In the van ride home from KillerCon 3 in Las Vegas, Hal Bodner looked out the window at the desert speeding by. Behind him, John Skipp flipped through his CD’s with John Palisano, trying to find the perfect road trip music. Lisa Morton and Shannon Neil sat in back, sunglasses on, Shannon napping while Lisa was deep in thought. The speed at which she works, she probably wrote another novel on the ride home.
I was tired. Hell, we were all tired. KillerCon will do that to you. It will wear you out, but in the same way that a beautiful hike or a one night stand wears you out.
“How many bodies do you think are buried in the desert here?” Hal bit his nails and squinted toward a dust-stained trailer surrounded by empty oil drums.
I glanced into the rear view and met John Skipp’s eyes. Skipp scratched his cheek and I could still see the blood caked under his fingernails.
Vegas rises out of the desert like a Leviathan, bursting from the sand with neon scales and diamond horns. When you first see it you feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Which is great because, by the time you leave, you feel like an eighty year old prostitute begging for enough change to wash her dentures.
After a four hour van ride with weak air-conditioning all I wanted to do was crash. Yet the frenetic energy of the place seeps into your blood like they pump Red Bull through the air conditioning. We hit the strip, which was less pleasant than it should have been thanks to a construction project that ripped up the sidewalk down from the Stratosphere. The sewage was redirected above ground in a large plastic tube that did about as good of a job at hiding the smell as Dick Cheney does at being cuddly.
Dinner at Paris was fun but the opening night party for KILLERCON 3, a horror and thriller writers convention run by the enormously enormous Wrath James White, was even better. In addition to being a damn fine writer, Wrath is also a former professional fighter and current trainer. Discussing his fights in Pride and his training of Frank Mir was definitely a highlight for a former amateur fighter and current fight fan like myself.
I also got a chance to meet the talented Mercedes Yardley, the boisterous Christopher Boyle, and the as-of-yet-no-adjective Scott James Magner. The bathtub gin flowed freely and the room full of writers was three sheets to the wind in no time. I looked around the room and thought, “These are my people.” For someone whose day-to-day consists of dealing with engineers who think writing code is sexy and clients who refuse to read anything not decorated with a Golden Arch, it was a good feeling.
Friday started with breakfast at the chic IHOP (which I assume is a French term) alongside fellow Borderlands Bootcamp graduate Jerry Enni. After inhaling an omelet the size of a two-year old, we ran back to the Stratosphere. Screaming filled the air and we looked up to see someone falling from the top of the tower. I thought of Hans Gruber for a moment before realizing it was a free fall “ride” on cables from the top of the tower. I really, REALLY wanted to do it myself but… well. You understand, I’m sure.
Back on the the 24th floor, we caught the rapping and reading combo that flies like a one-two punch from the twisted mind of the brilliant Michael Louis Calvillo. He read from his new novella, 7 BRAINS, out from Burning Effigy Press and soon to be the next book on a my bedside table. As always, Michael is an absolute joy to be around. If we could bottle this guy’s energy we could eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Which is also, incidentally, why the Saudis hate Michael.
Not long after was a reading and Q&A with New York Times bestselling author and Marvel Comics writer Jonathan Maberry. Maberry, in addition to being incredibly talented and prolific, is also a hell of a nice guy. As a bonus, he’s a martial arts nut and used to train police officers and SWAT units. He read from his YA novel ROT & RUIN, which I’m rushing out to buy this week because I can’t stop thinking about the world he created in the small portion he read.
Next up, I was on a panel discussing the pros and cons of working in a writers group. My fellow panelites included RJ Cavender, editor and founder of Horror Library, and Mercedes Yardley. Erik Williams and some fellas from his writing group were also on the panel. RJ moderated and proved that he could indeed fulfill his lifelong ambition of opening for Carrot Top (RJ has a thing for redheads). We dropped the “F” bomb repeatedly and earned the title of “Most Foul Mouthed Panel.”
Speaking of writers groups, two members of my own writers group followed the panel with readings. Stoker Award winner Lisa Morton read a piece called “The Devil” from her upcoming collection MONSTERS OF LA. If you’ve never read Lisa’s work, you’re missing out. Pick up something. NOW. And make sure you have the day free because you won’t put it down. John Palisano followed by reading the opening of his upcoming novel NERVES. I tried to think of a pun using the title but I couldn’t, so just buy the book when it hits. You won’t be disappointed.
After an E-Publishing panel (which was both enlightening and entertaining), I needed some grub. I passed a few soldiers in the hallway hauling a covered cart and wondered if they were doing some kind of demonstration. I also saw old buddy and radio host Gardner Goldsmith. Gardner didn’t seem to have time to talk. He smiled and shook my hand but took off down the hall after the soldiers. Guess he wanted to see the demonstration.
The party that night was larger and louder than the previous night’s. I had the great and awe-inspiring pleasure of meeting the legendary Jack Ketchum who, like Maberry, is a ridiculously nice guy. Plus, he’s an Elvis fan. As a native Tennessean, that makes him alright in my book.
