StokerCon 2021: Colorado’s Annual Horror Lit Fest
An Interview with John Palisano and Joshua Viola
By Krysti Joméi
Art by Aaron Lovett
Read an exclusive sneak peek of the The Denver Phantom Edition — “Collateral Damage” by Angie Hodapp — below the interview.
Horror Writers Association president John Palisano and StokerCon 2021 souvenir anthology editor & producer Joshua Viola talk about what to expect at this year’s fest, the significance of horror in art, and Denver’s infamous blue demon horse, Blucifer.
StokerCon is an annual horror literature event hosted by the Horror Writers Association (HWA) where writers and creatives, including filmmakers, are awarded the prestigious Bram Stoker Awards®. Each attendee receives a souvenir book, which highlights the event’s guests of honor, award-winners and programming. Denver was supposed to host StokerCon 2021, but COVID-19 forced moderators to go digital. However, the HWA asked Colorado’s Hex Publishers to create a souvenir book for attendees that highlights all of the usual event items. But editor Joshua Viola took the project a step further and gave it the Mile High treatment with original short fiction by local writers telling stories about Denver’s wicked blue mustang, Blucifer.
StokerCon 2021: The Phantom Denver Edition
You’re about to discover a state of horror and suspense, where ancient evils lurk in the Rocky Mountains and a classic novel inspired by a certain Colorado hotel continues to scare and thrill. Where the towering statue of a cobalt blue mustang with demonic red eyes rears back and dares you to cross its path. Its name is Blucifer, and it demands a sacrifice.
What secrets does it guard? What omen does it portend? What dark stories does it inspire?
This souvenir book delves into the mystery, offering original tales and poetry about the sinister statue written by some of the best horror talent in the state. You’ll also find essays and anecdotes offering introductions to Colorado’s horror community and insight into the writing and publishing process. Dive deeper into these dark pages and discover author interviews, Lifetime Achievement Award winners, the 2020 Bram Stoker Awards® Final Ballot, and, of course, our Guests of Honor, whose names have been scrawled in blood: Maurice Broaddus • Joe R. Lansdale • Seanan McGuire • Silvia Moreno-Garcia • Lisa Morton • Steve Rasnic Tem • With Contributions by: Mario Acevedo • Meghan Arcuri • Carina Bissett • Michele Brittany • James Chambers • JoAnn Chaney • Denver Horror Collective • Nicholas Diak • Hillary Dodge • Kirk DouPonce • Sean Eads • Alec Ferrell • Warren Hammond • Travis Heermann • Jason Heller • Angie Hodapp • Stephen Graham Jones • Sam Knight • Jonathan Lees • Aaron Lovett • Jonathan Maberry • Brian W. Matthews • John Palisano • Bret Smith • Jeanni Smith • Jeanne C. Stein • Becky Spratford • Molly Tanzer • Joshua Viola • John Wenzel • Jeamus Wilkes • Carter Wilson • Dean Wyant • Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Tell us more about the Horror Writers Association and how you all created this con in the first place?
John Palisano: The HWA was formed in the late 1980s with the help of many of the field’s greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe R. Lansdale. Today there are over 1,500 members in countries worldwide. StokerCon is really the brainchild of former HWA President Rocky Wood, bless his soul. Shortly before he passed, he dreamt that the HWA would have its own annual convention. It finally came to be under the leadership of Lisa Morton. I’m proud to carry the torch onward.
Any highlights or teasers you can give us for this year’s con?
John: We’re using a great new platform to host the event called HOPIN. It has the requisite video meeting areas where we will hold our main events and panels, but there are also many other gathering areas for attendees, such as several virtual bars. I’m betting those will be very popular. During one of our tests, we kept having to track people down and kept finding them hanging out in the bar … just like in real life!
