After forty-five days of writing, The Dark Menace is born. I’ve completed the first draft of the supernatural thriller that also involved two months of research on the Shadow People and the Hat Man phenomenon. Now the editing stage begins. After one editing pass, primarily concentrating on obvious inconsistencies, plot holes, grammar, spelling and punctuation, the manuscript will go to a beta reader to try and get a general sense if it’s even a good story.
On the second and third editing passes, I will incorporate suggestions as well as examining plot, character development, motivational inconsistencies, cadence, conciseness, story arc, overuse of certain words, pace, point of view, believability, dialogue, etc.
After a month of rewrites and revision, The Dark Menace meets my editor. The talented Winslow Eliot, who represents New York Times bestselling authors, will apply another layer of polish and return it. After two more thorough coats of wax, The Dark Menace enters the publishing pipeline for yet one more proofread before it will be formatted for ebook and paperback distribution to major book retailers.
Wow. That’s a lot of editing and rewrites. Six editing passes in total before it’s finally released.
After an uninterrupted 7,000 word, seven-hour stretch of writing last Thursday, I reached THE END of the first draft. On one hand, I was exhilarated; on the other, exhausted. I mean I was so physically and mentally drained I was having a difficult time performing the day-to-day tasks necessary for survival. I forgot to eat, forgot to shower. Good thing I forgot to invite friends over on that day.
After taking a full three days to recover, I started editing yesterday. And that’s what I spent the first four hours on this morning. Edits. I’m moving along at a decent clip, although I still feel a little drained. I’m still waiting for that burst of creative juice that often infuses my edits. Maybe it will visit me tomorrow. Maybe the next day. Maybe I just need to take a week or so away from the manuscript as I sometimes do and revisit it with fresh eyes. I honestly don’t know write now (that’s a deliberate pun).
I like to say I write with this tunnel-vision focus and commitment to please myself. And that’s true to some extent. But I also do it to please my readers; to educate them and plant a small seed of positivity, so that in some small way I might make their lives just a little bit better. That’s why, in The Dark Menace, I examine both the good and bad aspects of the Hat Man. Many people, both in their sleeping and waking worlds, have been tormented and haunted by the Hat Man. Many others have felt spiritually uplifted or in some inexplicable way protected by his presence.
It begs the question, is he a benevolent or a malevolent force? I’m not going to offer any spoilers obviously, but let’s just say in The Dark Menace, I give equal weight to each argument. And, since the Hat Man is ultimately not scientifically verifiable, I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to view the Hat Man through a negative or positive lens.
Here’s a teaser summary: Mysterious and terrifying attacks by the Shadow People and the Hat Man lead a nightmare-plagued man to suspect an enigmatic doctor has accidentally opened a portal to hell.
And, for your reading pleasure, here’s the raw, uncut, unhinged, unleashed, first chapter of The Dark Menace.
Thanks for your time and have an awesome day. I hope you enjoy it.
The Dark Menace Chapter One
A kaleidoscope of brilliant colors flashed before his eyes. Deep greens, dark purples, vibrant pinks, reds and blues. Inside the colors, images appeared—faceless apparitions with indistinct and undulating shapes. Some of the ghost-like images were black, some white. They twirled in the rainbow of colors, shrinking and growing, shrinking and growing. Then the black images began attacking the white images, slicing them with machetes, stabbing them with knives, biting into their heads and bodies with menacing fangs. Blood-curdling screams punctuated the eerie silence and Noah, eyes opening in shock and horror, bolted upright.
Where am I? He looked around at the darkness and saw large trees looming in the distance, illuminated faintly by the white glow of a full moon. The ghostly combatants had disappeared. A forest. But where? Brushing off dirt and leaves from clothes, he stood up, trying to make sense of his surroundings. But try as he might, he couldn’t figure out how he got here. Worse, he couldn’t remember events of the last week. He tried to take a step, but felt a numbness and an electric tingling sensation in his body that strained his efforts. He managed one step and stopped, frozen to the spot. A terrible feeling of cold dread surged through his veins. He felt his heart begin to pound in his chest furiously; struggling to escape its rib cage prison cell and leave him to fend for himself. He took a few deep breaths, trying to restrain his cardiovascular prisoner. It took a few long and slow deep breaths.
“What’s going on?” Noah asked. “Where am I?”
In Noah’s panic-tinged tone, the forest echoed back a response: “What’s going on? Where am I?”
