"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.

Be sure to browse over the column of banners below if you're looking for posts on a particular topic. (And at the very bottom of the blog, if you would like to consult the complete listing of post labels.) Otherwise, scroll down past them to get to the most recent articles. Likewise, refer to the right side for our latest tweets.

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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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Goosebumps: The Girl Who Cried Monster

The previous post makes for a good transition into the latest 'Goosebumps' review. Presenting the eighth, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's 'The Girl Who Cried Monster'. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)

Lucy Dark is a twelve-year-old girl with straight black hair and eyes, a rounded face, very fair skin, and is short for her age, much like her younger brother, Randy. Her favorite pastime is giving him a fright, claiming to see "toe-biters" and other monsters around nearly every corner in their hometown of Timberland Falls. Even her parents and best friend Aaron Messer, a lanky boy with curly red hair and freckles, have heard more than enough of her tall tales. These tales are especially exasperating to Lucy's mother. Scaring Randy, particularly, puts Mrs. Dark in a foul mood with her daughter. So it comes as no surprise that when Lucy does find an actual monster nobody believes her. Of course, most probably drew this conclusion simply from the novella's title.

Enrolled in the town library's summer reading program, the "Reading Rangers", Lucy arrives for her weekly meet with Mr. Mortman the librarian to give a synopsis of her latest assigned book, Huckleberry Finn. Mr. Mortman is an overall friendly man, bald and plump with small eyes that seem even smaller when he smiles. However his hands that are always sopping wet, likely from handling his pet turtles, which are kept on his desk in a pan of shallow water. So while Mr. Mortman is a generally warm person, certain characteristics such as these give Lucy the creeps. When Lucy returns to the library later to retrieve her forgotten rollerblades, she is given a legitimate reason to be uneasy. Hidden behind the bookcases and shadow of onset dusk during the closed hours, she secretly witnesses a disturbing transformation.
"His head floated up from his turtleneck and started to expand, like a balloon being inflated [...] his eyes bulged out as if on stems, poking straight up like insect antennae [...] And then his mouth began to twist and grow. It opened wide, like a gaping black hole [...]"
Adding to Lucy's horror, the thing that once was Mr. Mortman begins to consume a jar full of living flies by the handful, which were assumed to be food for the turtles. She makes a blind run for it and hastily leaves the library. When she regains her wits, Lucy realizes that the rollerblades are still inside the library and returns, even after what she witnessed, to retrieve them. This time, however, she decides to make her presence very obvious. After all, if Mr. Mortman hears someone coming inside, he won't let himself be seen as a monster. At least that is her reasoning, at any rate. But the library's front door is locked, so Lucy walks back home. Telling her family about Mr. Mortman, they don't pay her much mind and Lucy wonders herself if it was just her imagination.

At her next Reading Rangers meeting, Lucy gives Mr. Mortman her brief report on 'Frankenstein'; a rather appropriate read for her, really. She tries to bait him a little with a few questions to see if she can get a reaction, even something subtle, but gets nothing. At least nothing certain. So for her own peace of mind, Lucy decides to hide out in the library before closing, folding herself up in a low, empty bookshelf. After all the patrons have left and Mr. Mortman has locked up, she leaves the shelf to stand and secretly watch within a nearby aisle. All appears normal with the librarian, who hums to himself as he routinely straightens his desk. But then out comes the jar of living flies. Just like before, Mr. Mortman's head begins to bloat, his eyes stem outward, and his smile twists into a ghastly, gaping maw. "Dinnertime, my timid friends," says the monster in Mr. Mortman's scratchy voice. After feasting on the flies for a while, he turns his attention to the pet turtles. As it turns out they aren't pets after all, but more food for the monster.

The sound of shells cracking is enough to make Lucy turn tail. Not caring if he hears, she flees for the door, only to have forgotten that it has been locked. She was trapped, trapped with the monster. And rapid footsteps were close behind her. But her wits come back in time to open the door and race across the front lawn and cut through a hedge. "Hey, is someone out there?" Mr. Mortman calls. Apparently he hadn't seen her, but it isn't certain. So she runs over to Aaron's house to tell him what had happened at the library. But the conversation goes unsuccessfully, assuming that it is another of Lucy's fanciful fabrications. It's bad enough that her family doesn't believe her, but for her best friend not to is very upsetting for the girl. You can't blame their disbelief, really. So she leaves in a huff and returns home, only to get two scares. The first is from Randy, who leaves a papier-mâché monster in her bed for a cheap startle (she had it coming). The second, Mr. Mortman shows up soon after at their front door.

Turns out that Lucy had left her backpack behind at the library and Mr. Mortman came by to return it. Was there an ulterior motive to this visit? Probably, since he mentions someone sneaking in the library after closing, added to the fact that he lives in the other direction. He seems like a friendly guy, but I don't know if he's that nice. In any case, Mr. Mortman leaves as Lucy's parents return home. Again, she tries to convince them that Mr. Mortman is a monster, which simply aggravates her mother more. Just an excuse to get out of the Reading Rangers program, Mrs. Dark says. So of course this steels her resolve even more to prove it. Lucy arranges the next afternoon to spy on Mr. Mortman with Aaron, who is a no-show due to a coinciding dental appointment. That dirty traitor, she mutters mentally. Regardless, she discreetly enters the library and hides past closing time.