Josh Viola: There’s also the StokerCon 2021 souvenir book! It’s 380 pages of horror fun … and it’s FREE (if you register for the event). From the HWA events, Bram Stoker Awards to Blucifer tales, poetry, essays and more. It’s also loaded with art, including a flipbook which sees Blucifer galloping through the Rocky Mountains at the top of each page. Aaron Lovett, who painted the cover, did most of the interior art, but there’s also a few of my pieces and work by other locals, such as AJ Nazzaro and Kirk DouPonce.
What’s the significance of StokerCon for Colorado creatives and horror fans alike?
John: For me personally, Denver and its surroundings has a great deal of family. We spend a lot of time there each year, so it’s a kind of homecoming for me in that regard. Colorado has one of the greatest literary cultures in the United States. It is such a vibrant, passionate community filled with so much talent. That’s not limited to writers. Some of the top agents and artists to the genre also call Colorado home. Celebrating that aspect is going to be extremely inspiring. Here’s another bit of good news: we are celebrating Colorado virtually for this year’s convention. That means we are also going to be returning in person to hold a second StokerCon in person at the Curtis Hotel in Denver in 2022! So … two years of Colorado!
Josh: I’ll second that. We have so much horror talent here. It’s really unbelievable. Even Stephen King has made his love for Colorado known. Many are obviously aware of Colorado’s influence on his work in books such as The Stand and The Shining, but most don’t realize he was inspired by an experience in Boulder that gave him the idea for IT.
Tell us more about your location for StokerCon 2022: The Curtis Hotel, and its haunts, particularly the 13th Floor.
John: The Curtis is a very unique hotel. There’s going to be plenty of room to spread out during next year’s StokerCon. As far as being haunted? It seems Denver has a very high number of supernatural happenings in its hotels. Let’s not even talk about that famous one, way out yonder! Because that’s not the only place inhabited. I’m sure some of our ghost hunting aficionado members will be taking their tools with them in search of evidence. Especially on the horror-themed 13th floor.
Josh, you were in charge of producing and creating StokerCon’s 2021 souvenir anthology: The Phantom Denver Edition. How did you come up with the concept of this book?
Josh: I’ve put together a couple of Colorado-themed anthologies in the past. The first was Georgetown Haunts and Mysteries for the Georgetown Writers Retreat. Then It Came from the Multiplex: 80s Midnight Chillers for the Colorado Festival of Horror. So I have a little experience in that department. When John asked me to do the StokerCon book, I was shocked and honored … and terrified. It’s not every day you’re asked to contribute to an organization your literary hero (Stephen King) is a member of. So, I thought long and hard about what would make the book authentically Colorado. I could have chosen the Stanley Hotel, the brooding Rocky Mountains, one of the many ghost towns, a Native American legend, or any number of things that could create a horrifying Colorado storytelling experience. But I chose Blucifer. After all, if you’re going to ride into the apocalyptic sunset of 2020, what better way to do it than saddling up on a monstrous blue steed?
What kind of stories can we expect in the anthology?
Josh: The stories all have some hint of Blucifer and/or Denver International Airport. Some are straight horror, but we have a few tales that dip into other genres as well, including cyberpunk/science fiction, adventure and absurdism. They’re all unique. Even though Blucifer is the common thread, they’re all vastly different.
Aaron Lovett crushes the art throughout The Phantom Denver Edition. How did you work with him and your writers to execute your vision for the book?
Josh: Aaron really did crush it. I think the book showcases some of his best work, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. Far from it. He was under pressure for a number of other deadlines, so completing the project was a challenge for him, but as always, he delivered. After writers delivered their work, I worked with him to take segments from the stories and watched him bring them to life. In short, each story is accompanied by art inspired by the tale. Aaron even put himself into the piece for Jonathan Maberry’s poem, “They Pass by the Horse.” It shows Blucifer casting an eerie gaze down at the puny humans below, with a sort of mystical energy that entraps them. Aaron illustrated himself screaming up at the horse and later told me that represents what the project was like for him. He said that with a smile, of course.
