Feels Tasty

The sound of a drip awoke me, but my eyes only opened slightly. I could move them around, but the rest of my body remained inert. I hated these episodes. I’d dealt with sleep paralysis intermittently for as long as I could remember. It felt like being trapped somewhere between a dream and the waking world. At the edge of my vision, illuminated in bright red light on my bedside table, I could just make out the time as one forty-three. I didn’t have to be up until seven, but I’d happily get up now if I could move.

There were three more drips, in rapid succession, but when I surveyed the room, I couldn’t determine their source. The television on my dresser was off, I wasn’t aware of any leaky areas in my apartment, and my fiancée was out of town for the weekend, visiting her parents. There was another drip, and this time the direction seemed more definite. I turned my eyes to the window. The Venetian blinds almost completely obscured the view outside. We tried to keep them closed because we lived in a first-floor apartment next to the complex’s parking lot. No one wants to deal with nosey neighbors. Before heading to bed, I’d left the blinds up a tiny bit to see what the weather would be doing in the morning. The forecast said a big spring snowstorm had a fifty percent chance of burying the area. There was the drip again, but now it sounded more like a peck. Maybe a bird was perching on the windowsill? I looked at the gap, exposed by the open blinds.

A shadowy figure leered in at me with bright yellow eyes. It tapped on the glass with a freakishly long, ink-colored finger.

I screamed, but my enfeebled body only produced a low whimper. My heart rate tripled. I tried to close my eyes, but I couldn’t make them shut in my current state. All I wanted to do was dash out of bed and lock myself in the windowless bathroom, where it wouldn’t see me. I could hear my own breath coming out faster. There was another tap on the glass. I tried to ignore it by looking at my clock and focusing on the familiarity of it, but my heart maintained it’s jarring pace. If only I could get a deep breath, I might be able to calm down and make sense of the thing outside my window. I’m probably just hallucinating. I’d heard stories from other people who saw shadow figures when they went through sleep paralysis. I hadn’t ever seen one before, but there was a first time for everything. It must be a product of my dream addled mind. I took my eyes off the clock and looked back at the window.

The figure remained. Its yellow eyes contained a murky ring of red inside them. It’s not there. I’m just trapped in a half dream. As if in response to my realization, the thing stopped tapping. Its eyes seemed to lock onto mine. I started to look away, but it revealed a smile filled with skeletal fingers where teeth should have been. The fingers emerged from the mouth and began opening and closing, like someone demonstrating an explosion with their hands. Each movement of the fingers resulted in a horrendous cracking sound as the joints moved. It began to leave, and its midnight black body vanished from view. How long until my heart’s palpitations sent me into cardiac arrest? It had to be a dream, a fucked-up piece of my subconscious given form. Another sound made me pause mid-thought. Was that my front door rattling?

I shot up in bed, freed from my nightmare at last. Gasps came to me rapidly as my body finally enabled me to physically manifest the panic I’d been feeling. My hands shook as I raised them to my sweat-drenched hair.

“Just a dream,” I said.

A loud creek filled my apartment. It was the sound of my bedroom door slowly opening. A burst of frigid air rushed at me. I heard cracking joints and looked up to see the thing from my dream staring at me. It stood on the threshold. Behind it, I could see my front entrance smashed to pieces. Inky sludge trailed where it had walked in.

It flew forward, like a gust of smoke, and the fingers of its mouth were on my face before I could react. I struggled to pull it off, but its slimy skin burned my hands. I screamed into the thing’s mouth but felt my cry muffled by a gritty tasting appendage. My body instinctively tried to puke it out, and I leaped off the bed, but the skeletal fingers only dug deeper into my flesh. I tried to breathe through my nose, but I felt myself starting to grow faint. Was this how I died? I fought back up to my feet. All at once the fingers released their grip on my face, and the thing removed itself from my throat. It flew backward, to the doorway, as fast as it had assaulted me. A coal colored arm stuck out of its mouth, surrounded by bony digits. In the arm’s hand, I saw a bloody red pulp. My mind struggled to make sense of it. Then I saw the grotesque crimson heap pulse, squirting out gore, and my brain filled in the sound of its beat. I felt blood welling up in my mouth as a terrible pain emanated from my chest. The thing’s hand began squishing the organ in its grip, and then the entire arm retracted inside the body.

