In his exhilarating, consciousness-mutating debut novel Secrets of the Weird, Chad Stroup fuses a kaleidoscopic embrace of the surreal and fantastical with a punk hardcore velocity and sensibility — think Twin Peaks meets Damaged or David Cronenberg adapting I Against I. Which is why it is not all that surprising when a Minor Threat-esque band dubbed Civilized Cannibals materializes amongst the tome’s motley crew of willful outcasts, reluctant protagonists, and apocalyptic cultists.
Stroup found himself enamored enough by these particular characters that he returned to his own hardcore roots to retroactively write and record songs for the band’s 1992 demo tape Feast Like Animals, building a bridge between the book’s terrifying-if-beguiling world and our own.
Today Decibel exclusively premieres two of those tracks — “Choose Your Flesh” and “False Jurisprudence” — as well as extreme music-centric excerpt from Secrets…
“Music is what gets me high,” Stroup tells Decibel. “I was about 14 when I first heard the Misfits and Samhain, and it ruined me in the best way. Soon after, I discovered there were bands in my own town playing the music I loved, and my life took a sharp turn. I was constantly going to shows, doing my own bands, publishing a fanzine… When I created Civilized Cannibals for the book, I thought it would be a fun idea to write and record some songs posing as this band. A few years ago I jammed with some friends and we wrote some really killer songs but never did anything with them. It seemed like a natural idea to ask those guys to play the music and use some of those lost songs rather than let them go to waste. My original plan was to press a limited 7-inch, but the cost of vinyl has gone up so much since the last time I pressed records that it wasn’t an option. Instead, I decided to press a hundred tapes — the more authentic format, considering it’s supposed to be their “1992 demo tape.” I wanted it raw and somewhat sloppy without sacrificing power, and I think it came out just as I’d hoped. However, it also made me realize how much I miss the energy of being in a band. Maybe one day…
“Though I should have realized I was a writer at a much younger age, it was never the original plan. In high school and in my early twenties I wrote stories for fun here and there, but I was so deeply entrenched in music that I wrote lyrics and almost nothing else for about twelve years. I went back to school in my early thirties because I knew I wasn’t going to work at Tower Records my whole life, and the original intent was to go into teaching. During this time I decided to take a fiction writing class just for fun, at which point I wrote a crummy little short story that later morphed into the first few chapters of the novel we’re now chatting about. My professor apparently saw something special in that story and put a little bug in my ear that I should consider grad school. Lo and behold, I decided to pursue my MFA in Fiction. I knew the final year of this program was going to be focused on developing a novel-length manuscript, so I dusted off that short story to see where I could take it. And I ran wild with it.
“I knew I wanted hardcore punk to play a fairly significant element in the book, as that world meant and still does mean so much to me. And the character of Trixie came to be because I had never read a horror/dark fantasy book with a trans woman as the protagonist, so the queer element became a strong focus as well. Ultimately I think Secrets of the Weird could appeal to anyone who has ever felt like an outcast.”
Exclusive Secrets of the Weird Excerpt:
The main hall of Club Club became a hollowed-out husk between bands. The majority of the crowd shoved its way outside to grab a smoke, partake in meaningful conversation or have a fuck behind the dumpster. Samuel Haines chose to remain inside for the moment, attempting comfortable rest on a ratty couch wedged in the corner of the club. Cypress Glades hovered in front of him, doing her best to use bothher words and body as soft butter. She was balancing a beer bottle between her fingers, gripping it like it had earned a cheap hand job.
“Why do you always expect me to just give you my spare Candy?” Samuel asked. His mohawk was absurdly blue tonight, as if he had blended a Smurf smoothie and used the juice to dye his hair.
“Why do you expect to ever get to fuck me again?” Cypress squeezed herself onto the couch and pressed her breast against his arm.
“The prospect of sex is barely enough motivation to get up in the morning.”
“Oh, come on. Let me have just one. I’m gonna try and find Christopher and get him naked or something.”
“Sounds to me like you don’t need any chemical assistance.”
“I’ve got some new tricks up my sleeve, and I can’t wait to try them out on him.”
“I can only imagine.”
“Please, Sammy.” Cypress kneeled on the couch cushion and offered him a hug that might have appeared tender to any passersby, but the pressure was closer to an anaconda’s embrace. She gyrated her body and her nipple rubbed against his ear. It felt like an aggressive dog lapping him with its tongue.
“Promise to never call me Sammy ever again and you can have two pills if you want. No need to wiggle your vagina in my face right now.”
Cypress pulled away and turned down the flame on her carnal kettle. The pheromones she was always going on about must have worked their magic. Samuel felt angry with himself, enraged that he so easily succumbed to her otherworldly charisma, but he got over it in a snap. He looked at Cypress with slight curiosity, his expression altering for the first time since he arrived at the show. He pulled a greasy sock from his front pocket, unraveled it, removed a plastic sandwich baggie and placed two pink hearts into her palm. Smears of color painted her fingers as he pulled his away.
“What do you want with that bore-fest anyway?” he asked. “I thought you were finished with him a long time ago.”
Cypress popped both heart-shaped pills into her mouth and chewed them like precious delicacies. Portions of the chewy center became wedged between her teeth, so she took a swig of beer and swished the liquid around to loosen the goodies. “Oh, I couldn’t care less about getting back together with him. Fuck that. Stacey said he’s got some new girlfriend or whatever. I just want to ruin the relationship. Only seems fair.”
