What is Literary Agent Undercover?
Literary Agent Undercover helps authors of all genres get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals. I founded Literary Agent Undercover in August 2011, after closing my literary agency called New Brand Agency Group (more about that below).
Literary Agent Undercover offers a free weekly newsletter, insider articles, audio and video training (including interviews with top literary agents), the world’s best Directory of Literary Agents (online), an interactive Ask a Literary Agent area (online), and 1-on-1 Coaching and Consulting Services (in person, by phone, and/or Skype).
Literary Agent Undercover is for authors that fit into one of the following categories: 1) Unpublished authors just starting to write (or pitch) their book(s), 2) Self-published authors who now want to find a real (traditional) publisher, and 3) Previously published authors who’ve lost their agent and/or publisher and want to find a new one.
Exactly what do you do in any given day?
Most days I get up at 5 am (thanks to 5 am Wake Up Call guru Bryce Chapman in Australia) and spend a few hours in my home office before going to the gym for a couple hours (weights, cardio, and laps in the pool keep me sane). Most authors would probably be surprised to learn that I only spend two days a week coaching, but I spend much of my time “offline” editing query letters, book proposals, etc.
I also post new content on my Literary Agents Blog each week, and make time to respond personally to every question and comment posted there. I do a lot of speaking at live events and online as well. And I coach high-level entrepreneurs with my wife, Ingrid Elfver, through Born Celebrity. Lastly, if it’s a Sunday afternoon or Monday night, there’s a good chance I’ll be watching American football. I’m a huge fan, much to my wife’s disappointment (football is the “f-word” in our house).
Who are some of the best-selling authors you have worked with?
Although my author consulting company Literary Agent Undercover is only two years old, I’ve already helped dozens of authors (in the United States and abroad) get the attention of top literary agents and/or book deals with major publishing houses like Random House and Thomas Nelson. Click here to see some of our Success Stories. I’ve also listed below most of the book deals I was personally responsible for as the owner of New Brand Agency, before I founded Literary Agent Undercover (I’ve excluded TV, film, stage, and other subsidiary rights for sake of space).
NONFICTION: The Marriage Plan by Aggie Jordan, Ph.D. (Broadway/Sourcebooks); Soul Sex: Tantra For Two by Pala Copeland and Al Link (NewPage); The Husband Book by Harry Harrison (Andrews McMeel); The Women’s Guide to Legal Issues by Nancy Jones (Renaissance); Say Yes to Change by George and Sedena Cappanelli (F&W); Father To Son; Mother to Son; Father to Daughter; and Mother to Daughter by Harry Harrison (Workman); Eat Or Be Eaten by Phil Porter (Prentice-Hall); The Crisis Counselor by Jeff Caponigro (Contemporary); Get Weird! by John Putzier (Amacom); Money-Tree Marketing by Patrick & Jennifer Bishop (Amacom); Creative Selling by Dave Donelson (Entrepreneur); Fearless Brewing by Brian Kunath (Chartwell); The Dog’s Drugstore by Richard Redding & Myrna Papurt (St. Martin’s). ADULT FICTION: 24/7 and Black Valley by Jim Brown (Ballantine); Multiple Novels by Rae Foley (Simon & Schuster); BloodTrail by Michael Sullivan (Jameson). YOUNGER READERS: The Body of Christopher Creed and many other young adult novels by Carol Plum-Ucci (Harcourt); The Finnegan Zwake Mystery Series by Michael Dahl (Pocket/Scholastic); The Young Shakespeare Mystery Series by Linda Fisher (Hyperion); The Misfits, Inc. Mystery Series by Mark Delaney (Peachtree); Multiple Young Adult Novels by Susan Rottman (Peachtree/Penguin).
Please note that I’m no longer an active literary agent—the only work that I do now with authors is in a coaching/consulting capacity. Also, “Mark Malatesta” is my birth name and “Mark Ryan” is my stepfather’s name. So, if you’re Googling me to check out my literary agent history, make sure you search for “New Brand Agency” and/or “Mark Ryan.” When I was 16 years old (and didn’t know better) my mother remarried and asked me to take on my stepfather’s name. I agreed but never developed a meaningful relationship with my stepfather, so I finally changed my name back to my birth name “Mark Malatesta” in 2007 (after I stopped being a literary agent).
How does having an agent benefit an author?
There are many benefits to having a literary agent. The most important one is the fact that 95% of traditional publishers like Random House don’t accept unsolicited submissions from authors. If you send them your material, they’ll return it to you unopened. Literary agents are essentially gatekeepers that read (on average) more than 1,000 pitches each month from authors. Then they take the best of the best and work (for free) until they get you a book deal (and collect a commission if they’re successful).
Here are some other reasons to work with a literary agent:
Agents Know Exactly Who to Send Your Book To
Book agents are familiar with individual publishers and their lists. Agents are also intimate with the preferences, strengths, and weaknesses of individual editors at publishing houses. That knowledge will allow your agent to submit your book to the perfect editors at the best publishers for you.
