The first story I ever published was originally called "The Cart of the Dead" and appeared in my high school's literary magazine as "The Struggle of Burying" when I was a sophomore. Not quite sure why the original title was such a put-off for the advising teacher. I was in her English class that year. She was a bit of a wreck. My best friend and I made her cry when we cheated to win the school-wide Trivial Pursuit contest for our class (prize later revoked). Fucking hilarious. Said buddy also ripped off the top of his desk on final exam day and ended up taking the test out in the hall as punishment. Funny how you remember certain details when you get older. Anyway, I'm sure she was glad to see us go.
I re-read the story last night. It's not that great, really. It's about a mentally disabled boy (I used the politically incorrect "retarded" back then) who accidentally kills his father while repairing an air conditioner. He pushes his dead father to the local cemetery in a grocery cart and buries him before returning home to finish the repairs. It was a Stephen King knock off, of course. Or maybe more like Of Mice and Men. The Lennie character, for sure. That grocery cart showed up in two other stories that I never attempted to publish. One was called "It Takes You Away." In that, the cart ferries dead souls to hell. I worked at Lucky Stores as a clerk then, and let me tell you when you're pushing grocery carts in 110 degrees, you're going to hell every fucking day. The other, named "Violence Is Golden" after the John Fogerty song, is about a serial killer who collects his victim's body parts in the cart. Fogerty's album Eye of the Zombie was the soundtrack to my senior year (along with Ozzy's The Ultimate Sin). It's funny where you find your influences (or where they find you). That album, the title track especially, is the ultimate horror story. I especially love the line "From out of nowhere, he's there, flashing hideous teeth." I can't tell you how many of my stories have sprung from that single lyric. Even my current novel's villain, Pastor Aken, is that monster. The back of my book will read, "monsters do more harm when they pretend to be human." I absolutely believe that.
On a side note, I published one other story in the high school literary magazine. When I was a junior, I co-wrote a tale entitled "The Cave Beneath the Church." My friend and I were Lovecraft fans, dabbled in the Cthulhu role-playing game, and took a respectable shot at aping his style. I'm considerably more proud of that story. The narrator wanders through catacombs beneath a church (in France, if I remember correctly) and runs from an unnamed creature/vampire. Terrifying. I wrote a few Lovecraft-type stories (and a couple inspired by Poe) that I'll examine somewhere down the line, but that one was definitely the most solid.