I met Draven over at SNM Horror Magazine in the reader's guestbook. We were both in the January Jambalaya issue this month and he commented on my story. After reading his, which was Story of the Month, I was delighted to see that I'd found another horror writer who writes in a way I find very entertaining.
After talking to him for a little bit, he graciously agreed to allow me to feature him here with a piece of his fiction and an interview. So, without any other comments from me, here is a look at horror writer Draven Ames.
By Draven Ames
Blisters formed and tore at Joe’s feet, soles worn from walking while the world withered with sickness. A seat opened and he made sure his daughter could sit down. Though little Cassia normally burst with spunk and excitement, today she looked beat. Exhaustion became the common mask worn by the people in sitting along the outside of the depot. Each passing minute became longer than the last. Newspapers draped sleeping men and children, huddled together for warmth.
On the front page read, “MUTATED STRAIN BREAKS OUT!!!” The article detailed how a virus, labeled as ‘G2O2,’ broke out across America. Not long after, the sickness spread everywhere—no one was safe. The flu-like symptoms quickly became a pandemic, even with a few deaths.
When scientists had an immunization made and ready within weeks, the world clapped with amazement.
Unfortunately, the paper joked, viruses mutate.
According to the article, the second strain showed up a couple of weeks ago. Almost half of the nation began to drop like flies. Airforce One stayed in the air almost constantly. One day, above Chicago, the news headlines around the world replayed the most harrowing video.
It showed the President’s plane fall like a rock. The beautiful Illinois skyline would be scared forever.
When Joe’s daughter started to follow his eyes from across the depot, he looked away from the story. He felt bad for her. It was cold and her jacket got lost between hospitals. They were tested with the second wave of people at one of the hospitals in Coal Beach, Washington. Neither of them had jackets.
The air smelled stale outside the depot; not unpleasant, just odd. He couldn’t be sure how many doctors scurried about in white lab coats between the trains and people – but they were everywhere. They weaved into the flood of humans that collected in the gravel parking lot. Long rows of metal benches stretched out, surrounding the dilapidated brown and white depot on both sides. The place looked outdated and worn, like it belonged on the back of a 1950’s post card.
Many stood in the grassy area in front, until little green could be seen in the sea of faces. Sweat hung in the air and refused to be swept away by the easy breeze. Some slept, others had their arms crossed and most looked tired—drained by emotions and fatigue. The depot would have been a claustrophobic’s nightmare, inside or out.
“Nice watch,” a man said, eying Joe’s right hand. He sat below, looking up from his bench. Something about him reminded Joe of his uncle – creepy, sunken eyes and halitosis like rotten fish. “Heirloom or?”
“This? Pfft, thanks,” Joe mumbled. He had never met the man, but plenty of people started off conversations by mentioning his father’s watch. “Good eye.”
“That your girl over there?” the man asked, looking over at Cassia. He wore a jogger’s outfit and had a three-day beard. A black, plastic bag sat in his lap. Rips and tears on the outside revealed the fabric of clothes.
“What? Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s my girl. Poor thing.”
“She misses Mom?” he asked. His almond eyes canted down on the outside corners as he frowned.
“Yeahup.” Joe said like the word weighed two-hundred pounds. Until his wife died, the enormity of the global sickness didn’t seem real. Now… He would have gladly taken her place, but tried to focus on his daughter’s safety.
“Just you two?”
Tears rolled, but Joe’s face stayed firm. He didn’t blink or look ashamed. The sadness was a badge. “Yeah, just us now. Just us.”
“She must be sad,” the man ventured.
He didn’t know the half of it.
“Everyone’s sad,” Joe said. But Cassia cried so much that he spent most of his time comforting her; the time for mourning became a luxury few had. She didn’t talk much lately. “Everyone.”
Further down the benches, there were far more children without parents than with.
“Besides,” Joe added, leveling his eyes on the man. “What’s it to you?”
“Oh, just thought that she looked kinda cold. Thought she might need a coat.” The guy’s eyes flicked to Joe’s father’s watch as he opened up his bag.
Cassia looked ready to fall asleep, even if only for a moment. Being ushered from one place to another for the last day and a half took its toll. That, and the doctors poked and prodded them without warmth or compassion. The overcrowded train station became a sign of hope to everyone. Every tired faces wore relief.
