“Charlestonian Monsters” and the Horrors of Nature

The following is a horror short story called “Charlestonian Monsters.”  I originally wrote it for the advanced fiction writing class I took my last semester at Utah State.  It is (as the name implies) set in Charleston (well, North Charleston), South Carolina, where I spent the first few months of my LDS mission.  This piece was an attempt to encapsulate some of the “monsters” I came in contact with during that experience– racism, abuse, neglect, poverty.  It also deals with two monsters that I heard numerous stories of– Hurricane Hugo, which destroyed much of of Charleston in 1989, and the hag, which I’ve had several friends who have personal experiences with.  It’s something that scares the crap out of me.  My interpretation of said hag is a little more… twisted than the accounts I’ve heard, but I had a lot of fun with it.

This story is also up on my deviantART, if you’d rather read it there.

If you aren’t in the mood for some horror fiction, skip down to the bottom to read a guest post about the typhoon in the Philippines– and how it, like Hurricane Hugo in the story, is one of the horrors that nature sometimes brings to us.



“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.”

–Edgar Allan Poe

“I still get nightmares. In fact, I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I’m not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”
―Mark Z. Danielewski,
House of Leaves

Not so long ago, there was a family with a mother named Cherry St. John and two little girls, Aree and Krista, who weren’t sure if their last name was St. John or McCleod, but they were too afraid to ask because the name “McCleod” always made Cherry upset. Even though Aree was only four and Krista was six, the girls were well-versed in what upset their mother. The number one thing was any reference to their “worthless shit of a father,” Mark McCleod. They knew the “worthless shit” had taken off in 1985, just two months before Aree was born.

When their mother was drunk she would tend to lecture the girls (or anybody else who would listen) that she was glad she had never married the bastard and that she wished she could hunt him down and make him pay every cent he owed her for child support. “If I got all that money from him,” she would say again and again, “I would be a rich woman.”

Instead of being a rich woman, however, Cherry St. John was quite poor, living primarily off of a monthly welfare check in project housing in North Charleston. The St. John family was one of only a handful of white families in the area. The clear majority was black, and there was a moderate number of Hispanics as well.

Life was never too bad for the St. Johns– Cherry had a taxing but steady job in a chicken processing plant. The projects were filled with children, so the girls always had many playmates. Even though the area was full of crime their home was never broken into and the family had never been hurt or threatened. The family always had to be careful with their money, but they never had any real problems outside of day-to-day squabbles–

Until the night in the last week of August that Krista got hagged.

Krista awoke late into the night. She awoke sharply, eyes wide, a scream in her throat.

She couldn’t make a sound. Her vocal chords wouldn’t move. No muscles besides those mobilizing her eyes would budge. She was frozen in bed, staring out into the darkness of her shared bedroom.

The only light came from the crack under the door lit by a night light plugged in the narrow hallway to illuminate the path to the bathroom. There were no windows– the room was in the center of the apartment. As the six-year-old’s eyes adjusted to the light, she could faintly see the outline of a dark figure standing at the foot of her bed, gently swaying forward and back.

The girl tried to say the word “Mom,” but her lips and tongue wouldn’t move.

As her eyes adjusted she felt strangely glad that she hadn’t called the figure her mother. Her mother wasn’t that dark– no person she had ever seen was. The figure was the darkest dark, the shadow of a shadow.

The thing continued to rock back and forth, watching with midnight eyes. Krista could make out no face, but felt convinced that it was smiling. After minutes like hours, the swaying increased in scope– when it leaned FORWARD it moved CLOSER then CLOSER. More minutes, and it swayed FORWARD at an inhuman angle, leaning over Krista as if it wasn’t restricted by feet like it were a dense, dark mass and was somehow flat, two-dimensional at the same time.

Then it LEANED to a suspended state just a breath above the little girl– and PRESSED DOWN against her slowly with all of its awful WEIGHT.

Krista felt the breath being crushed out of her lungs as her body was pressed down into the flesh of her mattress an inch, two inches, three. She couldn’t see– the darkness pressed against her face, every inch of her body, like some unstable form of intimacy and then she thought she heard a VOICE as the darkness filled her ears that told her that it LOVED her, BREATHED oh I AM SICK with how I LOVE you

And then the little girl rasped an empty-lunged scream and the darkness was gone.

