How did you go about finding/selecting the 16 authors for this 14-story compilation?
Bret: I reached out to best-selling author Kevin J. Anderson, having met him many times at conventions. When I saw him at a Tattered Cover book-signing last year, he enthusiastically wanted to help our anthology. He lives in Colorado Springs and loves to support local publishers. Additionally, over the years of attending sci-fi conventions in Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and San Diego, I became friends with Star Trek novelists Dayton Ward and Kevin Dilmore. I approached them with the theme of our anthology and they jumped at the chance to write an 80s horror story!
Josh: Bret reached out to a few authors (Kevin Anderson, Kevin Dilmore and Dayton Ward). I was already familiar with Anderson, and was very pleased to have him on board. Dilmore and Ward’s work really impressed me and I’m grateful to Bret for the introduciton. As for the rest of the authors, I’ve published many of them before. They’re extremely talented and I love collaborating with them all. Betty Rocksteady was the only person on my list who I hadn’t worked with prior to this project. I was published alongside her in DOA III: Extreme Horror Anthology and was blown away by her prose in that book, and just had to reach out. She was thankfully ecstatic to be a part of Multiplex.
Tell us more about Multiplex artists AJ Nazzaro (covers), Xander Smith (inside story illustrations) and Aaron Lovett (inside flip book illustration), and their processes for creating the art for this anthology.
Bret: Josh introduced Jeanni and me to AJ Nazzaro at the Blizzard booth at the last Denver Pop Culture Con and we were blown away by his art. It was a no-brainer to engage him to create a cover for us. Our son Xander is an artist in Hollywood, doing concept art and illustrations for major films and TV shows including American Horror Story, Godzilla vs. Kong, Aquaman and The Greatest Showman. Xander was home last Christmas and met Josh for the first time (Josh had previously hired him for a Denver Moon graphic novel cover). Josh explained his Hex Publishers art style and we described key images for each short story for which Xander illustrated. Working on a creative project with our son was a dream come true!
Jeanni: Xander has been drawing since he was old enough to pick up a pencil, and he always drew creatures. My refrigerator was covered with monsters, not cars or animals. He was home with us early in the pandemic so as we were busy editing the stories, Josh, Bret and I would give him ideas to work with. I really enjoyed watching him work and critiquing along the way. I think we worked well together.
Josh: I met AJ back at the first Denver Comic Con show. He stopped by my booth and asked for a critique of his portfolio (back then, I was the art director at Leviathan Games). A few years later, he exploded on the scene and now he’s a major part of Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone series (a World of Warcraft spinoff of sorts). Xander is Bret and Jeanni’s son. They introduced us and I was really impressed with Xander’s work and resumé. We’ve collaborated a couple of times and I sure hope there’s more of that to come. Aaron Lovett usually tackles most of Hex’s art projects. He’s done a bunch of covers and nearly all of the interior art in our previous catalog. When Multiplex started, Aaron was working on the video game Monster Train, so Xander and AJ stepped in. Thankfully Aaron was still able to contribute the flipbook graphic that’s at the top of each page in the printed edition.
Like so many other events during these times, COFOH is postponed until next year. With more time, what will you be working on over the next year and what can we expect at the fest in September 2021?
Bret: Our previously announced guests, writer Steve Niles, actress Brinke Stevens and actor Brian Bonsall have all reconfirmed for our 2021 event, with additional horror guests to be announced over the next year. Jeanni and I are gathering autographs for an exclusive edition of It Came From the Multiplex. This edition will have a slightly different cover and a bookplate autographed by many of the contributors including Paul Campion from New Zealand and Betty Rocksteady from Nova Scotia.
Jeanni: While we are saddened that COVID-19 has shut down so many events that we were looking forward to, including our own, it has also forced us to look at presenting horror content in new and innovative ways. Daniel Crosier, our delightful weirdo and creative evil genius, will be working hard to bring new online content to our fans throughout the year. Another year gives us time to fine tune our initial plans and make them even more engaging and immersive. Our guests can look forward to a horror-themed microbrew to premiere at the show, a special movie screening, interactive panels and horror art workshops. We want to provide a spooky ambience with a haunted set, cosplay, lots of photo ops and the creepiest vendor room ever seen. All the most horrifying goodness we can pack under one roof!
