Frank Larnerd was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and spent much of his childhood engrossed in weird stories of monsters, mutants, and other worlds. He has worked as a morgue night watchman, shoe salesman, and color commentator for IWA: East Coast wrestling.
Although he is best known for his unique blend of traditional Appalachian folklore and unsettling horror, Frank has also published numerous science fiction and crime stories.
Currently, Frank studies Professional Writing at West Virginia State University, where he has received multiple awards for fiction and non-fiction.
He lives in Putnam County, West Virginia.
When did you begin reading consistently and what authors and genres did you like?
I was reading independently at 5 or 6. My mother was a huge reading advocate and encouraged me to explore the library and checkout anything that appealed to me. As a very young reader, I liked Shel Silverstein, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys as well as nonfiction books on the supernatural.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a writer? What made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I have always wanted to be a storyteller, whether it was as a comic book artist, filmmaker, or writer. I think that anyone who has ever been inspired, frightened, or moved by a story can’t help but wonder what stories they could tell.
Who else in your family writes creatively?
I come from a long line of fibbers, tall tale tellers, fabulists, bards, and spook story enthusiasts. My parents are both gifted chroniclers and talented writers in their own rights. My brother Dan Larnerd is my writing partner and usually the first person to read a new story. He’s an accomplished published writer, who writes amazing short stories. Sebaston my youngest son also has the writing bug; he had his first publican at 12 and has been writing ever since.
Describe your writing space.
My four year old has taken over my office. Currently, I have been exiled to the back bedroom.
As bad as that sounds, it’s got a TV, a chair, and my laptop. What more could a writer need?
Where do you see yourself as an author 5 years from now? 15 years? 50 years?
In 5 years, I’d like to have some moderate success with a few anthologies and novels. In 15 years, I’d like to transition into screenwriting and film making. In 50 years, I’d love for my work to be known for its quality and less for who created it.
If you could meet any author living or dead, who would it be and why? What would you say?
Mark Twain because of his humor, vast experience, and depth of heart. I wouldn’t say anything to him though, I’d just listen.
What makes you afraid?
As a writer who writes a lot about monsters, you might think I would be afraid of ghosts, vampires, or something like that. Honestly, the things that scare me are very human things. Are my kids safe? Am I a good husband? Is my temper out of control? What if something horrible happens? Those fears drive my writing. Many times, stories are a way for me to confront my own fears; the reader just gets a front row seat.
Where do you think you fit within the literary history of West Virginia literature?
I don’t think I do at the moment. The writing community here is very close knit and expects a lot out its writers. I hope to keep on plugging along and little by little impress them, until they have no choice but to notice me.
Write to this prompt:
There’s a knock at your door. When you open it, a young man, clearly nervous, is standing on the other side. He doesn’t speak at first. Just stares at you. Finally, he stammers. “Take the blue pill, whatever you do.” And then he bolts away.
All right, here you go. Quick and dirty…
Lick My Lizard
“Y’all ain’t got nothing on me,” I said into the headset.
Using the controller, I scooted my car on the TV screen past a roaring green stock-car and grinned.
“Rubbing is racing, fellers.”
It was Sunday, a little past eleven. The gray September light had just started to creep into the trailer’s windows, along with the whoops and hollers of the neighborhood brats.
I was still dressed in my boxers and bathrobe; a half-eaten bowl of Captain Crunch sat on the table across from me.
Holly lay beside me on the couch, asleep, dressed in bright pink panties and one of my Metallica t-shirts. She looked like a dreaming pixie princess with her pale, sparkling skin and electric blue hair.
The TV roared as I swung my car around the next curve. A red stock car nosed around me, cutting me off. I was pointing the controller after him, when there was a knock at the door.
I ignored it and squeezed the buttons on the controller, watching my car soar down the track. As I neared the lead car, the knock came again. On the screen, the cars slammed together. There was a crunch of pixels as my car slid off the track and exploded.
Cursing, I switched off the PlayStation.
After undoing the security chain, I opened the door and blinked into the daylight. On my porch was a young guy dressed in a faded flannel shirt, his Sycamore Landscaping ball cap was pulled low, hiding his eyes. Behind him, I could see the neighborhood kids horsing around. I barely noticed their wet pant legs, or the buckets they slogged to an empty spot between two vacant trailers.
The young guy leaned in close, his breath like butane. “Take the blue pill, whatever you do.”
As soon as he said it, he bolted off around the corner of the trailer.
My cousin, Donnie Withrow. Half-crazy, half-stupid, and a hundred percent trouble.
“Donnie,” I growled. “Get your butt in here ‘fore the neighbors see you.”
His face peeked around the edge of the trailer, a grin showing under the shade of his hat. I rolled my eyes and went back inside.
I threw a speckled afghan over Holly as Donnie clomped in, slamming the screen door behind him. I put a finger to my lips and motioned for Donnie to follow me back to the bedroom.
Once the door was closed, I lit a cigarette and sat down on the bed. I rubbed at my stubble and asked, “What the hell you want, Donnie? Don’t you owe me twenty-five dollars? Ain’t no way you’re gettin’ a front.”
He sat down across from me at Holly’s makeup table. “Come on, cousin,” Donnie said. “It ain’t like that; I’m here to give you something.”
