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Demon Theory

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Demon Theory

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Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: MacAdam Cage, 2006

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Demons
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An experimental tale of horror by the acclaimed author of All the Beautiful Sinners.

Following an unnerving phone call from his diabetic mother on Halloween night, Hale and six of his med school classmates return to the house where his sister disappeared years ago — only to find a chilling surprise in store for them. Written as a literary film treatment and littered with pop culture references and footnotes, Demon Theory is a refreshing addition to the "intelligent horror" genre.


First is the sound of a siren, insisting it's there in spite of the as-yet lightless screen, dredging up gut-level associations of fire trucks, ambulances, vehicles full of purpose screaming down some thin road not walled in by buildings: instead of being amplified by brick and steel, the siren dopplers away in inverse proportion to the image fading in on-screen-as if the light's chasing the fire truck away, the ambulance. And then it's gone, the siren, which is to say we're the motionless ones, the captive audience, left with a crouched figure, a mid-twenties male breathing deep in the poorly lit hall of an apartment building. CON. Wearing jeans and a couple of mismatched shirts, running shoes with blood or iodine on the toes, a detail barely perceptible before the close-up of the duffel bag he's digging through.

In the bag are the various clothing changes, pill bottles, and anatomy books of a medical student, possibly an emergency room intern. The one book title that resolves itself is Brain's Clinical Neurology. Below it is the justification for the close-up: a pair of human forearms, cleanly severed just below the elbow, and, below them, a mess of roan-colored hair that seems to originate from the back of what nearly has to be a human head, getting jostled as Con removes the forearms. Just before it rolls face-up, though, a door crashes open down the hall. A female skeleton and a male flasher emerge, holding hands, running the other way, disappearing into the elevator, already all over each other.

Con smiles.

In his right hand is the severed right forearm. With his left he fishes a cigarette from the pocket of his outer shirt, spreads two of the cadaver fingers, and fixes the cigarette between them, then leans the forearm carefully against the wall. It stays. The left cadaver forearm isn't so easy: to get the hand to hold the custom lighter, he has to break the hand into a fist, surgical tape it shut, then set the lighter in the well between thumb and forefinger. Success. He takes the left forearm in his left, the right in his right, and inspects, smiling, then hooks a foot through the duffel bag, drags it with him to the door the skeleton and the flasher spilled from.

He swallows his smile, holds one forearm in the crook of his own, and just manages to get the lighter going. With a cadaver finger he rings the buzzer, then adopts a consciously romantic cigarette-lighting pose [leaning down to the cigarette as if there's wind in the hall], recites poetry to himself:

"Let me stand in your
doorway and light my
cigarette with the sun-"

But the door opens before he can finish, party noise drowning out any more lines he might have had, the song a slow and sadistic remix of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." In the doorway is a mid-twenties female with large, obviously false breasts stretching her T-shirt to its fabric limits. Pooh-bear pajama bottoms, animal slippers with lidless eyes. VIRGINIA. Con exhales smoke, appreciating her breasts.

"Virginia..." he says, displaying the cadaver arms, "so you going to invite me in? Trick or treat..."

Virginia's eyes remain level on Con. She shakes her head. "Thought you were on tonight."

"I'm on every night, haven't you heard?"

Virginia rolls her eyes, extends an arm to invite Con in, but Con doesn't pass by immediately, instead takes advantage of their closeness by patting the outside of her false breasts with his false arms.

"You're what now," he says, "the prototypical teenage victim?"

Virginia smiles. "Not yet. But the night's an embryo."

She doesn't dignify the groping cadaver arms by shrinking away from them, either. She does direct Con's gaze to the left one, though. "Your thumb's on fire," she says, already walking away, and after Con extinguishes the forgotten lighter and the charred thumb his POV zeros in on her receding pajama bottoms, follows her.

into the party, which-through a series of est. shots-is replete with jack-o'-lanterns, surgeon's masks, whiskey-filled IV bags, the remains of a commercial Ouija board, etc. Against one wall is a CPR dummy strapped into a lawn chair with its rubber eyelids gator-clamped open, so it's being force-fed a slide show, a series of images lifted from some old movie, of a bat biting into a mouse, the black and white blood spilling down the wall. On the floor by the dummy is a cat-dressed INTERN, her thumb on the slide clicker, faster faster Ms. Basinger-stop-motion blurring into animation, animation resolving that one trembling image of the bird and the bat.

