Saturday, June 30, 2012

Universal Monsters in Our Midst

If you can't afford Coach, then how about a kitsch handbag?

Maybe the Bride wouldn't have thrown such a hissy fit if her creators had accessorized her outfit with the We Belong Dead Purse Handbag (an item, incidentally, whose name could make any hubby wary of what his beloved has stashed inside).  This piece of Frankensteinian fashion also looks like it would be perfectly suited for a fledgling reanimator with graverobbing aims.  In other words, here's a bag that not only turns heads, but can tote them as well...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gloom at the Inn

This one has been tagged with "Very Long Wait" for quite some time in my Netflix queue, but I finally got a chance to watch The Innkeepers last night.  And after such a prolonged period of anticipation, I was anything but disappointed.  The film has plenty to recommend it: well-drawn characters (most notably Sarah Paxton as a nerdy but endearing clerk with amateur interests in paranormal research), a creepy setting (a mostly vacant and reputedly ghost-harboring New England inn on its last weekend of operation), elements of low-key humor seamlessly melded with moments of genuine terror.  Much like writer/director Ti West's previous effort, The House of the Devil, the plot here heats up slowly but boils over in a frenetic, fright-filled climax (a word of caution: avoid the official trailer if you haven't seen it already, since it spoils too many of the film's scary surprises).  Eschewing gratuitous violence and the hackneyed found-footage formula, the film forms a fresh piece of old-school horror, and is far superior to the supernatural pap fed to viewers these days.  Not since The Shining has a hotel-centered cinematic narrative been so enjoyably haunting.  For fans of the macabre, The Innkeepers is definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "The Buck Stops Here"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

Pillow talk takes a dark turn at the start of this penultimate episode of American Gothic, as Selena and Billy fantasize out loud about various ways of killing Lucas Buck (Billy just seems to be playing along, but Selena is serious about offing her sinister ex-lover).  What makes the scene even more transgressive is that it occurs in Lucas's own bed.  Recognizing the signs of an illicit dalliance, Lucas later confronts Selena and voices perhaps his most graphic threat to date: "If you ever soil my house again, I'll cut out your heart and use it for a chamois."

"The Buck Stops Here" strikes another gross note as Gail prepares an afternoon meal.  Lucas's pregnant paramour makes a misnomer of roast as she bastes and then suddenly gorges upon a bloody, undercooked hunk of meat.  Gail's strange craving erases any doubt that the child growing inside her is a normal one.

The central focus of the episode, though, is the "murder" of Lucas.  In a scene that sounds strong echoes of Psycho, a shadowy figure hiding in the sheriff's Gothic home jumps out and stabs Lucas in the forehead with a trocar.  Billy, who just happened to be at the scene of the crime, is arrested, but the two characters the audience really suspects are Selena and Trinity pharmacist Yancy Lydon (who has a grudge against Lucas because he failed to help Yancy's comatose wife).

Lingering in a hospital bed, Lucas summons his son Caleb, and whispers a request in the boy's ear.  Some nefarious scheme seems to be forming, and a transfer of power transpiring (underscored by the father and son's joint recitation of the phrase "An Old Order of the Ages Is Born Anew").  Lucas then promptly has a seizure and expires, yet the viewer can't help but believe that Buck will be back for the conclusion of the series.

Now in full Damien mode, Caleb tracks down Yancy, telling the man that "My daddy sent me."  Caleb also ominously promises to give the pharmacist (presumably Lucas's attacker) a taste of his own medicine.  Shortly thereafter, a terrified Yancy is discovered (by Billy and Deputy Ben) lying choking on a brimming mouthful of pills.

American Gothicism arguably hits its peak during Lucas's funeral.
The scene plays out like a macabre variation on the Seinfeld finale, as an assortment of characters from earlier episodes are brought back for brief appearances.  Some of these figures approaching the coffin are genuinely saddened by Lucas's passing and express appreciation of him, but the sheriff's corpse is also spit upon by one Trinity citizen and nearly disfigured by the disgruntled, hook-handed Waylon (the current husband of Ben's ex-wife).  This dramatic airing of allegiances and grievances serves as a fitting testimony to the work Sheriff Buck has done as a Gothic hero-villain for the constituents of his sleepy South Carolina town.

