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First pages

On The Road

Keith Lumbra squinted against the strobe of the cop light and rolled to a stop.

Unlike half the stop signs and red lights over the weekend, this time he remembered he was hauling a trailer. He slowed to a stop, administering a slight pressure to the brake to ensure that all his shit didn’t go flying.

Keith hadn’t been speeding and he wasn’t drunk—merely maintaining a light post-con buzz—so he figured it was his out-of-state plates getting him into trouble.

That there was no reason didn’t stop his asshole from irising into nonexistence.

Keith hated cops. Always had and always would. He had no good philosophical reason to dislike them. He wasn’t a minority, and didn’t hold any strong political beliefs outside of his Lloyd Kaufman-inspired pseudo-anarchist leanings.

He may have had no good ideological reason to dislike cops, but he did have one pretty good anecdotal one:

Ten years ago, early in his career, Keith had to cross the US-Canadian border to get to his first convention in Toronto. Back in those days, MOD, Manufacture on Demand, hadn’t been a thing. Which meant that it had been an expensive undertaking to order two hundred copies of his first film on DVD. It was so expensive that he’d opted to use a hair dryer to do the shrink wrapping himself, rather than pay the extra fee.

At the customs inspection booth, when asked if he had anything to declare, he didn’t say “no” like every American except him apparently knew to do. Instead he told the customs official, somewhat haughtily, that: yes, in his trunk he was hauling two hundred copies of his first feature film.

Apparently, the Canadian government isn’t as liberal as they want people to think. Either that or the officers couldn’t grasp the layers of psychosexual satire at work in the title and back cover description for a movie called Teenage Nudists in Tortureland.

Long story short: Keith Lumbra wasn’t able to sell any DVDs in Toronto. It was cool, though. He may have taken the hit at the convention (where he was still able to sign and distribute postcards), but the coverage of the customs seizure itself had gotten him great press. His best coverage to date, actually, with what seemed like half of the horror community drawing comparisons between the Canadian confiscation of his movie and Ruggero Deodato’s famed court appearance to prove that he hadn’t actually killed his actors while filming Cannibal Holocaust.

Silver lining aside, at the time not being able to sell his movie had been a nightmare.

But that was then and this was now. He wouldn’t blow it with these cops. These American cops.

Using the door’s power controls to angle his side mirror as far away from the car as he could, Keith strained to see the cop car from behind his U-Haul trailer.

No matter how he craned his neck, he couldn’t make out much in the quickening darkness.

It didn't seem late enough to be dark, but Keith reminded himself that he was out in the country. Without the benefit of a strip mall on both sides of the road, there was no light pollution to extend the day. Out here in the boonies, the transition from dusk to night happened quickly.

There was the crunch of boot heels against gravel and Keith still couldn’t see anything, just the blink of the single blue strobe.

The knock came on the passenger’s side window, not the driver’s side.

The clatter of the metal flashlight against glass was not inherently terrifying, but it was loud and unexpected.

It was a well-executed jump-scare that—if it were in a movie—Keith Lumbra would have admired. The noise put the terror into Keith by taking advantage of both surprise and misdirection.

“Roll your window down, sir.” Keith could make out the cop’s voice, the words slightly muffled by the glass.

He did as he was told.

“License and papers, please,” the cop asked, the light of the flashlight still blinding Keith.

Fucker must love this, Keith thought, his mood stabilizing. He shielded his eyes against the flashlight so he could fish out and then flip open his wallet.

After a weekend of crawling the convention floor and marinating in the hotel bar of the Indianapolis East Courtyard Marriott, Keith almost handed the cop his business card by virtue of muscle memory. The name's Keith Lumbra, I make fucked-up splatter flicks. He was glad he didn’t regurgitate his rehearsed sales pitch.

The cop barely glanced at the license before saying: “You’re a long way from New Jersey, Mr. Goldman. Mind if we ask why?”