Fighting paralyzing protestations, he brought the other foot forward and crunched it into the forest carpet. It brought him renewed confidence, helping to diminish the fear demons. That’s it. You can do it. Do what? Go where? Noah had no idea, but knew he wanted to leave the forest, find some city lights, find his apartment in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, find his bedroom, resume his sleep and wipe this nightmare of the map; if indeed that’s what it was.
Finding a path in the forest, he crunched his way along, rubbing his shoulders and arms in an effort to eliminate the tingling numbness and the bone-chilling cold that was slowly enveloping him. He was still looking down at the path when he felt its evil presence. He snapped his head up instantly, knowing but not wanting to know what he was about to see. But it was different this time. He was different.
Noah stopped dead in his tracks.
Illuminated by the ominously glowing moon, the old man grinned. He produced a machete and held it high in the air, adjusting his tattered straw hat and scratching his stubble with his free hand.
“You’ve finally come to meet your maker,” he said. Then he cackled in an incongruously high-pitched voice.
The cold chill coursing through Noah’s veins turned to ice. Oh my God, no. He had seen the man in many forms in his childhood years and didn’t waste any time on small talk. He turned around and ran, taking some measure of satisfaction in the realization that the ice miraculously thawed and his legs willingly complied.
He turned a corner in the path, allowing himself a quick glance behind. The man was coming for him, and if he caught him there would be no mercy. Sliced and diced to smithereens.
You’re dreaming, you’re dreaming, you’re dreaming, Noah thought as he ran. Hide.
As if the man was reading his thoughts, he heard his throaty voice. “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
Panting and puffing, Noah rounded another bend and came into a clearing in the forest. In a corner, just inside the tree-line, was a large hollowed-out log. Quickly he bent down and crawled inside, curling up in a fetal position as soon as he was out of sight, hoping against all hope that the menacing man was wrong. He could hide. He would hide. He would wake up and return to the comfort of his bed.
He struggled to control his breathing as the twig-snapping footfalls grew nearer. Then it became quiet. Eerily quiet. But out of the quiet, Noah heard the sound of breathing, not his own, a raspy, nasally inhaling and exhaling that grew louder. In a terrified instant, he knew it was too late. He was caught. Time to die.
“I got you now,” the man said, the sound of his approaching footfalls nearing. “You can run but you can’t hide.”
Before he could move, Noah heard a splitting sound and he knew right away what it was. Metal on wood. The man was chopping at the rotten tree trunk with his machete. Chopping through to him. But a split-second later, instead of the sharp metal of the blade, Noah felt the stomping of a boot heel on the small of his back and a bolt of red hot pain shot up his spine.
He tried to scream. Nothing. He tried to move. Nothing. Frozen once again.
The man cackled. “I bet that hurts. What I’m gonna do next will really mess you up.”
Noah tried to crawl out of the log but he was still frozen. He pressed his eyes shut tightly, gritted his teeth and tried with all his strength to break free from the paralysis. When he opened his eyes, he was sitting bolt upright, staring at the small green nightlight that instantly told him he was back in his house, back in his bedroom. With a loud sigh, he laid back and melted his head into the pillow, relieved. His heart stilled. The fear slowly melted away. A terrible nightmare. Nothing more.
But it wasn’t long before a dark presence invaded the room—thick and palpable. His heartbeat once again thumped louder, faster. Beads of perspiration sprouted on his forehead. His throat became dry and parched. The numbing, tingling sensation returned. Green dots danced in front of him and he tried to reassure himself. It’s from the nightlight. Don’t worry.
But he was too afraid to open his eyes, lest the inbred-looking hillbilly return. Finally, it became too much. He felt like he was being completely engulfed by this dark and evil presence, as if it was swallowing him whole and turning him into some kind of a monster. Emotions swept through him—anger, rage, anxiety and finally a powerful sadness that slowly began to give rise to fear.
He opened his eyes. Of God, please. All this time. Why now?
The blackly cloaked man stood at the foot of his bed staring at him. Staring at him as if he was trying to reach into his soul and snatch it away. He raised a hand and touched his wide-brimmed black hat. Noah tried to shout, scream, speak and move but it was no use at all. He was paralyzed, frozen like a chunk of ice. The Hat Man walked around to the side of the bed and leaned down, his black face, a dark mask with no discernible features whatsoever, moved in closer.
Like an incubated alien fetus, Noah was sure his pounding heart would snap his rib cage, tear his muscles and flesh, leap right out of his chest, and escape its humanoid incarceration once and for all. He had an image of a slimy extraterrestrial creature suddenly exploding onto the Hat Man and wrapping its deadly tentacles around his throat and face, constricting and suffocating the life out of the monster. If he wasn’t paralyzed with fear, he might have grinned at the image.
