Doug awoke in a cold panic. This had been increasingly normal and worrisome. Some nights he blamed it on the swirling thoughts of his demise, choking on his own tongue while he slept. Or that someone broke into his house and was watching him. Whatever the fear, the end point was the same: his own death. Death was constantly on his mind. Tonight, it was not his own death on his mind, but his father’s. He had had a stray thought just as he closed his eyes, just after he had set his phone down, charging, for the last time: what was the last song his father heard?

There had been plenty of existential thoughts about his father in the years since he unexpectedly died, but every once in a while, he’d think up a new one and fixate on it. His father couldn’t have known it would be the last song he would ever hear. But what song was it? He tried to reason it out. His father would typically flip between the country station, a musical taste that Doug did not carry, and the classic rock station. Doug hated classic rock, but classic rock wasn’t classic to his father. It was just rock. So, that kind of narrowed it to a couple of genres at least.

The sleep didn’t come easy, and when it did, he immediately fell into a dream about his father.

He chased after him. His father was on a skateboard, pushing himself away, but Doug couldn’t see his feet. Faster and Faster. A game. Carrot on a stick. They ran into the woods. Doug was laughing, but he never found his father. He disappeared and became one with the trees.

Doug woke and looked around his room. It was just as he left it. The clothes on the floor. The computer with the slight hum, comforting to him that it wasn’t asleep. He wasn’t the only one up in the house. He got out of bed and moved to his desk. He sat down and sighed over a journal. He had decided that writing his thoughts, how he was feeling in the moment he was feeling anxious or pre-panic attack, would help him better deal with them in the future. It was one of the tricks Doug used to wrangle his wild and unruly thoughts. So far, the idea hadn’t bared any fruit. If Doug actually remembered to write anything, he would never go back and read what he wrote, afraid that it would trigger something in him and it would start all over again. He marked the date in the top right corner and began writing.

Dream: Dad on skateboard.

Doug laughed. Cruel joke.


Morning now. Doug rubs his eyes. Not the best sleep. It never is. He stops by his journal to read what he wrote.

Dream: Dad on skateboard.

I hate everything. I hate myself. I want to die.

Woah. Doug had remembered getting up and writing the first part, but not the second. He looked around, spooked. This is the kind of message that people find in a horror movie all scrawled out on the paper in jagged lines. It was his handwriting, no doubt. Had he been possessed? He sat down at his desk chair, the morning light filtering in through his window, dancing across the hardwood floor.

Did Doug hate everything? Did he want to die? He didn’t feel like it most days, and yet, there were those days where he did feel like he hated himself and he wanted to die. Those days had been much worse in college. Nights where a cigarette on his patio and the stars in the sky were all he felt like he had. This was always not true, but Doug had always welcomed bad feelings. Preferring to wallow in self-pity, self-deprecation, self-hatred. The bad feelings and the anxiety that came hand in hand.

In college, he had found a salve for a while. Home from class, he would load up videos of people committing suicide. There were sites you could visit on the internet where these videos existed. He would watch them, feel his heart race as the ticking off of seconds on the video meant that someone’s life was about to be extinguished. He would rewind and watch a ten second chunk, the last ten seconds of someone’s life over and over. He always wondered what their last thoughts were.


He got up from his desk, still puzzled and shook. If he saw a therapist, this would be something to show them. Explain that he hates himself in his sleep. “My subconscious is very unhappy!”

The bathroom mirror has ceased to be welcoming, but mornings like this morning, where his brain was already heading in that direction, he stared in the mirror for a bit too long. Taking too long of glances at a roll of fat or realizing that he had finally moved from a normal size to a definite husky. It amazed him that he could go from eyes open, good morning, to trashing himself in moments; as if the rest was only to recharge his self-loathing. This happened in the mirror some days. It would happen every time he would look at the numbers for his horror movie podcast, The Devil Doug Guide to Horror.

The podcast had started as a flavor-of-the-month activity. It had replaced the guitar, which had replaced blogging, which begat photography. Why this particular activity stuck mattered not to Doug, but if he was forced to theorize that it was because podcasting was easy. You sit in front of a microphone and talk. The hard part was thickening his skin, notoriously thin, and following the ups and downs of subscriber numbers.

About a month in and after a small amount of success, he decided that it was time to take it a bit more seriously, to see how far he could really take it. Enough bullshitting. Doug took notes while he watched films and then transferred those notes into actual thoughts while talking about the film on the podcast.

He had purchased, not quite top of the line, but middle-grade microphones and a new laptop. Doug used the last of a bogus student loan that he never should have taken out. Oh well. Money was money no matter where it came from and he had decided to use that last little bit toward something that was actually going to do him some good. Unlike a college degree.

Doug had convinced himself that a degree in communication with a minor in film was a laughable waste of time and money.

The hope, the high school dream, had always been to be an A&R talent scout for a record label. He fancied that he had an ear for music and could tell what bands were about to blow up. He had no real grounds in which to build this opinion on, forming it after hearing the Coldplay song “Yellow” on the radio and proclaiming that the band had a future. When they did become wildly popular, that solidified Doug’s mindset that he was destined to be an A&R guy.

This was Doug’s M.O. He just needed one event, one sign, and that was all, that was his destiny. This worked both positively and negatively.

A positive example: he got a few subscribers to his podcast, therefore he believes it is something that he should be doing and now has poured more time and effort into it.

A negative example: he felt, at one time (maybe still), that his masturbation habit had killed his father. The first time that he ever ventured to beat off, something which he knew nothing of, merely letting his hand guide itself, his father died later that day from a sudden heart attack.

