So you’ve decided to join the armed forces. Welcome aboard, recruit! Whether you joined to defend your country, to learn skills to better yourself as a human being, or simply because you wanted to shoot stuff, you have a promising career ahead of you.
As you get off the bus and walk into your new life, you may want to take a good look at the other faces around you. For the next few months, these will be the faces of your best friends and brothers as you forge on through basic training together. They come from all walks of life. Some of them are fresh out of high school while others are just a few short years away from the mandatory age-of-retirement. Some of them are highly educated while others are dumb as bricks. Some have had to leave their lives behind, while for others, this is truly the beginning of the rest of their lives.
Many of them will likely be one of the following:
1. Blank Slate Billy
Billy is a true Tabula Rasa. His pre-military life is inconsequential. Between leaving his mother’s womb and arriving for his first day of basic training, Billy’s life has been devoid of meaning. Billy typically joins the forces at age 18 when his parents allow the military to do the one task they could never accomplish: raise their child.
Billy is young, impressionable, and has the demeanor of a baby deer: easily spooked and utterly helpless on his own. His wide eyes quietly cry for help and beg for acceptance.
It’s a mystery as to why Billy was allowed to grow up so clueless. Perhaps he was allowed to spend most of his childhood in a sequestered room in his home watching TV and playing video games. Or maybe his parents had tried to teach Billy, but Billy didn’t want to (or simply couldn’t) learn. In either case, you can tell Billy didn’t play much “catch” with his dad.
Billy lacks basic life skills, let alone any talents which he never developed. Much to the discontent of his platoon, his fellow soldiers will be less like brothers and more like fathers and mothers. They will have to wake him up in the morning, watch him make his bed, clothe him, teach him how to shave, and help him prep for inspection every damn morning. He must be micromanaged at all times, ensuring he has all parts of his kit with him everywhere he goes. If not, he will likely misplace or lose something, ensuring communal punishment for the entire platoon.
Billy needs to be told what to do at all times. Without constant guidance and hand-holding, Billy tends to freeze up until he is provided with clear, concise instruction. Even then, he struggles. One must have patience with Billy and remember that trying to get him to do anything is like teaching a child how to tie his shoes for the first time.
2. Sketchy Skeeter
Skeeter is usually in his mid 20s to early 30s. One can’t help but get the feeling that he joined the military to get away from something, and that thing is most likely an armed drug dealer who doesn’t take well to being in debt.
Skeeter doesn’t like to talk much about his past. Oh, he’ll mention his hometown, and what school he attended to obtain his bullshit bachelor of arts degree. As you get to know him, pieces of his life fall out like lost parts of an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. Yet if you try to solve the puzzle, the pieces never seem to fit coherently (wait, was he a counselor at a rehab clinic, or a patient? Or both? How many ex-wives does he have? Or is it just the one? Was he even ever married? Then who did he have his son with? Or is it his daughter? Just how many kids does this guy have?).
It’s best to leave Skeeter’s past life to Skeeter. He’s not a bad guy, but he is a bit strange, and should one pry too much, they may find themselves irreversibly trapped in his world. A simple evening out for a couple drinks will turn into a full-blown night of bad decisions: no, Skeeter, I don’t know which strip club in town is most likely a front for selling coke. I’m also not sure what we’re doing outside a liquor store with these handguns, but it can’t be good.
Skeeter won’t necessarily be a terrible soldier. He also won’t be an outstanding one. That’s because Skeeter’s trying his best to not be noticed by your superiors. He’s perfectly content as the grey-man. However, Skeeter does attract attention, though not because of his work. He just gives that vibe, and you can bet the staff are keeping an eye on him, if only to ensure he doesn’t have a grow-op or isn’t running a meth ring on base.
3. Grandpa Gus
Gus just joined the military, and has most likely only the one contract until retirement.
His kids are off to college, and his wife is waiting for him in a house he built with his own two hands.
While not necessarily a grandpa, or even that old (late 40s to mid 50s), Granpda Gus is as old as you can get while still being a member of the military.
Why did he join the military? Perhaps it’s because we’re going to war, and this old timer ain’t too old to give ‘em what-for! Or perhaps he just joined for the retirement benefits.
