Schlocktober 2021 - Week 1 Recap

October 10, 2021
11 min read

Schlocktober 2021 officially began one week ago now and, all things considered, I think it’s going pretty well!

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me tweeting each prompt out and offering my preliminary thoughts on each one too, at least as much as Twitter allows. Here, though, where the character restrictions are considerably laxer, I want to offer a few more details about the discovery process surrounding each prompt, summarize what I wrote for my responses, and, of course, I want to share my favorite prompt response from this week in its entirety.

So, without any further ado, let’s get right into it!

Week 1: Prompts & Responses

In this, the inaugural week for Schlocktober 2021, the following words were used as writing prompts: Gestation, Mask, Garden, Goop, Prehistoric, Parasite, and Gargantuan. Generally speaking, I was very pleased with the variety of the words this week, as each provided a unique kernel of inspiration, and most proved easy enough to run with.

For GESTATION, I wrote a scene where bed-bound woman recollects the night that an angel appeared to her and impregnated her with its otherworldly offspring. While it wasn’t the most refined piece I wrote this week, I did end up spending a good deal of time working out some very body-horror-centric descriptions of the woman carrying the Nephilim inside her, and I got to describe a biblically accurate angel too, which was a lot of fun. Ultimately, it was great practice for concretely describing supernatural things, and a decent place to start for the week.

MASK proved to be one of the odd one’s out this week, focusing more on scene-setting rather than character or narrative. In my response, I wrote about Mateo, a young resident of the village of Pelayo’s Gulch, who is in the midst of competing for crab carcasses with other children along the rocky shoreline when a wave rips him away from the cliffs and into the ocean’s deadly currents. When he awakens on the shore, he finds a strange, chitinous mask partially buried in the sand next to him, its face a mixture of crustacean and human elements. The setting of this one is a setting I’ve had in mind for a long time, so I enjoyed finally being able to put it to use. The response also leans more toward magical realism than horror, which is a vibe I’d like to play with more at length in the near future.

GARDEN became one of my favorite prompts this week when I was suddenly struck by the idea of writing a modern folktale where an elderly woman encounters a dangerous and demanding gnome-like creature in her garden. The premise is very much in the same vein as my previously published short story “The Family Strega,” and feels like it could go along well with that piece in a future collection. I’m positive I’ll be returning to this one soon, if not simply to see where the gobbi within the story can take me.

Changing gears, I tried to be a bit more exploratory with GOOP, if not simply because it was one of the weirder words on the list. I originally tried to write something with a sort of corporate, pharmaceutical angle to it where a questionable substance was being sold en masse to people, eventually turning them into sentient goo, but I quickly lost steam with this idea. I returned to the drawing board and came back with a story about a near-translucent, gelatinous creature hunting a cabin-full of kids in the Colorado mountains and consuming them one-by-one. It was a fun and funky response, with some subtle humor to it, and I think it added a lot of levity to this week’s responses. I also consider it a sort of homage to the weird, generic slime creatures that appear as low-level enemies in so many fantasy games these days, finally giving them the chance to wreak the havoc they’d really be capable of causing.

The PREHISTORIC prompt is one I have been excited for from the very moment that I narrowed the prompt list down for this project because I immediately had a clear vision for it. I wanted to write something inspired by Adam Nevill’s The Reddening that affected a similar ancient, occult mystique. I also wanted to place it somewhere in the American Southwest, ultimately settling on Utah’s red rock country as the perfect backdrop for the story. This is the prompt I’ve decided to share this week, so you can view the scene I’ve written below in its entirety. Give it a read and let me know what you think of it – and the direction it might lead - in the comments below!

For PARASITE, my mind immediately went to parasitic worms, which then reminded me of the existence of computer worms. After researching both at length, I wrote a short piece exploring what it might be like if a man were infected by a digital worm that slowly consumed the “data” of his memories while causing him to experience physical and visual glitches as part of that process. I think it was one of the more inventive responses I wrote this week and it’s another concept I’d like to revisit at some point.

Finally, GARGANTUAN is notable as the prompt that gave me the most trouble this week. I knew it had to be about something massive, but I wasn’t sure what, and everything I thought of just seemed to be overdone. In the end, I wrote a piece about a five-mile-long rotting lifeform that washes up on the beach of a small, coastal California town, and how the townspeople are more concerned about the government’s intrusion into their personal lives and privacies, rather than the creature itself.

Overall, the variation in prompts this week certainly allowed me to explore a myriad of different topics, and that’s a success in itself. I also managed to average writing a little over 900 words a day, which is more than I expected going into the project, and I imagine that this number will continue to hold relatively steady as I move into Week 2!