The black face moved closer and stopped six inches or so from Noah’s face. Noah’s breathing became labored and he felt a painful tightening in his chest. The small of his back still stung from the hillbilly’s heal. Time to die. This is what it feels like to die. Not now, oh please God, not now. With raw panic rising up his throat like a sick green bile, he mustered all his strength and jerked. His body twitched and convulsed and he instantly sat upright, gasping for breath, sweat streaming down his face. Eyes wide with terror, he watched the Hat Man shrink, retreat and disappear out of sight, trailed by a green dragon tail emanating from the glowing green nightlight.
It took a few minutes for Noah to calm himself down. When his breathing finally returned to something approximating normal, he glanced at his digital alarm clock: 3:33 am. He climbed out of bed, wincing as the small of his back ignited with fiery pain. He was still trembling by the time he reached the bathroom of his third-floor apartment smack in the center of downtown Charlottetown. Still too terrified to look in the mirror, he wiped his face with a towel, relieved himself, and sat down gingerly on his living room couch and flicked on a table lamp. He needed some incandescent comfort right now to try and make sense of the nightmare that seemed so much more than a nightmare.
The Hat Man had returned. With a vengeance. He counted the years. He had been only six the last time he saw the Hat Man, thirty-four years ago. But he remembered the haunting experience as if it had happened yesterday. As a child, he’d suffered from frequent nightmares, many of them paralyzing. There were variations of many themes, but most involved some kind of a monster chasing him with the intent to kill. And while they’d terrified him, none of them had resulted in physical injury. Except for the Hat Man. As a child, the darkly cloaked intruder had bent down to his bed, wrapped cold fingers around his throat and began choking the life out of him. He felt the pain then as he gasped for breath. He felt more pain when he leaped out of bed, rushed from his bedroom in terror and face-planted the hallway wall. He’d suffered a concussion that dislodged his cognitive function for two weeks and displaced him from school for three weeks. He absently rubbed the scar above his left eye, the result of the concussive cut that had required six stitches to repair.
But, after that ill-fated evening, the nightmares had stopped. All the monsters and the Hat Man had vanished. Maybe the concussion, which doctors had described as moderate to severe, had helped but Noah had also managed to banish the Hat Man, along with all the other shadowy creatures, from his waking and sleeping world. Blocked them out and successfully expelled them from his existence.
Sure, growing up in Calgary, Alberta, was tough, but he’d also managed to block that out. He was eighteen when his father-in-law Garrett and his mother Barbara combined lethal doses of opioids and alcohol one night during a horror-movie binge-watching session. The irony at the time wasn’t missed on Noah. They’d been watching a remake of a Jack the Ripper slasher movie, when the grim reaper, with his death-dealing scythe, decided to pay them a life-ending visit.
But, like the Hat Man, Noah put it behind him like a fading shadow, and focused full-tilt on work, not willing to admit to himself on any level that at best the workaholic cure would only serve as a Band-Aid solution to a gaping traumatic wound. In spite of himself, images began to float into his head, images of Barbara slumped into the couch, her glass of vodka and orange juice, her signature poison, still held tightly in her hand. Garret, the loser that he was, nestled in beside her, his head slumped on her shoulder, mouth agape in an O of horror, still clutching his poison of choice, a Molson Canadian beer.
But, as he’d done successfully throughout his life, Noah, in spite of a knot of sadness and grief tightening in his stomach, pushed the dark shadows into the dark recesses of his mind. In his mind’s eye, he grabbed the Hat Man forcefully and tossed him into the cavernous hole along with the others, locked the closet door and threw away the key.
He smiled, a half-fake, half-real smile. He was starting to feel better already. “Mind over matter,” he said, trying to boost his confidence. “That’s all it is. Mind over matter.”
A few minutes later, as he drifted off into what would be a dreamless and peaceful sleep, the only thought that crossed his mind was one that brought anticipatory chills of excitement. Last week, he’d asked Angela Rosewood, a cashier at a nearby Wendy’s fast-food restaurant, out on a date. And, finally, after four unsuccessful entreaties, she’d accepted. Tomorrow was the big day.
As he drifted off, her acceptance speech echoed in his head: “I used to think you were weird. And I probably still do. But you’re weird in a positive sort of way. You’re five times lucky. I guess I’ll go.”