Modern Survival

by Vincent S. Tobia

Stephen slowly crept downstairs, trying to not make much noise. He had just laid down James, their two year old son, for his afternoon nap. James was nearing the age where he no longer needed a daily nap, but the little toddler had a busy Saturday morning running around and playing outside. Marie and Stephen had taken turns whacking weeds, trimming bushes, and cutting the lawn while playing with and feeding their five month old, Henry. Stephen was tired and so too was Marie, but they were happy to be parents to two happy sons.

“Henry’s sleeping. I’m going to take him outside. Come out back, okay?” Marie whispered from the kitchen.

“I will. Just after I fill out some bills. Want a soda or something?” Stephen asked softly.

“No, thanks. I’m alright,” she smiled and then slipped outside with Henry carefully positioning her wicker armchair in the soft October sun. The weather had been warm, especially for late October. She leaned back and began to daydream of going on vacation to far away places. Henry was snug and comfortable, snoozing away in her arms.

Back inside, Stephen grabbed a handful of bills and unopened mail from off the kitchen table. He got out his checkbook and the laptop. He began the monthly monotonous monstrosity of paying bills. The damage was almost overwhelming: mortgage, car loan, car insurance, electric, credit cards, cable, internet, cell phones, water, heat oil, hospital bill from Henry’s birth, and a doctor’s visit bill from when James had an ear infection.

Stephen always had the same thoughts while paying bills.

This is all we do. We keep ourselves afloat by paying these bills. This is the way of life. Debt is how we get things in our lives and keeping things moving forward. I’m both grateful and disgusted. This is how we ensure our survival. Not by hunting or gathering, but staying backed up behind a wall of not having enough. It doesn’t seem natural.

He stood up and cracked his back. Thirty minutes had gone by without him fully realizing it. He wondered what took more time, the actual paying of bills or his hemming and hawing. Stephen grabbed a beer for himself and the bottle of diet ginger ale that Marie said she didn’t want.

The clean and crisp fall air smelled good to Stephen as he gently walked out back. It was still warm in the sun, but the breeze was refreshing. It was the perfect balance -something that winter would ruin in just a short time.

“Hey, babe,” Stephen whispered as he sat down next to Marie. He set down his beer and opened her soda before handing it to her. The quiet hiss made Marie smile to herself.

“You know me too well,” she replied as she gently rubbed Henry’s back in slow circles with her free hand. The baby still snoozed away in sleepy land.

“It’s so nice out,” Marie said.

“Yeah, just wait a few more weeks. It’ll be cold. Take it in while you can,” Stephen said, taking a large gulp of ale.

They sat on their patio facing main street of their small town. A few blocks away, cars moseyed through town on the lazy Saturday afternoon. In the distance, a small mountain range cradled their view and the sky above was as bright as blue could be.

Adjacent to those mountains, other neighboring towns quietly laid nestled out of view.

“Where do you want to go on vacation next year?” Marie asked.

“I’m totally for Colorado. You know that. But there’s always a problem with that,” Stephen began.

“The airfare? Do we bring the kids or leave them with our folks? I know you always mention that Stephen. You know, if we keep thinking that it’s too far away then we will never go there.”

“Well, they’re legitimate concerns. Don’t ya think?” Stephen leaned back in this chair.

“Of course, but it’s nothing to get too concerned about. Other people do it. So can we.”

Stephen knew Marie was right and he knew that his concerns were general and rationalized.

“I would still like to be able to get out to Seattle,” Marie said.

“For a ballgame?” Stephen asked, excited.

Marie chuckled and hesitated, “Yes… among other things. There’s pristine forests, many national parks, and kayaking in Puget Sound.”

Stephen set his empty beer bottle down on the patio pavement.

Henry wiggled in Marie’s arms until he was comfortable again.

“Shhhh, love,” Marie whispered to Henry.

“What do you think the cavemen would think about all this?”

“What?” Marie asked, perplexed by her husband’s question.

“Think about it. Prehistoric man never had to worry about money or bills.”

“Okay, Stephen, I know you hate filling out the bills every month. Would you like me to start doing it?” Marie applied a second thought, “Or at least have us rotate months?”

“It’s not just that, Marie. We, as a species, used to just hunt and eat. We made fires. We made shelters. I think that’s cool.”

“It is cool. But do you really think you can hunt for your own food?” Marie asked.

“Um, maybe,” Stephen pondered.

“Consistently? Year ’round? It’s not that easy. Do you understand how great it is that we can just go to a store and buy any type of food we want? And have it fresh?”

“Of course. I know how easy we have it now. We also live in a house, or shelter, that we didn’t personally have to build. I’m just concerned that we aren’t connected to the world. All things are made possible by chasing after more and more green paper,” Stephen stated.

