Character Interview with Alastair Hutchinson, Master of the 1,000 Ghosts—also known as “The Observer” from Devils in the Dark
You’re quite sure you don’t mind a few questions? This will be published online, you know.
Alastair: Isn’t everything? It’s good of you to have me. My permanent contacts with the world at large are few. I don’t know people very long, as a rule. So, this should be refreshing … Don’t be nervous. You’ve done nothing wrong that I’m aware of.
Okay. Um—let’s get started, then. What word best describes true love?
Alastair: Loyalty. If love is true, people should mean what they say, do what they say they will do.
© Finish this sentence: Then I think of love, I think of _______
Alastair: Other people. Luckier people. And liars.
© What’s your ideal romantic evening?
Alastair: Myself, alone and unburdened by the host that lives within me, remembering with my eyes closed the girl I once loved—and forgetting what she did to me.
© What’s the perfect Valentine’s Day gift?
Alastair: A heart, of course. Feel free to take that symbolically, emotionally, or surgically.
© Did you ever think you’d found that perfect love? What happened?
Alastair: I thought so. I was sure of it, even. I guess you could say I haven’t wholly given up. My perfect love died a short number of years ago, but I’ve found someone who looks very much like her. Sadly, this one’s currently being treated in a psychiatric ward, but I find myself looking ever more forward to her return home. Her name’s Audrey Bales—sweet thing, but very unhappy. She will not know me long, but I hope to help her in the short time we share together.
© What are the ideal traits you’re looking for in a forever love?
Alastair: We both have to be dead for that, right? I look for truth. And forgiveness, I guess.
© What song title best describes your relationship track record:
“Nothing but a Good Time,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Shot Through the Heart (You Give Love a Bad Name)”, “Money Talks/Material Girl”, “Looking for Love in All The Wrong Places”?
I’ve been around for a while, so there’s a long list running through my head right now. It wasn’t until the early 1960s before I truly began to reawaken. I heard a song, then, that might fit. Runaway, by Del Shannon. Google it. Probably on iTunes as well.
© What do you find the most appealing about a committed relationship?
Alastair: The chance to realize this myth of bliss. I’ve heard it works for some people. I was willing to try it. I would have been good at it, I think.
© Why are you still single?
Alastair: Well, we’ve already covered that, haven’t we? I am dead, you realize. If “dead” is the right word. I’ve been a teeanger for nearly 103 years. I guess you might say my behavior has been a prohibitive factor. I’ve been accused of being rather … tempermental, too.
© What type of woman are you instinctively drawn to?
Alastair: Helen. Only to her. There is no “type.” But Audrey really does resemble her in a most uncanny way.
© What’s an absolute deal breaker in a relationship?
Alastair: A change of heart. A betrayal.
© What was your first opinion of each other?
Alastair: Our families introduced us. We were pretty much betrothed before we ever met each other, but I loved her from the start. I thought she loved me, too. I really did.
© What first attracted you to each other?
Alastair: I loved her completely, instantly. Her cheeks, her lips, the way she read to the school kids during lunchbreak—everything. Maybe she never loved me at all. She did say I made her laugh, though.
© What kept you from acting on that attraction?
Alastair: Who says we didn’t?
© Who made the first move and what was it?
Alastair: I made the first move. It was in a loft where I was pitching hay bales for Helen’s father. She brought me a glass of water, and … Well, we were caught before it went very far. We had to meet up later, at the lake. It was cold that night, but we managed to kindle a little something between us. But it was all over the very next day.
© What would she have to change to make this relationship work?
Alastair: Nothing. It might have been better if I had murdered her father, though—along with that pompous, strutting law student named Luke that she ended up with.
© What would you be willing to change to make this relationship succeed?
Alastair: I would have done anything. But it’s far too late, now. Let’s focus the remaining questions on Audrey, shall we? She’s all that matters, at this point.
© What’s the best thing about the two of you together?
Alastair: For me, a chance to live again, if only for a day or three. For her, revenge upon those who have hurt her. Justice.
© What are you most looking forward to as a couple?
Alastair: I am looking forward to her smile, when she sees her world put right at last.
© What could stand in your way?
Alastair: Oh, nothing, I assure you. Nothing at all.
Alastair: Are we done?
Devils in the Dark
(The Devil in Miss Drake's Class, 1)
16+ / horror/paranormal/27K
To most of the Facebook 15, bullying Audrey Bales was just a game—until two deep cuts with a Swiss army knife changed everything forever. Audrey didn’t want attention anymore. After five weeks at Fairview High School, Audrey wanted to die.
The doctors did the only thing they could with her: they put her away.
But in Fairview, Virginia, the nightmare is only beginning. The chat session had not gone unobserved. The Facebook 15 have drawn the attention of an ancient evil that lives only to punish those who would prey upon the weak.
They are the ghosts of 1,000 dead children—1,000 suicides—and their master…
Their master likes Audrey Bales.
And as Audrey attempts to heal her mind and body, far from home, their master prepares for the revenge he will unleash upon her return.
Underneath the blackened veil of her powered-off monitor, the comments kept coming, kept taunting her.