She cried and cried and her mother, Cherry St. John, swept her into her arms, but the little girl had no words to describe her fear, so her mother thought it was just a terrible dream.

It wasn’t until the second time that Krista was visited, two nights later, that her mother figured out what had happened. The second time was almost as bad as the first. The only difference the second time was that Krista knew what to expect.

That, and when the thing pressed down against her its VOICE gushed, OHHH you smell DELICIOUS I just could EAT you up. For some reason, that didn’t seem as bad to the little girl.

Krista didn’t cry until her mother came into her room. When the dark figure disappeared, the girl was overtaken with exhaustion and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning she tried her best to describe the incident to her mother. Her calmness in describing the manner unnerved Cherry and so she listened to Krista’s account with an attentiveness she normally only held for alcohol. Cherry bit her lip the whole time and offered no solutions.

Later, Aree reported to her big sister that Mom was talking on the phone with Meemaw and told their grandmother “Krista got hagged last night.” When Krista asked Aree what else their mother had to say her little sister shrugged and said “Nothing, she just starting talking about her mean boss at work.”

Krista didn’t know what to think about that. Was her nightmare monster really only worth a passing comment? And what did her mother mean, “hagged?” Was this something that had such a simple name? Did this happen to others?

The child wanted to ask her mother questions, but was hesitant to. Would Cherry even answer?

Would Cherry even care?

On Saturday, the girls were playing on the small, graffiti-covered playground that featured an assortment of gang signs, obscenity, and phrases like “Kill Honkies” and surprisingly, “John 3:15.” Krista was playing with Shakena, a six-year-old girl who lived in the apartment next to theirs, and while pushing her on the small park’s lone swing asked, “So, you find out what ‘hagged’ means?” The girl had set her friend into investigation mode the day previous.

The dark-skinned little girl looked at her friend with a frown. “My mama says to not talk about the devil.”

“The devil? What do you mean, the devil? Is being hagged seeing the devil?”

Shakena shook her head, the small, colorful beads braided into her her rattling. “It think it happened to my cousin, ReVonne. I don’t think it’s the devil, not exactly, but I don’t think I should talk about it. My mama might knock my head.” She bit her lip. “I think she might knock my head, anyway. She’s told me that she doesn’t like me playing with you.”

Krista stopped pushing Shakena. “Why?”

“Mama said that I should just keep to the black girls, that your ma is crazy and you’re gon’ be crazy, too. ‘Specially if you are goin’ ’round talking about the hag.” The girl paused. “She said it’s not good for Christian discussin’.” Shakena hopped off the swing. “I’m going home, I’ll see you tomorrow after I get home from Sunday School.”

Krista looked down. “Yeah, git on.” As her friend departed she walked over to her little sister, who was climbing a ladder leading to a short metal slide. “Aree, do you want to play princess?”

Aree paused on the penultimate step and grinned. “Uh-huh!”

A sharp noise cracked through the air, and a puzzled look spread over the younger girl’s face. “What was that, Krista?”

Her older sister shook her head. “I dunno. Let’s go see.”

Aree had blood on her hand. She had been the first to get to the source of the noise– a man who sat slumped against the wall of one of the apartments. The four-year-old had gently prodded him to see if he was awake. When he fell limply to the side, smearing blood across the wall he was against, she screamed sharply for a short, shattered moment, then fell silent. She raised her hand, and stared at the blood the man’s corpse had left on it.

Krista was at her sister’s side briefly all-adult, covering her sister’s eyes with her hands, moving the child to face their own apartment in the maze of clay-brown buildings. As she pushed Aree forward, she began to cry the kind of tears that she had shed the first night of the hag. Aree didn’t shed any tears, her face blank and pale.

The last time Cherry had felt truly afraid was when she had come home from a doctor’s appointment for her second baby in her stomach, finding a lack of Mark in the apartment. It wasn’t the lack of her boyfriend that necessarily troubled her, but rather the lack of his possessions– and Cherry’s TV– that triggered the fear.

While she had been at the doctor’s office, the receptionist had laid out a payment plan for the medical bills that came with birthing Aree. Cherry had mapped out some ways that her income combined with Mark’s would be able to make it work, to make them work–

And he was just gone. That day, Cherry sat on the floor of her tiny kitchen and cried, not stopping even when her infant awoke in her nearby removable car seat, squalling for attention.

