I am utterly and without remorse, completely obsessed with horror. It is a lifestyle to me—I drink, eat, sleep, and breathe it. Of course I have other passions, love other genres, but horror is always the place I return to for comfort and nostalgia. This comes to a head every October when I watch as many horror movies as I can manage while working a day job and writing on the side. The October King, my new ebook, is a tribute to October, to horror films, and to horror fiction. The careful reader will find many references spread throughout The October King, both obvious and obscure.
But more than that, I hope they’ll find in this novella (and short fiction collection) a worthy experience for October, a sort of Halloween treat. Please, go check The October King before the month ends! It’s meant to be read in October. And only October. And it’s currently free! For a little taste, here is the official synopsis, as well as some excerpts:
“October is a time of horror. This is the only time the channels are right, the only time the magic really works. A time pitiful few are open to my bits of dread, my slices of terror. And above all, little one, October is the only environment I can thrive in, for I am the October King.” So spoke the King of Terror to his latest victim, who is forced to read his stories. The alternative is murder.
. . . . . .
I found myself along a main road which fed into the highway. A tinge of something woke inside of me. I don’t know how to explain it other than the feeling of coal growing hot inside the pit of your skull, the bottom of your belly. But not in a painful way. A kind of internal heat which drives you forward.
An awful stench became more apparent as I continued on. The scent of decay—that stinging, slightly sweet smell of disintegrating matter—a scent of rotten, stinking death. Sure enough there was a dog carcass along the highway, flies buzzing with insanity about it. I got about three feet from it and then hurled.
Something told me to keep going. I wiped puke from my chin and pressed on. The dog made me think of my nightmare. My knees started to lock up. Keep going.
Something glinted vaguely in the sunlight, slightly obscured. It was inside the dog.
The dog was eviscerated. And the next story was inside. This was not an easy revelation. I choked back another stream of vomit.
My eyes clamped shut on instinct and I kneeled before the dog and reached inward. The insides were warm. They felt good against my skin, removed the chill that the October air had put on me. This fact made me even sicker. Puke. Again.
I was sure I looked strung out. Several cars passed me. I didn’t look up. I didn’t want to know the expressions of the drivers. The thought I was being judged, that people would go home and tell their families about this, their roommates, their friends, was hard to bear.
My fingers found purchase of the object. I tugged it gently to remove it from the tangle of warm dog guts. In my right hand I held a cassette. It was a lucky thing I had a stereo in my apartment.
An audiobook. How modern of the October King. I rushed home to play the tape.
The stereo was in the corner of the living room. I blew a layer of dust off of it and pressed the button for the cassette compartment. It snapped open.
I inserted the tape.
First, static. Then a slight rustling sound. Voices. A voice. The October King began to speak. There was no introduction, no hello. The story simply began and his voice plunged forward until it was over.
I made a mental note to show the tape to Alexa, along with the written stories. As the story progressed I got the distinct feeling its hiding place in the dog was supposed to be sickly ironic.
I felt sure that, somewhere, the October King was laughing.
. . . . . .
My throat constricted and I stepped away, back toward the edge of the library, toward a falling death. The October King gestured at me with a finger. “Come, open your mouth. Be a good protagonist.”
Part of me was ready to fall back and crack my head open, but that part was weak.
“If you jump, who will protect sweet Jim and Alexa? Who will protect them from the October King?”
I gulped. Clenched my fists.
As always, I did what I was told. I approached the October King and kneeled before him. I felt my stomach roil uncomfortably and my knees ache. I placed my palms on the books and put my mouth inches from the October King.
He lifted a hand and something white and slimy dangled from the gnarled fingers. A large pumpkin seed. “For it was I, the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Boredom. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it with good things.”
I opened my mouth.
The seed felt hot and heavy and I gagged back a tide of vomit.
I choked down the seed and swore I could feel it land like a cannonball in my stomach. My head began to spin.
“The stories have changed you. They have readied you for my seed. My work is nearly done, the stories all nearly told. Now go home and sleep, child. Dream of me, your new messiah.”
“I…what…” My words were tortured. They left my mouth with the gentleness of daggers. I flopped on my side and clutched my groaning stomach. But I could not vomit. The seed held fast.
I could barely stand, let alone climb back down the library and go home. My vision ceased and my hearing followed.
. . . . . .
Morgan sat atop her throne of skulls, counting in her hands the teeth she had wrenched from a pack of feral wolves. She climbed down the rotted bones and tossed the teeth into an ever-growing pile. The moon shone dimly through the castle windows, illuminating only traces of her pallid skin. She stretched and adjusted her fur robes.
Sometimes it was hard being the Queen of Pain. Sometimes the wretched creatures she sought and destroyed fought back. And while she felt no pain herself, she knew her time was quite limited, for with every wound she bled, with every blow a muscle or bone grew tender under the touch of her enemy. Even as a semi-goddess, she knew she could not last.
That is why, on the morrow, she would blaze a trail of blood so long and wide it would paint towns, coat cities. She would eviscerate children, pluck the heads off peasants, cut out the tongues of weeping mothers. It would be her last great gift to the world.
She smiled and ran her hand along the cool wall. She gently made her way down the winding steps, into the heart of her castle.
And in that heart stood him—the God of Gore. “I cannot let you do this,” he said. His voice was like a martyr’s shriek. “I cannot let you outdo me. What will become of my reputation?”
“You are lazy and fat. You send others to do your pain. I became queen of my own volition, with my own effort. I bled for this. What have you done? You were born into it.”
“It is true,” he replied. “Still, I cannot let this go on. Things have their rightful place. You’ve upset the balance. Now I must undo you.”
Morgan launched at him, in that moment, clawed fingers pouring into his eyes, scratching them out. He screamed. It was an agony that soothed her to the core. She did not think the God of Gore could feel pain.
But his blood boiled and burned, sliding down her arms, dancing around her slender frame. It ate away her fur robes, consumed her flesh. “You have undone yourself!” he cried.
“So I have,” Morgan said, her voice weary. She watched as her innards slipped from inside her growing wound, pooled on the floor in a soupy mess. It was beautiful.
And as she fell into her own insides, the castle trembled, for it could not stand without its queen. The God of Gore made for the exit but mortar and stone rained down upon him until he was buried, deep, so deep he could not be found by human hands, and perhaps not by those of the other gods.
And so two titans of pain were lost, though pain itself laughed and danced and carried on forever, not the least bit troubled—students were plenty and it would make gods and queens of them all.
. . . . . .
Zachary T. Owen is an arsonist and an author. You can find him on Twitter and other internet vacuums. You can find The October King at these places: