In an effort to celebrate spooky season and to reconnect with our favorite childhood frights, let’s revisit the classic Scooby-Doo animated films. These films were a staple in my Halloween movie rotation as a kid. Let’s take a walk down a memory lane lined with witches, warlocks, and werecats (oh my!).
The sprawling Scooby-Doo franchise began as a cartoon in 1969, called Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The show was created by Joe Ruby and Ken Spears for Hanna-Barbera Productions. It follows meddling kids Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Shaggy Rogers, solving supernatural mysteries in their trusty van, the Mystery Machine, along with their doggy pal, Scooby Doo (short for Scoobert Doobert). In 2013, TV Guide named the cartoon as the 5th greatest cartoon of all time. A rank well-deserved, that’s for certain. And we can’t forget about the 2002 live-action masterpiece of a remake, Scooby-Doo, starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini. The well-loved live action remake got a sequel in 2004, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.
The live action films aren’t included in this list, as evidenced by the title. I’ve also left out the television movies and television specials; like the 1988 classic Ghoul School. Although they’ve been omitted from this list, we don’t love them any less.
5. Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase (2001)
Don’t be mad that this is at the bottom of the list – at least it made the top five. A virtual creature called “The Phantom Virus” emerges from a new video game based on the adventures of the Mystery Inc. gang. The gang is transported into the game and must defeat 10 dangerous levels by finding boxes of the dog treats, Scooby Snacks. The best parts of this film are the cameos made by classic Scooby villains like the Creeper, the Tar Monster, and Old Iron Face. I’ve ranked it fifth on the list because it didn’t strike me as scary when I watched it as a kid – I mean, the monster isn’t even real. This one might not strike a chord with kids who aren’t into tech or video games. The main song (every Scooby movie has a main, karaoke-worthy song) “Hello Cyberdream” pales in comparison to some of the big hitters later on this list. All that being said, it’s still a fun take on the Mystery Inc. gang, bringing their 70’s style into the 21st century.
4. Scooby-Doo and the Legend of the Vampire (2003)
I was surprised to find in my research that Scooby fans aren’t as familiar with this totally tubular installment of the gang’s misadventures. The Mystery Inc. kids head to Australia for vacation. Goth girl-band The Hex Girls (recurring characters in the Scooby franchise, originating in the film Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost) are playing a music festival at a place called Vampire Rock. The previous year, a band called Wildwind performed at the festival and went missing – presumably turned into vampires by a local vampire called the Yowie Yahoo. The gang enters the music festival as a band to lure the Yowie Yahoo from the caves of Vampire Rock in the hopes of finding out just what – or who – he really is. It’s so cool to see The Hex Girls again, and the music in this one is top notch early 2000’s rock (I mean, it does take place at a music festival). As the most recent film on this list, it’s also the first to have the newer animation style of the What’s New, Scooby-Doo? television series. Stylistically, it is much brighter than its predecessors. But don’t let that fool you – it’s just as spooky.
3. Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders (2000)
The Mystery Inc. gang stumbles upon aliens while driving through Roswell, New Mexico (who would have thought!?). Shaggy and Scooby are abducted by aliens and later awaken in the middle of the desert while the rest of the kids are stranded at a creepy roadside diner full of alien skeptics – and even more alien believers. In the desert, Shaggy and Scooby meet Crystal and her dog, Amber, and immediately fall in love. The gang must solve the mystery and government conspiracy that is Area 51, and potential life on other planets. No spoilers, but this one actually shocked me when the truth was revealed – and it still hits as an adult. The flower-child montage of Shaggy and Crystal, Scooby and Amber falling in love is an adorable jaunt through a colorful 70’s aesthetic. And there’s a jackaloupe! This film is the last installment in the franchise to feature Mary Kay Bergman as the voice of Daphne before her death, and it is lovingly dedicated to her memory.
2. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (1998)
The gang investigates an allegedly haunted bayou island in New Orleans, Louisiana. They are reunited after a hiatus, having become disenchanted by their constant run-ins with masked bad guys rather than real, supernatural monsters. Ghosts and zombies abound in this colorful ride through the American bayou south as the gang sets out to solve a 200 year old mystery steeped in gumbo, voodoo, and… werecats. The soundtrack on this one is killer, with acts like Third Eye Blind and Skycycle on the original tracks. The main song, Terror Time Again, is an instant classic that will get you in the Halloween spirit – and in the mood to run around the bayou away from some terrifying monsters. There’s also a sequel that was released in 2019, which I didn’t know about until doing research for this article. It premiered at San Diego Comic Con and can now be found everywhere digitally and on DVD.
1. Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost (1999)
Obviously at the top of this list, this film follows the gang on their travels to the fictional New England town of Oakhaven (think off-brand Salem, Massachusetts) after being invited by horror writer Ben Ravencroft. They have to solve the mystery of accused witch Sarah Ravencroft, who was executed by the Puritans in 1657. Ben, Sarah’s descendant, claims Sarah was an innocent wiccan, using her powers for healing rather than evil witchcraft. The gang soon realizes they’re in for more than just a Halloween festival and some tasty treats when it becomes clear the witches didn’t all stay in 1657… Ruh-roh. Also in this film we meet The Hex Girls, the greatest fictional band of all time. This is the perfect Halloween movie for young and old witches, warlocks, and wiccans alike. It made little Allison want to be a horror writer and a witch… halfway there.
I hope this article helped you reconnect with where your horror fixation might have started. Whether it was Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, or the Scooby-Doo cinematic universe, it’s always nice to pay homage to the frights that started it all.
Bloody horror in the Appalachian wilderness. Groovy.
Have you ever seen the Wrong Turn movies? That fun-to-binge horror film franchise with 10 sequels about a cannibalistic family in the hills of West Virginia? Those films have nothing on the mind of Ania Ahlborn, and the bloody Appalachian horror she created in 2015’s Brother.
Ahlborn hails from Poland but currently lives in South Carolina with her family. She’s a prolific horror and thriller writer with an impressive bibliography – her 11th title is soon to be released. Other popular works of Ahlborn’s include The Bird Eater, I Call Upon Thee, and Within These Walls. She began her career as a self-published author with 2011’s Seed, which eventually reached #1 in Horror on Amazon and landed the author a multi-book deal. And thanks to that deal, we were given Brother.
The Morrow family lives a simple life in rural Appalachia – if you consider kidnapping, dismembering, and eating young women as ‘simple’. Michael is a normal teenager, wondering if there is more to life than his gruesome reality. Movies, girls, Big Macs. His overbearing, tyrannical mother and domineering bully of a brother make sure he rarely sees life beyond their personal hell. His attachment to his little sister Misty Dawn makes him weary about running away to see for himself… if he could outrun his brother, that is.