Hearing his legal name, not Keith Lumbra but Keith Goldman, always threw Keith off. But it sometimes served as a reminder that he had been doing the right thing when he adopted a pseudonym. The cop’s anti-Semitic emphasis on the ‘O’ in Goldman wasn’t in his imagination.

Wait, what 'we'? Keith thought, decoding what the cop had said. Mind if we ask... There was more than one cop out there?

Keith turned to look in the driver’s mirror again and found it blocked by the second cop’s crotch. He'd been flanked without ever hearing the second cop approach. The second man was leaning so close to the car that Keith couldn’t see anything above his elbows. Ninja cop was so tall and so close that he had no face.

There was a painful bubble of indigestion kicking around in Keith’s gut that hadn’t been there before, less a Flaming Hot Cheeto fart than it was an anxiety pang aided and abetted by Flaming Hot Cheetos.

Keith spoke as he leaned over in his seat, reaching for the glove compartment to fish out his registration. Or his “papers” like the cop had called them, fascist allusion be damned.

“Uh, I was attending a trade show. A convention. Over the weekend in Indy,” Keith said. He tried to keep his diction formal and his actual business in Indianapolis oblique. His intestines torsed a second time. Something shifted as he stretched his arm to hand the cop at the window his pink slip.

There was a long pause as the man crinkled the papers, presumably reading.

While waiting, Keith looked straight forward. He could feel the cool air from the open window begin to dry the sweat gathering in his eyebrows. In his peripheral vision, Keith noticed something odd. The cop to his left wasn’t wearing uniform pants, but instead what looked from this angle like black denim jeans.

Keith had owned a pair of black jeans in high school, but even then he’d been a special case. Who wore black denim these days? And how were these cops allowed to do so on duty?

This thought was interrupted by the cop with the flashlight. “Wait, you don’t mean you were at that horror convention they’ve got up there, do you?” the cop asked. There was a smile in the man’s voice.

Instantly, Keith felt better.

No non-fan pronounced the word ‘horror’ like this guy just did. Normals, people not into the genre, always over-annunciated the word to make sure it didn’t sound like they were saying “whore.” Either that or they dodged the quandary entirely by referring to horror flicks as “scary movies.” The same phrase a child would use.

“Yup,” Keith said, and then he pushed in all his chips: “I’m a filmmaker, actually. I was there repping my production company.”

“Get out of town! My partner was just there, too, weren’t you Benny?” the cop said, still not taking the flashlight from where it rested against the window. At least now Keith’s eyes had begun to adjust.

Instead of speaking, Benny just gave an “Mmm-hhhmmm” that Keith wouldn’t have been able to hear if the cop in the black jeans had not been standing two inches from the car.

“Is that what you’ve got back in the hitch?” Window Cop asked.

“Yes sir, just some props and displays, a few banners.” Keith said, overjoyed that the words “do you know how fast you were going?” or “step out of the car, please” hadn’t yet been spoken, and didn’t seem like they would be. These cops seemed nice, downright chummy.

“You don’t say?” The cop paused. Now he sounded like the nervous one. “Well. Mr. Goldman, I hate to be bothering you like this, but Benny got to go to the convention and I didn’t. Would you mind showing me what you’ve got back there? Just a quick peek.”

Uh oh.

Now Keith was searching for excuses as a nightmare scenario similar to his Canadian adventure began to play itself out in his imagination.

The cop had an accent, it was that weird bump up against Southern and Midwestern that you found as you traveled with any depth into the eastern half of the country. In movies, at least, that accent almost always accompanied a religious bend, sometimes a fundamentalist furor. Keith thought of that and then considered what he had in the U-Haul. He wasn’t toting around rubber Frankenstein masks and those plastic garbage bag ghosts that you hang on your trees during October. No. He was a modern horror director, someone who made transgressive films.

There was some real sickness back in the trailer: A girl’s severed head with her nipples stapled over her eyes. A torso that had a series of holes bored into it, the uses for the holes not a mystery if you thought about their circumference for too long. Not to mention a box full of erotic comics that he’d traded a few of his own DVDs for in the vendor's room. The comics weren’t anything that he had creative involvement with, but still: they were pretty extreme.

