Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Devil Came Back to Georgia - My Halloween Story, 2007

By: Roger A Wilbanks

The din of the audience was still ringing in Johnny's ears when he finally got to sit alone in his dressing room. This was his most memorable show to date, his resurrection. He had performed before larger crowds, but the 3000 screaming fans here had paid in excess of $200 a piece for the sake of seeing his first public concert in 15 years. He was lucky enough to score back to back nights at the Bijou Theater in his hometown of Birmingham, AL. He couldn't bring himself to look at the case that held the Golden Fiddle, but he could most definitely feel its presence. He always felt the presence. When the knock came at his door, he was almost expecting it.

'Come on in and get it over with." He said.

The door slid open and Johnny's visitor walked in, smiling.

"Haven't had a room THIS big in quite some time, eh Johnny? Return Performances always make the public pull out all the stops. Sure beats that backwater shit-hole you crashed into in Billings that one time. What was that place called?"

"The Whistle Stop." Johnny answered.

"AH Yes…The Whistle Stop. Man was that place a dump. That's where you caught that case of crotch rot from that lot lizard, wasn't it? Your manager warned you about them, didn't he? What is old Vern doing these days, anyhow?"

"He's dead. Cancer in 02." Johnny said.

"Riiiiight." The words leaked out through a barely concealable grin. "Old Vern always tried to look out after you. You really have to hand it to him on that one. You just shoulda paid him better."

"That ain't the reason he stole from me!" Defiance flashed in Johnny's eyes. "You got to him some how. I KNOW you did!"

"Johnny….Johnny. Ever since you 'beat' me in our little contest at that hickory stump I have been getting to you and everyone around you. You have been quite a source of entertainment for me for some time. To laugh."

The Devil looked longingly into Johnny's eyes, searching for something.

"To think that I could actually lose at something to…well, to YOU. That goes down as one of my finer moments there. In THIS corner, you have Johnny Tucker, hard working fiddle player, practicing for the time when he finally gets his big break, spending all his time waiting to be discovered…and in THIS corner, you have Old Scratch himself…meanest, evilest sumbitch on the block with a little contest for ya. And you take the bait." All of the light in the room was drawn into the cold blackness of the Devil's eyes. "Hook." His eyes bored a hole into Johnny. "Line." He opened the case holding the Golden Fiddle with a snap of his fingers. "And Sinker."

"I was better than you." Johnny said. "I worked my ass off every day on my music. I was the best there ever been. Then you come along and lose this fiddle to me, proving I was right in the process and just walk away with your pointy tail tucked between your legs like a whipped dog." The Devil stopped smiling. "I pick up this fiddle you lost to me and I play it, just to see what it sounds like and start playing music I never heard before. Effortlessly. Like it was coming outta the fiddle itself. I stopped practicing, stopped writing altogether. The fiddle wrote all my songs for me. Ten number one hits it give me. But all along you was just sitting back watching me. Waiting and laughing."

"Of course I was laughing at you, Johnny. When I wagered with you for your soul…it was already mine. You were willing to do whatever it took to succeed and I was more than willing to help you along your way. All you had to do to save yourself was to just walk away from me. Tell me 'No'. Say 'Mr Devil, sir, you ARE better than me.' And go about your business and keep practicing. But Pride is a bitch, ain't it Johnny? You allowed me in through that crack in your door and you have been mine ever since."

The devil sat down across from Johnny and looked around the room.

"Those people out there tonight? Your adoring fans? How did they like your performance? 'Not like it used to be.' I heard them saying. 'Lost a step.'" With a twitch of his finger, he summoned the Golden Fiddle to his lap. "I bet THIS woulda come in handy, ya reckon?"

Johnny looked away, still holding the shabby fiddle he had used onstage that evening.

"Gold spray paint, Johnny? I'm the Prince of lies and you just topped me, boy! You don't think they noticed the difference?" The Golden Fiddle floated in the air and started playing a soft, slow tune. "You don't think they feel cheated?"

Johnny didn't answer. Instead he placed the fiddle he held on the dressing room table before him. Compared to the Golden Fiddle playing in midair before him, it DID look shabby. It was a sad imposter.

"These people here came tonight to be entertained by MY fiddle, Johnny, and how did you thank them? By trotting on out there with some spray-painted shoebox with strings? Shame on you. You realize you were never the star of the show here, don't you?" The Devil's words tickled Johnny's ears and the fiddle started playing a faster song.

The Devil rose quickly and began to dance across the room, leaving black oily footprints wherever he trod. The music stopped abruptly as the Devil wheeled around to face Johnny one last time.

"Now that you have proven who is the Star here, Johnny, here's what I want you to do for me. Take this fiddle you've been masturbating with and toss it into a slag furnace somewhere. Then I want you to grab Lulu here (Yes that's right, she has a name. You wrote a song about her and never even knew it.) Take old Lulu here and get back out there tomorrow night and tear that audience a new hole. Lulu's got songs in her you never heard before and tomorrow night she's gonna share them with you. Then when you get done with the audience, you and I got some unfinished business. I can't have your soul on accounting of you 'winning' and all, but you bet your bottom dollar your ass is one hundred percent mine." With that the Devil turned on his heel and left Johnny alone. Lulu flew into her case and remained quiet.