Cassia looked up from her spot on the bench outside. She sat between an old frail lady and a young man in a gray business suit. “Daddy, I’m cold,” she said.
Joe leaned down, brushing hair out of his face. He put a newly acquired coat over his daughter’s body. His wrist was noticeably bare.
She drew it close and wiggled into it.
“I know Cas. Here.” He gave her cheeks a light pinch, “Didn’t know we’d be gone this long. Guess we should’ve brought blankets. I’m not cold anyway,” he lied, zipping up the front while smiling at how silly she looked.
Putting his hands in his pockets, he scrunched up his shoulders and asked, “Better?”
Cassia returned the smile. Her eyes widened and her forehead wrinkled. “Much,” she replied. “Are we going on the train soon? I’m tired.”
The trains started coming right after the President passed away. The paper claimed that the healthy would be taken to a colony. There, safe from further mutations, a cure would be researched and found. The top minds in the world were being rounded up by all the nations.
But the painted outlook for the world did not sound hopeful.
It said computer generated simulations predicted seventy-five percent of the world would be dead within a week—ninety-five percent within a month. The human race would be lucky to survive.
“Soon, I think. You’ll be able to sleep all you want then, promise. It’s going to be a long trip so we’ll get plenty of sleep on the train,” he said. Since they had arrived, Joe watched nearly every train. He comforted his little girl by running his hand through her soft, wavy hair as he watched people board. When he gazed at his daughter, it looked as if he saw something that wasn’t there. She looked so much like her mother, it was uncanny.
“I miss Mommy,” Cassia said, as if on cue.
“Me too, baby. Me too.”
A train filled with passengers, their names being checked off of lists held by a swarm of white lab coats. He watched as people were led inside to lie down on the beds in their individual cabins. The train roared to life and suddenly lurched forward. Grating howls of metal slowed until it became a rhythmic beat driving off into the distance. Soon the train passed like a snake’s loud rattle and disappeared down the tracks to God knew where. Another train rolled into place and screeched to a furious halt.
“Are all these people going to the colony too, Daddy?” Cassia asked as she tugged his shirt.
Forcing another smile for his little girl, he said, “Of course, baby. We all are.” He wished his wife could be there. He moved close to his daughter’s side, knowing he couldn’t go with his daughter—sure his little secret would be found out. “Here, lean on me. Get some sleep, hun. Lot of trains still in queue before it’s our turn.”
The sickness started to hit Joe when they got off of the bus from the hospital. The buses came faster than the trains could fill and the depot swelled and spilled into the streets as far as the eye could see. Blending in was easy, but the flu-like symptoms would become terrifyingly worse for him very soon. How much time remained, he couldn’t know—twenty-four hours at most.
Soon the lab coat saviors couldn’t be fooled. Not knowing how he passed their tests, he didn’t dare to say a thing.
Gazing around he noticed the man he saw earlier, the one in the business suit. The man looked at Joe intently, making him feel nervous and watched. Beside the guy, some woman wouldn’t stop talking to him, spouting on and on despite his obvious lack of interest. The lady said, “This is all some big government conspiracy—you know that? The flu was just an opportunity. They capitalized on it! I mean, wouldn’t you? America’s going to hell in a hand basket. They’re going to ship everyone to camps where the government can control our lives.”
The man watching Joe turned once, looking entirely uninterested, and told the woman, “Yeah? More likely a camp to hide us, until the world dies. Or we do. I wouldn’t doubt either one.”
While the two talked, writing a note onto the back of a crumpled, discarded piece of paper, he woke his daughter gently. Closing her hand around the piece of paper, he didn’t say a word.
His daughter looked at it and pushed it back; tears welled up in her eyes at the two words—I’m sick.
Joe placed a finger to his lips.
They held each other in a long, sweet embrace. “I won’t leave you, Cas. I’ll keep you safe,” he whispered with a failing voice. He riffled her hair again but Cassia didn’t react. An idea struck him and he leaned his forehead into his daughters—a lipless kiss—and said, “Be strong, Cassia. Don’t tell.” He placed his finger over her lips now, holding the note. “When you see me, pretend you don’t know me.”