The silent cop, Benny, had attended the convention and was probably cool with anything, but how much of a horror fan was his partner? Could he roll hard into the gore shit?

“I guess I can show you, but I do have to warn you officer that it’s not for the faint of heart. Some of it’s pretty gross.”

“Oh never mind that,” the cop waved the flashlight. “I can handle it. Seen all those Saw movies. And it won’t take us but a minute and then we’ll have you on your way.”

Nothing the man had just said put Keith at ease. Those were mainstream movies.

Keith said okay and then shut off his engine, realizing he needed the key ring to open the hitch. There was that crack of gravel again, in stereo, as both cops walked back to the trailer.

Without the dashboard lights there was just the single blue police light spinning. It struck Keith as odd that the cops didn’t have their own headlights on. And even odder that they didn’t have a red light to accompany the blue one.

He double-checked that the car was in park, not wanting to become a Youtube sensation if he left it in neutral and the cops had a dashboard cam. He then hefted himself back out the door, keys in hand.

It took a moment for Keith’s eyes to adjust to the darkness. When they did, he realized the cop car he was looking at wasn’t a cop car at all. It was a beat-up late-90s sedan with a matte black paint job and a single dashboard strobe. The strobe was the kind of light you could buy at a Spencer’s Gifts.

Keith followed the bigger cop, Benny, to the back of the trailer. He could see that while the man did have the characteristic cop belt/holster combo cinched around his waist, he was wearing black jeans. Up top, Benny was wearing what looked like the kind of plastic bag special button-down shirt that you’d buy at Marshall’s. The shirt was baby blue instead of the NJPD’s darker shade. The man wasn’t wearing a hat and—from where Keith was standing—he couldn’t even be sure if there was a badge anywhere on him. The cop’s shirt didn’t even have those little flaps on the shoulders.

Shit, Keith thought, realizing something about these two.

This area must have been so tax-cash poor and backwater that the county’s police department couldn’t afford proper uniforms. That was a sad state of affairs, even to Keith who hated cops. Maybe all those anti-Obama bumper stickers he’d seen out here were onto something.

They reached the U-Haul door and Benny turned, crossing his arms over his chest and looking bored. There was the glint of gold over his heart, a badge. Behind the beam, Flashlight Cop seemed to be similarly attired, but was himself wearing a pair of dark khakis. Watch out, someone’s dressing for the job they want and is on track to make Captain.

“It’s some real sick stuff back here. You’re sure you want to see it?” Keith asked one last time, pretty confident he’d made his point by now.

“I am so sure,” Flashlight Cop said. Beside him Benny stood sentinel, quiet but looming in his clip-on badge and black jeans.

Keith bent and unlocked the hatch, then lifted it up with solid metal clatter, the chain and pulley making the same sound a roller coaster made as it brought you up for your first drop. But there was also another sound over his shoulder, coming from where Benny was standing. It was a kind of click.

“Neato,” the cop who’d done all the talking said.

Keith turned, putting his hand up to shield his eyes as he found the beam of the flashlight back in his face.

Blinded by the light, Keith Lumbra never saw what cracked him in the face, splitting his nose in two.


Rory hit the man a second time, with a ferocity that, to his partner, registered as a killing blow.

“Be careful,” Teeks warned, but not saying anything else as Rory scooped up the film director’s unconscious body and laid him down roughly inside the trailer hitch. If the director slept for any length of time—balled up like that—he would have a hell of a sore neck. But maybe that was the least of his problems, considering the blood pouring from his nose.

Rory shuttered the trailer, took the keys from out of the lock, and wiped his baton off on his pant leg.

The bloodstain was invisible against the big man’s black denim jeans.

Chapter One

“Silver or black?” Clarissa asked.

The kid stared back at her like she’d just asked him to find the square root of his parent’s phone number.