Johnny opened the bottle of Old Crow he started on before the show and downed it in one drink. He remained in his dressing room until morning when the manager of the Bijou awoke him for his breakfast.

"Gonna be one Hell of a show tonight, sir. You're going to need your strength."

Johnny laughed at the irony and ate his eggs. "Yeah. A helluva show indeed."

That night Johnny and Lulu made their final appearance. True to the Devil's word, songs never heard before came crying from Lulu. Music so diabolical and evil that over half of the audience was driven insane Seventy three people died from the fighting that erupted in the crowd. People were hung, stabbed, beaten, strangled and smothered as the audience absorbed the music. When the show was over and the police were able to break their way past the suddenly unlocked doors the scene that greeted them would forever be etched into their memories as simply the 'Most Evil." Writhing insanity gripped the hall. Johnny had been impaled on his own microphone stand and parts of his road crew dangled from the rafters. Of the three thousand fans at the show, none left without a scar or stitches. The county hospital psychiatric ward opened up its doors to hundreds of cases of dementia and psychotic behavior.

Lulu was never recovered, but at Johnny's funeral she was rumored to be heard playing "Welcome Home Johnny" from off in the distance.

The Hallway - My Halloween Story, 2008

By Roger A Wilbanks

I'm walking blind, feeling my way down this hallway. Moments ago I was in a room surrounded by friends when the lights went out and the screaming started. The sounds coming from the darkness touch off some ancient survival instinct in me and I got out before whatever that thing is could get me too.

Charlie found this haunted house on a flyer he picked up on Greenville Avenue last night and brought us all out here. I think he was the first one that screamed when the lights went out. I had a funny feeling that this was some elaborate prank on his part; he has been known as a trickster in the past,H but that sound that came from his mouth was not one that could be easily faked. It was the sound of a man that has just come face to face with his absolute worst primal fear and seen that he was nowhere close to realizing how bad it really was. That was followed by something that was a combination of a dog crunching a chicken bone to splinters and the sucking sound congealed soup makes as it struggles to leave the can.

No. That wasn't faked. I know it. I feel it deep in my shivering bones. It was convincing enough to get me out of that room quick, fast and in a hurry and moving my way through the darkness hand by hand in search of the exit. The darkness here has a physical sensation to it, like a blanket thrown over my head. I almost feel it drape over my outstretched arms as I grope my way through the hallway.

That noise. There is something behind me. It sounded like a tree branch scraping a window on a windy night. It was some distance away from me down the hallway, but I am going to stop moving anyway. There is no need giving myself away here. I don't hear screaming coming from that room anymore. There is no noise now except for faint dripping and some soft rustling sound. That scraping sound just stopped. It sounds like it's pivoting…turning away from me.

My heart is a machine-gun inside my chest. It feels like it's pounding its fists against my ribcage, trying to get out. I tell it to calm down. It's no safer out here than it is in my chest. If it keeps this racket up, that scratching noise will know I am here and we're both screwed.

It begins scraping itself along the floor again but it sounds like it's moving away from me. I begin silently feeling my way down the hall again. I walked down this hallway just a minute ago in the full light. I know where the exit is. I just have to get to it before that scraping noise spins around and comes this way. If I can get outside in the moonlight, I know I'll be safe. I refuse to die in this moldy hallway…my insides slurped and my bones crunched to splinters.

I know this hallway was about thirty feet long and I have probably made it half that distance so far. I have fifteen feet to go to safety. The wall is wet here. It's a strange wetness. It was dry earlier, I'm certain of it. I remember the dusty mold on the wallpaper right where I am feeling now. The wall feels thick and cold, like old, curdled milk. I wipe my hand on my pants as the smell that wasn't there a second ago hits me. I've driven country roads before. I know what roadkill smells like, but this was worse by far than anything I ever passed on even the most brutally hot August afternoon. What I smell now is so strong and visceral it should have its own name. I'm sure it does, and I don't want to know what that name is. I retch and vomit where I stand.

The scraping behind me stops. I stop also. Tears swell my eyes shut as I choke down on my own vomit. I lose a moment of my faculties as my body struggles to recover from this revulsion. I turn my head as I wipe my mouth and aim my good ear in the scraping noise's direction as I try to gauge its location. It has stopped moving.

Tense seconds tick by in slow motion as I imagine both me and my shapeless foe waiting for the other to make the first move when I remember my cell phone. Many nights of stumbling have ended injury free because of that small but intense light. This is one of those times.

