David T. Wilbanks is one of the few online denizens I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person, giving us a chance to chat about the genre while perusing books at a local independent bookstore. Perhaps the best way to describe these visits is…educational. You see, not only is Dave a very smart cat, but he’s also a well-read guy. So when he’d pull copies of Howard’s SOLOMON KANE or Clarke’s CHILDHOOD’S END off the shelf and say “Get reading,” I knew it was time to do just that.

Dave has had his hands in numerous projects in our beloved genre, from editing a popular anthology to moderating a handful of message boards to writing powerful stories. The guy’s love of books, movies, and music is second-to-none, and his hard work is a direct result of that intense passion. And so it is goes without saying that we’re excited to offer you David T. Wilbanks’ “The Blue Girl”, February’s original fiction installment at the Drive-In.

So power off your cell phones and shush those rowdy teenagers. The previews are over, and the opening credits are rolling…

Hiking through the outlands had always been a particular pleasure of mine: Seeking places others wouldn’t bother with, discovering unspoiled corners of the world, meeting new people. But even a million such excursions could not have prepared me for the blue girl.

When I first saw her, she was settled among blue flowers that grew from a hillside of the deepest green. I had never seen such blossoms before and became enthused at the prospect of pressing some into my scrapbook. As always at a time like this, I was eager to place a new entry in my nature journal which I kept bound in waterproof leather within my satchel.

She was young. A mere child. And as I approached, I noticed something odd about her: her skin was nearly the same color as the surrounding patch of flowers.

Perhaps this was because she had been eating them.

Even as I watched, she plucked a nearby bloom and stuck its fleshy petals into her mouth, snipping them whole from the stem with her small teeth. Her mouth chewed rapidly, her jaw muscles pulsed. She then plucked another blue bud, tossing what remained of the previous victim aside.

In my experience, children were wary of strangers, as well they should be. However, as I approached, the child barely spared me a glance as if I were nothing to become alarmed about, all the while never ceasing her consumption of the flowers.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello.” She had a sweet voice, like a gentle bell.

“My name is Dale. What is yours?”

“I think it’s Agnela. But sometimes I forget.”

“How could you forget a nice name like that? Agnela, nice to meet you.”

She shrugged and continued her bizarre feasting.

“If you don’t mind my saying, I believe those flowers you are eating are changing the color of your skin.”

She held up her chubby hand and studied it for a moment. “It has been this color for the longest time. Ever since--” An odd look crossed her face. She stopped talking and began munching again.

“Ever since…?” I prompted.

“He beat me and did other terrible things,” she blurted. “He hurt me once too often.”

I was taken aback by this turn in our conversation. “Who does these awful things?”
Her blue finger pointed downhill.

At the bottom of the slope, set amid some sagging trees, was a dilapidated hut.

In a sudden rush of words, Agnela proceeded to tell me all about the terrible things the man in the hut had done. And as her tale unwound, I felt my face growing hot with anger and disgust.
She stopped her horrible accounting when she looked up and saw my face, a giggle bursting forth at the sight of it. “I may be blue but you are now as red as the sunset.”

I was not in a joking mood. “Are you telling me the truth, Agnela? Did that man down there do all the horrible things you say?”

“I’m not a liar,” she said, seriously. “Look at my neck.”

I bent down as she stretched her neck out for inspection. And indeed, against the blue skin there were vicious streaks of an even darker blue, shaped like the fingers of an adult.

Clutching my walking staff, cognizant of its heft, I turned away from her and marched down the hill. I considered myself a peaceful man, but if I found this fiend at home, I fully intended to give him a sound thrashing. Since there was no one else for miles around to protect the poor girl, I had decided it was my responsibility to punish the beast.

Soon, I was at the bottom of the hill. I knocked hard on the rickety door with the head of my staff. The door shook in its frame and clots of dried dirt fell from it. I longed for it to fall inward beneath my blows.

“Leave me be,” came a voice, so frail, I could barely hear it through the door’s thickness and the noise of my pounding.

I clutched the door’s handle and pulled. Something gave way and the door flung open, nearly falling off its hinges as it slammed against the outside wall of the hut.

Within the dwelling, it was dim. Only one candle, set atop an ancient crate, lit the place. And no illumination came through the hut’s lone window because it was covered with an ancient animal hide of indeterminate origin.

