#FridayFlash: Truth Lies Beneath

This story is a sequel to Nom de Plume. You don't have to go read that one first, but it helps.

Truth Lies Beneath

by Tony Noland

"It's gonna be just another sequel," said Marcus.

"I don't think so." replied Annie. "Jorge Amaroso said he wanted to remake the original, not just add another sequel to the franchise."

"And what director ever says, 'I'm just doing this film because I know everyone that saw the first eight movies will come see this one'? It's a slasher flick, no matter how much money he spent on it or how he dresses it up as a re-imagining or a reboot or whatever."

"What do you mean, dresses it up?"

"I mean they should have just called it 'Blood Picnic IX' and be done with it. 'Blood Picnic: Origins' sounds like a comic book."

"Look, did you see the trailer?"

"Sure, I watched it on YouTube, it looked great. They always put the best parts in the trailer. I saw the teaser last year; you know, the one that was just a campfire on a deserted beach? Practically everybody in the theater laughed when we figured out what movie it was about. 'Blood Picnic VIII' was so terrible, I still can't believe they're doing another one."

"That's just the point! This isn't going to be just another sequel. This one is going to be true to the original book!"

Marcus blinked. "There was a book?"

"Yes, you moron, of course there was a book, the book came first."

"Well... so what? It probably sucked."

"No, it didn't. It was actually pretty good. There was a lot of subplot that got left out when they made it into the original movie."

"Hold it, subplot? In 'Blood Picnic'? Give me a break."

"Seriously, the book is completely different. OK, OK, that's too strong, it's not completely different. The basic facts are there, Carl Scrimshaw is a psycho father driven to revenge against the people who hurt his daughter. The big thing though, is that in the book, she was his stepdaughter, and the father was actually one of the people sort of responsible for the boating accident. Or at least, he thought he might have been. That's a little unclear. I thought it was just bad writing, but after a while, I realized it was because the father wasn't sure. It was his stepdaughter, and he wasn't really sure he loved her, see? The guilt and uncertainty arising from that complicated parent/child relationship, mixed with his guilt over the accident is what drove him crazy, not simple rage. He went after them because it was a way for him to project the culpability away from himself."

"Project the culpability? You're bananas. This is 'Blood Picnic', not 'My Dinner With Andre' or 'Citizen Kane'. You know, scary teen slasher flick? Don't make it out to be more than it is, Annie."

"I'm talking about the book, not the first movie. In the book, it was a group of men and women, a bunch of bigwigs in the park commission who caused the boating accident. When the father goes after them, it comes across as the powerless fighting against the powerful. They took away that whole dynamic when they changed the victims into teenage girls for the movie."

"Because who wants to see a bunch of middle aged farts in bikinis, right?"

"Exactly. Didn't you ever wonder why the killings got more and more outrageous, more sadistic?"

"Well, I'm no student of culture, but I'm going to guess it was to heighten the tension? Or is that too obvious?"

"Ha ha. When you get to hear the inner voice of the father in the book, you realize that it's because he's trying to expiate his own remorse through murder, but it doesn't work. With each one he killed, his guilt and self-loathing grew, and he's driven to more and more extreme methods, trying to avoid admitting to himself that he's as much to blame as anyone. Finally, when he's run out of people to kill, he has to face his own conscience. His guilt drives him to kneel at his stepdaughter's bedside so he can confess and beg forgiveness for everything he's done."

"And so she can tear his throat out and possess him like a demon for the next seven slasher movies. Wow, Annie, that ranks right up there with the 'Illiad'."

She punched him in the shoulder. "They totally changed the ending! I'm not saying it's one of the great books, I'm saying there was more to it than just blood and screaming girls with big boobs."

Marcus started to say something, then, seeing Annie's scowl and crossed arms, changed his mind.

"Annie, come on, it's just a movie, OK? Or a book, whatever."

"It happens to be one of my favorite books."

He stared. "You're kidding, right? 'Blood Picnic'? I thought you liked Proust and Updike."

"Call it a guilty pleasure, alright? It was one of the first books I ever read that had an actual subtext. Yes, it's a stupid little book, and yes it's blood and gore and sex, but there are elements of a really good story in 'Blood Picnic'. I'm not saying it was the only book that led me to become a writer, but it was one of the books that helped me to understand that books can have layers. It made me think about writing something that gives the reader something new with a second or third read."

"So... if it was so good, why didn't any of that come into the movie?"

"The first 'Blood Picnic' movie was really low budget. Besides, you said it yourself. Who wants fat, middle aged complexity when you can have a bunch of stuffed bikinis?" Annie sighed. "I just wish Billy Divine had gone on to write more. I read a few of his other books, the ones that I could find, anyway. They were technially competent, I guess, but still pretty lousy, just slasher thrillers. I think he was a guy who might have been a good writer if he hadn't spent all his time on genre crap."

