Chapter 1

She knew a bit about scary movies, but she wasn’t a rabid fan or anything like that.

Most horror films were pretty lame, and after seeing her cousin’s arm torn from his shoulder in a combine accident, it was hard to think of anything to do with blood and gore as a form of entertainment.

And she had no real aspirations of becoming a movie star.

She’d thought about it, of course—what young woman in southern California didn’t?—but she was only pretty in a small-town sort of way, not really Hollywood beautiful. Her body was hard from years of helping out on the farm, not thin and curvy like so many of the female leads were today. And while she’d acted in a few high school plays, no one had ever taken her aside and told her she had talent.

But she did have some experience with ghosts.

The family farm had been haunted by the spirit of her great-grandfather, who could sometimes be seen walking the cornfields around harvest time, checking the stalks—same as he’d been doing on the day that he died.

And so, when she saw the ad in Variety calling for women between the ages of twenty and thirty who loved horror movies and had some experience and/or belief in the occult, she thought, Why the hell not?

The next day she went to the casting call with few expectations, figuring she had nothing to lose but a few hours of her time. Well, that had been over a month ago and now she’d been called back for her third, and she hoped, final interview. Or maybe this time it would be an actual screen test. That’s what was supposed to happen when you auditioned for a part; you read some lines, or acted out a scene with somebody who was already in the movie, and the casting directors and producers decided if you were right for the role. But the producers of this show hadn’t asked her to act, or to read any lines, or do anything like that. All they’d done was ask her a lot of questions, and then told her to tell them a little bit about herself. That had been easy enough, but she wasn’t sure how that was going to get her a part on a television show. What was so interesting about a farm girl named Jody Watts who came from a part of the country where cows outnumbered people four to one?

She stopped for a moment at the corner and read the street name on the lamppost. Then she checked that with the directions she’d been given over the phone.

One more block to go.

Her first meeting with the Gowan brothers had been in a ground-floor room in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard across from Mann’s Chinese. There had been a line of young girls that had gone out the door and around the block, and dozens of newspaper and television reporters taking pictures and asking dumb questions like “Are you afraid of the dark?” and “What’s your number?” The second meeting had also been at the Roosevelt, but there had been fewer girls and no reporters. The producers had taken pictures of her, and asked her more questions about herself, but she’d done no acting. This time out, they’d asked her to come to an address near Little Tokyo, more specifically to the studio and warehouse the brothers had on Traction Street.

Looking around, it seemed like an odd place to meet a pair of television producers for a network show, but then again the Gowan brothers weren’t exactly television producers. Since her first interview, Jody had done a bit of research at the local library, and had read all about “the Boo Brothers” as they were sometimes referred to in the trades. The Gowan brothers were basically B-grade horror filmmakers whose makeup and special effects were just a few steps above homemade. They made one or two features in their downtown studios each year, going direct-to-video in the United States and sometimes releasing theatrically in other parts of the world, mostly Asia and eastern Europe.

So maybe this would be a screen test after all, she thought. Or at the very least, on the level. Maybe they’d do her up in some ghoulie makeup and ask her to scream for them. That would be fun. And even if she didn’t get the part, she’d at least have a Polaroid or two of herself as a zombie to send to the folks back home.

They’d sure get a kick out of that…

She stopped at the next corner and read the street sign over her head—TRACTION STREET.

Nice name, Jody thought. Wonder where it leads to. Coma Avenue, maybe. Or, knowing the Gowan brothers, it probably just comes to a Dead End.

Jody smiled at that, then turned down Traction Street looking for the Gowan Brothers studio.

She didn’t have to look far. Halfway down the block she noticed a hand-painted sign over an old steel door that read GOWAN BROTHERS ENTERTAINMENT. Jody put her hands on her hips and took a long look at the building that stretched down the block away from the door. It was an old, old warehouse, with reddish brown bricks that had long ago turned black and dirty with age. There were blacked-out windows lining the wall on the second floor, many of them broken and patched on both sides with plastic and glue. The building looked like crap and reminded her of a few of the barns back home.

Maybe they put all their money up on the screen, she thought hopefully, then recalled the one Gowan Brothers movie she’d rented, Night of the Sorority Vampires, and knew that that couldn’t possibly be true.

