Anthony Servante Horror Story of the Month
Welcome, dear readers, to our new monthly feature with author Lisa Lane, as she is known on Facebook, as our Horror Writer of the Month for December. Enjoy our first blood-chilling entry into the Horror Biz.
The Great American Sock Puppet Show
Leigh M. Lane
Samantha winced as she opened her eyes, finding a bright, hot light aimed down over her. Her head throbbed. Nausea threatened her stomach. She tried to sit up, only to find she could not. Her eyelids fluttered, and she forced herself to look beyond the light but saw nothing. Where the hell was she? How did she get there? What on earth … what was in her mouth?
Something soft but firm held it open, something that filled it so completely her tongue was helpless to push it out. She raised her head and looked down at her body, which she now realized lay strapped to a bed in four-point restraints. She screamed, but only a muffled moan escaped past the material in her mouth.
A door creaked open. Her breath sent still while footsteps alerted her to someone’s approach.
“Oh, good. You’re awake,” said a man in a chillingly calm voice. He walked up to her and loomed overhead.
She could not see his face, the light offering only a silhouette of his form. Hot tears pooled in her eyes and rolled down the sides of her head when she blinked. She labored her mind to recall where she last had been and what she’d been doing, but a heavy fog stalled her thoughts.
“That was one hell of a merlot, wasn’t it?” the man said.
The merlot … dinner.
“I usually don’t take a lady home on our first date, but you’re not just any lady, are you?”
She shook her head with another muffled cry.
“The great Samantha Hendersen, horror author extraordinaire. Everybody loves you. You could shit on a page and they’d all call it gold.” He walked a few steps away, lit a cigarette, and then returned to her side, blowing a cloud of smoke into her face. “Isn’t that right?”
She continued to shake her head, screaming into the gag.
“You thought you could get away with ruining me. You thought you might stay on your little pedestal a little longer if you stepped on the little guy. Truth is you couldn’t stand the competition.”
Her body trembled, cold sweat soaking through her shirt and hair. She labored to breathe through her stuffy, runny nose.
He ashed on her shirt, and the light ember burned for a moment before going out. “There’s one thing I’d like to know before we proceed, one burning question that’s kept me up for nights at a time, driving me batty: Why me? If I removed the sock from your mouth, would you give me an answer, or would you scream?”
She tried her best to portray with her facial expression alone that she would be compliant, but when he pried the sock from her mouth, she screamed so loudly her vocal chords went immediately raw.
He stuffed the sock back in with a violent thrust. “Bitch!”
She fell into hysterics, yanking at the restraints, continuing to scream through the sock. It was futile and she knew it, yet she couldn’t stop. It was as though something had taken over her body and now flailed her limbs like a child throwing a tantrum on the ground.
Searing pain burned into her chest as he snuffed out the cigarette. As calmly as one would saunter down the road, he left her side. Was he going to leave her there to contemplate her fate? Was he going to wait until she exhausted herself too much to continue fighting?
She looked down when she felt him capture one of her feet and immobilize it with one hand. She saw the gleam of a needle right before it found a vein along her arch, felt the burn of something entering her system, and then a sudden sense of disorientation strong enough to dissociate her mind from her limbs. She concentrated on moving them, only to find every muscle unresponsive.
“Ketamine,” the voice echoed. “It’s what doctors use when they perform surgery to keep the body still. It’ll make all of this much easier on both of us.”
She thought to scream again, finding even that impossible.
One by one, he released her hands and feet. “I can’t help but wonder how you convinced so many people to fuck me up. You all call me cocky behind my back, but I’m not cocky—I’m confident. Is that alone enough to earn your wrath? Or did you and all your buddies decide you just didn’t like me, that you’d do what you could to discredit me and drive away my readers when you know very well I can write circles around any of you?”
She would have scoffed and spit in his face if she’d had the capacity. Whoever he was, he had a lot of nerve. She hadn’t recognized his face when they’d met for their date, and she hadn’t recognized his name from any social media, but many writers used avatars and pen names in order to keep a firm delineation between their personal and professional lives. She could only guess at his identity, the possibilities numerous. She did, however, have no question as to the motivations that lay behind the attack, although she couldn’t imagine how he’d found her out.
