Please, welcome today on the blog author Stephen Kozeniewski, and enjoy his guest post about how he became an author of scary stories. Show some love via comment form or by sharing this post with everybody you know.
After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain.
A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown.
To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of…THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.
by Stephen Kozeniewski
About 16 years ago (good Heavens, saying that makes me feel old) I was a brand-spanking new Senior Patrol Leader in the Boy Scouts. If you don’t know what that means, basically I was the senior scout. Everybody answered to me and I only answered to the adults. It was supposed to teach me about responsibility or something, I dunno.
Anyway, one of the roles of the Senior Patrol Leader (I’ll just say SPL from here out – and now that I’ve explained the acronym that all but guarantees I won’t need to use it again) was to MC the campfire ceremony. We’d do skits, songs, jokes, that sort of thing. My troop at the time hadn’t told campfire stories for a long time. One of the adults had apparently been a master storyteller, but he had passed away and no one had stepped up to take his place. So for my whole time as a Boy Scout up until that point I had quite simply missed out on that long-time staple of camping, trying to frighten the bejesus out of little kids.
As we were driving to the campsite on my first outing as SPL (okay, I guess I did use the acronym again, yay for me) my scoutmaster handed me a stack of print-outs. He told me about how the other adult leader had passed away but now it was time to start doing scary stories again, and as SPL I was getting stuck with the dummy ball.
I was both flattered and frightened. Telling one story this one time, I knew, would mean that I would become the troop’s official unofficial storyteller from here on out if I did it well. But I could easily screw it up and everyone would find me a laughingstock. Kids I needed to respect me. It was a lot of pressure.
I sorted through the stories the scoutmaster had handed me. Some were dumb. Some I knew by heart and figured not even the eleven-year-olds would find scary. (“But it wasn’t the man with the hook…it was her boyfriend!”) Some were jokes masquerading as campfire tales – shaggy dog stories that ended with a pun or worse. But then I came across one that I’ll never forget.
The story was scary. Genuinely scary. Even as I read it on the page the hairs on the back of my neck tingled. And it followed a pattern that I could memorize fairly easily. I’m sure I could go google this story and have my childhood memory of it ruined by reading what is probably actually some pretty weak soup, but I’d rather let it burn as an ember of unmitigated terror in my mind.
So here’s my vague recollection of the tale. People are murdered in the woods. One by one. In gruesome ways, each more terrifying than the last. No one knows who or what is doing it. All they know is they hear a palpitating “step…drag…step…drag” every time it happens. The sense of unease was palpable. Writing about this today I’m reminded of the uncanny power of latter-day “Doctor Who” to tap into the power of simple, repeated words and phrases to heighten emotional intensity.
“Are you my mummy?”
“Hey, who turned out the lights?”
Anyway, the murderer turns out to be an escaped mental patient. Every time he takes a step, the ball-and-chain around his foot drags behind him. Then the last two survivors are trapped and they hear the eerie sound of the “step drag step drag” approaching them as slowly as humanly possible. And then…
Well, I won’t ruin it for you. In any case, my recitation of “Step Drag” was pretty well received. I think the night I got back from that trip I logged onto the computer and booted up the nascent internet and began to search for a scary story to tell at the next outing. I came up with (or most often, stole) a new story for every camping trip after that.
Once I cribbed generously from a Poe short. Another time I pretty much just recited Night of the Living Dead as well as I could remember it. I made up a few stories, but most were stolen or modified from pop culture and horror lore. I remember with particular glee an evening I told the H.P. Lovecraft story where Harry Houdini descends into the pyramid and discovers all the macabre taxidermy of the Egyptian gods. In the morning one of the scouts told me that his tentmate had been unable to sleep all night, he had simply sat shivering in the dark.
I could probably wax grandiloquent at this point about how “Step Drag” made me what I am today and instilled in me a sense of the love of storytelling and now I’m a horror author because of it and blah blah blah. Maybe that’s true. I dunno. Most likely not. Most likely it was just a fun thing I did camping when I was younger.
But I can also say paid tribute to this creaky old campfire tale in one of my novels. If you pick up a copy of THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO, my grand guignol zombie masterpiece, you’ll reach a chapter where one of the characters, the swabbie Jim, is trapped in the hold of a ship when the lights go out. Zombies are real, but the hold is supposed to be empty. And then Jim begins to hear a mysterious “step…drag…step…drag” in the absolute darkness. He pulls out a match, one of only a few left, strikes it, and…
Well, I won’t ruin it for you.
Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced “causin’ ooze key”) lives with his wife and two cats in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.