You’re currently focusing on expanding your online programming with a COFOH Presents and an online series of interviews, COFOH: Live & Undead, hosted by Denver artist Daniel Crosier for September. Tell us more about these two programs.
Jeanni: Daniel is now broadcasting on StreamYard with the help of Sumner Twins Talent, a COFOH sponsor. He is working with Jim Norris of Mutiny Information Café, Stephen “Wolfie” Santa Cruz and Amanda Armstrong to produce COFOH: Live & Undead, our series of live interviews with notable artists, writers, filmmakers, actors and others from the local and national horror scene. Daniel is also producing COFOH Presents, a series of workshops and panels relating to the horror genre. Upcoming examples include a panel on the 60th anniversary of Psycho with Theresa Mercado of Scream Screen and cinematographer Robert Muratore of 78/52, a documentary about the Psycho shower scene. This will debut on September 8th. Following that will be COFOH & Hex’s Undead Readings from It Came From the Multiplex on September 13th, featuring contributing authors reading excerpts from their short stories. Ever busy, Daniel is also working on a review show with Theresa, Stephen and Jim to highlight little known horror films, how they were made, the social issues of the time and where you can watch them. With no live events to attend this year, COFOH is nevertheless working hard to keep our community entertained and connected. Live broadcasts are on facebook.com/cofohorror and archived programming is on COFOH’s website cofohorror.com, under the “Community” tab, as well as on Youtube.
What is your most terrifying or haunting nightmare to date.
Bret: I have a nightmare about being tied to a branch of a huge tree with a spider web. A monstrous spider slowly comes crawling up the branch. The spider plunges its fangs into my heart to eat it, and I wake up, hyperventilating.
Jeanni: As a child, I had this nightmare where I was trying to run down my street to get home, away from a horrible black, cloudy storm that was overtaking me. No matter how hard I tried to move, I was struggling against something pulling me back. When I looked back to see what it was, a huge lit up cowboy was coming through the clouds. Years later, on a road trip with our boys, we went through Las Vegas. It was quite a jolt when I realized that the cowboy of my childish phantasm was actually a huge neon sign on the old part of the Strip. I must have seen it on a road trip with my own parents at a very tender age!
Josh: Trump winning this November.
You get to hang out with your favorite horror character on their day off from reigning terror. Who is your friend for the day and what do you do together?
Bret: It would be the best day ever to hang out with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to make the new films Abbott and Costello Meet H. R. Giger’s Alien, Abbott and Costello versus Jason, Freddy and Michael and Abbott and Costello Meet Edward Scissorhands & Frankenweenie.
Jeanni: I would love to go flying in a coffin-sleigh with Jack Skellington and Zero, dropping creepy things down people’s chimneys!
Josh: Pumpkinhead and I hunting down teenagers and delivering some good old-fashioned demonic vengeance!
Hex Publishers is an independent publishing house proudly specializing in genre fiction: horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. Founded by writers, Hex values both the author and the reader, with an emphasis on quality, diversity, and voices often overlooked by the mainstream.
Bret Smith is the co-founder of Colorado Festival of Horror and a 34-year retired IBM program manager. During his last 15 years with IBM, he managed a multi-million dollar portfolio of contracts with the USDA Forest Service, providing hardware, software and services to support this organization throughout the United States.
Bret is a life-long Star Trek fan, attending his first convention in Phoenix in 1983! Since then his interests have expanded into all science fiction, sci-fi horror, comics, novels, toys and television/film. His love of horror began with seeing his favorite movie “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and expanding to the “Alien”. “Predator” and “Terminator” franchises!
Bret has attended over 100 conventions including a 12-year-run at San Diego Comic-Con. He has knowledge of Creation Entertainment, Starland, Reed Pop, Comic-Con International, Shore Leave, Mile High Horror Film Festival, Stanley Film Festival and Texas Frightmare Weekend. Since retirement, he has volunteered at numerous conventions, learning the behind-the-scenes activities required to put on a successful convention. For example, set-up and celebrity management at the Colorado Horror Con, celebrity driver for Cheyenne Comic Con, celebrity handler for Creation and site ops for both the Denver Independent Comic & Art Expo (DINK) and Starfest/Comicfest.