“Oh, this is just great,” she muttered under her breath. No wonder they first met the girls at the Roosevelt. One look at this studio and people would think they were auditioning for a porno.

Well, Jody had no interest in that.

She thought about turning around and heading back home, but it had already taken her over an hour just to get down here… she might as well check it out now that she was here. She could always say, “No, thanks,” if she didn’t like what they had in mind. And then of course, there was always a chance that these guys were for real.

Jody laughed and shook her head.

She knew she was just nervous and looking for any excuse to back out of this thing and go home. Judging the Gowan brothers by the look of their studio was like judging a book by its cover. And that was just wrong. As much as she hated to admit it, she’d enjoyed Night of the Sorority Vampires, and had watched it a second time before returning it to the video store.

So, stop stalling and let’s get this over with.

After taking a moment to smooth out her dress, she took a deep breath, let out a long sigh, and tried the door.

It opened.


“Hello?” came the response, sounding more like a question than an answer.

She’d expected to find some sort of office, but it was little more than a dimly lit room full of shadows. Jody moved cautiously forward, unable to see the floor and what might lie at her feet.

“I’m looking for the Gowan brothers,” she said, still not knowing to whom she was speaking.

“You’re in the right place.” It was a female voice. Perhaps that of a secretary.

The lights in the room suddenly came on, and she was indeed inside an office, although a rather shabbily decorated one. The desks and chairs were old and worn and the only things on the walls were movie posters from Gowan Brothers productions







A woman stepped into the light, but rather than being a sharply dressed secretary, she wore a form-fitting Raiders T-shirt and a pair of tight, faded jeans. Somehow, Jody wasn’t surprised.

“I’m Jody Watts.”

The woman nodded, sipped her Evian, and gestured with her thumb at the door behind her.

“They’re waiting for you in back.”

“What’s in back?”

“The studio, prop storage, and the brothers’ office.” She paused, perhaps reading Jody’s face. “They don’t like having an office up front. Every once in a while someone comes in looking for them… and they’d rather not be around when that happens, if you know what I mean.”

Jody nodded politely.

“Follow the hallway on the left.” She took another sip from the bottle. “It’ll take you all the way around the studio to their office.”

“Thank you.”

The woman smiled politely, then sat down at her desk, immediately looking as if she’d been working hard all morning.

Jody went through the doorway and found a long hallway that ran the length of the building, with doors on the right every twenty feet or so. The hallway was dimly lit, but she could just see well enough not to lose her way or trip over anything on the floor. The hallway turned right at the far end, following the outside of the building all the way to the back. At the end of that hallway, Jody came upon a door with a sign on it that read BOO!

This must be it, she thought.

She knocked on the door and it slowly swung open, creaking loudly on its hinges for what seemed like an eternity.

The space on the other side of the door was also dimly lit, but unlike everywhere else, this room seemed more spooky and foreboding. She could see things on the floor and hanging from the walls: severed heads and broken limbs, things that looked like wolves and monsters… and the bodies of children, strung up by their legs.

“C’mon in,” said a voice. “We won’t bite.”

A small laugh came from somewhere deep inside the room.

She stepped through the doorway and immediately felt a presence about her. She looked around, but couldn’t see anyone in the darkness.

And then she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Jody gasped.

A match flared and in the faint orange glow a long, thin face smiled at her. She recognized the face of Ike Gowan, the older, and she thought, better looking, of the two brothers. He was dressed in black tails with a high collar and scarf of the type Edgar Allan Poe might wear.

“Did you find the place all right?” he asked, his face still lit by the match.

She nodded.

He used the dying flame of the match to light a candle, then took her by the hand. In the dim orange glow of candlelight, Jody saw that he was leading her through a maze of giant bugs, hanging entrails, eviscerated animals, and cases of beer.

“Don’t mind the mess,” Ike said, stepping over a giant black spider that had only seven legs. “But be careful where you step, because I can never remember which are the real spiders and which are the puppets.”

Jody felt herself flinch at the mention of spiders, and hoped Ike hadn’t noticed.

But of course, he had.

“Hah!” he said, leading her safely over the giant bug. “You’re afraid… I like that.”

Jody managed a nervous smile.