I have a decision to make now. Shining that light will give my position away. Do I illuminate my unseen foe or do I use that light to expose my exit to safety? I reach into my pocket and pull the phone out. I decide to reveal my foe first as I think it's better to deal with the devil you know rather than an unknown entity. I turn to face the source of the scraping noise and open the phone.

What sight greets me before I drop the phone out of sheer horror is soft and bruise-colored. It has several eyes of varying sizes and is covered with holes, some lined with sharp tiny teeth. There are appendages snaking from its ambiguous form that resemble tapeworms with suckers for mouths.

The light from this momentary illumination causes it to shrink back for a moment, but it recovers with unimaginable speed to grab the phone as it hits the ground and crush it into unintelligible pieces and once more drapes the hallway in dark. The scraping noise starts inching its way towards me, stopping a few feet from my shaking awestruck body.

My eyes are so wide now I am sure I can see even in this wet blackness. But still my unseen foe remains cloaked in darkness. I imagine it squatting before me as a lonely man with a dollar would before a nubile topless dancer who wants one. I then feel cold breath on my neck. It is breath exhaled from a body that doesn't know the warmth of life. The smell of rotting meat lingers as that soft hiss says, "So glad you…could… join us."

As the many unseen mouths that surround me surge into me and begin to gnaw and bite, the shock and severity of my flesh being torn from my body is nowhere near as surprising as the fact that that cold breathy voice that whispers to me is that of my good friend Charlie.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My 24 Hour Comic

I decided this year to give the 24-Hour Comic thing a try. For those of you blissfully unaware of the concept, it is when a creator such as myself writes and draws a complete 22 (or 24) page comic from initial conception to completed product in one 24 hour period. That doesn't sound like a hard thing to do on it's face until one understands that I take just over 2.5 hours now to just draw a page, and I work WAY faster than the average guy. This includes the many stages I go through from thumbnailing the page, doing a larger breakdown to play with the panel layouts and the pencil/lettering/inking that makes up the finished page of art. Almost 3 hours a page, and you have to do 22 of them in 24 hours. It is the comic creator's marathon.
I decided to 'document' the creation of this comic via my facebook page using the status update feature. It wound up being a look into the tedium and creation process so I decided to post the updates in their entirety here.
The comic can be seen here:
and here until Oct 26th (when it closes down)
http://www.geocities.com/rorshach_85/freecomics/index.html (click on the 24 hour comic link.)

Dallas is surprisingly bare on the 24 hour comic venues. I guess I'll have to do my own. It just seems like a rip off, robbing me of a prime networking and farting around with like-minded folk opportunity. Sometimes this city is TEH SUCK.
October 3 at 11:14am

OK...Doing my own take on the 24 hour comic. It'll be 22 pages, 4 stories, all intertwined. (When possible) Aiming for a Halloween feel, but not 100% sure yet. The writing commences at 2pm.
October 3 at 1:46pm ·

Started officially at 2:45pm. 3 pages completed so far. Story I started with has modified a bit, but it's still a ghost story.
October 3 at 4:38pm

At the 6:30 mark, 6 pages down. I'm averaging 30 min per page...from start to finish. This is by far the fastest (AND crudest) I have worked....ever! But the story is a good one.
October 3 at 6:27pm

Taking 5 to watch the Stars game. I guess I can spend the next few hours writing and doing thumbs.
October 3 at 7:10pm
(Note - Fucking Stars.....grumble grumble)

Done through page 9, all the pages are plotted and most are thumbed in my head. Not getting too far ahead of myself, but I like where this story is headed. Not gona post anything till I'm done. The shitty cell pic I took at the page 6 stage still hasn't appeared on the interwebs.
October 3 at 10:55pm

Up to 11 now. The big halfway point, and it's been just at 10 hours. Starting to get sleepy now and sluggish. This is a marathon tho, baby....and I'm in it to win it!
Sun at 12:37am

Page 15 is in the bag. Only 7 more pages to go. They are all thumbed out. As fatigue seeps in, I have to decide to pencil all and ink last or keep the pencil/letter/ink conveyor belt running. Got to admit though, the lack of clear focus is adversly affecting the art. This is good for a challenge, but ABSOLUTELY unacceptable for professional work.
Sun at 4:28am

Hitting the last 5 pages now! I can see the finish line!
Sun at 5:23am

Page 20! I see the yellow tape!!!!
Sun at 6:42am

Aside from the sleep deprivation, I would have to say the biggest challenge so far has been in the actual writing of the piece. The sheer speed necessary to draw the pages makes it a one-off deal with the dialogue. Editing has to be done on the fly... and the story will change. You just have to keep your ear open to hear where it's taking you and be prepared to take that drastic left turn when it presents itself.
Sun at 6:42am

Done. Now I'm goin to bed. I'll post it when I get up for the Cowboy's Game.
Sun at 7:36am

The 24 Hour Comic is done, posted and ready for you all to laugh your asses off at (even tho it's not a comedy piece) It's crude, even by MY standards, but I got it done well within the 24 hour mark, so WOO HOO!
Sun at 2:06pm