Sitting on a wooden chair beside the crate was an old man with some sort of large ugly doll on his lap. As I strode into his home, he protectively clutched the doll to his chest.

“Leave me be,” he said again, stroking the awful thing’s tangled hair.

He looked so pitiful that I stopped in my tracks and felt the anger drain from me. This old man didn’t look strong enough to do the things that the girl had indicated; he was all skin, bones and stringy muscles. His red-rimmed eyes were wet and the way he stared in my direction, I could tell he was nearly blind.

I heard the sound of movement behind me. I looked back.

Standing beyond the threshold was the blue girl.

Agnela had a foul look on her face. Between her fingers, instead of flowers, she now held wriggling grasshoppers. Delicately, she held one grasshopper to her mouth, opened it wide, and bit its head off with a snap of her tiny teeth. The other insect soon suffered the same fate. Agnela then tossed both headless bodies into her mouth and chewed them with relish, all the while glaring at us through the doorway.

“Have you been hurting this child?” I shouted, pointing at Agnela.

“Who are you pointing at?” wailed the man, looking past me. “I see nothing there.”

I attributed this to his poor eyesight. I looked at Agnela again.

The girl’s eyes had grown dark beneath her furrowed brow, like solid marbles of midnight. Her curly hair writhed about her face like a disturbed nest of snakes. Her blue skin was now a midnight blue. The sight of her frightened me. She looked like she was about to explode.

“Kill him,” she said to me, pointing at the old man. Her voice was filled with a mix of such pain and anger that it sounded like it had risen from the depths of Hell.

“Leave me be,” the old man said again, shaking now. He rocked back and forth and stroked the doll’s ratty hair. “I said I was sorry. A million times I said it.”

Suddenly, it occurred to me that the dress on the doll that the old man held looked familiar, and so did its hair. I soon realized that this was not some grotesque toy he held in his embrace.

The terrible knowledge hit me as if from a physical blow. And with a start, I jerked away from him. My staff, which was nearly as long as the hut’s walls were wide, struck the candle, sending it flying toward the old man.

Into the dead girl’s hair.

The man stood up from his chair and screamed. He slapped furiously at the flames which were now spreading far too rapidly for him to extinguish. Soon the whole corpse was alight as was his own ragged clothing. Madly, he spun about the room, setting fire to the walls and his few other belongings.

I backed away toward the doorway so that he would not set me alight in his mad thrashing and whirling.

The flames danced with a life of their own and the blaze grew wildly at a fantastic rate. Smoke poured forth, making me choke as I stepped outside. I was helpless to aid the old man who was still screaming and clutching the burning skeleton which even now was falling apart in his shriveling, steaming hands.

Now, the hut was a burning, smoking pyre, its bulk all at once collapsing into the hungry blaze.
As I watched it burn, I heard Agnela’s laughter from everywhere around me. I turned in circles, looking everywhere, but could not see her. The laughter soon faded and all I could hear then was the crackling of the dying flames.

A short while later, as I slowly made my way back up the hill, I plucked one of the strange flowers from among the green blades of grass and put it in my satchel for later study.
Then I picked another one and stuck it in my mouth.

It tasted bitter.

Horror Drive-In: Thanks for joining us at the Drive-In, Dave.  We're happy to have you here.
One of my favorite books from a few years ago was DEAD EARTH: THE GREEN DAWN, a novella you co-wrote with Mark Justice.  How did you two first meet and come up with the idea for the book?

David T. Wilbanks: Happy to be here. Horror Drive-In is a great site.

I first encountered Mark Justice on the Internet, probably on a message board. We also had stories on HorrorFind at the same time, sometime back in 2003. In addition to that, Mark had a story in the DAMNED NATION anthology that Robert N. Lee and I put together. And a dang fine story it is too.

Anyway, one day I had this idea about writing a series of books that included all the good stuff I like: aliens, zombies, mutants, monsters, etc. I wanted to create a world where I could write about basically anything I desired and still have it mesh with events in the storyline. Then I had a second idea: I thought, I want to do this with someone else. Don't ask me why I thought this because I have no idea, I just did--and it doesn't take me long to act on my ideas. So, since I considered Mark a good writing match, I asked him. He said "yes", helped me create the thing and the rest is small press history.