The observer had stopped watching. He leaned back in his chair, head upturned to the ceiling, eyes closed, still eating. The overripe apple had a worm in it, and he sucked it down.
He projected his sight outward, miles and miles from his little home. He didn’t know where he was anymore.
Somebody’s house. An empty room. A closet.
Here he first saw the girl, the one they were tormenting. Her Facebook icon had shown only a skull and crossbones. In real life, she might have been pretty, if she had not worked so hard to hide it.
Familiar too. Something in her eyes and her lips.
She was close, very close, to a bad decision.
She was imagining the ghost of her brother and talking to it, opening boxes that contained his possessions. She listened to him speak words the observer could not hear. Oh, he wished he could. From this distance all he could hear was the pain inside of her, the loneliness, screams within whispers. An oncoming storm.
It made him angry on her behalf.
He returned his gaze to the real world of his apartment. The five of them were still chatting, their cruel banter punctuated by internet abbreviations and emoticons, calling for Audrey-Bear to say something, say something….
More joined the chat.
He shook his head.
You deserve to die, he thought. All of you.
Audrey returned to her bedroom and closed the door. This time, she broke a house rule and locked it. She put the blanket back in place and thumbed the monitor back on.
It was nearly one in the morning, yet the number of people on Cody’s page had tripled. Stranger still was the activity coming through on her end.
She gazed in bewilderment.
Benny Talbot has sent you a friend request.
Heather Roberts has sent you a friend request.
Ally Watson has sent you a friend request.
Gabriel Daniels has sent you a friend request.
Eleven requests, all kids from school. Most of them had sent her personal messages too. Some were fake-friendly, some openly mocking. Most pretended to rally in her support, as if they had somehow stumbled upon this Internet lynching by accident, all at the same time, and were offended by it. A virtual party had gathered in Cody’s little corner of cyberspace, and Audrey was the game they were playing.
Had Maggie called or texted them all out of bed?
“Creative,” she said. “You’re really good at this.”
She wasn’t crying anymore. In fact, she was perfectly calm. With the ghost of her brother standing by her side, she set his old Swiss Army knife—he’d gotten it for Scouts, before he had quit—next to the keyboard.
Click Accept, her brother said. For all of them. Now, before they give up and start to log off.
She accepted them all, and the result was chat room bedlam. The comments came faster than she could read. Evidently this was the very height of hilarity.
And, naturally, as soon as she had accepted them all, one-by-one, they unfriended her, and posted.
Sry! Changed my mind!
What an idiot!
Inspired, she clicked the Like button over every comment. Then, ignoring the perplexed responses to that maneuver, she got to work.
She retrieved the gym shirt from under her bed. Most days this particular item of attire would have remained a crumpled ball in her P.E. locker after school, but she’d had to wear it all day, and so it had come home with her.
“Turn your head, Alex,” she said, as if he were really there.
And as if he were really there, he answered. Not looking, not looking.
Once she had the shirt on and smoothed it out, she sat back at her desk, got out her cell phone, tied her hair in a tail, and took a picture of herself.
When the first picture appeared on Cody’s page, the observer knew exactly what was coming. He’d seen it before. The details differed each time, but the common threads were easily picked out: theatrics, spite, spectacle—and from the other end, disbelief. Then there would be panic, frantic attempts to undo the damage, and afterward, there would be remorse.
From most of them.
The picture was off-center. The girl was smiling, posing. The mascara tracks on her face looked like war paint.
Val: OMG, she’s postin selfies!
Cody: Give us a twerk, emo.
How they didn’t see what was coming, the observer could not fathom. But that was part of the pattern too. Bullies, as a rule, didn’t get it until it was too late—for the victim, or less frequently, for themselves.
The observer was truly torn. On the one hand, if she went through with it, she’d set him free. He had made contact with her, though she didn’t know it, and he was the oldest within the host. After many, many years, it was his turn, and he would finally learn what lay beyond this purgatory. But on the other hand, he felt bad for her. He really did.
“Let’s go,” he said to the screen. The suspense was killing him. “What’s next, Audrey?”
A second picture came up even as the first was being liked and shared by nearly everyone on the page. This one silenced most of them.
Audrey was holding an unfolded pocket knife against her cheek with one hand while the other took the picture, still smiling, tilting her head.
At first, the only comment came from Maggie: Drama. Whatever.
Audrey responded: Stick around. This is for your benefit.
Everything slowed down, then. Time rolled out like an empty rug, the Facebook page inert and dead. Minutes passed with nothing.
Then, Val: Audrey?
Val again: Audrey, don’t be dumb. Come on.
Five minutes became ten.
Maggie: She went to bed. She wants us to worry all night. As if we would.
After fifteen minutes of relative inactivity, the final picture appeared.
Marcus Damanda lives in Woodbridge, Virginia with his cat, Shazam. At various times throughout his life, he played bass guitar for the garage heavy metal band
Mother’s Day, wrote for The Dale City Messenger, and published editorials in The Potomac News and The Freelance Star. Currently, while not plotting his next foray into fictitious suburban mayhem, he spoils his nieces and nephews and teaches middle school English.
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***Giveaway: 1 ecopy of Devils in the Dark to a lucky commenter on any of the participating blogs.