How is horror misunderstood in art/culture/society? Why is it an important genre?
John: Most people tend to see horror art through the lens of 80s slasher films such as Friday the 13th. That’s only one aspect. Horror and dark arts can be very reflective of the world at large. Thinking about what scares us can really help with processing the real life horrors we’re all facing. It has done so since … well … the beginning of storytelling! Many fans of horror love it because it can be so therapeutic and brave.
Josh: Great question. And I’m going to answer it with a quote from my introduction in the souvenir book:
Work on this anthology began as the world descended into several well- worn horror tropes. On television, we saw hallways filled with dying patients who swamped the ICU capacities of many hospitals. We saw refrigerated trucks lining up to store corpses from overflowing morgues. Loved ones died in isolation, their last words gasped out over Skype. In places like China and Iran, we saw satellite evidence of unceremonious mass graves dug by governments who refused to acknowledge the dead. In the United States, simple scientific and medical principles became political weapons, grist for the mill of old cultural grudges. Those of us who write always knew that successful dystopian fiction requires the hard work of detailed world building. We didn’t realize a dystopian reality just means watching the world around us fall apart and pondering what, if anything, can be done about it.
Which brings us to a philosophical point. Does horror fiction maintain its vitality during dark times? Who desires the great god Pan in the face of a pandemic? Do despair and disease blunt the appetite for ghosts and vampires? Or is there something about the genre’s roots that thrive even when the soil is over-fertilized by the nightly news? Vexed by scientific terror, isn’t there an escape hatch to be found in stories about the supernatural? Strange times call for stranger stories, stranger situations, stranger gods.
This certainly is my hope and belief. Horror writers try to imagine dreadful possibilities and weave them into gripping tales. A terrible year may make horror fiction unpalatable for a while, but I believe even dark realities afford unique opportunities to study the human condition, to examine the nature of terror, grace, doubt, and faith. As a result, stories strengthen, psychological insight deepens, and the writer matures.
Beautifully put. Alright, now some fun: Favorite horror character?
John: Ripley from the Alien movies. Without a doubt. When I first saw Alien as a child, I thought she looked a bit like my mom, which was really cool to think about. Of course, my mom wasn’t battling Xenomorphs on space ships. But she sure could have!
Josh: That’s a tough one for me. I’d have to agree with John. Ripley is a badass and one of my favorite characters across all genres.
Favorite horror movie?
John: Again, I’m citing Alien. It had a huge and profound effect on me. Some may think it’s a science fiction film, and it is that, too. Which is another reason I love it. The story is like a gothic mystery in outer space. It works on so many deep levels.
Josh: My top three are Aliens, Pumpkinhead and The Terminator (yes, I consider the first Terminator horror — a sci-fi slasher).
Have either of you ever had a haunted or spooky experience that goes beyond logical explanation?
John: I was a cameraman on a ghost hunting film called Investigating the Afterlife. We travelled across America in search of real ghost phenomena. I’ve always counted myself as kind of the Scully to the Mulders in our group. I just wasn’t buying it. But we went to this one place in Ohio … an abandoned house. I experienced a presence there in the attic. It did NOT film. I was looking through the lens and saw it with my eyes but not on tape! It approached me and was gone. I’ve tried to rationalize it countless times, but cannot think of a way to explain it. That’s the closest I’ve come to experiencing something truly supernatural.
Josh: I think the spookiest experience I’ve had that goes beyond logical explanation was 2020.
How can writers and creatives get involved with the Horror Writers Association?
John: The best place is to start at our website, horror.org. Most everything is there to read and investigate. We also have a very popular Facebook anyone can join to get a feel for the organization. Our QUICK BITES newsletter is free and gives a monthly rundown, too. Anyone can sign up on our home page!
Check out more horror, sci-fi, crime, and dark fantasy books and comics from CO’s independent Hex Publishers at hexpublishers.com
Now for an exclusive sneak peek of the The Denver Phantom Edition — “Collateral Damage” by Angie Hodapp.