HD-I: I’ve always been fascinated with collaborative stories, and how two authors work together to create a unified tale.  What process did the two of you go through to bring the story together?

DTW: We basically rough-plotted our way ahead, and then took turns writing five or six pages, tagging off every few days. Same with the sequel: THE VENGEANCE ROAD, which was a much bigger project since it is novel length.

HD-I: THE VENGEANCE ROAD -- a novel-length sequel to THE GREEN DAWN -- is scheduled to be out later this year.  What can you tell us about the story?

DTW: Bikers. Psychos. Aliens. Zombies. Mayhem. Explosions. A good time if you like that sort of thing.

HD-I: A good time, indeed.  I'm lookin' forward to it.

How many more books do you and Mark plan on doing in this series?

DTW: Currently, there are no plans. We both have become pretty busy on solo stuff. I suppose if there is a strong enough demand for it, then another one will happen eventually.

HD-I: One last DEAD EARTH question: Who came up with the kick-ass name, Jubal Slate? As Gary Braunbeck alluded to in the introduction to THE GREEN DAWN, it’s right up there with the likes of Randall Flagg.

DTW: Hell, I'd have to dig for the answer to that. Most things we bounced back and forth until something took shape. Even names. What's funny is that Mark recently found the name in a Western comic book from the '70s.

HD-I: Moving along, you’ve also placed a couple stories in PS Publishing’s POSTSCRIPTS magazine/anthology. First, congrats on the sales. I'm sure it’s been a thrill to crack that market, as PS is one of the best presses out there. Second, can you tell us a little about each of the stories?

DTW: Thanks for the congrats. The one from #19 is titled "The Cacto Skeleton" and that's what it's about. It begins when our protagonist witnesses a skeleton climbing out of a hole in his yard. The second one from book #20/21 is titled "Time Changes" and is about a bizarre customer in a costume shop. They're both very short and could probably be read in full while you're sitting on the toilet.

HD-I: While I have you, I may as well bug you about the dark fantasy novella you let me read way-back-when. I believe the protagonist’s name was Caddoc, if I’m not mistaken? Did you ever find a home for him? If not, are you still trying, or is he relegated to the bottom of your writing drawer for now?

DTW: Good old Caddoc! Many a friend of mine has enjoyed that lusty tale in all its incarnations.

There is a small press showing interest but they don't want to see it until May. So, for now, it sits on my hard drive waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting readership.

HD-I: Caddoc, that poor bastard. Goes through hell and back, and can’t catch a break. Hopefully his time will come.

Earlier you mentioned an anthology you co-edited, named DAMNED NATION, a massive collection of stories from some of the biggest names in the genre. The book garnered a fair amount of praise upon its release. What was it like putting together the anthology?

DTW: It had big names and it had not-so-big names but it was an interesting project because neither one of us had ever attempted assembling an anthology before. It was an idea formed at The Message Board of the Damned (RIP), an idea that snowballed into the super funky book that it is today. But we couldn't have done it without Walt Hicks and his HellBound Books (RIP). He believed in us, gave us the backing and was a pleasure to work with throughout. I miss HellBound Books and I know I'm not the only one. Can I get an "amen"?

Reading the submissions wasn't always so fun, but working with Robert N. Lee made it all go down real easy; the man is brains walking. I think we did a good job, I think all the stories are cool and we even got mentioned in one of Ellen Datlow's YEAR'S BEST anthologies. Can't beat that.

HD-I: You'll definitely get an "Amen" from me in regard to HellBound (and I think I hear Sieber offering a "Hallelujah" to boot).  The small press could use more outfits like HellBound.

How many submissions did you guys have to go through?

DTW: All these hard questions. Hm. Maybe a few hundred?

HD-I: And how many made you want to put a gun to your head so you could end the agony?  ;-)

Any plans to do more editing down the road?

DTW: Craig Clarke--a great friend, book reviewer and professional proofreader--and I have put together an anthology and we're currently shopping it around. And I feel that someone ought to pick it up pretty quick here because it's real good. Name drops: Shrewsbury, Chandler, Gowran, Fryer, Soares and...ahem...me.

But no, nothing beyond that. I prefer writing anyway.