Final Thoughts

Through the Schlocktober 2021 writing that I’ve done so far, I’ve already managed to learn a lot about my own writing process, such as how the hardest part of writing for me is finding the optimal starting point of a story, or how I excel at building out concrete descriptions but wrestle with staying in active voice. I can already tell that just being more aware of these areas of growth has made a positive impact in my writing, though, and I imagine that continuing to practice this mindfulness will only reveal more places to improve, and more avenues to succeed in that improvement, too.

Considering all of the subject exploration, writing practice, and routine building that this project has afforded me in this week alone, I’d say Schlocktober 2021 has already been a rousing success, and I can’t wait to continue on to all the other cool prompts waiting for me in the weeks to come!

If you’ve been following this project, I hope you’ll take the time to comment below or reach out via Facebook or Twitter to let me know what you think of this project so far! I’ll be posting the next Schlocktober 2021 recap on October 17, where I’ll go into detail regarding my responses for Week 2’s prompts and share another piece I’m proud of as well.

Until then, please enjoy the following response to the PREHISTORIC writing prompt, written on October 7, 2021:

Adam swept the diffuse glow of his phone’s flashlight through the darkness, illuminating the bruise-like bands in the stone walls of the vestibule in which he and Lara now stood. Nearer the surface, the red rock bloomed with thick skeins of yellow and orange, and the shadows cast by the white-hot disc of the sun skewed more purple than black, imbuing the formations with a magical, alien quality. Here, though – deep beneath the scrubby stretches of red rock country and far from both the sun and the hiking trails they knew – it appeared infernal and fleshy instead. Weaving their way through the claustrophobic folds of the narrow cave entrance had felt like sliding down the length of an enormous, fat-marbled throat – each turn and twist of the path revealing more of the sinewy structure of the cave. The vestibule provided a welcome change to this pattern, but Adam felt only a tinge of levity, for, here, greasy black patches clotted the red sandstone almost entirely, melding the hollow’s terminus with the abyss beyond.

“What do you think?” Lara asked, her voice booming in the preternatural silence. “Is it the entrance to a new cave system?”

Adam narrowed his eyes at the black walls. “New doesn’t feel like the right word for something that’s always been here.” He took a tentative step toward the wall and considered it carefully, then slowly drew his fingers across it. His fingertips came back from the black surface caked with long dormant soot. “People were here at some point, but I can’t imagine it was any time recently. I’m sure most people don’t venture far enough from the hiking trails to find this cave’s entrance. And, even if they did, I imagine even less of them would brave that passage for as long as we did.” He shivered, remembering the descent through the ever-tightening corridor – some of the sections nearly impassable. He couldn’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be trapped in a place like this, wedged by petrified muscle, wasting away in an ancient shelf of stone.

“Better make it worth our efforts then,” Lara said, pushing onward toward the yawning gap at the far side of the vestibule. Adam considered protesting but stopped himself when he remembered that returning to the surface would entail worming their way back up through the narrow passage at their rear. The thought alone caused his breath to hitch in his throat. Better to give himself time to both recompose himself and prove to Lara that he could match her thirst for adventure than to turn back now.

His mind made up, Adam fell in-line with Lara’s lead, scanning the cavern walls as they moved.

Their progress came to an abrupt stop only minutes later when they met the path’s natural conclusion – a circular ledge of ruddy stone that gave way to a vast, murky expanse. What little help their flashlights had been to this point seemed to have run its course and Adam silently offered thanks to the powers that be, assuming that Lara would take this as a sign to rest and then return from whence they came. But instead of gazing out into the void, Lara turned and followed the edge of the massive, earthen aperture until she suddenly and inexplicably came across a flight of stairs hewn into the cavern wall itself.

Wordlessly, she mounted the stairs and began her descent, her back to the darkness, her hands and feet feeling for each next step in the sequence. Adam, on the other hand, froze at the top of the stairs and watched, his legs trembling at the thought of what misfortunes a single misstep might visit upon him during his descent. He couldn’t tell how deep the chasm went, nor what lay at the bottom, and he didn’t want to discover the answers to those questions either. If he fell, he thought he might just continue to fall forever, a shrieking, tumbling mass plummeting through the gloom for the rest of eternity.

Alternatively, he might just impale himself on a rocky outcropping mere feet beyond the reach of his flashlight.