Excerpt from StokerCon’s 2021: The Denver Phantom Edition
By Angie Hodapp
Art by Aaron Lovett
Marcy hates her new boss. His name is Blake, and he’s as douchey as his name. For one thing, he’s wearing loafers with a sapphire-blue suit and carrying a shiny blue motorcycle helmet to match. Who rides a motorcycle dressed like that? And another thing: Didn’t Van Dykes go out in the nineties?
So far, Blake has told Marcy how to alert airport security if she sees any suspicious behavior. How to ring up customers. Which key unlocks the kiosk’s drawers and which unlocks the cash box. That failing to restock at the end of every shift—especially the refrigerator magnets and shot glasses because they’re his bestsellers—is a fireable offense. How to spin the red plastic clock hands on the cardboard Be Back Soon sign when she has to use the restroom. That restroom breaks longer than five minutes are also a fireable offense.
“And don’t steal,” he tells her.
“Also a fireable offense,” she says with a crisp nod.
He narrows his eyes like he can’t decide if she’s mocking him. She is, but don’t steal was a direct hit, a reminder that she’s lucky to have this job, lucky to have a probation officer who knows people who know people. It’s not easy to score an honest paycheck when you have a record.
Marcy smiles, and Blake’s gaze falls to her chest. “It’s basically a job any moron could do,” he tells her breasts. “I own eight kiosks in this airport, so I’m usually around, but if you have questions, ask Trey.” He jerks his head at the next kiosk over, which is called Colorado Dew and sells locally made skin-care products.
Trey is enthusiastically pumping lotion from a bottle marked “sample” into the open palms of three gray-haired women in beige orthopedic shoes and elastic-waisted jeans. They ooh and ahh as they smell their hands and rub the lotion into their wrinkled skin.
“That dude could sell meth to a Mormon.” Blake hands her the keys, which are on a red plastic coil she’s supposed to wear around her wrist.
Selling meth to Mormons isn’t any harder than selling hand lotion in Colorado. Stupid analogy. Stupid Blake. What’ll be harder is selling this shit: Colorado- and Denver-themed keychains and travel mugs, bottle openers and coasters, beer koozies and cheap teddy bears wearing Broncos, Nuggets, and Avalanche tees. All mass produced in China and marked up probably like eight-hundred percent.
When Blake leaves, Marcy perches on her stool and looks over at Trey, who is now upselling the old ladies on little pots of lip balm. He’s so into it. Casual laughter, leaning in, intense eye contact. It’s all an act, Marcy knows. Everyone is always acting. Some people are just better at it than others.
Another woman stops at Colorado Dew. She has a kid with her, a boy who’s maybe six. Both have white-blond curls and freckled noses. The woman picks up a bottle of something, which she sniffs before turning over to read the label.
Marcy glances at the kid.
The kid is staring at her.
She blinks. She’s never liked kids. They smell weird, they’re loud, and they chew with their mouths open. They have other bad manners, too. Like staring.
Then she realizes maybe he isn’t staring at her. Maybe he’s staring at all the shiny things hanging on her kiosk. The mom is occupied (Trey is showing her how to dab something under her eyes) so Marcy grabs a keychain off a peg. It’s a blue-enameled horse rearing up on its hind legs, glittery red crystals for eyes—a miniature version of Blucifer, the massive statue just outside the airport.
She dangles the keychain in front of the kid. “Check this out. Want to buy it?”
The kid flips her off.
She returns the gesture, which earns her a sharp, disapproving look from a business man hurrying by.
The kid gives her a gap-toothed grin and steps closer. “I’m going on an airplane to Omaha.”
Marcy dangles the keychain again. “Two bucks. You want it or not?” She has no idea how much Blake charges for the Blucifer keychains, but it seems reasonable that a six-year-old might have a couple ones in his pocket. Why not try to get what she can?
“I don’t have that much money.”
“How much money do you have?”