Standing, he cracked his neck from side to side; the corner of his eyes looked for listeners—everyone and no one. He crumpled the paper up and, not trusting the trash, ate it. After giving his daughter’s hand one last squeeze, he moved through the crowd. The stale air swooshed past like a warm, foul breath as he bobbed and wove through the unassailable jungle of more fortunate people.
With a push, the huge wooden double-door opened. Sweat began beading under his shoulder length hair as he looked around the congested station. White coats were scurrying around like fish in a net that paid him no heed, when he made a beeline for the bathroom. Soft florescent lights flickered above; rusted pipes dripped down discolored drops.
The walls shook and moaned in upheaval at the long forgotten struggle to stay intact through the coming and going of trains. The inside of the depot had been turned into a makeshift underground railroad for the salvation of humanity.
For a moment Joe questioned his plan, but he had a promise to keep.
The bathroom was caked in filth, rust and the aroma of moldy bread mixed with ammonia. Long white urinals with brownish stains streaking downward hung along the length of the far wall like horse troughs. Two stalls stood to his left. Darting into the furthest one, he waited.
He looked at the toilet seat with longing, his feet begging for mercy, but the discolored piss that covered it would have frightened away the sturdiest of stomachs. Doctors or scientists, he couldn’t be sure, went in and out for at least fifteen minutes before a window of opportunity finally opened. He watched through the crack between the stall and door.
Finally, he found himself alone with one of the depot’s men. The sound of the faucet roared like a Jacuzzi and Joe’s chest pounded with anticipation. Unsure if he would have the chance again, he popped the front door open and walked toward a man in white. The man looked at Joe and nodded, trying to smile. When Joe forced one in return, the guy looked satisfied and reached for a paper towel.
Now was his chance.
Joe’s left hand shot over the guy’s mouth and his right reached around his neck, choking with one quick movement. The man tried to yell but only muffled mumbles came out. Grabbing at the sink, the man pulled until Joe kicked hard against the wall with both feet, knocking them backward into the bathroom stall and onto the toilet seat. Just as a shiny hypodermic needle nearly stabbed him in the eye, Joe barely caught the man’s arm.
Then, a small gurgle came from the scientist’s mouth before he slumped forward.
Horror spread across Joe’s face; a thick needle waved back and forth, stuck in the man’s chest during the struggle.
Joe hoped the needle had some kind of anesthesia. It was a little scary, though—what if the man overdosed? He wasn’t a doctor.
Frowning at the body, he tried to look away. “What now? Think. Think.”
Locking the door to the stall from inside, he pulled the scientist’s coat on and buttoned it. Before crawling out from underneath the stall, he positioned the unconscious man on the toilet, pulling his pants around his ankles.
He looked at himself in the mirror as another white coat entered with red eyes and a worn face. Joe washed his hands quickly, slicked back his hair, and left.
He tried not to look around too much in the depot. If I just look down and move on, no one will notice me, he thought. The depot looked like a tangled mess of white coats.
Across the crowded room, near the front of the depot, stood a long counter where scientists came and went. Waiting, Joe watched the lady at the counter with a sideways glance. Soon, she busily began talking to a handsome fellow—giggling like a school girl.
Joe figured he wouldn’t get a much better opportunity.
Approaching the counter, he kept stock of the lady’s name tag – Mrs. Hamilton. He picked up a clipboard and marched with a livened pace to the double doors. The clipboard had doctor’s jargon and scientific slang littered across the page. He shook his head and put it at his side.
A mistimed beat slapped in Joe’s chest as he stopped dead in his tracks. Cassia talked to a man with a clipboard and cried. She stood at the front of a line to one of the train’s many cabins. He didn’t wait to find out the problem before jumping in to the fray. He only wanted to make sure his daughter made it on the train and that he could stay with her.
“…without your father,” the man stated, turning his paper over and reading the back. “Where is he, darlin’?” the man’s tone sounded impatient at best.