Publishers Will Take Your Work More Seriously
Top agents have access to senior editors and other publishing executives due to the agent’s track record of success. This allows agents to pitch books face-to-face (sometimes with the author present), submit books to publishers simultaneously, hold auctions, and get deals done faster.
You’ll Get Better Contract Terms
Book agents are skilled negotiators who can get you larger advances and higher royalty rates, multi-book deals, bonuses for any awards or special recognition that your book gets, a bigger promotional budget, hardcover and paperback edition commitments, an earlier publication date, etc.
Your Agent Will Troubleshoot Any Problems
Agents handle any challenges that come up during the publication or post-publication process, so you don’t have to. For example: editors that are difficult, fired, laid-off, or retire; title changes or bad book cover design; bad reviews or publicity; poor book sales; changes in the industry or marketplace; etc.
Your Agent Might Bring You Extra Book Ideas & Book Deals
You might not be aware of this, but top book agents often bring their authors ideas for new books. Sometimes those book ideas are something the agent came up with. Other times, the ideas are something an editor with a publishing house came up with. There’s never been an easier way to get a book deal.
What can authors do before they seek an agent that will help them get one?
My answer to this question will make some authors very happy; it will irritate others. That’s because I’m going to say something that many authors won’t be expecting and might not want to hear.
Here it is…
Learning how to write a bestselling book often has a lot less to do with talent than most authors realize.
Yes, talent is overrated.
And that’s not just my opinion.
If you want to know how to write a bestseller, you probably don’t need more natural talent. You need a writer’s education. And I’m not talking about some literary, highbrow, ivory tower education made up of academia and MFAs (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m talking about a practical, down-to-earth, reality-based, how to write a bestseller education. And that type of education is made up of seven simple parts.
Which one(s) do you need to add to your repertoire?
HOW TO WRITE A BESTSELLER – 7 STEPS
You can’t learn how to write a bestselling book without reading a lot… but I don’t just mean reading bestselling authors in your genre that you admire. You should also be reading bestselling authors in your genre that you don’t like. And, you should read bestselling authors in other genres.
You also need to read consciously. When you’re reading purely for pleasure, you can permit yourself to get lost in a author’s story or style. However, when you’re reading for business (how to write a bestseller), you should be studying the context of what you’re reading.
Pay attention to what you’re thinking and feeling as you’re reading. Peek “behind the curtain” where the author is busy pulling his/her strings. Try to deconstruct what’s happening, and why. When you feel something, try to figure out what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.
Writing, Writing, Writing
This should be obvious, but some writers think they can learn how to write a bestselling book without paying their dues. In other words, you can’t learn how to write a bestseller without spending thousands of hours writing. I’m talking pure volume here.
A good idea for a bestselling book isn’t the same as a good idea for a bestselling book in the hands of an experienced writer.
One of the biggest mistakes writers make is measuring themselves (mainly) by how much writing they’ve done. But it’s not just volume that matters. It’s quality. And the best way to improve the quality of your writing is rewriting. Unfortunately, hard work alone doesn’t always lead to extraordinary results. It has to be the right hard work.
In other words, if you want to learn how to how to write a bestselling book, you have to design your “writing time” to your specific needs. For example, most writers spend most (or all) of their writing time doing one thing: writing. And they spend very little (or no time at all) rewriting. Some writers do this for ten years, write ten books during that time, and never get published (because they didn’t write ten good books, they wrote ten first drafts).
Studying the Craft of Writing
Most writers understand that they need to spend time studying the craft of writing, but I want to encourage authors to do more… expand their range of study to new areas.
Read books that might not seem (at first) to apply to you like books on humor, suspense, story, mystery, horror, romance, etc. If you want to learn how to write a bestselling book, start by having a more eclectic approach in what you study. This will make your writing richer, no matter what genre you’re in.
Here are a few books to get you started: 10 Best Books for Writers.
Studying the Business of Writing
If you consider yourself a “creative artist” you might resist this idea or be intimidated by it. Don’t be. Check out this one simple resource to help you get more educated and stay plugged in: Publishers Marketplace.
If you want to become a bestselling author, it will show you deals being done, who’s doing them, and more. 40,000+ publishing professionals are part of this community. There’s a free newsletter you can subscribe to as well. And there’s a paid option that gives you access to even more goodies.
One of the best shortcuts to learning how to write a bestselling book is case studies… learning how other bestselling authors became successful. The act of writing books, proposals, and query letters takes a lot of time. Don’t experiment. Take advantage of those who’ve gone before you.
For example, let’s say you need to write a query letter to get a literary agent. You might have read a book or two about query letters, but you’ll write a much better query letter if you have a case study to look at first. In other words, a before and after example of a query letter that eventually led to success… with a detailed explanation of the changes that were made, and why.
Case studies let you see what you would have done differently than the subject. This process of focusing on different scenarios and evaluating different solutions is powerful. That’s why the “case method” is used by top universities around the world like Harvard and Yale.
Studying theory is great, but it’s much more beneficial to see that theory applied in real-life situations that resulted in success. Guessing is for the amateur. Case studies are for the professional writer who wants to learn how to write a bestseller.