She and a handful of friends had made it their mission to tear dozens of rival authors’ works to shreds in a barrage of one- and two-star reviews. Every one of their targets had gotten what was coming to them, inflated egos, self-published hacks, and absurdly critical peers alike. Indie authors devised “sock puppets,” or fake reviews, all the time, and they did so for different reasons. Sometimes it was in the hopes of creating feigned popularity for their work. In others, it was a way of crippling a rival or taking personal revenge against a negative peer review. Samantha and her crew had turned it into an art form, putting the little people in their place while they themselves rose through the ranks. It was petty, but it was also empowering. She had the ability to make or break careers, a gatekeeper in her own right. Those who’d earned her favor got a nice little boost; those who made her their enemy ended up dead in the water. Do not pass “Go.” Do not collect two hundred royalty bucks. Do not bother writing another book.
It really was true that no good deed went unpunished.
Samantha’s unidentified captor removed the sock from her mouth and adjusted the bed so she sat up at an incline. She still couldn’t make out anything past the light, but she could see her body sprawled before her.
“Well, you know what they say: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” He dangled a white tube sock on front of her face. “We’re going to write a story together, you and I. Maybe if we’re coauthors, you’ll see fit to take back all those nasty reviews.”
He lifted her left arm and fitted the sock on it, manipulating her thumb to take the heel and tucking the arch in her palm to create a bare sock puppet. “So, obviously we’ll be writing a work of horror. I thought we could begin with a male and female lead.”
He threaded a needle, knotted it neatly, and then held it inches from her face for a moment. “It can be a story about truth, a story about justice. These characters, this man and woman, could rise together above community politics, set the system straight. What do you think?”
He grasped her arm, holding the edge of the sock firmly in place, and then pierced the needle through the sock, thrust it through a pinch of skin, and pulled it through. Her arm stung as though hit by an angry wasp, the pain radiating in all directions, and the sock went red with blood. “Or, perhaps she turns on him, totally destroys his career. What do you think about that?”
Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her body ignored the impulse to scream when she saw him move in for a second stitch.
“So, how would we open our story?” he asked, his words like shards of ice. “Maybe we could start with one of them writing—no, writers writing about writers is too cliché, isn’t it? Stephen King might get away with it, but he’s the King and can get away with anything. As for me, I can’t get away with anything. I’d get reamed for it, even with your name slapped onto the byline.”
Stitch, pull … stitch, pull….
“So, let’s see. This man and woman come together for some other reason, some other industry. Music? The visual arts?”
“Maybe the woman is a starlet and the man is an aspiring actor. What do you think? Or, even better, stage performers? Yeah, I like that. She’s the female lead in a big Broadway play, and he’s the male lead’s understudy. He wants so desperately to make it to the big time, to make a living doing what he does best—and he’s damn good at what he does, as underappreciated as he is.”
With the stitching finished, he held up the raw, bloody mass to assess his work. “One down….”
She watched in silent horror while he slipped a second sock onto her other arm, tucking in the puppet mouth like he had with the first. She went dizzy, her heart racing, when he rethreaded the needle and began to sew.
“So, maybe he asks her to talk to the director about getting him an actual role. She’s hesitant though; she’s afraid he might upstage her.”
A wave of nausea made her eyes roll back. Her vision dulled.
He slapped her a few times on the cheek. “Still with me?”
A heavy ringing filled her ears, slowly overpowering his voice. Tunnel vision closed in.
“So this actor—”
Darkness … emptiness … nothingness…. Her thoughts sailed through the strange, senseless void, comprehending only that something had pulled her from the moment. The question of where she was failed to enter her mind. The pain had vanished, a reprieve for which she was grateful, but she knew it would only be temporary. There was no question her torment had only begun.