And--as his eyes pop open inside the coffin at episode's end--it looks like Buck's work is not yet done.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Croning (Book Review)

The Croning by Laird Barron (Subterranean Press, 2012)

This long-awaited debut novel reads like a fantastic mix of the Brothers Grimm and H.P. Lovecraft, combining a dark variation on the Rumpelstiltskin tale with a story of an ancient, iniquitous cult that worships a cyclopean nightmare known as "Old Leech."  There's also a dash of The X-Files thrown in, but the various pairs of government investigators who show up on the scene don't fare nearly as well as Agents Scully and Mulder always did.

Perhaps Barron's greatest talent as an author is his ability to create an atmosphere saturated with dread.  No easy task, he accomplishes it time and again here, either via the richly-detailed image (e.g. "Their footsteps crunched on the gravel and Don had a vision of dried yellow finger bones snapping beneath his shoes") or the cryptic hint.  In Barron's skillful hands, simple matters such as something heard bumping inside a car trunk or a cellar door found slightly ajar acquire a frightful aura.  Barron's knack for wringing ominousness out of vagueness is no doubt facilitated by the use of a lead character, Don Miller, who is seemingly battling "incipient dementia."  Don's faulty powers of recall only accentuate the mysteriousness of his beloved, scholarly wife Michele, whose
"inexhaustible fascination with the arcane" might have led her into some sinister research.  The Croning is the kind of book that tantalizes readers before they even turn to the first page: the eponymous unspeakable rite is passingly glossed in the prologue yet remains shadowy throughout (both in terms of its expected
outcome and intended victim).

Barron's mastery of novelistic structure is especially impressive.  Form reflects content in this non-linear narrative that flashes back and forth across the decades (a dynamic that gives eerie significance to one character's early claim that "time is a squirming, hungry ring that wriggles and worms across reality").  Don's chronic forgetfulness, his difficulty in piecing together a coherent account of events (which in turn frames the reader's own experience of uncertainty/unease) is ultimately no mere plot device but integrally related to the horrors that Barron presents.

Some readers might grow frustrated with the passivity and obtuseness of Barron's unreliable, octogenarian protagonist.  Don is less a hero than a hapless, helpless figure battered about by larger forces, but isn't this the very formula of Lovecraftian naturalism?  In any event, the story of Don's lifelong ordeal is meant to be savored for the build-up of suspense and forestalling of revelation.  One is hard-pressed not to linger over Barron's words; in both its quick phrases ("crazed Macbethian crone") and extended descriptions ("Only vines and spongy-moss, and not a rank carcass in a pool of maggot-clabbered blood that his morbid imagination conjured on the spot"), the writer's prose repeatedly makes poetry of the grotesque.

The book's plot unfolds slowly at first, yet arrives at a thrilling dual climax in which villains furnish plenty of disconcerting exposition.  A harrowing portrait of apocalyptic doom is painted, and Don is presented with a diabolical bargain that brings the novel full-circle back to its Grim(m) origins.

Fans of Barron's acclaimed short fiction will take added delight in the nods to other works (such as "Catch Hell," "Blackwood's Baby," and "The Broadsword") in the novel.  In forging such intertextual links, Barron suggests that he is in the process of creating a Mythos to rival the one famously penned by the gentleman from Providence.

The Croning is an instant classic, weird fiction at its terrifying finest.  The only people who won't welcome its arrival are the fellow horror authors who had their hearts set on a Stoker this year, because the chance of anyone else than Barron taking home the award for Best First Novel (or Best Novel, period) now appears as infinitesimal as man's place in the star-speckled cosmos.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beelzebub Tweets

BLZ, Bub

[For previous tweets, click here.]

Here's to the hot and bothersome on this scorcher of a day.  Flaring tempers make for the best summertime entertainment.
--11:13 A.M., June 20th

Gotta love Sin City: what happens in Vegas earns people a stay Down Below.
--3:59 A.M., June 18th

Devil may care, but God definitely doesn't give a damn. A public service announcement from the Cthonian Legion.
--8:48 P.M., June 15th

Why I never win at Yahtzee: every turn, I'm trying to roll for three sixes.
--7:06 A.M., June 14th

Further proof there's no justice in the world: the Devils losing the Stanley Cup to a team from the City of Angels.
--10:32 P.M., June 12th

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Triangle"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

This episode of American Gothic could just have easily been titled (with a nod to Ira Levin) "Gail Emory's Baby."  When Gail moves to end her affair with Lucas Buck, and threatens to leave town with her cousin Caleb in tow, the sheriff gives her a supernatural nudge that lands her in the hospital.  There she learns that she is pregnant with Lucas's child.  The subsequent ultrasound furnishes one of the series' creepiest scenes, as the grotesque fetus in the sonogram opens its eyes, turns toward Gail and flashes a demonic grin.