Coaching and/or Consulting
If you want to learn how to write a bestselling book, coaching is possibly the most important piece of the puzzle. It requires the biggest investment, but it can also save you years of wasted time and lots of money working with editors and/or publishing companies that aren’t the best fit for you. Virtually every bestselling author has had some type of coaching, for good reason.
If you want to learn how to how to write a bestseller, you’ll need some help to see things that you’d never see alone. And you’ll need help overcoming things that you can’t overcome alone. Coaching is about discovering shortcuts, being held accountable (for some people), and having someone on your side who’s actually already “been there and done that”.
No one can guarantee you’ll write a bestselling book, but this 7-part process is as close as you’ll get to a proven formula. These are the things that you can actually control (unlike natural talent or ability, if there even is such a thing).
Focus on them.
And, make sure you’re dividing up your time properly based on what you really need… instead of what you want (don’t neglect one of the areas above that you know you should be focusing on). If you want to learn how to write a bestseller, you need to treat your writing more like a business… and less like a hobby. I don’t mean to take the romance out of writing, but a balanced writer’s education is the key to helping you write a bestseller.
And that’s pretty romantic in my book.
the author who went “undercover” as a literary agent for five
years to find out how to get his own
books published. During that time, Mark became a NY Times bestselling
literary agent and helped many authors launch their writing careers
with major publishers like Random House. The result was millions of
books sold along with projects being picked up for TV, stage, and
feature film (with companies like Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks).
Mark’s authors have gotten 6-figure advances, been on the NY Times
bestseller list, been licensed in more than 30 countries, and won
countless national and international awards and honors. Now Mark is
helping authors of all genres get top literary agents and book deals
through his new training and consulting company called Literary
Get instant access to Mark’s FREE 60-minute mp3 training: Seven
Secrets Every Author Needs to Know… to Get a Top Literary Agent,
Publisher, and Book Deal,
weekly newsletter, insider articles, Directory
of Literary Agents,
a Literary Agent
area of his website, and information about his1-on-1 coaching and
consulting services. Click Here
Now to Become a Publishing Insider with Literary Agent Undercover.
Copyrights owned by Mark Malatesta & Literary Agent Undercover. All rights reserved.
Perry Roberts stood at the top of the stairs, staring down into the black depths of his basement. He held the last box that needed to be stored down there, but he couldn’t make his legs move. The light was on when I went outside, wasn’t it? he thought. He knew it had been, but now it was out.
With a sigh, he sat the box down on the floor, reached into the slight gloom at the top of the stairwell, and felt the switch with his fingers; it was still on. Bulb must’ve blown, he thought to himself with another, deeper sigh.
Thinking hard, he remembered unpacking a box with spare bulbs earlier and headed to the laundry room to retrieved one, also grabbing the flashlight he’d stored there. Grumbling under his breath, he descended into the dark depths of his basement. It smelled musty, damp, and slightly metallic; the air noticeably dropped in temperature with each step. The house was old, having been one of the first built in the small New England town, and the basement was designed to hold the cold so that home-canned goods and other food necessities could be stored there.
“Lots of history,” the real-estate agent had said. “Not many places like this left for just anyone to buy.”
Being the history buff that he was, he couldn’t help but be drawn to its charm, even though it had sat empty for more than a decade and had to be drastically updated before he could move in. One of the things he’d found most fascinating about the place was the old player piano sitting in the corner of the basement. He couldn’t figure out how it had gotten down there – the stairs were too narrow and the basement walls consisted of large, rectangle slabs of limestone that looked like they’d been there for hundreds of years.
With the help of his flashlight, he removed the old bulb and shook it beside his ear, and sure enough, he heard the filament rattle. Tucking the flashlight under his chin so he could use both hands, he slid the burned out bulb into the front pouch of his hoodie and extracted the other. As he screwed in the new bulb he forgot the switch was still on and didn’t close his eyes. When the bright glow of the 75 watt bulb flared to life, he dropped the flashlight with a loud clang and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. After a moment, he started blinking rapidly and looking around the room. Bodies in old fashion clothing lay everywhere – some holding bottles of whiskey or tankards of ale. Slowly they sat up and then stood with leering grins, looking him over like he was a succulent piece of meat. They advanced toward him and Perry spun around; he was completely surrounded and the closer they came the more the temperature of the air around him dropped. He tried to focus on them directly, but the light spots in his eyes prevented him from doing so; as his vision cleared the images began to disappear. Almost in a panic, thinking he was being attacked, he spun around in a circle with his arms up defensively, looking for assailants. None were there. All he could see now were the leaning shadows cast by the stairs and the stacked boxes; the rough, bare rock of the walls and floor echoed his harsh breathing back to him, giving him a chill that had nothing to do with the climate of the room.
After dropping his arms, taking a couple of deep breaths, and doing another thorough visual examination of the entire room, he shrugged the occurrence off as his imagination. He bent down and picked up the pieces of his flashlight – having broken it when he dropped it on the hard floor – before he went upstairs, dumped the ruined flashlight in the trash, and carried down the last box. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was down in the basement with him, and he kept looking over his shoulder expecting to find them standing behind him, ready to hurt him. He was beginning to wonder if the house might be haunted, but then reminded himself he didn’t believe in ghosts.