"Or maybe he only had one good book in him," Marcus said.

Annie took off her glasses and cleaned them, then said, "I don't believe in that. A writer has has many good books inside of her as she has the time and energy to write." She put her glasses back on, and the silence grew between them.

"Annie..." he said, "maybe Billy Divine was just a pen name. What if, once the writer developed his chops, he quit the slasher stuff and started writing real books?"

Her eyes widened.

Seeing her reaction, he said, "If that were the case, then maybe there's a bunch of great stuff out there by this guy, just waiting for you to discover." He smiled in an encouraging, hopeful way.

"You know..." she said, "I never thought of that."

Comments and constructive criticisms welcome. Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


  1. Okay, this story has so many layers I'm not even going to mention them all. But I'll say: very well done. And also, besides the connections it has to your other stories, and its own self-reflexivity, it really reminds me of conversations I've had about "It" by Stephen King... one of my favourite books. :)

  2. Only if he slips up again... :)
    You did a really nice job with the synopsis/psychological ruminations there, Tony!

  3. Thanks, Laura. I think Mr. Smith might have a stalker pretty soon...

    Jen: I used to read Stephen King's books a lot. They were always about more than the obvious bogeyman, which is why I kept reading them. Anyone would be scared of a haunted car or a killer dog ... but the prospect of learning that your best friend doesn't like you anymore? Or that your husband never loved you? THAT'S terrifying.

  4. Never thought of that, either. Slasher stuff first, real books second.

    Do you have a pen name too, Tony? :)

    Did enjoy the humor throughout this piece. Such as this:

    "...there was more to it than just blood and screaming girls with big boobs." HAH.

  5. Yeah, what they said - reflexive, complex, crazy! So, the protag's shield might be dropping a little cause he finally found a woman who 'gets' his writing, eh?

    Mind you, if my girlfriend (if, indeed I was a guy) spoke like Annie, I'd be outta there! Crikey!

    (great yarn this week Tony)

  6. Liked the sequel. Great job on dropping the backstory. So, is this autobiographical ;^)

  7. Great flow in their argument (well, discussion!).

    And this has reminded me:
    When is someone going to remake the Running Man to be true to King's novella?? Do they not realise it would make an EXCELLENT film even without Arnie?!

  8. Billy Divine rides again!

    Reading of this story, I can see Nom de Plume turning into a series or a longer work. There's are many elements here and it could easily have become TOO many elements, but you didn't allow that. It's very controlled and concise, but it also sounds like real conversation. ~ Olivia

  9. I'll be honest, this flash did not do much for me. It is, essentially, two people talking about a book.

    That's fine as a scene from a larger work, and great of Nom de Plume is going to be serialized, but it lacks any drama or conflict for a self contained flash.

    Part of it too is what I've come to expect from your works. So many times a story like this will have a twist at the end that shows the whole thing was a setup. This just didn't have that.
    I do love the overall story idea, and hope you consider it as a novel.

  10. I'm never sure how I feel about stories talking about writing stories. But it is such a part of our lives that it is a worthy subject to explore.

    The dialogue, with its teasing and questions underneath the questions was executed beautifully. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation between a couple that still held back but wanted to cross over into the reveals.

  11. I really enjoyed this, as well as Nom de Plume. I'm with Olivia -- I'd love to see a continuing series or otherwise longer version. Really interesting stuff!

  12. I'm glad you guys liked the layered nature of the story as well as the dialogue. Keeping a conversation snapping along is something I'm working on.

    Linda, Marisa, etc.: Not autobiographcal, guys, sorry. I'm not 400 years old, and if I had a best seller that was made into a profitable Hollywood franchise, believe me, I'd be shouting it from the rooftops.

    Lily: Umm... what's wrong with how Annie talks? Too M.F.A? She wears glasses, after all. 8-)

    Seriously, though, I was trying to convey that these two people have different levels of education and (perhaps) intelligence.

    Maria: Running Man was great, but the hero dies at the end when he crashes the plane into the building. In the larger sense, that won't change anything. Downer, so they made Arnie save the world instead. Pity.

    D. Paul: This is a departure from the kind of thing I usually do. I experiment a lot - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    Keep checking back, though.

  13. Ah, nerd chatter. I know and live it well.

  14. I thought this was very clever, the first sentence in particular.

  15. This had an extra layer for me... this reminds me of a night out with Annie Evett after a movie or a play... so it made me sort of giggle when I read the name and started to read the dialogue.

    And it reminds me of King too - Children of the Corn which was a fantastic short story made into six movies.

    Then there's Nudist Colony of the Dead - which was just plain wrong (a zombie flasher flick with singing!) and not based on anything sensible at all.

    I think it is a pertinent reflection on what becomes of books in films and the dialogue is realistic.. and what becomes of writers who get caught in the genre trap.