Gus is often, surprisingly, in some of the best shape of the whole platoon. That’s because he’s lived well to his age through proper exercise, sleep, and nutrition. He’s spent every morning of his life waking up at 6 am for 5 km runs before eating eggs, toast, and beans while half the kids on your basic training platoon have spent their pre-army lives oversleeping until noon, playing five hours of xbox, and subsiding on pop-tarts and microwave noodles.
Gus has accomplished more in the last year than most of us have in our entire lives. He is a font of wisdom, willing to share all he knows with all who ask. Army life will be a challenge to Gus, but it will be no more or less than yet another of life’s challenges, of which he has faced so many of.
4. Pompous Pete
Usually in his late 20s to mid 30s, Pete certainly has accomplished more than most fresh-faced recruits, and he knows it.
He can barely even remember graduating high school. Since then he’s managed to go to college, work a few part-time jobs, and even hold down something close to a career. He’s experienced in carpentry, mechanics, agriculture, business, law, politics, and brain surgery. The only thing Pete doesn’t seem to know is how to shut the hell up.
Pete sees himself as a Grandpa Gus: older, wiser, and more experienced. However, he demonstrates none of Gus’s controlled reserve. Quite the opposite: he absolutely must give his input whenever possible. You may not ask for his help, but that won’t stop him from coming over to show you how something is done his way. He leaps halfway into conversations he was never a part of just so you can hear his thoughts about ISIS and Ebola, when all you and your buddy were talking about were pets you had at home.
Though he does well as a soldier and never fails an older, the instructors dislike Pete. This is because Pete thinks he’s better than everyone else, and has a hard time accepting rank. He speaks when not spoken to, frequently to challenge every little thing the instructor says (“we shouldn’t be doing those kinds of stretches before a run, Sergeant. We should be doing these stretches instead. This is what I learnt back when I was…”).
Pete is most likely to suffer a smoke-bomb related prank when the platoon hits the field.
5. Redneck Randall
Randall barely qualifies to use a fork, let alone join the military. He completed the bare-minimum requirements for his GED and immediately submitted his application into the armed forces.
Randall can’t add 1 + 1 or even write his full name down. At first, everyone’s going to be really worried about the day this guy is trusted with an automatic rifle. However, weapons class is when he truly shines. He will deconstruct and rebuild his weapon in under a minute. He will be able to name every part of his rifle, and the parts of their parts. His rifle will be the cleanest rifle of the entire platoon.
Furthermore, he’ll most likely be the best mark. Randall has spent hours shooting squirrels and sparrows in his dad’s backyard the way most kids learn to play a musical instrument or play video games.
He knows everything and anything there is to know about all guns ever created in the history of existence, and then some. Guns are the one thing which Pompous Pete will never challenge Randall on, if only because he’d fear getting shot.
Randall will never be a leader. He’ll never be asked to spell the word “leader.” Randall knows three things: chewing dip, spitting, and guns.
6. Arty the Angry Virgin
Arty is that feeble, skinny ginger kid that everyone picked on in high school. He’s never been laid or invited to parties. He’s spent the majority of his free time playing ‘Call of Duty’ while downing one massive can of Monster after another. He joined the military because he wanted the respect which came with having a uniform and a gun.
Arty is out to get everyone who made him inferior in his life.
He does not immediately respond to ridicule or abuse. When one makes a joke at Arty’s expense, Arty just quietly sits there and stares ahead as he mentally checks your name on an ever-growing list.
Arty is most likely to be kept under closest supervision when the platoon goes to the range, as he’s deemed most likely to go Private Pyle, depending how much the rest of the course members have been making fun of him.
I spend a lot of time making guesses about what people will like — which articles they’ll click on, which one’s they’ll share, what type of articles people save and read again and again. The guesses were always the same, people like lists, they like funny, they like short, positive Upworthy type stories. So last spring when I was working with a writer I really liked, Cliff Barlow, bringing his horror fiction to Thought Catalog I thought I was fighting an uphill battle. Creepy doesn’t go viral, that’s what we all thought.
And then I realized, what Cliff is doing isn’t new. Horror has always been a part of the internet, but it’s always been relegated to one-off websites with permanent Angelfire-era graphics and forums like r/nosleep. The desire to be scared will always be something people want, whatever other trends come and go. It’s a bit counterintuitive — why would we want to be afraid? To shed some light on our dark desires, I’ve invited Cliff Barlow himself to answer some questions on the horror genre.
Cliff, help me out here, why do we love horror?