With an effort he forced himself to calm down, and after stacking the box with the others he had in the corner, he headed toward the stairs. Pausing, he glanced around one more time and ran his fingers over the now yellow keys of the player piano, wondering if he could get the old thing working. Once again he pondered on how the piano had come to be in the basement and couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation.
“Maybe the ghosts brought it downstairs,” he said with a mocking laugh.
As soon as the words left his mouth a chill ran down his spine and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as the air around him suddenly dropped in temperature and he felt like he was being stalked again. Not needing any more encouragement, he jogged up the stairs and could have sworn he’d heard a deep, masculine laugh echo from behind him.
Back upstairs, he turned off the basement light and slammed the short, rough plank door behind him, making sure the old, wrought-iron latch was secure. He pressed both his hands on the door and leaned against it, taking deep, calming breaths, feeling silly about his reaction to his imagination running wild.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts . . . There’s no such thing as ghosts . . .” he repeated to himself over and over again, as if in saying it he could dispel the horrible feelings he’d had downstairs.
Perry heard a knock at his front door and almost jumped out of his skin at the sudden and unexpected noise; he stepped from the kitchen into the short, narrow hallway and spied his friend John through the door’s window.
“Hold on!” he yelled, rushing forward and letting his friend in, glad for the distraction. “What’s up?”
John grinned. “Five days ‘til Halloween! What do you think’s up? We need costumes and a lot of ghoulish stuff to decorate this spooky old house of yours.”
Perry laughed and all of his trepidation melted away as he focused on his friend and pushed everything else from his mind. “How could I forget?”
John smacked his forehead in a “Duh!” gesture and pointed with his thumb to his Chevy pickup parked at the curb. “I’ll be out there. Hurry up!”
With that John turned and practically hopped down the limestone block porch steps. He hadn’t been too happy when Perry had decided to move here, wishing his friend would stay closer, but he’d handled it well. They’d known each other all their lives and had just recently graduated from separate colleges. Over the past summer they’d spent a lot of time together catching up, and now they were separated again; growing up was indeed hard to do.
Donning a light jacket over his hoodie – taken from a hook by the door – Perry stepped out into the brisk October wind. Red, gold, and brown leaves littered the yard and street, leaving behind dark skeleton trees to moan eerily as their bare branches danced in the wind. He pushed his hands into the front pouch of his hoodie and his hands came in contact with the light bulb he’d removed downstairs and, for a moment, the memories of his experiences returned. He tossed it in the large trash can sitting in the corner of his enclosed porch, as if ridding himself of the bulb also discarded the disturbing memories permanently, and hurried to join John.
~ * ~
Their day went fast. They’d each found a costume they loved: John, a ghoul of disgusting proportions; and Perry, a very bloody looking zombie. They’d also picked up an array of fake tomb stones and bones to litter in Perry’s yard, to serve as decorations for the huge Halloween party they were planning.
“Stop by the library, would ya?” Perry asked on their way back to his house. “I had the librarian look up some historical information on my house and I need to pick it up.” He paused for a moment and almost continued, asking John if he believed in ghosts, but with a shake of his head he decided not to waste any more time on nonsense.
John raised his eyebrows at Perry’s undecided movements, but when he didn’t say anything more, he nodded consent and drove to the small, out-of-the-way library that served the town.
It took Perry less than ten minutes to retrieve the information he’d requested. John laughed hysterically as he watched his friend come stumbling out of the local library, weighed down with books and printouts of old newspapers.
“Are you writing a book series?” John teased as he leaned over and pushed open the truck door for Perry. “Looks like you have enough research there for five!”
Scowling, Perry managed to maneuver himself, and his load, into the truck. “I didn’t know they’d find this much. Now I feel like I’m back in school!”
John laughed again, shook his head, and drove them back to Perry’s place. They unloaded all their Halloween goodies and discussed the party briefly before John left; he had work early the next day and he knew Perry was itching to get at the materials he’d picked up from the library.
For the next few days Perry poured over the books and old newspaper articles, learning about his new house and its history. He wanted to get through as much of it as possible before the party, and before he had to start his new job; he would begin his career as a website designer the second week of November. The information the librarian had gleaned was very interesting. Apparently the house he was living in used to be a small time, bar-like establishment. It was known for its many visitors of “questionable virtue” and after reading some of the articles, he knew that meant men who lived outside the law. A couple of people had even been murdered in the house, which made him again think of the occurrences in the basement.
One picture particularly interested him. It was taken on October 31st of 1872, according to the notation under the photo. The player piano was in it, but the photograph had been taken in his living room. The people in the photo looked like the ones he’d thought he’d seen in the basement, but he couldn’t be sure because most of them were wearing festive masks depicting demons. The clothing style was the same, as were the bottles and tankards, but he figured what happened could still have been just his imagination. After all, he’d seen plenty of the same in old movies.