He pulls three quarters from his pocket, holds them out on a fat little hand.
“Sold,” she says.
He hands her the coins, and she hands him the Blucifer.
“Timothy!” The woman rushes over. She grabs his arm and glares at Marcy. “What’s going on here?”
“He bought a keychain.”
“With my own money,” he says.
“You don’t have any money,” the woman snaps. To Marcy, she says, “Give it back.”
This woman is rude. Marcy seethes. She hates rude people.
She shrugs and hands the kid two quarters. He doesn’t notice he’s been shorted because he’s busy working up a squall. He grips the Blucifer in his fist, anger-panting at his mother, his face going red. His mother stares at him in horror, calculating whether the magnitude of the tantrum he’s about to throw will fall within the scope of her current ability to manage.
Marcy smiles at the woman. “You know what? He can just have it.”
The kid’s panting slows. The woman’s shoulders sag. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Hey, Timmy, enjoy your Blucifer. Have fun in Omaha.”
The woman drags the kid toward their gate. The little shit doesn’t even turn around to say thank you.
Trey saunters over to Marcy. “I had that lady on the hook for the Colorado Dew Eye-Brightening Serum. Twenty-four bucks per two-ounce bottle.”
His teeth are straight and white. He’s wearing a mint-green button-down embroidered with the Colorado Dew logo and khaki slacks. His high-and-tight is pomaded to perfection.
She flips him the quarter. “I’ll have to owe you the rest.”
“You lifted this off that kid, didn’t you? You bitch!”
Marcy’s hackles rise. She doesn’t like the b-word, never has, but when Trey laughs, she realizes he was saying it in a conspiring way, like they’re buddies. Like they’re both in on the joke.
“Get it where you can,” she says.
“Girl, absolutely. People are a goddamn mess who deserve what happens to them.”
Marcy’s pulse hops. That’s right, what Trey said. That’s exactly right. “Hey, what’s up with Blake?”
“Blake’s a tool.”
Her pulse hops faster. This guy gets it.
“He has a hard time keeping employees,” Trey continues. “Everyone he hires quits after a couple months. Not because he’s a tool, but because … this’ll sound crazy, but you might as well know. It’s because they get scared of him. Like, scared scared.”
Marcy rolls her eyes and twists a dyed-black piece of hair around her finger. She can’t imagine being scared of Blake. She’s lived on the street. She’s had her ass beat plenty, but she’s delivered more beat-downs than she got. Hell, she knows strung-out grannies walking East Colfax who could kick Blake’s ass.
“Rumor is he’s some sort of Satan worshipper.”
“I’m serious. The girl you replaced said Blake is a demon and the stuff he sells is possessed. Someone else said he’s into, like, talisman magick or some shit. And they weren’t the only ones to say stuff like that.”
“Maybe Blake shouldn’t hire junkies.”
Trey leans back and makes a show of looking her up and down.
Marcy snorts. “I’m not a junkie. I’m a dealer.”
That earns a raised eyebrow. “Got anything good?”
“What are you into?”
Trey laughs. “Girl, you’re my new BFF.”
Blake comes back at four. He’s still wearing his douchey blue suit, still carrying his sparkly blue helmet. His eyes scan his merchandise like he’ll be able to tell if she swiped something.
“Busy day?” he asks her breasts.
“Sold a couple magnets.”
“Did you restock? Magnets are hot. I told you this morning.”
She didn’t but says she did.
“Good. See you tomorrow.”
Marcy hands him the keys and bolts. She doesn’t like the way her stomach feels when he’s around—like she just downed a jug of sour milk.
She’s almost to the employee lounge when Trey comes speed-walking toward her.
“Oh-em-gee, Girl, did you see?” He spins her around, links his arm through hers, and marches her back into the terminal.
“What’s going on?”