Michael’s been told time and time again that there’s nothing in the world for him outside of the Morrow way of life. No one wants him but the Morrow’s – and even with them, he’s on thin ice.
Why does Michael’s brother Rebel hate him so much? Why is he such a relentless bully, reminding Michael of how worthless and unloved he is? That’s one of the greatest mysteries of this family story, and Ahlborn expertly plants the seeds leading to the reveal of why Rebel has hated Michael for the majority of his life. When the truth of Michael’s origins and Rebel’s disdain for him is revealed, the shock is palpable. The reader is left breathless, hopeless, utterly disheartened. But, don’t worry. It gets better. Rebel takes Michael out into town. Rebel lets Michael talk to girls, see a movie. Get a Big Mac. And then, things get worse. Oh, holy hell, do they get worse.
If you want to feel dirty, grimy, hopeless and lost, this book is for you. Sick and bloody imagery aside, it’s a roller coaster of emotion right up until the insane, movie-worthy finale. Dread truly drips from every page as you wait for the other shoe to drop. What will be Rebel’s breaking point? When with the Morrow’s killing end? Will Michael ever find happiness away from the only wretched life he has ever known? Only one way to find out.
If I’m being 100% honest (which I always am), I almost DNF’d this book because of the overwhelming despair alone. I love horror movies (even the Wrong Turn franchise), and I love horror books, but Ahlborn paints such a gruesome and tragic picture of a rural hellscape that truly left a rotten taste in my mouth every time I closed the book. I had to talk myself into finishing it because I was rooting for Michael, silently begging for him to escape his miserable existence. It’s also toeing the line of splatter horror (think torture-porn films like anything Eli Roth has ever made, Hostel, etc.) which is totally not my gig, at all. Most of the gore is subtle but Ahlborn throws in a sick detail every now and then that just makes you say “ew”, or “Oh my God”, or “time to read Goosebumps to cleanse my palate and fend off the nightmares”. And, when I finished the book, the rotten taste in my mouth remained. For days. But… no spoilers.
Horrifying, thrilling, and truly mind-blowing when all of the nasty pieces come together, Brother showcases the depths of human depravity and just how thick blood is when compared to water.
3 stars overall, 4 stars on the scare-scale.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Well, I didn’t know they were based on books, anyway.
I hate articles that start like “YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS THING! LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU!” Because, when the reader does know, the title and information come across as so condescending. That being said, I thought it would be fun to write one of those articles but be really honest about it. I found 10 horror movies that I really didn’t know were based off books that maybe, just maybe, you didn’t know, either.
There aren’t any Stephen King books on here, because we already know the chokehold his stories have on horror film.
1. In The Tall Grass (2019)
Okay, I lied. This one is based on Stephen King and Joe Hill’s 2012 novella of the same name. To be fair, I didn’t know this was a King-related production when I watched it on Netflix. It honestly didn’t even feel like one. It was beautifully filmed, twisted and mysterious, and criminally underrated. It stars Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, and Patrick Wilson (you know, the guy from all The Conjuring movies).
The film does have some criticism, most being that it had limited source material that felt stretched a bit too thin. I don’t necessarily agree, but that could just be because I didn’t know it was a novella and just thought it was a rad horror movie with weird pacing. It was nominated for Best Streaming Premier at the 2020 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards but lost to a film called The Perfection. I’d recommend checking it out if you like time-warping, bloody, cult and alien-related horror. Oh yeah, and cursed fields of really tall grass.
2. The Ritual (2017)
This one is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name. It follows a group of four friends taking a short-cut (never a good idea) through the forests of northern Sweden. They’re hiking in the memory of their friend who was killed in a tragic attack. If you love forest horror, creepy abandoned cabins, and cults that worship the ancient beasts of the woods, then this one might be for you. It’s a love story to atmospheric horror, low on jump scares but high on stunning cinematography, honest and moving acting, and the terror of being totally lost and off the grid. I get anxious when my cell phone has less than 50% battery, so needless to say this would not be a horror film I would survive.
The film stars Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but was sold to Netflix for streaming shortly thereafter. The novel won the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. Definitely worth a watch, and a read.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
I could write an entire article on the horror that was the 2006 Nicholas Cage version of this movie, but I am choosing not to for my sanity and for yours. The 1973 version was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual. A policeman travels to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find a colony of former Christians practicing a form of Celtic paganism involving sacrifices and other horrors. Film magazine Cinefantastique described this film as “The Citizen Kane of horror movies”. If that’s true, then the Nicholas Cage version is any Adam Sandler movie made after 1999.
There’s a sequel to the novel called The Wicca Woman that was published in 2014. Not sure why the books were published nearly fifty years apart, but I think they’re both worth a read if you’re interested in the origins of this famous (and infamous) film.
4. Jaws (1975)
I have seen Jaws probably 25 times, and I had no idea it was based on a book until researching for this article. We’re all familiar with the horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. . It was the highest-grossing film until the release of Star Wars in 1977. It tells the story of a small Massachusetts beach town that is terrorized by a man-eating great white shark.
Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name was on the bestseller list for 44 weeks and sold millions of copies worldwide. The movie focused solely on the shark and the three men hunting it and omitted the majority of Benchley’s subplots. That didn’t hurt the film’s success, however. The sequels are a horror story for another day… Of course, the literary elite will explain that it’s not about the shark, it’s about the greed of capitalism and how the rich will sacrifice the lives of the poor in order to make a quick buck.
5.The Exorcist (1973)
I guess I did know this one was based on a book, but I didn’t know until embarrassingly late in life. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel in 1971 of the same name detailing the demonic possession of a little girl named Regan and the priests who are charged with performing her exorcism. You already know I love exorcisms and possession. This film is actually one of the first horror films I ever watched. Regan and I were the same age, which both terrified and fascinated me as a budding horror fan. How could my parents forbid me to watch a movie if myself and the main character were the same age??
Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the film, earning him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Aspects of the novel were actually inspired by a real life exorcism performed in 1949 of a young boy in Maryland. I guess it’s true that the most terrifying stories are based in reality.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Speaking of stories based in reality, this is one of the first wildly successful horror franchises based on a “true story”. Of course, this claim has led to decades of controversy and lawsuits debating how “true” it really is. Still, it’s terrifying nonetheless. The novel of the same name was written by Jay Anson in 1977 and was reported to be based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family of Amityville, New York. According to the book, the Lutz family moved into a haunted house and claimed to be terrorized by evil left behind after a murder took place in the home one year prior.
