Short Story Wednesday: How to make a horror movie

Short Story Prompt: “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

Some students say they believe the three story building of The California Film School is haunted. Some students say it isn’t. Quincy doesn’t take a side. All he knows is that six Oscar-winning Directors and beaucoup Academy Award winners have gone there. Although students report a ghost sighting from time to time, he pays the stories no-never-mind.

Quincy, known to his friends as The Q, drops his book bag on a desk and takes a seat at the back of his Intro to Film classroom. He is the last of the twenty film students to arrive for the 8 p.m. class. It has taken him a good twenty minutes to find the room deep in the chasm of the building. While the professor, a thirty-year-old Pauline Betelgeuse, babbles on about the course and its requirements, he checks out the Facebook pages of several of his buddies, typing a snide remark on one, a congrats on another.

Listening with one ear, his interest perks up when the teacher says, “So I want you to sketch out a scenario, showing how you make a horror film. You can use the rest of tonight’s class to work on the assignment. Oh, and if you have any questions, I will be in my office for the rest of the class. Just zap me an email.” Then she slips through the wooden casket lid of the classroom door, disappearing into the hallway.

The Q closes his Facebook page and opens a blank document. He types his title, “Three Zombies”, centering it on the top of the page, then smiles. He is sure the instructor will be pleased with his story idea. He begins pouring words onto the page as fast as he can. Ten pages later, he glances up from his laptop. The room is empty, almost dark with the lights dimmed. The clock on the wall says midnight. If the silence was molasses, it would be  thick. There would be no pouring it. The windows of the classroom are like dark eyes spying on him. A chill slithers through the room like a snake after its prey.

He hurriedly saves his text, shuts his Mac, stuffs it into his backpack and slips out into the hall. Across from the door is a framed copy of Hieronymous Bosch’s painting, “The Last Judgement”. He doesn’t remember it there when he came to class. Scary stuff, he thinks, and makes his way left and down the hall. The lights flicker as he continues past paintings of the Grim Reaper, a Goat’s Head and a One-eyed Cyclops. No way they are going to scare him with this crap. He’d seen all thirteen of the “Friday the Thirteen” movies, and he just laughed his way through Jason’s antics.

He comes  to an exit. Thinks, “Good, this place is about to give me the willies.” He opens the door and steps into more hall. The door slams behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck rise. Maybe it’s not a good idea to go this way. He turns and pulls on the door. It doesn’t budge. It seems the only way to go is down this new hall.

Everything is as quiet as a grave yard. Through the several windows, he sees the moon a blood red. He shivers with a chill. In the distance, the howl of a wolf. Good thing there is no such thing as werewolves,” he comforts himself. Something scratches on a window. He checks it out. Only his reflection stares back at him. The scratching stops as suddenly as it began. He steps up his pace to the door at the end of the hall.

The exit leads into a narrower passageway. On the wall more paintings. Werewolves tearing open the throat of a man. A vampire biting the neck of a woman in a black negligee. A decrepit house barely holding onto a hillside. A cemetery under the light of a waning moon and several pallid residents shaking themselves free from the grip of their graves. He passes each of these with the beginnings of a trepidation driving him onward. Then he comes to another door, and hope. Maybe this one will take me outside. He grasps with the rather large doorknob of a gargoyle figure. As he attempts to turn the knob, teeth bite into his hand. Then he wrenches it open and rushes through the door.

A spider’s web nets his face. His pushes through it. This door slams behind him like the others, sealing him inside another hall. He moves slowly onward, passing under a man hung from the ceiling, a hangman’s noose around his neck. The smell of death rises from the floor in a fog. A nervous agitation takes control of him. His feet, now the weight of lead, moves sluggishly past the caskets lining the wall

It is then that he realizes these halls he is traveling, these same halls are found in his story, “Three Zombies”, and he is the one living character. Just like in the story, the halls seem to be streams of madness leading to he knows not where. But where are the three zombies, their dead sockets for eyes to gaze upon his body, then attack him with a furiosity that he can only imagine? It is then that his feet break free from the lead holding them down and begin a fast walk, then a dead run toward the exit at the end of the hall.

This door easily gives, and he emerges into a new passageway, its walls painted black, its ceiling pressing down on him. An invisible steel hand tightens its grip around him. Cold sweat pours out of him.

Like the man in his story, he feels that he is traversing through a maze of passageways, a deadly labyrinth which leads him from one door to another, each a false lead. Fear fills his head with the chatter of questions. What is there to be afraid of? How did he get himself in this mess? Why can’t he find his way out of the building? Why does one door lead him into another narrower hallway? What did he do to deserve this? With each step, another question. His heart pounds louder and louder and louder. Each footstep is a drumbeat, signaling the unknown that he is available for terror.

Finally The Q hears a soft hum. It sounds like voices. Maybe it isn’t voices. He slips off his shoes and progresses through yet another door on padded feet. The sound changes from a hum to distinct voices and some laughter. Is he imagining the voices? Maybe it’s something else, some unknown, unnamed terror. He takes a deep gulp and tries to slow himself down, but some invisible hand pushes him forward. To the next door.

Forced to open the door or be crushed against it, he steps into a classroom. He finds himself facing his Intro to Film classmates and Professor Betelgeuse’s back. “And that is how you make a horror movie,” she says, then turns to welcome her victim into the classroom.

A Halloween Short Story Prompt: “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe


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