"Run-of-the-mill" seems like a modestly accurate way to describe myself in terms of horror fandom. In certain respects I find that valuable, since ideally I can make an appeal to those like myself, to those who may be testing the waters, and hopefully to the hardcore horror fans as well. (And I sincerely encourage feedback, especially from the latter.) It wasn't until several years ago, the present time of this writing being December of '09 to give perspective, that the genre genuinely appealed to me and I owe all that to the film adaptation of Stephen King's 'IT'. After that, it was a slow and steady progression that grew into watching more Stephen King film adaptations, then into watching general horror films. In more recent years it's branched from solely films into different mediums, namely: comics (comic books, manga, graphic novels, webcomics, etc.), purely written literature, and different games.

But let's get to the point, shall we? The Darkley Niche is something I've constructed after the comic-in-progress that a friend and myself plan on self-publishing, an anthology of short horror stories much in the same vein as 'Tales from the Crypt' and similar titles. The series centers around a faceless persona we've affectionately dubbed Alan Darkley, the Niche's namesake, and a cast of storytellers whose tales fall within particular subgenres and sister genres of horror. This site is the drawing board, if you will, where everything posted is either a form of research or a roughing out of ideas. It's all relevant in some fashion. By exploring these different horror stories and their mediums a better understanding and influence of the genre, as well as inspiration, can be put into the comic. Even if you have no personal interest in the project, perhaps you can glean something from the reviews and the like. And if nothing else, the Niche will work to serve my own purposes.

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Meet The Darkley Storytellers

Meet The Darkley Storytellers

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Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Goosebumps: Monster Blood

Done with Stay Out of the Basement last Sunday, I've recently moved on to the next novella in the Goosebumps series and have finished it as well. Presenting the third, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's Monster Blood. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

It was pleasant that brother and sister trend was broken, this time centering on twelve-year-old Evan Ross, who, along with his pet cocker spaniel, Trigger, are left with his deaf and robust Great-aunt Kathryn as his parents go house hunting in Atlanta. For a woman in her eighties, Kathryn is quite lively with her loud laughter, striking black hair, and steely blue eyes. However, she's also quite stubborn. Deaf for twenty years, Kathryn has learned neither sign language nor how to read lips, so she can more or less get her own way. This only exacerbates the situation, which Evan detests. Staying in his great-aunt's study, a musty room with dust-covered books and the smell of mothballs, Evan sleeps on a cot while his indoors dog stays outside in a pen, due to Kathryn's black cat, Sarabeth.

So of course Evan spends as much time outside as he's able. While walking around the neighborhood during the early part of his stay, Evan is met by Andy, a colorful tomboy with a similar sense of humor, resulting in the two becoming fast friends. Giving Evan the town tour, Andy leads them to a clapboard building with a hand-painted sign in the window, reading "Wagner's Novelties and Sundries". Old and dimly-lit, the inside is lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves jammed with aged, dusty toys jumbled together in no discernible order. While Andy rummages through the clutter in search of a birthday present for her cousin, Evan finds a small backroom that's even darker and dustier than the rest of the store. The toys inside are even more worn and broken than the others. But before he leaves a blue can catches Evan's eye, which reads across the faded label "Monster Blood: surprising miracle substance".

The grouchy, elderly storekeeper catches Evan in the back room, telling him that it's not for sale, then adding that it's likely too old and no good. But eventually the man relents and sells it. Teasing Andy a little, who also wants the toy, but can't, agrees to share it for a while over at Kathryn's house. Noticing the two, then the can, Kathryn appears to scrutinize the can intensely before giving it back to Evan, saying in a low whisper, "Be careful." Moving up to Evan's makeshift bedroom, Andy jokes about his great-aunt being a witch before the lid accidentally pops off of the can. Peering inside, the Monster Blood is a cold, green gel that bounces, stretches and flattens, glows in the dark, but appears to be nothing special that Evan hasn't seen already. Realizing that it can stain, the children take it outside to continue their play, tossing a glob back and forth.

Accidentally throwing the glob too far at one point, the ball lands the nearby Trigger, who, disobeying Evan's urgent commands, promptly chews and swallows the Monster Blood. Though Evan worries that it might be poisonous, the cocker spaniel seems fine, even a few days after. If anything, the only noticeable change is that Trigger sleeps more. Because of this, Evan walks to Andy's house alone only to be interrupted partway as he's cornered by Rick and Tony Beymer, twin brothers and the neighborhood bullies. Andy happens to come along to his aid, but gets knocked over and her bike is stolen. Downplaying it, she heads back home and Evan likewise does the same. However, when he approaches his Great-aunt Kathryn's he sees Trigger violently choking. Realizing that the collar is the cause, Evan manages to pull it away after a desperate struggle. The only explanation seems to be that Trigger had grown, but Evan doesn't give it much thought.