Jeanni has been attending pop culture conventions across the country for the last 35 years with her husband Bret. She has been a Site Ops volunteer for DiNK since its inception, was a celebrity handler at Rocky Mountain Con and worked in Merchandise sales at Starfest.
Moths swarm the hot-pink neon of the Meteor Drive-In marquee as Carl Cramer pedals past. The long driveway leads steeply downhill, and Carl lets the bike pick up speed, the rush of July air cooling his sweaty face. He brakes as the hill levels out and stops at the ticket booth. He pulls a five from the pocket of his no-name jeans and hands it to Scar-y Joe. Not scary, though most wouldn’t hesitate to use that word to describe Joe. It’s scar-y, as in burns all over his face.
Joe hands back three singles. “It’s a good one tonight,” he says. “A classic.”
Carl pockets his change. “Is it true about the director?”
Joe nods. His head is a splotchy patchwork of hair and scar tissue. Some say he was in a fiery car crash. Others say it happened in Vietnam. Nobody seems to know which. “Directed by Jasper Ried,” he says. “Born and raised right here in Janesburg, Nebraska.”
“Did you know him?”
“I did. Best of friends for a time.”
A car horn makes Carl jump. A Ford pickup has pulled in behind him, headlights blinding him. “Hurry up, Cramer,” shouts a male voice.
Carl raises a middle finger and mouths a silent fuck you. It’s not the smartest move, but at the moment, he doesn’t care how hard that two-hundred-and-seventy-pound asshole can punch. The sooner Andy leaves town to play O-line for the Huskers, the better.
He’s somewhat surprised and more than a little relieved to see the truck’s door stay closed. Carl shades his eyes, but the headlights are too bright to gauge Andy’s reaction.
Scar-y Joe, though, he thinks this is hilarious. His laugh is more of a cackle, his shoulders bouncing up and down with each snicker.
The truck lunges forward, and a startled Carl releases his ten-speed and jumps aside, though he knows immediately it’s a feint. The Ford has moved only a foot forward, and Carl hears laughter from inside.
Feeling the flush in his cheeks, Carl snatches his bike and pedals through the gate into the flat-bottomed crater where the Meteor Drive-in resides. It was a big attraction thirty years ago, just like the Meteor Mini Putt, the Meteor Motel, and the Crater Slide. That was before I-80 was built. Before all the cross-country traffic was drawn away from town.
Only the drive-in still operates — in July and August — and based on the weed-chewed pavement, Carl isn’t sure it will survive to see ’87. He steers clear of potholes and broken glass until he finds space number fifty-three, the one with the ratty folding chair propped against the post. He drops the kickstand, positions the chair next to his bike, and grabs the speaker from its post to hang it from the Schwinn’s crossbar.
Headlights approach, and he prays it’s not who he thinks it is. But of course, it’s Andy’s growling Ford. The truck backs into space fifty-four to share the same speaker pole. Andy gets out of the truck, and from the opposite side comes fellow offensive lineman Wade Spratt. A third person slides out from the middle seat: Becca Cline. She wears a tight pair of Jordaches, a green tee, and Andy’s well-worn Nebraska cap.
She reaches back into the cab to grab a six-pack of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. She smiles at Carl, “Want one?”
Carl shakes his head.
“Are you sure? They’re Body Shot Lime flavor.”
Again, he declines.
The three of them climb up into the bed of the truck and sit facing the screen, backs against the cab. He should be glad she’s here. Her presence will have a dampening effect on Andy and Wade’s worst testosterone-jacked impulses. But seeing her wearing Andy’s cap still stings. Carl knows how stupid it is to feel that way. Despite being in the same classes all of their lives, Becca has never once showed the least bit of interest in him, but that hasn’t stopped him from imagining what could be if he wasn’t so … weird.