“I told you, I don’t know,” Cassia returned. Her hands sat across her chest and she looked remarkably mature for her age. Her nose wrinkled and her mouth stood out like a duck bill. Cassia’s face lit up when she saw her father and she pointed to him. “There’s…”
“There’s no time,” Joe said, squinting to read the man’s nametag, “Charon, right? I’ve got your post. Mrs. Hamilton wanted you. Inside.” He tilted his head toward the depot. He turned towards his daughter, “Where’s your father, young lady?”
Mr. Charon looked confused. “She said he went off somewhere and she hasn’t… Are you sure? Mrs. Hamilton?” the doctor asked. He looked at Joe as if half-hoping that he would say no.
“Yes, yes. Mrs. Hamilton,” Joe replied while looking through his notes, not knowing what he was looking at. He looked back up to Mr. Charon with impatience, “Go. Hurry back, I’ve got a lot to do.”
The man lifted one eyebrow, looked to the side and dropped his clipboard in defeat. “Fuck. I’ll be back,” he said, then walked off with his head down.
Going down on one knee, Joe put both hands on his daughter’s shoulders. “I told you. I won’t leave you. I’ll be here the whole time.” Looking around, he saw other lines closing their gates; the train neared capacity. “Now get inside before that guy gets back.”
Joe peeked inside; twelve people were in the closed chamber to the left but only seven were to his right. A doctor stood with a checklist by the full chamber, his side of the train already closed off.
Joe turned to the people in line and motioned for more to come forward. “Come on, come on, come on. Trains about to leave. Five more – five more. I need…” He patted each person on the back and pushed lightly toward the open entry. “One, two…” he counted off five when a sixth pushed inside. Not wanting to cause a scene, he blocked off the entrance with a chain and closed the door.
There was a hallway down the middle of the train that made a cross shape from above. Joe slowly walked the passengers down the shorter side hallways, being the only place he saw a door into the halfway filled cabin. Outside, people were staring in with envy. As he let his daughter and the others through the door, he looked around the room.
Each cabin was outfitted with faded, foldout green cots. The door closed tightly and sealed shut, steam shooting out from its corners. A metal box with speaker holes hung next to the door with a round white button affixed to the bottom. He hesitated to gather his thoughts before pushing it.
Cabin number seven. That was a good number.
His finger lingered on the heavy circle before pressing.
“I need you all to lay down on your cots please. If there’s not enough, please share. The train will be leaving soon,” Joe flashed a smile to his daughter and pressed speak once more, “You’re going to be fine. I’ll be here the whole way.”
Joe stole a wink from his daughter. Cassia looked calm as she found her bed, like most of the others in the cabin. Most laid back with their arms placed lightly over their chests, hands woven together. Next to Joe were two red cylinders with hoses leading under the doors and a large metal valve connected between them.
Somewhere above him a booming, baritone voice spoke with a slow casual tone as the trains engines roared to life and its whistle screamed out their impending departure. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Please sit back and relax. You will all sleep now. Consider it a hood over your eyes, so that we might hide our salvation.”
The landscape started moving faster beside them as they approached a distant tunnel. Gray mist funneled through the cabins across from him as another doctor turned a valve’s small wheel. Joe began to turn his too, not wanting to be seen as a phony, when the doctor glared at him. Dark clouds fell from the ceiling in his daughter’s depot and drifted out like an uncontrollable mist.
“Please do not scream. Please remain calm. You are going to a better place. A place where you cannot bring what it is you carry. It’s the only way, I’m afraid,” the voice dragged on.
The train became dark, eclipsed by a hole dug deep into the mountainside. It lit only briefly to the tune of lights along the covered passageway. Joe wretched at the valve, trying to stop its flow as he heard screams and terrible cat like calls. It was a lightning storm of cruel malice.
His daughter’s face twisted in the violent throws of a seizure. Another passenger in a spasm hit the back of their head against the window with a loud thud before dropping. Joe pulled and pulled on the doors, but they just wouldn’t open. He saw people clawing and raking at one another, trying desperately to hold onto life in their cages of death.
Stopping, he helplessly stared at his daughter like she had already died. His lips trembled and spit hung like tinsel, seeing his daughter sitting in the corner of her cabin. Her hands wrapped around her legs, while she screamed. Veins stuck out as she contorted in some inhuman cry of torture. Cassia’s eyes were filled with sadness—like she had been betrayed. It might have been his imagination, but it felt that way.
