In my early twenties when I had recently started working at a junior high school, the holiday season hit, and everything was hectic, people trying to be jolly and festive and overtly social, you know how it goes.
     I was eating lunch in the staff break room, surrounded by coworkers, and suddenly a terrifying  disguised figure came slinking through the door.
     It was dressed in a full-throttle Santa costume with red pants, red coat, big buckle, big shiny black boots, mittens, big fluffy Santa hat, and with its face almost completely obscured by lots of white beard. Only its mouth and cheeks could be seen, and just a hint of its eyes below big fake eyebrows. But none of these small details gave any hint to the person beneath the costume, because heavy makeup had been applied to the lips, cheeks, and eyes.
     "HO HO HO!" It shouted in a husky stage voice, as it minced down amongst the tables where we sat, trying to eat. Its hips swayed, an obviously fake big belly twitching from side to side. Its red lips smirked. It ran its gloved hands across shoulders and arms, even pinched a few cheeks.
     Reactions throughout the room were mixed. Some laughed gamely, making valiant efforts to make it seem normal. Some stared at their food and continued grimly eating.
     I sat frozen in wide-eyed terror.
     Santa simpered and capered through the room, coming nearer and nearer to my table. Touching, pinching, slinking...
     Its movements were not graceful, though. It was disjointed and weird, like a film being run backwards. Herky-jerky.
     In a sickening reversal of natural order, Santa slithered into a man's lap and demanded with those hungry red lips, "And what do YOOOOOOU want for Christmas, LITTLE BOY?"
     I panicked. I was sweating and trembling, the room suddenly shrinking, bringing that wrong Bizarro Santa even closer. Why was this happening? Why were they allowing this to happen to us?
     One of my table mates noticed my panic and whispered, "What's wrong?"
     "I... I have to get out of here!"
     "Oh, don't be silly. It's fun! It'll be over soon."
     I panted, gasping for air. "I don't want it to touch me."
     My coworker started losing patience with me. "Oh, come on. You're scared? Of Santa Claus?"
     "YES." I hissed. But now the coworkers on either side of me were trying to get me to stay, both of them holding my arms, telling me not to be silly.
     Santa loomed closer, lurching and swaying, big stiff belly jutting out, red lips pursing like a sphincter to blow another fierce volley of HO HO HOs.
     I thought, "If that thing sits on my lap, I will die. My heart will stop in my chest."
     I broke free of my coworkers' hands and darted out the back door.
     I later found out that "Santa" was actually our school psychologist-- an alarmingly weird woman we'll call "Nora." Nora always wore too much makeup, and had tics and twitches that made me think she might have some minor neurological disorder(s). She was skinny to the point of gauntness, and had a severe short and choppy haircut dyed a deep wine-red that was not flattering to her weathered features. She was fond of pantsuits and high heels.
     I feel perfectly justified in fleeing the scene, as obviously that was the wrongest Santa ever seen. But for years my coworkers teased me about running away from Santa.
     A few years later...
     Nora was in a pretty severe car accident, and had to have some reconstructive surgery done on her face. She also suffered some body trauma that gave her a limp, and even more tics and twitches. I felt bad for her. She meant well, and seemed like a nice person.
     But then she had to go and wear another goddamn costume at Christmastime.
     This time she was a gender non-specific ELF, in green leggings and curled-toe boots and jingling hat. But the worst part was the mask. I guess because of her accident-scarred face, she chose to wear a full face mask. But it was one of those clear plastic masks with rouged cheeks and lips, and a suggestion of blurry eyebrows. The kind of mask that makes a scary blur of the person's features, and muffles their voice. 100% serial killer.
     She had added a long weird misshapen elf nose, which jutted out rudely and reminded me incongruously of that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy uses a lump of clay to make a fake nose to disguise herself in front of William Holden and then she ends up smooshing the nose until it looks weirder and weirder.
     This time, instead of a husky low "Santa" voice, Nora was using a loud squeaky "Elf" voice. And she was kind of a tall woman, so there was really nothing elf-like about her.
     Her raspy elf squeak was so muffled by the serial killer mask that I couldn't understand one single word she said the whole time she capered about the room, mincing and flitting in what must have seemed an "elf-like" fashion to her.
     And did I mention that the accident had given her a hitch in her get-along? It was a horrifying ballet of awkwardness, watching her twitch and lurch around the room in those green leggings and curled-toe boots. I think in her mind she was probably "prancing," but it didn't play that way.
     This time I stayed in the room longer, though. I felt bad for Nora, and at least I knew who it was under all that fucking weirdness. But that clear plastic mask, man...
     That's the detail that still haunts me.
     Fuckin' elves.