“Should I sign in silver,” she asked again, holding up silver the Sharpie to illustrate her point, “or black?”

“Whichever you think is best,” the boy said.

She signed in silver, then paused before going back to fill in the inscription. “Should I make this out to you…”

God. Damn. It. The kid, maybe thirteen or fourteen, had said his name when he’d first walked up and shook her hand. But Clarissa could no longer remember the name after their silver or black Sharpie impasse had taken up so much brain power. It was the end of the weekend and she was tired, but still, this was frustrating. She always remembered names.

Of course the boy also had his hands pressed into his front pockets, one elbow obstructing the lanyard that might have sported a name tag, if she was lucky.

She’d made an oath when she’d first started doing these things: she would remember the fan’s names, for at least as long as they were in front of her table. If she was charging twenty dollars for an autograph (a rate that had since gone up to thirty, in keeping with the market, but she would not lose the younger fans by charging forty), it was the least she could do. And, after all, the memorization wouldn’t be difficult: she was a classically trained actor who’d started her career playing first Antigone and then Ophelia. That had been L.A. theater, not Broadway, but the work was still the work. Decades later she could still recall not only her lines, but most of her marks.

“It’s Mark,” the boy said. Then added with a nervous, between-clenched teeth laugh: “Yes, please personalize it. I’m not going to be putting this up on ebay or anything like that.”

Maybe Clarissa couldn’t remember their names because they all said the same things.

When she’d first started doing conventions, she would spend extra time with the young fans like Mark. They were the ones who had their moms and dads waiting for them the next aisle down, so as not to embarrass them in front of the talent. Clarissa used to find that cute.

But by now she’d heard the old “my older brother told me I had to watch Death Birth” and “I’ve got all your films on DVD. Even the out of print ones” stories enough to know that there was nothing special about younger fans. Particularly now that the internet had made everything she’d ever done readily available, even the movies Clarissa would have preferred to stay hidden.

“Is that with a ‘C’ or a ‘K’, Mark? I don’t want to mess up a second time.” She reached out like she was going to touch him, even though the span between them was comfortably two of her own arm’s lengths. It was a body language trick she’d picked up, something to put the fans at ease.

She signed Mark-with-a-C’s name, drew a tiny heart, then and sent him off with a smile and another moist handshake.

Clarissa would Purell later, but for now she sipped her bottled water and surveyed the line in front of her table. There were about fifteen people waiting, which was not a bad crowd for a Sunday.

Most of the fans in line now had either purchased a one-day only ticket to the convention (Sunday being the cheapest to attend) or had been saving meeting Clarissa Lee until they were sure there would be money left in their budgets.

She watched as her manager, Toby, took cash from an older man.

The fan wore thick glasses tethered to the back of his balding skull with one of those foam bands. The man was overweight, a round belly hanging over his shorts, and his t-shirt was speckled with what looked from Clarissa’s vantage like the remnants of a sandwich.

Some stereotypes were cultural constructions meant to further rob power from the disenfranchised. And some stereotypes—as evidenced by the Urgeek standing in front of Clarissa’s manager—were rooted in cold, unvarnished truth.

“Having her sign your own item is forty dollars per, and that price includes one picture with Ms. Lee,” Toby said.

Without a pause, no deliberation as to whether he wanted to spend that much money, the Urgeek handed Toby a hundred dollar bill and with another twenty folded around it. He then turned to Clarissa.

He did not wait to receive any change.

The Urgeek’s economy of movement told Clarissa that this was certainly not the man’s first convention. In fact, it was very possible that she had signed for this guy last year and had already forgotten his face or blocked the memory out. There was a statute of limitations on how long she promised to remember their names.

The Urgeek clutched an envelope to his chest. If Clarissa were in a movie, there’d be an ominous close-up insert of that envelope.

“Hello Ms. Lee,” the fan said, years of experience grinding his fake bashfulness down to an autistic’s monotone. There’s still time for you to grow out of it, Marc, she thought, thinking back to the teenager. It was something to amuse herself while the guy laid the envelope on the table and fanned out the three glossy photographs he’d brought with him.