If the brothers were trying to freak her out, they were doing a good job of it. She felt chilled, even though she knew it was warmer inside the warehouse than it had been out on the street.

They came upon another door, this one opening up to a room that looked a little like the inside of a Victorian mansion.

Ike lit a few more candles and slowly the room became filled with a flickering yellow light that sent shadows dancing across the walls.

Jody hadn’t rented the film, but she recognized the room and the iron maiden off in one corner from the box cover of The Horror of Nightmare House, the Gowan brothers’ most recent release.

“Have a seat,” Ike said, gesturing toward a plush chair at one end of a small wooden coffee table.

She sat down, feeling her heart thumping in her chest like a drum. What was going on here? she wondered. It was supposed to be an audition, but it was as if they were already making a movie.

“This is our interview room,” Ike said, smiling. “It’s where we’ve chosen to conduct our, uh… final auditions.”

“To see what the actors are made of,” said a second voice, slightly higher in pitch than Ike’s.

Another match flared, giving way first to a candle flame and then a small bank of lights that illuminated the face of Erwin Gowan, the younger, and weirder, of the two brothers.

Looking at the two men, even in the odd light, it wasn’t too hard to figure out which brother looked after which facet of their operation. Ike was the older, more handsome businessman who usually wore designer golf shirts, slacks, and loafers. He cut the deals and the checks, and was the one who was given the job of saying no. Erwin, on the other hand, often looked as if he were still in high school, preferring to wear flowered Hawaiian shirts, checked shorts, and leather sandals. His hair was long and unruly, and he had a beard that was equally a mess. In a word, he was strange, but was probably the one who came up with most of the creative mayhem that characterized their movies.

“You remember my brother, Erwin,” Ike said, gesturing to where Erwin sat on an overstuffed, upholstered couch. Erwin was dressed in tattered and dirty clothes, as if he were some grave digger in a Lugosi black-and-white film from the 1930s.

Jody extended her hand, but Erwin didn’t get up from the couch, forcing Jody to get up and move closer to him. She shook his hand with enthusiasm and did her best to keep her smile bright.

Whatever they want, she thought, as long as it doesn’t involve me getting on my back and spreading my wings…

“Thanks for coming,” Erwin said, smiling devilishly.

She straightened her sundress, feeling uncomfortable and out of place dressed in the brightly colored outfit, and sat back down.

Ike took the chair across the table from Jody and picked up a clipboard from the table next to him. Then he clicked his pen twice and said, “How much have we told you about our new show?”

Jody shook her head. “Not much, actually.”

“Right, well, we didn’t want people to know what we were up to until it was absolutely necessary—” Ike said.

“But now that we’re less than a month away from production,” Erwin interjected, cutting off his brother in midsentence, “we can finally let people in on the premise.”

There was a long moment of silence in which Ike shot Erwin a look of contempt. Erwin sank back into the couch; then Ike cleared his throat and continued.

“We’re producing a reality-based television show called Scream Queen. The show will put a number of young actors into a real-life haunted house where they will all spend the night. In addition to being haunted, the house will be rigged with a few choice special effects designed to scare the hell out of the contestants.”

Ike paused after he said those words. A slight breeze suddenly wafted through the room, flickering all the candles and causing the shadows on the walls to jump and dance like flies around a dead horse. When the flames settled, the smile on Ike’s face gave Jody the creeps.

“There will be cameras all over the house to record everyone’s reactions to things that happen inside, and contestants will be given cameras of their own to record themselves or what they see during the night. And, if you make it through the night you’ll earn ten thousand dollars, whether you win or not.”

“It sounds a little like a movie I’ve seen before—”

The House on Haunted Hill. Nineteen fifty-eight, starring Vincent Price.” Erwin turned to his brother. “I told you people would make that comparison.”

Ike seemed annoyed. “It’s not like that film at all.”

Erwin sneered. “Sure. Right.”

“We’re taking the concept a lot further. And if anything, it’s an… homage.

“Sounds pretty classy when you say it in French, doesn’t it?” Erwin’s voice was dripping in sarcasm.

“Like it or not, Erwin…” Ike raised his voice to a shout. “I got you the budget you’ve always wanted.” Ike stared at Erwin, visibly annoyed by his brother’s sniping.

“Right,” Erwin said at last. “Sorry.”