HD-I: You’ve played a major role in numerous message boards over the years. What keeps you coming back for more?

DTW: I think it's fun hanging out with like-minded people for one thing, shoot the shit about subjects we all dig. And I also think I make a good dictator--I mean moderator.

My first forum, The (infamous) Message Board of the Damned, was created to complement Shocklines because that board was attached to a book store and ours was not. So we could get away with more motherfuckery than we could over at Shocklines. And oh boy did we. Too much at times. Oy.

Since then, I've put them up and knocked them down; forums aren't made of stone so I never had a problem closing them, but the people who posted there sort of did, I guess. Therefore I've settled down a bit and currently have two going pretty steadily: The Big Adios, a crime fiction forum hosted by the great, the incomparable Tom Piccirilli--someone I can't thank enough for all the excellent advice he's given me over the years. And then there's Dunderthome! A genre forum so awesome that you have to wear cool sunglasses just to sign up. I have a bunch of real close buddies there. It's a trip. Anyone reading this is encouraged to sign up and start posting.

HD-I: I suppose I should unlurk and start posting, too.  I especially like the interviews over on The Big Adios.  It doesn't get much better than TBA for folks who dig some noirish goodness.

So between you and me (and, well, everyone else), what's the biggest flame war you presided over, and who was the main culprit in said incident?

(Don't be shy about it...we're all pals here.)

DTW: The biggest war I think was what actually killed the original Message Board of the Damned. I don't remember what it was about exactly, but it just got so nasty there that I had to pull the plug. Subsequently, the ugliness was taken elsewhere because it suddenly occurred to people that anyone with half a brain can start up a message board. So they did.

HD-I: I sometimes got a good (guilty?) chuckle when I read through the threads on MBOTD.  Ah, the good ole days.

Here's another blast from the past:  Musicians of Mars!  Not sure if you remember or not, but you sent me a four-song CD back in the glory days (the copyright says 2002.  Has it been that damned long already?  Geesh). Both “Poison Starshine” and “Johnny Said” continue to get action on my iPod. Are you still playing and recording?

DTW: Ha! It's too bad there are only twenty-four hours in a day. I'd love to write more songs but there are two things standing in the way: the money job and fiction writing. Besides, I don't have much room for the equipment so it just sits in the storage closet.

It makes me want to cry. Thanks a lot. sniff
Honestly, I had only begun back then and wish I had more time, because by now I might have been halfway decent.
It's amazing you're still listening to those songs. Thanks, Andy!

HD-I: I just need you to become "The Next Stephen King" so I can put the beeyotch on eBay.  It's even autographed!

Seriously though, I love "Poison Starshine".  "Welcome to the climax of your decline."  Rawk on, Dave.
Speaking of tunes, you’ve broadened my musical horizons at times, recommending music that’s off the beaten path. Have you unearthed anything recently that’s worth tracking down?

DTW: Lately, I've been listening to a lot of classical music. You don't want to go there, do you?

That reminds me, if you do want to go there, I have a list in the BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR about that very subject. Check it out.

HD-I: Shit yes, I'd go there.  I always liked Bach.  Dude played a wicked harpsichord.  I'll be sure to check out your list and see what your faves are.
And with that, I think I'll give your tired typing fingers a rest.  Any parting words of wisdom?

DTW: Yes, read more Thomases. Thomas Ligotti, Tom Piccirilli, Thomas F. Monteleone, that sort of thing. It’s good for you.

Thanks, Andy.

HD-I: And thank you, Dave. We appreciate it.


Anthologies (editor):
Damned Nation (HellBound Books 2006)
(w/Robert N. Lee)

Dead Earth: The Green Dawn (PS Publishing 2007)
(w/Mark Justice)

Dead Earth: The Vengeance Road (Permuted Press 2010)
(w/Mark Justice)

Short Stories:
"Time Changes" (PostScripts antho #20/21 - 2010)
"The Cacto Skeleton" (PostScripts antho #19 - 2009)
"Tongs and the Roach" (Dark Jesters antho - 2009)
"Mr. Clown's Dream" (Dead Lines emag #1 - 2009)
"Footfalls" (HorrorFind emag 2003)
"Star Song" (HorrorFind emag 2003)
"Unseen" (HorrorFind emag 2003)

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