This time Lucy comes prepared with a camera. Funny thing, she forgets about the flash. When she snaps a picture of the monster it startles him and angrily gives chase. However, Mr. Mortman is hindered by the temporary blindness caused by the flash and Lucy escapes, apparently unseen. That same evening, the Dark family go out for Chinese food at the mall, which also has a one-hour photo developer. Lucy drops off the roll of film before they have dinner, then returns for the photos, after. Eagerly she flips through the photographs for the one snapshot. Strangely, though, the picture is perfectly clear. The desk is there, the tray and turtles are there, but no monster. It would seem that Mr. Mortman, at least in his monster form, cannot be captured of film. Lucy makes this case to her parents, but an empty picture is very flimsy evidence.

Lucy's ace in the hole becomes Aaron, a no-nonsense sort of person, who can serve as a witness and knows her parents will believe. Instead of hiding in the library again, this time the two children follow Mr. Mortman to his house after closing time. The first floor windows are too tall, so Aaron fetches a nearby wheelbarrow for Lucy to stand on as he keeps it steady for her. She has a close call, but luckily an aquarium of exotic fish obscure the window well. In case you haven't guessed by now, these fish are as much pets as Mr. Mortman's turtles. Turning into the monster again, he reaches into the tank and helps himself to a few of his "timid friends". Suddenly, seeing that Aaron isn't steadying the wheelbarrow, Lucy falls. The commotion is enough to get Mr. Mortman's attention, who comes outside, human, and grabs her before fleeing. She makes a weak excuse and quickly runs away. "You shouldn't have come all this way!" he calls after her, but lets Lucy go. Aaron finds her soon afterward, having hidden himself during the earlier ordeal. And of course he didn't see a thing.

Eventually Lucy's next Reading Rangers meet rolls around. Despite her protests, Mrs. Dark forces her to go. It's a miserable, rainy day, which makes the tread toward the library even more dreadful. Mr. Mortman greets her kindly as he usually would, and there are other patrons around in the library, so this puts Lucy a little at ease. As she waits for her meet, though, the patrons dwindle until it leaves Mr. Mortman and herself. Alone. And before seeing to Lucy, he locks the door. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you leave, Lucy. I can't let you leave the library," Mr. Mortman growls. (On a side note, he growls this in her ear, which seems a borderline pedo creepy, if you ask me.) It was only a matter of time before he deduced this, really, especially after her repeated attempts. Mr. Mortman becomes the monster and means to do her harm. Fortunately for Lucy, he has his priorities out of order. She accidentally knocks over the library card catalog and escapes while the monster attends to the scattered cards. And as an added gesture of Lady Luck smiling on Lucy, Aaron catches up to her. Turns out that he was hiding in the library and saw the entire event unfold.

At the Dark homestead, Lucy and Aaron repeat what had transpired at the library. Aaron's testimony is key to the story's credibility, as the parents would have dismissed it otherwise. So what do two grown adults do when confronted with a situation such as this? Why, they invite the monster in question over for dinner, of course! ... Yeah. Didn't see that coming. A few evenings later, Mr. Mortman arrives in answer to their invitation. Neither Mr. Mortman nor Lucy can seem to make heads or tails of this awkward position that they find themselves in. What's Mr. and Mrs. Dark's game? The adults chat for a while, serving iced tea as they make small talk. Gradually the conversation shifts over to supper. "What's for dinner?" asks Mr. Mortman, beginning to relax. "You are," replies Lucy's father. Mr. Mortman nervously asks again, feigning that he misheard, and Mr. Dark simply reiterates. Without any hesitation, Lucy's parents pounce on the librarian, baring fangs and devour him, bones and all. Lucy narrates, "My brother and I haven't gotten our fangs yet. That's why we couldn't join in."

Why were Lucy's parents skeptical about her seeing a monster when they were, themselves, monsters? Turns out that Mr. Mortman was the first monster in nearly twenty years to come to Timberland Falls. As for why they devoured him, besides protecting Lucy, was to protect themselves. Her mother explains to the children.
"You both understand why we had to do that, don't you? We can't allow any other monsters in town. It would frighten the whole community. And we don't want people to get frightened and chase us away. We like it here!"
Apparently Aaron doesn't know, then. Poor kid. Probably better that he doesn't find out. And so the 'The Girl Who Cried Monster' ends with Lucy telling her little brother another scary story before bed, actually retelling what happened earlier at the library, and gets a scolding from her mother. No more monster stories, Lucy.

While the majority of the story was pretty predictable, the ending was a pleasant twist. And one that made sense, too. (I'm talking about you, 'Say Cheese and Die!' *wags finger at*) Also, there was no annoying family pet dog and the younger brother wasn't irritable in the slightest, though we know that he acts as six-year-old siblings typically do. It was a simple story, sure, but I liked it overall. Perhaps it's partly the summer reading program, which brings back good memories. I give it three-and-a-half out of five 'Goosebumps' Gs.

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