“The most terrible thing.” He steers her to the nearest gate, where a crowd stares in shock at the TV on the wall. The sound is off, but the images and captions scrolling across the screen tell the story: Flight 1467 from Denver to Omaha crashed. All 232 passengers and crew are dead.
Marcy gasps. Timmy and his mom were on that flight. She’s sure of it. Rude Timmy and his rude mom. They’re dead.
She knows she should feel horror and grief over this tragic loss of life. And she does. She does feel those things. But she has to dig for it. A giddy sense of exhilaration pushes itself open inside her, hard and fast like the time-lapse video she saw one time of a black rose blooming.
“Look at that.” Trey shakes his head. “Look at them crying like they knew any of those dead people, like they’re not going to go on living exactly the same as before.” His voice goes high. “Ooh, watch me be sad! Watch me cry! Marvel at my empathy! What a joke.”
Trey is right. Jesus, he really gets it.
“Look at that,” Marcy says.
That night, Marcy barely sleeps. She lies on the threadbare carpet of her rundown apartment and watches the ceiling fan spin slowly in the dark. She thinks about Timmy.
People are a goddamn mess who deserve what happens to them.
Trey tossed that out there like he was ordering a cappuccino, like it was no big deal, because that’s what truth should be: no big deal.
She closes her eyes and conjures the image of Timmy’s mother dragging him away, the Blucifer keychain clutched in his rude, selfish little fist.
The Blucifer keychain. She sits up.
A pinpoint of light zips through her brain. Zip, zip, zip. She watches it careen off the spongy folds inside her skull. The light is the part of her mind that makes connections, and right now it is very, very busy. She grabs her laptop off the coffee table, opens it, Googles talisman magick.
Hours later, she has a theory and an idea. She can’t wait to tell Trey.
“Interesting,” Trey says. “Let’s try it.”
They watch the people moving past, dragging their baggage this way and that, all in various states of hurry. Soon, an older couple walks by, the woman loudly berating her husband for taking too long to buy a newspaper. If they miss the hotel shuttle, dammit, they’ll have to wait thirty whole minutes for the next one. The old man’s cowed, poor thing. That hag’s probably been belittling him for decades.
“Do it,” Trey whispers.
Marcy unties her shoe, then follows them. The man stops at a water fountain, and the woman lets out another high-pitched tirade. Marcy kneels beside the woman’s suitcase and eyes the luggage tag. Lucille Stearns. Quickly, she stuffs a Blucifer keychain into a side pocket that’s not quite zipped.
Lucille looks down at her. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Marcy smiles, not entirely certain she hasn’t been found out. “Tying my shoe, Ma’am.”
Lucille’s face puckers with suspicion. She swats her husband’s elbow and drags her suitcase toward the sign for ground transportation.
Back at the kiosk, Marcy writes Lucille Stearns in the notebook she bought this morning at Hudson News.
“Now what?” asks Trey.
“Now we wait.”
Wednesday, a man who’s just landed in Denver stops at Marcy’s kiosk and buys a pink teddy bear in a Colorado-flag tee.
“For your granddaughter?”
“My girlfriend’s daughter.”
The man looks sixty, and he’s wearing a wedding ring. Marcy raises an eyebrow.
The man chuckles. “You know how it is.”
Marcy knows exactly how it is. She rings up the sale, noting the name on his MasterCard, and slips a Blucifer keychain into the bag along with the bear.
When he leaves, Marcy tells Trey what she did and writes Kenneth Jesperson in her notebook.
Thursday, Marcy sees an uppity type applying bronzer in the ladies’ room. The girl is already wearing more makeup than a Kardashian, and as Marcy washes her hands, the girl poses for a mirror selfie, pushing her lips out like a duck and holding two fingers in a peace sign beside her heavily contoured cheek. As she posts it to Instagram, Marcy reaches behind her to snag a paper towel and peek at the phone. On her way out, she drops a Blucifer into the girl’s slouchy boho-chic shoulder bag.