I think a certain portion of the population “gets it” for lack of a better term.
This genre is so polarizing. There are those among us that are just wholly captivated by the darkness and in equal measure are people repelled by anything related to horror and the macabre. I find myself, since a young age, gravitating toward dread and the unknown. It’s intangible and innate to die hards in the genre. I am always so elated when I find someone that adores horror even a fraction as much as I do.
What type of person is drawn to horror?
I find that horror aficionados tend to be inquisitive and courageous people, always seeking answers where others fear to tread.
Counterintuitively, I find that horror fans are some of the most well-adjusted people. I think that this is born out of the fact that they acknowledge and accept the terror that is always on the periphery of human existence. By wallowing in it as a past time, they are able to adapt to the curve balls and tragedy that life is wont to throw at us.
On a more personal level, why do you find yourself drawn to horror writing? what’s the difference between wanting to write like say, Joan Didion, and Stephen King?
I am a lifelong horror fan. I’ve been consuming scary video games, movies, books, etc. for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had dreams of writing fiction — I studied psychology in college. As a matter of fact I had never written so much as one creative piece until about three years ago.
I would peruse the subreddit /r/nosleep and was enthralled with the stories I stumbled across. Some of them were truly amazing, the passion of these writers for horror. The posts all contained an amateurish quality that added to the authenticity and removed any fears I had of giving it a go. The idea of writing horror fiction had crossed my mind previously, and with such a low barrier of entry, I decided, why not give it a shot? It seems simply through osmosis I had a knack for spinning dark tales. I haven’t looked back since
What are some of your all-time favorites in the genre?
In terms of literature, Stephen King really is the undisputed master of the genre. At a too-young age (I believe I was 11), I read Salem’s Lot. This was a seminal experience for me. I immediately devoured everything he has ever written and still await every new release with bated breath.
In terms of films, there are some classics of course that immediately spring to mind. The Exorcist, Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead, and The Shining to name a few. However, as of late, I find myself gravitating towards movies that aren’t explicitly horror but are terrifying nonetheless. I am a huge fan of the works of David Lynch. He is so adept at illuminating the space between reality and nightmares that I am constantly enthralled with his work. The surrealism of Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Eraserhead scare me to death. Also, I can’t get enough of the filmography of David Cronenberg. Movies like Videodrome are just so raw and visceral, they plunge beneath the surface and find horror in places other genre directors are incapable. Video game wise, I would argue that Silent Hill 2 is a flawless masterpiece. Simply put, I think it is the greatest story ever told. It is so powerful and horrifying that I get literal goosebumps just thinking about it.
When you write, where do your ideas come from?
I guess in terms of inspiration I mainly draw from two sources. First, I just find something in my life that I am fearful of or is providing me with anxiety and construct a horror fiction narrative around it.
It is very cathartic and empowering to be able to do this. For example, I wrote a story simply entitled, The Devil. It is in essence about how guilt is a devastating and destructive force. I was feeling an overwhelming sense of remorse about something at the time, and I figured the best way to exorcise that demon would be to use metaphors to process these feelings in a healthy way. The strong emotions that were encumbering me subsided the second the story was published.
Secondly, I’ll just be reading an article or something and out of nowhere an idea for a horror story will pop into my head. The Mr. Blinky story came to me as I was reading about how here in NYC there had been a couple incidences of mascots attacking children. This was inherently creepy enough but it galvanized me to embellish and create a terrifying story with that news item as a jumping off point.
Long-Term Care came to me as I was reading about how a coma patient was communicating with a doctor via fmri. I immediately saw how that could have potential for a fucking terrifying story and was done with a first draft in a couple of hours. Whether the source is internal or external, just being attuned to the horror of day to day life can yield great results.
Who is the demon Otch and did you create him?
As a child, my older brother did have recurring dreams about a demon he called “Otch.” Instead of a stereotypically monstrous look with sinister green eyes and cloven hooves for feet as I have described him in my stories. My brother always said that he looked exactly like Guy Smiley from Sesame Street but with a seven foot tall figure.
He would speak in a high pitch voice and tell him to commit horrible acts all while saying very blasphemous things (fucking horrifying, right?). This used to scare me so badly that one night I could swear I could see Otch hiding in my closet. When I decided to try my hand at horror fiction, this story immediately sprang to mind. My first short story ever was about Otch. A radically improved version of this tale is, “He’ll Get You Too,” is included in my new short story collection Darkness Prevails.