Doug had cried, less for his dad, whom he loved and would miss, but for himself that beating off, something so innocuous to others, was deadly to him. He shuddered at the thought that there would be some other experience out there, something explicit that he would try and God, or whoever, would smite down another member of his family. For a while, Doug ceased masturbating and tried in vain to table any lustful thoughts. If he saw a music video that made him think in that manner, he would turn it off and retreat to his room. He did not pour himself into religion, where, perhaps, there were more people like him. Instead, he would think hard about his dead father, or murder, and other terrible things to downplay all the youthful lust that bubbled inside him.

Obviously, his sleep self did not know what his awake self was doing, and he woke up one night after having a wet dream. He was furious with himself. Ashamed. He wanted to smash his head through a wall. Then all the anger turned to real fear that his mother would soon die, that he had been cursed and this was his fate. Death was coming regardless.

He scampered out of his room and burst into her room, startling her awake. She’s alive! he thought. His mother was very concerned with his behavior, but Doug played it off that he had had a very bad dream and needed to see she was okay. It was practically the truth.

From then, he attempted to drop his self-loathing and shame and attempted to dip his toe into the world of vice. It took a while, but eventually, he realized that maybe his dad’s death had nothing to do with his natural habits. His fear broke free from the guilt phase, that he was directly responsible for his father’s untimely demise, and moved instantaneously to the anxiety that death was coming at any time.


Leaving the bathroom, Doug is still troubled by the words from the previous evening. What can he do to make any of it better? This constant anxiety? Doug was especially worried that someone could find his journal and assume a lot of things about him, none of them good!

He’s stumbled into various books, written in recent years by very intelligent women. The characters in those books are going through a millennial quarter-life crisis. Doug finds kinship with them. They all live in New York, though, where self-loathing seems in vogue, and he is stuck in Houston. Not even! The suburbs! The women in those books drink or do drugs to help their problems. Or they just binge on awful things and eat. They are neurotic and human. They are complicated and broken and he is endlessly attracted to them.

He believes that he could save each and every one of these faceless female characters. Maybe they would love Doug for saving them from themselves and they would kiss and Doug flip the script and proclaim that it was in fact they who had saved him.

Then perhaps this new love would want to watch a movie with him and maybe they would start a couple’s podcast, piggybacking off his own hugely successful one. Maybe the podcast would be about rom coms or the films of Madeline Kahn. The fictional love interest would tell her friends what it was like to be with such a woke, millennial guy. He had student loans! He barely had a job! He knew where to get the best tacos!

Doug even took time to meditate. Another trick in his bag when he just couldn’t bear to face life or was teetering on the edge of an existential collapse. He tried to meditate daily.


The podcast, despite the stress of gaining and maintaining followers, was the one area of his life where he felt like he had uninterrupted focus. It was the one part where he felt actually proud and occasionally that would triumph over the paralyzing fear to talk about his interests to others.

Doug wanted to make the podcast as good as it could be. To take his ambitions and do something with them. This was a side effect of the small success of his podcast. He felt that he had done enough episodes that he should try his hand at interviewing someone. Not surprisingly, this came after a viewing of the historical film Frost/Nixon. Doug thought that if he gave one dynamite interview, he would be made. He wondered who his first guest should be. He had no interest swinging for the fences; he would never get an A-list director on his show. That wasn’t a lack of confidence as much as a healthy relation to reality.

Doug thought of a story he once heard that Bret Ratner, a director whom he loathed, had written Steven Spielberg and asked for some financing to finish his student film. Spielberg sent him a check for $1,000. Ratner framed it instead of cashing it. Doug would have cashed it.

He made a list of his favorite directors. At the top, his most favorite, down to the bottom, directors that he liked maybe one of their movies. Then he found the exact center: Ti West. Ti West started his career with a direct to DVD sequel to the horror film Cabin Fever. A studio’s weak attempt to cash in on a franchise name. West knocked it out of the park, creating an intimate, strange, and scary vacuum of a film.

He followed that film up with an abnormally good throwback to the horror films of the 70’s, House of the Devil. This is the type of film that Doug tells himself he loves. He’ll giddily insert the disc into the player and watch the first 30 or so minutes with rapt attention before picking up his phone to check Twitter and ultimately half watching the rest of the film.

Having decided that Ti West would make a great interview, he just needed to figure out a way to reach out to him.

The director had no social media presence, not even a Facebook fan club. How do journalists do it? How do the bad little movie sites that Doug refreshes eight times a day get a chance to talk to the director but he couldn’t?

Doug checked IMDb and found that the director was represented by CAA. So he emailed them. Doug attached a sizzle reel of the best moments of his podcast and some of the questions he was hoping to ask the director. He was proud of himself for trying so hard.

Still no response.


Doug tried to look on the bright side of what he wrote in his journal. He made himself a bowl of cereal, the milk splashing out of the bowl slightly as he poured. Were the words a desperate cry for help? A lame one? He was shocked that he felt that strongly one way or another. It had been some time since he felt real passion, instead of trying to shimmy along the cliff edge of life. Negative passion is still passion! Perhaps there was a small fire burning in him that he wasn’t aware of before. Maybe it wasn’t all hopeless. Milk dribbled down his chin as he shoveled the Smacks into his mouth.

It was too early for emotions like this. He finished his cereal and dropped the bowl into the sink. Why was he so capable of waking up in such a soul crushing mood?



It was time for work.


This is an excerpt from Van Wright’s new novel, Attention Deficit, coming this Friday from Terror House Press.