In the silence that followed, Jody could hear the sound of a door opening somewhere beyond the shadows. It was followed by a moan, then silence again.

“In addition to all the scary stuff, each contestant will be sent into a room and be required to perform a classic scene from a horror movie.”

Erwin cracked another devilish smile at this.

“What kind of scene?” Jody asked.

“You know, the final victim, the discovery of the body, a demonic possession… that sort of thing.”

Jody nodded. “That sounds great.”

Ike continued. “Now, the show will air on three consecutive weeks leading up to Halloween. On that night, studio audiences at selected horror theme parks and conventions around the country will watch the final episode and vote on their favorite ‘Scream Queen.’ The winning Scream Queen will not only receive fifty thousand dollars in cash, but will also get the starring role in the next Gowan Brothers horror film.”

“Wow!” said Jody.

“Uh, excuse me, Ike,” Erwin said, “but I thought the top prize was going to be a hundred thousand dollars.”

Ike just looked at his brother, teeth clenched and one eyebrow twitching. “No, we’re now going to use that fifty thousand for promotional purposes, namely for things like buttons, postcards, and fridge magnets to be handed out at conventions.”

Erwin shook his head. “Uh-uh, we decided a hundred thousand would go to the winner because fifty thousand doesn’t sound like much of a prize.”

Jody was about to say that if she were lucky enough to win, fifty thousand would be a great prize, but she never got the chance.

“That was yesterday,” Ike said, the volume of his voice rising once again. “Today we decided we needed to spend a little extra on promotion.”

“Who’s we?”

“Myself and Bartolo from the network.”

“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” asked Erwin.

Jody had seen her own brothers argue enough times back home to know that this could go on for a while. She leaned back in her chair and tried to make herself comfortable.

“Because it didn’t concern you,” Ike said, clicking his pen in frustration. “We agreed at the beginning that you would look after the creative end of things, and I would take care of the finances.”

“I want to be informed, though.”

“On money matters you’re strictly on a need-to-know basis. If I let you in on everything you’d just get in the way and slow things down.”

Erwin’s lips turned out in a pout, and were made to look even larger by the shadows cast upon his face. He was breathing in short, choppy breaths, almost as if he were about to cry. “My name is Erwin Gowan. I’m a Gowan brother just like you, and that means I have a fifty percent stake in everything to do with this production. How could you make a decision like that without asking me?”

Jody couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was as if she were back in kindergarten all over again.

“It didn’t affect you. Your budget hasn’t changed.”

“Really? And what other things did you do that don’t affect me? I bet the trailer you ordered for me is smaller than yours, isn’t it?”

“I’ll need to take meetings during the production.”

“And all the letterhead I’ve seen reads ‘Ike and Erwin Gowan’ even though E comes before I in the alphabet.”

How on earth did they ever get a movie made? Jody wondered.

“I’m the older one,” Ike said.

“And the smarter one, too, right? I know that’s what you’re thinking.”

Ike said nothing.

“Well, how smart will you be when I pull my fifty percent out of this production? How are you going to make a movie without any new ideas or creative talent? Why don’t you just film your big deals, your transactions… Oh, wouldn’t that make for a great reality TV show?”

Ike smiled nervously at Jody, then turned back to face his brother. “C’mon, Erwin, there’s no need to get into all this now.”

Jody was becoming uncomfortable watching the brothers argue. It had started out as just a little playful ribbing between siblings, but now they were getting nasty with each other.

“Watch!” Erwin said, gesturing wildly with his hands as if he were putting each word up on the big screen, “as Ike Gowan loses half a million dollars on the stock exchange… Watch! as Ike Gowan gets bilked out of ten thousand dollars from a con man he trusts, just because the guy says he knows Mel Gibson…”

“Shut up!” Ike said. Dark shadows were beginning to appear in high relief on his forehead as the veins there became more prominent. Ike held his pen tightly in his white-knuckled fist, clicking it as if it were a timer on some bomb.

“C’mon, guys,” Jody interjected. “Take it easy. Fifty thousand is—”

But Erwin just kept on taunting his brother.

Read! the reviews of the latest Gowan Brothers movie: ‘The budget must have all gone up his nose because it sure isn’t up there on the screen,’ says Roger Egbert of the Picayune Daily Terror.