When I first posted that story. A user commented with a link to a real demon with a similar name. I found it very disturbing that there is a “known” demon out there with the name of “Och” how did my brother come up with that name at the tender age of 9?
Otch is easily one of my favorite play things and his ongoing story is going to directly intertwine with the malevolent character that I am introducing in this new collection, Petru Beklea. They are going to attempt to and just might succeed in creating a veritable hell on earth, Honestly, I’ve never been more excited about a storyline and can’t wait to see where these two lead me.
Cliff Barlow’s second book, Darkness Prevails, is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.
I am safe, I am happy, I am home. With a healthy baby boy wrapped up in my arms, I couldn’t help but believe it. My life would have been so different had I not woken up late that day all those years ago, fate apparently taking an interest in me for once.
I rocked my sweet baby Adam, back and forth, sitting in an old whitewashed rocking chair that I had pulled up from the deepest corner of Dean’s basement. For a while I could not bring myself to go back down there, not quite remembering what had happened down there but still feeling phantom pain whenever I passed by the basement door. The basement only held bad memories for me. It was where I got accustomed to life with Dean, a long process that was confusing and I still don’t understand, and where I had Adam.
Bloody, blurry, painful memories. Lots had changed since then, and I was with Dean now. Dean was safe. Dean made me happy. Dean was my home. He provided for me and our baby, I couldn’t ask for more. Looking up from Adam’s sleeping face, I took in the view before us. It was the beginning of Fall and the leaves were changing into beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows. This deep in the forest, with so many trees, it seemed that everything was on fire, a fire that was still until a breeze passed through and made the flames dance.
I remember that the day I had met Dean, the trees were still green, and it was August. I remember that I used to live with my dad, the town sheriff in a small two-bedroom brick house. My dad’s face is blurry now, I haven’t seen him in so long.
I remember meeting Dean, vaguely. Waking up late to school, I had taken a shortcut through the woods. That shortcut lead to Dean, and I have never gone back. I wonder what month it was now, probably October or November. It was hard to tell sometimes, Dean was careful to never leave any newspapers in the house where I might see them. He said it would only upset me. Dean always knew best.
I leaned down to take a little sniff of Adam, he smelled good, like fresh cream and flowers. Baby scent. Dean smelled more like leather, wood, and tobacco, good strong smells that were burned into my brain. Dean said I smelled like sweet strawberries and grass, and that he would never ever forget how I smelled. He said he could smell where I’d been in the house for days after being in a spot. My nose wasn’t as strong as his, but I believed him nonetheless.
Dean didn’t let me leave our house in the woods, and I didn’t want to leave. If I went into town people would see me and try to take me away from my family. Disappearances happened sometimes in Riverview, but the disappearance of the Sheriff’s daughter didn’t happen. So even though it had been years, I wasn’t sure how many, my dad still had posters with my face up everywhere.
They didn’t understand though, I am happier here than I ever was with my dad. I am different now too, in ways that they don’t understand. Adam and Dean’s family is now my family, and I wouldn’t ever leave them. Meeting Dean in the forest that day had changed me forever. Literally. Werewolves were things of myth and legend to the people of Riverview, but to us, it was life. That’s why we stayed together, wolves are stronger in a pack, and they’re happier and healthier. Dean’s family were all born this way, I was the only one who wasn’t. This made me dangerous and unpredictable as a wolf.
I sometimes wonder why Dean bit me, he knew what would happen. Bitten wolves could be perfectly fine, functional humans until the full moon, when the change made them into bloodthirsty monsters. The time I escaped my chains in the basement and the deaths that followed was a lesson on how dangerous I could be. Even my own pack were at risk.
Sometimes I’m mad at Dean for turning me. I got the sense though that Dean needed me that day though. He was looking for someone and he got me. Thinking thoughts like these were dangerous for me. I knew at this moment, three of Dean’s family members were inside the house and could hear my heartbeat starting to speed up as I thought these dangerous thoughts.
Like a prayer I repeat, “I am happy. I am safe. I am home.” I can never go back to my dad. I can never be human again. I can never leave this house. I think in my head.
