“The Gray Skull”: The Plot

“The Gray Skull”: The Plot

 

“The Gray Skull” is the title of an unpublished short story by E. Christopher Clark. Composed in a red, sixty-sheet, narrow-ruled college notebook of 8" x 5", bought for $0.99 at Page's Drug Store in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, “The Gray Skull” was a horror yarn about an undead janitor with a skull for a head.

 

And now, in the grand tradition of previous collaborations with his younger self—including “Augustus Might” and “Nightmare: The Plot”—a 45-year-old Professor Clark will try to make sense of the scribbles of the teenaged Chris, and to fit said scribblings into the larger fabric of the Clarkwoods Literary Universe.

 

Summary

 

Chapter 1

The owner of an apartment building warns a man called Nick that the room he is looking to rent is haunted. A janitor was killed up there, the owner tells Nick, during a shootout between the cops and one of the tenants. And now the janitor, with a gray skull where his head should be, is out for revenge.

 

Nick ignores the warnings, rents the room anyway, and is murdered that night by the janitor. The so-called Gray Skull breaks Nick’s back with a well-placed strike of his mop’s handle, then rips the fellow’s head off for good measure.

 

Chapter 2

Though it takes the owner five days to check on Nick—customer service for the win!—he does eventually find the murdered man’s body. When the cops arrive, they tell the owner that the finger prints on the body belonged to his dead janitor. They don’t ask any questions about that, however, clearly indicating they seen some shit.

 

Our narrator, the building’s owner, recalls the gunfight that killed the janitor and the ultimate fate of the tenant/felon who the cops were after. That guy got the chair for “eight serial murders” and the owner, who’d been invited to the execution, was morbidly satisfied by the smell of the tenant/felon’s “burning flesh.”

 

Chapter 3

A private investigator by the name of Jake Coaster arrives at the apartment building, seeking to rent the haunted room. It is revealed, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line, that Coaster is the father of the tenant/felon who turned out to be a serial killer. It is never revealed, however, how he got the surname Coaster.

 

We suspect it’s because the teenaged author looked around the room for inspiration and found it lurking under the can of soda he was sipping from.

 

The narrator takes great pains to body-shame Coaster, and to mock him for smelling like cigarettes, beer, and onions, all of this revealing just how much the author’s suburban 1980s childhood had ruined him as a human being—and how much work he’d have to do later in life to overcome his predilection for stereotypes. Then, once the author—pudgy himself and full of Coca-Cola, Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cups, and self-loathing—has established that poor Jake Coaster is fat and gross (like the author fears himself to be) and only useful in this story as a victim for the Gray Skull, the portly private investigator finally heads upstairs to meet his doom.

 

Jake Coaster is fine for “about six hours,” the narrator reports. Then Coaster hears a splash of water on the floor and the sweeping of a mop. He turns just in time to see the puddle inching toward him, then he slips and falls. The Gray Skull stands over poor Jake Coaster and slams a powerful hand down onto Jake’s neck, powerful enough to “sever [Jake’s] spine.” Then, to add insult to injury, the Skull pulls the brain out of his victim, smashes it upon the floor, and laughs.

 

Chapter 4

The building’s owner, our narrator, hears a scream and rushes to help. And yet, he is too late. Because this is a horror story.

 

Inexplicably, rather than calling the cops this time, the narrator sweeps up Jake Coaster’s remains and takes them “to the fire.” The location of said fire is never disclosed, but hey, doesn’t every apartment building in every metropolis have a raging campfire going somewhere?

 

The smell of Coaster’s burning body makes the narrator remember one of the Skull’s other murders, which he then recounts.

 

It was two weeks after the janitor was killed and the Gray Skull had not killed yet. An older fella by the name of Jim, who was new in town, needed a cheap place to stay. The narrator, having no idea yet that the janitor had returned to life as the Gray Skull, rented the room without mentioning what had happened up there.

 

Can you guess what happened to Jim?

 

Did you guess that he screamed and that the narrator saw Jim’s head fall out the window and onto the ground, where it splattered “elegantly, like a freshly cracked egg”?

 

You’re such a good guesser.

 

Chapter 5

Back in the present, while cleaning up the room, the owner feels a swipe of something hard across the back of his head. He turns around to see a “tall, slender janitor with a gray skull instead of a face.” Then the Skull hits the narrator again with the mop handle. Again and again.

 

Each time he’s hit, the narrator grows more and more angry. But just as the Skull makes ready to land a killing blow, the narrator punches him in the crotch. While the Skull is disoriented, the narrator socks him in the stomach, which causes green slime to spill from the Skull’s mouth. Finally, the narrator hits the Skull with an uppercut and steals the undead janitor’s mop.