The first Amityville film was released in 1979, and there have been dozens released since. The most famous remake of the 1979 original might be the 2005 version starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. None of the films since then have been particularly exciting, as they all pretty much chronicle the same series of events in pretty much the same exact way. It would be interesting to have a film more about the controversy surrounding the book – like how the book falsely claimed the home was built on a spiritual site of the local Shinnecock Indians, or how everyone who’s owned the house after the Lutz family have reported no problems at all (other than morbidly curious horror fans stopping to take photos).
7. Candyman (1992)
Another novel adaptation that I had absolutely no idea about. I don’t blame myself. This film is based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden from his horror anthology collection Books of Blood (1984), about a grad school student studying urban legends and folklore. And the movie was only made because the director Bernard Rose had a chance run-in with Barker, where Barker eventually agreed to license the rights. The original film starred Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Xander Berkeley. There were two sequels, released in 1995 and 1999 which were not met with the same critical acclaim as the first.
Never fear, for an actually good direct sequel was released just this year, in August of 2021! It’s written by Jordan Peele (a true pioneer of evolving modern horror) and directed by Nia DaCosta. Though it’s the fourth film in the series, it’s a direct sequel to the 1992 oroginal. It stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris. If you’re looking to get into the Candyman franchise, start with Barker’s short and work your way through the films (yes, even the crappy sequels. That’s part of the fun.)
8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Did you know this cult classic was based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel of the same name? Well, loosely based. It’s actually a Young Adult novel that was regarded at the time of publication as well written and cleverly mysterious. Criticism included calling the novel’s plotting basic, which (in my opinion) is pretty standard in the Young Adult genre. It follows a group of high school friends who are being tormented by an anonymous person who, you guessed it, knows what they did last summer.
The film starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. I mean, come on. Talk about a stacked cast. The film was a departure from much of the inspirational material, as the novel isn’t really a slasher and doesn’t feature the graphic deaths of several characters. Duncan herself was pretty critical of the film, stating that she was actually “appalled” that her story was turned into a slasher film. Despite the author’s poor reviews, the film went on to have two sequels, one in 1998 and one in 2006. Not too shabby.
9. Hellraiser (1987)
And I was worried about too much Stephen King – turns out, I should have been worried about Clive Barker all along. I’m not a huge fan of the Hellraiser franchise in general, but I was fascinated to know that it, too, was inspired by a Clive Barker novella (The Hellbound Heart, 1986). The film serves as Barker’s directorial debut. The plot is basically about this group of beings called Cenobites who cannot tell the difference between pain and pleasure. You might know the leader of the Cenobites, played by Doug Bradley, as “Pinhead”. The original film was met with mixed criticism, but was followed by NINE sequels, so… I guess criticism doesn’t really matter.
The film was initially given an X rating, so Barker had to cut multiple scenes to get it down to an R. Cut scenes included a hammer murder, a naked murder, exposed entrails, and a closeup of an exploded head. Gnarly. Apparently the source material is just as gory and visceral, as is much of Barker’s work. The novella also has two sequels and several spinoffs to check out, if you’re interested. Barker uses a lot of the same horrors throughout his different tales, so you might spot a Cenobite or two across his massive bibliography.
10. American Psycho (2000)
Here’s another one I’m a little embarrassed about. Bret Easton Ellis published the novel of the same name in 1991, telling the story of Patrick Bateman, a serial killer by night and investment banker by day. The novel was wildly successful when it released, though controversial. Ellis himself claimed everyone thought the book was going to end his career. And if the morbidly curious reader didn’t go absolutely nuts over it when it came out, it just might have. American Psycho is the 53rd most banned and challenged book in the U.S. between 1990 and 1999, and sales were restricted in Germany and Australia due to potentially harmful subject matter. Feminist activist Gloria Steinem vehemently opposed the book due to its portrayal of violence against women. Coincidentally, Steinem is the stepmother of actor Christian Bale.
The same Christian Bale who portrayed Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation! The film was marketed as a dark but comedic film. It starred Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon. It premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival where it was alleged to be “the next Fight Club” (that came out in 1999, also based on a novel). Upon its theatrical release, the film was met with positive reviews by most major outlets. There was even a straight-to-video spin-off made (aptly titled American Psycho 2) that no one watched. The novel is certainly worth the read, if only to figure out what all the fuss was about when it came out.
Well, there you have it. Ten horror films I didn’t know were based on books. Did you already know any of these? Good for you.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Drowned. A homely girl with little talent, sure to be an eternal burden.
I was ugly, that’s what the boys would mock. Usefulness escaped me. I could clean, whether it be our hovel, or the fish papa caught at the lake.
Papa drowned me. Violently, for spoiling the day’s catch. Accidents happen, but not by ugly girls.
He should’ve known it wasn’t wise to fish the lake he drowned me in. Now he will be my company in this watery grave and help to keep this malevolence in check.
Good thing. Else this ugly water witch would drown you, too.
Would it be wrong of me to skin you,
to fillet the flesh from your ivory bones
Pain spurts from your crooked mouth,
serenading me with your pitiful groans
The warmth of your blood bathes me,
as you cry frantic to your God and atone
Matters none cause your death is at hand,
and it is your soul that I will own
More About Spyder
Spyder Collins is a man of many faces. He haunts the caves of Colorado, where he weaves disturbing tales of horror and destruction. When he’s not agitating the minds of unsuspecting readers, he pens soul-shattering poetry.
A priest, a skeptic, and a forensic psychologist walk into an exorcism…
If you haven’t seen Evil, you’re missing out. It’s perfect for fans of the following; religious trauma, police procedurals, night terrors, demonic possession, and a batshit crazy battle between “good” and, well, evil. It should come as no surprise to Little Book Blog locals that I’m so into this show – the demonic possession trope truly has me in a chokehold. And, with this one, bonus points for debunking it. Well… sort of. But we’ll get into that.
Evil premiered on CBS in September of 2019, which feels like a decade ago after the Hell that was 2020. This year, it was added to Netflix, and I got my grubby little hands on it and fell in love. Unfortunately, as of 10/1/21, it’s no longer available on Netflix, but you can watch Season 1 and Season 2 (new episode every Sunday) on Paramount+. I recommend getting the free trial and binging over a long weekend because there’s not much else on there worth watching. And I must have some good karma, because it got renewed for a third season.
The show follows a great ensemble of characters investigating supernatural occurrences for the Catholic Church. Basically, they’re attempting to determine if these supernatural happenings are genuine demonic possessions, miracles sent from Heaven, or just your run-of-the-mill psychosis or physical abnormality. It’s a mix of the classic “monster of the week” format with intricate, ongoing subplots.
David Acosta (played by Mike Colter) is a former journalist studying to be a Catholic priest. While undergoing his priesthood training, he’s working as an assessor for his superiors. He takes drugs to see God, but he’s still not sure if it’s the Man Upstairs or just his own, drug-induced visions of Hell.