He doesn’t like that word, especially when applying it to himself. But he can’t escape it. Might as well have it tattooed on his forehead, if it weren’t already so painfully obvious from the mom-cut hair and the generic swoosh-free sneakers. He long since realized he couldn’t change the way he was, and he learned to accept it. What he can’t understand is why his classmates can’t accept it too. Why can’t they just leave him be? Is it really so strange that a person doesn’t like baseball or basketball or any other kind of ball? So what if he prefers to play Dungeons & Dragons all by himself? Why does anybody care if all of his notebooks are filled with sketches of swords and war hammers and labyrinthine dungeon plans?
About the only normal thing he does is watch movies, though he knows his tastes run toward the, well, weird. The VCR he bought with his own money is his most prized possession, and the after-school job he works at Janesburg Videos gives him access to thousands of films. His favorites are the videotapes that don’t come in perfectly produced boxes. He likes the ones that show up in their original Memorex or Maxell sleeves and are only identifiable by crooked or peeling stickers on the black plastic spines. Ones with titles like Swamp Tramp of the Underworld and Fanged Hamster Slumber Party.
That is what makes tonight’s feature so special. The movie never made it to TV or VHS or any other format beyond its initial release in the late 60s. Viewings are so rare many around town insist the movie never really existed.
The projector fires up to bathe the screen in bright white light. Several of the screen’s panels are missing, and those that remain are warped badly enough to create a visible crosshatch of seams. Hundreds of moths dart and dance in the projector’s beam, casting dancing black dots on the blank screen.
Carl sits forward as the first shot appears. It’s a crow sitting on a fence, a cornfield in the background. He thinks he recognizes the grain silo as the same one five miles north. The crow caws, and the movie’s title appears in big purple letters: Alien Parasites from Outer Space. Carl smiles and claps until he realizes he is the only one applauding. A Budweiser bottle cap lands near his feet. “Keep it down, Cramer.”
Carl hears a banging sound and turns to see that Scar-y Joe has moved from the ticket booth to opening the concession window. Carl double-times for it before a line forms. If he’s fast, he can be back before the opening credits finish.
By the time Carl arrives, Scar-y Joe has already filled a double-meteor-sized cup with root beer. He tops the soda with a plastic lid and hands over a king-size box of Junior Mints. Carl notices the Walkman headphones sitting askew on Scar-y Joe’s nubby ears but has no interest in asking what he’s listening to. Other than movie scores, music holds little interest to Carl. He pays up, then nabs a straw and a long plastic spoon before spinning back around to face the screen.
The credits are over, and a pair of teenagers are walking through a cornfield. Carl hustles back to his spot and drops into his chair. The girl is wearing a poodle skirt, and the boy reminds Carl of the Fonz. They’re carrying a blanket and speaking in hushed tones about finding a quiet, secluded place near the creek.
The scene makes a sudden cut. The background is now black but dotted with pinpricks of light. A starfield. The camera pans left to land on a planet the color of Welch’s Grape Juice. Another planet swings into view, and the two orbs collide like those Clackers toys. The view cuts to an explosion. A slo-mo spray of rocks, dirt, and sparks hurls toward the lens. Next, the camera focuses on one particular flying rock that dangles from a barely visible wire.
Andy is laughing now. “Holy shit, that is so fake!”
Carl resists the urge to shush. The movie cuts to show Earth. Then the rock. The music picks up pace as the view switches back to Earth. Then the rock. Earth. Rock.
Back to the teens in the cornfield. They look up at the sky, and the movie freezes on terrified faces for several seconds before the film becomes overexposed, the colors saturating into a blur. The speaker hanging on Carl’s ten-speed spits and crackles over the sound of a bomb going off.
Carl is nodding his head. This movie kicks ass! As is his routine, he sucks his straw until he’s downed a third of his root beer and pulls the lid open. He sets the open cup on the ground before grabbing the box of Junior Mints in both fists so he can strangle the life out of it. He likes his mints mushy. He wrings the box a few more times, then opens it and uses the spoon to scoop the melty mash into his root beer.
A moth bumps his forehead, and he swipes it away before digging the spoon into his cup. He fishes out a minty mass and gleefully gobbles it down.
The movie is starting to drag now. It’s ten years later, and the town has rebuilt. Two high school seniors — Stan and Sam — hog the screen time. Stan’s parents are going out of town, and the boys scheme to throw the biggest, baddest party in the history of parties. Typical high school fare.