Joe looked around for help.
The doctor on the other side, holding his arms up to each side of the cabin, smiled; his head bobbing with the train—his eyes peering forward from the depths of madness. Flashing brilliance sent still-framed moments in waves before retreating into darkness. Joe screamed, “I can’t turn it off! They’re dying!” He ran up to the doctor and shook him by the collar. “MY FUCKING DAUGHTER IS DYING! What’s happening in there? Answer me, GOD DAMN IT! I thought it we were going to a safe place!”
The doctor hung in his grip, shrugging. “The dead are safe, Jack. There’s nothing we can do for them. It’s you and me who have to worry about the bodies.” A sad, nasal laugh escaped him as he swayed in an angry father’s grasp.
“But they’re immune!” Joe roared. His face lit like a Halloween lantern as he pointed at the people writhing on the floor of their cabin. “They’ve been tested!”
“You got it all backwards, Jack,” the doctor said. Then he suddenly seemed to have understood. The smile he held bled away from his bobbling head. “Ah, your one of them? Sorry Jack. You’re ‘sposed to think you’re all immune.”
“How else were we ‘sposed to round you up, get you all on the trains? Listen. Dead don’t get sick’ Jack.” He pulled out a needle from his jacket pocket.
Joe let go and fell back in disbelief. “No…”
“Dead is safe. Dead is real safe for us who really are immune.” The doctor held his arms up in the air, letting some of the syringe squirt onto the walls. “It can’t mutate without a host. Yep.”
Cringing from the doctor, he fled back in a crabwalk-like motion. His back bumped against a cabin window but the bodies no longer cried. Terror no longer rang out.
I led her here. I promised to take her to safety, I promised—twisting, writhing, lifeless husks with sea-foam mouths quivered in the cabin behind Joe.
The doctor stood above him. The needle glinted with passing lights—ripples of radiance danced in the doctor’s glasses. “No use fightin it, Jack.” He sniffed and spat to the side. “Dead’s real safe…”
The laugh again, the desensitized laugh!
“Don’t cry now. Not for me,” he said as he shook his head, amused by his specimen.
“There really is… no… use.”
Joe cried out between sobs but he didn’t try to stop the needle.
“This won’t hurt a bit.”
He wanted to see his wife.
“You’ll feel a slight pinch.”
He wanted to see his daughter.
I sent Draven a batch of questions for a "virtual" sit down.
Effie: Hi Draven, thanks for talking to me today.
Draven Ames: Glad to (virtually) be here.
Effie: You are a family man, a stay at home dad. Tell me how that plays into your writing. Is managing time a struggle?
Draven Ames: At first, writing became an obsession. I locked myself up and wrote a novel in a couple months. It got difficult at times. Now, it is a better managed obsession.
You have to be careful. Anything creative can be like a drug. When someone reads, they escape their world. When we write our stories it isn't any different.
Fairly early in my writing, we realized that we had to split up our time with the children.
Effie: As a father, I'm sure some fears stem from those you have for your children and wife. Do these ever manifest themselves in your stories?
Draven Ames: Fears will always bleed onto the page. But I've only ever taken one fear and put it directly into a short story. I hear you should write what you know, but I enjoy going out of my element.
But much of our job is reporting back to the world what we see. A lot of that is casual observation of our primal fears. Lord of the Flies was a great exploration of some of man's darkest demons. I want to write something that takes people on a journey like that.
Effie: I understand you are former United States military. Thank you for your service to our country. Do you ever use the training from that background in your writing?
Draven Ames: Not a problem. It helps to know a lot about guns, physical training, soldiering and survival. Soldiers have an advantage over some people in writing, having been through experiences that many others have not.
Be that as it may, I never went overseas. I don't want that to be misinterpreted. The soldiers over there have all of our respect and hopes.
Effie: You are fairly new to the world of writing, but you're making quite an entrance. Tell me what's in store for you in the near future. What can readers expect?
Draven Ames: I sent out a few query letters for my first book. Bullets Till Midnight is about a horror author who believes his stories tell the future. I can’t say much more.
