Book Spotlight: William Hage’s Counterphobia

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Please welcome my special guest, William Hage, the author of Counterphobia: A Collection of Horror. He’d like to introduce his collection of short stories. I had the pleasure of reading it, and it was very spooky and full of suspense! I kept looking over my shoulder as I read. My book review will be posted soon.

BLURB

COUNTERPHOBIA: The pursuit of situations and instances in direct relation to an individual’s fear for the purpose of overcoming this fear, or to find pleasure or excitement in it. Symptoms of counterphobia while subjecting oneself to these fears can include trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, and even panic attacks. You were warned.

WELCOME HOME tells the tale of John Lester, a man who inherits his old family home–and with it a dark secret.

CHUCKLES THE CLOWN delves into Jake’s fear of clowns and gives him even more reason to be afraid of them.

NO ONE LIVES FOREVER follows Jacob as he narrowly avoids a fatal accident though finds out there’s more to it than he thought.

Face your fears as you read through these stories and more in this menagerie of works that includes a little something for all kinds of horror fans.

EXCERPT

Welcome Home

(Nostophobia)

John Lester stood in front of the dying house, two plain bags of groceries in his arms and the strap of his travel bag slung over his shoulder. He had not been to this place since he was nineteen, not since his father–Henry Philip Lester–sent him away. Henry had plans for his son and when John abandoned those plans to become a writer, Henry apathetically rejected him.

John always hated the house; when he was young he felt as though it was alive, with a personality of its very own. It was a living, breathing thing and John could swear that its cold eyes were staring at him, even at this moment. He looked down the dirt road the house set on. Trees reached down to the path seeming like they were just on the verge of grabbing it and pulling it away, but otherwise there was nothing in sight. As far as John could remember, the closet house was at least a mile and a half away. This was perfect for his father’s business.

Professionally, Henry was a doctor, but to John he was more like a madman from some old horror movie. His specialty was the insane and as far as he knew, his father had done nothing significant in the field. Henry’s work was limited to the confines of the house. Patients would come and go; some stayed for days, others only a night.

John’s memories of his father’s work were still foggy. He tried to block out most of what happened in this place. He did remember the screams, though. Screams that came from everywhere in the house, screams that were faceless and tormented. John was never able to investigate, being padlocked in his room at night.

John realized that he had been staring at the house for nearly twenty minutes now, and for nearly twenty minutes the house stared back.

The time for procrastination is over. Slowly he made his way onto the porch.

It was still beyond John’s reasoning why the house was left to him when his father died the month before. As he reached the door, he ran his fingers over it briefly. It was rough with years of dirt and grime. The key slid into the hole with ease and the lock clicked.

The entryway of the house was exactly the way John remembered it. There was now a thick layer of dust and furnishings were more worn, but everything was still in its place. When his mother was alive the house never possessed even a speck of dust. A picture of her still hung in the entryway.

John wiped away the dust and looked sorrowfully at the picture. Eleanor, his mother, looked back. Thick black curls of hair filled the area surrounding her head. The picture was taken when she was ill, so her skin looked more pale than usual. Her eyes seemed so black that John could not remember what color they actually were. It took him a moment to remember that they were brown beneath the darkness. He moved on to the next photograph, wiping the dust away and the visage of his father emerged. Dirty blonde hair was pushed back, a few stray strands falling over his thin, almost frail, features. There was stubble around his face that gave the impression that he was not concerned with his image. He had never noticed before that looking at a picture of his father was like looking in to a mirror.

John entered the old familiar living room, littered with furniture that would probably classify as antiques by now. He tossed his bag onto the floral-decorated couch and a cloud of years’ worth of dust flew into the air in return. Groceries in arm, he made his way to the kitchen, stepping in just far enough to flick the light switch up. The bulb overhead buzzed and flickered for a moment, deciding whether it wanted to turn on or not.

“At least they didn’t cut off the electricity yet,” John muttered.

He dumped the groceries onto the kitchen counter. Though his extent of groceries consisted of numerous packs of ramen noodles and bags of chips. College cuisine. John called it. He checked to make sure the gas stove was still working before going back into the living room. John lowered himself into an aged recliner in the corner of the room, unconcerned with the dust that would undoubtedly cover his back. He leaned his head back into the cushion and closed his eyes, letting sleep take him.

The sound of heavy footsteps from upstairs jerked John awake. The living room was completely dark.

Was I dreaming? I had to be. His thoughts were interrupted as the sound of the footsteps resumed, walking across the floor above him. Could one of my father’s old patients be squatting?

John walked back into the entryway and stood at the base of the stairs. This time a slow creaking sound came from up in the darkness. He flicked the light switch at the base of the staircase, illuminating the hallway upstairs. Each step made a creaking sound as he ascended them. The house was in desperate need of a handyman, something which John was not. He looked around as he reached the top of the stairs, realizing the outside of the house was deceiving. It was much larger on the inside. The hallway made a large U-shape around the staircase with six rooms, three on each side.

John made his way down the right side, directly above the living room. This is where the footsteps would have come from.