Marie and Stephen shared a brief silence, still taking in the scenic beauty.

“Don’t hate me. I heard what you said. But our dollars are really made of cotton and linen,” Marie blurted quickly, her facts bubbling over.

Stephen sighed quietly to himself.

“I just had a terrible thought,” Marie said.

“What?”

“Well, in the time of cavemen, or prehistoric man as you so elegantly put, there were plenty of things they didn’t have the luxury of having.”

Stephen stepped in, “Yeah, like grocery stores, automobiles, medicine, heating, cooling, indoor plumbing…”

“Beer! They didn’t have beer. You couldn’t make it as a caveman, hon. Sorry,” Marie chuckled.

Stephen comically gasped and pretended to choke.

“I guess we don’t have it that bad then. Thanks for talking sense into me,” Stephen joked.

“No problemo,” Marie cheerfully replied.

A gentle breeze began to grow and escalate. It was the cold wind that reminded the young couple that winter was still upon them. And then the wind died down.

From the distance a siren began to whistle.

“What time is it?” asked Marie.

Stephen checked his wrist watch, but he already knew it wasn’t noon.

“That’s not the lunch whistle. Could be a fire you think?” Stephen asked, perplexed.

Then, a second whistle howled from the distance.

“Wow, two now. That one is coming from out of town,” Marie spoke in a low tone. “They’re awfully loud.”

“I know. I’m going to check Facebook and see if I can find out what’s going on.”

A loud explosion rumbled in the distance. They felt the shudder under their feet. Both were momentarily frozen in shock.

“What the fuck was that?” Marie screeched. Henry woke up suddenly. His eyes were wide and his little mouth was pursed and silent, holding back tears.

Before Stephen could confirm his fears, two more explosions were heard in the distance. The sound reverberated and echoed around the mountains.

“It sounds like things are being blow up. What the hell,” stated Stephen.

“I’m really scared, honey,” Marie admitted. She stood up clutching Henry to her chest.

“Shhh, do you hear that?” Stephen asked sharply. Gunfire rang out from the distance. Sirens, explosions, and gunfire sounded at increasingly random intervals.

“Jesus Christ, those are gunshots!” Marie exclaimed.

Stephen jumped up out of his seat and quickly pulled out his phone.

“Oh my God, babe,” Stephen gasped.

“What!?” Marie shouted.

Stephen held up his cell phone so she could see.

“No signal. No wifi. Nothing,” Stephen said, coldly. “I can’t even call our fam…”

Another loud explosion rumbled from the neighboring town. It shook their ground even harder this time.

“Marie, please go inside and get James. We are getting out of here.”

“O-okay,” Marie stammered.

“Grab some clothes too! I’ll start the car,” Stephen yelled. The sounds of war in the distance were constant and becoming more and more maddening.

Stephen was lucky enough to have his keys on him. He ran down to their parking pad, unlocked the driver side door, and stuck the keys in the ignition. The engine turned over quickly.

He looked at the gas gauge -half full and worried that it wouldn’t be enough to get to Marie’s relatives in the country.

Stephen was torn from his frantic thoughts by the sudden sound of carnival music.

The song “Entry of the Gladiators” boomed from main street.

“What in the…?” Stephen muttered, perplexed by the loud music. He walked around his car to get a better view.

There he saw marching down the main street of his little American town was a full blown carnival. Three large white horses were lead by tall women wearing long jackets and big white top hats. Clowns were jumping and doing front handsprings as they marched. Some of them were juggling bowling pins. Strong shirtless men with long mustaches were blowing huge breathes of fire. There was a carousel on wheels being pulled by two small elephants. Blonde children rode on the carousel and were seemingly having the time of their lives as they laughed and smiled. A pipe organ on wheels was pulled by two very fat men in tight clothing -its music amplified by a wall of large black speakers.

“Stephen!”

I can’t believe what I’m seeing. This was just a carnival all along? What a freaking relief! Unreal. I gotta tell Marie. Maybe we can bring the kids down to ride the carousel.

“Stephen!”

What. “Wait, what?”

“For God’s sake, get in the fucking car,” Marie yelled from the back seat of the car where she sat with Henry and James.

Stephen looked down the road again, toward main street. This time he didn’t see a carnival. He saw black armored vehicles and foreign soldiers marching on his town. They were shouting some language that Stephen couldn’t understand. One of the tanks fired a blast of thunder and smoke, destroying a police car. The sound was incredibly loud and it changed everything for Stephen. He realized that everything was now different.

Suddenly Stephen thought back to paying bills. He yearned for it, actually. Everything was now uncertain. He had wanted the chance to do everything for his family without the constraints of a fiscal prison.

Well, now he had his opportunity.