The expectant mother continues to experience disturbing visions concerning the monstrous thing growing inside her.  These could be dismissed as nightmares/hallucinations brought on by Gail's own terror, but mid-episode the viewer learns that Miss Emory isn't just imagining things.  A fiendish conspiracy is in place: the nurse who denies that there is anything abnormal about the fetus pictured in the sonogram is actually lying on Lucas's behalf (the sheriff blackmails her into playing along by threatening to expose her "extracurricular research in the narcotics supply room").

Gail, though, isn't about to take the news of her pregnancy lying down.  She attempts to flee Trinity, but is stymied by the sudden appearance of Lucas on the roadway.  "There's no running from me, you know that," the modern Gothic hero-villain reminds the frightened maiden.

For all of Lucas's entanglement with Gail, he's also hung up on his ex-lover Selena.  And small-town romance begets big-time intrigue when Lucas chafes at Selena and Dr. Billy Peele's relationship.  He gives ominous warnings to both individuals to cease and desist, and when the defiant lovers continue to carry on carnally, Lucas gives Selena a real reason to feel hot and bothered: while in bed with Billy, she is overcome by a 108-degree fever.  Lucas casts the incendiary spell with a strike of a match and a proclamation of "Burn, baby, burn"--words that work not just as a sardonic echo of the Trammps' disco-era classic but as an invocation of the American history of anarchic violence.  

In this episode, American Gothic once again demonstrates its cleverness through the use of background details.  When Gail ponders a suicidal leap from the roof of the local bank, the institution's name shines suggestively behind her: "Trinity Trust," an oxymoron if there ever was one, in this town presided over by a devilish sheriff and riddled with dirty secrets and unholy bargains.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Handicapping The Killing

The Season 2 finale of The Killing, during which the identity of Rosie Larsen's murderer will finally be revealed, airs just a few hours from now.  Here's a QuickList of the suspects I've targeted (disclaimer: I am unfamiliar with the plot of the original Danish version of the series), along with my posted odds of that particular character proving guilty of the homicide:

Jack Linden: Sarah's own son turning out to be a twerp perp would make for a terrific twist (maybe I'm just hoping Jack did it because he's such a moody/whiny little bastard).  20 to 1.

Rick Felder:  My early candidate for The Killer, but I've been scared off by the fact that he's the very first character listed in the Suspect Tracker on the show's official website (the producers wouldn't be that obvious, would they?).  15 to 1.

Jamie Wright: He's looking extremely shady after last week's episode, which leads me to believe he'll be exonerated in the finale.  10 to 1.

Mitch Larsen: She's taken her daughter's death especially hard, but what if all those tears stem from remorse more than grief?  7 to 1.

Sterling Fitch:  This alleged best friend with the temptingly allegorical name (a "fitch" is a type of weasel) could have been in the perfect position to fatally betray Rosie.  5 to 1.

Sally Ames: If her avowed tolerance of an open marriage is mere pretense, and if husband Michael was (suspected of) screwing around with young Rosie, then Sally would have a Presumed-Innocent-type motive for the teenager's murder.  3 to 1.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


[For the previous game of Hangmany, click here.]

Can you solve the following puzzle within 20 seconds, or are you going to choke?


__  E       __  __  V  E       __  L  __  __  __  __       L  __  V  E  __

__  __       T  __  E       __  __  __  T  L  E

B  __       __  __  __  __  L  E  __       __  __  __  K  __  O  __


HINT: surprise in the sugar bowl

Correct answer appears in the Comments section of this post.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Separated at Birth?

Perhaps this one should be filed under "Universal Monsters in Our Midst."  Steve Buscemi is a terrific actor, but let's face it: he's no matinee idol.