He opened the first door, which led to his parents’ bedroom. It was preserved just the way it was when his mother had passed. After Eleanor’s death, Henry had begun sleeping in one of the guest rooms. The canopy over the queen-sized bed sagged with layers of dust that had gathered on top. He took note of everything that remained; two old oaken nightstands, a tall oval mirror on the wall, even the antique dresser with pictures of himself as a boy on top. Once John was satisfied the room was empty, he closed the door behind him and walked to the next room. He swung the door open, stepping into his father’s library.

Every wall was lined with homemade bookcases that were filled with old texts that John had never been allowed to touch. The room was otherwise sparsely furnished. In one corner sat an oversized leather reading chair, the kind that you would swear would devour you if you sat in it. A tall brass lamp stood next to the chair. The only other thing in the room was a large oak writing desk where his father would pen his research. At least that’s what he called it. Shutting the door on his way out, John skulked towards the final room, knowing that if someone had been walking about him they would have to be in this room. The footsteps never made it to the other side of the hall. He slowly cracked the door, just enough so that he could reach the light switch.

“Damn it, stop being an idiot,” John scolded himself. “There’s no one here but you. Just open the damn door.”

After collecting his senses, he flung the door open. John stood and stared in shock and relief. The room was empty. There was no crazed mental patient waiting to chop him into pieces with an axe. In fact, there was nothing at all in the room. Not a stick of furniture. Nothing but a closet.

“Of course,” he scoffed. “Don’t forget to check the closet, John. They always hide in the closet.”

He walked through the empty room and over to the closet. Reaching out to the knob, his hand stopped short for a moment, hesitating. John shook his head and gripped it determinedly.

What are you, a child? There are no monsters in the closet. You may write about that shit, but they aren’t really there.

John took a deep breath and jerked the closet door open. He took a step back when he saw the contents. A metal plate was bolted to the back wall of the closet, chained shackles attached to it. Scratches covered the back of the door. Some were tinted a faint red, as if someone had been trying to claw through the door. There were five words scratched into the wood of the door: Sanity is not a choice. John slammed the door closed.

What the hell happened in this house? Was my father chaining the patients in the closet? Even if they were insane, they didn’t deserve that.

John stood and stared at the closet door, trying to piece together what had been going on in this house when he was not around. Or if it had been going on even when he was around. He tried to shake it off and went back downstairs, forgetting about the footsteps he had heard earlier. Not wanting to stay in his old bedroom upstairs, John opted to sleep on the couch for the night.

Sleep did not come to him easily this time. He could not stop thinking about the chains and scratches on the door. Sanity is not a choice. John repeated the phrase over and over in his head until his eyelids felt heavy and his mind began to wander on its own. Just as sleep was consuming his body, he thought he heard the footsteps above him again but he was too tired and too far gone to worry about it.

* * * *

Hearing the most agonizing scream of someone’s life is not like in the movies. John could almost feel the pain from his voice furiously penetrating the walls. It might have been the acoustics of the house, but John found it impossible to tell where exactly the screaming was originating. He bolted out of bed and rushed to the door. Turning the knob, he pulled on the door but it would not budge. It was only at that moment it occurred to him that he was in his old bedroom, locked in just the way his father had done every night. John slowly began to question what he was doing in the room, remembering that he had gone to sleep on the couch. The shades were drawn, letting virtually no light into the room. Just as John was about to turn on the light, another scream reverberated through the house. It sounded to him like the disembodied voice was trying to say something, but he could not make it out. The only message that was properly conveyed was pain.

* * * *

The sunlight burnt through John’s eyelids, waking him instantly. Sitting up, he surveyed the room and groaned. His back ached from sleeping contorted on the couch. He ran over the events of the night, questioning his own mind as to whether it was a dream or a memory. John stood up and made his way to the kitchen, stretching as he walked. In the kitchen, he started opening random cabinets until he found an old, cheap can of coffee. Popping the lid open, he took in a deep whiff and winced.

“Great. Stale coffee,” he said. “Guess it’s better than nothing.”

He filled the coffee maker with water and tossed a couple of scoops of the foul-smelling grounds into the basket. John sat at the table, waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. Once it was done, he poured himself a cup and walked out the front door. It was still early in the morning and the air was cool and stiff. He seated himself on the porch steps, setting the coffee cup down to pull out a cigarette and light it.

John looked up the dirt road to see a tan Ford Taurus making its way down, leaving a cloud of dust behind it. The car slowed to a stop in front of him. He could not make out the driver until the cloud of dust settled. The dark-haired woman behind the wheel just stared at John for a moment.

“Hey, neighbor,” she called as she rolled down the window.

“Hi,” John replied.

“I live in the house up the road.” She pointed back the way she had come.

He nodded and introduced himself. “I’m John. John Lester.”

The  woman observed him for a moment, almost as if she was judging him before she responded. “You’re Henry’s son?”

“Yeah, I am. Did you know him?”

“Not really. He kept to himself mostly. Didn’t really seem like he got many visitors, or even associated with anyone from what I saw.”

John scoffed. “Yeah that sounds like him.”

The woman just smiled and nodded. A moment of silence passed before she spoke again. “Listen, I’m having some work done in my house, so it isn’t too hospitable at the moment. I could bring over something for dinner later. Consider it a welcome to the neighborhood. I’m sure my husband would love to meet you.”

