They say you never forget your first, and I know that I'll never forget the first time I read Elizabeth Massie. It was an extremely disturbing story called ABED in Skipp and Spector's STILL DEAD anthology. I never forgot Beth's name and her extreme approach toward horror since then.

Beth continued to publish quality, award level short fiction and novels in the ensuing years since I read ABED. The stories were often shocking, but she always had elements of humanity in them. WELCOME BACK TO THE NIGHT was a genre milestone for me.

In later years, I had the pleasure of knowing Beth Massie. She is as warm and sweet as the hippie-ish schoolteacher you might have had half a crush on in elementary school. To meet her you would not suspect the diabolical things that have gone on in her mind in her career as a writer.
We're pleased and proud to feature Beth Massie here at Horror Drive-In with an original short story. Oh, and stick around after the feature and we'll take a few minutes to see what makes her tick.

“So when Janelle was voted out of the clan, I couldn’t believe it,” said Charlene as she pumped her foam hand weights up and down in the water at the shallow end of the indoor pool. The tight, white coils of her hair bounced with the movements, as did the loose skin of her upper arms. “I was sure she’d make it through to the end. She was playing it under the radar but what did it get her? Out on her ear, that’s where! I don’t know who I’ll cheer for now. The rest of the clan is nothing but a bunch of whiners and backstabbers.”

All the other ladies of 8 a.m. water aerobics class – Marge, Beatrice, Nancy, Polly, Iris, and Dee – nodded wet, white heads in sympathetic agreement with Charlene.

All except for Judy.

Judy never watched Island Madness, the show the ladies were discussing. She never watched any of the other reality shows the ladies loved, either. She hated TV. It made her brain hurt. These women would never understand that, however. They lived for television. One reality show each night that was dissected the following morning during the fifty-minute “Silver Splashers” water aerobics class at the Dillytown YMCA. Chef shows, runway model shows, be-the-best-talent-in-the-world shows, survive-the-island-to-win-fame-and-fortune shows. Shows that whittled down the number of contestants until there was one lone winner.

Marge, the class instructor, lifted her foam weights up over her head. “Now stretch, ladies! Let’s strengthen those back muscles while you jog in place!”

The water sloshed and slapped against the ladies’ soft bodies and the walls of the pool as the class members jog-jog-jogged.

Then Nancy said, “I think I’ll have to cheer for Don now that Janelle’s gone.”

Marge said, “Good choice.”

Iris frowned. “He’s arrogant.”

Pudgy little Beatrice said, “I like him. He hardly ever wears a shirt.”

The ladies pondered this in respectful silence for a moment until Marge said, “Rockettes, girls!” at which the class members swung their weights side to side while kicking their legs as high and straight as they could. Marge’s counts – “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…!” – echoed off the tile walls.

Judy kept up, trying to smile, her breaths shallow bursts. She was the newest to the class and the youngest at fifty-nine. Newly divorced, she’d decided to get herself into shape. Her knees hurt, so tread-milling was out. She’d considered Yoga but was too uncoordinated and could only imagine herself toppling over while everyone else held some elegant animal position or other.

A notice on the Y bulletin board had promised that the Silver Splashers was “low impact, easy, fun, and guaranteed to get you into shape!” Judy had joined. She’d been involved two weeks, and she was still waiting for the easy, fun, and in-shape part to materialize.

“Where’s Sissy?” asked Beatrice between kicks.

“Oh, you know Sissy,” said Marge. “Three…two…one, okay, over to the side for our spine stretches. Oh, yes, Sissy. Her quack doctor told her that this class wasn’t doing her any good. She called last night to tell me she was going to drop out.”

The women waded to poolside, tossed the hand weights out, and found spaces, side by side, where they could clutch the edge with their fingers.

“Too bad,” said Nancy. “Sissy always had the best jokes.”

“She did,” said Marge. “Now, let’s begin our stretch with a ten, nine, eight…”

“I’ll miss her,” said Iris.

Dee nodded in agreement.

The ladies held the stretch as Marge counted down. Then she let go of the pool’s edge, wriggled her age-spotted hands up over her head, and said, “All right, thanks, ladies. Good class!”

The women thanked Marge and climbed from the pool to shuffle off to the showers and dressing room – Charlene, Nancy, Beatrice, Polly, Dee, Iris. Judy followed at a distance, wishing she’d brought her towel in with her, hating the way she looked in a suit and wondering why it should matter when the other women looked worse.


Judy turned. Marge was strolling up behind her, a mesh sling full of foam weights and water balls over her shoulder. The old woman’s dyed black hair was plastered to her craggy cheeks, her lips shriveled with age and too much time in the pool. She stopped just a bit too close to Judy and tipped her head. Her tiny, water-blue eyes were unblinking.