The article beneath the picture spoke briefly about the Halloween party, and how wild they’d gotten, referring to a couple of rough men who were believed to have been associated with the occult. As he read on, he was disappointed to find that most of the article was missing due to the photocopier running out of toner, at least that’s what he ascertained from the spotty black ink on the rest of the page. With a crocked grin, he looked back at the photo, thinking it would be great to show it to John, since they too were having a Halloween party in the house.
As he laid the paper aside, he didn’t notice the date on the top – for the article – was for November 1st, 1872, or that the rest of the article was printed clearly on the back telling of the horrible events of the night of that party, and how no one who’d attended had ever been seen again.
~ * ~
On the night of October 30th, Perry lay down in bed, excited about the party that would take place the following evening. Thoughts swirled through his head about all that needed to be done, and about a certain woman he’d invited, hoping she’d attend. Even with these thoughts it didn’t take his exhausted body long to fall asleep.
Shortly after midnight, icy hands gripped Perry’s ankles and fingernails penetrated his flesh like icicles, startling him out of his warm cocoon of sleep. He cried out and struggled, feeling hot, slick, wet blood seep from his wounds and soak into his bed, but his efforts didn’t deter the grip that was dragging him out of bed with astounding force and strength. He screamed and grabbed at the sheets, blankets, and mattress, trying to save himself, to no avail.
He hit the floor with a hard, resounding smack. His head bounced off the hardwood with a loud thud that almost knocked him unconscious; blood gushed out of a gash on his head from where it had hit the metal bedframe during the struggle, falling into his eyes, and making the floor slick. Blinking rapidly, he tried to stay awake and twisted around to get a glimpse of who was assaulting him. He yelled, telling whoever it was to stop, and asking why they were doing it.
The darkness prevented him from seeing anyone or anything, and the more he struggled the tighter the grip on his ankles became; he heard his bones crack and felt the shards of their splinters escaping the encasement of his flesh. Crying out from the pain, and imagining that his ankles now looked like pin cushions because of the protruding bones, Perry tried to grab onto anything he could, but it was no use. Every time he would get a grip on something his attacker would either yank him so hard that eventually his fingers broke with loud pops or he would be lifted slightly into the air and slammed back down onto the floor until he let go.
The violence continued as he was dragged down the stairs, and Perry suffered so much head trauma that by the time he was on the first floor the world around him was nothing more than a blur seen through drops of blood, flowing from multiple gashes all over his bruised head. And as he was dragged toward the kitchen – where he left a light on all night – he saw that no one and nothing was there; he was being attacked by an invisible force and thought for the first time that he might have been wrong about ghosts.
He heard the piano playing downstairs and laughter with it. What’s going on? he thought before he was finally knocked completely unconscious by a battering from the basement stairs.
~ * ~
Perry regained awareness slowly. He was lying on the cold basement floor in nothing but his boxer shorts. He shivered and tried to curl into a ball to conserve his body heat. A harsh male laugh barked behind him, making him jump. Turning his head sharply, he beheld a group of seven men and two women. They were all dressed in clothes from the 1800s. He blinked and frowned. His head hurt beyond belief and his hips, legs, and ankles throbbed. Weak and disoriented, he couldn’t focus or speak.
Desperation soon overcame his weakness when he saw them moving toward him. They didn’t have legs, but floated a foot and a half above the stone floor. The closer they got to him the more transparent they became. Frantically, he tried to crawl toward the stairs, hissing and whimpering at the pain in his ankles and head, but didn’t make it. Cold seeped into his body, causing him to shiver more violently, as the “spirits” came closer, surrounding him and laughing.
“Sweet hot blood . . . ” one of the men said.
“ . . . and meat!” one of the women exclaimed, and cackled.
“What should we do with him?” another one of the men asked.
“Let’s eat him,” the first man said again.
“Wasn’t he going to have a party tonight?” another feminine voice said almost coyly. “Maybe we should possess him and have our fill of the guests!”
The group laughed and jeered in agreement; many to feast upon was better than one.
One by one the spirits drifted over Perry and sank into his body. He screamed as his body temperature dropped and he felt his consciousness being forced deeper and deeper inside himself. He knew no one would hear him but he still called out for help. Even if he had been lucky and someone did come to his aid, he knew there was nothing anyone could do.
“He’s damaged!” one of the women said inside him. “Someone will notice!”
“She’s right, you know,” said the other feminine voice. “We’ll have to clean him up.”
“I’ve got it,” one of the men said with a laugh. “I’ll have him fixed up momentarily!”
Perry convulsed in excruciating pain as his frigid body popped and snapped, healing itself of the wounds which had been inflicted upon him during the attack.
“Lovely,” the first female voice sighed.
“Please stop,” Perry cried out from the box inside himself he’d been pressed into; his consciousness was pushed back and he had no control over his body, but he could still feel everything that happened to his physical self. “Kill me, but don’t torture me like this . . . Please!”
“Oh, shut up!” one of the men yelled, and the rest of the unwelcome spirits inhabiting Perry’s body laughed.
“What should we do with him until the party?” one of the male voices asked.
