Donald Trump, Dracula, and other horror stories

“Do you know any short horror stories?” she asked me when I got to the kitchen. Her son needed to read and retell a horror story for English class. Decades ago I was the elementary school kid who drew a one-page comic retelling “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe. More than a decade after that comic, I majored in English literature after finding magic in a class on 18th and 19th century Gothic literature. So yes I knew some horror stories. I recommended Yuki-onna, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and Stephen King’s “The Jaunt.”

We may not publish what you’d consider classic horror stories on this site, but we do love sharing recommendations during Halloween. You can learn horror movie recommendations on other sites; you can learn about Gothic literature here. Below are some of the novels that made me go from undeclared to committed man of letters at the University of California at Berkeley. As for the headline, I promise you Dracula does have something to do with Donald Trump that goes beyond the simple observation that they both suck.

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Vathek (1786)

Pre-metafiction metafiction. Pre-found-footage found footage. This novel first appeared as An Arabian Tale, From an Unpublished Manuscript and claimed to be translated from Arabic. No author’s name. Eventually the Gothic novel had William Beckford’s name on it and became known as The History of the Caliph Vathek. As a university student, I remembered it for one of the most mysterious characters — a Jinni — a creature we hold with both high regard and frustration on this site, as seen in our first-person account, Phantom Femme and the Invisible Fingers.

The Monk (1796)

Long before The Da Vinci Code made the church villainous, Matthew Lewis made one Christian monk the center of murder, rape, dismemberment, and damnation. This is the 70s exploitation film version of Gothic romances, all at once disturbing and entertaining for those with such an appetite. Lewis wrote it in 10 weeks while he was 19 years old.

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Carmilla (1872)

I know it’s hard to believe that lesbian vampires didn’t always exist as a genre, but Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu invented them in a short story with plot and characters that would influence Dracula 25 years later.

Dracula (1897)

Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel comprising letters — a literary device still used in contemporary literature. And like Donald Trump is a cultural mirror of unapologetic racism and bigotry in America, Dracula was also that for Victorian England and the xenophobia toward Eastern European immigrants at the time:

  • The novel begins on the eve of St. George’s Day.
  • St. George is revered for slaying a dragon.
  • Dracula is from Eastern Europe.
  • Dracula means “dragon.”
  • Dracula purchases real estate in England.
  • Dracula brings out the wanton ways of English women.

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These details are not coincidental according to my English professor and are often lost about Dracula when his story is adapted for film, television, comic books, and video games — mediums that dramatize his lethality and hunger, when his fearsome qualities are the ones we have instilled in him, that he is threatening as an immigrant with economic power and social mobility. We, focused on the fangs, have forgotten this. Dracula is what people imagine when afraid of a multicultural and globalized society, the timely horror still keeping us in the dark ages of Trump’s America.

— E.K. from Silver Lake, Los Angeles

Ξ

Art and magic are no different. But we are.

tamil_om

We wrote the 5 mysteries.

Help bring us to life here.

Hello, Terror

“Vera, take that cat out of your mouth!” I shouted. It was my usual 1 o’clock walk with this Siberian Husky except for the animal in its teeth. That shit is not part of the service contract. My heart was racing. My stomach was churning.

Vera just kept chewing—blood spritzing out of her mouth—and I kept tugging on her leash and telling her “No!” as though this would stop the delicious taste of cat.

We three—human, dog, and cat—then stumbled awkwardly onto someone’s front yard not far from Elysian Heights Elementary. I fell and grass poked my eyes, and the dog and cat invented a new form of dance. My hand was still around the leash, and I pushed myself up with my other hand (and accidentally squished some plant), and I prayed for Vera to let go, because pretty soon Vera would move on to the cat’s neck. Yes I, the guy who didn’t think Mary was a virgin, actually prayed.

Echo Park shifted that moment. Cars went on mute. Sun didn’t stare as hard. Day laborers on the roof of Fix Coffee put down their hammers. And Vera, the cat-hungry Husky, lay down and opened her mouth. The cat hobbled away and quieted down. They both went to sleep. I let go of the leash and my hand went limp after having to strangle it the last few minutes.

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I looked at my other hand and saw lavender smeared on my palm. I looked at the cat again to make sure it wasn’t dead and saw teeth marks closing up on its leg, sealing, fur growing back. Time was going in reverse.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” I whispered.

My phone buzzed.

“NO,” the message read from a number I didn’t recognize. “YOU.”

“I don’t understand,” I wrote back.

“JUMP SHIP OR DIE AT 5:46 TODAY.”

“Okay now I really don’t understand.”

“AT 5:46 YOU WILL.”

I canceled the rest of my dog walks for the day. Creepy text messages have that effect on me.