ORIGINAL ART : Santa & His Elf (the e-card version)

     This is a drawing I did last week, but I've colored it in Photoshop and added a cheery caption so it's like an e-card now.
     I was inspired to make the drawing into a card because I received a Christmas card from Bentley Little, who is one of my favorite horror writers. He always designs his own scary/snarky Christmas cards, and I feel lucky to be on the list of recipients. Here's a combined scan of the front and inside of this year's card:

     In case you have trouble reading it, the inscription says, "Happy Holidays! (don't tell Sarah Palin, but I am a major general in the liberal/gay/atheist/Jewish war on Christmas)"


The NaNoWriMo site encourages you to create a cover image, so I made this tonight when I should have been at the grocery store.

     At first I thought I'd try to finish my middle-grade fantasy novel, "The Weirdling Woods," during November's NaNoWriMo challenge to complete a 50,000 word novel.
     Then I read the NaNoWriMo FAQ and saw that you are absolutely forbidden to use existing prose, and are supposed to come up with something original to start and finish all in one month. (I've already written about 7 chapters of The Weirdling Woods, so that's out!)
     A few days before November 1st I put together a quick outline for a supernatural horror novel. Why not, right? It's my absolute favorite genre. My inspiration was a weird Slovak nursery rhyme my Grandma used to tell us kids, accompanied by tickling her fingers up and down the insides of our arms so that we giggled. Little did we know, until someone finally asked her to translate what it meant, that the tickling down our arms was BLOOD running out.
     I've written 10,000 words so far of this thing that's not for kids, and it's not a comic book. I'm trying something new. Sort of.
     Before I jumped into making comics, I had written a slew of short horror fiction in my late teens and very early 20s, none of which saw publication. Not that I didn't try. But it was the comics that got me published, and that was a lot of fun.
     I would still like to come up with a horror novel manuscript that I feel confident enough to submit somewhere for publication.
     It's still like a big unwieldy lump of raw clay that is just beginning to shape up into something, but here's the initial brief synopsis for BLOOD RUNS BACKWARDS:

Seb, curator of a small art gallery, is preparing an installation of "blood poppets" made by his grandmother, who is currently incarcerated in a psych ward for attempting to poison Seb and his 2 cousins. As he delves deeper into his family's mysterious ways, a creature called the Blood Hound comes hunting those of his grandmother's bloodline. Is Seb as crazy as his grandmother, or should he believe the uncanny things he begins to experience?

     Here's a brief excerpt:

     In the dirty light from a buzzing security lamp near my truck, something moved feebly near my feet. I gasped and jumped back.
     I had almost stepped on it. A horrible, twisted creature lying on the gravel.
     "Oh, god!" I panted, gulping and pulling the coat tighter around my chest.
     It was about the size of a very small cat, but with a pointed pink snout, and matted fur sticking up in mangled tufts. It looked wet. It hissed weakly, showing tiny pointed teeth. There was red in its mouth, and red in its fur. Its body was contorted in such a way that I couldn't tell if it was even all there, or if some of the sticky wetness was exposed entrails. One skinny limb twitched. Naked toes splayed.


     On our road trip we stopped for the night in Tucson on the way to Carlsbad Caverns. I found a nearby used book store that sounded promising, and it turned out to be really cool. Bookmans has tons of used books arranged carefully by genre and author, with little reading nooks with comfy chairs. They also have CDs, DVDs, video games, board games, puzzles, and a weird "gallery" that is really more of a crazy gift shop full of consignment items.
     Their magazine section was huge, and included racks and racks of comic books! And they also had a graphic novel section. I've never seen a used book store with that many comic books/graphic novels.
     Here's what I got:
DEADFALL HOTEL novel by Steve Rasnic Tem
FOUR DEVILS, ONE HELL (Grendel graphic novel)
     Plus I picked up one of their genre reading lists, which are very much like the ones I make for the library I work in!
     As if I weren't already sold on Bookmans' quirkiness and broad range, there were also lots of people there with their DOGS! Really cute. I don't think I've ever been in a dog-friendly book store before.
(NOTE: Anthony and I discussed the missing apostrophe and the ensuing irritation, but I still loved this book store.)

     When we left, this weird, giraffy vehicle had appeared in the parking lot near our car:

     We stayed one night at "The Lodge On the Desert," and it was really nice and affordable. Would totally stay there again if we had a real good reason to be in Tucson, Arizona.

Giraffy : Adjective used to describe something that resembles a giraffe.