Soon enough the bat-figure perched on the back of the couch becomes important, easy to segue to-EGAN-a slender guy wearing all grey, no skin showing, and on his head an expensive gargoyle mask, pointy ears and all. He's balanced well, oblivious to the party going on around him, oblivious even to the cat-dressed intern screaming when someone gooses her, setting off a cycle of false screams culminating in Virginia, outscreaming them all. Back to Egan though, who's looking at the television set no one's watching, one of theHowlings or something playing on tape, an aerial shot of a two-story house in the country, a bad place to be. As the television set draws closer and closer the party noise distances itself, until we're through the convex glass ourselves, above this house in the woods.

The ext. of the house is well-kept, was once nice. Still lived-in. Blanketed in snow, no chimney smoke. Were the front door to open, it would be opening onto an apron porch. Opposite it, near the line where the trees begin, is an old-style cellar door set at an angle in the ground, a small rise behind it, topped by a vent pipe. Behind the house, not quite square with it, is a shed. Our aerial POV is circling slow, est., est. Getting closer and closer. Not quite behind Michael Myers's mask yet, but the genre is familiar enough that the visual shuffle through the still-unopened front door isn't uncomfortable.

On the other side is a living room in keeping with the age of the house. It's unlit, vague shapes of furniture hulking in the spaces between windows. A doorless kitchen entry to the right, landingless stairs to the left.

The shuffling noise comes from upstairs.

It's irresistible.

It's an old woman in her bedroom, a MOTHER on her nightgowned knees, scrabbling through her nightstand drawer for something, holding the telephone in the crook of her neck. Via a close-up on the drawer there's the scrap of paper she was looking for, the phone number with Hale written above it in block letters, and we stay close on that name and number as she rotary dials it in.

The cordless phone rings beneath the party noise. It's on the counter directly behind the CPR dummy. The television isn't in the shot. Soon all that is is the phone, ringing and ringing, until a female med student type-TJ, not in costume-happens to lean on it as she's squeezing around a wide someone in the kitchen. She draws her hand back, startled, then picks the receiver up.

"This is TJ."

She listens, nods, and then navigates dutifully through the party, bee-lining the shut door of the master bedroom, which we've already cut to and through: inside there's an unsmiling, red-haired female, mid-twenties again, wearing a black trench coat and nursing a beer. NONA. She's not happy; on the bed in front of her is a horizontal SERI, wearing only a suggestive black bra and pumpkin boxers, getting baby-powdered by HALE. Aside from the powder-cum-pallor and the cartoon X's drawn over her eyes, Seri's only costume is a toe-tag; Hale is dressed as Mulder to Nona's red-haired Scully,14 all trench coat and will to believe. When he lingers too long with the baby powder over Seri's farside breast, Nona smoothly withdraws an undeniably real 9mm from a shoulder holster, levels it on Hale.

"Uh-uh, mister. Assume things. Bullets, position. Our first official date?"

The shot now is stand-off wide, so there's no cutting back and forth. Seri cups her breast in her hand, as if protecting it. Hale assumes the position, hands up.

"I-" he begins, but is mercifully cut short by the door opening, TJ taking stock as she enters with the phone.

"Don't mean to be interrupting your little threesome here," she says, "but it's for you, Hale. Your mother."

Nona lowers her gun. "You've been a bad boy, Fox."

Hale slowly takes the phone, fake flips it open qua Mulder, speaks importantly into it: "This is Hale."

Hale's mother is still on her knees by the bed, the phone to her ear neglected. What's important for her is the bedroom window. She's breathing fast, irregular. Hale's o.s. voice comes through the phone: "Mom? Mom, you all right? Mom, Mother... "

"Hale," she says back, almost a question.

"Yes. Mom, is it your insulin, the house, what?"

His mother smiles-"Come inside, dear"-and her words are punctuated by a leathery flapping outside the window.

"Come inside, dear," she says again, "the movie's just beginning. That one you and Jennifer like so much."

"Movie?" Hale asks.

His mother smiles then, her breathing becoming regular if shallow, and she answers-"All the blue monkeys"-her singsong voice leading us again to the window, where her POV lingers, draws tight, match-cuts to...

Copyright © 2006 by Stephen Graham Jones


Demon Theory

- imnotsusan


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