As Cherry St. John looked into Aree’s eyes on that Saturday afternoon as her daughters rushed into their apartment, Krista weeping and Aree silent, she felt like just sitting and crying again.

Just crying until everything bad ended.

Police lights flashed through the windows twenty minutes later. Cherry did not go to speak with them. She still was crying with her daughters.

Other than the person who made an anonymous phone call letting authorities know about the body, nobody in the project housing spoke with them. The handful of doors the officers knocked on went unanswered. It was an unsaid rule of the neighborhood.

The hag didn’t visit that night. There was already enough darkness that day.

On Monday, before sending her to school, Cherry casually asked Krista if she had more problems the previous night. Her daughter didn’t say anything definitive either way, and didn’t look at her mother during the brief conversation.

That evening, LaRainne, Shakena’s mother, knocked on the St. John’s door. When Cherry answered, she simply handed her a note and walked away. It read, Your Krista is scaring my daughter with her bad stories and questions. I don’t want her coming around her anymore. -L

When Cherry asked Krista about it, her daughter just shrugged and continued to draw with crayons. “Don’t you want to see your best friend?” pushed Cherry.

Krista continued drawing. “No’m. It won’t matter soon.”

“The hell do you mean, matter soon?”

Krista refused to say anything further.

Meemaw called on Wednesday. Aree answered, and tried to hijack the conversation with her grandmother, but Meemaw demanded Cherry, insisting it was really important.

“Yes, ma’am?” Cherry answered when Aree finally handed over the phone. “A storm? When? What are they saying?” She walked out of the living room, where the phone was mounted on the wall, into the kitchen to get away from her daughters. The phone cord stretched to accommodate the movement. “That bad? Are you serious? What are y’all gonna do? Us? Only if the governor calls for evacuation, but I doubt that’ll happen.”

That was the first Cherry St. John heard of the storm.

On Thursday, early morning, Krista awoke just after 3:00 to the darkness already beginning to PRESS against her. She was startled, and almost felt a scream successfully pass her lips only to be caught with a rasp in her throat. Her eyes darted side to side and she saw Aree sitting up in her bed across the room, eyes wide.

Aree screamed in the place of her sister.

The dark figure FROZE and Krista felt its physicality tense. Its VOICE was a WHISPER yet a SHOUT in Krista’s ears, Oh my PRECIOUS LITTLE ONE, oh my LOVE I love oh I LOVEANDNEED you. FOUR days oh FOUR DAYS ohno four DAYS to LOVEYOU.

The dark figure jolted up to standing position, turning toward Aree, and lunged at her, the darkness converging into a single sharp point that passed through the little girl and through the wall.

Cherry ran into the room, the door slamming against the wall as it was flung back to admit her. “What is it?” she hissed.

“Uh–” said Krista.

Cherry snapped on the light and the girls could see that she was holding a broom. “What?” Aree began crying. “What is it, babe?” The child shook her head. Cherry looked up at her older daughter. “You know what it is?”

Krista slowly nodded. “It was it again. The thing. That– ‘hagged’ me.”

Cherry clenched her teeth. “Again? Are you serious?” Krista nodded. Cherry muttered what sounded to Krista like a series of words that she had her mouth washed out by Shakena’s mother for saying, then, “I can’t believe it. I’ve never heard of it coming so much to anybody. Usually just once.”

Krista closed her eyes. “Aree saw it. I think she scared it away.”

“Oh?” She dropped her broom and sat on Aree’s bed, taking her in her arms.

“Yes’m. And–“

Cherry looked up. “What?”

Krista shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“What, Krista?”

“It– it just talked to me again.”

Again? It’s been talking to you?”

Krista looked down, feeling ashamed. “Yes’m. It says bad things to me. That it loves me.”

Cherry cursed.

“This time it said something about four days.”

“Four days what?”

“Four days to love me. I think. Does that make any sense?”

Cherry frowned, but didn’t respond.

That night Cherry slept on the floor of her girl’s room. She had found in herself a sense of maternal care that she had thought had left with Mark.

The morning after Aree saw the darkness Cherry stepped outside to check for mail. She found a note attached to her door that stated in cold block letters:


Cherry screamed as she tore up the note, hurling each chunk away from her cracked cement porch. “No,” she shouted out into the mostly-empty complex of government-built apartments. “Nothing is going to touch me or my girls. Nobody.”