The End

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White Circles

by Vincent S. Tobia

It was like bobbing for apples… but in reverse. The rhythmic motions were chaotic, throwing off every natural sense of direction. It was hard to even know which way was up or which way was down. Was there an up? Or down? Where was the sky? His lungs had already filled with salt water two times. He was lucky to cough up the sea water when he resurfaced. Michael desperately searched for the phone. His friend Ryan’s upper torso bobbed in the water ahead of him. The phone was visible in Ryan’s mesh vest pocket, still in its waterproof sleeve. In the near distance he saw the boat, and he heard the child’s crying. But still below him, all around him, he feared the white circles.

Something pulled on his ankle again, crunching the bones in a different place this time. The pain caused Michael to scream and another mass of sea water flooded his face and filled his lungs. He couldn’t do this sick dance much longer. His body had exerted all of its energy in the frigid waters of the northern pacific and was running on adrenaline. He was pulled under the surface again. The feeling was dark underneath the water. His lungs ached. Michael felt surrounded by death from all angles. He could be hit at anytime from anywhere.

Under the surface, Michael could hear talking. Not human words but screeching echoes that were sharp and reverberated with the ocean’s rhythmic fury. What world am I in? I don’t belong here. When they first attacked, only a mere twelve minutes prior, Ryan was the first pulled under. Michael was positive that it was a great white attack. But as he turned around in the water to swim back to young Jake who thankfully remained on the boat, he saw four tall black fins rising from the water in front of him. White circles darted through the water; attached to large black masses. The massive pod instantly filled the ocean surrounding the boat.

Michael reached the surface once more. Jake was crying, still. Michael could hardly stand to hear the boy’s shrill desperate cries. He didn’t know why Ryan insisted on bringing his five-year-old son out that afternoon, but he was thankful that he was safe on the boat. He knew he had to reach that phone in Ryan’s life vest. He made a break for it, swimming as fast as he could though burning pain seared through his broken leg.

Jake! I’ll call for help!” Michael screamed though he wasn’t sure why. Jake couldn’t hear him through all of the chaos. Maybe to convince himself.

Something struck Michael’s side. His body bent into a V-shape as four of his ribs on his right side cracked and squeezed inward. He was briefly stunned. Michael then reached for Ryan’s torso but was pulled under the surface again. His mind raced and his body shook. He couldn’t open his eyes. Was he to see a dozen killer whales approaching? Or see his friend pulled apart piece by piece? The white circles drug him down just far enough, only to release him. For now, he was their play thing. Ryan wasn’t as lucky.

As Michael neared the surface again, he heard something different -something from his world.

It was a muddled ringtone. Ryan’s wife was an angel and would always call to wish them all well. Michael wished he was on the other end of the phone where ever it was. He wished he could just undo the moments that lead to this trip.

Jake’s cries filled the air as Michael’s head emerged from the water. Where is Ryan? Where is his goddamn body? Did they pull him under again!?

Michael was struck again, this time from behind. He gasped for air before being pulled under, but a few seconds passed and there was no sharp descent.

The ringing began again, this time clear as day.

Michael turned around quickly as the lifeless torso bobbed up and down next to him. Ryan’s eyes bulged. His skin was blueish and part of his neck/shoulder was nothing more than minced meat that drifted into the ocean like sick party streamers. Not far behind Ryan, six tall black fins charged toward Michael. He could see the white circles gliding closer. How fast they come and never stop. The white circles of death.

The ringing in Ryan’s life vest continued as Michael tore into the front pocket and yanked out the phone with a primal swiftness. The impact sent Ryan floating to the side, revealing the orca’s death parade closing in on him. He couldn’t answer the phone. There was no time left.

Michael turned around and launched the phone into the sky. He knew Jake and boat had to be behind him; Jake’s cries had not stopped. He watched the phone slowly fall from the sky and land in the hands of the young boy. Jake’s harrowing cries allowed Michael to judge the length and positioning of the boat. Even with his back turned.

Michael was pulled underneath. This time deeper than ever before. He could see the boat above slowly shrinking in size. I hope Jake is talking to his mom now. He’ll be safe; I know it. As Michael exhaled his final breath, he was overcome with a warm feeling. The water below was dark and cold; the surface light was almost gone, but Michael felt warm. He felt okay. And he felt safe.

Surrounded by darkness, Michael began to see the white circles again. This time, they were lovely. This time, they were brighter. And this time, they enveloped him.

Those lovely white circles, I see them everywhere.

Hello. Am I home?

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Day 31 – Dawn of the Dead

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Dawn of the Dead (1978)

This is my favorite movie of all-time. Not just in the horror genre – any genre.

A decade after the success of Night of the Living Dead, George Romero decided to return to the zombie horror genre -a film genre he most certainly helped create. This time around he decided to add more splices of humor into his usually pure gore and action storyline. Dawn of the Dead has it all. But at its core, it is an emotional drama about four people trying to survive together, against all odds.