I look down at my son. Adam had yet to experience his first full moon, and I had yet to have mine as a mother. I wondered how it would be different. Knowing that I would never live with myself if anything happened to my baby was something that kept me here. Kept me sitting on this decrepit rocking chair, in this isolated house in the woods, with a house full of werewolves that could hear my heartbeat banging in my chest. I kept sitting because I cannot leave. I can never go back to my dad. I can never be a human. I can never leave, and I am scared to death of being here.
Cliff Barlow’s second book, Darkness Prevails, is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.
Amy is my best friend and it’s always been a complete mystery to me why she is always single. She’s 34, thin, reasonably pretty, employed, and a good family girl. She has a big laugh, lots of personality, and loves sex. Sounds like wife material, right?
Anyways she’s been in a new relationship for about a year and I think she is going to marry this guy. In all ways he is just good enough. I wouldn’t be into him, but whatever, I am happy she is happy. And she is happy. They are talking about marriage.
The problem is that I’m pretty sure this guy is trying to hook up with random girls on Tinder.
Let me explain. I made a dummy Facebook account for my Tinder because I just got out of a very long, very shitty relationship and I am very much not interested in dating, but I miss sex. So that’s what my Tinder is for. I have a couple body shots on it, but you can’t see my face.
While I was swiping, I came across someone who looked and awful lot like Amy’s boyfriend, but like me, his face was obscured (though, from what I could tell, I would guess it’s him). He has a pretty unique name, and the name and age matched. The tone from what he said in his bio also matched the way this guy talks. He said, explicitly, that he is looking for NSA sex. We matched. He messaged me, “hi.”
I don’t think it’s completely out of the question that it’s a big coincidence, but that makes it harder to figure out what to do. One one hand I wonder if I should message him and pretend to go along with what he is saying, long enough to get proof that it is Amy’s boyfriend and then tell her? I really, really don’t want to do this but I wonder if I am obligated to. Unless something goes off course, my friend is going to marry this guy and he is going to cheat on her for no reason, forever, until they probably have an unhappy divorce.
On the other hand, is it really any of my business? I don’t want Amy to shoot the messenger and hate me because I exposed her boyfriend as a weird cheater. I really don’t want to get in the middle of this or be involved in any drama. But I wonder if I am obligated to, is this really something I can keep quiet about or will I regret it if they get married and it ends badly — and I could have given her information to avoid that fate.
It started out as just a casual conversation about our lives and what was going on with one another. He had a daughter who was 2 and just the cutest thing in the world. We then talked about our relationships and what we were struggling with. It was comfort with him and we were immediately drawn to each other because everything my partner didn’t have, he had and I know he felt the same about me. We became closer and closer. Texts turned into late night phone calls and it got much more serious. We were both persistent and curious. Kissing and seeing each other when we could and sneaking around like a couple of kids in high school. It made me feel young and alive. He agreed and we both I missed it.
A few months later, his wife got pregnant and I think his world was crashing down before his eyes. He didn’t want another child because having one was enough for him at the moment. He thought he was already being stretched too thin but it was happening and he had to deal with it. You would think I would’ve backed off after hearing his wife was pregnant but it drew me closer. We joke about how we are both going to hell because of what we were doing. He was struggling and I wanted to be everything his wife wasn’t even though I could probably never fill her shoes. I knew that he was a great father to his daughter and would be even better with his new baby.
My relationship was different and everything felt forced but at the same time I was comfortable with my boyfriend. We had been together since college and I always said I wanted to marry him but now I was having second thoughts. I loved everything about the idea and the process of getting married and being married because it seemed like a fairytale. But the way he would explain it with his wife, was the opposite. He kept telling me to wait and live out the rest of my 20s before settling. Got me thinking of course and it was me who was putting the pressure on myself to get married. But why? My parents got married in their late 30s and divorced 6 years ago for what my mother says “the same reasons I married your father for”. I shouldn’t put the pressure on myself. It would just happen. My family would just happen. Things just happen.
Neither of our partners has found out what we are doing. I am not sure if they will. Do I feel guilty? Yes, of course I do and I feel selfish of what I could be doing for him and his family unit. Sometimes I think about his wife and what I am doing to her, I truly am the “other woman”. Something I thought was never going to happen and would never have been in my vocabulary months ago. We talk about the future sometimes and what it would be like to be together but only time will tell and I will just let things happen. In the meantime, I go to work and live this perfect life on the outside. But on the inside I’m struggling and wanting to spend time with the man I love but he is married.