Some other interesting juxtapositions:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus (Movie Review)

Prometheus (20th Century Fox.  Directed by Ridley Scott.  Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof)

If, as genre critics have long held, science fiction aims to evoke a sense of wonder, then Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe qualifies as the quintessential SF film.  Not just because it asks Big Questions about the origins of terrestrial life and man's relation to the cosmos (questions that some viewers might grouse are not answered explicitly or thoroughly enough by the film), but because it is filled with stunning visuals, from sublime images of a prehistoric Earth to the eponymous high-tech starship that lands on a barren moonscape housing an ancient, pyramidal structure stocked with colossal, mysterious artifacts.  Prometheus is a breathtaking film long before the inevitable alien attacks start eliciting gasps.

It's also a film whose plot keeps the audience's attention riveted to the screen, as the main characters trek through deep space to find what is lurking under the surface of the Earth-like moon LV-223.  Tension mounts considerably as the secret agendas of certain mission-members are revealed, and the crew in general slowly realize the dire consequences of their over-reaching investigation.  The action sequences interspersed throughout the narrative are both thrilling (e.g. a massive [albeit conveniently-timed] sandstorm) and harrowing (including a birthing scene that rivals the legendary chest-bursting from the original film in its ability to induce sheer, squirm-in-your-theater-seat dread).

There are a few detracting elements that keep Prometheus from earning the status of absolute masterpiece.  Some of the film's themes, such as the old religious-faith-vs.-scientific-fact debate, could have been developed more fully.  In terms of the characters: Noomi Rapace proves no mere Ripley-redux as the plucky heroine, Michael Fassbender is at once creepy and charming as the android David, Idris Elba steals scenes as the ship's caption, and Charlize Theron as the mission's overseer emerges as more than the ice princess suggested by the movie trailer (and, wow, does the statuesque actress look hot in the form-fitting garb of the future), yet the rest of the rather sizable cast is eminently forgettable (in particular, Guy Pearce in Benjamin Button-esque old-age makeup).

Ultimately, Scott's film should be admired for the fine balancing act it pulls off: an original storyline (despite apparent homage to SF classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Thing From Another World) that simultaneously hearkens back to the motifs of the Alien series (the duplicitous android, the shady mega-corporation, and, of course, the nightmarish, body-invading creatures).  The final, dialogue-free scene goes a long way in terms of exposition and justification of the much-hyped "prequel" label.  Still, fans expecting the familiar SF/horror fare of the prior installments are apt to be disappointed.  Those who are willing to accept Prometheus on its own terms, though, are guaranteed to be entertained.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Gothicism of American Gothic: "Strangler"

[For the previous entry, click here.]

"Strangler," an episode that was never aired during American Gothic's single-season run, opens with a scene set in an autumnal cemetery (as Caleb visits Gage Temple's grave) and gets progressively darker from there.

Determined to rid himself once and for all of Merlyn and her meddling ways, Sheriff Lucas Buck summons the ghostly figure of legendary serial killer Albert DeSalvo (a.k.a The Boston Strangler).  Albert might no longer be haunting Beantown, but he has no problem living up to the latter part of his notorious moniker.  He warms up for his eventual assault on Merlyn by fatally throttling a pair of pretty nurses from Trinity hospital and by nearly dispatching Lucas's paramour, Gail Emory.

The eponymous Strangler is a chilling bogeyman, and a quintessentially Gothic figure rife with duplicity.  Handsome Albert oozes spurious charm; "politeness gets you in anywhere," he confides to Lucas during their initial meeting.  Accordingly, he conducts his grim business by posing as a friendly refrigerator repairman, a deliveryman, and a handyman.  Postmortem existence also makes the Strangler that much more dangerous, since he no longer needs to work his way past locked doors in order to get at his victims.  The scene in which Albert attacks Gail is especially frightening, as the back-from-the-dead predator keeps pouncing on the distressed damsel from different angles no matter how many times she tries to throw him off and flee.

