Elizabeth Massie is the author of horror novels, novellas, short fiction, media-tie ins, poetry, and nonfiction. Her novels and collections include Sineater, Hell Gate, Desper Hollow, Wire Mesh Mothers, Homeplace,Naked on the Edge, Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (co-authored with Mark Rainey), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Power of Persuasion, It Watching, Afraid, Madame Cruller’s Couch and Other Dark and Bizarre Tales, and many more. She is also the creator of the Ameri-Scares series of middle-grade novels, which was optioned by Warner Horizon in 2021.

She won the Horror Writers Association (HWA) Lifetime Achievement Award in June of 2023.

She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband, artist/illustrator and Theremin-player Cortney Skinner. Elizabeth is a two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author and recipient of the 2022 HWA Lifetime Achievement Award.


by Elizabeth Massie


Lil’ woman listen, don' cha know it’s true?
Music got the power to do what we do.
Bitch, baby, love ya, gonna burn that brand,
 I got the music in me, the flame’s in my hand.

Hank nodded, chewing and mouthing the words. His eyes were closed and he envisioned a red, pulsing, yet-­to‑be‑created video on the backs of his lids. Forming like a red, pulsing, world in the hands of a god.

Put your body on mine, my body in yours.
Together with this music we can blast down the doors.
‘Lectric heat of passion and the hot smell of blood,
Let the music break us, make us gods of our world.

Hank Norwood raked one hand through his tangled hair and pushed his chair back with his toes until it nearly fell over. In his mouth was a wad of bubble gum, four hunks of Bubble Yum to be exact. He was out of smokes and out of joints, so gum would have to do until he was off duty.

He held the earpiece of a pair of headphones against his left ear. The cord to the headphones trailed out and over to a vintage, silver-tone reel to reel tape player on top of the receptionist desk. The player was plugged into an outlet underneath. Normally, Hank would have the headphones on both ears, but in spite of the hatred he had for this shit‑detail nursing home job, he had to be able to hear the phone if it rang. Wouldn’t do to have the owner, Mrs. Abigail Jane Rexrode, call him up at 4 a.m. for a spot check and him not answer.

The music he was listening to was a wonderful, insane piece by the independent early 1980’s rock group, Spooky To Boot. These Spooky fuckers had had a rabid following before they were all killed in a plane crash in ‘86. Hank was jealous as shit for their success, but he admired them just the same. Someday, he’d have that same worship. The same power and the glory. Hank’s new pride and joy was a rare set of Spooky’s quarter inch studio session tapes won in an online auction, hell yeah! Hank had found the old reel to reel player at a pawn shop and it worked great. Well worth the money. A self-proclaimed audiophile, Hank had come to truly appreciate analog over digital, and hearing the members of Spooky raw and live was fucking Heaven.

Spooky’s music was the power. The power and the glory!

Hank tapped the tips of his toes on the receptionist’s desk as he rocked the chair back and forth on its two back legs. He was the only one on duty at the Barrett Home for Adults from the hours of eleven p.m. until six a.m. With just seven codgers living at the Home, one graveyard shift employee was all that was legally required. He’d lied to Mrs. Rexrode that he had CPR training in order to get the job, so there ya go.

Being alone in the wee hours in the receptionist cubicle suited Hank just fine. Most of the residents were harmless, old and senile. Hank didn’t need any help with his job because he didn’t do anything. If one of the patients woke up whining because he’d wet the bed, Hank would just ignore him. The workers on morning shift wouldn't know if the bed‑wetter had peed the sheets at eleven thirty or at four forty‑five. If an old bat fell out of bed, Hank would let her lie until the ladies came in to fix breakfast. Hank would say it had just happened. Then the ladies would put break­fast on hold and give him a hand putting the bitch back. If someone got sick or died, well, his job was to call 911. No big deal.

A shitty job, but one in which he could spend most of his time listening to music. And he was saving as much of his salary as he could to finance a big trip out east for his band, Laden. Hank burped around his gum. He bobbed his head to Spooky to Boot. Music with power, real power, didn’t even exist before the 80’s. What did the residents of the nursing home listen to back in their time? Frank Sinatra? Pat Boone, for fuck sake? Donna or Debbie Reynolds, whatever her name was. That sugary, stupid blonde chick. Weak, worthless attempts at music. What Spooky to Boot did – what Hank’s band Laden was doing – now that was power! Conjured from the depths, harnessed, and then shot out into the universe by way of voices and instruments like the biggest orgasm ever imagined.

A loud, old man wail pierced the heavy pound of the percussion and electric whine of the lead guitar. Hank flinched and pulled the headphones away from his ear. The sound faded back where it came from, down the hall where the residents of Barrett Home were supposed to be sleep­ing. The wail, of course, had been George Curtis, an old fart of about ninety-five with incontinence and the mind of a four year old. Hank tilted his head and listened for George.

