Escape. Almost every horror tale revolves around this single concept. Inching closer and closer to that fiendish evil lurking in the shadows until escape, or the lack of it, drives the characters into action. Fight or flight. The basest of all animal instincts, yet so far-reaching in scope and complexity. The monsters are refashioned from ax-wielding madmen, to chomping aliens, to prowling ghosts, to misbehaving dolls, or the present favorite, the reborn undead.
But what if the most gruesome monster isn’t stalking somewhere outside? What if it’s lodged deep in your past, waiting for that right moment to slither free? What if the monster is inescapable because it creeps within you?
Such is the case with Russ Grote, the protagonist in my novel, When the Devil Climbs. After a lost decade due to addiction and criminality, Russ is given a chance to reconnect with his estranged son, but the day before his scheduled reunion, a horde of savage pigs infected with a mysterious virus attack him and his coworkers, forcing them to take refuge atop a billboard. As the pigs trap this group of ex-convicts, the true terror comes from what they are willing to do in order to survive. No matter what they’ve done to reform, there is no escape from their past.
Of course, no horror novel would be complete without some gore-filled chomping action, and the horde of pigs work as the typical blood-gashing monsters. Fans of carnage and non-stop action will not be disappointed, however, the characters along with their odious histories propel the tale into unforeseen directions. Everyone has a past, but some are best left in the rearview mirror.
Told from a first-person narration, the novel dives into Russ’ psyche, uprooting what he calls his “evil hankerings.” As he struggles to reform and reunite with his son, escape from his past appears as hopeless as breaking free from the pigs and his billboard prison. Not to mention, a few of his fellow ex-cons aren’t so keen on seeing him go. Hours pass, turning into days, and the more they struggle, the greater the chance the only survivor to escape will be their creeping insanity.
Similar to Russ’ own journey, the path to publication for When the Devil Climbs was fraught with numerous obstacles. The biggest was I had no ending. Sure, getting a monster to corner the characters was easy, but that final escape, or lack of one, kept eluding me. With assistance from some kind beta-readers on Fictionpress along with notes from a pair of professionals from the writer’s workshop at the World Horror Convention, I retooled the story, zeroing in on the relationship between Russ and his son, but still, no ending.
When hitting a wall while writing, I’ve found it best to avoid trying to climb over. Instead, I dig the biggest hole and dive right in. As soon as I did that, the ending just appeared. It came as a total shock, which I hope will translate to my readers.
After some rewrites, I found an agent, and it was all history after that. I hope readers will likewise enjoy When the Devil Climbs and never fear getting a little too close the jagged edge, as that door leading out swings closed. There’s always an escape. Even in the dark. Even from the most unspeakable monsters. Even from those demons rattling inside. Isn’t there?
Drake Vaughn's "crinkled fiction" is a blend of horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction with a heavy psychological bent. His tales appear deceptively simple, but transform into a wild spree of suspense, madness, and trauma. He lives in Santa Monica, California with his wife and a black cat named Shadow (who he is certain has come back from the dead on a number of occasions).