At home, Kara was still in bed where I left her naked this morning but now she was wearing panties and a tank-top. She said she wanted to go to the dispensary, and I just closed my eyes and lay next to her. “You’re no fun,” she said finally and slid into her skinny jeans. I asked her to stay (“Please,” I even added) but she knocked over my guitar case on the way to getting high somewhere.

Alone once more.

Hello, Terror.

Hello, it replied.

And I listened to it. And I was small again, young again. The boy in the basement. Chained up by a man who approached me at the park and claimed to be friends with my parents. There was only a window the size of a brick in here, and one day, there was a cat looking through it.

And I needed the cat.

And I needed Collin but Collin didn’t pick up his phone. Maybe he was at Bobby’s. I needed to get to Bobby’s. I needed to finish my album. I needed my band. Bobby grew St. John’s wort among many things, and I was out of anxiety meds.

“ST. JOHN’S WORT IS MORE THAN AN ANTIDEPRESSANT,” my phone flashed at that moment.

Psycho-psychic-stranger was not helping. I turned off the phone, and I went to Bobby’s and my band mates were laughing on the living room floor, passing around a two-foot bong. On the record player was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, which I always loved because it didn’t sound like the jazz of its era. It dared to go its own way.

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“You like it too,” said a woman I hadn’t noticed until now. I looked around and no one else seemed aware of this pretty creature, eating a slice of pie (since when does Bobby have pies?) and leaning against a bookshelf. She appeared an Ivy League student in both age and attire with a dark blue sweater and long plaid dress. Middle Eastern eyes rested softly on me. She offered her name “Foxtrot” and an enigmatic smile to match it.

I said my name in reply and turned to Bobby and the guys. “Help me with the album today,” I asked them, and they said what they always say, “Let’s do it tomorrow.” I told them about the dog and cat episode and only Foxtrot was lucid enough to follow the story.

“Tell me what plant you crushed,” she said, so I told her, and then she explained how lavender had magical qualities of calm and healing—which could be activated with intention—like my prayer. “You actually cast a spell,” she said.

I didn’t know anything about that, but another part of me spoke up:

There was only a window the size of a brick, and one day, there was a cat looking through it. I held up my bleeding fist. “Tell someone I’m down here,” I shared my thought with the cat. Blood ran down my hand and wrist. The cat jumped away from the window and I never saw it again.

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My heart started racing again and my stomach started churning.

“I have to go soon,” I said to Foxtrot as my insides continued protesting.

“You’re going to work on your music.” She nodded.

“You Ivy Leaguers are sharp. Wanna help me?” I asked quite jokingly.

“I thought you’d never ask,” she said quite seriously.

It was 3:16 p.m.

When Foxtrot came over, she didn’t ask for anything to drink or smoke—she didn’t ask anything of me. It was the strangest thing.

She brought over her saxophone (turns out she’d just graduated from Berklee College of Music) and I kicked things off on my guitar, and we began as such different animals, in temperament, in instinct, but we found a way to meet each other. Notes, chords, scales eventually conspired with their counterparts. By 5 o’clock we had curled and collided sonically and recorded it all as a raw demo.

Hoping to spur my band mates into collaborating, I texted Bobby that I’d made a new demo and wanted to share it. He told me it was a bad time to stop by. But I went there anyway. When I got there, Collin was just walking out the door. He said Bobby had already mixed an album after removing my vocals and guitar parts, and that’s what Collin would be moving forward with. He shrugged, said sorry, and rode away on a bike that he’d stolen in Venice. The night swallowed him and my vision got fuzzy.

Blood ran down my hand and wrist.

“Tell someone I’m down here,” I shared my thought with the cat.

The cat jumped away from the window and I never saw it again.

An hour later, policemen raided the house and found me in the basement.  

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“Come on, man. Don’t be like this,” Bobby said. I blinked a few times. The yellow flowers of St. John’s wort were just above my head. I was lying on my back on his front lawn. He was standing in the doorway and drinking Tecate.

“You’re killing the vibe, all right?” Bobby threw his hands up in the air. “So leave me your demo, go home, and we’ll talk about this later.”

I was still on the ground and through the open doorway behind him, saw everything upside-down—the guys spewing smoke and talking about the things they were going to do one day (just not today, tomorrow, or the day after that). The wind picked up, the rope that held the porch swing twisted, and Bobby pressed his foot harder on the floorboards, making them creak. Sounds of the night. Sounds of a ship. One I couldn’t survive on. Not any longer.

Bobby held out his hand but didn’t pull me up. “I’ll take your music now,” he said. “You burned me a disc, right?”

I reached up and plucked a yellow flower from the shrub of St. John’s wort. And I stood. And while Bobby spoke, I closed the petals of the flower and deprived him of words. He mouthed, “What the fuck?” but his voice didn’t obey him.

I tossed this flower through the doorway and when it landed, the living room went silent and the only thing out of their mouths was smoke.

It was 5:46 p.m.