A scream startles Carl, but it doesn’t come from the speaker. “Fuckin’ moths,” says Becca. “It flew in my ear.”
Andy and Wade laugh, and another bottle cap arcs from the truck.
On the screen, Stan is handing out invites to the party. He goes into the library and pins one to the bulletin board. He hears a sound. Spooky music starts as Stan creeps between the bookshelves. He rounds a corner, and his eyes go wide with shock. The librarian is there, looking how a movie librarian should look. Glasses. Pinned-up hair. Black ankle-length skirt. Except this librarian is completely topless. “Oh, Stan, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you come in,” she says with a flirty batting of the eyes.
“Woohoo! Now we’re talking!” shouts Andy. “Why aren’t you clapping, Cramer?”
This kind of random encounter happens in a lot of the movies Carl watches. He’s never been a fan of such scenes. Stuff like that just doesn’t seem as realistic as the rest of it.
Carl bobs for more mints, and more bottle caps bounce on the pavement until the movie finally advances to party night. Stan’s farmhouse sits dramatically on the edge of the crater. Carl recognizes the two-story wooden farmhouse as belonging to the Fullers. It was one of the many places his mother used to clean before her back got too bad.
Stan and Sam are in the kitchen spiking a bowl of punch. It’s not the same kitchen Carl’s mother used to scrub. Based on the stucco walls and Spanish tile, the interior shots were done somewhere in southern California. That doesn’t bother Carl at all. He knows a movie as great as this one can’t be judged by such details. Something serious bubbles under the surface of the story. Something in the subtext. He knows it’s there, though he can’t quite put his finger on it.
“How’s the summer treating you, Carl?”
Carl is slow to notice the voice. When he pulls his eyes from the screen, Becca Cline is standing right next to him, a box of popcorn in her hand. He didn’t even notice her going to the concession window.
“It’s a hot one,” he says.
She tilts her head. “Hot one?”
“The summer. You asked about the summer.”
“I asked about you,” she says. “Still working at the video store?”
He nods. He can’t remember the last time she’s talked to him. “I work in the back most days, but if you ask for me, I can find the best movies for you. Ever seen Trout Rodeo? It’s a good one.”
Before she can respond, Wade shouts, “Show us your tits!” at the newest brunette on screen. Andy laughs hysterically. The shouts of keep it down accompanied by irritated honking only makes him laugh harder and louder.
Becca shakes her head. “Classy, aren’t they?”
Carl figures silence is enough of an answer.
Becca takes off Andy’s cap, curls the bill, and shoves it in the back pocket of her Jordaches. “Some days, I really have to wonder what I’m doing. Hey, you’re friendly with Scar-y Joe, aren’t you?”
Carl shrugs his shoulders.
“I mean you come here every week, right? You probably know him better than anybody.”
“Maybe,” admits Carl.
“Did you see his headphones?”
“They’re not plugged into anything. The cord is just dangling.”
“Isn’t that weird? I was curious to see what he was listening to but I didn’t see his Walkman. The cord runs to nowhere.”
Carl swats at another moth. “I guess that is strange.”
“Ever notice how nobody ever talks about him? My parents, they’ll talk about what a shame it is he turned out like he did, but they never say what actually happened.”
“Maybe they don’t know.”
She rolls her eyes. “Please. You can’t fart behind a tree without everybody in town knowing about it. Anyway, good talking to you.”
“Same here,” he says, though what he wishes he could say is, “Don’t leave.”
Using the back tire as a step-stool, she climbs into the truck.
Carl’s eyes turn to the screen. The party is in full swing now. A reverbed guitar blares through the speakers, and the camera zooms in and out before turning upside down — the director’s way of saying, Rockin’ party.
The view cuts to a girl, topless, of course, and in bed with Sam. Her name is Mimi, and she and Sam pass a joint back and forth while saying things like groovy and far out. Suddenly annoyed, Mimi jams a finger in her ear. A concerned Sam asks what’s the matter, and she whines that it itches.