I blew out a cloud of smoke and noticed the rectangular blue Tupperware box in his hands, hands that were pale and sweaty looking.
“You back on the crystal?”
Donnie tugged at the brim of his ball cap, lowering it further. “Naw, it ain’t like that, man. This stuff is way better, and it’s natural and legal.”
“What you got there?” I asked, nodding at his Tupperware box.
“Something special. I’m tryin’ to tell you.”
His oily white hands caressed the box, searching for the corners. As he peeled back the top, the smell of dirty, stagnant water escaped. Inside the box, something splashed and slithered about.
Carefully, Donnie reached inside. There was more splashing as his hand latched on to something. He brought the struggling thing up and held it to my face.
“Check it out.”
It was nearly three feet long, dark brown with loose leprous-looking skin that pulsed and undulated in a strange, alien way. It had a long paddled tail and four stubby legs. The thing’s head was flat with tiny, milky gray eyes that were barely visible. Its mouth was wide and fat like a frog’s, and it was trying to bite Donnie’s fingers.
I crushed out my cigarette. “What I want with a snot otter? Rather you just give me my twenty five-bucks.”
“Snot otter?” Donnie smirked as the salamander wriggled in his fists. “Is that what it’s called?”
The thing’s mouth opened and closed, snapping at the air while its tail flopped around, dribbling slime on my carpet.
I said, “Daddy called ‘em hellbenders. Heard folks call ‘em mud devils, or Allegheny alligators. Used to see a mess of ‘em back when I would go crawfishing out at Paint Creek.”
“You know they’ll get you high?” Donnie asked.
“Bull… if that’s true, how come nobody ever noticed it before?”
“Maybe it’s a mutation from all that crap they put in the water, or maybe they’re evolving, or maybe it’s always been that way, but nobody’s ever been brave enough to try it.”
“Donnie,” I said. “You’re about one brain cell from a talking monkey, you know that?”
“The kids at the other end of the trailer park showed me. Levi, Shaun, and Mary Katharine’s boy, they was all them doing it. They say it’s more popular than Justin Beiber. Now, just give it a couple licks and… whew, I tell you son, it will send you up like a rocket.”
Donnie held the hellbender out to me. “Go on, try it.”
The mucus-covered thing fidgeted and flopped in front of me, thick ropes of slime dripped from its rotten-looking flesh. It smelled awful; a mix of fish, funk, and rot.
“Like hell, Donnie,” I said. “I ain’t gunna do no such thing.”
Laughing, Donnie brought the salamander up to his own face. “I done it twice now, it don’t hurt none.”
He stretched the creature out, exposing its belly. I tried to turn my head, but I found myself looking.
Donnie swiped his tongue over the thing’s stomach. He slurped at it like it was a vanilla ice-cream cone, savoring the taste as the slimy thing squirmed and snapped in his hands.
After four good licks, Donnie set the hellbender back in the blue Tupperware box. He leaned back, eyes closed, as an expression of bliss washed over his face. Thick strands of cloudy mucus hung from his lips, dripping down over Donnie’s feeble goatee. Trembling slightly, he let out a deep breath and smiled.
I lit up another smoke and asked, “You good?”
“Beautiful,” Donnie said, his eyes still closed.
Donnie’s pale skin seemed to go almost translucent. I could see veins and arteries pumping wildly beneath the surface. Donnie’s neck bulged out on both sides, inflating into a fat ring.
I stood up. “Dude, y’alright?”
Donnie started to shake in the chair. His arms flailed at his sides while his feet kicked out spastically.
I snapped my fingers at Donnie’s face. He continued convulsing; foam rose up from his throat.
I grabbed the collar of his shirt and shook him. His hat fell off backwards onto the floor as did most of his hair.
Oh God, his face.
Donnie’s skin was waxen and droopy, like a basset hound. Most of the hair on his head was gone, leaving his scalp ruddy and scabby looking.
I yelled his name again and Donnie’s eyes snapped opened.
His eyes were a cloudy gray now, inhuman with no detectable emotion. Donnie shrieked and launched himself at me.
I tripped over my bathrobe, and we fell together onto my bed. Donnie’s skin knotted and blistered into sickly coarse warts as he hovered over me. His teeth snapped inches away from my face. I held him back with one hand, his skin foul and slimy to the touch. He held my right hand down against the mattress with a webbed-clawed hand, his nails slicing into my skin.
In my fingers was my cigarette.
Donnie’s mouth opened, a long black glistening tongue rolled out and flopped on my face. I screamed as it retracted back into Donnie’s mouth, pulling a hunk of my cheek along with it.
I yanked my hand free, ignoring the deep scratches his claws made. Jamming one hand under his jaw, I pushed up, locking his teeth together and stabbed the cigarette into his spongy gray eye.
“Donniemander,” or “Saladonnie,” or whatever you want to call him fell back and onto the floor. He pawed at the smoldering filter, kicking and screeching in pain.
I grabbed the baseball bat next to the bed and stood over him.
After five or six swings, it was over.
Splattered with gore, I stumbled into the living room, calling Holly’s name, telling her to call 911.
She wasn’t on the couch. The speckled afghan was on the floor, along with a spilled bowl of Captain Crunch.
I looked up. The screen door was open, squeaking in the breeze. Outside, I could hear screams, gunshots, and the gurgling laughter of things that used to be children.