“Go back to sleep, old man!” he shouted down the hall. “Don't mess with me!” He spit his gum out toward the trash can. It fell short.

George was Hank’s main nemesis. He would wake up and roam around once a week or so. Wandering was the only thing Hank couldn’t ignore. It wasn’t like crapping pants or wanting a cup of water. When George decided to wander, he would pad his way down the hall to the receptionist’s desk. There he would stare at Hank and babble some indecipherable nonsense or other. This gave Hank the ultimate creeps. It also meant Hank had to put George back where he belonged. After the first few times, Hank had come up with a way to solve this problem. Who cared it was against regulations? Hank tied loose knots; he wasn’t out to give the old guy gan­grene so he’d fester and die. Hank didn’t want to be charged with murder. But when George got it in his head to be a merry ambler, Hank would nip it in the bud with lengths of rope he kept in his duffle bag.

George was silent again. Hank grinned. He put the earpiece of the headphones back to his ear, shut his eyes, and sang along with the chorus of Spooky’s song.

Rockin' power blast you free,
Rockin' power make you scream,
Rockin, power cannot die,
Rockin' power body‑fried!”

It was the music that made the nights bearable. It was the music that both eased and torched his soul. With each paycheck he got closer to get­ting Laden off the ground. The group members – Ronnie, Sam, Austin, Jose – all had hot-rock blood in their veins. Once Hank had saved enough, he would fly himself and the boys out to Philadelphia where Spooky to Boot had had their start. They’d play the same clubs, attract the same adoring followers. Someday soon.

Theirs would be the glory. Theirs would be the rocking power, blasting them free of the shitty world of losers and into the glorious light of everlasting fame!


It was George again. “Sally” was the one word George could utter clearly. Sally had been George’s wife. Sally, Hank had been told, had committed suicide over her bathroom sink when she found out she had Alzheimer’s disease. Hank guessed that when George went wandering, he was searching for Sally.

“Piss on it all!” shouted Hank. He put down the headphones. “Shut up, George! I ain't got the mood for you tonight! I’m a white hot rocker and you're asking to see my wrath!”

George yelled again. This time it was a long, wailing sound like that of a geriatric Tarzan swinging through the trees. In a minute, Hank knew George would try to climb out of bed on his old Tarzan legs in search of Sally, his dead‑and‑buried Jane.

Hank let the chair fall and jumped to his feet, swearing. He peered around the corner of the cubicle, hoping he wouldn’t see anyone out in the hall. Maybe with a little luck George would fall back to sleep. Maybe if Hank sang to the music loud enough, the man would stay put. Heavy music didn’t just have power, it was power. Old people knew it. It scared them. It put them in their places; stopped them in their tracks. That’s why they hated rock.  

“‘Lectric heat of passion and the hot smell of blood!” Hank sang at the top of his lungs. “Let the music break us, make us gods of our world!”

Hank watched down the hall. He stared at the shadows on the walls and on the old, worn carpet. He didn’t see anyone. He held his breath.

Someone snored, a shotgun grunt that made Hank flinch.

Bedsprings squeaked as some old sleeper turned over.

“Go to sleep, go to sleep,” Hank said to the dark­ness.

No one came out into the hallway.

Hank counted to twenty.

No one came out into the hallway.

Hank went back to the cubicle and the chair. He put the headphone earpiece back to his ear, rewound the tape, started the Spooky music over again. He tipped back.

“‘Lectric heat of passion and the hot smell of blood!” wailed Spooky to Boot. “Let the music break us, make us gods of our world!”

“Yeah,” echoed Hank. He let his eyes drift shut. “I got the music in me, the flame's in my hand.”


The scream was very nearby. The chair legs slammed down and Hank was up, throwing the headphones to the floor.

“Fuck you, old man!” Hank strode around the corner and stopped.

George was in the center of the hall, not ten feet from Hank. He was naked, having torn his pajama pants off somewhere in his room. His right hip was smeared with shit. One set of fingers was stuck in his mouth. His eyes blinked, tossing bits of the front room light and mak­ing him look like an ancient, possessed fetish doll. The fingers came out of his mouth and he said, “Sally?”

“Fuck you, old bastard,” said Hank. “Get back to your room.”

The old man frowned and scratched his ass. He took two steps forward.

Hank pointed at George. “I said get back to your room or I’ll get the rope.”

George blinked, then turned right and went into the bathroom. Hank followed and stopped just inside the door. George’s butt was black with shit and the smell was overpowering.

The old man stared into the mirror over the sink.

“She ain't there, idiot,” said Hank. “She’s dead. Long dead.”

Hank could tell that the old man’s jaw was moving. Hank could hear his tongue slapping in and out of his mouth.