This episode, I must admit, is marred by some stilted dialogue (Lucas down on his knees in the cemetery chanting "Send forth the One!") and hokey actions (Merlyn--who has somehow evolved into a supernaturally-empowered angel--shooting pulses of light at Albert).  But its climax broaches a bit of dark irony that also shines a light on a central conflict.  When Merlyn is about to sacrifice herself to the Strangler in order to protect Caleb, the boy uses his nascent powers (his infernal inheritance form Lucas) to immolate Albert.  Such intervention, though, makes for a more ominous than joyous ending: sure, Merlyn acknowledges, Caleb has saved her soul, but only by drawing on the force that is bound to destroy his own.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dark Passages: "Commencement"

This is the time of year for graduation, but no school's closing ceremony will be filled with more pomp and ominous circumstance than the one in Joyce Carol Oates's story "Commencement":

The University orchestra is playing the alma mater more urgently now.  The tempo of Commencement is quickening, like a gigantic pulse [creepy simile gives intimations of the behemoth].  Only just beginning to register uncertainty, the Poet, the Educator, and the Scientist [echoes of joke-telling formula in this trio of generic labels] are being escorted up the inlaid granite steps of the Pyramid, to the sacred apex [terrific assonance]; ascending just before them are the Mace Bearer and the Assistant Mace Bearer [symbolic or sadistic figures?], taking the steps in measured stride.  There's a collective intake of breath through the stadium.  The sacred moment is approaching!  A glimmer of pale sun is seen overhead, bordered by massive clouds [the atmosphere is darkening].  The Poet stammers to the Provost, whom he had mistaken as a loyal companion through the ritual of Commencement, "W-what is happening?  Why are--?"  The Educator, a stout woman, is suddenly short of breath and smiles in confusion at the sea of faces below, greedily watching her and the other honorees [a dubious distinction, no doubt]; she turns to her escort, to ask, "Excuse me, why are we--?" when she's abruptly silenced by a tight black band wrapped around the lower part of her face, wielded [suggestion of weaponry] by the Dean of Education and an assistant.  At the same time, the Poet is gagged, flailing desperately.  The Scientist, the most suspicious of the three elders, resists his captors, putting up a struggle--"How dare you! I refuse to be--!"  He manages to descend several steps before he, too, is caught, silenced by a black gag and his thin arms pinioned [imprisonment rhythmically captured] behind him.
In the wild widened eyes of the honorees, there's a single shared thought.  This can't be happening! Not this!  (296)

Work Cited

Oates, Joyce Carol.  "Commencement."  Lovecraft Unbound.  Ed. Ellen Datlow.  Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2009.  277-303.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury, R.I.P.

The beloved monarch of the October Country died on Tuesday.  Ray Bradbury was 91.

The passing of such a venerable figure makes for an undeniably sad occasion, but can't overshadow the incredible legacy the man has left.  Ray Bradbury had an extraordinary imagination, and he was kind enough to share it with the rest of us.  The best way we can honor the author today is by delving back into his oeuvre, by cracking open one of his novels, re-reading a cherished story, watching a favorite episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater or one of the films based on his works.  Reminding ourselves, in the process, of the charms of Bradbury's narrative magic...

And while this might be the season of dandelion wine, I offer the following poem (first posted here last October as part of Ray Bradbury Month) in memoriam:

October Ode 

For these we should be thankful a whole month earlier:
Halloween tree fruitful with frightful pumpkins.
Homecoming of every monster imaginable for a holiday bash.
Black Ferris wheel Methuselah-lizing anyone who rides too long.
Dead man living in the streets, solicited as a scary party prop.
Emissary dog digging up more than bones in the cemetery.
Playing “poison” leading to a grave outcome for some.
Witch-viscera passed gamesomely around a circle in the cellar dark.
Calliope siren song--helluva good time at the Pandemonium Show.

Sundry country scenes, of misted rivers and midnights persistent,
And all the autumn people on parade, manifold as skittering leaves.
So forget Reggie Jackson and his series of Fall Classic homers;
Ray Bradbury will always be the one and only Mr. October.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Parking Lot Macabre

A neat little piece (complete with a photo gallery and embedded YouTube videos) by Sean McLachlin, entitled "Vanishing America: The Drive-In Theater," was posted this past week on AOL.  McLachlan reports on the modern state of the drive-in industry, and reminisces about his own experiences in outdoor theaters.  The drive-in, with its typical small town/heartland location, certainly bears an aura of American Gothic, and especially in the case of those bygone theaters that have settled into a state of weathered, weed-choked ruin.  As McLachlan writes of such
"spooky abandoned lots": "Visiting a dead drive-in theater is a bit like visiting a ghost town.  It leaves you wondering about the people who used to spend time there."