Trigger, as it turns out, isn't the only thing that's growing. During another visit, Evan and Andy discover that the Monster Blood has expanded. Not only that, but it's also grown warm, won't bounce anymore, nor does it glow in the dark like it used to. And it's sticky; real sticky. Still, the children play with the Monster Blood 'til it grows late. While cleaning up, they hear Trigger barking and look outside through the study's window. To their astonishment, Trigger has grown to twice his original size. This probably explains the nightmare that Evan has later that night, which entails Trigger chasing after the Beymer twins, then turning into a horrifying monster. Strangely enough the dream becomes a premonition as the nightmare's scenario unfolds, at least in part. After paying a visit to the vet, who assures that the dog is healthy, the gruesome twosome appear to hassle Evan, inadvertently provoking the cocker spaniel and chases them. But to Evan's relief, eventually catching up to Trigger, there is no monstrous transformation.

Moving things along, Andy and Evan put two and two together, deducing that the Monster Blood is the reason for Trigger's growth. The Monster Blood itself starts to become problematic as it continues to expand at an alarming rate, outgrowing the containers Evan and Andy find themselves having to fill with the green gel. To compound matters further, Rick and Tony Beymer reappear to avenge their wounded pride by beating up Evan. Despite a bruised eye and sore stomach, Kathryn shows little sympathy for her great-nephew. And to top it all off, Mr. and Mrs. Ross have little luck with the house hunting, so their stay in Atlanta is extended, thus extending Evan's stay at Great-aunt Kathryn's. Perfect.

In the later hours of the night, Evan creeps down to the cellar in search of a container to pour the already overflowing Monster Blood in. Fortunately, there is a tub that fits the bill. However, after pouring the contents of the bucket inside, Evan is startled by Kathryn's cat, Sarabeth, and falls into the tub. If the Monster Blood has any malicious intent, it starts to manifest here as pulls the boy down into itself. It doesn't just pull, it also grows, enveloping his shoulders and bubbling up to his neck. After a vicious struggle, Evan manages to free himself from its gooey grip. Understanding how close he came to death, Evan urgently writes his deaf great-aunt for help. Kathryn loudly laughs it off as a joke, but whispers in a serious tone, "I warned you. I warned you to be careful."

Finally, Andy comes up with an answer so painfully obvious that it eluded them both. Just return it. So, distributing the green gel into two large garbage bags, the children strain to carry the cumbersome Monster Blood into town, back to the toy store. When they arrive, however, the clapboard building is boarded up with a sign tacked to the door of Wagner's Novelties and Sundries. It reads "out of business". By this point Evan and Andy are grasping at straws, only finding temporary solutions to their dilemma. Pointing out an aluminum trash can by Kathryn's garage, Andy suggests storing the Monster Blood inside and together empty the garbage bags into it, securely clamping down the lid. Unfortunately Trigger, now the size of a pony, gallops in haste out of the pen gate and down the street. Evan stumbles, accidentally knocking over the trash can, and the Monster Blood spills out all over the driveway.

Then, with a life of its own, the Monster Blood gathers itself together, "like a newly born creature... stretching, looking around," and bounds after them. Andy screams, "It's alive! Oh, my god -- it's alive!" As they flee in terror the Beymer twins approach, only to be caught off guard by the Monster Blood and are pulled inside the sickening green mass. Still, this does not seem to satisfy the Blood as it soon after continues its pursuit. Following them to Kathryn's house, the Monster Blood goes after Evan's great-aunt and, like the living gel, the truth spills out. Kathryn indeed cursed the Monster Blood, but not by her own will. In a strange twist it's revealed that Sarabeth, suspected as nothing more than an ordinary cat or, at the very most a witch's familiar, turns out to be the one pulling the strings.

The cat transforms into a young woman with brilliant red hair and gleaming yellow eyes. Sarabeth had been holding Kathryn prisoner in her own home as a slave, cursing her with deafness and keeping Kathryn from learning sign language or lip reading to further impede her. "Kill the children!" Sarabeth commands the Monster Blood with a cry. But as a gesture of poetic justice, the cat-woman Sarabeth is done in by the dog. Trigger gallops into the house and knocks her into the green glob, disappearing inside. The gigantic growth of the cocker spaniel reverses (as does the Monster Blood), the Beymer twins are freed from the Monster Blood unharmed, and Great-aunt Kathryn is released from Sarabeth's curse. All goes back to normal and Evan's parents find a home, so they will soon return for him. Aside from leaving Andy behind, who assure each other by agreeing to write and call, it's a happy ending. The only question that lingers is the Monster Blood, which mysteriously disappears.

Not sure how I felt about the ending. I was anticipating that the storekeeper would be more involved, so it was a little disappointing. Still, the turn 'Monster Blood' took with Sarabeth was straight out of left field, so I can commend it for that. The same for using an only child staying with a great-aunt instead of the four-person family setup (father, mother, sister, brother) seen in the first two novellas. I give it three-and-a-half out of five Goosebumps Gs.

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