Judy hesitated. “Yes?”

“I was wondering how you liked the class?”

“It’s fine.”

“You don’t seem happy. Is there anything I can do to make things better?”

If you only knew
, Judy thought, fighting the urge to step back, knowing it would make her come across as unfriendly. I’m old, I’ve gotten fat, and my husband dumped me, I’m maxed out on my credit cards. I lost my house and have a rotten apartment that smells like baby poop.
“Everything’s fine,” Judy repeated, this time nodding to emphasize.

“Glad to hear it,” said Marge. “It’s my job to make sure that not only do we all get a good workout, but that everyone is happy. No reason to stay if you aren’t happy.”

“I’m happy,” lied Judy.

Judy banged around her smelly flat, cursing her ex-husband yet again, cursing herself for being almost sixty and alone. She stripped and stood in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Droopy, wrinkled, chubby, pale. And unhappy.

“So,” she said. “What am I supposed to do now?”

She sat and cried. That didn’t help. She used the curling iron on her hair and put on some extra makeup. That didn’t help. She called her sister Ellen but her sister didn’t answer. So that didn’t help. She turned on the radio and the upbeat love songs only made things worse so she turned it off.

Judy opened the fridge door and stared inside at the eggs and pickles, then shut it. Maybe I need a pet, she thought. A cat, or little dog.

But she didn’t have enough money for a pet. She’d spent the last of her discretionary cash on the year’s membership to the Y so she could join the Silver Splashers.

And I don’t like the class. I don’t like the women. They’re tedious. I have nothing in common with them.

She opened the fridge again, poked at a tomato. Tears welled again.

But I’m lonely.

There was a television set in her closet. It was one of the few things she got in the divorce settlement, along with the bedroom furniture, the fridge, and the sofa. It was Gregory’s set. He loved to watch old movies and shows about guns and food. She hated the thing. It was still sticky with his fingerprints.

So lonely.

“If you can’t beat them…,” she began as she stared at the set on the floor behind the shoes. “I guess you can either join them, or just shrivel up and die.”

There was cable access in the apartment, and she got the set plugged in and set up with only a few missteps. Then she settled down on her sofa with a tomato sandwich, and flipped through the channels.

News. Guns. Old movies. Food. She stopped.

America’s Next Mega Cook.

“Okay, you can do this.” She grit her teeth. She tossed the remote across to the recliner so she wouldn’t be tempted to turn the set off.

It was a long damn show, that one.

The following day, Judy was ready. As the ladies jogged and kicked, she was prepared to join the conversation that would inevitably follow.

“Paul was canned,” said Beatrice at last. “Good! He couldn’t cook his way out of a paper bag.”

“Did you see that lobster Parisian he tried to pass off?” added Iris. “Looked like something you’d find on the side of the road.”

“And he dropped utensils left and right,” said Nancy.

“Customers who tasted his dishes never seemed satisfied,” said Charlene.

“He didn’t even look like a chef,” said Judy.

The women all stopped jogging and stared at Judy. Marge stopped her counting.

“He doesn’t look like a chef?” asked Charlene. “What does that mean?”

“Ah, well, he looks rather…tattered, don’t you think?”

The women glanced at each other, then back at Judy.

Judy’s mouth went dry. “I mean, well, he looks rather rough around the edges. Kind of bristly. Not really clean. I would want a chef to look clean, wouldn’t you?”

“Honey,” said Nancy, “it doesn’t matter what a chef looks like. That’s like saying an artist has to be beautiful.”

Judy’s jaw tightened. “Oh.” She glanced at Marge, hoping for some support. After all, the woman had just told her yesterday it was her job to make sure everyone was happy.

Marge’s mouth was a thin line. Her nose twitched slightly. But then she waved a dismissive hand and said, “Oh, let’s not give Judy a hard time! She clearly never watched the show.”

The other ladies grinned, and Marge passed out the pool noodles for their balance exercises.

“By the way,” said Polly as she flexed the ends of the noodle. “Where’s Dee?”

“On the way out yesterday she said she was going to move in with her daughter in Texas.”

“Oh,” said Iris. “I’ll miss her, but I’m sure she’ll be happy at her daughter’s.”

“I’m sure,” said Marge.

When class was over, the ladies climbed from the pool and headed for the dressing room. Nancy, Iris, Charlene, Beatrice, Polly, Judy.

And as Judy pushed through the heavy door, she thought she heard Marge chuckling to herself as she collected the pool noodles and put them back into their rubber barrel.

That night, Judy was determined to watch Talented Unknowns and go to class the following day with something worthwhile to offer. Though “worthwhile,” she knew, was in the ear of the beholder. She now had a goal, something she hadn’t had for a long time. She was going to make the women of Silver Splashers like her, or at least respect her.