At the kiosk, Marcy searches @MileHiBabe0313 on Instagram. “Tiffany Fellows,” she tells Trey. She writes the name in her book.
Friday, Blake stops by.
“I did inventory last night,” he says. “We’re missing some Blue Mustang keychains.”
You’re missing all of them, Marcy thinks. There are two left, and they’re both in her purse. “That’s weird,” she says.
“You know what’s even weirder? There were a couple in the drawer last week, and they’re missing too.”
She tries to look thoughtful, despite the sour-milk feeling in her gut. “I restocked those on Wednesday. Or maybe yesterday.”
His eyes bore into hers.
Marcy lets her lip tremble a bit. “I swear, Blake, if I knew anything, I’d tell you.”
He doesn’t want to believe her. “What did I say about stealing?”
“That’s right. Keep your nose clean. I’m watching you.”
That night, she Googles her boss, finds his address. Beside his garage is a sapphire-blue Yamaha crotch rocket. She pops open the seat compartment and drops in a Blucifer.
Saturday morning, the terminal is busy. Trey’s on fire. He grins and fawns and samples and laughs and calls everyone Girl, even the men, and compliments their hair, their earrings, their shoes. No one walks away from Colorado Dew without a bag and a receipt.
Marcy sells the occasional piece-of-shit souvenir and waits. At last, Trey gets a break. She rushes over to his kiosk. Her insides boomerang against her ribs.
“It worked.” Her voice shakes. “We did it.” She opens the notebook, to which she has added careful notes. “Timmy and his mom died Monday. Plane crash. Duh. Lucille Stearns and her husband died Tuesday at the Grand Hyatt downtown. Actually, seven dead and four hospitalized because there was a carbon-monoxide leak on the fourth floor. Kenneth Jesperson was killed in a house fire Wednesday night. So were his girlfriend, her daughter, and three of her daughter’s friends. Sleepover. Thursday, Tiffany Fellows crashed head-on into an SUV carrying a family of five. No survivors.” Marcy lets out a maniacal giggle that sounds more like a hiccup. “Tiffany was thrown free but not clear, if you know what I mean. There was a half-typed text on her phone, which she was holding in what was left of her hand.”
Trey pales. “Are you bullshitting me?”
She slides him the notebook. “Google them yourself.”
He pulls out his phone. Marcy waits.
After a couple minutes, Trey’s skin goes from merely pale to chalk white. “Jesus. This is … I mean … you killed …” He starts counting on his fingers, then gives up and flaps his hands in the air. “You killed like three hundred people.”
“Don’t exaggerate. It was two hundred and fifty-one, and there was always going to be collateral damage. But you said it yourself: People are a goddamn mess who deserve what happens to them. The point is, we did it together.”
“Took out the trash. Made the world a better place.”
“You did this! I didn’t have anything to do with it!” He presses his fingertips into his temples like he’s fighting off a headache. “How many of those keychains are left?”
“Two. They’re in my purse.”
“If you’re carrying them around with you, why aren’t you dead?”
“It has to be a gift. If you buy or steal a charmed object, it doesn’t work.” She spent hours studying talisman magick online, and she found an old blog post that went on and on about how the spirit of giving can be just as important as the practitioner’s intent.
“Hold on. That kid Timmy—technically, he paid you a quarter. That means his Blucifer can’t be what caused that plane crash.”
“Technically, I stole that quarter, and then I gave it to you right after, so I didn’t profit from the exchange. Pretty sure that means the magick was still good.” She furrows her brow. “No, wait. There’s only one keychain left. I put the other one in Blake’s bike last night. Talk about trash, am I right? Anyway, I’m going to use the last one to learn how to make more. This blog I found says—”
Trey stumbles back a few steps, his mouth hanging open. Marcy thinks he’s about to freak out on her, but then she realizes he’s looking at something behind her.
Slowly, she turns.
Blake stands at her kiosk. He holds up a hand, lets something shiny and blue dangle from his finger. Marcy doesn’t have to look at it to know what it is.