Cherry slept on the floor of her girls’ room that night, and the night following. The night of Thursday evening all three slept until morning without any incident. The following evening, Krista briefly awoke just after midnight and saw a dark figure standing in the corner of the room. It made no move towards her or her family members as she watched it, and eventually sleep retook her. When she woke the next morning to the sound of the phone ringing in the next room, the thing was gone.

Cherry inhaled sharply and slowly opened her eyes as Krista tried to step over her to get to the phone that continued to ring an abnormally long number of times. “Don’t worry about it, honey,” she mumbled, “I’m sure they’ll call back later.”

Krista shook her head. “It just keeps ringing.”

Cherry blinked deliberately to clear sleep from her eyes. “How long has it been going?”

“At least a minute.”

Cherry slowly stood, knees cracking loudly. “I’ll get it, just lay back down. Or go eat some cereal.”

The phone was still ringing when Cherry finally answered it. It was her mother, who skipped hellos by immediately demanding, “What the hell took you so long to answer?”

Well, why the hell are you calling so early?” Cherry retorted.

Look, you need to start packing. Right now—“


Shut up and listen to me, Cherry. Pack anything valuable or useful. Clothes, some food, money, anything you really care about. Blankets, pillows. Have it ready by three, I’ll be there then, heaven willing that the roads aren’t too busy to let me get there.”

What, the storm?”

Hugo. Yes, Cherry Valerie St. John, the hurricane. The news reports are saying a nightmare of a hurricane. They named it Hugo, and make jokes that it’s huge-o. You understand me? Why in the name of the Almighty did you not watch the news after I warned you?” Her voice was growing shrill.

Cherry’s voice grew tired. “Because, ma’am, I have been dealing with shit you wouldn’t believe, and because, mother, I know I have you to do the worrying for me. So, they’re calling for an evacuation, then?”

What ‘shit’ could be more important than the safety of your daughters?”

Aree, who had just wandered into the room to see who her mom was shouting at, fled at the sight of her mother’s scowl. “You listen to me, Ma, and you listen to me good. I am trying to take care of my daughters’ safety. I have been sleeping the last three nights on their floor to keep them safe, so don’t tell me that I don’t care about them. If I didn’t need your car to get us out of here, I’d tell you to go to hell, because your face is the last I want to see right now. Three o’ clock,” Cherry spat, and slammed the phone against its receiver.

She spun toward the kitchen, shouting, “Krista, eat your corn flakes like the devil’s on your tail, because I need your help.”

The family loaded key possessions into Meemaw’s car when it pulled in at 5:45. Cherry’s mother had to fight traffic and then argue with a police officer to allow her to drive toward Charleston. The bullish woman had sworn that if the man didn’t allow her to take care of her grandbabies then she would take his gun and shoot him with it.

They drove inland in thick traffic all through the night to reach the South Carolinian capitol, Columbia, which meteorologists had said should be safe from the worst of the storm. They parked the car in a field filled with other refugees and slept, ate the food they brought, and waited. Mid-day Sunday, it began to rain. Krista read picture books to Aree, and Cherry told Meemaw about the events of the prior week and rain fell and fell.

The radio told the family of large temporary shelters that had been erected, some around the governor’s mansion Sherman had burned down during his march to the sea. They moved there, and ate emergency supplies while they waited for the storm to pass.

They didn’t go back until two weeks after the following Friday, when they heard the roads had been mostly cleared enough to allow for travel. They passed hundreds of downed trees as they returned to the coast, and as they got to the city, they saw what Hugo’s thousands of tornadoes had done.

When they reached their section of the projects in North Charleston, they found only rubble, the series of drab brown buildings reduced to crumbling walls. The St. Johns cried, and Cherry screamed profanities into the sky at Hugo, which had gone on to ravage states to the north, but soon, sitting on a pile of bricks that had once made up their apartment building, they came to find peace as they realized that the hurricane provided them an opportunity to be free from their other Charlestonian monsters.