Dr. Kristen Bouchard (played by Katja Herbers) is a forensic psychologist who is hired by David to be a part of the assessment team. She doesn’t believe in religion or demonic possession, but there are things she sees that push her perception of science and reality to the breaking point.
Ben Shakir (played by Aasif Mandvi) is the comic relief and technical expert. He’s Hell-bent on providing scientific explanations for every supernatural situation they assess.
The team’s main adversary is Dr. Leland Townsend (played by Michael Merson). He’s a forensic psychologist too – a direct rival of Kristen – and a self-professed expert in the occult. He influences others to commit evil acts and takes pride in hurting all members of the team but particularly David, as he wishes to derail his path to priesthood.
SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL!
Let’s do an episode by episode recap, so we can all be up to speed on what the Hell we just watched. If you haven’t watched yet and are just into reading spoilers… I guess that’s okay too.
EPISODE ONE: “Genesis 1”
In the first ever episode, we meet Dr. Kristen Bouchard while she’s working as a forensic psychologist for the DA’s office and testifying in the murder trial of a man named Orson LeRoux. Orson claims to have been demonically possessed during the time of his heinous crimes and, therefore, not at fault. Then, Kristen is rather dramatically fired by the DA’s office and takes a temporary position with David Acosta, aspiring priest, in order to determine whether or not Orson is *actually* possessed by a demon.
During an interview, LeRoux taunts Kristen with personal information about her life that she has shared with no one but her therapist. She investigates how LeRoux got this information, only to discover that her therapy notes were stolen by none other than – DUN DUN DUN – Leland Townsend. Kristen deduces that Leland is the one telling LeRoux to act possessed in an attempt to get away with murder. In the end, Kristen decides to permanently join David’s team of assessors.
The first episode falls into a trap I think a lot of first episodes fall into – so many subplots, so little time! Kristen has a bad relationship with her carefree mother (not to mention four young daughters and a husband who is gone for six months out of the year climbing Everest!) and is plagued by a sleep paralysis demon named George (who is actually hilarious). David is tempted by lustful feelings despite his desire to become a priest (aka, celibate) AND he is desperately trying to see visions of God, as he has in the past. We don’t learn a lot about Ben right away but you can tell from the beginning that he’s going to be the best character on the show. The cool thing about this trap, however, is that Evil kind of pulls it off. All the little pieces moving around each other in this demonic (or not??) circle just waiting to come together for an eventual reveal feels intricate, but not confusing, right from the jump.
That being said, the first episode is also the most boring. It paints the picture as a courtroom procedural that it’s totally not. Sure, it’s spooky with George the sleep paralysis demon and Leland’s…. everything, but it’s nothing compared to what comes next. And maybe that’s for the best. So it won’t scare anyone away before you can get fully sucked in.
EPISODE TWO: “177 Minutes”
A girl named Naomi miraculously comes back to life after her autopsy begins. Yep, right after the scalpel starts slicing, she’s suddenly awake. David and friends are called in to determine if she was revived under miraculous circumstances. There’s video of the autopsy room that shows an image of a woman’s face – a woman who died in the hospital at the same time as Naomi’s revival. Ben (yay, Ben!) debunks the image as possible digital manipulation. This is never confirmed, however, and we’re left to wonder if it was digital or divine intervention. In terms of the actual revival of Naomi after death, David eventually discovers that she was never actually dead. Racist practices among hospital staff resulted in Naomi being pronounced dead thirty minutes too early (thirty minutes less time spent saving her life, as opposed to a white patient). Meanwhile, one of Kristen’s four daughters starts seeing George in her dreams, too. Together, Kristen and her daughter determine that George is a character from a scary movie, and therefore not real, and he can’t hurt them. Or… can he?
We also learn in this episode that Kristen’s old job at the DA’s office has been taken by none other than – DUN DUN DUN – Leland Townsend.
I personally love the “monster of the week” format. Episode one was Orson LeRoux, episode two is Naomi. The show doesn’t spoon-feed you any time of divine message, either. In fact, two-thirds of the Catholic Church’s assessment team don’t even believe in God, miracles, or demons. With the ambiguity of the image of the dead patient in the autopsy room, you’re left to wonder if, perhaps, the spirit did have a hand at reviving Naomi, or if David’s discovery of a wrongful pronunciation of death is to blame.
The racial messaging in the show isn’t spoon-fed, either. It’s blatant right away that the show will pull no punches, and not shy away from the fact that David is a minority, both in real life and in the Catholic Church (especially in the priesthood). It’s woven right into the story and diverse cast of characters as another level of horror.
I was partially invested by the end of the second episode. The main three – Kristen, David, and Ben – work so well together. And it HAS to be noted just how creepy Leland Townsend is. Every time he’s in a scene I get the creeps. Michael Merson also played the creepiest character in Lost, so, I’m not surprised. But the biggest creeps are yet to come.
EPISODE THREE: “3 Stars”
The monster of the week this time is… a Broadway producer? Sounds random, but stay with me on this. It is alleged that the producer sold his soul to a demon named Joe (what a lame name for a demon) so he would win a Tony Award. Ben and Kristen immediately attempt to debunk it, and think they have succeeded when they reveal the producer’s personal assistant (like an Alexa or Google Home) was hacked by an anonymous tormentor. The assessor team is eventually able to track down the disgruntled IT Tech that hacked the device to torment the producer… but are unable to figure out how “Joe” the demon hacked into Ben’s personal assistant at home. After turning a corner from his mental breakdown and seemingly getting back to normal, the Broadway producer gets an email stating “Hell is only half full…” and subsequently commits suicide by jumping out of his NYC office window.
On the Leland front (which is only getting more bizarre), Kristen finds out he is overturning her ruling on an old case, which could send an innocent young boy to prison for life. She secretly records him admitting all these heinous things about himself, how he’s evil and wants the boy to go to prison, but the recording is corrupted. Ben (yay, Ben!) uses deepfake technology to remake the recording, nailing Leland and getting him fired from the case.
Okay. By episode three, things are really heating up. The subplots are rolling forward, the monster of the week was increasingly bizarre – like why was Ben being pulled into it? Who emailed the producer about Hell? Why did he kill himself when he seemed to be getting better?? And David started taking drugs to see God again, and he’s now convinced God is pointing him toward a random neighborhood in Queens. Also, I was like 100% sure by this point that Leland is a demon. I mean, come on. He’s totally creepy, admitted to wanting to watch the world burn, and the recording of his voice was all screwed up because of his demonic weirdness. Ben said he might have had some type of scrambling device on him at the time of the recording… but I blame the demon.
Also by this point it’s pretty clear that there’s some type of bigger picture at play. Sure, each “monster of the week” is either demonic or miraculous, but the undercurrent of the show is that EVERYTHING could be demonic or miraculous. And, if that’s true, then EVERYTHING is connected. We just don’t know how… yet.
