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“So who is he?” Stevie’s eyes were bright with wild possibilities. She would rather have been asking Vic, but as it happened, she was asking Debbie.

After the lights had gone out last night and The Fear Master had made his mysterious exit, the party had pretty much broken up. Truth to tell, everyone had been struck speechless by the stranger who had come out of nowhere to light up their world with darkness.

“Know what I thought last night when I got into bed?” said Debbie.

Stevie shook her head.

“I thought maybe The Fear Master was – don’t laugh … my father.”

“Your …?”

“We haven’t seen him since I was ten. You know the story. Well, it’s just the sort of sick, creepy thing he would do.”

“Disguise himself and …? He didn’t really scare us – he just … asked if it was OK to scare us. And we said yes. But your father – what he did … Debbie, it’s not as if he asked permission before he took out---”

“I know what he did. Let’s drop it, OK?”

“Sorry – I didn’t mean to … But we have to tell next week what our greatest fear is, and … he said liars will be punished.”

Debbie shrugged. “Who’s this Vic? What’s his story?”

“I don’t know. He moved here last semester, remember? When I was fat. Sorry – I mean – anyway---we met on the way in last night. I haven’t really spoken to him before – I knew who he was, but … I don’t know. He seemed nice.”

“He didn’t say two words to me all night.”

“Oh? I found him very chatty.”

“Too quiet. Boring. I wouldn’t ever try and tell you what to do, but … even Tony Linseed could make a bit of conversation. But this guy – I don’t know. Look at him – he’s a long, skinny computer nerd!”

“He told me he wants to be an accountant. It’s not his fault. Anyway, what’s wrong with that? It’s not like he’s an axe murderer.”

“Do we know that? Or are you assuming?”

“If anyone’s an axe murderer, it’ll turn out to be The Fear Master.”

“Nah. Too obvious. How do you think killers get away with it? No one suspects ’em – that’s how. They look normal, even nice. I’d say The Fear Master is the one who’s an accountant, getting his kicks dressing up and scaring a bunch of kids. Vic’s the killer. Trust me on this.”

Stevie sighed. “OK, Deb, Vic’s a killer.”

“That’s right. And now you’ve seen him for what he really it, stay away from that sicko!”

“What do you think?” Keith held up his sketch of the faceless cowled figure for Betty’s inspection. “Front page material?”

“You’ll never make an IdentiKit artist, but it’s not bad.”

“I draw what I saw.”

“You can’t publish it. Not yet.”

“Not until I know who he is. Then I can run this next to a photo. You know: ‘Mild-mannered Butcher by Day, Terrifying Fiend by Night!’”

Betty smiled and ran her fingers through red-dyed hair. “For a Laurence Salmon fan, you’re not very subtle.”

“For a Cutter Cade fan, you’re not very supportive.”

“What do you think is the point of the books? I got Dracula; you got Frankenstein. I’m not sure about the others.”

“Vic’s in my biology class; he said he got Dr Jekyll and Mt Hyde. And that Stevie girl he was chatting up, she got The Exorcist. Her fat friend who kept rolling her eyes … I’m not sure about her.”

“Maybe Counting Calories the Easy Way.”

“Reeow!” Keith hissed and clawed the air like a cat.

Betty’s laugh was deep and warm. “Maybe I am a cat. But that doesn’t help you find out who this guy is so you can expose him to your fascinated readership.”

“You can help me if you like.”


“Not a word to the others – because if Vic finds out, he’ll tell Stevie, who’ll spill the beans to elephant-girl – and I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her!”

Betty made a key-turning gesture in front of her lips. “Sealed!”

Vic was working on his homework.

MY GREATEST FEAR, he had written at the top of the page. And beneath it, a series of jotted, almost illegible notes. He felt embarrassed writing this down. Not that it was anything bad. But his left eye was twitching overtime. And he could feel his cheeks starting to burn.

Angrily, he crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it across the room. The Humiliation Master had no right!

But Vic had signed a contract. In front of witnesses. He couldn’t bail at the first challenge.

Suddenly, he wondered what Stevie was writing. What was her number-one scary thing?

Vic picked up the ball of paper and smoothed it out. He could do this, and he would. He would stay. For Stevie. They had seen each other a couple of times since the meeting in the library, but only in passing, and hadn’t had a chance to speak. But if they did speak – and do much more than talk – she had the right, he figured, to know what kind of guy she was getting involved with.

Debbie spent less than five minutes doing her homework. Her answer was simple, straightforward and had, she thought, universal appeal. The Scary Dude would buy it, even if it wasn’t true. The girls would nod their heads, and probably the boys would too.

No. Vic wouldn’t. She didn’t think. But wasn’t sure. Was Vic really sweet as Stevie had said? Debbie was going to have to find out for herself. And that meant stopping this would-be romance dead in its tracks. Then the way would be open for Dazzling Debbie Dawe to put the moves on Vic – or, as The Fear Master might say, move in for the kill.

Notes on Psycho from TFM’s Journal

World Fantasy Convention Life Achievement Award winner, author of many excellent short stories (including “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”), Robert Bloch wrote fairly few novels, three with “psycho” in the title, but the first of these is better known for the movie version, made by Hitchcock as the story of Marion Crane (not Mary as in the book) on the run after stealing from her employer. She takes refuge at an out-of-the-way motel where she is killed by the proprietor, Norman Bates. Hitchcock was already a master of thrillers, but his extraordinary work on “the shower scene” made Janet Leigh a horror icon in just 45 seconds (a piece of footage today studied in film schools).

Circa 1957 – Bloch, a prodigious contributor to the pulp magazines of the day, starts work on a new novel, unaware that less than fifty miles from where he is living is a man who closely resembles the disturbed Bates.

November that year – in Wisconsin, skin-wearing killer Ed Gein is arrested. His house is filled with furniture and knick-knacks made from body parts. His mother had been strict and religious, and it was speculated he wanted to connect with her by wearing human hides.

Bloch was unaware of these shenanigans, but when he found out, added a reference to the Gein case in a late draft of his story, which had always been about “the man next door who may be a monster.” His imaginary work had come very close to both Gein’s inner and outer life.

1959 – Psycho published.

1960 – movie released with clever marketing campaign. Hitch forbade audiences to enter the cinema after movie had started, and implored them not to give away the ending (they didn’t).

The movie stood alone for decades, an untouchable masterpiece. Then there were sequels (one directed by Anthony Perkins who would ever be associated with Norman Bates), even a risible remake in 1998. But when the American Film Institute came to rank the hundred most thrilling films of all time, Hitchcock’s was number one. Shows what a little skilful knifework can do, in and out of the editing room!

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