“Could you sign all three of these ‘To Kurt, with love’? Please?”

Before her, there were three faces, all pouting and all hers, six breasts, all raised with a twenty-seven year old’s indigence to gravity, and—in one picture—a dark wisp of pubis. Clarissa Lee’s Playboy spread, dating from the era where she’d first realized that film work might not keep coming in forever, was the gift that kept on giving.

She did not clarify the spelling of his name, but she did sign Kurt’s photos “with love” and then took a picture with him, Toby squeezing himself out from behind the table to point Kurt’s digital camera.

“You still look great,” Kurt whispered to her in the second before the flash. His breath was a fetid version of the pepperoni and bread stink that hangs on your clothes for a few minutes after visiting a Subway restaurant.

Tired as she was, as much as she wanted the weekend to be over, Clarissa Lee did not break character. “Aw. Thank you,” she said, shooing him away with her eyes. Their transaction was finished. She did not regret the photoshoot, but it was interactions like this one that brought her damn close to it.

The next fan in line looked like a spritz of fresh air. She was a girl in her late twenties or early thirties, buttons polka-dotting her hooded sweatshirt and messenger bag. In short: your classic “geek girl” type. She bought a single 8x10 for thirty dollars from Toby and then set down a small Tupperware container in front of Clarissa.

The girl was adorable, but that Tupperware was worrisome.

Clarissa asked her name with a manic quality that she hadn’t meant to creep into her voice.

Oh Christ. Please don’t let that be—

“I’m Sephera, and I hope you don’t think this is awkward or weird or anything, but I brought you a birthday cake.”

Sephera opened the Tupperware to reveal a single cupcake. And there was the reminder, written in red gelatin icing meant to look like blood:

Today, Clarissa Lee was fifty-five years old.

Chapter Two

It was possible that most conventioneers, because they attended the same cons every year and found the vendor rooms mostly unchanged, had no idea how quickly a hotel ballroom can be emptied. Subconsciously, there were probably many fans who thought the con stayed there year round. Like how Disneyland continued to exist even when you weren’t riding the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

But as soon as the last attendee was scooted out the door by volunteer security, the tables and booths started disappearing. Wing-nuts were spun from collapsible signage, racks of grey market t-shirts (Clarissa certainly never saw any residuals from her likeness being sold two-for-twenty) were emptied into plastic containers, and black tablecloths were folded up.

The convention was boxed and loaded into a fleet of trucks, vans, and the occasional hearse with the trained precision of a circus leaving town after the last of the rubes had been bilked. The fans themselves might linger in the hotel bar or hit the con suite for a dead-dog party, but the people for whom this was a business and nothing more? At five o’clock on Sunday it was time for them to jet.

Clarissa and Toby didn’t have much to pack and their plane back to L.A. wasn’t until eight fifteen, so there was time. She stood and watched the room around her be dismantled.

She could relax because there wasn’t much to pack. Well, there wasn’t much for Clarissa to pack. Toby would take care of it all, the vinyl banner that clipped onto the edge of the table and the stacks of 8x10s that had to be loaded back into their printer-paper boxes.

On the other side of the aisle from her, she watched the awkward post-mating rituals of two celebrities who had the look about them like they’d gotten drunk and dirty the night before. She wasn’t close enough to hear what they were saying to each other but she could read the body language.

The guy, an out of work bit player and still-working porno actor named Ivan Butinelli was trying to help a visibly hungover Gina Bright pack up her table. Even without hearing what they were saying, the interaction was painfully awkward. Clarissa couldn’t look away.

Bright was a slightly younger Clarissa Lee knock-off, if Clarissa were petty enough to put a label on it, which she wasn’t. Not one bit.

Clarissa doubted that Butinelli had a wife at home, but she wondered if Bright’s red-cheeks were due to some kind of shame or if they were always that red, these days.