Through the darkness, images began to appear. First, there was a stage. No, not a stage … a wooden booth. It was colorful, painted in bright red, green, and blue, a striking contrast to its black backdrop. A clown wearing a tattered, oversized suit and makeup that melted down his face entered the scene. His eyes were lifeless, white glass orbs, and yet he seemed to stare straight at her. He smiled, revealing rusty needles in place of teeth.
He took an extravagant bow as the ringing in her ears began to abate.
“So, our male lead…. Let’s say he invites our female lead to dinner to help her see reason, but she’s a tough nut to crack so he decides it’s time to move on to plan B,” said the clown in the insane disgruntled author’s voice. He produced a wine bottle and two glasses from behind his back then filled both glasses and hurled the bottle aside. It shattered somewhere unseen.
He moved one glass to his empty hand then raised both as if offering a toast. “He knows a good merlot served just the right way can fix anything, and so together they drink.” He tapped together the glasses before bringing both to his lips and tipping them back. He drank very little, most of the wine emptying over his face and frilly top. It looked like blood when it dripped through the melting face paint, down his chin, and onto his shirt.
With a sleight of hand trick, he disappeared the glasses and donned a sock puppet in place of each. One puppet had felt eyes, long, yellow hair made of yarn, and crude, lipstick-drawn lips. The other had buttons for eyes, cotton ball hair, and a tie around its neck. With a jump and a giggle, the clown ducked behind the booth and raised the puppets to peek through the window.
“Ooooh … I’m feeling a little dizzy!” said the female puppet through the man’s high-pitched, mock female voice.
“Allow me to drive you home,” said the male puppet.
“Maybe I’ll just call a cab,” said the female.
“Like hell you will,” said the male before it opened its mouth as wide as it could and swallowed her whole. It burped, spitting out yellow yarn.
The clown popped his head up. “Hey, you still with me?” He jumped out of the booth and danced up to Samantha. He moved his face right up to hers with an exaggerated look of concern. His breath stunk of rotting meat when he asked, “You awake?” He slapped her a few times on the cheek.
A bright light engulfed the darkness and clown alike, and she gasped at the shock of her captor’s face looming over hers. The harsh sting across both arms prompted her to shift her attention downward, where both socks now lay firmly attached to her arms. Blood soaked the upper half of each, and it felt cold and sticky against her skin. Once more, she tried to move, but her body refused to heed.
He slapped her cheek again. “You haven’t checked out on me, have you?”
A few more tears escaped her, and he licked one side of her face with a smile. “Good. I need you to help me decide on the eyes.” He held a small assortment of buttons in an open hand then waited as though anticipating her response before picking up a square-shaped, green-marbled one. “I don’t know about you, but I really like this one.”
He grabbed her left hand and raised it, and stitches tore at her skin with a piercing new wave of agony. In her mind, she screamed.
He held the button against the sock and gave a satisfied nod. “I’m getting a nice scene in my head here; they’re practicing their lines and getting all their blocking straight. If they make it into movie, which I’m sure they will, they could do a really neat montage. We’ll need a theme song.” He grinned, a look of cruel inspiration contorting his face.
She watched helplessly while he rethreaded his needle to the hum of “One Way or Another” by Blondie.
Still humming, he held the button just below the knuckle of her first finger and pierced the needle through. “I’m gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha!” he sang, staring her down with wild, wide eyes and jutting his head forward to accentuate each word.
He stumbled over the next lyrics before dropping them and falling back into a hum. He attached the button with a careful cross stitch then began on the second, which he sewed onto her ring finger. He resumed singing when he lifted her hand to give her a good look. “One way or another, I'm gonna lose ya … I'm gonna trick ya trick ya trick ya trick ya!”
He dropped the hand and moved to sort through his collection of buttons for another suitable pair. After digging out two brown buttons that matched the green, he went around to her other side. He hummed the rest of the song, letting it fade into a moment of silence when he’d finished giving eyes to the second hand.
“Very nice, if I do say so myself. Ready for the hair?” He rummaged through a small bag filled with yarn and picked out a ball yellow and a ball of brown. He cut several long strands of yellow and a few short strands of brown. “The skin on the back of the hand is too thin to sew, tears through too easily, so I hope you don’t mind if I use hot glue.”
