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41 STRANGE, a first-of-its-kind e-book anthology devoted exclusively to “short-short stories of the strange and horrifying,” awaits just a couple of clicks away for Kindle readers who enjoy a good shiver up their spines.
41 STRANGE is the bizarre debut collection of authors/screenwriters Diane Doniol-Valcroze and Arthur K. Flam, who deliver a reading experience in the spirit of such masters of the macabre as Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, and Rod Serling. As Doniol-Valcroze and Flam put it, the tales were written “in the lonely hour of the wolf … in the pre-dawn darkness when you get those ‘waking nightmares.’”
Doniol-Valcroze and Flam are screenwriters working in Los Angeles. They met at New YorkUniversity’s film school and started collaborating, first on short films and then on screenplays. That working relationship forged a natural path to writing stories.
“We’re both very passionate about short fiction,” says Flam. “It’s our favorite form to read and write. After working together for many years on film projects, we realized we had a lot of ideas … that could only be done as short stories, so we decided to finally pull the trigger.”
The short-short story format makes a perfect fit for the authors’ strange visions. They immediately set up surreal and terrifying situations, which lead to even stranger conclusions. The stories can be read in their entirety in the time it takes to pour a cup of coffee and settle in with the book.
“Neal Edelstein (producer, MULHOLLAND DRIVE) has endorsed the book, and we’re excited because his new horror app HAUNTING MELISSA was the main inspiration for us to release the stories direct-to-audience,” says Doniol-Valcroze.
One of the authors’ favorite stories in 41 STRANGE is “Frank’s Wash,” in which a man finds himself stuck on the conveyor belt of a car wash. All attempts to get the car wash operator’s attention fail. Where Frank finally ends up becomes a chilling dissection of the parent-child relationship.
“We think (the stories) all embody that unnerving atmosphere,” Doniol-Valcroze and Flam say. “You’re not quite sure if the events unfolding around the character are happening for real, or are they just a figment of the character’s overactive imagination. We love that ambiguity.”
Doniol-Valcroze and Flam believe that 41 STRANGE will appeal to a general audience of film lovers and short story readers, as well as fans of science-fiction, horror and crime, and readers looking “for a quick dose of strange stories for commuting, or just curling up for a chilling night read before bed.”
THERE WAS A STAIRCASE MAN outside my peephole. Standing still. That much I knew.
I’m not making this story up…
Why would I say there was a Staircase Man outside my peephole if there wasn’t? What reason could I have?
His face was very close to the peephole glass, distorting his grotesque features and giving the single rectangular “step-hump” on his upper back a gigantic contour in the doorway. I saw him amble back to the old creaky maple staircase in the hallway. He squatted. Slowly, his body sunk into the vacancy of a missing step in the staircase, the step-hump on his back serving to fill in the step. He was faultlessly, perfectly camouflaged. No one could ever tell he lurked within the staircase, as they ascended, descended the flight… as their hands innocently squeezed the banisters. I tried to identify his presence. At night, with the aid of a flashlight and magnifying glass, scanning the tread and rise of the steps for hours, I could not detect the hairline seams that distinguished his wedged-in body from the real steps. That’s how insidiously disguised he was. How seamlessly he fit interlocked into the “stairwell jigsaw puzzle.”
Frankly, I was petrified.
The former tenant had warned me, but I’d dismissed her words as the ranting of an unstable woman. Out of pure fright, she’d painted the peephole’s lens with red nail polish—to block out the view of The Man Rising From The Stairs. She said nobody believed her. Not the neighbors. Not the doorman. Not the janitor. Not a soul.
She was taken to a mental asylum.
How could I take her words seriously?
But right she was…
This Staircase Man was beckoning me at my door each and every night. He would rise from his “hibernation cubbyhole” like a vampire rose from his coffin for a midnight excursion. I could see his malevolent shrunken eyes hover behind the warped peephole glass. His pupils were like the round flat heads of wrought iron nails.
Sometimes… he softly knocked. By morning, he’d left a lingering odor of musty wood drifting in my nostrils through the keyhole.
I inquired about him all around the building. Then I stopped inquiring when the neighbors began to give me strange looks. The last thing I wanted was to be sent to the asylum too. So I clammed up.
But at night, in bed… I trembled.
Who was this bizarre inexplicable man? Where did he come from? Why was he in the staircase adjacent to my door? Why was I chosen? What did he want from me?
Sleepless nights became the routine. I was sick with fever round the clock. It got to the point, I wanted to destroy that evil presence outside my door more than anything else I ever wanted in the world.
One cold November, I resolved to kill the staircase spawn, rid it from my life once and for all. I’d had enough stalling… Soon I’d be too ill and weak to fight. The day of reckoning was now at hand… I readied myself. I selected a distinctly long, sharp hunting knife with an ivory handle from my tool kit. I had bought it from a shaman on a safari expedition in Tanzania. It might serve me well, I reflected. Perhaps its blade would possess some special power to annihilate my night terror.
And so I waited.
My ears on the stretch with expectation.
Then the faint knocks came—
At 3:08 in the morning.
… knock… knock… knock…
I tiptoed to the door. Silently, ever so… so… so… silent I was. My eye widened in horror as it pressed into the peephole glass. Sure enough, outside the door—there was the living-moving segment of the staircase. Right on time. He would not miss his appointment with fate. Yes. Now… Now was the perfect moment to murder him.
I unlatched the door. I creaked it open warily… ever so warily… Before I knew it, his long wooden fingers with splinter-like nails clawed at my soft throat…
“… Call the police!” I shouted, hoping a neighbor would come to my rescue; none did.
I stabbed and stabbed his thick wooden step-hump—the blade broke! At that precise moment, the Staircase Man squeezed his slanted baluster-like shoulder through the door gap and flung the security chain open, knocking me backwards across the vestibule. The snapping door chain gave off a noise like a rattlesnake. The odious Staircase Man stood in the wide-open doorway, laughing. That’s when I froze in the utmost state of shock. Filled with nausea. His laugh—was the exact same as mine.
In a voice that sounded entirely like my own, he ordered me to get out of the apartment at once. Before I could get on my feet, he threw me out like a vagrant, slamming the door on my face. I was left alone out in the dark hallway. Terrified, I gathered myself together. I regained my balance and dusted off my pajamas.
I touched the new step-hump that was growing fast like a rugged mountain on my back. I ran my hand along its cold, weather-beaten, calloused slope. It smelled of mold and mildew. Oddly, it felt like it had always been there. I got used to it quickly. It felt right.
I retreated and hid, taking refuge in the cavity—the dingy nook—of the deeply shadowed stairs, where no neighbors could look at me with their inquisitive stares.
Ah, I thought long and hard. Yes, me, the Staircase Man. Have I always been? I don’t know; I can’t say. My head throbs ceaselessly. It aches till it breaks. But I’m not insane! That much I know!
That night… and every night afterwards… I stand motionless in front of my old door. From time to time I knock softly. I wait for my old frightened eye… to appear behind the peephole… and see what I turned into…