    Granted - no interesting twist at the end, but it doesn't always have to be about the twist.

    There's one tiny typo right at the end with the word 'encouraging'

  16. Jeez Tony, you are a WHIZ at dialogue. So nice and natural, like I'm standing right there. Also, you make me laugh. A lot. For the right reasons.

  17. Thanks, Carrie! My dialogue used to drag and drag, some of my worst writing. It is HUGELY encouraging to hear that it's hitting the mark, or even (as with Lily's comment, making someone annoying).

    Jodi: I've not read the original short story by King, but it's funny how some film franchises take on a life of their own utterly outside of the originating book. "Jaws" was a moderately tedious book, all about infidelity and the pain of marrying outside of one's own social class; the shark wasn't much more than a clumsy metaphor for the brutality of nature. Yet for the movie, all of that was tossed out to make a scary thriller that led to four sequels.

    You never can tell.

  18. Tony, great piece of all dialogue. I agree with the others - this is very realistic dialogue and the conversation does illustrate their different levels of intelligence. Very clever and well-written.

  19. I agree with Carrie, your dialogue is great.
    There is no rule that dictates flash needs a twist ending. In fact some of my favorites of all time have no twist. This is a complex piece that I very much enjoyed.

  20. The discussion and dialogue work fine. This needs to be so much larger than flash though. It's good.

  21. A man who is unsure whether he loves his stepdaughter and mixes that uncertainty with guilt over an accident he did not cause and that drives him crazy and into a homicidal rage.... Are you SURE the book was better than the movie?

    Good job with the dialog here though.

  22. After reading all the comments, I have to say that I'm tempted to write this up as the opening for something longer.

    Hey, Tim, I don't know if the original "Blood Picnic" was any good or not. I haven't written the damned thing yet! 8-)

  23. First, I like it a lot. Second, I think girls like Annie are very attractive.

    The comments are interesting. This is a so-called post-modern story (a story about stories, self-reflexive, different genres commenting back and forth, etc). Some readers just don't like stories like this, they think they're gimmicky or "try" to be clever or are somehow flat because they are words about words. But I love stories like this. They operate on many levels, and you've done a good job with this one.

    When I was just a tad bit younger, I thought I was so smart because I had read Kafka and other heavies. Over lunch one day some artist friends pounced on me because I dismissed the science fiction genre out of hand as fluff. They told me I was an arrogant elitist. They were right.

  24. Thanks for your comment, Mark. I'm glad you liked it.

    I guess I didn't realize I was being post-modern here; it's a story about writing, but it's not a story about itself. Writing about writing can get cutesy. This is especially true if the protag is a dashing, handsome, clever and witty writer, or if it's just shop talk dressed up as a narrative. I hope I haven't done that here.

    The truth is, there is a larger plot, and this scene is taken from it. The book "Blood Picnic" isn't quite a MacGuffin within that plot, but it's a character-driven story, not an object-driven one.

    For the record, Annie and Marcus are a bit full of themselves in how they regard genre writing vs. "real" writing. That doesn't necessarily reflect my own opinions of genre work vs. litfic. I've written sci-fi, horror, fantasy, mystery, etc. As long as the characters feel real, that's what I care about.

  25. Didn't mean to put a label on you! I feel the way you do, the category doesn't matter.

    You're right, the story isn't about itself. I carelessly through the 'self-reflexive' into the list. You may strike it out, if you please.

  26. I agree with those who don't think stories need a 'twist'. I agree with the people who like Annie. And I agree with everyone about the dialogue being really good. Seems like authentic and natural banter between a couple, and it carries the whole thing from start to finish.

  27. Very good, a layered story about a book with layers. I look forward to the next installment.

  28. Lou & Clive: Thanks! Dialogue and layered complexity are some of my favorite things to write - when I can convince myself to use a light touch.

    No worries, Marc. When "self-reflexive" was used in a few earlier comments, I felt that it wasn't quite on target for this piece. ever open to the possibility that I might be too close to my own work to see what I'm doing, I went and looked the term up, so as to confirm.

    Writers writing about writers writing is a cliche. I didn't want to do that here, even in a story that avoids obvious recursive self-reference. However, people love books. They get attached to certain books that they read at certain times in their lives, even when the book itself may not be (objectively speaking) a well-written book.

    It's commonplace for a reader to find a book they love, then go get other books by the same author. Sometimes this leads to a full-on love affair with an author, sometimes it leads to disappointment.

    It seems a shame that such a rich vein of human experience should be dangerous ground for writers to tread.

  29. have you been spying on me?

    Jodi insisted I come and read this as this is the experience she gains when coming to the movies with me.. I snort in defiance... I am NOT like that.. am I???

  30. Yes.. there is definitely enough you of you in your Annie alter ego to immediately THINK of you.


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