I'm old enough (I hesitate to admit) to remember the pre-multiplex epoch; in fact, one of my earliest moviegoing memories is of attending a screening of The Omen with my mom and dad at a drive-in in the Jersey Meadowlands.  I couldn't have been more than five, and probably spent most of the film's run time playing with my toys in the backseat of my family's sage-green Duster, but to this day I can recall being fascinated--and frightened--by the death scenes projected on the giant white screen ("Look at me, Damien.  It's all for you.").  Formative influences, anyone?

The drive-in will be forever linked with the popular sci-fi/horror films of the mid-20th century, but the viewing scene itself has since been incorporated into other genre fare.  Take, for instance, the Peter Bogdanovich-Boris Karloff thriller Targets, with its harrowing, bullet-filled climax at a L.A. drive-in.  In "Seeing Past the Corners" (a biographical essay that prefaces his story collection The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists), Norman Partridge details how his youthful experiences at a cemetery-flanked California drive-in (a setting prominent in his fabulous first novel Slippin' Into Darkness) shaped him as a writer.  The apotheosis of this special category of dark fiction, though, has to be the series of Joe R. Lansdale novels collected in The Complete Drive-In.

As McLachlin's online article recounts, the drive-in still exists today, albeit in an endangered state.  If you don't happen to live nearby one of these theaters scattered throughout our Macabre Republic, then you can always make do with your cherished memories and the classic works listed above.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Richard Dawson, R.I.P.

As you've probably heard by now, legendary TV personality Richard Dawson passed away this weekend at the age of 79.   Dawson's greatest fame no doubt came from his work as the charming yet wisecracking emcee of Family Feud, but I will always remember him most fondly for his Machiavellian turn in The Running Man, the sci-fi/adventure film based on Stephen King's novel.  Here's the link to a YouTube clip from the film, in which Dawson's game-show-host character (in response to Arnold Schwarzenegger's familiar refrain) delivers one of the best quips in cinematic history.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Least-Watched Bee in the Northeast

Here's a piece of flash fiction inspired by the highlights of the national Scripps competition that have been in the news the past few days...


By Joe Nazare

Having many wrinkles or creases; ridged or wrinkled.

Her brow embodying the definition just recited to her, Contestant #135 rifles through her no-doubt-extensive mental glossary.  The young Asian girl--whose own birth name would have stumped 99% of the original entrants, Ludlow figures--swallows audibly before offering:

"R, U, E."  A cautious pause.  "G, O, S, E.  Ruegose," she concludes, but even as she pronounces the word her bespectacled eyes betray the concern that she has made a terrible error.

Her wariness is justified a heartbeat later.  The Bee Leader does not voice a solemn That is incorrect, does not provide the proper spelling; he passes judgment with merely a slow shake of his head.

Landslide-quick, the girl's brown face sags.  Her eyelids drape down, the corners of her mouth turn toward her quivering chin.

Contestant #135 knows she is toeing the edge of the abyss.  All that's left now is for Ludlow--the other remaining competitor--to give the final push.

One more word and p-r-e-c-i-o-u-s--precious--victory will be his.  A single correct answer and he will have a restored a measure of glory to his formerly renowned Rhode Island family.  While none of his relatives could be here in attendance tonight, Ludlow can imagine their revelry upon receiving report of his astounding accomplishment.

Ludlow sucks a deep breath into his ten-year-old lungs, steels himself against the mounting pressure.  He licks his suddenly desiccated lips, then nods his readiness.

The Bee Leader hunches over the massive volume split open before him.  A gnarled index finger traces the length of the page, stops abruptly and taps that spot.  The fateful word has been chosen.

Whatever confidence in his spelling abilities Ludlow possesses evaporates when he hears the Bee Leader speak.  The presented term is utterly alien to him, sounds like a weird mix of a choking cough and a sneeze.  Hearing it makes Ludlow wish he had delved deeper into the family library and studied harder.

In the prior round, Ludlow was already positive he had the right sequencing of letters when he asked for a synonym for acolyte.  Now, though, uncertainty and a vague but burgeoning sense of dread hinder his delivery as he requests, "C-could you, um, use that in a sentence.  Please."

Ludlow is shamed by the pleading tone of his last word, but the Bee Leader's reaction suggests that the man has been secretly hoping for just such a petition.  In fact, not only the arbiter but the entire row of black-robed figures flanking him on the dais furnish a response.  It comes in the form of an exalted chant that resounds in the cavernous, candlelit chamber:

In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.