“Get back to your room,” Hank said. He stepped in, reached out, and grasped the old man’s upper arm. The skin was cold and soft and the sensation turned Hank's stomach. It was all he could do to hold on. “I said move!”

“Sally,” said George as he turned toward Hank. Spit flew into Hank’s eye.

“Goddamn it, I should kill you!” Hank yanked George out of the bathroom, turned him toward his room, and gave him a shove. George stumbled a few feet. “Go back to bed!”

George sighed, fingered the dried shit on his butt, and shuffled back to his room. Hank watched until the man had gone through his door.

“And stay there, you mindless asshole or I’ll bring out the rope!”

Another sleeper snorted in his dreams. An old woman moaned with her nightmares. Silence followed. Hank settled down in the cubicle for another round of Spooky music.

After twenty minutes of nonstop rock, Hank felt pressure in his bowels. He ignored it for a little while, choosing rather to sing and strum the imaginary guitar strings against his chest than take a dump. He watched in his color‑bled vision as Laden claimed the stage with fire and lights and flesh transformed. He saw screaming mobs on the floor, reaching up to their gods of music for recognition and acceptance. In his teeth and in his skull he heard the rhythms, felt the rhythms, became the rhythms.

Rockin' power cannot die,
Rockin' power body‑fried…

“Fuckin‑A!” said Hank.

His bowels moved. He clamped down on what might have been a fart but could have been something more substantial. “Damn.” He couldn't ignore the intestinal demands any longer. With the headphones around his neck, he unplugged the player, picked it up, and carried it into the bathroom.

The overhead light hummed into life. Hank kicked the door part way shut then looked at himself in the mirror. He grinned at the future deity. “Yeah, mama,” he said. He sat the player on the shelf next to the bathtub and plugged it into an outlet near the floor. He put the headphones on – both ears this time – and turned on the player.

“Put your body on mine, my body in yours!” wailed Spooky to Boot.

“All right!” said Hank. He yanked down his jeans and briefs and plopped down onto the toilet. The music was bringing on a hard on. He thought after taking care of the most immedi­ate business, he’d stay in here a little longer and take care of other business, too.

He could surely hear the phone from here if it rang. And if it did, he'd let it ring until he was ready. 'Cause, what the shit? A man’s got to have his time.

“Wanna watch me, Mrs. Abigail Jane Rexrode?” said Hank, and he laughed. The thought was at once hilarious and dis­gusting.

“Let the music break us make us gods of our world!” sang Spooky.

Hank licked the glorious taste of the music from his lips.

“Rock me man, yeah, body‑fried!”

“Sally!” came a screech from hallway behind the half‑closed bathroom door.

Hank jumped up, realized he was in no position yet to be up and so sat back down. He tugged off the headphones and dropped them on the floor. “Goddamn it, George, go to bed! I've got my ropes!”

Hank heard George cough and then hawk phlegm.

“I mean it!”

Hank double‑timed the roll of toilet paper and wiped as fast as he could. If he sat there, George might wander outside and get hit by a car. No loss except that Hank would be held accountable. Goddamn old people. They should be put out of their misery.

“George?” called Hank as he yanked up his jeans. “Move it or lose it.”

There was no answer. Hank snapped his pants and listened for breathing in the hall.


At that moment, George’s head appeared through the bathroom door. Hank licked his lips and crossed his arms in a gesture of dominance. George didn’t seem to notice. His eyes squinted in the bright bathroom light. There was shit, now, across the bridge of his nose.

“Go back to bed!”

George worked his lips, trying to form words. But suddenly, it looked to Hank like the old man was trying to laugh at him.

The sound that came out sounded like, “Huhhh.”

“Bastard,” hissed Hank.

“Huh,” said George. “Huh. Huh.”

Laugh at him. At Hank Norwood. At the lead singer of Laden. At the future god of rock and roll. How dare he.

“How dare you, you mother fuckin' dog turd,” Hank said.

George’s mouth worked, grimacing. Then grinning. Yes, grinning! His eyes blinked and twinkled with the florescent lights. He finally grunted out, “Huh-huh-huh.” The old man’s mouth pulled up and the toothless smile was more than Hank could take.

“I'll give you Sally!” shouted Hank. He grabbed George by one huge ear and yanked the old man into the bathroom. George stumbled but Hank jerked him upright and pushed him toward the bathtub.

“In you go!”

Hank folded the old naked man over and into the tub. The man hit the enamel with a soft, squishy plopping sound. Hank quickly plugged the drain and turned on the cold water.

“I'll give you Sally, or as close as I can come without hanging myself,” Hank said. “You'l1 see who is in charge in this fucking place, you shit-covered shit! You'll see who has the power!”