Sometimes zombies, ghosts, and demons are not the only thing we have to fear. Sometimes our fellow humans have to suffer through the horrific reality that is Mother Nature. Many families and individuals have been torn apart by the recent typhoon that struck the Philippines. While many of us do not have the means to fly over and help  in person, we can give aid to those who can. Here are some trustworthy places to donate:

LDS Philanthropies Humanitarian Aid – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does great humanitarian work. It’s non-profit, so every cent goes towards the relief effort. I also read that they are currently teaming up with Roman Catholic efforts, so your donation will probably help with the Catholic relief effort as well.
The American Red Cross and the UK Red Cross – One of the most trustworthy and efficient organizations.
The U.S. White House – The President of the United States has also asked for donations through their website to aid the U.S. volunteers.

Thanks for your time, bloggers!


House of Leaves

I recently read Mark Z. Danielewski’s first novel, House of Leaves.


The book is a horror novel, but strangely, it is not straight-up scary.  When I was given an explanation of what the book was about– a friend, who was rereading the book while in the car on a long road trip, offered, “It’s about a house that is bigger on the inside than the outside”– I shrugged.  It seemed a fun little idea for a short story, but enough to form a book as hefty as the one he carried around?  He could see my skepticism, and thankfully, handed me the book, inviting me to just read the introduction.House_of_leaves

Suddenly, I was introduced into the mind of Johnny Truant, a sex-obsessed, drug-abusing tattoo artist who, through unusual means, is introduced to a manuscript, heavily needing an editor to prepare it and its complex documentation for printing, written by a blind man who died gruesomely and mysteriously.  Immediately I both hated Truant for his lifestyle and was strangely fascinated by him.  Then, as quickly as I began to be drawn into what he said about the manuscript, which makes up the majority of the text of House of Leaves, the introduction was over, and my friend had reclaimed his copy of the book to resume his study thereof.

The introduction referenced a short film, “The Five and a Half Minute Hallway,” in which the owner of the titular House films an unduly long hallway in his family’s new residence.  This method of presenting the “bigger on the inside” idea was surprisingly riveting, and I had to know more.

So, a week or so after getting back from the trip, I tracked down the lone copy of House of Leaves a local bookstore had.  Wincing to pay nearly twenty dollars for a trade paperback (yes, I want to be a writer and make my money selling books, and yet I usually buy books from thrift stores), I walked home with my new acquisition, reading while I walked (a skill I acquired in college).  I quickly reread the introductory section, then excitedly dug into The Navidson Record, the blind man’s manuscript as edited by Truant.

I was surprised to see that it was written very much as a scholarly paper, with extensive footnotes (complete with publication info) for almost everything in the text.  It chronicled and picked apart a documentary film (which Truant explains in his own editorial notes he can find no other reference to, nor to most of the noted texts) filmed by Will Navidson, the owner of the house.  Quickly, the story begins to work on two fronts, the blind man’s Record and Truant’s experiences while working with the text (which, in spite of fictionalized sexual exploits and parties he throws in, quickly becomes very dark).  Soon appendices, referenced in footnotes, begin to become part of the story as well, working to further and provide context for both of the novel’s stories.  The book even goes so far as to contain letters written in code, which resulted in me writing in the margins of the book, something I doggedly avoid in spite of years of being told to do so by professors and teachers.  Simply, as the story drew me in, I had to know everything the book had to offer me.  I started with one bookmark, but midway through my read had to incorporate four or five at a time to keep myself from missing anything as footnotes of footnotes quickly led me down the rabbit holes that litter this story.  It is also very impressive how Danielewski makes use of how the house-of-leaves-sideways-2words are laid out on the page, or what color certain words are, as part of how the story is conveyed.  The reading becomes very difficult at times to follow because of the novelist’s wildly experimental techniques, but as a reader you feel as though the novel is worth all of the time and effort that was necessary to put in to get through it.

So simply, if you like fascinating, well-written horror that breaks genre conventions, read this book.  But, be warned: the novel is ergodic, confusing, and difficult.  It is scary on a very psychological level.  You don’t walk away from it feeling truly satisfied, because there are questions that cannot be answered– it’s what keeps the characters up at night, too.  And a heads-up to readers who don’t care for certain types of mature content, there are some uncomfortably sexually explicit sections in Truant’s notes (I skipped over most of these notes– they are important only as far as they show Truant’s imagined self, which gets broken down throughout the text).

A pro tip for those who want to get a really full experience in their read of the book, it may be worthwhile to get the album Haunted by Danielewski’s sister, the musical artist Poe, which is a companion piece House of Leaves (featuring such songs as “5&1/2 Minute Hallway” and “Dear Johnny”).

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