“Oh, I don’t know. The house is really a mess.” John glanced back at the house briefly. He turned back to face the woman. “It’s been neglected for a pretty long time.”

“As long as we have a place to sit and eat, that doesn’t matter. It would be the neighborly thing to do. You know, to get to know each other.” The woman paused then smiled at him knowingly. “You don’t want to become a recluse like your father do you?”

“Okay, you’ve talked me into it.”

“Good. My husband and I will come by around six.” She started to roll the window back up.

“Wait,” John stopped her. “I didn’t even get your name.”

“Lisa.” She smiled. “See you at six.”

Lisa rolled up the window and drove off, kicking dust back at John. He coughed into his hand, waiting until she was out of sight, and then went back into the house. His first thought was to go back into the kitchen to fetch another cup of coffee. He wanted to spend some time exploring the house today and tried to decide where to start. The thought of starting with the basement crossed his mind, but he opted to begin with his father’s study instead. John took his coffee with him as he went up the creaking stairs and through the U-shaded hallway to Henry’s study.

Once inside, John scanned over the books on the shelves that lined the walls of his father’s study. Many of them were old medical books, filled with ancient practices he was sure were long abandoned. He noticed a few books on the occult scattered in with the others. Though, he could not figure out why they would be here. His father was in no way a religious man, so he assumed that they must have been research. John considered that maybe his father believed that it was part of what made the insane. His fingers dragged along the spines of the books, leaving clean trails in the dust on the bindings. He made his way over to the old writing desk, sitting by itself on the other side of the room. Setting his coffee down on the desk, he wiped away the dust on the chair before he sat down.

The desk was an item that had been passed down through his family for generations. John had no idea how old it was exactly, he only knew that it predated his great-grandfather. As a boy, he was not even supposed to enter the study. His parents’ excuse was because of the value of the desk to the family. Looking it over, John saw that there was only a single drawer in the middle. Despite the age of the desk, the drawer opened with ease. The contents were limited to a leather bound journal that must have been Henry’s.

John picked it up and examined it. The cover was worn with many small imperfections and gouges running through the aged leather. The pages were rough on all sides as if they were hand-torn and stitched to the leather on the exterior of the binding. The clasp was just a simple metal stud with a small ball on the end that the back cover folded over. John opened the journal and saw that the pages were off-white. Whether they were designed that way or aged, he was not really sure.

The first few pages had scribbles of various medical procedures, hand-drawn images filling the gaps and margins. They were mostly diagrams of the brain, labeled thoroughly and extensively. John took note of a picture that resembled an icepick in one margin, though it was messily labeled as a ‘leucotome’ with a brief description of its use in a lobotomy procedure hand-written next to it. Nothing really caught his interest until John turned the page to see a note his father had written.

December 15th,

The narrow-minded cretins at the hospital could not grasp the concept of my work. I proposed to them that, through a slight variation on the already established trans-orbital lobotomy coupled with a series of procedures, I could cure insanity. I have yet to be able to determine which procedures would work best with the lobotomy. The most obvious to try would be electro-shock treatments or sensory deprivation. Unfortunately, these are still just theories since the hospital, as of today, has terminated my position in an attempt to halt my work. However, I will not let these people stop my research from continuing. I will carry it out on my own, in my lab, until the results are successful. Sanity is not a choice. A cure is required, just as if it was cancer.

Just the simple paragraph scrawled by his father years ago explained some of what might have been going on in the house when he was a child. It would explain the patients that came and went, maybe even the screams that he heard late at night. John questioned what his father could have been doing to them to cause such horrific sounds to permeate the house. It also raised the question if his father’s work was ever actually successful. The secrecy of Henry’s work overwhelmed and intrigued John. He abandoned his coffee and moved to the leather chair in the corner, sitting back as he turned to the next page.

Subject 1-Unknown

I found my first subject purely by accident. A drifter was walking along the road outside the house and in just a few moments of speaking to him I knew he was possessed by the disease. I welcomed him into my home and brought him down into the basement where my laboratory was set up. He sat on a milk crate and never saw me behind him, never thought to look back. The injection would do no permanent damage. It was purely to render him unconscious so I could prepare for the procedure. I restrained the patient on the table by the wrists and ankles. I lifted the eyelid and placed the edge of the leucotome just under the top of the eye socket. The small mallet was only used to gently hammer the instrument into the brain. My technique was not quite developed at the time and the result was less than desired. It was apparent almost immediately that the procedure was a failure. The patient was still alive, but was of no use to my research at this point. With little else to work with in my unequipped work space, I was forced to put the end of the leucotome into the patient’s ear and hammer it in with the mallet. The patient screamed only for a moment, until the instrument penetrated fully into his ear. It was then that the pain stopped and death took over. It would have been impossible to explain to anyone, even my wife, what had transpired. I buried the patient in the far corner of the basement, in the soil beyond the concrete.

BUY LINKS:

AMAZON US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Q28TGOA

AMAZON UK:  http://www.amazon.co.uk//dp/B00Q28TGOA

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

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