EPISODE FOUR: “Rose390“
The assessors are assigned to help the McCrystal family determine if their young son Eric is possessed by a demon. Kristen, being a forensic psychologist still, officially declares Eric a budding psychopath. Eric bonds with David, and despite Kristen’s evaluation of psychopathy, David tells Eric to pray to God, and ask God for the things he wants most in life. Eric shows improvement, but upon David’s next visit, Eric has attempted to drown his infant sister. David saves the infant just in time. The Church orders an emergency exorcism (is that a real thing?) but, when the assessors arrive, Eric is “missing”. It’s heavily implied that his parents killed him, having had enough of his demonic ways.
Meanwhile (see what I mean about subplots?), Kristen’s mom Sheryl bought Kristen’s kids VR headsets. There’s a game already downloaded into them about a possessed little girl. In the game, they meet an online player named Rose390. Ben (whom the girls call Ben the Magnificent, which is adorable) tries to remove the game, but is unable to do so. Kristen throws the VR headsets away as a result.
FINALLY, a scary episode! Something about the VR game was totally terrifying to me. Especially that creepy little girl calling herself Rose390, trying to get Kristen’s kids to open up some portal in a Ouija Board. Even Ben the tech genius couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t un-download the creepy game (and the game was CREEPY – spiders and demonic images and monsters). And he couldn’t figure out who Rose390 was, though he assumed it was a predator (real or demonic, who can say?).
And don’t even get me started on the McCrystals. Sure, it’s *technically* an ambiguous ending, and you don’t know for certain if they killed Eric or not… but it’s implied. In the background of the scene when David and Kristen and the exorcist arrive at the home, you can hear Mr. McCrystal arguing with a cop about there being blood on the floor, and they didn’t hurt Eric, he’s just missing. Mrs. McCrystal tearfully tells Kristen that she had to do what she had to do to protect her family and infant daughter, and Kristen would do the same. Would she though?
This was the first episode to truly marry the terrifying and the heartbreaking, bringing an ounce of humanity into the weirdness of demonic possession. Ben and Kristen’s skepticism is in stark contrast to David’s belief that Eric needed to seek guidance from God, and it’s really tragic that they’re saddled with the guilt of being unable to save Eric from whatever fate he suffered – whether through God or otherwise.
EPISODE FIVE: “October 31st”
The assessment team is called to investigate and perform an exorcism on a possessed (or schizophrenic) woman named Caroline. David and Kristen butt heads because David believes Caroline can be cured via God’s love and an exorcism, while Kristen believes Caroline is being tortured and needs medical care (aka not an exorcism but a real doctor). David’s exorcism eventually cures Caroline and she expels the demon from her body (or does she?). Meanwhile, Ben is a guest star on a Ghost Adventures type show and it’s absolutely hilarious to watch him debunk every scary thing that happens.
Kristen’s daughters are celebrating Halloween with a sleepover party. A girl named Brenda is invited, despite no one at the sleepover liking her. Brenda is wearing a mask and doesn’t take it off during the duration of the sleepover. Brenda coaxes the girls to the nearby graveyard, where they begin to bury Kristen’s youngest daughter alive. Kristen arrives before anyone is hurt, and it is revealed that the real Brenda stayed home – and no one knows the identity of the little girl in the mask who disappears into the night.
And last but not least (subplots, oh my!) Leland seduces Kristen’s mom!
Another scary episode! This one was bursting with Halloween creeps – especially in the scenes involving Kristen’s daughters and that spooky little freak, Brenda. The kids hold up flashlights and tell scary stories and it’s endlessly charming – and endlessly creepy. Especially because in the end, we never find out who “Brenda” really was. It was such a campy ghost story for the kids that left me scared and wanting more. I’d watch a Brenda spinoff.
Ben’s appearance on the ghost hunting show was absolutely hilarious. Much needed between the scenes of Caroline’s gruesome exorcism and David and Kristen arguing about the dangers of demons and schizophrenia. This is the first episode where David’s faith and Kristen’s lack thereof have come to a head, and it was actually quiet disturbing to watch them argue after several episodes of being great teammates despite their differences in beliefs. And Leland seducing Sheryl left my jaw hanging open. Does he know who she is? She doesn’t know who he is, and she certainly doesn’t know that he’s evil (and in my opinion, demonic).
EPISODE SIX: “Let x = 9”
A Chinese daycare worker named Grace is allegedly a prophet, speaking of things only outlined by a 500 year old codex describing the end of the world. The Church pressures David into pronouncing Grace a false prophet, because it the codex and her predictions are correct, the world will come to a burning end. Grace is eventually deported by ICE, but not before giving David a final drawing of the missing piece of the codex.
Sheryl invites Leland over for dinner at Kristen’s house. Kristen takes him into the backyard and slices into his throat, demanding he leave and never return. She tries to convince her mother that Leland is evil, but Sheryl writes Kristen’s warning off as anger and jealousy.
It’s weird, because this episode is critical and pivotal to multiple plots, but it was probably my least favorite of them all. The thing about the codex is cool, and it’s revealing more of that major conspiracy/underlying demons that I mentioned before. But it was rather anti-climactic with Grace being deported and David and team wondering what the codex actually represents – besides the end of the world, that is. It’s a giant map of shapes and illustrations in connected circles, and apparently no one has ever been able to decode it. So, we’ll see. Overall, it was pretty boring compared to the insanity of last week. Kristen slicing Leland’s throat was totally badass, though.
And the whole Sheryl and Leland thing is so crazy! Sheryl is definitely a loose cannon, but I found it so ridiculous that she didn’t listen to her daughter’s warnings. Even when Kristen played Sheryl the deepfaked recording of Leland saying horrible things about being evil, Sheryl didn’t care. I think Leland’s demonic energy is drawing her in.
EPISODE SEVEN: “Vatican III”
Leland is mentoring a young man named Sebastian, an incel (involuntary celibate) that’s angry at women and the world in general. Leland is convincing Sebastian to take physical and violent action against women, and women-centered organizations. Meanwhile, a woman named Bridget confesses to multiple murders of young men during her exorcism. David and Kristen are at odds once more as they try to determine whether Bridget is a possessed killer or a victim of a mental illness.
It is eventually revealed that Bridget is not the killer – her doting husband is. The exorcism and possession were an elaborate ruse conducted by the pair to cover up for the fact that the husband has been on a killing spree, collecting trophies from each of his young victims and hiding them within the home. David discovers the trophies and apprehends the husband.
The team is granted access by the Vatican to view the entire 500 year old codex. They sneak pictures with Kristen’s cell phone and discover it is a hierarchy if demons on Earth, each with their own sigil. David recognizes one as an artistic signature used by his father.
