Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Equinox Devil

No, the title of this blog entry does not reference the 1960s horror movie, Equinox, although, in its way, it's not all that far removed. It references the smiling chap you see to the left, which is the beastly demon from my novelette "Fugue Devil," as realized by artist Phillip Reynolds for my first fiction collection, Fugue Devil & Other Weird Horrors (Macabre, Inc., 1992). More by happenstance than design, this particular critter came up in conversation on two separate occasions over the past couple of days, which put me in a mood to reflect on this dear, deadly old friend of mine. Permit me to share some of those reflections with you. There is no charge. Well, there is if you'd care to buy the novelette, which I would of course appreciate, but if you continue reading here, I shan't send you a bill.

Many of you who follow this blog likely have already read "Fugue Devil." It's one of my more well-known stories, I think, even though it's over twenty years old. While the original collection in which it appeared is long out of print — and exceptionally difficult to find — the novelette (as well as its sequel, "Devil's Eye") may be found lurking in two of my other collections, The Last Trumpet and Other Gods, both readily available from Wildside Press and Dark Regions Press, respectively.

"Fugue Devil" arose out of the most intense nightmare I ever had as a child (I was about 13 at the time), and I still recall its details more clearly than most waking memories. In the dream, the beast haunted the woods behind my family's house (where my mom still lives, as a matter of fact). The woods are not very large; maybe a dozen or so acres that create a buffer between streets in the old neighborhood. In the spring and summer, though, when the woods are in full bloom, it feels like a massive forest because you can't see the houses that, in reality, aren't very far away.

Let's go back to the summer of 1972, there or about....

The dream opened like a scene from a movie, on a beautiful summer afternoon, with my friends, Robert Cox and Chuck Neely, and I playing just down the street from my house. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something moving in the sky, and when I looked up, I saw a black shape, insect-like but huge, zig-zagging rapidly across the sky, trailing black smoke. I asked if anyone knew what it was, and in an excited voice, Chuck told me it was the "real" Tazmanian Devil, which was nothing like the Bugs Bunny cartoon character. If you saw it and you were the last person to turn away from it, you would be marked for death.

Well, guess who was the last person to turn away.

In the next scene, I was in my backyard with my younger brother (who would have been about 6 or 7 at the time) and my dad, who was grilling steaks — a frequent weekend activity in those days. Dad went into the house, and I heard something moving on the wooded hillside behind the house. Out from the trees came a dog that resembled a blue-hued greyhound — only this one was massive, about the size of a horse. Then, from behind it, strode a ten-foot-tall thing, which had the ridged, scaled body of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, colored bluish-gray, the same as the dog; the wolf-like head of the demon from Curse of the Demon; and huge golden wings that resembled King Ghidorah's, from Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster. The beast looked down at me and grinned.
Artist M. Wayne Miller's conception of the Fugue Devil, from
my fiction collection, Other Gods (Dark Regions, 2008)

I woke up in a cold sweat, shivering, which I have never otherwise experienced in all my 56 years. It took me quite a while to go back to sleep, and when I did, the dream took up precisely where it left off.

The sun had just gone down, and my brother and I were home alone. He realized he had left some of his toys down on the driveway and wanted to go after them. I advised him against this because I knew the Tazmanian Devil must out there somewhere. But I could not convince him to stay inside, so I went out to the back deck to watch over him as he went after his toys. He had just picked them up and was on his way back up the stairs when I heard something moving in the woods. The back porch light shone only a short distance into the trees, but it revealed something coming out of the woods, and I realized that it was the huge dog. Then, again from behind the dog, the Devil appeared, but this time its scaled body was bright green (if any of you ever owned the Aurora plastic model kit of the Creature From the Black Lagoon way back when, well, that was its exact color).

Again, the demon looked right at me, and again, I woke in a cold sweat, crying my young eyes out. It was now about 4:00 AM, and though I tried like hell to stay awake till daylight, I just couldn't manage it.

When I fell back to sleep, the dream continued yet again. This time, I was at my friend Bob Cox's house, believing I might be safe if the critter didn't know where to look for me. We were hiding out in his upstairs bedroom, and for a long time, nothing happened. But then something crashed downstairs, and after a few moments, I could hear heavy footsteps below. They started coming up the stairs to the bedroom, and I realized we were trapped because there was no other way out. The door burst open, and there was the Tazmanian Devil, having to crouch to get through the door because it was so tall. Now its body was a fiery, blood red, and it grinned real big as it reached out to get me.

That's when I woke up, and dawn was just beginning to brighten the sky. I didn't go back to sleep again.

I wrote the story, "Fugue Devil," in 1991, some 20 years after the dream. The theme of the story diverges radically from the dream itself, but the creature's main appearances are all there. I can attest that we do dream in color, for the various hues to which its body changed were brilliant. Needless to say, because the creature came out of the woods (which adjoin Bob Cox's house as well), I looked upon them with a certain amount of fear for some years afterward. And while I consider these woods among the most friendly, beautiful, and welcoming places on earth, they still hold a somewhat dark place in my heart because of that wonderful, memorable night horror from my youth.

In the story, the Fugue Devil appears every 17 years, at midnight on the Autumn Equinox. It was actually brought into being by musicians who, through music, found a key to opening doors to other dimensions (indirectly chronicled in my earlier story, "Threnody", which also appears in both The Last Trumpet and Other Gods). I gave the story something of a tag line, which reads "If you know about it, it knows about you. And if you see it, it will come for you." Words to heed, I can tell you!

"Fugue Devil," whatever its merits, is almost certainly my most personally significant tale. It was one of those special stories that, as a writer, I had to write.

May all your nightmares be as memorable and lovely.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

Indeed, a fine horror story for the ages!