“He’s still all bloody . . . Why don’t we give him a bath?” asked one of the female voices.
“Oh, yes,” said the other female voice with a giggle.
“You ladies have your fun, but I want no part of it,” a male voice said with slight amusement and a bit of disgust.
The females giggled again and Perry felt himself rising up to a standing position. Awkwardly his body ascended the stairs and he noted that he could see everything around him, but still had no say or control over his body.
Before he was ready, they were in the bathroom and his shorts were being removed.
“My, my, what do we have here?” one of the female voices asked snidely. “Seems we have a naked man to play with.”
“Share!” the other female voice yelled. “You get one hand and I get the other.”
Perry could feel the women becoming more prominent in his body and the male entities slipped back and almost felt like they were sleeping.
“All right, all right,” the first female voice said. “I’ll share.”
They both giggled as they shut the door to the bathroom and found a full length mirror hanging on the door.
“Oh, what fun!” the second female voice squealed.
“Yes, indeed,” the other said with smug satisfaction.
Soon Perry’s hands were traveling all over his body, doing things to himself against his will.
“Please stop!” he groaned from deep within as he was forced to watch and feel what the female spirits were doing to him.
“Don’t you like it, luv?” one voice asked, and both the females laughed.
“Stop!” he screamed, but they just continued to laugh at him.
It took over an hour for them to play games with him and molest him in the shower, after which he felt more dirty than clean; they’d done unimaginable things to his body.
~ * ~
Later that day, John arrived to help with the Halloween party, letting himself in with the key Perry had given him when there was no response to his knock. As he turned from shutting the door, he spotted Perry standing silently at the top of the stairway in his zombie costume.
“Hey, man,” John said, as he jumped in startled surprise. “You scared the crap out of me!” He looked his friend over and grinned. “You’re costume is intense, but I thought we weren’t going to change until after we had things set up for the party.”
Perry’s body just stood there with its eyes staring down at John while the spirits inside argued about how to answer the question and handle this newcomer; they finally came to a decision.
“Hello, Earth to Perry,” John said, looking slightly worried and confused at the foot of the stairs. “You okay, man?”
“I’m fine,” Perry’s voice said, being controlled by one of the males. “I was excited and decided to don my festive apparel early.”
“You sound strange,” John said, his confused frown deepening. “What’s with all the ‘don my festive apparel’ shit? You sound old or something.”
Perry’s face sneered at John behind the zombie make-up as he descended the stairs toward him. When he reached the bottom step his arm shot out and he wrapped his hand around John’s throat, squeezing and lifting him off his feet.
“You’re a cheeky bloke,” a strange masculine voice said, using Perry’s mouth, no longer trying to disguise himself. “I don’t like being called old!”
John dropped the bags of stuff he was carrying and tried to pry the strong hand from his throat so he could breathe; he kicked and clawed at Perry’s hand and arm as he was lifted off the floor.
“Now we have to do something with him,” Perry heard one of the male voices say as they again began talking internally to each other.
“It is crowded in here,” another said, “maybe some of us should possess him, so we’ll have more space to move around and breathe!”
The other voices agreed and started to argue about who would go and who would stay. Perry broke into their argument . . .
“If you are going to do something, do it soon!” he yelled. “Otherwise you’ll kill my friend and have nowhere to go!”
The voices quieted for a moment and Perry’s hand loosened slightly on John’s throat, allowing him strained breathing rather than none at all.
“I think Ginger, Frank, Paul, and Peter should go,” one of the female voices said.
It was the first time Perry had heard them refer to each other by name and listened carefully. Something about the names seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place them. Then it hit him! Those were some of the names of the people who’d attended the Halloween party in the old newspaper article! He wished now, more than ever, that he’d been able to read the end of the article, so he could know what had happened, and was going to happen.
They argued some more and then Perry felt his small containment area expand. Four of the spirits drifted out of his body and into John’s, who was instantly released. He fell gasping to the floor and started thrashing around, screaming, and clutching at his body. Finally, he stilled and looked around with eyes that weren’t his own.
Perry cringed and whispered, “Sorry, my friend.” He wished John hadn’t gotten involved, and more than anything he wished he would have mentioned what had happened in the basement a few days before, thinking this wouldn’t have happened if he’d acknowledged it. He also thought about the horrible experience he’d had earlier in the bathroom and hoped his friend wouldn’t have to endure something similar when he changed into his costume; as if reading his thoughts, the female spirit who was still inside him laughed softly.
“He might like it, luv,” she said. “After all, you seemed to enjoy some of it.” She cackled with a perverse laugh and Perry didn’t respond.
~ * ~
It didn’t take the spirits long to master the control they had over Perry and John, and they extracted from their brains and thoughts all the things that needed to be done to prepare for the party; they’d just finished when the first guest arrived.
Nicole Winters – the tall, raven-haired, blue-eyed beauty who lived just down the street – stood on the porch with her coat hanging slightly open. Perry heart sank when he was forced to open the door and let her in. She smiled broadly, sporting a sexy fairy costume that would have made him drool if he hadn’t been possessed by crazy entities from the past; some of the comments the male ones were making about her made him panic and try to take back control.