More politics. Honestly, the portrayal of the incel culture on the internet was one of the most terrifying aspects of this episode. As always, the exorcism was gruesome (think vomit, demonic voices, bodily harm, broken bones, etc.) and the tension between David and Kristen was palpable.
But, you’re telling me that this codex has been around for 500 years and only just now, a wannabe priest, a skeptic, and a psychologist randomly solve it? I mean, I’m glad they did, and I’m not surprised it was something to do with demons (where’s Leland’s picture on there??) but I just think it’s convenient that it took them all of 15 minutes to discover something 500 years of study couldn’t do. There’s a total atmospheric dread though – dread of what Leland is grooming Sebastian into, dread about the codex and end of the world, and dread about this new hierarchy of demons… and if that means demons *are* real, after all.
EPISODE EIGHT: “2 Fathers”
David and Kristen visit David’s father’s farm/art studio/compound in upstate New York, only to find that he’s remarried a young bride and has a baby on the way. David confronts his father, Leon, about using the demon sigil in his artwork and his father claims it grants him clarity. While at a party at Leon’s home, David and Kristen both drink punch laced with hallucinogenics, giving them visions. Kristen watches Leon’s young wife give birth to a ghoul in a cornfield, while David meets the ghost of a slave. The sigil Leon uses in his artwork is the brand of a slave owner. This enrages David, but he makes peace with the fact that he and his father must endure the pain of their family’s history in their own ways.
DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE GHOUL IN THE CORNFIELD! I was shocked, I was disgusted, I was dismayed. I was horrified. And I was totally into it. The absolute absurdity of a woman giving birth to this being (way bigger than a baby, mind you) that looks like a mix of Benjamin Button and Predator right before Kristen’s eyes, then Kristen goes home and laughs it off because she was “hallucinating” is just so disturbing and hilarious. And it’s ambiguous – was it a ghoul? Did it actually happen? What the actual Hell?
And once again, the show gracefully includes racial discussions and the pain of David’s family heritage. Likening a slave owner’s brand to a demonic sigil is fitting and poignant. Sometimes, demons are right before our eyes. It’s also a welcome shift in pace to watch David go through something so profoundly emotional and personal. Week after week, he and the team watch people go through the worst time in their life (I mean, demonic possession would probably be close to my worst day ever) and we don’t get constant insight into their own battles with good and evil. My favorite episode, by far. Not just because the show has officially begun it’s bizarre descent into demonic madness, but because we’re learning more about the characters and their own personal Hell.
EPISODE NINE: “Exorcism Part 2”
David and the Church are being sued by Caroline (remember her from episode Five?) for botching her exorcism. A Church lawyer, sister of David’s deceased girlfriend, defends David as the prosecution reveals his history of drug-related legal offenses and arrests. Kristen convinces both parties that the medical care Caroline received after her exorcism is the real reason for her failing health, not the exorcism itself.
Meanwhile, Leland continues to coach Sebastian and introduce him to other members of the incel community. They are planning to execute an act of gun violence upon an all-women’s gym, and then a prayer group at a local church – the church where David leads a prayer group on that very night. Sebastian accidentally shoots himself while posing in the mirror with the guns Leland provided him with.
Kind of a boring recap, but not a boring episode. It’s a fascinating legal and moral argument about the negative effects an exorcism can have on the body – even if it worked at expelling the “demon”. The exorcisms have always been portrayed as gruesome, bloody affairs for all involved, taxing both physically and mentally. I wasn’t surprised when Caroline wanted to sue the church for the exorcism. Kristen setting aside her differences to make good with David and blame the medicine Caroline received afterward for the woman’s failing mental health was an interesting take. It’s clear that Kristen and David’s relationship is more important to both of them than their individual beliefs. It does, however, make me wonder how far Kristen is willing to blur the lines between truth and a lie.
Sebastian shooting himself in the head accidentally was another jaw-dropping moment. Right at the end of the episode, and the credits play in silence as his blood spreads across the floor. It’s gut-wrenching, because he was becoming the worst of the worst – a violent man, hateful of women, and easily manipulated by others (like Leland) who shared his disgusting beliefs. To watch him get his brains blown out by his own hand was… almost satisfying, if only to know that he wouldn’t be able to shoot up the gym or the church. That being said, the horror only continues when the camera cuts to Leland, at first upset at the loss of his protege, then comforted by the influx of incel videos he was able to watch afterward. An unnerving, sinking feeling that there will always be another mind for Leland to manipulate. There will always be evil.
EPISODE TEN: “7 Swans A Singin'”
A group of girls at a Catholic school can’t stop singing or humming a particular melody. Ben and Kristen discover the song is originally from an internet cartoon about Santa being high on marijuana, and was later used in the background of a popular influencer’s viral video. Ben determines the song transmits a secret message to those under the age of 16, telling them to commit suicide. The team confronts the influencer and she blames her producer. She later goes to her producer for help, who is none other than – DUN DUN DUN – Leland Townsend!
Meanwhile, Sheryl tells one of Kristen’s daughter’s to deal with a school bully with violence, perpetuating Leland’s beliefs. David goes to confession at church and is stabbed in the chest on his way out, his phone just out of reach.
This show really finds such interesting ways to interject the current world – and current evils – into this realm of demons and miracles. I never would have thought they would be uncovering demonic messaging in an influencer’s viral makeup tutorial, but they did (actually, Ben the Magnificent did). On top of the demonic messaging is the general horror of influencers in general, and how negatively they impact the minds and body image of young people (young women and girls in particular).
This episode in particular confirms my idea that Leland is behind all of this! I don’t know how, but I think I know why – serving the Devil, obviously. He’s using every tactic he can to watch the world burn… even it it’s including subliminal messaging in a random video jingle. And I can’t imagine waiting for next week to see what happens to David. I mean, obviously the show wasn’t going to kill him off, but what happens? Does he go to Heaven? Does he finally see God again? Or… does he go to Hell?
Luckily, I watched this on Netflix, so I didn’t have to wait.
EPISODE ELEVEN: “Room 320”
David is in the hospital following his attack. He learns from his roommate that the attending nurse, Nurse Bloch, is an angel of death that targets black patients and collects their hospital wristbands as trophies. David tries several times to escape, but fails. He sees horrifying visions of patients being killed and dragged away through the halls of the hospital. In a dream (or was it?) he receives a warning from the prophet Grace (from episode six) to remember Matthew 13:25 (“But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and left”).
Meanwhile, Kristen and Ben work together to find out who stabbed David. They come to the conclusion that it is a man named Ghana, who David once performed an exorcism on. Ghana also happens to be Rose390 from the VR headset game. Ben creates an avatar in the game and goes head-to-head with Ghana (or, Rose390) until they can triangulate his location and send the police to apprehend him.