Despite both of the other celebrities being familiar faces on the con circuit, Clarissa wouldn’t have been able to place their names if she ran into them on the street. No, all weekend she’d had no choice but to stare across at their banners whenever business got slow at her own table. They were people she saw every few months, but watching them from afar, like an anthropological study. She always forgot to take notes.

Breaking Clarissa from her voyeurist’s soap opera, Toby hefted the cashbox onto the table in front of her with a clatter. He then began to transfer Sunday’s take, a fat stack of bills, from the zippered envelope he’d been using to make change. He then locked the cashbox and handed the key to Clarissa.

Giving her the key for safekeeping was unnecessary. Clarissa trusted Toby implicitly, but part of that trust stemmed from the fact that he was nervous to a fault. In fact, Toby was so concerned with not being seen as a cheat that it often worked against his ability to manage her career effectively, in some ways making him worse than if he were both successful and cheating her.

“How’d we do?” she asked. By virtue of her line only flagging once or twice all weekend, she assumed they’d done okay.

“Better than fair, I’d say.” Toby said, stacking photos, placing a page of acid-free paper between each variety so they were easier to unpack. The way he zoned in to focus on his work could have been exhaustion from the weekend or could have been him softening the blow of a lackluster con. It was hard to tell with Toby. He was a bad liar but also fidgety as hell when telling the truth.

At cons Clarissa offered fifteen varieties of glossy photo. Two of them were miniature posters of her two most well known films. One was 1979’s Night Visitor, her first starring role and a mildly violent whodunit that had been in production around the same time as Halloween’s release. After Carpenter’s success and the first wave of imitators the film had gone back to Canada for gory reshoots and a star was born. The other was 1988’s Death Birth, a critical and commercial flop that had recently grown a rabid fanbase because of the director’s later big-budget studio work.

That director was Boyd Haight and Clarissa should have never married him.

Or never have divorced him. At the very least she should not have pushed for separation when she did, when she had been the one who’d taken the hit in court. Now “once married to Boyd Haight” was the top piece of trivia on her IMDB and Wikipedia pages, no matter how many times she tried to log in and edit them. In 1991 it would have been the other way around. He would have been ‘the ex-husband’ instead of her being ‘the ex-wife.’ Had either of those websites existed back then.

Many mistakes had been made, financial and personal. But Toby kept her in enough work, much of it voiceover, that she could pay rent.

The rest of the 8x10s were various headshots and production stills, the most recent of which was fifteen years old and featured Clarissa with foam latex ridges on her chin, a prosthesis that she wore to play an alien in a recurring part on a basic cable sci-fi show.

The Nebula Journey headshot didn’t move many units at a show like this weekend’s, but when she did sell one she knew to stay alert for the unanswerable continuity questions that were probably headed her way. The horror nerds asked her which international cuts of her films she preferred and the scifi nerds asked about FTL drives and the mating rituals of her character’s alien species.

A few minutes later in the process of packing, Toby needed help wrestling a bungee cord around the vinyl banner. Ten minutes after that their bags were out of the coat check and placed into a cab.

Sitting quietly while Toby messed with his phone, Clarissa watched the combination hotel and convention center recede into the distance.

The sensation was like leaving a summer camp that you never much enjoyed, where even the friends you made weren’t really friends and you could never get the hang of sleeping through the night in your bunk. But there was still that pang of regret, wanting to say goodbye to a temporary home. There was also, Clarissa had to admit, something nice about spending a weekend being worshipped and desired. It beat most other work.

Seeing the post-coital odd couple that was Ivan Butinelli and Gina Bright reminded Clarissa that she herself had only ever gotten lucky once at one of these things. And that once had been lucky enough.

Her reluctance to hook up wasn’t just that old chestnut about mistakenly mixing business with pleasure, but also because there were slim pickings at these cons. Handsome as they could be, shacking up with a B-level actor would have been something she regretted, and she’d made enough similar mistakes during her TV years. With the convention’s guest list out of the equation, that only left vendors and attendees in the prospect pool.