Had some nice chats with Roy Robbins from Bad Moon Books and Monica Kuebler, editor at both Rue Morgue Magazine and Burning Effigy Press. Then it was off to catch the reading of good buddy and Stoker Award winner Ben Ethridge. He read a thoroughly disgusting and inspired story called “Sludge” and then gave away T-Shirts for his Halloween novel BLACK AND ORANGE.
Also had a chance to have some great conversations with Gene O’Neil, who is as charismatic as ol’ Jack Scratch himself, and PS Gifford.
Next up was a demonstration of Blood Splatter Forensics by former cop and current writer Pat MacEwan. I donned a fashionable pullover from designer Glad, dipped a crow bar into a pan of blood, and beat the living shit out of an imaginary bus driver. Why a bus driver? If you’ve taken public transportation in Los Angeles you know. This was a ridiculous amount of fun. So much so, in fact, that I looked like an absolute batshit crazy bug eyed lunatic while participating. Christopher Boyle was tasked with taking a hammer to a stuffed lemur, giving rise to my new favorite euphemism “beating the lemur.” (Get your mind out of the gutter – it means going over the top). BITE CLUB author and fellow rental van rider Hal Bodner got in on the action along with Monica Kuebler.
That night, we hooked up with Michael Calvillo, his beautiful and hilarious wife Michelle, and some friends to go see PENN & TELLER at the Rio. I am a HUGE fan of their acclaimed Showtime show BULLSHIT and so this was a real treat. Their show is a perfect blend of awe-inspiring illusion, political philosophy, and gut busting humor. We had a chance to meet them after the show and get our pictures taken and it was refreshing to see how humble and in touch with their audience they are. These guys aren’t jaded. They love what they do and are blown away by the fact that thousands of people a night come out to see them do it. How can you not admire that?
After dinner and drinks, we headed back to Stratosphere. As we walked through the casino, Michelle wondered why it was so empty. The bells and whistles of the slot machines were going off but there were no other sounds. Even at three in the morning, a casino in Vegas should be filled with people. We shrugged it off and went to our rooms.
We awoke to a scream. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and stumbled over to the door. Opening it, I expected to find kids playing in the halls.
They were empty.
I didn’t think anything of it. Instead, I got dressed. Shannon, thankfully, went out to do some shopping. I went up to the 24th floor, riding the elevator by myself, to see what was going on at the convention.
When the doors opened, I marveled at the commitment of the KillerCon crew to creating the perfect atmosphere. Bloody hand prints stained the wall. A trail of the stuff ran from a small puddle on the floor and around the corner. I had slept too late. What the hell had I missed?
Heading down the hall and around a corner, the sound of crunching, probably someone munching on an apple, echoed around me. There was a grunt. A thud. I thought of obese men fighting with their luggage.
Oh, had I been right.
Down the hall, curled around an overturned breakfast cart, eggs and bagels spilled across the floor, was a cleaning woman. Orange juice dripped from the edge of the cart and stained her skirt. Her head was behind it, her body shaking. What was that on the ground? Was that a leg?
“Is everything okay?”
She stopped. A gnarled and brown stained hand slapped against the edge of the cart. It squealed as she pressed her weight against it, moving it across the hall. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and, as her face cleared the cart, my breath was lodged in my throat. Her jaw was covered in thick blood, gore wedged in her teeth, her eyes milky white and blank, expressionless.
She scrambled to her feet, one foot twisted too far to the left, something popping and cracking as she hurried toward me.
I ran back around the corner. As I did I almost plowed into editor and horror icon John Skipp, whose phenomenal work includes SPORE (co-written with Cody Goodfellow) and his current editing gigs with Fungasm, Black Dog & Levanthal, and Ravenous Shadows. I was happy to see Skipp, as he published my story “Il Donnaiolo” in his magnificent anthology WEREWOLVES AND SHAPESHIFTERS: ENCOUNTERS WITH BEAST WITHIN.
I was not happy, however, to see that he swung a hatchet toward my face.
“Get down,” he yelled.
I hit my knees, sliding along the carpet, my legs screaming at the rug burn, as the hatchet left his hand. I heard a dull thump and then Skipp was leaping through the air, kicking one foot against the Coke machine as he brought a second hatchet down into the maid’s throat. She hit the ground, her body twitching, as Skipp yanked both hatchets free. His arms fired like pistons, bits of the maid painting the walls, his shirt and green vest, his screaming face. I shielded my eyes as her insides splashed onto me.
When he was done, he stood over her, panting, eyes wide, hatchets dripping.
I couldn’t speak.
Skipp looked over at me. “You okay?”
It was hard to find my voice. “Yeah. Yeah, I think I’m good.”
“Good.” He pulled a machete from a sheath on his belt and handed it me. “Because I have a lot to tell you and not much time to do it.”
I took the machete and followed Skipp down the hall.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF MY KILLERCON COVERAGE!
BBrad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His stories have appeared in anthologies alongside Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, George RR Martin, and many more of his literary heroes. For a listing of his literary and film work, please check out his Bibliography at https://brad-hodson.com/bibliography/