Kristen visits David in the hospital and outsmarts Nurse Bloch to save him. They are not able to catch Nurse Bloch in time and she disappears, leaving behind a locker full of hospital wristbands.
Holy crap. This episode is so terrifying, especially if you’re into medical horror/hospital horror, etc. I’m actually not a fan of medical horror, like when patients are drugged and at the mercy of evil hospital personnel, but this episode scared me to my core. Watching David be tortured physically and mentally by this Nurse Ratched wannabe was absolutely jarring – he’s the large, tall, strong and sensible man that we’ve seen throughout the season, reduced to dragging his beaten and bloody body across the hospital floor in a desperate attempt to survive.
What’s the significance of Matthew 13:25? Well, I think Grace said this to David to get him to realize that while he was drugged and unconscious, Nurse Bloch was torturing and killing other black patients. And, in general, don’t sleep on evil and the Devil, because they’re everywhere. Even when you should feel most safe.
The reveal of Rose390 being a former exorcism client of David’s is fascinating, and yet again makes me think Leland is involved in this, somehow. He’s connected to everyone who’s getting exorcised or exhibiting demonic behavior… I just don’t know HOW yet, but I know it’s true.
EPISODE TWELVE: “Justice x 2”
The DA calls Kristen back to court in an attempt to stop Leland from overturning LeRoux’s conviction, freeing the killer back into society. When Kristen is called to the stand, she is forced to admit that she taunted LeRoux during her psychological assessment of him, and his conviction is then overturned. When Leland approaches Kristen to gloat, she confronts him with all the research she has done about him – he is not the Devil, he is a loser who moved from his small town and changed his name and left behind an unsatisfied ex-wife and nothing else. He is nothing but a loser, and he will never be stronger than she is.
Meanwhile, David responds to a call from a woman pleading for spiritual guidance, only to be taken prisoner by her. She is also holding an African comedian captive, claiming he had something to do with the brutal slaughter of her friends and family back in Africa. The woman kills the comedian but lets David go after she turns herself in to the police, claiming she did it for justice, and she’d do it again.
At the end of the episode, Leland is meeting with his demon therapist, discussing their plans on how to deal with Kristen.
The episode features David and the comedian being held captive pretty heavily, as that’s this episode’s “monster of the week”, so to speak. I wish there was more about LeRoux’s case, and the reality of his conviction being overturned and what that means for his wife and Kristen and everyone else who helped put him behind bars. I do have to say, though, Kristen’s confrontation of Leland was absolutely badass. It was so satisfying to watch him flounder as she ripped into him, calling him a loser (though it did give me flashbacks to the kids in It defeating Pennywise. “You’re just a clown!”).
That being said, David’s captivity is brutal and terrifying. The woman is at the brink of a full psychotic break as she’s convinced herself the comedian was involved in the slaughter of her friends and family. Eventually, the comedian admits to what the woman is accusing him of – but we don’t know if he really did it, or he’s just admitting to it to try and get away. The woman kills him anyway, and that’s the most terrifying part of all. She begged him to admit it, and when he did, she shot him in the head.
It definitely feels like we’re winding up to the end of the season with this episode, especially in regard to Kristen and Leland’s showdown. Something big is looming on the horizon as all of these demons are being unearthed along with the hierarchy of the codex. And I was just DYING to find out what.
EPISODE THIRTEEN: “Book 27”
LeRoux uses his freedom to harass Kristen and threaten her daughters. Leland proposes to Sheryl. When Sheryl announces the new to Kristen, Kristen forbids her mother from being in her house, or around the kids, until she breaks it off with Leland and realizes he is no good.
David and the assessors are called to review a pregnant woman’s fear that one of her babies is possessed in utero. When the second twin mysteriously vanishes in the womb, David suggests an exorcism be performed, but the surviving baby is born before they have the chance. The children were conceived at RSM Fertility. David and the team dig into the fertility clinic and discover links to families they worked with previously (remember Eric? Yeah, he was an RSM baby). They also discover that the clinic is a front for the demonic hierarchy, and whoever is involved is corrupting the fetuses to create a generation of humans easily influenced by the Devil. One of Kristen’s daughters was conceived with the help of the fertility clinic.
At the end of the episode, Kristen holds a crucifix in her hand. It burns her. Oh, yeah, and she gets a call that LeRoux was bludgeoned to death.
Season finales are hard. You want the loose ends to be tied up, but you also want new loose ends to be created so there’s something to look forward to in Season 2. This finale didn’t tie up ANYTHING. It created a whole slew of mysteries for the assessors to tackle: what’s going on at the fertility clinic? Why is Leland trying to corrupt a generation of people? And is Kristen a demon, now? What the actual Hell? You can tell there was already a Season 2 approved, because if there wasn’t, this would be the worst cliffhanger a show has ever ended on, ever. Did Kristen kill LeRoux??
The idea of the fertility clinic being used to create a generation of humans extra-susceptible to sin and evil is actually terrifying. To use eugenics for such a nefarious purpose (eugenics is already nefarious, but you know what I mean) is such a genius plan on the part of Leland and the people (or demons?) he’s working for. So what does that mean for Kristen’s daughter? I wonder how she’ll be influenced by demons, and evil in general.
Overall, I think the finale was a beautiful culmination of the evil we have seen across the whole of the series. It’s pretty clear that the demons and mysteries have had effects on all three of the assessors, but profoundly Kristen – she’s become more tough, headstrong, and she’s being burned by the crucifix. I think she caught Leland’s demon… or, something like that. I don’t know if possession is contagious.
Well, if you stuck around until the end of this article… thanks. I’m hoping to have my recap and review of Season 2 up next week! So, stick around for that, too.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Images are used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense. All images are copyrighted by show creators Robert King & Michael King and CBS Studios.
Craig shoveled the last of the snow off the driveway and ran a hand across his forehead. Despite the bitter cold, the effort to clear the twenty yards between the garage and the street was enough to make him sweat. He looked back at the house and reflected on his work. Perfect, he thought, we’ll be able to get out easily when she goes into labor.
He picked up the snow shovel and started back up the driveway when he noticed a peculiar trail of footprints leading through the snow from the woods to the front of the house. He rolled his eyes. Guess the local teens are playing a prank on the new neighbors, he thought.
They’d been warned by a dozen locals about the Weeping Widow. Twenty years ago, a lunatic had broken into this very house and attacked a pregnant woman who was home by herself. The attacker apparently cut the woman’s baby out of her womb in the kitchen and ran off into the night. The woman dragged her bleeding body out of the house after her assailant and died in the woods not far from the house. The house had been vacant ever since. Supposedly she still haunted the woods to this very day, crying and wailing in the dead of night for her stolen child.