“Run, Nicole!” Perry screamed. “Run!”
But of course, she couldn’t hear him, he still couldn’t control any part of his body, including his vocal cords.
“Shut up, you,” one of the males growled. “We’ll have our fun with this little tart and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“Thanks for inviting me, Perry,” Nicole said, stepping inside and sliding off her coat, revealing more of her costume, or lack thereof. Most of it was sheer and see through; the male spirits were going wild.
“Ever seen any dressin’s like ‘em fellas?” one of them asked.
“No, but I’d like to tear them off with my teeth and devour what’s underneath!” another exclaimed.
John entered the hallway, coming from the kitchen, and Perry saw a reflection in his eyes of what he was hearing within.
“I’m glad you could make it,” Perry’s pleasant voice said, as his hand was placed on her butt and he squeezed.
Nicole gasped and giggled, giving him a wink. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I love Halloween parties. They give me an excuse to dress up.” She was pressing herself against his body now and practically purring with wicked intent in her eyes.
“Oh, yeah, boys,” one of the voices said. “We’re gonna have us a slice of that Heaven.”
They all laughed.
Perry cringed and wished there was something he could do to stop all this, but he couldn’t think of anything.
John walked down the hall toward them and pressed up against Nicole from the back, trapping her between them. He bent forward and whispered something in her ear that Perry didn’t catch. He knew it wasn’t John doing any of it, but he still felt betrayed for some strange reason.
Nicole jerked and struggled, trying to break free, just before her personality flipped and she giggled and sighed, accepting the attention from both men. Perry and John realized instantly when their containment expanded slightly that the female spirits had both moved into Nicole’s body. She began to wiggle against and grope both of the men, and pouted when someone knocked on the front door.
“Bloody hell!” she growled. “All these interruptions are spoiling our fun!”
Both of the possessed men laughed. None of them were themselves any longer and just watched and felt everything that happened around them.
Guests continued to arrive for the next forty-five minutes and none of them knew a thing about what was going on. If Nicole, John, or Perry did something strange, the guests would just shrug it off, assuming they’d already started drinking.
A couple times Nicole disappeared from the room with John, and a couple of times she left with Perry. No one really noticed, but Perry was devastated; he really liked and cared for Nicole, and the damned possessing spirits were making them both do tainted and lewd things to each other. He didn’t even want to think about what she was doing with John, knowing it was probably just as bad or worse.
“Why are you doing this to us?” Perry asked as he was again entering the living room where the party was, after being with Nicole. “Why not just kill us? Why play with us like this first?”
“Well, you see . . . ” one of the voices started in a teasing manner.
“Don’t tell ‘im!” another barked. “Then he’ll know!”
“What does it matter if he knows?” another asked. “He can’t do anything about it.”
“Just shut up, you,” the second voice ordered. “It’ll be over before you know it.”
Everything kept moving smoothly along until around midnight, and then Perry’s mouth announced that he wanted to show everyone the player piano in the basement. They were intrigued, so like cattle the twenty-three people at the party (including Perry, John, and Nicole) went down into the basement; Nicole was the last one and she shut the door tightly behind herself.
“What’s going on?” Perry asked from deep within himself. “Why did you bring everyone down here?”
“Shut up!” all the voices barked at him.
Everyone was ohing and ahing over the piano while Perry, John, and Nicole stood at the base of the stairs. No one saw their eyes glow bright red, and no one saw the humans’ bodies transform into red scaled monsters with vicious long claws and mouths full of long, sharp teeth. But they did hear the panting and growling that emanated from them; the guests all turned and screamed.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had human flesh,” the once Nicole growled, running her long black tongue across her teeth. “I want the first bite.”
Both the beings who were once John and Perry growled and stepped forward.
The crowd cringed and moved backwards, pressing themselves against the far wall.
The Nicole-demon lunged forward, and with one clamp down of her jaws, she ripped a woman’s head clean off. Blood dripped from her mouth and onto the floor as she chewed the skull and slurped out the brains within before swallowing it all. The woman’s body fell to the floor and her blood began to drain out onto the stones. Instantly a pentagram made of flames appeared on the floor, encompassing the entire room; the body burned and dissolved to nothing in the fire.
More and more bodies joined the first as limbs were torn from torsos and hips, devoured by the bodies that had earlier been possessed and were now transformed. They gorged themselves on the flesh of the frightened, screaming guests and didn’t stop until they were all dead.
The three stood in the center of the pentagram panting. Their eyes were ablaze with adrenaline and their bodies were covered in the guts and blood they’d spilt.
“It’s time for the last three,” a deep, growling voice said from beneath them as the floor disappeared and turned into a raging, licking fire.
“Yes, master,” the three growled.
The female spirits left the body of Nicole they’d inhabited, and instantly it turned back into human form with Nicole at the helm once again. She blinked in confusion and screamed as her body began to burn. Soon there was nothing left of her; the same happened to both of the men.
Once they were consumed the floor reappeared and the fire was gone. The spirits floated in the air, looking at each other.