“That Debbie Jones can sing!” said Nancy as the women performed their scissor-kicks in the water the next morning.

“Nearly brought me to tears!” said Charlene.

“Indeed,” said Marge.

“Beautiful,” said Beatrice.

“I was glad the judges voted out that rock and roll band,” said Judy. “They were so noisy!”

The women stopped and looked at Judy.

Marge arched one well-plucked brow. “I was very disappointed in that. I thought they were quite talented.”

“So did I,” said Beatrice.

Shit on a damn shingle! thought Judy, who never cursed but the phrase, one of her husband’s favorites, popped into her head. I just can’t get it right!

“I would have preferred they vote out that dreadful juggler,” said Charlene. “By the way, where is Iris?”

“Off on vacation, that cruise she always talked about,” said Marge, and the white heads nodded as if they thought vacation for Iris would be nice.

When class ended, they filed out. Beatrice, Nancy, Polly, Charlene, Judy.

Judy watched Miss or Mrs? carefully that night. The following day, she told the class she thought the dark and brooding Andrea would have be the best wife for the masked star of the show, Mr. Anonymous, and that she should not have been eliminated. Judy was sure that this time, the others would agree with her. They didn’t. They were relieved Andrea was kicked off the show and were rooting for the prettier, perkier Debbie to become Mrs. Anonymous.

Two new members joined the class that day, a bouncy sixty-two-year-old named Barbara and a ninety-something woman named Della. Della used a walker and had to be lowered into the pool on a mechanized chair. She was perky, though not so much as the television’s Debbie. Both women joined in on the chatter, knowing a little something about the reality shows being discussed.

Halfway through class, Nancy asked why Polly wasn’t there. Marge said, “She has company. You know company.”

Everybody agreed that company was a strain.

When class was over, they filed out. Nancy, Beatrice, Charlene, Barbara, Judy, Della.

Judy took her time in the shower, listening to the other women rinse off, dress, and leave. I should just quit, she thought. I don’t fit in and never will. The warm water poured over her, washing off the chlorine but not the despair.

When the water began to run cool, she slipped her hand out over the top of the shower curtain for her towel on the wall hook.

A strong, bony hand snapped around her wrist, crushing it. Before Judy could cry out, she was yanked from the shower out onto the cold, tile floor.

Marge stood there, holding Judy’s wrist, and grinning down at her with her wrinkled lips and tiny water-blue eyes.

Judy managed, “What…?”

But Marge only said, “Shhh, now,” and pressed a chemical-scented washcloth over Judy’s face until the room went black.

“Sorry, Judy, but you’ve been voted out of Sink or Swim,” said Marge as Judy came around to find herself in a dimly lit, mildew- and feces-scented cellar. Judy blinked, shook her throbbing head, and tried to reach up to rub her blurry eyes. However, her hands thumped against something solid and couldn’t reach her face.

Marge patted Judy on the head. Judy coughed, and at that moment realized she’d been gagged with a strip of fabric. She coughed again. Her heart began to pound.

“My own reality show,” said Marge. “Me, the sole judge. Each person eliminated on my call. Dee was really a bitch, in case you didn’t notice. Iris was a pest. Sissy, stupid as a rock. And you, Judy, so unhappy with the class.”

Judy’s vision cleared slowly. There were no windows in the room, only a single, yellowed light fixture in the ceiling. Out-of-date exercise equipment was scattered about the floor – an old rowing machine, a bizarre roller seat, a boxing stand. And along the walls, antique steam cabinets. Each locked with a steel bar across the front.

Each with a head poking up out of it.

Each mouth secured with a gag.

“Welcome to the Y basement,” said Marge. “Actually, a small room off the basement, behind the boiler room. No one comes here, ever. I don’t think anyone even knows this room exists. Only me. Isn’t that just peachy?”

Judy tried to reach her face again. Again her hands struck metal. She gasped, struggled. She, too, was locked in an old steam cabinet.

“Shh,” said Marge, holding her finger to her lips. “Now, you’re part of my other reality show, Steam and Scream. Do you like that? It rhymes! This is how it works. I take the gags off you ladies and turn the steam up ‘til it’s unbearably hot.”

Judy stared across the shadowy room at the wide, terrified eyes in the heads in the cabinets.
“Then,” said Marge, a small, shiny pistol now visible in her right hand, “the first one to scream is eliminated. Clever? Yes?”

With that she reached down to the steam control on Judy’s cabinet.
And the week’s episode began.


Horror Drive-In: Beth, have you always been attracted to horror?