“Haunted woods” aside, the property was a steal. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, with an acre of land to spread out on. Perfect for their growing family. Now if the kids around here would just leave us alone, Craig thought. The footprints led all the way to the front porch. They better be long gone by the time I get there. For their sake.
Then there was a scream.
The snow shovel clattered to the ground as he ran up the slippery driveway, stumbling onto the porch and through the front door. He failed to notice the watery footprints leading up the stairs as he scrambled to the second floor.
He threw open the bedroom door. He fell to his knees, the end of a severed umbilical cord reaching toward the open doorway. A shriek rang out from the woods.
The Weeping Widow had taken a child for herself.
More About Conner
Conner Lee is a Colorado native who has always had a passion for storytelling of any medium. While he’s written stories his entire life, it wasn’t until his final year of college studying Music Education that he realized his love of crafting meaningful stories. Since then, he’s spent countless hours and any spare energy creating dynamic characters and writing stories with purpose. When he isn’t working full-time in the craft beer industry, Conner spends his time writing, playing video games, and spending time with his wife and four children.
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It was the same hunting trip Robert took each October. The leased nine acres looked the same as every year: tree branches knotted together across a cold Kentucky sky, faded yellow, brown, and orange leaves drying on the ground, wind gusts caught along the ravines, and forgotten rock walls. It was the first time Robert had taken this trip alone. Where there had always been three rifle scopes, and three orange caps, and three homemade lunches were now only one. Robert’s older brother had stopped coming several years ago after his wife claimed him, and this was their father’s first absence since the cancer claimed him that summer.
Robert followed the trail deeper into the woods. He thought he knew it better than the deer by now. He knew once it banked east, he’d come across an open field seated just under sunset. The “sweet spot” his father had called it. If he could make it, then his hunger and the kill would be worth it.
That was easier now. The hunger and the killing. Robert packed an extra power bar for a snack and, well, he’d lost count of how many deer he’d shot and missed since he was eight. Each winter he’d fill his deep freezer with meat and donate what he couldn’t use to the butcher who dried the hide to make hats and dog chews.
The field burned with the fading colors of sunset. It was beautiful. Every year Robert had forgotten just how beautiful this spot could be. He turned to his left, about to comment on the view to his father, but stopped. There was nothing on his left. No matter how strong the memory of his father- orange cap askew over graying hair, middle finger over the rifle trigger since his pointer was missing from a crossbow accident, wrinkles over a kind smile- the spot beside Robert would remain empty. He swallowed down the sadness before it could clutch his heart and settled into a seat in the brush.
It wouldn’t be long before they came out of the woods.
The sun dipped below the ridgeline. The milky stars appeared in the twilight. The power bar gurgled in Robert’s stomach. The field remained empty. This couldn’t be right. This spot always worked. This was the spot they felled their deer every year. Despite the weather reports, despite the migration reports, despite the trail cam footage, this was the sweet spot. Unless Robert’s father took the magic with him.
Robert refused to believe that. He had to. Of all the trips to return empty-handed, this one would not be it. It couldn’t be. Robert raised his scope and scanned the tree line across the field. He discerned the tree trunks, the size of pencils from this distance, from one another and searched for a deer hidden between them.
The scope passed over two large furry legs. Robert remained calmed, knowing something with legs the size of flag poles in a pencil forest would have plenty of meat for winter, and raised the rifle slightly to view the animal. Its pupils stared right back through the lens.
It was a deer, but it was also not.
The eyes were too forward. They found Robert’s eyes behind the scope and held them with an eerie intelligence. The deer’s legs contained too many joints, as if the animal possessed extra knees. Its neck was too long and added to its size. According to the scope, the neck was two feet long, and the entire animal stood six feet tall.
As tall as Robert.
Through the scope, Robert watched the deer walk out of the tree line. It wobbled with each step as if it was just learning to walk. The legs strained under the mass of it. After several steps, Robert was certain the deer was going to collapse, but it kept moving. It kept crossing the field. Robert lowered his rifle, and his breath caught seeing how quickly it covered the distance. He swore the deer had only taken a couple of steps, but it was already halfway across the field.
Halfway toward him.
A hard rock formed in Robert’s stomach, and the hairs on his arms raised. The animal was coming right for him. Its eyes glued onto him like a predator. With each clunky step, Robert forgot to breathe. With each clunky step, Robert’s limbs tightened. With each clunky step, Robert heard something clicking. He thought it was the deer’s too-many joints popping until he saw its elongated muzzle snapping together. Its mouth opened too long, expanding up to its molded ears housing long, pointed teeth.
Drool dripped from the deer’s jaw, and Robert scrambled backward, grabbing at the undergrowth until he found enough purchase to pull himself to his feet. His orange cap fell in his haste, his rifle smacked his shoulder as he ran. The trail he thought he knew so well snarled around him and, without the sunlight to help guide him to the road, panic gripped his throat.
The clicking sound was everywhere. He felt hot breath on his neck. The smell of rotten earth clogged his senses. Branches tried to hold Robert back as he ran faster. A brier bush tore open his pant leg. The top of his sock was sticky with blood when Robert finally broke through the trees. He couldn’t rest; the clicking was growing louder. Robert heard another set of noises: a response?
He pushed forward through the waist-high grasses trying to trip him. He evaded the tangling weeds, but not one of the rocks hidden below. Falling headlong into the field, Robert threw out his arms to protect his face. The rotting smell was stronger here. Scrambling back to his feet, Robert saw the lanky deer thing was now closer than he thought possible.
No. A second deer thing. The one approaching had antlers. In the near-absent light, Robert swore the bone resembled human hands. Seven of them reaching for him.
Robert tore through the last of the grasses and slammed himself into his truck just on the other side of the field. He fumbled with his keys, and they fell to the ground. He bent down to pick them up and, as he rose, he saw it. The Not-Deer. It stood on its hind legs at the front of the truck, its front hooves denting the hood. The hands forming from its antlers twisted and grasped at the air, at the radio antenna, at Robert through the windshield. One of the hands, tinged in red, was missing its pointer finger. The Not-Deer unhinged its jaw full of canines and unleashed a piercing scream.
Robert shoved the keys into the ignition and threw the gear into reverse, the truck making its own hideous sound. His hasty three-point-turn kicked up a cloud of dirt, and the truck sped down the highway. The speedometer lurching past 100 MPH, but Robert still heard the clicking of the Not-Deer.
Seven human hands and two sets of golden eyes gleamed in the rearview.
More About Jordan
Jordan S. Keller is a Cincinnati based author who writes fantasy and science fiction. Her first novel, Wildfire: The Rise of a Hero, is currently on submission.
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