“You want to tell me how this ended up in my bike last night?” He takes a step closer.
Marcy sees her purse clutched in his other hand. Her mouth goes dry. “Give me that.”
“You’re a thief and a liar. You know what else you are? You’re a murderer.”
Part of her wants to bolt. That sour-milk feeling she gets when Blake’s around makes her stomach clench, but she feels something else now, too. She feels his power. It crackles in the air, reaching for her. She’s never wanted anything more.
“Why aren’t you dead?” she asks.
Blake stretches thin lips over clenched teeth. His eyes go glittery and red, like cut rubies. “I invented this game, little girl. Don’t play with other people’s toys.”
Marcy glances at Trey. To his credit, he hasn’t run, but he isn’t helping her either. He’s just standing there, slack-jawed and stupid. She sighs.
Lightning fast, she lunges for her purse. “Help! Security! Purse-snatcher!”
Marcy and Blake play a violent tug-of-war for what seems like an age. Marcy screams Purse-snatcher! Security! Help! over and over. A crowd gathers. Two men move in to assist her, but when they see Blake’s red eyes—or maybe when they feel the crackle of his power, Marcy isn’t sure which—they shrink back.
Blake is strong, but she can tell he’s holding back. He’s playing with her. Why?
She’ll worry about that later. Get the purse. Get the Blucifer. Run. That’s the plan. Zip, zip, zip.
From the corner of her eye, she sees two security guards closing in, the crowd parting to let them through
“Drop the purse!” one of them yells. “Get down!”
Blake lets go. Marcy stumbles back and nearly falls, but she has it now. She has the last Blucifer. She’s won. Then she looks at Blake. When she sees a grin spread wide across his face, she realizes her mistake.
“Consider it a gift,” he says, stroking his Van Dyke.
No, no, no! She shoves her hand into her purse, digs around for the Blucifer, digs through keys, pens, tampons, Kleenex, loose change. Where is it? Where the hell is it?
“She has a gun!” Blake’s voice is a cannon booming off the shiny walls and marble floors of the terminal. In its wake, everything falls silent.
People scream. People run. People duck behind trash cans. People fall flat on the floor and cover their heads.
To Marcy, it all seems so impossibly slow and terribly absurd. The world around her moves like a syrupy dream. She has to find the Blucifer. She has to throw it far, far away. As far away from herself as she can.
The security guards skid to a stop a few yards away. They stand with weapons drawn, like superheroes on a movie poster. “Drop it! Hands in the air!”
Her fingers close around the sharp little horsey shape of the last Blucifer. Its magick crackles in her hand. It’s already alive. It already knows where it came from and what it’s here to do.
Throw it. Throw it! She pulls it from her purse.
The bullets crack-crack-crack around her. She wants to clap her hands over her ears, but she’s still holding the Blucifer, and now she’s falling. She’s fallen and so has Trey, and there’s blood, so much blood, and she and Trey are face to face. His eyes are open but empty.
“There’s always collateral damage,” she tells him as her throat fills with blood.
The last thing Marcy sees is Blake’s face. The last thing she hears is his voice. “People are a goddamn mess who deserve what happens to them.”
The last thing Marcy feels is Blake peeling the Blucifer from her cold, dead fingers.
Angie Hodapp is a writer, teacher and editor living in Denver. As the Director of Literary Development at Nelson Literary Agency, she is a story geek with an eye for what works and the ability to articulate various ways authors can take their writing and storytelling to the next level. She believes in the power of story to elevate, transform, and heal, and she loves to be anywhere writers are gathered. Check out more of her work and classes on her site.
Aaron Lovett is a Denver-based freelance digital artist with work published in SPECTRUM 22 and 24. He was listed on the 2018 Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot in the graphic novel category and his art has been licensed for AMC’s “FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.” Check out more of Aaron’s work on ArtStation. Learn more about Aaron in Birdy’s February 2021 Artopsy interview.