From somewhere deep in the thing’s mouth, I heard a gurgling voice say, “Feels Tasty.”

End

My First Public Reading

I think it’s important to celebrate the milestones. This past Saturday was an extremely eventful one for me as a writer. I delivered my first public reading. The video above captures the full recitation of my tale, Feeding Time, complete with an oddly noisy air-conditioner near the story’s climax.

Overall, it was a great experience, and I am honored that the Ligonier Valley Writers picked my flash fiction work as the winner. While at the event, I also got to meet and listen to the other talented writers who entered the contest. Each story contained its own uniquely fascinating elements.

Finally, I wanted to thank everyone who made the trip out to support me. There are a few people who deserve special mention.  The first two are my father and step-mother, who recorded the video above. The next are two of my Seton Hill writing mentors, Jason Jack Miller and Heidi Ruby Miller, they even brought a very cool Seton Hill alum with them for the fun. Fourth is my fiancée’s best friend who tagged along with all the shenanigans this past weekend. Lastly, my wonderful fiancée herself. She never fails to support, and read, the crazy things I spew out of my brain onto a page.

The End Is Near

The End is NearThese little residency recaps are getting harder to do the farther I get into Seton Hill’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. All I want to do is tinker with my novel or craft a new short story. Speaking of, I have one that’s been accepted for publication in a small-press magazine. When it’s released, I will be sure to share access to the tale everywhere I can.

My fifth residency in the program is now over. It tore through my life like a tornado. By the end, I was thanking Cthulhu for my survival. Each residency has gone by faster than the last one. If you enter the program, you should prepare for that eventuality with the appropriate time dampening technology. It’s too late for me to salvage this past residency, but it’s not too late for you to salvage your future one.

That said, I managed to retain a few awesome lessons despite the residency’s speed. Most painfully, I learned that you should apply sunscreen when driving from Greensburg to Camp Hill. I arrived home in a sun-soaked delirium with cooked skin. Less painfully, I learned that the New Pulp genre is as cool as Old Pulp, where H.P. Lovecraft rose from. Heidi Ruby Miller taught a great class on the subject. I also learned, from Jason Jack Miller, that Folk remains a pretty great source for the creation of new fiction. On my third day of the Residency, I got a fantastic crash course on sending out novel queries from a real-life publishing agent, Ms. Rachel Ekstrom Courage. Lastly, I received a spookily good lesson on the Five Senses of Dread from Dr. Michael Arnzen. On top of those modules, I got to take part in a variety of workshops with dozens of talented writers of multiple genres. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that I got to listen to two entertaining and enlightening talks from romance author Beverly Jenkins.

Now, with all that said, I didn’t just occupy my time learning while I attended classes. I also got to convey the lesson I spent the last part of my Teaching Popular Fiction class preparing. Thanks to fellow writer Dana Jackson, I even managed to do so with the inclusion of a YouTube clip I wanted to show (Seton Hill’s technology infrastructure is made for Macs, and I own a PC). My lesson on How to Write a Satisfying Ending came out fine, if a little fast due to my nerves. I still wish I could have delivered the lesson earlier in the residency, but the schedule disagreed with me. Either way, I made it through the class and the week. If I can finish editing one hundred and thirty-six pages and respond to my mentor’s feedback, I will be graduating during my next trip to Seton Hill in January. That’s something I wasn’t even sure would happen at the beginning of 2017. What a difference a year, combined with a huge amount of hard work, makes.

Until Next Time,
-J.D. Cook

A Short Lesson

I wanted to share this fun assignment I did for Seton Hill’s Writing in Popular Fiction Program. I needed to teach a simple process for my Teaching Popular Fiction class. I decided to instruct viewers on how to play Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue. It’s a super simple card game I’ve had for a few years now.  Initially, I filmed a great video with the help of my brother, but the game I originally chose, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, was too long to adequately explain in the assignment’s four-minute time limit. So, I scrambled to put this together with the help of my amazingly wonderful fiancée.