At home, Foxtrot wasn’t there. No note. No scent of her. Not even a glass stained with her lips. Only a 10-second recording she left on my computer. I hit Play and she whispered two words, “Galen Gorry,” and the recording ended. It meant nothing to me at the time.

Alone once more.

Hello, Terror.

Hello, it replied.

Goodbye, Terror.

Goodbye, it said.

Hello, music. I picked up my guitar.

Hello, magic, it sung back.

— T.P. from Los Angeles, CA

Ξ

Art and magic are no different. But we are.

tamil_om

We wrote the 5 mysteries.

Help bring us to life here.

the day we didn’t wake up

Los gatos were missing this Tuesday. The bus didn’t pick me up this Tuesday. I’ve seen no moving cars this Tuesday. I’ve seen no person this Tuesday.

Los gatos are the men who hide in the bushes. Los gatos is the name I gave them. But only I know that name and now you. Los gatos hide from the sun, not from predators. Los gatos I see every day because I ride my bike past them. They are sometimes more like cats than cats. I know cats. I grew up with cats. Cats kept my abuela from being lonely. She’s dead now, so the cats are lonely.

Los gatos are not scary men doing scary things in the shadows. Los gatos are working men like my father. Working in places other than offices. Yards. Warehouses. Construction sites. They have no break rooms with shade and air conditioning. The sun is always staring at them in Los Angeles.

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The sun is staring at me now. I’m outside the front door of the shipping and logistics company where I move freight around. The door’s locked. I look through the tinted glass door. I can’t see Ashanti. I can usually see Ashanti chewing on her pencil at the front desk. I can still see her mug that says, “Ssshhh…There’s wine in here.”

I’m very sweaty because I had to ride my bike from Boyle Heights to Baldwin Hills, because the bus never showed up. I didn’t want to be late for work. I’m really late for work. I call my boss on his cell phone. My heart’s going really fast because he told me to only call his cell phone if it’s an emergency. I leave him a voicemail that it’s an emergency.

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I bike home to take care of another emergency. Home is where I can use the bathroom. I feel funny peeing in bushes. I don’t want to pee where los gatos take their breaks. After I pee a long pee in the bathroom, I see my mom and dad’s car in the driveway and I see their door is closed. They’re usually at work at this hour. I leave for work in the morning before they wake up.

I enter their bedroom and they’re still sleeping but they’re not making a sound. My dad makes sounds because he snores. But not today. I shake my dad to wake up. I shake my mom. They don’t wake up.

“MOM!!! DAD!!!” I say.

They don’t wake up. I feel their wrists and I feel a pulse. I call 9-1-1 but no one answers. I start calling everyone in my phone but no one answers. I start shouting and crying but my mom and dad don’t wake up. The cats are all coming into the bedroom now. Someone once told me six cats were too many for our house. That someone hated cats.

Our six cats arrange themselves in two neat rows lining the doorway. It’s like they’re waiting for red carpet to roll out between them. They lie down and a shadow stretches from the doorway to my feet. My tears are dry now so I can see. I can see a cat the size of my father. Large green eyes. And fiery fur. The Cat of All Cats stops in the middle of our six cats. I can see our cats are not just lying down; they are submitting to it.

“I wish everyone would leave me alone so I can draw.” I hear my voice in my head. I don’t understand why.

You said that yesterday,” a different voice says in my mind. A woman’s voice. And I believe it’s the Cat of All Cats.

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Sí, es mi voz. You said that yesterday when you were feeding a bug to your abuela’s favorite cat. You were tired of working in the warehouse and tired of helping your parents around the house. All you wanted to do was work on your graphic novel. So I made your wish come true, because what your abuela never told you was that her favorite cat is my acolyte. And when you give my acolyte a sacrifice—even a little bug—it’s a big deal because you’re calling upon me to answer your desire.”

I see the Cat of All Cats watching me, waiting for me to say something. I wonder if it will eat me while it’s clawing me or eat me after it kills me. I see my parents are not moving. I see Los Angeles outside is not moving. I begin to feel sick. I begin to feel like crying again.

You understand now. Yes. Nobody woke up today because of you. You got your wish so you can draw more of your graphic novel.”

“I don’t want to draw right now. I want everyone to wake up.”

The Cat of All Cats licks her paw and looks at it a moment, and then looks at me and sends another message to my mind, “Sure. But it’s going to take a bigger sacrifice to wake up the whole world.”

Whole. World.

Did you think only Los Angeles was affected by your spell?”

I wonder if the cat is lying but don’t know if cats can lie. “What do we do?” I ask.

You mean, ‘What do you do?’ Easy. Kill a man for me. His name is Galen Gorry.

I think I must be dreaming. I think I must wake myself up, so everyone else will wake up too. I feel myself grimacing as I walk past the Cat of All Cats. I imagine a flash of lightning if it swipes at me. I imagine my stomach gushing open. But the gigantic green eyes just track me when I walk past it.