 

Enraged, the Skull hurls the narrator through a conveniently placed stained glass window. They continue to fight, each of them inflicting ghastly wounds upon the other. The Skull gets a piece of stained glass to the heart, the narrator gets one eyeball popped out by the end of the Skull’s mop, and the Skull eventually gets hurled into “the brick wall that blocked off the property.”

 

There’s a lot of blood, and some green puss, and then the narrator throws another piece of stained glass—the biggest piece he can find—into the Skull’s skull.

 

The Skull doesn’t move. The Skull looks like he might be dead, once and for all. But remember: this is a horror story.

 

Chapter 6

Rather than seeking immediate medical attention for his missing eye and all of the other injuries he’s sustained, the narrator returns to his office to “bandage his head.” And that’s when he hears the telltale cackle of the Gray Skull.

 

You are shocked. I know you are shocked. You did not see that coming.

 

The Gray Skull and the narrator fight once more, the narrator having grabbed a knife from somewhere. The Skull shoves his mop’s handle through the narrator’s shoulder. The narrator takes stabs with his knife. There’s more blood and more green puss. 45-year-old author E. Christopher Clark stops typing for a second and flips ahead to see how many pages of this are left. He groans.

 

You laugh as you say to yourself, “Chris, you got yourself into this.”

 

The narrator pulls his revolver “from a nearby drawer” and fires all nine shots into the Gray Skull. This doesn’t kill him, of course, but it’s apparently enough for him to walk away for a while.

 

Chapter 7

After an inexplicable chapter break, the action from Chapter 6 continues until the narrator somehow shoots the Skull enough times that he disappears into “a puff of smoke.”

 

Chapters 8-11

The action of the story descends fully into torture porn territory, which I will spare you. The narrator eventually ends up tying The Gray Skull to a bed, opening a microwave, and shoving a box of aerosol cans inside. Somewhere during all of this, before the narrator blows up his entire building (with the tenants still inside?), we learn about yet another earlier murder by the Skull.

 

Because, even back when he was a kid, the author could never say “no” to a flashback.

 

Chapter 12

They fight some more, even though it’s incredibly obvious by this point that the narrator should be dead from blood loss alone. Then the narrator is suddenly superhumanly strong enough to pick The Gray Skull “up by the balls” and to hurl him into traffic—into a speeding Winnebago, of all things.

 

Probably because the word Winnebago made the younger version of the author laugh.

 

They fight some more, the narrator drags The Gray Skull to conveniently placed trash compactor, and he throws him inside. This, finally, kills the monster—but not before he lets loose one last cackle.

 

Analysis

No.

 

Connections to the CLU

This could take place in theoretically any iteration of the Clarkwoods Literary Universe, but I think I’d probably place it in Earth-668—the universe of the comic books I wrote in my mid- to late-teens and the stories from Those Little Bastards. This was written just before those early comics, so I think that makes the most sense. It’s not that I couldn’t set it in one of the later iterations, even the current one, but I feel like Earth-668 might be the place for stories with significant leaps in logic and problematic nonsense I wouldn’t have any patience for today.

 

Other connections? I think it’s obvious that The Gray Skull is a siphon who struck a deal with some demonic fairy or other. And I think the narrator might secretly be a potent—given that he can sustain much more damage than a human being should be able to, and that he’s given to feats of strength that seem to come out of nowhere.

Plot type
Short Story
Written
Early 1990s
 
Murders Involved
Many
 
Female Characters
None, probably because the author was afraid of girls
 
Stereotypes
All of them
 
Final Grade
A for effort, F for everything else
 
Closing Thoughts
I love you, you sicko teenager. Thanks for sticking with it. You never stopped writing, so I ain’t never stopping neither.

Comments

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Dec 21, 2022 15:01 by Chris L

I wish I had my notebooks from middle/high school. I had a lot of similar stuff in there, but alas it's all long gone.


Learn about the World of Wizard's Peak and check out my award winning article about the Ghost Boy of Kirinal!

Dec 21, 2022 17:59 by E. Christopher Clark

My parents kept EVERYTHING and I had family members who had pack-rat tendencies, so there's probably a bit of busted brain playing a role here. I've gotten way better over time, but I should take a photo of all the stuff I've kept from years gone by.

Now it's time for the awkward wave.
Jan 3, 2023 02:19

This was a ton of fun to read. A for effort but also for entertainment, I would say.

Jan 3, 2023 12:03 by E. Christopher Clark

Aw, thank you! Yeah, younger me had some great ideas. I'm glad he stuck with it, even when he felt discouraged.

Now it's time for the awkward wave.
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