“I guess that pays our debt to Hell for a few more years,” one of the females said.
“Yes,” a male said with a laugh. “Happy Halloween!”
~ * ~
Days passed and none of the cars in front of Perry’s house moved. Neighbors became angry and then concerned. The police were called and they finally contacted Perry’s family when they couldn’t reach him.
A search ensued for Perry, John, and all of the others, to no avail.
When nothing and no one was found, Perry’s house was emptied and sold.
No one noticed the newspaper article from long ago when it was thrown into the trash, and no one knew to be afraid of what lurked in the basement, waiting for the next Halloween.
Historical Significance previously appeared in Halloween Frights III from Wicked East Press and is included as a bonus story in the print version of Rebecca Besser's short story collection: Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death.
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Will you be tempted by the Freaks of the Flesh? Astounded by the Freaks of Fantasy? Baffled by the Freaks of the Mind? All this and more await you for just the small price of three tickets... and your soul.
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The Carnival 13 Excerpt:
“I hate fuckin’ carnivals,” Brian said to a captive audience of clothes. They hung silently on their hangers, steadfastly refusing to comment. He absolutely did not want to go to the carnival. His clothes weren’t going to argue. But that didn’t change the fact he had to get dressed.
The colorful B & S Enterprises trucks had started unloading and setting up the tilt-a-whirl, Pirate’s Delight, and Bumble-Bee Bop rides in the Blackburn Mall parking lot on Wednesday. Polly had seen them on her drive to work after school. As much as Brian hated the damn things, he wasn’t going to let her see that, not after Polly had asked – with big gosh honey please eyes – if they could go. He was sure his face had lost all expression when he’d realized what she was begging for, but he’d gained control before letting her see his game-losing stare.
“Uh, sure!” he’d somehow managed. And Polly, excited about the idea of cotton candy and watergun balloon games, had managed to ignore or completely miss the look of frightened, anxious “Oh God, please no!” on her boyfriend’s face for the second it had appeared.
He rolled his eyes in the silence of his room and pulled his American Idiot concert t-shirt from the hanger. Somehow it seemed appropriate.
Fifteen minutes later, he was forcing a smile on the doorstep of Polly’s place. When she came to the door, light brown hair perfectly tousled over her shoulder, wearing a tight pink t-shirt and blue cut-off jean shorts, Brian’s forced smile changed from false to full-on for-real. She looked delicious.
“Don’t be too late,” her mom called from inside the house.
Polly turned and flashed an “oh puh-leez” look behind her. “I won’t,” she promised. Then she took his elbow and pulled him toward the driveway. “C’mon,” she said. “I want to get there before dark!”
Brian took another look at her glowing smile and even brighter eyes and decided that as much as he hated carnivals, this was going to be an amazing night.
The mall parking lot was already packed when they pulled in and were directed off the asphalt to an impromptu lot in the neighboring field. The carnival itself straddled both the asphalt and the long, normally empty grass to the west of the mall. It was the first real heat of summer, and everyone in town was ready for a party. The visiting carnival gave them a good excuse, and they didn’t pass it up. It looked as if everyone in Blackburn had turned out. The buzz of the crowd was already loud above the festive music of the midway. Brian and Polly stood in a long line at the ticket counter for 10 minutes before a ticket-taker – oddly garbed in clown makeup, with pitch-black fingernails – snapped up their money and slapped down two generic red rectangles that said ‘Ticket’, proving they should have entrance.
“Can we get cotton candy?” Polly asked, as soon as they stepped past the ticket booth.
“Sure,” Brian agreed, and led her across the asphalt to an electric pink cart just a few steps away. A man in a white coat and hat was busy swiping a cardboard cone around the inside of the glass cart, gathering up strands of spun sugar to create a hive of sweet cotton for someone waiting just on the other side of the window. The air around them throbbed, alive with tinkling bells, calliope music, and the screams and laughs of people diving and soaring not far away on one of the big oval rides that took you up into the air almost to the moon before suddenly dropping down to the earth in a pendulum arc that looked guaranteed to end in a crash to the pavement. Lights caught them, blinded them in hazy yellows, reds and blues and then were momentarily gone.
They were in the center of it all, and Brian knew that his trepidation, no, alienation about the carnival, was not going to find a receptive ear here. All around them people were having a blast.
They eventually made it to the concessions cart’s window and as the white-clad man spun sugar onto a paper cone for his girlfriend, the hair on the back of Brian’s neck stood up straight as a voice from behind yelled out, “Polly! What is up, girl?”
It was Francis Blellingfield. Brian knew that without looking….
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is available in paperback!
The paperback has four bonus stories not included in the ebook version.
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death
When emotions go to extremes murder happens.
Sometimes it’s because of betrayal.
Sometimes it’s in revenge.
Sometimes it’s to hide a lie or in self-defense.
Sometimes it’s to feed a secret hunger.
Whatever the reason, the human mind lends itself to twisted pathways that lead to murder and death…
Includes four bonus stories: Evil Mountain, The Heart of Heroism, Historical Significance, & Memories
Copyrights owned by Rebecca Besser. All rights reserved.