I jump into bed so I can fall asleep in this dream and then wake up in the real world. I close my eyes. I get comfortable. I stay like this but I cannot fall asleep. And I cannot be alone. I open my eyes and the Cat of All Cats is standing over me. I feel uncomfortable being watched by a five-foot cat so I turn away and look at the wall where I’ve pinned all the pages of my graphic novel.

You wouldn’t have to do anything at all. Put a pillow over his face. Maybe drown him in a bathtub. He’s not going to struggle. He’s in a coma like everyone,” the Cat of All Cats says in my mind. “He’s a dangerous man—Galen Gorry. Believe me. You don’t want to meet him when you’re awake.”

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“I—I don’t want to kill anyone.”

You killed a bug for me.”

Our cats climb into my bed. I look at my abuela’s favorite cat. I see it represents something bigger than itself. I look at the wall of my art and storytelling. I see it represents something bigger than itself. I start to understand how this works, this magic the Cat of All Cats is talking about. I do have to make a bigger sacrifice than the first one.

So the world can wake up.

So I can have a world again.

I take my graphic novel pages off the bedroom wall.

Stop!” the Cat of All Cats says. “Put those back.”

In the kitchen, I turn on the four burners of the gas stove and I drop my graphic novel on the blue crowns of fire.

You’ll lose your greatest work!” the Cat of All Cats cries.

Pages curl. Flames chew through them, bite on edges, turn my story and artwork into black memories. I open the window. A breeze comes in. The Cat of All Cats disappears as gradually as the smoke does.

Los gatos are back in the bushes on their 10-minute breaks. I am back in the warehouse moving freight around. My mom and dad are back on their feet and working again. My graphic novel is not back. It is still ashes. I am in bed now, remembering the next page I was going to create.

Someone calls but I don’t know the number glowing on my phone. I don’t answer. A few minutes later, my phone chimes with a voicemail. I play it. It’s a man’s voice:

“Everyone lost a day but no one knows why they were in comas. But I know. And I know what you did to help us. It was brave and you spared my life. Not everyone would have done that, and that’s because you’re not just anyone. Do you think an Egyptian cat goddess visits everyone in east L.A.? Yeah, your graphic novel’s gone, but your imagination isn’t. If you’re curious, I can help you use it to create things that no fire can destroy. It’s true I’m dangerous. Bastet wasn’t lying about that. But I’m not dangerous to you. And as for her, I doubt you’ll be seeing her again unless you want to. This number I’m calling from is a pay phone. I’ll call you from my phone after you start sharing your artwork online. It’s too good to simply pin on your bedroom wall. Then we’ll take it from there. Goodbye.”

My abuela’s favorite cat jumps onto my bed when the voicemail finishes. She’s purring. I pick her up and put her outside my room.

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I have work to do now. I turn on the scanner and begin digitizing my drawings.

— C.Z. from Boyle Heights

Ξ

Art and magic are no different. But we are.

tamil_om

We wrote the 5 mysteries.

Help bring us to life here.

not her art gallery, not anymore

“That’s her favorite art gallery—I’m not going there anymore,” I’d tell myself despite Corey Helford Gallery exhibiting artists I enjoy like Billy Norrby, Camille Rose Garcia, Herakut, Silvia Ji, and Martin Wittfooth.

I said that for a long time. I wouldn’t even drive within half a mile of her West L.A. apartment after our breakup. And she lived on Venice Blvd. Magnetic repulsion made Washington Blvd my best friend for a while.

Two weeks ago, I told myself, “that was her favorite gallery—and it still could be—but I want to go again,” because Martin Wittfooth was presenting his new series The Archaic Revival and I’d never seen his paintings in person. I’d seen scanned images online, shrunken to display on my computer and my phone. I wanted to view his oil paintings in four dimensions, in real time, in an environment I could inhabit. And I wanted to be free of the mythology that Corey Helford Gallery was hers somehow, when it was for anyone curious about pop surrealist, low brow, street and contemporary art.

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I brought F.A. who lived through the mystery, You have until Friday

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“Herald,” my favorite piece

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— Q.D. from Culver City, CA

Ξ

Art and magic are no different. But we are.

tamil_om

We wrote the 5 mysteries.

Help bring us to life here.

the true meaning of 007

We use our initials instead of our names. MI6 uses three-digit codes for spies in the James Bond universe. “007” however predates the man invented by writer Ian Fleming. It was a code name 400 years ago for another person. Today on October 5, celebrate James Bond Day and watch our one-minute video connecting a Cold War character to Elizabethan England.

— E.K. from Silver Lake, Los Angeles

Ξ

Art and magic are no different. But we are.

tamil_om

We wrote the 5 mysteries.

Help bring us to life here.