My time has been focused on my new Novella, Heather. I hope to hear good news about that very soon. I have a short coming out in Shroud, issue #11. I wrote a few comics that I will be working on with a writer from Image. He is going to introduce me to a few great artists at Comicon later this month.
I am working on a new Novella now, a zombie story called The Switch. This is an original take. I have outlines for a series of children’s books and three more horror novels.
My family is a major factor in my life, hence the children’s title.
But while short stories keep coming, I am letting them flow.
Effie: I know you've published some short stories. Care to give the curious some titles and links?
Draven Ames: The first story I wrote is the one you are showing with this interview. It won 3rd place in a contest at SNM Horror Magazine. I found them through doutrope. I have been lucky not go through the ‘rejection’ process yet. Knock on wood.
That story has been renamed and changed since, and I still hold the rights, so I wanted to share it here – something to introduce people to me.
I’ll save the rest of my shameless self-promotions for the end.
Effie: Since you are fairly new to writing, how has your lifestyle changed since you began?
Draven Ames: I don’t watch Television anymore. I read a lot of new authors now. I’m doing my first interview.
Not much else… except that I notice so much more about people now. When you inhabit a lot of different characters, you look through their eyes.
When you think about it, empathy could be a powerful weapon.
Effie: As a writer of the darker side, tell me how you keep life light and fun. Have you found your balance?
Draven Ames: My family. When I get too stressed out, I have to walk away from the computer. Sometimes the scene is just too bad and I need time to breathe again.
I’m in a strange situation. My wife wears the pants, goes to work and I watch the kids. Cooking, cleaning or playing with my boys calms stress more than anything else I can think of. We play Mario, Guitar Hero or read a book together. They love arts, games, board games, books and writing. They are getting a camera for their birthdays, so they will be doing movies soon.
Sometimes they will even help me with writer’s block.
When I’m not with them, I spend time with my wife watching whatever show she is into at the time. I’ve watched Lost, Desperate Housewives, Fringe, Walking Dead, Gossip Girl, Tales from the Crypt, Twilight Zone and all the rest. I drew the line with Glee.
Sorry, that’s horror.
Effie: What other writers do you admire?
Draven Ames: Stephen King. I know, typical. But he paved the way for so many people.
When you go back and read his interviews, you see how intelligent he was. His views on horror and vicariousness were spot on. If we fake it, the reader will see the world through a twisted view. Characters must be themselves, even at the sacrifice of the story.
He said it doesn’t have to all make sense. When we look around, does anything? You believe in evil, but can you argue that evil isn’t necessary? We say society and genes have so much to do with who we are, but once we realize the connection we become aware of the paths. It is like knowing your future: Once you know, it isn’t your future anymore.
Effie: Can you expound?
Draven Ames: Everything that makes sense today won’t be an absolute later. Just a year ago, I thought I wrote amazingly. Now, I write much better and see how bad I really was. There is always room to grow. Next year, I may think I wrote bad this year.
It’s given me a whole new view on the ‘making it’ thing.
I truly believe an agent will find me when I am ready. There isn’t a rush – the publishing world will always be there.
Effie: And finally, is there any advice you'd like to offer for aspiring/struggling writers of horror and dark fiction?
Draven Ames: Seek advice. There are a lot of writers like you, just out there trying to make it. Ask what you can learn from them. Beta read and get to know one another. Support them.
Edits are not easy – they take time. Invest time on others – writers generally return the favor. Be giving with yourself. Be humble. You all have a dream.
Additional comments from Draven:
You can find my most recent story here:
The Nothingness won the Story of the Month in the January Author Showcase. I have also been published in their July and August editions. My stories have been featured on Blogs. Recently, I was told The Nothingness will be turned into a Podcast. I’d like to turn ‘Mutated Strain’ into a novella.
I have a Novella, Heather being looked at by Dark Moon Digest. I am sure that will come back positive.
And that is that. I heartily enjoy Draven's writing style and his humility is refreshing to see. If you liked the story featured here, please check out his Story of the Month over at SNM Horror Magazine. He also has a blog (where he also interviewed and featured me), which can be found at Another Slightly Scary Story.
I'd like to take a moment to thank Draven for agreeing to talk to me and letting my readers have a peek at him. We are, of course, always excited to see another horror writer coming into our midst.
Peace & Love