When Lara reached the bottom some hundred yards below, she dusted herself off and called up to Adam. “Are you coming, or are you staying up there?” The question sounded sincere, but Adam couldn’t help but feel that an accusation lingered at its core. He watched as Lara’s light turned away and disappeared, suddenly eaten up by the dark. With a grunt of resignation, Adam girded himself, dropped to his knees, and slowly began to back down the stairs, hoping to make just as deft a descent as his fiancée.

Minutes later, Adam reached the bottom, sweating from the stress and the strain. He wanted desperately to scale the stairs upward again, clamber through the horrible cave entrance, and escape into the sun-baked scrubland above. He wanted to be in their 4Runner at the Chuckwalla Trail Head once more, blasting the AC while the sunset dithered into a purple nothingness beyond the rocky pillars that dotted the landscape, Lara in the passenger seat with her feet up on the dash, a freshly lit joint hanging loosely between her fingers. Tiredness and hunger sapped the strength from his limbs, and he decided he ought to finally tell Lara he wanted to leave. She might think he was a killjoy or a pussy - might even say as much - but anything would be better than lingering any longer in this stale, lifeless place.

Adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose and brightening his phone flashlight one again, Adam wheeled around and carefully moved along the narrow path before him, the wall of the cave forming its leftmost boundary, the right cut off by a smooth, primitive wall of red clay. His mind struggled to make sense of it. The entire way down from the surface, there had been no indication of human activity here: no graffiti, no food wrappers, no footprints or pitons or anything. Now, he had seen soot, stairs, and structures in the belly of the earth - undeniable proof that this place served some occult purpose.

It dawned on him that the structure was likely something truly primeval - a hovel or warren constructed by primitive hands in the distant past to insulate a tribe and protect it from the dangers of the world above. He imagined a host of lithe bodies, clad in animal pelts, wandering these labyrinthine halls silently by torchlight. The very thought raised every hair on his neck in unison. Who had called this subterranean lair home? And what transgression had he and Lara committed by entering it?

Lara.

Adam called for her in the dark. “Lara, where are you? Lara! Lara!”

His voice reverberated off the walls and the darkness above, a ghost of himself calling for Lara again and again, moving further and further away. He rounded one corner, and then another, pushing his phone ahead of him like a talisman meant to ward off the ancient shadows. “Lara!” he called again. “Lara, answer me!”

“Adam! Here!” Lara called, her voice far off.

“Keep talking to me!” he replied. “I’m coming to you!”

Each time Lara spoke, Adam replied, orienting himself by the sound of her voice. Multiple times, he met dead ends or took wrong turns, having to double back to the most recent fork in the path and renavigate his way forward. Finally, after over an hour of searching, he spied the bloom of Lara’s flashlight in the murk and ran to meet her.

Lara sat at the foot of a dais, her phone placed face down to illuminate the room and the altar that occupied its center. The stone block measured about the size of a sedan, and massive, curved horns struck out from each of its corners in a wicked display of purpose. The center of the altar was blackened and chipped from use, and Adam found it hard to look at.

At the back of the room, beyond the altar, a painting dominated the wall. It reminded Adam of the cave paintings he’d seen in textbooks growing up - simple, fluid animal shapes rendered in stark contrast to the stones that formed their backdrops. In this case, though, the majority of the figures were human - depicted in rows, each member rigidly hunched on their hands and knees. Above them swelled another shape - an enormous man with the wide-horned head of a bull, his arms and legs spread wide, his sex drawn large and erect. In one hand, the bull-headed figure clutched what appeared to be a human skull. In the other, it bore a long, hooked blade.

“Gruesome, isn’t it?” Lara asked. “People used to be so fucked up.”

Adam tried to reply, but only managed to gulp in response. His eyes shifted between the blackened altar and the abominable painted scene, his gut knotting up inside him. His need to escape this place had finally reached fever pitch, and all the blood in his body drained to his legs in anticipation of his final decision to bolt. He backed away from the altar, turned, and stepped directly into something solid, fleshy, and cold.

Stumbling backwards, he saw the broad, damp wall of chest he’d bumped into and, above it, the colossal protrusion of great, bent horns. He tripped over the dais and fell backwards, his head slamming into the altar with an audible crack, hot-red pain springing up behind his eyes. He reached above himself for purchase and planted his hand on the tacky black splotch atop the stone block, his eyes growing wide with realization.

Before he could realize what was happening, the bull-headed figure was upon him, seizing him by the throat and lifting him off the ground with ease. Lara shrieked from the corner of the room as she attempted to press herself into nothingness along the red wall, her eyes wide with animal fear.

The bull-headed goliath let loose a thunderous bellow and, with three meaty hacks, partially severed Adam’s head before planting one of its large feet on his body and wrenching the two pieces apart...