The glue gun fell into her line of sight, and she imagined herself driving an uppercut into his chin while he moved to glue the first head of “hair.” She hoped her surprise failed to show when she managed to twitch a finger.
He didn’t appear to notice. “So, back to our story…. We’ll need a B plot. I was thinking we could add a small supporting cast of saboteurs, other actors who’ve decided to ruin our protagonist for having the audacity to aspire for greatness.”
She felt her skin singe as he squeezed a nickel-sized glob of hot glue onto the back of her hand.
“They could make up rumors about him, tell all the directors in town how difficult he is to work with, totally have him blackballed,” he continued while arranging the long strands of yellow string along the top of his green-eyed puppet. “For the horror element, maybe our protagonists just snaps one day over the injustice of it all and goes all Phantom of the Opera on their asses.”
Another searing hot explosion of pain hit her when he daubed glue onto the back of her other hand.
“You know, lights falling on top of people’s heads, cables tripping them into the orchestra pit, a few of them tied up and tortured to death … stuff like that.” He carefully laid the few brown cuts of yarn into the glue, crossing them over one another to make an asterisk-shaped bowl cut.
Satisfied with his work, he held up both arms to show her. “Now this is how you do sock puppets. See how nice they look?” He moved to his cigarettes and lit one. With a heavy drag, he paced at the foot of her bed.
She flexed one of her arm muscles, praying he wouldn’t notice. She had to be discreet about it, had to find a way to test her strength before making her move. Sick bastard wasn’t going to get away with this. She’d see to it that they put him away for a good, long time for what he’d done to her.
“I think we should draw from some of our personal experiences for parts of the story—you know, for realism,” he said then took another drag and flicked his ash at her. “Let me finish my smoke, and then we can go ask the others for their input.”
Others? There were others? The room spun for a few seconds while she struggled to process the possible extent of his crimes. If she wasn’t the only one, how many others had made an attempt to escape? Was escape even possible?
He took his time smoking, all the while admiring the blood-soaked monstrosities resting along either side of her sweat-soaked body. When he finished, he put out the butt on her collarbone, tossed it aside, and then pulled her into his arms. He heaved her over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried her down a long hall and into a dark room.
Deciding it was now or never, she summoned the strength to paw one of his arms to her mouth and bite as hard as she could.
He tore it away with a scream, dropping her in the process.
She tried to scramble to her feet, but her balance and coordination still failed her. She saw his boot coming toward the side of her head before her world once again went black.
When she woke, she found herself strapped into a stage harness, her feet dangling above a shiny hardwood floor. Thin cables held both of her arms up, creating a sickening mesh of numbness and throbbing pain. On either side of her dangled colleagues she knew well, four other authors she’d met at conventions and guild meetings, people with real talent who had long paid their dues. Each had sock puppets sewn onto their arms as well. A couple of them looked infected … red, swollen, oozing. She made eye contact with each of her friends, her heart sinking at the defeat etched across each of their faces.
Her entire body flinched when the stage lights flipped on, one trained on each of the sick bastard’s victims. They were immediately hot, and they sent ominous shadows behind and below them.
The man’s footsteps were loud and confident while he ascended the steps to the stage carrying an open bottle of merlot. He stumbled, nearly losing his footing while he crossed to the front and center mark, then turned to a nonexistent audience. There was a slight slur to his voice when he spoke: “As you all know, I’ve been collaborating with some of the most prominent minds in contemporary horror, and I think the story we’ve put together will prove masterful.”
He took a few steps with a thoughtful pose, sucked in a deep breath, and then turned to his macabre cast. “I think we all had a few creative differences on how it would all end—and, at time, even who the bad guy was—but it all worked out.” He smiled and took a long pull from the bottle. “In the world of horror, sometimes the good guy wears black. In the world of horror, sometimes a story has no choice but to come to a messy end.”
He turned back to his empty audience. “And so, without further ado, let the puppet show begin!”