“If you say so. Do what you must.” Samuel was already disinterested.
“Okay. Catch ya later, Sammy.” Cypress winked, smooched him on the cheek, lunged from the couch and headed out on her ex-boyfriend hunt.
Samuel released his practiced sneer and watched Cypress move through the club. She was a walking contradiction, skipping away like a virginal youth in a field of daisies, her ass swaying in predatory rhythm. He peeled himself from the couch and crept around the edges of the club before sneaking out the back door. Outside was where the real party was, and Samuel would sniff out its wallflowers.
He slinked around the building, surveying the crowd for someone who might be a match for his nutritional needs. His requirements for the ideal candidate were, first, that they must be desperate for companionship — no friends, no convenient family, no options. He had to make them believe no one else would be there for them in their hour of need.
Second, they had to abstain from excessive questionable activity. Moderation is metaphysical. Disease is antithetical to the divine.
And finally, they had to be discreet about the transaction. A feeding ground is precious and must be utilized for as long as possible.
Samuel had not been fortunate enough to secure many proper Taste Subjects in recent months. The punk scene was looking to be less fruitful than he had hoped, and he was worried he might need to move on to where the livestock was more attainable. It was time to be proactive. Persuasive. There had thankfully been a select few — gutter punks squatting in the abandoned Sweet and Sourdough Factory — who had allowed him small samples in the meantime, though that approach used up far too much of his Sweet Candy stash, and most of them were about as mouth-watering as a cold, discarded, half-eaten burger from the garbage. What he needed was to find someone alone after tonight’s show, someone vulnerable and possessed by intoxication, someone hoping it wasn’t too late to catch the final bus home. This was more difficult than it sounded, since many of the young men and women in the crowd tended to group or pair together for social safety. Not many were willing to go the loner route.
With positive patience, he knew his next meal would come soon. It had to. His potential wings were wilting. The nubs were beginning to resemble pitiful tumors rather than sprouting the angelic, elegant feathers he deserved after serving his cause for so many years. Worse, they were starting to smell like limburger cheese.
There were few potential Taste Subjects to choose from, and most, if not all, were suspect. A girl whose attire seemed to have more holes than actual material. She was the size of a throw pillow and likely not old enough to legally be at the club without a chaperone. Barely enough meat to last him a month. An easy target, for certain, but the pink barnacles peppered along her inner arm were an obvious red flag, forcing Samuel to halt his initial approach. He had learned his lesson the hard way years ago with that Junkie Creep Sara.
Next he spotted a pudgy boy stretching the seams of his shirt, his hair in that terrible middle stage of growth before it could reach a headbanger’s respectable length.
His enormous white sneakers were marshmallows gleaming in the moonlight’s flames. He was somewhat out of place among the staunch punks and likely did not have many direct ties to this crowd. Though Samuel was still partial to female flesh, he could see much potential in the folds of this young lad. So much girth that he would have to shift the inner architecture of his freezer to make room for the leftovers.
He visualized gutting the boy once they reached Layer Three of their relationship, if he even bothered with the Layers. Though he was diligently attempting to build the trust of his new group of Eaters, he was far above the established law at this point. He was also beyond famished. Skipping the Layers might be akin to eschewing grace before dinner — frowned upon in certain circles, but ultimately not impacting the value of the meal. Though traditional sustenance was enough for him to subsist on a base level, he would never be able to thrive without Consumption Enlightenment. But a body needed basic nourishment in order to think. Only then could Samuel adhere himself more rigidly to his religious rituals.
He could already envision sitting down to dine. He would remove the blubber from the boy’s body, fry it on medium heat with olive oil, garlic and scallions. Press it between two pieces of sourdough, garnish it with two slices of provolone and a sweet pickle. He would share it with no one. It would be his special sandwich. For an appetizer or, perhaps, a midnight snack, he would take the first two layers of meat from the buttocks, cut them into squares, wrap and twist them around artichoke hearts, cream cheese or spiced potato. Fried into oblivion, they would make for a side dish of delectable dumplings. But his dream was shattered. A fellow metal-head with a far more impressive mane joined the boy, slapping him on the back with brotherly affection.
Tonight would not be the night for this particular taste. But he would keep his eyes on this one for future endeavors.
Samuel shuffled toward the front of the club, his feet never completely leaving the ground. His dilapidated steel-toe boots crashed against the concrete, creating fresh damage in the soles, which was just what he intended. Though he had purchased the boots brand new, he went to great measures to ensure they looked lived in, poking them with steak knives, tossing them off of second story roofs, dipping the buckles in water to bring about the early stages of rust and leaving them in the middle of the street for buses to drive over.
With no other candidates for consumption catching his eye, he re-entered, showing the stamp on his wrist to the skinhead goon running the door. He did not make eye contact. Did not care to. He passed through the constricting entryway and came to a row of plastic folding tables where the bands were peddling their wares. There he spied a young, relatively attractive girl selling tapes for Christopher Faith’s band.
Perhaps she was this new girlfriend Cypress had been alluding to.
Or, better still, perhaps she would be the next lucky lost soul that The Angelghoul could process through his intestinal tract. He knew this one would have obvious attachments at this show, but he couldn’t help but fantasize a little. Hunger pangs karate-chopped within his belly. It felt like he was on a deserted island in an old cartoon, and this girl was the giant turkey leg taunting him. He approached her table, subconsciously licking his lips raw.