As the water filled the tub and George tried to crawl out, Hank pulled the headphones out of the player. Spooky’s music roared into the room. It had never sounded so loud, so intense. Hank's nerves and bones vibrated with the music. “Hear that, old man? Music got the power! Rockin’ power make you scream! I got the power! You ain’t got nothin’, no wife, no brain, nothin’! ”

George clawed at the side of the tub with his skeletal fingers. The feces on his butt and on his face enraged Hank. The lack of definable emotion on the man’s face infuriated him. A music star had no business here. This was a slap in the face of his talent, hot piss on his life.

“I’ll get you close to Sally,” said Hank. He grabbed the fringe of hair on the back of George’s head. “You won't die but you'll wish you did. And no one will be able to tell. Poor old man, came in here and tried to drown himself. He fought me but I saved him!”

He shoved George’s face down into the water.

Music pounded the tile walls. The floor reverberated with the beat. Screw the others if they woke up. He'd deal with them later.

George struggled weakly but Hank held him down.

“Lectric heat of passion and the hot smell of blood, let the music break us, make us gods of our world!” Hank screamed with Spooky.

George twisted under Hank's hold. Air bubbles gurgled to the top of the water. Hank laughed. He held the power. It was his. He would keep the old man under until he was almost gone, then let him up. Lesson taught.

Lesson not to be forgotten.

George's arms flailed out, but the old liver‑spotted fingers could not find purchase anywhere.

“Dance, old man!” sang Hank. “Dance to my music!”

George twisted his head back and forth under the water.

“Yeah, that’s it. Do what I say. Listen to me. Dance for me! Power to the rockers!”

More and more bubbles boiled around George’s head. George’s arms flailed, grasping.

“Fuck Sinatra!”

One of George’s legs kicked out and up. His toes tangled in the player’s cord and the player tottered on the shelf. It began to fall, the music never skipping a beat. “Rockin' power cannot die, rockin' power body­ fried!” sang Spooky.

Hank saw the player tumbling. His mouth flew open, a wide, silent scream. Both hands let go of George and dove for the player but missed. The player crashed into the tub where George’s head was still sub­merged.

Blue sparks leapt from the water, sizzling and erupting like an obscene festival display. George's legs went stiff. His arms instantly began to crackle and burn. The skin on the top of his head blistered and peeled back.

“Oh, shit shit shit!” Hank threw himself against the wall. He stared at the electrified man in the tub.  Sparks and steam rose from him to the ceiling and scorched the plaster.

“Fuck no!” Hank slid to the floor, paralyzed. The heat in the room singed his eyes.

Then George went still. The music gurgled, quieted.

Hank panted. He stared. One hand, trembling, went to his face and beat his lips like a weak, dying moth on a lamp bulb.

“George?” he managed.

George lay in the tub in the water.

Hank pushed himself to his feet. His legs wobbled violently. He tried to clear his throat but it hurt with the pain of stripped, scalded flesh.


And then George stood bolt upright, water flying. His blackened, crisped arms flew out in crucifix stance; he wailed a sound that knocked Hank backward and drove his teeth through his tongue. Patches of George's skull, visible through the torn flesh, began to ripple and swell. He climbed from the tub, leaving charred marks on the enamel. Hank wet himself.

The old man’s face bubbled and grew, contorting into a grotesque, deformed balloon. The lips elongated and new, sharpened teeth glistened. George's hands stretched into elegant yet horrible appendages. Fin­gers lengthened and ended in deadly sharp, silvered nails.

George turned toward Hank.

“George!” screamed Hank.

George grinned at Hank and then opened his mouth. "Rockin' power blast you free!" the old man sang. His voice was infinitely louder than the music had been, hellish and beautiful. “Rockin' power make you scream!”

The long, horrific fingers came up to George's chest and strummed as elegantly as the most skilled guitarist. The skin of the man’s flesh tore open with the touch. Pink organs peered, glis­tening, through the skin.

Hank sobbed, crushing himself as close to the wall as he could.

George lolled his head, orange eyes glowing in obscene pleasure, silently playing the strings of his chest muscles. His arms hissed and steamed. The oozing abdominal organs throbbed and rumbled, playing backup. Then George stopped, and looked at Hank. “Rockin' power cannot die,” he sang. He walked over to Hank. Hank could feel the supreme heat from the man’s body as he, himself, began to blister. “Break me, make me god of our world!”

As George stretched a set of silvered, musical fingers toward Hank’s throat, Laden's lead singer knew at last the true, universal power of rock. Claimed by few, there for all. And as a terrified, yet finally submissive worshipper of the power, he opened his mouth and croaked the words along with his god.

“Got the music in me! Rockin' power body‑fried!”

Hank’s final scream tinkled the air of Barrett Home for Adults with an unearthly melody, then faded into the walls and died.

sineater desper