In terms of physique, men at these conventions were either perennial teenage string beans or guys who would do anything short of eat actual vegetation to be considered string beans. Neither did much for her, hence her celibacy.

For her lone sexual conquest, Clarissa had chosen to avoid all three sub-classifications of con life entirely.

It happened at New Jersey’s Chiller Theatre in 2008, an east coast convention easy to attend for both its proximity to JFK and the fact that Toby could schedule whatever New York meetings he could muster during the same week. Her and this guy, they’d met at the hotel bar and judging from his button-down shirt, stubble-less cheeks, and dress pants, he wasn’t a horror fan and was staying at the hotel on unrelated business. They didn’t spend their brief courtship talking about what they did for a living and if he’d recognized her at all then he’d been playing it like he didn’t.

Their affair had been brief but successful, twice successful. But, lying in bed, he’d ruined the afterglow by saying he was at the con looking for investors for a project that she’d be great in. Insult to injury, he wanted to cast her as the grown protagonist’s mother.

Clarissa gathered her clothes and advised the guy to make sure to fuck Dee Wallace next time.

“Isn’t it a flat rate?” Toby said in a whine to the driver, his wrists resting against the cab’s partition. He was arguing with the cabbie about the meter.

“No sir. I didn’t pick you up downtown. I’m sorry, I had to run the meter.”

Toby, not much of a fighter, just shrugged and paid the man. He included a twenty percent tip, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he’d just voiced suspicions about being fleeced.

They entered the terminal, Toby grunting when he had to lift her rolling bag over the curb.

In the harsh light of the United ticketing area, Toby looked even more nervous than he had when stacking up 8x10s. Was it something he’d read on his phone that had soured his mood? Had she whiffed an audition? Was Clarissa being squeezed out of residuals? At this point in the day she didn’t much care, she just wanted to get back to her apartment, to her cat, to a city where most people weren’t familiar with the phrase “packing lip.”

Toby approached one of the automated check-in machines, swiped his debit card, and swore as no boarding passes materialized.

Over his shoulder Clarissa could read the words “See Desk” on the screen. There was no please, no thank you, just “See Desk.”

Instead of starting towards the line to speak with a representative, Toby turned to Clarissa and asked: “Can I have the key please?”

It took her a moment to figure out which key he meant.

“My card was declined, I need to pay for our tickets with cash,” he said.

Clarissa squinted at him, feeling her face begin to flush in an embarrassment that her conscious mind hadn’t quite settled into yet.

“How about I just use my credit—”

“No, your accounts aren’t in the greatest shape, it would be best if we just used the cashbox instead of a card.”

Clarissa handed over the key, watched him count out a few hundred dollars in cash, and girded herself to have a terribly awkward in-flight conversation.

She’d been told by several different people that having all-in-one representation had been a bad idea, a manager-slash-agent-slash-accountant, but the warnings never hit home until that moment.


About me

Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia. His books include Video Night, The First One You Expect, and Tribesmen. His latest release, Mercy House, was through Random House Hydra. His work has been praised by Fangoria, Rue Morgue, Bloody Disgusting, and more. His titles have appeared on "Year's Best" lists from outlets like FearNet and Complex. He writes a monthly column about horror fiction and film for Cemetery Dance Online.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
We horror nerds have our own conventions, just like sci-fi and comic fans. I've been going to cons all my life: first as a fan and then as an author selling books. You meet a lot of interesting people. Most are great, kind folks, but a few give you pause. This book is about *those* guys and gals.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged and spent a lot of time in movie theaters, traumatizing myself with scary movies. I always liked telling stories but things got serious in college when a random scribble ballooned and grew into my first novel. I haven't stopped since.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
Horror's my favorite genre because there are so few limits on it. Both in content (what you can get away with and what readers will *let* you get away with) but also in tone. You can have a "funny" horror story or a "smart" one or a "serious/angry" one and it all fits under the same general banner.

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