The special effects gore is amazing not just for it’s time but for any age of creation. In this film, a legend was born. Meet Tom Savini, the special effects makeup artist in charge of all the good stuff. Soon into this movie you see why it’s so spectacularly over the top with practical blood and gore. It sets the tone and straps you in for one hell of a ride.

Let’s talk about the setting. Our group of survivors ultimately hold up at the Monroeville Mall (outside of Pittsburgh. I’ve been there!). Once they rid the place of zombies and barricade the doors, the place is theirs. They have the keys to the kingdom and can have literally anything they want. But how far can material happiness take us in the end? The movie takes a claustrophobic turn as they realize that maybe hunkering down wasn’t the best option.

One of the best qualities of this classic is that it’s is really fun. Every time I watch it I feel as if I’m starting to go on an adventure of apocalyptic awesomeness. I feel very drawn into this movie, like I’m in it from the very start. I own four DVDs, one Blu-ray, and two VHS copies of this movie. I may be a little obsessed. There was a remake in 2004, of course. While the movie is fairly decent, I wish they would have titled it something other than Dawn of the Dead.

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you enjoyed the mini horror reviews all October. Maybe I’ll do something next year like this as well. Until then, maybe November will bring a few surprises…perhaps something creepy…something horrific…something original? Muah ha ha…

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Day 30 – Halloween

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Halloween (1978)

The Night He Came Home”

And what a homecoming it was. John Carpenter’s Halloween is the quintessential movie for the holiday. If you aren’t already watching this movie every October then you aren’t doing it right. Michael Myers is a silent brute force that defines pure evil and it’s pure horror movie magic.

My favorite moments in this movie are when you briefly see Michael in the distance, or slightly off screen, or when you see him driving around stalking Laurie Strode. He’s creepy! Carpenter’s shooting, editing and musical score are nothing short of perfection. You know, besides the random palm trees in the background of Haddonfield, Illinois. Seriously though, I really don’t think this movie can be replicated at this level. Rob Zombie tried it and while that remake is somewhat enjoyable, it doesn’t hold a redneck flame to the original.

Halloween isn’t complete without a viewing of Halloween or Halloween II. But wait, today is October 30th. It’s not Halloween. What could be tomorrow’s final review? Am I saving my favorite movie of all time for last? Hmm…

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Day 29 – The Gate

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The Gate (1987)

This movie is absolutely one of my favorites. In it a teenage girl is tasked with babysitting her younger brother while her parents go away for the weekend. And, of course, they accidentally open a gateway to hell.

Almost the entire movie takes place in or around the kids’ home which has great 1980’s suburban atmosphere. I love it. The feel is actually similar to the Netflix original, Stranger Things. Perhaps this film in some way influenced The Duffer Brothers.

The Gate boasts tiny demons, large demons, heavy metal music, zombie construction workers, and a crazy levitation scene that gives me the creeps. It manages to balance fun and scary to perfection. Of all the films I’ve reviewed, this is the one you need to watch if you haven’t seen it already.

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Day 28 – Troll 2

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Troll 2 (1990)

[I’m] Tightening my belt one loop so that I don’t feel hunger pains…”

Troll 2 is without a shadow of a doubt the absolute worst film on this list. But hear me out, it’s awful in the best way possible. This film is so bad that it’s a blast to watch (especially with a group of friends). For the money, this is best horror movie that you can rip on -MST3K style. I’ve never seen such poor acting in any movie before or since watching this one.

Its good production qualities make everything else seem much worse. You can’t help but laugh and ask yourself “Why?!” upon viewing. In 2009 a documentary was released called Best Worst Movie which was, you guessed it, a look into the making of Troll 2 which is now cult B-movie status.

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Day 27 – Phantasm

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Phantasm (1979)

The all-time greatest hero of horror cinema: Reggie Bannister.

The all-time greatest weapon of horror cinema: The Quad-Barrel Shotgun.

In earnest, I don’t think enough people have been exposed to the Phantasm Phranchise (yes, I know). There are 5 films in total, with the latest (and probably the last) just being released in 2016. The Phantasm films are among my favorite series of horror flicks. They are fun, creepy, and have a strange family-style appeal towards its protagonists. And the villain, The Tall Man, is one of horror’s best…right up there with Jason, Michael, and Freddy.

The original Phantasm was recently given the 4k restoration treatment by none other than J.J. Abrams. That’s saying something. In Abram’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the chrome trooper (Captain Phasma) was designed in tribute to one of the many chrome killer spheres in Phantasm. Give the original a look, and if you like it, there are four more films to wet your Phantasm whistle.

Additionally, Phantasm has one of the best musical themes of all time…

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