Elizabeth Massie: I think I have always had a love/hate relationship with horror. On the one hand, as a young kid I scared very, very easily, by things such as the creepy old lady who lived down the street, the scary crushed doll head on the "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" movie poster, the flying monkeys in the "Wizard of Oz." Yet I was fascinated with all things spooky, too. I wanted to understand what it was all about. Though I didn't want to actually come in contact with the monster in under my bed, I wanted to know what it was. My sisters and I would watch "Shock Theater" on Saturday afternoons - thrilled with and horrified by the old classic universal monster films like "Frankenstein" and "The Wolf Man." I have no doubt that those old movies created in me a lasting impression, a blending of angst and sorrow that came with being the fearful or, even more so, being the one feared. Though I was scared of them, I felt pity for Frankenstein's monster and for Larry Talbot, the wolf man. How awful to be so horrible and so hated, but not through any fault of your own?

Our childhoods play huge roles in what we become. For me, the fascination with and sadness for the darker sides of human nature (often represented through supernatural or unnatural beings) carried over into adulthood. There are wounds on both sides of the horror aisle. In much of my fiction, I try to explore that. I try to find and share the aspect of humanity you mention.

And then, there are those occasional horror stories I write that are, I think, crazy, spooky and just plain fun. Written with a lighter approach for that Oh-Shit! roller coaster sensation. Don't know if you ever read "Journal of a Headhunter." A prime example. I place "Sink or Swim" in that category. Dark, creepy, but written with a wink.

HD-I: When did you begin putting horror stories down on paper?

EM: I have always created stories even before I could write. I drove my parents crazy with my "what if" this and "what if that." As to writing horror stories, my first one was when I was in tenth grade...I wrote a tale about a girl who was so ignored, and alienated, that she walked out into traffic to kill herself. The story was named "The End." Not a very original story or title, but I felt the story as I wrote it more so than just about any story I'd written before. It hurt me. It stayed with me. I think that is what helped seal in my mind that I wanted to write horror. I could get down into the deepest recesses of the heart and mind and strip away all the surface stuff. I still feel that in many ways.

HD-I: I've seen that in much of your work, such as What Happened When Mosby Paulson Had Her Painting Reproduced on the Cover of the Phone Book, which is not only my favorite of your short stories, but is one of my all-time favorite short stories by anyone.

EM: Thanks so much for the good words! Wow.

HD-I: Did you have a lot of manuscripts rejected before you started selling fiction?

EM: Actually, I was very lucky. The first short story I ever submitted, "Whittler," was bought by The Horror Show, a great magazine published and edited by David Silva. Then my second story, "Dust Cover," also sold. I was flying high. Then, of course, I got my share of rejections.

HD-I: Wow, that's amazing. Nearly unheard of in publishing. And yes, I most definitely remember The Horror Show. A wonderful magazine.

Let's jump ahead. Tell us about the inspiration for Sink or Swim, please.

EM: Last spring I decided I need to get out of the house and do something exercise-y. I like walking but where we live there are no sidewalks and basically you're walking on the side of the road through the country, which is pretty but you have to watch out for traffic and the footing can be uneven. I always liked swimming, so my sister and I joined our local Y so we could take part in a morning water aerobics class. Many of the ladies in the class are my mom's age, and they are a total hoot! Great senses of humor and the nicest gals ever. Anyway, as we kick and stretch and bounce and spin around the pool, we talk about everything under the sun. Over time I shared that I was a writer and that much of what I write is horror and paranormal suspense. A class member asked if I would ever write a story about a water aerobics class. I said I didn't doubt the inspiration would come about soon. Then one day the topic of discussion in the pool was Dancing With the Stars and the couple that got eliminated the night before. Some members agreed that the right couple was kicked out, others didn't think so. My mental wheels started turning - reality show/water aerobics class. Yep, that's how it happened!

HD-I: Art imitates life! I love it!

So what's next for you, Beth?

EM: I have several new stories coming out this month - "Something You Ought to Know" in Specters in Coal Dust and "Someone Came and Took Them Away" in Legends of the Mountain State 4, both from Woodland Press. My Bram Stoker Award-winning first novel, Sineater is just now out in e-book and audio book from from Crossroad Press. My novel Wire Mesh Mothers (originally published by Leisure) as well as a brand new, never-before-published mainstream novel, Homegrown, will also be out soon as e-books through Crossroad Press. I have two new Moon Man comics coming out from Moonstone within the next six months. My short story "Silver Slut: And So It Begins" will be included in the Moonstone anthology Chicks in Capes this December. I'm also working on a new middle-grade horror/fantasy idea as well as a new mainstream novel...fingers crossed those will find a good home. Um....and I'm knitting a new scarf. I do one scarf a year, beginning in October. Then I have to find somebody to give it to for Christmas. ;-)

HD-I: Thanks so much, Beth!

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