Ike rose from his chair and stood over Erwin. “I’m warning you, shut up! Just shut the fuck up!”

But Erwin wasn’t about to shut up, he was on too much of a roll. “Watch! as Ike Gowan spends three million-dollar to make a one-million-dollar movie.”

“That’s enough, you asshole!”

Suddenly there was a large kitchen knife in Ike’s hand.

“Hey!” Jody said.

Erwin saw the knife in his brother’s hand, but didn’t seem to take the threat seriously. “You don’t have the balls to use it, Ike, so why don’t you just put it away?”

Ike stood there, the knife inching closer to his brother’s face. “This time I’ll do it, I swear.”

Erwin shook his head confidently. “No, you won’t. Now put it away.”

Jody wasn’t sure what she was seeing. Obviously the brothers had been down this road before, but had probably never come to blows. Well, there would always be a first time, and she wasn’t going to just sit back and watch it happen.

“Listen to your brother,” she said. “Hurting him isn’t going to solve anything.”

She moved forward, but Ike turned to face her, stopping her in her tracks.

“He needs to be taught a lesson,” Ike said.

Erwin laughed. “Don’t worry, he hasn’t got the guts to do it. He’s even afraid to cut scenes from our movies because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

“Shut up!” Ike firmed his grip on the knife.

“Come on.” Erwin sighed. “You look pathetic standing there with that thing in your hand… Either use the damn knife or put it away!”

Ike paused, and for a moment it looked as if it were all over, but then he lunged over the table at his brother.

Jody screamed.

Ike landed on top of Erwin and, in a single motion, stabbed the knife deep into his brother’s neck.

Blood spurted from around the wound in Erwin’s throat in long thin jets, one of them catching Jody across the face.

She screamed again.

Ike continued stabbing at the ruined neck of his younger brother, tearing it open, shredding the flesh.

Jody’s brothers had fought plenty of times while they were growing up and the worst that had ever happened was a bloody nose. But this… this was murder. Or it would be if she didn’t do something about it.

She dove forward, her shoulder hitting Ike in the upper body, knocking him off the couch.

They both fell to the floor.

She scrambled to her feet and backed away, wary of the knife.

Ike got up from the floor slowly, his chest heaving, the knife still in his hand, dripping blood. “You’ll pay for that.”

Jody shook her head in disbelief. All she’d wanted was a part in a stupid television show. “I didn’t want you to kill him.”

Ike looked over at his brother. Erwin’s head was slumped over onto his right shoulder. Blood continued to leak out of the open rent in his neck.

“He’s already dead,” Ike said, his eyes alight with evil and his face looking ghoulish in the candlelight. “And now it’s your turn, bitch!”

Jody backed away from Ike to stall for time. If she did nothing she’d end up dead like Erwin. But if she fought back, winding up dead would be the worst that could happen to her. If she did something right now, there was a good chance she might escape… that she might survive this nightmare.

“Ready or not, here I come.” Ike laughed like a madman.

Jody took a quick step forward and kicked at Ike’s hand, sending the knife flying through the air. Then she pushed him out of the way and raced for the side of the room that had a door.

She found the door in the darkness, but it was locked.

The doorknob wouldn’t turn.

Ike had gotten up off the floor and was coming toward her, his bloody hands looking to wrap themselves around her neck.

She kicked at the door and beat it with her fists, but to no avail.

Ike was almost upon her.

She screamed in terror.

It was a high-pitched, keening wail that came from somewhere deep down in the pit of her stomach.

“Cut!” Ike said.

Suddenly, the lights came on and Jody found herself in the middle of a soundstage.

There was applause coming from crew all around her.

Ike was standing in front of her, smiling.

Over on the couch, Erwin opened one of his blood-spattered eyes… and smiled as well.

Jody just stared at the two men, trying to look dignified while struggling to catch her breath.

“Fantastic!” said Erwin, pulling the empty blood bag from his neck and rising up from his chair.

“The best yet,” Ike added with a nod of his head.

Jody was dumbfounded. “You mean…”

“Psyche!” Erwin said with a burst of childlike laughter.

“Congratulations!” Ike said, putting a hand on Jody’s shoulder. “You got the part.”