The camera zooms way in, so close all you can see is finger and ear and hair. A vaudevillian sound effect whistles through the speaker, and the view zooms back out. “It’s better now,” she says in a dull monotone.
Somebody knocks on the door, and she answers it, naked.
It’s another girl, a cheerleader who has shown up in several of the previous scenes. Mimi stabs her in the chest, and the cheerleader collapses.
“No way!” shouts Andy. “You saw her, she didn’t have a knife a second ago.”
Carl tunes Andy out. He’s starting to understand what’s going on. The teens in this movie, it’s like some of them are possessed. Not in control of themselves. The alien parasites that rode that meteor to Earth must enter through the ear. That itching sensation is them breaking through and latching onto the brain.
One of the kids goes Van Gogh and slices off an ear. Another boy fires up a John Deere and runs over a pair of lovers. This movie is so awesome!
Still, the party continues. Andy grumbles about how Sam and Stan seem oblivious to what’s going on. “He watched his girlfriend kill the cheerleader, and he’s acting like nothing happened,” he says. True to form, Sam keeps cranking the Hi-Fi and adding more spike to the punch.
The scene cuts to town. The sheriff is at his desk, and the phone rings. He’s an actor, of course, but the police station is the real one on the corner of Walnut and Shade. The sheriff picks up and gets an earful from a panicked teen, but Carl doesn’t hear a word of it. His jaw is dropped and his root beer is in danger of slipping through his fingers.
In the background is a maid. She empties a trash can and rests a hand on her belly.
“Isn’t that your mom, Cramer?” calls Andy.
It is, and inside the rounded belly is Carl himself. He can’t speak as a cold chill falls over him. This isn’t a coincidence. He knows it down in his core. Jasper Reid, the director, did this on purpose. He knew Carl would be watching one day.
The message is unmistakable. Incontrovertible.
That is his mom. That is him in her belly.
On screen, more murders plague the house party. The beheading by scythe would be Carl’s favorite, but he’s not paying attention. Instead, he sips absently at his fizzy, mint-chocolatey root beer, and scans the area. He sees dozens of cars and trucks. He sees Scar-y Joe refilling the popcorn popper.
It’s too dark to see the crater walls, but he can see where their black shadows meet the stars above, and he shivers. All might look normal, but he knows the parasites are here. Right here in this very crater. Their home world was destroyed, and a piece of it slammed into Earth and is still buried somewhere under Carl’s chair.
A pink projectile lands by his feet. He jumps from his seat before realizing it’s a piece of paper folded into a tight wad. He picks it up and unfolds the note.
Meet me in the bathroom in ten minutes. Something weird is going on. –B
He looks at her and mouths why me?
She rolls her eyes and jerks a thumb at Andy, who is trying to open a Bud bottle with his eye socket. All he succeeds at is opening the skin over his eyelid.
He nods. Okay, ten minutes.
Turning back to the screen, Carl decides he better start paying attention or he might miss the message the moviemaker is trying to convey to him. He wonders for a moment if he might be crazy, but immediately dismisses it. If the Beatles sent messages to Charlie Manson on The White Album, then why can’t Jasper Reid be sending messages to Carl?
Another girl on the screen scratches at her ear before the whistle lets us know she’s been taken. The scene cuts to a drunk Stan, but the sound of a chainsaw sobers him. He’s in a tool shed, and the buzz of the chainsaw is coming from somewhere outside. He slips under a bench as the shed door slides open. From his hiding place, he sees long legs and white go-go boots.
“What the fuck?” asks Andy. “That girl was wearing overalls a minute ago.”
Idiot. Ever occur to him that the farm girl might have go-go boots under her overalls? Clearly, Andy isn’t sophisticated enough to appreciate the art of a movie like this one.
The chainsaw is visible, smoke drifting from its orange casing. Stan is shaking. He covers his mouth to keep from screaming. The go-go boots clop softly on the wood floor, little puffs of dust kicking up with each footfall. A gas can sits on the floor, and she tips it over. Gasoline puddles across the floor.
“Convenient that the can wasn’t capped,” says Wade.
Go-go chainsaw girl exits the shed and tosses a match before locking the door.
The shed goes up quick, and Carl is riveted to find out how Stan will escape this one. Except he doesn’t escape. Not until the shed collapses. Only then does a figure run free, his entire body engulfed in flame.
Carl looks at the concession stand. Scar-y Joe is there, but he’s covering his eyes so he can’t see the screen. Is that how it happened, Joe? Or should I say Stan?
From the truck, Becca Cline is staring at him, her eyebrows raised as if to say, Are we meeting or what?
Carl walks to the restroom, pushes open the door labeled Girls in Magic Marker. “Anybody in here?” he calls to make sure it’s vacant.
He goes to the sink and opens the tap. He fills cupped hands with water and splashes his face. Becca Cline will be here any second, and he needs to be ready.
He can’t believe she wants to talk to him. Of all people, she chose him. His heart should be soaring right now. Finally, after all these years, she can see Andy for the shallow, self-centered jerk he is. Her alarm bells are going off, and in this time of need, she is spurning the big, bad football player to run into the arms of the weird kid.
But Carl knows deep down it’s all a ruse. A setup. He’s too weird for someone like her. It’s the way things are, and it’s never going to change.
He hurries into one of the stalls and lifts the heavy porcelain lid from the toilet’s tank. Hugging the weighty ceramic slab, he posts himself alongside the bathroom door. His heart is chugging like a runaway train, and he’s sucking air like he’s just pedaled up the crater wall.
The door cracks open. “Carl, are you in here?”
His voice cracks, but he manages an affirmative.
She pushes her way into the bathroom. Carl steps behind her. Her hair is pulled into a ponytail, and Andy’s cap sticks out from her back pocket.
He wishes he didn’t have to do this, but he knows it has to be done. Alien parasites are serious business. Carl swings the porcelain lid as hard as he can. It thuds into her skull, and she drops. Her eyes are still open, but they’re lost. Swimming.
“Sorry, Becca,” he says. “I know you’re one of them.”
Blood pools on the floor. Becca’s mouth opens and closes soundlessly. Carl can’t tell if she understands what’s happening to her.
Headlights peak through the cracked door, and Carl throws his body against it. The movie is over, and cars are leaving. Somebody might decide to stop at the restroom before departing.
He watches Becca as he presses against the door. She’s trying but failing to sit up. He knows he has to finish the job, but he’s afraid to leave the door. He’s proven right when he feels somebody pushing from the other side. “Out of order!” he shouts.
How long does he have before Andy and Wade come looking?
He stays where he is. Becca is bleeding badly, and all he wants to do is hold her, tell her it will be okay.
It’s not too late to race to a phone and call for help. But he doesn’t move. She’s been taken. She lured Carl in here so she could kill him. There’s no telling how many people she would’ve murdered next. Though nobody will ever know it, he knows he’s a hero. He lets this fact buoy his spirit.
He hears voices outside. It’s Andy and Wade, and they’re talking to somebody right outside the door. The third person tells them Becca left. He says she told him to tell them her Dad came to pick her up.
Becca is lying flat now, her eyelids fluttering.
A knock sounds behind him. “They’re gone,” says Joe. “You can open up.”
Carl pulls open the door, and Scar-y Joe waits with an icepick in hand. Painted by red neon from the concession stand, his scars look fresh.
“It went in her ear,” says Carl. “She thought it was a moth. It took control of her before she asked me to meet her here.”
Joe adjusts his disconnected headphones. “That’s why I wear protection. Which ear did it go in?”
He drops on her quickly and stabs the icepick into her right ear. He jerks the handle around like it’s a gearshift before doing the other ear. “Fuckin’ parasites. They come out every ten years.”
A tear comes to Carl’s eye as the last of her life drains onto the linoleum.
“You get on home now,” says Joe. “I can take it from here.”
Carl nabs Andy’s cap. He’s not sure why.
“You done good, kid,” says Joe. “See you next week?”
“What’s next week?”
Joe washes the blade in the sink before going to the closet to roll out a mop bucket. “The sequel.”
Warren’s latest novel, Tides of Maritinia, released in December of 2014. His first book independent of the KOP series, Tides is a spy novel set in a science fictional world. Along with his critique partners, Warren co-hosts the popular CriTiki Party podcast.